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Non-Review Review: Gone Girl

The stories that people tell.

In many respects, Gone Girl is a story about narratives. It is a film about how we construct and manage our own narratives, and the narratives of those around us. Facts are malleable, reality is arbitrary. Everything that happens exists as a detail to be woven into some sort of story. Inevitably, stories differ, narratives conflict. The story that Nick Dunne tells about the disappearance of his wife differs from the version of events presented in her diary; the narrative that the public and the press construct is rather distinct from that constructed by those inside the story.

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Gone Girl itself plays with this idea, playing with the audience. It starts out as a very familiar and almost cliché story. Nick Dunne was trapped in a loveless marriage. His wife disappears. People begin to suspect that perhaps Dunne had something to do in the disappearance. Even the audience isn’t entirely sure what to make of Nick as the details add up against him. The closer we look, the more flaws begin to appear, the more the evidence seems to mount.

And then, the story changes. Gone Girl pulls the rug out for underneath the audience, becoming something radically different and almost surreal. It’s a dazzling, brilliant, crazy, ambitious and ingenious. Gone Girl is a startlingly confident twisty film that plays with the audience with a macabre glee that is contagious.

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X-Over: The X-Files & Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who

It goes without saying that The X-Files was a massively influential television show. As early as its second season, the show had launched all manner of imitations and copycats, both inside and outside the Fox Network. It seems quite likely that Fox invested two-and-a-half million dollars in the failed Doctor Who relaunch of 1996 in the hopes of spinning off another cult/mainstream science-fiction hit like The X-Files. It was launched as a two-hour television movie, failing to earn the rating necessary to spin it off into a weekly series.

However, although the 1996 telemovie provides an obvious point of intersection between The X-Files and Doctor Who, the influence of The X-Files can perhaps be most keenly felt in Steven Moffat’s work on the relaunched television series. Moffat is credited as the producer who helped the show to “break” America during his second year as showrunner, and he did so in a number of ways. Perhaps the most interesting is that he leaned rather heavily on The X-Files as a point of cultural intersection.

Shades of greys...

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Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Eleventh Hour originally aired in 2010.

So, coming?

No.

You wanted to come fourteen years ago.

I grew up.

Don’t worry. I’ll soon fix that.

– the Doctor and Amy

The arrival of a new producer on Doctor Who always represents a shift in some way shape or form. The change from Barry Letts to Philip Hinchcliffe must have seemed radical, even at the time. Graham Williams following Hinchcliffe represented a similarly strange departure. The departure of Russell T. Davies, the producer who had brought Doctor Who back to television after over a decade, was always going be a pretty significant change for those watching. Steven Moffat’s first episode as producer might not seem like it’s a shocking departure from what came before, but it also quite efficiently and effectively distinguishes Moffat’s tenure from that of his direct predecessor.

While by no means as radical a shift as Spearhead from Space, there is a very clear feeling that The Eleventh Hour brings with it significant tonal and thematic changes to the tale of the Doctor.

A mad man with a box...

A mad man with a box…

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Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan (Review)

The decision to build Steven Moffat’s third season of Doctor Who around a series of done-in-one stories has been a bit of a mixed blessing. Asylum of the Daleks was suitably madcap Saturday tea-time telly, and A Town Called Mercy was an affectionate homage to Americana, but Dinosaurs on a Spaceship barely had room to breath, overloaded on cool moments with little room left for plotting.

The Angels Take Manhattan suffers the most from this sense that it is being compacted. Watching the episode, it feels like Moffat is trying to cram too much story into a single forty-five minute episode. It makes the viewer long for the days when Russell T. Davies would gleefully run his episodes over the allocated forty-five minute slot. Here, Moffat’s big high-concept “timey wimey” ideas and his farewell to his two companions eating up so much of the run-time that the plot itself still feels like an afterthought, running on contrivance and coincidence rather than anything more substantial.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t an affective farewell to Rory and Amy, or that it doesn’t draw fantastic performances from its central quartet, but it does mean that The Angels Take Manhattan is never quite as sturdy as it should have been.

A walk in the park…

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Doctor Who: The Power of Three (Review)

The Power of Three is Chris Chibnell’s best Doctor Who script to date. While a little heavy-handed in the way it deals with the relationship between the Doctor and Amy and Rory, it’s still a nice change of pace. It’s a thoughtful episode exploring the Doctor’s relationship with time. (And that shared by his companions.) While the alien invasion seems a little tacked on, to the point where it only seems to serve the final pun, The Power of Three is still a solid penultimate outing for this trio of adventurers.

Thinking outside the box…

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Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (Review)

You know when Amy and I first got married and we went travelling…

To Thailand?

More the entirety of space and time… in that Police Box.

– Rory and Brian Williams share some truths

There is a strange listlessness to the seventh season, despite its position on the cusp of the big anniversary year. In many ways, the seventh season feels awkwardly positioned between the “timey wimey” ambitiousness of the sixth season and the “new beginning” aesthetic of the eighth season. The fact that the seventh season is split in half doesn’t help matters; it feels like an epilogue to the story of Amy and Rory, and a prologue to the story of Clara. It feels very much like a “light” year, which is a strange way to head into a big anniversary celebration.

There is a curious sense of idleness to all this. There is, for example, no clear story that links both halves of the season – Jenna-Louise Coleman’s role in Asylum of the Daleks notwithstanding. The seventh season has no real purpose beyond clearing out the ensemble and building towards the anniversary. As a result, it can feel more than a little rudderless and indulgent. Steven Moffat has described the “blockbuster” aesthetic of the year, and long stretches of the season feel like the show is just doing stuff because it can.

Gone to the birds?

Give Amy and Rory a five-episode coda? Sure, why not! Actually shoot a western in a country that could pass for the United States? Go for it! It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Ice Warriors, hasn’t it? Throw them in there! Neil Gaiman wants to write a Cyberman episode? Ah, go on! Develop those quirky supporting characters from A Good Man Goes to War into a part of the show’s ensemble in Victorian London? It just makes sense! Richard E. Grant as a villain from two Second Doctor stories? We’d be crazy not to!

There is a sense that the seventh season is a victory lap for the show and many involved in the production. Deservedly so. What is the point of an anniversary year if you can’t go a little wild? That is the kind of thinking that leads to Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, a simple “because we can!” story. After all, one of the stock cringe-inducing Doctor Who images is the dinosaur special effects from Invasion of the Dinosaurs. What’s the point in turning the show into a hit if you can’t take an episode to prove how far your dinosaur effects have come in four decades?

Locking horns…

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Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Wedding of River Song originally aired in 2011.

“I had to die. I didn’t have to die alone.”

– The Doctor

That was a really crammed 45 minutes. If I’m ever looking for an example of how much plotting Steven Moffat can fit into a single regular-sized episode of Doctor Who, I think I only need to look back at The Wedding of River Song. It’s a piece of very smart science-fiction writing, bristling with ideas and tying up quite a lot of the questions that Moffat raised over the course of the last two years, while raising even more.

It’s something that Moffat’s Doctor Who seems to struggle with, balancing the show’s appeal and accessibility with long-term arc-based story telling. It’s a conflict that’s playing out across a variety of television shows, building off the massive success of Lost, and demonstrating that television shows with serialised plot elements can draw (and, for the most part, keep) large audiences.

It’s still a risky gambit for any television show, particularly one like Moffat’s Doctor Who, where the episodes are so few and so far spaced across the television season. Arcs like this run the risk of extending some of the problems with the season as a whole, rather than playing up the individual strengths of the episodes.

Death of the Doctor…

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