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New Escapist Column! “Ad Astra” and What We Carry with Us…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday. This one has been kicking around for a little while, discussing James Gray’s Ad Astra.

In particular, it takes a look at a broader trend in modern space movies – what might be dubbed the “sad astronaut” genre. In contrast to the sixties utopian fantasies of shows like Star Trek or 2001: A Space Odyssey, these films tend to offer a more introspective portrait of space travel. Films like Gravity or Interstellar or First Man are as much about the baggage that the protagonists bring with them on their journey as they are about what the character in question might find out there.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #28!

Here we go again…

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Ronan Doyle for a discussion of the week in film. Topics of discussion include various seasons at the IFI, including both Aliens and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as seen during the IFI’s Dark Skies season and a discussion of their looming Orson Welles season. There’s also room to discuss Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash and bad MUBI advertisements. However, the real reason to give it a listen is to hear Jay and Ronan give Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again to podcast celebration that it deserves.

New releases include Teen Titans Go! to Movies and Ant Man and the Wasp.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

Doctor Who: Oxygen (Review)

Like every worker everywhere, we’re fighting the suits.

– the Doctor about sums it up

In space, EVERYONE can hear you scream…

Oxygen plays very much like a companion piece to Thin Ice earlier in the season. Both are essentially stories about monstrous capitalism, from nineteenth century London through to the depths of outer space.

Indeed, Oxygen pitches itself as something akin to a late seventies or early eighties science-fiction film, in terms of aesthetic and politics. The episode’s production design recalls the “used future” of films like Star Wars, while the heavy criticism of capitalism invites comparison to films like Alien or Outland. Indeed, Oxygen even borrows from a similar strain of horror movies, tapping into the fear of zombies as the monstrous face of capitalism that can be traced back to Dawn of the Dead.

Station keeping.

Jamie Mathiesen has been one of the most consistently impressive writers of the Twelfth Doctor’s tenure, turning in impressive scripts for both Mummy on the Orient Express and The Girl Who Died, along with a genuine masterpiece in Flatline. Indeed, Oxygen is the most impressive episode in the stretch of the season, a bold and ambitious piece of allegorical science-fiction, wedded to a genuinely scary concept, top-notch production design, and any number of clever ideas.

Oxygen is a brilliant piece of work, and a reminder of just how effectively Doctor Who can blend its disparate elements into a satisfying whole.

Give him space to work.

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Doctor Who – Knock, Knock (Review)

“That’s what they’re called, Driads?”

“That’s what I’m calling them, yes.”

“You’ve gone crazy.”

“Well, I can’t just call them lice, can I?”

Performance is a bit wooden.

Knock Knock is a solid, if unexceptional, episode of Doctor Who. It occasionally feels more like a grab bag of idea welded together, more than a single cohesive story.

Knock Knock is essentially three very different episodes sutured together in a decidedly haphazard fashion. Knock Knock is, in quick succession: an episode focusing on Bill’s life outside the TARDIS, an old-school haunted house adventure, an intense familial psychodrama with a powerhouse guest performance. There is a strong sense that Knock Knock would work better if it chose to be any two of those three episodes, but that it simply cannot hold itself together trying to satisfy all three masters.

Dial it back, there.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Nemesis (Review)

Nemesis is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager pitching itself as generic Star Trek.

This is a story that is not unique or particular to this crew. In fact, the story could easily be adapted to service characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or even Star Trek: Enterprise. In some respects, Nemesis might even work better if Robert Beltran were swapped out for Jonathan Frakes or Colm Meaney or Connor Trinneer. There is very little in the script that relies on the particularities of this show or the nuances of its characters.

The Rifleman...

The Rifleman…

While this lack of a distinct identity is a problem for Voyager as a television series, it does lead to some great episodes. Many of the best episodes of Voyager could easily be ported to or from any of the other shows. It was an approach that really came to the fore during the third season, when Jeri Taylor and Brannon Braga made a conscious choice to steer the show away from its focus on a crew stranded far from home and towards a more generic Star Trek sensibility.

At its best, this leads to very strong allegorical storytelling. Episodes like Remember and Distant Origin are very much archetypal Star Trek episodes, extended science-fiction metaphors with a strong moral core that evoke the Star Trek beloved by so many of its fans. Nemesis is very much an episode constructed in that tradition, a metaphorical exploration of the dehumanisation of soldiers through combat training and conditioning. It is a powerful and thought-provoking piece of social commentary and a superb piece of Star Trek.

A hard shoot.

A hard shoot.

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The X-Files: Season 11 (IDW) #6-8 – Endgames (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

With Endgames, it all comes to an end.

The grand epic story that writer Joe Harris had built across thirty-five issues of The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11 comes to a close with this three-part story. Given that the default length of a mythology-heavy story in Season 10 was five issues, Endgames cannot help but feel somewhat truncated. However, there has always been a sense that Season 11 is winding down rather than ratcheting up.

Alien nation.

Alien nation.

In some ways, Endgames suffers from being overly ambitious. Harris reintroduced the faceless rebels into his mythology with My Name is Gibson and The X-Files Christmas Special 2015, but they feel like they crowd out what is otherwise a straightforward confrontation with Mulder and Scully squaring off against Gibson Praise. It is in some ways disappointing that all of Gibson’s plans build to a handful of trucks in the desert.

And, yet, in spite of that, there is something oddly charming about Endgames. The three-parter might be a compromised twist on the ending that Joe Harris originally envisaged for his massive epic, but it is still an ending.

Full circle.

Full circle.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Little Green Men (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Little Green Men might just be the best Ferengi episode from the seven-year run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It helps that the episode is very clearly a passion project for writers Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe. More than any other Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine had a deep and abiding affection for classic cinema. Michael Piller might have tried to steer the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager back to classic western storytelling tropes, while Rick Berman and Brannon Braga might have promised that Star Trek: Enterprise would be a “back to basics” reimagining of the show, but Deep Space Nine was a show that adored old-school Hollywood.

Quark's Family Vacation...

Quark’s Family Vacation…

This was reflected in a number of ways. In Past Tense, Part II, B.C. planned to escape to Tasmania because Errol Flynn was born there. There was also the fact that Ira Steven Behr could never resist the lure of a good homage to classic cinema – even when it was not the best of ideas. Meridian was written as an attempt to adapt Brigadoon to the Star Trek universe; Fascination was based on the 1935 adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s DreamRules of Acquisition was basically YentlProfit and Loss was Casablanca.

It seemed almost inevitable that at some stage the cast and crew of Deep Space Nine would find themselves colliding with classic Hollywood.

"Well, it's not a saucer..."

“Well, it’s not a saucer…”

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