Friday, 30 March 2012

Overview: Doctor Who Classic: Season 20

Season 20 was the Anniversary Season, and so JNT pulled out all the stops. We saw Omega, the Mara, and the Guardians, as well as the introduction of two new companions! That didn't go so well. Regardless, Season 20 saw some differences in characterisation across the board.

Davison steps up to the plate.
Five (Peter Davison) - That's how it all started
(All Season)

If anything, Season 20 saw Davison's Doctor become the more intellectual Doctor that the character is always stereotyped as - and rightly so. He stops Omega with some jiggery pokery and is only able to kill The Mara through sheer force of will. Notably, Davison's Doctor now has the confidence to take the story's heroic role, and he spends less time in this season trying to explain himself.
     The Doctor does get awfully devious around the Black Guardian Trilogy, where he manages to feign an ignorance of Turlough's intentions. There's always a shadow of doubt being cast over how much he is aware of and how much he is hiding. The only really applies in Mawdryn Undead and Enlightenment; in Terminus he is allowed to show Season 19's more emotional side as Davison is genuinely sad about Nyssa's leaving.
     Overall, one can say that Davison's Doctor is now longer the new guy. He is the hero, and this is the peak of his era.

Nyssa slipped out of the series
in a slip.
Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) - I can't go with you
(Arc of Infinity to Terminus)

Nyssa's main character development starts in Season 20, up to her heart-breaking (well, for me anyway) leaving scene. She lost her naivity and grew up, gently shedding her inhibitions. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for a generation of teenage boys) this was mainly shown through her slow removal of more and more clothes, culminating in her leaving scene, in which she wears see-through underwear.
      In Arc of Infinity, it's clear that she's been able to spend a bit more time with The Doctor and has thus become a lot confidant in herself. That first episode also shows her, of all people, willing to use weapons to fight to save The Doctor from execution. In Snakedance she finally changes out of her regal gear and begins to show signs of independance. Mawdryn Undead has her a little empty and guilible of Mawdryn's claims, but this plays into her concerned nature and sets up her leaving in Terminus. And then, strangely enough, she sets up some of the newer series by being the first companion to give The Doctor a kiss.
       Nyssa was the most promising of Davison's companions, but she was horrifically misused in her tenure. This was mostly because she was a little too smart, too well written. However, the character will remain, in my mind, Five's best companion.

Terry Wogan calls Enlightenment,
"The battle of the bodices."
Tegan (Janet Fielding) - I guess you're stuck with me
(supposedly re-joins in Arc of Infinity, All Season)

Tegan was never really gone. That's the official story, and one really begins to see the effect that JNT's insane demands had on the series. Tegan's arc was over - she had been taken home after an entire year of trying to get her there. And yet she's brought back in, with little to no reason for her return besides, "I guess you're stuck with me."
      One thing I do love about her presence is that The Doctor seems to share my feelings. Over the course of the season he shows incredible disdain for Tegan, and this even enhances his trauma over Nyssa's leaving. You could expect, now she wants to be here, that her abrasive personality would soften. It doesn't. In Snakedance she nearly releases The Mara upon the Universe, and in Enlightenment she nearly blows up the White Guardian.
     As part of JNT's sudden decision to make Doctor Who sexy (after 19 years of stark asexuality), Tegan was pulled out of her uniform and into a series of ill-fitting corsets. Unlike Nyssa, where her outfit change reflected a similar change in personality, Tegan just looks silly. The peak of this is during Enlightenment, where she, for a part, dresses up in a corset (pictured) that she bearly fits in.
      Tegan continues to be a pain despite the consistency of her appearance in Five's era.

Turlough (Mark Strickson) - Alien Schoolboy
(Mawdryn Undead onwards)

Turlough was another whim by JNT. His character, created in the summer of 1981, was randomly inserted into the Black Guardian Trilogy at the conception stage. The character was seen as a risky move - someone whose loyalties were consistantly being questioned. For the first three stories of his tenure, he was trying to kill Five on the orders of the Black Guardian.
     As Davison and Strickson often point out, the concept is fundamentally flawed. Once Turlough has stopped trying to kill The Doctor, what then? He remains devious and murderous in nature. Why is he even with The Doctor once he gets off Earth? He's afraid to return to Trion until the next season, and so his Tegan-esque, "take me home" line at the end of Enlightenment is rather silly. We'll cover where Turlough goes wrong in the next Overview, but here he just doesn't do as he's written to.


P.S. Kamelion doesn't count. And even though it's sorta part of Season 20, The Five Doctors is coming next Monday.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Review: Pramface 1.6

Episode image for Aaargh
Jamie is forced to deliver the baby himself.
Pramface - Series One, Episode Six - Aaargh

Despite the fact that in some ways it continued to epitomise everything wrong with the series, "Aaargh" was by far the most entertaining hour that Pramface has produced so far. The characters were a lot better constructed, and despite the detatchment that I've felt for the past five weeks, I felt for these characters for the first time. The rest of the storylines made me chuckle and I just felt like for a change, Pramface knew what it was doing.
     Laura, debating on whether to get into a relationship with Jamie, has him take her shopping. While shopping, Laura's contractions start and they're unabgle to get back to the car. Laura's parents attend a conference and try and get frisky, while Jamie's parents go hiking in order for Jamie's Dad to reveal that he's been made redundant. Mike decided to run in a chrarity fun-run and then take the proceeds in order to buy a prostitute and lose his virginity. Beth gets wise to his plan and forces him to give the proceeds to charity. Jamie's Dad gives a touching speech over the phone to Jamie, helping him to deliver Laura's baby. As they're taken to A&E, the two protagonists admit to each other that they're not prepared for what's to come.
     It's surprising for me that this episode worked because of its characters, which in the past have been Pramface's weakest element. Fundamentally, Aaargh did what was necessary and didn't have so many overt attempts to comedy, and thus the humour was more subtle and character-based, which worked because after five weeks the characters have enough slow-dripped personality to be funny. As I said last week, the relationship between the two leads has only just developed, and that played a major part in making this episode more appealing.
     I wouldn't reccomend it, but I would be curious to see what a second series of Pramface could accomplish with these characters, especially as there were several arcs that were left as loose ends and there was a clear hook at the end for a series examining Laura and Jamie's attempts to raise a child together. I'll be looking for future developments and if this final episode has proved anything, it's that Pramface and it's characters can produce good TV.


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Review: Lost 5.10: He's Our You

Sayid shoots at his juvenile torturer.
Sayid as a character is one that soon goes off the rails in terms of characterisation during this season. Throughout the first four season he's the muddled mixture of science and faith; the conflicted Muslim atoning for the crimes he committed in his army days and with the intense physical and technological skills required to assist the Survivors in any way possible. The moment that Lost's mystical BS starts to arrive here in Season Five, Sayid's characterisation evaporates and this episode only really serves to tie up the loose ends of his off island storylines.
     Off the Island, we see the point where, after The Economist, Ben tells Sayid that there's no one left for Sayid to assassinate. This leads Sayid to do charity work in the Caribbean, as we saw back in The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham. After the events of that episode, Ben comes and tells Sayid about Locke's death, giving him the instructions that he acts upon when he rescues Hurley from the mental institution. Even later, after the events of Ben's stand-off with Sun in This Place Is Death, Sayid meets Ilana at a bar. She tricks him and claims to be in the employ of one of the businesses whose head Sayid assassinated, and thus is forced onto Flight 316.
     In 1977, young Ben gives Sayid a sandwhich but is attacked by his father for it. Sayid is interrogated by Dharma's interrogation expert and is given truth serum, revealing details about all of the Survivor's origins as well as information about Dharma that even they don't know yet. Later that day, the Dharma leaders take a vote on whether or not to kill Sayid. The vote is unanimously yes. Sawyer attempts to release him but he rejects the offer. Later, Ben does the same and the two escape into the jungle. Taking his last opportunity, Sayid shoots young Ben and runs off.
The torturer is tortured.
      Despite the fact that he was in tight circumstance and that the future Ben would "ruin" Sayid's life, there really is no precedent in attacking a child. I have no sympathy for Sayid's post-island and then post-return plight whatsoever; he had a choice. He chose to kill those men, despite his four seasons worth of character development that showed that he had rejected murder after everything he did in the past. Sayid ceases to become an interesting character because his motivations are contradictory without being deliberately so. I don't know why Ben killed Locke, but there are lots of reasons for it. The only reason for Sayid's actions are ones that directly contradict the actions they defend.
    He's Our You took the character of Sayid and made him into a caricature of his former self. It robbed him of any credibilty as a developing human being, and that's why this bugs me. This episode, as all episodes on Lost are, was technically brilliant, but the content foreshadowed a turn in the series' writing that will become ever apparent as we head towards the finale of my Lost reviews.


NEXT WEEK: A fine example that Whatever Happened, Happened.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Film: The Hunger Games
That facial expression? Get used to it.
The Hunger Games - 2012, Directed by David Ross, Written by Suzanne Collins, 12A  
Written 25/3/12
"May the odds be ever in your favour."

On Sunday, I went with some friends to see The Hunger Games, a film that is getting a crap-load of good marketing right now. Hailed as the new Twilight, the film promised to mix great teen drama with actual themes like the rich/poor divide and the superficiality of modern society. And if it had done that, I would not be writing this review.
     The Hunger Games is an adaptation of the first in a trilogy of books, written by Suzanne Collins. It concerns a futuristic vision of America called Panem that is split into twelve "districts" of varying economic status and the central Capitol, whose elite residents control the wealth and power of the other districts. In remembrance of the quashing of the districts' past rebellion, two young people are taken from each district and forced to participate in a televised fight for the death in a Truman-esque dome. Katniss Everdeen (Hereafter Catnip) is from the rundown District 12, and volunteers to help save her sister from being chosen.
     At The Hunger Games' core, there is a set of very interesting and very relevant ideas trying to burst out. There are varying comparisons to modern America's perception of shows like American Idol and the X Factor, trading admiration for freedom from public humiliation. There was also some biting political reference to the 1% controlling the 99%, which is an important issue the world over. But that had to be channelled through the characters and through the medium, and that just didn't measure up to the standard that it had set for itself. The background inklings of this themology was there but it never got a chance to really shine through, and when it did it didn't correlate with the foreground action.
Catnip, Peeta and The Facial Expression.
     I was told by one of my friends, who have actually read the series, that Catnip's major personality trait is a staunch will and a sombreness inherant in her life that made it difficult for her to smile. This, I can clearly say, did not translate through to screen, and it simply appeared as if Jenniffer Lawrence was emanating Keanu Reeves' acting repetoire with her single facial expression. And even with this in mind, I didn't get, "stony and resolute" from her performance, I got "stony and wooden." This may have worked in the Arena scenes in which she was fighting for her survival, but in the exterior scenes where she had to win over both her friend and the population of the Capitol, she just doesn't come across as a likeable character.
     One of the things that people have been comparing to Twilight are the hints of a love-triangle between the central female protagonist and the weak pretty guy (Peeta) and the rustic strongman (Gale). These characters never met, and thus this didn't materialise, despite a few romantic overtones. These romantic overtones were channelled into the thematic aspect, being manipulated by the team as a PR device to get the public to route for District 12's fighters. For me it felt too little too late - there was no real representative of what the average Joe got out of the Games in the first place, and setting up a love-story wouldn't change that. The Hunger Games seems to forget the brutality of its own premise.
     However, there were some characters who shined above the rest. Stanley Tucci played an extravagent blue-haired show-host presenting the Games, and provided some of the film's best satire and comic relief. On the heroes' side was endearing past-winner Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), whose initial apathy fell away into a noble character that felt a lot more warm than our protagonist. Other than this, a lot of the characters fell into single dimensions. The "evil" alliance of teens in the Games stripped the situation of any moral ambiguity. The President of the Capitol punished his underlings without consideration for future action. The cute little girl had to die, if only to squeeze as much out of the scenario as possible. That last one really got me, because The Hunger Games spent so little time really lamenting the Games' potential for suffering that the death of this character, who we'd seen for a maximum of five minutes, didn't really hit me as much as they wanted it to.
     There were a few other nitpicks, especially in the details of this dystopian future. Why are there no guns? Why do the poorer areas of the US look like they're pre-Civil War, and yet everyone has a television? Why does the international community not care about this brual totalitarian regime? How does the world of The Arena work? How were the makers of the show able to conjure creatures out of midair? Why does anyone watch this damn show? If you compare this to Pleasantville, director David Ross's previous effort and one of my favourite films, it covers up these details in a really competant way. They weren't vital to the film, but they did take me out of it.
     David Ross's direction seemed to take an odd turn here, and while it was quite proffessional for most of the time, there were long stretches where he employed shaky cam. This is a clique in Hollywood born in The Blair Witch Project, one that really, really needs to die. The first 20 minutes of the film can at times be nigh unwatchable due to the weird cuts and shaky cam, and it adds absolutely nothing to the film except a migraine. Elsewhere, the same technique is used to disguise really shoddy fight choreography and keeping things at a PG-13 rating.
     And yet. I still enjoyed myself, and I'd still see both the sequels. Why is a very difficult question to answer. Likely, it was because I see potential in what The Hunger Games trilogy can do, and because I loved the rich aesthetic. The aesthetic was highly deriviative and didn't make much sense, but it was still incredibly modern and the time spent in the capitol was a lot more interesting from a science-fiction point of view than the incredibly repetitive running through the same stretch of jungle. Regardless of what I think of the film's characters or message, this is a very beautiful film in both its grand set-pieces and in its visual depiction of the human race.
     The Hunger Games is deeply flawed in several places, and it feels more embryonic than it really should. But I'd still reccomend you go and see it, because at its heart it's a story with a lot of potential. The action stuff in the Arena wasn't for me, but it has captured the hearts of many others and I'm sure that things will have improved by the sequel, Catching Fire, in November. It's sad to see such potential go to waste from the director of one of my favourite films, but I can only hope that the more political sequel will remove any comparisons with prior works and allow Suzanne Collins' trilogy to really stand out.


Monday, 26 March 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The King's Demons

Five and The Master talk to Kamelion.
Anthony Ainley wasn't a bad Master. Really. But in Five's era he often got the short straw. He was campy, over the top and definitely hammy. He wore disguises, often unnecessarily, and his plans made little sense. The King's Demons was the last of these bad Master stories, and it also features the appearance of one of the most misguided decisions in the entire 48 year history of the program. Kamelion.
      The last story of the Anniversary Season was due to be a story called The Return, which would bring back Davros and the Daleks for a spectacular story before the Anniversary itself. However, 1982 saw several striking problems that wiped the story out, rippling back through the production all the way to Mawdryn Undead. The King's Demons was then left as the final story of the season. To make matters worse, JNT had wanted to bring back the idea of the Robot companion, in the form of the shape-shifting android, Kamelion. The robot had been "found" by JNT whilst looking for a replacement for K9, and it was quite impressive - apart from the constant breakdown problems and the fact that it looked spectacularly creepy. Thus, he was only ever in two stories - this one, and one of my next Classic reviews, Planet Of Fire.
      The two-episode-long story sees The Doctor and crew arrive in medieval England, where King John is behaving rather off-colour - he doesn't mind the fact that a TARDIS has just arrived in the middle of his jousting match. The crew are constantly refered to as "Demons", but are entertained in court. It becomes apparent that the King is an imposter, as a messenger arrives from London with knowledge of the real King. The Master's paper-thin disguise is soon revealed, and he turns the court against The Doctor. The Master and The Doctor discuss Kamelion and banter about their abilities. As The Master controls Kamelion via his will, The Doctor manages to overpower The Master's mind and prevent Kamelion from being used for evil. They escape, and The Master goes off to fight another day.
Kamelion is... creepy. Really creepy.
     The Master's disguise is another topic of contention. Even before the disguise appears, Ainley's voice is instantly recogniseable and the disguise doesn't even bother to change his face. He's also playing to another stereotype again, this time of the French. This is the last of The Master's disguises, though, so we can be grateful for that. Kamelion is downright creepy. Seriously, it's frightening how uncanny valley this thing is. It's not child-friendly.
     At the end of the day, The King's Demons is a bit of a waste of time. The period details and atmosphere are gorgeous, as in the previous two-parter Black Orchid, but it's nowhere near as fun and due to The Master's hijinks it doesn't really go anywhere. The King's Demons lost, for now.


NEXT WEEK: The Five Doctors Revistited! Woo! Also, look out for my Season 20 Overview this Friday.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Review: Being Human 4.8: The War Child

Gatiss is good as the impressive Mr. Snow.
"These eyes have looked upon pharohs.... upon the Son of the Carpenter.... and now they have to look at you." Mr. Snow to Cutler.

No real surprises came from this finale, but it did contain a few good character pieces. It felt like it was trying to be a normal episode but was stymied by its own nature as a finale, and I didn't really feel the tension that I needed to. Even when Being Human's finales were written badly, the stakes were high. Here the prophetic nature of this series' threat meant that it felt like they had plenty of time to sort themselves out.
     The Old Ones finally arrived, as it was revealed that the prophecy stated that Eve's death would destroy the vampires instead of saving them. While Tom worked on making a home-made explosive to destroy the Old Ones, Cutler dealt with his rejection by coming round to Honolulu Hights and trying to kill Eve. He was staked by a lamentful Annie. Hal, still fighting his addiction, was met by the evil Mr. Snow (Mark Gattiss), who tried to pull him over to the dark side. As Tom handed Eve over to the Vampires for her own safety, Alex tried to solve her unfinished business with Annie. Hal arrived with a bomb to try and get over his addiction and save the world, but Annie arrived with Alex just in time and got the main trio out of there, killing the baby and Mr. Snow and saving the world from immenent invasion.
     Mark Gattiss I expected to be terrible, but his portrayl was easily one of the best things about the episode - cruel, potent and deliciously creepy. His put-downs toward Cutler were Being Human gold and his exchanges with Hal were excellent. Werewolf Milo was less well-expressed, and he didn't seem to go anywhere. Alex improved by a vast amount this week, as we saw her working in very different situations, although it seemed a tad off when she and Annie had "ghost lessons." They felt much more like they were excercising another episode concept in the middle of this finale, and it had to be rushed in because Annie was going to go soon.
Alex joins the team as the new Ghost.
     About that. This is the woman who turned down the Door. Who made the people in purgatory scared. Who managed to drag her exorcisor into Purgatory with her, and then came back. This is the ghost who evaporated into nothing and then fought back through sheer will. And she just committed casual infanticide. I wanted Annie to go, desperately so, but I thought that it would have been done with a great more pizzaz than it ultimately was. This character, who we have followed through thick and thin for four years, disappears in a heart-beat. I wasn't really an Annie fan, but I recognised her importance in the Being Human universe and I was sad to see her go in such a pathetic way.
      The previews heralded this as the best finale Being Human has ever had, and in terms of character it was. But ultimately, The War Child was totally devoid of any tension, any suspense or any real drive. Our character just seemed to lull around for an hour instead of actually getting down to business, and the reliance on the Prophecy meant that when we did get our resolution, there were absolutely zero visible consequences. A fifth series has been commissioned, and I shall be watching, but as the beginning of a new era for Being Human, this hasn't been a powerful start.


Thursday, 22 March 2012

Review: Pramface 1.5

Pramface - Series One, Episode Five - Knocked Up And Homeless
"Would you like a pregnant chick around at your house? With all those, hormones and stuff..." Stupid Announcer.

Better. Pramface has really gone past the point of no return in terms of its characters, writing and plots, but there was a general turn towards a more positive experience. The problems are still there, but the dynamics are a little more developed and thus they overshadow them slightly. I suppose the game is finding which stereotypes they're abusing this week, and seeing which ones are less offensive.
     Laura has been staying at Jamie's house for eight weeks now, and despite his parents' issues with her presence she feels welcome. Feeling the full hormonal effects of pregnancy, Laura calls upon Jamie to heed to her every beck and call, with Mike and Beth looking on bemused. Angus and Anna, meanwhile, have a much better subplot in which they try to fix their relationship, which felt so much like a different, better sitcom. Jamie just comes across as a poor, poor sap while Laura has become an unrealistically portrayed, hormone-addled pregnant woman. Beth and Laura clash when Mike and Beth come to the house, and while Jamie confronts Beth's standoffishness, Mike and Laura start playing video games together. In typical sitcom traditions, Laura has false contractions. Anna tells Laura about her fixed marriage and how Jamie's parents have been trying to get her out. Taking hold of the Smart Ball, Laura realises what a douche she's been and Jamie comforts her, resulting in a kiss. Now a safer environment, Laura goes back to live with her parents.
     So, were these stereotypes less offensive? Well, the whole pregnant-woman-is-insane thing is terribly cliché, but we can't really say that it wasn't expected. Pramface is executing these tired sitcom situations in such a standard way that there isn't really any entertainment to it any more. The teen side of the story isn't annoying any more; it's just boring. The Angus and Anna segments were yet again painfully brief, but they at least provided some nice, witty moments. I really don't get how the quality of the writing can change so much between the two subplots; it's remarkable.
     "Knocked Up And Homeless" was business as usual for Pramface; clichéd characters in boring situations in nine-tenths, and brilliant witty charm in the remainder. I'm gonna finish this series for the sake of completion, but I really do have to say that if it wasn't for the blog, I would have abandoned this series a while ago.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

News: New Doctor Who Companion!

JLC is the new companion.
Yes, this is rather late in the day, but I just had to comment. The Moff has revealed his new companion, as well as some details about how Season Thirty-Three is gonna go down, and despite some reservations this has certainly made me more excited for the Autumn series.
     Jenna-Louise Coleman, 26, is a Blackpudlian actress best known for her work in Emmerdale and Waterloo Road. It's great to see actors from the North of England getting involved in Doctor Who; the last time a major actor hailed from there was in Season 27 with Christopher Ecclestone and Bruno Langley. While I've not really payed attention to any of her other work, Moffat usually picks decent actors regardless of how he treats their characters.
     I was greatly divided when I first saw the announcement. I was disappointed at first, because Doctor Who needs some change and there hasn't been a movement away from the "Present-Day Earthborn girl" in the entire history of Nu Who. On the other hand, Jenna-Louise (whom I shall refer to as JLC from now on, because I think it sounds cool) is absolutely charming and strikes me as an excellent addition to the show.
     There will be five episodes of Amy and Rory in Autumn/Winter 2012. The fifth of those episodes will feature their departure and the return of the Weeping Angels, followed by a Christmas Special and a new series with the new companion. I wish Ms. Coleman all the best, and I can only hope that Audenshaw Reviews will still be there when she premieres.


Review: Lost 5.9: Namaste

Namaste is an Indian greeting used across the subcontinent, and as they welcome one another, and as our survivors are introduced to the Dharma Initiative, we welcome the second half of this series. A second half that brings with it a key change in Season Five's format that should feel rather jarring but instead blends in nicely. For one of the first times on Lost, there isn't any obvious character centricity, which makes the transitionary nature of this episode all the more apparent
     As a new batch of Dharma recruits came to the island, James used the submarine as a cover story for the newly arrived Jack, Hurley and Kate to create yet another lie. The three were inducted into the Dharma Initiatve, but Sayid was caught on the outskirts of the facility and was forced to admit that he was a "Hostile". He was thus locked up, as James was forced to treat him like a criminal. Jin looked for his wife, but found that she hadn't arrived in 1977 as her four Oceanic Six comrades had.
     In 2007, we see Frank land Flight 316 on Hydra Island, a smaller island off the shore of the bigger one. Ben wanders off towards The Island and Sun and Frank follow, Sun to find Jin and Frank to protect her. They enter an old Dharma building and find The Man In Black as Christian Shepherd, who shows them the crew roster from 1977, making Sun aware of her husband's present fate.
     There were some interesting discussions in the episode between Jack and Sawyer which I thought were quite interesting, particularly around the issue of Leadership. Jack, who had been the de-facto leader of the Survivors since the Pilot, was forced to become a workman under Security Chief James, who tells Jack that in his three-year stretch, he changed his attitude and decided to think things through before doing them, unlike Jack's reactionary attitude. This is rather ironic, really, as it's Jack who thinks that detonating a Hydrogen Bomb is a good idea in the finale and Sawyer eventually goes on with him. But that's an issue for in a few weeks time.
Sayid is caught as a "Hostile".
     Namaste touched upon a few of the characters' struggles but otherwise it served only to set-up this second half of the series set alternately in the Dharma Inititive in 1977 and with the Man In Black in 2007. Other than that it felt rather empty, and there wasn't anything that really stood out from the norm, very much contrary to last week's brilliant tale. There's certainly a lot of stupid to come on Lost, but Namaste was a fun bit of nothing.


NEXT WEEK: The torturer is tortured in He's Our You.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Enlightenment

Turlough considers Enlightenment.
Doctor Who - Season 20, Story Five - Enlightenment

Enlightenment is a unique story in many ways. It presents itself first as a pseudohistorical, but very soon it becomes apparent that this story is much deeper than it appears. Even more importantly, the story justified the Black Guardian Triolgy by taking a brilliant concept and building it around the Black Guardian and his counterpart. For the first time, Turlough shows some promise as a companion and his presence is justified also.
      When The White Guardian contacts a damaged Tardis, The Doctor follows his co-ordinates and finds himself on what appears to be a 17th Century ship. Upon cohorting with the crew, he is taken to meet the Officer class - a group of people called Eternals with telepathic powers, who occupy space but not time. The Eternals have the ability to conjure into being whatever they find in the minds of time-occupying beings (known to them as Ephemerals), and because of the boredom of eternity use this power to entertain themselves.
     The Eternals on this ship happen to be part of a race, organised by the White and Black Guardians. The winner of the race would acheive what the Eternals call, "Enlightenment," a powerful prize that they believe will allow them to have emotion and imagination of their own. The Black Guardian abandons Turlough, and he throws himself off-board to escape his wrath, finding himself floating off to another Eternal ship commanded by Wrack (Lynda Baron), who is also in service of The Black Guardian. In their pursuit of Enlightenment, Wrack's ship has destroyed the majority of the other competitors using powers from the Guardian. The Doctor saves Turlough and finally sets his mind against the Black Guardian. When they inadvertantly win Enlightenment, Turlough rejects the Black Guardian and the White Guardian explains that Enlightenment is in fact the choice between Good and Evil.
     The core ideas of the story are a lot more consistant than the previous two stories in the triolgy, focussing on the very nature of human morality. The Eternals are emotionless and thus amoral; they may display emotional tendencies but everything they experience is robbed from mortal beings. Their contempt for mortality is only matched by their lack of imagination or drive - they rely on the Guardians to organise activities for them, and take everything they knwo from the Ephemerals. While Wrack's chaotic activities do oppose Striker's starch Upper-Class pride, it's allegance to a Guardian rather than a true sense of right or wrong.
Captain Wrack works for The Black Guardian.
    The actors playing the Eternals on Striker's ship are creepily emotionless, but they all show their own signs of character. Keith Barrat's striker is persistant and determined despite his lack of drive for the rest of life. Christopher Brown plays the slightly frightening Marriner, who through Tegan's mind falls in love with the simple concept of mortal life. Lynda Baron, on the other hand, is very hammy as Wrack, and often at times her bodaciousness clashes with the nature of the Eternals as a race.
      And, after some silly costume design from both Mawdryn Undead and Terminus, this story looks gorgeous. The Eternal's obsession means that the ships are beautifully detailed with period features - what the BBC do best - and the costumes are straight out of historical dramas. The production values in creating a race in space are incredibly high, and it's clear where the majority of the trilogy's budget went.  
      Enlightenment corners off our trilogy with another brilliant Sci-Fi idea, only this time the plot isn't clouded. Weaving The Guardians into plot made it all seem rather relevant, and the final story in Turlough's turmoil-filled encounter with the Black Guardian provides excellent closure for his opening development and for the arc that it occupies.


NEXT TIME: When Robots Fail Because Their Owners Die! See you next time in The King's Demons.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Review: Being Human 4.7: Making History

Cutler tries to impress.
Is it really the penultimate episode? I've spent so long for this series to really get going that it doesn't really feel right for the usually powerful pre-finale to be here yet. Nevertheless, Making History did not disappoint. While it wasn't as powerful as previous pre-finales, it advanced the plot and developed the characters in ways that this series desperately needs. And, while its cliffhanger didn't have the cinematic thump that I've come to expect, it did leave me hoping that this finale would be better than the three we've had so far.
     Cutler prepared Tom to supposedly destroy the Old Ones, the arrival being merely a day away. At the same time, Hal's investigations into the Vampire PR stunt lead him to Cutler - a man whom he made and tortured a few years before he decided to go clean. Being given blood by a scheming Cutler, Hal fights between his newfound sense of ethics and his primal urges, ultimately settling upon the former when Cutler explains his plan to introduce Vampires as the saviours of the world. The Vampires, copying one of Hal's old tricks, have killed Hal's girlfriend Alex and fed him her blood, but this only makes him more resolute.
     In the afterlife, Eve takes a confused Annie on a sight-seeing tour of the future, discussing how Annie has evaporated out of sadness, Tom was killed in a dog-fight after being put in a Werewolf/Human concentration camp, and how Hal has become the most ruthless killer in the Vampires' arsenal. Claiming that the final part of the prophecy says that the war-child must die, and that she herself is the killer, Eve tells Annie that she will have to kill her at some point.
Alex is a ghost now. Woo. (pardon the pun).
     I'm just going to take issue with this for a second. Now this is immensely stupid for two reasons. The first is something I brought up when this plot reared its head in the premiere: that this is Paradox 101 and if you're trying to be a clever sci-fi writer then you should know that this is impossible. We're not talking some obscure rule of Time Travel that might have gone over the writer's heads, this is really, really basic stuff to tackle when writing about Time Travel. The second is slightly more frustrating, in that this isn't a live Eve telling Annie this, this is Ghost!Eve. Eve thinks that the young version of herself needs to die when hey, SHE'S ALREADY DEAD! By dying and coming back in time she's changed the future enough for Hal to reject blood and try and save the world, her job is as good as done. She does not need to then be incredibly stupid and try and destroy the space-time continuum!
     Hal, with the ghost of Alex (whom I hope will become the Annie's replacement in the Trio), manage to help everyone escape from the hall where Cutler had planned on revealing Werewolves, and they stop Tom from killing anyone. As we see Hal get mauled (maybe), the Old Ones arrive.
     This week shone a light very much on Cutler, and that really pushed Andrew Gower to the depths of his character. It was revealed this week that his nervous exterior was simply the reaction his original making by Hal, who, as we see in the episode's flashbacks, tortured him in many cruel and unusual ways. It was really quite interesting to see how much the power dynamics between Hal and Cutler in 1955 and 2012 affected their behaviour. This followed the pattern of previous finales, having the vampire revert to his bloody ways, but this time it was done in a much more human way.
     Eve and Annie's storyline was the one that I was most interested in, although it didn't really have the impact that I expected it to. It felt very much like a budget-saving exercise; wandering around abandoned buildings while only sound-effects of these supposedly horriffic acts of torture and despair occurred. Aside from the odd mentality, as I covered about, there was something about Eve's attitude which felt a little off to me, which was probably from Gina Bramhill's interpretation. There was the hint of a mother/daughter-esque relationship between the two of them but because of all the conflicting storylines it never got a chance to shine.
Mark fucking Gattiss is head of the Old Ones.
     Making History certainly wasn't disappointing by any stretch, and its character work was really some of the deepest that we've seen in this series so far. It's really up to viewer to decide whether this character focus makes up for a plot that promised an epic scale and has, ultimately led to answers that we worked out six weeks ago. Now I can only hope that the finale will make justice of what has been a difficult rebirth for this troubled series.