Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared Issue 3

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As part of my new posting initiative (posting every day in March!), I hope to do more comic reviews on Sundays, so make sure to check back every weekend to see a review of the next chapter. If you have something you think I should check out for this, feel free to drop a comment. Now that introductions are out of the way, it’s time for the task at hand – It’s been a while since I took a look at this crossover to end all crossovers brought to us by IDW Comics. Fans have speculated for years as to which cybernetic villain would prevail in a hypothetical battle between Doctor Who’s cybermen or Star Trek’s Borg, and Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared is just what the doctor ordered. Sadly both armies of zombie androids are still on the same side as of issue three, we’ll see how long that lasts!

To recap the story so far, a Star Fleet outpost on Delta IV has been ransacked by The Borg, only they seem to have new upgrades or another race entirely helping them. This is of course The Cybermen from the Doctor Who universe, and for some reason these seemingly parallel dimensions have crossed allowing both villains to team up. It all starts when The Doctor and Amy Pond find their way into what they think is the past, only for it to be revealed as the Holo-deck on the U.S.S. Enterprise. Shenanigans ensue, and just when everyone is starting to get used to each other, The Enterprise itself gets attacked.

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We finally get to see the new Cyber-controller, a vague term given to a myriad of different high-ranking Doctor Who villains that control the Cybermen. This time it is a Cyberman that has Borg implants. One only assumes that this new leader has assumed the roles of both Cyber-Controller and The Hive Queen, which is a  terrifying thought! Captain Jean Luc Picard and crew scour their Star Fleet archives to see if there is any record of so called “Cyber Men” and come up with a few sparse records of contact with the NCC-1701 Enterprise commanded by none other than Captain James T. Kirk.

This scene made me chuckle a bit because it was sort of like Commander Data ran a Google Image Search for “Cybermen” and read off of a Wikipedia page or something. I guess the internet doesn’t change too much in the next few hundred years! This old-school crossover should be no surprise if you saw the awesome cover that this book is sporting. The Doctor collapses in pain as if he is just remembering something – his first encounter with the Star Trek crew!

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The next few pages of flash-backs are pretty fun, and the entire tone of the comic shifts with the new setting. Gone are the painted panels by J.K. Woodward, replaced by vaguely “retro” ones depicting Kirk and Co. battling 1970’s Cybermen alongside The Doctor as portrayed by Tom Baker. I really enjoyed all of the tropes like Kirk trying to fight the Cybermen with his patented “double axe-handle” punch we’ve seen so much in the show. Also quite humorous was Mr. Spock finding out what Jelly babies are.

At the end of this issue, were still not sure what has exactly brought these two world together, but one can assume that some sort of time travel is happening considering The Doctor both remembers his time with Kirk and remembers not remembering it. Perhaps a cyberman slipped dimensions and ended up in Star trek? Who knows right now, but hopefully we’ll find out soon. Perhaps that is the most refreshing thing about Doctor Who / Star Trek: Assimilation Squared – unlike most crossover events, the tone of the book doesn’t seem to be preoccupied with a lead up to some massive battle, but a mystery of how exactly the cross-over even happened.

The  next issue should be pretty awesome considering Guinan knows pretty much everything, it’ll be interesting to see if she knows about Time Lords and Cybermen.

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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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Is There Really a Difference Between US and UK Sci-fi?

Or: Why did I limit myself on topics when I created this blog?

I have a confession to make. Like Benedict Arnold, Tokyo Rose, and Jane Fonda before me, I am a traitor to my own country. I haven’t spied on anyone, I haven’t sold state secrets to anyone, nor have I taken up arms against anyone. What I have done, however, can be seen as just as bad by some in the geek culture – I’ve sided with The United Kingdom when it comes to entertainment, most notably with my science fiction tastes. For years now, I haven’t really cared about Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, or Firefly The latter of the three even got me in a bit of trouble. So the question is: Is there a tangible difference between American and British science fiction, or have I become some sort of anglophile “weeaboo*” that pretends everything form the UK is better? In this article I hope to explain why I like what I like and show that these two types of science fiction couldn’t be more different.

*Note: “Weeaboo” is a pejorative term applied to fans of Japanese animation that apply fetishism to the country of origin and appropriate cultural references in a perverse way. Watch the SNL skit “American Jpop Funtime Now” for an example of this mentality.

English: Hypothetical flag quartering the Brit...

English: Hypothetical flag quartering the British and American flags. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first started this blog, I did a similar concept in an article called “Bristish Science Fiction VS American Science Fiction – Why all the Fuss”, this was sadly an article that pretty much devolved into me whining about the remake of Life on Mars and lost all momentum. I should learn that ranting right after watching something is a bad idea! I was going to simply re-write that article, but figured a new take on it would be a better idea – perhaps actually explaining my stance would be a great idea. What I did lay out then was a general thesis of why I liked stuff from the UK more – “I think the main difference can all be chalked up to the argument of mood vs spectacle with the British productions geared heavily towards atmosphere, mood, and concepts and most American-helmed productions relying mostly on spectacle, visuals, and special effects. ” As one can see here, I was really vague and applied my theory to only the visual media. If we step back a bit and look at all mediums including books, audio, and TV/film this is still salvageable. I think the main difference can be simplified to “humility vs pride”.

Cover of "Avatar (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Co...

Cover via Amazon

What could I possibly mean by this? When I originally talked about my dislike for needless “spectacle” in American science fiction I was talking about the way in which much of the media I’ve seen turns into vapid feel-good schlock with little substance. Something like James Cameron’s Avatar is a prime example of this as it has some of the best special effects, but little story to back it up. It’s one of those movies that tricks you into thinking that you’ve seen something amazing, then you realize you just saw another re-make of the tired John Smith meets Pocahontas storyline, just with blue cat-people. It truly is the story of the noble savage for a modern generation.

 

Publicity photo of William Shatner as Captain ...

Publicity photo of William Shatner as Captain Kirk from the television program Star Trek. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These age-old nationalist themes run deep in most American science fiction productions. If you look at a show like Star Trek and boil it down to it’s essence, The travels of the Starship Enterprise can seem almost exactly like that of a frontiersman venturing into the American wilderness. Gene Roddenberry even famously said that his past experience on the show Wagon Train essentially meant that Star Trek was “Wagon Train in space.” So Star Trek is based on American Expansionism, surely not all American Science Fiction is based on that? Well,no. But most stories are about some sort of space adventuring, space colonization, and optimistic futurist fluff. I think this all goes back to World War II, and America’s status as the world’s premier mega-power from then on. American exceptionalism has tainted us with a false sense that “everything is okay, because we live in America” at all times, and to me that really isn’t true. 

On a sharp contrast, The United Kingdom was faced with decades of hardship after the war, even long after the scars of the Blitz healed. Their empire crumbled, and the economy slowed to a crawl not too long after. Internal strife, terrorism, and even labor unrest lead to many calling the once mighty nation thesick man of Europe“. America had it’s problems, most notably with civil rights, but while most American suburbanites pretended to live in the realm of the fictionalized Leave it to Beaver TV show, many in England were miserable. This lead to a creative path of social commentary in most British science fiction. The book British Science Fiction Television: A Hitchhiker’s Guide by John R. Cook and Peter Wright lays this theory out pretty well:

“British [science fiction] TV was different. While America was assured of its leadership role in the emerging space race and could look with confidence to the stars as an extension of the utopian frontier possibilities of the American Dream, Britain was having to cope anxiously in the same period with the loss of empire and general decline as a world power. Thus the notion of the British in space was not only a depressing impossibility but an outright absurdity. Some of the basic differences in character between British and US science fiction TV may be traceable to this: where archetypal US series like Star Trek often confronted the future with a sense of gung-ho optimism. British equivalents were more prone to view it with pessimism, anxiety or, especially later with such shows as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (BBC TV, 1981) and Red Dwarf (BBC TV, 1988-99), an alternative response of absurdist humour […]”

Quatermass show's Britain's pining for space triumph rather well.

Quatermass show’s Britain’s pining for space triumph rather well.

The above quote really struck a chord with me, and got me thinking about shows like Quatermass. When you first meet the titular character Bernard Quatermass, he is thrilled to have sent the first human, even better a human from Britain, into space. In a classic fashion, It all goes downhill from there and every subsequent series shows that he is slowly becoming disillusioned with the government, world space programs, the dangers of science, and finally life itself. That’s heavy stuff for a space adventure, in America Bruce Willis just rides in and saves the day. Even the “safest” UK science fiction, material geared towards families, follows this mindset. While quite a few episodes of Doctor Who can be seen as family friendly fun, there is a hidden darkness in there as well. iconic alien races such as the Cybermen are a commentary on cosmetic surgery and how long you can alter yourself and still be a human. Daleks are fascists in space, and episodes like The Green Death are taking a jab at industrial eco-hazards. Doctor Who has even tackled subjects such as religion and homosexuality, a huge “no-no” over here.

This tendency towards social commentary and pessimism isn’t without it’s critics. In the 1960’s the BBC produced a drama called The War Game that depicted the aftermath of a nuclear strike on the UK. As I pointed out in my review, establishment types were not happy: “The War Game didn’t actually get shown on any TV network until the mid-1980’s, and I’m thankful it didn’t meet the same fate as other 1960’s BBC productions –wiped and junked. It was deemed too dark, it made the British infrastructure look bad, it belittled civil servants, and it stood in the face of over-zealous national pride –things that weren’t cool forty years ago. At least now we can watch it, and enjoy it without any censorship involved.” A lot of fans don’t like this either and label British science fiction as too dark or depressing. For me this is a case of “to each their own, as I’d rather have emotional attachment to something in a show than just watch eye candy all day.

Armageddon (1998 film)

Armageddon (1998 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So there we have it, American science fiction is far too optimistic for my taste and does little to talk about social commentary. Instead, much of it tries to further idealistic post-war American values that many Americans no longer value – such as new imperialism. American productions seem whitewashed and fake in this climate, while UK productions still have teeth, even to this day. Not everything has to be bleak – being witty, satirical, or even mocking is fine as long as the subject has substance. I just want something more than “YES WE CAN!” because I’m too cynical for that garbage. Maybe Bruce Willis Won’t save the day, Aerosmith won’t play a cool song, and maybe the rock hits the Earth, let’s make the most out of it! Lately there has been an uprising of US based shows with a UK slant directly coinciding with the rough times we are having as of late, so there is hope that they are trending to a common end. Not everyone is happy about this though, as I leave you with a quote from a Time Magazine article that pines for the long-gone days of “happy science fiction”:

“There was a stretch of time — from the early 20th century through the beginning of comic books — when science fiction was an exercise in optimism and what is these days referred to as a “can-do” attitude. There appeared to be no problem that couldn’t be dealt with either by the one-two punch of positive thinking and, well, punching— or by intellect and inspiration: new inventions were dreamed up that automated everyday tasks and made the impossible not only possible but also commonplace.”

This view annoys me to death.

 

TV Review – Hyperdrive: Season 1 Episode 2

The second episode of Hyperdrive shows great improvement over the first, as we see a better presented storyline, some better jokes, and better use of special effects.  The show as a whole seems to be a typical BBC low budget sitcom affair, but as we see our first alien world in this episode it all seems to come together.  The story follows a trip to the planet Queppu for an attempt at diplomatic relations, but as Mike Henderson always seems to guarantee, the trip goes awry.  Against the better judgment of Mike, Jeffers is placed in charge of the ship while the top brass is gone, which spells disaster.

The costumes are very creative, but not as good as some I’ve seen in shows like Farscape or Doctor Who.

I was impressed by the costume designs of the Queppu, as they did not suffer from the typical Star Trek “different foreheads” syndrome.  This race  actually looked like a bizarre pre-industrialized race that happens to wear gaudy latex hats, and pretentious jewelry.  Most of the other costumes in this show are pretty bland, so anything like this stands out a lot.  Mike falls in love with the daughter of the crazed ruler of the planet, much to the chagrin of Teal, who harbors feelings for Mike.  We get to see York at his sleazy finest in this episode, as he attempts to nuke the planet before they even visit, and nearly ends up killing the crew in a knife fight.

Jeffers uses his new found power to get the ship into a drag race, almost destroying the ship in the process.

With all the good of the episode, there is still some bad things going on here that leave it average at best.  The jokes are usually good, but not always consistent, making certain scenes seem dragged out.  There are also a few characters like Vine and the ship’s android computer that really seem to serve no purpose to the story other than exist to be an analogue of a Star trek character.  I’ll rate this episode better than the last, but only so much.

May Rating 3.1 out of 5

 

TV Review: Hyperdrive Season 1 Episode 1

I actually downloaded Hyperdrive around the time it originally aired due to a piqued interest in movies and television shows by Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright.  For some reason that I honestly can’t recall, I never watched it, and it sat on my hard drive collecting digital dust.  Going through my files this week, I stumbled upon it, and decided to finally check it out.

The HMS Camden Lock is basically a ship shaped like London’s BT Tower

Hyperdrive is a science fiction based sitcom, a genre hybrid that I can only think of a handful of instances of.  The story follows a crew of inept space voyagers trying to expand the British Empire in the year 2151.  I was drawn to the show due to Nick Frost’s starring role to be quite honest, but was pleasantly surprised to see a few actors I really like such as Patterson Joseph (Survivors, Mitchell and Webb Look) and Kevin Eldon (Big Train, Hot Fuzz) and even guest appearances by notable actors and acresses including Montserrat Lombard of Ashes to Ashes fame.

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, a quiet navigations officer named Vine, and the straight man, or lady for that matter, in the whole ordeal Diplomatic Officer Chloe Teal, and you have the principal cast in a nutshell.


(L to R) Teal, Henderson, York

Hyperdrive has its pros and cons that I can even see based solely on this first episode.  The show is a total farce in the style of Star Trek, but that almost leads it to try too hard to be like its “big brother” rather than stand on its own.  While this works most of the time, some of the goofy gags fall flat, and this isn’t helped by a lack of a laugh track.  The jokes are generally pretty funny when they are original, and rely more on gross out humor and dry wit than anything else.  One running gag that I really liked is when Henderson tries to relay his “knowledge” of historical facts to his crewmates, which always come out as a mishandled jumble of nonsense.

One episode in, and I enjoy Hyperdrive, but hope that the story takes off in future episodes, stay tuned for my opinion on the rest of the show!

May rating: 3 out of 5