Doctor Who: Listen (2014)

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For me, there has never been an episode as deceiving, and surprising, as Listen. At first, I was under the impression that this was going to be a straight-forward horror episode, in a similar vein to last year’s Hide. This was “egged on” by a trailer that reveled in the creepy aspects of the episode, leaving no question to me exactly what we were going to be getting. I like these sorts of episodes a bit, but usually find them to be somewhat worse than other episodes due to the tendency to overdo the explanation for whatever supernatural creature they “seem” to be fighting. That’s not a ghost! It’s merely a time traveler trapped in a parallel dimension! That’s not a vampire! That’s an alien from the deepest outer-reaches of space! You get the idea. Then I watched the episode and everything changed. While the beginning segment of the episode was a straight forward “creep out” exercise by Steven Moffat, what followed was quite possibly some of his most clever writing since Blink.

I’m going to do far more of a recap than usual, because this is not an episode that simply needs a one paragraph blurb to get the point across. In fact, I have no idea how to express the plot of this other than actually analyzing it, and you will soon see why.

Question. Why is there no such thing as perfect hiding? Answer! How would you know? Logically, if evolution were to prefect a creature whose primary skill were to hide from view – how could you know it existed? It could be with us every second and we would never know. How would you detect it, even sense it… except in those moments when, for no clear reason, you choose to speak aloud? What would such a creature want? What would it do? Well? What would you do?

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Listen opens with the long-awaited date between Danny Pink and Clara Oswald that was hinted at few episodes ago. As one can imagine, this does not go well at all, and both parties end up awkwardly offending each other in probably the worst way possible. Clara once again mentions something that offhandedly seems to be a reference to Danny’s buried past, and he lashes out at her – ruining the date. Disheartened, Clara goes to the Tardis to meet a Doctor that seems to have been left alone to ponder something for far too long.

It seems he has become completely consumed with the idea that every living being has a constant companion, an entity that is with us at all times, watching us, experiencing all we experience. Being a bit into western esotericism, this almost seemed to hint at an old Platonic theory of the eidolon, a “shadow being” that we all have that may or may not be our actual suppressed personality or essence. This isn’t actually referenced in the episode whatsoever, but I was all ready for the possibility that they were going for that and I got excited (LOL). The Doctor’s “theory” is that everyone seems to have the same dream at some point in their lives, a dream in which a hand grabs them from under the bed at night. He asserts that this was no dream, but this entity trying to communicate with us. Clara initially dismisses this wholesale, but agrees to return to her childhood so they can investigate.

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There is a blunder in the Tardis navigation circuits (WHAT!? That never happens!), and instead of visiting Clara’s childhood, they seem to visit a young Rupert Pink, a boy that it is assumed to be none other than Danny. Of course, The Doctor has yet to officially meet Mr. Pink, so he seemingly does not know the significance. Rupert is terrified of a monster under his bed, making him a prime candidate to test The Doctor’s theory. As they discuss the situation, and odd apparition rises from under Rupert’s bed sheets, leading The Doctor to have them turn away from it, ignoring it. While this could be a monster, it also could have merely been another child keen to play a prank on Rupert.

An interesting thing happens here when both Clara and The Doctor seem to “create” Danny Pink by imprinting values and future information on him. Clara suggests he let a toy soldier stand guard for him, which he enjoys the idea of. He’s always been into soldiers, and names one of his toys “Soldier Dan”. Since he hates his real name, we can see this as when he chooses “Danny” as his new alias. Before wiping his mind of their meeting, The Doctor encourages Rupert to see his fear as a “superpower,” because adrenaline will empower him to overcome obstacles and foes. He seems adamant of this, as if he knows something he isn’t telling anyone else. Rupert slips into a deep sleep with his new life as the heroic “Soldier Dan” firmly implanted into his mind.

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This is where the episode veers off into a place where I had no idea it would go. The Doctor and Clara decide to go back to her “date”, mere minutes after she storms off, in order to set things right with Danny. The Doctor isn’t so keen on this, but seems okay as long as he can ponder his theory more. The date still goes poorly, this time with Danny storming out after she accidentally calls him “Rupert”. He assumes that she is making fun of him in some way, and is hurt. A man in an orange spacesuit steps into the diner, and assuming it’s The Doctor, Clara follows him angrily. The man removes his mask to reveal a much older Danny Pink!

The Doctor identifies this man as Orson Pink, one of Earth’s first time travelers, having originally come from over one-hundred years in Clara’s future. The Doctor found him stranded at the end of the universe, where he was on the verge of death and fearing that an entity was trying to kill him. The Doctor theorizes that this is the very same “companion entity” that he was looking for earlier, and that it may be trying to kill Orson since he is the only remaining life in the Universe.

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Orson decided to become a time traveler when he was a child due to things that happened in his upbringing. It is revealed that one of Orson’s great-grandparents told him stories about time travel and that Orson possesses the small toy soldier given to Rupert earlier in the episode. He gives it back saying that she is worthy of his family heirloom. Something happens and our crew attempts to escape the entity and end up in an odd location as the cloister bell rings, a telltale sign of enormous danger.

Clara finds herself in a rickety barn with a crying child in it. She is forced to hide under the bed when two people enter and try and coax the child out of the room. They are concerned that his constant fear of the dark is going to make him a poor soldier, and that he will never become a TIME LORD at his current state. Horrified at what she has heard, Clara accidentally grabs the child’s leg from under the bed.

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It is at this time that she realizes that she has met none other than The Doctor himself as a young boy, and she is the “companion entity” that he is fearful of. She tells him that he is dreaming, and that he needs to channel his fear into something good, a similar idea that The Doctor told a young Rupert Pink. This barn is none other than the rickety old barn seen in “Day of the Doctor”, so it can be assumed that they are somehow on Gallifrey. Clara tells the Doctor that they need to leave without question, and that he isn’t to know where they just were.

Listen is the perfect set-up for a Moffat-style monster that ends up being a GIANT red herring. He excels at creating conceptual monsters that embody some sort of primal fear that we all share, and in this case it was taken to the ultimate conclusion. For half of the episode, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the reveal on the constant companion and why it seems to be terrorizing The Doctor so much. Realizing that this monster is none other than a misunderstanding from The Doctor, and that he is secretly “scared of the dark” is pretty awesome. In fact, knowing what is going on makes a second viewing that much better.

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To be honest,  When I thought this was a straightforward monster episode I felt that the beginning was weird and oddly paced. The episode seemed to be almost nonsensically put together on a narrative standpoint and concentrated on Clara’s date way too much. It’s only half-way through when I realized that the monster isn’t the main point of the episode, and the date is a study of what makes Danny Pink tick, and why the Doctor acts the way he does. We basically end up searching the negative space of the episode, looking for clues that help us know about the monster (much like The Doctor) and are left speechless when we find out that there is no monster.

We are left assuming that The Doctor has basically made an immense leap of logic that seems somewhat uncharacteristic for himself, and has veered somewhat into the realm of the conspiracy theorist. I’m not going to say that this fact makes The Twelfth Doctor crazy, but his motivation here seems to be that of someone that is utterly horrified by something, but can’t get past the most likely reason for feeling the way he does. He literally cannot come out and say that he’s scared and show any weakness; being so used to carrying the universe on his shoulders, he has somehow internalized it into this “superpower” he tells Danny about.

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As a complete package, it all comes together in such a gratifying way that I haven’t felt since the 50th anniversary special. In a way, this is the current show’s Edge of Destruction, an episode from “classic Who” that seemed weird, oddly paced, and yet immensely gratifying once you realized what was happening.

If anything, this season has proven to be much more about character building than the previous few, and I for one am very happy about that. While I hope that we don’t see too much more of The Doctor’s past, it was cool seeing him as a child. Writers always run the risk of spoiling the mystery of characters like The Doctor by showing their “origin stories” (see X-Men’s Wolverine) but seeing him before he became who he is was awesome. Clara has really imprinted herself on The Doctor much more than anyone else has, she really is “The Constant Companion.”

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Doctor Who: Into The Dalek (2014)

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“This is Clara. Not my assistant, she’s ah, some other word. […] Yeah. My carer. She cares so I don’t have to.”

At first glance, Into The Dalek could be seen as an homage to 2005’s Dalek in many ways. The episode centers around a military confiscation of a wounded Dalek, The Doctor being brought in to examine it, and it’s eventual rampage through a base. Luckily, this similarity isn’t the case for the most part as Into The Dalek goes off into it’s own direction almost immediately, and is a whole different affair than the Rob Shearman classic.

Rather than existing as a tired “base under siege” story, we get something that harkens back to 1966’s Fantastic Voyage, a film where a crew of scientists shrink themselves down and enter a human body; except this time it ain’t no human! Inventive things like this are my favorite sort of Dalek stories, as we’ve seen all of the Dalek tropes hundreds of times each to a point where nothing is new. I’ll hand it to Steven Moffat, after this and Asylum of the Daleks, he can sure write a solid Dalek epiosde.

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After accidentally ditching Clara in Glasgow during a “coffee run” The Doctor finds himself in the middle of a war between one of his oldest foes, The Daleks, and a human outpost. He ends up on the bridge of a haggard military ship with a new secret weapon – a captured Dalek. Bound in chains, this Dalek (or “Rusty” as The Doctor dubs him) seems different. Sure it’s a genocidal killing machine hell-bent on universal domination, but this one seems to hate one thing more than any other – his own race. If only the crew of the Aristotle, a former hospital ship locked into battle with the Dalek Empire, can figure out what makes the heretical “Rusty” tick, perhaps they can end the war for good. With this in mind, they do what any reasonable military squad would do – shrink themselves down and adventure into the beast itself!

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So far, Peter Capaldi is doing an awesome job portraying everyone’s favorite space hobo, and the main selling point for me is a return to his more emotionally distant state. He gets chastised many times for being a bit too callous when faced with the deaths of seemingly unimportant characters, showing that to him the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – a direct callback to the Hartnell era. At one point, a soldier causes a flood of Dalek “antibodies” to swarm the party, the Doctor tosses a device to him and urges him to swallow it as fast as he can. When he does the Dalek spheres immediately kill him. When everyone gets mad, the Doctor has to acknowledge that the man was already dead, and The Doctor bought everyone else time. This is a far cry from the Tennant-era teary-eyed doctor apologizing every time something went wrong.

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The “carer” quote that I placed above is a good nod at this newly re-discovered saltiness, and Clara seems to be there to keep The Doctor from being a self-absorbed jerk to everyone. When he says that Clara “is his carer” I don’t see it as simply wanting to do whatever he wants with no regard to others, Clara is there to ground him. Instead of existing as a convenient Deus Ex Machina as with her previous season, she has evolved into something more.

Her character development has accelerated in these last two episodes, and she’s finally shaping up to be something special. While Capaldi definitely has a “fatherly” vibe to himself, I wouldn’t say that he acts as her father figure. In many ways, I’d even suggest that he’s almost more childlike that he was in previous incarnations.

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The Doctor once again brings us to one of the themes this year, his questioning whether he’s a “good man” or not. While Deep Breath reveled in his moral ambiguity and questions of unscrupulous things he may or may not have done, this episode is a bit more weary. In many ways it reminds me of season one’s Ninth Doctor trying to recover from all of the bad things he thought he did in the time war, but instead of survivor guilt he seems to be saddled with the feeling that he’s always doing bad things and hurting people.

Since he recently undid the thing that ultimately made him feel the worst (the destruction of his people) and lived 900 years in a wonderland where he was beloved by many (The Town of Christmas) one would wonder why he isn’t a bit happier. Could he be worried that’s he’s going down the same path that so many of his former Timelord acquaintances went down? Could we see a return to the sheer arrogance of The Doctor we saw in Waters of Mars?

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On a slight side-note: Capaldi also gets all of the best lines in the episode, my personal favorite being a quip regarding the “shrinking machine”: “Fantastic idea for a movie. Terrible idea for a proctologist.”

This episode sees the inclusion of a character that I hope becomes the second companion this year – Danny Pink as played by Samuel Anderson. It’s immediately apparent that Pink is going to be Clara’s love interest this season, seeing as The Doctor is now off the table. A former soldier with a dark past, Pink could be the sort of action man that I’ve been wanting since John Barrowman left the show years ago. Danny Pink’s secret obviously involves his accidental killing of a civilian or something similar, as we see hints that he didn’t come back in one piece after his fighting.

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With the Doctor’s assertion that “he hates soldiers”, I can see there will be some sort of sparks flying this year. While I liked Rory during the Eleventh Doctor era, he was usually emasculated for comic relief ala Mickey Smith a lot of the time. Since The Doctor shouldn’t have that whole jealous love-triangle thing going on, I hope they can get on as friends. Strong male companions are about as rare as strong female characters in about every other show, and I hope this season puts an end to that!

I refrained from discussing another supporting cast member in my last review aside from a tiny sentence, but here we go – Who is Missy!? Michelle Gomez plays this new character that, while not specifically shown to be evil, comes across like a dark Mary Poppins. So far, she has plucked two characters from certain doom (at the hands or suggestion of The Doctor) and taken them to a place called “Heaven”. I have no idea what her motive is at this point, but it’s fun speculating on who she is. Everything is pointing to her being a fellow renegade Timelordess, but the real question is – who? Could she be the Rani? The Master (Mistress)?, or a totally new character? For right now all I can say is that she’s creepy, and I hope we see more of her this season.

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Before we close out today’s review, I’d like to touch on the direction of this episode. Ben Wheatley seems like one of the many Doctor Who directors that can really make an episode look far more polished than other similar shows. His use of blue-lighting, slow motion for action sequences, and pyrotechnics really made this feel like a movie in certain places. Hopefully Mr. Wheatley does more work for the show, as both episodes so far have looked great.

My only real quibble is that the sound mixer has once again allowed the soundtrack to overcome some of the dialog in certain scenes, a problem that has been plaguing the show for years. I blame the fact that everyone is expected to have huge home theater systems in 2014, and those of this that do not are simply out of luck.

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All in all, this was another solid episode – nothing classic by any means, but another fine example of what the show can offer. I was happy to see some familiar faces in there, like Michael Smiley from Spaced and The World’s End, showing that this show has some of the best supporting casts out there. I can’t wait to see Danny Pink in action, and hope The Doctor treats him better than other male companions as of late, we don’t need another Mickey! Here’s to the next episode Robot of Sherwood, and to more of this solid season!

Here’s Your Saturday Links for 8/16

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Fleet Street goes sci-fi: Daily Express’s starring role in The Day The Earth Caught Fire

“An apocalyptic science fiction film showing the world overheating and society thrown into turmoil is about to be released. But this is no modern commentary on global warming and war – the film was originally shown in 1961. The Day The Earth Caught Fire, a pioneering production and scathing indictment on Cold War posturing, has been rescued from the archives and digitally restored for public release….”

Read More>

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Best sci-fi books round-up: Where imaginations run wild

According to The Independent “Science fiction and fantasy is a broad church, and many who preach its tenets might not be wholly aware that they are doing so.”

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‘Tractor Beams’ Are No Longer Science Fiction

“Tractor beams – invisible tethers which pull space ships into cargo bays through no definable mechanism or physical law – are the latter. Or they were. Researchers at the Australian National University say they have developed what amounts to a tractor beam which is capable of pulling objects using 3D wave currents. “

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Peter Capaldi Discusses Matt Smith’s Final Day on Set

Peter Capaldi describes his first visit to the TARDIS set and what it was like to take over the role from Matt Smith.

Watch Video>

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Red Dwarf XI Confirmed at Convention

“A big update came during the Sci-Fi Scarborough convention on Saturday a Red Dwarf panel comprised of Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn confirmed the news. John-Jules said that shooting is scheduled to get under-way in October 2014 with a view to being aired on Dave in Autumn 2015.”

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Hyperdrive (2007) Series 2, Episode 1 – The Green Javelins

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When we last left the crew of the HMS Camden Lock, they were basically removed from duty and about to be tried as traitors after defecting from The British Empire. Henderson was faced with his own “Kobayashi Maru” situation involving an impossibly hard performance review, and let’s just say he didn’t do so well. For better or worse, we never actually see the resolution to that plot, leading me to believe that the writers hated the ending as much as I did. At the start of series two, everything is as back to normal as this ship can be: Henderson is back in charge, albeit not for long if the Space Marshall has anything to do with it.

Series one left a bad taste in my mouth due largely to mediocre scripts and bad special effects. I’m not a big “I hate stuff because the special effects suck” kind of guy usually, but this show over-uses bad CGI that it has no business using so much. I’ve been waiting to see the second series to see what they did to “right the ship”. From the first moments of the very first episode, one can see that everything has a new coat of paint, leading me to assume that this series has quite a bit more money than the previous one. There is a new theme song, new computer-generated affects, and better writing. It seems that the production staff have answered my call.

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Once again the higher-ups have decided to trust Commander Henderson with yet another task that his crew will most likely mess up. It seems that a space acrobatic team called the “Green javelins” (a play on real acrobatic teams like the Blue Angels or Red Arrows) has recently lost a ship, and the HMS Camden Lock is set to take it’s place. This excites Henderson greatly, as he has been frothing at the mouth for a chance to show his boss that he has what it takes to be great.

Teal has a problem with this new assignment, as it forces her to come face-to-face with an old flame named Jeremy Mason, a man that now leads the “Green javelins.” When they were teenagers, both Teal and Mason (played by Stephen Mangan) met at their agnostic church camp and fell in love. It seems he stood her up when they were supposed to meet up, and he has regretted it ever since. 

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When they get together, Mason explains that he lost his faith when he didn’t see her again, and we’re treated to one of the funnier jokes in the episode. They begin to talk at length about their “agnostic faith” that was so intense in their youth. This version of agnosticism is pretty humorous, as it is described in a similar manner to the evangelical Christian church, just more vague. here is an excerpt of a “hymn” we hear them sing in the episode: 

“I have a vague feeling inside of me.

A hazy spirit duality.

It fills me half-way, but not to the top.

Empirical reasoning makes it stop.”

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While this is going on, York decides to create some sort of clone of himself, so that he can do a better job of instilling unrelenting fear in the hearts of anyone that would not take their job very seriously. Problem is that something goes wrong, VERY WRONG, and York’s “son” isn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. There is a lot of confusion when this second York starts roaming around the ship mumbling to himself and delivering garbled nonsense to passersby. York realizes what he has done, and becomes a Victor Frankenstein of sorts, frantically trying to stop his creation from ruining his name.

I mentioned earlier that the writing got a lot better, and one of the main reasons that I could tell was that these two plots actually came together in some meaningful way, and the clone sub-plot wasn’t just a set up for a cheap gag. At the end of the episode we find the clone, rejected by his “father”, trying to show that he isn’t worthless by sacrificing himself in order to save the rest of the crew.

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This is both touching, and funny, seeing that Kevin Eldon‘s performance as fake-York is so goofy that you can’t help but chuckle. Sadly, there was a vague third plotline involving Sandstrom (the ships pilot computer) being curious about sex, but everything with that character fizzles out, so I hardly notice anymore.

I also mentioned that there was a vast improvement in the special effects department, and it’s not just a small one. I can only assume that they used some sort of miniatures in tandem with their computers because the ships no longer look like smudgy videogame ships from ten years ago. They even pull off some decent close-up shots and other dynamic scenes that are pretty nice. That isn’t to say that I want this to turn into Star Wars and use gratuitous CGI everywhere, but at least the stuff that is used isn’t offensive.

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In closing, this was by far the best produced episode of the show so far. I’m not sure of it’s necessarily my favorite, but it’s heads above the hit or miss nature of series one. If they can keep this up, I think this show could live up to the potential that it had, and stand on it’s own. I’d still like a few characters fleshed out a bit more, and am worried about this new found special effects budget, but all in all I was impressed.

You can watch Hyperdrive on Hulu as part of their recent BBC deal, so if you are looking for something to watch on a rainy day, I’d definitely recommend it.

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Hyperdrive (2006) Episode 5 – Clare

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Being a huge fan of Nick Frost and Kevin Eldon, I really like their show Hyperdrive, but sometimes I feel like I want to enjoy it more than I do. I mean, let’s face the facts – Hyperdrive is the “poor man’s Red Dwarf” essentially. It’s pretty funny in parts, but it sometimes seems a tad forced and somewhat generic. I fell of the wagon back in 2011 trying to get through the relatively small amount of episodes, and here we are almost three years later. It was one of the very first things I started reviewing for this blog, but this was the bleak primordial era of 2011 when I wasn’t taking this blog very seriously and the quality of those older reviews shows that. Rather than going back and re-writing those old reviews, I’m just going to pick up where I left off and review Hyperdrive’s penultimate series one offering “Clare”. Hopefully before the year 2045 I’ll have all twelve episodes written up!

For those new to the game, I’d like to quickly sum what the show is all about. The story of Hyperdrive follows a crew of inept space voyagers trying to expand the re-birthed British Empire in the year 2151. The show stars Nick Frost, Kevin Eldon, Miranda Hart, Stephen Evans, Dan Antopolski, and Petra Massey as the crew of the HMS Camden Lock.

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Frost plays pace Commander Michael Henderson, a misguided man who admires the idealism of space travel (ala cheesy science fiction shows), but has no real credentials to back it up. Imagine every bad thing that Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk ever did and add a bit of sincere stupidity, and you basically have Henderson in a nutshell. His first officer (Eldon) Eduardo York, is a nice contrast to Henderson in that he seems to secretly want to be an evil galactic overlord like Ming the Merciless, but is held down by federation guidelines and other forms of “red tape”. Add in a slacker technical officer named Jeffers (Antopolski), a quiet navigation officer named Vine (Evans), and the straight man, or lady for that matter, in the whole ordeal Diplomatic Officer Chloe Teal (Hart), and you have Hyperdrive in a nutshell.

The story of “Clare” follows the crew on a routine drug busting mission from their higher ups. As they scan the galaxy for drug smugglers, the HMS Camden Lock encounters the ship of the famous adventuress, Clare Winchester. Clare is traveling solo in a small craft around the clock in a similar vein to all of those people that attempt to circumnavigate the Earth in leaky boats every year. One can immediately see that the stresses and solitude involved with such a trip have got to Ms. Winchester. Concerned for her mental well-being, Henderson decides to put the mission on hold to do a little bonding. Granted, he’s always trying to “get his rocks off” with any female he runs across, so any real concern is quite suspect. Clare has fallen into a dark mass of neuroses and paranoia, capped off by the fact that she is talking to inanimate objects like ‘Mr. Cup’, someone that is coincidentally also a coffee cup.

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The actress that plays Clare, Sally Phillips, does a fine job of acting ten shades of crazy in this episode. Her mannerisms, appearance, and nervous ticks all point to the fact that she has been alone for far too long. Phillips is best known for a handful of film roles like The Bridget Jones films, and a few big network TV shows such as Veep and Miranda. Unless one counts Mr. Cup as a guest character, there really aren’t too many other guest stars to speak of.

One of the constant problems I have with Hyperdrive is the fact that it tries to use way too many “special effects” shots despite the miniscule budget. This makes the show come across as very cheap and somewhat dated in appearance. When the action is confined to small areas, such as Clare’s ship, it looks very good. But the moment you see something in space using CGI effects it looks questionable. I hate to draw the comparison to Red Dwarf, but I commend them for model shots for their new episodes last year, because they look sooooo much better than non-Hollywood computer graphics.

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There were some missed opportunities with the script, especially the side-plot involving Sandstrom catching a virus that made her foul-mouthed and irritable. Not only did the dirty words stop being funny pretty fast (perhaps teenagers would love it), it should have never been a prolonged plot device for the whole episode. There is also a tendency in this show to basically do the same thing with her character each episode making her feel one-dimensional. In an earlier one she eats chocolate and goes crazy, this time it’s the language virus. One hopes the character gets more time to shine.

All in all, this was a decent episode of Hyperdrive, but it was really nothing special. bad CGI was kept to a minimum, and Sally Phillips was entertaining – two things that make this a competent episode. For me, I wish this show would step out of the “Star Trek parody” bubble and show some real character, I’m not expecting much but my fingers are crossed for the season finale.

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The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, August 2089

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(AKA Season 1, Episode 7)

It’s been a while since I did a write-up for Tripods, hasn’t it? In fact, I feel like it’s been far too long, something I’m fixing right now. My plan for this “Doctor Who drought” that we are about to enter is to try to clear up a few shows I never completely finished up, and Tripods is right at the top!

Before I get into my review of episode seven, I’d like to touch on something that gives me hope for this franchise in modern times. With the success of The Hunger Games and other youth-oriented dystopian films, I’m hoping that film execs will realize the potential they have with this story. Many may not realize it, but Disney has owned the rights for a film adaptation of the series for upwards of a decade and a half, and have been sitting on them. Considering how long it took before we got a second Tron film, I’m not too optimistic in many ways. My hope is that, much like with Harry Potter, The Hunger Games craze will ignite a new slew of movies that are vaguely similar, not copycat films, but in the same vein.

There was a script floating around, said to be helmed by Alex Proyas (Crow, Dark City, and I, Robot), that made huge changes to the plot, such as changing genders and creating love triangles between characters that has seemed to died off thankfully. I mean, take this nugget from a Digital Spy interview in 2009:

“Well, we’ve erm, I’m giving you all my secrets, but we’ve actually changed Beanpole to a girl. That was a pretty significant change, because I really just didn’t get the notion that there’d be these three boys traveling around the countryside and they just really wanted to have a girl in the mix.”

…..Yeesh!

Now for the review!

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We’re getting closer to the end of what I like to call “The Chateau Arc” for the most part here, and while I’ve enjoyed it immensely, I’ll be glad for the story to move along a bit. There is only so much wandering around an old castle drinking wine, and being aristocratic I can handle! When we last left “Will and the gang” a plea had been made to Will’s love interest, Eloise, for her to come along with him on his planned escape. When she refused, he was in utter shock and soon realized the worst – she was already capped with the Tripods mind control device, a fate worse than death itself for Will. With only days remaining until a sporting tournament on the grounds of the Chateau, and a wedding looming, Will has some tough decisions coming up.

Beanpole and Henry have left already, and are worried about the implications of their split party. Henry is worried that Will’s capping will mean the Tripods will not only know of their plan, the network by which they have been traveling, and where they are going, but that could intercept them. Thankfully, despite his little whiny displays last episode, Henry is not only thinking about himself. He is worried about Will and wishes him happiness, but feels like he has abandoned him in some way. Will is about to watch a series of games that vaguely resemble the type of competitions one might witness at a “Renaissance faire”. The winner of these games is our old buddy Duc du Sarlat, the eternal “Joffrey” of this universe. Not only did he cheat to win, but “The Duke” basically goes around wounding everyone he comes across, all in the name of sportsmanship.

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Throughout the last few episodes It’s been left fairly vague as to what winning this competition actually means in the grand scheme of things, and Will only finds out at the end of the tournament. In order to “get back” at Will and ruin his future with Eloise, Sarlat names Eloise as his “Queen of the Tournament”, an honor that means Eloise is to be taken away from the Chateau and hauled off to the Tripod “City of Gold”. All of the girls in the village run out and lead her to an awaiting Tripod, and it’s all over. Will never has to make the tough decision because his fiance is ripped from his side, and is presumed to never be seen again.

One sad note about this episode is that the girl who portrayed Eloise, Charlotte Long, died shortly after filming the first series of the show. This episode is essentially the last to feature Eloise, minus a dream sequence in series two, but it’s sad to think that she died so young. According to IMDB” She died three days after sustaining injuries in an accident on the M4 motorway, when a truck crashed into her parked car after it had broken down. Her passenger survived with only minor injuries. The resulting inquest heard that the truck driver had sneezed, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and violently rear-end her car while it was parked on the side of the road.”

There really isn’t anything new to be said about this episode, as all of the “Chateau arc” episodes really go together. It can be said that this episode has picked up in tension and drama, something that lacked in the last few “comfortable” episodes. I’m excited to see what Will does now that there is no reason to stay in France, and whether he tries to get even with Sarlat. So here’s to episode eight, where Will goes on the run once again.

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Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (2013)

Doctor Who season finales have been generally decent throughout the current run, although most of them were getting a bit too epic until Moffat took over as show runner. When you’ve had things escalate from the earth being in peril, to a Cyberman / Dalek war, to The Master decimating everything on up, it seemed that Russell T. Davies was always trying to outdo himself each year. One thing I’ve enjoyed a lot since season five is that this tendency to “popcorn movie” finales has been toned down in favor of slightly more subdued ones. Granted, the universe is usually blinking from existence or something, but at least the Doctor is no longer part of an immense war or similar things. Tonight was at long last the finale for season seven, a season I generally enjoyed despite a feeling of disjointedness all year. Even though The Name of the Doctor seemed low key, there were far more moments where I was literally yelling “holy (expletive)!” at the screen.

First and foremost, I was amazed at the opening scene, one which shows a crew of puzzled technicians called to the scene of a theft. What we soon realize is that this was “the theft”, the one that started it all; this was when the Doctor borrowed the Tardis on Gallifrey! Clara is seen falling through time itself, and says that she has been running throughout his history in order to save him. It was at this point that I was grinning from ear to ear, as the next few minutes are filled with scenes of Clara interacting with all of the “classic” Doctors in various old episodes. This was obviously done with a computer, but there were some real cool things like a colorized William Hartnell in the mix. I know the fiftieth anniversary isn’t until November 23rd, but I think this was the moment that this fact really sank in for me.

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The plot for the episode is as follows: An evil scheme is revealed by the Great Intelligence/Doctor Simeon (one again played by Richard E. Grant) to force the Doctor to his final resting place – Trenzalore. The nature of Trenzalore has been a lingering mystery since it was revealed last season, but we find out that it is the place where time travelers are laid to rest. Since Simeon has kidnapped The Doctor’s friends (The Paternoster Gang) The Doctor has to jump into action to save them, and stop Simeon at whatever plan he is concocting. It seems Simeon, flanked by the creepy “whispermen”, wants to open the “Doctor’s Tomb” and destroy the Doctor from existence in a petty act of revenge. He does this by jumping directly into the Doctor’s time stream, and reversing every success he ever had as the protector of the universe. Pretty soon entire planets begin to disappear, as does the people most important to The Doctor. Clara then realizes that the only way to stop him is to also jump into the time stream, at the cost of her own life.

“I don’t know where I am, I just know I’m running.  Sometimes it’s like I’ve lived a thousand lives in a thousand places.  I’m born, I live, I die.  And always there’s the Doctor.  Always I’m running to save the Doctor.  Again and again and again.  And he hardly ever hears me, but I’ve always been there right from the very beginning, right from the day he started running.”

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This selfless act answers the question of how Clara could have shown up multiple times and died trying to help The Doctor. When entering the portal, she has shattered her existence into millions of fragments all destined to save The Doctor from Dr. Simeon. Moved by her kindness and a little chat with his “timey wimey” wife, River Song, The Doctor decides that he will save Clara for once and leaps into his own timeline. What followed was the most spectacular and yet also infuriating cliffhanger in the history of the show. When he is re-united with Clara, The Doctor tries to divert her attention from a dark figure standing in the bowels of his time stream. This figure is his greatest secret, something the Doctor is both trying to hide and feels ashamed of. The figure turns and it is revealed to be none other than John Hurt (1984, V for Vendetta) as a mysterious forgotten regeneration of himself…..credits roll. The wait until November is going to be excruciating!

My brain is buzzing with speculation that this is an aborted regeneration of The Doctor, perhaps the one that turned rogue during the time war. Fans have often wondered which incarnation that did all the bad things that he feels terrible about all the time, looks like it may be this guy. I love this revelation because we all know what happens when The Doctor loses his grip on “humanity” just a bit. We’ve seen the Dram Lord, Mr. Clever, The Valeyard, and even what happened to the Master, we could finally be getting close to the mystery of the Last Great Time War. I know some fans will get mad that there could be a tangential incarnation of the Doctor out there, but this is not a new thing. I mentioned the Valeyard from Trial of a Time Lord. But don’t forget that there could have been pre-Hartnell era regenerations as seen in The Brain of Morbius!

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I also loved how the “name of The Doctor” was not revealed in this episode, as anyone with half a brain cell could figure out. Steven Moffat isn’t as dumb as the folks that decided to reveal the Marvel character Wolverine’s backstory; as it would ruin all the mystery, plus no one would be happy with it. The name was the “password” to his crypt, and he was nearly forced to utter it until River Song whispered it to open the door. The episodes title is actually a play on the fact that he took the name “The Doctor” as an oath to be good and help people, but one of his lives didn’t for some reason. And I’m sure we will find out why in November. While the episode did reveal just about all the mysteries related to Clara, there is a bit of muddled continuity in previous seasons. One has to wonder why The Silence were so keen to stop The Doctor from going to Trenzalore, unless they were actually not bad guys at all and knew he would cause something really bad to happen by showing up. I hope this gets addressed and doesn’t get added to other plot holes related to The Silence from way back in season five.

I absolutely loved this episode, and felt it was easily one of the better season finales. Granted I hated the finale for season three, and a few others felt a bit bloated, but that is saying a lot for me to have liked it so much. The acting was superb, the cameos from “classic” Doctors was really cool, and the finale was amazing. The long wait until November is going to be excruciating; I mean this is almost as bad as the infamous Star Trek cliffhanger from The Best of Both Worlds!

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I’ve been Catching up on Doctor Who On Amazon, maybe you should as well:

Doctor Who: Series Seven – Part Two [Blu-ray]

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Red Dwarf X: Fathers and Suns (2012)

Remember how the Klingons looked like dudes with bushy eyebrows and brown makeup in the original Star Trek series? Now, think about how they turned up in the films and later TV shows completely altered to have forehead ridges and other changes without any explanation. Detail oriented fans must have had a collective aneurysm that day, as one was lead to believe that fans were supposed to think “just pretend they always looked like this”. Fans made all sorts of theories on these discrepancies, books were written, and the producers had to FINALLY take care of the canonical issues in an episode of Star Trek Enterprise. Red Dwarf is different though; it isn’t one of those shows that always attempts to “clean up” instances of bad continuity between episodes, in fact it pretty much revels in it. In fact, there have been some real champion-level shenanigans placed into episodes. Take the Series VII episode “Ouroboros”, where the writers employ a brain killing paradox wherein Lister is revealed to be his own biological father. The episode we are looking at today can be seen as a sequel of sorts to that episode, as we see Lister struggle with the relationship between himself and his father. Confused yet? Good!

The episode opens with Lister filling out a Father’s day card for himself causing Rimmer great annoyance. It seems that every year he gets totally hammered on cheap booze and writes himself the card, this way he forgets what he wrote. Rimmer, in one of his few profound moments, asks why Lister should even like his father, considering he left him abandoned in a pub with only a rattle and a cardboard box. Lister is visibly shaken by this and feels that his son hasn’t lived up to his expectations. After talking with the ship’s medi-bot, a holographic projection of a doctor, he is given the advice to employ “tough love” on his son.

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There are two side plots in the episode, one that is pretty major and one that really isn’t. Getting the small one out of the way first, we have the crew pondering whether the game “Chinese whispers” (called “telephone” here in the U.S.) is racist because it assumes Chinese people can’t spread rumors well. This plot was funny, but completely non-essential to the main storyline. The main secondary plot involved Rimmer and Kryten installing a new computer system to replace Holly. Pree, the new system, is so powerful that it can predict what the crew is going to do. The programming is so good that when asked to fix a number of problems, Pree anticipates that Rimmer would make errors in ordering repairs, and so wreaks havoc on the corridors as he would have unwittingly ordered her to. This escalates as Lister gets drunk and resigns thus rendering their mission “go back to Earth” obsolete  – Pree decides to destroy the ship instead.

The part where Lister resigns was awesome, as it was beautifully written despite the fact that it was literally Craig Charles talking to himself. Taking the “tough love” approach to heart, daddy Lister leaves a video for himself. When he watches it he realizes that he is disgusted with his own behavior – he is lazy and has no motivation. Lister orders himself to take responsibility and enroll in classes on the ship to move up in rank, and to get a tooth pulled that he was been putting off. Lister blows “his dad” off only to find a second message that escalates the situation, then a third, and a fourth. It seems that drunk Lister knew he would not do what he asked and took charge by punishing him via throwing his prized guitar outside and other punishments. Lister replies with “ You don’t understand me, and I hate you”, pretty hilarious if you ask me.

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The jokes were pretty awesome in this episode. While I grew tired of the running “Chinese Whispers” gag, the payoff was pretty good in the end. My favorite gag was easily Rimmer asking Lister “what’s that whining sound?”(referring to a noise the ship was making), with Lister replying “it’s you, you’re talking!” I was worried that the joke style would be more like seasons VII and VIII, where they relied too much on fart humor and randomness, but this is classic Red Dwarf at its best. I think the small budget and the need for more “talky” episodes because of that lent well to the style of this episode being more “old school”.

My only quibble was possibly the characterization of Pree, seeing as there was a similar episode way back in series two involving a back-up computer called “Queeg”. While he wasn’t as harsh as Pree, and was actually just a prank by Holly to make the crew appreciate him, the similarity is there. I guess I should mention that Pree was played by Rebecca Blackstone, a lesser known American actress who seems to be doing some voice work lately. Not only is she “easy on the eyes”, but she does a good job of being cold and robotic in the role. The only other guest actor was “Medi-bot” as portrayed by Kerry Shale. Known for voice work and some minor roles in film and television, he is an actor that I’ve seen before but haven’t seen enough of.

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So there we have it, another solid episode from the cast and crew. One would have thought that would be a little “ring rust” on everyone getting back into the swing of things, but nothing like that seemed evident here. Seeing all these computerized talking heads around the ship like Medibot and Pree made me realize how much I miss the character of Holly, and wish Norman Lovett would bury the hatchet with Doug Naylor and come back. Hell, I’d enjoy a return by Hattie Hayridge even though she only briefly did the role. So there we have it, one of the more complex Red Dwarf episodes – the kind I love!

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I bought this Blu-Ray on Amazon, maybe you should as well!

Fathers and Suns [HD]

Fathers and Suns

Red Dwarf: X [Blu-ray]

Red Dwarf: X

And if you do, use these links, as you are helping this site!

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Red Dwarf X: Trojan (2012)

Sometimes I look through my search terms on this blog’s dashboard for clues as to what I should be writing about. While I see utterly terrifying things like “Sophie Aldred latex bodysuit” or “Alexandra Roach Nude” in there occasionally, one that I see quite a lot for some reason is “Do Americans like Red Dwarf?” Well sir or madam, I am very much an American and I LOVE Red Dwarf. The problem with Red Dwarf is that it never really got the big marketing blitz that other UK shows like Downton Abbey or Doctor Who have received. It has fans, but they are fans of a niche show, that many watch on public broadcasting channels or the odd DVD. This is very similar to how Doctor Who used to be over here.

I recall dressing up as the Tom Baker Doctor (it’s in my about page) one Halloween and getting puzzled stares as to who I was supposed to be, Harry Potter was the likely candidate apparently. This was after the 2005 series of Doctor Who launched but “normal people” hadn’t heard of it before, nor did they care as it sounded weird to them. There was even this guy dressed up as Xander from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (a.k.a normal clothes as a costume) giving me crap because my chosen fandom wasn’t as popular as his. I’d love to see his un-costumed face now! Red Dwarf needs a moment like the one fans got when BBC America started airing Doctor Who and actually pushing it, it needs those non-fans to realize it even exists. Until then it’s going to be sort of niche, but it can be the fan’s little secret. Well, that was vaguely on-topic, but you are probably here assuming this is a review of Trojan and not a long-winded anecdote about annoying people making me mad; so here is my review.

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While I really enjoyed 2009’s Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, It wasn’t as strong comedy-wise as older seasons, a big problem for what is primarily a comedy show.  It looked amazing, had a better story, and was far more dramatic than any previous Red Dwarf season, but something was missing. It could have been the lack of a live audience, the contemporary setting on Earth, or any multitude of reasons; all I knew was that if it came back, I didn’t want another series like it. And here we are sitting in 2013, and I have Red Dwarf X on Blu-Ray sitting on my desk! I know I’m late to the party, as this came out ages ago, but I decided to wait until I could get ahold of the home video release to do reviews, that way I could talk about special features and the like. Some were worried that watching four middle-aged men crack jokes on each other would somehow not make a great show, but nearly twenty seasons of Top Gear can attest to the power of that very set up. Well, minus one guy, unless we count the Stig, he’s sort of like Kryten I guess!

The very first episode back starts with a bang, as we see a bit of Arnold Rimmer’s past, something that we only hear about in previous seasons. We know a lot about Lister’s past failings, dreams, and ambitions, but Rimmer has never really been fleshed out as much. The crew has apparently come closer to human civilization than ever before, as they somehow pick up a transmission from a “home shopping” type channel called The All Droid Mail Order shopping Network. Lister is apparently one of those people that gets hooked on such things, and gets in a seemingly never-ending phone queue for a device called a “stir Master”. The joke here is that Lister is literally on hold for nearly the rest of the entire episode, but his desire to save time stirring tea is immense.

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While this is going on, the crew comes across a derelict, and somewhat better equipped, ship called the SS Trojan. Rimmer fiddles around with the ships control rod (which looks like a baby lightsaber) and inadvertently summons a ship carrying a holographic representation of Rimmer’s brother, Howard Rimmer. Arnold does what any brother would do when faced with the impending death of a sibling: he puts off helping so that he can pass his astro-navigation test and become an officer. He wants to do this to show off to Howard, and make him jealous. Once he fails once again, he goes the other direction dressing the Dwarfers like rejects from a Star Trek movie, and pretending to be the crew of the Trojan.

I really enjoyed this section of the episode, because Rimmer trumps his crew up so much to a ridiculous degree despite having ZERO ability to actually use the ship, much less give a simple tour of it. Rimmer insists in talking in a goofy “captain voice” as he smugly belittles his brother and hits on Howard’s crewmate, an android named Sim Crawford. Arnold introduces his “crew” by giving everyone stupid backstories and false names: Kryten becomes “under-privileged” flight coordinator Kryten Krytinski, The Cat is Navigation officer Gerald Hampton, and Lister is made out to be a “Touch T” telepath named David Listerton-Smythe. Despite obvious holes in this plot Howard doesn’t see through it at all. After Crawford reveals that she is, in fact, the villain of the piece and the reason Howard’s crew all died, Howard sacrifices himself to save Arnold, and reveals his secret. He is actually just a lowly vending machine technician and lied about the whole thing to look important. The Space Corps computer system realizes this and posthumously promotes Howard to an officer, and proposes renaming the Red Dwarf the “SS Howard Rimmer” making Arnold VERY jealous.

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The first thing that really blew me away in Trojan, was how good the sets looked. Everything is “updated” but not in the same “white rooms and lense flares” way that we got in the recent Star Trek films. There are better computer screens and better lighting, but it still looks like ‘Dwarf. The detail here is amazing, once can really tell that they got a superb set designer that knows how to dress a set for HD in Michael Ralph. Little things like the raised textures on the walls are low key, almost unnoticeable on first viewing, but really make the scenes. I also love the fact that miniatures were used for ship and other exterior shots. I’m not an anti-computer generated effects guy, but let’s face it – Red Dwarf is made on a tight budget, why blow money on CGI? Shows like Hyperdrive fell into that trap of using cheap, unnecessary CGI and I feel that it really hurt certain episodes. It was like realizing that a spaceship on Blakes 7 was actually a hairdryer, except imagine that hairdryer blurry and unfinished! Unless you can make good effects on the cheap, stay with miniatures – they look better!

There really isn’t much of a guest cast to speak of here. Aside from the “The All Droid Mail Order shopping Network” personalities, you really only have two extra cast members. First off is Howard Rimmer as portrayed by Mark Dexter. Dexter is best known for roles in crime dramas like Law and Order UK, Ripper Street and Crusoe, but I was unfamiliar with him as I do not watch those sorts of programs. He was really good here as Arnold’s older brother; one could really imagine him giving out “wedgies” and making Arnold miserable. They chose someone that has similar mannerisms and a look that screams “RIMMER!” Our other guest was Sim Crawford, played by Susan Earl. I was only familiar with Earl from her role in Reggie Perrin, playing a nurse-like character named Sue, and I only remembered that when I checked IMDB. While a good actress, she had her voice changed and such to that of a more robotic nature, so it is hard to pin her down. She does make a pretty funny face at the end, and it made me laugh, so she’s okay in my book.

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I mentioned the two of my favorite gags up there, but there really were so many to choose from. I feel that this series sort of pushed jokes too far after Doug Naylor became the sole captain at the helm. Series seven and especially eight were funny, but suffered from jokes that seemed strained at times; everything has balanced out here. All of the main actors take turns stealing scenes from each other, and even small things like the way The Cat walks into a room are made hilarious for some reason. I will say that the dynamic of just four guys works the best for me; I don’t mind Kochanski, but the show is better without her as a character. After being away for so long, you’d imagine that the boys would have trouble “clicking” into place, but that isn’t the case. Right out of the gate, the chemistry is there.

I try not to be one of those fans that clings to any particular “era” of this series as being the ultimate iteration of Red Dwarf, but I do have a distinct liking to series 4-6. One of the real reasons that I enjoyed this episode so much is that it felt right at home in one of those seasons. There is always room for improvement, but this was a solid kick-off to what I hope is a new era in Red Dwarf, it’s been far too long that these guys have been off our screens, hopefully they don’t go away this time. Keep checking back this week, as I plan to review ALL six episodes in the next few days!

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Red Dwarf: X [Blu-ray]

Red Dwarf: X

Trojan [HD]

Trojan

Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror (2013)

I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I LOVE the Paternoster Gang. You may be wondering why I feel the need to qualify that statement; well, it seems that being a fan of them can be a misstep in the serious high-octane world that is Doctor Who fandom. Every once in a while I mistakenly try to venture into Doctor Who-related message boards, but am utterly underwhelmed by the negativity and cynicism within. I won’t name any forums that I used to frequent, but you can probably figure out which fun vacuum I am speaking of. One of my biggest pet peeves on these sites, are the folks that seem to think (and want to change everyone else’s opinions to agree with the notion) that Steven Moffat has ruined both the Sontarans and the Silurians by having Strax and Lady Vastra be good guys and have a sense of humor; for me, he has helped make the two somewhat stale races more enjoyable.

The humor from Strax alone (big props to Dan Starkey) can easily make an episode for me, but that’s no surprise because I’m a sucker for stories involving a guy from an extreme military background being forced to deal with normal human life. Characters such as Worf from Star Trek the Next Generation easily fit this bill as does Sousuke from Full Metal Panic, but my favorite of all is easily Strax.  Case and point, would be his ordeals with the Doctor’s memory worm in The Snowmen, a scene that nearly made me visit the bathroom upon watching. Because of this love of all things Paternoster, I was really excited for this episode, and I wasn’t let down.

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Mark Gatiss was quite at home here with his exaggerated pastiche of Victorian London. I have longed to see him write a script that came close to the warped world that was The League of Gentlemen, but got left with a few “hit or miss” episodes instead. The Crimson Horror may not be the same sort of black comedy as League, but it’s every bit as off-kilter and has as many laughs as scares. At this point and time, I think Gatiss has produced the two strongest scripts this season, with Cold War being his other one. This vast improvement shows that he could be a clear contender to take the mantle of Doctor Who show-runner should Steven Moffat decide to step down in the near future – an opinion I did not have during his episode last year.

The story of The Crimson Horror takes a very unorthodox approach by not actually showing The Doctor and Clara until a long time into the episode. In fact, Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are the focal point this time around. This isn’t the same idea as when we used to have “Doctor-lite” episodes such as Love and Monsters, but a cool way to tell a story from the middle rather than the beginning. The Parternoster Gang has received an inquiry to investigate a strange illness called the “Crimson Horror”, a terrible ailment that leaves its victims rigid and with bright red skin. The trail leads them to an apocalyptic community in Yorkshire called Sweetville. This town is led by a woman named Mrs. Gillyflower and her “silent” and unseen partner Mr. Sweet. Mrs. Gillyflower preaches that the end times are near and that our moral decay is destroying the world, a fact made more evident by appearance of her daughter Ada, a younger woman disfigured by a beating from her late father.

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I mentioned that viewers are left in the dark as to the whereabouts of The Doctor and Clara for quite a while. This is because The Doctor is locked in a dungeon for the beginning of the episode; we hear him mumble and groan unseen while Ada calls him “her monster”. It is not revealed until Jenny discovers him rigid and with sanguine skin that he’s this “monster”. The main reason the Paternoster Gang is trying to figure out the “Crimson Horror” is because of an old urban legend that supposedly reveals a way to see the last thing a dead person sees. We learn that when someone dies, the final image they see is imprinted on their eye, and in the case of one of the victims, the last thing he saw was The Doctor! In hilarious antiquated sepia-toned flashbacks we find out the real story –

The Doctor isn’t the killer, but a victim himself. Clara and The Doctor found out about the problems in Sweetville long before the Paternoster Gang, and infiltrated the same way Jenny has, posing as interested parties. It seems that Mrs. Gillyflower has a preservation process that she is using to “save” folks from the upcoming apocalypse. It seems that she is using the venom from an ancient parasite – this, my friends, is Mr. Sweet, an ugly worm creature. The Doctor isn’t human, so he did not react well to the “treatment” and suffered the same fate as other “rejects”. In fact, had he not been saves by Ada he would have been dumped in the river like other discarded victims.

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This episode is both VERY dark, almost grotesque at times, and hilarious. There are tons of little one-liners and quips that make the dialog for me. One of the funniest is when The Doctor brings up his issues with Tegan, a past companion: “Ooh, I once spent helluva long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport!” Like I said above, my favorite scenes were with Strax. One of the best is his interaction with His new flesh and blood GPS sidekick Thomas Thomas (get it! LOL). The way “Tom Tom” saves Strax’s poor horse from execution because of its inability to navigate the streets of Yorkshire was hilarious. We also see Strax getting to FINALLY shoot his gun, an act that he obviously gets a bit too excited for leading to a scolding by Madame Vastra: “Strax, you’re over excited.  Have you been eating those jelly sherbet fancies again?” I’m not in it for only the jokes, but if there are jokes in Doctor Who, stuff like this is great.

Ada and Mrs. Gillyflower are played by real life mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg (of Avengers fame) and Rachael Stirling. Rigg is awesome in her role, and one can see that she simply had fun “chewing the scenery”. Their relationship in the episode is pretty dark and goes against the grain of the ongoing trope of “love saves the day” that we have seen constantly through the last few seasons. Once Ada realizes that her mother lied about her blindness and basically lets it slip that she used her as a test subject for the antidote for the preservation process, Ada is a bit less than happy. Let’s just say that Mrs. Gillyflower and Mr. Sweet are a bit worse for wear at the end.

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So there we have it, one of my favorite episodes this year, and my favorite Gatiss script altogether! He seems to have the Paternoster Gang down, and hope that he uses them more often. The episode has a few small plot holes, and a bad guy plot just as silly as The Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but that doesn’t matter – it was pure fun! Next week we have Clara and the Kids she babysits facing the Cybermen, in a script by Neil Gaiman! Saturday can’t come soon enough!

Want a way to watch this episode, but don’t have cable? Maybe Amazon is a good choice, that’s how I watch them at least!

The Crimson Horror

The Crimson Horror [HD]

The Doctor is Blue

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I didn’t make it, but it seemed cool none-the-less.

Doctor Who: Hide (2013)

“It’s ghost time!”

While many Doctor Who episodes are a little bit scary (what else would make all those kids hide behind their sofas?), strict horror-based one are kind of hit or miss. Sometimes you have episodes like The Unquiet Dead that really hits the ball out of the park when it comes to atmosphere and scares, and unfortunately there are episodes like Fear Her. I think that a lot of this comes down to the fact that we will NEVER see a ghost story or monster story where the creature in question is really a paranormal entity, thus making the viewer question it the whole time. It’s kind of like watching an M. Night Shyamalan film; on one hand it’s usually sort of creepy, but on the other one becomes preoccupied with the upcoming “twist ending”. You may be assuming that I’m about to bash Hide based on the above sentiment, that’s where you are wrong – I loved it. Hide take’s everything you thought you knew about these kinds of stories and turns them on their heads.

It’s a dark and stormy night, and there seems to be a paranormal investigation going on in a large haunted mansion. Our two co-stars for the evening are a psychic named Emma Grayling (as played by Jessica Raine, soon to be Verity Lambert in the upcoming Doctor Who historical drama) and Professor Alec Palmer (played by Dougray Scott, known for Mission Impossible II and the recent Day of the Triffids films) as they try to find out the secret behind “The Witch of the Well”. It seems that the Caliburn mansion has been plagued by reports of a horrible spectre for hundreds of years, and since this is 1974, our ghost hunters are using all the latest gizmos to find it. Emma and Palmer are soon joined by The Doctor and Clara, who seem to be there on purpose for once exclaiming “we’re the Ghost Busters!” instead of the usual scenario of not knowing where they are.

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Dougray Scott is one of those actors that I am not really all that familiar with aside from a handful of film and TV roles, but always delivers with his acting. After seeing him in Day of the Triffids and this I can definitely say that he would make an awesome Bernard Quatermass if that franchise ever gets off the ground again. Sadly I cannot say that I am at all familiar with the previous work of Jessica Raine, but she did a fine job here. I’m looking forward to spotting her in the aforementioned historical drama An Adventure in Space and Time, soon to be hitting our airwaves this November.

For the most part, Hide reminds me a LOT of some of the older Big Finish audio dramas that I’ve listened to. I’m not sure why, but the mixture of decent, plausible science, and the moody atmosphere gave me a bit of a throwback to some of the 2001 Paul McGann audios especially. Notice that I said “science” up there when talking about a ghost story? That’s because this episode does have a twist on the origin of the “ghost”, but the reveal isn’t the usual Scooby Doo-esque “it looks like this ghost was really an alien!” Instead we are presented with a cool idea: The Doctor realized that “The Witch of the Well” never moves in ANY picture that is taken of it, so he decides to find out if this could be a fixed point in time. He and Clara board the Tardis and take snapshots throughout the lifespan of the Earth looking for the ghast. Sure enough, it’s there, but it’s not what he expected.

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It seems that the “ghost” is actually an ill-fated time traveler named Hila Tukurian (played by Kemi-Bo Jacobs), who disappeared after a time flight. Hila has been caught in what The Doctor explains as a “pocket dimension” where thousands of years in our time are mere moments there. This is the reason for the seemingly static shots of the ghost, as Hila is actually running for her life from an unseen enemy. So if Hila isn’t the “villain” of the episode, who is? It seems the unnamed “crooked man” briefly spotted in the final picture is the culprit, and The Doctor must save Hila from him. This “crooked man” is pretty unnerving and harkens back to movies like The Ring. When we do see him, he crawls around in an unnatural manner, his twisted face grimacing in anguish. But the crooked man has a reason for his actions, and it’s not because he’s evil – he’s in love!

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re saying “love saves the day AGAIN!?” The Doctor beat the peg dolls and Cybermen with love last year, and this year he defeated the parasite sun-god of Ahkaten with it as well. Well, this is different. It seems that “The Crooked Man” is angry because his mate is trapped in the “real world” behind a door that The Doctor closes. The Doctor has unwittingly doomed him to the very death that was once going to be Hila’s fate. In a silly twist The Doctor flies in to save the beast, in one of the oddest endings that we’ve ever witnessed as viewers. Some people have complained that this ending was either “out of the blue” or “tacked on”, but I liked it because the Doctor would never let an innocent die if he could save them, no matter how ugly they are.

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If anything was bad about this episode, I think that Hila was not a very well-developed character. Granted, she is the focus for around three-quarters of the whole episode, but just stands there like furniture once she is safe. I almost wish that this episode was a two-parter with the haunting storyline reserved for episode one, and the time travels bits in episode two. Maybe in this arrangement, characters like Hila could have stood out more, but what we do have is more than sufficient.

My favorite bit of this episode was probably the interaction between The Doctor and Clara regarding her mystery. We are starting to see more and more that they really don’t trust each other at all, a fact that was hammered home no less than twice. In the first instance Clara stayed in the Tardis while The Doctor took tons of pictures to see if he could figure out if the ghost was a fixed point in time. We see a montage of sorts involving rapidly changing times from the dawn of the Earth to the very end. This disturbs Clara as The Doctor seems totally unaffected by what they just saw, but she just saw her entire existence pass before her eyes. This makes her realize that The Doctor is not like her and must see all humans as mere ghosts. The second instance is actually the entire reason that this episode happened. It seems that The Doctor tried to find Emma to ask about Clara, noting her strong abilities as an empath. When Emma remarks that “she is a normal girl” this sets him off, she must be a trap or something! Clara also asked Emma about The Doctor where she found out that he has a “ sliver of ice in his heart”; seems like he is still the Dark, brooding Doctor from The Snowmen, and Clara might be the only thing keeping him going.

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All in all, Hide was a fine episode, I’ve enjoyed this season a lot despite the fact that a bunch of other fans seem to be having trouble with it. The intelligent nature of the unorthodox plotting by Neil Cross is a breath of fresh air from the tendency to do “Doctor Who by numbers” that many writers fall victim to. I know some writers want to please the fans at every turn, but taking chances like this is the only way the show can keep going and staying fresh. Cross was the man behind The Rings of Akhaten as well, another unorthodox episode that I enjoyed. “The Crooked Man” was a creepy “villain” proving that less can be more sometimes. He wasn’t as ambiguous as the antagonists in Midnight or Silence in the Library, but he came across just as terrifying. Next week we have a Journey to the Center of the Tardis to look forward to, and it looks like all hell breaks loose in the relationship between Clara and the Doctor.

 

Lately I have been watching this show on Amazon.com’s portal on the PS3 as I do not have cable nor do I want to “steal” the episodes. Here are some links if you want to try this method out as well:

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Hide [HD]

Doctor Who: Cold War (2013)

After The Rings of Akhaten puzzled fans with what is quite possibly the most unconventional (and divisive) episode of modern Doctor Who, this time we have something so conventional it feels almost retro! This is definitely helped by the fact that a returning villain, The Ice Warriors, make their modern era debut in Cold War, and with a make-over to boot. The recipe for tonight’s episode is easy: just take one part classic “base under siege” template, add it to one part Ridley Scott’s Alien then mix it all in a bowl of Hunt for Red October.

The story follows The Doctor and Clara stumbling in on a Cold War era Soviet submarine at the height of tensions with the U.S. The crew is taking part in a routine test to see if they have the testicular fortitude available to nuke everything if the call was ever made to start a nuclear war. It seems that the crew has taken a bit of “extra cargo” in the form of a huge ice block with a presumed mammoth inside. Of course, this isn’t the case, and we have a loose Ice Warrior running around. His name is Grand Marshall Skaldak, and the poor guy thinks that he is the last of his people. In fact, he is utterly devastated that his family, including his daughter, aged to dust by the passage of almost five thousand years in his icy tomb. When faced with losses of that sort combined with his militaristic nature means that he may just cause a nuclear incident because he has nothing to lose.

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First things first, I’d like to discuss the changes made to the ice warrior costume itself. The new costume, as we see with Grand Marshall Skaldak, is a vast improvement on the older suits, without losing the iconic look of the classic series version. Really the only BIG change was the hands, and let’s be honest, most people are happy that they lost their robot claws/Lego guy hands in favor of three-fingered Ninja Turtle-like ones. The problem I always had with the 1960’s iterations are that they looked so much like a guy in an overdone fiberglass and fur suit that I was expecting Godzilla to fight them off. You could tell the actor’s visibility was bad, and the mobility was clunky and slow. The new suits look somehow more maneuverable and more armor-like at the same time despite being obviously made from a less rigid material.

As for one controversial aspect of the episode, I quite enjoyed seeing Skaldak outside of his armor. It seems like I am the only one out there, but the effect wasn’t so bad. Yeah I know his face was computer generated, and that folks are averse to any CGI creatures, but the unusual take on them was interesting. I think many people figured that there would be a random make-up faced dude under there, but what we got was more alien. Let’s be honest if it was just somebody with lizard make-up they would have been too similar to the Silurians.

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Another big plus for me was the guest cast. It was almost refreshing to see a bit of media based on Russian soldiers to escape the almost propaganda-esque portrayal found in most shows. Instead of a crew of militant Stalinists hell-bent on the decimation of the United States, we have a level-headed crew of guys that look like they’d be fun to hang out with. The inclusion of veteran actor (and former audio-only Doctor Who actor) David Warner as professor Grisenko especially stood out. I’m not sure if it was the adorable grandfatherly wacko-vibe (the one that made me love Wilf so much in season 4) or his love for new wave music that I enjoyed so much, but Warner delivered the goods. I’m one of probably four people who have yet to watch the blockbuster show Game of Thrones, but I hear Liam Cunningham is quite good in it. I’m not familiar with him much aside from smaller roles, but if his stint as Captain Zhukov is any indication, he is pretty good.

On a side note while we are discussing the ship’s crew: That the guy that originally released the Ice Warrior from the block of ice was comically inept to such a hilarious degree, I’m amazed that he didn’t inadvertently kill the entire crew long before the Doctor even showed up. He causes the whole catastrophe simply because he couldn’t wait to see the mammoth they found, and took a blowtorch to it like a naughty child on Christmas Eve peeking at their presents.

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The way the whole episode was put together was very good. I really enjoyed the script, which is amazing since it was penned by Mark Gatiss. I’m no Gatiss hater by any stretch of the imagination, but he has had troubles for some reason or another doing solid scripts for the new series. I loved The Unquiet Dead, but was let down in most of his other episodes. Cold War contained his old-school sensibility and his attention to historical detail very well, and unlike Victory of the Daleks, it didn’t fall apart in the end. The direction was very well done as well and retained the cinematic feel that Douglas McKinnon got so right in The Power of Three. The claustrophobic feel of all the steamy, drippy submarine corridors and the attention to shadows and darkness gave this episode a nice nod to the Ridley Scott Film Alien.

Cold War is quite possibly the best episode this half of the season so far. Keeping the tense mood and claustrophobic vibe ramped up to eleven was great, as it really helped the “mini-film” nature pop out. Skaldak is a great adversary for the Doctor, and I really hope we see him again at some point. His honor code mixed with his refreshingly real emotions and motives are a nice change for a show usually populated with villains that are evil for the sake of being evil. You really feel for the guy, even though he decides to handle his predicament pretty poorly, but honor wins out in the end. He honestly reminds me of Klingon characters throughout the many Star Trek shows. While they are usually the antagonists of any given story, rarely are they doing any action solely based on bad intentions alone. That’s what makes them so iconic in that universe, and I hope this carries over to Doctor Who. Move over Sontarans, I think the show has rediscovered its resident “Klingons”.

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In closing, I really hope that professor Grisenko is still alive in the modern Doctor Who world and is enjoying the recently re-united Ultravox; hopefully he never gave up hope after they broke up around the same time as the fall of the Soviet Union!

 

Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

While the novelty of having a title such as X on a(n) X (ex: Snakes on a Plane) would have been more topical in 2006, it does show exactly what we are getting here: a fun “romp” episode that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. With how serious and well-layered the previous episode was, this stands as a stark counter-balance to Asylum of the Daleks with all the “in your face” zaniness that is usually reserved for comedy episodes. I know a lot of fans dislike episodes like this, but I generally like them. As you will see, there is a dark edge here as well, not just fluff.

The plot centers on an unidentified spacecraft that is found to be hurling towards earth, this of course freaks out many Earth-based agencies including the Indian Space Agency. The Doctor is enlisted by the ISA to “take care of it” so that they can stop any sort of crisis with it crashing. The Doctor needs a “Gang” to check it out, so who better to enlist than the legendary Queen Nefertiti, a big game hunter named Riddell, and “the Ponds”. They find out that the ship is an ancient Silurian “ark” full of dinosaurs, and fun ensues.

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This episode is notable for introducing a new character – Rory’s father, as played by Mark Williams of Harry potter fame. Brian (Rory’s dad) is sucked into the whole situation completely accidentally, and the first truly humorous scene involves The Doctor’s reaction to his presence. When the Doctor picks up “The Ponds” Brian is helping Rory fix a light bulb just as the Tardis shows up and materialized around all three of them. The Doctor does not in fact notice Brian until way later when they are leaving the Tardis. He assumes some random person walked into the Tardis. It’s never explained how the two don’t seem to have ever met despite the zany antics The Doctor was up to at Amy and Rory’s wedding, but I guess he could have been absent. In The Big Bang, we clearly meet Amy’s parents, but Rory’s family appears to be his siblings or something. I guess it’s a mystery we will never know the answer to!

Another Harry Potter Alumni takes the stage as the villain of the piece – David Bradley as Solomon. As with many Doctor Who villains, Solomon is initially not the antagonist of the piece, but reveals himself in the third act. His initial story is that the problems are all related to the fact that his legs have been mauled by raptors and his “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” of the robot world (as played by the double act –Mitchell & Webb) have been insufficient in helping him out. Once we realize that he wants to capture “Neffy” for his collection we learn the real truth. Solomon is basically a space pirate and has killed all the Silurians on board and a lot of the dinosaurs. He was trying to figure out a way to monetize the dinos before the accident happened, just as the “Gang” shows up.

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What happens next has divided fans of the show, but is not without precedent. The Doctor, realizing how truly evil Solomon is, sets it up so that Solomon is killed by a slew of missiles launched by the ISA. He doesn’t give him a second chance or anything; he basically says “your dead!” and leaves him to his fate. Many internet fans flipped out because of this, partially because many were lead to see the Doctor as a pacifist “space Jesus” up through the first few seasons, but having this view is a mistake. I could list a number of times where the Doctor essentially murders people, but there is no more telling instance than the very first serial of the show. At one point The Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, has to be stopped from smashing a caveman’s skull in with a huge rock simply because he “was slowing them down”. The doctor has a dark side, and being away from companions makes him like this. Hopefully this is a theme further explored!

All in all, I really liked this episode. It isn’t the most intellectual stimulating episode out there, but it’s a fun episode none-the-less. It was great to see some of Rory’s family in a little bit of detail, and Brian was a great character. He was not as cool as Wilf when it comes to family members of companions, but not many are as awesome as that guy! Chris Chibnall has done some mediocre work on Doctor Who in the past, but this episode was pretty good. Maybe fans can look forward to his second episode this season after all!

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Doctor Who: The Snowmen (2012)

Watching the yearly Doctor Who Christmas special is fast becoming one of my personal Christmas traditions that I most look forward to. I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely thrilled by last year’s iteration; it was saccharine sweet and lacked any real drama compared to most episodes of the show. I remarked in my review that “I think they should be less “Christmasy” for the most part from now on. The Christmas gimmicks worked very well at first, but seem too forced now.” Gladly, aside from a snow theme, this episode lacks any sort of “hitting you over the head” Christmas treatment that we’ve had in the past. As the episode opens with a group of people being massacred by an army of sentient snowmen, filled with what appeared to be evil snowflakes, I knew I was in for a real treat.

Right from the moment the opening theme starts, this second half of season 7 is really starting to show that this year is a special anniversary year. Some fans have complained that Steven Moffat didn’t follow through with making this new show (2005-current) like the old one, a claim he made years ago as he was just getting handed the reigns to the Doctor Who show-runner title from Russell T. Davies. Right away we have a new opening sequence with graphics that include swirly space debris and a picture of Matt Smith’s face in stars, a small detail that looks back at the show’s past. I’m not going to lie, my wife and I “Marked out” (to use a pro wrestling term) when we saw this new intro. It wasn’t even an earth shattering change or anything, but it really shows that small things like that can make or break it for some people. New fans won’t even notice the charge, bus us older fans have another little touch there to make us happy.

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The new titles sequence isn’t the only change we had in this episode. We were also graced with a new Tardis interior that was obviously somewhat based on the original one using the basic structure of the one from the last few seasons. Now it’s just far more spacious, has lighting, and gives an entirely new (and yet old) sci-fi feel rather than the played out “organic spaceship” theme that was sort of refreshing in 2005, then used by every other sci-fi show. The Doctor is also sporting a new outfit that somewhat carries over to the next episodes based on the “coming soon” trailer.

The actual plot of this episode involves evil snowmen controlled by an old villain that we haven’t really seen since the Patrick Troughton era. “The Great Intelligence” that we see here, played by the voice of Ian McKellen, is sort of a reimagining of the creature of the same name we saw in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. In fact, this episode is directly tied to those older episodes with little bits of dialog tossed in as a nod to fans. Ian McKellen does a great job providing a booming evil voice that we would expect from something called “The Great Intelligence”. Richard E. Grant, who played the Doctor in Scream of the Shalka, returns to Doctor Who playing a character named Walter Simeon. Simeon met “The Great Intelligence” as a young boy, and used its power to get back at those that hurt him, and gained power for himself. Little did he know that he was merely a pawn in the grand scheme of things.

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The Doctor has been “laying low” and attempting to place himself into the same sort of self-imposed retirement we saw him in way back when we first met the character with William Hartnell in the role. Luckily he isn’t in total hermit-mode and has been hanging around the “Paternoster Gang” including the sword toting Silurian warrior Lady Vastra, her human wife Jenny, and their butler Strax, a reluctant Sontaran servant. I really love these guys, and am glad that they will be somewhat taking the place of River Song now that the Pond saga has ended. I was really hoping for a non-human companion this year, and although these three aren’t the main ones, I can handle them being there a few times this season. Most of the fun comes from the same sort of humor that used to pop up in Star Trek: the Next Generation with Worf. The fun lies in taking Strax, from the warrior Sontaran race, and placing him in mundane situations that he hates, can’t relate to, or simply doesn’t understand. I love Strax because he does things like suggest maximum force in every situation, like throwing grenades at something or blowing up the moon, when said action is grossly inappropriate.

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Also returning are the very same dark fantasy elements that have been popping up in the entirety of Moffat’s tenure as show-runner. I really liked an instance where Clara found the entrance to the Tardis in a cloud only reachable with an invisible “Stairway to heaven”. Rather than just having the Tardis sitting next to a building or something, the production team went the extra mile to make Clara discovering the Tardis that much more special. This of course reminds me of stuff from Neil Gaiman, fitting that he wrote a script last season, and has one this season as well.

Jenna Louise Coleman returns for a follow up to her previous encounter with the Doctor, this time playing a “new” character named Clara. Once again we can see that Clara is far more intelligent than some previous companions and takes charge in a similar way to Ace way back in the late 1980’s. She gives me hope that the Doctor has met his match in a companion that won’t take guff from him. I like Amy Pond quite a bit, but felt that she sometimes fell in line with the old “companion always getting in trouble” mold, here’s hoping Clara stays strong.

There were a few quibbles to be had with the episode, like the scheme of the Great Intelligence never really being fleshed out fully, and some wonky computer generated effects with the “old Governess” but for the most part I feel that this was a very strong Christmas special, far better than last year’s. I can’t wait for this upcoming season, a new companion, and the return of the Cybermen as written by Neil Gaiman!

 

Asylum of the Daleks

If there is one thing that the Daleks have been for the past 50 years, it’s inconsistent. Sometimes Daleks are intelligent, other times they are simply idiotic. Sometimes they are evil, other times they are comical. And the most important: sometimes they are scary, other times they are lame.

Despite my fondness for them firmly placing them above any other Doctor Who villain, it really depends on who the writer is on how these guys are used. Episodes like 2005’s Dalek are instant classics in the minds of many fans, while others such as Daleks In Manhattan come off as camp as a sequined cape. I was surprised to realize that this was showrunner Steven Moffat’s first real foray into these armored squid guys, and for the most part he really nailed it. If anything, he has found that a way to make a monster scary again is to wound it, or drive it crazy. The headless Cyberman armor in The Pandorica Opens is a fine example of this, and in this episode we have an asylum full of the Dalek equivalents.

First thing first, I had no idea that Jenna Louise Coleman was going to be in this episode. For the first time in a VERY long time we had an actual surprise that wasn’t ruined by a big UK newspaper or a questionable write-up in a magazine. Her appearance is a two edged sword though, as I really enjoyed her character, but this is probably not the same character that later shows up later on. Without outright spoiling my reasons for those that have not seen the episode, let’s just say that if it is her – Moffat will have to unleash the “timey wimey” on the show to achieve this.

This episode had it all for fans of older Dalek episodes. Returning, is a human slave class lead by the Daleks, minus the stupid speech pattern that the robomen had, or those dumb helmets from the Davison era. We had a glimmer of the many factions within the Dalek Empire including a new “parliament of the Daleks”. While this was a bit Star Wars-esque (galactic senate anyone?) it achieved a reasonable way to have thousands of Daleks in a room at once. Those thousands of Daleks were very impressive, but failed on one regard. The promise of “Every Dalek Ever Made” wasn’t an outright lie, but one had to play “Where’s Waldo” to see most of them. There was a special weapons model, and a 1960’s model in there from what I could see, but they weren’t features quite as prominently as I had hoped. I bet somebody with far too much free time has spotted them all, but I’m too lazy for that.

All in all, I really liked this episode; it had everything I like about Moffat scripts: mystery, surprises, horror, and a dash of humor. This season, despite how short it this half is, seems to be more up my alley than the previous Christmas episode, and holds the “blockbuster” status teased in the lead-up.

Red Dwarf: Series 1, Episode 1 “The End” (1988)

This fall is going to be a great time for fans of UK-based science fiction. Not only are we going to have six episodes of Doctor Who just after the Olympics, but there is a new Season of Red Dwarf on the way as well! Since there still is a ton of time left, I figured that I could easily pass it by looking back at some older episodes of Red Dwarf, sort of like a countdown to the new ones. So, without further ado, my review of the pilot episode from the far off time of 1988 – “The End”

When I first watched Red Dwarf, I immediately fell in love with it. My (now) wife had actually seen it on a PBS affiliate, and at the time I was oblivious to it aside from a passing mention. I wasn’t really into my full “anglo-phile” mindset at the time, and didn’t really seek out older shows yet. That all changed in 2004 when I got Netflix and started renting old Doctor Who episodes and Red Dwarf. I loved the idea of a science fiction sitcom, although very few of these cross-genre mergers were any good. Shows like Homeboys from Outer Space and Small Wonder put a bad taste in my mouth, but I was willing to try something new. I was immediately sucked in by this incredibly powerful and somewhat intense introduction:

I actually wish they’d bring a version of this introduction back. I like the more jazzed up one and all, but this is a nice palette cleanser for the hilarity about to ensue. I know some would say that “it doesn’t fit the show”, but I still love it, and that’s all that matters to me.

From the very beginning of the first episode we learn the dynamic between the two main characters –Lister and Rimmer inside and out. Lister is the lowest ranking guy on the ship, and a total slacker. His main goal is to simply collect a paycheck until he can retire to Fiji and start a farm. He’s all about having fun, and has no interest in his work. To foil this, his direct superior Rimmer (the second lowest ranking guy on the ship) is a self-righteous know-it-all with a severe inferiority complex. He always strives to become an officer on Red Dwarf, but ruins his chances with his manic nature, poor people skills, and sheer arrogance. This “odd couple” motif has been done countless times, but rarely is it done in such a humorous way as we see it here.

The thing that truly stands out with this show is the characters themselves. We might be used to seeing the exploits of all the highest ranking officers on serious shows such as Star Trek, but imagine an entire program consisting of “red shirts”. And not just plain “red shirts” but the ones that aren’t even cool enough to go on away missions and get their faces eaten by aliens. Focusing on characters that are destined to fight, screw around, and do nothing of any real importance whilst trying to get back to Earth basically writes itself. We see other characters in the beginning like Captain Hollister, but they won’t matter for too long, as they all die within minutes of the opening credits.

This is where the show gets fun. Lister gets in trouble for smuggling a pregnant cat named Frankenstein into his sleeping quarters on the ship. This is against regulation, and he is sentenced to stasis – a choice he made rather than giving up his pet. Lister’s job was to work on food replicators, and ironically, one messed up royally while he was unable to fix it. Rimmer tried to fix it, but Rimmer is Rimmer, and he messes it up even more. The entire ship went through a huge dose of nuclear radiation – killing everyone on board except Lister and Frankenstein, who was safe in the cargo bay. Three million years later, Holly (the ship’s computer system) informs Dave of some shocking news:

“They’re Dead, Dave….Everybody is dead, Dave.”

To fill this cast out, Lister is joined by other rejects, we have a holographic version of Rimmer, the person that the ships computer feels was Lister’s closest friend, a human-like creature that evolved from his stow-away cat simply named “The Cat”, and the ship’s computer itself, driven mad for the last few million years. Credits roll, and that’s why we kick off history folks! If you haven’t seen this show, and don’t mind special effects that are 2 decades old, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Currently you can watch it for free on Amazon Instant Video, if you happen to have an Amazon Prime subscription, or you can rent it on Netflix. The episodes used to be available on Netflix streaming, but they let the videos lapse for some reason.

Join me soon, for a look at episode 2!

Survivors (2008) Episode 4

As is the norm with this show for a while, we have the episode split into a few separate story strands to keep everything rolling nicely and to give each character something to do. There are actually three main segments to follow: one with Abby, one with just about everyone else, and one with Greg and Anya. Mysteriously, we don’t really hear from the scientists that have been popping up in the last few episodes. You’d think that their search for the cure to the virus would get some mention here.

Abby found out about a group of kids occupying a large mansion from the eco-commune last episode, and has gone out to find out if her son is there. These kids have gone into full-on Lord of the Flies mode without any parental supervision, and are causing havoc around the grounds of the mansion, much to the dismay of the original owner of the mansion, a man that is hiding in the woods while his belongings get ransacked. She’s caught between these kids that “couldn’t make it outside” and said owner. She realizes that she could maybe get them to form an alliance of some sort, an option that seems easier said than done.

The second segment involves a familiar setting from last week. Here I thought the previous episode was the last time we’d see Samantha Willis and her creepy eco-commune, a place that gets worse by the second. How wrong I was, as we only had to wait one mere episode! The previous episode saw the former Health Minister becoming more and more of a ruthless despot as she clings to power. Abby was completely unnerved by the way the members of this commune handled “law” in their new community, and opted to leave despite all the good things such a community could offer.

The problem is that Willis is definitely making the hard choices that any leader should make, and as the sole authority from the government left, she’s bound to start making a few bad choices sooner than later. We saw her do things like punishing would-be supply thieves by public execution to send a message, thus continuing her fall. In episode 4 we have the arrival of Tom, Sarah, Najid, and Al in this community – possibly to stay for the long haul. It seems that despite the bad stuff going on, Abby let everyone else know about the place, and wants to move on to find her son. As one would imagine this lasts about three seconds before bad stuff goes down.

The weakest story in this episode has to be one involving Greg and Anya at the house. This segment seems to be a situation of trying to find something for these left-out characters to do, and serves little purpose otherwise. Basically, the pair find themselves under siege by a pair of rapists, and spend a few moments fighting them off. Unlike the chicken coop minor-segment in episode three, this piece was not very good.

I’d say this episode was a step down from the last one, but that isn’t a bad thing. This show usually stays pretty interesting, and the weaker episodes are still better than most other shows in the same vein. I am worried that the show will keep having segments for characters left out of the main plot such as tonight’s foray into rape-busting, as these sort of scenarios have seemed sort of half-assed so far. Hopefully we get to see what our bunker-bound lab coat guys are up to, I miss those guys ;)

Dirk Gently (2012) Season 1, Episode 1

While everyone may be enjoying the infrequent adventures of a certain pair of detectives from 221b Baker Street, there is another duo of private eyes on the loose at the BBC. What? You have no idea who I’m talking about! Does Douglas Adams ring a bell? How about an unreliable brown British Leyland Princess? Of course, I’m talking about Dirk Gently and MacDuff of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and their quest to understand the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things”. As with the pilot episode, in which I did a write up for a while ago (HERE), Dirk Gently isn’t mainly a science fiction show, and teeters closer to being a straight comedy show. The source material was written by Douglas Adams and has some sci-fi elements like robots, time travel and such; this keeps it on topic enough for me.

I’m glad that the BBC decided to pick the series up for some further adventures after 2010’s pilot episode, as I felt that the show had a ton of potential, despite a miniscule budget. The three part nature of this series makes me hope there is more after these initial stories. I guess the Sherlock similarities continue in that regard; just when you want more of the show, you realize that there is a miniscule amount of episodes available with a long space in between seasons.

This new series has the same cast from the pilot episode including Stephen Mangan as the titular holistic detective and Darren Boyd as Richard Macduff (Watson to Gently’s Sherlock as it were). For those totally new to the character, one can imagine Gently as the complete antithesis to Sherlock Holmes. While Holmes is amazingly clever, makes light of every miniscule detail that mere mortals would never pay attention to, and makes everyone look foolish just by his sheer presence, Gently does none of these. He makes ridiculous leaps of logic, mutters about an esoteric philosophy that only he subscribes to, comes to the wrong conclusions, ends at a result that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and yet is somehow correct every time. His randomness and eagerness to make a quick buck makes him look like a total con-man in just about every way, and everyone hates him for his incompetent manner in which he works.

This episode contains two seemingly separate storylines that, as anyone who has seen the pilot or read the books, will come together in the end. Dirk’s whole theory is that everything in the entire world is somehow intertwined, so things that seem totally unrelated end up being just the opposite. One of these plotlines involves the death of a conspiracy theorist that believes the Pentagon is out to get him; the other is a man that takes horoscopes far too seriously. In fact, all of the supposed red herrings that we see in the show coalesce into one large and absurdly convoluted mystery.

Sadly, while I loved the pilot, and felt that it came together very well, I felt that this episode fell a tiny bit short. There were some hilarious gags, great dialog, and enough of a mystery to keep one guessing the whole way through, but something was off. I think it just seemed rushed or something, like they tried to put way too much into one story and ended up with something incomplete as a whole. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad episode; it’s just the weaker of the two that I’ve seen. Hopefully the next two pick it up for me.

Two shadows loom over this production, both of which are unnecessary in my opinion. Some fans will be sad that these stories are not literal versions of the original books, yet borrow heavily from the source material. This has caused the whole production to be unfairly “pooped on” by many people, the irony being that Adams hated for his stuff to stay the same whenever he produced it. The Hitchhikers Guide series was originally a radio show, it was re-written as a book, and then further changed to be a 1981 TV series, all under the direct supervision of Adams. He even helped write the script for the 2005 movie, but sadly died before it could be finished. Whining about any changes in plot are silly, and aren’t in the spirit of the material.

Our second shadow happens to be the aforementioned Steven Moffat helmed Sherlock craze. While I agree that Sherlock is a superior show in every way, I don’t feel that people should compare the two as they have little in common. The reason I keep mentioning Holmes and Watson when relating to the show in this review, is that the pairing has basically become a character archetype and anything similar can naturally be elaborated on as such. And while Gently may not be as “cool” as Sherlock, the show still stands as a great piece of light entertainment for weekend viewing.

In conclusion, episode one of this new series of Dirk Gently is pretty decent, if not a bit underwhelming compared to the pilot. The promise of the show and the strong acting keeps me coming back, and makes me love the show even more. If they can capture the magic ratio of mystery to jokes that we’ve seen before, I think this could go down as one of my favorite comedies of the year, if not it could be a huge disappointment. Only time will tell….

Top Ten Things I’d like to see (Or Not) With the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary

As with any list of this type, I know that choosing what I want to be in the 50th anniversary spectacular is both “fanwank” and unlikely to actually materialize in any capacity. Keep in mind that I do not want all ten of these to happen in one episode, that would result in the most horrendous non-sensical mess ever! This fact doesn’t keep me from coming up with a list of ten things that I would love to see happen.

10. Multi Doctor Story with at Least McGann and Tennant – I know that some fans bemoan such an episode, but I think it goes without saying – the best way to celebrate the long run of Doctor Who is to run a “multiple Doctor story” like past episodes such as “The Three Doctors”, “The Five Doctors”, “Dimensions in Time” etc. The old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” so why not – why break a tradition that has been around for decades. This coupled with the fact that David Tennant has basically said that he is going to have something to do with the anniversary, I think It’s a shoe-in that we will see something like this, even for a short cameo.
What I would really LOVE to see is Paul McGann reprise his role as the eighth Doctor. Many fans see him as an overlooked part of the saga, and he is still technically a “current Doctor” as his regeneration has been only seen off-camera. We don’t know how old he was before the time war, I mean heck, he could have had white hair before it was all said and done. Unlike other older titular actors, McGann isn’t much older, so they do not have to come up with a terrible explanation about why the Doctor has aged forty years. This brings me to:

9. Cameos from older actors – The above problem is one that I hope they don’t have to discuss as one only has to watch something like Dimensions in Time to see how weird it is to see a former “doctor” that has aged so much. Of course I’m speaking of Tom Baker, and the silly half-explanation about why he was old, overweight and had grey hair. Yes, age happens, and I’m sure Moffat is a more than capable writer to pull something like this off, but why waste tape? Why not have as many actors as one can get, that want to take part, and have them be there in cameos? Maybe we can have a scene of some sort of government body like the Parliament composed of actors from the older show. This would be good to showcase the older actors, and not get too over the top. If they were to bring back an old companion, like they have done with Sarah Jane, Jo Grant, and the Brigadier, why don’t they bring back:

8. The Return of Susan – what better way to look back at fifty years of this amazing show than to have the first companion come back? I have no idea how this would be pulled off, but having Carol Ann Ford reprise her role as the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan Foreman would be awesome, even if it was a brief appearance.

7.  No “every villain teams up” story – Since we’ve already had this kind of thing happen in “The “Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang” it would be boring to have the same thing crop up in the special. I know it would be an easy idea to go along with, but this needs to be special, and to copy something from two seasons prior would not be so great.

6. The Return of the Master – I’d love to see the master come back, especially if they decide to do a regeneration scene. While I think John Simm did well in the role, albeit being in two serials that I did not particularly love, I’d love to see new blood. Maybe Bennedict Cumberbatch will have free time?

5. No metafiction drenched “breaking the fourth wall” stuff – Red Dwarf: Back to Earth was a solid few episodes of Red Dwarf, although fans were torn on it just a tad. A lot of that came from the plot, which seemed to make the distinction that the guys onboard the titular mining ship, were in fact on a TV show. While this made for an interesting story, it was almost on the verge of “jumping the shark” plot-wise, I mean where would they have gone from there had they kept that revelation part of the show? It would be too easy to write an episode where someone makes a TV show out of the Doctor’s exploits, but I hope we don’t see that. If they are going to think of something similar though….

4. Load us up with “special features” – I know Doctor Who Confidential is gone, but we need some documentaries produced, sort of like the one they made right before the 2005 re-launch just re-tooled to hype up the anniversary and rebirth of the show. This stuff would make some fans appreciate a show’s heritage that they may have never known about before 2005-6 and make any DVD set that much better.

3. “Making of” Movie – A real kicker would be a drama production of the story of the production of the show. Many fans do not know the uphill battle the show had before it became an icon of British scifi. Lorded over by a female producer (Verity Lambert) and an Indian Director (Waris Hussein) in a world of old white guys, the show definitely had an uphill battle at the beginning, not to mention its terrible ratings the day it first aired, the day JFK died.  As Picard would say: “Make it so..”

2. More than one episode – I know we have half of the seventh season to look forward to in 2013, but I hope they do something like David Tennant’s final “season” where we get multiple long form episodes, just as long as they aren’t as unspectacular as what we got then. I’m not saying they were terrible or anything, but they definitely were at the bottom of Davies’ caliber as a writer.

1. No Regeneration – while I bet this would get the papers really rolling, add to viewership, and keep everyone buzzing, this would overshadow the actual anniversary if it would happen. If Matt were to leave soon, I hope he stays on until the eighth season. Not only would that make him have the traditional “four or so years” but keep that season exciting as well.

So there we have it, hopefully some of this stuff happens, but what do I know? I bet what we actually see will be so much better!