Saturday, 30 August 2014

Review: Doctor Who 8.2: Into The Dalek

http://www.doctorwhotv.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/into-the-dalek-next-time.jpg
The Doctor and co go inside a Dalek using Fantastic
Voyage
technology. From Doctorwhotv
When I first read the script for Into The Dalek (then titled Into The Darkness, which received some ridicule from the Star Trek fanbase), I likened it to a cross between 1977's The Invisible Enemy, 2005's Dalek and 2011's Let's Kill Hitler. While the onscreen result contained a mixture of all three visually, the result was very different thematically - a melting pot of thoughts, not sure whether it wants to push the old chestnut of a "darker" Doctor or whether to appeal to the series' age-old optimism. The execution of a lot of the scripts ideas failed to live up to its potential, but I liked the script on its own merits and that gave the episode most of its appeal to me.
     In a bizarre return to Series Seven's habit of The Doctor having to pick up his companion from a dull(ish) daily life, The Doctor happens upon an ailing ship escaping from some Daleks, and is called upon by committed soldier Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton) to help repair a Dalek who wishes to exterminate his own kind. Picking up Clara (who is currently having a Meet Cute with new regular Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson)), he and a group of soldiers use shrinking technology to become microscopic and enter the Dalek's body. Along the way, a soldier called Ross (Ben Crompton, Pramface) gets executed by the Dalek's internal antibodies and The Doctor coldly uses his death to hack into the Dalek's security. Once they've fixed the Dalek (now known as Rusty), he reverts to being a genocidal maniac and The Doctor and Clara have to show Rusty the meaning of beauty once more. Rusty kills all the bad Daleks and hurrah the day is saved, minus a few lives.
     The episode felt a little rushed - probably because of last week's more palatable slower pace, which was unusually good for NuWho despite the content surrounding it. This mainly came from the protrusion of Danny Pink's introduction into the story - instead of us getting time to know our guest cast, we got character development for him, and the result was a set of characters whose personalities, initially, were very bare boned. Ashton's acting more than made up for that with her character, but it didn't help the other three guest characters any, or the story's concept, which seemed to hit its big twist barely ten minutes into its execution. Instead of getting a chance to soak into this otherwise fascinating world the story was kicking up, we were forced to sit and watch the introduction of a character who really deserved his own episode to develop instead of being tacked onto this one.
http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/384x216/p025byzd.jpg
"Rusty" - a name which I can't help thinking is a stab at
Russell T Davies' fan nickname.
From the BBC
     Luckily there was no real moment of misogyny, which is rare for a script with Moffat's name on it - luckily, this script was mainly written by Phil Ford, the Sarah Jane Adventures writer who co-wrote the fantastic The Waters of Mars. That story's big idea (at the end of the day) was the figure of The Doctor as a great cosmic God, with a wicked vengeance streak. Twelve's dialogue here resembles Eleven's from back in The Time of Angels, except here his obnoxious character is more emphasised and highlighted to the extent that it's a point of the plot. Twelve persuades a hopeless man that he can be saved and then capitalises on his death without a second thought. Rusty looks into his heart and finds such hatred that it inspires him to become turncoat. And, in a bizzare move, he openly rejects Journey from travelling with him because she's a soldier. I think Three would have something to say to that, Twelve. (Not to mention that in the new series alone, Rose, Martha, Jack, Mickey and Rory have all been soliders at one point or another.)
     I don't know what to say, I enjoyed this week. Its flaws came in terms of its tone and its execution - a lot of its darker ideas needed more time to sink in, and the characterisations could have been a bit stronger. As an experience though, as a cohesive episode, it was a remarkable change of pace and one which felt good because the characters (sans Doctor, of course) acted more or less how real people would act. I know it's tragic that that's a selling point in Doctor Who these days, but there it is. Into The Dalek was not as strong a story as some of its major influences - something that was especially notable when Rusty quoted the eponymous character from Dalek at the end of the episode. But all the same, it's a turn up for the books in terms of Moffat's era. And I can only hope that this upturn is consistent.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: It's Robin Hood! WITH ROBOTS! It's Robot of Sherwood.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Review: Lost 3.7: Not In Portland

http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20070209034118/lostpedia/images/0/0d/3X07_BenTalkingToJack.jpg
Even when semi-conscious and undergoing surgery, Ben
manages to be a master manipulator. From Wikia
Lost - Season Three, Episode Seven - Not In Portland
Written 1/3/14

I really can't tell you how much of a breath of fresh air Juliet brings to the series. It's not just that Elizabeth Mitchell is a fantastic actress, although that's mostly the reason, but it's also that Juliet brings yet another new perspective to the series that is really needed in order to bring us into The Other storyline. Finally choosing to focus on Juliet and her origins introduces us into the season proper with this episode, a tour-de-force of characterisation brilliance and drama which gave me everything that the six-episode arc couldn't deliver. Oh, and Danko's in it, which always makes things better.
     On the Island, Jack's ruse allows Kate and Sawyer to escape, but it's not long before Juliet points out that Jack's too much of a principled nice guy to let Ben die, and Pickett is sent after them. They meet Alex Rousseau, who gives them her boat after they help save her boyfriend, Karl, from a leftover DHARMA psychological torture device. Mid-surgery, Ben wakes up and, despite the fact that he now knows about both Jack's plan and Juliet's attempt to kill him, she asks for Juliet and has a private word with him, after which she declares her intent to help Kate and Sawyer escape in exchange for Ben's safety. As Jack finishes Ben's surgery, Juliet shoots a raging Pickett in order to help Kate, Sawyer and Karl escape, with Alex forced to stay behind to be there when her "father" Ben awakens.
     In her flashback, we find Juliet working as a timid lab researcher in a Miami fertility clinic, where all of her research is controlled by her slimy ex-husband Edmund, who despite their seperation still has a psychological hold on her. Juliet is pioneering a treatment to help infertile women get pregnant, starting with her sister, a cancer survivor who always wanted children. Juliet is approached by a Richard Alpert of Mittellos Bioscience, who intrigues her with a strange scan of a woman's uterus, but she jokes that the only way that she could go would be if Edmund were hit by a bus. The day after her sister reveals that she's pregnant, Edmund is killed right in front of her by an errant bus driver, and Alpert approaches again, pretending not to know anything about it.
http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20071207045502/lostpedia/images/6/63/Smokey-bus.jpg
The Others ensure that Juliet's oily husband gets hit
by a bus. From Wikia

     After six weeks where flashbacks were very few and far between (and rarely that good when they did appear), Juliet's flashback is given a lot more screentime. She has the advantage of not having to cover over new ground, and while contributed to the episode's success, novelty alone is not what sold it. In the time we've known her, Juliet has been portrayed as a disillusioned, scheming woman whose true motives were unclear. This episode makes the point of comparing her differences and similaries to the Survivors - she was led to the Island under false pretences, and before their manipulation of her she was a very different person indeed. What led to Juliet changing so much is explored over three centric episodes (this one, One of Us and The Other Woman.)
     Not In Portland brought back what LOST used to be, in such stark contrast to the previous episode that I couldn't quite comprehend it. Within a single flashback episode, Juliet's character became vastly more three dimensional - made even more impressive by the fact that this episode wasn't even specifically about her, as it had a lot of work to do in rapidly pushing along the storylines that the initial arc of the season left it with. And when an episode of Lost gets both its action and its characterisation so perfectly spt on and mixed together like a fine paella... that's when I'm glad to be doing this whole shebang.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Most Lost fans love it, but I don't, even though it's a funky time-travel episodes... Desmond Flashes Before Your Eyes.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Review: Doctor Who 8.1: Deep Breath

Readers should note that I am very, very rusty atm when it comes to writing, so this isn't my best work. Written 23/8/14.

http://cdn-static.denofgeek.com/sites/denofgeek/files/styles/insert_main_wide_image/public/4/12//doctor_who_deep_breath.jpg?itok=ADUd2wSf
Capaldi's new Doctor brings out the characterisation in
Clara, too, who is written with more tact here.
From Den of Geek.
A bit of a foreword before I dive in: a few weeks ago, there was a highly publicised incident wherein the first five scripts for Series Eight were leaked onto the web. Cynic as I am, I went and read them, and thus had my opinions of the scripts coloured by that first impression. That has, I believe, not had much effect however, as it led to me being pleasantly surprised in several places by how much the production team had sanded the edges off some of Moffat's more problematic elements.
     After the complete and total dirge that ended Matt Smith's tenure, it's not hard to raise the stakes, even if we're faced with the excitement of a regeneration story and the prospect of a new, more mature Doctor. While I had very mixed feelings on the selection of the very white and very male Peter Capaldi, this episode did more than enough to enamour him to me within at least the first few minutes - even though the script seemed to be trying very hard to stop me. Inside and outside of the program's universe, there's something about Capaldi and his sheer love for the program which gives him a certain charm, and that bleeds through into the character. Twelve is a Doctor who will get stuff done - even if he still has a few blunders along the way. And, all things permitting, it's looking good. For now.
     The episode itself, when you strip away the regeneration plot, was an old enemy dusted off and given a few minor alterations, mostly with the addition of a clever theme surrounding age and renewal - quite possibly a first for Moffat, that, a theme. The use of the organ harvesting robots from The Girl In The Fireplace was inspired, with them being possibly the best thing about that episode, even if this time the tone of high-pace jollity jarred somewhat with the hot-air balloon made of human skin. (Not even making that up.) While a lot of the questions it asked and the themes it covered were slapshot and quick-fire, at least it was asking those questions and covering those themes in a meaningful way, which is new.
http://www.ulcermagazine.com/currentissue/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Doctor-Who-Deep-Breath-Clockwork-Droid.jpg
Moffat's villain wasn't that well-developed considering
the run-time, but it was creepy anyway.
From ulcermagazine
     Usually there are lots of little nitpicks to do with character interactions which I would find offensive, but in an interesting turn of events a lot of the things I hated about the script have been toned down or simply removed entirely, from a scene showing a semi-nude Catrin Stewart for no reason to a boner joke which was, thankfully, nerfed in the direction. What was present, however, was Moffat's annoying habit of tell-don't-show characterisation, with other characters informing us of Clara's traits as opposed to her actually displaying them. Clara this episode was brave and stubborn and resolute, while the narrative told us that she was a narcissistic, egomaniacal control-freak.
     I'm a little less concise than I would usually be, but abstaining from writing for a good few months will do that to you. This episode left me feeling pleasantly surprised, and that's because I came away from a Moffat episode without being completely and utterly disgusted. While Capaldi has yet to truly stamp his voice onto the role entirely, he has displayed hints of what his personality will bring to the series, and seeing how much the script had its edges sanded off by the production team, I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of this season a lot more than I would otherwise.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Dalek meets Let's Kill Hitler meets The Invisible Enemy. We go Into The Darkness. (Hopefully next week I'll have it in me to be a bit more in-depth)

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Review: Lost 3.6: I Do

http://static1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20061109143345/lostpedia/images/6/6a/3x06-KateJack.jpg
Kate and Jack are reunited. From Wikia
Lost - Season Three, Episode Six - I Do
Written 27/2/14

Our six-episode arc comes to a close with a Kate episode - one which so mangles together the conclusion of this story with the show's resident Love Triangle that it's often difficult to tell the difference. I don't know whether I've said this before (although I probably have), but I find Lost's love triangle completely and utterly tedious. Either choice has major problems, and the end solution to the plotline involves Kate settling down with Jack, finding out that he's a spousal abuser and then staying with him all the way to Generic Religion Heaven. And yeah, this review will contain spoilers for the later seasons, because that's unavoidable when talking about the frustrating antics of Kate, Jack and Sawyer.
     Jack admits that he can do the surgery, but he says he'd much rather watch Ben die slowly than help him on the offchance that he's started telling the truth. Taking drastic action, Ben has Juliet bring Kate to Jack's cell, wherein she tells Jack that Juliet threatened to kill Sawyer if he doesn't do the op. This only makes him angrier, until Ben deliberately allows him out of his cell to show him a post-coitus Sawyer and Kate on the security camera. Having now agreed to do the surgery, he goes ahead as normal but takes the opportunity to wound Ben internally and use his life as leverage to allow Kate and Sawyer's escape. On the main Island, Locke buries Eko in the jungle and finds a message on his Prayer Stick which spurs him forward. In Kate's flashback, she marries policeman Kevin (Nathan Fillion) but, after a periodic heart-to-heart with chasing US Marshall Edward Mars, she drugs him and leaves him.
     A lot of this episode's theme and characterisation revolved around Kate and her inability to "stay put," contrasting her restlessness in married life to Kevin with her decision to stay behind with Sawyer in this episode. Good in theory, but I think that most of the relationshippy stuff that goes on this episode is just for the spectacle, and characterisation wasn't much consulted. Jack too, actually. I'm never quite sure what his investment is in any of thing he does in this episode - he's spiteful towards Ben when he was true to his word with Michael and Walt, and saving someone's life is a pretty massive thing that might buy him some kudos. And when he finds out that the woman he's cultivated an obsession with in time at all is in fact having sex with his arch-rival (who romantically is actually far more compatible with in about every possible way), he goes out of his way to jeapardise all of their lives. One thing that I kept wondering was why Ben's life is such a big bargaining chip - he keeps making The Others do weird shit that gets them nowhere, and at least one of them wants him dead.
http://static1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110119030919/lostpedia/images/9/96/3x06-KateSawyerSex.jpg
Kate and Sawyer do the do. From Wikia
     I think the problem with this six-episode arc was that, while it was perfectly enjoyable, it just didn't feel necessary. The seperation of these six episodes from the rest of the season gives the plot of this arc more significance than it can really handle, and episodes of Lost's pacing do not a good mini-series make; British TV is much better in that regard. And, to drive a nail in the coffin for me, this highlighted main plot was to do with a love triangle storyline which is quite frankly unnecessary to the story. Jack's attachment to Kate and her eventual concession to his advances add nothing to the show, and the attempts to develop Jack's psych issues just turn him into a dangerous obsessive - a man whose behaviour has barely changed from his pre-island flashbacks. Strange how it always comes back to that, really.
      I Do finished off this arc in both expected and unexpected ways. We all knew what had to go down - at least one or two of the captives would a way to escape, Jack would end up doing Ben's surgery and holding him hostage for it. But it also focused on the triangle a hell of a lot more than I thought it would, especially with the other plotlines rubling on over on the main island which, when they're given some stimulation, fuse together to form some quite captivating stuff in the season proper. I enjoyed I Do a lot, as I've enjoyed getting back to Lost, but I will admit that I see why so many people were turned off the show by this arc and, considering the one or two stinkers yet to come in this season, I don't blame them.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Richard Alpert arrives and we find out Juliet's backstory as we find out that the survivors are definitely Not In Portland.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Review: Lost 3.5: The Cost of Living

"I ask for no forgiveness, father, for I have not sinned. I have only done what I needed to do to survive. A small boy once asked me if I was a bad man, if I could answer him now I would tell him, that when I was a young boy I killed a man to save my brothers life. I am not sorry for this, I am proud of this. I did not ask for the life that I was given but it was given none the less, and with it I did my best."

http://img1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20061106134310/lostpedia/images/8/80/3x05-Yemi.jpg
Eko faces judgement from The Monster, in the first
sign that it is an intelligent entity. (Later to be known as
The Man In Black.) From Wikia
Lost - Season Three, Episode Five - The Cost of Living
Written 25/2/14

Back in Season Two I went on a bit about how Eko's first centric episode, The 23rd Psalm, was one of my favourite episodes of the show. This week we finish off Eko's trilogy of centrics with something of a direct sequel to that earlier episode, covering similar themes and giving Eko's character a brilliant swansong before his untimely departure from the show. We're also still in the six-episode arc (yes, I will mention this in every review), and there were some interesting developments surrounding the arc's conclusion and plot points that will resurface in this season's second half. Also, Nikki and Paolo. Doing things.
     Eko awakens after his ordeal with the Hatch and the polar bear to find an apparition of his dead brother Yemi waiting for him and demanding that he make a confession of his sins - "you know where I'll be." While Locke and the others plan to go to the Pearl in order to use the tech to contact The Others, they find Eko heading off in the same direction, and follow him there. Eko finds that his brother's body is missing. When Locke's team enter the Hatch and patch through to the other stations, they see an eyepatched man staring back at them. Eko is confronted yet again by Yemi, and he gives his confession, in which he is unapologetic about the things he did. (See quote.) Yemi very quickly reveals himself to be an apparition of The Smoke Monster, who then kills Eko on the spot. On Hydra Island, Jack confronts Ben over his spinal x-rays and after a while Ben reveals that he does need Jack to operate on him. Juliet gives Jack a coded message asking him to go ahead with the surgery, but to kill Ben and make it look like an accident. In Eko's flashback, we see his brother and him as children, with Eko stealing food when Yemi is hungry. We then follow on from the flashback of The 23rd Psalm, with Eko taking on his brother's role of priest in their small village, before fighting off a gang of local militia in the Church, desecrating it in the process and earning the enmity of his entire community.
     The flashbacks in this episode were interesting for two reasons - one, because the bookmark flashbacks towards Eko's childhood were set up quite well and I think they added to the overall tragedy of the episode. And secondly because by picking up at the point where Eko first pretended to be a priest and blurring the lines between his honest intentions and his shady dealings, we not only get even more insight into the guilt that Present!Eko is reliving but also a step which makes the transition between The 23rd Psalm's guilt drug lord and "?"'s pious priest that bit more believable. And that is the genius of Eko's character - he's built on faith and spirituality, but his key character arc is one of guilt and regret and building himself into a better man. I'm not religious in the slightest, but Eko is still a character I relate to quite a bit, and his loss is one that I'm really going to feel.
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Seriously, Kid!Eko, stop doing shit for this kid. It'll only
lead to trouble. From Wikia
     Elsewhere, and Nikki and Paolo are continuing their unwelcome stay by hitching along with Locke's group to the Peal, with Nikki having the initiative to point out there being multiple DHARMA stations across the Island, and Paolo... going to the bathroom. Which happens to be a plot point in their centric episode. Seriously. Their sheer existence continues to make very little sense - throwing down two random new characters into a cast of characters we've gotten to know over 50 hours of television and expecting us to believe that they were there all along is just ridiculous on so many levels it doesn't feel real to me. I'm only really talking about this because this is where they make a big impression for the first time, and they didn't really detract from the Eko awesomeness or the cool developments on Hydra Island, but I think it's important to understand where the antipathy for them comes from.
     I think it's fair to say that The Cost of Living took the previous episodes of this season thus far and blew them out of the park. Even taking into account the fact that I love Eko, this episode is just so brilliant in so many different ways that I can't say anything otherwise. Eko's arc was done in very few episodes compared to some of the other characters on the show, but it's by far the best that the show has to offer and this concluding episode showed that in its myriad layers of characterisation, painting Eko as the man he was - not a priest, or a drug lord, but a caring and regretful man who spent his life making up for the mistakes he made just trying to survive.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The arc ends... on a Kate episode. But what's this? NATHAN FILLION? Will the Firefly star get to say I Do?