Doctor Who – The William Hartnell Era – The Rankings (or ‘Guess Where the Supposed ‘Worst Story Ever’ Finished?’)

August 31, 2011

So the Hartnell Years are done and dusted, and I thought it would be a good idea to do some rankings based on the past 3 seasons.

The Stories

28. The Celestial Toymaker– Hindered severely by the missing episodes, this story is just too visual to work as a reconstruction, and so it just not enjoyable in its present form. Episode 4 is good, but it’s not great.

You can look as shocked as you like Toymaker, but your story is still the worst of the Hartnell Era

27. The Edge of Destruction – Nothing more than two episodes of filler, with a plot with more holes than Swiss Cheese. Weird.

26. Galaxy Four – A rather dull story, which I can’t help but think would be better if it existed.

25. Planet of Giants – Nice design, but still…the villain is a middle class businessman whose had a breakdown.

24. Tenth Planet – The Doctor regenerates and the Cybermen turn up. But that isn’t what the story is about, and so one good scene in episode 2 isn’t enough to save it.

23. The Web Planet – An extremely brave effort, but it’s style over substance. If this one was missing it would be further down the list, and yet ironically if it was missing it’d probably be considered a classic.

22. The Savages – It’s just a bit ‘meh’ really. There isn’t much to criticise it or praise it for.

21. The Smugglers – Its fun, but its also a bit thin on the ground in terms of plot. And it really should have been called something else.

20. The Crusade – There’s some terrific acting here from Glover & Marsh, but the compared to other historical stories it doesn’t have as much plot or indeed much for kids to learn about

19. The Reign of Terror – Longer than it needed to be, and more a lesson in history than an exciting adventure.

18. An Unearthly Child – Up here for the first episode only. The following three aren’t much to write home about.

"Seventh? I'll take that!"

17. The Daleks Invasion of Earth – The weakest of the Dalek stories. This one is ‘big budget’ as far as 60s Who goes, but again it’s a case of style over substance. “Let’s have the Daleks in London! Then we’ll think of a plot”

16. The Massacre – I’ll probably be heavily criticised by some for rating the Dr Who equivalent of ‘The Wire’ as low as this. It’s enjoyable, but I simply enjoyed the other stories more. And in fairness, only two other fully ‘missing’ stories are above it.

15. The Myth Makers – Even without any surviving clips of note, and only a handful of pictures, this story is hugely entertaining. A sleeper choice for Story You’d Most Want Returned.

14. The Sensorites – A good story with a rather unique take on alien species in Dr Who. Solid if unspectacular.

13. The Space Museum – I’m surprising myself rating this story as high as 13th, but it has a spectacularly good opening episode, and the other three aren’t as bad as received wisdom suggests.

12. The Rescue – Filler? Yes. But as Bennett says – Watch Out For Koquillian. A nice character driven piece that does a great job of introducing a new character.

11. The Chase – It’s fun. Enjoy it for what it is, and also appreciate the Daleks being portrayed in a slightly different way.

10. Marco Polo – A great story which would unquestionably be higher if it existed.

9. The War Machines – A rather unique story. It’s got the First Doctor in modern day London. It’s a full surviving story with Ben & Polly and it gives Dodo the most insulting exit you could possibly give a companion. It’s underrated.

8. The Time Meddler – A terrific take on the historical, with fine acting from all concerned.

7. The Ark – Wonderfully ‘1960s’ aliens in the Monoids + A Great Twist = A great story

6. The Daleks Master Plan (inc. Mission to the Unknown) – It’s the Epic One. It looks great, it has Kevin Stoney in it and the music/sound effects are iconic.

5. The Aztecs – A quality story about the perils of time travel, all within an interesting historical setting

4. The Romans – Combines two completely contrasting stories in one. A fantastic mix of comedy and drama.

3. The Keys of Marinus – Rapists, Brains in Jars and Yartek – Leader of the Alien Voord. Need I say more?

2. The Gunfighters – The Worst Doctor Who Story of All Time? Absolute bullshit. This story is superb.

1. The Daleks– Yeah ok, it’s the obvious choice, but it is an iconic story that – despite being written for a Saturday Tea Time children’s show that was only scheduled for a 14 week run – turned Doctor Who into the cultural phenomenon that is still on TV to this day.
The Companions

10. Katarina – She was never going to work. Did nothing and was killed off.

9. Sara Kingdom – Although she was better than Katarina, the same reasons apply.

8. Susan– I’m sorry, but Susan just annoyed me. She continually got her companions in trouble by acting like a right selfish and immature cow. Was happily going to let her friends die in at least two stories because she was in the huff, wanted to make a point or had a headache.

He's Number One. And looking at this, he knows it.

7. Dodo – Didn’t annoy me like Susan did. But she really only had one good story (and what a story it was).

6. Ben – The weakest of the first Doctor’s male companions. In fairness to him he’s up against two very solid opponents.

5. Vicki – The problem with Vicki was that she was clearly a good character, but she spent too much time attached to the Doctor’s hip. The Time Meddler was her finest hour.

4. Polly – I like Polly. She’s not as good as Barbara of course, but her role is defined somewhere between the more ‘old and wise’ companion and the screaming young girl.

3. Barbara – It gets difficult to separate the top 3, but Barbara loses out because of the ridiculous behaviour displayed by her in Planet of Giants.

2. Steven – The most underrated companion of them all, Peter Purves had to carry the burden of the show more than any other ‘supporting artist’ in history. A great character.

1. Ian – It couldn’t be anyone else, could it. The best.

 

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Final Destination 5 Review (or ‘Surely This Will Be Better Than The Fourth One’)

August 31, 2011

In my last film review, I discussed how long running film series often see a decline in quality. In particular I was discussing the Planet of the Apes series and how bad the last film of the original set – Battle for the Planet of the Apes – was.

There’s nothing unusual about this., its just diminishing marginal returns. Police Academy wasn’t a great film by any means, but it was positively North by Northwest compared to Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow. And what about Rocky V? Or Saw 15?

So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I went along to see Final Destination 5.

The first film was good and so was the second. The third was merely alright, and the fourth one – The Final Destination – was kinda crap. The problem was they all had the same plot and didn’t even try to change it. Yes, the fourth one had 3D effects, but it was one of the earlier 3D films so it was gimmicky and looked crap.

So if the fourth one was tired, surely this new one would be even worse?

I’m not even going to bother to go over the plot of this one. If you don’t know the premise of the Final Destination films, then you should go and watch the first one.

But as for my opinions…

Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Of course it has the same premise, but it does shake things up a little bit. How? To tell you would be to ruin the plot a little bit.

You know what’s going to happen early on. There will be an accident, people will die horrific deaths, and then the people who cheat death eventually die themselves.

What I think this film does differently is that it embraces the fact we know what the films are about now. And so it’s not about what will happen, but rather about how it will happen. There are plenty of bait and switch moments when you sit there thinking “Well that’s how she’ll die”, only for it to be something else; something better.

And the director doesn’t disappoint when it comes to gruesome deaths. They are ridiculous, gory and – to me anyway – pretty funny.

Regular readers of my reviews will know that I don’t particularly like 3D films. Most of the time its just a pointless gimmick. But with Final Destination 5, the 3D works. From the eye catching opening credits all the way through to the end, the 3D compliments the film beautifully. It’s not gimmicky nonsense like in the fourth film, and it’s not just a series of things being thrown at the screen. It was filmed in 3D and was the type of film that was able to actually make use of it. For once, I’ve come away from a 3D film thinking it was worth the extra expense.

The acting and characterisation? It’s not important is it? When the only people I recognised were Todd Packer from the US Office and Benjamin Juma off 24 you know that it’s not going to be I, Claudius. Nothing to shout about, but nothing to complain about either.

The Ending

The best thing about this film is the ending.

Sometimes, something will happen in a TV show or a film that makes you sit up and pay attention. Now, if that something is completely out of the blue, your reaction – or mine at least – will be a mixture of enjoying it and being stunned.

When that happens, it’s great. It’s a feeling that can’t be beat in relation to TV/Films.

But just beneath that, is when you sense a swerve is coming. You then think ‘Oh if what happens here is what I think is going to happen, it’s going to be fantastic’. And when it does happen, you both love it and give yourself a pat on the back for predicting it.

And that’s how this film ends. I’m not going to tell how it ends, but if you’ve seen the other films then I’m fairly sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

It was the difference between the film being merely ok and pretty good.

Should You Go And See Final Destination 5?

This film surprised me. It stuck with the premise that made the series famous but rather than dwelling on the whole ‘This has happened before…what do we do to stop it’ aspect of the previous three, it focuses on the set-pieces of the deaths more and then finishes off with a solid and clever ending that will put a smile on your face.

And it probably gives a sense of completion to the series.

I don’t think we need to see a sixth instalment, but I’m glad this one came out so the series didn’t end with the substandard fourth one.

If all you’re after is some light relief, a chuckle and some nice looking/gruesome special effects, go and see this film because you’ll enjoy it.

If you’re expecting The King’s Speech, don’t bother.


Doctor Who – The Tenth Planet Review (or “Prepare for Disappointment”)

August 28, 2011

Apologies for the lack of updates lately. I’ve been snowed under with work and have got a little bit behind on my reviews.

And this is an important one.

We finally come to the end of the William Hartnell era. At the end of this story – The Tenth Planet – the First Doctor bows out to be replaced by Patrick Troughton.

Rather than being dressed for subzero conditions, Polly looks like she’s going Christmas shopping, while Ben is dressed more for a watching a football match in the rain

The crucial thing here is that what happens at the end of the Tenth Planet is the only reason Dr Who is still around today. And when the decision was made to recast the Doctor, it wasn’t with the idea of allowing the show to continually reinvent itself, but rather it was just because Hartnell’s health was failing, he was becoming difficult to deal with and they needed someone new ASAP.

Probably the decision to ‘revitalise’ the Doctor was the most profitable throwaway decision in television history.

But that’s not all this story is famous for; the Cybermen make their debut too, along with the ‘Base Under Siege’ type story which Dr Who lives off for the next few years.

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

The plot to this one is almost incidental to the ‘momentousness’ of the whole affair.

Or that’s maybe a kind way of putting it because really, this story is a bit crap.

To be concise, this is the story of the return to the solar system of Earth’s twin planet, Mondas. Having journeyed to the ‘edge of the universe’ and back, Mondas is running out of energy and tries to rectify that by absorbing the energy it needs from Earth.

The inhabitants of Mondas (The Cybermen) make a social call to a NASA style underground base in the Antarctic just to let them know what’s happening, but the problem is the base is run by a lunatic who has already been sent over the edge by his son being sent into space, by all accounts to his death.

General Cutler and Barclay have another gripping conversation

So the Cybermen are murdered (presumably because they thought that would sort the problem) and the insane General Cutler decides to use an extremely powerful nuclear device (the wonderfully named ‘Z Bomb’) to try and destroy the planet.

But he gets stopped, and then the Cybermen come back, a little bit less friendly this time, intent to destroy Earth with the Z Bomb and thus save Mondas.

But the problem is that Mondas expires before they get the chance, and for some reason that kills off the Cybermen.

Meanwhile, The Doctor spends the first two episodes sitting in the back of the control room, telling everyone he knows what’s going to happen, before keeling over and missing episode 3. He then comes back in episode 4 and…well…dies. A bit of an anti-climatic end compared to some of his later regenerations.

Thoughts – The Story

The thing about the Tenth Planet is that people assume it’s got to be an amazing story because it debuts the Cybermen and has the first regeneration in it. But it really isn’t.

Despite all the stuff I mentioned above, most of the story is devoted to the scientists at the Snowcap base trying to save two different rockets that have been sent off-course because of the change in the magnetic fields of Earth, due to the arrival of Mondas.

And that’s pretty dull.

The Cybermen themselves (and I’ll get into them in more detail shortly) only really have anything to do in Episodes 2 and 4. And what’s worse, they just become token villains in Episode 4.

As for the Doctor, as I said above, he just sort of…dies. There’s no grand farewell for him like most other Doctors will receive and no obvious ‘This Is His Final Story’ plot, which is what most companions get when they leave.

Really, he’s incidental to the plot (as is Polly and to a lesser extent, Ben), and there’s no explanation for why he ‘dies’. He just tells Polly that his body is getting on a bit. Personally, I’d have preferred it if he just had a stroke while on Pike’s ship in the previous story. That would have been more exciting.

No, despite what your preconceptions of this story might be, it’s not about the Doctor or the Cybermen, but rather about the politics of the Snowcap base – in particular the feud between the sensible scientist, Bartley and the rubbish General Cutler.

And for such an important story in the history of the show, that’s a huge letdown.

The Cybermen

When I was growing up, I loved the Cybermen. The idea of them was great, and in my opinion they were far cooler than the Daleks.

For any Doctor Who fan growing up in the 80s and 90s, one of the best videos was ‘Cybermen: The Early Years’, which contained the surviving episodes of The Moonbase and the Wheel in Space, but none of the Tenth Planet. The Cybermen

Hello, I’m a Cyberman.

from the Tenth Planet are briefly touched upon and are dismissed as being crap.

They have ‘Sing Song’ voices rather than robotic voices, and the costumes are far more basic.

Naturally, as a child, I concurred with this assessment. These original Cybermen were rubbish; the Cybermen started for real in the Moonbase.

But now I’m older and wiser, and I have to say that from the perspective of an adult, the Tenth Planet (or more particularly, Episode 2 of the Tenth Planet) is where the Cybermen are at their most interesting. They have a motive, a purpose and a character.

What they are are human beings who have modified themselves using mechanical parts to become ‘stronger’, and by removing emotion from their brains they become purely logical beings. Their voices are the way they are because they are supposed to have learnt English through intercepting radio signals (although I’m not sure this is really explained)

And the fact they have cloth facemasks and human hands just makes the whole look more creepy.

As characters, they are interesting because they are not villains. They just think logically and are quite happy to offer mankind what they logically believe is help. I suppose in that respect it’s quite brave that they aren’t really the antagonists while General Cutler is alive.

Sadly for the Cybermen it’s all downhill after Episode 2. By the fourth Episode they become defacto villains intent on destroying the world (although at least it’s for a reason), and then over the next few stories they lose their interesting and unique nature and just become Robot versions of the Daleks.

By the time The Invasion rolls along they are relegated to hired goons because they become a nightmare to actually write for.

While Cybermen are supposed to be emotionless, this one looks absolutely disgusted by Cutler.

That’s not to say future stories with the Cybermen aren’t good. Every Patrick Troughton Cyberman story is great, but they are often more about the threat of what the Cybermen are than being about the Cybermen themselves.

Beyond the 60s there are a couple more peaks for the Cybermen, but these are down to two actors’ ridiculous ideas of what ’emotionlessness’ is. Christopher Robbie plays the Cyberleader in Revenge of the Cybermen as a manager on the edge of insanity, while David Banks plays his Cyberleader as a sort of Shakespearean villain.

And now? Well now, the Cybermen have hit a new low. They are just crappy robots who have been given an even crappier catchphrase (Ooooh…Delete, Delete) voiced by a bloke who can’t even be bothered to make it sound like it’s not just The Emperor Dalek with a Different Voice Modulator In.

And moreover, they’ve been shown up as pathetically inferior to the Daleks, who have themselves now been worn out to the point of exhaustion.

No, when it comes down to it, for a very short time, for what they are supposed to be, this is the Cybermen at their best (on TV anyway)

And I say ‘on TV anyway’ because I would highly recommend that anyone with a passing interest in Dr Who track down and listen to the Big Finish Audio, Spare Parts. While not my favourite Big Finish, it is the story of how and why the Mondas Cybermen came to be. In terms of exploring what the Cybermen are about and how they came to be, it really is the very best of their stories.

The Regeneration

Above, I’ve criticised the way the regeneration just suddenly happens. From a storytelling point of view, I do think they could have done so much more with it. While it didn’t have to be as grand as some of the future regenerations, it could have been related to the plot at least in some way.

I know it was more out of necessity, and I also appreciate that even though it was done that suddenly, it would still have been a massive surprise to the people watching at the time. But still…

In fairness to the realisation of the scene though, it has to be said it looks fantastic for an effect done in 1966. Compare that to the regeneration of Jon Pertwee into Tom Baker and you’ll see how technically superior it is.

I should also point out that with Episode 4 missing, it’s lucky that the regeneration scene survives, even though the reason that episode is missing is because the scene that survives was being shown on Blue Peter and it went missing there.

Would you really let someone turn up to work dressed like that? It’s Political Correctness Gone Mad, I tell thee!

It’s a funny old world sometimes.

Random Thoughts

  • Other people have said this, so this is far from an original point, but why on Earth was someone as unstable as Cutler left in charge of a base containing the Z Bomb? He asks Geneva permission to use it, they decline and yet he tries to do it anyway. The Human Resources Officer of that department needs sacked.
  • How come people in modern-day Dr Who don’t remember this happening in 1986?
  • The Cybermen have names, which is quite cool. Take a step back and ask yourself ‘Why wouldn’t they’ and also why don’t Cybermen or indeed most ‘monsters’ have names.
  • Multiculturalism is taken to the extremes in this story. Africans in full tribal dress hang around Space Command in Geneva, an Italian lusts after Polly, General Cutler’s is a caricature of the brash US Army Commander and the Australian Astronaut is called ‘Blue’. All that’s missing is a Frenchmen wearing a striped shirt and a beret. But don’t worry, he’s in the Moonbase.
  • Why is Polly not frozen to death in the harsh Antarctic snow wearing a miniskirt and a coat that wouldn’t keep her warm at the football?
  • I’m fairly sure in later Dr Who stories, the Doctor is credited with destroying Mondas. He has absolutely nothing to do with its destruction. Whatsoever.
  • The whole nature of the Base Under Siege plot is sooo Second Doctor that William Hartnell feels out of place in this story.
  • Being made and transmitted before man actually landed on the moon, it’s interesting to see what people thought rocket-flight, G-Force etc actually looked like.

Doctor Who – The Tenth Planet Review: Should You Watch The Tenth Planet?

From a point of historical significance, you should watch it. But you will be disappointed.

Episode 2 is good because of the Cybermen, but the story pretty much ends when Cutler is killed off at the start of Episode 4. Once Cutler is dead they just kill time until the sudden regeneration (and I know I’m repeating the opinion of a well known Dr Who review book, but I’m not going to say something else just for the sake of it)

If the Cybermen only ever appeared in this story, and the Doctor didn’t regenerate, I’d say you should avoid it, because it’s just not that good.

But because of what it is, I’d recommend checking it out.

You will be disappointed though.


Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review (or ‘The Tale of Caeser. An Ape. A Dickhead’)

August 17, 2011

I’ve seen all of the Planet of the Apes films.

In all fairness, it’s quite an overrated series of films. At a push, the first, third and fourth of the original series are watchable (especially the third and fourth), but the second is crap and the fifth is quite frankly diabolical – one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. I would do a review of it, but there isn’t enough time left in my life, even if I live to 128, to justify a repeat viewing.

Beyond the first five films they did a remake of the original film in 2001 which was also crap.

Now, 10 years on, they’ve done a (very) loose remake of the fourth film, which manages to be both chronologically sequential and the origin film? Confused? I don’t blame you. Let’s just say the third film involves time travel and two apes becoming celebrities in the 1970s and be done with it.

But anyway, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is in essence it’s own film. A reboot of an old franchise.

So is it any good?

Look, they use the same font as the old films!

What’s The Film About? (Spoiler Free)

In an attempt to cure Alzheimers Disease, a talented scientist tests a new medicine designed to regenerate brain cells on chimpanzees. While the experiment has its initial problems and is officially made to start from scratch, said scientist – Will Rodman (James Franco) – smuggles out the baby of one of the chimps to avoid having to euthanise it, and takes it home.

What he discovers is that the baby chimp (Caesar) has had the effects of the medicine passed on to him through his mother. Within 3 years the chimp is almost as intelligent as a human.

The problem is that baby chimps grow up to be far bigger, and therefore far harder to hide in one’s own house, and so eventually when Caesar is fully grown he becomes ‘known’ to people (I won’t say how, but if you’ve seen the trailer you’ll know the answer) and is taken into custody in an Ape sanctuary.

Of course, it couldn’t be a nice Ape sanctuary – that wouldn’t make for a good film. No, this Ape sanctuary is run by nasty men (Brian Cox and his son Tom Felton) who mistreat the Apes for fun, and so Caesar becomes embittered towards humanity.

Well, circumstances lead to Caeser managing to expose the rest of his ape brethren to the new and improved viral strain of the Alzheimers medicine, thus making them intelligent too, and so the battle is set. It’s Man vs Apes.

Who will win?

You have to go and see the film.

Thoughts

It’s not that difficult, but it’s worth noting that this is by far and away the best Planet of the Apes film ever made. While the first one relied upon the shock factor of talking apes and the plot twist that it was (Spoiler Alert. Highlight to read)         set on Earth in the far future rather than on an alien planet, and the rest were either cheap knockoffs and extensions of a tired franchise, or inferior remakes, this is its own film. And it’s far better written and presented.

While there is no doubt a little bit of padding, mostly relating to the stuff that went on at the pharmaceutical company, the main thrust of this film is about the evolution of Caesar, from his beginnings as a friendly and intelligent young chimp to an embittered adult with a mind for revolution.

And it all made sense.

If I was to take issue with one thing though it was that I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to sympathetic towards Caeser or not as the film reached it’s conclusion. When the apes inevitably went to war with man, I didn’t particularly feel like the apes were the ‘good guys’. Sure, there were a few nasty humans, like Tom Felton (up until it was revealed he was the son of the manager of the sanctuary, I was wondering aloud why on Earth someone like him would be hired to work there) and the guy who was a bit like Johnson from Peep Show, but apart from them, it just seemed to be a case of violent apes attacking humans without just cause. And Caesar was right in the thick of it. Basically, he came across as a bit of a dickhead towards the end.

In fact, I suppose in that case the film didn’t work as well as that which it’s a loose remake of (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes). In that film, the apes were very much positioned as Black Slaves rising from oppression. I didn’t really see how the apes in this film were oppressed more than any other animal, and I’m sorry, I’m not an animal rights activist at all.

Still, don’t let that put you off. It’s still a very good film with many solid acting performances.

I’ve mentioned Felton a couple of times now, and in a way it’s sad, but I sense he’s forever going to be typecast as the snide and cowardly bully (much like he was as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) because he does it so well. James Franco is good in the lead human role too, but best of all is (unsurprisingly) the great John Lithgow, acting his arse off once again as the Alzheimer riddled father of Franco’s character.

To be honest, I always used to associate Lithgow as the guy from Third Rock from the Sun, but once I saw him in Dexter (and I would give my highest recommendation for you to watch that TV series) I gained new found appreciation for his talents. Here, he plays his role to perfection and so steals the show in my opinion.

Random Thoughts

  • What about the special effects? Well, they were ok. In some cases I have to say the dreaded phrase ‘Ropey CGI’ came to mind. You could tell that they weren’t real Apes in many cases, but that’s not a massive problem. It’s a lot better than men in gorilla costumes.
  • If you go and see this film, wait about 1 minute once the credits roll, because there’s one of those irritating post-credits scenes. Thankfully in this case you don’t have to wait 10 minutes to see it like in Marvel films, but I was half way out the door when it started. And it was quite an important scene as well.
  • Who’d have thought Orangutans  were so naturally gifted?
  • Unsurprisingly, there are many nods to the original films, ranging from the name of the lead Chimp (Caeser) to the badly delivered and incongruous line “Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape”. Let’s just saw Tom Felton didn’t deliver it with the gravity of Charlton Heston.

Should You Go And See Rise of the Planet of the Apes?

At one point during the film, I was thinking ‘This could be the best film I’ve seen all year’. Ultimately it wasn’t, because I think it went downhill a little bit towards the end, but it’s still a very decent film. It flows well and doesn’t have any lulls. And refreshingly it gets straight to the point, with worthwhile plot from the very first scene.

There are some issues, as I’ve detailed above, but those are just my opinion.

Then again, it’s my opinion you’re reading.

Therefore, my judgement is this…

The film is worth going to see, and while I wouldn’t consider it a major achievement, it’s by a long way the best Planet of the Apes film ever made.

 


Doctor Who – The Smugglers Review (or A Shallow Plot Saved By Strong Character Acting)

August 17, 2011

So Ben & Polly have joined the TARDIS crew, and that can only mean one thing – William Hartnell is not long for his role as the Doctor.

The Smugglers is another story that has no complete episodes, but thanks to Australia’s keen censorship in the 1960s, there are a handful of surviving clips containing the various murders that happen in the story.

Once again, let’s take a moment to reflect on the stupidity and irony of that. The episodes themselves no longer survive, but the clips consigned to the cutting room floor do.

The Janny from Grange Hill gets set to throw another dagger

It really does make you shake your head!

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

The TARDIS crew become embroiled in the politics of a Smuggling ring off the Cornish coast in the 17th Century, while Polly is mistaken for a ‘young lad’, the Janitor off Grange Hill (you know the one) plays a dagger wielding maniac called Cherub, and the Doctor strikes a deal with the stereotypically hook-handed Pirate Captain, Samuel Pike to find some treasure, only to lead him to his arrest/doom.

There also seems to be an unusually large amount of outside broadcast filming on this story, for 1960s standards, but it’s difficult to know for sure in it’s reconstructed form.

Oh, and in her first story as a true regular, the line ‘Polly, put the kettle on’ is directed towards Anneke Wills’ character.

*Groan*

ThoughtsThe Plot

A bit like the Savages, I find myself in a position where I’m not sure there’s too much to write about. Unlike the Savages though, which had a pretty straight-forward plot that was solid but unremarkable, I find that the problem with the Smugglers the plot is lacking direction or substance.

I mean, you can see by reading the ‘What’s That About’ section that there’s not much to it.

Look, it’s Tlotoxl from the Aztecs playing the rather bland Blake.

There seems to be two different threads to this story.

  1. The Story of Avery’s Gold: The Doctor is given the secret to its whereabouts and the pirates want it.
  2. The Smuggling: A crooked innkeeper and town Squire have a small-time smuggling racket on the go and accidentally get in over their heads with the pirates.

Now you’d think because the story is called The Smugglers, then the focus of the story would be on the second point. But it’s not.

The Smuggling storyline doesn’t really seem to go anywhere or have any real purpose to it. Certainly none of the main cast seem to bother with it. The Doctor spends his time concerned with Avery’s Gold (which is a decent plotline but not one that can sustain 4 episodes), while Ben & Polly – after taking a little bit of time to get used to the idea of time travelling – are only interested in finding out where the Doctor has been taken and then getting back to the TARDIS.

As a result, what you’d assume would be the point of a story called The Smugglers feels a little bit lost.

The Cast

In the absence of a strong plot, the redeeming feature of The Smugglers is the strength of the performances by the cast.

Sometimes in the non-historical Dr Who stories you find that some of the actors aren’t quite sure how to approach their parts, yet in the historicals, this isn’t a problem. Much like the Gunfighters, it seems like all the cast are relishing playing the roles they are given.

And why wouldn’t they? The likes of George A. Cooper (Cherub) and Michael Godfrey (Captain Pike) get to play pirates in the true ‘Aaaaaargh me hearties’ way, while Paul Whitsun-Jones takes on the role of the the boo-hiss authority figure with great effect (which he does once again in the 70s story The Mutants).

You would imagine that while they might not think it was RSC-standard work they all had a bit of fun doing it.

In terms of the regular cast, the Doctor once again takes a back seat to his companions, as Polly & Ben are given the most to do.

Jamaica thinks he’s won the Captain around. Pike has other ideas… (incidentally, I have this on a t-shirt!)

Ben is a character I’ve always felt is a little bit underrated. He only has four stories to shine as the ‘Young Male Lead’ before Fraser Hines joins the show and dilutes his impact, but in this story and indeed in the next two, he’s good, even if the whole ‘streetwise cockney’ thing ends up being a little bit ‘Scrappy Doo’ in its execution.

And Polly is also fine as well. I don’t know why, but I particularly like the attention to detail in her dislike of rats. To me, that just felt ‘real’ and like it gave her character a little bit more depth than some of her predecessors like Dodo.

The Death of Jamaica

Finally, I’ll give props to one of my favourite scenes in the show’s history. I don’t know why, but I love the scene where Captain Pike kills his shipmate, Jamaica.  So much so in fact, that I was given a t-shirt for Christmas with a screencap of it and the line “Fare-ye-well…Jamaica” on it.

There’s just something great about it. For one thing, it’s quite grim by Dr Who standards. Jamaica has been tricked into letting the Doctor and the innkeeper escape from the ship while Pike was ashore. While initially he goes off his head at Jamaica, it appears as though the shipmate’s grovelling and talk of going ashore early to stay one step ahead of the Law has won him round. But just when Jamaica thinks he’s got out of it, Pike calmy declares “Aye…it’ll be a merry night. But not for thee”, and as Jamaica begs for his life, Pike calmly kills him with his book. Then we see him wiping the blood from it while Jamaica lies dead on the floor, with a wonderful ‘dead’ expression. “Fare-ye-well…Jamaica”, he says.

Fare-ye-well Jamaica

Thankfully that scene was considered too violent for Australian TV, so it survives. I think it really cements the cold-hearted villainy of Captain Pike who at this point on the story had been quite gentlemanly in nature. It must have been pretty shocking for kids watching at the time.

Doctor Who – The Smugglers Review: Final Thoughts

I think if this story survived in the archives it would be considered average at best.

The plot is thin, but the story is saved by the characterisation and acting of (mostly) the guest stars.

The surviving clips of this story probably make it look really exciting, but the truth is, they seem to be the best bits. On the one hand, that’s a good thing, because we get to see them, but on the other hand, you’ll end up a little disappointed if you sought out the audio on the strength of the clips.

So here’s my advice; buy the Lost in Time boxed set and see the clips in all their glory on that.


Captain America: The First Avenger Review (or ‘Not Just a Trailer for The Avengers)

August 12, 2011

2011 is without a doubt the year of the Superhero Film.

The latest one is one that I’ve been looking forward to for some time now – Captain America: The First Avenger

The hope going into the film was that it would be more than just a long trailer for the upcoming Avengers film, like Thor was.

So, was it?

What’s This One About?

Captain America: The First Avenger is the story of Steve Rogers, a diminutive man with the heart of a lion (not literally) who desperately wants to fight in the Second World War – not to kill Nazis, but rather because he thinks bullies should be

What a Fine, Upstanding Member of Society

stopped.

The problem is that his size and medical issues prevent him from being accepted into the U.S. Army, but his eagerness and spirit gets him noticed by a section of the Army working on a ‘Super Soldier’ project. When Rogers is chosen to become the first of the US Army’s ‘Super Soliders’, he is physically transformed into a massive, muscle bound hoss of a man thanks to a serum developed by the esteemed scientist and German defector, Dr Abraham Erskine.

Initially he is held back from going to war to become an American figurehead of the war effort, encouraging people to buy War Bonds, but it doesn’t take him long to get involved in the real fighting.

The villain of the piece is The Red Skull, a Nazi General in charge of Hitler’s special weapons division – HYDRA – and who has himself been subjected to the Super Soldier Serum.

Naturally, Captain America and the Red Skull end up in a showdown. And if you aren’t familiar with the Captain America story, you might be surprised at the outcome.

Oh, and there’s another one of these ‘Post Credits’ scenes at the end of the film. And really, it’s not worth staying for.

Thoughts

Once again, it’s worth noting that I’m a fan of the comic-book film genre, and while I’m not much of a reader of comic-books, I’m still aware of the origin stories of most of the major players, and Captain America is no exception.

With that said, I enjoyed this film.

The story itself is pretty much par-for-the-course for the genre. The weakling guy with the big heart (and I say that in the ‘courage’ way rather than the ‘He’s going to die young’ Rey Mysterio type way) ends up becoming a super-hero with powers beyond those of mere mortals, and has to face off against a super-villain with similar strength.

But I’ve got no problem with that. Romance films all have basically the same plot of ‘Man and Woman overcome adversity to fall in love and live happily ever after’, and nobody says a word, so Marvel Super Hero Origin films are fine to keep the same formula as far as I’m concerned.

No, the plot isn’t remarkable or unique, but it is good, old fashioned story-telling from beginning to end. Similarly, the acting is fine. It’s solid, if unspectacular.

The main thing about thing about this film is how it looks.

While Thor goes for jaw-droppingly spectacular visuals, this one goes in the opposite direction, setting the film in the 1940s. And they do a very good job of it, capturing the spirit of the 1940s well, not just in the World War 2 conditions, but with things like the Future Technology Fair at the start, and the Captain America PR tour (including a fantastic old style Captain America cloth costume).

One thing stands out above the rest though and that is the special effect of making Chris Evans (Steve Rogers) look small. Evans is naturally a big muscular guy, but for the first half our he’s about 5 inches smaller and built like a twig.

I had absolutely no idea how they managed to do that while watching the film, but it turns out they used a form of ‘Digital Plastic Surgery’, shooting every scene with ‘Skinny Steve’ multiple times and reducing his dimensions to make him

Here you get to see an example of how they made Chris Evans smaller in the film for when he is 'Skinny Steve'. It really is a clever piece of filming

appear to be a smaller human being. It’s an absolutely terrific special effect, which is made even more impressive considering they also showed him in a state of undress, with a completely different body.

Random Thoughts

  • I enjoyed the ending to the film, as it set up Captain America’s role in the Avengers film perfectly well, without taking away from the main plot of the film. As I said in the Thor review, I felt that film was a bit flimsy and only existed to set up Thor’s involvement in the Avengers. This works as a stand alone piece that takes time at the end to set up the Captain’s followup appearance.
  • But of course, I still have issues with having to wait 8 or 9 minutes for the credits to run through before I get to see a small (and ultimately worthless) scene.
  • While I’ve already expressed my admiration for the 1940s style Captain America costume, I also have to credit them for including the actual Captain America comic in the film. That was a nice touch.
  • Tommy Lee Jones was clearly put on this earth to play grizzled old Army Generals.
  • And on the subject of type-casting, it was nice to see Neal McDonough off Band of Brothers back playing a WW2 soldier. And what a hat/moustache combo!
  • Having Iron Man’s dad working alongside Captain America is a little contrived, and will no doubt set up a scene with the Captain and Tony Stark in next year’s Avengers movie.
  • I’ve read a few comments from people saying they don’t think the reason for the Red Skull having an…err…Red Skull was very clear. That’s probably true, though I went into the film with that idea in mind, and while it really isn’t that clear, it is hinted at/explained.
  • Spoiler (Highlight to read) I’m not exactly sure how he was frozen, and not just killed? That didn’t make too much sense, and wasn’t even attempted to be explained.
  • Once again, it’s a film that is perfectly ok to be watched in 2D, so save yourself the money and don’t bother with the 3D.

Should You Go And See Captain America: The First Avenger

Yeah, I liked it. It was well worth seeing.

Compared against some of the other comic-book films that have come out this year, it is one of the better ones, but not the best (that’s still X-Men: First Class).

And as I’ve said, it’s not just a trailer for the Avengers, even though it sets it up nicely.


Dirt 3 Review (or ‘A Case of Diminishing Marginal Returns’)

August 7, 2011

Sometimes driving games lack soul. I’ve never been a fan of the Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo series because they seem to be driving simulators rather than games. And since I can drive, I’ve just never seen the appeal of a game which is about as much fun as watching someone else drive down to the shops.

In fact, the last time I bought a Forza game, I returned it within a few days only to be met with a look of utter contempt by the guy behind the desk at Gamestation. How dare I not like the petrolheads’ wankfodder!!

The point I’m trying to make is that when it comes to racing games, I look for fun over physics. If you’re looking for me to give an in depth analysis of how the cars in Dirt 3 handle compare to real life Rally driving, you’ve come to the wrong place.

What’s The Game About?

Well, obviously, it’s a rally-themed racing game. The main point of the game – the career mode – is that you are a new rally driver entering the World Tour and you must compete to win each of the four Rally Seasons, with the ultimate aim of winning the DC Superseries Championship.

There are essentially four racing modes.

  • Rally – You race against other drivers’ times to get to the end of a mostly off-road course (there’s also a version called Land Rush which is the same type of race but on a more expansive road with less bends)
  • Rally X – A race against 7 other cars in the more traditional sense. It varies between 3 and 8 laps.
  • Crossover – Race one-on-one with an opponent who is going in the opposite direction on an adjacent track (that’s a terrible description, I know)
  • Gymkhana – Compete for points, achieved by pulling off fancy tricks with your car.

There are also two exhibition modes – Speed Run and Smash – where you aren’t competing against anyone but are trying to beat a time/point total to achieve Driver Rep.

Driver Rep is this game’s version of levelling up. With each race you drive in you get points for the car you drove, where you finished, how many flashbacks you saved (you have a limited amount of flashbacks allow you to rewind the race if you

Dirt 3

crash) and how many race objectives you conquered. Each time you level up you get a better car which earns you even more rep points, meaning that it becomes pointless driving cars from previous levels.

In an attempt to give the career mode some level of ‘storyline’, you have to sit around and wait to proceed with the game while an annoying English woman, an American and I think a New Zealander talk amongst themselves about how well you’re doing (complete with regular terrible jokes)

There are cust0misation options available for your car, but I didn’t need to move away from the pre-set conditions on Medium difficulty.

Thoughts

There’s no doubt the game plays well, but the problem with it is quite simple – it’s repetitive to the point of being dull.

In each season, I think you have to complete 20 different events, mostly containing 3 or 4 races each. But there are a comparatively small amount of racing venues to go along with that number.

So by the time you get to the 3rd season, let alone the 4th, you’ve played each venue/map numerous times. Yes, the weather and conditions change, but you can’t escape from the fact that it’s the same track/course. And as I say, it gets dull. While you polish off the first couple of seasons with fresh faced enthusiasm, by the time you get to the DC Superseries Championship Finals you are barely hanging on, doing the minimum possible to achieve victory. At least I was.

Or to put it another way, this game suffers from an extreme case of Diminishing Marginal Returns. By the time you’ve completed your tenth go on a course, you’re enjoying it far less than the first one. That wouldn’t be a problem if the game featured off-line multiplayer; after all, we happily play through the same tracks time and time again on Mario Kart, but in this game like in any game, playing against the AI is soulless and offers far less variety in comparison to playing against your friends.

And that’s the biggest problem with Dirt 3. Like most games these days, it completely ignores off-line multiplayer. Perish the thought that game owners might have real friends that they can play against in the same room. Older games like Rallisport Challenge on the original Xbox managed 4 player split screen fine, but in this game  it’s online multiplayer or nothing.

Beyond that, there’s the problem of the annoying voices. You have to sit through these three soulless disembodied voices talking about you like you’ve formed a long and personal relationship with them. And you can’t skip it. It’s torture. Why games makers think this adds character to the game, I don’t know. It’s an irritant, and an insincere one at that.

My last problem with the game is how much it tries to force the online content down your throat. I rented the game from Lovefilm basically because I enjoyed the first one, but ended up completing it and then allowing it to gather dust (thanks to the lack of multiplayer). But that meant that I couldn’t play the game online (fair enough) and also couldn’t completely finish the game either (not fair enough). Some tracks and cars that you should have unlocked by advancing/levelling up had to be purchased. It’s a worrying trend in games.

But if you ignore these problems, you are left with a great looking and equally well playing driving game.

Should You Buy Dirt 3?

Well I’d recommend that you play it, but whether you should buy it or not is a different matter. Having been out for a few months now, the price of the game has crashed down to the £23 barrier, and relatively speaking, it probably is worth that. I rented the game from Lovefilm, and while I enjoyed it and got about 3 weeks worth of play out of it (in spite of the eventual repetition) I have no desire to play it again. But in fairness, the same can be said of lots of games.

So I’ll say this – if you plan on playing the game online then it’s worth the purchase. If you don’t, and just want to play the Career Mode, you could probably get away with just renting it.