Doctor Who – The Faceless Ones Review (or ‘If Nobody Else Will Ask This, Then I Will! What The Hell Is The Story With Polly’s Hair?)

September 30, 2011

It’s another story set on ‘modern day’ (i.e. 1960s) Earth, and as luck would have it, it’s set on exactly the same day as the War Machines ended.

That’s a coincidence that must really piss off Ian & Barbara.

But I digress. It’s The Faceless Ones and sadly, it’s time to say goodbye to Ben & Polly and hello to the new companion, Samantha. Oh, she’s not actually staying on either?

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

Aliens are running a very dodgy package holiday company out of Gatwick Airport, Ben & Polly get written out almost as abruptly as poor old Dodo, Shirley Valentine is the companion that never was and the great Bernard Kaye proves he can’t do a Scottish accent.

And inexplicably, Polly’s hair is long again.

Thoughts – Polly’s Hair

Right, I’m dealing with this first, because as I said in the Macra Terror review, it’s always troubled me.

Anneke Wills with short hair. SHORT HAIR.

Polly’s hair. How? Why?

In the Macra Terror she has a haircut. The telesnaps prove it, as do the Australian censor clips. Wikipedia (which is not always the greatest source I’ll grant you) says that the haircut was deliberately written into the Macra Terror because she’d had one in real life, and thus wore hair extensions for the first few scenes.

I’ve done my research and – as you can see in the picture – she was in an episode of the Avengers in the same year and has the same short haircut in it as she did in the Macra Terror.

So why has she got long hair again in the Faceless Ones? It wasn’t filmed out of sequence – after all, she was written out in episode 2 and only brought back for a cameo in episode 6 to say goodbye along with Ben (meaning their exit was slight less ignominious than Dodo in the War Machines) – so it’s not like that is the reason.

It doesn’t make any sense. They’ve made the conscious decision to have Anneke Wills wear hair extensions.

So are we supposed to take it (and I’m sure writers of Past Doctor Adventures will) that months – nay years – have passed between the end of the Macra Terror and the beginning of this?

You might think this is a minor thing, and in fairness you’d be correct, but it has always troubled me. And when I say it troubles me, it just seems to trouble pretty much only me. Do a google search and all you’ll find is my Macra Terror review and one thread on the subject on some other forum.

But anyway…

The Story Itself

As a story, the Faceless Ones is alright, but not a classic. Much like the War Machines, it feels a little bit out of place being set on contemporary Earth. It’s a Pertwee story a few years too soon.

Once again there’s an Authority Figure who starts off not trusting the Doctor but who eventually becomes his own personal dogsbody. In this case it’s the Airport Commandant, played by Colin Gordon.

There are so many ways you could interpret the look the Commendant is giving Jean Rock here. None of them will end well for her.

The problem with Gordon is the way he approaches the part. Compare him to the likes of Bernard Kaye and Donald Pickering in this story and you might see what I mean. While the other two actors play their roles straight, you get the feeling that Colin Gordon is acting as though he’s ‘playing up for the kids’. His portrayal is more at home in something like Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em. It’s not like he’s playing it out-right for laughs or anything, but the exaggerated expressions and the bluster is the polar opposite of the way Patrick Barr plays Hobson in the Moonbase.

At six episodes, this story is probably too long and it suffers from repetition. Spencer tries and fails to kill the Doctor and/or one of his companions a good 4 or 5 times, while the Doctor and Meadows have the same ‘I know you’re really a Chameleon’ confrontation more than once as well.

It also moves quite slowly. The cliffhanger to episode 3 is the realisation that the aeroplanes that Chameleon Tours use have alien technology on board (which we could have guessed since it was made abundantly clear in episode 1 that they were aliens), episode 4 finishes with the bombshell that the planes are actually rockets that fly to a spaceship just outside Earth’s atmosphere, and episode 5 ends with the Doctor getting there.

So what actually happens in the 50 minutes of TV between that? Not much. If I was watching at the time I wouldn’t be too happy at the pace at which the story was unfolding.

Episode 6 is reminiscent of an episode of The Goodies as well. Storytelling be-damned, let’s just have a montage of people running around outside to fill up the 25 minutes.

So yeah, overall six episodes is too long. It could have been far better if it was only a four parter.

The Companions and The Companion That Never Was

So Ben & Polly are off. You’ll have gathered over the past few reviews that I thought Polly was one of the better female companions. Up until the previous story she played a major part in the plots of all the Second Doctor stories so far. It’s a shame to see her go, as she’s certainly a more well rounded character than Victoria and she’s less annoying than Zoe.

As for Ben? His character was most likely devised to do all the physical stuff for William Hartnell’s Doctor. Once Hartnell was replaced with the younger Patrick Troughton his character became limited, and the writing was on the wall for him once Jamie turned up. Three male leads is one too many for Doctor Who, and he was the worst of the three.

The two of them really came as a pair so it was only right for them to go together. Could Jamie & Polly have worked alone as companions with the Doctor? Probably not. The dynamic of the Doctor, Jamie & Zoe/Victoria worked with Jamie as the senior companion, always looking

The Costume Department worked overtime for this story…

out for the younger girl. With Jamie being younger (both as a character and in real life) than Polly, it wouldn’t have worked anywhere near as well.

So yes, it’s for the best that they both left. And while it’s a little bit of a slap in their faces to write them out in episode 2 of a six part story, it does wonders for Jamie’s character, because for the first time he’s given something to do. His character finally comes to the fore and if you watch Episode 3 (which still survives along with Episode 1) you’ll notice that he manages to do more in that episode than he did in the previous 16 episodes combined.

And what about Pauline Collins? She was approached to be the next companion and the Faceless Ones was clearly written with a mind to her staying on. But she turned it down.

All I can say is….

Thank God For That.

Random Observations

  • It’s mainly because Episode 3 is the one I reference most for this story, but I’ve always been of the opinion that the Doctor looks…erm…unclean in this story.
  • I didn’t see the need for Jamie or Crossland to lose their Scottish accents once they became Chameleons. I suppose though that if Doctor Who has taught us and will continue to teach us one thing it’s that BBC English is the Default Accent of the Entire Universe
  • From the file marked ‘Oh, I’ve seen her before’, the Commandant’s assistant – Jean Rock – is played by Wanda Ventham, aka The Sitcom Mother in Law. You’ll have seen her playing a mother in law in shows like Coupling, Only Fools & Horses and Men Behaving Badly
  • She would also turn up – alongside co-star Donald Pickering no less – in Time & The Rani. But as all Doctor Who fans know, you mustn’t speak about that story for it is the worst one ever. Ever.
  • Captain Blade and Spencer have some cheek. They spend the first 5 and a half episodes trying to kill the Doctor and then try and chum up to him when they realise he’s their only hope. Chancing bastards.
  • While the episodes that have survived are good enough, I would have liked to see how effectively they did the plane-turning-into-a-rocket effect later on in the story. I’d also liked to have seen the scene with Ben, Jamie & The Doctor in the photo booth. But you can’t have it all, I suppose.

Another One From The File Marked: Things You Don’t Do If You Want to Keep an Elaborate Deception Going

Chameleon Tours have a system where they are stealing young people, miniaturising them and keeping them on board their space ship.

Blade and Spencer talk over one of those Two-Way TVs that only exist in the Doctor Who Universe

Already that seems like a system designed to fail. So every time they run a flight, they never return ANY of their passengers. None of them ever get home. And yet the only people investigating this are a couple of Detectives and Samantha Briggs.

Then they also have a very odd set-up where the bodies of everyone they take the form of are kept in the back of cars left in the airport car-park.

And the only things that stops them from dying are white armbands put on the bodies in the car-park. If the armbands are taken off, then those Chameleons cease to exist. Oh, and even when they leave Earth for the last time, they aren’t even bothering to take those bodies with them. They are just leaving them there and hoping nobody ever finds them.

So they have an immensely risky – and stupid – operation going and it’s a wonder that nobody has asked any questions of them or rumbled the whole thing. They are either very fortunate or the British authorities are useless.

It’s fair to say that if you’re in charge of Chameleon Tours the one thing you shouldn’t do at this point is push your luck.

So what would you do if someone (Polly) has seen you killing a Detective and has brought her friends back to your hanger to investigate.

  1. Capture her and kill her?
  2. Capture her, replace her with a Chameleon version of herself and have her reintegrate back with the Doctor, Jamie and Ben and try and get them off Chameleon Tours’ scent?
  3. Capture her, replace her with a Chameleon but have that Chameleon pretend to be someone completely different and indeed of a different nationality, despite wearing exactly the same clothes and having the same English accent. And then have her work front of house at the Chameleon Tours desk where her inquisitive friends – who she pretends not to know – will ask her questions?

    Ben and Polly (with Long Hair. LONG HAIR) are given the news of their release and wished well in their future endeavours. Jamie – who will benefit most from this – looks on in triumph

If you think option three is the least likely to attract attention to the running of your company, then welcome to Chameleon Tours.

Doctor Who – The Faceless Ones Review: Final Thoughts

While this has a better story than the Macra Terror, it doesn’t have the coolness factor of wacky luvvie crabs. But it is an interesting watch just for its incongruousness.

As it stands though, it’s one of the weaker Second Doctor stories.

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Film Review: Friends With Benefits (or ‘Oh isn’t New York just so bloody terrific’)

September 22, 2011

Before going to see the film Friends with Benefits, I suspected it might be one of these ‘meta’ romantic comedies where the characters are aware of romantic comedies and vow that their lives aren’t/can’t/won’t/shouldn’t be like that, only for them to end up falling in love like in all romantic comedies.

In this particular case, I suspected that having initially forming a relationship based on ‘no strings’ sex, they eventually fall for each other.

I was right.

End of review.

Actually…no it’s not. I planned for that to be the end of the review, but there’s a couple of issues I want to highlight which have almost nothing to do with the main characters.

For one thing, it’s another one of these films that rams down your throat how wonderful New York is. In fact, that’s the basis for the first half hour of the film – “Isn’t New York Great”. Why do so many films do that? New York seems to have the biggest insecurity complex going. From what I’ve gleamed off watching TV and films people from New York seem to think being from New York is a personality trait; that it defines them. It’s like English people who think being ‘from the North’ makes them who they are. I’ve never understood that. But then maybe that’s because I’m from Dundee.

And secondly, this film has the second worst representation of Alzheimers disease I’ve ever seen in film or TV. The worst of course is the case of Mike Baldwin from Coronation Street, whose Alzheimers was so disrespectful and unbelievable (he ended up dying agony from Alzheimers in the middle of a street, which makes no sense) that it made my mum – a viewer of at least 30 years – turn off for good.

In this case, it perpetuates this myth about Alzheimers that a standard side effect of the disease is that otherwise normal people take their clothes off in public. What a load of crap.

Should You Go And See Friends With Benefits

Even though it was utterly predictable, it was still a watchable film. I don’t think I ever laughed, which kind of defeats the point of a romantic ‘comedy’, but it was still a reasonably enjoyable watch. Both lead actors do a decent job, and I’m sure the prospect of seeing Mila Kunis flaunting around in a state of near undress for large portions of the film will have every Amit Bose, Alan Hunter and Di Canio (i.e. wannabee Lad McLads) up and down the country eager to see it.


Doctor Who – The Macra Terror Review (or ‘The Doctor Faces Off Against Luvvie Crabs’)

September 22, 2011

The Countdown is almost at zero.

After this story – The Macra Terror – there will only be one more completely missing story from the archives. That’ll make my job a little easier, I have to say.

Doctor Who – The Macra Terror Review: So What’s This One About?

The TARDIS lands in a Butlins-style Holiday Camp on an Earth Colony planet. But the camp has a dark secret. While on the face of it, it’s a happy place

Everything is going fine in the Colony. As far as everyone is concerned, that man on the screen is the Controller…

full of smiling singing and fulfilled people, it’s really being run by giant parasitic – and yet incredibly well spoken – crabs known as the Macra. The Macra are controlling the humans via mind influencing gas that is pumped into their rooms while they sleep.

But one man – Medoc – has not been conditioned properly and he knows the truth. This sparks the Doctor’s interest and attention and eventually lands the travellers in trouble.

While the colonists try to condition the travellers, the only one it works on is Ben, who turns heel into one of the villains of the piece.

Can the Doctor save the colony from the Macra? It’s difficult, because as the Macra are quick

…until the Macra put this old guy on screen, say he’s the Controller and then when he doesn’t do what they want, grab him by the throat – in full view of everyone – with a giant crab claw. Crisis Management is clearly not a Macra Strong-Suit

to say…

“No-one on the Colony believes in Macra. There is no such thing as Macra. Macra do not exist. There are no Macraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!”

Thoughts – The Story and The Macra

On its own, this story hasn’t got a particularly good plot. Most of the things that happen are in episodes 1 & 2 to set the scene. But once you get beyond that it seems to focus mostly on Jamie wandering around the abandoned mine where some Macra are trapped before it quickly moves to a finish.

Take for example episode 4. They have a scene where the Doctor and Polly make their way through some corridors to go deep into the heart of the Operations Centre, and discover that a Macra is operating Control (which we knew anyway because of the cliffhanger of episode 2). In the same episode they repeat the entire sequence of events, but this time with the Doctor taking the Pilot to have a look.

Then there’s the character of Medoc who just fizzles out and the boo-hiss villain, Police Chief Ola. Both characters lack any sort of depth.

No, as a story this isn’t up to much, but it’s saved by the hilarious Macra.

Throughout the history of Doctor Who there has been all manner of funny voices used for ‘monsters’, whether it’s the voice modulated kind (Daleks,

The REAL Controller, this Macra, is happily getting on with his work…

Cybermen, Nimon etc), the whispering kind (Sea Devils, Zygons, Ice Warriors), the relatively normal sounding ones (Sontarans, Jagaroth, Draconians) or the ones that sound exactly like Nicholas fucking Briggs (anything post 2005).

But no monster before or after have strived to sound like manic, cowardly luvvies like the Macra.

I’d love to be able to upload audio so you could hear what they sound like, but sadly I can’t. Needless to say, the voices of the Macra are probably my very favourite throughout the whole of the series. You could imagine them hosting elaborate dinner parties with voices like that.

The quote above is a terrific example of them. If you want to hear it search on youtube for a Macra Terror Reconstruction and it’s at the very end of the first part of the second episode.

Of course, I say they are comedy luvvies, but you could also argue that they are unique in that while most Dr Who monsters are intimidating, the Macra are utter wimps. The one operating Control in charge of the PA system has a breakdown during episode 4 when he realises the Doctor is onto him, and her gets more and more desperate as the episode goes on, culminating in him being rumbled by the Doctor & The Pilot. “They’re here!!!!”, he says in a panicked voice, “the Pilot and the Stranger in Forbidden Territory. They must be DESTROYED”.

Without the Macra, the story is nothing, and without the voices, the Macra are just rather silly looking crab props. So it shows how important voice artists really are.

…until he realises he’s been rumbled, and panics. For a rubbish costume, it still manages to convey the appropriate emotion.

Take the 10th Doctor Story, Gridlock, for example. It was great that the Macra showed up for a few seconds in that, but without their voice they were just crabs sitting at the bottom of the traffic. Nothing much at all.

No, all the credit in this story has to go to Denis Goacher as the voice of the Macra.

Music

Any review of this story couldn’t go by without a mention of the unique incidental music, combining some rather strange sounding ‘organ’ style music with of-the-time jingles, ‘Chromophone’ Bands and heart-beat style chase music.

Much like the Macra voices, this ends up being a major part of what defines the story. I wouldn’t say that in as positive a way though, as the organ-style ‘Sting’ gets pretty incongruous and irritating as the story develops.

Still, it was good use of music for the era though, especially with the Jingles. It’ll probably seem less dated in 40 years than the use of ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears in The End of the World will.

Random Observations

  • I’m going to discuss this again in the Faceless Ones review, but Polly’s hair in this story has always troubled me. It starts off long, it’s then short (because she gets a haircut) and by the Faceless Ones its long again. A look at wikipedia tells me she had her hair cut in real life and that was written into the story, so she used hair extensions for the first few scenes. So why has her hair grown back again fully in the next story? Or should I say, why did they bother to have her wear hair extensions again in the next story? Utterly bizarre, and something that has troubled me for a while (which I’ll admit is quite sad, but there you go)
  • From the section marked ‘It Meant Something Else Back Then’, the Doctor – upon seeing the Colony – assertively states “Well, isn’t this Gay”.
  • Ben turns full-blown heel in this story, only managing to turn back into a nice guy (without much explanation really) at the end. It’s a shame that his character lost focus and likeability the moment Jamie turned up.
  • From another section, this time marked “I Would Never Have Known It Was Him“, Officia is played by John Harvey, who was Professor Brett in the War Machines. It must be the hair…
  • The always-good Peter Jeffrey plays the Pilot here. Jeffrey is better known – and rightly so – for his wonderful portrayal of Count Grendal in the Androids of Tara.
  • Looking at the cast list, it highlights part of my problem with the story. So few of the human characters have any focus or depth to them that they are just a list of names.  Who are Sunnaa and Chicki? I don’t know and I have no real desire to find out.
  • It’s never explicitly said whether or not the Macra are supposed to be Crabs, Parasites or Insects. There seems to be some debate about it during the story. Well, they look like Crabs, so that’s what I’m sticking with.
  • Once again, none of the travellers bother to have a bath or a change of clothes between stories.

From the File Marked: Things You Don’t Do If You Want to Keep an Elaborate Deception Going

As far as the colonists are concerned, Control is operated by a handsome man in his 30s or 40s. Whenever the Macra have anything to say, they put his

Remember this for the next story. In the Macra Terror, Polly has short hair. SHORT hair.

picture up on the screen (we can assume that he WAS in control before the Macra took over).

As a system, it works.

Until, that is, Polly demands that they have Control speak to them on a live video link.

At this point, the Macra are faced with two choices.

  1. Tell her to bugger off because it’ll ruin everything.
  2. Put the man who they think is the Controller on screen, despite him now looking a good 30 years older, and seemingly unable to speak. Then, with the man on the screen, speak over him and actually talk to him, demanding he tells the strangers to believe and obey (thus immediately proving that it isn’t him who has been giving out the orders). Then, when the old man is confused and starts to talk to the Macra off camera saying “I will tell them. I’ll do what you say” and then starts to break down, reach their giant crab claw into full view of the camera and grab him by the neck, proving without any shadow of a doubt that there ARE Macra.

As you can probably guess, the chose option 2.

Idiots.

Doctor Who – The Macra Terror Review: Final Thoughts

As a story it isn’t up to much, but the Macra are a combination of stupid and brilliant. At the very least you have to listen to their fantastic voices.


Film Review: Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy

September 20, 2011

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is a film that is currently receiving praise from almost all quarters.

I say ‘almost’ because good old DigitalSpy gave it a mere 3 stars. Yes, the same website that gave the utterly abysmal Bridesmaids a 5 star review only gives TTSS – a film which I’m sure everyone knew was going to be terrific – a merely average score.

The moral of this story is that DigitalSpy hires morons to do their reviews.

Anyway, onto the matter at hand.

What’s This Film About?

I’m sure most of you have heard of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy before, whether it’s John Le Carre’s novel or the 1970s TV series starring Sir Alec Guinness and a host of well known British Actors of the era, and therefore I don’t really need to critically analyse the plot.

But to give a brief outline…

Set in the 1970s during the Cold War, George Smiley – a British Intelligence Officer – comes out of retirement to try and uncover a Russian Double Agent (one of four men) working at the top of the Secret Service.

Thoughts

The only way that this film could possibly be bad was if it strayed wildly from the book/TV series. But it didn’t.

So let’s just establish now that the plot for this film is terrific. It’s engaging, makes sense, flows well and is very clever.

Therefore, when it comes to reviewing it, the onus is on two different issues…

1) Can You Truncate a Seven Hour Long TV Series Into a 2 Hour Film and Not Compromise It?

I would say the answer to this is yes.

I watched the TV series a few years ago and while it was enjoyable, it was slow moving – almost glacial in its pace. Now, that’s not a bad thing at all, but in 2011 I don’t think you can get away with that without boring a nation full of people with Attention Deficit Disorder.

The key is that while some of the characterisation is missed out, especially for the likes Toby Esterhase, Percy Alleline and Roy Bland, the plot doesn’t suffer. Indeed, by speeding it up it makes it more exciting.

On the other hand though, by missing out on some of that characterisation it does take away a little from the impact of finding out who exactly the mole in the Circus (the name for the upper echelons of the Intelligence Agency).

2) How Does the Acting Compare?

For anyone who knows anything about British TV in the 70s and 80s, the BBC Series of TTSS is a whose-who of good actors. Not as much as the peerless I, Claudius, but still a fine selection.

You’re talking about the likes of Alec Guinness, Bernard Hepton (I, Claudius, Secret Army), Ian Richardson (House of Cards), Hywell Bennett (Shelley, Eastenders), Michael Jayston (The Valeyard from Dr Who), George Sewell (among other things, The Detectives & Dr Who) and Patrick Stewart, so it’s obviously going to be high quality.

But the film also has a very strong cast as well, including Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth and…er….Roger Lloyd Pack, so in many ways it comes down to personal preference.

Well, I say that, but the exception would be the actors portraying Toby Esterhase. In the film it’s David Dencik, but he’s nowhere near as good as Bernard Hepton in the TV series.

That’s just one exception though.

With Gary Oldman, while he plays the part of Smiley brilliantly, you do have to wonder whether or not he’s taking the character from the book (which I haven’t read) or if he’s just trying to copy Guinness. Either way, it’s a very similar, if not copy-cat performance.

Random Observations

  • The much talked about ‘Gay Agenda’ in modern scriptwriting shows up here. For reasons completely unknown, the character of Peter Guillam – who was written as a bit of a ladies man and ended up married with children in one of Le Carre’s later books – is written as a homosexual in this film.
  • Well, I say ‘written’, but his homosexuality has nothing to do with his character at all. Rather, what happens is that for no good reason there’s suddenly an incongruous scene in which he dumps his boyfriend, and then it’s not brought up again. We live in a society where it’s not the done thing to question such things without being branded ‘homophobic’, but I have to ask ‘What’s the point’? Either it’s been written to make him gay for the sake of it, or it’s trying to make a point about his character and completely misses the target.
  • Moving away from such ‘controversial’ issues, the film is shot to look as dreary as 1973 seemed. And the streets and sets were dressed to look very much like the era. It looked very good.
  • In an era where everything is stored in digital form, a Spy drama like this really couldn’t be done in this day and age.
  • Apparently people used to recreationally swim in public ponds. You couldn’t do that these days…Health & Safety.

Should You Go To Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

Yes, it’s a very good film. It’s well written, the right length, a strong plot and solidly acted.

If you’re a DigitalSpy type character who thinks the pinnacle of writing is a film like Bridesmaids though, maybe avoid it eh? Might go over your head.


Doctor Who – The Moonbase Review (or ‘This Just Can’t Have Been Written By Scientists’)

September 17, 2011

Some would argue that the next story – The Moonbase – is ‘Dr Who By The Numbers’, since it’s…

  • Set on the moon
  • Base Under Siege
  • Has the Cybermen in it
  • Involves an authority figure initially distrusting the Doctor and thinking he’s responsible for everything going on

On the one hand you can see why people might think that. Base Under Siege is something that gets done a lot in Doctor Who, and in many ways this is just a sequel to the Tenth Planet.

Looking at this picture you wouldn’t think the Doctor has just saved Hobson’s life. If anything, you’d think he was about to kill him.

But looking at it a little more deeply, this is the only Doctor Who story in history that is actually set on the moon. Yes, there’s a one episode sideline in Frontier in Space where the Doctor is sent to a lunar prison, and Smith & Jones is set in a hospital that is taken to the moon, but those are just minor things.

That’s actually quite an interesting point – you’d think in the hundreds of stories since 1963 there would be more stories set there.

The other thing to take note of is that with the possible exception of The Ark (and in that instance the authority figures were right to believe the Doctor was to blame) this is the first time that the fourth bulletpoint has  happened in Doctor Who history.

Let’s play a game called ‘Spot the Extra who is about to be killed’

So I suppose it’s a bit unfair to criticise this for being a ‘By the Numbers’ story. In some ways it’s almost unique and in other ways its massively influential for what is to come.

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

The TARDIS lands in the late 21st Century at a time when Earth’s weather is controlled by a gravity altering device (known fantastically as ‘The Gravitron’) on the Moon.

As it happens, they land just beside the Moonbase at a time when the crew are being randomly struck down with a virus that attacks their nervous system.

Well wouldn’t you know it, it’s the Cybermen who are to blame. Initially the base manager – Hobson – doesn’t believe it because the Cybermen were wiped out years ago, but sure enough, it’s them. They’ve been contaminating the sugar and entering the base by a hole in a wall which they covered up with some sacks containing the sugar (don’t worry, I’ll get to that).

Initially the Cybermen make their move and two of them explain their plans to the base scientists before Ben, Polly and Jamie manage to kill them with a cocktail of plastic dissolving chemicals.

But the Cybermen on the outside aren’t finished. First of all they use mind control to use some of the contaminated scientists to try to take over the Gravitron, then they plan an all out assault on the base, before the Doctor has the idea to remove them from the Moon by pointing the Gravitron directly onto the Lunar Surface.

And once that’s done and the Cybermen have all been killed, everyone cheers as they announce ‘Hooray!! Well, that’s the end of the Cybermen’. A real feel good ending.

ThoughtsRopey Science and Dodgy Scientists

This story is fun, and while it’s a lot better than the Tenth Planet, there are plenty of moments that make you think ‘Eh?’.

Some fantastic ‘Scared’ background acting by Anneke Wills there

For example, let’s just take it for granted that they’ve managed to overcome the issues of gravity and oxygen supply on the moon to be able to actually build a Moonbase they can walk around in without any problems. That’s fine – that’s all part of the package you expect with Science Fiction.

But in what circumstances is it feasible that the Cybermen could enter and leave the Moonbase at will through a hole in the wall that they cover up loosely with a sack of sugar? The scientists discuss how there have been unexplained pressure drops, but come on.

Similarly, in Episode 4 the Cybermen shoot a hole into the glass dome of the base which they successfully cover up with a tea tray.

Then there’s the sugar itself. How come none of the scientists noticed that people kept collapsing ill within seconds of drinking a tea/coffee with sugar in it. And more to the point, how come the Doctor – who was testing things like shoes – never bothered to test the sugar before he witnessed the guy collapse?

From a scientific point of view, there’s just so much wrong with this story, which would be more acceptable were it not written by two scientists. One thing I don’t want to do is plagiarise, so if you’re interested in reading a lot more about the ridiculous nonsensical science (including the way they treat Jamie’s concussion), then I urge you to read the fantastic book ‘About Time: Volume 2’.

The Companions

A mere 2 years earlier, the writers of Doctor Who successfully managed to write for the Doctor and three different companions. In the Underwater Menace and especially in the Moonbase, they really struggle.

Almost immediately, Jamie gets knocked out cold because the script wasn’t written with him in mind, and by the time he makes a startlingly quick and full recovery he just takes half of Ben’s lines.

It’s not really until the Faceless Ones that Jamie gets going as a companion in his own right. At the moment the Faceless Ones is the story I’m watching and it’s pretty much the first time he has any interaction with the Doctor. In the Moonbase, he’s just ‘there’, occasionally agreeing with something someone else says.

But as I say, by being there he has a negative effect on Ben, who not only loses some of his purpose, but comes across as a wee bit of a dick. In Episode 3 he appears to be jealous of Jamie & Polly’s relationship for what it is almost gets into a fight with him, and then in Episode 4 again seems unnecessarily short with

I’d love to know what he’s looking at.

Jamie. By this point he’s a long way from the character who first appeared in the War Machines.

As the sole female companion, Polly gets plenty of screen-time though, and proves to be the most worthy of the companions in this story by coming up with the idea for the solvent cocktail which kills off the Cybermen. Also, in one of the two surviving episode – Episode 2 – she gets the most screentime.

The Doctor

By this point the Doctor has turned more into what we know he becomes. The slapstick has been toned down to a minimum, the hat is gone, the crap catchphrase is away and he no longer dresses up other people for laughs.

As a character, the Second Doctor is defined by a scene in Episode 3, where – amongst the chaos of the Cybermen invading the base – he silently ponders the situation in a different part of the room. Since Episode 3 no longer exists, I’m not absolutely sure of this, but I *think* what we hear is the Doctor thinking, rather than talking to himself. It was a nice touch.

There’s a more significant moment for the Doctor as a whole, not just his second incarnation. When he’s asked by Ben why they can’t just leave the base considering nobody wants them there, the Doctor defiantly says that they must stay because ‘Evil must be Fought’. This is one of – if not the – first time that the Doctor has made such a statement, which is strange when you think about the character he is now.

Patrick Barr

What I enjoy about this story most is the performance of Patrick Barr as the head scientist of the Moonbase, Hobson.

To be absolutely fair, sometimes the actors who appear in Doctor Who can be a little bit over the top or perhaps don’t take their role that seriously. Look back to the First Doctor’s reign. Some of the best characters were the likes of Yaartek – Leader of the Alien Voord, Koquillian, Tlotoxl, Mavic Chen etc.

These characters were well acted (well…mostly), but over the top. They were played with accentuated personalities and with the aim of being ‘Doctor Who characters’. Chen is the best example there. He steals the show in Master Plan but he’s played well over the top, relatively

“Hooray. Numerous members of our team are dead and we’ve just murdered some Cybermen into the bargain”

speaking. Often times, the guys who didn’t play their characters over the top weren’t noticed.

Patrick Barr is different. Nothing he does is over the top, but he plays the part of Hobson with absolute conviction. I feel that he becomes the character, rather than obviously ‘acting’.

There’s nothing massively spectacular about anything he does, but I think that’s the point.

He’s enthusiastic, believable and takes the job at hand seriously. That’s what you want from an actor as far as I’m concerned.

Random Observations

  • It’s multiculturalism in action again as the second-in-command at the base, Benoit, wears a neckerchief…because he’s French. In fairness, this was to cover up a misspelling on his name badge, but still…
  • The Cybermen are once again played as being emotionless, but in doing so they sound like they are in actual fact full of the sarcasm when they bust out the immortal line “Clever. Clever. Clever” to the humans. If someone said that to me in that tone, I’d assume they were taking the piss.
  • Despite the fact its not remotely believable, I love the ending of Episode 2. The idea that one Cyberman has been hiding under a bedsheet on a bed in the sickbay the whole time is ridiculous, but it did make for a great and eerie cliffhanger.
  • Speaking of the Cybermen, why after all this time trying to be discreet and stay in hiding, did they not mind walking around in the presence of Polly? Maybe they are sexist? And also, even though he was making too much noise or perhaps because of that, why did they not take Jamie rather than leave him to tell everyone what he’d seen?
  • There’s a fantastic mish-mash of stock music in this story. The Unofficial Cybermen Theme  – ‘Space Adventure’ is used again, along with The Sting from Daleks Master Plan and the confused bit of music from Edge of Destruction where they look at the melted clock face. Sometimes the Stock Music – considered a cheap option – was a lot better than the stuff they paid to have made.
  • Once again there’s no sign of any of the TARDIS crew having a bath between stories, although at least this time they have a change of clothes.
  • Speaking of which, how did Jamie get a kilt on under a space suit?
  • There’s a bit in episode 4 where the voice modulator slips a bit from the Cyberman voice when its talking to the Moonbase over the radio. One can only assume that having to talk like that wasn’t fun.

Doctor Who – The Moonbase Review: Final Thoughts

For all its scientific faults, the Moonbase is a good Dr Who story. Yes, you could argue that it’s a bit formulaic, but that would be like watching a Laurel & Hardy film and complaining that you’ve seen that sort of comedy before. This was the story that set the formula, and though the Cybermen are already slowly falling into the ‘Boo Hiss’ category, they are still quite good.

Generally the acting is top notch and the Doctor is a far more rounded character.

It’s also the most complete story since the War Machines, so it’s worth watching for that alone, but I would absolutely recommend you give this one a chance.


Film Review: A Lonely Place to Die (or ‘Aaaah…Swerve!!!’)

September 16, 2011

When I was 10 years old, I wrote a story for school which has become infamous within my family.

It was about a man who was lost in an underground tunnel. It had a lot of setup work about the atmosphere in the tunnel and how the man didn’t know where he was or how he was going to get home.

Then – for reasons I can’t really explain – he stumbles across a Nazi who ends up killing him (or vice verca, I can’t remember).

At the time, I thought this was great, but my family couldn’t understand why I shifted the plot to something completely different.

A Lonely Place to Die reminded me of that story.

It’s a film that starts off being about five recreational Mountain Climbers on holiday in the Highlands of Scotland, threatens to turn into a Scottish version of Deliverance and then becomes a tense and bloody manhunt centred around the kidnapped daughter of a Serbian war criminal.

Eh?

I know that sometimes film makers like a good swerve, but the mountain climbing element of this film – which is what is marketed on the posters and in the trailer as well – becomes completely redundant after about 20 minutes. Those first 20 minutes are all about the struggles of climbing up sheer cliff faces (which incidentally made me ask myself “Who the hell would want to do that”) but then the main body of the film seems to be more about hillwalking. When the proper plot begins, there’s only one more scene with actual climbing in it, and it’s only in there as a means to kill someone off.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the film is poor. Look at Psycho. The plot of that film completely shifts – and in a far more sudden way than this – and it’s considered a classic.

So what about this film?

Thoughts

Well it’s alright. I enjoyed the manhunt aspect of it, and the guys playing the ‘hunters’ were both very good. Inevitably just by looking at them, they will only ever be able to play creepy people, but what the hell, if they can make a career out of having that sort of appearance then good for them.

One of them in particular – Sean Harris (who was the main villain in the first series of Ashes to Ashes) – is particularly good as a remorseless murderer.

As for the other cast members…well, they aren’t as good. When the best of the bunch is TV Irritant Melissa George – who put on an accent that ranged somewhere between American, Scottish and Irish – then you know the calibre of acting on display. In fairness to her, if it wasn’t for her dreadful attempt at whatever accent she was actually going for, she’d have been pretty good.

The same though cannot be said for Ed Speelers, one of the worst actors I’ve seen in 2011. We’re not even talking Hollyoaks calibre here people. It appears as though the most well known thing he’s appeared in is Echo Beach. Remember that? No? Didn’t think so.

As a sidenote, for a film set in Scotland, there are only three Scottish people with speaking roles in the entire film. A bit odd.

Mind you, it must be written by a Scot because there’s a scene where the one Scot among the climbers gets angry about how a Scottish £10 note is legal tender in England.

Hit & Miss Visuals

One area where the film both succeeds and fails is in the visuals.

There are a series of spectacular falls down mountains, hills and one through the upper story of a house which look terrific and totally believable. There’s also a great scene – from a direction standpoint – where Melissa George is climbing down a rock face and getting rocks thrown at her. It actually made me flinch because it was being done from George’s perspective and looked like the rocks were coming straight at the screen – and for a 2D film, I thought that was quite an achievement.

But while those were great, there were areas where the visuals were a let down. In that scene with the rocks, George takes a great looking fall which results in her supposedly messing up her leg. In the next scene she’s in the other characters say “Look at her leg! It’s a mess”, yet we never see anything wrong with it, and indeed the next time we see her legs, they are covered up by a pair of skin tight mountain climbing tights. She also appears to have no problem running.

There’s a similar scene where Speelers’ character takes a tumble and seems to cut his leg deeply on a branch. I say ‘seems’ because after letting out a massive scream and hearing what sounds like a pretty bad injury, there’s absolutely no followup to this. He’s just running around saying he thinks he broke his leg in the next scene.

I just don’t see the point in drawing attention to these things and then not bothering to follow up on them.

Issues with the Plot (SPOILERS)

Right, I’m going to delve into spoilers here, so highlight the white text below if you want to read it.

Maybe I’m being cynical here, but the one thing I just didn’t get was the way Melissa George’s character steadfastly refused to entertain the notion that they had made the wrong choice rescuing the girl.

There’s a scene late on in the film when three of her friends have already been brutally murdered. Realising the girl has been kidnapped, the only other remaining character says “We should have left her there, she’s not our problem” and he’s quickly told not to be so stupid. What’s stupid about it? The chances are if they’d left her alone then the girl would have been returned to her parents in exchange for the ransom money.

But by interfering, George ends up getting all of her friends murdered along with two policemen, and various people in the village late on. The only person who would never have been killed was the girl, because the kidnappers needed her.

George has a history of playing cold-hearted characters in shows like Alias and Grey’s Anatomy and despite the writers intentions here, it appears she’s doing the same in this film.

There’s also a scene where one of the blokes says “They don’t care about us, they’re only after the girl”, which I thought was going to mean he was going to try and leave the girl. But no, the next scene has him making a run for it while pretending to be carrying the girl in his arms, thus allowing the others to escape. He knows fine he’ll be killed and he is.

The other ridiculous element here is the way one of the kidnappers – Mr McRae – just decides to go on a killing spree in the village with a shotgun late on in the film. There was no reason for it, and I can’t see any plausible reason for a calculating man intent on a career as a serial kidnapper would do something like that.

Similarly, he shoots a guy who has been hired by the girl’s father to find him a good 10 times. The first time he shoots him he drops the guy, then follows in and shoots him a futher 9 times at close range. Clearly, he wants to kill him, so why did he shoot him in the bulletproof vest every time, allowing the victim to be able to call for backup with his last breath. Why do villains never ever aim for the head?!

But I suppose by that point in the film, any sense to the plot had been removed as it built to its climactic finish.

So hey-ho.

Should You Watch A Lonely Place to Die

The film was ok. Earlier I compared the way the plot changed to Psycho. In many ways this film can be compared to the Hitchcock films. It’s played out in distinct acts, culminating in a frantic ‘set-piece’ finish.

Now no, this film is not a classic like a lot of Hitchcock’s films were, but it was watchable enough, and though it was ridiculous in many ways, it had its good parts.

For the genre that its in, it’s worth a watch.

 

 

 

 


Film Review: Apollo 18 (or ‘I’ve Been Tricked Into Seeing A Crap Film By My Brother’)

September 9, 2011

I’m in the mood to write this morning and having just published my review of Senna, I thought I’d strike while the iron’s hot and review the film I’ve seen most recently – Apollo 18.

What’s This Film About? (spoiler free)

Apollo 18 is a horror film that ‘explains’ why man never returned to the Moon.

As is the current fad with horror movies like the Paranormal Activity and Rec franchises, this film is presented using ‘mockumentary’ footage. We’re supposed to believe it’s real.

Basically Apollo 18 was a ‘secret’ mission to the moon and the astronauts and their rocket & landing capsule are wired up to record everything that is

The Tagline should really be "There's a Reason Why Nobody Made a Film About This Before"

happening to them and thus to beam it back to earth.

While on the moon, the astronauts realise they are not alone up there…

Or to put it another way, it’s Paranormal Activity In Space

Thoughts – I’ve Been Tricked Into Seeing A Shit Film By My Brother

Before going to this film the other day, the reviews seemed to be pretty good. IMDB even had it as an 8.o. Not that that’s any indication of a good film – it gave 127 Hours a good rating, and I don’t think I need to go over that again. But most of the time you can trust it.

But a mere 4 days later, the score on IMDB is down to 6.0 and the film only gets a meagre 18% on Rotten Tomatoes with the summary being “A boring Paranormal Activity rip-off that feels long even at just 90 minutes”. Meanwhile, Metacritic only gives it 24/100.

How could opinion on a film slip so badly in the space of a week?

Thinking about it now, I don’t recall actually seeing any of these good reviews. My brother just told me about them. Now, as anyone who knows my brother will attest to, he’s an absolute sleekit cheapskate bastard. He wouldn’t pay out to see a film unless he’s been given 8000 different assurances that it’s really worth it.

Surely he wouldn’t recommend we go to a crap film? It doesn’t make sense?

But he’s also a Paranormal Activity fanboy, so I’m not sure either way.

The Film Itself

So I thought when I started writing this review I was going to be going against the grain with what I’m about to say, but apparently not.

For you see, Apollo 18 really is overly long at 90 minutes. It drags, it’s dull and it’s predictable.

As a Two-Hander (for the most part), Apollo 18 has nothing on this episode of Eastenders. Poor old Ethel.

Is it scary? No, but I’ve said before that horror films don’t really scare me anyway. The aforementioned film – Paranormal Acivity – was a load of codswallop as far as I was concerned. Oh no! They can hear a knock. Oh my god, a ghost has dragged him out of bed! Big whoop.

In this case, since it’s so crap you probably won’t go and see it anyway, the horror aspect is spiders on the moon. There, I said it.

But what’s scary about that? Well, nothing really. What I find is that ‘scary’ is often a completely manufactured concept. What you see doesn’t scare you at all, but by playing a very loud, short and sharp noise at the same time as ‘the scary bit’ comes on screen, the director manages to give you a fright. But it’s not the same thing.

If the film had been played with Benny Hill music in the background you’d end up laughing.

The problem is, this is a film that has nothing else in its locker other than the ‘scare’ factor. Since it doesn’t even have that, it’s got nothing. And at 90 minutes long, there’s just too much ‘dead’ time. It’s two men in a capsule on the moon, and since it’s presented as a ‘mockumentary’ they try and make it as real as possible by having ‘natural’ conversations – i.e. nothing interesting. It’s hardly one of the great two-handers, like the episode of Eastenders where Ethel dies!

There’s also a few things that don’t make any sense. Without going into specifics, I didn’t think a man could survive on the moon without holes in his space suit or – in the absence of a space suit – a hole in the glass of the launcher. Apparently they can.

I’m trying to write more, but there isn’t really much plot to speak of or comment on.

And actually, that’s my problem with the concept of the mockumentary. If it’s done well then great, but I think it’s a gimmick that is exploited by less talented screenplay writers to carry their inch-deep script over the finish line. As I said, I thought Paranormal Activity was boring drivel. It didn’t even try and have a plot. Rec was fantastic, and that did have a plot. Go figure.

To try and end with at least something positive, they do do a good job of the visuals of the spiders crawling inside the guy’s spacesuit, and the make-up is good for when one of the astronauts falls ill.

But here’s the best thing about the film; it features the song ‘And You And I’ by Yes, very briefly.

That’s a great song, but when a 16 second clip of it is the highlight, you know you’re watching a dud.

Still, it was better than 127 Hours.

Should You Go And See Apollo 18?

What do you think?