Monday, 3 October 2011

Doctor Who finale or Merlin opener?

This week’s viewing felt very beeb autumn, fond memories of Robin Hood filtering in through the veil of ‘what not to do with ancient legend’ and confused steampunkish/Star Warsy Sci-Fi. 

It usually happens in the lead up to Christmas and is often full of inaccurate costume and campness. Under this freakish hot sun in October however, teatime Saturday did give me that lovely ‘night drawing in’ feeling and I enjoyed both for what they are.

First off then, ‘The Wedding of River Song’, a tale of near death, of wibbly wobbly time and historical befuddlement and ultimately of higgledy piggledy plot flaws. Still watchable, still endearing, still asking the age-old question of ‘who’ the Doctor is while companions, aliens and the like go googly eyed over the geek chic charm that he eludes in every regenerative incarnation.

Talking of geek chic, surely the Silence moves menacingly down the steps towards Rory were choreographed from an early Pulp music video?

The aliens in ill-fitting suits sort of emulating Munch’s Scream have been the highlight for me. I really wanted them to do that Cocker ‘Are you sure?’ whisper on learning of the Doctor’s fabricated death, mostly as no way is anyone ever going to buy that he’s dead.

My name’s Pond, Amelia Pond’ was cringe worthy on stilts, but again, when the writers allow Amy to be rid of her awkwardness, strange shuffle and empower her, she is so much better. I liked the way she coldly murdered Madame Kovarian formerly known as ‘eye patch lady’ and its hint of a protective mothering instinct.

Her later horror at being the Doctor’s mother in law was all very comic yet reminding us of the family tree that has at best got a few ‘lacking in credibility’ branches, especially when River called her ‘mother’; when was she ever that formal sweetie?

We all knew the Doctor wouldn’t die, it was the twist that was the clincher and I think it was simple but sufficiently surprising, linking the first and last of this half series nicely. It was a diluted version of one of my favourite finale’s ‘Last of the Timelords’ with the correlation of River’s plea for help mirroring Martha’s earlier global cry for the universal prayer ‘Doctor’; he may be tired, he may be ready to go but we, as part of the universe, aren’t letting him yet.

And finally Nicholas Courtney got his fitting dedication in an emotionally charged moment as the Doctor faced the near reality of his own death on the news of the loss of The Brigadier.

Viewers then travelled back in time again on another wibbly wobbly historical journey into Arthurian Legend with’ Merlin’. How super cool would the Tardis landing in Camelot be? I’m sure CGI could do it as they seem to be overdosing the whole production in it. So why have I lumped the two together, it’s not lazy blogging honestly. I do think they are catering for a similar audience (even though Whovians and whatever the older ones call themselves would like to think they are cleverer)

Both are trying to cross the generations in the living room, embracing the darkness of humanity yet not wishing to alienate your Grandmother or give the kidlets too many nightmares.

Science Fiction and Fantasy mixed up with history and legend is for want of a better word, a ‘blurry’ boundary and what both have are ‘fanatics’. Experts to the level of Mastermind specialist subject to really, really big convoluted thesis areas that will watch and have steam coming from every orifice. So what shall we call the Arthur experts, erm Merliniums then.

There’s a lot of men or ‘merliniums’ huffing and puffing at the slight panto going on in this beeb production, you can imagine them fondly reminiscing their first ever King Arthur dress up.

 Imagine the pre pubescent testerone surge as they held Excalibur for the first time, charging at their mother’s skirts probably on a hobby horse. And then there’s the academics blowing a fuse at, well everything. Fisticuffs over dragons basically.

The point is the whole thing is legend…nobody really knows, nobody is completely right and whatever version of the Arthurian tales you read and absorbed will be the one that your loyal eyes will view this with and either love, hate or decide it’s merely entertainment.

If there’s one thing that is indisputable, the legends are full of violence, rape and incest and all of this around magic, all things not do-able at this time on a Saturday. At the central point of the legend is the child of Arthur and Morgana but I can’t see that love scene even being hinted at unless they leave it so long that we forget they are half brother and sister.

So my loyal eyes watch, having loved The Mists of Avalon, the legends written from a more female, pagan perspective than a patriarchal Christian one. Any regulars landing here will not be surprised (or perhaps roll their eyes) so I will get it over with quickly. I am also looking forgivingly so will not go on too much about the repression of the sacred feminine or harp on too much about the evils of Camelot towards the Old Religions they speak so suspiciously of. Just please, please can we have some women with magic that are good and able to use it for positive?

Yes, Morgana is powerful now but you know she’s going to fall eventually because in this, the men with magic will know how to use it for good. Women can’t be trusted and so she proves this again and again. Balance needed.

Delightfully an ancient festival Samhain was referenced (and they said it right), the episode hit and missed on many points but overall was charming, visually exciting, lots of smouldering gazes, impressive magical eyes and the drama of athame wielding sacrifice and blood letting to release banshee like spirits of the dead was sensational to say the least.

The story is moving oh so slowly though; Uther has to go soon surely? And the ménage a trois has been heavily hinted at between Arthur, Gwen and Lancelot. There’s more metaphoric sword envy, men with fine teeth and provocative sorcery to come. As Gaius so wisely said, it’s not magic that’s evil, it’s how you use it.

So can you choose?  I think the BBC has spent more money on Merlin, mostly as they haven’t the fanbase to rely on as they have with Doctor Who. Merlin looked better and was visually lush yet pitted with similar flaws… but it’s early days for Merlin and it has time.

Sadly, with the last series of Doctor Who, I felt you didn’t have to watch anything inbetween the first and last episode to appreciate it any further. I still love Matt Smith as the Doctor but it was a fragile series with a finale that looked too familiar and repetitive in places. For all it’s fluff and heaving bosom, Merlin is looking like it has more potential as they have writers with the ‘fear’ and it all looks like more effort is being made.

What goes without saying is that both dramas entertain; make you smile, warm your heart and occasionally make you grimace and could never be as soulless as Xfactor.

So let’s raise a glass for the end and the Doctor’s survival, the memory of Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen and look forward to more Merlin. I can’t promise I will keep reviewing it, depends on whether they nod to pagan history again and throw in some good witches.

Jump onto the iplayer links below to catch up on the super duper Xfactor bashing double bill below. The ratings war makes me laugh almost as much as the handbags at dawn over whether there were dragons in Arthurian Legend. (Of course there was...somewhere). 

The Wedding of River Song
The Darkest Hour

Images courtesy of the BBC.

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