Sunday, 24 March 2013

Doctor Who at 50: Cybermen vs Daleks

Last month, in my ongoing series of posts dedicated to celebrating Doctor Who in this its 50th anniversary year, I looked at the best of the lesser known monsters the Doctor has faced over the years. Now, it's the turn of two of the show's most iconic outputs that have struck fear into the hearts of Doctor Who viewers for half a century; the Daleks and the Cybermen. But which is better? There's only one way to find out...

The Daleks

Created by mad scientist Davros, the Daleks are mutants encased in tanks, with all emotions remove apart from one; hate. Their ultimate goal is to rid the universe of everything that isn't a Dalek, and they won't stop until they do...

Everyone knows the Daleks. Their idiosyncratic design, their staccato, grating voices have made the Dalek an icon of British culture, as synonymous in the public's image of the show as the TARDIS and the character of the Doctor himself.

However, the Daleks do have their drawbacks. Because of the viewers' familiarity with them over the years, it could be said they've lost their punch. Who boss-king himself Steven Moffat has said that, after fighting the Doctor '400 times', that the Daleks are 'the most defeatable enemies in the universe.'

As Moffat has also shown, though, after a drastic change to the Daleks' look (resulting in many fans complaining), the Daleks can be taken back to their roots, as in last year's 'Asylum of the Daleks', and  be made scary again. Surely the deadly Daleks, who have plagued the Doctor's life since the show's second ever serial, are better than the Time Lord's other great foe?

 The Cybermen 

Utterly emotionless, the Cybermen are us, but a version of us so dedicated to cheating human frailties that they have augmented themselves to the state that they are human no longer...
Definitely Doctor Who's second best-known monster, the Cybermen have the advantage over the Daleks in that they are far more malleable.

Whereas the Daleks have to stay virtually the same, it is a core feature of the Cybermen that they are re-imagined and redesigned constantly, which makes sense narratively as well as behind the scenes as they are always aim for 'maximum efficiency.'
On the other hand, the Cybermen are perhaps too similar to the Daleks to be superior. Certainly, there has been a trend in recent years, since their triumphant return in 2006, for the Cybermen to be window-dressing in several episodes rather than the stars, such as 'The Pandorica Opens' and 'Closing Time.'

As you are most probably aware, this will hopefully change this year as Neil Gaiman has written an episode prominently featuring the Cybermen for the upcoming series which he promises will scare us. In this, the (again redesigned) Cybermen may shirk off the role of background villain they have had for a while now and take centre stage.
But does that mean they are better than the Daleks?

Well, I can't decide which I think is the greatest so I am leaving the result in your good hands. Now you've read the article, please now have a vote on the poll below to have your say.If you're a Cyber-fan, go delete the competition! On the side of the Daleks? Don't let the other lot exterminate you!
Happy polling!

Who is the best Doctor Who monster?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Doctor Who Returns and Sherlock Lives

After months of waiting, a lot of news seemed to suddenly materialise in the last day concerning Doctor Who and Sherlock. And, as a fan of both, I thought of it as my duty to share it with you here.


As Series 7B is less than a couple of weeks away now, we've been treated to four great movie-style posters, as was done for the first half of the series, featuring the episode titles. Look how cool this stuff is!

'The Bells of Saint Johnis the first episode of the series (is it a new series or not? I have a feeling this could be debated till the cows come home) and, as can be seen from the image, is being promoted as an ultra-modern technological thriller set in the Sherlock territory of contemporary London. The episode title, however, suggests more of an historical adventure, and it's thought, from footage seen in the trailer, that this episode features monks. Not a group of people you associate with the city. Only fourteen days till we find out what it all means...

This episode has already got quite a bit of publicity as the one that brings back the Ice Warriors for the first time in the series since 1974. Written by Mark Gatiss, it sees the Doctor and Clara stranded on a submarine that's besieged by a troop of the menacing Martians. It's sounds like a lot of fun and certainly has a fitting title, another example of Gatiss' love for wordplay titles (see later). 

Not much is known of this episode, other than that it is the second episode in the series and will show Clara's first visit to an alien world. The poster reminds me of an Indiana Jones film so I'm guessing it's going to be a big, adventure-filled romp of an episode. Which is no bad thing, but it's just a bit surprising considering it's written by Neil Cross, the lead writer of gritty crime drama Luther.

This is my favourite poster of the lot. Also written by Cross, this episode is apparently going to be a proper 'haunted house' story - with, by the looks of it, an  actual ghost!
The poster very much appeals to my Gothic sensibilities but with it's excellent title and spooky plot, 'Hide'  also seems to be harking back to Steven Moffat's Blink. No pressure, Mr Cross...


And, what's more, we've not only got some posters but two brand-new trailers showing us some new clips!

Both of these are exciting but the first offers us more to chew on including further glimpses of all those great aliens, both new and old (loving those Ice Warriors!). There also seems to be a fair bit on show of 'The Last Cybermen', the Neil Gaiman-penned penultimate episode of the series. I imagine the 'I'm the Doctor and I'm afraid' scene comes from this episode so those must be some pretty scary Cybermen. As has been said a lot about  this one, prepare yourself for some chills.
The BBC America version, although perhaps less packed with clips, does however, give us a nifty melodramatic voice-over from Mark 'Canton Everett Delaware III' Sheppard!

As the Doctor Who train hurtles closer and closer to your television sets, here's some news about the BBC's other hotly-anticipated drama series...


At long last, Sherlock Series Three starts filming today! This is truly a happy time for all Sherlock fans who have been waiting patiently for Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman to stop making Hollywood blockbusters and return to TV. Of course, we've still got many months until the series returns to our screens but let's not dwell on that right now.
The other big Sherlock news revealed today came courtesy of co-creator and Mycroft Mark Gatiss:

Fans have been speculating the title for months, ever since we were given the teaser word 'rat.' However, out of all the suggestions that came up, none were as pun-tacular (if you'll excuse me that term) as the actual title. For those who are unfamiliar with the canon, the episode will be an adaptation of the Conan Doyle story 'The Empty House' which sees Holmes reveal he is still alive to Watson after being 'killed' at the Reichenbach Falls. Going by the adjusted title, this episode will focus a great deal on explaining just how Sherlock did survive the fall from St Bart's hospital. I could say it won't be long until we find out, but Cumberbatch recently stated the series could be broadcast at Christmas. Hold on in there, Sherlock fans, first it's Doctor Who's time to shine.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Dragon's Loyalty Award

Yesterday I was very grateful to receive a Dragon's Loyalty Award for my blog by Mr Rumsey, a film blogger whose reviews of everything from Adaptation to Zombieland I highly recommend. Thank you, sir!
Now I have to do my bit and follow the rules that come with the award.

  • Display the Award Certificate on your website
  • Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers
  • Drop them a comment to tip them off after you've linked them in a post
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself

Firstly, I decided to bend the rules a little (some would say outright break, I wouldn't) by reducing the number of rewards from 15 to 5. Here, after much deliberation, are five blogs which I think really deserve this award for the work which has been put into maintaining these great sites:

Each has a range of interests and content but I urge you to have a look at them all. They're all well worth it.

And to complete the post, here's seven 'interesting' facts about me:

  1.  I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I had a brief spell where I became obsessed with football in my youth but generally this aim has stayed put.
  2. I've met Two ‘Doctor Whos’ in my life. David Tennant last December and Tom Baker in a Waterstones’ book shop when I was five. I don’t actually remember this although it did definitely happen. I aim to tick off a few more over the years…
  3. I own far too many books to do with Sherlock Holmes. I shouldn't admit to this but I have three copies of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Don’t ask.
  4. I love writing lists of things but I can never ever choose what my favourite film would be. Maybe one day.
  5. The first Doctor Who story I wrote when I was twelve was called ‘The Devil’s Children’ – still a good title – and involved a giant demonic alien possessing children and using them to take over the world! I do believe it’s still pugged away somewhere…
  6. Now, don’t go mad, internet, but I haven’t seen every Star Wars film. And the ones I have I've only seen once. Please hold back on flinging the rotten tomatoes.
  7. Whilst writing out this blog post I am watching an episode of the Simpsons. It is a good episode of the Simpsons. Thanks for reading! 

Review: Being Human Final Episode - The Last Broadcast

For five years, thirty five hours, Being Human had entertained us with its wonderful mix of the domestic and the supernatural, great drama and hilarious comedy and overall, at the show’s core, its fantastic characters. We had seen vampire Mitchell (Aiden Turner), werewolves George and Nina (Russell Tovey and Sinead Keenan) and ghost Annie struggle to keep being human in face of their afflictions, with sadness and laughs along the way, until they all met their heart-breaking ends – bets are out on which is the saddest. On Sunday, the story of the show’s current heroes, bloodsucker Hal, lycanthrope Tom and spook Alex, and that of the entire series, came to a close. The show has been reliably good at climaxes from Herrick’s plans for revolution in Series One, Mitchell’s fall from grace in Series Three to last year’s the Old Ones and their prophecy for humanity’s end (remember Mark Gatiss’ delicious turn as Mr Snow?). However, could the show’s creator Toby Whithouse pull off the big one; the finale episode, the last broadcast of Being Human?

As you may have worked out during this over-long, melodramatic introduction, it bloody well did.

The writing is excellent, finding time for both reflection on all three main characters as well as the traditional ‘end-of-the-world’ action that finales have. The episode starts with the trinity in surely the worse positions they can possibly be; Hal seemingly having abandoned humanity and killing again, Tom ready to murder his best friend and Alex trapped in her own grave. It’s hard to believe that things can deteriorate for them even more. And then we find out the Devil has gone walkabout and plans to bring about the apocalypse. Some days are just like that, aren’t they?

When the dream sequences kick in is really when the episode gets into the meatier, more uniquely Being Human fare as our heroes are shown an ideal world they long for, by that sod of a Devil. Each gets to the heart of the characters as well as the show itself; three supernaturals fighting to lead mundane, boring, wonderful human lives. Whithouse has clearly had at least a rough idea of this episode in his head for a while and it really shows as events head to an ending that, although I never saw it coming, makes perfect sense. Either one you pick.

It’s not just the writing that sparkles in this episode with all major cast members playing a belter. Phil Davis relishes playing the biggest villain of them all, forming every word with audible malice and nuanced guile. He gets some fantastic lines over the hour, both ones that will make you chuckle or send a shiver down your spine. Really, though, the stars of this finale are Kate Bracken, Michael Socha and Damien Molony, each completely nailing their characters while also moving them on somewhat. We get to see a slightly more vulnerable side to Alex, a brave, responsible one from Tom and a Hal – once split between good and evil – who slowly comes together as a person. Each approaches the ending stronger and more human, accepting of what is to come.

On the whole, ‘The Last Broadcast’ – possessing a terrific title, by the way – is a truly fitting end to the entire series; one that’s well-written, well-performed, heartfelt yet bravely ambiguous. Toby Whithouse’s denouement should keep fans debating the fates of his characters for many years which I imagine is precisely what he wanted. All I know is that Being Human has been a series consistently terrific throughout its run, delivering everything from jokes about the quality of Black Swan to showing the Earth on the brink of Armageddon – on several occasions. Come early next year when the series would usually be on, I shall miss it but it is comforting to know that this was a show with the courageous conceit of being about being human and completely succeeded. And for that, everyone who worked on the show should be extremely proud.

P.S. This review is 666 words long. Just thought you might like to know…

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Adventure of Sherlock's Home

For the entirety of my time as a Holmesian I've been hiding a dark secret that I've been ashamed to announce; I've never been to the 'real' 221B Baker Street. Thankfully, that was finally rectified this weekend.  

I was at first amazed by the huge queue stretched along Baker Street outside. It's great to see so many enthusiastic fellow Holmes fans, adorned in deerstalkers (something I will one day come to own) and grabbing photos with the man dressed as a Victorian policeman outside. 
Inside 221B fits that weird feeling you get when you step onto a television set or meet someone famous, like you can't quite fit seeing them/it in reality rather than on the telly. Holmes' and Watson's study on the first floor felt very familiar, from Watson's writing desk, Holmes' knife stuck in the mantelpiece to the pair's chairs by the fire (yes, I know they weren’t real). My favourite bit was probably looking out of the windows of this Mock-Victorian room, from which Holmes looks out of regularly in the stories, to see modern shops and cars going past. And, although I know that it’s a museum and so that's the point in it, it’s nice to have this piece of Late-Victorian London preserved in the modern-day city. 

Also fun was Holmes’ bedroom (all right, he’s not real, just indulge me) which had an assortment of familiar items like Irene Adler’s photograph and also some less known ones…

I don’t remember a wooden tortoise at Holmes’ bedside mentioned in any of the stories…

Famously, the museum still receives letters addressed to the Great Detective, several interesting ones of which are on show; here's my favourite one.

On the second floor the museum has a selection of waxworks of characters from the canon including this bunch:

Dr Grimesby Roylott, of The Speckled Band, frozen in his chair after a fatal bite from his own murder weapon, the Swamp Adder Snake.

That master blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton looking rather terrified (find out why by…going to the museum).

The Napoleon of Crime himself, Professor James Moriarty is probably my favourite of these, looking exactly like the one from Sidney Paget’s wonderful illustrations. In a nice idea, his piercing gaze is directly staring at…

Holmes and Watson themselves (plus mad old Lady Carfax)! Not sure the Dr Watson waxwork really fits my mind’s eye version of the character; Watson should look stouter and somewhat puffier, this waxwork just looks lost and foolish (yes, it’s a waxwork of a fictional character but just let me run with it). And a blonde Holmes? What next, a female Watson! Oh right, ahem…

Overall, the experience was just a nice reminder of how, after over a hundred years since his conception, Sherlock Holmes is still just as popular as ever.

You might be thinking I got a little to into all this but probably not as much as the non-Holmesian I was on the visit with who really did not understand my repeated cries of 'look how cool this stuff is.' Hopefully, though, there’s some Holmesians out there who understand the thrill of stepping up those 17 steps (yeah, I counted) and visiting the home of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson (they’re pretty much real, ok?).

Funnily enough, after we left Baker Street myself and my companions had our own adventure as we became separated on the Tube, accidentally getting different trains. I'm afraid I won't be telling you the tale now as that's a story for which the blogging world is not yet prepared...

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Review: Being Human Series Five - Episodes 4-5

With ‘The Greater Good’, Being Human seems to have realised that it is in its final series as here, after a couple of generally light-hearted episodes, things very suddenly shift up a few gears. Several plot threads that have been bubbling under the surface are addressed such as Hal realising he is responsible for Crumb and attempting to set him back on the right path – whilst his one-time romance with Alex also begins to resurface. Also interesting is the new light we get to see on Tom’s character as he has to mentor innocent werewolf Bobby in the ways of the world, when usually Tom is the pupil.
Although the character of Crumb slightly grates with this reviewer, he gets a decent role here, his struggle with humanity reflecting Hal’s own problems, and Ricky  Grover’s Bobby is an endearing soul meaning that ‘The Greater Good’'s glut of characters and their different story lines work, with most coming off well.
Talking of lots of characters, there’s an unexpected family atmosphere to this episode with previously shady or mistrusted characters such as Rook and Crumb almost being part of the gang. Even Hatch muttering away evilly in the background is like a grumpy grandfather. It’s fun to have this aspect to the show although, as I'm sure you’re aware, it doesn't last.
Overall, this episode serves its role of getting the series to the high stakes (awful pun intended) it wants for the two finale episodes and delivers some occasional laughs and surprisingly touching moments.

‘No Care, All Responsibility’ is a stronger episode than the previous as, in affect, it’s the one where Hal, Tom and Alex’s world comes crashing around them. Thankfully each one getting a sizeable chunk of the action.
Tom has got the chance to mature considerably in the last two episodes and Michael Socha rises to the challenge as Tom here starts to feel 'feelings' for a new waitress at the hotel. Similarly, Kate Bracken does wonderfully, Alex acting as the audience surrogate here as she finally catches on to the fact that Captain Hatch is not just a simple old man. Meanwhile, Damien Molony delivers another top-notch performance as Hal tips ever-closer to the precipice, looking noticeably scruffier and out-of-it than previously seen. To see a character so obsessed with cleanliness and order giving in to chaos is near heart-breaking. That said, Evil Hal is a lot of fun.
He isn't the only bad character getting some time this episode, though. Mr Rook is becoming one of my favourite characters this series with Steven Robertson just treading the right line between respectable civil servant and callous, driven man-on-the-edge. His partnership with Hatch over these two episodes is great stuff, highlighting Rook’s vulnerability yet determination and Hatch’s coercive nature.
As this is the penultimate episode of the series ever, of a show that has had had some really great cliffhangers, it is perhaps not quite as thrilling as some past pre-finale episodes (Series One and Series Three spring to mind as having stronger shock value), although it is a very effective ending in terms of both horror and emotion. All the worse things that could happen do, including a very creepy and unnerving scenario for one of our heroes which hopefully doesn't end up being their fate.
Because we know the finale to end all finales is coming next week much of the plot developments for this episode are a tad predictable although there is at least a couple of turns that aren't totally expected. However, thanks to the fantastic work the writers and actors have done you’ll be drawn in completely, caring for everyone’s favourite supernatural trinity. And worrying whether they will make it to the end.
He. Will. Rise.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Monthly Mini-Reviews: February

Here's the second instalment of my new monthly feature in which I very concisely rate some films, television or books that I've enjoyed over the month. For starters, let's take a look at the future...

Black Mirror (Series Two)

If you like your television dark and thought-provoking then Black Mirror is the show for you. While the first series was still blackly comic, this second series of Charlie Brooker's sci-fiesque satirical anthology series is definitely somewhat straighter and more disturbing - in a good way if that's possible. Like Series One, the third episode is again the weakest although all three episodes offer an intriguing skewered look at our technology-obsessed world. The scary thing is most of the seemingly-outlandish events in the series aren't actually a million miles away.


And now for something completely different. I recently had the pleasure of watching Martin Scorcesee's Hugo, a rather charming family film that acts as a love letter to the early days of cinema. Ben Kingsley steals the show as downhearted film-maker George Melies but Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz do good jobs as the two young leads. I imagine, sadly, that at some parts kids might lose interest but, if you have an interest in film or just like a simple story engagingly told,  I recommend you give it a go whatever you're age.

Mister Creecher

Chris Priestley is a young adults author I'm quite fond of thanks to the gothic, spooky shape his writing often takes. Here he doesn't disappoint; in 1800s London, streetwise Billy encounters a great hulk of a man intent on finding someone who's wronged him, one Victor Frankenstein. A novel that acts as a counterpart to Mary Shelley's classic, it's an entertaining, fast-paced read that, although it perhaps doesn't shine a whole new light on the well-known story, will hopefully entice its teenage readership to search out the original novel. I hope they like it.

Ashes to Ashes (Series One)

I'm a massive fan of Life on Mars and watched its series through several times, however not until now have I given its follow-up series Ashes to Ashes a re-viewing. Just as I remember, it's not as good as its forebear, as its basically the same idea being done again it lacks the freshness - and most of the surrealism - that Mars had. That said, it's still an enjoyable police procedural series with a twist and Phillip Glenister is still great as a slightly watered-down but still rough-and-ready cop, Gene Hunt.

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