Wednesday, 16 August 2017

DANDY SPACE LOG 2-12 & 2-13

The grand finale of Space Dandy!

Season Two, Episode Twelve - Dandy's Day in Court, Baby!

Dandy stands trial for murder, as the Gogol Empire closes in.

He's Dandy, Baby: Dandy is on trial for the murder of the Lumeshian Guy Reginald on the planet Suburbia. Having heard about the presence of a rare Lumeshian on the planet at BooBies, Dandy travelled there to capture him. A DNA scan of Dandy comes up negative, but his Pyonium levels are increasing exponentially. Dandy sleeps through his entire trial.

He's Not a Space Cat, Baby: Dandy doesn't list Meow as a crewmember, and once tried to seel him to a petshop but they wouldn't buy him. Meow waited at the emergency exit during the supposed murder, and pretty quickly turns against Dandy, saying that he always thought he'd snap eventually. He spends most of the trial tweeting.

He's Just a Little Obsolete, Baby:
QT is also called as a witness, along with Scarlet and Honey. QT was minding the ship at the time of the incident. Dandy wanted to buy "one of those R2-D2 type robots" but ended up with QT, and he was too much trouble to take back.

We're Alien Hunters, Baby:

Lumeshians: An extremely rare alien species, the registration of which would fetch a fine one million woolongs at the ARC. Judging by Guy Reginald, they are tall, blue humanoids. Reginald suffers from sleep apnoeia, and had entered a state of hibernation mistaken by the coroner for death due to his unfamiliar physiology. Reginald was formerly a notorious masked wrestler.

Sundry aliens: The prosecutor of the trial is a weird jackal-shark creature. The lead judge is a toothy whale creature with a hint of Vogon about him. They both speak with a Southern drawl. The counsel for the defense is a vaguely insectoid, green quadruped.

Let's get Our Asses to BooBies, Baby: Honey isn't pleased that on his last visit to BooBies, Dandy ordered a coffee and stayed for "like, five hours." Dandy was snuggling up to Rose Reginald, Guy's wife, a tall, beautiful and very chesty humanoid.

I Know This Planet, Baby: The planet Suburbia is five thousand parsecs from planet Turbo, home to two baseball-playing, Twitter-obsessed kids called Hiroshi and Skipjack.

Phenomenology, Baby: Pyonium, or Mega-Pyonium, is a recently discovered particle that bend time and space, allowing travel across dimensions, and theoretically contains incredible levels of energy. Intense emotional states can interact with Pyonium, potentially propelling across incredible distances or across dimensions, for instance, the bloodlust and fury Hiroshi felt at his "friend" Skipjack for blocking him on Twitter propelled his Pyonium covered baseball from Turbo to Suburbia, seemingly because of the magnetic effect of Dandy's own Pyonium levels.

Dr. Duran is the galaxy's foremost expert on Mega-Pyonium. He refers to it as the God Particle. (Professor Higgs will be pleased, he never liked people using that name for his eponymous boson.)

The Bottom Line, Baby:  A pretty average episode that mostly exists to clarify what Pyonium does and set up the grand finale. The furious level of in-jkes has long settled down by ow, but the episode still finds room for references to Star Wars, Samurai Champloo, The Shining and Twelve Angry Men. The mad Dandy-esque space science is good fun. The ending is worth it, though: a thousand insectoid Gogol warriors appear outside the courthouse to capture Dandy, leading into...

WHO REVIEW: Titan Eleventh Doctor comics - Year Two

A belated review of the most recent complete run of Doctor Who comics to feature the eleventh Doctor (I may cover Ten and Twelve later, we'll see). Titan Publishing's "Eleventh Doctor, Year Two" ran from late 2015 to the end of 2016, but I've been catching up via the UK reprints in Tales from the Tardis, which appear on stands about six or seven months later. The storyline has also been published in a series of trade paperbacks: The Then and the Now, The One, and The Malignant Truth, so there's no shortage of ways to read the story.

And a truly excellent story it is. The full "year" comprises a fifteen issue storyline, from "The Then and the Now, Part One" through to "Physician, Heal Thyself," charting an epic adventure that crosses the Doctor's timeline from the depths of the Time War to the high times of the eleventh Doctor. Written by Rob Williams and Si Spurrier, the series features a number of artists, although for me, Simon Fraser's idiosyncratic style suits the story best. Regardless, there's a consistency to the story's art in spite of the mix of artists, a rare feat for an ongoing strip with different artistic contributors. It's a story that deserves a strong visual style, as it demands that the story sticks in the mind.

If you're not a fan of the Time War mythos that has become so important in modern Doctor Who, you won't enjoy this series. Although the Time War was an essential part of the backstory of the ninth and tenth Doctors, the series moved on from it during the time of the eleventh, only for it to become the driving force of the fiftieth anniversary special. The comic series revives this focus, bringing the eleventh Doctor and his comic strip companion Alice Obiefune into contact with the his war crimes. The Doctor doesn't even remember the apparent genocide at his own hands, and it is most certainly impossible for elements to be spilling out from time-locked events into his relative present. Nonetheless, the Doctor and Alice are pursued through time and space by the eponymous Then and the Now, a warping ripple in humanoid shape that is both a bounty hunter and a walking temporal paradox.

It isn't only Alice that joins the Doctor. On the course of his travels he is joined by various other adventurers, not least of whom is Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer! Anyone who's read my reviews of the seventh Doctor comics will know that I'm not a fan of Daak. He's a one-note joke on the sort of macho 90s antihero that is unbearable unless written with considerable finesse. Thankfully, then, here he is written with finesse, becoming a far better foil for the eleventh Doctor than he ever was for the seventh. It actually works very well, since the eleventh Doctor can be just as manipulative as the seventh, and has no qualms in using Daak as a blunt instrument.

Another blunt instrument the Doctor is fond of is River Song, whom he breaks out of prison to ehlp him on his mission to track down the truth of his own past. Then there's the Squire, a frankly wonderful new creation. The Squire is an elderly space knight who supposedly acted as companion to the Doctor during the War. The Doctor, however, has no memory of her, and the truth behind his faithful companion's past is just one of the mysteries he has to explore.

Events conspire to drag the Doctor and his team throughout the continuum, from a Sontaran battlefield to the prison asteroid Shada. The current crisis is entwined with the Doctor's past, and two whole issues go by without the eleventh Doctor's appaearing at all. Alice is drawn back, in an apparently impossible manoeuvre, to the depths of the Time War, to come face-to-face with the War Doctor, who then leads the storyline until future and past catch up. The War incarnation is not alone, however. Needs must as the devil drives, and he has allied himself with the Master, here presented in a previously unseen incarnation that appears as dark-haired young boy, which is even more sinister than it sounds.

Where we find the Time War, we find Daleks, and this story presents the worst, most monstrous Daleks ever. The Volatix Cabal are an elite group of Dalek mutants created to fight the Time Lords, not unlike the Cult of Skaro, except that these Daleks have taken creativity and individuality to its extremes. Twisting their bodies and minds into horrific shapes, they have driven themselves insane, and seek to spread pain and fear throughout time, screaming "ExterminHATE!" wherever they go. They are an absolutely absolutely terrifying creation, and their distorted forms are the enduring image of this story. However, Abslom Daak was born to kill Daleks.

In a story that twists and turns into paradox after anomaly, the Doctor faces consequences of his hardest choices. I often felt during the early 21st century series that there was scope for more exploration of the fallout of the Time War and the Doctor's actions within in, and these comics are a perfect example of the stories this approach can generate. Showing the Doctor in his worst but most interesting light, Titan's "Eleventh Doctor, Year Two " is a superior Doctor Who comic.

Monday, 14 August 2017

REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

I expected something a little weirder from Valerian. The trailers and publicity materials pushed the sheer number of bizarre aliens and incredible vistas that Luc Besson has gone to lengths to recreate in the most expensive independent film in history. However, underneath the admittedly spectacular visuals and quirky asides, Valerian's story is very straightforward and pretty ordinary.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on a long-running French comic, Valerian et Laureline, which ran all the way from 1967 to 2010. Like many in the English-speaking world, I've never read it, although I am aware that it has had a big influence on many science fantasy writers, artists and creators over the years. This makes it hard to say whether Besson drew on other space adventure properties when he wrote and directed the movie. I'd expect it to look and feel a lot like his previous fantasy epic, The Fifth Element, but Valerian also has a distinct feel of Star Wars in many sequences. Is Besson drawing on the biggest space fantasy series ever, or is it simply that George Lucas was influenced by Valerian et Laureline as much as people say?

The opening of the film is just perfect, taking us on a tour through the history of space travel and particularly, the development of a huge space station in Earth orbit. It drifts from 2001 evocative realistic hardware to Star Trek-like interstellar diplomacy. It's exactly how I'd open a grand space opera. It introduces the primary setting of the movie, a gigantic conglomeration of alien environments clustered around the onetime space station named Alpha, the so-called City of a Thousand Planets.

Visually, the film is absolutely incredible. I've said before that modern sci-fi blockbusters have become essentially animated films, and Valerian takes this trend further even than Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy. Save for a handfull of scenes, almost every moment in the movie is filled with CG aliens of all shapes and sizes, or against a background of mind-boggling cityscapes, impossibly deep caverns and alien palaces. The most inventive environment appears early in the film, at the Big Market, a huge bazaar that exists in two different dimensional plains (and there was me thinking it was in Newcastle).

There's no faulting the look of the film, it's array of extraterrestrials or its fabulous locations. However, they make for a background for quite uninteresting human characters. Valerian and Laureline, spatio-temporal agents for the Human Federation, are played by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delavingne, who are very pretty but don't add a lot else. Neither actor has a great deal of charisma to me, and the two baby-faced space agents don't inspire much interest as protagonists. The actors also lack chemistry with each other, which is a problem when a laboured romance is at the heart of the story. You know the sort of thing - he sees himself as a bad boy, she thinks she's too good for him, they love each other really, surely he'll break through her shell, etc. Seen it a thousand times before.

The central plot concerns the fate of the planet Muul, a lost paradise world once inhabited by peculiar, beautiful and quite dull alien beings. There's a rot at the heart of the Federation, and the disenfranchised aliens hold the truth. Perfectly solid, if unoriginal material, and the plot chugs along quite nicely. It's energetic and fun, and there are some very entertaining action set pieces. The problem is that I can't find myself caring much about either the two leads or the pacifistic aliens. I'm more interested in the various ne'er-do-wells we glimpse in the Big Market and in the underworld of Alpha. The best character is a shapeshifting coelenterate who doesn't even make it till the end of the second act, but at least she's a sexy invertebrate and is played by Rihanna.

Good fun and very pretty, but two-dimensional and with some truly terrible dialogue. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed it, but given the choice, I'm never going to put Valerian on instead of Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars, or, for that matter, The Fifth Element.

REVIEW: THE SLIDE by Victor Pemberton

Sadly, it has been reported today that Victor Pemberton, one of the truly great scriptwriters, has died. I thought this made a good occasion to re-upload my review of his highly regarded science fiction radio serial, The Slide, first broadcast in seven weekly parts in 1966.This review was written for The History of the Doctor, hence the very Doctor Who-focused elements in parts.

Victor Pemberton is best remembered by Doctor Who fans as the author of the Troughton serial Fury from the Deep, as well as the later audio release The Pescatons, starring Tom Baker. This is of course just one facet of a prolific career in television and radio (including work on the UK version of Fraggle Rock!), including this well-remembered radio serial from 1966. Contrary to popular fan myth, The Slide was never submitted as a Doctor Who story, although its success did likely have a bearing on Permberton’s later working for the series, and there are some similarities to Fury from the Deep. However, these are mostly restricted to the environmental themes of the plays, and the relentless, inhuman nature of the threat involved. If anything, The Slide has a more Quatermass­-y vibe, full as it is with realistic people and concerned scientists being caught up in unfathomable events.

Set in the small English town of ­­­­Redlow, The Slide pits it and its inhabitants against a constant onslaught from nature. At first a sudden, unexpected tremor creates a vast crack in the main road; then, at night, a thick, greenish slurry begins to seep from the crack, sliding impossibly up the road against the gradient. A deceptively gentle pace continually piles events upon the characters, so that each episode drives inexorably towards a terrifying conclusion. The Mud forms a continuous slide in the night, encroaching further and further into the town, while at day it solidifies into an immovable, impenetrable mass.

Themes of environmentalism and the conflict between human progress and natural order are at the forefront here. The play begins with the small scale crisis of townsfolk against a progressive developer who has made sweeping changes to the town’s environs. This is then reflected in macrocosm, as the Mud sweeps away the town to create its own environment, one of stillness and darkness. It even touches on an almost Gaia-like hypothesis, as the Mud is revealed to not only be alive, but intelligent, and some come to believe that the Earth herself is reacting against humanity, endeavouring to scour them from the surface. It does take the scientific elite an astonishingly long time to realise that it is sunlight that is causing the Mud to solidify in daytime, thus presenting a solution, but otherwise the bouts of theorising provide some of the most intriguing and enjoyable segments.

What makes the serial so effective, however, is its focus on real human characters, brought to life by some of the era’s most talented actors. The onslaught of the Mud leads to the rural townsfolk to lose their faith, to turn against one another, or to sink into depression. It’s a grim portrait of human frailty under pressure - although the revelation that the Mud is exerting a hypnotic influence is perhaps a bit much. Maurice Denham portrays ­­­­Hugh Deverall’s gradual collapse from influential developer to incoherent madman with alarming realism, while Dr Richards, the local GP, struggles to maintain his stiff upper-lipped composure in face of the onslaught. Meanwhile, the great Roger Delgado raises above a phony South American accent (“The surface of thee Earth is like thee theen crust of a pie…”) to create a powerful performance as the geologist Joseph Gomez.

The writing and performances are ably supported by some sterling work by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Perfectly created everyday sounds are thrown into sharp relief by the screeching whine emitted by the encroaching Mud, amongst which is some brave, highly effective use of silence. The Slide is a classic piece of science fiction, a masterful look back at the days of truly great radio.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Comics Round-Up: First in Ages!

I cut waaay down on my comics purchasing this year due to the fact that the things cost an absolute fortune to keep up with. Currently, I have only one item on my pull list: Ghostbusters 101, which I plan to review in full once it's finished. However, I decided to pick up a few one-offs over the last few weeks just to see what new things were on the shelf, and thought it was high time for a little round-up. Plus, I'm going to be catching up on some recommended titles in the trades and graphic novels, for review as well.

America #4 (Marvel) I was so up for an America Chavez series, but this wasn't all that. It's interesting exploring her backstory, and I guess that was always how a series centring on her had to go, but America is one of those characters whose mystery is a big part of her appeal. That, and punching things. Maybe this was an off-issue, but among all the glitzy visuals, the story didn't do much for me.

Astonishing X-Men #1 (Marvel)

The X-Men, who have about twelve series on the go at any one time, get their latest issue one. And, well, it's not bad. There's a strong hook - the Shadow King is making his comeback via the minds of the world's psychics, and almost overcomes Psylocke. She calls out to various mutants to help fight him: Angel, Bishop, Gambit (who comes in two with Fantomex), Rogue and Old Man Logan. There's some very clunky dialogue as different characters (some from different universes) get each other up to speed, but the interplay is pretty fun otherwise. The last page reveal, while a bit predictable, is effective enough.

Bill & Ted Save the Universe #2 (Boom!)

Blast, I missed the first issue. I'll have to keep my eyes open for it. This is a treat. They've been to the past, they've been to the future, they've been all around the afterlife, but one place they haven't been is outer space. Apart from the obvious fun to be had with Wyld Stallyns meeting aliens, this series introduces their long lost mothers into the mix, plugging a big gap in the narrative of the films by revealing that they've actually been travelling the universe to prepare other civilisations for the coming of the Stallyns. Rufus is satisfyingly shifty and the dialogue for the guys is spot on. The art by Bachan and Guimaraes fits the mood perfectly as well. Definitely plan to pick up issue three.

Centipede #1-#2 (Dynamite)

Just out in digital, and this is really pretty good. Adapting an extremely simplistic Atari game into a comic is always going to be a challenge, no matter how much fun it is, but this works, because it allows itself to be a simple tale and focuses on straightforward beats. Elements like the last man alive and an unstoppable threat never get old. There are some great emotional beats in here as well, which come at you in between the highly effective monster attack panels. It's a shame we ca't escape Joseph Campbell even on an alien planet, but this is nonetheless a fun way to spend a few minutes.

Shade, the Changing Girl #8 (DC's Young Animal)

DC's latest imprint includes this new update/sequel to Shade, the Changing Man, and I've only now come round to reading an issue. Young Loma, an avian alien from the planet Meta, follows in the footsteps of her hero Rac Shayde and comes to Earth. I finally picked this up because the cover features rainbow-feathered dromaeosaurs and that is guaranteed to appeal to me. Actual dinosaur content of the issue is minimal. It took me a while to get up to speed with what was happening here, but the disjointed uncertainty of the story is the point. Interesting, probably needs to be picked up as a trade so I can really get to grips with it.