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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #52 (The Post-Modern Prometheus/Christmas Carol)

I’m thrilled to be a part of The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch, a daily snippet podcast rewatching the entirety of The X-Files between now and the launch of the new season. It is something of a spin-off of The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the charming Tony Black. Tony has assembled a fantastic array of guests and hosts to go through The X-Files episode-by-episodes. With the new season announced to be starting in early January, Tony’s doing two episodes of the podcast per day, so buckle up. It’s going to be fun.

And I’m reteaming with Tony Black for a sequel to the last episode, albeit with decidedly more mixed results. We’re covering the episodes The Post-Modern Prometheus and Christmas Carol, both interesting and significantly flawed episodes. I admire The Post-Modern Prometheus, but can’t quite love it, for reasons I’ve articulated on this blog. Similarly, Christmas Carol is an episode is interesting and odd, but suffers from being an episode setting up one of the worst hours in the entire run of the show.

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The X-Files – Emily (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The biggest problems with Emily can be summed up in five words:

“… and then Mulder showed up.”

Sorry, Mulder.

Sorry, Mulder.

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The X-Files – Christmas Carol (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Part of the challenge of the fourth and fifth seasons is watching The X-Files adapt the speed of its mythology.

The mythology has a very clear momentum in the first three seasons. For all that Chris Carter and his writers loved teasing out new questions, there was a clear sense of momentum and movement. The show had gone from a series about an isolated alien abduction in The Pilot to a series with a date set for the alien colonisation of Earth in Talitha Cumi. For all that the series was accused of being ambiguous and mysterious, there was a sense that it was at least going somewhere.

And so this is Christmas...

And so this is Christmas…

Things changed during the fourth season, most likely as the prospect of The X-Files: Fight the Future loomed in the future. It was clear that Fox would not allow Carter to set an end date on the television show before transitioning to feature films, and that the series would have to stretch beyond Carter’s original roadmap for it. All of a sudden, the mythology started stalling. The fourth season’s mythology had no clear direction in which to go, as evidenced by the fact that the decision to give Scully cancer in Leonard Betts was an eleventh hour decision with no long-term planning.

The fifth season’s mythology comes with its own particular set of problems. The movie had been written during the fourth season and filmed during the gap between the fourth and fifth seasons. This is quite evident in the way that the movie carries over abandoned elements of the fourth season mythology like the bees, who do not register at all in the fifth season. However, this also meant that the end point of the fifth season was essentially set in stone for the production team. The End would have to lead into Fight the Future, no matter what happened in the intervening nineteen episodes.

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

This means a lot of things for the fifth season. It means that the fifth season is stuck with the “Mulder as a skeptic… sort of” setup until Fight the Future, even if the show generally ignores it as much as it can. It also means that the mythology episodes probably should not contain any earth-shattering revelations or introduce any major character who were not already written into the film. Although Patient X and The Red and the Black effectively throw out these constraints almost completely, Christmas Carol and Emily try to adhere to them.

The result is a mythology episode that adheres rather closely to the successful approach adopted by Tempus Fugit and Max, a story that takes the backdrop of what the show has already revealed about the conspiracy and then uses that as a setting in which it can tell a decidedly more intimate and personal story.

It's a Scully family Christmas...

It’s a Scully family Christmas…

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Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe (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 Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe originally aired in 2011.

I don’t understand. Is this place real, or is it fairyland?

Fairyland? Oh, grow up, Lily.

Fairyland looks completely different.

– Lilly and the Doctor get their geography straightened out

The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe is, like A Christmas Carol before it, a rather wonderful idea. A Christmas Carol mashed up Doctor Who with one of the best-loved Christmas narratives of all time. The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe does something similar, substituting CS Lewis for Charles Dickens. It’s a fantastic idea, given that Doctor Who is the spiritual successor of that peculiarly British thread of childhood fantasy.

The only real problem with The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe is that it can’t quite stretch that good idea across an hour of television.

On the run again...

On the run again…

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Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (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.

A Christmas Carol originally aired in 2010.

If you’re my babysitter, why are you climbing in the window?

Because if I was climbing out of the window, I’d be going in the wrong direction. Pay attention.

– Kazran and the Doctor get things straight

A Christmas Carol might just be the best Doctor Who Christmas Special ever produced, if only because it’s such a brilliantly obvious idea, executed with the show’s traditional wit and charm. Russell T. Davies tended to write the Christmas Special in the style of a gigantic blockbuster episode of Doctor Who, but Moffat adopts a slightly different approach to what has quickly become the annual tradition of the Doctor Who Christmas Special.

Davies traditionally had the Doctor collide with genres of Christmas television viewing. The Christmas Invasion was American blockbuster sci-fi, The Runaway Bride was fun odd-couple comedy action film, Voyage of the Damned was a disaster flick in space and The Next Doctor was a celebration of quaint Victoriana. In contrast, Moffat has Doctor Who collide with beloved children’s stories in his first two Christmas Specials. His second two are burdened with dealing with left-over plot threads.

A Christmas Carol is perhaps the most effective distillation of “Doctor Who as a story” that the show has ever managed, on top of being a wonderfully moving piece of Christmas television and hitting on the major themes of the Moffat era as a whole.

Turning back the clock...

Turning back the clock…

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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – The Mysterious Planet (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 Trial of a Time Lord originally aired in 1986.

Well, this is a charade.

– the Doctor gets the idea quickly enough

The Doctor had been off screens for eighteen months following Revelation of the Daleks. Michael Grade was desperately trying to cancel the show, and it only limped back to screen with a significantly reduced budget and much shorter run of episodes. The show length was also reverted back to its default value. This season would only run for fourteen half-hour episodes – what would become the set length for Doctor Who in the years to come. (Indeed, counting the Christmas Special, the revived series also runs to that length, albeit in forty-five minute episodes.)

By all accounts, the production on the infamous Trial of a Time Lord was a disaster for reasons natural and otherwise. Veteran writer Robert Holmes was to provide the opening and closing scripts, but passed away before his work on the finalé could be finished. Script editor Eric Saward and producer John Nathan-Turner clashed over the climax of the trial, prompting Saward to resign and Nathan-Turner to temporarily become script editor himself. Colin Baker couldn’t make sense of Mindwarp. The last episode of the season was written by two writers wrapping up from Holmes’ first part, but unable to examine his notes on how he planned to conclude it.

Believe me when I state that every last ounce of this behind-the-scenes friction was visible on-screen by the end of the year. Luckily enough, the show does a decent enough job concealing these approaching problems in the first story of the arc. That’s not to say that The Mysterious Planet is an unsung classic, merely to point out that it is at least unburdened by the seemingly real time collapse of Doctor Who.

Ah, it's a fourteen-week adventure about watching Doctor Who!

Ah, it’s a fourteen-week adventure about watching Doctor Who!

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My 12 for ’12: The Muppets & Everything You Need, Right In Front Of You

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #3

I can’t help but feel that The Muppets probably aren’t quite as popular over here as they really should be. After all, we had to wait about three months for the eventual release of the film in Irish cinemas. Even later this year, following all the publicity around the recent revival, I was only able to find one cinema in Dublin doing three screening of The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, despite the highly-publicised re-release. However, perhaps I shouldn’t take their international publicity for granted either. After all, Jason Segal spent six or seven years trying to guide everybody’s favourite felt performers to the big screen again.

Still, The Muppets demonstrated that the gang had lost absolutely nothing in transitioning out of retirement and back to the screen, demonstrating that all these sorts of characters need is a bit of sincere love and affection.

muppets6

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