Film Review: The Muppets (or ‘Grow up! Go and See This Film’)

February 24, 2012

Why go to a film like The Muppets if you’re going to cringe the moment they start with their deliberately twee musical numbers, or if you’re going to ask questions such as ‘How does Jason Segal have a Muppet for a brother?’

You’ll have to ask my brother, because he came out of this film with a face tripping him. Perhaps he’s too cool to enjoy something like that. Ha!

Similarly a friend of mine tweeted from his seat in the cinema saying he was in for a long two hours when he went. But then his idea of a good film is The Fountain so I take his opinions with a pinch of salt!

I think it’s safe to say that if you’re going to enjoy this film you have to be able to enjoy the musical numbers, be able to disengage the logic centres of your brain and…well..like the Muppets.

If you’re the type of person who won’t be able to get past the notion that Gary is a human and his brother Walter is a Muppet then don’t bother, because you wont enjoy it.

I mean, it’s obviously a kids film – it’s a Disney film after all – but it’s one that has been deliberately written so that adults can appreciate it too. While the kids will enjoy the slapstick elements and the more obvious gags, there are plenty of bits of subtle-yet-laugh-out-loud humour for the adults to like as well.

And that’s the key. You watch this film if you can find the level for you to enjoy it yourself. To be honest, I think it’s quite sad when people don’t allow themselves to enjoy a film like this – and that’s exactly what the situation is with some of them. You’ll notice I say ‘allow’ and I think that’s the crucial thing. Yes, some people just won’t enjoy it and that’s fine but there are others who probably would enjoy the film if they watched it locked away in a dark room where nobody could see them tearing up at the site of Kermit the Frog singing Rainbow Connection, but if they were asked to watch it publicly they would baulk at such a suggestion. After all, they are serious people. The types of people who watch films like Requiem for a Dream or enjoy the opening 40 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But we know their secret.

Worse than them are the people who will scoff at watching a film like this as it’s ‘for children’ yet they’ll enthuse about how they watched turgid shit like The Human Centipede or a film where someone was brutally raped and had their limbs cut off because that’s  a really ‘adult’ thing to watch.

Personally I’ve always thought it’s people like that who need to grow up.

What’s It About?

When Gary (Jason Segal), his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and Walter (a Muppet) go on holiday to Los Angeles to see the Muppet Studios, Walter overhears a plan by an evil businessman that the Muppets ownership of the studios is away to expire and unless they come up with $10m to buy them outright, he will demolish it and drill for oil.

So Walter must convince Kermit the Frog to bring the Muppets back together for a Telethon show to save the studios.

Thoughts

So as I say, this film has to be enjoyed at a certain level. You look at the opening scene and musical number and some people will see a puppet and a creepy looking giant simpleton singing the most sickly sweet song the world has ever known.

For me, I saw Jason Segal taking his Marshall Eriksen character from How I Met Your Mother and ramping the cheesiness factor up to the max, followed by a song that was a parody of the sort of numbers seen in the opening scenes of films like Hairspray.

And that’s how the film continued.

It made deliberate fun of things like montages and the way people manage to travel about so fast in films. I loved the ‘We’ll travel by Map’ stuff and I thought the funniest bit of the whole film was when Grover asked why his story wasn’t told in the montage.

As far as the cast went, both Segal and Adams were good in their roles, as was Jack Black in his, and there were plenty of cameo appearances by actors from some of my favourite shows like Parks & Rec (Rashida Jones), Big Bang Theory (Jim Parsons), How I Met Your Mother (Neil Patrick Harris), Modern Family (the boy who plays Manny) and Community (Donald Glover and Ken Jeoung). I also thought Zachary Levi from Chuck was in it until it was pointed out to me that it was his doppelgänger – John Krasinski from The Office.

And the Muppets themselves? Well they are the Muppets – you either love them or you don’t. The little touches like having Fozzy Bear’s eyebrows being grey were good though, and the puppeteering (because – and I am loath to tell you this – the Muppets aren’t actually real) was great, especially for Walter.

Key to it all though is the story itself. The Muppets have been on the periphery of modern culture for a number of years now, so having a film from the perspective of them being washed up and unwanted celebrities rallying together to win back their studio and the love of the masses was relevant and clever, and the story of poor little Walter looking for acceptance and finally stealing the show at the Telethon was – whisper it – heart-warming.

Musically it was good as well, but it’s a Disney film, so you that’s what you come to expect. Disney don’t just do songs for the sake of it; in many cases they advance their films’ plots with them. I can understand why a song like ‘Life’s a Happy Song’ might be a turn-off to some, but Kermit’s ‘Pictures in My Head’ is actually a very good piece, and numbers like ‘Man or a Muppet’ and of course ‘Rainbow Connection’ are also great.

My only criticism is that I wish The Count was in this, even though I’m well aware he’s a Sesame Street character.

Final Thoughts

So I really enjoyed this film from beginning to end and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

But if you don’t actually like the Muppets or if you’re the sort of person who only enjoys a film about people suffering some kind of abject misery, then don’t bother.

Otherwise, get along to the cinema and give this film a shot.

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Doctor Who – The War Games Review (or ‘The End of Many Eras, and lots of Escaping and Re-Escaping’)

February 23, 2012

And so we come to an end of an era. Or the end of many eras if you prefer.

At the end of this story we bid farewell to The Second Doctor, the longest running companion in the show’s history (Jamie) and stories recorded in Black & White.

The life of a TV Extra isn’t always a dignified one

It’s also the end of much of the mystery surrounding the Doctor as  – after 49 previous stories amounting to 243 episodes – we finally learn about his people, The Time Lords.

At ten episodes in length, The War Games is an epic story. When you think about it, it’s amazing that it exists in its entirety.

But is it good, and does it see off Patrick Troughton’s Doctor well?

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

Brainwashed soldiers from a variety of different wars throughout Earth’s history have – unbeknownst to them – been brought to an alien planet to take part in the War Games. While they believe they are still fighting in their own wars and in their own times, they are really there so that the Aliens running the War Games can take the best soldiers from it and turn them into an army capable of galactic domination.

Why then they went no further into Earth’s history than World War 1 is never explained. But let’s not dwell on that.

I don’t even know where to begin on this one…The cool Scientist, the stick on sideburns, the unfortunate looking soldier, a Fraser Hines alcohol joke, or the guy in the background who looks like one of those Easter Island statues?

As you might expect, the Doctor lands on the planet and once he realises what’s going on, he sets about stopping them.

But this time he can’t do it all by himself. One of the Doctor’s own race has been helping the aliens by lending them TARDIS technology, but those TARDIS machines have a limited lifespan and are on the point of wearing out. With the task of returning every single soldier back to his or her own time on Earth beyond the Doctor, he must call in his own people – The Time Lords – to sort out the mess themselves.

By doing so, he also brings the spotlight upon himself. It turns out the Time Lords have a code regarding interfering in the affairs of other planets, and the Doctor has been…well…rather guilty of that over the years. So they send Jamie and Zoe back to their own times (with no memory of the Doctor beyond their initial meeting with him) and then sentence him to exile on Earth.

The last we see of the Second Doctor is him writhing in pain as the Time Lords force a regeneration upon him.

Thoughts – Capture/Escape/Capture/Escape/Capture

If you haven’t seen the War Games, you might think that the size of the ‘What’s This One About Section’ relative to others is because it’s a ten episode story.

Most of the time, Vidfire Technology improves the Black & White Doctor Who stories by making them look a lot better. Sadly, the clarity can sometimes be damaging, as shown here with the crappy special mesh used for von Veich’s scar (Click on the picture to enlarge it and see what I’m on about)

In truth, the majority of the plot I’ve explained there happens either at the very start of very end of the story. The stuff with the Time Lords only starts to happen towards the end of Episode 9.

So what are the other eight episodes about?

The answer is that it’s about the Doctor and his friends being captured, escaping and being captured again. Off the top of my head, I think the tally amounts to the Doctor being captured eleven times, Jamie being captured a further three times and Lt Carstairs finding himself captured once on his own.

The list is…

  • The Doctor, Jamie & Zoe are arrested at the very start of the story under suspicion of being spies/deserters
  • Zoe manages to get into the Doctor’s cell to free him before he goes to a firing squad
  • But the guards just so happen to be coming to the door to take him away
  • As he’s away to be shot by the firing squad, they come under attack and the Doctor escapes again.
  • Jamie meanwhile manages to escape from where he is being held, but is caught again.
  • The Doctor masquerades as a War Office official to try to free Jamie
  • But just as they are about to leave, guards turn up at the door and capture them again
  • The Doctor, Jamie & Zoe are freed by Lt Carstairs and Lady Jennifer
  • All five of them are captured by the Germans
  • They soon escape again to the American Civil War Zone, where Carstairs is captured and the Doctor & Zoe hop aboard a TARDIS to get to the aliens’ base
  • A brainwashed Carstairs captures Zoe
  • Jamie and Lady Jennifer get captured twice in the same episode by different sides of the American Civil War
  • Jamie and the Resistance get captured when they mount an assault on the alien base.
  • The Doctor manages to free them but once he’s sent Zoe and some of the Resistance away and he tries to leave with Jamie and Carstairs, he’s captured again
  • But they escape again immediately and make their way back to the 1917 zone where they are once again captured and the Doctor is once again put in front of a firing squad
  • And once again the Doctor is saved by the resistance.
  • The Doctor is then captured by the aliens and taken back to their base.
  • The rest of the resistance is then captured by the Doctor who is pretending to work with the aliens
  • The Doctor brings in the Time Lords in a bid to sort it out and is captured by them.
  • The War Lord and his guards capture the Doctor while on Gallifrey, but he is saved by the Time Lords
  • The Doctor once again tries to escape from the Time Lords but is caught again, this time with Jamie & Zoe being sent home and him being put on trial.

Incredible, isn’t it? But the co-writer of the story – Terrence Dicks – is very much aware of this and makes light of it on the DVD commentary. Doctor Who is often criticised as being a show all about people running up and down corridors, and this is the classic example.

I’ve always felt this guy dies like a Thunderbird Puppet

But then, there are circumstances surrounding it. Other stories were dropped at the last-minute and Dicks and his co-writer, Mac Hulke had to fill the ten episode gap at short notice.

And they do it well enough. For all that there is repetition, it’s still fine to watch. And I say that having watched it all in a handful of sittings over the course of a few days. What we have to remember here is that this was written with the intention of watching it one episode per week for ten weeks. So say for example when General Smythe turns up again in Episode 7 and does the whole Court-Martial/Firing Squad thing; it has been an entire month since he last appeared to the viewer, rather than just a little over an hour ago, and therefore it works.

You’d imagine that watching it at the time the repetition would be far less obvious.

The Greatest Cliffhanger Ever?

And speaking of watching it at the time, I can’t imagine there would ever have been an episode with a better cliffhanger than Episode 9 of the War Games.

The Doctor and/or his companions regularly find themselves in life threatening situations – almost at the end of every episode in fact – but you know they’ll get out of it.

I imagine at the time there may well have been a little bit of concern about whether or not the Doctor really could get out of this one. If the series was ever going to end, from a creative standpoint this was the ultimate opportunity. This could have been it for the Doctor.

The mystique of the Time Lords is at its best in this story too. By the time we get to the late 1970s, they are just another alien race on another alien planet. Here they are different, they are special. They appear to have mind control, which actually pre-dates that which was used quite famously in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

The scene where they inflict pain upon Philip Madoc’s brilliant War Lord just by looking at him is probably more scary for kids than any number of aliens with their guns and death rays. They are also able to create force fields out of thin air, erase

What’s the thought process behind this set?

people from time as if they never existed and change the Doctor’s own appearance on a whim.

If they had been used as proper villains, they’d be the strongest in the entire series. After all, the Doctor himself is probably more scared of them here than he is of any villain he faces.

The grandeur of their incidental music also lends to their aura as well.

Sadly after this, it’s all down hill for the Time Lords.

The Villainous Cast

With such a large cast, there were always going to be hits and misses here, both in terms of writing and performance.

The Level One Villain, so to speak, is Noel Coleman’s fearsome General Smythe. He manages to look the part, sound the part and act the part terrifically. He’s presented as a right bastard, and the viewers probably thought he was the main enemy of this story at first, but really, he just turned out to be small fry.

Less good is the next villain to turn up – Captain von Weich. I could take him as the German equivalent to Smythe, but it reeked of lazy casting to also have him play the commander in the American Civil War Zone. It also made no sense. Is it that there happens to be a Germany on his own planet? Because while he speaks in an American accent while talking to his American troops, he reverts back to his German accent when speaking to the resistance. Therefore you’d assume German is his natural accent. I just didn’t get it.

Despite his plans being foiled, his world crashing down around him and the Time Lords on their way to sort him out, The War Lord manages to remain calm and relaxed in the face of it all

Then there’s the Security Chief. I quite like James Bree in some of his performances in other shows, and his role in Full Circle, but here he just becomes annoying. And it’s all down to his stunted delivery. He’s clearly a character modelled on Himmler, which is fine, but his delivery of lines becomes really irritating.

“Iiiiiiiiii want to speeeeeeeeak toooooooo the Waaaaaaaaar Looooooooord. On the TOP seCURITY CHANNel”

His whole motivation is a bit dull as well, as he spends his entire time on the show trying to get The War Chief into trouble. In truth, he was one character that the story could have done without.

And as for the War Chief  and the War Lord? Well, I can’t say it any better than one of the commentators on the accompanying documentary on the War Games DVD. He said that he felt Edward Brayshaw brought a sort of pantomime villainy to the part of the War Chief, while Philip Madoc brings a genuine menace with the War Lord.

Both are excellent in their roles. Madoc does a far better job here than he did in the Krotons, and weirdly looks like a completely different man as well.

One other shout out, and that’s to Vernon Dobtcheff as the Chief Scientist. He’s cool.

Geeky Pub Quiz Fact – he’s also the first character in the show’s history to mention The Time Lords by name.

Random Observations

  • I thought the reveal that something wasn’t quite as it seemed happened far too early into the story. Within a few minutes of the show starting, Smythe goes through to his private room and is about to move aside the picture frame and reveal the Video Telephone, but he is interrupted by one of his staff. They should have left it there and come back to him trying again later on, but instead they did the reveal there. Not the best
  • This story has one of my favourite lines – in terms of delivery – in the history of the show. When the War Chief sees the Doctor in the lecture and screams ‘STOP THEM’, I think it’s just brilliant. The way he says it and the way Troughton reacts really added some weight to what could easily have been a throwaway bit of dialogue.
  • Many people believe that The War Chief is the Master. I’ve never really understood that line of thought.
  • One thing you could ask though is why he doesn’t regenerate after he is shot? Why also did the two Time Lords that the aliens shoot in Episode 10 not regenerate either? Well, we could debate that point all day and try to get wrapped up in Canon, but the fact is that they were written as having been killed, because the concept of ‘regeneration’ isn’t invented until the Planet of the Spiders. So there.
  • On the subject of those Time Lords being killed though, I’ve always thought the acting of the dark-haired one is so bad that it is probably among the worst death scenes in Doctor Who history. Off the top of my head the only one worse is the woman who is exterminated in Destiny of the Daleks and dies by simply sitting down gently.
  • What’s up the sets on Gallifrey anyway? Why do they have corridors that end up like assault courses, and what are the steaming swamp bits all about?
  • Why can’t the Time Lords afford real pictures of the wars that they are showing on the big screen? And why is it that when offering the Doctor a new appearance do they give him options drawn by a bad sketch artist?
  • And why did the Doctor show the Quarks as one of the enemies he has fought? Surely it’d be the Dominators? Personally, I think he should have put up Pa Clanton and the Sensorites. Lest we forget that as far as the Mind of Evil is concerned, the Sensorites represent one of the Doctor’s greatest fears.
  • The aliens’ entire operation seems to depend upon one single conditioning machine. That’s not a very efficient system.
  • I can’t do a review of the War Games without bringing up the terrible fight scenes with the punches that don’t even go anywhere near the recipients faces. Even as a child I thought it looked hokey at best.
  • Rudolph Walker looks the same then as he does in Eastenders now
  • Vidfire technology has done wonders for the Black & White stories, but look at the screencaps to see two examples of the clarity of picture becoming a problem
  • Arturo Villar really does have ‘The Best Guns’ because he seems to be able shoot people dead without even pointing them in their direction.
  • Wardrobe Malfunctions: Before he gets into the TARDIS at the start of Episode Ten, the Doctor is wearing Wellington Boots. Once he’s inside he’s got his shoes on.
  • What about Season 6b? Does the Doctor get a reprieve to go about Time & Space doing jobs for the Time Lords while working with Jamie and Victoria? That’s the only way the appearance of Jamie & Zoe in the Five Doctors, or the grey haired Second Doctor openly talking to an older Jamie about the Time Lords in the Two Doctors makes sense. Well, let’s just be honest here – Terrence Dicks and Robert Holmes just couldn’t be arsed with continuity.
  • Ok, I’ll ask again…why did the War Games only go as far into Earth’s history as WW1. I know they couldn’t put in wars that hadn’t happened yet, but there was another rather famous war that happened between the end of WW1 and the broadcast of this story…

Goodbye to the Regular Cast

As I say, this is the end of an era with Jamie, Zoe and The Second Doctor all leaving at once. So how did they do?

I was critical of Wendy Padbury’s acting ability in some of her early stories, but in fairness to her she improved with time and was a perfectly acceptable companion and actress by the time she left. As I said before, I actually think she could have stayed

Another Vidfire reveal – check out this Security Guard extra having a laugh and a joke in the background when he’s supposed to be unconscious

on into the next series and it would have worked quite well.

Fraser Hines leaves as the longest-serving companion in the show’s history. It took him four stories to even get noticed as one of the regular cast and he only really came into his own in the Evil of the Daleks, but he was a good companion. And unlike most of the companions in the show, he also had a bit of character development. Then again unlike others, being from the past his character development was necessary. By this point he was an integral part of the show, and while I felt the way he and Zoe were hurriedly written out at the end was a deeply unsatisfying way for a character of his tenure to leave, I suppose there was no other way.

And as for Patrick Troughton…

All the way back in September when I reviewed the Power of the Daleks I said that he wasn’t the ‘clown’ Doctor people assumed him to be. I stick by that to an extent.

I think over the course of the three seasons he appeared in, he did change a fair bit. Early on while he was trying to find his feet in the role, Troughton played him as a sort of quiet and contemplating man with a quirky edge. That level of quiet contemplation disappeared I think as the years passed, and by the time the War Games finished, he had to some extent turned it into the sort of ‘Oh my giddy aunt’ type character that people associate with his performances in the Two, Three and Five Doctors. Of course, in those appearances he turned those attributes up to the max, but the point

Aaaaaarh!

remains.

It’s fitting that the one Doctor who was never in any serious danger and never showed any real weakness in the face of the enemy would be the one who ‘didn’t die’. While everyone else dies with varying levels of nobility and honour, The Second Doctor is forced into it. And when you think about it, the idea of being forced to regenerate is quite sick.

Doctor Who – The War Games Review: Final Thoughts

Getting back to the actual story though, and to sum up, I would say that if you watch the War Games, remember that it was never intended to be watched in one sitting. I think if you did that it’d be a very dull affair with the amount of capturing and recapturing going on.

But if you spread it out over a few sittings, enjoy it for what it is and have an appreciation for what Doctor Who was before it got to this point, then you’ll consider this a good story.

The actual War Games are a place-holder for the Doctor’s final showdown with the Time Lords, but along the way there are some worthy acting performances, not least from Brayshaw and Madoc.

By the end of it all, it brings the black and white era to suitable conclusion.


15 Under-Appreciated TV Shows You Need To Watch: Part 3

February 21, 2012

I know the anticipation has been building for what is the final instalment of my article on Under-Appreciated TV Shows 😉

As I mentioned last time, I’ll be focusing my attention back to the UK, and though I hinted at what I was going to write about here in Part 2, I’ve decided on a change.

Originally, I was going to put in Baddiel & Skinner: Unplanned in my list, but it’s not really something you can watch since I doubt it’ll ever get a release on DVD due to its topical nature, and I’m not sure whether or not it’s repeated or even available to download anymore.

So that’s out.

Instead, the focus of this article will be (mainly) on four shows that were appreciated when they were on TV in the 1970s but have since been largely passed over and ignored by my generation. Before I get to that though, I will nominate a show that was ‘criminally’ underrated at the time…

11. Crime Traveller (BBC1 1997)

You might have vague memories of this show, but unless you’ve got the DVD, the chances are that it’s something that you’ve largely forgotten about or haven’t even heard of.

Made in 1997 – a time where ‘Science Fiction’ was a dirty combination of words within the walls of Television Centre – Crime Traveller only lasted one series before being passed over in favour of the admittedly wonderful Jonathan Creek,

But that doesn’t take away from what a good show it was.

Starring Michael French (David Wicks off Eastenders) and Chloe Annett (Kochanski from Red Dwarf) it’s about a Detective who has access to a time machine that lets him go back in time by 24 hours, so he can try to witness crimes as they take place.

Now admittedly it sounds a bit far-fetched, but it was actually a stellar programme.

Particularly good was the one episode that wasn’t actually about solving a crime at all. Instead it focuses on French’s character Jeff Slade, and his attempts to go back in time 24 hours and buy a lottery ticket knowing the winning numbers.

For anyone who has ever considered The Grandfather Paradox this is probably one of the best examples of that I’ve ever seen on TV.

Anyway, the show is available to buy on DVD and can be watched on Youtube

12. Survivors (BBC 1975-77)

Moving on to the shows that have largely been forgotten by people in my generation, and I’ll continue in the science fiction vein.

To many people, Science Fiction is all about drama happening in space. In a lot of cases it is, but not always and not here.

Survivors is a show many of you will know of from the rather crap reboot recently done by the BBC. Believe me when I say the original was far better – both in terms of scripting and acting.

Set in 1970s Britain, Survivors is about a time when a killer flu has wiped out most of the British population, and focuses on the problems that that causes those who survive.

There are three series, and it could be argued that each one is an individual ‘act’ of a larger whole.

Series 1 is about the struggle to bring the survivors together to form a community.
Series 2 focuses on the problems associated with maintaining and rebuilding a community without the modern comforts that people had come to expect
Series 3 takes a different approach as the cast split up and go their separate ways in a bid to find sources of fuel and power

The show has a strong – and constantly varying – cast of well-known actors from the era. People like Ian McCulloch, Dennis Lil, John Abineri etc. It also has the usually comedic actor Talfryn Thomas putting in a fantastic performance as a ‘Shifty Welshman’.

Each series has its lulls as it can at times become almost an agricultural show, but it also has some fantastic episodes. In Series 2 there’s a great episode where some of the characters have to try to get back to London, where – as you can imagine – the death and decay has taken its toll, while Series 3 has one focussing on how all the dogs have gone feral.

But it’s an episode in the first series that stands out. In it, one of the characters rapes and then accidentally kills another one, but pins the blame on a member of the community with severe learning difficulties. Because there are no police, the community has to take law & order into their own hands. They take a vote on what to do, and after many a tense scene, it’s left to the leader of the community to take the unassuming and completely innocent simpleton out and shoot him dead.

Does the culprit admit the truth in time? I won’t say, but the fact is that political correctness means that you simply couldn’t do something like that in 2012, and that’s what makes the drama so good.

13. Blake’s Seven (BBC1 1978-81)

Once Survivors had run its course, its writer, Terry Nation (he of Dalek fame) moved on to another science fiction drama. This one though was set in space.

Blake’s Seven is set roughly 700 years into the future, at a time where a totalitarian government rules its population using mass surveillance, brain-washing and drug pacification. It centres around Roj Blake, a political dissident who – in a bid to discredit him and imprison him on a penal planet – is framed by the government on charges of child molestation (again…you just couldn’t do that these days).

On his way to the prison planet though, the transport ship ends up stumbling across a massive and luxurious space craft that has presumably been abandoned after some space battle. When the crooked crew of the transport ship try to salvage it for their own ill-gotten gains it appears as though something on the ship is killing people as they go aboard. So they send Blake and some of the other prisoners over as guinea pigs. Long story short, they escape, and Blake – along with his crew of criminals – set about bringing down the Galactic Federation.

Over the course of the four series the show develops and there are some inevitable cast changes, but it’s a very strong series on the whole. It also has one of my favourite TV characters of all time in Paul Darrow’s wonderful Avon.

It’s also got a great theme tune…

14. Dad’s Army (BBC1, 1968-77)

I know you’ve heard of Dad’s Army, and I also know you’re probably thinking ‘Why is this on the list?’.

So let me explain…

Dad’s Army is a show that is ingrained in British culture, but when it’s repeated on TV, how often do you actually give it a chance and watch it? Personally, I was always aware of it, I’m sure I’d watched some repeats as a child, but that was about it.

But on Christmas Day last year there was an episode on TV around the time we sat down to eat Christmas Dinner, so I watched it and I laughed. A lot. I found that I personally had under-appreciated this TV show.

So I went onto Amazon that night and bought the Complete Boxed Set on DVD for a mere £25, and I’ve loved every bit of it.

Though it is always of a high standard, the key to Dad’s Army is not in the writing. You look back at all the comedies I suggested in Part 2 of this article and it was all about the slickness of the scripts. In Dad’s Army it is about the quality of the acting. I think people look at guys like Arthur Lowe, Clive Dunn and John Le Mesurier and dismiss them as rather limited actors of a by-gone era, but they aren’t. Arthur Lowe in particular is sensational as Captain Mainwairing. He’s able to command a scene with only an expression. He also manages to act ‘drunk’ better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

I think with the exception of the Verger and the Vicar, the entire cast is brimming with top quality, experienced actors who were mostly coming to the end of their careers/lives. But they don’t make them like that anymore.

As I say, you all know about this show, but how many of you have really given it a chance?

I think you should. I did, and it’s the best £25 I spent all last year.

15. I, Claudius (BBC1 1976)

And so we come to the last in the list, but by no means the least.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

In terms of the acting on show and the quality of the scripts throughout the entire series, it really does not get any better than I, Claudius.

You’ve probably heard of I, Claudius but discount it as an old-fashioned 1970s BBC show that wouldn’t hold up today.

There’s no question that from an artistic point of view, this show looks old. These days, a show like I, Claudius would be filmed on location in the Mediterranean with a host of extras and probably copious amounts of blood and nudity (like Game of Thrones for example). In 1976 this was filmed using sets in the BBC studios and that was it.

But I don’t really think that matters one bit.

This show is all about the acting and the delivery of Jack Pulman’s fantastic scripting of Robert Graves’s books.

It’s like all the top actors of the time got together and decided to put in their very best performances for the sake of posterity.

The cast is a whose who of the time, starring well-known actors like Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, Brian Blessed (don’t be fooled by the Brian Blessed of today; this man could act), Sian Phillips, George Baker, the always great Kevin Stoney, Patrick Stewart, Stratford Johns, Bernard Hepton, Jimmy Bree, Kevin McNally, John Rhys Davies, Ian Ogilvy…the list goes on and on.

It’s about the life of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (Claudius for short) and his rise from a stuttering and stammering joke in the court of Augustus Caesar to his role as Emperor of Rome.

But this isn’t a tail like House of Cards; this isn’t about the secret machinations of a power-hungry sneak. No, Claudius ends up as Caesar because he survives. As Rome is ruled by a succession of unscrupulous politicians and/or maniacal deviants, Claudius with his unassuming nature and pitiful stammer and limp ends up surviving all of those around him. He’s the only one left to rule.

But that’s not a spoiler, because the show is told from the perspective of a near death Claudius writing the memoirs of his life.

There isn’t even a ‘good’ performance in this show. Nothing dips below the standard of excellent. Particular praise must go to Derek Jacobi for his brilliance in the main role, John Hurt for his turn as the utterly mad Caligula, Sian Phillips as the simply evil Livia and George Baker for his understated but crucial role as Tiberius.

There’s a fine scene in the fourth episode where Brian Blessed’s Augustus Caesar dies and it is awesome in the truest sense of the word. The camera focuses on a close-up of his face while his wife Livilla talks to him off camera. As you pay attention to what Livia is saying you don’t even realise that Augustus actually dies while the camera focuses on him. He starts off alive and ends up dead and the acting and direction is so good…so subtle…it just hits you. As I say…awesome.

And the scene that finishes that particular episode…well, it’ll give you goosebumps.

Yes, I love Doctor Who. It’s the show I’ve watched ever since early childhood, but if you were to ask me for a recommendation on a show to watch right now, I’d say I, Claudius.

I just don’t think drama gets any better.

Conclusion

So at last it is finished.

15 Under-Appreciated TV shows I think you should watch

House of Cards
Veronica Mars
Dad
Grey’s Anatomy
Breaking Bad
Arrested Development
Parks & Recreation
Community
Chuck
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Crime Traveller
Survivors
Blakes Seven
Dad’s Army
I, Claudius

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Let me know?

What about any TV shows that you think are Under-Appreciated? I’d love to hear them.


500 Episodes of The Simpsons and 10 Other TV Shows That Outstayed Their Welcome

February 16, 2012

In the news this week is a story about the upcoming broadcast of the 500th episode of The Simpsons.

Oh Just Go Away

While the media will no doubt focus on the achievement of any show being on air for 23 years and making it to 500 episodes, there will be a lot of people – like me – who are just amazed that the show is still running.

To me, The Simpsons stopped being funny in the late 1990s. A quick look at an Episode Guide and I find that the last episode I truly found amusing was Episode 197 – Simpson Tide – and that one was the only beacon of light in amongst a mostly underwhelming Ninth Season. By

the fifth episode of the following season – When You Dish Upon A Star – I made the decision to give up on a show that I had fallen out of love with.

The main problems with The Simpsons were three-fold.

  1. Homer had gone from being the every-man who people around the world could relate to, to almost a retarded character. The opening scene of ‘The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace’ where Homer obliviously walks across a busy road nearly getting hit by a multitude of cars while lamenting that he’s more than half way through his average life expectancy was humour for children and idiots.
  2. The scripts became repetitive. How many times could Homer leave his job at the start of an episode to try something else out, only to end up back there at the end of the episode?  How many times could Sideshow Bob show up? How many times could Krusty the Klown fall on hard times?
  3. Celebrity Involvement. There’s nothing wrong with a celebrity lending his or her voice to a character for an episode, but by the 9th season, the show became about The Simpsons actually meeting these celebrities. Mostly they’d stopped voicing characters and instead were making cameos as themselves in the cartoon.

There are more problems of course, such as the fact they never age or grow up, the loss of Phil Hartman and the introduction of unfunny characters like the cat lady and the guy who is always down on his luck.

And the thing is, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t say the same thing. The Simpsons should have finished in the 90s when it was still funny, but the problem with it is that it made and still makes an incredible amount of money.

So the chances are we’ll be stuck with it for a while longer, and while I’ll still largely ignore anything new that they produce, I will always enjoy classic episodes from the golden era of Seasons 2-5.

Ten Other Shows That Outstayed Their Welcome

The Simpsons is the most high-profile example of a show that managed to outstay its welcome, there’s no doubt about that. But there are others.

Here’s a list of ten other shows I can think of that also fit the bill.

1. Only Fools & Horses

On the 29th of December 1996, a whopping 24.3 million people tuned in to see off Del Boy, Rodney & Uncle Albert. A creative and commercial success. the supposed ‘final trilogy’ brought the show to a terrific conclusion with them literally walking off into the sunset as millionaires. If only they could have stayed that way.

In 2001, it came back.

Should Have Ended When It Was Supposed To

By this point, two key members of the cast had died and the reset switch had been pressed with Del Boy & Rodney being poor again. Also, Denzel – a formerly minor character – was given more prominence because of his role in the popular film The Full Monty.

The real final trilogy of Only Fools was dreadful. They should have left well alone. By the time the real final episode was aired, almost 10 million viewers had dropped off (even on Christmas Day).

Poor old John Sullivan couldn’t let it lie though and continued to produce unfunny spin-offs like The Green Green Grass and Cod & Chips.

Still…he’s dead now.

2. Coupling

What happens when you lose the main character of a TV show? Sometimes it works fine. Blake’s Seven and Survivors are two examples of shows that…erm…survived fine without the original lead characters. But in a comedy

Once the guy in the bottom right of this picture left, it just wasn't the same

where one character is the centre of all the laughs, it becomes difficult to survive without him.

After Series 3 of Coupling, Richard Coyle – who played the brilliantly funny Welshman, Jeff – left the show, leaving behind a cast of less amusing characters trying to be funny without him. And it was difficult. Writer Stephen Moffat tried his best to replace Jeff with a new character, but he was never going to be any good, and even beyond that, the show became a bit wearing from a creative point of view. The episode where everyone is on the phone to each other was overcomplicated and lacking in humour.

When Coyle left, that should have been that.

3. The Brittas Empire

If I watched this show today I doubt I’d laugh at all. But this show was one of the top sitcoms of the early 1990s and as a kid, I thought it was good.

In truth, I have no desire to watch this show ever again

What made the Brittas Empire work was the Assistant Manager, Laura. While every other character – including Brittas himself – was incompetent and ridiculous, Laura was normal. She was the glue that bonded everything together and made what would have been a wholly unrealistic show at least semi believable. But she left after the 5th series and so the last two series were crap.

And the last episode also finished with the worst conclusion to a TV show I’ve ever seen – it was all a dream.

Urgh.

4. Outnumbered

While I still enjoy Outnumbered, the fact is that what made the show funny was that it was semi-improvised because the youngest two kids were so young that they weren’t actually acting.

I'm sorry, these children are just not cute anymore. They instead look like the sort of children you'd cross the street to avoid.

The fact that Karen wasn’t acting and instead just randomly asking questions fed to her by the writers, in an attempt to flummox Hugh Dennis and Claire Skinner is what made it funny. Because Karen was natural, she was one of the great TV characters.

Now though the kids are growing up. They’ve moved from being cute to obnoxious and they are clearly ‘acting’. The funny parts of the show are now the parts with just Dennis and Skinner.

And that’s really not what it should be about.

5. Family Guy

Had Family Guy stayed cancelled, it would be up there with shows like Fawlty Towers and Arrested Development as shows that stopped when they were at their creative peak, leaving fans desperate for more.

But it came back, and that’s the worst thing that could have happened to it.

It started off again well enough, but soon ran out of steam.

Had Family Guy stayed cancelled, it would be remembered as one of the greatest TV shows ever?

Seth MacFarlane has spread himself too thin, trying to find humour not only in 20-odd episodes of Family Guy per year, but also full seasons of American Dad and the Cleveland Show. Even the most talent writers in the world would struggle to find humour for more than 70 episodes per year.

Yes, there are occasionally still funny episodes – I watched a good one about Christmas being cancelled while flying home from the USA last year  – but mostly those episodes are few and far between. Like the Simpsons,  there was a water-shed moment for me where I found an episode so bad that I just stopped watching. In this case it was an episode where Meg is sent to prison and comes out a violent lesbian. That was just crude and unfunny.

But crude and unfunny is what Family Guy has generally become. When the show isn’t being vulgar (for example, there’s an episode Stewie – who has changed from being a matricidal super-genius into a rather perverted and repressed homosexual – makes Brian eat the contents of his nappy) it seems to exist to allow Seth MacFarlane to stroke his own ego and sing a variety of songs.

Let Family Guy Go. Leave the memories alone.

6. Prison Break

Season 1 of Prison Break is about a group of people planning and escaping from Prison. It was superb.

Season 2 of Prison Break is about them being on the run from the law. It was a natural follow-up to Season 1 and it too is superb.

Watch this show, but skip Season 3

Season 3 of Prison Break is about the same group of people planning and escaping from another Prison. Wait…what?

That’s right. In an attempt to keep Prison Break going, most of the original cast end up back in prison and have to escape again. It just didn’t work. It was ridiculous. If that was the best they could come up with they should have just left it with what would have been its natural conclusion at the end of the second Season.

What’s different about this show to the others I’ve nominated though is that against all the odds, they managed to turn it around in the fourth season by changing the format. It was silly but it was exciting.

But wait…they couldn’t leave it there either. They had to release one final TV Movie called ‘The Final Break’, which was also rotten.

So, if you want to watch Prison Break, by all means do it, but skip Season 3 – they just end up hitting the reset switch in the first episode of Season 4 anyway.

7. 24

The problem with 24 was the insistence on sticking to the 24 hour formula.

It worked once, twice, maybe three or four times.

If only it adapted the formula...but then it wouldn't be 24

But eventually the show was becoming ridiculous, with Nuclear bombs going off at 3pm and being forgotten about by about 6pm the same day, because the plot had moved on.

If they had changed the format of the show and just turned it into the adventures of Jack Bauer and CTU it would have been fine, but it just became implausible and repetitive, and that’s what eventually did for it.

8. Chuck

Sometimes shows end badly through no fault of their own.

Any reader of this article might be expecting me to induct Aliasinto it. Alias was five seasons in length and had one central storyline throughout seasons 1-4 that was nicely wrapped up with the intention of moving the show in a

Desperately disappointing Final Season

different direction from the next season onwards.

But the problem was that the new direction didn’t work so well and thus – given notice of its upcoming cancellation – the show-runners reignited the previous story arc to give the show that one last hurrah.

I forgive Alias for that. The ending was unsatisfying and with hindsight the show should have ended the previous year, but they didn’t know it was going to be cancelled.

Chuck is a different story. The writers of Chuck finished the penultimate season knowing there would only be 13 episodes left the next year.

And yet they did the same thing as Alias. They completed a show long story arc at the end of Season 4 and then knowingly hit the reset switch anyway.

The final season of Chuck  – which I watched after I wrote the article about Under-Appreciated TV Shows – was hugely disappointing and ended with a whimper.

They could and should have finished it last year.

9. My Family

When the cast refuse to perform a script because it’s so bad, you know you’ve gone on too long.

10. Lost

If the Simpsons is the Grandfather of all shows that exceeded their natural lifespan, then its immediate heir is Lost.

Lost started off so well, it really did, but I can’t even begin to explain what happened towards the end.

What started off as a show about plane crash survivors stranded on a desert island eventually became a show about a 1970s technological initiative, two figures representing the lightness and dark of the universe and the fact that they were all dead anyway…I think. Really, I’m not even sure what happens towards the end because by the time Jim Robinson and his crack squad of commandos turned up, a group of people who hadn’t even been in the plane crash go back in time to stop a bomb going off or something, and a magic cupboard that could make all your dreams come true was written into the plot, I had just given up.

Towards the end, I was in the room while Lost was on, but I just wasn’t taking it in. Like almost everyone else I felt as though I had to see it through, otherwise many hours of my life would count for nothing. There had to be a satisfactory ending…and there wasn’t.

It started out so well...

Lost become lost up its own arse, pardon the pun. It had continuity errors running through it like a vicious form of cancer. They kept sacking members of staff because they kept getting pissed while on their little paid vacation in Hawaii. They kept adding more and more cast members to replace the ones they’d sacked. And they also kept bringing back people who they’d already killed off because they realised they shouldn’t have done it in the first place.

It didn’t make sense. It couldn’t make sense. There was no pay-off to it.

If I recall correctly, the big problem came down to them announcing that the show would go on for a specific amount of time and then not really having enough plot or creativity to see it through.

The sad thing about it is that some people will defend Lost and try to claim that everything about it was written for a reason and that it all makes some sense. Well among the many issues, I need someone to explain what the pay-off was to Libby being in the same mental institution as Hurley. And that’s just one issue of about 1001 others.

You know a show has managed to cock things up when the disappointing ending is mentioned in other TV shows, as Lost was in the Big Bang Theory recently.

Even the writers know they messed up, as they debuted a ‘deleted scene’ at Comic-Con which was both apologetic and self-deprecating, basically admitting they made the show difficult to follow.

When should Lost have finished? Probably after Season 2, but like so many of these shows the problem is that the networks want to keep them on the air and the writers are too content making their money

One TV Show That Shouldn’t Have Even Started The Royal Bodyguard

Please David Jason, just bloody well retire. You’re embarrassing yourself.


Doctor Who – The Space Pirates Review (or ‘An Episode of The Bill set in Space’)

February 14, 2012

And so finally after nearly a year’s worth of viewing, we finally come to the last of the missing episodes. After this story there will be no more telesnap reconstructions to watch and it’ll make the whole process a little easier to manage. After all, it’s better to review something you’ve seen than something that you only really get to hear with accompanying pictures.

The Space Pirates is an interesting one though. Up to this point in series 6, all the episodes have survived (but for two in the Invasion and they’ve been animated). It seems odd that this story was not kept in the same way as all the other ones around it. There aren’t even any telesnaps, so there is almost no visual record of anything or anyone that doesn’t appear in Episode 2. Had Episode 2 not survived, this would be the story with the least amount of available visual information. Such is the minimal amount of pictures available for the missing episodes, for years the only reconstruction available had one of the characters from later on in the story represented by a picture of Professor Eldred from the Seeds of Death.

Another interesting thing about this story is that – despite it only having one surviving episode and despite is being written by Robert Holmes – this story is considered by Dr Who fans as the worst story of the black and white era. It comes in at 195 in the

There are many bad hairdos on display here. That’s 1969 for you…

previously mentioned Dr Who story rankings, ahead of only The Twin Dilemma, Timelash, Time & The Rani, Underworld and Time Flight (notice that in general, stories with the word Time in them are crap).

But how can a story that nobody has seen be rated so badly?

If you recall, received wisdom stated that the Gunfighters was the worst Dr Who story ever, and we know that’s absolute rubbish. People had never seen it themselves but they’d heard it was bad so they believed it. I don’t believe even 10% of the people who voted in that poll will have seen the story complete or watched a reconstruction.

So what’s the real story? Is it as bad as people make out, is it a similar situation to the Gunfighters, or is it somewhere in between?

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

Speaking of 1969, women’s fashion was slightly more daring in the leg department. Here the cast once do a better job of acting ‘against G-Force’ than in the Seeds of Death

Space Pirates are plundering ships and mining beacons for Argonite – a precious mineral. The ‘Space Police’ are sent out to investigate and mistakenly believe the mastermind behind the pirates is Milo Clancy – former co-owner of the largest galactic mining company in the system. But it turns out that the pirates are really operating from within that company with the full knowledge of its owner (who is the daughter of Clancy’s former business partner).

At this point I’d usually talk about what the Doctor gets up to, but the answer is ‘Not Much’.

ThoughtsWhat About the Doctor?

As a story, this could quite easily be told without the Doctor or his companions. The events that take place are in no way influenced by him, it’s just that he happens to be there. The TARDIS lands on the Space Beacon that is just about to get blown up, and thus Episode 2 involves the three travellers trapped in a small beacon section drifting in space while the oxygen runs out. At the end of the episode they are saved by Milo Clancy and then spend the rest of the story sort of just hanging around.

In some ways you could compare it to another one of Holmes’s stories – The Caves of Androzani. In that story – one that is rightly considered to be among the very best – The Doctor has nothing to do with the main plot at all and is merely interested in saving the life of his companion. Absolutely brilliant stuff. Here, he has nothing to do with the main plot either, but the difference is that he doesn’t have anything to do with…well…anything at all.

You could sum up his entire contribution to the story as…

  • Being trapped in a beacon section only to be saved by Clancy
  • Flying to the planet Ta with Clancy
  • Being locked in a cell only to be saved by Clancy
  • Being locked up again (but managing to escape himself this time)
  • Defusing a bomb

And that’s it. In Episode 6, the regular cast isn’t even there for studio filming as they were already away filming on location for the next story.

Here’s Milo Clancy, who looks and acts like a Cartoon Mouse in a Disney Western

So because of the fact that this is a Doctor Who story where the Doctor isn’t really required, I think it might get its bad reputation from that.

The Bill In Space

Since it isn’t about the Doctor, then what is it about?

Well, to be blunt, this story is a bit like an episode of the Bill set in space. The main villain – Caven – is simply a criminal. He has no delusions of taking over the universe or of wholesale murder. He’s just a thief. But if this story was set on Earth in the 20th century and centred around train robbers, then it just wouldn’t be Doctor Who. In truth, it would probably be a bit more interesting if it had been about a train robbery. Instead the whole Space Setting scenario just makes it seem like a lazy and generic plot has been shoehorned into the Dr Who formula.

Milo Clancy

The hero of the hour is Milo Clancy, and while he is played well enough by actor Gordon Gostelow, the problem is in the characterisation. Yes, we get that he’s supposed to be an old space explorer whose best years are behind him, but the idea of writing him as a sort of Old West gold prospector is just weird. His accent, look and dialogue is more suited to a Disney cartoon set in the Wild West than in space, as he uses words like ‘howdy’, ‘tarnation’ and ‘critter’. He even manages to say the word ‘newfangled’ four times in one scene in Episode 3.

No, the dialogue here is not the best. People give Holmes a lot of credit but no other writer would get away with using a dreadful line like ‘Rubbishy newfangled solar toasters’ (wow, how much more space age can you get?)

Despite all that though, Clancy is a likeable enough character and does manage to carry the action. Gostelow tries his best and does seem to make lemonade out of the lemons he is given.

Random Thoughts

  • I think part of the reason the story is thought of so badly is because of  the opening scene of episode 2. Apart from involving a guy with the worst haircut and moustache I’ve seen in Doctor Who and Donald Gee putting on a corny American accent, it also has Jack May as General Hermack improbably managing to butcher simple lines like “What is our arrival time” and “We are going to be too late again”
  • May just isn’t a good actor. He stumbles over his lines and fails miserably to convey the right emotions. His character also appears to be rather stupid in spite of the job he has, as he just presumes Clancy is to blame despite there being no evidence

    The only thing stiffer than Issigri’s hairpiece is Hermack’s acting. As an aside, well done to the design team for misspelling Issigri on her armband

    to back it up.

  • Is Madeline Issigri wearing a very fitted hat or are we supposed to think she has metal hair?
  • There’s a line of dialogue in the next story – The War Games – where the Doctor is trying to crack a safe and Jamie asks if he plans to do it with a tuning fork. For most, this line will make no sense, but it’s a rare example of story-to-story continuity in Doctor Who, as episode 4 here involves the Doctor trying to escape from a cell with a tuning fork. No…there really wasn’t much for the Doctor to do.
  • To be complimentary about it, the model shots of the Beta Darts and Space Beacons in Episode 2 are really rather good.
  • The whole Dom Issigri thing doesn’t make sense. His daughter – on the understanding he is dead – locks his study to preserve his memory, but it turns out that he isn’t dead and Caven has been keeping him prisoner there. Eh?
  • As an example of how little the Doctor is needed in this story, he makes his first appearance towards the end of episode 1 – a bit like they were adding him in for the sake of having him there. I think that’s probably the longest time it takes the Doctor to appear in a story throughout the show’s history.

Doctor Who – The Space Pirates Review: Final Thoughts

There really isn’t too much to say about the Space Pirates. With the Doctor mostly a bystander this is a story about train robbers set in space. It’s ok. It’s inoffensive. But it’s not really Doctor Who.

Both the writing and acting are a bit dodgy at times, and at six episodes it’s probably two episodes too long.

But is it the worst story of the black & white era? No, it’s not.

Stories like The Dominators, The Krotons, The Celestial Toymaker and Edge of Destruction are worse than this, and as we go along there will be many more stories that are of a poorer standard.

But that’s not to give it undue praise. It’s still not that good, but just not as bad as people think.


Film Review: Chronicle (or ‘Bring Up Your Kids Well, Because If You Don’t And They End Up With Superpowers…’)

February 12, 2012

It would be a sweeping statement to suggest that at the heart of every troubled soul is a dodgy upbringing, I know that.

But there is obviously a link a lot of the time.

I’m sure you knew someone when you were at school who acted out in rebellion against – or to attract the attention of  – their parents. Or you might know a girl who can’t be single because she is has daddy issues and is desperate for the love and attention of a man. Or even the quiet loner guy who probably got a regular beating from his father and has become a rather nasty and introverted bully himself.

Well Chronicle deals with the latter.

What’s It About?

Filmed in the style of the wonderful and yet under-appreciated 2008 film Cloverfield – i.e. everything being represented as being filmed in the first person on video cameras – (hence the name Chronicle), this is a film about three school seniors who stumble upon what can only be assumed to be an alien crash site in the woods near a party they are at. And it gives them superpowers.

And yes, I know that you know that I love ‘Superhero’ films, but this isn’t really one of them. Rather than the focus being on the fact that they have these superpowers, it is about how the three different guys deal them emotionally.

Two of them manage fine and are just happy to have them, but one of them – the main character – struggles. The reason for that is because of his station in life. He’s a shy and quiet guy with an abusive alcoholic father, a terminally ill mother and plenty of people who get their kicks by making fun of him. Give someone like that a superpower and it’s only inevitable that they will snap, and so it comes to pass.

Thoughts

I came into this film having mainly read negative reviews – not from people who had seen it themselves, but rather second hand suggestions that it wasn’t up to much.

As I’ve come to realise though, there’s no accounting for taste and I have to say I enjoyed this.

No, it wasn’t a particularly gripping plot, but I don’t think films filmed in the first-person style are really capable of that anyway. Cloverfield wasn’t about the plot, but rather the moment and the experience of being part of what was happening. This is more like a diary. But it works.

And the good thing about it is the twist on the usual Superpower tale, where instead of an individual needing to put his or her new found abilities to use against some evil, this is about the personal struggles of the kids. As I say, it’s not about them having them, but rather how they react.

With stuff filmed like this, it would be easy to say that it’s not so much about the acting either, but the key is that the characters have to be seen to be acting ‘normally’, which is a difficult skill to pull off, not only in performance but in scripting. In real life, people don’t talk in the flowery English, info dumping sentences or poetic soliloquies that we often see in drama, and if that were the case here it would be all the worse for it. To an extent, the main character suffers a bit from being far too ‘typical’ of the loner school-kid, but it can be forgiven.

So it flows well and seems authentic.

And it looks quite good as well as far as the special effects go. Without ruining it for you, the effects get more ‘explosive’ as the film develops and the way the action manages to switch from one camera to another while still being filmed at the end is good.

It could be argued that it’s a little bit convenient that the main character – Andrew – has decided to film everything he does in life on the same day that this amazing life changing scenario happens, and it’s equally convenient that they also know someone else who films everything she does and just so happens to be in the same room as the three main characters whenever the plot decides that they must all appear in the same shot, but I suppose we can forgive the director that niggle. He has to be allowed a certain amount of dramatic license for the plot to work.

On the whole though, it was perfectly enjoyable, and at 87 minutes long did not overstay its welcome.

Final Thoughts

Anyone who enjoyed Cloverfield would enjoy this. If you haven’t seen that film then you should, because it’s brilliant.

But this review is about Chronicle, and on its own merits it’s a decent-to-good film. Certainly it’s a film that you could probably wait to see at home rather than rush out to see at the cinema, but it is worth your time.

As a final thought, it struck me that parents of the two boys sitting along from me who were probably under the age of 10, watching this film unaccompanied and talking all the way through, might learn from watching this film what might happen to their permissively brought up kids if they end up getting super-powers, as unlikely as that may be.

But people like that never learn.


Doctor Who – The Seeds of Death Review (or ‘Really…how could they think that plan would work?’)

February 7, 2012

At the end of last year I wrote an article about the relative price and availability of visual media now compared to the 80s and 90s. You can read it here

One thing I said was that back in the day, we had far less media available to us and therefore the few videos we did have, we watched over and over again.

Well that is certainly true of the next story on my run-through of Doctor Who – The Seeds of Death.

No, this isn’t the return of the Sensorites – that guy was just born that way

Released in 1985 and then again in 1987 on VHS, The Seeds of Death was one of the first Dr Who stories I ever saw, was the first black and white story released on video and was the only Patrick Troughton story available to the public for a full 5 years. Videos cost a lot back then, we didn’t have very many of them and so I have watched this story more times than I could count. Along with the Five Doctors, it’s probably the story that cemented my love of the show.

So – spoiler alert – I do like this story and rate it highly, but sentimentality aside, how does it hold up now and compared to the stories around it?

Doctor Who – The Seeds of Death Review: What’s This One About?

Ice Warriors invade the Moon in an attempt to take over T-Mat, a teleportation system run from the moon and responsible for food distribution around the world (although considering it appears to be run using booths the size of telephone boxes, I’m not sure how). They plan to send seed pods to various cities around the globe that will burst and lower the oxygen level of the planet, making Earth and ideal atmosphere for them to invade and conquer. They are aided by Fewsham, a man who is very much in the minority in the Doctor Who universe in that he doesn’t want to help them, but has no choice because he doesn’t want to die.

Simple plots are often the best.

Thoughts – The Ice Warriors

To most, The Seeds of Death is probably the definitive Ice Warrior story. In my earlier review of their first appearance, I discussed how Bernard Bresslaw did a very good job of bringing them to life and

Slaar’s costume is very well realised – it’s just a pity from this one angle we can see Alan Bennion’s neck

carrying the acting, despite the restriction of the costumes. In this story though, the master stroke is by having the lead Ice Warrior (or as fandom would put it – Ice Lord) Slaar being a smaller, more mobile and less costume-restricted character.

For me, Alan Bennion is The Ice Warriors. His subtle whispering delivery, the way he manages to shout with that whisper and his almost slithering motion are terrific, and the simple device of having the leader being a far weaker looking type than his soldiers is also a nice bit of writing.

The costume design is also good, as they have gotten rid of the budget, big-headed Warrior extras from the previous story, and they do a great job of Slaar’s mouth and jaw (it’s a simple case of covering the actor’s face with a sort of Rice Krispie type substance and changing its colour).

And that’s really what works best about the whole thing – it’s in Black & White. When the Ice Warriors come back in the Pertwee era, we see them as a garish green colour which jars a little bit on screen. In black & white, the Ice Warriors look a lot better. Indeed, the whole story works better in black & white than it possibly could have in the faded early colour of the Pertwee years.

The Plot – Space Travel & Fewsham

As far as the plot goes, this is very much a story of its time, but that’s not a bad thing. Broadcast in early 1969, this story was made when the whole world was keeping an eye on rocket travel and stuff related

G-Force on a BBC Budget

to the moon. But with that said, what surprised me was how little the makers of the show (and possibly the public in general) knew about rocket travel. In this story, mere months before the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, there was a belief that rocket travel could be done without any gravity issues, any protective clothing, using a full oxygen supply and with G-force that basically involved the actors sitting down and pulling their faces. Also, the rocket itself doesn’t jettison any part of itself on takeoff or in space, which is also quite elementary.

What’s strange about that is that the Tenth Planet seemed to have this rather basic understanding down. Maybe it’s that because the Seeds of Death occurs in the future that they’ve overcome such things. If I was being kind I’d say that.

It’s not just about rockets though or even T-Mat – a teleportation system that the world depends upon yet only has one person who really understands how it works (you could argue that the world deserves everything it gets then) – but also about something that I’ve always found quite interesting in Dr Who – the urge to live.

So often in Doctor Who and in TV & Film in general, people are willing to throw their lives away for some noble cause, some greater good. It’s something that always bugs me, because it’s just not realistic. I don’t want to die – do you?

Now that’s anxious acting if ever I saw it

The Seeds of Death deals with this in the form of Fewsham – an engineer who helps The Ice Warriors under duress for the simple reason that he wants to live. As a character, he’s considered as being weak for not throwing his life away with the sort of ‘Come on then’ type attitude his superior – Osgood – did.

By no means does he want to help them, and he pleads with them not to make him do things like eject the Doctor out into space, but when he’s forced to choose between his life and that of another guy he’s never met, he chooses his own. I think that’s perfectly understandable and yet so rare in TV & Film. Only when he is faced with the choice of risking his own life to help save the entire human race does he act against the Ice Warriors.

Fewsham is quite a complex character and is certainly the MVP of this story, and a hell of a lot of credit must go to actor Terry Scully for his portrayal, and also to the director for casting him. He just looks like a pathetic, weak and forlorn man, even though in many ways he is the average person. Maybe that’s the point.

The Ice Warriors Plan

If there’s one thing that stands out as being stupid about this story it’s that the Ice Warriors plan to take over Earth with seed pods that are destroyed with water. Surely they could have foreseen issues with that? Sending one Ice Warrior down to earth to freeze one weather control machine will not stop it from raining.

I actually think this is a classic case of someone writing themselves into a corner and looking for a quick way to bring the story to its conclusion. Water? I mean…come on?

A staple of the Troughton Era – The Two Way TV Set

But then the Ice Warriors – for all their effective menace – do appear to be quite stupid. How many times can they go into a room to look for someone and just not bother to look anywhere but straight ahead? Why is it that none of them notice that their compatriots seem to go missing when they are sent to look for the humans? And also, they don’t seem interested in killing anyone of value – just extras. They are presented with the opportunity to kill The Doctor, Jamie, Zoe, Gia Kelly, Commander Radnor and Professor Eldred and just don’t bother (or in the case of the Doctor decide to kill him in an extravagant way rather than just simply shooting him). With Eldred & Radnor, the Ice Warrior just stands there, gawping at them before wandering off.

Really, if they are going to be that careless then they deserve for their plan to fail.

Random Observations

  • The Seeds of Death and Tenth Planet (along with the Moonbase and probably a few other stories) share one little bit of science that I just cannot understand, and don’t believe to be true. Apparently, the moment you go even slightly off course between the Earth & the Moon, you are trapped in the unbreakable gravitational pull of the Sun. If that is the case, how do aliens manage to get to Earth or the Moon to invade in the first place?
  • I’ve already mentioned my issues with T-Mat, but I’ll do so again for clarity. How are those T-Mat booths able to control the world’s food supply, and what is the point of having such a vital system that is only understood by one woman? What happens if she gets hit by a bus?
  • Professor Eldred is quite the handy inventor if he’s able to build a full size, operational space rocket in his house. And he’s also surprised to realise that someone knows about it.
  • There seems to be an early form of SIRI in this story, with the well spoken-yet-solemn AI that is capable to follow Commander Radnor everywhere he goes.
  • The music in this story is unique, but I think it’s quite incongruous. Sometimes it works really well with what it going on on-screen, but other times it doesn’t suit it at all.
  • Let’s all bid a fond farewell to the staple of the Troughton-era – The Foam Machine. They certainly got their use out of it in this story.
  • I mentioned in my review of the Mind Robber that the Doctor manages to cut his hair between the end of the Dominators and the start of that. In the Seeds of Death he manages to grow some hefty sideburns while lying down unconscious on a table.
  • I’m not quite sure how Zoe manages to know what Slaar’s name is, since I don’t think he ever introduces himself to her or anyone else. Also, for someone with an eidetic memory, Zoe manages to forget the route to the solar energy room a bit too conveniently (and yet despite making an issue about how they were lost, in the next scene they had found it anyway)
  • Old Prop Alert – I’m fairly sure an artefact in Eldred’s Rocket Museum is the First Doctor’s Astral Map.
  • I have to mention the fantastic Ice Warrior gun effect. It’s one of my favourite Dr Who effects as it’s so simple yet wonderfully effective.
  • This story features one of the staples of the era, The Two Way Television Set.
  • For those of you who got the BBC Video of this in the 80s, you’ll probably remember the iconic BBC Ident jingle they played at the start and end of their early VHS releases. I have that as a text alert.

Doctor Who – The Seeds of Death Review: Final Thoughts

Without question, The Seeds of Death has a few issues with its plot, in terms of the way it was wrapped up and the convenient way in which the Ice Warriors failed to kill any of the main characters and yet were happy enough to kill as many extras as they could. It also has some pretty basic errors when it comes to space travel, which is surprising considering it was in vogue at the time.

But despite this, it’s still a very good story. The Ice Warriors look great and are perfect for black & white TV, and the overall feel of the story is excellent.

Terry Scully steals the show as Fewsham, a fantastic and genuine human character played in a wonderful style.

As I said earlier, for many this will be an iconic story, and niggles aside, it does deserve to be.

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