The Time of The Doctor–Review

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So it’s been over a month since “The Day of the Doctor” aired and I still get pageviews on my review of it. That’s been pretty awesome, and so was that episode, a proper way to celebrate Doctor Who‘s 50th Anniversary and all that that entails while offering a thrilling story of its own, a fine showcase for current Doctor Matt Smith in his penultimate appearance.

What a shame, then, that in his final appearance in the role, he has to contend giving a great performance with a bad script that goes nowhere except at the end because it’s buried under a complicated plot that doesn’t amount to much of anything and shows what Steven Moffat, after doing SO WELL on “Day,” can do at his worst as a writer.

Again, before we go further, if you’re unfamiliar with Doctor Who, things are gonna get pretty in-depth here, so your move if you want to continue..

Okay, so we start off with a prologue establishing that an unknown blue planet, emanating a mysterious message through time and space that no one can decipher, has drawn every species in the universe (among them, Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and so on) to it. Naturally, the Doctor (Smith) is around, but without companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman). Instead, he’s talking about all this to a random discarded Cyberman head he just bought somewhere (really, they say that) who he’s nicknamed Handles (voiced by Kayvan Novak). After popping off to Earth to fetch Clara, who briefly tries to get the Doctor to pose as her boyfriend for her family at Christmas dinner, they return to the planet, which Handles–with his full set of Cyberman databanks–identifies as Gallifrey. Given that, at the end of “Day of the Doctor,” Gallifrey was shunted off into a pocket universe, the Doctor rejects this as impossible.

He and Clara then board the ship belonging to the Church of the Papal Mainframe (a paramilitary religious order that showed up back in Season 5), who were the first to arrive. They meet the Church’s Mother Superious Tasha Lem (Orla Brady) who says that they have put up a force field preventing anyone else from destroying the planet and asks if the Doctor would like to explore it for them. Never one to back down, the Doctor agrees. He and Clara are beamed down and discover a few things: there’s a frontier town on the planet, which is permanently in winter, the town’s name is Christmas, the planet is Trenzalore (revealed previously to be the final resting place of the Doctor) and it’s covered by a truth field, meaning no one in town can lie. Oh, and the message turns out to be coming from a crack in the universe (left over from the events of season 5), and the reason no one can decipher it is because it’s in Gallifreyan, according to Handles, who translates it (broadcasting it to all ships in the process) as “Doctor who?” (The big question of season 6)

What does THAT mean? Why, it means the Time Lords, from the pocket universe, are reaching out to the Doctor, asking him to say his real name and open the crack to let Gallifrey back into the universe. Trouble is, with all those enemies up there, if Gallifrey comes back, the Time War (which, remember, nearly destroyed the entire universe and was so dangerous the Doctor was forced to seal it off from the rest of existence) will begin again, and the universe probably won’t survive.

So what does the Doctor do? Get caught up in plot mechanics more complex than what I just talked about (and that’s not even including a confusing gag about holo-projectors and the Church’s penchant for nudity) that, by the end of its 90 minutes, has somehow not only tied up the questions raised in this episode, but also explained that the Doctor has actually reached his final regeneration, found a way to get around that, introduced the long-awaited for Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and tried to tie up every mystery left hanging in Matt Smith’s run. Not surprisingly, the end result is rushed and sloppy.

I really wanted to like this episode. I really did. Instead, while the final 15 minutes were all sorts of awesome–and the 20 seconds or so Capaldi showed up tonight proved to be the crowning moment of awesome, as evidenced by everyone talking about it online–, what came before proved two things about Moffatt’s writing that I absolutely hate.

1. His habit of introducing brand new characters and concepts right out of nowhere and saying that they’ve been super important to the Doctor the WHOLE time; you just didn’t know it! The whole part with Tasha Lem is, consequently, cumbersome; it’s not Brady’s fault, but she’s not playing a character, she’s playing a plot device. This is beyond irritating: you can’t shoehorn in someone new at the last minute and expect someone to care about them when all these other threads are coming back together…which leads us into the second problem.

2. Repeatedly throughout this episode, Moffat delivered on his long-promised intent to answer every lingering question from the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure. He does, but he handwaves every single thing through dialogue and just moves on. That might be fine for him, but as somebody watching this expecting an intense payoff, I was annoyed. It was nice to get an answer to why the TARDIS blew up in Season 5, but that answer being a few snippets of dialogue over a couple scenes? Not cool. Not cool at all.

Not only that, there’s some major inconsistencies with the Silence, a villain that Moffat himself introduced. This may read as nitpicky, but on screen, it felt just irritating. Worse yet, all the various story threads just pile up on top of each other rather than intersecting nicely and evenly. There’s so much going on here that I’ve had Wikipedia open this entire time so I can keep track of what happened. For something I just saw.

All of these things, I should add, are not the fault of director Jamie Payne, who, although he’s not as deft as spectacle as some other Who directors are, is still pretty good. Nor are they the fault of Matt Smith, who is superb throughout, even if a huge chunk of the time, he’s under old man makeup. He has a long career in front of him, no doubt, and the brief gag thrown in as a reference to the fact that, due to his first big American film role in the upcoming How To Catch A Monster (directed by Ryan Gosling!), he had to shave his head, was a nice touch.

No, any problems here can be laid exclusively at Steven Moffat’s feet. I’m not saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing. It just feels like he meant to write a 2-parter, then was told he had to write one special and didn’t want to cut anything else out. It’s frustrating and aggravating, far from how I wanted my last glimpse of the Eleventh Doctor–the first Doctor who I, and most Americans, have seen go through his journey in real time–to be. But those last 20 seconds with Capaldi give me hope that things will be good. The new season doesn’t premiere until August, so we’ll have to see.

 

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Star Trek Saturdays #33!

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #33!

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This week’s episode is ‘Friday’s Child,” and I actually should’ve covered it last week. Oops! Anyway, here we have an episode that has great music and stellar direction in service of an awesome “on-the-run” story!

We open with the Enterprise approaching the planet Capella IV to negotiate mining rights of a rare mineral for the Federation with the natives. In the briefing room, McCoy, who did an anthropological survey of the natives years ago, shows footage of them to the senior staff and explains that Capellans follow a complex rule system and that they can very easily anger.

Leaving Scotty in charge, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and a redshirt beam down to be approached by a party of Capellans led by Maab (Michael Dante) who seem to be escorting a Klingon (Tige Andrews). The redshirt pulls his phaser on the Klingon, who is never named, and is promptly killed by a killer boomerang thrown by a Capellan.

The others are told to surrender their weapons and taken back to the main encampment, where they are taken to meet Akaar (Ben Gage), the Teer–leader–of the Capellans. The Klingon tries to convince Akaar to align with them, but McCoy fools him at every turn with his cultural knowledge. Akaar comments that in all their dealings with Earthmen, the Capellans have never been lied to. Maab cryptically states that there are those who will not bargain with Earthmen, which Akaar takes as a threat.

Suddenly, a violent coup breaks out. Kirk & co. rush back to their tent to grab their weapons only to find the Klingon there. They subdue him and find out that the Klingons are after the rare mineral too. Suddenly, Maab enters, declaring himself the new Teer with Akaar’s death.

Meanwhile, Scotty and the Enterprise receive a distress signal from the S.S. Dierdre, a freighter claiming to be under attack by a Klingon vessel. But are they? And what does Maab have in store for Kirk & co.?

The unfortunate thing about this episode is that the HD really does bring out the limitations of early Trek and of ’60s television. Specifically, the Medieval-style costumes of the Capellans look really goofy and chintzy in high-def. But despite that, they’re certainly an interesting race, combining medieval pagentry with brutal savagery.

What helps sell the throwback feel of it is the music by episode composer Gerard Fried. It’s stirring and original, with some nice Middle Ages instrumentation underscoring the traditional Trek themes.

The cast is swell from top to bottom. We finally get to see how competent McCoy is as a physician, Shatner gets to be headstrong and Spock proves to be as witty as ever. As the Klingon, called Kras in the script, Tige Andrews is phenomenally slimy, oozing smirk and venom with every scene. As Maab, Dante, looking somewhat like Death from The Seventh Seal, is clever and quietly threatening. In another time, he could stand equal to, say, Littlefinger on Game of Thrones.

Episode writer D.C. Fontana gives us a great story, with palpable tension in both plots, well-drawn characters and propulsive action beats. My only problem with it is that, when Akaar’s wife becomes involved, things get a little bizarre with some mixed messages on gender and motherhood. This is where the ’60s aspect rears its ugly head.

Unsurprisingly for such a tight episode, Joseph Pevney directs again and is as stellar as ever. He never lets up, even for a moment.

Overall, this is a terrific episode with great action, fun characters and a cool plot. Check it out.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug–Review

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I didn’t review the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, last year not because I didn’t like it (I did, very very much) but because the end of the year time crunch was too much. Like the last film, this one came out right during finals week at my college and I looked forward to it enormously, finally seeing it last night.

A lot of people have said that the first Hobbit was far too long with far too little action and while I can see their point, I don’t see how anyone could claim that. The Desolation of Smaug is a tight, lean film, getting right to the action and not letting up the whole time. It’s 2 1/2 hours, but it whizzes by like nothing.

The end of the last film involved the titular Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the rest of their company being pursued by a group of Orcs led by Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett). After a flashback showing how Thorin and Gandalf met, that’s where we cut back to. The party manages to evade them and, realizing that they’re being pursued by a bear, are led by Gandalf to the home of Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), a “skin-changer” who can turn into…the bear that’s been chasing them.

After that, the party heads into the dark forest of Mirkwood, with Gandalf leaving them in order to investigate rumors of a mysterious sorcerer known only as the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch). They find themselves ensnared by giant spiders and escape, only to be captured by the forces of the Elven king Thranduil (Lee Pace), led by his son Legolas (Orlando Bloom, reprising his role from the original trilogy) and captain of the guard Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). After some ridiculous, yet ridiculously awesome battle sequences involving barrels and a river, the group eventually makes their way to the Lonely Mountain, site of the Dwarven kingdom they’re hoping to reclaim, where they confront the ancient, terrible dragon Smaug (also Cumberbatch).

That may seem like a lot to deal with, but director Peter Jackson makes it all go down easy, proving once again that he is the absolute best at streamlining what is very dense material. The script, by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro, shows this, giving equal attention to the small moments as much as the big ones and giving the viewers engaging material at all time, although this proves to be frustrating when a cutaway to smaller material right during the confrontations with Smaug proves to be kinda annoying.

The cast is stellar as ever, with Freeman, McKellen and Armitage all turning in great work. Bloom hasn’t really done a whole lot of note since LOTR and Pirates of the Caribbean, so it’s nice to see him back in his signature role, which he clearly relishes. As the new-for-the-movies Tauriel, Lilly had a lot to prove, and she pulls it off, proving that not only can new characters to an adaptation be good, they can also be revolutionary.

But the scene-stealer here is Cumberbatch, particularly as Smaug. It’s somewhat bizarre that no one other than Jackson and his team at Weta Workshop can make motion capture work, but this proves it once again. Cumberbatch has had a breakout year and this is the icing on the cake. He owns every second he’s on screen, and he will most definitely win awards for his bringing the most terrifying dragon in cinema to life. No matter how much of Smaug’s body you see on screen, he looks huge and endless and he and the folks at Weta Workshop will be racking up praise and accolades for quite some time.

Bottom line: this is not only a wonderful fantasy movie, but a wonderful movie, easily one of the year’s best films. Check it out (after you catch the first film). You won’t be disappointed.

Spaced–DVD Review

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Academic finals are a chore, and people get through them however they can. For study breaks, some may walk, others go to the gym and lift weights. Me? I stayed in my apartment and, when not studying, binged through both seasons of a cult British sitcom in two days last weekend.

For those of you who may have not heard of it, Spaced, which aired two seasons from 1999-2001 on ITV in Britain (although the international DVD release was done by BBC Video), was the breakthrough for star and co-creator Simon Pegg, supporting star Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright, who went on to make the insanely terrific “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy.  Way back at Grand Rapids Comic-Con in October, I found the complete series boxset for $5 and I finally delved into it, watching each season (of 7 episodes each) on Friday and Saturday respectively.

The first episode gives us all the setup: It’s 1999 in North London. Tim Bisley (Pegg), an aspiring comic book artist and comic shop employee, has just been dumped by his girlfriend of five years and kicked out of their house. Moping in a small cafe, he meets Daisy Steiner (series co-creator Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson)), a young aspiring writer just getting out of a similar situation. Finding a listing for a flat in the newspaper, and noting that it’s for “professional couples only,” they pretend to be a couple in order to convince the wino landlady, Martha (Julia Deakin), to sell to them. They pull it off and settle in, having a variety of bizarre adventures with Marsha, downstairs neighbor and bizarro repressed artist Brian (Mark Heap), Daisy’s best friend, fashionista Twist (Katy Carmichael) and Tim’s best friend, the gung-ho military nut Mike (Nick Frost).

That’s the setup but what enfolds is something unique altogether. Part of the appeal of the movies Pegg, Frost and Wright have made is that they all come off as effortless; even though there’s an enormous amount of plot mechanics at work, you never see the gears. Everything just washes over you. Spaced is much the same, only more so due to the decompressed nature of television. The overall feel is like watching a great British stoner comedy, spread out over fourteen episodes of great gags, excellent one-liners, innovative, stylistic direction by Wright and a great comedic ensemble that gells together perfectly, culminating in one of the best series finales I’ve ever seen.

Pegg is an absolute winner as always, making Tim the blueprint of the lovable slacker, but Hynes nee Stevenson proves every bit his equal, being unafraid to show Daisy as unsympathetic or as goofs. The rest of the cast are all terrific and while it’s bizarre to see how thin Frost was back then, he manages to be overly physical as the deranged Mike and it’s great to see.

As I said, Wright is amazing here. He incorporates all sorts of tricks from films and music videos that must have been mind-blowing back in the day and are still thrilling here. Anyone who doubts his skill will be floored here.

The whole show is on Netflix, and it is worth checking out. The DVD also has a whole bunch of special features which I haven’t watched yet, but I plan to. Check this show out; you won’t be disappointed.

And We’re Back!

Sorry for the extreme delay folks! Very, very sorry. You see, after I got back from my birthday weekend, wound up getting enormously sidetracked by the end of the semester rush and now exams. But I’m taking some time to write posts ahead for this week? Okay, okay.

In the meantime, enjoy the revised About page.