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Doctor Who: It Takes You Away (Review)

It Takes You Away is a strong contender, along with Demons of the Punjab, for the strongest story of the eleventh season of Doctor Who.

It Takes You Away plays as an allegory. It is something of a fairy tale. It is perhaps the closest that the eleventh season of Doctor Who has come to feeling like a fairy tale, particularly given the conscious choice to root The Woman Who Fell to Earth in a more gritty and grounded universe. It Takes You Away seems like it could have been commissioned during the Moffat era, a lyrical meditation on the idea of loss and mourning. It Takes You Away is a story about needing to let go of trauma, rather than holding on it or carrying it inside.

Reflections and symbols.

To be fair, It Takes You Away is not perfect. There are still some minor pacing issues, particularly with how long the episode takes to get to the meat of the story; there is a sense in which It Takes You Away is three stories stitched together, with the middle segment particularly inessential. There is also the same over-reliance on weirdly specific and overly detailed nonsense techno-babble and mythology that stood out in episodes like The Ghost Monument or The Tsuranga Conundrum.

Still, It Takes You Away has some big ideas, a clever execution, and a strong central theme upon which both might be placed.

Mind the gap.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 3, Episode 16 (“Apocrypha”)

I’m back on The X-Cast this week, to cover the second-part of the late third-season mythology two-parter Apocrypha.

Picking up where Piper Maru left off, this conclusion finds Mulder and Scully continuing their separate investigations. Mulder is chasing down the missing tape from Anasazi, The Blessing Way and Paper Clip while Scully is dealing with the fallout from the assassination attempt on Assistant Director Walter Skinner that brings her face-to-face with the man who killed her sister. Justice, legacy and guilt are all major preoccupations, tying into the broader themes of the season as a whole.

Once again, a pleasure to substitute in for Tony Black as host of The X-Cast for an episode, and absolutely thrilled to be joined by the great Christopher Irish from The X-Files Lexicon.

The truth is in here. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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Non-Review Review: The Predator

The Predator adopts the as-ambitious-as-it-is-counter-productive of smirkingly mocking big budget franchise films while also actually being a big budget franchise film.

Shane Black’s sequel to the beloved eighties actioner is jarring, caught between two masters. On the one hand, Black writes the characters in his patented self-ware style, with banter and wry liners to beat the band. However, these characters are then dropped right into the middle of a fairly brain-dead paint-by-numbers action film that is clearly structured to feel like a contemporary franchise foundation stone. There is a constant push-and-pull between these two extremes, which is disorienting and distracting.

The Predator took the reviews rather well.

The Predator never seems sure whether it is a good old-fashioned fun-dumb blockbuster mocking the pretensions of modern franchise films or alternatively a smart self-aware action comedy picking at the tropes of fun dumb action films. It’s never entirely clear whether the issues with The Predator are playful self-parody or just terrible plotting; whether Shane Black is not taking any of this seriously or whether he is taking all of it much too seriously.

Whenever The Predator seems to be working, it veers too sharply one way or the other and the audience gets whiplash.

Pred-locks.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 3, Episode 15 (“Piper Maru”)

Having recovered from the madness that was The X-Cast Live, The X-Cast is back to its regular schedule.

I’m subbing in for Tony this week to discuss the third season mythology episode Piper Maru, the first part of a late-season two-parter largely dealing with the fallout from the AnasaziThe Blessing Way and Paper Clip trilogy while also introducing the black oil into the mythology. I’m lucky enough to be joined by Christopher Irish from The X-Files Lexicon.

The truth is in here. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Muse (Review)

In its own way, Muse marks the end of an era for Star Trek: Voyager, as Joe Menosky’s last solo script for the series.

To be fair, this is not Menosky’s last script credit on the series. Menosky would collaborate with Brannon Braga on the season-bridging two-parter Unimatrix Zero, Part I and Unimatrix Zero, Part II. In fact, those episodes have themes that play directly into Menosky’s interests; the two-parter is a story about dreams and narratives, about worlds that exist beyond the literal and the concrete. More than that, Menosky would work on the writing staff of Star Trek: Discovery, contributing the script to Lethe, one of the season’s stand-out episodes that was also about narratives – albeit internalised ones.

Dropping the mask.

However, Muse still feels like it marks the end of an era. Menosky had been a fixture of the Berman era of Star Trek dating back to the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, making his debut with Legacy and arguably making his biggest impression with Darmok early the following season. Menosky’s involvement with the franchise ebbed and flowed in the intervening years, but his influence was often felt. Indeed, Menosky even contributed a handful of scripts and stories to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, including the teleplay for the underrated Dramatis Personae.

With Menosky’s departure from Voyager at the end of the sixth season, Brannon Braga would become the longest-serving writer working on the Star Trek franchise. His tenure on the television franchise would surpass that of Ronald D. Moore, and of any writer who hadn’t spanned the gap from the end of the original Star Trek to the early seasons of The Next Generation, with the arguable exception of producer Rick Berman. As such, Muse feels very much like the end of an era. It marks the departure of one of the guiding light of the Star Trek franchise, albeit one often overlooked or ignored.

Storyteller.

Muse is an episode that speaks to Menosky’s key interests within the Star Trek franchise, the idea of Star Trek as something akin to a modern mythology. More than any other writer on Star Trek, Menosky is invested in stories that are fundamentally about stories. His influence on Voyager is more subtle than that of Michael Piller, Jeri Taylor or Brannon Braga, but can felt in the recurring idea that Voyager itself is a Delta Quadrant myth. More than any of the other Star Trek series, Voyager feels like it is a story about a collection of archetypes rather than characters.

Menosky first articulated this idea in the closing scene of his otherwise forgettable script for False Profits, but reinforced it in episodes like Distant Origin, Living Witness and Blink of an Eye. It could reasonably be argued that this idea became part of the show’s identity, to the point that it can even be traced through episodes not explicitly credited to Menosky, like Live Fast and Prosper. It seems appropriate that this idea should serve as the central theme of Muse, an episode that might be read as a thesis statement on Menosky’s approach to the franchise.

Acting out.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 3, Episode 1 (“The Blessing Way”)

I was thrilled to join Tony Black to launch the third season of The X-Cast, a podcast taking a tour through Chris Carter’s The X-Files.

I’ve been lucky enough to guest on a number of episodes, including the one covering the second season finale, Anasazi. After finishing up the second season, Tony took a bit of a break to rush through a podwatch of the entire series; I was thrilled to be invited to take part in that, commenting on episodes from Aubrey to Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man to Never Again to The Post-Modern Prometheus to The Unnatural and beyond. It was a real pleasure to be a part of that. And to contribute to Tony’s coverage of the eleventh season, including the final two episodes, maybe forever, Nothing Lasts Forever and My Struggle IV.

However, with Tony having covered all of that, we jumped right back into the regularly scheduled coverage. It was an absolute pleasure to talk about The Blessing Way, which is the third season premiere. I’ve gone on record in the past as both being a tremendous fan of the third season as a whole, which I think is one of the best twenty-odd episode seasons of television ever produced. I’ve also been a bit skeptical of The Blessing Way at the same time. I hope I’m fair to it here, where I confess why it’s both one of my least favourite episodes of the season and something that I’m very glad exists in this form.

As even, Tony was a fantastic host, and we had a fun and wide-ranging discussion about everything from abstract concepts of “truth” to why we love the Well-Manicured Man so much to the recurring theme of mirroring and doubling that plays through this three-parter in particular and the X-Files in general. Check it out the episode here, or click the link below.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast Season 11 #39 – William, Skinner, Smoking Man & Everyone Else! (“My Struggle IV”)

Returning to The X-Cast this morning to continue my discussion of the eleventh season finale of The X-Files.

In this installment, we’re discussing the various supporting characters of My Struggle IV, from William (or Jackson) through to Monica Reyes through to creepy possibly-child-abusing car-driving guy! It’s a packed instalment, befitting a packed episode. Thrilled to be joining Tony to discuss the episode in question.

Click here, or check it out below. The final part of our discussion, talking about Chris Carter, will be landing tomorrow morning.