Sunday, June 19, 2005

Doctor Who - Parting of the Ways

And so the thirteen week odyssey concludes with an episode as triumphant and as impressive as any of the previous twelve. Parting of the Ways had a lot to live up to, promising to draw together all the threads and to present a conclusion to the series which would also be a new beginning and pointing to a Christmas Special ... And it delivered on pretty much everything. First off, the cliffhanger before the credits was in the right place - this is how the previous episode should have ended, with the Doctor's words 'I'm coming to get you' rather than random squarking Daleks and a thoughtlessly placed preview for the next episode. After the credits, the episode gets down to business with the TARDIS materialising around a Dalek and Rose. Wow. I was so impressed by this. I know we'd seen it before in The Time Monster and Logopolis, but it seemed more real and exciting this time ... and they were real beings brought into the TARDIS and not inanimate objects. After this superb start, a mis-step. The introduction of the Dalek Emperor was totally without any awe ... a shame I felt. In the original Evil of the Daleks, the Doctor and Jamie are escorted along corridors by the Daleks before they emerge into the Emporer's presence, a scene given much power by the change of locale from corridor to Chamber ... here it's all the same place, there was no build up and no revelation, and the Dalek Emperor really didn't look that impressive. But he was there and the Daleks all survived through him - he fell back through time, his ship surviving the Time War (as indeed did the Dalek in Dalek ... I wonder how many others survived as well?). But he's gone a little loopy and thinks he's the God of the Daleks and they all worship him ... some nice ideas were at work here, but they weren't really explored. But the Doctor's taunts get a little to much and while the Doctor and Rose return to Satellite 5 to try and stop the Daleks invading Earth, so the Dalek fleet starts to move in for the kill. The effects of this are stunning. Truly breathtaking and better than anything else I think I've ever seen! The Doctor starts to faff around building some sort of killing Delta wave thingy on the 500th floor while Rose and Lynda look on. The interplay between these two characters was fascinating - Rose is clearly disturbed and jealous of Lynda's intent to travel with the Doctor, and with the Doctor's willingness for this to happen ... it's a shame nothing more comes of this as Lynda, along with pretty much everyone else is slaughtered by the Daleks when they arrive. The Dalek's silent 'Exterminate' outside the observation windows was a master-touch. I found these scenes sad and poignant, that the humans who offer to help the Doctor end up cannon fodder while he himself cannot bring himself to use the device he spent all the time building as it would kill all the humans as well as the Daleks ... bit of a daft thing to build then. But then the episode twists again, and the Doctor tricks Rose into the TARDIS so he can send her back to her own time and to safety with her family and friends. However Rose finally realises what the 'Bad Wolf' messages mean everywhere ... they're not a threat, they're a message from her, to her, that she can get back to the future (what?? or something anyway) and so she gets Mickey and her mum to help pull the TARDIS console to pieces so she can look into the vortex therein. This seems to give her god-like powers, and the TARDIS returns to the future and Satellite 5 for a final showdown with the Daleks. When the Slitheen looked into the heart of the TARDIS it granted her wish, that she be given another chance ... Rose's greatest wish is that the Doctor be safe and protected from the 'false god', the Dalek Emperor. So Rose, using the powers of the vortex, sends the words 'BAD WOLF' spiralling back in time as a message to herself (neat bit of paradox there), she was the Bad Wolf all the time, and then sets about returning the Daleks to dust, unmaking their very atoms. They all seem to be destroyed, including the Dalek mothership containing the Dalek Emperor. She also returns Jack to life (but what about everyone else?), but then realises she cannot live with the power. The Doctor kisses her and draws the vortex power into himself, and then returns it to the TARDIS. All seems well, Rose is alive and so is the Doctor ... but he's now dying. As he tells Rose, all his cells are dying and he's going to change ... and this he does in spectacular fashion ... turning into David Tennant and tantalising us with the promise of a trip to the planet Barcelona. The question that this ending posed for me, was that if all it took for the Daleks to be destroyed, was for a single person to look into the time vortex ... and then the resultant power channelled to another Time Lord who then simply regenerated ... then why did the Time War happen at all? The solution seems very simple with no casualties at all on the side of the Time Lords (barring one incarnation of one Time Lord). Maybe it never occurred to them to do this, but this seems a little strange for a race with all the knowledge of time and space at their fingertips ... And so the season comes to and end. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that I have enjoyed the last 13 weeks of Doctor Who as I have enjoyed nothing else on television. Probably ever. Each episode contained visuals, character and dialogue to melt the hardest of hearts, and for the most part the plots were pretty good (though these fell down slightly as a result of the need to tell a story in 45 minutes, and the frantic pace that television in the 2000s seems to need to move at). However for every Rose there was an Unquiet Dead and for every Long Game there was an Empty Child ... Christopher Eccleston was a marvel, but the true revelation was Billie Piper. She was magnificent at every turn, and her 'possession' at the end of the final episode was a magnificent scene, acted by Piper in a very real and believable fashion. The series never descended into farce or self-awareness and everyone took it all very seriously (yes, even the farting aliens). Now we have to wait until Christmas before the Doctor is back ... and The Christmas Invasion is unleashed. I can't wait. My son suggested that The Christmas Invasion be as follows: The Doctor comes up against Father Christmas (who is in fact a Slitheen), distributing gas masks made of living Nestene plastic around the world using a transmat system to achieve it all in one night ... Well stranger things have been known to happen.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Series of Unfortunate Events

... no, not my life, but the film based on the popular series of books by Lemony Snicket ... Managed to catch it the other evening and ... hmmm ... not sure what to make of it. The design is very eyecatching and seems to be a mix of Beetlejuice, Batman and The Nightmare Before Christmas - everything is sharp and darkly perfect. The plot follows the adventures of the Baudelaire children who are orphaned when their parents are killed in a house fire and who have to go and stay with the somewhat eccentric Count Olaf. Olaf is played by Jim Carrey and his opening scenes looked to me rather like a slowed down version of The Mask. Carrey is incapable of playing a serious part and so goofs and mugs his way through the film taking on a couple of other personas along the way. The film for me was stolen by Violet, the eldest sister. She was brilliant. In control and superbly played, and very watchable indeed. I loved the subtitle captions for the utterings of the baby as well and these had me laughing out loud. Overall all the cast was exceptional, with really not a foot wrong anywhere. Otherwise the film lurches along as the kids are sent to stay with other relatives (including a wonderfully eccentric turn by Meryl Streep) and Olaf tries to get them back so that he can inherit the fortune that goes with them. It was certainly an enjoyable romp and of note is the music - by Thomas Newman who also provided the haunting score for the TV series Six Feet Under. This underpins much of the precise imagery and adds to the feeling of a film which has had a lot of love and care put into it at every level, and which Carrey *just* mangages to stay as a part of, rather than making it just another vehicle for his comedy.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Doctor Who - Bad Wolf

And so the episode which promised to explain things is upon us ... except it didn't explain an awful lot. Bad Wolf is a sequel of sorts to The Long Game, and at least came up with an explanation for the former episode's title. However many of the 13 episodes seem to have had some resonance and linkage it seems, but so far there have only been some vague clues. The Doctor, Rose and Jack find themselves each within a television show: the Doctor finds himself a contestant on Big Brother, Rose is taking part in The Weakest Link and Jack is on some kind of clothing/style makeover show ... but things are not what they seem. The year is 20,0100 and it's 100 years after the events of The Long Game when the Doctor shut down the operations of Satellite 5 ... now the Satellite is The Games Station and the TV shows are played out with androids and the penalty for eviction or losing is to be vapourised with a disintegrator beam ... All very good, but do we really need half an hour of this stuff to bring the point home. I have to admit I was bored after ten minutes ... very bored. Perhaps it's because I don't watch any of these shows and can't see the point ... but the novelty of an Anne Robinson-voiced Anne Droid, Davina McCall voicing Davinadroid on Big Brother and two more robots: Trina-E and Zu-Zana voiced by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine soon wore thin. Aside from the fact that children tend not to watch any of these shows and so probably the joke went over their heads, the format was just not engaging enough. It was good to see 'authentic' music and logos for the pastiches, but give me something original any day. And what will audiences in the US and Australia make of this ... maybe they'll 'get' Anne Droid, but the others? Anyway, the Doctor soon sorts out what's happening and gets himself evicted so he can escape (they couldn't vapourise him you see). He takes Lynda, one of the other housemates, with him, and they find that they are back on Satellite 5. Meanwile, up on floor 500, one of the workers is concerned about what's happening, but the Controller - a girl plugged into the systems since she was five years old and through whose brain all the transmissions are routed (who designs these crazy systems anyway) - doesn't seem to know what is happening, or wants to divert attention from the strangers in the system. Jack escapes from the murderous intentions of the two make-over Droids and finds the Doctor and Lynda, and all three then race to the 407th floor to try and rescue Rose ... who loses the game, and is vapourised just as the Doctor arrives. This was a superb moment ... perhaps the best in the series to date ... as the Doctor and the audience is convinced that Rose is dead. We even have a new substitute companion in Lynda set up and waiting to step into the TARDIS in her place ... a very nice piece of misdirection, and something that only works once for an audience who does not know that the actress in question does not leave at this point. The trio are caught by security forces, but manage to escape and invade floor 500 to confront the Controller ... Jack finds the TARDIS and realises that the vapourising beams are really teleports and that Rose is still alive ... somewhere ... there is some solar flare activity and the systems go offline long enough for the Controller to warn the Doctor about her masters as they cannot hear her while the flares are active ... she tells him that they fear the Doctor ... but is silenced again before she can explain more. Rose awakens somewhere and is terrified to be confronted by a Dalek (which the audience does not see). And there's the tremendous and cheer inducing sound of the Dalek computers throbbing over all these scenes. Bravo for minor continuity! The Controller risks all and breaks silence to tell the Doctor the coordinates the transmat transports the people to, whereupon she is promptly taken to the Dalek ship and exterminated. A brilliant scene where we see the Dalek reflected in the wall, but still don't see it in clear view. The Doctor has the information he needs and reveals a fleet of 200 Dalek saucers sitting in space ... these are very impressive scenes of CGI, further reinforcing my view that inanimates are great for CGI, but not the monsters. The Daleks open a communication channel to the Doctor ... and a worryingly wobbly Dalek orders the Doctor to obey or Rose will be exterminated. But the Doctor refuses and instead comes up with an alternate sequence of events: he will rescue Rose, save the Earth and wipe out all the Daleks ... and he has no plan with which to do this ... as he tells the Dalek - this scares them. The Daleks panic and start the invasion of Earth ... and we power into a cliffhanger which should have been superb but which actually fails on every level. First of all, the direction is all a little casual, there's no real sense of total terror as we go to the final scene, and it should have stopped on the Doctor's final line, and not on the Daleks hovering about ... the closing title 'screech' seemed absent and finally, the 'Next Episode' preview came in immediately, ruining any suspense which might have been there ... I'd hoped the BBC had learned after the complaints from Aliens of London, and they changed the preview order for The Empty Child ... but no. And so a fascinating episode came to an end. In part tedious and in part triumphant (when I spoke to several children today, all they would say was 'Daleks!' and 'Lots of them!' showing what really made the impact here. The music was loud and intrusive at times, but also perfectly balanced when the Doctor thought that Rose had died, drowing out all the other voices and making the grief seem tangible and real. But at the end, I struggled to hear the dialogue over the booming cues ... not so good. And 'Bad Wolf' ... well I still have no idea who or what this is/was/will be. Is it the Daleks? Is it the Controller? Is it the Face of Boe? Is it the TARDIS? The Doctor? Rose? Jack? Or something totally different? We even had an obligatory (c) JN-T 80s WHO Productions inc Flashback Sequence with some of the earlier Bad Wolf mentions shown again ... but no answers. However there are questions ... there are always lots of questions ... whoever transmatted the Doctor, Rose and Jack into the games in the first place, never intended to kill them ... so what was the point of doing that? Who did transmat them in anyway? If it was the Daleks, then why? Why not just bring them straight to the Dalek ship? Maybe next week we'll have some answers ... certainly as far as the preview goes there are more surprises in store ... 'Davros!' as one of my sons gleefully exclaimed when we heard the final voice in the preview address the Doctor ...


Watched the latest Alien/Predator crossover thingy, AvP last night and was very pleasantly surprised. I had been expecting ... what ... something perhaps a little rubbish? The reviews the film got weren't going to set the world alight and some were positively hostile ... But I really enjoyed the film. The casting seemed spot on, and the majority of the backstory was filled in so that new viewers didn't miss much. The only thing that was not explained was the life cycle of the Alien, and so if you didn't know/understand Egg->Facehugger->Chest Burster-> Adult Alien then you would have been somewhat confused as to where all the adult Aliens came from ... Also the Alien Queen being trapped under the pyramid. Great idea but how and where ... This can be glossed over though as the plot and especially the effects were truly brilliant. From the bulk and violence of the Predators to the agility and grace of the Aliens the whole film was a treat. I loved the pyramid and it's shifting (though this seemed to get forgotten towards the end) and the teaming up of the heroine and the Predator was well done too. Some excellent ideas like using the head of an Alien as a shield as it's not affected by the acid blood, and also the sacrificial chamber was a neat idea and well achieved. As I say, the GCI was exemplary I felt - you could actually for the most part see what was going on rather than it all being a blur, and from the spacecraft to the Aliens it was all superbly integrated with the action so that you rarely stopped to 'see' the CGI. A tribute to the effects designers who worked on the film. Even the ending, with the Predator-Alien bursting from the dead creature, was neat. Though I don't quite understand why the Predators, with their X-ray vision, couldn't see that their fallen comrade was infected ... So a nice little film I though, packed with interesting ideas, characters and situations. I didn't even miss Ripley...

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Doctor Who - Boom Town

Set six months after the events of Aliens of London/World War Three, Boom Town centres around a number of somewhat unlikely coincidences. First, that the Slitheen called Blon - the female one pretending to be MP Margaret Blaine in the earlier story - escaped the bomb attack on number 10 Downing Street by using a teleport device and is now back in Cardiff planning to demolish Cardiff Castle and build a nuclear reactor in its place ... second that the TARDIS arrives in Cardiff at the same time in order to draw power from the Rift which was sealed in The Unquiet Dead ... and third that the Doctor and his extended TARDIS crew, which includes Jack, Rose and Mickey (who has been summoned to Cardiff by Rose to bring her passport) happen to find out about Blon's plans and set out to thwart them. I guess we have to accept that the Doctor will inevitably get involved in trying to stop Blon, and this episode seems very plot-lite in favour of some great moments of comedy, as the Doctor's group tries to catch her (with everyone falling over things and Mickey getting his foot stuck in a bucket), and as innocent journalist Cathy Salter (or possibly Salt - her surname seems to change in the space of a few scenes) quizzes Blaine on the deaths surrounding the Power Station project. Having apprehended the rogue Slitheen, the Doctor decides to take her back to her home planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius where she will be executed by boiling in a pot ... but can the Doctor face being her executioner - and thus like her - and can he have dinner with a creature he is about to deliver to their death ... This seems to be the whole point of the episode, to ask these questions of the Doctor over a nice meal, and as a result Boom Town comes over as somewhat slow and boring compared with the other episodes of the season. After some more comedy moments as the Doctor thwart's Blon's attempt to poison his drink (he swaps glasses), to hit him with a poison dart (he catches it) and to blow poison in his face (he uses a breath freshener), the Rift opens and Cardiff starts to be destroyed by earthquakes. The reason is that Blon's secondary plan (in the event of her being captured before her power station could be completed) was to draw the Doctor (or any alien it seems) to the place, and then to use a bit of alien kit called a tribophysical waveform extrapolator or something (which she bizaarely had incorporated into the model of the forthcoming power station) as a surf board to ride the resultant shockwaves out of the universe. Aside from the total impracticalities of doing this at all, as Cardiff is rocked by earth tremors, it seems to be down to the TARDIS itself to save the day, and the console unexpectedly opens to reveal a bright light which reverts Blon back into an egg!! This has to be one of the most non-sensical get-outs to end any episode with. There are few explanations here, just that Blon saw the heart of the TARDIS and was given a second chance ... The Doctor decides to return the egg to her planet and place it in a hatchery so she can grow up again. I thought this was an awful cop out - deux ex machina to get out of the problem of what to do with the rogue Slitheen. While the Doctor is having dinner with Blon, so Rose is out talking with Mickey - initially planning a night of beer, pizza and debauchery, but then running off back to the TARDIS when the earthquakes start. While Jack seems to be doing nothing but tinkering with the TARDIS' systems (something I'm surprised the Doctor lets him do in the first place). Overall this is episode seems like a filler before we get to the final two parter of the season which promises (as far as the trailer goes anyway) pastiches on Big Brother and other reality TV shows and the return of the Daleks. My son was disappointed at this latter point being in the trailer ... he's eleven and wanted the Daleks' return to be a surprise ... So I can't decide whether I really liked Boom Town or not. I think on balance it is one of the weaker episodes of the season, relying too much on past continuity (there's a lengthy explanation of why the TARDIS looks like a police box, talk about the Slitheen, reference to the Gelth and the Rift, a spot where the ongoing 'Bad Wolf' references seem to take on portent, but which is then summarily dismissed by the Doctor ...) and not enough on developing a solid plot of its own. There's also a pile of questions: why did Blon bother to continue to pretend to be Blaine? Why not take another human skin? Did no-one wonder how she escaped from Downing Street? And why hasn't Harriet Jones (MP for Flydale East) 'outed' her as an alien? How could anyone progress a plan to build a nuclear power station in the middle of Cardiff and demolish a historic site into the bargain? When the Rift was opened, why didn't the Gelth come through as well? Not to mention all the stuff about the heart of the TARDIS at the end ... I don't think it's bad, just a little slow going, and even laboured in places, ultimately disappointing on the explanations. It's the first episode that I've felt could have done with more work on the scripting side ... and 1 out of 11 isn't a bad average.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Grudge

I managed to watch this horror movie the other week ... the remake starring Sarah Michelle Geller rather than the original Japanese version. I was pleasantly surprised. The film has a somewhat eclectic narrative style and leaps about all over the place time-wise (a fact that the people making it liked according to the DVD extras, but which makes it hard to follow), and is something akin to an anthology movie where a number of characters all meet different ends after having come into contact with a house haunted by the spirits of a girl, a boy and a cat. There are some moments of genuine unsettling terror in here - in particular the episode featuring a woman (I'm not sure without checking who she actually is or what her relationship is to the other characters) who ends up getting dragged down into her bed by the girl spirit. Very scary use of lighting and the walking ghost, plus an incredible vocal effect as the ghost approaches. The later scene of the girl coming down the stairs on her hands and knees is likewise totally terrifying and matches the similar scene from The Ring where Sadako emerges from the television set at the end. I'm not sure what Geller brings to the proceedings. She spends most of her screen time looking bemused and the eclectic time jumping means that she appears then vanishes again for a long period before appearing again at the end. As mentioned, perhaps the film's biggest fault is that the characters are all somewhat vague and hard to remember who they are and what their relationships are together - the ghosts are non-descrimatory when it comes to attacking them and good guys and less than good guys alike get their come-uppance over the course of the film. The Grudge is a great little slice of modern horror, and tinged with that great Japanese talent for unsettling the audience rather than grossing them out, it's something I'd recommend for a dark night ...

Doctor Who - The Doctor Dances

I'm really not sure to make of The Doctor Dances. As a piece of television I enjoyed it a lot, and it tied up all the elements from The Empty Child satisfactorily, but it still seemed to be a little rushed in trying to achieve so much in a short time. From the offset, where the Doctor realises that he can send all the gas-masked zombies 'to their room' by talking to them as though they were a child, we realise that he knows more than perhaps he is saying as to what is happening here. But then he also seems to not know what is going on and needs Jack to explain more about the spacecraft he has acquired before the link with the nanobots becomes apparent. The visuals were superb as always, and the idea of Jack's 'squareness gun' was nice - even if it ran out of power after about three uses ... not a lot of use in a battle then - but there was a fair amount of running about and the eventual solution, to allow the nanobots access to the 'parent' DNA, ie Nancy, in order to remake all the people in the appropriate image was somewhat simplistic. What if the child's real mummy had been dead, or someone else? Why did the nanobots just assume that the gasmask was a part of the boy's body? Why not his clothes as well? Why didn't they make everyone infected look the same as the boy, if it was his DNA which was being mapped onto everyone else? Perhaps questions like these need to be glossed over for the greater good of the episode, but then this gets into arguments of style over substance and Doctor Who has always favoured substance. At least the Doctor finally got to do something here, providing the eventual solution and pushing the nanobots to put right the problem they had caused. This makes a change from the earlier episodes where the Doctor and Rose's involvement has been tangential to say the least. So a shorter review this time ... The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances was a great tale, well told and with some cracking dialogue. Jack looks to be an interesting addition to the TARDIS crew and the relationship between him and Rose and him and the Doctor could develop in any number of ways. Next week we have Cardiff blowing up and the return of the Slitheen ...