Thursday, 31 October 2013

Review: Voyager 1.10: Prime Factors
The engineers rebel against Janeway's moral quibbling.
Star Trek Voyager - Season One, Episode Ten - Prime Factors
Written 1/6/13

A few episodes ago I mentioned the trend in Voyager episodes to offer up a way home with us in the certain knowledge that nothing could ever come of it. This was problematic, of course - how could there be tension in an episode like that? Prime Factors does a similar thing, but it changes the things at stake by both reducing the possible reward (it's only 30/40 years off the trip) and by making it a matter of personal standing and belief. It actually gave us some character work to chew on instead of a singular bland scenario with a character subplot hidden somewhere inside it.
     Creepy but harmless Gath invites Voyager to his home planet, which is known throughout the system for its hospitality and its belief in the sanctity of stories. As the crew enjoy themselves, Harry flirts with an alien girl (I won't do a count on that one, there aren't enough man hours) and discovers that the planet has technology capable of teleporting people 40 thousand light-years - over half of the way home. When Janeway asks to use the technology, Gath reveals a policy where they don't give advanced technology to other species. They make a bargain - all of the Federation's literature for the tech. Gath refuses, revealing unintentionally to Janeway his species' fetishisation of novelty and his intention to keep Voyager there forever, but as she prepares to leave, a team of gold-shirts including Carey, B'Elanna, Seska (who will rise to importance next week) and Tuvok organise an exchange with another minister who wants there to be a cultural revolution. Ultimately the tech proves destructively incompatible with their ship, and Janeway can do nought to punish the rebels but to express how disappointed she is.
     I enjoyed the concept of a species known universally for hospitality and kindness having a sinister undertone of superficiality and posessiveness. Guest star Gath (Ronald Gutman, later to have guest roles in Lost and Heroes) manages the transition between the two mavellously, and his flirting with Janeway throughout the episode switches between the idiosyncracy of a species of kind people into a twisted posessive habit, wanting to hold Voyager there until he gets bored of them. In fact, everyone on the planet had that weird kind of attitude. I think it's something akin to the Uncanny Valley that makes me suspect everyone who is unnaturally nice of being the most sinister mofos I can think of.
File:Alastria surface.jpg
Harry doesn't know whether to get laid or make
a Star Wars reference.

     As for the rebellion, I thought it was a great idea. There was commentary early in the episode of Maquis and Starfleet personel working together, and it's rather funny that this rebellion ended up being perfectly half-and-half as both sides wanted to get home despite Janeway's moral objections to breaking the planet's laws and taking the shady offer. Notably, considering all of the crazy shit she'll end up doing, this is quite notable as the first time that someone disagrees with her. Plus, it highlighted Seska, a character whose importance in the first two seasons is gonna be made a little more clear in next week's episode, which is possibly the closest thing to a plot development that we're going to get this season.


NEXT WEEK: Voyager finds a traitor in their ranks. Based on what I've been saying this week, guess who it is! Things are in a State of Flux.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Review: Lost 1.18: Numbers
Hurley wins the lottery using the numbers 4 8 15 16 23 42.
Lost - Season One, Episode Eighteen - Numbers
Written 30/5/13

In total contrast to the character's later position as one of the most important Losties, Hurley had a very different role in the series' beginnings, standing from the off as a somewhat omnipresent and yet never annoying comic relief. Numbers is something of a nod to the series' biggest running theme - the series of six numbers, 4 8 15 16 23 42, that pop up literally everywhere. We also get some more hints towards the finale, which is now a mere five weeks away.
     In the past, we see Hurley's big secret - he is a multi-millionaire after using The Numbers to win the lottery. After the fact, he becomes an icon of bad luck, as his uncle dies, his sister breaks up with her boyfriend, his new house burns down and various other calamities. He goes to the mental hospital he attended where he heard The Numbers, from an insane patient who points him towards Australia. There, the wife of the man who first heard The Numbers on a mysterious radio transmission dismisses the idea and tells him to go home - leading him, of course, to 815.
     On the Island, Hurley sees a page in Rousseau's notes showing the numbers, and in an attempt to find out if she has anything to offer on the subject, he heads down the beach under the excuse of going to get a battery for the signal on Michael's second raft. As he finds and follows the cable on the beach, he is met up by Jack, Charlie and Sayid, who have come after him. As they search, Hurley is separated from the others and Rousseau catches him. Frustrated, Hurley breaks down and when he explains his problem, she agrees with him that The Numbers are cursed, as her science team were following the radio transmission when they crashed on the Island. They go home and everyone is happy. Locke helps Claire by talking to her while building a cradle.
Hurley asks Rousseau what The Numbers mean.
     Aside from ghosts in previous episodes, this is the first point where one can argue that Lost touches the surpernatural. The absurdity of just how unlucky Hurley is isn't played for laughs for very long, and that's good because as a result we find that beneath Hurley's cheery demeanour lies something that's bleak and dark and depressing and that just screams Lost to me. Take a character we think we know and flip our perception of them right on their heads. Jorge Garcia manages the switch between comic and serious perfectly, and I think that's one of the main reasons his character gains such importance later on.
     I think the best thing about this episode is the movement. Later seasons would show so many different places across the Island and I'm getting a tad tired of just the beach or the mesa or the hatch and any deviation from the norm in that department makes an episode feel like an event. The Numbers, as well as making every fan paranoid for the next five seasons looking out for all of the instances (which are listed here), breathed new complexity into Hurley's character. It may have been late in the game, but it was most certainly worth the wait.


NEXT WEEK: Locke, you poor bastard. You poor, poor bastard. Oh, and Boone gets fatally wounded. Let's hope for a Deus Ex Machina.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Brain of Morbius
Solon fights with his creation.
Doctor Who - Season 13, Story Five - The Brain of Morbius
Written 28/5/13

After weeks of hype backlash threatened to write-off this season for me, at last I have found a story which in my mind matches its reputation. Sure, the gothic themes and obvious literary allusions are still there, but there's a subtlety to this script that takes a standard Frankenstein plot and gives it all sorts of other twists and turns. The benefit of having Robert Holmes as your script editor is mainly that there are lots of scripts like this one...
     While still trying to get back to UNIT HQ (there's more continuity in Classic Who than I realised) the TARDIS is drawn away by the Time Lords to the planet Karn, which is in Gallifrey's planetary neighbourhood. There he finds the ancient Sisterhood of Karn, equal in mental might to the Time Lords and bezzie mates with them thanks to their useful supply of the Elixir of Life, as well as famous Earth neuroscientist Solon. The surgeon is a servant of the ancient Time Lord tyrant Morbius, and plans to use The Doctor's head to top a Frankenstein-esque body to house Morbius' still-living mind. Working with the Sisterhood, The Doctor and Sarah manage to foil their plot, and while Morbius is placed into a sentient body he is thrown off of a cliff by the Sisterhood.
     There are several complex characterisations in Morbius that really set it apart from the rest of the series. Solon's obsession and his conflict between scientific rigour and the service of his master as portrayed brilliantly by Phillip Madoc, who is the best of the guest cast. His double-act with Igor parallel Condo provided a great deal of much-needed humour, and together they formed some of the episode's best moments. The Sisterhood of Karn felt like a realistic culture, and their leader Maren a tragic matriarch.
Morbius, doing a Future!Lister cosplay...
      The story has many ties back to the Doctor's mythology, which at this point in the series was only sparsely explored, with the Time Lords popping up here and there to put The Doctor on trial or make him do their bidding. Here there are some of the first references to the High Council and to Gallifreyan politics. In that respect it felt like a nice warm-up for the mythology-heavy Deadly Assassin in a few stories time. One aspect I didn't like was the controvertial "Faces" scene, in which six faces intended to be those of the Doctor's incarnations prior to Hartnell are shown. (This being before the whole 13 limit thing.)
     The Brain of Morbius is an instant Classic, and more than deserves it reputation. It doesn't just spin the classical allusions, but delivers a uniquely Who strand of madcap genius, makeshift gore and a pair of power-mad geniuses. The tale of Morbius' descent into madness as assisted by the desperate and cunning Solon provides some of the most well-executed villainy in the entirety of Four's era. Which is good. Probably.


NEXT WEEK: Plants. Bloody plants, again. Never trust 'em, that's what I say. Who the hell decided to plant The Seeds of Doom?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

News: Farewell to Atlantis; Other Shows

So yesterday, the good people at the BBC have commissioned the poorly-written family drama Atlantis for a second season, in light of the fact that it's maintaining decent ratings against the BBC's main rival, The X Factor.

I didn't watch Atlantis this week, because I really couldn't be bothered, and it strikes me that if I go out of my way to continue writing about a show which I quite fundamentally don't enjoy, then I might as well be committing myself to writing about the next season, as well. Which isn't exactly an appetising prospect.

So I wish Atlantis a fond farewell, as well as the Saturday tea-time slot. Hope that doesn't rub anyone the wrong way, but there we go.


The new season of The Walking Dead started two weeks ago today, and I must say that it's fabulous, having taken the fast-paced style of its predecessor season and the character development of the first two seasons and put them together into a deliciously thick package which is as good as The Walking Dead has ever been.

Whether the new element that the opener brought into the show (a strain of flu which threatens the safety of Rick's Prison haven) is going to be executed well or not is still up for debate - it sees a considerable departure from the comic series, and it seems as though for the most part, the show has decided to make its own way in the world.


Orphan Black is amazing, you should all be watching Orphan Black.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Review: Voyager 1.9: Emanations
Harry awakens on the Vhnori homeworld.
Star Trek Voyager - Season One, Episode Nine - Emanations
Written 1/6/13

Star Trek was founded on somewhat uniquely humanist philosophies, with Gene Roddenberry's secularism translating to a future without religion. The 24th Century series (TNG, DS9 and VOY) have since found ways to explore religious themes in varying levels of agreement with the show's original brief. This episode is surprisingly serious for Voyager, and your interpretation as to whether it follows Roddenberry's original intentions is very much left up to you.
     Having found a new element (THAT'S NOT HOW CHEMISTRY WORKS), the crew find what appears to be an alien cemetary in a graveyard. A magic space whatsit appears and Ensign Kim is swapped with a fresh corpse, transported to the homeworld of the Vhnori, a people who have come to believe that the space whatsits take you to a luxury afterlife. They get understandably distressed when Harry reveals that they just sorta die and decompose, which leads to him having to team up with doubting corpse-to-be Hatil, who swaps places with him in order to let Kim go home.
     As a secularist myself, I find the episode to act as a perfect demonstration as to why faith is fundamentally damaging, not just on a personal level but on a societal one. The Vhnori culture has become stagnated and is more obsessed with creating technology to euthanise people than it is in actually treating them, and people treat Death as an enlightening promotion prospect instead of the end of a life. Hatil's death is chosen by his family without him having any say in the matter, and the woman who gets swapped with Harry is unable to continue living there because of her trauma over there being no afterlife. Death is the end - there's no question about that, no need to quibble, because the human consciousness is the hologramatic output from millions of electrochemical signals, and once they're gone, you just don't exist any more.
     Although, that apparently wasn't the intention. Apparently this episode was supposed to be a commentary on Euthanasia. The eagerness to die in their society isn't the main part of the problem, it's the fact that they're doing it based on faith and not a scientific certainty - all they know is that pockets appear in space that whisk them away, they have nothing to say it's an afterlife. Euthanasia in a scenario where the afterlife was a certainty isn't necessarily a bad thing if said afterlife exists, but there's no evidence for the Vhnori to believe that there is and yet they do it anyway.
Funny forehead aliens with little concept of reason.
    Movng away from the political debate, I will thus declare this Kim Death Count - 1. This is a Harry Kim episode, alright, and for the first time the character gets to do something besides look amazed and say damn weird shit. (He remembers being in his mother's womb, apparently.) His reaction to the culture of the Vhnori was a little lily-livered and I wish that he'd had an overall reaction that wasn't just a regurgiation of everything the audience was supposed to be thinking, but I did like that he chose to risk permenant death in order to get home and allow Hatil to escape from his painfully overbearing family.
     Emanations may not cover a lot of its issues with the required tact and grace, but it is an episode that makes you think, and that is what all good sci-fi should do. Harry Kim got a good airing for once, and despite a few points of contention here or there, this episode did cover a great many philosophical rguments regarding death, faith and the afterlife that makes it really stand out in the otherwise humdrum first season.


NEXT WEEK: Janeway turns down an offer to get home because reasons. Tuvok is the Vulcan equivalent of pissed, helps lead a rebellion. It's Prime Factors.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Review: Lost 1.17: In Translation
Jin reconciles with Michael after feeling betrayed by Sun.
Lost - Season One, Episode Seventeen - ...In Translation
Written 29/5/13

The first phase of the season showed us Sun's side of the argument. Now, at last, we get to see Jin's perspective, and boy does it pay off. In Translation (a pun on Lost In Translation) sees a number of plotlines sew themselves up in an explosive way, as Sun's secret lingustic skills are discovered and someone burns Michael's raft. Two characters who made their mark through sheer isolation have been shoved into the limelight and have become a driving factor in the season's plot.
     In the past, we see the flashback events in House of the Rising Sun from Jin's perspective. Sun's mafioso father Mr. Paik is willing to let Jin marry his daughter, in exchange for working in his company. One day, he is promoted to do a different kind of work - he is sent to "send a message" to an uncooperative minister. Jin, bless him, doesn't understand, and the minister is so grateful that he gives Jin a dog. Angry, Mr. Paik sends Jin to beat the guy up, and it is this incident that leads to him coming home bloody shirted. Jin goes and sees his estranged father, and they bond, as it is revealed that all the while Sun was planning to leave him, he was planning to forget about her father and start a new life with her in Los Angeles.
     On the island, Jin and Michael get into an argument when Jin gets pissy over Sun daring to wear a bikini. Later that night the first raft is burnt by an unknown source; it's assumed to be Jin. When he is hauled in front of the people the next morning, Sun exposes her lie and defends him. When they begin to question her testimony given her month of deception, Locke stands up and blames the sabotage on The Others. Sayid and Shannon become an item despite Boone's prattling. Locke confronts Walt, who admits in confidence that it was he who burnt the raft, as he didn't want to leave. Jin and Sun stop talking to one another, and Jin makes peace with Michael by helping him start work on the second raft.
Jin's Dad doesn't mind him being ashamed of him.
     The flashbacks were both kinda cute and tragic at the same time, as we were shown a very different side of Jin's personality - the one that would become the default instead of "arsey, controlling husband". There is a hint of the naivité, a natural innocence whose corruption has led to this shift in personality. He's a dick on the island not just because he's scarred from Mr. Paik's work, not just because he feels isolated due to the language barrier, but also because his plan to bring back both the love of his wife and his own self-respect went down with 815. Good one, Jacob.
     I'm glad that they played up the tragedy in Jin and Sun's relationship rather more than they played up the Raft Mystery, which sorted itself out in a way which felt natural and unburdoning. This was not an episode to bludgeon us with questions - it was one for answering them, for answering those surrounding the two people outcast from the outcasts. The revelation to the group of Sun's English is a great moment and the way the relationships surrounding that moment are handled marks In Translation out as one of the season greats.


NEXT WEEK: 481516234248151623424815162342.... the Numbers are cursed man, I tell ya...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Review: The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) - Directed By Wes Anderson
Written 19/10/13.

I tried to review this the day I first saw it, a few months ago. I gave up. I had to stand down and admit to myself that I am not in any way a serious studier of film - I'm just a guy who writes about it now and then on his own website. I do not have the tools in my arsenal to accurately describe all of the minutiae of Wes Anderson's films. Well, I just got the DVD in the mail and I needed something to occupy my time with, so this is my simple and honest attempt to discuss with you a film for which I have incredibly confused feelings.
     As I mentioned in my review of Moonrise Kingdom, the most recent Wes Anderson film, his directorial style mainly employs the use of plinky plonky, whimsical music over well-crafted shots, with a few trademarks being symmetrical scene set-ups, whole-screen face close-ups and cut-aways to books or records within the universe of the film. The performances occupy a form of melodrama which converts everything into a dry, laconic style in which emotion and meaning is conveyed by small physical actions rather than facial expressions and/or vocal intonation. This is used to craft a story with a large number of call-backs, recurring elements and themes, as well as a bittersweet view of the world which doesn't quite fall into realism or cynicism but alternates between the two for the purposes of the plot.
     The film's characters are the Tenenbaums and their associates, a family of geniuses whose neglectful father figure Royal (Gene Hackman) leads into a lifestyle which will inevitably cause them to all break down after a 22 year plot jump to the beginning of the film. His children are financially-gifted Chas (an understated Ben Stiller) who is overprotective of his kids after the death of his wife the year before, former Tennis pro Richie (Luke Wilson) who garnered his father's attentions but has become a recluse since a public breakdown, and their adopted sister Margot (Gwenyth Paltrow) who lives a depressed, promiscuous existence and with whom Richie is madly in love with. There's also Eli Cash (Tom Wilson), Richie's childhood friend with whom Margot is having an affair. Royal, seeing his wife Etheline (Angelica Houston) is moving on with her life, attempts to bring his family back together by pretending to have stomach cancer and eventually is forced to move beyond his deceit and actually become a better person.
      Individual character development amongst the epic cast of characters is minimal on an individual basis, with each being forced to overcome their major neurosis by the film's end - the focus being on the family's collective improvement thanks to Royal's reckless actions. There are a few very strong scenes that stand out in people's memories of the film which I do have to cover, but they're pretty spoilery so if you've been reading up till now, go on and see the film. "waits." Okay, so one of the film's most famous scenes is one in which Richie, whose image in the film encompasses long hair and a large beard, responds to finding out about Margot's promiscuity by shaving all of his hair off and then cutting his arms open using his razor. The way this scene is shot, with Luke Wilson staring the viewer down as his image literally falls from his character and then professing his wish to die, is incredibly powerful.
Richie, Margot, Royal, Chas, Ethel, Henry and Pagoda.
       The problem being that it comes as a moment of melodrama in a pretty none melodramatic film. Margot as a character occupies a permanent malaise which has a variety of causes - her adoptive father's prejudice against her, her real father chopping her finger off by accident, being led into a marriage to an older man after finding no satisfaction in her youth. The film presents her promiscuity after her parents' breakup as an outlet for this malaise, an attempt to engage with the world. Richie's suicide attempt in response to learning about this past is displayed afterwards as a tragic thing which one or more other characters somehow blame on her. She then reveals her mutual love for him, and despite their icky issues they're implied to be closer and happier together afterwards. In a way, you could say that Richie is rewarded for showing the behaviours he shows in the film - behaviours which are obsessive, and creepy. He falls in love with his sister, spends his childhood painting portraits of her, fails in his chosen profession because she got married and has to go on a round-the-world voyage 10 years later because he's still obsessed with her.
      I think there's a very blurred line between dark humour and serious drama, and it's one that The Royal Tenenbaums tries to sit on for as long as possible. The suicide scene is a perfect example of how this both jarrs and sets the tone - the horror of seeing the blood roll down his arms then set against seeing him rushed through a hospital ward, face still covered in a thick layer of shaving cream. An earlier scene in which Royal's best friend stabs him and then helps him hobble over to a cab like an old buddy. And then the final scene, in which a funeral headstone makes up a funny lie about the cause of death. Direction technicalities aside, these little things that run throughout are what define The Royal Tenenbaums - they are what make it memorable, what make it lovable, and what set up this film as a classic piece of early Noughties cinema.


Monday, 21 October 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Android Invasion
How much cooler can Doctor Who get?
Doctor Who - Season 13, Story Four - The Android Invasion
Written 27/5/13

It's a little bit sad, really, that it's taken til this point in the season to find a story that I truly enjoyed. Sure, Terror of the Zygons and The Pyramids of Mars may have their merits, but this era's penchant for Gothic depressiveness leaves me with something of a bitter taste in the mouth. The Android Invasion has both a newfound sense of levity and a commitment towards new ideas, taking mystery and humour and wrapping them together in a tasty little ball. At one point I almost found myself calling it "Moffat done well," except for the fact that he probably doesn't like this story. (And at least three or four percent of my love for it comes from how Fandom tends to treat it.)
     The Doctor and Sarah believe they've landed in the quaint country village of Devesham, but something is amiss - there are armed, hooded men in the woods and the village seems abandoned. A deliciously slow reveal sees the village repopulated and the discovery of an astronaught, thought lost but in fact kidnapped and brainwashed by the Kraals, who have recreated the village and space-centre in order to plan their invasion of Earth using Android duplicates.
     There's a sense of fun in the script, with The Doctor out of his grumpy mood and finally having real chemistry with Sarah Jane again. Our villains aren't the forebearers of great myths, they're not almighty beings who are plotting to destroy the planet or the universe or such. They're just aliens rather maniacally trying to find a new homeworld. The use of Androids in this story is done rather well - a lot like the Androids of Tara, the duplication is played more for drama than for comedy, which means that it works just about perfectly. Put together with a nice country setting and a half-decent rocket control centre, and we're talking gold.
Sarah saves the Doctor from being dissolved.
    The story also features one of my favorite cliffhangers of the Tom Baker era thus far, in which The Doctor discovers the duplicate Sarah and we see her face fall off as she's knocked to the ground. It's a brilliantly chilling moment and is one of many that I love. A man climbing out of a pod and strangling Sarah Jane, the Stepford-esque nature of the Androids in their confusion at the Doctor and Sarah Jane's presence, the scene in which The Doctor comes face to face with his armed duplicate. It's a treasure trove of great moments.
     I really fail to see why anyone can dislike this story, really. It was by far the most fun I've had this season - and that doesn't seem as though it's going to change any time soon, seeing as next week we've got a Frankenstein analogue and the week after it's a Triffids one. The concept behind android duplicates may not be particularly original, but the slow-burning mystery of the episode's premise was well-executed enough that it complemented the witty banter and made by far the most enjoyable serial of the season.


NEXT WEEK: Where the production team decide to do more retconning in a single scene than Moffat managed to do in 45 minutes... it's The Brain of Morbius.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Review: Atlantis 1.4: A Twist Of Fate

Topics inappropriate for younger readers, from the outset. And spoilers, if any of you actually care.
The new sitcom from the guy who brought you a plotline
where a male character's dilemma was that someone had
used their magic superpower to steal his penis.
Howard Overman wrote a series in which one of the brick jokes was about using a Fisherman's Friend in order to enhance oral sex. In which one of the main characters had sex with a gorilla. In which an Immortal character set up a TV event in which he repeatedly shot himself in the head. And yet, despite that abject vulgarity, despite the silliness and over-the-top appeals to a Skins/Inbetweeners audience, it was still some of the most hilarious television of its time. It was a show that moved me, that created six well-developed, flawed yet likeable characters and had awesome sci-fi enriched plotlines. That series is called Misfits, and it is not the subject of this review.
      The subject of this review is of the most recent episode of Atlantis, a show which is Misfits' antithesis in every point I made above and yet, painfully, is written by the same person.
      This week saw Atlantis' take on the great drama of Oedipus, of course inserting its unlikely ensemble into the mix for reasons which are currently unknown to science. The three dumb heroes find a baby in the woods and Hercules (Mark Addy, the only member of the main cast worth talking about) grows attached to it, returning it to the city and having the other two help him take care of it. Turns out it's a visiting King's deliberately rejected son, who the asshole Oracle foretold would become Freud's wet dream by killing his dad and marrying his mother. The three, on behalf of the mother and of an awesome servant named Tiresias (Donald Sumpter, Game of Thrones and Being Human), smuggle the baby out. Medusa gives Hercules a peck on the cheek and Queen Pasiphae grows angrily like a hungry bear.
     I was ready to give up (as I always am with this show) when the lazy jokes aimed at "three men and a baby" humour turned up, and that thin sliver of plot took up the vast majority of the first half of the episode, only developing into something mildly juicy whenever Donald Sumpter's character arrived on the scene. He's the first character in four weeks that I've actually taken seriously, seeing as everyone else feels like they're in a poor Merlin spinoff show and are very aware of that fact. Mark Addy again got some of the little character development on offer, while Pythagoras and Jason are bostinate in their refusal to move from their positions as mildly amusing idiots. Which would be fine, if Mark Addy's character wasn't the simple comic relief who gets constantly belittled when, all things considered, he's the most rational and sympthasable one there.
Maester Lewin is too good for this shit.
     We're settling into a nice little routine now, and I am somewhat used to watching a scene with a group of people, thinking "I Don't Care" and not having that opinion changed by the end of the episode. Ariadne, Pasiphae, Minos - I don't really care about anything they're doing or why they're doing it. Meanwhile, ignoring the main three, I'm wondering why Medusa is still here, especially as I was expecting her to be a momentary fascination and not, I am bewildered to say, Hercules' main love interest. Wowzers. This show might have some decent plot next.
     Ha. Fat chance.


NEXT WEEK: I was wrong! Well, maybe. Some plot might actually happen as long as Jason can tell some White Lies.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Review: Voyager 1.8: Ex Post Facto

Lidell Ren, the classical disillusioned seductress.
Star Trek Voyager - Season One, Episode Eight - Ex Post Facto
Written 31/5/13

Ex Post Facto plunges Voyager into a new genre, taking a look at Agatha Christie style interbellum detective stories - with a suitably sci-fi twist to proceedings. Larger than life characters and rather hilarious line reads feed into an attempt at discussion of justice and of life in general, pushing the boat out and producing an episode that, despite its silliness, has some really good ideas.
     Tom Paris is sentenced for murder on Banea, forced to relive the final moments of the man he supposedly killed every 14 hours in a vivid hallucination. As Kim is sent back to Voyager, he tells the tale; the two of them met with scientist Tolen Ren to fix one of Voyager's systems, and Paris was attracted to disillusioned wife Lidell. Supposedly, Tom was found kissing Lidell and then killed Tolen to cover his tracks. The crew protest his innocence, with Tuvok mind-melding with him to watch the vision himself. He discovers that he has been framed by an agent of the Baneans' enemies, The Numiri, and Tom is set free.
     The episode reads like a Film Noir script, often to hilarious effect. Lidell Ren is a stereotype through and through, and it's wonderful, with such lines like, "Maybe I kill myself slowly because I don't have the courage to do it quickly" and "ending a marriage... it's a quiet thing." I also loved that Tuvok got the chance to become a main player for the first time, investigating the case in a wonderfully dispassionate way. Tim Russ is one of the show's best players and I'm glad that he got the chance to make himself known.
Tom has his first vision.
     Ex Post Facto felt like a pretty decent investigative story, and despite the fact that it's been seen a million times before it was executed in such a way to make it fun. Voyager in general is at least good at that. I do find it odd that Voyager finds so many different diversions on its trip home (they stop off and look at something every episode, they're not exactly being urgent), and the troubles between the Baneans and Numiri would have been more interesting had we knew who they were, but in the early seasons of Voyager you just have to take what you can get.


NEXT WEEK: Voyager gets deep and talks about the Afterlife. It's Emanations.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Review: Lost 1.16: Outlaws
Saywer shoots the man he thinks conned his parents.
Lost - Season One, Episode Sixteen - Outlaws
Written 29/5/13

After most of the season spent its time exploring characters and then redeeming them for their faults, last week saw a turnaround - an exploration of how the characters are trying to better themselves after their sins of the past. Who better then to look at than Sawyer, whose main plot this week felt a little odd, even if it did allow for a great many character moments. A fair chunk of the episode's best moments are in the flashbacks, which is a nice change, but there's some good wherever you look.
     In his flashbacks, we saw Sawyer pointed by friend Hibbs towards someone who used to be called Sawyer, leading him to believe that it is the conman who led to his father's murder-suicide (which you have to blame his Dad for a little bit, there's really no need for murder-suicide just cos your wife lied to you). The man is Frank Duckett, a US ex-pat who now lives in Sydney, leading Sawyer to go there in search of him. He initially is put off by Duckett's pleasant demeanour, scared of killing him. A conversation with a drunk and saddened Christian Shepherd (Jack's dad) pushes him to get it over with, but upon fatally wounding Duckett he discovers that he's been conned by Hibbs, and that Duckett was just someone who hadn't repaid a loan.
     On the Island, Sawyer's tent is ravaged in the night by a boar, who later attacks him in the Jungle. Sawyer, believing that the boar is out to get him, employs Kate's help to track and kill the boar, reluctantly giving her carte blanche over his stash. On their journey they play a revealing game of I Never, have a creepy conversation with Locke, and have their camp raided overnight by the boar. However, remembering Duckett, Sawyer is unable to kill the boar and lets it go free. Elsewhere, and as Michael's raft is nearing completion, Sayid helps Charlie deal with the shell-shock he has after killing Ethan.
Kate drinks in Sawyer's game of I Never.
     The game of I Never scene and the scene in the Australian bar are by far the stand-outs of the episode, with the former throwing us a variety of future plot hints in a way that jumps from joviality straight to tension on the sound of a pindrop. The scene in the bar is quite tragic, like something out of a piece of Classic American literature, as we hear a man whose lfie has gone to hell lament his own weakness and the actions that led him there. It's scenes like that that distinguish John Terry's Christian Shephard out as one of the best guest characters on the show, and his work in that scene is an utter delight.
     I don't get much to say when they're good. The scenario surrounding Sawyer's personification of his victim Frank Duckett into an arsey boar is a silly one and it stretched credulity at times that right after the Ethan incident the camp would be willing to accept Sawyer's wish to go out and hunt it. But the character moments were good enough that the overall effect was a pleasing one, and finally seeing the depths of Sawyer's demons brought another side to the character that I really liked.


Monday, 14 October 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Pyramids of Mars
Kneel before Zod! Sutekh!
Doctor Who - Season 13, Story Three - The Pyramids of Mars
Written between 26th and 27th May 2013

Hallelujah, calls the chorus of the Fandom. For how great in its majesty is the all-mighty Pyramids of Mars, which verily is the bestest story of them all. Or something. The level of love and devotion that the fandom gives to this story is ironic for the theme surrounding overzealous devotion. At times there was a certain Hype Backlash that threatened to turn me against this story, but I had warmed up to it by the end and I can certainly understand why so many people adore it.
     While trying to return to the Brigadier (with a grumpy Doc wanting to hand in his resignation), the TARDIS is pulled off course and arrives seventy years too early. In the priory that existed before the UNIT Headquarters were built, the two discover the machinations of the ancient Osiran Sutekh (aka Set) who, trapped inside a Pyramid in Egypt, has used his sheer mental powers to control archaeologist Professor Scarman into building a rocket to destroy the Martian power source that keeps him trapped. The Doctor realises that Sutekh would ravage the Solar System if he was released, and so plays a game of sabotage as he tries to defeat him.
     Gabriel Woolf's Sutekh is an impressive villain, with his iconic mummy-robot servants combining a simple design with a sly effectiveness. In true Hinchcliffe and Holmes style, the episode takes a lot of its cues from the horror of Gothic Classics, here especially evoking the Edwardian fascination with all things Egyptian. The final few moments, where Sutekh almost escapes but is trapped in a time bubble by The Doctor, is almost a cop-out, but the build-up in the rest of the episode is enjoyable enough to make up for that.
Sarah Jane is a great shot.
      Although... it does take a bloody long time to get going. The first episode is filled with a great deal of tedium as we face negative stereotypes surrounding people from the Middle-East, especially with an Egyptian man playing the piano forebodingly and then cursing white people as unbelievers who need to be destroyed and chanting in Egyptian verse. Plus, there's the annoying factor of the Doctor's character, which seems to have been written with a Four who is as grouchy and grumpy as in the worst moments of his taciturn predecessor.
     I think the problem I'm having in adjusting to 70s Who is the lack of exploration of socio-political allegories (or bat-shit crazy production decisions). The Pyramids of Mars is a standard, very-well made adventure, and from the perspective of a child at the time watching, it's a story that channels a lot of cool Gothic themes and has a villain that make even The Doctor scared. After all the hype that surrounded this story throughout my childhood and entry into the fandom, it's certain that it wouldn't live up to expectations, but it was at least a story that came close.


NEXT WEEK: Harry Sullivan and Benton make one last appearance. Or do they? Yes, they do. It's The Android Invasion

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Review: Atlantis 1.3: A Boy Of No Consequence
What's the point of writing funny captions any more, eh?
Okay, I give up on being a serious critic on this show. There's just no point, it's clearly not trying to actually do anything or say anything, and it falls into so many cliches that despite the few attempts at plot we glimpsed throughout this week's debacle, it never came to anything because of the show's faith in its super-mega-awesome protagonist and its refusal to write any character who isn't a cardboard cutout. It's effortlessly sexist in the way that it only presents women who fit into the four great archetypes of "innocent, evil, matronly or sexy" and, most annoyingly, uses certain female characters simply as devices rather than imbuing them with any actual agency.
     So, the plot, of what there was. Jason gets in trouble doing daring do and Pinky and Perky get thrown in after him for no reason. Alexander Siddig's phoned-in performance (a perfectly understandable one given what a fantastic actor he is) tells us that Minoan justice is trial-by-bull, where prisoners are required to use greenscreen to pretend to leap over a bull which is unnecessarily angry in an oddly Roman arena. A plucky young girl named Elpis gives a lock of hair to Morgana-expy Queen Pasiphae in exchange for her freedom, but she's evil evil evil so it doesn't happen and Hercules is forced to use his masculine wiles to convince his girlfriend to get Medusa (from last week) to foil the old Queen's voodoo magic and save the day. Pasiphae is evil, Ariadne is boring, Jason is boring, Pythagoras has no reason to exist and I think my favourite character was the bull.
     I am a veteran of the Merlin years, when in 9 cases out of 10, the show would confirm whatever cliches you could predict, be it within seconds of your predictions or, in my unfortunate case, years. Atlantis brought that painful feeling back as I was able to see exactly what developments would happen as soon as they were mentioned, with the sole exception of the return of Medusa, which for me serves very little purpose beyond the BBC's clear attempt to appeal to the Tumblr crowd and get everyone "shipping" when in reality trying to imagine Mark Addy as a fantastic casanova is more difficult to imagine than him accomplishing the Twelve Trials. 
     The lack of mythology in this week's story was not in its favour, as the wonderful shiny glow of classroom nostalgia about learning Greek Myths and Legends left actual characterisation in its stead, resulting in a series of ill-thought-out guest characters and a focus on our main cast which made it painfully clear just how underdeveloped they still are. The crappy greenscreen effects for the bull-jumping was okay for the most part, but on occasion the mixture of the hilariously bad effect and the fact that this was an attempt by the show to appear epic left the episode a laughing stock, and not in an enjoyable way. In the crappy, why am I still watching this show sorta way. Then I remind myself that I watch this show to write angry articles about it, and I shut up.
I mean, the lack of effort put into Ariadne's character is just
appalling. Seriously. This is disgraceful.
     Still. Within fifteen minutes of this week's episode, I had resolved to never watch Atlantis again. I go on and on and fucking on in my pre-written reviews of other TV shows about how the first few episodes are about getting it right and hooking the viewer in. Atlantis could have pushed the Time Travel aspect, it could have actually made reference to injustices (and justices) in Greek society that are different from Jason's supposed home, there could be background manipulations and political intrigue and a million different plots more interesting than the three we've been left with over this fortnight. Instead, we are given a show with boring characters, cliched plots, an atmosphere broken by repeated obliterations of my disbelief and a publicity drive which is more interested in getting people to "ship" these bland archetypes than it is actually engaging them.
     I haven't been this entertainingly angered by a TV Show since Pramface.

Thanks, I suppose.

NEXT WEEK: In an epic Twist of Fate, it turns out that reference to Pramface is a damn-sight more accurate than I ever, ever wanted it to be...

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Review: Voyager 1.7: Eye of the Needle

File:Harry Kim Wormhole.jpg
Harry Kim's tiny hole.
Star Trek Voyager - Season One, Episode Seven - Eye of the Needle
Written 31/5/13

One of the number of standard Voyager plots is, "Will we get home this week?" to which the answer is always, and I mean always, no. The writing team were, as I've said before, playing it safe, and the interest instead comes from wondering if they can manage to tell us no again and again without it feeling contrived. That somewhat applies this week, which is the first of such stories, despite it being the first instance of such a plot.
     Harry Kim discovers a wormhole, which turns out to have the diameter of a school ruler. Avoiding jokes about Harry having the smallest hole on record, the gang uses a probe to relay a message through the gap.On the other side is their home, the Alpha Quadrant, and their transmission is picked up by a Romulan ship. (The Romulans are a common Trek species whose hat is usually "being shady bastards".) They plan to send across some messages home, but B'elanna gets excited when she thinks she can teleport things across the gap. It works, and they teleport the scientist across to test it. Unfortunately, the scientist is from 20 years in the past, and the entire crew of Voyager appearing twenty years prior would mess up the timeline, so they shrug and press the reset button.
      Just so we're not too depressed by the way that any and all hope is totally crushed in the space of five minutes, there's a nice little subplot adressing The Doctor's individuality and Kes' incredible memory and half-crush on him. Robert Picardo and Jennifer Lien have this wonderful chemistry and they're just so sweet on screen together that it made up for all of the false tension in the rest of the episode. I find it a little bit odd that Neelix never has a rant at The Doctor, seeing as she spends all her time with him and kissed him and is asking The Captain to do special things for him and stuff.
File:Telek R'Mor.jpg
The Romulan Captain.
     I don't think that the main plot of the episode was bad, I just think they took it too far. You play stuff for drama and tension, that's what television is, but it got to a point where the hopes were raised a little too high. Where everything had gone so right for so long that any complications that arose would feel like a cheap cop-out of the highest order, and the sudden if understandable fact that the Romulan Captain was now a Time-Traveller felt like exactly that. Such is the problem with this format at all - these scenarios where the ending is a cop-out? 90% of stories with this format are like this.
     Despite this fact, Eye of the Needle is by no means a bad episode, and the surge of hope running through it still shines out even with the overbearing fact that this shit ain't gonna work. It's still a valuable contribution to the series if only for the Doctor's storyline alone. Also, I don't remember Neelix being in this episode. Which immediately keeps it in my good books.


NEXT WEEK: I prefer the German title, which is, "The Eyes of the Dead", which just sounds frickin awesome, but we'll make do and mend as Tom Paris is sentenced to relive crimes he didn't commit in Ex Post Facto.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Review: Lost 1.15: Homecoming
Ethan lies dead. Spoilers.
Lost - Season One, Episode Fifteen - Homecoming
Written 28/5/12

 This episode was apparently quoted by lead writer Damon Lindelhof as being his least favourite episode of the show, which is more proof if any was needed that he is a man of bad taste. Homecoming sees the Losties take their destiny in their own hands in a big way by hunting down Ethan, as well as seeing Charlie start his second of about fifty seven bajillion redemption curves as he struggles to reconcile with amnesiac Claire.
     Claire returns but she has no memory of anything after the crash. As the camp wonders how she escaped and what's gonna happen, Ethan attacks Jin and gives Charlie an ultimatum - return Claire, or someone dies every night. The Losties try to create a night perimeter but Ethan kills beloved background character Steve (or is it Scott?) and Jack literally gets the big guns out, with Claire offering herself up as bait for an ambush. The group corners Ethan and has him at gunpoint but in a moment of anger Charlie shoots him in the chest, unwilling to let him remain in the same space as Claire. In the past, we see Charlie just before he goes to Australia to ask his brother to reform the band. He's in Manchester, and is working for his dealer to steal from a rich heiress. Charlie sees the opportunity in the relationship he forms with her to create a normal life, but a moment of temptation and then hospitalisation due to his withdrawl symptoms sees his original purpose discovered, leading to his rejection.
     Charlie's story across the show is not one that can really be commended. Despite the early promise in his storyline, he sorta turns out to be a bit of a prick and until the end of Season Three (and his eventual Heroic Sacrifice) there's not much to like about him. This is sorta the beginning of that, as Charlie takes a sort of possessiveness over Claire that just doesn't seem right given that she no longer remembers who he is. His killing of Ethan keeps both the camp and the viewers in the dark about who the fuck Ethan is, where he came from and why he was hunting Claire.
Meanwhile, Charlie sells copiers while recovering from
addiction! Fun time for all.
    I should really talk about Ethan before he pops off and becomes a flash-back only character. I have no doubt that in his original capacity as Mr. Creepy that he fulfills that role perfectly, but the problem is that when saying any other line at all the delivery is wooden and thus hilarious. The line back from Daddy Issues is a great example - "If you do not stop following me, I will kill one of them!", delivered in the style of a pre-badassification George McFly. He's not someone you can really take seriously, and his stunted delivery becomes even more jarring later when we find out that he brainwashed Claire into thinking that he was the most trustworthy person ever.
      Homecoming was something different to the norm - there was a sense of tension, of excitement, of great danger. Season One plays most of the situations out to their most realistic, and the precautions that the camp takes as the "A Team" try to protect their people from Ethan's attacks feel semi-realistic. Not that that's particularly important, I suppose, but it's the little touches like that which at this stage of the game seperate Lost from the rest. After setting up all of our characters in their own wonderful little bubbles, the show puts the pieces on the playing field and watches them go. And the ability to do that and still feel cohesive is commendable.


NEXT WEEK: It's another Sawyer story! Where he shoots a guy. Hmm. It's Outlaws.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Planet of Evil

If I could send one message into the past, it would be to the Doctor Who writing teams across the 70s and 80s, to tell them that antimatter does not work like that.
The victims of the Anti-man.
Doctor Who - Season 13, Story Two - Planet of Evil
Written 25/5/13

I can say that Planet of Evil was a story I found quite infuriating. What attempts were made to create a chilling, tense plot were squandered very quickly by a fatal combination of mumbo-jumbo sci-fi and characters as thunderously stupid as they get on Who. What it all boils down to is a rather basic story, borrowing lightly from classics like Jekyll and Hyde and contributing, as the mediocrity of its title entails, very little.
     The Doctor and Sarah encounter the remains of a science expedition to the planet Zeta Minor, on the edge of the known Universe. There Professor Sorenson hopes to exploit naturally occuring antimatter in the planet's ores to create an energy source that will restart the dying star of Monastra, the planet currently at the centre of a grand Human Empire. A ship comes to pick them up, finding Sorenson as the only survivor and blaming The Doctor and Sarah for everything under the sun. As they try to fly away from the planet, it pulls them back, wanting to reclaim the antimatter that has worked its way into Sorenson's system and transformed him into a horrific "Anti-man".
     Antimatter in reality is a form of matter whose properties in relation to forces are the opposite. Equal amounts of matter and antimatter are created when pure energy is turned into matter, which then equalises because matter and antimatter annihilate one another on contact.The script follows a wonderful Who tradition of completely misunderstanding what antimatter is by acting as if it's some kind of mutagenic radioactive material and that there's an antimatter universe somewhere that people can walk around in and come back for tea and crumpets later.
Sorenson's transformation.
     The episode's guest cast contained a surprising number of actors from previous stories, the most jarring being the final appearance of Who favourite Michael Wisher (aka Davros). Prentis Hancock's Controller Salamar is the episode's most notable guest star, however, simply for how desperately annoying he is. There seems to have been an attempt to see his slow decent into psychosis, but what results is a character who seems absurdly paranoid from the off, adding him to a roster of Who characters who see a man in a strange scarf and assume he's a mass murderer.
      The best thing about the episode is probably its early jungle setting, which was constructed in studio and, with the assistance of some well-used film, looks really convincing as an alien environment. The exotic brilliance of Zeta Minor's landscape is sadly poorly used on the big scale, with the action for the vast majority of the story moving to a set of bland spaceships with drab gray walls that wobble when you walk past them.
     Planet of Evil tries to be something more, but the dull Jekyll and Hyde endplot combined with a series of poor choices in both scripting and execution of classical horror ideas made what could have been a creepy story into something of a bore-fest for me. This may be a period of Who that is fondly remembered by a generation of fans, but for me as a first-time viewer Planet of Evil is as boring and unmemorable as Doctor Who can ever really be for me.


NEXT WEEK: The so-called best story ever... we take a sight-seeing tour to The Pyramids of Mars.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Review: Atlantis 1.2: A Girl By Any Other Name

I'm trying desperately to imagine Mark Addy as the great hero who completed the 12 Trials. The hero who held up the sky as well as Atlas did, who used a fine mixture of strength and cunning to capture Cerberus, the three-headed hell-hound at the gates of Hades. It's a task almost as difficult as trying to place my feels about Atlantis, which continues to fail to justify its existence beyond mere visual chewing gum for a Saturday evening. Greek Mythology is brutal and gory, more suited to HBO dramas than the family audience that Atlantis is so desperately trying to appeal to.
Hercules and Medusa. From the BBC
     This week's plot was a little more original, mixing and matching the tale of the Gorgons and of the Dionysian cults native to Crete (where this series seems to place Atlantis.) Being the perfect little hero that he is, Jason agrees to help an old man find his daughter, who they discover has been inducted into the man-hating cult of Dionysus. Travelling through what looks suspiciously like Albion, the three protagonists sneak in with the help of Medusa (pre-transformation), who then helps them escape with the guy's daughter. Because Jason forgot that women are allowed to have free will, she decides to kill herself rather than leave the environment in which she feels valued and loved. Jason goes back and lies to the Old Man and he dies happy.
     Atlantis is very, very fond of Historical name-dropping, which is a bit like having historical guest stars except that they never actually have to live up to their famous appearance. What exactly is the point of having Medusa in this episode? Seriously, this episode could have been done with any other random girl in her place. With the name Medusa being the only thing that actually makes this episode sound interesting, you'd expect to see a Gorgon or two around, but no such luck. It's probably a good thing, really, considering that in the mainstream myth, Medusa becomes a Gorgon when she's cursed by Athena for being sexually assaulted in her temple.
     This episode put some more focus on Hercules, whose role as plucky comic relief for the vast majority, almost frustratingly so. As off-putting as Merlin's formulaic nature was (and you're gonna keep hearing me comparing this show to Merlin), it at least managed to establish its core characterisations very quickly. The characters in Atlantis are hollow archetypes with no backstories or identifiable traits which are realistic in context. Give me a Hercules who's bitter about not being remembered as the valiant hero he was, a Pythagoras who's slightly mentally unhinged. Give me a Jason who's actually close to either his mythological namesake or the "fish out of water" guy we've been told to expect instead of a boring all-powerful never-has-any-problems standard bland protagonist.
I'm probably wrong to expect something more feminist from
the writer who made Alisha deep-throat a drinks bottle.
From the BBC
     And as I said before, the switching between the dry dustiness of the Morroccan deserts and the lush forests of South Wales present some of the most jarring scenery that I've ever seen - especially when I recognise the same damn areas that were used over and over again in Merlin. My suspension of disblief has been stretched enough by ancient Greeks using Modern English, and my temperment stretched by all of the female characters being servants, mad or blindly in love with our empty-minded protagonist. A series can very well look great, but that means diddly squat if I'm not invested in the characters.
     The series is just flashing warning signs at me constantly, and I don't know whether to take them on board and give up on it or to ignore them and see just where it goes. As it stands, I have very little investment in its bland archetypical characters, nor any of the gradiose mysteries which require vast re-writes of understood mythology in order to incorporate our out-of-place characters. Prophecies and grand plans tend to work best when they actually promise something, or suggest something that the present would contradict. As it stands, it's just grand posturing and the show really needs to start showing me actual characters and dilemmas instead of the vapid run-arounds that it's shown thus far.


NEXT WEEK: Doctor Bashir gets all arsey and decides to throw our protagonist to the Bulls. He and I agree that The Boy Must Die.

Opinion: Orphan Black
It's a none-hokey Clone plot! From tvtyrant
Couldn't leave this one alone.

BBC America's cross-Atlantic drama Orphan Black made its UK landfall on BBC Three two weeks ago, after a successful run in the US. Set in TV-Toronto and aiming for a Miracle-Day-esque combination of UK writing and US production values, the series follows a series of clones who aim to discover where they come from, who made them and why they're all being slowly assassinated. The focus is on British clone Sarah Manning, who must make the decision between exploring the conspiracy around her birth and in taking care of her foster family and estranged toddler.
     While the show's clone pot is nothing special, Tatiana Masleny's performance as around three or four different clones in the same episode (often within the same scene), as well as her performance of Sarah who then pretends to be her other clones, is one of the most remarkable I've seen in a while. While the Canadian actress' accents often slip and slide, she accomplishes certain feats which from an acting perspective are astounding. The way that one actress can create personalities and mannerisms for six different characters as well as portraying how each of those characters would go about impersonating one of the other six is just astounding. It's not too much of a stretch for me to say that she is probably one of the best actresses I've ever seen.
      While Maslany's ridiculously good performance is proably what you're tuning in for, the show's developing background mystery does play off the various characterisations of her clones in order to create a fairly interesting show. So far the show's plot has dipped and dived in a number of directions, but I'm fairly confident that the show can deliver on its premise and create a slice of cross-Atlantic TV that actually works for once. And I'm really glad that someone has managed to make that happen.


Thursday, 3 October 2013

Review: Voyager 1.6: The Cloud

I know, a gif on Nostalgia Filter! Totes amazeballs.
Star Trek Voyager - Season One, Episode Six - The Cloud
Written 31/5/13

The Cloud is most definitely a breather episode, although seeing as Voyager is arguably a breather series this poses something of a dilemma - how, exactly, can one become even more thin and jovial than Voyager usually is? The Cloud manages this with what I suppose might be called success, and is probably the closest that any of the Treks have come to being a space sitcom. Not to say that this is bad, of course, as Voyager trying to be funny is at least better than when it does so unintentionally.
     Due to a power shortage that's stopping Janeway from getting her damn coffee, she orders the ship into a suspicious-looking nebula that might have some technobabbly particles. The nebula fights back, and after Voyager fights her way out it's shown that the nebula is a life-form. Distressed that they may have hurt it, they go back in and seal the wound, feeling chuffed with themselves at the end. Along the way, The Doctor is snarky to hilarious levels, Neelix is a whiny prick (just the norm, really), Janeway tries to socialise with the crew and goes on a Native American "vision quest", and we're introduced to Season 1+2 haunt Sandrine's, one of Paris' favourite holoprograms.
     The series prided itself on its inclusivity - female captain, African American Security officer, Native American First Officer, Latin American Chief Engineer, Asian-American Ensign. However, the way that Voyager treated Chakotay and his Native American roots did sometimes feel a little suspect. Take this, for instance. Chakotay was born on Earth in the 24th Century, and yet because he's Native American in ethnicity (or we're told he is; the actor is Mexican-American) he has all this wonderful mystical Spirit Guide stuff. Why can't he be like Tuvok and B'elanna and simply exist and be represented instead of being forced to display all of these stereotypes about a culture whose treatment in the USA has been and often continues to be horrendous.
File:The Doctor tries to get attention.jpg
Doctor-based comedy hijinks.
     But, perhaps I'm getting a little too serious for what was supposed to be a light outing. So onto Janeway's character in this episode, which introduces a great number of recurring traits that will define her for at least 33% of the series run. (The other thirds are "psychotic madwoman" and "staunch starfleet officer") This episode I don't think introduces but certainly codifies her obsession with coffee, and the line before the title sequence, "Commander, set a new course - there's coffee in that nebula!" is just delivered so perfectly. Her quaint attempts to socialise with the crew, especially the gormless Harry (who reveals this week that he can... remember what if feels like to be in the womb...) who wants to invite her to eat with the gentiles.
     The Cloud is a relief episode with little to be relieved from besides any actual tension. The explorations into some of our characterisations and the insinuation that the Voyager crew have quirky day-to-day lives help to develop Voyager into the comfort TV that it would later become, and I can't really complain about that. Mindless mush it may be, but it's vaguely enjoyable mindless mush and if you don't like it when Janeway totally puts down Neelix's whining then there's nothing really I can do for you.


NEXT WEEK: Voyager nearly has a chance to get home! I wonder how that one will turn out! We see if the suspension of disbelief required for next week's episode could fit through the Eye of the Needle.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Review: Lost 1.14: Special
Walt displays his super knife-throwing skills.
Lost - Season One, Episode Fourteen - Special
Written 28/5/13

Michael Dawson and his unfortunate story within Lost as a whole initially stands out from the group as the only example where Lost's favourite trope, that of parental issues determining personalities, is shown from the parent's perspective. Like a lot of the other centric episodes, Special presents us with a character's problematic nature and then attempts to redeem them in the second half, which this episode does magnificently with a cute-as-fuck resolution that makes me ever more sad at what happened to these two characters.
     Flashbacks leading to just before the flight show us how Walt was born into a successful relationship which then broke apart when Michael's loss of work led wife Susan to take Walt away to Amsterdam (and later to Sydney) and to shack up with Brian Porter, a man who then adopts his son. Throughout their breakup Michael continues to feel fatherly responsibility towards Walt despite not having any of the ability. Soon after Brian becomes uneasy about Walt's seemingly morbid nature, his mother dies and Brian, shirking out on the adoption, offers Walt and Vincent the dog into Michael's custody. To avoid Walt from feeling betrayed by his step-dad a few days after his mother died, Michael takes the flack and says that it is he who wants to take Walt to live in New York.
     On the Island, Michael's restlessness and increasing frustration with how Walt has turned to the dangerous Locke as a father figure led to him deciding to build a raft, attempting to engage Walt's interest in its construction but just managing to drive him further away. Charlie reads Claire's diary and discovers to his deight that before she was kidnapped she was beginning to have feelings for him. Vincent runs off into the woods and Walt becomes cornered by a Polar Bear, but he is eventually saved by Locke and Michael in a settling of their differences. While out scouting for Vincent, Locke and Boone find Claire walking in the woods, disoriented.
Walt and Michael reconcile.
     One of the problems with this kind of episode format wherin we are turned against a character and then redeem them with newfound information in both the flashbacks and the present story (a la Confidence Man from a month or so ago) is that for the majority of the episode Michael's actions in the present seem ridiculously unbalanced. It's difficult to remember sometimes that 99% of their relationship has taken place on the Island, and that despite his battles for custody, Michael has no idea how to actually parent. His willingness to protect Walt both from the Polar Bear (which is a brilliant scene and one of my favourites in a while) and from the betrayal of his step-father is what sets him apart as one of the show's more complex characters at this stage in the game.
     Special takes a character whose presence had often been annoying one (WAAAAAAAALLLLTTT!!!) and gives it that typical Lost do-over that makes it into a powerful and very well-written relationship between a son getting over the loss of his mother and a father who despite his previous confidence has no idea how to care for him properly. I wish they hadn't put in all the stuff about Walt's supposed abilities, because the moment they decided that the character had to go they left that on the cutting room floor, but overall it's one of the best episodes of this format so far.


NEXT WEEK: A Charlie episode. Ethan gets got and Charlie acts creepy around an amnesiac Claire. It's that old gem, Homecoming.