Doctor Who 7.13 – Nightmare in Silver

“Kids like explosions and action-packed stuff,” our son reminded us. This was after he protested that he didn’t actually like this story, because, as he keeps claiming, he doesn’t like the Cybermen. But while we were watching it, he was in seventh heaven. He enjoyed this one tremendously, but he backpedaled at the end, finally allowing that the “action-packed stuff” only temporarily held his attention. Uh-huh.

I’m not a big fan at all myself, but it really starts amazingly well, doesn’t it? Neil Gaiman wrote this one, and while I don’t think it’s a patch at all on “The Doctor’s Wife”, I love the effortless world-building of this planet so incredibly far away from Earth. Up to this point, the Cybermen were a comparatively easily-contained threat local to the Milky Way over the course of a few hundred years, and memorably dismissed by the Daleks as just pests. These Cybermen are way the heck out somewhere very, very far away, where humanity has built an absolutely massive empire. These Cybermen are such a threat to the empire that the entire Tiberian Spiral Galaxy had to be destroyed to stop them in a war a thousand years prior to this story. Perhaps this is the same area of time and space where “Ascension of the Cybermen” in series twelve is set.

So I enjoy the world and I like guest star Warwick Davis very much. I’m less a fan of Matt Smith’s performance as the Cyber-planner; I think he’s more animated and emotional than I’d have wanted. There are lots of little things I don’t care for in the story, but Gaiman did such a good job creating a sense of place that I don’t mind how ordinary the nuts and bolts of it are. And after all, there are explosions and action-packed stuff.

Doctor Who 6.4 – The Doctor’s Wife

“And then you stole me… and I stole you.”

I was talking with a friend a few days after this was first shown in 2011. I had enjoyed the first series of Sherlock, which aired here on PBS’s Mystery! (or Masterpiece Mystery or whatever it was called then) in October and November 2010. That show, of course, was also spearheaded by Steven Moffat, with Mark Gatiss. And after “The Doctor’s Wife,” as far as I was concerned, the episode’s writer, Neil Gaiman, should be Who‘s showrunner, and Moffat and Gatiss could be left to work on as much Sherlock as they’d like. Everyone would win.

So yes, I absolutely adore this story. It’s a clever and sweet love letter to the series, wrapped in just as many horrific ideas and scary bits as it needs to have a good creepy undercurrent to it. The kid figured it out incredibly quickly and watched it all with a big grin, even if he did mishear the actress Suranne Jones as saying “Thing” when she was really shouting “Thief!”

Just in case the next few weeks of Who posts get too grouchy or grumbling as we hit a long patch that I don’t enjoy, this hour was magical. I’ll probably always love Doctor Who even when it doesn’t thrill me, because from out of nowhere, they’ll pull out something wonderful like this. Things I love completely: the grim discovery of the Corsair’s arm, confirming the death of this unseen character, the Ood, the remarkably malevolent sound of Michael Sheen’s voice, the TARDIS identifying all the Doctor’s companions as strays, and of course its amazing little ending.

About which… one of the saddest and most perfect moments in any comic book is Alan Moore and Curt Swan’s farewell to the classic, Silver Age Superman. It’s called Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and it features a beautiful scene where Bizarro dies. His final word, of course, is “Hello.” Gaiman certainly wrote his fair share of funnybooks. That simply had to be there somewhere in the back of his mind when he wrote this scene. And he betters it.

“I just wanted to say hello… hello, Doctor. It’s so very, very nice to meet you.”

Good Omens 1.6 – The Very Last Day of the Rest of Their Lives

It’s not out of some sense of smugness that we don’t watch very much contemporary television. It’s that there’s so little time and we’re already devoting an hour of our day to watching something old with our son, so we just don’t see a lot of it. Maybe three nights a week Marie and I will look at something else after we put the kid to bed, but those are often older shows as well, although we’re looking at season two of the CBC’s Frankie Drake Mysteries now, and we’ll start season three of Stranger Things soon.

I mention this because when we do watch modern television, I’m often surprised by how incredibly long the endings are compared to an end-on-a-dime ITC adventure series, or pretty much anything else we watch. Stranger Things is a good comparison point again. I think that last hour of the second season finished its climax after about thirty minutes and devoted the rest of the running time to spending a little time with every single character without some killer beast from the Upside Down barking at them. The final part of Good Omens is like that as well. It luxuriates with its full sixty minute running time, despite the resolution coming at the halfway point. So the wrapup and farewell scenes go on a lot more than I was expecting. It was all very entertaining, whimsical, and occasionally sweet, just not what I’m used to yet.

So everything does end well – I mean, the world doesn’t really end, and that’s a good thing – and I was very pleased that all the metaphorical flaming swords from act one find a use in act three. Even some of the Easter eggs have payoffs. One of Adam’s friends quotes Tori Amos’s song “The Waitress” and then Amos herself turns up to sing the old standard “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” at the end. It’s a splendid program, the kid enjoyed it a whole lot, and episode five is majestically silly and brilliant. Us grown-ups were so pleased with it that, since Gaiman undertook this labor of love in memory of his old friend and co-writer Terry Pratchett, the least we can do is show our appreciation by picking up a copy of the original novel. Reckon Star Line Books has a copy.

What I really, really want, though, is a nice tie-in edition of Agnes’s book of prophecies, in a green hardback mocked up to look like the prop in the show, colored pencil drawings on the title page and everything. That and a Blu-ray set. Those’d look nice under the Christmas tree, wouldn’t they?

Good Omens 1.5 – The Doomsday Option

Another short entry tonight. I wanted to note that I’ve always liked the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – the ones from The Young Ones are the best – and these are a fine addition to the film and TV depictions of the quartet. Interestingly, Pestilence has been replaced by one called Pollution, in much the same way that Delirium replaced Delight in Gaiman’s Sandman comics.

It’s an entertaining story where friendship wins out over very stupid decisions, and where Crowley’s lovely Bentley catches fire and the flames, strangely, don’t go out. This builds to one of the most hilarious climaxes ever, which had all three of us roaring with laughter, and then four eleven year-old kids on bicycles steal the gag right out from under David Tennant. Neat trick! Who thought the end of the world could be this fun?

Good Omens 1.4 – Saturday Morning Funtime

Episode four of Good Omens answers the nigh-impossible question, Who could you possibly cast as the Metatron after Alan Rickman’s hilarious and perfect performance as the voice of God in Dogma? The answer is, of course, Derek Jacobi, which strikes me as just right. The scene where Aziraphale calls upon the Almighty and can’t get past the Metatron climaxes with what might just be the most perfectly timed and delivered use of the f-word that I’ve ever seen. Round of applause to Michael Sheen there.

It’s worth noting that the novel of Good Omens predates the film Dogma by about nine years, and it’s ever so possible that Kevin Smith might have read the book once or twice.

Our son’s favorite scene came when Crowley gets to use some holy water that he’s been saving as insurance for the last several decades, and explains why this flashy showoff still uses an analog answering machine with cassette tapes. It really is hilarious. The whole story is wildly entertaining, although honesty commands me to point out that this is a little less child-friendly than I thought it might be. I think that we’re pretty open-minded parents and there’s nothing egregiously “adult” in the show, but in episodes two and three, Jon Hamm did have some fun loudly talking about pornography in Aziraphale’s bookshop, and one of the supporting characters lives across the hall from a sex worker who frequently and discreetly mentions her customers.

Things are shot and filmed tastefully, but even with nothing shown, Anathema’s comedy sex scene tonight still had us wincing. Our son, mercifully, was so embarrassed by the smooching that he looked away and waited for Crowley to do something wild or for the action to return to Adam, his dog, and his kid gang in Tadfield, especially now that Adam has figured out that somehow, he has incredible powers and can alter reality. Still, odds are pretty good that nine or ten years from now, our son will check this show out again and note that he just can’t believe we let him watch this when he was eight.

Good Omens 1.3 – Hard Times

There’s a bit of a “haven’t I seen this before” in the very, very long pre-titles sequence to tonight’s episode. It traces Aziraphale and Crowley’s long friendship over a few thousand years and reminded me of Dream and Hob’s meet-every-hundred-years friendship from the pages of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic. Then again, it didn’t really strike Marie that way, and she’s read more of Gaiman than I have. I really enjoyed it. Mark Gatiss shows up in the Blitz segment as a Nazi spy.

We were up pretty late tonight and didn’t get started until our son’s usual bedtime. Afraid he mostly zoned out of this one. We shouldn’t keep him up playing games, I suppose. He’ll need a recap before the next installment.

Good Omens 1.2 – The Book

Our son doesn’t have much of a background in religious mythology, largely because we’re going to spend precious minutes on silly things, I’d rather spend time talking about the sea monsters around Dead Man’s Point. But it occurred to me today that he’d probably never even heard of the antichrist before last night, so I tried to give him a crash course in the Book of Revelation, but I ended up talking more about Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist and The Omen, because people in the seventies were really, really worried about Satan.

Our son does this thing where he has a whole lot of trouble maintaining eye contact when he’s troubled or worried. I forget that it usually means something’s bothering him and just grew impatient while he looked at everything around me. “It’s just that it’s just kind of… weird,” he grumbled, and we assured him that not so many people believe this stuff anymore. “They’re really, really worried more about the Rapture these days,” I said, and left it there.

So on to episode two of Good Omens, and a few minutes in, Crowley muttered that he hadn’t planned to be among the Fallen, he was just along for the ride. I figured I should interrupt for another crash course. I did very well. I didn’t even get onto a tangent about free will.

There was a little less of Dog in this installment than our son had hoped for, but the cast grows to include a pile of new characters, including the first of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a witchfinder-in-training with a Fourth Doctor necktie, and Anathema Device, the great-great-great-something-granddaughter of Agnes Nutter, who was the last witch to be executed in England. Anathema is played by Adria Arjona, who had been Dorothy in that Oz show I forgot to watch a couple of years ago (just like 98% of the television audience!) and she possesses the only known copy of Agnes’s hilariously specific The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter. The whole episode is entertaining, but once Anathema’s book ends up in Aziraphale’s hands, it’s a roaringly funny climax, as the book even knows what the angel is drinking.

Good Omens 1.1 – In the Beginning

Every once in a while, the three series that we’re watching on alternating evenings all wrap up at the same time, which is a perfect opportunity to change up the format just a little and watch something across, say, six evenings. And hey bravo, here’s the brand new Amazon / BBC co-production of Good Omens, written and overseen by Neil Gaiman, and based on a celebrated and much-loved novel that Gaiman co-wrote with the late and very much-loved Terry Pratchett in 1990.

Our son knows Gaiman from Coraline, which he has read and watched and loved, and Fortunately, the Milk, which I enjoyed reading to him very much, and I hope that he’ll love The Ocean at the End of the Lane one day, because I think that one’s wonderful. Pratchett, I don’t know at all yet. Sorry. I’m aware it’s a hole in my edermekation, but we can’t all know everything.

Good Omens is available to stream for Amazon Prime members now – and I was due for another free trial – and will air on the BBC later this year and then be available on proper shelvable media. Over the course of six episodes, it will tell a story I knew nothing much about going in, other than it stars Michael Sheen as an angel named Aziraphale and David Tennant as a demon named Crowley, and they’ve spent the last 4400 years being pals and not letting any of their kind know about their unacceptable friendship, and that they enjoy music and drinks and used books and spirited debate.

And then one bad night eleven years ago, Crowley gets an assignment: to drop off the newborn antichrist where he can be swapped with the newly-delivered son of an American diplomat – y’all remember those Omen movies from the 70s, right? – and, on his eleventh birthday, take ownership of a hellhound and destroy the planet. Crowley convinces Aziraphale that he should stop being so passive and thwart this evil scheme, despite the fact that the Almighty must have planned this.

Eleven years go by and the hellhound does not show up on this tyke’s birthday. That’s because the antichrist got swapped for a different kid entirely, and while our heroes have been working their supernatural influences on the wrong boy, the real antichrist has been growing up with a perfectly ordinary life in the town of Lower Tadfield.

To be sure, there’s a lot that an eight year-old isn’t going to get in this delightful comedy, but ours grasped the basics and the misunderstandings. Apart from Tennant cussing up a storm when he learns his lovely little planet, with all its fast cars and loud music, has got just eleven years left, I don’t think there’s anything here that an open-minded parent would find objectionable. It was a very, very fun hour, and the arrival of the hellhound many, many miles from where anybody thinks its meant to be, had us laughing out loud and really looking forward to tomorrow night’s installment.

Coraline (2009)

This kid of ours has had a lot of books read to him. It’s been part of his bedtime routine since before he knew what the heck his mom and dad were doing, sitting there next to him in his crib making funny sounds with our mouths. Mom does most of the reading; he’s kind of outgrown the part I liked best, which was doing storytime at the library and letting him pick two of the three picture books that I read aloud to bring home for Mom to give a second, third, fifteenth spin. He’s on early chapter books now, but he still likes illustrations quite a lot.

That’s not to say he’s completely abandoned picture books. We were killing time in a Barnes & Noble last week and I read him Elise Parsley’s unbelievably delightful If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, Don’t!, and one of the double-page spreads was so funny that when Mom joined us several minutes later, we were still laughing.

Anyway, so our favorite seven year-old critic’s already had Neil Gaiman’s Coraline read to him, but I didn’t exercise due diligence and ask what he enjoyed most about it, or what the scariest scene might be. I found out this afternoon. There’s a bit toward the end where a malicious and disembodied hand, made from a mass of sewing needles, forces its way past a locked door, and he shouted “Oh, no!” and went white as a sheet. It turns out this was the bit in the book that gave him the most serious fright.

He’d been absolutely quiet and still up to that point, just occasionally laughing with gusto over the antics of Coraline’s downstairs neighbors and their dogs. The 2009 film adaptation of Coraline, a stop-motion animation directed by Henry Selick and featuring the voices of Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher, runs to about 100 minutes and he was the best-behaved child you’ve ever seen sit still that long.

His calm attention matched the tone of the movie. This is a very quiet film, and the music is often very low-key and not intrusive. For parents who want to enjoy a movie with their children that isn’t exploding with noise, dated pop culture references, wacky voices, and old pop music, this is an oasis in a sea of pablum.

I wouldn’t go any younger than seven, though. Coraline’s a good hero and extremely brave, but she has a very, very outre and frightening adventure. She and her family have moved into a dilapidated and isolated apartment building in rural Oregon. Coraline sees her parents as inattentive and awful, though they really just seem to have scheduled their move from Michigan at the worst possible time, and are fighting work deadlines without a chance to unpack, shop, cook, or spend time with their daughter. Coraline begins dreaming of another world, where button-eyed “Other Parents” give her the attention that she craves. She also learns that three children have vanished from this house over the last several decades, and that her too-kind-to-be-true Other Mother has an insatiable craving for love and affection.

Coraline is a very creepy movie that lingers in its strange and sad atmosphere rather than rush, but it doesn’t sit around idly either. Fifteen minutes in, and our heroine is already visiting the other world. I hadn’t seen the movie since we went to its theatrical release nine years ago and had forgotten most of the details – although not the horrors of the terrific Other Mother as she sheds her humanoid form – and was very pleased to reacquaint myself with it today. I think our son might ask to watch this one a few more times, and enjoy cuddling with his security blanket during the scariest parts.