Steven Moffat mocks female Doctor Who

Steven Moffat at Comic Con 2008

Steven Moffat at Comic Con 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Steven Moffat has angered fans of Doctor Who by making a joke about the possibility of a female Doctor. Fans had bandied around names such as Idris Elba, Sue Perkins and Miranda Hart for the 12th Doctor in the hope that the show would take a progressive direction by casting either a person of colour or a woman. However on The Doctor Live: The Next Doctor the equally beloved and reviled show runner said:

I like that Helen Mirren has been saying the next doctor should be a woman. I would like to go on record and say that the Queen should be played by a man.

The joke has caused outrage because it ridicules not only the fans who want a Doctor that is a woman but also Helen Mirren and the very idea of a female Doctor. Rather than ignore the issue or acknowledge the potential of a female Doctor, Moffat laughed at the possibility. Continue reading

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On Ender’s Game and the Russian Olympics: Boycotts and Free Speech

Cover of "Ender's Game (Ender Quartet)"

Cover of Ender’s Game (Ender Quartet)

This week there are two quite different things people want to boycott: Ender’s Game and the Russian winter Olympics. The reasons that they want to boycott them however are essentially the same – by supporting them, you are giving money to bigots and homophobes. Vladimir Putin has signed a law banning same-sex affection following on the heals of his terrible treatment of Pussy Riot and Orson Scott Card sits on the board of NOM and is actively involved in similarly distasteful activities including calls for homosexuality to be made illegal. Continue reading

Embracing Geek Diversity

Geek Squad logo

Geek Squad logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At London Film and Comic Con last weekend something stood out to me. It wasn’t following Nymphadora Tonks off the tube at Earl’s Court. It wasn’t the seemingly endless array of geek paraphernalia. It wasn’t even people dressed in full 4th Doctor regalia despite the blistering heat. Those things are all the bread and butter of every geek convention I’ve ever been too.

The thing that struck me was the huge variety of people there. I may have cursed the couple with a pushchair but, despite taking up too much room in a space full to bursting, they were indicative of a much larger trend that has been creeping up on those of us who have been going to cons for some time now. Nothing however was a better example of geek mainstreaming than a man who excitedly informed me of his plans to open a geek nightclub. Continue reading

Disney’s Merida Makeover: not the only way to be a princess

Image from amightygirl.com

Image from amightygirl.com

Over the last fortnight, Disney released and quickly withdrew some sparkly, sexy Merida artwork for her ‘coronation ceremony’. The slimming down, aging up and general ‘princess-isation’ of Merida who was billed as a character who hated the fluff of being a princess spurred endless column inches about gender and femininity as well as a “Say No To The Merida Make Over” petition with 233,846 supporters to date.  Continue reading

Meet the Actor: Matt Smith

Doctor Who - Series 7B

Doctor Who – Series 7B (Photo credit: Doctor Who Spoilers)

The Regent Street Apple Store was awash with Fezzes*, bow ties and sonic screwdrivers this Tuesday when Matt Smith appeared for a Meet the Actor session. In a few short weeks he is back on television to reprise his role as the 11th Doctor, armed with the canonically impossible new companion Oswin/Clara played by Jenna Louise Coleman. The assembled fans were desperate to hear even the slightest hint of what was to come though there were also some who were only just keeping it together at the prospect of the sight of their idol in the flesh.

“And he’s mad again.”

Smith’s manner, like that of his Doctor, danced on the edge of manic as he welcomed his fans. Gone will be the hard, post-Ponds Doctor of the Christmas Special, he assured us. Instead we can look forward to cybermen, a Neil Gaiman episode, the Ice warriors, an alien market and a finale like no other going into the 50th Anniversary Episode – all the important things in a Doctor Who series.

“A sort of space safari park where he’s collated mad animals from throughout the universe”

We also get to learn more about that the TARDIS herself in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS though it still leaves some to the imagination. Of course, fans met Idris, the human incarnation of the TARDIS (and, for my money, the only woman for the Doctor), in The Doctor’s Wife last season but we get more of the interior of the TARDIS this time out. There is also more to explore about who she is and, somewhat cryptically, “what effect she can have on the shape of that”. Not all her secrets are revealed – how could they be? And Smith was happy to speculate about the Doctor’s bedroom.

For all the excitement of the new series Smith still points to Eleventh Hour as his favourite episode to film and Blink or Tomb of the Cybermen as the best of the rest.

“It’s bigger and greater and more exciting and it’s funny as well.”

Smith also revealed he has now had sight of the script for the 50th Anniversary episode and he built the expectations to fever pitch. Smith continued to heap praise on the episode describing it as “spellbinding and one of the best ever, ever.” While he promised fans would not be disappointed it is getting hard to see how it could possibly be as good as advertised.  My other concern is about shooting some of it in 3D given that it will be primarily watched on laptops and tvs which can’t handle the technology. That’s “The Moff” for you though.

“Would we want a Doctor who that wasn’t complicated? That isn’t all science-wiencey and wibbly and strange and mad with different times and wives that are from the future?”

Matt Smith is clearly a fan of the show – which is always a good sign from the lead actor – and of Steven Moffat, its show runner. He talked extensively and glowingly about Sherlock as well as Moffat’s work on Doctor Who. A lot of fans, however, regard Moffat’s choices, particularly concerning River Song and the wider end of season 6, as somewhat dubious. Even when he doesn’t get the characters right there is always something worth watching in a Moffat episode or season. What no one can question is his ability to deliver the complexity that only a show like Doctor Who can deliver and sets Doctor Who apart, even among SciFi shows. Though perhaps Smith’s comment that “children get the bits that they enjoy” was overly cavalier when talking about a family show, the sciencey-wiencey, timey-wimey is what makes a Moffat season worth it.

“Y’know someone had a baby and I was like no! That can’t happen! No way!”

Smith didn’t only talk about Doctor Who. He admitted to his own fanboy moments over Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. He also talked about his excitement about starring in Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut. It seems almost an inevitability that Hollywood has come to call on Matt Smith given the casual and unpretentious way he refers to himself as ‘Ben’s mate’ while talking about Sherlock. Not that Matt Smith is undeserving in his own right but it can’t hurt to have a host of friends who are rising the celebrity alphabet lists.

“It’s magical realism – I love all that stuff”

The Q&A that followed was fairly straightforward covering his favourite book (The Master and Margarita) and film (undecided but maybe the Goonies) his plans to visit Australia (Christmas/early 2014) and which Doctor Who villain he would play (The Master or Rosanna from The Vampires of Venice).  Speaking about his other projects he also talked about his excitement over branching out into directing with Cargese on Sky Arts this April.

“That’s a wonderful thing to say – ‘the lady in the fez’”

There was of course the token quivering fangirl in a fez who started innocently enough with a question about Sherlock which prompted the revelation that Matt had auditioned for John Watson (and what a change that would have been from Martin Freeman). She then had to ask whether Matt Smith shipped ‘Johnlock’, which is just bad fandom etiquette. For those to whom ‘Johnlock’ might be unfamiliar it is a couple name, like Brangelina, that designates John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in a romantic relationship. I want to make it clear fandom, fanfiction, ships and slash are all fine by me but not when you involve the actors. Some, like Misha Collins, invite questions about fandom and shipping etc… Matt Smith, to the best of my knowledge, does not. Keep it on the internet fez girl.

“I would apply to the National Youth Theatre – that’s what encouraged me into acting”

Matt also had some patient and heartfelt advice for a Dilan, a fifteen year old, high-functioning aspergers sufferer who wasn’t in school and who wanted to get into acting: First, get back into school. Second, audition for the National Youth Theatre. Third, everyone has a camera so go out and make a film about a girl who can’t get back into school and put it on the internet. His advice and attitude was so overwhelmingly positive he may well have changed a girl’s life. It is perhaps a small reminder of the power that celebrities hold and how it can be used for good as well as evil. And I urge you to keep half and eye on the internet for a film about a girl who can’t get back into school.

As the applestore people kept saying, the full interview will be available as a podcast via i-tunes in case you think I’m being over hard on girls in fezzes.

*I had to look up the plural of fez – the things you learn for fandom

Django Unchained Review (Mostly Spoiler Free)

Django UnchainedDjango Unchained is Tarantino’s latest offering it is a reinvention of the Spaghetti Western (with no small reference to blaxsploitation) and for me among the best of his films to date.

The film worked so well for me because of the characters, which have more depth and development than most of Tarantino’s oeuvre. While there is no doubt they owe much to Western stock characters Schultz, Django and Candie step beyond the realm of Hollywood cypher and become characters in their own right. This is, in large part, aided by Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. A lesser performance from any of these men might have left Django floundering under the weight of expectations and excessive violence. As it is all of them give the performance of their careers to date. DiCaprio’s turn as his first true villain, Monsieur Calvin Candie, is particularly arresting. He seems to completely inhabit the skin of the films most odious character and brings him to life with wonderful malice and complete cruelty. The story of DiCaprio cutting his hand during filming and continuing regardless is made thoroughly believable by his performance. The only flaw acting wise was Tarantino’s own pointless, ego stroking cameo.

Special praise ought to be given to Kerry Washington. She was remarkable and criminally underused as she was only on screen for about 15 minutes of a 2h45m film. I love her facial expressions – she can convey more with a look than many can in pages of dialogue. One of the enduring images of the film is her on a horse, smiling with her fingers in her ears waiting for the explosion.

Unlike other Tarantino movies, Django also isn’t too bogged down in how clever the cinematic references are. Though references litter the film they are additions and asides rather than the films raison d’etre. I have never seen a Spaghetti Western and my familiarisation with blaxsploitation begins and ends with Dolamite but I didn’t feel the lack of knowledge hampered me.

This film it is undoubtedly not for the faint of heart. Those who are squeamish or understandably disturbed by the consistent and frequent use of the n-word will want to give this a miss. The atrocities committed by white slave owners, though accurate are difficult to watch. For all this though, I didn’t find the violence or language gratuitous. It is threaded through the film, illustrating the extent to which careless violence against slaves and black people was a part of everyday life. People stop and stare in horror when they see Django riding on a horse, not when they allow dogs to tear a runaway slave apart. While other films about have been featured relatively bloodless depictions of slavery and choose to focus on the politics of it Django exposes the worst excesses of violence and horror that other films have tried to wallpaper over. Django’s revenge, when it finally comes, is all the more cathartic for it. If I were to take issue with anything it is the lack of support he receives from other slaves. The Candie Land slaves are curiously absent from his final explosive vengeance.

One of the successes of the film is its comedy. The dissonance felt when laughing at Stephen’s exaggerated mannerisms and comic obsequiousness only to be brought up short by the sight of two black slaves fighting to the death on the hardwood floors of a lavishly decorated billiards room at the behest of their masters who watch from the sofas calling encouragement and commands is intense and unsettling. It is more provocative than 2h45m of violence or even a mix of tragedy and violence. The humour reinforces the lack of compassion even more than the straightforward cruelty.

Tarantino’s film is unflinching in its characterisation of America’s antebellum Deep South. The film doesn’t even shy away from recognising the complicity of the Uncle Tom character, Stephen, whose position is much akin to favoured aging pet and whose loyalty to his masters overrides all else. If Tarantino occasionally revels too much in the extreme violence of his film it is not without cause – as Tarantino has pointed out, no film can be as monstrous as slavery itself was.

Review: Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

English: Cory Doctorow in his office

English: Cory Doctorow in his office (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have read prose by Cory Doctorow before. I find his writing for the guardian and BoingBoing to be, by enlarge, compelling, persuasive and thought provoking. I would recommend his articles whole heartedly even to those likely to disagree with him so when I got Pirate Cinema in the humble ebook bundle I was excited to finally try his fiction.

Unfortunately Pirate Cinema did not live up to my expectations.

The plot of Pirate Cinema, such as it is, follows Trent, or Cecil B DeVil as he will come to be known, as he runs away from home after his internet is cut off for illegal downloading and he finds himself homeless in London.

That seemed to have potential but here is where the problems begin. Everything from here on out is sanitised to the point that being homeless in London becomes a utopian dream world. There are no sexual predators, limited mental illness or violence and even the drug dealers are friendly. Trent/Cecil leads a charmed life that makes even the most potentially interesting exploits boring.

In London, Trent meets a man who teaches him the ways of squatting, dumpster diving and begging. His luck briefly runs out when the police bang on his door but before he’s had time to do more than wallow he meets cool friends who love his video remixes of fictional star Scott Colford. Then he gets a cool, clever girlfriend called 26, and he takes an interest in politics – mostly to get into her pants. Despite his apparently sophmoric understanding of the issues, the sheer stupendousness of his remixed videos propels him, above more qualified characters, including 26, to the position of leader of a campaign to repeal the “Theft of Intellectual Property” act. This act has given the government powers to lock up illegal downloaders all of whom are teenagers and none of whom are in the least bit nefarious. He is reunited with his incredibly intelligent sister who now looks up to him, is reconciled with his parents who finally understand the importance of what he’s doing and becomes friends with the granddaughter of Scott Colford. He is briefly arrested and put on trial but even this is of only limited inconvenience. In the end he even manages to get TIP overthrown with the power of his amazing Scott Colford remix and doesn’t seem too upset when his girlfriend announces her intention to move to Edinburgh.

Through out the book Trent/Cecil is relentlessly two dimensional and lacking in depth. Even the long copyright speeches he is forced to make sound contrived. Where ever he goes and whatever he does everyone he meets loves, admires and respects him but at no point could I understand why. The boy is not very bright, he’s self-centered, constantly whiny, obnoxiously hipster and has everything ridiculously easy. I now suspect that the reason he was so well loved is simple: he is the author-avatar. Though he spent a lot of the book moping or in some kind of turmoil, the challenges he faced were overcome far too easily and usually with no sacrifice or effort on his part. He can’t even think or feel for himself and relies constantly on characters around him that fed him their knowledge, convictions, passions, tolerance etc… without getting any recognition for their efforts. He doesn’t even have to spend time in jail when his whole movement is arrested.

The problem with Pirate Cinema is that it the whole thing is merely a flimsy front for a polemic. The plot is incidental and merely carries the semi-anarchist, anti-copyright, anti-corporate diatribe that addresses none of the subtleties or potential counter arguments.  From his other writing I guess Cory Doctorow to be a man of deep conviction who is nevertheless intelligent enough to grasp the intricacies of the copyright debate so why is it that none of it shows up in his book? Instead we have endless pages of sainted artists who only want to violate copyright to create and make no money because they are living the utopian dream vs the evil corporate copyright holders who want to hold the country to ransom for a fortune. It is unforgivably naive even in a book aimed at Young Adults. When the politics are portrayed as so black and white it’s no wonder perhaps that both plot and characters are so two dimensional that they function as little more than threadbare mouth pieces for Doctorow’s proselytizing.

The result is simplistic, preachy, shallow and painfully naive without even enough character or plot to rescue it.

Finishing this little book was such wretchedly hard work. I know I get no extra credit for making it to the end. No one will reward me for the effort. Life is too short for terrible books you may cry and you’d be right but my deep and almost instant dislike compelled me to keep reading. I felt like I had to give it a chance but I don’t think I have ever had to try so hard to finish a book in my life (excepting one or two particularly uninspired history text books). Being able to start my reread of A Dance with Dragons on the tube this morning was a blessed relief.