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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Royale (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

“None of it makes any sense, sir,” Riker succinctly states before the credits role on The Royale. The Royale is a decidedly nonsensical episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where an away team find themselves trapped inside an atrocious casino melodrama and have to figure out how to return to the ship. The episode is packed with interesting visuals and a bizarre situations, but it never quite comes together in the end.

And, yet, despite the obvious problems, The Royale is intriguing. Visually, it’s one of the most striking and memorable episodes of the show’s first two season. The rotating door to nowhere is a beautifully strange image, and the sight of the Enterprise away team wandering around a twentieth century casino is enough to prevent the episode from ever becoming boring. The Royale isn’t the best constructed episode of the show’s first two years, and it has more than its fair share of problems.

However, it’s also a wonderfully bizarre and adventurous piece of science-fiction, as if Riker has beamed into a cheap imitation of The Twilight Zone. That’s enough to make it well worth a watch.

The whole plot revolves around absurdities...

The whole plot revolves around absurdities…

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Doctor Who: The Awakening (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 Awakening originally aired in 1984.

The Awakening was the third and final of Peter Davison’s smaller two-part adventures, taken once in each of his three seasons in the title role. Much like Black Orchid and The King’s Demons, it feels like a light and refreshing breather, especially in a final season that was becoming gradually darker and more somber. While Black Orchid allowed the cast and crew to take a somewhat relaxing break before the tragedy of Earthshock, The Awakening feels conspicuously grimmer, but still seems a relatively casual affair when measured against the stories that were to follow.

Malus aforethought…

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Doctor Who: The Next Doctor (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 Next Doctor originally aired in 2008.

Oh, goodness me. Well. But this is… but this is nonsense.

Well, that’s one word for it.

Complete and utter, wonderful nonsense. How very, very silly.

– Jackson Lake and the Doctor

The Next Doctor actually has a pretty audacious concept. It’s one gigantic tease that plays off the audience’s media savvy. Airing after David Tennant’s departure from the role had been announced, but before Matt Smith had been named as Tennant’s successor, The Next Doctor is one gigantic tease. Like the surprise “regeneration” at the climax of The Stolen Earth, it’s a shrewd attempt to turn the audience’s expectations against themselves.

After all, the gap between an announced departure of an existing lead and the point where he actually leaves is rife for experimentation – particularly in a show about time travel. Up until The Next Doctor actually aired, it was quite possible that David Morrissey was Tennant’s successor, and The Next Doctor was a rather clever twist on the classic “multi-Doctor” story by having the Doctor team up with his future self.

Of course, as with The Doctor’s Daughter, Davies was just teasing. It’s to Davies’ credit that The Next Doctor remains interesting even after the illusion begins to slip. The first half is actually a wonderfully solid mystery and character study, albeit one that descends into confusion and chaos in the second half of the episode.

The Next Doctor...?

The Next Doctor…?

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Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride (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 Runaway Bride originally aired in 2006.

What, there’s like a secret base hidden underneath a major London landmark?

Oh, I know. Unheard of.

– Donna and the Doctor present Doctor Who 101

The Runaway Bride is really more indicative of a Davies-era Christmas Special than The Christmas Invasion was. The Christmas Invasion came with so much narrative baggage to unpack that it even spilt over into the Born Again scene that aired as part of Children in Need. While The Runaway Bride does have to deal with some of the fallout from Billie Piper’s departure in Doomsday, it’s a much more stand-alone piece of Doctor Who.

It’s a very light piece of television, but that’s really the ideal kind of Doctor Who to air as part of the BBC’s Christmas line-up.

He's fire and ice and rage...

He’s fire and ice and rage…

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Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion (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 Christmas Invasion originally aired in 2005.

Oh, that’s rude. That’s the sort of man I am now, am I? Rude. Rude and not ginger.

– the Doctor

Part of what’s remarkable about The Christmas Invasion is that it’s a great big important episode. Not only is it the first Doctor Who Christmas Special, the beginning of a BBC institution, it’s also the first full-length adventure to feature David Tennant in the title role, and so it comes with a lot of expectations. Whereas most of Davies’ Christmas Specials tended to be relatively light fare – enjoyable run-arounds aimed rather squarely at the kind of people who didn’t tune into the show week-in and week-out – The Christmas Invasion is a pretty big deal.

It’s a vitally important part of Davies’ Doctor Who, and one that really lays out a general blue print for where he wants to take the series over the next few years. The fact that so much of this winds up tying back into the final story of the Davies era – The End of Time – is quite striking on re-watch.

Song for Ten(nant)...

Song for Ten(nant)…

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Doctor Who: Born Again (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.

Born Again originally aired in 2005.

Can you change back?

Do you want me to?

Yeah.

Oh.

Can you?

No.

– Rose and Doctor

Davies revived Doctor Who devoted considerable time to reintroducing the core concepts of the series. Unlike The TV Movie, Davies saw no need to over-complicate Rose by featuring the regeneration from the previous Doctor to the current lead. The Ninth Doctor was introduced as-is to an entire generation of new viewers. Only a quick examination of his features in Rose seemed to hint that he was getting used to his new face.

The prospect of “regeneration” hadn’t been flagged too heavily by the time The Parting of the Ways aired. This makes sense. For one thing, there’s a sense that Eccleston’s departure was not something that the production team had accounted for – which makes it even stranger that the whole first season seems to be building towards his redemption in death. For another thing, it’s very hard to drop “by the way, I change into somebody else when I die” casually into conversation.

So the regeneration at the end of The Parting of the Ways was kind of a big deal, and a huge moment for the series. After all, the classic Doctor Who had enjoyed more than three seasons with its lead character before having to swap him out – Hartnell being the last member of the original ensemble to depart. And, given the rules of television narratives in 2005, there was no way that the show’s first regeneration wasn’t going to be a pretty significant event.

Somebody needs a Doctor...

Somebody needs a Doctor…

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Doctor Who: Survival (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.

Survival originally aired in 1989.

Where to now, Ace?

Home.

Home?

The TARDIS.

Yes, the TARDIS. There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do!

– the Doctor and Ace turn off the lights on their way out

There was a long gap between Survival and Rose. It was filled with stuff. It was filled with lost of interesting and different Doctor Who stuff. There were books and audio plays and even a television movie to help fill the decade and a half when Doctor Who was not a regular feature of British television. A lot of that stuff was important, and a lot of it helped determine and shape what Doctor Who would become when it did return. It’s telling that the many members of the writing staff on the revived Doctor Who cut their teeth on novels and short stories and audio plays and specials in the wilderness years, while no writers returned from the classic show.

At the same time, however, the gap between Survival and Rose doesn’t feel as profound as it might. It’s misleading to suggest that Survival was a clear bridge towards the Russell T. Davies era, or even to hint that the revival could have emerged fully formed from this three-part closing serial. At the same time, Survival is really the closest that the classic series ever came to the spirit of the Davies era, hitting on quite a few familiar themes and ideas and settings, as if Cartmel’s vision of the future of Doctor Who was not too far from the version proposed by Davies.

Survival was the end of an era, but it also motioned towards the start of another.

Riding into the sunset...

Riding into the sunset…

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