Monday, 11 January 2021

TREK REVIEW: DIS 3-13 - "That Hope is You, Part 2"

SPOILERS, NATURALLY

 So, that's season three, rounding things off with the last part of a multi-part adventure that, for confusion's sake, advertises itself as the second part of the opening episode of the season. I guess there's something thematic going on here, probably to do with connection. That's been the theme running through the season and this episode in particular, getting hammered home by Burnham at the close just in case it went over your head.

It works, though. This was a busy, action-packed episode that still had plenty of heart, tied up most of the loose ends of the season and set up the next. Still, there was something just a little dissatisfying about the way some of the previous episode's threads were handled. Osyraa, having been knocked back by Vance, loses all the complexity she'd shown in the last episode and reverting to a straightforward, moustache-twirling villain. Not there's no room for moustache-twirling villains in Star Trek, but she was becoming something more. It also seems unlikely that the Emerald Chain is really done for without Osyraa if it's as entrenched and expansive as she decribed it last week. Sure, killing off its leader will have massive repurcussions, but an alliance that large isn't just going to disappear overnight (even the Star Wars sequel trilogy worked that one out). Then again, maybe the Chain isn't as powerful and sophisticated as Osyraa made out. More disappointing was the lack of Aurellio, who made one moral stand and then got knocked out for the remainder. He looks like he could be a recurring character next year, but we shall see.

It's a bit of a shame to see Tilly hand over command to Burnham so quickly, but then, while she acquitted herself well, it was unfair of Saru to put her in that position in the first place. In the meantime, though, we got some pretty awesome action heroine stuff from Michael and some lower decks leadership skills from Tilly. The DOTs didn't make as much of a difference as I'd expected, but at least Owo got to do something this week, saving the goddamn ship by holding her breath like a boss and climbing through the nacelles under low-oxygen conditions. (Let's gloss over just how and when these nacelles are attached to the ship, since they seem to be free-floating except when someone needs to get to them.)

The final fight between Burnham and Osyraa was a treat, as good as anything we've come to expect from Chris Pine in the Abrams/Lin movies. The space battle, on the other hand, was a let down. I know I've moaned before about the battles in Discovery being too busy to follow, but this was the opposite extreme. Starfleet, led by Voyager for maximum fan credentials, joining forces with the Ni'Var fleet (predicted that one easily enough), take on the Viridian/Discovery and we scarcely see it.

Back on the Khi'eth, Saru helps Su'Kal work through his problems, with both Doug Jones and Bill Irwin giving beautiful performances. The heavy work had been done two episodes earlier, and this was more about moving events to their conclusion in an emotionally satisfying way. Meanwhile, Adira and Gray get their own moment of holo-cosplay, with the human becoming Xahean and the Trill becoming Vulcan. There's still not much actual point to this (or logic), but it's fun to see the regulars as different aliens. The most significant part of this, though, is Gray's becoming visible to the others, and his heartbreaking acceptance that he will become a ghost again if he leaves. In the absence of Daddy Stamets, Hugh takes Adira and Gray under his wing, and it's all very touching. There's a beautiful message here about Gray being "seen," a wonderful nod to the series' newfound commitment to trans issues. It doesn't matter what the transphobic naysayers come out with, Discovery is saying to its trans actors and viewers, "you are seen." It's a lot subtler than the connection theme, celebrating Ian Alexander's identity without ever coming out and saying his character is trans (although he may well be and is according to publicity), supporting the NB Adira/Blu del Barrio at the same time.

On the ship, things are rather more brutal, with Book getting tortured and various people getting blasted. There's still plenty of time to fuel the connection theme, though, with Book recovering remarkably quickly (adrenaline or not) and becoming the new link with the spore drive. Now we don't have to rely on Stamets to jump, because Book can use his empathic powers to connect to any organism and travel the mushroom highway. Well, it makes about as much sense as the spore drive ever did, abd it brings Book into the fold more solidly than ever. He's clearly here to stay, and I'm glad.

In the end, everything is looking rosy. The Disconauts' work over the last few months is paying off, the Federation is getting back on its feet and even helping its allies across space. Burnham's promotion to captain is about the least surprising development possible, but it comes at the right time. For all this series was initially pushed as being different for not following a captain (and it's rotating COs have reflected this, as well as lending some credibility to the setting, since transfers are part and parcel of military service), this was clearly always Michael's path. I'm relieved to learn this won't see Saru leave the series (he's still a captain after all – will he get a new ship?) and while Burnham's habit of demotion-and-promotion makes Kelvin universe Kirk look stable, it's a fitting development. I'm assuming Tilly is still First Officer, although surely she'll need to be promoted at least to lieutenant for that?

In spite of some story threads losing their tension, the finale works, and leaves the season on a hopeful note for a change. Each season of Discovery has been better than the last, and I'm looking forward to see just how much further season four will take us. A few strange new worlds, I hope.

Observations:

In changing to the new uniforms, Burnham has switched department colours: the old Discovery uniforms has gold for command and red for ops, as is standard in 22nd and 23rd century series, while the 32nd century uniforms are the other way round, in line with 24th century style. They're a rather boring shade of grey otherwise, though.

It's announced that Trill has rejoined the Federation in the closing scenes of the episode, confirming once and for all that they were definitely members previously. There's a hint that Ni'Var will follow, but no mention of United Earth.

Adira's "disguise" as a Xahean reminds us the aliens who were created for Short Treks and Discovery season two, but it's surprising we haven't heard anything about them this season. Given how rich Xahea is in dilithium, you'd expect we'd hear something about the planet in the 32nd.

Detmer/Owo shippers are out of luck - even after almost certain death they only hug. 

Predictions sussed:

Things I predicted completely wrong: Su'Kal is exactly as he appears, and not an elderly and mutated creature. I'd even wondered if the kelp monster was his real form. Nope, he's just fine. Although if he's adapted to the radiation levels in the nebula, you've got to wonder if he can survive outside of it.

Things I predicted completely wrong: Lt. Willa has been almost completely forgotten, and is not the new recurring character she looked like she'd be in "Die Trying." She gets a few moments here though.

Things I happily predicted correctly: Vance is not a villain, in spite of everyone insisting he must be because he's an admiral and they're always dodgy (and Oded Fehr plays a lot of villains).

Continuity questions:

There are plenty of questions and ongoing mysteries still left to answer in season four or even later. Not least of which is the tie to the Short Treks episode "Calypso." Zora's evolution is clearly a continuing theme for the next season and at some point the Discovery has to be abandoned, leaving the AI alone and integrated with her systems. Which now seems odd considering that here the nascent AI was able to be downloaded into a series of drones. Another major anomaly is that the Discovery seen in "Calypso" is still in its original configuration, but it's since been refit to 32nd century standards. Plus the ship is apparently abandoned for a thousand years, so either it goes back in time or the term V'Draysh is still in use in the 42nd century.

Who is the original Cleveland Booker? Book's mentor is clearly going to turn out to be someone significant, either by the role they play or a link to an existing character. It's bound to be explored in season four.

I can't imagine the Jah-Sepp are going to be pleased when Starfleet start playing in the mushroom kingdom again/ Have the Discovery crew forgotten that they were killing the other dimension's native inhabitants by using the spore drive? Or do they just think they'll be extinct by now anyway so they can get away with it?

Saturday, 9 January 2021

CHROMAKEY Issue 5 now available

 The latest of the cult television print magazine Chromakey is now available to order from Lulu.com



This issue includes articles on Project Blue Book (which I've never seen but now make it a point to search out), The Year of the Sex Olympics, Battlestar Galactica, Knightfall and more. There's not much from me this time, just a slight reworking of my Stargirl season one review. However, I can thoroughly recommend this issue as having some really excellent material. It's available for only $7.99 US (that's about six quid).

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Mary Anning Rocks

 There are only eight days left to fund the Mary Anning Rocks campaign, raising funds to give the great fossilist the memorial she deserves by building a statue in her honour in her home town of Lyme Regis. 

Designs are completed for the statue, which will, if funded, sit in the Jurassic Coast of Lyme Regis, Dorset. If you'd like to help commemorate one of the greatest palaeontologist of all time, still so unfairly overlooked by history, then click here to read more and donate. (Look, David Attenborough has backed it, and you can't argue with him.) 




Television Heaven Magazine Issue 3 now available

 


The third issue of TVH magazine, TVH Goes to the Movies, is now available to download for free in PDF format. This issue Laurence Marcus and his team of telly addicts look back at TV series that spun off to film and vice versa. With articles on Callan, Casablanca, Morecambe and Wise, Dragnet, the David Croft sitcom films and more, there's a wealth of classic material covered. Also on offer are articles by myself on the two Doctor Who Dalek movies starring Peter Cushing, and a bit more recently, the wonderful animated series The Real Ghostbusters which followed the 1984 movie. 


You can download and read the issue here.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

WHO REVIEW: 12-11 - "Revolution of the Daleks"

 


After a very peculiar year, Doctor Who gives us a special which perfectly fits the times. Which is pretty remarkable, since this was all recorded before lockdown was even on the horizon (aside from a couple of picked up scenes, according to reports, but I couldn't tell you which these were). Aside from the sheer amount of hugging going on – not allowed these days – there's a distinct lockdown feel to the entire story, beginning as it does with the Doctor suffering enforced isolation, and continuing with a reunion with friends she hasn't seen for months. It's serendipity, but it adds something to the episode.

It's an interesting but effective choice to make a special so directly linked to previous episodes. "The Timeless Children" was ten months ago (the same time the Doctor's companions have been waiting for her, which is a nice touch), but the more direct precursor is the last special, Resolution, which was exactly two years ago. Thankfully, the concepts being followed up on are pretty straightforward and easy to grasp if you have missed or forgotten about the earlier adventures. Even the Timeless Child revelations boil down to "the Doctor learned something about herself that she doesn't understand" and this is enough for the special. She's reeling, the detaiils aren't important right now.

The Daleks are the big draw of the episode, of course, but there's plenty of time spent on the Doctor and her many companions. The prison scenes are fun – lovely cameos from some old monsters – but the toll it's taken on the Doctor is clear. She's essentially in solitary confinement for most of her time there, it appears, which we learn has been decades. It's not even clear that she's tried to escape. I mean, it's the Doctor, so you'd expect her to, but she's still dealing with the revelations about herself and it seems she's spent a lot of her confinement just stewing over that. The other big deal of the episode is Jack, making his first proper return to the series after his cameo in "Fugitive of the Judoon." John Barrowman steps back into his role like he's never been away, and he shares a great, easygoing chemistry with Whittaker. Having the immortal Jack wait a full nineteen years in prison so he can get close to the Doctor is wonderful, and shows that he's learnt some considerable patience during his centuries of life (he did spend two thousand years in a grave once after all). On the other hand, having Jack swagger in and rescue the Doctor does make her seem like a damsel in distress, which is not where the Doctor should be at all.

In fact, Jack takes on a lot of the Doctor's role as the fun adventurer for the episode, as the Doctor herself doesn't quite slide back into her usual happy-go-lucky mode, and quite right too. It's wise having both the companions and the Doctor feel each other's absence for some time, although I wonder if the Doctor will ever tell them just how long it was for her. We know the TARDIS has a tendency to take the Doctor to where she's needed rather than where she wants to go, so I feel that arriving ten months late was a deliberate move on the Ship's part. Time for the fam to grow as well. I love how Yaz, Ryan anf Graham are still investigating, but aren't immediately up to spin-off series standard. They still need a little time traveller help. Jack has some great chemistry with the team, but particularly with Yaz, who's slotting into the trainee Doctor role that Rose, Clara and indeed Jack all had as their character arcs. As with them, Yaz is clearly in love with the Doctor, but cannily, Chibnall is keeping any feelings the Doctor has for her ambiguous. She's certainly very happy that Yaz isn't leaving...

It's Tosin Cole as Ryan who comes across strongest though, which I admit, was a bit of a surprise. As I said when reviewing Resolution, Cole is strongest with the real life emotional scenes rather than the sci-fi gubbins. It's quite right that it's Ryan who actually sits down with the Doctor and persuades her to talk, and that he's the one who makes the decision to stay on Earth. He's developed just as much as Yaz, but in a different direction, and being the more down-to-earth of the two her naturally elects to stay on solid ground. Cole's magnetic in these quiet, dialogue-based scenes. The only companion who gets short shrift is Graham, a shame considering he's also leaving. Still, his final moments on the TARDIS are lovely. He clearly wants to continue travelling with the Doctor, but stays behind out of loyalty to Grace and Ryan. It's a quiet but powerfully effective moment from Bradley Walsh.

Following up on the Dalek scout from Resolution is a good decision. Everything in the episode is a consequence of previous events, rather than yet another unlikely situation coming out of the blue. The scout design was controversial (because no one's ever happy) but I liked it, but given that it was designed as a kitbash Dalek built on the run it didn't seem like it could be followed up. Having a bunch of humans acquire the remains and use it as the basis of their own Daleks is a clever way of reusing and reviving this new design. The new Earth Daleks work brilliantly, with the scout design built upon to become something sinister and imposing. Sadly, they're reather wasted. We know from the beginning that somehow an actual Dalek will find its way into the drones, but there's virtually no time to see the drones in action before this, or the effect this has on the British populace. Equally, once the drones have been co-opted by the Daleks, we have scarcely any time with them before the bronze Daleks wipe them out.

Still, there's some excellent Dalek action on display. I enjoy how in both episodes there's a focus on how the Dalek is a life form, not just a war machine (even if the Doctor refers to the mutant as "the creature that lives inside a Dalek," but I guess that's just simplification for Robertson). The Daleks are almost as dangerous outside their casings as they are inside, and honestly more frightening. The episode does rerun the previous special a bit, with the Dalek possessing Leo, but this doesn't last long and is more of a way to get from one part of the story to another. Having Leo clone the previous story's Dalek (cannily revealed to have a genetic memory as well, so it can pick up where it left off) is a great way of kicking off the plot, but I feel they missed a trick. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is excellent as the young scientist, but having him as just a patsy and then killed off wastes him. He could have been a Davros figure, working with the Dalek.

Instead we get Chris Noth back as Jack Robertson from "Arachnids in the UK" nearly three years ago. I doubt anyone was desperate to see him again, but to be fair, he's much more entertaining this time round. Noth hams it up marvellously, and he's written as more deliberately villainous, so he's far more effective as a baddie. However, it's infuriating that once again, he gets off scot free. Surely they're building up a third appearance where he finally gets his comeuppance? Dame Harriet Walter, playing the power hungry politician Jo Patterson, is completely wasted. She's a great actor and makes for a great villain while she has time, but is also killed off far too quickly. I think it's inarguable that there are pacing issues in the episode, with some parts run virtually on fast forward. It brings to mind the seventh series during Matt Smith's tenure, when episodes were run at an absolutely breathless pace. It's certainly a fun, exciting episode, but the plot needs room to breathe as well as the characters' relationships. Still, for sheer specatcle, this is great stuff.

The Doctor's been through a rough time, of course, but she's particularly ruthless here, which, personally, I love. None of that nonsense about claiming to be pacifist or complaining that the other Doctor picked up a gun. The Doctor here tricks one lot of Daleks into coming to Earth to wipe out another lot, in the full knowledge that she'll have to destroy them too. It's a pretty mental plan, but it works, and the ruse of trapping the entire Dalek force in a collapsing TARDIS is brilliant. Again, incredibly ruthless though; that TARDIS is a living being as well. Can't imagine the Doctor's TARDIS was pleased about that.

Finally, we look to the future. We can look forward to an eight episode season this year, a sensible compromise in the face of COVID-19 restrictions. I'm glad we don't have another year without a series, and I'd much rather a shorter one than none at all. I would be very surprised if we don't see Graham and Ryan again, or Jack, and the dialogue around the latter checking in on Gwen certainly sounds like a hint we might see a Torchwood revival of some kind. (Chibnall, of course, was showrunner on the first two seasons of that.)

The sudden reveal post-credits that John Bishop is to join the cast was a surprise, but a welcome one. I enjoy his stand-up, and we've had enough comedians cast in the past that turned out well for the series (going right back to Pertwee, really). We'll see what he's like, but I'm optimistic. Interesting that we're getting another older man in the TARDIS as well. It's been confirmed that he's a new companion, however the BBC made such a big deal before about there being an entirely female TARDIS team for the first time that surely we'll get an episode or two with just the Doctor and Yaz? In any case, Bishop's character is called Dan, which is good news. About time we had a Dan in the TARDIS.


Monster, Monster, Monster

The prison asteroid (a whopping 79 billion light years from Earth, which is absurd) has amongst its inmates a Sycorax, a Weeping Angel, a Pting, a member of the Silence, an Ood, and hiding i the shadows, a Thijarian and a Skithra.

Ryan and Graham are keeping tabs on international paranormal events. They're off to look for trolls in Finland – that has to be the Sontarans we've seen filming, right? - and gravel creatures in Korea.

The Doctor starts a (mercifully short) Dalek civil war here. This is at least the third time she's done that.