The Monday Meme: Self-Control

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If you have a funny image that would make a great edition of The Monday Meme, feel free to send it to my Tumblr, Facebook, or email it to me! Links for these options are located in the links at the top of the page! Don’t be surprised to see it on here someday!

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The Tripods: (1984) France, October 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Tripods: (1984) France, October 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Mummy on the Orient Express (2014)

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Hello. I’m so pleased to finally see you. I’m the Doctor and I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?”

One might get the impression that all I do each and every day is sit around watching British science fiction, but let’s get real here – I waste time with a lot of other stuff too! Pro Wrestling! TV! And Anime! All kidding aside, I wanted to start this review out talking about my love for space trains, you heard me right – trains all flying around in space for some reason or another. I chalk this all up to my love for the visionary Japanese manga creator Leiji Matsumoto and his epic series of space opera works including one called Galaxy Express 999. Originally written in the late 70’s, Three-Nine introduced me to a fantastical world where space travel was made more comfortable by echoing the past and looking back at the golden age of travel. Of course Mr. Matsumoto’s works also contemplated what is really meant to be human, and what it means to be loved in a universe where people seem to be abandoning such concepts. It was a little more than just the concept of the space trains I went for. I’m not going to lie though, I cheered on the inside when I saw the trailer for this episode.

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I’m not writing here about Galaxy Express 999 specifically, but I wanted to briefly point out a few thematic similarities between it and a few episodes of Doctor Who, chiefly Voyage of the Damned and Mummy on the Orient Express. If you like these episodes, you might seek the show out on Hulu. My love for the similar material has made me love these episodes quite a bit, despite the fact that I know for sure VotD was pretty unpopular with most fans. That’s how I am though, if I feel inspired by certain things in an episode, I love them no matter what, case and point was my adoration for Rings of Akhaten. I think it all goes back to that feeling of comfort in keeping things simple. Perhaps, that’s a world I’d love to live in: just as modern but somehow not as plastic and disposable….comfortable. Many folks may be scared of the dreaded mechanization and inhumanity of our present technological progress, dressing it up like older more simpler times may be the way to go. That’s at least what Leiji Matsumoto saw, and coincidentally what it seems a few Doctor Who episodes echo.

It has been a few weeks since the complete meltdown by Clara directed towards The Doctor. She has come to realize that she doesn’t actually hate him, and that she wants to travel one last time with him – “The Last Hurrah!” if you will. They arrive sometime in the future aboard a space train that has been modeled after the legendary Orient Express, with many of its passengers in period outfits. The Doctor quips that “There were many trains to take the name Orient Express, but only one in space.” It seems that they have arrived right after a mysterious death, perhaps even murder, in which an older lady claimed she was being attacked by “a mummy”, as in Egyptian dead person style mummy. After The Doctor does some research, he discovers that there seems to be a pattern with these mummy attacks – everyone claims to be chased by a mummy, and they die exactly 66 seconds later after a flash of light. This also seems to correlate to a myth that another passenger, Prof. Moorhouse, reiterates about the legend of a supernatural being called the Foretold.

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Suspicious of the ships computer system, Gus (voiced by John Sessions) and the fact that multiple people on the train seem to know a bit too much about the Foretold, The Doctor puts together that the train ride must not be a coincidence and that they have been brought there deliberately to solve the mystery. Suddenly everyone realizes that they have been duped by someone who is allowing Gus to force all of the various scientists, doctors, and engineers aboard to figure it out or die trying. Much to her fury, The Doctor even confesses to Clara that the mysterious figure that brought him to the Orient Express “even phoned the TARDIS once”. Astute fans might recall a line from The Big Bang, in which The Eleventh Doctor, answering the TARDIS phone, replies “an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space? A bunch more people die, and eventually The Doctor figures it all out.

I noticed last week that The Doctor seemed to be outright channeling Tom Baker a few times, and it seems like this has been kept going for this episode. The most blatant use of this is the discovery that The Doctor now keeps Jelly Babies, the candy that The Fourth Doctor always carried around, in a silver cigarette case.

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It is later explained that our nefarious mummy is actually an ancient warrior that has somehow been kept alive long past it’s own expiration. This is due to a faulty life support system that basically doomed the poor soul to warp around absorbing life force to keep fighting the long forgotten war that it was still fighting. In some ways, this almost makes The Foretold a creature not unlike a rogue cyberman – desperately trying to do what it can to survive in an almost mindless manner. The Foretold was pretty scary for a mummy considering we’ve all been around various mummy stories for upwards of 80-100 years. Usually these mindless beasts are nothing more than cursed specters that attack anyone in sight but are easy to foil. The Foretold, however, can teleport, change it’s dimensional phase to only appear to certain people, and ruthlessly kill just about anyone in under a minute. A far cry from the one Abbott and Costello fought. On a side note: I am glad that, upon the realization that The Foretold was actually a soldier, The Doctor didn’t slip into another anti-military rant as those are starting to get a bit forced.

Thankfully this episode doesn’t end with a gigantic fight between Clara and The Doctor, as she finally seems to be certain that he is a good man – manipulative perhaps, but good at his core. She did promise her now boyfriend Danny Pink that she was done with her travels, so I can see some more Doctor vs Danny drama coming up. Since we’re past the halfway point, and it’s rumored that Jenna Coleman isn’t going to be on the show much after the Christmas special, I want to see a few episodes where there isn’t tons of tension between the characters. I always hated most of the Peter Davison era because characters like Tegan and Adric were constantly at his throat, and I really do not want a return to that tone.

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What can I say? Show me a space train, and I’ll enjoy the hell out of it. Yeah, the mummy was a bit silly in space, and we didn’t find out who the real villain was (hopefully it’s shown later) but it was a solid episode nonetheless. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, the majority of the side-characters, and even that cool version of Queen’s Don’t stop me Now sung by pop singer Foxes. This was another almost legitimately scary episode, and the body count may prove that this was potentially a bit much for some kids. I’m glad the show is getting creepier, as the horror episodes are some of my favorites.

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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: Listen (2014)

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For me, there has never been an episode as deceiving, and surprising, as Listen. At first, I was under the impression that this was going to be a straight-forward horror episode, in a similar vein to last year’s Hide. This was “egged on” by a trailer that reveled in the creepy aspects of the episode, leaving no question to me exactly what we were going to be getting. I like these sorts of episodes a bit, but usually find them to be somewhat worse than other episodes due to the tendency to overdo the explanation for whatever supernatural creature they “seem” to be fighting. That’s not a ghost! It’s merely a time traveler trapped in a parallel dimension! That’s not a vampire! That’s an alien from the deepest outer-reaches of space! You get the idea. Then I watched the episode and everything changed. While the beginning segment of the episode was a straight forward “creep out” exercise by Steven Moffat, what followed was quite possibly some of his most clever writing since Blink.

I’m going to do far more of a recap than usual, because this is not an episode that simply needs a one paragraph blurb to get the point across. In fact, I have no idea how to express the plot of this other than actually analyzing it, and you will soon see why.

Question. Why is there no such thing as perfect hiding? Answer! How would you know? Logically, if evolution were to prefect a creature whose primary skill were to hide from view – how could you know it existed? It could be with us every second and we would never know. How would you detect it, even sense it… except in those moments when, for no clear reason, you choose to speak aloud? What would such a creature want? What would it do? Well? What would you do?

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Listen opens with the long-awaited date between Danny Pink and Clara Oswald that was hinted at few episodes ago. As one can imagine, this does not go well at all, and both parties end up awkwardly offending each other in probably the worst way possible. Clara once again mentions something that offhandedly seems to be a reference to Danny’s buried past, and he lashes out at her – ruining the date. Disheartened, Clara goes to the Tardis to meet a Doctor that seems to have been left alone to ponder something for far too long.

It seems he has become completely consumed with the idea that every living being has a constant companion, an entity that is with us at all times, watching us, experiencing all we experience. Being a bit into western esotericism, this almost seemed to hint at an old Platonic theory of the eidolon, a “shadow being” that we all have that may or may not be our actual suppressed personality or essence. This isn’t actually referenced in the episode whatsoever, but I was all ready for the possibility that they were going for that and I got excited (LOL). The Doctor’s “theory” is that everyone seems to have the same dream at some point in their lives, a dream in which a hand grabs them from under the bed at night. He asserts that this was no dream, but this entity trying to communicate with us. Clara initially dismisses this wholesale, but agrees to return to her childhood so they can investigate.

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There is a blunder in the Tardis navigation circuits (WHAT!? That never happens!), and instead of visiting Clara’s childhood, they seem to visit a young Rupert Pink, a boy that it is assumed to be none other than Danny. Of course, The Doctor has yet to officially meet Mr. Pink, so he seemingly does not know the significance. Rupert is terrified of a monster under his bed, making him a prime candidate to test The Doctor’s theory. As they discuss the situation, and odd apparition rises from under Rupert’s bed sheets, leading The Doctor to have them turn away from it, ignoring it. While this could be a monster, it also could have merely been another child keen to play a prank on Rupert.

An interesting thing happens here when both Clara and The Doctor seem to “create” Danny Pink by imprinting values and future information on him. Clara suggests he let a toy soldier stand guard for him, which he enjoys the idea of. He’s always been into soldiers, and names one of his toys “Soldier Dan”. Since he hates his real name, we can see this as when he chooses “Danny” as his new alias. Before wiping his mind of their meeting, The Doctor encourages Rupert to see his fear as a “superpower,” because adrenaline will empower him to overcome obstacles and foes. He seems adamant of this, as if he knows something he isn’t telling anyone else. Rupert slips into a deep sleep with his new life as the heroic “Soldier Dan” firmly implanted into his mind.

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This is where the episode veers off into a place where I had no idea it would go. The Doctor and Clara decide to go back to her “date”, mere minutes after she storms off, in order to set things right with Danny. The Doctor isn’t so keen on this, but seems okay as long as he can ponder his theory more. The date still goes poorly, this time with Danny storming out after she accidentally calls him “Rupert”. He assumes that she is making fun of him in some way, and is hurt. A man in an orange spacesuit steps into the diner, and assuming it’s The Doctor, Clara follows him angrily. The man removes his mask to reveal a much older Danny Pink!

The Doctor identifies this man as Orson Pink, one of Earth’s first time travelers, having originally come from over one-hundred years in Clara’s future. The Doctor found him stranded at the end of the universe, where he was on the verge of death and fearing that an entity was trying to kill him. The Doctor theorizes that this is the very same “companion entity” that he was looking for earlier, and that it may be trying to kill Orson since he is the only remaining life in the Universe.

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Orson decided to become a time traveler when he was a child due to things that happened in his upbringing. It is revealed that one of Orson’s great-grandparents told him stories about time travel and that Orson possesses the small toy soldier given to Rupert earlier in the episode. He gives it back saying that she is worthy of his family heirloom. Something happens and our crew attempts to escape the entity and end up in an odd location as the cloister bell rings, a telltale sign of enormous danger.

Clara finds herself in a rickety barn with a crying child in it. She is forced to hide under the bed when two people enter and try and coax the child out of the room. They are concerned that his constant fear of the dark is going to make him a poor soldier, and that he will never become a TIME LORD at his current state. Horrified at what she has heard, Clara accidentally grabs the child’s leg from under the bed.

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It is at this time that she realizes that she has met none other than The Doctor himself as a young boy, and she is the “companion entity” that he is fearful of. She tells him that he is dreaming, and that he needs to channel his fear into something good, a similar idea that The Doctor told a young Rupert Pink. This barn is none other than the rickety old barn seen in “Day of the Doctor”, so it can be assumed that they are somehow on Gallifrey. Clara tells the Doctor that they need to leave without question, and that he isn’t to know where they just were.

Listen is the perfect set-up for a Moffat-style monster that ends up being a GIANT red herring. He excels at creating conceptual monsters that embody some sort of primal fear that we all share, and in this case it was taken to the ultimate conclusion. For half of the episode, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the reveal on the constant companion and why it seems to be terrorizing The Doctor so much. Realizing that this monster is none other than a misunderstanding from The Doctor, and that he is secretly “scared of the dark” is pretty awesome. In fact, knowing what is going on makes a second viewing that much better.

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To be honest,  When I thought this was a straightforward monster episode I felt that the beginning was weird and oddly paced. The episode seemed to be almost nonsensically put together on a narrative standpoint and concentrated on Clara’s date way too much. It’s only half-way through when I realized that the monster isn’t the main point of the episode, and the date is a study of what makes Danny Pink tick, and why the Doctor acts the way he does. We basically end up searching the negative space of the episode, looking for clues that help us know about the monster (much like The Doctor) and are left speechless when we find out that there is no monster.

We are left assuming that The Doctor has basically made an immense leap of logic that seems somewhat uncharacteristic for himself, and has veered somewhat into the realm of the conspiracy theorist. I’m not going to say that this fact makes The Twelfth Doctor crazy, but his motivation here seems to be that of someone that is utterly horrified by something, but can’t get past the most likely reason for feeling the way he does. He literally cannot come out and say that he’s scared and show any weakness; being so used to carrying the universe on his shoulders, he has somehow internalized it into this “superpower” he tells Danny about.

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As a complete package, it all comes together in such a gratifying way that I haven’t felt since the 50th anniversary special. In a way, this is the current show’s Edge of Destruction, an episode from “classic Who” that seemed weird, oddly paced, and yet immensely gratifying once you realized what was happening.

If anything, this season has proven to be much more about character building than the previous few, and I for one am very happy about that. While I hope that we don’t see too much more of The Doctor’s past, it was cool seeing him as a child. Writers always run the risk of spoiling the mystery of characters like The Doctor by showing their “origin stories” (see X-Men’s Wolverine) but seeing him before he became who he is was awesome. Clara has really imprinted herself on The Doctor much more than anyone else has, she really is “The Constant Companion.”

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Here’s Your Saturday Links: 9-20-14

 

 

 

 

SFX Weekender 2012 - Prestatyn

Red Dwarf’s Norman Lovett Makes Indie Dark Comedy Film

“Twisted Showcase was delighted to work with the legendary comedian, whose affinity and passion for the issues dealt with in Toilet Soup, an uncompromising attack on internet trolls and general ignorance, gives the episode a powerful authenticity that is hard to ignore.”

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One Leg Too Few

“When it comes to euphoniously-named book series, you can’t do much better than the Tripods Trilogy, and this isn’t even the most impressive thing about it. This series doesn’t seem to be nearly as well-known these days as it deserves to be – the TV adaptation is thirty years old now, and the film version is apparently stuck in Development Hell – but having recently revisited it I find it still has much to commend it.”

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Find out why a British crime author made a sci-fi FPS at Develop Live

“The Scottish novelist has spent the majority of his writing career focused on crime novels, but he switched genres to write Bedlam. While its story tells of human trapped in a world of video games, the book’s connection to gaming runs far deeper: it is part of perhaps the first true game-and-novel tie-in, where the book was specifically written to be followed by a video game.”

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The Greatest Sci-Fi Characters of All Time

“Vote now for your favourite heroes and heroines, villains, machines, robots and aliens of the genre. Experts, writers, directors and famous fans will be nominating their contenders. Fandoms will mobilise, old grudges will re-awaken and passions will be played out in the final battle.”

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St Helens muscular dystrophy sufferer granted sci-fi movie wish

“A seven-year-old boy who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy has filmed his own sci-fi movie after a charity granted him his wish. Clark Doyle, from St Helens, was given the chance to write and record a feature film by the Make A Wish Foundation because of his love of movies.”

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AMC Acquires Sci-Fi Remake ‘Humans’ After Xbox Drops Out

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that AMC has acquired the rights for Humans, a sci-fi drama co-produced with the U.K.’s Channel 4. The series was originally meant to be a partnership with the fledgling Xbox Entertainment Studios, but Microsoft then pulled the plug on the venture.”

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‘Think of the children!’ Parents express outrage as Doctor Who travels through time to new latest EVER slot to avoid Strictly clashing with The X Factor

“Parents have been expressing their outrage after learning that the new series of the show is to be pushed back to it’s latest ever time slot of 8.30pm, one hour after the 7.30pm slot that the previous episodes have been airing at.

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Doctor Who and the Scottish referendum: The Doctor’s adventures in time and Scotland

“With Scotland voting for and against Independence in the referendum today, let’s take a look at the times when Doctor Who and the North of the Border featured together.

Of course, let’s not forget the prominent Scots: Peter Capaldi, David Tennant and Sylvester McCoy, who have all played the Time Lord; John Barrowman, Karen Gillan and Neve McIntosh, who played the Doctor’s friends; and Steven Moffat, the current showrunner.”

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The Monday Meme: Supermodels

TWIN-DILLEMAFrom: Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma

 

Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doctor: You can’t be serious.

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

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

Robin Hood: Not as yet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Doctor Who: Into The Dalek (2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ever Wonder how Scary the Doctor Who Theme Sounds Slowed Down?

Wonder no longer, I have your nightmare fuel right here!

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.

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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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What Would Doctor Who Look Like as a 1970’s/80’s Japanese Action Show?

The Monday Meme: Tumbleweeds

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Whether it be Star Trek or Red Dwarf, I always cringe a little bit when I see that a “theme episode”is coming up. At least Doctor Who has a central time traveling theme to make this less silly, but some shows really stretch to allow for such things. Western episodes are especially goofy in UK-based sci-fi, as they take all of the tired cliches that were mainstays decades ago and exaggerate them to a spectacular degree.

The Tripods: (1984) France, September 2089

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AKA Season 1, Episode 9

Many medical professionals go to school for upwards of eight to ten years to hone their craft as a practicing physician. Intricate procedures like doing surgery are skills that one must spend countless hours to perfect in order to keep the patients alive and well. In a post-apocalyptic dystopia nobody is that lucky, and your only bet might be the gangly guy with glasses who seems smarter than everyone else.

When faced with a foreign object embedded into his flesh, Will has to make that very choice – letting Beanpole dig a hunting knife into his side to remove what can only be assumed to be a Tripod tracking device. To really send the gravity of the situation home, one of the last things beanpole says to Will is- “you better find something to bite on.” This is, of course, as he sharpens his knife on the wall of a dirty underpass they are hiding in.

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Once again Will becomes a bit of a liability to the group as he recovers from his amateur surgery. Not since a handful of episodes ago has the team been so vulnerable to an attack with Tripods basically crawling all over them. Beanpole steps up and formulates a plan involving this tracking device, their new horse, and a straw dummy fashioned to look vaguely human. The tracking device is stuck in the dummy, the dummy placed on the horse, and the whole shebang is sent off into the wilderness or as far away from the boys as they can get it.

One of the many things I like about the characterization of Beanpole is that he is a formidable genius, but it’s not too over-the-top. Some shows have guys in these sorts of survivalist situations that rub two pine cones together and produce cold fusion somehow or another. Characters like McGyver come to mind, and even though I loved that show as a kid, his genius was a little far-fetched at times. Beanpole is more realistic in the way that he attacks the trios problems, and whether it be cutting into somebody to retrieve a weapon or creating a dummy to distract the baddies – it’s exactly the sort of stuff one could imagine a sheltered genius doing with very little materials.

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Once this plan is executed, flawlessly I might add, the guys find themselves once again in the company of French citizens with an injured Will needing a place to rest (sound familiar?). This time they are taken in by a group of young girls and their mother and father, a headmistress of sorts and a farmer. Unlike the previous aristocratic family, these guys run a vineyard and live off of the land. They of course get cleaned up, fed, and are expected to work a little bit in exchange for the hospitality.

I noticed that this show has a silly way of making French people suddenly all start speaking English, and it first popped up in the “Chateau arc”. Basically when these girls realize that Will and Henry are not French (Beanpole is) they proclaim that “from here on out, we will all be speaking English”. This is from the perspective of hospitality within the show, but it’s real purpose to to keep the whole thing left un-subtitled for English speaking TV audiences. Let’s face it, if this were to really happen Beanpole would be translating for Will and Henry, and everyone else would be speaking French. Drawing attention to such a problem almost makes it more silly than just having everyone magically speak the same language.

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Basically, this episode and the next episode exist solely to give Henry a romantic fling so that Will isn’t the only “Mac Daddy” of the trio. This entire story-line is absent from the original books, so I’m not too sure if this was added in as a “filler” of sorts or to balance the story out a bit. It becomes fairly clear that this family is keeping the boys around in the hopes that their enormous family of young girls will suddenly all get married and move on. Will is still hurt from what happened  to Eloise just days prior, and wants no part of this. Henry however goes on and starts to fall in love with one of the older daughters.

Will and Henry basically flip sides on their previous views on relationships during this adventure, and come across as huge hypocrites. Henry suddenly has googly eyes whenever he thinks about staying at the house – to the point that he suggests they wait there all winter. Will, on the other hand, suddenly doesn’t trust anyone and wants to leave ASAP.

We don’t see them bicker too long, as their decision is basically made for them later in the episode during a banquet for the oldest daughter. They are all set to meet her fiance, and a young “Blackguard” walks in the door! if you forgot who those guys are, just think of Nazi Gestapo officers working for the Tripods. They also have dumb hats!

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As we roll into episode 10, the boys are on the verge on yet another daring escape, and with Will at less than 100%, that’s not going to be easy at all. Luckily, this story is wrapping up pretty fast and we don’t have 4-5 more episodes of Henry falling in love to deal with, sad that he gets the short end of the stick all the time.

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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: Fashion

TRIPODS-CLOTHESPicture From: The Tripods

 

 

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