October 9, 2015
Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Delenn (Mira Furlan) struggle to unite the Interstellar Alliance, with many of the worlds refusing to sign its declaration of principles. In his new role as Head of Covert Operations Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) develops a plan to use the station’s colony of telepaths to spy for him. A remote civilization begs for help when they are targeted by raiders.
Three episodes into Season 5 and the two main faults of this widely maligned final year have become fairly clear. The first problem is money: in transferring from PTEN to TNT, the series has visibly undergone a budget cut. The casts in each episode seem a bit smaller, while the sets and visual effects seem less ambitious. Most critically the cast aren’t getting the shooting schedule they used to have. Scenes feel rushed and clumsily blocked (where the actors move to and from during the scene). Performances feel poorly considered and weak. It all has the vibe of opening night at a community theatre production: there’s talent in there, but it’s all nervous and confused and just a bit tiresome to watch.
October 8, 2015
Pretty much the most widely acclaimed and feted videogame designer of all time is Shigeru Miyamoto. Back in the mid-1980s, when Nintendo were developing new titles for their fledgling Famicom system, Miyamoto concurrently designed two key games that would go on to shape the company's fortunes for decades into the future. The first of these games was Super Mario Bros. The second was The Legend of Zelda.
The games were deliberately styled to contrast one another. Super Mario Bros was a linear experience, with the player controlling Mario as he ran and jumped from left to right through a series of 32 levels. The Legend of Zelda offered an expansive series of screens - viewed top-down - and allowed the player to control the forest boy Link as he explored the fantasy world of Hyrule. In a time when videogames still focused on the high score as a measure of player achievement, Zelda abandoned scores entirely: completing the adventure was the only measure of success.
Keillor (Roy Kinnear), an old associate of Avon’s, contacts the Scorpio with a proposition: millions of credits in stolen gold, available for the taking. Before Avon (Paul Darrow) and his crew can attempt the heist, however, it becomes clear that Keillor has not been entirely forthcoming and someone else may be pulling the strings.
When Gareth Thomas quit Blake’s 7 at the end of the second season, it left the series in a bit of a crisis: the title character gone, and with him the narrative drive for a rebellion against the Federation. In its third year the series cantered through a series of science fiction adventures based around a half-destroyed Federation slowly rebuilding after an intergalactic war. In the fourth, a renewed focus was placed on fighting the Federation: Avon leading an attempt to disrupt the Federation’s drug pacification program and to assemble an army of scientists and political leaders to form a proper resistance. It was clear that an constantly unsuccessful rebellion was going to deliver diminishing returns for the series, and so with an eye towards a potential fifth year script editor Chris Boucher commissioned this script: a heist drama by Colin Davis, re-positioning Avon, Vila (Michael Keating) and the rest of their crew as self-interested criminals hunting for the ‘big score’.
October 7, 2015
Four university students have been toying with the occult with disastrous effects. One of them is already confined in a hospital, and now another - Jenny (Maggie James) is having flashbacks to a past life. By the time Tom Crane (James Hazeldine) gets involved, in may be too late to save Jenny from the demonic power that looms over her.
"Powers of Darkness" is a surprisingly dark and horrific episode, even within the context of a paranormal series like The Omega Factor. It's script, by Anthony Read, is a clever mixture of elements - past-life regression, psychic powers and demon worship - and it is all directed very effectively by Eric Davidson. In fact it may have been too effectively written and directed, since "Powers of Darkness" is the episode that got The Omega Factor cancelled.
Through the 1980s and 1990s there was basically two key role-playing game franchises fighting it out for supremacy on Nintendo's consoles. Square's Final Fantasy stood in one corner, and in the other stood Enix's widely acclaimed Dragon Quest. There were four Dragon Quest games produced for the Famicom, and all four were ported over and translated for the NES in North America under the name Dragon Warrior. The first game debuted in 1989, and was followed by a second in 1990, a third in 1991 and a fourth and final NES title in 1992.
The gameplay was familiar to anybody who had played a Japanese role-playing game (RPG). Players controlled a group of heroes fighting their way across a fantasy kingdom. They travelled via a top-down map screen, entering towns and villages to rest and buy equipment, and journeying into dungeons to kill monsters, gain experience and progress to further areas of the world map. Where Dragon Warrior IV differs from its competitors is in its story, which is unexpected, original and groundbreaking: you control not one protagonist, but five.
October 6, 2015
Five years ago a Federation science mission went silent on the planet Vern. Now an investigation is underway, commanded by the arrogant Reeve (Stephen Yardley) and including an incognito Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce). When Avon hears of the mission he dispatches Tarrant (Steven Pacey) to steal the mysterious scientific discovery from under the Federation's noses - only an unexpected presence on the planet leaves Tarrant and Servalan trapped in the base together.
"Sand" is an exceptional episode of Blake's 7. It manages to pull off multiple achievements at once. It tells an intriguing science fiction story. It enriches its lead characters, and develops them in fresh directions. It even presents an unlikely romance that, while truncated, is pretty much the most effective storyline of its kind since the series began. It's written by the noted fantasy author Tanith Lee, who also wrote the unusual Season 3 episode "Sarcophagus". For me "Sand" is the much stronger script.
The simplest description of the plot goes something like this: in a fairy tale kingdom, the Baker and his wife rush to break a curse that's preventing them from having a child. On the way their quest becomes tangled with the stories of Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk. Into the Woods is an ensemble film with multiple protagonists, overlapping storylines, a highly cynical edge, and an unusual two-act format that is almost its undoing.
October 5, 2015
I received an NES console relatively late in the day. While the console was released in 1985 it was actually in about 1991 that I received a second-hand console and games as a birthday present. There were two games with the console: Tennis, which was relatively rubbish, and Kid Icarus, which remains one of my favourite videogames of all time.
Kid Icarus was released in Japan in 1985, and in the rest of the world in 1987. It's a platform game in which the player controls Pit, a winged fighter with a bow and arrow who fights his way through three different worlds to save the goddess Palutena from the evil Medusa. This Greek mythology-inspired game offered wonderfully cute characters, varied and challenging gameplay, and a bunch of ear-worm musical themes.