Doctor Who “Deep Breath” review 8.1: all hail Peter Capaldi, shame about the script.

Why is Peter Capaldi flashing his red bits like a lady baboon, and other questions.

SPOILER ALERT

Review of Dr Who “Deep Breath” first broadcast BBC1, Saturday 23rd August 2014

The Dalek was eyeing up some poor bastard on the far side of the room. It hadn’t yet seen me, so I backed away. Far scarier in the actual metal than on screen, its presence only three feet away sent my heart pounding to 11, so loud it was sure to hear me. It swung round and I froze, skewered by its cyclops stare. Me and a Dalek. Eyeball to eyeballs. An inhuman rorschach inkblot of a creation, sucking out all the dark matter in my soul and planting it into this single embodiment of EE-vuhl. It waved its sink-plunger at me and I took another couple of steps back. People laughed, my mother among them. Surely a nervous, entirely inappropriate, reaction to the horror before them? I sensed another malign presence. I slowly turned to where the people were looking and tittering … to find a Cyberman bent right over me, arms outstretched for a bearhug.

I screamed an eight-year-old’s scream and ran as fast as I could, missing the Cyberman’s grip by a whisker, past the Ice Warriors, the Monoids and the Fish People, and screeched to a halt before the Yeti blocking my way outta here. A moment’s relief because the Yeti was surely just a big teddy bear. All that cuddly fur waiting for a kid to snuggle into. But this was no oversized furry playmate: this was a sinister, silent, unbelievably huge furball with fangs and a bad manicure standing between me and the exit. I stared at it, suddenly aware of depths of alien viciousness. Knowing I was beaten, I broke into a fit of weeping and heard the laughter rise. I swear that Yeti was heaving along to the jollity. It shifted a little to one side leaving a space just big enough for me to squeeze through and then made a final swipe. I yelped and leapt several feet in one bound, vowing I would return one day to vanquish the monsters that had landed at the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition.

That was one of the few times Doctor Who ever pressed my terror button. Doctor Who was always about the permanance of the British empire and our values; as much in the outlands of space and time as here among Britainland’s acres of melamine and fresh paint. Why else, after 51 years, is there still a white male at the helm of the Tardis aided by a trusty gurl assistant? Terror was the series’ way of reminding you how lucky you were to be alive at such a secure, stable time … if you lived in the British Isles rather than, say, post-second-world-war Korea, Yemen, Kenya, or Malaya. Any disruption of the status quo was certain to be corrected by the Doctor, with equilibrium restored by the end of the series and our place in the universe nailed.

Nuthin’ changes except when it does. This year, for its twelfth reincarnation and eighth series of the modern reboot, Doctor Who goes full-tilt steampunk, calling once again on the Victorian era for validation in a world that’s a little less secure, a little less reliable. Terror springs from newscasts and comes knocking at the door. Casting Malcolm Tucker (who bears a passing resemblance to actor Peter Capaldi) is inspired. Gravitas, grit, a laser tongue and a weary intelligence far beyond that of the mere mortals surrounding him make him the perfect Timelord in this, our hour of need.

Sadly, ‘Deep Breath’, the first episode of the long-awaited new series introducing Capaldi, inhales superb production values, along with some solid acting, but exhales a godawful script from Dr Who veteran Steven Moffat. Dwahlinks, you call that DIALOGUE? Monologues, more like: with declamations to the audience requiring actors to remain rooted unresponsively to the spot instead of reacting the way people, you know, react! The old vagrant and the robot boss have to freeze and endure long narcissistic screeds of character-establishing bollox that should never have made it out of Moffat’s notebooks.

The episode opens promisingly with a Godzilla-scale tyrannosaurus rex as the chosen delivery method of the Tardis, the new Doctor and his companion, Clara (Jenna Coleman). After terrorising London, it is swiftly dispatched by a gentleman cyborg who harvests humans for body parts and requires some dinosaur optical nerve; although how first incinerating the creature aids raptor recycling is never made clear. The story then unravels with one damn thing after another rather than pearls finely strung to develop a complete whole: a meandering scene concerning a bad-smelling homeless man, some absurd short-cut ratiocination from Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), and lo-o-ong event-free dialogue in Mancini’s restaurant. You know it’s an idiot-plot when the heroes stumble on their nemesis as he’s recharging and don’t even unplug him. Clara is saved from the cyborg’s cannibalising restaurant by the crimebusting Paternoster gang. They escape by taking the deep breath of the title and holding it, thereby avoiding detection by the murderous bots who only want to find their “promised land”. The Doctor, still befuddled by the stresses of his regeneration, may or may not have pushed the cyborg gent out of his human-skin balloon at the clunking denouement, although suicide under the torture of being forced to listen to him rant while barely getting a word in edgewise, isn’t ruled out. There’s not a lot of outwitting going on.

When Joss Whedon-manque Russell T Davies first rebooted the franchise, his achilles heel was his adoption of the surface characteristics of Buffy and Angel with only the slimmest understanding of how plot and character interact, resulting in relentlessly annoying hysteria and a lack of story dynamic. He gave us sentiment instead of profound emotional involvement, lurches instead of arcs-within-arcs that dipped and soared along with our spirits. Bad habits have stuck.

I was always shown (and told!) that the rule was ‘show, don’t tell’. The Doctor babbles exposition like a mofo in a stinker of a script in search of a storyline. Note to producers: making characters talk 13 to the dozen like coke-fiends doesn’t mean we won’t notice little things like plot-holes and entire missing throughlines. Have none of you heard of PACING? Longeurs stretched into longdays as sub-Buffy banter held up the promised action while we were expected to genuflect before the awesomeness of Moffat’s one-liners, a vanity process not far removed from pounding rock for diamonds — yes, there were a few but by the time they surfaced I was too exhausted to care.

You can lesbian-lizard-snog all you like in order to establish your LGBT credentials, but class hierarchy is alive and very unwell in the world of Doctor Who. Any subversive value resides in the relationship between Lady Handbag, Madame Vastra, and her maid-wife being normalised, not hollered triumphantly every two minutes. Uncool! Why’re we back in very unsubversive days when maids and butlers were the norm (know your place, kids), and where the white “ninja” maid appropriates eastern skills but the only actual East Asian (Clem So) in sight is a robot? Reactionary mindset leaking at the edges? Even Harry Potter had an East Asian girlfriend until she was dumped for a white girl under circumstances never satisfactorily explained. In fact, not much ethnic minority presence at all in this one.

And why does the Doctor keep exposing his frock-coat’s red silk lining like a lady baboon flashing her in-oestrus labia? So many questions, so much left dangling.

We wade through a swamp of exposition so thick you could stand a spoon up in it. The origins and rationale of the cyborg aliens aren’t revealed through the clever workings of the script: Capaldi has to bark them out while the cyborg stares glassily, politely waiting for him to finish.

The cyborg’s not too bright, anyhow. Eons of farming humans in order to make a skin balloon when he could have used whatever material Victorian dirigibles were made from, or simply bought some animal skins from the local abbatoir?

The funniest moments are owned by Strax the over-literal butler (Dan Starkey) whose knocking out of Clara with a rolled up copy of The Times was authentic laugh-out-loud slapstick.

Clara goggles her way through like someone who’s been told she has pretty eyes (which she does) and has given up blinking for fear of hiding them. Her shrill tantrums have been praised as the mark of a strong woman. Surely, the critics have mistaken petulant for “feisty”? Having her throw strops and hissy-fits at inappropriate moments is a singularly ham-fisted method of telegraphing that this is not your dad’s submissive Dr Who companion but an incredibly dated Grrrl Power trope that the BBC has only just twigged exists. Brattish and bossy when she could be co-operative, sensitive and insightful (but there I go again, talking about myself: it’s catching), Clara is the template for the privileged breed of management who climb up the echelons of the BBC and walk off with those million-quid payoffs. FFS, don’t try this at home, kids.

“In the name of the British Empire,” cries Madame Vastra as her gang perform their rescue. Drip, drip, drip. Doctor Who is the hard-wiring of young minds into the values of the Establishment, not those of our real British society. The post-war period of freedom and relative prosperity for the masses is at an end, the party’s over and the Doctor has reincarnated into the child-catcher. Protect your tender budding brains. Retain your critical faculties even as you chow down on your (intermittently tasty) comfort food.

Deep Breath review first posted at Madam Miaow Says.
Review of the rebooted Sherlock: The Blind Banker.

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Chinese British comic Anna Chen says WTF with the stereotypes? Stand-up comedy in the week of Act for Change.

British East Asian comedian Anna Chen on Asian stereotypes, terracotta warriors, and pets.

This week, hundreds of actors, artists and creatives attended the Act for Change conference at the Young Vic in London looking at the alarming lack of diversity in TV, film, the media and the arts.

Fed up with the continuing exclusion of Black Asian Mixed race Ethnic (BAME) actors, I’m reposting a video (above) of a couple of gigs I did a while back at The Lion’s Den and Mirth Control, lampooning stupid Asian stereotypes.

London, my home city, is nearly 40 per cent BAME. A few years back there was 31 per cent BAME representation in the media industry, but that’s plummeted to five per cent since Ofcom dropped their diversity guidance. I’ve touched on this before but still no response anywhere from Ofcom who, one might suspect, don’t give a flying one.

For someone who’s pretty hard to miss, I’m surprisingly invisible. There’s a whole load of us feeling the same way, and we’re getting behind Act for Change.

Kat, one of my fellow British East Asia Artists (BEAA) co-founders, who tweets as Little Miss Mandu, read out a powerful quote at the conference, illustrating brilliantly our predicament:

“You know, vampires have no reflection in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters have no reflection in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that, if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t feel myself reflected at all … And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.” Junot Diaz

My show, the subversively comical Suzy Wrong — Human Cannon, was all about that. I performed it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1994 and nothing’s changed. Except maybe everything’s going backwards.

You can’t even rely on the left to do the right thing.

There’s a dangerous side to minorities being kept invisible, like a pool of scapegoating ready to activate whenever governments get into trouble. The elephant in the room is that governments can and do divert social anger onto you when they screw up. Being kept in the role of a blank canvas, anyone can project their inner demons onto you.

And there are historical precedents for that.

(Video: two categories in Olympic weightlifting competition are the “snatch” and the “clean and jerk”. True.)

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Anna Chen’s Chinese Diaspora talk and poetry reading at Liverpool’s International Festival of Business China Day

A reminder about Liverpool tomorrow. I’m looking forward to giving my China Diaspora in Britain talk plus poetry from Reaching for my Gnu at the Il Forno Restaurant in Duke Street, Liverpool, tomorrow at 4pm. My dad lived there from the 1920s before he moved to London.

It’s the International Festival of Business China Day. I’m speaking at Il Forno Restaurant and there’s also an Opera for Chinatown in Duke Street.

Details here.

Twitter hashtags: #itsliverpool #IFB2014 #onecityonesummer #iliad

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Rik Mayall RIP: when I met Rik. Briefly.

Sadly, a classic case of the cutting room floor, but my mate Kirstin and I were in The Art of Noise Peter Gunn video starring Rik Mayall.

We thought he was cute as well as funny. Kirstin flirted outrageously and asked him how much he was getting paid for being in it, and was it the same as us (ha ha!)? He looked appalled and said he wouldn’t get out of bed for that little.

I was in a big black hat, throwing shapes in the nightclub scene (whatever happened to that footage?) but you can see Kirstin. One of those hands is hers!

RIP Rik Mayall. You will always be forever Young One to me.

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Anna Chen’s Chinese Diaspora in Britain talk and poetry comes to Liverpool 18th June

Opera for Chinatown, Liverpool by The Sound Agents.

Anna Chen gives her Chinese Diaspora in Britain talk and reads poetry at the International Festival of Business China Day launching ‘Opera for Chinatown’ in Liverpool

Really looking forward to doing this live event in Liverpool.

Writer, poet and broadcaster Anna Chen is coming to Liverpool on the 18th June to celebrate International Festival of Business IFB China Day and to launch The Sound Agents ‘Opera for Chinatown’ public art work in Duke Street. The event will take place in Il Forno restaurant in Duke Street at 4 pm. Booking Essential.

Anna Chen’s talk on the history of the Chinese Diaspora In Britain includes the fascinating stories of the first Chinese visitors to Britain such as the Jesuit priest Michael Shen Futsong in the 17th century; her father and the politics of the time including the seafarers, Liverpool and his early role in London’s Chinatown; the opium wars and the East India Trading Company; how Chinese scientific and cultural innovations affected Europe; the current changing political balance in the UK and representation in the arts; and the Fu Manchu Yellow Peril scare. Plus poetry. Far from being cowed, craven and submissive as depicted in colonialist popular culture, Anna shows that the Chinese in Britain were able to resist exploitation: her own father helped to found the Chinese Seaman’s Union and was active in the Save China campaign during the Japanese occupation of China.

She’ll be reading poetry from her collection, Reaching for my Gnu (pub: Aaaargh! Press) and some new ones.

More info here

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Anna Chen’s live dates coming up in London May 2014

Political poetry in London — Anna Chen at Campaign Against Climate Change

Looking forward to performing poetry at the Campaign Against Climate Change cabaret 6-11pm, Sat 31 May at the old Amnesty HQ, 25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA. £10 & £7

https://www.facebook.com/campaigncc

https://twitter.com/campaigncc

http://www.campaigncc.org/events/2014/Cabaret

Wednesday 21st May 4pm, another China Diaspora in Britain talk for USC students in Bloomsbury.

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