Doctor Who: Project: Twilight (2001)

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A review of Big Finish audio drama no. 23

  • Written by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Directed by Gary Russell
  • Sound Design and Post Production by Gareth Jenkins
  • Music by Jane Elphinstone and Jim Mortimore
  • Starring: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe), Holly De Jong (Amelia Doory), Rob Dixon (Reggie Mead), Rosie Cavaliero (Cassie), Stephen Chance (Nimrod); Rupert Booth (Dr William Abberton/Matthew), Mark Wright (Mr. Deeks),Kate Hadley (Nurse), Daniel Wilson (Eddie), Gary Russell (Newsreader)

Full disclosure here: In all honesty, I’m not much of a fan of vampire fiction. While I would say that Nosferatu is, quite possibly, one of my favorite horror films, anything after the 1950’s is pretty hit or miss for me. Things that “try something different” with the legendary creatures like Hellsing, Vampire Hunter D, I am Legend or even Lost Boys are fairly interesting, but exists as diamonds in the proverbial rough of all of the other vampire stuff. I especially am not a fan of the more “romantic” side of vampire fiction, meaning that anything from Anne Rice novels to True Blood aren’t necessarily bad, but are not my most favorite thing to watch/read/ listen to. So imagine my apprehension when I come face to face with an audio drama that is not only about vampires, but has the word “Twilight” smack dab in the center. If there is anything that I don’t like it’s a story of pre-pubescent love between a vampire werewolf, and a caricature of a high school girl, but I digress.

Doctor Who has tackled vampires before, to varying degrees of success. We have seen things like fairly classical vampires in State of Decay, fish monsters that have fangs in Vampires of Venice, or grotesque mutations with a taste for blood as in Cure of Fenric. I think one of reasons I’m not too enamored with these stories is that they go leagues out of their way to explain common vampire tropes like an aversion to garlic, thirst for blood, and sensitivity to light all with a scientific slant. This has been done so often since 1954’s I am Legend that it almost seems silly at this point; it’s quite similar to how contrived many of the “origin stories” for zombies have become. In the 50’s, Richard Metheson breathed new life into a tired genre by making his vampires somewhat science-based, 60 years later it’s yet another tired cliché. I honestly can handle these mythological creatures, there doesn’t need to be an elaborate background of expositionary dialogue to set everything up.

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In Project: Twilight we find ourselves knee deep in just such a situation, with vampires being explained in a silly way. It appears that the ‘Twilight’ vampires were a form of botched scientific experiment, having been humans (typically prisoners or war wounded) created during the First World War by the Forge, a top secret government initiative to research means by which a superior soldier class might be engineered. So basically, the vampires in this episode are like a messed up version of Captain America.

The reason The Doctor and Evelyn end up coming face to face with this situation is The Doctor’s hunger for what he says is the best Chinese food in all of the galaxy, located in the most unlikely place – a dockside in south-east London. He assures Evelyn that he has sat for dinner with the legendary Kublai Khan, and not had Chinese take-out as good as this restaurant – The Slow Boat. Once they are chowing down on MSG-filled wontons and noodles, they discover the remnants of what can basically be called a “nest” filled with carcasses of brutalized small animals and other refuse. Next thing you know something like a mafia hit appears to happen nearby, and The Doctor and Evelyn are stuck in the middle of another bad situation.

‘Private. Do not enter.’ Oh dear, perhaps I should tell them that’s ancient Gallifreyan for ‘Doctor come on in, have a snoop around.’

We are introduced to the staff of a shady nightclub and casino called Dusk, run by a man named Reggie Mead who is obviously in some sort of organized crime syndicate boss, oh and a vampire. Other characters are varying degrees of likability, but a character name Nimrod stands out the most. he is described as an older man, donning all sort of futuristic vampire hunting technology. He is apparently nearly one-hundred years old, and was a twisted scientist in his past. He was mortally wounded and had to inject himself with the very same serum that created the vampires in the first place, cursing himself to hunt the earth for his own kind. My mind immediately slipped to the Marvel comics character Blade, who was a vampire himself, and yet hunted other vampires.

I liked Project: Twilight for what is was, but it’s not my favorite entry of the Big Finish line. Try as I might, I just have trouble enjoying vampire stories as much as other people and I’m not sure why. I like the inclusion of the shady governmental organization Forge and Nimrod, and hope they show up up again in a later installment. Much like with a few of the New Adventures related Sylvester McCoy dramas, I disliked how gory this episode was. I am not squeamish to this sort of thing, but I don’t see Doctor Who as the prime place for exploding people and vampire torture with added “squishy organ” sound effects. I originally didn’t finish this drama a few years ago because it got silly towards the middle with this stuff, and I was especially burnt out on vampire stuff having worked at a retail store when those Twilight books and films were coming out. On the second listen I’m glad I finished it, and I would say that it’s above average.

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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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BBC News – Great War was world’s first sci-fi war, says Pat Mills

LINK: BBC News – Great War was world’s first sci-fi war, says Pat Mills.

 

Here’s an interesting read I found this week, from the BBC News website, that talks about a comic strip called Charley’s War. “Charley’s War was a comic strip set in World War One that ran for many years in Battle, a British comic published in the 1970s until the late 80s.” One of the more interesting things in this article was reading Mills talking about some of his more controversial story-lines including one where Charley is forced to fight a man clad in thick armor, and how this was based squarely in fact.

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“”To me, the First World War was the world’s first science-fiction war. It saw the first use of tanks, which terrified some of the Germans in their trenches when they first saw these machines.” Mills and Colquhoun also featured Zeppelin airship bombing raids on London, aerial dogfights above the trenches and later heavily armed, armoured trains in the stories.”

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Fancy buying a posh house with a Red Dwarf cockpit in it?

Original Link – Fancy buying a posh house with a Red Dwarf cockpit in it? | Den of Geek

I recall seeing a widely publicized steam-punk house, and a Star Trek apartment, but it looks like everyone’s favorite smeg-heads are getting in on the game:

“Have you got a spare £3,250,000, and happen to be on the lookout for an 11-bedroom (zoiks) home in the midst of London? We figure we’ve lost pretty much every single one of you by now, but on the off-chance we haven’t, then the home in question has one feature that made our eyebrows go north – the small matter of a Red Dwarf cockpit!”

From Den of Geek

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coming In February…

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Write text here…

 

Doctor Who: Invasion of the Dinosaurs

“Where is everyone? The third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) find London nearly deserted after dinosaurs return to terrorize the earth. Racing against time, the Doctor unmasks top-level conspirators, just before they kidnap Sarah Jane.”

For years I’d heard that Invasion of the Dinosaurs was nearly unwatchable by quite a few people; usually because of the special effects. The CSO (green screen) effects are often cited as being atrocious, the dinosaurs are said to be bad sock puppets, and the whole thing is always shrugged off as a total mess. I only recently got to watch this story on DVD and I have to say – it’s not that bad. In fact, I think it may be one of my favorite Pertwee era stories! I think this serial may be the victim of the often misguided fan smear effect. If enough fans figuratively crap on something, enough to where it gets said to be “the worst..” of anything, many folks go into it with all kinds of baggage that keeps them from liking it.

I know that I may be in the minority of fans, in that I hadn’t seen this episode prior to it entering my DVD tray, but the special effects didn’t bother me at all. In fact I’ve seen much worse in later 1980’s episodes; ones that are lauded in a total opposite way that Invasion of the Dinosaurs is shot down. I’ll agree that the puppets of the dinosaurs aren’t anything special, but the creatures themselves aren’t even the focus of the show. In fact, they are barely in it for their name to be so prominently placed in the title!

The reasons in which I like this serial are many, and it all begins with the general mood within. When the Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive in London, presumably to drop Sarah Jane off, they soon realize that something is amiss. The streets are vacant, debris is strewn about, and there seems to be a great military presence. They soon find out that martial law has been declared, and they end up on the wrong side of it. Being a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories, I loved the scenes involving the deserted London. The fact that the director woke up at 4AM to film these scenes (illegally!) was a great thing to find out about in the special features, and this detail really sets the scene for the story. In my reviews for Survivors, I talked about the disturbing sense one gets when they see such a sight, especially if there is a noticeable landmark in it. This worked in Survivors, Day of the Triffids, I am Legend, and many other bits on film and TV to the same effect – isolation, desperation, and terror.

We also have U.N.I.T. playing a prominent role; including a furthering of the “fall from Grace” that we have been slowly witnessing Yates succumb to. It was cool to see The Brigadier in a role as a “politician” of sorts instead of the “Doctor’s yes man” that he appears to be in some other stories. The way he deals with General Finch is nothing sort of great. At first he goes along with his superior, assuming that he knows what is right, only to discover that the Doctor was right all along. We get to see the rare “badass brig” in this situation, and it is truly awesome. U.N.I.T. combined with Sarah Jane is basically one of my favorite “companion teams” and I truly enjoy them all when they appear.

Since this is really Sarah Jane’s real episode as a “companion”, it was good to see her get a good portion of the episode to do her own thing. Her side-story involves the second half of a zany conspiracy the bad guys are hatching that involves opening holes in time (where the dinosaurs are coming from) and bringing back a “golden age” to which a group of “astronauts” are involved. Since Sarah Jane does her job of snooping around a bit too well, she finds herself kidnapped and placed with these “astronauts” onboard a spaceship that will help start this new “golden age”. These two stories seem not to fit together, but are the two complimentary halves to the overall bad-guy plan going on, and it’s nice to see a story with enough room to flesh it completely out.

Overall, I loved this story, and felt the DVD is a nice package. It comes packed with a nice offering of special features including one about Sarah Jane, one about the special effects, one showing deleted scenes, and your typical “then and now” stuff. Aside from this, the DVD also has commentary track, but I’m not really into listening to those to be honest. Despite a bit of mediocre color restoration on episode one, This DVD is a solid package, and a great addition to any collection. That is unless one is too immature for bad CSO and sloppy Dino-puppets.

Survivors Episode 2 (2008) Reaction

The one thing I find most disturbing about post-apocalyptic television shows and movies is the way the film makers can make a normally crowded area look desolate and destroyed. One of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who is an old William Hartnell serial called The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It was the second episode featuring the metallic pepper pots, and as a result of their new found popularity, the production team opted for some on-location exterior shooting. This resulted in an incredibly grim look at London after the Daleks enslaved mankind, complete with an abandoned Trafalgar Square and other London Landmarks full of patrolling Daleks. This same unsettling image is done to a fine degree in the second episode of BBCs Survivors, as we finally see some of the aftermath of the plague. As far as one can see, there are emptied shopping centers, urban blight (most likely from a riot), overturned cars, and wreckage strewn about. These kinds of shows really rely on this sort of visual desolation to look good, and Survivors gets an A+.

We do see our first antagonists of this series in a rival group of survivors with different views on how to stay alive. While our star group hope that everyone will play nice and live in happiness, the truth is that situations like this really do bring out the worst in humanity. This opposition group has laid claim to large portions of territory, especially a well-stocked supermarket. When the survivors come across this they are horrified to see people resorting in such a way. After the crazed gasoline thief that ultimately burnt himself so nobody could share with him, and this barbaric lot, I do believe that our main characters have finally realized how life is going to be from here on out.

We also see a side-story of sorts where a woman uses her looks to seduce a man to not only take her in, but to share his enormous warehouse full of supplies with her. He hopes that she will reciprocate with a relationship with him, maybe even a sexual one; sadly, she is just leading him on. She lures him with promises of a worldwide distribution business for their stock, and he buys it whole-sale. I’m not sure if this character ends up being bigger than she is, but I could see them using her to drive a wedge within the survivor ranks.

Once again, the acting in this episode is superb, and a special nod goes to Anthony Flanagan as Dexter, the leader of the aforementioned gang of thugs. From his greasy hair, to his pale complexion, and his evil demeanor, they really couldn’t have picked a better actor for the job. He’s going to be the guy in the show that any sane viewer is going to root for some misfortune to befall. As for the rest of the cast, I do wish a few of the other survivors would get fleshed out a bit more. Anya, Al, and Najid immediately come to mind in this case. As this is only the second episode, I can imagine that this will come with time.

All in all, this was another fine episode of Survivors. Hopefully the show keeps this quality up and doesn’t resort to either a cheap ending like the Hollywood version of I am Legend or a super preachy one either.