Saturday, January 25, 2014

The British Are Coming! (Reviewing BBC's 'Sherlock,' 'Death Comes to Pemberley,' and 'Doctor Who')

I’ve only been to London once on a layover to Italy. And though it was dreary and cold, and though I had been on a plane overnight, was both jetlagged and probably smelled, I loved every minute of the bit of the city that I got to experience. I’m an English nerd – I love literary history and everything that entails. So it’s still a dream of mine, someday, to return to London. But until that time comes, I’ll pretend that I am cultured by watching as much BBC/BBC America as I can. 

And watch I do. So much so that I decided to compile a post of three BBC series that have infiltrated my life: the influential, addicting sci-fi series Doctor Who, the intense and captivating Sherlock, and the mini-series based on Jane Austen’s beloved characters, Death Comes to Pemberley. So I thought that I would take the opportunity to reflect on each of these, now that they have ended their seasons/series and encourage you all – if you aren’t – to watch. There are still other BBC dramas I have yet to watch but desperately need to (looking at you, Orphan Black) as well and I look forward to enriching my life with more beautiful British people soon.

Grab your jammie dodgers, a cuppa, and practice your best British accent because we’re going to talk about three delightful series starting… now!


I didn’t do a write-up of “The Time of the Doctor,” because I was struggling with exactly what to say. As soon as I decided upon writing a post that combined two other BBC series, I knew I would be able to talk more freely and coherently about Matt Smith’s swan song. Instead of recapping the plot (most of you, if not all of you, I presume have already seen the episode a month ago), I thought I would not some of the elements of the special that worked for me.

I love Matt Smith. I never thought I would enjoy him as The Doctor, as he followed the exceptional David Tennant. But quickly, I fell in love with his energy and enthusiasm, his quiet intensity and his utter weight as an actor. So when it was announced that Smith would be leaving, I was distraught. With the action-packed, adventurous 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who titled “The Day of the Doctor,” I anticipated Matt Smith’s final episode to be relatively low-key. And it WAS, though that ruffled the feathers of more than a few viewers. They wanted to see Eleven in action. They wanted him to traipse around time and space, fighting monsters and appearing witty and snappy in the process.  But… he HAD all of that, just the episode prior. And Moffat made the clear and distinct choice to have The Doctor just stop running. It wasn’t a choice everyone agreed with, but I think it was extremely significant. This is one of the most if not most powerful images in the entire episode, to be honest. Here's the Doctor, who is trapped because he sent the TARDIS away with Clara, but also because he's just. stopped. running. He's stopped trying. 

And while, comparatively, I love Tennant and Ten, I do feel like "The End of Time" was SO heavy and full of anguish because Ten just COULDN'T LET GO OF HIMSELF. He couldn't accept the fact that it was over for him. And he was prideful and stupid and The Time Lord Victorious and thought everything was about him (his last line was about himself – he said "I don't want to go" after all). And yes, he said goodbye to the people he cared about but it was just such a depressing, sad way to regenerate. And he carried that with him into Eleven – that part of him that never wants to say goodbye. BUT THEN Eleven grows and becomes older and wiser and he completely and utterly accepts the notion that "everything must end." He's at the point where he's ready. He's going to spend his last hundred years saving people instead of trying to save himself. Because we know he could try. It's what made this regeneration more reminiscent of Nine's to me: because Nine regenerated when he saved Rose and Ten's was just painful and long and drawn out because he wanted to spend every moment left on Earth and didn't WANT to leave. But Eleven? Eleven stayed at Christmas. And why? Because he wanted the last thing he did on this Earth to be for someone else and not for him. Because Eleven is full of regret and grief for all of those planets he couldn't save, all of the races HE LEFT TO DIE, and all of the people he watched suffer because of him that I think – in this weird sort of way –his last penance to himself was to stay and help people. Eleven knows it can never make up for the lives he lost, but I think he's trying to atone for those he's hurt and left along the way. I mean, and I think it was important to see the man who "fixes toys and saves people from monsters" no matter how old he got because THAT is who Eleven was.

And while I do, in a way, lament the fact that Matt Smith was in aged makeup throughout most of the episode and did not look like himself or the young Eleven we had all come to know and love, I think that the final story of Eleven’s chapter was one of waiting. He consistently called Amy and Rory the girl and boy who waited. And in his final years, HE was the one waiting – waiting for death and for what he felt he deserved. 

Speaking of: the end/regeneration scene to me was exactly what I needed. It wasn't Matt saying "No, I don’t want to go, please don’t make me" which I don't think I could have handled again, to be honest, but mostly I don't think it was true to CHARACTER. Eleven accepted his death at the end. He knew his time was up, but it was an ending full of hope and promise and Amelia Pond welcoming him home on the other side with open arms. It was Clara saying she didn't want him to go yet, which I think was more telling than anything. It's always the companions who can't accept regeneration. But that ending was perfect because it was full of HOPE. Compare that to how Eleven was "born." Nine was born from war. He was born angry, but he regenerated full of promise and wit. Ten was born from Rose's love, but he died utterly full of dismay. There was nothing even remotely hopeful about Ten's regeneration. Yes, he went back to say farewell to those he cared about but he was so full of guilt and despair at the end. THAT'S WHY I SOBBED THROUGH ALL OF “THE END OF TIME.” IT WAS NOT A HAPPY EPISODE. IT WAS NOT HOPEFUL. IT WAS DARK. (It may sound like I'm hating on Ten and I'm not intending to because you all know how much I LOVE HIM. But Ten's end was not a happy one. He said goodbye to people he cared about, but it came at a price.) 

And then you have Eleven who is born out of that dark place but who buries it down until about half-way through his era and then you see the anger come out ("Angels Take Manhattan" especially) when he can't rewrite the ending. We see him sink into that despair. He did in "The Snowmen." He gave up. He quit. But then, he's reminded of humanity and the people he lives to save and I think a part of him knew that if he didn't try again, if he didn't get back up that he would end up the same way that Ten did. And he knew that darkness. And he didn't want to go back. Eleven was born out of despair and darkness, but left in a blaze of light. He was READY. He "owned the stage and gave it 110%." Honestly, I love that Moffat chose to give Eleven a hopeful ending. And it worked as Matt's farewell, too. It, like I said, was reminiscent of Nine who knew he was fantastic and went away with love in his heart for himself and Rose. He started off so self-loathing and ended in love. And Ten was born in love and ended in loss. And Eleven was born in loss and ended in HOPE. 

And you can say what you want about Moffat, but I think that’s kind of beautiful.

Additional moments I loved:
  • Jenna Coleman was on POINT this episode as Clara. She’s always spectacular, but she has never been more so than when she clung to the edge of the TARDIS and refused to let The Doctor send her away. I absolutely love her resilience and strength and it was so utterly heartbreaking when she stretched out her fingers during Eleven’s regeneration to hold his hand but their hands ended up separated by mere inches. *sobs*
  • Speaking of Eleven’s regeneration, the appearance of Amy and the line “Raggedy man… goodnight” killed me. Speaking of additional things that killed me during the regeneration scene, I am still not ready to talk about Eleven removing his bow tie and letting it fall to the ground.
  • “How’s the turkey doing?” “Great! Well, dead and decapitated. But that’s Christmas when you’re a turkey.” 
  • “We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all throughout our lives. And that’s okay. That’s good. You’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day. I swear. I will always remember when The Doctor was me.”

Much like many of my other obsessions, I was lured into Sherlock by Jaime’s influence. She explained that since I loved Doctor Who, I just had to also check out this BBC series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, and created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. I was not disappointed, when I began the series, and found Sherlock to be both engrossing and inventive. This mini-series is truly an amazing way to invest an audience in the classic Sherlock detective stories by providing a new twist on the plot and works themselves.

Sherlock returned recently with its third installment and rather than spend an entire post discussing the joy I get from watching Benedict Cumberbatch ruffle his hair (and I get a LOT of joy from that), I thought I’d briefly discuss what was different about series three of Sherlock and why I loved it so much. The series opens with “The Empty Hearse,” which focuses on Sherlock Holmes’ return to London to face John Watson and the friends who all presumed he was dead. John has attempted to move on from his best friend’s apparent suicide and is engaged to Mary Morstan, an amazingly witty woman who has shown him how to love. And then… Sherlock reappears, as if he had never been absent in the first place, revealing that a handful of people DID realize he was alive, but that John was not one of those let in on the secret. A good portion of the episode is spent with John hashing out his anger with Sherlock and admitting all of the pain that he had felt in his absence, how he had begged his best friend not to be dead. And I feel like the entire theme of series three of Sherlock is centered on Sherlock being HUMAN and not some sociopath with no feelings or emotional attachments whatsoever.

Now, Sherlock DOES continue to dismiss certain people and emotions and normal human interactions. He doesn’t suddenly become a “normal” person over the course of this series, but I think that it’s great how Moffat and Gatiss forced us, as the audience, to think about the fact that Sherlock is growing and evolving. It’s small and it’s slight and it’s not necessarily the growth we would presume to be impactful, but it’s growth no less. In “The Sign of Three,” it is John and Mary’s wedding and everything about this episode is flawless – from the flashbacks which are seemingly unimportant to the plot but turn out to be exceptionally integral to Sherlock’s best man speech and deduction to Janine, the best bridesmaid there ever was, and finally the reveal at the end of the episode that Mary is pregnant. “The Sign of Three” ended with a punch to the gut though that had been foreshadowed the entire episode. Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson had warned Sherlock that once people are married, relationships and friendships change. You simply cannot have the same relationship you once did. Sherlock dismisses their notions, mainly because he dismisses THEM, but the episode ends with everyone paired off or else in a group and Sherlock is alone. He recognizes this fact and rather than try to convince himself that he is superior and doesn’t need anyone, his face is visibly pained and he leaves the reception before the wedding. And then there’s this GIF set that broke my heart.

Series three of Sherlock ends with “His Last Vow,” the only episode this series to strictly revolve around a villainous presence. In this case, it’s that of Charles Augustus Magnussen. He’s a vile man and a professional blackmailer. And perhaps that is WHY he is so grotesque; unlike other Sherlockian villains who kill pathologically, Magnussen finds “pressure points” of his victims. He pinpoints their weaknesses and exploits those in order to gain information and secrets from them and lord those over them for the rest of their lives. He makes people miserable without physically harming them, and as Sherlock goes toe-to-toe with this man, he discovers that Mary isn’t all she appears to be.

The series ends with Sherlock fulfilling a vow that he made in his best man speech – he promised John that he would never let him down and as their situation appears bleak, Sherlock uses his final act as a free man to spare John from a similar fate. (I’m keeping this vague enough for those who have yet to see the series, in case you couldn’t tell.) And when you parallel the series, you see that Sherlock did the exact same thing in “The Reichenbach Fall” – he risked everything he had in order to protect the lives of the people he loved most of all. Though Sherlock Holmes may not be the most pleasant man, and though he is not the most sociable, and though he is not always right and deeply flawed, I love series three Sherlock Holmes most of all. I felt his pain and I felt as if he was the most human out of all of the series.

And when you watch him slightly smile in “The Sign of Three” when he delivers his speech, you realize that he has feelings. He has emotions. And he deeply loves his best friend John. That is something that will be – forever – unchangeable.

Additional moments I loved:
  • “The point I’m trying to make is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant, and all around obnoxious asshole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous, unaware of the beautiful, and uncomprehending in the face of the happy. So if I didn’t understand I was being asked to be best man it is because I’ve never expected to be anybody’s best friend. Certainly not the best friend of the bravest, and kindest, and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing. John, I am a ridiculous man, redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship. But as I’m apparently your best friend, I cannot congratulate you on your choice of companion. Actually, now I can. Mary, when I say you deserve this man, it is the highest compliment of which I am capable. John, you have endured war, and injury and tragic loss. So sorry again about that last one. So know this: today you sit between the woman you have made your wife and the man you have saved. In short, the two people who love you most in all this world. And I know I speak for Mary as well when I say we will never let you down, and we have a lifetime ahead to prove that.”
  • Sherlock interacting with a child was too much for me to handle.
  • I had a LOT of Sherlock/Molly feels in “The Empty Hearse.” And the rest of the series. I basically have a lot of Sherlock/Molly feels in general.
  • Mary Morstan is the actual best thing to ever happen to this show. Bless you, Amanda Abbington.
  • Sherlock’s confusion at everyone crying during his speech was AMAZING.
  • Greg hugging Sherlock is all I’ve wanted. Actually, Anderson heading a Sherlock fan club is essentially everything I’ve ever wanted.
  • “I don’t understand.” “You should have that on a t-shirt.” *later* “I still don’t understand.” “And there’s the back of the t-shirt.”

In the spirit of immersing myself totally in BBC culture this past month, I decided that I would check out Death Comes to Pemberley, a three-episode mini-series that centers around the characters that Jane Austen penned in Pride and Prejudice (and based on the novel of the same name by P.D. James), six years later. It’s the week of the Darcy’s annual ball and preparations are in full swing when their pleasant plans are interrupted by a carriage containing a screaming and wailing Lydia pulls into Pemberley. Wickham, her husband, and Denny – his friend and a captain – got into an argument in the woods and when shots rang out, the horses spooked and tore away.

Darcy and others head out to search the woods and find Denny dead and Wickham crying over his friend’s body, covered in blood, admitting that it was “his fault” Denny was dead. The rest of the mini-series focuses on the ensuing trial and apparent guilt of George Wickham. While the pressure on Pemberley mounts, Darcy and Lizzy’s marriage grows strained (which is really difficult to watch because they’re Darcy and Lizzy and they’re supposed to be happy, dangit!) and Darcy attempts to sway his sister Georgiana into a marriage she does not want because of his misguided judgment.

What I loved about Death Comes to Pemberley was this: it’s a series that keeps you guessing until the final minutes. Episode 2 ends on a cliffhanger that literally left me tweeting: “WHAT JUST HAPPENED.” It leaves us questioning everything we know about the characters we thought we once did. It presents Darcy as prideful once more, but also cold. It presents Lizzy as strong but also vulnerable. It presents Wickham as conniving, sketchy, and detestable… but it also beckons us to ask if he is capable of cold-blooded murder. Though it was a drama, there were plenty of moments of humor and also genuine heart and warmth. There was suspense and action and it left me on the edge of my seat. I genuinely was invested in these characters and though I detest Lydia Bennet in every other adaptation besides The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, even SHE was redeemed by the series end. I actually FELT for her which was something I did not anticipate.

So watch Death Comes to Pemberley, all three episodes of which are available on YouTube!

Additional moments I loved:
  • “Marry for love, Georgiana. Marry the person your heart cries out for. And when you have that person, do not doubt them. Not for a single moment.”
  • Georgiana and Henry are LITERALLY the cutest thing in the entire world.
  • “Choose the brightest, best memory of me, will you? Hold onto that.”
  • “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.”
  • Matthew Rhys is FANTASTIC as Darcy and Anna Maxwell Martin is a stunning, wonderful Elizabeth Bennet.
  • “Please save me from our guests.”
So there you have it, dear readers! If you aren’t watching any of these British series, please go and watch as they are definitely worth your time. And hopefully now you feel more cultured. ;) Have a wonderful week and I’ll see you all back here soon!


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