michael sheen

Good Omens (2019) [BBC One/Amazon Prime]

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I have a confession to make: I’ve never really got along with the novels of Terry Pratchett. I know he’s a beloved publishing phenomenon, but his books have just never worked for me. Comedy is a very personal thing and if something misses the mark for you, no matter how good it is, then that’s that. In a similar vein I’ve not read any of Neil Gaiman’s books either, although in his case I have at least watched and enjoyed television shows based on his work including Lucifer and American Gods along with TV scripts he’s submitted to existing science fiction series such as Doctor Who and Babylon 5. However, for me there was never any question that Pratchett and Gaiman’s seminal 1990 literary collaboration Good Omens held very little appeal to me.

And yet when a TV adaptation was announced, I confess that there was something in the idea of David Tennant playing the cynical demon Crowley and Michael Sheen as the prissy angel Aziraphale in a new BBC/Amazon co-production that got under my skin. The itch became such that I ended up getting the DVD of the series a few months ago, and I was sufficiently smitten to quickly follow that by purchasing and perusing the paperback of the original novel.

Adapted for the screen by Gaiman (who is also essentially the showrunner, in fulfilment of a promise he made to the late Sir Terry to finally get the project across the line after numerous thwarted prior attempts on both the big and small screen) it’s no surprise that this version is very faithful indeed to the book, with Gaiman performing just a little tidying up and polishing to correct or update some of the clunkier parts of the text. It’s also slightly reshaped to better fit into the six 55 minute instalments, which means that the first episode pushes back the introduction of some major characters in order to concentrate on the prophesied arrival on earth of the antichrist as the covertly adopted son of the US ambassador to the United Kingdom (a brief cameo from Nick Offerman), a scenario which is an obvious and cheerful homage to The Omen. Crowley and Aziraphale have been on Earth since the days of the Garden of Evil – and even played a crucial part in those events – and over the millennia since then have gone native albeit in very different ways. Neither want to see their cosy existence brought to an end by the inconvenience of Armageddon and so they try to thwart the ‘ineffable plan’ in such a way that will allow things to carry on as normal. Without getting caught by either side, moreover. Read the rest of this entry »

Passengers (2016)

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Without a doubt, Passengers is a beautiful film to look at. Great care has been made by director Morten Tyldum and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto to ensure that every frame is a joy, and the human stars are just as pretty and perfect as the set design and the special effects. But underneath the polished surface veneer there are problems to be found, both in the story by Jon Spaihts and in its on-screen execution. Read the rest of this entry »

Dr Who S6 Ep4 – The Doctor’s Wife

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Note: contains some spoilers, although I’ve tried to conceal them for the most part!

After all the build-up, hype, anticipation and expectation of having one of the world’s foremost science fiction and fantasy writers, Neil Gaiman, supply a script to Doctor Who it was inevitable that the final result couldn’t possibly live up to it all.

Inevitable, perhaps. But – as it turns out – utterly incorrect.

I’m not even a particular Neil Gaiman fan (or more accurately, I’m not a huge fantasy genre fan) and so approached this episode with a degree of caution that it wouldn’t be “my sort of thing”. I had been fortunate to miss any spoilers about the episode – I understand there have been many online and even in mainstream press, to which I can only say “Shame on you.”

I very quickly cottoned on to who Idris was going to be, and the concept was initially interesting but only in an eye-brow raising “Oh, they’re trying that are they?”

It’s one of those ideas that seems so obvious, even as it is revealed, that you (a) can’t believe no one has ever done it before, and (b) still feel won’t be all that special after all. And yet within minutes it pulled together so many strands that the show burst through its series format confines and became, for the next 40 minutes, bigger on the inside than it ever previously appeared before.

It was a show packed with brilliant lines, from the Doctor’s chilling “Fear me, I killed all of them” to his aching for forgiveness, to Amy’s arch “Did you wish really hard?” when she finds out Idris’ real identity, to the way the Doctor said he’d stolen her and she responds that in fact it was the other way around. But surely the best of them was something we have always known deep down but never had confirmed before: when the Doctor accuses Idris of being unreliable and never taking him where he wanted, her reply was brilliant: “I’ve always taken you where you’ve needed to be.”

Even the traditional weekly Rory death scene was forgiveable, seeing how well it was done (quick, snappy, nightmarish – the graffiti on the Tardis walls was chilling and Rory’s rebuke citing his 2,000 years of waiting packed a huge emotional punch). Rory and Amy both got some great moments again in this episode, in a show packed with brilliant and astounding performances from Matt Smith (surely never better in the role?) to Suranne Jones as Idris, and the creepy, deep tones of Michael Sheen as House.

Despite the fact that this was probably the most satisfying stand-alone episode for even casual viewers to watch, it packed in more love notes for Doctor Who geeks than anything even Russell T Davies managed in his tenure, right down to finding the Tardis setting down in…a junkyard, just where it all started. It’s clear just how much Neil Gaiman is a massive Doctor Who geek himself, as the companion behind-the-scenes Confidential show followed him going totally fanboi as he stood on the console room of the Tardis reading aloud the script that he’d written. And what magnificent prose that script sounded in its own right, too – surely it will get published? Just the sight of Amy and Rory arriving at a certain old console room deep in the heart of the Tardis was enough to spark geekgasms up and down the country. Bravo to Mr Gaiman for envisaging that – I might just have to start reading your books now after all, sir.

Confidential showed just how much the core concept of this episode had been seeded through the 32 previous seasons of the show, and clips of Rose and Sarah Jane Smith (awww, Lis …) comparing notes on how the Doctor cooed and stroked and talked to the Tardis seemed like some crazy script editors had been feverishly at work laying out the series arc even then, going back decades.

As you’ll recall, last week’s pirates caper felt to me like disappointing “filler”, treading water despite all those series arc continuity references it packed in. Ironically, this episode was structurally far more of a classic “bottle show” in that it lacked any continuity references to the episodes or series immediately around it. It could be parachuted in to any season (indeed, it was famously ‘bumped’ from series 5 where it had been originally scheduled.) And yet the episode was such that far from being lightweight, disposable fluff, detached and unnecessary to the series, it instead managed to be profoundly connected to an entire 48 years’ worth of the show’s history.

In a way that I’m not sure we the audience or even they the production crew quite understand or expect, this episode can’t help but change the way we see so much of the series and the character of the Doctor. For one thing, it brings home to us why the Doctor can and will never be in love with his companions (and doesn’t it show his time with Rose as a rather shallow distraction?): because there can only ever be one true romance in his life. She’s the one companion who has been there throughout; even before Susan, Ian and Barbara, she was the first, and she’s still with the Doctor and with us. She’s the most important character in the show, along with the Doctor himself.

Shows like Doctor Who can, at their very, very best, produce genuine magic. In previous years it has been Steven Moffat who had provided exactly those highs, with ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and ‘Blink’. It’s taken someone of Neil Gaiman’s calibre to top all of them: with this episode, the show has cast perhaps its most magnificent spell over its viewers yet in its entire history.

“Hello, sexy,” indeed.