Doctor Who – The Celestial Toymaker Review (or ‘A Story That Just Doesn’t Work in Reconstructed Form’)

July 26, 2011

The problem with The Celestial Toymaker is that it just doesn’t work in the reconstructed form that it currently exists in.

Reconstructions of Dr Who stories usually involve telesnaps and other related pictures being shown on screen while the surviving audio plays in the background. As we’ve seen, sometimes these reconstructions work well because they are dialogue driven stories (The Myth Makers being a good example) but when the dialogue is sparse they just don’t. Without question, The Celestial Toymaker is the prime example of the reconstruction just not working.

Thankfully, Episode 4 still exists, but my advice would be just to watch that episode and skip the rest.

Why is that, I hear you ask?

Well let me explain.

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

Watching a floating hand play this pyramid game is not what I would call enterainment. Yet this goes on for the entire story. Great.

In the cliffhanger to the previous story, the Doctor becomes invisible. While Steven & Dodo assumed it must have had something to do with the invisible ‘Refusians’, the Doctor immediately realises that it is something else.

And sure enough, the TARDIS has landed in the domain of the Celestial Toymaker – an ‘eternal’ being who has a penchant for setting up games and traps for people in his self-created world, The Toyroom.

He sets Steven & Dodo a challenge. They must complete all the ‘deadly’ games he has set for them before the Doctor completes his challenge – one of those trilogic puzzles as shown in the picture – or else they will all become his playthings forever.

While the Doctor becomes invisible and mute (to give William Hartnell another holiday that was originally planned to write him out of the show for good and replace him with someone else), Steven and Dodo must win games against a series of fictional characters that the Toymaker has brought to life from his Dollhouse.

  • So in Episode One they compete against a couple of clowns in a game of Blind Man’s Buff.
  • In Episode Two they have to compete against the King & Queen of Hearts in a game where they must find the one chair out of a possible seven that won’t kill them when sat on.
  • In Episode Three they have to find a key hidden in a kitchen while a Victorian Policeman and Cook distract them, then cross a dancefloor where ballerinas try to prevent their progress
  • In Episode Four defeat a villainous Billy Bunter style schoolboy in a deadly game of snakes & ladders where the floor is electrified.

Also in Episode Four, the Doctor is restored, everyone wins their challenges and they manage to escape from the Toymaker’s grasp, destroying the Toyroom in the process.

Thoughts

You’ll notice that this is the shortest Dr Who review I’ve done, but I find that comparatively, there is just so little to say about this one.

It sounds like an interesting story, doesn’t it? Indeed, before old stories became readily available, before the soundtrack to this story was released, and before Episode 4 was rediscovered, this was considered to be ‘a classic’. But sometimes, an

Peter Stephens plays the role of Cyril in a very creepy manner. It’s made more creepy by his resemblance to my old Religious Education teacher. Urgh.

interesting idea doesn’t translate well to the screen.

What The Celestial Toymaker is, is four episodes of Steven & Dodo playing games (and I use that term loosely because I wouldn’t consider the challenges in Episodes 2 & 3 to be games) while the Toymaker himself talks to a floating hand, saying  ‘You’re not playing quick enough Doctor’ before commanding the trilogic game to advance a few moves forward.

Now people enjoy playing games, but fewer people enjoy watching people play games. So even if all the episodes survived, it would be a struggle to watch, but since they don’t, it’s an even less appealing spectacle.

In Episode One for example, the sequence where they play Blind Man’s Buff involves almost no dialogue. One of the clowns doesn’t even speak. So the reconstruction takes the form of incidental music being played against the backdrop of a picture of two clowns. The same situation occurs in Episode Three with the search for the key in the kitchen and the advance across the dance floor. Overall there’s very little dialogue.

And even the dialogue that does exist doesn’t seem to clear things up. I’m really not sure what the game in Episode 2 was about, and I didn’t really see the challenge or the point of anything that happened in Episode 3.

You’ll notice how sparse the set is. Pretty Disappointing.

My other problem with the story is the ‘look’ of it.

In a story where visuals are clearly given priority over dialogue, you’d expect those visuals to be impressive (by 1960s Dr Who standards). But what we see in Episode 4 is the Toymaker sitting in a giant white room, while the room where Steven & Dodo face their challenge really just looks like a TV Studio with a few props randomly placed about.

Basically it looks cheap, and the feeling of cheapness isn’t helped by the same three actors (Carmen Silvera off ‘Allo ‘Allo, Campbell Singer and Peter Stephens) playing three characters each throughout the story.

In fairness, they do a decent job of playing the roles differently, and Peter Stephens is particularly good as the creepy Cyril, but still, it’s far from being enough to save this story.

Doctor Who – The Celestial Toymaker Review: Should You Watch The Celestial Toymaker?

Episode Four is good enough as a single episode, but watching the whole story is a chore. It doesn’t work as a reconstruction, and episodes two and three would probably be rubbish even if they still existed. It seems that all the actual plot seems to happen in the first and last ten minutes of the entire thing.

When I first started doing these reviews, I criticised An Unearthly Child episodes 2-4 as being of almost of a lower standard than anything shown up until 1978.

Well, the “almost” allows me to say that The Celestial Toymaker, as a whole story existing in the state it currently exists in, is of a lower standard than that. I would go as far as to say that it’s the worst William Hartnell adventure.

And that’s such a shame considering it came after such a good serial in The Ark, and precedes a story which is arguably one of the very best…

 

To read all my reviews on Classic Era Doctor Who, buy my book – Stuart Reviews Doctor Who – over at Amazon’s Kindle store. You can read it on any mobile device/tablet/kindle. It’s available here


FM2012 Survey – Updated for Pre-Season

July 23, 2011

In a continuation from the Survey I published in May/June, I have now posted an updated one to include questions that are now more relevant with the season starting today.

So go along to http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/592080/FM2012-Scottish-Survey-Pre-Season-2011-12 and fill it in, and – just like the last survey – be in with a chance of winning a free copy of Football Manager 2012.

And that, dear reader, is probably the shortest blog entry you’ll ever see on this site.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 Review (Or ‘A Fine Conclusion to the Series’)

July 16, 2011

Up until last week I knew pretty much nothing about the Harry Potter series. I’ve never read the books, and while I went to the first couple of films when they were released, I couldn’t really remember all that much about them.

But with the series set to come to an end, and the fact that I want to appreciate the new ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ island in Universal Islands of Adventure, I decided to watch the first seven films over the course of a week in time to go and see the final part – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – upon its release at the cinema.

Now, doing this has caused a bit of a stir amongst my friends, family and acquaintances. Within moments of tweeting that I was at the film, I had a reply of ‘Saddo’ from one of my Football Manager researchers, while a mate of mine sent me a text saying “Oh what happens? Let me guess; Harry plays Quidditch, does some magic and beats V0ldemort at the end of the film. And someone good will die, and the ginger boy and Hermione will get married and have babies etc etc”. Other than that, my brother mockingly asks if the line “You’re a Wizard, Harry”

'Mon Then

is said in each film, while my mum just looked at me with the sort of withering disdain you’d associate with someone being done for shoplifting for the 25th time.

The message was clear; Harry Potter isn’t considered ‘cool’ in the circles I operate in.

So it’s to these people that I write this review.

The Development of the Series

Watching all eight films in such a short space of time means I suppose that I’ve treated the films like one long continuous strand, a bit like watching a season of something like 24 on DVD over the course of a couple of days. So it’s a tad difficult to differentiate between the first seven films, compared to people who have read the books or have gone to all the films when they were first released at the cinema.

My impression of the series as a whole is that it starts off in a nice and whimsical way and probably aimed more at the kids market, but as the characters aged (and credit has to be given not only to young actors for doing such a good job growing up with the franchise, but also to the producers for having the nerve to keep the same cast throughout all 8 films), the core audience aged and the story progressed, it became increasingly dark.

By the time it got to Part 1 of the Deathly Hallows it felt like a completely different series than the ‘Wizarding World’ of the first couple of films. Gone were the gimmicks like Quidditch and flying cars, along with the ‘comedy’ facial expressions of Rupert Grint and childish scenes involving the morbidly obese Richard Griffiths (seriously…how is that man not dead?) In their place were some rather serious issues like dealing with death, destiny and the testing of friendships.

And indeed, from an artistic point of view the film was literally more grim as well. The bright colours of the early films were replaced by bleak darkness.

So What About the Film Itself?

I don’t want to spoil this film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, nor do I want to spoil the whole series for people who have yet to give any of them a chance, so I’ll avoid discussing the plot in detail.

But I have to say that this film was terrific.

Picking up right away from the end of the last film, there isn’t any wasted time. No lulls, no stalling – just solid writing and action all the way from beginning to end.

By this point in the series, we’ve come to know all the characters well – and not just the major ones either.

Almost every of them gets a good send-off and a completion to their individual story-arcs. Some of them are predictable (obviously the main villain will get his comeuppance and Harry will triumph) but others prove quite shocking.

Reading Wikipedia, it seems that the Deathly Hallows was written with the theme of death in mind (hardly surprising considering the name), and indeed death plays a major part. In some of the more recent Dr Who stories, the Doctor is regularly accused of leading people into battle, and ultimately to their deaths, to suit his own agenda. Well, the same sort of accusations are thrown at Harry Potter in this film. While the fight is between Harry and Lord Voldamort, the battle takes place on a far grander scale, involving hundreds of people on either side. And many characters – some loved, some hated – die. While a few of the deaths prove to be quite shocking, all of them provoke some kind of emotion from the viewer.

Over the course of the eight films, the viewer develops an emotional attachment to characters. In fairness, eight films amounts to around 18-20 hours of storytelling so it’s not that hard to do in theory, but then again, I had no attachment to any of the characters at all 10 days ago, so you have to give a lot of credit to the writer for making characters that the viewer can invest in quickly.

The special effects too are very impressive. In one of my recent reviews, I heavily criticised Transformers: Dark of the Moon for its over-reliance on special effects and visuals over substance (so much so that I got hate mail from a Special Effects Fan Boy, who suggested that by not liking the film, I was in fact ‘a homo’. Nice). Well, I stand by that, because this film proves that style and substance can work together. Top notch special effects combine with a strong plot and good acting. Despite being dark and grim looking (which is something I don’t usually like) it looks fantastic.

What I would say though is that having seen it in 2d, I saw nothing to suggest there was any need to go to a 3d showing. And I’ve read as much from people who have elected to see it in 3d. I say save yourself the money; see it in 2d.

Moving away from the visuals, I have to praise the quality of acting on display. Naturally, the fine supporting cast of experienced actors still outshine the main characters who are – to be fair – still young and reasonably inexperienced in spite of appearing in 8 films. But the three lead actors still do a nice job. Of the three of them, I would say that Rupert Grint is the best and probably has the brighest acting future. Yes, he still has a bit of comedy in his performance, but he’s developed a lot since the first films and he shows that there are more strings to his bow.

Away from the leads, the best performance – as has been the case in almost all the Potter films – belongs to Alan Rickman for his understated portrayal of Snape. Again, it has to be said that I haven’t read any of the books, but I read a comment the other day from someone who said that he felt Rickman brought the character of Snape to life better than any other actor could. Helena Bonham-Carter is also ridiculously over the top (in a good way) as Bellatrix LeStrange, and yet shows terrific diversity when she had to play the part of LeStrange being played by Hermione (if that confuses you, you’ll have to watch the film to see what I mean).

Issues

If I was going to complain about anything, I’d say that Draco Malfoy’s story arc wasn’t given a satisfactory conclusion, and I would have loved to have seen Delores Umbridge get her comeuppance (she doesn’t need to appear in this film at all, and should have been dealt with more effectively in Part 1). Apart from that, there were some things that didn’t make too much sense to me. For example, John Hurt turns up at the start of the film playing a character who I think we’re supposed to know, but who hadn’t appeared in any of the other films. (Update: It’s been pointed out to me that he was in the first film, and indeed had a very small cameo in Deathly Hallows Part 1. Now to me, I think that is an issue because even having only watched the first film a week or so earlier, I hadn’t remembered who Hurt’s character was, so what chance do non fanatical viewers who saw the first film years ago have?)

The problem, as I’m lead to believe is the case, is that in translating the rather long books into two-and-a-half hour films, some plot points get left out/glossed over, meaning that sometimes things feel a bit confused and/or rushed. But those incidents are said to be few and far between.

Should You Go and See Deathly Hallows – Part 2?

Put it this way…anyone who has seen the first seven films will go and see this. So the question is moot.

The real question here is whether or not you should watch the Harry Potter series as a whole, because there’s no point in seeing this film if you haven’t seen what comes before it. As a stand-alone film it’s probably as confusing as an Ian Levine influenced 1980s Doctor Who story. You won’t have a clue who people are or what it happening as it relies heavily on continuity.

No, you shouldn’t see this film if you’ve seen none of the other ones. But you should absolutely watch the other ones and then come to see this.

From a psychological standpoint, people often attack forms of entertainment that they understand to be popular but aren’t known to them. Kids in the 90s would be massively critical of Dr Who because it wasn’t on TV. Similarly, stuff like wrestling comes in and out of fashion every few years. Well, the Harry Potter series is the same. It seems to me that people either love it (sometimes to almost fanatical degrees) or – without having ever seen it or read it – hate it with a passion.

I would urge people to at least give the films a go. I personally really enjoyed them, but I won’t be joining in a game of makey-up Quidditch – like some weird people do – any time soon. Nor will I dress up as a wizard. And most probably I won’t read the books either.

But as a series of films, I found them very enjoyable and would say that they are well worth anyone’s time. And my theory is I’ve probably enjoyed them all the more by watching them together in such quick succession. For continuity reasons, it’s probably handy that I watched the earlier films in recent days rather than years ago, because there’s a need to understand the entire story towards the end of this film.

So for those people who criticise them, I say to you to watch them first and the chances are you’ll re-evaluate your opinion.

And for those of you who have seen the previous seven films, rest assured that this film brings everything to an exciting and satisfying conclusion. On the whole, I would say that of all eight films, this one was the very best.

A fine conclusion to the series.


Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review (or An Hour Long Action Sequence. Really?!)

July 3, 2011

Being a 28 year old bloke and a child of the 1980s, I’m obviously a big Transformers fan. Everyone who falls into that category is a big Transformers fan – it’s just the way it is.

When the first live action Transformers film came out, everyone I know loved it. And why wouldn’t they? It had Optimus Prime with his proper voice, looking great in a live action film. Sure, Megatron and Starscream didn’t have the correct voices, and you could barely tell the majority of the Autobots or Decepticons apart, but who cared? It was funny and it was cool – a true flashback to a 1980s childhood.

Indeed, filled up on nostalgia, I remember saying “That was the best film I’ve seen in years” when I left the cinema.

What does 'Dark of the Moon' mean anyway?

On second viewing a couple of years later, the first hour or so was still great, but the interminable last part of the film – the action sequence part – was boring the second time around. I think I even stopped watching it because it started to bore me that much.

A second Transformers film came out, and I never actually went to see it. Nobody had a good word to say about it.

And when the third film – Transformers: Dark of the Moon – came out last week, I didn’t think I’d bother, but it seemed to get better reviews. One person said it was ‘As good as the first’, the main review on IMDB suggested that even if you didn’t like the second one, this was a return to form, while someone on a forum legitimately listed it as one of their top 3 films of all time. So I decided – against my better judgement  – to give it a shot.

What’s It About? (A few spoilers exist herein)

To be honest, it’s such a struggle to remember what this disjointed mess of a film is about that I’m not sure if I can do this coherently…

In spite of the plot of the original film, it turns out that the Transformers were known on Earth years earlier, because the 1960s Space Race was really a front for getting to the Moon to investigate a crashed Autobot Spaceship, which contained the former leader of the Autobots – Sentinal Prime.

And the Chernobyl Disaster was caused by the Russians experimenting with technology they found on the moon too, or something.

Well anyway, the Autobots go up to the Moon to recover and revive Sentinal Prime, but it turns out this was all part of a trap left by the Decepticons. They needed Optimus to use the Matrix to revive Sentinal, but really, Sentinal had previously struck a deal with Megatron before he crashed and now he has been revived he allies himself with the Decepticons and plans on using some weapon to transport Cybertron through space so it can feed off the energy of Earth. Or something.

And the Decepticons have also formed an alliance with Patrick Dempsey – owner of an Accountancy Firm – for reasons unexplained. I know…I don’t get it either.

Meanwhile, Sam (Shia LeBouef) is unemployed and looking for a job in these harsh economic times. Somehow this leads to him fighting side by side with the Autobots. Yeah…I kinda lost interest.

With the plot of the film exhausted by the 90 minute mark, the last 60 minutes of this film are taken up by a massive action sequence. That’s an hour long action sequence. What sort of director would have an HOUR LONG action sequence.

Thoughts – Plot, Action Sequences and Indistinguishable Transformers

If the film had ended at 90 minutes when they had run out of plot, then I might have come away from the film thinking that while it wasn’t any good, it still got bonus points for being about the Transformers. But any good will I had for this film

This is the big silver thing with that transforms into something with tentacles that Optimus Prime calls Shockwave

ended 25 minutes into the HOUR LONG action sequence.

Seriously, who wants to watch an HOUR LONG action sequence?

And what makes it worse is that once again no effort was put into attempting to distinguish the Transformers from one another. Yes, Optimus Prime is clearly Optimus Prime, Bumblebee stood out because he was yellow and referred to by name several times, and Laserbeak – while wildly different from the cartoon version – was distinguishable because he was a bird, but that was it.

Apparently, Starscream was in this film too. Well that came as news to me.

Oh, and some monster with tentacles is given the name Shockwave, which is an affront to any self respecting Transformers fan. Shockwave was purple, transformed into a gun and lived on Cybertron for fuck’s sake!!

So the lack of difference between the Transformers meant that what you got was an hour of silver things smashing into each other. I don’t know which Transformers lived or died. I actually thought Megatron – who I was sure had been killed off in the first film, but was actually living in the desert wearing a cloak (think about that – why would a robot wear a cloak? The mind boggles) – had been killed several times during the fight, but then I realised he wasn’t even involved in it. He was just sitting down somewhere watching the fight alongside McDreamy.

But that's got nothing on the real Shockwave. How difficult would it have been to just make him purple? And intelligent?

And Optimus Prime seemed to just disappear at the start of the fight, only to turn up 57 minutes into it to quickly finish it off.

What made matters worse was that having clearly planned the whole thing for at least decades (which negates everything that happened in previous Transformers films), at the point where victory is almost assured, Megatron is goaded into ruining everything he’s worked for and turning on Sentinal Prime by Shia Lebouef’s girlfriend insulting his pride with a line less ire-drawing than ‘Yo mama so fat’. She basically says ‘Do you think Sentinal Prime will let you lead? What are you, some kind of pilchard?’ and that leads to him getting off his chair and beheading Sentinal Prime.

Then he’s quickly killed off by Optimus Prime before Sentinal – who has his head reattached for reasons I can’t fathom – gets up and is also killed in under 10 seconds by Prime.

And that ended the film.

Seriously? What?

It didn’t make sense, but then story-telling isn’t Bay’s forte. To give you an example of why that is, there’s a 10-15 minute plot-line where Patrick Demspey attaches a Decepticon watch onto the wrist of Shia LeBouef. He is told that the watch means they can see everything he does and can control his nervous system, so if he doesn’t do what they want, they’ll kill his girlfriend. What do they want him to do? Find out if the Autobots (who have been forced to leave Earth on a rocket because of some threat made by the Decepticons to the military or something) have a plan that might stop them.

So LeBouef – against his will – goes undercover for the Decepticons. He lies to a few of his friends before going up to Optimus Prime before the rocket is set to launch and asks “So Optimus, between you and me, what’s the plan? I won’t tell any of the other humans”.

“Sam,” says Optimus, “there is no plan”.

And with that, apparently convinced, the Decepticon watch just leaves LeBouef’s wrist.

There's just a chance that Megatron is a more sympathetic character for Patrick Dempsey to ally himself with than Meredith Grey.

Amazing.

Acting

This film also contains some of the worst acting you are ever likely to see.

Yes, some of it is good. I enjoyed the performances of Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovic, Ken Jeoung (even though he was playing the same part with almost the same name as in Community, and it didn’t fit into the film whatsoever) and of course Peter Cullen, but apart from that…

Shia LeBouef is not a good actor. He’s a crap actor. A wooden actor. He’s completely unable to act the ‘tough guy’ that he – or possibly Hollywood – thinks he can. He’s just…well…crap.

Then there’s the bloke who wants to be Al Pacino; imdb tells me his name of John Turturro and laughably describes him as a ‘Highly Talented’ actor. Well, if he’s highly talented then he must have just been taking the piss in this film. He was embarrassing.

There were also some non-descript ‘handsome soldier’ types that brought so little to the film that I can’t think of anything scathing to write about them.

But who I can write something scathing about is ‘actress’ Rosie Huntington-Whitely, who plays the female lead in the film – Sam’s girlfriend. I say this without trying to be deliberately negative, but Whitely could be one of the worst actresses the world has ever seen. I’m sure there may have been a worse actress with  a small parts in an episode of Never the Twain or something like that, but this is the female lead of a supposed ‘Blockbuster’ movie. She was beyond awful.

For a start, she spoke in the US Cinema ‘English Accent’. You know the one I’m talking about – the incredibly posh ‘How do you do’ English accent that is only ever heard in US cinema or TV. In truth, nobody really speaks like that as far as I know. I’ve never met anyone with that accent, and if I did, I doubt they’d come from her home town of Plymouth.

Beyond that it’s just difficult to describe her incompetence. Delivery, expression, body language…none of it was good. She looked, sounded and acted uncomfortably.

No, RHW is not good at her job. But in fairness to her, she’s not an actress, she’s an underwear model. She has never acted in anything before this, and yet is given the task of being the female lead of a massively expensive film. Hmmm, maybe Michael Bay should get a job in charge of hiring ‘Divas’ in WWE.

Shia Lebouef

Yes, she’s a nice looking woman, but being attractive is not enough. It’s just not. I read a comment that she ‘plumbs further depths in terms of the worst acting turn in human history’ and the sad thing is, it’s true.

Oh, and the guy from 24 is in it playing a military character again. He doesn’t even get any lines, but he is in it.

Who is This Film Aimed At?

While watching the film I questioned who the target audience is. I would assume it’s my demographic – the late 20s/early 30s crowd who watched the show growing up. As far as I know there aren’t any Transformers cartoons made anymore, the comics have long since stopped and the toys just hang about waiting to be bought by people who still collect them or want to give them to their children.

Certainly I don’t think it’s aimed at kids. If it is, then I question the morality of the scene where John Malkovich thinks Shia LeBouef has given Ken Jeong a blow-job in a toilet stall.

But assuming it is aimed at people my age, why do they not just go the whole hog and get it so that it actually resembles the kids show from the 80s. Why is Megatron not voiced by Frank Welker? Why isn’t Starscream a prick? Why do the likes of Shockwave, Ironhide et al look nothing like the cartoons and yet Optimus Prime does? Why – if you’ve hired Leonard Nimoy and Megatron is supposed to be dead – do you not just have him as Galvatron? Where is Hot Rod or the Dinobots?

And how can they not see that the best bits of the first film were the humorous bits and not the interminable ‘action sequences’?

I fear that these questions will never be answered, and worse still, I doubt Michael Bay would feel the need to answer them because the film will inevitably make so much money that none of the points I’ve made will make the slightest bit of difference.

Should You Go And See Transformers: Dark of the Moon?

No.

It’s crap.

I cannot understand how people can say they like this sort of thing? If this film came out in, say, 1955 then people would be amazed at the visuals and would ignore the lack of plot or acting. But it’s 2011. We’ve seen bright and shiny action

Rosie Huntington Whiteley - Hired for her acting ability and extensive CV, quite clearly

sequences before (in fact, the film blatantly steals previously used effects from older films like The Island and Pearl Harbour) so for some of us, that no longer proves interesting.

Obviously to some people – such as the guy who listed it among the top three films he’s ever seen – it is enough. But I remember walking behind two people who were chatting about how Van Wilder: Party Liason was the funniest film they’ve ever seen, so I appreciate that there’s no accounting for taste. If that’s your type of thing, then you’re entitled to like it. That’s how the Fast & The Furious franchise exists.

But as far as I’m concerned, even as a 1980s Transformers fanboy, this film is terrible.

The most entertaining thing about the whole experience was finding out my friend, who had come to see it with me and enjoyed it almost as little as I did, has already paid £18 for a ticket to see it again in the IMAX in a couple of weeks time.

What a mug.