Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

Non-Review Review: Mr. Holmes

Memory is a tricky thing, particularly as distinct from history. History often occurs as a sequence of events, a laundry list and cause and effect and happenstance. Memory is the chord that we use to tie that all together, the narrative that we weave through these isolated events. Mr. Holmes is an exploration of the gulf as it exists between the two concepts, following an ageing Sherlock Holmes as he attempts to piece together his own faded memory from facts and evidence scattered around.

Adapted from Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind, writer Jeffrey Hatcher and director Bill Condon position Holmes’ famous deductive prowess as a clever metaphor. Holmes’ ability to effortless build random strands of information into cohesive theories and explanations is set against two rather unconventional targets. As his faculties begin to fail him, Holmes tries to reconstruct memory from the few details available to him. At the same time, Holmes struggles with his own difficulties understanding human nature as it exists beneath these subtle hints and clues.

Holmes for Summer...

Private investigations.

Although the publication of A Slight Trick of the Mind predates the development of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ cult adaptation Sherlock, there is considerable thematic overlap between both stories. As with the BBC series, it seems like the Sherlock Holmes of Mr. Holmes is more concerned with the mystery that is other people than with any individual case. The result is a surprisingly (and effectively) low key film that plays more as a meditation on the human condition than as a convention Sherlock Holmes mystery.

There are points where Mr. Holmes does feel a little too heavy-handed or a little too manipulative in its exploration of the eponymous character. However, Condon very clever grounds the film in a beautifully vulnerable central performance from Ian McKellen.

The long walk Holmes...

The long walk Holmes…

Continue reading

Advertisements

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…

Continue reading

Doctor Who: The Visitation (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 Visitation originally aired in 1982.

It’s survival, Doctor. Just as these primitives kill lesser species to protect themselves, so I kill them.

That’s hardly an argument.

It’s not supposed to be an argument. It’s a statement!

– the Terileptil is in no mood for debate with the Doctor

As far as writing débuts go, The Visitation is not a bad first script. Writer Eric Saward had experience writing for radio, but The Visitation was his first live action script to be produced. It’s a pretty solid piece of Doctor Who, even if it’s not anything exceptional. Then again, Robert Holmes’ first script was the perfectly average The Krotons. So there’s room for improvement, and The Visitation is not a bad place to start from.

Of course, Holmes feels like the appropriate comparison here. Not only was Saward a massive fan of Robert Holmes, with the treatment of the ailing Holmes during The Trial of a Time Lord serving as one of the reasons for his departure from the show, but it also seems that The Visitation was very clear attempt to emulate Holmes’ approach to Doctor Who. In fact, it feels like an attempt to update Holmes’ Third Doctor story, The Time Warrior.

Death stalks the countryside...

Death stalks the countryside…

Continue reading

Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars (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.

Pyramids of Mars originally aired in 1975.

Yes, that’s resonating tuner. Part of an anti-gravity drive. Oh! They must be building a rocket.

Egyptian mummies building rockets? That’s crazy.

– the Doctor and Sarah Jane demonstrate how arbitrary “crazy” is on this show

Pyramids of Mars is a classic slice of Doctor Who. It’s a piece of television that I dearly love, even if it is quite clear watching it that Robert Holmes was re-writing it by the seat of his pants. It’s got all the right ingredients for the Philip Hinchcliffe era of the show. Tom Baker is on phenomenal form. Sarah Jane has full adapted to being the only companion again. There’s one of those nice period settings that the BBC does so well. There’s an ancient evil arising to destroy the planet, and maybe the universe. Said evil is deliciously hammy, yet somehow quite intimidating.

Pyramids of Mars is the perfect storm, a carefully mixed cocktail of Doctor Who in the Hinchcliffe era. Given that the Hinchcliffe era is generally regarded as one of the best periods in the show’s history, that should give an idea of just how impressive it is.

Because "Sutekh the Benign" doesn't sound quite so threatening...

Because “Sutekh the Benign” doesn’t sound quite so threatening…

Continue reading

Doctor Who: The Ark in Space (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 Arc in Space originally aired in 1975.

I’ll have to link in my own cerebral cortex. That’s the only thing.

That is highly dangerous.

I know. Two more leads, Rogin.

The power could burn out a living brain!

I agree. An ordinary brain. But mine is exceptional.

– the Doctor demonstrates his tremendous ego to Vira

It really is amazing how quickly Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes established their mark on Doctor Who. Barry Letts finished up his time as producer working on Tom Baker’s first serial, Robot. The Ark in Space was the second adventure to star the Fourth Doctor, and certainly a lot more indicative of the shape of things to come. While you could argue that Holmes and Hinchcliffe did improved over the following years – for one thing, this first season still has the odd pothole – it is clear that they immediately knew what they were doing.

Hinchcliffe and Holmes would cast a tremendous shadow over Doctor Who, and it’s no coincidence that so much of that influence can be traced back to The Ark in Space, the first indication of their plan for Doctor Who.

The Wirrn really bug the Doctor...

The Wirrn really bug the Doctor…

Continue reading

Doctor Who: Terror of the Autons (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.

Terror of the Autons originally aired in 1971.

That jackanapes! All he ever does is cause trouble!

– nice to see the Doctor taking the Master seriously

I think you can make a fairly credible argument that Jon Pertwee’s first season of Doctor Who stands out as one of the best years the show ever produced. Facing the challenge of migrating from black-and-white to colour, and forced to tell stories entirely set on present-day Earth, the writers and producers managed to craft a season of television that I think stands quite well when measured against the very best of vintage BBC science-fiction. Sure, there may have been walking shop-front dummies, lizard people, animal men and haunted space suits, but the stories were surprisingly mature and relatively clever. The writers used the framework of Doctor Who to tell four very good and very philosophical stories exploring both bold science-fiction high-concepts (alternate universes) and also moral quandaries (how humanity relates to the unknown).

Terror of the Autons is the first story in Jon Pertwee’s second season. I’m actually quite fond of it, and it’s packed to the brim with iconic imagery, so it’s very difficult to be too critical of it. After all, any adventure that left so large an impression on the public imagination must have something to recommend it. However, there’s a very clear sense of regression here. It seems, from this first serial of Pertwee’s second year, that the agenda has changed somewhat.

Terror of the Autons is arguably more indicative of Pertwee’s time in the lead role than any of those stories from his first year. It’s exciting, it’s fast-paced, it has a decidedly man-of-mystery feeling to it, but it also feels somewhat light and a little insubstantial. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just feels like a definite regression.

Master of the Whoniverse?

Master of the Whoniverse?

Continue reading

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Elementary, Dear Data (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season (and a tiny bit of the second), episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

If you needed more evidence of the improvement of Star Trek: The Next Generation between the first and second seasons of the show, Elementary, Dear Data certainly provides it. Like Where Silence Has Lease directly before it, Elementary, Dear Data works so well because it takes a couple of ideas hinted at and teased in the first season and then develops them just a little bit further.

There’s a sense that the universe of The Next Generation is slowly expanding. While the first season treated our main characters as masters of all they surveyed, Elementary, Dear Data hints that the universe still has more to teach them and that they have a lot to learn.

Unfortunately, the trend would not continue into the next episode, but Elementary, Dear Data proves that the writing team (and the cast) are learning to play to the show’s strengths and that the pieces are all positioned to allow for a solidly entertaining hour of television.

Things take a turn for the better...

Things take a turn for the better…

Continue reading