Sunday, 17 December 2017

The NSV Awards: TV Round-Up 2017


Hello all,
There’s too much TV out there. It’s become almost comically ridiculous that there are so many great shows on TV right now, far too many for any person to watch, even if they did nothing else. There are obviously many benefits to this, an increase in representation and a willingness to cater for specific, weird tastes. It’s rare for a show now to get cancelled without at least one more season to wrap up its story. But that means there is so much to love.
   Throughout the year, I grow obsessed with my end of year list, and the cuts to an eventual 25 become more painful, as I want to spotlight more, to recommend more. There’s so much on TV that it’s easy for a show to fall through the cracks. I didn’t want to let that happen this year. So, instead of just doing my usual 25 and a handful of recommendations, I have done this post, a spotlight to some of the other memorable shows of the year. The shows that I love that had less than stellar years, the new shows I adored, my goodbyes, the shows which most hurt to leave off my top 25. I like to think of this as more conversational than my upcoming top 25, but maybe your next favourite show is here. Who knows?

   But even this list is not complete. There was more I watched, but couldn’t think of what to say. Or the shows I wanted to watch but just didn’t get around to. Shows like Alias Grace, American Vandal, Atlanta, Better Things, Big Little Lies, Big Mouth, Crashing, Dear White People, The Deuce, The Exorcist, The Expanse, Feud, Fleabag, The Girlfriend Experience, Grace And Frankie, Harlots, Master Of None, Mindhunter, One Mississippi, Mom, Review, The Sinner, Star Trek: Discovery, Transparent, Twin Peaks and Westworld. We live in a golden age of TV, and it shows no signs of slowing. How glorious.

The Fiasco
13 Reasons Why season 1: One of the most heavy-handed, depressing and dangerous shows I’ve ever seen, with a simplistic treatment of mental illness and sexual abuse that does far more harm than good. Some strong performances can’t overcome how bleak this show is, and my viewing of it seemed to coincide perfectly with the recurrence of my depression. Television has become so good at depicting mental illness, so why in God’s name was one of the worst such a cultural phenomenon?

Returning Favorites

American Horror Story seasons 4-6: It was catch-up time with American Horror Story for
me. I liked Freak Show more than everyone else seems to, as I was drawn in by its cast of freaks, caring more about them than I have any other set of AHS characters. The problem with that season is the show is called American Horror Story not American Human Story, so there was always a frustrating push-pull between the show’s two sides. Jessica Lange was stunning in her final AHS appearance though.
   Hotel bored me, and I struggled to get through it. The crap with the Vampire kids and the ‘mystery’ surrounding the main character annoyed me and the season never really kicked into high gear like I wanted it to. Denis O’Hare’s Liz is probably the best AHS character ever though.
   Roanoke is interesting, because there are things it does REALLY well. It takes a while to get going, especially with a weird new format, but that pays off spectacularly well as we get a tense, terrifying three-episode arc in the middle. Those three episodes are so good, some of the most legitimately unsettling, addictive things AHS has ever done, but then the final stretch lands with a thud. What a disappointment. Strongest performer: Adina Porter. Yet to complete Season 7: Election at time of writing.

Archer seasons 7-8: This spy spoof remains one of my favourite, most entertaining comedies to watch. While neither of the seasons I did this year were standouts, season 8’s unusual decision to transplant the entire cast into 40s noir made for a curious season. While I appreciated the chance to see these characters in a new setting, a big part of what makes Archer so funny is the chaotic interactions between the cast, which was notably absent. However, still worth a watch even if it is just for Pam (who gets a screamingly funny side-story of her own).

Doctor Who season 10: Peter Capaldi’s last season as the Doctor was a reminder of how much he’ll be missed. Freed from Clara (a boring companion who somehow managed to stay on for two doctors and three seasons), the new companion Bill was a stunning breath of fresh air. She was resourceful, wounded and fun, the best companion the series’ has had since Donna and with Nardole also making a fine addition to the TARDIS team, we’ve got the strongest key cast the series has probably ever had. Their chemistry got the series through some duds, but this season also saw some of the strongest episodes since Steven Moffat took over. ‘Extremis’ was a shocking, clever and downright thrilling episode that promised great things for a trilogy of episodes in the middle of the season (it’s not this episode’s fault that the rest were utterly terrible) and the epic, deeply moving two part finale was one of the biggest gambles this series has taken in a while. The final episode in particular is a goddamn masterpiece, filled with dark, beautiful imagery and exceptionally poignant moments of hope in the face of utter hopelessness. Everything seems primed for a truly excellent Christmas special, and my excitement is high, especially seeing it will bring forth a series of sweeping changes for the series, not least, the first ever female Doctor. I can’t wait.

Game Of Thrones seasons 6-7: If I’d only watched season 6 of Game Of Thrones this year, it would’ve made it onto my awards list, and pretty high too. After a couple of disappointing seasons, the show’s sixth season seemed to kick things into high gear, especially with that finale which was non-stop twists and turns, artfully done to compress dozens of different storylines into one almighty  battle with two clear sides. It was jaw-dropping, audacious and storytelling 101. It was genius. And then season 7 happened and it was... fine, I guess. It was a season of popcorn, things we’ve wanted to happen for years but which were way less satisfying in reality. It could be a lack of danger (not a single major character died!) or the fact that the plotting is all wonky, but the seventh season’s deliberate showy nature was frustrating. That’s not to say there weren’t good moments (the dragon attack on the caravans is one of the most awe-inspiring things I saw all year), but it felt like that this was all placeholder until the show’s eighth and final season. It’s now a waiting game to see if it was worth all the effort.

Grey’s Anatomy seasons 12-14, part 1: What a rollercoaster time I had with Grey’s this year! My perennial favourite guilty pleasure had one of its strongest years in season 12 as Meredith tried to move on following the death of her one true love Derek Shepherd. It was a season marked by hope and clever, experimental episodes (the dinner party which becomes a complex examination of grief and forgiveness and the episode where Meredith is attacked and becomes the patient for a change, which may be one of the best Grey’s episodes of all time). But then, season 13 was a real struggle, focussing on all the wrong things (a stupid Meredith/Riggs/Maggie love triangle, Amelia being childish). It was one of the few times I’d wondered if the show had run out of ideas. The just finished airing first half of season 14 has reinvigorated my faith, giving characters some much-deserved happy endings and generally being a lighter, more enjoyable show. More of this please.

Jane The Virgin seasons 2-3: A show that had a really strong first season, but which couldn’t keep up the momentum. It remains a clever marriage between high-drama telenovela plotting and more subdued, pleasant family stuff, but their dichotomy became ever more separated these last two seasons. It doesn’t help that the telenovela plot keeps going round and round in circles and that the domestic drama killed off one of the show’s most beloved characters. Still, I always look forward to the time I spend with the Villenauevas.

Mr. Robot season 2: The second season of this hacker drama was just as frustrating as the first, but without the necessary OMG moment at the climax that brought everything together. Mr. Robot frequently made me feel lost and frustrated, and it’s attempts to be clever and ambiguous seemed overly attention-seeking without the emotional undercarriage that had carried the first season through some of its weaker moments. However, there were still some tremendous rug-pull moments, especially in the strange episode where Alf makes a cameo. While I have yet to catch up on season 3, I’ve heard reports that it has overcome its sophomore slump, so  I am looking forward to that.

Nowhere Boys season 3: Introducing a brand new cast was the shot in the arm this show needed, fixing many of the problems I had with season 2. It is now one of the more diverse casts on Australian TV, and delivered some great, sustained mystery plotting and enough character dynamics that I’m eager to see what happens to them next. The best local show you’re not watching.

Outlander season 2: Oh, Outlander, how could you? Your first season was so good, an intoxicating mix of feminism, romance and the Scottish highlands that was one of my favourite shows last year. And then you did season 2, which had the France detour? You’re killing me; just like that French stuff killed the momentum on the season. It may have looked pretty, but everything I cared about was back in Scotland. Everything just seemed a little off in season 2. I did do the first few episodes of season 3, but an early plot twist seemed.. odd, and I have heard that there are some more strange detours. How could you, Outlander? Yet to complete Season 3 at time of writing.

Robot Chicken season 8: I always say that Grey’s is my biggest guilty pleasure, but in truth, it’s probably Robot Chicken. As you can see from this list, I watch a LOT of TV, but I actually binge very little. I prefer to savour, spread a little of a few things over a couple of days. Not with Robot Chicken. I binge, and I binge hard. The other day, I did seven episodes in one sitting, when I had only planned to do one. At the time of writing, I’ve still got a few to go, but I know that if I watch one now, I won’t get to bed until late. I can’t do just one. I don’t know why, but it’s my weirdest TV truth. Also, Robot Chicken is sort of stealth great anyway (this latest season had a Fifty Shades of Grey parody with the Monopoly guy. C’mon, that’s amazing).

RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9: The first season of RuPaul’s Finn and I have done on a weekly basis was such a strange viewing experience. The season began without clear, likable queens to root for and the show’s trademark bitchiness was nowhere in sight, making for a bit of a slog at times. But then, the reunion episode revealed that one of the show’s seemingly nicest queens had been a two-faced villain in what was a stunning episode, packing the entire season’s worth of drama into a single hour. The finale episode was jaw-dropping and is already iconic. Go, Sasha!

Stranger Things 2: I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of Stranger Things and its second season did nothing to really change that. For every strong decision (the buildup of horror, the expansion of the first season’s threat), there were several weaker ones that pulled the series down. Will becoming part of the monster means we never really get to know Will, despite Noah Schnapp’s excellent acting. The character interactions which had been one of the very strongest parts of the first season were gone, as they were all thematically and literally apart. But the biggest problem is also one of its most analysed: ‘The Lost Sister’ is just as bad as you’ve heard. It kills the momentum flat (the previous episode had been terrifying and intense, ending on a brilliant cliffhanger), relies on stereotypical characterisation and doesn’t tell us anything new. It’s horrible. While the series does gain a little momentum later on, the threat never really comes together in a satisfying way. I want to like Stranger Things, I really do, but when there are so many good shows on TV that aren’t being watched, this one feels pleasant but dispensable.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt seasons 2-3: While still one of the funniest shows on TV, Kimmy Schmidt has become harder to swallow. Instead of responding to criticisms of Jane Krakowski’s character, Jacqueline being revealed to be part Native American, it doubled down in an offensive, frustrating episode that missed the point entirely and left a bitter taste. While it’s a comparatively little thing, it showed that the creators of the show weren’t willing to engage in a thoughtful, mature conversation about what was clearly a sensitive issue. There was still a lot to love, especially in the third season, which saw a move away from Kimmy and a focus on Titus (always a plus) and Jacqueline (less so). His pitch perfect parody of Lemonade was one of the funniest things I saw all year.

Vikings season 4, part 2: Vikings remains one of those strange oddities that I started watching ages ago and have just kinda stuck with ever since. It’s capable of great things, but also does some very frustrating things. The second half of season four was a good example of that, as it saw Ragnar Lothbrook removed from his position of power, but also saw the series lose its lead character. It was a brave decision as Travis Fimmel’s unexpected charisma had been one of the main reasons for watching the series and the rest of the season had suffered from the loss of such a powerful performance. I’ve heard that the currently airing season five does fix some of these problems, so I’ll probably get around to that sometime next year.

Will & Grace season 9, part 1: I was excited for the revival as the original (for all it’s weird choices) was one of the most influential and important shows in my life. It was the first gay show I ever showed to my parents and they loved it. The revival isn’t exactly world-changing, but is consistently funny, and it’s incredibly nice to have the gang back. Best episode? Toss-up between the gay conversion camp episode (which features a tear-jerking speech from Jack of all people) and the funeral episode (Karen grieving, Karen reuniting with Smitty, lots of Karen).

Farewell Old Friend

Girls seasons 5-6: Lena Dunham’s frustrating, controversial and entertaining series came to an end this year after six divisive seasons. As one of the first shows I watched ‘as live’ (a season a year), it will always hold a special place in my heart, but the show has often been overshadowed by Dunham’s questionable antics outside of the show. Girls was always inventive (most clearly shown in its exceptional stand-alone episodes like The Panic In Central Park, One Man’s Trash or the most recent American Bitch) and able to hit complex emotions in a nuanced way. I will miss Hannah, Shosh, Jessa and even Marnie, because in their struggle to grow into less terrible people, I saw myself.

Orphan Black season 5: Orphan Black was unable to overcome its worst tendencies (its constant widening of the conspiracy and focus on scientific twists over character interaction and development) in this disappointing final season. However, I will miss Orphan Black for the gift that was Tatiana Maslaney and all the Clone Sestras. May she soon have another worthy showcase for her incredible talents.

Penny Dreadful season 3: After an excellent second season which married gothic horror to personal pain, I had extremely high hopes for this third season, especially seeing it would have the chance to wrap up the series. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations. The season felt rushed and conflicts introduced early on were never cleared up. Worse than that though, this was an unglorious end to some of the most beautifully complex, broken characters I’ve ever seen. Although it seems that it had always been the plan to end the series like this, it has more of a flavour of being cancelled before it’s time. This will always seem like a terrible missed opportunity, but almost all is forgiven because we get an episode as beautiful and sob-inducing as ‘A Blade Of Grass’, a bottle episode about finding hope in the absolute worst of times. Masterful.

Rectify season 4: The final season of one of my favourite shows should be an automatic guarantee to my end of list, especially one that has had such a strong showing on these lists. However, try as I might, I can’t bring myself to remember what happened in the final season. This is one of those rare cases where I need a re-watch before deciding on a final opinion. Until I do, this series’ beautiful, upsetting, hopeful rhythms and characters will stay with me forever.

Wonderful New

Adam Ruins Everything season 1-2: My family was obsessed with this show this year, with my parents eager to see what Adam would ruin next. Conover’s comedic delivery helps the bitter pill go down, especially because a lot of basic stuff we take for granted is terrible and usually associated with power imbalances (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.). In this age of misinformation, it seems more essential than ever. Also, Adam’s character struck me as a weirdly great metaphor for life with Asperger’s (socially inept guy tries to make friends by teaching them stuff, is usually more ostracized as a result).

At Home With Amy Sedaris: The voice of BoJack’s Princess Carolyn gets her own show! And it’s kinda great! This clever, deeply bonkers spoof of home-making shows is wonderfully entertaining and gleefully surreal. Not everything works (not the biggest fan of Sedaris’ other characters), but when it’s on top form, it’s breathtakingly impressive. Episode 6 set in Nature is one of the best episodes of the year.

Bob’s Burgers season 1-3: I’m finally onboard with the Bob’s Burgers train after hearing about it for many years and I’m loving it. It took a while to kick into high gear, but working my way through the third season at the moment is so much fun, as there’s always at least one laugh-out-loud, great moment per episode. Memorable highlights: Tina’s first drive (“TURN ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, TINA! TURN, TINA!”), Bob’s Thanksgiving Totoro-inspired dream, the Mad Pooper (and the song), Gene’s weird-crush on a Manatee puppet and every insane, glorious moment of the fake shark episode.

The Crown season 1: A show that bathes in prestige drama. A fascinating look at a turbulent time for the royal family, it’s gifted with a strong cast and intriguing characters, but sometimes is a bit too stiff upper-lip for its own good. John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill is wonderful and Claire Foy shows Queen Elizabeth’s transformation wonderfully. Prince Philip is the worst, and I hate him. Yet to view season two at the time of writing.

GLOW season 1: I wanted to like this series so much more than I did. The trials and tribulations of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling had moments of greatness, but overall, I found my attention wandering and had to struggle to complete the series (I know many other people that didn’t get that far). The performances of all the women are wonderful though, and this is the series I find myself recommending to people more than any other. TV viewing is so strange.

Superstore seasons 1-3, part 1: If consistency is the truest form of success for a comedy, then Superstore is on track to become one of the greats. While its first season took a while to get going, seasons two and three packed on the character development and silliness to make for one of the most reliably funny comedies currently airing, with an absolute killer cast including America Ferrara and Mark McKinney. Most Valuable Performer? Lauren Ash’s Dina looks to be the Ron Swanson of the series, but I’d argue that Nichole Bloom’s young mum Cheyenne is a more reliably funny character.

Tales From The Tour Bus: This weird animated documentary series from the creator of Beavis And Butthead and King Of The Hill centers on the lives of country singers. It argues that their lives were just as dangerous as that of rock and rollers. The style takes some getting used to, but it’s worth the effort for some insane stories and beautiful music. My favorite episode was the two-parter centered on the tumultuous love affair between Tammy Wynette (‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’, ‘Stand By Your Man’) and George Jones, which starts out funny and romantic before turning gut-punch devastating as she is forced to face her delusions as Jones spirals into addiction. It’s a painful reminder that some of the best art comes from the most painful of places.

The Just Missed Out

Baskets season 1: Zach Galifanikis’ sad clown show would probably have made my top 25 if I had done season 2 in time. As it was, the first season was a gorgeous, heart-wrenching dramedy about family and the struggle to achieve one’s dreams. Supporting character Martha is great (where did the cast come from?) but its Lindsay Anderson’s brave, moving performance as Chip Basket’s mother that is the real reason to watch this. He disappears into the character, never for any second do we think this is a man in a dress, such is the strength of his portrayal. Masterful and sometimes downright devastating. Expect a probable appearance on next year’s list.

Downward Dog: This show was too beautiful for this world. Cancelled after one season, this show was a stunning, lovely examination of love told through the dog Martin’s relationship with his owner. What should’ve been silly and stupid became something much more heartfelt and pure, filled with understanding that even the most perfect love is about trying to understand and accommodate one another’s needs, no matter how different they are. If this was going to have a second season, this would’ve made it onto my list. As it was cancelled after 8 perfect episodes, it will remain one of the great one-season wonders.

F Is For Family seasons 1-2: Bill Burr’s dark animated family sitcom was addictive, disturbing fare. At first, it seemed to glamourise Frank’s racist, sexist diatribe that he spouted so frequently as part of the era in which it was set, but as the show went on and the messed up family dynamics become more complex and depressing, F Is For Family became much more. It became an examination of toxic masculinity, how sexist, racist attitudes infest every aspect of the family and how parents’ own failings can be transferred to their children. The fights between Frank and his wife Sue (voiced with weary frustration by the always excellent Laura Dern) were some of the most painfully real that I’ve ever seen, while the kids’ own attempts to act out often resulted in more pain. It wasn’t always an easy, or very funny watch, but at its best, F Is For Family was an extremely insightful watch.

Orange Is The New Black season 4: To be honest, Orange Is The New Black’s fourth season was one of the best things I watched this year. Taking hold of the great season 3 cliff-hanger, the show used the opportunity to go even darker, more stressful and thematically insightful. The show had always seemed to be about prison dynamics within the prison, but season four argued that the greatest threat to the prisoners was an uncaring system focused on profits over humanity. The show became extremely addictive as the feeling grew that something had to break, and it wasn’t going to be good. That break came late in the season, an immensely devastating casualty that promised to cause even bigger chaos in season five. The only reason this show isn’t on my top 25 is because I didn’t catch up with that finals season before the end of the year. If I had, this probably would’ve been top 10.

Regular Show seasons 6-7: What a strange series Regular Show is. It could so easily been a show about two slackers doing stupid things which cause them strange, interdimensional problems. And for the majority of it’s tenure, it was, but over the last few seasons it had also become something more. Slowly, Mordecai and Rigby learned to grow up, but it did so in a surprising, natural way. Mordecai had a relationship with Margaret and Cloudy Jay, both of which ended badly, due to his immaturity. Meanwhile, Rigby found a relationship with Eileen that made him strive to be a better person. Rigby, stupid, childish, annoying Rigby, suddenly became the more mature, responsible one. It was a twist I would never have seen coming, but one that was incredibly welcome. The show itself also matured into a series with a strange arc throughout its seventh season, before it married it’s strangeness with its focus on maturity in a wonderful season finale. The eighth season will be its last, but I have yet to catch up on that. For years, this series languished behind Adventure Time and Steven Universe as the best Cartoon Network has to offer. Not anymore.

Part 2 of my TV reviews will (hopefully) be published Thursday or Friday. My Top 10 Anime will go up either Saturday or Sunday.  The film roundup will go up Wednesday next week, while my top 20 films will go up the Thursday or Friday after that. Hope to see you then.
Regards,
David Gumball-Watson

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Barriers


Hello all,
As much as I may like to, I can never forget that I have a mental illness. I’ve spoken before on this blog about my struggles with Asperger’s and depression but sometimes I like to forget. To pretend that I’m normal, as normal can be. That’s not to say the symptoms aren’t always there, because they are.
   Those symptoms are there in those small, powerful moments. Like when my brain goes a little too fast and I stumble on a word or a sentence, and end up sounding very stupid. Or when my obsession with film and television results in me writing lists and lists of my favourite TV shows for no discernible reason, wasting an entire evening. Or that panicky moment when I worry that my last social interaction was wrong and that person will hate me forever more.
   But those moments pass and I have got better and digging myself out of those holes, by talking to my boyfriend Finn or watching something. What used to be unbearable has now become tolerable. And that’s nice, but it does give a false sense of security. Because right now, my entire life as I’ve known it is about to be ripped out from under me. And I’m terrified.
   You see, for as long as I can remember I’ve had a structured life. I’ve attended primary school, then high school, then a Bachelor’s Degree in Professional and Creative Writing, then one in Film and Television. We Aspie people like structure, well-defined rules and a guideline. I like to be able to plan for the future, to mitigate any stress as much as within human possibility. So attending schooling has been very good, a well-defined set of rules and structures. High school was four terms and holidays. My writing degree was two terms and holidays, with assignment chaos once every one and a half months. That last structure was one of my own making. I could’ve easily done the assignments over the previous several or so weeks, but invariably left it to that one chaos week because that’s what worked for me. I liked it. But life doesn’t work like that.
   My recently completed filmmaking degree was not like that. It was deadlines every week; insane with no chance for me to catch up. I had no idea what I was doing. It made me feel stupid and my marks reflected that. So did my mental health. After an especially stressful three months working as a producer on a short film, my mental health suffered. My depression-for-no-reason came back with a vengeance. I became sadder and broken all over again.
   It was the fall I could’ve, should’ve predicted, because my stupid brain had been making stupid decisions for a long time. This fall began in a writing class two years ago. It was my last unit and my brain was panicking. The unit was all about selling yourself, arguing that to be a writer was a fight to get your voice heard in a crowded industry. And it’s really hard to sell yourself when you hate yourself as much as I do most of the time. That’s not something new, I’ve always been quiet and sarcastic about my self-worth. Hell, the name of this blog is a jab at my face. The only time I can think of something to say about myself it’s an insult or a sarcastic comment. My writing is deeply, deeply personal and if I don’t like myself, why am I writing in the first place? This thought grew over the weeks, before suddenly I was hit with the realisation.
   For as long as I could remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I used to write funny stories about my elderly neighbour as a superhero. Or imagined a grand, complex sci-fi epic on my way to school where the main characters were gay and struggled with their mental illness. Writing was how I made sense of the world. It was always what I wanted to do. But I’m a lazy reader. This past year I’ve read one book (The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood), but started about six others. I wanted to read them all, but I find it hard to put in the effort because I am a bad person. But with film and TV? This year, I’ve seen 247 films and 77 TV shows (and counting). There’s something nice about knowing how long it’s going to take to the exact minute. That hasn’t always been like that, the dichotomy used to be swapped, but somewhere along the line it changed (I blame Doctor Who).
   And I realised this in that class. Why the fuck am I trying to be a writer when I watch so much? I’ve always imagined my stories in terms of how to represent them visually (I’m very good at dialogue, not complex description), so why not do film and television? It was a revelation and I texted Finn immediately saying (melodramatically) “I think I made the worst decision of my life”. When he asked me to elaborate, I said I should’ve studied film and television.
   Six months later, there I was. But I didn’t know a thing. My attempt to have a structured, logical life collapsed as everyone else in the class knew how to do shot sizes and composition, while I was struggling to set up a light. What made it worse was that I simultaneously did a second year subject at the same time, making me feel even more behind and stupid. My stress levels shot up and I panicked. It was hell and I had made yet another wrong decision.
   What’s funny is that I had always thought of myself as a bad writer, a feeling that was a combination of my intense levels of self-hatred and one teacher who hated a piece of my writing. In retrospect, it wasn’t a great piece of writing, but that atrocious mark stuck with me. Especially seeing my friends always seemed to be shooting ahead of me. Their command of language was (and remains) so much more advanced than mine. The other day, my friend Holmes was on Family Feud and invited us all around to watch this “surreal abomination”. As I said to Finn, sometimes I forget the word for soup.
   But my marks had never really shown that. For writing, they had been consistently high. My feedback had also been very strong on the majority of my pieces, but for whatever reason, my brain was convinced that I’m a bad writer. So, I made a life decision based on an intense lack of self-confidence, which ended up resulting in actual bad marks and a reason to be less confidence. My brain is majestic in its stupidity.
   But now, even the basic structure of my film course is going to be ripped away. Because I’m about to graduate.
   I don’t deal well with change, and this is the biggest change of them all. My life is now my own and that’s fucking terrifying. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know whether to look for a job in writing or film or television or whether to go for a nice, simple retail job because that’s what I know.
   For the last year and a bit, I’ve been volunteering at my local op shop (a Salvation Army, yes, I know) to get a bit of experience. What began as a panic attack every other day has become something I’m actually fairly good at. I know how to do retail and so I don’t panic there. I could get a job in retail (probably). But what’s scary about that, is it’s comfortable and safe and I can see my entire life plan there. Working full time in a store, until I move out and live with Finn, maybe have some kids. I could easily see myself being comfortable and happy enough there. But do I really want that? Was doing those two degrees enough of a foray into creative industries for me to be satisfied? Especially as Finn gets to live his dream of making a game (which is wonderful).
   But the alternative of opening myself up to intense stress and criticism in writing and film is enough to make me feel the panic rise in my chest, for my instinct to run or make a joke about my stupid face to set in. Part of me wants really badly to pursue my dreams but the other, bigger part of me knows that I am not strong enough to do that. And I don’t know if I’ve ever put that into words. But there it is. For my mental health, it seems irresponsible to put myself through the suffering and intense hatred of pursuing an endeavour in creative arts. Why be sad every day when I could work in a simple retail job and just bury my subtle desire to do more? I’m not saying mental health is a barrier for everyone, but maybe, just maybe, it is for me.

   Because as I begin to enter the work environment, its ability to stop me is becoming more prevalent. Regardless of what I decide to do, I need to find a paying job, probably starting in retail, before I even consider what to do about that last paragraph panic. So I’m on JobSeeker from Centerlink. And in my first attempt, my case worker asked me if there were any “barriers” to me finding work. In the issue of full disclosure, I said Asperger’s. I know everyone says they’d never pick it, but I feel it. And she said can you tell Centerlink cause then we can offer you more help. I’d never told them because I like to be more than my mental illness, just like I’m more than my sexuality. She wasn’t being mean or cruel, she was actually really nice and did want to help me as much as she could because according to her, I seemed keen for work unlike a lot of other people she sees (maybe I should think of a career in acting next). But that description of Asperger’s as a barrier has stuck with me. Niggled away. Not in a way that’s comfortable. Because a realisation like that can be kinda nice sometimes, like when my counsellor said I’ll probably never stop having this sadness or feelings of self-hatred, but can take the power out of them. My counsellor didn’t offer a cure, just said that there was a problem that could be made better. But barriers? A barrier is something you try not to hit into, but which you forget about, only really becoming notable when you’re smashing headlong into it. And I’m a bad driver.
   And then the other day, I got summoned for jury duty. It’s something I’ve always been curious about (because c’mon, cool) and because I’m a bit like Lena Dunham’s character in Girls, always looking for some kind of life experience to write about (with results almost as destructive). But mum said you can probably get off cause of your Asperger’s. There’s a sting there. I like to think I’m normal, or to pretend I’m normal. But mental health never lets you forget that you’re different. Sometimes that’s a comfort. And sometimes it’s not.
   And as I prepare for the panic of job interviews and resumes and finding a place in this world, my feelings of difference and brokenness are surely to become even more skewed and chaotic.
   Which means you can expect a blog series. Probably. Literally this whole post was about how lazy I am at writing, but the last time I did a lengthy blog series was about when I first started dating Finn and all the changes that meant to how I think about myself. And I’m sure this is going to be even more apocalyptic. So come, grab a coffee and some marshmallows and warm yourself by the fire that is my broken brain. It’ll be fun.
   Short disclaimer to those unfamiliar with my blog: I write a lot about myself, unvarnished and honest. It can get dark, very, very dark but usually I try to turn it back around to find some light. This post, not so much, because it’s all up in the air. But next time maybe.
   Also, look forward to my annual NSV Awards coming roughly the week of December 18. They’re gonna be epic.
   Until the next time.

Regards,
David Gumball-Watson 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Moments In The Woods

Hello all,
Becoming an adult begins when you realise that nothing is as simple as it appears. When you realise that the Universe and the people who live in it are complex, unfathomable beings which we can only ever truly understand a small part of. That someone who appears purely good or purely bad is probably a lot more nuanced than that. They contain multitudes, just as we do.
   It’s a difficult idea, particularly in a political culture as fraught as ours is currently. With a madman in the most powerful position in the world, the rhetoric against queer people and other minorities has grown even more terrifying and insidious than it ever has before. I had foolishly thought that this was just an American problem. Yes, it was devastating to witness and my heart went out to those heartbroken by the dangers Donald Trump has wrought, but I felt safe and a distance from my Australian landscape.
   But then Malcolm Turnbull decided to initiate the plebiscite, asking the whole country what they thought of two people in love getting married. Let’s put aside for a moment how ridiculous this whole concept is (it’s a non-binding vote unless the majority is a no, it’s a public vote on a minority issue, it’s none of your goddamn business if I choose to get married or not), because even though it’s stupid and short-sighted, it’s also more than that. Much more. It’s a truly painful moment for any queer person nationwide, because suddenly our lives are open to judgement yet again.
   One of the most insidious and depressing aspects of being gay in a homophobic society is the loss of safety. It’s all those moments you catch yourself, as Panti Bliss once put it. You try not to act too gay, just in case someone was watching. The longer you’re out, the easier it becomes to put that to bed. You’re just being paranoid, you tell yourself, as you panic a little when your boyfriend gives you a quick kiss goodbye on the train. He didn’t seem panicked, so it must be fine. But then as you walk down the platform, you worry that someone on the train is yelling at him now, or worse. You feel that guilt fester, and suddenly you realise it, you feel guilty for loving him. They have made you feel guilty and you hate yourself a little bit for it, because you’ve let them in.
   And as this plebiscite debate becomes more and more prominent in the public’s mind, then the hatred and the pain will continue. And when my boyfriend, Finn, reads this, he’ll say something that inspires me to look past the pain, but not everyone has someone they can turn to. There are people out there feeling alone, feeling that secret guilt, that private pain that comes from knowing that you’re lying to everyone around you about something fundamental to you. That is the true danger of this plebiscite. Of making a touchy minority issue into a subject of public debate. Because you never know when people are listening.
   I didn’t realise how much this debate was affecting me until the other day when I was watching Into The Woods. The Stephen Sondheim musical has always had a very special place in my heart after I dragged my partner to it in early 2015, and I cried my eyes out. It’s such a beautiful, complex story and I connected with its ideas of moral grey areas, the legacy parents leave for their children and the true darkness of the world that fairytales leave out. But what truly moved me was the song ‘No One Is Alone’. It takes place at one of the darkest moments in the film, just after the main characters have all lost so much, especially the young Jack and Red Riding Hood, whose mothers are both dead. In the song, The Baker and Cinderella try to comfort them, telling them that even though the world is dark and painful right now, there is light coming. Because no one is alone in the world. At the time, the song resonated with me because I had been feeling incredibly lonely. I had no-one to talk to about my film and television obsessions, especially seeing I had tried to force Finn into watching some of my favourites and he had hated them (chronicled in the painfully awkward Dial M For Movies series). And suddenly, in the middle of the cinema as ‘No One Is Alone’ began to play, I cried. I realised that I had to find a group of people who I could talk to about movies. And I did. That night, I found a film club, which I still go to every Sunday and see movies with. I talk passionately about these weird, obscure movies without judgement and it’s wonderful.
   The other day, I managed to get a copy of the original Broadway version of Into The Woods with a number of other DVDs. I was doing my usual trailer trash (putting in the discs and seeing if they have trailers) when I got to Into The Woods. It was the last one in the pile and I decided to start it up to see what the quality was like. I watched the whole 2 and a half hour film in one sitting. The Broadway version of the play is very different than the Disney film, and superior in almost every way. The jokes land harder, the themes are explored more completely, the characters are given added, more devastating depth and the songs are performed by experienced singers (and the Wolf is a boy!). The difference was breath-taking. And when I got to ‘No One Is Alone’ I cried again. I cried because the vocal performance was gorgeous, tender and heartbreaking.
   I cried because I’ll be leaving the University I’ve been going to for 5 years very soon, and the idea terrifies me.
   I cried because there seems to be too much pain in this world.
   I cried because even though I have so many friends and people who love me, I still get overwhelmingly depressed and lonely.
   I cried because that depression is so unbearable that it feels like I may never get out of it.
   I cried because I do get out of it, but I know that there are many others who can’t get out, whose sadness overwhelms them.
   I cried because this plebiscite and homophobic rhetoric will destroy lives.
   I cried because there are so many people who will never realise that they are not alone, that somewhere in the world, there are people waiting for them.
   I saw the rest of the play in tears, an emotional release I’d been needing for weeks. At the darkest of times, pop culture can help us see a way out. Find your Into The Woods. But I like Into The Woods because it argues that no one is inherently terrible. That moral grey areas exist all the time.
   That’s the saddest thing about this whole debate. Most people aren’t terrible. People with homophobic attitudes can be lovely people in other areas of their lives. Some gay people I’ve met are truly awful. Having a specific political standpoint (that I now need to add excluding the Nazis and other white supremacy groups is extremely depressing) doesn’t mean that our entirety is terrible. Because we contain multitudes that change over time. Someone who votes ‘no’ on that poll, might vote ‘yes’ in ten years time when their own child comes out to them. It’s very easy to be homophobic and racist to a concept, to a theory. But when you see your child come out, when you see the pain in their eyes, it’s so much harder to hate.
   So, as we go into this plebiscite and the anger and pain gets worse and worse and worse, I beg of people please be kind. Try to understand one another. Think about what your words mean.
   And to any young queer people reading this, please, please know that you are not alone. Know that the hate comes from broken people, who have nothing better to do with their time than to try to bring you down. You have to try and stand and push them off. You have to weather this storm, because no storm lasts forever. There is always the sun. There are always people waiting for you to find them. And once you do, you will never be alone again. Because no one, and I mean no one, is alone.
   What piece of pop-culture keeps you sane in this crazy world?


Regards,

David Gumball-Watson

Friday, 7 July 2017

Walking Through Eternity: 1.3 The Edge Of Destruction

Hello all,
Welcome to the third installment of Walking In Eternity! How great was the season finale of this year's Doctor Who?! I absolutely loved it, and can't wait to review it, in the far, far distant future. With a renewed interest in the First Doctor, it looks like I've chosen the perfect time to start these reviews!
   It's a bit of an untraditional story today, but I hope you like reading my thoughts on it!

1.3 The Edge Of Destruction

2 episodes. Broadcast 8th – 15th February 1964. Written by David Whitaker. Directed by Richard Martin and Frank Cox.

Synopsis: The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan are trapped in a malfunctioning TARDIS. What could have caused the ship to break down? And why is everyone acting so weird? Could the ship have been invaded by an alien presence?

It’s a good old-fashioned bottle episode as Doctor Who experimentation continues...
The most important thing to remember about Doctor Who at this stage of the series’ life is that the program makers haven’t quite figured out how to do this show yet, so we see them stumbling around in the dark, offering up potential directions the series could take. While that formula would eventually see The Daleks as Doctor Who at its most typical, it’s interesting to consider what the show would’ve been like had, say, ‘The Edge Of Destruction’ been a more popular story.
   While most modern day viewers tend to dismiss this as an inconsequential bit of filler, I’ve always had a great soft spot for it. That could be because it seems to fit into that most wondrous of TV traditions, the bottle episode. As I have discussed previously, I have a huge love for this kind of what appears to be a simpler kind of episode. Basically, the idea is you shove a small number of characters into a space, isolate them and watch the tensions ratchet up to fever pitch (Doctor Who’s ‘Midnight’ is one of the most recognisable examples, and it was something Seinfeld did all the time). While these episodes are cheaper to make (only one set means no hiring of set designers and only having the main characters means no need to pay extras), they are often incredibly difficult to pull off well. At their best, they are like mini theatre pieces, with their focus on character and story over flashy attention-grabbing scenes. At their worst, they’re dull and look cheap.
   So, how does Doctor Who’s example hold up? Surprisingly well. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. This is a strangely amateur-looking production with several shots weirdly out-of-focus and/or over exposed and the walls of the TARDIS looking like cardboard wobbling on a studio set. I know this was done on the cheap, but it’s so distracting it pulls you out of the story, especially as I am now studying film. And the ending is atrocious, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
   The problem here is that there’s actually a lot to love about this story. It has a nightmarish, eerie quality about it, with elements of danger lurking around every corner. The Doctor is yet again a monstrous figure, threatening to throw Ian and Barbara out of the ship when he suspects they’ve been possessed by an alien force. Susan is acting strangely, continually trying to stab Ian with a pair of (very phallic) scissors, before murdering a couch. The clocks melt, the lights go out and the tension just increases with every moment. And all of that weirdness works, coming across as terrifying and strange, like the Doctor Who version of a Twilight Zone episode. However, while The Twilight Zone is an anthology, what makes this story so effective is its use of continuity and the bond between characters.
   There are two all-time great scenes in The Edge of Destruction, both of which I’m reminded of when people dismiss this. The first features my beloved Barbara. There are a lot of reasons to love her. She’s the heart of the TARDIS crew, but also a stone-cold badass with a great hairstyle, but somehow always comes across as a consistent likable character. She keeps her head when things get crazy, so when she starts screaming, we know it’s about to get bad. While many argue that The Aztecs is Barbara’s shining moment, I’d argue that the real reason to love Barbara occurs in this story. Throughout, she’s calm yet firm, but then finally, the levy breaks. The Doctor threatens to throw her out of the ship and she delivers a blistering, unforgettable takedown of him. She reminds him that she and Ian didn’t ask to go on this journey yet they have consistently helped him and Susan, against the cave of skulls and the Daleks. Now, he wants to throw them out of the ship? He should get on his knees and thank them! It’s a great, fist-in-the-air moment, because it relies on continuity but does so in a way that develops character, but also because it’s the telling off the Doctor needed. If this were a modern drama, this would be the climax, but here it’s treated as another moment in this effectively creepy little story. If you don’t shout GO BARBARA after this story (which also sees her figure out the reason all this is happening), then you’re missing something.
   The second, more famous scene, sees the Doctor giving a monologue about the birth of a star. It’s a beautiful moment for William Hartnell (no fluffs!) and the most recognisable moment of Doctor-ishness so far. It’s also really well-written, informative and wonderfully staged and shot (the lighting is on-point there), so it ticks a lot of boxes.
   So, The Edge Of Destruction is moody, has two legitimately great scenes and wonderful performances, so why is it so hated? Well, apart from the shoddy production value, the story’s biggest flaw is the ending. This creepy, mood-piece happened because... the fast-return switch on the console got stuck. It’s infuriating and silly, making something creepy into a technical fault. It’s an annoyingly bad ending that leaves a bitter taste (almost, but not quite, redeemed by another sweet scene between Barbara and the Doctor).
   It’s hard to know what to make of this, especially seeing there isn’t a lot of Doctor Who stories one can compare it to. The bonkers first episode of the Second Doctor story ‘The Mind Robber’ comes close, but it’s interesting to think what the series could’ve been like had these sideways in times stories been more popular. It’s a weird story, but what can I say, I’ve always liked the weird ones.

Grade: B

Next time: The TARDIS crew meet Marco Polo and face off against the terrots of ancient China!

Thanks,
David Gumball-Watson

Monday, 19 June 2017

Walking Through Eternity: 1.2 The Daleks

Hello all,
Welcome to the second of my individual Doctor Who reviews! This time, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan meet the Doctor's most dangerous foes, the Daleks, for the very first time! It's a really interesting and exciting story, really showing the series coming into it's own and I hope you like reading my thoughts on it!
   A small note about when these reviews will be going up: I have no set time frame for this project, mainly going by when I get a chance to watch and review the stories. However, for the foreseeable future, these reviews will come out on a Monday, so make sure to check then!

1.2 The Daleks

7 episodes. Broadcast 21st December 1963 - 1st February 1964. Written by Terry Nation. Directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin.

Synopsis: The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arrive in a strange, petrified forest. Venturing into a metal city, they discover a terrifying adversary, the Daleks. But what do these monsters want, and why do they speak of horribly mutated creatures?

Put simply, the metal pepper pots made Doctor Who famous.
There's a few things guaranteed to get on a Doctor Who fan's nerves. One is referring to the Doctor as Dr Who (yes, while he may have been credited as that for pretty much the entire classic series, it is not his name as no-one in the show calls him that), the other is that Daleks aren't scary because you can escape them by climbing up stairs. In the show's later years, when it went from a national pride to a laughing stock, this was the one joke that always came up. And it's nonsense. But in some ways, it makes sense, because with very few exceptions (the fourth Doctor's Genesis of the Daleks and Seven's Remembrance of the Daleks comes to mind), I don't think the Daleks are as scary as they are in their very first appearance.
   It's at the end of the effective first episode that sets up a number of mysteries and includes several memorable visuals, such as the petrified forest, the still-impressive model shot of the city, the strange metal surfaces. The characters find themselves separated and Barbara gets lost. Doors close behind her, and there's the sense that she's being closed in, trapped. And then she turns. What looks like a plunger lunges towards her. And she screams. It should be the silliest thing you've ever seen, but it's not. It's terrifying. It's a mix of Jacqueline Hill as Barbara's brilliant panic-stricken acting, the unique soundscape and the escalation of mystery that makes the scene work. It's perhaps the series' finest cliff hanger and is another example of the show at its most iconic in its early moments.
   In this story, the Daleks work perfectly. From their shouting rage communicating their absolute, as the Doctor puts, "dislike for the unlike", their inhuman, sleek design and their sheer monstrous, power, they are a true force to be reckoned with. While later stories will work towards expanding them (in numbers, types and back story), their natural mysteriousness paired with their pure hatred, make them a terrifying foe.
   Character wise, everyone in this story gets something to do. The Doctor creates chaos as he lies about the TARDIS having a broken fluid link because he wants to explore the city, but in doing so, puts them all at the mercy of the Daleks. At this stage of the series, the Doctor is as much of an antagonist as the Daleks, leaving Ian to be our action hero, which he does wonderfully. This is seen especially in the moment he confronts the Thals, the Daleks' opposite species. They're beautiful pacifists, which the TARDIS crew want to change. So, Ian makes one of the head Thals stand up to him by trying to kidnap one of the Thal women. It's an odd scene, one that is potentially a bit iffy depending on where you stand politically, but the story makes it work, arguing that pacifism can only stand so long before one has to make a stand.
   Susan helps the gang by recovering some radiation medicine from the TARDIS, running into the Thals and screaming a lot. Already her mysterious, alien nature from An Unearthly Child is gone and she's a screaming, panicky teenager. This will become more and more of a problem as her tenure on the TARDIS goes on. Not true for Barbara who gets to have a lovely little relationship with an attractive Thal and help to storm the Dalek city at the climax.
   While this is a wonderfully paced, exciting story, there are moments where it drags. Episode six feels like padding until the climax, while the Thals are just not very interesting, a problem that will continue whenever they turn up in later years. It makes you want a story that was just the TARDIS crew fighting the Daleks, but alas.
   However, what makes this serial work as well as it does, actually isn't the story at all, it's in the way it's made. It always looks polished and professional (even if you do have to look past the life-sized photos of Daleks in the background) and is gifted with one of the most memorable soundscapes of the series. The alien buzzing of the Dalek ship, the silence of the petrified forest, a whirlpool that seems to scream out in terror, it's a story meant to be heard as much as it is seen.
   Almost immediately after their first appearance, the Daleks were a hit, imitated in playgrounds all over Britain. Forever afterwards, the words Doctor Who and Dalek would be inextricably linked, the popularity of one tied to that of the other. We fans wouldn't have it any other way, especially when this entertaining, terrifying slice of science fiction exists with not a stairway in sight.
 
Grade: A-

Next time: The crew are trapped in the TARDIS and everyone goes a bit mad in one of the strangest Doctor Who stories ever!

Love and thanks,
David Gumball-Watson

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Walking Through Eternity: 1.1 An Unearthly Child

Hello all,
I know it's been a long time since posting, and I am hoping to write a post about what I've been up to shortly in the future, but in the meantime, I'd like to introduce a brand new series of posts for you all!
   As many people know, my favorite TV series of all time is the beloved, long-running science fiction series Doctor Who. Through over 50 years, it has been a wonderful slice of television joy and I count myself proudly as one of the people who has a wide knowledge of both the classic and the new series. Naturally, as we've been together for over three years now, I thought it time I introduce my partner, Finn, to the great joys of the series. But where to begin? With the new stuff? The fourth Doctor? The seventh Doctor? The Third? And then, I realised that the best place to start was at the very beginning! While I have done most of the stories, I have never done them in order, from the start. It was something I was saving for my bucket list, but why not knock it out now? So, for the foreseeable future, my partner and I will be slowly working through the great Doctor Who journey, while I post my thoughts on the stories up shortly after. I am also endeavoring to include some special coverage of some of the wide variety of Doctor Who spin-off media available, such as novels, comics and audio adventures. I look forward to seeing you on this journey, as I present the TARDIS key to you and invite you to take it!

1.1 An Unearthly Child

4 episodes. Broadcast 23rd November - 14th December 1963. Written by Anthony Coburn. Directed by Warris Hussein.

Synopsis: A pair of schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara, are fascinated by their student, Susan's, odd behaviour. Unable to explain why, other than pure curiosity, they decide to visit her home. But the address she provided is an old junkyard. How could this possibly be where she lives? And could it have something to do with that angry old man guarding that oddly alive police box? After the Doctor kidnaps them and transports the TARDIS to the days of cavemen, he, Ian, Barbara and Susan must make fire or face a brutal death.

Isn't it iconic?
It's hard to imagine what it would've been like sitting down to this series 54 years ago, especially not after all that has happened since. But let's paint a picture for a moment. First, some context. The day Doctor Who was first broadcast would live down in history. It was the day JFK was shot and killed. The world was suddenly a very different, scarier place. The news told the story, the world was in shock. And then, a mere half-an-hour later, the opening bars of the Doctor Who theme began. The scariest, most alien sound anyone had ever heard. The world was changing, the tune seemed to say, why not find some comfort in this strange, wonderful little show?
   To the viewers back in the 60s, this represented a new beginning, something vastly different than they'd ever seen before. Ironically, the feeling is much the same to a modern day viewer. This isn't the Doctor Who we know either. There is no fun, likable central character. The first Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, is irascible, frustrating and oh, so very, very alien. Some might go so far as to call him unlikable, but that's exactly the point. This is a man who kidnaps his granddaughter's school teachers because they stumble upon his weird bigger-on-the-inside spaceship. A man who smokes a pipe. A man who almost kills one of the cavemen with a rock. The first Doctor is both young and old, grumpy yet with a twinkle in his eye. What early Doctor Who presents, particularly in its first season, is the story of an alien traveller who, through contact with the kindness of humanity, learns to be a little less horrible. It's only at the conclusion of that character arc that we begin to see a Doctor we recognise, but it's only early days yet.
   What's even stranger than the Doctor's behavior is that he's actually not the protagonist of the series. That role is undertaken by Ian and Barbara, the aforementioned kidnapped schoolteachers. They are the protagonists of the series, through whose eyes and experiences allow us to see this strange new world. They keep the Doctor and the stories grounded, ensuring that their very human, relatable reactions ensure something scary is still enjoyable.
   The story's adventure with the cavemen is not as fondly recalled as it's iconic opening episode, but it's here that we get to see the series' great strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses out of the way first; the cave politics are even more dull than they sound there, and the long scenes of the group just talking to one another are very odd. One could say that this is just a factor of the story not aging well, but as we shall see the rest of Doctor Who's first year doesn't really fall prey to this, so it must just be an odd writing choice. There are also moments when it looks a bit ridiculous, particularly when the TARDIS team run through a jungle that is clearly a back production with an extra waving some sticks in the actors' faces. That hasn't aged well.
   But the strengths! This is Doctor Who at its most nasty with a real sense of threat that being in such a dangerous situation provides for both the characters and the audience. It's seen in the constant mention of death or the prison cell where the gang is held up, filled with skulls and bones. This is an incredibly hostile, unpleasant environment. It's also a situation that plays up Ian and Barbara's kindness, allowing the Doctor to change as well. A key scene features the two stopping to help a man that had been chasing them, but who was wounded by a creature. The Doctor wants to leave the man, going so far as to grab a rock and almost drop it on the man's head, but Ian catches him, and scolds him. They have to help him, it's the right thing to do, the human thing. It's the beginning of change for the character, and it will happen a lot throughout this first year.
   Another key strength of this story is the dynamic between the characters. After only four episodes, we have a family established, with each character fulfilling a specific role. The Doctor, the alien presence who pushes the characters into unfriendly and unfamiliar circumstances; Ian, the action man and skeptic; Barbara (my dear beloved Barbara), the heart of the group, believing in the impossible; and Susan, the annoying, childlike audience stand-in.
   Ah, Susan. She's a character I really struggle with. In her first appearance, she's a mysterious, alien presence, very much the Doctor's granddaughter. When Barbara gives her a book on the French Revolution, she memorably flips through the pages, stating "that's not right!" It's such an unforgettably odd entrance, setting up great things for her character. But after such a mysterious entrance, she becomes the go-between for her grandfather and Ian and Barbara, settling disputes, but never actively being a very engaging character. It doesn't help that she has an annoying tendency to scream, cry and whine at the smallest things, but the big problem is she's just not very interesting. But that's a problem for another story.
   So, what to make of all this? I keep returning to that first ever episode and the way it's instantly iconic and atmospheric. A policeman walks through a junkyard, past an old police box. It buzzes, as if it's alive. But it couldn't possibly be. Could it? How wonderfully alien.
   Or later in the episode, when Ian and Barbara meet the Doctor in the junkyard, worried for Susan's wellbeing. They think he's trapped her in the box, so they push past him and open the doors into a massive, open, white space. Even when you know it's coming, as any person who watches this, even if they've never seen Doctor Who must, it's still awe-inspiring and unforgettable. As the ship departs and arrives on an alien planet, still in the form of a police box, one has to wonder did the creators of this little show know how iconic they were going to be? How this series would last for 54 years and is still going strong? How despite constant changes it still manages to be the same basic show? It seems impossible, but as anyone who loves Doctor Who knows, as soon as you hear those opening bars of the theme tune, you know that anything is possible.
"If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?"

— The First Doctor


Grade: B

Next up: The Doctor meets his most dastardly foes in The Daleks!

Regards,
David Gumball-Watson