Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Top Five Faceless Villains

While we all enjoy a good villain to boo and hiss at (such as these fearsome females), sometimes it can be more interesting and unsettling to have a more unknowable - faceless - antagonist. In this list I won't be looking at baddies who hid their faces like The Claw from Inspector Gadget but those soulless villains, often corrupt corporations or surveillance states, who conspire against our hero for their own nefarious, and usually nebulous, ends. Evil organisations such as James Bond's SPECTRE aren't eligible as they often have a single leader (in SPECTRE's case, Blofeld) who acts as the hero's nemesis rather than the organisation themselves.

Wolfram & Hart

Appeared in: Angel 

Built around the premise 'what if lawyers actually were as evil as people say they are?, Wolfram & Hart are the demon-worshipping law firm that plan to end the world on Buffy spin-off Angel.
It actually took me a couple of seasons to warm up to W & H as villains but by the end of Angel's run it's clear they are the perfect hellish villains for our angellic hero, and also stand apart from Buffy's season-long adversaries.


Appeared in: Marvel comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Used to a clever effect in The Winter Solider. In the Captain America sequel, that niggling doubt about the modern world - that we're all being spied on for evil purposes - turns out to be true and, what's more, the good guys we thought we could trust (namely SHIELD) are in fact controlled by HYDRA, the ex-Nazi terrorist organisation. HYDRA are one of the best faceless villains, as they have no one head person in charge. Quite literally as their catchphrase is 'cut off one head, two more will take its place.' Hail HYDRA!

The 'Listen' Creature

Appeared in: Doctor Who - 'Listen'

Number three on our list is a bit of a different one; rather than a headless organisation this one is an unseen creature. The most ambiguous Doctor Who monster, 'the perfect hider' that the Doctor hunts for in 'Listen' is left unseen, leaving it to the audience to make up for themselves whether such a creature exists. It's a sophisticated twist on the usually front-and-centre Who antagonists - but, come on, that is clearly an alien standing behind Clara...

The Village

Appeared in: The Prisoner

Probably the most nebulous of the villains on this list, we never get any real sense of what the mysterious overseers of the Village in 60s spy series The Prisoner actually want. We know they wish to find out why our nameless hero Number Six resigned from his job but just why it is so important we never find out. Regardless, the ever-changing figure of Number Two, who runs the Village, the unique architecture and the almost-lobotomised residents make the Village one of the most insidious faceless villains in all of fiction. But, as Number Six always asks, who is Number One?

Big Brother

Appeared in: Nineteen Eighty Four 

Turning our list on its head is our leader. All Big Brother is is a face - whether he exists or not is never discovered but the image of Big Brother is certainly used by corrupt dictators IngSoc to keep control of the dystopian Britain featured in Orwell's seminal novel. Created in the forties, Big Brother infamously predicts the rise of the surveillance state. If you need proof that Big Brother is the most evil faceless villain on this list it inspired the inexplicably long-lasting Big Brother reality series.It may appear that we are the ones who are watching Big Brother but, in fact, Big Brother is watching you...

Friday, 10 July 2015

Doctor Who: Series Nine Trailer Breakdown

Thanks to the geek mecca that is Comic Con, last night we were treated to two sneak peaks at the upcoming episodes of Sherlock and Doctor Who. Over on Sherlock's Home you can read my analysis of the clip from the Christmas special (which looks to tick all this Holmes fan's boxes) but in this post I'll continue a Scribble Creatures tradition and take a closer look at the first trailer released for Doctor Who Series Nine. Have a butcher's at it below and then read on for some analysis:

'Everytime I think it can't get any more extraordinary, it surprises me...' 

The trailer gave us some glimpses at the settings of the Doctor and Clara's adventures this year. For one, there seems to be an underwater compound - a great setting for a classic 'base under siege' Doctor Who story.

But even more mouth-wateringly, there is this shot of a very Dalek-looking city (notice those bumps). The trailer revealed the fact that the Daleks are back so perhaps we are making a return visit to their home planet, Skaro, last seen in 'Asylum of the Daleks.' Skaro is an irradiated, barren world so the following shot, which sees the Doctor and allies being fired at by some familiar laser beams, could be the Dalek homeworld too.  

'It's impossible.. it's evil... it's astonishing'

Going by the trailer, the set of monsters this year look set to be the most sinister bunch yet. According to the BBC press release, we know one of them is called the Mire. I'm guessing the possessor of the Zombie hand...

With their long hair, space-age helmets and eye thingies the following fellas must be the 'Vikings in space' that Peter Capaldi mentioned recently. It is thought that they will appear in the two-parter 'The Girl Who Died' and 'The Woman Who Lived.' Along with these rocky robot types we have seen previously.

Then there's this cosmetically-challenged chap who looks as if he is on Karn from 'The Night of the Doctor.' He is also in the vicinity of a red-robed figure, the usual attire of the Sisterhood of Karn. What could be going on there?

Speaking of returning things, there is also a bumper crop of familiar foes this year. Alongside the aforementioned Daleks (they never give up, do they?), we also have Missy back to plague the Doctor in the opening episodes 'The Magician's Apprentice' and 'The Witch's Familiar.' Who knows what - hang on, she's not going to team up with the Daleks, is she? Only time will tell...

Of course, we also have the third appearance on the show of the shapeshifting Zygons. The BBC have described the Zygon two-parter as 'a global Zygon uprising.' Perhaps, after 'The Day of the Doctor', Zygons agreed to peacefully integrate with humanity - but now they have changed their minds...

'I'm the Doctor and I save people.'

The Doctor seems set to be more at peace with himself this series. He's smiling, hugging Clara and Peter Capaldi's showing his punk rock roots in the shot of the Doctor wearing sunglasses with a guitar.

Elsewhere we can see the new costume the Doctor will be wearing for at least the early part of this series - the hoodie from 'Last Christmas' plus some Patrick Troughton-inspired chequered trousers. 

'What took you so long, old man?'

Now, here's what's set Who fans' minds racing. Game of Thrones favourite Maisie Williams was previously theorised to be playing a younger version of Clara but now it has shifted to to her being a relative of the Doctor's, due to her 'old man' comment. Perhaps Jenny, the Doctor's Daughter previously played by Georgia Moffett in, erm, 'The Doctor's Daughter'? Others are saying Susan, the First Doctor's granddaughter, but I would have thought her return would have happened in the nostalgia of the 50th anniversary year if it was ever going to.

Regardless of her true identity, Ms Williams' get-up here seems to confirm the rumours that she will play a highway(wo)man who encounters the Doctor and Clara. She is set to appear in 'The Girl Who Died' and 'The Woman Who Lived' - even though that is presumably the Vikings in Space episode. Perhaps she'll become a companion?

Doctor Who - don't you just want to kiss it to death?

Monday, 6 July 2015

Sherlock Scribbles: The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002)

For a Sherlock Holmes fan, I really don't blog about Holmesian-related matters all that much. Today I'm hoping to rectify that by starting a new series of posts in which I look at a different Holmes adaptation each time. We start with a BBC TV version of the most famous Sherlock story of them all...

 Starring: Richard Roxborough (Sherlock Holmes), Ian Hart (Dr Watson), Neve McIntosh (Beryl Stapleton), John Nettles (Dr Mortimer) and Richard E Grant (Jack Stapleton)

Synopsis: At Christmas time, Holmes and Watson are employed to investigate the strange circumstances surrounding Sir Charles Baskerville's death. Was he really killed by the monstrous hound which is said to plague the family? Or is the murderer a mere mortal?

Doyled or spoiled?: This adaptation largely stays faithful to the iconic tale, apart from a few key details. Obviously it changes the action to taking place at Christmas - the TV film was first shown on Boxing Day - and also embellishes certain elements, one memorable example being the inclusion of a seance to contact the dead Baskerville which heightens the gothic atmosphere of the piece. It also presents Holmes unusually in the thrall of his drug habit during a case, when in the stories he only uses it in between cases. The villain of the piece, Stapleton, is also enhanced to make him a much more vindictive and worthy foe.. 

Highlight: Definitely Richard E Grant's Stapleton. The 'whodunnit' aspect of the story is bravely thrown away quite early so that we may have Grant being malcious for as long as possible. Almost Moriarty-ish in his obsession at beating the great Sherlock Holmes, he also badly wounds Dr Watson and Henry Baskeville and would have succeeded in killing Holmes if it wasn't for the timely intervention of the good doctor.

Verdict: While brave enough to beef up certain aspects of the story, this version of the well-told tale fails to really take off, largely due to mishandling the most important part of any Holmes story: the relationship between the detective and his Boswell. While Ian Hart is a capable, if humourless, Watson he snaps at Holmes so much you wonder why he hangs around with him. Likewise, Richard Roxborough is a rather bland Holmes, demonstrating none of our hero's usual vigour and brain power. It's a shame Richard E Grant didn't get the central role but at least he is on hand to save the show as the deliciously odious Stapleton. Certainly not the definitve version of the story.

Doctor Who's Dr Simeon and Madame Vastra turn up in this Holmes adaptation

Saturday, 27 June 2015

New Doctor Who is coming to Big Finish!

Today brings the exciting announcement that the independent audio drama company, Big Finish, that makes classic Doctor Who adventures is doing the same for new Who!

This thrilling news has been a long time coming - for years, the new series was completely off limits to the people of Big Finish, until they recently announced spin-off series featuring Kate Stewart and Osgood of the TV series' UNIT and Captain Jack Harkness himself in a new Torchwood continuation. But now - finally - it looks like all kinds of heroes and villains from post-2005 Who can interact with classic characters.

Firstly, the head-lining event is that River Song will be meeting the Eighth Doctor, in a sequel to the Doom Coalition series which will be released next year. Personally, I think Alex Kingston and Paul McGann will make a brilliant pair, as McGann's Doctor is so much like the modern incarnations that he'll be right at home with River.

Clearly Big Finish can't get enough of River as the Doctor's wife will also star in her own series, The Diary of River Song, which will see Professor Song travel 'across space and time, seeking out the secret rulers of the universe.'

The inclusion of River into the world of classic Who should be loads of fun - I would particularly like to see the flirtatious River meet her future husband in his first, crotchety, incarnation. And, as Big Finish also have John Barrowman onbaord, why not have a Captain Jack-River Song team-up?

But, wait, that's not all. Also heading his own series will be that favourite Doctor Who character... Winston Churchill! Narrated by the TV show's Ian McNiece, Winnie's adventures will see him meet the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. And Daleks by the look of it.

Bizarrely, The Churchill Years will also feature a guest appearance by Danny Horn, reprising his role of the Scrooge-like Kazran Sardick from 2010's A Christmas Carol. As a character who had such a transformative story arc in his sole television outing, he seems an unlikely returning figure but I'm intrigued to find out why he's back - and teaming up with Churchill.

And that's still not all. The announcement that brings the most fannish thrill to the hearts of whovians is the Classic Doctors, New Monsters series which will see - yep, you guessed it - Doctors Five, Six, Seven and Eight facing foes of the 21st century era. Namely, the Weeping Angels (not quite sure how these silent creatures'll work on audio), the Sycorax (always thought they deserved a second go on the show), the Judoon (their booming voice is well suited to radio drama) and apparently Sontarans from the Time War. Which it seems Big Finish may be able to document now...

I, for one, am very excited for these new adventures - as it suggests such a wealth more to come. Who's to say they can't tempt modern Doctors and companions - even, dare I say it, Christopher Eccleston - to record some full-cast adventures? Or can they get Georgia Moffet onboard to create a spin-off series for the Doctor's daughter, Jenny? Or how about doing that Paternoster Gang spin-off that is such a popular idea? Or what about...

In short, this is exciting news.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Ranking the Harry Potter Books and Films

Today marks the eighteenth birthday of the popular Harry Potter series (oh, I win the award for the Biggest Understatement of the Day, do I? How nice) - the book that first took us on a journey aboard the Hogwarts Express, The Philosopher's - never Sorcerer's - Stone, was released on 26 June 1997.

To mark this occasion, I've decided to give my ranking of both the books and the films - of which I have differing opinions. Unlike the film series, which I think wildly varies in quality, ranking the books is a hugely subjective task - when reading them as a youngster I was convinced the books got better and better. But let's see what I think now...

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Book: 6/7

An enchanting beginning chapter of the series. It's whimsical tone - much more so than other books in the series - means it can sit comfortably alongside such children's classics as Alice in Wonderland.

Film: 6/8

A very faithful rendition of the novel, with great casting choices, including the closer-to-the-text Richard Harris version of Dumbledore and the instantly loveable Hagrid as played by Robbie Coltrane.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Book: 4/7 

Being the first Potter book I ever read probably helps this one jump a few places. That said, I love the device of the haunted diary and it's thanks to this book's magic that I am writing about Harry Potter today.

Film: 5/8

Chamber is very much more of the same as the first film - which makes it all the more likeable in retrospect, after the changes the series would take later on. It's close but this one just pips Philosopher to the broomstick.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Book: 3/7

Most Potter fans I know choose this as their favourite - and it's not hard to see why. The marauder's backstory and the time travel element in particular proving to be the highlights.

Film: 4/8

The most visually striking of all the films, though the stark change from the previous two is jarring. The newly-stylised look - plus the inclusion of werewolves, serial killers and dementors - make it less of a family film and more of a horror fantasy.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Book: 7/7

To me, the story - the Triwizard Tournament is held at Hogwarts - feels more tangential to the overall arc of the books than any other, even though of course it results in Lord Voldemort's return.

Film: 7/8

The first film that really struggles to adapt the - admittedly brick-sized - book to the screen and one which makes some annoying deviations - Gambon's Dumbledore in particular is angry and frustrated a lot of the time, a far cry from the always collected headmaster of the novels.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 

Book: 5/7

The length may be indulgent but it is never a slog to read and effectively raises the stakes for the later books. It also introduces fan-favourite characters like Luna Lovegood and the series most despicable villain. No, not Voldemort...

Film: 8/8

The... interesting decision to turn the longest book into the shortest film of the series leaves the story feeling truncated. That said, Imelda Staunton as Umbridge  - yep, she's the one I was talking about - is one of the best casting calls of the series and is the saving grace of the film.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Book: 6/7

A grim and foreboding novel, but one with humour and romance in it too. Highlights include Voldemort's fascinating backstory and the heart-wrenching ending. Dark times are a-coming...

Film: 3/8

An unpopular opinion, but this is one of my favourites of the series. The plot doesn't translate too well (with much of the book's content removed) but the tragi-comic tone and the performances of the three leads - plus Gambon's finest hour - make it one of the stylistically best adaptations of the books.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows  

Book: 1/7

In this case, younger me's assertion that the books got better and better was right. A hugely shocking, entertaining and satisfying finale to the septology that does all you could have wanted it to do. 

Film(s): Part 1 - 2/8 Part 2 - 1/8

Again, I think I am unusual in liking the slower-paced road trip movie-esque first part almost as much as its energetic sequel. Finally, the films know just how to balance slavishly adapting the novel and intelligently inserting their own material. A brilliant duo to bow out on.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Doctor Who: Other Dimensions - Dr Who And The Daleks

Everyone knows it's the Doctor, not Doctor Who! Well, everyone except the makers of this cinematic version of our favourite show...

With it being a constant rumour nowadays that there might be a Doctor Who film in the works, it is often forgotten that there already have been two motion pictures based on Doctor Who. Produced at the height of 'Dalekmania', the two movies, titled Dr Who And The Daleks and Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD adapt the two first Dalek serials to the big-screen. With one important exception. Our hero is called Dr Who! Now, now, put down that sucker arm and let me explain why And The Daleks is actually a charming film.

Firstly, Peter Cushing - a great actor who played nearly as many iconic roles as his good friend Christopher Lee e.g. Dr Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Van Helsing, a Star Wars villain - is very endearing in the role. In a time before regeneration was invented (which makes Cushing the first second Doctor, if you see what I mean), he gives his own impression of Hartnell's incarnation but with less of the crotchety and more of the cuddly. He might not have the depth of our Time Lord hero but his absent-minded professor is a perfect fit for the film's tone. Likewise, his granddaughter Susan, who is much younger than Carole Ann Ford's version, is likeably played. Both - no disrespect to either Hartnell or Ford who grew into their roles - are perhaps more immediately appealing than their TV counterparts.

In terms of storytelling, the film retains the best ideas of the serial (the Eloi-Morlock rivalry of the Daleks and the Thals, the petrified jungle...) and improves on it, cutting out much of the padding from the 7-part original story. It also dares to correct history by making the Doctor's (sorry, Dr Who's) first journey in time and space be to face the Daleks, rather than cavemen.

But, of course, the true stars here are those pesky pepperpots. A joy to behold in all their technicolour glory, these are probably the most beautiful Daleks ever. That said, the Skarosians somewhat lack the intelligence of the TV versions - and some of the key features. Instead of death rays they shoot incapacitating gas and, unbelievably, they never utter the word 'exterminate!'

Which leads nicely on to what stops this and its (superior) sequel being beloved byWho fans - the many minor but significant changes to the source material. Rather than a mysterious alien, Dr Who is a human inventor whose time machine is Tardis, (no the) which doesn't make the iconic 'vworrp vworp' when it lands. Whereas the original Ian is the true hero of the show's early years, the film version is sadly played for comic relief. And let's not forget the dated, jazzy music in place of the show's greatest theme tune ever.

Yet despite the films' blasphemy, I can't help but smile when watching them. They're simply harmless, good old-fashioned fun. So contrary to popular opinion, as long as you are not expecting the Doctor Who we all know and love, the Daleks films really aren't a bad way to exterminate an evening.

The Daleks corner Dr Who, Susan and Ian - probably to ask them about all the odd continuity changes.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Review: The Game (Series One)

I spy with my little eye... Here's a look at the BBC's recent dip into the current spy craze, Toby Whithouse's The Game...

Having been a massive fan of his supernatural comedy-drama Being Human, I was eager to see Doctor Who writer Toby Whithouse's next series - a John Le Carre-esque spy thriller set in the Cold War. Well, to enjoy the series you need to leave Being Human behind at the door (though that won't stop me mentioning it throughout this review) as across the six episode (first? only?) series The Game creates its own world in which people in the shadows threaten our daily life...

The Game sees our MI5 heroes investigating the apparently apocalyptic Soviet Operation: Glass - while 5's best spy, Joe Lambe, has his own goal, finding the vicious Odin, the KGB assassin who killed his girlfriend.

Firstly, The Game's biggest success is probably its recreation of a world on the brink of nuclear war, with the UK and the USSR sparring with spies rather than soldiers (the show is effectively shot, fittingly full of greys and browns rather than blacks and whites). Yet this setting would fall flat if it wasn't for the well-developed cast of characters. There's not the believability of BH's flatmates but we get a hefty impression of each of the MI5 team, including the socially-awkward Q-like Alan, played by Sherlock's Anderson, and Brian Cox's 'lion of espionage' codenamed Daddy. While the most enjoyable character is surely middle-aged mummy's boy Bobby Waterhouse, from whom the greatest source of humour comes, our protagonist is Joe Lambe, a moody agent with murky morals whose played by the Cumberbatch-ian Tom Hughes (expect to see more of him in the future). Because of this, the expected 'we've got a mole' storyline is genuinely surprisingly - gold star for anyone who guesses who it is.

If I am honest, however, a personal preference for the wackier side of spy fiction (see: The Prisoner) stopped me from totally loving the series. Also, for me, The Game tried to echo the hush-hush world of real spying so much the show was sometimes short of a certain fizz. In many ways, it is closer to Whithouse's Doctor Who episodes in which he will try on a genre e.g. 'A Town Called Mercy' rather than the assured storytelling of Being Human. Damn, I did it again.

But while this series may lack the sense of fun and depth of character that was the signature of Being Human (I just can't help myself, can I?), it was possibly a tighter run of episodes than many of BH's, boasting a well-developed plot and an interesting character arc for Joe. Here's hoping any wrinkles can be ironed out if the show gets a second series. Then The Game will really be afoot.

The Game's up! - Joe knows there's a mole in MI5. But who is it?
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