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Harsh Realm – Cincinnati (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Cincinnati finally gives Terry O’Quinn something to do.

Despite the fact that O’Quinn is credited as a series regular on Harsh Realm, he has appeared about as frequently in the first nine episodes as he did during the equivalent episodes of Millennium. With his “and…” credit at the end of the opening title sequence, it felt like O’Quinn might be forgotten by the show. His face might appear on posters and propaganda, but he was not going to play a particularly dynamic role in the events of the first season. After all, Hobbes is trying to assassinate Santiago; there are reasons why the writers would want to keep them separate.

Walk softly, but carry a big stick...

Walk softly, but carry a big stick…

Nevertheless, Cincinnati is a story that unfolds from Santiago’s perspective. Hobbes and Pinochio play a major part in unfolding events, but they largely reacting. The bulk of Cincinnati concerns a conflict between Santiago’s forces and the Native American population of Ohio. When a military strike goes horribly wrong, Santiago is forced to survive on his own terms. He infiltrates the eponymous city and sets about furthering his own agenda with ruthless efficiency.

A lot of Cincinnati is pure nonsense; the plot is barely held together by contrivance and coincidence, hinging on a final twist that manages to be both obvious and completely unearned. At the same time, it is hard to hate an episode that is carried by Terry O’Quinn and offers the actor a chance to sink his teeth into a juicy part.

It's all in ruins...

It’s all in ruins…

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Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (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 Five Doctors originally aired in 1983.

There was one chap we tried to get hold of. What was his name? Used to be your scientific advisor.

Oh, the Doctor.

Yes that’s right.

Wonderful chap. All of them.

– Crichton and the Brigadier get into the spirit of things

The Five Doctors is a big anniversary celebration for the franchise, reuniting all five… er, four… er, three of the actors to play the lead role and one guy in a dodgy wig. Written by Terrance Dicks, The Five Doctors is 100 minutes of pure celebration, without too much in the way of depth or drama or development. It’s a beautifully packaged “greatest hits” collection for the franchise, to the point where the generally nostalgic atmosphere of the rest of the twentieth season (pairing up the Doctor with foes from his twenty-year history) can’t help but feel a little a little shallow in comparison.

Producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward tended to fixate a bit too heavily on the show’s history and its continuity, with stories often becoming oppressively burdened with in-jokes and references to events that took place decades ago. In contrast, Dicks is able to craft a healthy slice of nostalgia that remains accessible and enjoyable, giving everybody their moment in the sun.

Well, everybody but the Cybermen.

Terrance Dicks does not care for the Cybermen...

Terrance Dicks does not care for the Cybermen…

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Doctor Who: Colony in Space (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.

Colony in Space originally aired in 1971.

Are you some kind of scientist?

I’m every kind of scientist.

– Caldwell and the Doctor

Colony in Space is an interesting story for many reasons. For one thing, it’s the first colour adventure to travel to another world. It was the first time since Jon Pertwee took over the title role that the character had been allowed to leave the surroundings of modern-day Earth. Even if he did land in a quarry. Colony in Space demonstrated the possibilities to tell futuristic and extraterrestrial stories in the new and remodelled version of Doctor Who, and the show began to slowly venture further and further afield over the next few years, with the Doctor finally regaining control of his TARDIS in The Three Doctors a little under two years later.

However, Colony in Space is also interesting because it is a script from Malcolm Hulke, who has really become one of the more Doctor Who script writers more inclined to pepper his scripts with political and moral philosophy. Colony in Space is an interesting exploration of those themes, even if it does run a little bit long in places. (That said, Hulke is one of the better writers of the six-part format in the show’s history.)

Go on, try to fight the urge to pronounce the episode title like "colony... IN SPACE!"

Go on, try to fight the urge to pronounce the episode title like “colony… IN SPACE!”

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Doctor Who: Robot (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.

Robot originally aired in 1974 and 1975.

There you are. Now come along, Doctor, you’re supposed to be in the sick bay.

Am I? Don’t you mean the infirmary?

No, I do not mean the infirmary. I mean the sick bay. You’re not fit yet.

Not fit? I’m the Doctor.

No, Doctor, I’m the doctor and I say that you’re not fit.

You may be a doctor, but I’m the Doctor. The definite article, you might say.

– Harry meets the Doctor

Robot feels a bit like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, or a Tom-Baker-shaped peg into a Jon-Pertwee-shaped hole. At the time that Baker assumed the role as everybody’s favourite time-travelling phone-booth dweller, Pertwee had just finished the longest stint as the character, portraying the Doctor for five years. Of course, Baker himself would go on to break that record, playing the part for seven years, but it gives you a sense of just how big of a transition it was. As such, it’s easy to understand why outgoing producer Barry Letts felt the need to essentially cast Tom Baker in what feels distinctly like a Jon Pertwee story. As a concept, the central character aside, Robot feels like it would have fit in quite well as part of Pertwee’s last season, which is – I think – part of the problem here.

Tom Baker is a lot of things, but he’s not Jon Pertwee. As a result, Robot feels a little clunkier than it really should, as if the show is actively working against the character who should be driving it.

The Doctor will see you now...

The Doctor will see you now…

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Doctor Who: The War Games (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 War Games originally aired in 1969.

Well, what was happening? Why was it so difficult to move?

It was the Time Lords.

But they’re your own people, aren’t they, Doctor?

Yes, that’s right.

Why did you run away from them in the first place?

What? Well, I was bored.

What do you mean, you were bored?

Well, the Time Lords are an immensely civilised race. We can control our own environment, we can live forever, barring accidents, and we have the secret of space time travel.

Well what’s so wrong in all that?

Well we hardly ever use our great powers. We consent simply to observe and to gather knowledge.

And that wasn’t enough for you?

No, of course not. With a whole galaxy to explore? Millions of planets, eons of time, countless civilisations to meet?

Well, why do they object to you doing all that?

Well, it is a fact, Jamie, that I do tend to get involved with things.

– Jamie, the Doctor and Zoe

The War Games represents the end of the era. It is the last appearance of Jamie as a regular companion. It is the last show featuring Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, although he would return for the occasional guest spot, celebration or charity episode. It was also the last of the series to be shot in black and white. The transition from Troughton to Pertwee would arguably be one of the most dramatic shifts in the history of the show. Not only would the show suddenly be broadcast in colour, and not only would it feature a new lead actor, but it would also have a new focus, grounded on Earth, and with that a new status quo and new rules. The show was only six years old at the time, but the change must have seemed radical to those watching.

The War Games isn’t the perfect episode – it’s too long and too plodding – but it is a lot more entertaining than some of the longer adventures, and it serves as a fond farewell to the “cosmic hobo” interpretation of the Doctor. Indeed, the episode probably seems a great deal harsher than it did in hindsight, with the specifics of regeneration not quite codified, the Doctor’s forced transformation seemed less like a formal execution than it does to modern audiences who watched the Tenth Doctor plead for more time.

The War Games is an effective and fond farewell to not only a particular iteration of the title character, but also a version of the show as a whole.

Run!

Run!

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