Friday, 31 May 2013

News: Summer Makeover

If you haven't already noticed, I've given the blog its seasonal lick of paint. A better effort than last year's, I think.

Thanks.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Review: Torchwood 2.7: Dead Man Walking

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Death speaks through a resurrected Owen.
Torchwood - Series Two, Episode Seven - Dead Man Walking
Written between 23rd and 24th March 2013

I don't quite know how to explain to you just how awesome this week's episode is. It's not my favourite episode - that's next week, but it's for many of the same reasons. Dead Man Walking manages to both bring back Owen, but also gives us an epic villain and an equally epic climax, which ranks up there as one of my favourite television moments. Even before that, the establishment of Owen's partial death is a fascinating plotline that will continue to have interesting ramifications for the remainder of his time on the show.
     Jack halts Owen's autopsy and heads to an old church to grab the second of the two Resurrection gauntlets - last seen in Everything Changes and They Keep Killing Suzie - and then uses it to bring him back to life. For some reason, the effect is permanent - Owen, despite having no heartbeat, breath, bloodflow or unconscious reflexes, is fully alive. An energy monitor shows that something is growing and changing his body- not visibly, but Owen mentions that he can feel something approaching out of the darkness of death. That turns out to be Duroc, a being who lives beyond the veils and requires 13 victims to remain on Earth forever. Owen stops him from taking his last victim, a Leukaemia patient, by having a fist-fight and winning.
     The mythology built up around the episode is dark, foreboding and fun, and like when Doctor Who covered Satan, there's enough awesome biblical shit to make it feel worthwhile. I will say that Duroc isn't exactly scary - I would have preferred if the CGI skeleton was just hinted at rather than being obvious, as it ends up looking like a Doom villain. But the final showdown, despite how much it's cheesed up, what with the Littlest Cancer Patient and the inspiration speech to keep on fighting through the chemo, is still just completely epic on all scales. I don't really think that you can have a fist-fight with the Grim Reaper and not make it awesome, but still.
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Owen catches Death's lunge. Aww, yeah!
     Of course, it would usually be a tendency of this blog to point out some of the episode's weirder breaks in logic, especially regarding Owen's ability to talk without any breath and the fact that his body doesn't seem to be rotting away even when his cells aren't getting any oxygen. But I think that, despite my track record of being incredibly anal in this department (oo er), the episode is just too good for me to start nitpicking. Dead Man Walking is a brilliant mid-season story and it's only gonna get better from here.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: My favourite episode, A Day In The Death.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Moffat

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River Song, a character defined by The Doctor and whose
voice consists of teasing one-liners and declarations of love.
Contains criticism of Moffat's era. I probably don't know what I'm talking about. Written 26/5/13

The Moffat Arc over the past three seasons has, as many have pointed out, featured some distinctly problematic elements at its core. As well as an overall change of pace, the series' attitudes towards certain groups of people have gone in a rather negative direction. In this article, my 700th post, I aim to talk about how the show has developed since the 2010 changeover from RTD - for the better and for the worse. Obviously this article is gonna be full of opinionatedness, but I think that on this blog you're used to that by now.
     First, the companions. RTD made a clear effort to pick the vast majority of his companions from a clearly outlined domestic space, and the three principle companions, Rose, Martha and Donna, all had distinct characterisations (despite my problems with a few of them.) It can be argued that every companion has a certain something about them that makes them worthy of travelling in the TARDIS, which for my purposes I'm gonna call their unique selling point - USP. RTD's companions all had USPs which related to their character traits - Rose's determination (or stubbornness), Martha's courage in the face of piling adversity and Donna's incredible compassion and intuition despite her lack of self-confidence.
     Moffat's companions don't seem to have the same level of complexity. For one thing, all four (I'm including River, don't give me hell) of his companions are people whom he has influenced since childhood, be that deliberately or otherwise. Their USPs relate to great cosmic significances - Amy grew up next to a crack. Rory is the Auton who waited. River is a timey-wimey super assassin. Clara is the girl twice dead who splits herself across time. There's nothing deeply intuned as to who they are, rather who they are is determined by that cosmic significance. Furthermore, all of these cosmic significances are directly related to The Doctor's interference, and all of their lives revolve around him. Amy (and by extension her henpecked childhood sweetheart Rory) is psychologically scarred by his interference into her life, taking him on as an imaginary friend. River is kidnapped by the Silence for the sole purpose of becoming an assassin against The Doctor, Clara splits herself across time to save The Doctor... yada yada yada.
     There was a great deal of criticism in the RTD era about his obsession with the Lonely God archetype, setting The Doctor up as this incredible messianic figure who walks through eternity smiting planets as he goes. That's not who The Doc is really supposed to be - he's a wandering traveller, popping in here and there and going on adventures. He's not the saviour awaited by millions as a get-out clause every time something goes wrong. While at first it appeared that Moffat was turning against this,  with the effort made by The Doctor to remove himself from this universal fame, it's instead become something more subliminal. Whether The Doctor lives or dies has become a matter of great universal consequence, and he seems to warp the lives of everyone around him to surround his business.
http://media.ove.cybermage.se/2010/07/karen-gillan-amy-pond-as-kissogram-cop.jpg
Moffat proves how strong Amy is as a character... by
presenting her as a male sex fantasy psychologically obsessed
with our protagonist.
      Speaking of death. RTD's era got a lot of flack for that Stolen Earth death-fake-out cliffhanger - the death of companions in the Classic Series was always viewed with a great deal of seriousness, to the extent that Adric's death saw silent credits. Through a soapy obsession with fake deaths, Moffat has trivialised the nature of that concept within the show. Every main character in the Moffat era has had a fake (or real, it doesn't matter) death with few consequences afterwards, with Rory taking the cake. By the time that Amy and Rory came to their very badly-written and plot-hole filled end, I had lost the ability to care, and it was for the simple reason that hey, they've died before, what's to stop them from coming back again?
    Moffat's writing of not just his companions but of minority groups is also troubling, with women often coming in for the most abuse. I'll begin, though, by talking about other groups. Moffat's treatment of the LGBTQ community, as opposed to his predecessor, is a matter of tokenism and comic relief. The "Fat gay Anglicans", Vastra and Jenny's relationship, Canton's disagreement with Nixon - all are played for laughs. River is supposedly bisexual but is only ever seen lusting after men, contributing to bisexual erasure. Dalek!Clara's homosexual experiences are used for a joke in that story. Vastra and Jenny's relationship has become more explicit and developed, which may save it a little bit, but its original purpose as the avenue for a god-damn cunnilingus joke is just horrible.
     Major female characters are problematic in Moffat's works. In Girl in the Fireplace, Reinette's skills are often told of, but in the actual episode itself she spends the entire time waiting for The Doctor and entertaining the King of France. Amy and River become vessels for Moffat's sexual fantasies, starting with the kissogram-turned-model whose actress was only hired because he liked her legs, the girl who The Doctor indirectly indoctrinates as a child and who later runs away from her wedding in order to shack up with him. In Let's Kill Hitler, we run the full gamut with River, as deliberate parallels are made to Mrs. Robinson and there are gratuitous cleavage shots left and right.
     Then Series Seven comes along and by George there's a lot here. Beginning with Moffat's disgusting assertion that a woman's strength only comes with her ability to mother a child in the 2011 Christmas Special, we then see The Doctor besotted with Clara, and he spends the second half of the series acting rather creepily. Following the 2011 Christmas Special's example of "stalking=love", The Doctor watches Clara as she sleeps, goes back in time to stalk her as a child and later for some reason has fantasies about the tightness of her skirt. Add that to the lecherous and slightly rapey behaviour he exhibited towards Jenny in The Crimson Horror, and you create a protagonist with a deeply uncomfortable set of undertones that are totally at odds with who he's supposed to be.
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The Doctor sees fit to tuck in and "guard" a sleeping Clara.
     Finally, an overall plot problem. Moffat has taken the onus away from individual stories with contained plots and instead brought connected arcs to the show in full force. No longer are our characterisations important or their development essential - it is instead about the mystery. What are the cracks? How will The Doctor survive at Lake Silencio? What is Clara's deal? By itself, the attitude towards storytelling would be perhaps salvageable, but Moffat combines this with an atrocious continuity that leaves a dozen plot threads hanging as his extravagant story winds on.
     Now of course, I can't sit here and say that the man himself is responsible for everything written by his little posse of writers. And I'm not saying I hate the era entirely - there are some stories I really enjoy, and I found most of 2013's half-season quite enjoyable sans the elements I mentioned above. But Moffat is the man in charge, and it is his job to oversee everything that gets put to screen, and it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge the problematic nature of a lot of the elements of his works. I don't like the fact that the show is being written by someone with such demonstrably warped views, and at this moment in time I am deeply worried about the 50th Anniversary story and just how badly he can cock it up.

Thanks.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who 4.3: Planet of the Ood

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A natural-born ood has two brains.
Doctor Who - Season 30, Episode Three - Planet of the Ood
Written 23/3/13

For reasons that are yet to be discovered, the Ood have become something of an RTD posterboy, in much the same way that the Weeping Angels are for Moffat. There's something about their distinctive design that manages to jump so quickly between humour and sheer horror that makes them strangely endearing, as well as their sheer alienness. Planet of the Ood takes a concept that was only touched upon in their first appearance and spins it wide, creating an episode that manages to be both intellectually deep but aesthetically breezy.
     The Doctor and Donna arrive on the Ood Sphere, the Ood's home planet where the creatures are grown and processed by Ood Operations and then sent out to the three corners of the Earth's trigalactic empire. The facility has seen Ood go rogue, succumbing to a condition called Red Eye which makes them either murderous or simply rabid. As The Doctor and Donna investigate the facility, they are shocked to find that the Ood were not, as they were told, born to serve - they are in fact partially lobotomised, with their telepathic ability severely limited by a dampening field on their hind brain. Thanks to a patient Ood Sigma, the facility head Mr. Halpen (Tim McInnery, Blackadder) is made docile by being turned into an Ood, allowing The Doctor to turn off the dampening field and free Oodkind.
     I liked the way that even The Doctor highlighted the rather dangerous way that the Ood have often been treated as something laugh about, especially with Doctor Who's long history of abhorring slavery of all kinds in all circumstances. The most recent example of this was in Chris Chiball's (who else?) ridiculous Pond Life prequels to Series Seven, where the Ponds treated an Ood like a slave for several weeks. Sorry, getting off topic. The way that the Ood's history was explained in such a thorough and touching way makes them one of the more interesting of the races introduced by RTD's tenure.
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The Hokey Kokey is one of the Ood Sphere's most popular games.
     The episode's vibe felt very Star Trek to me - not, of course, that that was a bad thing. Moral dilemma about aliens in slavery, humans looking like the bad guys - it's all there. The episode managed to maintain that strain of moral discourse for the vast majority of the story, but the only problems came when that had to be supplemented in with action, adventure and plot. The scene where The Doctor is chased around a warehouse by a crane controlled by a guy who's gurning for his life, and the end scene where Tim McInnery peels his head back and coughs up tentacles... none of it matches up with the rest of the episode's sharp messages. Instead of it being just about the evils of dehumanisation and slavery, it had to include guys who were just doing for da evuls.
     So, yeah. Planet of the Ood has a lot of emotional and intellectual complexity in its messages, and it presents the plight of a previously underdeveloped alien race with a great deal of humanity. But it manages to lose a lot of that complexity in its attempts to appeal to the wider demographic, and a lot of moments seem out of place because of it. But really, it's amazing that the ideas were given this amount of depth at all - as such, Planet of the Ood becomes something much more special: a pleasant surprise.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Martha's back, and so is an old enemy - Phil Mitchell! Wait, sorry, my mistake. We face the Sontarans in The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Review: Torchwood 2.6: Reset

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Martha joins the team as Owen practices
with the Singularity Scalpel.
Torchwood - Series Two, Episode Six - Reset
Written between 21st and 23rd March 2013

And thus begins four more weeks of Martha-based gushing here at Nostalgia Filter, as I manage to expertly line up Martha's reappearances in both Torchwood and in the main show. And although this trilogy of Torchwood stories is centred more on Owen, this first part is most definitely an attempt to put Martha's character to work in a much more gritty environment. Well, I say gritty. There are time in Reset when I feel like I've switched over to CSI Miami, where the plot is incredibly condensed exposition for a good half-hour and characters who'd usually be making jokes every five seconds are talking seriously about issues that are resolved five seconds later.
     Martha arrives on the scene on Jack's request, to help investigate a string of deaths in South Wales all related to a hypodermic syringe to the eye. The deaths are part of a conspiracy, that the team discover through a survivor is linked to a drug called Reset, which seems to remove all pathogens and mutations from the body. The distributor, the Pharm, has been killing the research students because of the unfortunate side effect of the drug - it causes alien larvae to grow inside the person, killing them. Martha elects herself to sneak into the Pharm with the brand-new (but later to be re-used in Children of Earth and Miracle Day) contact lens cameras, but she's caught by institute leader Aaron Copley (Alan Dale, or as I call him, Charles Widmore) who uses her as an advanced test subject due to her time-travel enhanced immune system. The gang rush in and shut down the facility, as well as saving Martha's life using some alien tech, but as the alien subjects are euthanised Copley arrives and kills Owen with a shot to the heart.
     The first half of the episode is very condensed, bearing much more resemblance to later series' and their affinity for spy dramas like Spooks and 24. There's a particular scene in a corridor where Gwen and Martha are talking completely seriously in almost complete exposition, and it feels completely unnatural to hear. That isn't to say that the concepts themselves are bad - the entire concept behind Reset freaked the shit out of me when I first saw it, and the line between the Pharm's unregulated scientific exploration and Jack's compassionate protectionism is nicely stroked. But it just didn't feel like Torchwood in the way that it was written.
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Owen removes an adolescent Mayfly.
     I did however love the episode's relationships, all of which were written in a very captivating way. I wouldn't say that Martha fits perfectly into the team, but she does bounce off of the others with a great deal of competancy. Jack is the fun big brother, Gwen is the girly best mate, and Owen is a flirty colleague with whom she has a great deal of chemistry. Elsewhere, and for the sheer bittersweetness of it all, Owen agrees to go on a date with Tosh just before he goes off and dies. Owen and Tosh's relationship is very subtle; while he often seems ignorant to her pining (especially in the first series), there are often signs that he either reciprocates those feelings (as in Adam) or is at least is willing to try.
     Owen's death leads us into a series of episodes that both tug on the heartstrings and feature some outstanding acting, writing and direction. The first part of what may informally be called the "Martha Trilogy" did have a rampant pace and a lot of great ideas, but a lot of the time it seemed to forget that it was Torchwood and not some flashy spy drama on Sky One. Despite that, it's still fun and it's a good start to the mid-season arc.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Gloves come in pairs. How will Owen react when he becomes a Dead Man Walking?

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Review: Lost 6.X: New Man In Charge

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Ben explains some things.
Lost - Epilogue - New Man In Charge
Written 17/3/13

Just as the final few minutes of The End gave a message to the character-loving side of the fandom divide created by the finale, this epilogue seems written (if just a little bit mockingly) to sort out all of the nitpicks raised by my side of the fandom still crying out for answers to their questions. While it did trivialise a lot of the series' biggest mysteries, New Man In Charge feels very much like a qualifier to the finale - a sign of things ahead, that even though this world has ended that stories within it will continue.
     Ben shows up at a Dharma warehouse in Guam where two workers have been sending out supplies to The Island for 20 years based on an automated supply drop. Ben tells them that Dharma is dead, and when the two men reveal their confusion, he allows them a question each. One of their questions leads onto a Dharma orientation video for the Hydra station, which covers several of the remaining mysteries from the first five seasons of the show. After the video finishes, Ben wishes them a goodbye and then flies across the Pacific to the Santa Rosa Mental Health Institution in California, where Michael's son Walt has been hiding out. Promising to let him help the spirit of his father, Walt meets up with the now more confident Hurley, who says that he has a Job to offer him.
      The way the Dharma workmen spoke to Ben mirrored directly the confusion of a lot of fans, and I admired the humour and subtlety with which those answers were delivered. It felt like a finish, and ending. There was a note of finality in the air as Ben, Hurley and Walt drove off into the night, and I got that warm feeling in my belly as they went. Goodbye, Lost. I'm gonna miss you.
 -----------
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Book your tickets now. :)
But... wait a minute. This isn't goodbye. Is it?
      I've been reviewing Lost on this blog for about three years now, covering the last three seasons. I began reviewing Lost here because it was a US show, and I thought that it would be an interesting comparison to all of the other UK shows that I review here. While it's still the only US show I've ever reviewed, I'm considering reviewing some Star Trek Voyager later on in the year. However, I am planning to do something rather Star-Warsian. Before this blog shuts up shop on its fifth birthday, I want to review the rest of the show, with a focus on comparing to its later stages and seeing all of the "prehistory" come to life.
     I'll start reviewing the first season in three weeks. Until then, you can expect your Doctor Who and Torchwood as normal. See you there.

Thanks.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Review: Cast Away

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/a/a7/Cast_away_film_poster.jpg/220px-Cast_away_film_poster.jpgCast Away
2000, Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written 22/4/13

This review is gonna end up sounding like a Tom Hanks love letter if I'm not careful. There're not many actors who can carry 90% of a film by themselves without any fellow actors or background music, but somehow Hanks manages it and spectacularly. There are often times when I forget just how beautiful and profound this film truly is, beyond the Robinson Cruesoe experience and funny Volleyball with a face on it. Such is something I deliberately aim not to do on a regular basis.
     I suppose the film's main focus is on freedom and Independence, and how an increase in either can affect daily life. By being stranded on a desert island, workaholic FedEx exec Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is "freed" from his day to day life, wherein he travels around the world on business and rarely gets to see fianc√©e Kelly (Helen Hunt). As he retraces the steps of Neolithic man and slowly discovers how to hunt and make fire, we skip forward four years. Now a much more rugged and serious man, Chuck finds a sail and sets off, making his way back to the States, only to find that he was declared dead in his absence and that despite her still loving him, Kelly now has a husband and child that Chuck isn't prepared to make her abandon.
     The lack of score for the film's core creates something of a deeply intimate atmosphere between Chuck and the viewer, as we witness his fairly logical path from citygoer to survivalist. I think if you're making a castaway story then you're either focus sing on the mechanics of the situation or on the effects that it has on the people who are stranded, and I think that Cast Away balances the two rather well. Certainly helpful is the ingenious use of Wilson, a blood-stained volleyball whom Chuck takes up as his silent companion, allowing him to exposit despite being the only person there.
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Chuck prepares to leave the Island. (Not That Island, but it
did in fact in fact inspire That Island. so I'll give it you.)
     If I had any complaints at all, it'd be that the skip from the first few weeks of Chuck's life on the island to the final few days was quite abrupt, no matter how beautiful the transition sequence was. I did think it was necessary, as it allowed Chuck to progress realistically as a character and to develop some darker themes, as well as to allow Tom Hanks to show just how far he's willing to go to prepare for a role. I liked the amount of continuity between the before and after segments, and the way that the tragedy of Chuck's return is played is perfectly toned - from the achingly insensitive seafood party to the final monologue wherein Chuck explains his attempts at suicide on the Island and then affirms his reason to live as simple hope. In fact, that monologue is one of my favourite moments in cinema.
     Cast Away is a unique cinematic experience that I can't really compare to anything else. It's very easy to mock, but that's because life is like that, and one of the reasons why the film succeeds is that it maintains a fairly close path with reality even when using huge dollops of symbolism. Tom Hanks is an absolute trooper and if you needed any definitive proof that he's one of the best actors in Hollywood, then this is the film to do it. Cast Away is thoroughly satisfying on every level, and if you've never seen it, you're missing out.

Thanks.   

Monday, 20 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who 4.2: The Fires of Pompeii

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I suppose you could say that this episode gets quite explosive.
Doctor Who - Season 30, Episode Two - The Fires of Pompeii
Written between 19th and 21th March 2013

I'll out with it. This is my favourite episode of the season, hands down. There's a combination of factors that make Fires so perfect - a good sense of humour, a few decent sci-fi ideas, and some awesome writing for our core characters that plays upon themes that haven't really been touched since the black and white era. Give The Aztecs a massive budget, some overseas location filming and a comic actress swiftly proving her critics wrong on every single count, and you come to some approximation of the epic that is The Fires of Pompeii.
      On her first trip out, Donna is taken to what The Doctor initially believes to be Rome in 79 AD, before the lack of any colliseums and one rather angry-looking volcano inform him of his titular location. Concerned due to the impending eruption, Donna wants to save everyone - but The Doctor is ardent against it, explaining that Pompeii is a fixed point in history. Travelling to the house of sculptor Caecillius (the amazing Peter Capaldi!), The Doctor discovers that the city is being controlled by the Seers, both the Sisterhood of the Sybilline and the more vicious Lucius Petrus Dextrous (a very devillish Phil Davis). Following paths of investigation, they find that people in the city are being slowly inhabited by alien dust, which turns them into the stone-like creatures called Pyroviles. Using their own power systems, The Doctor realises that the only way to stop the Pyrovile invasion is to explode Vesuvius. Despite still being unable to save everyone, Donna convinces him to save Caecillius' family, and he thanks her for doing so.
     The central conflict of the episode originates not from the Pyroviles (who are one of the coolest monster designs of the New Series, by the way) but from Donna's compassionate nature and the argument between fate and free will (albeit given semi-scientific justification). It's a demonstration from the off of Donna's incredible compassion, in the way that she forced The Doctor to relate to Caecillius' family and begged to the point of tears for him to consider saving anyone from the event. On the other side, and Ten was written in a way which felt similar to some of the more dickish parts of his persona, except with a decent justification that turned it into something quite fascinating.
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If you put "The Fires of Pompeii" into Google, this is the
most common type of image, for the sole reason that this
happens to be future companion Karen Gillan.
     The rest of the episode's concepts and characterisations did however feel noticeably under-developed - the threat of invasion was never on the table for very long, and despite his badass boasts and grand proclamations, the threat of Lucius Petrus Dextrous never extends beyond a shouty man in a toga. The way Caecillius' family is written as if they come from Kent rather than Italy was used for quite a few good jokes and references, but the episode didn't really go for a realistic roman feel. Instead, it went for a more humourous (and albeit more enjoyable) route that mixed those modernised characterisations and scenarios in with historical and linguistic jokes.
     What results is an episode that perfectly balances the good and the cheesy, resulting in an experience that is enjoyable from start to finish. The location filming in an Italian studio looks absolutely stunning, and it's easily one of the best environments that NuWho has created. While it wasn't perfect, especially in some of the ways that sidecharacters were utilised, everything fell together and The Fires of Pompeii establishes itself instantly as a Doctor Who Classic.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The Doctor Who aliens I almost forgot to mention when I reviewed their first appearance... we take a trip to the Planet of the Ood.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who 7.13: The Name of The Doctor

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Clara makes the choice to save The Doctor's life.
If you've not seen The Name of the Doctor, don't read this review. Thanks. Written between the 18th and 19th May 2013.

Possibly one of the most hyped up episodes ever, due to not just a massive scandal regarding some early American blu-ray copies and the threat of subsequent spoilers, this finale serves the duel purpose of answer all of this year's burning questions while also culminating Moffat's three-year arc story. While it certainly wasn't as brilliant as the hype would suggest, I don't think any story could be, and although my glasses of awe are still fixed firmly to my face it would seem that this is one of NuWho's better finales, especially in the way that it satiated fan demands for a Classic-filled 50th and a lot of the Moffat-era fans at the same time.
     Via time-transcending psychic commlink, the Padernoster Gang invite Clara and River Song (whose mind is in the Library) to a mental conference. A mad prisoner has exchanged his life for the co-ordinates of Trenzalore, the location of The Doctor's biggest secret, where the Silence wanted to prevent The Doctor from going. As the others are attacked by the Whisper Men, extensions of the Great Intelligence, Clara wakes up and meets the Doctor, who uses her memory of the co-ordinates to pilot the TARDIS. He reveals that Trenzalore is the location of The Doctor's grave, deep inside an overgrown and dying TARDIS. The door to the Tomb can only be opened by the Doctor's real name, which is whispered by River's psychic presence. (We don't hear it.) Inside the tomb is a web of time stretching back through The Doctor's past. The Great Intelligence enters it in order to kill The Doctor throughout time but Clara realises her purpose and jumps in as well, being split into a million lives across time and saving The Doctor in all of his incarnations. When The Doctor joins Modern!Clara at the bottom of the web, they find the one incarnation who failed to live up to The Doctor's name... the incarnation played by John Hurt.
     This episode contained a hell of a lot of things that I'd usually bash in NuWho. Unsubtle orchestras blaring over overly emotional scenes, cheese to the max with references to the past and retcons like there's no tomorrow. But there was something so awfully intimate about it at the same time. There was no reference back to the Silence or the grand arcs of Moffat's past. It was about The Doctor going to see his own grave, because he had to, because the Great Intelligence had kidnapped his friends and he was prepared to cross his own timeline and face his future in order to save them.
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I cannot quite describe the noise I made when Hartnell
appeared on screen.
     Unlike 2011's solution of "He was a robot after all," Series Seven's admittedly more technobabbley solution felt comprehensive and brilliant. It explained the two previous appearances as well as allowing us a heaping pile of cameos and altered footage. Clara became the cancelling factor to the Great Intelligence, unable to alter time too much except to push it in the direction of the world she came from. We also got that rather odd shot at the end, where the 50th was foreshadowed with the introduction of a previously unseen incarnation of The Doctor played by John Hurt. (My thoughts on which I will provide you in November).
     I thought I'd be upset at all the retconning, at the fact that Moffat has now re-written 50 years of Doctor Who to include his new character. But I'm not. Because what it feels like he's done is offered up a 50 year insurance policy for every single plothole in existence. How did the Doctor and Wells survive in Timelash? Clara did it. Doesn't matter how, just Clara. The Name of the Doctor was a barnstorming finale, and while there are cries from some circles that Moffat's overall attitudes and overall plot may be as wishy washy as Aladdin's mother, the finale hit the nail of the head for so many different things that I might as well like it. It's been a much better season with much better characters, and I'm actually looking forward to the 50th despite my misgivings.

Thanks.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Review: Torchwood 2.5: Adam

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Remember?
Torchwood - Series Two, Episode Five - Adam
Written 18/3/13

Ah, another adventure for the intrepid Torchwood crew. Handsome Jack, caring Gwen, sexy and confident Tosh, shy and nerdy Owen, dark and troubled Ianto and, that old favourite, Adam. And if you're thinking something's wrong with this picture, then you're cleverer than I am at writing article openers. Through what is a remarkably simple premise, the writers use this episode as a fun attempt at alternate character interpretation, as well as allowing us a pile of exposition for everyone involved - especially for Jack, helping to explain John Hart's final words to us back in the series premiere.
     Gwen returns home from a weekend in Paris with Rhys and finds a new guy, Adam (Bryan Dick, Being Human, Eric and Ernie), fully integrated into the team. A touch of the shoulder reveals that Adam can create false memories of himself, and he appears to have sculpted the crew around that. Gwen's encounter means she forgets Rhys, to his dismay. Owen and Tosh's roles have reversed, with Owen now an awkward nerd with a crush on sexy and confident Tosh, whom Adam has brainwashed into being his lover. When Ianto discovers that Adam doesn't appear in the record, he makes him think that he's a murderer. Despite Adam's mind-meddling having allowed him to remember his father and little brother Gray, he soon discovers Adam's true nature and gives the team amnesia pills in order to kill him.
     It's probably just my own double-standard, but the crush from Owen's end seems a damn sight more creepy than when it's the other way around. I loved seeing the alterations in the characters, and I think the actors relished the chance to play their characters in such differing ways. For me, it was a very clear demonstration of the sheer talent of Naoko Mori and Burn Gorman, who blend between those characterisations in a way which makes it clear that despite their personality changes, these are fundamentally the same people. I also loved the look into Jack's past, with some awesomely shot desert sets representing Jack's homeworld. Despite being a character with a long and varied history, this is the first and only time that we really get to see Jack's origins in any detail, and the desperation with which Barrowman delivers his pleas to remember his brother and father are heartbreaking. It's the kind of meaty drama that he gets a lot of in this series, and I'm glad for it because they're some of his best moments.
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Adam corrupts Jack's last good memory of his father.
     The titular villain is one I find a fascinating character. Character actor Bryan Dick delivers a wonderful performance which sways between confident people person and dark, sinister monster with a desperate streak a mile long. The way he brainwashes Tosh is tantamount to sexual assault, and that's the first in a series of dark and desperate actions that make Adam's villainy some of the most personal and vicious that I've seen in Torchwood. His dickery is such that although he gives the excuse that he needs people's memories to survive, he seems to just enjoy hurting too much for that excuse to have any leverage.
     Adam is one of the series' classic episodes, showcasing the ability of the actors and writers in a way which is both entertaining and profound. For once, keeping the sci-fi to a minimum and focussing exclusively on character allowed a lot of the cast to really shine, and it was really fun to see our characters working on so many different levels. And I'm repeating myself now, so I'll finish it there. Adam is really good, and if you haven't seen it already, go watch it.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: I get yet another three weeks of gushing about Martha Jones, as well as getting to review three of the best Torchwood episodes ever made. Looking forward to it... it's Reset.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Review: Lost 6.17: The End

If you haven't seen this episode, then do not for the love of God try to read this review. Not only will a lot of what I'm saying not make a lot of sense, but I'll also be spoiling a hell of a lot, because I've got a lot to get off my chest.

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The series does end with some beautiful cinematic symmetry.
Lost - Season Six, Episode Seventeen - The End
Written 17/3/13
"You can let go now."

I'm not going to sit here and say that I spent six years waiting for this finale. This isn't exactly an Ashes To Ashes thing we have going on here - I only started watching/keeping up with Lost while the fifth season was just finishing. I had never seen John Locke in his original body, I've still never seen the Swan station and yet I was really fascinated by the depths that I felt the show could go to with not just its characterisations but its ideas. It's often said that there are two types of fans of Lost - those invested in the characters, and those invested in the concepts at hand. I've always been more of the latter type of the viewer, and I shouldn't really have been so surprised at the fact that the finale wasn't really something that catered to my tastes.
     At its heart, the finale is one of the most straightforward scripts that the show's ever produced. Hero goes with bad guy, does something dangerous, hero kills bad guy, sacrifices himself to reverse said something dangerous and then everyone meets up in the afterlife and lives happily ever after. That's it. No twists, no turns. Well, not many. Even the nature of the Flash-sideways as an afterlife is obvious come Happily Ever After for those paying significant attention. I have problems with both the main island plot of the finale and with the Flash-sideways, so I'll be covering them separately just to probe the depths of why I feel that this finale is fundamentally disappointing.

Main Island
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The Heart of the Island is a shitting cork in the ground.
Let's start with the Heart of the Island and such. So after spending the season desperate to leave the Island, and asserting that he needs the candidates to be dead to do that, The Man In Black changes tack and decides to use Desmond to destroy the Island. He aims to do this by... by pulling a Styrofoam cork out of the ground. This somehow causes the Island to start sinking into the ground, but it also has the unfortunate side-effect of rendering both Jack and MIB mortal, allowing Jack and Kate to beat the crap out of him before shooting him and kicking him off a cliff. Jack then sacrifices himself by saving Desmond and putting the cork back in, dying in the bamboo groves just as everyone else (besides Hurley and Ben, who've stayed behind to do the Jacob job, and an unfortunate Desmond) flies away on the Ajira plane.
     Simple plot holes tear this plot apart. Aside from the obvious disappointment of all of the show's mystery and wonder being reduced to a fucking cork in the ground, we also have the baffling decisions made by MIB. This couldn't have been his original plan - he tried to have Desmond killed a couple of episodes back, you remember. And the only reason Desmond was on the Island was because Jacob's last failsafe was to use him to sink the Island in order to kill MIB and stop him from leaving for good. MIB's complex reasons for being the man he is are shuffled aside for blind cackling villainy as he decides to destroy the Island, with no way of getting off it. It really just doesn't make any sense, and it's frankly insulting that the final conflict between the two sides was handled with such lack of coherence.
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MIB falls to his death.
     So that's the logical, "where are my answers" part of me thoroughly annoyed. And then there's the little bit of me that likes the characters, and we have to look at what happens here. There's so much time spent in the island plot fussing around Jack, the MIB and silly corks that the long history of the show barely gets a mention. There are a few sentences of consideration of Kate and Claire's relationship, but mostly it just gets turned into several long action scenes with far too little sense behind them. Hurley becoming the new Protector wasn't a surprise, and it was nice to see his character vindicated in that that it is, as well as allowing Ben the position of power he so craved in a way that allowed him to make up for his transgressions.
     But the common argument in defence of the finale was that it was supposed to be the conclusion of all the character arcs and so there wasn't much room for dramatic funtimes. And that can be said of Jack, whose movement from man of science to man of faith, however much it irks me to see, is clear and concise throughout the series and through this finale. Goody for him. The rest of the characters can apparently settle for the half-assed character resolutions provided by the Flash-Sideways verse, whereas in the actual timeline we're left with a vague, "flying off into the sunset" ending for the majority and a "how the fuck do I get off this island" ending for Desmond. (Not that that's any different from the rest of the series, really.)

Flash-Sideways
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Sawyer and Juliet find one another again.
Despite me saying how easy it was to recognise the true nature of the Flash-Sideways, the 13-year-old me had absolutely no idea that we'd get dumped with a purgatory ending. Mainly because I was excited about the use of what I thought was a parallel universe plot, which would have been awesome, but also because Ashes to Ashes had ended with a similar ending two days prior and I'd basically been shattered by it. I'd always been mildly aware of some of Lost's more religious elements, but I certainly wasn't expecting the final season to turn into a biblical battle between Jesus and the Devil with a meetup in Heaven afterwards.
     I am not perhaps as angry now as I was then at the mere presence of religious themes in the finale, especially as Lost has a much greater precedent for them than Ashes To Ashes ever did. What gets me nowadays about the flash-sideways is the crazy-as-shit internalised logic. All of the problems with the sideways timeline stem from its inception - that this is an afterlife somehow created by these people. But like in Ashes To Ashes, that begs the question - what the hell is everyone else doing there? The point is clearly supposed to be that these random few people apparently have such a cosmic significance that they have ultimate control over the afterlife, which is bullshit. Don't even get me started on characters like David, who vanish from existence the moment their connecting character is awakened.
     That interpretation itself, despite being the one given by the episode, doesn't match up either. The characters are still suffering for what they did in Reality - some of the characters' lives are better, but some of them are worse as well. The idea of what makes a perfect afterlife for someone is entirely subjective, and it's not entirely clear who's been deciding which of the characters gets what. You could argue that it's all according to some Universal Morality, but that's bullshit because such a thing does not exist - especially not in a series like Lost, where moral polarity has always been lambasted by the ambiguity of the characters.
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Aaron gets born. Again. As if one childbirth wasn't traumatic
enough.
     My prime example is probably Sayid. He spent his entire adult life looking for the love of his life, Nadia, who was then killed by Jacob in order to bring Sayid back, whereafter he ended up dying, being resurrected by the MIB, going crazy for a week and then turning into the good equivalent of a suicide bomber. Yet in his afterlife, he spends the vast majority of his non-awakened time suffering and having to watch Nadia marry and have children with his brother. Followed by his "soul mate" being Shannon of all people, whom he had a fling with in Season One. It doesn't match up.
     However. And here comes the smidgen of praise. There were a few moments in the flash-sideways that really did come together and act as remembrance to some of the show's past, even if they did bring up a few more logical inconsistencies. Claire giving birth to Aaron at Charlie's concert (implying that Aaron has to spend part of the afterlife in his mother's womb and must pass on as an infant), Sayid saving Shannon, and most importantly for me, Sawyer and Juliet meeting once again. Their reunion scene gives me happy tears.

Conclusion
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"Christian Shepherd". I should have seen this coming.
Despite all that gumph, I do think that The End is entertaining, at least. Its religious elements and the logic of some of its claims are fundamentally silly and for me it was a fatally unsatisfying end to such a wildly diverse yet fascinating TV Show. While we got a lot of wonderful, heart-felt moments that did pay homage to the series' best times, we also had to suffer through a lot of bullshit and plot holes inbetween. I never expected the finale to be perfect, and I know that it couldn't have answered every question and satisfied every character. But I wish that it had been braver, said new things, taken more risks. I wish that I was disappointed by something that would later be seen as a hidden masterpiece, rather than something that was all flash at the time with very little to offer after the fact.
     But really this finale had one role in mind, and it's clear from the final scenes in the Church what that role was. Despite how patronising it may feel, the writers are giving us as the viewers a clear message - no matter how much you enjoyed watching Lost, however much you loved or hated the characters, that this was the end, and that it's important to move on without it. For those who watched this show from the beginning, I assume that that's a much more powerful message, and even if you forget all of my nitpicks, the finale manages to deliver that message with all the potency it feels that it deserves. And the ability to do that is what this awesome, awesome show will be remembered for.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The epilogue to our tale, as we meet The New Man In Charge. (Tis gonna be a shorter article, the special is only about five minutes long. I might use the rest of that article to discuss my future with Lost on this blog.)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Review: Pleasantville

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/3/39/Pleasantville_ver5.jpg/220px-Pleasantville_ver5.jpgPleasantville
1998, Written and Directed by Gary Ross
Written 21/4/13

Pleasantville is an affectionate parody of old television and its effects on our youth. Or, no, wait, it's a life-afirming tale about a young man's realisation of his mother's strong work ethic. Or it's a racism parallel that shows that prejudice can occur in any scenario. Or it's a left-wing statement about the dangers of isolationism in society. Pleasantville is all this and more - it's not an art film, persay, but it has so many different and equally valid interpretations that it's one of my favourite films almost by default.
     David (Tobey Maguire) is obsessed with his half-idealistic half-terrifying stereotypical 50's sitcom Pleasantville, which is a black-and-white world where the women always have dinner by the time the men come home from work, where children always behave and where the basketball team never lose. His twin sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) is the polar opposite - vapid and obsessed with popularity and sex. After an argument, a magic TV repair man comes and sends them into the show itself, where they're forced to go along with the show's universe. Despite their differing attitudes on whether they should, they both make subtle changes to the world that escalate, leading to eruptions of colours that bring out the worst in the authoritarian establishment that made the world possible.
     This is gonna be something of a more analysis-y kind of article, because Pleasantville is the kind of film that consistently merits such treatment. In my eyes, the main focus of the film's protagonist, David, is on his journey from cynical teenager to realistic adult. In his late 90s home he thinks that the world is inherantly corrupt, and wishes that his divorced parents and awkward school life were more similar to that of Pleasantville, his idealism of course making him blind to the inherant prejudice and limitation within that system. "Gaining colour" is used as a visual metaphor in the film for having had some great epiphany or strength of emotion unusual to the norm, and David only gains his colour when he stands up for his mother figure (Betty, played by Joan Allen) instead of putting her down or avoiding the conflict, like he does with his own mother.
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When David helps his "mother" obscure her face, he realises
the error of his own attitudes.
     One of the film's most surprising messages for me relates to sexuality - it would be easy to present a 1950s world that demonised sexuality, but instead it's quite tabula rasa and there's a great deal of sex positivity instead - especially towards women. The way this film treats gender dynamics is almost more well-done than the way it parallels race dynamics (which at times get a little obvious, what with the "no coloureds" references everywhere) and the way that Betty drifting away from her stagnant husband (whose cries of "Where is my dinner?" verge on the comical) and towards the artistic Bill (Jeff Daniels).
     Overall it's a look towards how we compare our society in the present with that of those presented not just on TV, but with those of the past. The look at both the utopian ideals of 1950s America and the dystopian consequences of the isolationism and prejudice needed to hold that in place mkaes Pleasantville one of the most comprehensive examinations of that era that I've seen in a mainstream film, and the result is something quite satisfying. The lesson is ultimately that optimism and pessimism are lies; that realism and the acceptance of the bad in favour of the good is the best way forward. There is no 100% right way to live your life - sometimes you have to do what you have to do, and other times it's right to pursue your dreams no matter the odds.
     Pleasantville is at times distinctly unpleasant - but only because it looks into humanity and the way it has the capacity to treat people in a way which we don't want to see. It's a perfect combination of a fun parody of film and TV universes with the inconsistencies inherant to their premise, and a powerful story marking the development of a society through pretty much all the stages of human self-discovery, prejudice and then enlightenment. It's near the top of the favourites list, and for very good reason - go out and take a look.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Tom Hanks gets Cast Away.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who 4.1: Partners In Crime

Doctor Who - Season 30, Episode One - Partners In Crime
Written between 16th and 17th March 2013

Of the three central companions of RTD's era, the one with the most developed characterisation is certainly Donna, with Martha (as you can probably tell from the ten weeks of gushing I did about her) is a very close second. Her introduction in 2006's Christmas special allows Partners In Crime a great deal of leeway, meaning that it doesn't have to do a lot of the legwork that character introductions usually do. Instead, it takes a developed Donna and puts her into a series with a new-found sense of humour that is at times both strange and wonderful.
Cute little bastards.
     Both Donna and The Doctor research into Adipose Industries, a popular weight-loss company who have been treating the problem with a "miracle pill" that they intend to roll out nationwide. Despite several near-run-ins, they both miss one another. Both independently discover that the pills bind the fat into tiny alien creatures that go walking away, and when they both stake out at the building the next day, they run into each other just as the villain Ms. Foster (Sarah Lancashire) is explaining her plan. The Doctor manages to foil Foster's plan to accelerate the production of the creatures (which would kill 1 million people) and watches as the Adipose parents take their children and drop Foster to her doom. As Donna readies to go away with the Doctor (making it clear that she's not going to be doing any of that romance nonsense) it's revealed that Rose has somehow returned.
     A lot of the press at the time focussed heavily on Billie Piper's last minute cameo, and at the time - when, I'll admit, I had a bit of a crush on her - I was amazed. However, taking a more critical view (yeah, ten NuWho reviews without much Rose bashing, must be a record), it stinks of sensationalism. Sometimes it's what people remember the episode for, when there was so much there to love besides that appearance. As I said back in my Doomsday review, Rose would become more and more bigged up by the show throughout the time she wasn't in it, and this is really the beginning of that final push towards her return and the royal mess that it created.
     Although, as I said, we've already met Donna, the episode does cue us in on her more domestic life. The mother-daughter relationship is interesting, similar to the Disappointed Father routine but with switched genders. We also get to see that Wilfred Mott from Voyage of the Damned is her grandfather, and it's great to have Bernard Cribbins in the show. Most importantly though, it's clear the Donna's characterisation has had an overhaul from when we first saw her - almost gone is the obnoxiously loud woman from the early parts of The Runaway Bride, and here we have a much more mature woman whose positive qualities (like constant inquisitiveness and unending compassion) are on clear display.
The Doctor and Donna's clearly platonic dynamic is a winner.
     Sarah Lancashire plays the villain with a suitable level of hamminess to make her enjoyable - especially when she's playing on the whole "crazy foster mother" thing. The Adipose threat isn't really all that huge on its own - the rate of production of the creatures actually allows the adipose to perhaps form a symbiotic relationship with humanity - we get to eat as much as we want and stay thin, while they get a billion new babies every evening. I suppose what Rusty was trying to do was to make some kind of commentary on modern obesity epidemics, but it led more to fat people being played for laughs rather than as a concept of aliens being able to capitalise the Western obsession with our weight.
     Playing things for laughs was noticeably more prominent in general, as we'll see across Donna's time on the show. It probably stems from Catherine Tate's comedic pedigree, but arguably her standard gawping routine has had to be toned down to make most of it work. It's that balance that creates a show that manages to provide the same level of well-written characterisations and interesting concepts while still being a great deal funnier and ultimately more irreverent. Partners In Crime is a great start to the new series and it feels, more than ever, that we're going to have a lot of fun.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Karen Gillan, already? Oh wait, she's just a Roman woman. We look at timey-wimey Roman fun with The Fires of Pompeii.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Review: Doctor Who 7.12: Nightmare In Silver

http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/files/2013/04/nightmareinsilver.jpg
I still say it sounds like a dodgy romance novel.
Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife was one of a few saving graces from 2011's turbulent sixth series, and its reverance towards Who history and lore have had many hailing Gaiman as the new Moffat. The British ex-pat's love of fantasy came through in this week's Cybermen-revamping episode, although there were a few problems with the way that the story went down that prevented it from being as barnstormingly influential as Gaiman's previous episode. For from the game-changing reintroduction that the Cybermen needed, the monsters in this story felt a little more like their American counterparts, the Borg.
     Coerced into bringing along Clara's pre-teen wards, The Doctor takes young Artie and and Angie along in the TARDIS, which he takes to Hedgewick's World, a massive Alton-Towers-style theme park in the future. There he finds a worried parkmaster Webley (Jason Watkins, Being Human's Herrick) and his short friend Porridge (Warrick Davies, of Harry Potter and Star Wars fame), with their main attraction at the moment being a puppet-operated Cyberman who can play chess. An invasion of insectoid "Cyber-mites" that can absorb technology and convert people see the adaptation of a smartphone into a new, super-competant and super-agile race of Cybers. While a platoon of soldiers, led by Clara, tries to prevent the planet from becoming a new Cyberman base, The Doctor fights with a Cyber-planner consciousness that has been inserted into his brain.
     There is often great opposition in fandom to the use of child actors for anything at all. Moffat's era is especially fond of them, and as a result we are often sitting on a knife edge between a passable performance and a immersion-breakingly bad one. This was unfortunately the latter, with the addition of Artie and Angie not only rendered unnecessary for the vast majority of the episode (which they spend as unconscious slaves) but also cringingly incompetant the rest of the time. It's half-and-half script and casting on this one, which makes it all the more disappointing.
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Warrick Davies (Porridge) was a strong presence, but for an
odd plot twist at the end.
     The episode came with a wealth of guest stars, none of whom were used well. Tamzin Outhwaite was wasted in her role as soldier captain, and it's quite frankly criminal to give Jason Watkins a role with such little to do. Watkins can do brilliantly cheesy and sinisterly manipulative and frighteningly savage, and sometimes he can role that all into one character. He shouldn't spend 90% of the episode on the sidelines. Warrick Davies, who got the most screen-time of the big names, was okay for the most part, but the sudden revelation of his royalty at the end felt like it was trying to squeeze in another plot unecessarily.
     The Cybermen themselves... well, I enjoyed the redesign for the most part. I worry that they may have lost their distinct identity completely now that both Moffat and Gaiman have co-opted aspects of the Borg into their physionomy that really shouldn't be there. I've said this before, and I'll say it again - The Cybermen aren't big, powerful scary robots. The scary thing about a Cyberman is its history, its former humanity. We need to be reminded that the Cybermen were human - something that the last good Cyberman story (in my opinion), Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel managed to hit on the head. Also, the act of conversion is an innately desperate one - it's deliberate and painful and mechanical. The Cybermen will never be scary with Borg-esque nano-bots and adaptable programming.
     I'll go a little further with this. The Cybermen from the Classic Series - cool. The Borg - cool. You try to combine the two, and it doesn't work, because they're coming from two different angles. The Cybermen's collapse into cybernetics came as something necessary for survival, the last throes of a race on the edge of extinction. They convert to survive, to continue the species - we are often reminded of their humanity by seeing people being converted, or seeing human parts in their design. The Borg are an attempt to create perfection, by amalgamating new technologies and consciousnesses into one perfect whole. Their aim in conversion is efficiency and swift propagation. You could see that these used to be unique creatures - that was what made them scary. The Cybermen in Nightmare In Silver are just shiny mind-controlling robots.
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The new "Iron Man" Cybermen are Borg-like in their exection.
     There's a level, of course, of over-hyped expectations. One of the Moffat Era's favourite writers revamping a Classic monsters whose most recent appearances had left it in desperate need of a new start. But even if you try and look past those expectations and judge it on its merits... it manages to tell something of a cohesive story, but one that has the Cybermen as an immenent threat rather than as a concept or an idea. The concepts and ideas that were at play, of a set of circumstances in the future that tie into nothing we've ever seen before in the show's continuity, were so spread-out and thin by a tired mind-battle gimmick that the episode failed to find any traction. It wasn't as unwatchable or cringeworthy as it's predecessor Closing Time, it didn't live up to any of its expectations.
     I am however very curious about whatever the hell is going on next week. So good job there.

Thanks.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Review: Torchwood 2.4: Meat

Rhys finds out the truth.
Torchwood - Series Two, Episode Four - Meat
Written 16/3/13

I'm not quite sure where the meat of this episode lies. (My only pun, I promise.) On the one hand, we have a very well-executed main plot that sees long-suffering boyfriend-cum-fianceé Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) upped into a main(ish) character. On the other, we have a literal Space Whale Aesop whose intentions I'm not quite sure of. Something to do with vegetarianism. The problem with vegetarian messages in sci-fi is not so much the content, which I sympathise if not fully empathise with, is rather their sheer frequency.
     Rhys owns a lorry firm, and is called when one of the trucks gets involved in a road accident. He arrives at the scene to find Torchwood investigating, and is shocked to see Gwen there. The team find alien meat, and knowing the company's origin, Jack immediately suspects Rhys. The welshman acts on his suspicions and sets up a racket with the company supplying the meat. That night he and Gwen have it out, with Gwen bringing him to Torchwood to prove to him that she does in fact catch aliens. Using Rhys's racket, they go in to the warehouse and find a massive, regenerating whale. After a gunfight, Owen is forced to euthanise the whale before it grows out of control. When Jack wants Gwen to follow protocol and retcon him, she refuses and, after realising he loves her too much to fire her, he lets it slide.
     Kai Owen has played an often unappreciated role in the series, and following a homologous progression with its parent show, he's very much been the Mickey Smith. There are times in the series where he can be a bit of a prat, but after Gwen's standard transformation from audience identification figure to One Of Them, we sorta need Rhys to be the everyman. His interactions with Gwen, and the weirdly introductory episode it creates, are nice to watch in a heart-warming way, and that's purely because Owen makes Rhys feel like such a normal person.
Everyone's having a whale of a time.
(Sorry, I know I promised, but I couldn't help myself.)
     The moral message of the episode is either, "Be careful to make sure that your sources of income are legal and ethical" or "Don't kidnap an alien and use it for meat." The setup of the caring Jack who wants to save the whale whether it's sentient or not versus the evil criminals who see the whale as just "meat" and an opportunity to start a profitable business. I will admit that it's not a topic I'm overly concerned about, but regardless I felt that it wasn't either weak enough to let us ignore it or strong enough to make us thing... it sorta just hung there without anything to give it a kick up the backside.
     Despite the aimless nature of its moral message, the episode's character moments for both Gwen and Rhys pulled it into a much more interesting shape. I'm still not sure about the Space Whale, and the use of second-rate CGI doesn't exactly help, but the episode had its heart in the right place, and as a way to introduce Rhys into the world of Torchwood it was suitably low-risk. Rhys will continue to be an important character, especially in the last two series, and this was where that influence started.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Something is wrong, and even the title sequence has been fooled... but what does it have to do with Adam?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Review: Lost 6.16: What They Died For

http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20100519110211/lostpedia/images/7/70/6x16JacobsLastHello.jpg
Hi, I'll be your Jesus archetype for this series. Time for some
hollow explanations for why I've killed hundreds of people.
Lost - Season Six, Episode Sixteen - What They Died For
Written between 15th and 16th March 2013

The title mocks the viewer. Or at least, that's how it feels to me. Two weeks after killing three major characters, one week after presenting us with a history of the show's mythos that makes us root for the villain, and now they choose to answer the fandom's outcry of, "What did they die for?" The answer, similar to organised religion in both content and reputation, is in various degrees interesting and disappointing. The good thing is that the episode managed to keep a nice balance between remembering the good stuff and furthering the bullshit, allowing our dark horse characters one last chance to shine before the finale's main character whitewash.
     On the beach, Jack saw to Kate's wounds. They all reflected upon the events of The Candidate, with Sawyer feeling guilty for touching the bomb, when MIB apparently couldn't have killed them otherwise. They began trekking through the woods, and Hurley saw a vision of Jacob as a child before encountering him as an adult that the others could see. Jacob explains to the four that he chose them as his candidates because they were flawed like him, and because he needed someone to kill the MIB once he'd died. Jack, having nothing left in his life but the Island, chooses to become the new Protector. As Sawyer puts it, "I thought that guy had enough of a God Complex already."
     You see, to me Jaxob's plan seems very much like overkill. Bringing more than one person I can understand - MIB is going to try to kill everyone deliberately brought to the island to kill him. But a passenger plane? 324 passengers were on Oceanic 815, a fair chunk of whom died on impact and the rest of whom died mainly due to the island politics that Jacob set up. I'm sure the corpses in the cockpit were a part of your "grand plan", Jacob, but it's a shitty grand plan that involves the death of 320 people. To be honest, that's worse than what you did to MIB in the first place. Also, this idea that the only reason he needs the candidates is to kill the MIB is just so maddening to me. Instead of trying to reason with MIB and apologise and make-up for the shit he did as a child, he's spent the past 2000 years bringing people to the island to try and kill him.
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Ben finally gets his revenge.
     Elsewhere, and Ben, Miles and Richard arrived at the Barracks. It's a set that I really love, and it's nice to see it one last time. They were there to get dynamite to blow up the plane, but while there they found Zoe and Widmore. Widmore and Ben argue but they're interupted by the arrival of MIB, which causes Widmore and Zoe to hide. With Miles and Richard running off into the jungle, Ben is the only one left to greet MIB, and in his bitterness at Widmore's actions three years earlier he instantly sells him out. MIB kills Zoe, and then Ben kills Widmore before he can tell MIB the information that will save Penny. Following the MIB's promise of power, Ben follows him to the Well, where they find that someone has taken Desmond.
     Ben's character beats here are incredibly well played - the quiet rage you can see as he watched Widmore take a glass of water. If I recall, Ben didn't even know that Widmore had returned to the Island - and, as he was the one who kicked him off it, he had reason to be angry. His interaction with the MIB and his final revenge upon Widmore ("He doesn't get to save his daughter") really drove home the desperation that Ben has now sunk to - his vendetta over and his power base slaughtered, he has nought left to do but follow the man who he thought he was in charge of fighting.
     In the flash-sideways, Desmond beat up Ben to make him remember stuff, and he then sends on the message that he wasn't trying to hurt Locke, but trying to make him "Let Go". Realising that this is what Jack said, Locke goes to the hospital and accepts the surgery. As he recovers, Ben is invited to Alex's house for dinner, where her mother Danielle tells him that he is the closest thing to a father that she's ever known. Desmond hands himself in to the cops and is taken along with Kate and Sayid to "county", where the car stops on the freeway. Ana Lucia, who is UnAware, is being payed off by Hurley, and the three prisoners are released. As Sayid goes with Hurley to pick up Christian Shepherd's coffin from the airport, Desmond gets out a dress and tells Kate that they're going to a party.
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Ben finds redemption and praise from Danielle in the
Flash-Sideways.
     What They Died For manages to set up the finale in a way which is arguably more entertaining that the event itself, if only because of the final end to the confrontations between Ben and Widmore that we've seen since the third season. I still think Jacob's a dick, I still think MIB is one of the most awesome villains I've seen in a while, but at this point I can say that I was really, really excited for the finale. Next week I'm going to be plumbing the depths of the finale and of my problems with it and with the final season overall - and why I started reviewing Lost in the first place.

Thanks.
     

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Review: Shutter Island

http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mf5rb1LT591qe79e5.jpgShutter Island
2010, Directed by Martin Scorcese
Written 19/4/13

Shutter Island is a film that means a lot to me. Not just because of how good I happen to think it is, but also because I first saw it very soon after a friend of mine passed away. While by rights I shouldn't judge a film based around situational circumstances, I found that the film's tone and execution of its quite complicated themes allowed me to take my mind off of the tragedy, while still allowing myself to go through the stages of grief. I thus thought it fitting to include this film in this series of reviews.
     The film relies on a rather large and expansive twist, which is one of the best kind - one whose execution shifts the context of the film in dozens of different ways upon repeated viewing, but whose full implications are left up to the viewer. As such, I'll just give a brief synopsis, and then you should really skip to the end if you haven't seen the film. Seriously, go see it, it's awesome. I'll give you a spoiler warning, don't worry. This is a film where the twist isn't just added onto the end, but instead it forms a main segment of the premise and is woven throughout the narrative and direction.
     It's 1954. Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a US Marshall with a dark past, leaving him on the hunt for his wife's murderer, Andrew Laeddis. Along with new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), he heads to Ashecliffe, commonly called Shutter Island due to the Medical Institution that holds some of America's most dangerous mentally ill people. The centre is run by Dr. Crawly (Ben Kingsley), whose ideas about helping the mentally ill are years ahead of his time. As the two agents look for the missing Rachel Solando, Teddy becomes suspicious that the Island may have more secrets than he was led to believe. (Spoilers below).
    The main secret being, of course, that the entire film has been an elaborate role-play on the part of Crawley and his team at the hospital, who have been allowing the Teddy Daniels persona to play out until its logical conclusion. Teddy discovers that he is in reality Andrew Laeddis himself, who killed his insane wife after she drowned their three children, and then went mad due to his inability to accept a reality in which these things had happened.
     Essentially, DiCaprio and Ruffalo are both playing two characters each, and their performances are wonderfully subtle enough that from both contexts you can see each characterisation. The way that the institution takes Laeddis' fictioned imaginings of Rachel Solando and uses her as an analogue for his own experiences allows explanation for many of his dreams and hallucinations, themselves caused by withdrawl from psychiatric medication.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/it/0/09/Shutter_Island.jpg     I'll stop there, but I could go on. Shutter Island is a film student's dream - it's filled with so much imagery that can be taken in so many different contexts, and one of the film's most incredible feats is that ability for the plot to relate so closely to the viewer's perception. The view up there is the one we're meant to believe, but you could formulate dozens of other theories as well - maybe we're being double bluffed, maybe it's not from Teddy's viewpoint at all - etc. etc.
     Mention must be made, of course, of the film's score. Just like Hanna, the film's score ties it together perfectly, with most of the themes and variations coming from one of my favourite depressing strings pieces, On The Nature Of Daylight, which is a 2004 composition by modern classic composer Max Richter. It has this haunting, echoing string arrangement which makes it possibly one of the most poignant pieces of music I've ever heard, and it fits perfectly with the film and its appearances in the narrative.
     Shutter Island is a tremendously well made film. One may argue that a lot of the symbolism isn't for everybody, but as an experience it's unparalleled in the detailed nature of the worldbuilding and the level of emotional punch that is maintained despite that. Whether you're watching the story of Teddy Daniels or Andrew Laeddis, Shutter Island is a brilliantly made film that stands out as one of the best thrillers of 2010.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: We take a trip down to Pleasantville.