Friday, 29 June 2012

Review: Electra Heart

Sometimes I do music reviews. Written 29/6/12.
Electra Heart - Marina and the Diamonds (2012)

I loved Marina Diamandis's first album. I really did; there was an experimental theme to her first album. It was cheeky, it was satirical and it felt very different from everything else out there. The singer's sophomore album seems to form part of a recent trend in satirising and glorifying Americana, alongside artists like Lana Del Ray. While it's certainly bad by no stretch of the imagination, the album does suffer from problems on both a conceptual level and on a song-by-song basis. It feels as if the originality presented by the original album has been channelled into this theme, and it really hasn't payed off.
     The biggest change is the move into mainstream pop and electronica, which while still keeping hold of Diamandis' characteristic charm, is a lot more brash and forgetable than the indie waves of the first album. This ties into the theme of the album, which is supposedly a Greek-style tragedy set in 70s Americana, "an ode to dysfunctional love." The main problem with that is that "dysfunctional love" isn't a very original concept, and only a few of the songs on the album adhere to that original concept. The result is an album that flickers between vindicative, personality-driven ballads and standard pop ditties.
     And then, on a ground level, there are... issues. Simple little things here and there just throw the whole thing off kilter: the horrendous spoken verses on Homewrecker, the obnoxious double rhyme of role on Starring Role. The more conventionally structured songs don't take advantage of Diamandis' vocal talents, and the songs end up being a mix of annoying and generic. That's not to say that there aren't any good songs on the album, of course. I love the pace and energy of the hedonistic Primadonna, the raw emotion of Fear and Loathing, and the slightly demented yet incredibly catchy Radioactive, which was released in promotion of the album and yet only appears on the Deluxe edition. The best song on the album for me is probably Fear and Loathing or Teen Idle, which manages to act as a perfect balance of both of Diamandis' styles past and present.
      However, on a base level Diamandis continues her wonderful brand of irony and satire and the album is well produced. On a few songs there are some crippling problems, and the main theme of the album, which I can tell she worked on, doesn't really shine through in the way it was intended to. I suppose that ultimately any unpleasantness caused by the album is really a sign of its cultural success; as a tale that warns against the excesses of pop culture and the danger of hubris, it has certainly made a mark upon its fans.


Review: Doctor Who Classic: Frontios

The evil Gravis rules over the Tractators under Frontios.
Doctor Who - Season 21, Story Three - Frontios
Written 5/5/12
"As a weapon, the TARDIS is about as dangerous as a chicken vol-au-vant"

This is it. After Frontios, I'll have seen all of the stories in the Saward Era. I don't know whether to be saddened or relieved. As you can tell by the mumbo-jumbo single-word title, this is a return to the series by former script-editor Chris Bidmead, whose last efforts had enough dodgy science to embarrass a classroom of schoolchildren. Frontios is not pretending to be something it's not, however, and with that in mind it balances a well-thought-through concept with clever characterisations to make what is, bar Androzani, the best story of the season.
     The behind-the-scenes in this story is rather creepy. Designer Barrie Dobbins committed suicide while working on the story, and well-known character actor was returning from work on this story when he was brutally murdered by an unknown figure. This hasn't, however, affected the quality of the serial. The set design is absolutely brilliant, with a mix of creepy corridors (with one of the first instances of the "all these corridors look the same" joke) and large expansive rooms. The story has an immediate atmosphere of mystery and suspense, which is only increased as the serial goes on.
     Set at the same time as the First Doctor serial The Ark, the story is set on Frontios, a human colony where the remnants of Humanity have escaped to after the Sun expanded and made Earth uninhabitable. The people of Frontios are all ruled by the secretive group around Captain Rivere and his son Plantagenete, who hide the fact that corpses too often sink into the earth, disappearing without trace. Ever since they've set up shop, they've been regularly attacked by aimed asteriod showers, and it's one such shower that brings down the TARDIS and buries it beneath the Earth, leaving the Doctor and crew to try and help without breaking the laws of time. Fighting off suspicions from the ruling class, the threesome must dig towards the truth, and save the Human race from the creatures that lie beneath them.
Hatstands are useful tools.
     Bidmead was told by JNT that this had to be a monster story, which is a particular change from his particular style of high-concept sci-fi like we saw at the beginning of the era. Luckily he's able to make it work, and even mixes in some high concepts anyway. Doctor Who has done this style of human-refugee story many times before, but Frontios is a particularly raw and bare example of the genre. Unlike, say, Outcasts, it doesn't faff about with the economics of how the settlement works and instead sets up immediate conflict between characters instead of the world around them. Yes, the inhabitants are stressed by the mysteries of Frontios - the disappearing bodies, the aimed asteriod strikes on their colony. But at the story's heart the problem lies within human paranoia and secrecy, without which the Tractators' plan never could have worked.
     As a monster, the termite-like Tractators are a little plastic, but the atmosphere gives them an earthy, gritty quality. Unlike Warriors of the Deep, where a single-colour fade-in looked very silly, the Tractators' gravity effect actually becomes quite good during the third episode or so. The machine carrying the semi-living body of Captain Rivere is really well-executed, and the third-episode cliffhanger in which it appears is one of the season's most chilling. Body horror like this wouldn't be used again until Season 28's Girl In The Fireplace, which takes a lot from this story's original intentions.
      Frontios' witty dialogue is ultimately the thing that saves it from boredom, as well as it's great character work. Bidmead really seems to understand all of these characters, and both Tegan and Turlough are significantly improved from the status quo. Turlough's ancestral memory of the Tractators was a great way of getting to know his character, especially in one of his last stories. Also, he wields a hat-stand as a weapon. Awesome. The Doctor is also a lot more clever than normal, and his final ruse is absolutely brilliant. The article quote is perhaps one of my favourite quotes from Five this season, and the story is a veritable cornucopia of witty lines.
The Doctor tricks the enemy.
      Bidmead's final contribution to the series, and my last new Saward-era story, is one of this season's best. I was wrong to ignore it as much as I have done, because it's a really distinctive story with great performances from everyone involved, well-made, atmospheric sets and, best of all, a script that gets the characters and does something interesting with them. Frontios is an absolute gem, and the first place you should go when looking for Five gold in Season 21.


NEXT MONDAY: Revelation of the Daleks finishes off Season 22
NEXT FRIDAY: Resurrection of the Daleks (Revisited) finishes off the Saward Era.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Review: GHTTB: Ashes To Ashes 1.6

Chas Cale appears innocent.
Ashes To Ashes - Series One, Episode Six

Bit-part actor Phil Davies may have killed Uther, but four years before that he was a gangster. Episode Six was really an examination of getting older, whether that meant entering adulthood or leaving it. It was also a very good use of the series' key directoral features, and a sign that the series is beginning to seperate itself from its 70s sister. Thus, it was the series most enjoyable episode yet.
     Alex wakes up feeling sick. She believes that she's in the inital stages of death, as she is feeling shivery and can't remember things. A post-office is raided by two thugs, and the MO stinks of one of Gene's old catches. He is shaken, however, when Chas Cale (Phil Davies) is revealed to be an aged epileptic, confined to the restaurant trade. Alex goes to "say goodbye" to her mother, and attempts to tell her of her true nature, but doesn't get the chance. This spurs her on to try and survive, and so she leads the investigation to find the robber. Soon her condition sends her back to her flat.
     As Gene makes amends for being a dick, Ray and Chris find the suspect in a pub. They advance the investigation, but the suspect is soon found dead. To find out info from the suspect's eight-year-old nephew (Kenneth Asa Butterfield, one of the most talented child actors of our time) they give him a meal at Luigi's. The boy reveals that the suspect was working for Chas. When Alex visits, it soon appears that while Chas committed the robbery, it was his wife that killed the suspect. When Gene arrives, Chas has another fit. Gene smashes his way in, saving Alex in the nick of time and bringing her back to life.
      This is the first time in Ashes To Ashes where I actually felt Alex's pain. The scene where she is apologising to Molly for not getting back was touching and poignant, and struck a much more vibrant chord than the constant, never-ending repetition of scenes from the pilot. Although here the hallucinations were used a lot better; they were pretty psychadelic at the beginning, and there's an increasing theme of the Clown as the symbol of Death.
Keeley's best performance so far.
     All of the characters were written splendidly, and all with a great deal of maturity, as if the Reality Engine has just been fired up again. Alex in particular felt a lot more real than her awkward dialogue in the beginning of this series suggested, and the UST with Gene felt a lot less gimmicky. Overall the characters were in fact characters and not just stereotypes as they often are in the bonanza.
     Episode Six was incredibly fun and was just on a completely new level for the show. It's really beginning to exploit what it lacked in comparison to its predecessor, taking Life On Mars' relatively mature attitude and taking that to a hell of a lot of new places. 1.6 may not be particularly memorable, but for me it's been the most enjoyable to review.


Monday, 25 June 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Timelash

The Doctor faces the mutated Borad
Doctor Who - Season 22, Story Five - Timelash
Written between the 21st and 22nd April 2012

The Twin Dilemma, if you remember, was a story that I loved despite its terrible reputation, and while I recognised some of the shoddy acting I didn't really see what everyone found so offensive about it. This wasn't the story that its placing deserved. And it's happened again; Timelash is another competitor for one of the worst Who stories of all time, and yet I can't see that much wrong with it. My ability to love Doctor Who has made this season's set of reviews a lot more difficult for me. I was expecting to be ranting right now about how terrible this story is, but I just don't get it.
     The story is set on the planet Karfel, where the formerly peaceful planet has become a brutal dictatorship run by the elusive Borad, his chosen representative, the Maylin, and an army of robots disorientated by mirrors (which have been banned.) They execute their prisoners by throwing them into the titular Timelash, a time-tunnel which either disintegrates them or lands them in 12th Century England. The Doctor, seeing this time-tunnel, follows it backwards and ends up on Karfel just as the Borad has shifted his staff around. It turns out that Maylin Tekker (the wonderfully hammy Paul Darrow) wants The Doctor to retrieve Vena, the daughter of the last Maylin who rebelled against the Borad, from the Time-Lash. Before he can argue, the Doctor discovers that the Borad's forces have kidnapped Peri and are holding her hostage in the caves of the dreaded Morlox beasts.
Paul Darrow's Tekker is delightfully hammy.
     Sixy follows a diversion in the tunnel and ends up in the 19th Century, retrieving Vena and picking up a stowaway in the form of a young man named Herbert. Upon their return to Karfel they stage a coup and The Doctor takes time to retrieve a special crystal from the Time-lash that has the ability to absorb energy and release it exactly ten seconds later - allowing him to both deflect enemy weaponfire and make his image lag ten seconds behind. Sixy rescues Peri and finally confronts the Borad, a former politician called Megelen who was voted into power and then, after a horrific accident, became half-human, half-Morlock. It's his intention to kill all life on Karfel and mutate Peri into being his mutant bride. Luckily, the Doc is able to use the crystal to trick him, and after saving the day he takes his 18th century stowaway home, to become HG Wells.
     A mere two serials after we met George Stevenson in doontoon Nukassel, we get to meet HG Wells in a story that's heavy influenced by his work. The Doctor's machine lets him be The Invisible Man, the Morlox and the pure citizens of Karfel are very reminiscient of Wells' The Time Machine, the war between the Karfelons and the Bandrils is a War of the Worlds and the Borad's transformation is from The Island of Doctor Moreau. Like George Stevenson, his presence isn't really vital to the plot, but here it's an acknowledgement of the story's themes rather than a random cameo.
HG Wells marvels at all this technobabble.
     Near the end of the story The Doctor is forced to fly the TARDIS into a missile to prevent a war that Maylin Tekker inadvertantly started with neighbouring planet Bandril. The Doctor never explains how he survives this impact, and thus it's held up as an example of the story's poor writing. As far as I can see it, what's the problem? The TARDIS is damn indestructable - that's what he said before he went out, and that's the obvious reason why he's not space debris. Often it feels like people just try to find excuses not to like Timelash, and I really, really don't know why. They say the Time-Lash looks like tin-foil. Not as much as the Vardans. They say that the ending was already done once before. Go figure, we're on Year 22 by this point.
     Timelash doesn't deserve the scorn it gets by any means. It stands in between two a lot more epic stories and thus it's odd for some that it appears to be a simply told Doctor Who adventure, quite like The Twin Dilemma was. In its soul are some very good, consistant sci-fi ideas, as well as a few subtler nods towards the show's past than the others stories of the season mananged. Timelash is on par with the rest of the stories of this season - a bit fluffy, but absolutely perfect in tone and character. And you need to watch it to find that out.


NEXT WEEK: I finish off Season 22 as I receive the Revelation of the Daleks. Erm... Revisited. As part of Season 21 Fridays, I try not to get buried in Frontios.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Awakening

The Malus. This image used to frighten me as a
child, but now it's just a little silly.
Doctor Who - Season 21, Story Two - The Awakening.
Written between the 3rd and 4th May 2012

I'll be the first to admit that my reviewing of Season 21 has been a total and complete shambles. I often considered renaming this site's tagline to "it's all in the wrong order" when I began writing these reviews in advance, and I think that it's also an appropriate description of the topsy turvy way I've treated Season 21. The Awakening is the last two-parter to have 25-minute episodes, and it really shows the problems that could arise when this format was used.
      The Saward Era seemed to have this vision of the past as hovering around the 17th/18th Centuries, and the only historical stories were set there. If I'm honest that isn't really a period of history that I find particularly fascinating, not least when it's executed in a dull way. The Awakening isn't set in the period, but for various timey-wimey reasons (and some stupid ones) everyone is dressed in 1640s attire and are reenacting the English Civil War. They're being controlled by a demonic creature called the Malus, a genetically engineered creature sent to Earth to destroy it several hundred years ago. The creature is now controlling Sir George Hutchinson, who has began a town-wide reenactment of the Civil War to create the perfect conditions for the Malus' return - intending for the final battle to cause a massive bloodbath.
      My main problem with the story's premise is not with the actual concepts at hand. It's quite fun time-travel BS, and given the proper (subtle) development it could have worked. Instead, the concept doesn't get room to breathe because we spend so much time developing these insane villains who make little-to-no rational sense. The Malus is controlling one man. That man has managed to persuade several perfectly sane people not under the influence of a demonic alien to commit several crimes, and until The Doctor shows up nobody bats an eyelid apart from one schoolteacher, Jane. I know that the country-folk are a bit out of it, but I really don't see how an entire village could become so insane as to follow every crazy order of one guy during a battle reenactment.
Oh yeah, and this happened. Never again.
     You can tell that writer Eric Pringle wanted this to be a four-part story, and it's an interesting look at Saward's problems. As happened in Timeflight, he was given a script from someone who'd been trying to get onto the program since the 70s. Pringle tried to give his script to the great Robert Holmes, who rightfully rejected it because it wasn't good. Leftover from the four parts are a stream of other characters and ideas that get compressed into this mess. The main focus of the villain's power ends up being incredibly confusing - something to do with psychic energy being focussed enough to allow the Malus to project himself in the present. And now he's in the TARDIS! But now it's fine. And there's a 17th Century guy wandering around for no reason. And Tegan's grandfather is missing. And while it's all explained, it's not explained in a way which made me go, "Wow!", but rather, "Ok, I suppose.."
    When I missed The Awakening, I certainly wasn't missing anything important. The story does have some fun ideas, but they're strangled by a running time that puts greater priority on the mysteries and then doesn't bother to do anything interesting with them. I rarely get to call a Who story dull, but The Awakening's problems leave it a complete non-entity in a season that has so many strong and memorable stories already. A third episode might have given it the space to be a bit more dynamic, but it's too little too late.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Review: GHTTB: Ashes To Ashes 1.5

Marcus and Alex talk.
Ashes To Ashes - Series One, Episode Five

In my reviews of Being Human Series Two, one Russell Tovey really, really began to grate. His OTT acting style and his inability to express emotions other than surprise and anguish meant that he never really came across as the sensitive character he was trying to be. Tovey plays a large part in Episode Five, which focuses on attitudes towards Sexuality in the typically haphazard way that Ashes To Ashes often does.
      A murder has been linked with gangster Simon Neary, whom Gene has a grudge against. Upon trying to find him, they discover only his gay lover Marcus (Tovey). Following a lead, they get evidence of Neary trading guns and chase down his weapons dealer. Alex gets the idea that if she can stop the guns trade, she can get home. Their informant killed, Alex tries to convince Marcus to give them a lead. Eventually Alex gets an undercover job at a place where Neary is organising a deal. As the team accompany a tarted-up Alex, they are shocked to discover that it's a gay bar. With Alex too... feminine for Neary's taste, so Ray has to step up to the plate to get info from him. Alex uses this to reveal to Marcus Neary's true nature, giving him the impetous to become an informant. Alex talks to her mother for guidance, and soon after Marcus comes to her and tells her about the important meeting. During their spy operation, Marcus kills Neary - after getting a confession for the death of the previous informant. Gene's grudge is solved, and Marcus has HIV. Everyone's happy.
      I'll admit that this pre-Being Human Tovey does give a wonderfully understated performance, showing that he has maybe gotten worse through the years. Here it was fine, and both he and the script did a brilliant job of demonstrating a fair view of homosexuality. Elsewhere, this episode saw the first decent characterisations of our leads - Gene had reason behind the madness, and Alex actually showed some cunning and maturity instead of flamboyant disassociation from the reality she now lives in.
Gene has a grudge to settle with Gay Gangster Neary.
      One thing that struck me about Episode Five was how on-task it was; it wove the characterisations and stories into the crime narrative. While the themes covered were just retreads of Life On Mars, it was done sufficiently well for me not to notice. There was the odd stray into Alex's storyline to contend with, but that too was done tastefully and Alex wasn't stupidly obvious about her true identity. The thing was that we didn't really feel Alex's key dilemma here; the excuse was given that by stopping gun crime she could stop Layton, despite the fact that she has both accepted that this reality is unreal and has at least three episodes to go until the finale, which is her only real chance of getting back.
     It was a step in the right direction. Episode Five could be a little dull in places, but it did what every Bonanza episode should and balanced out our characters and our main past plot. This series has been increasingly dependant on the themes of Life On Mars, and for now we'll have to deal with that, but we're getting somewhere mildly original.


Monday, 18 June 2012

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

Doctors meet, for the last time in the Classic series.
See here for my initial look at this story.

Doctor Who - Season 22, Story Four - The Two Doctors
Written between 20th and 21st April 2012

Last time I reviewed this story, I hadn't seen Time-Flight, Warriors of the Deep or Terror of the Vervoids. That time, almost two years ago, I didn't really give The Two Doctors a fair hearing, and now I look back I can see it for the actually quite brilliant story that it is. Everything just fits - the villains are fun, the Sontarans are done right for a change, and despite a lot of filler, that in itself is just as entertaining. The Two Doctors is the entertainment hightlight of this season, and as a Robert Holmes story that's deserved.
     The filler is a big issue that the story only barely contains, as one can see from my very simplified version of events in my original review. The most egregious of these areas is in the third episode, in which the Androgums decide to turn the Doctor into one of them. Two and Shockeye go into the town and eat at a side-character's restaurant, which leads to a hunt around Seville to find the two before Two becomes a full Androgum. It's just not necessary, and you wouldn't have to cut corners to be able to shave The Two Doctors down the same number of 45 minute episodes. However, I wouldn't miss them for the world. It's rare in this era, but the filler developed the characters and actually were pretty entertaining - the way the diner scene flopped between the humour of the confused alien to the tragedy of Oscar Botcheby's death is brilliant, even though there's no reason for it to even be here.
     Speaking of such, the Sontarans don't really seem to have a point here, either - simply pawns hoping to benefit from Dastari and Chesenee's machinations. They're taller, better made and generally better written; writer Robert Holmes, their creator, was keen to improve upon their last appearance, the dreadful(ly funny) Invasion of Time. These Sontarans are classic villains, and it's a real shame when they're offed just before the aforementioned filler exercise. I don't know what they're doing here, but for whatever reason it's great to have one last story done right this time.
The Two-As-An-Androgum plotline is a little odd to say
the least.
     Despite how small Two's role inevitably is, Patrick Troughton's passion for the role shines through and even as a faux-Androgum his appearances are the highlights of the serial. This is the first time where a Doctor really gets to share the limelight equally, and unlike every other multi-Doctor story, Two is perfectly represented without caricature. Not a recorder in sight. Jamie is the same; Frazer Hines really hasn't lost it in the 20 years since he began in Who, and together the two make this multi-doctor special much better from a character perspective than any before or since.
     Robert Holmes' script may be a little baggy, and push through a few overt themes, but every moment of the script is fun to witness. It's a joy to see Pat again, and he arrives at a time where Six and Peri are really beginning to work together well. Add that to enjoyably hammy villains, a beautiful Seville setting and you've got the recipe for some fun, memorable Doctor Who. The Two Doctors has its issues, but I love its little socks off.


NEXT TIME: I try not to fall into the Timelash. On Fridays, I'll also be finishing off my reviews of Season 21, bringing my examination of Saward to an end, starting with The Awakening.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Review: GHTTB: Ashes To Ashes 1.4

Yeah, I'm switching back to single episode reviews for these series. There's too much to say about each episode for me to really condense it down.

Gene hunts for evidence on a grand conspiracy.
Ashes To Ashes - Series One, Episode Four

Ok, half-way through the series. To off-set the dodginess of the new characters, we get a focus upon... Alex's character. Alex's retroactive relationship with her parents still refuses to make sense for either party. Sam typically had a lot more tact when dealing with his parents, and yet we're supposed to believe that Alex is a lot more savvy than he is. The story, however, did work a lot better because of the links into Alex's past and would have probably been quite dreary without them.
     When the body of a murder victim disappears, Alex is forced to follow a paper trail of corruption that runs straight through to her mother. While the team follow the lead through to the victim's socialist links, Alex gets to know her mother a lot better, finding out that the suspect worked at a Weapons Research Facility. While Alex believes that they're operating under a conspiracy, Gene wants to bring in Alex's mother - especially after she discovers that the victim was blackmailing her. Through his pictures, Alex that her mother had an affair with her god-father Evan while her real father was away, and she feels betrayed. After the Home Office steal the evidence from the victim's body, she and Gene track the plans back to a government vault, where they're locked in until the rest of the team can save them. Soon the leader of the local women's resistance movement  is revealed to have been the killer, having defended herself from being raped.
      Alex's mother is a lawyer, someone that I'd assume has a modicum of intelligence. And yet she sees no links to a woman that looks like her, is incredibly interested in following her life, and feels betrayed upon discovering she has had an affair. It's not an insane link to make, and with the fact that Alex makes little to no effort to disguise it, it's a wonder that she doesn't figure out exactly who Alex is. Pete Tyler did it in Father's Day with less information, goddamnit.Why is Alex this stupid? She's supposed to represent the advanced face of modern policing, and yet she's shouting at her mother and Evan, completely derailing the investigation. Luckily she's learnt her lesson by the end of the episode, but it stands out where it does appear.
Sara is the leader of a resistance movement.
      One of the key parts of the episode is the fact that their investigation is leading them into the path of the government and their secretive, Cold-War activities. This is certainly more ambitious than Life On Mars ever tried, and in the ten minutes where it actually applies, it really works. However, the rest of the episode feels a little stunted because it instead feels like we're just revolving around Alex's life and history. Luckily, it's also a good bit of character work for Alex - not that we'll see her exercising that any time soon.
      Thematically this episode was a lot more down-to-earth and gritty than last week, which had its players doing very little at all. This is the first episode of the Bonanza to really exploit the Cold War, and its second half is immeasurably better for it. However, it broke down a lot in places because of how Alex was written and how little time we got to really explore the concept in its entirety. Despite it's problems, however, 1.4 is so far the best episode of this series to come.


NEXT WEEK: Russell Fucking Tovey is at it again....

Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Mark of the Rani

The Rani and The Master work together.
Doctor Who - Season 22, Story Three - Mark of the Rani
Written 20/4/12

The Rani. She's an unfortunate figure in this era in Doctor Who, capturing the fan consciousness despite only making three small appearances. Why does she so captivate? Well, apart from the fact that she appeared in two of the worst things Who has ever produced, she was actually an interesting concept if done well - a rogue Time-Lady that could run rings around both The Doctor and The Master. The Mark of the Rani, written by verbose writing pair Pip and Jane Baker, was her first appearance and certainly the one that best exploited the ideas behind her characterisation. But the question stands - is it written well?
      Six and Peri face some time-disturbances in the TARDIS that send them to Newcastle in the 19th Century. There they encounter a group of men who aggressively attack all outsiders after visiting an old washwoman's bathhouse. Despite being perceived as simple Luddites by the rest of the townspeople, The Doctor recognises trickery at work and eventually runs into a combined plot by rogue Time-Lady The Rani and The Master. After tracking them down, The Doctor and Peri trap the two villains inside The Rani's TARDIS.
     There's something very lacking within Mark's actual story; the aspects are all there, but they have no weight and there's never any real sense of tension. The Rani doesn't have a plan - she's just experimenting upon humanity, while The Master wants to use her talents to push a very vague scheme involving world domination. It may be great to have some subtlety after the mad disguises of Seasons 19-20, but The Master never feels like he's in control of the situation - either because of The Rani or simply because you wouldn't know why the townspeople would be inclined to believe a man wearing such silly clothes. (The Doctor included.) The story does succeed, however, in tone. The musical score is excellent and the opening setting shots of the small mining town are some of the best that I've ever seen in Doctor Who, and as this is a period piece the costumes are excellent as is BBC standard.
Peri, in a horrible yellow dress, does at least
get something to do.
     Even as the Colin Baker era's sole historical story (not permitting Earth in a future that looks like the past or such like), the story feels like it's trying too hard to be significant. While the modern series may use famous faces all the time, the last time that someone used a historical figure before Mark of the Rani was in 1966. Here we have a large number of mentioned names, including Daniel Faraday and Isambard Brunnel, and we also meet a very strange George Stevenson (Gawn Grainger,  ZoĆ« Wanamaker's husband). There are some joking references to the Rocket, but the character is here for the sake of being here, and doesn't really affect the main story.
     Sixy's methods here are a little off-centre, which shades things somewhat. The Doctor saves the day by... holding the villains at ransom with the Master's Tissue Compression Eliminator, using his incarnation's violence streak to bluff the two into following his bidding. At least he doesn't accidentally cause others' deaths (as in Vengeance) or actually just kill the villain himself (as in The Two Doctors). The problem is really that the Master and Rani, while doing some awful things (like making it so that people can't sleep, and hypnotising people to do their bidding) don't actually get around to doing anything particularly world ending. They're planning to, sure, but we don't see the ramificiations of that - only what they're planning. It's the rough equivalent of seeing a recipe for chocolate cake and being told to admire the taste.
      However, I did have a lot of fun with this story. Peri didn't get kidnapped for once, and used her skillset, (Botany, because JNT was... imaginative) to help save the day. The Rani's characterisation is just an absolute joy to watch here, because of its overriding subtlety - in later performances she would be forced to revert to cackling villainy of the worst sort. She's so much cleverer than the two male definite articles, and she both revels in it and keeps it aside. The Master, for the first time that I've seen, resorts to physical violence to get his way, something that allows The Rani to still keep a tight hold over him. Best of all are her quotes. The Master, "would get dizzy walking in a straight line." Kate O'Mara is perfect for this performance and it's a joy to behold.
Do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?
       The main story was a tad empty for my liking and it sort-of fizzled out, but the story's syrup-thick atmosphere ensured that it was still entertaining. The musical score was great, the Doctor and Peri worked well together and seeing the various plottings of the three renegade Time-Lords makes this serial one of the most enjoyable of Sixy's era so far. Pip and Jane Baker wrote my least favourite story of the entire series - Terror of the Vervoids - but The Mark of the Rani is decent enough fare for me.


NEXT WEEK: I revisit The Two Doctors.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Josh: Doctor Who Classic: The Daemons

Badly costumed Bok, Three and bloody Jo Grant
Doctor Who - Season 8, Story Five - The Daemons
Written between 2nd and 8th June 2012
"Fancy a dance, Brigadier?"

In the village of Devil's End people are dying without explanation though local 'witch', Olive Hawthorne claims evil is afoot and the deaths are a result of fright. Near the village, BBC Three are covering the excavation of the Devil's Hump with Professor Horner. When the dig begins at the start of the Pagan  festival; Beltane, they expect to find the treasures and tomb of a warrior chieftain. At UNIT, the Doctor and the others watch the television broadcast. Jo speculates the coming of the Age of the Aquarius and the supernatural which the Doctor scoffs at. However, as the dig starts and Olive protests and warns of danger, the Doctor believes her so he and Jo head off to Devil's End. During a sudden gust of wind, Olive is nearly struck down by a police officer under a trance as she goes to visit the vicar. It appears he has been mysteriously replaced by Mr Magister who is really the Master. The Master assures Olive nothing bad will happen but she dismisses him and goes to find someone to believe her. When the Doctor and Jo get lost and end up in a pub, a villager informs the Master of the Doctor who tells the man to prepare the ceremony. As the Doctor and Jo rush to the mound, the Master and 13 acolytes are chanting more and more frenziedly in a ritual in the Church's catacombs as the Master shouts the name of the entity; Azal, as the gargoyle Bok's eyes flash red. As the tomb is opened at the Hump,  icy winds burst out killing Horner and temporarily freezing the Doctor.
     After the village doctor notices the Doctor's two hearts and the latter starts to wake back up, Jo calls a confused Benton and Yates who agree to go to Devil's End the next morning by copter. The Master then prays as the police officer who had been in a trance falls to something gigantic which has risen. When Benton and Yates fly to Devil's End they spot massive burnt footprints on the fields. Yates contacts the Brigadier who calls himself a car to come down also. Benton finds Olive trapped in a cupboard in the Master's verger where a man called Garvin has locked her in. Garvin then appears with a rifle so Benton attempts to disarm him but seizes up on a stone the Master has marked. However, Garvin is soon engulfed in a heat wave that spreads right across the village waking up the Doctor.
Hipster Master was summoning the Devil before it was cool
     Olive and Benton venture to pub where Olive tells the Doctor of the Magister and realises he's up against the Master, again, and that she saw a large horned beast.  The Brigadier's unable to access the village due to a heat barrier as he's briefed. In the Hump, the Doctor and Jo find a small spaceship like the Hump as Bok tries to attack them. The gargoyle's own superstition drives him away when the Doctor talks in a strange language. The Master hypnotises the squire, Winstanley. The Doctor tells that all the horned gods in mythology over thousands of years have been the Daemons from Daemos who arrived 100,000 years ago. The shrinking and growing of their spaceship causes blasts of both cold and hot waves which have created a heat wave dome over the village. The Daemon the Master has summoned was small causing the cold wave but on the third summoning it will be massive causing the end of the world. The Doctor orders UNIT technician Osgood to set up a diathermic energy exchanger to break the heat shield. On the way to the barrier to explain the Doctor is attacked via the helicopter controlled by a hypnotised Tom Girton but the copter is destroyed. The Master summons Azal again who curses the Master for doing so.
     The Master wants Azal's power but he refuses to give it to him. Azal may give the Master control of Earth if he thinks him worthy after meeting the Doctor or he might destroy the planet on third summoning. After explaining the exchanger, the Doctor is captured by hypnotised villagers to be burnt alive. Olive and the Doctor convince the villagers to release him as Benton tricks them with his silenced gun and the Doctor with his remote controlled car; Bessie. Jo and Mike witness the final ritual as Jo fails to prevent it. Azal manifests himself as Jo is offered for sacrifice. The Doctor explains how psychokinetic energy of humans is used to summon the Daemons. The exchanger works so UNIT get through the barrier with it before it explodes. Bok guards the entrance to the catacombs but the exchanger weakens him so the Doctor is able to get into the ritual. As UNIT attacks Bok with all their weapons, Azal goes to kill the Doctor as the former wants humans to be left alone. However, Jo then self-sacrifices herself and the confusion turns Azal into stone before the church blows up. The Master fails to escape in Bessie which is remotely controlled to come back so the Master is arrested under maximum security as UNIT, the Doctor, Jo and Olive celebrate May Day.
The Master rocks out in a ritual

Doctor Who is known to be purely that of science-fiction so when this serial began to deal with more supernatural themes I immediately became a fan. This serial's intelligent script is able to show the diversity between the supernatural and science and how the two can conflict on many occasions depending on the situation. This serial really alienates the Doctor as he appears to be the only person who realises it isn't demons and myths causing everything but science. This therefore just reinforces the idea that we should remember the Doctor is of much higher intelligence than any other character as well as being from a different species and this serial highlights his individualism. This serial is filmed differently and to be honest I love it. The direction excels the previous stories in this season and the many pieces of camera trickery used have worked efficiently such as shaking and obscure angles give the tone of the serial are more quirky, rough edge to it. This serial also sees an entirely different side to the Master. For the previous four stories of the season the Master has been coldly calculating and intelligently intimidating. This serial though exposed his desperation for power and the extremities of things he has to do to claim it even though his normal behaviour would usually defy it. This new side to the Master has helped develop him further as a character and so after a couple of mediocre performances, Roger Delgado is finally back on full form like he was in Terror of the Autons. Though the Master has been in each serial during this season we still haven't been able to explore his back-story and delved properly into his character. Having him arrested by UNIT as a cliffhanger leaves his story unfinished and the possibility that we can go and explore more about him. As a fan of the Master, I can honestly say Delgado's performances are fantastically acted and makes the character so very interesting.
     This has got to be season eight's most creepiest serial of them all. The supernatural rituals, unexplainable (at the time) random events, freaky weather and, though badly costumed, daunting creatures. We've had a variety of moods to this season as we've had the camp frivolity of Terror, the politics of Mind of Evil, the colonisation argument in Colony and the science of Claws and now we have the chilling supernatural of Daemons. I'd like to point out that Damaris Hayman's Olive Hawthorne takes the prize for the most annoying character for the season. Her character could have been potentially interesting if it hadn't of been for the silly over-acting and taking of the stereotype of a believer in mythology and witches but Who has taken that and given it to her and it's awful. Though this isn't a scratch on the previous season finale Inferno, I'm very glad this was the only serial of the season which didn't use any of the recurring plot devices such as group takeovers, extended gun battles. Instead we did have another capturing of Jo Grant, twice, again. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to complain about how I, let's not say hate but majorly dislike her. Jo's got to be one of the clingiest, most annoying companions that the Doctor has had. Though she doesn't meet the standards of Five's Adric, I don't find her too likable. She's supposed to be a scientist yet seems undoubtedly dim-witted and without common sense. She seems to be recycled between the same plot devices of being captured and near death every serial and yet Three isn't sick of her yet. Well, frankly, I am. I don't see why she hangs around when all she does is cause more trouble and complain about it later. Anyway...
COME AT ME BRO! (This-is-awful)
     The action sequence involving the helicopter, the motorbike and the car has got to be the most exciting action sequence of the season. It isn't overlong like all the others and is cleverly well-filmed. The special effects used in this serial are particularly jarring and not spectacular like others we have seen but are used for good effect when needed. I'd also just like to have a fan-boy moment as I spotted two of the most famous Classic Who lines; 'Reverse the polarity' and 'five rounds rapid.' I'd also like to say that its difficult to comprehend how Mike is higher up in the ranks than Benton when there's such a big age gap between them. Also, I'm happy Mike is back here and is featured heavily because as a new character to the show we haven't seen that much of him until now. I'd also like to say how I'm liking the adaption of Benton into a fighting man all of a sudden. Now, something I mentioned earlier was bad costuming. Our aliens, the Daemons, are not very well made even considering its the early Seventies, they could of been such better. Considering Azal is supposed to be this horrid Devil-like beast the voicing doesn't suit the character and I didn't find him that intimidating at all. Still, I like how Who here has tried to explore the effects of mythology on smaller, rural communities which is possibly still occurring today. Though there was a lack of sci-fi in the serial to explain certain things, the use of the supernatural made this story unique. It's humorous (remembering the Grand High Wizard - the Doctor), contains a intelligent script and delivers a visually chilling set of episodes. By far is this the best serial of the season making up for the disaster that was Colony in Space and an excellent finale. Due to it's originality and indifference to previous stories and defying Who's set conventions, Daemons deservedly earns its title as one of the more successfully popular stories of Classic Who. I definitely enjoyed this one.

Thanks, Josh.
P.S. This is my last Classic Who review until further notice, I may or may not resume sometime during the summer holidays, so, stay tuned.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Review: Hit and Miss 1.3

"What's a transexual?"
"A cross between a man and a robot?"

Hit & Miss: Episode 1 Photos
While Riley got some charactisation, Ryan was just... odd.
You know, when last week's episode repeated a few elements from the premiere, I didn't mind. But there are several thematic and simply cinematic things that keep getting repeated and it feels more xerox than anything else; certain scenes feel almost exactly the same, like they had a routine event and thus used the same footage three times to save on costs. That felt even more the strange, as this week saw several revelations and changes between our characters in fairly interesting ways, as well ironing out a few problems I had with last week.
     After going against her word and threatening to murder John (the Landlord) if he doesn't leave them alone, Mia went out on a date with Jack (Jonas Armstrong, Robin Hood) where she still felt uncomfortable with her own place in the relationship. Ryan and the Farmer's son, having made friends (somehow) went to John's barn, where seeing a cow being beaten and then shot led Ryan to develop a rebellious environmental streak, making him do several crazy things throughout the episode. Desperate for the small emotional support he gives her, Riley was shocked when John heeded Mia's word and left her alone. On a job, Mia is nearly killed by her target, swiftly after which she is knocked down and is forced to escape from hospital semi-conscious. Jack finds her and carries her home, after which she tries to break up with him and she is forced to reveal her transexuality. He storms out. At the same time, Riley is randomly searching Mia's room and finds one of her guns, which Mia claims is security after having been raped. The two bond as Riley tries to tell her about her pregnancy by John but is unable to.
     I didn't really get Ryan's character this week. His little sister Leonie is often seen doing crazy shit (seeing hallucinations, hearing her mother's voice, cutting off a Barbie doll's hair) but that's because she's still facing the grief of losing a mother. Ryan, on the other hand, just randomly starts being a troublemaker, culminating in a scene where, face and hands painted green, he releases his Science classes' frogs and starts jumping around. I could maybe accept his transvestite experimentation last week as an examination of dysmorphia, but this week it felt like, "lets get kids to do weird shit and call it drama". There was a touching scene where Mia assured Ryan that he wasn't to blame for killing his mother (which he believes having prayed for her to be taken to heaven where she would no longer be in pain), but it didn't link in with any of the weird, weird stuff he was doing.
    Like I mentioned, I'm noticing a few repeated once-a-week things. Mia kills someone, Riley goes swimming, Riley has an encounter with John, John threatens to sell the farm and Mia shuts his mouth - it seems a bit repetitive for a series with so much to actually do. There's also this weird attitude that we have to see the prostethic penis every ten minutes or so, like the audience would be unable to appreciate the drama if we weren't constantly reminded of Mia's true nature. After everything that Sevigny has done with the character implicitly, with her stance, and manner of dress, it comes off as a bit crass that every once in a while they say, "Hey, in case you forgot, here's Mia's penis." Despite this, I am glad that the series is treating transexuality with a respect and realism rarely afforded to it by the media.
     What else is there to say? Hit and Miss may have a few repetitive elements, but at the moment it still manages to allow enough plotlines to slither forward to keep me interested. At least 50% of it is Chloe Sevigny's excellent performance, as well as the series' raw and mostly realistic portrayl of transexuality. It didn't have the pure power of the premiere or the thematic significance of last week, but it was still an enjoyable hour of drama.


Review: GHTTB: Ashes To Ashes 1.3

 Yes, it's been a while since the last Gene Hunt Time Travel Bonanza review. Humour me.

Trixie claims she was raped.
Ashes To Ashes - Series One, Episode Three

Something that really overwhelms me about Ashes To Ashes in comparison to Life On Mars is that it has a more overwhelming theme of Feminism. It's not that I don't support feminism, it's just that Life On Mars got to cover so many more topics - Rascism, inequality, drug ethics, work ethics, pornography, police corruption, hero worship, football violence, terrorism and many others. Ashes To Ashes is Feminism, Animal Ethics, Homosexuality and Police Corruption. If Episode Three had spent more time on a case instead of having the central characters explore ethics, then it would have been a much more focused and enjoyable hour.
     A prostitute claims to have been raped and slashed on the breast, re-opening the case of Delphine Parks who was murdered in the same way a year earlier. While Alex tries to track down the religiously-motivated killer, her team have trouble believing the word of a prostitute. After Alex visits Evan and her mother again, the team head to a boat where they track down the killer - a member of Delphine's Choir convinced that impure women must be cleansed.
     For some reason, the fact that Drake is female just turns into a gimmick. There's a scene where she tells the team that the only reason that she cares is because she used to be a prostitute herself, before revealing the truth and chastising them for their preconceptions. All it ever boils down to is a hell of a lot of Belligerant Sexual Tension. Why is it that just because the protagonist is a woman that she has to have sexual tension with Gene? Can't we just have a strong woman capable of not falling for this prejudiced, middle-aged man?
Alex and Gene get in costume for the party.
     The religious angle of the killer would have been an interesting theme in its own right, if it had been properly explored. Instead, it took five seconds to figure out and was thrown aside for Alex to be all bolshy and have a drunken night out. It's also a shame considering how digustingly religious the final series will be. There were a few steps towards the finale, especially in a touching scene near the end where Ray works out the truth behind the case by being nice to a fragile suspect.
     Episode Three irritated me because it continued to reinforce the parts of Alex's personality that I don't like.  The dynamic between Alex and Gene is only a more stark version of the one we saw during Life On Mars, and Alex only continues to be less astute and more irritating than her predecessor. However, it had become entertaining enough in the last ten minutes that I can't bring myself to call it a complete failure.


Monday, 4 June 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Attack of the Cybermen (Revisited)

The Doctor takes a... hands on approach.
See here for my previous look at this story.

Doctor Who - Season 22, Story One - Attack of the Cybermen
Written 15/4/12

Saward didn't like Colin Baker, but he sure did love his Cybermen, as we see in Earthshock and in their large role in The Five Doctors, much to the other wrtiers' chagrin. When JNT called for a strong opener to Baker's first full series, Saward decided to deliver his magnum opus; a shining example of his style that will go down in the annals of Who history. For better or for worse. At its heart, Attack of the Cybermen is trying to be something a lot bigger than it manages to be, but that's not for want of trying. At the end of the day, it's still a great Cyberman story, and allows us an incite into both The Sixth Doctor and the Saward Cybermen.
     The Doctor and Peri, still reeling after the events of The Twin Dilemma, follow a distress call to 1985 Earth. There they find old soldier Lytton (from Resurrection of the Daleks) working with time-travelling Cybermen. Under duress, Lytton and The Doctor are transported to the far future on the planet Telos, where they join the Cryons in their attempt to revolt against the Cybermen and prevent temporal disaster. Along the way they meet undercover cop Russell (Davros-actor Terry Molloy), partial-Cybermen Bates and Stratton and the Cryon Leader. They also manage to fix the Chamelion Circuit, albeit temporarily.
This serial is obsessed with continuity - sometimes to its
     The serials' ownership is the most complex and difficult to pinpoint in the series' entire history. The version I choose to believe is much-simplified; the serial is acreddited to "Paula Moore," a penname used by Eric Saward to hide his involvement in the script. Saward, as script-editor, was unable to commission his own work. Ian Levine, the infamous fan who was the show's unofficial continuity adviser, likely contributed a lot of details to the serial regarding the history of the Cybermen.
     As ever, Six is brash here, but he shows a more consistantly.... pleasant streak than in Dilemma. His character is erudite and witty, but there are a few moments where he's a little too willing to become violent. At the end of the day he doesn't really save the day; his presence is simply the catalyst for the Cryon resistance movement to start working. This is a key feature that you see a lot in this era, and for me it feels a lot more natural than some of the later stories where the Doctor is shoe-horned into the action in unrealistic ways. Sometimes The Doctor just doesn't get the big roles; much better than in, say, Midnight, where the evil invisible monster just happens to attack the tourists on the trip that The Doctor attends.
     All of the key Sawardisms are here. There are multiple storylines, all running along different streams which eventually converge. There's also a deeply entrenched dark humour absoutely everywhere, from the direction to the costumes, from the dialogue to the musical score. At times it feels almost inappropriate, but what it does do is create a memorable atmosphere. Wihout that humour, then this dark affair would be very bleak indeed. A key feature that sets Attack of the Cybermen apart is the mass of continuity references; it starts from the very beginning, with The Doctor landing in the original setting of the pilot for no reason, and then having to stop the Cybermen from changing things that were only seen twenty years prior to its broadcast. While I love some good continuity as much as the next person, the problem here is that it just doesn't feel relevant; it becomes overactive fanwank that most people at the time wouldn't have been able to appreciate.
Maurine Colbourne is great as the slippery Lytton.
     The story is the first exploration of the 45-minute format that would become common-place in the new series, but here it jarrs with the series' tone and makes it feel even longer, despite the fact that it's actually 10-minutes shorter than the average 4-parter. Despite this, I like the format for the same reasons I like it in Nu Who - it allows you to do a lot more with the characters, makes filler less viable and prevents some of the more silly types of cliffhangers that the show's seen.
     There are a few issues with this story's tone, and its fan-wank stuffed content feels a little overindulgent for what the serial ultimately becomes. But I love the story. It gives me a decent chuckle now and then, and the dark humour is just so consistant and so ubiquitous that it gives the story this deliciously thick tone. Attack of the Cybermen may not be the best story in the world, but it's certainly a hell of a lot of fun.


NEXT WEEK: I did Vengeance on Varos last November, so next week is The Mark of the Rani