Monthly Archives: October 2014

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 1 (Dalek)

Dalek by Robert Shearman

Warning: Spoilers!

This is it. What Who fans were waiting for. For many people (including me) this episode was the first time we’d seen a Dalek in action, and it didn’t disappoint.

The plot? The Tardis materialises in an underground bunker in Utah, run by Billionaire Henry van Statten, a collector of alien artifacts who possesses one living specimen…a Dalek. He captures the Doctor once he learns of his alien origins, only for the Dalek to escape containment (memorably using its sucker to kill its torturer) and absorb enough energy to fully repair itself. As the humans weapons are useless against the Dalek (its force field melts them before they can impact it) Van Statten reluctantly releases the Doctor to stop it before it wipes out everyone in the bunker.

Eccleston has never been better. His fury at the fact a Dalek managed to survive the time war, his regret when he speaks of him ending the war, his pure terror at the thought of the Dalek escaping – all of it is wonderful. We also learn here that it was the Doctor himself who ended the Time War by destroying both the Daleks and the Time Lords, explaining the deep guilt and regret his character feels. When Eccleston screams at the Dalek ‘Why don’t you just DIE!’ we see an emotion the Doctor rarely exhibits: pure, utter hatred. It’s a powerful theme for Eccleston to work with and he succeeds admirably. The scene where the Doctor attempts to kill the (temporarily) defenceless Dalek in its cell is also arguably the darkest we ever see the Ninth Doctor.

The Dalek itself is great, its cleverness (using water to electrocute several guards at once) and its cunning (duping Rose into touching it by evoking her sympathy) show itself to be more than merely a thoughtless killing machine and hence raise it above the majority of Doctor Who monsters. You can see why the Daleks are iconic. The Dalek mutating because of its DNA being spliced with Rose’s causes it to become more emotional, to question itself – the Dalek becomes a character in its own right – always the sign of a very, very good monster.

Rose has some good moments too because of the connection she inadvertently gains with the Dalek, and the scene where she chastises the Doctor for pointing a gun at the immobilised Dalek highlights her characters strong moral code. The supporting cast all give their best but the episode isn’t really about them, the only one that stands out is Adam, Van Statten’s assistant who catalogues the alien artifacts, who forms a friendship (although he clearly wants more) with Rose, to the extent that the Doctor (reluctantly) allows Rose to bring him on board at the end of the adventure.

Overall a great episode and the Daleks finest hour, to the extent no Dalek story in modern who has yet surpassed this one.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: The Doctor, Rose and Adam travel to the year 100,000, where they encounter a sinister news company and some awful scripting from Russell T. Davies…

Move Review: Aliens (Extended Edition)

Aliens (Extended Edition) starring Sigourney Weaver

Warning: Spoilers!

James Cameron is a master at directing sequels to great films that end up being better than the original. He did it with Terminator 2. He does it here. Aliens loses the more survival horror based theme of Alien in exchange for a more action-based thriller/sci-fi/horror fest. It’s a hard film to categorize.

The plot? After spending 57 years drifting through space Ripley is rescued by a salvage team and returned to Earth, where she discovers the planet where they encountered the alien is now inhabited by a team of colonists, including families. After the colony drops out of contact company man Burke (Paul Reiser) convinces Ripley to accompany a group of overly macho colonial marines, led by the inexperienced Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope) and tough as nails Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews), as an advisor. They discover the colony is deserted apart from a lone girl called Newt, who forms an attachment to Ripley. The marines end up far out of their depth and after an ambush by the aliens wipes the majority of them out it’s up to Ripley to destroy the aliens and get them all back to Earth alive.

Sigourney Weaver is arguably even better here than in the first film. It helps that Ripley is turned into more of a leader/action hero/surrogate mother to Newt as it gives her a lot more material to get her teeth into. Newt (Carrie Henn) forms a believable bond with her, and Henn is one of the best young actresses I can remember in films I’ve seen. Several of the marines make a lasting impression, especially down-to-earth Hicks (Michael Biehn) the terrified foul-mouth Hudson (Bill Paxton) and macho girl Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein). The score from James Horner is suitably tense, and the silence in places works better at keeping the tension than music ever would. The direction and set design is superb, and the special effects a welcome step up from the first film. The film spends a long time building tension, but I really connect with the characters (and care far more when they get killed), certainly more than I did with some of the Nostromo’s crew in the first film.
As with the first film, here’s what I consider the standout scenes;

Ripley’s Dream sequence with a chest-burster early in the film (a real scare).

The marines combat drop sequence (lovely scene to set up the marines).

The Sub-level 3 ambush (how many supporting characters can you lose at once?).

Ripley and Newt get attacked by face-huggers (terrifying).

The Aliens break into operations and the marines escape through the vents (so tense).

Newt is captured by the aliens and Ripley alone goes after her (how’s this for epic?).

The Alien Queen is revealed (well they’re f***ed now!).

What does the extended edition add? Well it adds a scene where Burke informs Ripley that her daughter died while Ripley was in stasis (nicely setting up the Ripley/Newt relationship later on) and a scene where Newt’s father is attacked by a face-hugger (keeping the tension in the slower first hour). It also adds a few scenes where the Marines use automatic turrets to try and hold the aliens back – these work great to add to the tension. Ultimately, the theatrical cut and the director’s cut both work brilliantly, it just depends how long you want to spend watching the film.

Overall, as close to flawless as it gets, arguably my favourite film.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 1 (World War Three)

World War Three by Russell T. Davies

Warning: Spoilers!

Picking up from where Aliens of London left off, World War Three has a similar tone but is a slight improvement as The Doctor attempts to stop the Slitheen starting a nuclear war…

As with most Davies’ scripts, the best thing about the episode is its human elements; for example, The Doctor’s reluctance to stop the Slitheen because he knows he can’t ensure Rose’s safety – its the kind of morally grey area the series works well in. Jackie gets more to do as Rose’s mum as she learns more about the life Rose is leading and is forced to trust the Doctor – even though he visibly struggles to guarantee Rose’s safety if she travels with him. Mickey also gets an expanded role – and a more heroic one as he saves Jackie from the policeman/Slitheen and then helps the Doctor save the day by hacking into the UNIT website.

Speaking of the acting in the episode, Penelope Winton is great as Harriet Jones, who aids the Doctor and Rose throughout as a kind of guest companion. Eccleston does a decent job, with the scenes where he confronts the Slitheen while working out their plan an acting highlight. Billie Piper admittedly doesn’t get much of a chance to shine, but she isn’t bad either.

Now they’ve properly been revealed, the Slitheen don’t actually look too bad, and the scenes with them hunting the Doctor and his friends inside downing street work well – it’s just a shame Davies went with such a juvenile tone – if he’d played it straight and made it a bit darker, this could have been great. As it is, the Slitheen are still pantomime villains who go quite over the top at times – the only one which is really menacing is the one disguised as a policeman who tries to kill Mickey and Jackie – who notably doesn’t have any jokey dialogue, which greatly helps.

The plotting is a mixed bag, the basic idea (aliens who want to destroy the earth in a nuclear war and then sell parts of its irradiated carcass for fuel) is a novel one and works quite well. The politics represented (the UK needing the UN to grant access to nuclear weapons) is just as dodgy as the last episode’s, and isn’t particularly believable – nor is the ease with which Mickey hacks into the Royal Navy. The final half of the episode is good though, as the Doctor, after working out the Slitheen plan gets Mickey to fire a missile which destroys 10 downing street (surely one of the more iconic moments from series 1).

Overall a fun 45 minutes, admittedly with questionable plotting and juvenile dialogue, but if you get into the spirit of the thing its very enjoyable.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Next Time: The Doctor’s oldest enemy is back…a Dalek that escaped the Time War is waking up…

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 4 (The Laws of Gods and Men)

The Laws of Gods and Men by Bryan Cogman

Warning: Spoilers!

The episode opens with our first glance of the city of Braavos (which book readers will know becomes more important later on in Game of Thrones) as Stannis and Davos visit the Iron Bank. These two characters normally only interact with each other or Melisandre, so it was nice to see them face off with Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gatiss) as they attempt to convince him to lend them money to take back the seven kingdoms. After Tycho casts doubts on Stannis ability to do this with so few men and ships, Davos makes an impassioned speech about how Stannis is the only reliable leader left in Westeros and the only one who could pay the Iron Bank its due if Tywin dies, which sways Tycho to grant them some funds. Its the best scene Liam Cunningham (Davos) has got in some time.

Next we get a glimpse of Yara Greyjoy, Theon’s sister, as she leads an attack on the Dreadfort in an attempt to rescue her brother. Unfortunately, while she finds him, Theon’s mental state is so fragile that he refuses to come with her, in fear of it being a trick by Ramsay. Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) does seem to be filling the Joffrey sized whole as the shows most despicable villain, check out his manic smile as he says ‘this is turning out to be a lovely evening!’ before attacking Yara and her soldiers. Ultimately Yara and her men are driven off and she considers her brother dead to them. Ramsay rewards Reek’s loyalty with a bath (Rheon even makes this harmless scene nerve-wracking for the audience) and discusses a plan with him to deal with the Ironborn still in the north.

The main part of the episode however is devoted to Tyrion’s farce of a trial, as Cersei, Ser Meryn, Pycelle and a very reluctant Varys all give false or adjusted testimonies against him. This leads Jaime to offer Tywin a deal: he’ll resign from the kingsguard and become Tywin’s heir again if Tywin lets Tyrion live. Tywin instantly accepts, suggesting this is what he wanted all along, Jaime restored and Tyrion banished to the wall for the rest of his life – showing how good a manipulator Tywin is!

However, the last witness in Tyrion’s trial comes as a shock: it’s Shae. Having taken Tyrion’s rejection earlier this season far worse than he realised, she’s back and tells a plethora of lies about him; how he desired Sansa Stark and plotted Joffrey’s murder with her so she would bed him etc. After this betrayal and humiliation of having the whole court know a twisted version of his private life, Tyrion snaps, in Peter Dinklage’s best performance (and that’s saying something!) as he rails against the assembled crowd, saying he wishes he HAD killed Joffrey and let Stannis slaughter the lot of them at Blackwater, then taunting a furious Cersei by saying how much pleasure he got from watching Joffrey die. Tywin attempts to calm the situation, but Tyrion has one last twist: he leaves it in the hands of the Gods and (like in season 1) demands a trial by combat, infuriating Tywin.

Overall a strong episode with a great ending and a powerhouse performance by Peter Dinklage.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next Time: Tyrion struggles to find a champion and Arya crosses another name off her list…

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 8: In the Forest of the Night

In the Forest of the Night by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Warning: Spoilers!

I was joined by Jaz and James for this episode. And this episode was a gamble. New writer. New director (Sheree Folkson). No monsters. I wasn’t expecting an episode this experimental just after Flatline! But does it work?

This puts you in mind of a few other experimental episodes as it focuses on a child with unusual powers and the Doctor doesn’t actually save the day (like Fear Her in series 2) and ultimately the episode is more about the concept, character and visuals, not the plot (like The Rings of Akhaten in series 7). Neither of those episodes is very popular and this one is admittedly flawed. But while probably the weakest episode of the run, i liked what it was trying to do. The basic plot? The Doctor is contacted by a girl called Maebh, who has a strange psychic ability, who was from a school trip being led by Clara and Danny. Both groups converge, only to find London (and the world) overgrown by a giant forest, which is still growing, and worse: a massive solar flare is on collision course with Earth.

So what worked? Well, i don’t really need to comment on Capaldi or Coleman anymore, as neither of them has ever turned in a weak performance as the Doctor or Clara this season and they are as good as ever here. Samuel Anderson continues his fine work as Danny Pink, who realises that Clara has been lying to him and has still been travelling with the Doctor (although judging by that kiss at the end, it isn’t over for the two of them yet). There was potential disaster with so many child actors involved (James gets minor panic attacks when child actors appear due to how bad Angie and Artie were in Nightmare in Silver), but the one who had a major role in the episode, Maebh (Abigail Eames) was good in my opinion and the others provided decent comedy value.

The visuals where stunning, and i know I’ve said this 3 weeks in a row, but this episode, like the previous two, wouldn’t have worked a few years ago because the special effects wouldn’t have been up to it. The science involved (trees control over oxygen etc.) wasn’t too hard to swallow either (i liked the Doctor referencing the Tunguska and Curuca events as an example of when this could have happened in history). The sight of London overgrown by trees was very convincing. Sheree Folkson can definitely come back as a director next series (I’m indifferent if Boyce returns). The CGI animals have been criticised by some other reviewers but i didn’t think they were particularly bad (though admittedly they didn’t do much).

On that note, the things that didn’t work: The Doctor and Clara didn’t do much and not a lot happened in the episode itself. Jaz blames the episodes environmental message, and i agree: it was so obvious it completely overshadowed the plot. The lack of a monster meant that was a definite lack of tension, and the threat of the solar flare never concerned me (the Doctor might lose people or let monsters escape – but Earth is never going to be destroyed on the show, so it was hard to worry about it!) Missy’s cameo appearance felt like a let down after last week’s teaser, i was hoping for a bit more.

Overall, a episode that is going to be divisive, but with a strong message and some great visual elements and good acting, its far from terrible.

Rating; 3 out of 5

Next Time: Our first two-parter in 3 years, as the Cybermen return and Missy makes her entrance…

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 4 (First of his Name)

First of His Name by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

Warning: Spoilers!

For once, the King’s Landing segments were probably the least effective part of this episode. Despite starting promisingly with Tommen’s coronation and a tense conversation between Cersei and Margaery (Jaz: ‘Margaery can’t lie to save her life!’), none of the other scenes felt that necessary – we already know about Cersei being reluctant to marry Loras and that Tywin owes the Iron Bank of Braavos a considerable amount of money which he doesn’t have. The scene between Oberyn and Cersei just felt like a way of giving Oberyn some more screen time.

Also his week: the return of Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie) Catelyn Stark’s mad sister who tried to murder Tyrion in season 1, and her son Robyn, who while not being breastfed anymore is still as much of a precocious brat as ever (tactlessly asking Sansa about her dead mother and brother). Although at first it seems Sansa’s finally found a safe haven now Littlefinger’s brought her to Lysa (who was surprisingly nice to Sansa) there was trouble in paradise. After being kept awake by Lysa’s very loud moans as she had sex with Littlefinger, a normal conversation with her aunt turned sour after Lysa accused Sansa of being Petyr’s lover, showing her insecurity and it took a while for her to believe Sansa, who was left less than pleased at being told she has to marry her cousin Robyn.

On a more positive note, Jon and Bran got their best moments so far, as Jon lead his brothers in a pulse-racing attack on the mutineers in Crasters’ keep, led by Karl (Burn Gorman) who is truly one of the most threatening villains the shows had – him threatening to rape Meera Reed and force her brother Jojen to watch was a very tense scene. In the end, Jon attacks before he can do so, leading to a sword vs. knives fight between Jon and Karl, in which Jon is clearly outclassed by Karl’s dirty fighting tactics, only for Karl to be stabbed in the back by one of Craster’s wives. Meanwhile, Locke attempts to kidnap Bran, only for Bran to take control of Hodor, who violently snaps Locke’s neck. The villains really aren’t having a good time of it this series – what with Polliver, Joffrey and now Locke and Karl biting the dust – good thing we still have Ramsay and the Wildlings left! The scene where Jon is reunited with his direwolf Ghost was quite moving too.

The Hound took some time to mock Arya’s style of fighting and her former mentor, Syrio Forel of Braavos. This led Arya to try and stab the hound in the stomach, only to find her sword can’t penetrate thick armour (The Hound’s tip of the day is to have ‘armour and a big f**king sword’). This showed some tension between the two as Arya told the Hound he’s on her death list and the Hound violently knocked her to the ground after she tried to stab him – you know this will be revisited later in the season.

Elsewhere Daenerys realises she has a chance to invade Westeros now Joffrey is dead and Daario has captured the Meereenese navy for her. However, after Jorah informs her that Yunkai and Astapor have slipped back into their old habits of slave-trading, Daenerys decides to stay and rule slaver’s bay – so she will be more experienced at ruling when she invades Westeros. Its a decision that makes sense for her character but will frustrate many fans who will want her to deal some Targaryen justice to the Lannisters.

There were a few humourous scenes between Brienne and Pod – as Brienne scolds his lack of ability as a squire, only to end up respecting him when he tells her how he killed a kingsguard to save Tyrion in season 2. Pod’s smile when Brienne finally lets him help with her armour was very cute (my friend Jaz was nearly overcome by this – i think she’s starting to fall in love how cute Pod is!).

Overall a more action packed episode, but i just feel it was missing that standout great scene as the character plots all built towards decisive moments later in the series.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Next Time: Stannis visits the Iron Bank, the Greyjoys try and rescue Theon and Tyrion’s trial gets underway…

Movie Review: Alien Definitive Edition

Alien (1979) Definitive Edition starring Sigourney Weaver

Warning: Spoilers!

A classic sci-fi movie. A phrase almost synonymous with Alien. This film is very, very highly regarded by critics. I first saw it aged 11 and it scared the hell out of me. When i found out my flatmates (Jaz and James) had never seen this before i just had to show it to them (Jaz had seen an alien film but couldn’t remember which one). I must admit i do prefer it’s sequel (Aliens) but hate most of the other films in the series (especially Alien Vs Predator and it’s sequel Requiem).

You know the basic plotline (or should do, the film’s 35 years old) the crew of a cargo freighter are woken up from cryosleep, land on an alien planet where one of them is attacked by a ‘facehugger’ than grows into a xenomorph (the alien) with acid for blood and a hunter’s mindset as it takes out the crew one by one. However, the first half hour of this film is very slow. There are lots of long establishing shots and a rudimentary discussion between the characters about payment contracts which helps set up the crew’s dynamics. However, once you get to the famous chestbuster scene, it really picks up the pace and doesn’t ease the tension until the credits roll.

The cast is small but full of recognisable names: Captain Dallas (Tom Skeritt), XO Kane (John Hurt), Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Warrant Officer Ripley (Weaver), Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm) and Engineers Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton). All of them give their best and Ridley Scott is exemplary as the film’s director. Jerry Goldsmiths soundtrack is suitably eerie as well. The special effects are nothing special (pardon the pun) but they aren’t bad, and the superb set design more than makes up for it.

In fact, there’s so little point analyzing in detail (because it’s all good) I’ll just list what i thought were the standout great scenes (obviously MAJOR SPOILERS!):

The ‘Space Jockey’ (A very creepy foreshadowing scene which inspired Prometheus)
The chestbuster scene (James: I can see why John Hurt got the Best Supporting Actor nomination!)
The fully grown alien attacks Brett (Jaz couldn’t look!)
Dallas in the vents (Tense as hell, scared the shit out of me as a kid)
Ash attacks Ripley and gets decapitated by Parker (Another shock moment)
The Alien attacks Parker and Lambert (just when you thought you couldn’t lose any more cast members!)

I always joke this is the most politically correct film ever (it kills all the men before the women, and all the white guys before the one black guy!) [Jaz: ‘If they’d just listened to the woman they’d have been fine all along!’] but some of the imagery is terrifying (the alien’s second mouth and Ash using a rolled up magazine to smother Ripley were both very phallic images) while the facehugger is to a point even scarier than the alien (once it’s on you, there’s no escape). Jaz had actually seen the chestbuster scene from AVP, and was thus caught out by the famous John Hurt scene (as everyone should be). My advice if you’re an adult watching this film – watch late at night with the lights down – it really adds to the atmosphere!

Differences with the cinema version? Not many actually – it removes one or two scenes (e.g. the one where Dallas talks to the ship computer before entering the vent shafts) and adds one notable addition (Ripley discovering two cocooned versions of her former crew and then mercy killing them at their request). The changes don’t alter my opinion much, but the removal of the Dallas-Mother scene does make that segment of the film flow better in my opinion.

Overall, the film is an exemplary lesson in how to create a really tense atmosphere and in the alien has one of the greatest sci-fi monsters of all time at it’s disposal. Apart from the first half hour, i can’t fault it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

We’ll watch the sequel soon so a review of that will be up next week. Hopefully we’ll get round to Prometheus and Predator at some point as well.