Saturday, 30 March 2013

Review: Doctor Who 7.6: The Bells of Saint John
Eleven and Clara's chemistry is still sizzling and I love it.
The overbearing hand of cynicism does often grasp me tighter than I expect, but I don't think that was true this week. The valient return of the show after a frustrating break did not disappoint, and it did everything it promised to and more. The story's premise felt very thin on the ground and I felt that, like the previous story, the villain's plan wasn't explored to its full potential. But it was well-weaved into the character work - which, despite being the third time that we've met Clara Oswald, still feels as fresh and wonderful as the first.
     Having received a wifi helpline number from an anonymous source, the modern day Clara unwittingly calls The Doctor in 1207. As he arrives, he discovers that she has become embroiled in an alien plot that almost leads to her to being "uploaded" onto an alien wifi network that's been hiding on Earth and subconsciously controlling any humans nearby. The Doctor saves her and brings her with him as he investigates the organisation controlling the uploading, which is run by a mysterous woman (Celia Imrie) being controlled by the Great Intelligence (voiced by Richard E Grant).
     Moffat isn't keeping his cards as close to his chest as he was with his last arc - he used to keep them so close that I doubt even he could see them properly. Thus we got a few references to both the Victorian and Future Claras, with the Oswin middle name apparently coming from "Oswald to the win" and her future hacking skills apparently coming from her memories of being uploaded to the Internet. The three Claras are subtley different from one another in various ways, and I liked that, even if it did make Christmas's "introduction" episode that little less perfect.
     Celia Imrie was absolutely delightful as the sadistic villain, taking in her stride the rather Orwellian nature of the concept. I do have a small fear that we could have had something a little better than the Great Intelligence as this episode's resolution, and that Moffat's attempt at continuing his continuity drive may have come at the expense of a better original idea. Despite that, Moffat did the usual schtick of making the mundane scary, and the innate paranoia of being controlled through the Wifi was explored quite thoroughly.
Celia Imrie's role was fun, but I felt that the true villain was
a bit of a cop-out.
     So not perfect. I'm not saying that to put a downer on the episode, though, because The Bells of Saint John was a fantastic ride from start to finish and it feels like the beginning of something beautiful. My hopes are rather high for this half of the series, and although this episode shared the same nitpicks as its immediate predecessor, there's room for development throughout the series and a lot of this series' new blood will form a major part in that. As it stands, it's a great start.


NEXT WEEK: I'll be a little late with the review, as I'll be in Wales when it's on. You can expect the review for the awesome-sounding The Rings of Akhaten some time in the middle of that week.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Review: Survivors 2.5

Sarah makes the choice to maintain quarantine and
sacrifice herself.
Survivors - Series Two, Episode Five
Written 23/2/13

The character of Sarah was always one that, in the first series, I found innately annoying. Her experiences in the second series, despite playing on many "weak woman" stereotypes, did improve her character. This development gets its payoff in this rather well-done final story for her, as well as providing a moment of quiet before we storm towards the mythos-filled finale and that dreaded cliffhanger. The episode's main theme seemed to be depression and death, which is a wonderful thing to fill my Saturday afternoon with, but we'll roll with it.
     After saving two people on the street from a bunch of bandits, the gang is led back to a free commune, where people work the land. Tom gets jealous when bisexual Anya has the hots for the commune's organiser, leading him to admit his love for her. Sarah goes off for a walk and ends up trapped in a house wherin live three people who have become exposed to a new, more advanced strain of the virus capable of killing those previously immune. She chooses to sacrifice herself by shutting up the house, enforcing quarantine. Greg and Abby go to Greg's house, where he finds the postcard we saw in his flashback. The postcard contains co-ordinates to an airfield, where the two find a businessman claiming that the postcards were sent to the "chosen few", who would be whisked away to a safe haven. Sarah dies and Abby returns to burn the house down, with the group now heading off to the Scientist's Compound in order to seek a vaccine to the new strain. There they find only Whitakker, who has taken Peter.
     Sarah's act of bravery in the house provided a touching moment for both her and Al, two characters who in the previous series hadn't really been up to much. The only problem wiht that part of the storyline is that it was fighting with the other side, with Greg and Abby actually advancing some of the mysteries introduced in the premier and getting us closer to the finale. Atfer the last few episodes of running around the countryside shooting things, it felt rather sedated.
Greg and Abby find the postcard.
     2.5 was all about getting things ready for next week, and it did that in a way which upped the stakes in a way which felt sublte and nuanced. Sarah didn't exactly go out with a bang, but it was certainly a loss that we felt, as Al's single source of character development disappeared in front of our eyes. The build-up of mythos surrounding the mysterious postcards is feeling a little too late, but hopefully it'll all smooth itself out as we head into Survivors unintentional final hour.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Review: Lost 6.11: Happily Ever After
Desmond's MRI helps his Flash-Sideways awakening.
Lost - Season Six, Episode Eleven - Happily Ever After
Written between 21st and 22nd February 2013
Spoilers for the end of Lost.

Six episodes away from the finale, and the Flash-Sideways are starting to reveal its true colours. Desmond episodes always involve topsy turvey time stuff, but this was something rather different due to the nature of the sideways dyamic. It's an episode that rather has me torn - do I admit the beauty of the episode's premise, no matter how soppy it is, or do I let my overall dislike of the Sideways mess that up? The latter, probably. We're getting to the more interesting parts of the season, where I get to have a really good rant about things. Not that that'll happen today, of course. Well. Let's just get on.
     Desmond, having been revealed as Widmore's Package, is woken up and placed inside a big Electromagnetism Chamber (what is that, a giant magnet? idk what their idea of electromagnetism is, but anyway) where he is knocked unconscious. In the few seconds that he's out, we experience (and Desmond apparently experiences) Desmond's flash-sideways story. In the Sideways world, Desmond is Widmore's right-hand-man, and upon his return to LA Widmore tasks him with taking Charlie to his wife Eloise's charity concert. Charlie explains to Desmond in a bar how while choking on the plane he saw a vision of his true love, and as proof he later drives Desmond's car into the ocean, where Desmond sees Charlie's "Not Penny's Boat" message. Getting an MRI scan at the hospital, Desmond sees images of Penny. While his search for Penny leads to a discouraging Eloise, her son Daniel introduces him to her. When Desmond returns to reality, his sideways self faints, and our Desmond is suddenly a great deal more cooperative.
     What's basically happening is that the peeps in the flash-sideways timeline have the ability to remember their lives in the timeline, and require certain circumstances to become "awakened". So far it appears that Charlie and Daniel are partially awakened, wheras Desmond and Eloise are fully aware of what happened before the timeline. For those smart-alecs at the time, this was the point where it became clear that the Flash-sideways was some kind of afterlife. And the events of this episode show one of the reasons why I really quite dislike the entire concept of the sideways.
Daniel Faraday Widmore has some theories about the
Flash-sideways world.
      It's shown quite clearly that everyone in the Flash-sideways has one true love. One person whom they're destined to end up with for all eternity - and, most of the time, that person is someone they met on the Island. Desmond and Penny, that's fine. I can believe that - they've spent most of their lives trying to be together. It doesn't help explain later examples like Kate and Jack (whose main relationship off the island was an incredibly abusive one) or the incredibly egregious matter of Sayid and Shannon. It's a personal matter for me, really - despite how romantic it may feel, I hate "true love" in fiction. I find it odd that these people, many of whom lived much longer lives than others, never had fulfilling relationships after their significant other on the Island coughed it.
     That's more reserved for what will be a collossal essay on The End in a few weeks, though, and for now we're left with what is a fundamentally well-constructed story that is, unfortunately, heavily laden with a level of sentiment that it can't maintain. It's very well written and it's one of Henry Ian Cuisick's best performances, but it's simply too soppy for my liking and it raises so many questions about the Flash-sideways that I start getting all frothy at the mouth.


NEXT WEEK: An episode of this series I didn't see on broadcast! (I think I was in Wales at the time, and the Sky Box didn't record. Anyway.) It's Everybody Loves Hugo.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.6: The Lazarus Experiment
I wanna imagine this scene being played out in-studio.
Doctor Who - Season 29, Episode Six - The Lazarus Experiment
Written between 20th and 21st February 2013

It really hits home in The Lazarus Experiment how different of an approach the show took towards Martha than it did Rose. At this stage, due to The Doctor's "one trip" business, it feels like she's still only just beginning. Rather an odd thing, considering we're half-way through the season. Most of The Lazarus Experiment felt very much like filler, but there was a swirl of ideas both wonderful and completely terrible to keep me interested. Like last week, we have to say goodbye to Biology for a bit - bigtime.
     The Doctor, after giving Martha her "one trip" (which he admits has somewhat escalated), takes her home. He's about to pop off, but he hears on a local news report about Professor Richard Lazarus (Mark Gattiss) and his groundbreaking experiment. The Doctor decides to attend the event, organised by Martha's sister Tish, and saves the day when Lazarus' machine almost explodes with him inside. When the machine is opened, the pensioner Lazarus comes out as a youthful Mark Gatiss, and claims that he has just enabled human immortality. However, Lazarus' machine has made his DNA unstable, and he periodically transforms into a massive pincered monster. After faking his death once, The Doctor and Martha guide him to a Church, where The Doctor uses sound waves to make him fall to his death. The Doctor offers Martha a permenant place as companion and they pop off.
     Mark Gatiss' character veers on the cliché at times, but I at least found him captivating. There's something quite Voldemort-y in his key motivation to avoid death at all costs, and his memories of cowering in war-torn London gave him a very human motivation for doing so. That theme of immortality was complemented quite well by The Doctor's role in the episode - not just blatantly against attempts at Immortality for the sake of it, but also sincere and heartfelt in his explanation of the loneliness that said immortality brings. Ten is really quite awesome in this series, and I can't for the life of me think why.
I probably enjoy Gatiss' acting a little more than his writing.
     The main problem with the story, then, is soley down to its Monster-Of-The-Week nature. The Lazarus mutant may be very scary indeed, but it shatters my suspension of disbelief into a million tiny pieces. Genetics just doesn't work like that - DNA doesn't randomly sporadically jump around just cos you shake it up a bit, and changing someone's DNA doesn't automatically change what they look like, it's not like some crazy biological cheat code. Also, DNA doesn't "hide" past options - at worst, it can hold a few minor evolutionary throwbacks (like tails or hindlegs in whales), but they ease themselves out during adult growth. There's never been a stage in human evolution where we had the option to become a massive skeletal beast with a dislocatable jaw and a stinger that can suck the life out of people.
     Despite that, I actually quite enjoy The Lazarus Experiment. It's a fun adventure, and there's enough depth to its villain that it makes a decent watch, even if it isn't a masterpiece. I'm also loving the development of the relationship between Martha and The Doctor, which I find rather fascinating and is so far the main reason why I'm enjoying Series Three to the extent that I am. It ma have silly CGI and some sillier concepts, but the performances sell it and it's more than enough to make it fun.


NEXT WEEK: The first Who appearance of the dreaded Chris Chibnall... it's 42.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Review: Survivors 2.4

Smithson is a mad History Professor.
Survivors - Series Two, Episode Four
Written 23/2/13

The second series is slightly weird in that it is collated into three duets with inner continuity - the Manchester arc, the "Justice" arc as I call it and then the finale arc. This episode was rather interesting, as we juxtaposed last week's focus on law and order in an organised society with a more antiquated examination of the role of slavery in the history of society. Albeit most of the time this meant that it was a standard runaround, but there were enough awesome moments to keep me entertained for the most part. Still doesn't feel like we're a few eps away from the end of the series.
     The gang track down Billy to his house, hoping to find Greg and Tom, who have been sent to the mining camp of local slave-driver Mr. Smithson. They are entertained by a woman named Sally, who reveals that she holds people for Billy while Smithson's men come to collect them. Greg pulls an escape attempt by claiming that there is a gas leak, and Smithson takes him to his mansion to offer him a partnership, while Tom uses his own methods to get away. While the rest of the gang's attempt to infiltrate Smithson's estate lead to everyone being locked up, Tom steals Billy's truck and arrives to save the day, leading to an uprising that helps them all to escape. In the coda, it's revealed that Billy has been set free by some of the kids he kidnapped, one of whom is Peter Grant, Abby's son.
     Smithson's character was a pretty blatant way of working in some examination of theme, being an Oxford history professor with a complex and an obsession with quoting Greek tragedies. He stole the episode, although he didn't exactly correlate with the more realistic feeling of the first series, which felt like an examination of what would really happen in a nation-wide extinction event. I did question the decision by the writers to have the only black member of the cast as the one speaking about putting people in chains, even if the slave trade isn't as raw an issue here as it is elsewhere, like the States.
Super-Tom to the rescue!
     The only problem with the episode is that is felt rather by-the-book - enjoyable, sure, but there was nothing really surprising about the course of events. We all knew that the gang's plan would cock up, and we all knew that Super-Tom would arrive to save the day at the last second. I am enjoying it and I think that the series still has a few good ideas, but there was a level of mediocrity present this week that made me worry a bit. I'm already a bit meh about the series' unfortunate cliffhanger ending in two weeks, and this hasn't improved my confidence that it will at all justify this series' existence.


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Review: Lost 6.10: The Package
Jin and Sun have a better relationship in the other timeline.
Lost - Season Six, Episode Ten - The Package
Written between 18th and 20th February 2013

Jin and Sun - the eternal romance. The show's longest running couple often seems rather reptitive in the way that the only captivating way to draw drama from it seemed to be to have them seperate, be brought together again and then seperate with almost infinite progression. Adding to this slight tedium is that it has, at least for me, always been difficult to get a grasp of Jin as a character - my fault more than anything, probably, but I've never really found them that interesting.
     The flashsideways became, for me, rather more interesting with the second appearance this season of Flash-Sideways Martin Keamy, the episode running concurrently with Sayid's story in Sundown. In this universe, Jin and Sun's relationship isn't blessed by Sun's father, and instead of running away from her marriage, she's planning to elope with him against her father's wishes. The couple have a night of passion and are then caught by Keamy's operation. While Sun goes with translator Mikhail (who was a minor villain in Season 3) to her bank, Keamy ties Jin up in a freezer. Sayid kills Keamy and his gang, and frees Jin. Sayid gone, Jin is forced to shoot Mikhail, and accidentally catches a pregnant Sun in the process.
     In the main timeline, The Man In Black's camp got attacked while he was out, leading to Widmore's team holding Jin captive. The MIB goes to Sun and tells her that he has Jin, but she doesn't trust him and ends up hitting her head as she runs away. While the MIB goes back and discovers his camp waking up after being shot with sedatives, it's found that Sun has aphasia and has temporarily forgotten how to speak English. She reacts badly when Richard returns to the group and describes his plans to blow up the Ajira plane. Widmore is kind to Jin, and shows him pictures of his daughter Ji Yeon, telling him that they must stop the MIB and that they can do that using The Package. As MIB's spy Sayid finds out, the Package is in fact a kidnapped Desmond.
MIB confronts Widmore over Jin's capture.
     I can't quite describe how much I like Kevin Durand, especially in this role. Off-island Keamy is a lot less brutal than his unforgivable appearance in the main timeline, and I really do enjoy how much he enjoys being a villain. It's something rather refeshing in Lost - there's no soppy background story, no great belief system. Keamy is just a gangster who really enjoys being an asshole, and he improves every scene he's in.
     I am being incredibly and unashamedly biased when I say that this episode doesn't really have much for me to talk about, and that's soley because I find neither of the two characters this episode focusses around very captivating. Jin and Sun's arc ended a long time ago, and they've been stringing along on a series of wild-goose chases since the end of Season Four. The Package felt very, very padded, and didn't do much for me besides provide a fun final performance for Keamy and a hint towards next week's spectacular Desmond episode.


NEXT WEEK: With Desmond on the scene, will everyone live Happily Ever After?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.4/5: Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks

Dalek Sec, or, to the more immature among us,
"Brainy McPenis-Face"

Doctor Who - Season 29, Episodes Four and Five - Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
Written between 14th and 18th February 2013

I really do not know where to start. The Dalek Two-Parter is uniquely weird and wonderful, in that I can't really tell what it was trying to do, and yet certain bits are very good and certain bits veer into So-Bad-It's-Good. The only analogy that I can think of is that of a Rembrant painting that's been scribbled over by a toddler; some pieces of compositional genius remain, but they're rather dwarfed by the glaring problems at the story's heart. That's not to say that I hate the story, but it's not exactly the easiest to love.
     The first half is better than the second for many varied and interesting reasons. The story's lack of true location flming (there were some greenscreen shots taken by the production team but the actors stayed in Cardiff) does at time threaten to kill the atmosphere the story is trying to create, especially when it's abundantly clear that none of the actors can do a convincing New York accent. However, for whatever reason, it's clear the Daleks In Manhattan is actually trying to say something about the state of New York and American society in the 1930s, especially in the anvillicious figure of Solomon. The second half, however, throws any trace of commentary aside and descends into pure batshit crazy.
     This story's mad plot holes earned it the number 2 spot on my Top Five Cases of Bad Doctor Who Science article, where I go into the story's conflicts with basic Biology in much greater detail. If we ignore the craziness of Dalek Sec shoving a guy into himself and that somehow allowing two completely different species to fuse together, we come to a much bigger plot hole when the planned hybrids look exactly like humans who just speak weirdly and have a predeliction for carrying silly guns. It destroys the episode's tension, and the story's solution (clinging onto the lighting rod) spits in the face of all suspension of disbelief.
The ol'  "cling-onto-the-rod" technique. I tried that once;
it ended badly.
     Helen Raynor acted as an unsung script editor for a lot of the new series. She is notable, really, for being the one and only woman to ever write for the new series, which considering modern attitudes to equality is actually quite shocking. It's something of a shame, really, that her two stories for Doctor Who have been rather lukewarm - her two stories for Torchwood (Ghost Machine and To The Last Man) were rather amazing by comparison, but it just seemed like in Who she got fobbed off with bringing back popular villains, which didn't give her much room to do anything with the same potency as her other work.
     Well, those are the main points. Two-parters always tend to mess me up - even though some Classic Stories are longer, it feels like the new series shoves much more into each story as a matter of simple concentration. The Manhattan two-parter has its own unique brand of logic that I just really can't comprehend, and that's why even if I look into the attempts at atmosphere and story, I just really wouldn't reccomend it to anyone. If you want Dalek craziness of the weirdest degree, this is the place to look. Preferably with some form of alcohol.


NEXT WEEK: More Biology abuse in the insanity of The Lazarus Experiment.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Review: In The Flesh 1.1
Luke Newbury is cool lead Kieren Walker.
Hot off of the heels of Being Human's demise, BBC Three have followed it up with this three-part drama which feels like an eerie cross between The Fades and an episode of Charlie Brooker's satirical sci-fi series Black Mirror. Here we take a more realistic look at the desperately tired zombie genre, sticking it into a semi-21st Century environment and seeing what pops out. It shared Black Mirror's bleak sense of direction and tone, but overall I think the three part format will give it a bit more breathing room to fully explore its several concepts.
     It's a year or two after a zombie apocalypse, referred to by the populace as the Rising of the "Rotters". Even though the valient Human Volunteer Force wanted to kill them all, the scientific community created a series of drugs which allows the zombies to become sentient again. One such sufferer of "Partially Deceased Syndrome" is Kieren Walker, a teenage boy who comes home to his Yorkshire-esque village of Roarton to find his sister Gem a staunch member of the local HVF, who believe that they must kill zombies no matter their state of mind. It's revealed that Kieren became a zombie after comitting suicide.
     The series is one of very few to ask what happens after the standard apocalypse is finished. I loved the way that genuine gore and horror was mixed in with commentary on the nature of sentience, human rights and the spread of prejudice through rural communities. There's also some small commentary on the nature of what it means to be human, but luckily that's kept as an afterword. The episode is quite clever in the way it uses supernatural themes to enhance what could have been a fairly dry look at radicalisation.
     The cast almost entirely filled with unknowns is what makes this series feel so astounding from the get-go, managing to throw so many different themes and ideas into a setting this well executed. The on;y complaint I could really have would be that it was perhaps a little too dry, but that's just me being picky. This scenario doesn't really need humour - it's one of those rare circumstances where everything on a project comes together perfectly. In The Flesh is well-made, well-written and is, quite frankly, something BBC Three can be proud of.


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Review: Survivors 2.3

Tom stands trial, and his crime is revealed.
Survivors - Series Two, Episode Three
Written between 14th and 15th February 2013

Samantha and the Government compound was one of my favourite things about the first series, as I often found myself supporting her against the Survivors. Our mains seemed determined that society must remain anarchic and detached, and I didn't get that. Another thing I liked about Series One was arc-villain Dexter, who was slimey and more than a match for Tom. 2.3 brought both of them back, and shone a light on how their uneasy alliance came into being.
     Samantha and Dexter go to a local community centre, where they meet more people they want to bring to the commune. On the way back from Manchester, the team are forced to stop, and they meet well-stocked Good Samaritan Billy (Roger Lloyd-Pack). Billy is friends with Dexter, and he uses Billy's stocks to gain favour in the commune. The commune has been on the hunt for Tom, and Samantha has him brought in. As Abby prepares to mount his defense, Billy is revealed to be selling people into slavery in return for fuel. In the trial, Tom is proved guilty, but thanks to a power play by Dexter, Samantha is forced to force the verdict as guilty. Abby, Greg and Anya admit to each other Tom's guilt, but still feel that he is one of them and thus worthy of protection. While Samantha has set Tom free on the condition that he kill Dexter, the others stage a rescue attempt. Tom kills Dexter in a brutal, bitter showdown, but Samantha recaptures him and both he and Greg are sold into slavery.
     I enjoyed seeing my two favourite guest stars getting a second chance to work it out, and both of them provided complex and interesting characterisations. Samantha's arc has seen her degenerate from being the morally upstanding figure of law and order into someone so desperate for power that she is willing to throw the verdict of a trial in her favour and use people to her own ends. While Dexter's hubris got him in the end, it was fun seeing him show Samantha up and completely muddle her plans. The two duelling villains made the episode for me, and it's a shame that we'll see neither of them again.
Samantha and Dexter battle for control of the Commune.
     As for the episode's central moral dilemma, finally exposing Tom's crimes before the virus (killing two security guards who had seen his face during a bank raid), I didn't really know if it was well done or not. There's always been an emotional coldness to Tom's character that underlines his sheer badassery, the problem with that being that without the underlying twitches it can feel rather wooden. And that was the episode's main problem - we came away getting the impression that Tom really didn't care about anyone, that he was indeed a cold, heartless monster. It may be very touching for our gang to dismiss this and say, "He's one of us now, so that's cool," and it's good to have the heartless killing machine on your side, but it still made their endless moral proselytising a bit off.
     Dexter and Samantha's last episode had an awesome sense of pace and was a powerful send-off for two characters that the series had taken a while to develop. I keep getting the feeling that Survivors would have been better as a single 12-episode series, as this second series is proving to be ridiculously better written than the first and still develops off of those initial ideas. The showdown between Dexter and Tom is one of my favourite scenes so far in the series, and there's still more awesome to come even though the series only has three hours left.


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Review: Lost 6.9: Ab Aeterno
Ricardos is convinced that he is in Hell by The Man In Black.
Lost - Season Six, Episode Nine - Ab Aeterno
Written between 12th and 14th February 2013

The writers did at least realise that there would be a certain type of fan who would not settle until some of the show's bigger mysteries were expanded upon, and Ab Aeterno, as well as the later episode Across The Sea, is a tacit admission of that. Nestor Carbonell takes on a challenge that no other character has ever really had to on the show - to portray his main character 80 years before his earliest appearance. Despite the differences between the two, he does an awesome job, and the tale Ab Aeterno weaves is one of the most entertaining in the whole series. It's a stand-out episode of this season, to be honest - probably, all things considered, the best.
     Unsure what to do next, Ilana asks Richard for help. Richard, however, has lost faith in Jacob, and begins to recall his beginnings. As a Spanish farmer in the 1800s, he accidentally killed a doctor while trying to get medecine for his dying wife, Isabella. In the dock for murder, he was bought by the owners of the Black Rock, a slaving ship, which crashed on the island in a tsunami storm and ended up in the middle of the jungle. After an attack by the Smoke Monster, Richard is the last man alive. He is freed by The Man In Black, who convinces him that the Island is Hell and that Jacob is the Devil. When he goes to kill Jacob, he is told the truth - that Jacob fancies himself as a God, and needs Richard to act as his intermediary between himself and his Candidates. Back in the present, and medium Hurley allows Richard to speak with his dead wife, who forgives him and tells him to stop the MIB from leaving the Island.
     The episode's strength is that it feels, effectively, quite self-contained. There's quite a gap in perception between Ricardos of the 1800s and the Richard of the present, one that the show doesn't care to try and bridge for the sole reason that we get to see how and why that development happened. Richard is a man convinced, every step of the way, that he has been sent to Hell for the act of trying to save his wife. Carbonell carries that off really quite well, and there are moments in the episode that carried more poignancy than I expected them to.
Can't say something straight? Just use a silly metaphor.
      One thing I thought was very interesting was the greater peak at the early Jacob and Man In Black, a fair time before the events of the present. Titus Welliver is perfect as the original form of the villain, managing to be both sinister and quite convincing. There's enough cynicism in the MIB and enough arrogance in Jacob that you still might be rooting for the former. Jacob comes across as rather big-headed, and, to be perfectly honest, a bit thick. I'll have more to say about why I think Jacob is fundamentally unlikable when we get to Across The Sea, but for now I'll just mention the fun little analogue they used. In what is a clear comparison between Jacob and the Christian God, Jacob refuses to help the people he brings to the Island, leaving them to the Man In Black - he does this out of a sense of morality through free will. Considering that he's basically ruined a lot of people's lives by bringing them to the Island, I don't think he gets the right to stand as a moral arbiter.
     Ab Aeterno is just a stunning piece of television, and I'm at a loss to describe just how much. It manages to answer a long line of questions that the more rabid fans had been asking for for years, while providing a powerful and quite awesome story in its own right. It's by far the best episode of Season Six, and now we're entering the latter half of the season, it's helped us have a little rest before we pick the up the momentum towards the finale.


NEXT WEEK: It's a Jin and Sun episode! More importantly, what is Widmore's secret? And what exactly is The Package?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.3: Gridlock
You've obviously never seen the M6 at rush hour.
Doctor Who - Season 29, Episode Three - Gridlock
Written between 11th and 12th February 2013

Before we look at Gridlock, we in fact need to take a little sojurn to the wonderful black-and-white world of 1967, for the famous Patrick Troughton story The Macra Terror. The story featured a colony of humans in the future ruled over by a mysterious woman, who was in fact a front for the Macra, a race of hyper-intelligent giant crabs. It's often been very highly rated, if one ignores the rather thorny problem of the serial not existing any more. And, despite the hubub over JNT doing the same all those years ago, you'd be very wrong to think that RTD wasn't going to shy away from making references to a story that literally no-one has seen since transmission - what was, at the time, a gap of exactly 40 years.
     RTD's New Earth trilogy, which began with the okay The End of the World and continued with the amominably silly New Earth, ends here with a final appearance by the Face of Boe and a final trip to the city of New New York. As Martha points out, it's a tad suspect that one of the first places The Doctor takes Martha to is the place where his incarnation first took Rose, but I really don't want to have to think about that right now. While they're in the city, they discover that everyone's gone spooky on drugs, and then Martha is suddenly stolen away by a young couple, one of whom is played by a post-Sugar Rush but pre-Being Human Lenora Crichlow. The Doc, in his attempts to find Martha, discovers that most of New Earth was wiped out by a plague carried on the drug patches, and that the people of New New York have been kept in a never-ending system of Gridlock by the Face of Boe in the interest of their safety, not knowing that at the base level live the degenerated form of the Macra.
     I flipflop when it comes to Gridlock, really. There are times when I find it eminently forgettable, and that's something of a crime, really, because the rest of the time I think it's a bloody masterpiece. Well. That's a bit hyperbolic. It's more akin to several very good things stitched together in a way which doesn't necessarily complement each other, but which doesn't detract from the beauty of the original pieces. By that, I mean that the episode is very, very full with various different messages and ideas, and I'm not quite sure what we were meant to come away with. There's a strong anti-drug message, there's an obvious commentary on pollution and the environment, there's something in there about marriage equality (which for some reason Rusty chooses to make an issue in the 50-Million-and-first-Century). There's also a lot of mythology stroking, with Tennant getting to lament about Gallifrey a lot and making many references to both the Classic Series and to the present arc running up to the return of The Master.
The death of the Face of Boe, and a prophecy that doesn't
really get as tiring as the whole "four knocks" thing.
     The episode's main gimmick, and possibly its greatest strength, is its reliance on a single set (the inside of a hovercar) just jazzed up in many different ways. There's a sense of confinement to the character interactions that, while not completely getting across the sheer tedium of the 3D Gridlock, certainly makes The Doctor's search for Martha that more powerful. By this point with Rose, the two were ready to die for one another, while the progression here is a tad more natural, and The Doctor admits that Martha is practically a stranger to him. That's probably why I like Ten in this season - he may be moaning over Rose now and then, which can get irritating, but he seems to gain a sense of self-awareness to go along with the pizazz and the charm.
     So, overwhelmingly, I think that Gridlock is pretty good. There's a sense of intelligence hiding behind the standard adventure that manages to mix a few messages in with some pretty good character development. It's been argued that the slow pace of The Doctor and Martha's relationship at this stage maybe damaged the series, because it was half-way into her series before she felt like a true companion. I'm really not getting that in this run-through - Martha is a companion with a very different mindset to the ones before and after, and for the moment that's really quite fascinating. Next week, I'm afraid, I won't be so positive.


NEXT WEEK: The story that made all the Biologists in the world cry simultaneously - it's Daleks in Manhatten/Evolution of the Daleks.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Review: Being Human 5.6: The Final Broadcast
The trio get together to fight The Devil.
Five years ago, in February 2008, there was a TV pilot with a simple but unendingly fun concept. Now that concept has run its course, with the ominously titled The Final Broadcast bringing the series to its end after its shortened fifth series. Character changes and a lack of focus made this final season less epic than it could have been, but I still admired the commitment to characterisation that the show managed to balance with good humour and a mythos remarkably complex for a BBC Three sitcom. BBC shows have a habit of ending in very painful ways (looking at you, Merlin), but this was pretty much the best ending I could come up with.
     With the Devil telling everyone to kill themselves, the world is going very much to shit. Tom confronts an evil Hal and slaughters his newly recruited vampire army, but their confrontation is stopped by Alex, who reveals to Hal the Devil's presence. Deciding that they're willing to be peaceful while they fight the Devil, the three run into Rook, who reveals that Hatch has gone to a TV station to use emergency broadcasting to sweettalk the whole country. When the three try to carry out the ritual to destroy Hatch, he stops them and brings each into a parallel world of their own - Hal gets to die in the 1400s, Alex gets to live out her life with her family, and Tom gets to have a family with Allison. Despite being tempted, all three fight back because they're not with each other. Hatch inhabits Rook's body, setting the three unawares, but they finally cast the ritual at home and kill the Devil after all. They discover to their shock that with him gone, all Supernaturals have become Human.
     The finale was rather thorough in its identification of what all three of the characters were tempted with, and there were several nice summaries of what Being Human really means. Hal's musing towards Tom that their plan to be human had succeeded the moment they desired humanity really reached back to those first few episodes and the final scenario of the three finding humanity again (despite the inception-inspired twist shot) is just poetically perfect in a way which I couldn't really have imagined.
Phil Davies gets an episode full of awesome monologues.
     What struck me was just how much of the original spirit still remains, even this far down the line. Our characters may have changed since the beginning, our setting, our understanding of the immediate power situation. But we still have our three characters, desperate to simply live a normal life that celebrates the excitation of the mundane. And it's still funny - it was the funniest episode of this series, certainly, even while trying to fit that around a lot of quite sad and dramatic stuff to do with our characters.
     I expected to be emotionally drained and sad and miserable. In a wonderful, wonderful way, Being Human delivered a finale that left me with happy tears rather than sad ones. It was a perfect culmination of not just the ideas in this last series, but of the themes that run through Being Human as a whole, and I am so glad that Whithouse was given the chance to write a series knowing it to be the last one. I loved this finale, I loved this series and I am just madly, deeply in mourning for what has been one of the most consistently inventive shows that BBC Three has brought us. Thank you so, so much, Being Human. I'm going to miss you.


Thursday, 7 March 2013

Review: Survivors 2.2

Tom gets supplies in his own way.
Survivors - Series Two, Episode Two
Written 16/12/12

The second episode was of similar quality to the premiere, and rather demonstrated the show's unwillingness to return to the mistakes of its past. I may have perhaps wished that we could have had our little eyewitness view into the scientists' compound for a little while longer, but Abby's escape did allow us a look into this series' overall mytharc - one that is, in hindsight, fundamentally pointless seeing as the show will be cancelled before we ever get a deeper look into it. Regardless, at this stage any new plot developments are like fried gold, and this three-episode mini-arc in the City has been rather fun, I think.
    Tom, having been excised from the group, robs a local group of Survivors for food and supplies, returning to his group with his plunder. Refusing to give up on her, Najid has been putting up posters around the city for Abby to follow should she ever return. A girl from the local group plays with Najid, and he unwittingly reveals to her that the food from her group has gone to his. While Tom, Anya, Al and Sarah go off to a Pharmaceuticals company to get a lead on Abby, the local group start to hunt Greg and Najid. At the Scientist's base, Abby is re-infected and it is discovered that her immune system can easily produce large amounts of an anti-serum. The scientists are planning to put her into a comatose state and harvest her antibodies for the rest of her life.
     Whittaker, however, accidentally gets jam on his fingers while playing with his son, which allows his wife, Lucy, to find out the code keeping her locked away in the facility. Lucy speaks to Abby, who tells her the truth about the Apocalypse, and she then allows Abby to escape. Despite this, when the gang turn up to find her, she's gone out of a different exit, and they return to the City to find Greg and Najid being hunted. Tom returns their food and they reconvene, finally finding Abby wandering the streets of Manchester.
Lucy doesn't know what she's in for.
     Pretty much the same as last week, really. Lots of decent character developments across the board, especially with Al and Sarah's relationship, Tom's criminal past and with what the facility was doing, with a shady pseudo-governmental figure on the other end of a computer screen. I think my favourite subplot was definitely with Whitaker's wife, as it showed us an insight into not just the facility but into different parts of his character. Whereas last week we were made to see the preservation of his wife and child as a mark in his favour, this week allowed us to see that he's essentially been psychologically abusing her in some misguided attempt to save her, while screwing over all of his close friends at the facility.
     I suppose on the face of it there isn't much to talk about with Survivors when I'm not being unnecessarily scathing to it, and that's a problem considering that so far, I've really quite liked what I've seen. We've had no screams of "PETER" to annoy me, no magic religious advice from Najid, no stereotyping of Anya's sexuality, it's all good. Our characters have yet to really evolve beyond the stereotypes that they were presented as, but they're coming damn close and I'm even beginning to feel for some of them. Can't really say much else besides, you know, keep up the good work.


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Review: Lost 6.8: Recon

Lost - Season Six, Episode Eight - Recon
Written between 9th and 10th February 2013

Recon, more than ever, makes an effort to mirror its Season One counterparts, "Confidence Man" and "Outlaws". Sawyer is one of the more interesting of the original cast, not just because he's tall dark and handsome but because he's someone who undergoes a noticable character arc in which he becomes a better person. He just hits all of those archetypal "bad boy" hero traits, and in Season Five he becomes a better protagonist than Jack is. There was the small, thorny issue of the flash-sideways becoming increasingly less relevant when played out on our original characters, but I'll get to that.     After the Temple Massacre, the Man In Black sends Sawyer over to Hydra Island on a reconnaissance mission, aware that Charles Widmore has arrived. Kate meets Claire, finding her replacement baby doll and starting to get worried. Claire attacks Kate and tries to kill her, and with Sayid watching on, MIB is forced to intervene. Sawyer discovers the Ajira aircraft intact, and follows a trail to find a pile of dead passengers from the aircraft. Seeing someone running through the woods, he meets a woman named Zoe who claims to be the last survivor. He sees through her ruse, and Sawyer is cornered by Widmore's team. MIB talks to Kate and claims that his mother was crazy, and that now Aaron has a crazy mother. Sawyer talks to Widmore, and promises to lead MIB right to him in exchange for passage off the island. While he pretends to be loyal to Locke, he reveals to Kate that he plans to let the two sides fight it out while he steals the submarine.
     In the flash-sideways, we see Sawyer carrying out his trademark con, only to find himself surprised when his victim is another conwoman, carrying a gun. He says a codeword and it's revealed that in this Universe he's a cop, albeit one that has still been following the trail of the conman that killed his parents. His co-worker Miles sets him up on a date with Charlotte, where she is apparently impressed and they sleep together. Looking for a shirt the morning after, Charlotte accidentally finds Sawyer's case files on the death of his parents, and he snaps at her - he's been searching for Anthony Cooper for most of his adult life. He watches an old romance film, and decides to go over to Charlotte's to apologise. She dismisses him, telling him she blew it. Revealing all to Miles about his past, they get caught in a police chase and the villain Sawyer apprehends turns out to be Kate.
     Usually, it's alright if an episode's flashbacks/forwards/sideways aren't 100% captivating. You can always miss them and not be any worse off the next week, because it's always gonna be the main plot that's more important. The Flashsideways are different, and the problem this week didn't come from bad acting, or a choice that later down the line won't make sense, but mostly from sheer boredom. Sawyer is a great character, and I absolutely love a lot of his backstory, but it's something we've seen so many times before. It's like... I'll hop fandoms for a second, it's like the repetitive nature of the various companion introductions in Doctor Who. Ooh, wow, Tardis is bigger on the inside. Moffat has had to make it more interesting because it's something we've got to get through, but it's not really very interesting. The same is true of having to re-learn Sawyer's backstory, which is pretty tedious when Flash-Sideways Sawyer is pretty much indistinguishable from our main storyline Sawyer apart from the fact he's a cop instead of a conman.     That was an odd thing, really, when over in the main storyline so many damn-important things happened that weren't really treated as that big of a deal. The death of all of the Ajira passengers is never actually explained; the official explanation is that Widmore's team did it, but I don't really see the motivation nor the will for Widmore to kill that many innocent people. We got to sort out Kate and Claire's thing, we got to see Sawyer's plans in motion, we had nods to MIB's backstory... all this stuff happened and it never felt framed by anything meaningful. Sorta like the series groaning under its own weight, just trying to move the plot along another few inches.
      I did ultimately enjoy Recon, despite all the crap I've said about it. Sawyer is always gonna be an enjoyable character to watch, and the episode also allowed us to take a look at a lot of our characters in some very different lights. It's a penchent for quiet character moments that the series won't be able to maintain, as we slide slowly towards the finale in nine episodes' time.


Monday, 4 March 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.2: The Shakespeare Code
The ruff suits you. I'd be wary of hair loss, though.
Doctor Who - Season 29, Episode Two - The Shakespeare Code
Written 9/2/13

It's NuWho standard (well, RTD standard) to begin a season with three adventures, one in the present, one in the past, and one in the future. This pattern was only really broken in Series Six, which went down swimmingly (cough cough). Series Three takes us first to the past, with a fun, pop-culture filled look at Shakespearean Culture from the pen of Gareth Roberts, later writer of the Craig episodes of Moffat's tenure and the odd Unicorn and the Wasp (which we'll get to in about four months, on my calendar.) Enough stalling, let's get on with it.
     The Doctor takes Martha to the time of Queen Elizabeth, where William Shakespeare is in the process of writing his famous lost play Love's Labour's Won. The Doctor shrugs off Martha's concerns about being a black woman in the time of the Slave Trade, and she's further surprised when Shakespeare (Dean Lennox Kelly, Being Human, Shameless) is distinctly more outspoken (and, perhaps, Northern,) than she expected. This soon becomes a distraction when someone objecting to the new play is found killed by impossible means, and Shakespeare is brainwashed into writing odd words. Investigating, The Doctor discovers the culprits to be the Carrionites - evil witch-like aliens able to harness the power of words. While they temporarily incapacitate him, The Doctor is able to help Shakespeare to foil the Carrionite plot.
     The use of magic is not new in Doctor Who, as I've shown when I reviewed Battlefield and several other Classic Stories. Roberts throws so many wonderful sci-fi references into the story that the presence of magic isn't really that much of an issue, especially as it's handwaved rather efficiently. This rather niftily allows the show to use Witches as a concept for what is strangely the first time. And they're pretty cool - lead witch Lillith (Christina Cole) is delightfully hammy, and the witches' reliance on words makes every scene they're in pretty verbose.

     The treatment of Shakespeare himself is rather interesting, with Kelly's performance highlighting the relatiely populist nature of the words of a man who is now regarded as the height of class. After Dickins' depression and Queen Victoria's bewilderment, Shakespeare is a relatively subtle portayl here that mixes all of the historical and popular interpretations into one, from the spontaneous verbosity to the mild bisexual flirtation. ("And 57 academics just punched the air.")
     The Shakespeare Code, while not the most memorable script in the world, is one whose script is subtley balanced between pleasing sci-fi references and interactions as well as a nuanced historical examination of the history of theatre and of Shakespeare's life. And, as you can probably tell from the brevity of this review, I don't have much else to say about it. Don't worry, I've got a ton more to say about next week.


NEXT WEEK: The power of faith singing, Thermoman as a housecat and a head in a jar that saves the World - it could only be Gridlock.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Review: Being Human 5.5: No Care, All Responsibility
Kathryn Precott is the double agent Natasha
The penultimate episode of Being Human, eh? We're hitting the bigtime now, and the plot movements allowed us some fun before the finale. In true Being Human style, the big drama came in this week's story, but for some reason it felt like the least epic of the pre-finales so far. Even though we're threatened with Captain Hatch destroying the world if he ever comes to power, the drama came more from the interactions between the characters than anything else. Impressive, considering how little time we've actually had to experience this lineup.
     We met new girl Natasha (Kathryn Prescott) who came to the Hotel after appearing to be chased by a bad ex. She was immediately fancied by Tom, whom she played along with, and recognised Hal's vampirism, offering him a little nibble now and then. While Alex was trying to investigate Bobby's death after last week, she also faced up to Hal and admitted that they still had the potential to have a relationship. It was revealed that Natasha is working for Rook based on him saving her from Vampires fifteen years prior, and she tells Tom that Hal has attacked her. Fearing that she's having second-thoughts, Hatch whispers to Natasha and makes her kill herself in a way that frames Hal. The trinity now divided, Alex faces Hatch, and is trapped inside her own coffin. Tom is getting ready to steak Hal, and Hal is recruiting en masse.
     Kathryn Prescott, aside from being ridiculously pretty, also provided what is probably Being Human's last Guest-Of-The-Week character, and one that made an instant impression. I did manage to work out that she was working for Rook before the reveal, but the way she wove herself into both Hal and Tom's stories really did work well. It reinforced a general sense that this trinity is not as tightly wound as previous ones, and Alex and Tom's final rejection of Hal felt more like the logical progression of their relationships' degredation.
Alex tries to help Hal, to no avail.
     It was that gentle degradation that gave the episode a lot of its impact, and also what robbed it of a lot of the punch. The cliffhanger we were left with didn't scream, "oh shit" as previous years have - the things that happened were on the cards for a while, and there was very little to surprise. It certainly wasn't a weak episode, but I was expecting something with a little more wallop for what it the penultimate episode of the entire series. Hopefully next week's showdown with Satan will leave us at a satisfying end.