Out of the Unknown – Time in Advance Review (or ‘An Interesting Idea, But Poorly Explained’)

May 28, 2015

Next up in my run-through of Out of the Unknown – even though it’s not in the correct order – is another episode set in the far future.

Considering the last one I watched, I’m not holding out that much hope.

But maybe Time in Advance will prove to be better.

Out of the Unknown – Time In Advance Review: What’s This One About?

In a topsy-turvy world where prisoners serve their sentences before they commit their crimes, two men return from their spell in the clink with a free pass to commit one murder each.

But who will they kill?

Thoughts – An Interesting, If Poorly Explained Idea

I love an episode of a science fiction show that comes up with an interesting and different idea. Like I said in my last OOTU review, science fiction is such an open-ended genre that it gives a massive scope for

Peter Stephens appears to be dressed as Santa's evil capitalist brother

Peter Stephens appears to be dressed as Santa’s evil capitalist brother

people to be creative.

Time in Advance is built around an interesting and creative idea.

In this civilisation, people are able to find out in advance what crimes they commit and then serve time by helping establish settlements on new colony worlds. Then, they can come back and freely commit the crime that they served the sentence for, without further repercussion.

Within the context of how this episode is built, this works quite nicely as it’s all based around the two prisoners – Crandall and Henck – deciding on who to kill whilst under an intense media spotlight. The people they know and used to love are concerned that it might be them, while the one that Henck wants to kill turns out to have already died in his absence.

This all builds up to a satisfying – if a little predictable – conclusion.

But my problem is that the script just assumes an acceptance on the part of the viewer of how this justice system operates.

There are questions that I don’t think are answered either well enough or at all.

For example…

  • Beyond ‘time travel’ how do people find out what crime they have committed?
  • If they know they commit a crime in the future, why don’t they know who they commit a crime against? Considering Henck’s wife – the only person he wants to kill – dies in the interim years, surely he’s wasted his life by blindly accepting a punishment like that?
  • And what if they die whilst serving their sentence? Or before they can at least carry out the crime?
  • Why do they make these reformed ‘criminals’ – who aren’t really criminals yet – into figures of public scrutiny? Won’t that just mean people are on edge?
  • If the situation they find themselves in is one of personal choice, why not simply choose not to commit the crime in the future?
  • How is this deemed a better justice system?

So on that score, it’s not all that well thought out, and so the episode suffers for it.

The Look

There’s something wonderfully quaint about how Time in Advance looks.

Much like Doctor Who from the same era, this is clearly a show made on a shoe-string budget, with sets cobbled together from cheap materials available at short notice.

This visual effect of a world with futuristic architecture looks good for the time

This visual effect of a world with futuristic architecture looks good for the time

And just like Doctor Who, you’ve got to say that they do a good job making the best of the situation, with some areas looking pretty good for the time.

Where the show falls down though is in the costume design, which is lousy. Almost every character seems to be wearing baggy, ill-fitting jumpers and dodgy blonde wigs.

All that serves to do is make the actors – no doubt classically trained actors who have spent many a moonlit night treading the boards – look daft in fancy dress. The worst example is the character of Stephenson, who looks like he’s dressed in a leftover Santa Claus coat.

It’s of the era, of course it is, but Doctor Who at least shows that it can be done better.

The Old British Actors Checklist

The two main stars of Time in Advance are Mike Pratt (Randall of Randall & Hopkirk fame) and Edward Judd (star of one of the most underrated Sci Fi movies I’ve seen, The Day the Earth Caught Fire).

Fans of Doctor Who will be familiar with Jerome Willis (The Green Death), Peter Stephens (The Celestial Toymaker & The Underwater Menace), Philip Voss (Marco Polo & The Dominators) and Wendy Gifford (The Ice Warriors)

Random Observations

  • A common complaint I think I’m going to have about Out of the Unknown is that episodes can take a while to get to the point of what they are about. This one takes around 8 minutes before you’d have even the slightest clue of what’s going on.
  • I read a comment that Out of the Unknown is perhaps where the cliché that science fiction is ‘Shakespearean actors proclaiming in bacofoil’. I liked that. They could be on to something…
  • Another complaint I read – and this is a common theme in people’s reviews of Out of the Unknown – is that there are long scenes based around dialogue rather than action. That’s just what this show is like. In
    But this is just pitiful. It's a man standing on the other side of the wall for Christ's sake!!

    But this is just pitiful. It’s a man standing on the other side of the wall for Christ’s sake!!

    many ways it’s like a play based around a handful of sets.

  • To be fair though, there’s a scene in this with quite an impressive visual effect of the outside architecture. For the time, that looks great.
  • On the flipside, it also has perhaps the worst visual effect I’ve ever seen to go along with it. The scene where Crandall is speaking to a journalist on his video phone is so, so bad. It’s basically a man talking to him through a hole in the wall.
  • The ‘Swirling TV’ effect in Crandall’s room is about as 1960s ‘Space Age’ as it gets.
  • The writer of this episode appears to predict the future, with ‘crazy’ ideas like debit cards, online booking and sushi bars being proclaimed as something new and exciting.
  • The sound of the gun used in the attempted assassination of Crandall is a Dalek gun noise from around the same time. That was cool.
  • But my god, that scene is probably the slowest, most stutteringly directed one I’ve ever seen.

Out of the Unknown – Time In Advance Review: Final Thoughts

With hit and miss visuals and based around an idea that is great in theory, but perhaps isn’t thought through fully, Time in Advance blows hot and cold.

Overall though, I think it’s enjoyable enough to give the thumbs up to.

Certainly the best ‘Space Age’ episode I’ve seen so far.

 

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’ 

 


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’ 


Out Of The Unknown – Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…? Review (or ‘A Very Gentle Seeds of Doom’)

May 21, 2015

My brother got the Out of the Unknown boxed set last year as a Christmas present. At a not inexpensive – by 2014 standards at least – £60, it’s one of these sets where you’re effectively buying it blindly in the hope that its reputation is well deserved, rather than buying it knowing it’s good.

I suppose in those situations it’s better to get it as a gift so that if it turns out to be crap, you can at least take solace in the fact that you didn’t waste your own money in the process!

Believe me, that was the only upside of me getting the boxed set of the anaesthetic-like Six Feet Under. *shudder*

Anyway, we watched a couple of episodes back in January, but neither of them were particularly entertaining. Indeed they were pretty dull if I’m being blunt about it. And on that note, the Out of the Unknown DVD boxed set slipped to the back of the queue.

But of course, the thing about a series like that is that all episodes are unique. For anyone who doesn’t know it, Out of the Unknown was a science fiction anthology series from the late 1960s/early 1970s; a sort of British version of the Twilight Zone if you like. So maybe those first two episodes were just poor representations of what is widely regarded as one of British television’s hidden gems.

When you see pictures of her nowadays, you realise that the actress Surrane Jones has aged fantastically well, considering this was made in the late 60s.

When you see pictures of her nowadays, you realise that the actress Surrane Jones has aged fantastically well, considering this was made in the late 60s.

So I demanded we give it another try.

And thankfully, it turned out that the next episode I watched was good. And so was the one after that.

With that in mind, I’ve got back into watching them. And I want to review them.

It occurs to me that my largest readership base comes from Doctor Who fans, and this might well be something Doctor Who fans would be interested in. Maybe it’ll encourage you to buy the boxed set? Maybe it’ll make your mind up for you that you shouldn’t bother. Or maybe you’re a big fan of the show and you’re keen to see how my opinions tally with yours.

Whatever your reason for reading, I hope you enjoy them.

And while I’ll go back to review the ones I’ve already seen at some point down the line, I’ll start with the one I most recently watched; ‘Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…?’

Out of the Unknown – Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come….? Review: What’s This One About?

The local fishmonger, Henry Wilkes, has a passion for tropical plants, and grows them in his back garden. His wife, friends and colleagues find his obsession a tad over the top, especially considering he talks to them and gives them all names.

But as it turns out, the plants are able to communicate back to him.

Things are not all that they seem.

Thoughts – A Very Gentle Seeds of Doom

Ok, so there are going to be plenty of call-backs to Doctor Who in these reviews, as there are obvious parallels to be drawn considering both shows are British Science fiction from the 60s and 70s.

In this case, we have a story that’s pretty similar to the Seeds of Doom in that it’s a man who is obsessed with plant life to the extent that he values it way ahead of animal life. He’s not a lunatic like Harrison Chase though; he’s just a normal guy, a gentle guy.

And while the plants aren’t Krynoids that could take over the world given half  a chance, the ones on display here are menacing in their own way.

Being able to draw these parallels helped my enjoyment of this episode because I was able to get an idea of what was going to happen and anticipate it in advance, but even with that in mind, it still has to stand on its own merits.

And it does.

The Pacing

I think the greatest strength of this episode is the pacing.

It works as a story that builds up in a gradual and engrossing way to draw the viewer in.

Look at him; shooshing the plant while he does 'stuff' to it. The deviant.

Look at him; shooshing the plant while he does ‘stuff’ to it. The deviant.

At the beginning there are just a few small nods to the situation that will unfold. The plants are wild but under control and Wilkes is a happy man. The little nods to Wilkes mindset are on show with him being unhappy at his shop assistant eating a sandwich with vegetables in it, but nothing major. Similarly, Wilkes’s wife’s story starts slowly too. She’s a little bit unnerved staying at home all day but isn’t quite sure why.

And then when the local Doctor makes a house call, he remarks that he finds that there’s something peculiar about the garden but isn’t sure what. I suppose the viewer is supposed to think that it’s because Wilkes’s garden is full of plants that shouldn’t be able to survive in British climates without a greenhouse, but as it would turn out, it wasn’t that.

Gradually, the story develops into something altogether more sinister. At first, we see that the plants are more wild and full of movement than you might expect. Then – off screen – they appear to pull the troublesome child that lives next door – who torments Wilkes with his slingshot every morning –  off the wall to attack him (although it’s only hinted at; the idea is that perhaps he fell off the wall). Then they appear to eat his wife’s dog, although again it’s not shown on-screen and left unresolved as to whether or not that happens. And after that? Well I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it.

Meanwhile, over the course of the episode, Wilkes behavior becomes more erratic and unusual. It’s solid stuff.

But the fantastic reveal for me, the moment that the penny drops for the characters in the episode, is when the Doctor – visiting again after Wilkes’ wife takes a turn for the worst – realises exactly what is peculiar about the garden; that there are no birds. Of course, that’s the point that the viewers realise that the plants are eating them.

It all builds up to quite the climax, and without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it (which I imagine will be most of you), it’s left on a frustratingly brilliant cliffhanger that would never be resolved.

Superb.

The Old British Actors Checklist

It seems as though every episode of Out of the Unknown has a host of British character actors that any Classic Doctor Who fan is bound to recognise.

In this episode, 60s and 70s Doctor Who mainstay Bernard Kay shows up as a detective. Huzzah.

Other than him, look out for appearances by Eric Thompson (Gaston from The Massacre), Alan Haywood (Prince Hector from The Myth Makers), Nigel Lambert (Harden from The Leisure Hive) and well-known faces of British Cinema, Patsy Rowlands (Carry Ons) and Jack Wild (The Artful Dodger from Oliver).

Random Observations

  • I’ve deliberately not touched upon the sub plot of the Wilkes’s mysterious botanist pen-pal, Mr. Pringle. I think if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth letting that play out without me spoiling it. However, if you have
    What a wee shite. If the plants had eaten him it would have been well deserved

    What a wee shite. If the plants had eaten him it would have been well deserved

    seen the episode I’m sure you’ll agree that it was very well done, and left on just the right amount of mystery.

  • From the file marked ‘Things You Take For Granted Now That Weren’t There At The Time’, Wilkes’s assistant makes coffee using a boiling pot of water rather than a kettle. Oh how times have changed.
  • And yet they have a fridge, which seems at odds with what these modern documentaries about food and gadgets through the ages would suggest.
  • Considering when this was made, the special effects for the plants are very good. Obviously it’s shot on film and therefore holds up quite well in terms of picture quality too.
  • It’s also odd – and I’m mainly basing this on Doctor Who of course – to see outside broadcast footage from that era shot on videotape.
  • Before we go any further, I have to make mention of the theme music of Out of the Unknown, which is basically the incidental music from episode one of the Keys of Marinus. Epic!
  • It’s obviously not the done thing, but I’d have cheered if the plants had eaten the little boy. He absolutely deserved it, the wee shite.
  • There’s a funny ‘Of The Time’ moment where the Doctor asks in passing if Wilkes was messing around with another woman. It’s not that he’d have been fussed either way, but he just wanted to know.
  • Meanwhile there’s an altogether more sinister scene where Wilkes ‘tickles’ his plants, while telling them to be quiet and that everything was going to be alright. Maybe it was a Yewtree he was doing that to?
  • Though reviews of individual episodes of Out of the Unknown are few and far between on the internet, I did read one that suggested this one was bogged down with soap opera style interaction between the characters, and didn’t spend nearly enough time on the plants. I totally disagree. By keeping the plants to a minimum and focusing on the changing behaviour of Wilkes and his wife, I thought it all held up as best as it could have.
  • The only thing that was unbelievable – even within the context of this episode – was that Wilkes’s character refused to eat any vegetable and would get deeply upset at seeing parsley used for decoration. Unless he was getting slowly more insane, he couldn’t possibly have lived his life like that for however old he was.
  • And speaking of how old he was, both Wilkes and the guy playing the Doctor were in their mid-40s when this was made. Wow. Tough paper rounds.

Out of the Unknown – Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come….? Review: Final Thoughts

On then whole, this was a thoroughly enjoyable episode, perhaps even to a surprising degree.

I’m sure most of you would assume a science fiction anthology show would be based around stories set in outer space of the far future, but this one – set as it is in suburban 1960s England – worked just fine.

There’s no real need to watch Out of the Unknown in any particular order, so if you did fancy giving it a try, this would be a great starting point.

Recommended.

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

 


Movies – Spooks: The Greater Good Review (or ‘Spooks: The Greatest Hits’)

May 8, 2015

Like I just explained in my review of the Spooks TV series – which you can read here – sheer coincidence led to me finishing watching the show the day before the follow-up movie hit the cinemas.

So while most Spooks fans out there have had four years to mourn its loss from our screens and look forward to the movie, I’ve had less than 24 hours. Indeed, I had no idea it was even being made into a movie until last week.

To that end, with the TV series as fresh in my mind as possible, what did I think of Spooks: The Greater Good?

Read on…

Movies – Spooks: The Greater Good Review – What’s This One About?

  • An escaped Middle Eastern terrorist who plans on setting off a bomb in London!!
  • A CIA plot to undermine MI:5!!!!!
  • Sir Harry Pearce under suspicion!!!!!!!!!!
  • And a handsome young operative who helps save the day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yup, this is Spooks: The Greatest Hits.

My Thoughts

It’s really quite simple; this came across like a random episode of Spooks. There was nothing hugely out of the ordinary about it apart from it looking like it was made on a higher budget (which made it look like

Peter Firth was obviously not deemed sexy enough to be on the cover.

Peter Firth was obviously not deemed sexy enough to be on the cover.

they’d moved offices and finally got a staff of more than 5 people).

And while you could say that’s an overly safe and unadventurous hand to play, it still works.

People who like Spooks will like this film.

I certainly enjoyed it, as it kept a strong pace throughout and had no obvious lulls, leading to an exciting – if not unpredictable – conclusion.

But there were a few aspects that could have been better.

For one thing, I have no idea how the disgraced Oliver Mace (Tim McInnerny) was not just back, but back as the head of MI:5. That didn’t make sense and they didn’t bother to explain it.

The other thing was that it could have included more characters from the show’s past. That’s quite difficult since most of them are dead but it would have been better for me – as someone who has just finished the show – if the character of Will was replaced by Dimitri. I know that Kit Harrington has name value as an actor, but he’s not especially better than the actor who played aforementioned Spook.

It was good to see Malcolm back though, even as a token gesture.

But returning to my issues with the TV show which I brought up that review, it seemed to me that – spoiler alert – the character of Erin Watts was brought back solely for the shock value of killing her off. The writers must have some undiagnosed blood-lust issues.

Thankfully Harry survived though, and with the movie finishing like just any random episode, there’s room for it to be brought back again on TV or on the big screen.

And I’d be happy enough if that was the case.

 

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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.


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