People do like a good moan..

.. and Doctor Who is no exception.

The latest thing that seems to be offending some people isn’t that Donna Noble’s daughter is trans. Nor has it anything to do with The Meep’s preferred pronouns. And it’s certainly not because of the whole men “letting things go” thing which caused more outrage than Oolon Colluphid’s Where God Went Wrong. No, it’s the heavy breathing in the new 60th anniversary Doctor Who theme that is getting a bit of attention – for the strangest reasons.

And not just that, people have sworn it’s somebody chanting “Doctor Who” over and over (it isn’t), or that the breathing is percussion instruments. But for me, because the theme uses a full choir anyway, it’s likely a couple of lead female choristers are breathily going “HAH!” over and over in time to the music.

Back when Peter Howell was composing the 1980’s synth version of the theme, he sampled his own voice and overlaid that at key points in the theme. It’s barely noticeable because it ends up sounding like an electric guitar and I hadn’t realised that until I saw the following video from the BBC Archive (see below) as to what it was.

I think the new thing organically takes that and overlays/incorporates it more than Howell’s did. In any event, this sort of thing isn’t exactly new. Has nobody heard of Kate Bush who used every trick in her vocal and instrumental repertoire to create bizarre and captivating music.

In any event, I like the new theme. The breathing rhythm gives it a sense of urgency – as if the TARDIS or the Doctor is running from somebody or some..thing. I also like the new titles too – but note that the BBC ident is now missing now that Disney’s money is involved with the production…

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai is much better than I expected

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my father took me and some friends (neighbours) to Leicester Square to the first public performance of Back to the Future. To see the film on the biggest screen around (this was way before IMAX) was an absolute treat. Yet, for some explicable reason I wore a Gremlins sweatshirt despite never ever having watched Gremlins. I don’t think I saw it until AFTER Gremlins 2: The New Batch. I wasn’t a great fan of horror at the time. But I do remember loving Gremlins 2 enough to go back and watch the original film and loving it to bits. I lapped up the dark humour and gross jokes. It was absolute chaos. It was like the Muppets had ugly kids and they’d gone wild. And it was originally rated ’15’ before later being re-rated a ’12A’. Gremlins 2 was a ’15’ on video, but released as ’12’. Yes, it’s crazier than the films themselves.

So yes, I’m definitely a fan of Gremlins. I even read the novel of the first film which was even stranger than the original film. Its plot centered around an alien scientist who created the Mogwai to adapt to any environmental conditions. Things did not go according to plan, of course, and the Mogwai ends up on Earth, etc. etc. The whole thing sounds as if it was an early revision of Disney’s Lilo and Stitch.

Now available on BBC iPlayer (through CBBC)

Many, many, many years later there has been all manner of rumours about a third film, but nothing ever came to fruition. But a chap by the name of Tze Chun proposed a TV series which leaned heavily into the original movie’s Chinese roots (as Gizmo the Mogwai was originally found by Billy Peltzer’s dad in an old Chinese curiosity shop). It takes that and expands the backstory of Mr. Wing (the old man we see in the first film) and his family, growing up in 1920’s Shanghai (which isn’t a particularly fun time in Chinese history given the roots of revolution were being seeded, amongst many other problems). It also gives the Mogwai a decent origin story too – but I won’t spoil that, other than to say that it involves a lot of Chinese mythology (which I’m absolutely fascinated by – especially the incredible Journey to the West) that is heavily involved throughout the whole series. We meet all manner of strange and wonderful characters – human and otherwise – as our characters try to save the fate of the Mogwai and China itself.

The first thing to mention is that it’s animation. Just as well, really, as although I could absolutely see this as a live action series – the practical puppet effects and visual effects required would be a nightmare – not just in cost, but extremely labour intensive. I really love the style of the animation, it’s simple and yet complex, providing a lot of detail in the Gremlins and Mogwai alike. Great for kids and adults – which brings me to another point. This is a family friendly series, yet it does go into some serious John Carpenter territory – especially the main villain, Riley, who practices Chinese magic to the extent that he can absorb the knowledge of anybody by encasing them into a magical pearl, dislocating his jaw, and swallowing them whole. This is quite disturbing, and younger kids will definitely want their parents around in some of these darker moments (one of which is a Gremlin biting off the finger of a henchman and plays with it as if it were a cigar). But with these darker moments also comes the wonderfully dark humour of the first two films. The Gremlins, at their full chaotic madness, produce some genuinely good laughs.

Overall, the show has a decent antagonist in the form of Riley Greene and his henchmen (who he chides at one point for humanising themselves by telling him is name) AND the Gremlins. He has some responsible for some genuinely disturbing moments, but also is responsible for some of the lighter moments too. The voice cast features prominent Asian-American actors including the always wonderful James Hong, Ming-Na Wen (Fennec Shand in The Book of Boba Fett), BD Wong, George Takei (in an unexpected but so appropriate and wonderfully performed role), Randall Park, and Sarah Oh. All of them give great performances all round.

The music by Sherri Chung is phenomenal and provides a fantastic emotional backing to all the action that’s going on screen, and she provides the best version of the Gremlin Rag featuring traditional Chinese instruments that makes Jerry Goldsmith’s original piece feel right at home.

Overall, this is the story that we’ve been waiting for all these years and Tze Chun and his team (including executive producer Steven Spielberg who produces the show under his Amblin Entertainment banner and consulting producer Joe Dante, who directed the original films) have done an absolutely incredible job. And we’re getting a second season! It’s also gaining some very good reviews, too.

If you like this show, BTW, I also heartedly recommend Amercian Born Chinese on Disney+ – it too gives a big nod to Chinese mythology (and particularly Journey to the West) and as a bonus, also features Michelle Yeoh.

Gremlins: The Secrets of the Mogwai is currently available in the UK through BBC iPlayer, via their CBBC channel.

The Thrifty Streamer / Internet Services Shopper

Given the recent news about Apple’s service fees going up by as much as 40% in some cases, I’ve found a great way to keep prices stable. I’ve chosen a telecommunications provider, like EE in my case, that offers a bundle with Apple One. With this arrangement, I get uninterrupted access to Apple Music, Apple Arcade, and Apple TV+ for two years without any extra costs. Just keep in mind that I do have to pay for Apple News+ separately since it’s not included in the bundle. But the value I get from the magazine subscription and access to the Times makes it worth it. When it’s time to renew my contract with EE in a year, I expect they’ll still have the Apple One bundle in their SIM only packages, so I plan to stick with them. It’s worth mentioning that other telecom companies also offer similar streaming packages as part of their contracts, even if they only last for six months. This option, even though temporary, is better than not having it at all.

Regarding the video streaming services, many of them are now increasing their prices, including Netflix and Sky. I don’t watch Netflix as much these days. They only release programs that interest me about every six months, and then there’s a drought again for another six months. So, I’ve decided to subscribe for one month every six months, watch what I want, and then cancel the subscription. I currently have Netflix bundled with my Sky package, so I’m not paying the full price. But ultimately, I’m going to cancel my Sky subscription because there are very few things on it that I actually watch. One of the shows I enjoy is Breeders, a great comedy-drama starring Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard. And maybe I’ll also watch The Gilded Age (similar to Downton Abbey but set in the United States) and House of the Dragon. Most of these shows can be purchased through iTunes, which is cheaper per season than a long-term Sky subscription. For everything else, I’ll just subscribe to Now TV for a month and then cancel again.

Paramount+ and Disney+ are lacking in shows and decent back content to justify the increasing subscription prices. £6.99 or £9.99 might be reasonable, but anything higher would not be worth it. Once I finish watching Loki season 2 and What We Do In the Shadows season 5 on Disney+, I will cancel it until Solar Opposites or another Star Wars TV series is released. Paramount+ currently has the new Fraiser series, but I don’t think that alone can justify a long-term subscription. It’s especially frustrating that Paramount don’t seem to have a clear plan for the Star Trek franchise, as they have exclusively licensed one section of it to Netflix.

Prime Video isn’t too bad, but I feel like there aren’t enough new shows to justify keeping a monthly subscription. Plus, I’ve been spending less on Amazon lately, so the free delivery isn’t as valuable to me anymore. I’ve gotten to the point where I hardly watch proper TV at all these days. I usually watch everything on my MacBook Pro. It reminds me of a time when my ex-wife and I gave our TV to my brother-in-law because we hardly used it and preferred watching a few shows on our laptops. The Sunday Times even picked up on this story, which you can read (partially) below.

It’s important to clarify that the Sunday Times made it seem like we were intentionally avoiding the TV license, but that’s not true at all (and it’s the reason why I will NEVER talk to a journalist again). We weren’t tired of paying the fee – we just weren’t using the TV as much as before, and if we didn’t have to pay the fee, we didn’t. The few things we did watch were through catch-up services. It also didn’t mention that I also bought many DVDs and Blu-Rays, as well as BBC shows on iTunes VoD, which I enjoy.

This prompted a response from the TVLA (for Loki fans, no, not the TVA):

Regarding the BBC, it seems that their financial situation is quite dire these days, and this is reflected in the quality of their content. If they were to cancel Top Gear, they would lose a significant source of revenue. As for Doctor Who, they are now partnering with Disney+ and the production company behind it is currently owned by Sony. Thus, in my opinion, the BBC license fee is becoming increasingly worthless with each passing year. It no longer brings the same level of high-quality shows that it used to. Even BBC radio seems to be on a downward spiral.

Certainly, nowadays I do indeed pay for a TV license and I am happy that the BBC took the opportunity to connect it with BBC iPlayer. However, we should seriously consider whether a TV license is still worth it in a world full of streaming services. Channel 4 produces some remarkable programs that are funded by advertisements – and for just £3.99/month, you have the option to reduce those ads. I appreciate that. Why can’t the BBC follow suit? In fact, many streaming services are already doing just that. They offer a more affordable subscription with ads, or you can opt for an ad-free experience with higher quality streaming. Not everyone wants or utilizes 4K/8K TVs with Dolby Atmos. So why should we pay more?