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New Podcast! Make It So – Season 2, Episode 8 (“Mercy”)

I am recapping Star Trek: Picard for The Escapist, and so was thrilled to join the wonderful Kurt North on Make It So: A Star Trek Universe Podcast to discuss the eighth episode of the second season, Mercy.

I have somewhat complicated feelings about Picard. There are parts of it that I love, and parts of it that I am a bit more skeptical about. One of the joys of coming into the podcast to discuss the episode was getting the chance to talk about the season as a whole, given how its various arcs were set up and how they paid off. It seems particularly opportune, given that Mercy is a somewhat stronger episode than those surrounding it.

Anyway, it was a huge honour to be invited on, and I hope you enjoy. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

New Escapist Column! On “Star Trek: Picard” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”…

I published a new piece at The Escapist this evening. We’re doing a series of recaps and reviews of Star Trek: Picard, which is streaming weekly on Paramount+. The sixth episode of the second season released this week, and it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the series.

One of the interesting aspects of the second season of Star Trek: Picard has been the way in which it has been drawing more overtly from classic Star Trek tropes, with the season taking a number of cues from Star Trek: First Contact. However, the season has drawn most overtly from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. What is interesting about this is that the show understands that The Voyage Home isn’t just about time travelers from an imaginary future, but about fugitives from television.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

New Escapist Column! On How “Star Trek: Picard” Remixes “The Voyage Home”…

I published a new piece at The Escapist this evening. We’re doing a series of recaps and reviews of Star Trek: Picard, which is streaming weekly on Paramount+. The third episode of the second season released this week, and it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the series.

One of the interesting aspects of the second season of Star Trek: Picard has been the way in which it has been drawing more overtly from classic Star Trek tropes, with the season taking a number of cues from Star Trek: First Contact. With the third episode, the season reveals some method to this approach, offering a reframing of the movie’s basic premise that places a greater emphasis on the familiar narrative template employed by Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks (Review)

“Here we are again.”

“Yeah, here we are again.”

In hindsight, it’s surprising that it has taken Doctor Who this long to do a proper time-loop episode. After all, this is a show about a literal time machine.

Time-loop stories are inherently fun. As Dan points out, Groundhog Day codified a narrative template that is easy to replicate while also being fun to play with. As recently as last year in the United Kingdom and the previous year in the United States, Palm Springs demonstrated how such a story could resonate in this era of a global pandemic, when the feeling of being stuck in an unending loop living the same day over and over again tapped into a fairly widespread feeling.

Shelf storage, am I right?

On a more basic level, these sorts of stories are fun for writers, directors and audiences. It has become increasingly common for television shows to have timeloop episodes. Star Trek: The Next Generation had Cause and Effect, which perhaps remains the gold standard. Stargate: SG-1 had the charming Window of Opportunity. The X-Files had Monday. Even Star Trek: Discovery had Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad. These sorts of stories are that rare blend of a simple high concept with an incredible range of narrative opportunities; they can be funny or tragic, straightforward or complicated, character- or plot-driven.

So it is strange that it has taken Doctor Who so long to attempt something like this, even if the results are depressingly familiar within the larger context of the Chris Chibnall era. It feels very much like a repetition of the era’s most glaring flaws, squandering a fun supporting cast and playful concept on a script that seems completely disinterested in capitalising on either. Instead, it just plays the clichés of these sorts of stories over and over again.

Lifting the holiday spirits.

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Doctor Who: Flux – Chapter Three: Once, Upon Time (Review)

“Love is the only mission.”

Once, Upon Time is equal parts ambitious and frustrating.

It feels like an attempt to adopt the approach that Chris Chibnall took to The Halloween Apocalypse and apply it to a mid-season episode. Allowing for the tertiary plot involving Yaz, War of the Sontarans was recognisable as a fairly straightforward Chibnall era episode, albeit one tied to the season arc. It was a historical epic about a marginalised female hero like Rosa or Spyfall, Part II and it was also a modern-day invasion story like Arachnids in the U.K. or Revolution of the Daleks. Sure, the plot mechanics where governed by the larger concerns of Doctor Who: Flux, but it was recognisable as an episode of Doctor Who.

Blaster from the… future?

In contrast, Once, Upon Time is a radically different approach to Doctor Who on television, one that feels like an extension of the style of The Halloween Apocalypse. On some level, it recalls another of the bolder scripts of the Chibnall era, The Timeless Children, in that it really feels like Chris Chibnall is driving Doctor Who like he stole it. He is trying to do something new with a nearly sixty-year-old franchise. That is genuinely admirable, particularly given how traditionalist the rest of the era around it can feel. For Doctor Who to grow and evolve, it needs to be able to try new things.

However, that’s a very qualified comparison. Like The Timeless Children before it, Once, Upon Time is an episode that doesn’t necessarily work on its own terms. It demonstrates that an episode like The Halloween Apocalypse – an episode with multiple seemingly disconnected threads constantly pushing the narrative forward – only really worked as a season premiere. The Halloween Apocalypse worked because it started with a bang. The audience were oriented coming into the episode, which made the chaos somewhat compelling.

Time, pyramided.

In contrast, Once, Upon Time is too disjointed. It never provides the audience with enough to hold on to as it jumps from one concept to another. It is an episode that should theoretically have a set of clear emotional hearts – Dan and Diane, Vinder and Bel, the Doctor and her past – but gets too tied up in scale and speed to really ground anything that is happening. Once, Upon Time feels like a more dynamic version of The Timeless Children, a lot of exposition in place of what should be a compelling and engaging emotional narrative.

Once, Upon Time feels like it is trying for something new, but it isn’t quite succeeding.

Back up.

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Non-Review Review: The Tomorrow War

The Tomorrow War is a mess of a movie.

Rumour has it that Amazon paid $200m to acquire the movie from Paramount Pictures, which has taken the pandemic as an excuse to offload films like The Lovebirds, The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Coming 2 America. Blockbuster cinema is still something of a siren call for streaming services, with Paramount famously able to entice Netflix into buying The Cloverfield Paradox as a big post-Superbowl release. However, it’s notable that most major studios would be reluctant to part with a surefire financial hit.

“We need to have grown up conversation about how many deaths are acceptable in an alien invasion.”

The Tomorrow War feels very much like a streaming era blockbuster, something to fire up on television rather than to enjoy in cinemas, something that might be justified as a perk that comes with all the free shipping rather than a movie that is worth the audience’s time and attention (and the price of a ticket) on its own merits. The Tomorrow War is a clumsy misfire of a movie, essentially three different movies awkwardly stitched together with a bloated runtime and no internal coherence.

This would be a problem if any of the individual three movies were good. It’s somehow worse for the fact that all three are awful and are worse in combination.

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New Escapist Column! On the Tenets of TENET…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With TENET now on streaming, it seemed like a good time to dive into the film’s position within Christopher Nolan’s filmography.

Most discussions of Nolan’s filmography focus on the director’s obsession with time, and TENET makes sense in that context. However, the film also ties into more existential anxieties that simmer through Nolan’s body of work, in particular the question of reality actually is and how best to respond to a world that can fundamentally chaotic, hostile and unknowable. TENET deals this this theme, confronting its audience and its characters with a reality that appears to be unraveling.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

New Escapist Column! The Real Paradox at the Heart of the Post-“Judgment Day” Terminator Sequels…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Monday. This one is taking a look at Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest effort to produce a faithful and worthy sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

However, there’s an abiding irony to the four attempted sequels to James Cameron’s blockbuster classic. The four films all hope to position themselves as worthy successors to Judgment Day, while their very existence serves as a repudiation of its core themes. There is an inherent contradiction there, in that any attempt to honour or homage Judgment Day must – by its mere existence – invalidate the central thematic point. None of the four attempts to produce a workable sequel to Judgment Day have managed to square that particular circle.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! “Undone”, “Back to the Future” and Keeping Time Travel In the Family…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday. This one takes a look at Amazon Prime’s really very wonderful Undone. Seriously, if you haven’t had a chance to check it out, give it a look right now. It’s only four hours long in total, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen this year.

Anyway, the series is interesting in its use of its central time travel premise as a metaphor for exploring the relationship between parent and child. Freudian psychology and Campbellian storytelling argues that a parent must die for a child to become a completely independent person, that realisation of mortality standing as the most important marker on the journey to adulthood. However, like Back to the Future before it, Undone suggests a more nuanced idea. Maybe children don’t grow up when confront with the death of a parent, but instead when they realise that their parents were just ordinary human beings.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Avengers – Endgame

It says a lot about the state of contemporary pop culture that the biggest movie of the year is essentially a clip episode.

Pop culture has always been vaguely nostalgic, evoking an idealised past and reminding audiences of times when the future seemed brighter. After all, much of the New Hollywood canon is explicitly nostalgic, sixties and seventies films that pay loving homage to the thirties and the forties, often explicitly; The Sting, The Godfather, Paper Moon, Chinatown, Bonnie and Clyde. The past has always had a certain allure for cinema, perhaps because that’s what pictures have always been; individual moments captured on film and frozen in time, removed from their original context. Film is simply those frozen images run together to create the illusion of movement and life. Every film is a time machine, some are just more explicit than others.

Assembly line.

However, there is something fascinating about the modern wave of nostalgia, the speed at which pop culture is consuming itself. Recent waves of seventies, eighties and nineties nostalgia are still cresting. Earlier this summer, Captain Marvel channeled some of this nineties nostalgia into blockbuster (and Blockbuster) form. However, it also feels like nostalgia is getting closer and closer to the present, brushing up against the current moment. In some respects, the success of Lady Bird is indicative here. After all, Lady Bird is a film that is explicitly nostalgic about the post-9/11 era, evoked through footage of the Iraq War and the sounds of Justin Timberlake playing at a teen house party.

Avengers: Endgame is a strangely nostalgic beast. It is not strange that the film is nostalgic; after all, this is something of a coda to a decade of superhero films. However, it is strange how that nostalgia brushes up against the present, the climax of the film feeling very much like a loving homage to Avengers: Infinity War, a film that only premiered one year ago.

Stark raving mad…

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