Sunday, June 28, 2009

top 10 british tv programmes

This wasn’t by any means easy. As I tell people, I really like British TV. I always have. I barely watched TV in the US last year when I was home. Doctor Who always qualifies as good TV, but unfortunately I chose the year of the Specials to return to Britain. Sigh. Anyway, I’ve separated this into two parts—my ten picks for best TV series --and then a few choice one-offs or other types of programmes that weren’t series. To be truthful, it’s not a complete survey of the field—I tend to watch programmes that I suspect I will like, but I will tune into things recommended to me. But I often surprise myself—Spooks anyone?—so I might just surprise you, too. These are, by the way, in no particular order.

1. City of Vice This is my one choice that isn’t current, but it was so good I had to include it (even if I’ve only seen 2 episodes . . . that’s a situation easily remedied since Jamie bought me the series on DVD!). As I said before, I want to aspire to write like this for my Milton project—if it could be produced at even a fraction of the sophistication and accessibility of this series, I would be happy. As far as I’m concerned, it ticks every box for me. 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. 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 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. 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. 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.

2. Tess of the D’Urbervilles A superlative adaptation—sexy, moving, beautifully filmed, and well-cast and acted. Gemma Atherton was a superb Tess. The fact that it was four hours long made it possible to adapt the book in a reverent fashion, so that you could really understand why Tess, Angel, Tess’s mother, and others acted the way they did. The music was absolutely gorgeous and moving. The tail end of the 19th century in Hardy’s Wessex was perfectly recreated. Although I’ve always regarded Angel Clare as a little sh*t, in the final episode I did at least want him and Tess to get together—though of course I knew they wouldn’t end happily (yes, I did cry). I’ve always been a fan of Hans Matheson, and he made a perfectly dissolute Alec d’Urberville .

3. Stephen Fry in America Certainly I was biased by being an American and I wanted not only to see Stephen’s take on the US—a combination of the genuinely affectionate and bewildered!—but what format it might take in order to be fit for British consumption. In the process I learned a lot about my home country that I didn’t know, and I have to be honest: it made me homesick. Last fall, Fry drove across all 50 states in the London cab he owns. In Vermont he mixed ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s (he said something to the effect of the world needed ice cream). He spent a lot of time in Massachusetts in Harvard discussing the principles behind the founding of our country (he quotes Gore Vidal in that the Puritans were escaping persecution so they could find someone to persecute). He went hunting in upstate New York, cab driving in Queens, and mixed with the Mob (sort of). Very often this show teaches me stuff about my own country that I don’t know, including the “Body Farm” in Tennessee where students study bodies in states of decomposition in order to find killers—Stephen saw his first dead body. He went ballooning over North Carolina and had a very traditional Thanksgiving in Georgia. He hates Florida, visiting with “snowbirds” the “living embodiment of hell.” In Alabama he attended a college football game. Aaaaand so on.

4. Mock the Week The funniest thing on British TV, IMHO.

5. Spooks I didn’t expect to like Spooks, it wasn’t really my cup of tea, you know, spy shows. But then again, if you think about it, I am into League of Extraordinary Gentlemen so maybe it’s not such a stretch. Anyway, I will admit readily that Richard Armitage is the reason I started watching (though the fact James Moran had written an episode helped), and he made the viewing of it even more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. I personally found the season I saw (called MI5, understandably, in the US) quite slick, nail-biting, well-made and well-acted. Perhaps it wouldn’t stand up to constant scrutiny, but I found it quite unpredictable and modern, relevant. As you can tell when you look at this list, I don’t tend to favor many contemporary dramas so the fact I found it entertaining enough not to miss an episode probably says far more about it than I can right now.

6. Little Dorrit Some people objected to the fact this was cut up into 14 episodes, but I really enjoyed it—felt appropriately serialized and Dickensian—and I didn’t miss an episode. For the most part it was well-adapted and moved along at a good pace, except for a few spots when it stalled. There were some superb performances from the likes of Matthew Macfadyan (formerly of Spooks no less), Andy Serkis, Eddie Marsan, Russell Tovey, Alun Armstrong, Emma Pierson, Claire Foy, the list goes on and on. How much money did the BBC have to employ this many people?! Anyway, in addition to the great performances, the sets, the costumes, and the filming in Venice must have cost a pretty penny—yet in my opinion it was all worth it, what a glorious spectacle. Moving, too, in its smallest moments, also a bit scary and often quite funny. Maybe not one of Dickens’ greatest novels (she says, having read only three!) but still very enjoyable.

7. The Victorians: Their Story in Pictures It was really difficult to choose one show to typify the many things I’d seen on BBC4 having to do with the history of the Victorians. I decided on this one, written and presented by Jeremy Paxman, because it didn’t try to sensationalize Victoriana, nor make it too ridiculous and quirky. He used contemporary pieces of art to show what Victorian life was really like and how it was still relevant to us today. The first episode of the series piled on the sweeping melodrama of “the City!!” as well as the degradation and misery of the poor. Paxman showed one of my favorite paintings of all time, Ford Madox Brown’s Work, as well as some other stunning crowd-work by the likes of William Frith, and a blacksmith/painter named Scalper. The second episode concerned maybe the first Victorian cliché I ever learned, the Angel in the Home. The show also did a masterful job showing the ignominy of the Crimean War in canvases by the likes of Lady Elizabeth Butler, and describing the atrocities on both sides in the case of the Indian Mutiny. It also was most eloquent on the nature of imperialism through art like the Albert Memorial. Overall, very valuable—it took itself a bit too seriously on occasion, but it wasn’t afraid to be irreverent.

8. Being Human I started off as a skeptic; I really couldn’t see how a show about a vampire, ghost, and werewolf sharing a flat could actually work (in Bristol no less), even if it was written by Toby Whithouse. However, I was quickly proved wrong. It’s funny how issues surrounding such supernatural characters remind us so succinctly of the problems facing humans. For example, how do you tell a potential love interest you’re a werewolf? Or what do you do when you find the werewolf who made you one? What do you do when you find out your fiancé killed you? If you’re a vampire how do you respond to the woman you made a vampire against her will and who still loves you? The weakest link in this show was only inevitable—there had to be some big threat against which our heroes had to prepare themselves and it was vaguely boring in its way. The real threat was humanity!

9. Ashes to Ashes I only saw one episode of Life on Mars and never saw any of Ashes to Ashes series 1 (though I lived vicariously through the Staggering Stories podcasts where they discussed the plot in detail, with spoilers and all!). Again, I couldn’t really imagine myself liking the show particularly, seeing as these police procedurals didn’t really interest me and I couldn’t see how they were going to explain Alex Drake’s journey, especially in the light of the way Life on Mars ended (plus, although the ‘80s interested me slightly more than the ‘70s, it isn’t near to my interest in the 1880s!). Despite myself, Ashes to Ashes really grew on me. It was accessible, and it was much better to see Philip Glenister playing Gene Hunter proper instead of a vanilla version in the boring Demons. I thought the music was cool, the fashions spectacularly ‘80s , and the twists and turns interesting and entertaining. Again, I don’t know how well it would stand up to scrutiny but it seemed logical in its own weird way. It’s genuinely funny, and I know some people were criticizing the possible sexual tension between Gene and Alex, but I thought it was tastefully done and extremely subtle. Looking forward to series 3!

10. The Devil’s Whore Like City of Vice, I expect this will have a lot of bearing on my Milton project. was another superb costume drama. It was subtitled “The Life and Times of Angelica Fernshaw,” and that’s exactly what it depicted—the riotous gaiety of the court of Charles Stuart, followed by the turmoil and battles of the Civil War, followed by Cromwell’s Protectorate. The sumptuousness in costumes was matched only by the outstanding performances. Andrea Riseborough goes from 18 to 40, a landed aristocrat marrying for love who accidentally gets her first husband killed, who falls in love with a revolutionary, Rainsborough, who is killed for opposing Cromwell, then takes turns with the Diggers, the Ranters, and finally returns to her ancestral home. Through it all floats Edward Sexby, a mercenary who falls in love with Angelica almost as soon as he sees her. I grow to admire John Simm more and more, and he positively smoldered as the enigmatic Sexby. Peter Flannery said this took years to get to the screen, but I hope for him it was worth it—it was for me. Bravo Channel4!

Lost in Austen was quite fun, as were The Sarah Jane Adventures. The Tudors were fun but sordid (but that’s HBO as I keep forgetting!). Whitechapel and Moses Jones were both good. I would have put Red Dwarf on the list but that’s cheating a bit too much; suffice it to say, I wish I had not been ignorant of its charms for so long. I also love QI; Alan Davies=squee! The Last Word Monologues were simple TV at its best. Robin Hood might have been on this list but there wasn’t room and besides, it failed.

As for the one-offs, Doctors (with Sylvester McCoy) was particularly memorable. I will probably never watch the show again, but that episode was really funny and sweet. Armando Ianucci’s Paradise Lost you know all about. That doesn’t make it any less great! I also liked How Reading Made Us Modern.

Here’s to another year of British TV!

on the tube summer 09

Despite the inherent cheesiness, I stuck with Tonight’s the Night to the bitter end and quite enjoyed the Guy Named Tim’s star appearance as alien menace Sao Til in the TARDIS with Captain Jack and a bemused David Tennant.

I’m going to review Ashes to Ashes in the best TV of 2008-9, so obviously I liked it. You’ll have to wait until then though.

What a mistake it was to watch Kröd Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire on iPlayer. That’s one hour of my life that I’ll never get back. I can’t list all the ways in which it was wrong. The attempt was clearly something between Robin Hood and The 10th Kingdom (or something) but completely charmless, with jokes that fell flat, and was frankly insulting to pagans and women. What a snooze.

Secrets of Egypt: The Screaming Mummy was too long, really, but interesting enough for a documentary. There’s still no concrete answer on the odd embalming process for this mummy and whether he might be a princeling or why he appears to be screaming.

Armando Ianucci’s Paradise Lost was fabulous, and so much so I wrote a review of it over yonder.

Robin Hood has thoroughly disappointed me, but more on that later.

Casualty 1909 is a pleasant surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting—to be honest, I don’t watch medical dramas or comedies—Casualty is as unfamiliar to me as Grey’s Anatomy or ER (though I admit I used to watch Scrubs). The first episode of this, the second series, took awhile to get started. I was thrown a bit into the deep end, even though they took pains to introduce us to the cocaine-addled, arrogant surgeon; the erudite older surgeon (David Troughton, playing a slight variation on the character he played in “Midnight”); the passionate nurse played by hottie Charity Wakefield, though her name is Ethel, who is in an illicit if unspoken relationship with one of the doctors; frosty but fair Matron; Sarah the moral and compassionate nurse, etc. The historical/educational angle is a bit heavy-handed at times, but it’s amazing how it sucks you in, and the writers are clearly professionals . . . their grasp on the history is both broad and deep, and once the characters were allowed to develop in the second episode, they came alive. I have high hopes for this now that Robin Hood is over.

I was randomly being bored on iPlayer and came upon Horrible Histories. I did have one of the books when I was a kid, Rotten Romans, and was delighted to see that in episode 10 the sponge-on-a-stick method of toilet wiping was explored as I remembered it well from that book. Yes, the gore and potty humor factor is high, but I marvel at how the writers (and actors) manage to not only tread on the fine line between kid-acceptable and disgusting and/or too violent, they dance around it! I love that it’s basically a grown-up sketch show in all but some content, with the sophistication, humor, and acting commitment that you might expect from The Sarah Jane Adventures. I love the musical sections that have managed to sneak into the two episodes I’ve seen (Queen Victoria being annoyed that tea is not British!) and the versions of Ready, Steady, Feast (OMG at the section during the Siege of Orléans!). Hilarious and what I didn’t already know about history, I’m learning! It’s also hosted by a rat (puppet). Yes, both this and Casualty 1909 will be contenders for top 10 TV of 2009-10.

The Pre-Raphaelites was a bit of a snooze, really.

Top 10 TV series/specials of 2008-9 coming soon!

Top Fifteen Radio Plays, January-June 2009

When I arrived back in the UK after being home for the holidays, I had little work and to make those dark winter days go faster, I’d sit and listen to Radio 4, Radio 3, or BBC7 with my cup of tea. I listened to a huge amount of radio between January and March; in the last few months I just haven’t had the time, even with iPlayer. However, it has been an amazing six months for radio. There was the Science Fiction Season in February/March, a cross-channel initiative with plenty of great plays, including an adaptation of Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and a clever adaptation of The Time Machine. (I was so up on this that I talked about it at my interview with the BBC.) I also listened to BBC7 a lot more than I used to, which has brought to my attention many older plays and adaptations.

15.Cavity (Sean Grundy) NOT my typical fare! The characters were all nasty, self-centered, insane people, but for all that, somewhat realistic— and very funny! It was the surrealistic tale of an affair that goes horribly wrong- when interrupted, the other woman hides in the wall cavity- and never leaves! I’m sure it wouldn’t stand up to much scrutiny, but there is a certain line of logic. The funniest part, however, was the announcer warning us there was “sexual content- and the music of James Blunt.”

14.Dracula (Bram Stoker/Nick Myerson) This six-part epic is from 1991 and I caught it on BBC7, but I thought it was a superb adaptation of one of my favorite novels. The music was by Malcolm Clark, who in my opinion is responsible for some of the Doctor Who soundtrack travesties (“Sea Devils,” anyone?) but who did a phenomenally atmospheric job here. Frederick Jaegar, also from Doctor Who, plays a scary Count- no sensual sex symbol but full of nascent horror. Well-paced, scary, visceral (and gory), letting the strength of the male characters and Mina speak for themselves. It really highlighted the subversive elements, making Jonathan the weakling and Mina level-headed, Lucy’s death with its echoes of gang rape, and Dracula’s almost homosexual assaults on the male characters (not to mention the vampiresses seducing Jonathan!). Bernard Holly as Van Helsing was also excellent.

13.Regency Buck (Georgette Heyer/Neville Teller) Despite the fact that most of the cast, except Simon Shepherd as the bad rake Lord Worth, played it soo over the top with fruity accents, I enjoyed this straightforward adaptation of something in the Regency tradition. It was more Mrs Radcliffe than Jane Austen with the dastardly plots, and Lord Worth had more in common with Wickham than Darcy in that he kissed his ward Judith with disgraceful impudence- still, I liked it.

12. The Invasion: Arab Chronicles of the First Crusade (Jonathan Myerson) Not to be confused with the Doctor Who story of the same title! I thought this was a wee bit too long; a better stopping point might have been actual capture of Antioch. Overall, though, it was superb. The Muslims and Christians in Antioch were pawns in a game between implacable and frankly bonkers Pharengs/Franks/Crusaders and the Byzantines and Emirs who had no idea what they were dealing with- obviously, since no one the like of the Crusaders had ever shown up before. This paints a perfect picture of the misery (and completely unprovoked, from the Eastern peoples’ point of view) the West brought in the Crusades, which we still tend to think of as a thing of glory that at least broadened horizons while for the Muslims it was the start of the conflict that continues today. The play succeeds because it focuses on two families- one Muslim, one Christian- in Antioch who are torn apart because of the conflict.

11. The Woman in Black (Susan Hill/John Strickland) Robert Glenister seems to be as ubiquitous on radio as Philip is on TV, but he’s a great voice actor so I’m not complaining! This was genuinely scary and suspenseful as the best radio horror is. The first two parts were thoroughly mysterious, and I really liked the frame story. I almost cried when Spider the dog was almost sucked into quicksand. The conclusion was a bit of anti-climax, though at least the poor tormented man found some closure. The music brought me back to the mid-‘80s PBS broadcasting for kids, but not in a bad way!

10. Homesick (Anita Sullivan) I’m really pissed off that I liked this so much, because I hated Anita Sullivan’s pieces from last autumn (and looks like she will be writing one for Torchwood). However, I can’t ignore the fact that this was moving and stayed with me long after it was over. The alien (played by a sonically-enhanced Mark Heap) and Nicole (played by ubiquitous Maxine Peake), the really bitchy vet whose fascination with the protagonist Jeff (Paul Ritter) seems to be purely because he had an alien in his ear, seemed the only fully formed characters, the rest mere stereotypes. Still, a rather moving play, despite bringing to mind Paul and Harry’s builder sketch.

9. Blake’s 7: Rebel (Ben Aaronovitch) You can accuse me of favoritism- after all, I’ve interviewed Ben for TTZ and Alistair Lock did the music for this and all the Blake’s 7 new plays- but the truth is, I didn’t know anything about Blake’s 7 before I heard this play, and I thought it was fantastic. (India Fisher, also of Doctor Who fame, played the company tool.) The sound quality was clearly professional, as are the voice artists, and it has a very snappy, Doctor Who-ish quality to it— though also is quite unique (obviously). Strong characters, pacing, and story! I will be tuning into the rest when they’re on BBC7.

8. The State of the Art (Iain M Banks/Paul Cornell) Another one that’s full of Doctor Who luminaries! Of all the offerings in the Sci Fi season, this is the one I genuinely enjoyed the most. The three main actors- Antony Sher as the Ship, Nina Sosnyana (sp?) as a female alien disgusted and marginally fascinated by Earth culture, and Paterson Joseph as the male alien she loves who leaves it all behind to experience what it is to be human (hmm, does that sound like Cornell to anyone?)- were superb. They did a very, er, down-to-earth job with parts that could be flights of fancy. It was funny and bittersweet.

7. The Siege of Krishnapur (J G Farrell/Shelagh Stephenson) I’m always favorably disposed to plays with Alex Jennings in them (and he’s in a lot) but this was also directed by the brilliant Eoin O’Callaghan (I met both of them in 2007). As a Classic Serial it’s taken from the book, which is a fictionalized account of the incident in the Indian Mutiny. I thought all the characters were engaging and yet very much of their time. The doctor who gave himself cholera just to prove a point; the bumbling, inexperienced young iconoclast; the English-educated Indian prince taken prisoner; and Hopkins the Collector (Jennings) who warned everyone about the possibility of a mutiny- he managed to see them through the siege when they very nearly starved. It reminded me by turns of Ghosts of India and Gwalia in Khasia (!).

6. More Old Peter’s Russian Tales (D J Britton) I’m cheating slightly as this was actually on over the Christmas holidays in 2008, but I only heard it when David lent me the CD! Clever, engaging, sweet, and atmospheric. Everyone involved seemed to be putting their all into it. Old Peter is a Russian grandfather who takes care of his granddaughter and grandson in an isolated hut and tells them stories to keep them occupied during the long winter nights. My favorite tale was Martha and her bridegroom Frost, but the fisherman and his wife, the bickering friends, the baby Babyaga, and Ivan the Ninny were all excellent. They managed to find good kid actors too!

5. Alone Together (Neil McKai) There was a really good play, too, about Dannie Abse and his wife (based on his book The Presence) but this one, about R S Thomas and his family, slightly trumped it. This was over an hour, but it didn’t feel particularly long; it was well-structured and extremely well-cast and acted. For a story like R S Thomas’ you sort of need all the sides of the equation- the suffering, dubious, modern son, the creative, quiet wife, and the tormented, arrogant, naïve Thomas himself (played wonderfully by Jonathan Pryce), plus the landscape and the people. Welsh speakers and English speakers, rural, gentrified- everything in his poetry, his autobiography The Echoes Return Slowly, and his son’s biography. Nice pacing, overall a strong achievement.
4. Mendelssohn Weekend Midsummer Night’s Dream (William Shakespeare/Tim Carroll) I know, it was just an adaptation of the play (and recorded live from the staged version) but I loved it. The play is one of my favorites, and the acting was all superb. I’m sure the staging was very clever and comic, the line between audience and players blurred to the very utmost. The best part, though, was actually hearing Mendelssohn’s score imbedded in the action as it was always meant to be heard.

3. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (Terry Pratchett) The first and probably the only time I’ll have the opportunity to hear David Tennant play a blind, speaking rat ! This revolved around a magically-endowed speaking cat (Harry Myers), his “dumb-looking kid” Keith (Tom George), and their band of speaking rats. Keith was a pied piper piping out rats in a scam whose time was almost up when he, Maurice, and the rats find a sinister plot that would make vegetarian Robert Holmes proud. Maurice shines, both as acted and as written, while Keith and his future wife— a sort of girl detective named Melisia- also share in the glory. Tennant was actually quite affecting as the dreamy Dangerous Beans, as were all the rats, really. I laughed out loud several times. The Rat King was deeply frightening and disturbing!

2. Witness: Five Plays from the Gospel (Nick Warburton) As my friend Liz said, Nick Warburton can write about a tin of bins and still find the drama in it. I’m cheating here a bit and picking all five plays (when I, er, only listened to three of them) but so what- it’s Nick Warburton! Just in time for the end of Lent/beginning of Easter, his work on the Gospel of Luke is modern but the plays don’t talk down to you. At the same time it’s all firmly grounded in Scripture. The acting is all up to snuff- check out a wonderful Tom Goodman-Hill as a northern Jesus (Galilee is northern Judea, doncha know) and apostles including Peter Firth and Paul Hilton, and Penelope Wilton as the Virgin Mary. It included a brilliant stroke with Pilate being played by (or as?) an American. I know it’s the greatest story ever told, but Warburton really finds inventive and yet naturalistic ways to tell it. Genuinely moving and even subtle.

1. The Scarifyers: For King and Country (Simon Barnard) I absolutely loved this four-part play. Of course, I’m biased because it stars Terry Molloy playing a completely different character than Davros, and Nicholas Courtney playing a completely similar character than the Brigadier. It also had the best Welsh joke EVER. It was just full of laugh out loud sequences. Molloy plays one half of this vaguely paranormal investigative team (circa 1920), a befuddled, timid professor who thinks nothing of having Oliver Cromwell’s head on his dressing table, and Courtney is the more military side of the equation. What a glorious combination, and what good writing. The plot concerns Witch-Finder General Hopkins (from the Civil War) being resurrected by a fraudulent medium. Gabriel Woolf (also of Doctor Who …kneel!) plays the dual roles of resentful Chief Inspector Natterjack and the scarier-than-thou Hopkins. It is a romp, but the first two episodes were intriguing, and the fact that ends with the reanimated skeletons of Prince Rupert and his dog routing Hopkins and Cromwell is hilarious. I know it’s part of a series, so I look forward to hearing the rest!

Other highlights I should mention are Daughters of Venice by Don Taylor, Welcome to the Wasteland by D J Britton, Ioan Gruffud’s performance in Something Fresh (P G Wodehouse/Archie Scottney), Tony’s Little Sister and the Paradox of Monasticism by Caroline and David Stafford, Damian Lewis’ performance in Something Wrong about the Mouth (David Edgar). Most disappointing? Voices from the Grave on BBC7.

Stay turned for my top 10 radio plays of 2008-9 (if you care). Also coming soon: Top 10 TV series on British TV, 2008-9.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

aya de yopougon

The best stories have the power to transport us to places we’ll never see in our lifetimes, and do that in such a way that we feel immediately engrossed in these new worlds. From that standpoint, graphic novels tend to be so fantastic that though it’s an awe-inspiring world, it’s not one in which we feel at home (I would argue this is true of many of the greats, including Watchmen and From Hell). However, in the case of many good autobiographical graphic novels I’ve read, it’s easy to slip into those worlds. Aya de Yopougon reminds me of No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (well, the episodes I saw on TV) mixed with a little non-tragic Tess of the D’Urbervilles (no, really!). The smart and plucky heroine Aya, with her aspirations to become a doctor in 1970s Abidjan, is a nice foil for her harmless, boy-chasing friends Bintou and Adjoua. The Francophone nature of Côte d’Ivoire makes the book of special interest to me, though I shamefully confess I don’t know that much about French-speaking Africa (we read some Algerian writers and I knew someone who went on exchange many times to French-speaking Africa). My favorite section is the Ivorian Bonus, with tips on how to wrap a pagne, how to shake your tassaba, and recipes! Clément Oubrerie’s simple drawings are full of character, and Marguerite Abouet’s text is engaging and genuine. The humor strikes me as very similar to Mma Ramotse’s in N1LDA, though some of the sweaty dance sequences remind me of a slightly less sinister Moses Jones. I’d recommend it (and maybe I’ll even buy Jamie the sequel).

Monday, June 22, 2009

milton and cigars!

Facebook groups come and go, but my favorite is probably “I’d Marry the Beast for that Library!”

I’ve been reading a lot of books about libraries lately (The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel, On Literature by Umberto Eco), and I just finished Library: An Unquiet History which Jamie thoughtfully gave me. I’m a total library geek and once defined heaven as Trinity College’s Library in Dublin. My mother is a librarian, and I spent a great deal of my youth in the public library and the library on the University of New Mexico campus. Then when I was a student there I spent even more time in it and then when I started working at the Center for Southwest Research, I spent hours in it! (Fun times, though working alone in dark and deserted stacks seriously freaked me out!) It was totally telling that on the shelves I could find my mother’s undergraduate thesis and my father’s multi-volume doctoral dissertation!

Library is a surprisingly brief condensation of thousands of years of bibliophilic history and is neither given to the flights of fancy nor the profound analysis that either of the two books I mentioned before is. It’s entertaining, eminently readable, and like the author Matthew Battles, I’m not quite sure in what category I’d put it (he natters on about where he might find it in the Library of Congress cataloguing system and when I flipped to the front to find out, I discovered it was a British-printed book even though Battles is American and the book maintains his original American spellings—BIZARRE!). When the narrative voice intrudes it’s always got useful and interesting things to say, but it still jars slightly.

I loved the sprightly and thoughtful introduction, which quickly moved on to Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and ancient Chinese libraries before making a pit stop in ancient Rome. I hadn’t realized that many of the Roman elite went to Greece for schooling, and that educated, literate Greek slaves were among a household’s most important members. There’s some good information on the shape of books as we know them today; “the codex was still a distinctly Christian medium.” As you can imagine there is a large section on book-burning, both in the section on the 20th century (which covers the destruction of a Belgian library in WWI, Nazi book-burning in WWII, and the books destroyed in Bosnia), and in the great loss of Aztec books by zealous conquistadores, not to mention the obvious loss of the Library of Alexandria. However, did you ever stop to consider the “books” in Herculaneum? The Villa of the Papryi’s scrolls were all scorched and illegible until a priest in the 18th century devised a means of unrolling the fragile paper and making them readable. More recently digital imaging techniques have been employed in saving this ancient library.

There is a very strong section on the libraries of Islam, noting that because Muhammad dictated the Qu’ran to his followers, they “became enthusiastically literate.” Just as the age of the great Muslim libraries was waning, the Renaissance began in Europe—but at the expense of many book losses caused by the Crusaders and later by the expulsion of Moors and Jews from Spain in the fifteenth century—in tenth century Cordóba, Caliph Hakim’s library numbered 2 books to every household in the city! I love the idea of the Hill of Books—in the eleventh century Hakim was defeated by the Turks, who had no use for books and ripped off the covers for shoes and buried the defaced manuscripts in a hillside!

By contrast, Western European libraries are somewhat glossed over, though considering their miniscule size until the Renaissance, perhaps there just wasn’t anything interesting to say (Henry VIII, for example, doodled all over his books whereas his daughter Elizabeth, despite what you might think, had few books added during her reign in the Royal Library). One of the strongest sections of the book is on Swift’s “Battle of the Books”; the eighteenth century was indeed an important turning point for reading in general, the proliferation of the press, and a debate in library maintenance sprung up. Another of the book’s strongest sections is on the life and innovations of Melville Dewey, who not only invented this revolutionary way of cataloguing books, he changed everything from the furniture to the card catalogues in libraries. He wanted things standardized, he wanted things efficient. Like it or not, he changed libraries a great deal, and we owe him. (I forget about France, but in Britain the Dewey decimal system is still used while most libraries in the US have gone to LC.)

There are a lot of interesting facts in this book, and it’s neither overly scholarly nor too breezy (most of the time). The author is obviously passionate but not to the point either Manguel or Eco were—or at least he doesn’t let his enthusiasm show as much! His notes on sources at the end was humanely related and such a pleasant surprise after the monstrosity that greeted me at the end of an article about Milton. :-P (By the way, Milton is mentioned a couple times in the book—once in conjunction with smoking a good cigar!)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

the slitheen excursion

The Slitheen Excursion (spoilers)

I’ve liked everything I’ve read of Simon Guerrier’s, and The Slitheen Excursion is no exception. I don’t think I found it quite the delight I did The Pirate Loop probably because of lack of Martha, but for an entirely original companion June is memorable. I’m glad by the end of the book the Doctor didn’t just dump her and move on to greener pastures. There’s potential for more adventures.

From the blurb on the back of the book I expected more action in present-day Athens but to my pleasant surprise, most of the book was set in 1500 BC. In general I do tend to gravitate toward historical rather than futuristic adventures, but this one is set in a past so remote, I think a bit more leeway can be given—an age of gods and monsters, which is perfect for Doctor Who. Heck, the Doctor even references Clash of the Titans! I know from reading Simon’s blog he did a lot of research and I believe the period is one of his wife’s specialties (her name is in the acknowledgments). I know I personally struggle to find the balance between transmitting all the cool info about historical settings and not overwhelming the audience, so I think this book achieved that playfully.

Like all good stories that introduce a new companion, the book starts by introducing us to June, an English Classics student on research/holiday in Greece. June is a good enough student that she can get away with giving us a mini-history of the Parthenon (a bit like how technobabble coming out of Nyssa’s mouth in “Castrovalva” is much more believable than when it comes from Tegan!). She’s also charming and refreshingly normal, to the point we’re not even given a physical description, as Jamie pointed out (for some reason I had Adi in my mind, so June looks like Adi to me!). There’s some mild satire on Greek bureaucracy (no doubt gleaned from experience), and June, being human, flirts with guards at the Parthenon. This is what I like about Simon, and the only other person I’ve really read who does it as well is Jacqueline Rayner. The Martha in Pirate Loop really appealed to me because her crush on the Doctor was described in a naturalistic way—many of the writers tended to ignore this altogether or made it a token footnote. June doesn’t fancy the Doctor, but she does fancy other characters in the book, and again this seems like it’s done with subtlety. I’m a girl, and I believe in June’s reactions as those of a girl!

Anyway, as is so often the case, it’s June who does the rescuing of the Doctor when she scares away some aliens who are “trying to blow up the Acropolis.” (For some reason when I see her going “Rahhrr!” I picture Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story and Randy screaming helplessly.) June is clearly companion material from the first time she meets the Doctor.
‘I’m obviously not as funny-looking as you.
‘I’m not funny looking!’ she protested.
In that scene she reminds me a bit of a young, bookish Rose. Like Rose, June’s compassion plays a large part in her getting involved in the Doctor’s misadventures, as she urges him to respond to a distress signal, even if it brings her to Athens in the far-distant past. Once there, the narrative speeds ahead, plotted with great cliffhanger material such as being “kidnapped” by fierce warrior women in chariots, then sharing oily meals with them (I do believe Horrible Histories: The Romans announced that the Romans had a stick with a sponge on the end of it in lieu of toilet paper, but that only makes sense if you’ve read Slitheen Excursion page 43). There’s a really well-written scene of a shipwreck, which is made all the more poignant by a bewildered June’s experience of a cornucopia of ancient Greek experiences at the beach. The Doctor—with a fair bit of help from June—wins over the Greeks, who are being sent as champions/sacrifices (à la Theseus and the Minotaur) to the alien “masters.”

There’s a wonderful discussion between the Doctor and June after the devastation of the typhoon which seems similar in tone to the Second Doctor and Victoria in “Tomb of the Cybermen” (or even has a ring of The Time Travellers' First Doctor). June didn’t feel very indomitable. . . . There were only six of them left now to face the dreaded Slitheen. As per the title, the reader knows, of course, that the alien masters are the Slitheen. It occurred to me while reading the book that though the Slitheen seem to proliferate, their last appearance in Doctor Who proper rather than the spinoffs was “Boom Town.” I think it’s difficult to take them and give them any more nuance, though some ground on that was gained in Sarah Jane Adventures, but at least not all of the Slitheen family shown in this book are cut of the same cloth. For the high-minded, the book makes some attempts at discussion on the nature of tourism, satirizing modern consumer-culture tourists with their alien counterparts who have come by invitation of the Slitheen to observe the quaint gladiatorial customs of Earthlings (who have, by their time, made themselves feared and loathed as brutal warmongers). To this end some questions can be raised about eco-tourism and the ethics of many of our leisure activities.

Back in 2002 when I first started at UNM, Monica Cyrino delivered a lecture on why sword-and-sandal epics, starting with Gladiator, had come back into fashion, citing the fact that filmmakers were comparing the US to the Roman Empire at the stage where it was just coming down from its days of glory and beginning to collapse. Is that viewpoint valid? I think you could argue either way. But I have to admit I was thinking of Maximus
[2] and his coercing fellow gladiators into working together as the Doctor, June, and their friends had to defeat the Slitheen or die in the sand pit. There’s a battle re-enacted for the benefit of the Slitheen’s clients, one in which those brutal humans of the future slaughtered their alien rivals, that also makes me think of Gladiator. I was also thinking of a story I had read during the Children of Time contest, where the Ninth Doctor and Jack had to participate in their own games in order to save Rose and the other combatants. In any case I really enjoyed the scene where the Doctor basically invented the bull acrobatics we see now in Cretan artwork. Yeah, that sounds like something the Doctor would invent[3]! I also really loved when the Doctor had the opportunity to bury one of the Slitheen in a mountain of rock cakes!

To combat the generally high degree of violence and death necessarily found in such a plot, there’s an amusing moment where the Doctor is mistaken by the Slitheen Cosmo for a sort of travel writer on assignment, with June as his assistant and Greek Deukalion (a delightful character) as their grunting human guide. There’s a football joke I can totally see sneaking into a future TV show script someday. Once the Slitheen realize who the Doctor really is, though, it’s his wits and June’s quick thinking and courage that keep them alive long enough to schmooze with the tourists, and with a bit of subtle manipulation from the Doctor (and June’s admirer the merman Cecrops, whose attentions fluster her until he falls for Aglauros the Greek) the tourists start to see the Slitheen for the ruthless opportunists they are. Still, things look tense when a real battle between the aliens and the humans seems inevitable, led by the warrior women daughters of King Actaeus. Simon has a lot more faith in humanity than I do: June turned to see Herse and Polos protecting the lion-faced man from two human soldiers. The lion-faced man seemed even more appalled to be rescued by humans than attacked by them. They are aided in preventing the all-out bloodbath by a really cute scene where the humans have to rescue a baby lion-faced creature. The lion-faced family, along with the Balumins from Pirate Loop, deserve to be illustrated as well.

I did wonder for quite a long time how the Slitheen the Ninth Doctor encounters in “Aliens of London” didn’t recognize him, but I think it’s because Leeb, Mamps, and Cosmo (great names; in fact all the characters are well-named) spend the intervening period locked in calcium suspension (à la the trolls trapped in gold in The 10th Kingdom, but that’s another story) so they couldn’t tell anyone about the Doctor. In a roundabout, timey wimey way, this brings us back to the future (back to the Whoture?) to where June met the Doctor and the aliens who were “blowing up” the Acropolis. Timey wimey is Simon’s specialty, based on The Time Travellers and Pirate Loop. No pirates in Slitheen Excursion, but lots of Greeks and June, who certainly deserves some more adventures. Don’t go back to Birmingham yet; what are you thinking??

[1] That’s rich, coming from Tennant, but there you go . . .
[2] Actually based on a character who launched his rebellion from modern-day Caernarfon.
[3] If I get a chance, that’s a scene that definitely needs to be illustrated. Action!Doctor.

Monday, June 8, 2009

i won

Hot damn, I actually won something in the Children of Time Awards.

"1900" won for Gen Fic and Short Story and "Ian and the Beatles" was a runner up in the Favorite Classic Fic Category.

robin hood and stuff vol. 9

Robin Hood and stuff vol. 9 (spoilers)

Talk about lack of subtlety. The last three episodes have seen the characters swinging around in all directions, so much so that it’s like watching Heroes in miniature. Still, I can’t say it’s stopped me watching. I suspect this last episode bored the kiddies to tears but I quite liked it. Let’s start with “The King is Dead, Long Live the King,” though, which would have changed history (even more than the show has already) by giving Richard I a premature death. However, someone’s mastered wax figures a lot earlier than Madame Tussaud (that’s being disingenuous; they had wax modelling for hundreds of years) because Robin & co conveniently discover that the effigy of King Richard is just that—and John’s godawful ploy to be invested too early on the English throne.

PJ is not godawful, though, in the entertaining sense because he is being played by Toby Stephens who is costumed like Kit Marlowe. PJ throws a temper tantrum when he and his cronies look at the secretly waxified King: “I think I prefer this one to the real thing.” He’s annoyed that their father preferred Richard, as did their mother. He beats up his waxy brother’s effigy—though I’m not sure why. Meanwhile, a baddie called Sheridan has taken the Sheriff’s place, Isabella and Guy are at each other’s throats, and the Dread Pirate Roberts has come for your soul. (Can you tell my notes have left me a little at a loss here, and I’m trying hard to remember what I was talking about?)

Robin is so convinced that PJ will ruin England (and based on the evidence so far, I’d say he’s right) that he authorizes assassination. The village folk of Locksley aren’t down with that: “This is treason!” “He’s our only leader!” Meanwhile, the Guyliner is making a surprise appearance. Guy thinks Isabella is at his mercy but in fact while being womanly and pretending to clean his wounds, she has actually drugged him with “concentrated valerian root.” Her intention is to deliver him over to PJ. Tuck has found Isabella revolting: “I never did get what you saw in her.” Kate is dressed up as a wench for some reason. The upshot of this episode, anyway, is that Isabella is appointed Sheriff of Nottingham by PJ.

After all the incredibly ridiculous titles, “A Dangerous Deal” has got to be the most vanilla of them all. Nevertheless, I have to say I really liked this episode. Again, subtle it was not, but it has to be one of the more different in the range of Robin Hood episodes. Now, I suppose PJ can do whatever he wants, and if he appoints a noblewoman Sheriff of Nottingham, I guess his word is law. Could a woman really be a Sheriff in the 12th century? My history is decidedly fuzzy; I know women could be merchants, but could they hold public office? From my research into “Yonder Comes a Courteous Knight,” I know things were a bit more fluid in the Outremer—and obviously in Matilda’s time it was considered wise to back a noblewoman—but I suppose I’ll just have to suspend my disbelief. Because, as Sheriff, Isabella is not only a proto-feminist but makes a very convincing character.

She is strutting her stuff as Sheriff when Meg is sentenced before Nottingham for refusing suitors provided by her father. Like Hermia in Midsummer Night’s Dream she has not been “womanly” for ignoring her father’s commands. Robin, now sensing a potential alliance between his former flame now that she’s in a position of power, offers his help to her. Meg is a spitfire just like Isabella, and though the people in the program are shocked and stunned when Isabella frees Meg and appoints her as an advisor at her side, we really aren’t. Isabella’s hard-lining, man-hating has been waiting for such an outlet, and it probably is a good thing, if a few centuries premature. The pro-feminist Nottingham will be “a fairer, more peaceful and prosperous place” with women in charge. Also, as part of the deal, Isabella vows that her brother, currently in custody in the dungeons, “shall be executed!” She’s definitely out for blood of the male persuasion, and Guy probably deserves it.

I find it very curious indeed that Isabella’s cave-man, sadistic husband is named Thornton, since Richard Armitage’s (arguably) most famous role is that of Mr Thornton in North and South. Coincidence? I think not. Thornton has come after his wayward bride, and it’s his conduct that certainly puts you on Isabella’s side, at least for the time being. He is a monster with no shading whatsoever. He threatens Isabella and chides her for breaking “man’s law and God’s” by abandoning her husband. Meg comes to her rescue, and the dial on the Sapphic meter is turned almost to the limit when Thornton breathily comments, “The ladies are getting a little emotional.”

I suppose it makes sense that Meg should be grateful not only to Isabella for saving her life but also validating her feminist views and putting them into almost immediate and palpable effect. However, the quick and passionate alliance of the ladies is a bit of a belief-stretcher. Thornton is certainly annoyed by it and has Meg thrown into the dungeon while Isabella is off to meet an altogether more painfully drawn-out fate. Meg has saved their lives by asserting where a hidden treasure is, well, hidden, so Thornton drags Isabella off in pursuit of that. I wonder if Michael Chaplin has somehow distilled all the essence of a Richard Armitage fan girl Mary Sue into the character of Meg? Because I think she chimes so well with what a fan girl would write if she’d been given the chance. I never did any Mary Sue for Robin Hood because, as you know, I was Guy/Marian all the way. And yet . . .

The first time I watched “Smith and Jones,” first episode of the third series of Doctor Who, I was annoyed with Martha because she seemed to have the proscribed companion reactions to everything. Now I love that episode and love Martha, but at the time it really rankled. Meg has the proscribed fan girl reactions. She’s plucky, sarcastic, and vulnerable. And hot damn, it WORKS on Guy. But I’m getting ahead of myself. “What are you staring at?” she snaps at him as she settles into her dingy domain. “You always were a bit pleased with yourself . . . the man in black . . .” (not to be confused with Johnny Cash, obviously). She now derides him for being “dirty and miserable and small . . . I hope you go to hell.” His response is fairly predictable—“I’m already there”—yet RA milks it for all its worth.

The whole scene does, really, because in fan fiction one would get Mary Sue in prison with Guy because neither can escape each other’s company. It creates drama, as all our good creative writing tutors taught us. Meg is angry in Isabella’s name that Guy married her off to the loathsome Thornton, while Guy comments, “It was her best chance in life.” That seems very historically likely, but also terribly sad. Next Guy commands Meg to, “Suck it.” I’m being 100% serious. Was Chaplin wriggling with laughter as he wrote that line? Context, of course, is important, considering a whining Meg has complained that she is thirsty, and Guy tells her to suck her necklace in order to make her mouth water. So it all makes perfect sense, right? Yeah right.

Meg is miserable and wants to make Guy as miserable as possible. Dude, he’s been miserable all of series 3. How much more miserable can he get? She gives him “One out of ten for personal appearance” (though, really, is she blind? Even in the dungeon he’s still Richard Armitage!). “No one actually seems sorry that you’re on the way out,” she announces, rubbing the salt more thoroughly in the wound. “I don’t care what people think of me,” he says. Yet, for all his bitter indifference, Chaplin is at pains to show a glimmer of SOUL in Guy. Has it taken this long for compassion to take root? Has he had to suffer this much degradation, annoyance, pain, and probably boredom? I can’t decide whether it’s good writing or bad. He gives her his bread. This is what we are told in anthropology is an altruistic act. At first I was sure it was some ploy. The man in black doesn’t do altruism. And yet . . .

By the way, Kate grabbed Robin earlier in this episode and kissed him. We suspected as much for awhile ‘cause no woman can seem to keep her paws off him, but I was beginning to doubt it in light of his luck with Isabella. Kate doesn’t want Much to come between them, though, and wants Robin to tell Much they’re just friends. Much has noticed this Robin/Kate closeness and allows it to affect his judgement and reflexes. The treasure Meg sent Thornton to look for actually exists; it’s a Viking burial mound (plausible I suppose) that the thoroughly rotten man has gotten it in his head to raid. Robin & co have followed them out on this little adventure, and Tuck tells them it’s a horde for the “long journey to Valhalla.” In another Dread Pirate Roberts moment, Tuck enacts “The Viking curse.” It’s enough to scare off Thornton’s men and get him trussed up. They’re off to deliver him to an “asylum,” which, assuredly, did not exist at the time.

With Thornton out of the way, Isabella is triumphant. She is annoyed when Meg asks to release her brother. “Are you mad? He’s your enemy!” Like a good Mary Sue, Meg has fallen for Guy. When Isabella’s not looking she’s off to release Guy from the dungeon. I thought, what a dupe! Clearly he’s planned it all along like the Machiavelli he is! Meg must remind him of Marian, though, “She saw good where there was none.” Meg is caught by Isabella, who shrieks, “I set you free and this is how you betray me?!” I do say I feel for her when she snaps, “The only person I can trust is myself!” Now both of them are gonna die. Again.

There’s drama and derring-do as Robin & co save Meg and Guy (amazement) from execution. Thornton happens to reappear at this moment, chasing after Isabella. Kate, all hot and bothered by Robin, takes him aside and claims, “She doesn’t deserve your help.” In the confusion Meg is hurt, and rather Phantom-in-“Music of the Night”-like, Guy picks her up and carries her! How swoon-worthy! While we’re squeeing over here, Isabella flings morality aside and stabs her truly dreadful husband. “He got what he deserved” (and I’m inclined to agree). “I only kill when there’s no other way!” cries Robin, who went after her to help because I guess deep down he is a bleedin’ heart as well.

Tears gush as Guy drags Meg to a pond, and she dies in his arms. “I always quite liked you, you know,” she murmurs, before pleading with him to kiss her! Frankly I couldn’t believe how swoony this was all getting, but I can see it’s another rung in the latter to turn our notion of Guy of Gisborne on its head. And based on what happened next, I was right.

I liked Lisa Holdsworth’s earlier story, and I’d been looking forward to “Bad Blood” for ages, ever since RA divulged in an interview that there was going to be an episode consisting of flashbacks where a child actor would play a young him. When you’re guilty of writing fan fiction, you do wonder about character origins, and everything I’d written is now AU because of this. Oh well. The whole story reminds me a bit of those rumors we’d heard about the Master and the Doctor turning out to be secret brothers all along. Nevertheless, I can almost hear the cogs turning at the Tone Meetings as everyone prepares to find the most outlandish ways they can think of to lessen the divide between Good (Robin) and Bad (Guy). I’m being facetious; I half believe this and half honestly do enjoy the plot machinations. It does ooze with Shakespeare and soap opera in equal measure, I believe, and speaking of Shakespeare, Dean Lennox Kelly plays Robin’s dad.

Having just kissed vestal Meg goodbye, Guy is tramping through the forest when Robin appears. (Their costumes this season are very similar, undoubtedly for a reason.) Thoroughly annoyed that this punk Robin keeps following him, Guy decides it’s time for one of their famous all-out fights. “You’re really sure you want to do this now?” Robin asks. Before they can lop each other’s heads off, someone in a cloak has managed to get a hold of Amazonian poison dart frogs and knocks them both out. “I find it hard to understand when I’m tied,” a grumpy Guy grumbles. The mysterious person wants them to reconcile or at least acknowledge their past. Goody gumdrops, it’s flashback time.

Some years back, Guy’s mother Ghislaine has been having an affair with Robin’s father Malcolm. A fire killed them both, which is enough for us to realize why Guy and Robin have been at odds since the beginning. Ghislaine was just about to be appointed Lady of the Gisborne manor (her husband having been believed dead in the Crusades) when a nosy, annoying Steward sought to usurp her power because she was a woman and French at that. Malcolm was going to give her his protection officially, but before that Gisborne Snr returned.

This was all during a fireworks session at Locksley Manor (WTF?) in which Robin’s foolishness caused a visiting priest to be injured. Gisborne Snr’s hand is sliced by a sword at which he feels no pain (apparently because he is a leper). It isn’t a case of your typical cuckholded husband—because he is a leper and wishing to keep it secret, he is glad that Ghislaine has found happiness with Malcolm. However, Gisborne’s secret is found out, and he’s cast out, much to Guy’s prepubescent duress. He lives in a leper colony, and Guy can’t forgive his mother the fact she went out to see him while “she taught me to forget him. . . . Denying me my father!”

In the end, it’s odd to imagine that Robin Hood has the dynastic complexities of Wuthering Heights, but the same sort of tragedies seem to be visited on both generations: both Locksley and Gisborne are after the same woman, accidentally killing her in the process. The fire that results isn’t how Ghislaine was killed, however, as Robin’s father reveals (for it was he in the mysterious habit . . . with a Phantom-y burn as it happens). “How could I be your father after all I’d done?” (This feels a bit Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves which is appropriate as that’s the way the costumes have been tending.)

The reason Malcolm Locksley brought the two together is to save their half-brother Archer (?!) from some fate we’ll find out next episode. The main thing is, I think I was right when I said Guy is going to become the next Robin Hood. We’ve got three episodes left to transform him, since he already seems well on his way to joining the gang in the next one. I hope I can get to the end of this and say “I told you so!” Still, that begs the question—will the Jonas Armstrong Robin be killed at the end of the series? Time will tell!