Sunday, 30 August 2009


Well, lost of stuff to talk about. Firstly the Barry Norman stuff. Been to the local googleplex a couple of times. Firstly to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (twice) and then Inglourious Bastards.

Harry Potter was superb, the best of the series so far (although my previous favourite Azkabahn runs it damn close). It's been a long time since I read the book, but it seemed faithful to my memory of it. Jim Broadbent was superb and Gambon's turn as Dumbledore was suitably sinister. I did think that the child Voldermort had lifted his performance from "Son of Mine" in Human Nature/Family of Blood. The kids are all well into their characters now and its hard to imagine anyone else could ever play Harry, Ron or Hermione. Whilst the movie was mostly dark in tone, there were some great bits of humour. Emma Watson in particular was very funny. The only thing that didn't work for me was the same as the book, Harry and Ginny as a couple. The actors gave it their best, but I just don't buy it. Anyway highest recommendation.

Inglourious Bastards was was equally impressive. Tarantino has apparently said that these is his western, albeit with war iconography. For me it was a graphic novel on screen. This was everything you would expect from Tarantino. It may turn out to be his definitive film. The opening chapter has the maturity demonstrated in Jackie Brown, the plot matches the intricacies of Pulp Fiction and the humour has the feel of Pulp Fiction. What sticks with me are two things. The first is that it was simply a beautiful film to watch. Just about every shot could have been a great photograph. The second are the performances. Brad Pitt may have been the headliner, but it is surely Christopher Waltz and Melanie Laurent who should be getting any Oscar nods. Waltz has starred in one of this blogs previously reviewed films (Ordinary Decent Criminal) in which he was a complete drip! Here he is utterly slimy and you hate him without reservation! I think Melanie Laurent will be Tarantino's new Uma Thurman. If anything she is even better than Waltz. Unsurprising the best scene in the film is where they meet for the first time.

Back in Doctor Who land the lack of a new TV story is basically annoying the hell out of me now. In some ways I am feeling like we are back in 2004 again with a new Doctor and companion, new TARDIS, new show runner etc. I am something of a spoilerphobe too so I can't even look forward to stuff that I assume others already know about (On the other hand I will hopefully enjoy those things more when I do finally see them). The key difference with 2004 is of course that we have an incumbent team and Doctor with stories left to go. The online trailer for the Waters of Mars is suitably cool (I don't hear any knocking. THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!), better yet is the comicon trailer for the Christmas specials.

Hopefully September will improve my mood on this, with the return of the excellent Sarah Jane adventures. On top of that we hat TOM!~ back as the Doctor. Paul Magrs wouldn't be my first choice to write for the fourth Doctor (Gareth Roberts or Jonathan Morris would be my preferred candidates), but Magrs does have a zany style to suit the 4th Doctor. I hope this will open the door to more Tom stories though and maybe some better line ups. Mike Yates again wouldn't be my first choice (nor come to that would be the Brig). I'd pay good money for more Tom and Lalla, although that's probably the most unrealistic of hopes!

Another "pig might fly" bit of news from a while ago was Janet Fielding returning to play Tegan in The Gathering (and just announced as coming back again to reunite with the 5th Doc and Turlough). One advantage of the gap year is that I have gradually started to clear a backlog of books and audios. As good as many of the 5th Doctor audios have been, the lack of Tegan has been a distinct weakness in the range. I am actually not the greatest fan of the character, but she works well with the 5th Doctor and more importantly the 5th Doctor works better with Tegan around (bit like the 2nd Doctor and Jamie). The Gathering isn't the greatest of stories, but it is a pleasure to hear the old team back in action and they work as well as they ever did. I also liked the clever way of flashing back/forward to The Reaping a sequel/prequel which I have yet to hear.

Next up on my catch up list was 100. As the name suggests this was Big Finishes 100 Doctor Who audio (of the main line). It's a collection of 4 1 part stories with the theme of 100. Much like the old Virgin Decalogs the links are both integral and utterly tenuous. This is a diverse collection of stories. Jac Rayner's 100BC kicks things off with a story about the birth of Julius Ceaser. It features Jac's usual light humour but is ultimately rather inconsequential, probably my least favourite of her stories and a bit of disappointment given she was the creator of Evelyn Smyth. The twist at the end is worth a chuckle though. Rob Shearman has been the star find of the Big Finish range (in terms of his Doctor Who work, Rob being an established playwrite). He always comes up with something interesting and usually macabre too. Here he does a story in which it seems to be suggested that the Doctor and Evelyn's intervention in history affects the legacy of Mozart. I ended up being unsure of what that effect was supposed to be. I was also surprised to find myself a little offended by the notion of mucking around with Mozart and his requiem. Joseph Lidster is another Big Finish and one who blows hot and cold, often in the same play. His "Master" was one of the ranges best audios. Terra Firma one of the worst. This is one of his better efforts being an effective horror story with a nasty little twist at the end. The highlight of the collection is Paul Cornell's 100 Days of the Doctor. This is Paul's first outing with the 6th Doctor and it really is a wonderful little story. The Doctor is infected with a sentient virus and has 100 days to find out how and where he was infected and how to cure himself. In doing so we see the sixth doctor seeing his later and future selves and coming to terms with his own persona. It has the feel of being the culmination of the redemption of the 6th Doctor. A process started in the books and finished with the Cornell seal of approval (Cornell having previously been highly critical of the 6th Doctor's character).

Moving onto a more standard release we have Steve Lyons' Time Works. An eight Doctor tale featuring Charley and C'Rizz. Steve was doing "timey-wimey" stuff long before Blink put living statue artists back in work. As with all of Steve's stuff this is a clever story with a strong central theme. The cliff hanger to part 1 is a particularly great set piece too. The is essentially the opposite of State of Decay with a ruling body forcing the population into ever greater productivity and progress. The story suffers a little from being too reminiscent of the "other universe" arc (and may well have been intended to be set within that arc) in particular it does feel a little like Caerdroia at times and that was an out an out classic of the eighth doctor range. Nevertheless its a very solid entry which passes the time well enough.

The last of my recent Big Finish acquisitions is the new release The Company of Friends. I've been waiting for this one to come out for months featuring, as it does, some favourite companions from the other media. As with 100 this is a collection of four one-part stories. The first is Benny's stories which, not surprisingly, features Bernice Summerfield teaming up with the 8th Doctor for the second time. This one was written by Lance Parkin (who also wrote their first team up in the final New Adventure). Its a lightweight "timey-wimey" runaround" about an aristocrat seeking to "free" a TARDIS from the "slavery" of the time lords. The real pleasure hear is to hear Benny and the Doctor teaming up again. Whilst Benny has her own line of audios, she is very much "my companion" in the way that people have "their doctor". I became a fan in 1993 so my first exposure to ongoing Doctor Who was the New Adventures. Benny was their best companion and indeed one of the best companions in the history of Doctor Who. I think she now has the same sort of longevity as the Brigadier and River Song can kiss my arse! Fitz's story is the next part. Written by Stephen Cole (basically his creator) this is ultimately too lightweight. It is a pleasure for Fitz to be brought to life, but he was the EDA's strongest companion and in the early days often a stronger character than the eighth Doctor was. That just doesn't come across here though. A full length story is required to do him justice really.

On disc 2 we have Izzy's story. Izzy was the 8th Doctor's longest running companion in the comic strips and she was brilliant. This story is just perfect being a comic strip for audio. Alan Barnes (again basically her creator) gives us an Izzy-centric quest story with her basically trying to track down the last ever issue of her favourite comic. The one episode format really works well for Izzy and aside from being a little too shouty, Jemima Rooper basically nails the character. There are also some good little injokes about the fanboy quest to track down the last few New Adventures (I laugh now, but it was a fucking quest to get them back in the day). Finally we have Mary' story which is a great little play on Frankenstien. A good Hinchliffe-gothic style tale with some timey-wimey shenanigans between two versions of the 8th Doctor. Hopefully we will see more of Mary Shelly as a companion too.

Next Up: Byzantium! The Shadow in the Glass and Hornets Nest.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Tarnished Star - Jack Martin

Readers of this blog will know that I am not hugely into westerns. However, I was open to making this book an exception on account of who it is written by. Jack Martin is the pen name of one Gary Dobbs, my oldest cyberbuddie and all round good egg. Gary has an excellent blog (the tainted archive) which is one of my favourite sites on the interwebs. Aside from being a shameless vehicle of self promotion, it is also a terrific example of what is great about the web. A site of passion, enthusiasm with tons of great reviews and good information.

In recent times Gary has used the blog to champion The Tarnished Star, but has also been a staunch supporter and publicist for the western genre, pulp fiction (not the film!) and his fellow western writers.

The Tarnished Star has reaped the benefits of its supporting blog being, from what I understand, an instant success for its author and publisher. My main problem was not getting a hold of the book (I pre-ordered in February), but actually getting some time to read it!

The story concerns a local sheriff (Cole Masters) arrest of the son of a wealthy businessman who basically owns the town and the consequences of that action. Being a pulp novel (and proud of it) there is nothing startling new or different about this tale; it does not seek to re-invent the western genre, merely to tell a pacey traditional story. The nearest equivalent in Doctor Who terms would be the Novelisations of Terrance Dicks. A more general SF equivalent would simply be the old pulp SF stories.

What I liked:

This was the first Western I had read, and so it freed the genre from the turgid pace of many a Hollywood western of my childhood. Similarly, I did not have to suffer an overtly bombastic soundtrack or dull cinematography.

Sheriff Cole Masters, was a good lead protagonist, so were the opposition father and son double act.

The epilogue.

What I didn't like.

The cover!

I know there are a few more westerns in the pipeline for Gary, but I reckon a good noirish detective story would suit his style.

Saturday, 11 July 2009


Fuck Me! How bleak was that!

Absolutely tremendous stuff from the upper boat team and further evidence of how brilliant a writer RTD is (more on that below). Lets be honest, Torchwood was always the red headed step-child of the Who franchise. The show consistently managed to shoot itself in the foot throughout the first two seasons, but this was probably the best thing on TV this year.

It has to be said that the signs were there. The finale of season 2 started to correct a few problems. Killing off Tosh and Owen was a good move, the characters never worked and actually took time away from the three characters that did (Jack, Gwen and Owen). Killing them off also illustrated the dangers the team faced and proved that not everything would always turn out right. Additionally the deaths themselves were pretty memorable moments. The ultimate irony of course was that it was only in writing Tosh and Owen out that the show found a way to make them interesting.

The departure of Chris Chibnall was another positive step for the show. The guy was not a show runner, he was not able to maintain a sense of consistency of tone or development throughout a season and as a result Torchwood was badly unfocused for much of the time with good ideas being badly executed. The show also suffered from a series of generic SF plots and a distinct lack of the humour and sense of adventure that was the hallmark of Doctor Who and Sarah Jane. RTD is of course a writer of a different class and it should also be remembered that Torchwood was his baby, Chibnall was merely the babysitter.

The aftermath of the season 2 finale will be the most unknown part of the show. Four radio plays where we get to hear what a 3 person Torchwood team would have been like under “normal” circumstances. The first of the four is an average affair about the LHC project and suffers from the generic feel of earlier shows. The 3 leading up to Children of Earth were all excellent though and well worth checking out as an example of what Torchwood could have been (and may yet become).

As for Children of Earth itself, I have already stated that I think it was the best thing on TV so far this year. What I Liked:

1)Uniformly superb performances from the main cast. Peter Capaldi was absolutely immense throughout as Frobisher. John Barrowman also gave his best performance as Captain Jack, finally being able to do the quieter and sadder moments with real conviction. I always found that Jack worked better as the Doctor's sidekick than as a leader and there is a sense that Jack prefers that role. But here Jack is utterly believable as the leader of the gang. I will be very surprised if John Barrowman ever betters this performance. Eve Myles as Gwen is or course the heart and soul of the show as Gwen. The one character created specifically for Torchwood who genuinely worked throughout the entire series.

2)The bleakness. This is Midnight and Turn Left writ large as RTD basically shows people acting according to human nature and logically takes us to a really dark place. For all the “fluffy” moments RTD does, he is more than capable of going down the dark and bitter route when he feels it is right to do so. What I loved was the ambition of this though. Take a cult show, put it on prime time BBC one and spend 5 hours showing a story based on the actions of humanity at its worst. The scene where its decided how to choose the 10 percent is a masterpiece, the PM telling Frobisher his kids are for the chop, the army being told to do their jobs or loose their own kids. All of these things have happened throughout human history, this is not really speculation, this is what would happen! One of the best parts is the minister who wants her own children protected from the cull, turning a “good” natural instinct (parent protecting child) to something that feels so wrong.
3)The best of humanity. Lots of little moments of bravery, people fighting the good fight. Another paradox as its the ones determined to resort to violence (ie team Torchwood) who are the heroes of the story. I think Russell, much like Terry Nation before him, realises that the defining point of our age (at least for the Western World) was the second world war, and its no coincidence that Children of Earth references that era so much (just as Turn Left did). I personally think that the events or world war two were so huge that they became a part of our being, not just on a cultural level but on a genetic level too. Anything that throws back to those events will always have resonance.

4)The resolution. About 20 minutes into the final episode I could not see a way for Torchwood to win short of Vwoorp Vwoorp Thunk. In many ways I think I was right. The 10% were saved, but the costs was so high. Ianto dead, at least one government toppled, Jack becoming the very definition of a tragic hero (something that they have been trying to do since day one). Gwen loosing all of her friends, being told she didn't really know Ianto as well as she though and probably having to go back to a mundane life after all she has seen and done.

At the time of writing this there are clearly some unresolved issues about the shows future. The options would appear to be:

1)This was the last Torchwood. 2 weeks ago this wouldn't have bothered me that much. But now hearing and seeing how good Torchwood can be, I want more!

2)Torchwood goes USA on us. This is a distinct possibility. Barrowman would probably be down with that, I we would probably get more of Captain Spike too! The downside is that I am not sure we would see any more of Gwen and since she is my favourite Torchwood character that's a pretty big downside.

3)The show returns with a new team lead by Jack and Gwen and RTD in charge. My prefered option.

4)The show returns with Jack and Gwen, but another show runner with RTD doing Torchwood USA at the same time. This will also be good with me, but they need to get a really good show runner to fill RTD's shoes. Maybe Gareth Roberts as a trial for taking over from Moffat in due course.

I imagine we will find out when the news cycle hits on Monday.

Thursday, 30 April 2009


Back in the realm of science-fiction here as I take a look at this wonderful and underated film. The book is also extrodinary, but its been too long since I read it for me to offer any decent review.

The story is one of humanities first contact with aliens. This is not the normal "invasion of earth" or X-Files paranoia type of story that is so common in popular SF. It is instead a much more cerbral tale more in line with Arthur C Clarke's 2001.

The film deviates from the book in a number of points, in particular the past history of Ellie as a child. Similarly there are parts of the story that are realised better in the book than the film (and indeed vice versa). Both are classy and they compliment each other very well, this may be due to the inolvement of Carl Sagan in the film making process. Ultimately, the film does an excellent job of preserving the ethos of the book.

As a film this is criminally underated. I can only think that this is because of the presence of Matthew McConaughey because other than that the film is a virtually flawless bit of SF. The discovery of the aliens signal is one of the most exciting bits of cinema I have ever seen. Even on repeated viewings I still get chills as Ellie picks up the signal on her headphones and starts the process of confirming what she is hearing. That whole sequence to me is far superior to the nearest Hollywood equivilent (contact in Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The irony of the signal being a recording of Hitler is an excellent touch working in the story as a moment of disqueit for the characters and working for the audience as a reason for why we may not yet have had first contact.

This sequence is complimented (although not bettered) later in the film in the sequence leading up to Ellie being "launched". The point of "Contact" itself was never going to be able to live up to the equivilent in the book. The book was able to make more of it because of the more complex backstory that Ellie had and because of other scientific and theological concerns dealt with in the novel. In the film it is boiled down to a bunch of 2001/stargate stylie effects and a more simplistic examination of the films themes. That being said the effects are genuinely beautiful and support the moment of Contact as far as any purely visual technique can.

A word too for Jodie Foster. Jodie tends to be excellent in just about everything she does, even when the parts/films are not worthy of her talent. Here she gives an outstanding performance, literally carrying the scenes with the aforementioned McConaughey. The casting of McConaughey is the films one weak spot. The Palmer Joss of the book has gravity, humility and a drive comparable to Ellie's. The Palmer Joss of the film gives the impression of being laid back to the point of being horizontal. More of a drop out surfer dude than a man of the cloth.

If you like your SF in the escapist/trashy Independence Day mould, then this won't be for you. But if you want an examination of the relationship between faith and reason or thoughtful speculation on what the effect of First Contact might be, or if you just want a little slice of wonder, then this is essential viewing.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Raging Bull

Here's another film that I have only recently got around to watching. Long story short - a film I liked, but not one that lived up to my expectations.


That it was shot in black and white. BUT also that the lighting was appropriate for black and white. I cannot even begin to get across how important this is. There are any number of films and TV shows that have done "the black and white one", but even when they get the directorial style right they nearly always fail to get the lighting correct/authentic (case in point the X-Files' Post Modern Prometheus).

The performances were excellent throughout. Although I am wondering if this was the start of Joe Pesci playing himself.

The fights all have a brutal feel to them. Partly this is the result of foley work, but its also the result of the unique camera work and makeup jobs. That being said, for true brutality in boxing, check out the film about the Ali-Frazier fights, the third of which was just hellacious.


It is a little churlish to critisise a biopic for having a meandering plot so I won't do that. The story is what it is because of real life. I didn't like the final scene though. I didn't find it open ended so much as perfunctory. I would have prefered for the film to end with scene in the prison which had more of a sense of closure (particularly thematically).

There were few characters with whom I was able to feel any real empathy. Vicki Lamotta is perhaps the main exception to this, but even that is more of a feeling of sympathy rather than empathy, certainly the character is not in of herself likeable.

Anyway, its stylistically brilliant and is a very good film, I just don't see it as an out an out classic.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


Yes, I have been living under a rock all these years as I have only just watched this exceptional film. I do of course remember it coming out and the associated press that it had re-invented and/or marked the final chapter of the Western Genre. I am not sure either sentiment is wholly accurate (or wholly inaccurate) but it is certainly true that there is a sense of revelation about the film.

Cards on the table, of all the genre's of fiction I have found those of spy thrillers and westerns to be the hardest to get into. This is not the post to address the issues I have with the spy genre (although some of my feelings are in the James Bond and Prisoner posts bellow), but I feel its only fair to elaborate on my misgivings about Westerns, if only so that my feelings on Unforgiven are given a proper context.

I've never been short of exposure to Westerns. My Grandfather was a keen fan of the genre and I would spend many an hour with him whilst he was watching Westerns. And to be fair, there were a couple that I liked and would happily sit through again (The Shootist comes to mind). But I generally find that the genre too often falls into a cliche (as opposed to archetype) and worse still, corniness. Similarly I have problems with the depiction of the wild west in terms of the treatment of the genocide of the Native American people and a treatment of guns and death that ranges from the perfunctory to glorification. Too many of the old westerns were simply insturments of the Hollywood propaganda machine that operated throughout the cold war. On a more superficial level the bombastic scoring and often bland cinematography and direction also irked me.

It was partly because of these feelings that I consciously avoided watching Unforgiven for so long. A large part of me felt that it would not live up to the hype, another part of me felt that I would not be able to give it a fair viewing.

Anyhow, I felt that what with Gary Dobbs campaign and impending book, the time had come to give the film a go.

Needless to say I am really glad that I did so. Once again Wikipedia is the friend of anyone looking for a plot synopsis.


The opening. Compelling and shocking in its brutality. This would be a good opening for any film and would obviously work if transposed to virtually any other genre (crime, historical saga, action movie etc, probably not for a rom-com though!). Its immediately apparent that the violence in this film MEANS something. Its not a stylised and sanitised punch-up suitable for kiddies to watch at the pics on a Saturday morning.

Similarly the film wisely avoids any involvement or reference to Native Americans. This is a no-win situation for modern westerns in my opinion. Whilst the treatement of this issue in older westerns can be, if not excused, then at least understood in the context of the time in which the films were made; there is no way that a current western could (or indeed should) style the stories in the veign of the older westerns. Similarly it is unlikely that, in a post George W Bush world, a Hollywood film would be able to point out the fact that the America of today is the result of systematic ethnic cleansing.

The films treatment of violence and death is light years ahead of not only most westerns, but most films to come out of America. In particular it is clear that fights lead to pain and injury, bullets to serious injury and death. Similarly the morality of the frontier way of life is examined from a number of perspectives. Its clear that much of what happened in those days may not have been right, or even considered right at the time, but was probably necessary a great deal of the time. On the other hand the raw deal that the women get never feels anything other than unjust and arbitrary. Interestingly, the film doesn't really offer any resolution to these issues. I am not even sure that it poses clear questions. Thus at times the film feels like a morality play without a moral. This is not to say that the film is empty, nor do I consider this a critisism. More that the film has a unique and fascinating tension to it. It feels not so much open ended as unresolved and it has stayed with me nearly a week on from viewing it.

On a superficial level, the cast are uniformly excellent and the direction and cinematography is moody and involving. Far removed from the flat and bland wildernesses that I tend to associate with westerns. The music too is both effective and unobtrusive.

Best of all of is the climax of the film. Never before have I seen a Western with an ending as taught as this. From the moment that Morgan Freeman's character is captured there is a feeling of dread and of events spiralling out of control. Again the death of his character is treated as a big deal. I think that a lot of people would've realised that the shit was about to go down once Clint's character started to drink again. But a more subtle indication is there in the fear of the woman who breaks the news as she has realised the she and the others have made a deal with (a former) devil.

If I can digress for a slight moment. The 7th Doctor acquired the moniker of "The Oncoming Storm" following the destruction of Skaro in Rememberance of the Daleks. I immeidately though of this at the beging of the scene in which Clint walks into the bar. What I found terrific about this scene is that you get the sense that this is new territory for the character. Although previously a proficient killer and then a reformed, rightous man, this is a melding of both aspects. A man killing from rightous anger. Off the top of my head I think this is probably the most effective and powerful finale to a film since The Empire Strikes Back (or possible Resevoir Dogs).

To conclude, I loved it!

Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

Well, I've just finished reading this in the last couple of days. I've never seen the film, although having now read the book I suspect it is probably better than the book.

Most people will have a good idea of what the book is about either because they have seen the film, or more broadly, just by the notion of knowing what a catch 22 situation is.

I intend to watch the film, but I am also one of those people that will always read the book first if the opportunity to do so arises. The book itself is long, clocking in at nearly 600 pages and I am not convinced that it really needed to be that long or that the book is the modern classic it is held up to be. I don't propose to undertake a detailed synopsis here, those looking for such a guide can look to wikipedia or google ( What I will say is that the book is very funny at times and I liked its subversive satire. On the other hand the books is essentially one joke over and over again and in many ways reads like a collection of short stories or vignettes shoe-horned into the medium of the novel. The plot is difficult to describe, simply because I am not sure the book has a plot, so much as a sequence of events which illustrate and repeat the catch 22 theme in a fractal-like pattern. For all that the (open) ending is genuinely uplifting and the central character, Yossarian, is one of the more accentric lead characters to come out of Americal literature.

My overriding impression is then of a book which is, at times, interesting, funny, unique and ground-breaking; but which is also long-winded, repetitive and ultimately hard to warm too.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Doctor Who - 4th Doctor Strips Vol 1

The fourth Doctor's comic strip era is the first to which the notion of "too broad and too deep for the small screen" really applies. This era has been lovingly republished by the folks at DWM in two volumes, the first of which I shall be covering in this post. Some of these stories have also recently been (or are slated to be) reprinted again by IDW comics in a colourised format. The DWM editions remain faithful to the original black and white stips that were published in the 1970s.

There are several notable points about these strips. The first is that the characterisation of the Doctor is far better than was previously the case with the comics. Throughout the run of these comics, the Doctor remains true to the zany portrayal of Tom Baker and there are plenty of good gags. The next point to note is that these stories are far more imaginative than the earlier comics. They have a scale and ambition and originality that dwarfs the paltry efforts of the Hartnell and Troughton strips. Some even go beyond the ambition of the TV too. By and large there is a real sense that these stories happen in the same universe as the TV show and even where the strip departs from the show (introducing its own companion), there is no real conflict between the continuities of the TV show and the strips. The strips also retain the sense of fun that the TV show had at this time and do not suffer with the dryness of the Pertwee comics.

This then is the point where we can say the comics got it right for the first time and before I go further I will plug the first of the DWM reprints, volume 1 - The Iron Legion, avaialble from amazon at this link:

1) THE IRON LEGION is the name of first story in the Iron Legion collection and the first to be published by, what was then called, Doctor Who Weekly. Credited to Pat Mills & John Wagner (writers) and Dave Gibbons (art) this is a story that was rejected for TV by the beeb and it is easy to see why. Quiet simply they could never have made it in the 1970s, even today it would present real budgetary difficulties. The storyline deals with the Doctor discovering Robot Army of a Roman Empire from a parrallel universe that is trying to colonise the whole multiverse. The very first page is immediately striking as we see a hoarde or Robot romans and a tank invading and English village. This scene alone would've blown the budget of a 1970s TV episode in one hit, more remarkable is how immediate it feels. If this had been a TV episode at the time this scene would've been built up to, hell a few years earlier (ie Pertwee) it probably would've been the cliffhanger for an episode 1. The story doesn't let up from here as the Doctor almost immediately discovers the invasion, fools a robot with his alien phsyiology (Hooray they've realised he isn't a Human!) and then gets captured. Its then established that the Robots worship a God and it is this central mystery and its resolution that drives the rest of the story. All of this is dealt with in the first issue/episode in a matter of 5 pages. This represents an efficiency of storytelling that was unique in Doctor Who until the transmission of Rose in 2005.

The rest of the story is equal to the first episode and revels in a scope and scale that was simply revolutionary at the time. There are any number of things here that would become tropes of the 2005 revival. Issue two sees the story being told, in part, by TV news reports. We also have a style of storytelling in which secondary characters are fully fleshed out. On a shallower level we have proper crowd scenes, blimps being used as the primary means of transport (Hello Rise of the Cybermen!), the Malevilus as the baddies (Hello School Reunion) and the Doctor repeatedly calling one of the baddies "Parrot Face". This is a story which just gets bigger and bigger, starting in a small English Village and ending in a huge Roman City in a parrellel universe that is under the control of aliens! The only real critisism one can make is that the story is very A to B to C in terms of plotting. But given that it is essentially an action adventure required to be told in comic form, in very few pages, this is quibbling. The scale and wonder and ideas of the story more than make up for this minor shortcoming, especially when one takes into account the fact that 30 years have passed since its first publication. I would take this story over a Power of Kroll any day of the week.

2) CITY OF THE DAMNED. Another Mills/Wagner/Gibbons collaboration, this one isn't as revolutionary at The Iron Legion, but i think I like it more. Its certainly a great example of how much better the fourth Doctor strips reflected the TV show than the previous doctor's strips did. This is about more than merely maintaining continuity, its about maintaining and ethos whilst also being true to your own medium. This story, for the want of a better way of putting it, has the same flavour of the TV stories, but by virtue of being in a different media a different texture. Thus you can see it as the missing link between Doctor Who: The Sunmakers and Blake's 7: The Way Back/Spacefall. The storyline deals with the Doctor discovering a society in which emotions have been outlawed and erradicated, obviously he is not going to accept that and eventually the ruling baddies are overthrown by means of a Sunmakers Stylie revolution. Once again the story opens with a striking first page reminiscent of the sort of thing Blake's 7 would open with (only bigger budget!). There's a really good line in dark humour too eg the TARDIS materialises in the living room of two drones:

"There is a strange box appearing in the corner "b""
"Yes, "A", ignore it. Perhaps it will go away"

Or on being told that "A" has a genetic flaw and will be turned into fertiliser:

"Goodbye "B"... Perhaps one day you and your new "A" will eat foodstuffs grown on me"
"And then again, perhaps we won't. Goodbye "A"".

best of all are the Doctor being told that he has an "illegal" sense of humour and the Doctor tying up a prisoner with his scarf!

This is also a story that couldn't have been done on the TV. Not so much because of budgetary concerns (although they would have been a problem) but because some of it would be too dark on TV. The society's acceptance of death provides for some moments which are effective and darkly amusing in the strip (witness one of the drones commenting on his being eaten alive); but on TV these same scenes would've been way to gory, bleak and downright disturbing!

Again there are any number of TV stories that are nowhere near as good or ambitious as this one.

3) STAR BEAST. The Mills/Wagner/Gibbons partnership follows up two epics with a more down to earth story, a comedic one at that. This one is still groundbreaking in its own right though. Firstly, it introduces a new companion, Sharon. When Martha Jones was introduced much was made about her being the first black companion the Doctor had had. And so many of the New Adventures fanboys and fangirls pointed out that this was wrong because Roz Forrester was his first Black Companion. Then the big finish groupies pointed to Erimem. But the truth of the matter is that Sharon was the first Black companion, introduced back in February 1980.

More important that this though, is that it is this story which introduces:


BtM is just awesome. A fuzzy-wuzzy ball of hatred and frustration that plays on the sentimentality and Animal Hospital empathy of us humanoids, when in reality he is a psycopathic, homicidal leader of an army hellbent on genocide. The strip shows us how the Meeps come to be this way (complete with charming execution ditty "hoppity hop! Boppipty Bop! who's next for the chop?) and there are numerous brilliant OTT Beep rants as the story goes along, eg:

"Never has the "Most-High" been so insulted! Before the "Most-High" leaves this planet there will be atonement in blood!"

"Work drones! Work until you die!"

"Hapiness is a stagnant pond! True Joy can only be found through inflicting Pain, Earth girl"!

You get the picture! Beep the Meep is a classic example of why I am not a fan of the whole canon debate. If you say the comics aren't cannon, then you are left with the absurdity of the Vogans, the mykra or the Taran Woodbeast being "proper" Doctor Who, whilst something as infintely cool as Beep the Meep, "doesn't count". Any philosophy that takes us to such a point is clearly nonsensical.

Anway, aside from that there a cool gag as the Doctor twiddles an alien's eyeball in the mistaken belief its a light swich. There's also the awesomeness of SOMBRERO-DOCTOR!!!!

4) DOGS OF DOOM. This is the first real let down of the Mills/Wagner/Gibbons team with a story that is unengaging and less than the sum of its parts. It relies heavily on the old base under seige storyline with a twist taken from Invasion of Time as the apparent baddies are shown to be controlled by someone else. The apparent baddies are basically werewolves the real baddies are revealed to be:

wait for it.



So its pretty cool to see the Daleks against the 4th Doctor in the comic. But their plan is pretty rubbish and the way they are beaten feels cheap. Two things I do like though, the first is the Doctor resolving the cliffhanger of having become a wearwolf himself and enduring 3 months of hell in the TARDIS to do so. Secondly if you've ever wondered who would win in a fight between a Dalek and K9, the answer is K9 3 - Daleks 0.

5) THE TIME WITCH. Yikes! A huge drop in quality here and a rare blunder for this era. This may be attributable to the fact of it being writer Steve Moore's first bash. Basically this is a retelling of the Omega sections of the Third Doctor with a bit of Superman thrown in too. A throwback to the type of storytelling that was used for the comics of the first two Doctors. It also sees Sharon aged up by 4 years for no apparent reason (permantly so too).

Overall though this is an excellent collection with 3 brilliant stories, 1 decent one and the final crap one at least being short.

Doctor Who - Stories too Broad and too Deep for the Small Screen.

As fantastic as it is that Doctor Who is back on TV and as successful as it has ever been; the show has a rich history in other media. This is the first in what I hope will be a long series of posts looking at the Doctor's non-televisual adventures, which I believe to be just as valid, important and brilliant as the best that the TV stories have to offer.

For my own convenience I shall be starting out with the comics. In the future I hope to look at the BF audios and the books too. In this post I will be providing some context as I look at the comics of the first, second and third Doctors. In the next I will turn to an in depth look at the Fourth Doctor's comic adventures.

The comics were the first complementary media for the TV series, beating even the Cushing movies. Published in episodic format along side other strips in "TV comic" the stories of the first Doctor were an example of the worst in cynical cashing in. The best that can be said for them is that the likenesses of Hartnell were sometimes quiet good and, more importantly, they were the first Doctor Who stories to be in colour on a regular basis (the Cushing movies being by definition specials). Certainly at the time they were published they would not have even been particularly necessary as a means of filling the gaps when the show was not being broadcast, because the show was on the air for most of the year. Additionally the standalone Dalek Strips were far superior in every respect.

As with the Cushing Movies, the writers seem to have decided what made the show so great and unique, took it out of any of the strips and replaced it with the most generic story tropes and styles of the 1960s. The "Doctor Who" of these strips (seriously, thats how the character was refereed to) was a human being with children and grandchildren - John and Gillian, who were his companions. The TARDIS was dealt with as little more than a conventional spacecraft, rather than the spooky and wonderous alien ship/being that it is. The storylines were generally simplistic and uninvolving and often depenent on and/or resolved by The Doctor pulling a gadget out of his ever present Gladstone Bag. For the first few years the makers of TV comic couldn't get/wouldn't pay for the Daleks, so the strip made repeated use of The Zarbi and the Trods (their own invention) as the Doctor's main recurring foes.

By and large then these comics are rightfully viewed as a footnote in the history of Doctor Who. Some selected reprints in the Classic Comics collection (a DWM stablemate of the 90s) did little to revise anyones opinion. Thus the DWM "missing adventure" strips of the mid 90s are the only decent representation of Hartnell's Doctor in the form of comic strip adventures.

The second Doctors comics represent a marginal improvement on the first Doctors. Again they offered the reader to novelty of colour and they at least made some attempts to link in with the TV show in as much as Jamie was a companion in many of the strips. By this time the Dalek issue had been sorted so the second Doctor did get to pit his wits against Skaro's finest. But once again there are clear signs that the writers had only the barest idea of the show itself. Once again the Doctor is generally treated as being a human being. Worse, this Doctor regularly carries a laser pistol to kill his enemies with (Die Hideous creature Die!) and relies heavily on his Batman Stylie utility belt and inventions to get his way through his adventures. Now I appreciate that the Troughton Era of the show had a tendency to veer into a morality that the likes of Nixon or "W" would be happy with, but the character as portrayed in the comics is little short of homicidal! The main legacy for this era is that it showed that other media need not be subservient to the TV stories and can fill in the gaps. The comics were the first to explore the notion of a "season 6b" with the Doctor doing the Time Lords bidding for some time after the events of The War Games and prior to his regeneration into the third Doctor. These post War Games strips may still have been pretty poor, but it is arguable that this idea took a hold of people as it seems to have been assumed that the second Doctor had a life beyond the War Games in both The Five Doctors and The Two Doctors (which in turn gave rise to the books running with the idea).

By this point it will be apparent that the first and second Doctors' run in the comics presents something of a problem for those of us who have an inclusive approach to canon in that they are both poor stories and also in a continuity that is irreconcilable with the main canon. The latter point is not so much of a problem as my own view is that whilst there is an obvious and substantial overlap between canon and contininuity, they are not actually the same thing. The former point also presents a problem though, there are plenty of poor tv stories from that era! Fortunately there are two excellent retcon's available to remedy this problem. Steve Lyons' had the first go in his New Adventure Head Games, in which it is positied that the Doctor Who of the strips is a creation of the Land of Fiction. More recently the DWM comics have put forward the notion that they are dreams of the Doctor himself.

The third Doctor's strips are a strange era. I must admit that my knowledge her is more limited as I have not had as much exposure to them as to the strips of the first and second Doctors. However, it does seem that they are relatively faithful to the TV series and that the writers had some real understanding of what they were writing. The lack of UNIT was down to rights issues and is aruably an advantage as the comics feature much more space/time travel than was the case for the TV show. On the other hand the few strips I have been able to read are somewhat stilted and lifeless at times. There have been some rumblings on the DWF that DWM may eventually reprint these if they can get the rights, if they do I will post a proper look at this era then. One thing that I do remember is that they gave the Doctor his own cottage, this would become a home away from home for the 7th Doctor in his comics and indeed in some of the New Adventure stories too.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Ordinary Decent Criminal

Readers of this blog will know of my fondness for Hustle. This film is a different take on the caper genre, but matches Hustle for wit, cleverness, casting and style. Our friends at Wikipedia provide a decent synopsis of the story here:

This is one great little film. Obviously the casting helps; Kevin Spacey, Lionda Fiorentino and Helen Baxendale (I Would) is nothing to sneeze at and having a soundtrack by Damon Albarn is no small beer either. But its the heart and the humour of the film that keep me coming back to it over and over again.

Kevin Spacey excels as the cocky ordinary decent criminal thumbing his nose at the gaurde, the courts, the IRA and the media. The heists are all pretty generic (stealing some gold bars and a painting), but they are carried off in a hilarious fashion. The cat and mouse between the cops and the robbers is entertaining and I particularly like the shift at the middle of the film as the guarde start to pile the pressure on Spacey's band of robbers in an entertaining way, rather than simply being the subject of his pranks.

This is an overlooked gem often available online for a couple of quid and well worth anyones time.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Red Dwarf - Back to Earth

Well I've seen them all and a rather mixed back they were. The first episode was clearly the best being a throwback to the earliest days of the show. The second was pants, the third was a reasonable recovery from the whole that the second episode had dug. It does have to be said that the writer has clearly run out of ideas as the show has become totally dependent on the "alternate reality" storyline and since series 6 the show has also been busily recycling its own continuity on an endless basis in place of coming up with anything new. It was however cool that they kept the return of Chloe Annette out of the publicity and I kinda wish they had ended the show altogether with Lister choosing to stay in his fantasy world with Kochanski. Aside from this my other concern is the same one as applied to seasons 7 and 8, the show just isn't funny enough anymore. I'm kinda reminded of the latter era Carry On films where you have to watch them in the right frame of mind to enjoy them. Its been the same with Red Dwarf since season 7, you have to meet the jokes halfway to enjoy the show. The ten year (or so) gap since the last series makes it easier to do this because there is the goodwill of nostalgia and the free pass of seeing the cast together again (and really Chris Barrie being a comedy god), but I think it might be time for one final show to get the crew back to Earth, Lister with Kochanski and Rimmer in charge of something trivial!

Phil Spector

Well its nice to see that Side Show Bob impersonator and all round crazy misogynist Phil Spector has finally been convicted. The man has been nuts for years as Lennon's story about "the watergate tapes" attests.

John Lennon on Phil Spector, Rock N Roll and "The John Dean Tapes" (Sound Only):

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Planet of the Dead

Well that was a huge step up from the mediocrity of The Next Doctor. A really fun romp and not afflicted with the over-ambitiousness of some recent "event" episodes.

What I Liked:

Good solid storyline, reminiscent of a lot of DWM strips without actually nicking anything as such. It wasn't to busy, nor did it struggle to fill out its running time.

The fly-guys got killed at the end. Good.

The "baddies" simply following their natural life cycle. Actually a really good SF type problem.

10 Malcolms = a Bernard Quatermass!

The Doctor being a UNIT celeb/legend type never gets old. The New UNIT theme was pretty good.

A flying bus. Beat that Harry Potter!

Knowing right from the start the cop was gonna get screwed in the end, because thats what happened in Hustle twice this year!

The whole running gag with the alien power source getting the bus to work.

The Doctor whacking the grail thingy with the mallet.

Lee Evans not getting on my tits.

The Doctor refusing to take Lady whatshername on board the TARDIS. The way the scene was shot in particular was cool, being reminscent of the publicity shots for the Paul McGann TV movie and with David somehow giving the impression of the Doctors centuries weighing heavily on him (which in turn conjured up images of Hartnell in mine).

The Doctor using the Sonic screwdriver to release Lady whatsshername and indeed to give himself sunglasses.

The foreshadowing (see below).

What I wasn't so keen on:

Lady whatshername. Decent enough character, but I've never been sold on Michelle Ryan as an actress and I wasn't sold on her here either. Also something of a cobling together of Romana and Cat (the 7th Doctor Companion who was planned to replace Ace in the season 27 that never was).

The new face of Unit. Didn't buy her in Turn Left, don't buy her here either. They really need to decide what they are going to do with UNIT because they keep swining from Brigs Army to regular army/intelligence and its not working with the leads they are using. I know nick courtneys too old now, so maybe go with Bambera if you want to retain an element of the Brig's army days.

The Doctor doing another mundane = brilliant speech. Fucking Hell big upping chops for tea is not what I watch Doctor Who for!


The Doctor wanting to keep his teeth in good condition. One of the lightest and silliest bits of foreshadowing on anything ever!

The trailer was mondo cool. But I will be severely pissed if the episode does not feature the Ice Warriors (unless it is exceptionally good despite their absence).

Four knocks = HERE COME THE DRUMS! Da-Da-Da-DAH!


Red Dwarf was just so far up its own arse as to be a self parody. I can only hope its a case of being a weak middle episode as last nights epsiode had real promise. But given the stupid meta-textual storyline and the prospect of tomorrows episode being Corrie-based; I fear it will all end in another tedious cliffhanger that will not be resolved for years. I can remember a time (specifically back in season 6) when Red Dwarf ruled BBC2 and had some serious credibility. All pissed away of Doug Naylors fantasy of a movie version.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Youtube fan vids and other thoughts

Hello folks.

Coming up in the next few weeks will be the following:

Remainder of DS9
A look at The Master, RTDs era of Who and the Doctor Who comics.
Buffy Season 8

I've recently become addicted to viewing Youtube fan videos. Montages of shows set to music. This is a relatively new area of fan creativity but I think in time these montages will come to take the place traditionally occupied by fan fiction.

Anyway at the end of this post I've included a few links to some of my personal favourites.

On the random thoughts front; I saw ITV's Clough documentary last night. Good stuff, I particularly liked the coverage given to his years at Forest. I think as time goes on Clough's achievements only increase in their magnitude and there has to be a case for him being the greatest manager the English game has seen.

Formula 1 is due to begin again this weekend. Happily the Beeb have decided to use Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" as the theme music, why ITV didn't I will never know. This season looks to be an important one as the field appears to be very open and it will be interesting to see how the teams hold up in terms of budgets this season (and the knock on effects for next). My main hope is that the season is a competative one, otherwise some of the more insane rule changes proposed may come into being. I find it difficult to undersand what Eccelstone/Mosley are trying to do, F1 has a limited audience and the proposed changes are unlikely to pull in that many more viewers, whilst alienating those of us who have followed the sport for years.


First up, as you would expect, Doctor Who ones.

This one is a Donna Noble tribute set to Coldpay's "The Scientist" and it has clearly been done with a great deal of attention:

Next up a perfect comination of the Beatles and Season 1 of the relaunch with shipper overtones for the 9th Doctor and Rose:

A Couple of Buffyverse ones: AND

And finally, some X-Files ones. First a Ship-y Mulder and Scully one:

And we end on a high, this one is just so much fun:

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 4

Right I have come to the realisation that there are far too many good episodes of DS9 to be able to tackle seasons 4 to 7 in one long hit. So I am going to look at each of the remaining seasons in their entirety.

As I said in the post about seasons 1 to 3, DS9 can be split into two eras and season 4 is the point where DS9 changes from being an outer space western to being an outer space war story. It is also the point where Worf joins the station. More importantly the show has a change in the way it is presented. The direction of the episodes from here on is much more energetic and intense. It has an immediacy to it that the passive house style previously employed by modern Trek (that is to say the whole of TNG and the first 3 seasons of DS9).

For all that the show remained true to its ongoing storylines and character development, albeit that the show also started to become an effort in guerilla TV making as the writing crew continued to push the boundaries of the show whilst simultaneously transforming the show into a serial.

1) THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR. The first episode of season 4 and a relaunch for the show as well. The issues of Bajor and the Dominion take a back seat as the Klingon Empire goes to war against the Cardassian empire. This is the closest thing we have to DS9 movie, a balls to the wall action adventure. It is absolutely gripping and moves with a pace and energy previously unseen in DS9. Worf is introduced in an effective way and there are some epic battles (both in space and in hand to hand combat). There are also some fantastic moments of reflection (Quark and Garak for a starter). Flawless.

2) THE VISITOR. Another classic (and Hugo award nominee). A sad, sweet, story of Jake growing up without his father and how far Jake would go to get his father back. There's also fun to be had in seeing potential future versions of the regulars. This is the sort of story that can only be done in the genre or SF or Fantasy and as a result a demonstration both of how easily accessible SF can be, but also of the superiority of SF over other genres (SF can do any kind of story and still be SF, other genre's loose their integrity once the story goes beyond the boundaries of that genre).

3) HIPPOCRATIC OATH. Overrated at the time as it felt it was going to be more important to the Dominion arc than it really was. This is ultimately a story about Bashir and O Brien and the resiliency of their friendship. Not an essential episode, but worthy of an honourable mention.

4) INDISCRETION. A Kira and Dukat episode and another absolute winner for season 4. The discovery of Dukat's half Bajoran daughter would inform the rest of the series. Dukat is a fascinating character and even to the last episode of the series they never stopped developing him. Credit too is due to Marc Alimo's portrayal of the character. Here he maintains a very delicate balancing act, imbuing Dukat with a certain sympathy even as he is considering killing his daughter. Kira gets some great moments here too, forming an effective team with Dukat and acting as his conscience too.

5) REJOINED. The “lesbian kiss” episode. I still feel that this episode is ultimately a cop out. Not as much of a cop out as TNGs similar dealings with Trill culture, after all none of the characters even bats an eyelid at the prospect of a same sex relationship. But there was a deliberate analogy being drawn her (in the best tradition of Trek) and ultimately a homosexual relationship is still found to be taboo. So yes the episode is groundbreaking for Trek, but only because TNG was so incredibly timed and conservative. The story is not especially groundbreaking in terms of popular culture at all. On the other hand it does at least have some sensitivity and sincerity to it and does not fall into the trap of featuring a lesbian relationship for how many men it can turn on. Not essential, despite what the publicity at the time would have had you believe.

6) STARSHIP DOWN. A bottle show set on a stricken Defiant. One of the least important episodes this season, but one which I am rather fond of. In particular I like the discussions between Bashir and Dax which is something of a watershed moment for their friendship as they both reveal more about their true feelings for each other. I also love the scenes between Kira and the injured Sisko as Kira makes it quiet clear she views Sisko as The Emissary and the beginning of a proper friendship between them with an invite to a baseball game at the Holodeck. Also its worth pointing out that Sisko does change the shift rotation in line with Kira suggestions a little down the line!

7) LITTLE GREEN MEN. The mystery of Roswell is solved, it was the Quark, Rom and Nog all along! Frickin hilarious episode which brilliantly and affectionately lampoons any number of B-Movies, whilst also poking fun at the Roswell obsession of the mid 90s. Nothing I can say about this one, you just have to watch it and laugh your bloody head off. Absolutely essential.

8) THE SWORD OF KAHLESS. Another good Klingon episode as Dax, Worf and KOR! go in search of the Sword of Kahless (think Excalibur crossed with the Holy Grail). All the usual Klingon bombast here, but done really well. I particularly like the beginning scene with everyone knowing Kor's story is BS, but nobody calling him on it because he tells the story well. Not essential, but still an entertaining yarn.

9) OUR MAN BASHIR. Fantastic stuff. A witty pastiche of 60s spy stories with Bashir playing a Bond like figure and Garak along for the ride. A unique twist on the Holodeck goes wrong storyline as the Holodeck comes to the rescue here. This one is approximately 8 billion times better that A Fistful of Datas. Rom again starts to show his worth in helping to save the regulars too. Out and out fun.

10 & 11) HOME FRONT and PARADISE LOST. DS9s first proper visit to Earth as Sisko and Odo go to Earth to help build up defences against a dominion attack. This is a fantastic story and is criminally underrated. This is one that cuts to the very essence of DS9's (Ira Steven Behr's) take on the Roddenberry vision. A lot of hard questions are asked here as for the first time in years the paradise of Earth is put into direct threat and for the first time its not so easy to be a saint. This was a great story at the time it aired with the two very valid and believable view points being brought into conflict. For much of the world it was also a very real debate. In the UK for years we grappled with the question of how far our civil liberties could/should be curtailed to protect against the attacks of the IRA (see the ring of steel blockade in London). Post 9/11 these questions became much less abstract for the USA and have become all the more pressing in the UK too. Some fundamental questions are raised in this one: At what point do you destroy the thing you are seeking to protect, at what point are you doing the terrorists job for them, when can it ever be safe to relinquish control and safeguards once they have been imposed and are such controls ever effective against their intended targets. Aside from these points we also have the introduction of Sisko's father, brilliantly played by Brock Peters and a welcome update on Nog.

12) CROSSFIRE. Oh how pissed off I was by this episode at the time. I was a huge Odo-Kira shipper and I HATED the way this show put the relationship to bed. With later developments I have come to like it more, but the main reason to watch this is for the Quark/Odo scene as once again Quark shows that he knows Odo better than anyone else. I am still not overly keen on this one though. This one is a good example of the way that TV in the 90s failed to deal with “will they wont they” stories (see also the endless episodes where Niles “almost” tells Daphne how he feels, or the ridiculous dragging out of “Ross n Rachel” in season 2 of friends). At some point writers decided that Moonlighting proves that characters cease to be interesting once they get together. This is simply not the case, the problem is inadequate writing. In any case, endless “will they wont they” quickly goes from exciting to frustrating to tedious.

13) RETURN TO GRACE. An immediate bounce back. A great single plot line story as Dukat and Kira are once again forced into being a team as Dukat goes on a revenge mission to take out as many Klingon ships as he can. Really good action episode and Dukat v Kira is always a guaranteed winner. Again the show doesn't shy away from demonstrating that Kira was a terrorist and very good at what she did, but equally this Kira is far more measured than a season 1 Kira would've been in a similar story. Dukat's impassioned recruitment speech falling on deaf ears is a great moment too.

14) SONS OF MOGH. Distasteful and offensive episode revolving around Worf apparently been wrong to help his brother kill himself, but perfectly okay for Bashir to completely brain wipe him as an alternative.

15) BAR ASSOCIATION. By contrast this episode is great. A Ferengi episode up to a point, but really this one is more about Rom and Quark than Ferengi society. This is the beginning of the new Rom. Previously Rom's rebellions against Quark had been on behalf of others (his family) and this episode does keep to that trend with Rom forming a Union to get better pay and conditions for the staff of Quarks, but ultimately finally doing something for himself by becoming a station engineer. Lots to love about this one including BRUNT (FCA!), Bashir and O Brien ending up in a fight with Worf (after Worf crosses the picket line). Again this is the sort of story that no other Trek series could do. Similarly the Ferengi are the only Star Trek species that would allow for exploration of these sorts of issues (since the Federation/Humans live in some sort of communist utopia). You've also gotta love any US show which basically says “Yay Unions”.

16) ACCENSION. The point of no return for Sisko being the Emissary. Sisko gets to give up the role, only to realise that he needs and more importantly wants to take it back. A necessary episode in terms of putting an end to Sisko's discomfort with being the Emissary, but a purely functional episode too. I was more interested in the examination of the Bajoran caste system, which is one of the few times that the show dealt with the negative aspects of the Bajoran's faith.

17) RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. This one is much of a muchness really as Worf is put on trial for apparently destroying an innocent civilian ship in the middle of a battle. Its not that its a bad show, but there's nothing that good about it either. Eminently forgettable stuff. Plus if you are gonna do a courtroom drama in Trek then you have to have Picard in the show too.

18) HARD TIME. And so we reach this seasons “torture O Brien episode”. Somewhat overrated at the time in my opinion. Nevertheless a good episode as O Brien basically goes through 20 years of very hard time in an alien prison. Colm Meany makes this episode giving a superb performance. The scene with O Brien considering suicide is heartbreaking. Again we return to the “saint in paradise theme” as O Brien crucifies himself for killing his cellmate and Bashir points out that it took 20 years for him to break.

19) SHATTERED MIRROR. Another Mirror Universe episode. These are what they are and generally not to my taste.

20) THE MUSE. Some good ideas in this one, but even the writers admit the whole thing doesn't gel. This is what happens when you let the bosses wife pitch a story idea! Rene Auberjonois does his absolute best to raise the Lwaxana storyline into something good and deserves credit. Actually I am going to do that now. Rene was absolutely fantastic throughout the entire series run and always raised the level of the material he was playing. Unfortunately he was overlooked by the mainstream award bodies because he was in a SF show. The SF awards bodies were too in love with Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik to give Rene a look in too. But for me there is no better actor in a mask than Rene. Plus he went on to be great in Frasier and Boston Legal too.

21) FOR THE CAUSE. A total out and out classic. In a total subversion of expectations the smarmy Eddington turns out not to be Dominion as everyone was expecting, but to still be a traitor. Cassidy Yates is implicated, but happily they kept the Sisko/Yates relationship on. Both have good reasons for their actions and both are mature enough to realise that. Sisko makes it his mission to make Eddington pay.

22) TO THE DEATH. WEYOUN! is introduced and would be the shows primary Vorta from here on in. Jeffrey Coombs is outstanding playing Weyoun as a middle management salesman type figure (he is also versatile enough to play BRUNT (FCA!)). Anyway the story itself is nothing earth-shattering being about a co-operative hunt between the Federation and the Dominion to hunt down a rogue squadron of Jem'Hedar. But still its watchable enough and everyone should see Weyoun's first story at least once.

23) THE QUICKENING. Another winner as Bashir and Dax work to find a cure to a horrendous disease inflicted upon an innocent world by the Dominion. There's a nice examination assisted suicide and paliative care. Bashir gets humbled but eventually becomes the hero, albeit one who is still to be satisfied. The guest cast are uniformly brilliant. DS9 has done quest stories before now, but this is the first example of a genuine personal crusade. Bashir's supposed arrogance would become more understandable in light of later revelations about him too. I love this one.

24) BODY PARTS. Another Quark episode and as usual for Quark episodes its a strong show. Early in Season one Sisko makes the point that Human and Ferengi values are very different. Throughout the next 7 years however it would become clear that this does not mean that the Ferengi do not have values. Quark is a complex guy. Although he does adjust to the values of others, be they Human, Cardassian, Bajoran or Dominion, he always tries to live his life according to his own code of what he perceives a good Ferengi to be. In many ways his the most Ferengi Ferengi of them all as he life is not so much devoted to becoming wealthy as it is to making money and having fun doing it. This is why he stays on a frontier space station, rather than living on Ferenginar and why he would be lost if he ever did have his own moon. And even as he adapts to other cultures, he still does so with an eye towards making a profit and being a successful FERENGI within that culture. This episode puts that to the test with Quark finally being forced into breaking his own moral code to the delight of BRUNT (FCA!). The finale of the episode with the crew rallying around to support Quark is a lovely moment (and Quark charging for storage illustrates perfectly the point above). The episode has two particularly hilarious moments with BRUNT (FCA!) accusing Quark of being a philanthropist and Quark's jubilant reaction to learning he wont die (Quark: It means I get to sue doctor Orfax for malpractice!). Oh and there's some stuff with Major Kira getting pregnant with Chief O Brien's baby.

25) BROKEN LINK. Another relatively low key season finale acting to set up the next season. Odo falls ill and has to be taken to the Founder's home world to be cured and judged for his actions in the previous season finale. Best part of the episode is Garak's conversation with the female shap shifter and subsequent attempt to obliterate the homeworld of the founders. God Garak ruled the frickin earth. The cliffhanger is all sorts of awesome as Odo realises that the Klingon empire is being run by the Dominion and Gowron is a changeling.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Seasons 4 to 7

Seasons 4 to 7 of Buffy mark a shift in style and tone from the high school years of seasons 1 to 3. There's the obvious factor of the characters becoming adults and some significant changes in the cast too. But more than that seasons 4 to 7 see the show becoming far more serialised than before. Of course seasons 2 and 3 had strong arcs, but the show generally ensured that the arc episodes could also stand on their own. Each story being self contained and building the arc in a modular way. From season 4 onwards the arc episodes become much less discrete and far more interdependent. This made the show harder to dip into, but equally enabled more complex arcs and character development. Seasons 4 to 7 also see the show experimenting with experimental, format bending episodes.


Season 4 is a strange beast. There are a lot of good things in it, but there is also a lot of stuff that doesn't work. What is strange is that you often find both factors in an episode. An a-plot that doesn't work with a brilliant b-plot or vice versa is a common feature of the season. The biggest problem is the arc itself. Although the main baddy, Adam, is a pretty cool idea; The Initiative simply doesn't work. The writers have claimed that this was a budgetary problem. I personally think that the problem is more fundamental. Buffy has the sensibility of a British show in so far as the characters are essentially enthusiastic amateurs. As with the Doctor or Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood or Poirot, the characters in Buffy are not undertaking a profession. As a potential ally the Initiative turns the Scoobies into glorified employees. The strange and fantastical simply becomes a part of their job. This is the sensibility of an American show (eg. Star Trek, CSI). Similarly as baddies they are far too mundane in their non-supernatural nature. It is telling that most of the best episodes of this season are those that rely on the shows previously established backstory or those that set up future stories.

1) Living Conditions. After the heights of season 3 the early episodes of season 4 tend to feel a little flat and lacking in intensity. However, on later reflection without the weight of earlier seasons, this episode is a little gem. Marti Noxon once again shows that when she is given the chance she can do comedy very well indeed. This one is a take on The Odd Couple with Buffy being driver made by hear Cher playing room-mate who she is convinced is a demon. The interplay between Buffy and the room-mate is a delight, but even better are the reactions of the rest of the Scoobies to Buffy's apparent overreactions. There's nothing earth-shattering about this episode, but you'll be hard pressed to find a more fun episode in this season.

2) Something Blue. On the face of it this one is a simple standalone comedy/farce episode with a pretty generic “magic causes the regulars to behave in an odd way” storyline that the show frankly did better before and after this episode. However, there is more too it than that. In terms of the episode itself, there is a certain ennui underneath all of the hi jinx which drives the episode. More than that though, this show is almost a pilot for season 6 with several ideas and storylines being seeded in this episodes. So we have Willow's first dalliance with vengeance, Buffy and Spike pairing up, Giles becoming ineffectual and surplus to requirements and so on.

3) Hush. An absolute classic of the first order. This one works as both a concentrated distillation of the show and what the show does and also as an experimental format breaking episode. To take the latter point first. This show is the one commonly referred to as “The Silent episode” with most of the show being without dialogue of any kind. The reason for this is that the baddies (The Gentleman) have stolen the voices of Sunnydale and are cutting out the hearts of the residents. Thus we have a really creepy set of bad guys from a fairytale being re-worked in classic Buffy fashion. Indeed if the episode wasn't silent, it would be a very typical standalone. On the other hand check out the pic and video below to get an idea of the true creepiness of this episode. Just to re-iterate an utter classic.

4 and 5) This Year's Girl & Who Are You. FAITH RETURNS! This is the only story in season 4 which has the emotional intensity of the key episodes of seasons 2 and 3. Eliza Dushku does a priceless SMG in the body swap scenes and SMG does a pretty good Dushku too. More than that this story sets Faith along the road to the Angel Franchise and her struggle for redemption.

6) Primeval. Whilst The Initiative arc was disappointing, the concluding episode is superb. An explosive, action packed, battle royal with the Scoobies coming back together (quiet literally) to defeat Adam. Triumphant stuff.

7) Restless. Primeval, whilst the arc finale, was not the season finale. In some ways this evidences that the Initiative Arc really wasn't up to scratch, there simply wasn't enough story in it to sustain an entire season. However, Restless provides the first and only season epilogue for Buffy. It is a wonderful experimental episode based around the linked dreams of the four core Scoobies. Full of surreal hints and revelations, this is an entire episode in the style of the moments of prophecy and revelations that Babylon 5 used to do so well. Think Buffy: The Vampire Slayer as told by Kosh!


Season 5 is an emphatic return to the form and intensity of season 2 and 3. The overall quality of the show was probably never higher than here. That being said there are obviously fewer moments of surprise and revelation than was the case with seasons 2 and 3. The arc here is much stronger than season 4 and features a much better big bad too.

1) Buffy v Dracula. The season premier and the first to be written by someone other than Joss Whedon (Marti Noxon wrote this). I was really worried about this one before it aired because I thought it would be nothing more than a gimmick. Whilst the episode is a gimmick, it is also very clever and very witty. In some senses it is a throwback to the first season in the way it reworks a bunch of tired clichés into something fresh and modern. Its also the best season opener since the pilot episode eschewing the angst of seasons 2 to 4 in favour of the fun subversion of the pilot. Spike's attitude to Dracula is also a complete hoot. There's also an intriguing sort of cliffhanger.

2) Real Me. Audacious stuff. This is the episode that introduces Buffy's kid sister, Dawn. Now this may not seem like a big deal, but it is. The reason for this is that the show had already established that Buffy was an only child both in terms of it being explicitly stated and also in terms of Buffy not living with or mentioning a sister. Thus is was downright peculiar for Buffy to have a sister. Even more peculiar was the fact that Buffy acts as though she ALWAYS had a sister and that they had ALWAYS lived together and the fact that all the other characters act that way too. This therefore contradicts everything the viewer knows about the show and indeed every previous episode of the show. You expect that this is all going to be revealed to be a spell and that Dawn is the episode's baddy. But at the end of the episode this isn't the case. She is still Buffy's Kid sister and always has been. This would remain the case for several episodes before the mystery and the apparent contradiction in continuity is resolved.

3) The Replacement. A doppelgänger episode and not the first that Buffy has done. But this is also important to the character of Xander, effectively ending the journey that he began in Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered. By the end of this show Xander has the girl, the house and the job, Today he is a Man! Also we finally get to see him do the Snoopy Dance.
No Place Like Home. In which we finally learn the truth about Dawn and in which the seasons big bad is introduced. I particularly like the ritual sequence in this one with the sense of heightened reality that the direction conveys.

4) Fool for Love. Buffy gets to hear the story of how Spike killed two slayers and we learn why Slayers tend to die young. It may not sound like much. But its a great story.

5) Triangle. A great little standalone dealing with the relationship between Xander, Anya and Willow. As with a lot of Buffy stories, it is the funny ones where you often learn the most about the characters and this is the one that deals with and largely resolves the tension between Anya and Willow. It also has Olaf the Troll being awesome in it too.

6) Blood Ties. In which Dawn learns the truth about herself and the scene is set for the season finale.

7) The Body. In which a major character dies. Another format breaker; this episode deals with the characters coping with death and their grief. Not quiet as good as the mainstream critics would have it be, but still an excellent episode.

8) Tough Love. An intense and busy episode setting up the season finale and laying some groundwork for season 6 too. Willow starts her journey to the dark side, The big bad finds what she has been looking for and Buffy gives up her education. Willow and the Big Bad have an awesome confrontation too.

9) The Gift. The season finale, possible the best one the show ever did. The Buffy equivalent of Doctor Who's Logopolis. A faultless episode full of moments of quiet sadness and epic excitement. This might have been the last episode of the show ever and if it had been the show would've ended on a beautiful high. Buffy defeats the big bad in a BRUTAL fight before sacrificing herself to save the world. Giles commits a murder, Xander and Anya get engaged. Spike gets some validation from Buffy. Tara is restored and Willow's power continues to grow. The opening montage of all the previous stories is great, the finale montage and voice-over is even better. An episode to treasure.


Ah Season six! The very mention of which is enough to start flame wars across the internet. Easily the most controversial season of Buffy. The main criticisms being that it lacks a proper big bad, that it is depressing and soapy, that it lacks direction, that too many of the stories revolve around the mundane problems of day to day life, that it doesn't have enough fantasy elements and that those elements it does have do not work, finally that the characters are not true to themselves. There's also the little matter of Tara's death and the reaction that provoked.

Season six defenders will in turn claim that the season doesn't need a big bad, that Joss Whedon's stance that “life is the big bad” is valid. They will claim that the depressing stories and lack of fantasy elements are realistic and necessary to adequately deal with the events of season five. They claim that the character development is truthful in the context of the events of season five and six. They tend not to address the issue of whether it was right to kill off Tara!

In truth both sides are correct up to a point and this is why the battle over season 6 will always rage. For my part I enjoyed season 6 but it was a very different beast to the early shows. Indeed it is much more like a season of Angel than of Buffy. There are a lot of good ideas in terms of the overall arc and individual episodes which aren't executed as well as they could be. There isn't enough comedy, but much of the darkness is warranted. In particular Buffy's handling of her death is much more preferable to the Thai Chi sweeping under the carpet resolution that Season 3 offers for Angel. Many of the character developments are reasonable and can be justified, but by the same token the writers often fail to make the motivations behind those developments clear enough.

Similarly the arc of life and our own mistakes and insecurities being the big bad is a valid choice (particularly since there was no way to further up the ante from season 5s big bad). The Angel franchise has proved this and is effectively built on the same premise. But the execution didn't work as well as it should have done thereby leaving the arc feeling inconsequential and insubstantial. This problem was further exacerbated by the lack of standalone episodes.

As with season 4 there are many cases of the good being intertwined with the bad in the same episode. But whereas in season 4 the good overshadowed the bad, in season 6 the bad tended to overshadow the good. If the exact same bad stuff had been concentrated into 3 or 4 episodes (as with seasons 2 and 3) then season 6 would almost certainly have been much stronger and more popular.

My opinion is that this probably does rank as the shows worst season. But this is like saying With The Beatles is the worst Beatles album. Fundamentally, the worst season of Buffy is still head and shoulders over most other TV shows. I also find that it is a valid and interesting experiment in pushing the boundaries of the show; even if it is ultimately a flawed experiment.

1 & 2) Bargaining (Part 1 and 2). In which Buffy is resurrected. This was a great season opener to be fair. Lots of nice little moments and more action packed that your standard Buffy premier. Willow continues to pave her way to the dark side with her own good intentions. Giles takes his first steps towards his estrangement from the Scoobies and Xander begins to get cold feet.

3) Once More With Feeling. Generally known as the Musical episode. I was dreading this one. With the exception of The Jungle Book I generally loathe musicals as I struggle to get past the basic conceit of the genre. Once More With Feeling became the second honourable exception. It is just as brilliant as everyone says. The songs are all great, the jokes are excellent, there is a good reason why everyone is singing and the conceit is taken to logical and ludicrous extremes (It Got The Mustard Out, the Parking ticket song, the “backup” and so on). It is also the only episode to be genuinely widescreen (as opposed to the secondary widescreen versions of all the other post season 3 episodes). The songs also work in isolation on the Buffy soundtrack album, but they work even better on the show in the context of over 5 years of history between the characters.

4) Tabula Rasa. Another example of Buffy taking a clichéd idea (amnesia) and reviving it. The jokes in this one come thick and fast and are glorious. Unlike other episodes we end proceedings on a distinct downer as Giles leaves and Tara and Willow separate. This is the point where the show started to wobble. Giles leaving doesn't work in the way that it should, at this point in the show there is more reason for him to stay than to go. This is arguable in illustration of the seasons theme (life can suck and people make stupid mistakes) but when everyone and the world knew that Giles was leaving because Tony Head wanted to spend more time in the UK as a condition for staying on, this argument was not convincing. Again the idea would probably have worked if carried out in Bargaining (ie Giles leaves and for some plot mcguffin reason is unable to go back to the USA after Buffy is resurrected). Alternatively if a few more episodes had gone into establishing his reasons for going, then the storyline would've worked out better.

5) Entropy. A big gap here in which not a huge amount happens in terms of plot, arc or character development. The main thing is the preceding episode in which Xander gilts Anya. It is however one of the weakest Buffy episodes and as a result is probably the most important episode not to make the list. Anyway, this one deals with Anya having gone back to being a vengeance demon and her attempts to get back at Xander. This she eventually does in an unexpected way. Willow and Tara get back together too and it looks like things might be starting to look up.

6) Seeing Red. Almost certainly the most controversial episode the show ever did (at least amongst the fanbase. Season 3's Earshot may be the most controversial in terms of the mainstream). Starting with the light stuff, a fun caper story. On the other hand its massively overshadowed by the Spike/Buffy attempted rape and the murder of Tara. I'm not gonna address the Spike/Buffy thing here. Its worthy of a post to itself, all I will say is that I think there is a crucial point that has been largely overlooked in debates and which does not put Spike in a good light. I do want to comment on the death of Tara though. This was probably one bit of angst too far for the show. I can see why the writers did it. Tara was not the most interesting character and she was unlikely to develop any further. They had been planning to kill her off and the original intention was actually to do it earlier in the season. I don't personally think there was any intention to make or invalidate homophobia. However, I still think it was a mistake. As already stated it was too much darkness for one season. More to the point I think the writers forgot the lesson of their own show (specifically season 5's Family) in that it didn't matter that Tara wasn't the most interesting character. We liked her, she was a character who brought out the best in the other characters and added warmth to the show in the same way that Xander adds glib humour. It wasn't necessary for her to be interesting or to develop because she was fine the way she was.

7) Villains. In which Willow gives new meaning to the Dark Side of the force. Nasty, Nasty, episode. Willow goes out for vengeance in a MAJOR way and becomes the end of season big bad in the process of getting it. Features probably the most gruesome death scene that the series ever did.

8) Grave. The only season finale not written by Joss Whedon and clearly the weakest season finale. Again there is a problem with motivation here. Its simply not made clear enough how much of Willow's actions are her controlling black magic, or black magic controlling her. As such Willows decision to destroy the world and her ultimate decision not to do so are both somewhat unconvincing. Whilst I have my own personal way of reconciling both decisions so that they are consistent and reasonable in light of the events of the season; there is nothing to confirm (or contradict) this theory on screen. As such the resolution of the storyline and Willows return from the dark side is inevitably muddled.


Not so much a return to form as a lap of honour for the series. There's little out and out experimentation here as the show goes back to the style and tone of season 2 and 3 for the most part. This is very much like a greatest hits package. No more accurately it is like when a long running band returns to the sounds and approach of the first albums after a some experimental ones. As such it can be said that much of season 7 is derivative. On the other hand this hardly matters when the episodes are this good. There's nothing flashy about a chip butty, but who can resist a good one!

The other criticisms of this season are that the events of season 6 are swept under the carpet, that there is too much mucking about with the potential slayers and that the characters still sometimes act according to the necessities of the story arc rather than in a way that is truthful. As regards season 6, there is some truth in this. It is arguable that Willow is let of really lightly for her actions. On the other hand this is consistent with the approach taken to Faith. Similarly Willows eventual ability to return to using magic could've been clarified (although I don't find it particularly inconsistent). It is also worth pointing out that a large chunk of the fanbase was crying out for season 6 to be disregarded as far as possible anyway. Similarly there was a lot of the fanbase wanting stories about the potentials ever since Kendra was introduced, I was not one of those voices and consequently feel that there was too much stuff with the potentials.

These quibbles aside, this season is a heck of a lot of fun which was needed after the general angst of seasons 5 and 6. Whilst the nature of a final series is such that there tend to be fewer essential episodes, there are a very large number of very good episodes which don't get a mention below.

1) Lessons. The season premier and a return to the setting of Sunnydale High. Oodles of fun to be had here and a really cool scene at the end featuring all the previous seasons big bads.

2) Selfless. The definitive word on Anya as we learn huge amounts about her pre-Buffy life. This includes such matters as Olaf the troll, her fear of bunnies, her capitalism, her friendship with Halfreck, her propensity towards vengeance. Oh and we what amounts to a bonus track/deleted scene from Once More With Feeling. Lots of fun, but a lot of poignancy too.

3) Him. An example of season seven's derivative nature as this is almost exactly the same idea as bewitched bothered and bewildered (to the point where Xander says as much). But its done really well and is very funny. It also does have a new take on the idea because its done from the perspective of those under the love spell, rather than the person who is the object of the spell.

4) Conversations With Dead People. The only real format breaker in the season. A show comprising of four vignettes with characters talking to dead characters (and sponsored by Ronseal!). A still point of reflection of what has happened and what is yet to occurred and a chance for the big bad to play some head games. Its a shame that the vamp in the Buffy vignette was dusted, because he could have easily been an anti-Giles of sorts.

5) Get It Done. An important arc episode as Buffy gets a vision of what the big bad has in store for her and learns about the creation of the first slayer (thus tying up a thread set loose in Restless).

6) Lies My Parents Told Me. This episode does for Spike what Selfless does for Anya. It finally joins the dots between then William the fey “bloody awful poet and the Punky Sid Vicious persona of Spike. These figures would ultimately dovetail together in the final episode of Angel (Not Fade Away).

7) Dirty Girls. Faith returns. Caleb is introduced and Xander looses and eye in a bloody big fight.

8) Chosen. Here endeth the series. One of the shows best episodes and a fitting finale for one of the best shows ever made. Some live, some die, but ultimately the whole thing is extraordinarily uplifting and epic. Spike gets a grand send off, Angel returns, Sunnydale is destroyed (but in a Hooray “Schools out for ever” kind of way) and Buffy has a new army to lead. I saw this within 2 days of the final Lord of the Rings film and I preferred and still prefer this.