TV Club: Doctor Who, “The Curse of Fenric”

“The Curse Of Fenric” (season 26, episodes 8-11; originally aired 10/25-11/15/1989)

“The Curse Of Fenric,” like many Doctor Who stories, is about a battle to stop an impending apocalypse. It was also close to an apocalypse for Doctor Who in real life: This was the second-to-last story the series aired before its cancellation. And that was a real shame—because while “The Curse Of Fenric” isn’t brilliant or even much above average, it does represent a huge improvement over the embarrassing mess of the Sixth Doctor’s seasons 22 and 23, and one which provided a clear direction for the current revival.

“Curse Of Fenric” also shows how Doctor Who’s greatest strength, its ability to reinvent itself, wasn’t limited to a change in lead actor, but was driven by behind-the-scenes changes in production staff—in this case, by the addition of the classic-era series’ final script editor, Andrew Cartmel. Cartmel and Sylvester McCoy, who played the Seventh Doctor, came on board at the same time, in the wake of a catastrophic meltdown that had resulted in, among other things, previous star Colin Baker getting fired. Their first season, led off by “Time And The Rani,” wasn’t much of an improvement, but Cartmel and McCoy both pushed for changes and received, by their third and final season, a pretty solid reinvention anchored by a new take on the Seventh Doctor—the comic buffoonery of “Time And The Rani” was downplayed, with McCoy now portraying a slightly bumbling but ultimately wise and mysterious near-mystical figure who acted as surrogate father to his spirited but troubled companion Ace (Sophie Aldred).

Originally published Feb. 19, 2012 on Read the complete article.

Interview: The Pines

Guitarists and songwriters Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt both grew up in the Iowa folk scene, where Ramsey’s father Bo is a major figure. But they came into their own as musicians when they moved to Minneapolis and formed The Pines, recording four albums of understated but richly resonant indie-folk in the vein of Bon Iver, Calexico, and Mason Jennings, who they opened for on his recent national tour. Their latest, Dark So Gold, gets its release show Feb. 17 at the Cedar Cultural Center. Ramsey and Huckfelt talked to The A.V. Club about the beauty and hope behind sad songs, how they keep their musical partnership going long distance, and their Iowa connection.

The PINES – Cry, Cry, Crow (Official Music Video) from The PINES on Vimeo.

Originally published Feb. 17, 2012 on Read the complete article.

Interview: Martin Zellar

Songwriter Martin Zellar made his name as the leader of The Gear Daddies, which earned a cult following for blending weary-but-wry country-rock with raw, Replacements-style emotional vulnerability on 1988’s Let’s Go Scare Al and 1990’s Billy’s Live Bait. To Zellar’s bemused irritation, though, he’s best known for a jaunty sports-themed novelty song, “Zamboni,” which landed on the soundtrack to Disney’s The Mighty Ducks and still can be heard at hockey rinks around the country. After the Daddies broke up in 1992, Zellar moved on to a solo career, soon forming a new backing band, the Hardways, which plays frequently throughout the Midwest despite the fact that Zellar now lives in central Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende. Despite his busy concert schedule, Zellar hasn’t released a new studio album since 2002’s Scattered—which he’s about to change with Rooster’s Crow, recorded in Texas and chronicling his first few years in Mexico. Zellar and the Hardways play Rooster’s CD-release show Feb. 10 at the Fine Line. While in Minnesota in January, he talked with The A.V. Club about the new album and life as an expatriate indie musician.

Originally published Feb. 9, 2012 on Read the complete article.

TV Club, Doctor Who: “Vengeance On Varos”

“Vengeance On Varos” (season 22, episodes 3-4; originally aired Jan. 19-26, 1985)

Well, I’ll say this for a start: “Vengeance On Varos” is better than “The Twin Dilemma.” Which is almost the faintest praise you can give a Doctor Who serial, considering how embarrassingly bad “Twin Dilemma” is. (It’s also more entertaining than stabbing yourself in the hand with a fork.) “Vengeance On Varos” has the dubious merit of being the best show from season 22. That doesn’t make it a good show, and at one point in my notes, I stopped trying to keep up with the plot points and just wrote in all caps, “GRIM SLOG.” But it does succeed better than anything else from this period of the show in making use of the otherwise awful, awful, awful concept of the Sixth Doctor by sticking him in a world suffused in the spirit of early-1980s punk nihilism, offering up a dark, cynical parody of the whole concept of Doctor Who itself.

One thing that’s been endlessly fascinating to me in going back through all these vintage Doctor Whos is the way the program constantly changed to reflect the popular culture around it, and especially the popular trends in sci-fi. If that meant Doctor Who was almost always more of a trend-chaser than trendsetter, it’s also a major reason it lasted for 26 years. And that goes a long way toward explaining the otherwise mystifying decision to make the Sixth Doctor such a repellent character and his adventures so dank, grim, and depressing. Because look at what else was going on: Terry Gilliam’s brilliant but horrifyingly bleak Kafkaesque satire Brazil was just about to be released; his previous movie was the comparatively lighthearted Time Bandits, which ended (spoiler for a 31-year-old story) with the boy hero’s parents killed just so Gilliam could close with a nasty, shocking, macabre joke. And in Repo Man, 2000 AD, Heavy Metal, The Running Man, The Terminator, Max Headroom, and the grimy spaceship setting of Alien—seemingly everywhere in science fiction except in Steven Spielberg movies—life was harsh, cities were falling apart and burning, and the message was that the future was going to be worse than what we had now.

Originally published Feb. 5, 2012 on Read the complete article.

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