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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Going Deeper Into "Deep Breath"

Article first published as 'Doctor Who' Review - Season Premiere: 'Deep Breath' on Blogcritics.



Finally! The long-anticipated eighth season of Doctor Who is upon us with “Deep Breath.”  Ever since watching the 11th Doctor’s (Matt Smith) touching goodbye in last year’s Christmas special, fans eagerly (and somewhat impatiently) have awaited the arrival of the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi, The Thick Of It, World War Z). Up till now, we’ve 0nly glimpsed him in the holiday special, and, even more briefly, last fall’s 50th anniversary tribute. Now, we get to meet him in all his glory as he takes over the legendary role.

The opening of “Deep Breath,” is terrific. Whether it makes sense or not, a dinosaur walking about Victorian London makes for a cool visual, and so much more. The beast and its relationship with The Doctor, and its eventual tragic death (which tugs at the heartstrings) plays well, and in unexpected ways. We can always count on Doctor Who to deliver both wonderment and pathos, and this opening does that. But, I would like to know how the TARDIS ended up inside the dinosaur’s throat!

In his first appearance as The Doctor, Capaldi gets an A. We still don’t know exactly what kind of Doctor he will make, acting crazy for most of the installment, but he plays the eccentricities so well, it’s clear his more settled version will be good, too. Capaldi’s antics in “Deep Breath” echo past Doctors, in particular Matt Smith and Tom Baker, letting us know the character audiences have been watching for half a century is still in there. His comments about needing more “round things” in his TARDIS will surely please those who are fans of the original series runs. Capaldi is a fan himself from way back, and apparently has internalized those past Doctors, which resonates in his performance.

There are hints of what we might expect of this new Doctor, especially when he is calm enough to stand still for a second. This new version intrigues me, but also makes me wish for Smith’s return. Every time there is a new Doctor, there’s a certain adjustment period for fans, and it’s not easy to jump right back in with someone else. That’s why the first episode of the new series frequently takes time for the character to ‘adjust,’ and “Deep Breath” does that even more so than past versions. It’s very transitional, and that can be unsettling, but as I trust Steven Moffat, the show runner, because of his past track record with Doctor Who, I’m confident in saying this one will likely be good, too.

Because The Doctor is crazy, “Deep Breath” has to rely more on his companion, Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), to drive the episode. Other companions, even brand new ones, have done a good job of this (Rose Tyler, Amy Pond), but Clara, who had already appeared in several episodes with the previous Doctor, doesn’t. I find her annoying and grating, assuming many of the worst things about her that Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) does this week. Unlike the lizard lady, though, I am not sold by the end. I’m not sure what it is about Clara that bugs me, but there’s something there that doesn’t feel as nice and sweet as the other main characters of the past, and I look forward to her departure.

That being said, The Doctor clearly does value her. The surprise scene near the end of “Deep Breath,” in which The Doctor (Smith’s version) calls her as he is dying to ask her to help out with the new guy is touching. We see the bond between Clara and the 11th Doctor, what they mean to each other. Only the 11th could convince her to stay with the 12th. The way the 12th Doctor plays this scene, also helps carry that relationship into the new series, as we see Smith and Capaldi as the same person here. In an hour-plus where The Doctor is so unrecognizable, it’s good Moffat chose to ultimately smooth the transition.

Despite my objections to Clara, I don’t accuse her of everything Vastra does, specifically that she is upset by the new Doctor’s appearance because he’s older and less attractive to her. I believe Clara when she is genuinely worried the grey hair is a sign of something deeper being wrong inside, and I think she’s onto something. The Doctor also asks why this face has been chosen, and it remains a mystery. I hope it’s tied into one of Capaldi’s past Who-verse characters, perhaps his part in the Torchwood: Children of Earth, since it was such a notable role. Even if it doesn’t, I do think we’ll find out in time why The Doctor looks old now. There is definitely something to this.

I mentioned Vastra before, and she isn’t the only returning favorite to Doctor Who. Often, when a new Doctor begins his tenure,  past connections and relationships are forgotten. None of the 10th’s old companions play into the 11th Docotor’s run (except in the 50th anniversary special). However, Vastra, Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Strax (Dan Starkey), like UNIT before them, don’t really ‘belong’ to one Doctor. They are their own group, The Paternoster Gang, one that deserves a spin-off, or, at the very least, repeat appearances for years to come, no matter who is in the title role.

Strax is my favorite of this trio, hilarious as ever. Whether hitting Clara in the face or trying to take her clothes (since she’s not wearing a coat), his naivety is a major selling point. When he slips and says something about pouring acid on The Doctor, it isn’t malicious. And when he fails to enter a room as gracefully as his companions, well, at least he tries. He’s a cartoonish personality, but one with a sweetness and authenticity to him that just makes him grab attention every time he’s on screen.

Vastra and Jenny are good, too, though, and “Deep Breath” takes their development a step further. Their relationship has been firmly established in the past, but every time we spend some time with them, we see another facet. The scene in which Vastra is working and Jenny is posing, wrongly thinking Vastra is painting her, is excellent. Even better, when it seems Vastra and Clara are flirting and Clara gets in a good dig, Jenny whoops triumphantly. Their partnership does not always seem to be one of equals, Jenny posing as Vastra’s maid in private as well as public, and when Jenny gets a leg up and feels superior for even a second, it makes them seem more realistic as a couple. The dynamic works for them, and it’s one rich enough to play around with.

Now, Doctor Who is sort of a procedural, even though it has strong serial elements, and “Deep Breath” is no exception to that. There is a case-of-the-week in the clockwork robots, similar enough that they are probably the same breed as the ones in the fan-favorite episode “The Girl in the Fireplace,” which are harvesting people’s organs. I don’t particularly care for these guys because they’re not malicious and they have nothing against The Doctor personally. Even if they discovered he knew of their schemes, I’m not sure they’d go after him. Instead, they are machines doing what they are programmed to do, which to me is less scary than other foes.

There is one frightening moment in “Deep Breath.” The Doctor and Clara are down in their lair, and The Doctor abandons Clara, saying there’s no sense in both of them dying. As much as I want to be rid of Clara, having The Doctor complicit in her death wouldn’t work because of the effect it would have on him when he comes to his senses. I didn’t really think The Doctor would abandon her, but since he isn’t himself here, one never quite knows. The terror comes in the potential cost for The Doctor, not in any death itself.

Much better than this one-shot is the mystery at the end of “Deep Breath.” We are introduced to Missy (Michelle Gomez, Bad Education), who claims to run the promised land, as she escorts the main clockwork guy (Peter Ferdinando, Snow White and the Hunstman), last seen impaled and dead, into her garden. She’s creepy, refers to The Doctor as her ‘boyfriend,’ and is definitely demented. Why does she want Clara and The Doctor together if she loves The Doctor? Why does she send them both into danger? Who is she and what does she mean for this eighth season?

Popular theories popping up online have her as the TARDIS, which has called The Doctor its boyfriend in the past, or a regeneration of River Song or The Master, both of whom have been crazy and bent on killing The Doctor at one time or another. I love River Song dearly, though, and Alex Kingston, who plays her. I can’t imagine the show would ruin her, and besides, her quest of murder has already been done. The Master seems the most likely of these three theories based on the personality Missy exhibits alone, but I predict she’s something else entirely, quite likely someone we’ve never seen before.

There are a couple of clues that could point to an answer, or may just be red herrings. There is character named Missy in the Cybermen-fueled episode of season seven, “Nightmare in Silver,” who is seemingly killed by them. Moffat has started the season eight is building to a huge two-part Cybermen showdown. Coincidence? Missy also calls her home ‘heaven’ and The Doctor has just died. Might she be trying to escort him into the ‘afterlife’?

Overall, “Deep Breath,” while somewhat dragged down by being too Clara-heavy and containing a mediocre monster, has enough gems hidden within to entice one to tune in for the rest of the series. I doubt it will rank among my favorite episodes, which is a shame, but it doesn’t totally fail, either. I’m almost as anxious as I was a week ago to find out what kind of Doctor Capaldi will be, and I guess that compulsion to watch again is the goal of any television series.

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

First Impression: DOCTOR WHO - "Deep Breath"

Article first published as DOCTOR WHO Review Season 8 Episode 1 Deep Breath Review on Seat42F.

Doctor Who 8x01 1

Last night saw the return of the BBC’s DOCTOR WHO in spectacular fashion. Beginning with a dinosaur in Victorian London, the beast spits up a blue box that contains Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and The Doctor (Peter Capaldi, The Thick of It, World War Z), the latter bearing a new face. As the mad doctor runs off into the night, Clara relies on some old friends to not only help her figure out how to handle the Time Lord, but also investigate the murders plaguing the city.

This episode, entitled “Deep Breath,” feels a little off to me as compared to other installments. I suspect the main issue is the increased role of Clara, a character I find annoying and will be happy when she departs. With The Doctor dealing with swirling memories while trying to settle into his new form, Clara has the monumental task of driving events, meaning much of the running time is spent focused on her with less of the maniacal energy of The Doctor, which usually distracts from her. I hope future episodes get better.

That being said, there is a lot to get excited about in “Deep Breath.” I always love The Paternoster Gang, and am pleased to see them carry over to a new doctor’s tenure. Strax (Dan Starkey), frequently hilarious, is in rare form in the season premiere. He gets in some terrific one-liners in his seemingly-naïve way. Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Madame Vastra’s (Neve McIntosh) romance continues to develop, showing us both their strengths and their weaknesses. When Vastra and Clara’s interactions begin to be charged, Jenny gets a rare moment of rising above Vastra, triumphant and fun. When will the trio get their own spin-off already?

I also really like Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, even though we haven’t really seen who he is yet except in brief glimpses. These moments of clarity, a peek at what’s going on inside the man, are among the best moments of the episode. But the rest of it, where he is off his rocker, is equally well-played. Capaldi manages to capture not only the spirit of the long-lived character, but tie it into the past, providing references to many former versions to the very alert viewer. Shades of Baker and Smith, chiefly, pass through at certain parts of the episode, and this provides cohesion to the series.

Which brings us to the surprise appearance of Smith in his final moments, calling Clara to ask her to help out the new guy. This is sweet because it connects the dots more firmly, showing the bond between the Eleventh Doctor and Clara and the Eleventh Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor. In an hour (plus) where The Doctor doesn’t really feel like The Doctor because of what he’s going through, it’s nice that this is included to help ground things and remind us of what is really happening.

The case of the week was ‘eh’ for me. A lot of people liked it because it ties back into a previous fan-favorite, early Tenth Doctor episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” with the return of the clockwork aliens. Personally, I didn’t get into it that much the first time around, and so am equally disappointed at their return. It’s not that they are poorly executed or anything; it’s just that they are so simple-minded, and aren’t even plotting specifically against The Doctor, whereas other foes who do generate a higher level of intensity and danger. The clockwork robots seem much easier to avoid than other bad guys; just stay away from their lair. But that’s just my opinion.

At the end of “Deep Breath,” DOCTOR WHO reveals its next big arc, introducing us to the character of Missy (Michelle Gomez, Bad Education). Is she the TARDIS? A regeneration of River Song, demented again? A regeneration of The Master? Or something else entirely? You’ll have to wait to find out.

DOCTOR WHO airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

INTRUDERS Intrudes Onto My TV

Intruders-Cast-BBC-America

Article first published as INTRUDERS Review on Seat42F.

BBC America’s latest original series (see my past reviews for gripes on the fact that this network even has original shows, albeit often-good ones, while hardly airing anything British) is INTRUDERS. A dark, dreary, plodding sci-fi / horror drama, the series is about a secret society that cheats death by intruding into other people’s bodies and taking control. With weird, uneven pacing, the show seeks to set a scary tone, but perhaps hits it a little too much on the head. It might pair well with Doctor Who, its partner on Saturday nights, but Who audiences might very well decide it’s not smart enough to be worth their time.

The pilot of INTRUDERS is not at all a good pilot. I know what the premise is because I’ve read media materials, but the plot is not evident from the start. One could conceivably watch the whole first hour and still be confused at the point of the show. All we see are people running around, being shot, and acting in unexplained manners, never really showing us what they are up to.

After awhile, you’ll realize that the main protagonist seems to be Jack Whelan (John Simm, Life on Mars, Doctor Who), a former cop whose wife, Amy (Mira Sorvino, Psych, Falling Skies), suddenly goes missing midway through episode one. He soon becomes obsessed with finding her, as one does, but avoids the traditional routes one might take to locate a missing person. His story thickens more when an old friend, Gary Fischer (Tory Kittles, True Detective, Sons of Anarchy), shows up to seek his help with a murder investigation. Intelligent viewers will assume there is connection between the case and Amy, though the series doesn’t seek to draw a thread between them yet.

In the second major subplot, a vicious assassin named Richard Shepherd (James Frain, Grimm, The Tudors) slays his way around, searching for a nine-year-old girl named Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland). It is likely safe to assume that Madison is the current host of a malevolent being who hurts poor, defenseless animals. This begs the question, is Richard, despite his brutality, a good guy out to save the world? And if not, should we care about Madison?

The thing is, I don’t care. The installment jumps around aimlessly, leaping between characters without direction and rarely giving us anything cohesive to work with. It actually feels like there are more players and elements than there are because of the disorganization. Rather than set up a structure for what should be a long-running mystery adventure show, we get a jumble of unrelated scenes with people that are not memorable. It’s really hard to follow INTRUDERS.

That’s a shame because the cast, well-seasoned, is good, if badly used. Frain plays bad beautifully, as we’ve seen from him before, and Simm has what it takes to be a leading man, if the writers would deign to give him the material. I like Sorvino, even though her smaller part is mostly confined to acting unattractively crazy, and Kittles seems a fine enough side kick.

Brown, though young, is distracting. It’s not that she doesn’t play creepy well, it’s just too much, her supposedly deceptive character hitting all the stereotypical notes. In this, she matches the tone that the score and lighting seek to set, which is overtly creepy so that no one can mistake it for anything else. Sadly, this is not a sign of a high-quality program.

I’m told other episodes of INTRUDERS get better and the story really takes off by week three. The problem is, a lot of viewers won’t stick around that long. I haven’t decided if I will. Delivering a pilot that is poor on so many counts makes it hard to get excited about the series, and thus fails in its mission. INTRUDERS is a false start for the up-and-coming network.

INTRUDERS airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

When Fans Do It Better

Article first published as When Fans Do It Better on Blogcritics.

We are in an era of constant remakes and sequels. Everything old is new again, and aging properties, from the popular to the obscure, keep getting new life. Sometimes, this is good, such as in the case of Star Trek‘s film reboot and the revival of British TV favorite Doctor Who. But for every win, there are plenty of losers, such as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, and, perhaps most egregious, the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, currently in theaters.

I grew up a TMNT fan. Not the original comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, which the purist worships, but the hokey cartoon and live-action films with guys in costumes. Perhaps these properties don’t hold up today, but they were beloved to me. As one of four brothers, at one point we boys all had pajamas in the design of each of the turtles as befitting our personalities, more or less (I was Donatello, the geeky, peace-maker, brain). We enjoyed their sarcastic humor and not-so-realistic fighting skills, playing with their action figures, and endlessly copying them for hours. And I got dragged to the 2007 animated movie, which is actually pretty cool.

TMNT 2014I understand that the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may not be for me. After all, if the previous efforts, beloved by young me, aren’t any good on a re-watch from an older perspective, they could very well be in the same vein as what Nickelodeon is doing with the property today, now with Michael Bay-explosions, giant plot holes, inconsistent characters, and Megan Fox trying to act, the latter not as bad as expected, but still far from good. It’s painful to watch something from my childhood destroyed by such an awful film, which I groaned and suffered through recently. The fact that the movie is making loads of money at the box office only rubs salt in the wound.

The thing is, while I only enjoyed the for-kids version of the story, one of my oldest and best pals, podcaster and webcomic author Nick Arganbright, is and long has been pretty obsessed with the comics, so I did eventually read them. They are sharply written with a distinctive, unique style. They may not be my cup of tea, but I respect them from the quality they clearly exhibit, and it’s a shame they’ve been bastardized so badly.

Now, while Hollywood may not always be faithful to the source material, the Internet has provided a place for fans to go and remake the series in their own way, distributing it to others who share their interest. Fan-faction has been around for a very long time, but seems to be much more prevalent today, and easier to get a hold of. Some of it is great, much of it is crap, and almost none of it is blessed by the original creator, which makes the ethics of it questionable and a genre I typically stay away from it.

However, every once in awhile, some fan boy gets it right more so than the official entity in charge of the franchise. Nick, whom I mentioned above who loves TMNT, has an effort called Ultimate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and it’s good! It fits the spirit and personalities of the old comics extremely well, capturing the essence that the producers in charge now get so wrong. Speaking with those who care more for the original stuff than I do, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Nick writes the script and pays artist Eryck Webb to draw the pages, and he gets to see what he dreams of for his favorite series, regardless of whether or not a studio or publisher will ever make it good again.

Ultimate Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesThe question is, should he be allowed to do this? And should more take up the cause for their own favorites? That’s hard to say. I have no problem with people wanting to let their imaginations run free, and even using already established characters and universes. This helps the mind develop story-telling skills, and can be a step to making up your own works as you analyze the positives and negatives, learning from what the ‘real’ version gets right and wrong.

But, in this particular case, which is a rarity, what this author is doing seems so much better and more true than other fan-fiction. Nickelodeon dropped the ball, and he picked it up and hit a grand slam with it. Obviously, he cannot profit from someone else’s ideas, and he’s not trying to, mindful of the law. But when some guy in a basement can write it better, shouldn’t he be permitted to do so?

The main problem here is not that UTMNT exists; any fan of the Teenage Mutant Turtles should be glad to find it. The problem is sorting through all the junk out there to find the gem. And the other problem is that our current system doesn’t always mean that best minds get to make the decision, which results in the obscenity that is currently in theaters. I don’t know how to solve such issues, but when there’s an example this glaring, it certainly highlights what’s broken. I guess it’s up to you to decide for yourself if Nick and others like him are a possible solution and should be promoted as such.

Friday, August 22, 2014

‘My Boy Jack’ – DVD Review

Article first published as ‘My Boy Jack’ – DVD Review on Blogcritics.

My Boy JackMy Boy Jack is a BBC production of a family caught up in the Great War. Based on real events, the movie stars Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, A Young Doctor’s Notebook) as John “Jack” Kipling, son of author, poet, and outspoken hawk Rudyard Kipling (David Haig, Yes, Prime Minister).

When Jack tries to join Britain’s armed forces, he is denied because of his need for spectacles. Unfortunately, his father is out telling every able-bodied young lad that they must join up or be shunned by their countrymen. In the position to do so, Rudyard can pull strings to help Jack enlist, but should he? And how will Rudyard feel if Jack marches out and doesn’t make it home? Although My Boy Jack was made in 2007, it only recently made its U.S. debut, on cable network Ovation. It has now been released on DVD as well.

I can see why My Boy Jack might have had a hard time finding its audience. The first half of the series is a slow-moving, seemingly typical British drama. It then morphs into a war story, complete with death and explosions, before focusing on the family struggling emotionally back home. These pivots provide an uneven tone, even while maintaining the quality, so its sometimes hard knowing what to expect from moment to moment.

At a 94-minute running time, it hardly seems long enough for a biopic, but in this one, it’s plenty for the movie’s very narrow focus. Jack’s involvement in the war, and that is told from beginning to end, leaves no hanging threads.

The world referenced by My Boy Jack was a defining time for the British Empire, and it’s easy to see why a boy, who might not quite be physically fit by the war department’s standards, struggles against the odds to serve King and Country. England was at the height of its power at the time, and the British way of life seemed threatened. Combine that with the father-son relationship and Rudyard’s stance on defending the homeland, Jack will feel ashamed if he can’t participate, disappointing his father and his peers. He must enlist, and we feel his struggle.

The film’s family drama is very strongly portrayed. Rudyard is presented as a man confident in his beliefs, but not immune to being shaken by circumstance. His wife, Caroline (Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City), is supportive, but torn, proud, and not wanting her boy in danger. She knows Jack is heading to a place where many of the nation’s young men are dying every day. Jack’s sister, Elsie (Carey Mulligan, The Great Gatsby), is more straightforward with her disapproval, sharing a close bond with Jack, and scared about what might happen.

While the events portrayed in My Boy Jack happened a century ago and are easily spoiled with an online research, I’ll refrain from revealing if Jack makes it home. I will say that the story is moving and the performances are very good, even if the overall result isn’t anything particularly special.

The DVD release of My Boy Jack comes with several bonus features. We’re given six minutes of deleted scenes that are actually pretty insightful, unlike many other titles. There are twenty-four minutes of interviews with various cast members and almost a full hour discussing the war itself. This unexpected wealth of useful extras is most welcome, making the DVD feel like it’s for a theatrical film, rather than a TV movie.

My Boy Jack is available now.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

OUTLANDER Review Season 1 Episode 2 Castle Leoch

Article first published as OUTLANDER Review Season 1 Episode 2 Castle Leoch on Seat42F.

Graham McTavish, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan | OUTLANDER
Graham McTavish, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan | OUTLANDER

Episode two of Starz’s original series OUTLANDER is likely a truer indicator of what this show will be than the first hour, which was mainly set in the 1940s. Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is slowly adjusting to Scotland in the 1740s, but wants to escape the clan that has her so she can look for a way home. Arriving at “Castle Leoch,” the seat of the clan the show present, as well as this installment’s title, Claire finds new friends, foes, and a realization that getting home may be even harder than she expects.

OUTLANDER does a good job setting up the principal cast in “Castle Leoch.” Most importantly, we’re introduced to Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) uncles, Colum MacKenzie (Gary Lewis, Gangs of New York) and Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish, The Hobbit movies). Colum is the leader of the castle, but his younger brother, Dougal, is the muscle. It’s not an unfamiliar arrangement, but it does leave the show unpredictable. Would Dougal ever go around his sibling? Will Colum die from the debilitating condition from which he suffers, leaving Dougal in charge? Can Claire count on either one for assistance?

It’s clear in “Castle Leoch” that while Colum is not cruel, he is fiercely protective of those under his charge. He seems a friend to Claire at first, but surreptitiously interrogates her, even after she thinks the questioning is done. Claire isn’t dumb, but she also isn’t used to not being able to take people at face value, still adjusting to these more dangerous times, and slips up, making her untrustworthy. The result is that she is kept at “Castle Leoch” against her will until such time that she can earn Colum’s faith in her. Though, as mentioned above, that might not even be enough, should Dougal rise to power.

This complex dynamic is one in which neither Claire nor Colum is a villain. The viewer may side with Claire, of course, as she is our protagonist we’ve been instructed to root for. Yet, Colum seems fair, and though his suspicions will surely ultimately prove to be unfounded, they are understandable at the present, especially given Claire’s English accent, a people the Scots are not in league with exactly. It’s an uneasy truce between the two, with Colum not quite imprisoning her, but neither is Claire free to leave.

Others in the clan are much easier to win over. Jamie, of course, is for Claire, and as she tends his wounds, they bond even more as he shares his tragic, noble history. Claire finds the closest thing there is to a peer here in Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek, The Borgias), whose knowledge of plants and herbs have some viewing her as a witch, though Claire is scientific-minded enough to know better. And there’s goodly, motherly Mrs. Fitzgibbons (Annette Badland, The Sparticle Mystery), whose disapproval over Claire’s risqué (for the time) clothing is soon replaced by affection.

More a mystery is the only main character I haven’t yet mentioned in OUTLANDER, Murtagh Fitzgibbons (Duncan Lacroix, Wikings). Murtagh is seemingly pleasant and married to Mrs. Fitz, which earns him some respect. But he serves as the eyes of Dougal, too, which seems a dubious task. It’s not clear yet if Murtagh is in this position willingly or out of a sense of duty. Can Claire trust him?

The other thing “Castle Leoch” has me wondering is how Claire’s glimpse of Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) is affecting her impression of her husband, Frank (also Menzies). Hearing from Jamie about Black Jack’s brutality, it has to be shocking for Claire to think that this is her love’s forbearer, and that these deeds are in his blood. She has to wonder if Frank acted anything like Black Jack when thrust into war himself. The physical similarity, which I am not in favor of as an element of the show, also has to make it even easier for her to draw a parallel. Might this be why she starts to tell people Frank is dead, acting more like a widow than a married women?

I like this episode of OUTLANDER a lot. It provides much insight into the chemistry between the various characters and paints a very authentic-seeming portrait of a clan in Scotland at the time. It provides historical context while staying engaging with interesting, complex characters. The Gaelic language comes in bursts, and while at first I didn’t like the fact that it isn’t subtitled, I can see how that helps the viewer put themselves in Claire’s situation even more, as she must rely on a kindly interpreter. Flashes of the twentieth century and Jamie’s past are used sparingly and effectively, thankfully, as some shows overuse this device. And, as I mentioned in my pilot review, OUTLANDER is in a simply gorgeous setting that only enhances the style and tone.

My only real complaint about “Castle Leoch” is that Claire seems to be getting over Frank much too fast. She does want to go home, that is true, and she has to adjust somehow in order to cope with her current existence. But her draw to Jamie is strong, and while she is fighting it, it’s a battle she’s losing far too quickly. Is Frank not the man she thought he was, given what she now knows about his lineage, and is Jamie her true man? Only time will tell.

OUTLANDER airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

‘A Young Doctor’s Notebook’ – Previewing Season Two


‘A Young Doctor’s Notebook’ – Previewing Season Two

Article originally published as ‘A Young Doctor’s Notebook’ – Previewing Season Two on Blogcritics.


A Young Doctor’s Notebook, now subtitled & other stories, returns this week for a second four-episode season on Ovation. Picking up this year with 1918 and 1935 timelines (about a year after the first season left off for both versions of the protagonist), this is both a continuation of the plot, and an entirely new tale. Based, in part, on the short story “Morphine” by Mikhail Bulgakov, the writers are tying that text back into the setting and characters introduced in season one.

When last we’d seen him, the older doctor (Jon Hamm) had been caught prescribing himself morphine. Now, released from a mental institution, he travels back to the office where he spends the Russian Revolution, determined to confront his past — while sober. Whether he can face up to the man he’d at one time been, and the things he’s done, is a central question to this second season, especially where a certain woman is concerned.

As the second season narrative begins, the younger doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) is in the throes of addiction. In an unhealthy sexual relationship of convenience with Pelageya (Rosie Cavaliero), he is much more concerned about his next fix, and not getting caught skimming drugs than he is about romance. Yet, there is some sort of affection between them, if only because she enables the Younger Doctor in his habits.

During season one, the under-the-influence older doctor had been spinning out of control as he relives the beginning of his tumultuous journey, while the younger doctor is a naive, optimistic lad; season two turns the tables. Now the younger doctor is the reckless one, out of control, while the older doctor sits in judgement, knowing full well that he is fact sitting judgment on his younger self. This created a complex dynamic, allowing both actors to explore the psyche of their damaged parts in different, unique ways.

This is a very poignant time for A Young Doctor’s Notebook to air in the United States, given the recent death of Robin Williams. Mental health and addiction are at the forefront of the public consciousness, and the series delves into the subject in an interesting, entertaining, enlightening way.

Students of history may find in A Young Doctor’s Notebook several tidbits of interest. Season two takes place during the Russian Revolution, bringing the war to the very doorstep of the hospital for most of the four installments. Natasha (Margaret Clunie), a member of the ruling elite, and The Colonel (Charles Edwards, Downton Abbey), her protector, stop over in the chaos and each catch the eye of one of our central cast. I’m not sure how much actual, factual past is included in this story, but the pair of new characters do help it feel like the office is set in the real world, rather than existing apart, on its own, as it sort of did in season one.

A Young Doctor’s Notebook is funny, but through an extremely dark brand of comedy. Whether joking about a dead horse or trying to get laid, there’s a pathetic sadness to the characters who exist within the series narrative. Tears may not make it to the audience’s eyes, but they do emanate from the characters on multiple occasions, and with good reason. This is a dangerous, tragic world, and the misfortunes, while amusing because of the cartoonish, over-the-top manner through which they occur, are genuine.

I don’t know if A Young Doctor’s Notebook return for a third season, given the lack of more source material. It’s a unique series I have very much enjoyed, thoroughly impressed by the talent behind it. I watched all four episodes of the second season in one sitting and craved more, a testament to its quality.

A Young Doctor’s Notebook airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Ovation.