Doctor Who – Voyage of the Damned Review (or “Robots of Death Meets The Poseidon Adventure”)

July 31, 2013

So The Doctor is alone again, having been dumped by Martha and then briefly meeting one of his past selves.

But he’s got no time to waste, because the TARDIS appears to have crashed into the Titanic, thus setting up the next adventure in the run-through, Voyage of the Damned.

Doctor Who – Voyage of the Damned Review: What’s This One About?

It’s The Robots of Death Meets The Poseidon Adventure, starring such well-known figures as Geoffrey Palmer, Kylie Minogue and Bernard Cribbins.

Cool.

Thoughts – Cheesy Fun

I liked the Robots of Death.

Ach well, they've run out of usefulness to the story, so let's just hurriedly killed them off

Ach well, they’ve run out of usefulness to the story, so let’s just hurriedly killed them off

I also like the Poseidon Adventure (the original one with Ernest Borgnine ; I haven’t seen the remake).

So naturally I’m going to like the premise of this one.

Sure, it’s not the most original concept in the world, seeing as it’s based on one of the best known disaster movies in history, but that’s ok. It doesn’t mean it can’t be good and it doesn’t mean that it’s not a relatively fresh setting in the world of Doctor Who.

And yes, it’s all a bit cheesy, with the Doctor seeming to fall for another woman (Martha would be pissed if she saw that), being waved to by the Queen on Christmas morning shortly after saving the day and being taken up to the bridge like he’s being taken to heaven by the Angels, but I like all that.

I think it would have worked in any episode, but I do believe – and I know others may disagree – that cheesiness has a place on Christmas Day, so it works especially well here.

The Characters

One of the major strengths of Voyage of the Damned is the depth and variety of characters.

Whether it’s Kylie Minogue as the wide-eyed waitress who wants to see the universe, Bernard Cribbins as the fearless Londoner who won’t abandon his post (and remember, this is before he was supposed to be Donna’s grandfather), Geoffrey Palmer as the tired and terminally ill Captain who has agreed to crash the ship, Clive Swift as the old port “Expert” that you always get on cruise ships, or Gray O’Brien as the bastard business who lives through it all in spite of plenty of good people dying, each and every one of the characters brings something to the table.

It’s probably the best overall ensemble cast seen in a Doctor Who for a long, long time.

They all know what they are doing and how to get the best out of their characters, and so it adds to the story.

You might have thought “But wait, Kylie Minogue is just a singer“, but then you remember that she actually shot to fame in the first place as an actress. And to be fair to her, despite the fact she only appeared in a very small handful of  acting roles between 1989 and 2007, I thought she was pretty good.

They all were, really.

Well…maybe not the guy who played Max Capricorn, but then I suppose his character was written that way.

A Variety of Good Moments

To give Voyage of the Damned credit above being cheesy, there are some fairly sad and heartwarming moments too.

Bannakaffalatta Dead

Bannakaffalatta Dead

Whether it’s the sadness of the death of Bannakaffalatta and the bit where The Doctor sends Astrid off to be among the stars, or the gentle but quite lovely scene where Mr Copper realises he’s rich and able to live out his days in the money, Voyage of the Damned does have its moments.

There are also plenty of moments to make you chuckle as well, like Slade’s disparaging remarks about the von Hoffs. “What happened? Did they find a doughnut” makes me laugh every time. Similarly, the way Mr Copper “authoritatively” talks a load of absolute crap about 21st century Earth and the custom of Christmas is brilliant. As I said earlier, that’s exactly the sort of thing you do get on cruise ships.

But I think my favourite moment in the whole episode is the almost throwaway line about how – in regards to Slade living while most of the rest of them died – The Doctor can’t choose who lives or dies. As Mr Copper says “Of all the people to survive, he’s not the one you would have chosen, is he? But if you could choose, Doctor, if you decide who lives and who dies, that would make you a monster.”

A valid point.

Random Observations

  • I like little additions to the story that add depth. For example, it doesn’t really make much of a difference to the overall flow to have their society be one that rejects Cyborg kind; everything that happened could have happened without us needing to know it. But it was added, and so it makes not only the story, but the world within the story, seem more fleshed out and real.
  • I’m not sure I understand the Captain’s logic. Ok, so he asked for his crew to be made up of old men who’d have their time because he anticipated them all being killed. And while that’s morally objectionable, you can see the logic in it. However, that doesn’t even begin to take into consideration the ages of the people who are on board the Titanic for a holiday. Has he got no problem killing them?
  • The cliffhanger to the previous story where the Titanic crashes through the walls of the TARDIS is picked up on really badly here. I think cliffhanger resolution is something that RTD really struggles with. I know it ultimately makes no difference and was done to set Voyage of the Damned up, but why have it crash if he immediately fixes it and nobody mentions it again?
  • Also – and this should probably have been in my Last of the Time Lords review – how much cooler would that end of season cliffhanger have been if it had ended with Peter Davison turning up?

    Mr Copper appears to have been caught out cock-watching in this screencap

    Mr Copper appears to have been caught out cock-watching in this screencap

  • It makes good sense that Londoners would have thought “Sod this, I’m getting out of here for Christmas” considering what happened over the last two years. It’s another nice addition to the story.
  • As is the “snow” at the end not being snow again.
  • And the Doctor commenting on how his tuxedo is unlucky.
  • As the villains of the piece, I quite liked The Host. Obviously they are very similar to the Robots of Death but that’s not a bad thing. Moreover, they look pretty good too.
  • But then the whole story looks great. Lovely costumes and well designed sets.
  • I’m not too keen on Russell Tovey; I think he’s a bit of an over-actor.
  • Another line I got a kick out of “You can’t even sink the Titanic”
  • On the other hand, I didn’t like the line “I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I’m nine hundred and three years old and I’m the man who’s going to save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?”. I don’t think he’d say that in that particular situation, do you?
  • If I was to criticise any other aspect of the writing, it’d be the way the van Hoffs were just suddenly killed off, presumably because they had no further value to the story
  • RTD loves his romance, doesn’t he?
  • I remember reading an interview with Clive Swift in an edition of Doctor Who Magazine where he came across as one of the most cranky and miserable buggers you’d ever meet. And now when I see him in this, that’s all I can think about.
  • He’d have made a cool companion though.
  • Speaking of DWM, in an article they did about all the stories shown at Christmas throughout the show’s history, they only give it two Christmas Puddings out of five, calling it “gloomy”. I disagree. I think it’s the most Christmassy one they’ve done yet.
  • But what do they know? They gave an episode of the Horns of Nimon 5/5 for Christmassyness. Fools.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #114

Doctor Who – Voyage of the Damned Review: Final Thoughts

On the whole, I enjoy this story a great deal.

Out of the three Christmas stories I’ve reviewed since the show returned, this is the best one.

A good plot, solid characters and a Christmassy look; it all adds up to make Voyage of the Damned a creditable effort.

I might even have it higher than #114

 


Video Games – BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien Review

July 28, 2013

Another week and another Steam Sale purchase completed.

This time it’s BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien 

I’m going to try out a new format for game reviews because my current one can be a bit of a struggle at times.

So…

BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien Review: What Is It?

Bit.Trip is a series of rhythm based games following the adventures of Commander Video.

I must confess to not having played any of the older games in the series, but this one is the second side scrolling platform game effort in the franchise.

You control a character as he or she runs (usually) from left to right across the screen, picking up gold and red crosses along the way until you get to the end of the level.

There’s usually a checkpoint half way through, and in each of the five worlds there are bosses and unlockables to get along the way.

It’s like a deeper and flashier version of Food Run, which I reviewed a few months ago.

BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien Review: How Much Does It Cost

Though I got it for £7.49 in the Steam sale, it usually costs £11.99

The Breakdown: Graphics

While the rest of the Bit.Trip series – as far as I can see – utilises old-school 8-bit style graphics, Runner 2 is a beautifully designed, richly coloured game with modern style graphics.

Lovely Graphics

Lovely Graphics

It looks great so it adds to the gaming experience.

Length

A run through on normal difficulty took me 8 hours.

Replay Value

Though there is a harder mode to try, and also the possibility of going back and collecting items I missed, I’m not entirely sure if I’d want or need to go back and play it again.

Playability

On the whole it’s a very slick gaming experience. The controls are easy to manage with an Xbox 360 Controller for Windows, it’s responsive enough and the variety of moves are not difficult to master.

What’s good about it is the learning curve. Even into the third world, there are more and more moves added that you have to learn, so while the first level is a basic “Jump over the enemy” style of play, it adds slides, long jumps, kicks, barges, low jumps, high jumps etc.

And so as the game progresses and the variety of obstacles increases, you have to be alert to all the different – and yet easy to remember – controls.

It’s also quite cool that you get to play with a variety of characters, including ones from other games like “Spelunky Guy” and the robot from Portal.

One More Go Factor

There are so many games that feel like a chore to get through; it’s as if you feel you have to keep playing out of a sense of duty to get it finished.

Runner 2 does not feel like that at all.

Though – as I say – I don’t currently feel a pressing need to play it again now that I’ve finished it, while I was still going through it I would happily play it for a few hours at a time, and replay levels until I got a perfect score on them. Yesterday, without realising it, I sank 3 hours into it without even a second thought.

So it does well on that front.

Other Comments

I’m not entirely sure about the Rhythm element. While I did feel I got into a slight sense of rhythm while playing, it wasn’t key to the game in the same way as it is to the likes of Beat Sneak Bandit or Guitar Hero. Indeed, while playing it yesterday I had the music turned down so I could listen to the radio.

Also, if I have a complaint about the game play it’s that when you occasionally go into the old 8-bit world (which you can enter to play an old style game for unlockables) it was annoying that after 3 lives you’d have to go back to the very start. That bugged me.

Oh, and one more criticism; I can’t stand “cooky” attempts at doing storylines in games.

I honestly couldn’t care about the cut scenes in this or listening to a hammy voice actor tell us the story of Bit.Trip Runner; I just wanted to play the game.

And what sort of name is “Future Legend of Rhythm Alien” anyway? It’s a bit wanky.

Thankfully that didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment.

BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien Review: Should You Play It?

I’d say yes. At a mere £12, it’s still a lot less expensive than the average 2D platformer you’d be expected to pay £40 for on the consoles.

And it’s certainly not of a lower standard; I’d far rather play this than something like Rayman or even the newer, stuck in a rut Mario games.

At less than £2 per hour played, it’s worth the investment


Stuart’s Top 50 Television Dramas of All Time – Part Ten (#05 – #01)

July 26, 2013

Before I get to my Top 5 Television Dramas of All Time, and in place of the “One That Doesn’t Make It” entry, I have to include a TV show that I only started watching two weeks ago, and one that would have undoubtedly made it into the Top 25 had I known about it when I started this series.

So…

One That Should Have Made It: 

Luther:

The detective drama starring The Wire’s Idris Elba as a troubled police officer in gritty modern London is excellent television.luther

Though it started slowly with one or two rather pedestrian episodes in the first season, it drastically improved in short order and built up to become must-see TV.

It hit its groove fully when it started to go with two-part stories, as they allowed the villains time to develop.

In particular, I loved the two-part story with the role-playing twins going on murdering sprees.

It’s gritty, it’s gruesome and having spoken about it to people who come to my exercise classes, it scares the shit out of women.

Anyway, now that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the countdown.

#5: Grey’s Anatomy

I’m going to come under some serious flack from “Lads” and “Proper Blokes” out there who deem this to be nothing more than “Women’s TV”.greys anatomy

It really isn’t.

Grey’s Anatomy is the best medical drama I’ve ever seen and – as per its ranking – one of the finest dramas of any kind too.

Sure, it focuses a bit too much on the relationships between the Doctors at times, but that’s not why I like it; I like it because it manages to provide interesting medical storylines while blending in humour and drama every single week.

As of now there have been 196 episodes and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say at least 190 of those episodes have been very good or better.

And the finales? Awesome.

Yes, it does mean that more tragedy befalls Mercy West Hospital than anywhere else in the known universe with the possible exception of Emmerdale, but it provides a hell of a lot of entertainment.

#4: I, Claudius

In terms of acting standards, it doesn’t get much better than I, Claudius.I, Claudius

It’s as if the best actors of the day got together and said “Fuck it, let’s make the best possible drama we can make”.

And they did.

Some people might struggle with the slow pace and hefty dialogue scenes, and also the way it’s presented more like a play than a TV show, but that’s of no consequence to me.

I just find the quality (and quantity) of cast and the slickness of the script to be different class.

And it also has bits that manage to give you goosebumps; they are just that good. In particular I’m thinking about the death scene of Augustus (which isn’t a spoiler because of the way the story is told) and the “Poison is Queen” scene.

In fact, I just watched that scene again and it still gives me goosebumps.

Sheer magic.

#3 – Life on Mars

What a fantastic idea for a TV programme, and one that very nearly didn’t get made.Life on Mars

Life on Mars combines some of the funniest and most politically incorrect lines ever seen in TV drama (e.g. “Slower than a spastic in a magnet factory”) with gripping police drama and perhaps the greatest Television Character of them all; Gene Hunt.

Perhaps the best thing about it though is just how authentic it looks.

1970s Manchester really does look like a different world compared to now.

Definitely a show that anyone can enjoy, so track it down and watch it ASAP.

#2 – The West Wing

Considered by many to be the greatest TV show ever made, The West Wing is probably the snappiest and sharpest show I’ve ever seen.westwing

Well acted, well written and at times genuinely educational, it’s a treat almost all the way through.

I say “almost” because it dipped a little bit around season 5 before reinventing itself and rallying back with the awesome Matt Santos for President storyline.

I remember watching the last episode and feeling a genuine sense of loss that such a great TV show had come to an end.

But hey, I can always watch it again, and so should you.

#1 – Doctor Who

Yes, I’m sure you could have predicted that.doctorwho

Doctor Who  probably can’t compare to many of these shows for consistency, acting standard, budget or even writing, and yet it’s my favourite.

It’s the show I can watch most often.

It’s the show I’ve been moved to write hundreds of thousands of words on in this very blog.

I grew up watching it, I still watch it and the prospect of new episodes or – better than that – the rediscovery of missing episodes  remains probably the most exciting thing for me in terms of TV,

Entertainment wise, the only thing I love more than Doctor Who is Dundee United.

And hey, there have been over 800 episodes; they can’t all be of the standard of the likes of Life on Mars which had 16 of them.

So this blog couldn’t go any other way.

The Final Tally

So there we have it; The Top 50 Television Dramas of All Time.

I’ll be honest; I look at the list now and think “Wow, I ranked X over Y?” But when I created the list that seemed to be the right idea at the time.

I guess a lot of rankings depend upon what you’ve just recently watched. I’m rewatching the first season of The Newsroom just now and would probably place it a lot higher than I have done, but then if I was to rewatch almost any of those shows between #50 – #26 I’d probably feel the same. The top shows will always be the top shows, though it doesn’t mean a new one can’t break through.

But enough about my opinion; what about yours?

What should have made it, but didn’t?

What have I not watched that I should have?

What shouldn’t be on the list?

Which shows have you seen and which shows have I moved you to see?

Let me know, and remember to give this page a like on Facebook; the link is on the panel on the right hand side.

50.  No Angels
49.  Heroes
48. Grange Hill
47. Torchwood
46. Chuck
45. The O.C.
44. Smiley’s People
43. Lost
42. Homeland
41, The Walking Dead
40. Revenge
39.  Sherlock
38. Game of Thrones
37. Survivors (1970s version)
36. The Newsroom
35. Diagnosis Murder
34. Californication
33. House of Cards (US)
32. Neighbours
31. Crime Traveller
30. The Sopranos
29. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
28. Veronica Mars
27. The Wire
26. Suits
25. Prison Break
24. Entourage
23. Band of Brothers
22. Angel
21, Alias
20. House of Cards (UK)
19. One Tree Hill
18. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
17. Blake’s Seven
16. The Shield
15. Friday Night Lights
14. Ashes to Ashes
13. Castle
12. Battlestar Galactica
11. Cracker
10. 24
09. Jonathan Creek
08. Columbo
07. Breaking Bad
06. Dexter
05. Grey’s Anatomy
04. I, Claudius
03. Life on Mars
02. The West Wing
01. Doctor Who

 


Games: Hotline Miami Review (or “Simple, Fun and Astonishingly Good Value”)

July 21, 2013

The past 10 days have been good days to be a PC Gamer.

Since July 11th the internet gaming community has been gripped by the yearly Steam Summer Sale, where all sorts of PC games are available at massively reduced prices.

If your PC has enough RAM and a good graphics card and processor, there really are some excellent savings to be made.

A fair chunk of the games are available on other platforms like the Xbox 360 and PS3, so in many cases I already own the likes of Saints Row 3, Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed and GTA IV, but to be able to get them for £5 when they’ll cost at least three times as much on the consoles is a fantastic deal.

Similarly, PC only games like Football Manager 2013 and Civilization V have also come down massively in price too.

But those are just the tip of the iceberg.

Going into the sale, I had designs on getting Risk Factions and a few of the Lego games when they were put in the daily sales, but none of them have so far surfaced.

My task is to find the best way to storm this house and kill everyone as quickly and as effectively as possible. Lucky for me I'm not a psychopath and realise this is just a game

My task is to find the best way to storm this house and kill everyone as quickly and as effectively as possible. Lucky for me I’m not a psychopath and realise this is just a game

And yet over the last 10 days I’ve bought 16 games and one DLC package.

The sum total? £61.

That might sound a lot, but that’s the cost of less than two regular games for the Xbox 360, and had I bought them all the week before at full price, I’d have parted with almost £200 more for the privilege.

Now that I’ve got the games though, I don’t want to full into the trap of never playing them and having them classed as being part of the dreaded “backlog”.

So one at a time I’m going through the single player games to see what they have to offer. If I have the time, I’ll aim to review most of them (I don’t think I need to review Sim City 4 or Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, seeing as they are hardly new).

First up is Hotline Miami.

Hotline Miami Review: What Is It?

Heavily influenced by the movie Drive, Hotline Miami is a top down 2d action game in the retro style of old games like the very first GTA games or, going back further, stuff like 1980s arcade game, Ikari Warriors.

To quote from Wikipedia, since the writer on there put it as clearly – if not as concisely – as it could be put.

“Hotline Miami is divided into several chapters, each of which is further broken down into several stages. At the start of each chapter, the unnamed protagonist wakes up in his apartment and listens to cryptic messages on his answering machine. These messages tell him to perform an arbitrary task at a certain location, which in each case is inferred as a metaphor for killing every person at that location, such as giving VIPs of a hotel a ‘great stay’. Prior to commencing a new mission, the player is asked to select an animal mask to wear; each of which provides unique advantages or handicaps. In each stage, the player navigates a building from a top-down perspective, and the goal is almost always to kill every opponent therein. Occasionally the player must also defeat a boss at the end of the chapter or find key items as they explore, but most levels are very straightforward. Some levels will also include hidden masks for the player to find along the way. The player has access to a wide variety of melee, thrown, and ranged weapons, and will need to handle challenges through either stealthy tactics or overwhelming force. The player character is no more resilient than the enemies, however, so any mistake is usually fatal. Enemy AI varies slightly, causing them to occasionally move unpredictably, making it difficult to plan a perfect approach. To make up for this, the game allows the player to restart each stage the moment they die, allowing them to quickly fine-tune their approach over several attempts. The game grades the player’s performance at the end of each chapter based on a number of factors, also granting them points that unlock more weapons, and may also unlock additional masks depending on their score.”

Hotline Miami Review: How Much Did It Cost?

Full price, Hotline Miami costs £6.99, but thanks to the Steam Sale, I got it for £1,74.

Hotline Miami Review: Is It Any Good?

Yes, it’s brilliant.

I’ll be honest; I wasn’t particularly interested in the storylines or cut scenes, and I skipped most of that without bothering to take them in.

But I really didn’t think it added or took away from the strength of the game. When I put on Hotline Miami, I got the gist of what was going on without having to read a long spiel by a guy wearing a chicken mask, because the beauty was in the simplicity.

I had to storm a building and kill all the guards, gangsters and/or police in attendance, and I had to do it as quickly, stealthily and with as much variety as I could to ensure I got the best score possible.

Beyond that the storyline was irrelevant.

What I particularly enjoyed about it was that it was challenging. It wasn’t simply a case of going from A to B without any fuss; to succeed I had to learn from my mistakes and actually take the time to think about my approach to beating the level. I had to map out in my head the order in which I killed people and the weapons I used.

That’s quite unusual in gaming these days where – as I’ve spoken about before – genuine challenge has been replaced with the inevitability of finishing the game without fuss as long as you take the time to do it.

So yeah, I was really impressed with how it played, although if I was to criticise it in any way it would be that occasionally there were glitches in the control scheme where aim would lock off, and also the hospital level was annoying and frustrating.

But those are just minor niggles.

Also, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s as amazing as some people suggest, the soundtrack was quite good too.

Hotline Miami Review: Is It Worth Buying?

All told, it took me 7 hours to finish the story on Hotline Miami, though I could go back and play through levels again to improve my score and unlock more secrets.

At £1.74 that is astonishingly good value.

Hell, even at full price that’s still less than £1 for each hour’s worth of entertainment.

Hotline Miami is fun, it looks good in a retro way and it’s cheap enough to buy knowing you’ll definitely get value for money out of it.

Yes, some people will complain about the levels of violence, but being a well balanced human being who isn’t going to go out and kill everyone in a casino or nightclub myself, I don’t think that is of any consequence. And it’s over-the-top, silly violence anyway.

So unless you’re the most fragile of souls, my advice is to buy it, and buy it today considering it’s still on sale.

It’s worth every penny.


Stuart’s Top 50 Television Dramas of All Time – Part Nine (#10 – #06)

July 20, 2013

Hold onto your hats, it’s time for part one the Top 10.

#10 – 24

Let’s ignore the season where a nuclear bomb went off in Downtown Los Angeles at 10am and was largely forgotten about by mid afternoon; the majority of 24 is superb.24logo

It’s cheesy, but amazing.

Apart from Jack Bauer being the hardest man in the universe, never needing a bite to eat, a quick drink or a trip to the toilet, and being beaten to death (literally on one occasion) in one hour and fine in the next, the brilliance in 24 lies in the escalation of events.

It’s like a video game come to life; there’s the Level One boss who gets vanquished four hours into the day, but then once he is, it turns out there’s a bigger and badder boss for the next four hours. Rinse and repeat until the final quarter of the day, where at least three of Jack’s co-workers have died heroic and/or gruesome deaths, his poor daughter Elisha Cuthbert has been kidnapped at least once and he’s saved the life of the US president a couple of times, and Jack finally gets to face off against the biggest baddest boss there is.

And the confrontation almost certainly takes place at a dock or shipping yard.

Fantastic.

#9 – Jonathan Creek

You might be surprised at how high Jonathan Creek ranks on my list but it does deserve it.Creek

There have been 28 episodes and every single one of them – from the debut episode with the murder of Colin Baker all the way through to the recently broadcast Easter 2013 special – has been great.

But then, when you think about it, it’s written by David Renwick, who was of course the writer of the brilliant One Foot in the Grave, so it shouldn’t be a surprise at all.

Jonathan Creek has survived the departure of two leading ladies and yet has managed to carry on without a break in its stride.

If you’ve not seen it, it’s on Netflix and is well worth your time.

#8 – Columbo

Many people – from Stephen Fry to Frank Skinner – passionately argue that Columbo is the greatest television series of all time.Columbo

Many other people completely disregard it without ever watching it.

My friends are like that; they turn their noses up at it like it’s a lesser form of entertainment. I asked my uncle for the boxed set for Christmas a few years ago and he scoffed.

But these people are missing out.

An episode of Columbo – especially the earlier ones before the 80s/90s reboot which was hit and miss – is one of these things that you can happily watch again and again.

It’s such a brilliant concept. You could argue that it’s as formulaic as many of the TV Series’ that I’ve left out of this list, but seeing Peter Falk play off against a new murderer (often played by Patrick McGooghan) in every episode brings its own individual charm.

It also has a certain time capsule feel to it, as you see into the nicest homes in all of Hollywood as they were in the 1970s, an era that feels almost alien now.

And I think that’s another aspect of it I like; it’s not gritty. If Columbo pitted his wits against scumbags every week, it wouldn’t be half as good, but watching him slowly break yet another member of the upper classes with his disarming charm is just terrific.

Moreover, not every episode ends the same way, despite what some people might think. There’s such a big difference between the tone of the episode with Leonard Nimoy as the villain compared to the one with Janet Leigh for example.

A marvellous show.

#7 – Breaking Bad

Possibly one of the greatest underground TV hits of all time, Breaking Bad is a global phenomenon simply from people asking their mates “Have you watched Breaking Bad? It’s amazing”Breaking_Bad

And it is.

My brother was at me for months to give it a shot, but the basic plot synopsis – a high school chemistry teacher gets cancer and starts selling drugs – doesn’t really scream “Watch Me”.

The thing is though, this is one TV show that has developed as it has gone along. While so many work to a formula, whether it’s episode by episode or season by season, Breaking Bad has been one long running, ever unfolding story since it began.

What precludes it from the Top 5 though is that at times, that long running story slowed up a little bit too much. For all the amazingness of the Gus Fring storyline, there’s been too many episodes about Jesse’s depression or Skylar’s decline.

But Brian Cranston is beyond brilliant as the ever more evil Walter White. It’s not often you root for the main character to get his comeuppance and be killed off. The only other example I can think of is John Cena, and sadly, that’ll never happen.

#6 – Dexter

There have been some seasons of Dexter that aren’t quite as good as others, but unlike a few people I know, I’ve enjoyed every single one of them.dexter

Dexter is such a great concept for a show, and even though it peaked creatively with the Trinity Killer, it’s still going strong today.

In an era where there’s so much to watch and keep you entertained, it’s difficult to get genuinely excited about a single episode of anything.

The finale of last year’s season of Dexter was one that I genuinely got excited for.

That might not sound like much, but it’s a rare event these days.

Sure, it’s easy to criticise or parody the show; after all, there’s plenty of ridiculously stupid things that have happened in it over the years, but I take it as part of the charm.

When both Dexter and Breaking Bad leave our screens this year, television will be worse off as a result.

And One That Doesn’t Make The List

Private Practice

Many of the shows that have made this part of the list have done so because I’ve watched it and subsequently not enjoyed it after a few episodes.Private-practice-logo

Private Practice though is a show I devoted a good few years to; I watched it I think for four seasons before just getting bored with it.

People criticise Grey’s Anatomy for being a show for women, and it’s really not, but Private Practice…it kinda is.

There’s only so many episodes you can watch where the dame off Judging Amy acts all “cooky” while Addison falls in love with the wrong guy yet again before your mind melts.


Stuart’s Top 50 Television Dramas of All Time – Part Eight (#15 – #11)

July 14, 2013

We’re now getting into the really good stuff; the shows that are almost without fault, or if they do have faults, they are overcome by the general level of brilliance.

#15 – Friday Night Lights

I watched this over a period of about a month a couple of years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it.FNL

The show about an American high school football team has mostly realistic, grounded characters and storylines, and a selection of decent actors taking on the parts.

It’s driven for me by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as Coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami, but there are plenty of other young actors who have gone on to bigger, or at least equally good things as well.

And let’s not forget one of my brother’s favourite ever TV characters, the great Buddy Garrity.

Sure, there’s an element of predictability about the results for the team, but since we’re watching it, we’re supporters of that team, so it’s fine by me.

#14 – Ashes to Ashes

On the whole, Ashes to Ashes is not quite as good as Life on Mars (which kinda gives the game away in terms of what is in the top 10), but it’s still excellent.ashes

Keeley Hawes does an admirable job of replacing John Simm, and of course Gene Hunt is Gene Hunt; possibly the finest TV character in history.

Where it fails to be as good as its predecessor though is that 1980s London isn’t quite as ‘Alien’ as 1970s Manchester.

And though it takes a while to get to the point, the final few episodes, where everything is revealed, is top-notch television. And the end is quite sad.

#13 – Castle

I like a good murder mystery, and Castle – a light-hearted and modern take on the genre – is almost as good as anything out there right now.castle

With a strong ensemble cast led by Nathan Fillion as the show’s namesake, Rick Castle, this is a show that manages to shine where so many other programmes fail.

Why? Because in spite of it being formulaic, it manages to keep me entertained, amused and interested each week.

And unlike many of the shows that have failed to make it beyond the “One That Didn’t Make It” list, it has kept the nucleus of the cast together and developed their characters and relationships.

It also does a superb job of parodying almost every conceivable genre without being ridiculous.

#12 – Battlestar Galactica

What’s interesting about Battlestar Galactica (and of course I mean the remake from a few years ago rather than the original series) is that I bet many people dismiss it as Science Fiction, and that’s not fair.bsg

Rather than being a by-the-numbers Space Opera that’s a ripoff of the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek, this is serious, well performed drama to rival any political or military show you’ll see getting heaped with praise.

The only difference is that this political/military drama is set in space.

But remove your preconceived notions of what “Science Fiction” actually is and give this a shot, because you won’t regret it.

#11 – Cracker

I started watching Cracker around the time I thought of making this list, and it might be that there’s a certain “Patricia Routledge Winning Best Actress Of All Time At The BBC 50th Anniversary Awards” style “in-vogue” favour being attached crackerto it by me, but I enjoyed Cracker immensely.

Almost every episode was classic drama (I say almost because the one set in Hong Kong was shite) and there were some genuinely jaw-dropping scenes in amongst it all.

What are they? Well I won’t spoil them.

But Cracker is brilliant, and though it looks dated now – more so than almost anything else on this list because of the cheap look of early 90s film – the quality of scripting and acting still shines for a first time viewer in 2013.

And One That Doesn’t Make The Listprisoner

The Prisoner

I wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t get into it.

I didn’t have a clue what was going on, the plotting was bizarre and the acting and pace weren’t up to much either.

Not for me, thanks all the same.


Stuart’s Top 50 Television Dramas of All Time – Part Seven (#20 – #16)

July 12, 2013

Oh we’re getting close now.

It’s the Top 20.

#20 House of Cards – UK Editionhouseofcards

The original House of Cards, starring the brilliant Ian Richardson as scheming politician Francis Urquhart is a better show than its US counterpart.

But there’s less of it.

I did an extensive review of this show, which you can find in the article index above.

Needless to say though, it’s well deserving of a place in the Top 20.

#19 – One Tree Hill

Fans of serious drama all over the world have just spat their coffee out at discovering I’ve rated One Tree Hill above House of Cards.One-tree-hill_logo

And I’ll admit that the longer it went on, the more ridiculous it got, with each character becoming unbelievably successful. Of the original cast, one become a world-famous author, one became a world-famous fashion designer, another created her own record label (which subsequently launched the career of the most famous singer in the world), one juggled being a teenaged mother and a world-famous pop star and music writer, and of course there was the NBA star.

Even fucking Mouth became a celebrity newscaster.

So it was, as I say, all a bit far-fetched, but the early seasons especially, when it was just a show about a high school basketball team and two rival players with the same evil father, were very enjoyable.

And everyone has to love a boo-hiss villain like Dan Scott

#18 Buffy The Vampire Slayerbuffy

Before I gave Buffy the Vampire Slayer a chance, I was very skeptical of it. It seemed like one of this sickening shows for teenage girls.

But it’s actually very good, and for the most part  kept itself fresh and interesting with imaginative storylines throughout the seven seasons.

And as the “kids” developed, the show developed with them.

So this gets a hearty recommendation from me.

#17 – Blake’s Sevenblakesseven

One of the more obscure shows on this list as far as the general public are concerned, Blake’s Seven was a terrific science fiction show from the late 70s about a falsely imprisoned leader of men who – along with a band of criminals – escapes to seek revenge and bring down the oppressive Federation.

One of my favourite shows – along with Dr Who – whilst growing up, Blake’s Seven has one of the best TV characters of all time in Paul Darrow’s Avon, and it also has perhaps the most shocking final scene in any TV show I’ve ever seen.

Well worth giving a shot.

#16 – The Shield

While people go on about The Wire being this terrific police drama, I think it’s up its own arse a little bit.TheShield

The Shield meanwhile offers no pretensions. It’s an action packed show about a dirty copper and his team in a Los Angeles Police Department.

For one reason or another, most of the characters are flawed, the storylines are fast paced and the acting is great.

It also has perhaps the most effort-filled acting performance I’ve ever seen from Forrest Whittaker. He really tries here.madmen

And One That Doesn’t Make The List

Mad Men

I’ve tried, I really have, but I just don’t see what the fuss is about with this slow-moving snoozefest.