Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Opinion: Christmas Telly 2011

Christmas is a wonderful time of year. While the rest of the annum offers us modernistic, bleak offerings reflecting a cracked society, Christmas is the one time of year when things come together to provide a warm blanket of seasonal joy. Here is my rundown on some of this year's best Crimbo telly.

Lost Christmas, Sunday 18th, BBC1 Starring Eddie Izzard and others.

The first half of this urban fairy-tale was actually quite disturbing as an amnesiac known only as "Anthony" (Eddie Izzard) brought together a group of people with his ability to find lost things - including people. The drama is surprisingly dark when one considers that it was released for a CBBC audience, but the lessons it taught about simple acts of kindness in life were valuable. I in particular loved the drama's thick Hindu themology, as well as the wonderful twist that makes perfect sense. Lost Christmas is a tad strange, but if you stick it out you'll be left with a poignant drama that examines all areas of life.

The Old Bleak Shop Of Stuff, Monday 19th, BBC2 Starring Robert Webb, Stephen Fry, David Mitchell, Celia Immre, Johnny Vegas and others.

I adore Dickens, and so this wonderfully satirical parody of his life and works was perfect for me. Taking aspects from his main works (especially the Pickwick Papers), the comedy follows Jendrington Secret-Past (Robert Webb) as he loses his family to evil lawyer Skullingworth (Stephen Fry) and has until midnight to get them back. The best thing by far is the dialogue, which mocks Dickens' lexicon beautifully and yet still allows for a captivating plot that mixes all of the writer's favourite stories. The Old Bleak Shop Of Stuff is a love letter to Charles Dickens and his legacy.

Little Crackers, Various Times Throughout the Season, Sky One Starring John Bishop, Jane Horrocks, Alan Davies, Sheridan Smith, Shappi Khorsandi, and many others.

These now-yearly short dramas have been brilliant this year. Taking on the heart-warming experiences of well-known actors and comedians, these autobiographical tales are all heart-warming and poignant. The best is by far John Bishop's tale of being payed in teddy-bears, but I also loved Sheridan Smith's tale as well as Alan Davies significantly sadder affair with a friend's dog.


Thanks. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Review: Doctor Who 7.X: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

Lily and Cyril find a present from The Caretaker.
A pattern has emerged out of the avaliable data. My hypothesis, as indicated by The Christmas Carol and The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe is that Moffat is bloody brilliant at Christmas specials. DWW wasn't a perfect outing for the show, but it certainly embodied everything that I want out of both a Moffat script and out of a heart-warming Christmas special. Its few flaws were outnumbered, however, by a brilliant tone and an exemplary set of performances from the main leads.
      The Doctor, escaping from an exploding ship, falls upon a small town in 1938 and is picked up by proud mother Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner, Outnumbered). She helps him to return to the TARDIS, and he tells her that he will repay the favour if needed. Three years pass, and Madge's husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong) is killed at war. That Christmas, Madge takes her children Cyril and Lily (Holly Earl, who interestingly enough had a cameo in Red Dwarf during the Dark Times) to a house in the country run by The Caretaker (The Doctor). At night, Lily investigates The Doctor's tinkering while Cyril strays into a present in the sitting room - a portal that leads to a snowy wood where trees spontaneously grow decorations.
     As Lily and The Doctor tried to find Cyril, who is being stalked by wooden men, Madge also stumbles through the portal and is caught by an Androzani Major mining group (led by Droxil - comedian Bill Bailey), who are prepping the forest for an acid rain drop designed to harvest the valuable Androzani trees. In response, the trees' souls (life force) are trying to escape - but need to use a human as a relay. The Doctor is surprised to discover the trees consider him "weak", but when Madge arrives in their wooden lighthouse, her motherlyness deems her "strong" and she guides the souls. The lighthouse is guided by Madge's mind through the Time Vortex, back to 1941 - and as a bonus, her husband is sent through the vortex and saved. Madge, as a farewell present, promises to call again, and asks for The Doctor to tell those he loves that he is still alive. He pops to visit Amy and Rory, who welcome him to Christmas dinner with open arms.
The Doctor comforts Lily.
     Young actor Maurice Cole's performance as Cyril was irritating at times, but that was excuseable. Claire Skinner was brilliant as always, as was Alexander Armstrong's touching cameo and the appearance from Bill Bailey. Holly Earl as Lily Arwell was actually rather brilliant, and she stood out from the cast - in particular her reactions to Matt Smith, which were wonderfully naturalistic. Claire Skinner ran the risk of feeling just like her character in Outnumbered, but she added an extra pathos to the role that was inescapable.
      The plot was by far the most straightforward of Moffat's tales, and at times it felt distinctly more Gaiman than Moffat. There wasn't any twistyness or strangeness, and the number of references to Who old and new was astonishing to even me. The references felt comforting rather than exploitative, although I do feel that a story as comfy and safe as this one should be wary of dealing with one of the series' more dark outings.
      What can I say, this Christmas day? Moffat delivered a Christmas treat, which, while a little melodramatic and linear in places still presented a heart-warming Christmas adventure with brilliant performances and even better dialogue. I liked it, and it gave me cheer. So Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Thanks. Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas 2011

Rooms are warm with Xmas joys,
As children play with new bought toys,
And though the year begins anew,
There's nothing left now to review.

Hopefully I'll publish my Doctor Who review some time in the Holiday, as well as a few other tidbits here and there. The Christmas logo is going down on January 6th; the Winter theme will last throughout the season.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Thanks.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Review: Merlin 4.13: The Sword In The Stone (Part Two)

I hadn't expected much, but the finale of this series was absolutely brilliant. It stroked the mythology in lots of brilliant ways, the writing was smart and advanced the characters... I'm in a state of wonderment. While it all panned out in a particularly predictable way, it was incredibly enjoyable and I loved every minute. Truely this is a salve for all of my worries this season, which through sheer persistance has managed to trounce its predecessor in lots of wonderful ways.
      As Agravaine and his army followed the troupe of Merlin, Arthur, Gwen and the legendary Tristan and Isolde through the woods, Merlin used his Dragontongue to order Kilgharrah (John Hurt) to decimate Agravaine's forces. As they were stalked through a cave, Merlin hung back and used magic to kill any stragglers, including Inspector Lynley himself (I enjoyed his death perhaps a little too much). They need to head back to Camelot, but Arthur is having a confidence crisis due to comments from Tristan, and believes that he isn't the true King of Camelot.
      Merlin, in the time honoured series tradition, called Kilgharrah for advice. With no help from the Dragon, Merlin came up with the fabled Sword In The Stone tale, and gathers all of Arthur's remaining forces to watch him triumphantly remove Excalibur from the boulder Merlin stuck it in this time last year. With this confidence boost, Arthur prepares to raid Camelot. To make sure there aren't any problems, Merlin sneaks into the city (which obviously by now has the worst security in the world) and does some voodoo beneath Morgana's bed.
      The forces for Good raid Camelot easily, and in the final confrontation with Morgana she is unable to use any of her magic. As his last act, Helios offs Isolde which is treated with the appropriate sadness. Arthur and Gwen kiss and make up, and she is crowned Queen of Camelot. Finally, there's a vague cliffhanger where an injured Morgana finds Aithusa in the woods, hinting that she might have a draconic buddy next year.
     My only complaints? What didn't happen. Merlin didn't reveal his magic to anyone but Inspector Lynley, who died. Morgana didn't find out that Merlin is Emrys, which was sort of her arc this series. Hopefully this means that next series will be packed with mythology to make up for the lack of it in this series, but I know Merlin and so my hopes aren't high.
     Merlin's finale was downright awesome and despite it not progressing the general mythology as much as I would have liked, it was a brilliant 45 minutes and left me with the highest hopes for next year. Perhaps I'm just taken up in the spirit of Christmas cheer, but I really hope that next year's final ever series of Merlin will be just as good as the last three episodes of this series have been.

Thanks. Merry Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011

News: Who Revisitations

So back in the day I wrote a few reviews on Classic Doctor Who that I feel I could write about better now that I'm not only a better writer but now that I also have some context. In 2012, I'll be revisiting a number of my old reviews and giving them another hearing. Amongst those being revisited will be:
This will be joined by a ton of new reviews, the vast majority of which will follow Four To Doomsday through Peter Davison's time on the program.

Thanks.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Edge of Destruction

Susan goes barking.
 Doctor Who, Season One, Story Three (1963)

I end my Beginnings Trilogy by taking a look at The Edge of Destruction, the twelth and thirteenth episodes of Season One. Used to fill the series' initial thirteen episode quotient, the story was written on the fly with almost no resources to hand except the main cast and the Tardis interior. Thus, here is where the character arcs established in the first two serials hits an end and where our core characters mature into the final incarnations as they would have stood had the series not been taken up. A lot of fans won't give The Edge of Destruction (known also as "Inside the Spaceship" and "Beyond the Sun") the time of day, but of the three beginning stories it's my particular favourite by a mile.
     Our heroes gather around the Tardis console after having escaped the Daleks, and there is a blinding flash of light. All of them fall to the floor, and Barbara wakes up to find her fellow passengers unconscious. The doors continually open and shut, and the Scanner keeps showing multiple images. The Doctor accuses Barbara and Steven of sabotaging the ship in an attempt to return home. Susan, who appears initially to have been posessed, sides with her father until a tired Steven appears to strangle Barbara, proving that someone is influencing them. They work through the information at hand; the Tardis fault locator itself is broken, and so the partially sentient machine was continually giving them warning signs. Somehow the machine had gone to the Big Bang, and the Tardis had stopped itself from being destroyed. The problem is tracked to a faulty spring on the "Fast Return Switch", and soon the characters reconcile with one another stronger than they were before. 
     Because of its claustrophobic atmosphere and character-focused dialogue, The Edge of Destruction feels very much like a recorded stage play. The break between the two episodes is like, say, an intermission. This falters slightly, because the two parts had two different directors, and thus the second half is a lot more structured and confident than the first. This is perhaps for the better; the first half is more about creating the fear and tension regarding the possibility that some outside influence is masquerading as a member of the Tardis crew, while the second is a Sherlock-esque solving of the mystery.
The Doctor has one last fit, but his character mellows.
     Here is where The Doctor finally mellows. In realistic character development, his encounters with his human companions over the past 13 episodes have turned him from a grouch prepared to kidnap and kill into a kind-hearted if crotchety grandfather figure. The development over the Beginnings Trilogy for all of the characters is incredibly well done, and in a way this particular arc is actually better written than Moffat's today or RTD's a few years ago.
     The Edge of Destruction is a story that, despite its rushed conception and creation, is an enteraining 50 minutes of suspense and mystery, where acting styles are manipulated to compliment the script and characterisations are played off against one another. It's very well-made for what it was and perfectly rounds out the 13 episode arc that is The Beginning of Doctor Who.

Thanks.

P.S. That's the last Doctor Who Classic review until after Christmas! Over this Holiday, you can expect my reviews of the Merlin finale, the Misfits finale and, of course, the Doctor Who Christmas special.
Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Review: Misfits 3.8

Sally (Alex Reid) is back for revenge.
The finale of this turbulent series has finally arrived, and we face a finale that extends back to both of the preceeding years. This year was a time for a lot of change, both for better and worse. Now that we know that we have another series, we have to hope that this finale will provide the sense of closure and excitement that we received from previous years. (I consider last year's finale to be the Crimbo special.)
     A medium is operating out of the community centre, and based on his comments it's obvious that he has the power for real. Simon, chilled by his remarks about Sally (Alex Reid), then sees the deceased probation worker. She appears before him in the Lair during a vision, and kisses him. She meets him in the bathroom and tells him that the medium has brought her back, and that she's always had feelings for him. The gang talk to the medium, who discusses his ability to talk to and bring back the dead. He accidentally brings back the Virtue-girl, who Rudy flirts with relentlessly. She has come back because, realising upon death that there is no God, she wants to do things she avoided in life.
     Seth and Kelly's relationship is on the rocks; she's unhappy with him dealing powers without regulation. He tells her that he is quitting power-dealing. While Simon is haunted by Sally and Kelly by Tony, Virtue-girl gets absolutely bladdered and tries to shag Curtis. In a scene that mirrord the pilot, the gang were chased by Tony and Kelly hits him with a fire-extinguisher. Tony is, however, quite civilised and tries to find Sally, who is in a store-room chatting up Simon.
He's dead, Jim.
    Sally and Simon head back to the Lair, where she blackmails him into making love with her - which she films on Simon's phone. She sends the video to Alisha (I've been getting the spelling wrong forever!) who watches it and is shocked to discover what's been going on. She confronts him. Sally tries to throw Alisha off the roof, but Tony explains why he died. The two dead probation workers reunite and pass on. Simon and Alisha kiss and make up. Virtue-girl is unhappy because she has done everything she can think of and she can't pass on. As the two love-birds get their mac on in a storage closet, Virtue-girl gets hold of a stanley-knife and slits Alisha's throat Sweeny-Todd style.
     Simon reveals to the others that he is Superhoodie, and that this is the time he must go back. With the help of Seth and Kelly, they manage to get a one-way time travel power for Simon. The gang bury Alisha and Simon goes back to Series One. He discovers the derelict Lair, and trades Seth the power of Immunity. As he leaves Seth's place, Superhoodie is born. The modern gang is now left with only Kelly, Curtis and Rudy/Frudy.  
    Sally's storyline was a little off-putting. 1.5's key draw was that we knew that Sally was leading Simon down a false road. The question there was whether any of the affection that she showed Simon was real. Here it doesn't just feel like a retread, but it's also jarring because it doesn't make sense; nothing tells me in 1.5 that Sally really felt anything for Simon in a real way. And if she was being deceptive, then surely this more mature Simon wouldn't fall for it a second time. Virtue-girl's plot, while funny, didn't feel that necessary to the story until the very end. In a way it felt silly; Sally's plot was more of an unnecessary scapegoat that developed Simon and Alisha's relationship to the point where her death would be absolutely gut-wrenching.
Superhoodie is born. In a rather convenient orange hood,
which sidesteps a continuity issue about his appearance
in the first series. Nice.
     The episode's main problems really came down to the fact that nothing of any consequence happened until the last ten minutes. The Series One villains were nice to see, but their storylines didn't really have anything that we need from a Misfits finale. They weren't all that potent; they weren;t reflective and most of all they weren't at all epic in scale. Series One's finale saw a group of people hypnotised into zombies; Series Two saw the gang shot to fame and then stalked by a psychopathic killer.
    On the other hand, the last ten minutes of the episode might as well have been completely different from the rest. A simple music track, and the benefit of hindsight, allowed crude Series One comedy scenes to be imbued with a fantastic sense of poignancy. It was a shame that the cause of Simon's timey-wimey path was something as mundane as a slash by stanley-knife, and it's also sad to think that Simon's actions did nothing. In Misfits it appears that time-travel, in Simon's case, leads only to a Whatever Happened, Happened scenario.
     And so it ends. Series Three's finale was just like the rest of the series. It was fun in places and there were a lot of entertaining things, but in the end it didn't quite fall together and any moments of brilliance were confined to small nooks and crannies. Despite this, I am curious as to how the show will continue with only two-fifths of its original cast remaining this time next year. I'll see you there.

Thanks.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Review: Merlin 4.12: The Sword In The Stone (Part One)

Merlin must save Arthur.
While it wasn't overly mindblowing, the first episode of this series' finale was far better than all of the episodes that preceeded it. While it followed a very well-worn pattern for Merlin finales (Camelot is invaded and Merlin/Arthur must escape and then lead a resistance movement), but it was full of decent character stuff and was all-round enjoyable.
     On the promise of last week, Agravaine allowed Helios and Morgana to invade Camelot. The ensuing battle victory over Arthur was swift, but using magic to control Arthur's will, Merlin managed to escape North towards the village of his birth. Because of his mind control, Arthur spent the first half of the episode acting like a dimwit under Merlin's control, until a sleep snaps him out of it. On the way they meet two other travellers who were smuggling frankincence, until the army arrives and chases them away. They stop in Merlin's village, where they also find Guin who Merlin's mother had been sheltering. The episode ends as Morgana's army once again tracks them down and they again flee North.
    The episode did cover a lot of ground, character-wise. I enjoyed Arthur's remorse and atonement for his actions; I enjoyed Agravaine's subtle hints towards dissent because of the sniggering Helios. Despite the fact that the subplot of Arthur's mind control was completely unnecessary, it felt a little tongue-in-cheek when one considers the number of Mind-Control-Plots that Merlin has used this series, and it actually seemed like it has affected Arthur's character and made him more amiable. On the flip side, I do feel that all of Helios' sly charm has completely disappeared from the previous episode, which was a bit of a shame.
Tristan and Isolde are smugglers.
     The only problem that I had with the episode on any of the counts was that it used a hell of a lot of slow motion. In a few scenes near the beginning, where Agravaine and co. invaded Camelot, it looked pretty badass, but as time wore on it became rather noticeable. It gave me the impression that the episode's choreographers couldn't come up with a decent fight scene and so rushed the slow-mo in.
     I'll probably have more to say next week, but Part One of The Sword In The Stone was a solid preparation piece that didn't do anything special but did explore a lot of the characters in interesting ways. Next week we see the return of the horrid Aged makeup, and I hope that we can finally destroy the fascade at this series' heart.

Thanks.

Friday, 16 December 2011

TV Update 16/12/11

Assorted tidbits...
  • I've already mentioned this, but now we officially know that a new, three-part series of Sherlock will be gracing our screens on New Year's Day.
  • Also reported at the premier of the Christmas Special, Amy and Rory are now officially leaving Doctor Who. This didn't come as much of a surprise for me; I had hoped they were leaving at the end of Series Six, and was surprised to even hear of them being in Series Seven. I'm not really sad about the news, because Who is all about change and the two characters have far out-stayed their welcome. Although I suppose it will be grating to here yet another rendition of, "It's bigger on the inside..."
  • Finally, Misfits has been given a fourth series. This I'm quite glad for, as this longer series may just be one of Howard Overman's off days, and I'm sure that the next series will redeem him and his writing team. Smashing.
Thanks.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Daleks

Our introduction.
 Doctor Who, Season One, Story Two (1963)
"You got us here - now I'm gonna make sure you get us back!"

The Daleks are so popular that they transcend British Culture itself and reach a higher plane of existence. My best friend, who was born in Mainland China and who has never watched an episode of the show in his entire life, was easily able to identify my Dalek keyring. Despite the serial's lack of connection to future Dalek stories, the original is nearly always the best and The Daleks still remains one of the most evocative stories in 60s Who. With its eponymous monsters in tow, the show would go on to great new heights.
     Writer Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks and Doctor Who writer until 1980, was bezzie mates with the first series' coordinator David Whittaker. He was first inspired to create the Daleks based on the movements of Georgian ballet dancers, whose long skirts made them appear to glide across the floor.He also drew from his experiences as a child in the Second World War, giving the Daleks a Nazi-esque temperment and ideology. Nation's estate bought the Dalek copyright, a deal set up by Beryl Vertue, who just so happens to be Steven Moffat's mother-in-law.
     The story is set on the Planet Skaro after years of nuclear war between two races; the militaristic Dals and the peace-loving Thals. While both races have suffered horrific mutations, the Dals have chosen to house themselves in weaponised travel machines, calling themselves Daleks. The Doctor and crew, arriving on Skaro, are initally put off by the metalised creatures and petrified forests. While Ian and Barbara want to leave, The Doctor's curiosity leads him to deliberatly break a part of the TARDIS, forcing the group to explore the Dals' city and become embroiled in the Daleks' plans.
     Our character arcs continue to develop, and the Doctor's actions here expose the lengths of his character's amorality. Pretending that a vital element of the TARDIS is broken, The Doctor uses this as an excuse to take his two captives and his granddaughter into a highly radiated planet, leading them into certain danger in the process. By the end of the story they're lucky to be alive, and only their ingenuity has brought them through it. A particular scene that hightlights their development is at the end of the third episode, where the group plan their escape from Dalek captivity.
The Daleks corner our heroes.
     One thing that I love in this story is the direction, which is very ahead of its time. The story has two directors; Chris Barry and Richard Martin. I much prefer Barry's direction, which is dynamic and is perfect for the Daleks; a great example is the famous shot that I use at the top of the article; the Daleks are introduced with a 1st Person view, allowing is that shot of the floating plunger arm that gave so many people nightmares.
    This story shot Doctor Who to new heights, and plotwise it inspired projects across the globe. There were comic strips in America and Hollywood films starring Peter Cushing. This reinforced Doctor Who's pop culture influence across the globe, and even in the most obscure of sci-fi references the Dalek is an image only slightly less common than Tom Baker.
     The Daleks over shoots by a few episodes, but it really is stellar science fiction of the highest level.Terry Nation's debut is one of my favourite Hartnell stories, and remains a brilliant example of the inital characters and their development. The direction is sound, the characters are incredibly well developed and the Dalek design would go on to make Doctor Who one of the most powerful programs in British Culture.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The Doctor and crew get stuck in a rut.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Review: Misfits 3.7

I've never liked cats. They go and play tricks like this.
"You kill numerous probation workers but you can't kill one cat?"

Misfits has already done Zombies. Not real zombies, of course, but they took on the genre and parodied it relentlessly in the Series One finale, where the modern interpretation saw people becoming overly-moral Christians. Seeing Misfits actually try a straight version of this storyline feels a little weird, especially this close to Chrismas and far from when it would have been more appopriate in Halloween.
     Following on from last week, Curtis and Seth prepared to bring the latter's dead girlfriend back to the land of the living. Shannon, played by the massively underused actress Charlene McKenna, is incredibly bewildered by her return to life and by what Seth has become. Curtis enjoys his new ability, bringing back to life a dead woman's cat. As cheerleaders visit the centre, Rudy expresses disgust. Curtis visits the old woman again, to find that the cat he ressurected has killed the owner and begun to drink her blood.
     Seth dumps Kelly, and admits what he did. The team then head across to kill the evil cat, Mr. Miggles. As they debate over killing the cat, the old woman gets up as well and tries to eat Rudy. The gang realise that it's the Zombie apocalypse and Kelly goes off to warn Seth about Shannon, who's eaten his pet iguana. Kelly accidentally spills the beans on Seth's cheating heart. Rudy reveals to Simon and Alesha why he hates Cheerleaders so much; he walked in on his parents having sex as a young child where his mother was dressed as one. As Kelly and Curtis plan her demise, Shannon bites a neighbour.
Emotionless stares: the height
of the McKenna repertoire.
      The neighbour escaping, the team arrive to off Shannon and the couple hide in the neighbour's flat. As the neighbour gets the munchies, the team raid the flat to discover it empty. They leave, and Shannon tells Seth everything. Later that night, Seth himself prepares to kill her, but can't bring himself to destroy the one thing he loves. Instead, he askes Curtis to kill her instead. As Simon prepares to kill Mr. Miggles, he discovers that the cat has infected the entire cheerleading team. They make their way through the entire team (including another probation worker) until a final confrontation with Shannon, who is killed by Seth. The bodies are buried in the Woods, and the issue is forgotten.
    I'm just feeling rather empty about a lot of the storylines in this year's Misfits. They aren't as specifically heartrending as Series One, and they aren't as clever as Series Two. Rudy's links with Alesha have never been mentioned again, and Simon's future as Superhoodie was the focus of only one episode. This year has been the year of Seth and Kelly, and that's certainly left me feeling rather cold. This week, which supposedly featured the culmination of Seth's character arc, saw absolutely no poignancy from that side of things at all. I felt like crying out, "Seth! Your dead girlfriend has been brought back to life! Show some emotion!!!" I think that's one of the main problems with this storyline on the whole; neither character is known for their broad scale of emotions. Kelly was better as a defrosting ice woman, trying to spurn Nathan's awkward advances.
     What made the zombie storyline so much worse was that it was predictable. You knew that Zombies would appear, that people would be infected, that the team would have to kill them. When the new probation worker was killed, it felt more tragic to me than overly funny because it was so damn predictable. Nothing about this episode added to the series or to the characters. Seth is the same now as he was before, as far as we can tell. None of the characters has learnt anything of any particular interest, and while fascinating to watch, the episode didn't have any obvious tension or power behind it.
Simon is strangely... bloodthirsty this episode. In any case
he felt more manly, which I assume was a nod towards his
character progression next episode. Touch wood.
     You wouldn't think that Zombies a bland script would make, but that's what happened here. In the grand scale of things, nothing happened, which was a shame because it struck right at the epicentre of the plotline that this series has been reluctantly centred on. I didn't care for the straight-played Zombies and the bland, bland, bland characterisations, and I can only hope that next week's pre-Christmas finale will sort things out.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: All of the villains from Series One return. Really. Oh, and Simon becomes Superhoodie. WOOOO!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Review: Merlin 4.11: The Hunter's Heart

Terence Maynard as Cenred-expy Helios
Merlin begins this year's finale with the first of what feels like a three-parter. It came as somewhat of a pleasant change from the norm, no doubt benefiting from having multiple writers and having the focus of the end-of-season storyline. To be quite honest, it blew me away: Brilliant characterisation, no apparent Merlin go-to-plots and both a style and tone that felt just perfect for the more mature and considerate program we're expected to be watching now. It's perhaps too early to say at this stage, but this year's finale could easily be this series' saving grace.
     Our base premise was, it seemed, yet another run on the, "Arthur to marry secretly evil non-Guinevere" plot in its fourth iteration, as to seal a peace treaty between two forever warring nations Arthur agreed to marry the Princess Mithian. In a twist upon the usual, this Princess was neither evil, magical or bland - she was given an actual characterisation that felt realistic in context. Moreso, they weren't portrayed as a ridiculously odd couple that had been drawn together reluctantly - care was given to show that these two people were compatible in a lot of ways. It was interesting to see the clashes between Arthur and Merlin, who both got really strong character pieces here. I particularly found Merlin interesting, as for a lot of the episode the bumbling clown aspect of the characterisation was downwritten and he was allowed to focus more on his
      Also nibbling away at the plot strand was the arrival of Helios (bit-part actor Terence Maynard), who upon raiding an innocent village came across the exiled Gwen and took her into his stead. After an apparently pleasant dinner, the penny dropped as it was revealed that Helios was working with Morgana to plan an attack against Camelot. Gwen actually got a fair share of the plot time, which made up for a few things here or there. Soon she escaped and, knocked out in the woods by Morgana, she was transformed into a deer. This happened to occur in the same area as Arthur and his new sweetheart were going hunting, leading to the rather Grimm-esque situation of Gwen being shot by her replacement. However, Arthur found Gwen's engagement ring in the woods, sparking a turnaround in character which led to him breaking up with the Princess on good terms.
Princess Mithian
      An aspect of the plot that didn't really make sense yet was Agravaine's side of the plotting. He murdered one of his old servants, who had refused to betray Arthur, in order to steal a map of the city. The episode saw Gaius spend a lot of time trying to find out about the murder, and Merlin even did the smart thing for a change and told Arthur of his suspiscions. This part of the plotline definitely felt like it was rearing for next week, as it wasn't particularly reolved in any definite way as Merlin usually prides itself on doing.
     As the finale approaches, I have to say that I adored this episode's slower pace. If it helps, I'd love it if Merlin's plot was like American dramas - stretched out over the thirteen episodes instead of popping its head in once a month. The Hunter's Heart was everything I want Merlin to be - dramatic, moving and epic in a realistic way. Next week's episode is called The Sword in the Stone, which is right now making me more excited than a small child on Christmas morning.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Excalibur, Helios and good acting.
P.S. Yet again, no image gallery.

Review: Wizard of Oz 2011

Note: This review contains incredible positive bias!

I won't say that it's been easy, because it hasn't. This year's production has been plagued by problems from the beginning, and as a witness to those problems I feel that I'm a little bit biased this year. We have put in a lot of work and it has at times been tiring, empowering and hilarious, all at the same time. But at the end, it all came together and stands as one of the best productions the school has done.
     Production issues abound made this a difficult play to get off the ground. Early rehearsals made little progress, and then two months into production the lead character actress was replaced by another, causing a shuffling of roles that meant that we had to start from scratch. That considered, the progress made within the five weeks of rehearsal time has been incredible to say the least. Further, different dates this year gave us even less time than we had last year, which further piled on the stress.
    I must say that I initially had reservations about the choice of play, and they remain. The Wizard of Oz is one of the most potent fairy tales of the 19th Century. Written by children's author L. Frank Baum in the 1890s, the story was popularised (and significantly dumbed down) for a technicolour 1939 version featuring Judy Garland - a film that has become embedded in Western Culture. I personally detest the film for its complete and total lack of any meaningful characterisation, it's useless optimism and its skewed sense of morality. I do however appreciate the story itself for what I interpret it as - an examination of the American economic situation during the 1890s. I hoped, slightly, that our interpretation here would be able to capture that, and I feel it does that in many placed while still appealing to people's expectations of the cheerier 1939 version.
     Because of the more...extravagant play, the costumes this year were rented professionally and look incredible. The same can be said of the background sets, and while I thought that Kansas theme was a little silly when one considers that Kansas only appears for five minutes of the two-hour production, I appreciate that this year the Art Department fought over a lot of hurdles. To make up for this single setting, the team made the innovative decision to make curtains that could be used to quickly change set. It'sd little additions like this that took the initially bleak outlook of the production and made sure that on the night it was spotless.
     As for the acting itself, I thought that there was a wonderful sense of campness in the air. Characters like the Lion and Lord Growlie remained in character constantly despite their entertainingly queer characterisations. It helped that a lot of the principle cast had returned from the previous year, but the show's newcomers were just as well-performed.
    None of the problems this year stopped the cast or the producers from giving it their all. And at the end of the day, the production came together in a way which more than equalled the previous year's heights. On a personal note, I'd just like to say that the production was amazing to work on despite my initial reservations, and I'm proud to have been a part of it. I'm sure looking forward to next year, whatever it may be.

Thanks.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Review: Film: Downfall

The closest analogue to Satan that the Human Race has really identified offers a rather tense subject to work with. Adolf Hitler and his political party were responsible for the deaths of over 10 million people, 6 million of those being Jews. He is perhaps one of the most hated and reviled figures in the history of humanity, especially in the country that he led to commit these atrocities, Germany. Downfall, German "Der Untergang", is the most well-known and famous German film outside of the country for the single reason that it examines the Nazi party in all of its evils.
      The film's protagonist is the young Traudl Junge, Hitler's misguided secretary who lived in the Führerbunker from 1942-5, and experienced the collapse of Nazi Germany. By far the film's greatest performance is from Brüno Ganz as the dictator. While charming and kind to those he liked, Ganz's pitch-perfect impersonation of Hitler really comes to a fore when he begins to realise that he has lost the war. It's unfortunate that the myriad of internet parodies has robbed this particular scene of its main potentcy, although I do support making Hitler look like a clown. I also appreciated Corinna Harfouch's turn as Magda Goebbels, whose performance in the film's longest and most evocative scene is chilling
     The film's visual cinematography is incredibly atmospheric. Designed to be as close to the tone of the real Führerbunker as possible, the occasionally strobing floodlights and a suitably grey filter give the film a constant sense of tension and suspense that rather deliberately isn't resolved by the film's end. Care has been taken to ensure that the film's props and setting are as realistic as possible - and the German studio behind the project makes this rather definite. I also admire the acting department, who hired actors with disturbing similarities to their historical counterparts. This makes Downfall one of the most realistic films about the Second World War ever made.
      What Downfall does that really makes it appeal to me is to appeal to my Rouseauist tendencies. Some may argue that it is unwise to humanise such an evil group of people, but that is in essence the point of the film; to say why these people were evil and how. Showing that they were human beings, that they had consciences and passions - it just makes their actions, perpetrated over a political idea, that more evil, but in a way that we can understand and learn from. I can't feel indignation about what I read in a textbook, but the work of these great actors, directors and filmmakers has put it into a medium that touches the modern Zeitgeist.
     Downfall is one of the most important films ever made about the Second World War, and despite its considerable length ever second feels important. It rips down the shroud of political balme games around that period and shows it for what it really was; a group of people that were evil, but human at the same time. It helps us to not only understand that period, but to learn from it in a way that will affect everyone who watches.

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Two years ago today, I wrote my first review and published it to Facebook. More details about the first year of this blog can be found here. Since my first year anniversary, I've managed to review the rest of Misfits Series One, Life On Mars Series Two, the whole of Torchwood Series One and Miracle Day, Doctor Who Seasons Twenty-seven and Thirty-two, the entire Fourth Season of LOST, AND all of Being Human. It's been a fun year for me on this blog, and I can only hope that I'm still here this time next year, to review both Series 7 of Doctor Who as well as the brand-spanking-new series of Red Dwarf.

Thanks.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: An Unearthly Child

Doctor Who, Season One, Story One (1963)

It's only Story One, and they're already running from cavemen.
Who do I think I am, eh? What cheek must I have to dare to review - to even try to review - An Unearthly Child, the first ever Doctor Who story? It is rather daunting, actually. The show has just had its 48th Anniversary, and the production team on NuWho are gearing up for the 50th Anniversary in two years. It's a good time to be a Whovian and I've tasked myself with reviewing the Alpha to Moffat's Omega. Reviewing where it all began, on the 23rd November 1963.
     Historical Context is actually quite interesting, in this case. The world was still in the depths of the Cold War, just having recovered from the strains of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Producers Sydney Lambert and Verity Newman created the show in an effort to introduce an informative science and history show to the nation's children. Its broadcast date was rather impromptu; Jack Kennedy was assassinated the day before, and so Doctor Who was brought in to replace the next day's news program as the story developed. It wasn't an immediate failure, and while the show didn't really pick up until the show's second story, An Unearthly Child is still seen as one of the more important stories in the show's history.
     Friendly schoolteachers Ian and Barbara (William Russell and Jaqueline Hill) are intrigued by one of their pupils, Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford), who talks about decimalisation and despite being incredibly intelligent can't seem to master basic facts. They decide to follow her home to speak to her parents, but find themselves following her into I.M. Foreman's junkyard on Totter's Lane. There they discover a Police Box, and a doddering old man. Fighting their way inside to try and find Susan, the teachers discover that the box is bigger on the inside. The old man introduces himself as The Doctor (William Hartnell), who explains that he and Susan are from a far off planet and that their ship, the TARDIS, is capable of time-space travel. At the end of the first ever episode, the Doctor decides that the two have seen too much, and takes them off in the ship. It lands in 100,000 BC.
Entering the Time Machine.
      And, as many have said, that's where the interesting bits of this story end. The opener is a staple of science fiction, an introduction to several concepts that have lasted for the past 48 years. The next three episodes have their own tone and structure outside of the first episode. This, I suppose, can be blamed on the episode structure itself. These early stories weren't at all intended to be so, and were in fact even more serialised in nature. The first thirteen episodes have been collected into three serials for the sake of continuity with later formats, but together they have a much more connected storyline and feel. There's little reason for An Unearthly Child to be connected to the following three episodes; it's just neat.
     This seperation isn't exactly sealed by the setting and events of these three episodes. The Doctor sets down upon 100,000BC, where a tribe of cavemen are trying to create fire. The Doctor and Susan express disbelief that the TARDIS hasn't changed shape; usually it fits in with the surroundings. As his three companions talk, The Doctor is kidnapped by the cavemen as "the one who can create fire"; Za, the leader of the tribe, has been fighting off competition from Kal. his companions attempt to rescue him but all of them are sent to be sacrificed in the Cave of Skulls.
     As the four attempt to escape, an Elder sets the four free. Kal discovers this and kills her. The four journey back to the Tardis but are stopped by three more cavemen, who return them to the encampment. After they expose Kal's murder, they are returned to the Cave of Skulls, where they use burning skulls to distract the cavemen long enough to escape back to the TARDIS. They head off, and the radiation meter on the TARDIS rises...
Creating fire.
     As you can see, I was able to sum up 75 minutes with two paragraphs. That's not to the story's immediate detriment, but it does render the sequence a lot less memorable. In the place of a complex and winding plot, the script is unusually filled with good character development, carving Ian and Barbara into audience identification figures and showing a Doctor characterisation that really surprises viewers of the later series. He's grouchy, kidnaps Ian and Barbara, smokes, and nearly kills a caveman by bashing his skull in with a rock. This is not the heroic archetype that the public and the casual fan recognises as The Doctor, and the key character arc of these 13 episodes is to watch as the character transforms into such.
      An Unearthly Child is a story unfortunately split by its content. The first episode is a brilliant piece of sci fi in its own right, and the following 75 minutes reinforce this with brilliant character work that prepares us for the series to come. As a beginning it was immediately successful and set the stage perfectly. Travel with me next week, as I move from 100,000 BC to the planet Skaro.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The Daleks in... The Daleks.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Review: Misfits 3.6

Rudy has some membership issues.
A much more comedic tone this week, despite a lot happening in all of the subplots. As this series is eight episodes long, this episode wasn't the usual finale, and really it didn't at all feel like one. Regardless, Misfits continued on its rampage of outrage and mischief.
     Rudy gets off with a girl and then admits that it's a one-night stand. She uses her power on him, but he walks away hunky dory. Kelly and Seth have been having a... prolific love life. The team have been chilling, as their probation worker is obviously dead. Curtis' power begins to malfunction. Simon discovers via short-term premonition (and then experience) that Rudy has been given an STD, one that will cause his penis to fall off. Simon and Curtis try to help Rudy remember which of the three girls he had that night gave him the disease, but their search isn't productive.
    They manage to find what they believe is the flat in question, but despite Rudy's offering of flowers the girl turns out to not be the girl; simply the flat in which he did the deed. Finding suspect pictures, they track down "Amy Goodwin". Curtis' power troubles continue. Seth wants to take Kelly to Morocco. Curtis discovers that the reason he keeps switching back to Melissa is that he/she's preggers. Rudy, thinking he's found Ms. Goodwin, accidentally flashes a ten year old. Upon speaking with her, it's still the wrong woman - she's a lesbian. Curtis works out that he's probably the father of his own baby.
At least you're not Govenor of California
     On their way to find the last of the three girls, Rudy is cornered by a Policeman for indecent exposure. Getting the wrong end of the stick, Seth finds the positive pregnancy test and believes that Kelly is preggers, and that's why she doesn't want to go to Morocco. Soon after, Curtis becomes Melissa permanently. In police custody, Frudy berates Rudy for his macho attitude. Seth confronts Kelly and is reassured of her non-pregnancy, and is then told via phone that one of his associates has found the thing he's been looking for. They track the girl towards a nightclub. Seth gets what he wants - an unknown power from an old man.
     Rudy finds the girl and it's AMY MANSON!!!! I'm a fan. He gives a heartfelt apology over the club kareoke and Manson (Leia) eventually forgives him. Seth is mourning his dead girlfriend again. Curtis goes to Seth and asks him to take the power away to try and fix his condition. In return, Seth requests that Curtis use the power he's just collected to revive Seth's dead girlfriend..
    I found myself very apathetic about Kelly and Seth this week, as their storyline climaxed last week and kept butting in on this week's main plot. It was all well and good last forthnight, but this week's more humour-focused ramblings made it stick out a little. The main plot wasn't all that perfect either, and it certainly pales in comparison to this time last year. While 2.6 was a piece of shit on a high scale, it was still exciting and something that we'd been waiting for for a series. Where is the Superhoodie Storyline? Where is anything that we were promised in Series Two? I've certainly enjoyed this series, but the different, mundane powers just make this a lot less interesting.
"Outcasts"? No idea what you're on about.
     I think it's also notable that this is Misfits' first eight-part series, and like Being Human the series definitely feels much more lax without the stress of just two fewer hours. Overall, less has happened with any meaning ful scale. Again, in 2.6 the team were vaulted to international fame and power. Here, Rudy hunts around the estate for a girl he shagged and Curtis impregnates himself. Even the latter doesn't last for very long; I was hoping for a storyline that lasted over the remaining week, helping Curtis to grow as a character and complete the arc he began in 3.2. I suppose what I'm saying is that Misfits has lost its grandeur. Its pizazz. And without that to spark up its storyline, what has it got?
     Funny. But fluffy.

Thanks.

P.S. I really, really, really, really, really, really, hope that Amy Manson is a recurring character.
NEXT WEEK: Curtis revives a wonderous irish actress (Charlene McKenna in something else!) , and starts a zombie apocalypse.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Review: Merlin 4.10: A Herald of a New Age

Sir. Elyan cares for the Tormented Spirit.
Ah, Howard. You and I are bedfellows once again. I'm sensing a pattern here. Howard Overman's Third Episodes have generally been ridiculously bad, while his tenth episodes have been brilliant and revolutionary. This week set the pattern down, and Overman used his idiosyncratic skill with characterisation to make the episode worthwhile. While initially cynical, I found myself loving it by the climax for an episode that skirted around the formula and gave us something slightly more coherant than usual.
      After disturbing a Druidic holy site, Gwen's knighted brother Sir. Elyan found himself bashed by this week's Mind Control hammer, possessed by a tormented spirit that manifested itself as a drenched little boy. Like the usual villains on this show, the spirit wasn't after freedom or wealth, but instead wanted to... kill the king! What a surprise. As Gaius and Merlin tried to find out about the Spirit - actually telling Arthur about the spirit for the first time in the entire damn series - Sir. Elyan tried to kill Arthur in the way that every villain this series has been able to do - waltzing up to him and swinging a sword.
      With Agravaine there just to be a dick, Elyan ends up at large, fully posessed by the Spirit. With Gaius' help, Arthur realises that the Spirit is pissed because Arthur led a raid, commanded by his Dad, to kill everyone in the Druid camp. That night, he goes to the shrine and give a beautiful, heartfelt speech promising to respect the Druid's role in Camelot.
Arthur bore all.
     What this episode did that made it feel like something of a relief was to really use its characters. It's a damn shame that Elyan didn't actually get any development, seeing as he's a somewhat semi-major character, but that's the flaw with the posession plotline. While it was fleeting, there were a few references to Gwen which helped to prevent Merlin's trademark obliviousness to continuity. It was this, plus little things like Merlin actually cueing Arthur in on the Magic and Arthur actually believing his trusted servant that made this so much better on a basic level. Oh, and a strange absence of Katie McGrath. I'll just leave that there.
     I was reluctant, but this episode was a tad better than usual. It was by no means perfect, but a recovery effort from Howard Overman meant that on a fundamental level it was a lot more enjoyable. This series has enough problems on its plate already, and for now this semi-formulaic episode circumvented enough irritance to make me love it. Just stay away from that third episode spot, eh Howard?

Thanks.

P.S. No episode gallery. Not impressed. "gets to capping"
NEXT WEEK: The end of this stupid Gwen arc.