Wednesday, May 20, 2009

no more time lord smex!

I was really excited when I was nominated for Children of Time Awards and felt I had two duty-bound objectives after that. One was to nominate other pieces that I had read that I felt deserved an award; the other was to read all the entries conscientiously and then vote. I did manage to get quite a few people nominated which I hope made their days. The other objective was much more difficult than I had anticipated. It didn’t take nearly as much time and effort to get through the Classic Who nominees, in general because there were fewer, the quality of the writing was better, and they were more distinctive. But New Who! If I never read another fluff story about Rose and “10.5” (as is the current lingo to describe Doctor!clone), another NC-17 rated story about Jack, Rose, and Ten, or (please brace yourself) another implausible Donna/Ten story, it will be too soon!

Ideally I was going to encourage you all to the website to read the nominees yourself, but as I suspect your patience is the equal of mine, I’ll direct you to the categories in which I’m nominated and you can read those and decide for yourself. They are:

Classic Who > First Doctor
Classic Who > Gen Fic
Classic Who > Classic
Classic Who > Short Story
New Who > Crossover

I think it would be a bit unethical for me to reveal who I voted for before the results are in (you can vote until 31 May) but I do want to point out a few of the stories that I think deserve it. A Domino Falls by Mary_pseud is a sweet and entirely entertaining Second Doctor story that could, with a few tweaks, fit nicely into any Big Finish Short Trips collection. To my surprise there were quite a few excellent Harry Sullivan fics, my favorite being Best Served Hot by Rivendellrose. I’m a sucker for multi-Doctor stories, and one that’s both funny and moving is The Ten Doctors by JJPOR. Naughty or Nice by AND connected Christmas with Liz Shaw, and an Ian and Barbara story just warms my heart (Once upon a Time by atraphoenix). I don’t suppose anyone will care if I mention I nominated Daytripping by Lilacfree and Bright Star by Eponymous_rose.

Now that bit’s a cake walk compared to New Who. Still, I feel I should mention some of the diamonds in the rough. For example, The Man with No Name by Frostfyre is a DW/Firefly crossover. I really like the Valiant Tales by RobinC/Lindenharp, which give us insight into the lives of all those in the Master’s power on the Valiant in the Year that Never Was. Anyone who could bring life and character to Lucy Saxon was appreciated, such as Elisi in Mrs Saxon’s Diary.

As a big Martha fan (and one of the few, it seems) you may be surprised I didn’t vote for any of those in the Martha category. This is because, honestly, I thought none of the three choices were very good. Next time someone please nominate one of mine! That said, I really liked two of the Doctor/Martha nominees, Masquerade by Radiantbaby (which was fluff), and Nine Plus One by Persiflage (which was smex). The latter devolves a bit into PwP[1] but the idea is brilliant: Nine meets and falls in love with Martha.

I nominated The Ten Weddings of Donna Noble by Nety2k_girl in the multi-Doctor category. For humor (actually it was nominated in the Threesomes (!) category) I liked It’s Not Easy Being Green by Lostwolfchats where Nine, Rose, and Jack have to transform into Raxicoriofallapatorians in order to incubate Margaret Slitheen as an egg. Despite myself I couldn’t put Veritas Liberatus by Gillian Taylor/Dark_aegis down. Though the WiP[2] category was really strong, I enjoyed The Watchmaker by Lizbee.

And as for the smut. The pairings were fairly predictable as you can imagine, though as I alluded Donna/Doctor I find a bit strange. Nine Plus One would have had my vote were it nominated in PwP category; so might Asleep at the Switch by 51stcenturyfox (Rose and Jack switch bodies which, knowing Jack, you can imagine would be a pornographic disaster). I admit I was titillated at first reading my way through the PwPs, but it’s all gone a bit stale. I really am a bit disappointed with the New Who nominees, and I was so fed up by the time I finished reading them I didn’t bother to go on to the Torchwood or Sarah Jane Adventures categories.

Anyhow, there’s always next round.


[1] Plot? What Plot? A subcategory of smut. There’s even a category for it in the contest!

[2] Works in progress

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

dear fatty

I waited in a queue of 36 holds to get my hands on this book, Dawn French’s autobiography (or epistolary memoir if you want to split hairs), so one must assume from that it’s worth reading. It is. It’s very funny, in parts quite touching, and actually makes a nice companion piece to John Barrowman’s Anything Goes, as both use unusual structure to tell various threads from when they were wee kids to their success stories today. However, that’s where the similarities end between them in biographical details at least! The humor is slightly different, as well, though I confess both memoirs made me laugh out loud.

“Fatty,” by the way, is Jennifer Saunders, though unless I was skimming through the book and missed it, it’s never explained how she got that nickname. Personally before I read the book and saw it on the shelves, I thought it was a self-deprecating way of Dawn’s (yes, I will call her Dawn) getting back at some cruel-minded bastard who may have addressed her at some point as “dear Fatty.” Boy, was I wrong. She has chosen the memoir structure because autobiography would be “quite dull because in quite a lot of parts of my life has indeed been quite dull.” Dear Fatty spends a lot of time addressing Dawn’s childhood and teenage years, much like Anything Goes actually, for which Dawn can be forgiven as she is writing most of her letters to her dad, who died when she was 19. The irreverent yet loving tone she would have us believe she got from the French side of the family is evident right away, when she tells a hilarious story of being three years old and seeing her dad naked and wanting to save him from “the vicious hairy saggy mole-snake creature.” Dawn French: fearless in the face of comedic value!

Like John Barrowman, Dawn feels shaped by the influence of her two grannies, the delicate Cornwall Grandma French and Evil Granny Lil (there’s a great story about Evil Granny and £60 you should read yourself). I myself have struggled in memoir to portray the bald not-so-nice elements about members of my own family, and I’m sure it helps that Lil has long vanished into cigarette-scented smoke, but Dawn’s honest yet fair appraisal is helpful in that respect. I really love pre-teen and teenage Dawn’s letters to the Monkees, David Cassidy, and all-girl band Fanny, the former gushing with love and how she knows they will end up together. I love these because not only are they funny, they remind me of my aunts who are just about contemporaries of Dawn. The book is generously illustrated with photos, and the ones of Dawn in the ‘60s and ‘70s are uncannily like ones I’ve seen of my aunts in the same era. Spooky. (Also, I knew a Dawn who looks just like this Dawn!)

There are letters to her brother, to her now-teenage daughter Billie (not Piper because that would be weird), a poignant letter to her first boyfriend Nick, and a letter that makes you sorry for all the people she ever babysat for. Will male readers have to skip the several pages on Dawn getting her first period? I don’t know, but I thought it was funny and apt! If, like me, you didn’t know until page 172 that Billie was adopted, there’s a lovely, touching letter about that. There are a number of “Dear Fatty” letters that are just jokes in letter form, some of which are more successful than others. (The letters to Madonna in full-on West Country accent don’t quite do it for me.) There’s an amusing application for friendship form to Liza Tarbuck, though it would help if I knew who Liza Tarbuck was.

In a letter addressed to her niece, Dawn lauds the value and bemusement factor of bosoms. “Every time I see a flat-fronted woman
[1], I want to apologize for my seemingly appalling greed.” Her unbridled frankness brings a shocked smile to my face as she tells her niece to avoid men with small hands: “Every single boy I have known intimately has been utterly entranced by them and can’t wait to earn access so they can play all day.” This is followed up by a glorious chapter on the merits of kissing and how Dawn can’t resist. She gives a list of favorite kisses, and while it’s telling that “30. Lenworth G. Henry –the brightest, the best. Loves kissing anywhere, anytime. The King of Kiss”, there are some surprises, too. “36. Boyzone—enjoyable, varied, 39. Johnny Depp—sweet, respectful, as if I was favorite aunt. Not long enough or full enough or penetrative enough. Resistant.” Of course me being me, my favorite is, “44. Richard Armitage aka Guy of Gisborne, or ‘Man of Pleather’—shy, giggling, loving.” Oodalolly.

There’s her letter to David, the man she almost married (who became a tea taster for Lipton!). Maybe it’s just me, but this well-written, well-structured look at who a 19-year-old, pre-Saunders French would want to be married to stirred up nostalgic memories of my first boyfriend and what it felt like to be 18, 19 again. I wonder if teenagers’ approach to “it” is always the same: “I couldn’t believe you could be so casual and normal on such a momentous day. After all, SEX was going to happen. Within hours. Y’know, SEX. . . . I was going to have proper sex for the first time ever, and you were putting petrol in the car, your hand on the pump, filling up the car. The imagery made me giddy.” One wonders if Dawn hadn’t won her scholarship to go on exchange in New York for a year she would have married David. Or if her dad hadn’t committed suicide.

That’s right, you’re merrily reading along when she mentions “when my dad committed suicide.” You jump and read back and think, is that going to come up again? It does, in a heart-rending letter to her dad in which she attempts to come to terms with it. It’s definitely the most powerful part of the book, a series of questions that go on for two pages, one single, hulking maelstrom paragraph of grief and trying to understand. Dawn’s dad’s death propels her on to college in London where she lives on chocolate milk and crisps every day for a year. (“I was left with less than two pounds a week to buy toothpaste and other essentials. Like food.”) On a drama teachers’ course, she meets Fatty and crushes on Rowan Atkinson. Once out of the course, she gets a job teaching drama at Parliament Hill School for Girls (I’ve called up that school, when I was ringing all schools everywhere to get their in-set coordinator’s name) with her Best Friend (the B.F.). She was only at this job for a year because she and Fatty (eventually christened French and Saunders by Alexei Sayle) had joined the Comic Strip troupe. And their lives are never the same again.

Comic Strip basically begins French and Saunders’ (and French’s and Saunders’) careers in comedy. Following on from this is, of course, much fame and fortune, The Vicar of Dibley, etc. Dawn shares her rather intriguing way of dealing with bad reviews: “the very last night when I enjoy a little ritual of reading ‘notices’ with a glass of rum when I get home, after the party, when the whole shebang is put to bed.” It is only here, ¾ s of the way through the book, that Dawn starts talking about Lenny Henry. Now, I will confess something. I think I first came to know about Dawn French through the French and Saunders sketch included on the VHS tape of Curse of the Fatal Death, you know, the Comic Relief Doctor Who special. So I came quite late in the game, though I caught up quickly as all last autumn my friend Adi
[2] (boy not girl) and I spent our afternoons watching French and Saunders on YouTube. Now that I’m catching up quickly on Vicar of Dibley, I’m feeling a bit more confident. But I had never heard of Lenny Henry until Jamie told me “he’s Dawn French’s husband.” Ohhh. When I finally watched Bernard and the Genie, I thought a) he’s gorgeous; b) lucky Dawn, lucky Lenny. I felt sure they would make a great couple.

Dawn explains her first meeting with Lenny as having been enchanted with his laugh in the audience of one of her shows. Despite that, it was not love at first sight. A year after the initial meeting, Dawn and Lenny met again and stayed up talking late one night. “By morning, I was in giant love with him. In proper, big, marvellous, astonishing love.” He stayed in her flat for a week, and when Fatty came to the door, Dawn shooed her away, insecurely afraid her more “beautiful” friend would steal him away! Because this letter is to her dad, she gets to describe her husband physically. “Another important physical attribute, probably the most impressive, is his marvellous, incomparably fabulous bum, but it feels inappropriate to tell you about the many virtues of that, so I’ll spare you . . .” Dawn gushes in this chapter, which frankly makes it fabulous, and I think she is allowed to effuse a bit about her own wedding (though she was engaged in dangerous dieting beforehand and describes her dress as “an inspired combination of shepherdess and whore”).

I mentioned to my boss that I was reading this book and she was reminded of an interview on TV during “a rough patch” in the French/Henry marriage. Of course I had no knowledge of this, seeing as how I didn’t know they were married until 5 months ago. This, too, is addressed. “Really, this book should be called Dear Len and simply be one big long love letter to you.” Dawn mentions “endless rounds of heartbreaking IVF failures, the sneaking in and out of clinics, often at night, to avoid press interest.” “It was frightening and humiliating to be doorstepped in the night by two journos in macs who I was convinced were police. You were driving home from a gig that night, so when I saw them I thought that they were here to tell me you had died in some awful crash. Instead, they were at my door to gleefully dump their buckets of sleaze and schadenfreude on me. Oddly, I was relieved!”

With her marriage of 24 years now more solid than ever, she writes to Richard Curtis to thank him for her years on Vicar of Dibley and announce that not only has ‘More tea, Vicar?!’ been shouted at her more times than she could cope with, she’s also been addressed as ‘Vicar of Dumbledore!’ and ‘Vicar of Dublin!’ She admits to crushes on Peter Capaldi, Clive Mantle, Richard Armitage, and Johnny Depp. “Me realizing I am an actual dirty harlot.”

Dawn ends the book by saluting Fatty as they both turn 50. “I bow to you, and bring on the next 50!”

[1] Of which persuasion I am.
[2]Dawn was among Adi’s celebrity crushes, the others being Juliette Binoche, Audrey Hepburn, Kristin Chenoweth, etc.

Monday, May 11, 2009

on the tube late spring 09

This is way overdue, but I hope it will be suitably brief.

Comic Relief 2009 was the first time I’d ever seen Comic Relief live. I’m really glad I was able to tune in real time as I got to see David Tennant don a tight white suit and shove his butt toward the camera. If that wasn’t enough, he made me quite proud when he got all his questions correct on a special version of Celebrity MasterMind, proving himself a complete Doctor Who fan boy. Oh, and of course, Davina McCall offered him £50 to kiss her. He said he would have done it for free, but proceeded to give her a generous snog and basically wrestle her to the ground. Many women would have paid a lot more than £50 to be in Davina’s position. The rest of the sketches were a bit underwhelming. Catherine Tate’s character met one of David Walliams’ in a somewhat unfunny sketch, and French and Saunders’ Mamma Mia!-inspired sketch was a bit disappointing. Philip Glenister was definitely a highlight of it, though, as was Saunders spiffily lampooning Meryl Streep. Also there was the very short, highly silly but occasionally amusing Sarah Jane Adventures meets the Ronnie (not the RANI). I don’t feel guilty, either, since I did send them some money.

I kept missing The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which really pissed me off. I managed to catch the one-off special broadcast last year that obviously I wasn’t around for. To be honest, the three episodes of the series that I saw were much better than the special. I’m not quite sure why—perhaps the books are better suited to the episodic nature of a series. N1LDA is wonderfully funny and Mma Ramotswe is an empowered, clever, compassionate heroine. Definitely a great role model and the kind of lady you’d gladly share a cup of roiibos tea with. I also quickly fell in love with the other series regulars. Despite the warm atmosphere, the mysteries are also entertaining and unexpected. While Botswana clearly has its share of crime and misdemeanors, it shows a glimpse of Africa most of us will never see. It makes for wonderfully different viewing, and I hope someday to see the half of the season that I missed.

Crap, I wish I’d taken some notes on The Story of the Costume Drama part one. As an overview of the genre from its earliest days—1960s Robin Hood—I found many dramas that were well-beloved by me, but also some things I really must look up. The Forsyte Saga (the original) is well-remembered by my aunts and mom because it was the beginning of Masterpiece Theatre in the US. Upstairs, Downstairs is also regarded as a classic (though I never saw it). The same with Brideshead Revisited. Unfortunately I can’t remember any of the revelatory stories that I decided I must watch. :-/

Heston’s Tudor Feast/Roman Feast made for some unorthodox viewing. I don’t usually go for foofie gourmet restaurants, mostly because I’m too poor, but generally because I’d rather eat something solid (the exception being tea parties). Therefore I would probably never eat at Heston Blumenthal’s duck restaurant, never mind what the Lush Company’s higher ups would say. It’s hard to justify a programme of such superficiality while knowing all the sorrow and tragedy waiting in the world and knowing how many people have nothing to eat, let alone fantastical historical creations. Nevertheless, I found the production and fantasy element of this series difficult to ignore. The Tudor Feast included Elizabethan butter beer, which sounded quite delicious. On the other hand, the main course was a bizarre taxidermied creation of a griffin with meat inside. Dessert was a lovely traditionally Tudor pudding, however Heston decided to shape it like bangers and mash. The result was an unorthodox taste treat. What I remember from the Roman Feast was an attempt to recreate an ancient Roman ejaculating cake (no kidding). Heston worked hard to get the explosion just right, including making a real exploding cake that left frosting all over the test area. It looked nice, yet I myself would feel really naughty indulging in such a cake. Naughty Romans.

I made sure to watch at least one episode of Ladies of Letters because it had Anne Reid in it and was a brainchild of Victoria Wood. To be honest I found it quite different than what I expected, and while vaguely funny, not really my cup of tea. Perhaps because I approached it halfway in the series.

As you know, I am game for almost anything historical going on BBC4, so I made sure to watch one episode of the exploration of Baroque; ‘twas From St Peter’s to St Paul’s. This was a fairly lively look at Baroque (which I always pronounce BAH-roke but everyone here pronounces Barack) and after all, if it’s not baroque, don’t fix it. It was alleged in the programme that while Italy’s architectural revolution was in full swing in the 16th century, it took much longer for such architecture to travel to England. The presenter was a huge fan of Charles I because he was an unabashed patron of the arts, the like of which did not exist in any other person of the era (because, whatever other traits he may have possessed, he did have good taste). Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones were also lauded for their contributions, but so too was the mysterious architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. The presenter was particularly brutal in deriding Alan Moore’s use of Hawksmoor in From Hell: some believe that Hawksmoor's churches are actually part of Satanic or at least occult ritual. The presenter was at least willing to admit that some of Hawksmoor’s churches do have a weird look about them (this, I believe, as I am pretty certain Christ’s Church, Spitalfields is the church I walked by several times in late December and I remember it being eerie).

Just as I was starting to watch Red Dwarf whenever it was on Dave, I managed to miss the latter half of the first Red Dwarf to be shown in ten years. :-(

I have really been trying to watch Primeval. My verdict is the same as ever it was: I just can’t handle it, it’s too silly, too lacking in interesting, compelling drama. I watched James Moran’s episode on ITV Player and found it better than average—he handled the flirtation between Blonde Pixie Punk and Mitt Hat Man pretty well, and the opening was truly suspenseful. I saw most of an episode when a woman was giving birth in a hospital where baby dinosaurs were appearing—they were cute! I did see a bit of the episode where a medieval knight followed a dragon through an “anomaly” into the future, but I just kept thinking Les Visiteurs!

Robin Hood. See the reviews written as I see the episodes.

Doctor Who Easter Special. See the review.

City of Vice is probably the best show I have watched in 2009, and because of being too busy and in France I’ve probably missed the rest of the series, but I absolutely LOVE it. While The Devil’s Whore has influenced me a lot in the way I’m thinking of my Milton script, City of Vice has both influenced the Milton project and another one which I dare not name. As far as I’m concerned, it ticks every box for me. It must have been kept to 5 episodes because of the expense in recreating 18th century London, but they’ve done a fantastic job. My historical expertise is most profound in the 19th century, also I’m getting a fair way into the 17th, but my knowledge of the 18th isn’t bad either, so I am pleased to see it’s shown as the sordid, cheerful, random era it was (it was, after all, the era of Casanova and Lascivious Bodies). The idea has just enough of the genres it straddles to appeal both to mystery fans who like watching modern day detectives such as Robson Green pursuing murders, and the historically-mad, who just like looking into the past. It follows the real life Bow Street Runners, the only oasis of crime-fighting in the dark and dangerous London of the 18th century (see The London Monster: Terror on the Streets in 1790 for more information on them) famously banded by novelist Henry Fielding and his blind brother, John.

I remember watching the two episodes I saw and thinking how I loved every scene, every line of dialogue. Ian McDiarmid is a perfect Henry Fielding. I had not known of his marriage to a woman of much lower class in order to preserve her honor, though he could have just left her to the gutter, though anyone familiar with Tom Jones will recognize much of Fielding’s life and experience in that novel. Everything we know and don’t know of the 18th century is there: sexual perversion, extreme poverty, prostitution, coffeehouses, broadsheets and newspapers, London as a maze, and the Fieldings have to apply some kind of logic and procedure to an era that seethes with the ephemeral. To that end, the mysteries are not particularly labyrinthe, because the city does that enough on its own.

I love the inclusion of Henry’s wife Mary, who holds her own and yet acts very much the housewife of the period. I love the inclusion of strong men on the Bow Street Runners’ team as well as Daniel Cairne (who we assume is from Jamaica originally) who comes to prominence in the second episode. The first episode concerns mutilation and rape at a bagnio (all three subjects which are addressed in The London Monster: Terror on the Streets in 1790!) while the second episode is a fascinating window into London molls. There is extreme sexual perversion at play when the Runners visit Miss Suki’s Molly House, though by the end of the episode I was reduced to tears.

There is a huge dose of the kind of overt sexiness that has made dramas like HBO’s Rome and The Tudors a success but in the case of City of Vice I feel it’s earned, whereas those programmes may on occasion have to stretch at it. The audience’s way into the story is achieved by Henry’s narration and clever, almost interactive maps that chart the progress of the story through London—indeed, the city is made palpably its own character. I must also make a special mention of Iain Glen, who plays John Fielding, the brother blind since youth. He makes a corking good character, and I have to confess he is exactly how I would imagine Old Milton.

And now for something completely different. I would never miss an opportunity to see John Barrowman on TV (nor would he miss an opportunity to BE on TV), so I started watching the outrageously cheesy Tonight’s the Night (hey, the opening episode featured John performing the Pointer Sisters’ song, which I always associate with Daleks). Awww, it’s all in good fun and I admit I cringed as John and his team elaborately engineered situations to surprise contestants in their daily life and get them to appear on the show. The premise is that people (generally those who have a tougher-than-average time in daily life) get the chance to perform somehow on primetime TV—ie, a woman who loves Mamma Mia! got to sing “Dancing Queen” in costume with the cast of the musical on TV. Rather more relevantly, the latest episode introduced a search to find the next Doctor Who alien for a walk on role in one of the specials (I assume?). The rigorous judging process brought 30 contestants down to 10. What I want to know is where was this contest? I could have competed! Oh, and John was originally a musical performer, so any chance you get to hear him sing is worthwhile.

I missed Life on Mars by and large, so I wasn’t really sure what to make of Ashes to Ashes (and the second series no less) but Staggering Stories had seemed to recommend it. I found, despite myself, that it was pretty entertaining. I will say more once I have finished the series.

I saw an episode from 1995 of The Bill which Jamie kindly showed me off of YouTube, because David Tennant was playing A MANIAC! Indeed, he was more disturbing than salacious, though the character reminded me a bit of the villain in Above Suspicion. I’m afraid it’s the first episode of The Bill I’d ever seen, so I haven’t quite figured out what makes Jamie such a fan. But I’m willing to learn!

To prove a bit more that anything John Barrowman is worth my attention, I was talking to one of my colleagues at work who is also a fan. She told me about a certain episode of My Family in which John had featured as an Indiana Jones-like adventurer. I like My Family well enough, perhaps the older series a bit more and am kind of surprised it’s still running, so I looked it up on iPlayer and was very amused.

Bring Back . . . Star Trek was my first real exposure to Justin Lee Collins. His immaturity astounds, nevertheless I was interested to see how he was going to bring the cast of the original Star Trek together. He managed to get everyone but the Shat. He seduced George Takei by means of delicious cakes (who proved a lovely man to interview), tricked Nichelle Nichols into kissing him, found a very willing participant in the jogging Walter Koenig, and had a truly hilarious fight with the actor who played the original Gorn.

That’s enough! Soon I’ll be able to write my 2008-9 Year’s Best!

robin hood and stuff vol. 8 x 1

I may have spoken too soon—“Too Hot to Handle” cranks the silliness factor up a bit high for my tastes. Nevertheless, there are some enjoyable moments in this episode by Chris Lang. With the addition of some singing this episode could be Robin Hood: The Operetta. Anyway, I will say Lang has a talent for creating wonderful space for choreographed and interesting fight scenes. It looks hot enough to be Albuquerque in Nottingham. I think Isabella enjoys teasing PJ a bit too much: she tells him he is “hot, hot, hot” (yes, like the song). She also enjoys when Robin pops out of the undergrowth, though the lady doth protest too much (“God, don’t do that!”), and he offers her strawberries. Oodalolly—the subtext evaporateth. Unfortunately for their little idyll, PJ sees them. “The people rather do insist on adoring him,” he laments of Robin. “It is me they should adore!” “They were all over each other,” he muses, before telling Guy to kill them. Yes, his sister. It’s a bit Roman, I suppose! He should not suffer “any pathetic pangs of familial loyalty.”

The outlaws are sweaty and thirsty like everyone else in Locksley. Tuck urges Robin to think “the Sheriff is dead—isn’t that a good thing?” Robin fears total oppression from PJ, which he is probably right to. Despite all this, Kate seems really happy in this episode—I’m not quite sure why. Her cousin has a baby whose “name’s Robin . . . after the bird. No, joke!” Robin is feeling entirely domestic and yearns for a family of his own—“I envy them.” “We’ve got each other,” says Much facetiously, though unlike the Much of a few seasons ago, he doesn’t press the point when his joke falls short.

If he seeks domestic bliss with Isabella, she should be aware that “Robin Hood is needed here” while he should read a bit more between the lines, “I have no interest in being on the losing side.” “What do I have to do to make you trust me?” But, I suppose if I were Isabella, perpetually angry because of being tossed between men like a sack of potatoes, I would be interested in preserving myself politically, too. “He doesn’t scare me,” Isabella says, rather cruelly revealing to Robin that Guy “wet the bed ‘til he was 12.” (I’m gearing up for the flashback episode. I’m curious as to what revelations we are going to receive. Will young Guy have been bullied by cocky young Robin? Will we be made to pity him?) Guy, as per PJ’s instructions, has followed Isabella to see if she is indeed meeting with Robin. Descending on both of them, he hesitates to kill. “What a shame you didn’t show compassion to Marian!”

Guy demonstrates further straits of stupidity by believing Isabella when she agrees to kill Robin in front of him. “You’re a rubbish kisser!” a stung Robin retorts. Nevertheless we are set up for a cool, rather Pirates of the Caribbean-like fight with two swords and a set of manacles. Kinky. When, inevitably, Robin and Isabella are able to knock Guy out, Isabella is very keen to “consign him to Hell.” Robin prevents her from committing murder, and they tie him to a tree (that’s always happening to him!). “Take it back!” Isabella rages, hurt. Manacled together, the two personalities find it difficult to compromise: “I am letting you have your own way!” Much as any woman, Isabella wants to know about her predecessor Marian. “She must have been a special woman to have such a hold over you and my brother.” Robin angrily denies that Marian ever gave Guy any reason to expect reciprocation. (Yeah right.)

The rest of the outlaws are engaged in watering the entire village population, led by Tuck to the River Trent. Isabella, having been tricked by PJ, leads Robin into the cistern (?) of Nottingham Castle and they try to unblock the spring. Guy is there to “execute a traitor . . . and his accomplice.” (I’m impressed with his self-control . . . he didn’t call her anything more rancorous than “accomplice.”) Kate has been kidnapped and is brought before PJ, who likes the look of her. “You’re the Devil!” “How sweet . . . you’re jealous.” Hold on, I thought I’d imagined that Kate fancied Robin. What a tangled web we weave . . . “Why should Hoodie have all the fun?” When Guy reports, PJ is annoyed not to hear the straight truth: “don’t go all enigmatic on me, Gisborne.” When Guy tells him that Robin and Isabella are dead, the Errol Flynn-like PJ is pleased. In fact, Guy has just left them to be drowned—a very Doctor Who-like death. To his credit (if you can call it that) when PJ offers Guy a drink in celebration of having killed his sister and her lover, he replies, “I don’t want a drink, Sire.” PJ offers him the keys to Nottingham.

As I say, this script seems very cinematic: Robin and Isabella are treading water waiting slowly to die. “Would you mind holding me, I’m freezing?” asks Isabella as Robin, less dutifully, more lovingly, does so. They fantasize about a domestic life together with four children and a farm. Then Robin has an idea. “Take your dress off.” No, not that kind of idea. He sees a way out. I was a bit insulted that he was going to make Isabella strip when he was wearing more layers, but then she produced some underwear so it was okay. (Not the natural-cloth smock that would have been in period, but never mind.) It’s all a bit Goonies-style as Robin is able to shoot an arrow attached to Isabella’s dress up through a hole so they can climb up the cloth to the exit. Once they escape, they have to chance to free Kate. Isabella just wants Robin to run away with her. “We’ve got to take this chance!” “It’ll always be just a dream,” Robin says of their fantasies together. “I’m not her!” Isabella says.

Just then PJ and Guy arrive. “You let the team down,” tsks PJ. “I’ve waited ALL MY LIFE to be Sheriff!” I really wonder about Guy sometimes—I got the impression from the first series that he genuinely believed in PJ’s claim on the throne against the example of profligate King Richard, but maybe like everyone else, he just wanted to be on the winning side. “You’re a pretender!” Isabella is angry, too, believing she’s been “blinded by his flattery.” There’s a truly spectacular fight as Isabella tries to bash in Robin’s head (a woman scorned . . .) and Guy and PJ fight, before all the roles reverse and they fight again. Kate takes the opportunity to escape. So Isabella is left with a chip on her shoulder over Robin, and Robin doesn’t seem too annoyed—in fact, I wonder if he’s now going to be fawning over Kate. Oh yeah, and the villagers get their water.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

robin hood and stuff vol. 7x3

I know generally, in Robin Hood, Doctor Who, pretty much anything, the weaker episodes tend to be in the middle of the season . Nevertheless, and though I may get flak for this, I think the middle two eps of series 3 are among the best the show has produced. Whee!

One thing I’ve noticed about the programme is that it does seem to encourage a fair number of female writers. I really quite liked Lisa Holdsworth’s offering, “Let the Games Commence.” I know the first series was really pushing the modern reworking of the Crusades by giving us as much exposure to the Saracens as possible (and giving us that Gulf War parallel). While I admired the effort at political correctness, I think they are doing a much better job of bringing the historical in and using it for their own creative storytelling purposes in series 3. For example, while I don’t think there were troupes of gladiators roaming England in the 12th century, there were certainly touring players and acrobats, so the premise of Holdsworth’s story is not as far-fetched as it may immediately appear.

Cooler still: Guy of Gisborne’s sister Isabella, who somehow makes me think of the titular heroine from one of my favorite books as an adolescent, Catherine, Called Birdy. I really expected Isabella, as played by Lara Pulver, to resemble the over-the-top harpy sister of the Sheriff’s. (I didn’t expect her to replace Marian quite so quickly as she did in “Do You Love Me?” but never mind.) I find myself really liking the character, and equally not disliking the Kate character as much as I expected to. Anyway, things looked a bit questionable when Isabella appeared on the scene in her Xena Warrior Princess bodice (as ever, I am of two minds about the costuming in this show). Perhaps, as Guy’s sister, Isabella may have picked up some sword training but does everyone in 12th century England know how to fight? Meanwhile, while he’s been with Prince John’s Royal Guard, Guy has taken the time to have a shampoo. Congrats. The Sheriff is nonplussed: “You’re still alive.” Guy has thrived without “ill-conceived, incompetent input from others.” Guy is certain he will “have no need of you ever again” soon—it’s kind of nice to see him recovering his self-esteem for a bit.

Isabella, it appears, is running away from her fiancĂ©, “all the way from Shrewsbury”—“you know what he’ll do to me?”—when she’s rescued by Robin & co. Robin immediately goes into charmer mode. Not knowing who she is, he volunteers to take her safely back to her home. Unfortunately the outlaws are soon separated by encroaching soldiers bent on snuffing them out. Tuck, Isabella, Kate and Robin end up back together, but are missing Little John. Eventually they all get herded while Guy deploys the “secret weapon” (get your mind out of the gutter). In keeping with the gladiatorial theme, Prince John CAN HAZ LIONZ (apparently from the Holy Land, though it’s not clear). This gives the audience at home a visual thrill, and the writer even qualifies its inherent silliness by having Guy say, “It’s appropriate for supporters of the Coeur de Lion.” Isabella CAN HAZ mustard bombs for some reason, so the outlaws escape.

Little John officially has the world’s softest touch. He intervenes when he thinks a merchant woman is being attacked, when in fact it’s just Bertha of Bath “training my men.” In addition to introducing Isabella, this episode’s presentation of Bertha is another point in its favor. She’s touring her circus and gladiators through England—“where you been?” “Here, mainly,” Little John says sheepishly. Little John’s susceptible heart is further touched when Bertha introduces her “children”—“not by birth.” As the Royal Guard come looking, Bertha says, “we’ll disguise you.” Since Little John is a convincing gladiator anyway, Bertha takes him with her in the circus into Nottingham to make a profit. “The ladies love you,” Bertha croons to shirtless John. In a rather clever twist, the Sheriff summons the theatrical Bertha, with whom he has apparently had dealings with in the past. He not only wants her profits, he wants all her takings. “I could settle the debt with something better than money.” “There is nothing better!” (That’s the Sheriff for you.) Bertha agrees to give the Sheriff a percentage of her earnings and to deliver Little John, dead. Oooh, the slag.

Robin accuses Isabella of being just like her brother, that she led the outlaws into a trap, which she vehemently denies—“do you have any idea what he’s done to me? I could not endure another day [of marriage].” It sounds, ladies and gentlemen, that Isabella’s marriage is every bit the typical one from the period—fortunately for her, she has the opportunity to get out of it, at least for awhile. She plans to seek her brother’s protection. He has “some obligation toward me.” Returning to her brother, she accuses him of lack of loyalty. “I did what was best. . . . He [her suitor] offered a fair price for you.”

Little John’s friend, a sympathetic boy-gladiator-helper, tries to warn him that Bertha has fixed the fight and intends to have him killed. Anarchy breaks out during the fights—“you believed the ancient art of the gladiator was gone”—as the Sheriff demands, “Somebody kill that man!” Little John finds out that Bertha is not the benevolent rescuer of orphans that she led him to believe. He is able to escape with Bertha’s boys, who are neatly sent to an “orphanage near Locksley.” I didn’t think there were orphanages in 1192—hĂ´telsde Dieu, maybe, but foundlings were mostly left at church doors, weren’t they? Oh well, I’m being too critical.
“What makes you think I would [betray you]?” Isabella asks Robin, to whom she has obviously taken a shine and vice versa. “I hadn’t seen him [Guy] since I was thirteen.” “I’d never turn my back on someone in true need,” Robin says.

Do You Love Me?” is really quite hilarious, but my first thought upon watching it was, now THAT’s how to start an episode! By this I mean—and I apologize, I AM a rabid Richard Armitage perv—it begins with a shirtless Guy writhing on his bed—no doubt tormented by nightmares as the Furies have come after him for his crimes—yet the mind can invent much more salacious explanations. Ahem. He gets arrested and tossed at the feet of Toby Stephens’ Prince John. Now, I’ve seen Stephens be moody and Byron-esque both as Rochester in the well-made Jane Eyre and as Darcy in Lost in Austen, but the performance that most comes to mind as his inspiration for Prince John is the animated lion in Disney’s Robin Hood!! (Less so the Beast in Will o’the Wisp!) If it’s possible for anyone to enjoy hamming it up more than Keith Allan as the Sheriff, Stephens is doing it. Yet there is a trace of the historical John (or, to be more accurate in my case, the version of the historical John I know through Ivanhoe). The costume is like something you would see a Shakespearean actor wear during a performance of the history plays—medieval filtered through Tudor eyes! Yet he is all the way a moustache-twiddling villain—extremely insecure, silkily vicious, genuinely frustrated over Richard’s beloved status in the people’s eyes (all of this tying back to the historical Richard presented in things like “The Crusade” ep of Doctor Who and The Lion in Winter but I won’t bore you again).

Yet, for all of this historical underpinning, we are easily skirting the edges of homoerotic subtext on teatime TV—“You’d make a fine Sheriff,” PJ oozes. “Does it please you I have such confidence in you?” I really like Timothy Praeger’s dialogue here. “His [the Sheriff’s] blood is a gift I covet. You will kill the Sheriff for me.” (Then I thought they were going to kiss.) THAT’s the way to open an episode, ladies and gentlemen: Toby Stephens being slimy and hilarious, 12th century intrigue, and a whole lotta Armitage-squee. As a writer for Radio Times once noted about RA in Spooks, “the publicist’s job is done.”

Back in the forest where the temperature is a few degrees cooler, Much “can’t actually count!” as he bespies soldiers. Robin rightly interprets PJ’s trying to buy off the nobles as one step closer to civil war. Because there will be gold, Robin & co. decide to stop PJ by cutting off his cash flow. Go for the economic jugular! While making this attempt, however, Katie gets stabbed and falls over. Tragically, no one seems to notice! They are too busy thinking they’ve captured PJ. Of course Much and Allan go running when they finally see that Kate’s taken one for the team. “To leave it in her would kill her,” announces a terse Tuck. Since they’ve had the good fortune to get in their decoy PJ’s physician, Kate is saved. “Neither his supporter nor his apologist.” The physician Benjamin brings in a nice bit of historical stuff that might well be true. PJ is obsessed with finding a subject infected with scrofula so he can cure it and prove he’s the King. (I believe it was Edward I who dragged his wife around Wales so she would give birth to a son in a Welsh castle, hence him being a Prince of Wales.)

It’s feeling a bit Richard III as Guy returns to Nottingham and greets the Sheriff. “Our relationship has been a little strained in the past,” says the Sheriff. “The only way we’re going to survive is unity.” Isabella gamely walks in right as Guy is about to murder the Sheriff. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

Benjamin, now allied to Robin more or less, returns to Nottingham as PJ has a banquet, expecting the Sheriff to be dead. “Congratulations, we were ambushed, not you,” says the ever-tactful Benjamin. PJ, in what surely would be something the historical John d’Anjou would do, decides to pit the Sheriff against Gisborne and see which one kills first. “Would you take a life for me?” Back at the party, PJ wants to know, “Did he [Robin Hood] curse us?” “Fulsomely!” replies Benjamin. “Wonderful!” Then PJ has Benjamin arrested.

In Locksley a wedding is going on (the perpetual summer of ’92, ’93, whatever it is, doesn’t bother me as much as it used to). PJ romancing Isabella isn’t nearly as much fun as Gisborne romancing Marian (or trying to) but the misogynist thinks “you make this such good sport!” He’s clearly a ruthless, crazy S.O.B. as he tries to burn the village church to the ground WITH the congregation inside. Isn’t that a BIT graphic for children? (Fortunately the villagers escape!) “I will have love and respect . . . I am benevolent.” Somehow you wonder if it’s Henry, Richard and John’s father, who has twisted John into such a lunatic, that he thinks he can gain the love of the people by murder, and whether or not there are any redeeming features in somehow so insecure. Meanwhile, the Sheriff is doing . . . something . . . while standing by the burning church, allowing Guy the chance to toss a flaming beam at him, to which the Sheriff responds with an arrow. Ha.

The beautiful Isabella is unsinged when she helps Robin & co. to put out the flames on the church, a complete loss. “I judge people by what I find!” She hates her brother, by the way. “That’s one thing we have in common.” “That’s nothing to be proud of, is it? To share hatred?” “You don’t want Prince John to think we cooperated.” Robin takes Isabella’s jewellery, being his smoothie-robber-baron self. “See anything else you want?” she asks (!). She reaches to the garter on her thigh (!) to give him a purse. “Help them to rebuild their church.” “There’s something else I might steal.” Okay, for dramatic purposes Isabella and Robin embarking on their little smoldering romance is pretty satisfying, but it seems waaaay too soon after Marian. Unless it’s all a bid to get revenge?

Tuck, a bit like the Friar in Romeo and Juliet, wants to brew a potion so Kate can look likes she has scrofula and they can get inside the castle to steal gold. Isabella returns, pretending to have been ransacked and robbed. She gives a performance for PJ that he finds irresistible. Guy is at his devotions when the Sheriff attacks. I remember RA saying that Lucas North in Spooks would beat Guy hands down in a fight, and clearly he’s right if Guy allows the Sheriff to get the upper hand! “You represent everything that’s loathsome in a man!” “I thought that’s why you like me!” When the Sheriff stabs Guy in the thigh, I wondered where I had seen that last and recalled it was Styre the Sontaran in “The Two Doctors.” Hmmm. “Humility’s a failing,” the Sheriff shrieks when Guy hesitates to kill him. “You’re the reason Marian is dead!” The fight takes them up to the castle battlements. “You loved me like a father once, I know you did,” says the Sheriff. “Gisborne, don’t trust him. . . . Nothing is what it seems.” With that, Guy apparently stabs the Sheriff, and he expires. (Except not!)

The plot thickens!