BBC News – Skin-Tight Spacesuits to Help Astronauts’ Spines in Space – Perhaps Another thing Star Trek Got Right

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I’ve seen many criticize skin tight uniforms in many science fiction shows as being pure titillation and not much else, but it seems there may be some sound science to back it up. It seems that once again Star Trek has predicted the future!

LINK: BBC News – Skin-tight spacesuits to help astronauts’ spines in space.

“Space scientists at King’s College London have fashioned a skin-tight spacesuit that they hope will help prevent astronauts’ spines from expanding while on missions away from Earth. As astronauts float in space, without the force of gravity pushing down on their bodies, their spines begin to lengthen. Some astronauts have been known to grow as much as 7cm (2.76 inches) during spaceflights.”

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Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror (2013)

I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I LOVE the Paternoster Gang. You may be wondering why I feel the need to qualify that statement; well, it seems that being a fan of them can be a misstep in the serious high-octane world that is Doctor Who fandom. Every once in a while I mistakenly try to venture into Doctor Who-related message boards, but am utterly underwhelmed by the negativity and cynicism within. I won’t name any forums that I used to frequent, but you can probably figure out which fun vacuum I am speaking of. One of my biggest pet peeves on these sites, are the folks that seem to think (and want to change everyone else’s opinions to agree with the notion) that Steven Moffat has ruined both the Sontarans and the Silurians by having Strax and Lady Vastra be good guys and have a sense of humor; for me, he has helped make the two somewhat stale races more enjoyable.

The humor from Strax alone (big props to Dan Starkey) can easily make an episode for me, but that’s no surprise because I’m a sucker for stories involving a guy from an extreme military background being forced to deal with normal human life. Characters such as Worf from Star Trek the Next Generation easily fit this bill as does Sousuke from Full Metal Panic, but my favorite of all is easily Strax.  Case and point, would be his ordeals with the Doctor’s memory worm in The Snowmen, a scene that nearly made me visit the bathroom upon watching. Because of this love of all things Paternoster, I was really excited for this episode, and I wasn’t let down.

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Mark Gatiss was quite at home here with his exaggerated pastiche of Victorian London. I have longed to see him write a script that came close to the warped world that was The League of Gentlemen, but got left with a few “hit or miss” episodes instead. The Crimson Horror may not be the same sort of black comedy as League, but it’s every bit as off-kilter and has as many laughs as scares. At this point and time, I think Gatiss has produced the two strongest scripts this season, with Cold War being his other one. This vast improvement shows that he could be a clear contender to take the mantle of Doctor Who show-runner should Steven Moffat decide to step down in the near future – an opinion I did not have during his episode last year.

The story of The Crimson Horror takes a very unorthodox approach by not actually showing The Doctor and Clara until a long time into the episode. In fact, Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are the focal point this time around. This isn’t the same idea as when we used to have “Doctor-lite” episodes such as Love and Monsters, but a cool way to tell a story from the middle rather than the beginning. The Parternoster Gang has received an inquiry to investigate a strange illness called the “Crimson Horror”, a terrible ailment that leaves its victims rigid and with bright red skin. The trail leads them to an apocalyptic community in Yorkshire called Sweetville. This town is led by a woman named Mrs. Gillyflower and her “silent” and unseen partner Mr. Sweet. Mrs. Gillyflower preaches that the end times are near and that our moral decay is destroying the world, a fact made more evident by appearance of her daughter Ada, a younger woman disfigured by a beating from her late father.

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I mentioned that viewers are left in the dark as to the whereabouts of The Doctor and Clara for quite a while. This is because The Doctor is locked in a dungeon for the beginning of the episode; we hear him mumble and groan unseen while Ada calls him “her monster”. It is not revealed until Jenny discovers him rigid and with sanguine skin that he’s this “monster”. The main reason the Paternoster Gang is trying to figure out the “Crimson Horror” is because of an old urban legend that supposedly reveals a way to see the last thing a dead person sees. We learn that when someone dies, the final image they see is imprinted on their eye, and in the case of one of the victims, the last thing he saw was The Doctor! In hilarious antiquated sepia-toned flashbacks we find out the real story –

The Doctor isn’t the killer, but a victim himself. Clara and The Doctor found out about the problems in Sweetville long before the Paternoster Gang, and infiltrated the same way Jenny has, posing as interested parties. It seems that Mrs. Gillyflower has a preservation process that she is using to “save” folks from the upcoming apocalypse. It seems that she is using the venom from an ancient parasite – this, my friends, is Mr. Sweet, an ugly worm creature. The Doctor isn’t human, so he did not react well to the “treatment” and suffered the same fate as other “rejects”. In fact, had he not been saves by Ada he would have been dumped in the river like other discarded victims.

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This episode is both VERY dark, almost grotesque at times, and hilarious. There are tons of little one-liners and quips that make the dialog for me. One of the funniest is when The Doctor brings up his issues with Tegan, a past companion: “Ooh, I once spent helluva long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport!” Like I said above, my favorite scenes were with Strax. One of the best is his interaction with His new flesh and blood GPS sidekick Thomas Thomas (get it! LOL). The way “Tom Tom” saves Strax’s poor horse from execution because of its inability to navigate the streets of Yorkshire was hilarious. We also see Strax getting to FINALLY shoot his gun, an act that he obviously gets a bit too excited for leading to a scolding by Madame Vastra: “Strax, you’re over excited.  Have you been eating those jelly sherbet fancies again?” I’m not in it for only the jokes, but if there are jokes in Doctor Who, stuff like this is great.

Ada and Mrs. Gillyflower are played by real life mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg (of Avengers fame) and Rachael Stirling. Rigg is awesome in her role, and one can see that she simply had fun “chewing the scenery”. Their relationship in the episode is pretty dark and goes against the grain of the ongoing trope of “love saves the day” that we have seen constantly through the last few seasons. Once Ada realizes that her mother lied about her blindness and basically lets it slip that she used her as a test subject for the antidote for the preservation process, Ada is a bit less than happy. Let’s just say that Mrs. Gillyflower and Mr. Sweet are a bit worse for wear at the end.

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So there we have it, one of my favorite episodes this year, and my favorite Gatiss script altogether! He seems to have the Paternoster Gang down, and hope that he uses them more often. The episode has a few small plot holes, and a bad guy plot just as silly as The Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but that doesn’t matter – it was pure fun! Next week we have Clara and the Kids she babysits facing the Cybermen, in a script by Neil Gaiman! Saturday can’t come soon enough!

Want a way to watch this episode, but don’t have cable? Maybe Amazon is a good choice, that’s how I watch them at least!

The Crimson Horror

The Crimson Horror [HD]

Asylum of the Daleks

If there is one thing that the Daleks have been for the past 50 years, it’s inconsistent. Sometimes Daleks are intelligent, other times they are simply idiotic. Sometimes they are evil, other times they are comical. And the most important: sometimes they are scary, other times they are lame.

Despite my fondness for them firmly placing them above any other Doctor Who villain, it really depends on who the writer is on how these guys are used. Episodes like 2005’s Dalek are instant classics in the minds of many fans, while others such as Daleks In Manhattan come off as camp as a sequined cape. I was surprised to realize that this was showrunner Steven Moffat’s first real foray into these armored squid guys, and for the most part he really nailed it. If anything, he has found that a way to make a monster scary again is to wound it, or drive it crazy. The headless Cyberman armor in The Pandorica Opens is a fine example of this, and in this episode we have an asylum full of the Dalek equivalents.

First thing first, I had no idea that Jenna Louise Coleman was going to be in this episode. For the first time in a VERY long time we had an actual surprise that wasn’t ruined by a big UK newspaper or a questionable write-up in a magazine. Her appearance is a two edged sword though, as I really enjoyed her character, but this is probably not the same character that later shows up later on. Without outright spoiling my reasons for those that have not seen the episode, let’s just say that if it is her – Moffat will have to unleash the “timey wimey” on the show to achieve this.

This episode had it all for fans of older Dalek episodes. Returning, is a human slave class lead by the Daleks, minus the stupid speech pattern that the robomen had, or those dumb helmets from the Davison era. We had a glimmer of the many factions within the Dalek Empire including a new “parliament of the Daleks”. While this was a bit Star Wars-esque (galactic senate anyone?) it achieved a reasonable way to have thousands of Daleks in a room at once. Those thousands of Daleks were very impressive, but failed on one regard. The promise of “Every Dalek Ever Made” wasn’t an outright lie, but one had to play “Where’s Waldo” to see most of them. There was a special weapons model, and a 1960’s model in there from what I could see, but they weren’t features quite as prominently as I had hoped. I bet somebody with far too much free time has spotted them all, but I’m too lazy for that.

All in all, I really liked this episode; it had everything I like about Moffat scripts: mystery, surprises, horror, and a dash of humor. This season, despite how short it this half is, seems to be more up my alley than the previous Christmas episode, and holds the “blockbuster” status teased in the lead-up.

The Day of the Triffids (2009) – Part One

Having enjoyed the 1981 BBC miniseries for The Day of the Triffids (review of that here),I jumped at the prospect of watching a newer take on the story. At some point I really need to get the books and dig into the original stories; but with my limited time as of late I have to settle for movies. The 1981 TV miniseries was fairly iconic, in that parts of it were used an inspiration for the film 28 days Later, especially the opening hospital scene. The one thing that really drew me to this show was the inclusion of a handful of actors that I really like – Eddie Izzard, Dougray Scott, and Brian Cox. These guys are usually in larger productions, and it was cool to see them here. Izzard and Scott are especially awesome actors in this film, basically carrying the production. With a bigger budget, a great cast, and modern special effects, one would hope that a new take on the story would be truly exciting and a feast for the eyes; luckily it is for about half the time.

Despite a few changes for the sake of modernity, and adding a more “cinematic” feel, a lot of the story in part one stays largely the same. Bill Masen (Dougray Scott) is a scientist that studies Triffids on a Triffid farm – an area where an odd species of plant is harvested to make a type of fuel that has made fossil fuels obsolete. This comes at a cost, however, as Triffids are very dangerous to work with. Bill knows this all too well, as we see the death of his mother at the leafy hands of these creatures in the opening moments of the film. Bill is stung early on by one of these guys, and spends a while in the hospital with his eyes taped up. Luckily for him (as his eyes are covered), a crazy solar storm happens that knocks out power and makes much of the populace blind (those who were watching the storm), and helps cause a post-apocalyptic Triffid-running-amok scenario. He is joined by a BBC television reporter named Jo (Joely Richarson), a con-man (Eddie Izzard), and a few others as they try to survive the ordeal.

In the original, the bright lights that blinded everyone were the result of a meteor shower, so changing it wasn’t too much of a change at all and somehow seems more realistic. This inclusion also helps tap into the zany 2012 theorist wet-dream that we are going to be hit with a large EMP/solar wave that will destroy the Earth this year.

While I feel that our films and other media are largely getting over-saturated with zombie apocalypse stuff, Day of the Triffids puts a new spin on this trope. Instead of the horror of mindless masses of flesh eating monsters running around, we have a situation where most of the world has been rendered blind resulting in a writhing mass of humanity trying to stay alive when the more predatory folks out there try to take advantage of the situation. These people aren’t zombies, but are fueled by pure hysteria and helplessness. In many instances, when someone finds out that someone else can still see, they try to harm them or force them into a situation where they are now these people’s eyes. The hysteria causes many a massacre with policemen firing on civilians trying to get to safety, people getting trampled, and the weak (children and elderly) getting lost in the shuffle.

With everyone on Earth subdued, suddenly we are at the bottom of the totem pole with Triffids suddenly at the top. There are ten million of them out there on various farms, and they are hungry for human flesh. This is especially made more shocking when we find out that these monsters are most-likely intelligent and seem to communicate to each other.

My main concern going into this film was that the production staff would somehow mess up the design of the Triffids themselves. Granted, the 1981 series depicted them as slow bell-shaped pitcher plants made out of fiberglass. Since these guys could “walk” the 80’s take would scoot around on the ground ever so slowly. It seemed that as long as people could take them out within about three feet or so, and keep from being over-run, everything might be cool. This time around, the Triffids have long tentacle-like appendages that can go great distances and sting anyone capable of doing them harm. Rather than a three foot radius, these new stingers are truly terrifying and could come out of nowhere. In the first part we gradually see the Triffids, but in very small doses. They stay in the shadows for the majority of the film, making them a bit scarier despite the silly premise of the creature (sentient walking plants). When we do finally see them, they are pretty well done special effects-wise.

After all the praise for story and acting, there has got to be a few bad apples in the bushel. Some of the CGI effects in this movie are questionable at best. Towards the beginning of part one, we see a multitude of news reports rolling in, talking about an impending solar storm hitting the Earth. For some reason we see these news reporters standing in front of obvious green screen backdrops of swirly sun energy in the sky, the effect it so bad that I cringed a bit. In an era where one can see even the cheapest of TV shows implement some sort of competent computer effects, it makes this stand out even more. This isn’t to say that it all looks bad; some of the cinematography and effect shots are quite impressive for a TV miniseries –bordering on Hollywood caliber. Scenes like one in which an airplane crashes into a busy city-scape after the EMP hits are quite scary and very well-done. One can definitely see where the money went, I just wish there was more consistency.

In the first of two parts, we also see the ugliness of heavy-handed preachy dialog starting to roll in. Bill talks about global warming, fuel consumption, and other ills that we are currently dealing with at this time. I’m really worried that the production will suddenly turn into a PSA for the environment or something that wasn’t intended in the original story. This sort of thing makes sense in a film like The Lorax, which was based on a book about the ailing environment. Subtlety can be great with messages in movies, but when overdone you can end up with something like October Baby, which was more message than film.

Aside from a few wonky solar flares, I really enjoyed part one of Day of The Triffids, and am confused by all the bad press this movie got. Looking at Amazon.com’s listing for this DVD, one comes away with the impression that Ed Wood had directed it. Maybe I’m easy to please, or maybe the whole thing goes awry in part two; all I know is that this first episode is well worth a watch for fans of the original 1981 miniseries and sci-fi fans as a whole.

Cover for Star Trek/Doctor Who Assimilation 2 Issue 2

The June comic solicitations from IDW are out, and we have a VERY AWESOME cover to feast our eyes upon:

 

Star Trek TNG/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 #2 (of 8) [32 pages • $3.99]
Scott & David Tipton with Tony Lee (w)J.K. Woodward (a) • Woodward, Mark Buckingham (c)
The two greatest science-fiction properties of all time cross over for the first time in history, in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION/DOCTOR WHO: ASSIMILATION2! When the Federation’s most terrifying enemy strikes an unholy alliance with one of the Doctor’s most hated antagonists, the result is devastation on a cosmic scale! Geronimo? Make it so!

Doctor Who: Sword of Orion

Hot on the Heels of my last Big Finish audio review, we have yet another Paul McGann /India Fisher Eighth Doctor audio drama to take a look at. This time we have the return of one of my favorite villains of all time – the Cybermen. This play actually marks the very first time we see Cybermen appear in one of these plays, and this is a good thing. After having a ton of these already star the Daleks, it’s good to see other classic villains get sprinkled in.

Here is a synopsis:

“The human race is locked in deadly combat with the ‘Android Hordes’ in the Orion System. Light years from the front line, the Doctor and Charley arrive to sample the dubious delights of a galactic backwater, little suspecting that the consequences of the Orion War might reach them there. But High Command’s lust for victory knows no bounds.

Trapped aboard a mysterious derelict star destroyer, the Doctor and Charley find themselves facing summary execution. But this is only the beginning of their troubles. The real danger has yet to awaken.

Until, somewhere in the dark recesses of the Garazone System, the Cybermen receive the signal for reactivation…”

What really stands out to me in this episode is the sound design. This story could have had a horrendous story, and I still would have liked it based on the atmosphere alone. Not only is the music well done, but the care at which the background noises and sound effects were produced sets a benchmark, for me at least, that no other drama up to this one has come to. The first instance of this occurs at the very beginning of the play. The Doctor and Charley are visiting a “space bazaar” of sorts to hopefully find a way to cure an ailing vortisaur, the creature that they met in the last episode. In this scene we hear layer upon layer of creatures talking, music, and idle chatter, all leading the listener to imagine a robust market side, hustling and bustling with tons of business.

Another place where this stands out is when we finally see the Cybermen that we all know take part in the serial. For the first few encounters we only ever hear a creature that is attacking various people. The noises are both animalistic and insane, making this creature terrifying. Later we find out that this is in fact a rogue Cyberman that has gone totally mad waiting for its connection to a cyberleader to get re-established. After years of seeing sub-par Cybermen that either stomp around saying catchphrases, or are wussy enough that they can be destroyed with a flick of a gold coin, I feel that this is the sweet spot for the creature. Well this or the unsettling voice that the original Cybermen had, which is definitely nightmare fuel of the highest octane.

While some of the side characters in this drama aren’t really all that well fleshed out, they do serve a great purpose to antagonize the Doctor and Charley when they initially believe the pair to be murderers of a fellow crewmate. These characters, the crew of a scrap ship, are your typical Doctor Who rag-tag, and somewhat mutinous ship crew. There definitely could have been a bit more fleshing out of a few of these characters, but it wasn’t really needed. Much like any Alien of Predator movie, some characters are just destined to be bad guy-fodder.

I’m not going to say that this is the best Doctor Who drama that I’ve listened to, but it really does have a great atmosphere and storyline to it. If this is the beginning of a quality plateau that holds steady for the next few releases, I’ll be insanely happy for the rest of the line.

Here is a trailer:

Doctor Who: The Mutant Phase


After weeks, even months, of listening to the void of soundless boredom, I started taking my iPod to work this week in order to keep occupied for my long ten hour shifts. Since I do not want to listen to the same songs every day, I decided to load up on podcasts of varying topics, and a few Doctor Who audio dramas. As you may have noticed by a few earlier posts, I am attempting to listen to all of these Doctor Who Audio plays by Big Finish in order, and one would assume that I would review them as such.

I realized that I had gone far too long without keeping notes, writing things down, and generally getting ready to write any reviews. So guess what? I’m going to re-listen to a lot of these in order to keep these up rather than going off of memories of these plays that could date back to over one year ago. You never know, I may end up liking dramas I previously hated (there are actually two I never finished of the forty or so I have heard, I need to fix that). Luckily this drama did not make my “poop list” the first time I listened to it according to my iTunes star rating, and stayed just as enjoyable the second time around.

 

Synopsis

In the 22nd century, the Daleks have occupied planet Earth. By the 43rd century, only a handful of humans survive. Still further into the distant future, a Thal scientist must choose whether to betray his heritage, or see the universe destroyed.

When the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves trapped in this deadly chain of events, they must decide who their real enemies are. What is certain, however, is that no matter where the Doctor turns… his arch enemies, the Daleks, will be waiting for him.

What could possibly be worse than that? The Mutant Phase…
The Mutant Phase has an immediate bonus for me in that it is a re-visitation of my favorite Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth. For those unfamiliar with that title, said episode was an important episode for many reasons: it was Susan’s last appearance as a regular companion, it was the first serial shot on location, it was the second Dalek appearance, and it was so popular that it was one of two stories to be remade into a feature film starring peter Cushing. Going back to such a classic episode is a cool idea, and thankfully we get the setting as more of a “bookend” to the meat of the story rather than a “fanwanky” total revisit.

In that episode, the Tardis crew including Susan, Ian, Barbara, and the first incarnation of the Doctor, arrive in a bleak post-apocalyptic and Dalek infested England in 2167. What really made The Dalek Invasion of Earth stand out for me was the chilling use of vacated landmarks during location shooting, and the utter bleakness of the overall story. For a “kid’s show”, this episode had a lot of dark things like signs saying not to dump dead bodies in the river and humans turned into a slave work force.  What we have here with The Mutant Phase can be seen as a “prequel” of sorts to this classic episode as we see The Doctor As played by Peter Davison and his companion Nyssa arrive a few years earlier, to a time where Daleks have never met the Doctor and don’t meddle in time travel.

My only real quibble with the episode rears its ugly head in this introductory portion of the episode. The Doctor realizes pretty quickly that they are somewhere in the state of Kansas, which for foreign readers, is located in the United States. While looking through a field of genetically altered crops infested with wasps, The Doctor and Nyssa stumble upon a “Roboman” guardsman, a zombie-like policeman for the Daleks. By zombies I don’t mean the Romero-esque eating brains and rotting away living dead variety, but the classical use of the term as in brainwashed servant. Not to be confused with Cybermen, Robomen are just regular people with some sort of mind control device implanted onto their heads.

So anyway, this roboman gets America back for the dreadful British accent Dick Van Dyke used in Mary Poppins, by delivering his dialog in the worst, most overdone, American accent out there. This can partly be chalked up to the dronish manner in which the robomen characters talk, but behind all the reverb and monotone was a glimmer of a vocal style not heard since The Apple Dumpling Gang. I seriously hope that many in the U.K. do not think all Americans talk like 1890’s old prospectors, but I get the inclination that it may be the case. I think Mark Gatiss was responsible for the voice, as he is credited as such! All joking aside, this small slip-up was very minor, can be overlooked easily, and does no harm to the play itself.

This play has quite a few interesting characters, and chiefly among those are two Thal scientists, Ptolem and Ganatus, both forced to work for the Daleks to stop the mutant phase. We hear a lot of mentions of these guys before we see them interact with the Doctor, so their motives stay hidden for the majority of the play. Another nice addition is Karl Hendrick, a man that lives in the dark and studies old relics from our current history. He gets quite a few great one-liners and funny moments making him one of the better side characters.

Aside from a couple of minor things like over-done foreshadowing that Nyssa’s wasp sting may be important in some way, the plot of the Mutant Phase was well done, and revolved around some good ol’ fashioned “timey-wimey” stuff involving a temporal paradox. With any paradox based episode the resolution didn’t exactly wrap the whole thing up in a bow – a fact that is actually made fun of in the dialog. When the Doctor explains what has happened to Nyssa at the end, she tells him that it simply made no sense, to which he replied “paradoxes don’t make sense” or something vaguely similar. Admitting this, the play somehow jumped over any plotholes it may have obtained whilst jumping between a multitude of timelines. For me this was nice, humorous touch.

While not the classic of its older brother, The Mutant Phase is a competent audio drama that keeps one entertained throughout. Keeping in mind that the Daleks are the only race that the doctor has ever really considered committing mass genocide on, listening to him being forced to work alongside the horrible creatures is compelling and makes this a must listen. I’ve been lukewarm on the Dalek Empire Releases so far, but this one has really redeemed the series, can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Reaction: Doctor Who – The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe


Before I get into my review of The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, I’d like to talk about something that has bothered me for a while. After numerous Christmas Specials from Doctor Who, I think they should be less “Christmasy” for the most part from now on. The Christmas gimmicks worked very well at first, but seem too forced now. I’m not saying that I dislike them at all; it’s just hard to take them as seriously as some of the other episodes. When we’ve seen the likes of evil Santa robots, evil Christmas trees, Christmas star shaped spaceships and a lot more. Where exactly do we go from there?

There are only two Christmas related plots I’d like to see 1) one episode where the travel back to the historical first Christmas (but that would most likely anger many Christians), or 2) Have the Doctor Save some children from Krampus, the evil alternate Saint Nicholas that punishes bad kids. Maybe the Christmas specials should start being just “epic” long form episodes like The End of Time; that was such an episode and we didn’t have to cringe our way through demonic nutcrackers from Pluto or any other contrived plot devices.

As one can tell, The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe is vaguely based on the legendary series of novels by C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia, and more specifically The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, perhaps the most loved volume in the entire series. When I heard that the episode was going to be based on the Narnia mythos, I was worried. I didn’t want to have the Doctor travel to a planet inhabited by talking lions and have to explain that Narnia was real or something. Thankfully there was no such fan-fiction fueled “fanwankery” and what we ended up with was an episode using a plot device from the series: kids that travel to a far off land in a box. This was much more like the previous Christmas special, A Christmas Carol, in that it was similar to the source material, but wasn’t a true remake of it and tried to stand on its own despite the allusions.

My only problem with the way it was constructed was that it felt like it honestly lacked any real “spirit” from the books it was based on. We had kids traveling to a snowy planet and all, but they weren’t really the main characters. Madge, as played by Claire Skinner, was the main character, her children were simply window dressing in the grand scheme of things. This was a story of a strong woman overcoming adversity in the face of peril to save her kids, not a tale of wonder and adventure in a new world.

I liked The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, but felt that it played it too “safe” for the most part. It was a fun little romp that makes for a nice palette cleanser after all of the dark stuff that happened in the last few episodes of season 6. With strong performances from Skinner, a funny little cameo from Bill Bailey and a strange alien race to fight, it had all the trappings for what it was made to be: a fun Christmas bit of family viewing. Should I be sad, however, that I would have rather seen something a bit less “by the numbers”, something like the pre-credits sequence with the exploding ship?

Thoughts on Doctor Who “The Impossible Astronaut”

Rather than doing what I used to do – vague and somewhat crappy spoiler free reviews, I think I will instead focus on my reactions to the episodes as I watch them.

Spoilers ahoy!

Well, let’s face it…Steven Moffat is messing with us now. Last night was the premier episode of season 6 of Doctor Who with “The Impossible Astronaut.” As one can imagine Moffat has continued to shake the shackles of the overdone and frankly tired “repeated meme as theme for season” motif as seen in the previous seasons (e.g. “Bad Wolf”, “Torchwood” etc), and Instead we have been treated to a new idea in which we see something horrendously shocking (i.e. the apparent death of The Doctor) and it’s hopeful resolution. Last season a few folks complained that the show wasn’t wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end, there were still questions left to be answered.  It seems that this season we may get some answers, but we are already getting plenty of more questions along the way.

The first quarter of the episode is a real “WTF moment” as we are treated to the aforementioned “Death of the Doctor”. Amy, Rory, River and a man named Canton all end up with blue envelopes detailing exact coordinates to meet in the American Southwest.  We meet a slightly older, and somewhat “shaken” Doctor, who keeps talking about how he has “run for far too long”.  It can be assumed that The Doctor sent the notes himself as he wanted these people to witness what was to unfold.  Amidst all of the “catching up” and cheerful laughter, an Apollo astronaut or a reasonable facsimile (we still don’t know what it is) rises out of the water and shoots The Doctor with some sort of energy weapon triggering a regeneration, right as we can assume that Moffat is going to tease the twelfth Doctor, another shot rings out dropping him stone dead.

This brings up all sorts of questions like:

Who shot The Doctor?

Who sent the letters, are we sure it was The Doctor?

Why did he only send four letters, wouldn’t The Doctor want more folks to see what happens?

How will this inevitably be resolved?

As you can tell this isn’t the typical beginning of the series “fun romp” that many are accustomed to, instead we have a VERY dark and mature episode full of character development.  In the past year a lot of “trollish” people complained incessantly that Amy and Rory didn’t add to the show and were “just sort of there”, this seems to be exactly what these folks wanted as we are treated to a TON more characterization than what we are used to.  This is especially relevant with River Song, as we are really starting to get clues as to her true relation to The Doctor.  Here’s hoping that we find that out either this or next season!

I believe we are already witnessing this season’s “big bad” a.k.a. the one responsible for the cracks last season and the reason we heard the voice echoing “THE SILENCE WILL FALL” during the climax of last season.  The episode’s principle villains (which we find out are called “the silence” according to the website) have the creepy ability to make one forgot their very existence once they are not being directly observed.  We see this in action many times as Amy, and later River, see the large Tuxedo clad “leader” of the silence and forgot about it each time they turn their head.  This makes for a creature nearly as unsettling as the weeping angels, and would make a great one-off villain, but one thing sticks out that paints these guys as far more important as one initially notices.

When River and Rory stumble into what I can only assume is their lair, they end up walking into a very familiar Tardis-esque ship.  This contraption was revealed in last season’s “The Lodger” an episode where we never actually found out who was behind the whole ordeal.  It was basically assumed that a rogue Tardis-like machine showed up, lost its pilot and was killing people whilst trying to find a new master of the ship.  What we never found out was the person or thing behind the fake Tardis, and what it’s purpose was.  I have a feeling that we are about to find out.

I’ll hold off on any theories and such until we see part two of this opening two-parter, but if this episode was any indication of what is to come, I’m all on board for season six!

Review – Doctor Who: The Shadow of the Scourge

Wow! this is a bad cover 😛

 

Big Finish Audio “quick review”

 

Summary: The Pinehill Crest Hotel in Kent is host to three very different events: a cross-stich convention, an experiment in time travel and… the summoning of the scourge.  The Doctor, Bernice and Ace find themselves dealing with a dead body that’s come back to life, a mystical symbol that possesses its host, and a threat from another universe that’s ready for every trick the Doctor’s got up his sleeve.  This time, has the Doctor gone too far?

As I stated in my last “quick review” with the darker Doctor Who styling, The Fearmonger, I need to try harder to separate these stories from that of the rest of the cannon.  Not that they are bad stories, but I have pre-conceived notions of what tone the show should be in that sort of interfered with that drama.  This time I decided to listen to a story based on the Virgin New Adventures line of Doctor Who books.  For those unaware of the term the VNA novels were released after the show was put on “indefinite hiatus” by Michael Grade, the much beguiled BBC controller in the late eighties.  Throughout the nineties, a series of books was released that put a darker tone to the stories, painting Ace as a soldier, and the Doctor as even more manipulative than ever.  I also got my first introduction to Bernice Sumemrfield, a 26th century archaeologist that traveled with the Doctor and Ace during this time.

This play introduces a new villain in, The Scourge, a multidimensional creature resembling a huge praying mantis, which dwells and thrives off of uncertainty, doubt, self-loathing, and depression.  They are found to do this by sonic means, so we get a rough scene where ace has someone box her ears to rupture her eardrums.  This does act as a sort of comic relief (something that is needed) as Ace now can’t hear what people are saying and constantly repeats things back to people.

 

From Doctor Who magazine

 

This play is VERY dark, almost Torchwood dark to be honest.  I was actually quite surprised when the Scourge start disemboweling people, as the foley guys (I’d assume it’s called foley in radio as it is movies) came up with the most grotesque noises that they could in order to portray such as scene.  We have many scenes of sheer emotional terror and anguish in this play as well with not only Ace, Benny, and background characters, but even the Doctor.  This is possibly the most intense play, if not Doctor Who related media, aside from maybe Torchwood: Children of Earth, that I’ve consumed.  While this sheer darkness is off-base for the TV show, I will concede that a darker take on the characters can be a bit satisfying as we get some real emotion from everyone involved, but it never reaches into the gratuitous side.

The one thing that really kept me from really liking this storyline and rating it better than “average” is the crazy “minscape” section towards the end of the serial.  The Doctor and Benny are literally sucked into the Doctor’s own mind as he tries to fight his own “scourge”.  It is at this point that we elarn that depression and other doubts are basically from these creatures, and they have been praying on the weak humanity for thousands of years.  The monster keeps repeatedly telling The Doctor some bad stuff like the fact that he is “merely a troublemaking child who fears being alone so much that he deliberately alienates his companions to see whether they’ll leave him or not”.  This reminds me of the recent TV episode containing the Dream Lord, as you find out that the Doctor is pretty self-loathing sometimes.

The Shadow of the Scourge was a decent episode of the Big Finish Audio dramas, and really reminded me of a Torchwood related item.  I’m still not a huge fan of the dark nature of some of these, but at least the performances were VERY well acted.

 

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

 

 

Doctor Who: Dimensions in Time – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Doctor Who charity special, Dimensions in time, is a pretty rough experience.  On one hand, this charity episode was released way back when the show was off of the air, so any sort of new material was welcomed by fans.  The main problem was, that somebody over at BBC decided it would be an amazing idea to have this episode as a crossover with a popular soap opera called The Eastenders.  Confusing casting decisions were combined with a few miss-steps like having all of the remaining Doctors appear in the video despite having only the smallest interest of picking the role up.  This is especially prominent with one Mr. Tom Baker who, despite a good performance aside from the fact he is sitting in front of a green screen talking into a microphone, obviously didn’t want anything to do with the 30th anniversary special.  The other actors all tried very hard to salvage what eventually became of this, but sadly it was a losing battle.

The plot, if one can follow it, revolves around one of the lesser used renegade Time Lords, the Rani, as she tries to destabilize time to kill all versions of the Doctor at once.  The Fourth Doctor appears to be in a broadcasting room of some sorts and relays a desperate message to his other selves:

Mayday, mayday. This is an urgent message for all the Doctors. It’s vitally important that you listen to me for once. Our whole existence is being threatened by a renegade Time Lord known only as the Rani. She hates me. She even hates children. Two of my earlier selves have already been snared in her vicious trap. The grumpy one and the flautist too. She wants to put us out of action. Lock us away in a dreary backwater of London’ East End. Trapped in a time-loop in perpetuity and her evil is all around us. I can hear the heart beat of a killer. She’s out there somewhere. We must be on our guard and we must stop her before she destroys all of our other selves. Oh… [gives a pained look] Good luck, my dears.

I’ve included that up there, because it is literally ALL the story we actually get in this episode, the rest is a mess of random appearances and nonsensical babbling.  This whole thing is moved along by use of the Rani’s gun that can alter time, a convenient way to have multiple Doctors show up.  Sadly the way this occurs is VERY jarring as the Doctor phases between identities, sometimes in mid-sentence, and way too frequently.  While it starts out being the Seventh Doctor and Ace talking, every time we hear a noise and the screen flashes we meet another version of the Doctor, sometimes another companion, or someone randomly from Eastenders.  While one can figure out what is supposed to be going on, the whole production looks as if it cost something like a tenner and maybe a drink at a bar.

There are some good things to be seen from this episode, however, as it marks one of the very last TV appearances by Jon Pertwee before he died only a few years later.  He had stopped doing much acting to my knowledge and was touring around on the science fiction convention circuit and doing small roles in dramas and such.  This episode also sees the only meeting between the Sixth Doctor and longtime companion and all around awesome dude – The Brigadier.

Aside from those good things, I can’t explain enough how bad the episode is.  When I had tried to get hold of all of the Doctor Who stuff I presumed would not be released on DVD like missing episode reconstructions and charity specials, I was happy to find an off-air recording of this.  This happiness was surely dashed once I actually watched the dreary mess.  If anything, this special was not a send off for the beloved show that was believed to be laid to rest forever, but a sad remembrance of the crappy state of the show’s production in the later 1980’s.  Doctor Who was to have its day in the sun once again, and come back stronger than ever…sadly it was not on this day!

The Curse of Fatal Death

I was going to toss a little “look back” for this up – like a review of sorts, but I have been busy messing about with my shiny new PS3 today.  I’ll try to get to the review tomorrow (or later tonight) but for now, enjoy the full Curse of Fatal Death, a charity episode starring Rowan Atkinson and written by Steven Moffatt!

Review: Doctor Who – A Christmas Carol

I kind of got sidetracked when I was trying to review the season 5 episodes of Doctor Who last year.  My plan was to get all of them up in a somewhat timely manner and bask in the glory of a job well done.  Sadly, I got busy doing random stuff related to work and other such nonsense that I ended up stopping at episode 4 if I’m not mistaken.  Since I’ve decided to try and blog once a day, I think I will attempt to re-watch all of the episodes and pick up where I left off shortly.  Although it’s slightly out of order, I thought I should start out by taking a look at the newest episode that aired, thankfully while it is fresh in my mind – A Christmas Carol.

Promo image

 

Ever since Doctor Who returned in 2005 the novelty of the Christmas episode has really helped keep the show’s momentum during those cold winters when mid-season replacements and re-runs rule the land.  It all started innocently enough with an episode called the Christmas Invasion, the episode that proved that all Christmas TV episodes are not made of the same cloth.  You see in the U.S. television shows rarely have Christmas “specials” and if they do, they usually exist as a cheesy clip episode hastily thrown together at the last minute.  Shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation have holiday themed episodes sometimes, but they aren’t really “special at all.  This is one reason I like the U.K. way of doing TV despite shorter seasons and shorter runs.  Now we sit five Christmas specials later and bear witness to Matt Smith in his Yuletide zaniness.

The episode opens with a glimpse into the ill fated honeymoon between Rory and Amy, the main companions of the last season of the show.  The Doctor has granted them passage on some sort of luxury cruise liner in space, only to have a huge mishap occur.  It appears that the ship traveled too close to a strange planet with an electromagnetic cloud encircling it.  The ship was drawn off course and towards catastrophe for the 4000 passengers and crew.

The only hope for this doomed ship is the man that controls the swirly vortex of lightning and clouds Kazran Sardick.  Michael Gambon of Harry Potter and Layer Cake fame paints of picture of a sad man with a hardened heart that has given up on humanity.  He could help the 4000 passengers in the ship, but he doesn’t care in the slightest.  In the grand tradition of the classic tale A Christmas Carol, it’s up to the Doctor to help him learn how to live again.  He decides to visit Kazran at an early age and see what caused him to be so morose.

Kazran’s father (also played by Gambon) apparently created a system to keep the planets native fauna at bay as they would snack on unsuspecting citizenry when the planet was first colonized.  This animal life is similar, if not blatantly the same as our marine fishes and sharks.  This planet basically has an atmosphere so thick that these creatures can swim through the thick, foggy air at ease.  As a boy Kazran wanted to study these fish, but was beguiled at beaten by his dad for having such outlandish ideas.  He was to take his father’s place as the planet’s head honcho of loan brokerage upon his father’s death, not meddle in marine biology.

Lol!

 

In these very earliest moments of the episode we definitely see Steven Moffat’s brush strokes as he likes to mess with time travel as much as he can.  The term “wibbly wobbly timey wimey….stuff” comes to mind as the Doctor is shown to be interacting with a young Kazran as the older Kazran watches on in both horror and amusement.  The Doctor soon stumbles upon a girl frozen in a container in a large cryogenic chamber (played by opera superstar Katherine Jenkins) that he had seen earlier on, and decides to let her out to see Christmas.  What ensues is a tale of love and heartache for Kazran and Abigail, and a reminder that The Doctor isn’t always able to make the right decisions or help everyone.  I’ve left the rest of the plot vague to curtail spoilers, and allow for folks that have not seen the episode to enjoy it.

On a storytelling front, the aforementioned “wibbly wobbly timey wimey….stuff” is well done, and firmly places some actual time travel back into a show that ironically hasn’t had much time travel rather than the initial landings since its inception almost fifty years ago.  I know some folks find Moffat’s use of this motif tiring as he has done similar things in not only The Girl in the Fireplace but Blink and season 5’s finale as well.  The plot was easy to understand, not to complex and above all else….fun.  That’s the one thing that I love about Moffat scripts is that not only do they make you think, but a childlike sense of wonder ensues.   Not to bash the previous show runner, but some Russel T.  Davies helmed episodes seemed too brooding and basically “emo” for my liking.  These current ones have a sense of fairytale to them, which is new to the show.

See everyone's happy

 

Visually the episode was usually pretty great looking with the occasional computer generated effect looking less than amazing.  Keep in mind that I watched this on my mother’s standard definition TV on Christmas day, so viewed on my own rig could change my opinion.  On the musical side of things, both Murray Gold and Katherine Jenkins (who sings as one would assume) are on the ball and deliver a great soundtrack, especially for a TV show.  Anything is good with the eleventh Doctor’s theme in tow, one of the best pieces of music in the show since its return.  Really my only complaint about this episode was the fact that it seemed somehow padded a bit despite the large amount of plot going on.  Not that it dragged or anything, but parts of it seemed almost slow.

A Christmas Carol was not my favorite of these yearly Christmas specials (Voyage of the Damned still takes that honor) but it is probably my second favorite.  The great cast including Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins is top notch, as it the performances by the regular cast.  Matt Smith is growing to be one of my favorite Doctors ever, and his performance in this episode had to have been his strongest yet.  All in all, great Christmas TV, and I can’t wait for season six.

 

My rating 4.5 out of 5

 

Here is a season six trailer as a bonus!

Review: Timeslip – The Wrong End of Time

“What is a Time Bubble? You can’t see it, of course, but it might help you visualise it to think of a balloon… Supposing some little patch of information – some little patch of history – gets slowed down, and instead of flashing backwards and forwards it floats, gently, as if in a bubble… Supposing you could get into that bubble – that bubble of history – and travel with it. Then you could move forwards and backwards in time at will…”

–one of the many introductions before the episodes

I was randomly poking through Netflix not too long ago and stumbled across a DVD recommendation labeled under “British Television”.  This was before I was doing this blog so there wasn’t much motivation to rush it into my home, but I was intrigued.  When I was younger I used to watch a lot of PBS and they would play all sorts of British children’s science fiction, most of which was far superior to anything that was marketed to children over here.  I went ahead and rented the first disk of a show I had never heard of – Time Slip.  The show, from 1970-1, was about a group of children who travel to various points in time.  Rather than echoing Doctor Who’s overlying theme of adventure and exploration as many similar show do, Time Slip (at least from the first serial) seems to be more about how folks misuse technology.

The first serial, containing six episodes, revolves around our two main characters a boy named Simon Randall and a girl named Liz Skinner.  Simon is traveling with family friends to keep his mind of off his mother’s recent death.  While hanging out near the site of an old naval base Simon and his friend Liz discover a time portal that we just saw suck up a mute girl named Sarah.  When on the other side, the pair discovers that it is suddenly night time and that they seem to be in a Nazi over-run base.  They end up running into a man named Frank and Sarah both held captive by the Nazis.  Here is the shocker Frank is her father thirty years ago!

The first six episodes of Time Slip are fairly entertaining if not a bit on the slow side.  You can tell that the show was on a very low budget as there are a magnitude of scenes where long expanses of dialog are tossed out with little or no action to be seen.  I can imagine that this most likely is one of the reasons that the show is a cult classic; I honestly don’t think a ton of children would be able to handle a show that is paced this way.  Then again, I was born some ten years after this originally aired, so one never knows.  I do know that the show ran somewhat over-budget and was seen as a flop despite running to its full duration, something unheard of nowadays.  Doing some online research, I found that Time Slip still has a legion of devoted fans and even runs the occasional convention.

I really enjoyed Time Slip – The Wrong End of Time and plan on watching the remaining three serials.  It’s a shame that the color prints of these are mostly lost as I would have loved to see this as originally aired.

My rating 3 out of 5

The show itself is available to rent on Netflix or is available for purchase at such places as Amazon.com

Review – Doctor Who: Winter for the Adept

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Summary: “When a teleportation accident goes badly wrong, Nyssa finds herself stranded on the freezing slopes of the Swiss Alps in 1963. But is it mere coincidence that she finds shelter in a snowbound school haunted by a malevolent poltergeist?  When the Doctor arrives, Nyssa and the other inhabitants of the school soon discover that the ghost is merely part of a darker, deeper and more deadly game involving rogue psi talents and something else… Something not of this Earth.”

When we last left the Doctor (as played by Peter Davison) and Nyssa, they were leaving frigid Alaska bound for some place hopefully warmer.  Not only does that not happen, but they end up in a house with a religious zealot that believes that cold air is the path to salvation and warmth is a sin.  Nyssa gets stranded in this place long before the Doctor arrives, and is taken in by a group of Swiss School girls living on the mountainside.  This story contains a few weird motifs that are out of the ordinary for Doctor Who, but serve well in this story….for the most part.  The first of which is that the story itself is bookended by a narration from one of the Swiss school girls.  The cheesy overly flowery diary entry harkens back to such writers as Jane Austen, but only in a superficial way.  The girl basically says very little with as many adjectives as possible to make it sound classy.  This sloppy writing should have been the first red flag for what I was getting into.

From: Doctor Who Magazine

Winter for the Adept is one of those audio dramas that I really wanted to like, but sadly did not whatsoever.  The story begins as a ghost story intertwined in a Stanley Kubrick’s Shining-esque wrapper, but completely falls apart 3/4ths of the way in and becomes a Michael Bay film.  It’s like Andrew Cartmel (the writer) was so set on adding aliens into the mix that he forgot he was writing a ghost story.

The choppy writing doesn’t end there, as there is a lot of dialogue talking about “Spillagers” at the beginning, a term that is never explained until towards the end of the play.  When it is revealed what a “Spillager” is, I was rolling my eyes due to how convenient it was within the plot.  The Doctor constantly talks about “spillages” and his “spillage detector” in such a way that it leads you to believe that he is talking about some sort of energy release or some such.  Not the alien that magically happens to be there in the Alps at the very same time.  I also found myself having a lot of trouble imagining what was going on especially in episode four.  There are many instances where random yelling, noises, and explosions can be heard with little explanation as to what is actually going on.  Sadly this play is a frightful miss for me.

 

My rating 1 out of 5

Review – Doctor Who: The Spectre of Lanyon Moor

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: In a desolate Cornish landscape littered with relics of prehistoric man, the doctor and Evelyn uncover a catalogue of mysteries.  What is the secret of the fogou? Can the moor be haunted by a demonic host of imps? And what is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart doing in Pengriffen?  Teaming up with his old friend, the Doctor realises that an ancient conflict is nearing its conclusion – and Lanyon Moor is set to be teh final battleground.

One thing that I always love in science fiction is when the writer takes a prominent supernatural occurrence (e.g. ghosts, elves etc…) and explains it away as either completely commonplace or something more.  For instance the way that Gods in Stargate are actually powerful aliens that prayed on human faith.  This particular Doctor Who audio play does this exact thing with the mythical creature – the imp.  The story consists of the Doctor and his newest companion Dr. Evelyn Smythe investigating old Celtic ruins alongside an archaeological team and even the Brigadier!  This play is in fact the first appearance of Nicholas Courtney as Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in any Big Finish Audio release.

An Image from Doctor Who magazine

It was always sad to me that the sixth incarnation of the Doctor as played by Colin Baker was never allowed a proper adventure in which he interacts with the Brigadier.  Almost all other Doctors ended up with such an episode, but the closest thing we ended up with was the dreadful charity “special” Dimensions in Time in which I need to dissect one of these days.

This episode has its ups and downs but was generally very entertaining to me, and sits as one of the better episodes of Big Finish Audio out there.  The duo of Colin Baker’s Doctor and Eveleyn Smythe as played by Maggie Stables is a great pairing, and I really hope they do a few more stories together.  Having the brigadier in this episode really helps iron home that this is, in fact, a Doctor Who story.  It really seems the most like an old episode of the TV show that I’ve listened to.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Review – Doctor Who: Red Dawn

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis:

Ares One: NASA’s first manned mission to the dead planet Mars. But is Mars as dead as it seems?
While the NASA team investigate an ‘anomaly’ on the planet’s surface, the Doctor and Peri find themselves inside a strange alien building. What is its purpose? And what is frozen inside the blocks of ice that guard the doorways? If the Doctor has a sense of deja-vu, it’s because he’s about to meet some old adversaries, as well as some new ones…

We open Red Dawn with a countdown timer and launch of man’s first foray to the red planet in a ship called the Argosy.  From the very get-go this seems a doomed mission as a ton of stuff begins to go wrong right out of the gate.  At the exact same moment, The Doctor and Peri travel to a large building that seems to have doors and other controls that are run empathically.  Once they run into the now landed Argosy crew, they find out that they are on Mars just as the Ice warriors show up.  The villain of the piece is a man named Paul, who is so stupidly one-dimensional that he might as well be a textbook example of bad ethical practices.  The man literally tries to incite a inter-galactic war for the sole reason to make money on weapons trading and other like things.

The play has a few missteps that made this drama hard to finish for me.  While I have complimented Nicola Bryant as Peri in the handful of audio adventures I have heard with her, this audio play is seemingly back to the “old school”.  I found Peri (of no fault to Bryant, but the script) to be about as annoying as she was in the earlier parts of her run on the classic show.  All she did was run around and hound one of the Ice Warriors about his promise not to kill the Doctor and yell at folks about ethics.  Peri was not the only blight on this drama as it seemed as if everyone involved was completely incompetent in all situations.  The Doctor kept talking about the Ice Warrior honor code, but never takes advantage of it, as he has with other races such as the Sontarans.

This is quite easily the most boring of these audio dramas so far, and it was slightly less entertaining than The Sirens of Time.  Not all stories can be top shelf I guess.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Here is a “trailer” of sorts:

Review – Doctor Who: The Genocide Machine

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

 

Synopsis: “The library on Kar-Charrat is one of the wonders of the Universe. It is also hidden from all but a few select species. The Doctor and Ace discover that the librarians have found a new way of storing data – a wetworks facility – but the machine has attracted unwanted attention, and the Doctor soon finds himself pitted against his oldest and deadliest enemies – the Daleks!”

 

Ah yes, the first Dalek-related audio drama Big Finish has produced.  Being a huge fan of the little squid-like hooligans, I was excited to see – errr – hear what the audio format had for these guys.  This begins a story-arc of sorts that Big Finish has labeled Dalek Empire; it will contain four separate stories with different Doctors held together by the common theme.  This segment follows The Doctor and Ace as they are humorously brought to a planet called Kar-Charrat in order to return a library book, lifted from a library where such things are frowned upon.  At the same time we cut to another group led by a person that is almost like a “semi-companion” in Bev Tarrant.  Bev is a female Han Solo of sorts, and plans to steal a large ziggurat in order to make it rich.  Too bad the Ziggurat is full of evil squid monsters surrounded by armor – the Daleks.

After the last McCoy and Aldred play, I was worried that the overly dark nature would spill into all of their plays.  Thankfully that isn’t the case, as this play seems more in-line with the show than one of the books.  That is the great thing about Big Finish, if you don’t like a certain play, the next one will be completely different, and may strike your fancy.  I enjoyed the plotline and dialog; yet felt that it was bit too preachy in some regards, especially when you find out the atrocity the librarians on Kar-Charrat have committed.  Without giving away the plot completely, let’s just say that the overtly hippie-like nature of Avatar is pretty close to the mood the audio sets.

The audio only really fails on the insanely contrived plan that the Daleks have hatched.  While they are known to have ridiculous over-thought plans in the past, this one is pretty over the top.  They basically plan to use the libraries knowledge to create a super Dalek with the power of the Universe, so they plant cryogenic sleeper cells on every planet of this one particular system that also contains the aforementioned “secret” library.  I say “secret” because everyone seems to know of it.  Plot aside, this was a fun audio adventure, and a blessing of what to come for Sylvester McCoy stories.

 

My rating: 3 out of 5

 

Here is a trailer I found on Youtube:

 

An Open Letter to Joss Whedon fans:

It may be no mystery that I am not a fan of the science fiction show Firefly, in fact I can’t stand the show to be quite honest.  When I am talking with my sci-fi buddies, there is usually someone that doesn’t understand the idea that people have different tastes and tries to sway me to their side.  Not only is this annoying as hell, but it makes me not like the show even more.  Some of these guys even go so far to call themselves “brown shirts” or “brown coats” which unbeknownst to them is the same name that Nazi storm troopers were referred to as.  The name fits, as some of these folks are “Nazis” in the sense of the modern vernacular which attributes anyone being over-zealous and generally “douche-baggy” as a “Nazi” e.g, Grammar Nazi.

So why don’t I like this show, and why do I get angry whenever people get pissy because I don’t like it?  I think a lot of it stems from Joss Whedon’s messiah-like status in some fan circles, as if he can do no wrong, and everything he touches turns to gold.  This is of course despite the fact that he wrote large portions of dialog for the first movie X-men including this gem:

Storm as played by Halle Berry: “Do you know what happens to a toad when it gets struck by lightning? … The same thing that happens to everything else.”

UGH!

He also wrote the script for Alien Resurrection and blamed everyone else for the movie sucking, saying that it was miscast and such.  Don’t let me seem like a total ass for ripping on Whedon as I liked the original Buffy movie and the first 3-4 seasons of the show.  He may come across as an arrogant self-centered type of guy, but he is a pretty decent writer for dialog.

So the problem must lie in his fans, not just the “brown coats”, but all Whedon-media fans.  To me Whedon-ites are to science fiction fans what The Hitler Youth are to youth organizations.  Instead of watching and talking about their favorite show with other like minded fans, they see the need to try and indoctrinate everyone else into it.  If anyone resists The Lord Whedon, they immediately have to turn in their nerd license.

This very thing happened to me at work when I was helping a customer find a Battlestar Galactica DVD.  We started talking Sci-fi and he mentioned Firefly, to which I responded that I wasn’t really into the show.  The man then, obviously annoyed, asked “well….why NOT!?”  This was as if I somehow offended his religion or something.  I explained that I had not seen the whole show, but I was not a fan of the four episodes I did see, and did not plan on watching anymore.  The man then went into full-on siege-mode and started throwing out reason after reason as to why the show was underrated and why I should like it…etc.  I basically had to say “have a good one” and walk away.  It’s like rather than enjoying his show, he let the fact that it was cancelled become a bitter fist-shaped aura in his mind, waiting to punch anyone who says the show isn’t a masterpiece of human achievement.

Let this be a lesson to you guys, badgering folks and trying to essentially force people to think the way you think about a show is stupid and puts folks off of it.  If anything you guys have made me not want to read / see / hear about anything else that Joss Whedon ever produces.  Surely I can’t be the only one out there with this mindset.  It’s fun to like your own stuff, but calm down just a tad.

Review – Doctor Who: The Marian Conspiracy

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: Tracking a nexus point in time, the Doctor meets Dr Evelyn Smythe, a history lecturer whose own history seems to be rapidly vanishing.  The Doctor must travel back to Tudor times to stabilize the nexus and save Evelyn’s life. But there he meets the Queen of England and must use all his skills of diplomacy to avoid ending up on the headman’s block…

It’s no secret that the exploits of the sixth Doctor in the form of the original TV series were met with mixed reviews.  Many felt that the show was on its last legs at the time, and a few higher ups over at the BBC seemed keen on axing the show forever.  When I got into watching a lot of the classic stories, I really liked how Colin Baker played the Doctor despite his costume and the somewhat rough scripts he was sometimes handed.  As I’ve stated before these Big Finish audio dramas are where Colin seems to be at his best as the Doctor.  I would even say that his episodes are usually among my favorite.

This episode at hand, The Marion Conspiracy, is one of the better ones of this line up to this point, as it contains a few things that really set it apart: the introduction of a NEW companion, a historical timeframe, and time travel consequences.  The plot follows The Doctor and a history teacher named Evelyn Smythe as they try to figure out why Evelyn is seemingly being written out of time.  This dynamic is usually one of my favorites as I love when The Doctor takes in a companion that is a bit older and has wide-eyed enthusiasm AND wisdom; I think that’s why I liked Wilf so much in the last few David Tennant seasons.

The story follows The Doctor and Evelyn as they travel back to Tudor times to figure out exactly what Evelyn is disappearing from existence.  There are a few misunderstandings where they both assume that they are in Elizabethan England when in fact they are at the court of Queen Mary.  They both get embroiled in a plot to kill Mary and ultimately try to stop it.  All in all, this was a very good audio drama, and is one of the better ones that I’ve listened to so far.  The acting, plot, and pure historical awesomeness, all click in such a way to make me the most happy.

click here to listen to a trailer

My rating 4 out of 5