The Full Lid
10th January 2020

Welcome back everyone! It's the New Year, the new decade and the new Full Lid with a vast influx of new readers. Thank you so much for joining us! Here's what you can expect this and every week.

At 5 p.m. (...ish. 5 p.m. ish.) every Friday you'll get a (spoilery) newsletter crammed full of the pop culture I've interacted with, had fun with or been intrigued by in the past week. Podcasts, movies, games, books, TV, food, it's all fair game. And it's all covered here with my usual combination of critical analysis and Jake Peralta-like enthusiasm.

Sound fun? Awesome! Let's go!


 Northern Hearts and Soul
Pytor Tchaikovsky and Duke Ellington present Battlestar Galactica!
Signal Boost
Signing Off / Playing Out

Northern Hearts and Soul

I've always loved The North (Capital T Capital N). I lived in Yorkshire for almost two decades and because of this it's been especially interesting to see two wildly different explorations of Northern masculinity grace the small screen recently in Doctor Who and The Witcher. Sacha Dhawan's take on The Master, and Joey Batey's astonishing work as Geralt's Disaster Hypeman Jaskier in The Witcher, are both explorations not just of the traditional Northern stereotypes but of how far they've evolved.

Dhawan first, who didn't so much kick the door in on 'Spyfall' as buy the house, rig the door with explosives, set it on fire and then show us a detailed video of how he 'Cool Guys Don't Look at Explosions' ed out of the smoking ruins. This is The Master at their most mercurial: a dog chasing cars who is fueled not only by deep love for said cars, but desire to see them ground beneath their heel while getting a pat on the head. Dhawan shifts effortlessly from the gentle, placid spy the Master is playing to a whirling tornado of murderous glee, uncaring of whoever stands in his way because really, who would? This Master balances Harold Saxon's plans within plans with the 'I'll just do it myself' can-do attitude of earlier incarnations, giving us something brand new in every sense. There's a feeling with this Master that not only have they just arrived, but they're not sure what they want to do most: burn the world or untie the Doctor long enough to explain how they did it. Dhawan's performance unsettles veteran and new Who fans alike, never more so than when they and 13 meet in the past. 
This whole scene is A Lot, but the dramatic heart is the 'call me by my name' moment. Look at how Dhawan and Whitaker play the power dynamic, look at who's really in control. Yes, The Master makes their arch-rival kneel. Yes, the visual is deliberately charged in a manner designed to make fanfic writers punch the air and take frantic notes.

But what sparkles isn't the surface-level dom/sub dynamics. Rather, it's the Doctor's strength. Thirteen isn't weak, isn't remotely cowed. She's annoyed that her best friend and nemesis has to go through all this to get to a point where she can maybe talk to him. And what happens once she's said the right thing? He talks to her, opens right up. From her point of view it's picking a linguistic lock to get to the next stage of the game. From the Master's it's trying on a new accent, possibly  a new gender depending on where this incarnation fits sequentially, and a new mindset to see how to best hammer it from a tool into a weapon. Missy gave us murderously charming eccentricity, Harold Saxon flamboyance. Here it's every drunk Northerner deciding to mess with their partner for kicks. 'Couldn't hear you, love' has never carried more malice.

If the script had left The Master here, it would have been great, and very much in keeping with the characters' recent fondness for mirroring the Doctor (Enthusiastic Brit character actor! Scot with fully equipped combat eyebrows!). But the genius of the episode and of what Dhawan does with the role lies in what comes next. The final scene of the episode sees the Doctor, on the Master's suggestion, return home to find Gallifrey in ruins. Once she does, a message from the Master plays in the Tardis control room, explaining that they burnt the world because they discovered the lie at the center of Time Lord life. It's not presented as gloating, if anything the Master assumes Thirteen has herself already figured it out. Rather it's a concise, muted statement of fact from someone whose regeneration finally settles in around them. The Master has discovered that lots of planets really do have a North and, up there, they're unbound. Free of the limitations of their past, desperate for friends to join in and without any moral restraint whatsoever.

The North remembers. And so does this Master.
This has made us laugh every single time we've played it this week.
And we've played this a LOT this week.
And then there's Jaskier.

The first season of The Witcher arrived just before Christmas and is very, very good. Magnificently black Slavic humor mixed with superlative writing, welcome interrogation of genre and gender alike and Henry Cavill being really, seriously, startlingly excellent in the lead as Geralt of Rivia.
Played by Joey Batey, Jaskier is a Northern Working Man's Club Comic in Hell. He's quick-witted, has absolutely no manner of impulse control at all, and clearly falls in love with Geralt the moment he sees him. As the show goes on, the two men's paths cross at various times in their lives. Jaskier changes Geralt's reputation as a butcher and Geralt (basically) stops him getting killed and (technically) stops him getting into more trouble.

Superficially the relationship is grumpy Don Quixote/Comic Relief Sancho Panza but as the series goes on two things become clear. The first is that Jaskier's role in the show is vital. He's not just an entry point for viewers, he's both comic relief and a control for Geralt. Jaskier gets into trouble and beaten up. A LOT. So much so that one of the show's best episodes is based around him 'hiring' Geralt as a bodyguard. Similarly, time and again we're shown Geralt and Yennefer have the magically-enhanced longevity to view the world very differently to others. We're also shown how painfully aware Jaskier is of his own mortality and what he does about it. He doesn't just ground the show, he grounds Geralt and that's one of the reasons they both get on and act like (as the video above shows) actual five year olds from time to time.

The second is that, just as Sacha Dhawan does with the Master, Batey refuses to sit on top of the trope he's playing, Jaskier as the best act the The The Phoenix never booked is great. But Jaskier as an individual in his own right is even better.  Not just the bard in constant need of rescue, he's the world's first PR flak. Jaskier is vital in redeeming Geralt's reputation after the catastrophic events of the first episode and he's never off the case, always looking for more material and more chances to get into bed with more people he shouldn't be. And also help Geralt.

In a recent interview, Batey openly discussed the fact that Jaskier falls in love with everyone he sees. To continue the metaphor from above, Jaskier chases cars to tell them how much he loves them. And to have them applaud his singing, obviously.

Brilliantly perceptive, pathologically insecure and at times little more than a set of vocal chords with a libido, Jaskier is a glorious hot mess. But he's a fiercely unapologetic mess who clings to the ideals of myth as a tool for social change. In other words, he's OUR mess. Geralt's life, and The Witcher, are better for having him in it.

Doctor Who Series 12 airs Sundays nights in the UK on BBC1 at 7pm
The Witcher Season 1 is on Netflix now.
What kills me about this isn't the perfect design, or the charming juxtaposition of European stabbing and 'Hey everyone, let's dance in the fountain!'. It's that final shot of Geralt and Jaskier looking out over the valley. Note perfect, for both shows. AMAZING work.

New reader? Find The Full Lid archive here.
You can toss a coin to your writer (like I would let that one go!) over at my ko-fi.


Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Duke Ellington Present Battlestar Galactica!

Treppenwitz is the German word for when you think of the perfect retort a few hours too late. I doubt there’s a similar word for when you think of the perfect defense of reboot culture but if there is you can bet it probably has as many syllables.

Which is good  because I've thought of one. Or more accurately, I heard one.

One of the big discoveries we made over the Christmas break was that legendary jazz musician Duke Ellington had covered Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite. Ellington treated the work with incredible respect and wit even as he and his musicians broke it down and rebuilt it. You can hear the recording we have here. I especially recommend Arabesque Cookie but the whole thing plays like the soundtrack to the best ‘50s heist movie Disney would never have the courage to green light.

It’s clearly Tchaikovsky to its very core. But it’s also changed irreparably and for the better by the lens of Ellington and his crack orchestra’s sensibilities, training and skill. Check this out:
Two entirely different approaches, two very different pieces of music with the same DNA. Yes one’s a cover version (or reboot) but they both have a unique, valid voice.

Enter, stage left, remake culture. Wearing your grandpa's clothes. Looking incredible.

Don't get me wrong it's far from a sure thing. Done wrong cover versions and remakes are Freebird played on a kazoo: exchanging the cheap pop of nostalgia for the unfocused beer goggles of memory and banking on us being pleased by how it feels to hear this again and not to think to hard about what we’re feeling. The shape of a response rather than a response.

But done right, as Ellington did, you get something else. You get new notes on old instruments, a different perspective, more information. For a fan or a journalist its like being handed extra jigsaw pieces. More chances to figure out what the thing is and why you feel like you feel about it. It also provides more opportunities for people who missed it or felt shut out the first time to jump aboard.

That’s a good thing, right?

Give a reboot or remake to the right person and it instantly becomes about the reader's interaction with the text. Almost by definition, that experience won't be the same as that of the the original creator. It’s a parallel process to adaptation with the potential to be just as fruitful, especially when you have folks like SAM ESMAIL producing a new version of (or perhaps story set within the world of) Battlestar Galactica. A creator with an intimate understanding of our technological footprint and what it costs us? Sign me all the way up.

After all, in the end, it really is all just jazz. Just ask Tchaikovsky.

Signal Boost

  • The amazing Amy, over at Cast of Wonders, is doing 'One YA A Day' this year. Every day she'll be listening to an episode from the back catalogue and writing about it.  Here's the first one.
  • The Pod Job is a new watch-along podcast covering Leverage. Leverage is a pretty strong contender for my all time favorite TV show (It's at least Top 3) and this is a GREAT podcast for new and old fans alike.
  • The mighty NoSleep Podcast is hitting the road! I'm seeing them this Sunday and here are the dates of the tour,
  • Josh and Becky do the best work and I've got some crossover material with them I'll be talking about next week. In the meantime, if you're even a little interested in ragtag fugitive fleets, desperate races across the stars and the heroism we find at the brink of destruction, check out their Last Fleet RPG Kickstarter.

Signing Off / Playing Out

Did you know I co-own, along with amazing partner, love of my life and new copy editor for TFL Marguerite Kenner, the Escape Artists Podcast Network? Almost 2400 episodes of the best science fiction, fantasy, horror and YA, free every week.

Also, Marguerite coming aboard as copy editor is part of an overall tidy up here and a possible major evolution for TFL itself. I'll talk more about that next week, but here's a photo of what she asked to be paid in:
As ever, the Team KennerStuart Instagram is online and updating with the regularity of a man who... doesn't always remember... he... has... an Instagram. But there's always us being us on Twitter.

As always, my work on The Full Lid is without a financial safety net. If you like what you read please consider dropping something in the tip jar. Thank you :).

Playing us out this week is, what else, The Witcher's smash success earworm so perfect that it hides at least one truly magnificent dad joke in plain sight. There are countless covers circulating, but this meta-level fan video steals the show.

Take it away tiny avatar of DGAF, because this?
is a Full Lid.
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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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