Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Doctor Who: The End of Time, BBC

Another post from the blog that just won't die! Well... having been lucky enough to get invited to a preview screening of the Doctor Who Christmas Day episode, I thought it'd be a little ungrateful if I didn't blog about it: here's a fuller version of the preview I wrote for Orange.

I was expecting the screening to be a very sterile PR event like the one I went to for Braveheart in New York a couple of months ago, but it was a lovely event, with plenty of excited kids and appearances from Cybermen, Ood and a Judoon.

My own excitement levels were raised before I even got into the Television Centre; I came through the revolving door with Steven Moffat, who was hoping that he wouldn't have to say "Don't you know who I am?" to the army of clipboard nazis gathered in reception.

There was a Q&A after the screening, with RTD, John Simm and Bernard Cribbins on stage. However, most of the questions related to what we'd just seen, so I can't relate the answers without giving too much away. Bernard Cribbins was his usual brilliant self - he's still sharp as a tack - and it's great to think that a whole new generation is enjoying him.

Afterwards, everyone piled back into the reception room for mince pies, mulled wine and encounters with the monsters. Unfortunately the snow had started to tumble down by that stage, so I couldn't really hang around, but everyone seemed to be having a marvellous time.

Anyway, here's the preview. And happy holiday to you all! I'll be back next year.

OK, so there's a fair chance you don't need convincing to watch Doctor Who this Christmas Day. In fact, it might well have been the first thing you marked up as you sat down with your double-sized Radio Times, highlighter pen and mug of Assam.

However, The End of Time – David Tennant's final two-part adventure as the Doctor – is clearly going to be a bigger deal than the average Chrimbo special. It starts off with an epic feel, narrated ominously by Timothy Dalton, and before long the Doctor is summoned to meet his dangly old muckers the Ood, who warn of a darkness falling across the universe.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, everyone is having nightmares that no-one can remember the next day – no-one, that is, apart from poor old Wilf Mott (Bernard Cribbins), the grandfather of the Doctor's former companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate).

It'd be criminal to give much more away, but it's no secret that John Simm comes back as the Doctor's old adversary, the Master. There's also a creepy billionaire (David Harewood) who's tinkering about with a bit of alien technology that fell into his hands after Torchwood went boom. So that's obviously going to turn out well...

The episode is spectacular: it's very cinematic and looked at home on the big screen at the preview. However, it does hit a few bum notes early on: the way the Master makes his comeback isn't totally convincing, and there are a couple of sequences that would look more at home in Heroes.

However, Cribbins is brilliant as the time-worn and haunted Wilf, who seems – reluctantly – to be at the heart of the gathering storm. And one simple scene of Wilf and the Doctor talking in a cafĂ© packs the biggest emotional wallop the show's seen since the Doctor had to say ta-ta to Rose.

John Simm has great fun as the Master, who's more feral and insane than ever. There are a couple of scenes that will have you holding your stomach and groaning if you're still full after your Christmas dinner.

His plan for revenge on the Doctor is a cracker, and as it takes effect at the climax of the episode, it sets up what should be a massive conclusion on New Year's Day.

Of course, that may not be the full story; Russell T Davies is notorious for cutting out big surprises from press screenings and we didn't see a trailer for the grand finale, so – literally – anything could happen. I'm excited!

Monday, 21 December 2009

The Fattest Man in Britain, ITV1

I know the blog is supposed to be on hiatus, but I just thought I'd add a review of The Fattest Man in Britain that I wrote last night for Orange.

(Sometime over the next couple of days I'll also put up a thingy about the Doctor Who preview I went to at the BBC last week.)

At first glance, you might have thought last night's The Fattest Man in Britain was just another bit of knockabout Northern working-class fun. However, with a script co-written by Caroline Aherne and a star performance by Timothy Spall, the truth was far more complex and moving.

Spall played Georgie Godwin, a massively overweight and housebound man who's become a bit of a tourist attraction. This is all thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of local cabbie Morris (Bobby Ball), who charges visitors to come and enjoy (fairly excruciating) encounters with the fattest man in Britain.

However, the wind of change blows into Georgie's life with the arrival of Amy – a troubled teenager on community service who's set the task of tidying Georgie's long-neglected garden. After he intervenes to save her from her violent drug-addict boyfriend, an unlikely friendship develops between the two.

The pregnant Amy moves into Georgie's house and tries to make him realise he's being exploited by Morris. She also persuades him to open up about the grief and unhappiness that caused him to start over-eating in the first place.

However, it takes the heartbreaking tragedy of Amy losing her unborn child and moving out, saying she can't bear to watch Georgie eat himself to death, to spark him into action. Locking Morris out of his house, Georgie sets out to find Amy again.

Even though it was just a fat bloke struggling down a high street, there was something punch-the-air heroic about Georgie's first expedition out of the house for 23 years. The final 15 minutes of the drama would have brought a tear to a glass eye.

Compassion and warmth may not be the most fashionable traits in TV drama these days, but Aherne and her co-writer Jeff Pope showed how simple human kindness can bring us together and how much nicer the world could be if people looked after each other.

The bitter-sweet script was full of beautifully observed comedy, while not shying away from the stark realities of Georgie's miserable existence. It might have lurched a little too close to sentimentality at times, but the script, the performances and even the music (by Badly Drawn Boy) made The Fattest Man in Britain a cracking early Christmas present.

Monday, 7 December 2009

It's not you, it's me

I've been giving this blog a lot of thought over the past couple of weeks. It's not exactly been giving me sleepless nights, but I've been in a bit of a quandry over what to do next.

On the one hand, I've really enjoyed writing it. I'm lucky enough to go to a lot of plays, screenings and writing-related events, and it does me good to exercise my critical muscles and come up with opinions on them.

On the other hand, I'm facing a bit of a time crunch at the moment. I've just started a long-term editorial assignment which is good in lots of ways but restricts the amount of time I can devote to writing.

After spending most of this year wrapping up a couple of spec scripts that had been tugging at my trouser leg for years, I think I need to revise my whole approach to 'breaking in' as a writer and start to think a lot more professionally and strategically.

So, fifteen minutes of mantra-filled oompah will have to go on hiatus for a while. I know this all seems a bit self-regarding, considering the handful of people who read it, but I wanted to draw a line under this chapter of the blog rather than just leaving it abandoned and unloved.

Thanks to anyone who's followed the blog. Hopefully it'll rise from the ashes some time soon.