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Doctor Who Review: Deep Breath

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Tonight’s series premiere launches a new chapter in Doctor Who history. Peter Capaldi shows that the Twelfth Doctor is more than just a guy with intimidating eyebrows. [Photo courtesy of the BBC.]
SPOILERS BELOW THIS LINE
The plot itself was far more horror inspired than recent series episodes. In between Twelve stumbling around in a post regeneration stupor, the Doctor and Clara struggle against androids who are salvaging human body parts. However, this plot in my mind took a back seat to the character development. 

The heart of Deep Breath is an identity crisis. Clara is struggling to cope with how much the Doctor has changed. She reflects the audience members who are still unsure of what to make of Twelve. She doesn’t understand why the Doctor appeared older post regeneration. Through her struggle she realizes that her previous assumptions about the Doctor were wrong. He’s a 2000 year old Time Lord hiding his past. As the episode develops, Clara gains reassurance that the Doctor’s essence is the same. She realizes so much of her perception of the Doctor was based on superficial appearance and not his personality. Along with coming to terms with the Doctor’s change, she also becomes more assertive and confrontational.

Twelve so far definitely has a more confrontational attitude than Eleven. He’s not approaching traveling through space and time as child’s play. He pushed the main android out of a hot air balloon to certain death. He also has a mad energy that needs motivation and or someone to steer him in the right direction. He sees Clara as a friend and an ally. He refuses to be characterized as Clara’s boyfriend but still acknowledges he needs her support. 
Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax return for another adventure. Their appearance was highly effective in establishing continuity from Eleven’s era to Twelve. Although Deep Breath appears to be an earlier incident in their timeline, Twelve can still count on the trio’s support and friendship. Fans who wanted to see more from Madame Vastra and Jenny definitely get what they wanted. Strax has more one liners that will quickly become fandom memes. They are key in not only outsmarting the androids, they also assist Clara with coming to terms with the Doctor’s change
Deep Breath was an excellent post regeneration episode, however I am cautious about judging the entire series off the introduction. So far, Clara is stronger and Twelve is a different brand of eccentric than Eleven. I am incredibly wary of looking at either those who are excessively hyping up this series as well as those who are excessively critical. It’s too soon to tell if the foundation laid in Deep Breath will continue throughout Series 8.

Doctor Who World Tour NYC In Photos

I spent the Series 8 premiere in NYC Thursday on the fan side of the barricades. For those of you who haven’t followed us since the early days, we obtained a press pass for the Series 7 premiere.  On Thursday I only used what a fan would have at their disposal for reporting: an iPhone and a notepad. 

I got to the Ziegfeld at 6:45 am. Only a few people were on the standby line and ticket holder line. Waiting and line and making new friends is an important part of the premiere experience which I missed at the Series 7 premiere. I passed the time hanging out with friends, occasional food and restroom breaks, as well as hanging out with my friends on the line. Quite often BBC staff and other press would stop at the front of the line for interviews and photos.

Shortly before the cast arrives, a Cyberman threatens everyone.

Photographers eager to see Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman arrive on the blue carpet. Most of the blue carpet arrival photos were too blurry to post.

Before he joined the press on the blue carpet, Peter Capaldi signed my pass! I should also note my dress is one Clara wears in Deep Breath.

Before the screening starts, Chris Hardwick gestures excitedly while threatening everyone about recording or posting spoilers.

I sat in the front row stage right. Overall Deep Breath was an excellent start to Series 8. There’s more I can say but will hold back until the 23rd. The Q&A session featured topics such as: previous Doctor Who viewings, Capaldi’s casting process, and what fans can expect from Twelve.

The Series 8 World Tour was a very thrilling experience and I can’t wait for the Series 9 premiere! 

Outlander Screen vs. Page Review: Episode 1

For years I was worried that any attempts at moving the Outlander series from the page to the screen was going to undermine the integrity of the story. I am glad last night’s premiere on Starz proved these thoughts wrong. This review and those to follow will focus heavily on comparing the books to the episodes and will contain spoilers for both. [Photo courtesy of Starz]

Claire Randall (Caitriona Baife) is seeking normalcy after the horrors of World War II only to have her life turned upside down again. She has been separated from her husband Frank (played by Tobias Menzies) for five years and their honeymoon in Scotland is their chance to reconnect.  During the trip, Frank investigates his family tree, a pursuit which leaves Claire feeling isolated.These opening scenes in the book are filled with spoken and between the lines tension. Their experiences in the war have changed their personalities and their views on the future.

On screen, although minor details are sacrificed for time or altered, evidence of conflict between Claire and Frank still comes across. Frank becomes so focused on the project that she resorts to seduction to turn the focus back on their relationship. She doesn’t want to become the professor’s wife, but a woman with her own career in medicine. 

Claire’s journey to the 18th century starts with an an odd palm reading and ends with stepping into a stone circle after witnessing a Druid ritual. Claire’s feelings of weightlessness and disorientation were depicted in the episode as similar to a severe car crash. The lack of sci-fi time travel special effects keep the original drama of the scene in the novel without sacrificing visual impact.

The visuals of Highland fighters confronting British soldiers in the woods enhanced the drama of Claire’s entry into the 18th Century. The first person she meets is is the incredibly threatening Black Jack Randall. The decision to have Menzies play both Frank and Black Jack solidifies Claire’s confusion about the past. She has a feeling they are connected but it is a mystery that won’t be solved right away. One of the Highlanders finds Randall and attacks before he can harm Claire. Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) is suspicious of Claire but is also concerned Randall will try to harm her again. The Highlanders claim her as a captive as they flee to their stronghold. 

The Outlander pilot overall set the tone for a rare well crafted adaptation of a novel. I am looking forward to seeing how the next episode will portray the people and environment of Castle Leoch.

TDHN Exclusive: Five Insights From The Outlander NYC Premiere

Monday night’s screening and Q&A hosted by the 92nd Y was a chance for fans on the East Coast to see what Starz has in store for Outlander. The official premiere is Saturday, August 9th at 9pm.

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[From left to right: Leslie Yaizel (moderator), Tobias Menzies (Frank Randall/Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall), Sam Heughan (Jamie Fraser), Catriona Baife (Claire Randall), Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series author), Ronald D. Moore (Executive Producer)]

Here’s five insights from the discussion fans will appreciate. As a note, only minor spoilers are included in this article as a courtesy to first time viewers or those who are not caught up with the first book in the series:

1) Episode Hints: Overall the audience reaction was very positive. In my opinion,the episode did a very good job of setting up the beginning of an epic adventure. A more detailed review will be posted after the premiere. For now here’s four details from the novel fans should look out for in the episode: ghosts, Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, Gaelic, Battle wounds. Those who are new to Outlander should not be intimidated. The episode is framed in a way to also impart information for new viewers.

2) Role Duplicity: Menzies noted although Frank and Black Jack are incredibly dissimilar, they have a key element in common: “Both are shaped by war”. Baife notes she doesn’t see  the Claire of the 1940’s and the Claire of 18th Century as separate entities. Many elements of her personality remain the same and they inform her time traveling experiences. Claire’s point of view is the audience’s view of a time far removed from modern experience.

3) Censorship & Exaggeration:  Moore assures fans that Starz isn’t meddling with the scripts. They’re not pushing for hyped up controversial material and they’re also not calling for cuts. Scenes of sex, violence, and medical gore are treated in the same fashion the book series handles these subjects.

4)Scotland As A Character: The natural beauty in the Highlands is a prominent feature in the series. Historical accuracy goes hand in hand with the scenery. Researching 18th Century Scotland was a top priority for the producers and set designers.  Props such as woven baskets, weapons, and other materials were made by Scottish artisans. Heughan notes that the show is a celebration of a culture that is almost extinct.

5) The Author’s View:  Speculation about the possibility of an Outlander series or movie has gone on for many years. Fans were worried about how much scripts would alter plot points or the tone of the original. Gabaldon acts as a consultant to the production.  She believes the show is translating the pages to the screen in an effective fashion. She had a “very visceral” reaction to an upcoming scene involving the tension between Jamie and Claire.

After viewing the first episode, I’m even more excited for the rest of the season. Outlander fans, let us know what you’re looking forward to!

Hey Now Daily 7/24: PBS vs. The Internet

Today is the launch of Hey Now Daily to make TDHN updates a little more routine. We will spotlight a new article or news item that makes us go Hey! These spotlights will add to our existing coverage or introduce new items. Along with this new feature, we’re also working a new exclusive event report that will be posted early next week!
Vox posted this article on the PBS schedule controversy as part of their coverage of the Television Critics Association press tour. This ties in perfectly to our previous coverage of the Downton Abbey Series 4 Premiere and Rebecca Eaton’s book signing. This is a more detailed explanation of why it is not in PBS’ best interest to cater to internet savvy fans who watch illegal copies of both shows on the UK release schedule. 
In my opinion, the solution to the scheduling controversy is already at PBS’ fingertips. Their social media campaign can easily expand to engage the fans who are likely to read Series 5 spoilers. News updates can easily include outlets for fan discussion, fan works, and other content.
Let us know what you think on this article as well as this new feature!

Confessions Of A Twentysomething Middle Grade Reader

I confess that I am in my mid twenties and I am an avid reader of middle grade books. For those not in the know, middle grade is the industry term for books marketed to 9-12 year olds. Granted there are some middle grade books that overlap with YA, but the focus of this article are those books that for various reasons do not overlap.

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A partial shelfie of my middle grade collection. Some are newer titles, others are some classics from middle school. I wholeheartedly recommend every book/series in this picture!

I started writing this article a few days before the controversial Slate editorial against adults reading YA. I was annoyed by how many times bookstore workers side-eyed my browsing in the kid’s section. Now it’s even more important that I put this out there.

This passion started when I was that age and hasn’t let up since. Although I wavered between business biographies, adult history, and fiction in middle school; I always returned to the books my classmates couldn’t get enough of. (Yes that was not a typo. I read Lou Gerstner’s Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? in 7th grade with as much fervor as Harry Potter installments!) As I grew up, I still went back to the middle grade sections to reread my favorites and find new books to enjoy.

In broad terms, middle grade books appeal to me for many of the same reasons adults love YA. Last month, I started a marathon read marathon of everything Rick Riordan has wrote. Mythological adventures were a perfect antidote for a mind tired of processing complicated political science assigned readings. Reading is one of the best forms of escapism out there. Not only did I find a good story, there are many elements in his books that speak to much deeper themes beneath the surface. Middle grade is just as likely a venue for profound literary themes as YA or even adult books. Even though most characters are younger than me, there are personality traits, reactions to plot developments, and situations I can identify with.

Current trends in adult books are also pushing me to read outside of my target age group. Although readers in their twenties are hungry for books catering to them, the supply of “new adult” books isn’t keeping up with demand. Many are looking for novels about self discovery and similar themes and aren’t finding these stories in the adult section of the book store. Quite a few authors have been told by publishers to make their mid 20’s characters teenagers because there isn’t enough interest. Most of the current “new adult” books are romances and need more representation of other subjects.

YA is currently dominated by John Green and those inspired by him along with paranormal romance. John Green is quite good, but I definitely want to move beyond this trend. I have a strong interest in mystery and historical fiction, and usually I prefer it in conjunction with adventure. YA mysteries are often watered down by paranormal or romance elements. Speaking of romance, middle grade is my standby when I want a story with no romance elements at all. When it comes to stories of diversity and acceptance, I often find middle grade books written by diverse authors or featuring diverse characters much more satisfying than most YA selections. 

There’s good, bad, repeated tropes, and overhyped books in every genre. Completely rejecting one genre or age group is closing off your reading options in an unhealthy way. Readers should pick out what they enjoy. There is no grade at the end of reading for leisure. I hope these confessions help others to reject the elitism and criticism and embrace good stories no matter what age they’re marketed for.

[Note: TDHN is in semi hibernation as I attend Columbia Journalism School. Please keep a bookmark or leave on your follow list so when there’s a new post you can find it! Thanks for all of your support!]

Charles Augustus Magnussen VS. Charles Augustus Milverton

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            A long time ago I wrote a review comparing A Scandal in Belgravia. His Last Vow gave me an opportunity to pick back up the old thread. The Charles Augustus Milverton of canon is quite similar to Magnussen despite the changes made.

            The CAM of canon is a blackmailer of the worst kind, stealing compromising personal letters and other information. Crooked servants feed him the secrets of their employers. He threatens the elite with ruin unless they hand over significant sums of money. He delights in seeing people suffer social and financial ruin. In some cases he has held onto information for years waiting for the right opportunity to strike.

             Lady Eva Blackwell asks Sherlock for his help in dealing with Milverton. She is engaged to the Earl of Dovercourt, but Milverton has in his possession letters to a former romantic interest. The exposure of those letters would break off the engagement. Sherlock proceeds to negotiate with for a quick end to the situation without damage to Lady Blackwell’s reputation. Milverton asks for £7000 or else the letters will be shown to the Earl the day before the scheduled wedding. Sherlock refuses this offer because Lady Blackwell does not have that much cash on hand.

             After following Milverton’s movements for a few days, Sherlock forms a plan. He enters Milverton’s house disguised as the housemaid’s fiancée. Sherlock and Watson sneak in and successfully locate his safe with all of the stolen information. In a strange twist of events, Milverton has a guest in another room. The guest turns out to be one of Milverton’s victims She blames him for ruining her life. Before Sherlock could help, the woman shot and killed Milverton. When the cops hear about the murder, Sherlock refuses to get involved because his sympathy is with the victims of Milverton’s foul crimes.

            Although many elements remain the same, His Final Vow extended the story in order to conclude the arc of the season. Some changes are also the result of modernization. CAM was mentioned briefly in the previous two episodes. Milverton is now Magnussen, a very powerful newspaper owner and businessman. He is still a blackmailer, but his stakes are even higher. The victims of his schemes are now government officials and even Mary Morstan. Magnussen has dangerous information on her past life as an intelligence agent. Confronting him results in Morstan shooting Sherlock before Magnussen attacked either of them. Sherlock realizes the best way to protect everyone he loves from Magnussen is to kill him.

            Modernization is the source of the majority of the changes. Social ruin is not enough considering Mycroft’s proximity to government. Although it would have been satisfying to see Morstan or another victim kill him for revenge, Sherlock’s turn to the dark side is just as dramatic. His sympathy for the victims is enhanced by the change because he vowed to protect John and Mary at any costs. Once Magnussen revealed he wanted Mycroft’s secrets as well, brotherly love factored in as well.  Sherlock is a high functioning sociopath but he also has a sense of justice. These changes also compliment this series’ focus on character development over plot. The reveal of her backstory cement Mary Morstan as a complex character. Although her past is murky, Watson’s love and Sherlock’s friendship point her towards a bright future.

            I believe reading canon is fundamental to appreciating the many adaptations in media. I hope everyone who reads this review goes back and reads the original story.

            

Eight Moments Of Tumblr’s Influence In The Empty Hearse

Sherlock fans have spent the last two years wavering between severe emotional distress and absolute boredom. Social media, especially Tumblr has been their refuge. A long hiatus gives plenty of time for the fans to come up with many ideas on what should happen next. The hiatus also allowed the writers of Sherlock to see what public opinion says. [Picture of Watson’s ugly mourning mustache courtesy of PBS.] 

Tumblr’s strange tasting yet wonderful Kool Aid is too good to resist, which lead to these references to fandom sprinkled in the Season 3 premiere:

1) Anderson’s Bond!Lock Theory 

The episode starts with the James Bond version of how Sherlock faked his death. As if this version was already wasn’t outlandish enough, it included Sherlock making out with Molly after smashing in a window. This is clearly torn from the pages of Fanfiction.net. 

2) The Physics Diagrams

One day on Tumblr, bored physics majors posted charts and diagrams to explain how angles played a role in the death faking. Although the idea was much closer to reality than many other theories, it was way too complicated for it to be the primary explanation.  

3) Moriarty and Sherlock Almost Kiss

Many people believe the bitter enemies are actually lovers. One version of the faked death is that Moriarty and Sherlock secretly plotted his death so they can hook up in peace. I am pretty sure I’ve seen some version of this before on Tumblr.

4) The Empty Hearse Club

This scene is the Internet and all of it’s eccentricity in one room. 

5) Would You Like To Solve Crimes?

Why let the people who see John and Sherlock as more than friends have all of? Sherlock’s interactions with Molly definitely have a touch of the art and stories made by the most ardent Sherlock/Molly shippers. 

6) Anderson’s Fanboy Tears

Sherlock finally tells everyone the real version of the plot. Swapping bodies, staged people in the street, a giant airbag and making sure Watson couldn’t see anything. However it’s so realistic that Anderson can’t handle the truth, resulting in an over the top meltdown. This is very typical of live blogs/live tweets reacting to any episode of Sherlock. 

7) Cheerleading Mary Morstan

Compared to Watson’s several wives in canon, Morstan is clearly incredibly supportive of his work with Sherlock. Many fans who have not read the original stories did not like the idea of Watson marrying because it would keep him away from Sherlock. Progressive fans tired of seeing female characters bashed simply because they were a woman in the way of a bromance drafted instances of Watson’s wife being more than OK with a more than friends and colleagues scenario. Hints of this point of view can be seen throughout the episode.

8) Tom The Sherlock Closet Cosplayer

Molly’s boyfriend clearly looks like a guy who threw together a Sherlock cosplay at the last minute for a con or meetup.

I can’t wait to see what new material the internet will come up with in the wait for Season 4!

Downton’s Blurred Lines

Readers, please forgive the bad pun, but it is highly appropriate given how much of tonight’s episode was about crossing lines of class and consent. [Photo courtesy of ITV]

SPOILER LINE. DO NOT CROSS

Dame Nellie Melba’s invitation to Downton is the mildest example of boundary breaking in the episode. Although the modern audience would consider opera and anyone in opera cultured and high class, that was not necessarily the case in the 1920’s. Some still believed anyone who made their living through performance, especially a woman, was not respectable. Although Nellie Melba was awarded a title from the royal family, she was still not good enough for some people. Carson more than anyone believes in the maintenance of the old social order. Also his disdain for his vaudeville past solidifies his unwillingness. Cora is angered by this regression in values; forcing Robert to cross the line and sit next to Dame Elba at dinner.

Branson feels trapped between two worlds, especially with all of the wealthy guests invited to stay in Downton. Throughout the episode he feels unwelcome in Downton’s social life. He can’t help thinking that he doesn’t belong socializing with the lords and ladies invited to dinner. Although he has firmly moved from servitude to leisure, deep down he believes will never completely belong in the upper class. Coping with the loss of Sybil compounds his identity crisis because he is also feeling the pressure to move on and choose a new spouse.

Enter Edna and the older widow. Both are pushing Branson in a direction he may not be completely willing to go. Edna reminds him of his past downstairs. The widow shows an interest in him when others in the room may be judging his very presence there. Neither realize that he is not ready to commit to anything more than pleasantries at the dinner table.

Towards the end of the episode, Edna appears to be forcing his hand towards his past with her offering of an alcoholic tonic. While Edna is attempting seduction, Mr. Green succeeded in his goal of rape. Anna’s attempts to be courteous to a visiting servant were purposely twisted as an invitation for 

Many are already criticizing Downton for pushing the envelope too far in triggering negative emotions and even memories of past incidents for victims who are viewers. However, not only is this not the first time that Downton has tackled less than consensual sexual overtures (remember when Barrow kissed Jimmy?), this is also a fairly accurate depiction of how some female servants were treated. Downton has always been about showing the good and the bad of life back in the early 20th century, and Anna’s rape is no different.

Female servants were expected to keep much higher standards of sexual morality and were dismissed without reference for even the slightest infraction. Since married women in service was incredibly rare, most incidents were against single women. If a male servant assaulted a female servant, employers often blamed the victim for the incident instead of offering assistance with police reports or firing the perpetrator. A female servant who was assaulted or raped by members of the gentry in most cases had no recourse. Employers would consider the victim the aggressor and close ranks to prevent scandal from someone who was considered “spoiled goods”. Anna’s horrible reality was sadly another consequence of the imbalance of gender and class power at the time.

I look forward to next week where we can see how Anna copes with the aftermath as well as what happens to Branson. I expect even more lines on various topics to be crossed this season of Downton Abbey.