2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 36,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 8 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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Day of the Triffids (1981) – Episode 2

Egads! It has it been a while since I looked at this series, and I know that I should do more seeing that it brings the most traffic to my blog than any other topic! I had previously stated how thrilled I was that Netflix was carrying the show, and that they had a big selection of such material. I guess the people who make sure we don’t have any fun saw my glowing praise and the show was gone immediately from their digital service. All kidding aside, I had wondered if I should go ahead and just buy the film from Amazon, which was until I noticed that it was on Amazon Prime for free. It seems that in the wake of “Flixtergate”, the debacle wherein Netflix announced that they were splitting into two companies and raised prices – killing their reputation, many of these great UK shows have moved to both Hulu Plus and Amazon prime. Most of these aren’t science fiction shows, but I know that I’ll be getting some new material for this blog from this none-the-less. Now I hope that this very article will not trigger another calamity such as the show being lost forever, but I think I can take the chance, if only to share with you all this great drama.

When we last left Bill Mason, he was lying in a hospital bed thinking back at the series of events that ultimately led to him being there. His blindness seemingly gone, Mason yanked his bandages off only to find everything in disarray. As far as he can tell not many people have the ability to see anymore, and even worse – the world has gone to hell. Dead bodies lay everywhere, Triffids are crawling all over the place, and human society has ultimately crumbled. Some of the post-apocalyptic scenes we are presented with are truly disturbing; one of the earliest shots in this episode sees a man committing suicide nearby a field full of people wandering around without the use of their eyes. It’s always a cheap tactic to use endangered kids against the viewer to illicit certain emotions, but hearing small children yell “Mummy where are you?!” was a shock.

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We are also introduced to another main character of this program, Josella Payton as played by Emma Relph, the eventual love interest of Mason. Being another person that hasn’t gone blind, Jo finds out first hand that the world isn’t such a nice place anymore as she is assaulted by a haggard looking man with a beard. Desperate people want to take advantage of anyone that still has their vision, and this man is the worst kind of accident survivor there is. Jo isn’t in danger long, and eventually meets up with Bill when he saves her from this creep. Her interest in Bill seems sort of forced, as if she is only tagging along because she feels helpless by herself, but it’s cool for such a nerdy guy to get with such an attractive lady. Then again this was a time of the “weak female assistant” as seen in Doctor Who and other shows; all they do is get in trouble and act emotional as the strong man character does all the work.

I think I really like this show based on the simple fact that Bill Mason, as portrayed by John Duttine, doesn’t look or act like your typical action hero. He’s a normal looking guy with a beard and a tweed jacket, not a square-jawed badass that you would normally see in Hollywood action shows. Bill feels the need to help people in the situation, but feels bad that his size and ability gives him no upper-hand in altercations with bands of marauding football hooligans. If there is one thing he’s awesome at, it’s killing triffids – we see him destroy one with a pitchfork towards the end of this episode in a manner that would make Neptune himself blush with envy.

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My last review of episode one was pretty sparse, as it was like the third entry for this blog, so hopefully I’ve improved here. Episode 2 of Day of the Triffids was awesome, and keeps me coming back for more. Slowly but surely through this and the 2009 miniseries, I am becoming a big fan of the property, and plan to seek out more if I can.  Since I can definitely watch this on Amazon prime, I will try to get through this fairly quickly so that I could possibly read the books as well. Onward we go to episode three, where Mason is hopefully on his way to get some firepower in order to battle the triffids.

Misfits: Season 1 Episode 1

Lately, Hulu has been really cranking out advertisements for a show that I knew only by name and a vague idea of the plot – That show is the UK superhero youth drama Misfits. Being all caught up on many other shows, I figured “what the heck” and queued up the first episode. The story follows a group of young delinquents (party-girl Alisha, Kelly the chav, fallen sports hero Curtis, social outcast Simon, and class clown Nathan) placed into a program to give them a second chance at being on the right side of the law. While doing what basically amounts to community service, a freak storm with baseball sized hail and numerous lightning strikes does something to the group ultimately giving them special powers.

The plot might sound a bit like other shows such as Heroes or Alphas, but the similarities end at the fact that they have powers. While those shows are nice and polished up like shiny apples sitting in a big bowl on a kitchen table, Misfits is more like a browning banana in paper sack that you forgot about. The overall “vibe” to the show reminds me of a cross between the same sort of frank and often dingy realism found in Inbetweeners or Skins and something like Being Human. What I mean by this is that we aren’t getting the Disney Channel idea of how teenagers talk and act, we’re getting messed-up, hormonal, foul-mouthed balls of angst that all have super powers.

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The ways in which the powers are used in the show are pretty cool sometimes. In my favorite scene, everyone is heckling Kelly for her accusations that their case worker has gone nuts and is trying to kill them. It seems that he didn’t fare as well in the whole powers department, and got homicidal rage instead. Nobody believes her until one mistake leaves Kelly’s brains plastered all over the wall. Curtis freaks out and basically rewinds time to just prior to this incident. The other powers we see in play are Alisha’s pheromone charm ability, Simon’s invisibility, and Kelly’s psychic abilities. The only member we don’t see exhibiting ability is Nathan, but I assume this will change in the next episode.

I’m glad that the producers didn’t try to put in things that relied too much on special effects, such as CGI powers, as I bet the budget would not be kind to flashy things like that. This cost-effective measure not only diverts the risk of having questionable CGI stuff (see Hyperdrive), but makes the show grounded and more realistic – a trait that almost every superhero comic and show has longed for.

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I’m glad I checked out this show. I’m very intrigued by where Misfits is going to go, and will be eager to check out some more episodes. I really like the characters (well…..Nathan annoys me so far…) and am looking forward to see how they interact and how they will be forced to work together in some way.

Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

While the novelty of having a title such as X on a(n) X (ex: Snakes on a Plane) would have been more topical in 2006, it does show exactly what we are getting here: a fun “romp” episode that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. With how serious and well-layered the previous episode was, this stands as a stark counter-balance to Asylum of the Daleks with all the “in your face” zaniness that is usually reserved for comedy episodes. I know a lot of fans dislike episodes like this, but I generally like them. As you will see, there is a dark edge here as well, not just fluff.

The plot centers on an unidentified spacecraft that is found to be hurling towards earth, this of course freaks out many Earth-based agencies including the Indian Space Agency. The Doctor is enlisted by the ISA to “take care of it” so that they can stop any sort of crisis with it crashing. The Doctor needs a “Gang” to check it out, so who better to enlist than the legendary Queen Nefertiti, a big game hunter named Riddell, and “the Ponds”. They find out that the ship is an ancient Silurian “ark” full of dinosaurs, and fun ensues.

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This episode is notable for introducing a new character – Rory’s father, as played by Mark Williams of Harry potter fame. Brian (Rory’s dad) is sucked into the whole situation completely accidentally, and the first truly humorous scene involves The Doctor’s reaction to his presence. When the Doctor picks up “The Ponds” Brian is helping Rory fix a light bulb just as the Tardis shows up and materialized around all three of them. The Doctor does not in fact notice Brian until way later when they are leaving the Tardis. He assumes some random person walked into the Tardis. It’s never explained how the two don’t seem to have ever met despite the zany antics The Doctor was up to at Amy and Rory’s wedding, but I guess he could have been absent. In The Big Bang, we clearly meet Amy’s parents, but Rory’s family appears to be his siblings or something. I guess it’s a mystery we will never know the answer to!

Another Harry Potter Alumni takes the stage as the villain of the piece – David Bradley as Solomon. As with many Doctor Who villains, Solomon is initially not the antagonist of the piece, but reveals himself in the third act. His initial story is that the problems are all related to the fact that his legs have been mauled by raptors and his “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” of the robot world (as played by the double act –Mitchell & Webb) have been insufficient in helping him out. Once we realize that he wants to capture “Neffy” for his collection we learn the real truth. Solomon is basically a space pirate and has killed all the Silurians on board and a lot of the dinosaurs. He was trying to figure out a way to monetize the dinos before the accident happened, just as the “Gang” shows up.

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What happens next has divided fans of the show, but is not without precedent. The Doctor, realizing how truly evil Solomon is, sets it up so that Solomon is killed by a slew of missiles launched by the ISA. He doesn’t give him a second chance or anything; he basically says “your dead!” and leaves him to his fate. Many internet fans flipped out because of this, partially because many were lead to see the Doctor as a pacifist “space Jesus” up through the first few seasons, but having this view is a mistake. I could list a number of times where the Doctor essentially murders people, but there is no more telling instance than the very first serial of the show. At one point The Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, has to be stopped from smashing a caveman’s skull in with a huge rock simply because he “was slowing them down”. The doctor has a dark side, and being away from companions makes him like this. Hopefully this is a theme further explored!

All in all, I really liked this episode. It isn’t the most intellectual stimulating episode out there, but it’s a fun episode none-the-less. It was great to see some of Rory’s family in a little bit of detail, and Brian was a great character. He was not as cool as Wilf when it comes to family members of companions, but not many are as awesome as that guy! Chris Chibnall has done some mediocre work on Doctor Who in the past, but this episode was pretty good. Maybe fans can look forward to his second episode this season after all!

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Catch-up Time!

I will be posting some more Doctor Who Series 7 reviews this week. When I was doing overtime at work I didn’t have a chance to keep up with it, so I plan to do it now. If you came here wanting to see The Christmas episode review look further down! I also plan to finish up some lingering series I was working on, so stay tuned!

Doctor Who: The Snowmen (2012)

Watching the yearly Doctor Who Christmas special is fast becoming one of my personal Christmas traditions that I most look forward to. I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely thrilled by last year’s iteration; it was saccharine sweet and lacked any real drama compared to most episodes of the show. I remarked in my review that “I think they should be less “Christmasy” for the most part from now on. The Christmas gimmicks worked very well at first, but seem too forced now.” Gladly, aside from a snow theme, this episode lacks any sort of “hitting you over the head” Christmas treatment that we’ve had in the past. As the episode opens with a group of people being massacred by an army of sentient snowmen, filled with what appeared to be evil snowflakes, I knew I was in for a real treat.

Right from the moment the opening theme starts, this second half of season 7 is really starting to show that this year is a special anniversary year. Some fans have complained that Steven Moffat didn’t follow through with making this new show (2005-current) like the old one, a claim he made years ago as he was just getting handed the reigns to the Doctor Who show-runner title from Russell T. Davies. Right away we have a new opening sequence with graphics that include swirly space debris and a picture of Matt Smith’s face in stars, a small detail that looks back at the show’s past. I’m not going to lie, my wife and I “Marked out” (to use a pro wrestling term) when we saw this new intro. It wasn’t even an earth shattering change or anything, but it really shows that small things like that can make or break it for some people. New fans won’t even notice the charge, bus us older fans have another little touch there to make us happy.

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The new titles sequence isn’t the only change we had in this episode. We were also graced with a new Tardis interior that was obviously somewhat based on the original one using the basic structure of the one from the last few seasons. Now it’s just far more spacious, has lighting, and gives an entirely new (and yet old) sci-fi feel rather than the played out “organic spaceship” theme that was sort of refreshing in 2005, then used by every other sci-fi show. The Doctor is also sporting a new outfit that somewhat carries over to the next episodes based on the “coming soon” trailer.

The actual plot of this episode involves evil snowmen controlled by an old villain that we haven’t really seen since the Patrick Troughton era. “The Great Intelligence” that we see here, played by the voice of Ian McKellen, is sort of a reimagining of the creature of the same name we saw in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. In fact, this episode is directly tied to those older episodes with little bits of dialog tossed in as a nod to fans. Ian McKellen does a great job providing a booming evil voice that we would expect from something called “The Great Intelligence”. Richard E. Grant, who played the Doctor in Scream of the Shalka, returns to Doctor Who playing a character named Walter Simeon. Simeon met “The Great Intelligence” as a young boy, and used its power to get back at those that hurt him, and gained power for himself. Little did he know that he was merely a pawn in the grand scheme of things.

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The Doctor has been “laying low” and attempting to place himself into the same sort of self-imposed retirement we saw him in way back when we first met the character with William Hartnell in the role. Luckily he isn’t in total hermit-mode and has been hanging around the “Paternoster Gang” including the sword toting Silurian warrior Lady Vastra, her human wife Jenny, and their butler Strax, a reluctant Sontaran servant. I really love these guys, and am glad that they will be somewhat taking the place of River Song now that the Pond saga has ended. I was really hoping for a non-human companion this year, and although these three aren’t the main ones, I can handle them being there a few times this season. Most of the fun comes from the same sort of humor that used to pop up in Star Trek: the Next Generation with Worf. The fun lies in taking Strax, from the warrior Sontaran race, and placing him in mundane situations that he hates, can’t relate to, or simply doesn’t understand. I love Strax because he does things like suggest maximum force in every situation, like throwing grenades at something or blowing up the moon, when said action is grossly inappropriate.

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Also returning are the very same dark fantasy elements that have been popping up in the entirety of Moffat’s tenure as show-runner. I really liked an instance where Clara found the entrance to the Tardis in a cloud only reachable with an invisible “Stairway to heaven”. Rather than just having the Tardis sitting next to a building or something, the production team went the extra mile to make Clara discovering the Tardis that much more special. This of course reminds me of stuff from Neil Gaiman, fitting that he wrote a script last season, and has one this season as well.

Jenna Louise Coleman returns for a follow up to her previous encounter with the Doctor, this time playing a “new” character named Clara. Once again we can see that Clara is far more intelligent than some previous companions and takes charge in a similar way to Ace way back in the late 1980’s. She gives me hope that the Doctor has met his match in a companion that won’t take guff from him. I like Amy Pond quite a bit, but felt that she sometimes fell in line with the old “companion always getting in trouble” mold, here’s hoping Clara stays strong.

There were a few quibbles to be had with the episode, like the scheme of the Great Intelligence never really being fleshed out fully, and some wonky computer generated effects with the “old Governess” but for the most part I feel that this was a very strong Christmas special, far better than last year’s. I can’t wait for this upcoming season, a new companion, and the return of the Cybermen as written by Neil Gaiman!

 

Doctor Who: Dust Breeding

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Synopsis

On nineteenth Century Earth artist Edvard Munch hears an infinite scream pass through nature. Centuries later his painting of that scream hangs in a gallery on the barren dust world Duchamp 331. Why is there a colony of artists on a planet that is little more than a glorified garage? What is the event that the passengers of the huge, opulent pleasure cruiser ‘Gallery’ are hoping to see? And what is hidden in the crates that litter the cargo hold? The Doctor’s diary indicates that the painting is about to be destroyed in ‘mysterious circumstances’, and when he and Ace arrive on Duchamp 331, those circumstances are well underway.

Written By: Mike Tucker
Directed By: Gary Russell

Anyone keeping up with my Big Finish Audio reviews will recall that I generally feel that the Seventh Doctor stories based on the Virgin New Adventures line of books are …. not my cup of tea. I worried that this one was in that particular series, but was pleasantly surprised that it was not. Luckily I’m glad to report that this particular entry in the monthly line of audio dramas is in continuity with an earlier entry called The Genocide Machine and not The Shadow of the Scourge, the former being an entry that I quite enjoyed; the latter not so much. Containing The Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy (soon to be in a Hobbit film near you!) and Ace, as played by Sophie Aldred, this adventure seems just like a continuation of the original show, just if it lasted a bit longer.

One of the major strengths of this drama is the great cast within. There are a few questionable choices, as is usually the case with a lot of these early plays, such as a weird accent used by Caroline John, but the direction here is usually spot on. McCoy does great as The Doctor here, playing the role in such a way that it lines up far closer to the way the role was performed on the television show, not the yelling angry style found in the aforementioned “New Adventures” plays. Louise Falkner appears here as a Captain Jack-esque tertiary companion named Bev Tarrant, a character that previously appeared in The Genocide Machine.

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Above and Beyond, the highlight of this play (for me at least) was the return of the Master as played by Geoffrey Beevers. Beevers previously held the role for a short time at the end of Tom Baker’s tenure on the main show, and was portrayed as somewhat of a walking corpse teetering on death at the end of his regenerations. Fairly early on, we are introduced to a wealthy man named Mr. Seta who wears an extraordinary jewel covered mask and is a bit less than trustworthy. Of course “Mr. Seta” is just another one of The Master’s playful anagrams of his own name, a fact that The Doctor should really pick up on at some point. Granted, his plan is ridiculous, and his regression back to his previous iteration (Anthony Ainley was very ill at this time and did not want to participate) is not very well explained, but it was nice to see Beevers do the role for a bit longer than he did in the past. I’m no Ainley hater, but the role was a tad silly when he was playing it, and Beevers adds the darkness back that was originally there with the first Master as played by Roger Delgado.

Many of the best dialog segments where by Mr. Seta / The Master, such as this gem:

‘You’ve spent your life looking at masks Madame Salvadore, without ever wondering what lay beneath them. Would you like to see beneath my mask..?’

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The plot has some silly, or convenient moments, and the main villain of the piece wasn’t all that spectacular but all in all this was a good listen. Little touches like a droning noise that sounds like a screaming Dalek in the background really makes Duchamp 331 a planet to be truly feared, and helps sets this play above merely “average”.  I loved the Master in this, had he not been present I’m not sure if I would have liked the final product nearly as much. For me, Big Finish dramas with the McCoy Doctor have been hit or miss, but this one was a nice surprise.

I’ll be back this weekend!

Some of you out there (all six of my readers…lol) might be wondering if I fell off the face of the Earth or something. FEAR NOT! I just had mandatory overtime at work for the last few months and have been too tired to get my butt in gear and work on this. I’m working on a few reviews as we speak, so stay tuned!

-S