Saturday, 1 May 2021

WHO REVIEW ROUND-UP: Echoes of Extinction (Time Lord Victorious)

 Ah, I was excited for this one. Originally intended for a two-sided vinyl release in November, it was pushed back due to COVID so that at least the shops could be open when the record went out. Having a Doctor Who LP sounds appealing, but since I'd have no way to play the thing I got the traditional download. The idea of Paul McGann and David Tennant meeting sharing an adventure was too tempting to pass up. Then it became clear that they would be experiencing separate but linked adventures, which seemed a missed opportunity, but then we've had a lot of multi-Doctor stories lately so I reasoned it was a different way of approaching it. Still, it seems a bit of a swiz that the two Doctors don't meet at all.

Still, let's rate the story on its merits, not its fannish concerns. Oh dear. Sadly, Echoes of Extinction just isn't terribly good. The central concept, that of a monster haunted by voices that push him to kill is solid, but the execution, if you'll forgive the pun, is unarresting. The second half, with the Tenth Doctor, is more entertaining than the first, largely because Tennant gives a spirited performance while McGann unfortunately sounds unenthused. This has always been a problem of his audios: you can tell when he's enjoying a script or not. There are some fan-pleasing actor choices here too, with Burn Gorman portraying the obsequious Network and Arthur Darvill as a cockney space pirate type, and while they're pretty entertaining, the characters aren't all that great to begin with. Mina Anwar and Kathryn Drysdale are pretty solid, but again, haven't got all that much to work with. Unfortunately, Inès de Clercq is wholly unsuited to her role as the Captain Frye. Is she only in this because she's Darvill's wife?

I'm also unconvinced by this release's inclusion in the Time Lord Victorious range, which is petering out now during its overextended run. The only link to the overall story is the vague similarity of the genocidal monster of this release to the genocidal monsters of the main plot. The Tenth Doctor name drops the Kotturuh and muses that the Eighth Doctor, whose involvement he has become aware of, is about to go through the nasty bits of the Dark Times affair, but it's pretty flimsy. This wouldn't really matter if the story itself was stronger, but as it is, it's all rather forgettable.


Placement: The Eighth Doctor is shortly to experience the events of the Time Lord Victorious range, so presumably for him this is after the Stranded box sets but before He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not. For the Tenth Doctor, it's after the TLV main stories, the most recent being All Flesh is Grass, however, he also mentions his fiance Liz, presumably a reference to Elizabeth I in The Day of the Doctor. On the other hand, they actually married in that story, and he sounds more like he's doing an impression of Elizabeth II, which raises all sorts of questions. On balance, right after The Day of the Doctor, allowing for some clouding of the Doctor's memories of those events.

Friday, 23 April 2021

WHO REVIEW ROUND-UP: Classic reviews on Television Heaven

Two new Doctor Who reviews up at Television Heaven. From the classic series, The Caves of Androzani, because I haven't given the Fifth Doctor enough attention lately and it's absolutely brilliant. And from the revived series, my perhaps unexpected choice of Best Of: series three episode "Gridlock." Enjoy!





WHO REVIEW ROUND-UP: Return of the Cybermen

This is the first in, I think, the sixth run of Lost Stories, which began over ten years ago and petered out a few years later when it looked like Big Finish had completely mined the resource of undeveloped Doctor Who stories. Then, the range made an unexpecter return with a pair of stories two years ago, and it looks like there are plenty more scripts to be unearthed from the depths of the Beeb's filing cabinets.

Return of the Cybermen is the original version of what would become Revenge of the Cybermen (Jedi return, but Cybermen can wreak revenge, apparently), which closed out season twelve in 1975. This is the script written by Gerry Davis, co-creator of the original Cybermen, adapted for the new format by John Dorney. Refreshingly, it's presented as what it is: an alternative final story for that season, with no attempt to fit it into existing continuity. There was, apparently, a plan to do this, with a timey-wimey twist at the end, but it was ultimately decided not to go with this, which is a relief. The earlier Lost Stories recreation of "Season 27" misguidedly rewrote original storylines to try to fit in with where Big Finish had already taken the characters, rather than giving us the original ideas as an alternative continuation. I prefer this: a look sideways at what might have been.

The big draw here is having the Fourth Doctor reunited with Sarah Jane and Harry for a new adventure, something which seemed very unlikely to ever happen. Ian Marter, of course, sadly died in 1986, aged only 42, while we've just had the tenth anniversary of Lis Sladen's death. While Sladen reprised the role of Sarah Jane Smith for Big Finish in her own series, before doing the same for the BBC, by the time Tom Baker finally decided to join BF she was too ill to continue and died soon after. Yet we now have a new season twelve TARDIS team, with Sladen's daughter Sadie Miller taking on her role, and BF stalwart Christopher Naylor playing Harry Sullivan. 

It's really rather a beautiful recreation of this classic team. While it was never going to truly recreate the combination of Baker, Sladen and Marter, it comes remarkably close. Miller sounds similar to her mother, of course, but occasionally, just occasionally, she sounds exactly like her, and it's spooky. Naylor, on the other hand, does a fine impression of Marter that never sounds like a send-up. Both are fine audio actors and do their forebears proud. Tom Baker, of course, is on fine form as always as the Doctor. He never seems quite as enthused with these straighter sci-fi stories as with the sillier ones, but he never fails to give a spellbinding performance. 

Not that Return of the Cybermen isn't silly. It's marginally more sensible than the version that reached the screen, but not by much. It still relies on the conceit that the Cybermen, having developed a terrible weakness to gold, would elect to go straight for an asteroid covered in the stuff, and that's just the start of their illogical actions. Still, this version, which has no Vogans on their planet of gold, is a bit more reasonable, although the asteroid we get, populated by what sounds to be a lost colony of South Africans, isn't exactly the most enticing setting for the climactic sequences.

Events on the Nerva Beacon are rather more gripping, with some excellent performances by the guest cast. I particularly enjoyed Nicholas Asbury's gruff interpretation of the station commander, a real no-nonsense spacedog. The music and audio effects provide a very 1960s feel to events. There are a lot of recycled elements from Davis's earlier scripts, too, such as the Doctor's reliance on his 500-year-diary (straight from The Tomb of the Cybermen) and the Cybermen's extreme vulnerability to radiation (The Tenth Planet). It would have been derivative in1975, but they would have gotten away with it then, while an audio presented to fans who've watched and heard this stuff over and over it seems repetitive. Still, at least there's consistency, even if it does hammer home just how many weakness the Cybermen have. 

I don't think Return of the Cybermen will top many best-of lists for BF this year, but it's a pretty solid, enjoyable adventure made special by the performances of the lead cast. In any case, it's a better, more coherent story than the one that replaced it, an let's be honest, even that old nonsense is a lot of fun.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Trek Trailer Treats

 Blimey, it's been a fortnight since First Contact Day and I've finally gotten round to posting my thoughts on the new trailers and info. Better late than never, I guess.

DISCOVERY SEASON 4



Discovery season four sees the crew, now under the command of Captain Michael Burnham, confronted with some kind of gravitational disaster that is threatening everyone and everything. They've only just solved the mystery of the Burn and now they're dealing with another cosmic crisis that threatens the whole galaxy – give these poor people a week off! It seems that S4 will carry on in much the same vein as S3, trying to rebuild the Federation while space travel, even space itself, is falling apart. I'd hoped for a bit more, well, discovery in this season, and we might still get that, but the trailer makes it look like we'll mostly be seeing places and people we recognise. 

I'm loving the colourful new uniforms, much better than the dreary grey ones the Disconauts ended up at the end of last season, although it reinforces the impression that Starfleet spends most of its time designing clothes for its officers. Clearly Book and Saru are to remain important in the series. Detmer also gets a bit of focus in the trailer, but that might just be because she's so hot. We see some hints here that the Vulcans are mending their relationship with the Federation, with the President of Ni'Var making some positive speeches, and we also see someone in authority in the Federation itself – perhaps the Federation President, oft-mentioned but unseen in S3? She appears to be part-Cardassian, which hints again that the Cardassians joined the UFP at some point between the 24th and 32nd centuries.

PICARD SEASON 2

   

The Picard teaser really is just that, just enough to tell us that Q is back. Initially released without the interview, this was a nice surprise – well, not a huge surprise, but a nice revelation. I can't wait to see how Picard and Q interact in this new era, with Picard's age, more cynical attitude and new status as an artificial being surely changing the dynamic. (I presume that John de Lancie's physical age will be explained as a conceit for Picard, or perhaps a mockery.) 

Picard S2 has a lot to cover. The first season gave us the rights of artificial life forms, the repurcussions of the Romulan supernova, the fallout of the Borg incursion into known space, and didn't always manage to balance it all. S2 has to follow up on all this, plus Picard's new incarnation and the return of Q. That's a lot to fit in (and I still want to see them explore the rights of holograms in this era, and how it relates to the ban on artificial life). It's good to read that the showrunners have accepted there were pacing and writing issues in the first season, and that they have planned out more fully were the story is going this year. I'm ultimately just glad we're seeing the series return, especially seeing how production was stopped for a while due to COVID (Patrick Stewart being an elderly man, after all). 

We also know that Whoopi Goldberg is back as Guinan (and with Q as well – will we learn about their mysterious past encounters?), and there are persistent rumours of Robert Picardo joining as the Doctor. One interesting aside from the teaser is the inclusion of a sacred Bajoran relic among Picard's collection of cool galactic stuff – just a reused bit of set dressing, or a hint at something more intriguing?

LOWER DECKS SEASON 2

 

Life seems to be carrying on as normal for Lower Decks, which is to say, utter chaos and monsters (there's a mugato! Sweet!) A well as a bunch of new bizarre creatures, we're meeting both the Cardassians and Denobulans again (about time). Plenty more references to the franchise, as expected – a Miranda-class starship like the classic Reliant, seemingly plucked from the 23rd century; Mariner picking up Riker's ultimate martial arts skills, Riker banging on about jazz as always. It looks like life's more stressful than ever for Bradward Boimler, as we might have predicted. And we only have until August to see it!

STRANGE NEW WORLDS

Strangely, we haven't had any footage from either Strange New Worlds or Prodigy, even though the former has begun filming in earnest and the latter is supposedly landing later this year. A general trailer released about a month ago recycled footage from Discovery S2 and Short Treks to represent SNW, while all we'e had from Prodigy is some artwork of the characters. Still, what we've seen and heard is intriguing.

I'm relieved to read that showrunner Akiva Goldsman is making SNW more episodic than the other series he's overseeing. Not because I dislike the serialised structure, but because it's something a little different, and suggests we'll be doing more standalone adventures on those strange new worlds of the title. He's particularly spoken about having tonally different episodes following each other, which will be a refreshing change from the more holistically styled series we've had recently. It sounds like the series is deliberately being set up to be more like classic Trek and there's nothing wrong with a bit of that amongst today's modern storytelling.

PRODIGY



Prodigy is sounding more interesting the more we hear about it. Given that it's designed for younger viewers, new to the franchise, I expected it to be very standalone. From the sounds of it, it both is and isn't. The main characters (bar one) appear to be entirely new alien species (there's one who might be a Talaxian, but it's hard to be sure with the art style). Yet it's being positioned as a follow-up to Voyager: set in the Delta Quadrant in 2383 (five years after Voyager finished, three years on from Lower Decks and four years before Romulus gets destroyed, fact fans), it features an Emergency Training Hologram based on Captain Janeway.

This is a really interesting way to bring back her character, rather than simply having an older Admiral Janeway getting involved. I'm also glad to hear that Kate Mulgrew asked the artists to tone down the prettiness of her holographic image. She's still quite prettified, which makes me imagine the original design must have been like something out of a Disney film. But look at those aliens! One of them is a blob! A proper blob monster like Yaphet on The Orville. I'm stoked for a modern kids' adventure series take on Trek, and having a whole bunch of new aliens as main characters is the icing on the cake.

STAR TREK 4/STAR TREK 14?

And finally... Paramount have confirmed that there's going to be a new Star Trek film in 2023. I mean, don't hold your breath for them to actually make that date, what with all the to-ing nad fro-ing on the movie front the last few years, but it's still encouraging. It's stated it'll be produced by J.J. Abrams, so I would expect it'll be another Kelvin Timeline film, but frankly, who can be sure? Kurtzam has also said that the line between the film and TV franchises is now gone (thanks to CBS and Paramount now making friends again), but given they were literally in separate universes before it's a mystery how this will actually work.