Saturday, 31 August 2013

Doctor Who (The Complete Specials)

Apparently neither David Tennant or Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies had intended to do any episodes of the show past 2008. However, the BBC weren't at all keen on this idea because that would mean that Doctor Who, one of their most popular shows, would be on hiatus for the whole of 2009 (Steven Moffat's first series of the show wouldn't be due until 2010). Therefore the BBC asked RTD to do another full-length series but neither he or Tennant wanted to commit to this. They both wanted to move on and do different things. In the end a compromise was reached. Once series four had wrapped up, RTD would write a few "one-off" 60 minute length episodes that would act as a bridge between series four and five. The filming of these episodes was designed to fit in around David Tennant's Hamlet schedule and Tennant also agreed to star in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures. These Doctor Who episodes are often called the 2009 specials but two of the episodes weren't actually aired in that year.

The special episodes that were aired between 2008 and 2010 are called The Next Doctor, Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars and The End of Time. In these special episodes the Doctor doesn't have a companion and travels by himself. It's not quite clear why the Doctor refuses to take a companion on during these episodes. I'd like to think that it's because he's still upset about what happened to Donna Noble during the Journey's End finale of series four but it's not explained. However, the Doctor does meet people during these special episodes and some Whovians even count these people as one-off companions. The Doctor meets Jackson Lake in The Next Doctor, Lady Christina de Souza in Planet of the Dead, Adelaide Brook in The Waters of Mars and Donna's grandfather Wilfred Mott in The End of Time. To be honest I don't really get why these characters are classed as companions. Surely if you're going to down that road then, by definition, pretty much anyone that the Doctor meets in a Doctor Who episode and assists him should be classed as a companion? Of the various people that the Doctor meets in these special episodes the only one that I would actually consider a companion is Wilf but even this is debatable.

Before I talk about these special episodes in more depth I feel I should give my rank of the series from the RTD era. My favourite series from the RTD era is series four. Then it's series three, then it's series one, then it's series two and then it's these specials. Yep, these specials rank as the worst period of the RTD era and Doctor Who in general ever since it came back to TV. Apart from The Waters of Mars, which is genuinely brilliant, all of these special episodes are really poor. The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead both start off quite promisingly but turn out to have boring storylines and characters that we just can't care about. These episodes aren't car-crash TV but they're very average and forgettable. The End of Time is a hugely disappointing story as well and is a very sad end to David Tennant's run as the Doctor. David Tennant is an amazing actor and he made for a wonderful Doctor. Even though he didn't always the material he deserved he still gave consistently brilliant performances and was always entertaining to watch. However, even though I dislike most of the episodes, I'd still say that "The Complete Specials" boxset is worth buying. David Tennant is always great, The Waters of Mars is a fantastic episode and, even though I dislike The End of Time itself, I do love Matt Smith's introduction scene and the fact that the episode features Wilf. He's still my favourite relative of a companion and I love Bernard Cribbins' acting in the role. Anyway, here are my reviews for the individual episodes.

1. The Next Doctor (written by Russell T Davies).

The Next Doctor was shown on Christmas Day 2008. In this episode the Doctor travels to Victorian London and finds himself in the year 1851. The Doctor then meets a man called Jackson Lake who calls himself the Doctor (David Morrissey). Jackson has a very Doctor-ish outfit, mentions having a sonic screwdriver and TARDIS, and has even got a female companion called Rosita (Velile Tshabalalaas). The trio then finds themselves having to stop the Cybermen and the evil Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan) from taking over the city.

At the time this episode was aired it hadn't yet been announced that Matt Smith would be taking over David Tennant's role and there was a lot of speculation on who the next Doctor would be. RTD decided to take full advantage of this by writing an episode in which the Doctor would meet a possible future version of himself. This would generate a lot of publicity because people might actually think that they were going to be watching the future Doctor before the current Doctor had even left the show. However once you actually watch this episode it's pretty clear almost right from the start that Jackson isn't really the Doctor, and it's dropped altogether about 20 minutes in. Also, The Next Doctor is a really boring episode. The story is boring, Jackson and Rosita are boring, and the Cybermen aren't remotely scary. Also, the Cybershades look awful! And finally, why is Miss Hartigan evil? What's her motivation for teaming up with the Cybermen? The Next Doctor is easily my least favourite out of the 2008-10 specials and is my least Doctor Who Christmas episode as well.

2. Planet of the Dead (written by Russell T Davies and Gareth Roberts).

Planet of the Dead was shown on Easter Sunday 2009. In this episode a young, modern-day catburgler called Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan) steals a gold chalice that once belonged to King Æthelstan from a London museum. She narrowly escapes from the police by jumping on a bus. The Doctor, who is tracking a wormhole, gets on the same bus. The bus then passes through the wormhole and soon everyone on board finds themselves on a desert planet called San Helios. The Doctor must then get everyone on the bus back to Earth before stingray-like aliens can travel through the wormhole and destroy the planet.

Planet of the Dead was partly filmed on location in Dubai and has got some great visuals. It's nice that they mention Easter in this episode and Tennant is as great as usual. However, this episode still leaves much to be desired. My main gripe with it is probably Lady Christina's character. I think the audience is actually supposed to like her character but I personally can't. Yes Christina is clever, self-confident and assertive but she also comes across as really smug. She's actually amused when her lover gets caught by the police and she's also a thief. RTD and Gareth Roberts try to draw a parallel between Christina and the Doctor by reminding the audience that the Doctor stole the TARDIS but there's still a difference. The Doctor took the TARDIS and used it to help people. Christina steals simply because she can and because she thinks it's fun. She's hardly a Robin Hood figure. It really doesn't help matters that Michelle Ryan has such little chemistry with David Tennant either. As you can probably imagine I was really pleased when the Doctor turned down her request to become a companion at the end! Another character that I really dislike in this story is the UNIT officer Malcom. His character is basically a pisstake of Doctor Who fans, he's like Larry from Blink only without the charm. I'm putting this down to Lee Evans' very OTT acting which I find embarrassing to watch. The other passengers on the bus are all uninteresting and unmemorable and the storyline for this episode isn't very interesting either. Planet of the Dead is only marginally better than The Next Doctor and is a very average episode.

3. The Waters of Mars (written by Russell T Davies and Phil Ford).

The Waters of Mars was shown in November 2009. In this episode the Doctor goes to visit Mars in the year 2059 and then comes across Bowie Base One. This is Earth's first colony on the planet. The colony is being led by a woman called Adelaide Brook (Lindsay Duncan). Adelaide is unaware that she will play a pivotal role in Earth's history. Adelaide's crew then find themselves under attack by an evil, malevolent force and this places the Doctor in a difficult position. Adelaide and her crew are supposed to die; it's a fixed point in time. The Doctor shouldn't save these people no matter how much he might want to. However, the Doctor eventually decides to ignore this and pays a terrible price.

Oh, why couldn't all of the 2008-10 specials have been of the same level of quality as The Waters of Mars?! I love this episode! It's brilliant! RTD co-wrote this episode with Phil Ford who wrote quite a few episodes for The Sarah Jane Adventures. The Waters of Mars is definitely one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes and in my opinion it's the best episode that RTD ever wrote for the show. Yes, I like it even more than Midnight although that episode is a close second of course. Again, The Waters of Mars is brilliant. Yes it's another base-under-siege story and has therefore got some strong similarities with The Impossible Planet/The Satan's Pit and 42 - but in my opinion it's better than either of those stories. The Waters of Mars is brilliantly tense and suspenseful. Even though this episode is 60 minutes long it's perfectly paced and the time just flies by when you're watching it. The Flood are fantastic villains and are genuinely scary and creepy-looking. Also, whilst most of the secondary characters aren't that well-developed or interesting, Adelaide is a great character. Although I found Jackson Lake boring and Christina de Souza unlikeable, Adelaide is a character that I could actually care about and respect. Adelaide is well-rounded, she has a backstory, and she gets a character arc. Lindsay Duncan does an excellent job playing her as well.

Another reason why I love The Waters of Mars so much is because of David Tennant's acting. Tennant is magnificent in this episode. It's my favourite performance from him after his performance in Human Nature/Family of Blood. In this episode his Doctor goes from being a conflicted observer to a driven man of action to the "Time Lord Victorious" to a nervous wreck. Basically, the Doctor eventually decides that since he's the only Time Lord left in the universe that this means he doesn't have to keep to the restrictions that the Time Lords placed on interfering with history. The Waters of Mars is the perfect companion-piece to The Fires of Pompeii from series four (another episode that I really love). The Doctor even mentions Pompeii to Adelaide at one point. In The Fires of Pompeii the Doctor and Donna were both really torn as to whether they should stop the volcanic eruption and even though they made the right decision it was still a very difficult decision for both of them. But in The Waters of Mars the Doctor hasn't got a companion around to reason with him and his reasons for wanting to save Adelaide and her crew aren't entirely selfless. The Doctor completely loses it in this episode and gives into his dark and arrogant side. The Doctor's got a mad gleam in his eyes when he goes back to rescue Adelaide and her crew and his "Time Lord Victorious" speech is absolutely chilling. It sounds exactly like the sort of thing that the Master would say. It's really not surprising then that Adelaide is clearly disturbed by the Doctor's actions. She doesn't see the Doctor as her saviour. She sees him as an arrogant egomaniac and kills herself so history can remain intact. Adelaide still dies but this time her death is the Doctor's fault. The Doctor then realises that he's gone too far and is horrified.

Oh, there are a few more things to love about The Waters of Mars as well. The episode is dedicated to Barry Letts, who was the executive producer of the show during the Jon Pertwee era. The Ice Warriors get a mention in it (since The Flood were imprisoned by them). There's a David Bowie reference as well : )

4-5. The End of Time, Parts One and Two (written by Russell T Davies)

This two-parter episode was shown on different dates. The first episode was shown on Christmas Day 2009 and the second episode was shown on New Year's Day 2010. The story begins with the Doctor meeting the Ood and being told that his enemy, The Master, will be making a return. This then cuts to modern-day Earth where a cult that is loyal to the Master is making an attempt to resurrect him. The Master's wife Lucy attempts to sabotage the process but it only results in the Master gaining superhuman strength and intense hunger. The Master then embarks on a quest to give every human in the world his DNA. This would create a "master race" where everyone looks and thinks like the Master. As the Doctor goes looking for the Master he once again meets Donna's grandfather Wilf, who becomes his companion for the duration of the story. Meanwhile, the Time Lords, who are being led by Rassilon (Timothy Dalton), are trying to make a return into the universe. At the end of the story the 10th Doctor regenerates into the 11th (Matt Smith).

So, not only is The End of Time RTD's final episode as the Doctor Who showrunner it's also the final episode of the David Tennant era. Does this story give David Tennant the send off he deserved? Nope! There's some rubbish dialogue in places and the plot of this story is very poor. The Master's evil scheme to take over the body of everyone on the planet is weird and bizarre; if he's intent on creating a new Gallifrey then won't the lack of females be a problem? The whole Hungry Master thing is ridiculous and why exactly does the Master have blonde hair and stubble? John Simm's acting as the Master is still very OTT and I don't think the Master should have come back for this story anyway. As far as I'm concerned RTD should have simply made Rassilon the sole villain of The End of Time. The return of the Time Lords should be a really big deal and the main focus of the story but, because The End of Time also features the Master and is the 10th Doctor's final episode, the Time Lords are completely wasted and overshadowed. It's also a shame because getting Timothy Dalton in to play Rassilon is a genuinely impressive casting coup for Doctor Who but he's given very little screentime. However, my biggest problems with The End of Time are its final scenes.

After the Doctor saves Wilf's life by absorbing the radiation that would have killed him, the Doctor then decides to visit all of his old companions from the RTD era before he regenerates. We then get scenes where the Doctor visits Rose, Mickey and Martha, Sarah Jane and her son, Donna and her family, and Captain Jack and Alonso from Voyage of the Damned (in a horrible Mos Eisley from Star Wars tribute). He even visits the granddaughter of Nurse Joan Redfern (from Human Nature/Family of Blood). All of these scenes are completely unnecessary! Firstly, because the Doctor already saw most of these people in The Stolen Earth/Journey's End and that was quite a recent story. Secondly, because the Doctor still retains all of the same memories and experiences of his previous selves so there would be nothing to stop him from visiting them again after he regenerates. Sarah Jane still got to meet the 10th and 11th Doctors after she stopped travelling with the 4th! And thirdly, how does the Doctor find the time to see all of these people?! These scenes take up almost 20 minutes of screentime! Why does it take so long for Ten to regenerate?! If you watch any of the other Doctors regenerating it's all very quick and sudden. It happens within just a few minutes. Having the 10th Doctor on screen for so long just feels like padding to keep the episode going on for as long as possible. Another reason why I hate the Doctor visiting all of these companions is because we now find out that Martha and Mickey have got married! What?! When did that happen?! Since when did they get together?! Martha was engaged to a man called Tom Milligan back in series four! He was played by the gorgeous Tom Ellis! Whatever happened to Martha's fiancé?! Why would Martha and Mickey even get together?! What have they got in common?! Is it because they're both black?! *rolls eyes*

After the scenes of the Doctor visiting his companions we then get his final scene and I hate that as well. Earlier on in The End of Time there's a scene between the Doctor and Wilf where we learn that the Doctor knows that he's moving towards his regeneration. He's very unhappy about this because he doesn't want to "die". The Doctor never comes to terms with this either. When he's finally about to regenerate the Doctor utters the words "I don't want to go" and has even got tears in his eyes. This has got absolutely nothing in common with the 9th Doctor's attitude towards his regeneration! Christopher Eccleston's Doctor embraced the fact that he was about to regenerate and went out with a sense of pride. He even had a smile on his face! The 9th Doctor still likes who he is but he embraces the fact that he'll have a new appearance, a new outfit and a new personality. This is because whilst those aspects of himself might change he'll still be the same person that he was before. This makes his regeneration easier for the audience to handle. However, the 10th Doctor goes out crying and whimpering and looking like a self-pitying fool! His regeneration scene makes him look like a complete wimp! I don't want to see the 10th Doctor going out like this! I want him to go out with a bang! I want to see him go out in a blaze of glory! I want David Tennant to get the exit that he deserves! Why couldn't "Allons-y!" have been the 10th Doctor's final word?! In fact it's completely out of character for the 10th Doctor to be going out like this! The other Doctors might not have gone out with smiles on their faces like Nine did but at least they all accepted that their regeneration was inevitable and that they had to go. So why is Ten acting like this?! He's not even dying! Not really! He'll still have all of the same memories and he'll still be the same man in all of the essential details. It's also very telling because if you watch the Doctor Who Confidential episode for The End of Time you'll see that David Tennant looks really uncomfortable about delivering his final line in the behind-the-scenes footage. He doesn't look happy about saying it all. Apparently the Doctor was even supposed to completely break down but Tennant persuaded them not to. Well done David Tennant, well done! I think Tennant knew that that line was RTD speaking and not the Doctor. Another reason why I hate the 10th Doctor's final line so much is because it alienated so many fans. A regeneration isn't something that kids should be getting depressed about. They shouldn't be unhappy about the current Doctor leaving, they should be getting excited about seeing the new one. But because the 10th Doctor's regeneration was presented as being a sad thing it rubbed a lot of the die-hard David Tennant fans up the wrong way. It made them hate Matt Smith's Doctor because David Tennant's Doctor didn't want to go. The 10th Doctor's final line even led to daft rumours that David Tennant's tears were genuine and that he was being forced out of the role. Argh! I hate The End of Time and I hate Ten's regeneration scene! David Tennant was an amazing Doctor and he deserves so much better than this! One of the reasons why I'm so excited about David Tennant coming back for Doctor Who's 50th anniversary is because I really don't want his regeneration scene to remain my last memory of his Doctor.

The only scene that I really, truly love in The End of Time is Matt Smith's introduction scene which was actually written by Steven Moffat (although he was uncredited for it). I reckon far more fans would love this scene too if David Tennant's last scene hadn't been so depressing. Matt Smith is brilliant as the Doctor already in his first scene. With no companion around to bounce off of, Smith manages to keep the scene entertaining all by himself and he has an insane amount of energy and enthusiasm as he comments on his new appearance. He's relieved that he's got the right amount of arms, legs and eyes, etc. He's relieved when he finds out that he's still a man. He's disappointed that he's still not ginger... and it's only then that he realises that the TARDIS is crashing. And this Doctor is over the moon about it! He's like "Oh yeah?! Bring it on then!" I love this scene so much because it's got what the rest of The End of Time lacked! Humour! After a truly depressing two hour episode Steven Moffat and Matt Smith are able to turn this completely on its head and make me feel happy again! I can't wait to review the Steven Moffat series of Doctor Who and I adore Matt Smith's Doctor : D

Thursday, 29 August 2013

My Favourite Palaces

I love to travel and I love beautiful buildings : ) Here are the most beautiful palaces that I've visited so far. I've actually been to the first five palaces that I've put down on this list but these photos aren't mine. 

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Schloss Schonbrunn, Austria

Chateau du Versailles, France

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

The Hofburg, Austria

Here are six palaces that I haven't visited yet but really want to. Most of them are actually in my own country - which is good since there's a very strong choice that I'll be able to go to them!

Windsor Castle, England

Chatsworth House, England

Castle Howard, England

Hohenzollern Castle, Germany

Chateau du Chambord, France

The Alhambra, Spain

Monday, 26 August 2013

Cabin Pressure (Series Four)

Cabin Pressure is the best sitcom that's currently out there and it deserves to be so much more famous than it is. Although Cabin Pressure has developed a passionate cult following and has always been critically-acclaimed it still isn't very a well-known show. This is a huge shame because for me this radio show is right up there with the classic sitcoms Blackadder and Father Ted. Yes, it is that good!

Series four of Cabin Pressure is - to quote Arthur Knapp-Shappey - "BRILLIANT!" My favourite episodes of this series are probably Vaduz and Xinzhou but all of them are great. There are a couple of very impressive guest stars in this series as well. Fawlty Towers legend Prunella Scales shows up in Wokingham as Martin's mother. Anthony Stewart Head is in two episodes as well because his character Herc Shipwright is now Carolyn's boyfriend. Cabin Pressure is pure comedy gold and it's still a joy to listen to. It's clever, hilariously funny and the cast is as great as ever. Also, one of the things that I love most about Cabin Pressure is that it's truly an ensemble show. All of the characters are extremely likeable and get their fair share of funny moments. Here are some of my favourite moments from the show in general :)

I freely admit that I would have probably never even heard of Cabin Pressure if it wasn't for Benedict Cumberbatch starring in it but now I'm a huge fan of the show itself. Judging from the cliffhanger ending to Yverdon-les-Bains it looks like Cumberbatch might not be coming back for more episodes but even if he doesn't I'll still be listening to it regardless. I'm not going to lie. In my selfishness I'd love for Cumberbatch to stay on and do more episodes but having said that I'm also very grateful that he stayed on for as long as he did! Even after Sherlock came out and he suddenly became a huge star he still managed to find the time to come back and record another two series of Cabin Pressure. This last series of Cabin Pressure was recorded after he'd finished Star Trek into Darkness. It really says a lot about Cumberbatch's loyalty, and the quality of the show, that he was still willing to do this. I don't think series five of Cabin Pressure has been officially confirmed but I read a quote from John Finnemore somewhere where he said that he'd never intended for Yverdon-les-Bains to be the last ever episode of the show. This gives me hope that there'll be another series or at least one more Christmas episode or something. They can't end the show on a cliffhanger! They have to give us some closure!

I completely recommend Cabin Pressure because it's a fantastic show. It's brilliantly-written, brilliantly-acted and is absolutely hilarious. Trust me, listen to it! You won't regret it! Even if you're not usually a big radio listener please don't let that put you off. Not only is Cabin Pressure a superb show it will force you to use your imagination, which is one of the things that I really like about radio shows. In that sense radio is a much closer medium to literature than theatre, cinema and television. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

I'm Thinking of Changing My Blog Name and URL...

I've had the name "Indigo Montoya" for the past few years and a URL to reflect that but I don't think I like that name any more. I feel like I've outgrown it, you know? I'm thinking about changing my blogger name to "Miss Daydreamer" which is the name I use on Tumblr. This is just a quick post to let my followers know what I'm thinking. If you have any thoughts about it then please let me know.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was first adapted by the BBC back in 1968 but that version is no longer available. Even this 1996 adaptation wasn't available on DVD until 2008! This version is a three hour miniseries that was also made by the BBC and it's got some fairly famous actors in it. Toby Stephens (Mr Rochester from the 2006 Jane Eyre adaptation) plays Gilbert Markham. Rupert Graves (Lestrade from the BBC's Sherlock) plays Arthur Huntingdon. Tara Fitzgerald (Mrs Reed from the 2006 Jane Eyre adaptation) plays Helen Graham and James Purefoy plays Mr Lawrence. However, this adaptation still doesn't seem to be particularly well-known. This might be because it was fairly hard to get a hold of until recently but I suspect it's probably because Anne Bronte's book just isn't that famous in comparison with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. This is a downright shame because The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a brilliant book and this 1996 miniseries is a decent adaptation.

Overall, I enjoyed this adaptation of Anne Bronte's book but it's far from perfect and is very flawed. I have a few issues with this miniseries, one being Tara Fitzgerald's Helen. Fitzgerald's acting is by no means bad but the way that she played Helen wasn't anything like the Helen that I pictured when I read the book. Fitzgerald was much too cold and distant for my liking and because of that I didn't find her Helen as likeable as Book
Helen. In the book, Helen is afraid of letting people get too close to her so to a certain extent she's fairly reserved and aloof. This is partly due to her past experiences and partly because she's afraid of the villagers finding out who she really is. However, Fitzgerald takes this too far in my opinion and if I hadn't read the book I think I'd have wondered just what exactly Gilbert Markham sees in her. Also, Fitzgerald is a beautiful woman but she has a very unflattering hairstyle for most of this miniseries.

Thankfully I was much happier with the two leading males in this adaptation. I loved Toby Stephens as Gilbert! I much preferred his Gilbert Markham to his Mr Rochester! Stephens is a very attractive man and Gilbert's less appealing character traits are toned down in this adaptation. Rupert Graves gives a brilliant performance as Arthur Huntingdon as well. His Huntingdon was exactly like the Huntingdon that I imagined when I read the book. Graves is a very attractive man as well and in the early scenes you can see why Helen falls for his character. Aside from his looks, his Huntingdon is very charming. His bad qualities are still evident to the audience but, every time it looks as though Helen is about to see Huntingdon for who he really is, he's able to charm her back to his side. And later on, Graves does a brilliant job with Huntingdon's mood swings. One moment he's loving, affectionate and charming. In the next moment he's nasty, insensitive and spiteful. I also really enjoyed James Purefoy as Helen's brother Mr Lawrence but sadly his role wasn't big enough. His subplot was cut for time.

Another major issue that I have with this miniseries is that it's really sexed-up. Why did they feel the need to show Helen and Huntingdon in bed together? Did they think we needed to see Huntingdon making out with Lady Lowborough against a door? There's also a scene where Huntingdon throws Helen down onto the floor during an argument. He's clearly thinking about raping her but then he seems to think better of it. *Sighs* It really annoys me when adaptations of classic novels feel the need to "spice up" the content. Why do they feel the need to do this? The reader already knows that these things are going on in the book without the author shoving it into their face so why do screenwriters feel the need to do this in their adaptations? Finally, another thing that really bothered me in this miniseries is that the villagers make comments on how Mr Lawrence and Helen's son resemble each other. They look absolutely nothing alike!

Overall, I would recommend this miniseries but not unreservedly. I'm not going to say "OMG it's amazing! You have to see it!" or whatever because it isn't. It isn't a spectacular adaptation. However, it is a decent one. It's mostly very well-acted and I enjoyed Toby Stephens, Rupert Graves and James Purefoy's performances. This miniseries does have quite a dark and gritty look to it which I liked. It fit with the subject matter. This adaptation is well-shot and it's got some surprisingly inventive and modern camera-work at times. Also, this adaptation is actually quite faithful to the book for the most part. The only major changes from the book are that the framing device, in which Gilbert explains his past in letters to his brother-in-law, is dropped and that the outcomes for some of the secondary characters are removed. This miniseries is also the only Anne Bronte adaptation that's currently available so it's worth a watch for that at least! This miniseries will fit the bill until a new and hopefully better adaptation of the book comes along.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

'Insurgent' by Veronica Roth (2012)

Synopsis: Insurgent is the second book of the Divergent trilogy and it picks up directly where Divergent left off. It begins with Tris, Four/Tobias, Caleb, Peter and Marcus fleeing from the Dauntless compound (after the Erudite and Dauntless factions teamed up to slaughter the Abnegation). They now hope that one of the other factions will offer them shelter and protection. Tris is also struggling to cope with her grief and guilt over the death of her parents and the fact that she killed her mind-controlled friend Will. Meanwhile, the Erudite faction and Dauntless traitors are developing a serum in order to control the Divergent and take over the city.

I have to admit that I really enjoyed Divergent. Of course I recognised that it wasn't a great book and that it was very flawed: the dystopia didn't make any sense whatsoever and its side characters were extremely underdeveloped and one-dimensional. However, I still found Divergent to be a very entertaining and gripping read. It was fast-paced and suspenseful, it had lots of action, and a heroine that kicked ass. Also the romance was only a nice little subplot that didn't get in the way of all the action. But unfortunately this isn't the case with its sequel. Insurgent is a far weaker book than Divergent and I found most of it pretty boring and tedious. Although I still think that Veronica Roth is a talented woman and that she has a lot of potential, the final book of the Divergent series will now have to be something really special for it to save the series.

I really didn't like Insurgent much at all and that was mainly due to it being so lacking in plot. Barely anything happens! Divergent was mostly focused on Tris trying to get through her initiation process in one piece. Her romance with Four/Tobias was only a subplot. But in Insurgent it's now the other way around - the romance between Tris and Tobias is now the main focus of the story and there's considerably less action. Throughout most of Insurgent Tris travels aimlessly between the different factions and gets into arguments with Tobias. I actually really like romance novels when they're well-written and engaging but that wasn't the case with Insurgent. Reading about Tris and Tobias's angsty romantic troubles wasn't the slightest bit of fun.

I wouldn't recommend Insurgent. To give it some credit though there are a few entertaining scenes and moments in it, the writing is still really good (for Roth's age), and it was nice to learn more about the Amity and Candor factions. I didn't hate Insurgent. There are many things that bothered me about it but I can't say I dislike it enough to give the book one star or less. Mostly, I just felt apathetic whilst reading. I'll probably still read the final book of the series, Allegiant. I've come this far so I might as well and I'm hoping that Allegiant will be an action-packed improvement.

Rating: 2/5

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Un Blog Post en Français

Bonjour et bienvenue sur mon blog! Je suis "Indigo Montoya" mais je m'appelle Hannah. Je suis anglaise et j'habite en Angleterre. J'ai 25 ons. J'ai un père, une mère et un frère. Mon frère a 22 ons. J'aime le pain français et du vin et les cafés français. Je n'aime pas le fromage. Désolé, français les gens! J'adore Paris. J'aime beaucoup la lecture. J'adore Les Miserables et Le Fantôme de l'Opéra (les livres et les musicals). J'adore les films Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain et Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles. Mes émissions de tv préférées sont Sherlock, Doctor Who, Merlin, Once Upon a Time, Horrible Histories, Buffy the Vampire Slayer et plusJ'ai aussi un Facebook page et un Tumblr page. Voici mon Tumblr page: Je vous remercie pour la lecture! Au revoir!

Well, I've been learning French for a year and that's all I can really say! And I still had to look some things up! I do know a few other French phrases as well though like "Je voudrais un thé avec lai et sucre, s'il vous plaït", "Où est le cinéma?" and "Je voudrais une chambre pour une personne avec un grand lit et salle be bains", etc. I really want to carry on with French next year and I did get to practise some French recently (I went on a trip to France for 10 days). And yay! This is now a bilingual blog! Oh, and if I've made any mistakes - which I probably have - then please point them out because I do want to improve. 

Friday, 2 August 2013

'Divergent' by Veronica Roth (2011)

Synopsis: Divergent is the first novel in a trilogy. It's a dystopian sci-fi novel and is set in Chicago. Society is now being divided into five factions which are based on personality traits. There's Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Erudite (the intelligent). Children are brought up in the factions that their parents belong to but they eventually get the chance to choose their own faction. On an appointed day every single year all 16 year olds must take a test to determine what faction they're best suited for, and then they'll choose where they'll be for the rest of their lives. The heroine, Beatrice Prior, is torn. She doesn't know whether she should stay in Abnegation with the rest of her family or leave them forever and stay true to who she really is - she can't have both. It doesn't help matters that her test results turn out to be inconclusive. She's a divergent and she doesn't fit perfectly into any of the factions. Beatrice is warned that her life could be in danger if this gets out. Ultimately, Beatrice chooses to go with the Dauntless faction and she renames herself Tris. She must then go through a physically and emotionally gruelling initiation process and keep her divergent test result a secret at all costs.

After the Twilight series became such a big hit there was a sudden surge of teenage vampire and paranormal romance books on the market. Even Fifty Shades of Grey is Twilight fanfiction! But now it seems that the interest in vampire and paranormal romance books has finally begun to die down. Since The Hunger Games series has become such a big hit it's now teenage dystopian books that are all the rage, with
Divergent being a part of this trend. I'm a huge fan of The Hunger Games and I'd heard that Divergent was a really good book and that it was one of the better post-Hunger Games novels. I was curious about the book and I was willing to give it a try. So how does Divergent compare to The Hunger Games then? Well, The Hunger Games is the better work without any shadow of a doubt and I did have some issues with Divergent.

The main problem that I have with Divergent is that I needed to suspend my disbelief quite a bit in order to swallow its basic premise. Whilst the whole concept of The Hunger Games is disturbingly plausible to me given the world's obsession with reality TV, the whole concept of Divergent is nowhere near as believable to me. I just can't see humanity ever getting to such a point that people would actually think personality segregation would be a good idea and would create world peace! It really doesn't help matters that there isn't very much backstory on how this dystopia came to be either. Did something happen? How did humanity reach this point? Is it only Chicago where people are segregated? Is it the whole of America? Is it the whole world? I know that Divergent is the first book of a series and that Roth has the time to go into this more later on but it still really bothered me. I also had an issue with the fact that being a divergent is supposed to be very rare. Hang on a minute, surely that can't be right?! It's very possible for a person to be selfless, peaceful, honest, brave and intelligent! Surely being a divergent shouldn't be that unusual?! You don't even need to have all five of these qualities to be classed as a divergent either. Tris has Abnegate, Dauntless and Erudite tendencies but that's still enough for her to be classed as a Divergent. Yeah... the basic premise of Divergent is kind of ludicrous when you stop and think about it. I didn't find the characters of Divergent as interesting as the characters in The Hunger Games either. Tris is an engaging heroine and her romance with Four is quite sweet but a lot of the supporting characters in the book are very underdeveloped.

Now, judging from what I've written so far, you might have come to the conclusion that I didn't like Divergent and that I wouldn't particularly recommend it. Well, if so you'd actually be wrong! I certainly wouldn't call Divergent a great book but - once I was able to suspend my disbelief - I found it very entertaining! The book is well-paced, a definite pageturner, and is full of exhilarating and suspenseful scenes. Divergent has got almost as much action as The Hunger Games. It's full of danger and fighting and life and death situations and characters jumping onto and off trains. As a result Divergent is really good fun. Another thing that really impressed me about the book was the quality of the writing. Divergent isn't a work of literary genius but Roth's writing is still extremely impressive when you consider that she was only 22 when she wrote it! 22! I am sickeningly jealous of Roth's writing skills at such a young age! Anyway, given more time and experience I think Roth is capable of writing a book that is genuinely amazing one day. She's clearly talented and there are some interesting ideas in Divergent.

For all of its flaws, Divergent is still a very entertaining book and I've given it a 4 star rating (which means that I liked it). I will be reading Divergent's sequels. The follow-up book to Divergent is called Insurgent and is available now. The final book of the series is called Allegiant and is due out in October. Divergent has also got an upcoming film adaptation which will be due out in February next year. The up-and-coming actress Shailene Woodley will be playing Tris and Kate Winslet will be playing the villain. I'll be watching that as well.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, 1 August 2013

'Cotillion' by Georgette Heyer (1953)

Synopsis: Mr Matthew Penicuik is a wealthy, tight-fisted and grumpy old man who is preparing his Will. Penicuik has several great-nephews with whom he could leave his fortune but instead he comes up with a zany scheme for his own amusement. He'll make his young ward Kitty Charing his heiress but Kitty can only receive the money if she marries one of his great-nephews. Penicuik then invites all of his great-nephews to his country estate so they can make their offers of marriage to Kitty. He expects that Kitty will accept Jack Westruther's proposal because everyone knows that Kitty has adored him for years - but Jack doesn't even turn up. Kitty is dismayed. The nerve of him! However, Kitty isn't prepared to let Jack go so easily and she comes up with a zany scheme of her own. She manages to persuade Freddy Stanton (another one of Penicuik's great-nephews) to enter into a sham engagement with her. That way, Kitty can finally get away from her frightful guardian for a while and travel to London. She can see the sights, shop till she drops, and make Jack wild with jealousy! Kitty goes to London and stays with Freddy's younger sister Meg. She then finds herself becoming involved in the romantic troubles of other people. Kitty's charming French cousin Camille is in love with a beautiful but impoverished young woman called Olivia. Lord Dolphington (yet another one of Penicuik's great-nephews) has fallen in love with a tradesmen's daughter called Hannah, but his mother is a manipulative bully and wants him to marry Kitty instead. Whilst Kitty tries to help them all, she begins to wonder if Jack is really the man she's always believed him to be.

Cotillion is my first Georgette Heyer novel. I've been wanting to read some of Georgette Heyer's books for years but I've just never got round to it. The main reason for my wanting to read some Georgette Heyer books is because I'd heard that Heyer's Jane Austen-inspired Regency romance novels are the next best thing to reading Jane Austen's. I'd been told that Heyer's books have a fun and upbeat tone, are completely chaste, and are historically accurate. Heyer's famous fans also include Stephen Fry and Richard Armitage.

Now that I've finally read a Georgette Heyer book I think the comparisons between Heyer and Austen are very fitting. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying for one minute that Cotillion deserves to be ranked with Austen's best or that Georgette Heyer is as good a writer as Jane Austen because she isn't. Heyer's writing isn't as witty as Austen's. Her characters aren't as well-developed as Austen's. Cotillion doesn't have much in the way of social commentary either. Austen's books have depth and Cotillion is essentially fluff - but it's brilliant fluff! Cotillion might not be as good as Austen's very best books but it's still far better than any of the crappy Jane Austen sequels, prequels, retellings and parodies that get published these days! Cotillion is a very well-written book and its tone and spirit is very Austen-esque. It's extremely funny book and the dialogue is delightful. Heyer does a great job with the different subplots as well and the characters are likeable and endearing. Kitty Charing is an engaging heroine. She's a bit immature and slightly selfish at the beginning of the book and at first I wasn't sure if I was going to like her or not. However, her good heart is soon revealed and she quickly won me over. Cotillion is a lovely book and is hugely entertaining.

Possibly my favourite thing about Cotillion was its very unconventional hero. Apparently Heyer's heroes are usually reformed rakes but Heyer wanted to play around with convention and do something a bit different with this book. Freddy Stanton is the sort of character who would usually be the hero's best friend/comic sidekick in a romance. He's very far from the sort of fictional hero I'd usually go for. Freddy isn't particularly good-looking and he isn't particularly bright. He's not sexy. He's not dashing. He's a bit daft. He actually reminds me quite a bit of P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster. And yet, Freddy is very sweet, kind and loyal. He's honest and self-aware and full of common sense. He might not be particularly intelligent but he's far from stupid and he rises to the occasion by saving the day at the end. Freddy is a very likeable character and he's perfect for Kitty. Oh, and he's the best-dressed man in town too! By contrast, Jack Westruther is the sort of character who would usually turn out to be the hero. Jack is handsome, intelligent, witty and rakish and - in a more typical romance - he would learn the error of his ways and would become a better man by the end. But that doesn't happen and it was extremely refreshing! Don't get me wrong, I love a bad boy as much as the next girl but it was really nice to read something different!

Heyer was an amazingly prolific author and I'm really looking forward to reading more of her books. She wrote many Regency romances but she also dabbled in other historical periods and wrote contemporary murder-mystery novels. I definitely recommend Cotillion. When I was about a 1/3 of the way through the book I actually read a few reviews which said that it might not be the best introduction to Georgette Heyer because Freddy is such an atypical hero - but I carried on reading the book anyway and I still really enjoyed it. Cotillion doesn't rank up there with Austen's books but there's still much in it to enjoy.

Rating: 4.5/5