Sunday 31 January 2016

January is finally over

January is the worst month. It's cold, it's grim, no one has any money, and everyone is trying so hard to go dry or be vegan that no one seems to have any time for anything fun. 

Today, Terry Wogan died. I annoyed Wogan on live television once with the help of some friends, using a gigantic banner on which the words "Terry, sing the Floral Dance!" were roughly painted. He never did sing it, but it was still a classic moment. I'm not alone in wanting to write off this whole month for all the remarkable people who have died. I've already written about Alan Rickman and David Bowie, both taken far too young (but Doctor Who Comic is reprinting the eleventh Doctor comics with thin Bowie stand-in John Jones as companion, culminating this month with his apparent death, laden with Bowie lyrics. It's spectacular timing but a little too soon to not be unsettling). The talented TV writer Robert Banks Stewart, actor David Margulies, Eagles frontman Glenn Frey, classic thesp Frank Finlay - not young people, but remarkable people, sadly missed. 

However... I have got to spend a lot of time with my ridiculous and wonderful girlfriend. We went to see The Mousetrap last week, which I have finally seen after many years of meaning to; it starred Louise Jameson and was surprisingly hilarious. Bloody brilliant. We had a comedy exchange: I introduced Suz to Simon Munnery and she showed me Foil, Arm and Hog. She got me to go to a club I haven't been to for at least ten years and I had a fine time. Didn't cut it up like last time, but then, this time I wasn't dressed for it.

Work's pretty good; I've a ton of extra work on top of the everyday stuff, but overall it's going OK. I'm not really sleeping, so I'm busy and exhausted, but altogether I think I'm OK. January is over, the year shall surely get better.

All together:

Friday 29 January 2016

TREK REVIEW: New Voyages: The Holiest Thing

SPOILERS! If you haven't seen the episode, you can watch it here first.

Not so much a new voyage as a walk along well-trodden paths, this latest episode of the fan series is nonetheless one of the best they have produced. It's heavy on the continuity, but it doesn't feel forced or awkward, with the exception of the odd decision to frame the story with scenes of a 24th Century Scotty reminiscing about the adventure (he has little to do with the main adventure, making it doubly strange). This is primarily the story of Dr. Carol Marcus, the character remembered for her appearance as Kirk's lost love in The Wrath of Khan (and less well remembered for inclusion in its cover version, Star Trek Into Darkness). Here, Dr. Marcus is played by the beautiful Jacy King, who gives a fine performance as a scientist who believes passionately in the vital nature of her work and who will defend it to the hilt, even in the face of disaster. Less convincing is her romance with Kirk, although this has more to do with the limited screentime, and with Brian Goss's performance. As yet, I'm not convinced by Goss as Kirk, who seems a little freshfaced and ineffectual here. He lacks Kirk's display of bravado and confidence; he'd probably have worked well when younger as a less experience Jim Kirk, as lieutenant on the Yorktown, but he doesn't yet convince as the legendary captain, Still, give him time - he's very new to the role.

Anyway, "The Holiest Thing" is a prequel to the aforementioned Wrath of the Khan, dealing with Dr. Marcus's first attempts to create a new terraforming device that will bring "life from lifelessness." We know it's doomed to fail, which makes her passion for the project both wonderful to see and rather heartbreaking. Here, it's the actions of a fellow scientist on their base on Lappa Three that spells disaster, but we know that once day, she'll be cutting similar corners with the Genesis device, with catastrophic effects. This episode ties in nicely to the movie, although the timing is a little questionable. Still, I don't mind this too much - continuity is fun to play with, but being beholden to it is a poor idea. Yes, this adventure should have happened earlier if Kirk's son David was to be the result, but then it wouldn't have been made as part of Star Trek: New Voyages.

This attitude to continuity is best displayed in the identity of the mysterious aliens involved in the disaster. The series Enterprise drew flak for its inclusion of the Ferengi, clashing with established continuity. This goes even further, happily having the Ferengi identify themselves once they are revealed, in spite of apparently not making contact with the Federation until the time of Picard. Frankly, who cares? The Ferengi make a fun baddie for the episode, and Clay Sayre gives a great performance as the grotty Ferengi captain, beneath some truly excellent make-up. The series is looking better than ever; there's a sequence where the camera draws back from the Enterprise through the star system, revealing the alien ship, that is absolutely gorgeous. Pretty damned good stuff.

Monday 25 January 2016

REVIEW: The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight is an unnecessarily violent, grotesque and offensive film; in other words, classic Tarantino. An undeniably talented, if arguably overrated filmmaker, Tarantino has developed such a recognisable style that there's a risk when seeing a new film that you know exactly what you're going to get. Following up the excellent Django Unchained with another western was a questionable move. Making it a mystery story, though, is a triumph, bringing a new element to the same set of themes and stylistic tics and giving everyone a reason to keep watching, other than wondering who'll be the next poor sucker to get his head blown off.

The Hateful Eight works as a follow-up to Django Unchained, dealing with the same themes of racism and the North/South divide, but will inevitably suffer from comparisons to it. It's a fine film, expertly done, but Django was one of Tarantino's best and it's going to be very difficult to top it. Indeed, at one point in its early treatment, The Hateful Eight was intended to feature Django, and while it's easy to see why this idea was dropped, there are shadows of the character here in the two bounty hunters who first enter the story. Kurt Russell's John Ruth and Samuel L. Jackson's Major Warren are distorted afterimages of Christoph Waltz and Jamie Bell's King Schultz and Django. There are no heroes in this film, only the innocent and the villainous, and these two initial protagonists are merely the least awful of a crowd of utterly abhorrent individuals.

It's an impressive cast, with Russell and Jackson standing out, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh as the murderous Daisy Domergue. She's revolting and mesmerising by turns, sympathetic yet despicable. As Ruth's bounty, she's the centre of the film's slight plot. While it's a mystery story, this enclosed drama, primarily confined to a single room, is concerned more with the interaction between the vicious, hate-filled characters and their shifting web of trust and distrust. Of the less prominent characters, Oswaldo Mobray stands out thanks to Tim Roth's hilariously toffee-toned flamboyant performance.

Set some years after the American Civil War, The Hateful Eight is concerned greatly with lingering hatreds, in particular between the various splinters of the Union and Confederate armies. As such, it will doubtless resonate more with American viewers, whose dark history is being dissected onscreen, but the theme of ongoing feuds translates to any nation. And while it is, as expected, extremely violent, it's not as over-the-top as some previous Tarantino films (save one particularly in-your-face moment). In fact, the most upsetting scene involves a graphically described male rape, one that probably never happened but that serves to incense the certain characters. I could have done without it, but it serves its purpose in the story. It's a story of violence begatting violence and how everyone pays for this in time. With a Morricone soundtrack.

Monday 18 January 2016

WHO REVIEW: Four Doctors by Paul Cornell

Multi-Doctor stories are a tradition. A tradition that either marks an anniversary event, a charity telethon or an opportunity to get the fans to spend a few more quid on something that might just be unmissable. We've had the The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, The Two Doctors, The Eight Doctors and The Four Doctors (already), plus many more that don't include numbers in their names. Four Doctors was touted as Titan Comics' big event for 2015, ostensibly for American audiences (not that getting the issues elsewhere is a challenge) and has now been reprinted both in the UK marketed Doctor Who Comic and in trade paperback collected format. A multi-Doctor story is basically an excuse for an knees-up, with overgenerous helpings of continuity and a few set pieces stringing it together. Occasionally, we get something with a little more substance, such as the fiftieth anniversary film The Day of the Doctor. This graphic adventure doesn't quite reach those heights, but it walks the line between fanwank and proper story well, something Paul Cornell has always been able to manage. He's also been a master of timey-wimey stories before Stephen Moffat came up with the silly term, so it's not surprise that he handles multiple Doctors and overlapping timelines very well indeed.

Some vaguely familiar people

The first question is which four Doctors will be featured, and early publicity suggested we'd have a team-up for Ten, Eleven, Twelve and the War Doctor. This isn't quite what we get here, for the War Doctor's appearance is little more than an extended cameo that supplies some background for the ensuing adventure. Everything that occurs here is fallout from the Time War, with some races, such as Voord, considering themselves considerably better off in the war-ravaged timeline.

Ah, yes. The Voord. Including the rubber-suited nasties in a story is guaranteed to make me smile, and their presence here, not as a joke but as a major adversary, pretty much sells the comic for me altogether. Again, Cornell has form, having turned the Vardans into a threat for the New Adventure No Future, but he takes the Voord reasonably seriously here, rethinking them as a formidable gestalt that genuinely threatens to defeat the Doctor. Fan-pleasing moments like this are never far behind, with the Blinovitch Limitation Effect coming into play and bringing Cornell's own creation, the Reapers, in to provide an arresting cliffhanger. However, the inclusion of Gabby and Alice - comicbook companions for the tenth and eleventh Doctors respectively - keeps this feeling fresher and not just a rehash of TV elements.


Four Doctors would seem to be, on the face of it, a perfect opportunity to bring the ninth Doctor back into the mix. Titan evidently have the rights to use the character, what with them publishing a series for him, and he does, at least, make a cameo. Still, it does seem like a missed opportunity. Three Doctors in the hero position is perhaps as much as a story can really handle before collapsing in on itself. As for the fourth Doctor of the title... his identity is a little more unexpected, and while hardly an original direction, works well with the conceit of the story.

The story does, by issue five, start to run out of steam, but the resolution is so rarely as satisfying as the set-up. Neil Edwards's artwork isn't entirely successful either, ranging from spot-on to unrecognisable within a single page.They can't all be The Day of the Doctor, but they needn't be Dimensions in Time either. Four Doctors has enough in its favour to mark it as a winner, if not quite an unmissable event.

Thursday 14 January 2016


Damn. Two weeks into the year, and we've lost Bowie, Lemmy, David Margulies, and now Alan Rickman.

Rickman played the angel Metatron, the mad monk Rasputin, Franz Mesmer, Tybalt and Louis XIV. He provided the voice for the caterpillar of Wonderland and Marvin, the paranoid android. He was spectacular at portraying villains, forever remembered for playing Hans Gruber and the Sheriff of Nottingham. He utterly broke my heart in Truly, Madly, Deeply. And apparently he did something in Harry Potter.

They'll have to get a woman to play the Doctor next - all the best male actors are dying. There'll soon be no one left.

Monday 11 January 2016


The Five Bowies, by Bret Herholz

I've written a few pieces over the last few years regarding the deaths of people I admire, but this is the hardest and most emotional. Perhaps it's because it was so unexpected, but David Bowie's death has hit me harder than I thought possible. It's hard to say why I'm so upset by the death of someone I never met, nor had any connection to. I admired the man enormously, of course, as did so many. He was a truly remarkable talent, responsible for revolutionary music in his youth, maturing to dominate whichever genre he turned his hand to as the years went by, never out of the charts for long and critically acclaimed throughout. Even those directions which didn't quite work are to be celebrated for the endless experimentation that defined the singer-songwriter's career. And that's without touching upon his acting career, rare and occasional that it was. Endlessly reinventing himself, Bowie's persona changed with his music, his gender expression and sexuality fluctuating depending on the period of his life and, to be fair, who he was talking to at the time. There was undeniable mystery about the man, so much more to him than we'll ever know. This otherwordly individual both starred in the seminal The Man Who Fell to Earth and was responsible for "Life on Mars," a song that can genuinely and honestly be argued to be among the greatest ever written. Whether incarnated as Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke, Bowie was a unique and incomparable artist.

The death of David Bowie truly marks the end of an era. The future can never live up to the past.

Wednesday 6 January 2016

WHO REVIEW: The War Doctor: Only the Monstrous




Big Finish isn't being coy about having gained the rights to the new series properties, storming straight in with something quite momentous: the very first Time War boxed set. We all thought this would happen someday, but we expected Paul McGann's Doctor to continue his long-standing audio career into the Time War era. 2013, though, introduced the previously unknown War Doctor to unsuspecting fans, changing the landscape for the War altogether and giving us our first glimpses of how it was actually fought. And so, Big Finish manages a tremendous coup and gets Sir John bloody Hurt back to play the lead in this new batch of audio adventures.

It's perhaps impossible to ever truly tell the story of the Time War, spreading temporal chaos across the Universe and leaving cause and effect in ruins. However, there were clearly some more physical, worldly battles in the great temporal conflict, with Dalek fleets and gunships encroaching on each others' worlds. Nicholas Briggs takes a wise approach with his take on the Time War, joining the conflict after a decisive battle has left the Daleks devastated, and following it up with a story based on the planet Keska. The Doctor - sorry, John Smith - first finds Keska as a beautiful, peaceful place, only to be summoned away, and returns to it in the iron grip of the militant Talians. What to us would be a gargantuan catastrophe - the conquest of an entire civilisation - is but a tiny, proxy war for the Time Lords and Daleks. It's a fine way to explore such a gigantic conflict; the Time War in microcosm.

John Hurt is as brilliant as expected, his unmistakable voice perfectly suited to audio drama. The story is fundamentally melodrama and Hurt isn't afraid to occasionally go over the top, and there's some speechifying, but it fits the character and the story perfectly. This is never anything less than gorgeous to listen to. Also excellent is Lucy Briggs-Owen, who plays the young Keskan woman Rejoice, a character who's such perfect companion material that it's heartbreaking when the Doctor, in spite of his fondness for her, pushes her away. He meets her again, later, played now by Carolyn Seymour, bringing gravity, world-wearniness and maturity to what is still recognisably the same character. As above, so below; Rejoice's journey reflects the Doctor's as the war on Keska reflects the Time War.

By the third chapter, the Daleks and Time Lords are openly at odds on Keska, with one group of Time Lords attempting to forge a peace with the Skaroene monsters. At odds with his usual character, the Doctor dismisses any idea of truce or appeasement, having been fully turned to the cause of war. For all this, though, the War Doctor remains recognisably the Doctor, still fundamentally decent and heroic. He may be jaded, self-flagellating and war-weary, but there's still very little there that suggests an incarnation shunned by his other selves. This is a fine first step in the dramatisation of the Time War, but I hope that in the future we get to see the Doctor truly show us just what he had to do in order to win the War.