Monday, 26 January 2015

Recent Gigs Part Two: The Beat and From The Jam

My last gigs of that long-lost year 2014 included a couple of old favourites at my local rock 'n' roll Mecca, Gloucester's Guildhall. First up were The Beat ( Ranking Roger pictured above ) bringing their now-traditional Christmas party to the Shire. And when I say "Christmas party" I mean red hot, summery, skankin' ska action... in December. Sarah had wanted to come along to this gig ( mostly for the chance to see Roger take his shirt off... ) but wasn't feeling too good, so I persuaded James to fill in for her. He's always said he "doesn't like reggae" but I told him that I couldn't imagine anyone with a pulse not enjoying The Beat's exuberant, addictive rhythms   -  and, anyway, this is SKA...
But, before that Black Country beat we had to enjoy, sorry that should read "endure", support band Boys From County Hell. I always try to be positive on this 'ere blog and if I see a particularly bad band I tend to just not write about them... but this lot were something else. Aside from the fact that a Pogues-y folk band seemed a strange fit for supporting The Beat ( it seems to be a thing lately  -  The Levellers recently supported The Selecter too ) I thought I'd give them the benefit of the doubt. Oh dear. They played some of the worst hey-nonny-nonny drivel ever, with some incredibly poor vocals and doomed, desperate attempts to urge an uninterested crowd to sing along to songs that no-one knew. When they started to murder the peerless Fairytale Of New York I had to leave the room. Luckily the Guildhall has a separate bar and an art gallery so James and I managed to escape with our ears and sanity intact and checked out some proper culture.
Then The Beat came on and all was forgotten. If not forgiven. As ever, the band were excellent  -  pumping out so much energy, positive vibes and righteous rhythms that the whole venue felt like it was moving. Which, in fact, it was as we all bounced around on the sprung floor of this former ballroom. Hit after hit came skanking our way: Save It For Later, Too Nice To Talk To, Stand Down Margaret, the immortal Mirror In The Bathroom, the Roadrunner-soundalike Two Swords and, of course Tears Of A Clown. One of the best moments of the night was a slow and soulful Doors Of Your Heart, the band ably demonstrating they can master a mellow groove as well as uptempo, uptown, top rankin' ska beats. The father and son partnership of Ranking Roger and Ranking Junior are some of the best frontmen you're ever likely to see, both fantastic singers and performers, literally bouncing off each other as they criss-cross the stage with boundless energy. And, much to the dismay of many in the audience, Roger didn't actually take his shirt off, even in the cooking temperatures of the stage lights  -  he only rolled it up to partly reveal his impressive physique. I took the blurry photo below for Sarah but it doesn't quite do him justice :-)
And with the traditional final song, the rousing Jackpot, The Beat were gone, leaving us all knackered but happy... and leaving James a convert to their warm, sun-kissed sound. See you next year, guys!
A week later I was back in the Guildhall again, this time to see From The Jam, playing the classic Jam album Setting Sons in its entirety, on its 35th anniversary. Support came from Stroud's finest, the mighty Chinese Burn, legendary frontman Ben Rigsby above. As any long-time reader of TGWS will know I'm a major fan of the Burn and have probably seen them perform more times than any other band. I'm also glad to say that they're friends of mine but, even if I didn't know them, I'd still turn up for their gigs because they are just one of the best modern practitioners of melodic, intelligent Punk, on a good night easily a match for any classic '77-era group. They've got the sound, the tunes and the effortless charisma and idiosyncratic lyrics of Mr. Rigsby  -  a killer combo. Anyway, they went down a storm at the Guildhall, as they always do, probably one of the best sets I've seen them play. Below is a view of the audience, photo taken by Ben, with me front and centre, looking very red-faced in the heat. It didn't help that I was wearing my pin-stripe blazer to fit in with the Mod vibe of the headliners.
 ( My mate Rob said I looked like I was running for prime minister... )
From The Jam came on stage to the sound of a ringing phone ( and a cheering audience ) with Bruce Foxton asking "Should we answer that?" and then, of course, ripped into Power Pop classic Girl On The Phone, with its cheeky lyrics about groupies and stalkers. From then on, with us in the palms of their hands, FTJ ripped their way through such fantastic songs as The Eton RiflesThick As Thieves, Little Boy Soldiers and Smithers-Jones, each one a fizzing cocktail of great tunes, stinging hooks and acerbic lyrics. These songs of class warfare, suburban desperation and willing cannon-fodder still sound as pertinent today as they did 35 years ago, when Foxton and the long-absent Paul Weller first wrote them. From The Jam are the nearest thing we'll get to The Jam nowadays  -  the original band will never reform but Foxton's version are a credible alternative, fiery and passionate, avoiding the dreaded tribute band status by actually recording and releasing new material. Lead singer Russell Watson may not have Weller's voice but is a fine frontman who knows when to lead and when to let Foxton ( the real focus of the group ) claim the spotlight.
As you can see from the blurry photo above, From The Jam are very enthusiastic and energetic on stage... which doesn't make them easy to capture with a camera phone :-)
After the Setting Sons set they fired off a selection of The Jam's greatest hits, much to the delight of the crowd  -  Going Underground, Start, This Is The Modern World, The Butterfly Collector, Strange Town  -  so many classics! All in all, a great gig and I even got to meet the band backstage too, which was an added bonus. ( It helps to have friends in the support band. ) They seemed pretty worn out but were happy to chat for a few minutes and thanked us for coming  -  although I made sure we didn't outstay our welcome. I've seen From The Jam three times now and I'll definitely have to check them out again....
Sound Affects next time...?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

More Bronze Age Covers

In my previous post on this 'ere blog I shared with you a recent acquisition from Bristol's Excelsior Comics, a copy of Creatures On The Loose #21 with that cool Gullivar Jones cover by Steranko. I also bought a few other £2/ £3 bargain bin classics and now, after literally one request ( I'm talking to you, John Pitt ), I've scanned them too and present them here for your viewing pleasure...
Worlds Unknown #8
This is the second part of Marvel's adaptation of The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad and has some nice artwork by George Tuska and Vinnie Colletta  -  clear, uncluttered comics story-telling, of a kind you rarely see nowadays. I nearly bought this back in the day but funds were tight for the seven-year old me and I had to choose between this issue and X-Men #89 ( "Now Strikes The Sub-Human" )  -  I bought the X-Men but that's now long gone. It's good to finally catch up with Sinbad. Just need to get part one now...
Marvel Two-In-One #1
Well, I like The Thing... but I like the Man-Thing too. Which is better? There's only one way to find out  -  Fight!!! ( Thanks, Harry Hill. ) Steve Gerber starts his short run on MTIO with a faintly ludicrous tale of Ben Grimm travelling to the Everglades for a scrap with Manny because he "ripped off" Benjy's name, only to end up in a three-way tussle with the equally ludicrous Molecule Man.The art team of Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott aren't the best fit for the Man-Thing and his swampy environs but produce some slick, action-packed visuals. And this comic earns bonus points for sneaking the word "porno" past the Comics Code...
Doctor Strange #8
Now you're talking! The Steve Engelhart / Gene Colan Doctor Strange is one of my all-time fave comic strips and it's good to fill a gap in my collection with this issue. This is the, er, climax of the Dormammu / Umar / Mother Earth story which is surreal, philosophical and quite sensual in places and features dialogue like: "But I am more human than you. And I am woman... in the womb of a world of a goddess!" It was the 1970s...
Werewolf By Night #6
The fact that the star of this comic, who turns into a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright and all that jazz... the fact that he is called Jack Russell always cracks me up. Anyway, this is a minor shaggy dog tale of the Werewolf ending up as a sideshow exhibit in an evil carnival, see above. Len Wein's story isn't a patch on the superior supernatural shenanigans he cooked up for Swamp Thing over at DC, but the early Mike Ploog artwork is crude, energetic fun with an Eisner influence shining through.

And that's it for my Bronze Age haul  -  all great bargains at a few quid each. I also picked up the latest issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman: Overture but you're not interested in that, are you...?

Soundtrack: Come Together, I Think I'm In Love, Cop Shoot Cop and others by Spiritualized

Monday, 12 January 2015

Creatures On The Loose!

It's been a while since I've bought any Silver or Bronze Age comics but I couldn't resist this early1970s Marvel monster mag with its lovely Steranko cover. I picked it up for the bargain price of £2 from Bristol's premier independent comic shop, the mighty Excelsior. Although slightly water-damaged / rippled it's otherwise in pretty good condition, with the cover's bold colour scheme undimmed by age. And what beautiful artwork by Jaunty Jim! A quintessential Sword and Sorcery image: barbarians, babe, blades and blood all present and correct. The comic's contents are worth a look too, with some fine, moody artwork by the late Gray Morrow.
( Ahh, this all takes me back to the long-gone days of Steranko Saturdays, gone but not forgotten... )

I also got hold of the following vintage beauties, all for around two or three quid:
Doctor Strange #8 ( Engelhart and Colan, the Dread Dormammu on the cover )
Werewolf By Night #6 ( great Eisner-esque artwork by Mike Ploog )
Marvel Two-In-One #1 ( Ben Grimm vs Man-Thing, cool Starlin / Sinnott artwork )
Worlds Unknown #8 ( the underrated George Tuska adapting The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad )
Great stuff! Excelsior!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

My first trip to the cinema this year and my last journey to Middle Earth. Peter Jackson's final installment of his Tolkien adaptations is a suitably epic finale which still finds the time for the small moments. As in the last movie we crash straight into the action with no time for a catch up  -  Thorin Oakenshield's band of dwarves have reclaimed their homeland but in the process have caused Smaug the dragon to attack the human settlement of Laketown, while various forces converge on the Lonely Mountain for the titular punch-up.
Although the Hobbit movies haven't had the depth and richness of the LOTR trilogy ( hardly surprising, given the slimmer source material ) they've been good fun and this last installment is probably my favourite of the three. The opening scenes of Smaug burning Laketown are excellent, convincingly showing the chaos and panic that can be caused by the average giant, fire-breathing lizard on a night out, with a chance for Luke Evans to shine as Bard the ( dragon-slaying ) Bowman. And the metaphors come thick and fast as the humans flee for their lives from the scaly WMD to become bedraggled, starving refugees. Which all leads to a further, Iraq-sized metaphor as the death of Smaug brings pretenders to the throne, all after the gold horde under the mountain.
Richard Armitage gives probably the best performance of this series as he descends into paranoia and madness, his arrogance and stubborn behaviour leading to the clash of orcs, dwarves, elves, men and eagles.
And the final battle, when it comes, is very satisfying although still not a patch on the greatest dust-up in all the six films  -  the awesome, rain-drenched spectacle of the assault on Helm's Deep. But the USP of this film's five-way fight is the focus on the individuals caught up in the fray: the various strands of story all converge here and not all the characters survive. Bilbo, unfortunately, seems to be just an observer for most of the time and Martin Freeman only just manages to rescue his performance from becoming a collection of tics and mannerisms. But rescue it he does and his simple, honest hobbit proves again that the smallest characters can have the biggest hearts. Elsewhere it's exciting to see old friends and foes return as Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen and Hugo Weaving all reprise their roles and take on the ghostly Nazgul in a thrilling, if short, supernatural slug-fest. The trilogy is wrapped up and linked to LOTR by a lovely last scene appearance by Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo. An old wizard is knocking on his door...

Soundtrack: Hounds Of Love by Kate Bush
"Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake..."

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Post no. 800: Welcoming a New Year and looking back at the old one...

I don't know... two days into 2015 and I still haven't got my hoverboard yet. It's a disaster!
OK, that's the obligatory Back To The Future / hoverboard reference out of the way. It had to be done. Hopefully the year people are already calling "not 2014" will be memorable for more than failed predictions from a 1980s movie...
So, what's been going down in Groove Town lately? Things have obviously been quiet here recently on the blogging front, due to my complete lack of energy / inspiration / commitment ( delete as applicable ) and the intrusion of a certain holiday season but I hope to put that right and resume more regular blogging. ( I know, Dear Reader, that you've heard all this before... but, it's a new year  -  you can't begrudge a blogger some good intentions can you? Can you...? I recently read a fascinating post on blogging over at Kid Robson's ever-wonderful Crivens! which made me stop and think about what I'm doing here and why. No real conclusions as yet but it certainly got me thinking. Watch this space. ) Where was I? Oh yeah... Christmas...
We had a pretty good Christmas ( thanks for asking ) although Sarah has been ill and that's limited us somewhat, but we made the best of it. Here she is, relaxing in our gracious drawing-room, politely ignoring the fact that the servants have dropped straw all over the carpet yet again. You just can't get the staff. ( I know I posted this photo last time, but I like it... ) Sophie also came home for a couple of days over Christmas, so it was good for us all to be together on Christmas Day. After the usual presents and food shenanigans we all went out for a walk in the afternoon. It was a lovely, cold, bright day and we wandered around Gloucester's beautiful Cathedral...
Here are Sophie and I in the Cathedral's courtyard...
And here are Sophie and James being their usual quiet, reserved selves back at home...

I've still got some unfinished business with 2014 ( blog-wise ) so expect more posts looking back at the year of Ice Bucket Challenges and gun-toting space raccoons...


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas from The Glass Walking-Stick

Here's wishing all of you good people out there in the Blogosphere a happy and healthy Christmas. Peace.




Monday, 22 December 2014

Recent Gigs Part One: The Gaslight Anthem / The Subhumans

Gigs have been a bit thin on the ground for me this year. I wanted to see a few bands back in the Summer that I didn't get to, like Arcade Fire and Pixies, but now it's "touring season" again I've managed to get out and catch some groups. Back in November I went down to Cardiff's Motorpoint Arena to see New Jersey's 2nd favourite sons ( after the E Street Band, of course ), The Gaslight Anthem. I'd first seen them supporting Springsteen ( who else? ) at Hyde Park back in 2009 and was knocked out by their energy and great songs. I've since bought all but one of their albums ( their debut, which seems hard to find ) and have become a big fan of their blue-collar rock. I actually had a ticket to see them in Bristol last year but was too ill to go after just finishing my radiotherapy
( bugger! ) so I was determined not to miss them this time.
After the usual fun and games getting into Cardiff  -  non-existent roadsigns, roadworks, closed off streets  -  I managed to park near the venue, and headed for the local Spudulike ( didn't know they still existed! ) for some retro food. Only in Wales. I got into the arena just before the end of support band Deer Tick's set; they seemed quite a decent American indie band with surprisingly traditional Rock 'n' Roll leanings, but nothing too memorable. The Gaslight Anthem came on stage and started with the low-key, subdued Have Mercy, frontman Brian Fallon enveloped in purple light... and then ripped into a speedy version of The '59 Sound, driving the crowd wild. It's my favourite of their songs and I was surprised it wasn't held back for an encore, but then the band have amassed enough, er, anthems to comfortably fill out their set.
TGA ( as nobody calls them ) were very tight and enthusiastic, smoothly switching between their more punk-y early stuff and the more recent material from Get Hurt which is both heavier ( Stay Vicious ) and more sophisticated ( the title track ). Clearly enjoying himself, Fallon told the audience that he's a huge fan of Noel Fielding, the Mighty Boosh star who was playing in another venue in Cardiff that night. He went on to encourage us all to Tweet Fielding and suggest we all head over there to watch his set  -  all 7000 of us. Strangely enough that didn't happen...
...even though the audience were eating out of Fallon's hand and would probably have followed him anywhere. Indeed, they all seemed very passionate fans of the band and made me feel a bit of a fraud as I tried to sing along and realised I didn't actually know the lyrics that well :-)  A girl next to me in the crowd danced continually throughout the set and knew every word to every song. In fact, it was quite cool to see how many women were there, both in couples and groups, making a change from the usually male-dominated rock audience.
The band finished their epic, 28-song show with a storming version of The Backseat and then were gone, with no encore  -  which was slightly disappointing, but they had dropped a cover of Dinosaur Jr's Feel The Pain into the set which was very welcome, so I'll let them off. I fought my way out of the venue and headed for home but, feeling knackered, stopped at a service station and fell asleep in my car (!) and didn't get home until 2am, worrying Sarah in the process. Whoops! Probably the reason I was so tired was that I'd been to another gig the night before...
Slightly smaller scale, this one: ancient Anarcho-crusty punks The Subhumans at Cheltenham's Frog 'n' Fiddle, supported by Gloucester Street Punk Heroes, the Noise Agents. The Subhumans had always stood out from the crowd back in the early '80s because, unlike most Anarchist bands, they could actually play their instruments and had some proper songs, including the fantastic Religious Wars, above. I'd always liked their records but never seen them live back in the day so I was keen to see if they could still cut it, three decades after the fact.
And, oh yes, they could. The Subhumans played a blazing set of angry, funny and shoutalong-exciting protest songs, rooted in the Thatcher era but often still sadly relevant today. Frontman Dick Lucas was a wired and wiry ball of energy, careering around the stage, veins and eyeballs bulging, launching into hilarious rants between the songs, slating bankers and Facebook users amongst other targets. Old favourites were blasted out  -  Reality Is Waiting For A Bus, Drugs Of Youth and Religious Wars itself all standout moments. See setlist below, appropriated from the stage, complete with abbreviated song titles...
In its low-rent, noisy, retro way, this was one of the best gigs I've been to in ages. Lots of fun with some of my regular gig buddies. Here I am, being very silly with Wendy and Glenn...
OK, that's Part One. More recent gigs to follow soon...

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Interstellar

As a wise man once said, space is big. Really big. Christopher Nolan's latest blockbuster shows us just how mind-blastingly, frighteningly vast space really is, but also manages to anchor its cosmic vistas in a very simple, very human story of love and loss.
In an unspecified near future the human race is starving and suffocating as we use up the last of our resources and watch our crops wither and die in a global Dustbowl. Former NASA pilot, widower and father of two, Cooper ( Matthew McConaughey ) receives a mysterious message that prompts him to abandon his farming life and sign up for a last, desperate attempt to save humanity. As part of a small crew of scientists and explorers, Cooper blasts off into the endless reaches of outer space, to pass through a wormhole into a new galaxy and, hopefully, to find a new home for humankind. The biggest problem with this mission is relativity: travelling at impossible speed across the universe and skirting around the awesome gravitational force of the new galaxy's black hole ( "Gargantua" ) means that time passes far quicker for the astronauts than it does back on Earth. Cooper may save his species but lose his family...
I'm not the greatest Christopher Nolan fan  -  I found his Batman movies too joyless and the likes of Memento and The Prestige were obviously well-made but didn't drag me back for repeat viewings  -  however, I loved Inception so I was interested to see how he'd tackle the move from inner to outer space.
Interstellar, as it turns out, lives up to the hype. After a first act which establishes the relationship between Cooper and his family and illustrates the seemingly hopeless plight of this depleted Earth, we are then catapulted into deep space. The word "awesome" is seriously overused these days ( and I'm certainly guilty of that ) but this film reclaims the meaning of the word and dazzles us with epic, beautiful images as the crew of the Endurance embark on their impossible mission.The immensity of the universe overwhelms us  -  the spaceship is reduced to a tiny speck, floating serenely past Saturn's rings or plunging into the maelstrom of the wormhole. From a water-covered world, to an ice world, to a mind-boggling trip through the black hole and into higher dimensions, Interstellar is a true successor to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey...
But, whereas that groundbreaking 1968 movie was intentionally unemotional, Interstellar wears its heart on its metaphorical sleeve. Cooper is constantly aware throughout the mission that the chances of being reunited with his children are slipping away as the time-dilation effect of deep space travel separates them by decades. McConaughey is totally convincing as the man-out-of-time ( literally ) who is caught in an impossible situation, and there's also some lovely, subtle work from Anne Hathaway as fellow crew-member Dr. Brand; and luckily their relationship develops realistically while not descending into trite Hollywood obviousness. Cooper's most important relationship, however, is with his daughter Murph as played by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn at different stages in her life. His guilt at leaving Murph behind and her anger at this perceived betrayal drive the plot along as much as the exploration of brave new worlds. ( Cooper's son, as played by Timothee Chalomet and Casey Affleck, gets far less attention. ) There is also an appearance halfway through the story by A Big Name Actor which came as an unexpected but welcome surprise, his character adding another element of risk to the already tense story.
Things get very metaphysical and emotional towards the end but you feel that the characters have earned the extra-dimensional Deus Ex Machina that provides the resolution. And, after almost three hours of nail-biting tension and apocalyptic visions, the audience has earned it too. Ultimately, behind all the cosmic spectacle and dire prophecies, this is a very optimistic and humane movie with the Right Stuff...
"Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here."

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Fabian Perez 2014

Argentinian superstar artist Fabian Perez is currently doing another tour of the UK, so Sarah and I headed over to the ever-wonderful Whitewall Galleries in Cheltenham to see his latest exhibition.
( And it gave Sarah yet another chance to swoon over the Johnny Depp-alike great man himself. )
As ever, the gallery was rammed with people admiring the artwork and sculptures, drinking free champagne and hoping to meet and greet with the always-approachable and friendly Fabian. The new collection was up to his usual high standards with his trademark cast of sultry, romantic characters in beautiful, atmospheric locations. We were particularly taken by the masked Venetian lady above. The original oil painting was selling for just under £8000, while a pen and ink study for the piece was going for about £1300. Sigh! We just have to keep on dreaming...
We also really liked this one, The Embrace, but I couldn't do it justice in the photo, as a light shining on it tended to bleach out the colours. There's nothing like seeing a painting for real!
Likewise, this painting of Fabian's muse, Saba, is the original, while the piece at the top of this post is a print.
Here's our invitation to the event. James was going to come with us, but at the last minute decided to go out with a mate instead. Kids! Anyway, we had a great time at the exhibition and, thinking of the Venetian lady, went for a lovely Italian meal afterwards. Same time next year...?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Doctor Who Reviews Roundup: Tombs, trees and a tiny Tardis

My Doctor Who reviews have got lost in the time vortex yet again but, using cutting-edge temporal physics and huge amounts of Artron energy I've managed to re-materialise them here for your reading pleasure, just ahead of the series finale. The lengths I go to for this 'ere blog...
Flatline
After plunging into 3D for the 50th Anniversary last year Doctor Who explores another relative dimension in this creepy episode. People are mysteriously disappearing from a Bristol council estate and the Doctor is trapped inside a dimensionally-challenged Tardis, leaving Clara to step up and solve the riddle.
Although this episode seemed superficially similar to worst-21st-century-Who-story Fear Her ( I'm yawning just thinking about it ) it turned out to be a small-scale treat with some clever ideas ( 2D creatures invading a 3D world ), fine performances from the leads ( "I'm the Doctor, but you can call me Clara" ) and a genuinely disturbing, unknowable enemy in the Boneless. And the Addams Family gag had us all roaring. On the evidence of this episode and the previous week's Mummy story, scriptwriter Jamie Mathieson is a welcome addition to the Who writing team. In fact, this series is notable for new writers, with excellent work from Peter Harness ( Kill The Moon ) and also the newbie behind the next episode...
In The Forest Of The Night
Frank Cottrell Boyce was a surprising choice to write new Who as he is primarily known as a children's author and the writer of the 2012 London Olympics' opening ceremony. However, with this unusual story he has created something new for the show, a truly different take on the old "invasion of Earth" plot, with some genuinely magical moments. I couldn't help but think of Where The Wild Things Are as a world-wide forest grows overnight to cover the planet, and Clara, the Doctor and Danny find themselves in a London overwhelmed by trees...
Almost harking back to the twisted fairy tale vibe of Matt Smith's first series, this story is a beautiful exploration of primal, childhood fears of the deep, dark woods with just a twist of that 12th Doctor harshness. Capaldi's Doctor is in fact showing more signs of softening here, interacting on a surprisingly human level with Danny's pupil, Maebe, the young girl whose visions are the solution to the arboreal apocalypse. Clara's character, on the other hand, is seen to be drifting further from humanity ( due to too much time spent with the Doctor? )  -  more concerned with the mystery and the wonder of the crisis than protecting the Coal Hill School children. Director Sheree Folkson creates a gorgeous vision of an unnaturally leafy London and hopefully is another talent ( like these new writers ) that the show can hang on to.
Dark Water
At last we have a two-part series finale again! It's been a long time. In this episode the mysterious Missy ( the ever-crazy Michelle Gomez ) finally takes centre stage as we see what she's been up to for these past 11 episodes. And it's not good.
The story starts with a shock as Clara's boyfriend, soldier-turned-maths-teacher Danny Pink is knocked down and killed by a car. ( That'll teach him to mess about with his mobile instead of watching where he's going! ) Consumed by grief, Clara demands the Doctor bring him back  -  "Time can be re-written" and all that. The Doctor goes one better, however, and attempts to break into the afterlife to find him...
This episode does indeed dive into some very deep, dark water for a perceived "family" show: we see a truly frightening version of an afterlife, where the dead are still conscious and linked to their earthly bodies; our friend Clara is so obsessed with saving Danny that she betrays and threatens the Doctor for her own ends; and the Doctor finds he is, er, out of his depth as Missy reveals her plans and her identity. This is a very brave and unsettling story, pushing the boundaries of what the show can be about and showcasing some very adult themes of grief and bereavement, leading even the usually-supportive Radio Times to call it "crass and in bad taste."
There are a couple of developments in this story that I can't really believe  -  Why would the rationally-minded Doctor even believe in an afterlife, let alone try to pilot the Tardis there? And why would he help Clara after she had treated him so badly, grief or no grief? These questions weren't enough to spoil this tough, challenging story for me but they were a distraction. That said, there was plenty to enjoy here, all the same: the grim, funereal atmosphere; the emergence of the Cybermen from the dark water tanks; the impressive realisation of the Nethersphere; some trademark Moffatt humour sprinkled on top of the chilling implications of the plot.
And, as I type this, there are only a couple of hours to go until the finale airs on BBC1. Can't wait...

Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or outraged critics ) ...that goes for all 3 episodes above :-)

Soundtrack: The Last Words Of The Great Explorer by TV Smith's Explorers


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