Thursday, April 16, 2009

Doctor Who: 'Planet of the Dead'

This Easter’s Doctor Who special was, much like the Christmas special that preceded it, a mildly entertaining, but ultimately hollow hour, primarily because of its disconnected feel from the overall narrative of the series. One of the trickiest things in long form serial fiction is making a story feel like it matters. In the case of Who, we know that Tennant is going to regenerate into someone new at the end of these specials, so they serve as an extended curtain call after the massive season four finale.

The primary issue with this episode is that it’s totally without context, and gives us no real reason to invest in it beyond the specifics of what happens on screen. The series gives us a lot of seemingly disconnected standalone episodes, but there we at least have the evolving relationship between the Doctor and companion to keep our interest when the story proper lags. In the case of this episode, we know that the world isn’t going to end, that they’re going to close the wormhole and all will be reset. So, it’s the same exact emotional beats as the Christmas special, leaving us with a sad Doctor alone, with only an ominous warning at his future as any sort of overarching narrative.

I think it’s less true of the old series, but in the current incarnation, the core of the show is the relationship between the Doctor and his companion. Much like The X-Files is ostensibly about scary stories, but is really about the relationship between Mulder and Scully, the various adventures serve as a device to let us get to know the Doctor and his companion better. Each season is defined largely by the chemistry between that specific Doctor and his companion, and without the companion to work with, these specials feel a bit hollow.

That’s no knock on Tennant, who’s as enthusiastic as usual. It’s more a consequence of the fact that no one’s really waiting to see these stories. I’m really curious to see the finale for Tennant, and to see stories with the new Doctor in the Moffat era, but this episode is just a place holder.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Grant Morrison Documentary

I haven’t posted in a while, but fear not, the examination of important issues in comics and culture has not stopped! The reason for the hiatus has been that I’ve been out in L.A. working on what’s pretty much my dream project, a documentary about Grant Morrison. So, over the last week, we shot three days with Grant, talking with him during an interview that he called the longest interview he’d ever done. That interview will form the base of the documentary, which will also include some footage of stuff that I shoot as subjective interpretation of the stuff he’s saying, images from the comics, and hopefully some additional interviews with his collaborators and things like that.

It’s a pretty strange thing to meet the guy who’s pretty much been my idol since I first read The Invisibles seven years ago. How can the reality of the man possibly live up to the image I’ve built up in my head? To some extent, the answer to that question is the core of the documentary. There’s been so much written about what Morrison was going through during The Invisibles, but I had very little sense of the life he’d been living since the series ended, and I think we found out the answer to that. He’s not the crazy drug taking magician of the 90s, he’s a different guy now, and finding out who that person is is a big part of what the doc is about.

I don’t want to go too in depth about what we talked about, since that’s what the documentary is for, but I can say that the interview process was pretty interesting. I would ask a question, and he’d typically talk for five to ten minutes, then we sort of organically moved to the next topic. He answered a lot of questions I’d been wondering about, including such random current ones as the purported 80 page Seven Soldiers script and the exact identity of Doctor Hurt to more general stuff like a look inside his much vaunted notebooks.

I had a great time doing the filming, and I think the man lived up to the image I had of him in my head. He wasn’t exactly as I imagined, but in the transition from myth to human being, the magic lingered on. Anyone who can talk for six hours and leave you wanting more has a way about him. And, between a literal translation of his work like Key 23 and work inspired by his like Universal Traveler and The Third Age, I think I can make some really interesting visuals to match his words.

The documentary’s going into the editing room now, and I’d expect to see it released sometime in 2010. I’m really happy with the way everything we shot turned out, and am looking forward to getting in there and cutting it up and making something as challenging and exciting as one of his comics.