Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Spider-Men



Well, I've been watching lots and lots of Spider-Man lately. I'm on a bit of a Spidey-thon. Arachnophilia. There have been more than a couple of screen Spider-Men over the years, and with Marvel gearing up for the mighty Spider-Verse event, it seemed apropos to catch up on them all. They all have an official reality numerical designation, you know. So, here we are, a quick overview and opinion of all the Spider-Man series ever to show up on television. Unless I've missed one.

Spider-Man (1967-70)


The very first Spider-Man series was an animation, its imagery based on the classic Ditko/Romita comics. While it it lasted for three seasons, it's not great. Focusing on Peter Parker's work at the Daily Bugle to the detriment of any other aspects of his personal life, it sees Betty Brant as his main love interest, although not much is made of this. He mostly divides his time between getting pictures of himself in costume and clearing his name as various villains scheme to set him up as a criminal. Pretty much every first season episode sees J. Jonah Jameson running a story outing Spider-Man as a thief, before having to retract it at the end. The voices are strange; Paul Soles provides Parker's voice, nasally and higher-pitched, before putting on a deep, “heroic” voice for Spider-Man's scenes. It's almost like an Adam West Spider-Man, which doesn't work at all. On the other hand, Paul Kligman is absolutely spot-on perfect as Jameson. He's probably the best screen Jonah until J.K. Simmons in the 2000 movies.



The villains are pretty flimsy. While the first season brought in various foes from the comics, they were shabby, dumbed down version. Norman Osborn is a magic-obsessed prat, which admittedly explains his tendency to dress as a goblin. The Lizard is a scheming freak who accidentally transformed himself while testing a swamp fever innoculation. Quite often, these episodes were interspersed with more generic stories, with Spidey fighting ice-men from Pluto and other such oddities. In the second and third season, almost every episode involved a faceless space monster or magical foe, often utilising recycled footage from Rocket Robin Hood, a short-lived crappy cartoon series from the same studio. Not the best example of a Spidey cartoon, but it's good fun and it did give us the classic theme tune. Altogether: Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...


Spidey Super Stories (1974-77)


Argh, this is so sweet! Spidey Super Stories are tiny little adventure skits aired as part of The Electric Company. They're distinctly limited, with Spider-Man played mute by a dancer, only communicating in speech bubbles. We never see him out of costume or doing anything much other than fighting villains created for the show, like the Tickler, the Spoiler and Dr. Fly. It's cheap, bares only the slimmest resemblance to the comics and is very much for young children, but god it's got charm. The Super Stories were narrated by some pretty excellent talent, not least a young Morgan Freeman, who played various small roles in the show as well. Everything is better with Morgan Freeman narrating. He even got to play Dracula. The show was followed by a comicbook version by Marvel, which introduced various Marvel characters to younger readers. They also included an evil anti-Spider-Man called Web-Man. Awesome stuff.




The Amazing Spider-Man (1977-79)


The first proper live-action Spidey production, this began with the made-for-TV 1977 movie titled simply Spider-Man, which was released theatrically across the world, becoming the first Spider-Man movie. This was well-received enough to spawn a full series, although only a further twelve episodes were made. It was only really a TV phenomenon in the States; overseas it was mostly retooled as theatrical movies, with the two-parter “The Deadly Dust” released as Spider-Man Strikes Back and the final feature-length episode “The Chinese Web” released in 1980 as Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge. Videos of these used to knock around a lot when I was a kid.


Nicholas Hammond is pretty good as Peter Parker, even if he is the wettest version of the character ever (and that includes Toby Maguire). The rest of the cast are generally fine, although I'm not enamoured with either of the Jamesons. David White is really, completely wrong, and though they replaced him for the main series, Robert Simon is still not right for the part. They're just not nasty enough. Jameson needs to be a complete angry bastard. Michael Pataki is amazing as Cpatain Bambera, the major police character. Trying to make a Spider-Man series on a 70s TV budget was probably a bit much to ask, and the stunts are a bit ropey. Still, sometimes they really pull it off, and it's generally entertaining; more so in the series than the pilot, actually, which spends too long setting up Spider-Man's origins. There's a serious lack of strong villains though, with the pilot involving a hypnotic guru. There are some mind-control gasses and an evil Spidey-clone though. A bit like Spidey Super Stories.


Spider-Man (1978-79 Toei series)


Now, this is insane. Marvel sold the rights to a Japanese company called Toei in return to rights for some of their properties, and so they made a tokusatsu series. Which, for the westerners among us, is the Power Rangers school of television. So instead of Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider, Takuya Yamashiro is given powers by an alien called Garia, from the Planet Spider, in order to fight the villainous Professor Monster. He also gives him a spaceship called the Marveller. Oh, and this spaceship turns into a giant robot called Leopardon. Apart from the outfit and a couple of powers, Supaida-Man has barely any resemblance to the Spider-Man we know. It's as entertaining as these kinds of shows ever are, though, so if you want some mindless fun, you could do worse. Marvel liked it enough that they made it available on their website at one point, and Takuya is even expected to turn up in the upcoming Spider-Verse comic series. Things we learned from this series: the Japanese term for web-slinger is apparently “Spider-String.”


Spider-Woman (1979-80)


I'm fond of Spider-Woman, even though she was invented to retain copyright over the “Spider” trademark. This is one of the cheapie cartoon series that used to clutter up the airwaves on Saturday mornings, with the expected recycled frames and poor animation grade. Still, it's pretty good fun if you're not expecting anything special. I'm including it here because Spider-Man does make a couple of guest appearances, including in the first episode. Jessica Drew is a fine character, and really is one better than Peter Parker in most respects. She edits her own magazine instead of just taking pictures, has all of Spider-Man's essential powers plus flight and electrical “venom blasts” as well, and she does that cool spinny thing that Wonder Woman does. She battles robot mummies from space (a couple of years after Pyramids of Mars, but surely coincidental), Amazon warrior women and barely recognisable versions of established Marvel villains. Shame about her sexist sidekick and the racist bits, but it was the seventies.



Spider-Man (1981-82)


One of two Spidey cartoons that aired on separate networks in the 80s. Although officially separate, there was some crossover between the two. It wasn't as popular as stablemate Amazing Friends but is actually rather better. Pretty decent animation and a faithful look for the characters, although Parker's a bit of a prettyboy. There are plenty of villains from the comics, both from Spidey's rogues gallery and the Marvel universe beyond. For this series, Dr Doom was cribbed from the Fantastic Four to be the main recurring villain bent on world domination. It's basically a sequel to the 60s series, with Betty Brant as the main romantic interest again and another brilliant Jameson with the voice of William Woodson. What is it about Jonah that makes him the standout character in most series? Aunt May is a bit mindless, though. Neil Cross makes for a great Green Goblin, and returned for the 90s series. Definitely one of the better animated versions of Spider-Man. It was released on DVD as Spider-Man 5000, for some reason.





Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-83)


Well, this is cute. Peter Parker, Bobby Drake and Angelica Jones are the Spider Friends, three teenagers who have superpowers. Aunt May is, naturally, oblivious. The original plan to have the Fantastic Four's Human Torch in the gang fell through due to rights issues, so Spider-Man and Ice Man are joined by Firestar, a fire-throwing mutant, who was created for this series but became popular enough to appear in the comics. Together, the three of them battle various villains and low-level threats. The set-ups for the stories are weirdly askew. In one, the three of them go to a superhero fancy dress party. As fun as it is to see Firestar cosplay as Spider-Woman and Ice Man as Captain America, Spider-Man is lazy enough to dress as himself. The Green Goblin attacks, wanting to turn everyone in the city into goblins (in this version, Norman Osborn is a reasonable guy but transforms into the Goblin, rather like the Lizard). Even more baffling is the episode in which the Chameleon invites the Spider Friends to a party, along with Captain America, Doctor Strange, Shanna the She-Devil and a particularly stupid version of the Sub-Mariner, and then proceeds to bump them off in ridiculous ways. Fortunately, Miss Lion, Aunt May's dog, can smell through his disguises. Is there any greater cartoon sin than the cute, funny dog? Still, Frank Welker's in it, and that's always a plus.


If you're looking for The Incredible Hulk and the Amazing Spider-Man (or the reverse), that was this show repackaged with episodes of the Hulk animated series of the same time. The Marvel Action Universe was the repackaged bundle of various cartoon shows, including both 80s Spidey series, The Incredible Hulk, The New Fantastic Four, Pryde of the X-Men and non-Marvel titles like Robocop and Dungeons & Dragons.


Spider-Man (1994-98)


The best of all the series, still unbettered. This was a Marvel in-house project that followed the success of Saban's X-Men series, although having two different studios owning the rights didn't stop the two shows crossing over. Indeed, almost every major Marvel hero of the nineties turned up at some point. Much better than X-Men, or the Marvel Action Hour cartoons that followed it, it stands up well today. It's pretty breathless, charging through plots in order to fit its brief runtime, but packs the emotional beats of Peter Parker's story in well, something other series didn't always manage. Most of the best-remembered storylines from the comics were adapted, with tweaks – for example, Mary-Jane taking on some of Gwen Stacy's storylines. However, it was hobbled somewhat by network execs vetoing elements that were considered too violent or upsetting for kids. So, in spite of its relatively mature writing, it was bowdlerised. Gunshots never connected and no blood was allowed. Even Morbius, the Living Vampire, had to cry for “Plasma!” and sucked it out through suckers on his hands, because fangs were too nasty (actually pretty cool, albeit baffling). Even the word “sinister” was considered to much for the little ones, so the Sinister Six became the Insidious Six. This despite X-Men having a villain called Mr. Sinister.


Each season from the second had an overarching title and a running story arc. The best was undoubtedly the second series, “Neogenic Nightmare,” which dealt with Parker's genetic mutation as a result of his spider bite. Beginning with the Kingpin recruiting the Insidious Six while Spider-Man's powers are in flux, it sees him seek help from the X-Men, who have their own trouble from a villain voiced by David Warner (the sign of a successful cartoon in my opinion). Spider-Man goes on to battle the Punisher, the Vulture and Morbius, the Living Vampire, and sees him mutate into the hideous Man-Spider. This made an impression on me as a kid. It ended with a reality hopping extravaganza that brought Spidey together with his various alter egos to stop his dark self, Spider-Carnage. All this, and a theme tune by Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Whenever I read a Spider-Man comic, it's Christopher Barnes's voice I hear as Parker.

Spider-Man Unlimited (1999/2001)


The 90s series was successful enough to get a spin-off, and deeply weird it was. Fair enough going in a new direction, but this was peculiar, taking place on the mysterious Counter-Earth on the opposite side of the sun. Spider-Man hitches a ride on a spaceship to stop a powered-up Venom and Carnage, and ends up on a world ruled by the gene-splicing High Evolutionary and his mutant animal knights, the “Beastials.” He gets himself a new costume and meets various alternative versions of characters, including a heroic Green Goblin and a version of Electro who's an actual electric eel. So, yeah, weird. It didn't last beyond one season. Original pitches including a world in which Uncle Ben never died and Peter became Venom sound more interesting than what we actually got, but fiddly rights issues with Sony and objections from Marvel put paid to that. It's pretty much standard sci-fi cartoon fare with Spider-Man grafted on, although I do like his hi-tec costume (except the web cape, that's naff).


Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003)


AKA “MTV Spider-Man.” I'm afraid I never made it to the end of episode one. Ostensibly a follow-up to the first of the Sam Raimi movies, this is an absolute mess. With awful CG animation that looked dated even on broadcast (seriously, Reboot looked better than this) and witless dialogue, this is poor. Neil Patrick Harris voiced Spider-Man though, which is pretty cool. Pity they couldn't have given him some better material.


The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008-09)


Finally a worthy successor to the 90s Spider-Man, this series ran only for two seasons due to rights issues between Sony and Marvel. It's a real shame – this is genuinely good stuff. While the artwork is unusually simplified and cutesy for a Spidey cartoon, it's effective and works well with the fast-paced, action-packed stories. The series takes many of the classic stories and characters from the comics as inspiration, but streamlines it all, with some characters being combined to simplify things. We actually get to see Peter at college for most of the series, grounding the character again. This really is excellent stuff, properly entertaining and with a lot of heart. One oddity is that, due to more rights issues, the Kingpin couldn't feature, so his place was taken by Tombstone. Spidey spends much of his time battling the various crime syndicates in the city, with Norman Osborn tasked by Tombstone to create superpowered foes to keep him distracted from the real crime. It's a clever approach. Also, Mysterio is hilariously camp, and it has the angriest, shoutiest Jameson ever. The theme tune by The Tender Box is incredibly catchy. Sadly, due to the cancellation, we never got to see Peter finally get together with Gwen Stacy, leaving us hanging. I may never forgive this.





Ultimate Spider-Man (2012-present)


The current Spider-Man series, and really not bad. This takes Spidey's wisecracking to its logical limit, breaking the narrative for comical asides every two minutes, which is either funny or irritating, depending on your taste. Unencumbered by the same restrictions as the movies, the Marvel Animation studio can cross over to other series as much as they like. So this sees Spidey join the Avengers as part of a new team of young heroes, along with Nova, White Tiger, Iron Fist and Power Man. All of whom live and school with Peter, with Aunt May seemingly oblivious to the proliferation of superhumans living right under her nose. In fact, May is barely recognisable, having reached the end point of her gradual evolution from doddery old mare to ass-kicking middle-aged raver.



With Brian Bendis in creative control, this mixes his Ultimate Spider-Man comics line with various elements from the mainstream comics and the movie franchises. The series features heroes and villains from throughout the Marvel universe, and crosses over with sister series The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (which is very good) and Hulk and the Agents of SMASH (which is dreadful). There are some great voice stars too, including J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson and Clark Gregg voicing Agent Coulson. It's good fun, and even features the Guardians of the Galaxy in a couple of episodes. My mate Rob “the Riddler” Riddle calls it “not bad, for a 'modern' cartoon,” which is pretty high praise from him. It's just been relaunched with the subtitle Web Warriors, which will see multiple Spider-Men come together, including Donald Glover voicing Miles Morales.


Fun fact: Christopher Barnes, the voice of Spider-Man in the 90s series, voices Electro in this series, and is back to play the alt-Spidey Spyder Knight.



LEGO Marvel Superheroes: Maximum Overload (2013)


This is just great. It's only twenty-two minutes long, and it's a blatant attempt to sell a video game, but it's just so funny. “My Spider-Angst is tingling!” It's a brilliant pastiche of the current Marvel films, only with added Spider-Man. Doctor Octopus looks genuinely good in Lego, the Mandarin gets the funniest lines and there are kebabs. And J.K. Simmons, once again, as J. Jonah Jameson. Short but wonderful.





News from the Whoniverse

Firstly, some sad news. Maggie Stables has passed away after a period of illness. Doctor Who fans may know her as the voice of companion Evelyn Smythe in the Big Finish audio series. In addition to other roles for the company, including the revolting Ruthlie in their first Doctor Who release, The Sirens of Time. She first appeared as Evelyn in the story The Marian Conspiracy, opposite Colin Baker, and continued as the companion of the sixth Doctor for many adventures, including the BBCi webcast Real Time. She was an excellent actress, but I shall leave it to others more eloquent than I to pay tribute.

DWW tribute to Maggie  Doc Oho article: Why I love Evelyn

In rather happier news, there are some new projects from the worlds of DW fandom. Perhaps most exciting is a brand new short story anthology from Declan May: Seasons of War. With contributions from such notable authors as Paul Magrs, Jenny Colgan, Lance Parkin, Kate Orman and many more from Doctor Who prose fame, plus new authors, Seasons of War will chart the events of the War Doctor's life. It is being published in memory of Paul Spraggs who died earlier this year, in order to raise money for www.caudwellchildren.com. A full press release can be found here.

The talented chaps at www.ministerofchance.com have begun a Kickstarter fundraiser to finance the production of a full-length Minister of Chance film. A prologue has already been produced, but funds are needed to create the full movie. The plan is to create the film in four chapters, each to be made available to backers upon completion. Starring such talents as Julian Wadham, Lauren Crace, Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy and Jenny Agutter, The Minister of Chance promises to be a phenomenal piece of work - providing it secures funding.

Finally, Obverse Books' have no released Iris Wildthyme of Mars, featuring several wonderful authors, and me. It is available in hardback at £14.95 and ebook for £6.99. I'm an orfer!

Pinched from Tumblr

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

It's what you do with it that counts

Dirk Loechel has finished his ultimate update to his gigantic starship comparison chart (that's a gigantic chart of gigantic starships). He's not the only person to produce these charts, but his are the best and most exhaustive. This is massive, so click on the image to be taken to DeviantArt where you can see a larger image and download the full-sized one. As Dirk states in his FEQ, things like the Death Star, V'Ger and other super-enormous structures are just too large for this chart, without losing everything else due to resolution limits. The TARDIS is on there, but it is both far too small to see at this scale, and infinitely large so impossible to resolve on the screen.


Monday, 22 September 2014

WHO REVIEW: 8-5) Time Heist

The great strength of contemporary Doctor Who is its variety. If you don't like one episode, then there's no need to worry, because next week it'll be something completely different. Each episode riffs on a recognisable genre, be it steampunk, sci-fi adventure, historical humour or existential horror. This week, it was the turn of the hustle and heist. It's a straightforward enough idea: take four unlikely characters with their own strengths, stick them with an underhand mission and follow the twists and turns. It's a popular style, and there are any number of movies and TV series trying it. Doctor Who's gift is to mesh its genre-of-the-week with its own blend of science fiction, fantasy and horror to create something new. At it's best, it creates something truly unique. Sometimes it's a crashing failure. More often than not, it's a qualified success, greatness tantalisingly just out of its grasp. So it is with Time Heist.


The risk with any kind of genre lift is falling foul of the clichés. When you knock two genres together, there are twice as many clichés to avoid. The heist is a plot-heavy story type; forty-five minutes does not leave much room for exploration and originality once each set piece has been resolved. Time Heist is populated by the thinnest of characters, none but the Doctor really getting any but the most perfunctory of characterisation. It is perhaps for the best that the Doctor is front and centre here, one again the leading man in his own show after several episodes in which he was, to a greater or lesser degree, sidelined. There's less focus on the effect the Doctor has on others here – although that is still present – and more on the man himself. Nonetheless, even the Doctor's characterisation is fairly shallow here. There's his “professional detachment,” an excellent choice of phrase there, along with his arrogance, his controlling attitude, and his barely submerged self-loathing. This is all something worthy of far greater exploration, but there just isn't time for it in a single episode story.


Thankfully, Peter Capaldi is more than capable of filling in the gaps here. He can give the shallowest of material depth. Even the necessary expositional scenes, little more than the Doctor standing around explaining things, are a triumph when Capaldi lets rip. The darkness we've been promised is there, an intensity in his gaze that imbues even the flimsiest scene with fire. This Doctor is cold, but it's a shell. He has emotions, but he puts them aside for the mission. Soldiering on, not looking back until the job is done. “He's not really like that,” says Clara, and while there's a sense that the line is there to reassure the viewers still reeling from the loss of cuddly Matt Smith and charming David Tennant, there's a truth to it. The occasional moment, when his awkwardness becomes apparent, or that huge grin breaks through, reminds us that our Doctor is still there underneath.





With the Doctor at the forefront though, it is Clara who is pushed to the sidelines, and with such a paper-thin character to begin with, she can't survive it. Jenna Coleman does what she can with the material, but there's so little of it to go round. Unlike the other two comrades we find ourselves with, Clara seems to have no purpose on this mission. She's just there because she's the companion, so she has to come along. There's no sense that the Doctor actually required her on this mission, save for the desire to risk her life in a huge display of showing off. Perhaps they should have gone to Brighton after all. I might've bumped into them there.


The other two bank robbers, Psi and Saibra, are somewhat better, given the opportunity to at least express reasons for being involved. Unfortunately, it's here that the episode first slips into cliché. A cyborg who can interface with the computer systems and a shapeshifting mutant who's practically dropped out on an X-Men comic (really, she's one part Mystique to two parts Rogue). They're the most likely characters we'd expect to see in a sci-fi bank robbery, save perhaps for some nutter with a blaster gun, and this being Doctor Who, weaponry is kept to a minimum. Thankfully, both Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner are both capable of holding a scene and give the characters life beyond their two-dimensional concepts. They're likeable enough that it would actually be a pleasure to see them again in the series. Given Psi's exchange with the Doctor towards the end, I feel we might.




Ms, Delphox and her progenitor, Madame Karabraxos, are equally thinly sketched, but somehow it matters less when we're talking about the villains. Staggering greed and sociopathy are precisely what this story needs in its antagonists. Keeley Hawes does a beautiful job in bringing both characters to life. They are naturally similar, but distinct, Ms. Delphox's confident demeanour nothing but a mask compared to Karabraxos's calm self-assurance. Even there, though, the cracks begin to appear when the Doctor faces her down. Under normal circumstances, we'd expect the Doctor to bring Karabraxos's world crashing down around her. This time, however, he is constrained by causality. Her bank may be destroyed, but Karabraxos lives a long life, only to find some sort of redemption at the end of her days, and the Doctor must let it all pass so that the correct chain of events can play out.




We've seen cyborg, shapeshifters and the monstrous corruption of wealth many times, but Time Heist does have some new material. The Teller is a truly exceptional creation, an intriguing concept brought to life by an effects team at the top of their game. While the idea of a psychic protecting a corporate establishment isn't original, in the normal run of things we'd expect some ethereal being or a bald-headed mystic. Something serene, standing, or more likely hovering, apart from the grubby humans around it. Here, though, we get the complete opposite. A leathery-skinned beast howling with anger and pain, its huge body bound in disturbingly Guantanamo Bay-like orange overalls, the Teller is far from the usual sci-fi telepath. The use of a combination of animatronics and costuming is a wise decision, giving the creature a powerful physicality that a CG rendering would lack. The blinking eyes on the end of its slug-like antennae seem alive but alien. It's an excellent addition to the parade of Doctor Who monsters.





Time Heist combines these elements to create an enjoyable romp with a darker edge, but it is somewhat lacking in impact. Perhaps this is down to the sheer predictability of its story. While a little predictability is fine, even entertaining, as the viewer can enjoy spotting what's coming up, the various twists of Time Heist were all so readily signposted that they failed to make any kind of impression. The Doctor reacts with surprise when he realises that “this isn't just a bank heist – it's a time-travel heist!” Yet this is, in the grand tradition of Doctor Who serials of old, given away in the title. The identity of the Architect as the Doctor himself is so obvious that the surprise reveal is nothing of the sort, while the shredders, supposedly deadly disintegration devices, are given a visual effect so reminiscent of a thousand teleporters over the years that this too is no surprise. The only element that may come as a surprise to attentive viewers is the identity of Karabraxos, but even then, Ms. Delphox's comment that her “face fits” hints so heavily at her nature that this was at least guessable.



Perhaps this is missing the point, though. Obvious though the twists are, they keep things moving through the forty-five minutes of airtime and prevent the story from being just a runaround in some corridors. With all the cast giving it their all, even unsurprising revelations have resonance and make for diverting entertainment. All in all, while the ingredients of this story may largely be obvious and old-hat, the recipe as a whole is an enjoyable one. Time Heist is entertaining mid-season Doctor Who, enlivened by some fine performances, particularly from our leading man, who is making his mark as a truly magnificent Doctor.

Links: The Doctor previously used memory worms to wipe people's recollections in The Snowman.

When Psi is browsing the files for data on criminals, he brings up images of various beings, including  The Trickster and Androvax the Veil from The Sarah Jane Adventures, Captain John from Torchwood, Kahler-Tek the Gunslinger from A Town Called Mercy, Abslom Daak from the DWM comic strips, an Ice Warrior, a Slitheen, a Terileptil and, bizarrely, a Sensorite. The idea of a criminal mastermind Sensorite is strangely appealing.

Threads: Nice dark shirt for the Doctor this week. Clara's date outfit is a fun suit-like number, which is handy for looking the part in an off-the-cuff bank heist.

Best Line: "Shut up, everybody. Just shut up! Shut up, shut up, shuttity-up-up-up!"

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Capaldi in Space

There are some great little programmes hiding out on BBC Radio 4-Extra. This week I listened to The Further Adventures of the First King of Mars, which actually came out in 2008. It was originally written by Nick Walker to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Sputnik 1's orbital mission. I'm not sure of the connection, seeing that Sputnik never went to Mars, but never mind. It was repeated over the week in five fifteen-minute installments. A canny move, seeing that is read by Peter Capaldi, and thus serves as something to keep all the Doctor Who geeks going between episodes.

We all hoped that the twelfth Doctor would be like Malcolm Tucker in space, and while there's a touch of that to the character, it's Capaldi's mission captain here who is really the holder of that mantle. OK, the swearing isn't there, but god, this is an angry, overbearing and utterly disturbed man on a mission to Mars. The first manned mission to the red planet, totally ruined by having this man in command, utterly unsuited to the role and totally out of his depth. Over five short episodes there is a crash-landing, a death and an astonishing discovery that leaves the mission in tatters and the nature of Mars changed forever, all recounted by Capaldi with increasing hysteria. All hinging on his accidental running down of a space centre chimpanzee. It's just wonderfully bizarre, and Capaldi's caustic telling makes it. This should be repeated every year; it's a brilliant piece of cynical, completely British science-fiction.