Monday, 28 December 2015

TV Shows I Watched In 2015

It's that time again, folks. Here is a list of the shows that I watched this year, some of which I watched live as they came this year, and some of which I just happened to binge and thought I'd mention here. Spoilers everywhere.

This image is, in itself, a spoiler. Unless you don't
watch the show. Image from sidekickreviews
Game of Thrones - Season 5, HBO/Sky1
Written 15th August.

Another season of Game of Thrones went by, and along with it another series of controversies, odd character decisions and an unhealthy obsession with victimising women. The show managed to cover pretty much all of the most recent two novels in G.R.R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series while also going more heavily off-book than ever before. This led to, as in last season, a lot being left out, as well as characters being moved around, killed off and generally manipulated in such a way as to confound anyone who knew the plot of the books.
    The best and most amazing storyline was also the one that went most off-book - fresh off the heels of killing his father, Tyrion Lannister is smuggled to the continent of Essos and is encouraged by his saviour Varys to seek out Dragon Queen Daenerys Targaryen. Along the way he is kidnapped by exiled servant of the Queen, Jorah Mormont, who happens to be heading in the same direction. Unlike in the books, however, Tyrion actually makes it, leading to several scenes of Daenerys and Tyrion together. A lot of the frustration with Dany's storylines in the first four seasons was their loose connection to the plots going on in Westeros, and getting to see Tyrion in that part of the world made the mythology tie together more physically - as well as putting my two favourite characters onscreen at once.
"Bring it." From Wikimedia
     Over in controversy corner, and the show continued its trend from last season of exploiting violence towards women and girls. Sansa, who at this point in the books has stopped doing anything, is shipped over to her home in Winterfell, where she becomes the wife and plaything of the disgusting Ramsay Snow. After spending four seasons building her up and delivering her the agency she always wanted, her character was derailed in a plotline designed to act as a redemptive arc for the tortured Theon Greyjoy. This culminated in a horrific rape scene, thankfully not showing the act but regardless framing the scene by making us watch Theon's face as we hear Sansa's terrified screams. This carries forwards to the storyline in the North, where, again off-book, Stannis Baratheon decided to use his daughter for a blood magic ritual, and again we get to watch his face as we hear his daughter's genuinely blood-curdling and upsetting screaming. The list of reasons why this doesn't make sense is long, but notably: killing his daughter makes half of his mercenary army rout the field; his wife kills herself because of her guilt; and now the guy who believes himself the "rightful king" has no heirs whatsoever. Which is why it didn't happen in the books.
     Now with the death of Jon Snow (or not, it's an uncertainty carried over from the book), and a great deal of material not covered by the series (leaving a few notable holes), the future of Game of Thrones is uncertain. HBO has guaranteed that the show will get another two seasons in order to conclude its story, and they've apparently been given notes from Martin himself. Despite all of the horrible ways that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss like to hurt female characters and mess up the story, I still enjoy Game of Thrones, and I want to see it get better.

Rick's group approaches the Alexandria Safe Zone.
From Wikia
The Walking Dead - Seasons 5B and 6A, AMC/Fox
Written between 15th August and 27th December.

The fifth season of The Walking Dead, now finished, can only be described as... sedate. Which is an achievement, for a show which is pretty sedate anyway. 5A had a few interesting moments, but its story progression was fairly slapdash and lacked focus. That lack of focus continued into the second half of the season, with Beth's death glossed over with the death of brilliant supporting character Tyreese. Thankfully, the season picked up again, following our characters into the Alexandria Safe Zone. Seeing our characters back into a suburban environment was really interesting, and would have been even better if they hadn't bogged it down with an off-book romantic subplot. I did however love Rick's descent back into savagery - it felt like a logical progression that after he killed two entire groups (the Claimers at the end of 4B and the Hunters in the middle of 5A) he would flip out upon being asked to trust a group of people who had stayed out of the whole thing. The final scene of the half-season, with Morgan finally meeting Rick again after two seasons, was the icing on the cake.
     I think one of my problems with The Walking Dead, starting this year, was the fact that there appears to be no end in sight. That's not a specific problem with TWD - this occurs in all fiction in this genre, with a number of different possible endings, none of which are going to be very satisfying. It doesn't really help that the show, like Game of Thrones, is adapting its source material somewhat faster than it can be produced. Five years into the show, we're seven years into the comics, and that's not even taking into account the extra plots grafted onto the show's canon. The thing that saved Lost's last few seasons was a definite ending point, and that gave the series a sense of purpose going forward, and a guarantee of sorts that everything would come to a head. Season Five proved that this is exactly what The Walking Dead needs, and what it currently sorely lacks.
     That was, of course, until the beginning of the Sixth Season in the Autumn, at which point the show suddenly shot up a gear. Having spent 5B establishing the people of Alexandria, their politics and the threat of a chaotic group known as The Wolves, 6A set about providing key character development, juicy plots and a refreshing pace. By far the saving grace of this season was the arrival of Morgan, whose philosophical differences with the rest of the cast allowed for some realistic conflict that didn't just descend into painful, "it's inevitable that we're all going to die" nonsense. It also provided quite possibly my favourite episode of the entire show, the phenomenal parable that is, "Here's Not Here" which has Morgan in the spotlight. With these things in mind, I'm a lot more confident about the show's future, and I hope that this movement out of mediocrity lasts for a long time.
Insert joke about the West Coast here.
From Forbes

Fear The Walking Dead - Season 1, AMC
Written 3rd September.

For some critics, this six-part miniseries preceding Season 6A of the parent show travelled far too slowly. I am not one of those critics. There is a certain lackadaisical pace to Fear which it has inherited from The Walking Dead, but there are several things it holds in its favour - characters we haven't been slugging it with for five years, the new concept of watching the apocalypse happening from the start, and the sense of tension as society slowly collapses. So much of The Walking Dead consists of wandering around empty countryside, with tension only mounting when the characters decide to explore an abandoned structure or something like that - here, the tension is constantly building as the world basically crumbles around our knowing protagonists. And that, for me at least, is more worth tuning in for than seeing what weird thing Rick is gonna do this week.

Hey Nicky, you so fine, you so fine you blow my mind
Hey Nicky! From zimbio
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3, Netflix
Written 15th August.

Where do I begin? I tried my best to avoid the hype train on this Netflix series set in a women's prison, mainly because I expected I'd have a great deal of Hype Backlash. Now that I have seen it... what was I thinking? This show is just as awesome as everyone said it was! Originally focusing around rich white girl Piper Chapman and her year in prison on drug-possession charges, the series opens up into a lots-and-lots-of-characters ensemble drama which takes the format of Lost (main plot in the present with an character-specific flashback each episode) and puts it into a format which is deliberately designed around binge-watching. It also manages to portray important issues like LGBT rights, trans discrimination, police and government corruption, sexual abuse and many more in a responsible and innovative manner. (With the exception of the show's solid refusal to say the word "bisexual".)
    I love this show for so many different reasons. The characters are all well developed, with everyone (except Dee, fuck Dee) getting several shades of grey to their characterisations. My favourite character is probably Red, played by the amazing Kate Mulgrew (better known as Captain Janeway). While I actually did enjoy Piper's story in the first season, I agree with the common idea that her storyline is less interesting as time goes on, and I think it's a sign of great writers that the show evolved to focus on a wider set of characters. I'm really looking forward to Season Four and I'm glad that I finally joined the bandwagon.
Sarah and her clones face off against Project Castor.
From screenrant

Orphan Black - Season 3, BBC America
Written between 16th August and 3rd September.

Despite some shaky moments, the third season of Orphan Black continued to demonstrate Tatiana Maslany's immense talent. The appearance of male clones played by Ari Millen threw several new factions into the mix, and proved to take the series in directions that were both positive and negative; positive in that the male clones allowed our sisters to finally discover their genetic origin and advance the mytharc, and negative because these new male characters just weren't as interesting as the pre-developed relationships. This made the beginning of the season feel a little messy, and the varying subplots didn't really mesh together until the very end.
     This season's main theme, tied into all of its storylines, was the importance of family - both actual family relationships and those forged in friendship. Alison ran for head of the local Schools board, funding it by running drugs through her mother's soap shop. Pregnant Helena was captured by the male clones (Project Castor to contrast the female Project Leda) and eventually rescued by Sarah. Sarah and her adopted mother Siobhan then followed several clues in order to find both Castor and Leda's genetic origin - Kendall Malone (Alison Steadman), Siobhan's birth mother, a genetic chimera with strands of male and female DNA.
     Season 3 was messy in places, and it didn't really find its footing until a few episodes in. But it's still not a series that can really be faulted. Tatiana Maslany is still the best actress working on television today, no question, and that didn't change. I can't really complain about the uselessness of the Castor storyline from the beginning of the season, or the random new love interest given to Cosima, when everything with T-Mas was so brilliant. From the discovery of the genetic original, to the introduction of new clone Krystal, the treatment of Rachel as she recovered from a pencil to the eye, and the amazing silliness of Alison's drug business, I kept finding something to love. I can't wait for Season Four.

Gemma Chan as Mia. From Channel Four
Humans - Series 1, AMC/Channel 4
Written 6th September.

By far this year's biggest surprise was the C4/AMC coproduction Humans, adapted from a Swedish series about an alternate Present Day in which human-like robots known as Synths have taken a valuable place in human society. Originally a focused character drama looking as the Hawkins family, the show spiralled out into a rich mythology and backstory while never losing that skill with its characters. In rifling through all of the ways in which robots have been treated in science fiction, the show managed to develop its cast of humans and sentient synths as a large set of distinct, well-developed and sympathetic by Episode Two. Add in phenomenal acting turns by Katherine Parkinson, Colin Morgan, Gemma Chan and newcomer Lucy Carless, and you've got one of the best newcomer shows of the year. (See here for my longer article on the show.)

These are two attractive people. From ibtimes
Outlander - Season 1, Amazon Prime/Starz
Written 6th September.

Carrying on the recent rise in online-only shows, this year I also watched the first season of Outlander, a show only available in the UK via Amazon Prime's exclusive premium on-demand service. Adapted from the series of books by Diana Gabaldon, the show follows 1940s army nurse Clare Randall as she is thrown back in time to 18th Century Scotland. There she is taken in by the Clan Mackenzie, a local lordship in opposition to the British throne, and she falls in love with the strapping Jamie Fraser. Forced to fight the evil ancestor of her 1940s husband, she must find a way to get home.
     Outlander often struggles with its balance of historical drama and sci-fi leanings. Like its obvious protegĂ© Life On Mars (which actually succeeds the publishing of the books which inspired the show), it's often difficult to remember the fact that Clare is displaced out of time, at least once the "Fish-out-of-water" humour runs dry. Luckily, the plot is well-placed enough that a lot of the time you don't much care, and those sci-fi elements do raise their heads again. I did find a lot of the show's nudity and sex scenes a tad excessive (this show has more nudity than Game of Thrones, although it's usually a lot less bloody and violent) and I found it questionable that the two main villains of the this first season were both implied to be gay (and the same was not true of any other character.) But despite concerns, there's something strangely compelling and relaxing about the escapades of Clare Randall, especially in the second half of the season, when the series' mytharc begins to bear fruit.

Even on the poster it looks like she doesn't wanna be here.
From the BBC
Doctor Who - Series 9, BBC1
Written 27th December.

After being pleasantly surprised by Series 8, I had a lot of hope for my favourite show. Moffat was still here, of course, but there was something of a development in his writing style that seemed to me to be less about making offensive jokes and more about actual character development. Series 9 was very much one step forwards, two steps back. A lot of Moffat's old tropes returned, including an arc which didn't really go together very well, and the habit of retconning important parts of Doctor Who's history. However, the show did go the extra mile in taking some steps in new directions, especially when it came to the Time Lords.
     The most notable differences in this season came with the show's new format and aesthetic. Most all but two of the episodes in the season were organised as two-parters, which brought to mind the format of the Sarah Jane Adventures. I had hoped that it would allow a lot of the stories to become more developed, as they were approaching the length of Classic serials, but that didn't really come to pass as a lot of the time each individual part had a very different tone, pace and occasionally writers than the other half, meaning there was something of a lack of tonal consistency. This tied into another aesthetic shift for the show, with Moffat falling back into his misguided desire to make the show "cool" and "modern", exchanging the Sonic Screwdriver for a gaudy set of sunglasses and Peter Capaldi's Pertwee-esque costume for a hoodie and trainers. And the less we talk about that electric guitar, the better.
     Clara finally got to leave this series, although they had to ruin it again by giving us a passable if noble departure, followed up by a less believable resurrection and an open-ended departure off into space. Series 8 had her developing from a normal-ish human being into a character somewhat obsessed with taking on the responsibilities and identity of The Doctor, and that development did continue here, albeit a great deal more slowly. Unlike the previous season, which presented this as a noticeable flaw which Clara really shouldn't be working towards, this year it was just an accepted fact about who she was, including during both of her exits. I like that she carried on that development, but I still think that it would have been so much better to just let her leave in Last Christmas like she was supposed to.
I am going to break that guitar. From BBC America
      And, finally, this year was struck with a number of arcs and recurring characters. From the second episode we got not-so-subtle mentions of "The Hybrid", a retconning Time-Lord prophecy which spluttered to an unsatisfactory ending in the finale. Part of that developing arc was the reoccurring face of Maisie Williams as Ashildr/"Me", who didn't really impress in the role, with the exception of a more subtle turn in The Woman Who Lived. These recurring aspects did tie the season together into a cohesive whole, but the result didn't really gel very well because of the vast changes in tone and the fact that most of it is brushed aside for an arc with the Time Lords in the finale.
     For a series that tried very hard to be different, it's a shame so much of it failed in the execution. For the first time we got two female writers and both of their episodes were slated by fandom, even though they were two of the best episodes of the season. The Zygon two-parter, while dangerously stupid in its politics, was at least trying to be relevant and interesting science fiction. There's a sense of stuttering, of a car failing to start repeatedly. The question is, can Doctor Who recover before it burns out the clutch? And, if rumours are to be believed, is next year the last outing for both Capaldi and Moffat?

At least Miko's story turned out not to be as terrible as I thought.
Heroes Reborn - Season 1, NBC
Written between 30th October and 27th November.

I had a lot on the table for Heroes Reborn. Despite a lot of my misgivings about its parent series, I was still of the opinion that it could have really done with one final season to conclude the story and the journeys of these characters, as well as to explore that last cliffhanger in which the existence of Evolved Humans (now "Evos") is now a public matter of fact. When Reborn began I wasn't very impressed with the the way it reused a lot of the same character archetypes and themes to say a lot of the same things, but as the series went on I began to see how tightly the story has been written, avoiding a lot of the pitfalls that Heroes itself often fell into.
       Instead of acting as yet another cycle of Heroes' repeating storyline, the focus of the series around the aftermath of an orchestrated terrorist attack means that this Universe feels a lot more adult, with characters having to face the consequences of their actions as and when they happen. There are enough old faces to make the show still feel like you're watching Heroes, but for the most part the injection of new blood has very much updated the show, developing it past its mid-noughties chic and neatly avoiding a lot of the stink that the show had picked up by its fourth season. Its biggest improvement is in its time-travel story, which manages to be very tight-knit and cohesive, dotting all the is and crossing the ts to make an exciting and yet perfectly logical sequence of events.
     I wish I could have reviewed this week-on-week, but I really didn't have the energy to do so. I'd also have liked to see how it ended - but for some stupid reason NBC have decided to leave the final three episodes of the season in January, ending this year's run with an awkward filler episode and completely demolishing any and all momentum that the show has. People are not going to tune in in January to finish this thing off, and if they do, all of the tension will just be gone. It feels a little like NBC want to sabotage this show and make sure that Heroes doesn't end up coming back full time, and that's a real shame, because once this little mini-series got going, it really deserved a fair chance.

Luther is captivating but running out of ideas. From the BBC
Luther - Series 4, BBC1
Written 27th December.

Erm... Hi? I've loved Luther since it started, I think it's an amazing, unique take on the detective genre which combines gruesome villains with a charismatic lead, playing off of a number of detective show cliches while never actually feeling held down by them. It fell into a nice format of four hour-long episodes in two rhyming couplets, which worked, keeping the character's intensity in short bursts. The third season ended on an open-ended but satisfying moment, keeping it open for star Idris Elba's desire to take the series to cinemas. That's what makes this incredibly short two-parter seem a little... well, weird is the word. It's nice to see you, Luther, but why is this such a flying visit?
     Given the brevity of the series, I was expecting something huge from the two-parter, something which would fundamentally change the format of the series. While we shifted some of the cast around, replacing Warren Brown with Rose Leslie and starring a brand new messed-up killer who eats his victims and then leads the police to each of them with a trail of identity papers. It was a balance of moments both introspective and painfully tense, but it didn't really have the barnstorming, triumphant surge which made Luther work - there needs to be the catharsis that comes with watching Luther beat the shit out of someone. The second half also wandered off into very strange territory, and even with Luther's extraordinary stories it stretched my sense of disbelief. I would have much preferred that this be the first two episodes of a brand new series instead of this strange "event" show which didn't really feel like it made that much of a lasting impression.

This show would be at the top if this was a "Top 11 Shows" list.
From denofgeek
Jessica Jones - Season 1, Netflix
Written 27th December.

A late addition to this list, but I couldn't talk about 2015 without mentioning Jessica Jones, the latest of the Marvel spin-off TV shows appearing on Netflix. Running alongside the series of blockbuster films and two TV shows on Disney's ABC channel, Marvel moved its vast Cinematic Universe over to Netflix earlier this year, with the 13-episode series Daredevil starring Charlie Cox. I wasn't really interested in that series, but I was interested in Jessica Jones, a series about a superhero-turned-private-eye starring Kristin Ritter and David Tennant. And let's get this out of the way, because it's going to be the most controversial thing I say on this list - Jessica Jones is the best thing that the MCU has produced.
     The main themes behind Jessica Jones , are incredibly important, as they discuss a topic very rarely addressed in mainstream media - female agency. Jones' main villain, Kilgrave, is a super villain whose ability lets him make anyone do whatever he wants them to, and he used this to both physically and psychologically abuse Jessica for a number of years. The series doesn't shy away from the language surrounding the topic - Kilgrave is a rapist, he's a murderer, and he's also the most charming person in the room. The show is a testament to both Ritter and Tennant - Ritter for portraying the anger and strength of a survivor of abuse, Tennant for managing to deliver the most realistic portrayal of an abuser I've ever seen on television.
     But the brilliant thing is that those issues aren't the be-all and end-all - there are a lot of amazing action scenes, some great mysteries and intrigues, a heart-breaking romance subplot that doesn't feel insultingly shoehorned in. There's a charming noir feel that the series maintains with very little effort, but it also feels modern and engaging and almost beyond clichĂ©. Of all the shows on this list, this is the one that I have to recommend the most highly - it's clever, consistent, breathtaking in its topics and just one of the best TV shows to come out in 2015.


Saturday, 26 December 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.13: The Husbands of River Song

Ten years into the run of the Doctor Who revival, and Christmas specials have rather an odd position in the show's makeup. They can't be too dense or packed with mythology, or they'd exclude a large proportion of the audience who only watch on Christmas Day. But, despite this, both RTD and Moffat have on various occasions packed the Christmas specials with huge, important arc stories. The Husbands of River Song is a very odd attempt at both, having some elements designed for mass consumption and some rather more complicated story work related to Moffat's old messy stalwart, River Song, whose presence on the show in my mind is as welcome as a Jar-Jar Binks cosplayer in a Star Trek convention.
Can we just look at how unpretty this poster looks? It's horrid.
     The Doctor arrives on a human colony in the future at Christmastime, but ends up running into River Song and her servant Nardole (Matt Lucas, Little Britain), who don't recognise Twelve as The Doctor and instead think that he is an assassin they tasked with killing Song's genocidal cyborg husband King Hydroflax. River reveals that her marriage to Hydroflax (Greg Davies, The Inbetweeners) was a ploy to steal the space-diamond from inside his head and sell it to a high bidder, and when The Doctor physically removes the still-living Hydroflax's head from his autonomous body, it chases them into the TARDIS, which River uses to escape. She and The Doctor head off to meet her buyers on a space-ship built for rich genocidal killers, but they turn out to be adherants of Hydroflax's religion and so River is forced to crash the ship on its final destination - the Singing Towers of Darillium. Just after River works out who Twelve is, she also remembers that the Singing Towers is the location of their last night together, and it seems as though her story is about to come to a close.
     I'd made it fairly clear before that I wasn't happy about River Song coming back to the series - her story was convoluted, ridiculous and tiring. There were only so many times I could put up with River's smug caricature popping up as one of Moffat's go-to female archetypes. Strangely enough, though, that archetype seems to not be in effect here - River is a lot more clueless, a lot more fallible, even though this is supposed to be near the end of her adventures with The Doctor. While I wasn't happy that her timeline was being dragged up yet again, I did enjoy the slickness and subtlety with which the "Singing Towers of Darillium" prophecy was fulfilled - especially as that particular thread had already been rather less-than-satisfactorily explored in a DVD extra a few years ago (during the height of the show's River-mania).
     And, of course, that level of continuity made those elements of the story a little impenetrable to a lot of watchers, who certainly don't remember minor one-line mentions from a story which aired seven years ago. Despite how much Moffat and his fandom claim that the show is as strong as ever, ratings are falling steadily, and there's a growing feeling, however accurate, that "it's not as good as it was." It feels a little arrogant of Moffat for this special to unload all of this continuity on us at Christmas without batting an eyelid towards explaining those previous connections, especially as the show has been trying it's best during Capaldi's run to forget the period of the show where most of River's adventures happened.
Greg Davies works as a bumbling school headmaster, but does
not have the presence to play a genocidal alien warlord.
     Aside from that, the episode was... well, it was fine. It was harmless. The episode was clearly trying, in the bits where it wasn't asking you to consult the TARDIS Wiki, to be humourous. The problem was that the whole thing was imbued with gallows humour, from casual talk of murder, mutilation and beheadings to charming races of genocidal conquerors. This extended to the visual style too, with lots of images of exchanging heads and people literally extracting things from their brains while still conscious which, while funny in say Red Dwarf, felt very out of place for 5ish on Christmas Day. It also jarred with the main comedic thrust of the episode, a very Sarah-Jane-Adventures-style misunderstanding in which despite repeated hints, River doesn't recognise The Doctor until the pivotal moment of the climax.
     I didn't expect much from The Husbands of River Song, and I didn't get much, either. Moffat apparently wrote this episode with the intention that it be the last thing he wrote for Doctor Who - until he decided to carry on and write Series 10. I was surprised given that description that this episode wasn't even more ridiculous than it turned out to be, although I don't think I want to know what that looks like. All I know is that however much Moffat's writing has changed to become a little more subtle and little less offensive, the general meh-ness of this episode is a clear demonstration if any was needed that Doctor Who really needs, if you'll pardon the reference, a regeneration.


Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!

I've come back for a bit so my writing is gonna go into a lul again. I love writing for the website so I will get back to it, but for a while I'm gonna focus on my Uni work.

This year will finish off with the Doctor Who review (hopefully today), and then with TV Shows I Watched in 2015, which will appear sometime in the new year.


Monday, 21 December 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The War Games

Doctor Who - Season Six, Story Seven - The War Games
Written between 28th October and 11th December 2015.

The Second Doctor's time on the show was filled with lots of Base-Under-Siege stories and repetitions of famous monsters. It was a transitionary period of the show, between the crapshoot serial drama of the Hartnell Era and the more slick adventures of the Pertwee Era. In that time, Two covered a lot of really great science fiction, and so it's only fitting that his era end on this complicated, long and remarkably watchable ten episode adventure which is fun, exciting and originates a remarkable amount of lore about The Doctor's past and people. While a lot of people skip the serial's first nine episodes and focus solely on Troughton's last continuous appearance, I think that's a grave mistake to make, as the rest of the serial has a great deal to offer.
The first appearance of the Time Lords, including
Chancellor Goth.
     The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe appear to land on the Western Front, where a tyrannical General Smythe is not only sending his soldiers to their deaths but is also communicating with some alien force using the 1960s vision of Skype. When The Doctor and some of his new friends attempt to escape and find the TARDIS, they pass through fog and end up in Roman Britain, revealing the true nature of their surroundings - an alien force has trapped large numbers of humans from throughout history on an alien planet set up to mimic their time-zones, planning to create a force of disposable but incredibly capable human soldiers. This plot is the orchestration of a race known as the War Lords, led by a Steve Jobs type known as "The War Lord" and aided by a mustachioed member of the Doctor's own people, the Time Lords, known as The War Chief. Boy, that's a lot of definite articles. The Doctor initially aides an uprising within the zones, and later confronts The War Chief (who is definitely not The Master, despite how cool that would be). Eventually, as he himself is unable to bring everyone home, The Doctor does the unthinkable and calls in the Time Lords. They take him and his companions back to their home planet, wiping his companions' memories of him and sentencing him to both forced regeneration and exile on Earth.
     The first thing you notice about this episode is that the guest cast are at an amazing calibre. Everyone from minor side characters to major villains are acting their socks off here, and it all makes for an extra wonderful send-off for this era. Notable names in the first few episodes are David Savile and Noel Coleman as Lt. Carstairs and General Smythe, respectively. Savile would appear in the program later in its run, while Coleman would go on later to have a memorable role in Red Dwarf. By far the strongest guests are Edward Brayshaw's War Chief (whom I'll discuss later) and The War Lord, delivered in amazing style by Philip Madoc. Madoc's War Lord is a tour-de-force performance, effortlessly quiet and civilised yet burying a deep ruthless anger. He's got the voice of a man confident that everything in creation is following his design, and it's spell-binding.
     The War Chief is a different beast entirely. I mentioned The Master before, and it's hard not to see the resemblance - a renegade Time Lord, used to be friends with The Doctor, now teamed up with an evil race he plans to use and then double-cross, who eventually double cross him instead. Edward Brayshaw doesn't, however, have a lot of The Master's mannerisms - he isn't hammy or particularly affable. Instead, he is a shrewd and fairly pleasant businessman, and the moment he hears of The Doctor's involvement he tries to make bonds and forge alliances. It's a refreshingly enjoyable kind of villain character where you actually end up routing for them to succeed in their scheme to overthrow the greater evil, even if at the end of the day they needed to be thwarted as well.
The War Lord and the War Lord are intriguing, complex villains.
   This episode's place in the show means that a lot of people are quite confused when they come to watch it. It takes eight and a half episodes before it becomes clear that any sort of final peril will actually come upon The Doctor and his companions. This peril comes in the form of the first appearance of The Time Lords, mentioned by name according to this story's idiosyncratic race naming. The name of their planet, Gallifrey, wouldn't be mentioned at all until 1974's The Time Warrior, but this is it's first appearance as well, albeit without the detail lovingly crafted onto it by later seasons. Watching the penultimate episode of this story, I finally understood the fan outrage at The Deadly Assassin; arguably the first time we got a good look at the depths of Gallifreyan politics. That story would humanise them; here, they are mystical, otherworldly beings of almost infinite power. They are a genuinely terrifying force, Gods by another name.
     By far the most memorable thing about this story, however, is the fact that we have to say goodbye. The means of Two's departure are miserable, and the fact we see Jamie and Zoe return to their lives, their memory of The Doctor lost, is simply heartbreaking. I watched six Two serials over the course of Cyberman Month and the two Ice Warriors stories. Over that time I really genuinely came to love these guys and their cute little adventures. I can't imagine just how powerful it would be if you'd spent three years with them. I can't really say I've fully explored The War Games and its many, many charms, but I can say that even as the show careened off into a vaguely uncertain future, this story was a demonstration of just how brilliant Doctor Who really was during those great old days.


IN TWO WEEKS: We finally make our return to the Pertwee Era with The Mind of Evil.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Review: Voyager 3.23: Distant Origin

Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Twenty-Three - Distant Origin
Written 09/12/15

In 1633, the Catholic Church put Galileo Gallilei on trial for his adherence to the scientific theory of heliocentrism, the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. It's held up as a classic case of reason and science being crushed under the power of a religiously motivated establishment, and it's a clear-cut inspiration for the this week's episode, which follows a race of lizard-men descended from Hadrosaurs as they attempt to bypass their race's central religion and prove that they actually hail from Earth. It's a really interesting twist on the idea, but I wasn't as impressed as I wanted to be.
     We follow two reptilian aliens as they retrieve the remains of Hogan, an ensign of Voyager who died back in Basics. They are excited to discover that Hogan shares genetic markers with them, supporting their hypothesis that they are not in fact The First Race, but are descended from species on a far-off planet. This hypothesis is not supported by their race, the Voth's, high council, who follow "Doctrine", the underlay of their society. The originator of this theory is Professor Gegen, who is forced to escape Voth when the High Council attempts to detain him. His ship follows Voyager's path over Season Three, through the Nekrit Expanse. Luckily the Voth ship seems to be much faster than Voyager, and they catch up pretty quickly. Gegen kidnaps Chakotay and forms a friendship with him, but the vast Voth mothership overwhelms and captures Voyager itself, and in order to save them from a life of penal slavery, Gegen is forced to recant his views before the ministry.
     For a while it was interesting to see our characters from a distinctly alien point of view, and this gave the beginning of the episode a distinctly comic tone. This was perhaps not the best episode to begin back on after a ten-week hiatus in writing these reviews, as my sense of who these characters are is a little less toned than normal. The character who shined through the most Chakotay, and it was a difficult balance between the character actually being useful and courageous and the writers indulging the finer aspects of their "mystical spirit guy" schtick. Surprisingly, however, this episode saw Chakotay fighting for the side of science and progress against mysticism. I'm not sure whether this was a deliberate choice to demonstrate the ubiquitous nature of the philosophy of Star Trek, or just a really shoddy character move on the writers' parts.
      The tracing of Voyager's path across the past season was really fun to witness, and the reappearance of Hogan posthumously had me giggling like a madman, especially with the show's patented pattern of introducing a "redshirt" character, giving them two episodes of minor development and then killing them off anyway. I expected (and, for some reason, even remembered) there being a more thorough coverage of the season; if you're going to do a continuity episode, then why only reference two previous episodes? (Hogan died in Basics, Part II, and Gegen visits the space-station from Fair Trade.) The fact that it broke through to allow the main thrust of the plot to develop isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it did render the appearance of Hogan a little bit of a pointless in-joke. How Voyager.
      I made mention of the Gallileo comparison in the intro, and that's true. There are a few other little analogues here or there - there's some racial purity dynamics going on which are reminiscent of backlash against Darwin (Me? Related to a monkey?) The main problem was that it wasn't particularly subtle, and hence didn't add much to the discussion beyond presenting the historical events in a sci-fi context. Great for a Saturday Morning Cartoon, but the fact that the concept wasn't really taken anywhere meant that it lost a lot of its oomph. There was the tragedy inherant within the premise, but this is Star Trek. The whole initial starting point of the show is that these problems have been bypassed. Voyager's crew come from a utopian society where the theocratic repression of the Voth has been thrown off, but they never seemed to have any positive influence besides essentially fucking Professor Gegen over. Which is a real shame.


NEXT WEEK: A beautiful filler episode. It's the utterly forgettable Displaced.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Seeds of Death

They don't seem to hiss as much in this one.
Doctor Who - Season Four, Story Five - The Seeds of Death
Written between 16th and 26th October 2015

After the joy of Cyberman Month, I was going to carry on the theme, with December becoming Ice Warriors Month. Seeing as there's so much else going on, and the fact I wanted to review the amazing The War Games, I decided to leave the two colourised Ice Warriors stories for my hopefully rejuvenated run-through of the Pertwee years. So here we are with the penultimate story in this little black and white saga - The Seeds of Death, which follows up the Ice Warrior's initial high-concept Base-Under-Siege story with... a high-concept story using the Base-Under-Siege format. While I'm not exactly surprised at this repetition, there are a few things in this story's favour.
     Far in the future (although how far is unspecified), humanity has abandoned its space program in favour of a global teleportation system (known as T-Mat) organised from a Moonbase (no, not that one). Things are going smoothly until a tiny squadron of Ice Warriors invades said Moonbase, and begin coercing its staff into sending poisonous seed pods down to the surface of the Earth. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe arrive before the pods are sent, and head up on mankind's last manned rocket to find out exactly what's going on. The pods create a self-replicating fungus which begins to spread across the Earth's surface, choking people and killing wildlife. Because the fungus is allergic to water, the Ice Warriors attack a weather station, but The Doctor manages to swoop in at the last minute and stop them, saving Earth.
     This story was broadcast in 1969, six months before the Apollo 11 mission had landed man on the moon. This makes the story's vision of the future rather pessimistic, and at the same time brilliant - sharply contrasting the 60s love of space and adventure (and really Doctor Who itself), the story manages to predict what actually ended up happening - we made it to the Moon and stopped. While we didn't stop all space travel - sending unmanned probes to take pictures of the Solar System and even sending one probe outside of the influence of our Sun - there are some interesting parallels with the defunding of NASA, the abandonment of the manned Space Program in the 1970s and a general sense of anticlimax to the Space Race. All before Man had even set off for the moon.
      The Seeds of Death is a Base-Under-Siege story, it's true, although it never really feels like that. There's a genuine sense that the Earth is in danger this time, even if the effectiveness of the Ice Warrior's soapy bath foam is undermined by both how silly it looks (Zoe is visibly giggling her head off in one "tense" scene) and by the Shyamalan-worthy fact that water stops it from working. The Ice Warriors, who can see Earth from their spaceships, decided to invade a planet whose surface area is 70% water and where water literally falls from the sky using a fungus which hates it. There are no words for this level of stupid. As for the setting, I wish they had a window on the Moonbase like in that previous story called The Moonbase - they could have even replicated that set and had some amazing continuity! For a part-time viewer it's hard to really appreciate that they're alone and isolated on the moon - The Ice Warriors was great for this, showing the hardships our characters faced while wandering the harsh ice of a future Britain. This time, the best we got was a fairly fun shot of an Ice Warrior wandering around in open countryside.
The Doctor is, in fact, afraid of suffocation in this scene,
and not simply enjoying a relaxing bubble bath.
      The Ice Warriors in this story are slightly less effective than in their premier, with their numbers having been knocked down to a measly two guys, and their motives being less "complicated struggle to survive" and more "mwhahaha let's conquer the earth for shitz lol." The serial is the first, however, to develop their culture as if they were actually people, establishing an apparent caste system with leaders called "Ice Lords" who are superior to all others and who get to wear an extra special silly hat. As mentioned, the shot of an Ice Warrior wandering around Britain was actually fairly interesting, even if it confused the narrative (when in the timeline of this story was the Earth frozen over?). The problem is, this story could have easily been done with the Cybermen of this era - and it might even have felt more appropriate, with the use of the Cybermen as a fear of technological progress fitting perfectly with this story's themes.
      The Seeds of Death does have something to offer those tired of the Base-Under-Siege format - it's got a fun and rather appropriate prediction about the future of humanity, its Leader/Voice-of-Reason/Traitor characters are all really well-developed for what they are. It does retread a lot of the format's problems and the appearance of the Ice Warriors doesn't really make that much sense thematically, but the story is exciting and pacey and more than makes up for it. The Seeds of Death's pessimism about the future of mankind may have been somewhat warranted, but it certainly made for a good story. 


NEXT WEEK: We say goodbye to black and white stories for the moment, with The War Games.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.12: Hell Bent

I would have had this out earlier, but as I explained previously, I've had a bit of a weather situation.

Expectations are a difficult thing to bargain with. I didn't expect a lot from this episode, but I expected that if it did something, it would do it in an entertaining way. After eleven weeks of well-made but fundamentally flawed episodes, Moffat fell back on a lot of old tropes, and undid a lot of the meagre good will I've built up for him over the past couple of years. After last season finished its arc with quite a nice, satisfying conclusion, Hell Bent tried to capture Capaldi's lightning twice, as well as expanding the series mythos - but the result, while not outwardly offensive, ended up feeling like a bit of a waste of time. I'll try not to spoil every twist and turn to start with, but be cautious.
The sunglasses are stupid. And so is the electric guitar. But
this shot is totally awesome.
     The episode had a fascinating framing device which prevented it from being a complete washout. The Doctor, equipped with Electric Guitar, tells the story of the episode to Clara, who is a waitress at the same American diner visited in The Impossible Astronaught. At first it appears as though Clara, who returns within the story, has had her memory erased by The Doctor, who is now seeing her for one last time. As the events of the episode transpire, however, it becomes clear that it is the exact reverse - The Doctor cannot remember what Clara looks like, only who she was, and how he lost her. It brings up a few plot holes here or there (especially given the detail to which The Doctor seems to remember the story) but it also provides the few genuine moments of emotional satisfaction between The Doctor and Clara.
     The thing I was looking forward to most of all about this week's episode was the actual return of the Time Lords. The retcon of their existence irked me a lot back in Day of the Doctor and Time of the Doctor, when they seemed to be portrayed as really cool dudes full of love and happiness. Here there are still some elements of that, but at the same time their appearance has been updated to tie into their Classic Series appearances. Rassilon, previously played by Bond actor Timothy Dalton as a hammy but terrifying dictator, appears here played by Donald Sumpter as a tired, bitter old man with no power to his name. It's an interesting choice, and one which kinda works, even if it feels a little odd for the great Rassilon himself to be put aside so willy nilly, and with such little significance to the rest of the episode. If I could say anything really positive about the portrayal of the Time Lords, it was the diversity. I loved the fact that there are Shabogans; there's an actual distinction between Galifreyans and Time Lords. I loved how many black Time Lords there were, and even though it was sad to see the amazing Ken Bones leave the show, seeing an old white man regenerate into a young black woman was an amazing moment for Moffat's time on the show. I also adored the version of Hartnell's TARDIS interior, which the show has barely touched. Talk about timeless design.
     Clara of course returned this week, via The Doctor's use of a Time-Lord tech to bring her from the moment before she died in Face The Raven. I cannot tell you just how disappointed I ended up being with this fact. Even if it had some character significance for this episode (which it does), it's yet another case of Moffat not letting people die. Clara has decided she's going to leave in Mummy On The Orient Express, Death In Heaven, Last Christmas and Face The Raven, and this fifth goodbye felt incredibly hollow. The way her exit was left open was so incredibly frustrating, because Jenna Coleman is not coming back. She's gone. She wanted to go last year, and now she's finally left. It speaks of poor planning to kill her off in a semi-satisfying way and then just ruin it again. She doesn't even do much in this episode, besides complain that she didn't want to be brought back in the first place, and be the moral chain which is driving The Doctor to do the crazy, stupid things he is doing. I think that Jenna Coleman deserves better than this, no matter how cool it is that she has, essentially, become The Doctor after all.
The Classic Console Room used for Clara and Me's TARDIS
is gorgeous. More of this, please.
      And now, to the Hybrid. All season we've had this as an RTD-style arc-word, introduced in a mad rant by Davros as the reason why The Doctor left Gallifrey. Its existence is key to The Witch's Familiar and last week's episode, Heaven Sent, and while its introduction in that episode was a little rushed, it had the potential to be a really interesting mystery if solved well. However, like all of Moffat's little mysteries, there was a deeply unsatisfying conclusion. Why did the TARDIS explode? The "Silence" did it, and then never mentioned it again. How did the Doctor survive death? The Teselecta from that one episode everyone hated. Why does Missy greet everyone who dies? It's all a hologram. It turns out that the identity of the Hybrid is not even something that The Doctor knows. He blames Me, who is part Human, part Mire. She asks him if he is half-human (presumably on his mother's side.) and he denies it. Eventually there's a sweet if stupid cop-out; the Hybrid is in fact both The Doctor and Clara, who together would lead to the death of the Universe, as The Doctor is too determined to save her to let her death, a fixed point, actually happen. It's a metaphor for Moffat, really.
     I really want to like Doctor Who, and there are huge parts of this episode I do enjoy. I love the scenes on Gallifrey, with the Sisterhood of Karn and the High Council and all that grand, amazing stuff. The problem is with everything that Moffat brings to the table, and it's stuff we've seen far too many times before - characters who never die, mysteries with empty or unsatisfying conclusions. The thread is well and truly wearing very thin on his tenure, and as I sat and watched the Doctor and Clara say goodbye to each other for the fifth time in two years, I couldn't help but wonder just how brilliant this episode would be if Clara didn't appear. If we spent the whole thing on Gallifrey. If Moffat knew how to leave well enough alone. I love Capaldi and he makes this show worth tuning into every week. I'm not exactly back to the point where "I'm never watching this show again", but I really have to ask the question - where can Moffat go from here?


THIS CHRISTMAS: Jesus, I didn't think he'd go there. We face the unfortunate return of an old friend in The Husbands of River Song.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Review: Voyager 3.22: Real Life

The Doctor and his original, "perfect" family.
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Twenty-Two - Real Life
Written between 23rd and 24th October 2015

Context is a big part of what makes a long-running series have that special feel. If a show is trying to develop characters over a long period of time, it makes sense to have continuity from one episode to the next, so that a character's previous experiences can realistically inform them as time goes by. TNG and DS9 were brilliant for this, with Picard being left reeling from the Borg attacks and his time as a Ressikan, and all of the characters in Deep Space Nine having their characters be thoroughly consistent throughout. Voyager often tries to do this, but often doesn't quite hit the mark, and that's what happens this week - okay in isolation, unforgivable in context.
     The Doctor has created a family on the Holodeck in order to better understand his patience - he's made himself a human wife, Charlene, and two children, Jeffrey and Belle. When he invites Kes and B'Elanna to come to dinner, they lambaste him for creating a "perfect" family, all of whom have perfect behaviour, adore him and follow his every desire. Seeking to help The Doctor's program have the intended effect, and drawing on her own troubled childhood, B'Elanna alters his program without him knowing. Charlene is now a busy lecturer, Belle has realistic childish strops and Jeffrey hangs out with Klingons who want to involve him in blood rituals. The Doctor attempts to fix things, but when his daughter has an accident he can't fix he simply stops the program and tries to get back to life aboard Voyager. Tom convinces him to see it through and watch his daughter die, and The Doctor is changed forever. There's also a subplot about Voyager encountering subspace anomalies, but I was barely listening for that.
   The episode's premise is not a bad one - The Doctor has done things to help him understand humans before, like in Tattoo where he gave himself a virtual flu and Kes taught him a similar lesson to what B'Elanna teaches him here. The difference is that said plot was the B-plot of that episode; a funny little side addition to the more important (if stunningly racist) A-plot about Chakotay's heritage. Here The Doctor has gone so far as to create holograms with which he identifies as family - something which in itself raises so many philosophical questions that this episode never touches upon. Instead of maybe presenting the idea of an artificial being creating more of himself and beginning to identify more with them than with the "real" world, we're instead given a series of trite lessons about family life and fatherhood, in which teenagers are moody, kids are crap and how dare a woman work? It also beggars belief for me that The Doctor need this particular lesson teaching in the first place - this is way before The Doctor's character shifted towards his intense egotism, and it just comes off as weird that he could be this clueless.
Kes from this episode starts wearing her hair long, and starts to
sport catsuits eerily similar to those of Seven of Nine. 
      The worst thing about this episode, however, is the emotional pull at the end. We watch as The Doctor, a being literally created to save lives, is unable to save the closest thing he has to a daughter - someone he created, too. Tom forces him to face this trauma, teaching him that real people simply can't stop and avoid confronting tragedy and grief. Except... when they can? The problem with this whole interpretation is that this episode's events never come up again. An episode designed to be an important moment in the growth of The Doctor's character, in which he undergoes the heart-wrenching and forever-life-altering tragedy of losing a child, has no continuity with the rest of the series. How amazing would it have been to see the family recur? For the next few episodes to show The Doctor trying to adjust to his duties while overcoming that grief? The simple fact is, you don't just get over losing a child. You don't just get over losing anyone. And the fact that The Doctor doesn't refer back to the events of this episode ruin its entire message.
     Voyager is guilty far too often of taking itself too seriously, but this episode suffered from exactly the opposite problem - it didn't take itself seriously enough. Buried in this episode is the potential for an amazing sci-fi concept and a heart-breaking change to The Doctor's character which does what this episode wants it to do and makes him seem more human - but it's not here. Instead, we are presented with something which aims to be funny with a sad ending, simple pimple. I want to say something about how I just have to expect this from Voyager, but I don't want to - sometimes this show can be extraordinary. It was just a shame they made such a tasteless mistake this close to one of the show's best episodes.


NEXT WEEK: Star Trek's answer to the Silurians in the continuity-stuffed Distant Origin.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Six Years

Yesterday my live-in city of Lancaster was flooded and the power was wiped out for over 50,000 homes, the local electrical substation having been completely submerged in flood water due to a 30-hour rainstorm and very poor town planning. In the mad confusion of attempting to secure transport and communication, I forgot that it was my Dad's birthday, which reminded me of another thing - today is this website's birthday.
      Thank you, reader, for six years of amazingly fun times. I didn't think after last year that this website would still be running, but surprisingly enough it's still going strong, so long live Nostalgia Filter, and I hope you have a wonderful new year.


Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Ice Warriors

Varga and Zondal are ssssslippery customers.
Doctor Who - Season Five, Story Three - The Ice Warriors
Written between the 14th and 15th October 2015.

This article would have been a lot more appropriate, I can now say with hindsight, in the Autumn of 2013, when the Ice Warriors returned to our screens in Series 7's Cold War.  Hindsight adds a lot to these Sixties reviews - especially when watching them in such quick succession. The Ice Warriors gained a place in Who folklore for the first, missing appearance of the titular monsters, who would recur in the show until Season 11. As with the Cybermen stories from last month, the missing episodes in this serial have been animated, although unfortunately this is a lot more Youtube Poop and less Infinite Quest.
     The plot follows yet another Base-Under-Siege format, with our base being Brittanicus Base, the stern leader being a bloke called Clent (insert your own rude innuendoes here), the voice of reason is Miss Garratt and the traitor is Peter Sallis' Penley. (Although he comes back.) Set in a far future where Global Dimming (oh, how I miss you) has caused the Earth to enter an early ice age, the Brittanicus Base exists to do some technical mumbo jumbo with lasers in order to prevent glaciers from rolling over the British landmass. On one of their surveys, they uncover a Martian Spacecraft, and the inhabitants, known only as the Ice Warriors, attempt to uncover their ship and fulfil their mission to conquer Earth.
     The story is written by Bryan Hayles, and like Malcolm Hulke's later stories The Silurians and The Sea Devils, the titular Ice Warriors are, despite being alien and aggressive, people worth talking to instead of simply trying to annihilate. There are times where they don't even feel like the villains of the piece - the emotionless Leader Clent is often in a position of antagonism, and the main threat against our characters is the icebergs fast approaching to consume Europe. It's in this where we find the story's main ideological dichotomy - science versus nature, logic versus emotion. Although many characters in the episode are against "science", their anger comes from the fact that in the background of the serial, there is the implication that by this point, the human race is controlled a centralised computer. It's a brilliant concept that doesn't end up skewing one way or another, with the overall message at the end being that a balance must be achieved between computer logic and human intuition. It's a little similar to the themes behind some of this era's Cybermen stories, except here it actually gets mentioned, discussed and thoroughly explored. For once, the six episode runtime feels entirely deserved.
This is ridiculous, if lovingly created.
     The second and third episodes of this serial have still not been returned to the BBC. The two episodes, which are the first to really show the Ice Warriors moving about and doing things, have themselves entered Who Folklore as "important" missing episodes, even going so far as to get a mention in Mark Gattis' comedy sketch The Kidnappers. The episodes were of course animated for the most recent DVD release, with less than brilliant results. The four other animated serials, animated by Cosgrove Hall and Planet 55 , did their best to recreate the shots from the original episode, retaining the subtlties of the original direction and the characters' real expressions. The animation for The Ice Warriors, on the other hands, done by a company called Qurios Entertainment, flattens the action to a 2D plane and has heavily stylised (and somewhat static) designs for each character. It makes certain parts of the episodes incredibly silly, and loses a lot of the atmosphere that the original director so carefully built up.
     Speaking of, the episode's direction and atmosphere is brilliant, tying into the overall theme quite nicely. The icy wastes are very well-made and they feel genuinely desolate, punctuated by a shrill, unearthly wail. And I'm talking about the deliberate one on the soundtrack, not just the increasingly unbearable screams of Victoria Waterfield, who screams at the slightest provocation. She's an unfortunate reflection of a few of the attitudes of this era, like those I discussed during Cybermen Month. Like those serials, there were a few jaw-drop moments - like Jamie leching over the station staff' short skirts, or Victoria's infinitely quotable reaction of "Oh no, not Africa!"
Aaand roll credits. (I need to stop watching CinemaSins.)
     The Ice Warriors is a tight, witty script with very well-developed ideas. The brief of creating an enemy to replace the Daleks didn't really reach fruition here, and they would be back in the show by 1972 until the present day, while to date the Ice Warriors have only ever made four more appearances. It's a shame that the first appearance of the Ice Warriors actually walking about now exists, in its most complete form, as a dodgy animation by the same people who did the sketches on Tracy Beaker, but it does allow the serial to feel a hell of a lot more complete. The Ice Warriors often does a few things here or there which make you gasp at how they got away with it, but they managed to create a very large-scale story on a very small budget, and create a Doctor Who classic which deserves the name.


NEXT WEEK: The Doctor and his companions get trapped in the Land of Fiction, in The Mind Robber.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Review: Voyager 3.21: Before and After

Well, they got this make up completely wrong.
Star Trek Voyager - Season Three, Episode Twenty-One - Before and After
Written 7/10/15

When you look back on Voyager as a whole and see how Kes actress Jennifer Lien was asked to leave at the end of the third season, you may be under the impression that she wasn't a very important character in the show, hence why she was written out. Needless to say, this is not true. Right now we're a good five episodes before the season finale, Scorpion, and until that episode, this was supposed to be building up for the departure of Harry Kim. Hence why this episode, an interesting and well-executed time travel story, has Kes as its main star, and features an alternate future in which Kes is still on Voyager, there is no Seven of Nine, and Neelix worms his way into more important ship functions. Eugh.
     Kes awakens - an old woman, surrounded by family, on her deathbed. She feels cold, and when she awakens she is in her own quarters, no more the wiser. In her first memory, she was being put into a special chamber to extend her life, but now The Doctor claims that that hasn't happened yet. As Kes keeps flashing back into the past at greater and greater intervals. Kes discovers the problem - roughly one year into Season Three's "present", Voyager encounters a race known as the Krenim who use time-based torpedos. Kes is infected with Time-radiation, and the special chamber activates this radiation and starts sending her consciousness backwards. Kes soon reaches "the present", and despite having little to work from, The Doctor is able to stabilise her. Kes regains her memories of the past, while still retaining the memories of the alternate future she has now erased.
     The time-travel aspect of the narrative makes this episode instantly memorable - it's rare that Voyager tampers with episode structure like this, but it works. Taking a page from the book of DS9's The Visitor, the Time-Travel aspect of the story is given a very light dusting of technobabble explanation, with the format of the story being used as a unique mechanism to develop Kes all over again. This story takes the view that Kes is still herself even if all of her memories were removed. I loved the little nods to some of the stranger aspects of her character - Kes is baffled at the idea that she was once "involved" with Neelix, and both she and her mother are shown to be giving birth through a sac on their upper back. (From the absurd alien biology of Elogium).
The bitterness on Tom Paris' face is award-worthy.
     It was also a fun use of alternate timelines. Apparently, in a future in which Kes stays and Seven of Nine never appears, B'Elanna and Janeway are killed in Season Four. Paris falls back on his old crush and gets together with Kes, and just over a year after the birth of their first daughter, Linnis, she too gets pregnant by Harry Kim (eugh) and they have a son, called Andrew. (There is suprisingly no appearance by Naomi Wildman, who would go on to appear as a child in the next season and beyond.) I love how often Voyager writes its own fanfic.
     I don't know, this episode often leaves me underwhelmed. Perhaps that's because I've seen it so many times - this is an episode I've been inspired to rewatch a lot. The sci-fi plot is fun and very well executed, although if we go back to my time-travel discussion, we miss the huge thing that every time Kes goes back, she in essence travels to (or creates) a brand new Universe. I liked Kes' development, but it didn't run very much in sync with the plot from Darkling, which I wish had been done better here. Shipping Kes with Tom Paris feels so much like a step backwards for the character that even if it's in this form, a fun "what-if" game, it still stings a little bit. Oh, Kes. You could have had so much better.


NEXT WEEK: The brilliant-yet-also-kinda-appalling Real Life!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Invasion (Revisited)

A warm welcome to Nostalgia Filter on this special day! What makes it so special, you ask? Well, if I've got my sums right, this is the 1000th Post on this blog! I'm so grateful to be here writing for you all after six years and countless changes, and I'm also really glad that this anniversary has fallen on a corker of an episode...
See here for my previous look at this story.

An iconic image, for sure. Which is why it's been reproduced
with every other design since.
Doctor Who - Season Six, Story Three - The Invasion
Written 2/10/15

We've finally reached the end of Cyberman Month, and we end it on a bang - The Invasion is a blistering eight episodes long, and is the home of a number of important Doctor Who firsts. Despite being remembered as the story where the Cybermen march on St. Paul's, the story actually spends half of its 200 minute runtime as a slow-burning conspiracy thriller, the Cybermen not being revealed until the cliffhanger of Episode Four. This is not a bad thing though, as it's this quality which makes it stand out, and which would lead it to have a profound effect on the show come next season.
     Upon landing in 1970s England, The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe discover that their old friend Professor Travers has gone off to America, with Professor Watkins and his niece Isobel taking their place. Watkins has been kidnapped by International Electromatics, a mysterious and powerful company owned by the mysterious Tobias Vaughn. Vaughn is colluding with an alien force in order to rule the world, but when The Doctor and Jamie discover that said alien race is the Cybermen, they realise far sooner than he does that they will simply toss him aside once their invasion begins. With the help of Vaughn and The Doctor's old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, founder of UNIT, The Doctor foils the Cybermen's plot to kill all life on Earth.
     I am of the opinion that the vast majority of the longer stories in the Classic Series could be shortened or broken up into smaller, more compact affairs - this is mainly due to the way I started with the shorter serials in the 80s and how used I am to the way TV is today. The same is true of The Invasion, although I don't think you could scrape more than an episode from its runtime when you really break it down. The first four episodes, in which the Cybermen only appear for a few seconds, works as a standalone story with a cliffhanger at the end, in which two characters get kidnapped, and rescued. Episode Four feels climactic in that way, and this aides the pacing no end. It also unfortunately leaves all the padding to the fifth and sixth episode, meaning that the Cybermen's reveal isn't really capitalised on.
The reveal of the first Cyberman in the story is
arguably better animated.
     And that's true of the Cybermen throughout this story. Their redesign is great, even if it seems a little weird to stick the huge rectangular earmuffs onto the side of the Cybermen's heads. The Cybermen here don't really have their own agency within the story, spending the vast majority of it as footsoldiers for either Vaughn or their Cyber-Planner, an obscure computer brought forward from The Wheel In Space. It's because of this that this doesn't really stand out as a Cyberman story, with the far more interesting (and relevant) villain being Vaughn himself. Played by Kevin Stoney (who last appeared as the traitorous Mavic Chen in The Daleks' Master Plan), Vaughn is a wonderful calculating villain, methodical and intelligent, his only failings being his incredible hubris in thinking he could control the Cybermen and his over-reliance on his underlings to do all the important things for him.
     Seeing as we have been addressing some of the sexism present in these stories, let us now turn to the biggest bit of padding in this story, an attempt at addressing sexism which ends up falling on its arse. Soon after the reveal, photographer Isabel insists that she wants to go and see these Cybermen, wishing to go wandering in the sewers to take photographs of them. This escapade, which Zoe ends up supporting, inevitably goes wrong when a group of Cybermen attack them in the sewers, leading to UNIT having to engage the Cybermen directly. It's a dual blow to the entire purpose of the scene, because ultimately Isabel is made to look a fool when it all goes awry, and Isabel's attempt to point out the Brigadier's sexist attitude doesn't work when the thing she's suggesting is ridiculously dangerous and irresponsible for two lone people to go and do.
     This episode sees the return of The Brigadier, previously a colonel, from The Web of Fear. Since his escapade with The Doctor in the London Underground, he's set up the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, known to us and to Doctor Who history as UNIT. The organisation, with and without its founder, would continue from this point to make appearances even to the present day, with their last appearance being in the Series Nine premier. The first appearance of UNIT shapes the story - The Doctor now has assistance to his endeavors, be they through the use of superior infrastructure or simply through the precise application of military force. This created a whole new dynamic for the show which the Third Doctor would come to rely on almost exclusively in his first few years, with The Doctor and companions both working with and having moral complaints with UNIT and its members.
     Cybermen Month has seen me watch several pieces of animated Doctor Who, and I'll be doing the same thing next week when I review The Ice Warriors. This was, in fact, the first serial to be given this treatment, with episodes 1 and 4 being animated by famous British animation company Cosgrove Hall. It's surprising it took this long for this to have become a thing. The animated episodes are of course not perfect substitution for the original, and it can be argued that there is a lot of detail in the direction lost with the move towards animation. But the animation also allows a lot of the feel of each episode to be set by Cosgrove Hall's expert art design, and it really makes the beginning of the serial that much more tense for it.
     The Invasion is not a story which particularly highlights the Cybermen in terms of their mythology or history, beyond being their earliest chronological appearance within the show's universe. It is, however, an excellent Doctor Who story, a brilliant tense thriller with minimal padding, a really enjoyable villain and a story format which would go on to transform the show and bring it into the world of colour. I hoped with Cybermen week to give a thorough idea of where the Cybermen came from, as well as to go back and learn more about the Troughton years. If I can have anything happen for you, dear reader, as a result of this, it's that you go and see The Invasion. You really won't regret it.


NEXT TUESDAY: We shuffle back a season as we begin looking at stories starring The Ice Warriors.