Interview: Russell T. Davies of “Doctor Who”

Russell T. DaviesRussell T. Davies made his name in television as the writer and creator of the groundbreaking BBC series Queer As Folk, but by far his biggest success has been the revival of Doctor Who, the venerable British science-fiction show following the adventures of the peripatetic time-traveling alien known only as The Doctor. An institution in Britain and a cult success in the States, Doctor Who fell into relative obscurity after its 1989 cancellation, becoming (perhaps rightly) viewed with a certain embarrassment for its cheap production values and shoddy storytelling. Davies brought a new energy and a modern look and feel to the show, which has become a full-fledged hit for the BBC. After shepherding the program through five seasons, a change of lead actors (from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant), and the spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, Davies recently announced that he would be leaving the show, handing over the reins to incoming producer Steven Moffat at the same time that The Doctor will regenerate again, with Tennant replaced by new actor Matt Smith. Davies will preside over four more Doctor Who specials through 2009. The next, Planet Of The Dead, premières on BBC America on July 26. Davies recently took a break from editing his Doctor Who finale to talk to The A.V. Club about endings, new beginnings, and the right way to bring a time traveler into the 21st century.

Originally published on avclub.com July 27, 2009. Read the complete article.

Comics panel: Darwyn Cooke, Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter

Richardf Stark's Parker: The HunterThe late crime novelist Donald E. Westlake was notably protective of his most prominent fictional creation, the hard-as-nails master thief Parker, who starred in more than two dozen books written under Westlake’s major pseudonym, Richard Stark. Though the Parker books were adapted into films seven times, including the acclaimed Point Blank, Westlake insisted that the filmmakers change Parker’s name if they weren’t going to bother with a faithful rendition of the series. It’s a signal of both Westlake’s approval and Darwyn Cooke’s intentions, therefore, that Cooke’s graphic-novel adaptation of the first book, Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter (IDW), gets to give its protagonist the right name. Developed in collaboration with Westlake before his 2008 death, The Hunter is pitch-perfect in capturing not just the story, but the lean, gritty noir spirit of the original novel, starting with the classic opening line, “When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell.” A long, largely wordless sequence introducing Parker highlights that Cooke both knows the original story inside-out, and knows how to retell it in a new way. Cooke’s noir bona fides include the 2003 Catwoman story Selina’s Big Score and the 1950s-set DC: The New Frontier, which also captured his aptitude for mid-century design aesthetics. Here, he creates a black-and-cool-blue early-’60s New York that’s both evocative and appropriately unglamorous. Cooke reportedly plans to continue adapting at least the next three Parker books; based on this one, it’d be a crime if he didn’t… A

Originally published on avclub.com July 24, 2009 as part of a group-written roundup. Read the complete article.

Review: Zak Sally, Zak Sally’s Fear Of Song

Zak Sally, Zak Sally’s Fear Of Song
(La Mano 21)

Zak Sally shifted his attention largely to graphic art after leaving Duluth slowcore trio Low in 2005, focusing on writing and drawing Recidivist, Sammy The Mouse, and the forthcoming Like A Dog, as well as running the small press La Mano 21, which releases books by artists like John Porcellino and William Schaff. While often dreamlike and full of wild invention, Sally’s comics also reveal his introspective and insecure side, and it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone familiar with them that he’s kept a full-fledged return to music at arm’s length, feeling hesitant despite his success with Low. Still, he’s kept a toe in that world via one-off gallery performances with bands like White Map, an unforgettably weird noise-rock duo in which he straps a gigantic loudspeaker to his head and emits electronic squawks; see below for a short video clip. But over time, he began working on music again in earnest, building up an album’s worth of material on his own, in his basement, performing all the instruments himself and producing with the help of Crazy Beast Studio’s Ben Durrant. Fear Of Song is clearly a very personal album, with the same raw, soul-baring openness he shows in Recidivist evident on the title song and in lines like, “If nobody hears us, then how do they know who to blame?” Sonically, it definitively shows that Alan Sparhawk wasn’t the only good songwriter in Low. Fear Of Song pushes the boundaries of the feedback-laced slowcore that Low was just beginning to explore on The Great Destroyer, Sally’s last album with that band, though not to the extent of the honking craziness of White Map. Sub Pop Records just released a 7-inch single of the song “Why We Hide,” but Sally is releasing the full album himself via La Mano in a handmade limited edition. (To raise the funds to do so, he recently sold the original painting he did for Great Destroyer on eBay.) He’ll perform at a combination La Mano benefit and CD-release show at Eclipse Records tonight with another of his bands, the formidably named TOGPTFFSOTWOTERATSYOA, a trio with Steel Pole Bathtub’s Dale Flattum and Cows/TVBC drummer Freddy Votel whose set list is hidden in its monstrous acronym: “Three Old Guys Play The First Five Songs Off The Wipers’ Over The Edge Record And The Song ‘Youth Of America.’”

Grade: B

White Map performs on a floating platform on the Mississippi River at the 2009 Art-A-Whirl Festival:

Originally published on A.V. Club Twin Cities.

Interview: John Barrowman of “Doctor Who”

John BarrowmanBefore he became famous as the alien-fighting, time-traveling bisexual hero of Torchwood and Doctor Who, John Barrowman was bicultural, born in Scotland and raised from age 8 near Chicago. He returned to England to pursue performing in his early 20s, with a career on stage, screen, and film that included Megalodon: Shark Attack 3, the TV soaps Titans and Central Park West, and singing “Springtime For Hitler” in Mel Brooks’ musical film remake of The Producers. While he’s openly gay, he lost out on the lead role in the sitcom Will & Grace for supposedly seeming “too straight.”

He found no such problems when he was cast in his breakthrough role on Britain’s Doctor Who as Captain Jack Harkness. A charming rogue and con man from the 51st century, Harkness developed from an antagonist to a close ally of The Doctor; his willingness to flirt with anyone, man or woman, human or alien, was part of the open attitude toward sexuality that producer Russell T. Davies brought to the series. Barrowman went on to star as Harkness on the Who spin-off Torchwood, in which Captain Jack leads a covert team of agents who protect Earth from alien menaces, though his personal foibles are often as much a source of danger as the aliens themselves. The show has grown progressively more popular, and it jumped to Britain’s largest channel, BBC1, for the new Torchwood: Children Of Earth, a five-episode miniseries which broadcasts in the U.S. starting July 20 on BBC America. Barrowman recently talked to The A.V. Club about Torchwood, the future, and getting inside his character’s head, even if it’s giant, disembodied, and in a jar.

Originally published on avclub.com July 17, 2009. Read the complete article.

Review: Pictures Of Then, And The Wicked Sea

Pictures Of Then, And The Wicked Sea
(Self-released)

Given the remarkably polished pop songcraft that Pictures Of Then exhibit on And The Wicked Sea—not to mention that the songs from their 2007 debut, Crushed By Lights, got airplay on MTV’s The Real World and The Hills—it’s hard to imagine that the next CD-release show the Minneapolis quartet plays will be at a venue as small as the Uptown Bar; here’s a band that seems destined for bigger audiences and greater acclaim. Wicked Sea flirts with glam rock and psychedelia, but builds its engaging sound on a solid foundation of guitar-driven indie rock in the style of Modest Mouse, though Pictures Of Then lean more toward pop beauty and strummy ballads than Isaac Brock’s rough-edged rock. That isn’t to say Pictures Of Then can’t rock, which they do on tracks like “History Of Bones” and the catchy, Cars-esque “When It Stings.” But while those songs pack some real punches, it’s Wicked Sea‘s more mid-tempo tunes—like the breezily rolling “Questions Anyone?” and piano-driven “Nowhere Is Somewhere”—that are the album’s secret weapons, giving lead vocalist Casey Call’s clear, bright tenor a good showcase.

Grade: A-

Originally published in A.V. Club Twin Cities.

The world of Harry Potter: A guide to the major characters

A guide to the characters in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, published in advance of the Order Of The Phoenix movie.

Originally published on msnbc.com July 7, 2009. Read the complete article.

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