Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell To Earth Review (or “The Woman Who Fell To Earth But Showed No Signs Of Injury”)

October 12, 2018

Doctor Who is back, a woman has taken the lead role, and society hasn’t crumbled as a result.

Jodie Whittaker’s first episode – to give it it’s full title, The Woman Who Fell To Earth (but showed no signs of injury)¬†– was a huge ratings success and has received acclaim from just about anyone who watched it.

Though I did see it when it was broadcast, I was away on holiday with friends, hence the delay in the review, but I’ve watched it again and am now ready to put the proverbial pen to paper.

So what did I think?

Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell To Earth Review: What’s This One About?

The new Doctor arrives in Sheffield in the middle of a rather mild alien invasion. She makes new friends, but one of them dies. Then she accidentally takes them across the universe.

Thoughts – The Standard Opening Story

The first story for a new Doctor is always a tricky one. It serves to introduce the character and very occasionally like it does here, an entirely new supporting cast. As a result, history has shown that you’re not likely

I would have liked it if the first monster of the new season was a giant garlic bulb, out for revenge

to get the deepest of plots, and that’s exactly the case again here.

Watching it the first time, I enjoyed it because it was all new and the experience was about being introduced to those characters. Watching it the second time, it didn’t have that much replay value; certainly not a mere five days later.

But that’s just the way it is. The plot and the alien become second fiddle; they have to. And remember too before anyone says “But Spearhead from Space managed it ok”, that was over four weeks rather than one. I don’t think it’s a relevant comparison.

Much like Rose, The Christmas Invasion and – and I actually have to look this up because it was so forgettable than I don’t even know the episode’s name off-hand -Deep Breath, this will go down as one that will never top anyone’s favourite episode list.

The New Cast

Now since the episode was all about introducing the new cast, what were they like?

Well the two younger actor companions – Tosin Cole as Ryan and Mandip Gill as Yasmine – seemed fine enough. Character-wise, Yasmine is definitely the stronger one on first impressions, but that wouldn’t be too difficult since Ryan’s main attribute is a developmental disorder of the brain. Neither has come to the fore yet so I’ll reserve judgement.

Bradley Walsh’s character – Graham – seemed to have more about him, but maybe that’s because I personally paid more attention to him, to see if Bradley Walsh can actually act. What’s interesting is that while some of the people who watched it with me thought he was dreadful, I thought he was fine. He’s not the most lively character, but then why would he be? It’s like my dad being the companion.

And what about Jodie Whittaker and her portrayal of the Doctor? Well, my first impressions are that she is definitely suited to the role, but that she may need to tone it down a bit. Whittaker is a good actor (or should that be actress? My initial instinct was to go with the former) and definitely has that little spark that you need to play a character like the Doctor, but once or twice she came across as being overly wacky, and that’s not good. It was a bit like she was trying to do her best impression of David Tennant at times. That could be down to writing of course, but hopefully whatever the cause, the Doctor will be a little more subdued next time.

The New Vibe

It’s not just the change of cast that makes this season of Doctor Who different; the presentation has changed too.

All together now…
“Mon then”

They’ve gone for a more filmic look, which is great and they’ve also hired a new composer in Segun Akinola, which I have mixed feelings about.

What I mean by that is that I liked how understated the incidental music was, and the new theme tune is miles ahead of the last few there have been, but part of me will miss Murray Gold’s style.

While at times Gold’s stuff was overbearing, he would occasionally pull one out the bag that was absolutely tremendous. In the last couple of seasons, tunes like The Shepherd’s Boy, The Singing Towers and the as yet unreleased music from Peter Capaldi’s death scene in The Doctor Falls have made good scenes great. They are beautiful pieces of music.

I sense the less orchestral style might mean we get less of that, but I’ll wait and see.

That being said, Akinola’s output has been fine so far.

Random Observations

  • While I understand the need for a fresh start, I’d have liked an explanation for two things. One: How she survived that fall. Two: Does she have a Yorkshire accent as a result of her first story being set there, or is it just a coincidence?
  • From the moment the episode started, it was obvious that poor old grandma would die, but alas it was still a disappointment when she did.
  • But speaking of her, why would she expect her adult grandchild to start calling her relatively new boyfriend “Granddad”. Liberty hall…
  • The drunk guy definitely got what was coming to him. But the actor playing him was rubbish.
  • The “Tim Shaw” gag fell a bit flat. To me it felt more like something you’d expect in Red Dwarf.
  • An unfortunate knock-on effect of the Russell T. Davies era is that whenever characters in contemporary Britain don’t believe in the existence of aliens, it feels stupid. Then again if I was to take that to the limit I’d also argue that everyone on Earth should be aware of the Cybermen since the events of the Tenth Planet took place in 1986. But I’m not the sort of person who would do that, am I… ūüėČ
  • Why is it that the Doctor – and I don’t mean the Jodie Whittaker Doctor, but the Doctor in general – feels like they only need one outfit? Yes, occasionally that outfit might vary very slightly but it remains true to a theme. Why not after the next story does she not wear something new and clean?
  • The alien pod looked like the biggest garlic bulb ever seen. I’d have preferred it if that was the villain.
  • The speech towards the end about accepting change as a good thing is that sort of breaking the fourth wall thing that I dislike, and to be honest, I don’t think it was necessary.
  • The list of guest stars they showed included a lot of people I either don’t know or are underwhelmed about. But in the room I watched it, cheers went up for Lee Mack and ‘Special Guest Star’ Chris Noth.
  • After watching the episode for a second time, I went back and put on the last few minutes of Twice Upon a Time for comparison. Watching it back, it feels very much like the difference between the end of the War Games (even down to the Doctor saying goodbye to two companions) and the beginning of Spearhead From Space.
  • The other thing to note is that the critics who have panned Peter Capaldi in recent weeks are wrong, and quite simply, are arseholes.

Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell To Earth Review: Final Thoughts

This was never going to be an all time classic episode, and I don’t think it’s one that will be re-watched a huge amount but it did what it set out to do.

It also brought in new viewers; I know of a few people who watched the show for the very first time at the weekend, and enjoyed it. That can only be a good thing.

When Jodie Whittaker was cast, I wrote on this blog that I was unsure about the casting of a female, but that I would give her a chance. Fast forward fifteen months and I’d like to make it clear that as far as I’m concerned, the gender of the actor doesn’t matter. Whether or not I thought she might have been a little too wacky at times, that has nothing to do with her gender. The Doctor is the Doctor, and that’s the main thing.

There are people who hold an opposing view, and have vowed to never watch the show while a female is in the lead role. I don’t want to get involved in any arguments about it because even if I find that view daft (and to be honest, the sort of viewpoint that hints to a deeper, underlying issue away from the show) people are still entitled to not watch if that’s what they want.

But I suspect they’ll be missing out.

Because it’s still Doctor Who, and thankfully, it looks like society as a whole have taken it back into their hearts.

 

Remember that you can read selected Doctor Who reviews on this blog, and all reviews (up until Last Christmas) are available on Amazon in ‘Stuart Reviews Doctor Who’ books one and two.

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Movies: The Meg Review (or “I Believe Literally Anyone Could Write Something Better”)

September 9, 2018

Sometimes you go to the cinema to watch a trashy film and are entertained. They don’t all have to be deep and full of inner truth and worthiness to be enjoyable after all.

I’ve reviewed loads of films like that over the years, the most recent one being Skyscraper.

Other times though you go to a trashy film and come away from it thinking “That was just absolute shite”.

The Meg was one such film.

I could put up with the bad acting and Jason Statham’s unbelievably terrible attempt at what I assume was an Australian accent if it had other things going for it, but it really didn’t.

Principally, it was just poorly paced and badly written.

Rather than building up to a single, exciting climax like just about every other film that has copied the Jaws formula over the years, the writers of The Meg decided to build up to three.

At first it’s a story about Jason Statham rescuing his ex-wife from a big shark at the bottom of the sea, then it’s about the shark coming to the surface, and then after it gets killed another, bigger shark also happens to have come up to the surface as well.

That might sound exciting written down (although it probably doesn’t) but in execution, it had two side effects. Firstly, it meant that after each climax, there was a 10-15 minute lull where nothing interesting or exciting happened and we were back to square one, and secondly it made me resent watching it any longer.

I ended up bored and impatient for it to end.

The problems with the writing didn’t just end there though. The dialogue was full of exposition and the sort of sentences people don’t actually say in real life, the plot was predictable and it just felt like one of the most lazy, thoughtless copies of Jaws there has ever been.

Really, it was just one of those crap movies you get on low-rent channels like Movies For Men, but with a bigger budget and a recognisable cast.

I have to admit I just sat there and thought that anyone else in attendance could have written something better with a little bit more originality. Writing The Meg clearly required zero talent.

Oh, and also, considering Statham’s character is meant to be a hard drinking island layabout, he sure has hell manages to keep himself in top physical condition. Great casting…

Literally the only entertaining part of the film was the way a fat kid a few rows in front almost jumped entirely out of his seat every time something apparently scary happened.

I guess I’ll always have the memory of that.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far and part of you still wants to watch The Meg, I’ll say it again one more time…

Don’t bother, it’s shite.


TV: Mr Mercedes Review

July 29, 2018

You probably think I haven’t been watching anything considering the lack of reviews on this site lately, and that’s half right.

There’s no doubt I haven’t been getting my money’s worth with my Cineworld Unlimited Card – I’ve been to five films in four months meaning I’m paying something daft like ¬£15 per visit – but on the other hand, I have been keeping up with plenty of TV shows, and over the next few days will give my thoughts on some of them.

First up is a show I only found out about because of an article on the best TV shows that aren’t on British television.

Mr Mercedes is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel about a retired cop who tries to solve a two-year old case about a multiple homicide involving a car driving in to a crowd of people waiting to attend a jobs fair.

Knowing just how bad some of the recent Stephen King TV adaptations have been, I must admit to approaching Mr Mercedes with a sense of trepidation. Under the Dome, for example, started well enough but should have been wrapped up in one season, while The Mist was such a terrible show that I gave up after four episodes.

Mr Mercedes bucks the trend though, and was an enjoyable watch.

As a story, it retained my interest and unlike so many shows it didn’t begin to drag towards the end or sink in the middle, and that on its own is fine. But where I think the real strength of Mr Mercedes lies is in the characterisation and¬†the quality of the actors bringing them to life.

Brendan Gleeson is the powerhouse of the show, and his portrayal of the hard-drinking ex-cop Bill Hodges is excellent, but the quality in general is very high, from his co-lead Harry Treadaway all the way down to…well I’d just end up naming every cast member because they are all good.

As with most of my reviews, I don’t plan on spoiling the plot for those who have yet to see it, so I will sum it up by saying that it’s definitely worth your time, and that I hope the upcoming second season strays far enough away from the original that it doesn’t become like so many other shows and out-stay its welcome


Movies: Skyscraper Review

July 15, 2018

There’s a lot about Skyscraper that is ridiculous.

Examples include

  • The cheesy dialogue.
  • The incredibly obvious villains who we’re not supposed to realise are villains.
  • Main character Will Sawyer’s continuous super-human physical fitness in spite of only having one leg and picking up numerous serious injuries on his arms and torso as events unfold.
  • The fact he has one leg for no other reason than so at one point he can rip off and throw it at a door to stop it from closing.
  • The bit where he doesn’t bother to save his daughter at the same time as the rest of his family just so that the film can be dragged out longer.
  • The way the villains tried to steal Will’s tablet at the harbour when they must have known they’d need his facial print to unlock it.
  • The hall of mirrors on the roof that appears to have no functioning purpose to the skyscraper other than setting up the confrontation at the end.
  • The way that the entire film is a set-up for a ‘did you turn it off and on again’ punchline.

I mean…if you really look deeply at it, Skyscraper doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

But I think to come away from it unhappy with its ridiculous elements is mean-spirited.

If you take it for what it is – a daft action movie that combined elements of The Towering Inferno and Die Hard – then it’s perfectly enjoyable. It’s my type of ‘popcorn’ movie.

And it’s an easy watch as well; you won’t get bored, and you’ll have a few laughs.

So this is one that I would recommend.

 


Movies – Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom Review

June 16, 2018

Sometimes its nice to have another person’s insight into the merits of a movie.

Left to me, I was a little bit short on things to say about Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom; I just thought it was a pretty generic Hollywood blockbuster where the only significant aspect was that it wasn’t just the same old same old in terms of the Jurassic Park franchise. This one wasn’t about a theme park experience gone wrong again – I mean, how many times can they make the mistake of thinking free-roaming, man-eating dinosaurs make¬† for a fun tourist attraction – but rather about illegal dinosaur trafficking and the ethics of saving them from extinction again when they had no natural right to exist.

It was different – which I liked – but still unremarkable. The ethical dilemma is hardly one we can relate to in our own daily lives.

That’s not enough for a review though, so I asked¬†my Jurassic Park aficionado girlfriend Mhairi what she thought, and she had plenty to say.

She was disappointed by it, pointing out that it didn’t deliver what a fan of the franchise wanted to see (i.e. people in a theme park being attacked by dinosaurs). She thought that there were many elements that were copied from other Jurassic Park films – elements I might add that I didn’t spot myself, which shows the difference between the casual viewer and the fan – which made it seem repetitive, and in general she didn’t think there was enough action. She wanted to be excited more than she was, and so she left a bit deflated that it wasn’t what she expected.

To be fair, she has a point there. The first time I looked at the movie poster was when I was getting it for use in this review, and it’s fair to say that it offers a false representation of what Fallen Kingdom is about. They must spent about 15 minutes in peril on the island, and the rest is set in a mansion somewhere in the USA. It’s a misleading poster.

So to sum up, while on the one hand we were at odds – what I thought was a worthwhile change, she saw as a negative – where we both agree was that it wasn’t that good.

Though it wasn’t boring, it did feel lethargic and lacking in excitement, and certainly it wasn’t as good as Jurassic World.

I get the feeling six months down the line we’ll both have forgotten we even went.

 


Movies – Solo: A Star Wars Story (or “Enjoyable, But The Genre Might Be Getting Stale”)

May 26, 2018

If you are familiar with the franchise the you’re not going to be too surprised by the plot of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Being that this is about the early days of the eponymous star of the movie, it obviously features key moments from his backstory, including…

  • How he met Chewbacca
  • How he won the Millenium Falcon in a game of cards from Lando Calrissian
  • How he made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs

And just like Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One, finding out how things we already knew about actually happened is part of the fun.

I certainly enjoyed it, although at the same time I thought it wasn’t without its faults.

On the plus side, it filled in the blanks, it had a mostly very good cast Рwith special mention to Alden Ehrenreich who I thought played Han Solo without me thinking it was just some guy doing an impression Рand it had a that familiar Star Wars vibe to it.

On the negative side, I thought the direction was a little bit hit and miss (it was so darkly shot for the first half hour that it was difficult to make out anyone’s face), Donald Glover’s take on Lando was the exact opposite of Ehrenreich’s of Solo (it just felt like Troy from Community – as Troy from Community – doing a Lando impression) and the movie had that familiar Star Wars vibe to it.

And yes, you’ve probably read that last line and thought “Wait…what?”.

So hear me out…

I understand why Star Wars movies are the way they are; people like them…I like them. I can also see why other franchises try to leach off them, like Guardians of the Galaxy.

But with the increased regularity of these movies, how long before we get fatigued by them?

How many times can we see the same type of ragtag group of rebels with the same type of wise-cracking sidekicks, talking robots and corny romance without thinking “Let’s have something new”?

Like I say, I enjoyed it but I was becoming conscious of the fact that we’ve now seen this same thing so many times that I’m not too keen on seeing a replica of it again in the near future.

With any luck they’ll know that for the next Star Wars spin-off, there needs to be a change in vibe.

Otherwise it’ll get stale, and fast.


TV: Safe Review (or “A Netflix Show That Doesn’t Get Boring After A Few Episodes. OMG”)

May 20, 2018

The sheer volume of Netflix’s output means that it’s inevitable that some of it won’t be particularly good.

I’ve found that a number of their shows recently have been so uninspiring that I’ve given up on them in pretty short order.

Bloodline? Three episodes was enough for me to be bored into submission.

Santa Clara Diet? I watched one episode and found it wasn’t my type of humour at all.

Jessica Jones? I fell asleep every time I watched an episode of the second season and had even forgotten that I had stopped watching it before I started this article.

Designated Survivor? Knowing that it’s been cancelled, I don’t really find myself inspired to watch more than I have (which was up to the second episode of season 2 by the way).

So although Netflix has so much content, it’s fair to say that not all of it is must-see.

Of course, I could argue that it’s because of the amount of content available that I haven’t been bothered to finish watching these shows, and that Netflix’s greatest strength is the problem, but if I recall correctly, I already did a few years back (and you can read about that here)

But I bring this all up because for the first time in a while, I have managed to stumble across a new show on Netflix that immediately grabbed me, and resulted in me binge watching all eight episodes over the course of a few days.

Safe – starring Michael C. Hall as a father whose daughter has gone missing while her boyfriend has been found murdered – is actually really good and well worth a watch.

Although his English accent is immediately dodgy, you soon get used to it and that apart, it’s a well written and executed drama that manages to stay the course and – unlike so many Netflix shows – remain interesting throughout all eight episodes.

Also unlike so many other shows – Netflix or otherwise – it isn’t written with a second season in mind. It presents a mystery, it hooks the viewers in and it then answers every question by the end of the final episode.

And that’s how a show should be.

So if you’re sitting at home, twiddling your thumbs and wondering what to watch, Safe is a safe bet.

And yes, I had to make that pun.