Thursday, 29 September 2011

Review: Being Human 2.2

Hell tries to trap Annie.
Like Fades, the second series of Being Human doesn't have any real change in quality between the first two episodes. In a way the two are connected, and the tyle of the episode feels very much like this is a direct continuation from last week. It isn't particularly centric in any direction, but the main focuses are on Mitchell and Annie, which is a good note in my book. As the conclusion to the opener it ramped up the tension and introduced the series' themes in a way that made the previous episode feel rather more transitionary.
     In Annie's storyline, Saul begins to experience what he thinks are hallucinations; Terry Wogan talks to him on the television and tells him to tell Annie about his near-death experience. He does so and the two bond over the "corridor" after death, but Saul becomes violent and Annie is forced to teleport away from him. The hallucinations tell him that Annie refused death and persuade him to drink-drive. Later, at the hospital, Annie tries to guide Saul's spirit to the afterlife. It turns out that this situations has been a manipulation by the people from Hell to try and forced Annie through the door, but Saul regains his humanity and sacrifices himself for her. At the end of the day she returns to Hugh, who she realises loves her, and finds that she is now once again invisible to mortals. I thought this short-lived love triangle got a tad cheesy at times, but the idea of a autocratic manipulation of events to persuade a ghost to pass on is an intriguing one in concept at least, and provides Annie with character aims for the first half of this series.
     Mitchell was more preoccupied with the appearance of an old friend, Carl, who was the vampire that trained him to stay off blood. Carl is in hiding after bowing to his urges and drinking from his human lover, and the coroner who used to cover the vampire cases during Herrick's time is refusing to help. Against Nina's best wishes, George helps Mitchell to smuggle Carl off on a Merchant ship to South America (a theme in Being Human is to make the comparison between vampires and Nazis, escaping crimes by going to South America). That night Nina leaves, unable to cope with their lifestyle, and is taken in by Kemp. This storyline was trying to make us empathise with Nina, but because Carl was a genuinely good man who had made a mistake because of his biology, it felt like she was overreacting. Admittedly the fact she moved in at all after only a few months seems a tad silly, so her leaving didn't have that much effect either.
Carl and George talk ethics.
      Perhaps I'm just jarred by the change of pace. These first two episodes have been heavy on the religious themes and deep contemplations of the nature of humanity, and that really doesn't feel right for what was previously a lighthearted comedy series with a few more serious undertones. Like the child entering its teens the show has thrown out the comedic lavour and instead fallen into full drama, which while not necessarily a bad thing is a tad off here.
     The second episode of this darker series feels like a conclusion to the premiere, and sets in stone the series' new approach to the subject matter at hand. It's tense and powerful but to regular viewers of the first series the change is very jarring and stands to the show's detriment in places. That isn't to say that I'm not enjoying it, but I'm doing so for very different reasons that as before.

Thanks.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Review: Fades 1.2

Neil preaches to Paul.
Fades' second episode didn't do anything to really change my opinion of it, and instead delivered much of the same thing. Still holding its balance of gothic horror and quirky comedy (almost what Being Human was aiming for), the show continues to be engaging and entertaining. 
     Paul has a frightening dream showing the corpses of his loved ones as Neil destroys the bodies of his fallen comrades and takes Paul to look for someone to explain his visions. There he meets a little girl from Neil's past called Natalie, who tries to kill him. They meet Eric, one of the earliest Angelics, who's the oldest Fade he knows. Eric recognises Paul as "important", and Neil takes this, coupled with Natalie being able to touch, as a bad omen.
     After they get involved in some school stuff, Neil saves Paul from some Fades and tells him that he has to go underground, abandoning everyone he knows. The Fades are eating humans to convert them into more of themselves. Paul goes home but can't face his family, and so he stays at Mac's house, where his drunken father beats him. To his surprise, Paul is able to heal Mac's injuries.
     The episode climaxes with a party where Neil is attacked by the Fades (but not killed/eated for some reason) and Paul works out after snogging Jay that he can live a double life. In Mark's storyline, he's watched over by Sarah as his grief leads him to attack pupils and sleep with the girl from the first episode.
     Of all the things I admire about Fades, the most important is the show's focus on all of its characterisations. Everyone is fundamentally real and realistically flawed in a way that makes the show more compelling than it would otherwise be. This helps to makes the show stand out against the fantasy-horror predecessors it's trying to emulate and certainly makes me more concerned about what's happening. This of course meant that we didn't learn much more about the mythos of the show, but the character development, mixed in with plenty of humour, is entertaining enough in itself to sustain the series. I really enjoyed the development of Mac's character a lot, and it's a testament to this series that someone who could only serve as comic relief has such a detailed personality. Even the named Fades are somewhat human, despite never even talking, and the least likeable character in the series - Paul's sister who controls the school's cliques - has a few touches of humanity. This approach is generally favourable to Centric stories, I find, because they can often lead to characters being badly written along the sides.
Paul and Jay
     The balance between the comedy and horror is very well managed, and as I mentioned, it seems like the Being Human team learnt their lesson when it comes to Fades. The tone of the series so far is incredibly dark, no doubt encouraged by the hyperbolic advertising campaign. Perhaps for the better, the humour relies more on the characters and less on the dark nature of the series, which means that it hopefully won't become snuffed out as in Being Human.
      At the end of the day there isn't much more to say about this episode other than it reinforced the thoughts I already had. Fades is an engaging piece of entertainment that juggles a brilliant if cliche gothic horror and a fast-paced wit bolstered by outstanding characterisations. I'm really enjoying it and I can't see, based on this episode, that changing very soon.

Thanks.

P.S. Yes. I know it's called "The Fades". I just think that's an unnecessary definite article, and I'm not gonna change it.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

News: High turnover!

In order to make this blog's second anniversary (all the way on February 4th!) special, I've been trying to write more reviews than I normally would. The downside to this is that I'm really getting through my material, and my aim (400 posts) is a little far-fetched. Regardless, I hope you enjoy my increased workrate and that this will encourage more people to read my work.
     Coming up before the Anniversary we'll have Trial of a Time Lord Month in October, where I'll look at Colin Baker's second season as The Doctor. October will also see the return of Merlin, as well as the end of my Doctor Who reviews (for both Seasons 27 and 32). Being Human reviews will continue weekly on Tuesdays, and Fades on Wednesdays.
      In November I'll finally finish Lost with three Finale reviews and we'll also see the return of Misfits for an eight-part series! In Classic Doctor Who I'll examine three of the show's classics - Spearhead from Space, Caves of Androzani and Vengeance on Varos. I'll also be reviewing some films.
      In December I'll exhaust my Doctor Who supply by ending the year with The Beginning, the first three serials from 1963. Merlin and Misfits will finish, and I'll review the Christmas special as Audenshaw Reviews bows out to 2012.

Thanks.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Four To Doomsday

Android Frogs arrive to take over the world!
Doctor Who - Season 19, Story Two - Four To Doomsday

Because they wanted Davison's first story to be at least mildly well-performed, the first one he ever recorded was the second story of the season, Four to Doomsday. Fans don't give it a lot of credit; its shoddy special effects and the fact that it comes between two of the Fifth Doctor's more notable stories certainly doesn't help, but the serial itself is a recent favourite of mine for more reasons than one. It's certainly nowhere near perfect, but no Who story truly is and a lot of the time this story's foibles are what make it so entertaining.     
      The Doctor and his roster of three companions are bickering in the Tardis, Adric showing a bit of a chavanistic side, when The Doctor lands where he thinks is Heathrow Airport 1982 - get used to it, this is a common theme throughout Davison's run and this season in particular. In fact he's landed on a spaceship headed towards Earth, run by the mysterious Monarch (the affably evil Stratford Johns) and his creepy assistants Persuasion and Enlightenment. Carrying what appear to be four groups of Earth based civilisations going back in four-thousand year gaps, Monarch keeps the four Tardis passengers on the ship and they soon discover the truth behind Monarch's plot. He believes himself a God, and through the use of android technology he plans to recreate his entire civilisation as immortal beings, and to do so he's going to invade Earth, kill the inhabitants and then use the planet's crust for his silicon chips. Despite Adric going out of his way to side with the villain, The Doctor wins round the leaders of the android civilisations and defeats Monarch, leaving the androids free to find their own planet and live in peace forever.
     Four To Doomsday's enemies are the frog-like people of Urbanka, and their use is incredibly well-done. Stratford Johns, working under the stresses of a heavy costume, still portrays a likeable but ultimately megolamaniac Monarch, who delivers some of the episode's best lines - "Ah, conformity. Is there any other freedom?" - in a way that, considering the stresses he was under, is admirable. Enlightenment and Persuasion are the first clues to the ship's mechanical nature as they change themselves from the frog-like creatures into two humanoids played by Annie Lambert and Paul Shelly respectively. Shelly is especially good as the sly, manipulative Persuasion, who serves as Monarch's Dragon for the majority of the serial.Lambert has less of a presence, but she doesn't harm the story.
He hasn't grounded his 4026B...
     Guest stars aside from the villains are ok if not stellar; Bond actor Phillip Locke's role as the Athenian Leader Bigon is fascinating to watch and his delivery of the mid-serial bombshell that everyone on the ship is an Android (carved around the new twice-a-week-scheduling) is mindblowing. Elsewhere, and Burt Kwouk plays the Chinese leader with the charm that he brings to every one of his characters.
     Davison makes a point in the commentary that this episode couldn't have been done as a Baker story, and I agree with him. Davison is a lot more active here than Tom was in his final series, and some of the special effects seem like they might have angered his sense of familiarity with the process (flying through space as performed by riding an office chair over a blue screen, for instance). Maybe Tom would have a bit more fun with the megalomaniac villain angle but over all things this was written specifically for Five and thus he fills the role perfectly.
      Companions, however, are another story entirely. Janet Fielding is funny on the commentary, and that's the only solace I can find that Tegan is even here, her unrealistic characterisation carried over from her first few appearances and not improving here any. With so many companions, they all become incredibly one note and if that note is off-key than it strikes particularly badly - Tegan is gobby and yet absurdly skilled (she's able to draw a still-life drawing of what she considers average dress from memory as well as speak a 40,000 year old Australasian dialect), Adric is annoying, chavanistic and whiney and Nyssa... Nyssa doesn't do much. Of course one could blame this on the fact that she wasn't written into these early stories until the last minute - the next story has her faint unexpectedly for no reason and then get better at the end - but it doesn't exactly add credence to the three-companion drive when one of them, and the least irritating one at that, is constantly sidelined.
Tenko, you say? Never heard of it.
      Another thing mentioned in the commentary that is a lot more sublte than one would expect is the use of lighting. The set they had was on the edge of the studio and was plain white, and so to inject some colour lighting is used incredibly well to provide an atmosphere for the story.  One thing I love, probably influenced by other sci-fi, are the swooshy doors which appear to have come at a great cost to the production team but make the setting seem like less of a set and more like a real space ship. There's also no music at all except for a few rare moments, which is strange considering Eighties Who's habit of having intrusive melodies constant in the background.
      Four To Doomsday makes the best of a bad lot, using lighting and music - the notable lack of - to create an atmospheric and interesting piece of television bolstered and complimented by the brilliant acting on display. There are a lot of problems with it, but the story has an inescapable charm that leads me to chuckle at the absurdity instead of groan. Davison's first outing is an entertaining hundred minutes and sets the tone of his serial perfectly after the rough leftovers from Castrovalva.

Thanks.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Review: Doctor Who 1.8: Father's Day

Pete Tyler
During the era in which Who was off air, the nature of modern sci-fi changed. Notably, time paradoxes and examinations of such became incredibly popular, and to keep up with the times Who was going to have to produce a story that messed with Time. Moffat would later take this and run away with it, but in Series One this task was left for writer Phil Cornell, who was a prolific writer of Doctor Who fiction during the Era. Taking an opportunity to develop the characters as well as present an interesting concept, Father's Day has the right ingredients to make one excellent cake.
     Rose's father Pete Tyler (Shaun Dingwall) died when she was a baby, and the memories of the aftermath have haunted Rose ever since. On her request The Doctor takes her to the incident in 1987, where Rose wants to make sure that her dad didn't die alone. The first time, however, she fails, and so The Doctor lets her do it again with the warning that they can't cross timelines with their past selves. Rose can't help herself, pushing her dad out of the way of the oncoming car and saving his life. The Doctor is angry at her because the laws of time have been broken and now they'll have to pay the price.
     The Tardis interior disappears and strange creatures (not named, but referred to in publicity as Reapers) arive out of nowhere and start eating people. After barricading everyone inside a church The Doctor explains that these are creatures who live outside Time and who have come to sterilize the wound. The Doctor himself is eaten by a Reaper and the TARDIS is destroyed, but everything is set right when Pete realises that he shouldn't be alive and throws himself in front of the car, which had been driving around the block for the entire episode.
Rose and Nine try again. No, not that way. Rude.
     I mentioned in previous reviews that this series touched upon the characterisation of the Companion a lot more than the classic series, and this is a big example of the techniques this series uses to do so. On its own, Father's Day would make a decent if slightly convaluted (the laws of time presented here are never visited again) sci-fi time travel story, but it's the underlying plot with Rose's dad that makes it so compelling. Both Rose and then The Doctor are prepared to rip apart space and time for one man, who it turns out is nothing like the rich businessman of Rose's imaginings but more of a Del Boy. Then, of course, we have the lovely touch where it's revealed that Pete instead sacrificed himself to the timeline to save the woman who he now recognises as his daughter. This is great characterisation right here.
     However, this does strike a pretty big contrast when compared to the previous episode. All Adam did was send some info about futuristic computers home and he was kicked out of the TARDIS; here Rose endangers the entirety of time and space and Nine's hunkey dory about the whole thing. And herein lies its main issue; the episode is more skewered towards an emotional reaction rather than an intellectually satisfying one. Instead of learning her lesson here, Rose would go on to make even more time fuck-ups and there really is no excuse after what happened here. I can accept that The Doctor may have felt some empathy with Rose for wanting to return the people she loves, but Rose had to break more laws of time just to fix the mess she made.
Do not fear the Reaper...
     RTD's Who was always about the big emotional punch and this is yet another episode where that focus gets in the way of what could have been a really good sci-fi story. It could have been perfect, but the story was a little too balanced towards the melodrama and often felt ignorant of common sense - a let down for what is otherwise one of this series strongest episodes so far.

Thanks.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Review: Doctor Who 6.12: Closing Time

Gareth Roberts' "The Lodger" began life as a Tenth Doctor comic strip, and was adapted as an Eleventh Doctor companion-lite episode last year. Here, for the first time in NuWho, we forgo the two-parter finale and instead have a penultimate that not only brings back Craig (James Corden) from that episode but gives us the first focus on the Cybermen since the changeover. After the string of confused, arc-enthused episodes that this series has so far produced, will this more light-hearted offering change anything?
     Well, it was certainly more arc-oriented than I expected. The Doctor, two hundred years after dropping Amy and Rory off, pops in to see Craig on a "farewell tour" before he dies. While initially The Doctor insists that he won't save them and that he's only there for a housecall, he feels he has to notice what's going on - strange power fluctuations in the area and a disappearance at a local shop. To the dismay of Craig, home alone looking after his baby (who converses with The Doctor and prefers to be named "Stormaggedon"), The Doctor gets a job in the shop where the woman disappears and finds a teleport link to a Cyberman spaceship. After capturing a Cybermat that was draining the store's power, the two face the Cybermen in person and Craig is nearly converted into a Cyber-Controller . The day is only saved when Craig hears the sound of his baby crying and an emotional loop destroys the Cybermen. The Doctor goes off to the last day of his life and on Luna University, Doctor Song is captured by The Silence and placed, inside a spacesuit, at the bottom of Lake Silencio.
     I was perhaps hoping too much from the episode's villains, the Cybermen. They've consistantly been my favourite Who monster in concept rather than execution, mainly because there hasn't been a really, really good Cyberman story since the 1960s. Here they felt a bit more like the Classic Cybermen - an aspect of the episode that I was looking forward to - but that didn't make up for their shoddy voice-work and lack of motivation beyond the norm. They didn't have any charm, and while they weren't necessarily the most important part of the episode it still stood out. And the solution to the all of their problems was just nonsensical - the Cybermen, whose entire ideology is to eradicate difference and thus Emotion, apparently have no safeguards against it.
     Craig and The Doctor should have worked better than it did, with most of the "bonding" being done through the Baby, who became a character in his own right. It was funny in places, but after a while it became routine and the other underlying theme regarding the Doctor's impending death is not exactly news. James Corden played more of a comedy character here, which is a bad idea - his only saving grace in The Lodger was that he was the straight man in the duo. Oh, and there was a subplot where that women from Come Outside thought they were a gay partnership.
Hi. I'm just here to sprout stereotypes. Good day.
      This in mind, the only thing that this episode really leaves you with is those final few moments that relate to the arc. Yes, the arc this year has been incredibly messy, but this episode is the penultimate piece is a two-series-long jigsaw puzzle, and I can only hope that the final piece gives us a much clearer picture than has be presented. I actually went and watched The Impossible Astronaught after watching this, and I think that despite initial appearances this arc is tighter than I thought. That doesn't make up for lack of good storytelling, but we won't be able to fully judge that until next week.
     Closing Time purported to be a breather episode like its predecessor last year, but in many ways it was still a Penultimate Episode. Aside from the few pivotal points relating to the arc, it made the fatal mistake of being disappointing in some areas and boring everywhere else. Maybe it's the arc overshadowing everything, maybe it's because I'm disappointed by the treatment of the Cybermen, but I really felt let down by this otherwise average episode. Sorry.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Mindfucks galore as we gate-crash The Wedding of River Song.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Review: Fades 1.1

BBC Three is good at things like this. Being Human in itself is proof of that, and Fades' cryptic advertising campaign duals with its relatively all-star cast to create something that could be so much better. My impression of the series by the first episode alone? Well, it's impressive - there's a nice mixture of mythology and character work, and it runs on that to create something both emotionally connective and intriguing.
     The premise revolves around a quasi-religious ideology; the Fades are the remnants of people whose souls haven't ascended. Whether one ascends is random, but the Fades often become spiteful because of their eternal limbo. The series begins as our protagonist, Paul (Iain De Caestecker) with his friend Mac (Daniel Kaluuya) discovers the Fades for the first time via an incident with a Fade that has broken through into the world of the living, killing Sarah (Natalie Dormer) and half-blinding Neil (Johnny Harris) who serves as our series' Obi-wan. Paul is balancing his life by a thread; he has constant bad dreams which cause him to wet the bed, and he's in a loose Will-they-won't-they situation with the girl of his dreams. When he finds out that the visions he sees are caused by his pre-ordained ability rather than personal delusions, he goes with Neil to discover the truth. Elsewhere, Mark (Miranda's Tom Ellis), Sarah's partner, works at the school as a teacher and is devastated by the news of her death.
      I bring up Mark because it would be easy to overlook his character entirely. The majority of the episode was a pair of double acts between Paul and either Neil or Mac. Kaluuya, fresh from a cancelled Psychoville, puts his comedy bones to good use and provides some much needed comic relief in an episode where the mythology is on the gory side. In fact, all of the characters are instantly watchable and fundamentally human. In fact, the only performance I had trouble with was Dormer, whose lines consist of trailer taglines.
      The episode doesn't really pick up until about ten minutes in, after the very mythology-laden beginning falls away for the character development that I so loved in this episode. Paul is the textbook flawed protagonist; and Neil is the textbook "wise old one". But it still feels fresh despite how worn the format is and the while the concept itself is by no means new - and what ideas are nowadays - it's well executed, in a way that has me wanting more next week.
      The first episode of Fades was near-perfect, with well-written characterisations fused perfectly with gory visuals and interesting mythology to back it up. While it had a slow first few mintutes, when it got going it was an incredibly gripping piece of television that I'll definitely return to next week. The perfect premier.

Thanks.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Review: Being Human 2.1

Gelvin prepares for the experiment.
The second series of Toby Whithouse's initially novel supernatural drama takes the themes of the original and ups the stakes with two extra episodes. Whether this works or not we'll decide along the way, but suffice to say that a mere two hours more allows for a lot more useless padding. So, I ask: What would happen if you took the most notable tropes from vampire films and twisted them so that the Vampire was the hero? This is what Being Human purports to do in this second series, although it's a lot cleverer than that in many ways.
     George and Nina are living together, with Nina keeping the secret of her new form away from George, who she fears might go mad from the guilt. Outside a pub where George is drowning his sorrows, he and Mitchell run into two fellow vampires, Ivan and Daisy (Amy Manson, whose career died with Outcasts), who attacked George because of his new celebrity status as Herrick's killer. While Daisy seduces George, Ivan tells Mitchell about the power vaccuum in the Vampire World he's created. Ivan's speeches are quite good here. Ivan and Daisy leave together as Nina reveals to Annie her lycanthropy and asks her to come with her to the first transformation. The grief here is portrayed realistically and the only off character is George, who's acting like a macho dick for some reason. Character development is one thing; this is another.
     Really, George spends the entire second series acting dreadfully out of character; he has an affair with Daisy, is unable to talk honestly to a grief-ridden Nina and upon her leaving is engaged to another woman within a few weeks. George's entire story arc for this series is terrible in my eyes, and while it doesn't necessarily get better or worse it certainly puts a dampener on this series.
Amy Manson struts into the series.
      After some moping and completely unrealistic characterisation in the context of the series, Annie announces that she's applied for a job at the local bar. Mitchell is as dismissive as I am, but Dick!George explains that he's probably only doing so because both George and Annie have found a "purpose" while he has not. He's no bloodlust - nothing to fight, nothing to protect. Mitchell calls him an idiot. I agree. Annie's Job interview goes well, gaining an admirer in boss and admirer Bowser, while Mitchell has a chance encounter with a cynical Doctor called Lucy. She's upset because she's moved here from a rich hospital in London (Lyndsey Marshal) who Mitchell manages to out-misery.
     Both George and Nina prepare for transformation, and we get a gory scene where we see our first female werewolf. At the same time, a test subject called Gelvin is being tested inside a compression chamber by a Mr. Kemp, who claims to be able to stop the transformation into a Werewolf. As Nina transforms, Gelvin is killed by the absurdly high pressure in a gory scene where the blood simply rushes from his body. Kemp cements his villainy by increasing the pressure and watching Gelvin die.
      Daisy meets a naked George in the woods and he gets his first decent moment in the episode. She taunts him and he questions her on why those that enjoy the supernatural want to make everyone else enjoy it too. She explains that there's no better way to experience the world than to just have fun. Then he bonks her, ignoring everything he'd just said. Great. Nina returns home and there's awkwardness when Mitchell reveals he knew all along. She berates him and then George returns home, remaining oblivious. Nina, with her enhanced Werewolf senses, smells Daisy's perfume and accuses George of having an affair. The scene together is quite tense and is easily Tovey's best performance in the episode itself as he channels the testosterone that the wolf in George has built up. In this context George's dickishness feels more like bittersweet irony at his ignorance of Nina's situation. She reveals her lycanthropy in what is the best scene in this particular series.
Bad hair day?
     Mitchell buys Lucy a goldfish and they flirt. A lot. Annie meanwhile meets Saul, and flirts with him as well. They get talking. Nina and George share prolonged looks. George sniffs out Daisy in the hospital, who's visiting her aged daughter preparing to kill her. He rejects her advances for the first time and then psychs her out of the murder and reduces Daisy to tears. George has grown up, and falls to tears in front of Nina in the hospital with his guilt. Annie invites Saul back to the House to use a phone, and the foursome come together in a scene that changes the tone back into quirky comedy. Ending the episode, the four are brought out of their house on an excuse and Kemp wanders around it, quoting from the Bible.
      Series Two stripped away the humour entirely, and this episode is an immediate demonstration of that. While it contains incredible dramatic scenes covering a wide range of interesting concepts, the sudden tonal shift is jarring and the impact on the characters is unmistakeable. Different shouldn't have to mean worse, but here it often feels a hell of a lot like it. George's plotline took a turn for the dark, stroking upon spousal abuse and the depravities of Human Nature, while Annie's storyline turned into a weird, non-funny sitcom. There's something wrong, in my eyes, when the villain of the piece is outshadowed by the inital stupidity of the protagonist, and that's what happened in this incredibly mixed bag. A surprising disappointment.

Thanks.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Opinion: Misfits 3.X: Vegas Baby!

Misfits has always been about the rise of new young talent but it must be said that Irish Robert Sheehin really took the headline over the two years of the program that he inhabited. The franchise's Captain Jack figure, he was a comic protagonist in the first series due to his apparent lack of abilities. There we could emphasise with him while laughing at his ridiculously over the top personality. In Series Two Simon took over the role of protagonist a lot more with the more interesting SuperHoodie storyline, leaving Nathan with only one decent episode dealing with his past. After the second series, Sheehin decided to leave and thus Howard Overman produced this 8-minute short to take him out of the picture and introduce the new kid on the block, Rudy.
      While disappointing, Vegas Baby! is very funny and truly typical of Misfits' style. Featuring a newly-powered Nathan using his ability to make anything happen to win at the Casino in Las Vegas, he gets arrested when he forgets that there are only six sides on a dice and the short ends with him being dragged off after failing to ring Simon.
      This is an "Opinion" piece because there isn't really enough to call it a review in the true sense of the word. What we got would have been interesting as a segment of a longer episode but the main problem here was that the gross jokes Nathan is known for took up far too much time that could have been used more effectively. His storyline didn't end conclusively, and while it does leave it open for Sheehin to return it felt like a bit of a cop out. Finally, this wasn't so much as an "Introduction" to Rudy as a five second cameo appearance.
     However, and this is a big however, it did get me excited for the new series, and the trailer that followed it made me think of the series that Misfits could be if it didn't have to branch into Nathan-style humour every five minutes. So yeah. It wasn't that good as a standalone, but it was an entertaining few minutes that allowed Sheehin some fun before departure as well as making me more ready than ever for the new series in early November.

Thanks.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Review: Doctor Who 1.7: The Long Game

Cathica is very openminded.
Even an avid 80s Who fan like myself has to admit that the general public didn't like that period. Colin Baker's turbulent era effectively killed the series despite better scheduling, and the series died a slow death four years later. The Long Game is an episode that story-wise and aestheically harks back to the 80s in many ways, particularly in the set design and the general tone of the story. Will The Long Game redeem the memory of the 80s? As we'll find out, yes and no.
     I mentioned last time that Adam, the new companion, was the shortest lived companion and the only one in Who history to be ejected for bad behaviour. His actions in this episode, which include sending information from 200,000 to 2012, make the 80s comparison incredibly unfortunate. He's the modern Adric through and through, from the irritating naivity, boy-genius arrogance and the selfish attitude. All he needs now is a set of pjamas.
     Nine, Rose and Adam arrive on Satellite Five, a space station orbitting the Earth in the year 200,000, at the height of the Fourth Great and Bountful Human Empire. The Doctor is worried when he discovers that the station, a news agency, is using technology several hundred years out of date - using implanted chips to operate computers and holes in people's brains to organise information. He's also intrigued by the station's command structure, in which people are promoted at random to a legendary Floor 500, which then turns out to be a freezing cold control room run by The Editor (the brilliant Simon Pegg!!!) and an unseen monster.
Tamsin Grieg opens Adam's mind.
     Nine shows off to Adam by giving him futuristic money and Rose allows him the use of the SuperPhone to ring home. While Nine and Rose uncover the corruption in the news system and head up to confront Floor 500, Adam noses about with the futuristic computer system, getting himself a hole-in-the-head implant and trying to broadcast the information home with the SuperPhone. The Editor captures Nine and Rose, who the Editor recognises because of Adam's exploits. His master is called the Mighty Jagrafess, a giant gelationous blob on the ceiling that requires cold temperatures to live. One of the workers who had been following the events of the episode (and chatted with The Doctor) also discovers the secret of Floor 500 and uses her head-hole to send all the heat to the top, killing the Jagrafess and saving the world from corrupt misinformation. Adam gets kicked out at home.
     One of the biggest problems that I have with The Long Game is that despite the Doctor's proclamations that the people of 200,000 are living in a terrible dictatorship where a giant blob controls all passage of information, I really don't see it. How are we, the good people of 2005 (2011 at time of review, but for the sake of argument) supposed to feel the slow of technology in 200,000 when we've never visited said period before? Everyone looks pretty happy, and a system is a system, despite how ridiculous the system may appear. Nine tries pulling the "slavery" card, but the controlling nature of the Jagrafess on individuals only seems to really affect the workers on Satellite Five, and the only things put upon the people of Earth are registers. Not exactly 1984. And yes, it was making them more xenophobic and developing them as a race of people that didn't ask vital questions. Seems nothing much as changed in 199, 989 years.
      And there's the fact that a guest character saves the day yet again, with The Doctor this time tied up by computer controlled corpses and a man with a terrible goatee. I love Nine but his track record, "saving the day" wise isn't that good in that he only ever explicity saves the day once, and did that with assistance.
Shouldn't I be off making Hot Fuzz?
       Yet, despite how bad it seems on paper, I really enjoy The Long Game. I can't help but adore the campy aesthetic, Pegg's flamboyant performance and sets made out of cardboard. There's a rich layer of satire running underneath that, while reducing the almightly problem behind the episode into a more trial modern issue, gives it more layers than it really deserves. Case in point; how is Satellite Five any different to modern Western governments? RTD hasn't always been clever with his satire, but here it's better than normal. I also, despite his nature, like most of Adam's scenes, especially the ones on Floor 16. The medicinal floor, Adam goes there to get his brain-chip and his nurse is the wonderful Tamsin Grieg whose understated performance is charming despite its one-dimensional, expositional nature. Christine Adams' supporting role as Cathica is interesting to watch and as the Saver of The Day this week she needs to be.
     The Long Game is a cheesy satire with the aesthetic of the eighties and the performances to match. It fails in the same areas that it suceeds and while it could have been one of the best episodes of the series it's let down by the same things that bring it up. I like it, but in places I don't and I can see why it's one of the lower rated episodes of this series that doesn't include anything particularly offensive.

Thanks.

News: Merlin and Misfits

This Autumn, two shows return to Audenshaw Reviews. In early October, Merlin returns in its fourth series on BBC1 - will it suck as much as the last series? In November, Misfits delivers its third series, with new character Rudy replacing headliner Robert Sheehin. Will the loss of its major star damage the show?

Find out this Autumn here on Audenshaw Reviews.

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Review: Doctor Who 1.11: The God Complex

"Gottle o' geer! Gottle o' geer!"
I really wasn't looking forward to this episode. While Toby Whithouse has never put a foot wrong in the writing department, the trailers made it look like a cheesy 80's style Monster-of-the-week episode, while didn't really enthuse me considering this series' track record with standalones. I was, fortunately, surprised. While the story began as a powerful standalone it morphed into a deep, involving arc episode that brought the companions' story full circle and took Moffat's arc in a direction that I loved while dealing for the first time on the show with issues like faith and dependance.
     The trio arrive in what appears to be an Eighties Hotel, one built on an alien world. They're met by three people in reception; Rita, a Muslim Nurse, Howie Spragg, a nerdy blogger conspiracy theorist (not liking the stereotype) and Gibbis (comedian David Walliams), an alien from the most invaded planet in the galaxy. The other member of their group, Joe, has been possessed by an entity that causes him to "worship him." The Hotel is a mind-bending labyrinth within which every room contains the greatest fear of one of the survivors, and soon after they face their fear they become posessed and killed by an alien Minotaur that stalks the hallways.
      The Doctor tries to encourage high spirits to get everyone through it, even talking to the Minotaur who reveals that he only kills on instinct and wants it to end. It's only when everyone except he, Gibbis and his companions are dead that he realises that the thing the creatures feasts on is not Fear but Faith. Rory and Gibbis have survived thus far because they have no faith to speak of; Rory has spent his entire life being let down by Amy and Gibbis comes from a society built around weaponsied cowardice. Only Amy is left, with her faith in the Doctor. They go to her Room and find her greatest fear is that The Doctor will abandon her - and to both save the day and save her, he reveals that he only invited her in because of his own vanity and that he isn't as reliable as she wants to believe. She has to stop waiting. It's revealed that the entire scenario was a hallucination inside a malfunctioning alien prison. Day saved, a melancholic Doctor sets Rory and Amy down on Earth with the house and car of their dreams. He explains to Amy that she's safe now, and that this is the only way it could end.
Gibbis takes mad Joe to safety.
    Despite the strength of the characters, the story doesn't really pick up until that powerful ending. Toby Whithouse is incredibly good at writing humanised characters, but here he seems to slink into sterotype. The gambler is greedy and mindless, the nerdy blogger is a conspiracy theorist petrified of girls (again, really not appreaciating the stereotype) and the Muslim girl believes that the hotel is Hell. Despite all of the characters being likeable, it ruined it for me that they were comparatively cutouts. The three who died because of their respective faiths should have been more easy to empathise with than they were here.
      Gibbis is at first the cringing Walliams stereotype, a character that could easily have walked out of a space-themed Little Britain. However, Walliams is good friends with Mr. Mark Gattis and shared his obsession with Doctor Who, which shows as the character becomes the most interesting of the guest cast through sheer philosophy. What at first feels like a comedy caricature soon turns into a sinister manipulative streak that compliments the story instead of leaving it, "that one with the guy from Little Britain."
       I've been thinking, and I'd love Toby Whithouse as the next showrunner. Not just because I happened to love his writing here, but also because he's shown with Being Human that he can handle a full series. The arc here was so much more powerful than Moffat's whirring revelatory fan-fests, and compared to the first half of the series, this and the previous episode have made me care about the Williams' so much more. I loathed it when Amy said, "I'm pregnant" in The Impossible Astronaught, because I knew that that would lead to the type of story telling the arc has provided with us up to this point - shock tactics. I don't want to be shocked; I want to be moved and this episode did it for me.
Inside The Doctor's Door...
     The God Complex is Toby Whithouses' finest work for the series to date, providing the perfect fusion between a fascinating standalone mystery and the powerful emotive arc that this series needs. Despite some characters that were unfortunately burdoned by stereotype, the episode took the arc and the Williams' storylines and brought them a mile ahead of the shock tactics used elsewhere in this series. Thanks, Whithouse. Thank you so much.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Gareth Roberts continues his Lodger storyline as we rejoin Craig as he battles the Cybermen!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Review: Torchwood 4.10: The Blood Line (Finale)

I do find it incredibly ironic that the last episode of this really quite dreadful series is the one I most enjoyed. And that didn't just stem from the fact that I wouldn't be tuning in to disappointment each week - The Blood Line was a marked improvement on the past few weeks and one of the first episodes of the series to actually excite me while watching it. Yeah, there's still a lot of issues to cover, but the episode itself tied up everything nicely (apart from the odd sequal hook) and actually left me positive about the show's future. Every time Miracle Day took me to the lowest low, it always picked me back up again in small ways.
     One of the episode's greatest benefits was that stuff actually happened to further the plot; a given for any other show but a pleasant surprise here. The team focussed in on the Blessing with CIA help; Gwen, Jack and a weirdly-associated Oswald visited the Shanghai opening while the CIA helped Rex and Esther in Buenos Aires. There are some quick explanations; The Blessing controls the average life expectancy of the world, and the Families have been "feeding" it to cause the miracle. After the CIA team in Buenos Aires (carrying a whole suitcase of Jack's blood) are blown up because of Families spy Charlotte Willis, she begins to trace them and thus she is forced to kill John de Lancie and crew. At either end of the Blessing, the Families spokespeople explain to the teams what's been going on.
     The Miracle was caused when they fed the Blessing Jack's blood at both end. The Blessing recognised Jack's lifespan of forever and decided to help the Human Race by copy-and-pasting the results. The Families hoped to control the world after crashing the banks, the governments and the systems standing in their way. Jack threatens to give his blood to the Blessing but the spokesperson explains that it won't work because it has to be entered on both sides; Rex then reveals that he had Esther transfuse him with Jack's blood beforehand. Despite Esther being shot and Gwen's father about to be incinerated, they both give their blood and luckily both survive the ordeal. Months afterwards, at Esther's funeral, the team kill Charlotte Lewis, but not before she inadvertantly reveals that Rex is now immortal.
     And now I'm really stumped. Because I don't know what to write. I mean, Miracle Day hasn't been easy to watch, but it's been really easy to review. There's so much to complain about, so much to moan about, so little good to praise. Now I'm faced with an episode that I actually really enjoyed, and I have to go back to square one.
  Of course, this is still Miracle Day and thus there's a lot to nit-pick. One of the most controvertial in fan circles has been the Rex + Blood = Immortality thing, especially when we know why Jack is immortal and it has nothing to do with his blood. While they're getting themselves in a tizzy, I find myself really not caring - it adds a new dynamic to things and it doesn't stand out as much as some of the series' other discreapancies. Despite how spherical or not spherical the earth may be, there cannot be a creature that runs through the centre of the Earth in an exact straight line. One of the things that I did get irritated by was the lack of explanation about the Miracle beyond its mechanisms; they were clearly going for a, "terrestial enemy" story but it doesn't make sense when it's never been seen before or since despite how important they claim it to be.
      Miracle Day ended on what by their standards could be called a high, but I'm still emotionally detatched from the characters and plot. There are murmurs that a Series Five is in the pipeline, to be released as soon as January 2012. I'm not excited about that in the slightest, because I feel that Miracle Day will leave its own legacy. A legacy comprised of terrible scriptwriting, shoddy research and pacing that snails look upon with contempt, but a legacy nonetheless. Now I say goodbye to Miracle Day, and like the creepy stranger in a back-alley I will never meet it again.

Thanks.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Review: Doctor Who 1.6: Dalek

The "Metaltron"
Introduced in the series' second ever story back in 1963, the Daleks quickly became Doctor Who's most iconic enemies. Inspired by Terry Nation's memories of the Second World War, these genocidal cyborgs appeared on over 14 occasions in the classic series. When RTD brought back the series, he made it clear that they would be returning, and soon. This story, an adaptation of a Sixth Doctor audio story called "Jubilee", is an exercise in bringing the concept back to our screens and bringing them up to date.
      Before going into anything I will admit that despite my many problems with the stylistic choices during RTD's era, his Daleks are the best of the lot (and certainly better than the Moffatian teletubbie hunchbacks}. Unlike previous and future models, where the design feels very shoddy, the RTD Dalek is sturdy and both looks and feels like a real machine. This particular Dalek is an anomaly when it comes to the rest of the era, mainly because of the superb writing in the story which sees the single-minded creature slowly become more liberal.
     Nine and Rose land in Utah 2012, on the bottom floor of an underground museum owned by greedy industrialist Henry Van-Statten. The Doctor, who has demonstrated his alien know-how, is sent by Statten to identify his only living specimin - a creature known only as a "Metaltron." When The Doctor is locked in with the creature, he is distressed to find that it is a run-down Dalek. In one of Ecclestone's best monologues, he angrily taunts the Dalek because of the destruction of both their races in the Time War, exposing a lot of guilt and anger rarely seen in the Doctor up to this point.
Exterminate
     While The Doctor is taken away and examined himself (being an alien n' all} Rose and the base's British Boy-genius Adam (Bruno Langley, get familiar} visit the Dalek for the themselves. The creature is resigned to its fate as the last of its kind, gaining Rose's sympathy. When she touches the Dalek's casing, however, it takes some of her DNA and rejuvinates itself, killing its handlers and absorbing the entire internet.
     As Adam and Rose try to escape the Lockdown, the Dalek mows down rows of guards. It's shown to have a rotating mid-section, a bullet-melting force field and the ability to fly (dismissing a joke about Daleks and stairs that persisted due to its disproval in 1988 not sinking into the public consciousness}. Along the way The Doctor and Van Statten argue endlessly due to the latter's greed and insistance that the creature, being the pride of his collection, not be shot. The Doctor manages to come up with a plan to lock the Dalek deep within the museum, the problem being that Adam and Rose are still inside. Adam manages to escape and The Doctor assumes her for dead; later disproved when it's revealed that the Dalek spared her. Not willing to take the chance of losing her again he lets the Dalek through.
     On the way to Statten's office the Dalek begins to question its purpose, Rose's DNA having corrupted its genocidal ideology. While The Doctor goes off to get some alien weaponry, it arrives in his office and begins to question him. Rose persuades it to spare Van Statten by giving it "freedom" - she takes it up to the highest level, where it blasts a hole in the roof and opens its casing to feel the sunlight. The Doctor arrives and is prepared to kill it before Rose shows him what's happening - the Dalek is mutating into a creature with human ideologies and ideas, something that to a Dalek is torture. In incredible pain, the Dalek orders it own suicide and kills itself. The Time War over, the two head off, bringing a confused Adam with them.
The Atoner.
     Before I start gushing, I'll get down with this episode's negatives. Dalek is the intro story for Adam, the shortest-lived companion to have travelled in the TARDIS. Bruno Langley, whose main role before this was Todd on Coronation Street, simply doesn't act the role well. Couple that with his annoyingly arrogant boy-genius status and his actions in the next episode, and he feels like an Adric for a brand new generation.  Luckily his performance is drowned out by the main cast, who are on top form here and perform some of the best material of this era. We'll talk more about Adam next week.
      The thing that stands out the most for me is the direction, which manages to take the bland set and ensemble and squeeze every last drop of emotion onto the screen. It's cinematic in a way that isn't distracting, and the shots through the Dalek's eye play a much greater role here than in the past. Compared to Euros Lyn's theatrical style, Joe Ahearne is much more modern and gives the story the required treatment.
     This is the culmination of our reintroduction to the series in many ways. The Daleks are finally back in the picture after 17 years waiting, The Doctor and his Companion are well-characterised and the series' arc is feeling rewarding. The real arc of this series is the constant mention of "Bad Wolf," but Davies does another, more subtle one to do with the Time War. The War is crucial to Nine's characterisation as the atoning veteran and it seems fitting that nearly every episode of this series contains some reprecussion of it, as if Nine is stumbling through the consequences of his actions. By Dalek, he has realised that the War has made him become the thing that he despised - a killer - and makes the effort, like the Dalek, to become more human. 
The Dalek Mutant is ill.
     Dalek is one of my favourite episodes of Nine's series because of its powerful direction, well-written story and the excellent caliber of acting from Ecclestone. There was a minor quibble here or there mainly due to some of the guest cast, but overall it brought back the series' most popular villain in a way which secured it for the remainder of RTD's reign. Not quite a masterpiece, but enjoyable and intelligent nonetheless.

Thanks.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Review: Doctor Who 6.10: The Girl Who Waited

The Doctor links two different time-streams.
I'm impressed. After a series of episodes which have all felt off-tone, The Girl Who waited captured the spirit of Doctor Who in a way that didn't leave me groaning or trying to figure out what the hell was going on. A typical Time-Travel conundrum, the episode uses this to advance the characters rather than create a confusing narrative, and thus is one of the most engaging episodes of this series so far. At the same time, the episode grappled this series' themes and did so exceedingly well.
     Writer Tom MacRae's last Doctor Who writing credit was 2006's Rise of the Cybermen two-parter, a story that fell below many people's expectations. He more than makes up for it here, however, and the writing takes the fluency with sci-fi concepts used in that story (about Cybermen in a parallel Universe} and instead focuses on Moffat's famed temporal twists. Here our protagonist for the long-haul is the eponymous Amy, now using said title twice in her existence, and thus the episode is notable Doctor Lite, with Matt Smith mostly contributing via scenes in the Tardis and through audio.
     The Doctor brings his companions to the planet Apalapucia, famed for its natural beauty. Instead they find themselves in a plague facility that holds the people of the planet in different, compressed time-streams so that visitors can watch their ill relatives live out their lives in peace. Unfortunately Amy ends up in a different stream to her boys, and thus she is sent further into the facility by The Doctor over a time-based spyglass linking the streams. They attempt to travel to her stream. Meanwhile, the facility proves a dangerous place for Amy, whose relative alienness means that the robots that control the facility are constantly trying to pump her full of alien drugs which will no doubt kill her.
"It is a kindess." Unless you have one heart...
     Unable to go in, seeing as the plague only affects two-hearted-beings, The Doctor sends in Rory. There he finds an Amy that's spent the last four decades in the facility, avoiding the robots and developing a deep-seated hatred against The Doctor. While it isn't convincing at first, the Old!Amy character really shows Gillan's range and after only a few minutes she is convincing as the bitter, survivalist Amy.  Old!Amy refuses to help The Doctor help herself, because she knows that the last 36 years of her life would cease to exist. After Rory (wearing glasses that give The Doctor an audio and one-way visual link}persuades her otherwise by showing her, with the spyglass, her younger self. They both laugh and discuss Rory, in what is the episode's most poignant and well-made scene.
     Old!Amy agrees to help The Doctor, on the condition that she's allowed to co-exist with her younger self. Based on this, The Doctor helps Rory to turn off the engines keeping the streams seperate. This, however, notifies the robots, and they fight their way back to the Tardis. Before Old!Amy can get in, The Doctor shuts the door, explaining that her existance is now a paradox. Rory, concerned for the welfare of both wives, is told by The Doctor to choose; Young or Old. Old!amy gives herself up, telling Rory to grow old with her. They then fly away and she ceases to exist.
     One thing I love about the story is the setting; the design of the plague facility was creepily clinical and mundane, and there are some of Moffat's signature, "Just trying to help" villains. This came coupled with a holodeck impersonating a garden and a creepy corner by the Time Engines where Old Amy had spent her time in isolation. This mundanity seemed to act as a base-layer for the main point of the episode, which was the relationship between Amy and Rory. Series Five spent a lot of time developing it, but the beginning of Series Six diluted it slightly with Rory's over-the-top, far too common deaths. In a way this honest appreciation of one another after a long period apart told us a lot more about the strength of their relationship than any one-sided sobbing ever could.
Old!Amy takes one last look at Home.
     The only thing I can really say negatively about this story is some of the direction. There's copious use of Slow-mo, which after its disastrous use at the end of The Impossible Astronaught really jarred and disrupted the episode's emotional punch. Often it felt like padding, which really disappointed me in this otherwise superb piece of television.
     The Girl Who Waited raised the bar after several average episodes and delivered the character work and emotional poignancy that this series needs, while also covering a series of incredibly interesting and well used sci-fi ideas. More importantly, it gave humanity to characters fast becoming charicatures of themselves. It's really given me some optimisim for the rest of the series and for the future of these characters. Good Work.

Thanks.
     

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Review: Torchwood 4.9: The Gathering

Bloody Oswald meets bloody Torchwood.
It's become somewhat of a cliche for me to even discuss how tired I am with Torchwood's fourth series. And, while the penultimate episode in this yawningly outstretched tale attempted to give us some answers, it only threw up more questions. Where it wasn't failing to move the plot along, it was being irritating inaccurate in some of its claims or simply wasting time on events that would later be rendered pointless. As the penultimate episode of not only this series but also maybe of Torchwood itself, it still clung close to the problems endemic in this painfully long series.
     Set two months after the previous episode (thus trespassing into Moffat's territory}, things have very much changed. While Rex leads his CIA in investigating the Miracle, Gwen has smuggled Jack and Esther into the UK and is acting as a drugs-runner while protecting her dad. A government official (named Finch, funnily enough} arrives to search the house as they're looking for her father, who they claim is an unauthorised Category One. Luckily he doesn't find her father and leaves. This raises some important questions. Like, for example, why the fuck is the government looking for Category Ones? Finch later calls her father a corpse; that just makes it worse! What reason is there to hunt for corpses - Gwen's dad isn't carrying an infectious disease, he's just had a few too many heart attacks and thus from where I'm standing is doing nothing to harm society. Also, Finch is a dick. Just thought I'd mention. At least for the first time this series the main characters aren't the ones irritating me.
     Oswald Danes then appears at the house, asking for Gwen's help. For the first time he's written semi-competantly, becoming (according to the sketchy sources at TARDIS anyway,} "redeemed." He asks for Jack and Esther because he has information, and when they're brought in he reveals that he used his skills with computers to hack into Jilly's account after she left, finding something call the Bosco technique. Esther explains that it's a subtle manipulation of language to influence public opinion on a subject. Using Rex's connections in the CIA they translate one of the videos she used back into the original dialect and back again, finding that "The Blessing" is in Shanghai, at the same time finding it in Buenos Aires. Then Finch raids again and takes Gwen's Dad after making some more dickish comments. Gwen shrugs it off. Oh well.
The team do stuff. It made little sense.
     As Jilly goes through a series of elusive people on her way to see the Blessing in Shanghai, the team work out that Shanghai and Buenos Aires are antipodes of one another (they're not - really} and that the Blessing, whatever it is, runs through the whole planet. Conveniently, half of them hop onto a plane to Shanghai (four people in a fucking crate, no less} and the other half to South America.
      Now we get to The Blessing. This is the most important moment of the entire series, and despite this only appearing very recently, it's something we've been waiting for for a while. This has to be interesting, clear and interesting beyond belief. Is it? Well... I don't know how to put this. It looks like a giant asshole in the ground. Literally. Apparently it runs all the way down the planet. And do we get any explanation besides cryptic riddles? No. We get fuck all. And then Jack's blood becomes alive, and I gave up.
      Yep, that's right. After weeks and weeks of perseverance, I gave up on trying to like Torchwood. I really want to be positive about the show but this episode really felt like a spit in the face because of the gaping void in what the show could have been and what it is. This penultimate episode should have been an exciting eye opener, but instead we got more riddles and more questions that don't leave me hoping for a good resolution. Worst of all are the smug little add-ons by the writers that seem so pleased with these damaged goods. Russell T Davies voices an announcer at the beginning of the episode for no reason other than to create a, "where have I heard that voice," moment. It was pointless.
      And that, unfortunately, is how I feel about this series in general. All I can do is hope for a resolution that doesn't disappoint me as much as the rest of the series has. The Gathering, the episode that promised us so much, instead brought us the pale imitation of what could have been, the real thing seemingly dangling so close and yet so far. The inconsistencies, inaccuracies and absurdities were all still there and there was truly no reprive from this series' problems.
      Join me this time next week, as this series comes to an end. Pray that it's a good one.
What. The. Fuck. Is. That.

Thanks.

P.S. John de Lancie was very good in this. But he's really good in everything.

P.P.S. I was going to put this series under the "Bad Sci-Fi" tag that I reserve for just that, but I don't really classify it as Sci-Fi anymore. It's more political fantasy.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Review: Doctor Who 1.4-5: Aliens of London and World War Three

"I could save the world but lose you."
Cliffhangers on Classic Who were a big deal. They were the long-lasting, make or break judge of a story's quality, the scenes which the viewers remembered for long afterwards. In NuWho's first two-parter, RTD returns as writer and delivers a story which aims to show exactly what the modern series' cliffhangers could do. Unfortunately it also stands out as a story with a lot of internal strife of the sort that I've already mentioned when discussing RTD's work - brilliant satire and social commentary mixed in with appeals to younger children. As will become the norm now, I'll be covering this two-parter in one sitting.
     As I mentioned, RTD's tenure on the show saw us explore companions' private lives so much more than before - the predecessor, really, to Moffat's very character-based arc. At the time it was an innovation in storytelling that felt completely modern and cutting edge (in Who terms anyway...}. Despite how advanced it seemed, this focus only really equated to two characters, Jackie and Mickey, as well as more frequent trips to the "present." The Aliens of London two-parter was, for convenience, filmed with the last "present" episode Rose as one of the first episodes shot. But that's not why it's rough around the edges, so I'll move on for now.
     After the future-past tour, The Doctor takes Rose back to London to see her mother and boyfriend. Despite his best efforts at arriving twelve hours after she left, he finds out too late that she's been gone a year and Mickey's been suspected of her murder in the mean-time. Despite how whiney Camille Coduri's portrayl can sometimes get, I do enjoy these scenes at the beginning of Aliens of London because of their realism and how they explore what was then unknown territory. This is followed by a discussion on the rooftop - a rather obvious greenscreen set, but it's perfect for what happens next - a spaceship flies over London and takes out Big Ben before crashing in the Thames. The world thinks that this is First Contact, and so while London celebrates and Rose faces Mickey's tale of the year he's had, The Doctor uses the Tardis to get a little closer to the action.
"It's only a model." "Shh."
     The scenes in the Morgue are some of the best in the first episode, despite sharing a lot of the episode's symptoms. The "alien" from the crashed ship was taken there and The Doctor follows the trail. They believe that it's dead, but when it awakens - in a scene that pays homage to one of the best scenes in the Movie - the current doctor there, one Dr. Sato (three-fifths of the Torchwood Cast is in Series One alone, it's awesome} ends up meeting The Doctor. The "alien," it turns out, is a pig with an augmented brain, and literally walks on hind-legs before being shot down by gunsmen, who are then berated by The Doctor. Ecclestone here doesn't betray the fact that this is one of his first episodes. In it, he portrays the vision of his Doctor that makes me like him so much - grief and sadness over the death of any living, feeling thing.
     The action segues into 10 Downing Street, where the majority of this story is set. Here we meet out villains for this episode, who besides being incredibly unbelievable in their characterisation are the sole reason that this story is on so many fans' worst episodes list. I'll spoil it now, because a point really has to be made. The villains of this story are ambitiously-used green aliens called the Slitheen, an evil family of gangsters from a tribal society that have inflitrated the UK Government by killing major figures and then using their skins as suits. To do so they wear a compression device around their necks, which due to pressure on either their bodies or the writer's spinal cord causes them to be incredibly, incredibly flatulent.
      Now, before I go any further, I'd just like to say that I am not a prude. I swear punctuatively. I do not "look down upon" certain types of humour - my only requirement is that I find it funny. I'll even allow it if I'm somehow not in the target audience - as long as I feel that it is funny to them. The Slitheen, on the other hand, belong in the same region of absurdity as burping bins and skin on a frame. RTD said his target age range was 8-12 years of age. I was 8 when this story first broadcast and like Cassandra, I didn't find it funny then and it's still bloody irritating now.
MP for Flydale North.
     The most mind-boggling thing for me is that when I think about it, the Slitheen work. I mean, they really are perfect in all but a few important respects. They've got a great design that scares kids and interests adults, a methodology that borrows from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and Tony Blair's foreign policy and they, like the majority of good Doctor Who monsters, are green! And then comes the problem. I mean no disrespect to Annette Badland or David Verrey, who played the main Slitheen leads in their human guises. I've seen them in other things and they are individually good actors. Therefore in my mind the blame falls soley on the writing. These villains, these creates with no regard for the six billion people on Earth, need to be intimidating. Threatening. Dare I say it, Scary. All impressions of fear vanish the moment that I watched Annette Badland have to act out a scene in which she shook her bottom and farted while grinning like a loon, and some small part of me died a slow death. They speak in baby-talk, act like children in a way that doesn't make them more terrifying and un-zip their heads every. fucking. scene. If it's so difficult to get into one of those skin-suits, then why do you keep taking them off?!
     Back to the plot. The Slitheen Leader, known by his human name Joseph Green, somehow ascends to PM in the incumbant's absence. He and his two friends are blasted by the head of the Army but they swap one of the bodies for him, giving them control over the military. Meanwhile, Harriet Jones (Penelope Wilton of Shaun of the Dead fame} is being a back-bench busybody and manages to accidentally discover the Slitheen's identities.
     Jackie, meanwhile, witnesses the Tardis and is scared out of her wits. She calls a Government hotline for sightings and his Years with UNIT have he and Rose escorted to Downing Street. The Doctor is sent to a meeting of alien experts while Harriet breaks down in front of Rose and reveals the Slitheen's existence, as well as finding the Prime Minister. On the estate, a portly-looking policeman with a flatulance problem visits Jackie and starts un-zipping his head. At the meeting all of the experts begin to be electrocuted as all of the our protagonists find themselves in danger in a three-pronged cliffhanger.
Green! Wicked.
     So, after a 16-year wait for a cliffhanger, how does Aliens of London shape up? Well... it's a double-edged sword. One one side, the cliffhanger is ambitious in its three-pronged approach and is quite exciting. On the the other side, there's no tension whatsoever, plenty of ways to escape the cliffhanger as readily avaliable and the fact that the Next Time trailer played a few seconds after it.
     World War Three is by comparison a much more interesting experience because it lays off the Slitheen (for the most part} and focuses more on character development. The Doctor turns the electric device back onto the Slitheen, whose psychic link makes it possible for all parties to escape. The Doctor, Rose and Harriet end up in the steel-reinforced cabinet room, questioning the Slitheen's intentions. Over the phone to Mickey, they help he and Jackie kill the Police-Slitheen by dousing it in Vinegar. In turn, The Doctor executes his contingency plan - he helps Mickey hack into the Royal Navy to send a missile to destroy downing street, where all of the Slitheen are gathered. To cut a long story short, it worked, and everyone lives happily ever after.
     There isn't that much to go at with World War Three because a lot of it is composed of tense faffing about. My favourite bits would have to be The Doctor's speech in the cabinet room, one of Ecclestone's best ever line-reads - "I could save the world but lose you." - and Joseph Green's excuse that the aliens have "Weapons of Massive Destruction, capable of being fired in 45 seconds," a clear dig at the Iraq War, which was still fresh on everyone's minds.
Can you have a cameo if your show doesn't exist yet?
     The Aliens of London two-parter will go down in Who history for its more infamous segments than its well-made ones, which is a real shame because one thing that RTD can do is domestic drama. The episodes were let down by their unconvincing and irritating villains, not to mention their posterial activity. (I sicked up a little in my mouth just writing that. Urgh.} A selection of ideas that would have worked perfectly well on their own and ones that felt better in a Seltzerberg movie came jumbled into this disappointingly bad 90 minutes, with only the main protagonists' performances to salvage it. To quote Nine, "What did you do that for?"

Thanks.

NEXT TIME: Dalek! Yay!