Category Archives: Netflix

Stranger Things Season 3 Review

First Half of Review is spoiler-free. Second Half has full spoilers after warning.

Stranger Things is easily Netflix’s most popular Sci-Fi show. Black Mirror may be better, but Stranger Things seems to grow in popularity year on year. This is in large part to its fabulous cast, including the established veterans such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour, but also the incredible young cast (no weak links among them). Millie Bobby Brown has shot to stardom because of this show, and rightly so. The cast are as good as ever here. The show plays around with some of the established pairings and focuses on new ones – seeing Eleven (Brown) and Max (Sadie Sink)’s friendship blossom is one of the most entertaining parts of the early episodes, as well as a key part of Eleven’s character development (first female friend she’s really had). Dustin and Steve’s comedy bromance also returns, and is only enhanced by their adventures with snarky newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke) and Erica, Lucas’ precocious younger sister. While I took to Robin immediately, I wasn’t sure about Erica’s inconclusion till about the halfway point, where I began to warm to her (pairing her and Dustin up as a team really worked). Lucas and Mike get their share of moments too, but Will has the standout ones amongst the boys with Noah Schnapp nailing Will’s PTSD and struggles to adapt to the fact his friends has changed since previous seasons. If any characters are poorly served, its arguably Nancy and Jonathan – their storyline at the Hawkins Post newspaper may have a political point to prove, but it isn’t that entertaining or even interesting. Fortunately, by episode 5 they’re back helping the youngsters and instantly get better material to deal with.

Visually, the show looks as good as ever (has Netflix ever hired a bad director? Yet to see it – BBC take note) and the special effects are great throughout. The new monster is far more imposing and memorable than the Demodogs in Season 2, but is somewhat undermined by the fact it doesn’t kill anywhere near as many as the less-powerful Demogorgon in Season 1 managed. Still, its horrific in its design and inventive in how it gets created, so I won’t criticise it too much. Arguably the season’s human villains are more memorable, particularly the grizzled, Schwarzenegger-esque thug who has several brutal fights with Hopper over the course of the season.

The humour can be hit and miss (Dustin’s group gets the best of it, Mike and Lucas less so) but mostly it works well and establishes a lighter tone. Arguably too light – while the writers were clearly deliberately drawing a line between the light-hearted, hormonal teen dramas and the horrific mind flayer plot, it ends up slightly jarring – seasons 1 and 2 were more consistently dark in tone, but with great lashings of charm and humour to lighten the mood. I have to say I preferred that approach – this season is entertaining, but it lacks the persistent tension of earlier sessions (at least for the first four episodes – the last four were definitely better balanced and to my mind, more effective). Ultimately though, the writers do a good job – the character arcs all make sense and feel realistic and earned, and while there are undoubtedly plot holes and conveniences, they tend to be minor blips rather than irritating missteps.

Overall, its an entertaining, visually splendid instalment of one of Netflix’s best shows. The writers keep the plot grounded for the most part, and showcase the talent of the wonderful actors involved. However, for all that, its probably my least favourite of the three – but given how good the first two were, that doesn’t mean all that much. Just don’t make us wait as long for season 4, okay Duffer Brothers?

For those of you wishing to avoid, spoilers, my season rating is below, so stop there.

Rating: 4 out of 5

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!! DON’T READ ON UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE FINALE!!

Kudos to Dacre Montgomery – he made Billy someone you could empathise with and even feel a bit sorry for – which isn’t easy when he was so unlikable in season 2 and helped the mind flayer (unwillingly or not) kill a lot of people in S3. Sadie Sink in particular helps us care about Billy’s fate – whatever the issues between them, its clear that Max wants to save her step-brother if she can, which only makes his heroic sacrifice to save Eleven all the more tragic. His death wasn’t exactly a surprise – I’d called well before the season started, but it hit hard nonetheless.

Somewhat surprisingly, so did Alexei’s. Given that he was working for the bad guys and seemed quite a dick in episode 6, the show did well to make us care about him. His banter with Murray and his obvious joy at experiencing an American Fair did much to humanise him – which made his callous execution all the more horrific.

But obviously, the big hit is Hopper. He wasn’t particularly likeable this season, but ultimately, he was there to do the right thing, and this time, his decision to risk all in the final episode cost him. At least, we think it did. The post-credits scene in Russia cast some doubt on his death, but Hopper isn’t the only possibility for the American prisoner. Who knows – maybe the Russians snatched Murray after their base was shut down. Or maybe, just maybe… Eleven’s Father from S1 isn’t dead. Hell, if they know about Eleven, it might even be her Mother they’ve kidnapped or maybe her ‘Sister’ 8 from Season 2. To be honest, any of those options is preferable to Hopper – its too obvious and too easy a way out. Besides – could you imagine the effect on Eleven if she believes its Hopper they’ve got and it turns out to be Father instead? That would really be a great twist for S4.

Next: Reviews of other Netflix titans, such as Jessica Jones, Black Mirror and Orange is the New Black will follow in the next few weeks – along with Spiderman: Far from Home.

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 3 Review

Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith and Lucy Punch

Warning: Minor Spoilers Follow

I wasn’t all that impressed with the first season of Netflix’s adaptation. Sure, it was entertaining in its way and better than the film, but let’s be honest, that isn’t hard. The second season picked up a bit, but mainly because it was based on some of the better books in the series (and even then, it’s Vile Village adaptation was dire). Fortunately, it’s a case of third time lucky for Netflix. I don’t know whether or not its that the scriptwriters just kicked things up a gear or the fact that these episodes are based off the best books in the series or that because the final season its more focused on wrapping things up in a satisfying way, but this one WORKED!

Neil Patrick Harris, now freed from the need to play a different version of a disguised Olaf every week, is at his best here. Olaf is menacing, OTT, world-weary and maniacal, sometimes all in the same scene, and he generally carries it off with aplomb. Malina and Louis are as perfect as ever as Klaus and Violet, and Patrick Warburton finally feels like a worthwhile addition to the series. The direction and look of the thing is as great as ever, but crucially, the scripting feels a bit tighter, and boy does that make a difference. Notably, the episodes are a bit shorter than previous seasons, which seems to have been a smart decision. There’s noticeably less padding and everything just flows better.

There’s still the odd change from the books which doesn’t really strike you as necessary, but by and large, its a pretty faithful adaptation of events. But there’s one bonus here book readers will love – you finally get answers that the books, crucially, did not give you. Flashbacks in the Penultimate Peril two-parter really help to flesh out the schism, the sugar bowl, Olaf’s turn from Volunteer to Villain and Lemony and Kit Snicket’s characters. Kit Snicket is perfectly cast as well, which is crucial seeing as she’s so important to the last few books. The other bonus is the welcome return of Carmelita Spats, who is perfectly done and is endlessly entertaining when onscreen. Lucy Punch isn’t quite as memorable as Esme as she was last season, but she still gets the odd moment.

It’s not perfect by any means – Phil still seems miscast, the Violet and Quigley subplot seems rushed and the decision to spare the bald man and the henchperson of indeterminate gender last season doesn’t really serve any purpose, but for the most part, this is a big improvement over the last two seasons. But for everything that doesn’t work, there’s plenty that does. Usman Ally nearly steals the show as the hook-handed man, while the Klaus and Fiona subplot works very believably.  The Man with Beard but no hair (played by Richard E. Grant) and the Woman with Hair but no Beard make a great set of villains to throw both Olaf and the Orphans off balance in this series as well.

Overall, Netflix finally manages to strike the right tone and conclude the series in an engaging, satisfying way. The cast give their all and the writing’s stepped up a gear from last season. The flashbacks alone give book readers a reason to check this out – it really answers any questions the books ever left you wondering…

Rating: 4 out of 5

The theme tune really is catchy isn’t it?

The Best and Worst TV of 2018

So, after films, we’re onto TV. I’m not going to run through all the stuff I’ve seen for this one, mainly because I’ve not caught up with a lot of US TV shows like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, so I can only review half the episodes from this year. Bear in mind I’ve not seen some of the best received stuff this year (The Bodyguard, A Very English Scandal etc.) so this is basely solely off what I’ve seen and is my opinion, not a definitive list! Feel free to comment your own best/worst shows below.

I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible.

Top Five:

1. The Americans (Season 6) – The best way to some up the quality of this sublime spy drama set in the cold war is as follows: even if Game of Thrones absolutely nails Season 8 next year with battle scenes above Lord of the Rings intensity and standard, I’ll probably still name The Americans as the TV show of the Decade. It’s been that good. It’s had 5 great seasons and 1 that was merely good, but that’s still a better hit rate than any other six season show I can think of. I’ve given perhaps one episode in its entire run 3.5/5. Everything else has been 4/5 or (usually) even higher. The final season somehow managed to ramp things up a gear while still remaining the slow burning tense classic its always been. Not only did it use the masterstroke of having lead KGB spies Philip and Elizabeth on opposite sides for most of the season, but we finally saw FBI agent Stan Beeman close in on them, leading to an electrifyingly tense and devastating finale, as the Jennings finally had to face the consequences of their actions. It didn’t tie up all lose ends, but this show has always been too clever for that. After all, how many spy operations do you think have a definite, clean ending? Either way, it was utterly unmissable television, and while its one for the connoisseur rather than the mainstream, it still seems a shame that most people still haven’t had a chance to see it.

2. I’m a Celebrity (UK Series 18) – I’m not normally one for reality TV, but this had such a good line-up that I just had to give it a go. I do like I’m a celeb, but usually they have truly detestable celebs on there, like Katie Price or Gemma Collins, so I’ve avoided it for the past few years. This year though, has to be the best run the shows ever had in the UK. Not only did we have Harry Redknapp turning himself into a true national treasure with his stories, but we had Anne Hegerty battling against the odds to overcome some deep personal challenges. The show was largely heart-warming because everyone there was genuinely pleasant for the most part. Even Noel Edmonds, who you could tell was only brought in to stir things up, proved to be a pretty nice guy for most of the run. Even more surprisingly, the celebs were all very good at the trials – I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many full houses of stars! Though admittedly, they were amusingly awful at the dingo dollar challenges. The best thing of all though, had to be the cute friendship between John Barrowman (who had a song for every occasion) and Emily Atack (who was adorably cute and mischievous). If 2018 needed something, it was definitely this series, which for a few blissful weeks almost made you forget about Trump and the mess being made of Brexit.

3. Orange is the New Black (Season 6) It may not have been OITNB’s best season, but it was still Netflix’s top effort this year. Throwing all the inmates into maximum security really allowed the show to mix this up with a tenser atmosphere and some new inmates and guards. With the usual mix of comedy, dark storylines and romance (including some very surprising pairings – who’d have thought 5 years ago that Caputo and Fig would be the easiest couple on the show to root for?). ‘Badison’ made one of the show’s most detestable villains in years (probably the nastiest one since Vee in season 2) and the shows closer focus on some of the characters really allowed them to shine more than normal (Daya, Freida and Nicky in particular). Ultimately, it could have had a better overall plotline, but its set the stage for the final season well enough to scrape into my top 3.

4. Big Mouth (Season 2) Easily the funniest show on Netflix at the moment, Big Mouth is a hilarious send up of puberty that only an animated show could get away with (for obvious reasons). It has its share of family guy-esque gross out comedy and your typical teenage awkward humour, but what makes this unique is the fact it takes time to focus on both genders difficulties (usually these kind of comedies only go with one or the other) and actively personifies those awkward, stupid teenage impulses in the form of ‘hormone monsters’ who actively encourage the characters to ask each other out or to do any number of stupid things, usually with hilariously destructive or embarrassing results. It may sound ridiculous, but its worth a shot and will probably have you poking fun at your own awkward teenage experiences subconsciously – while answering all the questions you’d wished you’d had answers to ten years ago. 

5. Jessica Jones (Season 2) Despite the lack of a signature villain to rival David Tennant’s Kilgrave, Jessica Jones managed to be the most compelling superhero show this year (bearing in mind that I don’t watch Daredevil). Krysten Ritter remains one of the best actresses in Netflix’s employ, and Jessica’s self-destructive tendencies remained firmly in sight this year, particularly with Trish, Malcolm and Hogarth all having various crises of their own around her. Trish really became one of the most hateable characters on TV this series, and whether season 3 pulls off one hell of a redemption story or has her go full villain it’ll be interesting to see. The icing on the cake though, had to be Jessica’s Kilgrave hallucinations in episode 11. It was great to have David Tennant back even for just one episode, and having him play the devil on Jessica’s shoulder was a stroke of genius! Sure the first episode wasn’t great and it was still 2 or so episodes too long, but overall the series was less padded than arrow verse shows, more interesting than Luke Cage and less ridiculous than Gotham or Black Lightning.

Bottom Three:

3. Lost in Space (Netflix) – Netflix’s Lost in Space remake looked amazing, but felt hollow. It was billed as old-fashioned sci-fi, and to be honest that’s what it felt like. It was an adventure with plenty of threat and peril, but little substance or innovation. The cast worked well for the most part, even if Parker Posey’s Dr. Smith was an underwhelming villain. It was well directed and had good special effects, but ultimately, it was a very forgettable ride. Netflix can do a lot better.

2. Doctor Who Series 11 (BBC One) – Oh god, where to start with this one. How to ruin a 50+ year old show in one series? The most miscast actress possible in the title role? How to lose all the shows’ hardcore fans in a single series and achieve an audience score of 28% (and FALLING!) on Rotten Tomatoes? This isn’t Doctor Who. Its a Politically Correct Nightmare of ham-fisted dialogue, woeful villains, weak companions and patronising themes. Chris Chibnall shows his mishandling of Torchwood Series 1 and 2 was no accident – he’s even worse here. Bradley Walsh is the sole redeeming factor, but he can’t save this mess by himself. If you get past episode 5 without giving up, you’re probably a masochist or someone who’s never seen the show before. Utterly dire.

1. Britannia (Sky) – This is one mindf*ck of a show. Set during the Roman Invasion of Britain, it features a heavy emphasis on the Celts’ reaction to the Roman threat and the druids’ influence over the Britons. It has an all star cast, including Zoe Wanamaker, David Morrissey and Ian MacDiarmid, but its just so weird. The plot makes no sense, the supernatural elements feel decidedly out of place, the theme music is dire and some episodes are a real slog to get through. You might be intrigued by it initially, but honestly don’t bother. Its a total waste of your time.

Best Actor: Matthew Rhys (The Americans)

Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)/Keri Russell (The Americans)

Best Supporting Actor: Mustafa Shakir (Luke Cage)

Best Supporting Actress: Selenis Leyva (Orange is the New Black)

Best Special Effects: Lost in Space

Best Animated Show: Big Mouth

Best TV Show: The Americans

Best Episode: The Americans – Dead Hand

Best Writing: The Americans

Best Soundtrack: The Americans

Best Theme Tune: Big Mouth

Best Direction: The Americans

Best on-screen pair: Emily Atack and John Barrowman (I’m a celebrity)

Best Hero – Jessica Jones

Best Villain – Bushmaster (Luke Cage)

Worst Hero: The 13th Doctor (Doctor Who)

Worst Villain Tzim-Shaue/Tim Shaw (Doctor Who)

Worst Actor: Nikolaj Lee Kaas (Britannia)

Worst Actress: Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actor: Tosin Cole (Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actress: Parker Posey (Lost in Space)

Worst Writing: Chris Chibnall (Doctor Who)

Worst Episode: Britannia – Episode 7

Worst Soundtrack: Britannia

Worst TV Show: Britannia

 

10 Things to watch out for in 2019

Before I get to my traditional ‘Best of Year’ articles, I thought i’d take some time to do a preview of the likely hits that 2019 might give us. While this type of article is pretty common for this time of year, I’ve never done one before, but I thought I’d try my hand at it. So without further ado, here’s my pick of what films, TV and gaming to watch out for in 2019.

1.Game of Thrones, Final Season: Season 7 really upped the scale of events in Thrones and gave us cinematic battle sequences and long-awaited character interactions into the bargain. Now Season 8 has 6 hour-plus long episodes to wrap everything up. With the White Walkers finally past the wall, expect huge scale battles and significant character deaths. However it ends, its sure to be unmissable television.

2. Avengers: Endgame: Infinity War broke all kinds of records and finally, FINALLY delivered a truly great villain for the MCU. That said, it wasn’t a flawless film, even if it was extremely entertaining. But it set the stage for this: the final Avengers film (at least for this group of Avengers). With a high probably that Iron Man and Captain America will either die or bow out at the conclusion, this might finally be the Marvel film where there are actual consequences. But whatever the fate of the heroes, its another 3 hours (supposedly) of Thanos, and that alone makes it worth seeing.

3. Captain Marvel: Marvel finally gives us a female-superhero movie. Brie Larson certainly looks the part, and the trailer really gives you a sense that there’s some ambition in this one. Expect it to lead straight into Avengers: Endgame too. Throw in a significant role for Samuel L. Jackson, and this could be Marvel’s best origin story since X-Men: First Class. Its only real hurdle is it has to live up to Wonder Woman. Speaking of which…

4. Wonder Woman 1984: One of the two good Worlds of DC films (aside from Man of Steel) finally gets a sequel. With iconic Wonder Woman foe cheetah and a no-doubt rousing soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, this might finally be the film where DC turns the tide. Or it could be the final nail in its coffin if DC screw it up. Either way, its Wonder Woman, so you know its worth a shot.

5. The Last of Us, Part 2: After the first Last of Us and the Uncharted Games, expectations are sky-high for this PS4 exclusive next year. Not only does Naughty Dog have a great track record, but the first game is still one of the best we’ve had this decade. With the same mix of epic storytelling and zombie survival horror, I’ve got very high hopes for this one.

6. The Outer Worlds: Made by Obsidian, this looks like it could be the Dark Horse of gaming releases in 2019. Not only is it the product of the brains behind Fallout: New Vegas (AKA one of the best Fallout games) but it looks like a mash-up between Borderlands and Fallout. That can only be a good thing. We haven’t have a good sci-fi RPG since Mass Effect 3 came out.

7. Stranger Things, Season 3: With House of Cards finished, most Marvel shows cancelled and Orange is the New Black drawing to a close, Stranger Things is kind of Netflix’s last standout show. Its also the best Sci-Fi show on television right now (admittedly not hard when its up against Star Trek: Discovery and Chibnall’s bastard version of Who) with one of the best young casts in television and superb support from Veteran actors such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour. With an incredibly catchy theme, a great soundtrack and brilliant special effects, you’d be mad to miss it.

8. Metro: Exodus: Since there is suddenly an unexpected market for a decent post-apocalyptic RPG game, Metro: Exodus seems likely to do very well next year. The Metro series has always had an interesting story, set in the tunnels underneath a nuclear devastated Russia, it had a pretty unique tone and feel. With Exodus its third and easily most ambitious entry, this not only looks set to pick up many disaffected Fallout fans, but also has little competition in the February release window. I’d put money on it doing quite well so long as they don’t botch the release (looking at you Bethesda).

9. Orange is the New Black, Final Season: Netflix’s longest running hit finally comes to a close in 2019. While the last few seasons have been divisive, I’ve loved them, and I’ll be sad to see it go. With several characters fates up in the air after S6, it’ll be interesting to see how they wrap it all up. With the usual mix of comedy, drama and heartache, i’m sure it’ll be a memorable ride.

10. Star Wars, Episode IX: After the critically successful but audience divisive Force Awakens and Last Jedi, Disney has a fight on its hands to bring the Star Wars fanbase back into balance. With yet another film which had to change director halfway through (this time bringing back J.J. Abrams to replace Colin Trevorrow) we know very little about how this will go. Will it be a Rogue-One-esque triumph? A Force-Awakens style remake of Return of the Jedi with plenty of style but no substance? An innovative yet divisive entry that keeps fans guessing like Last Jedi? (yeah right, this is Abrams. The guy hasn’t had an original idea ever aside from how to overuse lens-flares). Or will it be irrelevant and will audiences just stay home like they did for Solo? Wherever it ends up, it will either be the end of an era or the moment the Star Wars franchise goes back on hiatus. So either way, its going to be an unmissable end to 2019!

The three things I’m most hyped for at this point have to be The Last of Us Part 2, Avengers: Endgame and Stranger Things S3, but who knows – one of the others may pleasantly surprise me and outdo all my expectations. Either way – 2019 is definitely looking good in the entertainment industry (which is reassuring, since the outlook is dire everywhere else!).

Next Up: My look at the best and worst films that have released in 2018, with TV and Video Game articles close behind…

House of Cards Season 6 Review

Starring Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Diane Lane, Campbell Scott, Lars Mikkelsen, Boris McGiver, Derek Cecil and Greg Kinnear.

Warning: Major spoilers for Season 5, Minor Spoilers for Season 6.

House of Cards used to be the best show on Netflix. The first two seasons are still as good as anything the service has ever produced. The show made a few missteps in season 3, but recovered in Season 4, which was mostly a return to form. Then, two big curveballs threatened to bring the whole thing crashing down. First, Season 5 was a mess, with a few standout episodes let down by a contrived plot, obvious twists and an inability to live up to the real life drama created by the current White House administration. It was easily the worst of the bunch. Then, far more seriously, the show’s star, Kevin Spacey, spectacularly fell from grace under a deluge of sexual harassment allegations from other actors and crewmembers (which are still not proven as of yet, but Netflix had little choice but to drop him and erase the two episodes he’d already filmed).

Fortunately, Season 5 ended in a way which made it easy for Netflix to continue with the show, as Claire Underwood, Francis’ wife, had become president following her husband’s resignation. However, a lot of fans were concerned about this, as while Robin Wright is a very good actress, she had ultimately been second fiddle to Spacey for most of the run, and the seasons which had focused on Claire more weren’t the best. However, Netflix ploughed ahead, and for completionism’s sake, I decided to give the final season a go.

So… does it still work without Kevin Spacey in the lead?

Surprisingly, yes it does.

Robin Wright is a revelation now she’s been freed from being the support act. As a lead, she’s far more compelling and likeable than she ever was before. Similarly liberated is Michael Kelly, whose Doug Stamper gets far more to do without Francis pulling his strings. While neither has been my favourite character during the 5 previous series, they both come into their own here, and its very hard to decide which of them to root for. The series introduces a new group of villains in the form of Bill and Annette Shepherd (Greg Kinnear and Diane Lane), two influential businesspeople who try to force Claire to support their various agendas, and have vice-president Mark Usher in their pocket. Both prove to be good rivals for Claire, and while not up there with Lars Mikkelsen’s wonderful Russian President Petrov (who steals every scene he’s in once again), they are two of the more memorable adversaries the show has given us so far, and their recruitment of Seth ties them into Francis’ world nicely. The conflict between all these parties, as well as Tom Hammerschmidt and Janine’s continuing desire to bring Claire down and destroy Frank’s legacy, makes for very compelling viewing.

At 8 episodes long, it’s shorter than the other seasons, but this actually works in its favour, as things feel less padded out than before (though in truth, 10 episodes might have worked better!). The soundtrack and the direction are as good as ever, while the writing is a notable step up from Season 5, if not the best we’ve ever had on the show.

But does Season 6 end the series on a satisfactory note?

No, unfortunately it doesn’t.

Spacey’s absence is dealt with well, as is Doug’s end of season 5 predicament. But while the show ties up most of Season 5’s loose ends well enough, it fails to do the same for itself, mostly because of the finale. Episodes 4-7 of season 6 are brilliant, but episode 8 is not. The conflict between Claire and the shepherds is left sort-of unresolved, Seth, Janine and Mark Usher don’t really get any kind of meaningful resolution to their storylines and the final showdown between Claire and Doug is unsatisfying, and features a twist that doesn’t really work.

Ultimately, were Netflix to change its mind and commission a 7th series, I would now be happy with that. But if this really is the end… it could have been so much better. So, to sum up, Season 6 may leave a bitter aftertaste, but it reminds you of why this show was such a hit. Spacey’s shadow looms large, but the show proves that it was never just him that made it such a success.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (its a fun ride, but the final episode drags the whole thing down)

Coming soon: Expect my review of Detroit: Become Human, one of the year’s most thought provoking video games, and sometime after, my take on the new Fantastic Beasts movie.

5 Sci-Fi Shows to watch instead of the New Doctor Who

Since I made the decision to give up on Chibnall’s travesty of a Doctor Who series, I have felt a palpable sense of relief. Sunday evenings are considerably less depressing now. For those of you in the same boat, I thought I’d recommend a few alternate ways for you to experience some good science fiction on TV. So here’s 5 of my favourites, all of which are considerably better value than any more hours with Whittaker’s Doctor will be.

1. Red Dwarf: The UK’s second longest-running Sci-fi series, Red Dwarf is about as far as you can get from Who. Political Correctness is usually mocked rather than adhered to. Comedy takes precedence over drama. The episodes are all around 30-40 minutes long. None of the characters are meant to be role-models, so they often get pushed into greyer territory. Most importantly, the series is meant for adults, not children, so we don’t get all this nauseating kindergarten-morality and dumbed-down explanations shoved in. As for the quality of the series, it is admittedly variable, but there’s some great runs in there (Series 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 are bloody brilliant) and even the more recent series, which can be comparatively weak, occasionally throw up an absolute gem of an episode (Series 8’s ‘Cassandra’, Series 10’s ‘Dear Dave’, Series 12’s ‘Mechocracy). The main cast are all brilliant, featuring Craig Charles (Corrie, Robot Wars) as the slobbish Lister, Chris Barrie (Lara Croft films) as the incompetent elitist Rimmer, Danny John-Jules (of this year’s Strictly) as the Self-Absorbed Cat and Robert Llewellyn (some tech shows on channel 5) as the subservient mechanoid Kryten. The interplay between the four of them is brilliant, and makes even less-funny instalments of the series watchable. The science fiction elements are quite good too, even if done in a knockout way. We get holograms, demented droids, time-travel, virtual reality and a lot of shade being thrown at Star Trek. What more could you want? Available on Netflix and UKTV play.

High Point: Series 6. One episode got a BAFTA nomination, but to be honest, all 6 episodes are comedy gold.

Low Point: Back to Earth. It may have got the series re-commissioned on Dave, but this three part special is short on laughs and high on stupidity.

2. Star Trek: Voyager: If you fancy a more serious alternate to Doctor Who, Star Trek is the obvious option that springs to mind from across the pond. With aliens, space battles, timey-wimey episodes and a MUCH larger budget than Doctor Who, it seems like a natural fit for Whovians. But which one to go for? Trekkies would probably either recommend the Original Series (the one with William Shatner as Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock) or the Next Generation (with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard). Both have their plus points, as does Deep Space Nine (the third series), but to be honest, they can all be hard to get into, as they’ve either aged a lot or don’t have stellar first series. I’d recommend avoiding Enterprise (the least loved prequel series) or Discovery (Netflix’s appalling spin-off). Personally, i’d go for Voyager. It’s got a more episodic feel to it, which makes it more accessible to casual viewers and people who aren’t all that familiar with Star Trek. It also has arguably the most engaging cast of any of the Star Trek shows. It’s very much an ensemble piece, including Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black) as the formidable Captain Janeway, Robert Beltran as her stalwart but spiritual First Officer, Robert Picardo as the ship’s hologrammatic Doctor (who has a terrible bedside manner), Tim Russ as Tuvok, a Vulcan Security Officer, Roxanne Dawson as the half-Klingon engineer with serious anger issues and Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, a reformed Borg Drone (and arguably the best character in Star Trek) who turns up in Season 4. The show has a unique plot compared to most Star Trek series, as Voyager sees the crew utterly cut off from Star Fleet and any human contact, allowing for more inventive stories and a whole host of recurring alien races, most notably the Borg. The Borg are Star Trek’s answer to Cybermen, but honestly, it uses them far better than Modern Who has used the Cybermen. The Borg are relentless, genuinely scary, and while they do get overused later in Voyager’s run, they never outstay their welcome. The show was made in the late 90’s, so the effects still hold up very well, and while there’s a few bad episodes in the shows seven seasons, most are enjoyable on some level (and crucially, less dull than some of the other Star Trek series). Ultimately, this is probably my favourite Sci-Fi series at the moment. Best of all – its all on Netflix.

High Point: Seasons 4, 5 and 7 are very, very good. There’s so many strong episodes its hard to narrow that down much further.

Low Point: The Early part of Season 2 and the Middle Part of Season 3 are pretty bad, but both series’ eventually recover to finish on highs, so stick with it.

3. Blakes 7: While Red Dwarf is the UK’s second most known Sci-fi show, arguably the second best one is Blakes 7, which ran for four series from 1978-1981. It was created by Terry Nation, the man who created the Daleks for Doctor Who, and reflected the bleak, dark nature of his worldview and stories. Often described as ‘Robin Hood in space’ or ‘the dirty dozen’ in Space, it featured a regular cast of between five and seven rebels fighting against the tyrannical federation, a totalitarian regime that had control over Earth and the majority of human colonies in the milky way. Like Voyager, it works because of the characters, who are all various shades of grey, whether heroes or villains. There’s no boring ‘black and white’ morality here – the majority of rebels are convicted criminals (thieves, hackers, smugglers, murderers) and are somewhat justifiably presented by the federation as terrorists, while the villains are generally complex characters and never just moustache twirling villains. On the rebel side, you have the titular Blake, a fanatical but generally well-meaning leader, Vila, a cowardly thief, Jenna, a no-nonsense smuggler, Cally, a telepathic gunslinger/medic, Gan, a hulking if dim-witted giant and Avon, a thoroughly duplicitous hacker played by the marvellous Paul Darrow, who proved so popular he took over as lead actor for series 3 and 4. The villains include Travis, a ruthless federation officer with a penchant for leather outfits, and Servalan, his female superior, who is notably one of the first ever female villains in sci-fi and radiates power, malevolence and dangerous beauty throughout. There are some similarities to Classic Who and Classic Star Trek, but Blakes 7 is very much its own thing. While aliens play a part in events, its one of those sci-fi shows where humans are very much the real villains. There’s few high-concepts like time-travel, though teleportation and high-speed space travel play a big part. Overall its a gritty, dark thoroughly adult sci-fi show, which is still remembered on account of it having one of the bleakest and most infamous endings of any TV show. You have been warned. (For god’s sake don’t look it up in advance – that would be akin to spoiling the Red Wedding). You can buy the complete box set for around £20, which is pretty damn good for 52, fifty minute episodes.

High Point: Avon might just be the best anti-hero in Science fiction, while Servalan is definitely one of the all-time great female sci-fi villains.

Low Point: The special effects vary between dire and mediocre. Blame the BBC for giving it a shoestring budget.

4. Stranger Things: If you’re after something more modern, the best current sci-fi show I can think of is Stranger Things. I’ve reviewed it before, so I won’t go into as much detail, but Stranger Things is a great episode of how to mix drama, comedy, horror and fantasy into one great Science Fiction show. Set in the 80’s, it feels like a homage to a whole variety of 80’s cult and sci-fi films, including Aliens and many Spielberg films. The direction is universally good, the writing is consistently strong (even if both seasons take 3-4 episodes to properly get going) and the music is absolutely sublime. But the main reason you’ll stick with it is the cast, featuring established greats like Winona Ryder, Sean Astin, Dave Harbour and Paul Reiser, but also young stars like Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard. Given how often Star Trek and Doctor Who have been let down by poor child-actors, it’s refreshing to see an adult-oriented show that actually has a really engaging young cast. The sci-fi elements are really great, featuring alternate dimensions and creepy government labs, you’ll have seen it all before, but not as compellingly done as it is here. On Netflix, you’ll probably binge the whole thing in 4 or 5 days.

High Point: Hard to say, but the last three episode of season 1 and episodes 5-9 of season 2 are unmissable television.

Low Point: The first few episodes may not hook you, but there isn’t really a bad one so far. It’s a pretty consistent show to be honest.

5. (Classic) Doctor Who: Slight cheat this, but given how few ‘fans’ have ever really gone back and watched the classic series its a valid option, and given its stories are normally 4-6 part instalments of 25 minutes each, it feels quite different from the Doctor Who you’re probably used to. Given there are 26 series from 1963-1989, featuring 7 very distinct Doctors (most people would plump for Tom Baker or Patrick Troughton as the best, but Jon Pertwee is up there too) you can sate your fix for Doctor Who without bearing with Chibnall’s clusterfuck or re-watching Eccleston-Capaldi for the umpteenth time. While you may struggle with the cheap and lacklustre special effects and some mediocre stories and companions, there’s plenty of great Doctors, great companions (Sarah Jane, The Brigadier, Jamie, Ian and Barbara, K9, Romana – just to name a few) and some stories that are equal to anything the modern series has produced: The Invasion (1969), Inferno (1970), Genesis of the Daleks (1975), Earthshock (1981), The Caves of Androzani (1984) and Remembrance of the Daleks (1988) are all some of my (and the fanbases) favourites, and are good ones to try out to see if you can handle the classic era. Don’t start with Hartnell and go chronologically – the majority of bad who stories come from either the early 60’s or the mid eighties. I’d recommend you start from Patrick Troughton’s second series (The Tomb of the Cybermen onwards) through to when Peter Davison exits. You’ll find the odd bad episode, but you’ll get some of the best Dalek and Cybermen stories out there, as well as seeing the introductions of Davros, the Master, the Sontarans, the Silurians, the Ice Warriors and UNIT, so there’s plenty of things to watch out for. Just don’t expect it to look anywhere near as good as the modern series. It doesn’t. The direction can be quite good though, even if the composers aren’t in Murray Gold’s league. Not all the episodes are easy to find, but many are on dailymotion and most are relatively cheap to buy on dvd.

High Point: Tom Baker’s 2nd (1975), 3rd (1976) and 5th (1978) series are about as good as you can get, but Pertwee’s 1st series (1970), Sylvester McCoy’s last series (1989) and Patrick Troughton’s third series (1969) all feature some great stories and are pretty good throughout.

Low Point: There’s some really bad William Hartnell stories, and Colin Baker’s tenure was very hit-and-miss, but you can’t get worse than McCoy’s first series in 1987. It’s probably the only one worse than the series currently airing. It features four stories, all of which are bad, and Bonnie Langford’s Mel has to be the worst companion in the series 55-year history.

So there you go: my take on some shows disillusioned Whovians might appreciate at the moment. Or you can just go and rewatch Torchwood. Your call!

Orange is the New Black Season 6 Review

Starring Taylor Schilling, Natasha Lyonne, Danielle Brooks, Selenis Leyva, Nick Sandow and Kate Mulgrew.

Warning: Minor Plot Spoilers follow for Season 6. Major Spoilers for Season 5.

Season 5 got mixed reviews. I personally loved it, but I can see why some thought it got too fan-service-y in places. Even it detractors have to admit the riot made for compelling viewing. But there were always going to be consequences. The first half of S6 is all about those consequences, and the two key themes of the season are betrayal and redemption.

The opening episodes see the feds out to pin the blame for both the riot and Humphrey and Piscatella’s deaths on at least 5 of the inmates, which leads to a lot of backstabbing and mud-slinging as the various inmates try to save themselves or settle old scores. Some betrayals you really won’t see coming, others are what season 5 was all building up to. The remaining episodes deal with the consequences, as the inmates in question seek revenge, struggle with guilt or fear retribution.

While most of the regulars are back this season, a lot of familiar faces are missing (because they were put in a different prison, while we follow the ones sent to Litchfield Max). Characters like Big Boo and Helen get mere cameos, while ones like Watson, Norma and Chang are entirely absent. A third of the guards from last season are gone too, though Dixon, Luschek, Donuts and McCullough are all back to some extent.

There are various new characters too, both prisoners and guards, some of whom are more memorable than others. The main plot of the season sees the inmates caught up in the tension between C-block and D-block in Maximum Security, driven by a long-standing feud between sisters Carol and Barbara, who are the two major players in Max. Other newbies include their enforcers, Badison (who might just be the nastiest piece of work OITNB has given us) and Daddy (who strikes up a surprisingly sweet relationship with one of the series regulars). The new guards are similarly hit-and-miss, but chief Hopper, Luschek and McCullough’s arcs make up for the less interesting ones.

Things feel a lot more tense this season – the very nature of Max has you constantly worried that someone is about to get shivved or beaten up (both of which happen) while some of the guards are beyond brutal in how they treat Daya and the riot leaders. Orange is the New Black has always been good at mixing humour and drama with the darker side of prison life, and that balance remains as compelling as ever here. If had to criticise, the central conflict between the blocks peters out a bit too much, and there’s no shocks here up there with Poussey or Piscatella’s deaths, but the season as a whole is still pretty great viewing regardless.

The humour is still on point, with highlights including Flaca and Black Cindy teaming up as the new prison radio hosts and Suzanne and Freida becoming cellmates. While most of the romance focus is on Piper and Alex, there are several other compelling pairings throughout the season (including a somewhat unlikely love triangle involving Luschek and two of the prisoners, as well as the conclusion of the Doggett/Donuts arc). Surprisingly the best pairing of the season is Caputo and Fig, who’s relationship plays a much bigger part in the story than you might expect.

Meanwhile it’s Red, Taystee, Daya and Ruiz who get the lion’s share of the drama side of things. The flashbacks remain mostly interesting – Freida’s is arguably the most important, though its Nicky and Cindy’s snapshots that will probably leave a lasting impression. The majority of flashbacks tend to focus on the new characters rather than existing ones, but this was pretty inevitable given the number of cast changes this season.

Overall, I wouldn’t say this is OITNB’s best season, but its a damn good one, even if the finale lacks the punch of recent seasons. Focusing in on a smaller section of the cast seemed to work well, but the quality of the newcomers varied. The show still remains the best Netflix has to offer though.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5