I found this video a while back where a guy named “OtaKing” decided to animate his very own anime styled Doctor Who trailer. While the voice acting is rough, I think the Dalek fleet scenes and the cybermen more than make up for it!
Douglas Adams is one of those writers that never really gets enough credit here in America. His books are pretty popular, especially in the nerdy science fiction fan sub-culture, yet most here don’t know his name. I remember partaking in “bring a towel day” or somesuch when we went to see the Hollywood big budget version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and utterly baffled people. Its commonplace top see kids dressed up as vampires and Jedi out in front of the theater, but towels got us all weird looks and things like “did you guys just come back from the pool?”
Not too long ago, I was browsing around a Douglas Adams entry on Wikipedia, and noticed that BBC4 was going to air a pilot for a proposed TV show called Dirk Gently, obviously based on Adam’s own Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I’ve actually never had a chance to read all of my copy of this book as it is included in a very large leather-bound edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide that I have. I do know that they have toned down the zaniness of the book a tad, and re-adapted it for TV. This is something that I’m fine with, as Adams was always adamant that his stories be changed around whenever they are re-made as TV shows, radio etc…
The story kicks off with an introduction to some of the eccentricities of Dirk Gently. We find him interviewing an older lady asking questions on a missing person that he will be looking for if he takes the case. He explains that he believes in the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things”, and that the bill he has footed her for a new refrigerator is definitely pertinent to the case at hand due to this. This is a great first look into the character as the TV writers have shown just how he operates. He is not only eccentric, but comes across as some sort of a con-man trying to prey on people that need him the most. We soon find out that the case is, in fact to find a missing cat rather than a person. A fitting case for this “poor man’s Sherlock Holmes”.
Bits and pieces of the original plot of the book are here, but a lot of side characters are left out. The overlying plot of this episode is actually only part of the full story. I can only hope that this gets picked up for a season and we get to see versions of characters such as “The Electric Monk”. They did downplay the science fiction elements to a large degree except for one really big thing that exists as the lynchpin of the whole case. I can’t spoil it too much as it would ruin the story!
The casting and location chosen for this production is very good for the budget at hand. One can tell with a scarce amount of special effects and long scenes of dialog that this is a very low budget affair, and yet it never really looks “cheap”. The few scenes we have that involve any CGI at all, namely a warehouse explosion. look pretty good. I’m really glad they didn’t go too crazy as other shows with a small budget, most notably Hyperdrive, try too hard to look “big budget” and end up looking like a student film because of the terrible CGI.
I can’t wait to see if this gets picked up for a full run, but even if it does not this would be a fitting addition to any Douglas Adams fan’s collection. Let’s just hope it get put out on DVD here at some point.
Summary: The Pinehill Crest Hotel in Kent is host to three very different events: a cross-stich convention, an experiment in time travel and… the summoning of the scourge. The Doctor, Bernice and Ace find themselves dealing with a dead body that’s come back to life, a mystical symbol that possesses its host, and a threat from another universe that’s ready for every trick the Doctor’s got up his sleeve. This time, has the Doctor gone too far?
As I stated in my last “quick review” with the darker Doctor Who styling, The Fearmonger, I need to try harder to separate these stories from that of the rest of the cannon. Not that they are bad stories, but I have pre-conceived notions of what tone the show should be in that sort of interfered with that drama. This time I decided to listen to a story based on the Virgin New Adventures line of Doctor Who books. For those unaware of the term the VNA novels were released after the show was put on “indefinite hiatus” by Michael Grade, the much beguiled BBC controller in the late eighties. Throughout the nineties, a series of books was released that put a darker tone to the stories, painting Ace as a soldier, and the Doctor as even more manipulative than ever. I also got my first introduction to Bernice Sumemrfield, a 26th century archaeologist that traveled with the Doctor and Ace during this time.
This play introduces a new villain in, The Scourge, a multidimensional creature resembling a huge praying mantis, which dwells and thrives off of uncertainty, doubt, self-loathing, and depression. They are found to do this by sonic means, so we get a rough scene where ace has someone box her ears to rupture her eardrums. This does act as a sort of comic relief (something that is needed) as Ace now can’t hear what people are saying and constantly repeats things back to people.
This play is VERY dark, almost Torchwood dark to be honest. I was actually quite surprised when the Scourge start disemboweling people, as the foley guys (I’d assume it’s called foley in radio as it is movies) came up with the most grotesque noises that they could in order to portray such as scene. We have many scenes of sheer emotional terror and anguish in this play as well with not only Ace, Benny, and background characters, but even the Doctor. This is possibly the most intense play, if not Doctor Who related media, aside from maybe Torchwood: Children of Earth, that I’ve consumed. While this sheer darkness is off-base for the TV show, I will concede that a darker take on the characters can be a bit satisfying as we get some real emotion from everyone involved, but it never reaches into the gratuitous side.
The one thing that really kept me from really liking this storyline and rating it better than “average” is the crazy “minscape” section towards the end of the serial. The Doctor and Benny are literally sucked into the Doctor’s own mind as he tries to fight his own “scourge”. It is at this point that we elarn that depression and other doubts are basically from these creatures, and they have been praying on the weak humanity for thousands of years. The monster keeps repeatedly telling The Doctor some bad stuff like the fact that he is “merely a troublemaking child who fears being alone so much that he deliberately alienates his companions to see whether they’ll leave him or not”. This reminds me of the recent TV episode containing the Dream Lord, as you find out that the Doctor is pretty self-loathing sometimes.
The Shadow of the Scourge was a decent episode of the Big Finish Audio dramas, and really reminded me of a Torchwood related item. I’m still not a huge fan of the dark nature of some of these, but at least the performances were VERY well acted.
After posting that trailer for Being Human (U.S.) I started thinking about the sad state of the American TV industry when it comes to original ideas. Whenever I turn around, it seems like “new” TV shows are either based on popular U.K. shows that already have a following here, or are reality garbage. I know it may just be my opinion, but I feel that most TV shows that are translated from the U.K. to the U.S. are vastly inferior to their U.K. counterpart. Even a network show such as NBC’s The Office, being written by the same folks behind the original, suffers from being drug out far too much as it enters its seventh season. Shows like Coupling, Red Dwarf, and even the IT Crowd have had failed pilots over here, and it’s no mystery – people that like the original shows will resent the new show from the outset. With one exception in The Office*, I have found that TV execs produce the show in one of two ways, both of which ruin the show:
1) Leave it “as-is” basically making a shot for shot remake – This baffles me completely as a TV fan. I know that some accents from the U.K. can be rough to American ears, but I have no idea why they just can’t air the original show. The problem with these “as-is” remakes is that the humor is not styled for an American sensibility. The jokes always fall flat due to our mannerisms, a general lack of understanding in irony, and other things too numerous to list. Fans of the Comedy Show Spaced have undoubtedly seen the TV pilot scenes that leaked not too long ago, and I feel those scenes speak for themselves
Or even this ghastly version of Red Dwarf:
2) Same plot, but let’s re-write it to make it “better” – I know I just said that leaving it the same hurts the shows chances, but this is usually worse, especially for fans of the old show. Life On Mars (U.S.) is a prime example of this as it was originally supposed to air at least one year before it actually did. ABC screened the show at the San Diego comic-Con to a horrible response, supposedly many of the execs had no idea that it had a fan base in the U.S. and were scared of the reception. A new pilot with different actors was ordered, and it failed due to declining viewership.
So how do we fix this America? Let’s come up with our own damn ideas! I love British science fiction, not crappy remakes of popular British science fiction. There has to be more than one creative guy in U.S. TV, and rather than block any new shows, how about we nurture our own creative minds. With the announced releases of Skins, Shameless, and even X-Factor the pain keeps going….and going….
Here is a list of the crap that gets made sometimes, count how few actually took off.
* season 1 of the Office is basically a re-shoot of the U.K. version, but it went vastly in it’s own direction thereafter, minus a few things…thankfully
Here is some content I plan for the next few months!
Hyperdrive – ongoing – just finished season 1, season 2 is also on streaming.
Day of the Triffids – Same as Hyperdrive…I just need to write something for a few eps.
Big Finish audio plays – I have a large number of Big Finish audio plays that I obtained in bulk, so I am going through all of them in order. I actually started listening to them around six months ago, hence the “quick review” format. Once I get caught up to a point where I am writing about them 100% fresh, I will do longer reviews.
A for Andromeda – The remake from 2005-ish. I have always wanted to see the original A for Andromeda I love to see early TV sci-fi, but alas it suffered the same fate as a lot of other old TV shows, and a lot of it does not exist.
The Quatermass Project – This is the live re-make that David Tennant was in just prior to his run in Doctor Who. I’ve had this on my computer forever (seriously like 4 years!) and have yet to watch it!
Tripods – These will be the books, I eventually want to get the show, but I’d like to read the books first.
I have more that I plan on doing, but this is my plate for now!
Note: I’ve skipped the last audio play as I need to re-listen to it.
Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”
Synopsis: “Two thousand years ago, a volcanic eruption wiped the Roman city of Pompeii from the face of the Earth. It also buried the Doctor’s TARDIS…Arriving in Pompeii one day before the disaster, the Doctor and Mel find themselves separated from their ship and entangled in local politics. As time runs out, they fight to escape from the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. But how can they succeed when history itself is working against them?”
You know, I haven’t really seen too many episodes of Doctor Who with Mel, but I always hear that the character is annoying and basically terrible. Being an American, I don’t have all of the pre-loaded bias against Bonnie Langford, due to her status as a child star. This fact, I have noticed, has made her get picked at a bit on websites and such. In a similar case, I was unfamiliar with Billie Piper’s music career prior to her signing on with the show, and thus had no problems with the character Rose Tyler. I think some people get so engrossed with the “pre-Who” careers of some folks, that it harms their enjoyment of the show. Anyway, back to Mel; Mel isn’t really that bad at all! Even in the campy Delta and The Bannermen, she seemed like a decent enough character despite the screaming and running around she seemed to do. But wait – isn’t this a review of a Doctor Who audio book, and not a career retrospective of Bonnie Langford as Mel? Yes it is, and the above clarification is necessary, as I felt that this would be one of the worst audios due to the characters inclusion, based solely on other people’s opinions online. Guess what? I loved it!
The story opens with a strange discovery in a collapsed archaeological site in Italy. It seems that an Earthquake has opened the ground near the site of the former city of Pompeii, revealing a blue police box in the rubble. We jump to The Doctor and Mel arriving at the same site in 79 A.D., one day before the “big day” at Mt. Vesuvius. Mel is worried that the Doctor seems pre-occupied and won’t let them run out and do their normal explorations on the amazing scene they are witnessing. The truth is, the Doctor knows about the Tardis being found there, and he’s worried that today is the day that he finds out why.
It’s no secret that I love historical episodes, and this one did not let me down. A similar episode of the show during the David Tennant run as the tenth incarnation of the Doctor relied way too much on aliens and other trappings of the “modern historical” in Doctor Who, but this is straight historical. There are no aliens and no monsters just a story of one man’s quest to divert what he believes to be the inevitable – his death. Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford do a great job in the roles of The Doctor and Mel, and show a great chemistry together. While not as popular and dramatic as McCoy and Sophie Aldred were as a team, this pairing gets the job done, and harkens back to an older era in the show.
The Fires of Vulcan is probably one of the better Big Finish audio plays I’ve heard so far, despite all the fan hate for me. I for one, hope she has done more of these!
Being a fan of “Aggrotech” music, I as happy to find this gem, a song that samples Dalek voices! I actually thought that this was a fan mash-up, but this is the actual song found on their album of the same name! check out their Wikipedia page here.
Netflix recently added a bunch of UK TV shows to their streaming service, many of which have not been released in the US by other legitimate means yet. These include shows like the IT crowd and even Hyperdrive, a show that I am currently reviewing! Rather than dragging out this worn out DVD-R that I burned a long time ago, I was able to sit in the comfort of my favorite chair and watch this on my TV.
Playing up the Star Trek parody to new levels, this episode shows the Camden Lock engaged in “would be” negotiations with two warring alien races. The Space Marshal has come to Henderson to ask him to act as a go-between in negotiations between the Bulaahg and the Lallakiss races. It seems that both races have staked claim on an asteroid, and neither want to share at all. The ambassadors from both races arrive including a mixed sex pairing from the Bulaahg camp that immediately proceed to patronize and talk down to Henderson for being less intelligent than they, and a couple of guys from the Lallakiss race that seem to have the “hots” for Vine.
Despite the fact that the Space Marshal has basically told Henderson to “keep the two sides talking until the Americans arrive” he takes it upon himself to try to settle the dispute. Henderson has his eye on a Nobel Peace Prize and decides to strong-arm the whole thing by implying that he will blow the asteroid up if nobody shares it, when both sides think he is bluffing he orders a nuke to blow up the asteroid. This actually does unite the two races, but not in the way he had intended as they have declared war of Great Britain.
As a fourth episode, this one does the job well and is about as good, if not slightly better than the previous episode. At this point, the show does seem to have hit its stride, but it still vaguely feels like a “mash up” of both Star Trek and Red Dwarf. This isn’t bad per se, but it really makes the show falter a bit as it tries to stand on its own. Some of the jokes in this episode were really nice, including one where both races collaborate on a “theme song” for the impending war. This song, Kill the Humans, immediately goes into Jeffers’s music rotation – a fact that both angers and annoys Henderson to no end. This just adds to the fact that Jeffers is about the biggest bastard in any TV show, and he doesn’t care. In fact he almost exists as some kind of uber-hipster, a person that does EVERYTHING ironically and ruins everything.
We also see a bit more of the unrequited love storyline between Henderson and Teal pop up as we find Teal ready to share her last minutes on earth embraced with Henderson as he calls her desperately in the night. Sadly, he just wants her for an officers meeting and not by his side – a trend that we keep seeing a lot.
This episode does try to have a lot of unnecessary CGI shots, a fact that sort of hurts the episode for me. Shows used to use models and such if they were on a small budget, but Hyperdrive insists on using cheap CGI and it shows. These effects aren’t the worst I’ve seen, but it really makes the show a LOT cheaper than it is. With two more episodes to go, I can’t wait to see what happens next!
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Doctor Who charity special, Dimensions in time, is a pretty rough experience. On one hand, this charity episode was released way back when the show was off of the air, so any sort of new material was welcomed by fans. The main problem was, that somebody over at BBC decided it would be an amazing idea to have this episode as a crossover with a popular soap opera called The Eastenders. Confusing casting decisions were combined with a few miss-steps like having all of the remaining Doctors appear in the video despite having only the smallest interest of picking the role up. This is especially prominent with one Mr. Tom Baker who, despite a good performance aside from the fact he is sitting in front of a green screen talking into a microphone, obviously didn’t want anything to do with the 30th anniversary special. The other actors all tried very hard to salvage what eventually became of this, but sadly it was a losing battle.
The plot, if one can follow it, revolves around one of the lesser used renegade Time Lords, the Rani, as she tries to destabilize time to kill all versions of the Doctor at once. The Fourth Doctor appears to be in a broadcasting room of some sorts and relays a desperate message to his other selves:
Mayday, mayday. This is an urgent message for all the Doctors. It’s vitally important that you listen to me for once. Our whole existence is being threatened by a renegade Time Lord known only as the Rani. She hates me. She even hates children. Two of my earlier selves have already been snared in her vicious trap. The grumpy one and the flautist too. She wants to put us out of action. Lock us away in a dreary backwater of London’ East End. Trapped in a time-loop in perpetuity and her evil is all around us. I can hear the heart beat of a killer. She’s out there somewhere. We must be on our guard and we must stop her before she destroys all of our other selves. Oh… [gives a pained look] Good luck, my dears.
I’ve included that up there, because it is literally ALL the story we actually get in this episode, the rest is a mess of random appearances and nonsensical babbling. This whole thing is moved along by use of the Rani’s gun that can alter time, a convenient way to have multiple Doctors show up. Sadly the way this occurs is VERY jarring as the Doctor phases between identities, sometimes in mid-sentence, and way too frequently. While it starts out being the Seventh Doctor and Ace talking, every time we hear a noise and the screen flashes we meet another version of the Doctor, sometimes another companion, or someone randomly from Eastenders. While one can figure out what is supposed to be going on, the whole production looks as if it cost something like a tenner and maybe a drink at a bar.
There are some good things to be seen from this episode, however, as it marks one of the very last TV appearances by Jon Pertwee before he died only a few years later. He had stopped doing much acting to my knowledge and was touring around on the science fiction convention circuit and doing small roles in dramas and such. This episode also sees the only meeting between the Sixth Doctor and longtime companion and all around awesome dude – The Brigadier.
Aside from those good things, I can’t explain enough how bad the episode is. When I had tried to get hold of all of the Doctor Who stuff I presumed would not be released on DVD like missing episode reconstructions and charity specials, I was happy to find an off-air recording of this. This happiness was surely dashed once I actually watched the dreary mess. If anything, this special was not a send off for the beloved show that was believed to be laid to rest forever, but a sad remembrance of the crappy state of the show’s production in the later 1980’s. Doctor Who was to have its day in the sun once again, and come back stronger than ever…sadly it was not on this day!
As many science fiction fans may have noticed – shows licensed from the BBC such as Doctor Who cost about twice or even three times more than most U.S. television shows. This can be particularly bad if you are on a budget and don’t want to break the bank. Yes, a few of these shows are available on Netflix (e.g. Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, and Day of the Triffids) but some shows that I plan on eventually getting such as the Tripods or Blakes 7 will probably never come out here or be released on a streaming device. You can obviously download things and burn them or watch programs on your computer, but if you are like me, this choice is never as good as watching a good quality image whilst sitting in a comfy chair. This is where region-free DVD players some in.
My recommendation to anyone that may decide to watch some harder to find UK shows is to do one of the following two things:
1) Cheap Method: It’s a little known secret that most, if not all cheap Chinese DVD players are actually region-free, and have their region locked installed via software within the factory. In the past I used to get DVD players from Digix or Coby for around 20-30 dollars. These players were pretty crappy for the most part, and honestly aren’t worth it unless you can’t swing what I will post on option 2. I remember having this one particular model of Coby DVD player that would work fine until around the six month mark, *boom* – broken. The trick to using one of these is to do a little research. Websites like DVD Help have listings of DVD players and whether they can be region hacked or not. Most of these are simple to hack, as a numerical code on the DVD remote usually does the trick.
2) Best Method – depending on how much one wants to spend, visiting a site like Region Free DVD is the best option. Tired of dealing with cheap players, I plunked down 100 dollars for a Toshiba regionless HDMI up-scaling DVD player, and will never look back. Not only is the picture better in just about every way, but the player itself is tailored for wide screen TVs and widescreen media, like most UK TV.
The reason I recommend getting one of these players is pretty self explanatory with the numbers. Here are the prices and availability of one show Life on Mars, and its spin-off/sequel Ashes to Ashes.
I was going to toss a little “look back” for this up – like a review of sorts, but I have been busy messing about with my shiny new PS3 today. I’ll try to get to the review tomorrow (or later tonight) but for now, enjoy the full Curse of Fatal Death, a charity episode starring Rowan Atkinson and written by Steven Moffatt!
I kind of got sidetracked when I was trying to review the season 5 episodes of Doctor Who last year. My plan was to get all of them up in a somewhat timely manner and bask in the glory of a job well done. Sadly, I got busy doing random stuff related to work and other such nonsense that I ended up stopping at episode 4 if I’m not mistaken. Since I’ve decided to try and blog once a day, I think I will attempt to re-watch all of the episodes and pick up where I left off shortly. Although it’s slightly out of order, I thought I should start out by taking a look at the newest episode that aired, thankfully while it is fresh in my mind – A Christmas Carol.
Ever since Doctor Who returned in 2005 the novelty of the Christmas episode has really helped keep the show’s momentum during those cold winters when mid-season replacements and re-runs rule the land. It all started innocently enough with an episode called the Christmas Invasion, the episode that proved that all Christmas TV episodes are not made of the same cloth. You see in the U.S. television shows rarely have Christmas “specials” and if they do, they usually exist as a cheesy clip episode hastily thrown together at the last minute. Shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation have holiday themed episodes sometimes, but they aren’t really “special at all. This is one reason I like the U.K. way of doing TV despite shorter seasons and shorter runs. Now we sit five Christmas specials later and bear witness to Matt Smith in his Yuletide zaniness.
The episode opens with a glimpse into the ill fated honeymoon between Rory and Amy, the main companions of the last season of the show. The Doctor has granted them passage on some sort of luxury cruise liner in space, only to have a huge mishap occur. It appears that the ship traveled too close to a strange planet with an electromagnetic cloud encircling it. The ship was drawn off course and towards catastrophe for the 4000 passengers and crew.
The only hope for this doomed ship is the man that controls the swirly vortex of lightning and clouds Kazran Sardick. Michael Gambon of Harry Potter and Layer Cake fame paints of picture of a sad man with a hardened heart that has given up on humanity. He could help the 4000 passengers in the ship, but he doesn’t care in the slightest. In the grand tradition of the classic tale A Christmas Carol, it’s up to the Doctor to help him learn how to live again. He decides to visit Kazran at an early age and see what caused him to be so morose.
Kazran’s father (also played by Gambon) apparently created a system to keep the planets native fauna at bay as they would snack on unsuspecting citizenry when the planet was first colonized. This animal life is similar, if not blatantly the same as our marine fishes and sharks. This planet basically has an atmosphere so thick that these creatures can swim through the thick, foggy air at ease. As a boy Kazran wanted to study these fish, but was beguiled at beaten by his dad for having such outlandish ideas. He was to take his father’s place as the planet’s head honcho of loan brokerage upon his father’s death, not meddle in marine biology.
In these very earliest moments of the episode we definitely see Steven Moffat’s brush strokes as he likes to mess with time travel as much as he can. The term “wibbly wobbly timey wimey….stuff” comes to mind as the Doctor is shown to be interacting with a young Kazran as the older Kazran watches on in both horror and amusement. The Doctor soon stumbles upon a girl frozen in a container in a large cryogenic chamber (played by opera superstar Katherine Jenkins) that he had seen earlier on, and decides to let her out to see Christmas. What ensues is a tale of love and heartache for Kazran and Abigail, and a reminder that The Doctor isn’t always able to make the right decisions or help everyone. I’ve left the rest of the plot vague to curtail spoilers, and allow for folks that have not seen the episode to enjoy it.
On a storytelling front, the aforementioned “wibbly wobbly timey wimey….stuff” is well done, and firmly places some actual time travel back into a show that ironically hasn’t had much time travel rather than the initial landings since its inception almost fifty years ago. I know some folks find Moffat’s use of this motif tiring as he has done similar things in not only The Girl in the Fireplace but Blink and season 5’s finale as well. The plot was easy to understand, not to complex and above all else….fun. That’s the one thing that I love about Moffat scripts is that not only do they make you think, but a childlike sense of wonder ensues. Not to bash the previous show runner, but some Russel T. Davies helmed episodes seemed too brooding and basically “emo” for my liking. These current ones have a sense of fairytale to them, which is new to the show.
Visually the episode was usually pretty great looking with the occasional computer generated effect looking less than amazing. Keep in mind that I watched this on my mother’s standard definition TV on Christmas day, so viewed on my own rig could change my opinion. On the musical side of things, both Murray Gold and Katherine Jenkins (who sings as one would assume) are on the ball and deliver a great soundtrack, especially for a TV show. Anything is good with the eleventh Doctor’s theme in tow, one of the best pieces of music in the show since its return. Really my only complaint about this episode was the fact that it seemed somehow padded a bit despite the large amount of plot going on. Not that it dragged or anything, but parts of it seemed almost slow.
A Christmas Carol was not my favorite of these yearly Christmas specials (Voyage of the Damned still takes that honor) but it is probably my second favorite. The great cast including Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins is top notch, as it the performances by the regular cast. Matt Smith is growing to be one of my favorite Doctors ever, and his performance in this episode had to have been his strongest yet. All in all, great Christmas TV, and I can’t wait for season six.
“I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer… And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people's lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you're able to entertain people, you're doing a good thing.” -Stan Lee