Thursday, 31 July 2014

Monthly Mini-Reviews: July - Animated Film Special

Our running feature Monthly Mini-Reviews is back for July - and it's a little more lively than usual. Lively? you ask. Well, imaginary reader, I say, it's lively because this month is dedicated entirely to animated films. So if you're a fan of all things not-real, put your hands together and read on. Although if you are anything like the characters from our first film, you might need to put your hands on first...

The Lego Movie

In the highly successful first cinematic outing for the age-old popular toy franchise, ordinary Lego Man Emmett discovers that he is the prophesied Special, the one who will stop the evil Lord Business from ending the world.
As has been said elsewhere, The Lego Movie is breathless fun. The cameos of favourite characters in Lego form proved to be one of the highlights of the film, everyone from Stars Wars to Superman made an appearance with, in my eyes, Lego Batman even stealing the film. However, The Movie's greatest achievement is surely the fact that it completely makes you forget that you are essentially watching an hour and a half advert for a multi-million dollar corporation by delivering a hilarious adventure with heartfelt themes of imagination and individuality. In other words, it could be said that all the pieces of The Lego Movie come together to form a wholesome family film.

Coraline

Neil Gaiman's modern classic of a children's novel Coraline - which sees the uniquely-named little girl stumble into the otherworldly lair of the button-eyed Other Mother - could potentially be a hard one to adapt for the big screen: how scary should it be? How kid-friendly? Thankfully, in the hands of Henry Selick (director of The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach) this stop-motion film is a triumph and should entertain viewers young and old without sacrificing the weird heart of the original story. With all the elements of production working, the voice acting, the music and not least the wonderful animation (stop-motion films have long been a love of mine), Coraline presses all the right buttons and is definitely the finest adaptation of Gaiman's work. Here's hoping Selick and Gaiman team up again some time in the future.

Frozen

I'm a little late to the party with this one (actually, I'm so late the party's already over and I'm the only one there surrounded by the vestiges of a fun time I never experienced, all alone without - ahem, that's enough with the painful reminiscing). In fact, the only experience I'd had of the once-ubiquitous 'Let It Go' song was this parody version by Doctor Who Arthur Darvill. This month, however, I finally caught up with everyone's new favourite film Frozen - and was left a little cold. I applaud its attempts to - potential spoilers ahead - invert the usual Disney tropes of 'true love' but generally had more fun watching the House of Mouse's last fairy tale effort Tangled (despite Frozen's endearingly chirpy snowman Olaf) and did not get invested in the characters as I much as in my favourite Disneys (The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, if you're wondering). So while many are calling this the Second Disney Renaissance, I'm putting that idea on ice until we see what happens next.

Princess Mononoke

On the exact opposite end of the scale of animated films from the syrupy Frozen we have Hayao Miyazaki's at-times unflinchingly violent Princess Mononoke; while Olaf the Snowman's head may come off I don't recall it doing so with quite the level of viscera displayed here. An epic fantasy in terms of both the scope of the story and the breathtaking visuals, the film is set in feudal Japan as an ancient war is brewing between Gods, Demons and Humans for control of nature -and on the front line is feral child San (to whom the title refers), raised by the Wolf God. While it's long running time results in the occasional loss of momentum, the grand sweep of the film makes for a beautiful spectacle with a serious environmentalist message, leaving Mononoke one of Studio Ghibli's absolute best.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Doctor Who: Step Back in Time - Series Six

With Peter Capaldi materialising on our screens in just under a month, it's time to up our game of this run-down through the previous series of our favourite bigger-on-the-inside programme. Earlier this month, we covered Matt Smith's first foray into the TARDIS in Series Five and now - anyone good at maths out there? - we come to Series Six. So join us as we sing Melody's Song...



Starring: Matt Smith (the Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) with Alex Kingston (River Song).
Produced by: Sanne Wohlenberg, Marcus Wilson and Denise Paul
Executive Produced by: Steven Moffat, Beth Willis and Piers Wenger

Best Episodes


The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon by Steven Moffat
No other Doctor Who series opener sets up the episodes ahead quite as well as this one. In a year full of twists and turns and complex plots that keep you at the edge of your seat, this two-parter delivers a unique take on the classic extraterrestrial incursion ('we're not fighting an alien invasion, we are leading a revolution'). some terrific monsters and a Doctor Who explanation of a famous historical event. When, just ten minutes into the new series the main character dies, you know you're in for a quite a ride. 

The God Complex by Toby Whithouse
In a series full of gems, this thrilling, slightly surreal offering from Being Human creator Mr Whithouse is often unfairly overlooked. With a spellbinding premise - a creepy hotel with a different horror in each room - and an interesting collection of supporting characters - Rita is one of the best companions-who-never-was - as well finding time to look at the relationship between the Doctor and Amy, this is one of the bravest and most accomplished of its year. In fact, in a near-quote from the episode itself, praise it. 

Closing Time by Gareth Roberts
I've spoken before on Mr Roberts' reliability to produce the funniest Doctor Who episode of the year every time but here, a sequel to his tremendous The Lodger, he outdoes himself, creating possibly the most outright hilarious Who story ever told. Even if the Cybermen are underused, Matt Smith and James Corden simply crackle with comic chemistry and the humorous set pieces and one liners never let up. An episode to please the Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All, in all of us. 

For more on my other favourite episode of Series Six, see here


TARDIS Team

For the first time in the modern series, the regular cast of Series Six were exactly the same as the previous year. And the growing familiarity between the Doctor and his companions, arguably to a level not seen since the Tenth Doctor and Rose, shines through as surely never before had the TARDIS Team felt so much like a family unit. There's Mum and Dad and their two kids. However, here's a question for you, which is which? 
With Series Six, Rory is promoted to full-time companion and, now that Mr and Mrs Pond have tied the knot, there is a greater emphasis on the love story of Amy and Rory, and how it is stronger than their, in particular Amy's, ties to the Doctor. In the reverse, a character who's ties to the Doctor increase this series is River Song. Previously their timey-wimey relationship had been rather strained but over the course of the series it burgeons into a fully-fledged romance. Despite the reveal that River was raised a perfect assassin for the Doctor. Well, what other kind of woman was the Doctor going to fall for?
Our four heroes begin the series as a group of friends but end it as a pair of married couples travelling through time and space (though only occasionally with River - one psychopath per TARDIS, unfortunately). However, every story has to end sometime...

 Story Arc

While Series Five introduced us to the story arc of the series being, rather than a few peppered references, like a rolling stone, building and building until it got to the finale, Series Six takes this one further. If Series Five was a rolling stone then the overall arc of Series Six is a boulder crashing down a mountain. Doctor Who was more of a serial show than ever before, with plots interweaving all over the place (and time).
In content, this series revolved around the Doctor discovering the mythic Silence who had been mentioned throughout the previous year and their new plot to ensure the Doctor dies. And at the centre of all this, as hinted above, is River Song - who it is not only revealed as an agent of the Silence but also the daughter of Amy and Rory. This marks the evolution of the story arc revolving around the main heroes to actually being about the heroes themselves (the mystery of Clara in the next series continues this).
Series Six, then, combines the show's classic story-a-week philosophy with modern television's penchant for ongoing storylines. As such, the result was a winner and overseas interest for the show increased, laying the path for Doctor Who's 50th anniversary which turned out to be an international extravaganza. In short, Series Six sees Doctor Who bigger, brighter and boulder than ever before.

Next Month: Putting the Who Back in Doctor Who

Monday, 14 July 2014

Doctor Who: A Look into Darkness - Series Eight Trailer Breakdown


The clock really is striking Twelve as the début of Peter Capaldi's Doctor is right around the corner, with more and more stuff coming out about this series (both officially and, ahem, illicitly). Yesterday, Who fans everywhere brought the internet down when the first full-length trailer for Series Eight was released (what do you mean there was some sort of big sporting event happening too?). So, in grand Scribble Creatures tradition, I'm here to breakdown the trailer to see what is in store for the new man...

Oh, but first, you might want to see it.


So, now that you know what I'm talking about, let's shed some light into this darkness... 

'Life Returns... Life Prevails!'

The most recent mini-trailer, which featured a Dalek voice talking about souls and beauty, started rumours that the Daleks' creator Davros could return. While I personally don't agree with said theory, we had more evidence for the new series featuring a more eloquent Dalek (or maybe a whole bunch of them) in the first dialogue heard in this trailer - 'LIFE RETURNS... LIFE PREVAILS!' went the Dalek voice with a more nuanced delivery and certainly a wider vocabulary than usual. Only time will tell what this means...

The trailer also offers us a glimpse at a revamped TARDIS interior. Unlike the transition from David Tennant to Matt Smith and then later Matt Smith to, um, Matt Smith, the console room hasn't completely regenerated but it is subtly different. The green glow of the Time Rotor has been replaced by an orange one and it can be seen that more home-y additions have been implemented such as bookshelves, suggesting the feel of Matt Smith's first TARDIS.
Plus, it's going to be on fire at one point. I hope they've added a fire extinguisher. 




Old Friends, New Foes

The only episode we know anything concrete about (and if you're someone who's sought out the episode online - everything about) is the series opener. Titled 'Deep Breath', it sees the newly-regenerated Doctor and Clara return to Victorian London and to their old pals the Paternoster Gang. Fun fact: in her one line in the trailer, Vastra says 'here we go again...' This is exactly what the Brigadier said upon the moment of the Third Doctor's regeneration into the Fourth. Yes, I do know too much about Doctor Who. But you're reading me meticulously picking apart a minute-long trailer so really you're just indulging me and it's all your fault.

Moving on. What would a new Doctor Who series be without new monsters? Nothing that's what. So let's take a look at the latest monstrous villains and alien enemies that the Doctor will face.

This cyborg (or perhaps robot covered in human skin) presumably appears in the opener alongside Vastra, Jenny and Strax going by their visibly Victorian clothing. They're the first of what appears to be a very cybernetic collection of monsters (more later). But this one has what looks to be a flame thrower for an arm so he might just pip the rest. Flame throwers are cool, as ol' Eleven would say! Oh, what did I go and do that for. I need a moment...

Robot number two here seems to be a fan of top Who monsters, the Cybermen and the Daleks, as its metal skin slightly resembles the Cybus Industries Cybermen while its striking blue eyes are the colour of a Dalek's eyestalk. You know, whimsicality aside, a monster that takes parts from the Doctor's other deadliest foes is quite an idea. Hmm, Steven Moffat, if you're reading this and something similar appears in the next series I want to be made co-Executive Producer. And be given a BAFTA. And perhaps a yacht.

This handsome fella is the only alien alien seen in the trailer and he seems to be rather a treat, with his eyes on stalks (but not in the Dalek way). In fact, it looks like the Doctor is giving it a staring contest. Expect that episode to be a tense forty-five minutes. Don't blink, indeed.


Say hello Robot Number Three! Going by the background, perhaps a castle or a monastery, it looks like this robotic ragamuffin has shacked up in a historical location, possibly the medieval setting said to feature in the Mark Gatiss written episode this year. Interestingly, the robot's helmet and prominent cross resembles the look of English Knights from the Crusades that went on in that period.

And finally, we have... dinosaurs! For such a popular extinct race of creatures, they're a surprisingly rare thing to find on Doctor Who. For instance, the last time they appeared was... last series. Ahem, yes.

Ah, I hear you cry (I mean, I imagine that you cry. Don't check behind that vase. I promise there is not a bug hidden there) those Dinosaurs were on a spaceship, this adorable little predator is trampling through the streets of London. That's never been done before.

To this, I have to awkwardly look away and mumble that you are mistaken. Third Doctor story 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs' featured... Dinosaurs in London. Unlike that story, however, it seems Mr. T. Rex here will appear in Victorian London in 'Deep Breath', with the cyborg man and the Paternoster Gang (alongside Capaldi's first full appearance, this is turning out to be a packed episode!), going by the steam and hat seen in the image above. Also, there's this shot in the trailer of the skyline of a Victorian-looking London. Look close enough, and you may find something out of sorts...


'Into Darkness...' 

But you don't want to know about all this. The only question on your lips (apart from 'how did he get that bug in here?) is: what will Peter Capaldi be like as the new Doctor? The trailer, though only short, does give some hints. True to the rumours and scant comments we've had so far, he looks set to be a very different Doctor from the last two. A darker, more sombre Time Lord, who, rather than despair over the losses of his past, seems to actively want to atone for them. The heart of the trailer, and more tantalising than any of the clips of monsters and the new TARDIS (as fun as they are), is the short speech the Doctor gives Clara in the TARDIS - handily presented on this dinky photo for your pleasure. 


In dialogue presumably taken from the first episode or one of the first, even the Doctor seems unsure of his new nature asking Clara,'Tell me, am I a good man?' 

So while everything is still bathed in mystery until 23rd August (well, for most of us), only one thing is certain...




Capaldi is coming...




Friday, 11 July 2014

Doctor Who: Step Back in Time - Series Five

As the début of Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor materialises ever closer, we continue our retrospective on the past series of modern Doctor Who. This time, we've reached a new decade and it's time for a new Doctor. So as the clock will soon strike Twelve, let's look back at Eleven's first - and finest? - hour.


Starring: Matt Smith (the Doctor) and Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) with Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) and Alex Kingston (River Song).
Produced by: Tracie Simpson, Peter Bennett and Patrick Schweitzer 
Executive Produced by: Steven Moffat, Beth Willis and Piers Wenger

Best Episodes 


The Eleventh Hour by Steven Moffat
Having the unenviable task of regenerating the series when it had never been more popular, Moffat pulls a blinder of an episode which not only introduces us to the twinkling talents of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan but also serves as a blueprint for the new incarnation of the show; fast-paced and as funny as it is clever. In just one hour, Doctor Who proved that you can better the best. 

Amy's Choice by Simon Nye
Amongst the wealth of terrific episodes in Matt Smith's début series, this quirky curio is oft-forgotten. Trapped by the enigmatic Dream Lord, the Doctor, Amy and Rory have to choose between dream and reality.In short, it has everything you could ever want from the show; an inventive premise, lots of heart in the form of Amy's declaration of love for her boyfriend and a corker of a villain. Truly, the Doctor Who episode from my dreams.  

The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang by Steven Moffat
Simply Doctor Who's most thrilling finale. Never before - or, arguably, since - had a single story been packed full of so many strong ideas. With the universe blown up by the TARDIS, the Pandorica, Rory brought back to life, the stone Dalek ETC, these episodes glut their audience on the magnificent amount of imagination on show. It may leave answers hanging but it certainly makes for a satisfying climax to the series. A big bang indeed. 

TARDIS Team


For only the third time in Doctor Who history (after numbers Three and Nine), the new Doctor was accompanied on his fourth-dimensional travels with a new companion. This time around the companion came in the form of Amelia 'Amy' Pond, an orphan girl who's known the Doctor all her life. As such, Amy's relationship with the Doctor differs as to her he is her imaginary friend brought to life, due to her never really growing up, while the Doctor still sees her as the seven year old he once met. Also, Amy is perhaps unique in having an ulterior motive to joining the Doctor aboard the TARDIS. She wanted to run away from something, something terrifying. Her wedding.
Superficially similar to Mickey Smith from Series One and Two, Rory Williams is Amy's under-appreciated boyfriend/fiancé who later on joins them on their travels. In Rory's case, however, unlike Rose who automatically chose the Doctor, Amy has trouble deciding between her two 'boys.' Although she does eventually decide and Amy and Rory become Mr and Mrs Pond. And, yes, it does work like that.
Series Five also saw one-off character River Song become a recurring character and exceedingly important person in the Doctor's life. Is that the cloister bell in the TARDIS I hear? Or is it wedding bells?

Story Arc



In strict contrast to the growing trend of the RTD era of lighter story arcs, Series Five employed the biggest yet with the developing threat of the Time Cracks. Rather than simply acting as Easter eggs for the audience to spot (although that element is present), the Cracks feature prominently in several episodes in the run-up to the finale, namely in the series opener when one is found in Amy's bedroom wall and in 'Flesh and Stone' where it actually key to the climax of the episode. Doctor Who was clearly evolving. No longer just a series of independent stories, this series could be seen as both that and one longer story.
What's more, for a first on the show, several plot points are left unresolved in the series finale, leaving them as ongoing questions asked for the next few years of the show. This was a Doctor Who more ambitious and audacious than ever before, aiming to keep its viewers on the edge of the sofa when they weren't hiding behind it. In many ways, this series was a taster for what was to come, with many greater changes just around the corner. After this cracking series of some of the best-told Doctor Who stories ever and an exceptionally talented central cast, the show had once again proved that change was not only necessary it was welcome. Geronimo!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Monthly Mini-Reviews: June - TV Special

Continuing on with the resurrected Monthly Mini-Reviews feature, this time around there's a cornucopia of goggle-box-based goodies for you to feast your eyes on. In other, less purple, terms - it's the Monthly Mini-Review TV Special! First up, speaking of resurrections...


In The Flesh (Series Two)

After the cancellation of Being Human, I was left bereft over the lack of interesting supernatural dramas on British TV - for about a month, that is, as right around the corner came In The Flesh, another BBC Three show which had a similar melding of the monsters with the mundane. Set in a small Northern village after the Zombie Apocalypse, it saw Zombies (or Partially-Deceased Syndrome sufferers) return home, having been treated for their conditions, only to be met with prejudice and hostility.
The second series really comes into its own, expanding the mythology of the show and deepening the characters. Luke Newberry as the put-upon Kieran continues to be a talented find, ably supported by Emily Bevan as the (ironically) lively zombie Amy and the obligatory brooding Irishman (I'm thinking Being Human's Mitchell) in Emmett Scanlan's Simon.
Despite the impending death-knell of BBC Three itself, as the series has just won a BAFTA and has been met with positive responsive and garnered a strong fanbase, I suspect that this Zombie show won't be easy to kill off...


Penny Dreadful: 'Night Work'

Since hearing about the upcoming Victorian gothic series, helmed by John Logan and Sam Mendes (the writer-director team behind the recent excellent Bond film Skyfall) I've been very intrigued. And, although, I've only got around to watching the pilot episode so far I would say that intrigue was justified.
In its premise, it's a dark and heady blend of the 19th century's most famous macabre works, featuring Dr Frankenstein and his monster, Dorian Gray, a hunt for a vampiric Mina Murray and an Egyptian curse, however, whereas previous riffs on this idea, namely Van Helsing, went all-action, from what I've seen so far Penny Dreadful sees itself as a good old-fashioned supernatural soap opera.
The stonking, and positively Bond-laden cast, is headed by Eva Green as seer Vanessa Ives, Timothy Dalton as game hunter Malcolm Murray and Josh Hartnett as American cowboy Ethan Chandler who all get a chunk of the action, or rather dialogue, in this opening hour which neatly sets up several threads of the series. Channelling the lurid, melodramatic stylings of its namesake but marrying it with a somewhat sombre, contemplative feel, Penny Dreadful is certainly one to watch.

Torchwood: Children of Earth

As easily the best instalment of the wildly uneven Torchwood (although don't tell my younger self I said that, he was obsessed with it), and one of my favourite individual television series ever, I was due a rewatch of 2009's Torchwood: Children of Earth for the first time in several years. Thankfully it did not disappoint.
To my mind, this is the Torchwood series which most satisfactorily reaches its mandate of being Doctor Who's mature sister show, examining the political and social effects of alien incursion far more than Who ever could or should. It also isn't afraid to push the boundaries far further than can be done on Doctor Who, producing some truly shocking, gut-wrenching, tear-jerking moments across its tightly-plotted five episodes. The main three cast members - John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Gareth David-Lloyd - are all on top form but Peter Capaldi (hey, whatever happened to him?) steals the show as pressured politician John Frobisher, a man who is forced to make difficult choices when placed as the ambassador of the human race. This is simply science fiction drama at its best.     

Bates Motel (Season Two)

While it is by no means needed, a prequel series to Hitchcock's seminal thriller./horror film Psycho that focussed on the teenage years of the crazed cross-dressing killer Norman Bates was something that caught my interest.
The best parts of the series are undoubtedly those that feature Norman and Norma, played rather solidly by Vera Famiga, who are embellished significantly beyond Hitchcock's, literally, 'psycho' characterisation to become three-dimensional people, with good and bad points. Particular praise should be given to Freddie Highmore (once the innocent Charlie Bucket from Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) who siphons off several of Anthony Perkins', the original Bates, mannerisms while giving the character his own spin. Inspired by Twin Peaks in its presentation of a suburban town full of secrets, it can be hit-and-miss but this second series improved upon the first, taking Norman further down the dark path. You wouldn't think it to look at him, would you? Why, he wouldn't even hurt a fly... 

You can read more of my televisual ramblings over on Whatculture where I chose 8 TV Finales That Left Major Unanswered Questions.



Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Doctor Who: Step Back in Time - Series Four

Our look back at the past series of Doctor Who - in time for the Twelfth Doctor himself's début series coming in a few months time - this month materialises on the final full-series of the last Scottish Doctor to play the part (fun fact: there's been three); the series that's never a bore and leaves us wanting more, that's Series Four.


Starring: David Tennant (the Doctor), Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler) with John Barrowman (Captain Jack) and Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith). 
Produced by: Phil Collinson and Susie Liggat
Executive Produced by: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson

Best Episodes


The Unicorn and the Wasp by Gareth Roberts
After Series Three's 'The Shakespeare Code', Roberts proves himself as Doctor Who's wittiest and certainly funniest writer with a cracker of a pastiche on Agatha Christie mysteries, starring the queen of detective stories herself. Due to its whimsicality and breezy tone, it's an adventure that might not have the blockbuster factor of other episodes this series but should be equally celebrated none the less.

Turn Left by Russell T Davies
It is rare in Doctor Who that we ever see things get too bad as the Doctor is always on hand to save the day - although, not in 'Turn Left' he's not. One of the show's bleakest ever episodes, 'Turn Left' gives us a skewered version of the Whoniverse wherein every alien invasion goes right, delivering a number of striking scenes, great emotion and Catherine Tate's finest performance as Donna.

Midnight by Russell T Davies
Series Three arguably showcases RTD's greatest work on Doctor Who and that is no better demonstrated than in this chilling stage play of an episode. Bravely taking place largely in just one set, Davies cranks up the claustrophobia with the unseen entity that mimics its prey before possessing them. This is a Doctor Who that isn't afraid to be different and daring and is all the better for it.

 TARDIS Team


To counteract his past two companions who had both harboured romantic feelings for him, the Doctor was now simply after 'a mate' - something he found when remeeting his old acquaintance Donna Noble. 
As with Rose and Martha, Donna's journey aboard the TARDIS is one of maturity and self-discovery as well as one around time and space. Although where they came to appreciate their own worth and skills, Donna is forever racked with a lack of self-confidence which bubbles under her fiery façade. Something which tragically comes to a head when she reaches the 'Journey's End'...
This being the last full series of the RTD era, the series finale has a suitably celebratory feel, bringing together not only Doctor Who with its offspring, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, in the return of Captain Jack and Sarah Jane, but also rounding up all the major characters from the past four years. However, the show still has Donna at its heart, providing the revived series stand-out saddest moment. Previous friends of the Doctor have exited the TARDIS, if not always of their own accord, then with a wealth of wonderful experiences behind them and as better people. The tragedy of Donna's story is that she has her entire time with the Doctor erased, as if it had never happened. Even though he has the biggest family on Earth, the Doctor ends the series alone once again. As he would be until the end of his life. Which was actually, right around the corner.  

Story Arc


Series Four has by far the loosest story arc of these first four series, completing the trend that had begun with Series Two's lighter approach to a linking narrative than Series One. In lieu of shadowy mentions of 'Torchwood' or 'Mr Saxon', we have ominous remarks about the Medusa Cascade, the bees disappearing, 'there is something on your back' and the like which all reference something to come later in the series. However, the recurring motif here is really more of a visual one. Across the series we see, hidden on screens that the Doctor doesn't see, the face of Rose Tyler, the Doctor's tragically lost best friend, screaming out the Time Lord's name. This is kicked off in the series opener when Donna inadvertently speaks to Rose on a street corner and builds to the series' penultimate episode 'The Stolen Earth' where the Doctor and Rose are finally reunited, just in time to face the Daleks yet again. This time, however, returning for the first time since the classic series, they also come head-to-horribly-scared-head-with-a-third-eye with Davros, the original creator of the Daleks, who plots to destroy the whole of reality. Just another day for the Doctor...
With the series basking in and drawing to a close its own mythology that had developed over the past few years, Series Four has a certain valedictory feel, and thankfully goes out with a bang. Ready for a brand-new incarnation of the show. Because the journey never ends...


Next month: Doctor Who may have regenerated but it's Still Got Legs...

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Monthly Mini-Reviews: May

Yes, it's back! That old regular feature of this blog, the monthly selection of four mini-reviews (oh, I know, it's nothing but pizazz on this site), has returned - and, boy, are you in for a treat. Here's a bumper crop of assorted goodies for you to... muse over my analysis of a certain example of modern storytelling. What better way could there be to party your way into the next month?


Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season Seven)

Me and BTVS have a peculiar relationship. About a year ago, we were having a good time, enjoying each other's company - it showing me what it could do, everything from playing with genre conventions to strong character drama, and me very much enjoying it - until one day we simply parted, without even a goodbye.
This was the case until I recently remembered I had not seen the show's final season, something I speedily put to rights. Said season sees the Slayer and her scoobies (try saying that three times fast) prepare for the end of the world at the (incorporeal) hands of the ancient entity known as 'the First Evil.' As a whole, it has its ups and downs but, thankfully, its downs are never too damning and its highs are very strong. Particular mention must be made to the season finale which rounds the televisual lives of our heroes off with aplomb. Now, there's no more left. You know, I think I remember why I put off watching the final series in the first place...

 V for Vendetta 

Any story by comic book supremo Alan Moore is notoriously difficult to adapt to the big screen - with the big, bearded man famously hating many of them. However, the film version of Moore's dystopian thriller V For Vendetta manages to be an entertaining and thought-provoking effort. It delivers much that deserves praise, most prominently the well-realised horrors of a future fascistic Britain and the consummate central performance from Hugo Weaving who makes us feel like we know the Guy Fawkes-flavoured V, one of my favourite comic characters for his charisma but morally dubious crusade, despite never seeing his face. Although the film makes missteps, notably the superfluous inclusion of a romance between V and his 'freedom fighter' protégé Evey,  I see no reason why a film as daring and deftly-executed as this should ever be forgot..ten.


Marvel 1602

One of my favourite things about Neil Gaiman's writing is his ability, when tackling a popular fictional universe, to celebrate that specific storytelling world, something he did for both Batman and Doctor Who. Another fine example is this skewering of Marvel comic characters which asks; 'What if the Marvel universe was set in Elizabethan England?' 1602 sees royal spy Sir Nicholas Fury, daredevil Matthew Murdock, Javier and his band of 'witchbreeds' plus sorcerer Dr Strange team up to stop nefarious villains despot Otto Von Doom and the corrupt Grand High Inquisitor and his brotherhood from reaching the secret weapon of the Knight Templar - which will apparently bring about the apocalypse. While this all sounds a heady mix and even a little alienating for comic newbies, Gaiman weaves a tale about the nature of heroism that manages to get to the heart of its many characters, making us realise why they have been so beloved from their creation in the sixties right up to now. And including the 1600s, of course.


The Simpsons: 'Brick Like Me'

Though I still love that overbitten yellow family as much as ever, I rarely make a special case to watch the latest offerings. However, this month, I made an exception as the series reached its 550th episode and was celebrating in a most eye-raising way; an entire episode made/filmed/animated (I'm uncertain of the appropriate term) with Lego. It could have been a cheap gimmick to attract viewers and sell a few Lego sets but thankfully it managed to be one of the funniest Simpsons in years (when king of slapstick Homer can fall apart without harm, you know that's going to be exploited) and, just like the good old days, greatly touching as Homer realises the pluses of living in a Lego world; that 'everything fits together and no one gets hurt.' It's delightful to know that, even after twenty-five years, The Simpsons can still build itself back up again (pun intended) to its best. It's just as I remember, in fact. A show where everything fits together and no one gets hurt.

You can read my own efforts to celebrate The Simpsons' quarter-centenary with my countdowns for both Homer's and Bart's greatest moments.
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