Movies – Spectre Review (or “Nothing You Haven’t Seen Before”)

October 31, 2015

When I write my reviews of Doctor Who, I tend to bemoan the way it can be written more for the die hard fans rather than for everyone. Even though it’s not necessary to the plot, there will be references to old stories just to give long term fans a kick.

For me that’s ok, because I am a long term fan and I get the references, but I always thought that it must be frustrating for the casual viewer.

Having seen the new James Bond movie – Spectre – yesterday, I now know how those casual viewers feel.

Like I said in my review of Skyfall, I’m not a James Bond enthusiast by any means, but I think I’ve seen all the films at some point or other with the exception of Quantum of Solace. Of course it just so happens that a key character in this plot was someone from that particular film.

Beyond that there were countless references to old characters from the previous Daniel Craig Bonds and of course the shock reveal that the enemy is 60s Bond villain Blofeld, which seemed about as mundane as spectreThe Daleks showing up in Doctor Who yet again.

I just felt like I was out of the loop a little bit.

The other major issue – beyond the usual daft suspension of disbelief parts like how he managed to source a white tuxedo on that train – was that this was yet another Bond film with an underlying sub-plot of ‘This Is So Out Of Date’.

Last time around it was that Bond himself was a relic of the past who needed to be retired, and this time it was the entire Double O branch of the Secret Service coming under fire.

To me, that comes across as the writers and directors projecting their own insecurities and embarrassments about how the Bond franchise is no longer relevant in today’s society. But even if it’s not, who cares? And why draw attention to it? Bond is a cinema powerhouse that will always attract audiences. People like it for what it is, so be proud of it.

Anyway, beyond that, it’s a decent enough film for what it was, although it won’t come as a surprise that I thought it was too long, and just seemed to move from one set piece to the next. Of course, the effects and music were as grand, and the characterisation was exactly as you’d expect from a Bond movie.

Really, it just ticked the boxes and went through the usual Bond plot from start to finish. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll be happy and if you don’t you won’t.

Just don’t expect anything wildly different from what you’ve seen two dozen times before.

As for me, I just think it would have been better if he regenerated at the end, seeing as he’s obviously a Time Lord.

At least there’d be some tension.


Doctor Who – The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived Review (or “Keep Your Main Course Separate From Your Dessert”)

October 25, 2015

As you know, my policy is to only review two-part stories at the end of the second episode.

But I’ve made a bit of an error there because despite thinking that The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived was indeed a two-parter, it actually wasn’t. Instead it was just two linked but separate stories written by different people.

I wish I’d known that last week.

But hey, it is what it is, and so I’ll just review them both now.

Doctor Who – The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived Reviews: What Were They About?

A Viking Dad’s Army and a Dick Turpin-esque affair that managed to show that sometimes comedy, serious human drama and alien invasions work and sometimes they don’t.

But it mainly shows that they should be kept apart.

Thoughts – Keep Your Main Course Separate From Your Dessert

Here we have two episodes that could and should have had markedly different tones, but unfortunately everything was mixed in together and it didn’t work.

The Woman Who Lived would have been infinitely better if this guy was played by Ken Dodd

The Woman Who Lived would have been infinitely better if this guy was played by Ken Dodd

Think of it like going for a meal; you have your savoury main course and your sweet dessert. Individually they work, but if you put them on the same plate, it’s far from ideal.

That’s what’s happened in these two episodes.

To begin with we have the comedy romp that is The Girl Who Died. The Doctor is faced with training up a bunch of rag-tag Vikings, without a warrior among them, to face off against one of the most fearsome alien races in the galaxy. It’s light, it’s amusing and it never takes itself too seriously.

And that’s great; that worked. I thought the stuff with the nicknames, the guy who had a phobia of seeing blood (which upgraded to passing out at the mention of blood) and the way the Mire were vanquished was all entertaining enough. I found it amusing and it all seemed to wrap up well.

On that basis, this could have been an episode from any David Tennant or Matt Smith season and would be one that people would think was decent enough and be mostly happy with. Nothing spectacular, but nothing bad.

But then all of a sudden with 10 minutes to go it got all serious with Ashildr dying, the Doctor flashing back to his past (which I’ll get to) and then turning her into an immortal. It was a mix that led people last week to consider that it was a single episode in two parts of its own.

Fast forward a week and we have The Woman Who Lived start off as – and should have stayed as – an episode about the fallout from the Doctor’s decision to save her. Now, hundreds of years and several lifetimes later, Ashildr is an embittered, isolated woman who has forgotten most of her past and lives alone.

But then all of a sudden there’s an alien involved and it turns into an absurd comedy with played-for-laughs policeman and Rufus Hound as a Carry-On style highwayman.

It didn’t work at all.

What should have happened here was that one episode stuck to comedy and the other one was entirely serious.

By blending it all together, neither episode was as good as it should have been, especially The Women Who Lived, which was just a mess.

The slow pondering nature of the Doctor’s examination into Ashildr was totally juxtaposed against the silly comedy, and there was no reason for the alien lion thing other than this belief that Dr Who needs one to fill some kind of quota. It added nothing to the story and only served to annoy me.

Is Doctor Who Becoming Too Insular?

The great success of Doctor Who’s return in 2005 was that it was written to appeal to everyone, and that’s exactly what it did.

"Mummy, Mummy, who's that? " "I'm not sure; I've tried this show for the first time and am utterly lost"

“Mummy, Mummy, who’s that? ” “I’m not sure; I’ve tried this show for the first time and am utterly lost”

Now though, I wonder.

If I had never seen Doctor Who before this season, I imagine I’d struggle to understand what’s going on. I think I’d feel like I was missing something and that too much foreknowledge was expected of me.

While it can be cheap, there’s nothing much wrong with the occasional nod to the past, such as last night’s mention of the Terileptils in relation to The Great Fire of London. But when foreknowledge is almost essential to understanding the point of an episode (like the first two episodes of the season where knowledge of Davros, the Daleks, UNIT and even the Master was important to the flow of the narrative) then it becomes a problem.

In The Girl Who Died, I don’t think it was necessary to flash back to The Fires of Pompeii. The Doctor could quite easily have decided on a course of action to save Ashildr that didn’t involve remembering that his 10th incarnation saved the life of a guy who looked like he does now. Why could they not just ignore the fact that they cast Peter Capaldi twice? I’ve said it before, but if that’s important why did the Doctor not wonder why he kept seeing Michael Sheard or Philip Madoc throughout history considering the amount of times they were recast?

No, that was just pointless. It probably appealed to 0.2% of the viewers, with everyone else either thinking it wasn’t needed or not having a clue what was going on.

Meanwhile, next week’s episode appears to require knowledge of The Day of the Doctor.

There’s no doubt that the Doctor Who production team should be mindful of the show’s past when writing new episodes, but history shows that living in the past can have a detrimental effect on the quality of episodes. You’ve only got to look at the JNT era to see that.

Clara – Marking Time Until She Leaves

I’ve mentioned it already this season but Clara seems to have lost her identity and her purpose. Now it’s like they know she’s leaving so why bother developing her character any further?

"Hiya, I'm just popping in for a minute to fulfil some contractual obligations before I leave"

“Hiya, I’m just popping in for a minute to fulfil some contractual obligations before I leave”

The strides she made last season are gone, and have been replaced by a rather smug shallow companion who was has become so incidental that she was only in The Women Who Lived for a couple of minutes at the end, presumably to fulfil contractual obligations.

Remember how she was originally expected to be written out in Last Christmas? That would have been better.

Random Observations

  • Originally Brian Blessed was lined up to play the leader of The Mire. That would have been so much better.
  • I suppose if Ken Dodd played Lady Me’s butler that would have been amazing too, but sadly it was not to be.
  • I’m not entirely sure how or why Ashildr died. I even watched The Girl Who Died a second time and it’s not mentioned. Have I missed something?
  • For all the talk of the second dose of that immortality stuff, for it to be wasted on Sam Swift was a very poor way to go. Personally I’d have either given Ashildr a happier ending or saved it for a subsequent story, because let’s face it, she’s coming back at some point.
  • Another aspect of The Woman Who Lived that I didn’t get was the way Ashildr knew so much about The Doctor. Before you say that it was explained by her saying that she’d spoken to people the Doctor had met in the past,  I don’t think it was. Sure, people may have known the Doctor but it’s not as if he tells everyone his life story, and it doesn’t explain why she’s so keen to travel away from Earth or into future times. Ultimately, in spite of the wisdom she’s accrued over her 800 years or whatever it was, she’s still someone who has lived her entire life in primitive times. I think that’s sloppy, but you might think I’m being picky.
  • Also, while I get the whole 10,000 hours to master a skill stuff, I really don’t understand how she was able to put on a completely different man’s voice.
  • Other than to give Clara the line about how she’s wearing a spacesuit, what exactly was the point of the beginning of The Girl Who Died?
  • To give the story a little bit of credit, the Doctor at least trying to explain the ripples/tidal waves rules was interesting.
  • I feel I need to reiterate just how pointless that alien lion/tiger thing was in The Women Who Lived. It’ll go down as one of the most nondescript aliens in the show’s history.
  • Done well, these two episodes could have worked like The Ark, with the Doctor and Clara immediately landing in the same place hundreds of years later to find Ashildr has turned into a properly evil despot who needed to be stopped. Alas, it was not to be.
  • It also would have worked better if both episodes were written by the same person.

Doctor Who – The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived: Final Thoughts

Ok, so it was an interesting idea for a two-part story, but that’s not how it turned out.

Had The Girl Who Died stuck to light comedy and The Woman Who Lived remained exclusively serious, then it would have worked so much better.

Unfortunately by trying to accommodate comedy and drama in both episodes, and also giving the second episode an unnecessary token alien invasion, neither episode was as good as it could have been.

And that’s a shame because in theory it could have been top notch.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

a) Like Stuart Reviews Stuff on Facebook or Twitter

b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here

c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 

 


The 14 Types of People You See On Internet Forums

October 22, 2015

Internet forums are interesting places, both in a good and bad way.

No doubt they are handy places to discuss mutual hobbies or interests with like-minded people – for me over the years it’s been Dundee United, Scottish Football, Gaming and TV mainly – or to seek out advice on subjects you might not be entirely familiar with.

As someone who has been active on social media of various forms since the 1990s, going back to mailing lists and even IRC chats, where I was actually offered my job with Sports Interactive way back in the day, I’ve seen all sorts of people come and go.

Mostly people are normal, but I was having a think about the different categories of weirdos that you’ll come across from time to time, and decided to make a list.

The chances are if you fit into one of these categories, you don’t really know it – or at the very least can’t accept it – but I’m sure if you’ve ever posted on a web forum, on Twitter or in a Facebook group, you’ll know a lot of people who these apply to.

I imagine I might be persona non grata on some of the forums I post on after this….

1.  The Nazi Admin/Mod/Owner

Internet forums attract all sorts of people, but generally speaking, the sort who wants to be an administrator or moderator is the type of person who craves power.

In their real lives they are probably bullied at work, hen-pecked by their wives or have an extensive collection of military memorabilia that they have set up in their bedrooms while they play Ride of the Valkyries on a loop.

Without question the worst type of forum I’ve seen for this are ones relating to TV. Doctor Who ones are terrible for it and in particular there’s one Facebook group I’m a part of that has a list of rules so long and become internet forum moderatorextensive, it’s like a political party’s manifesto.

Here’s the response I got from the admin of one place relating to a post of mine that they deleted…

“Dear Stuart, If you check Rule 6 you will see that your post is in violation of that rule. Using the word “hypothetically” does not remove the intent of this denigration. This would lead on to Rule 5, baiting of forum members, which is also in violation. Finally, Rule 16 on not bringing up moderation in thread, but asking a member of the team via PM. The latter on no fewer than three occasions! Given the above the admins feel any further violations will result a 24 hour timeout from the group. Please note, all decisions of the admin team are final and no further discussion will be entered into. Regards ____ on behalf of the admin team.”

How can you not read that and think “What a prick”. It’s the internet you sad bastard.

2. The Prick

Speaking of pricks, every forum seems to have one.

You know the sort; the one who everyone clearly dislikes because he’s such a…well…such an objectionable prick.

He’s rude, he’s aggressive, he’s got views that most people find utterly reprehensible; essentially he’s a sociopath.

And yet he either doesn’t realise it, or he doesn’t care.

Despite how much everyone would love him never to post on the forum again, he remains there, like a fixed point in time.

3. The Guy Who’s Never Off The Forum

No matter what time of day it is, this guy is on the forum and will always reply to comments instantly, and then get a bit upset if nobody has replied to his point within 30 seconds. He’s only been a member for a year, but he’s already got 35,000 posts to his name.

Mate, step away from the PC.

4. The Guy Who Tries To Get Along With Everyone

If everyone had the same opinion, what would be the point of discussion forums?

But there’s always that one guy who never wants to ruffle any feathers. He sits on the fence the whole time and agrees with everyone about everything.

You might think that’s nice, but after a while you just think “Oh have an opinion for crying out fucking loud!!!”

5. The Guy Who Only Posts To Tell People They Are Wrong

On a similar note there’s the guy who only posts to tell people they are wrong; usually because he’s set himself up as the resident expert, the Superfan or the guy with ‘Insider Contacts’. Ask him to expand on any points or to enter into a reasonable discussion and he won’t do it.

Probably because he can’t.

He lives only to hold the ‘I Know Something You Don’t’ card over people for all of time.

6. The Rival Fan (aka The Troll)

Usually found on Football forums, there’s always the guy who spends more time posting on the rival team’s forum/thread than anywhere else. It’s rife everywhere, whether it’s a specialised forum for a specific club trollor a thread on a general football site.

As an example of this, there’s a Dundee United thread on a general Scottish Football forum that I occasionally post on where in the last 5 pages the amount of posts from Utd fans are outnumbered by a ratio of probably 10:1 by fans of other clubs trying in vain to ‘wind us up’.

What’s the point?

It’s not just football related though. On gaming forums you’ll get people who post in threads of ‘rival’ consoles and slag it off, or on TV threads in the off topic section of forums it’ll be full of the sort of person who feels it’s their job to come in and post about how the subject matter is shit. Over the years I’ve noticed this is especially true of wrestling and Big Brother. Instead of the topics actually being about them, it’s crammed with people who need to remind others that they don’t like it and that only morons watch such things.

That’s fine mate, but my attitude is that if I’ve no interest in a subject, I’m not going to post about it online.

Trolling is something I’ve never understood.

7. The Guy Who Takes Everything Personally

You know the sort; they post an opinion, someone disagrees and then it’s  ——->MELTDOWN TIME<———.

I’ll be honest and say that I’ve been annoyed/stressed by forum arguments in the past, but never to the degree where I’ll throw the toys out of the pram just because someone has dared to disagree with me.

8. The Forum Resignation Letter Guy

Every forum has had that moment where a guy has had enough and decides to stop posting. But there’s that extra special moment – the moment to savour – where someone decides that they must announce their intention to stop posting with a heartfelt resignation letter that will bring a tear to a glass eye.

Presumably the intention is really for people to reply to the post demanding that they stay because they are too valued to leave.

But without fail, whenever someone does this, the reaction amounts to “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out you fucking drama queen”.

Again, it’s just the internet folks, stop being so fucking precious.

Oh, but those guys always return a week later anyway.

9. The Unofficial Technical Expert

There’s always a guy who takes up residency as the technical expert. If you’ve got a problem with any piece of kit, whether it’s a tablet or a toilet, he’s the man who has all the answers. This can happen on any forum, but my particular favourite are the ones who post on the official forums of mobile phone or electronics firms. They’ll answer questions, unpaid, at any time of the day in the hope of being offered a job.

I wonder if that’s ever worked?

10. The Guy Who Never Posts On The Subject Matter

He’s a regular poster and he’s been there for years, but does he actually contribute anything on the actual subject matter?

It’s like he’s hidden in plain sight.

Why’s he there?

Who knows.

11. The Guy Who Writes In His Local Dialect

I’ve got no problem with someone speaking in a local dialect, but why write in it? Surely that requires additional thought?

Or if I was to write that in Dundonian…

Ehve git nae prawblum we someone speakin in thir local tongue, ken.

Perhaps this is at its worst in Scotland, but you’ll inevitably get it all over the world.

I imagine forums in the Southern States of the USA will be full of people referring to each other as y’all.

12. The Resident Joker

Ah the Joker.

He’s liked by everyone and he’s able to defuse a heated debate with a witty bon mot.

Then there’s the 20 other guys who think that describes them.

But it really doesn’t.

13. The Creepy Guy

In the off-topic section of every forum there’s always a thread run by a guy who exists solely to post pictures of naked women and/or offensive jokes.

The very best (or worst) is example of this is a boy on a football forum I frequent who posts around 100 times a day with pictures and gifs of nothing but nudity.

Why he does it, I couldn’t tell you, but I imagine a psychologist would love to find out.

14. The Woman

Finally there’s that rarity; the one woman who shares a common interest with the guys and posts about it.

She’s instantly treated slightly differently by blokes who probably think “I might be in with a shot if we ever have a forum night out”.

It’s a long shot, but it’s as close as some might get.

Have I missed any categories out?

Let me know on twitter @sgmilne or leave a comment on here,

I’ve already had a suggestion for ‘Statistics Guy’ – the one who thinks he’s an expert because he’s looked up Wikipedia.

A great shout.


Games: Five Things That Bug Me About FIFA 16.

October 20, 2015

FIFA 16 has been out for about a month now, and having had plenty of time to play the modes I like, I thought I’d share some thoughts.

First off, I’d like to say that I’m enjoying it and the tweaks to the gameplay system seem to suit my style of play. This isn’t going to be a rant based on me not being very good at the game, because in truth I’m doing pretty well. I won the annual tournament I have with my friends when we go on holiday in early October, I’m doing well in Ultimate Team, I’m undefeated against anyone I know who I play online with and I’m even scoring FIFA16regularly from free kicks for the first time ever.

There are moans about the passing system from some, but I’ve got no problems with it. Never being one to spam the lofted through ball, the slow build is how I want to play FIFA, so that’s fine.

The actual player ratings can be a bit dodgy though, especially for the leagues EA deem to be less important, but considering my job, maybe I’m being fussy.

Anyway, while it’s going great so far – I say so far because last year I found that Ultimate Team mode seemed to handicap my team once it became too good and it meant I lost my enthusiasm entirely – there are still some issues I have with the game. Some are fair, some are maybe a bit nit-picking, but here they are…

Online Matchmaking Is Broken

This is a big one.

My working hours mean that mid-afternoon is the best time for me to play FIFA. But can I get an online game at that time? Can I buggery. Hell, it’s even difficult at times to get a game sorted out at night. Often the game just hangs there while it tries in vain to sort you out with some opposition. This never used to be a problem in previous FIFA games and EA’s response to this – asking people to tweak the ports in their router – is unacceptable. Sort it out EA!

The Ultimate Team Transfer System

Before the game came out I read some stuff about how they were going to sort out the transfer system so that player prices wouldn’t artificially inflate, but that was just bluster. As you might expect, certain players are out of the reach of anyone who just wants to play the game as a bit of fun. I’ve played around 50 games in Ultimate Team mode and have made my way up to Division Six, and in that time I have earned 58,450 coins. Despite the long slog and the hours, a quick check on the transfer market means shows that if I hadn’t spent a single one of the coins I’d earned, I still wouldn’t have enough to buy players like Arturo Vidal, Sebastian Schweinsteiger or Giorgio Chiellini, who are being sold for 60k. It would cost double the amount I’ve earned to sign Sergio Ramos, and if I ever wanted to go for the likes of Messi I’d be paying over 1,000,000.

Now this doesn’t bother me too much, because the difference between signing a guy like Sergio Ramos (118,000) and Stefan Savic (800) is negligible to the game, but I still don’t see the point of prices like that, nor do I understand who actually manages to sign these guys on the transfer market.

The funny thing is that occasionally I’ll play against a team full of stars and the person controlling them is absolute shit. A couple of days ago I found myself up against a team with a veritable World XI, replete with the likes of Ibrahimovic, Di Maria and Thiago Silva and I pumped them 5-0.

How did this person manage to build that team? He must have spent a fortune in buying pack after pack of Premium Golds, and for all the good it’s done him in terms of results, he’d have been better off playing with bronze players.

Like I said last year in this article, it’s like people have a gambling addiction with this stuff, but when these same people could just go into online seasons mode and play as PSG or Barcelona for free, you almost think they deserve to have their money taken away from them.

Of course, the irony is that when I play these guys, I know I’ll win comfortably with my modest team of Liga BBVA players, and yet if I’m ever put up against a team of silver card players, the chances are that I’ve got a far greater challenge on my hands.

People Who Lack Imagination

Staying with FUT mode, if there’s one thing that irrationally winds me up it’s playing against people who call their team ‘Liverpool’ or ‘FC Barcelona’.

You can name your team anything you like as long as it’s not rude, and the best some people can muster is the name of the side they probably like to watch on TV? Oh, and they also buy that team’s badge and strips.

Get some fucking imagination!!

Nobody Is Scoring From A Corner Again

Away from FUT, I’ve noticed that it’s now almost impossible to score from a corner. Of the hundreds I’ve taken and defended against, my record is scored one, conceded nil. And the one I scored was a ridiculous, unrealistic one where my player headed in to the near post from the edge of the box.

Now fair enough, corners shouldn’t always result in a goal, but that’s ridiculous.

Scripting

Ok, now I sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I do think there’s an element of scripting in FIFA that perhaps shouldn’t be there.

I’m sure you’ve all had a situation where you’re comfortably defending an aimless long ball with your fullback and then suddenly your AI controlled goalkeeper has decided to run out of the box to almost the halfway line to clear the danger without you calling for him to do so, bumped into you and let the opposition in for an easy goal.

Similarly I’m sure you’ve had situations like where the opposition keeper comes up for a corner late on, and you know that no matter the outcome of the corner, whether you clear the ball or not, you’re not going to get possession of the ball whilst he’s in your half of the pitch.

And what about the games where no matter how many chances you create, you can’t score?

That sort of thing bugs me.

It shouldn’t be there and it feels as though just occasionally actual skill comes secondary to luck and how the game engine wants things to play out.

Or is that just me?

Like I say, in the main I think FIFA 16 is great, but there are still issues that need ironed out.

If you agree or disagree with any of these points, be sure to let me know.

 


Movies: About Time Review (or ‘Man Has Great Time Without Any Negative Consequences. How Exciting’)

October 18, 2015

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie like About Time before, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

In theory, this Richard Curtis directed flick about a bloke who can go back in time to relive and change moments in his life had the potential to be very good, and in execution it was watchable enough too.abouttime

But there’s something about it that just didn’t sit right for me; there was absolutely no drama.

At no point in the two-hour running time did the main character find himself in any trouble.

Basically what happens is that he chooses to go back in time repeatedly to make his life better with no consequences. First he sorts out an embarrassing mishap at a New Years Eve party, then he helps out his flatmate, repeats the introduction to his future wife a few times, engineers the perfect wedding, has kids, helps his sister improve her life and goes back in time a few times to see his dad after he’d died.

What’s the point? Where’s the hook? I thought it was going to be a romantic comedy specifically about a guy who uses his time travelling skills to land himself a wife, but he manages to do that by around half an hour in.

Surely the basis of any good story is that the main character must have some level of adversity to face; some challenge or other to make the plot have meaning?

But there wasn’t anything like that in About Time; it was just one guy having a great time for two hours. Nothing goes wrong, everything works out for the best and his time travelling ability causes no problems for him or anyone else.

The end.

Well isn’t that just marvellous?

It must be for some people, because it has 5 Stars on NetFlix.

But as far as I’m concerned, it didn’t cut the mustard or go anywhere near the standard of Curtis’s other efforts like Love Actually, Notting Hill or Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Look, it wasn’t shit; the acting was mostly good (well, Bill Nighy just plays Bill Nighy like he does in everything he’s in) and it didn’t drag, but it just felt so ‘safe’ and unimaginative, and who wants to watch that?

Not me.


Movies – The Martian Review (or “It’ll Unfortunately Be Lost In The Shuffle”)

October 15, 2015

The quality of CGI can be taken for granted these days.

If I’d gone along to The Martian – Ridley Scott’s latest movie starring the likes of Matt Damon and Jeff Daniels about the attempts to rescue an astronaut who is accidentally assumed dead and left by his the-martiancrewmates on the surface of Mars – ten years ago I would have been awestruck by it. The visuals and scale are tremendous and it looks as real as real can be.

Yet it was only around two hours in that I had to think to myself “Wait, they aren’t actually filming on location on Mars; this is down to special effects”. It’s that good and I don’t think the people responsible are given nearly enough credit. Similarly, the zero gravity effects were seamless.

It’s not just a special effects festival though, which is largely where the appeal of the reasonably similar Gravity lay, this was also a solid story that – very surprisingly – didn’t drag at all in its 140 minutes.

For me, that’s because it wasn’t played entirely seriously. A movie like Interstellar seemed incredibly worthy in its presentation, whereas this was light and at the right moments looked to make the viewer chuckle.

It also has a better cast, even if the some of the actors were clearly hired to play the same characters they’d played on TV shows. Jeff Daniels just played Will McAvoy from The Newsroom as the Director of NASA, while Donald Glover’s character should just have been called Troy from Community. That’s not a bad thing of course, but it was worth noting.

Also worth noting in relation to the cast is the similarity between Matt Damon’s character in this and the aforementioned Interstellar. That’s two movies in two years where he’s played an astronaut stranded on a distant planet. So it’s not exactly original in its theme.

But then that’s Hollywood in a nutshell these days; there’s very rarely an original idea or a game-changing movie anymore. And that’s what will count against The Martian in the years ahead. It’ll be lost in the shuffle of blockbusters set in space.

It’s a pity though, because it’s actually the best one.

So go along to it; it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but it takes the format and makes it into the most well-rounded and interesting movie of the lot.


Doctor Who – Under the Lake & Before the Flood Review (or “That’s Why You Don’t Review A Story At The Half Way Point”)

October 10, 2015

So like I was saying a couple of weeks ago, there’s no point in writing a review of a Doctor Who episode when it’s the first of two-part story.

I don’t think there’s any story that proved that point more than Under the Lake & Before the Flood!

Doctor Who – Under the Lake & Before the Flood Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor travel back to the past to change the future…or is it that he creates the future?

Thoughts – A Proper Two Part Story

99 times out of 100, in any TV show, the reason for a story to run over two or more episodes is simply because there’s too much plot to fit into a single one. Essentially, it’s just a longer episode spread over a number

And With That, The Fourth Wall Was Broken

And With That, The Fourth Wall Was Broken

of weeks with placeholder cliffhangers inserted to act as a checkpoint.

This is the 1 time out of 100 when it’s not.

Rather than being one long story, this is an example of a two-parter that utilises the break to tell a tale that could not be effectively told in one sitting. Under the Lake is the set-up episode, introducing characters and environments and acting as its own little Base Under Siege drama. Without Under the Lake, the overall story wouldn’t work. But the Base Under Siege stuff isn’t the overall point and most likely is not what the central concept of the story either.

Because this is one of those rare – and yet very welcome – examples of Doctor Who, the TV show about a man who travels in time, presenting a story based around the concepts and paradoxes associated with Time Travel.

In particular, it’s about The Bootstrap Paradox (like the Doctor says, google it).

And I’ve got to say, I loved it.

This was clever, it kept me guessing and unlike the first story of the season, it didn’t have a conclusion that left me feeling let down. Instead, when The Fisher King was caught in the flood and the Doctor emerged from the stasis chamber, I felt a sense of deep satisfaction that I’d watched a story expertly written.

And I’m hugely surprised to say that considering the writer – Toby Whithouse – has been slated on the pages of Stuart Reviews Stuff in the past for writing some utter drivel.

Credit where it’s due though; this was excellent.

Is Doctor Who A Kid’s Show?

The answer to the above question is obviously ‘No’, it’s a TV show aimed at the whole family and always has been, but I bring this up because I was debating this very issue on Twitter earlier on today with people

'Mon Then!!!!!!

‘Mon Then!!!!!!

who were adament that who is naught but a kids show.

There’s no way an episode of Doctor Who like Before The Flood is aimed at kids; no way at all.

Apart from the plot being probably too complex for a lot of adults let alone kiddywinkles, I just can’t imagine any movie aimed at children including a scene like the one where a scary looking ghost with an axe stalks an unwitting deaf woman in a dark dingy corridor.

Or maybe I’m being too naive as to what passes for kids TV these days.

No matter how you slice it, that was aimed at adults first, and long may that continue.

Breaking The Fourth Wall: What Did You Think?

I can imagine that when the dust settles on this one, a lot of Doctor Who fans – because we aren’t in any way the sort of people to over-analyse stuff and get upset over anything different are we – will be ill at ease with the breaking of the fourth wall that happens a couple of times in Before the Flood.

My thoughts? Well I don’t want Doctor Who to become Lovejoy with all that sort of ‘speaking to the audience’ stuff, but I thought it worked here and it aided the telling of the story.

So while it shouldn’t be made the norm, it worked fine here.

Random Observations

  • I loved the different theme music at the start of Before the Flood. Not as much as I’d have loved it if it was the 5th Doctor’s theme, but you can’t have everything.
  • Though I’ve focussed more on Before the Flood in this review for obvious reasons, I thought that the cliffhanger to Under the Lake was a good one.
  • As usual there were some amusing and snappy lines of dialogue – usually from Peter Capaldi – but I think my favourite one was where Clara hands him the cue cards explaining how to react to the situation
    It's The Asian Alistair McGowan!

    It’s The Asian Alistair McGowan!

    they were in.

  • The War Minister, eh?
  • I think it sets a good example to showcase actors with disabilities. I read a comment from a deaf person that said that young deaf kids who watch the show will have felt amazing to see someone with the same issues as them being called the most important person in the room by the Doctor.
  • Having said that though, just because you’re deaf, it doesn’t make you Daredevil, so that bit where she dodges out of the way of the axe using her extra sense was a bit much.
  • How come the base was completely abandoned?
  • If I was to criticise the story for anything it would be that Clara appears to be morphing back into a generic companion. So far this season there’s been nothing much to her character beyond being a mild sociopath who is thrilled to be placed in dangerous scenarios.
  • The point raised by the character who I shall dub ‘The Asian Alistair McGowan’ is an important one. Why is it that – when it comes to the crunch – the Doctor doesn’t really give much of a toss about the lives of the people he meets who aren’t his travelling companions. It’s fair to say that he did let O’Donnell die to test a theory, and that’s a bit of a dick move on his part.
  • To go back to something I said earlier about the writing keeping me guessing; I don’t want you to think it confused me, because it didn’t. Obviously I predicted that the Doctor would be responsible for the dam bursting from the moment The Bootstrap Paradox was raised, but throughout the episode, the way he would get to that point remained a mystery. It was only about 10 seconds before he emerged from suspended animation that I guessed he was in there, and that’s ideal. No writer wants to craft an episode that makes viewers think “What was that about?” or “How did that happen?”. Instead, I think they should aim to give the viewer the sense of satisfaction of being able to work out what’s happening at the last possible moment. For me, that’s the best way.
  • The Fisher King was a pretty daunting character, with an impressive look and a commanding voice. I liked how the director avoided showing him until the last possible moment. That worked well for me.

Doctor Who – Under the Lake & Before the Flood Review: Final Thoughts

This story shows why I was wise to keep my counsel last week and leave it all to this review here.

Last Saturday I wouldn’t have known that this was a story about time travel and the Bootstrap Paradox, and so my review would have taken an entirely different direction.

It would have been like reviewing a meal while it’s still being cooked.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see the whole thing, I can confidently state that this was a fantastic example of Doctor Who done right.

Toby Whithouse is a writer who I have rightly panned in the past, with The Vampires of Venice actually finishing in the top ten worst Doctor Who stories of all time in my second book (see below).

He’s excelled himself here though and I’m happy to give him a bundle of praise.

This was brilliant.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

a) Like Stuart Reviews Stuff on Facebook or Twitter

b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here

c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’