A Bond’s deeds are his word

Never been much of a James Bond fan. I blame the constant repeats over school holidays when the only other choice on TV was football. The villains were melodramatic and their goals so overblown and their henchmen so expendable. If I were a super villain who invested a lot in training my posse at Bad Guys Academy Inc, I wouldn’t spend their lives so easily.  I also wouldn’t stand around and explain my Nefarious Plans while the Hero works out how to avoid being killed by my aforementioned henchmen. If you want a job done, do it yourself, I say.

Anyway, as the UK’s answer to America’s Westerns, they are chock full of high stakes drama, occasional gambling and fighting words, damsels in all sorts of distress, gun slinging and bad alcohol.  I think though these Daniel Craig ones have got rid of some of the stupidest stuff, like a bit of the overt sexism and given Bond a back story. Plus parkou.


The lifestyle takes a toll on this Bond; as well it should. Bond may mumble nothing more than a few lines in any film but he’s not a robot. He gets hurts and apparently it means drinking and pretending to be dead for a bit. But this death and returning to life is the entire theme to Skyfall.

Bond wasn't at his best so he was probably drinking this tonic.

Bond wasn’t at his best so he was probably drinking this tonic.

A Bond film with a theme!

The first half of Skyfall was fairly typical Bond but it sets up a few themes for later, like the Exploited Orphan scenario. The second half gets interesting as he must hold conversations of more than a couple of words and explode his childhood home as a decoy to save his boss. It was an un-typical day away from the office for Bond, as it was dark and Scottish and a bit Arthur Conan Doyle Baskvervillian (issues of defending the inheritance, death and property. Finally, it wasn’t about wresting control back of the world from a ridiculous over actor, but one facing Bad Dude’s bad wig/dye job and his quest for revenge.

No doubt Bond tested positive for these British beauties.

No doubt Bond tested positive for these British beauties.

Literally, this time it was personal

In her defence of spooks, M is right, the enemy is in the shadows and Bond’s natural home is there, which is why he is necessary. As a person, Bond is barely functional, but as M quotes Tennyson, 007 is more than the sum of his scars and ‘to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’ despite the damage is exactly who Bond is. He might as well have it as his motto.

Moreover, Bond is exactly Ulysses. Like Ulysses of the poem, Bond has spent decades running around the world but never going home. Now he does go home, so he can go out into the world renewed.

His return is entirely predictable in its Freudian allusions, what with the escape via the priest hole, the destruction of his home by fire, the baptism in the frozen lake, and the death of M. Surely I don’t need to spell it out?

Ok so I’ll spell it out  

The tunnel of the priest hole is the womb and the tomb. It is the underworld of the dead and a cocoon for the living. It is from whence Bond the man emerges after the death of his parents as a child, and from which he escapes death to come to the frozen Dantean limbo between the old (house) representing his past and his future. Of course his future is near a grave yard, but hey, confronting the possibility of your own death is a part of life for everyone.

Anyway, in this limbo he is baptised (in the lake),  which cleanses him of his past. He says he never liked his gloomy home, but still, blowing it up is a bit transgressive and for this he gets dunked. After this, he literally follows the light to confront his nemesis.

Aptly, his enemy is trying to murder M, who is Bond’s boss but mostly his professional parent: M as in Mother. Agent 007 is almost the entirely the creation of M so it is only right Bond saves her by defeating her enemy. That M dies in his arms, almost certainly re-enacts or completes what Bond lacked as a child – closure or a good-bye to his parents. And it happens where Bond’s parents are buried. It is the circle of death.

And so Bond is reborn.

He can properly return to London and to working for the man. The new M.

None of this needs Hamlet-esque soliloquies lamenting the cruelty and frailty of life. Bond remains always, a man of action. His deeds speak for his transformation and anyway, he hasn’t got time to explain, what with the shooting and the grenades and exploding helicopters, and it doesn’t matter. If we get it, we get it, and if we don’t it’s still a rollicking adventure.

Shadows within

M’s speech before the Minister where she quotes Tennyson brought to mind Harry’s speech justifying his actions before his own death by firing squad in the 1980 film Breaker Morant:

George: Yeah, but killing a missionary, Peter?

Harry: It’s a new kind of war, George. A new war for a new century. I suppose this is the first time the enemy hasn’t been in uniform. They’re farmers. They come from small villages, and they shoot at from behind walls and from farmhouses. Some of them are women, some of them are children, and some of them… are missionaries, George.

M and her agents aren’t fighting guerrillas in the 1901 veldt of the Boer War, or the Vietnamese soldiers this Breaker Morant film indirectly addressed. No, M says they are fighting elusive and shadowy enemies. But rather than commentating on world or e-threats, once more the Bond franchise finds the shadow within. In Skyfall, as in Goldeneye, the enemies are those created by MI6. Instead of Sean Bean’s 006, Javier Bardem’s Silva’s target is personal: M. Once more a Bond film is a violent Freudian family spat, like Goodfellas, only with British accents and stiff-upper lipness.

My question is, am I right in thinking this is unusually meta for Bond, or have I been missing something all these years? Does it mean I have to bother when the new ones come out?

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Friends like these

I’ve been re-watching Sherlock because what the hey and also summer  programming in Australia partly consists of repeating Sherlock and little else new or entertaining.

Any who, I realised this program was misnamed. Sure it features the rude, scarfed, and cheekboned Holmes with and without the ‘ear hat’ but the main thing it is not a story without John Watson. We don’t start with Young Sherlock and his time at school solving swimming pool murders. No. We start with sad grumpy PTSD Dr Watson who discovers the friendless Holmes.

Scientific measurements of friendship sees them as intersecting lines or somesuch.

Scientific measurements of friendship sees them as intersecting lines or some such.

Of course, the crime solving adventures were always from Watson’s point of view as he was Conan Doyle’s narrator. Watson was represented as close enough to the every-man to translate the marvel that is Holmes for the rest of us.

The point is that this Sherlock’s Dr Watson is a lot less every-man and yet remains our guide to Holmes, because almost instantly there is friendship between these seemingly broken-ish people. There is frustration and puzzlement too, but mainly friendship.

Any military surgeon is no slouch in the smart stakes, they just have a narrower focus than Holmes, what with his blog enumerating the eleventy billion types of paint chips or ash or whatsits. Thus, this Watson is practical and emotionally intelligent and short-tempered, especially with Holmes. I like Martin Freeman’s take on him: his loyalty, outward self-sufficiency and uncertain and resentful vulnerability. And I think Freeman has the more difficult role. I like how his Watson notices the emotional stuff and even more I especially like how Molly Hooper notices the stuff Watson misses.

I appreciate these contrasts between them because it means this series is more about the development of their friendship and less about crime solving. It should stay that way, too, even if future episodes (?) have to negotiate Watson’s family life. I especially note how Mary Watson and Sherlock are equals and therefore able to be friends. Hopefully, there will be more of this dynamic, baby or toddler or now more likely teen Watson, notwithstanding.

Mary’s storyline had its cop out though. She doesn’t have friends. Despite being in hiding from her former life for a while, the only lasting connection she has made seems to be Watson (and then Sherlock).  I think this is wrong. And the same goes for Molly. Surely she and a friend would go down the pub and complain about insensitive geniuses? It doesn’t have to be a major part of the story, but an occasional allusion to the emotionally more rounded lives of other characters is ok, especially to contrast them to Sherlock, who ‘doesn’t have friends…just has one’.

Anyway, we need more stories of friendships. I don’t mean Carrie Bradshaw conversation set pieces that sees all issues through the prism of shoes and the boyfriend for unrealistically remunerated newspaper columns. Friends joke about important stuff and lament the mundane, whether personal, professional and the political. They complain and disagree and learn from each other. Friends sit at hospital bed sides and talk repeatedly about the same things. Sometimes they work together and often friends don’t. They hang out and do nothing or go on epic adventures or for brunch. They share secrets and maybe values. This shouldn’t be a mystery to story tellers and it shouldn’t be rendered shallow or worse, absent, by writers.

Friends can have light and shade and contrast each other but something must cement the connection, like gravity does.

Friends can have light and shade and contrast each other, but something must connect them, like gravity between planets and their moons.

Fiction generally doesn’t always greatly honour the importance of friendship unless it you’re thinking of 100 billion years ago with Cagney and Lacey, or as a point along a path to something else. That something is else the romance. This delayed but inevitable romance has been around since the intellectual sparring of Shakespeare’s Benedick and Beatrice became Maddie and David in Moonlighting or Harry and Sally in When Harry Met Sally or Mulder and Scully in the X Files or Castle or Bones or for an Australian example, Blue Heelers, or whatever.  It may start as a kind of friendship or rivalry in a workplace, but it’s always leading somewhere: mainly crime solving and suspected alien babies.

Elsewhere, friendships are cast in terms of distractions from the work, like in these randomly selected examples: Rosemary and Thyme and Scott and Bailey and Danger Mouse (with his Penfold, shucks DM).

Also who is Olivia Benson’s best friend in SVU? Where are Clara’s friends in Doctor Who? In fact the only Doctor Who episode that featured a friend plot was Blink. Even in this episode the friends joke about their own crime series Sparrow and Nightingale, and their friendship is over-written by romantic sub plots. Can main characters have friends?

Fiction doesn’t have to work like this. So I want to know, where are great modern female friendships on TV or film or literature, as subtle, entertaining and well-rounded as Sherlock and Watson?



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The Crux of The Crucible

I went to see The Crucible at The Old Vic via CinemaLive at Cinema Nova. This is my second such expedition. I saw Frankenstein with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch the same way a while ago. This play-as-film but is a play thing works. It doesn’t feel too cinematic yet I don’t seem to notice I’m removed from the direct experience of ‘being-in-the-theatre-ness’ of a truly live performance. If you have a better way to describe that feeling please let me know…

The usher joked it was a play to be endured rather than enjoyed, but I did enjoy it. It was certainly intensity in ten cities….but the story wasn’t what I thought it would be. Mind you my preparation for this play included not reading or watching anything at all.

All I knew was Arthur Miller/McCarthy. Thus, I thought it intriguing the notion that criticism of legal argument was felt to be criticism of the court, which wasn’t allowed and I was momentarily distracted by considering what our examples today would be…Peter Greste et al in Cairo, maybe WikiLeaks…

Basically though, I thought the play was a commentary on relationships. Yes, there was teen hysteria and witch craft trials (and call outs to the McCarthy era), but to me at least, it felt like a play about an imperfect, but average couple negotiating serious adult stuff, including something like postpartum depression, employee management and infidelity.

The Proctors lose and find each other, they each discover what they believe and what they stand for individually, while working out what they mean to each other, in a small community swept up in religious fervour and petty feuds.

There’s apparently been plenty of praise for Richard Armitage as John Proctor and rightly so, but the entire ensemble just gets it. From the girls who eventually form a Greek Chorus of manipulative crazy in the court room to husbands desperate to save the lives of their wives, there is no performance to fault.

Natalie Gavin made her Mary Warren memorable under the pressure of both Proctor and the judge Danforth (an imperious Jack Ellis). There are wry laughs at the court scenes, especially involving those with Giles Corey and that helped getting through the really intense stuff later.

The Proctors complement and yet contrast each other and that made them real to me. Anna Madeley as Elizabeth Proctor made a deep impression. Quieter than her husband, her Elizabeth is no less powerful in revealing her convictions and self discoveries, even as Armitage’s Proctor gets to deliver all the grand speechifying about identity and guilt.

Anyway, here is Richard Armitage speaking about the play in a real interview (as in not some Hollywood-lite ET News-esque 5 second fast food thing that seems the lot of traditional media interaction with any sort of theatre type these days).  I’m not even sure I agree with all of his conclusions but hey, he played the character and they are his learned comments.

Unless you take my high school curriculum into account, I’m no expert on theatre, but Yaël Farber’s direction didn’t make it feel like some post- whatsit self-conscious commentary on modern western life. No, Arthur Miller’s 60 year + old script did that. However, it felt alien, or foreign enough that it seemed faithful to events described in Salem from 1692/3. I’m guessing that has a lot to do with Farber’s direction of the actors, her vision of the set and the stage craft.

The theatre in the round worked for me too as more intimate but also ‘artistic’. Artistic too, is deliberate in this play, due to its themes and setting. It’s a story that involves a lot of ‘public performance’ in court and for Salem residents. The witch-girls are performing or ‘pretending’, deliberately lead by Abigail, as is the Reverend Hale, as he later reveals, while each of the residents play their part in a town where everyone is suddenly judged and mostly found wanting.

Thus, that this performance feeling is heightened somewhat is fitting, as this becomes a study in how some crumble under the elaborate pressure of accusations and threats and imminent death while others rise above it all.

And that is entirely the point of the title.

So if you get the chance, prithee go see it at the cinema, if not I hear a rumour of a possible download of it.

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Pictures in less than 1000 words

Non-selfie absorption

When I was about 11 or 12 I was given a camera. It was a Hanimex 110 FF with a slot to insert the flash, which consisted of a double row of bulbs that died in a quiet but glassy sphffft sound upon each single use. Imagine a sudden blaze of glory like from photo journalists old movies – it was exactly the opposite.

Opening shot. The old Hanimax still looks a picture.

Opening shot. My old Hanimax still looks a picture.

There were no selfies, but I took photos of the farm, of a visit to the zoo, of trips away. As fun as it was, it was also anxiety-making. I only had so many shots. I had to figure out when extra light was needed so as not to waste the flash or the film. And there was a lot of mistakes. Fingers over the aperture, the unfocused views, and over exposed films. There was also the cost. Film was expensive and mistakes or not, development of them had to be paid for, so too the replaceable bulbs. There was a time cost as well, with the processing, which took weeks between trips into town. Such tension in the wait. Even now I suspect there is unprocessed film lying about.

Anyway, I’m not sure when exactly that I stopped taking pictures but I did.

Much, much later, I worked/interned for a uni run newspaper publication. I did the editing, wrote stories, and took the occasional photo.

Some time after that I worked with a Master Photographer. I found the words and with the light, the angle, his camera and immense skill he made cunning pictures of items and places few would find photogenic. He somehow made things beautiful.

Eventually, I got a phone with a camera and even then I didn’t take many photos. It was the legacy of worry,  of such unease I continued to put my eye up to the tiny screen.

Double shots

About five years ago I bought a digital camera. I’d spent six months looking at what I could afford and what was possible. And then I chose something Nikon because red. It’s a little slow in focussing so sometimes pictures are fuzzy. But I’m no longer fussed. It doesn’t matter if I take a thousand photos or one. There’s no longer a wait to see them and I seldom print them.

Click wait. Devastated that red doesn't go faster.

Click wait. Devastated that red doesn’t go faster.

With a different phone and apps (like Instagram, but also others) I take more photos now. I don’t know if I’m a better photographer, but I’m certainly a more relaxed one.

I’ve found while you can spend any amount of time and money on understanding photography and getting the equipment, mainly it is, for me, about recognising each opportunity to take that one shot or a thousand.

Other times it’s about being there. No picture required.

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Book & Movie Relationships

The movie of the book will never be ok for some

People will say (whatever) film leaves out plot devices, or characters, or the casting is wrong, or the location isn’t correct.

While such criticisms may or may not be accurate they do not reflect the essential source of the unease about the movie/book relationship.

Our complaints, (if any) aren’t really about these decisions but point to something more…emotional. We complain because we are in mourning for something that has died.

The text is not the story 

Although a novel is fixed text, the story you read and remember is unique to you. Only you know it the way you do, only you bring to it your particular experiences, culture and education including other reading. This is called intertextuality.

Furthermore, all this changes. Rereading changes interpretation. Especially if we first read as a child and read again as an adult.

For each of us, the book we read is the version we each of us, and only us, can imagine.

Shakespeare knew this, which is why he dicked around with other people’s stories as inspiration for his plays. To mess with his audience but also give them something familiar. Directors of his plays continue to know this. Each version differs in length, presentation, stage setting and interpretation and yet remain Shakespearean, and for those who appreciate Shakespeare, that’s ok. You can hate Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet but he was working within this tradition. It should be ok for film directors of other stories too.

Thought Experiment

Say 10 of us read the same book at the same time. Now 10 people have 10 versions of the same novel. Imagined the main characters, and the setting. There are 10 versions, all different, all private, all valid. Then the 10 of us get together to talk about what we think and the merest bits of how others imagined the main character and the set rub off on each other. Now each of us hold multiple visions in our minds about what this story is, and how it looks. Some of these coalesce and some conflict.

If it is a particularly memorable novel or one we read at an important time, it may stay with us and as we grow, or age, or read other things and experience life, so too, does our vision of what we think the story is. Maybe our conceptions of the characters change with the influence of people in our everyday environments, perhaps some of us day-dream about alternate endings or continuations of the story.

Because this multivariate and shimmering conception of a story in a book is buried deep in our brains they are us. We belong to them, are attached to them because we create them, or are co-creators of them with the text. These versions of a story belong to ourselves, and are essentially unknowable, except in the most simplistic of terms. Basically, because humans can’t get inside each other’s minds, not really, not fully.

After perhaps decades of having this story in our heads, sometimes reignited with a rereading or a memory, some other person comes along with the temerity, ability and budget to bring something close to his personal vision into the public sphere. Suddenly, where there was a multiples of a story, each stored in our brains, there is one narrative conjured from one person’s private imagination now spreading into the public domain, like a virus, or a computer virus that over-rides the unique data we each possessed. Because this director’s imagination is not yours or mine, how this world is imagined on the screen differs from each of our private imaginings. Sometimes in a big way.

If you think you are right about a story that ship has sailed my friend. There is only interpretation and invention.

If you think you are right about a story that ship has sailed my friend. There is only interpretation and invention.

We lost our prescioussssss?

With a film, the potential is there that not only has something been stolen from each of us, but it has been replaced by something that could be almost, but will never exactly be like, what was lost, because a director’s version of the story has stepped on and crushed each of the visions in our heads.

I have simplified. Because a film is not the work of one person but a crew, from the guy who ensures the beverages are the appropriate temperature to the leads, and the director, who works from a script, written, perhaps, by many hands.

Then, all the people who see the film posses their own unique experience of it, shaped again by culture and language and personal history and education, basically, everything.

Enter visual cortex

So, as you walk away from the film, even if you enjoyed it, it was not your version. Through the overwhelming power of the experience of the sights as they entered your visual cortex some of the memory of the magic of what you personally experienced and imagined when you read the story will be wiped from you, replaced with this film version. Meanwhile, the music and all the sounds of the film will do their work to shape the memory of what you experienced.

This is the risk of films. Sometimes they kill something private, delicate and often not even fully remembered in our imaginations with the strength of their own concreteness.

That is what we mourn.

And humans do what they always do when they suspect they’ve lost something. They complain. With films, they will rail at the CGI, or the script’s licence with the text, or the acting. Or whatever. It doesn’t matter. These people are mourning a very private loss and perhaps not even one they know exists.

Sometimes this loss doesn’t matter because there is no connection to the book. Harry Potter was like that for me. I read one book and wasn’t really impressed, but the films I appreciated much more.

Risk and reward

Because I like films, I accept the risk of losing my unique take on any book read.

I recognise too that books and films are different in their narrative requirements. Novels can easily trace inner monologues and switch between many different inner and outer perspectives. Generally films are about outer monologues and dialogues and put the primacy on doing rather than thinking, because they have to – humans like to watch humans doing things. Books can be about the thinking and the doing. It is thus that movies about writers never feature much writing, but are generally about blocked or distressed or distracted writers.

I work hard too, to retain my understanding of the book. I can mostly appreciate any particular movie and book version. Like Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. Truly amazing book and the Bill Murray film version hit all the right notes for me too.

The same goes for all of Tolkien’s works on the screen and in book form. They don’t need to follow the book word for word, and actually can’t.

Exeunt, stage left, with alarums.

Exeunt, stage left, with alarums.


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Investigating and some nonsense about writing

One of my favourite books is Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. No. Don’t roll your eyes. I geddit. I have to let you know I have a deep and abiding love of The Wind in the Willows and reveal that I did waste a few teen hours in the alien realm of Sweet Valley High and many more  in Isaac Asimov’s realistic worlds.

So yeah.

Anyway, my point is that if I could have invented a job that wasn’t writing related (and if I was less introverted), it would’ve been as Casaubon’s Sam Spade of culture in his Milano warehouse office. A paid editor/freelance PI looking for illustrations and quotes, but mainly correspondences and patterns across books and museum exhibits, paintings and performances.

But more like X Files without the suits. Maybe a job where I’m a Consulting Creative Writing Mytho-Symbolism Detective. A bit Sherlock Holmes, bit Mulder and Scully, bit Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks, bit Casaubon. Nothing like Casaubon rip-off merchant Robert Langdon of the Epically Awful Hair, though. Truly, that novel is a badly written less-wordy Foucault’s Pendulum.

In the end it probably started in primary school, so I blame Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators. One of my teachers had the complete set and kept them in the classroom. I believe I read very many (if not all) before he left after that year and took them with him. I did ask him not too.

The point of the investigators is they looked at weird supernatural seeming stuff and deduced reasonable causes. Just like the Scooby Gang. In Foucault’s Pendulum the trio of heroes gather stories and bits of evidence and invent a supernatural, all-powerful narrative that explains the purpose of history. And people believe it. As people do.


There’s the internet for all that now. Casaubons are no longer required. Lost something? You don’t need a trio of teens when you can find it yourself. Dunno what to call a vampire goat? Mulder’s retired and prolly spends his days editing its Wikipedia page. Consult your smartphone if you’re stumped over whether some rare reference book you’ve dug up features a quote maybe by James Frazer or Robert Graves about myth. Forget visiting libraries, those days where you’d consult a catalogue, or ask a person, or even pay a person, are mere memory to many. All the heroes and their subjects and references and a myriad conspiracy theories migrated online. Knowledge, more than ever is DIY. Even if often done badly.

Three Alternate Investigators offer Deducktions

Three Alternate Investigators offer Deducktions

Luckily, I have an imagination. I can be who ever I want in fiction. Geologist, parent, grieving widow, mutant librarian, alien psychic triplets, it’s all possible. Or even more possible than it is in this mundane everydayness. See, there are benefits in writing, even if not always paid nor published.

I’ve never really tried writing that kind of investigative hero though. Well maybe once. It wasn’t very good and I stopped. Actually twice, when I plagiarised a story my mum wrote in Grade Four. I called it The Mystery Lights. I suspect mum might have been a bit miffed my version was better than her’s (which was never published). Not sure. Can’t ask her to find out.

Again, where was I?

So not only is Twin Peaks getting its proper denouement, but now I see (I Want to Believe) X Files is coming back-ish. I wonder if they’ll be freelance or salaried? I just hope it goes back to being about two whip-smart (retired?) agents arguing over whether it’s alien or human tech, or ghost or psychological projection.

You know, the important questions.

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Doctor Who: Concepts for Writers

Writers need to consider specifics in the creation of their narratives. For instance, they need to put a bit of thought into names and plot developments. But apart from this, there are the large concepts that should at least be thought about, if not addressed directly. Some of these concepts are time, emotion, relationships and environment. Each of these are handily addressed by several personally selected episodes of Doctor Who. Because why not?

Time – Girl Who Waited

Your story may not *be about* the passage of time, or how time works in whatever version of reality you’ve conjured. Nor need it be about quantum mechanics. In fact, your story doesn’t have to be any kind of SF, but could be about the most prosaic examination of the usual life things. Somehow, however, the issue of time will need to be addressed. Writers need to work out if they need to skip great swathes of inconsequential time to get to the ‘tent pole’ moments. Conversely, story tellers need to know almost from the start if they are writing a Mrs Dalloway-esque stream of consciousness where every moment over the course of a day or week is indicated by an event: Time = Things happening. Similarly, point of view and tense also decides story timing. Is an old woman relating events that happened to her in the past? If you decided that you have thought about time.

The Doctor Who episode that explores most of these facets of time is The Girl Who Waited. This episode looks at how time works in two versions of an altered reality. The writers decide to follow The Doctor’s time-line as they diverge. Thus, in telling Old Amy’s story the writer decides what to skip (most of it) to get to the big moments. Literally, it is about attempting to harmonise two streams of consciousness as they pass through time, and meet, and whether this is possible. Then the story converges (yes) to where Rory and the Amy’s talk about what time means. It is only significant that 36 years have passed to Rory as it was  36 years they spent apart.

Other episodes: Blink, 42,  The Girl in the Fireplace, The Doctor’s Daughter and The Eleventh House.

Emotion – Vincent and The Doctor

Stories can be about anything. Historical events, alien invasions, coping with personal bereavement, or all of the above. Many stories though, will need to provide an emotional core with which readers or audience can empathise.  No matter how weird or alienating a story gets, it needs both an internal logic and emotional logic.

Vincent and The Doctor demonstrates historical events, alien invasions and bereavement can be thrown together and work. Without rewriting Vincent Van Gogh’s life this episode of Doctor Who brings with it psychological insight as the Doctor, Amy and Vincent battle a terrifying mostly invisible alien beast that is not what it seems. Of course the parallels can be made to van Gogh’s own battles for his art and health. The magic of the episode is not in how we know the end in store for Vincent, even as we hope for a change, nor does it lie in its didactic explanation of van Gogh’s legacy, but in that it is witnessed.

CURATOR: Well… um… big question, but, to me van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.

The lesson for writers is as for painters: use your pain, in fact use every emotion to portray the world of your story.

Other episodes: Fires of Pompeii, Midnight, The Waters of Mars and Amy’s Choice.

Relationships – School Reunion 

Every story, even if it is about a bug and a rock, or a lone character, or an inanimate object, features relationships. That story about a bug and a rock will no doubt go some way to explore how the bug relates to the rock and what the rock means. The story may go some way to represent the relationship between the rock and bug in all kinds of ways – in terms of symbols, plot and character development.

In School Reunion, the plot is an alien invasion, world domination thing. Yet the point is that each of the characters goes back to (re)learn the basics in the school in which it is set. They learn again, about each other and edge around the issues of their unspoken expectations and demands. The point is how Rose sees what happens to those The Doctor travels with, she learns he may spend years with someone and then never see them again because he lives forever and humans, like Rose and like Sarah Jane Smith, don’t. How each feels about the other, how they relate, can be summed but in the wonder in The Doctor’s face after he sees Sarah Jane for the first time in what is decades for her and even longer him as a time traveller. The episode too explores the tension between Rose and Mickey and how travelling with The Doctor comes between them, whether Mickey is ‘the tin dog’ or with them. Sarah Jane’s sacrifice of her opportunity to return to time travel and The Doctor is sad, while the restoration of K9 is bitter-sweet. Each of these events goes a long way to outline how each character feels about the other.

Other episodes: Father’s Day, Asylum of the Daleks, Hide, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, Listen.

Locating your story in a house set inside a completely sealed bubble world has implications.

Locating your story in a house set inside a completely sealed bubble world has implications.

Environment – The Doctor’s Wife 

How people act, work, live and speak is shaped by the environment in which they exist. For writers, it means consideration of accent and language, of appropriate technical jargon, and of how all characters move, travel and interact. It matters for a contemporary medical drama as much as it does for a speculative fiction world where hybrid tree-cyborgs rule empires of data cloud forests.

In The Doctor’s Wife the gang escape the universe on a rescue mission. Landing on a bizarre asteroid called House, they encounter a scrap yard peopled by odd and ood locals. Their environment is sentient, it speaks through Auntie and Uncle. In a bid to escape House transfers its consciousness to The Tardis. Once the safest environment in (or outside) the universe, The Tardis is now the enemy of Amy and Rory, who are trapped inside.  The Tardis herself, her own consciousness, has been transferred inside the human (like) body of Idris, another inhabitant of this giant Tardis eating mollusc.

DOCTOR: A valley of half eaten Tardises. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
IDRIS: I’m thinking that all of my sisters are dead. That they were devoured, and that we are looking at their corpses.
DOCTOR: Ah. Sorry. No, I wasn’t thinking that.
IDRIS: No. You were thinking you could build a working Tardis console out of broken remnants of a hundred different models. And you don’t care that it’s impossible.

Idris, who is now the Tardis, thus provides a contrast to The Doctor view of the environment that is attacking them.

One point of the episode is to give viewers perspectives on the physical environment of the Tardis, in that we literally get to see new (and old) bits of it and we learn it is comfortingly familiar and also strange and dangerous. Another point is that the Tardis is not just an environment for hijinks to ensue but an entity, just as conscious as House – but not usually so able to communicate directly. For one episode we see The Doctor fully express not only his connection to the Tardis, but his love and we get to see for the first time the Tardis express her love for him with direct language. This is what makes her first and final ‘hello Doctor’ so heartbreaking. The Tardis is an environment to set the scene, but she is also a character symbiotically linked to The Doctor and they influence each other.

Other episodes: Tooth and Claw, The Idiot’s Lantern, The Shakespeare Code, Night Terrors, The God Complex.

How characters treat each other says a lot for their relationships.

How characters treat each other says a lot for their relationships.

All of the above episodes could be examined for each of the other concepts. School Reunion talks a bit about the passage of time, while there is so much relationship emotion in The Doctor’s Wife, similarly with The Girl Who Waited, which is also about the environment that embittered Old Amy. There are many other episodes that deal with the above concepts. Like I said each writer must deal with them in some way, directly or indirectly. Deciding your setting is the Moon has implications for characters. Deciding your characters hate each other has implications for how they interact and whether they are motivated by emotion or logic.

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