Ghosts Busted?

17 Dec

Having reviewed the first series of Doctor Who to feature a female Doctor, ITV obliged me by showing the female-led remake of Ghostbusters, allowing for comparisons.

Now, the remake wasn’t high on my ‘to watch’ list as the trailers didn’t make it look very good, but the concept of casting female leads wasn’t problematic for me in the way that it was with Doctor Who: The characters were new ones, rather than male characters changed to female, and the characters in the original films didn’t fulfill the same male rolemodel that the Doctor did.

Thus, despite a degree of negativity from the trailers, I sat down to watch the film with interest and a willingness to enjoy it.

And, I did, to an extent. There was definitely a good movie in there, trying to put on  show. The biggest problem it faced was being a reimagining of the franchise, meaning that, inevitably, it is compared to the brilliant original even more than a sequel would be. Had it been a third film in the original continuity or an unconnected film on same theme, unconstrained by comparison, it might have found it easier to achieve success as, inevitably, the comparisons proved negative, undercutting its strengths.

Given that it was promoted as a female-led film and was dogged by disputes as a result, I can’t say that the two main characters, Erin and Abby, were good ones as they struck me more as negative female stereotypes than proper characters for much of the film. On the other hand, Patty and Holtzmann were wonderful characters and were a major reason I enjoyed the film as much as I did. (I suppose there is some truth to claims that Patty is a stereotypical ‘sassy black woman’, but there were more aspects to her than just that stereotype.) Had the other two characters been as good, I may well have been raving about the film, instead of mildly positive.

Not that the male characters were any better. I’m not sure if they were just the result of cheap comedy or bad writing, but they weren’t amusing.

Which brings me onto the writing. The original film was brilliantly written with witty and entertaining characters, whilst the remake was lacking in wit and failed to make most of the characters engaging. Poor writing is the same problem facing the new series of Doctor Who – it’s not that female leading characters are, somehow, innately less good than male ones, nor that women are less skilful at acting than men, but they do seem to be let down in these prestigious roles by their writers.

I don’t know if there is an intersection between making female-led remakes rather than original creations and poor writing ability in creators, or if the writers are too fixated upon diversity at the expense of story, or if the controversies surrounding these remakes draw attention to these flaws, which might be less noted if they had retained male characters. (After all, Doctor Who suffered poor writing during Peter Capaldi’s tenure, but that merely fed into debate about the general quality and direction of the series, while flaws in the recent series feed into discussion about Jodi Whitaker’s role as a female Doctor.)

But, whatever the reasons, it’s a shame that such prestigious roles haven’t attracted the quality writing they deserve. There are lots of great films and TV series with female leads, but it is inevitably these ones, in which women are directly compared with their male predecessors, that produce the most noise about the quality of female acting.

I also wasn’t very impressed with the special effects. (Indeed, it was these that put me off the film when I first saw the trailers.) Obviously, as a special effects heavy film, this is a problem, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined from the trailers and it’s definitely a case of subjective taste and others may like them.

Overall, if you haven’t seen the movie, I think you will enjoy it. Not as much as the original, but it’s still quite good and worth a look. It’s just a shame it didn’t match its potential.

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The Doctor Who… Succeeded? Or, Failed?

16 Dec

Well, we’ve reached the end of Jodie Whitaker’s first season of Doctor Who, albeit with a New Year special to come, but was it any good?

Now, I wasn’t keen on a female Doctor for a couple of reasons, but resolved to keep an open mind. So…?

Well, I’ve no problem with the new companions who are all great characters played by great actors. The only downside is that they have sometimes been let down by substandard scripts (for example, separating them and, thus, denying us their wonderful interaction). So, that’s a positive.

I’ve certainly found no fault with Jodie Whitaker’s enthusiasm and acting ability, but haven’t really been convinced by her as the Doctor, although I think the lacklustre quality of the scripts must shoulder much of the blame – it’s difficult to come across as the Doctor if the script is hampering you – and, the fact that I was convinced by her in the episode It Takes You Away, the only episode that really felt like a Doctor Who episode to me, shows that she could work in the part. I still wish they’d kept the Doctor male for reasons of continuity and as a rolemodel for small boys, but a female Doctor isn’t ruining the show and, if only they would give her the scripts, I think Jodie Whitaker could probably pull the role off.

So, the scripts… They’re the problem. The biggest reason is that too many lack proper stories, as well as the wit, artistry or invention that would allow them to get away with it. And, too often, they fail, as noted, to deliver on the potential of the companions or to portray the Doctor convincingly. Yet, the better ones aren’t too bad and It Takes You Away worked well. Better scripts with stronger stories could have made this a brilliant series that would have allayed doubts about Jodie’s tenure. Instead, a lot of people aren’t keen, and many of them are probably aiming their ire in the wrong direction.

It Takes You Away was, by far, the best episode as it actually felt as if I were watching an actual episode of Doctor Who (I think the last time was Mummy on the Orient Express, which probably sums up all you need to know about my feelings towards the series in recent years). Jodie Whitaker was the Doctor in this episode, there was an actual plot (and a good one at that), it was inventive and it hit all the right notes that define the series.

So, to answer the titular question: It doesn’t fail, but it doesn’t quite succeed, either. Which, in the end, amounts to a great deal of promise that went unfulfilled, save briefly. Still, the New Year special does look as if it could be good and, if only they can find some good scripts, the next series, over a year away, could actually live up to its potential. I hope it does.

The Quest for Publication

8 Dec

Two thoughts on the writer’s quest to be published – the one a reminder to persevere, the other a cautionary tale of sorts.

Opinions may vary…

As a writer, rejection can always shake your confidence, but it is important to remember that tastes vary and one venue’s rejection might be another’s acceptance. To illustrate this, allow me to share a recent experience of mine.

I had a story rejected by a publisher that uses readers and the comments of the three readers were included with the rejection email.

The reason why it was rejected was because one reader had given it a score of 1/5. Although they were enthusiastic about my actual writing, they felt the idea had been done before and wasn’t worth publishing.

But, the other two readers had given it 4/5 and 5/5 and the latter actually commented that they didn’t see the ending coming!

Had the first reader been replaced by someone else, it’s likely my story would’ve been accepted, but, more than that, the way in which one reader was jaded by the plot and another surprised, shows how you never can tell who will (or won’t) like your story.

The moral, naturally, is to shake off the rejection and send your story out again and again. Of course, if they make points about flaws that you can see the validity of, consider rewriting your piece, but, if not, don’t assume it’s rubbish – it probably just hasn’t reached the right editor yet.

When editing fails…

Of course, even when you have your story accepted, there can be problems. Magazines can fold before publication, you might withdraw it because you don’t agree to the contract offered, and sometimes the editor will drop it. This latter recently happened to me.

Having spent a lot of time and effort editing a story for an anthology, it was dropped because the chief editor felt my edits weren’t what he wanted.

Now, perhaps I am just too literal minded, or perhaps several months with a lot of stress and little sleep had left my brain unable to tease out the nuance of what was wanted, but while I had responded to all their suggestions, it seemed they had wanted a substantive and wide-ranging rewrite rather than the straightforward edit I had interpreted their request to be.

The problem was that not only were we approaching the edit at cross-purposes, they didn’t tell me I was coming at it wrong. In fact, the editor who responded to both redrafts I sent (a different person to the chief editor who dropped my story) not only said nothing, but actually stated it was ready for layout! (Call me naive, but that certainly sounded as if they were satisified with the piece – maybe they thought it was okay and the chief editor didn’t, or maybe they just automatically sent the email without checking it, but whatever the reason I assumed I’d produced a satisfactory job until the chief editor emailed me a few days late to say he was dropping it.)

Had they clarified what they wanted after my first rewrite, I probably would’ve had to ask for it to withdrawn as I doubt I could’ve produced such a substantive rewrite to such a tight deadline. But, at least that would’ve saved us both some time and effort, as well as avoiding misleading me as to the story’s status.

The moral of the story for writers has to be, if an editor asks for more than a simple proofread of your story and a response to minor tweaks, clarify just how much rewriting they expect so that you can either get it right or, at least, avoid wasting everyone’s time.

But, for any editors who might be reading, there is a stronger moral for you – communicate clearly and in a timely fashion. Make it clear what you want at the beginning and if the writer doesn’t appear to be doing what you expected, let them know before the editing window closes. And, if you have other members on your editorial team, have them run any responses by you – this isn’t the first time I’ve had one editor tell me something only to be overruled (a member of the editorial team at one magazine told me they could pay via PayPal when they couldn’t, leading to a lot of hassle).

But, even though these sorts of mishaps can occur, the answer remains, keep submitting. Remember, if your story was accepted by one editor, it stands a good chance of being accepted somewhere else.

Christmas is coming…

27 Nov

…and Atlantean Publishing has new releases to entertain you on the darkening nights.

Xmas Bards 8 – The Best Christmas Ever

Joyce Walker provides six poems on a festive theme for your entertainment. The seven previous editions remain available.

Christmas Chillers VI

Two stories of a scary, but humorous, sort to add to the chill over Christmas.

  • Rudolph’s Red Nose by DS Davidson
  • A Hell of a Christmas by DJ Tyrer

The five previous volumes remain available and you can order all six for just £12 (UK) or £24 (overseas). Contributors to other volumes include Aeronwy Dafies, David M. Smith, Nicole J. Simms, and Matthew Wilson.

Ordering

For availability and links to ordering details, visit the wiki or email the usual address.

Happy Hallowe’en & The Horrors of War

31 Oct

It’s that time of year when we release our Hallowe’en Horror and Great War poetry booklets – and here they are…

Witching Hour contains poetry with scary and spooky themes from Cardinal Cox, Aeronwy Dafies, DS Davidson, Denny E. Marshall, Matthew Wilson, and others.

Great War: The End All Wars? is the fifth and final volume in the series commemorating the centenary of World War I and contains poetry by Aeronwy Dafies, Andrew Darlington, Donna McCabe, and others.

Both booklets have cover art by Christopher Catt James and are £1.50 each in the UK (£3 overseas); they are part of the 3-for-2 offer, so you could order both and get a third £1.50 booklet for free. They can be ordered via post by sending a cheque payable to DJ Tyrer to the editorial address or by paying in pounds or their dollar equivalent to https://www.paypal.me/DJTyrer (please also email with the details of your order).

Doctor Whittaker Reviewed

13 Oct

So, Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor and I’ve just watched her first episode for the first time. I’ve only seen her in a couple of things (in St. Trinians, where she was good but not Doctor material and Attack the Block, where I found her irritating). But, then, I wasn’t impressed by David Tennant in Harry Potter, but thought he was a good Doctor.

I did think they gave her an excellent (almost-)introductory line upon the discovery he was now a she (“Half an hour ago, I was a white-haired Scotsman”), perhaps intended to remind of us Capaldi’s disappointingly-lacklustre performance – after all, as far as most viewers go, she doesn’t have to compare to the best Doctors of the past, merely the last incumbent.

I won’t fault her on her effort and enthusiasm – my first impression of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor was that she ws really giving a fine performance as a disorientated alien. Unfortunately, for all that, I wasn’t really buying into her as the Doctor. She just didn’t have the gravitas. Though, of course, to be fair, most new Doctors have given a somewhat weak initial performance. (Indeed, Ecclestone took his entire series to get there.) So, first impressions are not necessarily damning.

The real problem, though, is that, despite not thinking a female Doctor (as opposed to a female Time Lord protagonist in her own series) is a good idea, I could buy into a woman in the part, but not her. For example, Catherine Tate’s Donna-Doctor managed to be simultaneously both more Doctorish and more fun than Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, while the character of River Song was also stronger and more Doctor-like. Indeed, I think the female supporting characters in this episode came across as smarter, stronger and more proactive than the Doctor, further diminishing her. To me, Whittaker’s Doctor seems more like a parody than a serious character.

As for the first episode itself, I wasn’t that impressed – the writing was solid but uninspired, rather like the acting of the supporting cast. Workmanlike would be the apt term – it does what it sets out to do, but doesn’t shine. However, if that quality of acting and writing can be married to a better plot, then I can see this being a strong series, better than recent ones.

I’m not giving up on the series, and could see it being a success, but I have yet to be convinced by Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. Perhaps she’ll manage to inhabit the role, perhaps not. Time will tell…

 

A New View

28 Sep

View From Atlantis is the new webzine from Atlantean Publishing, launching in October as a successor to Awen Online. While primarily focused upon genre poetry, it will also be open to general and literary poetry, as well as prose.

The first issue will be online in early October and submissions will be welcome for issue two between the 1st and 14th of October, which will be posted around Hallowe’en and seeks submissions with a loose Hallowe’en and Horror theme. Future themes will be announced later in the year.

Full submissions guidelines can be found on the site.