July 12th, 2008

doctor who

July Books 5-12) Eight Fifth Doctor novelisations

Continuing my project, these are the novelisations of the Season 20 stories, plus one that got away from Season 19 and the anniversary special. A number of these confounded my expectations.

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This brings me to the end of Nyssa's run on the show. As with a lot of the brainier companions, she doesn't transfer particularly memorably to the printed page. Although she does bring with her a tragic back-story, losing first her father and then her whole homeworld, this fades more and more into the background as time goes on. Having said that, there are a couple of stories - eg Black Orchid, Terminus - where she is pretty central to the action and this works well.

Nyssa of course continues to feature on Fifth Doctor audios from time to time, including on several of the best Big Finish stories - The Mutant Phase (with Daleks), Primeval (a sort of prequel to The Keeper of Traken), The Game (which brings back William Russell rather gloriously) and two particular favourites, Creatures of Beauty (which has a very unusual format but none the less works) and most of all Spare Parts (the origin of the Cybermen). Any or all of these would be a decent jumping off point to get into Big Finish, if you haven't already done so.

2008 films 3) Der Untergang

I was inspired to watch this account of the last days in Hitler's bunker by strange_complex's thought-provoking (but mildly spoilerish) review, and was completely gripped throughout. Berlin has always been a place of fascination for me; I remember when I first went there in 1986, when the Wall was still very much there, the sense of truncation as you looked at the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines stopping abruptly; and I remember going back in 1992 and walking under the Brandenburg Gate where I had taken pictures of the Wall from both sides six years before. And I was familiar from skimming the historical literature with the basics of the story of late April and early May in 1945. It would be possible (and I am sure it has happened) to do a very poor and cliched dramatization, but this is very good.

Partly this is because of the viewpoint character being a young woman, Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge. She and Eva Braun and the other women of the bunker tend to be background figures in the standard historical accounts. By foregrounding their stories, Der Untergang makes this a story about human beings rather than about politics - certainly, human beings in an insane and deadly situation which is of their own making, but it makes the whole thing very watchable. (Having said that, I share strange_complex's dissatisfaction with the ending, for much the same reasons.)

The other superb thing about the film is Bruno Ganz's performance in the key role, a completely gripping and convincing portrayal. One point that struck me especially was his accent - as pointed out a while back by rcfinch, it is actually pretty harsh, a clipped mock-demotic contrast to the more mellifluous Hochdeutsch of the rest of the cast. It is an exaggeration - I tracked down some original recordings on Youtube to compare - but it helps enormously to convey the character - the abbreviated but intense vowels a metaphor for his career.

Indeed, more generally I found the film particularly shocking and direct because it was in German, not a translation. German is the foreign language in which I am best qualified (A-level) and for me it is a medium of well-meaning academic articles, great and less great literature and (in my later teenage years) occasional flirtation. I was never especially interested in war films, so never particularly subscribed to those stereotypes. But Der Untergang puts it right in your face: this language which I use for ordering food and drink when I change planes in Vienna is also the language of genocide and total war.

I understand that there are several versions of the English sub-titles out there, which is just as well - the ones I was watching with occasionally missed catching important nuances and inexplicably omitted entire lines (an early crack about the Asiatic hordes, a later report that they could hold out for only twenty hours). Unfortunately I am not quite brave enough to watch it without them.

Wiki translation fun

Chinese: 異世奇人
Korean: 닥터 후
Japanese: ドクター・フー
Hindi: डॉक्टर हू
Hebrew: דוקטור הו
Farsi: دکتر هو
Russian: Доктор Кто
Bulgarian: Доктор Кой

Apart from the last two, I have no idea about the pronunciation - open to being enlightened!

July Books 13) The Periodic Table

13) The Periodic Table, by Primo Levi

A very neat and thought-provoking series of autobiographical sketches (plus a couple of short fiction pieces), each based around one particular chemical element. Levi uses the metaphor to explore several aspects of his own life: growing up Jewish in Fascist Italy, being an industrial chemist, surviving Auschwitz. Fascinating and absorbing.