Monday, 20 June 2016

Anton Yelchin

This truly is a tragic loss. Anton Yelchin was only twenty-seven when he was killed, seemingly as the result of a dreadful accident. Yelchin was best known for his role as Chekov in the new iteration of Star Trek, and his sudden death is going to put a very different complexion on the experience of watching Star Trek Beyond. Yelchin was a fine young actor, although it's clear we had yet to see the best from him. He was the best thing in Terminator Salvation and the Fright Night remake. The bulk of his work I have yet to see, but one thing that I can vouch for is Odd Thomas, a hugely underrated supernatural adventure in which he plays the title role. He'd already been cast in further roles that he will now never play.

Yelchin's personal life makes for some interesting reading itself. Born in Leningrad to a Jewish family, he was raised by people who had experienced a great deal of persecution under the Soviet regime. His family fled the USSR when he was only six months old, having received refugee status. His family were sportspeople and artists, so it's not surprising that he went into the performing arts, beginning acting at the age of nine, beginning a rich career that also involved time in a punk band. He could have gone on to do great things.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

WHO REVIEW: The Two Masters Trilogy




Big Finish has been especially open to fan demand over the last year or so, and one thing that many fans - including myself - have often hoped for is a "multi-Master" adventure, to compliment the many multi-Doctor stories on the roster. Now that BF have two regular actors in the role, at different points in the character's history, they've finally been able to craft this story. Rather than a one-off, the concept has been used for the latest trilogy of main range releases, with the fifth, sixth and seventh Doctors each taking a chapter. Initially, it seems a straightforward structure, with Geoffrey Beevers portraying his calcifying version of the Master in the first release, followed by Alex Macqueen as his campier, later incarnation, before they team up for the finale. However, these temporally complex stories make it a little more complicated than that.

The trilogy starts with And You Will Obey Me, written by BF stalwart Alan Barnes and tightly directed by Jamie Anderson. Pitting Peter Davison against Geoffrey Beevers, it gives us a combination of hero and villain that we never experienced on television, with Beevers making his one screen appearance as the Master one serial before Davison took over as the Doctor. They work well opposite each other, with the most mild-mannered of Doctors providing stark contrast to this exceedingly sinister and cruel Master.

The story starts on a surprisingly light note, with the Doctor attending an auction for a mysterious but familiar grandfather clock. This begins a sequence of events that leads him to team up with Annie (Sheena Bhatessa), before becoming involved in a plot that stretches from the 1980s to the 21st century, as the Master manipulates three youngsters in a terrible plot. The story takes both Time Lords in unusual directions, with the Doctor put through the moral wringer and the Master becoming a deeply twisted father figure. While he is as sadistic and callous as we've ever seen him, Beevers's Master displays a little more flair and humour here than we're used to. Nonetheless, his final actions are quite horrific; this is the Master at his most coldly evil. It's a strong adventure, with some emotional clout, the only weak element being the alien hunters pursuing the villain. They're rather too cliched and uninteresting to make much impact.

Vampire of the Mind provides a solid middle adventure that pushes the overall story along with some intriguing questions. Once again, the combination of Doctor and Master works well. Both Baker's Doctor and Macqueen's Master are toned down a tad from their usual level of bombast, but their respective egos are enough to create a storm. The Master is somewhat more vulnerable here than we've known him in this incarnation; his memory is full of holes and he is somewhat desperate, but this only serves to make him more ruthless and cruel than ever.

Justin Richards pens the script, and while he's never going to be known for experimental material, he's always good for a straightforward and effective adventure. Vampire of the Mind gives the Doctor another one-off companion - Dr. Heather Threadstone, played very well by Kate Kennedy, and someone I'd be keen to hear return. The Mind Leech - the vampire of the title - is both a pitiful and frightening creature, and once more the Master has taken on an ally/slave that is more than he can fully handle. There are some fun pokes at the cliches of Master stories here, and it ends with a believable, albeit possibly unnecessary, reason for the Doctor to forget about this out-of-sequence encounter with his enemy.

The final instalment, The Two Master itself, is the strongest and most enjoyable of the lot. It's hard to explain just why without spoiling the plot, but some elements are too good not to gush over. Bringing the Master together in two incarnations had the promise to be a Doctor-Doctor encounter turned up to max, and this is just what we have, with the two versions of the villain butting heads as much as they admire each other, double crossing as often as they work together. The Master's cruelty and callous disregard for life reaches new heights here. It seems the Master cannot be trusted by even himself. Hilariously, the dying Master, who is here being manipulated by a lunatic cult, manages to steal his own body. Thus, for much of the runtime we have Macqueen playing the Beevers Master and vice versa. This is just one element of a time-bending storyline that involves whole sections of the timeline vanishing and a threat to the entire universe. It's bizarre and pretty ambitious; suitably apocalyptic for the clash of Masters.

The time-tearing shenanigans also give the trilogy the perfect get-out clause for out-of-sequence meetings and continuity quandarie, and although we finally get to learn what happens to the Master to leave him in the terrible state he was when found on Tersurus (leading into The Deadly Assassin), the nature of the story makes everything questionable enough to ignore this going forward if so wished. As with both previous stories, this is ably directed by Jamie Anderson, although he does overuse the dialogue-free sound in certain sequences. The weakest elements of the story are, sadly, the heroes. Lauren Crace is fine as Jemima, but she's a completely generic companion role to perform, while Sylvester McCoy becomes hard to understand in some of the more dramatic scenes. He does, however, nail the final victory over his doubled-up foe. The Two Masters is a highly effective finale to a very enjoyable series.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Having A Red Dwarf Organised Night

That was our team name. Unfortunately, the acronym does spell HARDON.

Last night, in my greatest quizzing performance since my team got an unprecedented perfect score at the Geekest Link Star Trek special, I attended a Red Dwarf quiz. Along with my lady Suz (the quotation queen), Nick and Steve (quizmasters themselves), I spent a fine evening at the Hope and Ruin public house. It was an excellent quiz, well structured, covering Red Dwarf series I to VI (with a bonus question on each series from VII to X. I wanted a question on series XII, because only I would have had a chance to get it right). There was a picture round, two sound rounds (classic next lines) and a full round for each series. It was also hilarious, with a wonderful turnout. The pub was packed, not a seat spare, and there were people who'd come from as far afield as Newcastle just for the quiz. Even a Czech stayed in the country for a few days longer in order to join in (Red Dwarf  is very popular in the former Czechslovakia). There were prizes for the best team name (a sugarpuff sandwich) and for last place (a pea on toast). Absolutely brilliant stuff. And we nailed it.

Props to Steve for coming up with that name.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

TREK REVIEW: Star Trek Continues - Come Not Between the Dragons

The latest and sixth episode of the Star Trek Continues fan series is one of the best so far. Unlike the majority of episodes in the series - indeed, in fanfilms in general - "Come Not Between the Dragons" doesn't focus on returning characters, recognisable aliens and continuity points. Instead, it embraces the spirit of Star Trek by exploring the universe and encountering strange new life forms. In this case, the dragons of the title: gigantic "nomadic extremophiles", or cosmozoa (utilising Christopher Bennett's word there), one of which breaches the hull of the ship in order to hide out.

While the episode starts as a monster hunt, it isn't long before one of the crew makes contact with the alien, Usde. The crewman in question, Eliza Taylor, is played by Gigi Edgley, who I didn't recognise straight away because she wasn't painted grey. It's great to see the series continue to utilise actors from multiple sci-fi series. After faces from Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers and Doctor Who (the Doctor himself), we get a guest spot from FarScape's Chiana. She's a great addition to the crew, which takes time to feature more of the regular cast than usual. Usde itself is a brilliant creation, a mix of puppetry and CGI used to create the metallic creature and its much larger, space-dwelling assailant.

The episode takes a turn towards "The Naked Time" territory in the second half. Every Trek series has an episode with the regulars acting out of character (usually at least two, one of which is a Mirror Universe ep). This time, energy waves emitted by Usde's pursuer drive the crew to distraction, beginning with irritability and ending with irrational acts of rage. It's a more cliched aspect to the episode, but it feels very Trek and makes for a tense situation in which to embed the alien contact story. Add in a little of Star Trek's perennial obsession with father figures, and you've got what would have made a classic episode of sixties Trek.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Sun's out, guns out (and hold the door)

There's been a marked upturn in the quality of my weekends lately. No more twelve hour shifts, rather more sunshine and pub lunches. Weekends spent with my lady Suzanne, catching up on superhero shows and comedy nights. It's actually been pretty good. I'll remember to reread this when it's not feeling so great.

This weekend just past, although I had to work Saturday morning, I then immediately head off to Brighton for the Brighton Film and Comic Con. It's the first one I've been to, and, to be honest, I was glad when I heard it was a poor one. It was OK, but nothing special. It lacked atmosphere. I'm a little dubious about how conventions work anyway. Famous people sit down and wait for geeks to pay to meet them. It's a good moneymaking scheme, I guess. I'm much more up for the talks. Working meant that I missed Chris Barrie's talk, and Suz managed to get a chat and handshake off him (but that serves me right for not taking her to see Red Dwarf XII being filmed). I did get to meet Brightonian legend Robert Rankin, which is always a pleasure. And briefly Sylvester McCoy, who was pretty grumpy and unapproachable because I didn't have twenty quid for an autograph. Then again, Peter Capaldi is charging $100 Stateside.

However, we did see this guy

And this guy

I'm not even a big Game of Thrones fan, but Daniel Portman and Christian Nairn were brilliant in their talk. Daniel in particular was hugely entertaining. They answered some of our questions, and we kind of met them briefly on the way out. We think they should have a chat show - or a flatshare sitcom.

In the evening, I caught up with my friend Steve, former quizmaster of the Geekest Link and all round good egg. I chatted with his good friend Tom de Ville, who's a screenwriter for such series as Urban Gothic, Hannibal and Stan Lee's Lucky Man. He also wrote the original script for The Quiet Ones. He had some interesting things to say about the industry, and was a very nice gent too. It was a very fun night altogether.

Sunday was blazing hot, so Suz and I went down to the beach to catch up with some and get sunburnt. In the afternoon, Samantha Pressdee had organised a Free the Nipple rally. It was a bit of fun to get a point across - it's a hot summer's day and every other bloke was wandering around half naked, whatever the state of him. But if a woman has her top off, it's not only frowned upon, she could be arrested for exposure. It's ludicrous. It was a good event; there were quite a few of us, a good mix of different sorts of people, and we pocked up recruits along the way. I wasn't to keen to see a couple of skinheads there, but they didn't cause any trouble. I'll admit it was good to see lots of attractive ladies with their tops off, but once we were all together and walking along, it didn't feel sexual at all. Just very comfortable. There were a few pervs out, of course, and being Brighton, there were as many old dykes taking snaps as old men. Only one woman reacted with disgust, actually covering her son's head with a scarf so he wouldn't see "the naked people." 

It was also good for me and Suz. We're both pretty unconfident and sensitive in our bodies, so going topless in public was daunting for both of us. It felt pretty great, even if my pasty white torso did get singed. There are a few pics going round, although the local paper is trying to find some without nipples, which just goes to show, really.

If you look closely you can spot us.