Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice (2015)

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“Compassion Doctor. It has always been your greatest indulgence…”

This year, I have decided to not read too many Doctor Who spoilers, to not look at set reports, or to not read costuming announcements if I could help it. Usually something really big gets spoiled for me, and I did this in order to experiment with my enjoyment of various things. I have also done this with many of the summer blockbuster films this year, and as a result I feel that I have enjoyed everything more than I usually do.

What this means, is that for the first time since 2005, I have no idea what any episode is going to be like this fall. This is both refreshing and a bit scary. With a title like The Magician’s Apprentice, I was half expecting a riff on the 1940 Disney film Fantasia – full of zany antics in an old castle, perhaps some brooms walking around. I was expecting a classic Doctor Who “romp” – something like 2014’s Robot of Sherwood. Boy, was I wrong.Doctor-Who-magicians-apprentice-davros

Very seldom is there a Doctor Who episode that starts with an opening scene that hits you in the gut like a jackhammer, only to increase the tension until you are left utterly blindsided at the end. This episode plays out like the first part of a two-part finale, rather than the whimsical series opener that we’re all used to.

In many ways, this episode is a send-up of a much older episode, Genesis of the Daleks, going so far as to use a clip from the episode as a punctuation mark in the episode itself. I would even say that the entire premise is based on something said by The Doctor to Sarah Jane in Genesis of the Daleks: “If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives… could you then kill that child?”

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Genesis of the Daleks was a Tom Baker episode wherein The Doctor was given a choice to commit mass-genocide on the entire Dalek Race before they rose to power. This act would have saved countless lives, ended the time war before it started, and saved himself and various companions many times. The Doctor, in his young age, could not bring himself to do this act – he could not lower himself to their level.

The Twelfth Doctor is less romantic about this idea of pacifism, and does the opposite. The idea here is that The Doctor meets an old adversary, perhaps his arch-nemesis (much to the chagrin of Missy) when said person is nothing more than a small child. A horrible war is going on, and a boy ends up in the middle of a field full of creatures (or weapons? They were called “handmines”) that mean certain doom. The boy cries out for help, to be met with a re-assuring voice and the choice of taking a 1/1000 chance at survival. Then it happens:

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The Doctor: “Tell me the name of the boy who isn’t going to die today.”

Boy: “Davros. My name is Davros.”

It appears, as of this moment (stupid two-parters!), that The Doctor chooses to abandon the boy in his moment of need once he realizes who it is. This boy grows up to become a scientist called Davros, the man that creates the Daleks to end thousands of years of perpetual war on planet Skaro. This episode highlights the problems with his ongoing inner struggle: Is he a good man or a bad man? It seems that being good causes all sorts of troubles.

In many ways, this problem is a variation of The Grandfather Paradox, a popular trope in science fiction, where an event pre-supposes a previous event to the point where a discernible beginning cannot be established. If the Doctor, in a moment of weakness, attempts to kill or allows the death of the creator of the universe’s chief antagonist, and that man survives to be embittered by the event (perhaps driven to hatred), surely The Doctor is to blame for this happening. It’s not as tidy as a classic Grandfather Paradox, but I can see some sort of “timey-wimey” shenanigans popping up to “fix” the events of the episode. If anything the episodes cliff-hanger only serve to make the causal-loop worse.

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I have stated many times that I LOVE Steven Moffat‘s use of the aforementioned “timey-wimey…stuff” since the show has never really capitalized on the time travel aspect of the premise aside from changing scenery. Dealing with paradoxes is hard, and Doctor Who usually gets it right, so I’m hoping that part-two of this season opener has a nice resolution and no Red Dwarf-styled shoulder shrugs and hand-waving.

I may have made it appear that this episode was nothing but a bleak ball of stress on our TV screens, but that isn’t exactly true. While the laughs are few and far between, they are still there. One of the best moments for me was The Doctor, assuming he was about to die, throwing himself a three week party in Medieval England. For some reason he is set to duel a large warrior in an arena for the entertainment of the assemble masses. and proceeds to ride into this duel on top of a tank playing an electric guitar. Since the Doctor usually refuses to allow anachronisms for leak into the past this is far beyond his character and shows he doesn’t care anymore.

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Missy is another fun element to the episode, if one can consider her scenes fun. I finally figured out why I enjoy her as Missy so much, she reminds me of a female version the popular DC comics adversary – The Joker. She’s funny, but the humor is so dark and somewhat in the poorest taste that you laugh, but feel bad doing so. I think this was where Russell T. Davies was trying to go with John Simm’s portrayal of the character, but he fell flat for me. My favorite incarnation of “The Master” was Roger Delgado, but Michelle Gomez is giving him a run for his money.

Another nod goes to Julian Bleach who is once again portraying the megalomaniacal Davros. He has been great almost every single time he appears on any of these shows. He first appeared as the Ghostmaker in the Torchwood story From Out of the Rain. His second appearance was as Davros in the Doctor Who stories The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. His third appearance was as the Nightmare Man in the The Sarah Jane Adventures story The Nightmare Man. So far he is one of the ONLY people to appear in all of the Doctor Who related shows since 2005. He does particularly well, for me, simply because he takes a character so over-the-top as Davros and grounds it in some way, thus making him far more terrifying. The moment Davros is twirling his proverbial mustache it looses something for me.

This was a solid opener for Doctor Who, and perhaps the “ballsiest” way to start a season that they could have done. I will discuss everything more next week when we see a completed story, but so far I have one word – WOW!

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One awesome thing that BBC America did was make this entire episode available for FREE on Youtube (which I have linked to below). Feel free to watch the episode if you already haven’t and bookmark their page just in case they decide to make more available.

 

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The Tripods: (1984) France, October 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 12

Episode 11 of The Tripods was an action-heavy chapter that dealt with the boys resorting to theft to get food while traveling to the White Mountains. The aftermath of said choice was basically the resulting punishment they received. Not only did they have to escape a tribe of murderous “Vagrants” living outside the town, but were apprehended by some Blackguards and put on trial for theft.

They apparently have a semblance of a fair trial, but it seems that the trial itself is more of a ritual than an actual legal proceeding. It seems like it’s a foregone conclusion that they will get capped once a Tripod arrives, and that is even if they are somehow found innocent. Boys of their age simply do not walk around uncapped, it’s uncivilized and terrifying! Our buddy Danielle, the French Blackguard that has been stalking the boys ever since they left the vineyard, shows up and punches holes in their defense. Danielle basically ruins everyone’s day by stating that he knows they are up to no good. he’s no Duc Du Sarlat on the scale of jerkitude, but he’s got to be pretty close.

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They are caged, and Danielle volunteers to take him back to his precinct for processing. Suddenly the boys are in a moral dilemma – Henry feels bad that they have to hurt Danielle in order to escape seeing that he is part of the family that took care of them. It comes down to the fact that “it’s either him or us” and the boys attack.

Danielle isn’t killed or anything, but bound, gagged, and stranded in the middle of nowhere locked inside of the cage he trapped the boys in. I liked this scene a lot because Henry had to come to terms with the fact that he probably wasn’t going back to that vineyard, and that Danielle was not their friend and family member.

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The rest of this episode is full of some very important information including our very first glimpse at what the true nature of The Tripods is. This kicks off when the boys are traversing an eerie ruined city and stumble onto a Tripod that is guarding it. Somehow they have gone completely undetected, or as beanpole puts it “just like how a fat man cannot see his own feet”.

Pretty soon a plan is concocted to attempt to destroy this Tripod. Henry climbs up a rock face and places a hammer under the foot of the hulking enormity of the machine’s foot. Beanpole then hoists one of the grenades that were plucked from the shopping mall way back in the beginning of the show, and pulls the pin with a rope. The resulting explosion knocks the beast over and a hatch opens on the front face of the Tripod.

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Until this very moment we were not exactly sure if the Tripods themselves were sentient robots or if somebody was inside of it piloting. With the hatch opening, the boys get a glimpse of an off-screen face that proves the latter is most likely the case. This is, of course, right before another grenade is hurled into the cockpit rendering the occupant inside nothing more than a thick green slime oozing out of the door.We are not only one step closer to knowing the true nature of the villainous Tripods, but we now know that they can also be killed.

As the episode closes, we see The White Mountains off in the distance, signaling that the first part of the boys’ quest is nearly complete. They aren’t sure what to expect other than the fact that there are probably more like-minded individuals there, and none of them should be capped. Here’s hoping that crazy old coot Ozymandias was right and this whole ordeal wasn’t a wild goose chase.

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Last week I discussed how much I loved the location shooting in this show, and this is yet another episode full of great shots. The ruins that the boys walk through were especially eerie, seemingly plucked from a medieval village that was destroyed. I did a bit of research, and it appears that this was actually an old Welsh slate quarry called Diffwys Quarry, that had been abandoned since the 1950’s. I’m not sure how something so recent fell into such disrepair so quickly, but it definitely gave this episode the terrifying post-apocalyptic vibe that it had lost a bit of in all of the pastoral episodes.

Also of note, were the awesome model shots and practical effects especially in the Tripod battle at the end. I’ve seen far more recent films have less realistic scenes of large creatures or machines walking around, and it really goes to show that sometimes models and puppets work better than computer generated effects for some things. My hat goes off to the director, Christopher Barry, and his entire crew.

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That’s it for this week, join me again in seven days as discuss the final chapter of season one – Episode 13, The White Mountains! Remember, if you missed any entries for this series and want to read more, go to the front page and click the “Tripods” button.

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The Tripods: (1984) France, October 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 11

It’s another week here at An American View of British Science Fiction, and that means another episode of BBC’s 1984 sci-fi fantasy epic The Tripods is going to be talked about! The series was originally a series of young adult novels written by John Christopher, beginning in 1967. The first two were the basis of this science fiction TV series, produced in the United Kingdom in the 1980s.

The story revolves around three boys trying to escape the clutches of a group of huge walking machines referred to as “Tripods” that are keen to mind control every able-bodied person on Earth. Cousins, Will and Henry, are not keen to submit to this and along with a traveling companion called “Beanpole” they are on their way to the mythical “White Mountains” is is said to be free of Tripod control.

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It’s been somewhere around one month since Will, Henry, and Beanpole left the safety of a French vineyard for the final push towards their destination – The White Mountains. Starving, and tired from their travels they decide to “hitch a ride” with a merchant to a small French town that appears to be having a festival.

Once there they make a huge mistake by stealing some of the food mostly bread and fruit and dashing for the town’s exit. Unfortunately for them, this place seems to be crawling with Blackguards, the human secret police employed by the Tripods. I’m not sure of our buddy Danielle, who we see has been stalking the boys, led them to our adventurers or if there just happens to be tons of them in the town itself, but one thing is clear – they chose the wrong town to steal from.

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The boys make it out of the town and run into the woods, a place that is overrun with Vagrants. These aren’t the sort of people that have been to as “vagrants” that we’ve seen in the show so far. Characters like Ozymandias and Lady Vichot still were what one would call “sane”, they were just overwhelmed with ideas that the rest of the mind-controlled populace were not so keen on.

Then we have these “Forest Vagrants” which seem to be similar to the weak-minded tribes seen in The Mad Max movies. They appear to have been driven completely insane by the “capping” process and live in the woods under the watch of a crudely constructed Tripod made of wood. They seem to revere this “statue” as their god and perform a crude version of a “capping” process to any newcomer that comes into the village.

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We never exactly find out where these people came from, but it can be assumed that they are former villagers that have resorted to cannibalism or at least mass murder due to their rejection of the capping. They are smeared in paint, carry crude weapons and talk in a completely indecipherable pidgin language made up of animal noises and grunts.

After a while of playing along with these people, the boys know it’s time to escape and gather their belongings, a fact that upsets many of the high-ranking tribesman. Keep in mind, these do not seem to be peaceful people, seeing that they have human skulls strewn about their campsite, and the boys don’t seem to want to take any chances. Upon leaving the woods, it seems like it’s a case of “out of the pan, and into the fire” as an entire regiment of Blackguards is waiting for them outside the forest. They are to be put on trial and capped as soon as possible.

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After the relative slow pace of the last few episodes, this was definitely a more action-packed segment. There really wasn’t much standing around, and as a result I was left really wanting more at the end. I was amazed at the beautiful location shooting for most of the outdoor scenes, especially a scene with the boys walking across a tall stone bridge and many of the scenes near rivers and waterfalls.

Looking online, it doesn’t seem at there was one exotic location they filmed the show at, but a handful of carefully chosen areas in and around the UK. The “bridge” I mentioned (shown above) is Pensford Viaduct, for example. If for any reason, you want to see this location list, it can be found on the Tripods Wikipedia Page.

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With another sticky situation to escape from, The next episode should be equally exciting as we get closer and closer to the end of series one of The Tripods. Seeing as there are two seasons of this show, I can almost guarantee the boys don’t get capped in this village, so it’s safe to say they somehow escape!

Join me again, next week, for my episode synopsis and review of episode 12.

Doctor Who: Time Heist (2014)

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“This is a recorded message. I am the Architect. Your last memory is of receiving a contact from an unknown agency – me. Everything since has been erased from your minds. Now pay close attention to this briefing. This is the Bank of Karabraxos, the most secure bank in the galaxy; a fortress for the super-rich. If you can afford your own star system, this is where you keep it. No one sets foot on the planet without protocols. All movement is monitored, all air consumption regulated. DNA is authenticated at every stage. Intruders will be incinerated.”

Stephen Thompson’s last foray into Doctor Who writing was last year’s somewhat lackluster Journey to the Centre of the Tardis, an episode that I didn’t hate, but characterized as “well done from an atmosphere and effects standpoint, but [a failure] with the writing.” Thompson seems like a decent enough writer, considering his work on Sherlock, but I feel that he gets too trapped in the mindset of finding a theme for each episode he does. So far, his track record with Doctor Who involves a pirate episode with The Curse of the Black Spot, his aforementioned Jules Verne pastiche, and now an Ocean’s Eleven episode. “Theme episodes” work sometimes, but often fall flat as the writer tries to shoehorn all of the characteristic tropes into one episode. It’s fun to have the occasional homage, but constant ones make the show seems like a parody of other shows.

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The episode follows another routine day in the life of The Doctor and Clara until they get a phone call on the Tardis phone. The scene suddenly jumps to an entirely different room with a handful of strangers as they watch videos explaining that they have all willfully erased their memories for some reason. They discover a briefcase left by a mystery person simply named “The Architect”, only hearing his digitally altered voice. The briefcase contains plans to rob the impregnable vaults of the Bank of Karabraxos for some reason. While The Doctor usually doesn’t do things like rob banks, whatever his reasons, this seems important. The group takes items from the case designed to aid them in their caper, and head to the bank. They have no memories of why they are doing it, or who sent them, but it seems like the right thing to do under the circumstances.

The supporting cast was very decent in this episode including those “strangers” I spoke of. It appears that “The Architect” has enlisted two specialists with what could be considered “powers” to aid The Doctor. Psi, played by Jonathan Bailey, has a computer enhanced brain like something out of a 80’s cyberpunk story, and Saibra, played by Pippa Bennett-Warner, can shape shift into another being by simply touching them. They, of course, have their own motivations for the robbery, and it seems that everyone involved is in this to get something VERY important.

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I really liked seeing Keeley Hawes as Ms. Delphox, the ruthless chief of bank security, since I have enjoyed her in many shows in the past. I was one of those folks, that when comparing the two, actually loved Ashes to Ashes better than its predecessor Life on Mars, the former having starred Hawes in the leading role. She is almost like a “Bond Villain” in Time Heist, down to the silly part where she explains all of her motivations, then leaves the room so that The Doctor and company can escape her clutches. All she needed was a big interrogation laser, well, I guess she had “The Teller”.

This week’s “monster” was pretty awesome and somewhat different to the sort of monsters we’re used to seeing in Doctor Who. “The Teller” is a psychic creature, said to be the last of his kind, that uses psychic abilities to determine motive in anyone it comes across. If anyone has even so much as a thought about a way to defraud the Bank of Karabraxos, the terrifying hammer-headed beast will turn their mind to “soup”, which is every bit as gruesome as it sounds. From the first moments that we see “The Teller” accompanied by handlers, a straight jacket, and crunchy guitar riff, you can tell The Doctor is going to have trouble this week.

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Time Heist is sort of jarring in that it uses the literary technique of the “unreliable narrator” in that we don’t get much explanation as to what is happening and are somewhat misled until the end of the episode. The way The Architect’s plan plays itself out reminds me of some of the sillier stuff from those “Bill and Ted” movies where they set things up with time travel to aid in the present. In Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, for instance, the titular characters went through and “set up” convenient Deus-Ex-Machina type things to get them out of sticky situations – like hidden guns and the like. In Doctor Who, we see characters seemingly die, then come back later at the “nick of time” as if it’s all according to one big plan.

Time Heist is better than Journey to the Centre of the Tardis and The Curse of the Black Spot in that Stephen Thompson went a bit more abstract than the usual “theme episode”. This episode is by no means a classic, and has silly logic, but it was entertaining none-the-less. Keeley Hawes and “The Teller” were highlights for me, and I honestly hope we get to see both make a return at some point, although I’m not holding my breath.

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Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood (2014)

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“No castles, no damsels in distress, no such thing as Robin Hood!”
Here we are at that very moment in just about every season of Doctor Who, post-2005, where The Doctor asks his companion what they would like to see in order to “show off” his time traveling capabilities. Clara, knowing that The Doctor would write the whole thing off as nonsense, decides that she would love to meet the fabled outlaw hero, Robin Hood. Robin Hood is one of those “historical figures” that always makes things hard in shows dealing with time travel because nobody actually knows if he existed or not.

Much in the same way that folks have been searching for the “real King Arthur” for centuries, Robin Hood has been assumed to be probable, but most-likely a myth. This ordeal is played up as a main plot point for this episode from the get-go as The Doctor does not believe that they will actually meet anyone, and when faced with someone that meets the Robin Hood description, basically assumes he’s a charlatan, robot, hologram, shapeshifter etc.

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Mark Gatiss decided to pen this script in a farcical way that I know most hard-line fans hate. Just go to any review site and look up episodes like Love and Monsters, The Crimson Horror, or even The Gunfighters – the episodes that are less than serious are very dividing, some will love them, and others will absolutely hate them. Take a character such as Strax, for instance, I love the guy, but the general “fandom” of Doctor Who, if podcasts can be believed, HATE him.

This silly tone of near-comedy in Robot of Sherwood is directly at odds with the previous two episodes and how dark they actually were. This may be my biggest complaint with this episode as it almost doesn’t feel like it “fits” with the previous two. It’s almost like a leftover Tennant or Smith script slightly changed for Capaldi. That isn’t to say it’s bad or anything, but I’ll explain what I liked and didn’t like.

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The highlight of this episode, for me at least, was the banter between Robin Hood (as played by Tom Riley) and The Doctor. Since he’s convinced that Robin is in some way false, The Doctor is not willing to give him any slack on anything he does. Every quip, bit of banter, or boisterous laugh that he exhales is met with derision and anger. Here is an example of one such exchange:

Robin Hood: Whatever it is, you bony rascal, I’m afraid I’m must relieve you of it.

The Doctor: It’s my property. That’s what it is.

Robin Hood: Don’t you know all property is theft to Robin Hood?

The Doctor: You can’t be serious.

Robin Hood: I am many things, sir, but I am never that. Robin Hood laughs in the face of all! Ah ha ha ha haaaa!

The Doctor: Do people ever punch you in the face when you do that?

Robin Hood: Not as yet!

The Doctor: Lucky I’m here then, isn’t it?”

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This becomes the most humorous in the often re-created archery contest scene where Robin Hood sneaks in with a disguise calling himself “Tom the Tinker”. The worn out scene where Robin splits an arrow with another arrow plays out like it has in just about every adaptation of the story, then it gets sillier. The Doctor, irritated by the smug arrogance of Mr. Hood, uses his archery skills to split these two arrows a third time, Robin counters with another, and so on, until The Doctor just blows up the entire target with his Sonic Screwdriver.

Tom Riley basically uses every contemporary Robin Hood trope used since Errol Flynn donned the green tights to create one of the most irritating heroes of all time. He’s so boisterous and arrogant that he’s essentially Lord Flashheart from the Blackadder series. He’s one of those characters that the hero of our story despises, but everyone else thinks he awesome at everything he does.

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It will come as no surprise that the villain in this episode is none other than the Sheriff of Nottingham himself, as played by Ben Miller channeling his best Roger Delgado impression. I actually liked him in the role, even though he really didn’t challenge anything at all. He’s just as much of a bastard as one would expect, and has an army of alien robots at his side to do his dirty work. Alien robots? Did I forget to mention that Sherwood Castle is discovered to be some sort of crashed spaceship, and in classic Doctor Who fashion, these aliens have tricked the Sheriff into helping them hoard gold to fix said spaceship? It’s pretty silly, but it works.

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It’s in the actual plot of this episode that I have some problems. Much in the same way that Gatiss wrote a plotline into Victory of the Daleks wherein our heroes convinced a robot that he wasn’t a robot to stop a bomb from exploding, this episode involves the “bad-guy” space ship not having enough gold to escape The Earth’s atmosphere (it’s engine uses gold somehow), and Robin Hood shooting gold into the ship to make it fly away then explode. It’s cool when you see it, but as one thinks about what they just saw, it falls apart. If it wasn’t for the fact that this episode doesn’t take itself seriously I’d be concerned that Mark Gatiss rarely knows how to finish most of the scripts he has written. I really like Mark Gatiss episodes, but he needs to smooth some rough corners if he is ever going to take the reins from Steven Moffat like everyone assumes.

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No Missy appearance this week, but the thread binding it all together was that the robots crashed on Earth while searching for “The Promised Land”, which viewers might remember was the reason the clockwork droids ended up on Earth in Deep Breath….curiouser and curiouser…

All in all, this was a fun episode. Most of it made no sense under scrutiny, but as a farce it did it’s job. It does a good job of poking fun at the Robin Hood mythos and showing that most of our myths we hold as a society are probably based in some truth from the past. The Doctor starts the episode out, set in his ways, very closed-minded, then realizes that he doesn’t always have all of the answers. Join me again next week as we take a look at an episode sure to make me scared of my bed in addition to the dark, angel statues, and kids wearing gas masks.

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Doctor Who: Into The Dalek (2014)

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“This is Clara. Not my assistant, she’s ah, some other word. […] Yeah. My carer. She cares so I don’t have to.”

At first glance, Into The Dalek could be seen as an homage to 2005’s Dalek in many ways. The episode centers around a military confiscation of a wounded Dalek, The Doctor being brought in to examine it, and it’s eventual rampage through a base. Luckily, this similarity isn’t the case for the most part as Into The Dalek goes off into it’s own direction almost immediately, and is a whole different affair than the Rob Shearman classic.

Rather than existing as a tired “base under siege” story, we get something that harkens back to 1966’s Fantastic Voyage, a film where a crew of scientists shrink themselves down and enter a human body; except this time it ain’t no human! Inventive things like this are my favorite sort of Dalek stories, as we’ve seen all of the Dalek tropes hundreds of times each to a point where nothing is new. I’ll hand it to Steven Moffat, after this and Asylum of the Daleks, he can sure write a solid Dalek epiosde.

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After accidentally ditching Clara in Glasgow during a “coffee run” The Doctor finds himself in the middle of a war between one of his oldest foes, The Daleks, and a human outpost. He ends up on the bridge of a haggard military ship with a new secret weapon – a captured Dalek. Bound in chains, this Dalek (or “Rusty” as The Doctor dubs him) seems different. Sure it’s a genocidal killing machine hell-bent on universal domination, but this one seems to hate one thing more than any other – his own race. If only the crew of the Aristotle, a former hospital ship locked into battle with the Dalek Empire, can figure out what makes the heretical “Rusty” tick, perhaps they can end the war for good. With this in mind, they do what any reasonable military squad would do – shrink themselves down and adventure into the beast itself!

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So far, Peter Capaldi is doing an awesome job portraying everyone’s favorite space hobo, and the main selling point for me is a return to his more emotionally distant state. He gets chastised many times for being a bit too callous when faced with the deaths of seemingly unimportant characters, showing that to him the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – a direct callback to the Hartnell era. At one point, a soldier causes a flood of Dalek “antibodies” to swarm the party, the Doctor tosses a device to him and urges him to swallow it as fast as he can. When he does the Dalek spheres immediately kill him. When everyone gets mad, the Doctor has to acknowledge that the man was already dead, and The Doctor bought everyone else time. This is a far cry from the Tennant-era teary-eyed doctor apologizing every time something went wrong.

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The “carer” quote that I placed above is a good nod at this newly re-discovered saltiness, and Clara seems to be there to keep The Doctor from being a self-absorbed jerk to everyone. When he says that Clara “is his carer” I don’t see it as simply wanting to do whatever he wants with no regard to others, Clara is there to ground him. Instead of existing as a convenient Deus Ex Machina as with her previous season, she has evolved into something more.

Her character development has accelerated in these last two episodes, and she’s finally shaping up to be something special. While Capaldi definitely has a “fatherly” vibe to himself, I wouldn’t say that he acts as her father figure. In many ways, I’d even suggest that he’s almost more childlike that he was in previous incarnations.

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The Doctor once again brings us to one of the themes this year, his questioning whether he’s a “good man” or not. While Deep Breath reveled in his moral ambiguity and questions of unscrupulous things he may or may not have done, this episode is a bit more weary. In many ways it reminds me of season one’s Ninth Doctor trying to recover from all of the bad things he thought he did in the time war, but instead of survivor guilt he seems to be saddled with the feeling that he’s always doing bad things and hurting people.

Since he recently undid the thing that ultimately made him feel the worst (the destruction of his people) and lived 900 years in a wonderland where he was beloved by many (The Town of Christmas) one would wonder why he isn’t a bit happier. Could he be worried that’s he’s going down the same path that so many of his former Timelord acquaintances went down? Could we see a return to the sheer arrogance of The Doctor we saw in Waters of Mars?

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On a slight side-note: Capaldi also gets all of the best lines in the episode, my personal favorite being a quip regarding the “shrinking machine”: “Fantastic idea for a movie. Terrible idea for a proctologist.”

This episode sees the inclusion of a character that I hope becomes the second companion this year – Danny Pink as played by Samuel Anderson. It’s immediately apparent that Pink is going to be Clara’s love interest this season, seeing as The Doctor is now off the table. A former soldier with a dark past, Pink could be the sort of action man that I’ve been wanting since John Barrowman left the show years ago. Danny Pink’s secret obviously involves his accidental killing of a civilian or something similar, as we see hints that he didn’t come back in one piece after his fighting.

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With the Doctor’s assertion that “he hates soldiers”, I can see there will be some sort of sparks flying this year. While I liked Rory during the Eleventh Doctor era, he was usually emasculated for comic relief ala Mickey Smith a lot of the time. Since The Doctor shouldn’t have that whole jealous love-triangle thing going on, I hope they can get on as friends. Strong male companions are about as rare as strong female characters in about every other show, and I hope this season puts an end to that!

I refrained from discussing another supporting cast member in my last review aside from a tiny sentence, but here we go – Who is Missy!? Michelle Gomez plays this new character that, while not specifically shown to be evil, comes across like a dark Mary Poppins. So far, she has plucked two characters from certain doom (at the hands or suggestion of The Doctor) and taken them to a place called “Heaven”. I have no idea what her motive is at this point, but it’s fun speculating on who she is. Everything is pointing to her being a fellow renegade Timelordess, but the real question is – who? Could she be the Rani? The Master (Mistress)?, or a totally new character? For right now all I can say is that she’s creepy, and I hope we see more of her this season.

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Before we close out today’s review, I’d like to touch on the direction of this episode. Ben Wheatley seems like one of the many Doctor Who directors that can really make an episode look far more polished than other similar shows. His use of blue-lighting, slow motion for action sequences, and pyrotechnics really made this feel like a movie in certain places. Hopefully Mr. Wheatley does more work for the show, as both episodes so far have looked great.

My only real quibble is that the sound mixer has once again allowed the soundtrack to overcome some of the dialog in certain scenes, a problem that has been plaguing the show for years. I blame the fact that everyone is expected to have huge home theater systems in 2014, and those of this that do not are simply out of luck.

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All in all, this was another solid episode – nothing classic by any means, but another fine example of what the show can offer. I was happy to see some familiar faces in there, like Michael Smiley from Spaced and The World’s End, showing that this show has some of the best supporting casts out there. I can’t wait to see Danny Pink in action, and hope The Doctor treats him better than other male companions as of late, we don’t need another Mickey! Here’s to the next episode Robot of Sherwood, and to more of this solid season!

Theatre 625:The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968)

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Settle down folks! “An American View” hasn’t suddenly shifted into a smut site or anything, although I predict that this article title will bring lots of the WRONG sort of internet traffic here. No worries, I just decided to take another plunge into the fine world of public domain BBC TV stuff by Nigel Kneale (as found on YouTube)! This week, we’re taking a look at the audaciously named TV movie The Year of the Sex Olympics, part of an anthology show called Theatre 625. Theatre 625 had some big hits including a remake of Kneale’s 1954 teleplay of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four in 1965. The Year of the Sex Olympics is particularly notable because it basically predicts our current media culture and the advent of reality television.

With an opening card proclaiming “Sooner than you think” one can see that Nigel Kneale was really worried about the issues lampooned here. Kneale had to have seen the advent of lowest common denominator programming like so-called “reality TV”, but I can’t find any articles or interviews with him on the issue of a TV genre that he accidentally created all those years ago. His death, in 2006, did bring some comments from others about it, such as the following snippet of a Guardian interview by Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen, Clone, Doctor Who, Sherlock): “When Big Brother began on Channel 4 in 2000, I took a principled stand against it. “Don’t they know what they’re doing?” I screamed at the TV. “It’s The Year of the Sex Olympics! Nigel Kneale was right!””

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Kneale was apparently influenced to create The Year of the Sex Olympics due to his own concerns about overpopulation, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the societal effects of television. To most, this comes as no surprise as Kneale can be seen as a “cranky old man” that saw anything youth-related as evil in some way. To put this on perspective, Kneale was the very same man that cast “hippies” as the antagonists of his fourth Quatermass serial (something I will review soon) and routinely made it seem like anyone under the age of forty was in some way morally deficient in his writings.

This isn’t a bad thing by any means, just a sign of the times. Britain was in turmoil during this time, and many of the “Greatest Generation” (using an American term) had no idea why “Baby-Boomers” were always so pissed off. I’m part of “Generation Y”, and routinely get irritated with my parent’s generation and how they treat us, and reading up on stuff like this makes me see that they had it the very same way.

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The Year of the Sex Olympics depicts a world of the future where a small elite class (people called Hi-Drives) control the media and government. In order to keep power, these Hi-Drives keep the lower classes (Low-Drives) docile by broadcasting a constant stream of “entertainment” designed specifically to remove any ambition to act and to relieve all stress. Essentially, the Hi-Drives pull this off by concentrating on constant and total immersion into a world of reality TV. This includes mind-numbing programs including one baffling example involving rotund men with no shirts on hurling whipped cream at each-other, and various themed “sex shows” that masquerade as sports and arts, but are really just pornography.

One Hi-Drive, Nat Mender (Tony Vogel), believes that the media should be used to educate the low-drives, and not simply allow them to rot away. He has become disillusioned by his peers and society itself due to social norms forbidding him from having any real connection to his lover Deanie (Suzanne Neve) or his own daughter, Keten (Lesley Roach). For a while, Nat’s “boss”, Co-Ordinator Ugo Priest (Leonard Rossiter), tries a lot of different things to illicit new responses from his audience, one of which being old-fashioned slapstick comedy. Anything seen as traditional or old-fashioned is generally frowned upon by this society, so this doesn’t go over well. After the accidental death of a renegade artist gets a massive audience response of laughter due to it being broadcast live on-air, Ugo Priest decides to commission a new style of entertainment: reality television.

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The flagship show in this initiative is called “The Live Life Show”, and stars Nat’s family. They have been stranded on a remote Scottish island while the low-drive audience watches. This is pretty monotonous and boring until “reality” gets “spiced up” by Lasar Opie (Brian Cox), Nat’s former co-worker and one of the big-wigs that runs a lot of the TV production. The producers introduce a psychopath named Grels (George Murcell) to the island, and lets him loose on a murderous rampage.

Some of the Hi-Drives such as one named Misch are incredibly annoying, showing how awful their society is in the grand scheme of things. This isn’t annoying in the “this actor sucks” sort of way, but the “man, these characters are horrible people” sort of way. Their language has degenerated into a juvenile mixture of jumbled sentences full of missing words and slang, and constant whining. Anything that isn’t in some way pleasurable gets an awful response usually involving a temper tantrum.

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Comparing these people to something modern is easy, as she reminds me of some of the inhabitants of “the Capital” in the Hunger Games series based on their complete separation from reality and vapid personalities. It’s like someone took the trashy, almost mindless essence of your modern “famous for being famous” “celeb-utant” like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian and ramped it up to an insane degree.

A great example of their speech patterns happens to be one of the first scenes in the show itself, and has Misch utter the following, as she is the host of the most popular sex show, Sportsex:

“Here we go again, bubbies and coddies! Comfy and cosy are you all? Tonight, we got lots of real super-king talent for you all, so keep your eyes with us! Stay looking! First we got those two top lovers, Cara Little and Stewart Tenderleigh! Hello there, Stewart and Cara! Been on this show a jumbo lot of times. Winners of the Kama Sutra Prize last year. Now in training for the Sex Olympics.”

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One thing of note that could be both good or bad depending on how you look at it, is that this serial is in black and white. This is due to the color versions being lost like many TV programs of the time due to “junking”. One can see that everyone is wearing seizure-inducing colorful patterned clothes and heavy bodypaint in such high quantities that the whole thing would probably look laughably outdated and silly. I feel that this sort of ”masks” the garishness of the future clothes to the point where they aren’t so bad. On one hand the show is incomplete, on the other it seems more “important” this way, somehow.

One can watch The Year of the Sex Olympics and immediately feel bad, because an over-the-top fear that a man had in the sixties has basically come true. Most television watchers consume shows just like Live Life Show on a daily basis, with the same camera angles, boring dialog, and manufactured turmoil to “spice” the reality up a bit. It’s an almost eye-opening experience to watch this, and really shows you how far our culture has been diluted in some ways. I’m not going to go for the hyperbolic statement that we are the Hi-Drives and Low-Drives, but it’s pretty close. People speak in annoying short-hand “text speak”, dress like Lady Gaga, and gawk at the exploits of those more wealthy than ourselves. Just give it a few years and we’ll have shows about fat guys that throw whipped cream at each other.

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Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014)

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“Look at the eyebrows! These are attack eyebrows! You could take bottle tops off with these! They’re cross, crosser than the rest of my face. They’re independently cross. They probably want to cede from my face and set up their own independent state of eyebrows!”

 

It’s been a long eight months since the newly-born Twelfth Doctor mused about his new kidneys. Eight months where I had to recover from what was most likely a Doctor Who overload during the 50th anniversary celebrations. So here we are, summer 2014, and I don’t know about you guys – but I’m glad my favorite TV show is back! I’m especially glad that the recent trend of having short seasons, split seasons, and other things that generally make me (and a lot of other fans) feel like we’re getting ripped off has ended. We’re in for a full, uninterrupted , 13 episode season this time around, and I couldn’t be happier.

The story of Deep Breath takes us back to Victorian England where everyone is amazed, and somewhat terrified, by the presence of a real-life Tyrannosaurus Rex in the middle of London. The Paternoster Gang (Strax, Jenny, and Vastra) are about to get to their crime fighting on, when a familiar blue police box is expelled from the maw of the mighty beast. Faced with a giant monster on the loose, a possible serial killer, spontaneous human combustions, and a version of The Doctor who isn’t really feeling like himself, it looks pretty bleak for our heroes.

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Being the first episode of a new series, and the introductory episode for a new Doctor, I was actually surprised at the way Deep Breath unfolded on our screens. The episode opens with the aforementioned T-Rex attack, something that is typical “premiere episode” fare. A lot of times, we have had season openers that go crazy with special effects and spectacle to gear us up for the rest of the season, much in the same way US television pilot episodes are a bit more “flashy” than the rest of the show. This episode starts that way, but slowly evolves into somewhat of a character piece that we usually do not see until around mid-season. I bet this slower pace put off some fans, but I personally found it a bit refreshing. My main concern with a lot of current Doctor Who is that the episodes sometimes feel constrained by the timeslot, running time, and a general lack of “breathing room”. With an episode title like “Deep Breath”, this breathing room seems built into the DNA of the episode itself.

Clara is given room to really show her personality, which is amazing because her story-arc in season seven had the potential to doom her as some sort of a gimmick-companion if she never matured past it. It’s almost like Steven Moffat listened to some of the criticism he has been given of late, regarding his writing of female characters, and gave them most of an episode to shine. The Paternoster Gang is given quite a bit of screen time, with Vastra and Jenny’s relationship dynamic getting aired out a little more than usual.

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This did come across sort of silly at times because a lot of it seems to be both of them constantly re-affirming to the audience that they were in fact married, just in case the subtlety of a lesbian inter-species marriage was too ambiguous for the audience to comprehend. I can just imagine some guy sitting in front of his TV completely baffled and exclaiming “wait, so these two women are MARRIED!!! what what WHAT!” That aside, I really enjoyed seeing this interaction between the two of them. Strax is basically there as comic relief like usual, and although he does the same jokes in every episode he is in, I love them each time.

Most importantly, this episode showed us the usual overly-manic side to The Doctor that always makes these introductions a bit unpredictable. His “regeneration sickness” played out much in the same way that the Sixth Doctor’s did in his first outing. Well, minus that whole “trying to kill the companion” business. There are moments where one really wonders if The Doctor is about to turn evil or something, but I think that’s because we’re so used to the more touchy-feely, less-alien versions of the doctor since 2005. Capaldi’s Doctor, once he mellows out, is definitely a throwback to a previous time with the moral ambiguity of Hartnell’s First Doctor and a dash of Fourth Doctor showing through the most.

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Hartnell had those moments where he was hardly what anyone would call a “good guy” a stark contrast to the recent “Space jesus” archetype that David Tennant’s Doctor especially had. One can recall the often referenced incident from the first serial where he was about to crush a caveman’s skull with a boulder simply because he was slowing the party down. This anti-hero tendency is revisited here in spades. Capaldi’s Doctor has a moment where is is left with a conundrum: in order to defeat his foes he has to either A) commit an act of murder or B) convince the villain that he has nothing to live for an “off” himself. Both are horrible choices, and The Doctor lays out the fact that he’s “hardwired” not to preform option A, but will do anything to protect Earth if he needs to.

When the deed actually happens, it happens off camera, with us only seeing the aftermath. The question ends up being: “did he do it?!” This hammers home the “theme” from the trailers, that went out earlier this summer, where The Doctor was asking the audience whether he was a good man or not, somehow I think this will pop up more this season. All-in-all Capaldi has already hit it out of the park for me, because a combination of Hartnell and Baker just happens to be a combination of my long-time favorite versions of the character.

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The Doctor had some great interaction with Clara this time around, and to me it almost seems like Clara and Twelve will “work” the best together, better than Clara and Eleven. One scene in particular involved the dynamic duo meeting in an Italian restaurant that hides a horrible secret. Clara is angry at The Doctor because he left her “high and dry” and seemingly went into great lengths to come up with a contrived puzzle for her to solve to find him. The Doctor says that the person that did the puzzle was an egotistical power hungry lunatic, which Clara takes as an apology, but it soon becomes clear that he is under the impression that she placed the ad, and is actually talking about her! There is also a joke in the scene where he tries to lie about where he got his new coat, one that reeks of all manner of horrible gutter smells that a typical Victorian homeless man would have. He almost makes it seem like he stole it from someone as he sheepishly answers her questions.

The all-important villain to this episode is somewhat surprising to me, because it marks the return of a “monster” that I felt was surely just a one-off, in the clockwork service droids last seen in The Girl in the Fireplace. That previous episode showed the droids actively looking for parts to repair their ship after the S.S. Madame du Pompadour was damaged. In desperation, they eventually killed the entire crew and used human flesh for the repairs, then went even more “crazy”. Somehow they got it in their clockwork noggins that the actual brain of their ship’s namesake would repair their ship. Deep Breath shows an even more dangerous version of these droids that seemingly survived “crashing” on mesozoic Earth after yet another failed voyage of a 51st century time ship, this time the S.S. Marie Antoinette.

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The droids have spent millions of years repairing themselves to the point that they have created their own religion and have lost all sight of their original purpose. The “leader” of this group speaks of “The Promised Land”, but seems confused as to what that actually means and how he is to attain his goal to go there, seemingly his plan is to simply survive by killing innocent people until it just shows up. Basically they have become “reverse-Cybermen” in that they are trying to keep themselves alive by grafting human parts onto their original machine bodies. The Doctor makes an apt remark about a hypothetical broom where one might replace the handle, then later replace the broom’s head. He questions whether this is in fact the original broom at all, in reference the the constant replaced parts used by these droids.

I really enjoyed Deep Breath, and although it had an odd pacing and seemed a bit “talky” it was one of the better opening episodes since the show came back. I honestly wish they would just make the episodes an hour long even though the U.S. Market would flip out due to our stupid 42 minute run-time rules. My only real complaint with the episode is that the initial set-up involving the Paternoster Gang investigating cases of spontaneous human combustion was overshadowed by the T-Rex attack so much that it made the whole thing seem tacked on. I’m not sure if it’s because the subject matter is fairly disturbing for a family audience, or that the episode was already pretty long, but it simply felt like a loose end. Next week, we have a new Dalek episode to look forward to, so check back soon to see what I though of Into the Dalek.

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P.S. “Missy” better be The Rani, I know she probably isn’t but having another renegade Timelord would be AWESOME!!

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Hyperdrive (2007) Series 2, Episode 1 – The Green Javelins

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When we last left the crew of the HMS Camden Lock, they were basically removed from duty and about to be tried as traitors after defecting from The British Empire. Henderson was faced with his own “Kobayashi Maru” situation involving an impossibly hard performance review, and let’s just say he didn’t do so well. For better or worse, we never actually see the resolution to that plot, leading me to believe that the writers hated the ending as much as I did. At the start of series two, everything is as back to normal as this ship can be: Henderson is back in charge, albeit not for long if the Space Marshall has anything to do with it.

Series one left a bad taste in my mouth due largely to mediocre scripts and bad special effects. I’m not a big “I hate stuff because the special effects suck” kind of guy usually, but this show over-uses bad CGI that it has no business using so much. I’ve been waiting to see the second series to see what they did to “right the ship”. From the first moments of the very first episode, one can see that everything has a new coat of paint, leading me to assume that this series has quite a bit more money than the previous one. There is a new theme song, new computer-generated affects, and better writing. It seems that the production staff have answered my call.

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Once again the higher-ups have decided to trust Commander Henderson with yet another task that his crew will most likely mess up. It seems that a space acrobatic team called the “Green javelins” (a play on real acrobatic teams like the Blue Angels or Red Arrows) has recently lost a ship, and the HMS Camden Lock is set to take it’s place. This excites Henderson greatly, as he has been frothing at the mouth for a chance to show his boss that he has what it takes to be great.

Teal has a problem with this new assignment, as it forces her to come face-to-face with an old flame named Jeremy Mason, a man that now leads the “Green javelins.” When they were teenagers, both Teal and Mason (played by Stephen Mangan) met at their agnostic church camp and fell in love. It seems he stood her up when they were supposed to meet up, and he has regretted it ever since. 

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When they get together, Mason explains that he lost his faith when he didn’t see her again, and we’re treated to one of the funnier jokes in the episode. They begin to talk at length about their “agnostic faith” that was so intense in their youth. This version of agnosticism is pretty humorous, as it is described in a similar manner to the evangelical Christian church, just more vague. here is an excerpt of a “hymn” we hear them sing in the episode: 

“I have a vague feeling inside of me.

A hazy spirit duality.

It fills me half-way, but not to the top.

Empirical reasoning makes it stop.”

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While this is going on, York decides to create some sort of clone of himself, so that he can do a better job of instilling unrelenting fear in the hearts of anyone that would not take their job very seriously. Problem is that something goes wrong, VERY WRONG, and York’s “son” isn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. There is a lot of confusion when this second York starts roaming around the ship mumbling to himself and delivering garbled nonsense to passersby. York realizes what he has done, and becomes a Victor Frankenstein of sorts, frantically trying to stop his creation from ruining his name.

I mentioned earlier that the writing got a lot better, and one of the main reasons that I could tell was that these two plots actually came together in some meaningful way, and the clone sub-plot wasn’t just a set up for a cheap gag. At the end of the episode we find the clone, rejected by his “father”, trying to show that he isn’t worthless by sacrificing himself in order to save the rest of the crew.

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This is both touching, and funny, seeing that Kevin Eldon‘s performance as fake-York is so goofy that you can’t help but chuckle. Sadly, there was a vague third plotline involving Sandstrom (the ships pilot computer) being curious about sex, but everything with that character fizzles out, so I hardly notice anymore.

I also mentioned that there was a vast improvement in the special effects department, and it’s not just a small one. I can only assume that they used some sort of miniatures in tandem with their computers because the ships no longer look like smudgy videogame ships from ten years ago. They even pull off some decent close-up shots and other dynamic scenes that are pretty nice. That isn’t to say that I want this to turn into Star Wars and use gratuitous CGI everywhere, but at least the stuff that is used isn’t offensive.

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In closing, this was by far the best produced episode of the show so far. I’m not sure of it’s necessarily my favorite, but it’s heads above the hit or miss nature of series one. If they can keep this up, I think this show could live up to the potential that it had, and stand on it’s own. I’d still like a few characters fleshed out a bit more, and am worried about this new found special effects budget, but all in all I was impressed.

You can watch Hyperdrive on Hulu as part of their recent BBC deal, so if you are looking for something to watch on a rainy day, I’d definitely recommend it.

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Out of the Unknown (1965) Stranger In The Family

(AKA Series 1, Episode 3)

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Up to this point in my sporadic viewings of Out of the Unknown, I’ve been blessed with science fiction stories adapted from existing popular science fiction short stories and novels. First there was “No Place Like Earth” by John Wyndham and later “The Counterfeit Man” by Alan Nourse. What makes “Stranger in the Family” (our topic for today) really stand out against these popular adaptations is that is was actually commissioned specifically for the show. In series one, there only two such stories: This one by David Campton and “Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…?” by Mike Watts. Thankfully both exist in a viewable form today, as many of these episodes sadly are lost to the sands of time.

David Campton was a popular UK-based playwright and dramatist that regularly worked on various British “anthology” shows such as this in the 1960’s. He did a few other episodes of Out of the Unknown, but this was the only one he wrote himself rather than doing an adaptation. He is definitely most known for his work as a playwright, which he was steadily involved in until his death in 2006.

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Charles Jr., or ‘Boy’ as he is simply referred to, is an odd child. Not only is he born with a strange deformity of having no fingernails, but he is “blessed” with powerful mental abilities that enable him to control others. This troublesome ability has caused nothing but grief for his family, who have had to constantly move from home to home to avoid trouble pertaining to Boy’s abilities. Most worrisome is the fact that he is being hunted by a mysterious surveillance team who have moved into the next-door flat in the tower block. Boy falls for a young actress whose agent / boyfriend encourages the relationship once he discovers his “gift” because he thinks Boy’s powers can be used to make a lot of money via TV commercials.

When I first saw this, I immediately started to be reminded of an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series entitled “Charlie X“. Without going into specifics, let’s just say that there are enough similarities to assume that somebody ripped somebody else off. After doing a bit of research I discovered that this came first, but neither David Campton or Gene Roddenberry copied each other, and that both were most likely inspired by an even earlier short story from 1953 called “It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby. To add further confusion, Bixby’s story was adapted into a Twilight Zone episode! All three have the same basic story of a boy that “becomes God” and uses their powers to manipulate others.

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Out of the Unknown: Stranger in the Family Stars Peter Copley and Daphne Slater as Boy’s parents. While Daphne Slater more-or-less stopped working in the 1970’s, Copley went on to be in some pretty big films like Empire of the Sun, and Kingdom of Heaven. The main character, Boy, is played by Rochard O’Callaghan, a man that went on to be in tons of stuff including an episode of Red Dwarf where he played “Hogey the Roguey”. He’s mostly known for roles in TONS of procedural police shows, and is still working to this day. Paula Wild is portrayed by Justine Lord and her agent Sonny is played by Eric Lander. Lander is perhaps best known for various soap opera roles including General Hospital.

I really enjoyed both the script and direction for this episode. The last two episodes have “dragged” a bit in the second act, but this episode kept me on the edge of my seat for the entirety of the show. As Boy gets continuously “messed with” and used by people that he mistakenly thinks are working in his best interest, he begins to go down the path of revenge that is all to familiar with these types of stories. Luckily somebody didn’t dump pigs blood on him at the prom, because the body count would have been crazy. One has to thank both Campton and the director Alan Bridges for keeping the whole thing tightly paced and interesting throughout.

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Since this is more of a science fiction-tinged psychological thriller, there aren’t too many dodgy “special effects” shots to worry about. More than anything else, this keeps the drama from being so dated that everyone can tell exactly when this was filmed. Also, there are no zany “space costumes” or “bug-eyed monsters” there ramping up the cheese factor. Granted, Out of the Unknown usually resists such tropes, but with classic science fiction, one has to be prepared.

This is a great episode of Out of the Unknown, and is probably my favorite of the three so far. If I were to show this program to anyone, I think that “Stranger in the Family” is a strong contender for the episode I’d use to introduce it. The version I was able to watch had tons of audio and video defaults as well as BBC time numbers all over it, so it’s not the best looking thing out there. I wish a professional restoration was in the cards, but I’ll take it any way I can get it.

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Sadly, obtaining a copy of Stranger in the Family or any episode of Out of the Unknown is basically impossible by legitimate means, but that’s where YouTube comes into play. I have included a link to the episode below,if you would like to watch this as well.

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Dirk Gently (2012) Season 1, Episode 2

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Dirk Gently and Richard MacDuff, of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, may be the definite B-list (maybe even C-list) detective duo at the BBC, but I’m always excited to read or watch one of their few adventures. Way back in 2010, The BBC commissioned a one-off “pilot” episode of a show starring Stephen Mangan and Darren Boyd based on the popular Douglas Adams story. It was successful, and a three episode series was later commissioned in 2012. I’m sad that there will only ever be FOUR TOTAL episodes of this show, and it was seemingly canceled last year. I guess that’s how it goes for experimental shows on BBC4, don’t get too attached, I suppose.

As you may or may not be aware, Dirk is on a quest to understand the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things”, a philosophy that has crept into his job as a private detective of sorts. He basically thinks that EVERYTHING is connected, no matter how tenuous the bond, and no matter how preposterous it all seems. This has lead to stories involving outlandish things like time traveling cats! Dirk comes across as either completely insane or some kind of sociopathic con-man when he is out “detecting”, but he always comes through with a solved case, no matter how preposterous the whole ordeal is. It seems there really is a method to his madness.

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People like to compare this show to Steven Moffat‘s Sherlock, and in many ways I see the coincidental similarities, but see the show as totally different. Stephen Mangan as Dirk Gently might be zany, but he never comes across as a candidate for a future serial killer like the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Mr. Holmes. He’s not a know-it-all, smarter than everyone else character, he’s a spinning ball of random ideas that seem to click into place when one least expects it. In this way, he more resembles The Doctor, from Doctor Who of course, a character I could definitely see Mangan doing a good job with someday if BBC comes knocking on his door. When I mentioned this show’s cancellation, it sort of bugs me that many did in fact see this as a “rip-off” of sorts to Sherlock, and I wonder if that lead to the early demise.

In this second of three episodes (aside from the pilot), Dirk and MacDuff are called back to Dirk’s old University – St. Cedd’s Institute of Science and Technology, Cambridge (fans of the “lost” Doctor Who serial “Shada” might recognize this fictional school!). They have been summoned by a man named Professor Jericho to provide specialist security detail for his new creation. It seems Jericho has created a VERY sophisticated new artificial intelligence and autonomous robot named Elaine, and Jericho is paranoid about someone stealing Elaine or the A.I. program. When this happens almost immediately (both are stolen!), Dirk investigates the crime seeing Jericho’s colleague Emelda as the prime suspect. MacDuff meanwhile is tempted to leave Dirk’s agency as his girlfriend, Susan, has applied for a job in Cambridge.

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The best thing about this episode is that it really starts to peel back the goofy layers of Dirk’s character and reveal who he truly is. I loved how they even introduced a love interest for our would-be Sherlock of the holistic variety. While Dirk’s back-story isn’t exactly hidden (we’ve seen bits of it referenced in each episode now), finding out about little gems such as his relationship to Professor Jericho (his mentor essentially) and what led to his expulsion from St. Cedd’s is great and really allows for one to understand his bizarre way of looking at the world.

Unfortunately, Richard MacDuff seems slightly under-utilized in this adventure, and really takes a back-seat in the overall narrative. It’s not like he disappears or anything, he is just dealing with his possible life changing situation with his significant other, Susan. The prospect of possibly being forced to move, and leave the agency, has “bummed him out” and left him with little to do while Dirk runs around like a crazy man.

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Unlike what we saw in the last episode, the mystery at hand was actually a lot more fleshed out this time around. There was a stolen robot, a dead body, and even some decent red herrings put there to confuse us. Then again, that isn’t hard in this show, as the answer to the “puzzle” is always something totally crazy that comes out of left field. So far, this may be the best episode of the three I’ve seen so far writing-wise, although the pilot was so wacky that it has a permanent residence on my list of awesome TV episodes.

One thing that stuck out to me in this episode was the director’s use of random horror trappings to set the mood of the episode. At one point, we are almost led to believe that the robot herself may be the murderer, thus preparing the viewer for an apocalyptic fight between man and machine that never happens. There are also weird camera angles, mysterious shadows, and even a hidden child’s room – all things that one might recognize from horror cinema.

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This episode had an amazing guest cast, and I was particularly fond of Lydia Wilson as Jane, the aforementioned love interest. She comes across as just about the only person even weirder than Dirk with her crutches, obsession with sea salt flavored chips, and Scandinavian accent. She is VERY smart, but somehow not exactly all there. A tip of my hat also goes to a character named David Cho (as played by Will Sharpe). Cho starts out as the most likely perpetrator of the entire case, a link to a Chinese plot to steal jericho’s work. Little do we know, Cho is actually a lovesick World of Warcraft enthusiast who’s “lost his heart to an Elf and his man to a Gnome.” totally weird stuff here guys!

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This second episode is definitely the best one so far, and really makes me want to quickly finish the series up as quick as I can. I enjoyed just about everything in here, minus MacDuff basically being a glorified prop for Mangan to interact with. The regular cast are great as always, the guest cast is superb, and the plop is totally bonkers and yet makes perfect sense. Sadly, after this there is only one more episode of Dirk Gently left to consume.

 

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Hyperdrive (2006) Episode 6 – Assessment

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Here we are at the end of the first series of BBC2’s Hyperdrive AKA BBC’s attempt to re-launch Red Dwarf without actually re-launching Red Dwarf. The show stars Nick Frost, Kevin Eldon, Miranda Hart, Stephen Evans, Dan Antopolski, and Petra Massey as the crew of the HMS Camden Lock. As you know, we have witnessed the misadventures of the crew of the HMS Camden Lock for six episodes now, and those six episodes have been jam packed with enough diplomatic screw-ups that Mitt Romney would blush if he’d witnessed them (BAM! Dated political references are awesome, and oh so topical!).

To keep the British Empire relevant in the space faring age, the UK has tasked the crew of the Camden Lock with a mission to expand Britain’s sphere of influence past the confines of our pesky small planet. In the past five episodes we have seen failed attempts at placing huge chain grocery stores on underdeveloped planets (causing vows of vengeance upon escape), a botched attempt to mediate an asteroid claim between two races, an insane space traveler and her murderous coffee cup, and much much more.

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“Assessment” is yet another such episode, proving that Nick Frost’s Commander Henderson may be just about the most inept space captain there is, and I’m taking into account both Arnold Rimmer and Zapp Brannigan! The plot follows the crew as they are forced to partake in a routine round of psychological tests. These tests include things like word associations, reflex tests, and math problems to prove that the crew has not “gone nutty” in space.

During the tests, the Camden Lock is fired upon, and mistaking it for part of the evaluation, Henderson ignores the attack completely putting everyone in jeopardy. His superiors are not too thrilled at his leadership, and places him in danger of losing his ship, rank, and livelihood. Fearing the impending “category J inspection” that the ship will soon be forced to endure, Henderson basically falls apart and has a nervous break-down.

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We finally get to see what would happen if York was in charge of the ship for a long period of time, and as one would assume, the power immediately does to his head. One of the better bits of dialog involves him broadcasting a rather ominous message to everyone on the ship: “I am the master – you are my tools, I am the Alpha and Omega…”

York places the entire ship under martial law and imposes ridiculous rules that place even more stress on a crew that is pretty stressed out about the inspection. Mr. Jeffers, being his usual self, basically starts an anarchistic uprising against York, bordering on a mutiny, and destabilizes the ship even more than what is normal.

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It is under these conditions that Vine seems to start going completely insane. First, he starts hearing voices over the communication channels proclaiming that he “is the chosen one”. Later, he sees ghostly apparitions of his past and future selves, leading Mr. Vine to totally lose it. Pretty soon he starts buying into the hype, and starts telling people that he is, in fact, the chosen one and that he is above everyone else. Towards the end of the episode, a crystalline ship appears and takes him on board. Sadly, it’s not what he dreams it could be.

This secondary plot involving Vine starts out promising, but fizzles out once it reaches its climax. This is a problem with just about every episode of this show, and it makes me wonder why they did not just concentrate on the main plot since these extra plots usually get no pay-off. In this case the alien race trying to contact Vine turns out to be galactic pranksters that seemingly travel around to take pictures of their victims after they pull their pants down. Another missed opportunity wasted by dumb juvenile humor.

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The actual episode itself ends on a cliffhanger which baffles me because almost none of the main plots get tied up. Had this been a one-series show it would have been basically incomplete – we would have never known if Teal and Henderson finally put an end to their awkward sexual tension, we would have never known much about any of the side characters, and Sandstrom would have gone down as one of the most worthless science fiction characters ever. Thankfully there is a second season, and I truly hope they address some of this.

I’m not slamming Hyperdrive by any means, but I truly want this show to be better than what it is. It has the core of a great comedy show, but it seems like somewhere down the line it was never really polished, and covered in the slimy goo that is the essence of mediocrity. If BBC truly wanted another Red Dwarf, and I do apologize for making that comparison multiple times, they could have boiled it down to its essence and come up with something original based on Red Dwarf’s success. I still have my fingers crossed for series two.

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Hyperdrive (2006) Episode 5 – Clare

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Being a huge fan of Nick Frost and Kevin Eldon, I really like their show Hyperdrive, but sometimes I feel like I want to enjoy it more than I do. I mean, let’s face the facts – Hyperdrive is the “poor man’s Red Dwarf” essentially. It’s pretty funny in parts, but it sometimes seems a tad forced and somewhat generic. I fell of the wagon back in 2011 trying to get through the relatively small amount of episodes, and here we are almost three years later. It was one of the very first things I started reviewing for this blog, but this was the bleak primordial era of 2011 when I wasn’t taking this blog very seriously and the quality of those older reviews shows that. Rather than going back and re-writing those old reviews, I’m just going to pick up where I left off and review Hyperdrive’s penultimate series one offering “Clare”. Hopefully before the year 2045 I’ll have all twelve episodes written up!

For those new to the game, I’d like to quickly sum what the show is all about. The story of Hyperdrive follows a crew of inept space voyagers trying to expand the re-birthed British Empire in the year 2151. The show stars Nick Frost, Kevin Eldon, Miranda Hart, Stephen Evans, Dan Antopolski, and Petra Massey as the crew of the HMS Camden Lock.

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Frost plays pace Commander Michael Henderson, a misguided man who admires the idealism of space travel (ala cheesy science fiction shows), but has no real credentials to back it up. Imagine every bad thing that Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk ever did and add a bit of sincere stupidity, and you basically have Henderson in a nutshell. His first officer (Eldon) Eduardo York, is a nice contrast to Henderson in that he seems to secretly want to be an evil galactic overlord like Ming the Merciless, but is held down by federation guidelines and other forms of “red tape”. Add in a slacker technical officer named Jeffers (Antopolski), a quiet navigation officer named Vine (Evans), and the straight man, or lady for that matter, in the whole ordeal Diplomatic Officer Chloe Teal (Hart), and you have Hyperdrive in a nutshell.

The story of “Clare” follows the crew on a routine drug busting mission from their higher ups. As they scan the galaxy for drug smugglers, the HMS Camden Lock encounters the ship of the famous adventuress, Clare Winchester. Clare is traveling solo in a small craft around the clock in a similar vein to all of those people that attempt to circumnavigate the Earth in leaky boats every year. One can immediately see that the stresses and solitude involved with such a trip have got to Ms. Winchester. Concerned for her mental well-being, Henderson decides to put the mission on hold to do a little bonding. Granted, he’s always trying to “get his rocks off” with any female he runs across, so any real concern is quite suspect. Clare has fallen into a dark mass of neuroses and paranoia, capped off by the fact that she is talking to inanimate objects like ‘Mr. Cup’, someone that is coincidentally also a coffee cup.

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The actress that plays Clare, Sally Phillips, does a fine job of acting ten shades of crazy in this episode. Her mannerisms, appearance, and nervous ticks all point to the fact that she has been alone for far too long. Phillips is best known for a handful of film roles like The Bridget Jones films, and a few big network TV shows such as Veep and Miranda. Unless one counts Mr. Cup as a guest character, there really aren’t too many other guest stars to speak of.

One of the constant problems I have with Hyperdrive is the fact that it tries to use way too many “special effects” shots despite the miniscule budget. This makes the show come across as very cheap and somewhat dated in appearance. When the action is confined to small areas, such as Clare’s ship, it looks very good. But the moment you see something in space using CGI effects it looks questionable. I hate to draw the comparison to Red Dwarf, but I commend them for model shots for their new episodes last year, because they look sooooo much better than non-Hollywood computer graphics.

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There were some missed opportunities with the script, especially the side-plot involving Sandstrom catching a virus that made her foul-mouthed and irritable. Not only did the dirty words stop being funny pretty fast (perhaps teenagers would love it), it should have never been a prolonged plot device for the whole episode. There is also a tendency in this show to basically do the same thing with her character each episode making her feel one-dimensional. In an earlier one she eats chocolate and goes crazy, this time it’s the language virus. One hopes the character gets more time to shine.

All in all, this was a decent episode of Hyperdrive, but it was really nothing special. bad CGI was kept to a minimum, and Sally Phillips was entertaining – two things that make this a competent episode. For me, I wish this show would step out of the “Star Trek parody” bubble and show some real character, I’m not expecting much but my fingers are crossed for the season finale.

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Out of the Unknown (1965) The Counterfeit Man

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(AKA series 1, episode 2)

For those unfamiliar with Out of the Unknown, here is a quick run-down transplanted from my last review: “Out of the Unknown is relatively unheard of outside of hardcore science fiction fandom due to the poor archival status of the show. It’s one of those shows that fell victim to the BBC’s “junking” policy for old footage. Of the original four seasons and nearly fifty episodes of the show produced, only around twenty exist today. What remains is pretty solid TV and consists of short stories adapted from existing work with a few exceptions made for the show.” Today we’ll be looking at the second episode – The Counterfeit Man.

Based on a short story by Alan Nourse, The Counterfeit Man stands as a totally different experience than the previous episode of Out of the Unknown that I looked at – No Place Like Earth. While that episode was sort of fantasy-ish, and felt somewhat “Victorian” in it’s understanding of science, The Counterfeit Man is as close to a “hard science fiction” story as one could reasonably assume for the time frame. While I’m not too familiar with the works of Alan Nourse, I can reasonably tell (by looking at Wikipedia) that his stories seem to be largely based on medical science, and visions of what medicine could become in the future. To me, this almost feels like something along the same lines of the Quatermass series, just replacing a rocket scientist with a doctor.

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The story of The Counterfeit Man follows a space physician named Dr. Crawford (Alexander Davion) who works as the medical officer of an exploratory spaceship in the distant future. After returning from one of Jupiter’s moons, Ganymede, Crawford determines the crew has been somehow infiltrated by a shape-shifting alien. He comes to this conclusion after a medical examination of a fellow astronaut named Westcott (David Hemmings) shows a medically impossible blood sugar level of zero and strange behavior. Crawford attempts to quarantine the presumed alien right there, but things are never that easy in science fiction stories are they? All Crawford has to do is force this invader to “out himself” before they get to Earth, so it can be disposed of.

One will notice that my description above is vaguely similar to the John Carpenter movie The Thing, and that’s immediately what struck me as well. I’m aware that the 1982 film is actually based on a short science fiction novella from the 1930’s, but I couldn’t help drawing the comparison.

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The Counterfeit Man excels in not looking too dated despite watching this nearly fifty years after the fact. Being a fan of older science fiction, I try to look at older productions in the context of age, but sometimes things just look terrible today no matter what. Somehow this episode hides this, and I bet one can chalk this up to the black and white medium “hiding” what were most likely garish colors and terrible sets. Luckily, the designs of everything from the costumes to the spaceships look fine, almost realistic.

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I’d say that the decent production values and tight script make watching this episode a worthwhile venture. I will say that it does “drag” a little bit in the middle, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means. Just like with the last episode, obtaining a copy of The Counterfeit Man or any episode of Out of the Unknown is basically impossible by legitimate means, but that’s where YouTube comes into play. I have included a link to the episode below,if you would like to watch this as well.

 

 

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The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, August 2089

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(AKA Season 1, Episode 7)

It’s been a while since I did a write-up for Tripods, hasn’t it? In fact, I feel like it’s been far too long, something I’m fixing right now. My plan for this “Doctor Who drought” that we are about to enter is to try to clear up a few shows I never completely finished up, and Tripods is right at the top!

Before I get into my review of episode seven, I’d like to touch on something that gives me hope for this franchise in modern times. With the success of The Hunger Games and other youth-oriented dystopian films, I’m hoping that film execs will realize the potential they have with this story. Many may not realize it, but Disney has owned the rights for a film adaptation of the series for upwards of a decade and a half, and have been sitting on them. Considering how long it took before we got a second Tron film, I’m not too optimistic in many ways. My hope is that, much like with Harry Potter, The Hunger Games craze will ignite a new slew of movies that are vaguely similar, not copycat films, but in the same vein.

There was a script floating around, said to be helmed by Alex Proyas (Crow, Dark City, and I, Robot), that made huge changes to the plot, such as changing genders and creating love triangles between characters that has seemed to died off thankfully. I mean, take this nugget from a Digital Spy interview in 2009:

“Well, we’ve erm, I’m giving you all my secrets, but we’ve actually changed Beanpole to a girl. That was a pretty significant change, because I really just didn’t get the notion that there’d be these three boys traveling around the countryside and they just really wanted to have a girl in the mix.”

…..Yeesh!

Now for the review!

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We’re getting closer to the end of what I like to call “The Chateau Arc” for the most part here, and while I’ve enjoyed it immensely, I’ll be glad for the story to move along a bit. There is only so much wandering around an old castle drinking wine, and being aristocratic I can handle! When we last left “Will and the gang” a plea had been made to Will’s love interest, Eloise, for her to come along with him on his planned escape. When she refused, he was in utter shock and soon realized the worst – she was already capped with the Tripods mind control device, a fate worse than death itself for Will. With only days remaining until a sporting tournament on the grounds of the Chateau, and a wedding looming, Will has some tough decisions coming up.

Beanpole and Henry have left already, and are worried about the implications of their split party. Henry is worried that Will’s capping will mean the Tripods will not only know of their plan, the network by which they have been traveling, and where they are going, but that could intercept them. Thankfully, despite his little whiny displays last episode, Henry is not only thinking about himself. He is worried about Will and wishes him happiness, but feels like he has abandoned him in some way. Will is about to watch a series of games that vaguely resemble the type of competitions one might witness at a “Renaissance faire”. The winner of these games is our old buddy Duc du Sarlat, the eternal “Joffrey” of this universe. Not only did he cheat to win, but “The Duke” basically goes around wounding everyone he comes across, all in the name of sportsmanship.

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Throughout the last few episodes It’s been left fairly vague as to what winning this competition actually means in the grand scheme of things, and Will only finds out at the end of the tournament. In order to “get back” at Will and ruin his future with Eloise, Sarlat names Eloise as his “Queen of the Tournament”, an honor that means Eloise is to be taken away from the Chateau and hauled off to the Tripod “City of Gold”. All of the girls in the village run out and lead her to an awaiting Tripod, and it’s all over. Will never has to make the tough decision because his fiance is ripped from his side, and is presumed to never be seen again.

One sad note about this episode is that the girl who portrayed Eloise, Charlotte Long, died shortly after filming the first series of the show. This episode is essentially the last to feature Eloise, minus a dream sequence in series two, but it’s sad to think that she died so young. According to IMDB” She died three days after sustaining injuries in an accident on the M4 motorway, when a truck crashed into her parked car after it had broken down. Her passenger survived with only minor injuries. The resulting inquest heard that the truck driver had sneezed, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and violently rear-end her car while it was parked on the side of the road.”

There really isn’t anything new to be said about this episode, as all of the “Chateau arc” episodes really go together. It can be said that this episode has picked up in tension and drama, something that lacked in the last few “comfortable” episodes. I’m excited to see what Will does now that there is no reason to stay in France, and whether he tries to get even with Sarlat. So here’s to episode eight, where Will goes on the run once again.

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The Stone Tape (1972)

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I’ve looked at a few Nigel Kneale teleplays from the 1950’s this year, and I thought it would be a nice change of pace to find one of his later works to review for this very blog. I truly believe that Nigel Kneale is one of the often overlooked grandfathers of science fiction, as you can see his fingerprints on tons of modern genre TV (especially Doctor Who). That’s the main reason I’ve been slowly digging through all the Quatermass material I could get my hands on – to hopefully build some awareness if I can.

Today, I ultimately settled on The Stone Tape, mostly because I had never heard of it before this viewing. This was Kneale’s last accepted BBC script before he ultimately got fed up with them and jumped ship to ITV. After years of what he perceived to be meddling and broken promises by the BBC, Kneale took his rejected fourth Quatermass script, among others, and ran. Luckily The Stone Tape doesn’t shed any light on his professional troubles, and seamlessly blends sci-fi, horror, and drama into one cohesive film that was so well received that it helped establish a paranormal theory – the stone tape theory.

As Wikipedia states “The Stone Tape theory is a paranormal hypothesis that was proposed in the 1970s as a possible explanation for ghosts. It speculates that inanimate materials can absorb some form of energy from living beings; the hypothesis speculates that this “recording” happens especially during moments of high tension, such as murder, or during intense moments of someone’s life. This stored energy can be released, resulting in a display of the recorded activity. According to this hypothesis, ghosts are not spirits but simply non-interactive recordings similar to a movie. Paranormal investigators commonly consider such phenomena as residual hauntings.”

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In an effort to gain market share on his Japanese competitors, the head of the R&D department of Ryan Electronics, Peter Brock, has been struggling to develop a new recording medium that can revolutionize the industry. His team have set up shop in a new facility within an old Victorian mansion called the Taskerlands, a property that seems to have some unwanted lab assistants. Jane Asher (See my review of A for Andromeda for more of her) stars as the weak-willed computer programmer Jill Greeley. Jill spends the first few minutes of the film paralyzed by fear for a handful of different reasons: first a near miss car accident, then a ghostly sighting within the mansion. To Jill’s horror, a young woman can be seen committing suicide within a room that workers refuse to renovate.

After asking around, the team learns that The Taskerlands is, in fact, notorious for the death of a maid some one hundred years prior. Brock puts two and two together and realizes that this “haunted room” has somehow recorded the death of this poor girl. This phenomena, dubbed “stone tape”, could be the very breakthrough that the team is looking for, just as long as they can somehow harness it. As you can imagine, there are setbacks and all manner of paranormal incidents going on at the Taskerlands, and not everyone makes it out in one piece.

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The Stone Tape vaguely reminds me of a handful of serialized TV shows such as The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits for some reason. It’s not because it has a big moral at the end of the story or anything, unless that moral is science is bad, but the way it ends is one of those abrupt shock endings you get used to with that sort of show. The Stone Tape definitely has a better budget than those sorts of shows, but fans of that genre might be interested.

As with anything from the 1970’s, there is quite a bit of “culture shock” to get through when watching something almost 40 years after the fact. The entire plot hinges on the fact that everyone at Ryan Electronics fears that Japan will soon be taking over their entire country in just about every way, and finding a way to edge them out is the only way to stop it. This reeks of the general xenophobic mindset of the time, something that manifests itself with casual racism and “yellow peril” / Fu Manchu impressions from a few characters. These scenes made me cringe a bit, but luckily they weren’t glamorized, one man thankfully gets told to shut up. Seeing this, one has to wonder how poorly anything modern, full of the casual anti-Islamic sentiment we see in TV, will look forty years from now? I bet my grandchildren will be just as embarrassed as I am today.

My main quibble with this drama is something I brought up earlier, and another cultural relic from a long time ago. Jill is a laughably weak character, seemingly breaking down into fits of madness whenever anything bad happens. She’s like one of those stock “old-timey” female characters that has to be slapped whenever they go into fits for some reason. Granted, I’ve been in a few car accidents, so I know they can mess up your mental state. I can’t imagine someone being so indisposed afterwords that everyone around has to baby the person in question for weeks on end. Jill reminds me of the old stereotype that Doctor Who used to suffer in regards to it’s female companions, as she is seemingly only there to scream, fall down, and look weak. This does a great service of making most of the male cast look dashing and heroic in comparison, at the cost of making Jill unlikable.

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As with many productions of the time, this movie has little in the way of special effects. In fact, the only sequences that really have these sorts of shots involve camera tricks to achieve ghostly images, pretty much on par with any other 1970’s BBC sci-fi or horror shows. The horror that builds in many scenes is usually achieved with lighting and sound in place of flashy visuals. These effects include, but are not limited to: Perhaps a blood-curdling scream, flickering lights, or a horrible noise. In many ways, this helps the production, as a cheesy guy in a suit could have ruined any tension that is achieved without it.

Personally I’m more of a fan of this sort of horror film than what most people like, that’s why I usually tell people “I don’t like horror movies”. I have grown tired of “gore porn” films that over-saturate the market today, as they are not scary to me whatsoever. What things such as The Stone Tape have over them is that they can build real tension without resorting to jump scares and blood to make the viewer squirm. I’m not saying it’s the best thing ever, or that I’m now super into horror, but it’s a step in the right direction for me.

The Stone Tape is pretty good despite the flaws it has. It’s by no means the best thing Nigel Kneale ever wrote, but it’s pretty good as a horror /sci-fi program. I will say that some cultural relics from the early 70’s including casual racism and borderline misogyny made me a bit uncomfortable, but neither ruined anything for me. If anything, they made me think of how we act today, and how that will look in the future. If you have a few hours to kill, and want to see an old-school horror movie with a sci-fi splash, you might like watching this, but finding it might not be easy. It was on DVD over a decade ago,but is out of print pretty much everywhere. I was able to find it in its entirety on YouTube, so that should be the place for you to look as well!

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The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, July 2089

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Will and Eloise – destined for marriage?

(AKA Season 1, Episode 6)

We pretty much established how much of a jerk a new character referred to as “Duc De Sarlat” was in the last review, and that only gets worse here. In the previous episode, Will ended up rescuing Eloise from certain death while they took a romantic boat ride in a nearby pond. We previously learned that Eloise was betrothed to the aforementioned Duke, despite the fact that he was not getting on well with her parents. At the end of the last episode, Eloise’s father basically offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to Will, something that can’t make are old buddy from Sarlat very happy. With a fine greeting of “I should have left you in the woods” directed at Will, this assumption proves to be very true.

Aside from the occasional run-in with ridiculous man-babies, Will is acclimating to life in the chateau. He is studying French, watching fencing tournaments, and learning of the arts. Not a day goes by where he isn’t sinking deeper and deeper into the life of a nobleman, something that concerns his friends greatly. Beanpole and Henry plan to leave the chateau as quickly as they can, and feel that Will is now anchored down and unable to leave with them. Will assumes that Eloise will possibly leave with them if he can only persuade her enough. This mindset enrages Henry, who not only appears to be a bit jealous, but concerned for their mission and Will’s well-being as a whole.

Duc De Sarlat and Will from BBC's The Tripods from 1984
The Duc De Sarlat in all his annoying glory.

 It is at this point that things start to unravel in a big way. Will suffers veiled death threats from Sarlat, accusations and distrust from his own friends, and the appearance of Tripods in and around the festival grounds. The only real reason that the crew was hanging around after Will got better is a tournament that The Chateau is hosting, but they had no idea Tripods would be there. Henry and Beanpole decide that all of the bad things are not worth it and leave early with a few maps Will has copied for them. Left alone and depressed he finally confides in Eloise and tells her the real truth as to why the boys were traveling, and where they plan on going. She seems very concerned, almost mortified by what she hears from Will. This is the very first time we see her without her trademarked head-wrap and Will notices something is wrong. Eloise has a shiny metal triangle under her hairline – she is already capped.

Will and his friends drinking champange in 1984's tripods
Will and Co. Living The good life at the Chateau

Another strong episode of this “Chateau arc” leaves the viewer feeling really bad for Will. As the credits roll, one can see that Will has hit rock-bottom. He gambled the mission at hand on the love of a girl he just met, and realizes that he must leave her as well. Henry comes across childish and bitter,in this episode, a fact that is only offset by the very level-headed Beanpole – always there to cool things down. While I liked this episode, it will be good to see the end of this arc, as the show could really lose momentum if they stick around much longer. Seeing the lone sentinel-like Tripod at the festival grounds reassures us that this is in fact a science fiction show and not a period romance drama. So here’s to the festival, and to Will hopefully finding a way out of this mess – next time on Tripods.

Eloise is capped from BBC Tripods 1984
Eloise is already Capped!

The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, July 2089

(A.K.A. Season 1 episode 5)

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The last scene of the fourth episode of The Tripods seemed to spell out certain doom for our rag-tag group of wandering runaways. Will was seriously injured in a run-in with Parisian vagrants, and was having trouble staying conscious. The boys narrowly escaped the situation, only to find themselves being surrounded by men on horseback while Will lay motionless in the mud. Considering all the trouble with The Blackguards (The Human Tripod enforcers) I immediately assumed that they had been tracked down and were in some serious trouble. This was of course a typical cliffhanger ending for this show, and things turned out better than expected.

Speaking of the cliffhangers, I mentioned that they were great in a previous review, but didn’t really elaborate why. Many shows do these sorts of endings, and it seems like BBC science fiction especially loved this trope. What really sets these apart, is that the characters are almost always in some sort of horrendous peril at the end of any given episode. Since my wife and I have been “marathoning” these episodes, it’s really hard for us to stop watching as we want to know what happens next.

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So anyway, Will wakes up with his wounds cleaned up and dressed in a comfortable bed. A French girl named Eloise explains that her family discovered the trio whilst hunting for wild boar on their land. Eloise’s family is definitely one of great wealth considering the size and grandeur of Chateau Ricordeau, the clothing worn by everyone, and the fact that they have servants. Will is initially horrified that he possibly blurted out their intentions on finding The White Mountains, or that they are wanted fugitives from a Blackguard prison. Thankfully this did not happen, and the French aristocrats all assume they are simply travelers. Beanpole points out that these are not “ordinary people” as they did not turn them in, in fact they seem to see value in young people having a sense of adventure, odd for ‘capped” citizens.

While the Duke and Duchess of the Chateau seem pretty decent in many ways, we are introduced to a real “winner” of a character named Duc De Sarlat. Much in the same way that King Joffrey is the most hated character in Game of Thrones, Duc De Sarlat is immediately a total A-hole. Robin Langford does a great job of portraying a character that seems not only pretentious, conniving, and backstabbing all at the same time, just by standing there making a sour face. He just has one of those faces, like he would be the guy at a party that likes to one-up everyone else, or drive a fake Ferrari covered in Axe body Spray. When told that everyone shall be speaking English to make the buys feel at home, D-bag De Sarlat basically throws a fit and makes himself look like some kind of man-baby. When he is put in his place, he acts even more ridiculously and tries to turn them in to the local authorities, and thus reveals that they are all uncapped. Truly a great minor antagonist, I wouldn’t say he’s truly a main villain, but pretty close.

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The first real tension between the boys starts to spring up in this episode. It’s almost immediately evident that Will has fallen in love with Eloise, and has diverted his attention from the task at hand. Henry and Beanpole want to leave as soon as they can, but Will is reluctant. The Chateau is his chance of not only living the life of an aristocrat, but falling in love. He obviously has not thought out his plans, because staying here would result in his “capping” and Eloise has been betrothed to Duc De Sarlat.

Episode five isn’t the most action-packed of the episodes we’ve seen so far. In fact, it nearly lacks any shimmer of science fiction, and as such resembles a period drama. While it does lack in excitement, this episode does a solid job of moving the characters along. Will has always been an impulsive character; thinking with his heart rather than his brain. This episode really showcases this fact, and I loved the tension that ensued from his actions. And with the Duke and Duchess basically giving him the right to marry Eloise in return for a kind deed (saving her life), things are only going to get worse.

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Obligatory purchase links:

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came

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Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor (2013) A recap

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When Matt Smith became The Doctor way back in 2009, there really wasn’t a whole lot of fanfare. This was made more abundantly clear on my side of the big pond as the show had yet to hit the current levels of promotion that it achieves over here. As I recall, some promo images were snapped and Matt recorded a short video interview and that was that. This time around, the BBC has gone all out with a live TV program simulcast around the world. With the nature of Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor pretty much existing to introduce us to the new actor, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of substance. And that my friends is what we got here: some fluff with a cool interview at the end. I decided to write up a brief synopsis for those unable to watch the show, and despite the fact that everyone suddenly knows who Peter Capaldi is, his relationship to the show may be foggy for some fans.

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Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor was presented as a sort of late night talk show in a similar vein to either the Graham Norton Show or the old BBC Jonathan Ross Show. The presenter for the evening was Zoe Ball, someone that I’m unfamiliar with. A quick trip to Wikipedia land reveals that she hosts things like dancing shows over in the UK, a fact that means I will immediately forget who she is after typing this. Ball did her best job of hyping the crowd up and keeping everyone relatively excited as she and the audience watched video clips with selected celebrity guests. These guests included Peter Davison, Liza Tarbuck, Bernard Cribbins, Rufus Hound, and Daniel Roche. We also got to see brief glimpses of video recordings of Steven Moffat and Bonnie Langford as well as other cast members from the past, too bad these clips were short and were similar to VH1 “I Love the 80’s” shows.

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The audience was basically silent for this whole thing until the very end, forcing guests to go for cheap pops in order to make the audience cheer. Rufus Hound went as far as to mention England to get a cheap audience reaction, the same thing rock musicians do at a concert to get the crowd going. I’m not saying this was bad or anything, but aside from Bernard Cribbins and peter Davison, I have no idea why some of these guests were chosen. One decent bit from the whole video clips montage was a Matt Smith interview where he talks about his departure from the show, and gives some kind advice to the new guy.

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There was a tense moment where we saw the new actor’s hand as he waited for the cue to go onstage,and then the tension was relieved as Peter Capaldi walked out. Capaldi discussed his love for the show, and trying to win over the audience. They reminded fans that he has been on both Doctor Who and Torchwood at different times, and that he once wrote a letter to a newspaper about the show as a teenager. Look’s like we’re in good hands, folks Capaldi is awesome.
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To be honest this show was sort of unnecessary and seemed sort of thrown together. It is cool seeing a show I love getting this much attention though, as it was a mere 4-5 years ago that I had to defend it’s existence to a co-worker that insisted nobody had heard of it, and there was no way more people watched it than Lost, his contender for “greatest sci-fi show ever”. Last time I checked, Lost didn’t have vapid talk shows discussing casting choices did it? I claim the win!

If you guys want to check this interview out, here it is:

The Tripods: (1984) France, July 2089

(A.K.A. Season 1 episode 4)

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Remember those last three episodes of Tripods where Will and Henry didn’t do a whole lot? They can almost be seen as an introduction to this episode – the one where the show really kicks into overdrive. When we last left the boys, they had escaped a Blackguard prison and were set to be capped as punishment for their crimes against the Tripod overlords. Having met a young Frenchman named Jean-Paul (now referred top as Bean Pole) they are now free to explore France on their quest to find the mysterious White Mountains where men are said to live free.

This is the part where I’m going to gush about the post-apocalyptic nature of this episode. For those that have followed my blog for a while, you know that I am utterly fascinated by that particular facet of science fiction and usually enjoy anything in the genre. All I need to see is a few deserted streets or a destroyed national monument,and I’m sold on whatever is going on nine times out of ten. For this particular episode, Paris is standing in as the ruined city in question and I feel that it is realized fairly well. Since most of this show is filmed outside, all one really needs are a few ratty buildings and some garbage on a deserted street to get a pretty solid effect, but the production team went the extra mile to CGI some torn up monuments in the mix.

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The special effects team did a great job of realizing the destroyed buildings and other scenes of urban decay. They obviously used some sort of Matte paintings for the effects, but the results are pretty awesome. In fact, they look far better than a lot of the special effects I’ve seen in other science fiction shows of the time, leading me to believe that this show had a decent enough budget or a really talented director.

The climax of the episode finds the boys exploring a deserted shopping center where they gather up supplies such as cooking equipment and weapons such as grenades. The boys are ignorant to the world that existed before the Tripods, so things like cars, guns and other weapons of war are a mystery to them. This nearly results in tragedy as they fire off an old machine gun and a grenade that they find, barely escaping the damage. Finding these “goose eggs” does prove to be fairly useful later in the show, but for now the boys question holding onto them as they seem far too dangerous to possess.

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We get to see one of our first glimpses of Vagrants driven mad by the capping process, and how they live as insane barbarians out for blood. The group that Ozymandias, the man that taught them of the White Mountains, was part of seemed like a sad group of beggars, while this group is more like something out of a Mad Max movie. They also sort of look like extras from a post-punk music video of the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if A Flock of Seagulls were to make a cameo based on the make-up and hair used on the actors.

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One awesome scene in this episode is one where we learn a bit about they back-stories of the boys, namely that Bean Pole has been an orphan since he was an infant, something that he shares with Henry. Bean Pole grew up being taken care of by an Inn Keeper since his only remaining family, an aunt and uncle, could not care for him. He was fascinated at a young age by science, discovering via balloon that warm air rises and cold air sinks as a small boy. He then went on to become something of an inventor, creating his own homemade eyeglasses and other items as a result. He is most fascinated by steam, and since little technology exists in this world, machines made of steam would be amazing feats of engineering.

One of the more humorous things to happen in the episode occurs when they are gathering equipment up for their journey. When faced with a seemingly infinite stream of things that would be awesome to have on a long journey, the boys create new outfits from discarded clothing found all over the mall. This was filmed in the eighties, so this scene may not have been as preposterous then, but the outfits they create are a sight to behold. I’m not sure if Will’s amazing head wear or Henry’s shirt with garish letting that spells out “Oui” is better, but I know that I’m sad they don’t wear this stuff for the rest of the show.

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This was easily the best episode of The Tripods presented so far, mainly due to the action and real danger involved in the journey they boys took through Paris. As I stated before, this episode has great special effects considering the fact that it is from the 1980’s and has a BBC TV budget. Usually shows at this time had spaceships made of hair dryers and other cheap props all filmed in a tiny non-air conditioned set. This is almost in a similar scope to something on an American network at the time, just with grainier cameras.

 

Obligatory purchase links:

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came

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