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The X-Files – Herrenvolk (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.

After Talitha Cumi, Herrenvolk cannot help but seem like a little bit of a disappointment.

Towards the end of the episode, the Alien Bounty Hunter hunts down Jeremiah Smith. Mulder begs for mercy, but the Bounty Hunter will hear nothing of it. “He shows you pieces, but tells you nothing of the whole,” the Bounty Hunter remarks to Mulder. It feels like that sentiment encapsulates Herrenvolk in a nutshell. Mulder goes on the run with Jeremiah Smith and sees a collection of vague but compelling things that may or may not tie into colonisation.

"Now you're thinking, 'I hope that's shepherd's pie in my knickers!'"

“Now you’re thinking, ‘I hope that’s shepherd’s pie in my knickers!'”

Like a lot of the mythology in the fourth and fifth seasons, it feels like a holding pattern. Talitha Cumi was surprisingly candid in its revelations. The aliens were plotting to colonise Earth in collaboration with the human conspirators. The date had been set, the plot was in motion. That was a pretty big bombshell, confirmed in unequivocal terms. It was arguably the clearest and most transparent that the conspiracy arc would ever be. There was a clear goal, a deadline, and a sense of purpose.

Almost immediately, Herrenvolk works to muddy the water. It stalls, it procrastinates, it delays, it evades. It is a plot structured around a collection of ominous conspiracy buzz words (DNA, smallpox, colonies, clones) without a clear purpose or objective.

A bloody mess...

A bloody mess…

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Doctor Who: Smith & Jones (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.

Smith & Jones originally aired in 2007.

It’s only roentgen radiation. We used to play with roentgen bricks in the nursery. It’s safe for you to come out. I’ve absorbed it all. All I need to do is expel it. If I concentrate I can shake the radiation out of my body and into one spot. It’s in my left shoe. Here we go, here we go. Easy does it. Out, out, out, out, out. Out, out. Ah, ah, ah, ah! It is, it is, it is, it is, it is hot. Hold on.

Done.

You’re completely mad.

You’re right. I look daft with one shoe.

– the Doctor and Martha get off to a good start

I’d argue that Smith & Jones is Russell T. Davies’ most successful season-opener of Doctor Who. By its third year, Davies had firmly established the format of the show, to the point where he could successfully lose both of his leading actors. Christopher Eccleston had been replaced by David Tennant at the end of the first season, and Billy Piper had departed at the end of the second. Davies had demonstrated that the series could survive a cast rotation like that, and there’s a sense of looseness about Smith & Jones that suggests the show has really found its comfort zone.

The reason that Smith & Jones works so very well is not that it has an abundance of ambition. Its goal is relatively modest: to tell an enjoyable modern day adventure while introducing a new companion to the show. The beauty is in the execution. Smith & Jones races along, barely pausing to catch its breath, relying on Tennant’s abundant charisma, a constant flow of clever high concepts and a charming new companion to carry it through.

It works surprisingly well.

Standing in the Earthlight...

Standing in the Earthlight…

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Doctor Who: Full Circle (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.

Full Circle originally aired in 1980. It was the first instalment of the E-Space Trilogy.

Why can’t people be nice to one another, just for a change?

– the Doctor is still an optimist at heart

I have to admit, I’m kinda a bit frustrated with these “arcs” that Doctor Who was so fond of in the late seventies and into the eighties, with themes like The Key to Time, or The Black Guardian Trilogy or even Trial of a Timelord serving as an excuse to tie a bunch of distinct stories together with a few shared elements, mostly confined to intrusive opening and closing scenes rather than anything especially substantive. In particular, The E-Space Trilogy feels especially odd, because it’s located inside a larger arc exploring the final year of Tom Baker’s tenure, with entropy and decay evident everywhere. Being entirely honest though, it does help that Full Circleis a solid and clever little story, which genuinely feels like something quite different than the typical Doctor Who adventure.

Forget the spy who came in from the cold, it’s the Marshmen who came in from the mist!

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Non-Review Review: Men in Black 2

I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of any of the Men in Black films. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike, it’s just that they tend to be enjoyable and entertaining… and yet completely forgettable. Of the bunch, Men in Black II (or MIIB) is probably the most forgettable. Again, it’s not that it’s terrible – although some elements flat-out don’t work – just that there’s not really anything exceptional about it either. It’s a reasonably competent comedy adventure, even if it’s never an especially good one.

Black up there a minute…

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Non-Review Review: Men in Black 3

Men in Black 3 is a fine film. Like Men in Black and Men in Black 2, it’s a perfectly entertaining piece of popcorn entertainment if you’re willing to just go along with it. It’s not superb, it’s not exceptional, but it’s not bad either. It’s a decent movie. It manages to probably offer some better moments than the earlier two films, but these are averaged out by some painful deficiencies. You lose Tommy Lee Jones for most of the runtime, but you gain Josh Brolin. That’s a fairly reasonable trade, even if Brolin and Smith don’t share the same chemistry. You get the same wonderful production design, this time heightened by a sixties setting, but a plot that threatens to evaporate if you think about it too hard and any number of developments that are far too easy to predict. Nothing is truly fantastic, but nothing is exceptionally terrible. It just sort of is.

Putting the star in 69…

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Non-Review Review: Independence Day

I think there’s a serious argument to be made for Independence Dayas one of the truly exceptional summer blockbusters. It’s not exceptionally clever or insightful, its characters aren’t necessarily more than plot functions given life by a wonderful cast, but it has a high-octane energy and wonderful sense of tone that makes it a joy to watch. It’s cheesy enough that it never takes itself too seriously, and yet it’s efficient enough and effective enough that it never descends to the level of pure camp. It’s a deft balance, and I suspect that it might be a fluke, but I think that Independence Day remains a gleefully enjoyable guilty pleasure to this day.

Don't run! We are your friends!

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