Saturday, 31 August 2013

Autumn leaves under frozen souls...

Top notch graphical skills here.
As you can see from the slick new paint job, Autumn is finally here! For Nostalgia Filter, that means a steady flow of goodies from now until the new year and beyond.

From the pre-written stuff, there's my continuing look at the first season of Lost, my runthrough of the first season of Star Trek: Voyager and the beginning of my long runthrough of the Fourth Doctor's era in Classic Who.

Not much live TV happening this Autumn, but you can be sure that I'll be taking a look at Merlin's Saturday night replacement show, Atlantis. I'll also be here to review the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. Which I'm sure will be fiiiine.

There will also be sporadic overviews for the five seasons of Heroes now and then, beginning this week.

See you there.


(This is, by the way, post number 750. Which is cool.)

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Overview: Star Trek Voyager
Dern dern den-den-den-dern....
Written 17/5/13

What makes Voyager so ruddy fantastic? I think, to be perfectly honest, it is how simply not ruddy fantastic it manages to be. Very rarely does it develop into something truly exceptional, does it push boundaries into territories unexplored by the series. In fact, a cursory glance as the show's overall track record might reveal the rather unfortunate fact that Voyager is a bit crap. But, for the most part, it's not an offensive kind of crappiness, and the show builds up on its audience in a way which makes it endearing and interesting, and by the time you reach the show's final episode it's heartbreaking to see these locations and characters and plots have to end.
    With flagship show The Next Generation ending, Voyager was clearly an attempt to continue the pioneer spirit championed by that show, as opposed to the more static and detailed drama of contemporary sister show Deep Space Nine. However, the characters as designed were certainly less fluid and natural than those of its colleagues. An attempt was made near the beginning to create a show-wide conflict between the rule-based Starfleet practices of the Federation and the more militia-style rough-handedness of the terrorist Maquis, but this really just vanished to the point where by the second season one forgets that there was every any split at all. The cast is very well ethnically represented, but the focus on having this variation comes at the cost of individual characterisation.
     The result is a group of characters very few of whom are actually at all interesting, but collectively they sorta form a family of people whose interactions morph Voyager into a kind of comfort TV. The best character in the original lineup is the Holographic Doctor, whose character has both the wit to give him and endless amount of screen presence and some of the best centric episodes when focus is made upon the nature of his existence and his reputation amongst the crew. He is later joined by show tour-de-force Seven of Nine, who aside from being cheap fanservice brings gallons and gallons of brilliant character development with her.
     But then of course we have the least brilliant characters. The series' scrappy is most definitely Neelix, one of the most annoying characters in the entire damn Franchise (Yes, more so even than Wesley Crusher) in both his annoyingly perky attitude during crises and, in his dramatic moments, a sense of entitlement and possessiveness over partner Kes that makes him infuriating to watch. The writers acknowledge this, but he just carries on, even after Kes leaves. Elsewhere, and Ensign Harry Kim is possibly one of the most useless characters on the show, dying multiple times per season and having inappropriate crushes on all manner of different aliens.
The show's lineup during the season I'll be
reviewing over the next 15 weeks.
     I am conflicted on what to think of this show's Captain, Kathryn Janeway. Whereas Deep Space Nine's Commander Sisko was the first African-American to head up proceedings, Janeway was the first female, and this created something of a conflict. The writers really didn't know what they wanted Janeway's main characterisation to be - it varies from writer to writer, episode to episode, some interpretations using her gender as part of her characterisation, others ignoring it. It's difficult to really predict whether Captain Janeway will be wonderful and compassionate and intelligent and a feminist icon or whether she'll be arrogant and pig-headed and deluded beyond belief.
     All of which ties into Voyager's main beef -  the use of the Reset Button. When the main plot of your show is getting home and you choose to spend so many episodes offering up a tantalising glimpse of that solution and then ripping it away, the whole idea gets a tad tiring. Voyager never took any risks, it never deemed to change its premise and the way that it worked as its sister shows did. Maybe they could have gotten home after a couple of seasons and been sent on another assignment. Maybe they could have made alliances, decided to settle somewhere before setting off again - anything to change from the endless cycle of "Here's a way home - oh wait, sorry, didn't work this time."
     But I think, despite my complaining, that that is exactly what brings it its lasting legacy. It never did anything dangerous, for the most part, and that turned it into a specific brand of inescapable comfort TV that, while not creating many good characters and plotlines, made them enjoyable through sheer will and charm. Added to the fact that while overall its plotline didn't go anywhere spectacular, the show's individual episodes would often probe into places where other Star Trek series' feared to tread and that despite a lot of problems with its representation, Voyager is at least trying to be a tour-de-force continuation of Gene Roddenbury's progressive dream.


NEXT WEEK: We begin to review Voyager's first season, with Caretaker.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Review: Lost 1.9: Solitary
Sayid meets Danielle Rousseau
Lost - Season One, Episode Nine - Solitary
Written 16/5/13

Yea boi, we gettin' somewhere now! Solitary, despite its exterior appearances as taking a divergence from the main plot, provides some of the most interesting none-character exposition for a while, revealing swiftly the origin of the French transmission and introducing a character who, up until her untimely death in Season Four, is unendingly badass - Danielle Rousseau. Adding to that is the look back at Sayid's past, where we see his character before his unfortunate collapse into mediocrity in the show's second half.
     Sayid, off in exile after torturing Sawyer, discovers a wire on the beach that leads him straight into a set of traps laid by Island inhabitant Danielle Rousseau. After torturing him and discovering the truth, she reveals that her party landed 16 years ago, and that there were "Others" on the Island (it's so weird hearing Sayid not know what she means by that after starting with Season Four) who spread a sickness to her team. She ended up having to kill her partner Robert, and her child Alex is missing. Initially Rousseau is reluctant to let him go, him being the first contact she's had in 16 years, but she eventually lets him go when he discusses his love Nadia. Over at the main camp, and Hurley sets up a Golf course. Yeah. In the past, Sayid is a member of the Republican Guard, and is willing to savagely torture anyone he is told to. One day he is told to torture Nadia, his childhood sweetheart, and he begins to question his loyalties. He eventually lets Nadia escape, shooting himself to prevent the Guard from becoming suspicious.
     Mira Furlan's Rousseau is a welcome guest star; despite the series' multitude of characters, it's nice to see a new face on the Island after eight weeks - and a well developed one at that. What may initially seem like a single plot diversion actually stands to widen the series' scope considerably. Are there other people on the Island? What happened to Alex? Who is the source of the Whispers in the Jungle? That all came along with what was on its own quite a well-written set of interactions between Danielle and Sayid, both outcasts with blood on their hands.
Sayid interrogates his childhood sweetheart in the Gulf War.
     The golfing subplot is rather weird - so weird, in fact, that it caused two episodes to be swapped around. In the scripting stage, this episode was supposed to be after next week's, "Raised By Another", in which Claire is kidnapped by The Others. It came out of nowhere, and while it was fun to see the main survivors do something other than squabble, it came as something of an uncomfortable contrast with the deep broodiness that was going on in Danielle's shack.
     Solitary is a great episode that pushes the show into a great new direction, the major plot developments of the season finally getting going. In these early seasons, Sayid is one of the best characters, and alongside Locke and Sawyer his flashbacks provide some of the juiciest material to satiate the show's appetite for drama. The episode's themes of isolation made it a great deal more focused and intimate with its centric character than episodes in the past, and that was a nice change.


NEXT WEEK: Things get trippy and we ask who the fuck Ethan is - it's Raised By Another.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Robot
Tom Baker doesn't get post-regenerative trauma. He's
just that awesome.
Doctor Who - Season 12, Story One - Robot
Written 15/5/13

I tell you, going back into Classic Who is like greeting an old friend. I originally abandoned my plans to go through Tom Baker's era, but I've since had a change of heart. Thus, we find ourselves at the beginning and the end of an era. Jon Pertwee, at that time the longest-serving Doctor, left the show in '74, and it was down to Producer Barry Letts to hire his replacement - long-term Character Actor and short-term Builder, Tom Baker was the perfect choice, reflecting Pertwee's staunch establishmentarianism with a madcap persona that nonetheless just felt right.
     Robot, for all of its trappings of a new era, has the same producer and production team as the previous season, meaning that the plot has a lot of the tropes of its predecessor. Kitch 70's standard sci-fi, with evil scientific organisations (a dime a dozen in Doctor Who) and a gaudy cardboard monster. As The Doctor recovers from his regeneration, he is drawn straight into the action as he investigates a scientific cult with utilitarian aims, using a sentient Robot designed by a Doctor Kettlewell to steal plans that will allow them to nuke everyone on Earth. The day is saved, etc, and The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith are joined by the odd Dr. Harry Sullivan.
     Tom Baker's first performance as the Doctor has all of the charm and humour of his more famous hours, not bothering with Spearhead Syndrome and firing straight towards the action. Perhaps it's just the added benefit of hindsight, but it feels like Baker slips into the role with incredibly fluency, rolling off witty one-liners and odd statements (his first words being, "I tell you Brigadier, there's nothing to worry about. The Brontosaurus is large, and placid. And stupid!") while still coming off as an authoritative presence.
Totally, girlfriend.
     The plot of the episode is a tad underwhelming for a premiere story; something more akin to mid-season filler, but despite this it still has a certain undeniable charm. As well as Baker's mere presence making things more interesting, the characterisation dished out to the K1 robot is quite charming, that of a young child with a very literalist interpretation of the world. It's actually done rather well, as long as you can ignore certain moments that reveal how cheesy the ideas really are, such as the Hammer-Horror style cry of "I have destroyed my Creator!"
     And as the era of the constant UNIT presence ends, the era of Tom Baker begins. Robot may not be the perfect story to begin the reign of what would become one of the most-loved Doctors, but in it's own way it's a send-off to the previous five years that both salutes that time and makes way for a future with a great number of possibilities. Over the next six months, I'll be showing just how many possibilities they were, taking us through the Hinchcliffe glory days and the later days of Graham Williams. See you there.


NEXT WEEK: The Doctor fights green bubble-wrap insects... is humanity's last hope on The Ark In Space?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Review: Torchwood 3.5: Day Five
*slits wrists*
Torchwood - Children of Earth, Day Five
Written 15/5/13

RTD's melodrama is in full force, and in this final RTD review I aim to look at the end of Children of Earth and how this miniseries hid its faults behind a fascade of seriousness. Day Five is by far the bleakest hour in the miniseries, and pushes the series to its logical conclusions in a way which is shocking and dark in a quite non-constructive way. The aim seems to be to fuck up as much as possible about the series and then see what fits into place after the fact. Which is a great way to do things.
     As Gwen and Jack mourn Ianto, the Government prepares to put the 456's plans into place, dragging children away from primary schools. Gwen and Rhys are airlifted to Cardiff to inform Ianto's sister of what happened. When Frobisher's children are chosen for the program to make the government look like the victims, he acquires a gun and takes his family out Columbine style. Bridget Spears visits Lois Habiba and learns how to use the Torchwood contact lenses. Jack is lifted from prison by Agent Johnson, who also kidnaps Dekker, bringing them both together to work on a solution. Through some technobabble, Jack works out that he can send the wave they used to kill Clem back at them, but he needs a child to focus on if the signal is ever going to be strong enough. They use Jack's grandson Steven and save the day at the cost of his life. As the dust settles, Bridget wipes the smug smile off the Prime Minister's face as she reveals that she has recordings of everything he's said and plans to ruin his career with them.
     The expenditure of Jack's grandson was at the time shocking and painful, but despite how inhuman it may seem of me, I can see why Jack did it. He's over 2000 years old, and his daughter has been restricting access to his grandson to the extent that they hardly know each other. Is it that much of a surprise that when it comes to a utilitarian choice between a kid he hardly knows and the 10% statistic, Jack chooses the 10%? Much more shocking was the death of John Frobisher and co, with RTD's script taking a decidedly more anti-suicide turn than his Osterhagen Key rubbish in Journey's End.     The episode had an overall sense of bleak desperation, one that seemed entirely melancholic without anything to back it up. Torchwood in the past was about dragging humanity from the inhumane, about Gwen's measures to maintain her compassion in the face of a group of people who had lost touch with the rest of the world. If you rob the show of that dynamic, if you make it as bleak as you can possibly make it, then it creates a real disconnect with the audience that I find hard to reconcile. Children of Earth had some okay moments in it, but it forgot what Torchwood was, and thus I can't like it as much as I do the first two series.


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Review: Kick-Ass 2
From bloody-disgusting
Note: this review contains swearing and other terms that some people may find vulgar or offensive. Just warnin' ya.

There's something rather beautiful about a piece of visual art that can so effortlessly and invisibly walk the line between being a thorough parody of a genre and taking it far too seriously for it's own good. It's often done through deconstruction of an idea, which basically places that common factor into a realistic scenario and demonstrates (sometimes with annotations) why that idea ceases to work. The Kick-Ass franchise, both in the Graphic Novels by Mark Millar and in the the two cinematic films, the latter of which has only recently been released in the UK, are devoted to taking the Superhero Genre that has been flooding our popular culture for the past several decades and not just deconstructing it, not just parodying it, but coming out the other side as a justifiable piece of work in its own right.
      Kick-Ass 2 manages to be a more straight-up Superhero film than its predecessor, adapting the second volume of the Graphic Novel which features comic-book geek Dave (Aaron Johnson), who decides to emulate Batman and become a vigilante, with the help of trained-since-childhood-uberwarrior Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz) - codenamed Hit Girl - whom he teamed up with in the first film after his low-level meddling accidentally led to the death of his father. The popularity of Dave's persona, Kick-Ass, leads to a city-wide phenomenon of inexperienced vigilantes, opposed by Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who is driven by pettiness and bitterness at the events of the previous film to become an outrageous supervillain by the name of The Motherfucker. The film follows the clashes between the rising Superhero movement, the Supervillain army and the authorities, as well as both Dave and Mindy's attempts to concile their vigilante urges with the suburban life expected of them.
      The franchise as a whole has been lambasted by the popular media for its heavy use of violence, inappopriate language and lewd sexual humour, but unlike less tasteful flicks such as anything that falls off of the desk of Seltzer and Friedberg, this is done sparingly and with enough caution as to make it count when it does happen. I personally see nothing wrong with swearing, sex and violence, although excessive toilet humour can be somewhat lazy. This film is more intelligent than that. Unlike its predecessor, which was transliterated straight from the Graphic Novel's view, there is a sense that Kick-Ass 2 has been sufficiently toned down. Hit-Girl is now 15 years old as opposed to 12, there are certain absurdly violent acts cut out. One of those adjusted scenes is still causing controversy - a rape scene in the graphic novel was transfered onto another character in the film and is played for a joke at the expense of the rapist. While I'd rather have just taken that scene out entirely, because it raises all sorts of dark and really out-of-tone issues, I'm glad that it was sufficiently pushed back in the direction of the perpetrator.
Jim Carrey is actually pretty awesome in this film.
From throwingdigitalsheep
     And it's little push-backs that make the film stand out from just being a parody, as much as those stand-out elements stop this film's heavy doses of character development and plot movements from sending it into a lazy Superhero flick the likes of Green Lantern. It manages to both portray characters that I identify and sympathise with and also make them ridiculous and hilarious. They are simultaneously larger than life and perfect to fit within it. The film's mix of parody of superhero tropes and genuinely strong characters in both a comedic and a dramatic sense more than makes up for any mistakes it happens to make when judging how far it's willing to cross the line into territory that other franchises might consider to be dark. And that's why, really, I found it so simply fun. I don't know if this is a signal that we're heading for a Kick-Ass trilogy, but I certainly liked what I saw in the first two movies, and if they're as consistent as those then I think we'll be fine.


News: Birthday!

So I'm 17 now.

That is all.


Monday, 19 August 2013

Garrus: Star Trek Into Darkness

Because I refuse to see it, my friend is going to write a review of the most recent Star Trek film.

[Insert sarcastic caption here]
Star Trek Into Darkness - 2013, Directed by JJ Abrams

Star Trek Into Darkness is a film in which a distinguished Starfleet officers repeatedly punch a man in the face; also "KHHAAAAAAAANNN!"

But seriously, Into Darkness (and Abrams' Star Trek) had potential. I really love Abrams' direction and visual style (yes, even the lens flares). The clean and efficient design and the use of bright colours gives new Star Trek a distinct sci-fi look. The film was (mostly) well-directed. This was supported by a decent cast; Pine and Quinto are perfect as Kirk and Spock, the Enterprise crew is good, with Bones is a standout character and Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as the main villain, well apart from, you know, the whole Khan thing.

Anyway, this gave Into Darkness the opportunity to become something great. I wasn't expecting the classic series or TNG, but instead they could have made a grand space adventure with a strong focus on what made the TV shows so good; the tough choices, the diplomacy, the exploration! But somehow they fucked it up... and I know why. The script. It was on par with a monkey shitting on a typewriter. That wasn't a joke, its that bad. Nothing made sense. Instead of trying to be its own film, Into Darkness decides to pussy out of having its own meaningful story and copy Wrath of Khan, as well as every part of Star Trek lore, badly. Try to list everything that you think the average person knows about Star Trek; Klingons, Tribbles, the Prime Directive. They're all in this film, for no reason other than 'fanservice'. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Review: Torchwood 3.4: Day Four
"I'll never let go!" Dude, wrong Jack
Torchwood - Children of Earth, Day Four
Written 5/5/13

Day Four is the best episode of Children of Earth, if only because, like any good Torchwood episode, it has something to say. It may not be all car-chases and explosions, but it does show our characters fighting the good fight in a way which is manipulated to feel extraordinarily triumphant until the soul-shattering conclusion. Everything dark, everything truly scary about Children of Earth is right here - a mixture of Adult Fears, tearing away at the comfortable assumptions of trust we have in our day-to-day lives and showing what monsters ordinary people can become.
     Torchwood watches as the government deliberates over how to respond to the 456's demands. Initially Frobisher is sent to offer 62 kids (0.0001% of the overall population of Britain.) As the gang reel from discovering Jack's involvement in 1965, the 456 responds, reasserting to each country that they want 10%. The Cabinet decides to honour their demands, with Ryan Yates (Dalek voice actor Nicholas Briggs) deciding that a population reduction would be good, while truly evil Denise (Deborah Findley) decided to pick off the 10% from the lowest performing schools, claiming that if you're from the lower classes then you're obviously set for the dole or the prison cells. In a combined move, Torchwood gets ready to save the day: Lois bribes the cabinet to allow Jack and Ianto onto Floor 13, while they deliberately let Johnson trace their location to win her round to the Torchwood cause with the evidence presented. Just before their triumph is complete, the 456 responds to Jack's bravado by sealing off the MI5 building and releasing a virus that kills everyone inside except Jack and a lucky Mr. Dekker. As Gwen and Jack mourn Ianto's death, they admit that they don't know what to do from hereon in.
I doubt they could have done Children of Earth in the current
climate of secret paedos everywhere.
     The cabinet scene is perhaps one of the most difficult things I've ever had to watch for this blog. I'm used to a sort of cackling evil that comes with Classic Who, the glint in the eye of Max Capricorn. This is exactly what Midnight tried and failed to be - the slow, methodical translation of human faults and fears and self-preservation into despicable, banal, calculated evil. The politicians trying to protect their families - that I understand. But as a Northerner I've been subject to enough Government scorn because of the perceptions of my class and geographical position, because of snobbery and ignorance, that seeing the logical and quite realistic ramifications of that in this scenario hit quite close to home.
    Even more gruesome, though, was the revelation of what exactly the 456 wanted with the children. We were shown that they use the kids to harvest some kind of addictive substance, and the reason why they've come back is because they're on the last kid and they're beginning to suffer some serious withdrawl. So, in other words, the 456 are selfish space junkies, scooping up your kids and sucking them dry to get high. It's certainly novel, and it carries the series into territory that most people didn't think it could. In Miracle Day we end up with Death Camps specifically for burning people alive, and I think that they couldn't have gotten away with that without this issue to basically say, "Yeah, we went there."
    Ianto's death scene is probably what most people remember from this episode, and true to form I'm an apathetic douchebag. Ianto was cool, but for me he never really shined as anything other than a walking snark dispenser, as opposed to Owen and Tosh, who both had in-depth characterisations and storylines that didn't include hiding half-Cyber-converted girlfriends in the basement. Their last stand of firing bullets at the bullet-proof glass made me giggle more than anything - Jack can survive entering the 456's chamber, so the only reason I can think of why he didn't go in and put the gun to the creature's face is for drama and silliness.
"What else are the league tables for?" indeed....
     Day Four is, in the end, a spectacular example of what I think RTD was aiming for with this series. It had the action, the well-developed characters and concepts, and it explored the darkness of the human soul in a way which prime-time British TV rarely ever does. Ianto's death was unnecessary and sensationalist, done for the sole reason of simply having a death and not as part of any noticable character beats, but it did add to a sense of hopelessness that next week's hasty resolution will suffer because of. The bell tolls, my friends.


NEXT WEEK: The last RTD-written thing I'll ever review.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Review: Lost 1.8: Confidence Man
Sawyer used to be a smooth-talking con man.
Lost - Season One, Episode Eight - Confidence Man
Written 5/5/13
"Baby, I'm tied to a tree in a jungle of mystery, and I just got tortured by a damn spinal surgeon and a gen-u-ine Iraqi. Of course I'm serious."

In the past I've been accused of being an unashamed Sawyer fanboy. This is true. The story of James Ford is one of my favourite of the main cast, and the development of his character from atoning con man to loving, responsible leader, no matter how "traditional" it may be, is one of the show's most subtle and well-executed. In the first few episodes, Sawyer was deliberately written to attract as much hatred as possible, acting for the most part like a total douchenozzle. (My term.) A risky move, really, especially as it's now left up to this episode to flip that perception on its head and reveal James Ford as a character with a great deal more depth.
     Boone (fucking Boone, man...) thinks that Sawyer has Shannon's inhalers in his stash, and so instead of asking him like a regular person he routes through Sawyer's possessions, and gets a punch for his troubles. Ready to believe he's a jackass, Jack goes over and confronts Sawyer, who refuses to say anything about the inhalers. He conspires with Sayid, who has his own vendetta after a stranger knocked him out last week, and the two take Sawyer out into the jungle and torture him. He refuses to talk to anyone but Kate. He reveals to her, after bartering for a kiss, that he never had them in the first place. Maddened, Sayid stabs Sawyer, and in his guilt he decides to go off and explore the shore of the Island. As Sawyer recovers on the beach, Kate reveals to him that she has worked out that the letter Sawyer carries around, the one from a child saying that "Mr. Sawyer" killed his parents, was in fact written by Sawyer as a child to the man who killed his parents. Elsewhere, Charlie gets imaginary peanut butter for Claire.
     In the past, Sawyer is a con-man on a routine con, wherin he convinces a beautfiul woman he's having an affair with to get her rich husband to take part in a loophole scheme, promising to split the outcome of $900k with them if they provide the remainder of the $300k investment. Initially things go exactly according to plan, albeit with Sawyer needing to borrow his half of the money from a crime boss due to having squirrelled his last profit away on something we don't know about. (We'll find out next season.) Just as he's about to walk away with the money, Sawyer notices that the couple has a child, and, seeing a vision of himself at that age, he refuses to go ahead with the con.
Thank god I know that Boone dies. Otherwise this show would
not feel like a good investment.
     Sawyer's internalised guilt over the path his life took means that he never denies having the inhalers. He wants to be punished for the lives he's ruined, the lives he ruined despite the ruination of his own. The way the character is turned so fluently on its head both in flashback and on the main storyline creates two very different images of the episode - one where Sawyer is the bad guy until the very end, and one where Sawyer is letting himself be punished. It sets Sawyer up for his development through the show, as well as providing Sayid with clarification on the direction of his own path towards redemption.
      Confidence Man was the first episode that didn't give us a reason why our centric character had ended up in Australia, and was instead a pretty well-told character developer that confirmed to us exactly what we thought of a character and then.flipped it on its head to reveal a character with a great deal of complexity. The plot started moving, and for reasons however trivial, we've started the slow path towards some of the season's major plot points, starting next week when Sayid goes on his trek across the beaches.


IN TWO WEEKS: Sayid ends up stuck in Solitary thanks to a mad French woman with a Croatian accent.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Prologue: Star Trek (Overall)

The Original Series lineup.
Written 5/5/13

Star Trek is one of those shows where there is very little middle-ground. You're either a fan, or you're not. The show was arguably the originator of modern fandom, fertilised by its extensive continuity and the sheer weight of it. Doctor Who may hold the record for longest-running sci-fi franchise, but in terms of material it's about a literal week's worth of TV behind Star Trek, with over 700 episodes over 28 seasons of five different shows, as well as twelve movies in two different continuities.
    It first began in the late 60s, alongside Patrick Troughton's Doctor. Gene Roddenberry had a utopian vision of the future, a society in which humanity had abolished nationality, race and economy and had instead joined together in humanistic harmony in order to travel across the stars. Still wanting to display some contempory issues, Roddenberry used alien races as analogues for 1960s political powers. Humans were the US, Vulcans were Europe, the Klingons were the USSR, the Romulans were Communist China and so on. The series focussed around the USS Enterprise and its crew, led by Captain James Kirk (William Shatner) and First Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) as they boldly went where no man had gone before.
     Like Doctor Who in the UK, the Original Series of Star Trek gained a cult following in the US psyche. However, much sooner than its British counterpart, the fans of Trek were maligned into a sub-class of nerddom - the Trekkies. The image became one of obsessive fans pouring over a hokey old TV show with bad special effects - a show that was cancelled after four seasons. This didn't much change when Roddenberry and several other key figures revived the show in 1987, as Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show breathed new life into the franchise, with Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) becoming the franchise's new face.
     If you ask an everyman, The Original Series and The Next Generation are probably what is seen as "Star Trek". But after the success of Next Gen, several more shows were created. In 1993, we saw the advent of space-station-based Deep Space Nine, which was more focussed on long story arcs. In 1995, they replaced  TNG with Voyager, a show that followed a ship whisked away to the other side of the Galaxy and making the journey home. Both had different ensemble casts and both had their strengths and weaknesses. Deep Space Nine and Voyager are my two favourite Star Trek shows, and I'll be reviewing both of their premiere seasons.
Patrick Stewart heads up the Next Generation lineup.
     After Voyager ended, the production team tried to reinvent the show by setting their next spin-off, Enterprise, as a prequel to the Original Series. The result was a show that had a hell of a lot of problems, and while it improved near the end, the show's earlier shortcomings saw it cancelled in 2005 after four seasons. With the last continuous Trek movie airing in 2002, we entered a Wilderness period, only broken by the J.J. Abrams reboots. (Which I've already spoken on elsewhere.)
     In a few weeks time, I'll begin my reviews, on Thursday, of the first season of Star Trek Voyager. If you're interested, I'll see you there.


Thursday, 8 August 2013

Review: Torchwood 3.3: Day Three
The 456 arrive.
Torchwood - Children of Earth, Day Three
Another shortie. Written 4/5/13

It's the hour format. That's what it is, that's what's bothering me. I've spent the past couple of months watching shows with a 40-45 minute runtime almost exclusively, and Children of Earth's added 15 minutes is getting me all distressed. This third day saw the mini-series formative stages finally give way to the core dilemma, surrounding the grotesque 456 and their demand for 10% of the Children of Earth. The rather well-done personality of the 456, and the tragedies that surround it, are gonna develop som'more next week, but give it time.
     The gang relocate to an old Torchwood London hangar, going out and stealing from people in order to build up enough tech for the mandatory technobabble. Gwen tracks down Lois Habiba, and gives her the camera contact lenses from Reset so that Torchwood can see what's happening inside Thames House. Agent Johnson captures Alice and Steven, Jack's daughter and grandson, just as the children stop again and point at Thames House, where a pillar of fire accompanies the 456's teleport. The alien has Frobisher organise a meeting of diplomats, with corrupt Prime Minister John Green continuing to use Frobisher as a scapegoat. Gwen rescues Clement Macdonald from prison and takes him back. They watch the meeting, wherin the 456 demand 10% of the world's children. Jack returns to the hangar after attempting to blackmail Frobisher, and the team discovers through Clement that he gave the 456 a gift of 12 children in 1965.
     I know this was meant to be shown back-to-back over a week as a single story rather than reviewed episodically. I'm rather shooting myself in the foot on that one. I just really can't think of anything to say about Day Three. It was okay, I guess. The nice chunky ideas the Children of Earth would become known for pop up on Day Four, with Day Three seeming more focussed on how the contact lens technology gets round the barrier of having no sound functions.
The team watch the conference via Lois' contact lenses.
     Feels a little like I'm wasting your time, here. The very few of you that do read. But I can't really come up with much to say about Day Three, other than that the 456 are here now and they want yo kids. The cast and crew are doing a great job, even if on an episode-by-episode basis the pace leaves a little something to be desired. Children of Earth may not feel much like Torchwood any more, but for what it is, it's been pretty good.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Review: Lost 1.7: The Moth
Charlie deals with withdrawl symptoms and internal paranoia.
Lost - Season One, Episode Seven - The Moth
Written between 1st and 2nd May 2013

I've never really got into Oasis. As a band, I mean. Everyone else seems to love them, but they just sound too much like Richard Ashcroft for me and I'd rather have the real deal. I mention this not as a random whim of thought but because of today's episode, which follows Charlie Pace's path through heroin addiction and recovery, as he tried to survive as part of a band which is in part a parody of the Mancunian sensation. I am rather waiting for something to happen plot-wise, but like I said for White Rabbit, the atmosphere and character work in The Moth is more than worth the slow pace.
     Charlie is off the drugs, and after Locke took them off his last week, he offers Charlie a Doubting-Thomas ultimatum - if Charlie asks for his drugs back three times, then Locke will give them to him. While moving stuff around at the Caves, Charlie's withdrawl starts making him paranoid, and under the belief that the others consider him a burden. When Jack is buried in a cave-in, Charlie volunteers to go in after him, only to become trapped himself. Sayid attempts to triangulate the French woman's signal, but is knocked out by a mysterious figure. Jack and Charlie have a talk about his withdrawl and he finds a way out. After asking for his drugs for the third time, Charlie accepts his new lifestyle by throwing them into a fire.
     Flashback to Manchester, and we find Charlie's brother Liam talking him into taking Drive-Shaft on tour against his better judgement. Liam feeds off of the fame that Charlie's talent provides, overtaking him as the band's image and becoming addicted to drugs and women. When Charlie protests, he is put down by his brother and falls into addiction himself. Years later, a still-addicted Charlie visits his now sobre brother and his family in Sydney. His brother expressed regret for his past mistakes, but Charlie won't listen and goes to head back to Los Angeles on Flight 815.
You all, everybody.
     While some of the Mancunian accents may have been a little off at times (I should know, it's where I'm from), I thought that the flashbacks were some of the most captivating parts of the episode. Charlie's slow corruption, being fed off by his parasitic brother and driven into addiction, was really well done and it redeemed a character that previously could have been seen as exactly the things that he thought of himself. Unlike in some of the other episodes first trying out Lost's flashback-as-an-episodic-subplot format, the two subplots are perfectly balanced, and Charlie's fall into addiction is mirrored nicely with his rise out of it while on the Island.
     The Moth is a well-written tale that explores all of Charlie's character beats, processing him through his highs, his lows and his moments of great decision. There's an almost fable-like nature in the way that he is redeemed, and that makes for an entertaining episode. Importantly, The Moth stands out as a clear balance between the present day storyline and the flashbacks, ensuring that enough plot is happening in both to make the episode feel worthwhile. This is a trend that's gonna continue, I promise you.


NEXT WEEK: What's written in Sawyer's letter? And what does it have to do with him being a Confidence Man?

Monday, 5 August 2013

Overview: Doctor Who: Series Four
The Doctor and Donna are a decent TARDIS team.
Written between 29th April and 1st May 2013

Series Four is as mixed a bag as RTD ever gave us. Oscillating madly between stories that were technically brilliant and infuriatingly bad, you never really knew where you stood. The main ten stories of the season began well but ended up in a fanwanky mess, and the specials were very hit-and-miss despite their potential to bring the show out of its comfort zone. It will be remembered as the season of sensationalism, of silly prophecies, and of one of the most interesting companions in NuWho struck down in the cruellest way possible.
     Donna is a companion unique in the new series; she's the only one who's never flirted with The Doctor, and is thus the closest one to the Classic Companions. Her story is about a journey of self-discovery, a buildup of self-esteem from a Donna who was constantly put down by her mother and who became obsessed with trivialities at the expense of personal relationships into her Series Four self - the warm, compassionate woman who wants to travel and do derring do because she naturally cares for other people.I think her development was really well-done right up until the end, where her memory wiping was a complete cop-out that destroyed all my faith in RTD's Who.
      Speaking of that, this season does include several stories that broke my childhood innocence and helped me transition into my obsessive cynical teenager phase regarding the program, with stories like Planet of the Dead and The End of Time making me firmly Moffatian at the time. Most of the was mainly to do with the knowledge of Tennant's departure hanging over us and the 2009 hiatus, which we assumed to be a one-off at the time but which now seems to be far too common an occurance. When Series Four gets bad, it sits firmly in the lazily mediocre, with the vast majority of its bad stories failing due to a collapse into mushy fanwank. Let's have The Daleks go to Germany in a vain attempt to honour their conceptually Nazi roots; let's bring the Master back, no matter the silly lengths I have to go to do that. There's no thought behind it.
Wilf begins and ends the season.
     Bests and worsts. As is standard by this point. My favourite story from the season was the fun Fires of Pompeii, which mixed up sci-fi ideas with an exploration of our companion's conscience in a glorious Italian setting, with honourable mentions going to The Unicorn and the Wasp, which worked as a tribute to the works of Agatha Christie, and the Silence In The Library two-parter for its playfulness with the format. My least favourites... well, there are a few. Dishonourable mentions include The Doctor's Daughter, Midnight (don't lynch me, Fandom) and The End of Time, which despite being a massive Essay review still contains some So Bad It's Good charm. The worst story of the season by so many miles is the maelstrom of fanwank and misplaced nostalgia that was The Stolen Earth/Journey's End.
     The last season of RTD's era suffered a lot from what felt like RTD running out of ideas - or at least ways in which to execute them. It was clear that he had a lot of things he wanted to do with the series, but the way in which a lot of episodes were played up and sensationalised, almost in the manner of the tabloid press, distracted the series from actually telling good stories. The public perception improved, sure, and more than ever before the show was an event on a massive scale. But on an objective scale, Series Four veers between the brilliant and the mediocre in a way that I've never been able to keep up with.


Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Twelfth Doctor!

For those of you who may not be aware, the Twelfth Doctor is brilliant Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, who in my opinion is one of the best actors working today. He's been in the show before. Not once, not twice, but a gamut of six times, playing a roman in The Fires of Pompeii and then Frobisher in the depressing Children of Earth miniseries.  While I'm quite disappointed that the show isn't being as progressive as it could have been (especially after 50 years), the calibre of Capaldi's acting means that I'm sure that he's going to scrape through with a good Doctor, and maybe even fix some of the shit that Moffat's put onto the show in the past few years.

He'll be joining the show at Christmas, and I'll be here to see it. See you then.


P.S. Despite the fact that I'm "reviewing" the third series of Torchwood at the moment, I wrote them in like April and so I won't be going back to edit a load of Twelfth Doctor squee into them. Just a head's up. :)

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Review: Torchwood 3.2: Day Two
Ianto, Gwen and Rhys help free Jack.
Torchwood - Children of Earth, Day Two
Bit of a shorter one this week. Written 28/4/13

Questions running through my mind... I know that Frobisher doesn't want Jack bragging about the last time the 456 were here, but why kill them? Why destroy the goddamn Hub? The one person you want to get rid of is immortal, and you know it, and the other two members are just as clueless. It's almost as if some great godly figure wanted to make the scenario more tense by setting the world against Torchwood for no decent reason. Fancy that, eh?
     The hub destroyed, Ianto and Gwen get out alive, but "The Government", which appears to include day-to-day ambulance drivers, is out to get them both for reasons unknown. Agent Johnson tries to hunt both of them down, eventually giving up and taking Jack's body in pieces. In a cell, it re-arranges itself, leading her to fill the cell with concrete. Gwen and Rhys pop down to London and, after speaking with Lois Habiba, sneak into the place. Ianto helps bust Jack out by using a forklift truck to somehow lift the concrete block out of the wall and drop it down a cliff. Just as the new crew assemble, the Government have followed some 456 instructions and created a mysterious chamber on the top floor of Whitehall.
     This was very much an episode of going through the motions, moving characters away from Cardiff and into the bland, generic wasteland that is TV London. As the show's distinctive Welsh roots wither and die away, the only really decent moments came in the form of Rhys' utter badassery, considering that he's doing a pretty decent job of the whole "secret operative" thing on his second time out. I also loved the quiet conversations between him and Gwen, especially where she tells him that she's pregnant and doesn't even have to say the words.
"Mr. Dekker, please stop hugging the chamber..."
     The second day was one of story administration, laying out the canop├ęs for the next day's first appearance from the enigmatic 456. It had a lot of cool character moments and I was glad to see the gang working together again, but I do get this overwhelming sense of loss as we not only lose the Hub which housed the series for two years but also lose Cardiff, the city that provided a lot of the series' distinct charm.