Mitch Benn’s Proud of the BBC

Very little needs to be said about this. Mitch Benn, famous comedic song writer of The One Show and Watchdog has performed this little ditty, which says pretty much everything that needs to be said about this great British institution, that we can never afford to let go of.

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Sherlock – A triumph in reimagination

An article I wrote for TVOvermind. Republished below.

Steven Moffat does it again. Over the years he has achieved some remarkable television feats. Not only did he essentially sell his UK version of Friends back to the United States (as Coupling), write the best episodes of Doctor Who during the Russell T. Davies era and eventually take over the running of the show himself, snubbing Spielberg in the process, he and Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen, Doctor Who) have now reinvented Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century in spectacular fashion. Note to Guy Ritchie. This is how its done.

The old adage in entertainment is that two similar vehicles come along at roughly the same time. For example, when Armageddon was released in 1998, we also had Deep Impact. When The Illusionist was released, we also had The Prestige. Antz and A Bug’s Life, Dante’s Peak and Volcano, Iron Eagle and Top Gun. I could go on. Sherlock Holmes is no different. However, the contrast between the two productions couldn’t be any starker.

‘Sherlock’ is the latest production from BBC Wales Cardiff and stars Benedict Cumberbatch (‘Hawking’, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and the upcoming ‘War Horse’) as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman (‘The Office UK’, ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’) as Dr John Watson, in a thoroughly modern remake. The horse drawn carriages have been replaced by taxis, Sherlock prefers to communicate via text message than converse on the telephone, and Watson is returning home from Afghanistan instead of the Boer War. Every detail of the Holmes story is handled with care and clarity, and has clearly been written by two men who very much love the original stories. They even very cleverly handle the suggestion that Holmes and Watson may have been closer than friends, something that comedians have noted for a while, including this sketch by Look Around You co-creator Peter Serafinowicz.

The entire cast is a revelation. Ever since his stunning and mesmerising performance in Hawking back in 2004, Benedict Cumberbatch has been an actor to watch, and he is perfect as Holmes. His breakout performance of a slightly conceited arrogant and somewhat sociopathic Holmes is more like the books than any production since the sad death of Jeremy Brett in 1995. He still takes drugs, he is sexless and has no interest in making friends. Martin Freeman was an inspired piece of casting for Watson. His fame comes mostly from The Office playing Tim (the character that became Jim in the US version of the show) and Arthur Dent in H2G2, and I was worried that he would essentially transpose those two similar “every man” characters into Watson. Luckily, whilst Watson is an every man character, he isn’t Tim or Arthur. He is a complex individual, affected by war and his desire to see action beautifully performed with subtlety by Freeman. The supporting cast is also excellent, with Rupert Graves’ (The Madness of King George, V for Vendetta) Inspector Lestrade and Una Stubbs (Worzel Gummidge) playing Mrs Hudson standing out in particular.

The three 90-minute episodes blast through at a fast and furious pace. The second episode is unsurprisingly the weakest of the three, taking the least influence from the original books and presenting a story that feels long and unceremoniously sandwiched between a beginning and an end. However, the first and last episode are so impressive with┬áthe writing being both fresh and deferential to both the books and the Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett productions that you can’t help being mesmerised. There are references all over the place. Just try and find them, your brain will ache.

The key to Sherlock is that it feels like it’s a production where everyone was genuinely enjoying their time on the show, and it pours through on the screen. Its still Holmes through and through, it’s just transposed to a modern era. Some inevitable comparisons to Doctor Who have been made in the British press and on the Internet, in fact Matt Smith auditioned for the role of Watson before he got the part of The Doctor, and got an audition for Who based on that. It’s unfair in that The Doctor originally took influence from Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, inevitably the production is going to take those influences back.

Where the recent movie of Sherlock Holmes was generally entertaining fair fare, taking 21st Century ideals of a modern blockbuster and transposing them to the Victorian Era can be jarring, transporting Holmes the other way has produced another fantastic piece of television from BBC Wales. Cumberbatch has finally become a star in his own right. If this doesn’t make Cumberbatch a world-wide star, then watch out for him in Steven Spielberg’s adaption of War Horse next Summer, as that surely will.

Like fellow TVO reviewer Crit Obara, I’ve been blown away.

Doctor Who vs the frigid virgins

Doctor Who tonight aired it’s fifth episode of the new Moffat era – “Flesh and Stone” – and with it’s final four minutes came yet another scene to allow the morality police of the Daily Mail readership types to rattle their well worn sabers.

You see, at the end of this episode the Doctor’s companion Amy threw herself at The Doctor. Sure enough forums like the rapidly growing right wing enclave Digital Spy rang out with righteous indignation and a misplaced moral fervour. “Won’t someone please think of the children” they all seemed to cry. “Im sick of the companions fancying him” some moaned, not realising that somehow they’ve missed the plot of the four previous episodes and key points of the show since 1963.

You see, in this very short amount of time we have learnt alot about this character. Amy is damaged. The Doctor had a profound effect on her. She was a child without any real family to speak of, certainly no father figure, and dreamed of escaping her mundane life long before she had even met The Doctor. She obsessed about him, she bit four psychiatrists when they dared to suggest he was real. She made a man who was hopelessly in love with her since childhood (Rory) substitute for him. She became a kissogram… Amy was broken. Amy of course was never meant to be this way, and it was The Doctor’s fault for entering her life. She didn’t want a relationship and doesn’t really fancy the Doctor as such, though she might believe she does, she just wanted one last fling and planned on it to be the person she had used as a father substitute. The girl has Daddy issues. She is a very realistic, rounded character. I’ve met her. She’s an escapist.

Of course the morality police of the Daily Mail have kicked in. They have never been able to reflect and accept the modern society we now live in. They dream of a bygone age of austerity that never existed. They don’t know of the world of children of American GIs in Britain, where women had affairs with them whilst they waited to be deployed to fight against the boy they erroneously backed in the Second World War. They forget the battles between Rockers and Mods and the highly sexually charged world of the late 50s and the birth of the teenager. They certainly don’t seem to remember the sexual revolution of the 60s either.

You see, tonight’s Doctor Who did that. It reflected culture like it always has, and I’d it in a way that young children wouldn’t really understand, Mom would titter at and Dad would wish he was in The Doctor’s place right there and then, quietly in the corner puffing out his cheeks and wondering why the Doctor was so mad as to keep replacing his braces over his shoulders.

The obsessive Doctor Who fans too once again rallied against the idea of The Doctor having a romantic relationship. Of course they forget his first companion was his granddaughter, or that to be there at all The Time Lords must have some kind of sexual relations, and that we have actually seen The Doctor’s mother too. They also seem to not notice that neither of them wanted romance either but that doesn’t stop those that are just jealous that it is not them getting to make out a little with their hero.

The Daily Mail and the frigid virgins of Doctor Who fandom would have you believe that Doctor Who maybe damaging our children and it’s reputation as a family show, and any kind of emotional or sexual angle to the characters is almost degrading our families and children. Far from it, 47 years of the show has shown us by now that Doctor Who isn’t just fantastic television, but it’s a cultural mirror that reflects our culture, that changes over time to evolve to that culture, and entertains the nation by showing us the culture we live in. It doesn’t just do that for it’s core audience either, it entertains a great many people not just in Britain, but all over the world.

If The Daily Mail or the sexless keyboard warriors of the Internet don’t like that, then they can just fuck right off.

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