Tag Archives: television review

September Bonus Review: The Second Doctor

I’ve talked about Doctor Who once before. It’s a franchise I used to have a lot of respect for, before they let the talent bereft hack Steven Moffat ruin it. Not that I’m still bitter about it. This time around, we’re moving to the Second version of the Doctor, played by the late Patrick Troughton. Like with the first Doctor’s run, I’ve watched reconstructions of the missing serials because the BBC acted like complete twats with no regard for archival.

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Story:

The First Doctor’s run ended with him collapsing after battling the cybermen while becoming weaker and weaker. We open with our new Doctor and his companions, Polly & Ben who are having difficulty believing that he’s the same man on account of his sillier tendencies.

My big issue with this run is that the way the Second Doctor goes out is a bit weak. There are also some kind of dumb moments like the resolution of the Fury From the Deep serial. Basically, think of what happens when you try to force a completely useless character to contribute in some way.

The serials, as a whole, are stronger than those in the first Doctor’s run. They clearly had their aesthetic established and knew how to take advantage of it. I also appreciate that the Second Doctor uses goofy behaviour and misdirection as weapons throughout the run. He knows how to make his enemies underestimate him and just how much power that gives him over situations.

I will say, as much as it’s not the fault of anyone who made the serials, the fact that so much of the second Doctor’s run is missing does make it somewhat inaccessible to more casual fans. Weirdos like me can just listen to the audio and get most of the experience, but it’s really not the same as being able to sit down and watch it.

Characters:

This is another element that’s well improved on. The First Doctor had some growing pains as they decided what they wanted him to be. The Second is defined pretty much immediately and his penchant for looking harmless while also being highly cunning makes for a lot of interesting moments and interactions.

The First Doctor had largely dull companions. The Second, has a lot of fantastic companions. He spends most of his run with the highlander Jaime, one of the best companions in the franchise. And he also spends a good amount of time with the brilliant astrophysicist, Zoe. This run also introduces us to the Doctor’s most long running on and off companion, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Polly is pretty decent too, though nowhere near as good.

Ben is the only companion who’s pretty boring. And the worst companion of the run, by far, is Victoria. Victoria’s whole shtick is that she’s the one who freaks out and screams constantly. She’s pretty much like an older Susan. Except it’s more understandable in her case.

Visuals:

It’s unquestionably dated. The whole thing is in black & white. A lot of the sets and creature designs look a bit silly by today’s standards. Fortunately, the writing aesthetic of Doctor Who does work with that since it is about grand adventures through time and space. And we do have to account for the limitations of the late 1960s. For its time, this was pretty impressive.

Acting & Music:

Patrick Troughton, Wendy Padbury, Frazer Hines, Anneke Wills & Nicholas Courtney are all fantastic. There are also a lot of strong performances from actors who play antagonists or side characters. But even the more mundane, or outright annoying companion characters have decent performances behind them. Michael Craze and Deborah Watling are fine. The theme tune continues to be a classic and the sound design is well put together.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Lend Ben some personality.
  2. Either lose Victoria completely or give her enough redeeming qualities to make up for her constant shrill shrieking.
  3. A more interesting, dynamic end for the Second Doctor. Because having the Time Lords just kind of show up and say “No, you have to regenerate now” is pretty weak.

Final Thoughts:

The Second Doctor’s run is, I would say, an improvement over the First’s. There are more compelling companions overall. The aesthetic being defined from the start really works a treat. It’s just a fun, interesting sci-fi romp series. I’m giving this one an 8/10. If you’re a big fan of classic science fiction, track down the complete episodes and reconstructions. Just take the whole thing in and have a grand time. If you’re someone who can’t stand old sci-fi because it doesn’t have good effects by modern standards or because you don’t want to see a black and white show, it’s not going to be for you.

May Bonus Review: Blake’s 7 Series 1

Blake's 7

Blake’s 7 is one of the BBC’s classic science fiction programs. It started in the late 70s ad ran into the early 80s for a total of four series. It was created by Terry Nation, a man who also worked on Doctor Who back when that was actually worth something. He even created one of the most iconic enemies for that franchise, the Daleks. Does this hold up as well?

Story:

We open with our protagonist, Roj Blake being called out for a mysterious meeting. He’s told that the government is controlling the population with drugs in the water & food, not the same ones that turn the frogs gay according to cranks but real ones. He’s also told that he was a leader in the resistance before he was captured and had his mind tampered with to make him a symbol for the regime. He’s skeptical until soldiers barge in and shoot the entire unarmed resistance. They take Blake prisoner and he soon finds himself framed for a crime he didn’t commit and en route to a prison on the world of Cygnus Alpha.

Things take a slight turn for the better when he and a pair of other prisoners, Jenna & Avon, are sent to examine a potentially dangerous ship. They manage to survive its trap and gain control over it. With a highly advanced craft at their command, Blake sees the potential of mounting a resistance against the federation while Avon thinks him a crusader and a fool. From there we follow Blake’s ragtag crew of criminals while they try and damage the federation using guerrilla tactics while evading pursuit.

The series doesn’t have much wrong with its narrative. I like the way it subverts a lot of standard sci-fi plots by simply making the antagonists competent. Blake and his crew aren’t shown as being able to match the federation. Rather, they’re shown as barely escaping them while making a nuisance of themselves. Which is an interesting take since most series like this take great pains to show you that the heroes have some chance, even if a slim one. I also like that the series manages to have a sense of fun alongside its air of futility. Which it manages by not dwelling overmuch on how little of a chance they have and by celebrating their small victories. The series is also really good at setting up interesting scenarios and challenges for the crew.

Characters:

Another strong suit of the series lies in the characterisation. Blake may be a crusader, but his crew all have their own reasons for sticking around. Avon, for example, likes the rest of the crew on a personal level, but he sticks around because he wants control of the ship. The rest  of the crew has motivations more along the lines of having nowhere else to go or being taken in by Blake’s idealism. Every single character has a back story that explains why they’re in the position they’re in and both Jenna and Blake get some elements of their past used in episode narratives. Even the antagonists get some moments of humanity, with Travis becoming upset over a friend of his at one point.

Visuals:

This is definitely the area that has’t aged well. Like with any old science fiction work, the effects are dated and the set pieces can most definitely look cheap. It holds up  better than the original Star Trek but not by as much as it should, given that it came out around a decade after that series ended. The fight choreography can also come across as slow and cumbersome.I’ll give full credit that the designers clearly had ambitions and a very limited budget and I wouldn’t say the series ever looks bad.

Acting and Music

The acting varies a bit. Most of the cast is quite good. Paul Darrow is absolutely phenomenal. Gareth Thomas, Michael Keating, Jacqueline Pearce  & Stephen Greif are all really good. Then you have Owen Aaronovitch & Sally Knyvette who are kind of weak. Not bad, but certainly not on par with everyone else. Dudley Simpson composed the theme tune for the series and it’s bloody amazing.

Final Thoughts:

In the areas that matter most, Blake’s 7 remains a science fiction classic for good reason. The characters are interesting, the writing is superb and the cast, by and large, is excellent. If you’re a fan of really well done sci-fi and can appreciate the classics, give it a go. But if you want your sci-fi to have all the latest and most expensive special effects, it’s not going to be for you. As for me, I’d say the first series is a strong start and I’m going to give it a very well deserved 8/10.

April Bonus Review: The First Doctor

Doctor Who has been a staple of Science fiction since the early 60s. There have been comics, novels, audio dramas, video games and a whole lot of merchandise. Obviously, I can’t review the whole franchise in one go. Not only is it impractical, but the various runs have had vastly different qualities. So, I’m going to look at the first Doctor’s television run. I even watched the reconstructions of those episodes which have been lost due to stupidity within the BBC. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, it used to be common practice at the BBC to cull old archived shows to save space. a a result, a bunch of the first and second Doctors’ runs were destroyed. Leaving only some still images and the audio. 

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Story:

We open with two teachers, Ian and Barbara, discussing a strange student, Susan. They ultimately decide to go to her supposed address, which leads to a junk yard, to investigate what’s happening with her. They end up in a conversation with an elderly man outside of a police box. This eventually leads to them entering and finding Susan inside. Strangely, the inside is larger than the outside. After an argument, the old man uses the control console to take them all to the past. Thus begins their adventures through time and space. 

the first issue that comes up is that it does take the series a couple serials to settle into an aesthetic. The early episodes are a bit off in that regard. Even after it settles, the serials do vary in quality. You get some, like Planet of the Giants or The Gunfighters, that aren’t very good. Gunfighters is outright boring, actually. You also get serials, most notably The Daleks’ Master Plan, that meander and drag. 

That being said, there are a lot of clever and/or creative ideas on display and there are certainly more strong serials than bad or weak ones. Basically every serial featuring Vicki is really good, particularly The Space Museum. 

Characters:

Here’s an area where the First Doctor’s run falls a bit short. While he is an interesting character (once they get past the early stage and settle on a character for him), most of his companion characters are pretty flat and dull. He also has Katarina, possibly the most pointless character in the franchise. She shows up, takes a short ride on the TARDIS and basically dies immediately. There are really only two companions who aren’t just inoffensive and boring.

The first is Susan. She’s a really annoying character. Honestly, part of the problem with her is just that they didn’t think her through. Here’s a girl who’s loomed from the same genetic cloth as the Doctor (because people from Gallifrey aren’t born, they’re loomed). She’s travelled with him for a while. Supposedly, she’s been on quite a few adventures. Really, she should be the most seasoned of the companions during her time in the group. So, why is she absolutely terrified of absolutely everything even slightly unusual? I’m not even exaggerating when I say that this girl screams all the bloody time and with little provocation. See a plant move? Scream. See something odd looking at you? Scream. See a tiny black and white dog in a bunny costume? Scream.

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How did she manage to travel with the Doctor at all? You’d think that she’d have had a heart attack or mental breakdown long ago given how high strung she is. 

The other exception is Vicki, the first great companion in the franchise. Not only is she a breath of fresh air after dealing with Susan, being plucky and adventurous, but she’s also pretty badass. She can use her cleverness to not only get herself out of bad situations, but the others as well. A trait which is highlighted in the aforementioned Space Museum serial. Honestly, it’s no surprise that the serials with her tend to be the best. She’s got more personality than most of the companions and she’s a delight. 

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Visuals:

By today’s standards, this series is pretty dated. They’re very much at that mid 60s level. A lot of the alien designs are goofy by today’s standards and there are definite times when the sets look cheap. But, in all fairness, the effects were pretty good for their time and they don’t really spoil the series. 

Acting and Music:

The acting is largely competent. The best performances come from William Hartnell and Maureen O’Brien. Probably because they’re playing the most interesting characters. The other companion actors, Jacqueline Hill, William Russell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane and even Carole Ann Ford are decent enough. The music is largely good. The theme tune in particular. There are occasional exceptions, however. The song that they keep playing during The Gunfighters is boring the first time they play it and gets grating when they play it the next fifty times. 

Final Thoughts:

All in all, the First Doctor’s run holds up pretty well. While it does suffer from Susan, early episodes not knowing where they’re going, Susan, the occasional weak serial, Susan & dated effects it also has quite a bit going for it. It has creative, interesting ideas. Vicki is amazing. The Doctor quickly becomes a great character and it’s just a solid start for the franchise. All in all, I give it a 7/10.

December Bonus Reviews: Arrow series 1

Arrow is an ongoing American TV series that started airing in October 2012. I never really bothered with it because, frankly, I don’t like Oliver Queen as a character. I liked the Green Arrow when the  mantle was taken by Connor Hawke, but that didn’t last all that long. The thing is, Oliver been has been largely portrayed as a kind of clueless douchebag who chronically treats those close to him badly. To make matters worse, there’s rarely any acknowledgement of it. Rather like Mister Fantastic from Marvel comics. Then again, this is a live action adaptation and those aren’t known for keeping the comic characterisation. Maybe they’ll do a first for live action works and replace it with something better.

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Story:

After spending five years stranded on an island, Oliver Queen is found alive and well but changed in many ways. Most importantly, he left a spoiled rich boy and he returns a man with a mission. In his deceased father’s notebook is a list of names. The names of people who are causing harm to Starling city. Ollie decides to make it his mission to seek out the people listed in the book and give them a choice, they can redeem themselves or he’ll put an arrow into them.

Which leads me to one of the big problems with this series. Our hero, the guy we’re supposed to root for, is quite literally a serial murderer. And he doesn’t just kill these people who are causing problems. A lot of his victims are their employees who are just doing their jobs and trying to provide for their families. In several  cases he doesn’t even kill the employer but gives them a chance to save themselves by confessing their crimes or returning what they took. After putting an arrow through the hearts of their employees who, as far as we know, haven’t done anything wrong.  And he’s a total hypocrite about it too. This series also follows the grand live action tradition of mocking things from the comics that were better than what they did with the live action version. In this case, they make fun of the name “Green Arrow.” So, what exactly do they replace it with? They call him the Hood. Isn’t Hood a synonym for thug? And also a really shitty name for your hero? While we’re at  it, let’s call Batman “The Cowl”,  The  Green Lantern “the Ring” and Wonder Woman “The Tiara.

But let’s move on to the biggest problem with the series. A lot of it is a long slog of melodramatic soap opera stuff. What do I mean by that? Well, we spend a lot of time with love triangles, family problems and romantic entanglements. All of which is presented in the most melodramatic way possible. To make matters worse, these overly melodramatic, boring segments are the bulk of the series. Within the average forty two minute episode, thirty minutes will be that. The other twelve will be flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island, action sequences and the Thug planning his attacks.

That being said, the series has some decent  moments. The stuff with “the reckoning” is all right. The  idea of having Oliver reconnect with his family could have been better executed, but it’s not a bad idea.

Characters:

I’ll  give the series credit, they pretty much nailed everything that makes Oliver Queen an unlikable prick. They did use some good characters as well. Black Canary, Huntress, Deathstroke, Deadshot and Arsenal are all in this. There’s just one problem. They didn’t bring any of the traits that make them complex or interesting characters. So, what we get are the character names attached to one-dimensional tropes. For most of them they don’t even bother with the code names. Knowing their naming sense, Black Canary will be called the Fishnets, Deathstroke will be called the Mask and Arsenal will be called the Domino mask. Unless they go for the horrendously bad new 52 version in which case he’ll be called the Trucker hat. Because writing those characters with the traits that would make them interesting was too difficult. Frankly, the only two characters in this I kind of liked were Felicity, the computer nerd who consistently has awkward moments and Malcolm Merlyn.

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Visuals:

To their credit, there are some really nice sets in this series. They also picked some fantastic locations, particularly for the flashback scenes. That being said, the action sequences are pretty mediocre. They feel less natural and more heavily choreographed. Plus, they really don’t last very long.

Acting and Music:

To their credit, the actors are clearly trying. The trouble is that most of the characters are pretty flat and the highly melodramatic tone of the series as a whole results in performances that aren’t very good. The music, composed by Blake Neely, is okay.

Final Thoughts:

And that’s Arrow, series  1. It’s not very good. More melodramatic soap opera than super hero narrative and with every good character from the comics who appears in the series bearing only the most superficial resemblance to themselves and average at best action sequences, it’s a bit of a slog. My final rating is going to be a 4/10. Next week’s bonus review will be over Hyperion. Until  then, have an enjoyable holiday season with minimal family drama whether you celebrate Hearth’s Warming, Hogswatch, the Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Christmas, or any other holiday.