Doctor Who – The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos Review (or “The Worst Episode Title In Television History”)

December 16, 2018

Throughout its rich history, Doctor Who stories have often had some pretty catchy names.

Whether it’s the punchy one word titles like ‘Blink’, ‘Inferno’ or ‘Terminus’, titles that use lines of dialogue from the scripts like ‘State of Decay’, ‘Full Circle’ or ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’ or even ones that just take a good old fashioned Ronseal approach like ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’, ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ or ‘The Sea Devils’, the chances are you’ll remember them and be able to identify them easily.

I bring this up because the final episode of the current season of Doctor Who – The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos – has the worst episode title in the entire history of the show. There is no debate. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I haven’t come across a worse episode title in any TV show.

Putting aside that there wasn’t actually a battle, what sort of name is Ranskoor av Kolos for a planet? Sure, I’ve taken the piss out of Terry Nation in the past for his on-the-nose planet names like ‘Aridious’ and ‘Mechanus’ but at least they are memorable. I can’t see anyone rolling ‘Ranskoor av Kolos’ off their tongue any time soon, can you?

Of course, a name will only get you so far, hence my use of Terminus above. Regardless of the quality of the title, what matters most is whether the episode is any good.

So how good was The Battle of Thingamajig?

Doctor Who – The Battle of Somethingorother Review: What’s It About?

The Doctor and her pals once again tangle with the dude from the first episode. It’s the return match nobody asked for.

Thoughts – I Fell Asleep

I cannot argue that The Battle of WhatsItCalled looks good. The cinematography throughout Season 11 has been of a very high standard, and they’ve done their bit going to various different locations in a bid to

Oh my god it’s…erm…what’s his name from the first episode. I can’t believe it. What storytelling!!!

make each episode look distinct.

Similarly, costume design and lighting has been great too. The incidental music is an abomination, but that’s just my own personal opinion.

But that is just style. What about the substance?

Put simply, in this case I fell asleep.

Yes, I’d had a busy day and yes I’d eaten a lot of food, but it was 8pm when I watched it, not 1am, and quite frankly if it was an interesting episode I’d have stayed awake and alert.

But it was neither of those things, and so I dropped off for a good 20 minutes.

Then it took me until today (Friday) to summon up the will to even bother watching it again for the purposes of this review. And I didn’t enjoy it much this time either.

So what’s the problem?

It just wasn’t interesting. It involved the Doctor and chums walking about and handling things in a flat and tension free way. Yet again there was no threat to speak of, yet again the villain was vanquished fairly easily and yet again as an episode written by Chris Chibnall it was all just one-note.

I just found it all dreadfully dull, and judging by the general reviews, I’m not the only one.

And like I said above, I don’t think anyone had an appetite to see “Tim Shaw” make a reappearance. Tim Shaw Mania did not sweep the nation.

Wait, That’s The Finale?

If The Battle of Racoon and Kodos was just another episode then I’d maybe be a bit more forgiving, but it’s the end of a season. Surely they wanted to go out with a bang?

Now I’ll hold my hands up and say that when I heard this season wasn’t going to have a story-arc to speak of, I thought it would be a refreshing change. Indeed, I think I might have said as much in some earlier reviews or on social media. In the past, story-arcs have overpowered the individual episodes and led to finales that have perhaps been a bit too unwelcoming to the casual viewer. Plus some of those story-arcs (and I’m looking at you, River Song) have just been annoying.

But this season proves that they do have their place, because that episode showed that it was no way to end a season.

I read Ian “I’m NOT watching this season” Levine’s comments on the season after he…erm…watched every episode and he says it’s the weakest end to a season ever. To be fair, as someone not shy to use hyperbole he was always going to exaggerate, because you can’t argue that Time Flight was a powerful end to Season 19, or The Kings Demons ended Season 20 on a high, but as far as Nu Who goes, he is bang on.

Along with many of the other issues people have with this season of the show, hopefully Chris Chibnall will learn from it going forward.

I’m not going to hold my breath though.

“I Don’t Like Her”

Less specific to the episode – because there is so little to say about such a dreary affair – I think it’s worth commenting on Jodie Whittaker’s performance throughout the season.

Alright Charles Bronson, calm the fuck down

Taking everything into consideration, she’s been ok but not great.

I think it’s fair to say that it took four of the first seven Doctors at least 10 weeks to fully embrace the part, some of them longer. Actors do need to find their feet in the role and I’d like to think that come her second season, she might be a bit more comfortable.

However…

She is, so far, the weakest Doctor since the show returned, and yes, that could be down to her having an altogether weaker run of episodes than her counterparts. But it’s also worth noting that casual viewers I’ve spoken to have all said the same thing; “I don’t like her”.

Why? Because they still see her as someone who is trying to hard to be quirky and to replicate David Tennant. It’s a criticism I’ve brought up before, and after 10 weeks, it’s disappointing that it’s still valid.

They also have said to me that they don’t think she plays the part as naturally or as commandingly as the likes of Peter Capaldi or the aforementioned Tennant.

It’s worth noting that everyone who has said this to me has been a woman…

I’ll just say that I do think the quality of the writing helps determine the quality of a Doctor, but as an actor, she’s not got the gravitas to match her predecessors since 2005.

Random Observations

  • All of a sudden, Graham turned into Charles Bronson from Death Wish. I’ve liked Bradley Walsh’s performances throughout but I thought his take on that was a little subdued.
  • They nicked part of the plot from The Pirate Planet
  • Unlike just about every episode of the season, I didn’t think there was any chuckles to be had. Disappointing.
  • As nice as it is that they traverse the globe looking for splendid filming locations, I’d sooner they did it locally and produced more episodes.
  • Nothing really came of those patches they wore on their heads, did it? If you’re going to make a big deal about something early on, make use of it appropriately.
  • Guess who didn’t really do anything in this episode? Did you guess Yas? Clever you.

Doctor Who – The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos Review: Final Thoughts

Rarely has an episode of Doctor Who filled me with such withering apathy than The Battle of Rocky Road.

It might have looked good but it was the personification of dullness, and certainly unbecoming of a season finale.

They really must do better in the next season.

But can they? It’s a worry.

Hey, at least the Daleks are supposed to be coming back; that’ll be a refreshing change.

No, I can’t believe I said that either.

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Doctor Who – It Takes You Away Review (or “Will Someone Please Report Erik To Child Protective Services”)

December 8, 2018

Almost an entire week late, I bring you the review of It Takes You Away.

Apologies for the delay…

Doctor Who – It Takes You Away Review: What’s This One About?

A deadbeat dad leaves his blind daughter trapped and isolated so that he can spend some time with his dead wife.

In Norway.

Thoughts – The Difference Between Rating A Story On Its Own Merits vs Rating It As Part Of A Season

That’s a bit of a long tagline, but hey ho…

Anyway, my overriding feeling from watching It Takes You Away was that in isolation, it’s a good story.

Look at those scumbags. Unkempt hippies in dire need of a knock on the door from a social worker

It ticks a lot of the boxes you’d want from the show, in that it’s got an interesting premise, a well paced (but not flawless) script that has a beginning, middle and an end, it uses all the cast members appropriately, it looks good but also unusual for the show and it feels sufficiently ‘Doctor-Who-ish’.

And on its own merits, the ending is fine. Although by any standards it’s a bit twee having the Doctor make a new friend with a conscious universe masquerading as a frog, if it was a one-off then I don’t think people would complain. After all, you’ve only got to watch The Doctor Dances to see that a happy ending isn’t a bad thing.

But to me it just felt like once again a story ended in a proverbial warm hippy hug, and we’ve all had enough of that.

So as part of any other season, I think I’d appreciate this episode more than I actually have.

Hold On, Has The Writer Actually Attempted Character Development?

The big surprise from It Takes You Away was that for the first time since The Woman Who Fell To Earth, not only did every companion have something worthwhile to do during the episode, but there was some proper use of their characters too.

Yas used her police training, Ryan’s abandonment issues and relationship with Graham were explored, and of course Graham had plenty of scenes with Grace.

It’s like the writer actually wanted to make use of what the characters are supposed to be, which is a hugely novel concept that nobody else has bothered to pursue…

Build Up A Threat And Then Ignore It

If I had one major criticism of the episode though it would be that a lot of time was spent building up the threat of those moths. When the Doctor, Yas, Graham and Ribbons were making their way through the

The universe there, making the internationally accepted symbol for “Table for four please”

passages, the moths were treated a bit like the Dalek from Dalek. One single moth was deadly enough to mean if any of them moved a muscle they were dead.

But when Ryan and Hanne came across them later in the episode, they were able to avoid swarms of them just by running away and hiding.

It’s a bit inconsistent isn’t it?

Random Observations

  • By any standard, Erik needs a visit from Child Protective Services.
  • As is often the case on TV, Hanne was given these extra sensory special powers because she’s blind. Unlike Erik, she was instantly able to detect that wasn’t her mum.
  • And yet she was tricked by some speakers in the garden. Fancy that.
  • Incidental music once again annoyed me.
  • While I still think it’s weird that Graham wants Ryan to call him granddad, it was a nice moment for him when he finally did. But that’s a story arc that had long since been ignored, and more to the point it’s one that – had they persevered with it – probably should have climaxed in the final episode of the season.
  • Speaking of Ryan, his interactions with Hanne were probably the most animated Tosin Cole has managed to get. I still think he’s a rubbish actor.
  • There’s quirky and then there’s just stupid. The stuff with the sheep was the latter.
  • What was the point of it being set in Norway? Is it so people can use the term ‘Scandi-Noir’ even though it really wasn’t?

Doctor Who – It Takes You Away Review: Final Thoughts

My brother asked me yesterday if I planned on publishing my review of this story any time soon, and I said I just hadn’t got around to it yet.

The question I suppose is why?

Like so many other episodes of Season 11, I’ve enjoyed them enough while I’ve watched them, but haven’t been inspired enough to immediately go to write about them.

Now on one hand, that shows that these stories aren’t necessarily bad, because nothing gets the creative juices of a reviewer bubbling more than crap TV, but on the other they aren’t really good enough to want to talk about immediately either.

And it doesn’t help that at their heart, pretty much every episode has the same underlying strengths and flaws. I could write these reviews now with my eyes closed.

With one final episode left this season, plus a New Year’s Day special, I think it’s fair to say that Season 11 hasn’t set the heather alight.

But hey, there’s still time…


Doctor Who – The Witchfinders Review (or “The One Where The Doctor Finally Gets A Distinguishable Character”)

December 1, 2018

Apologies for the lateness of this review; there’s no sinister reason behind it, I just didn’t have time on Sunday and it kept getting put on the back-burner.

Before I set about discussing The Witchfinders, there’s other Doctor Who business to discuss first…

I recently watched the Blu Ray of Shada for the first time since getting it last Christmas (I’m a stickler for watching Doctor Who in order so I only got the chance last week) and I have to say it’s excellent. The animation isn’t exactly Disney standard, but it did the job. Moreover, the quality of the picture for the filmed parts was superb and the reworked incidental music – done very much in the style of the City of Death – was great. Now obviously you all know that Tom Baker filmed new footage for the last scene which is obviously fantastic, but knowing that already going in (and obviously having already watched it the moment I got the Blu Ray) I think the biggest surprise was the way they used the late David Brierley’s voice in the animation by using archive recordings for K-9. They could so easily have just dubbed John Leeson’s voice over the entire story, and I’m glad they didn’t.

When I mentioned this on Facebook, I was asked if I would rate Shada any higher now. The answer is probably not; it’s a good story, but there are still 12 better Tom Baker ones in my view.

Anyway, let’s get back to the present and the The Witchfinders.

Doctor Who – The Witchfinders Review: What’s This One About?

The gang try to stop witch trials and come across a mud monster.

Thoughts – A Welcome Addition

When I read back all of my Season 11 reviews, I’ll probably find a lack of continuity in my attitude towards this new style of storytelling employed by Chris Chibnall on a week-to-week basis.

I wonder what the reaction would have been if they cast Bradley Walsh as the Doctor with that hat, and Alan Cumming as his companion in those clothes?

Yes, I’ve long since advocated for more episodes that don’t have an alien threat and I’m pretty sure I’ve praised some of Season 11 for that, but I have to admit that when I was watching The Witchfinders, my thoughts during the first half were largely “Oh for Christ’s sake; not another episode without any proper monster”. That would have been too much. It is possible to go too far in the opposite direction.

Thankfully though, there was, with the Morax showing up half way through to inject some horror into what would otherwise have been a pretty bland episode.

While there’s definitely room for variety in episode styles, for the show to be Doctor Who, I think more often than not the episodes need to include a monster. It’s what the majority expect.

That’s not to say that this episode was suddenly amazing because of the monster, because there are loads of examples of stories including them being poor, but it did make it better.

The Doctor Under Threat

Another novel change based upon what we’ve come to expect from Season 11 is that the Doctor actually comes under threat! Oh Em Gee!!

Also, I think for the first time her gender has been used in the plot, and that’s a good thing. Though while the Doctor did comment “If I was still a bloke…” there are still countless occasions when s/he was unfairly accused of stuff as a man. Mind you, I don’t think he’d ever been accused of being a witch.

Anyway, the point is that by actually playing up to the fact the Doctor is now a woman, it actually gives her a unique selling point; a character that can be used within stories.

Yay!

Companions…Blah Blah Blah

Not enough for all companions to do? Check.

I don’t need to harp on about that any further

Alan Cummings: Playing It For Laughs

Alan Cummings by nature is a bold and – and I say this in a good way – hammy actor, so it’s no surprise his take on playing the King was to make it Carry On-esque.

Go home Doctor, you’re drunk

I’m in two minds about it, because it could be argued he wasn’t taking the role seriously.

But the bits he did approach more seriously – notably his one-to-one with the Doctor when she was strung up – were good.

It’s just that if he’s trying to be serious in one scene and then chatting up Ryan like Sid James lusting after Barbara Windsor in the next, it’s a bit jarring.

Random Observations

  • Did the old woman at the start not drown very fast?
  • I’m at the point now where I’m beginning to hate the incidental music. I just felt in the first half of the episode especially, it was totally out of place with what we were seeing on screen.
  • Noted dissenters of the current production team would know doubt have groaned at the leader of the village being a woman.
  • I can get on board with the episode starting with the Doctor and her companions already being in Lancashire at the start of the episode, but I know it confused my mum. Maybe there should have been a little intro first?
  • Personally I think The Mark of Satan would have been a better episode title.
  • Graham had some amusing lines in this episode, not least “It’s obvious when you put it like that”. Out of context that doesn’t look funny at all…
  • But I do have a bit of an issue with Graham here. Much like Yas and Ryan in the Rosa episode, I felt he had far too much specialist knowledge about the Witch Trials. Obviously it’s not impossible for him to know all about it, but it seems a bit too convenient for story-telling purposes that they’ve once again accidentally landed in a reasonably obscure point in history that one of them happens to know all about.
  • Also it was a bit convenient that the King happened to be in the neighbourhood.
  • I like the continued use of the psychic paper, but it does presume knowledge from a while back.

Doctor Who – The Witchfinders Review: Final Thoughts

Season 11 of Doctor Who has had a number of episodes that on first viewing are enjoyable enough but will largely be forgotten about in a few years time.

The Witchfinders is another example of that.

It entertained when it was on, but like a lot of episodes it doesn’t have enough about it to be memorable.

But at least for once I felt the Doctor had a distinguishable character. Unfortunately, what has made her stand out here is the fact she’s now a woman, and I don’t think that would have been what Chris Chibnall wanted…


Doctor Who – Kerblam! Review (or “A Welcome Return to Classic Nu-Who”)

November 19, 2018

When it comes to social media, I’ve always held the belief that it’s important to surround yourself with a wide range of views and opinions, even if you strongly disagree with them. If you only follow people who share your ideologies and never allow yourself to hear an opposing view, then you risk trapping yourself in a sort of bubble. You never know, occasionally some of those opposing views might make sense.

Then again, they might not.

And that brings me to a couple of hashtags I’ve seen floating around Twitter recently; namely #NotMyDoctor and #CancelDoctorWho.

There’s a vocal minority who hate the current season so much and have such a strong and misguided sense of ownership over it (i.e. “We liked it when it wasn’t cool so we must be pandered to forever”) that they

The Doctor’s reaction to not being allowed on the Conveyor Belt is very much like mine as a child when being told I wasn’t allowed to lick cake mix off the spoon.

essentially demand that it should be cancelled. If they don’t like it, then nobody else should be allowed to either.

Now the thing is, I decided to watch a YouTube video from one of the ringleaders and he had some valid points in his dislike of the show. Like me, he doesn’t feel that Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor has much of a character, and he went as far as to say she tends to play the part differently in each episode. Now that is something I hadn’t considered, but there’s an element of truth to it. He also doesn’t think too much of Chris Chibnall as a writer, which is also something I have echoed.

But underneath it all, and the part of this that devalues anything people like him have to say, is just a total hatred of women. It’s that simple. So blinded are they by their feels towards the opposite sex that they can’t – or won’t – see any positives, and thus they spin things to suggest Doctor Who is failing so badly that it should be ‘put out of its misery’.

Of course, this is nonsense.

Now they might come back to me and say “You’re wrong Stuart, we don’t hate women; we’re just calling it as we see it”, but the silver bullet that pierces the heart of that argument is that in the aforementioned video, after criticising the two female leads for how awful they were the man in question described Tosin Bell as a fantastic actor who deserves a show with just him and Bradley Walsh. Come on eh?

And let’s not beat around the bush either; as I’ve previously stated in my reviews of this season, there are people on the opposite end of the spectrum too. There are women with just as passionate a hatred for men as there are men who hate women, and these people are aggressively pro-Doctor Who now that it’s in its current form. They claim the show now “belongs” to them.

I just remember when it was a TV show. Some people liked it, and some people hated it.

Those were the days.

But in fairness, there has been one thing that everyone – from the shows greatest advocates to its fiercest critics and everyone in between – has agreed on. And that’s that it would be nice if there was a little bit more of a threat to the Doctor and an episode that stays true to what made the show a success from the late 1960s onwards.

And so, thankfully, we come to this week’s episode, Kerblam!.

Doctor Who – Kerblam! Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor and friends visit a futuristic version of an Amazon Warehouse in a bid to get to the bottom of a distress call.

Thoughts – Classic Nu-Who

Just in the nick of time, Season 11 of Doctor Who has delivered the sort of episode that most people associate with Doctor Who.

The solution to getting everyone loving Doctor Who again is to make Twirly the new companion next season

It ticks the boxes of being futuristic, it has an alien menace of sorts and it brings in the sort of humour we came to expect during the Russell T Davies era.

There’s an engaging plot that flows, there’s a theme that resonates with the world we live in (and I’ll get to that more shortly), it had bits to scare the kids, an underlying sinisterness, quality direction and even a couple of nice plot twists at the end that – although foreshadowed – I didn’t see coming.

Put simply, I thought it was Classic Nu-Who.

Kerblam! is very much an episode that you could imagine involving the 10th Doctor, Rose and Mickey, but at the same time it also has a little bit of Robots of Death about it too.

Surely then, this is the sort of episode that will appeal to most? Or will hatred win the day and will this episode be “Far worse than even the worst stories under Moffat”?

The Twists

I think the part of Kerblam! that stands out most to me is the aforementioned twists.

The well trodden path for an episode like this would be for the cry for help to come from the humans who work there, and the villain would have turned out to be one of the management, with Charlie and Kira getting together at the end. There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with that, but it certainly wouldn’t have stood out.

Instead, the Doctor was aware of the obvious and went straight to who she thought was to blame. When it turned out that the cry for help was from the system and that happy-go-lucky cleaner Charlie was to blame, it was a pleasant surprise.

But Is The Anti-Amazon Stuff Another Case Of The Show Being Too Moralistic?

You might argue that this episode has an underlying moralistic tone to it. Quite clearly, it’s an attack on the way the likes of Amazon operate today and it doesn’t paint them in a good light.

Booooooooo!!! I’ll never forgive her for impeding the work of AC-12!!

But rather than being right-on, I think it’s just an episode that is influenced by the current climate in which we live.

Off the top of my head you could go as far back as the War Machines’ use of the Post Office tower, or perhaps a greater comparison would be the Barry Letts era of the show that had episodes that were quite obviously about hot-topics of the day like Britain entering the common market, pollution, the miners strike and the rise in popularity of Buddhism.

Basically, this is nothing the show hasn’t already done before.

Random Observations

  • As you might expect, there still isn’t enough for all the companions to do, but I would definitely say that this is the episode that has come closest to making best use of everyone.
  • And it was good to see that Ryan’s back story – completely ignored since the first episode – was used within the plot.
  • Also for once, Yas actually stood out as a character. Her desire to take Dan’s pendant back to his child was a nice touch.
  • Kerblam! had a few laugh out loud moments, including Graham’s line about how they must have the worst business model ever.
  • I also enjoyed Twirly.
  • Although it would have killed the subsequent plot stone dead, I’d have laughed if Ryan had accidentally killed Charlie by high-fiving him off the conveyor belt.
  • For a company that has 10,000 human employees, there certainly weren’t many of them about.
  • Though the Doctor’s character once again wasn’t too clear to me, I did like how she was willing to let Charlie die having given him a chance to walk away.
  • Also I loved her childish reaction to being told she wasn’t allowed on the conveyor belts.
  • And actually, I thought the episode did a good job of highlighting the hypocrisy of fanaticism, with Charlie suffering personal loss when Kira died because of him.
  • Explosive bubble wrap is a pretty neat idea. Wait, that makes me sound like a would-be-serial killer.
  • Lee Mack just plays Lee Mack, but it works.
  • And I was surprised he was killed off so early.
  • I booed every time Kira was on screen, because the actress who played her was so detestable in Line of Duty.
  • Though I haven’t sought out the reactions of the #CancelDoctorWho squad for this episode, one daft bit of feedback I did see from what you might describe as a ‘hater’ was “How did the Kerblam! man manage to materialise in the TARDIS. That’s just so ridiculous“. Yeah…cos that’s never been done before in Modern or Classic Doctor Who, has it?
  • Another good episode written by someone other than Chibnall. I’m stunned…
  • There are rumours abound that he might be stepping down because the workload is too great. I can’t say I’d be shocked or upset.

Doctor Who – Kerblam! Review: Final Thoughts

To tie the conclusion back to the introduction, one of the main issues people have had with Season 11 is that it felt like a different show in terms of tone and threat to the companions.

Kerblam! is exactly the type of episode that people have been crying out for, and thus if those people are fair-minded about it, then I would hope that they will give it the praise it deserves.

But I wouldn’t hold out much hope, because despite the Doctor’s own insistence that love is the most powerful force in the universe, in the current world in which we live, I think hate sadly trumps all.


Why Red Dead Redemption 2 Is A Game Stuck In The Past (And Not In A Good Way)

November 17, 2018

*Warning*: This review contains spoilers about the plot of Red Dead Redemption 2; if you have yet to complete the game and don’t want to know what happens, it’s best to come back later.

A long, long time ago on Stuart Reviews Stuff I wrote a 12-part series of articles about the top 100 games of the previous generation of consoles. You can find the links to those articles in the index, but for the purpose of this review, I have to spoil the ending by saying that Red Dead Redemption for the Xbox 360 came out on top.

I absolutely loved it and have awaited the sequel ever since.

Well that sequel arrived three weeks ago and now – 60 hours of story mode and many more hours of faffing about the open-world later – I think I’m finished with it.

And seeing as I’ve invested so much time on it, I definitely think it’s worthy of a review, but perhaps not for the most positive of reasons…

A Story That Draws You In…Then Spits You Out

I’ll get straight to the point, because this is where my strongest feelings are…

I loved Arthur’s story. It’s a slow burner, but as it develops and he gradually becomes a better person while some of the men around him are exposed as being a lot worse than you first thought, it becomes utterly absorbing.

Early on in the game, I was happy to spend my time away from the main story, doing side quests, completing challenges, looking for chance encounters and generally exploring the vast, beautifully realised open world, but once the gang arrived in Rhodes, I found that I just wanted to focus on that.

It was a well told tale of a man who – like the game’s title suggests – finds redemption in himself while realising that those around him who he believed in were not the people he thought.

It looked like it was heading for the natural and obvious conclusion; a showdown between Arthur and Dutch where good triumphs over evil and Dutch is defeated.

Instead, Arthur dies from tuberculosis, there’s no confrontation to speak of with Dutch, who gets off scot-free, and then there’s further 7 hour mind-numbing epilogue where John Marston milks cows and builds a house.

The reason for that – which I didn’t realise until I was hooked – is because this is a prequel to the original Red Dead Redemption where Dutch meets his death after a showdown with John.

Bloody hell…

Look, as I’ve said, I loved the original game but I played it over 8 years ago; how am I supposed to be expected to remember the intricacies of the plot of a video game from a previous generation which – as awesome as it was – had no replay value?

To expect people to play a game for 60 hours with no creative payoff in the hope we’d remember how the first game unfolded is really poor. I just can’t see that appealing to anyone outside of Rockstar games except for a very small amount of fanboys.

It left a bad taste in my mouth and made me less forgiving of some of the other flaws within the game.

Scratch Under The Surface

And there are plenty of flaws if you scratch under the surface of the shiny exterior.

For example, in amongst the 60 hours of the story mode, I’d wager at least 10 or even 15 of those hours are spent on your horse travelling from one point on the map to the next. Yes, you can unlock a fast travel mode, but that only works when travelling from your camp.

Really, if you do look at it closely, with almost every piece of action you control in the story – so not including the cut-scenes – it’s just a case of a) Ride to the place you want to go b) Shoot people and c) Ride back to camp.

Meanwhile the controls are pretty clunky and dated too.

I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I ended up riding my horse directly into a tree or a boulder, while the fiddly nature of interaction with strangers often resulted in me accidentally attacking people rather than greeting them. On one occasion, I accidentally got my wagon stuck between two trees, and with no reversing or any obvious way of going back to the previous checkpoint, I had to waste 5 minutes trying to find some way to die. Very frustrating.

One of the main appeals of the previous game – hunting – was so awkward and slapdash that I barely bothered to do anything with it. Essentially, hunting was completely unnecessary to success in the game. If you were so inclined, you could hunt for animals to improve your inventory or to get a fancy costume, but for the amount of effort involved, the rewards weren’t worth it. There was no need to improve the size of your satchel because apart from health products, horse stamina and dead eye products there was no need to carry anything else.

It was all smoke and mirrors, just like the unnecessary general stores and gun shops that were the same in every town. You didn’t have to buy anything because the stuff you did need – bullets, guns, snake oil etc – were all gotten for free from progressing through the game and looting the corpses of the people you shot.

Meanwhile, though it should perhaps have been more important than it was, feeding yourself and maintaining your horse ultimately had no bearing on your progress within the game. So why bother?

Rockstar has this great reputation for bringing out premium games – the sort of games that get worldwide attention – and yet I think it’s fair to say that while they are immense in scope, for functionality and user experience, they have been left behind by rival brands like Far Cry. In games like that, there’s a challenging (but fun) process to improving the guns you carry and the likes of your inventory size etc. Doing things like that actually mattered. In Red Dead, it was just dressing, but not a nice dressing.

Finally, for a game of such high repute, the general quality of controls just trails in the wake of what Nintendo are capable of. If you have the chance, play Mario Odyssey and see how it controls compared to Red Dead. You might read this and think “That’s not the same”, but it is; it’s amount moving a character around the screen from a third person perspective.

For fluid motion, it’s like comparing ice cream to horse manure.

The Epilogue

I touched upon this above, but it needs its own little section to expand on my point.

After Arthur dies, you take control of John Martson. Yes, he’s the main character in the first game, but for those who didn’t play that game or have largely forgotten it (so most people then), he’s very much a periphery character in the story of Red Dead 2.

And when you control him the game loses much of its freedom. It’s just one mundane mission after another.

Off the top of my head, missions included…

  • Get a job taking some shopping to a ranch.
  • Get a job on that ranch.
  • Train the rancher’s son to ride a horse and help his wife deliver a calf.
  • Milk a cow.
  • Build a fence.
  • Shovel manure.
  • Teach your son how to drive a wagon.
  • Go to the bank to ask for a loan.
  • Go to the local DIY shop to buy flat pack furniture.
  • Watch a cut scene of him building a house while occasionally being asked to press X to hammer a nail into a plank of wood.
  • Take your son fishing (and oh my god fishing was awful).
  • Suck snake venom out of a dog.
  • Get your photo taken.

In amongst all of that, only 3 missions involved any sort of action. Without any of the money you’d accrued as Arthur, or his horses that you had trained, it felt like having to go back to the most remedial opening stages of a game.

I’ve played some games that all-told run for less than that torturous epilogue.

After spending so long-playing it up to that point, and without the hindsight of knowing just how pointless each subsequent mission was, I didn’t feel I could stop.

The Credits

I have to talk about the credits of this game too.

With the greatest of respect, nobody cares about the credits of any game or movie, and I say that as someone who is credited in Football Manager every year. That’s why it bugs me when Marvel decide to put a scene at the end of the credits. To me, it’s like they punishing the viewers, as if to say “You don’t have to stay, but if you want to see everything then you need to show us respect of reading the name of everyone involved in the production”.

Well the end credits of Red Dead Redemption 2 does offer the opportunity to skip them, but throughout those credits there are lots of little cut scenes that show what happened to all the different characters. Again, if you’ve spent all that time playing the game then you do want to see those cut scenes, and thus, it feels like the credits are unfortunately essential.

But those credits last for over 35 minutes.

That’s not a misquote. Over thirty-five fucking minutes.

It’s an absolute piss take.

Final Thoughts 

Had Red Dead Redemption 2’s story been self-contained and culminated in a satisfying manner, then I think I would have found the over-all experience positive, in spite of the clunky controls and poor user experience relating to things like travel, hunting and shops.

But I really can’t get past just how badly it ended.

I shouldn’t have to go to YouTube to see a video of Dutch throwing himself off a cliff to see how his story turned out. But if it wasn’t for YouTube and external sources in general, I would have just thought after all that time playing the game, the lead antagonist would have just walked off and never got any sort of comeuppance.

And I can’t stress enough just how mundane the epilogue was.

To sum it up I would say this…

Red Dead Redemption 2 is presented magnificently well; its size and scope are probably without compare. However, under the surface, it’s very much stuck in a previous generation of games. The controls, the style and even the nature of the story are no different to 2010’s original, and could possibly have taken a step backwards from that. Things have moved on; other games have overtaken it for playability and user experience.

And they manage it without spending 35 minutes on a credits section.

But that won’t stop Rockstar making an awful lot of money from it.


Doctor Who – Demons of the Punjab Review (or “Manish, You Bastard!!”)

November 12, 2018

One thing I haven’t paid too much attention to so far this season is who wrote each episode. Obviously for the first week it was going to be from the pen of Chris Chibnall, and I did notice that it was he who wrote last week’s episode too.

On closer inspection, he’s solely credited with writing four of the five episodes, and has a co-credit on the fifth – Rosa – which just so happens to be the best of those five

This week, Demons of the Punjab is written by someone else entirely. It’s a first Doctor Who episode for BAFTA nominated Vinay Patel, so it will be interesting to judge the quality against that of his boss…

Doctor Who – Demons of the Punjab Review: What’s This One About?

Yasmine wants to go back in time to see her gran when she was young. And there are demons…

Thoughts – Much, Much Better

Before I go too deep into this review, I should say that certain issues that have plagued the season are still present here.

There’s still not enough for each companion to do, there’s still an underlying issue with the companions and the Doctor not having enough of a defined character and there still hasn’t been much of a threat to the

Imagine my surprise when Brian Blessed turned up

Doctor or any of her travelling companions.

Now that being said, none of this is Vinay Patel’s problem. Six episodes in, those issues should have been dealt with by the man running the show. So I’m going to judge this episode on its own merits.

And on its own merits, this was definitely a good one.

Much like Rosa, Demons of the Punjab goes back to Doctor Who’s roots of educating and informing, and in this case it was about a point in history I knew practically nothing about. So for me at least, it did what it set out to do.

But more than that, it was actually a very strong and heartfelt episode. While initially I thought it might go down the road of The Aztecs or Father’s Day, nobody interfered with history and no lessons were there to be learned about that.

Instead, this was about the impact that moment in history had on the people who were there; families and communities ripped apart by the sudden imposing of borders and religious divisions, love lost and innocent people killed.

In many ways it was unlike Doctor Who and could have worked as its own show.

But there was of course that extra element about it that only Who can bring, with the Vajarians and the perspective that the time travellers brought to the episode.

Indeed, it was that part that brought out the drama and emotion in the episode. When they – and we as viewers – realised that poor old Prem was going to die that day and be betrayed by his own brother in the process, his inevitable demise became sadder. In particular, I thought that Bradley Walsh was excellent as his character fought back the tears when speaking to Prem before his wedding.

The Vajarians

Taken on their own merit, the Vajarians were an interesting race.

Even though once again it meant that another episode went by without a direct threat for the Doctor to defeat, I quite liked the twist that they weren’t there to cause harm. It did help the episode along.

Unfortunately on a wider scale, there is an argument to say that they are too similar to Twice Upon A Time’s ‘monsters’, The Testimony. While not identical, this was definitely a similar twist to what we say only six episodes before.

The Visuals

A consistent positive throughout this season of Doctor Who has been the quality of the camera work. Though there have been two episodes set in Sheffield, the other four episodes have all been in totally different environments.

I’d say this is possibly the best one yet, though that might be because it’s the first one I’ve watched on a 4K TV.

Even if it wasn’t though, it would still look great.

A Different Take On The Companion Problem

Now I know that I’ve covered that the companions don’t have much of a character already, and last week I went into great detail about how three companions doesn’t work, but I’m going to put forward another theory on my continued issues with two of them…

Maybe they just aren’t good actors?

If none of them have any real character to them, and all of them struggle for screen time, why is it that just about every week I come away from the episode remembering and appreciating Bradley Walsh’s

Once again, despite struggling for screen time as much as the other two companions, Bradley Walsh stood head and shoulders above them

contribution but not the other two? Yes, I accept Walsh stands out more because of who he is and I also accept that his age makes a difference to the insight his character can offer, but all three characters do have lines of dialogue in the script.

Demons of the Punjab is a Yas episode. She’s the reason they are there and her story bookends the episode, but I once again felt that she just stood around. In no way did Mandip Gill shine. Instead, she was outperformed by every other member of the cast except for the even more hopeless Tosin Cole. You’d be forgiven for forgetting Ryan was in this episode (or indeed most of them).

So perhaps the issues with Yas and Ryan are exacerbated by the actors playing them lacking the sort of quality you’d hope they should have?

Since Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005, the actors playing the companions have mostly been of a high standard and have gone on to have great success. I can’t see it happening with these two.

Random Observations

  • The incidental music was better this week, but that bit that annoys me reared its ugly head a few times.
  • Oh Manish was a right bastard. I’m disappointed he never got his comeuppance.
  • On the Vajarian’s screen, the old guy who died looked very much like Brian Blessed.
  • Jodie Whittaker was fine again today, but really – and I know I’ve said this before – her Doctor needs to come under some kind of threat so we can see more of what she brings to the role.
  • Shouldn’t the Doctor have been a little more reluctant to let Yas meet her gran after the events of Father’s Day?
  • And wouldn’t the gran be a little taken aback by Yas basically telling her she had no interest in hearing about the watch?
  • Also, does the last scene mean that they regularly go back home between adventures? So what does the Doctor get up to?
  • The guest cast were all very good in my opinion.

Doctor Who – Demons of the Punjab Review: Final Thoughts

While certain issues still plague this season of Doctor Who, Demons of the Punjab was a much better episode than last week, and arguably the best episode of the season so far.

It worked within the format and proved both educational and emotional.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s a story written by someone other than Chris Chibnall…

I’ve looked ahead and for the next three weeks, episodes are written by other writers too, so let’s hope the quality stays high.


Doctor Who – The Tsuranga Conundrum Review (or “The One Where All The Problems Come To The Surface”)

November 5, 2018

The Tsuranga Conundrum represents the end of the first half of the this season of Doctor Who.

Up to now, I’d say there have been two good episodes and without being awful, two less memorable ones. That’s not so bad, but what about episode five?

Doctor Who – The Tsuranga Conundrum: What’s This One About?

This week’s is a knock-off of Alien buy a sort of cuddly looking monster.

Thoughts: Three Companions Is At Least One Too Many

Right, we’re half way through, so I think I can say this now…

Three companions is at least one too many for modern Doctor Who. Like I’ve said before, it worked well in 1963/4 because of the different pace stories were told at, but it simply doesn’t work now. The running

There goes the ‘threat’, let outside after being fed. Like a fucking cat.

time and style of modern episodes means there is not enough for everyone to get equal share of the plot and the result is that nobody really has much of a character to speak of. In tonight’s episode, Graham and Ryan were relegated to a comedy side plot, while once again Yasmine just stood around in the background.

If you compare them to Ian, Barbara and Susan/Vicki, or even Tegan, Adric and Nyssa you see that each character provides very little.

In those early stories, the cast would be split off into two or three groups and they would have their own plot lines to follow. So to give a good example, in the Romans there were individual storylines for The Doctor & Vicki, Ian on his own and Barbara on her own. It was the same in The Web Planet, The Crusade and The Space Museum. Everyone had something to do and everything they did do had a point to it.

Meanwhile in the early 1980s when they admitted that three companions was too many, at least those characters all had something distinguishable about them. Tegan was a brassy Australian airline pilot, Nyssa was a quiet alien from Traken who would often help the Doctor with sciency things and Adric was…well…a prick who would usually side with the villains but at least his character synopsis – a mathematical whizz-kid – was used in stories.

But Graham, Yasmine and Ryan are all from 2018 Sheffield and really, the only thing that differentiates between them is their age. In any given episode, who they are and what they add is unclear. There’s more said about Ryan’s dad than Ryan for example and after five weeks Yas has done *nothing* other than travel with the Doctor.

It doesn’t work, and I’m baffled that Chris Chibnall thought that it would.

And what’s more baffling is that in The Tsuranga Conundrum, the guest characters all added something to the plot and time was spent not just giving each of them a well-defined personality, but also a significant role within the episode, while the companions literally stood around looking bewildered.

At least the Doctor got some level of characterisation this week. We now know that she doesn’t like being told what to do, and perhaps unlike recent previous Doctors, there’s an air of vulnerability about her. She’s not just a Superhero who can single-handedly save the day on her own. And hey, that’s something at least.

They Say It’s Political Correctness Gone Mad

If you look at internet forums, social media or right-wing newspaper reviews, you’ll see that Doctor Who has come under fire a lot by certain types of people.

Take last week for example; plenty of men north of the age of 40 said Arachnids in the UK was a load of garbage. Terms like “Worst episode ever” were bandied about.

Now of course, some of this is down to prejudice. There are people who are determined to hate the show because The Doctor is played by a woman. Let’s ignore the fact that the plot of the episode was a mashup of two stories – The Green Death and Planet of the Spiders – that that particular demographic will love. Although when confronted over it they’d disagree, I think it’s clear that they dislike it not because of the quality of the script, but because the Doctor is played by a woman, and in some cases, because the villain of the piece was an obvious shot at Donald Trump, who they might adore.

That’s letting their own politics and prejudices get in the way of their enjoyment of a show they are supposed to love.

Now I’ve always maintained that I find that a bit sad, and I’m entitled to say that.

But if I’m being balanced, I think there’s an argument to say that certain elements of this season of Doctor Who are aimed at alienating these viewers even further.

I feel a little uncomfortable writing this because it feels like something you can’t say any without being branded a Daily Mail reading dinosaur, but there’s an argument to suggest that Doctor Who this season has maybe swung a little bit too much to being politically correct and right on.

So far in every episode we’ve seen, it’s women who are the heroic ones while the men are portrayed by-and-large as being awful and/or subservient. There is absolutely no problem with doing that on a story by story basis – and obviously and justifiably there’s zero issue doing that in Rosa because…well…duh – but surely there’s a balance to be struck? Surely at some stage in the great vastness of time and space, the Doctor will travel to a time where high-ranking officials or heroes are honourable men? They have existed in the past, just as they do in the present and will do in the future.

Surely the solution to equality is not to simply tip inequality in the other direction?

For what it’s worth, I was discussing it with my girlfriend, and she’s noticed it too. And she agrees with me.

As someone with an objective view (or maybe an old-fashioned view; maybe I haven’t seen that up until this year Doctor Who was sexist?), it just feels a little bit like as a reaction to the backlash from certain sections of fandom, a conscious decision has been made to tell them “We think you’re out of touch and so we’re going to make sure there’s nothing for you here”.

And as we all know, two wrongs don’t make a right, as is evidenced by some of the fans on the other side of the debate who relish tweeting about how Doctor Who is ‘theirs’ now.

It’s all very tiresome.

Another One…Doesn’t Bite The Dust

Last week I said that I thought the resolution to the spider problem was fine, despite other reviewers finding it a bit tame.

There’s Yas being useful again, getting involved in the plot and being a big character

This week I’m now very much on board with being a little perplexed by this trend of having the Doctor and her companions once again come up against a non-threatening monster/enemy. It’s quite ironic because I’ve often complained about the necessity of having a monster in just about every story of the RTD/Moffat era. Now I’d like one back. For balance.

After no threat at all in week 2, a time meddler who was unable to harm anyone in week 3, and a spider who was only trying to get on with its life in week 4, in week 5 we have a ‘really dangerous’ cuddly space bear who has no interest in harming humans, and only killed poor old Astos by mistake.

And once again, the resolution was very sanitized. In week 2, everybody won, in week 3 the meddling bloke was sent back further in time, in week 4 the spider died of natural causes (fucking hell) and in week 5, the Pting was given a nice meal and sent on its way.

I’m not asking for the Doctor to be Charles Bronson in Death Wish, but if there is no threat then there often isn’t drama. You can get away with using a different form of drama in an episode like Rosa, but in a base under siege storyline, it doesn’t really hit the spot.

The Incidental Music

The incidental music is now, to put it bluntly, pissing me right off.

The constant synthesiser (I think) twang on repeat is as grating as the worst of Roger Limb or Keff McCulloch.

Any form of incidental music that is repeated so often that you become completely aware of it goes against what incidental music is supposed to be.

And that same bit has been in every episode so far; it’s just that in The Tsuranga Conundrum there’s almost nothing else.

Random Observations

  • I spent the episode wondering where I’d seen Ben Bailey Smith (Durkas Cicero in the episode) before. I didn’t recognise the name. Turns out he was on Taskmaster under the name Doc Brown.
  • In the Doctor Who universe, if Graham can watch Call The Midwife, I wonder what’s on BBC1 on a Sunday night at 7pm?
  • Nothing came of the Doctor being told not to run while she recovered from the sonic mine.
  • I’ve read some suggestions that all the villains who have got away will return in the finale. I’d like to see how that could be even remotely feasible (famous last words).
  • One of the most damning things about The Tsuranga Conundrum is that for many people, a brief glimpse of a Pertwee-era Silurian on a screen was the highlight.

Did I Actually Like The Tsuranga Conundrum?

This review has focused more on the over-all problems I’ve found with the show, now that we are five weeks in.

At this point you might be wondering whether or not I enjoyed the episode that the review is supposed to be about?

Well if you take away the issues with the companions, the casting of the characters and the continued lack of a serious threat, what are you left with?

The answer is a story that just felt a bit shallow and too wordy. The big crutch of a Pting that had no interest in coming after the characters meant there wasn’t really much to it, and so time had to be filled by that daft subplot about the pregnant bloke.

The thing is though that all of these realisations came after the fact. When I was actually watching the episode, it didn’t feel like a chore, and I certainly didn’t dislike it.

But I think that’s because when you first watch it, you perhaps don’t realise the problems. You don’t see that there’s poor writing yet because you don’t know what’s to come.

Take the aforementioned sonic mine; when it happened I thought “Ok, this is a good start, let’s see how it blossoms throughout the episode”, but as I’ve written above, nothing came of it. It was a convoluted way to get them aboard the ship and once the Pting came aboard, no more was said about it. In a good script, nothing would be wasted. Alas things here were picked up and put down without a second thought.

So I think the next time I watch it, I will go into it knowing that as a whole, it’s a poorly written episode.

It won’t be fondly remembered by me, and by the looks of things, by many.

If this is the best that Chris Chibnall can do then it’s a worrying sign for the longer term.