• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

Star Trek – The Doomsday Machine (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Doomsday Machine is another Star Trek classic.

Much like Amok Time directly before it, The Doomsday Machine is a piece of Star Trek that works both as powerful drama and clever allegory. It is an episode that has had a tremendous influence on the franchise. The “planet killer” has become a staple of Star Trek tie-in fiction, and even the franchise itself has kept the episode’s legacy alive, with the son of Commodore Decker originally planned as a regular in Star Trek: Phase II and eventually appearing in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

All hands on Decker...

All hands on Decker…

The Doomsday Machine is at once a beautifully tragic character study and a potent cautionary tale for the atomic age. The episode the first example of “Star Trek does Moby Dick”, a story template that would become popular enough to sustain another episode in the same season, quite a few later Star Trek episodes across the franchise and no fewer than two of the franchise’s trips to the big screen. In many ways, The Doomsday Machine sets the template for Star Trek engaging with classic literature, building off The Conscience of a King.

It’s also beautifully produced, right down to the creature that Spinrad himself described as “a windsock dipped in cement.”

A commandeering presence...

A commandeering presence…

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

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: 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…

Continue reading

The X-Files – The Erlenmeyer Flask (Review)

When you think about it, The X-Files conspiracy mythology is just a fancy way of dressing up generational “daddy issues.” Both Mulder and Scully have problems with their fathers, and it plays into the show’s wider themes. The X-Files is, appropriately enough, a show that helps define what is known as “Generation X”, the generation born following the post war baby boom, as the afterglow from America’s ascent to global superpower began to wear off. Existing in the wake of the Cold War, in a unipolar world, The X-Files was a vehicle for introspection.

One of the recurring themes of the show, and one that has come up quite a bit in the first season, is the weight of history bearing down on the current generation. Living in the shadow of Watergate, dealing with the revelation of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, coping the Vietnam and other skeletons, it’s little wonder that Generation X seemed completely disillusioned with their elders. Jamie Notter argued that “unlike their parents who challenged leaders with an intent to replace them, Generation Xers tend to ignore leaders.”

Christine Henseler would go further, suggesting that there’s something close to righteous anger in the attitude that Generation X holds to its parents, holding “a world view” that “is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS.” The Erlenmeyer Flask seems the perfect place to end this season then, pushing all this uncertainty to the fore and killing the series’ much-loved father figure.

Bodies of proof...

Bodies of proof…

Continue reading

Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter (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’s Daughter originally aired in 2008.

Not what you’d call a natural parent, are you?

They stole a tissue sample at gunpoint and processed it. It’s not what I call natural parenting.

Rubbish. My friend Nerys fathered twins with a turkey baster. Don’t bother her.

You can’t extrapolate a relationship from a biological accident.

Er, Child Support Agency can.

– Donna and the Doctor discussing parenting

The Doctor’s Daughter is the weakest script of the fourth season. It’s just a mess of high concepts and ideas and in-jokes mashed together and then cut down to fit into a forty-five minute time slot. It’s a fundamentally flawed episode that has some meritorious elements, but a whole host of other ingredients that just fall flat. It’s the speed bump in the fourth season of the show, Russell T. Davies’ final season of Doctor Who, which had started out of the gate so very strong.

I suppose the real positive of The Doctor’s Daughter is that it doesn’t cause too much damage as it stumbles.

The ball's in his court...

The ball’s in his court…

Continue reading

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Prophecy & Change: Ha’Mara by Kevin G. Summers (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first season. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Comparing and contrasting the anniversary short story anthologies for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine can be highly informative. The Sky’s the Limit, released to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of The Next Generation, features fourteen stories. Most of these stories serve as prologues or epilogues to existing Next Generation episodes. Suicide Note provides closure to The Defector; Turncoats follows a character from Face of the Enemy after the camera stops rolling; Four Lights is an epilogue to Chain of Command.

In contrast, Prophecy and Change, released to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Deep Space Nine, tends to focus on short stories that fit gracefully between episodes – fleshing out connective tissue and explaining how one plot development or character decision led to another. That says quite a lot about the two shows and the way that their stories were told, with much of Prophecy and Change feeling ling deleted scenes or inserts loosely inserted between what was seen in television.

Ha’Mara is the first short story of the collection, following the introduction and the mysterious Revisited – a book-ending wrap-around written by an author who has yet to be publicly identified. Written by Kevin G. Summers, who provided Isolation Ward 4 to Strange New Worlds IV, the short story is set in the immediate aftermath of Emissary, attempting to smooth over the rough edges transitioning from the pilot to the rest of the show.

ds9-prophecyandchange

Continue reading