Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis (2013)

I really had no idea what to expect with Journey to the Centre of the Tardis. On one hand you could surmise that the episode may have something similar to the classic Jules Verne story A Journey to the Center of the Earth, but the trailer looked more like a scary high-tension episode than an action adventure story. I was surprised to see that this particular episode was something of a horror episode, strange in the fact that it comes right after another horror-based episode in Hide. Journey to the Centre of the Tardis is notable for one reason – we get to see the insides of the little blue box that could. We have seen bits and bobs of the Tardis here and there since the very beginnings of the show, but never have we seen this much of the ship. Even the classic Invasion of Time pales in comparison in terms of Tardis touring. The question is: Was it any good?

I will start out by saying that this episode is one of those that really improves with repeat viewings. For the basis of this review, I watched it twice and liked it a bit more after the initial viewing. You can surmise that I had some problems with the episode if I said “it improves”, and I definitely did. I didn’t hate it, in fact I thought it was pretty good, but it could have been a lot better for reasons I will soon explain. I think my main complaint is that the nature of time travel concepts and cause and effect found within is very chaotic, and to be honest came across as messy. I will not say that it was as incomprehensible as a story like Ghost Light, in which fans have notoriously elevated to being “good” because “complexity” means “smart” but it has its problems.

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The story follows The Doctor and Clara as they come across a large salvage ship piloted by three expert salvagers called The Van Baalens (played by Ashley Walters and Mark Oliver) and their “android” named Tricky (played by Jahvell Hall). This salvage crew captures the Tardis with a powerful magnetic beam wreaking havoc on its internal systems as a result. Not only is she leaking fuel, but the Tardis looks so unsafe that the salvage crew decides to eject it back into space. The Doctor has apparently escaped the ship unscathed and is pretty mad at the salvage crew; it seems that Clara is still trapped somewhere inside.

The Van Baalens were a bit hard to pin down. I love the concept of these three guys traveling around and listening to The Cult whilst gobbling up bits of wrecked ships. Too bad that the characters were pretty unlikable; I know that they weren’t necessarily “good guys” but their decision making skills were horrid (don’t take that part of the ship, the Tardis will try to kill you – takes piece anyway). I also was not a fan of the fact that the two older brothers somehow brainwashed their younger brother (Tricky) into believing that he was an android servant for the simple thrill of bullying him. With character traits like this it’s really hard to feel bad when one of them dies, since he was a jerk anyway.

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The Doctor tricks them into going inside, and fakes a self-destruct system to force the Van Baalens into helping him save Clara, and generally comes across as a bit unhinged, even more so than usual! The rest of the episode is basically everyone running around in various corridors and rooms trying to elude the Tradis’s self-preservation systems and make it to her core. Time starts to unravel, and everyone starts seeing weird things like future and past echoes of themselves as well as terrifying radiation zombies with glowing red eyes. These creatures were pretty creepy for the same reason that “The Crooked Man” last week was – you never get a good look at one of them. Until it is explained as to the nature of these beings is, you usually see the shape of one, with eyes ablaze, surrounded by a haze of obscuring “waves”. They had me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what these things could have been. I honestly was wondering if he wasn’t housing scarred up refugees from Gallifrey or something, but the real answer was almost as creepy. It seems these were future versions of Clara and the Van Baalens disfigured and driven mad by the energy from the Eye of Harmony, a possible future that is adverted with a stupid plot device.

What really bugged me about this episode was that it involved a “reset button”, and we’re not talking about a figurative one for the purpose of storytelling – an honest to God big red reset button. This trope usually drives me crazy when it’s used this way, and not since the ending of Superman the Movie has it been used in such a silly manner. We saw it at the end of season three to undo The Master’s massacre of the human race, and I hated it then as well. The “reset button” concept is something Russel T. Davies used to employ a lot, I wish it would have stayed with him and not crept into these newer episodes.

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I did enjoy the fact that we got to see things like Clara reading a huge book about the Time War (where she may have seen The Doctor’s name!) and the Eye of Harmony. Little nods to the past such as these usually lead me to “nerding out” even though it reeks of fan service. The special effects for the various Tardis rooms (especially the Eye of Harmony and the Heart) were awesome, and really gives a sense of how massive the whole ship can be. Things like this really helped an episode that could have been pretty mediocre into something special despite its flaws.

Did I love Journey to the Centre of the Tardis? Well, no. The episode was well done from an atmosphere and effects standpoint, but failed a bit with the writing. I’ve loved each episode this half-season so far and having one that “isn’t quite there” is pretty typical (sort of like Curse of the Black Spot), at least this was pretty solid and not terrible. Had they stayed away from things like a giant red reset button, I may have even loved this episode as well. So on a scale of one to ten, with 10 being “woo hoo” and one being “aaargh!” I’d say this one was a “meh” (I should use that as an official rating system…lol). Next week we have Diana Rigg and the Paternoster Gang to look forward to, so can’t wait till Sataurday!

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Lately I have been watching this show on Amazon.com’s portal on the PS3 as I do not have cable nor do I want to “steal” the episodes. Here are some links if you want to try this method out as well:

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS [HD]

Doctor-Who-Journey-to-the-Centre-of-the-Tardis-clara

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Excuse the Ads Please

You guys may have noticed that I have started placing Amazon Ads on this blog once I learned that WordPress allowed it. I will make sure that they never get too obtrusive, and will try to keep them out of the way, like a link at the bottom of a review. I started using these and WordAds to HOPEFULLY be able to monetize this blog. I have no delusions that this small overly-specialized bit of the internet will ever make me money, but I am placing ads to hopefully be able to upgrade it. I want to do a podcast or even videos, but lack the funds to do so. Please let me know if they get obtrusive or inappropriate as I have no control over the WordAds stuff,and thanks for your patience!

The Doctor is Blue

doctor-who-poem

I didn’t make it, but it seemed cool none-the-less.

Somebody Had a Rough Night Out…

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Doctor Who: Hide (2013)

“It’s ghost time!”

While many Doctor Who episodes are a little bit scary (what else would make all those kids hide behind their sofas?), strict horror-based one are kind of hit or miss. Sometimes you have episodes like The Unquiet Dead that really hits the ball out of the park when it comes to atmosphere and scares, and unfortunately there are episodes like Fear Her. I think that a lot of this comes down to the fact that we will NEVER see a ghost story or monster story where the creature in question is really a paranormal entity, thus making the viewer question it the whole time. It’s kind of like watching an M. Night Shyamalan film; on one hand it’s usually sort of creepy, but on the other one becomes preoccupied with the upcoming “twist ending”. You may be assuming that I’m about to bash Hide based on the above sentiment, that’s where you are wrong – I loved it. Hide take’s everything you thought you knew about these kinds of stories and turns them on their heads.

It’s a dark and stormy night, and there seems to be a paranormal investigation going on in a large haunted mansion. Our two co-stars for the evening are a psychic named Emma Grayling (as played by Jessica Raine, soon to be Verity Lambert in the upcoming Doctor Who historical drama) and Professor Alec Palmer (played by Dougray Scott, known for Mission Impossible II and the recent Day of the Triffids films) as they try to find out the secret behind “The Witch of the Well”. It seems that the Caliburn mansion has been plagued by reports of a horrible spectre for hundreds of years, and since this is 1974, our ghost hunters are using all the latest gizmos to find it. Emma and Palmer are soon joined by The Doctor and Clara, who seem to be there on purpose for once exclaiming “we’re the Ghost Busters!” instead of the usual scenario of not knowing where they are.

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Dougray Scott is one of those actors that I am not really all that familiar with aside from a handful of film and TV roles, but always delivers with his acting. After seeing him in Day of the Triffids and this I can definitely say that he would make an awesome Bernard Quatermass if that franchise ever gets off the ground again. Sadly I cannot say that I am at all familiar with the previous work of Jessica Raine, but she did a fine job here. I’m looking forward to spotting her in the aforementioned historical drama An Adventure in Space and Time, soon to be hitting our airwaves this November.

For the most part, Hide reminds me a LOT of some of the older Big Finish audio dramas that I’ve listened to. I’m not sure why, but the mixture of decent, plausible science, and the moody atmosphere gave me a bit of a throwback to some of the 2001 Paul McGann audios especially. Notice that I said “science” up there when talking about a ghost story? That’s because this episode does have a twist on the origin of the “ghost”, but the reveal isn’t the usual Scooby Doo-esque “it looks like this ghost was really an alien!” Instead we are presented with a cool idea: The Doctor realized that “The Witch of the Well” never moves in ANY picture that is taken of it, so he decides to find out if this could be a fixed point in time. He and Clara board the Tardis and take snapshots throughout the lifespan of the Earth looking for the ghast. Sure enough, it’s there, but it’s not what he expected.

Doctor Who - Series 7B

It seems that the “ghost” is actually an ill-fated time traveler named Hila Tukurian (played by Kemi-Bo Jacobs), who disappeared after a time flight. Hila has been caught in what The Doctor explains as a “pocket dimension” where thousands of years in our time are mere moments there. This is the reason for the seemingly static shots of the ghost, as Hila is actually running for her life from an unseen enemy. So if Hila isn’t the “villain” of the episode, who is? It seems the unnamed “crooked man” briefly spotted in the final picture is the culprit, and The Doctor must save Hila from him. This “crooked man” is pretty unnerving and harkens back to movies like The Ring. When we do see him, he crawls around in an unnatural manner, his twisted face grimacing in anguish. But the crooked man has a reason for his actions, and it’s not because he’s evil – he’s in love!

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re saying “love saves the day AGAIN!?” The Doctor beat the peg dolls and Cybermen with love last year, and this year he defeated the parasite sun-god of Ahkaten with it as well. Well, this is different. It seems that “The Crooked Man” is angry because his mate is trapped in the “real world” behind a door that The Doctor closes. The Doctor has unwittingly doomed him to the very death that was once going to be Hila’s fate. In a silly twist The Doctor flies in to save the beast, in one of the oddest endings that we’ve ever witnessed as viewers. Some people have complained that this ending was either “out of the blue” or “tacked on”, but I liked it because the Doctor would never let an innocent die if he could save them, no matter how ugly they are.

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If anything was bad about this episode, I think that Hila was not a very well-developed character. Granted, she is the focus for around three-quarters of the whole episode, but just stands there like furniture once she is safe. I almost wish that this episode was a two-parter with the haunting storyline reserved for episode one, and the time travels bits in episode two. Maybe in this arrangement, characters like Hila could have stood out more, but what we do have is more than sufficient.

My favorite bit of this episode was probably the interaction between The Doctor and Clara regarding her mystery. We are starting to see more and more that they really don’t trust each other at all, a fact that was hammered home no less than twice. In the first instance Clara stayed in the Tardis while The Doctor took tons of pictures to see if he could figure out if the ghost was a fixed point in time. We see a montage of sorts involving rapidly changing times from the dawn of the Earth to the very end. This disturbs Clara as The Doctor seems totally unaffected by what they just saw, but she just saw her entire existence pass before her eyes. This makes her realize that The Doctor is not like her and must see all humans as mere ghosts. The second instance is actually the entire reason that this episode happened. It seems that The Doctor tried to find Emma to ask about Clara, noting her strong abilities as an empath. When Emma remarks that “she is a normal girl” this sets him off, she must be a trap or something! Clara also asked Emma about The Doctor where she found out that he has a “ sliver of ice in his heart”; seems like he is still the Dark, brooding Doctor from The Snowmen, and Clara might be the only thing keeping him going.

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All in all, Hide was a fine episode, I’ve enjoyed this season a lot despite the fact that a bunch of other fans seem to be having trouble with it. The intelligent nature of the unorthodox plotting by Neil Cross is a breath of fresh air from the tendency to do “Doctor Who by numbers” that many writers fall victim to. I know some writers want to please the fans at every turn, but taking chances like this is the only way the show can keep going and staying fresh. Cross was the man behind The Rings of Akhaten as well, another unorthodox episode that I enjoyed. “The Crooked Man” was a creepy “villain” proving that less can be more sometimes. He wasn’t as ambiguous as the antagonists in Midnight or Silence in the Library, but he came across just as terrifying. Next week we have a Journey to the Center of the Tardis to look forward to, and it looks like all hell breaks loose in the relationship between Clara and the Doctor.

 

Lately I have been watching this show on Amazon.com’s portal on the PS3 as I do not have cable nor do I want to “steal” the episodes. Here are some links if you want to try this method out as well:

Hide

Hide [HD]

Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared Issue 2

Since there is a new Star Trek film just on the horizon and a new season of Doctor Who hitting the airwaves, I figured that now would be a great time to read some more of the recent comic crossover Assimilation Squared. For those that didn’t catch my last review, this story centers on an alliance between The Borg and The Cybermen – two similar alien races from both franchises. Their first action as a unified front was the sacking of Delta IV, an attack that was very surprising considering the way The Borg usually make themselves known prior to any offensive actions. In the final panel in the previous issue the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the crew of the Tradis were just about to meet in what The Doctor assumes is prohibition era San Francisco.

While the first issue dealt mostly with setting up the shocking alliance between both armies of zombie androids and their attack on Delta IV, issue two is a little deeper, a bit more “talky”. Tipton does a great job writing convincing Star Trek: The Next Generation dialog. For example, I really enjoyed the conversations between Commander Geordi LaForge and Commander Data since their “bromance” was often times my favorite part of the show itself. Usually Data would misunderstand a human trait of some sort whether it be laughter or anger, and Geordi would have to set him straight. Take this snippet for example:

Data shows that he is often very human
Data shows that he is often very human

Geordi has pointed out that Data was created more than thirty years ago, and that he could benefit a lot from some of the more “modern” android technology being worked on currently. Data, in the most supreme example of foreshadowing ever, ponders on whether that could get out of hand, and if he’d lose himself in the process.

I was surprised that the beginning of the issue shifted back, in a non-linear manner, to before the meeting between The Enterprise crew and The Doctor. This makes sense because we only saw Picard and Co. for like half a panel at the end of the last issue, so it’s good to see what they were doing during the Delta IV attack. Starfleet has set up a mining operation on a remote aquatic planet populated by “fish people” a fact that Commander Worf humorously undercuts with “they sound delicious!” In order to make quotas and keep the flow of the minerals steady, the folks in charge of the operation have had to cut corners leading to accidents and losses of life. Geordi asks why they are mining so frantically, a question Picard replies to with “The Borg”. It seems that Starfleet was nearly decimated at the battle of Wolf 359, a Star Trek battle depicted in the fan favorite episodes The Best of Both Worlds: parts 1 and 2.

Speaking of those episodes, and derailing any sort of flow here: that two-parter is soon to be re-released with HD special effects next week on Blu-Ray, you should all pre-order it below if you like the series:

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Best of Both Worlds (Blu-ray +UltraViolet)

You may be asking yourself: “Where is this Doctor fellow that is supposed to be in the book, I think there is an image of him on the cover?” Well, much like the previous issue, the interactions between the two sets of characters is kept to a minimum until the very end where we finally see them interact. This scene is pretty funny as The Doctor basically ignores everyone and bee-line’s it directly to Commander Data. There is a misunderstanding where the Enterprise crew thinks that the holodeck has gained sentience and that the Doctor is merely a “bug” in the system, and The Doctor simultaneously thinks that Data is some sort of anachronistic robot that shouldn’t be in the past. And just when everyone is having fun, the Borg and Cybermen arrive…..bummer

Poor Data
Poor Data

I really enjoyed issue one of this series, but issue two tops it in every way. The first issue almost seemed like two unrelated stories jammed together, and this one flows so much better overall. I definitely love the art style by J.K. Woodward, he uses life-like painted interiors that one seldom sees in comics these days. It really adds to the realism that makes one think this could have been a real episode of either show. Now that the cast is all together, and the villains have appeared, I think we are in for a real treat in the next issue. Maybe Commander Worf will smack the Doctor for talking too much or maybe we’ll find out what’s going on!

 

I’m a Voldemort Now…

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Threads (1984)

“In an urban society everything connects, each person’s needs are feed by the skills for many others, our lives are woven together in a fabric, but the connections that make society strong also make it vulnerable”

 

A while back, I reviewed a 1965 faux documentary called The War Game that really creeped me out. I’m usually immune to the most brutal of all horror films as I seem unable to take the subject matter seriously, but the way The War Game was done got to me. The visceral bleakness of the subject matter and the realistic portrayals of human suffering put me in a similar mood as to when I originally watched Schindler’s List years ago. When I checked my comment box later on, I noticed a common thread (no pun intended) in most comments – I had to see a later film called Threads, because it also hits you like a ton of bricks. I’m no masochist when it comes to movies, so watching something just to make myself feel bad was out of the question, but I did want to see this. With all the North Korean sabre rattling as of late, I think I’ve been getting a taste of the uneasiness and fear felt during the worst parts of the cold war. In a weird way, I feel that watching stuff like this can “educate me” on what not to do, how bad people will act, and who you can trust.

While The War Game was essentially a strict documentary styled production, Threads actually has some semblance of a dramatic narrative in place. The plot focuses on ordinary people living in the city of Sheffield, and more specifically on a couple of young lovers that find themselves at the gateway of real adulthood. With an unplanned pregnancy looming, Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher) and her boyfriend Jimmy Kemp (Reece Dinsdale) decide to get married, get a house, and all of the other things responsible people do in that situation. Their happiness is cut short as a crisis looms in the Middle East.

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In a fairly realistic manner, the news leading up to the impending disaster is shown slowly in the background with nobody really paying too much attention until it’s honestly too late. The signs are all there that the world is on the brink of utter collapse, but it’s just sort of washed over. People go about daily activities with the news on, glance at newspapers, and listen to the radio albeit only passively. Let’s face it; Jimmy and Ruth have bigger things to deal with in their immediate lives than world events. They have to deal with family pressures such as questions on whether they should get an abortion and if they can support a child. The news is the last thing they care about.

This peppering in of plot progression is done with fake archival news footage and other reports shown to set the scene. If one pays attention, the crisis escalates as Iran falls to a military coup, only to have Russia capitalize on the situation. Due to the complex web of alliances with other countries, places like America get dragged in early on. American bombers try to help fend off the Russian threat, inadvertently causing nuclear war to erupt. Russia first attacks the aforementioned bombers, and then gets hit with a retaliatory attack on an occupied air base. Russia launches an EMP attack over the North Sea, and follows it up with a barrage of strikes on key tactical points in all NATO countries with Sheffield being one of the targets.

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So that’s how the mess really starts, but that isn’t the real point of the film – now we get to see how messed up everything gets on a human level. Before the bombs go off protests ravage the streets of Sheffield as people from government positions try to calm the tension with claims of prosperity due to industrial growth – but this is Sheffield, one of the places hit worst by Margaret Thatcher’s mining industry clamp-down. Full-on riots erupt in East Germany and a mass exodus of large population centers commences. People go crazy to stock up on food, water and other basic necessities until the bombs hit. And boy do they hit. They hit hard, and not even Jimmy comes out alive.

I won’t spoil anymore of the plot here, but all I will say is simply that things get bad – really bad. And when you think you have seen the gloomiest, most depressing thing in Threads, they throw another fast ball at you. Scenes such as a Husband-less Ruth having to cut the umbilical cord of her own child with her teeth are the worst. One really gets a sense of despair and pain in this movie that you usually don’t end up with in other films. That’s why I compared this to a horror film earlier, as guys like Freddy Krueger don’t scare me. There is not a real-life demon killing random people in their dreams, but the stuff in this movie – it could happen. Threads is the ultimate disaster movie, and possibly one of the most depressing movies I’ve seen.

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Would I recommend Threads? Possibly, but only if you can handle this kind of movie. While it doesn’t exist as some kind of gore-filled exploitation movie, the plot is so bleak that I doubt my own wife could watch it without exploding into a fountain of tears. It reminded me of things such as the whipping scene in The Passion of the Christ, not really that bad in comparison to other movies, but so emotionally intense that it’s hard to sit through. While The War Game was shocking in the sixties, Threads has escalated the shock value to a level that I don’t think has been matched by another disaster film. Most films in this genre of speculative fiction turn into heroic action tales of a hero kicking a volcano’s ass or a scientist that saves everyone from a storm, Threads is watching the human race shrivel up and die.

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Doctor Who: Cold War (2013)

After The Rings of Akhaten puzzled fans with what is quite possibly the most unconventional (and divisive) episode of modern Doctor Who, this time we have something so conventional it feels almost retro! This is definitely helped by the fact that a returning villain, The Ice Warriors, make their modern era debut in Cold War, and with a make-over to boot. The recipe for tonight’s episode is easy: just take one part classic “base under siege” template, add it to one part Ridley Scott’s Alien then mix it all in a bowl of Hunt for Red October.

The story follows The Doctor and Clara stumbling in on a Cold War era Soviet submarine at the height of tensions with the U.S. The crew is taking part in a routine test to see if they have the testicular fortitude available to nuke everything if the call was ever made to start a nuclear war. It seems that the crew has taken a bit of “extra cargo” in the form of a huge ice block with a presumed mammoth inside. Of course, this isn’t the case, and we have a loose Ice Warrior running around. His name is Grand Marshall Skaldak, and the poor guy thinks that he is the last of his people. In fact, he is utterly devastated that his family, including his daughter, aged to dust by the passage of almost five thousand years in his icy tomb. When faced with losses of that sort combined with his militaristic nature means that he may just cause a nuclear incident because he has nothing to lose.

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First things first, I’d like to discuss the changes made to the ice warrior costume itself. The new costume, as we see with Grand Marshall Skaldak, is a vast improvement on the older suits, without losing the iconic look of the classic series version. Really the only BIG change was the hands, and let’s be honest, most people are happy that they lost their robot claws/Lego guy hands in favor of three-fingered Ninja Turtle-like ones. The problem I always had with the 1960’s iterations are that they looked so much like a guy in an overdone fiberglass and fur suit that I was expecting Godzilla to fight them off. You could tell the actor’s visibility was bad, and the mobility was clunky and slow. The new suits look somehow more maneuverable and more armor-like at the same time despite being obviously made from a less rigid material.

As for one controversial aspect of the episode, I quite enjoyed seeing Skaldak outside of his armor. It seems like I am the only one out there, but the effect wasn’t so bad. Yeah I know his face was computer generated, and that folks are averse to any CGI creatures, but the unusual take on them was interesting. I think many people figured that there would be a random make-up faced dude under there, but what we got was more alien. Let’s be honest if it was just somebody with lizard make-up they would have been too similar to the Silurians.

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Another big plus for me was the guest cast. It was almost refreshing to see a bit of media based on Russian soldiers to escape the almost propaganda-esque portrayal found in most shows. Instead of a crew of militant Stalinists hell-bent on the decimation of the United States, we have a level-headed crew of guys that look like they’d be fun to hang out with. The inclusion of veteran actor (and former audio-only Doctor Who actor) David Warner as professor Grisenko especially stood out. I’m not sure if it was the adorable grandfatherly wacko-vibe (the one that made me love Wilf so much in season 4) or his love for new wave music that I enjoyed so much, but Warner delivered the goods. I’m one of probably four people who have yet to watch the blockbuster show Game of Thrones, but I hear Liam Cunningham is quite good in it. I’m not familiar with him much aside from smaller roles, but if his stint as Captain Zhukov is any indication, he is pretty good.

On a side note while we are discussing the ship’s crew: That the guy that originally released the Ice Warrior from the block of ice was comically inept to such a hilarious degree, I’m amazed that he didn’t inadvertently kill the entire crew long before the Doctor even showed up. He causes the whole catastrophe simply because he couldn’t wait to see the mammoth they found, and took a blowtorch to it like a naughty child on Christmas Eve peeking at their presents.

Ice-Warrior-ship

The way the whole episode was put together was very good. I really enjoyed the script, which is amazing since it was penned by Mark Gatiss. I’m no Gatiss hater by any stretch of the imagination, but he has had troubles for some reason or another doing solid scripts for the new series. I loved The Unquiet Dead, but was let down in most of his other episodes. Cold War contained his old-school sensibility and his attention to historical detail very well, and unlike Victory of the Daleks, it didn’t fall apart in the end. The direction was very well done as well and retained the cinematic feel that Douglas McKinnon got so right in The Power of Three. The claustrophobic feel of all the steamy, drippy submarine corridors and the attention to shadows and darkness gave this episode a nice nod to the Ridley Scott Film Alien.

Cold War is quite possibly the best episode this half of the season so far. Keeping the tense mood and claustrophobic vibe ramped up to eleven was great, as it really helped the “mini-film” nature pop out. Skaldak is a great adversary for the Doctor, and I really hope we see him again at some point. His honor code mixed with his refreshingly real emotions and motives are a nice change for a show usually populated with villains that are evil for the sake of being evil. You really feel for the guy, even though he decides to handle his predicament pretty poorly, but honor wins out in the end. He honestly reminds me of Klingon characters throughout the many Star Trek shows. While they are usually the antagonists of any given story, rarely are they doing any action solely based on bad intentions alone. That’s what makes them so iconic in that universe, and I hope this carries over to Doctor Who. Move over Sontarans, I think the show has rediscovered its resident “Klingons”.

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In closing, I really hope that professor Grisenko is still alive in the modern Doctor Who world and is enjoying the recently re-united Ultravox; hopefully he never gave up hope after they broke up around the same time as the fall of the Soviet Union!

 

1984 Related Podcast I Did

Aside from working and being a hack writer on this very blog I sometimes have time to work on a Podcast for my buddy Thomas! This week we discussed the book 1984, and I mentioned the review that I just did on here. So if any of my reader’s have ever wanted to hear the sound of my voice, here is your chance!

I’ve also been toying with doing a podcast for this site, I’ll keep you posted on this front.

The *Nixed Report Episode 6

The *Nixed Report

↑ Grab this Headline Animator

 

BBC Sunday Night Theatre: George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1954)

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.

–          From George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four

 

In our modern world, any perceived intrusion of privacy (Google Glass for instance) is met with accusations of threatening an “Orwellian Nightmare”, or statements like “here comes big brother!”, but most miss the point entirely. George Orwell was not talking about the latest entertainment product fad, but the very real threats that he saw himself in countries like Spain, Germany, and the Soviet Union. While traveling around and living as a much less wealthy man that he actually was, Orwell did some research in order to write one of his first books and a handful of essays. Purposely clad in cheap rags and “squatting” in slums with other destitute people, Orwell had witnessed the danger of absolute political authority in an age of advanced technology first hand, especially during the Spanish Civil War. This “in your face” reporting style colored his very way of life and his political views to such a degree that he lashed out at a problem he could foresee taking over the world – totalitarianism. Nineteen-Eighty-Four was the result, a book that was feared for its perceived subversive nature by all governments alike.

 

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The BBC was fairly quick to create a version of the masterpiece for the fledgling television medium all the way back in 1954, just four years after the release of the novel. They commissioned an adaptation by the legendary Nigel Kneale to air live on a Sunday night. This was hugely controversial, as one could imagine, because the nationalistic post-war government was less than happy to see people in their same line of work “demonized” in such a manner; they even went as far as to attempt to ban similar programs from TV with legislature loaded with phrases such as: “the tendency, evident in recent British Broadcasting Corporation television programmes, notably on Sunday evenings, to pander to sexual and sadistic tastes”. BBC had previously produced a radio version with fewer problems, so the overreaction is a tad comical. Other companies, such as the American CBS, produced other adaptations for film, radio, and TV, but I have only seen this and the film respectively. Hopefully I can watch/listen to some other adaptations in the future – something that will pop up on here if it comes to fruition.

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It’s a miracle that I was able to watch this version (for free in the public domain no-less!) as they didn’t really record too many shows then. Much like an earlier Kneale penned show that I talked about during “Quatermass Week”, the original Quatermass serial, they only had a tape of it because they recorded a monitor during the live broadcast. With no home video market, or other infrastructure for a secondary market to speak of, it’s awesome that this didn’t become lost like so many other TV gems. Aside from the Kneale pedigree, this version of Nineteen-Eighty-Four is notable in that it stars a young Peter Cushing in one of his first big roles. Cushing would later go on to become a mainstay in Hammer Films, The theatrical Doctor Who films, and eventually Star Wars.

George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four is the cautionary tale of a man named Winston Smith. Smith is a low-ranking editor for the government’s “Ministry of Truth”, a thankless job that employs him to alter historical records for the benefit of the ruling party. The people of his home country, Oceania, live in constant fear of impending war and internal upheaval due to a strict regimen of brainwashing via propaganda and fear-mongering. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party monitors his every move, one step out of line could mean death, or worse. But when it gets rough, he is supposed to be reassured by the heroic face plastered all over everything – that is the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. Winston slowly starts to defy his country by reading, thinking non-sanctioned thoughts, being an individual, and other horrible crimes! Big Brother will have none of that!

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The acting in this production is very top notch. I always feel that it is fun to see Peter Cushing play the “good guy” in anything as he is usually known for playing scowl-faced villains such as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. As we watch Winston Smith start to relish his new found spectrum of emotions rolling further down the slippery slope of thought crime, Cushing does a fine job of realizing this. There are moments where he breaks down in fits, shows passion when kissing the love interest, and anger while at rallies that shows his acting quality is really deep. I wasn’t really a fan of him as Dr. Who in those Dalek films made a few years later, but I can honestly say he can do a fine job as the leading man. I’d even go out on the limb to say that this this is my favorite role of his. Yvonne Mitchell also does a fine job as Winston’s lady-friend Julia, a role that probably set off the censors back in the day – all that kissing and such!

One thing that I immediately enjoyed about this adaptation of the novel is that it unlike the film I briefly mentioned earlier (produced in 1984 starring John Hurt), this TV drama has a lot more dialog and featured characters from the book; in fact one could say that it’s “truer” to the book. Since this version of the piece was shown live, and was produced as a stage play, it is far less cinematic than film. That isn’t to say that it’s all just people talking in drab rooms like other TV productions of the time as they do employ a handful of pre-filmed segments (such as exterior shots) which really make it feel bigger than it is. This same technique was later used in Quatermass II resulting in the same great mix of live action and filmed segues, a choice used to make scenes transition easier. I think that this “total package” is to an advantage when comparing the two as the Hollywood film felt hollow for some reason despite the striking visuals and amazing actors, and this feels both terrifying and engaging all the same.

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The technical aspects of the home medium of the film are a mixed bag as one would assume from something like this. Since this film is in public domain, I do not believe there is a cleaned-up DVD re-master of it anywhere. The version that I watched (The one I have posted on the bottom of this very review) is obviously from a popular video sharing site, and has mediocre quality. I think it was ripped from a VHS tape to add insult to injury. If there is a better version out there, I was unaware of it, so I make any criticisms based on what I had at hand.  Just like Quatermass, one can tell this was filmed from a camera pointed towards a TV monitor as there is a black haze around the outside of the picture. While this is to ne real detriment to the movie, it does make it look far older than it actually is and makes certain scenes blocked in a weird way. There is also a lot of ‘ghosting” of the images, and weird changes in contrast and light – both due to the recording process as well.

BBC Sunday Night Theatre: George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four is a solid adaptation of the original book. While there are problems with the off-air recording and how it has aged all these years, the play is still very watchable, and is the better of the two adaptations I’ve seen. As I stated before, this video, as well as other Nigel Kneale classics are in the public domain, and can be found easily on video sharing sites such as Youtube. In the political climate we live in, many have a hard time knowing what goes on in a totalitarian regime. The odd documentary on World War II may suffice for some, maybe a few North Korean news stories or videos will work for others, but for me George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four is the closest we’ll get into a look at what goes on in these places. Whenever someone tries to change history, or whenever they try to outlaw free thought we need to heed Orwell’s warning. If we don’t Big Brother could be watching us.

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Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten (2013)

“She’s just a girl. How can she be? She can’t be. She is. She can’t be. She’s not possible.”

–The Doctor about Clara

 

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten is an odd Doctor Who episode. In the first seconds, the show treats us to The Doctor essentially stalking Clara through time. We can assume that he has become completely obsessed with her mystery at this point, especially when he utters the quote that I started this review out with. Most notable of these events, he witnesses her parent’s first meeting a.k.a the origin of that leaf that she keeps tucked away in her journal – a plot point we saw last episode. Back in the 1980’s Clara’s father nearly died when he was struck in the face by a huge leaf in a gust of wind. This freak accident of nature nearly caused him to be hit by a car had it not been for Clara’s mother jumping to the rescue. Aside from the tear-jerking prologue, the episode seemed eerily reminiscent of another second outing for a companion – The Beast Below. I was willing to write it off completely as “fluff” to be quite honest until the final act, a section where we may have witnessed one of Matt Smith’s finest moments for the show.

The Dynamic duo of the Doctor and Clara decide to visit the densely populated rock-strewn rings around the planet Akhaten to show Clara some crazy alien races. This scene plays out a bit like the Cantina scene from the original Star Wars film, in that the make-up department got to go crazy and make a TON of one-off aliens. They realize that they need transport around the asteroid bazaar, so they attempt to secure a space moped with hilarious results. Before The Doctor becomes predictably separated from Clara, we find out an important nugget of information – the Akhaten market doesn’t use hard currency but rather trades in items of sentimental value.

The Queen of Years
The Queen of Years

The Doctor vanishes leaving Clara to get in the middle of a situation involving a runaway queen being stalked by creepy henchmen. This queen is a little girl named Merry, or the “Queen of Years” as she is known by her people, and she is running away from her responsibilities of singing at a ceremony. Clara reassures her that everything will be okay, but doesn’t exactly understand the whole situation. It seems that this planet practices a constant song to keep an ancient evil asleep, and Merry fears that her ruining the song will cause it to wake up. And guess what? It wakes up!

This episode would have been VERY short had the main focus not been the ill-fated ceremony that Merry was so worried about. In an odd turn of events, we get to see the entire “Feast of Offerings”, full of chanting, singing, and kneeling. While this may sound bad to the casual reader, I feel that this saved a somewhat bland episode. This hasn’t been the first time that a heartfelt song has saved an episode in my opinion, as a third season episode called Gridlock hit its climax in a similar manner. The song that was sung was utterly beautiful, and I hope to get it on my iPod as soon as I can.

These guys could have been so cool...
These guys could have been so cool…

I think I’ll now address my main problem with this episode – “bad guy confusion”. I think the biggest blight of the whole thing is the coolness of the alien guards “The Vigil” and their criminal under-use in the episode. When we first see them, they are hunting Merry through dark corridors using a creepy voice that could stop anyone in their tracks – “MERRY WHEREEEE AREEEE YOOOUUU!” Aside from a few scenes here and there, that’s all we get. The monster confusion doesn’t end there as we have a mummified sleeping monster that we assume is the “big bad” only to have it revealed that he is simply some sort of overseer to the real villain. To be honest I wasn’t sure of the relationship between the two creatures myself. Maybe we can think of “old beef jerky alien” as one of the “Heralds of Galactus” from Marvel comics, as the real villain is of a similar scale – the actual sun of the planet system. Come to find out these people have been blindly sacrificing folks to the “parasite sun god” for a while, only to have The Doctor take a stand and stop the bloodshed.

In a move that pulled at my Gnostic heart strings, The Doctor stands up for the poor people that cower in fear of a being that calls itself a God. He berates the planet-sized memory-eating Demiurge for all he is worth. I honestly think that this was one of the best bits of Doctor Who dialog EVER, and it really changed my mind about this episode.  The Doctor is never short of thunderous monologues, but for some reason this one really stood out to me:

“Okay then. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll tell you a story.

Can you hear them? All these people who lived in terror of you and your judgement. All these people whose ancestors devoted themselves, SACRIFICED themselves, to you! …can you hear them singing?

Oh, you like to think you’re a God. But you’re not a God; you’re just a parasite. Eat now, with jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of others, you FEED on them, on the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and SORROW!

So.

So…

Come on then… Take mine. Take my memories. But I hope you’ve got a big appetite, because I’ve lived a long life and I’ve seen a few things. I walked away from the last great time war, I marked the passing of the time lords, I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out… Moment by moment until nothing remained, no time no space, just me. I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a mad man. And I watched universes freeze and creations burn, I have seen thing you wouldn’t believe, I have lost things you will never understand and I know things; secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken, knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze! So come on then! Take it! Take it all baby! Have it! You have it all!”

— The Doctor whooping verbal ass

 

All in all, I liked this episode, but for some unorthodox reasons based on my own religious faith and my taste in music. The actual ending where Clara killed the monster with her leaf was a bit “Deus Ex Machina” in my opinion, but that’s nothing new in genre television. The actual script didn’t really have a lot of content to be honest, and it was far too similar to earlier episodes for my tastes. This was of course saved by the special effects, the casting, the music, and the acting by Jenna and Matt. Next week is an episode that could be a contender for my most anticipated episode this year –Cold War!

The most important leaf in the universe!
The most important leaf in the universe!

Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John (2013)

It’s that time of year again! With the turkey-filled memories of a Christmas long gone fading from my mind, and the pitter patter of Easter bunny footsteps upon the grass outside my apartment, there can only be one explanation – New episodes of Doctor Who to watch! I have been pretty excited for this half-season as the previous two episodes starring Jenna-Louise Coleman have been spot on. Asylum of the Daleks was easily my favorite episode in the first half of this season, and the last Christmas special, The Snowmen, was easily my favorite Christmas special of the lot.  I’m not sure if it can be chalked up to Steven Moffat’s writing or the fact that something just “clicks” with Jenna as Clara.

The Bells of St. John is an episode that really breaks no new ground. At its heart, one could honestly chalk it up as being a retread of an earlier Russell T. Davies penned episode Partners in Crime. Both featured the Doctor meeting a companion that he had met once before, both had a somewhat ineffectual villain, and both were set in contemporary London. The difference is that, unlike “Bells”, Partners in Time suffered from being seen as a “romp” episode, a sometimes pejorative term applied to fluffy one-off episodes that have no real substance. I think the main difference here is that this episode is more of a character piece, a slow burn if you will. There isn’t just a ton of running around and shouting, but the foundation to the unraveling mystery of Clara. Who is she? Why has she shown up in different time periods? Why doesn’t she remember the Doctor if her timeline is linear?

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When we last saw the Doctor in The Snowmen, he was a broken man. He had just lost the two most important people in his life and he wanted be alone and unbothered. With his heart hardening in a similar manner to how he appeared in the very first episode nearly 50 years ago, it took Clara’s appearance to give him new purpose. The task of unraveling her mystery and protecting her. This episode opens with the Doctor in quiet contemplation in a Cumbrian monastery. It seems that he has spent a Loooong time (Long enough that legends have built up around him, wait I thought he didn’t want that!) pondering those very same aforementioned questions. We are alerted to the fact that the “Bells of Saint John” are ringing, a clever way to describe the phone on his Tardis ringing, you know the same Tardis that has a “St. John’s ambulance” sticker on it. On the other end is coincidentally Clara asking for tech support to log onto the internet.  It seems that “some lady” gave Clara his number if she ever needed help. Curiouser, and Curiouser….

Long story short: The Doctor finds Clara and they fight off a threat by a group housed in a newer London landmark called “The Shard”. This villain is only heard in voice for the majority of the episode, and is known simply as “The Client” by the group of renegade IT professionals it employs.  They send out their robotic “Spoonheads” as walking Wi-Fi waypoints and wreak havoc. Their plan has a very Idiot Lantern vibe to it, but instead of feeding on TV viewers, the client wants to digitize human souls and use them as slaves and presumably food. In a shocking twist we find out that the villain is actually none other than The Great Intelligence, a classic villain that we last saw at Christmas time as played by Richard E. Grant.

While I know I will be crucified by all the David Tennant fans out there, but I think Matt Smith is slowly becoming my favorite Doctor. To me, he is on the verge of almost “perfecting” the role of the Doctor; just the right amount of darkness, wit, curiosity and even intelligence. He honestly reminds me of a weird conglomeration of the traits found in the Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton Doctors – both favorites of mine.

Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John was a solid, if not somewhat low-key episode. Both Smith and Coleman have done a great job with their respective characters carrying an episode that was not hinged on spectacle like most season openers. If this episode, and the trailer for the other upcoming episodes, is any indication of the season’s quality; I feel that this season will be great.

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