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Doctor Who: Face the Raven (Review)

“She enjoyed that way too much.”

“Tell me about it.”

– Clara Oswald, RIP (for now)

Of course a season of two-parters would end with a three-parter.

That said, it seems quite clear that Face the Raven is the first part of a three-parter in the same way that Utopia was the first part of a three-parter; it is largely a standalone story that exists to manoeuvre the various characters to the point where the season finalé can actually begin. In a way, Face the Raven even marks its own “return of a classic series element”, albeit in a much more subdued manner than Utopia. It seems quite clear exactly who Ashidlr is dealing with, and it seems to be a pretty big deal.

Quoth the raven...

Quoth the raven…

There is quite a lot of narrative shuffling taking place here, to the point that Face the Raven feels very much like a premise rather than a self-contained story. The episode was allegedly cobbled together at reasonably short notice when Mark Gatiss could not extend Sleep No More into a two-parter keeping with the rest of the season. Given all the demands imposed on the script, it seems perfectly reasonable to suggest that Sarah Dollard was handed what is traditionally known as a “nightmare brief.”

In light of all of the obligations imposed on it, it is surprising that Face the Raven works at all. It is even more impressive that it works downright splendidly.

... nevermore...

… nevermore…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Catwalk (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Catwalk is a solid, if unexceptional, piece of Star Trek.

Given the problems that the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise has been having to date, it feels like a breath of fresh air. As with a lot of the episodes around it, The Catwalk feels a little familiar. There are refugees with a secret; an alien take-over of the ship; a clever bluff to reclaim the ship from a position of weakness. If we are looking at The Catwalk in the “… by way of …” formula that seems to apply to most of this stretch of the second season, The Catwalk is “Starship Mine by way of Basics.”

"Right, right! Goddammit, Trip, now we'll never get the high score!"

“Right, right! Goddammit, Trip, now we’ll never get the high score!”

However, The Catwalk feels a lot more functional than many of the earlier episodes in the season. A large part of that is down to the way that writers Mike Sussman and Phylis Strong play to their strengths. The inevitable alien hijacking and threat is relegated to the background; The Catwalk is almost half over by the time that anything actually happens. While the episode’s pacing is a little uneven, it does allow Sussman and Strong a bit of room to explore the characters, building up the sense that the crew is something of a family unit.

While The Catwalk isn’t innovative or particularly adventurous, it works quite well. The idea of pushing the whole crew into a confined space and having them weather the storm together feels like it captures a lot of the pioneering sense of adventure that the show has allowed to fade over the second season.

Don't forget to turn out the light...

Don’t forget to turn out the light…

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The X-Files – Fresh Bones (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Written by Howard Gordon and directed by Rob Bowman, Fresh Bones is a superbly constructed piece of television. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that Fresh Bones is the best “traditional” episode of The X-Files produced since Scully returned to the fold. While episodes like Irresistible and Die Hand Die Verletzt have been bold and adventurous in their attempts to expand the show’s comfort zone, Fresh Bones is perhaps the best example of what the show was missing while Gillian Anderson was unavailable – proof the familiar formula still works.

It’s a great example of what might be termed “the standard X-Files episode” – a demonstration of how all the moving parts come together to produce an episode of the show, offering an example of the series’ standard operating practice. If you were to pick an episode of the second season to demonstrate how a “standard” episode of The X-Files should work, Fresh Bones would be perhaps the most appropriate example. (Aubrey and Our Town are perhaps the only two other examples.)

Grave danger...

Grave danger…

In keeping with Bowman’s approach to the series, Fresh Bones feels like a forty-five minute movie. The show atmospherically shot with some wonderful kinetic sequences – such as Mulder’s pursuit of Chester on the pier or Scully’s attack in the car. The Voodoo subject matter lends Fresh Bones a wonderfully pulpy atmosphere, although it seems like Howard Gordon has done his homework. The script to Fresh Bones averts many of the awkward stereotypes you’d expect in a show about Voodoo starring two white leads produced in Vancouver.

The result is a superb piece of television, an example of what The X-Files is capable of.

A bone to pick...

A bone to pick…

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