Tuesday, 31 May 2011

“You’re Going To Have A Hell Of A Year”

So says the Tenth Doctor to Rose the last time he met her (and the first time she met him), in the last few moments of Doctor Who's The End Of Time, Part Two and the first few moments of 2005.

This was the year that the Huygens probe landed on Saturn's largest moon Titan, the Kyoto Protocol went into effect, the women of Kuwait were granted the right to vote, controversial drawings of Mohammed were printed in a Danish newspaper and the Live8 concerts took place across the world.

Personally, I worked on shows like 1905, Weave and 13 Rooms. I left my job in the bookshop and found work in a call centre, then later I left the call centre to work on Sleeping Beauty.

These are a few of my favourite things from 2005:

Joss Whedon’s Firefly hits the big screen and really feels like it belongs. This is that rare commodity: the Science Fiction action film featuring characters that are real people just trying to get through the day. It’s criminal that there was never a sequel. Here's the trailer.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell are all great in the big screen version of Douglas Adams’ SF comedy tale. The film successfully interprets the story for a new audience and proves to be robust enough to include new elements as disparate as singing dolphins, the point-of-view gun and the romance between Arthur and Trillian. Here's the trailer.

The League Of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse
As Royston Vasey faces the end of its world, its inhabitants stray into ours to plead with their creators to save their lives. The bleakness of the real world, the vibrancy of Vasey and the colour of The King’s Evil all combine to make this film much more than the sum of its parts, with Ray Harryhausen-style stop-motion animation thrown in as well. Here's the trailer.

Doctor Who: Rose; The Unquiet Dead; Aliens Of London & World War Three, Dalek, The Long Game, Father's Day, The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances, Boom Town, Bad Wolf & The Parting Of The Ways, The Christmas Invasion and its prelude
The triumphant return. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper are wonderful. Rose starts us with a bang, it’s like a traditional four part story, but with Rose experiencing the first half, while the Doctor is rushing through parts three and four at the same time. The Unquiet Dead is a wonderful Victorian romp with great performances from Eve Myles, Simon Callow and Alan David and marks the first of the ‘celebrity historicals’. Aliens Of London & World War Three is both the most far fetched story this season and also the most realistic. Yes, it has farting aliens, unerring missile accuracy and a space pig in it, but it also shows Jackie and Mickey reeling from Rose being missing for a year, shows aliens using our own government against us and gives the Slitheen a very plausible motivation for their actions. As the first new two-parter it also features the first new cliffhanger ending and gives us three cliffhangers simultaneously. Dalek successfully puts Skaro’s finest back on top. It looks like a battle tank, kills almost everyone in sight, but still manages to illicit pity from Rose and a lust for revenge from the Doctor. I don’t understand why The Long Game is so derided. This episode deserves to be lauded as an excellent satire on media propaganda, and yet people seem to miss the point. Simon Pegg and Anna Maxwell-Martin are wonderful in my favourite episode this year. Father's Day is a touching tale and Rose’s dilemma is palpable with great performances from Piper, Camille Coduri and Shaun Dingwall. Gasmasks are terrifying to behold and the scariest thing in horror to an adult is a lost child. The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances uses both of these to create a tense World War II chiller. This two-parter has beautiful Blitz design, features one of the best cliffhanger resolutions in the history of the show and one of the best lines of dialogue in the history of the English language: “What’s life? Life’s easy. A quirk of matter. Nature’s way of keeping meat fresh”. The story introduces John Barrowman as Captain Jack, but it’s Florence Hoath’s Nancy that steals the show. Eccleston and Annette Badland are wonderful in Boom Town. The two-part finale Bad Wolf & The Parting Of The Ways brings the “Bad Wolf scenario” to a fantastic close. Russell T. Davies and Christopher Eccleston gave Doctor Who both a zeal and a gravitas that cannot be underestimated. Despite appearances the Children In Need episode with no onscreen title is an essential prelude to The Christmas Invasion. This episode has possibly the hardest task of any episode ever, to introduce the another new Doctor to a Christmas Day audience. It illustrates the strength of the surrounding cast with great performances from Piper, Coduri, Noel Clarke, Penelope Wilton and eventually David Tennant. Fantastic.

Star Trek: Enterprise: Observer Effect; Babel One, United & The Aenar; Affliction & Divergence; In A Mirror, Darkly; Demons & Terra Prime
As Enterprise draws to a close, the links with other Star Trek series are strengthened significantly. The crew are unaware of being lab rats in an Organian experiment in Observer Effect which makes a refreshing change for some of the regular actors. The three part Babel One, United & The Aenar is meandering story that sees the foundation of the alliance that would lead to the Federation, sees the Romulans at their sneakiest and includes another great performance from Jeffrey Combs. Affliction & Divergence is Enterprise at its most fannish: Section 31 are back, there is fallout from the Augment crisis and the change in Klingon foreheads is explained, but despite what on paper looks like too much, it also manages to be a great story as well. The two part In A Mirror, Darkly is from a different TV show altogether. A glimpse into how the show might have looked in the mirror universe, which gives the regulars an opportunity for very different performance and also sees the welcome return of the 23rd century’s sets, uniforms and vibrant colour scheme. Demons & Terra Prime sees humanity on the eve of the coalition of planets at its most xenophobic. With great performances from Jolene Blalock, John Billingsley, Linda Park, Connor Trinneer, Harry Groener and Peter Weller. This would have been a much better note to end the series on.

The Thick Of It
Chris Langham's weariness as Hugh Abbott MP is palpable as he presides over a department which announces a policy and flip flops to an entirely contradictory policy and then flop flips back again. Second guessing and overreaction abound in the corridors of power (and for a couple of scenes in the broom cupboard of power).

Nighty Night
Even bleaker and barmier than the first series. Julia Davis is even more manipulative as Jill Bulb, nee Tyrrell, and Rebecca Front, Ruth Jones and Ralph Brown are all great, but Mark Gatiss steals the show out from under them.

A sordid soap opera with a compelling storyline. It is beautifully directed and boasts great performances throughout, astounding art direction and a series of cliffhanger endings that keep upping the ante.

Star Wars: Clone Wars Chapters Twenty-One to Twenty-Five
Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated series continues, with highlights including the animated cave paintings, Shak-Ti’s staff fight and Palpatine’s kidnap leading right into the opening crawl of the third prequel film.

The Quatermass Experiment Remake
David Tennant, Mark Gatiss and Indira Varma are wonderful in this live remake of Nigel Kneale’s first Quatermass serial set in a slightly odd hybrid of 1953 and now. A great TV experiment.

Mr Benn: The Gladiator
Another lovely slice of costume-related time travel whimsy from David McKee.

David Tennant, Shaun Parkes, Peter O'Toole and Laura Fraser are all astonishingly good in a wonderful script by Russell T Davies that bounds along beautifully.

The Quite Interesting quest reaches C with shows about Campanology, Cockneys and Cummingtonite, as well as this.

Chris Addison’s The Ape That Got Lucky: Language And Communication; Social Development; Science And Technology; Man Or Monkey?
Addison charts our first fumbling steps up the evolutionary to undisputed Top Species (capital T, capital S) and our subsequent development of tools, social conventions and language. “This show is made up almost entirely of language” and contains some insulting Esperanto. Featuring the excellent Jo Enwright in roles as varied as the first woman who ever spoke, the wife of a comatose inventor and a cow being milked.

Nebulous: The Night Of The Vegetarians; The Lovely Invasion; The Dust Has Landed; Madness Is A Strange Colour; The Coincidence Machine; The Man Who Polished The Sun
The year is 2099 and the first series of this loving Post-Withering parody, Professor Nebulous proves that vegetarians can't be trusted in The Night Of The Vegetarians, a sort of The Quatermass Experiment meets Meglos in a geodesic dome. Later Earth undergoes The Lovely Invasion and Nebulous is the only dissenting voice. Surely they can't be all they seem, can they? In The Dust Has Landed, K.E.N.T. finds itself competing with a rival organisation the Legitimate Organisation Undertaking General Humanitarian Business Operations Requiring Optimum Unconditional Global Harmony, or L.O.U.G.H.B.O.R.O.U.G.H. and contending with the professor's ex, played by Julia Deakin. Madness Is A Funny Colour as Garrow paint begins sending people honest Bod-bothering people into schizopathic psychophrenia, Harry who no longer has the luxury of eyes becomes the only salvation. The Coincidence Machine causes a build-up of coincidences threatens both our universe and a parallel universe (that’s different) with coinciclasm. The Man Who Polished The Sun cements David Warner's Dr. Klench as the arch nemesis of Nebulous and shows that Harry's reward is also his punishment. K.E.N.T. can do.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: Fits The Nineteenth to Twenty-Sixth
The adaptation of the last two books of the trilogy in five parts was never going to be straightforward. The previously demolished Earth has somehow reappeared, Arthur has returned to it and fallen in love with a girl called Fenchurch, who then disappears. The Book is becoming The Bird. Ford, Zaphod, Marvin and at least two Trillians are each wandering independently through The Whole Sort Of General Mish Mash. This is a fitting end to twenty-seven years of radio hitchhiking and features wonderful performances from William Franklyn, Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Bill Paterson, Jane Horrocks, Toby Longworth, Stephen Moore, Rula Lenska, Saeed Jaffrey and Douglas Adams among many many more.

Doctor Who: Storm Warning; Sword Of Orion; Invaders From Mars; The Chimes Of Midnight Parts One & Two
From Paul McGann’s opening monologue in Storm Warning it's clear that the Eighth Doctor is back and he’s going to be magnificent. Gareth Thomas and Hylton Collins put in great performances and the story serves as a great debut for India Fisher’s Edwardian adventuress Charley Pollard. Sword Of Orion is like a Cybermen ‘best of’ album and is all the better for it. David Benson's impersonation of Orson Welles in Invaders From Mars is nothing short short of miraculous. The story posits that aliens really did invade during the famous broadcast of The War Of The Worlds in 1938 and John Arthur is deliciously evil as Cosmo Devine. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without The Chimes Of Midnight. The first two parts are beautifully atmospheric and dialogue like “Edith was a very stupid girl, she may not have known it was impossible when she did it” is wonderful.

Gorillaz: Demon Days
The second album from the animated band is more like a concept album than the first, but since the band themselves are mostly conceptual this isn't as unwieldy as it might be in other more flesh and blood hands. The album has a raft of great singles, but spare a thought for 'Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey's Head' is a great yarn told by Dennis Hopper and 'Don't Get Lost In Heaven' is Gorillaz viewed through the lens of The Beach Boys, which show the Gorillaz are as inventive as ever.
Stand out tracks: 'Kids With Guns'; 'Dirty Harry'; 'Feel Good Inc'; 'Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey's Head'; 'Don't Get Lost In Heaven'

Supergrass: Road To Rouen
The fifth album features longer and more orchestral tracks than the trio's usual fare. The tone shifts towards darker realms, but does so without taking itself too seriously. If it's a concept album, then it successfully manages to avoid the cliché and maintain variety within its theme. I suppose we will never discover what happened to 'Tales Of Endurance, Parts 1, 2 & 3'. Despite the serious nature of most of the album 'Coffee In The Pot' shows that this is still the same band and they can still have fun and the album title itself is a reassuring pun. A beautiful album.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Tales Of Endurance, Parts 4, 5 & 6'; 'St. Petersburg'; 'Sad Girl'; Roxy; 'Coffee In The Pot'; 'Road To Rouen'; 'Low C'

The Call Of The Weird by Louis Theroux
Theroux returns to the USA to pay visits to many of the stars of his Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends. Highlights include Survivalist Mike Cain, ex porn star JJ Michaels and alien hunter turned vampire slayer Thor Templar.

Charlie Brooker’s Screen Burn
Bile aimed squarely at the likes of Big Brother, 24, Cold Feet, The Frontier House, Hollyoaks, Touch The Truck and everything in between.

Ex Machina: Tag; Fortune Favors; Fact Vs Fiction; Off The Grid
Proving that Ex Machina deals with issues that comics rarely dare to, whilst still managing to keep a superhero in the mix and not cheapen said issue. Tag follows New York’s mayor Mitchell Hundred through his backing of gay marriage, while fending off assassination attempts from the religious fanatics and someone from his past. Fortune Favors shows that there are no easy days for Hundred. Fact Vs Fiction sees a copycat attempt to pick up where 'The Great Machine' left off whilst Hundred serves jury duty, neither ends well. Off The Grid concerns lies and sees Hundred's mother finally tell him the truth while a machine deceives him.

The Vesuvius Club Graphic Edition by Mark Gatiss & Ian Bass
Lucifer Box ventures into new territory and graphic is certainly the word as the unveiling of one character is unflinchingly anatomical. The artwork, by the illustrator of the novels, is languid and the adaptation of the novel is compelling.

Doctor Who: The Love Invasion; Art Attack; The Cruel Sea; Mr Nobody; A Groatsworth Of Wit
The Ninth Doctor and Rose arrive in comics for a brief but impressive run. They travel to Earth in 1966 and overcome The Love Invasion preventing an alien from averting humanity’s forays into space for our own good. A visit to see the Mona Lisa leads to a story that is arguably a modern riff on this scene in Art Attack. Rob Shearman's The Cruel Sea is the jewel in the crown of this run. Epic, spooky at times surreal. Mr Nobody is a nice little inspirational tale. The 'finale', A Groatsworth Of Wit, is a complex and fascinating 'celebrity' historical ,which ends with a panel clearly dedicated to Christopher Eccleston. The artwork and likenesses are impressive throughout.

Serenity: Those Left Behind
Helping to bridge the gap between the end of Firefly and set the stage for the movie Serenity (see above), Those Left Behind takes no prisoners featuring as it does the return of several recurring characters from the TV series, while Inara leaves Serenity and Shepherd Book is increasingly uncomfortable staying aboard. The script and art just feel right.

Noise To Signal
A great source for books, comics, film, games, music, net, print, radio and TV criticism. Unfortunately it's no longer updated, but thankfully the archive remains online. A straw poll of my favourite articles yields subjects as varied as: the Science of Romance in an episode of Futurama, the friendship dynamic in Shaun Of The Dead, Alan Partridge's character flaws, the history of road safety public information films, Torchwood's Children Of Earth reviews, Dorian Gray's hair, a very thorough three-part article on Dollhouse and a philosophical debate asking at what point do you stop being The Sugababes? Sadly missed.

R. Tam, Sessions: Session 416, Second Excerpt; Session 1, Excerpt; Session 22, Excerpt; Session 165, Excerpt; Session 416, First Excerpt
Five short clips released as viral marketing for the movie Serenity (see above). They feature Summer Glau as River Tam and writer and director Joss Whedon as her interviewer. The sessions provide an insight into the events at The Academy that unsettled River so much. They were released out of chronological order and form an intriguing story, presented here in the order they were made available online:

Recommendations welcome.

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