Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Spaceships, alien plots, clueless humans and one mysterious man in black: These are the things that we expect when we hear the name Doctor Who, and that’s what we get in six small bites in the new book Doctor Who: The American Adventure. This is not the first Doctor Who book, nor will it be the last, but this is one that would probably be best appreciated by the Doctor’s younger fans or those who simply must have all they can get of the Time Lord. For the uninitiated, some history.
More than a decade ago the classic British TV show Doctor Who rebooted after a hiatus of nearly two decades. Whereas the series was a cultural phenomenon in the UK, sending generations of children to hide behind sofas and watch with one eye closed, the show had been largely unknown in the United States. Prior to the new series, the old series played on some PBS outlets throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. Other than an only moderately successful film in the 1990s, the franchise was, for the most part, a thing of the past.
That all changed in 2003 when the BBC decided to regenerate the series, which gained massive popularity thanks to showrunner Russell T. Davies’ innovative new premises, a tall, dark and handsome ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, and spunky new companion played by popular UK singer Billie Piper.
Though Eccleston only stayed on for one series, his replacement, David Tennant, cemented the new incarnation’s place in pop culture. Fans in the United States found ways of watching for three series before the show was finally picked up by the SyFy Channel, and now it’s broadcast simultaneously in the UK and in the US on BBC America. We are now on the twelfth Doctor — or thirteenth depending on who you ask — and the show is even more popular stateside than in its home country. Thus it makes sense that the newest Who publication tells a handful of short stories about The Doctor solving problems in the contiguous 48.
There are six new stories in this new children’s collection, three from the Doctor’s perspective and three from the POV of the human witnesses. The witness stories come first in the collection, but they’re not a great start. The stories are quite basic, short, and without the kind of emotional depth that keeps viewers hooked. In order to make it easy enough for kids to understand, I suppose, the stories lack the kind of unfolding thought processes that make the show so enjoyable. In short, they contain a character we love but don’t really capture what it is about that character that makes us love them.
This first trio of shorts take place in the 1800s and very early 1900s in places that could amuse younger readers or get them to ask questions about the Oregon Trail or Gold Rush prospecting. Sadly, there is no companion role, which is how the show connects emotionally with its audience. The humans in these stories aren’t too involved. They accept what’s happening without an intermediate to grease the psychological wheels or make the Doctor see things from the human perspective. They are simple, being as they’re written for kids, but oftentimes kids can be more perceptive and deep-thinking than we give them credit for. It’s entirely possible they could do with a little more than what The America Adventures has on offer.
In the second trio the Doctor is the main character, meaning they’re a little more inline with what we could expect from the franchise. In these we do get the Doctor’s perspective, get to understand Why he’s doing what he’s doing, even if we don’t ever get to understand the How of it. These stories still lack in the emotional side, but they’re certainly enough story to appeal to those youngsters who may be a little too young for the show but want to know what’s up with that show their older siblings or parents are watching.
The book isn’t a beginner’s guide because there are some things a reader needs to know in advance, like the fact that the Doctor has two hearts and only makes it to all of these different places and times thanks to his (surprisingly underrepresented) TARDIS time machine/space ship. That’s something that the aforementioned parents or siblings would do well to explain to young readers. For adults, The American Adventures isn’t essential reading, but for the young and curious it will be a fun diversion and excursion into the wide and wild universe of Doctor Who.
When this off-Broadway play was announced back in March, I rushed to get my name on the list of patrons. Like most people who write for a living, having a chance to peer into the head of one of the most renowned journalists in America held a certain sway.
Playing at The Wild Project through May 22, an intimate theatre deep in Alphabet City, at 195 East Third Street, the script by Joseph Vitale stars Joseph Menino, who has the look (and chain-smoking cigarette demeanor) of the eminent broadcaster, down to his slicked-back and pomaded coif, deep baritone, and trademark braces.
The set is simple—chair, table, and the 1940’s microphone, a far cry from the tiny buds we see pinned to broadcasters today. Menino did a good job of recapping Murrow’s rise to fame, which began on a farm in Polecat Creek, North Carolina, then a move, at age six, with his family to homestead in Washington State, where he excelled in debate under the tutelage of Ida Lou Anderson, his polio-ridden teacher. Her guidance followed him well into his career—it was she who instructed him on the proper diction of his, “This is London” preamble to his broadcasts during the blitz while on foreign assignment for CBS.
The actor-as-narrator also explained the genesis of “Good Night and Good Luck”, the phrase he used to sign off. During war-time London’s incessant bombing by Berlin, citizens couldn’t be sure if their friends would be alive the next day following a raid. (Murrow and his wife, Janet Brewster, lost a dear friend in one particularly horrific one.)
Murrow’s World War II broadcasts were so effective in drumming up support for Britain that Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked him to join the BBC. (He demurred, although he carried on a public affair with the Prime Minister’s daughter-in-law, Pamela Churchill, a fact not mentioned in the play, but including it would have done a great deal to liven it up and move it beyond a staged biopic.)
His war-time reporting culminated with being embedded in Patton’s Third Army and Murrow’s broadcasting of the horrors witnessed at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Menino delivered it with the ringing tone of abject disgust, including the reference to “bodies stacked up like cordwood,” which still repels us (and rightfully so) 71 years hence.
Murrow returned to the United States after the War, and continued to work for Bill Paley and CBS in the pioneering days of television, culminating with his “See It Now” series. One segment, which showcased Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red scare, is often credited with leading to the senator’s ultimate censure and downward spiral to his death from alcoholism.
Murrow’s hard-hitting reporting was a double-edged sword, clueing his viewers on sordid details, but frequently offending the network brass (and its advertisers) in the process, and then permanently destroying his close friendship with Paley. His resignation from CBS led to leadership of the United States Information Agency under President John F. Kennedy.
Although the play would benefit from more insight into Murrow’s personality, for those who admire the man and his work, Murrow is a good start. Given today’s backdrop of political correctness, Murrow reminds us of a time when broadcasters spoke their mind—and were willing to accept the consequences.
Of all of Dame Agatha Christie’s huge body of work, And Then There Were None (title changed from the politically incorrect 10 Little Indians) was both the best selling and by far the most horrific. It was in many ways the precursor to modern ‘slasher’ tales only with its trademark English country cottage feel and Christie’s superb psychological insight. Other Christie novels had detectives who came into save the day; And Then There Were None not only had no detectives, but also no ‘heroes’ in any sense at all. The ten guests and staff members are all murderers beyond the reach of the law, but not beyond that of an unknown fiend who begins picking them off.
It’s actually a terrific set-up for the screen, but all the past English language adaptions of the work, including stage adaptions, have sought to ‘soften’ the brutality and terror of the finale by creating survivors and/or suggesting that certain protagonists were actually innocent after all. Thankfully, the latest 2015 BBC three-hour mini series decided to hell with such attempts at cheering up the piece and gives us the most lurid, bloodiest, fatalistic, and horrific telling of the story yet. In fact it arguably goes further than Christie’s original text making some of the past killings more graphic (though this is also about making more dramatic flashbacks as well) and adding more drugs and sex. Some might criticize BBC for taking such creative license with the text but really, Christie would probably have done so in the original herself if the times would have permitted it.
To that end some of Great Britain’s biggest stars have been recruited for the show. Burn Gorman (Pacific Rim, The Dark Knight Rises) as Detective Sergeant William Blore whose past lethal act of police brutality seems all too topical. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, Woman in Gold) as Justice Wargrave the Hanging Judge. Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow, The Hours) as the cruel religious zealot Emily Brent. Toby Stephens (Black Sails, Die Another Die) as the pitiful drunk Dr. Armstrong. Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Hunt for Red October) as the world weary, shell-shocked General MacArthur. Douglas Booth (Noah, Jupiter Ascending) as callous playboy and reckless driver Anthony Marston. Anna Maxwell Martin (Philomena, Becoming Jane) as guilt ridden housekeeper Mrs. Rogers and Noah Taylor (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edge of Tomorrow) as her abusive husband. Each one is perfectly cast.
But the main focus is on Vera Claythorne (relative Australian newcomer Maeve Dermody) and Phillip Lombard (Aidan Turner of Poldark). Vera is a moody dour presence; ostensibly the sort of bright, resourceful independent young woman who would generally be the heroine of a Christie novel but here’s she’s slowly revealed to be capable of profound evil. Lombard is an utterly amoral mercenary who’s killed 21, but he’s also refreshingly honest. He’s the only person on the island to freely own up to his sins. The two of them have a white hot chemistry together that’s just as much about their mutual dark sides and capacity for violence as it is about the fact that they’re both stunningly attractive people. Its undoubted one of the most twisted ‘romance’ stories on screen.
What the latest BBC adaption truly understands about the story (set in 1939 as Britain is just on the brink of war) is how the traditional “English’ trappings of the piece serve to underline the horror of the tale rather than diminish it. Everyone on the island is (initially) dedicated to playing along to the roles of their assigned stations – guests cannot behave as servants and vice versa – and behaving as if it’s a perfectly ordinary house party even when the killing starts. But as the body count climbs everyone’s manners and even basic civility drop away. Stripped of their pretensions to gentility we see the moral depravity of these ‘respectable’ people and with it an indictment of the hypocrisy of ‘polite society’ altogether.
And Then There Were None can be seen on Amazon Prime.