May 8, 2011 at 8:14 pm (BBC) ()

Many thanks, Elizabeth Sladen – rest in peace, Sarah Jane Smith.


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The Wire in the Blood

February 21, 2011 at 8:47 pm (BBC, TV) (, , , , , , )

For a while now, two or three (or four) at a time on the weekends, I’ve been watching the British drama Wire in the Blood, streaming on Netflix. I’ve just finished watching the fourth season of the six produced (the show having been canceled after 6, in 2009, because it was “too expensive”. Really? How?). It’s based on the novels by Val McDermid, of which I have the first, and haven’t gotten to it yet; I don’t know if the books are going to go on my List, as I gather they’re far more graphic than the serial, and the serial is quite graphic. (Being British, it has far more leeway in that area than American tv.) It’s a bit Criminal Minds, a bit Mentalist, a bit Monk, a bit Sherlock Holmes, and all excellent. (Oh my God – from Wikipedia: “An adaptation for U.S. television is being developed by CBS Television Studios and DreamWorks Television.” For the love of heaven, people, come up with your own damn shows instead of messing with British ones! I wonder if it’s still in the works, and when it might show up on the schedule.)

Dr. Tony Hill is a clinical psychologist who is better working with information than people; his forte is to examine the details of a crime and interpret the characteristics of the person who committed it. In other words, he’s a profiler – but he always corrects people who label him as such, so I’ll respect his preference. He is a unique individual, is Tony, socially inept, more likely to tell the unvarnished and perfectly blunt truth than to take into account the feelings and sensitivities of the person he’s talking to, and to all appearances uninterested in pursuing a personal relationship with anyone, male or female. He’s brilliant, almost Holmesian brilliant, and this is part of what makes him so very impatient with ordinary dull mortals – when he knows he’s right, what difference does a lack of evidence make? In lieu of anyone of his intellectual equal with whom to work through ideas, he often talks to himself – often dividing himself in two, roleplaying a conversation with the unknown subject in question. In other words, to the casual eye he’s completely barmy, and doesn’t try to disguise it; he’s straightforward and unselfconscious in his barminess – but he makes himself indispensable to the (fictional) Bradfield police.

Another reason I’m hesitant to approach the novels is Robson Green’s stunning job of portraying Tony. His depiction is ingrained now, and it will be difficult if the Tony Hill of the books is very different. He presents a character who is deeply alone, deeply damaged, deeply vulnerable and yet very very strong – but whose strength has limits. He is confident in his abilities to the point of an appearance of arrogance, but acutely aware of the consequences if he is wrong, or slow, or unable to force action to find or to stop the people he determines are guilty. It was, I’ll admit, Robson Green’s bonny blue een which were a draw in the beginning, but he’s a gorgeous actor in more ways than just that – the writing and the cast as a whole kept me once I’d been caught. Green has managed to make Tony Hill a hugely sympathetic character with whom I’m delighted to spend a couple of hours on a weekend night, but with whom I’m very happy not to have to deal in person.

The series starts him out partnered with D.I. Carol Jordan, played by Hermione Norris. She presented a Place the Face moment – I knew her, I knew I knew her, I could not for the life of me figure out where I knew her from; I had to resort to for the answer: she played the horrid, adulterous, and much frillier Mrs. St. John in Berkley Square. I truly hated Mrs. St. John, which means Ms. Norris is a very gifted actress, because Carol Jordan is fantastic. She starts off the series completely unwilling to depend on Tony Hill – until he is able to prove to her that he is as good as he thinks he is and says he is, and her case closure ratio
increases dramatically. She’s much like Tony, in a way – alone, and strong-yet-vulnerable, with the added necessity of proving she’s not just a good cop but a good woman cop. She and Tony have what is usually called chemistry, in spades – there is always a cloud of will-they/won’t-they/did-they trailing along after them, and on that subject I’ll say no more. (I do wonder what goes on in the books; from what I’ve seen, the series of books and the series of tv programs begin at the same point, but diverge rather drastically.)

Put it this way – the show is so well done I only barely scoffed at Carol’s brother Michael, just enough for form’s sake. (In case I’m less than clear, they have the same last name. The result was not a problem in the UK, apparently, though somewhat more to be avoided when possible here.)

The rest of the cast is excellent as well:

Doreene Blackstock is Annie, often in the background and not used as much as she might be, but enjoyable when she is – and then gone after the first season.

Alan Stocks plays D.S. Don Merrick, an older detective (older than the kids Annie and Paula and Kevin, anyway) for whom the first adjective that springs to mind is “reluctant”. He is slow to accept Tony Hill’s help, in general and on specific cases, unwilling to diverge from procedures he’s used to, and at times downright sullen or obstructive – but I liked him. He still made a good cop, and someone you’d want at your back, while still showing the strains of the job: the constant barrage of evil and pain get to him.

D.C. Paula McIntyre (Emma Handy) joins the squad in the second season, and while she still isn’t being given a great deal to work with her role has (happily, in part) expanded a bit by the end of the fourth season. She’s solid, and while it might be a good thing for the series if she were to show some effects of what happens to her in one episode, then again Tony never does either, so we can just assume it all goes on behind the scenes.

One character I never expected to like is the ambitious and not always bright D.S. Kevin Geoffries (Kev – played by Mark Letheren). He’s not stupid on the job – Kev is a damn good cop. He can just be a right moron at times. He does something appallingly stupid in the first episode, but works his way back to a second chance – which he almost blows by doing something almost dumber at the end of season 2 – and yet when all’s said and done I really like him.

And despite the violence and the long hard look at depravity, I really like the show. I like it for many of the same reasons I love Criminal Minds: the fight against evil, intelligence pitted against horror – and, of course fine writing and acting. I’ll miss it when I’ve gotten through the six seasons. 

As to what the title means … It comes from  T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”: “The trilling wire in the blood/sings below inveterate scars/appeasing long-forgotten wars.”  Meaning?  Who knows?  “Robson Green said the phrase ‘wire in the blood’ was taken to mean a genetic kink, something impure and unusual in the blood, that leads to the kind of psychosis Hill might deal with. 

“Val McDermid says: ‘Who knows what Eliot really meant by that line? Robson’s explanation is as good as any… For myself, I’ve always taken it to be a metaphor for the thrill of adrenaline surging through the bloodstream. But we’ll never know for sure.”  OK.

My impression of the title is of something alien and electric running in the veins of the unsubs the show deals in, something which shouldn’t be there, and the presence of which creates the sort of – yes, thrill a psychopath feels with a kill.  The imagery it gives me is of a literal, very fine wire inserted by some means through the vein of the arm, jolting like a needle hitting the side of a vein (nasty feeling), coloring the perceptions and reactions of the owner of the arm.

I was glad, for once, to have been accidentally spoiled for the information that Carol Jordan inexplicably leaves Wire in the Blood after Series 3. There is a rather feeble excuse given that, while Tony was away from the force for a time, not only did the Bradfield police offices move, but … so did Carol. All that was ever said was that she was offered a job she could not turn down – in South Africa. Whatever happened – whether Hermione Norris left for another role or the producers decided to replace her, the switch was made in a horrible fashion; not only was there little explanation for the viewer, but Tony was never told until he showed up at the station and found D.I. Alex Fielding (Simone Lahbib, who was apparently Isobel Anderson in Monarch of the Glen, though I have absolutely no memory of her) in Carol’s office. She just left without a word. And that’s terrible. Poor Tony.

And it’s part of what I mentioned above, about the tv serial diverging from the books; on paper, Carol never leaves. As usual with any change like this, I wanted to hate Alex Fielding … but she’s very good, is Simone Lahbib, and the character is, well, perhaps too much like Carol, but good nonetheless. Her soft brogue is delightful, and she put up a hell of a fight to making use of Tony’s skills – although she might have capitulated a little too quickly, still, he proved himself.

Again. Poor Tony.

They start Alex out in season 4 with a very interesting mystery about her: she does not work over. She is always available, always conscientious, probably works more than an 8-hour day – but where Carol was at the office first thing in the morning and well into the evening, Alex seems to leave promptly at the inner limits of her job description. It was pretty clear that she had somewhere important else to be, but we aren’t shown why until the very end of the episode, when we – very briefly – meet her young son. He is given a couple of scenes – his first being with Tony, to boot, who is bemused by the presence of a child in his new partner’s life – but is rarely otherwise mentioned; Alex is apparently one whose personal life is just that, and if we ever find out who and where the father is it could well be in the course of a case. That’s my prediction, anyway: we’ll see if I’m right.

Another casting change was the – also unexplained – disappearance of D.S. Don Merrick (Alan Stocks) a season before Carol’s departure. It can be explained logically within the show’s universe as a result of his attack on Kev at the end of season 2, with good reason; but it very simply never is mentioned, much less explained. Paula and Kev simply gain rather larger roles, and that’s about it.  It was a shame, but they do well making up for his loss. 

Did I say “poor Tony” up there a couple of times?  Make it three, because what they do to him in the third season is beyond the rest: brain tumor.  In the end of season 4 there’s the possibility that it has returned – and in the end he is distraught and depressed and considering death, and berates himself, something about how he’s so full of himself that he thinks a migraine is a brain tumor … Which wasn’t fair.  There’s the old Arnold Schwarzeneggar line “It’s not a tumor!”  Well, in Tony’s case, it was a tumor, and if it was me every twinge I would immediately think “it’s back”.  Poor, poor Tony. 

I look forward to the remaining two seasons… And, as I said, I’ll miss it.

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Rewatching Doctor Who: Christmas Invasion

January 1, 2011 at 7:14 am (BBC, Geekery) (, , , , )

May the heavens rain odours upon them, BBC America is capping off my year very nicely thank you by making the Doctor Who Christmas specials available On Demand.  Better – the 2010 Christmas Special was available, did I but know it, on Christmas, rather than months from now. 

New Doctor, #11, 2010 special: “A Christmas Carol”.  I loved it.  I need to see it again before I say much – much beyond why in the name of heaven has everyone on this planet not heard of Katherine Jenkins??  I laughed, I cried, I was surprised – I loved it.  I’ll come back to it.

#10, 2005 special: “Christmas Invasion”.  Ohhhh.  I know I’ve said it (ad nauseam), but it’s my blog and I’m sick, so I’ll say it again so there: I was inconsolable when the Ninth Doctor went.  It wasn’t just because poof there went another regeneration, but because Christopher Eccleston had done amazing things with the role when I was expecting another Paul McGann-style debacle.  (Which may not be fair; I like McGann in other things – like Luther – so maybe with a little time and space, so to speak, between me and my original outrage I might … nah.)  At the time I finally had the chance to watch the first season of New Who I was certain that it was better just to let the sleeping series lie rather than stir it up – raise hopes – and crash and burn.  I didn’t know Russell T. Davies, or Christopher Eccleston, or Billie Piper, and I did not have high expectations.  But Eccleston won me, heart and mind, and when he went … I was back to square one.  As witness my fussing with the advent of #11, change is difficult.

I suppose I should have known better, but – well, look at Peter Jackson.  He created something lovely in Fellowship of the Ring, and then … oh well.  So there I sat ready to watch “Christmas Invasion”, with my arms folded, waiting for them to take something I loved and screw it up. 

And they didn’t.

It was wonderful.  Full of wonders, and – fantastic. 

Watching it again, for the first time in a long while – only the second time? – was a joy.  Enough time (and space) (and Eleven) has gone by that I could look at Ten, at Tennant, on the screen and say “Oh, I do miss you”, and not feel quite the depth of sadness.  I like Eleven a great deal – but second only to #5, this was my Doctor. 

It was beautifully done in that it gave the fan – me, that is – the chance to get used to the idea.  The new Doctor was offscreen for most of the first, what, two thirds of the episode, and the screen time he did have was calculated to rouse sympathy and concern.  And he was impressive, and he was funny:

The Doctor: My head! (groans) I’m having a neuron implosion… I need…
Jackie: What do you need?
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Just say it!
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Tell me, tell me, tell me!
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Painkillers!
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: D’you need aspirin?
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Codeine? Paracetamol? Oh, I dunno, Pepto-Bismol?
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Liquid paraffin? Vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E?
The Doctor: I need…
Jackie: Is it food? Something simple? Bowl of soup? Nice bowl of soup? Soup and a sandwich? Bowl of soup and a nice ham sandwich?
The Doctor: I *need* you to *shut up*!
Jackie: Oooh, he hasn’t changed that much, has he?

And all the while Jackie and Mickey and especially Rose are trying to wrap their heads around the fact that this skinny bloke is the Doctor.  Just as I was.  Sitting alone watching it, it was nice not to be alone feeling that.  And God bless Jackie, her mothering instincts were brought out full force.  She may have hated him in the past, but by God if he was that important to her daughter she was going to look after him.  (I adore her line after all the excitement, during the group hug at the end: “Are you better?”  It’s very dear.)

Then, when the Tenth Doctor makes his real entrance late in the show, he sets the tone for the rest of his reign.  That whole first scene – because the scene starting with “Did you miss me?” (YES)  feels like his first scene – is a marvelous encapsulation of him. 

See, that’s the thing – I’m the Doctor, but beyond that I just don’t know. I literally do not know who I am. It’s all untested. Am I funny? Am I sarcastic? Sexy? (gives a wink and a click of the tongue at Rose, who grins) Right old misery? Life and soul? Right-handed? Left-handed? A gambler, a fighter, a coward, a traitor, a liar, a nervous wreck – I mean, judging by the evidence, I’ve certainly got a gob!

Funny? Oh, yes.  Sarcastic?  “Oh, yeah, that helps! I wouldn’t’a thought o’that otherwise, thanks!” Yes.  Sexy? Yeah.  Right old misery?  Not yet.  Life and soul?  Yeah.  Right- or left-handed … huh.  I don’t know.  A gambler – sometimes; a fighter – always; a coward – never; a traitor – never; a liar – when need be; a nervous wreck – now and then … He is the Oncoming Storm, and that applies to words as well as mayhem against Daleks.  And then there’s the Lion King

But what this episode does best, among a lot of greatness, is to underscore what Rose says – “Thing is … I thought I knew him, Mum. I thought me and him were… And then there’s this. I keep forgettin’ he’s not human.”  It is easy to forget.  He’s fun and funny, and the second heart isn’t visible, and neither are the 900+ years.  There’s the small fact of the time machine, but for the most part he seems more human than, say, Sherlock Holmes does.  And then a situation arises in which the surface of his humanity is scratched.  As it does here – twice. 

He goes into the challenge against the Sycorax leader joyously: this is what he does.  He fights the warrior around the chamber and out for “some fresh air” onto the hull of the ship, and loses his hand (and I love that it comes back into the story), and regrows it, and beats the Sycorax.  “There we are then. Thanks for that. Cheers, big fella.”  This was possibly the best scene in an excellent show: he walks away, Rose joining him, and launches into a natter:

Not bad for a man in his jim jams. Very Arthur Dent. Now, there was a nice man. Hold on, what have I got in here? A satsuma! Ah, that friend of your mother’s, he does like his snacks, doesn’t he. But doesn’t that just sum up Christmas? You go through all those presents, and at the end, tucked away at the bottom, there’s always one stupid old satsuma. Who wants a satsuma?

We can see behind him as he comes to this point that the Sycorax isn’t going to abide by the sanctified rules of combat.  And the Doctor knows it.  The smile vanishes from his face, all of the silliness is erased, and he pitches the satsuma and (rather conveniently, but who’s counting) collapses the section of hull under the warrior’s feet, letting him plummet.  And in that moment he’s a little scary – more than a little – grim, and hard, a direct 180 degree turn from just a second ago.  “No second chances. I’m that sort of a man.”

That resolve is tested very shortly.  He sends the Sycorax off with a classic Doctor-as-Earth’s-champion (“Thank you. I have no idea who I am, but you’ve just summed me up.”) speech: “When you go back to the stars, and tell others of this planet – when you tell them of its riches, its people, its potential – When you talk of the Earth, then make sure that you tell them this: ‘It. Is. Defended.'”  He and the others are returned to London, and all is rejoicing.  Until the Prime Minister’s assistant gets a call from … Torchwood.  And the decision is not an easy one, but Harriet Jones makes it: “Tell them to fire.”  And Torchwood does.  And the ship is obliterated.  And the Doctor rounds on her. 

And there comes the second illustration of the Doctor’s Otherness.  Because although they were friends, although they saved the world together, and although she adores him – “My Doctor!” – although she is a very good Prime Minister (“I’m 18 quid a week better off.  They’re calling it Britain’s Golden Age”) … despite all of that, despite the reasons she gives him, which are actually very good reasons … That look returns to his face, that cold, hard, inhumanity, and he takes her down.  In his plush borrowed blue robe he begins the rot which will take down the British Prime Minister.  And which will open the door for Harold Saxon.

Doctor: I should have stopped you.
Harriet: What does that make you, Doctor? Another alien threat?
Doctor:  Don’t challenge me, Harriet Jones, because I’m a completely new man. I can bring down your government with a single word.
Harriet: You’re the most remarkable man I’ve ever met. But I don’t think you’re quite capable of that.
Doctor: No, you’re right. Not a single word… Just six.
Harriet: I don’t think so.
Doctor: Six words.
Harriet: Stop it.
Doctor: Six. (walks past her to Alex, takes earpiece off him and hands it to him, and says quietly) Don’t you think she looks tired?

And it works.  He’s enlightened her to the fact that there are hundreds of species out there which may or may not have tidings of goodwill for the Earth.  And we’ve been SETIing like mad, trying to get others’ attention.  By golly, it’s working.  And she was right – the Doctor isn’t always there, isn’t always reachable; apparently the Doctor’s telephone number isn’t given out to all Prime Ministers.  He has other battles to fight, and would not want to be at the Earth’s beck and call even if he could be.  But he did make a bargain with the Sycorax, and they seemed to be abiding by it; whether they would have continued to do so is an open – and moot – question.  It was defense – and it was murder.  And it allowed for no second chance. 

It’s a painful moment.  It’s difficult to feel hard against a woman who feels about the Doctor much as I do. 

But the episode is lifted back up to where it ought to be, for a Christmas episode and for a Doctor’s first outing.  With just one little hiccup – “This isn’t snow, it’s ash” – it looks forward in a way reminiscent of a Star Trek movie or two:

Mickey: You’re never gonna stay, are you?
Rose: There’s just so much out there – so much to see. I’ve got to.
Mickey: Yeah.
Jackie: Well, I reckon you’re mad, the pair of you. It’s like you go looking for trouble.
Doctor: Trouble’s just the bits in between! It’s all waiting out there, Jackie. And it’s all brand new to me. All those planets and creatures and horizons – I haven’t seen them yet, not with these eyes! And it is gonna be … (looks over at Rose, and grins) fantastic.
(She smiles back. He holds out his hand – the right one)
Rose: That hand of yours still gives me the creeps. (His smile widens and he waggles his re-regenerated fingers. She puts her hand in his) So – where’re we gonna go first?
Doctor (studying the “snowy” sky): Ummm – that way. (points) No, hold on – (redirects his point by a couple of degrees) that way.

Rose: That way?
Doctor (looking at her): Nhm.
Rose: Yeah. That way.

 It’s not a very Christmas-y Christmas episode, despite the robotic Santas (which, while being explained as “pilot fish”, were never explained, really) and the killer tree (ditto), and the crackers and turkey and paper hats at the end.  It is, like RTD himself, rather nonsecular, which in a way is as it should be; it isn’t as though the Doctor even ought to be intimated to be Christian.  But comparing it to this year’s is like night and day. 

Still and all, it was a gift, this episode.  It was a new Doctor, even, amazingly, better than the last – young and bold and funny and exciting.  A new Doctor – but everything else just, comfortingly, the same.  There were the mentions of Torchwood – not that they were pleasant mentions.  There was the first appearance of the “brainy specs”, which geeked me deeply.  One of the nicest things they did for the Whovian, though, was the glimpse into the TARDIS wardrobe.  There’s the delight of watching as he rejects a leopard-furred coat, and a Sergeant Pepper coat, and then happily picks out the brown suit and long coat.  And as he examines the results of his sartorial and regenerative transformation, there are holiday ties draped over the corner of the mirror and a feather boa draped over the neck of a suit of armor.  But best of all is this gift:

Now that’s a Christmas present. 

And a New Year’s present.

Happy Who – er, New Year!

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The Choir in Northolt

July 27, 2010 at 12:34 pm (BBC, Music) (, )

BBC America – On Demand is offering The Choir; reading the preview it sounded like a viable show to watch with Mom, so I saved it – until the weekend. It was a three-part series, filmed in 2005 – 6, about a crusade by a young classically trained choirmaster named Gareth Malone to bring his art to people who had never experienced it before. I see now that this one is apparently the first of a few; he’s going from venue to venue. I’ll come back to that.

For this one he went to Northolt High School in northeast London, not a ritzy area, though I’m starting to question a bit whether it’s as rough-and-tumble as the editing might have wanted me to believe… Per Wikipedia, “The school holds specialist Technology College status”: “a term used in the United Kingdom for a secondary specialist school that focuses on design and technology, mathematics and science”. Huh. (So why, then, when Gareth asked for someone who was good at science, did only one girl admit to it?) Regardless, it is or was portrayed as a school of lower middle class children, for whom “Music” means Tupak and Christina, not Vivaldi and Mozart. His challenge was to come into this environment and form a competitive choir of 25 students and get them into the Choir Olympics, taking place in China.

On this website there is an interview in which he was asked “Why Northolt?”

“Mainly because Northolt is typical of hundreds of secondary schools across the UK. It’s an ordinary comprehensive, with kids from all sorts of backgrounds. When I arrived I was shocked by the standard of singing. This was yet another secondary school that had forgotten how to sing. When I was at school I sang every day but here there was no assembly singing, no choir, no orchestra, no folksongs and certainly no classical music.”

So in he swooped, and it took most of the first episode for me to adapt to how young he looks. Reminiscent of Matt Smith, he looks about 16 – pushed, and knowing he was out of school, I would have said 23, tops; but no: “the thirty-year-old choirmaster”, said the narrator (who sounded very like Kat Deeley, but wasn’t – and why on earth is that “season” not on imdb?). He is, frankly, adorable, with a slightly glorious voice, which I rather thought would be either a plus or a handicap with the girls … It was apparently neither, or at least they didn’t show any blushes or sighs… Anyway. Over two days he auditioned 160 kids, girls and then boys, out of the 1500 or so in the school. This may be why there were no sighs and blushes, because while he’s quite personable, he is also all business. He was no Simon Cowell, but he came off as a taskmaster, and fairly blunt throughout if a child was not what was needed for the choir. The choir came first. I’m not sure how I feel about that … I don’t entirely approve of the “everybody wins” mentality of some competitions aimed at children (not very realistic, that, and not much help in preparing for Real Life), but – from what I hear, and not from experience – my understanding of what school should be is that something like Choir is supposed to be for the betterment of the children involved. The problem here was that Gareth’s goal from first to last, stated baldly several times, was competition. He was there, first and last, to create a choir which would make it to the Choir Olympics in China (in Xiamen, Fujian, which is interesting to me because my work has a customer there: I ship there regularly), and if in between the kids were exposed to classical music then it was another goal achieved, but a secondary one. That seems backward to me…. But it *was* a reality show, after all.

The auditions were interesting; he was looking for potential, voices which could be worked with and could blend in and support a bigger sound, and so voices which American Idol has trained me to wince over were voices he considered for the final group. The songs they showed the kids choosing for auditions ranged from “Jingle Bells” to, hilariously, “Tainted Love”. A bit heartbreakingly, one of the best of the girls to audition, singing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and singing it well, ended up not being eligible – the audition was on her last day in that school. [ETA: That was Chelsea Campbell, who according to the update program (a year later) had taken the situation philosophically.  Hopefully, she’s kept singing.]  Due to Issues, she was being transferred right down the road, apparently … Gareth kept her on the list, which seemed odd to me since it was after all to be a choir representing Northolt High, but the Headmaster shot her down without a pause, and the end result was one crushed 15-year-old girl paying for the mistakes of her past. I’m sorry; she was very good – but the moment she opened her mouth and said “this is my last day”, rather than giving her a limb to climb out on Gareth should have gently let her down, with all due praise for her voice and encouragement to work at it. Oh well. Again, Choir first, kids last, I suppose; if there was any way to keep her, he wanted her in, because she was good.

The show chose a couple of kids to focus on beyond school, Chloe Sullivan being one due to the fact that she’s (a paraphrase of her own words) not naughty, not compared to others, but not really obedient, either. She was always in trouble because she was always late and because she had Attitude Problems, and the headmaster rather brutally warned Gareth about her. He didn’t warn him *off* her, which is something, and Gareth did need a heads-up about the fact that she might be a discipline problem, but as with several other moments in the mini-series it was how something was done, not so much what it was. And Chloe did turn out to be a bit of a speedbump; she missed a rehearsal with no notice, and then another a while later because she’s in dentention, and was late now and then – but it seems to me if she’d been as big a problem as the headmaster expected the producers and editors would have been all over it. If they didn’t show anything more, then there was nothing to show. Interestingly, as they showed Gareth letting the kids in for one rehearsal, a boy walked past and proudly announced “I’m here on time and I have my music”. Sounds like, whatever the editors wanted us to see, he was more of a problem in that area than, perhaps, Chloe. (Or not.)

What touched me about Chloe was that Gareth winkled out of her that she didn’t talk to people much because she’s shy. She, like almost all of them, lacked self-confidence – and I can’t say, given the brief glimpses of her mother and the headmaster, that it was a surprise. She’s apparently been a handful, but some of the things her mother said horrified me a bit [upon the choir leaving for China, she states that she’s proud – but it’s going to be less stressful at home. Nice] … which, granted, could be due to creative editing. (I am developing a deep aversion to Reality Show Editors.) What I thought telling was their explanation about why Chloe lacked enthusiasm for one outing the group went on, leaving at 7:45 AM – partly because she didn’t get in, according to her mother, till after 1 AM. She was fifteen years old, pierced, constantly in trouble in school, with an obligation to the choir for 7:45 AM, and she was allowed to be out till after one o’clock in the morning? Even just the first and last parts of that list taken together are sufficiently gobsmacking – I think if I or anyone I know had wandered in at 1:30 AM at the age of fifteen, there would have been bloodshed. And if the excuse there was “single mom”, I shall throw something.

The nascent choir needed to pull itself together in just a very few weeks to cut a CD to be submitted to the committee determining who went to the Choir Olympics – following which there was an interminable wait to hear whether they’re in or not. The website wasn’t promising; there were photos up of all the choirs who had submitted applications, and it seemed that every single one of them looked polished, wearing uniforms in posed shots … Phoenix, the name Gareth gave to the Northolt choir, was posed by him out in the schoolyard, all wearing their school uniforms in various states of tucked-in-ness, and anoraks and backpacks, and not all looking at the camera when they should have been … *sings* “Which one of these things is not like the others….”

(I can’t help but wonder if he asked for input from the students on the name of the choir, or just decided by himself, or if the producers chose it; it was kind of a large decision, imho, and they gave no indication of what went into it.)

It was a fascinating show, a cut above the majority of “reality shows” in that [some of] the children truly did benefit from the experience, and in that it made the usually-ignored-by-the-bureaucracy point that Arts Programs Are Valuable. Gareth says often during the course of the show what a shame it is that classical music is something alien to these, and most, kids. The problem is, the goal was to take a brand-new choir made up of kids who had never done anything like this before and get them to a competition filled with slick and polished choirs. Once that goal was past, that was the end of it – win or lose, and I’m not saying anything more on the outcome, once the Choir Olympics were over, so, basically, was the Phoenix Choir. And that’s a bloody shame. 25 kids, plus four alternates, plus the ones who in the end didn’t make the final cut all put a lot of work into that – maybe not as much as they might have, but given that this was alien ground for all of them, it was a massive and impressive effort. And then Gareth left. So … walk into their lives, change their outlooks and build a foundation onto which something amazing might have grown … and … go, leaving a few bricks stacked on top of each other. I hope that he left behind someone or something – a pamphlet, a website, anything – to guide the ones who wanted to continue making music, but they never specifically said – and there didn’t seem to be anything incorporated into the ongoing curriculum. And that isn’t right.

Over and over, Gareth said how great a pity it was that there could be so much untapped talent out there, that with no incorporated music program these kids never had their confidence built up or those natural voices developed. But what did this program do other than to raise a little more awareness of that fact? Look, here’s a fairly average London high school, and look how many children there are who have the innate untapped ability to do wonderful things? With, of course, the linked conclusion that if there is this much untapped potential in music, there is an equivalent in the other arts which are not being taught. So we’re going to take one cross-section of children from this one school, treat them to a year of heady immersion into song, and then drop them right back where they were. I don’t understand. With adults it would be bad enough – but kids? Not fair. Not kind.

Apparently there are two more series to come, in which he “proved that boys can sing, take pride in it, and perform at the Royal Albert Hall”, and what may be a current one, in which he creates a town choir in Herfordshire. And then he’ll leave them, too.

One older boy – Jerry – said, with tears rolling down his face, that with the motive and the right sort of teacher you can do anything. I wouldn’t know; but from where I sit I’m not sure Gareth Malone is the right teacher. Perhaps he would be if he stuck around … but not like this.

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Doctor Who: XI and Mr. Sofa Man

July 8, 2010 at 11:56 pm (BBC, Geekery, TV) (, , , , )

“The Lodger” still isn’t up on On Demand; what, did they not air it yet on BBC America? Wankers. It’s also not on iTunes, which is interesting. How did I see it? Don’t ask. Mysterious guy in a parking lot.  Paper bag. A few thousand pounds. Or something. And I haven’t seen the whole thing, which is, I take it, the Catch… Anyway.

No, actually, in the end I went here, which is my new go-to for just about everything Who, bless his buttons, even with a lamentable lack of punctuation skills. (And thank you very much for the last four minutes!) So.

The Lodger

The TARDIS lands, the Doctor sticks his head out –

Doctor (sounding a bit disgusted): No, Amy, it’s definitely not the fifth moon of Syndacalista.  I think I can see a Ryman’s.

(For the England-impaired, Ryman’s is a large chain of stationers.)

And there’s a Whomp and a flash, and he’s knocked out of the doorway – and the TARDIS dematerializes, with Amy still aboard – and without the Doctor.  Oh dear.

So he takes a room in a house with a bloke called Craig – and where he got the 3,000 pounds in a sack perhaps it’s better we don’t know. Where he got Craig’s address is a note from Amy of the future/past directing him to a specific flatmate-wanted ad.

Craig: Has anyone ever told you you’re a bit weird?
D: They never really stop.

That is utterly wonderful.

Craig outlines House Rules…

Craig: …In case you want to bring someone ’round – a girlfriend … (eyes bowtie) or a boyfriend …

It is established that Craig has a best friend, Sophie, and he silently would very much like her to be more than that, but hasn’t gotten up the nerve to tell her. When he does decide to, his “I love you” is wasted on the Doctor. Well, not wasted entirely – the Doctor did rather appreciate the sentiment. It is also established that there is an odd upstairs neighbor, who periodically makes a great deal of noise and is obviously responsible for the strange spreading stain on Craig’s ceiling.  Also, unbeknownst to the flatmates on the ground floor so far, the man upstairs is luring people in by asking for help, and the people who try to help are never seen again. The Doctor needs to do something about him – but not head-on… Not yet.

And that stain on the ceiling? Don’t touch it.

Next day, the Doctor’s in the shower, and apparently has been for a while – he likes a good soak.  Craig hears a massive thud upstairs, and tells the Doctor he’s going to make sure the fellow upstairs is okay – which is a very, very bad idea.  And so the Doctor makes a dash out of the shower to prevent it … gets tangled in the shower curtain, loses his towel … All very very strange for the Doctor.  A little disturbing.  Which didn’t stop me taking screencaps…

Soap-bleared, I suppose, he grabbed for the toothbrush holder where he had his sonic screwdriver stashed, and … grabs Craig’s toothbrush.  In the comic this was based on, the Doctor moves in with Mickey Smith, to Mickey’s surprise, and the latter grabs for his toothbrush – getting the sonic instead.  (The comic can be found on the same site as the video link above.)

Really, the towel’s riding a bit low in front, i’n’t it?  Right.  *ahem*  Well.

I was even more startled to find an actual screencap of the moment he drops his towel, and the camera is a half-second behind it … In all the blur, it could have been … startling, but Matt Smith has said he was wearing flesh-colored bloomers or whatever they were, so there is no Doctor-nudity, for which I am exceedingly grateful. And no, I don’t remember where I saw the screencap. I will not be a party to such depravity.

Sophie: You didn’t say he was gorgeous!

Well, awfully cute, yes; gorgeous?  Poor Craig.

Doctor: Football’s the one with the sticks, right?

Of course, XI has a natural and human-obliterating gift for footie (it’s not “footy”, is it?  That looks sillier), and he steals Craig’s thunder in the worst way. 

Sean: You are so on the team. Next week we’ve got the Crown & Anchor. We’re going to annihilate them!
The Doctor (all in one breath): Annihilate, no. No violence, do you understand me, not while I’m around, not today, not ever. I’m the Doctor. The oncoming storm… And you basically meant beat them in a football match didn’t you?
Sean: Yeah.
D: Lovely.

The Doctor must figure out how to find out more about the bloke upstairs, without him knowing the Doctor is about; so he proceeds to create high technology out of low technology. Oh, and he is also in touch with Amy via bluetooth, luckily for her; she’s clever, but I doubt she’d be able to fly the TARDIS on her own. (River Song, yes; Amy Pond, no.) (Hm: River; Pond … )

D (holding up screwdriver): Where’s the on switch for this?

Sophie: Life can seem pretty much pointless, you know Doctor – work weekend work weekend – and there’s six billion people on the planet doing pretty much the same thing.

She would, it seems, like to work with – was it orangutans? I think it was orangutans.

D: What’s stopping you? …
Well, lack of education, inertia … People asking stupid questions like “What’s stopping you” …
Craig: What’s wrong with staying here? I can’t see the point of London.
D: Well, perhaps that’s you then. Perhaps you’ll just have to stay here, secure and a little bit miserable, till the day you drop – better than trying and failing, eh?
S: You think I’ve failed?
D: Oh, everybody’s got dreams, Sophie. Very few are going to achieve them. So why pretend? Perhaps, you know, in the whole wide universe a call center is where you should be.
S: That’s horrible! Why’re you saying that?
D: Is it true?
S: Of course it’s not true! I’m not staying in a call center all my life, I can do anything I want. … Look what you did!
D: It’s a big old world, Sophie – work out what’s really keeping you here.

Right. It’s that simple.

Disgruntled because of the Doctor’s influence on Sophie – the voice of the ultimate Traveler weighed against the man who is beginning to look like his sofa, the man who said “I don’t see the point of Paris” and ditto “London” – Craig goes and touches the nastiness on his ceiling. Remember how the Doctor said not to touch it? Unsurprisingly, he was right.

The Doctor saves his life – with stewed tea, basically, just like #10 needed at the beginning … interesting …

… And then goes to the office Craig was so worried about not being in.  And, of course, becomes a hero there too. 

D: I had some time to kill, I was curious, I’ve never worked in an office – never worked in anywhere.

He was a star at the planning meeting – as Craig’s representative, of course – and now is taking over Craig’s calls, and Sophie is serving him cookies.  Craig is gobsmacked.

D: Hullo, Mr. Jorgensen – can you hold, I have to eat a biscuit.
– I want to use that.  If I ever have a customer named Jorgensen, I’m in trouble.

Craig goes home in a daze, and lets himself into the Doctor’s room, to find the extraordinary contraption the Doctor’s built.  XI comes home, talks to the cat, and Craig abruptly evicts him.  ‘And Sophie’s all “Monkeys! Monkeys!” ‘Well, XI can’t leave, not yet, so he has to let Craig in on everything … which is accomplished with a couple or three impressive head-butts.  Well, I guess he didn’t particularly want to kiss him like he did Reinette.  Look!  William Hartnell again! 

I liked that several victims of the upstairs neighbor said “Help you?”  Creepy.  Good. 

Craig is caught up now, and horrified, and noises start fromt the latest victim of upstairs – who happens to be Sophie.  The two of them rush out and up to rescue whoever it is – and both shortly realize (based on the keys left in the door when she was called upstairs) just who it is, which lights a fire under them both.  Then Amy, having accessed the plans to the building, stops them –

A: You can’t be upstairs, it’s a one-story building! There is no upstairs!

Instead of another recurrence of an XI line, there was, from Craig: What??  What?!

So – the neighbor upstairs is, basically, “someone’s attempt to build a TARDIS” – TARDIS used generically in place of “time machine”?  Or literally?  And it’s been hidden as the first floor (second for you Americans) by – wait for it … a perception filter.  THERE’s the Season V recurrence.

D: Hello, I’m captain Troy Hansen of International Rescue – please state the nature of your emergency.

It’s an emergency hologram for a ship that crashed, and it’s trying to get out of there, and that’s why it keeps grabbing people – to try to replace the deceased pilot.  It didn’t want Craig, because he doesn’t want to go anywhere.  Thanks to the Doctor and the monkeys, Sophie now does, which was why she was dragged in.  Well, now the Doctor’s looking pretty good …

D: Any questions no good.

Hologram: The correct pilot has now been found.
D: Yes, I was a bit worried you were going to say that.

But that would be a very bad thing.  Explosion, solar system gone, that kind of bad. 

However, love conquers all, including memory loss when Amy finds Rory’s ring while looking for a red pen to write the note to leave to bring the Doctor to Craig’s flat…  For a second I thought she might think that the Doctor was going to propose, but she suddenly had a flash.  She may not know what, who, she’s remembering, but she’s remembering something.

And there’s a crack behind Craig’s fridge. 

I liked it; I laughed, I … well, didn’t cry, but pondered; I enjoyed the writing and the acting and kind of wish this had been the episode before Vincent (except for that ending with the ring), because this would have had a better tone, in a way.  Maybe. 

And now I don’t know whether to seek out and watch the last two episodes of the season, or sit tight and wait for On Demand … After that there will be a drought until Christmas – well, no, some time after Christmas for us poor benighted colonists… Only a hundred sixty-odd days till they get it …

Anyway.  I’m happy about the redecoration of the console chamber:

And someone pointed out the weird painting in Craig’s hall, so I took a screencap and lightened it up and holy mackerel, it is weird…

And …. This was quite interesting:
Fairy Tale arc of Season V

And … Can I just add, at the last, that it worries me deeply to see this:

on the Doctor Who related website I linked to at the top? Ohhh … dear.

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Doctor Who: XI and the Improper Painter

July 6, 2010 at 11:01 am (BBC, Geekery, TV) (, , , , , , )

As opposed to “proper painters” like Gainsborough.

The Mysterious Mr. Quin
The Duchess cleared her throat.
“It seems quite easy to be an artist nowadays,” she observed witheringly. “There’s no attempt to copy things. You just shovel on some paint – I don’t know what with, not a brush, I’m sure –”
“Palette knife,” said Naomi, smiling broadly once more.
“A good deal at a time,” continued the Duchess. ”In lumps. And there you are! Everyone says ‘How clever!’ Well, I’ve no patience with that sort of thing. Give me –”
“A nice picture of a dog and a horse by Edward Lanseer.”
“And why not?” demanded the Duchess. “What’s wrong with Landseer?”
“Nothing,” said Naomi. “He’s all right. And you’re all right. The tops of things are always nice and shiny and smooth. I respect you, Duchess; you’ve got force; you’ve met life fair and square and you’ve come out on top. But the people who are underneath see the under side of things. And that’s interesting in a way.”
The Duchess stared at her.
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” she declared.

Vincent and the Doctor

I had to think about this one for a while, obviously. I watched it on the Sunday night after the All-Starr Band concert, and it deflated me completely… which isn’t to say I didn’t love it. I need to say right off that I did. I just don’t do well with having my heart broken so very often. Rory just died (and disappeared). While a light-hearted romp would have been wrong, I could have done without crying again.

The most important thing to say about “Vincent and the Doctor” is that Tony Curran was brilliant. Brilliant, brilliant casting –

Shockingly good, physically. For him to be a brilliant actor to boot is … cake. This was his episode – we and the TARDIS two were only visiting.

(Between this and my gushing about Alex Wong and Twitch on the main blog, I’m giving the word “brilliant” a workout. It’s nice when there are things that deserve it.)

I took no notes at all the first time I watched, just … sat there; I had to watch it again. And had to stop after the creature was killed… I just couldn’t face the rest of it right then.  (Obviously, in the end I took rather a lot of notes, so this comes with the usual warning for me: I don’t write ’em short… ) Read the rest of this entry »

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Madcap and cockamamie Doctor Who theories …

June 23, 2010 at 10:54 am (BBC, Geekery, TV) (, , , )

OK – so here’s the thing. I’m beginning to come around to a theory about Doctor Who, based on little more than instinct and a few facts that seem to have clicked together, and other people’s opinions on the ‘net – and I really hate it. So I’m writing it down so that over the next month as it is proved right or wrong I can either be happily embarrassed, or bitterly justified, in all or in part.

It’s sparked, in part, by comments I’ve seen out in the ‘verse that Amy Pond is not real, or is some sort of … part of the Doctor, formed in some annoying fashion during his regeneration, or something – along with her village and her fiance and everything else. I don’t know exactly what the theories are, because I rolled my eyes and skipped those posts. I thought it was stupid.

Now I’m not so sure.
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Doctor Who: XI and the coldest blood

June 21, 2010 at 12:53 am (BBC, Geekery, TV) (, , , , )

Aw, hell. I shouldn’t write this now. It’s late, for one thing, and I’m unhappy for another. But:

Cold Blood

Given that title, and given that spoilerific picture on the BBC website (blast them), I didn’t have a good feeling about this. We have recap of the previous episode, and then opening titles, and then: Earth.

This is the story of our planet, Earth, of the day a thousand years past when we came to share it with a race known as humanity. It is the story of the Doctor, who helped our races find common ground, and of the terrible losses he suffered. It is the story of our past, and must never be forgotten.

“Terrible losses”? Plural? Ohhhh… damn.

(And that’s IT – I don’t care how many pictures I can find there, I am NOT going back to the BBC website until after I’ve seen every bloody episode -and probably not then because it still won’t be safe because they’ll work very hard at spoiling the next lot of episodes. “Goodbye Amy”?? Well, the hell with you too.)

I have a few quotes written down, but I don’t feel like typing them, not even the celery one. Nor do I feel like using pictures – I didn’t see any of the important bits. The Doctor and Nasreen discover that the endless-looking cityscape they stumbled on isn’t as bad as they (or she, at least, and we) thought it was, because most of the inhabitants are still asleep. The Doctor decides to try going in the front door, and is very shortly gassed. The medical-type Silurian who was just about to dissect Amy is called away to deal with the new prisoners, and Amy, having picked his pocket and gotten the device that unlocks the shackles, frees Mo and they set off to try to escape. Within a minute they come across Mo’s son Elliott, in apparent suspended animation, and can’t get him out, so Mo’s plan is to go get weapons and the white-coated lizard guy and make him free Elliott.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Nasreen are taking up pretty much where Amy and Mo left off, except the Doctor doesn’t take well to the decontamination procedure, not being human, and … oh, so on.

Meanwhile, upstairs, the captive Silurian – Alaya (the same actress, Neve McIntosh, also played her sister Restac – beautifully similar but not identical makeup, I wasn’t sure it was the same woman) taunts the ones holding her – Rory, Tony Mack, and Ambrose (and seriously, why is a woman named Ambrose??) – until Ambrose shows the true colors already glimpsed in the first episode (when the Doctor had to talk her out of her weapons cache, which she never did put away like he asked – nicely): weak and incompetent belatedly protective mum. (Sorry – not planning on being nice to her any time soon.) Alaya said one of them was going to kill her, and she knew who it would be – and she fulfilled her own prophecy by pushing Ambrose’s buttons (the gard’s name in Ballykissangel is Ambrose. He’s a man. Just sayin’) until Ambrose tasers her to death. Oops. I didn’t mean to. Stupid cow.

Down below, things progress apace, with the Doctor talking non-stop until it has some effect – and the white-coated Silurian shows up just as Restac is about to start a-killin’ folk, with someone in tow who must be important because he’s wearing robes. And for the rest of the episode, the white-coat – Malohkeh – is adorable and cuddly, and occasionally sad-eyed, and – wait. Isn’t this the same fellow who earlier dissected Mo? ALIVE?? Yeah, thought so. The Doctor proclaims that he rather loves him. Here, not so much. Sorry – I have a little trouble reconciling “planning on hurting every human in sight to death” to “look how sweet he is because he loves the wittle childwen”.

I am cranky, aren’t I.
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Doctor Who: XI and – Drill, Baby, Drill!

June 14, 2010 at 11:17 pm (BBC, Geekery, TV) (, , , , )

 The Hungry Earth (first view)

See?  We told you too much drilling was a bad idea. 

So, the Doctor promises to take Amy and Rory to Rio (year unspecified).  He misses, a bit … Now, I know he (X) managed to take Rose and Martha and Donna and all various places, though he missed occasionally; he did hit the London Olympics on target.  Why is it that since this last regen, he can’t seem to hit the broad side of a continent?  Or a century?  I mean, Cwmtaff, South Wales, 2020 is not the equivalent of Rio, at any time of year …  It has its own loveliness, though, even a bit ravaged:  

 In other words there isn’t a place in that whole cluster of islands I don’t want to go.   

There is a lovely scene of a father (Moe) reading with his son (Elliot), or trying to; we find out later the reason Elliot would rather listen to his books than read them.  The only reason this scene isn’t lovely is that anyone who’s watched any amount of Doctor Who begins to have a premonition about ten seconds into any sweet moment that at least one person involved in this bit of character exposition will be dead in a minute or five.  Moe is a miner, and almost late for work; when he gets there he finds that the day shift has set a record, drilling down deeper into the earth than anyone ever has before: 21 thousand kilometres.  Woo.  The day shift goes on home, and Moe settles in with his book (The Gruffalo, if I saw the title right – aw!) – – until all sorts of alarms and bells and whistles go off.  And a couple of minutes later (in a suitably creepy moment) he’s sucked into the earth.   

Enter the Doctor and company (Companions), expecting – well,  “Behold, Rio!”  Instead, they have 2020 Wales, with bits of blue grass and the ground feels funny, to the Doctor at least.  And a moment of weirdness where Amy and Rory wave at … Amy and Rory, across a field.  The Doctor won’t let them go meet themselves, due to you can’t do that – “Humans – you’re so nostalgic!” – but you can’t expect me to believe 2020 Amy and Rory were visiting Wales just to catch a glimpse of their younger selves.
As the Doctor loves a “big mining thing”, they’re going to go check it out – but first Rory realizes that Amy has on her engagement ring – and that won’t do.  What if she loses it?  He takes it back into the TARDIS while Amy goes off to catch up to the Doctor, and thereby, in retaining the ring, loses Amy – for a while, at least.  Poor Rory.  Can’t he just get to go to Rio and enjoy himself?  

The Doctor is faced with a fenced-in area, with a posted sign: Restricted Access; No Unauthorized Personnel.  To the Doctor, signs like this carry the invisible postscript “Oh, except for you, of course, Doctor”.   

Amy: That is breaking and entering!
Doctor: What did I break?  Sonicking and entering, totally different.   

And thus did River Song verb the sonic screwdriver, and it stuck.   

I thought this was interesting:  the Doctor sticks a few blades of grass in his mouth, trying another taste test, and spits them back out again like a two-year-old with a spoonful of mashed carrots – or a tenth-regeneration Time Lord with an apple (or yogurt, or bacon, or beans, or bread and butter) – – “Oh, please – have you always been this disgusting?” “No, that’s recent.”  Heh.  

While Rory is off being mistaken for some sort of CSI (“Next week, on CSI: TARDIS…”) and exploring graves which Moe’s wife (Ambrose?  Really?) and son have become concerned may be, well, eating the bodies buried there, the others are getting into trouble…  
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Doctor Who: XI and In Dreams, Veritas

June 14, 2010 at 8:35 pm (BBC, Geekery, TV) (, , , , )

Amy’s Choice – re-recap with more quotes and whatnot

I don’t usually do two posts about the same episode, but this was very much exceptional.  (And if I tack on the next episode to the end, it will be exceptionally long, even for me.  So.)

I still, mostly, hated it – except for the parts I really loved.  Except-ional. 

Over scenes of bucolic peace there is the sound of a ticking clock. We then see Amy, very pregnant, in her really very cute kitchen stirring something in a mixing bowl. She experiences what she believes are labor pains, and hollers for Rory – who, beponytailed, comes pedaling home on his bike. By the time he gets inside, though, she’s fine – after all, she’s never done this before, so she doesn’t know what to expect. Makes sense, actually, even if it does give “her boys” grey hairs.

The Doctor arrives, landing in her garden; Amy, of course, recognizes the sound of the TARDIS (with the brake on), though Rory’s response is “I know – leaf blowers! Use a rake!” When he rushes out the Doctor cries out “Rory!” much as he did on spotting him at the bachelor party. I wonder – is this because he’s genuinely glad to see him (he was at the bachelor party, as he was briefly worried he was in the wrong cake – again), or because he’s overcompensating for not being all that glad? Or is it just because it’s kind of fun to bellow “Rory!” (Try it. Don’t forget the accent.)
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