Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Review: Lost 6.4: The Substitute

File:6x04 LovingLife.jpg
Locke and Helen are together in the Sideways timeline.
Lost - Season Six, Episode Four - The Substitute
Written between 12th and 13th of January 2013

The problem with the two-season long "let's kill Locke" arc was that the show essentially lost one of its most well-written characters. Terry O'Quinn is, alongside Michael Emerson, the show's best actor and consistently brings in the best performances of day. Now he's been relegated to the new role of The Man In Black, and luckily the Flash-Sideways allows us to compare both of O'Quinn's characters while doling out some of the season's most important and impressive exposition. Its main problem came in that outside of that exposition, it relied a little too much on O'Quinn to do all the heavy lifting for it.
     In the flash-sideways, Locke is still in a wheelchair, and unlike in reality is planning to marry his long-time sweetheart Helen. His boss Randy fires him from work when he finds out that Locke's trip to Sidney wasn't for the reason he said it was. On the way out, he runs into Hugo who now owns Locke's company, and Hugo hooks him up with a temp agency. At the agency, Rose tells him that the only position she has open is as a substitute teacher; at the school, he meets Dr. Benjamin Linus, who is currently a History teacher. At home, Locke reveals to Helen that he doesn't want to speak to Jack about getting surgery, and that he went on a walkabout, because he's tired of trying to be someone he's not.
     On the main island, The Man In Black went off on his merry way, off to recruit people towards his cause. He released Richard, who seemed to be well-aquainted with him and ran off. Ben told Ilana of Jacob's demise, and she took his ashes before revealing that the Man In Black can now only shape-shift into The Monster and into the form of Locke. They hold a funeral for Locke (after 34 episodes) and The Man In Black visits the Barracks where Sawyer has been drinking his sorrows away. Sawyer agrees to follow the Man In Black, trusting him to help him get off the island, and they go to a cliff-side cave wherin the names of 360 people are written in chalk. All are crossed out except for six - Locke, Reyes, Ford, Jarrah, Shephard and Kwon - aka Locke, Hugo, Sawyer, Sayid, Jack and either Jin or Sun. The MIB explains that these are the last of Jacob's Candidates to replace him.
File:6x04 SetInMotion.jpg
The Man In Black sets his plan into motion.
     The idea that Jacob has subtly been manipulating the lives of up to 360 people for over what can be assumed to be a few hundred years may seem to stretch credulity, but that's what we're working with here. After a season of showing us that fate can take the form of extended, Whatever-Happens-Happens-style time loops, we get the new idea that our characters have basically been pushed by God to their current positions. This gets a bit ickier in the finale, so I'll wait until then to talk about it in its entirety,but at the moment it does seem rather odd that it's implied that Jacob giving Sawyer a pen when he's nine years old is enough to steer his life towards Oceanic 815.
     So far, the flash-sideways seem like something of an entertaining side-project. After the initial awe of wondering about possible timelines and alternate worlds, it's becoming clear by this point that so much is different that this all being caused by the prevention of the Incident is rather impossible. It's still rather interesting though, and it tugged on my heartstrings to see Locke finally getting to plan his wedding with Helen when that relationship in the original timeline went rather more tragically. It was just nice to have Locke back in general, really, but I do think that O'Quinn very much enjoyed the chance to chew into an entirely different character. I certainly enjoyed seeing him bounce the two different characters back and forth, and The Substitute became so much the better for it.


Monday, 28 January 2013

Review: Doctor Who 2.8-9: The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit

Toby is possessed by The Beast.
Doctor Who - Season 28, Episodes Eight and Nine - The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
Written between 9th and 11th of January 2013

Religion. Religiony widgiony. It's a topic that I've talked about to various degrees of controversy on this blog, mainly because I don't like it when writers shove religious themes into the finales of otherwise secular stories. Doctor Who itself hasn't shyed away from examining the subject, and while this week's story has certainly been done before by Who, it's not exactly what I'd call deriviative. The Impossible Planet two-parter is distinct in its sheer ability to summon the deepest and darkest of scenarios from what it a basic base-under-siege plot, invoking not just crazy new aliens but the bloody Devil himself.
     The episode comes from writer Matt Jones, who is a big fan of evil devil-like figures (especially if you look at his next story for this universe, Dead Man Walking.) The setting is one immediately different in new Who - an entirely new planet, orbitting around a black hole. The Doctor and Rose land on Sanctuary Base Six, a base positioned on the planet to discover whatever's keeping the planet steady, as well as the source of a gravity funnel into space. They have the telepathic, Zoidberg-esque Ood as willing slaves, and for a while have been finding out that the planet's former civilisation is ridiculously old. When the TARDIS falls into the centre of the planet, The Doctor is forced to stick around and help them, descending their mineshaft into the planet's heart. As he decends, an entity known as The Beast possesses archeologist Toby Zed, who kills one crew member before spreading his possession to the Ood's hive-mind. As The Doctor discovers the ruins of the old civilisation, Rose and the remaining crew battle to stay alive. The Doc finds that the creature controlling the Ood, and sitting at the centre of the planet, is a giant demon who was locked away at the Dawn of Time but who has since subliminally inspired the rest of the Universe's devil stories.
     This isn't the first time that Doctor Who has done The Devil; Season Eight story The Daemons had a slightly similar character in the demon Azal, but this takes a much bleaker and certainly more tense position. Despite obviously having a maximum of what looks like three or four sets, the base feels surprisingly large and the atmosphere is well-crafted. There's the right mix of desolation and loneliness, with the crew members of the base remaining proffessional while at the same time in a state of permenant awe at their current situation. It felt so serious and dark that Series Two's odd habit of having Rose make inappropriate jokes throughout the exposition just felt off. She had recovered by the cliffhanger, however, and managed to maintain a rather odd scenario in which she drove the majority of the action while The Doc drove the exposition.
How Ood?
     I know I've spoken bad of Tennant's Doctor in certain places, but his performance here is just unbelievably good in its sincerity. Jones shows us another side of The Doctor's faith, seeing how he puts his trust in science in all cases except the grand myths from his home period. Despite the way that the episode sets up The Doctor as the saviour of the Universe chosen by the elders to defeat Satan, it's rather odd how humble he comes out of the whole deal, especially as RTD's team would continue to up the "Lonely God" crap as he went through the series.
     Like most of this season, there were a few nitpicks here or there. But the overarching mythology and the well-crafted tone of the story overrode that immediately. The Impossible Planet two-parter is by far the best story of Season 28, and that's not just because it has The Devil in it or the funny Ood guys, but also because it takes a hell of a lot of old ideas and manages to fit them into a story that is not only interesting, but that also maintains a brilliant sense of tension. It was one that managed not just to make our leads come into their own in a way they haven't for a while, but that also managed to introduce a whole host of minor characters and have us feel for their stories.


Friday, 25 January 2013

Review: Pramface 2.3

Laura tries to get a job, but her body disagrees.
Pramface - Series Two, Episode Three - Supermum and Hardguy2000
Written between 23rd and 25th January

I caught this late. I'm sorry. Usually when I catch something late (or write a late review) it's usually because I don't particularly care for the program in general, and I did it several times during the first series. But missing the show this week gave me a real sense of sadness. Perhaps it's just the day; Tuesday is so unassuming, I completely forgot. Anyway. Enough about me. Was the show worth the wait? Yes, it was. Except for a single nitpick that demonstrates nothing more than my own obsessive tendencies, I found this episode pretty much perfect in every conceivable way.
     Laura, trying to get back into work, leaves Emily with Jamie on the basis that he has insisted that he would make a better parent. Unbeknownst to her, he's cocked up and has an exam on the same day. Not willing to mess up his A-Levels, he dumps Emily on his friends Beth and Mike, who treat the responsibility of looking after the child like an old married couple. At Jamie's house, Keith tries to take a serious look into a job search and somewhat inadvertantly ends up as the headliner of a gay phone-sex company owned by Tracy-Ann Oberman. When Sandra finds out, she is initially calmed by the £50-an-hour rate but is soon icked out when listening in on one of the calls.
     Not taking the baby-care well, Beth and Mike leave Emily with Alan, who is still a bit off, and who takes to turning the entire house into a child-free zone by removing any sharp objects and by covering things in bubble wrap. I love how subtle Angus Deayton plays his character's lunacy, and that's what makes his part of the episode so funny. At work, Laura is under a feisty supervisor and keeps messing up, especially as she's still lactating and has an embarrassing incidient. Her supervisor manages to prevent her from further embarrassment and, as a mother herself, tells her to stop working and get back home. Despite flouting exam rules about mobile phones, Jamie learns of this, and runs home to find that Laura has caught him out.
Angus Deayton's subtle madness is what makes his scenes
cross over the line into comedy genius.
     Everyone was strong this week, although as last week the strongest players were most definitely Angus Deayton and the surprising up-and-comer Ben Crompton, both of whom bring in quite different and yet subtle performances that often make me wish the show was about them and their parallel ways of treating the main scenario instead of having to anchor the story around Laura and Jamie. Laura's storyline was much more satisfying this week, if only for a touching moment with the supervisor, but the protagonists' bits of story still feel like necessary padding more than the focus of the show. Despite that, I really can't fault the episode and it's probably the first that's had me laughing all the way through.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Review: Lost 6.3: What Kate Does
Jack doesn't trust Dogen's pill.
Lost - Season Six, Episode Three - What Kate Does
Written between the 7th and 13th of January 2013

It's well-known (or at least I thought it was) that Kate-centric episodes ar enot exactly the most popular episodes of the show, mainly because the character had developed quite a sizable hatedom by this point in the show's history. Whereas Jack managed to get away from the quadrangle by working his way into the show's mythology, there were times when Kate felt like nothing more than a love interest to provide rivalry between Jack and Sawyer. Rather more wisely, this episode focussed on the character's relationship with Clare (Emilie de Ravin), whose character's return in this season is something we've been waiting for since she randomly disappeared at the end of Season Four.
     In the flash-sideways, Kate escaped from LAX by stealing a pregnant Clare's taxi, almost running over Arzt in the process. She escaped to a scrap yard where she persuaded a guy to cut her free from her handcuffs, and later she notices that Clare is still stood by the side of the road. To make up for stealing her cab at gunpoint, she takes Clare to her destination, where they discover that the foster parents for her baby have seperated and can no longer go through with the arrangment.Clare gets pains and Kate takes her to the hospital, insisting to Clare that although she's on the run from the law, she's innocent of her crimes.
    On the island in the present, Sawyer decided to leave the Temple, with Kate and Jin going after him to try and persuade him to come back. Temple leader Dogen, astounded by Sayid's Lazarus-style recovery, tortures him and pronounces him as "taken" by the "sickness." In private he asks Jack to give Sayid a pill, which Jack forces him to reveal is poison. Out in the woods, and Kate and Jin are confronted by some Others. Kate escapes, but Jin is saved by some traps set up by Clare, who has been living wild in the jungle for the past three years.
Now guess who's back with a brand new track that got
everybody on this island going maaad.

     Like the last two Kate episodes, it's been much more a vehicle to look at other characters, the writers seemingly realising that there's very little to actually do with Kate. Through her relations with them, we got looks at Jack, Sawyer and Clare in much greater detail than we thought we would have, and surprisingly little at Kate herself other than discovering that in the Flash-Sideways Universe, she is genuinely innocent of her crimes. I think the pressure of the premier also brought a few things to the fore that a standard Kate episode really isn't built to deal with, specifically the resurrectionof Sayid which poses so many questions that to not take a look at that would be something of a crime. Unfortunately, what that means for What Kate Does is that it feels more like a less exciting follow-up to the premier than just a standard episode.
     Maybe I'm being too harsh. But the second week in, Lost Season Six gave us its first rather meh episode. On its own, it's a fairly average episode that doesn't really do much to advance the plot, but when compared to the premier it followed it's a very disappointing continuation, and one that robbed the series of most of its forward momentum. It was by no means a downer, and it did nothing to particularly frustrrate me - But I think that in the end, that made it slightly more depressing. Onto next week.


Monday, 21 January 2013

Review: Doctor Who 2.7: The Idiot's Lantern

Jamie Foreman has "angry cockney" down pat.
Doctor Who - Season 28, Episode Seven - The Idiot's Lantern
Written 4/1/13

From the pen of the great Gattiss himself, this mid-season story is strangely disliked by the fandom. In my experience it's always been one of those ones that are not as bad as everyone thinks they are, mainly due to its outstanding sense of tone. Gattiss has always had a grasp for getting the feel of the past right even when the script itself isn't top notch - his most out-of-touch and weird script was the one he tried to set in the present, Night Terrors. The Idiot's Lantern is otherwise rather mediocre, but don't let that fool you - there's some good potatoes here.
     Aiming for the height of New York Americana, the Doctor and Rose instead land in 1950s London, where they find a mysterious conspiracy by which people are being abducted from their homes by the police. The disappearances seem to be coinciding with the sales of local Magpie Electronics, who is selling cheap televisions in the run-up to the Coronation of Elizabeth II, the most watched television event in history. As Rose investigates Magpie's, The Doctor discovers that the police are in fact hiding people whose faces have been absorbed, leaving them mindless husks. Rose discovers that Magpie is being controlled by an entity who communicates via a face in a television screen known as the Wire, who steals her face. When The Doctor discovers this, he goes after the Wire and manages to stop her from transmitting herself across the country by recording her onto a betamax tape.
     I love Gattiss' appeal to the domestic, which arrives in the form of the Connolly family. Their brash father figure Eddie Connolly is played by character actor Jamie Foreman (known to modern viewers as Derek Branning) who is channelling his role from the previous year, Bill Sykes, to create a loathsome secondary villain. In an odd way, Eddie Connolly feels more villainous than The Wire herself - the latter just attempting to survive while Connolly sells out his neighbours and abuses his family. That was one of the episode's biggest disconnects, because you've got this magnificent human figure and then a main villain that's basically a ranty TV screen.
     That's probably my only beef with it, really. The tone is absolutely spot on, and the extension of the metaphor of the "TV that sucks your brains out" is rather cleverly executed. I could have done without Maureen Lipman screaming "FEEEED ME!" and I suppose the Doctor's weird rants are a bit off, but everything's here that should be here for a really good story. Any problems regarding people's appreciation of that comes soley down to the way it was executed, which wasn't necessarily wrong - rather more with the wrong focus. Gattiss took it back to the family in Night Terrors and for all of its faults that worked a lot better than this for what it was trying to do.
     The Idiot's Lantern works as a period piece, an examination of the stereotypical family dynamic and the attitude towards a fast-evolving media presence. It takes fears and urban legends of the time and puts them into a monster which is actually quite scary - people being turned into empty shells. It fails in one simple regard - as an adventure, it's 90% buildup. There's no real flow of narrative, it's exposition until a rush at the end. But, despite it's flaws, it's still an entertaining hour and it contains some of my favourite guest characters in this season.


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Review: Lost 6.2: LAX, Part Two
Oh, look, Emilie de Ravin's back.
Lost - Season Six, Episode Two - LAX, Part Two
Written between 2nd and 4th January 2013 

I don't know what I'm doing. I expected to be here sprouting vitriol - having fun. And yet I'm stuck with these first few episodes, which are pretty much 100% golden. It feels like a bit of a backhanded complement, but the beginning of Season Six is just too good. LAX Part Two built upon the premiere well, and as well as getting us comfortable with the idea of the Flash-Sideways and with the Man In Black, it left us with one of the series best cliffhangers ever. (And one of its funniest line deliveries, Naveen.)
     While Sawyer stays behind with Miles to bury and communicate with the dead Juliet, the rest of the 1977 team go over to the Temple, where they are assaulted by The Others. Hurley manages to convince Temple Leader Dogen and his translator Lennon of his credentials using a list of names that is found inside the guitar case he'd been carrying. Sayid is taken to a spring where he's held underwater, and even though he regains consciousness in the water, he seemingly drowns to death. While the others have a lot of questions for the temple Others, they are alarmed when Hurley informs them of Jacob's death. On the other side of the island, The Man In Black knocks out Richard and gives Ben a talking to, telling him that John Locke was a weak man and that unlike him, the Man In Black wants to return home. At the Temple, the Others are about to restrain Jack and Sayid magically comes back to life, uttering the immortal words, "Wot hoppon?"
     The focus was a lot more on the present this week, with the flash-sideways being put to the side somewhat. We saw a few scenes that were necessary to set up the next episode, but it rather wisely put the focus onto the Temple. I question the wisdom of throwing a lot more backstory in our faces at once what with the Temple and this other sect of The Others, but from hindsight I know that none of it will get a lot of depth so I'm not worrying too much. Dogen and Lennon are cool character designs in themselves, and I really wish that they had a bigger role in this series. After Ben basically spilled the beans on a whole gamut of The Others' mysteries, Dogen brings back their former mysticism if in a somewhat cheaper and more directly obstructive form.
     Since this is from hindsight, I do have to point out that a lot of the mystic stuff from this episode is never explained. We don't know why the Temple Springs have darkened in colour, or how it works, and we certainly never get an explanation as to why they drowned Sayid and were then surprised when he woke up again. It presents an interesting parallel for Sayid's character - previously he had shot Ben Linus, who was then healed at the same spring, and now he had a similar wound inflicted by Roger Linus. But despite the clever character arrangement, it has just basically robbed Sayid of any further development this season outside of the Flash-Sideways, until his eventual unfortunate sacrifice.
     Despite me being annoyingly picky, I do think that LAX as a whole is a really good opener to the series. As possibly one of the first episodes of Lost I actually saw on transmission, it blew me away and it set the series up in a really interesting direction. The many mysteries it presented, despite the vast majority of them going unheeded later on, set the fandom alight and as a viewer experience it was a perfect way to start things off. Top notch.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Review: Pramface 2.2

Alan Derbyshire
Deayton brings Alan a strange mix of bumbling incompetance
and, at the same time, unending pretension.
And it's wonderful.
Pramface - Series Two, Episode Two - Stay At Home Losers
Written 15/1/13

I had expected, maybe even hoped, that Pramface had blinded me with some lights and that it would return to its normal self. That way, I could sit here and write a review that completely and utterly destroyed it, which would have, I assure you, been very entertaining on my end. But something in the great machinery at Pramface HQ has obviously snapped into place, and this episode was pretty much flawless on every level. I've never seen a series go from such a rock bottom to becoming something that I actively look forward to, and while there's still a few problems, none of them poked their heads up here.
     The main tack seems to be running as many competing subplots at once, which allows for a lot of hits and misses. Jamie and Mike didn't get a lot to do, but strangely that felt like it was a very positive thing as it allowed the writers to better put to use other characters like Beth (Yasmin Paige) and the two dads. Keith (Ben Crompton) and Alan (Angus Deayton) got to spend the episode only with one another, and their characters had a weird complementary factor that made them a perfect comedy double act. Keith hasn't really had much character development over the series, and so for me at least it was surprising how well they actually worked together, culminating in a series of very funny, very shippy scenes where they both effectively reject their wives for one another. Beth, on the other hand, got to lampoon her own hyperbolic characterisation in going out with a male version of herself, with Jamie and Mike's only purpose in the episode seemingly being to be her back-up team.
     Laura's storyline was a bit lax in the funnies department, if only because it relied more on the old-style, "people not acting like real human beings" awkwardness. In an attempt to get over her temporary post-natal depression and loneliness, Laura tries to get out there and meet fellow Mums. She's mugged in the park by some working-class teen-mums, and then stalks a pair of "yummy mummys". After being consoled by them and taken to a café filled with pretentious, middle-class mums, she is taken off by the owner of the café, who is a single mother working several jobs. It felt more plot-centric than the other two, giving Laura some worthwhile character development, but there's something about the character's delivery that always makes me lose most of my sympathy with her. 
Keith Prince
Keith/Alan 4ever
      Is it a bad thing to say that the show is best when not focussing on its protagonists? Probably. But quite frankly, I don't care with a show like this. This second episode has taken a show which I despised and made it required viewing, by fully utilising the freedom that Emily's birth gives to the show. Our characters now can do anything, be anything, and it's that very freedom which is bringing the show up from its humble, humble beginnings into a comedy great. I very much look forward to more next week.


Monday, 14 January 2013

Review: Doctor Who 2.5-6: Rise Of The Cybermen/The Age Of Steel

Doctor Who - Season 28, Episodes Five and Six - Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
Written 15/12/12

I love the Cybermen, at least as a concept. For me as a kid, the idea of a race of people driven by adversity to their complete loss of humanity was incredibly fascinating, and a somewhat viable exploration of the mankind's future. In the 60s, this idea was mainly inspired by the fear around artificial organs - if we can make a man's heart out of metal, what else will we find to replace? The Classic Series' continuity regarding the Cybermen got a convoluted with JNT's tenure, and thus to avoid any of that, Rusty chose to completely reinvent them. The result is a two-parter that, while flawed, is still one I rather enjoy.
Alright, dave?
     The Doctor, Rose and Mickey accidentally fall through a gap in the Universe and end up in a Parallel World, in which Rose's father Pete (Shaun Dingwall) is still alive and working for the ridiculously powerful Cybus Industries, headed up by Davros-expy John Lumic (Roger Lloyd-Pack). While they wait for the TARDIS to recover after her stressful trip, they find themselves forced to investigate Cybus Industries' activities. Mickey gets abducted by a terrorist group known as the Preachers, led by his parallel counterpart Rickey, who are investigating Cybus' Cybernetics programs. When The Doctor and Rose investigate her parents' houseparty, they find that Lumic has created a terrestrial version of the Cybermen with which he plans to take over the world. The Doctor, Rose, Pete and the Preachers meet up and head to the central Cybus factory where the brainwashed peoples of the UK are being converted. The Doctor confronts Lumic and, using Mickey's help, manages to destroy the factory and all of the UK's Cybermen. With Rickey dead, Mickey and the last of the Preachers go off to fight the Cybermen elsewhere as The Doctor and Rose return home.
      I'm actually quite glad that Rusty allowed this two parts, because what we get for that time is a quite thorough exploration of the Cyberman concept as applied to the Modern Era. These Cybermen aren't about the primal thirst for survival, they're something much more modern - a commercial idea, a brand, the latest accessory for your existence. Lumic's primary motivations are to remove sickness and difference from the world, but there's that undercurrent of power-madness the allows us to see why the mechanism for such a change comes in the form of telecommunications and the media. We also see a lot of the humanity behind the converted faces; an especially effective moment is when we see the Parallel Jackie Tyler in Cyber-form, and hear an emotified-Cyberman talk about her wedding day. It's all nice seasoning.
     As for the Cybermen themselves... I don't know. In this story, at least, their incredibly robotic and militaristic design seems to work rather well for them, and they fit right in with the corporate image of Cybus Industries. It's a bit unfortunate that this is seemingly the only place where this is true, as elsewhere these particular Cybermen seem a bit too stiff, a bit too robotic. Simply not Human enough. The JNT Cybermen may have looked like people in costumes, but the simple little things like a visible chin made you believe that this could have been a person converted into one of them. Here, the idea is simple brain transfer, and so it's much more of a consciousness thing. How much can we say that a Cyberman is a "person" if all that's happened is that your brain's been put in one? I don't know, I'm not a philosopher.
The Cybusmen make their first appearance.
     Tom MacCrae, the writer, gives us quite a few secondary characters, and they're all actually quite well-written. The Preachers are an interestingly silly group, wanted for petty crimes and all bitter against Cybus Industries for one reason or another. Angela Price (whose nickname, Mrs. Moore, is likely a cheeky reference to the "writer" of Attack of the Cybermen), played by Helen Griffin, is given a surprisingly long period to exposit, and when she dies a few minutes later we actually feel something. CBBC presenter Andrew Hadyn-Smith (another doppelganger of mine) has a weird turn with Jake Simmonds, a character supposed to gay in the script but who subsequently had all of these references written out. Weird, considering the show-runner's openness for such things.
     It's the little touches here or there that make the Rise two-parter so successful. As an execution of concept, it works to its full potential and is an incredibly thorough application of the Cybermen to Noughties Britain. But it's more than that. Its minor characters, and its little explorations of the concept where you wouldn't expect them, they give this two-parter a real soul that's quite inescapable.


NEXT WEEK: We watch an episode of a long-running television program that makes jokes about the dangers of watching too much television.