Doctor Who – The Return of Doctor Mysterio Review (or ‘Leave It Grant, She’s Not Worth It!’)

January 5, 2017

There’s no doubt that some fans of Doctor Who tuned in to The Return of Doctor Mysterio in the hope that it would be some kind of po-faced Resurrection of the Daleks style massacre story. But as I’ve said before, that’s never going to happen on Christmas Day…Eastenders has that covered after all.

That doesn’t stop them hoping though.

For me, I think it’s fair to expect something sentimental considering the day of broadcast. People like that. I like that.

But it doesn’t mean it can’t have substance, and that’s the main thing. To me, that’s what separates a story like ‘The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe’ from ‘A Christmas Carol’.

So with that in mind, it’s now January 2nd and I’ve had a chance to watch this episode twice.

And here are my thoughts.

Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio Review – What’s This One About?

It’s a love story with a toothless alien invasion thrown in to make it ‘Doctor Who-ish’.

Thoughts – The Tale of the Unnecessary Alien Invasion

Now as you know, I’ve reviewed every Doctor Who adventure and that amounts to hundreds of them. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’ll know that I’ve made the point time and time again that

Aliens with heads that split opened. We haven't seen them since the last episode...

Aliens with heads that split opened. We haven’t seen them since the last episode…

Doctor Who doesn’t need to have aliens in every story. Aliens are not what Doctor Who is about; The Doctor travelling in the TARDIS is what it’s about.

And yet it’s clear that someone, somewhere believes that no matter what, there does has to be an alien influence to it.

What that means is you get a story like this, where the writer wants to present a send up of a Superman/Lois Lane style romance between two people who already live together. But he can’t just do that because there has to be a token alien invasion written in somewhere, even if it’s just to tick a box.

These ones were drab and unimaginative, even going as far as to lazily have the same pull-apart-skull gimmick as the aliens in the last story broadcast.

I thought the episode could have worked just as well without them, especially considering the set-up for the superhero was done perfectly well in the pre-credits section.

Leave It Grant, She’s Not Worth It

And it’s the romance where this episode shines.

I liked the idea of the nanny who is a superhero living with the woman he has a crush on. It’s mostly done well, and provided us with the sentiment and the substance. How Grant actually became a superhero was nicely explained too, and made perfect sense within the realms of the show.

But you’ll notice I said it was only ‘mostly’ well done, and that’s because there’s one major flaw in their relationship.

Lucy’s a bitch.

Based on the flashback, I think she’s always known that Grant has a thing for her, and yet when she met him and his best mate, she got off with the mate. Then once he’d left – and after Grant bizarrely decided to stick with her rather than him – she hires him to work in the home and then seems to insist upon him calling her Mrs Lombard.

Let’s bear in mind this is a woman in her early 30s demanding someone of the same age who she went to school with address her in the most formal manner possible. And she also talks down to him in a way that – were it a man talking to a woman – would be flagged up as misogynistic and condescending (“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it”).

She’s an arsehole, just like John Wayne.

But if he loves her knowing that then it’s his bed and he can lie in it…

Has Anyone Ever Properly Thought Out X-Ray Specs?

Ok, so I’m straying slightly off point here, but it’s referenced a few times in the episode and I want to bring this up.

Grant, she's just lied to your face about wearing that red dress; if the way she treats you day to day isn't a warning sign, this must be!

Grant, she’s just lied to your face about wearing that red dress; if the way she treats you day to day isn’t a warning sign, this must be!

Has nobody ever considered that X-Ray specs simply wouldn’t work in the way we’re supposed to think they would?

In fiction, we’re led to believe that these specs allow you to see people naked, rather as walking skeletons.

That’s fine, but surely if the specs only made clothing invisible, what you’d be left with would be people with weirdly packed-together organs held in place by invisible bras, underwear and other tight apparel. And how is that meant to be exciting?

Maybe I’m overthinking this, but someone has to!!

The Doctor and Nardol

Bearing in mind that this is actually a Doctor Who story, it’s important to take a moment to talk about the main cast, and as always Peter Capaldi is excellent. That there’s a rumour that he may be replaced in 2018 is a disgrace, because he’s clearly the best actor they’ve had in the part.

As for Matt Lucas, I thought he was good, and that doesn’t surprise me. Why? Because I wrongly assumed that as a comedienne, Catherine Tate would be rubbish and yet she’s the best companion the show has had since 1965. Nardol plays to Lucas’s strengths and he manages to work nicely in the background without stealing the spotlight away from anyone else.

Random Observations

  • The cockpit of the alien ship looked a lot like the one from the prison ship in the second episode of Blake’s Seven. And if you didn’t think I was a bit geeky before, I’m sure you do now.
  • It seemed a little bit odd that the Doctor and Lucy just watched Mr Brock being killed in that room and couldn’t be bothered intervening.
  • Also, the scene where Brock is told all about the brains and their plans seemed like bad exposition. Why not just kill him the moment he enters the room?
  • I’m hoping that brief mention at the end of the episode is now finally, finally an end to River Song.
  • Setting the episode in New York made it feel a little bit unusual, but in a good way.
  • The squeezy doll was sinister.
  • Was I the only one to groan when the Daleks appeared in the Coming Soon trailer?
  • And more to the point, was I the only one to laugh at the caption “See The Universe Anew” when there’s obviously yet another fucking Dalek story coming on in the near future?!?

Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio Review

If we discount the alien invasion as irrelevant and the obvious character flaws that Lucy has, The Return of Doctor Mysterio ends up being a fun and humorous watch. I enjoyed it on Christmas Day and again when I watched it today.

It also moves at a brisk enough pace and never seems to drag.

No, it’s not going to go down in history as one of the all time greats, and isn’t even a contender for the best Christmas Day episode, but I liked it.

And I look forward to more new episodes soon, even if they do include the Daleks.

 


Movies: Rogue One Review (or ‘A Proper Prequel To A New Hope’)

December 16, 2016

From the off I feel I should warn you; this Rogue One review contains spoilers. It has to. So if you haven’t seen it yet, close down this page and come back again when you have.

Ok?

Has everyone who needs to go gone?

Good, I’ll begin.

I knew very little of Rogue One going into it. While I knew it was about members of the Rebel Alliance stealing the plans for the Death Star, for some reason I had it in my head that it would take place a few years star-wars-rogue-one-posterbefore the events of A New Hope.

But I was wrong.

And that’s the masterstroke of Rogue One.

It takes place right before it, finally culminating in a scene that actually leads in to the opening scene of the first Star Wars movie.

And in doing so, it has repercussions.

The first is that every heroic character created for this movie dies. They had to, otherwise you could ask why they weren’t in any of the original movies, and I thought it made for a refreshing change to what we’ve come to expect from Hollywood.

We now live in a world where the sequel is king. Nothing of any real consequences happens to the heroes in movies now because they are obviously being protected for a raft of inevitable follow-ups. But here, every character was expendable. They were one-and-done creations that had no use beyond this movie.

So they are all killed off and as a result, Rogue One became more believable and dramatic.

I should point out as well that I was pretty saddened by that despite loving that they ended up dead, because there were some great characters in there, from the Sheldon Cooper-esque K-2SO droid to the fantastic Oriental double act. These were some of the best and most well-rounded characters we’ve seen in the Star Wars universe, but like I say, they had to die.

Anyway, the other main repercussion that stemmed from setting Rogue One right before A New Hope is that certain characters needed to be a part of it.

Obviously Darth Vader was easy enough to bring back, even though he sounded very old thanks to James Earl Jones’s declining voice, but you’d assume that Grand Moff Tarkin might be a little tougher to replace seeing as Peter Cushing is long since dead.

And yet you’d be wrong. I was genuinely shocked to see that for all intents and purposes, Peter Cushing is in this movie. Technical wizardry – a use of CGI that is actually head turning in these days of over-reliance on computer imagery – means that they were able to have another actor play the part and then super-impose Cushing’s head onto him.

It was a bit freaky, but it added so much authenticity to the movie.

You can keep your constant ‘New York gets destroyed’ use of CGI, Hollywood, this is the proper way to use it!

Speaking of CGI, while I’m sure that it was employed all the way through Rogue One, what I liked about this movie was that it seemed like it didn’t rely too heavily on it. Maybe I’m wrong, but a lot of the sets, scenery and worlds it visited looked like they were brought to life with old-fashioned costume and set design. To me that makes a difference; it makes the Star Wars universe seem more complete than the cold and clinical CGI wankfests you see in the likes of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them and the Marvel movies.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Rogue One had an interesting and engrossing plot and a sharp and at times funny script. That’s the most important thing isn’t it?

Even though it lasts for 2hrs14m, it didn’t feel like it dragged at any point.

If I had any complaint, it would be that the inevitable battle scene towards the end went on for a bit, but as I say above, the fact that it had repercussions softened that blow a little bit for me.

So, to sum up, maybe I’m biased because I love Star Wars, and maybe it’s that I’m still on an initial high from seeing it at the cinema, but for me, Rogue One is the best movie of the year.

I won’t bother saying that you should see it, because if you’ve read this far then you must have already.

So do you agree or have I been too generous?


Doctor Who – The Power of the Daleks Animation Review

November 10, 2016

It was over five years ago that I sat down to review The Power of the Daleks.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge in that time, with thirteen missing episodes finding their way back to the BBC and the never-ending saga of the Omnirumour rumbling on.

Now, in 2016, Patrick Troughton’s first story has made its way back to our screens in animated form.

You’d think this would be universally hailed as good news throughout the world of Doctor Who fandom, but then you’d be surprised.

I’ve read people say that they are ‘too old for cartoons’, others declare that ‘Doctor Who should never be animated because it was never intended to be’ and that they’d rather watch the telesnaps and most deluded

Though the BBC Store App wouldn't allow me to take the exact screen shot I wanted, this shows how animation can improve upon the limitations of the original

Though the BBC Store App wouldn’t allow me to take the exact screen shot I wanted, this shows how animation can improve upon the limitations of the original

of all, some suggest that they’d ‘rather wait for the episodes to be found’.

Jesus Christ…

I guess positivity – rather than the blind optimism/delusion shown by those who believe that the BBC would spend money on animating Power when they know or suspect that the original episodes are sitting somewhere ready to be discovered any day now – is a state of mind that some people refuse to embrace.

Animation is the best way to bring these episodes back to life. If they are rediscovered then great, but at this stage, the sensible planner will operate on the assumption that they are lost forever. I can’t get my head around people who would rather watch grainy telesnaps with the audio from the episode over animation that turns it into a proper viewing experience. Sure, people are entitled to their own opinions, but not watching them because you’ve decided you’re too old for a cartoon is just nuts. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

And telesnap reconstructions are simply not commercially viable. Animations on the other hand have legs and with any luck, Power of the Daleks will sell well enough to justify more.

But does the quality of the animation justify the purchase from the BBC Store?

For me, it’s a yes.

While it’s not exactly a perfect recreation of the story – the animation of human movement isn’t the easiest thing to get right when you don’t have a Pixar-esque budget – it’s most certainly good enough to lose yourself in.

And though certain characters don’t look great – Ben doesn’t look much like Michael Craze here – others like Bragan, Hensell and of course the Doctor are pretty much bang on.

Meanwhile, in spite of the limitations, the animators do manage to achieve expressiveness in the faces of the characters, which helps the tone of the scenes.

As you would expect, the animation of the Daleks is the strongest part of it, as they glide effortlessly around the screen. The animators even manage to work in the issues with the real life props,

The Daleks are definitely the strongest part of the animation process

The Daleks are definitely the strongest part of the animation process

which I think is a very nice touch. For example, when the Daleks come out of the capsule, they thump up onto the ramp and then roll down it with all the control you’d expect from a prop on wheels. That wouldn’t happen in a story made today, and you might think that the animators would look to hide that limitation in this presentation, but they don’t. Good for them.

There’s no doubt that the animation will fail to capture little gestures and directorial set pieces that were in the original – lest we forget how the rediscovery of Enemy of the World brought back to life that wonderful forgotten moment where Salamander is smoking a cigar like a boss – but then it also improves on the limits of the era in which it was made. In particular, the scenes in the Dalek production line won’t have looked anywhere near as good on TV in 1966 as they did here, while one of the very few scenes that does exist – the cliffhanger to Episode Five – doesn’t have to have a fake backdrop with photos of Daleks on them.

So I would say it’s worth buying for the quality of animation, but the main thing – and what should be the foremost consideration for anyone thinking of buying this – is that Power of the Daleks is a really good story; in fact I rated it as 22nd best Doctor Who story of all time in Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book Two.

If you haven’t seen it then you need to.

And until such times as it might be returned – and like I say, we have to assume that it won’t be – then this is the only way to go.

So get buying, then maybe this time next year we’ll have an animated Dalek’s Master Plan to go with it.

You can read my original review of Power of the Daleks – part of my Doctor Who review project spanning every story ever broadcast – here.

 


Movies: Midnight Special Review (or ‘A Big Pile of Wank’)

April 13, 2016

It’s unusual for me to let a day go by after watching a movie before I review it.

And yet it’s been four days since I went to Midnight Special and only now am I sitting down to express my opinion on it.midnight special

Why?

If it was really good or spectacularly bad I’d want to say my piece as soon as possible.

But Midnight Special is neither. It’s just incredibly drab.

Set in a dreary part of the United States, it’s an unoriginal and unexciting story played out by bored looking actors, such as an alarmingly old-looking Kirsten Dunst and the guy from Star Wars who looks like a cat.

There are no heroes or villains to speak of and very little seems to happen.

In a nutshell, a little boy who wears a pair of swimming goggles, has the face of a man in his 50s and possesses the power to intercept and understand classified government information is reported missing by a cult. As it turns out he’s on the run from them with his own father. Then for some reason the boy decides that he’s a super-being from a higher ethereal plane of existence and announces he must travel to a certain place to transfer over to it before the cult or the government catch him.

And he does.

And everybody goes home.

Wow…riveting stuff.

A reviewer looking to put the best case forward for Midnight Special would tell you that it’s unusual and understated; the sort of film that sophisticated people enjoy, because sophisticated people enjoy films that make you feel melancholy.

I have no vested interest in putting across a case like that.

For me, it’s a big pile of wank. It’s not so bad that I was moved to write about it immediately, but so boring that I just couldn’t be arsed.

And maybe that’s even more damning.

Avoid.


Movies – 10 Cloverfield Lane Review (or ‘A Palate Cleansing Thrill’)

March 19, 2016

To discuss 10 Cloverfield Lane in too much detail would be to ruin the experience for those who haven’t seen it yet.

So I’m not going to go into specifics.cloverfield

Before I went, all I knew about it was that it involved Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman (along with The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr.) trapped in some sort of bunker and that as part of the Cloverfield brand – and incidentally if you haven’t seen the original Cloverfield, do so immediately – it’ll have some kind of monster element. But as the poster says, monsters come in many forms.

That’s all you should know about it before you go too.

And make no mistake, you should absolutely go to see 10 Cloverfield Lane because it’s brilliant.

With such a confined setting and including so few characters, this would have to be well directed, well played and well paced for it to work, and it is. In fact, it’s played over three acts and just at the point where you could possibly accuse things of slowing down, something game-changing happens to perk you back up again.

Everything that happens matters, there’s a genuine air of mystery about it and at times it’s downright thrilling. What also helps is the use of incidental music, the likes of which hasn’t really been used since The Shining (or for the Dr Who fans reading, The Web of Fear). It ramps up the tension and – as all good incidental music should – adds to the atmosphere.

And while I have no intention of spoiling the ending for you, I’ll simply say that I was most satisfied.

Having been so disappointed by Hail, Caesar! a couple of days ago, I’m delighted to have gone to see such a good movie so soon afterwards. It has certainly cleansed my cinema-going palate.

Put simply, this is a great movie and you’ll enjoy it, so get along to the cinema as soon as you can.


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.

 


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.