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Ghostlight

June 22, 2012 4 comments

Doctor Who is a very long running show, and one of the questions non-fans often ask is where to start. The answer varies as much as the show does, and when it comes to the “classic”1 show, most die-hard fans will pick their favourite episode starring their favourite Doctor and suggest that. However, no one in their right mind ever suggests Ghostlight. It is, however, a perfect example of what was wonderful and terrible about the Doctor Who in the 80’s.

This brilliant bit of Seventh Doctor fun is notorious for being strange, even for Doctor Who. It’s really trying to be utterly fantastic, and by doing so, falls so very short, though this isn’t the fault of the stars of the show. Sylvester McCoy (as the Doctor) and Sophie Aldred (as his companion, Ace) are always a pleasure to watch – the pair have real chemistry and though this is more obvious in the spin-off media produced years later, it’s apparent in the original. The problem with Ghostlight is that it tries to slam an entire seasons worth of clever sci-fi telly into 90 minutes of dashing around. The result is a confusing and at times terrifying mess.

Others remember Ghostlight as the episode where Sophie Aldred wears Gentleman’s Evening Wear. For good reason.

Set in the Victorian era, the plot of Ghostlight revolves around them following themes; Evolution, haunted houses, childhood trauma, dealing with change, coming of age, the advantages of diversity and course, ancient abandoned alien technology. Oh, they added a bit of God in as well, just for spice. All on a budget of tuppence 2. You’ll note I haven’t explained the plot; that’s because it’s so full of surprises it’d be a crime to do so, and also because the plot is so convoluted I’d need a map, flipcharts and glove puppets to explain it all.

It’s a glorious mess. Even the greatest actors in the world couldn’t pull this nonsense off, and though McCoy and Aldred are good, they’re not that good. The sad thing about Ghostlight is that it almost works despite all this; as the show stacks mad idea upon overacting upon another mad idea and then piles on some more really bad effects and wobbly walls, you get the feeling that if the show just calmed down for a second a let you catch up, you might actually have a cracking piece of sci-fi here.
Doctor Who, at its heart, is a show in which one can tell any story. Ghostlight almost breaks this notion. It is worth ploughing through, if you have patience. Otherwise it’s worth watching just to see what classic Who can both at its simultaneous nadir and zenith.

1: Many Who fans will argue that drawing a line between the post-2005 show and the one that ended in the 80’s is bad. I don’t agree – it’s the same show, with the same ideas, but the franchise is so large that distinguishing between ‘new’ and ‘classic’ makes the whole thing easier to navigate.
2: Tuppence – Two pence. I can believe it cost that much. A lot of Doctor Who looks cheap, but at the time, the special effects where pretty good for the day. Except during the McCoy era. It looks cheap because the BBC really didn’t want to spend any money on it.

Categories: Uncategorized

Prometheus

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Fear is one of the greatest challenges that art faces; trying to communicate fear is a difficult task, and fear in and of itself can restrict and strangle an artist in such a way that their work comes out warped. One could cheerfully argue that Hollywood, with its urge to ensure that each and every movie it produces is a blockbuster, is plagued by fear. Fear is also hard to use in art; truly scary movies are rare, and the true spine-chillers are always memorable.

I bring this up because this is the main problem with the movie Prometheus. What starts out as a great film about the nature of man and gods is plagued by having to be part of a legacy of scary movies. By attempting to place itself in the Alien1 mythology, it also attempts to emulate parts of that franchise that fans will enjoy. I have no idea why, but I suspect it’s easier to make a movie if you can strongly link it to other successes.

Looks gorgeous, great acting, great idea. If only they had the guts to make it not part of a franchise and go with the promise it gives in the first minutes of the movie.

Sadly, this ruins the feature. It fails to use fear to entertain, and fear of being a failure means the production was attached to something it never needed to be part of. Which is a shame, as the first 40 minutes of Prometheus are near-perfect. Atmosphere is established early on, and a good, old-fashioned tale about mans place amongst the stars is begun2. The sets are gorgeous, the actors are superb, the characters, though plain, seem up to the task of carrying the story and the whole thing looks fantastic. Anyone who grew up with a H. R. Giger poster on their wall will find a lot to love here.

And then, for no good reason, it descends into gore-splatter, knee jerk horror. I am loathe to give out spoilers (so I won’t), but there is one scene which is so trope filled, so cliché ridden that I simply turned off, and it made me feel like I was watching two movies stitched together. I expect Ridley Scott to handle his characters much better than this, and though it’s not as bad as other scenes in the same franchise 3, it brings the movie to a nadir it never quite recovers from.

Throw in a truly dire, CGI heavy scene towards the end and we are left with no surprises and a broken promise. Prometheus should have brought fire to the fearful movie moguls of Hollywood, banishing concerns about clever movies. Instead, it fails, and becomes just another movie about monsters in space.


1: Various people, including the movies producers, have stated that it’s not a prequel to Alien, and they’re right; that would be Alien Versus Predator. The problem is that the movie is hampered by its ties to franchise.
2: One could talk a great deal of horse-hockey about wounds in the side of Promethean giants, the nature of god and all the rest of it. Indeed, this sort of deep examination of the movie is valid, and probably what the director wanted. It’s just that because the last half of the movie is so dire, I cease to care about the clever subtext – make the movie not a pile of pants first, then add in the things that will keep Film Studies teachers in a job for the next 20 years.
3: If you’ve seen Aliens Versus Predator: Requiem you know what I mean.

Categories: Movies, Rants, Reviews

The Crash of the Elysium

June 1, 2012 2 comments

Those of you who are lucky enough to be in the London area over June; The Crash of the Elysium is running from 15th of June to the 8th of July. It’s a Doctor Who themed theatre experience (and yes, I know how that sounds), and you can find booking details here.

I was lucky enough to see/experience it last year, as part of the Manchester International Festival, and I talk about it here, but in short, do go and see it, it’s very good.

Speaking of Manchester based theatre, check out The Greater Manchester Fringe, it has some very interesting events, and it is in its first year.

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