Christopher Eccleston

Doctor Who (2005) s01e04 – Aliens of London

Director Keith Boak is back and it’s obvious from go some of the problem with Boak-directed episodes is Boak’s a bad director. Some of the problems are budgetary, but Boak and cinematographer Ernest Vincze even make the non-effects stuff look like bad digital video. There’s an anti-suspense suspense sequence involving sympathetic coroner Naoko Mori, who finds herself trapped in the morgue with an alien. Vincze throws all these goofy lights at her to cover for Boak’s complete inability to direct the sequence.

The episode starts with Christoper Eccleston bringing Billie Piper back to “the present” (meaning Piper’s present) so she can check in with mum Camille Coduri. We immediately discover last episode wasn’t a fluke and Eccleston really can’t control when the TARDIS jumps in time. Later in the episode he does a fairly precise teleportation, so the problem seems to be fourth dimensional, not first through third. It’s kind of obnoxious watching them goof off with the absurdly silly navigation system on the TARDIS—has it been updated since 1963. Is it a series trope? Like the Enterprise crew “spinning” 360 degrees?

Eccleston gets Piper home a year late, after Coduri has given up hope for her safe return and after Piper’s boyfriend, the just-as-charmless-as-last-time Noel Clarke, has been a suspect in her disappearance. Cue drama. Cue more drama once Coduri finds out about Eccleston.

But Piper and Coduri having a showdown isn’t the episode, the episode is an alien spacecraft crash-landing into the Thames. The government response involves a missing Prime Minister, an inquisitive Penelope Wilton (who makes the episode given how bad everything else works), and a flatulent replacement PM, David Verrey. In fact, most of the melodrama hinges on… fart jokes. Lots and lots of fart jokes.

Really bad CG aliens eventually show up and everyone’s in danger. Cue cliffhanger.

It’s occasionally well-acted and Wilton’s a delight, but the bad direction and photography, Clarke being an energy vampire, and so on….

It’s needlessly tiring.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e03 – The Unquiet Dead

So the time and space machine is imprecise? Is that a “Doctor Who” thing? They bumble through the time? Because this episode is supposed to be Billie Piper getting to see nineteenth century Christmas in Naples or someplace but instead they end up in Cardiff (Cardiff gets a lot of deriding this episode); so can Christopher Eccleston just not fly the TARDIS?

Because the viewer already knows they’re not going to Naples because the zombies are in Cardiff. This episode’s about Charles Dickens (a wonderful Simon Callow) getting his proverbial groove back thanks to Eccleston trying to stop a bunch of zombies from doing their thing, as they reincarnate in a funeral parlor run by Alan David and Eve Myles.

There’s a forced twisty plot—writer Mark Gatiss does a low fine job but it’s all about the actors so it doesn’t matter—and nice direction from Euros Lyn. Piper bonds with nineteenth century Myles, who can’t imagine being a lady of the future and whatnot. Myles is great. She can’t help but be overshadowed by Callow, who’s so good as Charles Dickens, Zombie Hunter, they should’ve given him a spin-off.

The problem with the episode’s the finish, when Eccleston and company don’t seem to realize they’re at fault for all the tragedy. Their bad advice. Though it seems much more like Gatiss’s fault.

We get to hear some more about both Piper and Eccleston’s past—she’s got a “big bad wolf” in her personal history (Myles is psychic, which the episode uses well as it builds to a plot point) and Ecclestone’s alien race, The Time Lords, apparently hurt some noncombatants in the Time War, or something.

Piper gets to show some agency but it’s not well-written agency, so it’s a false step.

The first half is much better than the second, though Callow makes it more than worthwhile. Myles is still good, just not good enough—given the material—to hold the thing up. Callow does, however. Overall, it’s fine, if a little pat.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e02 – The End of the World

This episode is so much better than the previous one. So much better. And the only difference, besides setting and it not introducing a new lead character (Billie Piper), is a different director (Euros Lyn). Or maybe writer Russell T. Davies just had much better ideas for this one? Though the special effects are also “better,” quotation marks because it’s a bunch of exterior space shots, which don’t involve the main characters. It’s just pragmatic exposition shots of the sun about to Krypton Earth.

The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) has brought Piper to the end of the time, at least as far as time goes for planet Earth; they’re going to watch its destruction some five billion years in the future. It’s a seemingly budgetary choice, with Eccleston teasing Piper with possible stops in the future—but she never gets to get out of the TARDIS (okay, weird thing about “Doctor Who,” the absurd jargon is catchy). Instead, they go way way into the future so they don’t need to do exteriors and instead the action takes place on this spaceship—viewing platform—where a bunch of rich future people (people meaning aliens) have paid to watch the Earth get zapped by an adjusting sun. There’s a lot of exposition about how the future works, but it’s mostly just blather, some of it amusing, some of it diverting, all of it usually amiably delivered by Eccleston.

Eccleston’s a lot better this episode—Piper’s the main improvement, acting-wise, as she goes from a very low middling to fantastic as the weight of the reality she’s experiencing hits her. She’s five billion years in the future. She’s meeting all these alien races—Eccleston calls her a racist in response to her pointing out he had the TARDIS change her brain chemistry to allow her to understand alien languages, so it’s good to see the Doctor’s a man—and the Earth is about to die. Even though everyone she knows is five billion years dead. Though Eccleston does outfit her phone with a new SIM card (taking her off AT&T?), allowing her to call through time and space and talk to mum Camille Coduri.

The main plot, involving sabotage, is rather nicely executed and quite winding. Eccleston gets a love interest—an excellent Yasmin Bannerman—and Piper makes her first alien friend, Beccy Armory, and her first future human enemy, Zoë Wanamaker.

It’s really quite good. If they were all like this episode, I’d be closer to understanding the “Who” enthusiasm.

Doctor Who (2005) s01e01 – Rose

I am not a “Doctor Who” person. I’ve known some “Doctor Who” people, I count good friends as “Doctor Who” people. But there’s no way to talk about this show without prefacing with… I don’t get it. I still don’t get it. It’s like you have to be a certain kind of anglophile. What’s the Venn diagram on “Monty Python” and “Doctor Who”? Then with Quatermass and Hammer.

And this viewing is my second attempt to watch “Doctor Who (2005)” or whatever it’s official designation versus the old “Doctor Who.”

The first time was in 2005, when we were seeing television’s successful mainstreaming of season-long story arcs with “Lost,” “Veronica Mars,” “Battlestar Galactica,” and “The Shield.” Basic cable and UPN, oh my. So an awesome new “Doctor Who” was just what, ahem, the Doctor ordered. Do people make Who puns? Is the title itself just a pun? There’s fifty-seven years of “Who” lore. I couldn’t keep track of it as a kid just hearing about the show much less watching it.

This episode is full of puns. It’s full of puns, terrible editing (Mike Jones), and directing (Keith Boak). I remembered where I stopped watching the episode the first time I tried, which was already a significant ask for me because I’m a hard pass on Christopher Eccleston. I think I would’ve tried “Who” after 28 Days Later so I never would’ve been more positive on Eccleston. That oversized jacket thing didn’t age well.

Eccleston’s comic timing is better than sidekick Billie Piper—who’s either going to become Eccleston’s familiar or companion or something; the Doctor’s always got a Watson, or so I remember thinking in my youth (based on second-hand information).

The episode’s about plastic coming to life and trying to take over the planet. It’s more complicated, but basically there are these mannequins chasing and attacking Piper and Eccleston. They look like those B.O.B. dummies. It’d be disquieting if Boak’s direction weren’t bad or if the tone weren’t kind of silly. Campy. Is it supposed to feel campy? But, like, that British campy.

What’s the Venn on “Who” and Benny Hill, or “Who” and “Mr Bean.”

But apparently there’s going to be great acting on this show in later seasons from different actors so I need to stay positive.

Noel Clarke plays Piper’s boyfriend. He’s annoying. Piper’s writing is really thin in what’s essentially a scream queen part so far. Camille Coduri (who’s familiar because she was in two movies I saw when I was twelve, apparently) is okay as Piper’s mom. Not great writing but Coduri’s good. Mark Benton’s great as an in-world “Doctor Who” fanboy.

Also… are the special effects supposed to be bad? 2005 it could’ve been either way. But this episode multiple times feels like a lower rent Terminator 2 just fourteen years of technology later. Like, are they supposed to be silly?

The show’s perplexing.

Shallow Grave (1994, Danny Boyle)

Shallow Grave has bold colors. The production design–by Kave Quinn–isn’t particularly good. Over ninety percent of the film takes place in a rather boring apartment. But that boring apartment has a lot of bold colors. Sure, photographer Brian Tufano doesn’t know how to shoot those bold colors to make them effective, but he doesn’t know how to light any of the other scenes either. Grave is slick and economical, but no one–not the actors, not director Boyle, certainly not writer John Hodge–ever makes it feel particularly creative. It’s got a low budget so they shoot it like a play. With occasionally interesting, but inert, visuals.

As far as the actors, of the three principals–Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston–only McGregor shows any life. None of them have much character depth to work with, which obviously doesn’t help. Eccleston eventually gets the biggest part of the film, but he’s so poorly handled through the first act, he doesn’t do anything interesting. It’s not his fault, there’s just nothing interesting in that script of Hodges’s.

The film, ostensibly a thriller, is often tedious. The script has some funny dialogue exchanges–the trio live in that boldly color apartment and mock prospective tenants they do not like–but not enough to even temporarily disguise the logic holes.

Boyle’s composition is often excellent and Masahiro Hirakubo’s editing is outstanding. But there’s just not enough to the film. It’s trite, cynical, forcibly amusing. Grave’s one controlled misstep after another.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by John Hodge; director of photography, Brian Tufano; edited by Masahiro Hirakubo; music by Simon Boswell; production designer, Kave Quinn; produced by Andrew Macdonald; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Kerry Fox (Juliet Miller), Christopher Eccleston (David Stephens), Ewan McGregor (Alex Law), Ken Stott (Detective Inspector McCall), Keith Allen (Hugo), Peter Mullan (Andy), Leonard O’Malley (Tim) and Colin McCredie (Cameron).


28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle)

Why is Hollywood making Cillian Murphy the bad guy? He’s got to be the best everyman Hollywood’s seen since–who, Roy Scheider or something, except a better actor? No offense to Roy, I love Roy, but Roy’s a little bit of a movie star. Cillian Murphy’s not a movie star….

It’s impossible to really talk about 28 Days Later without talking about the ending. I could give a shit about the three alternate endings, by the way. I figure, a DVD release, Boyle could have thrown one in and labeled it director’s preferred and been done with it. So we’re talking about the one that’s on the DVD. It’s the only ending the film could have had for me to give it the four too. That last shot, that last breath. It’s a beautiful moment in an unexpected place.

A friend compared 28 Days to Winterbottom’s Wonderland while talking about digital video. 28 Days doesn’t even look like video. It looks like film with really neat rain effects (which are probably only possible with video). Incidentally, Wonderland doesn’t look like video, it looks like a hi-res 16 millimeter.

I can’t explain how happy I am following this film, how elated. It’s under two hours, takes place over a handful of days, and it manages to have six distinct parts to it. Six distinct “stories.” Well, no, five distinct stories. The last two are rather linked… though wouldn’t necessarily need to be.

Unfortunately, the same thing that happened after the last time I watched Trainspotting is happening again. I’m falling in love with Danny Boyle’s filmmaking. It won’t last, of course, all I need for a cure is Shallow Grave or, ugh, A Life Less Ordinary, but I still haven’t seen The Beach, though I have been warned… Maybe Millions. Boyle’s not a young Turk, either. I think he was at least in his forties when he made Trainspotting, so he’s probably in his fifties now. (Miramax always seemed to present Trainspotting as a young Turk film). Trainspotting is better, I suppose, though Boyle’s a better filmmaker now than he was then. He’s less reliant on dialogue to move things, much more comfortable with the effect of his visuals.

Making a shot empty of people matter is difficult. It puts a lot of weight on the fellow going through the whole experience. Vanilla Sky doesn’t really count as an example and The Pianist failed miserably (I was terrified when I started 28 Days Later, fearful it would be a zombie movie like The Pianist, the lead going around, running, exploring ruins, all without any real emotional impact, hiding behind a calamity). So, now’s when I could rain praise on Murphy, who’ll maybe someday find a good role in Hollywood, but until then I need to track down that friggin’ one of his Nicheflix carries. I don’t know the female lead’s name, but she’s really good. So’s the girl. So’s Christopher Eccleston, which surprised me, especially since he was so bad in Shallow Grave.

28 Days Later, while definitely delivering a good “horror” film, a good “zombie” film, one ups even Romero’s best. While his Dawn of the Dead was about people and their struggles in a situation created by zombies, Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland (do I have to see Halo now?) tell a story about some guy. (Romero tends to let his commentary overwhelm the story, no matter how effective the story–or commentary–might be, Martin for example). So now The Stop Button is all about 28 Days Later and Danny Boyle and Cillian Murphy and shit….

At least until I see The Beach.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by Alex Garland; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Chris Gill; music by John Murphy; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Andrew MacDonald; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Cillian Murphy (Jim), Naomie Harris (Selena), Christopher Eccleston (Maj. Henry West), Megan Burns (Hannah) and Brendan Gleeson (Frank).


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