Monday, 30 December 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Invisible Enemy

Welcome, reader to the last review of 2013. Which I'm writing in June. S'all a bit topsy turvey really.
Hardcore Prawn, as Neil Perryman puts it.
Doctor Who - Season 15, Story Two - The Invisible Enemy
Written 30/6/13

Doctor Who is a very varied show. Some stories are overwhelming serious. Some stories aim for a political message amongst piles of cheese. Some stories are so rattled by their production problems that they fail to do anything at all. The Invisible Enemy is a mix of the first and third, a story whose special effects get weirder and weirder as one goes along but whose incredible charm, especially in its centre two epiodes, lead me to rather love it in the way that one loves the offensive stereotypes of mentally ill protagonists in Oscar bait films. With similar amounts of inner personal outrage.
     A base on the moon Titan is afflicted by a web in space which infects the minds of the crew via mental attacks. The TARDIS materialises in the vicinity and is caught in the same beam, sparing Leela but infecting The Doctor with the Nucleus, the prawn-like life-form that the other infectees want to protect and use to procreate an alien species. The Doctor and Leela go to a space-hospital to look at the disease, where they meet Professor Marius and his robot dog, K9 (!). Using a part of the TARDIS, Marius follows the Doctor's instructions and creates clones of he and Leela to climb into The Doctor's body and find the Nucleus. The clones confront it, but disintegrate before they can do anything. Leela's clone contained her immunity, helping The Doctor to synthesise a cure, but the machine works in reverse and the Nucleus is magnified to man-size. The Doctor and Leela, along with K9 in tow, blow up Titan and save the Universe. Sorry, Solar System.
     After a season or two of stories taking themselves far too seriously with old Victorian Mansions and ancient gods about the place, the appearance of Marius and his (for now) charming robot servant breathes a fresh air into the series. The serial feels very much like it's aimed towards children after the systematic violence and adult allusions that defined the previous series Marius himself (Frederick Jaeger) is a fun screen presence and the first few appearances for long-term companion K9 are quite frankly wonderful. Episode Three's homage to the common-used plot of The Fantastic Voyage fitted right in, even with the cheesy special effects that did make me laugh, especially when The Doctor's white blood cells are big white Styrofoam balls hanging from the ceiling and bouncing into things. Most impressively, The Doctor's inner fight with the Nucleus is acted rather well. At least until we see it.
An icon is born.
     And that is where the story gets awful weird. Besides the other numerous special effects failures (and the fact that they blew up Titan, which is a pretty cool moon), the story's main downfall comes with the appearance of the Nucleus. In concept, the story is fine, if cheesy, and the execution is mostly okay. But the simple fact is, the design of that monster is fecking hilarious. Inside the body it's a binbag with a crabclaw, and outside the body it's a massive great shrimp that can't even walk around by itself. The camera angles shoot it like it's a school production and the previously tolerable standard ranting becomes just silly when we're supposed to believe that Zoidberg's less intimidating brother is going to rule the Universe.
      I enjoyed the Invisible Enemy, in a period where I was beginning to wonder if I'd make it through Season 15 into what I hope is going to be an awesome Key To Time arc. Because I like it, it obviously gets hated on a lot by fandom by what I see as incredibly trivial reasons, although the simple what-the-fuckery of the Nucleus in its larger form does turn a fairly decent story into a So-Bad-It's-Good laughfest by the end. I'm just so grateful that after two stories which bored me with their overbearing darkness and foreboding, I'm allowed to laugh at cheesy sci-fi goodness that appeals to everything I like about the show.


NEXT WEEK: Yet another alien figure has been manipulating Humanity for centuries... all in The Image of the Fendahl.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

My Top Ten Shows of 2013

Written 23/12/13.

This year I have watched a lot of TV. This was basically my dedicated catch-up year, and I've been watching so many more US shows that I've just neglected through the years. However, British TV has been quite good this year too. To make things fair, I won't make mention of the ridiculous amounts of stuff from previous years that I've catched up on this year, and focus on things that aired in 2013 (as well as giving each season a cheeky rating out of ten stars.) 

10.) The White Queen (Starz/BBC) ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

Following in the footsteps of The Tudors, our latest attempt at a medieval regal drama adapted the best-selling but controvertial set of books by Phillippa Gregory which attempted to put a feminist focus on the Wars of the Roses and examine the politics of three particular women - Elizabeth Rivers, wife of Edward IV; Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor who manipulated court to bring him to power; and Anne Neville, the wife of Richard III who helped him rise to the position of power he stood in prior to the Battle of Bosworth Field.
      The adaptation aspect of the production meant that quite a bit of the plot tended on the side of silliness, with some of the characters being possessed of real-world psychic powers and the way that the series is eminently Ricardian in its bias, instead blaming the disappearance of the Princes In The Tower as a political move suggested by Margaret Beaufort. Despite the weird way that it chooses to deiver its history, the cast of characters are all quite well developped and there isn't a dull performance among them - my favourites being Aneurin Barnard as the slimy Richard III and Amanda Hale as Margaret Beaufort, a character who I rooted for throughout the entire series as she played the Yorkist and Lancastrian sides against one another in order to allow her own illegitimate son to the throne.

9.) Shigeki no Kyojin (Season 1) ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

SIE SIND DAS ESSEN UND WIR SIND DIE JAEGER! Yes, it's everyone's favourite "trendy" anime series, with its fair share of depression, depression and depression with a side helping of badass teenagers and the devastation at the discovery that yes, yet another of your favourite characters has been mercilessly eaten by mindless homicidal giants. That said, SnK's worldbuilding and characterisation is absolutely second-to-none, and the fact that it's one of the few anime series I've seen which isn't deeply problematic in its attitudes to women is icing on the cake.
     Shigeki no Kyojin pretty much introduced me to the entire genre of Anime, which before had simply been, "those weird Japanese cartoons." And while they're still cartoons that are simulatenously weird and Japanese, the sheer depth with which SnK develops its post-apocalyptic world, the themes and characters within it and the mytharc behind it all, just blows me away. It's not something that I really ever get excited about, but when it is on and holds my interest it's always a fascinating and wonderful experience.

8.) Misfits (E4, Series 5) ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Misfits had a really dodgy fourth series, and the show had been steadily declining since its peak in 2009-10. However, with its cast list finally set down in stone after constant shifting, the fifth season promised a large arc that would see the show through to a suitable conclusion, and for the best part that happened, with a season which was easily the best since that golden period. The characters were more thoroughly explored, the arc was well-built if a little anticlimatic at the end and it was certainly more funny than Series Four ever managed to be.
      I think the problem with Misfits was that after the second series, it began to very much drift away from its initial brief - that of a superhero-based sitcom seen through the "gritty" filter of Skins-esque TV. The powers were a factor behind our character's problems, and they added a fantastical elements to the characters' already outlandish personalities. The newer characters and their powers weren't as tailor-made, and the result was a series where the only useful or commonly-used power of the bunch was the strange one where Alex buggered people and stole their powers from them.
     However, whatever happened to it, I will miss that bit of grey superhero cheese on my TV every autumn, and I am quite honestly sorry that Misfits is at an end at all. Apparenty Howard Overman has a film written and the series is left open for more adventures in the future, but for now I wish the show and its legacy a sad goodbye.

7.) The Walking Dead (AMC, Seasons 3B and 4A) ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Stuff... and things. Having caught up on The Walking Dead this year and having watched a series go from being an ethralling and atmospheric commentary on humanity to a prison-based runaround with a cartoonish villain (down to the eyepatch), I was a little apprehensive about the fourth season of AMC's post-apocalyptic drama. It seems that the production team for this show changes around so often that its tone is very rarely consistent, but the first half of the fourth season presented a show confident in its desire to both honour its comic book origins while simulatenously making its own brave decisions.
      The result was the plague storyline, which drove our characters to the limit in an interesting and game-changing way while a back-door look at the Governor at the end of the season tied up Season 3's loose end and prepared the show for a new start after an achingly long 24 episodes in the Prison. The checklist of things that needed to be done to get the series back on its feet meant that this half of the season didn't feel very consistent, but I for one am very much looking forward to the series' return in February 2014.

6.) Being Human (BBC, Series 5) ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Like its strangely connected cousin Misfits, Being Human in 2013 was setting down a new cast after quite a few changes as well as recovering from a dodgey fourth season. Toby Whithouse's comedy drama had its final season reduced in length in a wonderfully symmetrical way, with a plot which led the series away from its hilariously mundane premise and into full on anti-apocalypse warfare tied in with buddy comedy. A little bit like Fawlty Towers. Except that every other guest is Satan.
     Most notable of all the episodes this year was the finale, which was one of the best finalés so far this decade, presenting a horrifying scenario in which The Devil analysed each of our characters in turn, tempted them and then set them down in a miracle scenario which may or may not be everything they've ever wanted. It was a summary of all the show's themes, from the capacity of redemption to the bare bones of what makes someone human. While it ended on an uncertain note, the show's final series did it justice in ways that not a lot of other shows can boast about in the past few years.

5.) Luther (BBC, Series 3) ★★★★★★★★☆☆

It's been two years since the last series of Neil Cross' fantastic drama, and unfortunately again this was to be the final one. Following the previous series' trick of two two-part stories forming four episodes in total, this time around we had a fantastic arc which led to quite a few dramatic moments culminating in the death of Luther's closest companion and the triumphant return of villainess Alice Morgan to lead Luther off into TV Movie territory.
     With writing as brilliant as ever and Idris Elba's acting as nuanced as I've ever seen it, the rest of the series' poignant arcs and creepy, creepy villains made Luther quite simply one of the best shows on TV this year. I've come to view Luther as something of an anti-Sherlock, in the way that it approaches so many things in ways that Sherlock, the far more popular show, could never hope to do with as much success. Luther has a range of well-written women and racial minorities, while Sherlock, written by Moffat and Gattiss, can only write bland archetypical women and demonises its single PoC character at ever turn.
     These shows need to stop ending, seriously. I hope there aren't any other final series' on this list.

4.) Cabin Pressure (BBC Radio 4, Series 4) ★★★★★★★★★☆

I'm cheating again, I know, but I really couldn't think of any other contemporary show and I've loved Cabin Pressure so much this year that it would have been criminal not to put it on the list. John Finnemore's talent for witty dialogue, flexible storytelling and powerful characterisations has been the radio show into a confident final series, one which will culminate in a one-off special at the beginning of next year. The final series saw the development of the relationship between MJN Owner Caroyln and suave pilot Herc, and the attempt by Benedict Cumberbatch's Martin to get a new (paid) job with Swiss Airways.
     This series' penultimate and ultimate episodes, Xinzhou and Yverdon-les-bains, are two of my favourite episodes in all of Cabin Pressure. Xinzhou is the quiet tale of the four main characters simply sitting in their snowed-in aircraft on a Chinese runway for a whole night, and yet it produces such fantastic comedy throughout that it's barely noticeable that it's an obvious bottle episode. Yverdon-les-bains, in which Martin gets his interview, has a lot of references back to the first episode of the show and ends on a cliffhanger which, despite being a mundane enough statement on its own - "They're going to get back to me," - is loaded with enough subtext and intrigue to sink a battleship. Or ground an airplane, in fact.

3.) In The Flesh (BBC, Series 1) ★★★★★★★★★☆

Hot on the heels of Being Human's finale, this excellent three-part series examining prejudice and love in rural Yorkshire was everything we needed, especially when funnelled through the brilliant, brilliant concept of sentient zombie-hood. The main focus was on rehabilitated zombies Kieren Walker, his former zombie-friend Amy Dyer and his secret gay lover Rick Macy, all of whom died in various circumstances which not only inform their post-mortem outlook on life but on how the prejudiced community of one small Yorkshire town. The show is heart-wrenching and thoughtfully written, and I really would reccomend you catch it somewhere, even given the fact that a new, longer series is coming next year.

2.) Game of Thrones (HBO, Season 3) ★★★★★★★★★★

What is there to say about G.R.R. Martin's epic fantasy other than, if you aren't watching it, why the hell not? It's a ridiculously well-written, well-performed and well-directed piece of television fantasy for the new decade, and the third series, adapting the first half of the third book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, has been the best yet. And now I'm left in an awkard position because if I spoil this series in any way, you really aren't going to get the best out of it. So I'll stop here and say this - just go and see it if you haven't. Because Game of Thrones is some smashing television and in my eyes it can only get better.

1.) Orphan Black (BBCA, Season 1) ★★★★★★★★★★

A massive surprise for me this year, as this show wasn't even on my radar. But, surprisingly enough, my favourite new show of 2013 is Orphan Black, the brilliantly acted sci-fi mystery in which Tatiana Masleny single-handedly demonstrated how ridiculous her acting talent really is. As well as convincingly portraying six (or more) very different personalities over this first season, she also had to act out each clone pretending to be all of the others, due to the show's habit of putting the clones' similarity in appearance to good use. The result is a show where I am honestly baffled when I look at the cast list - simply because I can't believe that these varied characters with all of these different emotional states are played by the same person. And a show that can do that after one season is more than worth this year's top spot.


So that's 2013's television. I hope you've enjoyed reading this article, and I hope you've enjoyed my reviews over this past year. For news about what's coming in 2014, look for my post about that on New Year's Day.

P.S. I would have maybe put Season Five of Breaking Bad on here, but I'm not quite there yet, so no can dosies.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Overview: Heroes: Volume Three - Villains

Welcome. As ratings peaked and then dropped faster than a very heavy thing in a vacuum, the show moved towards a different approach which tried to recapture the lightning of the first season's popularity. This failed. The series continued but its popularity continued to steadily drop, not helped by a set of characters whole allegiances seem to change as often as The Cat changes his outfit in the average season of Red Dwarf. Written between 20th and 21st June 2013.
Heroes. Villains. Get it? Yeah, I didn't actually notice this until
my rewatch. Talk about slow.
As I said, there was a response to the strike's effects. That effect being the second volume's remarkably poor reputation amongst its fanbase, which led the writers to take extreme methods to try and recapture that popularity in some of the most misguided ways possible. Instead of trying to evolve and move, as the original plan would have allowed Heroes to do, the show felt like it was becoming stagnate and convoluted, with the show failing to retain narrative coherancy within the same volume. While I still enjoy it by some absurd amount, I am not ashamed to call Volume Three my least favourite of the five.
     The plot sprung up a series of new lines in order to keep things interesting, with minor Volume Two villain Maury Parkmen turning into the worker for Peter and Nathan's dad Arthur, who it turns out survived his wife's attempt to poison him. (It's okay, he's an ass.) As Nathan is led off track by Maury's mind-tricks and Nathan's miraculous healing, his assailant, a Peter from yet another Bad Future, picks his old self up and warns the world of a Formula (held by Angela Petrelli and Hiro Nakamura, eventually stolen by new girl Daphne) that will give everyone powers.  Arthur awakens by absorbing powers from Adam Monroe, and steals Peter's powers too. His company Pinehearst becomes competition for Angela Petrelli's Primatech, crumbling after Sylar went in and let a series of dangerous super-powered criminals out. He also thinks he's Peter and Nathan's brother for this Volume, because Angela is manipulative and the writers are worse.
     Like I said, complicated. I will address a few of the subplots in detail cos if I don't I'll have nowt to talk about, but suffice to say that the constant shifting and twisting, despite making for a series of exciting revelations, doesn't exactly make for a cohesive one. The first two Volumes had themes - Genesis was about the capacity of normal people to do great things, and Generations was about the young making up for the mistakes of their elders. Villains' main theme is that some people are just assholes, and some aren't assholes, and most people can't decide, and most people don't really know. Which explains the fact that I need a fecking chart to tell me who's on whose side.
Sylar helping Noah is perhaps the cutest thing in the world.
     First, Sylar. This volume has been given a lot of the blame for the character's "pussification", which as inappropriate a term as it is does give description to a character who, mere hours after violently murdering one man (Bob) and trying to murder his daughter, wants to be a goody two-shoes and work with Noah as his bestest-buddy-o-pal. It's rubbed off by the end of the volume anyway. He falls for Elle, works for Arthur, decides he's evil and kills the two of them before returning to Primatech to psychologically torture the Petrelli females. (And Noah.) It doesn't make sense for him, and worst of all, it makes his eventual "permenant" turn at the end of Volume Five that little bit more meaningless.
    With Hiro and Peter, you have two characters whose sheer invincibility proved to be stifling to storytelling in the previous volume. It's always been the truth that invincible people make for boring characters, because they have no vulnerabilities. Villains goes about nerfing its characters in the most painful ways possible, and I don't mean in the "oh my feels" sense, I mean in the "makes me cringe" way. Peter has his powers stolen when he gives his dad a hug after turning into an psycho after absorbing Sylar's hunger, and Arthur later gives Hiro the mind of a child, forcing him to visit a comic-book store to know to travel back in time and get healed by his momma. (This would be repeated somehow in Volume Five. Do not ask me why or how.)
     Another odd feature of the volume (which I almost forgot) is Tracy Strauss, a character played by Niki Sanders actress Ali Larter, whose resemblance is explained as due to being one of three triplets given superpowers via the Formula. And if that is not the most comedically soapy plotlines you've ever heard, I congratulate you on never having watching much TV. As it stands, I prefer Tracy overall but I think that Niki had more consistent character development, at least in the first season. Tracy doesn't feel right until Volume Four, where she's fully integrated and awesome. Volume Three, she's just some crazy woman who looks like a desperate bid to keep Larter on board.
Also, there's this episode where Elle and Claire
get all shippy and I sorta love it.
    Talking of character derailment, let's say hello to the beginning of Mohinder being a bit shit. The scientist is totally wasted in his short bursts, and when he does get unique plotlines they surround the fact that his attempt to create his own Formula have turned him into a non-descript monster with webbed hands and potato-chip scabs on his back. It's almost as if Heroes has no concept of long-term thematic devices like call-backs or foreshadowing, or character consistency. I fail to see how Mohinder trapping people in a white sticky substance serves to give the series anything except innuendo.
     As Volume bad-guys go (Sylar, Adam, Arthur, Danko and Samuel), Arthur is perhaps the least well-characterised, too. Boy, I sure have a lot of crap to give to Volume Three. But Arthur isn't any kind of interesting evil. We were given an interesting set of ideas back in the second volume about how Arthur, Angela and other bad-guy Linderman were all diciples of Adam Monroe and followed his ideas about saving the world through some kind of mass human die-back. Arthur's aims and intentions are never very clear; we never really know why he wants to give powers to Humanity for any other reason than to spite his wife and to look all evil and cunning. It doesn't work.
     This is the last Bad Future scenario, given the absence of one in the next volume and a whole host of crazy time-travel retcons made in the last. Here's it's done and dusted in the first five or six episodes, with the trip failing to accomplish anything except to send Peter off into painful character derailment and to dangle a genuinely good-guy Sylar at us before killing his son and turning him into a genocidal murderer. Future Peter, despite having some cool powers, is ultimately useless and sorta kinda dies in the attempt. To Claire, if I remember rightly, who this volume suddenly decides that she wants to be an Action Girl. One of the main problems this time was that they ran out of Isaac Mendez paintings to prophesise the future with, and so it was never as iconic and wonderous. The only future-painter in this season is Usutu, and there never feels like there's any reason for him to be there besides being playing to the unfortunate Wise Black Man trope.
     Format-wise, this volume features two tidbits for our enjoyment. The first is our scheduled flashback episode, the titular Villains, which flashes us back to just before the beginning of the show and proceeds to re-write several key events in ways not internally consistant with the show's continuity. Not really a big fan of that, apart from the subplot where Angela, as the abused wife, gets her revenge on Arthur and poisons him. The other tidbit is the odd two-parter The Eclipse, wherein everyone loses their powers during an eclipse for some reason, opening a million plot-holes and making us wonder how in the hell you can have a two-parter in a serialised show.
Volume Three makes you love Daphne, just so that the next
Volume will tear your heart out. :D
     Picking my favourite episode, however difficult, brings me back to the volume's final episode, Dual, which sees Sylar trap the members of Primatech in their base and slowly torture them psychologically, in an episode that comes after the solution of the vast majority of the season's plotlines and seems to exist soley to let us have fun watching Sylar fuck with people's heads. It had a lot of stuff in it that seemed prime to confront the season on its own bullshit, especially with my favourite character Angela Petrelli andher very thorough yet character-building explanation of her long-winded Volume-long plot.
     So yeah. If you made it through that article, then you'll know that I don't have a lot of good things to say about this particular Volume. I enjoyed it at the time, but it also marked a period of the show's history for me where both I and many others felt that it lost its way. Now of course, the next Volume just so happens to be my favourite, which is wonderful, but there's no shaking the fact that Volume Three saw an end to a lot of the stuff that made the first few seasons great, for the sole reason that they tried so hard to replicate it and they ended up just making a season that was as messy as I think they could have made it.


Thursday, 26 December 2013

Review: Voyager 2.1: The '37s
Amelia Earthart and Captain Janeway.
Star Trek Voyager - Season Two, Episode One (Season One, Episode Twenty) - The '37s
Written 18/6/13

As we finally end Season One (I've gone and reviewed the other three "hold-back" episodes in production order, so the coming weeks should be comfortably confusing) and begin Season Two, we find an episode with a great sense of majesty to its proceedings and a plot that ultimately asks us to look at Voyager's core dilemma and assess whether it's worth it to try and get home. It also managed several impressibe technical feats that the show had been trying to do since the '60s.
     Voyager finds a 1937 Ford farmtruck floating through space, and follow an AM modulation (which they apparently can't scan for) to a planet, upon which they're forced to land Voyager to reach the surface. Once their, they find eight 1937 natives frozen in suspended animation, one of them being Amelia Earhart, and after some suspicion it is accepts that they and a great deal more people were abducted from Earth in the 1930s. The local human community, raised off of the ancestors of the awakened slaves, has created a civilisation that is almost on part with Federation technology, leading Janeway to suspect that some of the crew will elect to stay behind and make a new life for themselves. When she visits the cargo bay designated for leaving crew, she finds it empty and in her newfound confidence sets off towards home.
     I felt at times like the episode didn't know where it wanted to go. The ideas present were done more for fun than for any serious comment, especially the spectacle of having Amelia Earhart, a female icon in aviation, talking to the similarly iconic Janeway (in terms of representation of women in Star Trek, being the first female "protagonist" Captain.) There managed to be something both especially comedic and momentous about it, especially in the first half where the episodes bounces around humour based on the crew's lack of knowledge of the 20th Century (sometimes in way that put the characters down a bit, like when B'elanna fails to recognise manure, even with a tricorder.)
I was going to make a driving pun, but I don't know any.
     The episode's shift in the last act to considering whether or not people would want to stay on Voyager when the civilisation (hidden, but oft refered to) on the planet was so fruitful was good and bad in a number of ways. For the bad, it served only to once again assert the status quo, leaving a full crew complement and getting rid of our guest stars, which I feel is another stifling of the show's creativity. For the good, the scene where Janeway and Chakotay realise that no-one wants to leave them is incredibly heartwarming and emphasises the sorta familial spirit that Voyager has as a show.
     The '37s was an episode out to impress, be that by managing to convincingly show the landing of a starship on a planet's surface or by giving a comic explanation in-universe to the disappearance of Amelia Earheart. It was very muddled, not knowing where it was really going, but its final destination was somewhere that felt very right for both the episode and the series as a whole. Whether you think of The '37s as a finale to the first season or as a premiere to the second, it's an affirmation that despite its issues this show still has some get-up-and-go, and it's more than willing to use it.


NEXT WEEK: The Kazon appear yet again, as Chakotay is forced to convince a kid not to kill him Initiations

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Review: Doctor Who 7.α: The Time of The Doctor
The Doctor and Clara's relationship is as stiff as ever.
Finally, Season 33 comes to an end. It's only been two years or so, you know. And with it, ends the tenure of Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor, an incarnation whose initial good beginnings were later soured by a devilish inconsistency and a nasty streak in which he happily committed genocide, rewrote time to fit his own needs and committed so many unreprimanded cases of sexual assault that I'm surprised there have been no angry letters on Points of View. I've really reached the point with Doctor Who where I can't be bothered to use objective analysis, and even if I was going to I'd still be using this article to point out how much crap Moffat just served us instead of actual Doctor Who. So, with our bellies full of Christmas cheer and seasonal indigestion, we'll get started. I'll also be doing a drinking game of sorts for all of the standard features of each Moffat episode - see if you can join in. (I don't drink, so luckily I won't get liver poisoning.
     There's a planet surrounded by a force field, set up by the Space Pope, who is of course a feisty, flirty woman who has the hots for The Doctor. (Drink.) Clara asks The Doctor for help with a mundane family task, upon which The Doctor turns up naked for some reason and smacks Clara on the arse without her consent (Drink.), leading to him taking her along to the planet to find out what's below the forcefield that's powerful enough to lead all of the Doctor's enemies to assemble above it. (Drink.) It turns out to be Trenzalore (Drink.) where a time-space crack (Drink.) containing retcon Time-Lords (Drink.) can only be released if The Doctor speaks his real name. (Down the bottle.) He then spends 300 years or more defending a town called Christmas from repeated invasions from all of his worst enemies, and it turns out that the Silence were working for The Pope but the nasty ones from before were part of a stupid sect and in the end the Pope and The Silence really want to stop the Universe from going kablammy and eventually, after lots and lots of confusing nonsense (Drink, if you're still capable.) The Doctor uses magic energy from the Time Lords to bypass his regeneration limit and become Peter Capaldi.
Matt's final hour is as ridiculous as his first.
     I'll get my social justice stuff out of the way here, so that those who wish to cover their eyes can just skip to the next paragraph. Where to begin with this, eh? Well, The Doctor makes a joke about OCD, which is a real condition and not something people say to be trendy (or at least shouldn't be saying to be trendy, because it doesn't mean what they probably think it means.) Then we have at least three cases of clear sexual assault (an arse-smack, a naked rub-down and a forced kiss), all of which go without reprimand. And then there's our characterisations. Not a single Person of Colour or member of the GSRM community in sight, as per the standard, and our two main female characters are either robbed of agency or hyperfetishised. Or both, on one occasion. Let's not get started on every single distasterous scene with Tasha Lem the Space Pope, let's focus more on Clara Oswald. Because character development is apparently too good for Moffat to deliver, she spends the vast majority of the episode lacking any agency, thrown about time when necessary for Moffat to time-skip in that non-adorable way he does in lieu of showing actual characterisation. And, when she does get to do something, it's using her girlish charm to convince The Time Lords (you remember, the ones that want to destroy the Universe) to give The Doctor a new regeneration cycle because, and I shit you not, because they love him.
     The Time Lords switching from obstructive beaurocrats/genocial maniacs into hidden, unseen carebear gods is one of many, many plotholes brought up by this episode. There are far too many to mention here, especially as this episode seems to be a reactionary piecemeal of explanations for all of the various Moffat plots which he forgot to finish because hey bowties are cool, let's go demean yet another demographic. One of the biggest ones is the whole paradox thing that Moffat has created over this past season, and intentionally or not he's written a massive great paradox which makes his entire era totally moot. He has, in effect, retconned his own retcons - both of them. The Doctor doesn't die at Trenzalore, so the Tardis is never at Trenzalore to be his grave. Clara never jumps into the past, The Doctor never meets Clara in the first place, Clara isn't at Trenzalore to help him and thus The Doctor dies. And then doesn't. And then does. It's an eternal paradox, and quite a twisty-turny one.
Space Pope Tasha Lem allows closure for that Silence crap.
     The Time of The Doctor is the end of a trilogy of stories, each more outlandish and more nonsensical than the last. It's arguably been something of a magnificently tragic fall - not for The Doctor, who's been a complete arse for the past three years or so, but for any tolerance I had for Moffat's scruples. If he can't try, why must I? While I enjoyed The Time of The Doctor as an exercise in sheer madness, it's reached the point where as long as this guy is in charge of the show, I'll never be able to really invest in anything that's going on. Moffat's Who is one of no consequences, a complex sci-fi show written with paper-thin, offensive characterisations and a continuity more lax than that of the most terrible sitcoms (including Moffat's.)

Thanks. Merry Christmas.


Hello there, Winter reader. This is June!Andrew speaking, wishing you a very Merry Christmas firmly out of the way of the season.

Hopefully the second half of the year hasn't brought me into any depressive lapses, destructive tendencies or world-shattering catastrophies. And the same for you, too.

So, like every year, I invite you to get the hell off my website and spend time with your families and friends on the one day of the year that you're obligated to do so. Trust me, you'll thank me for it in the end.

Thanks. Merry Christmas.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Horror of Fang Rock
The Doctor talks to the Rutan.
Doctor Who - Season 15, Story One - The Horror of Fang Rock
Written between 23rd and 30th June 2013

The new producer's first story, a rushed replacement for the original draft of Terrence Dicks' State of Decay (which would later be used in Season 18), does very little to differentiate itself from the old regime in terms of tone, gore or intent. This is not a bad thing, however, as it's a good-old Terrance Dicks script that knows what it's doing and, along with managing to be one of the first "kill 'em all" stories, is one of the most tense and atmospheric that I've seen in this run so far.
     The Doctor and Leela happen upon a foggy lighthouse on their way to Brighton, and as they arrive one of the three lighthouse keepers is killed by a mysterious monster. As a yacht runs aground and the small crew come inside, the monster begins picking people off faster than The Doctor can work out what it is. It takes the form of Luddite keeper Reuben, and after that The Doctor discovers it to be a Rutan, one of the enemies of the Sontarans who are losing their war and who plan to conquer Earth. The Doctor blows up the lighthouse with the Rutan inside and he and Leela go off on their merry destructive way.
     The atmosphere that Dicks creates using the foggy shores of the lighthouse's stretch of rock encouraches upon the story, making the situation of those trapped there ever the more dangerous. Rather wisely, we don't see the Rutan until the third episode, where its appearance as a wobbly green blob does the story absolutely no favours. The aim was to create a fearsome and strange alien race that the Sontarans themselves would have feared in battle, and the result is an alien whose various machinations leave its true nature confused. An alien killing a man offscreen is no more scary than jumping out on someone and realising they're in a different room.
Leela's still badass, however. At least some things don't change.
     The story's guest cast throw in an extra subplot about something or other that I didn't really follow, and which had very little do with the rest of the story. It felt injected into the story to give it something to do toher than to just have an alien killing people in a lighthouse, which as the basis for a hammer horror story is great, but otherwise it's pretty shit. While the performances of the initial three guest characters were enough to make me feel a little sad when they were inevitably offed, I got a bit of a tired Big Brother feeling when they had throw some more in just to keep things happening.
     I know I shouldn't keep shitting on people's beloved Classic episodes like this. There are those who herald this particular story as incredibly tense and powerful and a really great start to the era. But it didn't say anything to me, it just felt like the same thing we'd been getting for the previous three years where classical allusions were used to pad out an underdeveloped original idea. The Horror of Fang Rock is okay, and I enjoyed its first two episodes, but after a while it just really began to bore me in a way that Doctor Who never should.


NEXT WEEK: Doctor Who predicts that weird episode of The Magic School Bus in The Invisible Enemy.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Overview: Doctor Who Classic: Season 14
I want to marry this TARDIS set.
Doctor Who - Season 14
Written 9/6/13

The last year of Hinchcliffe and Holmes is by far their strongest, providing a series of six stories that pull out all of the stops. It is the year of the gorgeous wooden TARDIS interior (which disappears after this season due to the set warping in storage), of Sarah Jane's departure, of the companionless adventure, and then of Leela, Chris Boucher's impressive and innovative companion idea that sends the show tumbling into a different direction. It was also the season of gore and horror, even more so than its immediate predecessor.
Sarah Jane gets two last decent adventures.
     A combination of grandiose settings and a decent budget mean that aesthetically, the series is on its strongest foot for a couple of decades. Everything from the impressive medieval mock-ups at Port Merion and the multi-layered Panopticon set to the model/greenscreen sandminer and the many streets and sewers around the Fleet River - they're all great. The season's only special-effects failure comes in the form of the Tesh, who are the first of Four's underwhelming baddies and begin a tradition that next season's Invasion of Time will continue with great vigour.
     There was a rather unfortunate pattern in the season's villains, wherin a person or persons were influenced by a great and powerful figure from beyond. Mandragora, Eldrad, The Master, Xoanon, Taren Capel, Magnus Greel - it's a clear pattern, typical perhaps of the era but a tad tiresome on close consecutive viewings, especially as it's a bit difficult to write "maniacal" six different times and have it be fresh every time. For the record, the best of the mad villains were Eldrad and Xoanon, the former being presented in a sympathetic light for the majority of its appearance in the story and the latter have a complex psychological reasoning behind its actions.
     Sarah Jane's departure in The Hand of Fear was a sad event, and it got chance to sink in during the season's unique companionless episode, The Deadly Assassin. Leela's dynamic with The Doctor, while missing the characteristic cuteness of that he had with Sarah Jane, does show a lot of promise and as a character she is certainly more impressive than her "something for the Dads" reputation would lead you to believe. By the end of the season, all memory of Sarah Jane is gone, and while the future is uncertain, there's the hope that Leela's story will see her develop quite well. (Yes and no on that front...)
Leela's introduction to the series is
quite promising.
     Cue the standard bests-and-worsts paragraph. Although it's remarkably difficult, I would pick... The Masque of Mandragora as my favourite story of the season. Yes, some of the other stories are cool - The Deadly Assassin comes in a very close second place as the only story of the season I'd even seen before this runthrough. But Masque has this sense of fun to it all that I find lacking in huge quantities elsewhere. It's all good to hear the legends of Gallifrey or the great quips in Victorian London, but quite fundamentally it's a balance between good characterisation and humour that keeps me coming back. And so on that front, my least favourite story of the season was The Talons of Weng-Chiang, which takes itself far too seriously for its own good and manages to offend 1.6 billion people.
     The Hinchcliffe/Holmes era is a study in contrasts. Extravagent yet realistic. Violent yet morally sound. Comedy duos next to kidnapped teenage girls. While it's heralded as the show's golden era (this season for me especially,) I did feel like there was something missing from the overall picture. The humour of The Deadly Assassin and the political satire that run through it - those relevant little points that make Who meaningful are smothered when you take whole plot references from Hammer Horror classics. The future of the show at this point is strangely uncertain, but there is something that can be assured - it has the chance to just be Doctor Who again.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Review: Lost 1.25: Exodus (Part Three)
Locke and Jack look down the Hatch in an iconic shot.
Lost - Season One, Episode Twenty-Five - Exodus (Part Three)
Written 14/6/13

Lost's cliffhanger ending was a barnstorming climax, pulling off one of Lost's irresistible hooks and carrying the series to new heights. As the death and despair was contrasted with a few moments of happy relief, our intrepid heroes were presented with a bleak scenario that pushes us into the awesomeness of Season Two, with the questions being presented to us: what the fuck is down the Hatch, who was the beardy guy on the boat, and why does Josh Holloway's hairstyle keep changing?
     The crew from the Black Rock were chased through the jungle by The Smoke Monster in his first visual appearance, and a conversation between Jack and Locke afterwards reveals just how much the latter has been taken by this island faith spiel. Despite Hurley's objections to blowing the hatch due to its serial code being The Numbers, they blow it up anyway. The raft found a boat with a beardy fisherman, but it turned out that they were The Others and they kidnap Walt, blowing up the Raft in the process. Sayid and Charlie get back Aaron (pronounced Air-on by Charlie for some fucking annoying reason) and Charlie begins his steep descent into dick-dom when he insults the clearly troubled Rousseau.
     Walt's kidnap was mainly down to the fact that the producers had realised that Malcolm David Kelly was going through puberty, and that the amount of growth he'd undergone in a year or so wouldn't make sense in a series where fans can tell you what precise date each episode happened on. While it was devastating when put next to their recent reconciliation and I think that was done very well, this is the first step to what I would consider to be the wasting of both of these characters. Next season would continue to see decent development, but the only black member of the cast would then go on to become the hated traitor.
Beardy Guy (Or Tom as I know him) comes to steal Walt.
      The scene between Jack and Locke after the Monster attack is quite telling, and the themes espoused here run over into the first few episodes of Season Two as Locke's faith gives him the annoying habit of challenging Jack to do crazy shit. It creates a conflict between the two that provides some really great moments, as well as providing an unintentional dilemma for the viewer. I want to support Locke because in general he's earnt the right to be a dick for a bit and Jack takes a bit too much joy in it, but on the other hand philosophically I'm on Jack's side. My problem is that the argument between the two isn't fairly represented, and as such Jack comes off as a bit of an idiot. (But that's later, don't worry, he's great here.)
      And thus this 25 week trek comes to a close, as we leave the show on an uncertain note in its plotting and a very confident note in its quality, as the show promises to develop in ways the early audiences in 2004 couldn't possibly have imagined. As a finale, the episode and the two preceeding it summed up the first season like nothing else, and while it didn't answer our core mysteries, it didn't need to. This first season has been absolutely smashing, and I really can't wait to get started on the second at the start of 2014!


NEXT WEEK: CHRISTMAS! Matt Smith drops out and some other person (I'm writing this from June, remember, oh, I do hope it's not a skinny white male again...) is gonna replace him. Funtimes.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Talons of Weng-Chiang
Li H'sen Chang would probably be a cool character
if it wasn't a blatant use of Yellow-facing.
Doctor Who - Season 14, Story Six - The Talons of Weng-Chiang
Written 9/6/13

Phillip Hinchcliffe had been given the boot by the BBC in 1977 because of the gore in his era, culminating in a Mary Whitehouse complaint about the drowning cliffhanger in The Deadly Assassin and various other moments. For his last story as Producer, the duo raised the bar and managed to fit in every dark theme they could possibly think of, carrying allusions from all sorts of great British Literature as a last magnificently twisted send-off.
     Which is unfortunate, as one of the things the story is known for outside of the fandom is for just how ridiculously racist it manages to be. The villains are an Asian street-gang in Victorian London, brainwashed into worshipping a mad time-traveller, and who are led by the less stereotypical but equally as offensive Li H'sen Chang, who is played in a fairly transparent yellowface and silly accent by white actor John Bennett. While the various racist remarks made throughout the story can be attributed to the time, and there are some anti-racist sentiments here or there (Chang sarcastically deadpanning, "Of course, I know we all look alike"), the overall tone of Yellow Peril and the fact that The Doctor himself is making jibes in the wrong direction makes for an incredibly uncomfortable experience in some parts.
     If you can manage to look past that part of the serial, then the allusions to other stories make themselves clear. There are heavy, heavy references to Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and the historical atmosphere surrounding those stories - most obviously seen in The Doctor's adoption of a deerstalker and a cape. Unusually for a six-parter, the story is almost entirely free of padding and a lot of the story's time and effort goes into building atmosphere, and building dread around Phantom-of-the-Opera villain Magnus Greel and his twisted cyborg-pupped assistant Mr. Sin as they kidnap underage girls and prostitutes in order to absorb their life essence and keep Greel alive.
Deep Roy under heavy prosthetics as Mr. Sin.
     This week's guest cast are a varied bunch, the most memorable certainly being the exciting duo of Jago and Litefoot, a theatre owner and a pathologist who manage to find their way together and have in spin-off materials become something of a Classic Series Torchwood team. Deep Roy is terrifying as the disturbing Mr. Sin, and despite the horrendous racism of his casting in the role John Bennett does a great job as Li H'sen Chang. I was much less impressed with Magnus Greel, who follows a string of ranting madmen in the Hinchcliffe era, none of which besides maybe Morbius ever really come up to scratch.
     Talons finishes the season and leaves the show in a very different state than to when it arrived. I fail to see the problem that so many people had with the violence in the Saward Era when stories like these in the show's so-called "Golden Years" did far worse with little message to back it up. The story is well made, and on the whole I enjoyed it, but the crippling racism that only reveals itself in hindsight is enough to make me want to avoid this story. Farewell to Hinchcliffe, and on to the Williams years!


NEXT WEEK: We meet the enemy of an enemy who is not our friend in The Horror of Fang Rock.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Review: Voyager 1.16: Learning Curve
Tuvok is usually a cool badass. This week he's a tit.
Star Trek Voyager - Season One, Episode Sixteen - Learning Curve
Written 16/6/13

For reasons currently unknown to science, US Voyager broadcaster UPN decided to hold back four episodes from the end of Season One - Projections, Elogium, Twisted and The '37s, chronologically. Robbing the season of the episode written as its finale, we instead end on this slightly unimpressive bottle episode about minor characters. Its plot is somewhat silly and odd, and due to that it has barrells of charm which, despite its total about-turn in tone since last week's episode, still manages to make me raise a smile.
      Janeway get pissy when a former Maquis crewman's repair-work temporarily messes up her Holonovel, and she tasks Tuvok with training four Maquis crew members to conform to Starfleet rules. This includes, in Tuvok's world: ridiculously extensive training sessions where he increases the gravity on the decks, draconian uniform rules considering the fact that they're 70,000 lightyears from home, and picking on shy people. Tuvok ends up unintentionally going to Neelix for help, and as a result Tuvok's methods get better, allowing him to be more flexible. His recruits gang up to save him when there's an incidence in the cargo bay, and it turns out that everyone learnt something after all.
     The problems affecting this ship in this episode were caused entirely by Neelix. How about that that, eh? I don't think I've ever heard of a more ridiculous Star Trek premise than a starship being infected by cheese-borne bacteria, but this is Voyager, so there you go. The episode's namby-pamby, everyone-learns-a-lesson attitude makes it feel a little more Saturday-morning-cartoon than serious science fiction, and this feels especially baffling when one considers that this is one of the last few episodes in the early seasons that discuss the Maquis/Starfleet divide.
I did that gif I mentioned.
Makes a fun reaction gif for all the family!
Another gif, I know! Mine this time.
     And, on that issue, this episode highlights my position on the matter. Despite some badass points by Chakotay (as seen giffed here), I do think that some of the Starfleet rules are pretty shitty. Of course, living on a starship which seems to be able to fall apart when you press the wrong button means that there has to be a certain amount of discipline, but when it comes to things like dress code (I'm sure that hair-band will really affect the functioning of the ship, Tuvok) I agree with the former Maquis crewmembers in saying that, hey, fuck that. I understand what a draconian dress code feels like, and it feels a bit shitting in this futuristic world of great possibility and wonder that all individuality amongst those responsible for that society's representatives in the galaxy is stripped from them.
     Learning Curve should not have ended the season, as it leaves us with a Voyager whose future is uncertain and off. Had I been watching in 1995, I would have probably wondered what the hell had just happened to my show. As a low-budget episode (it re-uses the same tiny set on ten different occasions, man.) it's fair enough that we're not expecting some high-concept sci-fi or even some tense action and suspense, but they could have at least chosen to end on a decent fecking episode. What about last week, or episode seventeen, Projections, which is a brilliant ep and happens to be my favourite of the next season? Learning Curve is quirky little episode that was Screwed by the Network, and doesn't bode well for people's attitudes towards the show in years to come.


IN TWO WEEKS: It's Boxing Day. Why not start a new season of Voyager?

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Review: Lost 1.24: Exodus (Part Two)
Arzt knew this would all just... blow up in his face.
Lost - Season One, Episode Twenty-Four - Exodus (Part Two)
Written 13/6/13

So, yada yada, standard disclaimer about my pedantry meaning that this episode wasn't really meant to be assessed by itself etc.. In Season One's penultimate hour, we of course set up the plot threads that will carry over into the third and final part, as well as into the beginning of the only slightly more brief run of Season Two. There were less moments of cuteness and joviality as this time the stakes were raised, with trouble for everyone in pretty much every subplot. In other words, it's finale time, baby.
     While trying to show the main cast how to handle dynamite at the Black Rock, Dr. Arzt is ironically and hilariously blown up. Rousseau leaves the Black Rock early and takes a shortcut, getting back to the beachcamp in time to steal Claire's baby Aaron from her arms, leading Claire to have a flashback that will only be adressed next season. The Raft run into a log and the rudder breaks; Sawyer impresses by diving out to save it, but Michael finds the gun that Jack gave him for security. While on the hunt for Rousseau, heading towards the black smoke, Charlie and Sayid go past the Beechcraft where Boone was injured, and Charlie discovers the seventy-bajillion bags of heroin inside. The remaining survivors assemble at The Caves, as the team from the Black Rock trek back through the jungle.
     The flashbacks this time were a little less cheery, as cheery as such flashbacks could be. We find out that the cute scene at the airport with Jin and Sun was underlined by the fact that Jin found out he was being stalked by Mr. Paik's hitmen and that his plan to escape with Sun in LA wouldn't work. Charlie wrestled a groupie for the bag of cocaine he was snorting from in the first few episodes. Alongside similar conversations in the main plot, we saw Michael at the airport ringing his mother to tell her that he doesn't feel capable of looking after Walt.
The scariest thing about Mr. Paik's associates is their
terrible dress sense.
     It seems to be a running theme in Season One that almost universally, Claire attracts weirdos. First Ethan with his dead-eyed staring, then post-Amnesia there's the slightly overbearing Charlie who's read her diary and has affections for her that she's too forgetful to remember reciprocating, and then now we have the perfectly in-character and understandable but still obviously weird actions of Rousseau, who we find out still believes that her daughter is a baby, despite the fact that she was kidnapped 16 years prior. (As, if you've been with me since I did Season Four, you know we meet her eventually.)
     The big shit happens next week, but this week pushed up the stakes just that little bit to shove us into finale territory before our world is torn apart. It's great that even when it's trying to be all action-packed and fun Season One never ceases to focus on the characterisations and there are plenty of subtle little moments and actions that transform LOST into something more brilliant than even the script would suggest. It's all quite mind-blowing, to be honest.


NEXT WEEK: Guess. It's Exodus (Part Three). The last episode of Season One and the last LOST review of 2013!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Robots of Death
The robot design is gorgeous. They are really wonderful.
Doctor Who - Season 14, Story Five - The Robots of Death
Written 8/6/13 

The Robots of Death begins my push into what is a considerably unfamiliar territory for me in regards to the show, one which will last until the end of Leela's tenure. My expectations were quite high, the story having been worked out as the most popular story when the results of several Gallifrey Base fan polls were averaged earlier this year for their fourth special Timelash section. Did it live up to expectations? Well, I think so. The are an odd few repeated Doctor Who standards that I didn't like, but it was quite captivating when it wanted to be.
     My journey into the unknown was somewhat tempered by this episode's plot, which struck me as rather familiar. I soon realised that this story reminds me of Voyage of the Damned, and the similarity in plot almost certainly has me thinking that RTD was a bit naughty when he wrote that story. A society that runs on angelic-faced mechanoids who rebel due to exterior evil control. I think Robots of Death is a lot cooler in that regard, with awesome POV shots and the strange serial-killer-esque trademarks that they leave behind. Even if the "corpse marker" disks do look a hell of a lot like bike reflectors.
     The episode's guest cast were surprisingly diverse, with two women and two minorities (who are unfortunately consecutive victims of the robots, but at least not the first). There's a certain charm to them all, even if the identity of the main villain is quite hilariously unsubtle. This lack of surprise (mainly due to a process of elimination) follows another of the story's main issues - how often it curtails to Doctor Who stereotype. Hey, The Doctor and Leela arrive just as someone is murdered, I wonder if they'll take the blame. Oh, they do, what a surprise.
     The direction, production and acting all came up to the plate, with the impressive set designs and the iconic design of the Robot masks being most memorable. The flexibility of the Robot mask to display the story's theme of Uncanny Valley and "Robophobia" is shown by the fact that it's used both for the killer Robots and the docile spy robot D84, who ends up being quite cute and saves the day with a heroic sacrifice. It almost made up for the fact that the villain wasn't very well-developed, turning out to be a prior-unheard of background character masquerading on the mining ship for purposes unknown. (Like, if you want a robot revolution, do it at the Robot HQ or something, not on a mining ship in the middle of nowhere).
Leela is cracking on nicely.
     I think what's most impressive here is the world-building, which is some of the most elaborate in Who so far, allowing us an understanding of the culture which creates and lives with these robots through some choice dialogue and a series of minor-cast characterisations which make everything evidence. The idea of robophobia (the nickname of Grimwade's Syndrome, jokingly named after future director/writer Peter Grimwade who complained about doing Robot stories) is very well explored, and for 1977 it's a pretty in-depth examination of the reasons for what we now call the Uncanny Valley effect, in which lack of body language and secondary characteristics makes humans uncomfortable with realistic facsimiles.
     The Robots of Death is not as perfect as I had expected it to be, but of course the expectations of fan reputation are rarely the source of any full excitation. One of my small tiny issues with the Tom Baker era thus far is that any themes are hidden deep behind many layers. Perhaps I am a little stupid, and I need my obvious moral themes spat at me like in The Two Doctors or The Happiness Patrol. The Robots of Death is a fun story and I enjoyed it immensely, though, and nothing that I've come up with to fault it is ever really going to dent that.


NEXT WEEK: The most racist episode in the Classic Era. I paint my face yellow for The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Review: Voyager 1.15: Jetrel
Jetrel and Neelix have impassioned debate about the events
of the Haakonian/Talaxian war.
Star Trek Voyager - Season One, Episode Fifteen - Jetrel
Written 16/6/13

It's episodes like these that made me love Star Trek, and that made me consider reviewing Star Trek on this blog at all. I knew that reviewing episodes like these would present a challenge - not because of difficult subject matter, but in justifying just how detailed and human and brilliant Star Trek can really be when it writes a decent, two-sided dilemma. Episodes that make you think - they're the best ones. That's true not just because of this episode's in-universe allegories, but also in the unusual source it takes its real-world comparison from.
     Voyager is met by Dr. Jetrel, a Haakonian scientist known by Neelix's people, the Talaxians, as the development of a superweapon which atomised the populated moon of Rinax during a war. Neelix is angry and initially refuses to see him, but Jetrel claims that Neelix, like himself, has contracted a form of long-term radiation sickness due to having returned to the moon to look for survivors. The two spend a great deal of time discussing the politics surrounding the event, with Jetrel remorseful and defensive of his core scientific philosophies, while Neelix talks of memories of charred survivors and grapples with his own sense of guilt about being a conscientious objector. Eventually, it is revealed that Jetrel's remaining life's work has been to attempt to use transporter technology to reconstitute the dead Talaxians in the moon's atmosphere. It fails, but for his efforts Neelix forgives Jetrel on his deathbed.
     Star Trek has used World War II allegories before, especially in DS9 where the Cardassian Occupation reflects the German occupation of Poland, death camps and all. Jetrel is clearly channelling criticism of the Atom Bombs, although this time with our "protagonist" side being Japan and the episode's "villain" being the side representing the US. It's very refreshing to see something like that, and the episode's anti-war attitudes are only helped by the outstanding performances from Neelix's Ethan Phillips and Jetrel's James Stoyan. Despite being a character I usually find irritating, it's episodes like this once in a blue moon where Ethan Phillips really goes for it and despite his attitudes here and elsewhere I can really feel for him from one of his monologues. Similarly, Jetrel is one of the best-characterised guest stars in the first season, and I adore his character and the way it's executed.
Neelix's experiences and his own guilt cause him
some realistic conflict for a change.
     My only objection to the episode is the penultimate act, which I find somewhat oddly placed and somewhat insulting to the episode's themes. The science of the episode I can excuse - the technobabble used in the bomb apparently turns people's cells into little fission reactors, blowing them up, but a regular bomb will have the same end result without all the crazy. Jetrel's plan to reconstitute people from atomic remains is... baffling, both in and out of universe.
    In-universe, it raises a billion ethical questions - if this is possible, then why not bring anyone back from the dead? Why not use replicators to make new people? And, fundamentally, how would bringing billions of people back to life (onto a planet that's probably already overpopulated) make up for the total destruction of a planet's surface, the mental and physical scars on all the veterans and upon the culture of the Talaxians? Out of Universe, it would have had a great deal more dramatic potentcy if the surprise at the end was that he was going to die, and it was left up to the audience to decide whether Neelix (and they) forgave him or not. Instead, we're given a standardly Voyager "give 'em hope then dash 'em down" ending.
     I really do love Jetrel and I think it is the best episode of Season One, hands down. Voyager so rarely gets episodes like these in the early stages, it's wonderful when they do come along. And I know I sat that a lot, because if I remember I probably said that in Cathexis too. And in Faces. It's been a long day. Jetrel is a perfect use for Neelix and an almost perfect examination of allegories surrounding Hiroshima and Nagasaki, portrayed with competant double-sided arguments and impassioned characterisations that mostly leave it open-ended enough for us to think about the issues at hand for ourselves. And that, quite frankly, is my definition of brilliant science fiction.


NEXT WEEK: Season One comes to an unexpected end as some minor characters we'll never see again undergo a Learning Curve.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Review: Lost 1.23: Exodus (Part One)
Raft ahoy!
Lost - Season One, Episode Twenty-Three - Exodus (Part One)
Written 12/6/13

The finale is finally upon us, and as the guiding hand of episode-by-episode centricity is lifted, the show expands into that creative space in a way which somewhat unintentionally smugly shows just how much our characters and their relationships have developed over the past five months or so. As Exodus bridges the journey from Season One's character blitzfest over to Season Two's focus on the mystery of the thing, we get plenty of both nods back to what the series has managed to do and of what's to come.
     The main-island plot saw focus on all characters. Danielle Rousseau wanders into camp with news that The Others, the Island's mysterious other inhabitants, stole her baby in '89 and are coming to steal people again now. Micheal's boat is damaged when everyone pitches in to try and set it off, but Sawyer earns his place aboard by making it a new mast. With the threat of enemy invasion coming from the mysterous plume of black smoke, Jack and his team go off into the jungle with Rousseau and annoying guest character Dr. Arzt (whom you may remember from Dr. Linus.) to find the "Black Rock", which to their surprise (and unfortunately not mine,) the oft-mentioned Black Rock is in fact an old slaving ship shipwrecked in the jungle. As they arrive there, the boat sets sail, off to uncertain futures.
     The episode's flashbacks are also multi-themed, littered here or there with no underlying theme. That isn't an issue, though, as they're all to just before the flight and a lot of them gain the little poignancy they have from the things that we've learnt over the course of the series. In their Sydney hotel room, Walt screams at Michael and says he isn't his father. At the airport, Jin and Sun sit down for a coffee while Sun tries to ignore patronising Americans she's not supposed to be able to understand. In the bar, Jack meets Season Two regular (and one of my favourite characters, fuck the haters) Ana-Lucia Cortez. Sawyer (named here as James Ford) is given his reason for flying - he's being deported after headbutting an Australian politician.
This picture isn't indicative of the episode as a whole,
but any excuse to get Ms. Cortez on my blog is a good one.
     Here and there were specific character moments that I really loved. As well as Jin and Sun reconciling after their stint not talking to one another, there was a heart-wrenching scene that has to be one of my favourites from the whole season. With Sawyer chopping wood and preparing to go off on the raft, Jack comes and says goodbye, believing this to be their last encounter. Sawyer, unwilling to let Jack go without telling him, reveals slowly the story about how he met Christian in Sydney (as we saw in Outlaws) and how goddamn proud his father was of him. It's a moment that showed how both of the characters had changed, and defined their relationship for the next season.
     As is Nostalgia Filter tradition (or this blog's tradition, anyway,) I'm going to review next week's two-hour episode as two seperate reviews. As we head into that, I think it's fair to say that the finale so far is a resounding success. I think it's quite nifty how it capitalised on the successes of the first season while managing to make me, someone who's already seen the next seasons, really excited about what's to come. I think that's only going to increase after we meet the devastating cliffhangers in a forthnight's time, and next week's plot strands that point the show in a fun new direction.


NEXT WEEK: This was Part One. So next week it's Exodus Part Two. Fairly logical, really.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Face of Evil
Leela's introduction is written a hell of a lot better
than her exit.
Doctor Who - Season 14, Story Four - The Face of Evil
Written between 6th and 7th June 2013

Science versus faith. Reason triumphing over superstition. Such is the stuff of some of my favourite science fiction, with this week's wonderful story not only providing a fine example but also ushering in the preparations for a new era for the show. It is here we find the intoduction of Louise Jameson's Leela, the character who combined a certain "something for the Dads" appeal with a smashing characterisation, breaking the mold of modern-day Earth girl companions for at least another seven years.
     The story's main concept followed a The Time Machine style story of humanity undergoing divergent evolution, except this time limited to the decendants of a science team who crash-landed ona planet in the far future, separating into the savage society of the Sevateem (the Survey Team) and the ritualistic technocracy of the Tesh (Techs). I think the Sevateem were a little better executed - while groups of "savages" are very often generic in Doctor Who, the story mixed them with elements of a Cargo Cult and their descendance from the science team felt quite clear. The Tesh were considerably less inspiring; their ridiculous dress and bland acting didn't do them any favours, and I think I preferred them as the whispered-about enemy of the Sevateem than what we actually saw.
     Leela is a bit conflicting for me, even though I love the character. In terms of the feminist movement at the time, I think it's a combined step backward and forward. On the one hand she's clearly been deasigned aesthetically to attract the male audience - a scantily clad warrioress running around the place in a leather loincloth. On the other hand, her characterisation is somewhat progressive - a strong and (compared to the rest of her tribe) smart woman who comes from what feels like an equal society (although we once again have Deadly Assassin Disease and Leela is the only woman in the story). There are no subtle hints of romantic tension like we've had since the beginnings of the Pertwee Era - their relationship is purely platonic, Leela curious as to the depth of The Doctor's knowledge (her having been brought up to believe The Doctor to be an evil monster) and he just appearing to be glad to have the company.
Four is quite influential sometimes...
     The story's anti-villain was Xoanon, the ship's computer which was suffering due to multiple personality disorder accidentally caused by the Fourth Doctor some time ago, leading him to take on Four's personality and appearance even as its own sentience fought through. Tom Baker gets to ham it up quite a bit, and calls back to his Rasputin days to express the madness of the machine. The third episode's cliffhanger has the face of Tom Baker on the screen while a child's voice cries out, wondering who it is, and it's a brilliantly chilling cliffhanger that I think would have terrified all the kids. As a device, Xoanon's use as the centre of a new religious cult (which strangely seems to be very similar between the Tesh and the Sevateem) which morphs the purpose of their original mission is not original, but is certainly very well executed for a Saturday tea-time show.
     The Face of Evil shows a marked difference in tone to the previous two seasons. Maybe it's the focus on a well-executed concept rather than focussing on the fun of the runaround with the themes in the background, or maybe it's the loss of the whimsical and comforting face of Sarah Jane. But Doctor Who celebrates change, and change the show The Face of Evil did. A few of the executions of perhaps the Tesh and the spaceship itself were a little shoddy after the convincing jungle setting, but as an overall the story's concepts and its introduction of a quite well-characterised companion make this a certified winner.


NEXT WEEK: It's Gallifrey Base's favourite story, and I have no idea why. Join me in running away from The Robots of Death.