Monthly Archives: June 2017

Doctor Who: World Enough and Time Review

World Enough and Time by Steven Moffat

I’ll give a spoiler warning, even if the BBC showed all but one plot point in the trailers.

This episode might have been a classic but for two avoidable problems. But really it comes down to one problem: unnecessary spoilers. The episode all moved a bit slowly in the second half, but that was only an issue because we all knew where it was going. We knew the hospital patients were being converted into Mondasian Cybermen. It was thus very easy to guess that was exactly what was going to happen to Bill. We knew John Simm’s Master was returning. Thus it was pretty easy to guess ‘Mr. Razor’ was more than he seemed. I can understand why the Cybermen’s return was announced early. They feature in exterior-shot scenes which extras or photographers could easy have spoiled. The episode works whether or not you know they’re coming. But Simm’s reveal was so late on, and only in front of the principal cast members, that spoiling his return seemed completely unnecessary. Had he been a surprise this could have rivalled ‘Dark Water’ and ‘Utopia’ for great Master shock reveals. But, whether to entice viewers or just out of idiocy, the BBC decided to announce Simm’s return and put him in various trailers. #Mistake. Fortunately, despite this misstep, the episode was pretty damn good!!!

I feel like I’ve been moaning about the direction for half the damn series, but Rachel Talalay has never disappointed on Who (seriously, someone hire her for the final Game of Thrones season!!! Imagine what she could do with that budget!). The ship reveal was sublime, the creepy hospital expertly shot, and the episode generally full of little directorial flourishes that helped make the last two finales so splendid. Murray Gold’s score was pretty good for the most part too. Moffat’s script deserves equal credit with Talalay’s direction, as, just like ‘Dark Water’ and ‘Heaven Sent’ Moffat comes up with a great sci-fi concept to base an episode around. The ship with time running faster/slower at each end is a great idea and one he has plenty of fun with, even if the episode spends a little too long explaining it as a concept. In short, the production team nails it.

Nardole and Capaldi played a smaller role in proceedings than normal, though Capaldi’s explanation of the gravity-time phenomenon was good and his recollections of him and Missy as young boys on Gallifrey was touching. The episode was instead largely carried by Missy, Bill and Mr. Razor (AKA the Master – I’d sussed that out within about five minutes of him being on screen and I’m guessing most of you knew well before he and Missy went face to face). Michelle Gomez had tremendous fun playing ‘Doctor Who’ and winding Bill and Nardole up, while Bill’s experience in the hospital leads to one of Pearl Mackie’s best performances to date. But the real praise has to be saved for John Simm. His performance (under heavy make-up) as Razor was so good I almost started doubting if it actually was the master under there. His Master may have only been on screen for two minutes, but this is the first time since ‘The Sounds of Drums’ I’ve really felt like Simm was playing the Master as he should be. He was (thankfully) restrained,  and more of a smirking, creepy villain than the laughing, overblown psychopath Russell T. Davies wrote. This version of Simm’s Master just felt instantly more nuanced – and hopefully the next episode will maintain this transition and not revert to the animalistic madman from ‘The End of Time’. Credit to Simm and Moffat if that happens. The scene between him and Missy was the best scene Simm’s got since the phone call between him and Tennant in Sound of Drums, and if we’re lucky the interaction between those two will give us plenty more highlights to look forward to.

Overall, World Enough and Time works very well, but the slow pacing in the second half and the big drawn out reveals are far less effective because of the spoilers. The stage is set for a truly great finale though. Don’t let us down Moffat.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next Time: The Cybermen rise and evolve, The Doctor and Nardole try to save Bill, The Master fights for his future and Missy finally decides what side she is on…

Seriously if this finale doesn’t get 5/5 they’ve fucked up. Because they’ve created a set-up with so much potential that anything less than perfection would be a missed opportunity

Doctor Who: Episodes 8-10 Review

My enthusiasm for this series of Doctor Who has decidedly dropped, hence why I’m reviewing the last three episodes at once. I’ll cover the finale episodes individually because there will doubtlessly be more to talk about in them.

Warning: Spoilers!

The Lie of the Land by Toby Whitehouse

Oh dear. The Monk trilogy was going so well.

It’s not that this episode is bad exactly, its just deeply unsatisfying as the final part of a trilogy (sounds familiar). Wasting 20 minutes of the episode on a throwaway plot which ended with a fake regeneration (presumably only included to put some cool shots in the series trailer) really did not help matters. Nor did the Monks, who’ve been meticulous in their plans, being defeated so easily (by the power of love overcoming technology/brainwashing… groan – this plot device should never be allowed in Who again – its fucking annoying how overused it is!!! – Think Fear Her, Victory of the Daleks, Night Terrors, Rings of Akhaten etc… only reset buttons are worse or more bloody frequent). Rant over, Mackie, Lucas and Capaldi are all good (Capaldi’s fake turn to the dark side is very, very well acted, and if this episode had been in his first series it might have even been believable), but that’s not enough to save this episode. If it wasn’t for Missy’s scene stealing turn in the vault, it wouldn’t get nearly as high a rating.

If the Doctor had really been brainwashed by the Monks in serving them and Bill managed to break their hold on him, before the Monks attack on mass in response maybe we’d have got a decent conclusion from this story. In many ways it reminded me of Last of the Time Lords from Series 3: an occupied earth, a captive Doctor, a companion who is everyone’s only hope and a nonsensical climax which combine to provide a decent episode but an uttering unsatisfying conclusion to what had been a promising 3-parter.

Overall ‘the Lie of the Land’ is an entertaining enough episode, but a sorely disappointing climax to the Monks trilogy. The acting and dialogue is good, but the plot is bland and the direction flat.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Empress of Mars by Mark Gatiss

Mark Gatiss has a VERY mixed record on Doctor Who (rather like his mixed contributions to Sherlock) – while most of his stories fall safely into the average category (think The Idiot’s Lantern, Victory of the Daleks or Cold War) at other times he’s utterly predictable, churning out dull crap like Night Terrors or Sleep No More, or occasional triumphs like The Unquiet Dead and The Crimson Horror.

This episode combines two of Gatiss’ favourite Who tropes: Ice Warriors (as mentioned he scripted their modern return in series 7’s Cold War) and a Victorian setting (which he used in Unquiet Dead and Crimson Horror, as well as the Sherlock Xmas special). I preferred the Ice Warriors in this story to the one in Cold War, least because the Ice Warriors are slightly more nuanced this time. They’re ruthless, loyal, merciful and honourable, all in the same 45 minutes, rather than a monster running amok on a submarine and then being merciful in a completely out-of-character way.

If Cold War was the Ice Warrior version of Alien, Empress of Mars is Aliens with far more action and Ice Warriors than the previous entry. The Ice Warrior weapons are a bit odd (why they didn’t stick with their weapons from the classic series/Cold War is slightly baffling) but I’m just glad we got some action after what has been for the most part a pedestrian and rather uneventful series. Pity the Victorian soldiers were so forgettable. They are well acted (Ser Meryn Trant off Game of Thrones made an appearance) but very thinly drawn by Gatiss and downright clichéd in some places. Only the Ice Warrior Friday really leaves a lasting impression.

Overall, like Smile earlier in the season, it’s an entertaining filler episode that never really does anything revolutionary. It’s workmanlike yet enjoyable with an alien threat in the Victorian era and is standard Gatiss fare – but if this is his last Who episode, maybe that’s for the best.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Eaters of Light by Rona Munro

This is something notable. An episode written by not just one of the writers from the classic series, but the one who wrote the very last story of that run (Survival) in 1989 (it’s a decent but unremarkable 3-parter featuring the Master, appropriately enough). She’s the first classic-who writer to return for the modern series, but did she make the most of it?

Answer: Sort of. The Eaters of Light is one of the better episodes of the series, but given its consistent mediocrity that doesn’t say an awful lot. Like Empress of Mars it’s a very simplistic episode but fortunately has slightly better characters. The monster is more menacing than some we’ve had this series, but in the end its defeated rather easily (see also Smile, Lie of the Land etc.). Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi give their best as always, while the younger supporting cast is likeable. It’s probably the best material Matt Lucas has got from a writer other than Moffat too. Equally its the best soundtrack from Murray Gold in a while, but I still think it might be time for him to go; the music has generally been background noise this season (for series 1-9 it was something closer to an art form).

The Missy scene is kind of awkwardly fixed on, but Capaldi and Gomez make up for it. The Vault plotline really did go nowhere didn’t it? Rule for showrunners: never make the question more interesting than the answer (something season 2 and 3 of The Flash can’t stop bloody doing, but I had hoped Who was above that cheap viewer-bait).

Overall, a good script makes this one of the better entries in Series 10, but a forgettable monster and predictable climax means it doesn’t soar as high as it could have. Rona Munro can definitely come back next season though.

Rating: 4 out of 5

10 episodes. I’ve given five 4/5 ratings, two 3.5/5 ratings and three 3/5 ratings. This is currently the lowest scoring run of who episodes (according to me anyway) in all 10 seasons. No other series got this far in without getting a 4.5/5 or a 5/5. Moffat’s 3 episodes were all good but only 2 of the support writers really nailed their entries. Whatever happens in the last 2 episodes it’ll still probably be my least favourite (modern) series of Who. Unless the finale REALLY steps things up a gear. Fingers crossed. Speaking of which…

Next Time: Missy’s rehabilitation is put to the test on a ship stuck near a black hole, while her predecessor and some very old-style Cybermen…

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff and Kurt Russell.

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS! (I mean it’s been out for a month guys, you really should have seen it by now)

I honestly think I prefer the Guardians to the Avengers as an ensemble. No avengers film has ever serviced all its characters well in the same film (Hawkeye is badly sidelined in the first one, Thor in the Second). Guardians films never have to waste time setting up  future standalone films, and the relationships and banter between them always feels natural. Vol. 2 splits the Guardians team up for much of the middle of the film, yet the individuals and double-acts are still as compelling as when they unite as a whole team at the start and end of the movie.

Chris Pratt is arguably the biggest rising star in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) right now – he’s headlined Jurassic World and Passengers in between films and is certainly a more memorable lead actor than say, Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth (i’ll grant its a given that none of them get close to Robert Downey Jr., but that almost goes without saying at this point). While Vol. 2 retains the ensemble feel from the first film, Pratt gets a greater share of the limelight, and proves he can handle the emotional stuff just as well as the comedy. Baby Groot is adorable, but to be honest I felt like they could have done more with him in this film (i.e. in the first film Groot was undoubtedly my favourite of the Guardians, this time around it was probably Quill with Drax a close second). The film does do a good job of fleshing out Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Gillan) who were arguably two of the least well-utilized (and least interesting) characters in the first film. Nebula in particular is a far more sympathetic character, and Gillan flexes her acting muscles far more this time around. Michael Rooker’s Yondu, another supporting player from the 1st film, also really comes into his own here and his comradery with Rocket is one of the strong points in the middle part of the film. Newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is a sweet and welcome addition and gets plenty of amusing banter with Drax, who like last time gets most of the best lines. But the film’s real strength comes from Kurt Russell’s Ego, a celestial (a living planet with a human form of himself) and Quill’s father.

Ego is the best villain Marvel has given us since Loki. He’s better than Ultron, Zemo, Yellowjacket and Winter Soldier (the only ones other than Loki to leave a good impression). Kurt Russell kills it with his sweet, manipulative and largely convincing act as Quill’s remorseful dad, and then excels at portraying Ego’s true superiority complex and universe conquering delusions. CRUCIALLY, Marvel finally give this villain enough screen time to have a real impact, something which hamstrung Lee Pace’s Ronan (as it has with so many other MCU villains) in the last Guardians adventure. The final fight between him and Quill is quite possibly the best hero/villain fight in the MCU (only the hilarious Ant-man/Yellowjacket battle or Captain America/Winter Soldier confrontations spring to mind as equally memorable). Ego also allows Chris Pratt to show different sides to Quill, as his barely contained rage at Ego’s murder of his mother takes the film to a far darker place than most Marvel movies ever reach.

All this is very welcome, because the early part of the film (particularly the first half hour) feels like a less interesting re-tread of the first films antics and jokes, while not offering anything particularly new. The soundtrack is still good, but isn’t quite the knockout Vol. 1’s was, while not all of the jokes in the first hour land as well as they could have. Nevertheless the special effects seem to have got an upgrade since the first film (which still looked bloody good!) and now everything looks even more awesome than before (something helped by the fact that James Gunn is one of the better directors working for Marvel atm). The plot is a great deal more involving than the ‘infinity stone’ quest in its predecessor ever was, and the film manages to set the stage for a third entry without dragging this instalment of the series down with endless set-up (looking at you, Dawn of Justice). To summarise, some things are an improvement, some are a slight step back, and thus Vol. 2 comes out about equal to its predecessor.

The five (FIVE!) mid and post credits scenes are generally an absolute hoot, the two highlights hinting at a major comic-book character’s arrival in guardians 3 (Adam Warlock if I had to guess) and a comedy cut-away showing a teenage Groot with some serious attitude. Pity about the Stan Lee cameo. That guy needs to fuck off and stop shoehorning himself into films which really have no time for him (the one here is especially jarring).

Overall a terrific second half and a formidable villain overcomes an uninspired first half to deliver a good, if imperfect Marvel movie.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Coming Soon: My review of Wonder Woman, a film that signals a welcome return to form for DC…

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge starring Johnny Depp, Kaya Scodelario, Brenton Thwaites, Javier Bardem, Kevin R McNally and Geoffrey Rush

Minor Spoilers follow, but if you’ve seen the trailers you know all of them already.

When I heard they were making a fifth film in the series I reacted with wearied resignation. After an entertaining but massively bloated third film and a convoluted, disappointing fourth film the series looked dead in the water. But after seeing the trailer, I decided to give it a chance. And while this entry sails in familiar waters, it steadies the ship sufficiently well that the series may not be dead just yet.

Johnny Depp is no longer the reliable star (on or off camera) who can guarantee a film’s success. After being the core part of a trinity of main characters in the first three films, he was indisputably the focus of the fourth film, which suffered greatly for it. Jack Sparrow serves as great light relief and fodder for ludicrous actions scenes, but after so much screen-time in previous adventures isn’t someone you want as the focus of the film anymore. There aren’t enough places left to take the character for him to stay interesting, which On Stranger Tides proved. Fortunately, Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales if you’re in the US) is more of an ensemble film, which arguably is what the series has to be going forward. Brenton Thwaites’ Henry Turner is arguably the main character, while Kaya Scodelario steals the show for large stretches as Carina, while Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa gets his best material since the first film. This leaves Depp to keep his focus on portraying the amiable rogue of a pirate that we all loved in the earlier films, and his performance is certainly a step up from On Stranger Tides. Even better, most of the supporting cast from the other films, such as Gibbs, Will, Elizabeth, Marty, Scrum, Mullroy and Murtogg all return (though it is a slight shame Pintel and Ragetti, who were so great in the first 3 films, are still absent) and help lend a sense of continuity to proceedings.

On the other hand, Javier Bardem is a mixed bag of a villain. Captain Salazar is arguably the least interesting main villain the series has given us (not a major criticism given that Barbossa, Davy Jones and Blackbeard were all so well done) and is the kind of villain we see a lot in Marvel films; well-acted, menacing but ultimately forgettable. His dialogue can’t also be pretty hard to understand at times, a problem we haven’t seen in cinema since Bane in TDKR. His ghost crew, while well animated, aren’t as threatening as the crew of the Dutchman or the Black Pearl in previous entries, though at least they are better than the Mermaids and Zombies of On Stranger Tides (by now you’ll have realised how much I don’t like that film).

The action scenes are ludicrous and over the top, but the film cheerfully embraces this and makes them work (the sequence where Jack’s crew accidentally steal an entire bank is memorable while a botched execution with Jack stuck on a revolving guillotine is downright hilarious). The humour mostly works, through it can be a touch too crude and juvenile in places. The action sequences are generally well-directed and engaging, but the lack of a proper ship-to-ship naval battle is a bit disappointing, and the final confrontation between Jack and Salazar is one of the weakest fight scenes in the series. Generally though, the whole thing flows an awful lot better than its immediate predecessor and the whole less-is-more and back-to-basics approaches do it a lot of favours. It’s not up there with the highlights of the series, but it moves back in the right direction.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (major spoilers follow, so stop reading now if you haven’t watched the film yet).

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

The twist with the identity of Carina’s father was hardly a revolutionary idea or an unpredictable one, but Geoffrey Rush’s endearing performance coupled with Carina’s ‘my name is Barbossa’ character moment makes it work. Barbossa’s heroic sacrifice to save her and kill Salazar is a fitting send-off for his character, and one that gives the film a much-needed strong ending after it looked in serious danger of flagging during its second half. Rush will be sorely missed in any future films, but hopefully Carina Barbossa can more than make up for that. Besides, as the post-credits scene indicates, we may have another familiar face returning in any sixth film…

Lest we forget, Pirates of the Caribbean started the whole post-credits trend which Marvel and DC have now adopted. Until the post-credits scene, it looked like this was, very much, the final entry in the series. But surely it can’t be now? You don’t hint at the return of a previous villain this strongly unless you actually intend to follow through in film 6. If Davy Jones is coming back, I won’t complain (Bill Nighy nailed the role) but it better be worth it. The series could very easily end here; so if it comes back for more, it needs to be good enough to deserve it.

Overall, Salazar’s Revenge gives us an entertaining but imperfect return to the Pirates films of old, with a promising new cast, some welcome cameos, a slightly forgettable villain and a sombre exit for one long-serving character.