Roadside Picnic (1972)

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I have recently been on a big Russian science fiction kick these past few months (We, Omon Ra, Night Watch etc), and discovered that this book inspired a video game I like, so I figured that I should pick it up. The game in question, “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl“, is not really a remake of this book, but after reading the story – it borrows many plot points. It’s weird to know how old this book is (1972) and to see how it predicted the way people would treat an exclusion zone that folks try to sneak into. Granted, Chernobyl was a huge nuclear disaster, and the incident that creates tension in this book is a low-key alien encounter.

It seems that, years prior, an alien invasion of some sort occurred. These aliens, thinking that we were basically ants to them, ignored us completely, left a bunch of trash everywhere, then simply left. A comparison is made that it was like a situation where humans have a Roadside Picnic and leave garbage everywhere – animals would be scared and confused, and have no idea what we left behind. Their trash, however, isn’t just regular trash, it’s so bad that the areas affected end up called “zones”. These areas exhibit strange and dangerous phenomena not understood by humans, and contain artifacts with inexplicable, seemingly supernatural properties. Of course, a huge black market pops up to take advantage and folks start making a career out of sneaking in and stealing this stuff.

I really enjoyed Roadside Picnic, but it wasn’t perfect. It seems so short and has a somewhat unsatisfying open-ended finale. One can surmise what happens at the end, but you never really know. If you want to read something a bit different, this is a decent quick read that keeps you on the edge of your seat.


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The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The Tripods first came to my attention a few years ago when I stumbled upon a picture of one of the titular crafts in some sort of memorabilia magazine; one that was full of garage model kits. As I recall, I had no idea that there was some sort of “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and wondered why I had never heard of it. I was, of course, mistaken as the concept of these three-legged walking crafts is merely inspired by those similar Martian crafts, and have no relation otherwise.

The Tripods was actually a series of “young adult” novels (way before they were a cultural phenomenon) penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into an awesome television show that I’ve seen the first season of. If this sounds fun, be sure to look for my reviews of that show on here. The production was a joint venture between the BBC and the Australian Seven network, and lasted two seasons. Sadly, a third season died before it went into production.

The White Mountains is immediately unsettling based solely on the realization that something is wrong. The book employs a great juxtaposition of little hints of lost technology and a primitive, medieval-ish, somewhat pastoral, setting. This sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, something bad happened and this is a dystopian future – now let’s work backwards and find out why. Maybe it’s more like Memento? I’m sure I can figure out a better early 2000’s film reference to put here, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway…we know that something isn’t right: either these people are some sort of Anabaptist off-shoot that hates technology, or something bad has happened in the past. This is answered almost immediately as we meet the main characters on their way to a village celebration. It seems that Jack, a neighborhood boy, has reached the age at which everyone is considered an adult, and is to have his “capping ceremony”.

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Will (and later his cousin Henry) are disturbed by this practice as everyone that gets “capped” comes back different. Capped individuals seem to lose any sort of creativity, drive, and imagination that made them who they were. “Adults” become bland worker drones that want no other past time than work and sing the praise of their “masters”. These masters are of course gigantic three legged monstrosities called “Tripods” and the Capping Ceremony can be surmised as a way of them controlling humans. At this point we have no idea what these creatures are or what they want with the human race, but one can see that it isn’t good.

Will strikes up a conversation with an eccentric “vagrant” named Ozymandias that talks of a land of free men in the White Mountains, a land outside of the influence of the Tripods. Vagrants are those that are seen as harmless by the Tripods and regular capped townspeople, but are not allowed to mingle with everyone else. Usually it is accepted that these people were “driven mad” by the capping process and are better to be not spoken about. Will is amazed by what Ozymandias has to say, and plans to escape to the European mainland to find this utopia of freedom.

Then a whole lot of shenanigans ensue – a third character named Beanpole joins up, and grenades get hurled at stuff. I will let you read to find out the rest.

I was struck with how different this book is to the television series. First and foremost – Will and Henry almost hate each other. Even coming to blows a few times. The show also has a LOT of “fluff” padding the main part of the story. Honestly, the book flows better and is very tightly paced. This is ostensibly a young adult book or some equivalent thereof and can be read very quickly, if you enjoy science fiction I would greatly recommend it.


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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.

 

Tuesday Newsday 3/24/15

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It’s another Tuesday, so you know what that means! I have gathered a handful of some of the most noteworthy stories of the week all in one easily digestible nugget of newsiness. Check back later in the week for my coverage of the recent comic / science fiction convention that I attended last week, and perhaps a podcast episode about it. So without further ado, here’s the news!

 

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Red Dwarf Star Goes Back to the Future With Bosch in Vegas

 

“Every year thousands of exhibitors, visitors, journalists and industry experts de-camp to the International Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas to see, experience and discuss the hottest new technologies set to make a big impact around the globe.
Luckily for us, Robert Llewelyn, star of cult classic TV show Red Dwarf, ignores the saying ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ by ‘spilling the beans’ in a series of short films on the next generation of Bosch consumer technology products and innovations on show at CES.”

READ MORE>

Mark Gatiss in Clone, a BBC3 comedy

Doctor Who series 9: “scary” Mark Gatiss episode confirmed

“We’re not bringing him back exactly the same as we left him, at all. I think that was already evident at Christmas,” he explained. “He’s left some of the burden of being the superhero of the universe behind.”

READ MORE>

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10 years of new Doctor Who: what 2005 reviews made of Rose

“It was either a legend majestically born or an annoying Ritalin romp pitched at Doctor Who’s youngest ever audience; an inspired return to form, or anathema to Who fans of old with nothing in common with the previous incarnation.”

READ MORE>

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30 YEARS LATE: A BUS FOR JOHN NATHAN-TURNER!

“Authorities in Brighton are asking the public to choose local figures worthy of recognition by having their name on one of a new fleet of 24 Coaster buses. Brighton and Hove Buses have selected 15 names from over 100 nominations but for the remaining nine slots a public voting process will determine the names to be chosen.”

READ MORE>

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Must-read fan fiction from ‘Doctor Who,’ ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Farscape’

 

“What do you think? Fan fiction, science-fiction and television? Do they share a special bond? In this month’s HEA post, I’m going with a big yes and a huge side of outer space, the final frontier …”

READ MORE>

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RADIO TIMES: TOP TEN EPISODES IN TEN YEARS

“The poll by RadioTimes.com, which received 280,859 votes, asked fans for their favourite episode of Doctor Who since it was relaunched by Russell T Davies on 26 March 2005, 16 years since the last full series. Blink topped the poll beating 2010’s Vincent and The Doctor to second place and The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End (2008) in third position.”

READ MORE>

 

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‘Doctor Who’s Day Roundup: Doctor When?

“Before we get started looking at the past week in Doctor Who, let’s go on a journey to the distant past. No, not prehistoric times, I’m talking about a time before there was an actual Doctor Who to watch. What did people do to entertain themselves without tales of Time Lords and TARDISes? And, actually, what would Doctor Who have been like if it was made in the earliest eras of filmed entertainment?”

READ MORE>

 

 

Sci-Fi Book Club 2 – Frankenstein Chapter Two

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This week we are continuing our read-through of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (originally 1818, 1831) as Written by Mary Shelley. I missed posting this last Saturday due to being tired after rocking Planet Comicon for three amazing days! If you want to follow along, I am using the 1831 edition of the text. The book is in the public domain as far as I know, so if you don’t have a tangible copy handy, there are many sites that host the work for free. Feel free to add to comments, ask questions, or suggest future books for this series!

During the last edition of “Sci-Fi Book Club” a great topic was brought up in the discussion section. A reader named benmc47 posted:

“One thing I am curious about – is lightning really involved in bringing the Creature to life? I thought I recalled that the novel didn’t give a description of the actual method that Frankenstein used, and that the lightning was a film invention. It’s been years though, so maybe I’m imagining that?”

 

I had hastily mentioned “lightning” being the catalyst for the monster’s creation at one point in my ramblings, and realized that my mind had definitely made a few leaps of logic that I didn’t explain. The truth is that within the book itself, we are left to use our imagination as to the actual method of the monster’s creation. There are no scenes of a frantic Victor Frankenstein hoisting his patchwork corpse onto the roof adorned with lightning rods – that is purely movie license. But lightning, more specifically – electricity, is not completely absent from the work. Today we will look at Victor’s scientific upbringing, and how that probably leads him down the path of creating the monster in a way that isn’t too far from the method depicted in the films. It could even be said that the film depiction was simply a “modernized” version of what was in the book.

Most of the somewhat brief chapter two concentrates on Victor’s young life and how two thunderstorms made him the very man that he would later become. At a very young age, Victor was not what most would call a “normal boy” rather than playing and doing other childish things, he became obsessed with metaphysics and obtuse ideas like the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. He looked on at what Elizabeth and Henry were up to and somehow saw himself as superior. He states that his family did not really echo his yearning to answer all of life’s questions, so he went on a quest for all of the knowledge that he could attain.

 

“My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law in my temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.”

 

While forced to stay inside during a horrible storm at age 13, Victor began reading old science textbooks in his house, to pass the time. As a result Victor became obsessed with the works of three men: Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus. Victor read these medieval scripts more-or-less secretly since he discovered that they were very much out-of-vogue in modern times (his father ridiculed his interest somewhat). All three authors were, in fact, noteworthy alchemists that were looking for a way to create eternal life. It was a wide held legend that Magnus was even able to create a fabled “philosopher’s stone” something supposedly able to transmute base metals into gold.

 

 

“When I returned home my first care was to procure the whole works of this author, and afterwards of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus. I read and studied the wild fancies of these writers with delight; they appeared to me treasures known to few besides myself. I have described myself as always having been imbued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature. In spite of the intense labour and wonderful discoveries of modern philosophers, I always came from my studies discontented and unsatisfied. Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth. Those of his successors in each branch of natural philosophy with whom I was acquainted appeared even to my boy’s apprehensions as tyros engaged in the same pursuit.”

 

At age 15, Victor witnessed something that basically changed his life forever – the destructive nature of electricity in the form of a second lightning storm:

 

“As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed.”

 

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During this thunderstorm, he learns of a new scientific theory, Galvanism. The book quickly glosses over this, assuming the reader knows every intricacy of this topic, but this inclusion is VERY important because this is most likely the sort of experiment performed later in the story. To summarize, Galvanism is named after the scientist Luigi Galvani, who investigated the effect of electricity on dissected animals in the 1780s and 1790s. His nephew Giovanni Aldini took this even further, believing that one could re-animate the dead using electricity made with chemical reactions – something called “electro-stimulation”. His most famous public demonstration of the electro-stimulation technique was when he made a recently hanged criminal twitch and writhe around, a feat so alarming that one man reportedly died of fright.

This is basically Frankenstein’s origin story – after an upbringing of reading alchemical texts and occultist medical books, Victor is obsessed with learning the meaning of life and how to go past the limits of what it means to be human and enter nature. The theme of “lightning” as the embodiment of nature comes up many times in this book. It can be said that controlling nature is a pursuit of science. How often do hear about scientist trying to create weather, or alter it, to benefit humanity? perhaps as a weapon? One could surmise that control over nature would lead to omnipotence, perhaps Godhood. This was even a hot topic at the time of Shelley, as we were ever so close to being able to harness electricity.

Frankenstein is forced to pursue what sees as more mundane pursuits such as mathematics and natural sciences, but he never gives up on what he learned the night nature utterly destroyed a tree right in front of him. Perhaps if nature can remove life, it can bring it back? So the question still stands – “Did Frankenstein use electricity in his experiment?” – I believe so. The book goes to such great lengths showing all of the lightning symbolism at every turn, I think it would be foolish to assume that he did anything other than a mixture of alchemy and galvanism. Perhaps we’ll revisit chapter two when we make it to the actual creation of the creature, just to see if my theory still holds up.

Join me again next week for the third Chapter Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

The Tripods: (1984) France, September 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 10

I believe that John F. Kennedy said it best when he once wrote: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” I chose this quote in particular because it best illustrates the central dilemma of this episode of BBC’s Tripods.

In case you’re following along at home, the previous episode of Tripods showed our intrepid trio “laying low” for a while in a French vineyard. They were seeking shelter so that Will could recover from a Tripod abduction and the resulting amateur surgery required to remove a tracking device crudely clamped onto his torso. Much like the time spent at the Chateau earlier in the year, the gang is finding it hard to leave the relative comfort of the vineyard, even though Tripods seem to be everywhere. We see the gratuitous long tacking shot of Tripods walking around in the distance, and considering the way the boys evaded them in the last episode, they are probably close by because they are looking for them.

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One thing became clear in this episode, and it is that teenagers are really stupid when they get hormones pumping through their systems like a rush of Nitrous through the engine of a sports car. It’s hard to not want to punch both Henry and Beanpole at the beginning of this episode. They are having fun and chatting up cute girls and constantly telling Will to “lighten up!”. This is a complete 180 degree reversal from the chateau where Will was “livin’ it up” and the boys wanted a one way ticket out of Dodge. Winter is soon to be there, and Will understands that they need to make it to the mountains ASAP.

Luckily we don’t see too much bickering between the boys, but the animosity is there. Will is jealous about what happened last episode regarding the “love of his life” Eloise. He took part in a village Olympics sort of festival, and lost to a cheating ball of jealousy that chose his love interest as the town tribute to the Tripods. She now gets to live in the Tripod city far away from Will, because if the Duke couldn’t have her nobody could. Will now sees everyone else having googlie-eyes at girls and feels like crap about it.

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The mother of the house, Madame Vichot, pulls the boys aside to show them a collection of art and other wonders from the past that they may have never seen. This sort of stuff is mostly lost to time and frowned upon by the Tripods and those that support them. We find out that she is showing them this a trade of sorts, she is suspicious why a french boy (Jean Paul aka Bean Pole) is traveling with two boys that are obviously from somewhere in England. They let it spill that they are on their way to the White Mountains, a place we discover is somewhere in the French or Swiss Alps. If this wasn’t red flag number one that they are too comfortable, our buddy the Blackguard-in-law Danielle starts nosing around to figure out who these “travelers” are, and it’s just a matter of time before his superiors want answers as well.

The reason that Madame Vichot is so worldly and interesting is that she is some sort of “Vagrant”, whose capping was not fully completed or failed. If you recall a “capping” is the process by which the Tripods place a mind-control device on every person of a certain age, and vagrants are those that cannot be capped or are rendered insane by the process. While she isn’t crazy, the Vineyard mistress is very distraught by the fact that she has ambition, hopes, and can still dream – all things that other capped adults simply cannot do.

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She talks to Will about his guilt about what happened to Eloise, and the fact that he seems to be redirecting all of his angst towards Henry an Beanpole. This seems to level Will’s head a bit, and by the end of the episode he seems mostly angst-free for the most part.

The boys get a new set of traveling clothes, maps, and travel documents to aid them on their journey, and eventually set off. Unfortunately, it seems that Danielle was basically trying to trap them with the documents, as he is seen stalking the boys at the end of the episode.

If you’ve missed any reviews in this series, please feel free to click the “Tripods” banner on the main page – It’s all there! Tune in next week for my review of episode 11!

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Doctor Who: The Eye of the Scorpion (2001)

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Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor); Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown); Caroline Morris (Erimem); Harry Myers (Yanis); Jack Galagher (Fayum); Jonathan Owen (Antranak); Daniel Brennan (Kishik); Stephen Perring (Horemshep); Mark Wright (Slave); Alistair Lock (Priest); Gary Russell (Ebren)

For some reason or another, this particular audio drama happens to be the one audio drama that I have listened to the most. A lot of it has to do with the time period in which I first started to listen to these, a time when I had long walks to work and back every day, and the fact that I would sometimes miss important things due to walking in traffic – thus repeated plays. Then again, I think I can chalk a lot of it up to my fascination, at an early age even, with the ancient Egyptian civilization, mythology, and everything related to it. For a long time, the movie Stargate was actually a film that I considered to be my favorite movie for much the same reason!

This adventure stars Peter Davison as The Doctor and Nicola Bryant as his voluptuous companion Peri. Neither Davison’s Doctor or Peri are my favorites if I were to lay out a big list of preferences, but I’ll hand it to Big Finish – they take things I dislike about Doctor Who and trick me into liking them! Bryant has definitely matures as an actress, and everything that annoyed me about her portrayal of the character (the terrible accent!) is gone now. She also has gone from being the eye candy of the show, merely there to twist her ankle and scream, to someone that is an actual asset to The Doctor’s travels. Big Finish has also redeemed Paul McGann‘s Doctor, Mel, and even Adric for me somewhat, it’s like they know what fans don’t enjoy about the show or something!

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This story is perhaps Davison’s strongest yet, and considering how critical I’ve been with a few of his adventures so far, that’s strong praise. The Tardis materializes right in time for the Doctor and Peri to witness an attempted drive by assassination of a young girl on a chariot. The Doctor channels his inner-Ben Hur and saves the day without realizing that he has possibly changed the course of history completely. You see, the girl he has saved is the only daughter of the great Pharaoh Amenhotep II, Princess Erimemushinteperem (or Erimem for short), her father has died and she is possibly next in line to be pharaoh. The problem is that The Doctor has no recollection of any pharaoh named Erimem, meaning that something is wrong.

Erimem is happy to give much thanks to her saviors, and the strangers’ arrival in Thebes is the talk of court. This causes problems for a lot of her direct aide’s such as a man named Antranak, who serves as her head of security, as there have been a lot of attempts on Erimem’s life as of late, and her consorting with strange people is not good. What follows from here on is an adventure involving a disputed throne, a warlord trying to become pharaoh and an alien hand in the whole mess.

I really enjoyed Both Erimem and Antranak (who reminds me of Egyptian Brigadier) and love the idea of an unknown historical figure as a companion. We have seen so many times, the travels of a contemporary person in the Tardis, but imagine someone from ancient history doing it. Not only would that person be amazed by the future, aliens, and space, but pretty much anything else they are shown. I think this is why I was initially excited when Clara on the TV show was revealed to be a Victorian character initially, only to have my hopes and dreams dashed just like that!

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Without spoiling too much, Erimem realizes that she has no place in history and chooses to travel with The Tardis crew, I for one, cannot wait to listen to their travels. I have so far loved these “original companions” like Charley, Evelyn, and now Erimem – great characters that keep me coming back time after time. Perhaps the only downside to this drama is that it keeps with a lot of tropes seen in Hollywood films about ancient Egypt, but we really have no idea how the civilization really lived, so it’s fair game. At least it didn’t succumb to the fad of ancient alien theories, that I have no doubt would be in an Egyptian episode made today!

Doctor Who: Kill The Moon (2014)

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Oh, well you’re just going to have to shoot us, then. Shoot the little girl first. Yes, she doesn’t wanna stand there watch us getting shot, does she? She’d be terrified. Girl first, then her teacher, and then me. You’ll have to spend a lot of time shooting me because I will keep on regenerating. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if I won’t keep on regenerating forever.”

My apologies for being so behind on these reviews! My plan was to watch and review each of these on Sunday, but boy did that get away from me. Nonetheless, let’s get down to business. Season eight of Doctor Who continues to be pretty awesome, and while there have been a few merely average episodes this season, I’d say it has been the most consistent season since Matt Smith’s season five. So far, my favorite story has been Listen, which was a total surprise to me because I didn’t expect to enjoy it much. So, why am I mentioning this during my review of Kill The Moon? It’s because I didn’t think I’d enjoy Kill The Moon prior to the moment I started actually watching it. I thought something like: “Not only does it have a silly title, but what could the premise possibly be?” and “that child actor is in this…uh oh!” I should do this prior to everything I watch, because BOY was a mistaken.

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Our episode begins with Clara speaking on behalf of Courtney Woods, the girl from the previous episode – The Caretaker, attempting to rejoin The Doctor within the Tardis, or to at least clean up the horrible mess she made when she was last there. The Doctor decides to take them up on the offer and go on a “field trip of sorts”. This trip lands them on a one-way suicide mission to The Moon via a re-purposed space shuttle filled to the brim with nuclear warheads. It seems that in 2049 tides got out of hand killing much of the Earth’s population. Not sure what was really going on, the earth somehow decided that it was a great idea to nuke the moon for a chance at survival. It is discovered that the moon is actually a huge egg that is about to hatch, and the moral implications of killing a huge “space baby” for no reason other than fear upsets Clara quite a bit. The Doctor is willing to let this transpire, but he wants no involvement in the decision – leaving it up to Clara, Courtney and The captain of the mission to figure out the fate of the moon – and possibly humanity.

The “monster of the week” for this episode is actually pretty horrifying and should play on anyone with any sort of arachnophobia. There are some truly unsettling things on the moon like the deaths of multiple supporting characters and web-covered corpses strewn about for quick jumps. I’d imagine that this is an episode that would freak little kids out pretty bad, because I recall being horrified by the titular hand in The Hand of Fear, and that was a cheap special effect in comparison to these guys. Not only are the “Spider-germs” pretty menacing in appearance, but their brutality is so inhumane that it’s unsettling. It was sort of silly that they were fought off using Windex and flashlights (it’s revealed that they are evolved bacteria essentially), but I guess other films have done stuff like that to critical success, so I’ll try not to be too cynical.

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Thankfully my fears about Ellis George reprising her role as Courtney Woods were not realized. I’m not going to say that she blew me away with her acting ability, or that she was the highlight of the episode, but she at least kept from annoying me. Sometimes it’s the small things that count! Child actors usually get placed in shows like this as the “moody genius kid” or “sassy street-wise kid” and become almost insufferable ten minutes into their first appearance. Courtney is no Wesley Crusher or Adric thankfully, as she doesn’t simply exist to be sassy and spout one-liners or try to make other characters look dumb.

We once again are faced with the question as to whether The Doctor is a good man or not, and this seems like the ultimate iteration of this ongoing theme. Channeling his inner Seventh Doctor, The Doctor seemingly ends up abandoning everyone in order to force them to choose whether or not to blow up the moon. This is sort of similar to that time Sylvester McCoy‘ Doc treated Ace like garbage to get her to loose faith in him in order to defeat the monster in The Curse of Fenric. Peter Capaldi is once again very awesome, and usually straddles the line between being hilarious and terrifying at the drop of a hat.

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Clara once again yells at the Doctor in this story, and while I like the character development I hope this begins to be the end of this theme. The Doctor is a jerk, yes, but we have seen him warming in the last few episodes to a degree that I just want them to be friends now.

I did get sort of irritated when I ventured online to gauge what the general fan consensus to this episode was like. Most seemed to enjoy it, but a loud minority seemed determined to hate it because of the scientific implausibility of the the whole thing. Sure, it’s weird that the moon was revealed to be a giant space egg, but it’s not like Doctor Who is particularly “hard” on the scale of what sort of science fiction it is, it’s always been more of a space opera. But there I was, knee-deep in annoying comments saying “the classic series was ONLY grounded in science!!”. This is laughable, because I can immediately think of TONS of older episodes with laughable science. Hell, my favorite Hartnell episode, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, centers on the premise that the Daleks have somehow made it to Earth because Earth is the only planet with a magnetic core. What followed was a plan that involved hollowing the earth out and flying it around like a spaceship. So any notion that, prior to 2005, Doctor Who was in a similar vein to something like Gravity is, quite frankly, laughable.

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This episode is pretty notable for how amazing it looks, considering I’ve seen big budget films that do a worse job of conveying the lunar surface than this. The episode was under the helm of two newcomers to the show, as it was written by Peter Harness and directed by Paul Wilmshurst. They are both formerly BAFTA nominated industry veterans, so it seems like a great choice to bring them both on board. Many lunar shots were filmed around a volcanic area in Lanzarote, Spain, which seems like a great stand-in for the actual lunar surface. It’s at least a far cry from the “rock quarry” planets we get used to in many science fiction TV shows.

The story is also pretty intelligently written, seeing that it seems to be a commentary on our penchant to kill anything we don’t like, issues with funding for space travel, and to a lesser degree – abortion. These are all pretty mature themes for a show like this, and I felt that it was handled in such a way that adults can see these sorts of things, and kids will just enjoy the monsters. In the episode, The Doctor reveals that because of the brief re-interest in what happened with the Moon, humanity would be rekindled to travel to the stars, helping them to spread across the universe, and then assures Lundvik that she will now have a real space program to lead. With constant set-backs to manned space travel as of late, I can see Lundvik’s space travels in a very similar vein to how it is now – we don’t travel out of wonder or discovery, but because of the opposite. It’s a pretty epic ending to a Doctor Who episode, and makes me wish a similar thing would happen in real life – minus the apocalyptic tsunamis of course.

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As you can see, I really enjoyed Kill the Moon. I think it’s another one of those episodes, like Listen, that seemed like it was going to be a totally different thing than what it ended up being, and it’s this playfulness with the format of the show that has made me love season 8. In fact, the few times I thought an episode was sort of lame, was when they followed older conventions to a fault. I loved all of the throwbacks to Tom Baker, especially small partial quotes that he was notable for like “Earth isn’t my home” and his use of a Yo-yo as a scientific experiment. The next episode looks amazing,so I’lll end my review here, and hopefully I’ll get caught up before this run of episodes stops!

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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: 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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Here’s Your Saturday Links for 8/16

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Fleet Street goes sci-fi: Daily Express’s starring role in The Day The Earth Caught Fire

“An apocalyptic science fiction film showing the world overheating and society thrown into turmoil is about to be released. But this is no modern commentary on global warming and war – the film was originally shown in 1961. The Day The Earth Caught Fire, a pioneering production and scathing indictment on Cold War posturing, has been rescued from the archives and digitally restored for public release….”

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Best sci-fi books round-up: Where imaginations run wild

According to The Independent “Science fiction and fantasy is a broad church, and many who preach its tenets might not be wholly aware that they are doing so.”

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‘Tractor Beams’ Are No Longer Science Fiction

“Tractor beams – invisible tethers which pull space ships into cargo bays through no definable mechanism or physical law – are the latter. Or they were. Researchers at the Australian National University say they have developed what amounts to a tractor beam which is capable of pulling objects using 3D wave currents. “

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Peter Capaldi Discusses Matt Smith’s Final Day on Set

Peter Capaldi describes his first visit to the TARDIS set and what it was like to take over the role from Matt Smith.

Watch Video>

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Red Dwarf XI Confirmed at Convention

“A big update came during the Sci-Fi Scarborough convention on Saturday a Red Dwarf panel comprised of Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn confirmed the news. John-Jules said that shooting is scheduled to get under-way in October 2014 with a view to being aired on Dave in Autumn 2015.”

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The Monday Meme: Bad Fan Fiction

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Gotta Catch ’em all!

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

AKA Season 1, episode 8

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“What I can’t have, nobody else shall have!”

 

This is the ONE sentence that sums up this particular story-arc‘s mini-villain pretty well. This was, of course, Duc Du Sarlat‘s answer to Will’s simple question of “why Eloise?” pertaining to the previous episode’s climax. For those not following along at home, this general “D-bag” referred to as The Duc Du Sarlat basically cheated in order to win a prestigious athletics tournament, and was given the chance to name his own “Queen of the Tournament”. He, of course, chose the love interest of his rival, his former fiance until Will showed up. This was purely in spite, and generally because he wasn’t getting his way.

You may be thinking “I’ve seen this trope a million times before, if she’s got to marry that slime ball, Will should just…” Wait right there…Eloise wasn’t betrothed to Sarlat, no that would be easy, she won a one-way trip to the Tripod home city never to be seen again. This sort of villainy is great, because a lot of genre fiction villains fall into the problem of being “too cool to be bad”and end up being either anti-heroes or reformed villains turned heroes in the end. Unless my assumptions are completely off here, Sarlat is destined for none of that. He seems to be taking a page out the the playbook of other notable fictitious bastards (non-literal) and doing everything in his power to be vile and unlikable.

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Duc Du Sarlat is your classic literary”resenter” villain, he’s that guy that stands behind the hero and feels bad because the hero of the tale is getting good things, and he’s losing a bit of his prestige. In previous blogs, I’ve generally compared him to a Game of Thrones character named Joffrey, but If I mill over the whole thing, he’s more like Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy. Not only is he a colossal jerk, but he’s also pretty pathetic and isn’t even cool enough to be a real villain. If he were to get killed, that would almost be too good for him.

Will gets tired of his new social pressures sans-Eloise and slips out under cover of nightfall during a fancy banquet. This is really no shock since he was planning an escape anyway, but the way he leaves is sort of depressing. While riding a horse around the French countryside, in an inky cover of darkness, he stumbles onto a lurking Tripod and is taken prisoner by it’s huge metallic tendrils.

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The next morning, Will wakes up as if nothing had happened. He wasn’t capped, and it definitely wasn’t a dream, so he is puzzled why he is so lucky. After meeting back up with Henry and Beanpole it all becomes clear – the Tripods have planted a tracking beacon into his skin like a wildlife conservationist would do to a fish. Not only are they following the boys, the tripods seem to be using them to gather Intel on other like-minded people.

One quibble I had with this episode was that more than a few of the exterior scenes were nearly pitch black. I sometimes get privately annoyed when movies and TV shows film “night-time scenes” in broad daylight then lay a cheesy “oh look how dark it is!” filter over the whole thing. It usually looks like the movie is being filmed with sunglasses over the camera. Here we see why they do that, as many scenes during Will’s escape are almost entirely pitch black. If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s riding a white horse, I’d think that my TV suddenly stopped working. These scenes do work in that once will almost rides his horse into a Tripod, it’s lights cast an creepy green tinge to everything that gives an other-worldly feel.

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One of the recurring themes of this show is the loss of civilization due to The Tripods, and our heroes coming to terms with a past that is so distant to them that they are completely ignorant to it. We saw a bit of this is a previous episode involving the boys walking through a Parisian shopping mall and nearly getting themselves killed with various weapons like guns and grenades.

This time we see them come face to face with a marauding Tripod trying to corner them in a small shack that the boys are using as a safe house. Henry has a great idea: starting a fire will cause smoke to surround them, and they should be able to escape through said smoke. Next thing you know, the boys have started a huge fire and are chucking all the wood they can find onto it. The camera pans over the back wall to reveal a HUGE stockpile of various petroleum-based fuels such as gasoline and kerosene! This is where they innocently discover an easy way to get a Tripod off their backs – an explosion!

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With that out of the way, this episode is the first that really starts to look into the nature of the Tripods themselves. The boys ponder if it’s a huge creature or if it’s merely a vessel by which something drives around the countryside. It’s still a while before we get the answer, but at least Will and the gang are starting to discover what they can do to defend themselves against this monstrous walkers, even if it takes the might of a while storeroom of gasoline to do the trick.

All in all, this was a solid episode, and a great injection of much needed action piped into the show after the characters were running around a stuffy chateau for the better part of four episodes. Now Will has nothing to distract him from the goal of reaching the White Mountains as fast as they can, and barring more Tripods, nothing can stop them.

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The Monday Meme: Doctors

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Aside from going to the DMV, the most demoralizing thing one ever has to deal with is a routine doctor visit. I remember having to sit in a cold hospital room after my car accident last fall, only to have the doctor attempt to do nothing more than prescribe me ibuprofen.

 

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The Monday Meme: Ikea

john-robinson-bernard-quatermass-bbc-quatermass-ii-episode-2Image from Quatermass II (BBC TV)

I wanted to do something different this week for “The Monday Meme”. Usually I scour the interwebs for random Doctor Who images or anything that makes me chuckle. I feel like I’ve burnt myself out on the ones I’ve seen, because a lot of ones I find have been going around for months, if not years. Starting today, I want to do some for some more obscure shows – especially Quatermass! Let me know what you think in the comments, maybe, I can keep these AAVOBSF originals going and going!

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BBC America preps “Real History of Science Fiction” » Realscreen

“Airing at 10 p.m. EST, the series features filmmakers, writers, actors and graphic artists known for their sci-fi work “looking back on their experiences and on how their obsession and imagination has taken them into the unknown,” according to the network.

LINK:BBC America preps “Real History of Science Fiction” » Realscreen.

 

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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The Monday Meme: Chocoholic

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I wanted to do something different this week for “The Monday Meme”. Usually I scour the interwebs for random Doctor Who images or anything that makes me chuckle. I feel like I’ve burnt myself out on the ones I’ve seen, because a lot of ones I find have been going around for months, if not years. Starting today, I want to do some for some more obscure shows – especially Quatermass! Let me know what you think in the comments, maybe, I can keep these AAVOBSF originals going and going!

– Picture is from 1957’s Quatermass 2 from Hammer Films

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