Saturday, October 13, 2018

Review: Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell To Earth


Watching the opening episode of a new season of Doctor Who is always a pleasure, and when it's the first episode featuring a new Doctor, moreso.  But this year, with The Woman Who Fell To Earth, we not only had a new Doctor, but a new set of companions, a new Showrunner in the form of Chris Chibnell, new production team, new music composer, new title music, and new titles (although as of writing, I've not seen those yet as they weren't included on the opening episode). So there's lots to be anticipatory about.

One thing that is worth pointing out as well, is that unlike most previous Doctor Who seasons and episodes, this time, I knew absolutely nothing about it ... aside from the actors chosen to play the lead roles, not a single plot point, meaningful photograph, or anything much had crossed my path to either 'spoil' or generate excitement about the show. It was a total blank. So much so, that I had no clue when sitting down to watch it, what to expect at all.

So how did it fare? Not too bad overall. Opening Doctor episodes tend to be a little on the let-down side anyway (thinking Robot, The Twin Dilemma, The Eleventh Hour, Deep Breath) and this time there was so much to try and cram in, that a plot of any depth was probably asking too much ...

However a plot was there, and it was straightforward and understandable, if a bit of a steal from Predator. An alien (strangely called Tzim-Sha (Tim Shaw)) comes to Earth to hunt a human so that he can ascend to lead his race ... along the way he steals teeth from his prey and embeds them in his face ... So does Tzim only hunt humans then? If he hunted ... I don't know ... Elephants, then would he have their tusks embedded there? And what if the prey had no teeth ... what would he do then? Thankfully these questions go unanswered.

So Tzim arrives on Earth because a lad called Ryan touches a hologrammatical map thingy in a forest near Sheffield, and summons him there. I did wonder what would have happened if Tzim's summoner went untouched? Would he then try somewhere else? And why make it appear in a forest anyway? Why not somewhere that there were actual people? Anyway ...

So the map thingy makes a blue container thing appear in the forest - and initial thoughts were that this might be the TARDIS ... but no. It's basically a shuttle? Spaceship? Something in which Tzim-Sha travels ... but he can apparently teleport. So why does he need it?

Meanwhile, there's some sort of tentacled Cthulhuian monster attacking a train from Sheffield to London (it's unclear why), and the Doctor falls from the sky, crashes through the train roof, and is completely unscathed and saves Graham and his wife Grace, and a lad called Karl from the tentacle thing. They then hook up with a junior police officer called Jasmine to investigate. Along the way, the Doctor makes a new Sonic Screwdriver (in part from melted down Sheffield steel spoons), and the pod thing opens to reveal Tzim-Sha ...

Tzim (or the tentacle thing which seems to be working for him, or the people who sent Tzim on this mission) has apparently chosen Karl as the prey, and so the alien tracks him to his job as a crane worker, where he climbs the crane to get him (remember, he can teleport). In a neat bit of flip-floppery, the Doctor confronts Tzim and reveals that the DNA bombs he planted in them had been transferred to the tentacle thing, and from there into Tzim himself ... so Tzim leaves in a flash of logic.

The Doctor then decides to try and locate the TARDIS using Tzim's teleport device, but instead sends herself and her new friends into space!

The presence of a cliffhanger was lovely, I really missed those, and I hope they keep it up ... and the plot was simple enough to follow.  I did feel that Tzim-Sha was a bit of a letdown though. He was too much children's teatime SF and not enough Doctor Who. He would have been completely in place in, say, Lost in Space, or Galloping Galaxies perhaps ... just something about it didn't work for me.

As for the other elements. I found the new companions quite likable. Ryan and Jasmine had a touch of 'Soap Opera' about their performances, but overall they were believable, and Graham I really liked ... a sort of 'everyman' just getting on with life before it's all turned upside down by the arrival of Tzim-Sha and the Doctor.

Finally, the new Doctor. To be perfectly honest, I'm not quite sure at the moment. After just one episode, Jodie Whittaker has yet to make much of an impact. I liked her arrival, crashing into the train (and I guess she's unharmed as she was still regenerating at the time), and I liked the way she took control of the situation immediately. There were flashes of David Tennant's performance in hers, with the mouth movements and facial expressions, and I liked her 'get on with it' attitude. I really liked that the fact she was a woman was really not made much of an issue of - and why should it, as far as we know, none of these people has ever met the Doctor before, so they would not know or realise any different.

But is she the Doctor? A couple of moments I felt, yes, she's got this, and then the next moment it's like watching someone cosplaying as the Doctor, someone pretending to be the Timelord ...

I think the basic issue was, with no opening titles, no TARDIS, nothing to actually tell you this was Doctor Who, it could have been the opening episode from Stranger Things 3, or a new Netflix show about saving the Earth from Aliens (Earth vs Aliens) ... and it would have been perfectly acceptable as such.

One thing which really impressed me was the sound design and music. Absolutely first rate, and a refreshing change from the orchestral approach since the show returned in 2005. I found Segun Akinola's score creepy and effective, and also modern and emotive. Can't wait to get a CD release of that!

In a way, it's nice to have such a clean slate to work from. Pretty much anything and everything which made Doctor Who, Doctor Who, was swept away, and we're starting completely from scratch, with no baggage, and no touchstones to the past at all (except perhaps from the Sonic Screwdriver) ...

A final comment to add: while I'm reminded of it ... the story actually has many 'touches' to Matt Smith's debut adventure: a companion dressed as a police officer, an alien who wants to take the Earth, a secondary alien working for the first, and the Doctor tells them to scarper at the end ... A very similar idea ...

Overall, then, a very promising start for the 13th Doctor, or is she the 14th? Or maybe the 15th?

One final thought ... the episode certainly didn't seem to be aimed at 8 year old girls ... so why are all the books and merchandise suddenly aimed there? Answers on a postcard ...

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Fixing PCs

As the old PC or Laptop are pretty essential for all manner of things, occasionally I need to do some maintenance on them to get them running OK, speed them up, clear out the rubbish and so on ...

We have a sort-of policy that no important data is actually stored on the computers themselves - everything is either in Dropbox, or on external USB connected hard drives ... so that we can back them up, have copies, and generally try and protect ourselves from losing everything ...

So I often see people asking online as to how to help sort their own computers out ... so I listed out the following basic set of actions which should help to improve any Windows PC or laptop.  I'm afraid I have never owned or used a Mac, so I have no idea what one would do for one of those machines ...

So I hope this is helpful to someone ...

BASIC STEPS TO IMPROVE A WINDOWS LAPTOP/PC

1) Empty the Recycle Bin
2) Go to SETTINGS/APPS (This is Windows 10. If you're on an earlier version, then this is the SETTINGS and PROGRAMS option) and go through all programs/apps and uninstall any you don't want/need (Google them if you don't know what they do)
3) RESTART THE PC/LAPTOP
4) Do a Disk Cleanup (WINDOWS ADMINISTRATIVE TOOLS) and delete any/all elements showing there with space. There's often old Dump and Crash files there, plus old install files from programs, Windows Update temporary files and other stuff you don't need too.
5) RESTART THE PC/LAPTOP
6) If the internet is not working/connecting, then try opening the Windows Settings for it - in there will be diagnostic tools to check the connections and to help fix them ... (NETWORK AND INTERNET SETTINGS) ... Consider where you are using the PC/Laptop. If you're at home, then you should probably be on a Private Network as this is trusted. If you are at home but set to a Public Network, then it may be doing additional checks and security which are not needed.
7) Download Malwarebytes (https://www.malwarebytes.com/), install the free version and run to check/clean up anything dodgy on the PC - if you don't have internet, then download the install package to another PC and drop it on a removable USB drive, then install on the PC you're working on.
8) Download CCleaner (https://www.ccleaner.com/), install the free version. If you don't have internet, then download the install package to another PC and drop it on a removable USB drive, then install on the PC you're working on.
9) On CCleaner, Run a general cleanup first (ANALYSE and then RUN CLEANER). Make sure that SAVED PASSWORDS is NOT checked - it's greyed out on the free version - or you will lose all your stored passwords. If you unclick DOWNLOAD HISTORY then you won't lose your history of websites opened in the various programs ... so check the tabs carefully and make sure you understand what you are asking the tool to remove. If you don't want to lose the history of files opened in OFFICE applications, then click on the APPLICATIONS tab and Uncheck OFFICE (and any other applications you don't want to be affected).
10) Then on CCleaner run a REGISTRY CLEANER (SCAN FOR ISSUES and then FIX SELECTED ISSUES). It's a good idea on this one to save the previous registry copy to a folder - it prompts you to do this.
11) Then run the REGISTRY CLEANER again ... it sometimes takes two runs to clean it all up.
12) RESTART THE PC/LAPTOP
13) On CCleaner, go to TOOLS and the STARTUP tab. Check what your PC starts at startup. Double clicking on anything here will stop it starting ... so do that for anything you don't want to start when the PC starts - in general, keep things like system and printer software, Dropbox and Windows Defender there, and any anti virus/firewall software you have installed, but any specific programs can be stopped - like SKYPE, TOMTOM apps ... anything which if you want to use it, you can run it anyway. Anything you don't recognise or understand, Google to find out what it is/does and decide whether you want or need it running at startup.
14) RESTART THE PC/LAPTOP
15) If you have any hardware checking programs or tools (sometimes they come on the PC when you buy it) then run them to check everything out.
http://www8.hp.com/.../hpsupportassistant/pc-diags.html is a handy HP diagnostic tool to check out the key elements. I'm not sure if this works on non-HP kit though.

Lenovo have something similar called a Solution Centre (https://support.lenovo.com/gb/en/downloads/ds104494)  ... I'm sure there are others ...

As mentioned, we use Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com) for holding all in-progress files. This is free and easily downloadable, and you can gain more space for it by carrying out actions like sharing links on Social Media and so on ... of course you can purchase more space too if you want/need to.

Dropbox basically keeps an ongoing backup of everything in the Dropbox folder on your PC. It also keeps old versions of everything, so if you need to recover something or go back to an older version, it's easy to do so.

For other online backups, and after a crash which nearly lost a whole hard drive (!), I'm now using Backblaze (https://www.backblaze.com), as recommended by friends. It's not expensive (about $50 a year) and basically takes and maintains an online backup of EVERY hard drive you have (or can) connect to a computer.  It's NOT a storage facility though, so if you remove the hard drives, then after 30 days it assumes you don't want the data and so will delete it.  But if you have a hard drive go bad, or accidentally delete something you shouldn't have, then it's a great and simple way of having an up to date copy that you can recover from.

And hard drives ... they're always getting cheaper and cheaper, and you can find 3Tb ones now which are less than £100 ... a good investment to keep all your data, pictures. videos and whatever on, and to have spares with backed up copies on ...