Doctor Who – The Husbands of River Song Review (or ‘River Finally Has An Age Appropriate Doctor’)

December 30, 2015

Apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for my review of The Husbands of River Song to be posted, but this really is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and watch it again.

Because let’s face it; I wasn’t going to review it on Christmas Day while still suffering from a Food Coma.

Anyway it’s here now, so let’s get to it…

Doctor Who – The Husbands of River Song Review: What’s This One About?

Christmas Day hijinx and what – I assume – will be River Song’s final appearance in the show.

But then I’ve said that before.

Thoughts – Light Entertainment For All The Family

Before I get down to business with the main thrust of my review, I’ll just be brief with this, because I’ve said it a few times over the years and I don’t think it needs to be delved into too deeply again.

I wonder if anyone sat at home and wondered "Gosh, how did they do that special effect"?

I wonder if anyone sat at home and wondered “Gosh, how did they do that special effect”?

Put simply, this is a Christmas Day episode and seeing as it wasn’t one where the Doctor regenerates, it therefore makes sense for it to be quite light. After all, nobody really wants to spend Christmas Day working out overly complex plots or being depressed by the bleakness of our own mortality; the latter point is covered by Eastenders a couple of hours later.

No, this should be fun and maybe a little bit frivolous.

Some might not like that, but I’m happy enough with it.

So on that score, this episode did not disappoint.

This Must Be The End Of River Song Now?

For me, the main point of discussion is the stuff with River Song.

 

If you’ve read my reviews over the years you’ll know that I felt the River Song story arc just got away from Steven Moffat. What started as a good idea in Silence in the Library spiralled out of control to the point it seemed as though he was making it up as he went along.

Now she’s back again and considering this is meant to be her final meeting with the Doctor before she sees him for the last time in the aforementioned David Tennant story, I imagine that this is the end.

As a viewer, I could take two approaches.

I could just block out everything else and take this final appearance on its own merits. If I go with this option, The Husbands of River Song works. It’s touching, quite sad and well acted.

I can't look at Peter Capaldi in that suit without thinking of...

I can’t look at Peter Capaldi in that suit without thinking of…

So it would get thumbs up.

But as a long-term viewer, I should be taking a different approach.

I should be able to watch this and know without having to look stuff up how River and the Doctor got to this point. I should know the background of the diary (and I thought I did, but apparently not), I should know without being told that this restaurant is the last place they meet before the library and I should be swept up in the emotion of a story arc that has lasted for almost 10 years.

I can’t do that though.

The story arc is too complex and out of control. I don’t want to read up on stuff to refresh my memory, even though it seems like my memory is cheating me.

For some reason, I thought it was on record that River only ever met two incarnations of the Doctor, and I also thought that rather than a diary, it was stated that she had in her possession his biography.

I’m probably wrong here and I imagine a certain section of fandom (you know, the ones who call themselves ‘Whovians’, idolise Osgood and have diagrams of the River Song story arc on their bedroom walls) are probably tutting away at me for not knowing this stuff off by heart, but the way I see it, if I’m confused then 99% of the viewers probably feel a bit lost by it as well.

So although it was a good end to the character, I think I’m really just glad that it’s an end of any sort.

Random Observations

  • One thing that is disappointing about seeing River go though is that for the first time, Alex Kingston is acting alongside someone she has chemistry with. Had this been the case all the way though, I maybe
    ...the Vultures from Splash Mountain

    …the Vultures from Splash Mountain

    wouldn’t be so sick of her.

  • I’ve said before that I think Peter Capaldi is a better actor and Doctor than Matt Smith was, but if anything emphasises the point, it’s this episode.
  • And isn’t it good that River finally has an age appropriate version of the Doctor to hang around with.
  • I couldn’t help but think Peter Capaldi looked like one of the Vultures from Splash Mountain in that last scene.
  • Is it not a little strange that of all the days to finally have availability for a booking, they have Christmas Day? Not April 7th? Or October 10th?
  • And are they counting a year on that planet in Earth time or by their own planet’s time? If it’s the latter then that’s a very long wait, and the hostess has aged remarkably well.
  • I’m not a fan of Matt Lucas’s acting ability and by association his character in this story.
  • Greg Davies was good though, but there’s an argument to suggest that he’s not actually a very good actor.
  • I enjoyed the stuff with River not knowing who the Doctor was, which made sense with the idea I had in my head that she only ever knowingly met Tennant and Smith.
  • That alien dude who opened up his head must struggle to play football. Imagine trying to go for a header under those circumstances?
  • And why not just keep the item in his pocket?
  • Finally, the scene where The Doctor got to ‘do entering the TARDIS for the first time the right way’ was superb.

Doctor Who – The Husbands of River Song Review: Final Thoughts

The Husbands of River Song was a good Christmas Day story. It was light, it was fun and in the end it was quite emotional.

Some people won’t like that, but I did.

And if this is the final appearance of River Song – and I really hope it is – then it was a good way for her to bow out.

 


Movies – In The Heart of the Sea Review (or “One Day I’ll Remember Nobody Gets Swallowed By A Whale In Moby Dick”)

December 29, 2015

It occurred to me around an hour in to watching In The Heart of the Sea that I’d seen a dramatisation of Moby Dick before.

The BBC did a version of it called ‘The Whale’ back in Christmas 2013.

And then I remembered once again – much to my disappointment – that in Moby Dick, nobody ends up being swallowed by a giant whale. That’s the Bible story, Jonah and the Whale.in-the-heart-of-the-sea-poster

I wonder if I’ll fall into that trap again in a few years time?

Oh well.

Lack of being-swallowed-by-a-whale aside, this simply ends up being a retelling of the Moby Dick story, with the added twist that Herman Melville is hearing all about it from one of the survivors of the true story it’s based on.

Is it a good retelling of this story? Yes, I would say so. Apart from Chris Hemsworth’s painful attempt at an American accent, everything flows well, looks good and it doesn’t get boring.

Put simply, it does the job.

If you’re not familiar with the story of Moby Dick, then it’s definitely worth seeing, but if you’ve seen a dramatisation of it before, I’d perhaps suggest giving it a wide berth (look, a nautical term!) until it’s out on DVD.


Star Wars – The Force Awakens Review (Spoiler Free): Can It Live Up To The Hype?

December 17, 2015

The problem with any new Star Wars film is that it will likely struggle against the weight of expectation that a passionate and intense fan-base will have for it.

If you ask 100 people what they thought about Episodes 1-3, around 90 will say they didn’t like them.

Episode 1? Sure, I get that.

Episode 2? It has aged terribly thanks to an absolute over-reliance on CGI, and it also had some really bad acting.

But Episode 3? That, for me, was great. Everything that needed to happen in it happened. I’ve watched all six movies over the last week and I enjoyed that one the most.force

Expectation is a big thing though. Anyone who grew up in the 70s or 80s grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy. Are they great films? Well they are very good, set in a rich and well realised universe, but they are hardly brimming with sparkling dialogue or exceptional acting.

But because we watched them time and again growing up, we have a huge softness and affinity for them; perhaps through rose-tinted specs.

Can Star Wars: The Force Awakens compete against those idealised views of what a Star Wars film should be?

Is it as good as fans want it to be?

Or is it just a decent film in its own right?

For this review, I will avoid spoilers completely. After all, it’s only 13:22 on release day in the UK. The chances are many of you won’t have seen it yet, and if you’re anything like me, you probably want to avoid even the slightest indication of what it’s about.

So I’ll abandon my usual format and get straight to the point…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Was It Any Good?

The short answer is yes it was.

By every standard that you would individually measure a film like this on, it came up trumps. It looked great, the acting was fine, the plot moved along briskly, it kept my attention, it combined drama with some comic (but not played for laughs) moments and it had plenty for old fans like me to get a nostalgic kick out of.

The long answer is the key to whether or not it will be remembered by the many as being in the same league as the original trilogy.

As much as there was to praise it for, I think to a large degree this was a retelling of A New Hope. Many aspects of the plot seemed to be lifted out of that to the point where you could question the lack of originality involved.

The same could be said for the characters.

In The Force Awakens you’ve the likes of Rey, Kylo Ren, BB-8 and Snoke who are essentially Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, R2D2 and The Emperor with a new lick of paint. And while Rey (the very good Daisy Ridley) and BB-8 are more than a match for their original counterparts, the villains aren’t a patch on what came before them. The fact that they have tried to replicate Vader and Palpatine is slightly baffling; they were never going to be as good.

But I suppose to have the same type of villain is the safe choice.

And that’s what The Force Awakens is; it’s safe. It plays to what has worked well in the past without trying to push the boundaries or be unique.

Is that what the Star Wars franchise needed to get back on track? Probably.

Will fans like it when they see it? Yes.

Will those same fans look back on it in 5 or 10 years time and talk about it in the same breath as Episodes IV – VI? For the reasons I’ve already mentioned, probably not.

But I still enjoyed it, and will likely go to see it at the cinema again.

And that – as far as I’m concerned – is a mark of quality.

 


Doctor Who – Hell Bent Review (or ‘Companions Are Probably Not Worth The Hassle, Doctor’)

December 5, 2015

When I reviewed Peter Capaldi’s first season of Doctor Who last year, many of the articles referenced the way fandom reacts to the show.

There will be people who tune in every week with what seems to be a desire to hate it and there will be others who love it regardless of quality.

By and large I’ve avoided that this year, but having just watched Hell Bent, I knew this one would be divisive.

Some people would think it was amazing while others would consider it an affront to their sensibilities.

So I had a look on social media to witness the fallout.

And right enough, opinion is split.

“Amazing! I was in absolute bits by the end” said one person.

“I didn’t think it would be possible for a season finale to be worse than last year” said another.

“Bloody marvellous! Loved every minute” proclaimed one enthusiastic viewer.

“Absolute rubbish, just like the rest of the season” declared another bloke.

But why are viewers divided? And what side of the fence do I land on?

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

The Doctor tries to save Clara’s life, but realises he’s gone too far.

Thoughts – A Far Better End For Clara

Well here’s where I think the major bone of contention lies…

For some people, Clara’s exit two weeks ago should have been the end of it. She should have stayed dead.

Break it down for the classic TARDIS set

Break it down for the classic TARDIS set

For others, this gave her character a more fitting end.

I agree with the latter viewpoint.

When I wrote my review of Face the Raven, my overriding emotion was anger, because the BBC had spoiled what would have been a great plot development in a bid to attract viewers. I stand by that, but having had two weeks to think about it, I also didn’t think her death was particularly fitting.

Yes, it would have been a shock, and no, in reality (as if Doctor Who has to abide by such constraints) death can happen at any point so why should it not see off Clara in a low-key episode?

But it was also devoid of emotion. Without any sort of proper goodbye between the two characters, had that really been it, it would have been a lacklustre way for her to go.

As a means of finishing the story of the Doctor and Clara, this worked far better, and I thought it was played very well.

Indeed, the twist that it was the Doctor who forgot her and not the other way around was a nice change from the normal way companions leave, and even though it was potentially telegraphed by the scenes in the diner cut inserted into the story, I didn’t see that ending coming from the start.

That said, it was absolutely time for Clara to go. As I’ve said before, her character peaked in Last Christmas and she’s really spent this season treading water.

Overall she was a good companion, but one that has run her course.

Should The Doctor Just Not Bother With Companions

If I was to have a problem though, it would be that it ended up that this was yet another companion who the Doctor – in a sense – fell in love with and couldn’t bear to see leave.

I'm not sure I understand the significance of the diner. It's not relevant to these two characters at all.

I’m not sure I understand the significance of the diner. It’s not relevant to these two characters at all.

So we’ve now seen that variation on a theme with Rose, Donna, Amy and now Clara. Not Martha though; he didn’t give a shit about her.

Whoever is next, the relationship has to be written in such a way where whenever that person leaves, it doesn’t have this great emotional wrench upon the man.

Otherwise, you’d have to question whether he would actually want a companion. It seems that compared to the old days, it has become more trouble than it’s worth for him.

The Case Of The Two MacGuffins

Another reason why some people might not be happy with this season finale is that it ultimately made MacGuffins out of both Gallifrey and Ashildr.

Again, I can understand why this could be an issue, but I’m not fussed.

I’ve never liked the Gallifrey stuff, and that goes all the way back to The Deadly Assassin; a story which gave birth to Fanwankery.

There really is no interesting plot to come out of Gallifrey. No matter what happens, the Doctor will end up running away from it again, and that’s what happened tonight.

More than that though, every time Doctor Who revisits it, more arms and legs have been added to it.

Who were those people outside the barn? Why do we care about those guards? Beyond a name check, what’s the point of Rassilon?

Quick!! Let's all waste our lives trying to make up a back story for who this woman is. I'll say it's the Doctor's Aunt's cousin Beryl.

Quick!! Let’s all waste our lives trying to make up a back story for who this woman is. I’ll say it’s the Doctor’s Aunt’s cousin Beryl.

Gallifrey’s peak was in The War Games. It’ll never get better than that.

So yeah, the fact that Gallifrey wasn’t the real point of Hell Bent did not bother me.

Neither did it bother me that ultimately the Ashildr storyline went nowhere.

We were – I think – supposed to conclude that she was the Hybrid but she wasn’t. Really, she was just someone who happened to be immortal.

A problem?

Not for me.

The hybrid being the combination of the Doctor and Clara made more sense, even though it was a bit far fetched that this idea had been retconned throughout Time Lord history.

Like I say, I’m happy the finale was used to provide finality to the relationship between The Doctor and Clara. With that sorted, the show can move on next year.

Random Observations

  • I think Steven Moffat was trying to troll people with the male to female regeneration and the half-human stuff. No doubt people probably did get upset about that, even though both have been said or done before. These people need to give themselves a shake.
  • In truth, the only thing that wound me up about that whole story was The Doctor playing ‘Clara’s Theme’ on his guitar. Within the confines of the show, she doesn’t have a theme so that doesn’t make sense.
  • People will probably be sitting at home making up fan fiction about who that woman in the barn was. Who cares?
  • As someone who often moans about fanwankery and pointless nods to the show’s past, you might think I would have groaned at the sight of the Gallifrey style TARDIS capsules and old school interiors. On the contrary; that’s the sort of thing I love. Bring back the old console room permanently, says I.
  • But I will moan about the pointless inclusion of that Dalek, Cyberman and Weeping Angel.
  • If there’s one thing about Gallifrey that puzzled me, it was the way it was just accepted that it was hiding at the end of the universe. Could the Doctor not have worked that out years ago?
  • And how long has the Sisterhood of Karn been there for?
  • Why wasn’t Ashildr sitting next to Captain Jack, and even though she’s immortal, how exactly did she manager to get there?
  • Oh, and if she had managed to forget everything about her upbringing – including her real name – in the space of a few hundred years, how was she able to remember anything relating to the Doctor or Clara after trillions of them?
  • The way Hell Bent was written, it was as if The Doctor had spent billions of years in that prison from Heaven Sent. But that’s not true, is it? As far as he was concerned, he only lasted there for a few days before he either died and was reanimated, or he escaped. He wouldn’t have had any perception of the true amount of time he spent there.
  • I’m not exactly sure what significance the diner had, or why they used it. Considering it was from a different Doctor and used different companions, they may has well have set that scene on the lighthouse from The Horror of Fang Rock.
  • Bring back the Rutans!!
  • As a plot device, the Doctor’s return to Gallifrey really has come 5 or 6 years too late to be effective.
  • Unlike some people, I really couldn’t care less about a new Sonic Screwdriver.

Doctor Who – Hell Bent Review: Final Thoughts

So while some people are upset and unhappy, you can brand me a happy clapper, because I enjoyed it.

For me, Hell Bent focussed on the right parts of the story and paid less attention to the aspects that didn’t matter.

It gave Clara a fitting farewell – more so than Face The Raven – and it was enjoyable and well acted by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.

Great stuff.

Overall Season Analysis

As a whole, I think this season of the show will be remembered as mostly unremarkable.

I don’t think there were many bad stories (except the Gatiss episode obviously, but that’s because he’s awful) but the reliance upon two-parters made it a slower and less varied one.

The highlights for me have been Under the Lake & Before the Flood and of course Heaven Sent & Hell Bent.

The rest…not so much.

Have You Bought The Books Yet?

If not why not? Have a look here for more info.


Shovel Knight Review (or ‘Hits The Sweet Spot’)

December 3, 2015

If you’re reading this on the day of publishing, you’ve probably just had a look at my review of Tearaway: Unfolded.

For me, it was symptomatic of modern video games; it looked nice, but ultimately offered no challenge and its supposed value was bolstered by pointless and repetitive side quests that made up more than 50% of the overall experience. And really, who has the time or the inclination to bother with that?

On the other side of the coin now we have Shovel Knight (available on almost every platform but I played it on the PS4).

Shovel Knight is a game that I’ve had my eye on for some time but was slightly put off  of because in spite of glowing reviews from the video game press, many gamers seemed to find it too difficult.Shovel_knight_cover

I decided to take the plunge though, and I’m glad I did.

Though it’s not the longest game in the world and is designed in that 8-Bit NES style (which I have to say I love but I’m aware that some developers seem to use it as a crutch to hide bad game design) this is everything that modern games like Tearaway: Unfolded are not; it’s challenging and it’s fun.

To complete Shovel Knight requires skill. You have to be able to make use out of the weapons you buy and there has to be a certain amount of ability to learn when to use moves and how to traverse the many potential platform dangers in the game. And that’s great.

You won’t just complete Shovel Knight by putting it on and sitting there for ten hours going through the motions; you have to work for it.

On the other side of the coin though, this isn’t ridiculously difficult like some games, or at least not for my skill level. In the past similar styled platformers like Ms. Splosion Man 2 have seemed like a frustrating exercise in muscle memory; the sort of game you just want to break your control pad over. You might have to replay a part of the Shovel Knight five, ten or even twenty times before you get past it but when you do, you’ll feel you’ve earned it.

Similarly, bosses aren’t too hard, nor do boss fights last 20 minutes. For me there’s nothing more frustrating than spending ages on a boss fight only to have to die and start again from the beginning. This gets boss fights right. Hard enough but not too bad.

And there aren’t hundreds of pointless side quests either,

Really, this was a single player platform game that ticked all the boxes and hit the sweet spot in terms of difficulty and enjoyability.

Unlike Tearaway: Unfolded, this is a game that absolutely deserves the praise it gets.

The only thing I would mark it down on is that having tried it on the PS Vita (the game is a cross-buy so if you buy it for one Sony console you buy it for them all) and on that, the controls seemed fiddly and frustrating. That’s a problem with the Vita rather than the game though I think.

So if you’re going to buy it then play it on a your PS4 or Wii U rather than on a handheld.

Either way though, make sure you do buy it. It’s fantastic.

 

 


Tearaway: Unfolded Review (or “Charming But Devoid Of Challenge”)

December 3, 2015

Sometimes I think developers forget what makes a video game an actual game.

What’s involved in it? Is there a challenge? Is there a reason to make you want to play on?

And on what basis do reviewers consider a game worthy of praise or criticism?

Let’s take Tearaway: Unfolded as an example.

Every reviewer seems to love it, but the reasons given are that it looks great, it has innovative gameplay and it has a certain charm about it.tearaway

All of that is true, it really is, but is that what a game should be judged on?

While innovation like being able to create a gust of wind in the game by swiping your finger over the touchpad certainly makes optimum use out of the PS4 controller, that in itself does not make me want to play a game.

And if looks were what counted then Dragon’s Lair would still be one of the best games of all time 30 years later.

The problem with Tearaway: Unfolded is that it just seems like a very safe saunter through a world of paper played over a massive safety net.

There’s no difficulty to speak of and any time you do die you revert to a checkpoint from two seconds beforehand.

So really – and this is certainly not something unique to this game – rather than being challenging, it’s just an experience that you go through for as long as it takes to get to the end. And you will get to the end as long as you put the hours in. I did.

But then when I did get to the end, it said that I only completed 45%.

The reason for that is that the perceived value of this game includes these daft and unnecessary little side quests that very few people will be truly interested in.

Pfft.

Just like the lack of difficulty, that’s not a problem exclusive to this game, but is rather symptomatic of what modern video games are often like.

Well, anyway, apart from that there are some functional issues that it should be marked down for. On three seperate occasions, I found that I had to restart a section of the game due to glitches preventing me from going any further. Though we live in an era where games developers can continually update any problems, it still felt annoying.

I don’t just want to moan though; it did have its charms and despite my issues, I did get to the end.

But as a full price (or at least it was full price when I bought it; I’ve just checked and it’s not £12.99 two months later. For fuck’s sake!!!) game this doesn’t really cut the mustard.

One to avoid.