Thursday, 18 May 2017

Star Trek: Discovery trailer released




After a bunch of delays, Star Trek: Discovery is finally on its way, set for an autumn launch on CBS Access (in the US) and Netflix (everywhere else). A trailer has been released, with a couple of different edits, but the overall impression is of an exciting series with a mix of galactic conflict and weird space phenomena. The main character seems to have spent time on Vulcan, which brings in a Spock-esque element without being a rerun. Some new aliens and new takes on classic alien races make for a good mix. I'm really looking forward to it.

Everyone is bloody complaining about it.

I honestly don't understand the aggressively negative reaction so many fans have had to this series so far. Before a second of footage was shown, fans had written it off. Most of the fans seem to have watched this trailer with the sole purpose of attacking it. Discovery might turn out to be crap, but it might turn out to be a masterpiece. It'll probably turn out to be pretty good. We'll find out. for now, I'm going to address the many criticisms I've seen for the series based on this one trailer and dismiss them completely.

It doesn't fit the timeline
No, it probably doesn't fit very well. There seem to be several elements that clash with its setting of ten years before the original series. I don't really care. Continuity is a fan game, and I shall enjoy picking apart the episodes, but it won't limit my enjoyment of the series. CBS want normal people to watch this too, and if telling a good, exciting story means that some fifty-year-old continuity point is contradicted, then so be it. How narrow does your idea of entertainment have to be if continuity is the most important thing to you?

The uniforms aren't right
The uniforms here look more like an evolution of Enterprise's style than a predecessor to the original. In fact, this is set around about the same time as "The Cage," so the uniforms should consist of fairly shapeless jerseys with roll necks over navy trousers. There's a reason the original series had such basic uniforms - they hardly had any money.

It looks like the Abrams movies/it looks too good
Christ, to think that people are actually complaining that something looks too good. Even fan productions such as Star Trek Continues, whose raison d'etre is to recreate the original as closely as possible, update the effects. Things have moved on in fifty years, they're supposed to look better. People should want to watch this. The reason it looks like the Abrams movies? Because, for all their flaws, the Abrams movies look amazing!

The Klingons don't look like Klingons
Fair point, they do look very different. I prefer the 24th century look, which is itself completely different to the various looks in the TOS movies which were themselves barely recognisable from the original look. That said, if you got rid of the bizarre outfit, these Klingons wouldn't look all that different.

 I, myself, hate it when the uniforms are changed or the Klingons are redesigned, so I refuse to watch The Motion Picture or any Star Trek production since.

Aren't they allowed to cast white actors anymore?
Seriously. This was the second comment on the YouTube link for the US trailer when I checked in earlier. Because aliens are fine, but if human characters don't look exactly like me, I just can't relate anymore.

The ship looks too sophisticated to be before Star Treki
The same complaint as for Enterprise and the Abrams movies. Technology has moved on since 1966, so not only can we create more sophisticated props and systems, having tech like the original wouldn't be remotely credible. Even Voyager looks ludicrously primitive now.

They've hired crap actors
Seriously? Michelle Yeoh? Doug Jones? Are you joking?


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Comics to Screen: The Flash 3-21 - "Cause and Effect"

SAVITAR SPOILERS!

After the huge revelation of Savitar's true nature last week, The Flash follows it up with... a quick chat and a dappy comedy episode. Season three of The Flash is perhaps taking some inspiration from Buffy season six: we've had a musical episode and now we have a memory loss one. Tabula rasa, etc.

This is a fun episode, but it unfolds with a crushing inevitability. What do Cisco and Julian think is going to happen when they start dicking about with Barry's memories? Especially without Caitlyn, who, as they say, is the one who would normally be doing the brain surgery. It does, however, lead to some tremendously fun scenes, as Barry tries to blag his way through a trial without the faintest idea about his identity or his qualifications. It's also a very cute touch that he prefers to call himself Bart - Bart Allen being the name of the fourth Flash in the comics.

The interesting part, of course, is that Barry is so much happier without his memories. The script draws attention to this, but it's evident straight away, and brings back a lot of the innocence and joy of the first season of The Flash. Both Grant Gustin and Candice Patton get to give some of their best performances for a while; the latter has had little strong material to work with lately, oddly considering that she's playing a woman facing imminent, seemingly inevitable death.

Having Caitlyn back on the team one last time, albeit as Killer Frost and out of necessity, is fun, but I still prefer Tracy as Team Flash's lady boffin. She and HR have far better chemistry than Caitlyn and Julian ever had. Also, someone tell Julian that falling for Caitlyn never ends well for any man. "Cause and Effect" was a welcome bit of silliness before what promises to be an intense season finale. With only two episodes left, we are promised King Shark, Captain Cold and some random technology to power Savitar's imprisonment, and this is one of those times I feel out of the loop for not keeping up with Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow.

This episode includes one of the most enjoyable Cisco geek references, as he refers to the classic Star Trek episode "The Enemy Within," and it turns out that on Earth-19, they only have Voyager. To which Cisco responds that he hates spin-offs, which raised a smile. He is completely wrong about Savitar, though - he's nothing like the good and bad Kirks being split apart by a transporter accident. What Cisco should be referencing is the original Doctor Who. Savitar is, he explains himself, a time remnant, and so seemingly a possible future version of Barry that is all that remains of a future timeline. While this raises some interesting questions about the nature of time travel and Barry's morality, it also means that if anything, Savitar is The Flash's version of the Valeyard.

Also, 38.6 terajoules is, by no means, more energy than the Sun. Not by several orders of magnitude.

GODS OF SPEED


Barry has a worrying moment of hubris when he suggests that he, and speedsters like him, could become gods. It's easy to see how his evil future self has gone down the twisted path to become Savitar. In the comics that inspired the series, however, Savitar had a different origin.

First appearing in The Flash #108 in 1995, Savitar was originally a fighter pilot who's plane was struck by lightning when flying at supersonic speed. His original identity remains unknown, but he fought for the Eastern bloc during the Cold War and the incident infused him with the power of the Speed Force. Suffering delusions of grandeur, he became obsessed with speed and his own greatness, taking the name of the Hindu god Savitr, a generally benevolent deity who represented the Sun, motion and mutability. Gaining a cult of followers, he went on to fight speedsters in various timeframes. He first battled Johnny Chambers, aka Johnny Quick, the father of Jesse Quick in the main continuity. Later, he battled Golden Age speedster Max Mercury. This early speedster was thrown forward in time along with Savitar when they collided with the Speed Force Continuum. Emerging into history before Savitar, Mercury became mentor to various Flashes in order to prepare them for Savitar's inevitable attack. (I would put money on a version of Max Mercury appearing in The Flash season four.)

When Savitar reappeared, he took it upon himself to become the one true speedster, battling various superfast heroes but mostly existing as an enemy of the third Flash, Wally West. It took an alliance of numerous speedsters to defeat Savitar and finally trap him in the Speed Force, although he did, briefly, escape in The Flash Rebirth series. The TV series has given us an even more complicated origin story for Savitar, although I'd still expect a coalition of speedsters to come together to stop him. Say, Barry, Wally, Jesse and Jay?

As well as this, the TV version of Savitar has similarities to the most recent Reverse-Flash, aka Daniel West, Iris's brother in comics continuity. Due to his own mental difficulties, Daniel became committed to killing their father and changing his own timeline in the process.


WHO REVIEW: 10-4 - "Knock Knock"

Series ten, so far, represents a real return to form for Doctor Who. Not every episode is an instant classic, but we don't need twelve unmitigated wonder-episodes. Good, solid episodes of Who that may not be perfect but give us plenty to enjoy and talk about. "Knock Knock" is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an original piece of work, but it's supremely effective as a chilling, family-friendly horror story.

"Knock Knock" is, really, a very straightforward haunted house tale, with the twist being a sci-fi explanation for the "ghosts." This isn't remotely original in itself; Doctor Who did this back in 1989 with Ghost Light, and plenty of other productions and stories have taken a similar approach. It's sci-fi by the back way in; a fantasy episode through-and-through with some minor scientific trappings. In fact, I don't think we've had a less scientific episode of Doctor Who for quite some time. It wouldn't have played out much differently if the woodlice had been replaced with actual dryads.

There's a slight theme developing here, with the Doctor, for the second episode, admitting he's not sure if the strange-creature-of-the-week is terrestrial or alien, not much caring, and just getting on with taking care of the problem. It's fun to see him theorise about gaseous entities and dryads and whatnot and then happily leave without ever finding out what he was actually dealing with. Earlier Doctors would be driven mad by not knowing.

This is another fine episode for the Doctor and Bill's developing friendship. Every companion needs an episode that brings them back to Earth, giving them the opportunity to use their new time-traveller's nous in their own environment. This is Bill's, and it reinforces the generational gap between her and the Doctor. For the first time since Eccleston's tenure, the Doctor is being presented as explicitly of the older generation to the companion. Even Twelve and Clara didn't have this, being presented on a more equal footing due to Clara's ever-growing importance to the Doctor's life. The Doctor is positioned explicitly as a teacher to Bill, and while they're friends, he's exactly the wrong sort of person to be hanging around her new digs with her studenty friends. It's the first time he's been called "Grandad" and it's been more than just a throwaway joke. There's a reinforcement of the traditional Doctor/companion relationship, that of an old man and his long line of granddaughter substitutes, with the more recent romantic element removed from the equation by the actors' ages and the companion's sexuality. Whether this is building up to Susan's reintroduction as hoped, or just a return to first principles, it's a new dynamic for the fans of the modern series.

While Bill gets to run her own strand of the storyline and acts as a capable adventurer, none of her housemates are especially interesting. All likeable enough, and the cast all put in perfectly good performances, but none of them have enough time spent on them to be anything other than bug-bait. Only Harry (Colin Ryan) gets to do much, acting a short-term substitute companion to the Doctor and coming pretty well out of it (he just wants to get out of there, which, on the face of it, is a very sensible option). Otherwise, though, these kids are there just to get killed off, which they do very effectively, although they are also miraculously restored at the end, and while this is a fantasy story, I find it harder to believe that people can get better from being devoured by crustaceans or absorbed into wood.



Any episode like this stands on its performances, and the stand-out one here is, of course, David Suchet. One of our most beloved actors, having him appear in an episode of Doctor Who is a huge treat for fans. As the Landlord, he runs the gamut from respectable yet mysterious, through to sinister and quietly threatening, to, eventually, childlike and pitiful. Also deserving of praise is Mariah Gale as Eliza, who manages to give a moving performance from beneath layers of prosthetics and CG animation. As for the twist about their relationship, I feel it works well, adding a stronger emotional element to the story than it otherwise had.

While there's not much of originality in the set-up, it's hard to fault a story about a man-eating house for its creep factor, especially when it's done as well as here. The effects and soundscape come together beautifully to create a very unsettling episode. If you have access to BBC iPlayer, I recommend watching the Doctor Who Enhanced version, which boasts 3D "binaural" sound. I'm not up on the technical aspects, but it does make for an immersive and disquieting experience. On the visual side of things, the creepy-crawlies are bound to give plenty of people the creeps, although their most effective moment, crawling into Shereen's foot, was cribbed directly from the 1999 version of The Mummy, which did it far better. Although, in fairness, that would hardly be acceptable for the family audience the series is going for.

The episode is also replete with foreshadowing. Bill learns in passing that the Doctor is a Time Lord, which might set up some more of his kind turning up later in the season, while his almost accidental mention of regeneration is clear preparation for Twelve's upcoming departure. Is the Doctor aware that regeneration is on the way, or is his saddened look at the mention a more general malaise? Then there's the biggest revelation about the contents of the Vault yet. I'm going to put my pound in and say it's Missy in there, but we'll find out soon enough.