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The sonic lipstick's last hurrah (Part 3 of 3)

It seems churlish — and a bit pointless — to dwell on the negatives, so let's get it them of the way.

The Man Who Never Was is the weakest serial of The Sarah Jane Adventures's final half-series. The details are clunky and there is an almost unforgivable bit of idiot-plotting to get us to the cliff-hanger at the end of the first episode.

But never mind all that; it is still an entertaining episode and a fitting tribute to its late star.

The other parts of the story, the important bits, more than make up for the deficits, and Russell T Davies deserves our thanks for reigning in his tendency towards over-blown melodrama.

I'm going to miss The Sarah Jane Adventures an awful lot. In its quiet way it offered its young (and not-so-young) viewers a powerful moral vision and provided an example (instead of a lecture) of a subtly radical alternative to life as most of us know beneath its fantastic trappings.

Some spoilers behind the link. And I'll try not to get blubbery.

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The sonic lipstick's last hurrah (Part 1 of 3)

Pretentious is a dangerous word for a critic, one I try to avoid and one which (I hope) I use with judicious deliberation when I do press it into service.

The term is kissing cousin to dishonest, and which implies promises which are undelivered or, worse, betrayed.

As you might know, I have spent considerable time over the past few months looking at a couple of British science fiction series, the 2011 editions of Doctor Who and its ostensibly adult-oriented spin-off, Torchwood, both of which promised much but delivered very little indeed.

So it is that I am very happy to report that the first (of three) remaining instalments of The Sarah Jane Adventures promises only an entertaining children's adventure story yet delivers quite a lot more.

Phil Ford's eighth two-part serial is, not surprisingly, very much a typical Sarah Jane adventure, offering low-key, character-based comedy, thrills enough (I think) to keep a child on the edge of his or her seat (if not, quite, hiding behind the proverbial couch), and a subtle moral seriousness that leaves its more bombastic cousins looking like charlatans, or worse.

Not many spoilers and no snark at all (for a change), as I take a belated look at Sky and begin my last dance with Sarah Jane Smith.

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Where have you gone, Russell T, Russell T?


One of the most shockingly bad television series in recent memory crawled to a bloody close on Friday night.

The end of Torchwood: Miracle Day was not quite as obscenely amusing as some had predicted, but its climax prompted laughter in this reviewer, not tears.

No dangling plot-lines were tied up, no extraneous characters rescued from irrelevancy. The program is over — and so too, probably, is the franchise — but not even the most generous critic could with a straight face say that it was concluded.

Snark? Oh yes. For snark and bullet points and a reviewer's exhausted post-mortem, visit, Where have you gone, Russell T, Russell T?

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Torchwood: The 19th Century is when everything changes

The sex columnist Dan Savage has recently been fronting a campaign to reassure isolated and often depressed queer kids that "it gets better."

I'm very sad to say that there's no getting better in Torchwood: Miracle Day.

Not for the people living in that world, not for the viewers in this one and certainly not for any attempt to offer us even a semblance of respectful story-telling.

As the saying goes, Fool me once, shame on you; fool me nine times, shame on me.

More fool, I.

Clearly determined to never give the suckers an even break, the penultimate entry in the Torchwood: Miracle Day demolition derby thumbs its nose at even the most modest expectations of its viewers.

Snark, sighs and spoilers galore but, I hope, not too much of a synopsis, all at Torchwood: 62 Days Later.

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Vote for Geoffrey and Raven!

Nahanni National Park, Virginia Falls
Nahanni National Park, Virginia Falls. Image from Wikipedia.

All right, silly as it sounds, I'm asking for your help. At least the help of all of you who (a) live in Canada and (b) have a Facebook account.

ETA: Actually, it seems all you need is a Facebook account, so all of you, please just in and send us on our way!

My sweetie has never been camping, and neither of us have ever been to the Far North (or white-water rafting, for that matter). With your help, we just might win a trip to the Nahanni National Park.

Click here to vote for my perfect 50-word wish, okay? Many thanks in advance.


(Almost) almost famous

People are talkin' 'bout me! )

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Torchwood's End of the Road hints at on-ramps passed by

Handsome Jack Harkness

August 28, 2011, OTTAWA — What in the world is going on with Torchwood: Miracle Day? For a wonder and, admitedly, grading on a steep incline, the latest installment, End of the Road, was actually kind of entertaining, and left this viewer mildly interested in finding out what happens next.

Yes, there was too much techno-babble, but the story actually moved, at least in comparison to what's come before.

If there was still too much filler in End of the Road, for a starving fan, tinned ham beats rice cakes any day.

No skin, a little less snark, but just as many spoilers and structural analysis as ever, all at Torchwood: Mediocre Day.

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Sins of the Show-Runner?

A commentator at the Tor.com discussion of The Middle Men passed along a "strong rumour" that Torchwood: Miracle Day was originally meant to be a five-episode series, but was expanded to ten, "so that Starz could get subscribers for longer".

'Bring us Jack.'

Like any rumour, I take this one with the proverbial kilo of salt, but it does offer a credible, if not fully explanatory, hypothesis for the remarkably slow and inept story-telling to which we have been subject lo! these past seven weeks.

Less subtle than an average episode of South Park, the seventh episode is the best outing of the series so far. Or perhaps I should say, the least bad.

Immortal Sins at least boasts some action, some humour, some sex and even some romance.

On the other hand, the sex and romance is at best only as good as the merely competent fan-fic it will no doubt inspire, the action was counter-balanced by long, gruesome minutes of torture that would delight Mel Gibson and — of course! — a secondary plot and characterization that make no sense and which are in any case mostly negated by episode's end.

For skin, spoilers, stereotypes, structural analysis (and, yes, snark) see Mel Gibson comes to Torchwood or, The Passion of the Jack. Probably not safe for work.

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As snarky and impatient and critical as it can be, creators also get an awful lot of slack from fandom. We've invested time and energy in characters and situations, almost as if they are real people, and so we can forgive a lousy episode or even a lousy series, if we can hope that, as with a beloved but losing sports franchise, "There's always next year."

The subtleties of Russell T Davies

So I found myself silently cheering The Middle Men, just a little. A scene here, another there. Watching Gwen burn pointless rubber on a motorcycle was kind of fun; Jack's Batman-like disappearance before the arrival of the constabulary was cute as well. Cliched and kinda goofy, they nevertheless had an element of fun this series has been sorely lacking.

Even a brief scene of intense and cringe-inducing, brutal violence was strangely welcome.

But even for a fan, a character moment here, a well-blocked scene there, is pretty thin soup if the back-story makes even less sense than it did last week, and the plot is still driven by your favourite characters acting, well, stupidly.

The Middle Men isn't quite as awful as the previous installment, but still ... the stupid, it burns! As usual, spoilers, snark and analysis behind the link.

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As you might know, I've been serially reviewing the latest Torchwood series, a work that (I presume) is as much the product of Russell T Davies' personal vision as is possible in an inherently collaborative medium.

So it is rather difficult to ignore the irony, that there is more credible social commentary, more humour and more excitement in Peter Watts' 300 page adaptation of a first-person-shooter video game, which (again, I presume) was written strictly for the money, than there has been in the first five hours of Davies' brain-child.

Watts' story, about a an accidental cybernetic soldier's brief campaign on a ruined island of Manhattan a scant 12 years in our future is also fairly rigorous science fiction, as one might expect from the "reformed marine biologist", but probably not from a novel about a super-soldier and his mysterious battle-armour.

If Crysis: Legion is not quite the follow-up to his 2006 hard-SF masterpiece, Blindsight one might have wished for, it's a better book than one has any reason to expect of a media tie-in.

Click here for "Strange bed-fellows". Some spoilers may occur.

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The Categories of Idiot Plots

Why am I writing this? Why am I even still watching?

At the half-way mark of Torchwood's miraculously boring 2011 series, there are two answers to both questions.

The first is that I said I would and that I am trying to develop a reputation for reliability. The second is that there is some morbid fascination in watching to see just how bad this thing can get.

Contrary to a prediction made in an early draft of my my review of last week's Escape to L.A., the return of Jane Espenson, whose keyboard was behind the best episode in the series so far, didn't make for any improvement after all.

The Categories of Life is so slow moving and so driven by idiot plot devices that it's tempting to imagine Russell T Davies is playing some sort of Zen game of Patience with his audience, but on reflection, the evidence doesn't support that hypothesis.

A far more plausible explanation for the ineptness on display is that Davies was so excited about the huge sums of American money at his disposal, that he was so distracted by fantasies of crane shots and exploding helicopters, that he forgot to write a story in which to blow his toys up until mere days before shooting was scheduled to start.

Click here to read about the Miracle of the Legislatures and the Parliaments. Yes, there are lots of spoilers behind the link, but click away! I've watched it so you don't have to.


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Torchwood: Miracle Day — Escape to L.A. Introduction

The answer to the question, What happens in Escape to L.A.? is, "Not very much and what does happen is too stupid for words."

As there is no sense of reality in Torchwood: Miracle Day, so there is no sense of urgency. The only ticking clock is that of the viewer's rapidly-dwindling patience.

Once can only imagine that two years ago, the four hours to which we've been subjected so far would have been, to much better effect, condensed into the first 30 minutes or so of Russell T Davies flawed but taut, emotionally-moving and thoroughly gripping Children of Earth.

Do you really want to read more? Well, click away. As always, some spoilers behind the link; as sometimes, some foul langage as well. You've been warned.

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Miracle Day's third episode marks another step on the road towards a fully-engaging story, but still with some mis-steps, awkwards steps and hints of dumbing-down for the new (yes, American) audience along the way.

Despite those cavils, a lot more seemed to happen in "Dead of Night" than in both of its predecessors put together, an important thing for a program that is trying to do tripple duty as a mystery, a science fiction thriller and a social satire.

Unfortunately, too much of what happens feels as if it was inserted according to Russell T Davies initial plans, rather than growing organically out of the characters and the action.

For thoughts on the good and the bad, the Bechdel Test and the long-awaited man-sex, click here (possibly not safe for work).

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Rendition: Delayed

Turns out I was anticipating the second episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day a little more than I thought I would.

I awoke to a dead computer on Saturday morning, with a full day already scheduled with Raven. I struggled with the recalcitrant beast's BIOS (the computer, people! The computer's BIOS!) until it was time to step out into the real world.

By the time we had returned from a tour of the Royal Canadian Mint and my very happy introduction to Malaysian cuisine (if you're looking for curry in Ottawa, the Nyonya Curry Chicken at Pedas in Chinatown is very good. But I digress), we were a little sunburnt and a little more worn out by a 10 kilometre stroll on a blistering day. (It's true: the lives Raven and I lead do not resemble a Torchwood storyline in the slightest.)

Nevertheless, I finally managed to finally get the machine to boot from a live Ubuntu CD and then, to diagnose and repair itself. But by then it was too late to watch anything. Quite a lot my surprise, I realized that, in my secret heart of hearts, I had been more frustrated by the delay in watching the second instalment of Torchwood: Miracle Day, than I had been anxiety-ridden by the prospect of getting professional help in repairing a dead computer.

Well, I've seen "Rendition" now, so that, among my life's stressors, is in the past. And so, after a decidedly mixed series opener, where are we at?

This reviewer, at least, is happier about the state of the Whoniverse this week than he was last week. For my full review, with fewer spoilers than usual, click here for Thugs On a Plane.

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That's right folks, it's summer and, this year, that means another series of Torchwood. Ten episodes over ten weeks this year, as compared to five over five days in 2009.

And yes, I'm watching it, hoping that Russell T Davies can return to form and wash the disappointing memories of this year's Doctor Who from my mind.

The first two series of the show ranged from campy delight to nearly pornographic awfulness (sometimes in the same episode) and the third came within a last-minute intellectual cop-out of being a masterpiece of sociological science fiction, so it's anybody's guess how Davies' fourth kick at the Torchwood can will turn out.

One episode in, the results are still up in the air.

My review of the episode is posted here and my overview of the series to date is over here.

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Where have all the white men gone?

This week's episodes of my favourite children's adventure program might have been the best of the year so far. More interestingly, to me at least, is just how far outside of the standard adventure paradigm The Sarah Jane Adventures has ventured, without any great on-screen fuss or muss.

Somehow, a program about "fighting aliens" has dared to feature a more-than-sixty year-old woman and two non-white teenagers as the "defenders of the Earth" as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

I don't know about you, but I think it's worthy of some note.

Not many plot-spoilers, but some possibly unfomfortable (I hope not offensive) thoughts at Edifice Rex Online.

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Hurling logic out the window:

The good, the bad and the Davies

After watching the first half of the "Death of the Doctor" I wrote in a fit of giddy optimism that, "Strong on close interpersonal observation, not so good with dramatic logic, Russel T Davies' return to the Doctor Who universe is a qualified triumph."

If only it were so. Having now seen the follow-up, I need to re-write my lede and reconsider my larger thesis.

"Death of the Doctor" represents the best and the worst of Davies, but unfortunately, while the Good RTD is mostly ascendant in the first half of the diptych, the Bad RTD emerges all-too-typically triumphant in the second.

In Part One, we saw the perfectly-observed character moments, the witty asides that serve both to release dramatic tension and to ratchet it up a level, and the sort of cliff-hanger that can leave a grown man (well, this one) giggling with anticipation for the sequel.

Part One also provided the forced humour that breaks established character; the shameless emotional manipulation that often works but that leaves the sensitive viewer feeling cheap and dirty afterwards; the plot elements the experienced RTD-watcher fears will lead to nonsense when explained in Part Two and dangling plot-threads galore.

RTD needs a plot-oriented collaborator to slap down his Inner Fanboy. (Spoilers ahead; click at your own risk.)

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Science of onanism or,

Russell T Davies: The man who loved (himself) too much

At maybe the 35 or 40 minute mark (it's hard to tell; at the 69th, it now feels like the 169th), I was willing to forgive Russell T Davies' work on his penultimate episode of Doctor Who quite a lot. Perspective titles for this response bounced around my head, as the Doctor and Wilf (and a couple of generic prickly-pear aliens) bounced around a space-ship heading for a date with destiny (and London, of course), titles like "From the appalling to the adequate" or "To hell and half-way back."

(Yes, there are a few spoilers below, but trust me: none of them matter.)

In other words, "The End of Time, Part II" was proving to be kind of fun, if nowhere near a classic episode of the program. After the unbelievably awful Part I last week, it seemed Davies had partially forsworn his high (or is that low) melodramatic tendencies in and rediscovered the virtues of story-telling.

Alas, it was not to be — or rather, he couldn't leave well enough alone.

Yes, nearly every scene (even the "good" ones) could have been shorter, but the last o! so self-indulgent 1t minutes?!?

"Dying," the Doctor makes a tour of his (recent) companions.

Doctor saves Mickey and Martha from a Sontaran; Doctor hooks Captain Jack up with a new boy-toy; Doctor saves Sarah Jane's son from a speeding car; Doctor looks up Verity's grandmother; Doctor even looks in on Rose before she first met him; and of course, he provides for Donna and says farewell to Wilf.

One or two of these scenes (if shorter) might have been tolerable, but Davies the writer and producer has so clearly fallen in love with his own mythology that he just can't shut up. He can't stop using a bludgeon on us, his now eye-rolling audience, to make sure we Get It. The Doctor is special, he's a demi-god, a mythic hero, a ... oh hell.

I'll be eternally grateful to Davies for bringing the franchise back and for penning some lovely episodes, but sweet mother it's beyond time he took his leave.

I wish I could say he'd taken it with grace and something good to remember him by, but I can't.

At least Matt Smith's first 30 seconds or so showed some promise of good things to come. But good riddance to Russell T Davies.

All right: It's a new year. My Resolution is to be a better blogger in 2010 than I was in '09.

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Jesus Christ in an ambulance, did Russell T Davies have a stroke between co-writing The Waters of Mars and Christmas Day's utter travesty of craftsmanship, or did Phil Ford just cover for him?

Whatever happened, and whatever happens on New Year's Day, if there was ever any doubt that Davies has bad days to go along with his good ones, part one of his grand Doctor Who finale, The End of Time was not just the worst episode in Davies' five year run as the Boss of Who, it was one of the worst pieces of television craft I've come across since an sub-par episode of the original Battlestar Galactica. (No link. Just google it, people!)

Yes folks, I'm going to blather on in fanboy mode, with spoilers galore. If you're not interested, or don't what to be spoiled about the plot twists in this remarkably inept episode of the venerable series, just scroll on down to the next item on your friends' page. The rest of you, click away. )

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