Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Doctor Who: "The Unquiet Dead"

"On and on I go, same old show.  I'm like a ghost, condemned to repeat myself through all eternity."  - Charles Dickens (as played by Simon Callow)

Premiered April 9, 2005

For those interested in the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey aspects of such things, this is the third episode of the 2005 re-boot of Doctor Who. 

The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and his companion, Rose (Billie Piper) take their first journey back in time together, traveling to Cardiff, Wales on Christmas Eve 1869.  Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) is in town to perform a dramatic reading of A Christmas Carol before a packed house of spectators.

One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong ... 
Dickens is in a melancholy mood, feeling estranged from his family and as if his joy in living is wearing thin.

Strange happenings are afoot at a local funeral parlor, where corpses seem to be coming to life and are wandering around Cardiff, creating more corpses in their wake.  The undertaker, Gabriel Sneed (Alan David), wants to cover up the fact that the reanimated dead seem to be emanating from his establishment on the grounds that people knowing about it would be bad for business.

Sneed's maidservant Gwyneth (Eve Myles) wants to get help for their zombiefied corpse problem, but Sneed insists on taking care of it himself.   Gwyneth has clairvoyant abilities, about which she feels somewhat ambivalent, and Sneed has been using her skills to track down the wandering corpses.   The wandering corpse in question at this juncture belongs to an elderly woman who has just strangled her grandson as he leaned over her coffin to pay his last respects.

Gwyneth focuses on the old woman's last desire, which was to see Mr. Dickens' reading, so she and Sneed wind up at the reading around the same time as the Doctor and Rose.

All heck breaks loose as something ghostlike, gaseous and loud hisses forth from the reanimated old woman, who is seated in the middle of the audience at the reading.

The Doctor is (naturally) fascinated.  The audience is scared out of its wits.  Mr. Dickens is perplexed and thinks this must be some kind of a trick.   Rose is in the wrong place at the wrong time.  She gets chloroformed by Mr. Sneed and dragged back to the funeral parlor.

The Doctor enlists Charles Dickens' aid (and carriage) to go rescue Rose.

Solving the mystery of the "Unquiet Dead" will require a seance and considerable courage.

Will everyone survive the experience?   Will Charles Dickens locate his Christmas spirit and zest for living?

RigbyMel says:

Full disclosure,  Charles Dickens is one of my favorite authors and Doctor Who is one of my favorite tv series, the combination of the two is somewhat hard to resist where I am concerned.

I quite like the characterization of Charles Dickens by Simon Callow in this episode.

Dickens doesn't often appear as a character in tv or film, but it is worth noting that he has been played by Simon Callow on several different occasions other than this episode.  (Callow has also written extensively about Dickens and performed a one man show as Dickens, so one thinks he might have a pretty good handle on how to play him.)

Dickens was a clever chap and although he is definitely confused by and skeptical about the bizarre situation in which he finds himself (who wouldn't be?)  He manages to deal with it fairly well and actually helps to save the day when the Doctor and Rose get trapped.

The Doctor:  "I saw the Fall of Troy!  World War Five! I pushed boxes at the Boston Tea Party!  Now I'm gonna die in a dungeon ... in Cardiff!" 
This episode early in the re-boot of the series harks back to the educational aspects of Doctor Who that have always been present on the show.  Meeting historical figures is a favorite trope and Dickens' state of mind at the beginning of the episode tallies well with his actual biography.

There are bits of Ebenezer Scrooge evident in the world-weary Dickens we encounter at the beginning of the episode and also some fun parallels with Dickens' idealism as a writer and the Doctor's desire to save the world (literally) again and again.

After Mr. Dickens' encounter with some Christmas "spirits" and the Doctor, he is ready to reconcile with his family and "keep Christmas in his heart."  We even get a "God bless us, every one!" by the end of the episode.  

Speaking as a history geek, I also really love the interplay between the Victorian characters, the Doctor and Rose.  Gwyneth and Rose have a nice moment together in the scullery talking about boys and being a bit weirded out by their different approaches to proper deportment.   The Doctor manages to completely confuse Dickens when he says he is Dickens' "number one fan."  Dickens asks how the Doctor is like a device used for cooling oneself.    Shades of Christmas Past meeting Christmas Yet To Come, perhaps?

I would also like to point out that Gwyneth is a classic Dickensian orphan character in a heroic vein!

I do have a minor complaint about the ending seeming overly rushed, but don't want to go into detail as it might spoil the episode for those who have not seen it.

That being said, this is a wonderfully creepy and fun episode of Doctor Who and one of many great episodes of the series with Christmas themes and settings.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 and a half Candy Canes.

J.A. Morris says:

Like my co-blogger,I'm a huge Dickens fan, and Christopher Eccleston is my favorite Doctor.  Since this was the third episode of the Doctor Who revival, it played a big role in making me a devoted fan of the series.  With annual Christmas specials, the Doctor has become as much a part of Christmas as Rudolph and Charlie Brown.  But this was the first of his holiday-themed adventures and it first aired as a regular episode (in April).

In addition to the main plot, "The Unquiet Dead" marks an important evolution for Rose. She confronts the Doctor at one point when he wants to allow the Gelth to inhabit dead bodies.  Rose thinks it's indecent, the Doctor points out that they are dealing in a different morality with different values. She must get used to it if she wants to be his travelling companion.  However, Rose's concerns are justified in this instance.

One note about the cast:
Gwyneth is portrayed by Eve Myles, who later played Gwen Cooper on the series Torchwood, a spinoff of Doctor Who.  The series' creative team has said that Gwyneth and Gwen are "related" due to "Spacial Genetic Multiplicity."

"The Unquiet Dead" is one of my favorite episodes of the series and I enjoy watching it every Christmas season.  I highly recommend it to fans of Dickens and any Whovians who may not have discovered the series prior to the David Tennant or Matt Smith eras.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 Candy Canes!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Real Ghostbusters: "Xmas Marks The Spot"

Premiered December 13, 1986

The Ghostbusters are driving around, lost in Upstate New York, when their Ecto-1 ambulance breaks down.  

Winston (), Ray () and Egon (Maurice Lemarche) wish they were home celebrating Christmas.  Peter Venkman () scoffs at this, he’s never had any use for the holiday season. Venkman’s father had a job that kept him that often kept him away during Christmas when he was a kid.

They stumble on a small town that’s not on the map.  The buildings look old and all the people are dressed in Victorian fashions. 

We see a resident of the town, Bob Cratchit (LeMarche) buying a Christmas turkey.

Bob Cratchit with Tiny Tim on his shoulders.
The Ghostbusters hear ghostly noises and track them to a nearby house.  They find three ghosts talking to an old man. The ghosts are promptly captured & trapped. 

It turns out the old man was Ebenezer Scrooge (), he’s very grateful for the Ghostbusters' intervention but gets angry when they ask for payment for their service. 

The Ghostbusters threaten to release the ghosts, but he pays them with a valuable coin over a hundred years old.  The age of the coin makes the Ghostbusters curious.  Scrooge decides to declare war on Christmas.

The Ghostbusters return to New York and are shocked to see no one celebrating Christmas. 
They wish passersby a Merry Christmas only to be greeted with “Bah Humbug”.

Scrooge's message has turned the Ghostbusters' assistant Janine (Laura Summer) against Christmas.
They learn that their upstate New York adventure somehow caused them to travel back in time to Victorian England.  They realize they've accidentally changed the future.

In the anti-Christmas spirit, New Yorkers greet each other with "Bah Hambugs."
The Ghostbusters captured the Christmas Spirits before they could teach Scrooge his lesson, and eventually Scrooge’s anti-Christmas sentiments caught on all over the world.  Scrooge authored a book called A Christmas Humbug that served as a manifesto against the holiday.  The Ghostbusters have accidentally destroyed Christmas! (Perhaps they should have remembered their Dickens.)

They hope that if they can go back in time again and release the ghosts, everything will go back to normal.  But that may not be an easy task.  Egon will have to go into the containment unit and free the ghosts, which could cost him his life.

This prompts the Ghostbusters to act as substitutes for the three Spirits Of Christmas, in case Egon's efforts are not successful. 

Peter stands in for the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Winston "understudies" for the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Ray poses as the Ghost of Christmas Future.

Can the Ghostbusters restore Christmas?  Even if they can, will Peter Venkman continue to hate Christmas?

J.A. Morris says:

The Real Ghostbusters is a show I remember but  I'd never seen an entire episode until I stumbled on this a couple years ago.  It's a fun Christmas episode, as long as you get past a few things.  For example, Scrooge is a fictional character, not a real one.   And like most time-travel stories, this one has paradoxes. 

This is not,strictly speaking an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but it's a good homage.  In this episode we get not one,but two Scrooges, since Peter Venkman is lacking in Christmas spirit just like Dickens' old miser.  When the Ghostbusters are forced to stand-in for the Ghosts, they come up with some humorous techniques.  My favorite was using a View-Master as a "magic window" that let's Scrooge see his past!   

If I have any problem with this episode it's that the animation looks cheap and hasn't aged very well. 

Carolers sing outside the Ghostbusters' firehouse on Christmas Eve.
But the voice actors are very good.  Lorenzo Music, Frank Welker and Maurice Lemarche are big names in the voiceover world.  They're good here, even if they don't sound like very much like their movie counterparts.  And Arsenio Hall (years before he became famous as a talk show host) is also good as Winston.

The Ghostbusters and friends share a Christmas toast.
I can't discuss this series without mentioning Lorenzo Music.  He played the voice of Garfield in Garfield And Friends.  Music voices Peter Venkman here, a role played by Bill Murray in the Ghostbusters movies.  In 2004 the motion picture Garfield, the cat was voiced by...Bill Murray.  Life is funny sometimes!  
Marley's Ghost flees Scrooge's as the Ghostbusters arrive.
"X-mas Marks The Spot" is no classic, but it was fun and exceeded my expectations.  While it wasn't an adaptation, it still contained Dickens' message about treating your fellow humans with kindness at Christmas and year-round.  And it was a nice introduction to the series.  If nothing else, it makes me want to check out the Halloween and Thanksgiving episodes of The Real Ghostbusters.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 candy canes.

RigbyMel says: 

I know I watched The Real Ghostbusters when it was first on  (my younger brother ADORED it), but I don't remember watching this particular episode until recent years.  

As J.A. Morris says, there are some clever touches to this episode, but there is also a LOT going on in it. The stumbling into an alternate time/dimension reminds me a lot of Brigadoon.  The Christmas-less world that the Ghostbusters inadvertently create has a bit of an It's A Wonderful Life flavor.   And, of course, there are the obvious references to A Christmas Carol throughout.  The sub-plot where Egon actually goes into the ghost containment unit in search of the captured A Christmas Carol ghosts that leans heavily on the sci-fi aspects of the series.   In point of fact,  there seems to be a bit too much going on in this little, cheaply animated half hour episode for it to have much cohesion.   

Also, when the Ghostbusters meet Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, it bothers the heck out of me that Tiny Tim resembles a frog more than a human child.  

This is an amusing episode, but the lack of cohesiveness keeps it from being great.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 1/2 candy canes

Homicide: Life On The Street: "And All Through The House"

"To get here, I had to run a virtual gauntlet of Christmas cheer.

Bargain-hungry shoppers, mewling kids, carols blasting from diabolically hidden loudspeakers.What kept me going was the thought that once I reached my destination - our sacred inner sanctum - I'd find refuge from this yuletide delirium."
-Det. John Munch

Premiered December 16, 1994.

It's Christmas in Baltimore, Detective John Munch (Richard Belzer) arrives at work in a Scroogey mood.  Munch says he hates Christmas and isn't happy to see a Christmas tree in the precinct.

Munch argues with Bollander about Christmas (check out Stan's Baltimore Orioles scarf).

Fellow Det. Stan Bollander (Ned Beatty) brought in the tree to in hopes of adding a bit of holiday cheer to the office.  He refuses to let Munch ruin his Christmas.

Munch and Bollander get a call about a dead body.  It turns out to be a Salvation Army Santa.  This prompts the cynical Munch to say "Uh-oh, Rudolph's gonna be pissed!" They visit the dead man's home and find a young boy named Fidel (Ryan Goldstein) all by himself.  Bollander steps out to make a call, leaving Munch with the burden of telling Fidel about his father's death.

This is the last thing that Munch wants to do, so he delays telling Fidel the crushing news for as long as he can.  This leads to the two spending Christmas Eve together well into the night, talking about Fidel's father.  They wind up visiting a batting cage, where Munch fails to make contact with a single baseball. The tragic death of Fidel's father forces Munch to find some Christmas cheer in his heart.

At the same time, Det. Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson) and Lieutenant Megan Russert (Isabella Hoffman) investigate another homicide.  They find a woman who has been burned to death.

The detectives are surprised to learn a deceased drug addict lived in a mansion.

Russert and Lewis discover her name was Whitney Freeman and she was scheduled to testify against a drug dealer. The detectives learn Whitney came from a wealthy family and they visit her mother to break the news.

Back at the station, Det. Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) is trying to get his fellow detectives to play cards. Bayliss suggests it's just for the sake of building camaraderie on Christmas Eve.

 He's turned down by several co-workers.

Det. Kay Howard (Melissa Leo)  isn't interested in playing cards with Bayliss.

But he finally finds a willing opponent in the form of his boss, Lt. Al "Gee" Giardello (Yaphet Kotto). Bayliss thinks he can hustle Gee for money in a game of Hearts, but he may get more than he bargained for.

Giardello accepts Bayliss' challenge to a game of Hearts.

 J.A. Morris says:

I was a huge fan of Homicide:Life On The Streets when it aired back in the 90s.  It was the best drama of the 90s and it featured one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory.  I'm a bit biased, because the series took place (and was partially filmed) in Baltimore, one of my favorite cities.  Homicide was created by the same people who later produced The Wire and Treme and it helped pave the way for those series.

Danielle Spright (Gabrielle Goyette) is interviewed about her husband's possible connection to a murder.

"All Through The House" is probably the darkest programming we've covered here.  It shows that for some, Christmas isn't such a "merry" time of year.

Bayliss critiques the tree.

 The holiday season can be a reminder of loved ones who have departed.  People are killed on Christmas.  Both Munch and Lewis quote statistics about suicides at Christmas time.  For the crack addicts, it's just another night when they need a fix.  And there's a heartbreaking scene where a suspect is arrested in front of their family on Christmas Eve.

Det. Frank Pimbleton (Andre Braugher) wishes he was home with his wife on Christmas Eve.

This episode is also a reminder that some jobs force people to work on Christmas Eve.  When asked how he's doing, Pimbleton says "I miss my wife.  I miss my fireplace.  I miss Nat King Cole."  Det. Beau Felton's (Daniel Baldwin) wife has recently left him and taken their children, he doesn't know where they are.  Felton says spending Christmas Eve at the precinct makes him want to put a bullet in his head (ouch!).

Felton wraps a baseball signed by Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina  (I love the Baltimore references on this series!) for his son.

But For Russert, investigating a murder is preferable to being at home with her family, since they remind her that her husband (whom she first met on Christmas) is dead.  Lewis misses his late patrol partner (they spent Christmases together), who has recently committed suicide.  There's a nice scene where they share coffee and bond over this.

It's not all grim and depressing.  One of the cases has a happier-than-expected ending.  Munch's monologues about his hatred of Christmas (and just about everything else, except being a detective) are funny (helped by Belzer's background in stand-up comedy).  Bayliss' attempts to engage the other detectives in a game of Hearts helps lighten the mood.  And we get a brief but fun scene where the detectives engage in a snowball fight on Christmas morning.

Howard prepares to hurl a snowball.

In addition to the regular cast (who are great as usual), I wanted to commend the performance here by the late,great Nancy Marchand (best remembered for her award-winning roles on Lou Grant and The Sopranos) for her excellent portrayal of Lorraine Freeman.  As soon as the detectives arrive, she knows her troubled daughter is dead.

But she keeps decorating her tree, discussing the arts of how to hang different colored bulbs, trying to delay hearing the awful news.  When Lewis blurts out "Your daughter's dead" you can practically feel a jolt when Marchand's expression changes.

We also get a nice scene at the morgue.  Lewis is surprised to that Scheiner (Ralph Tabakian), the coroner has Hanukkah decorations on display.

Scheiner explains his Hanukkah decorations.

 Scheiner isn't Jewish, but he says he displays a Menorah because he wants "everybody to feel welcome".  This is a bit of a play on words, since he could be talking about everyone who enters or every dead body that arrives.  In any case, it's a nice reminder (especially in a city as diverse as Baltimore) that not everyone celebrates Christmas.

Bayliss gets in a cheap shot!

"And All Through The House" is a great episode of one of my favorite series.  I strongly recommend it, even if it isn't the most "feel-good" Christmas story ever.

Gee is greeted by a Christmas morning snowfall.

J.A. Morris' rating:

Four Candy Canes.