August 31, 2013

The Pull List: 28 August 2013

Last month I reviewed the first issue of a new DC Vertigo comic titled Collider. I was a bit ambivalent about it, but suggested people give it a shot as it had a lot of potential. I shall discuss whether or not the second issues lives up that potential in a moment; first we need to talk about the title.

It completely flummoxes me that, as a subsidiary of mega-corporation Time Warner, nobody at DC Comics thought to do a rigorous trademark search on the title Collider before they launched their new comic. I'm interested to see how this affects sales for this second issue, since people looking for Collider on the shelf aren't going to find it there. DC has been forced to rename their new comic so as not to confuse it with a pre-existing comic of the same name. So now we're looking at issue #2 of FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, which is definitely a less catchy name.

The issue itself is very well composed and structured, and opens up a lot of mysteries for future issues to explore. The art continues to be highly distinctive with abstract renditions of the lead characters and a great, vivid use of colour. The science fiction ideas in this book are well thought-out and entertaining, and it looks like they'll play background to a long-running storyline based around the characters. All up a big improvement on issue #1 and more than enough justification to go buy issue #3 in September. It's just a pity about the title. (4/5)

DC Vertigo. Written by Simon Oliver. Art by Robbi Rodriguez.

Under the cut: reviews of All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman Incorporated, Batman/Superman, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, The Flash, The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires, Journey into Mystery, Justice League, Lazarus, The Massive, Station to Station, Star Wars Legacy, Thor: God of Thunder, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Young Avengers.

August 30, 2013

Under the Dome: "Let the Games Begin"

The villainous Maxine reveals her new plans for Chester's Mill to Barbie, starting with an underground 'fight club' at the old cement factory. Big Jim goes looking for leverage against Maxine, and comes face to face with a woman with a shotgun. Joe, Norrie and Angie go looking for the elusive 'fourth hand', the identity of whom comes as a complete surprise.

Actually that last sentence is a total lie. It's not a surprise at all, in fact it's the most obvious character it could possibly be, so obvious in fact that I spent the second half of this episode waiting for the inevitable twist that someone else was actually the fourth hand - but no, it's the one you'd expect and it happens exactly how you'd expect it. Despite my total lack of surprise, the 'mini-dome' arc turned out to be the strongest aspect of this episode, one that - while boasting some decent performances - was pretty much entirely derailed by evil Maxime and her evil Maxine ways.

August 29, 2013

Enterprise: "First Flight"

While the Enterprise explores a new kind of dark matter nebula, Captain Archer receives the news that his good friend A.G. Robinson (Keith Carradine) has died in a climbing accident. While surveying the nebula in a shuttle with T'Pol, Archer recounts the early days of the NX test program - in which he and Robinson fiercely competed for the chance to become captain of the Enterprise.

If you include the 90 minute pilot as two episodes, then "First Flight" is the 50th episode of Enterprise. I suppose in a sense it's appropriate then to celebrate the milestone with a special episode about the origins of the NX starship program. It fills in the gaps a bit, and shows a little of what it took for the Enterprise to get to where it launched all the way back in "Broken Bow". The problem is, however, that we kind of know what happened. There's nothing that "First Flight" shows us that we couldn't have assumed all by ourselves. This is the core problem with prequels, and of course "First Flight" is a prequel to another prequel. Surely that makes it doubly redundant.

August 28, 2013

The X Files: "Deep Throat"

The X Files pilot episode did a great job of introducing viewers to FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, as well as the overall thrust of the series: two detectives investigating the paranormal and unexplained across America. This second episode, "Deep Throat", teases in the second critical pillar for the series: a government conspiracy to hide the existence of aliens among us on Earth.

Shortly after being called to investigate the disappearance of a US Air Force pilot, Mulder is met by an anonymous middle-aged man (Jerry Hardin) who warns him from following the lead. When Mulder and Scully arrive in southern Idaho they uncover what seems to be a military program to use UFO technology to build super-powered stealth fighters. Before long there are black helicopters, illegal surveillance, kidnapping, men in black and all manner of archetypal and stereotypical conspiracy elements.

August 27, 2013

Enterprise: "Regeneration"

I remember that when Enterprise was originally announced by Paramount Pictures I was overcome with a sense of eye-rolling cynicism. I remember having a conversation with a friend - I can't remember who - where we smugly anticipated that despite being a prequel set in the century before James T. Kirk we would see the Borg inexplicably crop up before the first year was out. And I'm happy now to confirm that we were wrong. The Borg didn't turn up in Season 1. They turned up in Season 2.

"Regeneration" is a sequel to Star Trek: First Contact that's incorporated into the prequel to Star Trek to in itself act as a prequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation's epic two-parter "The Best of Both Worlds". No, no: bear with me, it's honestly not as confusing as it sounds. So in the 24th century the United Federation of Planets is attacked by a cybernetic civilization called the Borg who, while defeated, launch a second attack some years later that results in them travelling back in time to the 21st century where they are defeated by the time-travelling crew of the USS Enterprise, but some of the Borg from that attack are frozen in the Arctic when their section of the Borg ship explodes, and a century later they are defrosted by Starfleet scientists and subsequently take over their spaceship and attempt to flee back to their homeworld, except the Enterprise (a different Enterprise with a different crew) destroys their ship but not before they send a long-distance subspace message advising of Earth's existence that takes 200 years to arrive and leads the Borg Collective of the 24th century to attack the United Federation of Planets.

August 26, 2013

Who50 #10: "The Massacre of St Bartholemew's Eve"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #10: "The Massacre of St Bartholemew's Eve", a four-part 1966 serial written by John Lucarotti and Donald Tosh and directed by Paddy Russell.

The historical adventure was a popular aspect of Doctor Who's early years, comprising roughly a third of William Hartnell's tenure as the Doctor. By the fourth season the production team elected to abandon the format and, asides from a two-episode dalliance with the format in 1982, the historical has never returned. It's a shame, because these historical stories are strong vehicles for character and drama. They can't hide behind rubber-suit monsters or alien planets. They rise or fall based on the plot and the characters within it.

"The Massacre of St Bartholemew's Eve" (or, to use its more common but apocryphal title, "The Massacre") is a stunning example on the sorts of drama Doctor Who can create in a historical setting. It's criminally obscure, even among Who fans, because the entire serial has been lost from the BBC archives. We can listen to it, however, via audio recordings - and those recordings reveal a shockingly mature and confrontational work. To my mind it's the most adult Doctor Who story of all time, and also one of its all-time best.

The Pull List: 21 August 2013

With its 23rd issue this week, Legion of Super-Heroes has concluded its current run. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by old-school DC fans when its cancellation was announced, although I'm not entire sure why. This was the seventh volume of Legion. Volume 6 lasted for 18 issues, and Volume 5 for 31. Then of course there's Adventure Comics (14 issues), Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes (21 issues) and Legion (38 issues). Basically in the 13 years of the 21st century, DC Comics has relaunched Legion of Super-Heroes six times. For those without a calculator handy, that's a new Legion comic every 2.2 years. That in mind, I'm pretty certain we'll see a new version of the team sooner rather than later. The fans can quit their bitching.

So how was this final issue anyhow? To be honest, a bit of a mess. It's pretty much all epilogue - in fact the second half seems actively made up of individually titled epilogues. Kevin Maguire provides the art, but the job feels a bit rushed to be honest. Perhaps his heart wasn't in it.

Paul Levitz writes a reasonable script here, but it's certainly nothing exceptional. I think a lot of its potential strength is wasted by the reader's knowledge that there's going to be a new Legion along eventually. It's a heartfelt farewell issue for a comic that, to be honest, never really earned it. (3/5)

DC Comics. Written by Paul Levitz. Art by Kevin Maguire. Under the cut: reviews of Batman and Nightwing, Batwoman, Daredevil, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Justice League Dark, Revival, Wonder Woman, X-Men and X-Men Legacy.

August 23, 2013

Under the Dome: "The Fourth Hand"

Joe, Norrie and Julia go looking for the mysterious egg - only it has vanished from its original location in the woods. After a resident of Chester's Mill is accidentally shot, Big Jim orders a buyback of the town's guns. Angie has a seizure, while the 'pink stars are falling' mantra turns out to have deep significance for Junior. Linda and Barbie follow a trail from a home invasion by a junkie to the late Reverend Coggins' drugs operation to Big Jim's propane store - and Barbie and Big Jim turn out to have a connection neither had anticipated.

You might guess from the above synopsis that a lot happened in "The Fourth Hand". This was a very busy episode, with a lot of plot development and some excellent work drawing the series' disparate elements into one strong direction. It also featured quite possibly the most irritating plot thread introduced to the series so far, one that irritated me so much that it damn-near derailed the whole enterprise.

August 22, 2013

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: "Rising Malevolence"

A devastating new superweapon is launched by the Separatist forces, an encounter with which leaves Jedi Master Plo Koon and a team of clone troopers lost in deep space with rapidly diminishing oxygen. Can Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker and his Padowan Ahsoka locate Plo and his crew in time? Or will they be the first victims of the starship Malevolence?

"Rising Malevolence" is a vastly superior episode to "Ambush" - so much so that it's slightly bizarre that Lucasfilm elected to release it second. It has more action and gravitas to it, it's got space battles and Jedi, and perhaps most importantly it stars Star Wars protagonist Anakin Skywalker. It almost feels as if "Ambush" was a dry run, and the series actually starts here.

August 21, 2013

Gatchaman Crowds: "Asymmetry"

The second episode of Gatchaman Crowds is much stronger than the first; this time around things are deliberately slowed down, so that the audience finally gets the time to understand the concept and get to know the characters. It's almost a little self-contained domestic sitcom, with the straight-laced and rigorously disciplined Sugane stuck with the impulsive and overt new recruit Hajime. Episode #1 featured super-powered swordfights with alien entities. Episode #2 features a collage club. That's one hell of a right turn, but it improves the series immeasurably.

In many ways I think this series would make a better impression if the viewer watched the first two episodes in a row, as if they were a double-length premiere. That way the action is demonstrated, but the characters are fleshed out as well. There's also quite a big mystery going on: the Gatchaman team have been tasked with tracking down and eliminating a mysterious entity named MESS, but when Hajime interrogates this mission no one seems to be able to tell her why it is they have to destroy it.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: "Ambush"

Star Wars: The Clone Wars recently wound up a five season run, yet despite being quite a big fan of Star Wars (okay, an enormous fan of Star Wars) I had never really bothered to watch the series. I know why: as a spin-off of the widely maligned prequel trilogy it didn't exactly boast the highest of pedigrees, it replaced an identically titled animated series by Genndy Tartovsky that I absolutely adored, and the animated feature film that Lucasfilm used to launch the series was fairly irritating. Yet, completist and tragic devotee that I am, I couldn't stay away forever, so - as with Enterprise and Star Trek, I figured it was worth giving the one bit of the franchise I'd never bothered with a chance to prove itself.

"Ambush" is the series premiere of The Clone Wars, and sees Jedi Master Yoda lead a small team of Clone Troopers in a fight against assassin Asajj Ventress and a Separatist droid army. It's set shortly after the film Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, as the Galactic Republic engages in all-out war with an alliance of separatist civilizations.

August 20, 2013

Gatchaman Crowds: "Avant-Garde"

I'm not sure what to make of Gatchaman Crowds. It's the fifth iteration of the popular Science Ninja Team Gatchaman anime, which was popularised in the West as Battle of the Planets. Aside from the title and the logo I'm not entirely sure of this new series' connection to the original. It premiered in Japan last month and currently streams on Crunchyroll.

Hajime Ichinose is a high school student with an obsession for stationary - particularly daily planners. When she is selected by the mysterious Lord JJ to join the Gatchaman, she finds herself enveloped by a secret world of pixellated monsters and super-powered heroes. Using a magical notebook she transforms into a scissor-wielding robot girl with pigtails. Her partner is a mechanical samurai. Their boss is a super-deformed alien that looks like a panda but who also hates pandas.

Is it just me? Do I just randomly pick the strangest anime to try out? I thought AKB0048 was weird. This is another level of strangeness altogether.

August 19, 2013

Young Adult (2011)

Mavis Gray (Charlize Theron) is a 37 year-old divorced alcoholic earning a living from ghost-writing pulp teen romance novels. When she is e-mailed a photograph of her high school sweetheart's newborn daughter, Mavis sets off to her own town in order to destroy his marriage, steal his heart and fix her broken life.

Young Adult is a starkly cynical movie from writer Diablo Cody (Juno) and director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air). It is not as good as either Juno or Up in the Air, but that doesn't stop it from being a hilariously mean-spirited, cold-hearted and oddly addictive little comedy.

It's difficult to pinpoint why I liked it. It stars an unlikeable protagonist doing unlikeable things to what seem like fairly decent people. I should hate Mavis - certainly her behaviour is often unforgivable - yet I walked away from the film entertained and liking her very much.

Who50: "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #11: "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood", a two-part 2007 serial written by Paul Cornell and directed by Charles Palmer.

In 1913 England, quiet and awkward teacher John Smith begins a romance with school nurse Joan Redfern. By day he unwillingly shapes his boys into the young soldiers they will be when the First World War breaks out in a year's time. By night he is plagued by dreams of travel through time and space, of Daleks and Cybermen, and of someone called the Doctor. Only Smith's housemaid Martha knows that he is actually the Doctor, on the run from the mysterious Family of Blood - and that the Family has finally discovered his hiding place.

"Human Nature" is a two-part serial so well written and observed by Paul Cornell that it actually feels a little out of place in Doctor Who. With the serial numbers filed off this could have been its own exceptional science fiction series, but as it stands it's merely one of the greatest Doctor Who stories of all time. It's Cornell's second crack at the story, since he first wrote it as a broadly acclaimed Doctor Who novel in 1995. It is heartfelt, lyrical, scary, romantic - and above all it pushes the series into a place it's never previously occupied.

August 18, 2013

The Pull List: 14 August 2013

Another Marvel event kicks off this week: Infinity, by Jonathan Hickman. It could be really good. Hickman's a great writer, after all. It's also $4.99 for the first issue, which seems more than a little steep, and after Age of Ultron I swore I wouldn't be reading the next big Marvel event so I didn't buy into this one.

Also of note this week is the final issue of Demon Knights, after 24 monthly issues. Who would have guessed that a Middle Ages fantasy set inside the DC Universe would out-live Hawkman, Firestorm, or Deathstroke? Well done to creator Paul Cornell and follow-up writer Robert Venditti for guiding it through two entertaining years.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman, Demon Knights, Justice League of America, Katana, Saga, Star Wars, Thor: God of Thunder, True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, Worlds' Finest and The X Files: Season 10.

August 15, 2013

Under the Dome: "Thicker Than Water"

It's our eighth day under the dome: the showdown between Big Jim and Ollie the farmer heats up, as does the conflict between Big Jim and Junior, as well as Big Jim and Barbie. Joe shows Julia the glowing egg in the woods. Norrie and Angie bond as Norrie grieves for her mother. Some people get shot. Some stuff explodes. There's some more ominous but perplexing foreshadowing.

Each week it becomes more and more obvious what a debt Under the Dome owes to Lost. It's got the diverse spread of ordinary people trapped in extraordinary circumstances, and more significantly it has the long, teased-out hints at explanations like a heat haze on the horizon. I used to be fascinated by heat hazes as a child. I grew up in north-western Australia, and when you drove down the highway there would always be this shimmering water-like mirage at the end of the road. No matter how far you'd drive, you'd never reach it. I was fixated on that image as a kid, and I feel like I'm back on that highway again when watching this series. There's a shimmering explanation for what's going on somewhere ahead, but it's pretty obvious we're not reaching it any time soon.

August 14, 2013

Saludos Amigos (1942)

It's 1941: World War II is heating up and the USA is nervously anticipating getting dragged into the conflict sooner or later. There's a worry in the State Department that several South American countries will side with Nazi Germany, leaving a host of enemy nations on the USA's doorstep. How do you counteract that threat? What's the best way to mitigate the risk? If you're the USA Department of State in 1941, the answer is clear: you pay the Walt Disney Animation Studios and RKO Pictures to embark on a goodwill tour of Latin America, and pay for them to produce an animated film to distribute 'south of the border'.

Saludos Amigos is a pure and simple propaganda piece. It's government-funded and boasts a clear strategic motive of swaying South American nations towards the Allied cause through their affinity with Donald Duck. It would seem ridiculous if it wasn't true, but there it is - still available on DVD worldwide. At 40 minutes it's the shortest of all Disney animated features (you can watch it three times in the space it would take to watch Fantasia once), but when you're animating on a truncated timetable and (by the time production was underway) half your best animators have enlisted in the US armed forces, you make what you can.

August 13, 2013

Who50: "The Talons of Weng-Chiang"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #12: "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", a six-part 1977 serial written by Robert Holmes and directed by David Maloney. 

Last week I mentioned that Season 14 was likely to come up again, and here it is with this six-part season finale for Doctor Who's greatest ever year. It is up there with "The Green Death" and "Planet of the Spiders" in terms of nostalgic memories: they were "the one with the giant maggots" and "the one with the giant spiders". This is "the one with the giant rat". Of course it's a dreadfully unconvincing rat, represented either by an actual rat superimposed with blue screen or by a cuddlesome soft-toy prop, but when you're eight years old the production values are pretty much irrelevant when Leela is being stalked through the sewers of 19th century London with the mammoth rodent in hot pursuit.

Doctor Who seems built for the 19th century. It's a period setting that matches perfectly what the series does best: a well-mannered British-accented lead, dark shadowy corners, gothic horror, and so on. It's a period the series has tackled a number of times, in "The Evil of the Daleks", or "The Crimson Horror", or "Ghost Light". "Weng-Chiang" does it best. It's one of the series' most marvellous attempts at pastiche, drawing in such elements as Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, 1970s kung fu and The Phantom of the Opera. Unusually for a six-part story it's incredibly well paced.

August 12, 2013

Red State (2011)

Kevin Smith doesn't want critics to review his films. He railed against them for saying mean, unfair things about his movies. I'm just guessing, but I'm pretty sure no professional critic goes into a film wanting that film to suck. They do have to sit through it, after all. It leaves me in a very minor quandary though, because I've just watched Smith's 2011 thriller Red State and I'm not sure whether I should review it or not. I mean, I've been paid to write film criticism, but not very much and certainly everything on the blog I do for free. So: am I critic? If I review Red State am I writing against the wishes of its director?

Red State is written and directed by Smith. It follows three teenage boys who, on the promise of group sex, are led into a honey trap by Westboro-style religious cult and threatened with murder for their perceived sins. It's about as sharp a career turn as a director could achieve: after close to two decades making dialogue-heavy, profanity-laden comedies, Kevin Smith has made a tense, politicised and socially relevant thriller.

August 10, 2013

The Pull List: 7 August 2013

This week I took a small plunge and dropped my standing order for Action Comics. I'm usually pretty bad at dropping titles, so this was a pretty big step for me. I'm not sad to see it go, however; I can spend that US$3.99 on a comic book I actually like.

I had very high hopes for Action Comics when the New 52 launched. I loved the idea of a young street-level Superman in jeans, work boots and t-shirt, and really enjoyed Grant Morrison's first arc on the book. Then it seemed to get bogged down in a complicated time-travelling, inter-dimensional mess, and by the time Morrison's run wound up I was feeling pretty ambivalent about the title. Then they announced Andy Diggle as the lead writer, something which lasted precisely one issue. Now they've got Scott Lobdell writing a fairly tedious fill-in storyline until Greg Pak can take over in a few months' time.

Why is it so difficult for DC to get this book right? By all rights it should be a company flagship, particularly with Man of Steel earning truckloads of cash in cinemas this year. I guess it's par for the course for the company these days, when they can't tie their own shoelaces without accidentally cutting their own foot off at the same time. There's a useful website I discovered yesterday: Has DC Comics Done Something Stupid Today. At the time of writing the answer is "yes", since they've just announced that they've massively short-printed all of September's 3D covered "Villains Month" titles, with the remaining copies getting printed in 2D covers with a dollar off the cover price. I don't know about you, but I'd have ordered a lot more of those villain books if I'd known they were going to be a whole dollar cheaper.

Under the cut: reviews of All New X-Men, Batwing, Daredevil: Dark Nights, Detective Comics, Green Lantern, Manhattan Projects, The Movement, Sheltered, Stormwatch and Trillium.

August 9, 2013

Enterprise: "Cogenitor"

While studying a hypergiant star the Enterprise makes first contact with an alien species, the Vissians. While Archer accompanies the Vissian captain in analysing the star, the two crews spend time getting to know one another. Trip is particularly intrigued by the Vissians' reproductive system, in which the male and female require a third party - known as a cogenitor - to successfully reproduce. When he realises that a cogenitor is being deliberately held back by its male and female partners, he makes it his mission to give them an education.

"Cogenitor" is one of those rare episodes of television that lulls you into a false sense of security for 30 minutes before punching you hard in the gut by surprise. It's a difficult episode in many respect, raising a number of moral and ethical issues and then cutting to credits with the can still open and the worms squirming everywhere. Series producer Manny Coto cited this as one of the best episodes of Enterprise's first two seasons and having now seen it, it's hard for me to disagree.

August 8, 2013

Odds'n'Sods: Three Links

  • A market analysis does some calculations for Deadline and discovers that in all likelihood Waterworld made a small profit for Universal Pictures, and would have been even more profitable if made today. As someone quite sick of this fun adventure flick being used as a punching bag for every lazy pundit wanting to talk about Hollywood flops, this pleases me. (link)
  • Super Best Friends Forever had the potential to be a massive commercial hit for DC Comics and Warner Bros, so long as they leveraged it properly. Instead they've cocked it up. (link)
  • Mapcrunch is one of my favourite websites: click the button and it transports you to a random Google street view from one of 47 different countries. (link)

August 7, 2013

Under the Dome: "Imperfect Circles"

The police are on another manhunt, this time for the Dundee brothers after they murdered Rose and attempted to rape Angie. A pregnant woman sees a vision of her absent husband, only to enter premature labour the moment she touches him. Big Jim's authority over the town comes under a new threat. Joe and Norrie track down the centre of the dome, opening an all-new mystery as to its origin and purpose.

"Imperfect Circles" marks the midpoint of Under the Dome's first season, and a fairly seismic shift in the sort of story that the series is telling. This is what I wanted in the first place: less soap opera theatrics, and more strange goings-on and weird phenomena. I suppose the main question now is whether this is a permanent upturn in the series or a once-off aberration.

August 6, 2013

The Pull List: 31 July 2013

Last week Grant Morrison concluded his 82 issue Batman epic, one that began all the way back in September 2006 and ran through Batman, Batman and Robin, Final Crisis, The Return of Bruce Wayne and two volumes of Batman Incorporated. That's a pretty big deal, and one that people don't seem to be paying much attention to. As a point of comparison: Morrison's run on Doom Patrol lasted for 44 issues, his run on JLA lasted for 33 and New X-Men 41. Even his widely acclaimed magnus opus The Invisibles (still my favourite comic book of all time) ran for 59.

Morrison's Batman is the longest storyline that Morrison has ever completed. I'm pretty sure it's the longest storyline that Batman has ever lived, died and lived again through. It stretched from the dawn of humanity to a dystopian future and back to the present.

Grant Morrison may have left the building, but Batman and Robin will never die.

Under the cut: reviews of Batman Annual, Batman Incorporated, Bedlam, Collider, Daredevil, Detective Comics Annual, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, The Flash Annual, It Girl and the Atomics, X-Men and X-Men Legacy.

August 5, 2013

Who50: "The Face of Evil"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #13: "The Face of Evil", a four-part 1977 serial written by Chris Boucher and directed by Pennant Roberts.

I was looking over my list of the 50 top Doctor Who stories this morning, and it occurred to me that it's with this serial, which I've ranked #13, we really hit the stories where I can just watch and watch them endlessly and never get tired of them. I know it's usually neater for people to discuss their Top 10s of things, but when it comes to me and Doctor Who I really can't pare my very favourite adventures down to any less than 13, and this is the 13th.

"The Face of Evil" is, in many respects, the perfect Doctor Who story. It has interesting characters played by a strong guest cast. It has the Doctor on top form, being serious when he needs to be and funny when he's allowed to be. It's pinned onto a sensational science fiction premise, but it's focus is on the adventure rather than the science fiction. It boasts a wonderful script by Christ Boucher, later to script edit Blake's 7 and create Star Cops, and it's effectively directed by Pennant Roberts. It's also the debut story for Leela (Louise Jameson), one of the all-time best companions in the history of the series.

Five Films: Peter Capaldi

So overnight the BBC has confirmed that Academy Award winner Peter Capaldi (which is a bit of a cheat, because his Oscar was for directing the best short film in 1995 rather than for acting) will play the 12th Doctor in Doctor Who.

I've always been a huge fan of Capaldi's, first noticing him in Prime Suspect and subsequently in Neverwhere, The Crow Road and Torchwood. He's a fantastic actor and will almost certainly make a stunning Doctor. He's also enormously talented in other areas, having written and directed for film and television.  He was also the lead singer of Glaswegian punk rock band Dreamboys - late night talk show host Craig Ferguson was the band's drummer.

So who is this guy? What should you watch to find out what he's like? These are my personal recommendations.

August 2, 2013

Odds'n'Sods: Nine things unrelated to the new Doctor Who

The Internerds are aflame with news that the BBC will reveal the actor playing the next Doctor in Doctor Who this Sunday. In the interests of balance, here are nine other geek/nerd news stories doing the traps at the moment.
  • Avatar. I actually quite enjoyed Avatar in a mindless eye candy sort of way, although I agree with many critics of the film that it has some pretty serious issues in regards to how to treats the disabled. All that said, I've never really felt the need to watch a sequel. James Cameron doesn't agree, and he's now going to shoot three sequels in one mega-shoot, for release in 2016, 2017 and 2018. (link)
  • Continuum. I haven't a single episode yet, but have many friends who recommend the Canadian science fiction TV drama Continuum. They'll be happy to hear that it's received an order for a third season. (link)
  • 24. May Lynn Rajskub, aka Chloe, aka the best one, is rejoining the cast of 24 for its 12-episode ninth season, coming out on Fox next year. This pleases me. Did I mention that she's the best one? (link)
  • Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim has opened strongly in China, making it a lot more likely that Warner Bros will greenlight a sequel after all. (link)
  • The Cuckoo's Calling. Did you know that J.K. Rowling is donating 100% of her royalties for her pseudonymous crime novel to charity? (link)
  • Don't Go Breaking My Heart. Hong Kong's best director Johnnie To has commenced shooting a sequel to his rather excellent romantic comedy Don't Go Breaking My Heart. The film is scheduled for release in Hong Kong and China in mid-2014. (link)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past. Bryan Singer has tweeted a photo of the Sentinel prop from his upcoming X-Men movie. It's rather large and appropriately purple. (link)
  • Wander Over Yonder. Craig McCracken (Powerpuff Girls) has a new cartoon starting on the Disney Channel, Wander Over Yonder. Its opening titles are pretty much the happiest thing you'll see today. (link)
  • Haunter. Director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice) has a horror movie coming out, a trailer for which has been released onto the Internet. (link)

Enterprise: "The Breach"

The Enterprise is dispatched on a rescue mission to the planet Xantoras, where a team of Denobulan scientists must be rescued before a planet-wide crackdown on extra-terrestrials sees them imprisoned or worse. En route the Enterprise recovers the crew of a critically damaged Antaran spacecraft. Archer learns that the Antarans and Denobulans have been mortal enemies for centuries, and the Antaran captain refuses to let Dr Phlox (a Denobulan) treat him.

"The Breach" is a very old-fashioned episode of Star Trek. Well not really old-fashioned: you wouldn't see it in the original 1960s Star Trek, but it wouldn't seem out of place somewhere around the later seasons of The Next Generation. It's divided neatly between an adventure-based A-plot - Reed, Tucker and Mayweather searching a massive cave system for the missing Denobulans - and a moral quandary for the B-plot. Not only does Hudak the Antaran refuse to let Phlox treat him, but Phlox's personal ethics bind him to obey no matter what Archer orders him to do.

Popular Posts: July 2013

Strangely, my review of Babylon 5's first proper episode, "Midnight on the Firing Line", wound up July's most read blog post. I have no idea why. It reminds me that I should probably start watching and reviewing Season 3 soon. Anyway, the five most popular posts were:
  • Babylon 5: "Midnight on the Firing Line" (link)
  • Sexual harassment at science fiction conventions (link)
  • Judging the New 52: Supergirl (link)
  • Eden Lake (2008) (link)
  • The Pull List: 24 July 2013 (link)
As for posts actually first written in July, the five most popular were:
  • Eden Lake (2008) (link)
  • The Pull List: 24 July 2013 (link)
  • Who50: "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit" (link)
  • Under the Dome: "The Fire" (link)
  • Who50: "Kinda" (link)

August 1, 2013

Under the Dome: "The Endless Thirst"

Tensions continue to rise inside the dome as Chester's Mill runs out of fresh drinking water.  The townsfolk begin to riot, while Julia tracks down a source of radio interference, Joe and Norrie go looking for insulin, Angie hides from Junior and Big Jim goes negotiating for the town's last surviving well of fresh water.

"The Endless Thirst" is, all told, a better episode than last week's effort. That said, it's still fairly ropey television drama. For me, the biggest problem with the series at this stage is that it's getting kind of boring. I care less about the town's survival issues and care more about what the dome is, who made it and what it's for. The longer the production holds off from answering those questions, the less interested I become. CBS confirmed this week that it had commissioned a second season of Under the Dome for 2014, so I'm guessing we won't be getting answers worth a damn this season.