Saturday, 31 May 2014

Monthly Mini-Reviews: May

Yes, it's back! That old regular feature of this blog, the monthly selection of four mini-reviews (oh, I know, it's nothing but pizazz on this site), has returned - and, boy, are you in for a treat. Here's a bumper crop of assorted goodies for you to... muse over my analysis of a certain example of modern storytelling. What better way could there be to party your way into the next month?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season Seven)

Me and BTVS have a peculiar relationship. About a year ago, we were having a good time, enjoying each other's company - it showing me what it could do, everything from playing with genre conventions to strong character drama, and me very much enjoying it - until one day we simply parted, without even a goodbye.
This was the case until I recently remembered I had not seen the show's final season, something I speedily put to rights. Said season sees the Slayer and her scoobies (try saying that three times fast) prepare for the end of the world at the (incorporeal) hands of the ancient entity known as 'the First Evil.' As a whole, it has its ups and downs but, thankfully, its downs are never too damning and its highs are very strong. Particular mention must be made to the season finale which rounds the televisual lives of our heroes off with aplomb. Now, there's no more left. You know, I think I remember why I put off watching the final series in the first place...

 V for Vendetta 

Any story by comic book supremo Alan Moore is notoriously difficult to adapt to the big screen - with the big, bearded man famously hating many of them. However, the film version of Moore's dystopian thriller V For Vendetta manages to be an entertaining and thought-provoking effort. It delivers much that deserves praise, most prominently the well-realised horrors of a future fascistic Britain and the consummate central performance from Hugo Weaving - the actor makes us feel like we know the Guy Fawkes-flavoured V, one of my favourite comic characters for his charisma but morally dubious crusade, despite never seeing his face. Although the film makes missteps, notably the superfluous inclusion of a romance between V and his 'freedom fighter' protégé Evey, I see no reason why a film as daring and deftly-executed as this should ever be forgot..ten.

Marvel 1602

One of my favourite things about Neil Gaiman's writing is his ability, when tackling a popular fictional universe, to celebrate that specific storytelling world, something he did for both Batman and Doctor Who. Another fine example is this skewering of Marvel comic characters which asks; 'What if the Marvel universe was set in Elizabethan England?' 1602 sees royal spy Sir Nicholas Fury, daredevil Matthew Murdock, Javier and his band of 'witchbreeds' plus sorcerer Dr Strange team up to stop nefarious villains despot Otto Von Doom and the corrupt Grand High Inquisitor and his brotherhood from reaching the secret weapon of the Knight Templar - which will apparently bring about the apocalypse. While this all sounds a heady mix and even a little alienating for comic newbies, Gaiman weaves a tale about the nature of heroism that manages to get to the heart of its many characters, making us realise why they have been so beloved from their creation in the sixties right up to now. And including the 1600s, of course.

The Simpsons: 'Brick Like Me'

Though I still love that overbitten yellow family as much as ever, I rarely make a special case to watch the latest offerings. However, this month, I made an exception as the series reached its 550th episode and was celebrating in a most eyebrow-raising way; an entire episode made/filmed/animated (I'm uncertain of the appropriate term) with Lego. It could have been a cheap gimmick to attract viewers and sell a few Lego sets but thankfully it managed to be one of the funniest Simpsons in years (when king of slapstick Homer can fall apart without harm, you know that's going to be exploited) and, just like the good old days, greatly touching as Homer realises the pluses of living in a Lego world; that 'everything fits together and no one gets hurt.' It's delightful to know that, even after twenty-five years, The Simpsons can still build itself back up again (pun intended) to its best. It's just as I remember, in fact. A show where everything fits together and no one gets hurt.

You can read my own efforts to celebrate The Simpsons' quarter-centenary with my countdowns for both Homer's and Bart's greatest moments.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Doctor Who: Step Back in Time - Series Three

Well, it's that time again!

Time for you to actually post something?

Hey, who said that? No, it's time to take our TARDISes back through the time vortex to a bygone Doctor Who series. In this third instalment of our ongoing series, it's, well, Series Three...

Starring: David Tennant (the Doctor), Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones) and John Barrowman (Captain Jack).
Produced by: Phil Collinson
Executive Produced by: Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner 

Best Episodes

The Shakespeare Code by Gareth Roberts
One of Doctor Who's cleverest and funniest ever adventures, full of tongue-in-cheek references from everything to Shakespearean works to Back to The Future. As with the rest of Roberts' episodes, this is the perfect story to watch if you like your Doctor Who smartly-plotted and chock-a-block with laughs. 

Human Nature/Family of Blood by Paul Cornell
'What if the Doctor was human?' is the simple yet ingenious premise of this emotional pseudo-historical two-parter, the only Who story to be based on a novel. David Tennant gets to play an entirely different character in school teacher John Smith and the Family of Blood themselves are chilling monsters. As polished and accomplished an adventure as any you'll find in fifty years.  

Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords by Russell T Davies
The most all-round entertaining Who finale thus far, with a quasi-political thriller feel, a post-apocalyptic Earth and the greatest villain in all of space and time, John Simm's deliciously demented The Master. While the resolution, featuring a magical messianic Doctor, may be a little hard to swallow it thankfully does not detract from the rest of this corking adventure. 

Read a brief write-up of my thoughts on Series Three's other great episode, Blink, here. 


After Billie Piper's Rose Tyler, a character as integral to the success of the show as the two Doctors she starred with and arguably the companion to make the most emotional impact on the Doctor, the series was hard-pressed to find a replacement. Cleverly, they decided to go for the exact opposite of shopgirl Rose in trainee doctor Martha Jones, whom the Doctor first meets while saving the Royal Hope Hospital from the swift justice of the Judoon.
Whereas the Doctor and Rose, for the first time in the series, shared more than just a friendly bond but a romantic attraction, Martha and the Doctor's relationship also breaks new ground by being one of unrequited love, with the lovelorn Doctor oblivious to Martha's feelings. More so than Rose, Martha's arc across the series is one of maturation and self-discovery. By the end of the series, she realises that she no longer needs the Doctor and returns to her everyday life a much stronger woman.
Conversely, the Doctor has perhaps never been so human. Dejected after the loss of Rose, he never seems to recover as he has with other companions, regularly comparing Martha to her predecessor. With Martha's help, however, by the end of the series the Doctor begins to move on...

Story Arc

Following on from the previous series smatterings here and there of the enigmatic organisation 'Torchwood', Series Three tones this down even more with the even-less regular mentions of 'Mr Saxon', a mysterious individual with political power. From 2006 Christmas special, 'The Runaway Bride', Mr Saxon seems to be behind a lot of the nefarious plots that the Doctor foils. Just who is Mr Saxon?
Harold Saxon it turns out is the newly-elected prime minister and, of course, the Doctor's ancient enemy the Master. As the revitalised series had done an excellent job of updating the classic series' biggest foes in the Daleks and the Cybermen it was a no-brainer that the Professor Moriarty to the Doctor's Holmes would be reintroduced. In many ways, the drama of the Doctor's character is never sharper than when pitted against his exact antithesis in the Master. With such an enemy back in the series, and with such a strong batch of stories as those on show here, Doctor Who was really claiming mastery over all television.

P.S. Mister Saxon is an anagram of Master No Six (as Simm is the sixth actor to the play the character). Oh, those fiendish writers.

Next month: Series Four - The Most Important Series in The Whole of Creation...
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