Archive for arthur darvill

Goodbye Mr. Smith!

Posted in British Shows on American TV, Reviews, TV Culture, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2013 by Tom Steward

This blog seems to be nothing but obituaries these days but I’m happy that, after reporting the dreadful loss of James Gandolfini, I’m only talking about the death of a fictional character this week and not even that. In essence all I’m really discussing is an actor leaving a role and something that’s happened ten times over, which on the surface doesn’t seem to be much cause for mourning and sadness. But this time it’s not a relief to say goodbye or a feeling that the pleasure has reached its capacity just that of being deprived of something truly wonderful.

So it’s come to Tardis: Matt Smith leaves ‘Doctor Who’

In 2009 there was nothing but alarm amongst fans of the TV show Doctor Who as the younger ever actor to be cast in the eponymous role was announced as the replacement for David Tennant. Matt Smith was 26 at the time but his uneven hair, emo style and awkward deportment made him seem much much younger. Concern and panic was only exacerbated by a number of appearances in which he seemed illegible and incapable. Unlike most, I was happy to see Tennant and his lazy shortcuts leave the series, but became prematurely nostalgic for him after learning the news.

Matt Smith in 2009, looking more like Adric!

A terrible debut scene at the end of one of the most tedious and portentous Doctor Who episodes ever broadcast didn’t help matters. Horribly written and directed in a needlessly elliptical style, Smith’s performance in the final few minutes of ‘The End of Time’ seemed fragile and misplaced, falsely suggesting a performance of infantile nihilism that was the worst everyone feared. Expectations sufficiently lowered, we started to get reasons to be cheerful. In the previews Smith looked and sounded commanding and unique and word spread that Smith had reconsidered his approach after studying Patrick Troughton’s groundbreaking interpretation of the role.

The jury was still out when in Easter 2010 Smith made his full debut in ‘The Eleventh Hour’. Quietly assured in the Bond-teaser opening, he went from strength to strength in his first hour of television, re-injecting a genuine sense of fun, humour and warmth into the show (without resorting to saccharine) and refusing to romanticize the character, making The Doctor a troubling proposition of unpredictable behaviour and sinister tendencies despite his innate affability. Unlike Tennant it wasn’t a needy performance that asked you to idolize the actor as you worshipped the character, just an actor doing a part justice.

As Smith’s first season progressed, his ability to judge the demands of the role became increasingly evident. He knew exactly when to let loose the pantomime of the piece and when to tone it down and squeeze out the profundity. While honouring the previous ten performances of the role-in a way that his last two predecessors had not-Smith stamped his authority on the part with a wholly original spin on the character. Each actor playing The Doctor has to find a way to capture his alien qualities. Smith played The Doctor as a social misfit, comically illiterate in human beings’ behavioural orthodoxies. He talked to children like adults and adults like children, gleefully misjudged fashion and etiquette, and moved and gestured in disregard of convention.

There are definitely two aliens in this photograph!

As the second season of the programme veered head-first into pure space opera, Smith brought to the melodrama an understated honesty and brevity that gave the emotional core of the show a raw power unseen in its mawkish, self-pitying previous few years. Tears were no longer an inevitable part of a cloying formula but hard-won and always accompanied with restraint. As such, Smith pulled off that fine balance between the outlandish and the sincere that makes Doctor Who. He was able to suggest age and wisdom well beyond his years, and with it the overgrown teenager we initially saw evaporated.

Hard-won tears from Matt Smith as The Doctor

Smith’s third season as The Doctor saw him finally getting the mature, heavyweight material he needed to showcase his pedigree as one of the finest performances of the part. Toby Whithouse’s ‘A Town Called Mercy’ allowed Smith to shine in a powerful and disturbing story of genocide and war. However, a rapid fall-off in the quality of the 2013 episodes of Doctor Who-and a gradual slowing of the rate of episodes per year-has left audiences wanting more from Smith, and more of him. It was announced in June that Smith will leave the role at the end of the year, with only two episodes remaining. It is a part that will always outlive any actor that plays it but it will never escape Matt Smith.






Asylum of The Daleks (Review)

Posted in British Shows on American TV, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2012 by Tom Steward

An advantage of having a themed blog is that it challenges you to find suitable topics to talk about each week. A drawback is that you can’t talk about whatever you like. In some ways that defeats the point of blogging as the form is so conducive to a diary-like outpouring of what you want to say as it comes to you. So readers looking for a connection between my review of ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, the opener to the new season of Doctor Who, and this blog will have to be content with the knowledge that I watched it…in America.

The anticipation for ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ couldn’t have been higher. Not only had viewers waited 5 months longer than usual for the new season of Doctor Who to begin but the episode heralded the return (albeit from a bogus publicity-stunt hiatus) of the Daleks, the show’s lynchpin villains and one-time Beatlemania-emulating pop culture phenomena. Also, since the annual run of episodes has been cut in half for 2012, viewers watched the episode in trepidation of it constituting 1/6th of their Doctor Who fix this year. The close-season publicity for the series had also tantalized long-term fans of the show with staged, Abbey Road-style photographs of Dalek models stretching back to the 1960s, luring people into thinking that the episode would be a Dalek retrospective reflecting on how these Dyson sink-unblockers had figured in the series (or even British art and culture) in the past 49 years.

The Fab Four!

It all started very promisingly. Writer-producer Steven Moffat’s scripts for Doctor Who are often deeply flawed but he is adept at cold opens, as seen in the pre-title sequence of the 2011 Christmas Special which would have graced any Bond film. The teaser in which The Doctor and his companions are kidnapped from their times by Daleks and taken to their Parliament with a cryptic agenda was mouth-watering. But it also demonstrated a conspicuous whittling-down of extraneous dialogue (Moffat’s greatest weakness as a writer) in favour of imagistic storytelling, making the first 5 minutes of this effort eminently satisfying. The dialogue that remained was sparse and terrifying, especially in The Doctor’s opening exchange with an emptied-out, human-style Dalek on the mysteriously resurrected home planet Skaro, which effortlessly captured-and yet did not aggrandise-the cynicism and deep-seated resentment at the heart of Matt Smith’s portrayal of the central character.

Tough room!

As soon as the re-vamped credits-which managed in true digital-era BBC style to be simultaneously utilitarian and gaudy-ended, the problems began. Moffat seems to believe that to over-complicate something is to improve it, and the shock introduction of-and premature farewell to-The Doctor’s future companion (Jenna-Louise Coleman) was an ill-advised overegging of the narrative pudding, appropriately for an episode with a dairy-based leitmotif. It also completed unbalanced the episode, like Faustino Asprilla did to Newcastle (Google it, young’ns!). And here lies the problem with all the stories featuring classic villains since Moffat took over in 2010. The Daleks play second fiddle to the characters and their emotional dilemmas and all the potential of the set-up, in this case a planet inhabited by disturbed Daleks, is wasted. Contrary to the promo pictures, the episode had no respect for the Daleks or what they have meant to the show.

Hello new companion-Goodbye new companion!

The spectre hanging over the forthcoming departure of Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill) loomed larger after the first look at their replacement. It’s a dispiriting thought, especially as the most compelling moments of this episode revolved around Rory. Darvill has the alchemy to turn Moffat’s entry-level humour into comedy gold, exemplified in this episode as Rory attempts to make peace with a Dalek by returning what he assumes is its egg spawn. Without this kind of performance polish, Moffat’s half-witticisms are going to look pretty pointless in the future. And it’s not long before the terse force of the minimal dialogue gives way to the excruciating baby-talk that Moffat increasingly takes as his signature meter. Moffat even seems to have lost the knack of writing the domestic life of the Ponds, throwing a red-herring divorce in their way reminiscent of the water-treading ‘marriage trouble’ storylines given to couples in soap operas.

Those aren’t chickens!

But worse was to come. Now I’m well aware that Doctor Who has leant heavily on popular culture over the years to inform its storylines. In fact, some of the best stories-like Victorian-lit romp ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’-are pure pastiche. I’m also entirely cogniscent of the dearth of new ideas in Moffat’s scripts for the show since his first in 2005. There are, for example, none between ‘Blink’in 2007 and ‘The Wedding of River Song’in 2011. But the Martin Bashir-meets-Johan Hari level of plagiarism in this episode is just inexcusable. Inexcusable because it brazenly lifts the plot twist and visual imagery from Duncan Jones’ Source Code without acknowledgement, adaptation or play. And inexcusable because an intriguing original idea had been abandoned to make way for a wholly derivative one. We saw nothing of the implicitly terrifying concept of a planet ruled by rogue and maddened Daleks. Instead we got a few broken plungers.

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