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Non-Review Review: The World’s End

The World’s End feels curiously nostalgic. Not just in the way that lead character Gary King tries to recapture his old youth by roping four childhood friends into revisiting their old home town to complete a pub crawl they started upon leaving school, nor in the way the sound track includes such hits of yesteryear as Loaded by Primal Scream and Kylie Minogue’s Step Back in Time, and not even in the fact that the school reunion includes a trip to a literal school disco.

Instead, it feels like a belated criticism of a recent chapter in British history, a reflection on the era of “the special relationship”, and mournful retrospective on what might be perceived as the erosion of British culture by the relentless assault of American influence. The World’s End is an invasion story, but it’s a conscious reversal of the second wave “Britpop” invasion of the nineties (an era the movie evokes nostalgically). This isn’t a hostile occupation. It is, to quote one of the characters, “peaceful indoctrination.”

They've got him Pegged...

They’ve got him Pegged…

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Doctor Who: Death Comes to Time (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.

Death Comes to Time originally broadcast on the BBC website in 2001.

I’m just another alien…

Alien to where?

Everywhere.

– the Doctor and Bedloe

There is quite a lot to like about Death Comes to Time. It offers a conclusion to Ace’s character arc. It features a stellar voice cast. Tannis is great villain. The script isn’t mired in continuity or slavishly devoted to the letter of the continuity of Doctor Who.

On the other hand, there’s quite a lot to loathe about Death Comes to Time. In moving away from Doctor Who continuity, it feels like a generic space opera. There’s a loss of the intimacy that defined the series. There’s a central revelation that makes no sense and a central moral philosophy which seems at odds with the very heart of Doctor Who. On top of that, it seems rather clumsily constructed. If it was intended as a pilot, the wrong characters are in focus for most of its not-insignificant runtime.

Hello, stonehenge!

Hello, stonehenge!

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The Thick of It: Rise of the Nutters (Review)

The wonderful folks at the BBC have given me access to their BBC Global iPlayer for a month to give the service a go and trawl through the archives. I’ll have some thoughts on the service at the end of the month, but I thought I’d also take the opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic content.

Are you f***ing kidding me? I mean, you’ve just watched me break my not-inconsiderable balls trying to get you the second spot on Newsnight. And succeeding! I can’t back down! No, no, you’re on, pal, right? And it better not be too boring, and it better not be too interesting either, ok? And it better not cost too much. It can’t be an old thing, obviously, and don’t make it too new. And whatever you do, please try not to embarrass yourself, right?

– Malcolm tells Swain his media strategy

I love the BBC’s Christmas specials. I mean, I know that other networks do Christmas-themed episodes of their shows, but the BBC does tend to go the extra mile. We get the opportunity to spend some time with a series that is on hiatus or even to provide an epilogue to a series that has ended. It generally affords considerably more leeway to a series to tell a different kind of story than they normally would. Here, in the hour-long Christmas special, Armando Iannucci’s political comedy gets a chance to drift its attention away from the fictional surroundings of the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship to explore the resignation of the sitting Prime Minister. Mirroring Tony Blair’s decision to step down at the same time, it lends the series a somewhat especially timely feeling, as well as allowing more focus to fall on the show’s main attraction, the brilliantly cynical and manipulative political advisor Malcolm Tucker, brought to life by Peter Capaldi.

Bully to that...

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Non-Review Review: The Queen

The middle part of Peter Morgan’s “Blair” trilogy, sitting between The Deal and The Special Relationship, the movie is perhaps better known for its portrayal of the eponymous monarchy than of the controversial British Prime Minister. It’s also a rather wonderful exploration of the British monarchy, and how it struggles to remain in touch with the people that it (nominally, at least) rules, and yet remains heavily insulated from. Taking the death of Princess Diana, perhaps the most trying period in the reign of the current queen, as a jumping-off point, the film wonders what the public expects from their royal family, and how the public and private lives of those born into the family must be balanced.

A skilful portrait...

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Non-Review Review: The Ghost

The Guardian once made a point that what distinguishes British writers from their American counterparts is that they simply refuse to ascribe to simplicity would could be blamed on malice:

The conspiracy theory has become an off-the-peg solution for ­writing about politics in ­Britain – to the detriment of writing, politics and Britain. If The Wire had been made here, its hero McNulty would have discovered that Baltimore’s problems were not the result of a shortsighted political culture, or the weakness of ­human ­nature, but were the fault of one property ­developer in a polo-neck.

It’s an astute observation, rendering The Ghost a very British reflection on the most turbulent legacy of a recent Prime Minister.

How will Lang keep his spirits up?

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Non-Review Review: The Special Relationship

The third part of Peter Morgan and Michael Sheen’s superb “Tony Blair trilogy” seems perfectly timed. In fact, being honest, I’m surprised that HBO couldn’t muster up enough enthusiasm for a small-scale cinematic release, what with Blair’s political memoir A Journey doing the rounds at the moment (I’m working my way through it and it’s probably the best political memoir I’ve read since Churchill). Blair is easily one of the most fascinating political leaders of the last few decades, and Morgan does well to juxtapose him against perhaps his greatest political influence: Bill Clinton. Still, all that being said, and with this reportedly the final part of the trilogy, it might have been best to focuse on his relationship with the leader who most strongly defined his legacy. However, Morgan has admitted time and time again that he simply didn’t want to write Bush. While I’m happy with what we got, it doesn’t exactly feel like a fitting coda.

Bro's before interns accusing you of gross impropriety...

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The Whole Truth: How “True” Are “True Stories”?

Something that has always made me wonder is how close to reality film and television are or are not. Sometimes this is expressed in abstract terms – for example whether Baltimore is really as bad as it is made out to be in The Wire. However, it’s much more direct when one looks at what claims to be a true story. Reality isn’t film. Things don’t always break down to key “moments”. Events play out over the long term, and sometimes subtly. There isn’t always a bad guy or an antagonist. There certainly always isn’t a happy ending. So naturally amendments need to be made, because these events need to be translated to drama. But where is the line? How far can you stretch the truth until it breaks?

Staying true to yourself...

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What’s so special about The Special Relationship?

I got to see the Irish premiere of Alice in Wonderland at the weekend, thanks to boards.ie and the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, and afterwards there was a Q & A session with Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall. Michael Sheen casually remarked that we’d be seeing the last of Peter Morgan’s “Blair trilogy”, The Special Relationship, hitting screens in about mid-July-ish. It’s been on my must-see list for a while – and the Internet Movie Database had a release date in 2011 last time I checked – but I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised at this particular companion in the tradition “Tony Blair and x” double act format. The Deal gave us Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The Queen gave us Tony Blair and… well, take a guess. The Special Relationship gives us Tony Blair and a US President. Which one? Dennis Quaid (yes, Dennis Quaid) as Bill Clinton. Yep, that’s not the US President I was thinking of either.

The "Special" Relationship... It even sounds like a bro-mance...

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