TV Review: Doctor Who S4 E04 – ‘The Doctor’s Wife’

Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillen, Arthur Darvill, Suranne Jones, Elisabeth Berrington, Michael Sheen ~ Writer: Neil Gaiman ~ Director: Richard Clark ~ Year: 2011

Doctor Who The Doctor's Wife Season 6 Matt Smith Suranne Jones Neil Gaiman

[xrr rating=4.5/5]

The Low-Down: It’s ‘The One Written By That Bloke Who Wrote The Sandman’. It’s the episode with one of the most fan-baiting titles of recent years. And it’s also about the most inventive, fun and consistently excellent single episode of Doctor Who since S5’s The Eleventh Hour.

What’s it About?: An impossible message sends the Doctor to a junkyard asteroid outside the universe, where he encounters eccentric patchwork people and the parasitic House. But there’s also someone else – a woman named Idiris, who’s actually someone the Doctor knows extremely well…

The Story: (WARNING: As with most of my Doctor Who reviews, the following contains a hefty load of spoilers…)

I’ll be honest – I was a little worried about The Doctor’s Wife. Neil Gaiman writing Doctor Who did sound like a match made in heaven, but I’ve learned never to trust sure things where Doctor Who was concerned. Plus, there was that title – a fan-baiting proposition if there ever was one, especially in the wake of S4’s The Doctor’s Daughter (and its anti-climactic resolution in the story in question) along with the general speculation about exactly who River Song was going to turn out to be. Also, there was Suranne Jones – an actress whose first Who-related appearence was as a brassy, gun-slinging Northern version of the Mona Lisa in a not-exactly-astounding edition of The Sarah Jane Adventures. On top of this, the opening of S6 had been… well, not exactly shaky, but a little too arc-heavy, a long way from the confident energy of last year’s The Eleventh Hour, and backed up with an episode (The Curse of the Black Spot) that can only safely be described as ‘lacklustre’.

I needn’t have worried. Not only does The Doctor’s Wife bring a serious level of inventive fun and energy back to the show, but it’s also a stone-cold classic that features a tremendous amount of continuity that’ll enchant long-term fans without talking over the head of new viewers. One of the advantages of Doctor Who having such a long history is that certain writers can play off this history in imaginative ways, and Gaiman does this in such a wonderful manner, giving a new slant on a relationship that’s been there since the show’s beginning and yet has never quite been expressed like this.

The identity of Idris – that she’s the Doctor’s TARDIS in human form – is a brilliant twist (one that I didn’t predict in the slightest), and not only does it set up a pulpy, ferociously enjoyable episode, but it also gives us a wonderfully oddball relationship of the kind you could only ever pull off in Doctor Who – someone the Doctor has known for 700 years, and yet never properly met. The interplay between the Doctor and Idris is energetic, fast-paced and brilliantly done (from her initial outbursts of “My Thief!” to his complaints about the TARDIS’s reliability, to the final, heartbreaking “Hello” line), and what could have been over-kooky or twee is pitched at exactly the right level, aided by simply brilliant performances from Matt Smith and Suranne Jones (whom I’d never have recognised from her Sarah Jane Adventures appearence).

It’s an episode that’s utterly Gaimanesque, with plenty of gothic flourishes (especially with Idris herself, who heavily echoes Delirium from Gaiman’s The Sandman), but which also is steeped in Who mythology, utilising the background of the show in a number of imaginative ways and even giving us a long-awaited look at the TARDIS interior beyond the control room (with the dim, slightly creepy hexagonal corridors giving the dingy, atmospheric feel that the story needed).

What’s most surprising about the story, however, is that while there’s a brilliant pace and a cerebral edge to it, it also doesn’t feel like it would have been completely out of place in the Russell T Davies era – there’s an expansive big-heartedness to much of the episode that’s tremendous fun, and it also doesn’t fall into the trap of overdone sentiment that Vincent and the Doctor arguably did at its climax. Overall, this is Gaiman getting the chance to play with as many elements from the Doctor Who toybox as he can get his hands on – and while there are areas where budget has obviously come into play (the TARDIS-set sequences are never able to cut loose with the kind of mayhem that House would have been technically able to unleash), this is still a tremendously inventive and creative episode, giving us a style that feels modern while still capturing the pulp weirdness of Doctor Who at its best.

Slickly directed and well-played by everyone involved, it’s the kind of story where the tiny flaws only really stand out because there are so few of them. The TARDIS-pursuit sections never quite feel as if they fully live up to their potential, and it is unfortunate we ended up with yet another ‘fake death’ for Rory (although the proximity with ‘Curse of the Black Spot’ wasn’t planned, as that was originally to be episode 9 of this season, and the sequence in question was genuinely unsettling, with the disturbing graffiti giving it a seriously dark edge for Who). Yes, there are certain moments when the pace is a tad too fast, or we’re getting important information shouted at us over some slightly deafening sound design, but they’re over so quickly that they barely seem to matter.

What’s more important is the sheer quality of the writing, and how much of a difference it makes after last week’s somewhat unimpressive effort – while Moffat’s era of Who is still somewhat uneven, at least the highs are still turning out to be magnificent ones. As always, Who lives or dies on the quality of its writing, and Gaiman has set a new benchmark, giving us another episode that leaves you thinking “My God, why can’t it be that good every week?” He’s also given us the most genuinely satisfying episode of S6 so far, and yet more proof that despite its inconsistency, Who is still capable of being one of the finest SF shows on TV when it really hits the mark.

The Verdict: An engaging, funny and magical episode, The Doctor’s Wife will make it impossible to look at the Doctor/TARDIS relationship in quite the same way again. A seriously classy act, it’s not going to be an easy one to follow – and now’s not the time to mention that next week’s episode (the first of a two-parter) is from Matthew Graham, the same writer who gave us the abysmal S2 episode Fear Her, is it?

TV News: Comics No More (Wonder Woman and Locke and Key bite the dust…)

Wonder Woman 2011 TV Pilot Production Adrianne Palicki

So, the much-kicked, much-derided Wonder Woman pilot has, in the end, not been picked up by NBC. In certain ways, this isn’t surprising – the network initially passed on the script, and it’s fairly clear that it only really got through to production because of the fact that it’s a well-known and recognised property, meaning NBC were dipping their toe in the water but with no commitment to diving all the way in. Naturally, there’s lots of victorious braying from certain areas of comics fandom, convinced that this project was a guaranteed disaster from the start, but I can’t quite work up the same enthusiasm and relief I did when Robert Zemeckis’ ill-advised motion-capture remake of Yellow Submarine got tanked. That’s mainly because Wonder Woman is a character where there’s so much manuevering room that you can do different takes on her (especially in a network TV show, which was highly unlikely to go the ‘Amazonian Goddess fights mythological beasts every week’ route). Now, I was never entirely convinced by what I heard about Kelly’s WW concept – it sounded like the kind of thing which could either work fairly well, or end up embarrassing – and some of the casting had me raising question marks (Liz Hurley as the main bad guy? Really?), but there was enough there to at least have me intrigued, and I was willing to give the project the benefit of the doubt until I’d actually seen it. And, from reports of people who’ve seen the pilot, the episode isn’t a disaster and has some strong elements (quotes used have been ‘ambitious’ and ‘well-crafted’), but the focus-groups and execs weren’t convinced.

Now, however good or bad lead actress Adrianne Palicki was as Wonder Woman, the series isn’t going to happen, and yet another version of Wonder Woman has failed to make it into becoming a genuine commercial spin-off. Fans may be breathing a sigh of relief, but this is likely to make another Wonder Woman project a lot less likely to happen for while, if only because producers may be slightly uneasy about a fandom that’s going to lash out with a borderline insane amount of venom unless they get a version of Wonder Woman that’s exactly like the comics in every conceivable way. And as we’ve seen plenty of times in recent years – sticking exactly with the comics isn’t always a good thing. Like I’ve said before, Wonder Woman is a tricky character to get right in a manner that will appeal outside comic-book fans – there’s a reason why so many WW film projects have failed to get off the drawing board – and it’ll be interesting to see if anyone can ever solve the Wonder Woman problem…

Locke and Key Cover Art Gabriel Rodriguez Joe Hill Issue 6 Head GamesThe WW pilot misfire is, of course, the big TV news – but the one that’s made me a lot sadder is that Fox have passed on the pilot episode of Locke and Key, an adaptation of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s brilliant dark fantasy comic (which is slowly approaching the end of its run). With a brilliant cast and an absolutely corking director for the pilot (Never Let Me Go helmer and music video supremo Mark Romanek), it was top of the list of shows I wanted to see happen – although I was a little concerned that Locke and Key is pretty damn dark, a pitch-black twist on a traditional ‘kids adventure’ tale, and it felt like the kind of work that would fit much better somewhere like HBO or AMC than on a mainstream network (added to which, Fox have not exactly always been kind to genre shows). Added to which, word is that the pilot episode is really, really good – but it’s fallen victim to being viewed as ‘too complex’, and in a showdown between Locke and Key and new JJ Abrams-produced mystery Alcatraz, Abrams was the winner. There’s always the vague chance it might get shopped to another network, but I’d be surprised – five years ago, Locke and Key would have stood a much stronger chance as a TV show, but mainstream US TV seems to be largely moving away from long-form mysteries and complex arcs (leaving it more for the pay-on-demand HBO crowd). Seems very likely that Locke and Key is going to be left as yet another fascinatingly incomplete footnote in SF/Fantasy TV History, worse luck…

TV Review: Doctor Who S6 E03 – ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’

Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillen, Arthur Darvill, Hugh Bonneville, Lily Cole, Lee Ross~ Writer: Steve Thompson ~ Director: Jeremy Webb ~ Year: 2011

Doctor Who Season 6 Curse of the Black Spot Amy Pond Karen Gillen Pirate

[xrr rating=2.5/5]

The Low-Down: A lacklustre excursion into Pirate-infested waters, The Curse of the Black Spot isn’t the worst New Who episode by a long shot, but it’s certainly never in any danger of being the best.

What’s it About?: Following a distress signal, the TARDIS lands onboard a becalmed Pirate ship, but the crew are in fear of something out there in the water – a Siren (Lily Cole), who’s already killed most of their number. But, with Rory falling under the Siren’s spell, can the Doctor figure out what’s really behind this mysterious curse?

The Story: It isn’t always good to be prejudiced against certain writers – especially since expectations can often prove to be wrong – but unfortunately, there are also times when I’m proved completely right. When I initially heard that this episode was going to be written by Steve Thompson, the man responsible for the deeply lacklustre middle episode of last year’s Sherlock (The Blind Banker, aka The One With The Chinese People That Felt Like A Filler Episode), the chances of a brilliant standalone episode seemed pretty remote, and what we get is a long way from being brilliant; an episode that’s fun enough to be distracting, but never quite good enough to be truly memorable, and lacking the kind of insane invention that Doctor Who thrives on.

In fact, most of the problems with the episode can be laid at the script’s door, because after a relatively hearty start, the story soon runs out of interesting things to do with pirates (and it certainly doesn’t help that the story essentially gets smaller as it goes along – it only really feels in any way like the ‘spooky romp’ the trailers promised in the first ten minutes). The episode also runs into the problem that we’ve seen this story a few too many times now in New Who – the ‘supernatural threat turns out to have an SF explanation’ tale is almost as much of a staple as the Celebrity Historical, and while Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon subverted that kind of episode (giving us a very atypical adventure featuring Nixon), there’s no real subversion here at all. Even the leap from the boat to the space-ship (which is very reminiscent of 1978 Classic Who adventure The Stones of Blood) doesn’t carry any real sense of frisson or drama, and ultimately we spend far too long in the episode waiting to get past the ‘supernatural shenanigans’ and onto the meat of the story.

Another issue that’s rather more in evidence is that of budget. Who has, over the last couple of years, undergone some relatively strong budget cuts, and certainly isn’t quite functioning on the same scale as it was in S4, for example, but still has to somehow pull off epic adventures every week. Certain episodes are managing it, but others aren’t quite so able, and with its restricted scale The Curse of the Black Spot does feel distinctly like a ‘bottle’ show, with the regulars spending most of the story trapped in one location, while the spaceship has the same slightly threadbare feel that the Dalek craft (aka the redressed factory) had in S5’s Victory of the Daleks.

Of course, budget isn’t everything – but it does mean that you need really good writing to distract from the flaws. Robert Holmes, back in the classic run of the series, was a master at writing so well that the audience didn’t really notice that not much had actually happened in his stories, but Thompson isn’t anywhere close to his league. The script is pretty low on invention (and arguably throws in the ‘Amy in tricorn-hat-wearing swordfight’ scene a bit too quickly), and also seems unsure as to whether it’s playing it for laughs, being historically accurate, or going for all-out spookiness, ending up stuck somewhere in the rather unsatisfying middle-ground.

Indeed, it’s the kind of story where you almost wish RTD would rush back in and inject it with a bit of energy and some OTT pirate gags. Especially as it’s essentially going for the Pirates of the Caribbean route (in the same way that the Phillip Hinchcliffe era in the 1970s hi-jacked classic horror films), a little bit of exaggeration and luridness would have done this episode the world of good. Instead, there’s a deliberate ploy for historical texture rather than all-out pirate fantasy, and the results are… middling. A mildly distracting adventure that has a couple of nicely handled moments, but rarely gets the needle above ‘average’, shown by the fact that even Matt Smith can’t make the material he’s given work, sliding a bit too much into eccentric hand-waving mode here.

There is at least a fine performance from Hugh Bonneville as the Captain, giving the story more gravitas than it deserves, and while the ending is manipulative, nonsensical (exactly how is Rory suddenly drowning again?) and another example of Rory almost dying (which they could have gotten away with if they’d actually acknowledged it onscreen), I was actually surprised by how well the Amy and Rory relationship played in the latter half of this episode. It’s especially interesting to see Amy finally being unequivocally in love with Rory and letting down some of that rather brusque, inscrutable front of hers – the scene in the medical bay is surprising simply because it’s one of the first times it actually feels like Amy is Rory’s wife, and that the writers are succeeding in moving the relationship on.

Of course, there are the massive gaps in logic, the bizarre slip-ups, the strange decision to have the Siren catapult into the air every time she appears, and the frankly unforgivable error of cutting out the final fate of the Boatswain (Lee Ross), who gets deliberately injured and ‘marked’ by the Siren, and then isn’t seen again until appearing in the episode’s final scene. But these aren’t the largest problems to ever have appeared in a Doctor Who episode – plenty of RTD stories got away with a hell of a lot more, and The Curse of the Black Spot would be easier to forgive if it wasn’t quite so average.

However, for those taking this as a sign that Who’s in trouble – with a slightly overcomplex two-part season opener and a middling third episode – I’d just say, go back and look at Season 2. There, the season didn’t properly start firing on all cylinders until episode 4, The Girl in the Fireplace (and there wasn’t a huge number of highlights after that) – Season 6 has gone for the longer game, setting up stuff that will pay off later on, and while it hasn’t delivered an absolute slam-dunk classic yet, the quality is still pretty high, and if Curse of the Black Spot is the weakest episode of the season, that’s something I could definitely live with.

The Verdict: Light on the arc, The Curse of the Black Spot pulls off a few effective moments, but won’t be troubling anyone’s ‘Top Five S6 episodes’ lists. Here’s hoping that Moffat has some stronger standalone adventures coming, and that the next episode – the long-awaited Neil Gaiman-written episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ – sees S6 finally kicking into top gear…

Previous Doctor Who Season 6 Reviews:

S6 E02 – ‘Day of the Moon’

S6 E01 – ‘The Impossible Astronaut’

TV Review: Doctor Who S6 E02 – ‘Day of the Moon’

Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillen, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston, Mark Sheppard ~ Writer: Steven Moffat ~ Director: Toby Haynes ~ Year: 2011

Doctor Who Matt Smith Day of the Moon Still

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

The Low-Down: An episode that asks more questions than it answers, Day of the Moon is weird, inventive and packed full of highlights – but is Steven Moffat in danger of making Doctor Who a show that’s too clever and complex for its own good?

What’s it About?: Three months after the events of The Impossible Astronaut, the Doctor is imprisoned and Amy, Rory and River Song are on the run, trying to find out about an enemy they can’t even remember. The truth may lie in an abandoned orphanage – but is Amy pregnant or not? And what has Neil Armstrong’s foot got to do with this all?

The Story: (WARNING: As with most of my Doctor Who reviews, the following contains a hefty load of spoilers…)

Two words of warning for Steven Moffat: Ghost Light. For those out there without an encyclopaedic knowledge of Classic Who, Ghost Light was one of the last broadcast stories of the original series run, back in 1989 – a fascinatingly ambitious and dark story that layered on the complications as if they were going out of style, but seemingly forgot to tell the audience exactly what was happening. Result? A Doctor Who adventure that was easier to admire than like, which ended up as rather more baffling than genuinely creepy – and while the Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon two-parter is streets ahead of Ghost Light in terms of ambition and execution, there’s still the sense that the show is aiming a bit too far ahead of its audience, and so busy being ferociously clever and dark and scary that it’s in danger of forgetting to actually entertain.

It’s mildly bizarre to find myself criticising Doctor Who for being too intensively complex and clever – after all, one of the main criticisms of the RTD era was that there was too much bombast and emotiveness, and not quite enough of the kind of dark smartness that Moffat regularly delivered in his stories. Trouble is, I think we’re getting shown what happens when the needle swings too far in the opposite direction, added to which Moffat has now loaded the series with enough ongoing mysteries to fill an entire season of Lost, and I’m not sure if doing that to a show like Who is a good idea, when there’s the very good chance of annoying the hell out of your audience.

All this makes it sound like I didn’t like Day of the Moon, when I did – it’s a stylish, gripping episode with some fantastic sequences, and I have the feeling that when we know exactly where all the events within the episode fit in with the overall arc, it’ll be even better. Trouble is, right now it’s not a completely satisfying story – the actual tale of the Doctor finding a way of overturning the presence of the Silents is really good, and the final twist of using the ‘One Small Step’ transmission combined with the Silents’ own words is a genuinely brilliant one, but at the end we’re still perplexed, and I never watched Doctor Who to be perplexed. I take my hat off to Moffat for trying something seriously ambitious, but it’s also kind of weird to find myself looking forward to next week’s episode simply because it looks like it’s going to be a nicely self-contained tale of Pirates on the high seas that’ll be fairly light on the arc (even if it’s also written by the man who wrote the not-especially-good middle episode of last year’s Sherlock).

There are decisions in Day of the Moon that are daring – most especially shifting forward three months without any warning, and never really giving us a clear resolution of the final cliffhanger (we get a couple of flashbacks, but that’s it) – but there’s also a lot in Day of the Moon that we have to take on trust, and stuff that simply doesn’t seem to make sense (like the way that the Doctor goes from an imprisoned fugitive to working with President Nixon again without any kind of join). Now, this isn’t the first time Who has had a light attitude to plots making sense – RTD would pull this kind of thing all the time, but it’s less of a problem when you’re telling big bold and brassy blockbusters. Complex plots that make the audience pay attention have to make sense, and the end result is a story that’s compulsive but doesn’t quite earn what it’s reaching for.

The Lost comparison is, unfortunately, a fairly strong one – I didn’t have anywhere near the problems everybody else had with the finale (although I do feel the entire sixth season is massively flawed, and that the finale is a piece of television that regularly switches between massively misconceived and strangely brilliant, frequently within a few minutes of each other), but the feeling I got from this two-parter is very similar to the sense I got from the less satisfying sections of Lost, where it was more about heightening the mystery than advancing the story, and where the component parts of the drama didn’t all feel like they fitted together. Because in Day of the Moon we have some great components – a spooky villain, some fantastic setpieces (especially the gun battle in the Silent control room), another great turn from Matt Smith, some well-played shocks (especially the opening teaser sequence, and the brilliant end scene), and a couple of nicely played emotional sequences (most notably the material between Rory and Amy, as well as the brief scene between Rory and the Doctor).

But by the end, we still don’t know exactly how all these components fit together. Yes, we know that the Silents are the Silence that was referred to throughout S5, but we don’t know why – neither do we know how the Silents’ plans fitted in with the fact that the Doctor is due to be killed in 200 years (and that one of them seemed to be still alive in 2011), or with the crashed spaceship in The Lodger, or with the fact that they apparently blew the TARDIS up in order to destroy the Universe in The Pandorica Opens… Well, there’s a massive list of things that we don’t know, and I honestly don’t feel that piling a whole selection of ongoing mysteries on top of the ongoing mysteries we already had (Who is River Song? Why was the TARDIS blown up? Who exactly are the Silents?) is a great idea. It’s as if the episodes had to be edited down too much and a little too much connective tissue was lost in the process, and I can’t help crossing my fingers that a whole selection of these mysteries are going to be at least reasonably wrapped up by the mid-season finale, otherwise Who is going to be in real danger of becoming a show that’s more clever than it is fun. Which would be a crying shame…

(Okay – brief theory time. The Silents appear to be utilising TARDIS-like technology, and now they seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time on Earth getting Humanity to the point where space-suit technology was possible (was that *really* the only thing they were aiming for?). Plus, they’ve now been in charge of either transforming or supervising a child who we now know is at least part Gallifreyan – is this Amy and Rory’s baby? (The obvious concept is “It’s the Doctor’s baby!” but I really can’t see Moffat going down that road) The question is – is someone attempting to reboot Gallifreyan civillisation, possibly using the Earth in order to carry this out? Is that why the TARDIS explosion happened – did they know that the Doctor would find a way of ‘rebooting’ the Universe, and use that to their advantage, working something into the fabric of the newly ‘booted’ Universe at the same time? Are the Silents merely pawns in a bigger game? A game that’s possibly being played by whoever said ‘Silence will Fall’ back in The Pandorica Opens?)

Moffat is a writer who thrives on complications – this often makes for brilliant, immensely satisfying television, but sometimes he needs reining in, because otherwise you start getting complications for complications’ sake. One of the reasons I loved The Eleventh Hour so much, back at the beginning of S5, was that it was surprisingly simple, giving the Doctor a relatively clear objective and allowing the audience along for the ride (which is vital – and one of the reasons why, despite their spookiness, the Silents aren’t as scary as the Weeping Angels – as the audience, we don’t actually know what their intention is). The Eleventh Hour was also an unashamed crowd-pleaser, and I’m a little concerned that I’ve yet to spot an upcoming episode that looks clearly like that kind of all-out colourful romp. Doctor Who needs that sort of episode – 13 weeks of dark, weird and scary might start getting a little repetitive, especially if the major arc keeps piling on the mystery and tying the timeline in ever-more complicated knots.

I don’t want Who to trip over its own feet. I don’t want it to get too complicated, and start alienating the audience that rediscovered it back in 2005. I hope these are just initial teething troubles for S6, and it’s very possible that when I next revisit Day of the Moon, my mind will have seriously changed, and I’ll be able to enjoy the episode on its own terms, rather than getting slightly vexxed by the mass of flapping plot-threads. But right now, I’m a bit worried about the show’s future – and that’s something I never expected to be feeling after a Steven Moffat two-parter…

The Verdict: An episode that feels like it should come with its own flow-chart diagram, Day of the Moon is daring and almost brilliant – but gets held back by its own elliptical nature, and the sheer number of ongoing enigmas. Here’s hoping that the show can bounce back, and that the quest to out-do Lost in the head-scratching mysteries stakes only lasts so long…

Previous Doctor Who Season 6 Reviews:

S6 E01 – ‘The Impossible Astronaut’

TV Review: Doctor Who S6 E01 – ‘The Impossible Astronaut’

Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillen, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston, Mark Sheppard ~ Writer: Steven Moffat ~ Director: Toby Haynes ~ Year: 2011

Doctor Who Series 6 Matt Smith Utah Filming The Impossible Astronaut

[xrr rating=4/5]

The Low-Down: Bold, bewildering and more than a little barmy, the opener to Season 6 of Doctor Who‘s new incarnation is an attention-grabbing adventure that may be a little too complicated at times, but certainly sets up one hell of an ongoing story arc…

What’s it About?: Mysteriously summoned to the Utah desert, the Doctor, Amy, Rory and Professor River Song are soon involved in a bizarre quest back to 1969, where dark events are occurring in the White House, and a sinister alien force lurks behind the scenes…

The Story: (WARNING: As with most of my Doctor Who reviews, the following contains a hefty load of spoilers…)

The RTD era is over. I mean, yes, it’s been over since The Eleventh Hour hopped onto our screens a year ago, but if there’s one thing that this opener to S6 brings home, it’s that this is very much a different show now. The Impossible Astronaut plays more like a season finale (which is a deliberate choice), and it’s about as far as it’s possible to get from the light, fluffy runaround nonsense of RTD opening episodes like Partners in Crime and Smith and Jones. In fact, it’s rather as if we’ve already leapt to Moffat’s equivalent of S4 continuity-fest The Stolen Earth with the sheer level of interconnections and fan service going on, and there’s a part of me that’s a tad concerned at this (especially as it’s always been the mix of daft showstoppers and brainier episodes that have kept the show’s popularity up) – but, admittedly, the rest of me is well and truly along for the ride.

And it’s certainly an eye-catching ride, managing to pull-off an epic, American adventure far better than the distinctly lacklustre Daleks in Manhattan two-parter in S3. There’s spectacle, there’s some great visuals- but on top of the gorgeous US location footage (which is sparing, but about as much as I figured we’d be getting, to be honest), there’s the major twist in the first ten minutes of the episode. Now, I already knew that one of the regulars ‘was going to die’ thanks to spoilers on the front of Doctor Who Magazine, and my money was on the Doctor, but not in the way it happened – a stark, bizarre and powerful scene that managed to have vague (probably deliberate) echoes of 1981 adventure Logopolis, where the soon-to-regenerate Doctor talks to the mysterious Watcher (who’s actually a projection of the Doctor’s future self). It’s really nice, very well acted, and is best because from then onwards it places all the characters in a really interesting emotional situation – the story does seem to be building up that everyone’s going to be keeping secrets from everyone else, and Moffat is also finding new wrinkles to the idea of having a married couple as TARDIS companions (especially if the ‘I’m Pregnant’ line is anything to go by).

Of course, there’s a get-out clause – and the Doctor being secretly enlisted by his own future self to possibly prevent his own death is a great set-up for a story, leading us in an admirably nutty direction while also giving Matt Smith plenty of chances to shine, showcasing the Eleventh Doctor’s comedy and his darker edges (along with his new status as Biggest Flirt in the Universe(TM)). The Impossible Astronaut is a fun, enjoyable and intriguing episode with plenty of standout moments and a great support performance from SF TV veteran Mark Sheppard, but in spite of the incredibly fast dialogue and the multitude of well-timed gags, it is a slow-burner – we’re more in character-building territory than all-out adventure, while the various enigmatic plot-threads have yet to connect up, meaning the final cliffhanger is more bemusing than thrilling simply because we don’t know yet what the hell is going on, leaving us with far more questions than answers (Why exactly is the Astronaut also a little girl? Why is Amy telling the Doctor right then that she’s pregnant? Is it because of what the Silent said? Why was the Future Doctor on the run for 200 years? Why are both Amy and River feeling ill after witnessing the Silents?).

I suspect that this’ll play much better once we’ve seen episode 2, and that maybe this story should have been shown as one big, attention-grabbing 90 minute special rather than a two-parter. With a new and intimidating enemy in the Silents (whose sequence in the White House bathroom is brilliantly spooky, even by Who standards) and a massive mystery (which is connected to the TARDIS-like craft from S5’s episode The Lodger, and may feed into the supposedly game-changing mid-season finale that’s coming in six weeks time), this is a different kind of Who opener that’s dark and demanding, but possibly a little too complicated at times. There’s also the feeling that Moffatt needs to be careful with the trans-temporal shenanigans from now on, as there’s the distinct danger of repeating himself and losing any freshness the concept had in the first place. A gripping opener, The Impossible Astronaut may not have won me over 100% in the way that The Eleventh Hour did, and much is going to depend on how Day of the Moon pans out (from the end-of-episode teaser, it certainly looks demented) – but Doctor Who is still a wildly inventive adventure, and one of the most unabashedly fun SF shows around.

The Verdict: Season 6 is go – and we’re already off to a head-spinning, complex start. Despite a few reservations, this is a strong opener, and if Moffatt can keep focus and not let things get too over-complicated, this could be a seriously impressive Who adventure. Now all we need is episode 2…

TV News: Farewell, Sarah Jane – A Tribute to Elisabeth Sladen (1948-2011)

Elisabeth Sladen Sarah Jane Smith Doctor Who Companion

I don’t like doing R.I.P./Memorial posts – because very often, even if famous/well-loved performers or actors have died, I don’t have much to say other than “Oh dear, that’s sad.” But news hit last night, on the 19th of April 2011, and frankly I’ve got to say something about this one, because this one feels terribly personal. It was bad enough when we recently lost Nicholas Courtney (the actor who portrayed Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), but now Elisabeth Sladen has died, aged only 63. She was the actress who played the tremendously popular assistant Sarah Jane Smith from 1973-1976 in the classic series of Doctor Who, and who ended up returning to the role more times than anyone (especially her) expected, going on to appear several times in the relaunched version of Who,  and getting her own children’s TV spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Of course, the question is – why? Why was Sarah Jane quite so popular and remembered as a Who companion? My Twitter feed over the last twelve hours has been a genuinely touching outpouring of disbelief, sadness, and a genuine affection for a performer who brought a serious amount of warmth and happiness into people’s lives – it’s a testament to how much impact Doctor Who has had, and it’s also a testament to exactly how bloody good Sladen was in the role.

Because, let’s be honest, when you’re looking at the classic series of Who, the companion is pretty often a fairly thankless role – they’re there to ask questions, get into danger, be kidnapped, undergo hypnosis, almost be sacrificed, and generally be an audience identification figure. There’s not much depth, and it’s up to the performer in question to actually make this slightly thin collection of ticks and story devices into a character the audience cares about.

There were few actresses in Classic Who who were as good at this as Elisabeth Sladen – Sarah Jane starts out in her first year (Jon Pertwee’s final season as the Third Doctor) as a deliberate ‘Women’s Lib’ character, a bolshy journalist who pokes her nose in places and willingly gets into trouble, but she soon settles down into a far less deliberately spiky character, and it’s in her first season with Tom Baker that she truly starts to shine. It’s partly because Sarah Jane is the prototype for what the companion would eventually become – she’s the point where the Doctor/companion relationship goes from one that had been largely parental in nature (especially with characters like Victoria and Jo Grant), to one that’s on a rather more equal footing, with the Doctor and companion as genuine friends. There are companions who followed who were even more capable, violent or intelligent than Sarah Jane, and one (Ace) who got a far more detailed emotional life than she ever did – but there’s something effortlessly likeable about Sladen in the role, coupled with the very obvious onscreen chemistry between her and Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor. Sladen and Baker got on really well, and it truly shows in their stories – the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane are a pairing who are such fun to watch, it’s hard not to be charmed silly by their adventures (a fact that’s helped by Sladen’s run on the show being largely in the Phillip Hinchcliffe era, a hugely acclaimed run of stories which features few (if any) actual duds, and several stone-cold classics).

It was lovely seeing her return to the show in 2006’s ‘School Reunion’ (I’m not a huge fan of the episode, but Sladen’s work is sensational), and everything I’ve heard and seen of Sladen’s offscreen persona suggests that she was an impossibly lovely person to work with. It’s tremendously sad that she’s gone, and a piece of my childhood is gone tonight – but her work, and Sarah Jane, will live on as a part of Who’s imaginative and thoroughly British history.

R.I.P. Elisabeth Sladen. You really will be missed.

The Friday Linkfest (1/4/2011): Links on my Mind

Justice League of America adaptation film for 2013 news Batman Superman Wonder Woman

Warner Bros are aiming for a Justice League of America movie by 2013. The question has to be asked – what the hell is going on with the Warners and DC-related superhero films? They’ve previously said that ‘we’re not doing crossovers’ – that the Nolan Batman films wouldn’t cross over with any other motion pictures, and that neither would Snyder’s Superman – each series would tackle them as the only superhero in their world. Now, this is a step away from the Marvel ‘grand plan’ to culminate in The Avengers (which hasn’t always worked – Iron Man 2 being a case in point), but did seem to make sense at the time (especially with how aggressively realistic the Nolan films have been). Now, however, they’re saying they’re aiming for a JLA film in 2013 (which is absurdly quick), and that the JLA will feature Batman and Superman, but not Henry Cavill as Superman, and not whoever inherits the Bat-cowl when the franchise is rebooted following The Dark Knight Rises (which I’m willing to bet will embrace a slightly more comic-booky direction once Nolan departs).

Now, if they weren’t going to use Batman and Superman, I could understand it – while they’re the two big heavy-hitters, it would be possible to cope without them (in a similar way to how Marvel Studios films have to cope without crossovers with Spider-Man, the X-Men or The Fantastic Four, because they sold the rights). It’s also not impossible to have two different live-action versions of the same character around – Superman Returns was made while Smallville was on the air, and if the Wonder Woman TV series is a success, there could be both a TV and a film version of Wonder Woman, as one concept is for the JLA film to launch characters that could then go on into standalone movies. But this has never happened in movies before – two different versions of the same character, possibly appearing within months of each other? Warners experimented with this in 2008, when a JLA film came very close to being made (and which would have mostly starred unknowns, including The Social Network’s Armie Hammer as Batman) – it was a weird idea then, and it’s a weird idea now. Presumably, any spin-offs from JLA would be taking place in the same universe – so some DC films will cross over, but others won’t? Are they seriously trying to create an onscreen version of the DC multiverse? Are they out of their minds? Well, 2013 is a very optimistic date for a film that big (It’ll be interesting to see how well Green Lantern does on release – that could have a major effect on how the DC Universe films progress, especially if it doesn’t end up doing well…), and I suspect minds could be seriously changed if The Avengers turns out to be a giant-sized monster hit…

Green Lantern’s publicity is being delayed by the extensive effects work. Some recent superhero films have been quieter in the pre-publicity stakes than others – Captain America only just unveiled its first full trailer, while Thor has been giving us all kinds of images and trailers since late last year. Green Lantern hasn’t exactly been doing brilliantly – the first trailer has its moments but didn’t exactly blow me away, and given that this is a long, long way from the relatively earthbound action of Iron Man or The Dark Knight, you’d think they’d be doing more to sell the film. Well, they would be, only the combined problems of major sequences taking place on fully CG alien planets, plus the added problem of doing all this in 3-D, means that the whole process has been delayed, and the next trailer for Green Lantern won’t be ready until the release of Thor on May 6th – and that’s only about six weeks before the movie itself is out on June 17th. They’re even still casting voice roles (with Michael Clarke Duncan strongly tipped for the slightly-awkwardly-named Killowog), and given that the summer is already stuffed to bursting with blockbusters, it does at least put a big question mark over whether Green Lantern is going to sink or swim.

The Wonder Woman costume for the TV pilot has been modified – the version spotted in a location shoot doesn’t have funky PVC trousers, and the boots are red now, instead of blue. Now, this may be as a result of the ludicrous level of fan complaints when the costume was unveiled, but it of course hasn’t done anything to quell the somewhat hilarious tide of people bitching online that “it still looks like a Halloween costume” (because of course, the Lynda Carter 70s TV costume in no way looked ridiculous) and generally moaning about how of course the show’s guaranteed to be completely terrible anyway. There are times when I love fandom, and there are times when I don’t.

Amy Adams has been cast as Lois Lane in the upcoming Zack Snyder version of Superman. Now, this is both really good news – Adams is a great actress, and a surprisingly good choice for Lois Lane – and really annoying, as I’d much rather she was appearing in a Superman film not directed by Zack Snyder. At the least, it’s a surprise to have a Lois who’s actually eight years older than the guy playing Superman (Adams is 36, Henry Cavill is 28), plus it’s really nice that Adams will actually look old enough to be an experienced reporter (as opposed to poor old miscast Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns, whose version of Lois looked about twelve years old).

And, to coincide with this in a rather sadder way, Deadline posted a letter from Joanne Siegel – widow of Superman creator Jerry Siegel, and original model for Lois Lane – written two months before her death, asking the head of Time Warner to actually pay the money the company legally owes the Siegel family (and to stop the crappy legal delaying tactics they’ve been using). Yes, we all know that most corporations are going to act in crappy underhand ways – but the Superman legal saga is an epically complicated one, and it’s just a pity it couldn’t have been resolved before Siegel passed away.

Neil Gaiman’s Doctor Who episode is called – shock, horror – ‘The Doctor’s Wife‘!  Now, I’m pretty sure, if I’m remembering correctly, that this is a bit of a meta-in-joke as well, as the production team did at one point (in the classic era) try to identify a leak to the fan press by falsely putting out the completely bogus title ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ just to see what happened. It’s certainly not what I expected – the initial thought is that obviously, it’s going to be another ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ where it turns out that the Doctor hasn’t actually had a secret daughter stashed away all these years, and it’s unlikely to be a River Song-centric story considering Moffat’s bound to be handling that side of things. Actress Suranne Jones is playing the character ‘Idris’, so I’m mildly perplexed – especially considering that Gaiman has actually said that his story brings back someone (or something) we haven’t seen since the Sixties (or, to be more precise, the 1969 story The War Games). Of course, the Doctor has actually already been married onscreen – he accidentally acquired an Aztec wife in the sixties historical story ‘The Aztecs’, but I can’t imagine Gaiman is constructing a whole story around that. I guess we’ll wait and see…

Also Gaiman related – his novel American Gods has been optioned, apparently by a director with ‘many, many Oscars’. Who knows what this means, but it’s a challenging idea – American Gods is a fascinating, occasionally tricky book (one I struggled with on my first reading, but eventually came to really love), but it doesn’t strike me as especially filmable. But then, neither did Stardust, and look what happened there…

Continuing the recent theme of Hollywood adaptations that completely miss the fecking point of what they’re supposed to be adapting, Hollywood are plotting a modernised version of Miss Marple – and have cast Jennifer Garner. Yes, the star of spy action series Alias. My mind is reeling at exactly how much of the original material just got thrown out of the window. Alright, Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost may be involved, but will someone please find the other people who are involved in this and then punch them? (And then sit them down in front of the BBC Joan Hickson Marple adaptations and go “LOOK!”?)

And as if that wasn’t depressing enough, the Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits may be remade as an ‘action franchise for kids’. No. No. NO. I’m sorry, but that’s entering territory where I may have to hunt down and kill anyone who’s responsible for bastardising the wonderful, quirky and barmy world of one of my favourite films. And again: NO.

HBO drama series The Wire, re-imagined (rather well) as a Victorian-era novel.

The BBC4 pilot episode adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books has been comissioned for a series of 3 1-hour episodes. As you’ll see from my review of the pilot, I’m not exactly delighted by this. I guess it’s possible that writer Howard Overman might iron out the issues with the first episode given more time, but I doubt it. Whether I have the patience for another three hours of vaguely tiresome comic shenanigans that bear a vague passing resemblance to books I really, really like remains to be seen…

And finally, news of a slightly more promising movie remake – director David Gordon Green is helming a US version of utterly barmy Italian Horror movie Suspiria. Now, this would normally strike me as a bad idea, especially since Suspiria is a genuinely demented, eye-searingly colourful and hyper-violent movie, one of the few horror movies I’ve seen that genuinely qualify as nightmarish, but David Gordon Green strikes me as a director capable of bringing something interesting to the table (especially in the way he’s bounced from lyrical arthouse dramas to stoner action comedies like Pineapple Express). He’ll have to go some to match the sheer lunacy of Suspiria, but at least he is planning to use significant amounts of the original progrock-tastick Suspiria score by Goblin, a major element of the original’s unique atmosphere, as you can hear from the attention-grabbing, barmy and deeply unsettling main theme:

The Thursday Trailer: Doctor Who, S6 (2011)

Okay, I know it isn’t a movie trailer, but I’m allowed to stretch the rules when I feel like it, dammit, so here’s the full trailer for Season 6 of Doctor Who:

As usual, crammed full of stuff that makes me go “Oooh!” (including what looks, bizarrely, like a split-second glimpse of the previous control room – or is this possible another TARDIS, or an off-shoot of the mysterious semi-TARDIS spacecraft seen in S5’s ‘The Lodger’?), although I’m not completely certain about all the dialogue clips – it reminds me of the way certain chunks of the ads for S5 actually worked much better in context than they did in the trailer. Anyhow, I am most definitely looking forward to the upcoming season – and just for anyone who missed it, here’s the brief but atmospheric ‘prequel’ to episode 1, The Impossible Astronaut:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/emp/external/player.swf

Dishonourable Mention:

If I was going to ask for a remake of The Three Musketeers, I wouldn’t want it in 3-D. And I definitely wouldn’t want it directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, one of the slickest yet dullest directors around, the man who managed to take turn what should have been a surefire success – Aliens Vs Predator – and actually turned it into a deeply boring movie. Nevertheless, the first trailer debuted this week, and from the nonsensical deathtraps to Orlando Bloom’s terrifying hair, this looks like nicely shot, well-designed and absolutely missable:

The Friday Linkfest (25/03/11): In Links We Trust

Wonder Woman TV Costume Adrianne Palicki

Wonder Woman costume revealled, half of internet goes into apopleptic shock. Apparently the boots are the wrong colour. And the whole thing just looks a bit too halloween costume for some people. I looked at it and thought “Well, it’s not ideal, but it does look a hell of a lot more like Wonder Woman than I expected”. The amount of negative bitching online about this project is kind of amazing in certain places – I’m not even a WW fan, I’m not expecting it to be superb, but at the current rate, I’m hoping this ends up a smash hit simply for the looks on the fans’ faces. Does that make me a bad person?

Genre for Japan – a brilliant auction set up by a group of fantastic people (including book blogger Amanda Rutter) to raise money for the Japanese Tsunami Relief appeal being run by the Red Cross. There’s a genuinely spectacular selection of items up for auction, donated by a wide variety of people from across the SF, Fantasy and Horror scene – go look, and go bid!

A gorgeous selection of graphic novel covers, reinterpreted as Seventies pulp paperbacks (with the kind of minimal designs that I would kill to own in real life). .

Least shocking news of the week: Joseph-Gordon Levitt is definitely in The Dark Knight Rises. Plus, he’s playing Alberto Falcone (son of Tom Wilkinson’s character from Batman Begins), a character from the Batman series The Long Halloween, already loosely plundered for The Dark Knight. Only maybe he isn’t – another source has since said the Falcone rumour is incorrect, and Gordon Levitt’s part is another character. Once again, it’s wait and see time…

Doctor Who fan claims he created Davros, sues the BBC. Okay, this is just weird – a fan called Steven Clark says that he entered a drawing competition for the comic TV Action in 1972, and that the BBC then went and hi-jacked his idea, turning it into Dalek creator Davros, who’s since appeared multiple times in the show. The reason he’s suing now? Apparently he lost his original entry, but they turned up “in the pages of a set of family encyclopaedias”, which sounds deeply suspect. This sounds like the kind of nutty copyright case that comes up every so often, usually generated by chancers out for a quick buck via a settlement – because apparently not only did Clark come up with the name, his loose pencil sketch is actually a pretty exact blueprint for Davros, and he wrote an essay with the drawing entitled “The Genesis of the Daleks: The Creation of Davros”. So, either 1975 classic Genesis of the Daleks was the creation of a sinister conspiracy to steal an idea from a young fan, or someone is talking utter bollocks. We’ll see how this nonsense progresses…

Ultimate Spider-Man team Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley reunite on a creator-owned comic for Marvel’s Icon imprint, entitled ‘Brilliant’. Ultimate Spider-Man is pretty much the most brilliant and consistent version of Spider-Man I’ve ever seen – the idea of them taking on a tale that’s sounding like a superhero version of The Social Network is definitely something I’m onboard for.

Why the new Star Trek movie doesn’t need a villain, via Tor. The author (Ryan Britt) is right – that it should be about an interesting SF premise, not about who Kirk and co get to punch this time (Klingons! Khan! Harry Mudd!) but it doesn’t change the fact that it will not happen. The 2009 Star Trek film briefly dazzled me with its action and nostalgia (there’s a slightly embarrassing gush of a blog post about it that I should get around to deleting), but I rewatched it earlier this year and it’s one of the most disappointingly empty SF blockbusters in years – a great cast doing fantastic work in service of a script that says nothing, and even bollocks up Spock’s character in the end (when he’s all for blowing up Nero’s ship). I’d love for the next film to be slightly more thoughtful or at least have more substance – in today’s film climate, that’s ridiculously unlikely.

An open letter to Twilight fans.

The reviews for Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch are starting to appear – and they’re not looking good. In fact, some of them are hilariously bad. The first review I’ve linked to (from IGN) basically hints that the film is exactly what the trailers have made it look like – an overproduced, overstylised mess – and my favourite quote has to be: “For a movie that’s superficially about female empowerment, it’s ironically one of the most ridiculously misogynistic movies in recent memory.” And Warner Bros have just handed Snyder the directorial chair for Superman. It’ll be interesting to see whether it sinks or swims at the Box Office….

AKIRA casting rumours are once again circling – and it’s still not looking good. Robert Pattinson? James McCavoy? Michael Fassbender? Look, I think it’s about time all anime fans make peace with the fact that if this remake does happen, it’s going to be a cynical mess that’ll desperately try to sand down most of those awkward, harsh or confrontational edges that made Akira interesting in the first place. There are accusations of Last Airbender-style ‘white-washing’ of the cast, given the original source material – but M. Night Shyamalan was (however incompetently) trying to make a film that was true to the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series, which made the casting even more of a problem – whereas by dumping the Japanese setting, the extreme violence (given it’s a PG-13) and that troublesome ‘punky teenage rebellion’ subtext (given that virtually all the actors offered the renamed versions of Kaneda and Tetsuo are in their late twenties or early thirties), the producers of the Akira remake have made it clear they couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the original source material. They’re out to make a big sci-fi blockbuster and trade on the relatively well-known name of a cult movie (as all movies have to be ‘properties’ now) – the chances of this bearing any more than a passing resemblance to the manga or anime (aside from the design) is small. And accusing this of ‘whitewashing’ is a little like accusing Sergio Leone of whitewashing Kurosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo to turn it into A Fistful of Dollars – ultimately, a bit silly and pointless, especially with a film that’s being helmed by Albert Hughes, and is likely to end up like From Hell – a pretty-looking, visually strong film that’s empty beyond belief and simply misses the point.

And finally – a teaser for the new season of Doctor Who. To be honest, it’s so short as to be borderline subliminal (15 seconds long, for heaven’s sake) – more interesting is the teaser for the online prequel, which will be appearing on Friday the 25th of March. Colour me intrigued…

TV News: Preludes and Nocturnes (Or, the Disappearing and Reappearing TV Adaptation of The Sandman)

Sandman Neil Gaiman Dave McKean TV Adaptation News

Scarcely have I stopped talking about how happy I am that the mo-cap Yellow Submarine remake isn’t happening, when another project that I’m slightly concerned about starts hovering in the Schrodinger’s Box of Cancelled/Not Cancelled reality. In this case, it’s the potential TV adaptation of one of the most successful and well-known graphic novels of all time – Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.

Sandman Neil Gaiman Dave McKean TV Adaptation News Cover ArtA 75-issue series that started out as a top-down remix of an old DC Comics character and went on to redefine much of what you could do in comic books, all while delivering stories that were dark, melancholy, funny, twisted and utterly distinctive, The Sandman is a hell of a comic book. One of the most high profile successes in the comic industry over the last twenty five years, Hollywood has been circling it for a very long time – but the distinctive style of The Sandman is also the thing that makes it incredibly hard to adapt. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories are lyrical and odd in construction, often using fairy tale logic or confounding the reader with deliberately anti-climactic endings, while the protagonist,  the moody and aloof immortal being known as Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is often more of a background presence. There are very few genuine villains in The Sandman’s world, and even the ones that are there don’t function the way you expect them to (or don’t actually receive any come-uppance), and the whole thing is about as far from Hollywood storytelling as it’s possible to get.

Sandman Neil Gaiman Sam Kieth TV Adaptation News ArtThere have been attempts since the early Nineties, but none have ever come to fruition – Roger Avary, Gaiman’s collaborator on Beowulf, came closest to managing a fairly faithful adaptation, but even his attempt eventually floundered, and ever since it’s seemed that there’d never be a way of reconciling The Sandman’s deliberately offbeat storytelling with the money it would take to actually make.

Then, in the middle of last year, rumours of a TV series started to circulate. Given The Sandman’s deliberately long-form storytelling structure, a TV adaptation isn’t an insane idea, and would certainly give the concept much more room to breathe. Plus, there’s much more potential to acheive something closer to the comic’s unique flavour on TV, rather than trying to do such a kooky story in the increasingly homogenised world of Hollywood Blockbusters. In an ideal world, a Sandman series developed by someone like HBO would be ideal – the original comic wasn’t afraid to go in some very dark, graphic and adult directions, and a series that was just as free to explore that kind of territory (along the lines of the recent AMC TV adaptation of The Walking Dead) could be a genuinely promising prospect.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Warner Bros were actually hoping for a replacement for their absurdly long-in-the-tooth ‘Young Superman’ series Smallville, and the Producer who was possibly going to transfer Gaiman’s work to the small screen was Eric Kripke, the creator of long-running fantasy/horror show Supernatural. This didn’t fill me with confidence – I’ve only seen one episode of Supernatural (and that was a long time ago) so I can’t judge Kripke’s suitability or not, but the idea of aiming The Sandman at mainstream network TV seemed, well, odd to say the least. It’s not impossible that such a project could work, but the potential for massive compromises and creative disaster was pretty damn strong, and it went down as something that I wouldn’t be upset about if, as with so much in the long history of proposed Sandman adaptations, it came to nothing.

Sandman Neil Gaiman Marc Hempel The Endless TV Adaptation News ArtSo, when I woke up this morning to find the internets ablaze with the announcement that Kripke had announced that it didn’t look like The Sandman was happening “at least for this TV season”, I have to admit I breathed a small sigh of relief. A TV version of The Sandman would be massively risky, and I’d far rather see it not happen than for a watered down, diluted version to shuffle its way onto the screen. The Sandman does strike me as one of those stories that, like Watchmen (despite all of Zack Snyder’s efforts) works best as a comic – its structure, its weirdness and its limitless imagination is simply ideal for the comics medium, and crowbarring it into another form risks breaking what makes it special in the first place.

However, it looks like I spoke too soon. DC’s Creative Chief Officer and Head Writing honcho Geoff Johns went on Twitter today, and tweeted: “Correction to world: The Sandman is AWAKE! Psyched to be working with @neilhimself on developing one of the greatest series ever!” It’s especially interesting, considering that according to Kripke, he had talked to Gaiman (aka @neilhimself) about the project, but wasn’t actually working directly with him. Of course, this could be general PR just to prevent people mistakenly thinking the project was actually dead, but for the moment it looks like the project is certainly active. Which means I get to keep being mildly concerned. Oh, hooray…

Of course, one interesting factor is whether or not a similar project makes it to the screen. Joe Hill’s brilliant dark fantasy comic book Locke and Key has been developed into a TV series – a pilot episode has been shot (directed by music video supremo and Never Let Me Go helmer Mark Romanek), and if it gets the green light, it’ll be going to a full series for the September 2011 TV season. If a project as dark and interesting as Locke and Key gets onto TV screens still with its weirdness and character intact, then I’d say the possibility of getting a Sandman TV series will definitely go up – but I’ll still remain to be convinced that this isn’t going to be anything other than yet another disappointing comics adaptation…