Saturday, January 24, 2015

Thief (1981) - Review

Michael Mann is one of those names which is spoken of in hushed tones. As a director, his films are feted and admired. Thief, made in 1981, was his first cinema film. According to IMDB, before this, he had only directed a few shorts, an episode of a TV series, and a TV Movie. And it's certainly an impressive debut. Mann would go on to direct The Keep (1983) and Manhunter (1986), not to mention The Last of the Mohicans (1992) ... so there is something of a pedigree here. Unfortunately Thief sees Mann coming to grips with all the elements which he would later excel at. While the visual element of the film is exemplary, with some simply beautiful shots of rain-soaked streets and a neon-washed Chicago, the narrative structure is slow and hard to get to grips with. The film has been constructed in an almost cinema veritie style, with the actors speaking and behaving as in real life, rather than as perhaps a film might present them, and this further obscures what is actually happening.

The plot follows the titular Thief, Frank (James Caan), who is working as a car salesman, while doing a bit of diamond-robbing on the side. The opening section is magnificent. With a pounding soundtrack courtesy of Tangerine Dream (who Mann would go on to work with again on The Keep) which reminded me a lot of the way that director Dario Argento used the music by Goblin in his seminal horror film Suspiria (1979), Frank expertly drills into a safe and extracts the diamonds within. There is no dialogue at all, the action being carried by the music and visuals. Following this, we then get to know a little about Frank, and James Caan is excellent in the role. His is a complex character, driven by forces which the viewer doesn't really get to understand. Indeed, the film is more about relationships than action, and there are long dialogue scenes which unfortunately tend to drag things down.

Frank agrees to spring a friend, Okla (Willie Nelson) out of prison, and becomes embroiled with another gang boss, Leo (Robert Prosky), to steal another load of diamonds from another vault. Crime being what it is, the whole thing doesn't end well for anyone!  Along the way Frank picks up a girlfriend, Jessie (Tuesday Weld), and there's lots of car chases and tremendous visuals, and even John Belushi in his first major film role. All the time the Tangerine Dream soundtrack lifts and underpins the action, and in places it has a very Blade Runner feel to it ... which the rain and visuals help to emphasise. Towards the end of the film there are several explosions, which have to be some of the best ever committed to film. Very impressively executed and edited.

Overall, Thief is an impressive film, but it does take a little work for the viewer to fully access. This might simply be a factor related to the time the film was made ... almost straddling the decade between earlier films which were dialogue-based, and later fare which pushed the action to the forefront. Certainly with the visual element, the film benefits greatly from release on Blu-Ray.

On the extras front, there's an impressive number of items:

  • Limited Slipcase Edition [3000 units] featuring two versions of the film
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the director’s cut from a new 4K film transfer, approved by director Michael Mann, with uncompressed 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the original theatrical cut [Limited Edition Exclusive] with original uncompressed 2.0 Stereo PCM audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Optional isolated music and effects track on the theatrical cut
  • Audio commentary by writer-director Michael Mann and actor James Caan
  • The Directors: Michael Mann – a 2001 documentary on the filmmaker, containing interviews with Mann, James Belushi, William Petersen, Jon Voight and others
  • Stolen Dreams – a new interview with Caan, filmed exclusively for this release
  • Hollywood USA: James Caan – an episode of the French TV series Ciné regards devoted to the actor, filmed shortly after Thief had finished production
  • The Art of the Heist – an examination of Thief with writer and critic F.X. Feeney, author of the Taschen volume on Michael Mann
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Brad Stevens

  • Overall, it's a good, solid release, and fans of the genre, of Caan, and of Mann's work are well served. Now ... what we really need is a Blu-Ray release of The Keep ...


    Thief is released 2 Feb 1015 by Arrow Films.

    Monday, January 12, 2015

    Review: The Quiet Ones (2014)

    Back in the day, Hammer Films was an institution, creating a whole raft of horror films (and some others - psychological thrillers and bawdy comedies, mainly) which captured the public imagination and made stars of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Ralph Bates and many others. From my perspective, the films worked as although they were low budget, they made impressive use of Bray House and its surrounding forests and land, and used a company of actors who could be relied upon to deliver. Even the fact that they were very formulaic worked in their favour (how many innkeepers did Michael Ripper play, exactly?*).

    Over the years, Hammer fell into the doldrums, and was then bought by enterprising folk who decided to try and revive the film brand ... and THE QUIET ONES is the latest effort from them. What I don't quite understand, though, is why all the things that made the Hammer brand great in the sixties and early seventies are now missing: there's no company of actors involved, no use of the strangely period-free period setting, no mid-European villages which might have been Germanic or Romanian or somewhere like that (of course unspecified), and no strong development of the themes and characters with which they made their name (like Dracula or Frankenstein and his monster, or the Mummy and so on).  Instead we get fairly run of the mill psychological dramas, which owe more to the original Hammer thrillers than to their horror fare.

    THE QUIET ONES is about a troubled university professor, Joseph Coupland (well played by Jared Harris, who is the best thing about the film) who believes that a young girl, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) is possessed by some evil demonic entity. So he keeps her locked up and gets a group of students - Brian (Sam Claflin), Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), to help him observe and record the entity. However the university cuts his funding and so they all move to a spooky house (how they pay for this is unsure) to continue their 'work'.  Of course it all ends badly, and the demon is identified and people start dying ...

    Creating a new twist on the found footage and paranormal activity genres can be hard, but I liked the underlying ideas here. Good to see Tom deVille, who I know from his days writing the excellent URBAN GOTHIC, as the original screenplay writer here (and he's interviewed on the extras) but less impressed that more writers (Craig Rosenberg and Oren Moverman) worked on it, and also that the director, John Pogue, is co-credited for the screenplay. It is also said in the making-of documentary that Jared Harris re-wrote his character as well ... and you wonder whether the vision of the original writer was really preserved. I guess that's filmmaking for you ... and no wonder then that the screenplay is a little ragged as a result. There's a whole sexual element which seemed to sit poorly with the horror element - Coupland is having a relationship with Krissi, who is also sleeping with Harry, and Coupland also seems to be also in love with Jane, who is also attracted to Brian, while Brian is attracted to Jane ... all very complicated, and as Jane looks about sixteen, it adds a slightly bad taste to the whole thing.

    And don't get me started on the shakeycam. Unfortunately I suffer from slight motion sickness, and these films, with the camera jerking all over the place, are just unwatchable for me. I can't follow the action, and the jerking and movement robs the film of any dramatic tension. Thankfully, the jerkycam sequences are not that frequent here - they come with the conceit that Brian has been asked to film the tests on Jane ... and so he carries his camera about, and we see through its lens at certain points in the action.

    As to why it is called THE QUIET ONES ... this term is used once in the film, in relation to Coupland's group of students ... and seems to have no bearing on the demon or anything else that the film is about ... a strange title to use. Especially as the film relies on loud bursts of noise to create scare 'jumps', and is peppered with seventies pop music to ram it's period setting down the audiences' throat!

    Overall, the film falls into the 'paranormal' section of viewing, one which has been somewhat overdone of late. It's an adequate example, and aside from Harris' great performance, is very forgettable. I feel it's a great shame that it has a modern (well, 1970s) setting, as if you took the same plot and idea, and instead, based it in Karlsbadt, with maybe Harris as Father Sandor investigating the case of demon possession, then you have something new and original to add to the classic Hammer oevre ... instead of which we have this rather sub-par offering.

    Thursday, January 08, 2015

    Spirits of the Dead (1968) - Review


    As a fan of horror film, it's always a pleasure to find something which I haven't seen before, and this presentation from Arrow of a 1968 trilogy of adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe short stories was fascinating indeed. I'd not heard of the film before, and it seems to be an English/French/Italian production, with the first two segments (directed respectively by Roger Vadim and Louis Malle) being French, and the final segment (Federico Fellini) being Italian.

    The three stories, Metzengerstein, William Wilson and Toby Dammit, or Never Bet the Devil your Head, are each given a bit of a rethink and reimagining by the writers and directors, and while the essence of them can be traced to the Poe originals, they all come over far more as experimental sixties film-making, than the more popular Poe adaptations by Roger Corman.

    Metzengerstein stars Vadim's wife and muse Jane Fonda, and also her real life brother Peter Fonda in a tale which is confused in the telling, but which seems to be about a decadent woman (Fonda) who has a closer relationship with her horse than with anyone else. Peter Fonda plays her cousin for whom she harbours an incestuous love, and when he is killed in a stable fire, a black stallion appears and Jane Fonda rides off on this into the proverbial sunset.  The segment is beautifully shot (overall the Blu-Ray has a brilliant transfer and presentation throughout) and the costumes are lush, sexy and original, as befitting Fonda and Vadim. His stand out film with Fonda, Barbarella, was released the same year and has a similar detail towards the costumes and outfits which Fonda wears. Unfortunately while the segment is the closest to the familiar Corman adaptations of Poe, with its cinematography, settings and approach echoing elements of The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Masque of the Red Death, the narrative is confusing and ultimately ends with puzzlement as to exactly what it was all about ...

    The second segment, William Wilson, has a similar internal theme of debauchery, where the title character, played by Alain Delon, confesses to a life of evil to a priest. The story, told in flashback, shows how the young Wilson was a tormentor at school of the other boys, and how another child with the same name would appear to thwart his exesses. As a young man, he tries to gain the sexual favours of Giuseppina (played by Brigitte Bardot) by cheating at cards - a fact revealed when his namesake appears and reveals all. Wilson then fights with his double and kills him, which also then results in his own death. It's again a confusing narrative, with doppelgangers appearing for several characters, and the opening sequence, where Wilson is running to the church, is interspersed with shots of his own death, falling from the church belltower. So the viewer sees a foreshadowing of the ending before the story is even presented.

    The third and final segment, Toby Dammit, is, as perhaps expected from a Federico Fellini film, strange, disjointed and probably the hardest to understand and access. The Poe story concerned a young man who liked to bet on everything he does. This leads to him betting his own head to the Devil that he could jump a turnstile over a bridge ... a wager he fails to win, losing his dead to the Devil. In Fellini's film, Toby Dammit is played by Terence Stamp, who gives a brilliant performance as a drug and alcohol addled actor, stoned and out of it, swaying through a confusing melange of television interviews, sycophants, hangers on, and parties. He seems familiar from similar, later, characters such as Johnny Rotten who seems to have modelled his whole persona on Stamp's portrayal here. The segment ends with Dammit getting the Jag car he wanted, and driving through foggy streets until he arrives at a broken bridge, where the Devil - in the form of a beautiful blonde, bouncing a white ball - appears. Dammit tries to jump the bridge and fails, the white ball then bouncing past his decapitated head. As for any sense of plot, it's very confused and obscure, but there are nuns (of course) and the imagery and overall impression of a successful life destroyed by drink and drugs and excess is very well brought across.

    Overall the Blu-Ray presentation is exemplary, with various options to watch in English, or French with subtitles. There's even a version with some narration by Vincent Price (who of course was the 'face' of all of Corman's Poe adaptations). The transfers are beautiful, and allow the cinematography to be fully appreciated.

    Overall this is a fascinating slice of sixties cinema, with contributions from three key contributors to the era's output. Terrance Stamp's performance is exemplary, and it's good to see Jane Fonda in another Roger Vadim production.

    Tuesday, December 23, 2014

    The Killers (1946) – Review

    ARROW BLU-RAY, RELEASED 8 DECEMBER 2014

    THE FILM

    The Killers is widely recognised as one of the great classics of what is now known as film noir – although that term had only just been coined by French critics at the time of its release in 1946. Not only is it one of the great classics, but it also includes many of the genre’s quintessential elements, and was made with the involvement of several of its foremost exponents.

    Behind-the-scenes contributors whose names will be familiar to any film noir fan include director Robert Siodmak (The Dark Mirror, The Spiral Staircase, Christmas Holiday, Phantom Lady), a German émigré who, along with others such as Fritz Lang, had fled to America from the Nazis, bringing a German expressionist sensibility to his Hollywood projects; writer John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, The Asphalt Jungle), who supplied the screenplay uncredited while moonlighting from another studio; cinematographer Woody Breddel (who had worked with Siodmak before on Christmas Holiday and Phantom Lady); and legendary score composer Miklos Rozsa (Double Indemnity, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Secret Beyond the Door, The Naked City). In front of the cameras, amongst an excellent cast, the stand-out performances come from two of the movie’s leads, Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster, both of whom would go on to become big stars – although at the time, Gardner was a virtual unknown, and this was actually Lancaster’s screen debut.

    The movie was billed and promoted as ‘Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers’, but in fact the Hemingway source was a short story that provided only enough material to fill the first 12 minutes or so of the narrative. That opening segment is in some ways the most memorable part of the movie. It features the arrival in a small rural town of two sharply-dressed big-city hit men – one of them played by William Conrad, who would gain fame decades later as corpulent cop Cannon in the American TV series of that title – who have been sent to kill Lancaster’s character, a former prize-fighter nicknamed the Swede. The high-contrast lighting here, as the killers approach and enter a roadside diner, is classic film noir, the two menacing figures passing from deep shadow to bright light and back into deep shadow. In a nicely circular piece of cross-pollination, the design of the diner exterior set is clearly influenced by American artist Edward Hopper’s famous 1942 painting Nighthawks, which itself had been inspired by Hemingway’s original short story 'The Killers'. The design of the gas station opposite the diner, where the Swede works as a mechanic, likewise seems to have been drawn from another Hopper painting, 1940’s Gas. The only negative point of these early diner scenes is that some of the dialogue here, drawn directly from Hemingway’s short story, arguably works less well on screen than on the printed page, seeming somewhat affected and overdone by comparison with the more naturalistic approach of the remainder of the movie.

    That remainder, storylined uncredited by Richard Brooks before Huston was brought in as writer (the credited writer, Anthony Veiller, who received an Oscar nomination for the script, actually had little to do with it, bar overseeing Huston’s work), presents us with what has been described as a kind of jigsaw-puzzle of a plot, as we see insurance investigator Jim Reardon, played by Edmond O’Brien, look into the Swede’s murder, and the action unfolds by way of a series of flashbacks – a typical film noir technique. The central scenario involves a heist – the theft of a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of staff wages from a hat manufacturing company (a credible idea in 1940s America, when it was virtually unthinkable for a man to go out without wearing a hat!) – and sees the Swede caught up in a web of criminal activity and double-crosses. This is largely due to his infatuation with Gardner’s character, Kitty Collins, a dark-haired femme fatale who, in typical film noir style, lures him away from a blonde-haired good girl character, Lilly Harmon, played by Virginia Christine.

    If I’m completely honest, The Killers is a movie I’ve always admired a little more than I’ve loved. As absorbing as Huston’s script is, it is difficult to empathise with any of the characters, and there isn’t as much on-screen chemistry as one would like to see between the Swede and Kitty Collins. There is, nevertheless, much to enjoy and appreciate here – in addition to the well-written script, the fine performances and Siodmak’s superb direction, there are excellent production values, with a surprisingly high-budget look to the sets – and this is such a key film noir movie that no fan of the genre can afford to be without a copy in their collection.

    Blu-ray presentation

    Unlike many other film noirs, The Killers is a movie that has already appeared in an excellent high-quality transfer on earlier DVD releases – the best version being a still-available Region 1 Criterion Collection DVD from 2003 that came packaged with a (much lesser quality) copy of Don Siegel’s 1964 remake and had a strong extras package, including an audio reading of Hemingway’s short story, and the only other screen version of that story, an early student film project by famed Russian director Andrei Tarkovski. The picture and audio upgrade offered by this new Arrow Blu-ray release is therefore not as great as might otherwise be the case – although it is still noticeable, the only glitch I spotted being a faint tramline that appears down the screen for a couple of minutes in a couple of places – and the extras are actually less extensive than those of the Criterion Collection DVD, including neither the Siegel remake nor the short Tarkovski version, nor even Hemingway’s short story. However, this is still a terrific package.

    As with the Criterion Collection DVD, there is an isolated music and effects track, a gallery of stills, posters and promotional material, and an American radio adaption of the movie – which somewhat bizarrely featured Siodmak himself in a supporting actor role, alongside Lancaster and, stepping into Gardner’s shoes, Shelley Winters, another actress with established film noir credentials. Also included are a couple of more tangentially-related radio spots not found on the Criterion Collection release. More substantially, there is a roughly hour-long specially-produced piece in which film noir expert Frank Krutnik explains the movie’s background. This fulfils a similar function to an interview with a different expert on the Criterion Collection release, but is superior in that it includes a commentary on several key scenes, offering some excellent insights and only occasionally resorting to simply describing the on-screen action. The other main specially-produced extra is a piece based on a previously-published academic essay looking at the theme of heroic fatalism, as demonstrated by the Swede’s death in the movie. This is also very interesting, although (perhaps inevitably) there is some significant overlap with the information provided in Krutnik’s interview. Rounding off the whole package is a nicely-presented 40-page booklet including lots of information relating to the film, illustrated with some nice black and white stills – a good extra in its own right.
    All things considered, this Arrow release, making an outstanding film noir available in Blu-ray quality for the first time, is highly recommended.

    Stephen James Walker

    Thursday, November 27, 2014

    More Merchandise from Tarco

    Tarco, who produced a rather nice range of Vending Machine figures last year, have several more items now available, with more to come in 2015.

    Available now is a Sticker Set collection, comprising 6 different boxes, each containing 20 stickers.

    A Dalek box
    A Tardis Box
    A Mixed box with Tardis, Vastra, Sonic screw driver and Vastra / Strax
    A Cyberman box
    A Stax box
    A Weeping Angel

    Each box is tiny (it has to be in order to fit in the vending machine ball) and around 4cmx3cmx2cm. Thus the little stickers inside are also tiny. Each box contains 5 each of 4 different designs, and despite the teeny size, they are all very nice indeed.




    Just released is a second set of figures:

    Dalek
    Adipose
    Cyberman
    Tardis
    Weeping Angel
    K9

    Unlike the first set of figures, which were based on the more stylised characters from the animated game, this second set are screen-designs and thus more accurate.

    They are all very nicely modelled and painted - again each is only around 4cm high! The Cyberman is a little stylised, with a large chest and tiny waist, and the Adipose is of course just cute!  I like that the TARDIS is slightly smaller at the base, giving it a sort of stretched look - but this just makes it unique!


    And coming late December/early January is a set of little mini-viewers, each containing 8 screenshots from the shows transmitted during 2013:
    The Time of the Doctor
    The Day of the Doctor
    Nightmare in Silver
    The Angels take Manhattan
    Cold war
    Asylum of the Daleks

    These items are rather lovely. Each is a little tiny viewer - and those with long memories will remember the old Viewmaster sets of years past. Again the viewers are minute - around the 4cmx3cmx2cm mark, and have a small viewing hole through which can be seen the slides which are moved on by pressing a button on the top - its a mechanical action though - no batteries!

    All the episodes chosen were part of the 50th anniversary year, and take in all the current staples of Daleks, Cybermen, Angels, Ice Warrior and of course the Doctor.

    For just £1 each, these are rather lovely, and a nice way to remember the episodes in question.

    Cheers

    David

    Saturday, November 15, 2014

    Doctor Who: Finale!


    Finally succumbed and got round to watching the two-episode WHO finale last night ... and it wasn't as bad as I feared. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. The plot made sense (of a sort) and the elements which were a little 'mad' were no 'madder' than things that the show has presented before - at least pretty much everything was explained (sort of - there are some niggles from earlier in the season which were not resolved). I liked the female Master idea, and was pleased that she wasn't as bat-shit-crazy as John Simm played him - and as the Master doesn't have a 'real' body any more anyway (after the TVM when he was a plasma snake which could take over other people's bodies - an extension of what we saw at the end of KEEPER OF TRAKEN) then there's no reason why he couldn't have a female persona. I like the 'Dark Water' idea and the Cyber-reveal (even if it was only there for that purpose), but the idea of the Cyber-nanites reanimated all the dead was a little silly - surely after a time, the bodies would have decayed to the point that there's nothing left but bone, and that's not really of much use to create a Cyberman. Likewise the Dark Water only revealing skeletons would have been better if there had been other organic tissue revealed as well - there's more in those suits than just bone (as we saw when Danny-Cyberman was revealed at the end. Their voices had changed again (as per tradition I suppose) and were more like the Judoon now ... still not a patch on the sixties ones. I thought the Brigadier bit was silly mainly because there was no explanation as to why, of all the millions of Cybermen, it's only Danny and the Brigadier who can still think independently ... and if it was *all* of them could do this, then I suspect the Cyber-invasion would never work in the first place. Unless of course that the Master's mad plan is basically fatally flawed in this regard ... in which case they should have explained that.

    What the conclusion didn't do, was to explain any of the plot holes and flaws of the earlier episodes. which rather suggests that they were plot holes and flaws rather than being part of some master plan ... So overall, for me, this is certainly the weakest season of WHO ever transmitted. While Capaldi as the Doctor was brilliant, he was sidelined by the scripts and not allowed to shine. The plots were far more in fantasyland than ever before (and with no reason for this, they stand out like a sore thumb) and lacked decent conclusions and feasible (or even any) explanations throughout. The whole Clara/Danny subplot kept bubbling to the fore when it should have remained a subplot, and genuine excitement was replaced by angst and talky schmaltz ...

    I can see that I need to steel myself and re-watch the season (including the episodes I've not yet seen) so I can pen a proper review of it ... noting the elements which didn't work for me and trying to explain why that is ...




    Saturday, October 11, 2014

    Doctor Who: Deep Breath / Into the Dalek / Robot of Sherwood

    Goodness me, it's been a long time since I posted anything here ... things have been very busy however - we moved house, madness ensued, lots of work, lots of things to keep me busy and away from blogging about anything ...

    But now we're settled in, and we've been watching some great stuff on telly and on DVD (I need to talk about CATWEASLE in another post!) but this one is about the new WHO on telly of course ... and trying to catch up a little.

    So we have a new Doctor in the very Scottish form of Peter Capaldi. Nothing wrong with that ... Tom Baker was from Liverpool, as was Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy and David Tennant were Scottish, and Chris Eccleston was definitely from 'The North' ... but this is the first time that we have had such a Scottish Doctor ... with an accent broader than the actor's normal voice (whereas David Tennant used an English accent for the role).

    I was sort of okay with the casting choice. I'd long thought it was time for an older Doctor anyway, and this was certainly a step in the right direction. I was interested to see how the Doctor/Companion relationship would develop since just about every one since 2005 had been a girlfriend/boyfriend sort of vibe, with the companion yearning after the Doctor like a puppydog. Not so good for the WHOish Drama, but brilliant to get character identification among the target audience who seemed to be teenaged girls ... Strange that, as all of the merchandise was targeted at pre-school kids or boys ...

    Anyway, I was looking forward to it all ... so 'Deep Breath' (see what I did there?) ...

    Oh it was awful. A feature-film length story which could have been so so good, but which was a mish mash of ideas and themes and old characters which ended up dragging interminably.

    Dinosaurs swallowing the TARDIS and appearing in Victorian London where robots are harvesting people to use to repair themselves so their spaceship can take off again, while Mme Vastra (a Silurian), her 'friend' Jenny (a human) and Strax (a Sontaran) run about revealing themselves to everyone without even a murmur of surprise (I thought Vastra wore the veil to disguise her true nature), the robots taking the Dinosaur's optic nerve, people spontaneously combusting (caused by the robots), and a new Doctor who Clara seems so wary of (why? She knows he can change his appearance and has met several of his earlier incarnations even if you take on board the apparent idea that all her memories are like a dream to her), and Clara flirting with a bloke at School for no reason, and gratuitous violence as the robot man falls to his death impaled on the spire of a church ... and then there's the rubbish with another Scottish character called Missy ... really I could care less about that.

    It was all so rushed in the wrong places, convoluted and complicated, boring as heck in other places and very uneven.

    About the only thing I like was the Doctor, but even here he seemed ill at ease, stumbling through the wreckage of a plot seeking some enlightenment.

    I watched the episode with several other people, and all agreed it was awful.  The next day we all watched 'Spearhead from Space' and all agreed it was brilliant and so much better than the plotless thing that we had seen the night before. It too introduces a new Doctor (Pertwee) and has monsters harvesting parts to complete themselves, it also has a coherent plot, motivation, and a Doctor who takes charge and is always watchable, even in the comic scenes ...

    So not too impressed with the season opener there ... but maybe things will get better, and with Phil Ford's 'Into the Dalek' they did. Now this episode I loved. Of course we'd been here before with 'The Invisible Enemy' (when it was the Doctor's body that the minaturised Doctor and Leela have to get into - you need to watch the story to understand how and why) but here it is a Dalek which needs to have some internal corrections made, and so the Doctor, Clara and a bunch of soldiers are miniaturised and head off inside it.

    The idea of a lone 'good' Dalek had been done before as well (in 'Dalek') and antibodies had been done before (in 'Let's Kill Hitler') but the script made sense, and the acting was all top notch - I loved seeing Michael Smiley as a Colonel here and loved him too as Tyres in SPACED ... What I could do without was all the rubbish with Clara and Danny Pink ... I'm just not interested in their relationship or how it develops. I'm also not at all interested in who Missy is or what this Heaven place is that dead people go to ... it's all too maguffiny for me, and obviously leading somewhere ... but I'm strangely just not bothered.

    So the story pans out nicely, but the Doctor is very grumpy ... I'm not sure why he's so against the soldier girl travelling on with him just because she's a soldier ... a strange reason. But I assume that the Doctor is as he is being portrayed because of some deep seated traumas of all the events of the last few years ... including of course having his own timeline turned inside out, and having to cope with multiple Doctors and rescuing Gallifrey from a three dimensional painting, and defeating the Daleks (again) or something like that ...

    I felt that the second episode should have been the season opener, it was much better plotted and paced, and actually felt like it achieved something ...

    And then we're off to merrie olde England and Sherwood Forest for an adventure with Robin Hood, who shouldn't exist, but does ... and so the Doctor and Clara become embroiled in an adventure in tights, with an evil sheriff and mysterious robots.

    What is it with robots this season - every story seems to feature them!  Anyway, due to public sensitivities about what was happening in the real world, a beheading was cut from the story, and with it the explanation of the title - that the Sheriff was a robot as well as the robots, and they all wanted to get gold to escape from the Earth - using the metal to melt down and create power boards for their spacecraft.

    And thus the most rubbish element of all comes into play. The thought that you could actually shoot an arrow made of gold in the first place ... it would be far too heavy to go any distance at all, regardless of the skill or strength of the archer. And second ... why does shooting it into the side of the ship make any difference at all. The gold that powered the ship was made into plates - we saw them doing it earlier in the story!  So even if the arrow could hit the ship ... why did it give it more power.  This is an example of the frankly awful plotting that WHO seems to have this season. Things happen for no reason. The arrow could have hit a vital component and made the ship explode. It could have hit and killed the pilot (shades of 'The Time Warrior' - this season is borrowing from past WHO all the time, so one more would make little difference) ... indeed anything other than the explanation they gave would have worked ... very disappointing.

    But overall I liked the episode. The acting is good, the characters well thought out, and the direction exciting and dynamic.  Did they ever explain just how Robin Hood - a fictional character - was alive and well though?  And while the Doctor 'flicking the bird' at Robin when he encounters him on the log is nice, is it something the Doctor would do?

    So overall, two hits and one massive miss in the first three episodes of the season ... but how will the rest fare. I have to say that as a long term fan, it would really take a lot to make me stop watching ...