01 “Bitchcraft” (American Horror Story: Coven) [SPOILERS]


In the vaccum left behind by Breaking Bad, there is a clear and vacant space in the television listings for a standout show to become compulsive weekly watching. And so here’s a new series of American Horror Story.

Previous seasons have taken us to a haunted house in California (The Murder House), and a brutal New England mental institution (Asylum). Now we’re in a sultry, sweating New Orleans with a host of familiar faces — and some exciting new ones — witching around.

Given that its past incarnations are amongst my favourite shows — even going so far as curing me of my mistaken belief that horror could not work in the TV series format — it’s a truly palpable relief to be able to say that not only does it live up to its predecessors, but it shapes up for Coven to be the best American Horror Story so far.

Read on… (and mind the spoilers)

Jorah Mormont for Doctor Who!

iain glen jorah mormont

So, with Matt Smith’s departure from the classic British science-fiction show Doctor Who, the time is upon us once more to select a new actor to portray the last (probably) of the Time Lords, the lonely God — the Doctor.

Well, the BBC does the selecting. But since the rumours of possible replacements have been dire at best, I thought I’d wade into the debate. So far I’ve heard suggested Richard Madden (too young), Rupert Grint (too Ron Weasley, and too awful), Helen Mirren (too expensive), Benedict Cumberbatch (too Sherlock Holmes), and even David Duchovny (I don’t even… Just… No!).

The answer is clearly Jorah Mormont Iain Glen. And here’s why

Read on…

Save Our Sci-Fi

If the future of humanity does begin with a choice, I fear SyFy have made the wrong one.

So, earlier this week BSG spin-off series Caprica was cancelled. I’m not going to spend this blog entry moaning specifically about that, for two reasons. Firstly, I’m quite behind on the series, only a few episodes in, and thus haven’t decided whether it will meet it’s potential (but rest assured, the potential is there). Secondly, there are plenty of other people across the interwebs doing just that.

No, my complaint here is a more general trend indicated in the cancellation; that of good sci-fi television being cut short without being given a real chance. Or worse, being positively brilliant. Firefly is the obvious example, but far from the only instance.

I remember when I was growing up, the TV schedules were full of science-fiction. It wasn’t all good, but it was certainly there. The Star Trek Franchise was working its way through The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager (not to mention several films- some of them even good). The X-Files was giving us conspiracy theories and aliens being investigated by an FBI duo with a taste for sunflower seeds and interesting pronunciation of the English language. Babylon 5 was doing something, though quite what I’m not entirely sure, as I’ve never actually watched an episode. Stargate SG-1 was taking us to distant worlds through a bowl of jelly, with MacGyver as a tour guide.

And there were myriads of smaller, lesser-known sci-fi shows floating around. Five seasons of Andromeda, with Kevin Sorbo whizzing about as Hercules in space, for Christ’s sake. And five seasons of pseudo-philosophical nonsense with Earth Final Conflict (both, incidentally, mining the last vestiges of the late Gene Roddenberry’s imagination). If even these more obscure things managed to prosper, hopefully it will give you a hint of how strong the genre used to do.

Nowadays, they seem to struggle. Aside from the utter bollocks of Firefly’s cancellation (midway through one of the best first seasons I’ve ever seen from a TV series, of any genre), there are a host of similar cancellations littering the path. The demise of the mutated Stargate SG-1 and misguided spin-off Stargate Atlantis probably won’t be much mourned, but back in the 2003 outstanding Australian offering Farscape was given the chop too. Since then Dollhouse (Joss Whedon’s other sci-fi project) has been given its marching orders, lesser-known but still praise-worthy Denying Gravity was denied a second season, as was Flashforward (not a patch on the book, but still better than Lost by a wide margin). And that’s to say nothing of the countless great ideas which have undoubtedly been turned down.

What I think this amounts to, in my opinion, is a shift in the perception of sci-fi. It just doesn’t seem to be cool any more. The only science-fiction series that I can think of to have run its full course rather than being prematurely cancelled is Caprica‘s parent show, Ronald D. Moore’s sterling remake of Battlestar Galactica.

When you factor in the Sci-Fi channel’s bizzare and much-documented name change to SyFy, I think we have to accept that TV studios are not keen on the genre any more. The flagship genre representatives at the moment are X-Files lookalike Fringe (which is fantastic, and if they go anywhere near it with an axe I’m going to have to resort to violence), bold reinvention of the original franchise Stargate Universe, and the BBC’s reinvention of the Doctor Who franchise (which may be facing difficulties of a different sort, before too long). Of course, you have the V remake, but I think the less said about that diluted cat piss the better.

Is there a deeper root to this downturn? Are people not dreaming of the future any more? Do we not look up at the stars and dream of what could be out there? If you look at real world events, such as Obama’s attitude towards NASA, you might think so. I don’t know the answer to that one, but my favourite television genre seems to be under siege at the moment.

Hollywood has never gotten sci-fi. They’ve made token efforts, and sometimes done fairly well, but the extended possibilities of a TV series, of a long story arc, has always seemed the natural home of video science-fiction to me. If it’s going to be allowed to vanish from our screens, I fear not only for the genre, but for humanity’s approach to the future. Science-fiction is, to me at least, imagination incarnate. It is the ultimate “what if?”. And I think we really do need that.

Maybe you disagree, but all I’m really saying here is give sci-fi a chance.

Bloodied, but Defiant

So I watched the season finale of Stargate Universe the other day, and I was blown away. I09 has (in a lot of cases rightfully) criticised many points about the series, but it started with a lot of potential, and for all the missed steps it has been slowly marching towards fulfilling that potential. And the final moments of the cliffhanger left me decidedly annoyed that I have to wait however many months for the conclusion. Which is what a season finale, and a cliffhanger, should do. But the defining moment, for me, was the shot of Colonel Young, bloodied up, stood standing whilst the rest of his men knelt for execution.

The final shot of the Stargate Universe season finale

And this got me to thinking about similar such scenes. There are plenty of them, through film and television. You know the ones; where the bad guys seem to have won, where everything seems like it’s going to shit, and then the hero stands up defiantly, and goes on to win the day. And, most times, said hero is wounded or hurt in some fashion. Bloodied, but still defiant.

I’m thinking the (numerous) moments in Buffy, when she fights the Big Bad, and after getting her arse kicked across the room, stands up (scratches and all) and wins the day. The final battle in Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, where the thumped Galactica and her crew put their wounds aside for one last gambit to escape. And I suppose the ultimate is Doctor Who; the Tenth Doctor, after coming alive but not unhurt, through fighting off both the Master and Timothy Dalton’s deranged Bond-cum-Time Lord, turns and gives his life to save Bernard Cribbins.

So the concept is fairly wide-reaching, but why? I challenged anyone not to be stirred by a well-made example of such a moment. There’s something in it that touches a romantic fondness within the human psyche. It’s part of the reason, I think, that there is such an affection for the Battle of Britain. The great empire, shattered and routed, but rallying itself to defeat the Nazi war machine against the odds.

It shows courage and determination, which are traits that society values and individuals aspire to. But the fact that the hero has brushed the edge of defeat, and come back usually with blood running down his or her face, shows that they’re human. It shows the enormity of their task, and the extend of the bravery required to face it.

Maybe I’m overplaying this, but given the impact that single image of Colonel Young lent to the final moments of Stargate Universe‘s first season, both for the character and as a metaphor for the all the good guys, I think it’s important to appreciate precisely how key such images are. In the end, we all, on some level, want to be heroes. And we all want to think that, in the same situation, we’d be able to stand up once more, with blood running down our faces, and overcome whatever evil is confronting us.