Monday, 30 April 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Twin Dilemma

The Twins are not the best part of this excellent story.
Doctor Who - Season 21, Story Seven - The Twin Dilemma
(aka. The Treaty on Why I Love Six)

John Nathan Turner had an idea. To make sure that fans remained loyal to the series at the end of Davison's tenure, he would allow fans a peek at the new era by tacking on a Sixth Doctor story at the end of Season Twenty-One, following on from The Caves of Androzani. This was, to say the least, a mistake. It jarred with another of JNT's decisions - to have Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor begin as an arrogant buffoon and then transform into a likeable character. Fans were left with one serial they hated and then the sixth-month wait for Season 22.
     The Twin Dilemma rates at the bottom of most, if not all, full lists of Doctor Who stories. It is hated throughout fandom, viciously and without intent or purpose. This I prepared myself with when I went to first watch the story, about a month prior to writing this. And I watched it. Afterwards, as I sat dazed and confused, I asked myself one simple question that sums up my view on this story.
     What's not to love?
     Colin Baker's first outing as The Doctor is absolutely first-rate, and I can't find a single thing to hate about it. It's not the perfect story, but that adds innumerably to its charms - more-so than if those aspects of the story had been done today. Amongst them is Baker's performance, which is outstanding. It's different, it's fresh, it's never been done before. Baker's Doctor is still the paradigm of morality, but his regeneration in particular is a violent and turbulent one that exposes the dark side of his personality. He wears a brash coat that many fans hate; guess what - you're supposed to hate it, and Six doesn't care whether you do or not. He rejects fashion, he rejects life's complexities and focuses on doing what is right.
Six thinks.
     There's a mumbler on the back row. Go on, go on, speak up. I know you're there. Yes, I know about Peri. The Twin Dilemma is the only time in the history of the program where The Doctor causes deliberate physical harm to his companion, to the point where it's a wonder that Peri even travels with him. I agree that Peri being strangled by a maddened Doctor was a tad extreme, but it was a very pertinent way of exposing Six's mental instability, a key part of his character. Throughout the serial he flashes between personalities and motivations, and you never know whether it's a secret plot to outwit the enemy or whether he actually believes it. Six can be watched over and over again and I never find him tiring.
     Mestor, the story's villain, is a giant slug who kills people using his mind, giving them embollisms. Again, I don't see what's wrong here. He's just another typical Who villain; his costume is awesome and his ambition, to blow up a sun in order to colonise the galaxy, makes him at least a little bit interesting. Azmael, a Time-Lord under Mestor's control and apparantly one of the Fourth Doctor's old drinking buddies, is played by classical actor Maurice Denhem to perfection.
      Again? You at the back. What do I think of the titular twins? Well, I will admit that they are not the story's best feature, but Romulus and Remus aren't as irritating as everyone says they are. At least they don't side with the villain all of the time. Really the issue is that the actors themselves were difficult to work with, and thus suffer bland, uninspiring scenes. And there's no dilemma about that.
Didn't mean anything. Totally.
      The Twin Dilemma is a story that does the job it was there to do, showcasing Colin Baker's take on the Doctor. But for some reason, it gains universal hatred simply because of a few small aspects of the story that don't agree with people's sensibilities. It shouldn't have been placed after the more conventionally brilliant Caves of Androzani and Baker's Doctor should not have been left hanging over the six month break. But that's all there is to it. The Twin Dilemma is brilliant.

NEXT WEEK: We revisit the raging Inferno. This time with Josh!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Review: Red Dwarf 7.1: Tikka To Ride (Revisited)

The four are here, but they're not themselves.
See here for my first, more general, look at this episode.

Red Dwarf - Series VII, Episode One - Tikka To Ride (1997)
Written 19/4/12

While the first episode of the seventh series of Red Dwarf isn't the worst that Doug Naylor's tenure produced, it was certainly an indicator of the way the series was headed, not only in its aesthetic feel but also in the way that it was written. To try and find the elements that led somewhat logically to the dire depths of Series Eight, I'll be taking a look at Tikka To Ride to find out what went wrong with the series as a whole in its last two years.
     We open, immediately, with a visual effects shot. It's obvious from the off, especially when we see the recap of the last series, that Tikka To Ride has been significantly filmised in editing and the picture quality is a lot better. The sets are more open, more spacious, and the costumes more diverse. Series Seven had a much greater standard of effects, making use of four-walled sets and CGI to attempt to create a more epic series. While this works most of the time, the CGI never looks as good as the real model shots from previous series, and thus destroys any suspension of disbelief.
    The writing, however, is what makes a series or not, and Tikka to Ride is... ok. The humour, however, has drastically changed. Wheras before it was a mix of well-used horrors and genuinely funny asides, this takes a definitely scatalogical approach. We see Naylor's writing of Kryten as Lister is easily able to completely disable his guilt protocols. The result is as equally stupid as it is unfunny. Kryten's odd mannerisms and beliefs were always a lot more funny than some of the stupid stuff he got up to, and seeing him stirring drinks with his groinal attachment and acting like an arse is more annoying than stimulating character development. Worse than that, we've seen it before. Kryten loses his guilt to the titular monster in Polymorph, and what we see there is a lot more consistant that this version of the concept, in which Kryten is still for some reason driven by some guilt. And regardless of the fact we've seen it before, Polymorph gets old really quickly. This doesn't even stand a chance.
Kryten has to tell Lister about curry supplies.
    I mean, there are some inconsistencies that don't even begin to make sense. I can excuse, perhaps, the new larger sets - it's handwaved with some dodgy technobabble about time-space differentials - and the actors looking four years older than before. But the entire conceit of the episode is flawed considerably by a single joke in the last episode of Series Six. The Time Drive, this episode's key feature, doesn't do space. It's purely a temporal thing and the big joke behind the drive was that it's ultimately pointless because it couldn't return to Earth. What do the Dwarfer's do here? Return to Earth, like it's nobody's business. It's almost as Naylor got it confused with the Matter Paddle, of which the new Time Drive suspiciously resembles. But that's not the irritating bit. The irritating bit is that even as far as that last episode, the Dwarfers' main aim has been to return to Earth. And now they have the technology to do so? They ignore it. This makes absolutely zero sense from any logical point of view and it's a massive elephant in the room.
     I did like the time-travel aspect of the episode, and dealing with Kennedy's assassination after several cheeky references does its best to tie this series in with the rest of the mythos. However, even the internal rules of time-travel aren't up to much. In the episode, the Dwarfers somehow return to September 22nd 1963, and by accidentally preventing JFK's assassination they erase the existence of the Space Corps, and thus themselves. However, they last long enough to faff about with more time travel, committ canibalism and then track JFK down and get him to come back in time and shoot himself. Future!JFK is instantly erased, and all is right with the world. Red Dwarf has never been too good with Time Travel, but at least that fact was exploited for humour in the past - here it's a serious part of the story, and the humour is left to the disgusting.
    Notable, over all other things, is the characterisation. Lister, who in the past six series had developed into an intelligent, responsible human being vaguely aware of his own cosmic importance and willing to lay his life on the line to save his friends, is carved into a caricature of his former self. It seems that Naylor thought that Lister really was the "curry eating oaf" that Rimmer so often joked about. Rimmer, in his penultimate episode within toleration, has hardly any lines and no character to speak of. Kryten I've already been over, but there's one thing that tips his characterisation over the edge for me. Mid-way through the episode, Kryten cooks the Cat and Lister a meal, and reveals that it's a man's corpse they found on the street. But his explanation for why he did this never refers to behaviour protocols. It was simple stupidity. This droid, who had worked with humans for all of his life, did not have any residual knowledge that humans dislike eating each other. That is where this episode just becomes insultingly stupid.
Kennedy finally makes an appearance.
    So Rimmer's still here, Kochanski isn't and Kryten is still somewhat tolerable. But Tikka To Ride still suffers from the bad writing of Dwarf's last two series, and contains a number of elements that will refuse to go away. These characterisations are shoddy and irritating, and they're gonna continue well into the series' end. Back To Earth, for whatever reason, has entirely different characterisations of its own a lot more reminiscient of "Classic Dwarf," which, while still lacking, are at least an improvement. Despite its grand scale, Tikka To Ride is still incredibly mediocre and an example of how Dwarf shouldn't be made, and it's sad for me to look back and see that they didn't get that.


P.S. This is the end of my Red Dwarf articles for now. Next week this slot will be occupied by my overview of Doctor Who Season 21, and after that will become the home of Josh's Who reviews.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Films I Saw Recently, Volume Two
2011, Directed by Joe Wright

I often got the feeling that Hanna didn't know what it wanted to be. On the one hand it was a sci-fi enthused thriller that never let up the pace, and on the other it was a touching character piece that explored the mind of a young girl discovering what it means to live in the 21st Century world. In the end it bounced back and forth but ultimately suceeds at both, thus becoming the best kind of action-thriller. Combined with some complex imagery that asked a lot of questions for the viewer, this made Hanna one of the most interesting thrillers I've ever seen.
     The titular character (Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones) is the 16-year-old supposed daughter of famed spy Erik Heller (Eric Bana, The Time Traveller's Wife), being hunted by the CIA after he killed her mother many years ago, and hiding a secret. Operative Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) is sent to kill Heller, who in turn trained Hanna into a fighting machine to kill Wiegler. She is also fluent in several languages, and her only other experience of the world is through Grimm's Fairy Tales. As Heller lets Hanna into the real world, she must run across the German world to escape the hands of the CIA and to find the truth about her conception.
     Hanna's main attraction is the direction from Joe Wright, the man behind Atonement. He imbues the story with the feel of a modern fairy tale, sticking firmly in the realm of the original Grimm's Tales, from the German setting to the dichotomy between the main character's innocence and the dark nature of her pursuers. For a few moments in the middle of the film Hanna meets some British tourists and, for the first time in her life, she explores her humanity and her relationships with other people and cultures, just as the fairy-tale protagonist does.
    I loved Hanna because of its haunting and evocative visuals and its breathtaking action sequences. It may end up a little confused, but it's a powerful and memorable film that ought to be seen for posterity alone. America: The First Avenger
2011, Directed by Joe Johnston

Getting ready for Avengers Assemble! next week, I went and saw Captain America, the fifth film in the ambitious Marvel Universe. These films are some of the best blockbusters of the past few years, with great characters, great action scenes and some interesting takes on the Superhero genre, culminating in pure and utter nerd fuel. Wheras Iron Man was a modern sci-fi-action flick, and Thor took on a more fantastical direction, Captain America examines more historical themes as well as modernising what it a fundamentally dated concept.
     In the 1940s, the war is on and young Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans, trying to recover his reputation after the terrible Fantastic Four movies) wants to join the army. After failing five times, German scientist Erskine sees his spirit and heroism and volunteers him for an army scheme supervised by Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) to turn him into a supersoldier. Erskine explains that the last person to receive the serum was the mad Johann Schmitt, one of Hitler's head honchos whose obsession with Norse mythology led him to use the serum for evil means. Schmitt has stolen the Tesseract, an object from the Norse gods that contains unspeakable power.
     The serum works and through publicity deals Rodgers becomes Captain America, an advert for the US War effort. Finding that his army friend is in a nearby base of Schmitt (Red Skull), Rodgers goes against protocol and manages to save all of the prisoners. From then on Rodgers becomes the embodiment of progress and leads the army against Schmitt's cult, HYDRA. In the final confrontation, Schmitt is destroyed by the Tesseract and to save New York from nuclear annihalation, Rodgers crashes his ship into the Arctic, freezing instantly and only waking up, in SHEILD headquarters, seventy years later.
     Chris Evans does a good job of bringing a vulnerability to a role that is essentially Mr. Manly, while still being able to the carry out the pure action goodness that the Marvel Cinematic Universe provides. He's the centrepiece in a star-studded blockbuster that mixes retro stylings with the modernisation of a brilliant story. I loved it from start to finish, and while it may not be a particularly sublte piece it's incredibly enjoyable on every level.


Review: Lost 5.12: Dead Is Dead

Ben is judged.
Thank goodness we've arrived at Ben's centric episode. It felt like we'd never get here. Season Four's A Shape Of Things To Come was a mish-mash of excellent character work and strokes on the mytharc that made the series' final hours that more intense. Dead Is Dead, much more saturated with evil demons and with stunted plotlines, still manages to retain the sense of raw power behind the main chunk of Ben's storyline. This was the least-watched episode of Lost in the show's history, which surprises me greatly, as it's one of the season's best.
     In Ben's flashbacks, we see the history of his relationship with his adopted daughter Alex, who was killed in that previous episode indirectly due to Ben. In 1977, Charles Widmore welcomes Ben into the Others. In 1988, after Dannielle Rousseau has gone gaga and then had her baby, Ben steals her daughter Alex and scares her away. Widmore wants the baby killed, but ultimately he refuses to do the deed himself. A few years later, Ben replaces Widmore after his daughter Penny is revealed; he promises that Alex will one day die. In 2007, Ben approaches Desmond's boat and threatens to kill Penny, only to be distracted by their son Charlie. In a moment mirroring when he found Alex, Ben can't bring himself to do it.
     On the Island, Flocke (the Man in Black as Locke) confronted Ben as he recovered and travelled over with him to the main island. There they met the astonished Sun and Lapidus, who had heard of Locke's death, and Ben admitted that even he is scared of what he believes to be Locke's ressurection. Ben summons the Smoke Monster, which of course doesn't arrive while Flocke is still around. They decide to go to The Temple, where Ben and Flocke are seperated in the tunnells. Of course, then, the Smoke Monster appears and judges Ben. It then appears in the form of Alex and tells Ben, strangely enough, that he must follow everything that Locke says.
5x12 Ben Ethan.png
Ben prepares to kill Rousseau, and ends up stealing Alex instead.
      Ben is a murderer. He's an amoral man whose lies outnumber his values. And yet we feel sorry for him. He's one of the show's most sympathetic characters, and the fact that he does this despite being a Machiavellian schemer means that we love him all the more. Ben, like Kate and Sayid before him, takes his opportunity in this episode to be judged for his actions. All his life, Ben has been a tool of The Man In Black; it was The MiB who arranged for Ben to be inducted into the Others, the one who helped him to take over from Widmore, allowing him to shape events so that he could become Locke in the present. It's a wonderful turning of tables - Ben, the legendary chessmaster of the Island, was being manipulated all along.
      Really, what else was I gonna say? It's a Ben episode, and they are almost always absolutely smashing. Dead Is Dead summed up the pre-MiB storylines for Ben in a nutshell and led the way for the demonic future ahead of him. Despite its initially low popularity, the episode is spot-on and represents Lost at its best.


NEXT WEEK: And I will walk one-thousand Miles and I, will walk one thousand more.... it's Some Like It Hoth.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Planet of Fire

Peri... makes an impression.
Doctor Who - Season 21, Story Five - Planet of Fire

Peter Grimwade was used to having to juggle ideas. After the dreadful Time-Flight in Season 19, Saward used Grimwade's script to create the very plot-divided Mawdryn Undead in Season 20. Now that he'd brought Turlough in, it was time for him to write him out. Soon after, Grimwade was also tasked with introducing a new companion, facilitating a trip to Lanzarote, having The Master as a villain and then using and killing Kamelion. It's no wonder that he gave up the script to Saward. Planet of Fire has a lot on its plate, and at times it struggles to find a plot to call its own.
    Something that really strikes me about Planet of Fire's plot is that the main story involving Turlough and the revelations behind his history and his people seems to climax in the third episode; the Master/Peri subplot rumbles along throughout and is left as clean-up in the final episode. The two storylines are united in tone but it would have felt so much more investing and deep had both of the storylines merged.
     Kamelion is once again influenced by The Master, and sends the Tardis to Lanzarote. There, student Peri is stranded on a boat by her archeologist step-father, who has just found a ruin bearing the mark of Turlough's people. Turlough, saving Peri from drowning, keeps her in the Tardis to recover and discovers the ruin, becoming very worried about it. Kamelion, now with the details of his destination, takes the Tardis to the planet Sarn, where the indigenous population have waited for the Tardis as a sign of their God, Logar. Kamelion, as the Master, tries to have The Doctor burned as a heretic, but he is soon defeated and he takes Peri back to his Tardis. Peri discovers that The Master wants to use Sarn's large resources of healing Numismaton Gas to heal him; he was experimenting with his shrink-ray and ended up tiny. The Doctor arrives at the chamber and manages to disable Kamelion before euthanising him. The Master recovers, but The Doctor allows the natural fires of the Volcano to consume him. Turlough decides to stay with his people, and Peri is allowed to travel with The Doctor.
The Master gets a burning sensation.
     Location filming in Lanzarote is utilised here much better than it was in Arc of Infinity's Amsterdam, although in some early scenes there is very little difference between the two locations. Despite this, having the more real landscape instead of cardboard set makes Planet of Fire appear that much more atmospheric. It's only now that we really get a new look at the Tardis console, and the expansive shots here give it a much more epic feel.  There's something about Planet of Fire's characterisations and its tropical setting that shows real charm. The Sarnite Trions aren't the first cult on Doctor Who, but they are very different in that the vast majority of them are incredibly skeptical about their leader's claims. It's a very refreshing attitude to see in Eighties Who, and the story does portray faith in a powerful and realistic way.
     I like Peri. I really do. But the American accents in this episode are atrocious. It's laughable sometimes; I got so used to Peri during my time having seen the Sixth Doctor that her less experienced first appearance is just painful. Even worse is the late Dallas Adams, who is utterly unconvincing as Foster but is surprisingly humane as Kamelion. The prop here is out of action but for a single scene, and the rest of his time is split being either Anthony Ainley (popping his eyes to appear abnormal) or as Dallas Adams with a silver face-covering.
     This was to be Anthony Ainley's final story as The Master, as his contract was running out. Thus, he burns to death at the end of the story that I think rather exposes the effect that Saward's callous writing had on the script. To his credit, Ainley's performance is a lot more serious than previously - or it would have been, had the Master not been tranformed into a Borrower. Seriously? Had this actually been Ainley's final story, this would have been one of the most preposterous departures in the series.
Kamelion, as The Master, gets a nice suit.
      Planet of Fire does have a few issues, particularly in how much it had to do at once, but I think it was produced with a great love behind it, no doubt encouraged by the stunning environment they filmed in. Despite its inner confusion, the story is a fitting end for Turlough's often dull character and a promising introduction for a companion who would go on to be in all but one of Colin Baker's stories.


NEXT WEEK: He wrote a positive review of Warriors of the Deep, didn't he? I wonder what he'll make of The Twin Dilemma...

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Problem With Kochanski

Claire Grogan as our Universe's
Kristine Kochanski.
I did a Red Dwarf Marathon over Easter and got to writing this. Again, humour me. 
Written between 10th and 17th April 2012.

In Red Dwarf, the cast's main dynamic was defined by the strain caused by four heterosexual men having to spend all their time together, and their flailing sex-drives formed a major source of humour. The most consistant example was protagonist Lister's relationship with Console Officer Kristine Kochanski, who appeared throughout the series, from her first appearance in The End to her last in Back To Earth, Kochanski has been Lister's driving force and a near-constant presence behind the scenes. But despite her early success, the character became involved in what can only be described as show politics, and the resulting mess-up led to some of the worst episodes of the show's history.
     Kochanski first appears in the series' pilot episode, "The End," played by Altered Images frontwoman Claire Grogan. The plot ran that Kochanski was the officer that Lister had always had a crush on, despite their vast differences in standing and intelligence. Grogan appeared in three episodes during the Eighties, followed by a single appearance in Series Six. Her appearance in Balance of Power, the third episode of the first series, is a demonstration of Lister's desire; in this case, she is simply Rimmer in a disguise, attempting to use her memory to dissuade Lister from becoming his superior officer. In Psirens, the first episode of Series Six, she is the first image the epoynmous monsters use to entice Lister out onto the asteroid. Notably, this makes her absense more prominent elsewhere. Why was there no Kochanski when Lister was able to get all of his desires in Better Than Life? Why did we see a different woman in Camille, when the GELF's other forms were so suited to the other members of the crew? For one reason, and one alone - avaliability. It's really unfortunate, because the character could have been given a lot more depth if her appearances hadn't totalled around five minutes.
    The character played a bigger part in the novels, and the story there was later retconned into the show around Series Four. In Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, Kochanski actually dates Lister, and they spend three weeks together before she leaves him and he discovers that their relationship was simply on the rebound. Later, she becomes the character's lover in the Better Than Life game, and in the sequel of that title she is there in the Backwards Universe at the end. The difference is that Lister has to acknowledge, in the Better Than Life scenario, that Kochanski is dead and that he has to move on. She isn't so much a character as she is a device that furthers Lister's character.
Annett's Kochanski caused a few issues in
the character department.
     This later causes problems for Series Seven and Eight, which integrated this fully into the series. Kochanski came over from a parallel universe in which she was put into stasis and Lister became a hologram, turning him into the perfect boyfriend. Here she's played by Chloe Annett, who both looks nothing like the original Kochanski and has lost her Scottish brogue. She was brought in as a replacement for Rimmer, who had left the previous episode, and thus she actually had to have a character. The problem, as it stands, is that Kochanski's uptight portrayl in Series Seven just isn't as good as Chris Barrie's comedic genius as Rimmer. She changed the dynamic of the series, because Naylor thought that it would be fun to constantly make gender jokes. They're not, and have never been, as funny as the wit and absurdism that made those earlier series work.
     And what's worse, it seemed to corrupt Kryten's character. They spent so little time actually dealing with decent sci-fi ideas that Kryten's role as Mr. Exposition, which which he was totally suited for, just melted away. They had to give Kryten a character and they decided to make him shrill and irritating as well as completely afraid of women, which not only made no sense, but made the series nigh-unbearable. Without actual guests, the series had to rely entirely on its characters - and they just weren't up to scratch.
     The problem, ultimately, is that Kochanski should be a concept and not a character. She is the epitome of what Lister wants, his motive, and the moment you give a character what they want, you've got to give him something else. No matter what that motive is, it's not gonna be as important as that first one. There were a number of themes and motives that the series upheld over time, but the only one that's really there in all six of the Grant/Naylor seasons is that gender dynamic, and Kochanski was an avatar of that.
Kochanski is gone - for now.
     But is this a problem with the character, or with the series that she inhabited the most? Season Seven didn't really do a lot for the series and hangs as a bit of a deadweight characterwise, which is ironic when so much time is spent on them in lieu of any actual plots or themes. Tikka to Ride randomly gave them the opportunity to return to Earth, and despite that being what Lister had wanted for the entire series, he didn't take it. And they'd given up on finding Red Dwarf, the new ship being big enough to eradicate any issues with claustrophobia. This is evidence enough, really, and a real sign of a greater problem with post-1993 Red Dwarf that the issues with the Annett Kochanski are a mere symptom of.
     Kristine Kochanski was a symbol of the series' overall themes regarding gender dynamics aboard a ship filled entirely with heterosexual males. While the greater appearance of Chloe Annett's version of the character after the creators decided to go their seperate ways is a symptom of a much greater disease that drains all of the series' motives, it still forms a major part of the ruination of the show's core dynamic. As for the future? Well, Kochanski's absense is a very notable thing in both Back To Earth (where she appears in the last third) and in the production of Red Dwarf X. For now, it's clear that Doug Naylor sees that Kochanski has to remain firmly in the realm of the mind... at least until the next time.


P.S. Again, if you disagree then you're totally right and I don't really care. 
P.S.S. I'm not even mentioning the American Kochanski.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Review: Lost 5.11: Whatever Happened, Happened

Kate says goodbye to Aaron
Oh goodie, another Kate episode. Except this time... it's good. It's brilliant. For the first time in my viewer history, Kate is written like a compassionate human being and her actions make sense. Whatever Happened, Happened deals with the issue of making sure that Ben doesn't die a death, thus protecting the timeline; if Ben died in 1977, then he couldn't have rearranged the Oceanic Six in 2007 to return. Instead of focussing entirely on the issue, WHH does a LaFleur and mixes it in with some great characterisation, which makes the episode on par with that previous episode.
       In 2007, Kate rejects Ben's offer through some stock footage. She visits Cassidy, Sawyer's former lover who has been bringing up his daughter Clementine (I'll have a satsuma, thanks) for the past three years. Cassidy tells Kate that the only reason Sawyer jumped off of the Helicopter was out of cowardice; he didn't want to accept his responsibility to his daughter. Later, after Kate temporarily loses Aaron in the supermarket, she works with Cassidy and visits the boy's grandmother, Carole Littleton. Kate explains that her daughter is alive, and that Carole must look after Aaron while Kate returns to the Island to look for her.
       Back in Dharmaville, and Jin arrives with Ben's dying body. Juliet looks after him, and Kate does the wise thing and offers to use her magical universal blood for transfusion. Jack, however, refuses point-blank to treat the man who would later torture him. He then spends the rest of the episode being a collossal douchebag, quoting destiny as an excuse for refusing to help a sick and dying child, even to save the entire Universe by preserving the timeline. This is our protagonists, folks. Ben takes a turn for the worse, and Juliet can only offer one option - take him to The Others. Kate and Sawyer, although reluctant due to their knowledge of Ben's future, take him across the border and Richard takes him off to be healed.
Richard takes Ben into The Temple.
      As I said, something refreshing throughout this whole episode is that Kate finally admits to us that she's been a bitch, and she commits not one selfish act during the episode. Not one. Every second, she is expressing compassion and she finally does the right thing by helping both Aaron in 2007 and Ben in 1977, regardless of personal opinion. All it really does is show up Jack, who I've always seen as an unlikeable jackass. How typical for a Kate episode (see Something Nice Back Home) to make Kate, the often despicable eptiome of emptyness, a much more morally centred being than our own protagonist.
       Whatever Happened, Happened did what LaFleur did and put it in a different light. Kate was finally given some development to make her likeable, and with this she neatly tied up several strands of the show's messy continuity. It was fun in places, potent in others, and like LaFleur before it I was thoroughly impressed by what this less fortunate season of Lost can do.


Monday, 16 April 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Warriors of the Deep
The Silurians and the Sea Devils are back.
Doctor Who - Season 21, Story One - Warriors of the Deep

Warriors of the Deep is well known for being one of the worst things, bar Time-Flight, that ever happened to the Fifth Doctor. Its infamy mainly stems from the use of the Silurians and Sea Devils, classic monsters from the Pertwee Era, in a way which didn't live up to their previous adventures. Well. And the fact that this sole story is responsible for Doctor Who's cancellation. Despite the fact that great Who came immediately before and some time after it, this one story pissed off Doctor-Who hater Michael Grade so much that he began to set plans in motion to have the program cancelled. That's right - this story is directly responsible for the 1985 hiatus, the shoddy treatment of Colin Baker in 86 and the end of the program in 89.
      But the question we must ask is whether this story is irresponsibly bad, like, say, Time-Flight, or whether it is simply a victim of circumstances. The story's production schedule was decimated when Margaret Thatcher declared a sudden election, meaning that a lot of the team's resources were diverted towards coverage. JNT had two options: continue with a schedule that would leave the story deprived of time and money or simply can the story. Intent on using the script he had received, JNT chose the former. This included the production of the story's big show-monster, the Myrka, which has gone down in sci-fi history as one of the worst monsters ever presented.
     Presumebly after The Five Doctors, The Doctor and crew head to Earth to show Tegan some of the future. They arrive on a Sea Base in 2084, where the Earth is in a different Cold War between two power blocks. While enemy spies have inflitrated the base, there are also plans by an alliance of the Silurians and the Sea Devils to attack the base and use its missile system to spark a nuclear war, killing off Humanity and allowing them to take over once the dust has settled. The Myrka, a towering genetically engineered creature, is used as heavy infantry as the Silurians invade the base. Forced into retreat, The Doctor reluctantly saves the day by releasing a gas used in the base's construction that is poisonous to cold-blooded life forms.
     The Myrka was never really properly planned out, and the lack of time made it worse. A horrifically shoddy looking concoction, the creature had the appearance and gait of a fat-bodied panto horse. It wasn't finished by the time production needed it, and so a lot of the actors are noticeably covered in green paint. Worse, the actors inside were choking from the fumes. The Myrka is this story's point of total meltdown. I find the rest of the story relatively tense and dramatic, but the ridiculousness of this thing takes one out of it all.
High Death Count. Yeah.
       Johnny Byrne, the writer of The Keeper of Traken and Arc of Infinity, was commisioned to write this story. I've found that the further he got from Traken, the more unfocused his writing became. Arc of Infinity's script was forgiveable because Byrne was forced to juggle so many plotlines, but it's less forgiveable here when you consider that the actual concepts at hand aren't affected much by the budget issue. Byrne identifies that the two reptilian races have a complex history and are used mainly to demonstrate that not everything different is evil. Instead of actually portraying them as such, however, they act like normal villains and there isn't any greater context to their actions. It just seems so strange when the story does cover, in depth, the issues from the past.
     But, strangely, I find myself liking this story. It's your average dark Eighties story, where a dark theme and tone is mixed with the hilarity of camp, shoddy special effects. I enjoy loving a dark, sinister tone and then out of nowwhere being able to giggle at the Myrka or Ingrid Pitt's karaté chops. Warriors of the Deep is not the unwatchable story that I was expecting it to be, and in ways I looked forward to watching it more than I do for its more classically good predecessors. It's just Eighties Who, and I love it - simple as that.


NEXT WEEK: The Awakening... wait, no. Haven't got access to that. Frontios? Nada. Ressurection of the Daleks? Already reviewed it. Planet of Fire... Nicola Bryant in a bikini? I'm in!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

List: My Five Favourite Companions

The Companion. Ever-changing, the role of The Doctor's friend has offered up a wide variety of characters. Here I'll discuss my top five companions (of the Who I've seen). Written 17/3/12.

Hi, Jack. Or do you prefer Captain?
5 - Jack Harkness - John Barrowman, 2005-10

You know, however much I take issue with in Nu Who, there are elements which I can't help but enjoy. In The Empty Child, RTD and Moffat co-created Captain Jack Harkness, the swarthy time-travelling omnisexual conman who fell under The Doctor's spell and decided to reform. He became something of a series-poster boy, an embodiment of RTD's style and taste that never quite went away, especially when he was granted his own spin-off show. Because of this passage, Jack is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in all of Nu Who.
     On his own, he was great fun, but at the end of his Season 27 appearances Jack was made immortal. This is the key to his character, but it's also his biggest flaw. His immortality added dramatically to his "cool factor," the catalyst of his rise to fame, but in later appearances it didn't gel with his characterisation. For someone eventually older than The Doctor himself, it's weird that Jack is still as irresponsible and slightly stupid as he is. He has none of the sincerity, none of the perspective that a man who has lived over two millenia should have.
     So why, then, is he on this list? It's simple. Jack is an awesome character; he emanates cool and always brightens the screen. He may not be the best-written character, but you always know that you'll be getting a mix of charm, wit and sci-fi goodness whenever he's around.

Mary Tamm has a plan.
4 - Romana I - Mary Tamm, 1978

The essence of style and sophistication, Romana I is here simply because her second incarnation irritates me. As a concept, Romana was brilliant - two Timelords, travelling the cosmos together with their societal differences allowing both characters great potential for development. Mary Tamm's take on the character embodies this and executes it in a brilliant way.
      There was a habit with some earlier companions for them just to become weak-willed girls who always needed The Doctor's help to rescue them or to explain to them what was going on. Baker's companions really began to challenge this. Arguably this started with Liz Shaw in 1970 and later Leela, but the next season in 1978 blew this out of the water with Romana, who was just as smart (if not more) than The Doctor and was in a constant battle to outshine him. Mary brought her wit and charm to the role, and her character is one of the best things about the already brilliant Key To Time arc.

She's smiling here, but really she's dying inside.
3 - Peri - Nicola Bryant, 1984-6

So most fans of the series are asking, why is Peri on this list, when she's mostly whiney and is one of the most obvious examples of the "Something for the Dads" phenomenon. Well... Peri is just my companion.
     Context. Two of the earliest Classic Whos that I ever had were given to me by my Aunt, who probably attained them by means that we won't discuss here. They were Revelation of the Daleks and The Two Doctors, and along with the 1999 release of The Five Doctors, they made sure that from childhood, I adored Eighties Who over all else. There isn't a logical reason to why I like her, but really it's probably her love-hate relationship with Six, which always struck her into the more positive light.
     Her story was ultimately a tragic one; a girl who fell in with an attractive man, and forced to accept it as he changed into an unsavoury character. In the end she was either possessed and killed, or forced to live out the rest of her life with Brian Blessed (I don't know which is worst.) However, Peri's constant optimism and good attitude helped her to become the first companion whom I connected with.
     And she was pretty hot, too. But that's irrelevant.

Red Dwarf did start at roughly this time...
2 - Ace - Sophie Aldred, 1987-9

Ace, the nickname of Dorothy McShane, is a controvertial character. Some in the community see her as a desperate attempt to make Doctor Who "for the kids," with her already-outdated slang and Dave-Lister-esque costume. Ace was a girl from the Eighties who by some magical occurance found herself in the future, on a human colony called Iceworld. Just as Seven ditched Mel, he picked her up and they spent the rest of the Classic Series together.
     Andrew Cartmel had some weird ideas for the future of Who, and ultimately some like me are glad that his storyline was cut off at Season 26, but his vision produced some very, very good writing. Ace is a direct result of this, and her character is arguably the best written in the Eighties. Her entire life has been a ploy by The Doctor to fight a variety of evil enemies, and in turn he helps her to overcome her poor beginnings and eventually mature into an intelligent young woman.
      If she's so good, then, why is she only Number Two? Ace is good in the Classic sense of the word, like most Pertwee and T.Baker stories, but she doesn't capture my heart in the way that maybe Peri or Nyssa do. She was a fitting companion to end the series on, and showed how much the companion role could do with a modern attitude.

From Princess to Doctor.
1 - Nyssa - Sarah Sutton, 1981-3

Whenever I talk about the Eighties, I spend a lot of time talking about how bad things are and then making up excuses as to why on earth I love them as I do. Nothing embodies this more than my love for Nyssa, a character who in Season 19 was relegated to the third wheel as the two obnoxious whiners took precedent. Her potential as a character was overshadowed by the problems of her era, to the extent where I love her mainly on the fact that she managed to shine through at all.
     Nyssa is everything a companion should be. She's new enough to this world to be an audience identification figure and yet alien enough to be useful. She's naive enough to need guidance and smart enough to not get into trouble easily and to actually find The Doctor fascinating. Nyssa's leaving scene in Terminus always makes me tear up, because Nyssa isn't leaving because she feels like it, or because she's met a man. She's leaving out of a philanthropic princple, the desire to use her skills to help people and redeem herself after escaping a home-planet destroyed by the man who possessed her father, having learnt to grow up and take responsibility for her own actions.
     Ace is classically good. Peri is part of my childhood. Romana is what a companion should be, and Jack embodies everything a companion can be. Nyssa? She was a companion whom I grew to love even when she fell into the background. And that, in my eyes, makes her my favourite companion of all.


Monday, 9 April 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Curse of Fenric

Fenric lives!
Doctor Who - Season 26, Story Three - The Curse of Fenric. Written 17/2/12.

It's the Holidays, and as a change from the norm, this week's Classic Who Review is of a Seventh Doctor story, The Curse of Fenric. I've always viewed the McCoy era with a great deal of apprehension, steming mainly from the way that Andrew Cartmel's influence changed the show as it headed towards a style more fitting of the late Eighties/early Nineties. And Mel. Eugh.
     One of Who's greatest tragedies, if one ignores the turmoil that struck the rest of the Eighties, was how much the show was improving right at the end. Andrew Cartmel may have been working on a plot to make The Doctor into a god, but his influence was having a profound effect of the show and the final season in 1989 is often considered the best of the Eighties. The Curse of Fenric comes right in the centre of three stellar stories focussing on Seven's companion Ace, and it is everything Who ought to be - a runaround with witty dialogue that works on both a basic level and on a greater metaphorical one. It's daunting.
     The story follows The Doctor and Ace in 1943 at an Army Camp in Northumbria. Russian spies have arrived just in time for creatures known as Haemovores to reawaken in the oceans, marking the return of the grand evil Fenric. While army-representative Commander Millington wants to use the Enigma machine to trap the Russians after the war is over, scientist Dr. Judson uses the machine to play a strange Norse code. The code triggers the Heamovores' rise in numbers, and Fenric - whom The Doctor trapped away hundreds of years ago - is able to return once more. The Doctor exercises his grand plan, and manages to trap Fenric once more - but not before telling Ace about his manipulation of her life.
Ace's character is developed significantly.
     This story shows one of the key features of the Seventh Doctor that really highlights Cartmel's grand plan. We find out the reasoning behind The Doctor's acceptance of Ace as a companion back in the Season 24 story Dragonfire; she is a Wolf of Fenric, one of the descendants of Fenric's gaolers in the Viking era. This Doctor is manipulative and scheming, and is taking up plans he set in motion during his first incarnation (as in Remembrance of the Daleks in Season 25).
     Ace is also a key part of this story and this unintentional trilogy of stories at the end of the series run (Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric and Survival). The way the character is written exposes how Ace has had so much development in her relatively short tenure; she starts as an inexperienced girl stranded in space and eventually becomes a grown woman, able to exploit both her intelligence and her sexuality. There's a scene where Ace needs to distract a guard, and does so by using this bizzare method of flirting that's both tacky and completely mesmerising.
     The Haemovores, marine-like vampires from Earth's future, are very well produced and at times are quite chilling. They would be copied by Toby Whithouse in 2010, for The Vampires of Venice. However, the vampires and their fear of faith don't quite pay justice to the story's wide array of themes. On one hand the story examines Nordic beliefs about evil and the afterlife, and on the other it dives straight into Cold War politics, an issue that was still potent even as the Soviet Union began its slow collapse.
Better than Being Human...
     The Curse of Fenric's themology and character work is stunning. In comparison to the Saward era, it blows it out of the water. Despite my love for that period of Doctor Who, Fenric has convinced me that I was very wrong to dismiss this era of the show, and it remains a classic example of how good Doctor Who can be at any point in its history. I wholeheartedly reccomend that you check it out, no matter what era of Who you like.


NEXT WEEK: We resume our Five marathon with Warriors of the Deep.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Five Doctors (Revisited)

"Three Doctors and a Bloke In A Wig"
See here for my inital look at this story.

Doctor Who - Season 20, Story Seven - The Five Doctors (20th Anniversary Special)
No, not the mind probe!

The first time I tried to cover this story, I collapsed into gushing about how much I loved it because of its association with my discovery of Doctor Who. Without The Five Doctors, I wouldn't be posting Classic Reviews, and I certainly wouldn't have the ingrained love for Who that has defined my television experience for the vast majority of my life. But I am (or at least pretend to be) a critic, and that means that I have to look past the rose tinted spectacles.
     Of course, as this is the JNT Era, the title is a bit of a misnomer. Tom Baker refused to return to the series only two years after the end of his seven year tenure, and so his role was reduced to that of stock footage. William Hartnell had passed away in 1975, and so the production team decided to replace with with similarly aged actor Richard Hurndall. To this day that choice is incredibly controvertial; the First Doctor is shown through stock footage at the beginning, and the difference between the two actors is clear. There are also some clear differences in characterisation; unavoidable, perhaps, but ones that affect the story. Hurndall contains none of Hartnell's deep subtley in his blend of grouchiness and curiosity, with only the former being expressed. That at least can be explained by a different actor; the Third Doctor is a tad more pleasant than his 70s characterisation, and Five suddenly becomes endlessly bland. And is struck down by Spearhead Syndrome at the beginning of the story.
The Master attempts to help but turns evil anyway.
     There isn't so much a plot as there is a series of simple events, with heavy amounts of fanwank in-between them. The Daleks, the Cybermen, the Yeti and the Master return, the latter from only the previous story. We also see the Castellan and Borusa from Arc of Infinity, although Borusa has regenerated yet again. The Doctors and their seemingly-randomly assigned companions (Sarah Jane Smith, Susan. Tegan, Turlough and The Brigadier) all head to the Tower of Rassilon by themselves, and after Borusa reveals himself as the villain they gather in Rassilon's chamber and see Borusa turned into a sentient statue.
      What it lacks in plot or even decent characterisation is in its sheer fun value. It may just consist of trekking around parts of North Wales and treading very carefully down some corridors, but for fans or even long-time casual viewers, the ability to see multiple Doctors and Companions interacting is a big draw. That, and it's terrible. But The Five Doctors, unlike Time-Flight or parts of Arc of Infinity, is terrible in all the good ways. The acting is melodramatic and often camp, and some of the line-reads have become legendary for their complete failure to display realistic human behaviour. Of note is Paul Jericho's final line as the Castellan (see page quote) which has gone down in history as one of the worst acted lines in Doctor Who's history.
I love it, I love it, I love it!
     Really, The Five Doctors shouldn't work. Its writing is a bit of a shambles, expressed through caricature-like distortions of the Doctors' characters. But it's really, really quite fun and strangely enough I would recommend this to anyone who wanted to get into the show. The Five Doctors is a cornerstone in Doctor Who fandom, a television event that serves to competantly celebrate two decades of one of the best sci-fi shows in the world. And I adore it.