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The X-Files – Gethsemane (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Agent Mulder died late last night from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

– Agent Dana Scully, 22nd October 1997

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Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe (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 Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe originally aired in 2011.

I don’t understand. Is this place real, or is it fairyland?

Fairyland? Oh, grow up, Lily.

Fairyland looks completely different.

– Lilly and the Doctor get their geography straightened out

The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe is, like A Christmas Carol before it, a rather wonderful idea. A Christmas Carol mashed up Doctor Who with one of the best-loved Christmas narratives of all time. The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe does something similar, substituting CS Lewis for Charles Dickens. It’s a fantastic idea, given that Doctor Who is the spiritual successor of that peculiarly British thread of childhood fantasy.

The only real problem with The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe is that it can’t quite stretch that good idea across an hour of television.

On the run again...

On the run again…

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Doctor Who: The Sun Makers (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 Sun Makers originally aired in 1977.

Why did you come here, then?

Because my new little chum here seemed unhappy about something.

Mandrell discovers all he needs to know about the Doctor

The Sun Makers was reportedly written as a result of a disagreement between writer Robert Holmes and the British Revenue and Customs. That’s the oft-cited background to the story, so well known that it’s even included on the notes included in the DVD release. With that summary, you’d expect The Sun Makers to be a condemnation of the tax system, and a protest at the government’s funnelling off of money from the individual to pay like pesky things like roads or schools or hospitals.

Instead, Holmes has crafted The Sun Makers as something altogether more compelling and instructive. Rather pointedly, while The Sun Maker is a story about excessive taxation, the episode casts a large interstellar corporation as the villain of the piece. The episode’s primary antagonist isn’t a state official, it’s a single-minded number-crunching accountant who operates a large corporation that has managed to turn light itself into a financial commodity. This isn’t the story about individuals fighting for the right not to pay tax, it’s people fighting for decent working and living conditions.

Indeed, it’s quite easy to read The Sun Makers as a rather socialist piece of Doctor Who, ending with the massive organisation of the working class to resist their greedy capitalist overlords. That’s quite a radical shift from the story you’d expect given the background. In that respect, it seems almost like a call-forward to the pointed subversive social commentary of the Cartmel and even Davies eras.

I see the future...

I see the future…

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Doctor Who: The Long Game (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 Long Game originally aired in 2005.

No, no, you stick with the Doctor. You’d rather be with him. It’s going to take a better man than me to get between you two.

– Adam outlines another reason he had to get kicked out of the TARDIS

The Long Game is a breathtakingly ambitious piece of Doctor Who, for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is the fact that it’s basically Russell T. Davies pushing through a story idea that Andrew Cartmel rejected when he pitched it to the classic show in the eighties, but there are a whole bunch of other reasons. The Long Game is trying to do so many things at once that it ends up getting a little lost. However, it does serve as an example of what Davies was really trying to do with this first season of the revived Doctor Who.

On the surface, The Long Game a clever and daring piece of science-fiction television, a piece of social commentary hidden behind funny-looking aliens and scenery-chewing villains. It’s really a spiritual successor to the science-fiction stories of the Cartmel era. However, it’s also something else entirely. It’s a conscious embrace of the new realities of television, an acknowledgement that these trappings have be blended with character-based storytelling and more modern tea-time telly conventions.

After all, for a show about the manipulation of the media to corrupt the public consciousness, the teaser doesn’t end on a monster reveal or a shocking twist, but a pithy personal comment. “He’s your boyfriend.”

Body of work...

Body of work…

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Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (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 Three Doctors originally aired in 1973.

Well, Sergeant, aren’t you going to say it that it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Everybody else does.

It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

– the Doctor and Benton

The Three Doctors never seems entirely sure what it’s supposed to be. It knows what it has to accomplish. This was the first serial of the tenth season of Doctor Who, so it has to feature the three versions of the character to date. It also wants to radically shake-up the status quo of the series and to allow Jon Pertwee’s Doctor to take to the cosmos. Those are really the two primary objectives of The Three Doctors, and writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin accomplish them quite well.

The problem is that the story itself isn’t sure what it wants to be. Pertwee-era script editor Terrance Dicks would be a lot more confident when juggling The Five Doctors, conceding that the whole thing was a gigantic nonsensical spectacle. The Three Doctors seems almost like a regular story with the tenth anniversary grafted on to it – it’s easy enough to imagine a rough outline of this story that could work with only Jon Pertwee and without the end of his exile.

As a result, the two strongest beats in The Three Doctors feel almost like afterthoughts, grafted on to the outline of a generic and somewhat bland Doctor Who adventure.

Why does the Doctor hate himself...?

Why does the Doctor hate himself…?

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Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos (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.

Vengeance on Varos originally aired in 1985.

It’s a question of re-imprinting their identities, of establishing again who they are.

– Colin Baker spots the problems with the Colin Baker era

Vengeance on Varos is a serious contender for the best Colin Baker Doctor Who story. Not that there’s too much competition. It’s either this or Revelation of the Daleks. I’m also reasonably fond of The Two Doctors, but I’ll accept that I’m in the minority on that one. Colin Baker’s first season is an absolute mess. It has a scattering of half-decent ideas (paired with some atrocious ones, to be fair) executed in a rather slapdash manner.

The season is obsessed with violence and politics and power and the Doctor’s strange ability to accrue large body counts while nominally remaining a pacifist. Like the last year of Peter Davison’s tenure, there’s a sense that the show doesn’t really like its protagonist. Attack of the Cybermen seems willing to trade him for a murderous sociopath. Still, there’s the nugget of an interesting idea there; it’s telling that the revived series would explore some of these ideas in a more insightful and intelligent manner.

However, Vengeance on Varos and Revelation of the Daleks stand apart from the rest of the season because they explore these issues with nuance and sophistication. Vengeance on Varos is wicked social satire that still stings today, an indictment of reality television that was broadcast almost two decades before the format took over television.

It's okay, the audience seems to actually like this one...

It’s okay, the audience seems to actually like this one…

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Doctor Who: Blink (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.

Blink originally aired in 2007.

But listen, your life could depend on this. Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead.

– the Doctor

Like Love and Monsters, Blink is a “Doctor-lite” episode, an effective time- and money-saving measure from the show’s production staff, built around filming an episode that requires the minimal involvement from the lead actors. Also like Love and MonstersBlink is an episode of Doctor Who that is about Doctor Who.

Granted, Steven Moffat’s script doesn’t engage with fandom as directly as Russell T. Davies did. Here, the fans trying to find their own meaning in the show are the anonymous net-izens on forums and fan sites, rather than a friendly group of eccentric individuals enriched by contact with one another.

While Love and Monsters is about how Doctor Who fandom tends to serve to unite diverse people beyond an interest in Doctor Who itself, forming bonds that become more significant and important than the interest in the show, Blink is very much a story about trying to make sense of the show itself.

Rocking the boat...

Rocking the boat…

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