ASSESSING STRESS, THE BOOK CLUB – The Missy Chronicles

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère, on his own this time, opens a book, for a change, and chats about The Missy Chronicles, the recent anthology about everyone’s favourite evil Time Lady.  Spoilers after the “read more” tag.

Additionally, a bit of an advertisement – if you want to hear a bit more about the book, you’ll be able to catch DoWntime guest contributor (and Clara expert) Ruth Long on the Trap One podcast that way !

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

Well, if one is to talk about the Missy Chronicles, one first needs to talk about what these recent anthologies published by BBC Books have been all about. They tend to be a bit light on character, in a way – their primary purpose seeming more to be a collection of short, fun little stories about a cool character we want to see more of. The River book they made a couple years ago is a perfect example of that, with only Jenny Colgan’s story hitting any sort of key character notes and the rest consisting of pleasant and well-written Who runarounds (yes, I’ve been taking notes for a future Follow the River, why d’you ask).

The Missy Chronicles mostly follows that pattern. If you’re looking for an in-depth examination of the character and her complexities, you’re probably going to be disappointed by most of the things past the first and best story – but really, Missy is just fun to be around, and while I wouldn’t go proclaiming that this specific volume is a literary masterpiece, it’s an infectiously entertaining, if a tiny bit uneven, read, with a diverse panel of writers that allow for some very different and creative takes on the character. There are much worse ways to spend ten bucks.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Monthly Range: “Serpent in the Silver Mask”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, Tibère and Scribbles are like, totally in the zone, tackling the latest monthly release from Big Finish, David Llewellyn’s “Serpent in the Silver Mask”. There’s like, totally spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Well, it’s another entry in a strong series of monthly releases. One that I admit took a path I didn’t entirely expect – I was really excited by the idea of replicating ideas from the giallo genre into Who audio, but outside of a few aesthetic nods, it’s really not what the audio is about.

SCRIBBLES: What this really is is a frothy comedy. It’s a good thing to have, and I had a very good time with it. Equally, it’s hard to say I’ll remember it too much down the line, but it hits a lot of tremendously enjoyable scenes in fresh ways in order to provide a good time. There’s gags in here that had me howling at their audacity, and that’s a marvelous thing to have, all tied up in a reasonably clever mystery pastiche that’s paced perfectly. It’s basically pleasant and unobjectionable. I can’t recommend racing out to hear it, but equally, I find it difficult to say anyone who does will have anything but a good time.

TIBERE: It’s I think a good example of what baseline quality Big Finish should be like – clever, witty, with enough original ideas and character moments to feel like a worthwhile addition to the Who corpus. One of its most notable specificities, really, that it’s only an hour and a half long – and that’s very good; in the past few years, a lot of the Monthly stories have felt like they were struggling with the two hours runtime, and really, I don’t blame them, it’s a tricky format to make work. If there’s one thing to single out among Llewellyn’s multiple qualities as a writer, it’s that he’s incredible with pacing (remember “Gallifrey: Enemy Lines”?), and it definitely shows here. No, it’s definitely a good time.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (4/4)

PART FOUR: “THE LYING DETECTIVE” AND THE DEATH OF SHERLOCK

by William Shaw

 

It’s all the more infuriating, because Sherlock has offered a much better self-critique than any of its YouTube detractors. Unsurprisingly, it comes in series four. Series four, of course, is the story of Sherlock tearing itself apart, beginning by killing off its best character, and meticulously unravelling everything that made the show unique, eventually collapsing into a nice and simple series of detective yarns too boring to broadcast, a hellish condemnation to single vision and Newton’s sleep.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (3/4)

PART THREE: LOOK GOOD AND SAY AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE

by Samuel Maleski

 

Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue

– Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”

Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes have a surprising number of similarities, when you get down to it. Not just the fact their most recent iterations were both supervised by Steven Moffat. And of course there’s the whole matter of the crossovers between the two, with Big Finish producing some detectives drama of its own, the Virgin New Adventure book “All-Consuming Fire”, later adapted into an audio, or Bernice Summerfield’s “Adventure of the Diogenes Damsel”, where James Cooray Smith has the time-traveler meet Mycroft Holmes and fight an army of Doctor-worshipping clones. No, something simpler – both are far and away from the very simple, chronological life of many cultural franchises, and closer to a vast, out-of-control forest of ideas. I mean, it was the Doyle fandom that first came up with the modern meaning of the term “canon”, until then reserved to Biblical Studies: precisely because, between the Doyle originals, themselves with their share of strange zones of shadows and lapses, and tons of referenced but unseen adventures, and the multiple sequels, prequels, midquels, and rewritings (go rate my Alternate Universe fic where Moriarty is actually a product of Sherlock’s drug-addled mind, it’s called “The Seven Per Cent Solution” and it even has Sigmund Freud!), it became hard to quantify things.

Basically, they’re both clusterfucks.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Tales From New Earth

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, we are meeting bears, cat people, new humans and gay trees as Tibère and Scribbles grab their backpacks and explore New Earth. So why don’t grab a bottle of sap (and mind spoilers after the ‘read more’ tag) and follow them!

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

TIBERE: Well, this was a breath of fresh air, really. Big Finish is often summed up as being torn between a “odd, ambitious and experimental” poll and a “curating the tradition” one, but they have an entire branch of stories who don’t really fit these categories and instead just focus on being pure raw fun with loveable and precious characters. Jago & Litefoot is the one that springs to mind – and really, this feels a bit like a continuation of it in a way. Not exactly in tone and aesthetics – it’s bigger and brasher and queerer, as adapting Davies demands – but certainly in that it provides that wonderfully easy-listening feel of sliding into a familiar, fun setting. There are good politics, good characters, good representation, and a lot of really absurd ideas. It’s not the greatest thing ever, but it’s a joy to listen to – that’s certainly helped by a really slick and tight production, too. No, really, it’s just a really nice and enjoyable listen. Good stuff.

SCRIBBLES: I think the word for this set is “fun.” It takes the bombast, campy strangeness that Russell T Davies’ alien worlds were known for and fills it with heart and joy, while finding a few places to talk about the importance of diversity along the way. Does the world need “Tales of New Earth?” Probably not. But we’re very fortunate to have it, and I think it’s one of the freshest and most undemandingly enjoyable spinoff series Big Finish has had. I’d recommend it quite highly, and I think it’s something that should be encouraged and supported to continue into further series. It has, for a weird little corner series, shockingly high production value, with some of the finest music Big Finish has ever had, fine ideas, fine new characters, and some truly delightful weirdness to enjoy. And really, I think, no Doctor Who audio to come in 2018 will be able to match the pleasure of a polar bear strapped to a jetpack while the sickest guitar riff ever blares triumphantly.

TIBERE: I mean, if that image fills you with delight–

SCRIBBLES: And unless you’re a soulless, wonderless monster, it should.

TIBERE: –then yeah, you can go buy this set in all good conscience. It’s full of moments like that. Plus, I mean, bears. And otters. And cats. It’s cute. It appeals to the part of my brain that binge-watches cat videos at three in the morning.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (2/4)

PART TWO: THE AESTHETICS OF THE BOMBERMAN

by Samuel Maleski

 

We are in front of someone who believes that it’s important to pay attention to the specificities of a piece of media – that it is the content of a text and its unique nature that should drive your analysis, not the pre-set expectations and narratives you bring to it (1). So let’s give him the luxury he denies Steven Moffat and try to see how these videos, and their many problems, fit into the larger context of his oeuvre – and that’s not a mocking word here: after all, why, in theory at least, shouldn’t a YouTube channel have the same intellectual legitimacy as a book or a TV show?

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why” is Garbage, and Here’s Why: Critical Perspectives on a YouTuber’s reception of Sherlock (1/4)

To this date, DoWntime’s most-read post is a rant about bad Moffat criticism, written in a few hours as an angry response to a video that really annoyed the hell out of me. It was a very enjoyable experience, although I wouldn’t count the finished product as my finest work, not by a long shot.

There has been several reproaches made to that short piece of analysis, on social media and in the comments of the site, about the unfairness of the criticisms raised against this video – as in it had not been given a proper hearing, so to speak. Well, since the author, YouTuber Hbomberguy, has decided to release a second video about Moffat, this time tackling the supposed failings of “Twice Upon A Time“, it’s as good a day as any to have a good, long think about what apparently has become a mainstream school of thought as far as the Scottish showrunner’s works are concerned.

To help me in this endeavour, I have recruited (a nice word for “dragged, kicking and screaming and forced to watch almost two hours of bad reviews at gunpoint”) DoWntime guest writer and media analyst person extraordinaire William Shaw, who has added two essays to the two I myself penned on the topic. By the way, you should absolutely check out his blog, it’s brilliant.

If you wish to get acquainted with the objects of our rants, let’s also provide in this introduction the links to the two videos in question:

This out of the way, let’s dive right in, shall we?

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LOOKING FOR TELOS – “The Myth Makers”

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.

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ASSESSING STRESS, AUDIO EDITION – Gallifrey: The Time War, volume I

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.

And today, the Senate is in session with Tibère and Scribbles, as we discuss the new Gallifrey audios. Politics, Daleks, debates – and spoilers after the “read more” tag.

 

Spoiler-free thoughts:

SCRIBBLES: God, this has been in the works a long time, hasn’t it? The Master’s threads here were laid out months ago. Leela’s were dripped in a release a year ago. The new series Daleks turned up in Gallifrey for the first time in series 6 in 2013, paying off previous Dalek stories like 2000’s Apocalypse Elementand, of course, Genesis of the Daleksway back in the seventies. Big Finish has been weaving Gallifrey into the tapestry of the Time War before the Time War was even a thing, and as the new series sketched out its path, this reckoning has become increasingly inevitable. All of which is a lengthy way to say, for a story that’s been so long in the making, it’s not what anyone would have expected. I was not expecting something so angry and modern, entirely connected into the beating heart of the present political world, but that, for me, is the best possible thing it could be and exceeds all expectations. This set isn’t always perfect, but at its highest points, particularly in the closing hour, I think it’s the best Gallifrey has ever been by miles. Never before have the political shenanigans meant so much. That easily excuses the rougher table-setting patches for me, because the things this set has to say really do matter a lot.

TIBERE: I have a lot of complicated feelings about this release, I can’t lie. There are indeed some absolutely fantastic moments of engagement with modern politics, especially in the finale; the mad concepts one expects from a Time War set are there; and it’s always a joy to spend time with these characters. But, at the same time, it really left me cold – maybe because I thought Gallifrey’s last series, “Enemy Lines”, has found a sort of grace note on which to end our journey with this cast (and indeed, as Scott Handcock’s interview in February’s Vortex proves, it was originally supposed to be the finale of the range); maybe simply because Gallifrey isn’t necessarily the range that most appeals to me. It is most definitely an important release, an ambitious one, that tackles big political topics and even bigger Big Canon Events – but, behind all this, I don’t feel like it truly hits the soul and pathos of the War, and of these characters. With that said, with some of the most crucial canon events tackled, and with that ending, I remain very much interested in what Gallifrey has to say and in how it’s going to evolve. I just wish I could be more on board with the tone and specificities of what is admittedly a very fine set from a storytelling perspective.

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