An American View of British Science Fiction Ep 4 – Cons

The McCoy Panel
The McCoy Panel

It’s been a few weeks since Planet Comicon, so this week Stephen discusses the rich convention schedule that has been popping up in Kansas City, MO in recent years. A big emphasis is placed on the fact that KC is turning into a place to meet a lot of the Doctors from Doctor Who!

An American View of British Science Fiction Ep 4 – Cons

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Doctor Who: Colditz (2001)

Colditz_(Doctor_Who)

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), David Tennant (Feldwebel Kurtz), Toby Longworth (Hauptmann Julius Schäfer), Nicholas Young (Flying Officer Bill Gower), Peter Rae (Timothy Wilkins), Tracey Childs (Klein).

Colditz takes place during World War II, and as one can probably easily piece together from the title, it has to do with the infamous prison camp Colditz Castle. While Americans are not as familiar with this legendary facility, The UK has had decades of documentaries, Television shows, and even board games based on the many escape attempts of it’s prisoners. The camp was basically set up to house officers and other high ranking people who tried to escape from other camps, so it was almost seen as the Alcatraz of it’s time. Over here, we have tons of versions of the Steve McQueen movie The Great Escape which is based on an escape from a polish POW camp, so you get the idea.

The bad guys in this are Nazis, and if there was any “Tardis team” that has a good chance of being able to deal with Nazis, it’s definitely Ace and the seventh Doctor. We have seen their influence in Curse of Fenric, The Silver Nemesis, and one could argue that The villains of The Fearmonger were essentially some type of right-wing Neo-Nazi types. Because of this, I actually chuckled when Ace mentioned “not Nazis again, I hate Nazis!”. I’m not a huge fan of science fiction having Nazi bad-guys because it usually ends up being the lazy Star Trek “Space Nazis!” trope, but thankfully this isn’t the case here. These are regular Nazis in their correct time line.

I’m a big fan of historical episodes that do not involve some sort contrived alien involvement, and this one is almost entirely of that sort. In fact, The Doctor himself is the only real alien involvement we see here which is refreshing. The plot of this episode centers around The Nazis confiscating a CD Walkman from Ace and creating a paradox in which they reverse engineer it and win World War II. This plot is more-or-less in the background, but it’s the way they a new anti-hero character named Klein is introduced. You see, Klein’s from this alternate time line in which the Nazi powers have taken over the rest of the world. As far as she’s concerned, her world is the better one; as a child of German parents growing up in England, she welcomed the Nazi victory. I know from looking at Wikis that Klein’s story is fleshed out more, and can’t wait to fill the gaps in.

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Perhaps the most notable thing about this story is that the main villain of the story, Kurtz, is played by none other than a young David Tennant in his first Doctor Who related piece of entertainment. Kurtz is an awful piece of work, the sort of character that one really hopes will come to an early death. He plots behind the backs of his superiors, tries to hold information for his own gains, and even tries to take advantage of inmates in unspeakable ways. Kurtz is definitely a Hollywood Nazi archetype, as is another character in Schafer – the sympathetic Nazi. While these character tropes aren’t bad they reek of being historically inaccurate to some degree.

My only downside to this audio seemed to be the sound mixing, which shocked me because Gary Russell directed episodes are usually very well done. There were many scenes within the interior of Colditz Castle that had weird foley work such as footsteps that sounded as if everyone was wearing concrete shoes on metal floors. I have a digital file for this audio, so perhaps I got a bad download? I’m not sure, but it sounded off in places. Perhaps somebody with the CD could chime in on the comments page. This didn’t take me out the play by any means, but there were times where it got distracting or drowned out a bit of dialog.

All-in-all this was a great story, and considering people think that I’m too harsh on 80’s Doctor Who, this is the second McCoy/Aldred story in a row that I’ve really enjoyed. I do wish that the audio mix would have been a bit better, but it’s still a hearty recommendation to every Doctor Who fan. Upon listening to this, I also have a strange feeling that I should watch Chicken Run for some reason.

Here’s Your Saturday Links: 9-13-14

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Fun fact of the day:

“According to a report in Variety, published on 6 November 1956, a nine-year old boy died of a ruptured artery at a cinema in Oak Park, Illinois during a showing of this double bill. The Guinness Book of Records subsequently recorded the incident as the only known case of an audience member dying of fright while watching a horror film.”

READ MORE>

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Deep Breath Hits No 1 At US Box Office!

 “Soumya Sriraman, BBC Worldwide North America’s EVP Home Entertainment and Licensing, says “Doctor Who continues to grow in the U.S. and it is thrilling to see the fans come out for the theatrical screening experience as we’ve embarked on new adventures with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. We’ve enjoyed partnering with Fathom Events and our accomplishment in the box office is a testament to the successful collaboration between our two companies.””

READ MORE>

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Project Hieroglyph: Fighting society’s dystopian future

“Just glancing at this week’s movie listings, those in the US can see humans battling super apes for world domination, a gang of Marvel misfits fighting against the universe’s certain doom, or a young boy tasked with keeping all memories of a society that has done away with individuality.”

READ MORE>

doctor-who-into-the-dalek-peter-capaldi

Revealed! The covers of our GQ Men Of The Year issue (Peter Capaldi gets a cover)

“On 2 September it was the hottest ticket in town, but if you couldn’t make it to the ceremony itself you can now catch up on all the winners in this year’s issue celebrating the GQ Men Of The Year Awards 2014, in association with Hugo Boss. From the Beatle who’s been promoting peace and love for five decades, as well as the rogue British hotshoe shaking up Formula 1 to a sci-fi double-hitter of in the form of Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi and Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch, you’ll find interviews and shoots with 22 incredibly influential men – and one perpetually intriguing woman – on the bleeding edge of now.”

READ MORE>

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American Doctor Who fans befuddled by Capaldi’s accent: ‘He should be called Doctor What!?’

“While the 12th Doctor may have been thrilled about his development, it turns out that some of the show’s fans are not. As Capaldi made his debut, the internet’s complaint registry (aka Twitter) was quickly filled with the grumbles of fans struggling to understand the new Doctor’s new accent.”

READ MORE>

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Steven Moffat Talks Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who Costume

“Showrunner Steven Moffat has spoken exclusively to SFX about the new series of Doctor Who, launching next month on BBC One. And he tells us that new star Peter Capaldi had a major input into just what the well-dressed Time Lord is wearing this aeon…”

READ MORE>

 

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

The Tomorrow People Falls in the Battle of TV Renewal

tomorrow-people-cw-title-card

While I’m excited for a whole slew of new TV programs coming to us this upcoming fall, I’m pretty bummed that no less than THREE shows that I currently enjoy were canceled recently. There may be some hope for NBC’s Community or Fox’s Almost Human on digital streaming services, but I can pretty much guarantee that the CW’s The Tomorrow People is as dead as my chances of visiting Mars. I’m usually critical, bordering on overly-critical, on shows that get remade in the US market; but I will say, I quite enjoyed this show and am sad to see it go. The CW has really surprised me as of late with their push for science fiction programming. Even though I have quibbles with how some of their shows get produced (people are all supermodels in their shows) I have become a fan.

If you’re new to the game, here is a quick synopsis of the show shamelessly plagiarized from another article I did a while back: “The Tomorrow People tells the story of the next chapter in human evolution – Homo Superior. These are people born of normal humans, but possessing telekinesis, teleportation, and other psychic abilities that make them far apart from normal society. As a trade-off for such abilities, The Tomorrow People can’t willingly kill others, and have to stay safe using non-lethal weaponry – this is a shame because they seem to be targeted by some very bad people. In a sort of X-Men meets Torchwood amalgamation, we come to learn that The Tomorrow People live in a secret base under the Thames and actively look for others like themselves to help and protect. When someone realizes that they are Homo-Superior they go through a process of great mental strain and bodily stress called “breaking out””

tomorrow-people-cw-cast

The Tomorrow People was a bit different to the normal US television remake factory, in that it’s pretty different from the somewhat obscure source material and is distanced by nearly forty years. Instead of remaking something from the UK that’s popular now, (I’m amazed someone hasn’t attempted a Downton Abbey remake) I’ll hand it to CW for remaking a children’s show that hasn’t been on for decades. Even the iteration that aired on Nickelodeon was on almost TWENTY years ago.

Many people were confused that TTP was canceled instead of shows doing far worse in ratings and critical reception – take Beauty and the Beast which had a rather lackluster fall showing. A recent Entertainment Weekly article lays out what happened: “Pedowitz explained that Beauty and the Beast performed better in terms of international sales and social engagement. “We’ve always said we’re a very different style of broadcast network,” he said. “We have situations where shows like Beauty have created upside potential … it’s a fan favorite. It has a great international [interest]. Primarily, Tomorrow People was a great show — [it] just didn’t have the same level of social engagement or digital side that Beauty and the Beast gets.””

The-tomorrow-people-1973-slaves-of-jedikiah-robot

So what went wrong? I will admit that the show had a slow start, a fact that seemed to put a lot of reviewers against it immediately. The show wasn’t critically panned by any means, but many saw it as “average” or sought parallels to other properties – like The X-men. That’s the problem with doing a remake of something so old – once cutting edge and hip has grown commonplace forty years later. As the Entertainment Weekly article pointed out, there was little overseas interest for this show, and one only has to look at a UK-based science fiction forum to sense the apathy.

I will hand it to the CW for at least attempting to inject life into the property. Replacing things like a robot named Jedikiah as a principle villain (see image above), with a more-realistic leader of a militarized scientific operation was a good idea. The characters were older, more rounded and had real issues. Here’s hoping CW keeps Arrow and Flash around and takes some more chances like they did with The Tomorrow People in the future.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armageddon (1998 film)
Armageddon (1998 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

This view annoys me to death.

 

How To Watch British Television in America

An easy guide on how to watch all this stuff I keep yammering on about!

We live in a very interesting time for entertainment consumers. Gone are the days of only having a small selection of television channels to watch on any given day. First, the home video and DVD markets opened the floodgates on older and far more obscure programming to watch. This was followed by internet streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and those dreaded Peer to Peer and bittorrent clients. No longer is the consumer shackled to the whims of a TV executive or commercial entity. For the most part, barriers are falling and e can watch what we want, when we want,how we want.

This blog covers one particular type of media – UK science fiction and other “genre” programming. A lot of the stuff I cover is readily available to Americans on pay services or home video releases, but what I want to do is give a general overview on how I watch all this stuff. Don’t fret if you are a reader that doesn’t live in the U.S., most of these tips can help you out as well no matter what country you live in.

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Look for one of these on the back of your DVDs

Region Codes, and how to bypass them.

As many science fiction fans may have noticed – shows licensed from UK companies such as Doctor Who cost about twice or even three times more than most U.S. television shows. This can be particularly bad if you are on a budget and don’t want to break the bank. Yes, a few of these shows are available on Netflix (e.g.Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, and Day of the Triffids) but some shows that I plan on eventually getting such as the Tripods or Blakes 7 will probably never come out here or be released on a streaming device. You can obviously download things and burn them, or watch programs on your computer, but if you are like me, this choice is never as good as watching a good quality image whilst sitting in a comfy chair. This is where region-free DVD players some in.

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this is what happens when you try to play a disk on the wrong player (Photo credit: williac)

So what are DVD regions? They are an archaic policy adopted by home media companies decades ago to promote policies such as price discrimination, disallow reverse importation, and control costs with staggered release dates. For example, in America a company can get away with selling a seven year old season of Doctor Who for around $79.99 due to the niche market and limited exposure. In the United Kingdom this would be ludicrous, and as such, it is much cheaper. Anyone in their right mind, when confronted with such a price difference, would just order these DVDs from England. This is what they are trying to stop. America is called “region 1” and the UK is “region 2” so neither can easily watch each others home media very easily. If you pop a foreign DVD into your personal DVD player it will have an error message, this is the same with personal computers,game systems and just about everything else that would make you happy. Here are maps of the DVD regions and Blu-Ray regions. 

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DVD Regions
Blu-Ray Regions
Blu-Ray Regions

My recommendation to anyone that may decide to watch some harder to find UK shows is to do one of the following two things:

Region-Free DVD Players
Region-Free DVD Players are big business in some countries(Photo credit: Hikosaemon)

1) Cheap Method: It’s a little known secret that most, if not all cheap Chinese-made DVD players are actually region-free, and have their region locks installed via software within the factory. In the past I used to get DVD players from Digix or Coby for around 20-30 dollars. These players were pretty crappy for the most part, and honestly aren’t worth it unless you can’t swing what I will post on option 2. I remember having this one particular model of Coby DVD player that would work fine until around the six month mark, *boom* – broken. The trick to using one of these is to do a little research. Websites like DVD Help have listings of DVD players and whether they can be region hacked or not. Most of these are simple to hack, as a numerical code on the DVD remote usually does the trick.

2) Best Method – depending on how much one wants to spend, visiting a site like Region Free DVD is the best option. Tired of dealing with cheap players, I plunked down 100 dollars for a Toshiba regionless HDMI up-scaling DVD player, and will never look back. Not only is the picture better in just about every way, but the player itself is tailored for wide screen TVs and widescreen media, like most UK TV.

The reason I recommend getting one of these players is pretty self explanatory with the numbers. Here are the prices and availability of one show Life on Mars, and its spin-off/sequel Ashes to Ashes.

Amazon.com

LOM Season 1: $49.99-$79.00

LOM Season 2: $49.99-$79.00

A2A S1: Not released

A2A S2: Not released

A2A S3:Nor released

Total $100.00+ for 2 seasons, Ashes to Ashes not even announced for release as far as I know.

Ashes to Ashes (TV series)
Ashes to Ashes (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amazon.co.uk

(as of today’s exchange rates)

LOM Season 1: $15.00

LOM Season 2: $15.00

A2A S1: $15.00

A2A S2: $15.00

A2A S3: $20.00

Total $80.00 for 5 seasons, all episodes complete, there are also combo packs of all three Ashes to Ashes seasons, and both Life on Mars seasons that could bring the price down even more. 

And now you can see why I do this, and shipping isn’t bad either – maybe 8 bucks for most DVD orders to reach the U.S. If you don’t care to get a new DVD or Blu-Ray player, there are also computer programs that disable region codes on PCs. Technically you can watch foreign DVDs on there as it does allow for a VERY limited amount of region swaps, but be careful. If you keep switching regions, it will eventually permanently lock into one. Most computers can be toggled around six times before this happens. 

But lets say you don’t care about actually owning these shows, is there a way to watch these on TV or on your computer? Why yes there is!

Cable TV Alternatives

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

There are three major streaming services in the U.S.: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. These three companies have become my lifeline lately, as I decided to “cut the cord” a few years back, and drop my cable subscription. Needless extra channels and ever-increasing prices were getting to be a headache,and I’m glad there was an alternative to cable and satellite. While there is a bit of cross-over, all three companies have their strengths and weaknesses in price and availability. In a general sense, Netflix is better for movies, Hulu is better for TV, and Amazon Prime is like a weird cousin of both – having VERY popular TV shows and movies, but less of them.

Hulu
Hulu (Photo credit: Evan Hamilton)

Netflix gets big props for having licenses for some of the bigger shows like Doctor Who and Top gear. With the latter, they even have all of the 20+ seasons (minus the first) all ready to marathon. Hulu has been bringing quite a few UK comedies and dramas over as “Hulu Exclusives” such as Rev. and Whites as of late. Other shows like Moone Boy, Misfits, and Pramface have been getting quite a bit of traction on there as well, bringing what could be considered “more obscure” shows to a new audience. Amazon Prime is the oddity here. They have some huge shows like Downton Abbey and things like Sarah Jane Adventures as well as next day purchase options for the NEW episodes of big shows. This year, I spent 2 bucks a pop for Doctor Who series 7, something that I could have pirated, but chose not to.

amazon-prime

Considering that my monthly cable bill used to run some $120, these companies are awesome. Hulu is $7.99 per month, as is Netflix, and Amazon Prime is $79.99 yearly. There are other perks for the Amazon subscription including free two day shipping on everything, so if you are a heavy Amazon user, I don’t know why you wouldn’t use this service.

Public Broadcasting Service
Public Broadcasting Service (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kickin’ it Oldschool

For our penultimate section I decided to bring up regular old TV, whether it be network, cable, or satellite. This is not my preferred method of watching UK TV, but it will definitely do in a pinch. For years, the Public Broadcasting Service has helped many an Anglophile get their fix. I grew up watching comedies like Keeping Up Appearances, Mr. Bean, and Monty Python just to name a few. My local PBS station still runs a Saturday block of UK TV all sponsored by some very passionate fans. Some of the videotapes they use look pretty bad now, but if you haven’t seen the show digitally remastered you will be none-the-wiser. Some PBS stations even run shows like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf, so keep an eye on the schedule. Outside of that, cable providers have a decent amount of UK TV, especially if you have BBC America on your cable plan. The problem with “regular TV” is that most US TV execs love to remake everything that is popular rather than airing the original.

bittorrent

“By other means”

I won’t lie, I sometimes obtain TV episodes from the internet. Whether it be a bit-torrent client or YouTube,if one is internet savvy enough pretty much anything is obtainable online. For older shows that are out of print on DVD and impossible to legally obtain over here, I have ventured onto torrent sites quite often. be warned, this is NOT legal at worst and kind of a  gray area at best, and could land you in trouble. I would never download a Hollywood film or adult film using these sorts of programs, as shady litigation “honey pots” are out there to tempt people into breaking the law. Another option is using proxy servers or streaming sites to access UK-only TV providers. I haven’t really dabbled with this, and have no real opinion on the use of these programs or the results.

So there you go fellow anglophiles, I hope this helps you navigate the wondrous world of British television much easier, and gives you some new stuff to watch. If you have any questions on show availability, or tips on how to watch something, please feel free to ask, as I may be able to help.

Continuing The Peter Capaldi Discussion

Earlier this week I posted an article entitled “The Twelfth Doctor & Why I’m Sick of Nerd In-Fighting” which seemed to incite some awesome discussion on my feed. Thanks for checking that out everyone! A fellow American of the nerd persuasion named Ben Herman wrote an awesome follow up to my blog post that everyone should read called “Old vs new: fan wars and Doctor Who“. And While you’re there check his other stuff out like an ongoing retrospective of David Quinn’s take on Marvel’s sorcerer supreme in “David Quinn’s Doctor Strange, part one“. It’s one of those blogs that I ALWAYS enjoy reading, and I think any reader of this site would enjoy it as well!

 

 

The CW to Re-launch the Tomorrow People This Fall

tomorrow-people-cw-title-card

This weekend, I decided to pop a few episodes of the 1970’s classic The Tomorrow People into our viewing rotation. While looking for an episode guide, with cast names and such, I stumbled upon this bit of news coming out of The San Diego Comic-Con and all the fall TV press packs that have been making the rounds. It seems The American TV network The CW is trying to brand itself a hub for Genre TV geared towards a younger demographic. With the success of Supernatural under their belt, and Arrow having a solid first season, it seems the top brass wanted something to compliment Arrow, with The Tomorrow People somehow getting the nod.

This isn’t the first time the show was re-launched over here, as I clearly remember watching the 1990’s series on Nickelodeon many years ago, but that was more of a continuation than a reboot. this U.S. version seems to be a total re-launch of the plot of the 1970’s show:

“This update of the 1970s British sci-fi series stars Amell — aka the cousin of Arrow himself — as Stephen Jameson, a standard-issue teen save for his tendency to wake up in other people’s beds, no matter how securely you shackle him down. Stephen soon learns he is one of the “Tomorrow People,” a super-secret, supernaturally enabled race fronted by Cara and John (played by List and Mitchell). Their adversary is Ultra, an organization of paramilitary scientists led by Dr. Jedikiah Price (Pellegrino)”

I’ve been toying with reviewing U.K. based things that were either remade in the U.S. or vise-versa, and this seems like a perfect test for that. Stay tuned, as this new show premieres in October, let’s hope it’s actually decent. Bonus: Here’s a trailer –

The Tripods (1984) England, July 2089 AD

tripods-title-card
(a.k.a Season 1 Episode 2, this show has bland episode names doesn’t it?)

When we last left Will and Henry, the boys were disgusted by a “capping ceremony” for a former friend named Jack. At a certain age, all boys are expected to give up frivolous things like creativity and adventure and submit to the life that the ominous Tripods have set out for them. This usually includes working in a hard labor camp, mine, factory or even helping the Tripods directly. The boys leave a goodbye note to their family and rush out to meet with Ozymandias, a supposed Vagrant they just met. He tells them of a path to a port city and a way to the European mainland. A man named Captain Curtis is known to freely transport runaways on their quest to the White Mountains, and is said to be just like Ozymandias in that he also has a false cap and can think for himself. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned and Captain Curtis isn’t the nice guy that they thought he’d be. He’s not evil or anything, he just doesn’t like the fact that two snot-nosed kids are on his ship expecting him to give them money and such.

I mentioned the nature of the Vagrants a bit in my last review, but did not elaborate on what makes Ozymandias stand out in comparison. In the books by John Christopher, it is revealed that “cappings” don’t always go well. This can be expected, seeing as they are placing a brain washing device directly on a person’s skull. Roughly five percent of people that get capped are driven insane, becoming Vagrants. The Tripods can even make someone into a Vagrant on purpose if it fits their needs in dealing with a potential “problem person.”  Vagrants range in intellect and self-sustainability, but usually lie somewhere between a really disturbed person unable to care for themselves and on lesser cases, a medieval village idiot. Ozymandias is nothing like this; the man is well spoken, seems to have all his mental faculties in place, and knows how to think for himself. He claims to have a false cap on his scalp, a precaution to fool everyone into thinking he’s just as idiotic as the other Vagrants. Running off with the man, seems like a terribly stupid idea to the boys, but they know it could be their last chance to avoid being capped, and to live free.

tripods-episode-2-tripod

I really love the theme of this show, as it is basically in a similar vein to other works that espouse a need to think for one’s self and reject norms that society puts in place. On an innocent level, The Tripods can be compared to Peter Pan, as bot Will and Henry are definitely resisting “growing up” in order to live free and have adventure in their lives. One can see that this whole set up is a reaction to what happens to most people when they move into adulthood. We all give up dreams of being astronauts and princesses, and submit to 9 to 5 jobs that many of us don’t enjoy. While I don’t think many have a fifty foot tall monster as a supervisor, the allusion still stands.

Like the first episode, the second is mostly more dialog and set-up, but has a tad more action as a whole. As the boys leave the village, they are embarking on a Tolkien-esque quest in no-mans-land; and just like a group of weary Hobbits, our boys have no experience dealing with the outside world. With search parties looking for them and Ozymandias getting severely injured, things start to unravel. Ozymandias laid out a “easy” quest for them, one that almost immediately goes wrong as they are seemingly “shanghaied” onto the wrong boat. This of course is just the first in many problems that plague these guys.

Once again The Tripods Delivers awesome sci-fi action that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and makes you wanting more due to the cliffhanger endings, a similar trope used in Doctor Who to great effect.

tripods-episode-2-boat-captain

How to watch this at your house:

For whatever reason, The Tripods was never released in the United States or Canada on home media. I assume that this boils down to Disney “squatting” on the rights to making a feature film based on the license. Disney has a habit of blocking DVD releases of things until it suits them monetarily (see Tron on DVD prior to the release of the second film). If they had been released, I could have recommended you guys just ordering this on Amazon, but a tad more creativity is needed if you want to watch this show over here. If you have a region-free DVD player, you could always import the show from the UK; make sure you read my guide to region-free DVD players for more info on importing home media to the U.S. If you’d rather not deal with things like international shipping, I did find a seller with the import in America, but one still needs the special player to run the disks”

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

Of course there are  also “other means”, but I’ll leave that up to you guys! If books are more your speed, there are four in the Tripods series:

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came

The Tripods (1984) – A village in England: July, 2089 AD

The Tripods first came to my attention a few years ago when I stumbled upon a picture of one of the titular crafts in some sort of memorabilia magazine full of garage model kits. As I recall, I had no idea that there was some sort of “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and wondered why I had never heard of it. I was, of course, mistaken as the concept of these three-legged walking crafts is merely inspired by those similar Martian crafts, and have no relation otherwise. The Tripods was actually a series of “young reader” novels penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into the very television show that we’re talking about today. The production was a joint venture between the BBC and the Australian Seven network, and lasted two seasons. Sadly a third season died before it went into production.

The Tripods is immediately unsettling based solely on the setting alone. The juxtaposition of the words “A village in England: July, 2089 AD” and the primitive, somewhat pastoral, village setting we see right from the get-go sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, let’s find out why it happened. We know that something isn’t right: either these people are some sort of Anabaptist off-shoot that hates technology, or something bad has happened in the past. This is answered almost immediately as we meet the main characters on their way to a village celebration. It seems that a neighborhood boy has reached the age at which everyone is considered an adult, and is to have his “capping ceremony”.

tripods-episode-1-capping-ceremony-tripod

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

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

tripods-episode-1-will-and-ozymandias

As with many BBC science fiction productions of the time, the special effects are dated to the eighties. The hairstyles, clothes, and even set designs are very much reminiscent of other TV productions I have seen from the time. This show does appear to have a better budget than something like classic Doctor Who, in that there are location shots, outdoor scenes, and other evidence that the whole thing wasn’t just locked into a dark studio in an industrial park somewhere. The tripods themselves are done with miniatures and puppets; these look great to me and would have been poorly done had contemporary computer generated effects come into play. I sometimes look at late eighties Doctor Who and cringe at some of the special effects. For me this eighties vibe adds to the charm, and there really isn’t anything that makes it so dated that it’s hard to watch – something that is hard to say about a handful of older U.S. productions that haven’t held up. I recall renting the TV series to the landmark miniseries V, and barely making it through the season. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the boys are walking around in a post-apocalyptic world that had a vaguely referenced bad thing happen in the past. If you see them find some blatantly eighties clothes in an abandoned storefront, as we see in a later episode it makes sense because humanity has regressed to something like pre-industrialized England or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

tripods-episode-1-capping-ceremony

One thing that immediately caught me was the musical score as done by Ken Freeman. He is notable for being behind the synthesizer parts of the legendary rock opera version of The War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne.Freeman did a great job of creating a solid synthesizer-based soundtrack for the series; one that is neither overpowering nor too minimalist. I always had problems with eighties shows being accompanied by either disco music (which immediately dates it) or music that sounds like a cat running across a piano to emphasize action. Here is a video of the opening theme to give you an idea of the kind of music I’m talking about. While the show hasn’t had as much exposure, I liken this to equally catchy and iconic theme songs such as The A-Team, Airworlf, and Doctor Who.

The Tripods is a solid show, and has captivated both my wife and I all this week. Perhaps it is my love for these sort of post-apocalyptic stories that has led me to such enjoyment, but I feel any science fiction fan should enjoy it unless they are adverse to seeing the eighties. The Tripods is one of those shows that keeps you on the edge of your seat; whether it be the unraveling mystery of what happened before 2089, or the constant cliffhanger endings,I was always entertained.

tripods-episode-1-tripod-over-trees

How to watch this at your house:

For whatever reason, The Tripods was never released in the United States or Canada on home media. I assume that this boils down to Disney “squatting” on the rights to making a feature film based on the license. Disney has a habit of blocking DVD releases of things until it suits them monetarily (see Tron on DVD prior to the release of the second film). If they had been released, I could have recommended you guys just ordering this on Amazon, but a tad more creativity is needed if you want to watch this show over here. If you have a region-free DVD player, you could always import the show from the UK; make sure you read my guide to region-free DVD players for more info on importing home media to the U.S. If you’d rather not deal with things like international shipping, I did find a seller with the import in America, but one still needs the special player to run the disks”

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

Of course there are  also “other means”, but I’ll leave that up to you guys! If books are more your speed, there are four in the Tripods series:

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came

 

The War Game (1965)

There is nothing more terrifying than watching a “what-if?” film about a nuclear holocaust. If done correctly, such programs can really stir fear in one’s heart and make anyone think about the ramifications of such an event to their lives. I particularly remember watching the American TV movie The Day After some years ago, and while not acted in the best manner, it was disturbing in many ways. First of all it was filmed in my home state, using buildings and town names that I’m used to, and it showed what could happen after a nuclear bomb falls. I can only imagine how messed up it would have been had they had done it as a faux documentary rather than a drama, it would most likely have ended up like BBC’s The War Gamea far superior film, and much more scary. A film like this is only as powerful as the time we live in, and today much like the sixties, we live in fear of idiots flaunting their missiles all over the world. This short black-and-white film was recently added to Netflix instant streaming, so I figured that it would be interesting, little did I know it would also be amazing.

Produced in manner similar to a documentary-styled magazine program, The War Game tells the story of a nuclear crisis in the “near future” of the 1960’s Britain. The whole mess starts when China invades South Vietnam, an act that America sees fitting to retaliate for with a decree of nuclear intentions. This idea angers all of the Communist nations leading to a small-scale nuclear war in Berlin between the two German halves and a handful of allies on either side. Eventually, it all escalates into an all-out World War with Britain getting hammered with over sixty bombs.

This film shows everything thereafter including the collapse of society, sick people, and mental traumas resulting from the bombings. What follows is a scathing look at how the director, Peter Watkins, sees Britain’s preparedness for such an event. All that “stiff upper lip” stoic nature from the blitz goes out the window in this documentary, and everyone turns into animals once things get bad. All Civil service agencies are lampooned as well as church elders, but this is not humorous satire, this is the stuff of nightmares.

One of the most unnerving segments in this film was a series of black cards with white lettering read by the narrator. Throughout the film, these cards come up to show facts, news quotes, maps, and other tidbits that really help this to look like a news show. The most poignant ones were statements from officials such as government workers, press agents, and other high up big-wigs. The card that creeped me out the most concerns the manner in which the church took notice of the bombings, coming together to issue the following odd statement:

“The church must tell the faithful that they should learn to live with, though not love, the nuclear bomb, provided that it is ‘clean’ and of a good family.”

And later:

“During a recent meeting of the Ecumenical Council at The Vatican – a bishop told the press that he was sure “our nuclear weapons will be used with wisdom.”

With how “out of reality” the church tends to be these days, I’m not too convinced that something like this wouldn’t leave the lips of a spokesman at the Vatican today! I’m not sure whether to take stuff like this as black comedy much on the same way that Dr. Strangelove handled such things, or a hard condemnation on how stupid and/or heartless people can be. With our politicians today, I think the latter is most fitting.

The written content found within isn’t the only thing that makes this film so dark. It’s also filmed in a manner reminiscent of actual news footage – meaning that they created staged building collapses and deaths, and filmed it all with a handheld camera to make it far more realistic than many movies of the time. This was Cloverfield, only forty years early. For the 1960’s, these special effects are amazing and would honestly look great if used in a modern production. This isn’t a cardboard walls Doctor Who budget, this was made to look as real as it could to strike fear. I think the only effect that was sort of “iffy” was the way in which they depicted nuclear blasts. Since they didn’t have computer generated effects back then, and stock footage is tiresome, we didn’t see any mushroom clouds. Usually somebody would be outside and the screen would flash white for a moment, leading the actor to cover their eyes and scream. While not great, this effect does its job, and doesn’t look unrealistic, just uninspiring. It was like hearing the sound effects from an off-screen battle in a Lord of the Rings movie, some of the impact is taken away if you can’t see it.

Gritty scenes such as one featuring a group policemen being forced to employ mercy killings on people so severely injured that doctors could not help them seems so out of place for any film made in the 1960’s. I can see why this film was immediately hated by higher-ups at the BBC, as it basically mocked authority on all levels. Also, if people used to call in to complain about things in Doctor Who in the 1970’s being “too scary” this would have given these same people heart attacks. I cannot stress how much this seems like a modern film in terms of tone and nature. The War Game didn’t actually get shown on any TV network until the mid-1980’s, and I’m thankful it didn’t meet the same fate as other 1960’s BBC productions –wiped and junked. It was deemed too dark, it made the British infrastructure look bad, it belittled civil servants, and it stood in the face of over-zealous national pride –things that weren’t cool forty years ago. At least now we can watch it, and enjoy it without any censorship involved.

Another scene that really struck me, on a deja vu level, was one that was used much later for a plotline in a David Tennant era Doctor Who episode called Turn Left. In The War Game, threats of an imminent nuclear strike force the evacuation of millions of people to the country-side. The streets run foul with protests and uncertainty as many households were forced to take in and feed as many as eight guests for the duration of the events. People caught on camera include many that act very selfish; this includes people trying to hoard resources and even bigots. One woman interviewed remarked that she hoped her new lodgers “weren’t colored” as was the norm back in the sixties.

The aforementioned Doctor Who version of this happened in a similar manner. In Turn Left, the Earth fell to utter ruin when the titular character died in an alternate reality. His companion at the time, Donna as played by Catherine Tate, was forced to board with other people when London is totally destroyed in a nuclear accident. The racial sentiment is still jarring now as it was in the sixties, and it really shows that accidents and other catastrophes bring out the worst in people. I’m really surprised that there haven’t been a lot of people that have picked up on this connection between the two shows accidental or intended– then again this movie may be pretty obscure due to its age and its banned status.

If you want to see a great disaster movie that doesn’t resort to over-the-top special effects in lieu of drama, please check this out. For a film that I assumed would be schlocky 1960’s faire, The War Game was awesome. This movie is so dark, violent, pessimistic, and edgy, that one would assume that it came from the brain of a modern director. Since it was shelved so long ago, I feel that many have not seen a true speculative fiction classic. I know this kind of film is not for everyone, it’s sort of depressing, and makes you feel bad. But that shouldn’t stand in the way of the punch in the gut you get watching it.

Here is an excerpt from the film:

Survivors (2008) Episode 3

It’s been a while since I did a write-up for this Survivors; I guess I had a lot going on and got a bit sidetracked. Recently, I got hooked on a U.S. based reality show called The Colony, in which people are made to live in a situation resembling a post-apocalyptic virus outbreak; I immediately thought of Survivors. A lot has happened in the first few episodes of Survivors, and now that the main cast is all together, it’s time to break everyone up into little groups to look into the inner-workings of their characters. In the last episode, we had things like Al finally opening up – moments like this are really the best thing the show can offer. We get two such occurrences in this episode:  Abby in one case, and Greg and Tom in another.

In the first half of the story, Greg and Tom come across a family that has somehow managed to stay isolated during the viral outbreak. The father of this family goes to insane lengths to protect his family, such as forcing his kids to stay inside at all times. If he sees any living creature, whether it is an animal or human, it needs to be killed to preserve their unaffected status. He bathes in harsh chemicals if he steps outside, and burns his clothes afterwards. This is all done because he loves his kids, but this extreme nature does nothing but bite him, when he attacks Greg and Tom. They are forced to hide in this man’s barn for a bit after their car is destroyed, and accidentally expose the daughter to the virus. This brings up a very bad situation where the father must choose for the daughter to leave with two unknown strangers, or to stay there and possibly kill the rest of the family.

After seeing some terrible new 2012 inspired American TV shows such as Doomsday Preppers, the attitude of the father makes me a bit sad. His paranoia for the unknown nature of the virus makes his entire family miserable, and resent him. In the aforementioned program, people hoard food, make ridiculous precautions, make their kids run paramilitary drills and other stuff that seems to be a great idea, but as Survivors illustrates, would just end up failing anyway.

The other half of the episode sees Abby coming across a haven for other survivors while she is out looking for her son. This camp is run by Samantha Willis, possibly one of the few government heads left alive after the virus hit. While the place initially looks like a utopia as it has food, electricity, and multiple survivors of all ages, it has a dark secret. These people don’t like outsiders, and have a warlike relationship with a group of marauders that are trying to share the wealth. Problems like the viral epidemic seem to bring out the worst in people, a running theme in this show, and a place like this colony go from being awesome to just as bad as the gang that our characters met with in episode two.

I liked this episode a lot because of the above situations the characters are forced into. The story of the little girl is heartbreaking, and was the highlight of the show drama-wise for me. I’ve seen other shows recently like Outcasts that try to be an interesting drama with a bit of science fiction flavor, but end up being a glorified snuff film to make the audience feel bad. These gruesome acts take the place of good writing, but fail to do anything for me. Survivors doesn’t rely on shock tactics and we see a bit of the other side of drama – warmth. The scenes were the remaining Survivors help build a chicken coop while Abby, Tom, And Greg are out gives this slow a glimmer of hope, and that’s why I can always come back to it.

A for Andromeda (2006)

I first heard about A for Andromeda in an unlikely, although not surprising, place. I had never heard of the original 1961 television series for two reasons, first, one can blame the fact that I am American and was born in 1982, secondly, one can look to the loss of most of the original program via the old BBC “who gives a crap” archival policy on filmed material. This was the very same policy that destroyed countless old Doctor Who episodes and many other historically important shows. There was a Documentary on a DVD set called Lost in Time, in which orphaned Doctor Who episodes were pulled together so that they could be released in some way. This documentary filled me in on this “junking” situation and mentioned more things lost forever, including a show called A for Andromeda, touted as being one of the first BBC science fiction programs. I must have gone to Wikipedia or some such, as I had quickly discovered that a remake was out there….and here we are.

The serial opens with a “zooming in on the earth” shot eerily similar to the one from Rose, a 2005 episode of the resurrected Doctor Who. This shot was re-used on that show, and its spinoffs, countless times in the last few years; this really makes me wonder if the BBC had to keep using it for some reason. Like maybe the BBC spent a ton of money for it and needed to make ends meet by using it hundreds of times? Maybe a test group rated it the best part of the program so that drove its implementation on every show? I think it’ll be one of the great mysteries of our time.

Much like 2005’s Quatermass Experiment (which I need to review as well), A for Andromeda has an inexpensive look and feel, and yet stays away from a “cheap” appearance. Shows like Hyperdrive go the opposite route and try to look “BIG!” on a budget, and end up looking incredibly dated and cheap in the process. The use of “shaky cams” and small sets gives it a far less cinematic vibe than Doctor Who, but makes each scene interesting. In many cases the camera is right in the middle of dialog, as if you are somehow part of a conversation taking place. This makes the production remind me of an independent film, and makes it more charming in many ways. If you’re one of those people reading this and asking “why should I watch a six-year-old TV special that looks like an indie film?” there might be something of interest here. The main character, John Fleming, is played by none other than a pre-muscular Tom Hardy. It’s almost comical seeing him play a scrawny scientist considering his “tough guy” roles he has been getting lately. This show really proves that he is a very versatile actor, and could easily become a superstar in the future.

The story of A for Andromeda follows a group of scientists that discover a microwave signal coming from the Andromeda Galaxy. Once decoded, this signal is turned into a computer program that could be a huge breakthrough for all mankind – or be its undoing. The plot is a fairly hard science fiction (as in scientifically sound) story without all the bells and whistles that decorate many modern productions. Most British science fiction relies on concepts and dialog rather than sheer spectacle, and I believe this very program is a good case for this distinction between British sci-fi and US sci-fi. While this story is one of the productions biggest strengths, it is also a huge fault in the grand scheme of things.

Hard sci-fi relies on realistic takes on the genre, so one would imagine dialog and concepts that show great care in “keeping it real”. Instead we get material in a similar vein to all those procedural crime dramas on U.S. TV. A scientist pounds on the keyboard, says some technobabble, and *boom* something amazing happens that is truly unrealistic to modern science. It is in this way that while A for Andromeda tries to be “hard sci-fi” it’s really more of a drama – Like sci-fi for the CSI crowd.

I really liked this show despite its over-simplification of things, and it’s resemblance to a type of TV that I really do not enjoy. The acting is great, the direction is good considering the budget, and the actors involved all do a great job. For me, the highlight really was seeing Tom Hardy playing something different from a gangster or assassin, and fans of his should really check this out.

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.

British Science Fiction VS American Science Fiction: Why All The Fuss?

Anyone stopping by this site might wonder why exactly I don’t just talk about ALL science fiction, I mean it’s not like I don’t watch stuff from my home country at all. Keeping in mind that I am a Star Trek fan, I’ve dabbled in Star Wars, and I love some old Buck Rogers, that doesn’t excuse the fact that I am shamelessly addicted to stuff from the “other side of the pond”. The question remains, is there really a difference to the two different styles, can one distinctly draw a line between the two sides and separate them? For me, the answer is yes.

I think the main difference can all be chalked up to the argument of mood vs spectacle with the British productions geared heavily towards atmosphere, mood, and concepts and most American helmed productions relying mostly on spectacle, visuals, and special effects. As one can imagine, most of this can be chalked up to budgetary constraints, as anyone with access to millions of dollars in production budget would love to make something as grand as Star Wars, but if you are given far less you may have to settle for Blakes 7. What this usually means is that the actual scripting for these British programs has to be scripted to concentrate on tension, horror, and relationships versus escapist imagery. This forces the writers to go for ballsy content that will grab viewers and hold them; while there are a few American scifi shows that have taken this route, many “wuss out”.

A prime example of this neutering of concept in favor of spectacle can be seen in the American version of Life on Mars, a remake of a UK show from a few years ago. At first glance, the shows seem similar, but anyone will immediately notice a stark difference between the two. First and foremost, we have the production values in place hammering away any subtlety in concept. Instead of filming in antiquated areas, and keeping things dingy, the American show goes for a smooth veneer of CGI effects on things to add in the twin towers and other relics to constantly remind us of another time.

Screw subtlety, here we have "shock and awe"

I was constantly baffled by the use of yellow lense filters to instill a weird vibe on the show, it made it look like portions were filmed on Venus or something. I know folks had a hideous concept of color back then, but wouldn’t it be better to actually use sets with yellow, green and brown things in them instead of just tossing a filter over everything? It’s not like the sky was yellow back then, though I was born in the 1980’s so maybe I missed that memo. This basically ruined the show for me right from the beginning because it makes it hazy and hard to see anything in any of the shots. Instead of thinking “man, Gene Hunt’s office has terrible décor”, I thought to myself “why is he at work at sundown in a foggy yellow-lit room?” While both shows do a fairly decent job of keeping the early 1970’s fashion and hairstyles in check, the American one looks a bit too “shiny” and somewhat gratuitous. The acting seems more “Hollywood” and fake, and everything looks too clean and sterilized. Even the classic cars seem to all be from car shows, no spec of dirt on any of them. The U.K. Life on Mars excels on “not trying too hard” and succeeds by keeping everything simple. The U.S. version tries far too hard, and as a result fails.

Another huge misstep is the overall casting of the show. In the original, Sam was a normal sized guy, athletic but not too large. This was at odds with Gene Hunt’s large size and physicality. We were to believe that if the two were to ever get in a fight, Hunt would decimate Sam with sheer size and brute strength. Instead we have a Sam that towers over Hunt, a sixty year old Hunt to be exact. I know Harvey Keitel is a well-liked actor, but how am I supposed to believe that he is a hardass, if it looks as if he could break a hip at any moment. Everyone else looks “too pretty” if you get my drift, nobody looks like a real person, and it seems like they cast the show from a modeling agency.

Dear God! Why is the sky yellow?

My final real problem is that the show has been whitewashed to be more politically correct. In the original Gene Hunt is not a nice man, he is a corrupt cop that uses his rank to bully everyone around him. Aside from that he is a chauvinist, he is racist, he is homophobic, and he has the manners of a drunken frat guy. While a bit of that stays in, things like racist views are taken largely out, as to not offend people. I can see why this happened, but the whole point of the character is to show an exact opposing view to Sam, someone that Sam tries so hard to avoid being. This way, when Gene starts to soften up, especially in the sequel show Ashes to Ashes, he is that much more endearing.

I could keep going, but I’d rather not nit-pick the entire show to death. Truth is, had I never seen the original version I still would have been annoyed by the show, and probably not finished it.

By doing this comparison, I am by no means belittling American science fiction as the inferior product, but it does show why one can almost never truly adapt a program from there to here, our sensibilities are so different. On the flip-side imagine a show like V (the new one) being created in the U.K., it would be an entirely different show. So yes, there is a difference in the two brands of sci-fi, and I prefer one over the other.