Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Review: Chronicle

2012, Directed by Josh Trank
Written between 13th and 14th April 2013

On the surface, Chronicle is filled with enough tropes to make it seem very tired and perhaps just a little uninspired. It's a found-footage movie, there are teenagers with superpowers whose abilities force them to undergo a coming-of-age story. Luckily, there are other things at work in Chronicle that save it from the scrap-heap and ensure its place as one of 2012's more interesting low-budget flicks - a strong cast of young actors, a hyper-realistic take on the genre and a dark twist that was executed with a fine finesse.
     Three teenagers discover an object in the woods that grants them superpowers. They are the neurotic and unpopular Andrew, who lives with his dying mother and ridiculously abusive father, his cousin Matt, who is constantly trying to impress former girlfriend Casey, and the everyman popular guy Steve. The three find an artefact in a hole in the woods, and the next day they've been granted powers - telekenesis, flight and the ability to form shields around themselves. At first they use their powers to mess around, but after Andrew puts someone in hospital, they decide to regulate themselves. Steve drives Andrew to use his powers in a talent show, improving his popularity, until an incident leads to further humiliation. Steve is killed, and Matt ends up having to face Andrew, who wreaks havoc upon the city.
     Contrary to expectation, the tale is told from Andrew's point of view - on its own, it stands as a half-decent story of an abused, isolated teenager who takes out his pent-up wrath and indignation upon the world. The show deliberately avoids making comic-book comparisons (almost strangely at times), but I don't really mind that, so I'd call Andrew's story the archetypical super-villain origin story. Except, you know, transplanted into reality, where the morality plays involved are a hell of a lot more complex. You don't really feel sorry for the assholes that Andrew ends up torturing, and you sorta wish that he could have gotten to kill his dad, and yet at the same time you can see that he's morphed into someone with very little self-control.
http://www.scifinow.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Chronicle-2-sequel-Max-Landis.jpg     And thus comes the film's key gimmick. The found-footage aspect of the movie is always done flawlessly, and Trank's direction in this regard is quite brilliant considering that while the genre is known for stretching reality in order to get everything filmed, this story actually hinges the fact that Andrew (and later others) are filming everything as an insight into his personality. It's an early indication that Andrew isn't quite right in the head, and is complimented wonderfully as he uses his speciality power, telekenesis, to switch-up the camera angles.
     Chronicle's virtues are in the subtlety and finesse that comes with the execution of the premise - the way the characterisations flow throughout the story, and the way that real issues of gray morality are applied to standard superhero cliches in a way that doesn't feel like it's trying to make a point. The nature of its premise means that a lot of the time a few of the other characters felt left out, but that didn't matter because it did enough with the rest of them to feel worthwhile. It may not be perfect, but it's fun, refreshing and at times quite wonderfully deranged.


Monday, 29 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.12-13: The Sound of Drums and Last Of The Time Lords

The Master reacts to being called insane.
Doctor Who - Season 29, Episodes Twelve and Thirteen - The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Timelords
Written 10/3/13

Charting RTD's relative rise and fall in popularity, one of the first massive fan outcries at something in his reign was the Series Three finale, which was filled with some of the standard RTD moves but which made rather a lot of people think that he'd gone a step too far. While I don't really object to it a lot, I do admit that there are a couple of problems with RTD's writing here that return from his previous finales, and in a way which is much more gradiose and ridiculous. The build-up is great, but I've still yet to see RTD ever deliver a truly satisfying conclusion to a story.
     Using Jack's wristband to teleport to Modern Day London, the gang discover that The Master has installed himself as Prime Minister Harold Saxon (this year's repeated meme) and has created a network of psychic satellites putting the world under his subliminal control. He reveals a race called the Toclafane which, after having a fake first contact situation on the UNIT airship Valient, he uses to take over the world. The Doctor in his posession, he rules over the world for a year before a trekking Martha arrives back in London, discovering that the Toclafane are the humans from the ship to Utopia and that the Master had used a cannibalised TARDIS to hold the paradox in place. Using the effect of the psychic network, The Doctor is returned to full power. The Paradox Machine is destroyed and time rewinds. The Master is shot, and dies in The Doctor's arms (with a silly hook afterwards). Martha, now seeing that The Doctor will never love her in the way she wants him to, leaves to look after her family, and Jack returns to Torchwood.
     John Simm's portrayl of The Master is one filled with a constant manic energy, less of a scheming archvillain and more of a mischevous schoolboy whose managed to convince his parents to let him throw a sickie. His is a character of paranoia and fear, obsessed with his own ego and making small petty victories over his enemies. I really don't know which of the Master's personalities I really prefer, because in a weird way Simm does manage to pull off the Moriarty spiel just as easily as any of his other incarnations. That said, I do think that there were some silly moments that resulted from this change in characterisation. When facing the President of the United States, Saxon was more annoying than anything else - weird for a guy operating under a pretty thin perception filter to be acting like a complete weirdo just for the sake of it. And then we get to the second half. A tenuous tie-in with The Lazarus Experiment lets The Master age The Doctor's body up by a few hundred years, resulting in a strange dwarf-like creature known to fandom as "Dobby Doctor".
Spacetime tears apart over  the Valiant.
     But for balance, lets look at a few of the good things before I look at RTD's latest deus ex machina. The Doctor and the Master get a great number of scenes to play off one another, at least when Tennant hasn't been thrown in the age make-up, and there's a noticably different attitude to Ten than in previous incarnations. In the Classic Series, The Doctor could afford to make vaguely heroic statements about The Master's evil, whereas here Ten is desperate to ensure that he and The Master reach a peace, albeit on his terms. There's a sense that after all this time, their relationship has reached a point where it's very much love-hate. The Doctor relies on The Master's cowardice to never kill himself, and so The Master orchestrates his own death just to piss The Doctor off. The Doctor and the Master's slightly shippy relationship is one of the things I love about Simm's Master, and it pops up again in The End of Time.
     So, here's the trademark Disappointing Resolution Of The Series. The day is saved by every single person on the planet thinking The Doctor's title at the same time, which somehow translates into The Doctor being de-aged, incredibly strong and being able to float on a bright white fog, in what fandom has lovingly called, "Floaty Jesus Doctor". (Fandom has a lot of words for this episode, but I won't mention the others.) You could argue that of course the Archangel Network and the whole psychic field thing was introduced an episode or two ago, but turning The Doctor into a god based on the power of prayer (yes, the word prayer is used) is both silly and dangerously close to that whole Lonely God thing that I really don't like. It doesn't so much as stretch credibility as it does utterly shatter it.
     This isn't exacty Martha's last episode, but it does mark the end of her tenure as a continuous companion. The finale marks an important part in the development of her character, and with the love subplot that was built up throughout the series. The finale marks the point where Martha realises that she's in a bad scenario, where she takes the initiative and leaves the man who she knows will never feel the way about her that she does about him. In terms of Nu Who, it's quite a remarkable thing. Every companion except Martha has run with this "I want to stay with you forever" thing and have had to have their adventures stopped by circumstances beyond their control. I like that Martha was written with the maturity to leave when she didn't want to travel any more.
The Master and the Toclafane.
     I realise there are lots of words in this article, but I'll just throw out a few more. I'll cover this more on Friday when I do my series overview, but I've had a ton of fun reviewing Series Three. While this finale had a great number of problems, it never stopped being fun for me and the characterisations that have made this particular series so great still worked wonders. I think, on the face of it, that fun Doctor/Master shipping and watching Martha put The Doctor in his place are more than worth the silliness that comes with Dobby Doctor and Floaty Jesus Doctor. So there. It's not as bad as some in the fandom would make out, and it's the cornerstone on one of the best seasons of the revived series after the first.


Saturday, 27 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 7.10: Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS

Dans le centre de la Tardis!
"Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS" (or JTTCOTT as it's being affectionately known) is an interesting title. The second longest title in the series' history by syllable, and the first one to mention the Tardis by name. It's also a title that's as likely to bait fans as those classic "Doctor" titles where we were promised some insight into the show's rich backstory, insight that never usually comes, with a single exception. Steve Thompson, a writer who wrote both the forgettable "Curse of the Black Spot" and Sherlock's rather more brilliant "The Blind Banker" and "The Reichenbach Fall", attempts to pull a Doctor's Wife on our asses and hits his target a little far from expectations.
     While attempting to show Clara how to fly the TARDIS, the ship is attacked by a salvage vessel run by three brothers. The Doctor is chucked out, along with a load of engine parts, and when he notices that Clara is lost in the TARDIS he blackmails the brothers into helping him go through and find her. Being a sentient ship (and an angry one), the TARDIS rearranges rooms around for people she annoys. Clara finds a library where there is a history of the Time War, containing the Doctor's name. The corridors of the TARDIS is also being stalked by burnt zombies who kill anyone they touch, and The Doctor only just saves her. They end up in the Eye of Harmony room, where The Doctor reveals that the Zombies are Future Echoes of them, destined to burn up in that room. They manage to get out of the room by various means, but the TARDIS engine is beyond repair. Handy reset button in hand, The Doctor pops through a crack in time and changes the timeline.
     I suppose we were all expecting some massive plot revelations or something. The TARDIS is considered sacred ground, it's fanwank material and thus you really expect something that explores the ship to have a load of other goodies in there as well. Not to say that there weren't a few fun references - opening the new TARDIS console saw voices from the past spilling forth, as well as having Time Lord memories stored in the Library. There were a few moments that threatened to actually progress the series' mysteries - all wiped out now, of course, due to the surprising and rather disappointing reset button ending.
The Doctor and Clara have some heart-to-hearts, but they're
erased from history.
     What probably saved the episode was its tone, which balances the curiosity and wonder of the brand new Tardis environments (although unfortunately mostly confined to corridors without any roundels) with the dread of both the TARDIS' immient destruction and, if The Doctor was to be believed, Clara's third death. I initially had the crazy theory that the burnt people were what remained of the Time Lords, forever wandering the Doctor's TARDIS as his penance for their destruction. The actual resolution felt a bit more sinister than it ended up being... I just kept waiting for that twist, something to make it truly revelatory.
     I'm not as desperately disappointed as I could be - it is after all about the experiences along the journey rather than the final destination. I really enjoyed the character development that occured during the episode, and I also enjoyed seeing this production team's interpretation of the depths of the TARDIS interior. I just wish that they'd found a way to end it in a way which didn't involve pretty much eradicating everything that happened from the stream with the push of one button. Despite that shoddy ending though, I enjoyed the rest of the script and found it to be imaginative, intelligent and worthy of a lot of praise.


Friday, 26 April 2013

Review: Star Trek (2009)

Warning: This is probably going to devolve into an article about Trek vs. Wars, so bear with me on that.

Star Trek
2009, Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written 21/4/13

Later this year, I'll be reviewing some Star Trek on this blog. But, as the second of J.J. Abrams' adaptations makes it way into cinemas rather soon, I thought I'd take the time now to explain my feelings towards his first divisive film for the franchise, Star Trek (Or, as we say in Trek Circles, Star Trek XI.) Star Trek XI is the result of Lost's production team attempting to take on the long-running franchise, from producers J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk as far as writer Damon Lindelhof and musician Michael Giacchino. The result can be foretold rather easily; Lostpedia has an entire page of Star Wars references, but a few lines of Trek ones.
     The producers seem to view Trek, especially in its earlier years, as something of a poor child trying to fight with the big boys. The level of contempt that they have for the special effects is perhaps understandable, especially in the American theatre where budgets shot sky high very quickly. However, as an advocate of Classic Who and an ardent lover of all things Trek, I really think that this is the wrong attitude to have if you're going to go in and make an adaptation. The reboot of Doctor Who after 16 years was only successful because the vast majority of the production team grew up loving and respecting the program, and Christopher Eccleston had never seen it, and so treated it as seriously as any other project. The producers of Star Trek XI looked at their new endeavor and immediately thought, and I quote, "What can we learn from Star Wars?"
     The result is a film that is not by its very nature bad, but which is as far from the spirit of Trek as cheese is from milk - both may have some superficially similar origins, but the experience of consuming one is vastly different to the other. If cheese is left to mature it simply becomes stronger tasting - if milk is left to mature it goes sour and inedible. The film attempts to pay homage to the series by maintaining an internal consistency through the creation of an alternate reality in which our main characters can do whatever they damn well want without affecting the continuity of the TV show, but simply referencing a show doesn't make up for the loss of its spirit within the work.
     What do I mean by spirit? Well, we again must look over at Star Wars. Lucas' creation is something that embodies a great number of religious and right-wing values. The universe is controlled by fate and destiny, by a force that unites all things. Morals are staunchly black and white, with the odd anti-hero to keep the viewers interested. The world can be changed by the actions of a few individuals - the tiny good defeating the all-encompassing evil, taken straight from David and Goliath. Star Trek was conceived as something distinctly different - something more humanist. Star Trek is about discovery and diplomacy - about learning lessons about how to improve the future of humanity, about hope and peace and compassion. There are no right or wrong answers - simply ways of getting on and forming a peaceful and constructive way forward. It was Gene Rodenberry's utopian vision.
Okay, so this is gonna be a caption rant. This is an actual
still from the film. The level of lens flare in every shot of this
film is ridiculous. I'm all for style, but when you've got guys
sat on the edge of your set with flashlights just to add lens
flare to your movie, I think you have to look at why you're
a filmmaker. Thanks.
     So let's compare the plot and structure of Star Trek XI with both of these things. Captain Kirk has been retconned into being a poor farmboy living on a desert planet who never knew his father. Maybe I'm just nitpicking, but that sounds awfully familiar. And, away from perhaps contrived parallels in plotting, we find him rising through the ranks on sheer skill alone after cheating the system. We find him piloting the last Federation ship, one small force alone against a massive, all-encompassing evil in the form of the Nerada. It's David and Goliath again, huh. And what a Utopian world where a cadet can be dismissed for cheating on a major piece of training, make his way onto the flagship as an illegal stowaway and then through circumstance rise to the rank of Captain because someone from a parallel Universe says that that's his destiny?
     I enjoy Star Trek XI in the same way that I enjoy Doctor Who's A Good Man Goes To War. As a feat of pure spectacle it's certainly impressive, and up there with the level we've come to expect from modern blockbusters. But as an entry into the world of its franchise it so goes against the core principles of what make that franchise what it is that it feels wrong to even associate it. It's like making a James Bond film where the agent wears his pyjamas everywhere and solves things over the phone. Still enjoyable in its own right, perhaps. But not the thing that we need from a film bearing the Star Trek name. And that's what I think of it.


P.S. Although Zachary Quinto is great, go Zachary Quinto.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Review: Torchwood 2.2: Sleeper

Beth (Nikki Amura-Bird) has no idea what she is...
Torchwood - Series Two, Episode Two - Sleeper
Written between 9th and 10th March 2013

How often have you heard the question, "What does it mean to be human?" It's a typical sci-fi staple, really, something that you're bound to find anywhere you look. Hell, it's so ubiquitous in fiction that we have a series that is literally about Being Human. (I'm still mourning, go away.) This week, Torchwood takes a standard murder mystery plot and gives it a shake-up with another well-acted guest star and a set of moral dilemmas about the nature of humanity enough to satisfy any English Literature student.
     The team are called to a burglary where the two burglars have been stabbed brutally despite there being no knives in the room at the time. The second burglar dies with his deathbed words speaking of being afraid of the woman in the house, Beth (Nikki Amura-Bird, before Survivors), who Jack immediately brings into the Hub. Despite having her own electromagnetic field and inpenetrable skin, Beth is adamant that she is human. A mind-probe reveals that she is the first of a set of alien sleeper agents, implanted with false memories to blend in but constantly absorbing information in preparation for invasion. Beth gains enough control over her alien tech to help Torchwood stop a small invasion attempt, but she sets up a situation that forces Torchwood to kill her, prefering that death than losing her mind to her true self.
     Beth, for what could have been an undersaturated guest character, is surprisingly well characterised. The themes surrounding her loss of identity and the threat she poses to those around her is explored without her ever becoming anything less than a convincing human being. Her "death by Torchwood" demise is also pretty deep, and manages to bring an adult side to the series that doesn't rely on its old adolescent machismo. It's hard to see what we would do in that situation, and the show does its best here to represent that in a captivating way.
Having a sword-arm all the time can't be good for balance.
Or dexterity. It's why we tend to not have sword-arms.
     This week also managed to fit in a few pieces of horror in there as well, with some of the other re-awakened agents. Two of them effectively become suicide bombers, including one who was pretending to be a young mum, while the superior agent brutally murders a man in cold blood in front of his family before attempting to use nukes the blow up the world. (Although what any alien besides the Slitheen would want with a chunk of radioactive rock is beyond me.) On their own, the alien sleepers, with their in-build forcefield (I gotta get me one of those) are a really cool idea, and one that's properly executed.
     Sleeper always gets a tad faded over in my memory of the series, and that may be because it wasn't as immediately memorable as the two stories flanking it. But as a piece of science fiction it's a fairly well-execution exploration of the "what does it mean to be human" question, with some classic horror and a few very quotable lines thrown in. Torchwood has pretty much fully thrown off all predeliction towards its prior silliness, and it's operating as a piece of sci-fi for a mature audience. And that's awesome.


NEXT WEEK: I debate (jnternally) on whether I ship Tosh/Owen or Tosh/Tommy more... it's To The Last Man.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Review: Lost 6.14: The Candidate

You could say this episode was... explosive. (Sorry.)
Lost - Season Six, Episode Fourteen - The Candidate
Written 9/3/13

This is what we in the business call a Wham Episode. (Well, TV Tropes calls it that, anyway.) It is here that the MIB's main plan comes to fruition, and boy is it magnificent. There are times that I like the MIB because I sympathise with him and think that Jacob's a bit of an ass, but here I just admire the sheer badassery and forward planning that comes with his every action. If you torture a man for long enough, he learns a few tricks of his own, it seems. The Candidate was the make-it-or-break-it point of the season, and it was a powerful spectacle that for most fans probably ranks up there with the likes of Reichenbach and The Angels Take Manhatten for sheer pain and misery.
     In the Flash-sideways, Jack's curiosity over Locke's injury leads him to discover that in this Universe, Locke was involved in an accident and blames himself for his father's afterlife paralysis. He becomes unnerved when nearly everyone he talks to turns out to have been on the same flight in from Sydney. In the main timeline,Widmore's men put Saywer's group in the Cages on Hydra Island, before Jack and the MIB (taking his Smoke Monster form) came and busted them out. MIB met them at the plane, where he found a stash of explosives planted by Widmore, and then led the group to the Submarine. With Widmore's goons on their tails, Kate is shot and MIB tricks Jack into boarding the submarine and locking him out. Jack finds the explosives ready to go off in his bag, and Sayid is forced to sacrifice himself to save the others. While everyone else escapes, Jin refuses to leave a trapped Sun and they both drown together.
     One of my favourite moments in the episode is around the middle, when the gang meets up with MIB by the plane. He basically explains to them his own plan to kill them, while omitting just enough information to throw it into an entirely different and more trusting context. It's one of the most ballsy villainous moves I've seen since Moriarty's long game, and its MIB's capacity for such chessmaster-esque manipulation that makes me find him so interesting. For someone who is described in such blanket terms as "the embodiment of pure evil," there is a complexity to him that one wouldn't expect from the villain that the LOST writers paint him as.
     Talking about the writers, I did have to question a few of their decisions when it came to certain demographic representations in this episode. It may just be a complete coiincidence, but it just so happens that every named character who died in this episode was a person of colour. After the offing of main characters Ana Lucia, Eko and Michael in previous seasons, Sayid, Jin and Sun were the last non-white characters remaining from the cast of the first few seasons, leaving a cast with only one person of colour. (Miles). As if this wasn't awkward enough, it just so happens the person who chooses to sacrifice themselves by explosives was the only Muslim in the cast. I don't really see how the writers could have been blind enough for this to happen innocently.
No Stereotypes Were Harmed In The Making Of This
     I have a few other annoyances, as well. Jin and Sun, while never my favourite characters in the world, saddened me with their demise. Mainly because during their deaths, they neither spoke their native language nor appeared to give any considering for the fact that by staying behind, Jin was orphaning young Ji Yeon. As much as I've grown to the love the characters, it didn't have any emotional resonance with me because it was filled with too much silly "true love" spluge to render me completely and utterly cynical. They even through in a cliché, "Go! Save yourself!" line.
     So our remaining foursome has the unenviable task of finding out which of them will become the Island's protector, and finding some way of defeating the Smoke Monster once and for all. It was a well-written journey through the Man In Black's trap and out the other side, and despite my own quibbles with a few of the writers' decisions, it was an episode with a lot of punch. The fun and games are over, and the show is getting ready to pump out it's final few hours of amazing TV.


NEXT WEEK: Before we get to those aforementioned amazing TV hours... it's the less than amazing and quite infuriating Across The Sea. Worse than the damn midichlorians...

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Review: Hanna

I've spoken about Hanna before, in one of my Films I Saw Recently segments. But here it is again, now that I've become thoroughly obsessed by it.

2011, Directed by Joe Wright.
Written 17/4/13

Hanna is a film that combines several different genres and only just manages to get away with it, doing so in an unenviably slick style that aims to satisfy everybody. Initially presented as a sci-fi influenced action movie, the story opens out onto a cornucopia of fnatasy imagery and strong characterisations that are not only marvellously progressive (most of the time) but which create long-lasting and timeless figures.
     Hanna (Saoirise Ronan) is a young girl raised by former US spy Erik Heller (Eric Bana), hidden away in the Siberian woods and taught only the encyclopedia, several languages and how to survive and fight. The pair are being hunted by tough CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) who has old business with Heller and is responsible for the death of Hanna's mother. Upon their agreement, Hanna is released into the world, and upon escaping the CIA's capture, she makes her way across Europe to meet up with her father again and discover not only the truth behind her conception, but also the joys of the human experience.
     To start off with, many kudos to The Chemical Brothers, the Mancunian (yay) electro group who created the film's incredibly detailed and action-packed score. When I bought this film online I had to buy the soundtrack as well - from the graceful African-influenced tones of Hanna's Theme to the creepy nursery rhyme feel of The Devil in the Details. The music ties the film together exceptionally well, and the way that it matches with the visual direction is often absurdly good - there's a chase scene where the pace of the actors' footprints matches that of the beat exactly.
     Both Hanna and Wiegler are strong characters, and are some of the strongest female characters I've seen in cinema. They both harbour many layers of compexity, and their roles as dramatic foils are exceedingly well-written. Hanna, despite her isolation from the modern world and her disorientation when faced with modern amenities, is immediately empathisable through her pragmatic attitude and her burning curiosity for something more to the human experience. Blanchett's Wiegler, despite a slightly out-of-place Southern accent, is captivating as the ruthless villain whose admiration and perhaps parental attitude towards Hanna is countered by her underhanded determination to pacify her and/or use her as a weapon.
Saorise Ronan pitches the character perfectly - her every
action tells us a little something more about who Hanna is.
     One of the aspects of the film that makes it so memorable is the direction by Joe Wright, which is completely different to that of his previous films (Pride of Prejudice and Atonement) and is a great deal more ambitious, too. Disorientating chase scenes, epic fight sequences, a one-shot through the streets of Berlin down into the Bahnhof. I also love the way in which he incorporates some of the film's strong fairy-tale thematic imagery too, especially in the House of Wilhelm Grimm, which is a vivid recreation of Hanna's childhood dream worlds.
     Hanna's main criticism could be that the sci-fi idea running up its jacksy was executed in a lacklustre fashion. And while that could be said to be true, that concept is only a device, and is by no means the film's focus, which is on the struggle for freedom from the past's mistakes and on attempting to discover what it means to feel human. And in that regard, Hanna succeeds tremendously. It may have all the credentials of a forgettable thriller, but Hanna's subtle underlayers shine through to such an extent that it has quickly become one of my favourite films.


Monday, 22 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.11: Utopia

The last story of this series is really three parts long, but for my own sake I'm going to split Utopia off.

File:Chantho utopia.jpgDoctor Who - Season 29, Episode Eleven - Utopia
Written 9/3/13

Spoilers out the way first. If for whatever reason you've not seen Utopia, go away and watch it, because the episode and those following it rely on an awesome twist that won't be half as good if you know it's coming. That said, Utopia is really quite spectacular. It manages to shove a lot of high-scale concept and really fun sci-fi in alongside a whole heap of references to the past, within both NuWho and the series as a whole. RTD is good at build-up; we know this. It helps that in this series, we have this whole extra episode for him to do that build-up.
     Carrying straight on from The End of Days, Jack runs out of the Hub to find the TARDIS refuelling. Seeing him, The Doc tries to get away, but Jack clings to the outside, causing the sentient machine to travel to the end of time to try and shake him off. When he ressurects, The Doctor introduces Jack to Martha and they have a Rose-related catch-up session, before discovering a silo of humans sheltering from agressive, savage versions of themselves. Led by Professor Yana (Sir. Derek Jacobi), they're attempting to reach a place far off in the stars called Utopia. As The Doctor helps him, he realises too late that Yana has a Chameleon Arch pocket watch, which reveals him to be The Master - who, upon awakening, steals the TARDIS and strands them near the end of the Universe.
     The reveal of The Master was one of the first things in Doctor Who that I had spoiled for myself. I remembered Ainley's Master from the Classic Series, and was excited that the last of the Classic Series' most important villains was making his comeback. Jacobi is wonderfully unassuming in the role, and equally bitter and hammy once his identity is revealed. We didn't really get to see much of the Master in the episode itself, so I'll discuss my views on the Simm incarnation next week, but for now it's safe to say that we were pretty hyped for the return.
     The execution of the future concept was done in a way which gave it a uniquely bleak atmsophere that Who doesn't manage to pull off very often. The toothy "Futurekind" were a tad cheesy, what with their slightly anachronistic name ("Future" to whom?) and their narmy cries of "HUGH-MAN!". But that felt fairly inconsequential next to the rest of the setup. This episode's focus was never going to be on the sci-fi ideas, it was always going to be on the characters.
Beginning to ship Jack/Ten. Just a lil bit.
     Jack's return is handled wonderfully, and Barrowman spices the series up no end. There's a scene near the end where Jack's immortality is used to help launch the ship (something to do with Radiation, don't ask me.) The chat between The Doctor and Jack that follows is a sign of how flexible RTD's writing became when discussing Jack's adventures outside of Who. RTD was adamant that Torchwood wasn't for kids, and thus he prevented The Doctor from ever crossing over. The episode manages to explain Jack absence in such a way as to both work with and without seeing the spin-off. Which is nice.
     Utopia is what I could call a perfect, archetypical episode of RTD's Who. It's got an action-packed plot that's balanced by high-concept sci-fi and somewhat intricate character work that never fails to push the audience's buttons. It often gets overshadowed by the finale and by Simm's barnstorming portrayl of the Simm Master, but it shouldn't. It's my favourite part of this trilogy, and it's one of RTD's best stories.


NEXT WEEK: It's essay time. We cover Simm's Master when we look at The Sound of Drums/ The Last of the Time Lords.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

News: Assorted Stuff

As you may have noticed, Torchwood has started again on Nostalgia Filter. Woo! That's not all though. For this half-term (i.e. the next five weeks) I'll also be reviewing a different film every Tuesday, starting with some I've seen recently and moving onto some of my all-time classics.

As we come to the end of this run of Doctor Who, we'll also reach the end of this run of Lost, which will then go on a break for three weeks before I start reviewing its first season.

Oh, and this Friday (26th April) I'm also gonna be releasing an article about J.J. Abrams Star Trek before the sequel comes out in May. Fun times.


Saturday, 20 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 7.9: Hide

Emma makes a portal to the pocket universe.
Neil Cross's last story, the Rings of Akhaten, was one that filled me with an abject joy and warmth. Considering that in his own terms Rings was something of a difficult second album, I was very much looking forward to Hide, his first written story for the show and the one that won him a second go. And, while the episode's spooky theme felt a tad out of place in the middle of springtime, I was most certainly not disappointed. Hide continues a string of hits for the show that I haven't felt since Moffat's first season.
     Landing in 1974, the Doctor and Clara investigate a house in the country owned by Professor Alec Palme (Dougray Scott) and his empath "assistant" (read: lots of UST) Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine, Call The Midwife.) The two have been looking into reports of a ghost at the house that only Emma, with her abilities, can feel. Intrigued, the Doctor takes a look at the house throughout all of recorded time, scarring Clara with knowledge of the Earth's destruction in the process, and proceeds to gather a series of photographs showing a woman running away from something. He explains to Alec and Emma that the woman in the house is in fact a time traveller trapped in an pocket universe echoing into our own. The Doctor pops through to save her but he gets trapped, forcing Clara to battle with the Tardis in order to go in and rescue him.
    It was an episode with so much that I just loved. The fun sci-fi explanation for a ghost felt very similar to Neil Cross' previous rationalist Doctor Who in Rings, and formed a solid backbone to the episode that also allowed him to work in all manner of references to Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee. I also loved the backstory between our two guest stars, which was immediately fun and identifiable. Scott and Raine are perhaps two of my favourite guest stars since... well, the last ones that I said were my favourite. I can't really remember.
The Doctor sees the "ghost" at the Earth's beginnings.
      I keep worrying that Clara isn't being developed enough, but I needn't really do so. More so I feel than Moffat, Cross has made Clara his baby and it shines through in her scenes in the episode. She and the TARDIS have a visible animosity that I find quite intriguing, with Cross really playing up the idea of the box's sentience having a larger role by using Moffat's "voice interface" for some serious blue box snark. I actually like that the mystery Moffat initially defined the character with has been turned into something much more subtle, allowing Clara's personality to shine through.
     Neil Cross is just a genius, really, and in an ideal world he'd be lining up to take over the show. I know he has Luther, but that's always a four-episode deal and if Moffat and Gattis can write Sherlock then Cross can balance two shows as well. His themes and ideas, taking a focus both on the inherant value in reality and scientific principles and then also in the value of human relationships. It's clever and fun and... eugh, I just love it so much.


NEXT WEEK: We Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Review: Torchwood 2.1: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

It's Thursday. Or "Torchwood Time", as I'm tempted to call it. (I probably won't, it's a bit crap.) Having moaned a lot through live reviews of Miracle Day and gone back and complained (and gushed) about the first series, I'm going to fill in the gaps on my Torchwood reviews. Not really a problem for me, though. These are the best two seasons of one of my favourite shows.

The "you, you, not you," scene is one of my favourite
Character Establishing Moments in TV.
Torchwood - Series Two, Episode One - Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Written between 5th and 7th March 2013

January 2008. A year gap since the last series, although with a lovely series of Doctor Who (that I'm coming to the end of reviewing at the moment) plopped in the middle. To say I was hyped wasn't really the word. After having a bit of adolescent Rose-rage after Series Three, I was probably more excited about the new series of Torchwood than I was about the uncertainly of having Catherine Tate as a new companion. I wasn't disappointed; Series Two is my favourite series of the show and its premiere more than sets it off on that path.
     A month or so after Jack disappeared in End of Days (and had all the adventures with The Doctor that I'll describe in my Who reviews next week), he reappears. Despite the team's curiosity about his absence, they are distracted by the arrival of handsome Time Agent John Hart (Buffy's James Marsters). Hart is a former lover and colleague of Jack's who claims to be looking for some dangerous artifacts that have fallen through the Rift. While searching, Hart sets up traps for the team and kills Jack on the roof, but Ianto saves Gwen, Owen and Tosh in time to catch Hart in the act. When Hart's treasure turns out to be booby trapped, Owen is forced to help him to remove the bomb, which is thrown into the Rift. Hart is sent off on his merry way, but not before giving Jack a mysterious message about someone called Gray.
     The episode's plot is fairly by-the-by, but it's carried by the phenomenal performance by James Marsters, who is probably my favourite Torchwood guest star by a long shot. Captain John Hart takes all of the personality traits we love in Jack and then puts them into a villain, allowing them a lot more free reign. But it doesn't end up boiling down to the stereotypes that Jack's character can often fall into, as John is given some decent characterisation - he's not just greedy and nihilistic, but he's bitter that his lover has rejected him for what he considers a humdrum life. I love every second that he's on screen, it's amazing.
Let the shipping commence! (Or continue...)
     And, rather nicely, the characterisations get spread out a bit more this series - the effect is rather immediate. The writers seem to be shipping Jack/Gwen fulltime now, while simultaneously shipping Gwen/Rhys just to torture the fanbase. To make up for that, the relationship between Ianto and Jack, hinted at in the first series, becomes a tad more open and explicit. I liked that the series touched upon Jack's motivations for coming back to Torchwood after meeting Ten, which could have been easily ignored otherwise. It's little details like that in the episode that I do rather like.
     Torchwood's return was handled spectacularly, managing to mix in a variety of quiet character moments with a decently tense plot and guest character that lights up the screen with his every appearance. It wasn't a masterpiece of the order that later episodes in this series would produce, but it was immediately fun and managed to avoid a lot of the mistakes of the first series while still maintaining that fun promiscuous spirit that made the series enjoyable.


NEXT WEEK: Nikki-Amura Bird is a frightened alien in Sleeper.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Review: Lost 6.13: The Last Recruit

Jack is The Man Of Faith...
Lost - Season Six, Episode Thirteen - The Last Recruit
Written 5/3/13

Weirdly, The Last Recruit, despite being another furniture moving episode, managed to be quite captivating. It's distinctly non-centric, and that was very much to its benefit, as it felt for perhaps the first time in a while that the old gang was back together again after Season Four and Five's various seperations. There was a newfound sense of pace after a few episodes of exposition and some of the more boring characters getting their centrics out of the way. We're in full finale mode now. And it feels awesome.
     On the Island, Jack confronted the MIB about his various impersonations of dead people through the years, and became part of Sawyer's plan to leave MIB in the lurch and reunite the original 815 crew (sans Sayid) on the Submarine. They manage to execute the plan, with Claire hopping along as well. Sayid is sent to kill Desmond, but the wily scotsman talks him out of it and he appears to be recovered when MIB asks him what has happened. Jack tells Sawyer that his fate is to stay on the Island, so he swims back to shore. Once the gang arrives on Hydra Island, Widmore's men corner them, telling them the deal is off. Jin and Sun tearfully reunite. Widmore attacks the mainland with mortars, and MIB makes a point of saving Jack's life.
      In the flash-sideways, all sorts of crazy shenanigans are going on. Desmond pushes Claire towards her brother Jack at a law firm, where they both share info on Christian Shepherd and how much he got around. Jack was forced to get away when Locke was rolled into the Hospital, where Sun has also been taken after Jin accidentally shot her a couple of weeks back. Sawyer has a nice chat with Kate, who still protests her innocence, and then goes with Miles and captures Sayid, who has been blamed for all of the shootings.
Flash-sideways Jack recognises his patient.
     My writings about Lost are going to become increasingly incohearant as we reach the finale, mainly becasue I don't particularly have much to rage about or praise. I did enjoy all of the character work that this episode gave us, especially in the interactions between Jack and the MIB. I won't say that I like the fact that Jack has gone from the show's representation of science and rationality and turned blindly towards faith, but it does certainly give Matthew Fox a lot of interesting things to do. The MIB is still an incredibly enjoyable villain, straddling the line between a man with understandable desperation and a complete and utter bastard who enjoys his manipulation.
     The Last Recruit was the last bit of peacetime we're gonna get around here. One last little adventure for our gang to undertake, one last moment for a bit of optimism. It had a lack of focus, but that really wasn't a problem as the character work for everyone was above par. Next week's episode is a complete washout of tears and misery as three of our major characters die in very depressing and somewhat suspect ways. See you there.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

3.25 Mile Outlet.
Moonrise Kingdom
2012, Directed by Wes Anderson.
Written 13/4/13

Wes Anderson is a director that I've not really experienced before, but his 2012 piece Moonrise Kingdom was an experience that I just had to tell you about. The film is one with a highly charged aesthetic, full of jump-cuts and shots meant to portray a sense of the make-believe, or the whimsical. Through this aesthetic, draped further with a soundtrack stuffed with French New-wave and light opera, Anderson delivers a script that examines all manners of human existence, from the innocence of young love to the cynicism of middle-age. It throws out a number of standard children's comedy tropes and then casts them in a delightfully darker light. Don't be fooled by Moonrise Kingdom's whimsey - there is something dark and deranged hiding behind it all, and that's what makes it all worthwhile.
      It's 1965. Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Heyward) are both maladjusted children living in uncomfortable circumstances on the fictional New England island of New Penzanzce; Sam as an orphan permenantly drafted into the Scouts (led by Ed Norton's Randy Ward) and Suzy as a stressed-out teen living with highly dysfunctional parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand). The search for the two children is led by Island Police chief Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who soon grows to realise that his own life has been robbed of the innocence and drive that the two children, despite their personal problems, do possess. As the two children attempt to escape both their carers and the authorities, everyone involved is forced to re-evaluate their life-choices and question whether they did the right thing.
     The film's New England aesthetic, filled with forests, lakes and coves, contributes towards a thematic turn towards the fairy-tale. The film's quiet genius is that it manages to mingle the simplistic morality of the two children ("We're in love; we just want to be together") with the more muddy waters of Laura's infidelity and abusive nature towards her husband (who has two black eyes by the end of the film - ironic, considering some of the claims made against Bill Murray in real life.) There's a deliberate ambiguity as to which is to be prefered - the children's relationship almost mocks the later, with easily-resolved petty arguments and a faux marriage ceremony, while on the other side Bill Murray and Bruce Willis' characters both express regret at their current circumstances and have been driven to their pessimism by years of bad decisions.
Suzy and Sam run away from their troubles, and fall in love.
     Quite interesting, I find, is the film's pacing. One of the reasons that I think the characterisations work so well is due to the relaxed introduction into the story in the first half, where we explore the relationships between our characters to the full extent that we can. As an ensemble it's very well developped, with a lot of attention going into subconscious actions as well as just the dialogue, which is often used to derive most of the film's quirky humour. I definitely prefer that first part to the eventual climax and the blissfully happy ending, but that second half does clarifiy a lot of the first half's ideas and ultimately gives us some of the film's most memorable moments.
     Moonrise Kingdom was adored by critics but mostly ignored by the General Public, which is a damn shame. It's a film that mixes cerebrality and a thorough examination of human happiness with quirky direction and diagogue that is on its own heartwarmingly written. If Wes Anderson's technique and his tacit acknoweldgement of the medium gets on your goat, then I suppose you might have some problem here, but otherwise this is a hidden gem amongst 2012's film arsenal.


Monday, 15 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.10: Blink

Carey faces the angels.
Doctor Who - Season 29, Episode Ten - Blink
Written 3/3/13

"Moffat!" I scream as I shake my fist into the sky. It's arguable that Blink is the story which won Moffat the role of showrunner, mainly because it's often voted one of the best stories in the history of the program. The love for Blink is immense from all corners - the public loved it, most of the fans love it, and it's won enough awards to make sure that it got the praise many felt it deserved. And, weirdly enough for a Doctor-lite story, it's a story often used to introduce new people to the show. I, however, am deeply conflicted as to whether Blink really does deserve its lauded reputation - mainly, of course, due to certain aspects of Moffat's writing.
     The story is an adaptation of one of Moffat's short stories from the 2006 Annual, "What I Did On My Holidays By Sally Sparrow." Here the pre-teen protagonist is sexed up a bit into the shape of at-the-time-up-and-coming actress Carey Mulligan. While investigating a spooky house, her friend Kathy (Lucy Gaskell) ends up being zapped back in time by the Weeping Angels. After the same thing happens to flirty police officer Billy Shipton (Michael Obiora), Sally discovers via Kathy's brother Larry that The Doctor has been trying to communicate with her via DVD easter-egg from 1969, where he and Martha are trapped. Following his instructions, she manages to send the TARDIS back in time and temporarily trap the Weeping Angels in the house. They then give info on the event to a time-travelling Doctor from before the events of the episode.
     Carey Mulligan's Sally Sparrow exudes a great deal of charm and she's an identifiable audience figure, but I really think this is more her acting than the script, which gives her rather blandly "weird" statements that don't really form cogent characterisations. Certain events, like Larry first meeting Sally while nude, feel like they've come straight out of a sitcom, and the characterisations reflect that. Sally is a hipster who thinks "Sad is happy for deep people" and takes pictures of abandoned buildings, whereas Larry is a harsh parody of Doctor Who fans that feels like a very bitter jab on Moffat's part.
Billy Shipton took the slow path.
    And that's the reason why it just doesn't feel as frightening or as wonderous to me as it does to others. I mean, I absolutely love the timey-wimey plot (and this is the origin of that term) and I think it's very well crafted, technically speaking. But when I watch, I can't help but see Sally and Larry as archetypes rather than people. There's nothing about Sally Sparrow that suggests to me that she's at all real - she doesn't seem to have a job, she doesn't have any family, and she has enough free time to go around taking photos of abandoned buildings on weekdays. 
     Now I'm not going to be mad enough to say that I think that Blink is bad, because it's not - as a piece of horror drama it's been shown that it scares the pants off of most people. But the gimmicky nature of the villain and the archetype-stuffed cast means that despite all of the love that people have for it, I just don't find it very memorable. It's nothing personal, just a simple matter of taste - Blink isn't my kind of Doctor Who. And, given what I've said on this blog about the parts of Who I have ended up liking, that shouldn't come as a massive surprise.


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 7.8: Cold War

The Doctor meets Skaldak.
Argh! Yay! This is the first Ice Warriors story since 1974, and their 39 year absence from the show has meant that they've gained something of a fabled status in the Doctor Who Fandom. I myself only took a look at one of the Ice Warriors stories, The Seeds of Death, a couple of weeks ago. They're such a great villain because behind an admirably scary exterior thay have a complex biology and a set of societal rules that makes Star Trek's politics look fairly uncomplicated. Cold War wasn't perfect, and contained a number of things that were rather odd, but it was a perfectly executed base-under-siege story and both honoured and revived the Ice Warriors in the manner they deserve.
     It's 1983 at the heart of the Cold War, and an Ice Warrior awakens from a block of ice on a Russian submarine, having slept for 5000 years. Just as things are getting prickly, The Doctor and Clara arrive, in time to discover that the Ice Warrior is Skaldak, an ancient Ice Warrior "hero" known for breathtaking feats in battle. They try to keep him in chains while The Doctor tries to sort out the democratic incident that this has created, but Skaldak escapes from his armour and almost triggers the submarine's nuclear weapons in an attempt to kill humanity. Just as Skaldak accepts that there isn't really a reason to commit genocide, an Ice Warrior spaceship turns up to whisk him away.
     Mark Gattiss delivered this week what was probably his best script, balancing his habit of turning the episode into a period piece with a genuine stab at an old monster that both respected their complexities from the Classic Series while also adding other elements. There was always the danger that a modern writer could turn the Ice Warriors into generic, slow-moving aliens, and I am very glad that Gattiss was able to pull it off. Skaldak, certain dodgey pieces of CGI aside, was a wonderful villain with tons of nice juicy complexities.
Clara finds that Skaldak has left his shell.
     As is Base-Under-Siege tradition, we also had a fair number of guest characters. Liam Cunningham, last seen in Game of Thrones after the embarrassment that was Outcasts, works the standard leader role and isn't given the standard "evil Russian boat captain" schtick that usually arrives with these kinds of characters. Of notability was the rather odd Professor Grisenko, whose boundless enthusiasm in the body of an old man made me immediately suspicious of everything he said and did. (It's that kind of show).
     Basically, a barn-storming success. Cold War was Doctor Who at its most classical - a blending of Classic and Nu that united the two in glorious union. I can't really think of any way that this script could have been better, and it's given me a really positive feeling about what it currently looking like an excellent string of episodes. The first half of Series Seven was very hit and miss, but somehow the second half has managed to recapture the essence of the show that I originally grew to love. Cold War didn't just follow that, it cemented it, and I'm sure that it'll be remembered as a classic for years to come


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Review: Cannibals

Written by Rory Mullarkey, directed by Michael Longhurst, currently showing between the 3rd and 27th April 2013 at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre

Photograph: Jonathan Keenan, for The Guardian
Cannibals is a play that shows, behind a very well-executed exterior, a troubling inexperience. It is a play that rather unfortunately leaves many ideas painfully undevelopped, and the main point of the play gets lost towards the end. What makes this rather tragic for me is that I rather enjoyed the Royal Exchange Theatre production, and I feel that the main thrust of the play was quite subtle and nuanced. It was the advertised content of the play, what amounted to a last-minute subplot, that left me wondering what it was all about.
     The story followed Lizaveta (Ony Uhiara), a woman from an unspecified ex-Soviet state whose life is drawn into tragedy when her husband is killed by a local milita and she is forced to escape to a local village, where there are tales of suffering and loss as well as rumours of cannibalism. Later, Lizaveta is swept from her last comfortable surroundings and sold to a wealthy Manccunian man as a mail-order bride. The play was sold on that last line, and it's a shame because that only really takes up the last ten minutes, the narrative climax coming rather earlier when a spotless monologue by Uhiara basically dredged through her painful life story. As such, it felt tacked on an unnecessary.
     Not a difficult thing on its own, but for the amount of effort that went into this final, almost denoument-like segment of the production. Not only were the themes and ideas presented at odds with those in the rest of the play, there were several clever techniques that actually worked pretty well. One such technique was the representation of Lisaveta's confusion at her surroundings through a lanugage-switch, having all English be Russian and so forth. I wanted this part of the play to be more developed, but it just seems to end on a narrative note that references the play's beginning but has little to say in regards to change.
     One could argue from an artistic perspective that the nature of that segment of the play was deliberate; like Lizaveta, we have been robbed from our comfortable surroundings and the future for our characters is unclear. The problem comes with the pacing - had there been ten more minutes or so spent on that part of the plot, it would feel more like a tragic final act than an add-on that robbed time away from the other developing subplots. One such subplot refered to the history of cannibalism in the village, and while it was adressed admirably through some implicit dialogue, the confrontation that was needed never arrived.
     There was nothing wrong in any of the play's execution - the direction was top-notch, and exploited the theatre to full effect. The troupe was on top-form and I found Uhiara's performance especially commendable, spending the entire 105 minutes on-stage. It's a blessing of the Exchange that the quality of their physical production can elevate any script, and I really did enjoy myself. I would go and see it; I haven't spoilt too much, and I think it's for the viewer to really decide whether the issues that the play presents in the eleventh hour gel with the rest of the play's more developped themes or otherwise.


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 7.7: The Rings of Akhaten

Clara offers up her Leaf, which carries all the lost potential
of her mother's life.
Written between 9th and 10th April 2013

Hey y'all. Sorry I'm late with this, I was in Wales and there was very little internet reception and we were burning sweet wrappers to keep warm and tons of other stuff. Luckily, I did get to see this week's episode, The Rings of Akhaten, which despite having a few nitpicks managed to work so much good into the fundamentals that I didn't really care. New writer Neil Cross is obviously someone I want to look out, what with his life-affirming concepts and one of the best alien worlds in ages.
     Trying to discover what the hell's going on with the present-day version of new companion Clara, we discover The Doctor looking back through her history, retelling the story of how a stray leaf helped her parents to meet, and how Clara was affected by the tragedy of her mother's death. The Doctor then picked Clara up and took her to the Rings of Ahkaten, a system of asteroids surrounding a massive sun that carried many species, all coming to witness the continuating of an ancient tradition - the Song, which was used to keep asleep the great God Ahkaten. Witnessing the ceremony for the first time, The Doctor refuses to let young Merry Galel (Emilia Jones) have her memories eaten by the Old God, and offers his own experiences in order to try and defeat him. Eventually, it's left to Clara's leaf and the potential it holds to save the day.
     The episode's wonderful exotic setting was complimented by a set of stunning visuals that swapped Moffat!Who's standard blue pallete for a set of warmer colours. Ooh. That sounded a bit Changing Rooms. Anyway, the episode looked great, and that only helped the fact that this is one of the first genuinely new alien worlds since probably The End of the World. The idea of a world that sues memories and sentiment as currency was something both novel and fits in well with similar themes thoughout Moffat's era so far. Except, done better.
The Doctor offers his memories to Akhaten.
     One of my friends argued that the episode is simply another of NuWho's Power of Love endings, and while I see where they're coming from I disagree on the implications of that statement. It's a matter of context - previous Power of Love endings have let the power of emotions do things that were previously outside of the series' defined parameters: the ability to weld steel with love in Closing Time, a love-powered spaceship in Fear Her. The nature of emotions in this story was established very early on, and it isn't just a random solution, it's a theme that runs through the episode and allows us to see our characters in a better light, culminating in a speech each for Smith and Coleman, the former almost making me tear up.
     I get the impression from the fandom that this episode isn't well liked. But each to their own, eh? I love the Rings of Akhaten - it's Doctor Who that's both smart and emotionally charged, that balances both complex characterisation and a set of well-executed ideas. It was fun to watch, it looked good, and it's gonna go down as one of my favourite episodes from Matt Smith's era so far.


Review: Lost 6.12: Everybody Loves Hugo

Richard and Hurley have a falling out.
Lost - Season Six, Episode Twelve - Everybody Loves Hugo
Written between 2nd and 3rd March 2013

It's turning into one of those seasons again, although my distaste here stems very much from personal opinion rather than massive leaps in logic. The flash-sideways storyline is stuffed with sufficient mushy love stuff that I am thoroughly tired of it, while the main story didn't really advance at the pace I liked. It felt very much like filler, moving from the mid-season arrangements to our final layout before the grand finale and the episodes preceeding it.
     Hugo was spoken to by the ghost of Michael, who told him to blow up the Black Rock and stop Richard from doing the same to the Ajira Plane. Ilana was blown up by dropping some dynamite, and Richard, Miles and Ben went off on their own to destroy the plane while Hurley, Jack, Frank and Sun went to Locke's camp. With Desmond in his position, Locke questioned him before throwing him into an ancient well. In the flash-sideways, millionaire philanthropist Hurley was accosted by a semi-awakened Libby, and despite his doubts he was able to awaken with very little prodding from Desmond. Oh, and Desmond runs down Locke with his car. That too.
      I will admit right here and now that I am perhaps affected by several different things here. Namely, this is one of the only episodes of Season Six that I missed on broadcast - we went to Wales on Holiday around that time and the Sky box didn't record it properly. Thus why it doesn't have as much impact on me as the rest of the season has the potential to. Furthermore, a lot of this episode hinges on the viewer's memory of the Hurley/Libby relationship... which I've never seen, having only seen the first and last three seasons. I am rather exposing myself here to how drastically unqualified I am,
     The core problem, I feel then, is that this is a centric episode of the style we saw earlier in the season with Sundown and The Substitute, etc, except that this has just come after last week's massive plot mover. Next week is a pretty big plot episode too, and so Everybody Loves Hugo feels very much out of place as the series' final single-centric episode. I mean, we've just been told that the main timeline and the flash-sideways are intimately connected, and that people from the flash-sideways can remember their time on the island. It was nice to see Hurley undergo that process, but it felt like we met his story much later than the other survivors. It's all very last minute.
Hurley meets Libby in the Flash-sideways.
      There were a few positives in the main timeline, though. The Man in Black and Desmond had a great set of conversations, with The MIB utterly baffled as to why Desmond is so unafraid of him. The split between science and faith in Richard's camp felt very important thematically, especially when Jack explained that he felt he couldn't make up for causing Juliet's death (which endeared him more to me by far) and so had resolved to listen rather than try to lead people into disaster. That was really good for me to hear, especially after all the Jack-bashing I did last season.
     Everybody Loves Hugo, apart from one or two character changes, was fairly inconsequential. It was a movement of chess pieces around the board before some of the final moves, and although it explored some of the themes presented in the previous episode it did so in a way which failed to live up to it. And, probably because I've never seen Season Two, I didn't really care much about Libby and Hurley in the Flash-sideways. It felt rather unfortunately like filler, and that was my only real problem with it.


NEXT WEEK: Who will be The Last Recruit into MIB's camp?

Monday, 8 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.8-9: Human Nature and The Family of Blood

The creepy Son of Mine leads the Family of Blood
Doctor Who - Season 29, Episodes Eight and Nine - Human Nature and The Family of Blood
Written 2/3/13

In the Wilderness years between the cancellation and the return, the only source of new Who were several series of books, running under various different companies - the most popular of which can be said to be the Virgin New Adventures. The thirty-eighth novel in that series was Human Nature, written by the erstwhile NuWho writer Paul Cornell. Like Blink next week, prose was adapted to screen and we got this rather interesting two-parter that juggles examinations of historical attitudes with a scathing deconstruction of who The Doctor really is. It has the moral ambiguity that the series held during the Wilderness Years, and that's probably one of its main selling points.
     The Family of Blood are an alien family of amorphous smoke who have been chasing The Doctor in order to adapt his Time-Lord DNA and live forever. Planning to let them die out, the Doctor uses a machine to change him into a Human and put his Time-Lord consciousness into a pocketwatch - a Chameleon Arch. Five months later, and The Doc is living as John Smith in a school in 1913, a product of his time who hires maid Martha to do his handywork for him. Martha is troubled when John falls in love with Nurse Joan Redfern (Jessica Hynes) and the Family of Blood catch up with them. With the Watch kept safe by young boy Timothy Latimer (Thomas Sangster), John Smith must face the reality of becoming The Doctor once again, losing his human identity.
Joan (Jessica Hynes) falls in love with John Smith and is
forced to put The Doctor in his place.
     The New Series has a massive habit of really pumping The Doctor up beyond his means. We know the Tenth Doctor has an ego, and it's one of that the series is very happy to stroke. But this episode sorta takes that down a level, by throwing all of this hype at a normal person and seeing a real reaction to it. John Smith isn't just scared by the idea of losing his life to become The Doctor - he also thinks that The Doctor is kind of a dick. This gets some concrete confirmation when Joan inquires to a flirting Doctor whether his presence on Earth caused so many people's deaths.
     The continuation of the Martha/Doctor dynamic is really well done, too. The show never pretends that their relationship is healthy one, and John Smith's rascist abuse of Martha only encourages that. She's put up with five months of abuse from the locals, especially with the imperialist attitudes surrounding colonial wars in Africa. The rest of this series is basically gonna see how much abuse we can put Martha through before she finally leaves - like, almost non-stop. And she still gets battered by fandom. Bah.
     Those colonialist attitudes underlined the story in many other ways, taking on the guise of a Wilfred Owen-style criticism of the dulce et decorum est attitudes of the Edwardian era and how they led to large numbers of casualties in the First World War. There's a wonderful sense of that impending doom that makes the attack by the awesome Family of Blood that more ominous. I do think that the episode goes an incy wincy bit over the top with this, with it ending on an aging Latimer attending a Remembrance celebration in the Present, but I do love the way the idea is implemented.
David Tennant is awesome in this story, by the way.
     The question that Human Nature/The Family of Blood asks is simple: would you actually want to be The Doctor? It's an admission that the moment you lose the Classic Series' perception of The Doctor as a travelling magician who pops from place to place and enter this modern era of The Doctor being a universally famous action hero, then you must also accept that he's no longer the same kind of role model. The Doctor here is not someone that we (or, for that matter, John Smith) would want to become, and that is the kind of nuanced portrayl of the character that I so enjoy. The two-parter is complex and bold while still providing a fun narrative for the kids, and that is one definiton of perfect Who.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Review: Survivors 2.6

Whitakker has Peter held captive.
Survivors - Series Two, Episode Six
Written 23/2/13

In the first series of Survivors, the problem came not with its core ideas but in the way it treated its characters, unable to escape their core tokenisms as created by the series' modernisation. The second series realised this and gave most of the characters more complex motivations, which is one of the reasons why it's vastly better than its predecessor. The only problem now comes in its simple lack of ambition - it doesn't know whether to carry on as a realistic examination of a post-apocalypse Britain or to go into full sci-fi conspiracy mode. The result is a finale that shoved a series of exposition into five minutes, and did very little for the remainder.
     Still in the PSJ facility, the gang found scientist Fiona Douglas, who revealed that Peter had been taken to the facility for a short time and has the same immunity against the virus as his mother. She explained that she had created from their blood a vaccine that targeted all forms of the flu, and that she needed a short amount of time to work on it. While Whitakker was captured by the group, refusing to reveal Peter's location in a local static caravan park, she finished the vaccine. Evidence on Whitakker's computer shows Greg that PSJ had a larger role in the virus' spread, with it beginning in China a whole year before the outbreak. The vaccine is tested on Al and it works. Fiona lets Whitakker go in exchange for a place on his plane; the group ends up in a confrontation with a man named Landry at the airfield, who explains that his company was attempting to create a vaccine for all forms of flu, and created a secluded paradise filled with chosen individuals when the experiments went awry. While Peter is returned to his mother and the vaccine heads off to be mass-produced, an injured Tom ends up hiding on Landry's plane.
     The final few minutes of pure exposition do tie up a lot of new ends, and had the ideas been explored fully (and perhaps hinted at from the beginning), then they would have real potential. The central arc with the mine seems to have distracted away from that, leading to this rushed conclusion to the central mythos, and that I feel is in part one of the reasons why the show was canned. It all goes a bit Lost, really, and not in a way that Survivors can support.
Landry comes out of the woodwork as the virus' creator.
     It's weird whenever I come to the end of a series. Especially when this is one of the first series that I long-hauled on the blog, and one of the ones I had the most fun tearing apart. Survivors suffered not from being inherantly bad, but from a lack of that spark the seperated it from all the rest. That, combined with the unintentional year gap between its series, meant that it sorta ran out of steam even when the writing wasn't half bad. It died because of mediocrity and public apathy, and because it made several mistakes in its first series that the second just couldn't fix. And that's a shame.


IN TWO WEEKS: I start reviewing the second series of TORCHWOOD! "cue cheers" And this time, I won't be unfairly ripping into it...