Wednesday 26 April 2017

Comics to Screen: The Flash 3-17 - "Duet"

It's time for Supergirl and The Flash to return after their Easter break, and to get us in the mood, we've re-watched the last Flash episode but one, the musical crossover "Duet." This may well become one of our feel-good TV choices for years to come.

There have been musical episodes on fantasy TV series for years, from the sublime (Buffy's legendary "Once More With Feeling") to the less memorable (Lexx's operatic episode, "Brigadoom"). "Duet" is not the best bit of musical television I've ever seen, nor even the best Flash/Supergirl crossover, but it is great fun and utterly adorable. With both series being led by former Glee stars, a musical episode was a bit of a no-brainer, and, excessive use of autotune aside, the singing cast all acquit themselves well. Any member of the cast who's ever sang for their supper performs here. John Barrowman must have been kicking the door down once he heard what they were up to.

Melissa Benoist is the highlight of the episode. She always seems perfectly at home on The Flash, and Kara's relationship with her super-friend Barry has settled into wonderful camaraderie by now. Benoist has the most beautiful voice, and looks stunning in the period costumes she wears in the false reality (it's not clear if it's some other dimension, a shared delusion, or something between the two). Grant Gustin is pretty good too, but he never impressed me as much as Benoist. It is his show, though, so he gets the last number.

The best elements of the story are the unexpected. Victor Garber and Jesse Martin playing Iris/Milly's two dads ("D'you got a problem with that?"). Jeremy Jordan as the Manhattan hustler Grady. That gorgeous group rendition of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" (just possibly a Scrooged reference, or am I making links where none exist?) It's a pity Carlos Valdes doesn't get to play every instrument on the soundtrack, and damn, we needed a singing HR, but the ensemble is still fabulous. And Barrowman... well, he's still Barrowman.

Where the episode is lacking something is in its villain. True, the Music Meister here isn't exactly a villain per se, more of a cheeky trickster with a strange way of helping people solve their problems. Still, he's underwhelming. Having Garber's old love interest Darren Criss take the role must be a treat for the Glee fans, but I'm not one of them, and while he's likeable enough, there's no edge to him whatsoever. He's also not really the Music Meister; the world he creates for Barry and Kara comes from their fantasies because they love musicals, and by his own words, "could have been a war movie or a space opera." There's nothing intrinsically musical about him.

The episode does make up a vital part of the stars' ongoing plots. Both Kara and Barry are facing serious love issues, and although they're there for each other, it's interesting to note that the reason Iris left Barry is essentially the reason Kara left Mon-El. Both men were dishonest for what they thought were good reasons, and both women eventually come round to accept and forgive this. It's also canny marketing by the CW - followers of Supergirl will have to start watching The Flash to follow the main character's plotline.

"Duet" isn't a classic, then, but a very enjoyable way to spend a forty-five minutes, with some dreadful yet loveable songs and villains in spat, and what's not to love about that?


The Music Meister is one of the most recent additions to the DC Rogue's Gallery, having been created for the fantastic animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Appearing in the episode "Mayhem of the Music Meister!" in 2009, voiced by the incomparable Neil Patrick Harris, the Meister quickly became a fan favourite and was rapidly absorbed into the comics, although he's made only occasional appearances.

"Mayhem" is a far better musical episode than "Duet," and the Music Meister as he appear there is both more fun and more powerful. Possessed of the ability to control the minds of others with his song, he can overpower almost any hero or villain and bend them to his will. He also has the ability to instantly transform his costume into one that's appropriate for his latest musical genre. And if there's one thing "Duet" is missing, it's a singing, dancing Gorilla Grodd.

Although the Meister is a newer character, he probably has his roots in the Fiddler, an enemy of the first Flash who first appeared in All-Flash #32 in 1948. Unlike the Music Meister, the Fiddler hypnotised people with his furious fiddling (stop it). He could also use sound to shatter glass and create force fields, and had various trick violins to boot. The Fiddler was adapted into the Music Master for the Justice League animated series in 2002, perhaps inspiring the name of the later Music Meister.

The Music Meister that appears in The Flash is, as noted above, barely a similar character. His powers aren't music-based, but appear to be telepathic in nature. He also snatches the powers of those he leaves in a comatose state. It's all because he wants to help Kara and Barry get their true loves back, and soon he's off to "help" someone else (it would be great if he turned up in some completely unrelated series somewhere down the line). Since this Meister says that no one here would understand where he comes from, and considering that his powers seem to be reality-altering in some way, it's tempting to think that he originates in the fifth dimension, like Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Saturday 22 April 2017

The Grand Doctor Who Survey

There's been a survey going round Facebook covering people's cinema preferences. Unsurprisingly, this has been adapted by Doctor Who fans. Here's my response. Arguments have ensued with big name fans and close friends alike.

FAVOURITE AUDIO DOCTOR: Eighth or David Warner
MOST UNDERRATED COMPANION: Sara Kingdom (does she count?)
MOST OVERRATED CLASSIC SERIES STORY: Brain of Morbius tied with Tomb of the Cybermen
LEAST FAVOURITE AUDIO STORY: Something dull enough that I've forgotten it
MOST UNDERRATED AUDIO STORY: Iris Wildthyme series 2
LEAST FAVOURITE COMIC STRIP STORY: that eighth Doc football one
GUILTY PLEASURE COMIC STRIP STORY: Something with the Kleptons in, probably
LEAST FAVOURITE TARDIS INTERIOR: Seventh, by the time it was just a backdrop with the lights dimmed.
FAVOURITE NEW DOCTOR STORY: Spearhead from Space tied with The Eleventh Hour
FAVOURITE UNIT STORY: Spearhead from Space
LEAST FAVOURITE MASTER: Eric Roberts, but I like them all
FAVOURITE CYBERMAN STORY: The Tenth Planet or Spare Parts
FAVOURITE DOCTOR WHO BOOK: The Scarlet Empress tied with The Infinity Doctors
WHO SHOULD PLAY THE 13th DOCTOR: Peter Dinklage or Tilda Swinton

Sunday 16 April 2017

REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

I don't have a problem with remakes. Remakes are a time-honoured Hollywood tradition. Even straight, shot-for-shot remakes weren't uncommon in the golden days of film. It wasn't unusual for a successful film to be remade with a bigger budget, either with the same cast or a more star-studded one, and then rereleased to rake in even more money. Stage plays were frequently adapted to film, older movies were revamped for the age of colour, and once television became the entertainment behemoth of the twentieth century, TV films were reshot for cinema. By the seventies, even sitcoms were being remade virtually shot-for-shot for film. 

There is, however, the risk of alienating the very people who loved the original. We can become very attached to our favourite films, and take them more seriously than they were ever intended. Beauty and the Beast is, of course, an adaptation of La Belle et la Bete, a gothic fairytale written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve way back in 1740. There were doubtless outcries from purists when her original novel was rewritten to be more child-friendly in the 1750s and again in the 19th century. Even then, Barbot's novel was based on traditional folk tales dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Still, there's something about that romantic, cutesified Disney Classic from 1991 that's never been beaten. I was initially reluctant to go see a new, live-action version, particularly after the disappointment that were Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent

I'm happy to say that Beauty and the Beast was a huge success. It recreates the animated original just enough to hit the same highs but adds enough to make it something new. I still prefer the original, but the live action version is a very enjoyable film in its own right. It's absolutely gorgeous, with wonderful locations, sets and CG animation. (Live action might be an exaggeration for this film, considering about a quarter of the characters are CG.) There was a risk that the songs would come across as disappointing cover versions, but there's a pleasant feel of a stage musical to the big numbers. 

The cast are generally pretty fine. Luke Evans is probably the best as Gaston, managing to make him genuinely quite likeable, at least until he becomes a murderous psycho. Josh Gad is hugely entertaining as LeFou. Keven Kline is perfect as Maurice, rewritten as a highly skilled and engaging artisan, rather than the senile old man of the original (it's harder to see why he's so quickly written off as a nutter in this version). The enchanted objects are all pretty good, although Ewan MacGregor's French accent is, somehow, slightly worse than his attempt at Alec Guinness in the Star Wars prequels.  (Why are Lumiere and Plumette the only ones with French accents?) I love Stanley Tucci's new character, Cadenza, the harpsichord. 

Dan Stevens and Emma Watson are both fine. There's nothing wrong with either of their performances, but neither do they light up the screen. They're likeable and they work well together, but they're probably the least interesting members of the cast. Looks-wise, the Beast is a little more human in this version, which is sensible if we're dealing with a more realistic design than a cartoon, but he still looks better before his regeneration. (You don't think that's a regeneration? Watch it alongside an equivalent scene on Doctor Who, and tell me where RTD got his ideas from.) At least Belle lampshades this (but then , these days, every guy has to have a beard.) The iconic scenes are recreated, but the most memorable, the ballroom scene set to the song "Beauty and the Beast," just doesn't compare. For a start, yellow just isn't Emma Watson's colour.

I'm not particularly keen on any of the new songs, although at least the Beast gets his own number this time round, which was something that in retrospect was sorely missing from the original. Gaston's song is possibly even better this time round, if that's actually possible (it uses a slightly different set of lyrics from an earlier draft of the original script). I do like the extra backstory for the characters (with the exception of the Beast's, who was better off just being a shallow arsehole). Belle and Maurice have some family history, and we find out why Belle's mother isn't around. Gaston isn't beloved just because he's handsome and barge-sized, he's an actual war hero. LeFou is an actual character, not just comic relief. The enchanted objects have some humanity behind them. It's additions like this that make it a little deeper, and that's exactly the kind of changes that benefit the film.

One character who is developed is the Enchantress, who actually becomes a character here rather than just part of the film's own backstory. She's revealed as Agathe, an impoverished old woman in Belle's village who displays compassion towards Maurice - the compassion that the prince so lacked. She's a deeper version of the original Enchantress, but she's still a vindictive old witch. While her cursing of the prince is given more reasoning in this version, it's still viciously capricious, especially as she seems even more powerful here. She rocks up at his castle in the middle of a party looking for shelter, when all the while she has power over the elements and the ability to zap herself wherever she wants. Bloody witch is looking for trouble. Then she turns the prince into a buffalo, all his staff into furnishings even though they've done nothing wrong at all, splits up a community and devastates an ecosystem. Maybe they'll do a sequel where they burn her.

Both versions of Beauty and the Beast are gorgeous, and they both have the same story issues. Even more of Belle's desire to leave her provincial life and explore the world are made in the new version, and still she settles down with a rich guy in a big house up the road. Still, the French Revolution will be along soon, so let's hope they don't have puppies.

WHO REVIEW: 10-1 - The Pilot

It takes a certain cheek to call an episode “The Pilot” at the beginning of a programme's tenth, or even thirty-sixth, season. It's a statement of intent: Steven Moffat has called the episode a reboot, and while this is overstating it, there's a clear design to make this a new starting point for the series. To an extent, this works. We've got a new companion, who acts as the viewpoint figure the series has been missing for some time, through whose eyes we discover the elements of the programme. The kids who started watching Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant are grown-up now, and a new generation of children are starting to tune in. Doctor Who has a sort of soft-reboot built into its concept, with a continually changing roster of companions and Doctors, and the occasional slate-clean is good for its continuation.

On the other hand, this is the last season for both Capaldi and Moffat. The decision to make this a new starting point seems willfully perverse with Chris Chibnall taking over as showrunner, and a new Doctor joining at the same time. While there are callbacks a-plenty in this episode, it works reasonably well as something standalone. On the other hand, during the upcoming series, we have Ice Warriors, retro-Cybermen and two versions of the Master to look forward to. All wonderful fun, but hardly a fresh start.

There were several attempts to bring back Doctor Who in the long gap between the TV movie and “Rose,” and more than one of them had the Doctor grounded, living and working as a professor in some dusty old college. (Usually, they were proposed with an eye to having an older Tom Baker return to the role, and Moffat's already done that.) It's a perfect set-up for an introduction to the character, putting him in a position of authority but also making him interesting, a little distant, and with plenty of opportunities to impress. It's a nice touch making Bill, not a student who's impressed him with her intellect, but another outsider who's impressed him with her enthusiasm (and also recognising that not everyone can afford to go to university).

I wasn't keen on Bill based on her brief appearances in trailers and so on. She just came across as gobby and a bit dense. It goes to show how poorly done those trailers were. Pearl Mackie is extremely likeable as Bill, and by the episode's end I was thoroughly sold on her. Bill is, admittedly, a bit of a re-run of Rose (with a touch of eighties Ace thrown in), but she's different enough to make an impression herself. It's gratifiying to have a character who's genre savvy, not only pointing out the obvious sci-fi-ness of everything that's going on around her, but immediately rationalising everything as a clever effect. After all, a clever knock-through is a much more logical explanation than a dimensionally transcendental timeship. Also, although everyone has made way too big a deal of it, it's great to have a companion who's happily, uncomplicatedly gay. Plus having an actor of colour, playing someone in foster care... there are lots of different ways to live a life in Britain today. I didn't care much for Bill's jokes about models and fat women; those were low shots.

I'm also now completely sold on Nardole. He works perfectly as an assistant and valet to the Doctor. He exists as a sort-of cushion between the Doctor and the outside world, easing his interactions. It's looks like they've been good for one another, with the Doctor's hardened exterior softening and Nardole becoming more Doctorish (his explanation of the TARDIS' nature is cribbed almost exactly from the fourth Doctor's explanation in The Robots of Death).

The alien threat for the episode is a clever one, albeit highly derivative (we've seen living water in “The Waters of Mars,” a mimic in “Midnight” and a ship in need of someone with wanderlust to become its pilot in “The Lodger”). It's an arresting visual and a witty but easy-to-grasp concept, and leads to a clever, non-violent resolution. It drives me mad that both Bill and the Doctor take an age to realise what's wrong with the reflection. I understand that the script can only move as fast as the slowest member in the audience, but Bill's meant to be intelligent and the Doctor's a genius. It's infuriating.

The problem with being sic-fi savvy, of course, is expecting storylines to go a certain way. I was convinced that Heather (a lovely performance from Stephanie Hyam) was going to be an alien of some kind, just as Bill was convinced that the star in her eye was evidence of an alien possession. In the event, she was an ordinary girl, until she fell victim to the sinister puddle (and why would you want to get a “defect” like that fixed? It looks amazing!) We were also forewarned that the Daleks were going to appear in this episode, so naturally I spent much of the episode wondering how they were involved with the whole thing. I assumed that the spacecraft that left the oil and scorch marks was of Dalek origin (the last time we saw a landing pattern like that was in Remembrance of the Daleks). As it happens, the Daleks were nothing but a brief sideshow, presumably only included so as to incorporate the little scene from over a year ago that introduced Bill. Quite why the Doctor thinks it's a good idea to hide out in the midst of a Dalek assault isn't clear, but it's a fun aside and drops that last essential element of the series into the episode.

“The Pilot” is the best opening episode for quite some time, probably since “The Eleventh Hour” way back in 2010, which remains one of the best episodes in the revived series. As much as I enjoyed much of the last season, the series needs a shot in the arm, and maybe a new companion was just what it's been waiting for. I am optimistic for the remainder of Capaldi and Moffat's last run. We shall see what is kept within the Vault, and why it's important enough to keep the Doctor grounded for fifty years, although I hope it doesn't override the individual episodes' stories.

Title Tattle: “The Pilot,” although clever, is the most generic possible title for an episode. There must be a thousand American series that have begun with an episode called “Pilot,” even when they're not actually pilot episodes. It is, however, a better name than the working title “A Star in her Eye.”

Links: The Daleks are seen battling the Movellans, a race of androids we saw in 1979's Destiny of the Daleks. By this stage, the two armies had become locked in stalemate due to their logical natures (it was suggested that the Daleks were, at this point in their history, entirely mechanical). It's a cute little aside for fans, and in no way intrusive for normal people. They just look like fun disco aliens. The Doctor states that they've gone into the past here, although that probably means from the perspective of their previous stop-off, 23 million years in the future.

Among the many little callbacks in the Doctor's study are photographs of two of the most important women in his life: his late wife River, and his (presumably late) granddaughter Susan. Capaldi has made no secret of his desire to see Susan return to the series, so perhaps this is foreshadowing of her eventual arrival later in the season.

The Doctor's moonlighting as a lecturer calls back to his old friend Professor Chronotis, a Time Lord from the previous generation who retired to live as a don at Cambridge. This was in Douglas Adams's notoriously unfinished serial Shada, many elements of which he reworked for his Dirk Gently books. He also pitched a story which would have seen the Doctor retire from adventuring and settle down on Earth, possibly as a tutor. (Adams also wrote Destiny of the Daleks. Any Hitchhikers references I didn't spot?)

The Doctor again tries to wipe his friend's memory, and again gets shouted down. It's good to see that Moffat clearly thinks that this is pretty unconscionable behaviour on his part. It calls back to the end of the previous season, where he intended to erase Clara's memory of him, only to get the tables turned. This was almost two years ago now and the missus had completely forgotten about it. This is the difference between people who watch things normally and people like me.

Best line: “No one's from space. I'm from a planet, like everyone else.”
I've been shouting this at sci-fi shows for years.

Friday 14 April 2017

I've just read a rather excellent article on Strange Horizons, having discovered it via Alistair Reynolds's blog. It's entitled "Kirk Drift" and is written by Erin Horakova, who takes some time to dissect the cultural shorthand of Captain Kirk and the original Star Trek in general, and see how different it is to what was actually presented.

It's a long piece but worth reading through. As she goes, Horakova takes a look at representation in media and gender expectancy, but it's fundamentally about how Kirk is far from the brash womaniser that he is commonly remembered to be. In fairness, I think there are times where Kirk acted rashly or in quite unpleasant ways in the original series, although generally with a nobler goal. Horakova goes into some depth here on those times and not always in ways I fully agree with, but on the whole I think she's absolutely spot on. In particular I like her attack on the modern reboot franchise, which I am a fan of, but can see has a wealth of flaws. Certainly, I'm no big fan of Star Trek Into Darkness, which I dislike considerably more now than when I first saw it in the cinema. I'm struck by how Kirk's character in these films is markedly different to how he was described during his Academy years in TOS. Clearly, George Kirk had a significant influence on his son in the original timeline. At the risk of letting this be taken as a criticism of Millennials (I am one, just about), there's a clear difference between the original idea of a respectful, studious man making his way up the ladder and an arrogant jock who's rewarded the captaincy because he gets bloody lucky and just sort of deserves it, and it's one that reflects our expectations of life in the early 21st.

Anyway, you can read it here. It's worth a few minutes.

Monday 10 April 2017

REVIEW: UnHistory by Lance Parkin and Lars Pearson

"Apocryphal stories too strange for even AHistory."

Deciding what parts of a fictional universe “count” is a rum game, all the more so in one as long-running and inconsistent as Doctor Who. AHistory has expanded since its first remit to include all manner of spin-offs and expanded universe material, but there's still a huge selection of officially published and broadcast Doctor Who that is essentially impossible to fit into the overall narrative. Not that this is any indication or reflection of quality: Time-Flight is inarguably canonical, but is absolutely awful, while there are very good reasons to discount The Infinity Doctors, The Kingmaker , Happy Deathday and Full Fathom Five in spite their clear brilliance. Parkin and Pearson take a similar approach to me, which is that everything counts, as long as it can be squeezed in there somewhere. UnHistory, then, includes all the other things that we really can't squeeze in to the “real” Whoniverse. Fiction that is, somehow, even more fictional than the rest.

This has led to some odd decisions about what to include. Scream of the Shalka was included in the first edition of AHistory, before being omitted from follow-ups as apocrypha, and finally included here. The Unbound audios have been omitted from all editions of AHistory as “elseworlds” type stories, but the recent crossover of the David Warner Doctor into The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield has led to them being included as “real,” albeit alternative, adventures. Thus, none of them, not even the metatextual Deadline, make it into UnHistory. Other stories' inclusion here is inarguable: few fans seriously try to include the 1960s Dalek movies into the Doctor's timeline, nor the early comics strips featuring Doctor Who and his ugly grandchildren. Nonetheless, this hasn't stopped everyone, and in a fictional multiverse filled with time travel, parallel timelines, temporal duplicates and a Land of Fiction, virtually everything can be made to fit somehow. Indeed, Peter Cushing himself had some very novel ideas as to how his two movies could be incorporated into the Doctor's timeline.

UnHistory includes such exciting adventures as the strips from TV Comic, TV Action and Countdown, The Dalek Book, The Dalek World and The Dalek Outer Space Book, The Curse of the Daleks, Seven Keys to Doomsday, The Cadet Sweet Cigarette Cards, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style stories (often with multiple endings) and much more. After dismissing most short stories from AHistory on grounds of space and sanity, Short Trips and Side Steps and even the many Doctor Who annuals have entries here (as such, this makes a wonderful companion to Obverse Books' The Annual Years by Paul Magrs). TV broadcasts that we may wish to forget, from A Fix With Sontarans and Dimensions in Time to sundry adverts are included. The authors have made a somewhat arbitrary decision where to draw the line when it comes to the various sketches and skits broadcast over the years, but they've got to draw it somewhere. The traditional inclusion of a Gallifrey section to the timeline allows them to include otherwise undateable but absolutely essential stories such as The Curse of Fatal Death into the mix.

As always, Parkin and Pearson have gone to exquisite and absurd lengths to date the stories, which is all the more commendable/ridiculous (delete according to taste)when the whole point is that these stories don't fit. It's a work that revels in the absurdity of its premise, and as always, shows its working, however contrived. Occasionally a year will appear in the wrong spot or an index entry will be conspicuous by its absence, but this is a tiny quibble in such a huge work such as this. So, if you ever wanted to know how “The Monster Files” fit into the mix or when the events of “The Not-So-Sinister Sponge” took place, or if you're just a geek with a sense of humour or too much time on their hands, this is the book for you.

Friday 7 April 2017

REVIEW: Power Rangers (2017)

Who is this film meant to be for, I wonder? Power Rangers starts with an extraterrestrial battle scene at the dawn of the Cenozoic Era, which is followed by a teen comedy scene with a joke about wanking off a bull. It's based on a TV series designed to sell toys to small boys, but makes an attempt to be a serious, modern teen drama, and occasionally drops moments of effective horror. Tonally, it's all over the place, the writing is, to put it generously, unsophisticated, and like so many action movies, it puts spectacle ahead of substance. And yet... I really enjoyed it.

Power Rangers is a better film than it has any right to be, but that's very different to being a good film. Considering that's it's the latest in a long line of cynical updates of older TV properties it's much better than it should be. Like the long-running TV franchise that spawned it, it's stupid, uncomplicated fun for the most part, and that's the best way to enjoy it, but there's a little more going on underneath. The characters are much as you'd expect from any such kid-friendly actioner: the jock who's a decent guy really, the awkward brainbox, the popular girl who's fallen from grace, the drop-out with a heart of gold, and the kinda weird cute girl outsider. It would be easy for the script to be completely vacuous, and it certainly veers that way on several occasions, but there are some stronger moments that come out of the blue. Billy Cranston (R.J. Cyler), the Blue Ranger, is explicitly on the autistic spectrum, and the script makes real efforts to explore how this isolates him from his peers but never makes him out to be a freak, or an emotionless cypher, or a stereotypical geek. Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), the Pink Ranger, got busted for sharing a friend's naked pics. It's pretty brave for a film like this to explore the sexting and cyberbullying controversy.

Trini Kwan (Becky G), the Yellow Ranger, is almost certainly gay, although less is made of this in the film than the hype would suggest, and it's the stronger for how little a deal it is. Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin), the Black Ranger, is the simplest character, but even he has a backstory in which he cares for his severely ill mother. This leaves Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), as the Red Ranger, the group's leader, and he's easily the most straightforward character, but still has some strong moments as he wrestles with his family, his future and his new role. The film goes the tried and tested route of casting a bunch of twenty-somethings as high schoolers, but all five of them are pretty strong young actors, and it's good to see an ensemble film really work at diversity instead of just paying it lip service.

The supporting cast includes some big hitters. We were all pretty astonished to learn Bryan Cranston would be playing Zordon, the big ol' face in the wall, but one of his earliest gigs was providing voices for the monsters in the original Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers series (they liked the guy so much they named Billy's character after him). He adds a little gravitas to the proceedings, which is needed because he gets lumbered with some really dire lines. Bill Hader is... fine, I guess, as Alpha 5, the annoying robot. He's less annoying than the original, at least. The best is Elizabeth Banks as arch-villainness Rita Repulsa, former Green Ranger in this version. Banks plays the scheming supervillain exactly as she should do, which is to say, completely over-the-top. She's a hoot (and she gets to say, "Make my monster grow!" which is always hilarious).

Critics have mostly dismissed Power Rangers as fluff, which is fine, because at heart that's what it is. The real criticism has been from fans. I was just about the right age to get the most from Mighty Morphin' when it first aired, until it was banned in our house for sending my brother into flurries of kung fu kicking violence. I enjoyed it, I wanted the overpriced toys, but I was never a fan. So I've never taken it seriously enough to care if this reboot is "right." I don't care enough if the Zords don't look like they used to, or the costumes aren't colourful enough. I've read people who decry that they're not taking Rita Repulsa seriously. She's called Rita Repulsa, for god's sake, and you want someone to take her seriously? I've even read one reviewer who attacks the film for allowing the Rangers' faces to be seen when they're in uniform. The only reason we weren't allowed to see their faces during the TV series is because they were reusing footage from Super Sentai and the Rangers were completely different actors when they were in costume. There's no point casting five pretty decent actors if you're going to hide them behind helmets the entire time (and you don't cast someone as beautiful as Naomi Scott and then make her hide her face).

If you're a fan of the originals you'll enjoy a little cameo from Jason David Frank and Amy Jo Johnson, two of the original Power Rangers (Green/White and Pink), and probably seethe at the reimagined versions of Goldar and the Putty Patrol, although I though they worked pretty well. Some people will be put out that we don't get very much time with the suited-up Rangers and their Zords, but this is a superhero origin movie. They're planning at least six of these to follow. Sit back and enjoy some stupid fun - it'll make the occasional clever bit all the better.

Tuesday 4 April 2017

TREK REVIEW: Star Trek Continues 8 - Still Treads the Shadow

Star Trek Continues continues continuing, which is a pleasant surprise to some of fandom considering how unfriendly Paramount have become to fanfilms since the Axanar lawsuit. However, all of Continues' fundraising for the next four episodes was completed prior to the legal announcement, and the production team are pushing ahead with finishing their series, albeit a few episodes shorter than originally planned. I shall try to be as spoiler-free as I can without being totally vague, but if you want, you can watch the episode first here and then come back.

"Still Treads the Shadow" (classic pretentious Trek title there) is a solid episode that revolves almost entirely around Vic Mignola's Captain Kirk. In fact, Mignola gets to portray three characters in the story, although the exact nature of those characters is quite surprising. Mignola does a great job making his three roles distinct. The rest of the regular cast are a little overlooked in this episode, with a good deal of the material going to the big guest star Rekha Sharma, best known to SF fans as Tori on Battlestar Galactica. If anything, though, Sharma could have done with more screentime, to make the most of a promising character and by far the best actor on the production. Sharma's a huge Trek fan by all accounts, so maybe we'll see more of her in another episode.

"Still Treads the Shadow" is written by Judy Burns, who has racked up a lot of professional screen credits over the years, but whose first such credit was that of co-writer on the third season Star Trek episode "The Tholian Web." If anyone was expecting a sequel to that episode, then they'd be absolutely right. Don't expect a rematch with the Tholians, though, as this episode takes a very different take. At first glance, it appears to conflict with Enterprise's fourth season story "In a Mirror, Darkly," which provided its own sequel to "Web," however, a clever line of dialogue allows both sequels to co-exist.

The episode's script is science-heavy without ever becoming too laden with technobabble. I enjoy TOS pastiches that take into account recent discoveries and theories. "Shadow" includes dialogue regarding gravity waves and dark matter, and while both of these had been theorised in the early part of the 20th century, they hadn't become generally accepted or well known concepts until more recently. The dialogue is backed up by some spectacular effects work, which comes across as more showy and modern than previous episodes but works beautifully for the episode. Fans might see some similarity with episodes such as "Second Chances" and "Deadlock," but Trek has never shied away from re-exploring familiar tropes. Well worth a watch.

Sunday 2 April 2017

A little catch-up

It's been a pretty good week off, apart from the oppressive virus that has infiltrated my system. Understandably, I think, I'm not overjoyed to be dragging myself back to work tomorrow. However, it has been a fun few days. Suz and I spent last weekend in the West Country with her family, and then I spent the middle of the week helping my mum and my sister out with some stuff. Thankfully all pretty chilled, aside from the heavy lifting. I found time to take in the new Power Rangers movie, which I expected to be complete rubbish but I actually quite enjoyed. I've set up a Limitless card for the Odeon, so I'm planning on taking more time in the cinema. It's all about finding the time, of course.

This weekend, Suz and I went over to Dublin for a couple of days to stay with some wonderful friends. Suz has family from Ireland and has been over to both Dublin and Belfast a couple of times, but this is my first time. I've actually seen quite little of the British Isles, having spent a long while making longer trips abroad, so some little trips to Wales, Scotland and the two parts of Ireland are much overdue. As well as getting to spend some quality time with friends, we got to do a nice bit of touristy sightseeing. Our friends live in Ranelagh, which is in easy walking distance of the center of town but so quiet in itself, A really nice spot to stay. On the Friday we wandered about town and then took the tour bus up to Dublin Zoo, which is an impressive place and the third largest zoo in Europe, within the gigantic Phoenix Park. It's where they bred the legendary MGM lion named Slats. The history of the zoo is rather exploitative, which is par for the course for such institutions, but nowadays it has a focus on conservation, holding many critically endangered species. I was impressed with their great ape enclosures - they have chimps, gorillas and orangs and they all have free reign over a large open area. The elephants were hiding though.

We did plan to do the Guinness factory on the Saturday, but I wasn't feeling great and really needed an easy one, so instead the four of us had a jaunt into town. We went to Dunne's department store, and got lost in The Largest Lingerie Department in Ireland, in tribute the legendary scene in Father Ted. I did learn that Guinness is not black, but very very very very very very very very very dark red. Considering how much of it I've drunk over the years, I'm surprised I'd not noticed before. While we didn't make it to the Guinness factory, I did drink a significant quantity of the stuff, which I think is medically sound as I am suffering from mild anaemia. It really is better over there. We also spent some time in the National Museum of Ireland's archaeology site, which is the huge building on Kildare Street. It's full of remarkable prehistoric artefacts going back to the Paleolithic. The Bog Bodies exhibition was fascinating and quite chilling. Suz spent time in the Ancient Egypt exhibition, but I was still creeping around the corpses. I definitely plan to go back to the city to see more of it, particularly the Natural History Museum or "Dead Zoo."

Worky-wise, I have a ton of reviews I've been planning to write, both for here and Television Heaven, so expect some of those fairly soon. Nine Lives, the charity anthology featuring the Richard E. Grant version of Doctor Who has gone to the printers, and includes my story "Frozen in Time." I've also been asked to contribute to the second volume of Time Shadows, which I'm pretty excited about. The first volume was absolutely excellent and I'm very pleased to have been chosen from among the many submissions. I hope to find time to write up some of my own fiction ideas that I've been mulling over for a while, both fanfic and original. Before that, there's still work to be done with CP Studios on both Doctor Who and The World's Greatest Detective, the latter of which is assembling an impressive cast.

Also, in recent news, a carnivorous mushroom has been discovered down the road from me. So that's cool.