Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Opinion: What's Yet To Come - Autumn 2012

So we're past the point of no return, and slowly it's getting darker again. But that means nothing for TV, and it means squat for Audenshaw Reviews. The Autumn Block in 2012 is packed with the shows that I review, and so I thought I'd take the time out to run through my expectations and my hopes. Expect spoilers here and there.
Matt Smith is going nowhere.
Doctor Who, Season 33 (Series Seven)

In the Classic Series, the show tended to start in Autumn and then leach into the new year; that's how it started in November '63 and that's how the show was meant to be. In the dark - scary. One of the main complaints about the New Series was that because it was light outside when it went out, there wasn't the right atmosphere. The right tone. I remember one episode back in Series Four where I came in to watch it right after helping my parents in the sweltering heat of the garden. Not really synonymous with, "threatening and tense."
       Series Six was astoundingly high quality on the surface but felt really repetitive and oft. mediocre in its themology and characterisation. The blunder that was Amy and Rory's failure to care about their kidnapped daughter until it mattered really ruined it for me. Despite that, there were some genuinely good episodes last year - predominantly The Doctor's Wife, The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex. I expect similar (well, higher) levels of quality this year.
      After Series Six's intense serialisation, Moffat has promised us something very different this year. Apparently every story of Series Seven is going to be standalone - there aren't even any two-parters. This makes a change from both New and Old Who, and hearkens back to around the T.Baker era. This is perhaps in conjunction with the change to Autumn, as the Who world gears up for its 50th Anniversary next year. With that in mind, I look forward to the new series of Doctor Who with its new companion (go Jenna!), new stories and new attitudes.
       If you've somehow missed them, my reviews of Doctor Who can be found in the "Dr. Who" tab at the top.

Merlin's final year approaches. I welcome it.
Merlin, Series Five

Merlin began as an Autumn placeholder for Doctor Who's more Summerly family fun. It's ironic that the show's final series arrives in time for Doctor Who to replace it. The show, an Arthurian export of the US Show Smallville, will be best known for its obsessive slash-fic-loving fandom and its great potential - a potential that so far it hasn't lived up to because of writing more shoddy than Arthur's ever-dirty armour.
      At the end of Series Two, I hoped that Series Three could continue that series' golden streak. It didn't. At the end of Series Three, I hoped that Series Four would improve upon that dreadful mess. It did, but it still isn't enough. It's not like Merlin can't be good television if it really, really tries, but it rarely does. And, most of all, it has to remember its characterisations. There were several points in Series Three and Four where things were effectively reverted back to the Pilot episode for the sake of a comedy moment.
       Newsflash - Merlin does not do, and has never done, comedy well. All it does is ruin everything else. If Series Five, in its final thirteen hours of plot, tries to keep to this... well, we'll have problems. Series Five has to do something monumental - it must reveal Merlin's fascade and, unlike Uthur's death last year, it has to do it well. This will be the key point in the series and likely what the series as whole will be judged upon afterwards.
      My expectations aren't exactly at cloud-nine right now.

Alisha and Simon are gone - for good?
Misfits, Series Four

At the beginning of my examination of Series Three, I asked myself whether Robert Sheehin's departure would have an affect on the show's dynamic. The answer was no, and yes. On one hand new Misfit Rudy perfectly filled the gap and was often written with very similar dialogue at times, but on the other... Rudy couldn't pull the friend-ship card. Nathan was so tremendous not only because he was a completely ridiculous and offensive caricature of humanity, but because he was also loved and could show real love.
      Series Three's finale also saw the departure of Alisha and Simon, two characters whose temporal love affair formed the key to the show's main Superhoodie storyline. Further, Lauren Socha left the show after an embarrassing rascist incident. With that over, only two characters are left, only one of them original. I don't really see what else we can do, other than adding new characters to the mix - something that, due to Rudy's writing, I'm rather uneasy about. However, seeing future Misfit Karla Crome's performane in Hit and Miss, I can at least sleep in the knowledge that it won't be a complete failure.
      The last series was supposed to be a chance for the show to innovate itself. With the Superhoodie storyline now stifled, it's a real test of whether this show can reinvent itself enough to survive. If not, then I suspect I won't be writing a passage like this next year.

Craig and Danny get down to business.
Red Dwarf, Series X 

Why Series 10? Because Doug Naylor's choice of the "knees Death in the balls" ending for Only The Good... gave him a cliffhanger that he couldn't fix. And, after the apalling Series VIII, not many people wanted him to. But, after a decade of fan outcry, the show's 21st Anniversary was celebrated through the Back To Earth miniseries. Fan hopes were high.
      While I don't hate Back To Earth, I'm in the minority. The attempt at drama over comedy was carried over from Series VII, and it just didn't work. There's so much potential here for brilliant stories, but Doug Naylor just has to hand the writing to someone else. I do not want this to be a repeat of the Dark Times, and no matter what the reaction from screenings, I have yet to see proof that Dwarf can return to its former glory.
      Regardless, any new Dwarf is good Dwarf as far as I'm concerned. A few months ago I was unsure that the show was even returning, and rather like Doctor Who, I feel privelaged that something once so retro is returning in my lifetime. So for now I'm feeling optimistic about the return of the Boys From the Dwarf, and positive that whatever happens it's going to be an exciting ride. See you there.


Editors Note: This was written in January, touched up in June, to be posted while I was away. Postponing this article is part of the "astoundingly good maths" I mentioned yesterday. I hope you've enjoyed it; it's one of my favourites.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Time and the Rani

Through some astounding mathemathics, this is my 500th Post! When I began this blog I never thought that I'd reach 50 posts, not least ten times that amount. I'd like to thank any readers (if you're out there) for sticking with me and I invite more people to read Audenshaw Reviews in the future. To celebrate this milestone, I'm looking at a season that is often considered worse than all of the Saward Era combined, beginning with Pip and Jane Baker's Time and the Rani....

The Rani (Kate O'Mara) tries some rather odd things in order
the get the Doctor to help her...
Doctor Who - Season 24, Story One - Time and the Rani
Written 8/6/12

I liked Season 22, and I liked the vast majority of Season 23. But I knew that that was because of Colin, and because I'd been raised on that era. Now Saward was gone, and the show was desperate to move in a new direction. Not fully understanding the definition of irony, they hired Pip and Jane Baker for one last story that went on to become known as one of the worst in the show's history, Time and the Rani - a tale so ridiculous that it's driven many to tears. However, readers of this blog over the past year should know exactly where this review is going. For the very reasons that so many despise Time and the Rani, I loved it. It was silly, ridiculous and actually, bloody hilarious.
      One thing I don't like, however, is the regeneration sequence. The Beeb had fired Colin Baker after perceiving him to be the problem (and not the writing staff) and so when they asked him back for a regeneration sequence to turn him into Sylvester McCoy, he rightfully told them where to stick it. The result is a bit silly, really - a horribly raw 3D graphic of the Rani shooting the TARDIS and then seeing Sylvester play Colin in a wig, the implication being that the Sixth Doctor met his end by hitting his head on the TARDIS console. As much as the team may have been iffed at Baker's decision, you can hardly blame him and they really could have done better than this episode presents. I did however like the trying-on sequence, in which Seven dressed up as Napoleon, Four, Three, Five and then Two while making several awful puns. It was a nice nod to the past and grounded the story for a short time.
    Sylvester himself? I bloody love him here. The Seventh Doctor is rather unfortunate in that the leftover material from Six and the desire to make the show family-friendly again left him with a bit of a personality disorder - in Season 24 he's a vibrant scots clown and in the final two seasons he's a scheming machiavellian chessmaster. Regardless, I like them both and when the script is being odd Sylvester more than manages to make up for it. The Doctor here is somewhat classic model - a buffoon on the outside hiding a cunning streak underneath. And despite a few moments of bad comedy, Pip and Jane get the characterisation just right. Well, for my tastes at least.
Science doesn't work that way, Rani.
     And, to my quite horrible surprise, this story actually made me like Mel. I don't what it is - she just came off as a much more rounded and much less extroverted character than she did while fumbling about with Colin. There was a lot in the story that I thought I wouldn't like, and the biggest of these is the writing, but to be frank I actually think that Time and the Rani is better written than Mark of the Rani two seasons earlier. Now before you load your shotguns, let me explain: Mark of the Rani had a lot of good ideas, but it floats about like no-one's business and there isn't really a cohesive plot. It just seems to come to an end, without the Rani's true plan ever being uncovered. Time and the Rani is cleverer than that - it presents the information about the Rani's (admittedly convoluted) plan just as the Doctor finds out. It's got better pacing, and I empathise more with the poor Lakertyans than any of the dull 16th Century types that Pip and Jane used in both Mark and The Ultimate Foe.
     However, as a scientist the Rani's evil plot does trouble me with just how far from reality it strays. Basically, the Rani has brought together the minds of several Human geniuses to help her solve a problem. That bit I have no trouble with. Her problem, however, is stupid, and if you'll bear with me I'll explain why.
<science> The Rani wants to detonate a "strange matter" asteroid above Lakertya, which will "cause an explosion the size of a supernova." She's doing this to form "Helium-2" which will form "chronons" when they fall onto Lakertya's atmsophere, enveloping the planet and turning it into a super-powered time-machine. Firstly, their definition of strange matter as being incredibly dense is somewhat correct, as it is believed to be formed in the centre of neutron stars and as such would "weigh as much as a planet" in small amounts(1). However, the key there is that an asteroid of such matter at such a small size could not exist on its own in the vacuum of space. Secondly, you cannot "detonate" strange matter, nor would an explosion the size of a supernova result from doing so. Thirdly, the substance the Rani is so desperately trying to create, Helium-2, is incredibly unstable and would fall apart into Hydrogen less than microseconds after being produced(2) - not least creating "chronons" and other such substances confined to the realms of Sci-Fi-Science. And to top it off, despite having used human scientists to build her big brain machine, she intends to use the planet to alter evolution and prevent Humanity from ever existing, which is Paradox 101. </science>
      The Rani is a lot more actively villainous here than she was in the previous story, but the efforts to impress for the regenaration story meant that she lost some of the personality that made her unique. The Rani was meant as someone who was fundamentally amoral and interested soley in the pursuit of science, ethics be damned. Here she has an evil scheme that would confuse even The Ainley Master, and thus she comes out looking a lot like his distaff counterpart. The highlight of the story is in the first two parts, where to persuade the confused, newly-regenerated Doctor to help rebuild her brain-machine, she decides to dress up as Mel and give him amnesia. It's absolutely ridiculous (that's a word I'm using a lot, I realise) and provides many of the story's more sitcom moments.
The alleged regeneration, aka swirly face thing over wigged actor.
      So what if it's unbelievable? That's certainly never stopped Doctor Who before. At the end of the day it's a question of whether I enjoyed Time and the Rani, and I most certainly did so on every level. Where it was good, it managed to change my negative attitudes towards a number of things, and it even made me admit to liking Mel even after I spoke of how much I despised her back in the Saward era. Where it was bad, it was so much that it went through the other side and became utterly hilarious. Time and the Rani is a great story and I'd reccomend it to anyone - seriously or otherwise.


NEXT WEEK: We book a room at Paradise Towers.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Review: Doctor Who 2.3: School Reunion

Nostalgia-fest galore as Sarah Jane and K9 cameo.
Doctor Who - Season 28, Episode Three - School Reunion Written 20/3/12.

I don't hate Season 28. It's not that. It's just that it contains some of the worst Who that I can ever claim to have seen. I would rather watch Time-Flight or Terror of the Vervoids, two of my least favourite Eighties stories, than ever touch upon New Earth ever, ever again. But that doesn't say anything about the season that surrounds it. In Being Human, Adam's Family is the lowest the series ever sunk to, but I'm prepared to say that Series Three was one of the series' best.
     The comparison to Being Human is particularly apt with today's episode, the final one in my examination of Season 28 over this Holiday period, School Reunion by Toby Whithouse. School Reunion is somewhat like a rose set into liquid nitrogen; it's a unique and precious thing to behold, but one that will shatter with the slightest knock. Like Tooth and Claw, School Reunion boasts a lot of high-profile sci-fi ideas, but this time the characters are enough to keep it afloat when the plot's hull strikes the iceberg. This can be blamed, in part, by something that warms my Whovian heart - the return of Sarah Jane Smith and K9.
     Let's take a second to discuss The Sarah Jane Adventures. Season 28 was the one that pretty much launched both of the RTD spinoffs, Torchwood (for the Good Captain) and The Sarah Jane Adventures, a Softer and Lighter version of the main show following Sarah Jane and her entourage of children. While I loved the first series, I gave up after the main companion Maria (Yasmin Paige) bogged off after the first series and I detected either a drop in quality or my own movement outside the target audience. Nevertheless, the series continued to contribute towards the Whoniverse many times, including cross-overs with the main show, something that Torchwood never did. While I didn't like it, I recognised that it had a large fanbase amongst younger fans and I was greatly saddened by Elisabeth Sladen's untimely death in 2011.
Anthony Head is great as Finch.
     School Reunion, like Tooth and Claw, is the seed story for the spin-off, and so has to juggle that with any other ideas it may have. The main plot follows The Doctor, Rose and Mickey's investigations into Deffrey Vale School after Mickey reads news reports about lights in the sky and strange staff changes. It turns out that Sarah Jane is investigating also, and together they discover that the new Headmaster, Mr Finch (Buffy star Anthony Head, in a delicious performance), is a Krillitane who has brought some of his fellows to work at the school, and through using a special oil on the compulsory school dinners, they plan to brainwash all of the kids into solving an equation that will let them rule the Universe. The episode is a Scooby-Doo plot, and ultimately the day is saved when Mickey frees the kids and K9 uses his laser to explode a vat of the oil, which the Krillitanes are allergic to.
     I'll be honest, School Reunion's best facet is not its plot. The shambling element is pretty linear and it doesn't really go into much detail about just how interesting these ideas could be if properly exploited. But that's fine. Really, that's ok, because Whithouse is all about the Characters and their dynamics. Here, the quiet contemplative moments between Sarah and The Doctor are some of the best things in the season, and despite making references back to an event that occured 30 years prior (The Hand of Fear, 1976), it still manages to move even if one is ignorant of the subject matter. I chose to explore the Eighties when I looked into Classic Who, and I'm glad that I did, because I know that I have so much great Doctor Who left to experience from Sarah Jane's era.
     The weekly, "Complain about Doctor and Rose" bit? Well... more Rose than Ten. He is a little angsty here and there, but it's done with some panazz and as this is his fourth episode it isn't as tiring as it would become in, say, Season 29. In fact, this is the first episode where Ten shows some of the better aspects of his character - the rampant enthusiasm for the cosmos, the unrelenting battle against corruption, all that sorta thing. No, the annoying one this week was Rose, who apparently assumed that she and the Doctor were "special" and that the 900-year-old alien with a time-machine had only just decided to have a companion. (Here's a great piece on Deviant Art that describes this more simply.) It's not that I have a vendetta against Season 28 Rose, but she sure does not make it easy. I found the slanging match between Sarah Jane and Rose near-intolerable at times, because it seemed to stem out of Rose's immaturity more than anything else.
Goodbye, my Sarah Jane.
     Like Being Human, School Reunion's plot isn't much to talk about, but what is important is the way that he handled the return of the second-most important recurring character in Who history. (The first being the Brigadier.) The problems with the main cast still exist, but I found myself really enjoying School Reunion's mix of action and nostalgia, and the fact that I enjoyed it at all is a testament to how well the characters were written. Season 28 isn't all bad; episodes like this, The Girl in the Fireplace and the Impossible Planet two parter are some great Who. I think it's perhaps a statement about Doctor Who on the whole that whereever you look, in even the worst parts of the series, there will always be something to entertain.


P.S. I am literally in tears right now.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Opinion: Bottom Five Worst Saward-Era Serials

See "Dr. Who" in the top bar for links to my reviews of the serials in question.

The Fifth and Sixth Doctors fall under the Saward Era, a period of the program oft looked down upon for some shabby scripts. However, most of the time I adore it - usually for the same reasons that other people dislike it. I think it's fun, and is a really rewarding area of the show if you're willing to look past the silly mistakes. Despite this, though, I have to be honest. There are some real stinkers in the Saward Era. And here are my Bottom Five Worst Saward-Era Serials.

Noble warriors become generic monsters.
5.) Warriors of the Deep - Season 21
Most people would expect Warriors to be much further down the list, but I really like its atmosphere and its themes. But even I have to admit that it has a lot of issues. The tone is overbearingly depressing,
the production is shoddy and the villains have little to no realistic motivations.
     In previous stories, the Sea Devils and Silurians had actual rhetoric; vaguely ecologically-based reasoning as to why they had the upper hand. Here they don't really feel unique in any way, and that makes a story already disadvantaged by lack of time worse. The Myrka I blame soley on Margaret Thatcher, whose sudden election cut two weeks off of the serial's production and ultimately is the serial's nail in the coffin.

Ingrid Pitt karaté chopping the Myrka is funny as shit, and the serial provides quite an interesting examination of Cold-War politics.

This. Guy. Is. Creepy.
4.) The King's Demons - Season 20
The Ainsley Master was never truly well-written in the Saward Era, and The King's Demons is no exception. He ponces about yet again in an unnecessary disguise, and plans to stop the signing of the Magna Carta... an act that would do pretty much fuck-all. Even The Doc points that out.
       But the thing that really puts Demons on the list is Kamelion. He doesn't work as either a concept or as a prop, and he is damn creepy. They put this disembodied silver puppet on prime-time TV? Kamelion was ultimately a massive mistake, but unlike Planet of Fire, Demons has nothing to back it up with in the meantime. Ultimately The King's Demons is just a melting pot of bad characterisations and creepy robots.

Gerald Flood's voice is pure gold, and so is the luscious period costume.

These Cybermen are too emotive...
3.) Earthshock - Season 19
Before you cry out in despair, this is a more personal one. I can see why people like Earthshock, and I recognise its place in Who mythos. But the things that some people can just ignore take over for me. The bad characterisations. The silly plot points. The Saward Cybermen at their very worst. Attack of the Cybermen was more about the Cybermen's mythos and had a variety of other characters and plotlines. Earthshock is a single-track focus on one silly storyline.
     The characters just feel so empty. Tegan and Nyssa do hardly anything, Five shambles about endlessly and Adric is less annoying than thoroughly bland. All the rest are just expies from a really bad Alien knockoff, and they, Beryl Reed especially, are simply annoying to me. Earthshock is a disappointing mess.

Adric dies.

Concorde Capers Cause Chaos
2.) Time-Flight - Season 19

Time-Flight is by far Five's worst story. What makes it worse for Saward is that it was originally given to the producers during the production of Season 15 and had been handed down through consecutive script editors until Saward was made to use it. Regardless, after the first twenty minutes we're well and truely in stinker territory. The Master is at it again with a different disguise, this time even more pointless, this time even more offensive.
       Time-Flight's key issue is not its characters, who are rather well-used if odd, but the simple fact that the ideas on show are so very poorly executed. The set filming in the Jurassic is ridiculous and the strange random monsters are completely ridiculous. By far the worst Master story ever besides The Movie, and the worst story of Five's Era.

The location filming at Heathrow is excellent, and the Xeriphim are somewhat interesting. It is rather fun, and in recent months I've come to love it as a So-Bad-It's-Good classic.

Damn Vervoids.
1.) Terror of the Vervoids - Season 23
Terror of the Vervoids is the only Sixth Doctor story on this list, which may come as something of a surprise. Usually Colin can hold up a story enough to make me interested, but this is the one occasion where that simply isn't enough. If you ignore the fact that all of the other characters are completely bland and predictable, the story's death knell is Mel.
     I explained this in detail last week, so I won't say any more about how much I dislike Mel in Season 23. Even the Trial scenes are affected, bolstered with ridiculous logic and scenes that destroy the themes from Mindwarp. There's so much wrong with Vervoids, in so many ways, that I find it utterly irredeemable.

There are no upsides.