Category: TV


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I’ve always been partial to a good surprise. I was one of those children who secretly hoped for a surprise party or who would hint heavily to his friends that his birthday is just around the corner and wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone in his class sang to him? (Note: Rest assured, I’ve grown out of that.) I love surprising people too. I like to see their faces when I give them a meaningful gift or organise a treat for them. I’m a big fan of surprises – they break the monotony.

A few Christmases ago, my mum decided to tell me weeks before the big day that she had bought an iPad for me and I went ballistic. I was totally grateful for the cracking gift but I was furious that she spoilt it! Part of the joy of Christmas is the excitement and build up and she had casually demolished the mystery! Ooof! I was annoyed….

So, it’s probably not a surprise that I am totally anti-spoiler when it comes to TV. I don’t watch much TV, so the shows that I do watch mean a lot to me. And it means a lot to me that those programmes aren’t spoiled. I present to you, Case Study One: EastEnders.

Sometimes, particularly in these upcoming cold, dreary winter days, the thought of getting home, putting on my pyjamas and watching EastEnders (and thinking ‘Well, at least my life isn’t that bad…’) is all that makes the day bearable. I haven’t missed an episode for about three years. I know it’s a sad fact, but nevertheless, it is true. This week was a big week for EastEnders, with plenty of shocks and surprises promised. There was a lot of hype and, I admit, I was a bit excited. So you can imagine my disappointment when all the shocks and surprises were announced before transmission. I spent the whole week sighing and tutting as another storyline unfolded in the predictable or previously announced way. It shouldn’t have been boring, but it was. (OK, there were a lot of things wrong with last week’s episodes, but I maintain the stance that if everything had been kept secret I would have enjoyed the episodes a lot more.) Why do shows feel the need to leak everything beforehand? Alright, there is an argument that I shouldn’t go looking for spoilers, but we’re in an age now where even logging onto Twitter or Instagram can ruin a show for you – I didn’t have to look far. In the last few years, under the previous Executive Producer, some of the best storylines were transmitted by surprise. Look at the 30th Anniversary episode – they brought back Kathy. Iconic and memorable and a total shock. So, EastEnders, stop spoiling things for your fans! You CANNOT hype up a mystery ‘major character death’ and then, days later, announce an actor is leaving and not expect us to put two and two together. We’re not stupid.

On the topic of Twitter, I was getting increasingly agitated by the constant stream of spoilers in my news feed for Game of Thrones (which also happens to be Case Study two, for those of you keeping score of that). I understand people want to talk about it when they’ve watched it but what I don’t get is the need to spoil it for everyone. You don’t need to tweet (in detail) about it. You certainly don’t need to record clips from episodes into a snapchat story!! (I actually had to block someone for this – What kind of monster does something like that?!). Digital Spy also seem intent on spoiling it for others by revealing spoilers in their article titles or, even worse, writing a vaguely mysterious title about a possible death in the episode then spoiling it with a picture of the dead character in question! Stop! I will read your article but let me watch the bloody episode first!

There was a time when, keen for more information on plots and such, I would have gone looking for spoilers online but I have since discovered the art of watching spoiler-free. The 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who taught me this can be a very rewarding experience. I enjoyed the episode so much more because I didn’t know what was coming and I was able to immerse myself properly. The same goes for the last season of American Horror Story. Despite each episode airing in the USA days before the UK, I was able to avoid spoilers and it made the season for me. I was totally obsessed with the show and it made me want to tune in each week. If I’d known what was happening, I’d have just been tuning in out of habit or to prove my findings correct, which isn’t quite the same experience.

My earliest memory of spoiler-rage is set in the school canteen. (This could be Case Study three, but to be honest, I’ve sort of lost track of that). I was (and still am) a huge Harry Potter fan and I used to buy each new book the day it was released, then spend as many hours as possible reading. I’d take the books everywhere – I’d read in the car, in the bath, in school during lunch time, and during 90% of the time I spent at home. I’d invested so much time in these stories and I really cared about what was happening. So, imagine my absolute (hormonally-assisted) meltdown when a girl in the dinner queue casually told everyone that Sirius dies in the fifth book. I was just pages away from the heart-breaking moment, and to hear it being announced (so proudly, by someone who hadn’t even read the sodding book) sent me into a rage! If she thought it was a good idea, she was gravely mistaken. ‘Oh! Thank you! Thank you very much for revealing that bit of information and saving me the trouble of finishing the book I’ve spent the last 48 hours reading during every waking moment. Phew! For a minute I thought I was going to have to enjoy it!’

Urgh. It still makes me cross. I can hold a grudge.

I don’t understand this necessity to prevent people from enjoying something you have had the privilege of enjoying. If you have watched something awesome, why would you want to spoil it for someone else? The guy who streamed Game of Thrones over his snapchat story – what was he benefitting from that? EastEnders weren’t benefitting anything from their pre-publicity reveals. If they’d have kept some mystery people might have watched to find out the answers.

So there are no positives to spoilers. The clue is in the name. It spoils everything. So stop it. Stop it right now!

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Image result for Pink Ranger gifWhen I was a child I was obsessed with Power Rangers. Many weekends were spent high kicking and karate chopping in the garden attacking imaginary Zed Putties. My favourite ranger was the Pink Ranger. I thought she was awesome and kick-ass. I didn’t even think about her suit colour or the fact I was a different sex to her.

I just thought she was great.

My mum and dad did not approve and I was bluntly pushed towards the blue ranger with all the subtlety of Rita Repulsa’s transition to Dad-Eye-Candy in the new film. (Whole different blog post there.) But regardless of what my parents thought, I still thought she was great and, in a very child-like way, she was a bit of hero for me (until I grew out of my Power Rangers phase).

And then as I got into my teens the Doctor came along, bringing with him a range of heroes and role models for me to fantasise about (Errm…excuse me. Not like that.). How awesome was Rose? Loyal and quick-thinking. Donna Noble – hilarious, sensitive, self-less and selfish at the same time. Awesome characters – I wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t like them just because I’m a guy.

I was sixteen when Torchwood started and I was instantly obsessed. Part of the pull for me was the relatable characters – including Gwen and Toshiko, both fearless and flawed, making terrible decisions but fighting their way back on top and learning from their errors, however painful.

I didn’t think that because they were women I shouldn’t admire them. And who wouldn’t want Storm’s powers in X-Men? She’s brilliant!

So, my point is, it shouldn’t matter what gender your favourite TV character is. I’ve got girls in my class who love Spiderman, but somehow that is a bit more acceptable in society than a boy who likes Wonder Woman or Elsa or Clara Oswald. It shouldn’t be. One girl in my class LOVES Doctor Who, she’s actually obsessed with Matt Smith and David Tennant. If a six year old child is able to look past gender then so should adult fans of the show. A female Doctor has been on the cards for long time and, judging by how incredible Missy turned out to be, I’m looking forward to seeing Jodie Whittaker’s take on the time lord. A role model is a role model and gender should not be a factor. We admire these characters for their personalities and their responses to various situations, so there’s no reason we should be discouraging boys from watching Doctor Who now that the main character has changed sex.

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Well, after the news over the weekend that Executive Produce Sean O’Connor has left EastEnders with immediate effect, I’m sure it’s no surprise that this blog post was going to be focused on Albert Square. Twitter was rejoincing on Friday night as the news broke that O’Connor has delivered his last duff duff. Unpopular is an understatement. As tweets celebrating his departure came thick and fast, feelings of frustration and relief were apparent.

It’s frustrating that O’Connor has been allowed to mess up the show for so long and the damage couldn’t have been prevented sooner (assuming he’s been sacked, if you believe the tabloids). Before he wielded the axe at so many fan favourites and before he ordered the storyliners to create tales focusing solely on the bin schedule. It’s bloody annoying that, in the last few months, nothing has happened.  Each night I settle down to an episode, knowing that by the end I won’t have anything to report. Gone are the excited whatsapp conversations to friends that populated DTC’s era. Now it’s just ‘Don’t bother watching if you’re busy. Stacey put the bins out. Sharon’s hair was nice.’

I’ve been patiently sticking with the show, convincing myself that O’connor’s vision will soon kick into gear and the slow episodes would just be side-effects of the producer change over. But after reading Friday’s press release I realised he’s been in post for a whole bloody year! Although his stories have been nothing short of awful I was looking forward to the ‘big summer story’ and hoped that the tosh we were seeing on screen was just a slow build up to something great. It’s frustrating that we probably won’t see that big reveal now that O’connor has gone. I’ve been willing to give his new characters a change – such as the Taylor family and Ted and Joyce Murray – as they haven’t really been given much to work with. Each of O’connor’s new characters seemed to pop up in an introductory couple of episodes and then disappear into the background. If the new producer gives them some decent material then they should be given a chance.

But, obviously, it’s a relief that this reign of drivel is, hopefully, over. What the show now needs is a producer of DTC’s ilk, who respects the show, understands the history and knows what the viewers want. Here’s what I think the show needs:

  • Give us answers! – Max lingering moodily in the background, ‘The Chairman’ dropping enigmatic promises, Ted Murray holding a gun then stuffing it in a cupboard for six weeks….we don’t need any more teasers! It’s no longer exciting, it’s just frustrating and annoying. Just tell us what’s going on!
  • Keep Whitney away from Mick – We all know Mick and Linda are a solid couple and would never stray from each other. So Mick mooning over daughter-in-law Whitney just doesn’t wash. A Mickney affair would just be awful so the new EP’s best plan is to get her out of the Vic. Why not move her in with Lauren?
  • Bring back Babe – One of DTC’s best inventions played by the fabulous Annette Badland. Walford needs a good Villain. Bring her back!
  • Fix Kim and Denise – One of the most frustrating things O’Connor did was have Kim and D’s mum hurriedly tell them they’re not actually sisters before disappearing into a cab. The ‘sisters’ spent an episode moping about this revelation and then it was never mentioned again. WTF. A decision like this could be forgiven if it was for the sake of storytelling but, literally, nothing happened afterwards! On the subject of the Fox-Hubbards, the EP needs to use Patrick more. Bringing back Claudette might put a smile on his face and could also lure Vincent out of the house and into some storylines!
  • Bring back Pam and Les – I loved these two and, even if they can’t come back permanently, it would be great to have them recurring.
  • Integrate the new characters – Again, the Murrays and the Taylors have arrived on the square and locked themselves away. If there’s any chance of them being successful, they need to start building relationships on the Square.
  • Kathy – She’s had a quiet few months and, as a character with such a rich history, she needs a decent storyline. Give Ian a bit of break though. I’m fed up of him salivating over doughnuts.
  • Fix Steven Beale – He’s sticking round for another year and he’s an interesting character. He deserves more than looking after Lauren’s child and never leaving the Beale sofa. My advice – Have him leave Lauren and start to make friends on the Square.
  • Sharon and Michelle – A strong friendship with a lot of history. These two have been hilarious in some episodes and it would be good to see more of that. Throw Linda into the mix too and we could have a new ‘book club’ situation.
  • And finally – Bring back Ronnie and Roxy – I don’t care that they’re dead. I don’t care how ridiculous the storyline is. I’m willing to suspend all realism and accept a storyline that sees them being restored to life on Halloween during a séance with Dot and Jack. I’ll forgive it all, just bring back R&R!

Well I think we can all agree that this week’s episode of Doctor Who was terrifiying. Set on a troubled space station, Oxygen saw the Doctor, Bill and Nardole arrive to answer a distress signal. As if dealing with the space-zombies (dead astronauts being carried around by their smart-suit) wasn’t enough, they also had to deal with the lack of oxygen. Stressful stuff.

It feels like the Doctor has been travelling to increasingly darker territories since the show’s return in 2005. We’ve had everything from face-consuming gas masks to shadows that will eat you alive but it seems the show is still finding new ways to make us shudder.

Whilst Russel T Davies injected fresh new life into Doctor Who, it’s been Steven Moffatt who is responsible for giving it that chilling streak. Since the beginning of his reign we’ve had the Weeping Angels (terrifying!), Dream Crabs (bloody terrifying!) and the Silence (Oh good God, I’d forgotten about those!) – all suitably creepy enough to give us nightmares. But is this what Doctor Who is about? There’s plenty of criticism online that recent series’ have been too dark and scary for children and there’s lots of people who would like to see it return to its warmer, family-friendly roots.

Take Oxygen. I have to admit, I was freaked. The imagery of the dead astronauts stomping around the space station was effectively eerie, an image I can’t imagine many children will be forgetting in a hurry. But, to me, that’s what it’s all about. Yes, I like watching the Doctor travelling to different planets and having banter with his companions but I also like it when it scares me. When I’m still thinking about it as I go to bed. The Doctor lives a dangerous life and it does the audience good to be reminded of that. It’s not all Oods and Robin Hood. One of the most powerful sequences in this episode was the moment Bill is exposed to the vacuum of space. The peril felt real, aided by a great performance from Pearl Mackie. Bill’s genuine fear throughout the episode came across really well, adding to that feeling of unease as you watch from behind your cushion. Then, ofcourse, the suckerpunch of episode came as the Doctor paid a price for his adventures and lost his sight. Grim stuff.

It’s not just the monsters. We’ve been hit with a different kind of scary several times in recent series as the show has proved it can do psychological terror pretty well too. For example, the words ‘Don’t cremate me’ are enough to give you goose bumps. Doctor Who is able to show us just how awful our own world can be, because anything is possible in the Whoniverse, even the most horrendous of situations.

But should Doctor Who tone down the fear factor? Of course not! Classic Who is remembered most for being terrifying (if a little shoddy on the special effects) so NuWho is simply bringing that thread into 2017. It’s a rare breed of show that has a license to do whatever it wants, so it should always be finding new ways to scare us. The best episodes are the ones we’re stilling thinking about and shuddering days later. Doctor Who should always have the ability to send us diving behind the sofa.

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A few weeks ago I had a burst of inspiration. I was adding to old material and creating new work for what felt like a whole week solid. It was just pouring out of me and I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) stop it. The last few weeks that wave of creativity has truly crashed and become a pathetic dribble of vague ideas, all due to that frustrating mess of distractions – life. In the past, when I’m struggling, I find I can take inspiration from music. I’ve said before that music is a large part of my life and, aside from the stuff I might sing along to in my car, I’ve got a bank of music I turn to if I want to jump-start a story in my head. Below are five of, what I think, are the most inspirational musicians for writing (as well as providing dramatic soundtracks for your day….or am I the only one who does that?)

Murray Gold – I’m a Doctor Who fan and Murray Gold’s soundtrack comes with a whole TARDIS full of inspiration. Tracks such as ‘The Master Tape’, ‘The Majestic Tale of the Madman with a Box’ and ‘The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble’ are awesome kick-starters for a dramatic showdown or fully-charged finale. A lot of Reset was written with Murray Gold’s series 4 soundtrack blasting in the background, particularly tracks from latter episodes. Not only has he composed some deliciously dramatic pieces, but his tracks, such as ‘The Dream of a Normal Death’, ‘Goodbye Pond’ and ‘The Long Song’ can also be beautifully poignant. I’ve used Murray Gold’s music to inspire my own work but I’ve also played it many times in the classroom to inspire creative writing (and the children always love it). It’s also worth noting that Gold has composed some wonderful incidental pieces for Torchwood, such as ‘Death of Toshiko’ which always makes me a bit damp around the eyes.

Scala & the Kolacny Brothers – I first heard their take on U2’s ‘With or Without You’ some years ago on an advert for Downton Abbey. It was such a haunting piece of music that I had to find out more, and I’ve since added their versions of ‘Use Somebody’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Every breath you take’ to my writing playlist. Nothing quite tops ‘With or Without You’ when it comes to sending shivers up your arms, though.

Michael GiacchinoLost was one of my favourite TV shows and, apart from the bonkers characters and quirky mysteries, I loved it for its music. My favourite piece of incidental music from Lost is ‘Moving On’. I love how it rises and falls, from soft and gentle to a breath-taking crescendo that just makes you cry! (It’s also great for calming down rowdy Year 6s, I’ve found). Giacchino is also behind some amazing scores from films such as Up and Jurassic World.

John Williams – Speaking of Jurassic World/Park, I had to include the film’s original composer, who created that iconic theme tune (and, alright, I may have been guilty of playing it at full blast as I’ve driven around Wales). Whether you’re into dinos or not, it’s really difficult not to get excited when the music swells. Of course, Williams is also famous for the Star Wars soundtrack, which is equally as inspiring for dramatic writing.

Alan Menken – Responsible for creating some classic Disney tunes, I had to include Menken’s work. Regardless of the catchy songs, Menken’s back catalogue of instrumental scores alone is worthy of this list. From The Little Mermaid to Tangled , Menken has created many breathtaking pieces of music. One of my favourites is ‘Transformation’ from Beauty and the Beast. (Close your eyes, have a listen and feel happy!)

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You know I love EastEnders. I’ve had a run for at least four years where I haven’t missed an episode. In the days of the Lucy Beale Saga I was even known to watch episodes twice in case I’d missed anything. Bordering on pathetic, I know, but this heart only beats for one soap and that’s Easties.

However, those days of double viewings are long gone. Since the autumn, it’s hurts me to say, EastEnders has been a disappointment, with the only bit of real excitement being the soon-forgotten bus crash. Gone are the firecracker episodes of recent years (the live episode, Sharon and Phil’s wedding, all the Carter chaos, Claw-dette and the aftermath of Paul’s death to list just a few), instead we’re left with pathetic, half-arsed sighs of episodes, like the writers have actually just given up. Lazy writing, boring storylines and character personality swaps – here’s just handful of reasons I think EastEnders is going wrong!

  • Ronnie and Roxy – I’ve already written about this but still….What the HELL?! Four months later and I’m still not over it. Two of the most iconic characters played by very skilled actresses bumped off in a very (ahem) damp storyline. Ronnie and Roxy deserved so much more than a hastily written exit clearly fashioned to grab cheap ratings. Please, EastEnders, let it all be a dream and just bring them back!
  • Mass Character Culling – it’s not just R&R who have been victims of an over-hasty axing. It seems to be the strongest characters who have left suddenly over the past few months. First, Pam and Les, a couple representing everyday folk, suddenly shoved in a taxi and sent off to Worthing. Then there was Claudette, a fiery matriarch with so many secrets yet to be uncovered. She had one hissy fit with Patrick and disappeared into the night. And don’t even get me started on Babe, who gave her finest performance yet in her last episodes. (I think I’m going to start cursing people too). That’s before we even mention Lee and Belinda! Jeez, Easties, get a grip!
  • Boring newbies – I’m talking about the teens. Stereotypical and dull. Teenagers don’t talk like that. It makes me cringe every time. Stop it, EastEnders. Stop it now.
  • Pointless returns – I am all for a return, especially if it’s an unusual one, such as Yolande or Derek, but what I don’t like is characters who are brought back for no reason. Yolande hovered about for a couple of minutes before disappearing back into the ether. WTF. In previous years we’ve had some fantastic surprise returns (remember Anthony when Patrick had a stroke? Rainie Cross revealing a secret bunk up with Ian? Morgan and Tiff for Whitney’s wedding? Not to mention Kathy. KATHY!) all of which have had a purpose and been really effective
  • Dull storylines – One word. Bins. Need I say anymore?
  • Mick and Whitney – The whole ‘will they, won’t they’ thing with Whit and Mick has been ridiculous. We all know Mick would never cheat on Linda, they’re the most solid couple on square. Stop trying to force this one on us, scriptwriters, it’s not working.
  • Ben and Johnny – Oh I could write a whole post about this one! Ben and Johnny have been mates for years, barely a hint at romance. In fact, years ago, when Johnny had a different face, he rejected Ben and that has sort of been the basis of their friendship since. Until last week when all the other characters suddenly and fleetingly decided they were ‘meant for each other’ (and kept repeating it throughout the episode just to really shove it down our throats). Of course, by the end of the episode they were in bed together. Because, of course, gay men can’t be friends, they always end up shagging their mates. *massive eye roll*
  • Pointless, slapdash storylines – the bus crash – no aftermath. Ronnie and Roxy’s deaths – pitiful aftermath. Johnny and Ben sleep together – agree to be friends again at the beginning of the next episode. Denise’s mum casually reveals she was adopted as she’s getting in a car to leave – barely mentioned again. On times it feels like the story threads have been planned by a hyper-active cocker spaniel. There such a lack of direction or continuity that it makes you think this new producer hates the show and is sabotaging it from the inside….
  • Michelle – It was very brave of producers to recast Michelle, and to an extent it has worked. It’s been good to see the Fowlers branch out a bit and perhaps, if a return of Vicky or Mark Junior was in the works, Michelle might stand a bit more chance of succeeding. So far her constant moaning and references to ‘the way mum use to’ do things is getting on my nerves. Though I must admit her special episode with Sharon was fabulous, full of witty, emotive dialogue. My advice – get rid of Preston, stick her with Sharon and bring in some of her kids. Oh, and let her carry on teaching.
  • Dreadful writing – I remember the days when the writing used to fizz and pop. With the exception of a handful of episodes, the writing this year has been pretty bland. Being able to guess what a character is going to say word for word is not a sign of good writing, and that seems to be happening a lot. We’re suddenly being subjected to a barrage of stock-phrases (‘poor kid’, ‘who does something like that?’, ‘Is this some kind of sick joke?’ *shudders*). Another hint that the writers have just given up.

There was a time when, if you’d have said I’d be writing such a negative blog about my beloved EastEnders, I’d have told you to sling yer ‘ook and get outta ma pub. I’ve tried so hard over the last few months to ignore the building negativity but I just can’t handle it anymore! This week has been billed as ‘explosive’ with the reveal of Michelle and Preston’s forbidden relationship and a rumoured disaster. I’m pinning all my hopes on it living up to the hype, with some powerful performances and possibly some surprises in store, because if it’s another disappointment, I might be giving Easties the duff duffs.

My countdown continues! Below are my top eight most WTF moments in NuWho. Allonsy!

Number 8 – Oswin Oswald, Asylum of the Daleks, Series 7.

We kneImage result for Oswin Oswald gifw Jenna Coleman was the new companion but didn’t expect her to pop up alongside Amy and Rory in Asylum of the Daleks. OK, she wasn’t playing Clara Oswald but Oswin Oswald, who turned out to be a version of Clara….confused? Well this brings me on to…..

 

Number 7 – Clara’s secret finally revealed, The Name of the Doctor, series 7.

We’d been guessing for months as to who on Earth Clara Oswald was and The Name of the Doctor finally revealed her true identity which was…..Clara Oswald. Not some sinister force sent to destroy the Doctor or a forgotten Timelord, as some speculated, but an ordinary Earth girl. At the end of the episode she rescues the Doctor by stepping into his timeline, scattering herself across his many lives, thus explaining why she kept popping up in previous episodes. Clever! The cold-open of this episode is gasp-inducing enough with the many references to the Doctor’s past faces, but, just to push any fan over the edge, we’re then hit with the arrival of the War Doctor played by John Hurt! Boom! Fangasms all round.

Number 6 – ‘I don’t want to go’, The End of Time, Part 2

The death toll was ringing for the Tenth Doctor for what seemed like years, but on New Year’s Day 2010 the mystic Ood in the snow finally sent him to his maker. After visiting several of his favourite companions, the Tenth Doctor stumbled into the TARDIS and began to regenerate, delivering one final heart-breaking line. As with many of the Doctor’s best moments, this was made extra-special by Murray Gold’s incredible soundtrack.

Number 5 – Rose’s death, Doomsday, Series 2.

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Drama queen Rose sets the story off to a happy start, leaving viewers on the edge of their seats, knowing this was Billie Piper’s last episode (or so we thought). The battle of Canary Wharf with Torchwood, Daleks and Cybermen, ensured the second series ended with a bang, but the WTF moment came as Rose was sucked closer to the void opening, only to be rescued at the very last minute by her fake-Dad from a parallel universe. Sealed in Other Earth, Rose gets one last chance to say goodbye to the Doctor in Bad Wolf Bay. No one needs reminding of that beach scene. *sniff* but the Whoniverse did do a great big sigh of relief as Rose survived in another world, but technically dead in this one.

Number 4 – ‘You Are Not Alone’, Gridlock, Series 3. 

Gridlock is an underrated episode. A simple idea – The Doctor and Martha visit New Earth only to find the majority of New New York’s citizens are trapped on an underground motorway and have been for many years. It’s in this episode that the Doctor starts to reveal his past to Martha, explaining how the rest of his species were killed and he is now the last of his kind. Most of the action takes place within various vehicles, but key themes of belief and hope are powerfully conveyed. The scene where drivers take part in the ‘daily contemplation’ is very moving. It all ends with the Doctor over-riding the motorway system, freeing everyone who is trapped and allowing them to rebuild the city. He’s helped by the Face of Boe, who shares his final secret with him before he dies – ‘You Are Not Alone’. Enigmatic, right?

Number 3 – The 50th Anniversary, The Day of the Doctor, Special episode.

Months of teasers and guesswork led to this massive episode. Event television at its finest. The Day of the Doctor had lots of references to the history of the show, as well as setting up the return of Gallifrey for future episodes. Long awaited shots of the time war were spectacular and the returns of David Tennant, Billie Piper, Jemma Redgrave, Tom Baker and the Zygons satisfied viewers around the world. Throw in a secret Doctor (played to perfection by John Hurt) and an impossible choice and you have an emotionally charged celebratory episode. (Note: We also get introduced to Osgood in this episode and she is several kinds of awesomeness.)

Number 2 – Melody Pond, A Good Man Goes to War, Series 6.Image result for a good man goes to war gif

Mid-season cliffhanger alert! Professor River Song’s (AKA The Doctor’s wife) identity was finally revealed during this episode. Showing up just as the Doctor has lost the battle of demon’s run, with Amy and Rory’s new baby, Melody, being kidnapped by the genuinely terrifying Madam Kovarian, River tries to console the grieving parents. Taking a prayer leaf embroidered with Melody’s name, River explains that the name (Melody Pond…with me?) translates as River Song. Thus revealing that through timey-wimey madness she is Amy and Rory’s daughter. Despite looking fifteen years older than them.

Number 1 – Everything, Turn Left/The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, Series 4.

Nothing can top these three episodes. This was Doctor Who at its peak, for me. The end of RTD’s era saw a culmination of plot threats and great big mega-fan-wanky (his words, not mine) finale. Turn Left was a masterpiece, re-visiting events from the last few series from the perspective of Donna Noble (in my opinion, the best companion). We also got a glimpse of the dystopic nightmare world that exists without the Doctor. (Mass-death, concentration camps, segregation…not exactly a light and fluffy episode!) The final few moments where Donna reveals she’s met Rose Tyler (‘She said….two words….Bad Wolf’) still gives me shivers and then there’s the trailer for the next episode! I don’t think I’ve ever fangirled so much over a trailer. Flashes of all the favourite characters from past seasons and spin-off shows (Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures) as well as a Red Dalek! Harriet Jones! Captain Jack! K9! All in one episode?! Christ, I was so excited. I’ve watched The Stolen/Earth and Journey’s End so many times I can almost quote it off by heart. The way all the characters play a part and threads are brought together so neatly is fantastic and a masterclass in storytelling. And then there’s that regeneration shocker! Catherine Tate is also at her peak in these episodes, proving Donna Noble is totally kick ass. By the end, you’ll be in tears.  Whether it’s at the Earth being saved (with that wonderful music), Donna Noble leaving the TARDIS in heart-breaking fashion, or just because you’re so bloody happy that everyone is together!

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Last year I was totally won over by NBC’s live broadcast of The Wiz. In fact, I’m pretty sure I sang Brand New Day all over Christmas (complete with dance moves). So I was pretty excited when they announced this year’s live production was Hairspray – especially as I spent some time as a teenager obsessed with the show. Just to make me even more eager, Queen Kristen Chenoweth (of Wicked fame) was cast in the role of Velma.

So Friday night arrived, I’d resisted watching any clips on youtube so I could get the full first-viewing experience and the verdict was: pretty good.

There were a few problems with this production but nothing to stop it being an enjoyable bit of fun with a very important message. Firstly, some of the new dialogue seemed a bit forced and cheesy. Hairspray is a naturally funny show, but some of the new ideas made it appear like the production team were trying too hard. I also don’t think Kristen was given enough to do.  I know I’m biased (because I really do bloody love her) but she has a lot of talent and I was waiting for her to be really showcased. (Don’t even get my started on how angry I am that they cut her bow). I felt like Ariana Grande was used as the star vehicle. I’m not saying Ariana was terrible, I’m just not sure the production company realised just how much talent they had in the ensemble cast. However, the main issue with Hairspray live was the ad breaks. I honestly felt like I was watching ad breaks interspersed with bits of Hairspray. I don’t know if NBC or ITV2 were to blame but it really was ridiculous and it killed any momentum.  Image result for hairspray live

Casting Harvey Fierstein as Edna, reprising his role from Broadway, was a nice touch and I loved the little references to the Hairspray canon. (Ricki Lake making a cameo, a plumbing company named after John Waters). The final number, You Can’t Stop the Beat, is meant to have audiences dancing in the aisles (or in this case, their living rooms) and, thankfully, it did. It was definitely a high point of the show, along with anything Jennifer Hudson sang and Welcome to the 60’s.

What is most striking about Hairspray is its relevance. It’s been almost 30 years since the original movie and its themes and messages about diversity and segregation are still important. Hairspray reminds that we are all equal – regardless of race, size, gender, interests etc. – and any one of us is capable of achieving any goal. It was a much needed tonic for 2016 and, after the dreadful few months our World has had, I can’t think of a more perfect show to end the year with.

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Image result for roanoke AHS‘The old magic and new world created something new. Something original.’

I have a new obsession.

American Horror Story should be something that doesn’t interest me. It’s got all the ingredients of a show I’d usually hate – gore, cruel deaths and human jerky. However, despite it appearing to be a beast that is Anti-Rebellious G…..I absolutely love it.

I watched the first season, Murder House, about two years ago. It was around Halloween and feeling uncharacteristically in need of a scare, I came across season one. I was hooked from the beginning (despite having to shield my eyes from the titles.) I loved everything from its gritty characters to creepy sets to gripping (if a little whacky) plots. It was fresh and totally different to my usual viewing. Its also perfect October television. Best watched on dark nights with a cup of tea (and a pillow to hide behind).

Two years and six seasons later I am up to date. Friday nights in Roanoke are one of the highlights of the week. I always thought Asylum was the strongest season. Until now.

After the penultimate episode of season 6, I think Roanoke is the best season to date. And here’s why.Image result for roanoke AHS audrey gif

Firstly, the producers have made it obvious from the start that this season was going to be full of twists and even had us guessing months before episode one transmitted, as creators refused to reveal the theme. Even after episode one it was still unclear. The shift in format to a documentary-style narrative was interesting but writers were wise to end it mid-series and give us another twist – Return to Roanoke. The idea to continue the reality theme and give us a bloody Big Brother – mixing classic horror with the modern obsession with reality – was brilliant and it was good to see AHS favourites such as Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters and Angela Basset have some fun with their characters (multiple characters in this season’s case). For me though, the star of this season is Kathy Bates. You can’t help but feel for Agnes at some points during the season (especially episode six. N’awww) but it’s when that familiar murderous look flashes across her eyes and she starts going cray-cray with an axe that she really shines. (‘I am the tree and lightning that strikes it’.)

The whole season has just been so cleverly written and performed. Even Bates’quirky celtic accent turned out to be intentionally so after we met the desperate, obsessive actress behind the Butcher. The pivotal episode six had some great TV moments. It took the concepts of the first five episodes and rejuvenated them, twisting the season completely on its head. The writers explored every reality TV feature – distant action, confession booths and even characters eating cereal during dramatic arguments. It also seemed to poke fun at actors, with luvvy Audrey bragging about her Saturn nomination and Agnes proclaiming passionately that ‘there are only two great roles in the American canon. Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey….and…..the Butcher’.

The comedy in this series has also been excellently and subtly done, coming mostly from the ‘actors’ from the re-enactment. Audrey and Rory’s overly-sickening wedding video is a stand-out moment, as well as Audrey taking the time to wallow in self-indulgence when she finds Shelby’s body. (‘Oh, God! I feel like part of me has died with her!’)

AHS also has plenty of treats for its fans. In recent seasons we’ve been treated to re-appearances of popular characters (such as Queenie, Marcy and Pepper) and next week sees the return of Lana Winters. It’ll be interesting to see how Lana interacts with series survivor Lee and whether all the answers to this season’s big questions will be wrapped up. I’m sure we’ll get a few unexpected twists and Sarah Paulson will continue to be fantastic as she steps back into Lana Banana’s shoes.

Roanoke has raced along with all the speed of three teens being chased through the woods by a pig man, but the shorter, streamlined season and the fresh new format has only left us itching for more. Cosy Friday nights won’t be the same without showers of teeth, forest dwelling cannibals and murderous nurses.

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OK….I’m sure some of you will have predicted this….but I need to talk about EastEnders.

It’s been a hard week. After relatively smooth sailing since Peggy died, we were hit with a big shock on Monday when dead-Ben was in fact revealed to be dead-Paul. I’d anticipated this reveal for a while, but, like Pam, I chose not to accept it. In my head, I’d envisioned him jetting off around the World or leaving for a new life with Jenny. But on Monday night, those visions were shattered as we were delivered the gruesome duff-duff of Paul in the mortuary.

[Disclaimer: Don’t fear for my mental health. I am aware that this is all totally fictional, but for someone who watches regularly, it’s hard not to be affected by last week’s scenes. Here’s why….]

I’ve always been a fan of the Cokers. For two years they’ve been a source of normality within the Square, amongst all the drama from the Carters and the Mitchells and the Beales. The Cokers are not about sensationalism, their storylines are subtle and low-key. (which is one of the reasons why their grief seems so much more real and natural). It’s lovely to have a couple who have so much history and love for each other. (I’ve written about them before – see ‘Kudos to the Cokers’ for more Coker-praise.) And when their grandson Paul arrived, it triggered a fresh new dynamic for the show. The grandparent-grandson set up was interesting to see amidst the more traditional family s
tructures, and Paul’s strong relationship with Pam and Les provided many touching moments. (Giving Claudette a piece of his mind, sharing his suspicions with Pam and supporting Les when the truth about Christine came out.)
But in the last few weeks, things have turned sinister for
our favourite undertakers. First we’ve had the brilliant but wicked Aunt Babe threatening to expose Les’ secret and then Paul’s real mum rocks up and reveals Pam hasn’t been entirely truthful about her departure all along. It looked like we were in for a week of revelations and drama. The simmering tension over Jenny’s arrival had culminated in Pam finally deciding to come clean to Paul (after he’d been unknowingly harsh his mum, thinking she was Les’ blackmailer). It was clear that things were about to get messy for the Cokers, but as an audience, we needed Pam to bite the bullet, tear off the plaster and tell Paul the truth, so that we could go back to hunky-dory-Coker normality – dancing in the launderette and giggling on the flower stall, that sort of stuff.

Then, tragedy. After a night out with Ben, Paul was attacked by a homophobic gang and murdered.

Although, as a result, we’ve had some fantastic television and truly moving scenes, it’s all just so…cruel! Paul was always the figure of support and reason to Ben, so his death, due partly to Ben’s hot-headness, is twist that makes the blood run cold. Harry Reid has put in excellent performances this week as the guilt and shock begins to eat away at Ben, but did it really need to happen? The idea of a sturdy, comfortable gay couple living on the Square was so appealing and Paul and Ben (Pen? Baul?) were the closest we’ve had to that since Chryed. Paul was a refreshingly confident gay character who broke the stereotypes. Paul had brought Ben a long way. He’d helped him deal with his feelings and issues and supported him through his break-up with Abi. He’d been there for Ben when Phil publicly showed his disapproval and things were finally beginning to settle down for them. For a fleeting moment it looked like they might have been…well….happy!  But, I suppose that’s not really Albert Square’s style.

There’s also the matter of Jenny. Paul will now never know the truth about his mother’s departure and lived his whole life thinking she didn’t want him. Isn’t that an awful thought? He died thinking his mother didn’t want him. Not only that, but his death was so sudden. In Friday’s episode he was happily heading out with Ben and by Monday he was a gonner. The fact this all happened off-screen is even more grim as we can only imagine the trauma Paul went through and the fear he felt.

Watching Pam deny the news of Paul’s death was heart-breaking, especially as she remained focused on Les’ health, whilst he kept it together for Pam’s sake, breaking down only when Pam was out of sight – remaining true to what we know about Les bottling things up to be strong for his wife. The scene where Pam and Les return home, Pam silently heading to Paul’s room clutching one of his jackets whilst Les pours away the tea Paul never got to drink, is so poignant and subtle but packs in just as much tension and drama as a Queen Vic fire episode.

What’s most heart-breaking is that none of the Cokers deserve this. When a soap character dies, there’s usually some reasoning behind it. Their previous actions usually justify it somehow which takes the edge off it – it comforts us to find some justification. But there’s none of that for Paul. He was innocent. Loyal, caring and with a fully-working conscience. (As Les said tonight, ‘Hate crime? Who could hate Paul?’). Pam and Les have also kept themselves out of trouble, being the average community members that they are, so it’s tough to see them going through so much trauma. Add to that the knowledge of the pain they have already suffered – losing their son Laurie, suspecting Paul of blaming them, the recent blackmail from Aunt Babe – and their grief makes for almost unbearable viewing. In this instance there is no justification, which I suppose is the writers point. Chillingly, hate crime like this happens all the time to people just like Paul. People are killed because of who they love, who they worship and who they follow, as Twitter confirms every day. This wasn’t just an average soap death, it carried a painful but important message, which makes it even harder to accept.

It would have been great to see Paul get a storyline of his own, away from Ben and his grandparents. Perhaps make some other links on the Square and become a long-term character. Jonny Labey has done an excellent job in his performances but it would have been interesting to have seen a bit more to Paul before he was bumped off.

The last time I wrote about the Cokers, I talked about how Christine’s storyline seemed to come out of the blue from this normal little family, but had such an impact. Well, they’ve done it again. In the aftermath of the huge, sensational storylines like Peggy’s death and Bobby’s imprisonment, the Cokers have surprised us with a humble story of grief and injustice that has been just as powerful. Storylines rarely have such an impact but the cruelty of Paul’s death has left viewers distraught and emotionally drained. (See Pam’s note to Paul/Les’ kitchen sink breakdown/Pam’s breakdown to Belinda/Pam’s speech in the Vic etc. *sob*) Soaps need characters like the Cokers and I hope that they’re around for a long time (I said that in my last Coker-post, and now we’re one down!), and, though I’m sure Lin Blakley and Roger Sloman will be superb, seeing Les and Pam attempt to cope over the next few weeks is not going to make for easy viewing.