Monday, 24 August 2015

Sherlock Scribbles: Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows

Continuing on the series of posts where I take a magnifying glass to a certain Holmesian adaptation, today I look at the sequel in the hit Robert Downey Jr duology as the Great Detective.

Starring: Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes), Jude Law (Doctor Watson), Noomi Rapace (Madame Simza), Jared Harris (Professor Moriarty) and Stephen Fry (Mycroft Holmes) with Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler)

Synopsis: After a spate of bombings cause tensions to brew across Europe, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson travel across the continent on a hunt for the man who wants to create a world war for his own ends - the Napoeleon of crime, Professor James Moriarty...

Doyled or Spoiled?: While Doyle never wrote such a James Bondian adventure, many details of the film are lifted from the canon, as if to compensate. The story is extrapolated from 'The Final Problem' where we are told that Holmes and Watson travel across Europe in pursuit of Moriarty. The death of Irene Adler could be a reference to the unexplained mentions of The Woman being 'the late Irene Adler' in the canon. Watson marries Mary Morstan, as per Doyle and Sherlock (though Holmes is a far less obsessive Best Man here than he is in that version). And, finally, Colonel Sebastian Moran is Moriarty's right-hand man and assassin, just as we are told he was in 'The Empty Hearse.' Also, it's not Doyle, but one of Moriarty's victims is Professor Hoffmanstahl - the real surname of Holmes' love interest Gabrielle Valadon in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

Highlight: For me, it's probably the several references to Doyle, as they help to remind you that you are watching a Sherlock Holmes film. The use of Watson's eulogy of Holmes being taken verbatim from 'The Final Problem' is a lovely touch and probably my favourite Doyleism in the film. Elsewhere, another highlight is Downey and Law's partnership. While they are not my favourite Holmes and Watson they have an enjoyable banter-masking-fierce-friendship relationship.

Verdict: Without a specific mystery for Holmes to solve - rather more of a globe-trotting manhunt - and the loss of London, this sequel lacks the the feel of a Sherlock Holmes story unlike the first film which cleverly trod the line between Sherlockiana and being a modern action film. Likewise, the cast is squandered - Noomi Rapace is in a thankless role as Simza, Jared Harris is nothing special as Moriarty and, worst of all, Stephen Fry is fantastic casting (he's a perfect match for Sidney Paget's drawings) but his Mycroft is sadly played for comic relief. Apart from Downey Jr's idiosyncratic Holmes then, it's a decent run-around with fights and explosions and other things people like in blockbuster films.*

*I really like the first one which is why I'm extra grumpy in this review.

Sherlock and friends run away from an explosion. They do a lot of that.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Another Doctor Who Series Nine Trailer Breakdown

Unusually, if memory serves, we've been granted two full-length trailers this year in the run-up to Series Nine (which is still a month away!). While a few clips are the same as the one released last month, it's mostly all-new material. Let's watch the new trailer and then take a closer look at what it has to offer...

A lot of the minute is made up of the Doctor and Clara doing Doctory/Claray things (I particularly like the Doctor apologising to the TARDIS for being late and Clara's clearly been taking lessons from Torchwood's Gwen Cooper on how to be an action-hero). On the supporting characters front, there's a shot of a scared-looking Rigsy (returning from last year's 'Flatline') and, I think, we also see the impossibly-resurrected Osgood out for a jog.

But the most important thing are the monsters - and there seems to be a bumper crop this year. Including this CGI dragon thing. As the Zygons are back, this could be the modern rendition of a Skrarasen, the Zygons' pet that was actually the Loch Ness Monster. If so, I sort of miss it looking like a rubbery toy dinosaur...

Also, of course, this fella who's on loan from Pan's Labyrinth

We also get more glimpses of Maisie Williams' character, who appears to be in league with this leonine creature (who elsewhere in the trailer breathes fire). A relation of the Tharils, the lion-like aliens from Fourth Doctor adventure 'Warrior's Gate'?

And look what have we here. It seems the Master and the Daleks will team-up (or perhaps go head-to-head) - for the first time since the Third Doctor battled them both in 'Frontier In Space.' If I were a Dalek, though, I'm not sure I'd be pals with Missy if she was cackling in my face like that. Unless I'd just told a hilarious joke. Which I wouldn't have done, being a Dalek.

But trumping even the promise of Missy and the Daleks is more Daleks! Namely, Daleks old and new coming together. Below we have the usual bronze Time War Daleks, some 60s models (including a couple with blue domes), a Special Weapons Dalek and even the red Dalek Supreme from 'The Stolen Earth/Journey's End.' Oh, and there's a 70s one elsewhere in the trailer. Just about everyone apart from the despised Paradigm Daleks. One day they'll come back...

Overall, this trailer just fuels my already very high hopes for Series Nine. From what we've seen so far, the Twelfth Doctor has settled down into himself this year and he and Clara are back to having good times rollocking around the universe. To misquote Clara, I haven't seen this series yet - but I will do and it will be spectacular.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Sherlock Scribbles: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking

Last month I kicked off a new series of posts looking at different Holmesian adaptations with a look at 2002's The Hound of the Baskervilles. This month I'm following it up with its semi-sequel made in 2004. Unusually, while the actor of Holmes isn't carried over, Watson is, with Ian Hart reprising his role from the previous production.

Starring: Rupert Everett (Sherlock Holmes), Ian Hart (Doctor Watson), Jonathan Hyde (George Pentney), Helen McCrory (Mrs Vandeleur) and Michael Fassbender (Charles Allen)

Synopsis: In 1902, a new terror has struck the fog-bound streets of London in the form of a serial killer who is murdering young debutantes. Can the estranged Holmes and Watson come together to solve the case of the silk stocking?

Doyled or Spoiled?: With an original storyline, there is very litle of plot that is dervied from Doyle although Holmes often quotes directly from the stories (e.g. 'I cannot make bricks without clay,' 'Watson, you are the one fixed point in a changing age' ETC). Much like Hound, it also presents Holmes taking drugs during a case - including using opium, rather than just morphine or cocaine.
The biggest departure from the canon, however, is the identity of Watson's fiancee. Rather than the books (and most adaptations) he does not marry Mary Morstan but rather Jennifer Vandeleur, an American psycho-analyst. Similar to other modern versions - the Downey Jr films and Sherlock - Holmes is at first jealous of his best friend finding a(nother) partner before being won over by her.

Highlight: 100% Rupert Everett. A much better Holmes than Hound's Roxborough, he's something of a proto-Sherlock (interestingly, the special even uses the same font as the series) with his Cumberbatchian anti-social behaviour and snarky sense of humour. Although he lacks the manic energy of the best Holmeses, he absolutely looks the part and it would have been fascinating to see him take on the role in an adventure that more closely looked at Holmes' character. 

Verdict: An enjoyable if not completely successful Holmes adventure. While the storyline could have done with more inspiration from the canon, the film's great strength is how it really evokes the setting of Edwardian England, with the rich partying at debutante balls while murderers lurk in the treacherous fog. Likewise, the key relationship between Holmes and Watson is better handled here than in its predecessor although not entirely fixed, being much less prickly if not quite warm. In fact, the most interesting pairing of the piece must be that of Holmes and young girl Roberta who the detective seems to take under his wing. As such, while it is much better than the tepid Hound, my main gripe is that the plot, involving the hunt for a sexually-deviant serial killer, is much too modern crime drama and too little Sherlock Holmes to be completely satisfying.

Rupert Everett's smooth-as-silk Holmes saves the day in this pastiche

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Monthly Scribbles: The BBC, Bond and Robin Hood

Now that July has been and gone (yes, I know, we're now over halfway through the year but hold off on the realisation that your life is dwindling away, all right, this is a light-hearted post) it's time for another sporadic round-up of the month's Scribble Creatures-y news in Monthly Scribbles.

Capaldi's Credentials

July was a busy month for the Big Two - Sherlock and Doctor Who - as tantalising trailers for both were released. But as I've already blabbed about those here and here, I'll look at a less covered item now. Namely, this fun interview that appeared online recently which shows Peter Capaldi at his Who-loving best. Everyone knows Capaldi is a life-long fan of the show but this interview - in which he seemingly can't stop himself from talking about his favourite Who episodes - is a great demonstration of his fan credentials. It's always nice when the Doctor loves Doctor Who just as much as the fans. 

The Game is over...

I'm sad to report that Toby Whithouse spy drama The Game has been cancelled. It's a great shame as, despite a couple of criticisms I had, it had a lot of promise. What with the loss of the brilliant In The Flesh earlier this year as well, it seems the Beeb have either gone off their rocker or simply can't afford to take a chance on such shows as they used to (thank you very much, government). Either way, the BBC may make mistakes but we would miss it terribly if it wasn't there. Hint hint: please sign this petition to protect the BBC. It's very worthwhile.

Anyway, now to get off my soapbox...

'Their name is... Spectre.' 

Not to be outdone by his fellow British heroes, there was also a trailer for the latest James Bond film Spectre released this month - and it was a whopper. As well as being an effective teaser for the film it is also littered with lovely kisses to the past - Bond and the new M seem to be at odds, suggesting the relationship between 007 and the original Ms, Christoph Waltz is wearing a very Blofeldian nehru jacket and Q is giving Bond a car with gadgets. Not to mention the rousing theme music from On Her Majesty's Secret Service playing throughout. The last film Skyfall somewhat converted me from Bond liker to fledgling fan so I'm eagerly awaiting this instalment, which seems to be a series finale to Craig's Bond films. 

Mini-Review of the Month

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Until this month, I had never read nor seen anything to do with Robin Hood (well, except such non-canonical takes as last year's Doctor Who episode and that Disney film with the foxes). After twenty-odd years I finally put that right when I came across a copy of Robert Lancelyn Green's children's novel, which tells the story of the Prince of Thieves' life, drawn from the classical ballads and folk stories. It's written in a charming fairy tale style which brings Sherwood Forest and its inhabitants to storybook life in a way that sends you back to being ten years old, even if like me you weren't familiar with the world at that age. Highlights include the bizarrely supernatural 'The Witch of Paplewick', a Maid Marion who is pleasingly pro-active rather than a damsel-in-distress and - spoiler warning for a 700 year old legend - the surprisingly moving final chapters.

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
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