Archive for September, 2012

Killing Them Softly

Posted: September 30, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Andrew Dominik. Starring Brad Pitt.

A darkly comic take on the 2008 financial crisis told through the prism of a collection of low life gangsters.

It’s 2008 and as the world financial markets crash, the situation is mirrored in microcosm by a collapse in confidence around mob run card games. Nobody ever robs these games, because although they’re easy pickings, anyone who does is liable to end killed by the mob.

A low life businessman, known as the Squirrel, thinks he has a fool proof way to take down one game, by robbing the card game run by Markie Trattman ( Ray Liotta), because it was robbed once before, by Trattman himself, so the Squirrel figures if its knocked over again, the mob will simply ice Trattman and that’s that… Unfortunately the two low life losers he hires to rob the game (from this point on assume everyone in the film is a low life) are not the sharpest tools in the box, in fact one of them takes stupidity to a whole new level, and whilst the mob don’t discount that Trattman may be behind it all, they bring in Brad Pitt’s enforcer/hired killer Jackie Cogan to make sure.

At first it might seem an odd fit, those on the bottom rungs of society being used as representatives of a collapse at the highest levels of American business, but for the most part it works well, especially when it’s being subtle. The allusions to gambling, to loss of confidence in the system, the need for Trattman to be seen to be punished, even though he’s not guilty of anything except appearing to be guilty.

The mob is shown as a failing corporate entity, an organisation where every decision needs to be discussed by committee, and Cogan’s contact with the mob isn’t some clichéd wise guy, instead it’s Richard Jenkins’ corporate stooge, more lawyer than mobster. Similarly even what Cogan is being paid to kill those involved has to be negotiated, with the recession hitting the mob the same as everyone else.

Where the film works less well is when it’s being obvious. George Bush and Barack Obama discuss the crisis endlessly via every TV or radio, and while it keeps the idea in focus that what we’re seeing is a story about the financial crisis, it stretches belief that bottom feeding criminals really listen/watch financial news all the time.

This isn’t likely to be a film for everyone. For starters it’s brutal, though at times the violence is quite balletic, however I liked this, or rather I appreciated it, it’s nice to see a film that hasn’t been sanitised down to 12A levels. Aside from the violence the pace won’t suit all tastes. The story, such as it is, is wafer thin, and much of the film is taken up with the various characters sitting around sharing war stories, and not all of them seem relevant, although the more you think about it the more James Gandolfini’s washed up mobster can be seen as a metaphor for America, the big shot who’s gone to seed.

Personally I enjoyed this film a lot, Brad Pitt is as good as I’ve seen him in a long time, and whilst I initially worried that this was going to be one of those films where a big star films a few scenes but isn’t really part of the major story, I was pleasantly surprised, and Pitt forms the core of the film, the epitome of the hard working American (yes even as a hired killer) who suddenly finds the recession affects even him.

It takes good writing, direction and acting to make a group of characters, none of whom are pleasant, so eminently watchable, yet this film does it, and I’d have been happy for it to go on longer, that said, that it’s brief is another point in its favour. Too many of those sanitised 12A films are also incredibly bloated.

Despite its violent, dark tone, the film manages to be funny, even though the humour is of the blackest kind, and Brad Pitt’s final scene at the end of the film is absolutely brilliant. Rarely have I seen Hollywood be so brutally honest about what a confidence trick the American Dream actually is. Definitely an unexpected pleasure.

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Doctor Who: The Power of Three

Posted: September 24, 2012 in TV reviews
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Warning. Spoilers ahoy.

And so we come to the penultimate episode featuring Amy and Rory before they meet whatever fate Steven Moffat has in store for them next week…and again Chris Chibnall has the writing duties.

When millions of small black cubes appear out of nowhere all across the world, it seems like the harbinger of an alien attack, and the Doctor quickly appears at Amy and Rory’s house to investigate—little realising that, after almost ten years of travelling with the Doctor, they’re considering some major changes in their lives. Much as they love him, they also want to settle down and enjoy their real life, and it may be that they have to give the Doctor up.

Things are complicated when the cubes don’t do anything. They’re invulnerable, can’t be scanned, and they just sit there. And so, as Amy narrates, the year of the long invasion has begun, and in order to monitor the situation, the Doctor might need to hang around with the Ponds for once rather than them with him…

Well, after deriding him for some time, Chibnall has actually gone and written two enjoyable episodes this series, plus the interesting ‘Pond Life’ web serial. Don’t get me wrong, The Power of Three is flawed, and it lacks the sheer exuberance of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (the best episode of series 7 so far) but it’s still a good episode in spite of this.

It’s also something of a nostalgia trip, not only for the current Tardis crew (complete with a fish fingers and custard reference) but also in more general terms, because it’s very reminiscent of an RTD era episode. The use of UNIT, the present day setting and Earth invasion storyline make it feel at times like David Tennant is going to show up.

It’s nice to see things revolve around Rory and Amy for once, and when the Doctor does intrude it’s on their terms, although there is an amusing scene where he takes them to the Savoy in 1890 as an anniversary gift, one which turns sour when, apparently, it turns out there’s a Zygon ship under the Savoy. There’s also a reference to Henry VIII which suggests that this episode sits before A Town Called Mercy.

In a nod to The Lodger/Closing Time, we get to see the Doctor try and deal with the mundane nature of everyday life, and while this gives Smith the chance to indulge in some great physical comedy, the notion that the Doctor would get that bored, that quickly seems a bit extreme.

The episode also features the return of UNIT, led now by Kate Stewart, the daughter of the Brigadier, which is a nice touch, and it’s good to see UNIT portrayed as a force for good rather than being incompetent/overly militaristic. UNIT perhaps don’t contribute much to the story, apart from providing the Doctor with some scientific facilities, but it would be difficult to imagine the story without the Doctor liaising with someone on Earth at a global level about the cubes, and better UNIT than anyone else. Jemma Redgrave makes an engaging Kate and I hope she and UNIT return soon.

Someone already returning is Rory’s dad, Brian, and again Mark Williams does a great job in what could so easily be a clichéd role as the dad who’s “expert” in everything and takes things far too seriously. Just witness his cube logs for details. Brian’s been a great addition to the show, and I hope we see him again, although given we won’t be seeing Amy or Rory after next week, this, sadly, seems unlikely.

There are some funny lines (Matt Smith gets most but not all of them) and some creepy scenes revolving around some monstrous orderlies skulking around Rory’s hospital, and the notion of the cubes appearing  and then do nothing gives the episode a nice hook, especially when so much time passes that they eventually become part of everyday life.

It’s a shame then that the resolution of the cube story comes to very little. They’re the emissaries of an alien race called the Shakri, played here by Steven Berkoff, a species the Doctor thought were mythical, but who have decided to purge humanity from the universe before they can spread to the stars. In order to do this the cubes cause a cardiac arrest in 1/3 of the population, and the Shakri are readying a second wave…

As villains go the Shakri are pretty banal, and it seems a waste of Berkoff. Surely the best reason to hire the man is to let him cut loose, to chew the scenery and basically ham it up something rotten, instead he’s given a role anyone could play.

And the Doctor’s solution to the problem is a bit too neat and tidy as well, given all the Doctor has to do is wave his sonic screwdriver around to get the boxes to reverse their effects, restarting the hearts they’d stopped. This seems very simplistic, and doesn’t address the fact that people’s hearts had been stopped for some time, yet there’s no mention of brain damage or other side effects.

But, perhaps, this off the cuff resolution is in keeping with the episode. As I’ve said, this felt very much like an RTD episode, and perhaps it’s only fitting that it gave us the patented Russell T Davies button pushing/knob twirling/lever pulling resolution that we saw so often?

If this was the intention then all I can say is; you can take nostalgia too far.

Similarly the robot girl/monster orderlies seem to be there just to service the plot/provide something more threatening than the cubes, and to give our heroes an excuse to get aboard the Shakri ship, and the issue of why they were harvesting humans, and why the Doctor left their victims (apart from Rory and Brian) behind to be blown up is left unanswered. One can only hope they were already dead!

Still, it’s churlish to focus on the episode’s flaws when it has far more plusses. It’s funny, nostalgic, and has a nice central mystery (even if it all comes to very little) but even without all of these it would rank as a great episode for two wonderful conversations. The first is between the Doctor and Amy, with Smith and Gillan on top, emotional form as the Doctor explains that Amy and Rory aren’t chasing him, that he’s chasing them, that he feels compelled to run towards them before they flare and die. As an exploration why a 1200 year old alien continues to be so fascinated by, let’s be honest, lesser races and by events throughout space and time it’s very telling, as a shared moment between two good friends it’s incredibly touching, and as prescience of next week’s episode it’s rather chilling.

As is the second conversation, the one where Brian asks the Doctor what happened to his other companions, and the Doctor answers that some left him, some were left behind and a few, just a few, died.

Arghhh! I want it to be Saturday NOW!

Total Recall

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Len Wiseman. Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel.

It’s the late 21st Century and average guy Doug Quaid (Farrell) has a boring life—well boring despite him living in the future, and being married to Kate Beckinsale—he has a daily commute and works on a production line. It should be added at this point that his daily commute involves taking a tube ride through the centre of the Earth, and he helps make killer robots, seriously it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the guy.

In an attempt to liven up his humdrum (??) existence he visits Recall, a company who can implant fake memories, making you think you’ve been a sporting legend, or a millionaire playboy, or that perhaps you’re married to Kate Beckinsale and build killer robots…ahem. The trouble is, if the fake memories Recall try and implant conflict with real memories, it can cause serious damage. So there should be no problem with Quaid getting fake memories of being a spy…unless of course he really was a spy…

Before you can say Arnold Schwarzenegger Quaid is punching and shooting his way through a bunch of cops. On the run he goes home to discover his loving wife is actually a trained killer, and suddenly the chase is on. Can he figure out why his memory has been replaced, will he understand why Kate Beckinsale wants to kill him so bad, will he solve the mystery of why that hooker had three boobs?*

(* Warning; not all of these questions will be answered)

My viewing of this film got off to a less than auspicious start when I had a momentary memory lapse when I went to get my ticket and couldn’t remember the name of the film. Perhaps this was a sign, or perhaps, like Recall and the memory implant, if you go and see a film you’ve already seen it makes your brain melt?

Because this is, of course, a remake of the Arnie original from 20 or so years ago. With this in mind the film begins by advising us that the studio responsible for this picture is “Original Film.”

When chatter first began suggesting this was being made, all involved made it very clear that rather than a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s original, this film would be based on Phillip K Dick’s short story. Sadly this is not the case. This is a remake of the 1990 film, and any elements from the short story in this are ones that arrived via the original film.

I don’t have a huge problem with this, but they could at least be upfront about it. It’s like the film I Am Legend a few years ago, which proclaimed it was going back to the source material of the novel, but which in actual fact was just a remake of the Omega Man (only not as good).

The best/ and perversely the worst thing I can say about this film is that it’s ok. It’s not terrible, it’s perfectly diverting and enjoyable in its own right, but…

There are some nice ideas on show. The idea of a tunnel through the earth linking the Colony (Australia) with the United Federation of Britain (Guess) is bonkers, and makes little sense, but at least it shows a shred of imagination.  Design wise the film is a visual feast, from sprawling cityscapes to grey fog drenched chemical wastelands; it’s a shame that in some respects a lot is stuff we’ve seen before. Blade Runner is great but you can take homage a little too far, and the rain drenched, Chinese inspired look of the colony in particular just makes you wish you were at home watching Harrison Ford fight Rutger Hauer.

Similarly the look of the film seems to jar with the background we’re given. Overpopulation is an issue, yet the Colony never seems that overcrowded, and in a world where the technology exists to build a tunnel through the earth’s core, where synthetic life forms can be created, where flying cars exist and memories can be simulated, the notion that they can’t reclaim chemically polluted land stretches credulity.

The film features good action sequences, though at times it does seem like one big long chase movie, and often it does look a little bit too much like a computer game, and its telling that perhaps the best set piece of the film involves a fight between three humans and a robot in a lift—sometimes less is more, and whilst the eleborate lift system itself makes for a good backdrop, it again seems implausible, like it only exists to facilitate the action, rather than being a tangible location in itself.

Cast wise Beckinsale is the best thing in it. I’ve never been a huge fan of hers but she’s excellent here, imbuing a one note character with far more life than she deserves, and dishing out barbed dialogue and high kicks with equal aplomb.

Farrell is ok. He does bewildered very well and given his character’s somewhat confused state this works well up to a point, unfortunately it also means he never really nails the characters he’s supposed to be playing. He’s ok as Quaid, although it’s a fairly simplistic good guy template, but he never really clicks as Hauser. Comparing this to the original (and it’s impossible not to if you have any familiarity with the 1990 version) Arnie did a much better job of playing two characters. His Quaid and Hauser are very different, whereas here Hauser is mainly differentiated by having a beard…

Biel is, frankly, forgettable.

Bryan Cranston is always good value, but even so his Cohaagen lacks the levels of corporate sleaze that Ronny Cox could do in his sleep.

Bill Nighy and John Cho round out the cast, but are really nothing more than cameos.

Plotwise, it isn’t so much that there are gaping holes, rather than things just obviously weren’t thought out. Why does Hauser/Quaid’s cop friend help him at the end? Why is Nighy’s resistance movement such a threat if they weren’t behind any of the bombings? And why is the Colony so terrified of invasion when all they have to do is drop a load of bombs down on the tube train/shuttle coming towards them? In fact why can’t they gain independence by simply blocking off one end of the tunnel?

And of course, the biggest question of all, where did the three boobed hooker come from? In the original she made sense, she was a mutant, and there were lots of mutants. Here…well she seems to just be here because she was in the original.

Like I say, this isn’t a bad film, and if this were a generic sci-fi film it would be perfectly serviceable, but as a remake to an original film that had so much more verve it can’t help but be found wanting, and despite a few exciting set pieces, and a couple of amusing nods to the original film, it lacks the energy to be remotely memorable. So consider this a divorce…

Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy

Posted: September 16, 2012 in TV reviews
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Ok partner, just to warn you to be careful, this here review will contain spoilers…

So for the third episode of Series 7 we have a script by Toby Whithouse; The man who wrote the wonderful School Reunion, the quite good Vampires of Venice, and the fantastic God Complex, oh and also the man who created Being Human. We also see Doctor Who do a western for the first time since the Gunfighters, a somewhat derided Hartnell story.

The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive at a small western town named Mercy (population 81) and discover a circle of stone and wood surrounding the place. Upon entering they discover that the town is being menaced by a cyborg gunslinger who wants to find an alien doctor who he wants to kill.

After a misunderstanding where the townsfolk try to placate the gunslinger by handing over our Doctor, it soon becomes clear that the man the cyborg is after is the town doctor, an alien called Kahler Jex who saved the town from cholera and had provided them with electric light and heat. As it turns out Jex isn’t quite the noble man he appears to be, and the cyborg isn’t quite the monster either. Question is what will the Doctor do when he finds a man who doesn’t fit into a neat box marked ‘villain’?

Sometimes a great idea can make for a less than spectacular story, and sometimes the opposite is true. The central conceit at the heart of A Town Called Mercy is a good one. There really is no villain as such. Jex did terrible things, but he did them in time of war, and felt they were justified to end suffering, and since arriving on Earth he’s done a lot of good, saved lives. Does the Doctor have the right to hand him over to the cyborg, even though the cyborg has every reason to want him dead.

The trouble is that, aside from the central idea, the rest of the episode seems somewhat flat. The location is excellent, a faux western town in Spain, they really couldn’t have done better short of flying to the states, similarly effort was made to cast American actors, well one at least, Ben Browder star of Farscape and Stargate SG1.

Somehow, despite this, the location never quite seems to come alive. Maybe it’s something as simple as the fact that Doctor Who and the Wild West are an odd fit. In the same way James Bond never seems quite as cool when he visits the states.

It doesn’t help that having told us the town has a population of 80 odd people, it seems strangely deserted, and we don’t see nearly enough people. Perhaps they’re hiding? This seems unlikely given there are small children milling around.  The people we do see rarely get to rise above being ciphers; the undertaker sizing up the Doctor for a coffin, the kid who isn’t as tough as he thinks, the noble Marshall…we’ve seen them all before but none really escape cliché, well except maybe Browder, but he’s killed so early in the episode that you wonder why the heck they cast him. Frankly it might have been better to cast him as the gunslinger; at least he’d have got more screen time.

The gunslinger is well realised, though you do wonder why he’s dressed as a cowboy, and also wonder at his curious tactics. He can clearly teleport, is well armed, and may be invulnerable to human weapons, yet rather than just walk into town and take Jex, he instead lays siege to the town and just waits for Jex to come to him. There’s just no logic to it.

But thenmany of his actions lack consistency. When Rory and the marshal lead him away to enable the Doctor to reach the Tardis, he first avoids shooting at them because he recognises them as innocent, but then a few seconds later he’s shooting to kill. It all seems very odd.

Matt Smith is excellent again, and there are some funny lines, but Rory is side-lined and Amy is just used as the Doctor’s conscience, the episode could have worked just as well without them. It’s fun to see the Doctor as a marshal, and always nice to have a story with no sneering, complete and utter bad guy, it’s just a shame that so many elements of the story make little sense and there’s so little drama, and whilst the use of well-known Western tropes is unavoidable, it’s a shame more wasn’t done to give us something a little different.

Weakest episode of series 7 so far for me, but even average Who is better than most stuff on telly, and they can’t all be fantastic…

Dredd

Posted: September 13, 2012 in Film reviews
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Directed by Pete Travis. Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Heady.

15 years after the big budget Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd film, the 2000AD comic book character returns in a much lower budget, leaner film. Question is, as always, is it any good. Before the review, I have two confessions. Firstly I’m a huge Judge Dredd fan. My first issue of 2000AD was prog 219, and they’ve hit 1800 now! I admit I dropped out for a while, but I came back to the comic a few years ago and haven’t looked back. The second, more disturbing revelation, is that I actually have a bit of a soft spot for the ’95 Judge Dredd. I don’t think it’s quite as bad as it’s made out to be. Though it’s clearly incredibly flawed I do think it got Mega City 1 spot on in many ways.

Anyway, it’s the future, and in a city of 800million souls crime is rampant, and all that stands between the innocent and the criminals are the Judges, best exemplified by Judge Dredd. It’s a losing battle, the judges can respond to just 6% of reported crime, and their methods go somewhat beyond Dixon of Dock Green…they really are judge, jury and, often, executioner.

Assigned rookie Judge Anderson (Thirlby) Dredd undertakes what seems like a routine drugs bust at Peach Trees Block, but the dealer they arrest is higher up the food chain than they imagine. He’s working for Ma-Ma, Heady in vile form, a hooker turned crime boss who controls the distribution of a new drug, slo-mo, which makes it seem like time is passing at 1% its normal speed.

Wary of the Judges taking her dealer back for interrogation, Ma-Ma locks down the block, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside, and then she tells the entire population that she won’t let anyone leave until the Judges are dead. And that’s about it really. Although in fairness there are a few surprises along the way, in the final analysis Dredd has a fairly simple story. Two cops, trapped in a building full of killers. The simplicity of Dredd’s plot isn’t a failing however, quite the reverse. Coming off the back of the derided ’95 film, and with a budget that’s tiny by today’s blockbuster standards, a lean, mean Dredd film was probably the best idea.

Filming in South Africa gives the film a washed out glare that seems perfect to represent a city surrounded by the irradiated wasteland that is the Cursed Earth, and manages to make the film look a little different from the norm. There’s a lot of reverence given to the source material, without the film ever feeling beholden to it. Mention of Resyk (where bodies are recycled) and Hotties (future hotdogs) are tossed around without feeling any need to explain them, and I saw graffiti lauding Chopper, Kenny Who, and Jock. We even get the future swear word Drokk scrawled on the back of a perp’s jacket (although sadly that’s the only time it’s referenced, the cursing in this film is pretty generic otherwise.)

Karl Urban was a great choice to play Dredd. A good enough actor that he can do the part justice and a big enough name that he can add to the draw without being a superstar who’s going to overshadow everything, and whilst I had reservations about the uniform and the helmet beforehand, both work just fine here. It’s his performance that makes it though. A few early stilting scenes aside, on the whole he’s spot on, with his sardonic one liners and gruff sub-Eastwood drawl he has Joe Dredd down to a T.

Having Thirlby by his side helps. Her Cassandra Anderson has some liberties taken with her backstory (she’s not a mutant in the comics) but on the whole, again enough reverence to the character has been taken to ensure she’s recognisable. She’s emotional, empathetic and clearly far more human than Dredd, which is just as it should be. The only thing lacking from her performance is a bit more kooky humour, but it’s difficult to know how that would have gone down in this film.

It’s always refreshing to see a film trying to be a blockbuster whilst not sanitising itself, and Dredd is every bit as brutal as its 18 certificate suggests, with much of the violence being captured in wince inducing slow motion and/or 3D. I’m not a huge fan of 3D, but actually found it less jarring in this film than in most others. The fact that it was shot in 3D rather than being retrofitted into it makes a big difference, though having said that I don’t think it really adds anything to the film.

Dredd isn’t without flaws, lack of budget means that, especially in the early scenes, Mega City 1 looks just like a modern day city, and present day cars/dress everywhere don’t help. Some effort is made to make the lawmaster bikes the Judges use look futuristic, but unfortunately it just makes them look cheap.

Similarly the film never touches on the weird/crazy nature of Mega City 1 evident from the comics, and it perhaps isn’t as satirical as it could have been, but these are minor gripes only, and if there is a Dredd 2, hopefully it will have a slightly increased budget which will mean things look a bit more futuristic.

So, the evidence is in, and now it’s time to dispense justice…

The crime is making a damn good Judge Dredd film, the sentence is a sequel (please!)

Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Posted: September 10, 2012 in TV reviews
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Warning, this blog post will feature dinosaurs, spaceships and SPOILERS!

I’ll be honest; I didn’t expect to like this episode. First off it’s written by Chris Chibnall, whose output is variable to say the least. He was responsible for some truly awful episode of Torchwood, and his Who episodes to date have been average at best. There’s nothing especially bad about 42, or the Silurian 2-parter, but nothing makes them stand out either.

Link this in with a story seemingly built abound a title, much like Snakes on a Plane, and my expectations weren’t high.

Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much?

In 2367 a huge spaceship is on a collision course with Earth, and the Indian Space Agency (makes a change doesn’t it) are going to vaporise it in six hours, unless the Doctor can turn it around first. Before he scoots over there however he picks up a gang to go with him (because, as he says, he’s never had a gang before, which is as good a reason as any I suppose.)  There’s Queen Nefertiti, an Edwardian hunter named Riddell, and of course Rory and Amy…oh yes, and Rory’s dad who was changing a light bulb when the Doctor materialised the Tardis around them all.

To be honest, the roping in of the gang seems a little, er, ropy. Ok so Nefertiti obviously barged her way into the Tardis during a previous adventure, but it’s hard to see why he brings Riddell along, and materialising around the Ponds seems an awfully convenient way to pick up Brian.

Luckily the pre title sequence rushes along at such great pace that you don’t have time to wonder, as first the Doctor accuses of Brian of being an infiltrator, then berates Rory for bringing him along, ignoring the fact he brought him along. It’s a lovely little scene showcasing Smith and Darvill’s comic timing to perfection.

The pre title sequence ends with the first appearance of the titular dinos. By this point the episode’s only been going for a few minutes yet an amazing amount of stuff has already been introduced.

For an episode potentially envisaged around such a vague notion, this episode really is chock full of great ideas, wonderful characters, and zippy dialogue, and it zooms along at such a great pace that even if something doesn’t quite work you’re miles past it before you realise it. Not that the story even has that many holes, in fact for the most part it hangs together quite well.

Ok so the teleporter dividing the gang into two groups is slightly convenient, but separating companions from the Doctor has been a well-used plot device since the early days of Hartnell, plus it adds to the drama, and gives Amy the chance to play at being the Doctor (Her “I will not have flirting companions” line when Riddell and Nefertiti start doing just that is hilarious.)

The reveal that the ship is Silurian in origin is not only a nice surprise, but it neatly explains what a bunch of dinosaurs are doing on board. We then discover that there was a crew of Silurians on board, but that they were killed, ejected into space, by a pair of robots under the instruction of David Bradley’s evil space trader, Solomon. It says something about Bradley’s performance that he manages to make Solomon threatening, even when he’s flat on his back, badly wounded. Even the robots manage to be intimidating, despite being voiced by Mitchell and Webb.

I imagine some people might have been annoyed by the use of the comedy duo, but I found their bickering robots brilliant, another fab part of a fab episode, though as funny as they are, they’re not to be trifled with, as Solomon first orders them to injure Brian, and then to kill the friendly Triceratops that the Doctor and co almost escape on.

It says a lot about how well this episode is directed that the death of Triccy (as I like to call him) is genuinely a touch emotional.

With the Indian missiles about to hit, Nefertiti offers to go with Solomon if he’ll let everyone else go. Solomon agrees because he realises her value (in a nice touch to this series’ theme Solomon’s super computer can’t identify the Doctor, Oswin’s wipe of the Dalek Path Web obviously had far reaching repercussions. )

Of course the Doctor doesn’t let Nefertiti stay in Solomon’s clutches, rescuing her and ensuring the Indian missies ignore the Silurian ship and instead target Solomon’s ship. There’s a slightly uneasy moment as the Doctor leaves Solomon to die, even though the Doctor has killed before it’s still slightly jarring, but not enough to spoil a great episode.

As I’ve said, perhaps the most amazing thing about this episode is how much there is going on, not a minute is wasted, and despite quite a large cast everyone gets their moment to shine, even if Nefertiti and Riddell are sidelined at times. In fact it’d be nice to see both again, and it would definitely be a pleasure to have Mark Williams return as Brian Williams.

Smith is on top form, manic, funny, yet capable of being cold and calculating, he really is a great Doctor, and when he eventually leaves (hopefully not for a while yet) I pity the guy who has to follow him.

Amy gets to play the leader, and gets a nice foreshadowing conversation with the Doctor when he says she and Rory will outlive him, and Amy says “Or vice versa,” Handily reminding us that we only have a few episodes of the Ponds left.

Arthur Darvill plays off Williams well, and it’s nice to see Rory get to do some nursing, it’s been a while.

I’m sure the frenetic pace won’t suit everyone, and I’m sure some will think this was too silly, or perhaps too dark, but for me it’s a top drawer classic that manages to encompass practically everything that’s great about Doctor Who all in one episode, proving yet again that it’s possible to be both funny and serious, epic and intimate. A fast paced romp that, were I still under ten, would probably rank as the greatest thing I’d ever seen. EVER!

As it is it was nice to let my inner eight year old out to play, if only for 45 or so minutes. Mr. Chibnall, you wrote a cracker.

Oh, and did I mention there were dinosaurs in it?

Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

Posted: September 7, 2012 in TV reviews
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Ok first things first, this review will include SPOILERS so if you haven’t seen it yet, for god’s sake stop reading now!

So, after what feels like too long a break (and really it was just Christmas Day) Doctor Who is back with Asylum of the Daleks, written by show runner Steven Moffat, and despite the pre episode hype suggesting we’d see every kind of Dalek ever built, and the trailers which suggested the Doctor and his companions would be facing off against a giant army of Daleks, in the end this is a quite low key, smaller scale Dalek story, and actually is all the better because of that.

That doesn’t mean it’s low budget, or that it isn’t epic, because in places its grand and sweeping—we get to see the battle scarred surface of the Dalek’s home planet of Skaro, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Daleks in the Parliament, a whole heap of Dalek saucers, and the shielded asylum planet itself—but what makes the episode, its beating heart(s) mostly isn’t found within these parts.

At the start the Doctor is kidnapped by the Daleks, as are his companions Amy and Rory, and we also learn that they’re on the verge of divorce (although those of us who watched the ‘Pond Life’ web episodes the week before already knew this.)

The Daleks don’t want to kill the Doctor however, they need his help…for some reason, and here the story does fall down somewhat, because it all feels very contrived, and the McGuffin cited by the Daleks as their reason for needing the Doctor is iffy to say the least, not to mention their reasons for bringing Rory and Amy along, and in fact Rory and Amy’s breakup, which feels a bit like an excuse to give them something to do—it pains me to say it because I love them both, but it’s probably a good thing they’re leaving soon because it really feels like the writers are running out of things to do with them.

Still, even in the weakest part of the episode there are some golden moments. The Dalek Prime Minister explaining that the Daleks find hatred beautiful, and then intimating they’ve never been able to kill the Doctor because he hates them so much. Then there’s Amy’s assessment of the Doctor as he strides around the room, counting all the Daleks, identifying all the exits, and noting that Amy and Rory are standing too far apart, it’s wonderfully observed, especially the moment he straightens his bow tie. The humans who’ve been converted to Dalek puppets are a nice riff on the 60’s Robomen too.

“You want to fire me at a planet? That’s your plan?” says the Doctor, highlighting the ludicrous nature of the Dalek scheme in what could be construed as Moffat indulging in a bit of lampshading (the practice of a writer intentionally highlighting the plot holes in his/her own story). It’s almost as if he’s saying “This is daft, you know it’s daft and I know you know it’s daft, but let’s choose to ignore it and get on with the story anyway.”

Which is fair enough, especially given that from this point on the episode is a corker.

For starters buried in the heart of the Dalek Asylum is a young woman named Oswin played by Jenna Louise Coleman…the same Jenna Louise Coleman who’s signed on as the Doctor’s new companion, the same Jenna Louise Coleman who we weren’t expecting to see until Christmas…In this internet age it’s easy to become jaded, and far too easy to know what’s coming in advance, so to have the new companion turn up out of the blue was a surprise, a very pleasant surprise as it turns out  because she’s great, almost as bonkers and hyper as Matt Smith’s Doctor.

The Asylum itself is suitably moody and creepy, from the crashed escape pod full of decomposing bodies that are still functioning as Dalek zombies, to the narrow corridors deep below the surface where dusty, cobweb covered old Daleks sit like long abandoned manikins…until they start to wake up. And of course there’s the look on Amy’s face when she’s told that, not only will she become a humanoid Dalek, but that she’s been told this four times already.

Rory’s failure to understand that eggs is just the Dalek’s stutteringly trying to say Exterminate is both funny, and also keeps in our mind the conundrum of where Oswin’s getting the milk and eggs from to keep making soufflés?

Despite being unarmed, the Doctor manages to take out a gaggle of Daleks by turning their own insane desire to destroy him against them, but not before there’s a wonderfully surreal scene of Amy seeing the Daleks as dancers (which makes sense when you think about how Skaro’s finest glide about.)

Soon Amy and Rory are reconciled, and despite the contrived nature of their breakup it’s still a sweet moment. The same cannot be said of the reveal of Oswin’s true nature. She was human, once, but now she’s a Dalek, not even a puppet, a full on Dalek, and for all her boundless energy and quipping of earlier, Coleman does a wonderful job of going from a woman brimming with confidence to one who’s  broken, a small girl scared of the dark, and the horrible truth of her existence. It’s heart-breaking, yet also heartening, because it implies she’ll make a great companion…the only question remains is, will she be playing Oswin, or someone else?

On the whole this is a very good episode, but not quite a great one, not a classic. On the plus side the cast are wonderful, in the case of Smith, Gillian and Darvill this is just par for the course, but Coleman is icing on the cake. The Asylum is a wonderful notion, and this is perhaps the most original Dalek story since “Dalek”, interesting to note that they don’t exterminate anyone, at all, a first?

There are some great lines (Rory gets most of them) and when, in the end, Oswin wipes all trace of the Doctor from the Dalek’s hive memory, this opens up all sorts of interesting future storylines, imagine a universe where the Daleks no longer fear the oncoming storm, truly Moffat seems to be trying to take the Doctor back to his roots as a mysterious character, rather than a god like being who everyone knows…the Timelord equivalent of James Bond. “Ah Doctor, your reputation precedes you.” This is a welcome change.

It’s just a shame the Dalek’s reasoning behind kidnapping the Doctor didn’t make more sense, because if the opening hadn’t been so jarring this could have been a classic. Still, if every Doctor Who episode was only as good as this I’d be more than happy to keep watching forever.   (Though let’s face it I might do that anyway!)

Next up, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship!!