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The X-Files (Topps) #8-9 – Silent Cities of the Mind (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Silent Cities of the Mind is a very “comic book” story – it’s a story that might easily seem outlandish or ridiculous if committed to film, but which works very well within its medium. After all, the plot centres around a bunch of ancient Aztec priests who built an elaborate underground city that could project itself above ground as a mirage. Indeed, the story seems to accept this as a given, with Scully instead spending most of the adventure questioning whether memories can be transmitted via cannibalism.

It’s a concept that could easily seem ridiculous, and it’s a testament to writer Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard that it works as well as it does. Silent Cities of the Mind is a decidedly pulpy adventure, but that lends the story an undeniable charm. It’s a story packed to the brim with clever and fascinating ideas – from ancient aliens to ritual cannibalism to hidden cities to crystal skulls. All this is crammed tightly into two issues, meaning that everything moves so fast there’s no real time to stop and nitpick it all.

It's all in the mind...

It’s all in the mind…

Mulder is negotiating with survivalists! There are memories transferred through the act of ritual cannibalism! Mulder and Scully are shot down over Alaska! Mulder is trapped with a cannibal! There’s a hidden Aztec city buried underground! Mulder has discovered ancient Aztec mythology! There’s an army rescue team that isn’t a rescue team! There’s a macguffin that allows its wearer to commune with the gods! There’s a stand-off!

It’s all rather exhausting, but in a fun and exciting sort of way. Silent Cities of the Mind is perhaps the best example of how Petrucha and Adlard were writing The X-Files as a comic book, positioning the show’s tropes and iconography within the framework of comic book conventions.

Bonfire of the vanities...

Bonfire of the vanities…

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Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Eleventh Hour originally aired in 2010.

So, coming?

No.

You wanted to come fourteen years ago.

I grew up.

Don’t worry. I’ll soon fix that.

– the Doctor and Amy

The arrival of a new producer on Doctor Who always represents a shift in some way shape or form. The change from Barry Letts to Philip Hinchcliffe must have seemed radical, even at the time. Graham Williams following Hinchcliffe represented a similarly strange departure. The departure of Russell T. Davies, the producer who had brought Doctor Who back to television after over a decade, was always going be a pretty significant change for those watching. Steven Moffat’s first episode as producer might not seem like it’s a shocking departure from what came before, but it also quite efficiently and effectively distinguishes Moffat’s tenure from that of his direct predecessor.

While by no means as radical a shift as Spearhead from Space, there is a very clear feeling that The Eleventh Hour brings with it significant tonal and thematic changes to the tale of the Doctor.

A mad man with a box...

A mad man with a box…

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Doctor Who: The Sensorites (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Sensorites originally aired in 1964.

There’s one thing about it, Doctor. We’re certainly different from when we started out with you.

That’s funny. Grandfather and I were talking about that just before you came in. How you’ve both changed.

Well we’ve all changed.

Have I?

Yes.

Yes, it all started out as a mild curiosity in a junkyard, and now it’s turned out to be quite a, quite a great spirit of adventure, don’t you think?

Yes. We’ve had some pretty rough times and even that doesn’t stop us. It’s a wonderful thing, this ship of yours, Doctor. Taken us back to prehistoric times, the Daleks.

Marco Polo, Marinus.

And the Aztecs.

Yes, and that extraordinary quarrel I had with that English king, Henry the Eighth. You know, he threw a parson’s nose at me.

What did you do?

Threw it back, of course.

– Ian, Susan, Barbara and the Doctor discuss character development

The Sensorites feels like a bit of a mess of an episode. It’s a six-part adventure, but one that feels quite a bit longer than it should be. The trip to Skaro in The Daleks ran for seven episodes, but it never felt quite as padded as this. There are some decent ideas and some nice character moments to be found in The Sensorites, if you’re willing to look hard enough, but there’s also quite a lot of padding, quite a lot of nonsense, and some plot developments that feel just a little bit convenient or contrived. This isn’t Doctor Who at anything approaching its best, but there’s still some measure of potential here.

Using your head...

Using your head…

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Doctor Who: The Aztecs (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Aztecs originally aired in 1964.

Don’t you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that’s evil here, then everything that is good would survive when Cortes lands.

But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!

– Barbara and the Doctor discuss time travel

The Aztecs is generally considered one of the show’s very best historicals, so I think it’s absolutely wonderful that the adventure has managed to survive the purges that wiped out a significant portion of the Hartnell era and a huge chunk of Patrick Troughton’s work.

A low-tec culture?

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