Arrested Development Season 4 Review: Could It Live Up To The Hype?

May 30, 2013

Having finished Number 1 in the Stuart Reviews Stuff Top 30 Sitcoms of All Time, it would be fair to say that I was really looking forward to seeing the new season of Arrested Development on NetFlix.

With an amended format (each episode would focus on an individual character’s story with other members of the Bluth family making small cameos), double length episodes and a mass release (all 15 parts were released in one go) it would be interesting to see if the show would be as good as it once was, or if us fans had built it up too much for it to be able to match our expectations.

So how was it?

Arrested Development Season 4 Review: Could It Live Up To The Hype?

Diving straight in, I’d have to say that my overall impression of the Season 4 of Arrested Development was that it was good but not great.AD1

Some episodes, particularly both of Gob’s and Tobias’s first were as funny as any episode from the series’ original run. They were excellent.

The way the Tobias one culminated in him getting accidentally arrested as a Sex Offender because of the way he phrased his meeting with Maeby was superb, and in the Gob episode, the whole Entourage theme was fantastic.

Definitely though those two were the comedy highlights.

Beyond that, I had some issues with it.

Writing For Replay Value 

For one thing, I felt a problem with Arrested Development Season 4 was that it was written in a way to make the viewer appreciate each episode more on the second or third viewing than on the initial one.

The problem with that was that while you ultimately appreciate it for being so clever by the time you’ve finished them all and viewed them again, watching it the first time around, some of the episodes – particularly the early ones – fell a bit flat.

While a lot of the jokes and set-ups in the first George or Lindsay episodes made sense later on, at the time I couldn’t help but find them underwhelming or just miss them all together on initial viewing. And that’s certainly something that was echoed by other fans of the show online.

Maybe they should have gone for proper laughs in every episode rather than sacrificing some just so you could then say “Ah, now I get it” later on.

Going back to the Tobias and Gob episodes, the funniest moments were the ones that were part of the individual episodes rather than the overall story arc.

If each of the 15 episodes was written like that, it would have been a classic season.

One Too Many Cameos

The nods to the past were good, but I did find that some characters were so obviously written in just for the sake of getting them in.

I wouldn’t have been unhappy if Andy Richter wasn’t in it at all, and while cameos from the likes of Carl Weathers, Bob Loblaw, Warden Gentles, Tony Wonder, Gene Parmesan, Lucille Two and Kitty were good, perhaps a bit too much time was given to some of them. The Annyong cameo on the other hand was superb, as was the running joke of how old Steve Holt looked.

And you won’t hear me say anything bad about Barry Zuckercorn. I think he should have had his own episode!

But where was Wayne Jarvis?

The Lack of a Punchy Conclusion

For me though, the biggest problem was the way the season limped over the finish line.

As I said earlier, it seemed to be written in a way to be clever about how everything ties together.

Ten episodes in, this all seemed to be going well. The way that each episode brought another reason for why there was an empty seat at Lucille’s trial was brilliantly done, while many of the gags formed earlier on were brought together.

And then it all seemed to be thrown away.

To me that was down to both the sequencing of episodes and some characters just not being strong enough to support two or even one on their own.

I don’t think Buster – having barely appeared up to that point – was strong enough to have his own episode (or if he was going to get one it shouldn’t have been the penultimate one), and I certainly don’t think George Michael justified two, especially considering the punchline to his own story-arc (that Faceblock wasn’t what everyone thought it was) happened in his first one.

It’s not that these episodes were bad, and indeed George Michael’s first in particular was very good, but as a continuation of the overall story, it halted the momentum.

To me it should have finished either on a third Michael episode (he is the main character after all) or on a group one.

But because it didn’t, any notion of everything coming to a head on Cinco de Quattro faded away.

So while the final George Michael episode wrapped up the storyline of Rebel Alley well enough, plenty of other ones felt incomplete.

  • Why was George becoming more and more feminine, while Oscar had become more manly? Considering the Shaman wasn’t real, that made no sense.
  • What happened to Lucille 2 and Herbert Love?
  • What was the deal with Sally Sitwell and her attempts to take over Lucille 2’s campaign?
  • How did the Mexican Wall storyline conclude?
  • What about FaceBlock?

There’s probably more questions like that to be answered, and though I’m sure they’ve been deliberately left open only to be picked up again if they ever make a fifth season or a movie, it would have been nice for everything to tie up in case they don’t.

And moreover, I think it’s clear that as clever as it was, we’d all – if we’re honest – prefer the show to come back with the main characters all interacting with each other again rather than with the likes of Tobias’s junkie girlfriend, Lindsay’s Face-blind boyfriend, Tony Wonder, Ron Howard or Lucille 2.

Random Observations

  • What the hell has happened to Portia de Rossi? She almost looks like a different person, and yet when I googled “Portia de Rossi Plastic Surgery” the other day, the first hit was a report from earlier this year with her saying she’d age gracefully. When I went back today to double check that, it was gone from the first page of Google hits to be replaced by articles reacting to her new appearance on Season 4.
  • And yet she looks more like herself when she cuts her hair. When her hair was long, she looked like Calista Flockhart.
  • Another cast member who looks weird is Michael Cera, who appears to have grown out of his own face. Cera – while still retaining a sense of youthfulness that fellow youngster Alia Shawkat struggles with – just looks weird. It’s not a surprise he hasn’t starred in many films lately.
  • I wonder if the whole Faceblock thing was based on people thinking he looks a bit like Jesse Eisenberg.
  • Like I said above, there was too much Ron Howard. I felt that was a bit gratuitous.
  • My mum is a big fan of the show, but she’s told me she’s really not enjoying it so far. Her thoughts kinda echo mine in that she thinks it’s being too clever for its own good.
  • If I was to rank the episodes in order, I’d go with the following (from best to worst): Gob 1, Gob 2, Tobias 1, George Michael 1, Michael 1, Maeby, Lindsay 1, Lindsay 2, Lucille, Tobias 2, Michael 2, George Michael 2, Buster, George 2, George 1
  • And that really surprises me because George is such a great character in the original series, but the way they sort of turned him into Oscar just wasn’t all that amusing to me.
  • Because of the lack of main character interaction, it’s a pity there was no chicken dancing, although I liked that George Michael nearly showed us his.
  • And I thought it was also very clever that he had no idea who Lucille 2 was.
  • While I thought that Kristen Wig captured the character and mannerisms of a young Lucille Bluth very well, Seth Rogan decided the best way to play George would be to play him as Seth Rogan, just like every other part Seth Rogan has ever had. Arsehole.
  • Finally, where was Franklin?!

Arrested Development Season 4 Review: Final Thoughts

The word I’ve used most in this review is ‘Clever’.

And it was, but maybe they tried to be too clever for their own good.

While I appreciate what they’ve tried to do, and enjoyed it for the most part, Arrested Development Season 4 just wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be.

Maybe it could never have lived up to the hype, but with an odd choice of episode order and a final episode that didn’t do enough to wrap up the numerous storylines on the go, I felt a little disappointed.

At some points it was as funny as it was in it’s prime, but I think they got lost in – and there’s that word again – being clever rather than funny.

It could be that on second viewing I’ll see it in a whole new light and will have to return to this review and re-evaluate.

But I shouldn’t have to.

Needless to say though, I welcome them making more.

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Movies: Star Trek Into Darkness Review (or ‘Nothing You Haven’t Seen Before’)

May 24, 2013

So I went along to Star Trek Into Darkness yesterday and was immediately stunned by the cost.

Going to see a film at the cinema in 3D has now broken the £10 barrier in Dundee. It broke that in London a while ago I’m sure, but still, that’s an incredible price for a film.

I mean, when it comes out on Blu Ray it will cost barely more than that, and you get to keep it forever too.

Of course, I have an Unlimited Card so I can see it however many times I like and it’ll cost no more than £15.

But do I want to see it more than once?

We shall see…

Star Trek Into Darkness Review: What’s It About

After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.StarTrekIntoDarkness_FinalUSPoster

Or in other words, it’s a but like Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan

Star Trek Into Darkness Review: Who’s In It?

It retains the key cast members from the last film, with the likes of Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura) and Simon Pegg (Scotty) all present and correct.

According to imdb Jennifer Morrison was in it too, but I’m damned if I could see her.

Oh, and it’s also got Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead villain (Khan), and Mickey from Doctor Who has a line as well.’

Star Trek Into Darkness Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

The Internet Movie Database rates it at 8.3 from just under 60,000 votes, while Rotten Tomatoes give it an approval rating of 86%

You’ve got to take the Fan-Boy vote into account though.

Star Trek Into Darkness Review: My Thoughts

In a recent review I did of the game Impossible Road, I remarked that many ‘Big Name Campaign’ video games suffer from a problem whereby there’s no challenge to them any more. There’s no doubt you’ll complete it if you put the time in, and so it becomes a case of how long it takes.

I think that can be applied to movies and Star Trek Into Darkness would be a good example of that.

To me, it seemed a very by-the-numbers effort, with a plot that failed to offer any real intrigue, twists or turns.

I just felt like it moved along from A to B in a rather safe place without doing anything to interest me.

Don’t get me wrong, it was mostly well acted, especially by Benedict Cumberbatch, it had plenty of good special effects and for once I felt like the 3D actually added value to the production, but it just felt like a retread of so many films I’ve seen before.

And I say that without having seen Wrath of Khan in my life.

So although it entertained me to a degree, I felt underwhelmed in the main.

When Does Paying Homage Become Cheap Imitation?

Star Trek fans are…well they’re a passionate bunch.

Same as some Doctor Who fans, Star Wars fans or any other type of show that is rather patronisingly attached with the label ‘Cult’.

So I can understand that they want the characters in the film to be resembling of the ones from the original TV series.

And in some cases it works.

Zachary Quinto is very good as Spock for example. In fact, he’s excellent. He captures the essence of the character in a natural way.

But the guy who plays Doctor McCoy – Karl Urban – came off as someone doing a bad impression. He’s just awful.

In his case, playing the part in a more natural way that maybe took him slightly away from DeForrest Kelley’s portrayal might have been a better idea.

And also, Simon Pegg does not make for a convincing Scot. The movie would have been made immeasurably better if Ford Kiernan was playing the part, calling Kirk “A daft bastard”.

One More Thing (Spoiler)

I’ll type this in white text in case you don’t want it spoiled…

Having Leonard Nimoy play Spock from the future is just fan-wank pandering. Then again, if they brought back an old Doctor in Doctor Who, I’d love it.

Simple as that.

Should You Go To See Star Trek Into Darkness?

I thought it was ok, but by no means was it great or even that good.

I’m sure Star Trek fans will love it, but for people who just want to go and see a good film, what you’re left with is a pedestrian plot and a ton of special effects.

Sure it looks great, but is that worth over a tenner?

Probably not.

 


Doctor Who – Revelation of the Daleks Review (or “You Can’t Recapture The Magic, Eric”)

May 23, 2013

I’ve not been particularly positive in my Doctor Who reviews of late.

But who can blame me? This season has been garbage. Indeed, there hasn’t been a story even approaching good since Caves of Androzani.

And you’ll know that of the many reasons for the show being poor, the most consistent one I’ve given is the 45 minute format, which has managed to not only reduce the urgency of the episodes, but also has seen almost every story peter out long before it finishes.

One poster on a forum said to me “Sorry for your suffering, at least you have Revelation up next…”

So maybe things will improve.

Maybe Revelation of the Daleks will be better…

Doctor Who – Revelation of the Daleks Review: What’s This One About?

I’m not exactly sure what revelations this story contains.

Or Daleks, come to think of it.

What it’s mainly about is Davros has taken over a funeral parlour and has been set upon by a headhunter.

Thoughts – Let’s Redo Caves of Androzani

So as I said above, the last good story was Caves of Androzani; I think that’s fairly obvious.

This woman is unsettlingly ugly. You can't look at her without recoiling

This woman is unsettlingly ugly. You can’t look at her without recoiling

But what’s happened here is they’ve tried to recreate it.

Rather than realise that Caves of Androzani might have been a one off – a case of lightning in a bottle – it appears as though Eric Saward thinks he can recapture its brilliance by recycling much of the same things that made the story as good as it was.

So he’s brought back the same director, he’s decided to use almost exactly the same incidental music (at the very least he’s brought the same composer – Roger Limb – back) and has used the same type of themes like the evils of capitalism in the form of ruthless plant owners and also having the Doctor play very little part in events.

The last one might not have been intended, but that’s how it panned out.

Indeed, in episode one, the Doctor and Peri have absolutely nothing to do with the story, and when they do finally arrive at Tranquil Repose, their involvement is minor at best.

Compare the Doctor’s involvement in Caves of Androzani to this.

In the earlier story, simply by being there, the Doctor set off a domino effect that ultimately led to everyone dying, including him.

In this story, the Doctor may as well not even be in it.

The person aiming to stop Davros is Orcini, while the faction that actually manages to stop him are the Renegade Daleks summoned to the planet by Takis.

The Doctor has nothing to do with anything that happens – directly or indirectly – nor is he ever in the slightest bit of danger. Therefore as a Doctor Who story, I think this suffers.

I appreciate what Eric Saward was trying to do, but it didn’t work for me.

The Daleks Reach A New Low

I think it was the Destiny of the Daleks where I said the Daleks were at their worst.

Why does Davros have human guards as well as Daleks? That's what I call inappropriate use of business funds

Why does Davros have human guards as well as Daleks? That’s what I call inappropriate use of business funds

I was wrong.

They are at their worst here.

First of all there’s the voices. Gone are the good ones from Resurrection of the Daleks and in their place once again is Roy Skelton doing Zippy.

What’s worse is that in some scenes he doesn’t even appear to be using a ring modulator for his voice, so it’s just Zippy as Zippy.

It’s not just the voices though, it’s their contribution to the story.

The Daleks here may as well be armed guards. They add nothing to it other than to occasionally answer Davros’s questions in his laboratory.

I actually had a look at the script online to see how many lines they have, and it’s alarmingly low. What’s more, almost every time they do speak it’s to exposit information to Davros.

Really, they are pathetic by this point, which is surprising considering how good Resurrection of the Daleks was written by the same bloke.

More Roads To Nowhere

Since it’s an Eric Saward script, there’s plenty of padding and storylines that go nowhere.

I don’t get why we had to watch the most unsettling romance storyline in television history – between Richard off Keeping Up Appearances and a woman so ugly that you find yourself looking away from the screen – only for it to conclude the way it did.

Jobel kept resisting her advances, Davros goaded her into killing him because he apparently rejected his advances (which to the best of my knowledge weren’t romantic, but you never know) and then the Daleks kill Tasambeker anyway.

What was the point?

Considering the reason Jobel pissed off Davros happened before the story started, why do we care about this revenge kill? And where’s the payoff in having her kill him only for her to be killed immediately afterwards?

And it’s not just that part of the story that went nowhere.

Other wastes of time include the bit with the Mutant, Peri breaking the Doctor’s watch, the Styrofoam Statue (which exists purely to provide a rather naff cliffhanger), the DJ and the storyline with the two characters looking for the woman’s father.

Surely, surely there was a less time-consuming and wasteful way to get to the punchline – i.e. that Davros has been using the bodies to turn into Daleks – than that?

And how come he can now fly and shoot lightning bolts from him fingers? I remember when he was just a deformed scientist

And how come he can now fly and shoot lightning bolts from him fingers? I remember when he was just a deformed scientist

Actually, while I’m at it, here’s one more thing; why bother wasting time talking about The Great Healer when it’s known from the off that it’s Davros?

When you strip away all the crap from Revelation of the Daleks, the only thing left of value is the three-way relationship between Davros, Kara and Orcini.

Nothing else matters.

And like every other story in this season, with such little to go on it could have been done far better in one episode.

To Be Fair…

To be fair to Revelation of the Daleks, I’ll give it credit for being a better looking and better acted production than most of what we’ve seen in Season 22.

By a country mile, the best thing about it are the characters of Orcini and Bostok (William Gaunt and John Ogwen) and credit must also go to the likes of Eleanor Bron, Terry Molloy and Clive Swift.

I mean, you know you’re watching something of a higher standard to Timelash, Mark of the Rani and the Two Doctors in almost every conceivable way.

But that doesn’t mean it’s good.

And I really don’t think it is.

The Colin Baker Cliffhanger Close-Up Count

Here we have a closeup of Baker offering to take Peri to “Bu” and also a one of a Styrofoam Colin Baker head falling.

So the score is now

The Doctor 9-4 Peri

Random Observations

  • The resolution of having everything turn out fine because the people of Necros can harvest flowers instead is quick-fix story-telling at its worst.

    Take her to where Colin? WHERE?!?!

    Take her to where Colin? WHERE?!?!

  • And what’s the deal with Lilt and Takis suddenly going from brutal SS style enforcers to happy-go-lucky farmers at the end there?
  • Also, calling a planet that has a large funeral home “Necros” is Terry Nation level stuff.
  • What’s the point of having Davros set up a head in a tube to talk through for the entire story only for him to really be in his normal chair in the next room? That’s two stories in a row where the main villain has been killed only for him to come back again moments later with a crappy excuse.
  • You’ll notice the Davros head in the tube is wearing a white t-shirt.
  • Why do the orderlies have a uniform that requires them to finish the company logo on their head in the form of paint? Why not have the entire logo on the hat?
  • What’s the point of the DJ? Not just within the story, but in a world where dead people sleep but really don’t because they dump all the bodies? I can accept them advertising a DJ to prospective clients, but why actually employ him? And knowing what’s going on, why would the DJ want to stay in the job anyway?
  • Hey look, Bostok is the first hard-nut since the famous Kristas to survive Dalek gunfire.
  • Looking for good screencaps, I notice that Davros actually does have human guards. Why? He has Daleks!
  • How come Davros is all of a sudden able to float and fire electricity bolts out of his finger? Do you think Saward wants to turn him into The Emperor from Star Wars?
  • Watch the scene where he does shoot Orcini with the electricity bolts and listen to Roy Skelton’s horrific Dalek voice acting. He should have been told to get serious there and then, if not fired on the spot.
  • William Gaunt is only 47 years old here. Think about that. He must have had a tough paper round as a boy.
  • It’s the last story to feature the best Doctor Who theme of them all. A sad moment.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #46. I think the phrase “Away yer arse” comes to mind.

Doctor Who – Revelation of the Daleks Review: Final Thoughts

So it’s the same old same old.

A Sixth Doctor story that suffers from padding and the slow nature of the 45 minute format.

It’s yet another one that could have been a lot better told in half the time.

The two big problems are the Daleks and the writing.

It’s a lesser writer trying to recreate the vibe of a story that increasingly looks like it was an accident.

Rated at #46, a lot of people like it.

While I would say it’s of a generally higher standard to many of the stories around it, I still wouldn’t consider myself one of those people.


Doctor Who – Timelash Review (or “Is It Really The Second Worst Story Ever?”)

May 21, 2013

So you’ll know from reading my review of it that the Twin Dilemma was voted the very worst Doctor Who story of all time.

In the Mighty 200 Rankings of all of the Doctor’s adventures broadcast to that point, it came in 200th.

And it arguably deserved that ranking.

But what came in at #199?

The answer to that question is Timelash, and it’s next up on my schedule.

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

Erm…

On some planet where the Doctor apparently once visited, an ugly bloke rules in a reign of terror by pretending to be Dennis Carey.

And HG Wells is in it.

And so are sock puppets.

Thoughts – Three Cheers For The Borad

While there’s a fair amount to criticise Timelash for, it has at least one major thing going for it, and that’s the Borad.

Up The Borad!!

Up The Borad!!

Not only does he look very impressive – even by today’s standards, let alone those from 1985 – but the man behind the makeup acts the part exceptionally well.

Put simply, a poorer actor would play the part as a shouty or cackling villain, but Robert Ashby’s take on the character is to speak softly but firmly. It’s an interesting and far more effective way of doing it. As the old saying goes, people with real power don’t need to scream and shout to get things done.

So in that regard he’s similar to the likes of Gabriel Woolf as Sutekh.

Some of the dialogue the Borad comes out with like the line about how he is repulsive, or the one where the actor decides to replace the line “You’re lying” with “Another expedition into the realms of duplicity” are great.

In fact, almost everything about the character and the way it’s presented is worth commending. The effect of his death ray, the way he slides into shot on that chair, the way he used a robot Dennis Carey to talk to the people; it’s all very good.

And if the rest of the elements of the story were as sound as the Borad, Timelash would be a highly regarded affair.

But they aren’t, and it isn’t.

A Pantomime Affair

Unfortunately for Timelash, the rest of it mainly crap.

In some respects, the casting is good. You’ve got the aforementioned Robert Ashby supported by the likes of Dennis Carey, Paul Darrow and Neil Hallett, who are all worthy additions to the ensemble (well…I’ll get back to Darrow in a bit), but the rest of the cast – like Dicken Ashworth, David Chandler and Jeananne Crowley – are awful. Absolutely bloody awful.

And since Hallett and Carey are on screen for such little time, and since Darrow is quite openly taking the piss with his approach to the part, what we’re left with is a badly acted 90 minutes of TV whenever the Borad is off-screen.

Indeed, it’s all very pantomime, which isn’t helped by the way most of the action takes place in that big meeting hall that looks like it could easily be recreated on a stage, and a Timelash prop that is so cheap, I think I could have made it at school.

Where it’s similar to the Twin Dilemma is that it feels as though it’s written to make little kids laugh. In particular, you could imagine Vena (Crowley) turning to the camera and asking if the children at home can help them.

So there is that sense of embarrassment again that is forcing its way into the viewing experience.

Not Enough Plot

Apart from actors, the cheapness and the feel of it, Timelash’s biggest problem is that it’s too long.

Brace yourselves for the best cliffhanger ever seen. He...will do the talking.

Brace yourselves for the best cliffhanger ever seen. He…will do the talking.

And I’ve said the same thing now in almost all my Sixth Doctor reviews. If the story had been told at a quicker pace and was wrapped up in one episode (or two in the case of the Two Doctors) it would have been far better.

But once again we have a situation where the story just fizzles out in the final episode.

Here, the Borad is killed with almost an entire 23 minute episode length to spare. Had this been a four parter in the traditional sense, there’s no way they’d allow the lead villain to be written out in Episode 3.

But they do, and so the rest of the story – a story that I reckon exists purely to come up with the punchline that Herbert is H.G.Wells – is spent stalling.

We have those awful scenes in the TARDIS to kill 5 minutes, the dull conversations with the sock puppet and then – to top it all off – they bring back the Borad despite him being clearly killed, and have him say “Aye mate, it was a clone”, before he gets defeated again two minutes later.

And how we’re supposed to buy him as the Loch Ness Monster, I couldn’t tell you.

So it was another example of stalling, and it once again did not work.

The Colin Baker Cliffhanger Close-Up Count

We’ve got another one. And that takes the total to…

The Doctor 7-4 Peri

Random Observations

  • On the subject of cliffhangers, the UK Gold version of Timelash – split into four parts rather than two – has perhaps the worst (or best) cliffhanger the show has ever seen. It’s just Paul Darrow saying to his lackeys “I will do the talking”. And that’s it, cut mid-scene. Wonderful editing.
  • I mentioned the bad actors above, but I didn’t say who I thought was the very worst. Hands down that award goes to David Ashton as Kendron, who is pitiful. His scene with Paul Darrow before he dies is as low rent as low rent can possibly get.
  • Over the past few stories, Colin Baker’s Doctor has become less of a problem than it was. Sure, the coat is awful, but his characterisation has mellowed, as has his relationship with Peri. So why Eric Saward wrote those extra scenes in the
    It looks like we came close to that Rape Scene I mentioned in my Two Doctors review

    It looks like we came close to that Rape Scene I mentioned in my Two Doctors review

    TARDIS which took both characters back to their Twin Dilemma dynamic, I couldn’t tell you. At least Saward admits now how awful it was.

  • The show’s obsession with its past takes a new turn in Timelash, with the story referencing a past Doctor Adventure that we hadn’t seen. As if to hammer the point home, there’s a mural of Jon Pertwee on a wall, and someone forces Peri to identify a picture of Jo Grant on pain of death.
  • Now why would Peri know who Jo Grant is? And why would someone be given or even keep a locket with a picture of her in it?
  • Furthermore, if it was a Third Doctor and Jo adventure, how come Paul Darrow remarks that the Doctor is only travelling with one companion this time? Who joined them? Benton?
  • The worst bit of writing of the lot is where the Doctor reappears after the TARDIS is supposed to be destroyed, and just doesn’t bother to explain how he survived. We’d just seen 10 minutes of him telling both Peri and Herbert that he was about to sacrifice himself to save the planet, so when Peri asks how they managed to escape destruction, something better than “I’ll tell you later” would have been nice.
  • What’s the point of those blue androids? Do you think Glen McCoy or even the director or producer thought giving them high pitched voices was a good idea? Because it wasn’t.
  • I used to work with a guy who looked like the Borad, facially. It was unsettling.
  • There’s something just so cheap about the way people don’t fall into the Timelash, but rather they slowly and gingerly step into it.
  • If you’d never seen Paul Darrow before, I’m fairly certain you’d add him to the bad actors list, but I find him enjoyable to watch. The idea that he decided to play the part as Laurence Olivier playing Richard III just for a laugh is hilarious.
  • My favourite Darrow line is his delivery of “…the most luminous force…in this part…of the Galaxy”. Awesome.
  • This is the 300th article published on Stuart Reviews Stuff. I find it sad that it’s a review of Timelash.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #199

Doctor Who – Timelash Review: Final Thoughts

Timelash is a strange mixture of good and embarrassing.

The good parts – mainly those associated with the Borad who I find to be one the better realised Doctor Who villains in terms of appearance and acting – are well worth commending.

And Paul Darrow is fun in a deliberately hammy way.

But the bad parts – set design, half the actors, bad writing, the sock puppet aliens, the padding – are awful and cringeworthy.

I feel that this is a story that could have been much better if it was limited to a single episode, and I feel I keep saying that about this era.

The second worst story of all time? No, but it’s still comfortably in the bottom 10%


Doctor Who – The Two Doctors Review (or “Fannying About In Spain”)

May 21, 2013

Now here’s a story that should be good.

The last Doctor Who from the pen of Robert Holmes was the top rated story of all time, The Caves of Androzani and this adventure is one of the true rarities in the history of the show; a story involving more than one Doctor.

It’s only been done twice before, in the form of the mediocre Three Doctors and the excellent Five Doctors.

But with Holmes in charge and Patrick Troughton and Fraser Hines involved, surely The Two Doctors will be good?

Right?

Wrong!

Doctor Who – The Two Doctors Review: What’s This One About

The Sixth Doctor stumbles across a Second Doctor Adventure that involves wrongly proportioned Sontarans, Servalan, a luvvie and…for some reason…Spain.

This is also a story told in three episodes, which means in terms of running time, this is the last Six Part story of the Classic Era.

Thoughts – How Could They Get It So Wrong?

The opening scene of the Two Doctors is filled with so much promise. The Doctor and Jamie in the TARDIS, blatantly trying to fit as much innuendo in as possible, setting up the story.

There’s no overacting and no stupid dialogue; you’re filled with a sense of nostalgia and hope for what could and should be a great three episodes.

And in fairness to it, the set-up continues well through the first half of Episode One (which – and I’m sorry to keep harping back to this – would be the entire length of a normal 23 minute episode).

Just for a moment, things seemed good

Just for a moment, things seemed good

But then it all goes wrong.

Once Patrick Troughton’s Doctor exits the stage midway through that episode it just becomes a tale of fannying about in Spain.

It’s as if the plot doesn’t matter any more, and it’s more important to show the local scenery.

Beyond the set-up – i.e. the Timelords have sent the Second Doctor to put a stop to the time travel experiments of Kartz and Reimer but instead he is captured so they can extract the symbiotic nuclei from him – it’s a load of absolute drivel

  • Why have they gone to Spain anyway?
  • Considering they exist purely to be turned on (that’s turned against rather than be sexually aroused), why even bother with the Sontarans?
  • Why are we supposed to care about a character whose sole purpose is that he “hilariously” wants to cook and eat a human?
  • Why would Dastari even agree to bring the idiot chef with them anyway?

These are all key issues, because ultimately all the Two Doctors is is a story that seems to be fitted round what items John Nathan Turner wanted it to contain.

Much like the Arc of Infinity and Planet of Fire, JNT wanted to go abroad. It didn’t matter that filming it in Spain added the sum total of sod all to the story, nor did it matter that to get the city centre of Seville they’d have to come up with an utterly stupid plot device (turning the Second Doctor into an Androgum for the sake of getting them to a restaurant), nor – as I mentioned above – did it matter that the Sontarans added nothing of value either. All that mattered to JNT was that the story include these things.

And it suffered as a result.

Another Case Of Fizzling Out

In many of the reviews of this season I’ve bemoaned the way the stories fizzle out, and the Two Doctors is no exception.

Even allowing for how poor it is in the first two episodes, it gets worse as it goes along.

Like I said above, the stuff with the Second Doctor being augmented was a total waste of time, but beyond that it’s just padding, padding and more padding, until they have to rush to the finish and kill everyone off (because…you know…Eric Saward is the script editor).

The repetition is incredible. The Sontaran leader gets put through the mill, being stabbed in the leg, gassed, badly injured in the time capsule and then blown up, while Shockeye manages to get both Jamie and Peri on his table.

All in the same episode.

It’s just a chore to watch.

The Nature of the Story Makes No Sense

Having the Doctor cross his own timeline is a big deal. It’s only happened a few times and when it has, it’s been explained.

But it wasn't to last

But it wasn’t to last

In the Three Doctors, the Time Lords brought them all together as a very last option.

In the Five Doctors, they were brought together having been scooped out of time.

But in the Two Doctors, there’s no special reason. The two of them just meet up.

And that is deeply unsatisfying when you take a moment to think about it.

Why would the Sixth Doctor not remember everything that happened? Surely that’s in his past?

Instead, it’s played out as if they are two completely different blokes leading separate lives.

The reason given for the Sixth Doctor being going to see Dastari is also convoluted. Considering the Second Doctor wasn’t killed, why would the Sixth Doctor feel as though he was? And why then? Why not an hour before? It’s just so poorly thought out.

And don’t get me started on how it makes no sense for a grey-haired Second Doctor to even be in a situation where he’s going out and doing assignments for the Time Lords with an older Jamie. For a show so wrapped up in its own continuity at this point, that makes no sense unless there’s a fabled ‘Season 6b’.

Moreover, it makes no sense that the Second Doctor would be familiar with the Sontarans when the Third Doctor wasn’t.

Argh it’s just so frustrating.

The Violence

I think the Two Doctors is the show at its lowest ebb when it comes to violence.

When you have the Daleks exterminating people or the Raston Warrior Robot butchering a troop of Cybermen, there’s an element of fantasy that detaches it from being properly grim. I mean sure, there’s death, but it’s not something that could possibly happen in reality.

But in the Two Doctors there are two instances that are different.

For a start, there’s the murder of Oscar. I actually find this to be perhaps the most unnecessary and distasteful death the show has ever presented.

For no good reason – i.e. for the sake of it – Oscar is killed by being stabbed in cold blood in his restaurant. Not only was it pointless, but it was also properly violent in a ‘real’ way. And then to top it all off, not only does he die in a theatrical and unrealistic way, but the characters around him act like it’s completely inconsequential. The Doctor’s half-hearted “Goodnight Sweet Prince” is unbecoming of the lead character in a show like this.

And speaking of unbecoming, the way the Doctor murders Shockeye with cyanide is exactly that.

To me, those murders sully the show for different reasons. The first was insultingly done and not needed in the plot, while the other just didn’t suit the character of the Doctor.

Go on Doctor, put your back into it. Murder him!! That'll give the kids a good role model

Go on Doctor, put your back into it. Murder him!! That’ll give the kids a good role model

Bad writing, bad decisions.

I’m just waiting for Peri to get brutally raped in Timelash now…

The Colin Baker Cliffhanger Close-Up Count

Here we have the best of all worlds.

Episode One finishes with a close-up of Baker
Episode Two finishes with a close-up of Bryant
Episode Three finishes with a close-up of them both.

And so the score is…

Doctor 6-4 Peri

Random Observations

  • Quite a few people seem to praise the performance of John Stratton as Shockeye but I have always despised it. He’s an overacting luvvie, an annoying character and he looks stupid.
  • And I don’t get the hierarchy with the Androgums either. They are presented as the lowest form of life yet consider themselves to be well above humans. But what species are the scientists on that space station meant to be if not derived from humans?
  • And how can Androgums read Spanish and Chinese? And are we to assume that their natural language is actually English?
  • Jacqueline Pearce just plays Servalan here. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to the individual.
  • Earlier I mentioned the lack of continuity. Surely a team of Ian Levine and Robert Holmes could remember between them that the Sontarans are supposed to be small blokes, not giant hosses?
  • If Shockeye is breaking down Jamie’s muscles so that he can be cooked more easily, how is Jamie able to walk without any problems moments later?
  • The Incidental Music where the Doctor brutally murders Shockeye is reminiscent of the music from the first ever He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, The Diamond Ray of Disappearance.
  • It began to drive me mad, so I looked up the script and checked this out. The words “Of Course…” are repeated 23 times in the Two Doctors. Patrick Troughton at one point starts almost every sentence with them.
  • I find the moral of the story – i.e. that you can try to take the scum out of the gutter but you can’t take the gutter out of the scum – to be clunky and unbecoming of a writer as usually reliable as Robert Holmes
  • Why did they murder everyone on the space station anyway? And why didn’t they save Kartz and Reimer?
  • Despite all these problems, Patrick Troughton and Fraser Hines are both very good and are clearly having fun. Even Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are decent enough here, and in the main the Sixth Doctor is a better written character than he has been, but that’s not enough for me to be positive.
  • Indeed, I feel that Patrick Troughton especially was underutilized and ended up being a side attraction beyond the first 20 minutes.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #125. Absolute nonsense. Rating it that high does a disservice to the likes of Revenge of the Cybermen, The Rescue, The Myth Makers and The Enemy of the World, which are all below it.

Doctor Who – The Two Doctors Review: Final Thoughts

I understand that people will like this because it has Patrick Troughton and Fraser Hines in it.

But that’s not good enough for me.

They are both a breath of fresh air in what is clearly showing up to be the lowest point in Doctor Who history, but even they can’t save this one.

The Two Doctors is badly written gimmickry that exists without anything resembling a decent plot.

I really do not enjoy this story, not in the least bit.

It should have been so much better.


Doctor Who – The Mark of the Rani Review (or “Dreary, With Terrible Accents”)

May 15, 2013

I want to like the Colin Baker era, but it’s just hasn’t happened for me so far.

The Twin Dilemma was awful and both Attack of the Cybermen and Vengeance on Varos were not without their own problems.

So what is it? The Writing? The Acting? The Characterisation? The new 45 minute format?

Well it’s been a mixture of all four so far.

I wonder how the next story – The Mark of the Rani – will fair?

Doctor Who – The Mark of the Rani Review: What’s This One About?

There’s a new evil Time Lord for the Doctor to face, or should that be a Time Lady, since it’s a woman.

And guess what? The Master is back too, despite him being killed off fairly definitively in his last appearance.

The setting? Northern England in the 19th Century.

The point? Who knows.

Thoughts – Nothing Really Happens

I found myself quite enjoying the first episode of Mark of the Rani.

Despite the fact that The Master was brought in without even trying to explain how he survived being burnt alive at the end of Planet of Fire (and I believe the explanation was left out because Eric Saward wanted to make the point that he

The bloke on the left has the worst stab at a Northern Accent ever heard on TV

The bloke on the left has the worst stab at a Northern Accent ever heard on TV

shouldn’t have been brought back so quick) and despite the other issues with it that I’ll get to later, it seemed to be set up quite well.

The Rani is an interesting character, well performed by Kate O’Mara, and her reason for being there worked.

The problem was that as things developed, the setting really didn’t matter at all and as a character she offered little threat.

Sure, she was extracting the fluid from people’s brains that prevented them from sleeping, and thus made them more aggressive, but what did that actually matter? How was her plan going to influence anything?

It wasn’t, and it didn’t.

And The Master being there just made for some extra villainy for the sake of it.

As Episode 2 developed, it became clear that nothing was going to happen, there was no threat beyond a dog being killed and the Doctor rolling down a hill on a gurney and the conclusion was just a case of “All’s well that ends well so let’s just go home”.

Therefore, the story went from being quite promising to a damp squib.

Frustrating.

Is it a problem with the format? Probably. This is a story is so slow it’s almost going backwards, and without the ‘Rush to the Finish’ every 22 minutes, it lacked any urgency.

The Worst Regional Accents In Television History

Something about the Mark of the Rani that I found particularly annoying was the use of “Northern Accents” from actors who clearly didn’t speak like that normally.

One or two of the actors either did a good job or were from the area, but mostly it was embarrassing.

Watch the scene were the three badly acting “aggressive” blokes confront the Master. One of them, the one on the end, put on such a bad impression that you could barely understand what he was saying. He was that bad.

Peri's taking her complaints about her costume to the wrong person

Peri’s taking her complaints about her costume to the wrong person

In the main it was actors struggling with a Northern Accent over their already put on BBC English way of speaking. It’s the language equivalent of Julian Glover wearing a Scarlioni mask over the Scaroth mask over his own face. Awkward and uncomfortable.

The Colin Baker Cliffhanger Close-Up Count

While there isn’t a close-up of Colin Baker or Nicola Bryant, this gets a bonus point for having a dramatic close-up of a mine shaft.

Ooooh, exciting.

Random Observations

  • What’s the point of having the Master dress up as a scarecrow in the background of one scene? I mean really? Why bother? It’s pathetic.
  • Furthermore, having the Rani in costume for a couple of scenes is also devoid of any dramatic license.
  • The incidental music in Mark of the Rani sounds like the sort of thing you’d get in an early 1990s Sega Megadrive game. It lacks any oomph and is therefore perfect for a story with such little urgency.
  • You’ll notice that Peri’s dress sense has only gotten worse. The costume department are seriously bad at this point in the show’s history. And don’t blame the fashion at the time either, because surely it wasn’t that bad?
  • The scene where Colin Baker wears a different coat, even though it was a mucky brown jacket, instantly made him seem like a character to take more seriously.
  • The cliffhanger to Episode One has one of the ultimate “Cheat” resolutions. In Episode One George Stephenson isn’t anywhere to be seen and yet in the reprise he pulls a level to redirect the gurney long before the Doctor would reach the
    'Mon Then!

    ‘Mon Then!

    mine shaft. Boo!

  • This story is also well-known for Pip & Jane Baker’s ridiculous use of language. Nobody – not even the Master – would say “Fortuitous would be a more apposite epithet!” Now I like to think I’m a decent writer, but my style is to use language that people actually use and understand. Writing dialogue with words like that adds nothing.
  • One aspect of the story I like is the relationship between the Rani, the Doctor and the Master. Her opinion that the two of them are as bad and childish as each other is fairly amusing.
  • Beyond the Master and the Rani, the only member of the guest cast worth his salt is Terrance Alexander, and would you believe it, that’s because he was the only other person not speaking in a fake Northern Accent.
  • The amount of times the Master says – dramatically – “The Mark….of the Rani” is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face.
  • The stuff with the dinosaurs was pointless.
  • To give the show some credit, I learnt what a Luddite was. It’s an insult I like to throw around to this day.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #148

Doctor Who – The Mark of the Rani Review: Final Thoughts

This is certainly one of my shortest reviews, coming in at just over 1,000 words, but that’s because there’s so little to say about it.

The Mark of the Rani is a story that starts brightly but ultimately goes nowhere. There’s no point, no drama, no reason to care. It’s dull, and that’s backed up by the Incidental Music and dreary location.

With a ranking of #148 I just can’t find myself caring enough about it to disagree.

And so once again, I’m waiting to find a Sixth Doctor TV story that I enjoy.


Stuart’s Top 30 Sitcoms of All Time: Part 6 (#05 – #01)

May 11, 2013

So we’ve reached the final five of my Top 30 Sitcoms of All Time.

The key to cracking the top five is consistency. 

These sitcoms are the ones that – as far as I’m concerned – are quality all the way through.

Well…almost.

5. Blackadder

I must hold my hands up and say I haven’t seen the first season of Blackadder in a long, long time, but for me, Blackadder is a three season affair anyway.BlackadderLogo

From Blackadder 2 to Blackadder Goes Forth, the quality of cast and scripts is excellent.

It even manages to make repetition work, with the multiple appearances of the likes of “Bob” and Lord Flashheart.

People still talk about bringing Blackadder back, but I think that would ruin it.

Best Episode: Goodbyeeee

Could it be anything else?

The final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth might not be the funniest one, but it was the best written and acted. As Blackadder and his fellow troops are at last told they’ll be going over the top, it becomes more of a poignant drama about the realities of life in the trenches in World War One.

And after so many “Cunning Plans” that never worked, you got the feeling that Baldrick’s last one – the only one he didn’t have time to explain – was going to be one that would work (that Blackadder should step on the giant splinter to avoid combat).

The ending is as sad a moment as you’ll ever find in a comedy. 

Superb.

4. The Big Bang Theory

I get the feeling this will cause some level of incredulity among readers, but I think the Big Bang Theory is more than deserving of a place in the top 5.BBTLogo

It remains consistently “laugh out loud” funny every week, it has strong characters played by mostly good actors (I’ve never been fond of Raj) and it does what so few sitcoms do – it allows room for character development.

Compare an episode from the first season to the latest one and you’ll see the likes of Sheldon, Howard, Leonard and Penny have all changed over the years.

With my love of everything from Doctor Who to Nintendo gaming, I can’t deny I find the humour somewhat relateable as well, even if that is slightly worrying.

I would say the Big Bang Theory works best though when it focuses on the relationship between Sheldon and Penny. They are absolute polar opposites and yet often find common ground.

It’s great stuff.

Best Episode: The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis

In terms of a specific episode of BBT being considerably funnier than the rest, I think it’s difficult to pick one.

So I’ve picked the episode where Sheldon isn’t quite sure what he should buy Penny for Christmas because he doesn’t know how much she’s spent on him. So he buys multiple gifts with the plan of giving her the price appropriate one and returning the rest. When he finds out what his gift from her is, he gives her them all and – in a touching moment of character progression – a hug.

Awwww.

3. Fawlty Towers

I think Fawlty Towers would end up being a Top 5 on most peoples’ lists.Fawlty_Towers_title_card

It’s the ultimate example of a show that kept it short in terms of the amount of episodes, but retained the highest standard throughout.

Having said that, and what drops it down to #3 is that there are plenty of other series’ where the quality remains examplary for more than 12 episodes.

Best Episode: The Builders

For a lot of people, the best one is The Germans, but I think the dynamic of Fawlty Towers is at its very best in The Builders.

It’s the one where Basil doesn’t want to hire the more expensive builders and instead brings in the less than competent Irishman, O’Reilly to do the job.

The scene where Cybil attacks them both with her handbag remains one of my favourite sitcom moments.

2. One Foot In The Grave

In terms of British Comedy, it doesn’t get any better than One Foot In The Grave.OFITGLogo

I read a comment on a forum recently from someone who said that it’s a show built around one joke. What nonsense. 

One Foot In The Grave is possibly the most deeply written sitcom there’s ever been.

Everything links up, comments made offhand at the start of episodes are really seeds planted for jokes to blossom at the end, and there’s just so much going on in every half hour.

I don’t believe any other comedy on this list could have done what this series did – had an episode with one single character for the whole 30 minutes and be funny.

You’ve just got to take your hat off to the ability of David Renwick.

Built around one joke? Presumably that criticism is directed at the “I Don’t Believe” style punchline, but again that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

People assume it’s a show about a miserable git, but it’s not. In almost every instance, Victor is the innocent party, and it’s often the case that it’s his wife who is the difficult one.

Slyly, One Foot In The Grave manages to be more chaotic than shows that supposedly thrive on that, like The Young Ones, and furthermore, in amongst the comedy, it manages to sneak in quite a lot of serious drama too.

The only bad thing about One Foot In The Grave was the final episode, which was dreadful. They did not need to kill off Victor.

Best Episode: The Worst Horror Of All

The Mini in the skip, the Mattress in the mini, Victor’s new job, the trip to the BBC with the wrong guy and of course the visit of Ronnie and Mildred.

One Foot In The Grave doesn’t get any better.

1. Arrested Development

I think I could watch Arrested Development from beginning to end three or four times a year.ADLogo

It’s that good.

Unlike many of the sitcoms on this list, you can’t just watch a random episode and expect to get it – you really have to start with the first episode and go all the way through.

The amount of linked jokes, the depth of the characters, the addition of a narrator…everything you could want from a comedy you’d get in Arrested Development.

If I was to criticise if for one thing, I found the storyline with Rita pretty tiresome.

The show returns to NetFlix later this month and I just hope they can do it justice.

Best Episode: Amigos

It’s difficult to pick one in particular, and I had considered the likes of Good Grief, Pier Pressure and Making A Stand, but Amigos wins for me because there’s so much going on.

Gene Parseman, Ice, the trip to Mexico, Gob’s insecurities about friendship, Michael’s dislike of Anne.

It’s brilliant, but then they almost all are.

So There We Have It…

So that’s the countdown.

The Stuart Reviews Stuff Top 30 Sitcoms of All Time are…

30. Only Fools & Horses
29. Scrubs
28. Black Books
27. The Goodies
26. The Office (UK)
25. The Office (US) (Which retrospectively should be a lot higher than I originally ranked it)
24. Futurama
23. Modern Family
22. Parks & Recreation
21. Outnumbered
20. Family Guy
19. Gavin & Stacey
18. How I Met Your Mother
17. Coupling
16. Community
15. Red Dwarf
14. Still Game
13. Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads
12. The Inbetweeners
11. The Simpsons
10. Peepshow 
09. Dad
08. The Thick of It
07. Men Behaving Badly
06. Dad’s Army
05. Blackadder
04. The Big Bang Theory
03. Fawlty Towers
02. One Foot In The Grave
01. Arrested Development

So dear reader, in your opinions what have I missed? What have I got wrong? What’s too high? What’s too low?

Let me know.

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