Life in Lockdown

Today I thought I would share how I’ve been getting along in the current COVID-19 pandemic and the government restrictions that have been put in place. Some of it has been relatively simple, and some of it more difficult.

I appreciate that I have it easier than a lot of people. For one thing, I don’t have any children or other dependents to worry about, and for another, I’m able to work from home; I’ve even been able to come up with ideas on how to rework the procedures of duties that would normally require face-to-face meetings. As I have Asperger’s, I always prefer to have a routine, so having to take working from home on a day-by-day basis at the start caused some anxiety; however, once it became clear that things would operate this way for the next few weeks at least, I was able to settle into the new routine.

I’ve been able to keep myself occupied – for one thing, I learned a coin trick this weekend – and I already have a list of things to do or reflect upon over the upcoming Easter break. I’ve been taking advantage of my one permitted period of exercise per day, usually either by having a run, or going for a little walk after work on non-running days – making sure to stick to quiet areas and maintain social distancing, of course. On Sunday afternoon, in the pleasant weather, I had a walk up and down my garden while listening to an audiobook; even a small dose of fresh air was nice. I had planned to run my first half-marathon later this month, but naturally the event has been postponed; since the new date happened to be on the same day as my favourite 10K event, which I don’t want to miss, I decided to take the option of running the half-marathon virtually in my own time. I’ll still have done it, after all. In the meantime, I’m staying fit until the time is right.

The main problem is social contact, or lack thereof. Although I’m an introvert by nature, I still like having the opportunity to talk to people. Right now, I can’t go and see my family, and I certainly won’t be taking the social benefits of being in the office for granted in the future. There have been times this week when it’s felt very depressing. Some things have helped to make me feel better, though: speaking to family members through FaceTime rather than calling or messaging, and being reminded that I can still turn to others for support (even if it’s remotely) and we’re all in this together. One evening, my work did a remote social gathering session, which was a lot of fun.

Going out for the weekly shop has been quite stressful, too. Before the restrictions, there were a couple of weeks where panic-buying and stockpiling had left shelves almost empty of various items I wanted, such as tins and cereal. In the past fortnight, with only a certain number of people being allowed into the local supermarket at a time, item availability is better – though some are still in relatively short supply – but there are other problems. Having to queue to get in isn’t fun, though the worst is that it’s hard to maintain social distancing in a supermarket, particularly when other customers don’t seem as concerned about it as you.

The pandemic has obviously impacted all of our lives in a significant way – even those of us fortunate enough to not yet be ill or have loved ones who are – and I find myself wondering how we will look back at this years from now, and tell the next generation about it. What sort of books will be written about this time? What stories will it inspire? Having everyday life be turned upside down by something so serious has certainly provided a new perspective on things; when I was writing my last post on Doctor Who Series 12, and reflecting on the things that members of the fandom had complained about, I found myself thinking how utterly trivial all of that seemed now.

I expect there will be some pretty big celebrations once something resembling normal life can resume – whenever that may be – and when I can go back to the office, and see my family properly again, I’ll have a new appreciation of how wonderful it really is.

Posted in My Thoughts | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Doctor Who – Series 12: Final Thoughts

Doctor Who S12 2

Watching Series 12 of Doctor Who hasn’t always given me happy feelings – and that’s mostly not because of what was onscreen. After every episode, there would always be plenty of comments from people on social media, and a great many of them were complaints and declarations that Chris Chibnall and the “woke” BBC had killed the show forever. Even in previous seasons that aired after social media had gained significant influence in everyday life, I can’t remember such comments bothering me on the same level. Is it that there were really more negative comments this time around, because significantly more people weren’t happy, or is that I’ve been paying more attention? Given that, apparently, fans have finding things to complain about since William Hartnell left the show, maybe it’s just more visible now. Whatever the case, it’s hard to ignore so much negativity and not let it influence your thoughts, and I found myself starting each episode with at least a little trepidation. I couldn’t just stop looking at Twitter since there’s plenty of non-Doctor Who-related content there I want to check out, but as time passed, I tried not to let it bother me and just judge the show as I found it. Ultimately, I just want to watch Doctor Who and, hopefully, enjoy it.

While I was mostly entertained by Series 12, I’m not going to pretend it was the best series of Doctor Who ever. Like Series 11, it didn’t offer anything spectacular – and it ended up being weaker by virtue of having at least one episode that could be called flat-out bad instead of merely lacklustre. The overall feel was largely very similar to Series 11, yet there were also episodes like Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror and Praxeus where I felt like they were trying to capture the less gritty atmosphere of older eras, which I didn’t mind at all.

And while Series 11 was just a series of individual adventures, Series 12 tries to have an arc as most previous seasons have done, involving the return of the Master (played delightfully by Sacha Dhawan), the second destruction of Gallifrey, the “final” war against the Cybermen, and the revelation of the Timeless Child. While this arc made more sense than, say, the one about the Silence in Series 5 and 6, and it’s allowed to leave some gaps to maintain some mystery, it still didn’t provide adequate payoff for everything it hinted at. This is particularly true with regards to Fugitive of the Judoon, which is still a good episode on its own, but at this point, frustrating too. The return of John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness is basically wasted on a small amount of exposition; and after such a huge revelation of there being another Doctor that Thirteen doesn’t remember, the Ruth-Doctor only makes one more brief appearance in the finale. We have to mostly infer things about her from what we learn there, and hope that she comes back in Series 13.

Meanwhile, I’m honestly still okay with the Timeless Child. I find the concept interesting and won’t mind seeing how it gets explored further in the future. With there being so many gaps in the Doctor’s backstory already, it doesn’t strike me as an jarring, blatant violation of canon like, say, the reveal of a previously-unmentioned third Dumbledore brother in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald did. Perhaps that’s also because Doctor Who has been around for decades and worked upon by many different people who tried different approaches to the central concept, with mixed success.

Jodie Whittaker gets to show off her range a bit more this series, as the Thirteenth Doctor is put under more pressure, struggling to maintain her previous optimism and being forced to face the more difficult side of being a centuries-old master of time. Sadly, Graham, Ryan and Yaz have not been improved upon since Series 11. They’re all pleasant to watch and work well as a group, but they still feel hollow. If anything, they’ve gone backward: they get little in the way of development, and some things from Series 11, like Ryan’s dyspraxia, have just been forgotten about. I don’t feel able to appreciate them as people, the way I did with the likes of Donna or Clara. The closest thing that any of them has to a proper role in the team is Graham providing comic relief; when it comes to saving the day, they just fit in where the story needs them.

Compare this to another three-person team of companions: Ian, Barbara and Susan. Combined with the Doctor, they had a proper team structure, one that was easy to understand as it resembled a traditional family: father, mother, daughter, and grumpy old grandad. They had defined personalities and values which meant they reacted differently to different situations, such as when Barbara wanted to change history by persuading the Aztecs to abandon human sacrifice. They were each able to fill a role when the situation called for it: Ian handled physical confrontations, Barbara was best at integrating and making useful alliances, and Susan was best at…getting captured and needing to be rescued, I guess. We just don’t get enough of that from the Fam.

Ranking

Previously, I’ve compared the series’s average score to those of other series to see how it ranks, but that doesn’t really feel appropriate anymore: it’s been a while since I’ve watched some of those other series, and undoubtedly my standards and what I look for will have shifted, as well as the atmosphere of the show itself having changed a lot. Going by my gut, I would put Series 12 in the lower third: definitely better than Series 10, maybe better than Series 2, probably on par with Series 3 and 7.

So here’s my episode ranking:
01. Praxeus
02. Fugitive of the Judoon
03. The Haunting of Villa Diodati
04. Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
05. Spyfall Part 2
06. The Timeless Children
07. Ascension of the Cybermen
08. Spyfall Part 1
09. Can You Hear Me?
10. Orphan 55

Worst episode: To test a theory, I ran a Twitter poll asking if the worst episode of Series 12 was Orphan 55 or anything else. 10 out of 11 respondents went with Orphan 55, supporting my theory that it really stood out as the season’s lowest moment. There was a slow, dull plot; uninteresting, underdeveloped side characters; and an old lady constantly whining for “BENNNIIIII!” But worst of all was the message about climate change which, while unquestionably a subject that needs attention, was painfully shoved in with no subtlety whatsoever – the Doctor practically breaks the fourth wall, like in William Hartnell’s Christmas episode, to preach to the audience. That’s not how Doctor Who, which is first and foremost an entertainment show, should be commentating on current issues. Rather than inspiring people to act against climate change, Orphan 55 felt like it was actively trying to prove the haters right.

Best episode: Praxeus was, in some ways, the anti-Orphan 55, going right where the other episode went wrong. It had an environmental message, but one that was better integrated into the story; it had several side characters, but they were more sympathetic and with believable arcs; and instead of being boring, it delivered an exciting adventure that felt more traditional for the show.

So what about Series 13? There are indications that both Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole will be leaving the show; assuming that Mandip Gill stays, this could either give Yaz more room to grow, or allow a new companion (preferably just one) to enter the mix and stir things up in an interesting way. Obviously, I’d like some further elaboration on things that were raised in this series, and a more substantial return by Captain Jack wouldn’t go amiss. And maybe, while it’s being broadcast, I actually will avoid looking at Twitter. It’s not likely to do any good.

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doctor Who – Series 12, Episode 10: “The Timeless Children”

  • I honestly thought Yaz was a goner when Graham started telling her what a great person she was, in case “we don’t get out of this”. And then in the end, all of the Fam are still alive! Pretty surprising, considering all the speculation.
  • Sasha Dhawan is still great as the Master: you can really feel his anger and how long he’s been around. The idea that he wouldn’t have cared about being killed by the Death Particle, so long as he took the rest of the universe (including the Doctor) with him, feels right for this Master.
  • Watching that scene of the Cybercarrier looking for Graham and Yaz (and the other characters whose names I can’t remember), I was holding my breath each time he peered into a suit.
  • The series seems to have completely forgotten about Ryan’s dyspraxia. I don’t think it’s been mentioned once this time round, and he certainly had no trouble throwing that bomb.
  • So, there are certainly some big revelations and additions to the mythology here. Mostly, I liked it. I don’t think the Timeless Child and the history of regeneration contradicts anything we’ve previously seen in the TV series – the earliest Time Lord history that’s previously been discussed is how Omega gave them the ability to time travel. And while the reveal that the Doctor was the Timeless Child was predictable (though I did get it wrong about Brendan last week), there’s still a lot that’s left unanswered. I’m glad that Jo Martin’s alternate Doctor reappears, and that loose end isn’t totally left hanging.
  • How did the Timeless Child regenerate so many times while still a child? Did her mother intentionally kill her over and over again?
  • Also, considering how many of the regenerations we see in this episode result in sex changes, you’d think that simple probability would have seen the Doctor we know become a woman ages ago. Maybe there’s a higher chance of ending up as the sex you started as, but we now know that the Doctor started out as female!
  • Wow, the main baddie of the previous two episodes went down even easier than the ones in Can You Hear Me.
  • Dead Time Lords turned into Cybermen should really look more perverse and horrifying than just Cybermen in funny costumes.
  • It’s a good job for our heroes that the mechanical, technically advanced Cybermen have the shooting accuracy of Imperial Stormtroopers.
  • So the episode tries to seriously make us believe that the Doctor’s going to sacrifice him/herself (even though Jodie Whittaker’s not even regenerating this series), only for them to be replaced at the last moment by a side character who was only introduced last episode and that nobody really cares about. It’s the ending of The Poison Sky all over again. I wasn’t impressed back then, either.
  • The scenario of the Master trying to force the Doctor to destroy Gallifrey, as she was spared from doing in The Day of the Doctor (though not on the same scale as apparently everyone’s already dead), certainly wasn’t bad. But with Gallifrey gone for a second time, The Day of the Doctor is still looking a bit pointless now.
  • Once, it was a big deal if somebody could get into the TARDIS without permission – and suddenly the simple-minded Judoon can do it, no problem?!
  • Not a bad cliffhanger – looks like we’re in for a prison break next time round. Involving the Daleks, apparently.

All in all, this was an entertaining series finale with a lot of interesting information and great acting, but there were also plenty of details that I thought could have been handled better. Rating: 3.5/5.

It seems uncertain at the moment when Doctor Who will be back – but at least Series 2 of Race Across The World starts next week, so I’ll still be occupied on Sunday nights!

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Doctor Who – Series 12, Episode 9: “Ascension of the Cybermen”

  • The chapters from the life of Brendan interspersed throughout the episode seem pretty random – another one of those things that Steven Moffat would do – but I’m trusting that it has some purpose which will become evident in the finale. (I’m also guessing that Ser Barristan Ko Sharmus is Brendan.) Brendan’s abandonment as a baby and apparent immortality seem to indicate something alien about him; his coming back to life with a deep inhalation was reminiscent of Captain Jack Harkness, so I considered that he might be Jack’s son or something – except we know from Torchwood that other children of Jack’s aren’t immortal. Quite possibly there’s some Gallifreyan in him, but his revival didn’t look like a regeneration. Hmmm….
  • So how does this Cyber War fit in with the future Earth we saw in Orphan 55? Or is it another “possible future”?
  • I like how the Fam plan to target previously exploited Cyberman weaknesses, like gold and reactivating their emotions. Too bad they don’t get the chance – that would be too easy, after all.
  • Those flying Cyber heads look just as silly as the flying Cybermen in Series 8. Surely the Cybermen could come up with a better design than that for their drones?
  • Thirteen is still being unusually intense, ordering her companions to leave rather than risk them falling into the Cybermen’s hands. Clearly what happened to Bill has left lasting and specific scars.
  • I’m glad that the Lone Cyberman is still around. It seems good to have a central baddie for the finale, and one that has at least a partial face to express himself with.
  • How come these Cybermen say “delete” when it was the Cybus Cybermen who said that, and these ones are presumably of the Mondas (i.e. our universe) variety?
  • Interesting that the Cyberguards accompanying the Lone Cyberman are of the revival design, while the ones on the ship look more classic with their flattened faces. Presumably they represent different generations, with the ones on the ship being older?

This first part of the finale starts out solid in the first half but unfortunately slows down in the second. It feels more like the first part of a mid-season two-parter rather than a series finale – at least until the cliffhanger where Gallifrey and the Master turn up. Rating: 3.5/5.

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How’s The Writing Going? (February 2020)

So far in 2020, my attempts at fiction writing have not been going as well as I’d hoped. For several weeks, I’ve continued to wrestle with the vampire story that I’ve been working on for some time now. Sometimes, I’ve had some inspiration and written individual scenes of a few hundred words. But planning the story has been a real problem. I’ve been trying to rework the outline, but I’m struggling to plan out how the second half should go. And while the first two chapters are polished enough for me to have sought and received feedback on them, some of the scenes that follow feel boring, awkward or both. Somehow, it feels harder to turn the messy fragments I have into a cohesive story than it is to write a new story from a blank page for NaNoWriMo.

So perhaps I need to try something different. Being so frustrated with that project, I’ve set it aside for a while in the hopes of clearing my head. Instead, I’m spending some time with The Approach to the New World, the story set on the Titanic that I wrote for Camp NaNoWriMo in 2012. This remains the longest story I’ve written, the one I felt happiest while writing, and the one I still look at most fondly now. I haven’t spent much time re-working it in the intervening years since I wrote it just for myself and didn’t seriously intend to do anything more with it, but now I’m thinking it could make me feel more positive – and sharpen my skills – to see how I can improve it. Inspired by this advice by Anna Davis on reviewing a first draft, I’ve uploaded the document to my Kindle and am in the process of re-reading it and taking notes. It’s certainly different from reading it on the computer, and allowing me to see what can be polished more clearly.

I’m also still trying to learn and adjust my mindset. I recently finished reading Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull, about the management of Pixar Animation Studios; while most of the advice in the book is directed at managers wanting to encourage creativity among their team, there are also useful tips for solo artists. The main thing I took away from the book is that I shouldn’t be afraid of not getting a story right the first time. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and while I can churn words out during NaNoWriMo (usually after a good deal of planning beforehand), at other times I’m being held back by trying to ensure a piece of writing is going to be worthwhile before I’ve set it down. I need to allow myself to experiment, and accept that if one attempt at a story doesn’t work out, it’s not a waste of time. As pointed out in Creativity Inc, even Pixar films can spend years having their stories ironed out, with the final product often bearing little resemblance to the original pitch, only the heart of the concept remaining intact.

I’m currently reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a short book which I think is also going to be useful. Pressfield starts by talking about “Resistance”, which stops artists from doing their work through forces like fear, rationalisation and the desire for instant gratification. The part I’m currently on is about the difference between amateurs and professionals, e.g. professionals understand that they are not their work and thus don’t take criticism personally. I’m hopeful that this book is going to help my writing mindset as well, and I can get into a routine of doing proper writing outside of November. I’m only going to get better if I put the work in!

 

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Doctor Who – Series 12, Episode 8: “The Haunting of Villa Diodati”

  • This episode had a particularly good atmosphere, with the eerily lit house and the stormy weather. (I think it helped that it was very windy outside as I watched it.) Obviously Doctor Who has done haunted-house episodes before, but this one still managed to feel fresh.
  • The way Yaz talks about the Doctor with Miss Claremont definitely felt like fresh material for the Doctor/Yaz shippers.
  • Graham is still providing the chuckles – he sees a couple of strange figures suddenly appear in the room with him, and his first thought is that they’ve brought him some food.
  • I knew the Cybermen were going to be in the two-parter finale, but it was a surprise to see one turn up an episode early.
  • Jodie Whittaker showed off some of her best acting yet as the Doctor in this episode: first, her angry determination not to see anyone else be assimilated by the Cybermen (presumably thinking of Bill), and then her outburst at the Fam when she is faced with the impossible choice of saving Shelly or stopping the Cyber-War. Stamping her authority and getting frustrated at her own moral responsibility like that isn’t something we see too often from Thirteen, but it shows that she’s still the Doctor.
  • There was a lot I liked about the lone Cyberman, like his half-converted look and how he still has a little emotion left in him, but not enough for him to be redeemed (good subversion there). The way he reaches into the chest and silences Elise is more impactful than if we had properly seen him kill her onscreen. And to cap it off, he becomes the inspiration for Frankenstein’s monster!
  • The biggest problem I had with this episode was that it had a bit too much going on – so many ghostly happenings that it seemed impossible they could all be brought together. And as it turned out, they weren’t: the episode pointedly gives no reasonable explanation for the ghosts that Graham saw and leaves us to assume that they were real ghosts which had nothing to do with Shelley or the Cyberman.

This was a solid episode with a lot of good stuff in it; like Fugitive of the Judoon, I would like to rate it higher, but it was let down just a bit by being overly complicated. Rating: 4/5.

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doctor Who – Series 12, Episode 7: “Can You Hear Me?”

  • Watching the opening scene in Aleppo, I thought the dialogue was a little too modern – but apparently there really was such a thing as recognition and treatment of mental illness in that time and place.
  • A lot of different characters are getting to ride in the TARDIS this season. It used to be that the “bigger on the inside” revelation was a special moment – now they’re not even bothering to show it.
  • Some unexpected references to Classic Who, with mentions of the Eternals and the Celestial Toymaker – and indeed, the villains in this episode do feel like they’d fit into Classic Who.
  • The “burning” in Ryan’s nightmare might or might not have been about climate change, but it is appropriate that Ryan makes that connection and immediately starts imagining the Dregs.
  • As Pitch Meetings would put it, defeating those eternal beings was super easy, barely an inconvenience.
  • Some people on Twitter didn’t like the Doctor’s reaction to Graham talking about his cancer fears, but I thought it was in character: male or female, the Doctor is good at general inspiration, but not so much at connecting with individual human problems on that particular level.
  • So the central theme of this episode is mental health: Zellin talks about how humans make themselves suffer with their own negative thoughts (if there are other intelligent beings out there, do any of them do the same thing?); the Doctor turns this around by pointing out how we manage to carry on anyway; the side characters are suffering from mental health issues; and just in case we didn’t get the point, the BBC offers a helpline over the end credits. Again, it’s an important subject to look at, and it’s handled better than the theme of Orphan 55, making for some nice scenes like how happy the policewoman is to see Yaz again. But it does feel like the story takes a backseat to discussing the issue; the villains are defeated with several minutes still to go, to allow time for characters to just talk.

After last week’s teaser, I was expecting more from an episode where the characters were forced to confront their worst fears. With more effort being put into exploring mental health, the story ended up being a bit bland. Rating: 3/5.

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Film review: Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey

2016’s Suicide Squad was not a very good film – but one thing that many people did like about it was Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn. So to Warner Bros executives, bringing back Robbie for a film with Harley as the main character – while quietly pretending that Jared Leto never happened – must have seemed like a pretty good idea. And wouldn’t you believe, the end result – Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – really works.

After being dumped by the Joker (who, unsurprisingly, never appears onscreen), Harley Quinn decides that from now on, she’s going to be her own woman, and declares the fact to the world by blowing up the ACE Chemicals plant. Unfortunately, this means it’s now open season for the many, many people in Gotham who hate Harley, but were previously too scared of the Joker to touch her. After being confronted by one of these people, crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), Harley is forced to go and find a very important diamond, which has fallen into the hands of young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). With police officer Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), undercover informant Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and a crossbow-wielding assassin called the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) also getting involved, a big mess becomes inevitable.

Even though I didn’t think much of Suicide Squad, the trailer for Birds of Prey made it look like a lot of fun – and that’s exactly what it is. Okay, perhaps the kind of black comedy that befits Harley Quinn – such as cutting from a pet store owner propositioning Harley, to her newly bought hyena gnawing on his severed leg – isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. But someone like me who goes to a lot of comic book films should be happy, particularly if they’re looking for something that feels very different from, say, a typical MCU film. There’s not much in the way of deep conversation and complex soul-searching here; just a bucket of raw action, on-the-mark humour and gorgeous, colourful style, helped by a particularly good soundtrack, which carries you on a very enjoyable roller coaster all the way to the end. The effort has clearly been put in on practically every level, and watching the end result feels like pure entertainment.

Margot Robbie is still a perfect Harley Quinn, more than capable of filling the protagonist’s role. Despite her being a mentally disturbed murderer – the first half of the film, which skips all over the place chronologically, seems to reflect the disorganised state of her mind – she still manages to be a sympathetic character throughout. We want to see her move on from her abusive relationship with the Joker, and we feel sorry for her when, in a truly tragic moment, she doesn’t get to eat her perfect egg sandwich. Ewan McGregor is clearly having a great time as the villain, Roman Sionis: camp, narcissistic, and revelling in being the bad guy. The other Birds of Prey are great too, each going on their own journeys, though they don’t really come together as a group until the climax. I would have liked more of Huntress, who doesn’t seem to get as much screentime as the rest; I did like how there’s more to her than just being a female equivalent of the Punisher, with her being socially awkward and practicing one-liners in a mirror.

If you’ve got the stomach for it, and you’re happy with this kind of dark, crazy humour, Birds of Prey is a highly entertaining film that will put a smile on your face without any need for Joker toxin. Rating: 4.5/5.

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Film review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

ABDITN

Growing up in the UK, I didn’t get to watch Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood – all I really knew of Fred Rogers was the occasional reference to him on other American TV shows. I learned a lot more about him more recently from watching the documentary film Won’t You Be My Neighbour, and I find him a very interesting and affirming figure. With all the revelations about entertainers like Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and many others, it’s easy to imagine that Rogers was too good to be true and must have had some skeletons in his closet – but no, apparently his wholesome, optimistic, non-judgemental persona was entirely sincere, which is rather wonderful. So who better to play him onscreen than Tom Hanks, another beloved figure who, while actors all around him are accused of misconduct, remains pure and above reproach?

In A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, however, Hanks’s Mr Rogers isn’t actually the main character – he’s more of a catalyst and advisor for the central figure, a journalist named Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). While the film is inspired by a 1998 article written about Rogers, the story and Lloyd are fictional. Lloyd has a cynical attitude on life, much of which stems from being abandoned by his father Jerry (Chris Cooper) – so he is less than enthusiastic when he is given the assignment of writing a puff-piece about Mr Rogers. In their interviews, however, it ends up being Mr Rogers who asks most of the questions, gradually persuading Lloyd to look inside himself and confront his emotional issues.

The story of a cynic whose heart is thawed by a more optimistic figure has been told many times before, but I liked this take on it for its subtlety and humanity. Rather than having Lloyd learn some life lessons by outwardly embracing Mr Rogers’s world and philosophies – though this sort-of happens in one bizarre dream sequence – his development is internal: his time with Rogers acts like a gentle therapy session, as he learns and opens up through the power of talking and reflection. The overall tone is sentimental without ever being sugary-sweet, and if the film wants to encourage we, the audience, to think more like Mr Rogers, it doesn’t throw it in our faces. There’s a scene late on where Rogers asks Lloyd to reflect on something for one minute, and spends much of that minute gazing benevolently into the camera, clearly encouraging the audience to do the same – but by that time, we’ve been persuaded to go along with him just like Lloyd.

Even if Mr Rogers isn’t the focus, the story of Lloyd and his family is engaging enough to hold attention, with the central figures all feeling very human and understandable. Even Jerry, who could have been just a two-dimensional deadbeat dad, is instead more fleshed out, portrayed as a man who sometimes has a disagreeable attitude, but acknowledges that he has made mistakes and wants to make up for them. While Mr Rogers himself – who is portrayed very convincingly by Hanks – is not explored emotionally to the same degree, he is still made out to be human. He is not a saint, nor does he pretend to be, being surprised and almost confused when Lloyd asks if he sees himself as a hero; he is simply a man who wants to do good, and does. I also liked the aesthetic of the film, with Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood almost being used as a framing device; there are scenes of Rogers talking about Lloyd to the audience as if filming an episode of the show, and several scene transitions use the show’s models to demonstrate travelling somewhere, which adds another layer of charm.

So even if you don’t know that much about Fred Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is still very much worth a watch, for a good dose of positivity in a world that so often seems grim. Rating: 4.5/5.

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Doctor Who – Series 12, Episode 6: “Praxeus”

  • What with kicking off in a bunch of different locations, and it not being at all clear what’s going on, this episode’s opening feels reminiscent of some Steven Moffat episodes where he would try to be too clever and just make a complete mess. Thankfully, it’s much better than those, partly because a basic connection between the events is established relatively early.
  • According to the TV in the bar where Jake has a drink, Liverpool are “increasing pressure” on Manchester City. Either this story takes place during the 2018/19 football season or this is definitely an alternate universe, because when you’re 22 points ahead in the league table, you’ve rather passed the point of increasing pressure on your nearest rivals.
  • Jake reminds me a bit of Detective Duggan from City of Death, as an officer of the law who likes solving problems by getting physical.
  • There’s creatures in gas masks and the Doctor doesn’t make an “are you my mummy?” reference? What a waste.
  • Good to see Yaz taking the initiative and going off to do some useful work, given that of the three members of the Fam, she’s usually the one who gets the least to do. I also like how the Doctor is more impressed than annoyed to hear about Yaz using the teleport, unlike how previous incarnations would react – “Well, you don’t do things by halves” – and even expresses pride once they meet up again.
  • The main flaw of this episode is that there are too many side characters – Gabriela practically disappears in the third act.
  • You’d think that Jake might be more worried about the dangers of Adam’s profession than feeling unable to live up to him, but to the writers’ credit, that could be seen as avoiding the “astronaut spouse” stereotype, just as they avoid gay stereotypes with Jake and Adam in general.
  • Just like Orphan 55, the episode is built around an environmental message – this time, the problem of plastic – but it’s handled much better here. The issue is properly integrated into the story, with relevant facts being provided rather than blatant preaching; it’s foreshadowed early on where Gabriela and her friend find the river with trash scattered everywhere; and the main conflict still ultimately has an extraterrestrial origin which is merely exacerbated by what humans are doing wrong on Earth.

This is my favourite episode of Series 12 so far. It’s fast-paced, exciting, well-constructed, handles its message properly, and while there are a few too many side characters, they’re still not a bad bunch. Rating: 4.5/5.

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment