Friday, September 26, 2008

TV that's not Doctor Who

I daresay the world will implode at my admission that I've watched some TV that's not Doctor Who. I've just finished watching ITV's self-insert fanfiction for Austen fans Lost in Austen.

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper), an ardent fan of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, lives in present day London with her boyfriend Michael, until she finds a portal in her bathroom that allows her to swap places with Austen's fictional Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton). Suddenly 21st century Price is face-to-face with the 18th century in all its costumed, mannered glory, and is faced with the problem of how to ensure everyone ends up with the partner they're "supposed" to end up with, despite the fact that Lizzie Bennett's happily living in 21st century Hampstead, working as a nanny and mastering 21st century technology.

Mr Bennet (Hugh Bonneville) and Jane (Morven Christie) seem to accept Amanda as Lizzie's friend with considerable aplomb, despite never having seen her before. Mrs Bennet (Alex Kingston) however, is not so quick to accept Amanda's presence in her home, particularly since she arrives looking rather unlike a proper young lady in her modern clothes!

Christina Cole as Caroline Bingley and Guy Henry as Mr Collins are both superbly obnoxious in their own way. Tom Riley plays a remarkably decent George Wickham (who's the total opposite of Austen's Mr Wickham). Elliot Cowan can't quite match Colin Firth's Darcy for this BBC P&P fan, but he does a pretty good job all the same.

To my enormous delight, the DVD is out from Amazon UK next week - it's already on my wish list! If you get the chance to see this, do - it's not absolutely necessary to know P&P in detail in order to enjoy it, but you'll definitely get even more out of the show if you do know P&P well. It's seriously daft at times, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Poetry Friday - 28

For this week's Poetry Friday offering, I bring you a small part of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (it's far too long to quote it all):

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


THE Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariners' hollo!

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim nor red like God's own head,
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.

And some in dreams assur'ed were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

I picked this particular section of the poem for this verse:

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

I adore the way that rolls off the tongue when you read it aloud, the alliteration and the imagery are perfect and beautiful.

You can find the whole poem here.

This week's Poetry Friday round up is at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble novels

Be warned, spoilers abound!

Ghosts of India - Mark Morris

Mark Morris' Ghosts of India is set in India in 1947 at a time when the country is in the grip of chaos, as it's torn apart by internal strife. When the Doctor and Donna arrive in Calcutta, they are instantly caught up in a riot and parted from each other. Barely escaping with their lives, they soon discover that the city is rife with tales of 'half-made men' who roam the streets at night and steal people away. It is said that these creatures are as white as salt and have only shadows where their eyes should be. With help from India's great spiritual leader, Mohandas 'Mahatma' Gandhi, the Doctor and Donna set out to investigate these rumours. What is the real truth behind the 'half-made men'? Why is Gandhi's role in history under threat? And has an ancient, all-powerful god of destruction really come back to wreak his vengeance upon the Earth?

Well no. It's actually an alien who's capturing India's poor and using them to create its half-made men - but it takes 5 human beings to create one half-made man. To make matters worse, the alien's spaceship is leaking radiation and infecting the populace, causing horrible growths on man and beast alike, and turning any living creature that's affected by the radiation into a psychotic killer.

This story's quite interesting - not least for using Ghandi as a secondary character, but Morris really hasn't captured Donna or her relationship with the Doctor very well. And most of the other minor characters are only sketched in, relying on the reader's knowledge of the "British family in India" stereotypes.

The Doctor Trap - Simon Massingham

In The Doctor Trap, Simon Messingham does a better job of capturing Donna's voice, but this story has a desperately complicated plot that includes a surgically altered double of the Doctor with whom he keeps switching places, a hell of a lot of robots, and a group of 12 hunters known as the Endangered Dangerous Species Society: they make it their business to hunt down the last examples of any species that's about to become extinct in order to make sure the species is wiped out. And now they're on Planet 1 hunting the Last of the Time Lords.

Planet 1 is the creation of Sebastiene, who may look like a 19th century nobleman but most assuredly is not. He is determined to add the Doctor to the collection in his Trophy Room, but the Doctor is equally determined not to be added.

Shining Darkness - Mark Michalowski

Mark Michalowski was responsible for one of my favourite Ten & Martha novels (Wetworld), and it turns out he's also written my favourite Ten & Donna novel: Shining Darkness. Michalowski has Donna's voice down perfectly, and he also captures their relationship beautifully.

For Donna Noble, the Andromeda galaxy is a long, long way from home. But even two and a half million light years from Earth, there's danger lurking around every corner, and a visit to an art gallery turns into a mad race across space to uncover the secret behind a shadowy organisation known as The Cult of Shining Darkness. From the desert world of Karris to the interplanetary scrapyard of Junk, the Doctor and Donna discover that appearances can be deceiving, that enemies are lurking around every corner - and that the centuries-long peace between humans and machines may be about to come to an end.

It's clear to me that Mark Michalowski really likes Donna - at one point she takes on the mantle of The Ginger Goddess to a race of aliens who hold an artefact that the people she's with want to get back - just as he really liked Martha, and that really added to my enjoyment of the book. He captures Donna's willingness to learn from her travels and her ability to change her mind beautifully - this is the Donna who begged the Doctor to save just one family in Fires of Pompeii and didn't hesitate to join him in pulling the lever that would destroy Pompeii but save the world. I recommend this story.

NB - make sure you read the novels in the order above because there are some brief references to The Doctor Trap in Shining Darkness (you can read the last two the wrong way round, 'cos I did, but I wished I hadn't!)

For those who wish for more Ten & Donna stories (there's only one more Ten & Donna novel scheduled for release in January), there is another audio novel coming out in October: The Forever Trap by Dan Abnett (author of the Torchwood novel Border Princes). Like Pest Control, this story will only be available in audio format.

Review x-posted to my LJ.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Poetry Friday - 27

It was on September 19, 1819 that John Keats wrote the last of his odes, "To Autumn":

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

I woke up this morning to the realisation that it's no longer warm enough to sit around in t-shirt and shorts as I've been doing - autumn's bite is definitely in the air here!

This week's Poetry Friday round-up is over at Author Amok so feel free to run amok over there!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Poetry Friday - 26

They started up experiments with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN this week (deep under the Swiss/French border in the Alps). Radio 4 commemorated this amazing experiment with a day of radio programmes, including a one-off radio episode of Torchwood - the more "adult" Doctor Who spin-off, Lost Souls written by Joseph Lidster. It was a mixture of pseudo-science (this IS the Whoniverse after all!) and philosophical musings on life-after-death, but the story ended with two of the characters quoting lines from a poem by Alfred Tennyson (this is what I love about the Whoniverse - the wild mixture of serious and silly, and of "low" and "high" culture).

All Things Will Die

Clearly the blue river chimes in its flowing

Under my eye;
Warmly and broadly the south winds are blowing

Over the sky.
One after another the white clouds are fleeting;
Every heart this May morning in joyance is beating

Full merrily;
Yet all things must die.
The stream will cease to flow;
The wind will cease to blow;
The clouds will cease to fleet;
The heart will cease to beat;
For all things must die.
All things must die.
Spring will come never more.
O, vanity!
Death waits at the door.
See! our friends are all forsaking
The wine and the merrymaking.
We are call’d—we must go.
Laid low, very low,
In the dark we must lie.
The merry glees are still;
The voice of the bird
Shall no more be heard,
Nor the wind on the hill.
O, misery!
Hark! death is calling
While I speak to ye,
The jaw is falling,
The red cheek paling,
The strong limbs failing;
Ice with the warm blood mixing;
The eyeballs fixing.
Nine times goes the passing bell:
Ye merry souls, farewell.
The old earth
Had a birth,
As all men know,
Long ago.
And the old earth must die.
So let the warm winds range,
And the blue wave beat the shore;
For even and morn
Ye will never see
Thro’ eternity.
All things were born.
Ye will come never more,
For all things must die.

The lines used were worked into the play in a very natural manner, rather than being shoe-horned in, and were a genuinely moving conclusion to the story.

This week's Poetry Friday round-up is over at Biblio File.

(Somehow it doesn't seem like a week since I was sitting at Oxford station, waiting to get the train to Stratford and the most memorable evening of my life so far!)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Hamlet RSC 2008 - a reaction

(I missed yesterday's Poetry Friday - which is rounded up here at Wild Rose Reader - owing to being out of town, so this is a Shakespeare Saturday post instead!)

In which your reviewer attempts to stay coherent and calm, but may flail on occasion!

OK. First things first - I've never seen "Hamlet" live before (I've read it about 6 times (including 3 times while I was doing it for my English degree a few years ago), I've seen the Gibson film (yeah, I know, but I couldn't get hold of the Brannagh version), and I've no real idea about how to talk about directing decisions, so please bear with me!

So. Having never seen "Hamlet" live before, I picked a performance with two of my favourite actors in the lead roles - David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, I'm looking at you. And boy was that a GOOD choice. These two men are bloody brilliant as Hamlet and Claudius - I don't tend to use the word "genius" of living people because it's a hard word to live up to, but these two men are genius actors. The play had me spellbound and I barely noticed the 3.5 hours passing by.

The stage and the back wall behind it are both mirrored (I don't know if that's the norm for the Courtyard Theatre - this was also my first production at the RSC in Stratford - talk about a whole heap of firsts!) – and the director (Greg Doran) makes excellent use of it in the opening scenes with the watchmen on the tower seeing old Hamlet's ghost – they carried torches which they occasionally shone onto the floor, reflecting the light and making the whole scene incredibly spooky – just what you need to introduce a ghost!

David's first scene is when everyone arrives on stage following the wedding of Hamlet's uncle Claudius to his brother's wife/Hamlet's mother Gertrude. He came on and stood in a corner of the stage (actually about 6 – 8 feet from where I was sitting in the stalls). He had his hair slicked back and was wearing a dark suit (this is a modern dress performance), and I was immediately reminded of David's role as Barty Crouch Jr – there was the same stillness about him, plus a slight air of menace and controlled purpose. (I'm not saying he was recreating Barty Jr – just that the look and the stillness reminded me of the HP character. Yes, I am going to reference other roles I've seen him in, just so you know!)

Hamlet's stillness and dark clothes are in strong contrast to the rest of the wedding party, so he drew my eye and I found myself keeping half an eye on him even as I watched the other characters interacting.

Patrick Stewart, as Claudius, wore a 3-piece suit throughout (I think – bear with me – I had about 2 hours sleep last night and I'm feeling a bit fuzzy-headed now!), and wire-framed glasses which give him a wise and respectable air (which is, of course, completely at odds with him being old Hamlet's murderer).

This was a great ensemble cast. The descent of Ophelia (Mariah Gale) into madness was beautifully acted and quite unnerving. Rosencrantz (Sam Alexander) and Guildernstern (Tom Davey) were really rather stupid. Laertes (Edward Bennett) didn't really work for me in the latter part of the play: when he's threatening Claudius, he was unconvincing – like a teenager, who'd been watching too many gangster movies, and his death didn't really bother me.

Gertrude (Penny Downie) was excellent – particularly during the dumbshow (which was very OTT and funny) which precedes the play-within-the-play – I saw her fidgeting uneasily throughout and her hands were never still – and during the closet scene in which she confronts Hamlet about his behaviour and he accuses her of incest, he says:

You cannot call it love; for at your age
The hey-day in the blood is tame, it's humble,
And waits upon the judgment: and what judgment
Would step from this to this?

And I noticed (and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit this!) that her nipples were very visible, and I thought "Yeah, she's not so old as all that, Hamlet, for all you're 30!"

Horatio (Peter de Jersey) was very good as Hamlet's friend – trying to inject some sanity and wisdom into Hamlet's mad proceedings. Interestingly, David played Hamlet as less mad than knowing/calculating – and oh so witty and funny! I've never had so much of a sense of the comedy in the play as I did when seeing this production: David has amazing comic timing – which Patrick Stewart freely acknowledged during the after-show talk with (most of) the cast. The exchanges between Hamlet and Polonius (Oliver Ford Davies) were brilliantly witty and clever, showing up Polonius for the old windbag that he is. Oliver Ford Davies does a brilliant job actually – going off into mumbled asides, or losing the thread of what he's saying.

Things that particularly stood out: the quiet intensity of the graveyard scene where Hamlet's discussing old Yorick, whom he once knew well; the closet scene with Gertrude where David leaps up onto the bed to stand arguing with her; the sword fight with Laertes; the hauntings by the Ghost of old Hamlet; Ophelia's scenes wherein she's mad; Gertrude's reaction to the dumbshow before the play-within-the-play; this exchange between Hamlet and Ophelia:

Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
[Spinning a small footstool by one foot in his right hand]
Ophelia: No, my lord.
Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap?
Ophelia: Ay, my lord.
Hamlet: Do you think I meant country matters?
Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord.
Hamlet: That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.

- David's Hamlet puts great emphasis on the first syllable of "country" all the while squatting in front of her on hands and heels and thrusting his crotch at her (how any of us in the audience who fancy DT managed to restrain ourselves at that point, I really don't know!); Horatio's final lines to Hamlet: Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince: / And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! (which I'm not ashamed to say reduced me to tears).

All in all, this was a fantastic performance from the whole cast and I'm very grateful to have had the chance to see the show live and with my two favourite actors in the lead roles (hooray for early 40th birthday presents!).

It was also great to see the show with three of my LJ friends!!

X-Posted to LJ.