DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART TWO by PAUL LAIGHT

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART TWO

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**


CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON

It was so important to get the casting right for the new Doctor Who.  They could have gone for someone more comedic but in casting serious stage and screen actor Eccleston I think they got it spot on.

Famous for his dramatic roles in: Let Him Have It (1991), Shallow Grave (1994), Jude (1996), Our Friends in the North (1996), 28 Weeks Later (2002) and many more; he brought a depth and earthy humanity to the Gallifreyan.  He also brought a certain pathos, danger and aggression which gave meat to the drama and grounded us in a believable reality despite facing foes such as the Autons, Slitheen, Reapers, plus old favourites the Daleks and Cybermen.

Billie Piper’s working class shop girl Rose Tyler was a wonderful companion to Eccleston’s Doctor.  Despite, on occasions, seeming to reign in the darker edges it was a cracking shame he only did 13 episodes.

Here are my favourite two episodes of SEASON ONE.

EPISODE 1.6 – DALEK – Writer:  Robert Shearman

This episode found the Doctor and Rose going underground in Utah, 2012. There, a megalomaniac collector, Van Statten, has all manner of alien artefacts including a Dalek that is being experimented on.  This was a very gripping episode and one where Ecclestone’s dramatic muscles were really flexed. I loved the fact the Dalek was defeated having been ‘infected’ with  humanity. It also had a great bit of dialogue when the Doctor is told: “You would have made a good Dalek!”

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EPISODE 1.9 – THE DOCTOR DANCES – Writer: Steven Moffat

This episode concluded what began with The Empty Child.  I loved the wartime setting and the gas-masked creatures really sent chills down the spine. The subtext of war children hung heavy over the episode and in their own way both Rose and the Doctor are orphans.  The episode introduced dashing space and time con-artist Captain Jack Harkness and, while not a fan of John Barrowman, the character added intergalactic pizazz to the show. In this thrilling episode the emotional barriers come down between Rose and the Doctor too as they dance together during a touching moment amidst the horrors of World War II.

 

DAVID TENNANT

So the legend goes a young child by the name of David McDonald once proclaimed his intention to become an actor because of his love of Doctor Who.  His parents scoffed at this suggestion.  But flash-forward through time and that dream became a reality.

Having appeared on stage and screen, even sharing a scene with Eccleston in Jude (1996), the now-monikered David Tennant would become a Time Lord!  Arguably, Tennant is probably the perfect Doctor Who: funny, serious, crazy, good-looking, smart, tricksy, great hair, honest and at times slightly scary.

While Eccleston was excellent with the drama he sometimes struggled with the one-liners but Tennant encompassed all the emotions taking the baton from his predecessor and running riot with some incredible performances in many, many great episodes.

Here are my favourite two episodes of SEASON TWO.

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EPISODE 2.4 – THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE – Writer – Steven Moffat

What would happen if the Doctor fell in love?  This incredible episode asks that question and others with a mind-bending yet very romantic intertwining of the Timelord and Sophia Myles hot French historical figure Madame De Pompadour.  3000 years in the future Rose, Mickey and the Doctor find a floating space vessel with temporal windows to the past. The Clockwork Android crew on the spaceship require De Pompadour’s brain to save their ship but the Doctor comes to the rescue on horseback!  Yes there’s a horse on a spaceship in this one too plus: humour, romance, action and under-the-bed-frights. The pace zings along and the chemistry between Myles and Tennant is electric. This is great because it collapses the historical with imaginative sci-fi concepts and a very touching love story.


EPISODE 2.13 – DOOMSDAY – Writer: Russell T. Davies

And so it came to pass Rose and the Doctor part in the most spectacular of ways, amidst a war on Earth between Cybermen and Daleks. Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was a brilliant companion both sparky and brave and loyal until the end sacrificing herself to save the man she loves; the Doctor.  It’s a great episode full of action and emotion as the Doctors’ greatest enemies’ face-off on Earth and as the Doctor and Rose’ bid a sad goodbye, Rose’s familial backstories dovetail with great effect as she is reunited with her mother and ‘dead’ father in a parallel universe from which she cannot return. Russell T. Davies’ strength as a writer was making the science fiction seem very real and imbue the fantastical with real emotional kick.  Tennant just rocks in the episode too!

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Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON THREE.

EPISODE 3.8 – HUMAN NATURE – Writer: Paul Cornell

In this stunning episode we get Tennant’s Doctor BUT he isn’t the Doctor; he’s actually a teacher called John Smith hiding from aliens so deep under cover he doesn’t know his real identity.  It’s a wonderful concept and much fun is had by Tennant in his performance while the episode brims with dramatic irony as Mr Smith has weird deja vu of a life he believes he has lived only in his dreams.  Martha (Freema Agyeman) had a tough role following Billie Piper but she excels here and the story – set in 1913 on the eve of war –  doesn’t shy away from critiquing the racial and class politics of the day.  There’s a lovely Remains of the Day subplot as the Mr Smith/Doctor falls for Jessica Hynes’ matron just as the Family of Blood come to call. Again, wartime is used to fine effect and of course the real Doctor comes back just in the nick of time to save the day.

humannature

EPISODE 3.10 – BLINK – Writer Steven Moffat

What makes a classic Doctor Who episode?  Is it the story and the action and the science fiction and the laughs?  Yes, of course! But what REALLY makes is a great monster: a seemingly undefeatable foe that tests the Doctor and his companion to the limit of their powers.  Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, The Master, The Autons, Ice Warriors etc.  were awesome but Blink introduced the terrifying WEEPING ANGELS.  I shiver with fear at the thought of these seemingly harmless statues which move when you are not looking at them. So, don’t BLINK or they’re on you like the taxman for non-declaration of earnings; and they’ll drain your life just as quick. This is a blinding Doctor-light episode and contains a lovely Carey Mulligan playing Sally Sparrow. The writing and structure are tricky yet superb and while the Doctor and Martha mainly appear via obscure video messages Moffat really pulls all the strings together on this one.

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EPISODE 4.7 – THE UNICORN AND THE WASP – Writer:  Gareth Roberts

Most of the episodes I have chosen so far have been quite heavy. Indeed, I almost chose The Fires Of Pompeii over this one as it had a terrific moral dilemma at its heart with Catherine Tate’s warm-hearted Donna attempting to change the paths of history at the destruction of Pompeii. However, I chose this light and fluffy episode over it because I’m a sucker for Agatha Christie murder mysteries.  It skilfully throws Christie’s actual 3-day disappearance in with a monstrous wasp, a cunning jewel thief and a wicked murder plot. The Doctor and Donna play detective in a ripping yarn which features an early appearance from Oscar nominee Felicity Jones.

unicorn

EPISODE 4.10 – THE FOREST OF THE DEAD – Writer: Steven Moffat

This two-parter began with the episode equally brilliant Silence in the Library which set up a thrilling plot involving the first appearance of the enigmatic ‘companion’ that is River Song (Alex Kingston). It also established the nasty microscopic dust-mite Vashta Nerada i.e. “the shadows that melt the flesh”.  Moffat once again conjures up a mind-bending plot which jumps from a 51st Century Library — that has somehow become a humanity vacuum — and a strange dream world which Donna gets sucked into.  It was this surreal and somewhat Bunuelian nightmare place which stayed with me as Donna gets married, has children and then loses them all in a matter of moments.  As the Vashta Nerada kill off River’s space crew one by one the Doctor must save Donna and the Library!  Does he do it?  Spoilers, darling!

forestofthedead

Okay, so I’ve had to cheat here.  I’ve added another episode because as Season 4 was extended by a series of specials which would see the handover from Davies to Moffatt as showrunner and the eventual passing of the TARDIS from Tennant to Matt Smith. 

 planetofthedead

EPISODE 4.15 – THE PLANET OF THE DEAD – Writers: Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts

Planet of the Dead was the first Doctor Who episode to be filmed in high definition and was another fun episode full of verve and pace.  I liked the fact the Doctor was companion-lite in The Next Doctor, Waters of Mars and this exciting segment.  It was full of great images including a bus stranded in the desert with echoes of Flight of the Phoenix and in the guise of foxy Michelle Ryan we had more than a nod to the videogame character Lara Croft.  I love Doctor episodes when they’re in the far flung netherworlds of space and this was a lovely light bit of sci-fi fluffery before the imperious drama and pathos of Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART ONE by PAUL LAIGHT

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART ONE

I loved Doctor Who as a child. I am 44 years of age and STILL that child.

For a kid growing up on a Battersea council estate in the 1970s, Doctor Who was an eccentric, colourful, funny, tempestuous and brave hero who fought men, women, aliens, monsters and a plethora of villains and bullies across time and space.  The Doctor is the original Guardian of the Galaxy who every Saturday (and later midweek) would travel into my home via the TARDIS and cut a blaze across the living room all to the wonderfully eerie and memorable theme tune.  Moreover, he’s a sci-fi James Bond but without the testosterone, misogyny and faint whiff of STDs.

DRWHODRWHO2

Of course he has his companions and gadgets but Doctor Who is more complex than 007 due to the plethora of fascinating concepts pertaining to temporal and spatial ideas which can brilliantly propel us to any moment in time and place from past to present to future.

Allied to this the mystery and suspense created by utopian and dystopian locations and societies; use of historical figures; incredible and fantastical aliens; and finally allegorical narratives which comment on the politics, socio-economics and scientific aspects of humanity all make Doctor Who one of the greatest dramas in televisual history.

I read someone once write that Doctor Who is a kids show adults can watch. I think it’s the other way round. Doctor Who is a scientist, an action man, an enigma, a righter-of-wrongs, moral, amoral, simple, complex, protector of children and the underdog; sometimes even a villain; but above all else an Earthly treasure and long may he continue.

tardis

My Doctor Who childhood timeline contains vague recollections of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton repeats; misty then firmer visions of John Pertwee; solid memories of my favourite – the bold, bellowing, mischievous – Tom Baker; and the young, dashing Peter Davison.  I continued watching as the show as it slid down the BBC management’s pecking order.

Indeed, controller Michael Grade hated it while Colin Baker was in tenure. Thus, the nonsensical visual mess, over-synthed-80s-soundtrack and miscast Sylvester McCoy would become final nails in Doctor Who’s creative coffin.  They were dark days indeed for the Timelord who went into permanent stasis.

DRWHO3DRWHO4

The show was consigned to a televisual black-hole never to be seen again.  So it seemed until It briefly sparked as a BBC TV movie starring the handsome and quirky Paul McGann. Yet that star burst as quickly as it arrived. Flash-forward to 2005 and Doctor Who was relaunched with Russell Davies as the showrunner and serious actor Christopher Eccleston adorned in a cool black leather jacket commandeering the TARDIS.  We were ready, once again, to go boldly go where no Gallifreyan had gone before. Sorry, wrong show.

DRWHO5

With one foot in the past I watched the Eccelston season and really enjoyed the reboot.  But somewhere along the line I lost touch around 2nd season David Tennant.  Thus, when one of my favourite actors, Peter Capaldi, was announced as the 12th Doctor I decided to get back on board the TARDIS and in 2014 did a massive catch-up on the show. And you know what?  I loved it.

DRWHO6

So, in appreciation of Doctor Who, circa 2005 onwards, this piece looks back in admiration at 10 years of the “new” Doctor.  I’ll list my favouritest TWO (not necessarily the best) episodes of EACH SEASON; and with so many good episodes I am probably wrong!   Remember it’s just the internet and my opinion so let’s do this: GERONIMO!!!

To be continued:

SCREENWASH: FEBRUARY 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH: FEBRUARY 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

Ola!   Hope you’re well. Here’s another wash-up of movies I saw in the month of February at the cinema, on Blu-Ray or streamed via Netflix et al.  In alpha order.

***THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD***

 

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014) – SKY MOVIES

This sequel/sidequel is an adequate facsimile of the muscular and far superior original adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. It’s a teenage boy’s wet dream with bloody ultra-violence and often-topless Eva Green’s war-whore Artemesia taking centre stage amidst the carnage. Once again the Greeks and Persians go to battle but this time at sea as greased-up, muscle-ripped men-in-pants knock the crap out of each other. Eva Green aside this film lacks the star quality of the first one as well as a consistent narrative as it takes an age to establish its cardboard characters prior to the well-orchestrated battles.

 

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) – AMAZON PRIME

I’ve said this before but Lucio Fulci’s films are horror classics and should be given more respect in my view. They have creepy music, horrific images and tense atmosphere that are the stuff of nightmares. If surrealist genius Luis Bunuel had directed horror films they would have resembled Fulci’s oeuvre. With a dreamlike narrative City of The Living Dead unleashes hell when a priest commits suicide in Dunwich causing a series of memorable horror moments including characters: being buried alive; throwing intestines up through the mouth; bloody-eyed zombies wreaking havoc; brains impaled on a lathe and many more horrible deaths.

 

CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009) – NETFLIX

This stupid but highly entertaining movie-come-live-action-videogame once again has Jason Statham getting up to all kinds of shenanigans to keep his ticker (in this case an electric heart contraption) going or he dies. Cue the killing and torture of gangsters aplenty in a high-octane offensive speedy comedy-actioner.


DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014) – BLU RAY

Eric ‘Chopper’ Bana finds another functional film on his CV as director Scott Derrickson fails to reach the horror heights of his previous film Sinister (2012) in this cop-meets-exorcist thriller. Some decent scares along the way and Sean Harris is excellent as the man-possessed, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

 

IT FOLLOWS (2014) – CINEMA

IT FOLLOWS is a very good film with great music and well-constructed composition of shots plus a really good central premise. So, basically a curse is passed sexually between suburban teens and if you have it an entity hunts you down to a grisly death. I very much enjoyed it and felt very tense throughout. The problem is there’s so many bad films around when a good one comes along the critics go crazy for it. In short: a fine teen frightener compared to much of the crap around but it was too subtle especially at the end when I wanted a bloodier finale. However, the Director is definitely one worth following.

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014) – CINEMA

Having seen four kind of serious Oscar-worthy films in January I watched the spy-action-comedy-Bond-parody KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014) finding it bally brilliant fun. While I like some of the more serious comic book adaptations this is a blast from beginning to end with jokes and violence aplenty. Pitch perfect pace and delivery by cast and crew as the script hybridizes kitchen sink, action and spy genres. I was especially pleased they didn’t squeeze out the bloody action and make it a 12A as the Marvel, DC and Peter Jackson films have done in the last few years. THAT scene in the “Church” is a case in point and is certainly one you won’t forget in a hurry. To quote the parlance of our age: “The film is well sick, bruv!”

 

JOE (2013) – NETFLIX

Nicolas Cage is outstanding and on very restrained form as the working class lead of this depressing character study. It shares similar traits with MUD (2012) where McConaughey’s criminal bonds with local kids but this is a whole different beast as it features: alcoholism, dysfunctional families, inner rage and general abuse against humans. Overall, existential despair prevails in a genuinely gruelling experience that very much haunts the viewer.

 

ONLY TWO LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013) – BLU RAY

Jim Jarmusch’s elegant vampire film is so slow-moving I ended up finishing it the day before I started watching it. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are the best thing about this character study about the inertia of immortality. I enjoyed many of the rock and music references and the subtext of virulent human blood killing off the undead but it was too ponderous overall to recommend to anyone. For hard-core Jarmusch fans only.

 

OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013) – NETFLIX

A terrific cast including: Bale, Harrelson, Saldana, Defoe and the always impressive Casey Affleck feature in this steely drama. It centres on two brothers (Bale and Affleck) just trying to get by in a run-of-the-steel-mill Pennsylvanian town. Tension comes from Affleck’s gambling losses which culminate in his taking up bare-knuckle fist fighting to pay off debts. Woody Harrelson chews up the scenery as the dominant nemesis and while some of the narrative turns don’t quite fit it’s pretty gritty and Bale is on good form as the brother trying but failing to maintain a normal existence.

 

PREDESTINATION (2014) – CINEMA

I think most time-travel films are paradoxical by nature and holes can always be found in the logic but as a time-travel/thriller genre film Predestination worked really well providing an intriguing gender-political angle too. The nature of the loner and finding love for others and oneself was also an interesting theme plus the inevitability of fate was there in the subtext too. It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. Even though I enjoy seeing stuff blown up on screen I do love a brain-twister too.

Thus, if you like any of the following: TimeCrimes (2007), Looper (2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Time After Time (1979), Back to the Future (1985), The Terminator (1984), Doctor Who etcetera… then do watch this one. It’s a fine low-budget time-travel film starring Ethan Hawke and breakout performance from brilliant Sarah Snook.


ROCK ‘N’ ROLLA (2008) – SKY MOVIES

Guy Ritchie’s big budget upgrade of Snatch (2000) is a shiny and stylish gangster folly full of British talent including: Tom Wilkinson, Toby Kebbell, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler and Idris Elba; with Thandie Newton keeping the testosterone levels down in a decent knockabout bit of fun.

 

SELMA (2014) – CINEMA

This is political storytelling of the highest order with David Oyelowo brilliantly portraying one of the greatest humans that ever lived: Martin Luther King. Tom Wilkinson is also superb as political rival Lyndon B. Johnson as the two lock horns over King’s pursuit of the equal rights vote for African-Americans. This is a moving story of injustice and violence at the heart of America’s recent past as King and his brothers and sisters fight the good fight for one of the most basic of democratic rights. Lives were lost and blood was shed but above it all Martin Luther King is shown to be a majestic force in the righteous fight which culminates in a ground-breaking march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, 1965. I was very ill watching this but it is fantastic filmmaking with sterling performances and an in depth examination of a vital part of American history.

 

THE VILLAGE (2004) – SKY MOVIES

M. Night Shymalan’s recent films have been panned and bombed at the box office and very much lost the plot. Some might say that that the rot set in with The Village but I really like this movie. I like the design, colour, pace, acting, direction, horror, romance and central premise. Arguably it hangs by a thread in regards to plausibility but on a re-watch it was genuinely tense and had so much atmosphere I was captivated by the whole narrative. Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard shine as two lovers trapped in the village by the threat of strange beasts and the elders who know an incredible secret.

 

My Top Three Bestest Films that I enjoyed for February were (in alpha order):

  1. X)  KINGSMAN
  2. Y)  PREDESTINATION
  3. Z)  SELMA

 

 

RINGERS AND SINGERS: A CULTURAL REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

RINGERS AND SINGERS: A CULTURAL REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

February 2015 has been a wonderfully diverse month culturally for me.  I have tasted the peak of perceived high culture with a visit to the Festival Hall and have also plumbed the depths of low culture with a visit to a Wrestling event and even lower with Quint Fontana’s guttural and scurrilous Pop Pals!

I jest of course as all events were culturally rewarding and provided an interesting juxtaposition for my latest blog piece which combines little reviews of some stuff I’ve been gone and done recently.  I have also watched loads of films as well but will deal with those in my February edition of Screenwash.

 

BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING STORY – ALDWYCH THEATRE

I’m not a massive fan of musicals per se but as a Valentine gift for my girlfriend (yes – I have a girlfriend now and she’s real) I bought her tickets for this show. Oh, and I went along too. It’s the story of Carole King and her rise from 16 year-old novice songwriter to the heights of fame as a solo artist. Singularly, and with her husband Jerry Goffin, she wrote a litany of hit records including: Up on The Roof, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, The Locomotion, Natural Women, I Feel The Earth Move, Pleasant Valley Sunday, You’ve Got a Friend and many, many more.

King is clearly a genius and her album Tapestry would become one of the biggest albums of all time. The musical is a joy and while I wanted a bit more about the relationship breakdown and Goffin’s depression it’s all about the songs really. In Beautiful you get hit after hit after hit brilliantly performed by the young, talented and energetic cast.

BRITISH EMPIRE WRESTLING – TOOTING TRAM AND SOCIAL

This was the first time I’d seen a Wrestling show and it was really entertaining.  I was really impressed by the mixture of physicality alongside loads of variety with male and female comedy characters, villainous wrestlers and proper athletes battering each other round the ring in a series of tremendous bouts.  There was an element of theatricality and pantomime but also genuine pain as there were no holds barred in many contests. It’s pretty cheap too so do check out their events. Next one is at the end of March.

 

POP PALS WITH QUINT FONTANA – STAR OF KINGS, KING’S X

Lounge loser extraordinaire Quint Fontana hosts a karaoke event with a difference as “stars” from the pop world (or are they comedians in disguise) perform before a joyous (i.e. drunk) audience in a King’s X basement.  It’s brilliant fun and Quint is a despicably funny host as he sups on his Tyskie beer, goads the audience and banters with the pop guests which included Ronan Keating, Jason Donovan and Christine Aguilera. To be honest it’s worth going just to see Quint have his nightly nervous breakdown!  Awesome!

 

RACHMANINOFF: INSIDE OUT –  FESTIVAL HALL

This was almost cultural overload as I tasted my first quaver of a classical musical concert at the Festival Hall.  Performing with grandstanding gusto the London Philharmonic soared with a virtuoso performance of Rachmaninoff’s greatest hits and music which I came to recognise from David Lean and Noel Coward’s story of understated love – Brief Encounter (1946).

With no actual frame of comparative experience I can only say that it was hugely enjoyable evening and one which was not only aurally pleasing but visually interesting too as the orchestra and conductor brought home the stunning compositions with incredible timing. At times I wondered about the musicians and characters performing (could make an interesting comedy or drama)  and felt giddy at the wonder of the music. Although that could have been the heavy cold I had at the time.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR UPDATE

During February Spurs had some vital fixtures and after a stunning last-gasp win against North London rivals Arsenal we unravelled slightly where results were concerned. Harry Kane’s brilliant header proved to be our last winner in February as Spurs went out of the Europa League on aggregate to an efficient Fiorentina team in Florence.  We started well but could not break them down.

In between we scraped a 2-2 draw with West Ham after fighting back from 2-0 down. Biggest blow was losing 2-0 to Chelsea in the Capital One Cup at Wembley. Mourinho set his team up solid from the start and while competed until the final whistle, our usual match winners Kane and Eriksen could not get us over the line.  After the highs of crushing Arsenal the bitter lows of defeat hit hard. We have 12 games in March to get into the top four or it’ll be more trips to Cyprus, Kazakhstan and Madagascar in the dreaded Europa League.

US OFFICE – NETFLIX BINGE-ATHLON

I have had to move twice recently due to reasons beyond my control so no longer have Sky Television beaming it’s entertainment juice into my living room and brain. Thus, I have gone back to my favourite online channel www.netflix.com and FINALLY began catching up with the The Office (US version)!  And oh my god it is genuinely one of the funniest and style-diverse situation comedies I’ve seen.

It uses character, songs, slapstick, embarrassment, gags, pranks, horror and pathos to propel it’s narratives as the employees of Dunder Mifflin get themselves into all manners of scrapes and cringeworthy situations.  Some great cameos too (I’m up to Season 6 now) as Amy Ryan, Idris Elba, Kathy Bates and even Christian Slater have popped up in episodes.  Anchored brilliantly by an ensemble cast notably Steve Carell as Michael Scott and my favourite, Rain Wilson as Dwight Schrute, this is comedy performance and writing of the highest order. Just TOO funny.