Out of the Unknown – Sucker Bait Review (or “Science Fails Science Fiction”)

May 25, 2015

‘Science Fiction’ is a very broad term when you think about it. If you do a google search for ‘Science Fiction Movies’ it’ll give you everything from Star Wars to Jurassic Park to A Clockwork Orange, all of which are as far apart from each other as you can get.

Really, if you stop and pause to think about it for a moment, why not ask yourself exactly what ‘Science’ has to do with most forms of ‘Science Fiction’. The answer is practically nothing. It’s mainly fantasy.

And that’s ok, even if it is mislabeled.

So when writers come along and attempt to make science fiction actually about science, it can be a bit dull. Look at the season of Doctor Who when Christopher H. Bidmead was in charge; we had to sit through scientifically accurate and yet incredibly dull stories about mathematical computations and such like. *yawn*.

I bring this up because the latest episode of Out of the Unknown that I’m reviewing comes from the mind of one of the foremost Science Fiction authors – in the purest sense – of the 20th Century, Isaac Asimov.

Before watching this episode – Sucker Bait – I was half excited to see an episode from such an esteemed author, but also half filled with a sense of trepidation that it might be boring as sin.

Which half was right?

Out of the Unknown – Sucker Bait Review: What’s This One About?

A scientific expedition – including an annoying, socially awkward but brilliant teenager with a mind like a computer, who is disliked by everyone on board – travel to a former Earth colony planet to investigate why that colony died out.

Thoughts – Science Can Be Interesting, But Not Exciting

As it turns out, I was right to be cautious.

In theory, Sucker Bait is an interesting idea for an episode and is firmly based in what could be described as ‘believable science’, but in execution, it’s neither interesting nor exciting.

Sound the Burt Kwouk Klaxon, cos there he is!

Sound the Burt Kwouk Klaxon, cos there he is!

Take the resolution to why the previous colony died out; that there was a high level of beryllium in the soil that had slowly poisoned them. That’s a realistic resolution to the mystery, but it’s hardly one that’s going to knock you off your chair with its shock value is it? It’s mundane; it’s real life. And really, where’s the entertainment value in that?

So while Asimov has written a story that is filled to the brim with the sort of scientific principles that may well be of interest to people who like ‘science’ in general, I would say to most it’ll just seem quite flat.

A Story Without Pacing

If you read my review of ‘Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…?’ you’ll have read me praising it for its expert pacing. Everything builds up from the ground floor and comes to a climax at the end.

Sucker Bait doesn’t manage to do that.

What we’re supposed to see as the main thrust of the story is that the annoying teenager, Mark Annuncio is disliked by everyone on board because he’s different. As a mnemonic – a sort of human computer – he’s unintentionally arrogant and irritating, and this results in him being disliked by the rest of the crew.

But as far as the story goes, that doesn’t really matter in the end, and it just serves to kill time between the key scene at the 16 minute mark – where his ‘handler’ explains to the ship’s captain that as a mnemonic he can remember everything – and the conclusion where he remembers reading in an old book about the side effects of inhaling beryllium. The idea there is that because society has forgotten about beryllium since it’s

Wait...Peter Diamond was bald?! And why is he dressed like a dentist? Mind you, the guy behind him doesn't seem to mind, as he checks him out.

Wait…Peter Diamond was bald?! And why is he dressed like a dentist? Mind you, the guy behind him doesn’t seem to mind, as he checks him out.

never used anymore, they’ve overlooked it as a reason for concern, and only Mark’s total recall of an ancient text he once read saved the day.

Everything that happened between those two points was redundant; it was a smokescreen before the ‘shock twist’ at the end.

But it wasn’t interesting and so it just made the entire episode feel like an overly long and frustrating waste of time.

To quote my brother after he finished watching it, “That went on for too long and was really boring”.

The Old British Actors Checklist

Not too many in this one. The three that stick out are professional tumbler Peter Diamond (The Romans, The Space Museum), Burt ‘Bet In Play, Now’ Kwouk (Four to Doomsday), and noted chum of Jon Pertwee, Tenniel Evans (Carnival of Monsters)

Random Observations

  • Though Sucker Bait is the brainchild of Isaac Asimov, it was turned into a screenplay by Meade Roberts. I guess it’s him (or her?) who should shoulder the blame for what can only be described as an inexcusable amount of exposition dialogue, especially in the early parts of the episode. There are lots of examples, but a classic one would be the conversation early on between the scientists about how they are travelling to Troas where 1000 people died on it once in mysterious circumstances. Dialogue like that exists purely for the benefit of the viewer; the scientists having the conversation would know all about it and wouldn’t feel the need to discuss it. If you’ve read my Doctor Who reviews, this falls under the category of “Happy Wedding Day, Sis”.
  • The writing isn’t the best in general though. Take the hostility the scientists have towards Annuncio. Though it’s explained in expository terms why he’s disliked, if you’d missed that one line you’d be forgiven for thinking the crew were just asking like dicks to him, and his attitude was a justifiable defence mechanism.
  • The Plot Summary listed for this on imdb isn’t accurate in the least. It talks about the crew dying, but that doesn’t happen.
  • It won’t come as a surprise for those who’ve seen this that lead actor CliveEndersby (Annuncio) had a very short career in acting. He wasn’t very good.

    Meanwhile, the guy in the background is also checking out the hideously dressed Annuncio.

    Meanwhile, the guy in the background is also checking out the hideously dressed Annuncio.

  • The biggest shock I got from watching this is that Peter Diamond is actually bald. I mean…ok, he was clearly wearing a wig in the Space Museum, but I wouldn’t have noticed he was wearing one in The Romans.
  • But why Diamond and the rest of the ship’s non scientific crew were even part of this story is something I don’t understand. They contributed absolutely nothing beyond an unnecessary fight scene.
  • Maybe my passion for 60s Doctor Who is clouding my judgement here, but I honestly think that stories made around the same time look a lot better than this, in terms of set design and costumes.
  • Why do some science fiction writers think that viewers will find boy geniuses likeable? They aren’t. Do you think it’s because they resembled them in their own childhood?

Out of the Unknown – Sucker Bait Review: Final Thoughts

Though there are also many problems relating to characterisation and dialogue, the main issue with Sucker Bait is that it’s from the mind of someone who wants to make science the marquee item in ‘Science Fiction’.

You can’t really hold that against Isaac Asimov as that’s arguably what science fiction should be.

But as is often the case when that happens, it just turns out to be boring.

One to avoid.

.

Remember to buy my books, focusing on my reviews of Doctor Who from the 1960s through to present day. You can read more about them here

Also, on a completely different note, if you’ve got any friends who post the crappest Facebook status updates in the world every day, you might get a kick out of my piss-take Facebook blog, ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 


TV – Spooks Seasons 1-10 Review (or ‘A Show Weighed Down By An Over-Reliance On Shock Cast Changes’)

May 8, 2015

Life is full of little coincidences.

As an example, I started watching the BBC spy drama Spooks in late February when I signed up to Amazon Prime, and as fate would have it, I finished off the last episode of the final season yesterday, one day before the Spooks movie, Spooks: The Greater Good – which I only found out existed last week – was released in cinemas.

This has put me in a possibly unique position of seeing the movie at the tail end of one continuous run of episodes without a break.

And I’ll get to what I thought about that movie in my next article, but for now I thought I’d share my thoughts on the TV show, and whether you should watch it, or indeed whether my opinions reflect those of you who have already seen it.

TV – Spooks Review: What’s It About?

Running from May 2002 to October 2011, Spooks is a show about the MI:5 branch of the UK’s Secret Service. In each episode the cast must thwart potential attacks on British soil from enemies at home and abroad.

My Thoughts – The Highs and The Lows

Over its 86 episodes, Spooks was a show of peaks and troughs, both in terms of episode quality and characterisation.

Now you might think that’s an obvious thing to say, especially considering Spooks really had only two main plots – stop a terror event in Central London or prevent a political figure from being assassinated – but spooksthere were definitely some seasons that were better than others.

The high points for me were Seasons 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7. They offered either the most diversity, the best guest cast (without question the most well-known guest actors appeared in the show’s early days) and the best season long story arcs.

The worst were Season 3 – a season so bogged down by the geopolitical landscape of the time that I almost gave up on it, with pretty much every episode being about Muslim Extremism  – and the last two.

Why the last two? Well it’s not that the storylines were bad – although in Season 10’s case it certainly wasn’t great – but rather that the show had become tired and had worn itself out trying to replicate the shock value that made it famous in the first place.

Explosive Cast Changes – A Case Of Diminishing Marginal Returns

I’m sure that even if they didn’t watch it at the time – like me – most Brits who were adults back in 2002 were aware of the events of the second episode; the events that put Spooks on the map.

In that episode, Lisa Faulkner’s character Helen – who the public no doubt thought was going to become a focal point of the show due to the actress’s celebrity – was killed off in the most brutal fashion imaginable. In an undercover operation gone wrong, she had her face plunged into boiling chip fat and was quickly put out of her misery with a bullet to the head. People at the time were shocked by it, and they still talk about it to this day.

That death had the maximum shock value.

But from the third season onwards, the deaths and sudden cast departures kept coming at pace. Sometimes they’d even bring in a character’s obvious replacement before they actually killed them off. It became a bit tiresome.

By the time Season 9 made way for Season 10, it almost turned into parody, with characters being killed off for the sake of it.

The emotional impact of character deaths and departure became less and less to the point where it wasn’t just lost, but replaced with annoyance and even contempt for the laziness of it all.

By Season 10 there were only two characters left that you could care about, and they killed one of them off too, just for good measure.

Because of that lack of emotional investment by the end, I didn’t feel particularly sad to have finished it.

And that’s frustrating.

Final Thoughts

Spooks is a good show that’s held back by the repetitiveness of certain plots and the over-reliance on shock cast changes.

From the point of view of a binge viewer – which anyone who hasn’t seen it will ultimately become if they do give it a go – it did have the ‘I have to watch one more episode before I go to bed’ feel about it, but only sometimes.

And not enough times for me to feel sad to have finished watching.

So overall, I’d recommend you try it, but bear in mind that it has flaws that prevent it from being a truly great TV show.

You can read my review of the movie – Spooks: The Greater Good – here

Remember to buy my books folks; they are available on Amazon. Read about them here

 


TV: Daredevil Review (‘A Slow Burning Triumph’) – Spoiler Free

April 16, 2015

I tend to start my reviews of Superhero movies with “I like Superhero movies”, but in spite of that, I’ve never been especially fond of Superhero TV shows.

The likes of Arrow, The Flash and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. left me so underwhelmed that I never bothered to watch anything more than one or two episodes. They seem dodgily acted, not especially well written and often weighed down by existing lore that we should apparently know but might be unaware of.

So there was always a risk that Daredevil might not grab me, especially considering the bad reputation the movie had.

Thankfully that didn’t turn out to be the case

Daredevil Review – Spoiler Free Thoughts

As it turns out, I really enjoyed Daredevil.

The problems I outline above don’t apply to it much at all.

Yes, it helps to know that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, New York was badly damaged by the events of the first Avengers movie, and that the nature of the rebuilding works and organised crime in Hell’s Daredevil-Netflix-LogoKitchen are spawned from that, but that’s all.

Even if you hadn’t seen that film, it spells it out for you anyway.

Beyond that, Daredevil exists in its own world, and it rooted in a more realistic setting than some of Marvel’s other offerings. None of the characters possess cosmic powers or are mutations. Daredevil is just a blind guy who has built his other senses up to make his lack of sight a non-issue. Meanwhile, the Kingpin is just a powerful underworld crime figure who isn’t intent on destroying the universe and doesn’t wear any daft costumes.

So that’s all great.

Moreover, because it’s written like that, then the entire nature of the show becomes more adult than you usually get from Marvel.

As part of that, the fight scenes come across as grittier and more realistic. Instead of the explosive, cartoon-like ‘violence’ of the movies, the director seems to have made a conscious choice to approach Daredevil more like The Raid. For those who like that sort of thing, the fight scenes and the action sequences in general are well produced and meticulously executed.

But for me, the more – indeed the most – enjoyable aspect of Daredevil is the characterisation.

You come to expect drama like this to have characters with very clearly defined positions. One is all good, the other is deep-rooted in evil. Look at the Captain America movies as an example of what I mean. He is the good old All-American boy fighting off against the evil German with the red skull for a head. You know who is right and who is wrong.

Daredevil is different. The team behind it have made a conscious decision to make the character of Wilson Fisk – The Kingpin – someone who you could have sympathy for. His means might be questionable, but his motives appear to have some good in them, and his background is one you might feel empathy towards. On the other hand, the part Daredevil plays in proceedings is often questioned, not only by his friends but by the man himself.

By setting the story up to be less black & white than the norm, it made it a lot more interesting for me.

And I should also note that part of the credit for that must also go to the actors involved, and especially Vincent D’Onofrio as Fisk. He makes every scene he’s in a delight.

Finally, I would say that by releasing all episodes on NetFlix in one go helps the viewer enjoy the show more. Or at least it helped me.

Without question, Daredevil is a slow burner which builds a story over almost 13 hours of television. But that allows it to come to a satisfying and enjoyable conclusion. If it was on for only one episode per week, you might think it moved too slowly, with some episodes not advancing the overall story-arc much, but by having episodes available in bulk, you can watch it over the course of a week and get a greater appreciation for what each one is trying to achieve.

I wouldn’t suggest trying to watch it all in one day, but I absolutely would suggest watching it.

Because it’s well worth your time.

It’s a slow burning triumph.

 

Remember to buy my books folks; they are available on Amazon. Read about them here


TV: The Bridge Review

February 27, 2015

There are people out there who won’t give subtitled television a chance.

The idea is that you’d be ‘reading’ rather than ‘watching’ the TV.

And while I can understand that, I’d suggest that you’re missing out on some cracking shows if that is how you think.bridge

Take The Bridge for example.

A joint Danish and Swedish effort, this is a crime drama that has so far run for two seasons since 2011.

And it’s brilliant.

Season One deals with a cross-border serial killer whose style is to bring some of society’s inequalities to the surface (i.e. he kills homeless people to emphasise how society doesn’t care about them etc).

Season Two concerns eco-terrorism.

Both run for an engaging 10 episodes each and have plots that neither outstay their welcome nor leave anything out. Everything and everyone in the show is in it for a reason, and all story-arcs are fully explored.

What I would say is best out it though is the way the two lead characters – the socially unaware Aspergers-suffering Swedish detective, Saga Noren and the friendly and emotional Danish cop, Martin Rohde – are written and performed.

Both characters work so well together, and Noren especially (played superbly by Sofia Helin) is just a revelation. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone like her in TV before, at least not in a lead role. It’s her bluntness and inability to understand how some of the things she says and does aren’t ‘socially acceptable’ (such as openly discussing her sex life or misreading sarcasm) that make her such a joy to watch.

And that’s the key here. You soon forget that you are reading subtitles and just become engrossed in each episode.

Without question, this is a show you’ll want to watch, and you can find it on NetFlix if it does interest you.

I can’t wait until Season 3!

 

 

Did You Know I Have A Book Out?

I’ve just released my second book – Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book Two – The Modern Era.

You can find out more about that here.


Stuart Reviews Doctor Who – Book Two: The Modern Era Now Available

February 26, 2015

Hi guys,SG_Cvr_04

Just an update to let you know that at long last, Stuart Reviews Doctor Who – Book Two: The Modern Era is now available on Amazon. Prices vary in different markets depending upon exchange rates, but it hovers around the $9.50/£6.50 region.

You can buy it to use on any smartphone, tablet or ebook reader.

For anyone who doesn’t want to buy from Amazon, perhaps because of geographical restrictions, you can buy a PDF to use on any device directly from me and pay through Paypal. Just get in touch either through the blog or through the Stuart Reviews Stuff Facebook site for more info on that.

The book deals with reviews from Rose through to Last Christmas and also contains the Stuart Reviews Doctor Who ‘Colossal 258′, ranking all the Doctor Who stories from worst to best.SG_Cvr_03

Spoiler Alert: As a random example, The Long Game is ranked #194.

If you’ve followed the blog over the years, I’m sure you’ll be interested to see how my own personal rankings differ from the flavour of the month style rankings by fandom in the Doctor Who Magazine.

At the same time as launching the second book, I’ve also gone back to Book One and sorted out some of the niggling formatting issues and any errors/spelling mistakes that people have pointed out to me. If you’ve already bought the book, you’ll be able to get an updated version through Amazon.

So I hope you buy it, and if you enjoy it, please leave a review on Amazon.

The links to the books are…

Book One
Book Two

and for the US Store…

Book One
Book Two

Cheers,

Stuart Milne

 

 


The Stuart Reviews Stuff TV, Movies & Games Awards 2014

January 4, 2015

The beauty of modern-day media is that when you want to look back at the past year’s movies, games and TV shows, you can very easily find out what you watched/played and when that was.

Gaming platforms and Netflix will keep a record of what you’ve enjoyed (or maybe hated), while other TV shows you might…erm…somehow acquired on your PC will still be there with a time stamp for when they first appeared on your hard drive.

So with that in mind, here’s the Stuart Reviews Stuff 2014 TV, Movies & Games Awards.

Movies

A quick look back at my reviews shows that I’ve seen the following movies released in 2014…

12 Years a Slave, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Imitation Game, The Inbetweeners 2, Interstellar, Into the Storm, Last Vegas, Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom, Non Stop, The Raid 2, The Two Faces of January, Under the Skin, What We Did On Our Holiday, The Wolf of Wall Street and X Men: Days of Future Past.

You can read the reviews of each of these movies elsewhere on this blog.

Now, apart from the annoying fact that the amount of movies I’ve seen means that I’ve once again lost money on my Cineworld Unlimited Card, I would say that 2014 hasn’t actually been the best of years for Hollywood.

Sure, a lot of the movies you see listed above are enjoyable enough, but very few would warrant a second viewing. I was asked at my social circle’s annual Christmas meal what my favourite one out of that lot is, and to be honest, it was a bit of a struggle.

And the two that are in contention aren’t exactly the sort of effort that would go down as an all time classic.

As good as this movie was, it shows that 2014 wasn't the best year for the medium

As good as this movie was, it shows that 2014 wasn’t the best year for the medium

The worst one comes easier though; that’s for sure.

So….

Best Movie of 2014:  What We Did On Our Holiday

Largely flying under the radar, What We Did On Our Holiday wins because it was funny, charming and well worthy of my recommendation.

Worst Movie of 2014: 12 Years A Slave

There’s no doubt there will be worse movies released in 2014, but I chose not to see them.

12 Years A Slave is boring, goes on too long, is far too worthy and one of these movies that only gets praised by people who feel they have to because of the subject matter. At the time, people called it “White Guilt: The Movie” and they were probably on to something.

Interestingly, by the end of the year, I noticed people were looking back on it and saying “Well yeah…it was a bit pish”. 

But I said it at the time.

Pleasant Surprise of the Year: Under the Skin

Based on it being a suggestion from my brother – and he has crap taste in films, believe me – I thought Under the Skin would be a load of crap. Indeed, everything about it screamed that it was the sort of thing I wouldn’t enjoy.

But I did. I actually found it a fascinatingly different movie experience.

It’s well worth your time.

Television

Unlike with movies, I’d say 2014 has been a good year for television.

We’ve had a most welcome increase in the quality of Doctor Who compared recent years (and seeing as I write enough about Doctor Who, that’s the last time I’ll mention it in this article), the World Cup actually lived up to the hype for once and the good shows mostly retained a level of consistency.

There were bad points as well though, and I’ll get to them too.

Most Unrealistic Moment In Television Award: Jack Bauer Beats The Traffic

As decent as 24: Live Another Day was, I can’t have been the only person who sat there thinking “There’s no way he’d be able to get from X to Y in that amount of time without running into traffic”? 

Ridiculous.

The Lost The Plot Award: Under the Dome

Let’s be honest, Season One of Under the Dome didn’t have much of a plot to it to begin with, but it was crap in a ludicrously charming way. Season Two though was just crap. All of a sudden new characters appeared despite the show being set in a town that’s trapped under a dome. And those characters were so one-dimensional and poorly acted that it just made me lose interest. I never bothered finishing it.

The ‘They Finished It Like THAT?!’ Award: How I Met Your Mother’s Finale

A kick in the balls to everyone who stuck with that stinking final season, the ending of How I Met Your Mother made me angrier than I thought a TV show could. Quite an achievement.

The Out of Touch Award: The Newsroom

I like The Newsroom and for the most part enjoyed its final season (other than the stuff with that self-righteous twat Neal Sampat), but what struck me about it was the smug, out of touch mentality in Aaron

Neal Sampat: Smug Prick

Neal Sampat: Smug Prick

Sorkin’s writing concerning the way news reporting is changing. Apparently, on-the-ground news reporting on social media is not as worthy as these old hacks delivering their days-later approach to TV and print media news journalism. That’s just not true. Both have their place, but if you disregard the power of Twitter and its influence on how news is reported, then you’re living in the past.

The “This Gets Praise Because It’s Worthy” Award: Rectify

I’d give it to True Detective, but I couldn’t even make it through a whole episode. Rectify is one of these shows that is critically acclaimed by almost everyone and yet it’s not particularly entertaining. Ok, it’s got an interesting subject matter, but it’s so slow-paced and lacking in anything resembling oomph. Having finished the first season I couldn’t be arsed going back to it.

The Best Online Show Award: Orange is the New Black

I didn’t bother with this in 2013 when the first season hit NetFlix but gave it a shot when Season Two was released in 2014.

If you haven’t given OitB a shot, you really should. The storylines are both dramatic and amusing, the characters are varied and the acting is mostly good. Very entertaining stuff.

Best Comedy: 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown

Easily the most consistently funny show on TV, Cats Does Countdown gets extra points because you actually get to engage your brain and think while you’re watching.

Most Annoying TV Show: Scandal

At first, Scandal seems like a pretty good show, but when you stop to think about it, it includes some of the worst people to have ever lived as characters. Olivia Pope is positioned as the protagonist but is really just an unpleasant, adulterous cow, while the US President is a weak slimeball of a man. And then there’s that music that gets played in every single fucking episode where Pope and the Prez share an intimate moment. Urgh. I gave up on it.

The “Well We’ve Killed Everyone Else So You’ll Have To Do” Award: Maggie Pierce in Grey’s Anatomy

So apart from Derek and the kids, Meredith’s family are dead, and with Yang gone, what else is there for Grey’s Anatomy’s lead character? How about bringing in the half-sister she never knew existed who is also the daughter of Webber? That’ll stand up to scrutiny and is in no way a shark jumping moment.

The Most Innovative Episode of TV Award: The GI. Joe Episode of Community

Apparently this didn’t do well in the ratings, but the premise, the animation style and the humour of the GI. Joe episode of Community is beyond amazing for a child of the 1980s like me.

The GI Joe Episode of Community was one of the most inventive episodes of a TV show I've seen. Class.

The GI Joe Episode of Community was one of the most inventive episodes of a TV show I’ve seen. Class.

The TV Show That Shouldn’t Work But Does: 2 Broke Girls

It’s got some of the worst acting you’ll ever see and the jokes are as subtle as sledgehammer to the balls, but there’s something I just find incredibly entertaining about 2 Broke Girls.

The Style Error of the Year Award: Kaley Cuoco’s Haircut

She looks at least five years older and like the sort of person you’d find serving in a particularly rough pub now.

Grow it back Penny, grow it back!

The Most Annoying Aspect of TV You Don’t Really Mind Award: Castle

I love Castle, but have you ever noticed that every single episode has at least three bits where Castle and Beckett are talking about a case and just at the point where they question something, Ryan comes in with “Actually, that might not be true. Have a look at this”. It should be more annoying than it is, but because it’s Castle, I’ll let them away with it.

The “My Interest Is Holding By A Thread” Award: WWE

Never has WWE been less interesting than it currently is. A tiny roster that never seems to change, far too many hours of TV to fill each week and the same matches and storylines being repeated over and over. I only watch now because I’ve been a viewer since 1991 and to stop now would seem wrong.

Mind you, I stopped watching Neighbours…

The Hidden Gem Award: Continuum

If it wasn’t for the fact it’s on NetFlix, I doubt I’d have ever heard of Continuum, and yet it’s easily been my best new discovery of 2014.

Sadly, just as I’ve become a fan, the word is that the next season will be the last.

If you don’t know much about it, check it out.

The “Let It Die” Award: Only An Excuse?

Seeing as my article on it had over 2,500 views the day it was published, I think a lot of people agree. Utter drivel which needs taken off TV.

Games

Like I say in my intro, I have a complete list of new games that I’ve played in 2014 thanks to Steam, PSN and the Wii U.

That list reads as…

PC

Always Sometimes Monsters
Broken Age
Dark Souls
Football Manager 2015
Guacamelee
One Finger Death Punch
Pac-Man Museum

PS4

Worms Battleground
COD: Ghosts
Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare
COD: Advanced Warfare
FIFA 15
Steamworld Dig
Mercenary Kings
Far Cry 4
Lego Marvel
Alien: Isolation
Binding of Isaac

Wii U

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Pikmin 3
Mario Kart 8
Nintendo Land
NES Remix
Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze

And obviously some of them didn’t even come out in 2014, but then I don’t think that should mean they can’t be involved in the awards.

Most Disappointing Game Awards: Worms Battleground

You wouldn’t think it’d be hard to make a new Worms game, but Team 17 made a right old mess of Battleground. It looks drab, has limited maps and complicated, awkward game modes with no explanation anywhere in any manuals or on the internet to explain what they are. They even got rid of Crazy Crates. We gave it our best shot, but ultimately me and my Worms playing pals moved back to the Xbox 360 version.

How could they get it so wrong?

How could they get it so wrong?

It’s Great If You Don’t Like Moving Award: Alien Isolation

Here’s a game that gets a massive amount of praise from all corners of the internet. Against my better judgement, I gave it a go and it wasn’t the most exciting game in the world. Yes, it looked great, it was atmospheric and when the Alien finally showed up it was surprisingly tense trying to avoid it, but I got the feeling that once you’d seen the Alien once, it was going to be downhill from there. Quite a clumsy game with a daft checkpoint system that meant you’d replay large sections of the game over and over again if you died.

I won’t finish it.

Best Looking Game: Anything By Nintendo

Whether it’s Pikmin 3, Mario Kart 8 or Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Nintendo just make beautiful games. They are great to look at and are all fantastic to play.

Most Innovative Game Mode: Mario Chase on Nintendo Land

It’s a simple setup. The player with the Wii U pad looks at the screen on the pad while 2-4 players with Wiimotes watch the TV screen. The first player must hide from the rest and they must chase him. Great fun with plenty of replay value.

The “I Don’t Get The Hype” Award: Dark Souls

The polar opposite of those Nintendo games, Dark Souls is as grim as it gets, looks very unappealing and plays in a laboured manner. It’s just not for me.

The “It’s Still Got It” Award: Pac Land on Pac-Man Museum

A game I first played on the arcades in the 1980s, Pac Land  remains an excellent game.

The Most Annoying Aspect of Any Game Award: Handicapping On FIFA 15 Ultimate Team

My Favourite Game of 2014

My Favourite Game of 2014

My amazing run of form on FIFA 15’s Ultimate Team Mode came to a crashing halt when I bought a few players to increase my team rating to 83. The moment that happened everything fell apart. Passes went astray, easy goalscoring chances were missed and penalty after penalty was given away. I never thought handicapping was an issue, but the moment I put some crappy players on my bench to bring my team’s overall score down to 81, things went back to normal.

It’s apparently a situation designed to prevent coin buyers from succeeding, but ultimately it ridiculously handicaps people who have put in the hours to build a team the right way.

After that I didn’t touch FIFA for more than a month

The “People Are Finally Opening Their Eyes”Award: Critics Pan WWE 2K15

Wrestling games have been shit for years; I’ve discussed it at length here.

Finally this year the review sites picked up on it and WWE 2K15 got the hammering it probably deserves.

Fire Yukes!

The Most Enjoyable Game of the Year Award: Mercenary Kings

By no means is Mercenary Kings the best looking, most polished or smoothest to play game, but I’ve played it week after week for an hour or so at a time with a friend online and have enjoyed every moment of it.

I consider gaming a social thing for the most part, so being able to play this for so long (and I’m still barely half way through) whilst chatting with friends is ideal. And unlike FIFA or Call of Duty, there’s no stress associated with it.

Top stuff. There hasn’t been a game I’ve enjoyed more in 2014.

Like This Article? Agree or Disagree With Anything In It?

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Doctor Who – Flatline Review (or “The Tagline ‘The Golden Age Express Trundles On’ Would Have Worked Better Last Week”)

October 18, 2014

Last year on December 26th, I wrote my review of Time of the Doctor and my final thoughts on the Matt Smith Era.

In those two articles, I was pretty clear in my thoughts; Steven Moffat had to go.

Examples of  lines used in those articles include…

“The big problem with Matt Smith’s era is Steven Moffat. He’s just not a very good show-runner.” and “Do I want this to be the end of Steven Moffat in charge of Doctor Who? Yes.”

And I feel I was justified in saying that. Matt Smith’s final season was easily the sixth worst of all time, which is incredible when you think about how much more money and effort is spent on the show these days, and how much more talent there is supposed to be on the creative side of things.

Yet there it was; episode after episode of dreariness.

I did write something else in that article though. In it, I said to future readers – in the event of Moffat staying on for another year – ” …if he got his act together to make the next season amazing, then chuckle with hindsight”.

The sophisticated amongn you will immediately identify that the wall there needs "Kilroy Was Here" written on it

The sophisticated amongn you will immediately identify that the wall there needs “Kilroy Was Here” written on it

Well it’s time to chuckle with hindsight, because against all expectations, that’s exactly what he’s done.

So far this season, we’ve had two decent episodes, one poor one and then a run of five crackers in a row.

It seems almost unfeasible that we could have six. That would put it up there with some of the best runs the show has ever had.

It would get people considering it a Golden Age.

So there’s a lot of pressure on Flatline to be good then…

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

2D Monsters attack Bristol, and the Doctor is trapped in the TARDIS

Thoughts – To Start With A Criticism

Well I’ll start with my one big criticism of Flatline.

Put simply, the monsters were too easily defeated.

Now I can understand why that was the case; this was an episode based around the idea of the Doctor being trapped and Clara filling in for him. To centre the story around that meant that time could not be devoted to the Doctor hatching a plan to defeat them, and

This guy wouldn't have got the part if John Bennett was still alive

This guy wouldn’t have got the part if John Bennett was still alive

it was also unfeasible for Clara to be the one to send them packing.

So what could the writer do? Probably not much else.

And while our hero saved the day and Clara had her own victory by being the one to bring the TARDIS back from the brink, it just ended up making it feel like the 2D monsters were no match for the Doctor.

Now you could argue that this means the monsters are so weak that any return for them would be unfeasible – after all, if the Doctor hadn’t been trapped, it would have been over in two minutes – but why would they need to come back again anyway? One story with them is enough.

Overall though, that was a relatively minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, and once again another highly enjoyable episode has been delivered.

And Now To The Praise

Yup, Flatline is another quality story.

In particular, what I liked about it this week was the freshness of ideas.

It’s not just that writer Jamie Mathieson has come up with completely new ideas for the show – like the 2D monsters – but he’s also taken previously used ideas like the psychic paper and the Doctor being stuck in the TARDIS and made them feel reinvigorated. It’s a remarkable thing for a writer to achieve at this point in the show’s life, and it’s definitely something he deserves a massive amount of praise for.

Already, fans are throwing his name into the hat as a potential new show runner – which is a huge relief because a year ago the best picks were Gatiss, Whithouse or even Hinchcliffe again – and it’s something I would agree with, but I think people are forgetting that it appears as though there’s life in Moffat’s reign yet.

Either way though, it’s great to have such a talented writer delivering enjoyable scripts for the show; everyone benefits from that.

A great special effect but perhaps not one that translates to Screen Caps

A great special effect but perhaps not one that translates to Screen Caps

And it’s not just the freshness of ideas that made those scripts enjoyable, but it was also the tone.

At times during Flatline there appeared to be a sense of serious urgency that the show has perhaps missed for the last wee while. I think the reason for that is largely down to the setting. While last week, there was some level of urgency, as a viewer, I think I was more disconnected from it because of where it was set. Having a mummy attack people in fancy dress aboard a train in space doesn’t have that same sense of familiarity about it as two-dimensional creatures living inside walls and sewers in contemporary Bristol.

So that was great, and what made it even more great was that in amongst that seriousness, there was still plenty for the viewer the chuckle at, and it was done in such a way that didn’t detract from the overall tone.

All that adds up to Flatline being another rousing success. Long may it continue.

Random Observations

  • This is yet another story that presents Clara in powerful way. Here, she is the Doctor, and as the Doctor says, she was “exceptional”. Much like the turnaround in Steven Moffat’s abilities, I still can’t quite get over how much my perception of Clara has changed in the space of a year.
  • I like that the Doctor impressed upon her though that goodness had nothing to do with it though.
  • The Missy cliffhanger was a bit of a game-changer. I’m keen to know where they are going with that.
  • My brother seemed to get awfully excited upon hearing the noise the TARDIS console made when the Doctor opened the doors remotely. I can’t say I was blown away by it, but hey, whatever floats his boat, eh?
  • But seriously though, there can’t have been made times in Modern Who where the TARDIS doors have been opened from the console?
  • Among the most amusing parts of today’s episode were the Doctor moving the TARDIS by hand, and him passing Clara a sledgehammer from her handbag,
  • The special effects for the 2D monsters were mostly good, but perhaps a little hit and miss. I thought the scene in the living room looked excellent, as did the bit where the door handle was made 3D, but the movement of the aliens near the final confrontation seemed less impressive.
  • The part played by Christopher Fairbank would have been ideal for John “LiH’sen Chang” Bennett, but unfortunately he’s dead. Them’s the breaks, I’m afraid.

    If you're anything like my brother and are the sort of person who looks at the pictures before reading the review, this screencap will confuse you. But Waaaaaaassssssssssssuuuuuuuuup!! anyway

    If you’re anything like my brother and are the sort of person who looks at the pictures before reading the review, this screencap will confuse you.
    But Waaaaaaassssssssssssuuuuuuuuup!! anyway

  • I’m assuming this was really a “Doctor-lite” episode and we just weren’t supposed to know it?
  • Characters in TV and Film who die for the sake of it is one of my bugbears. There’s no need for people to give up their lives in that sort of “Oh just leave; I’m happy to die here even though there must be a simple way for us both to escape” way and yet it happens time and time again. I like how the scene on the train addressed that.
  • In my review of Kill the Moon, I noted that I hadn’t picked up on the abortion subtext, but even I couldn’t miss the nod to Banksy in Flatline. A graffiti artist in Bristol called Rigsy? Yup…I spotted it. Well done me.
  • For no good reason, I got sidetracked writing this review by a sudden desire to watch the Budweiser “Wazuuuuuup” adverts from 2000 on youtube. So while you read this, roll back the years and give me a “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaasssssssssssuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup” for good measure.
  • Danny only seemed to be in this episode to remind us he still exists, although it looks like he’ll play a bigger part next week, judging by the trailer.
  • This is yet another story I could imagine involving McCoy and Aldred. Weird.
  • I’ve not mentioned Capaldi yet. Awesome as usual.
  • I thought a good title for this review would be “The Golden Age Express Trundles On”. And it is, although it occurs to me it would have worked better last week considering the episode was set on a fucking train!! Oh Stuart, you do come up with good ideas at the wrong time.

Doctor Who – Flatline Review: Final Thoughts

Last week when I watched the Next Time trailer for Flatline, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for it, and I based that purely because of where it was set. To me it looked a bit dull.

So I didn’t expect this run of quality episodes to continue.

But it did.

Since Doctor Who came back in 2005, consistency has been hard to achieve, and yet here we are with an extraordinary sixth hit in a row.

We’re in a Golden Age folks.

And now that I’ve said that. just wait for it to come crashing down next week.

Hey, you know I’ve written a book with my reviews of all the Classic Era Dr Who stories right? Bought it yet? Why not? Sort that out immediately!! As someone on a Dr Who forum said this week, “The humorous nature of the reviews is worth the asking price”. He’s right! Buy it now.

Also, if you’re on Facebook, remember to “Like” Stuart Reviews Stuff to keep up with all my articles.


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