DOCTOR WHO: EPISODE 12 – BAD WOLF

WARNING SPOILERS

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I?l admit it – I was a little bit worried about ?ad Wolf? I was worried about the resolution of the whole ?ad wolf?thread which has run throughout the entire series. Conspiracy theorists in DOCTOR WHO fandom have spent many a happy hour at their keyboards pondering the significance of these constant references throughout this dazzling new series. Would the resolution of this thread live up to expectations? Would it make any sense? And then there? the episode itself – ?ad Wolf? The omens were grim. As a TV viewer who fervently believes that reality TV is the one of the purest manifestations of evil ever to foist itself upon the world, I wasn? particularly looking forward to an episode of DOCTOR WHO which landed the Doctor in the Big Brother house, dumped Captain Jack into the robotic arms of Trinny and Susannah (about whom I know little save the fact that they appear to have no talent or purpose) and saw Rose facing off against the scariest creature of all – Anne Robinson as a death-dealing robot quizmaster. It all sounded a bit too smug and knowing, an episode over-reliant on here-today, gone-tomorrow sub-cultural icons for its dramatic thrust. Once again I? forced to hang my head in shame. Russell T Davies and his BBC Wales wizards have confounded me yet again and I?l eat my hat – in fact, every item of headgear I own – if ?ad Wolf?wasn? the most visually arresting and downright pulsatingly exciting episode of DOCTOR WHO in this or – wait for it – any other year. ?ad Wolf?was the quintessence of modern DOCTOR WHO and quite a bit more besides.

The Doctor and his little gang find themselves ripped out of the TARDIS by a powerful transmat beam (note how the new series is now happily using this familiar SF short-hand without batting an eyelid) and deposited back at Satellite 5, where the Doctor and Rose battled the Jagafress back in ?he Long Game?one hundred years previously. Separated from one another each of the travellers find themselves cast as contestants in grisly futuristic versions of familiar ghastly reality/makeover shows – with deadly consequences for the losers. Realising Rose? life is at stake if she is declared the ?eakest link?the Doctor breaks free from the Big Brother house, is reunited with Jack (who has, satisfyingly, decapitated the Trinny and Susannah robots – bliss!) and sets off to Level 500 where they find out the blood-curdling truth about not only Satellite 5 but also the big bad wolf.

Stunning. As the series careers towards its conclusion next week, Russell T Davies has set aside his penchant for bodily function humour and cheap innuendo (for the most part) and set about crafting a solid, thrilling adventure with a very definite air of doom amidst the glamour and glitz of tacky modern entertainment. Those who, like me, were concerned by the ?eality TV?trappings will have revelled in the fact that these were largely peripheral to the main action in the last act, their importance relegated and sidelined as if to suggest that, even now, they?e really not important either as art or entertainment. The Doctor? disinterest in the antics in the Big Brother house, prior to discovering the true meaning of ?viction? is priceless. But there? actually much to enjoy in the reality segments; Rose in ?he Weakest Link? initially finding it all a bit of a giggle and then realising with abject horror that the stakes are life and death, Jack? amused banter with the Trinny and Susannah robots (cleverly designed to reflect their real-life?r…anatomical features), the Doctor? wry comments on the five-minutes-of-fame mentality of real life BIG BROTHER contestants. With all this nonsense swept away – and with the shock of the Doctor pointedly failing to rescue Rose from disintegration – the episode moves up a dramatic notch as the Doctor, Jack and Lynda from the ?ig Brother?house fight their way up to Level 500 and meet the power behind the throne of Satellite Five and the Doctor begins to unravel the mystery of ?ad Wolf?

Under the cover of solar flare activity the Controller – wired up to a bank of machines and totally under the thrall of some alien power – explains that she has been dropping ?lues?into the Doctor? life for some time, trying to forewarn him of the terrible apocalypse about to fall. The Doctor deactivates a cloaking signal – and a huge fleet of familiar circular spaceships appears. The Doctor realises with horror that his bitterest enemies, the Daleks, are back on masse, having somehow survived the last great Time War which he thought had wiped them out – and they?e advancing on Earth, having softened the population up by bombarding them with mindless TV trivia for generations. A warning to us all! In an episode ending which almost too exciting to bear, the Doctor discovers that Rose is alive, having been to teleported into the heart of the Dalek fleet for bargaining purposes. The Daleks prepare to launch their invasion of Earth and the Doctor, in a hair-raising display of brio and bravado, pledges to wipe them all out and save the life of Rose. It? edge-of-the-seat stuff in the purest sense and the visual effects which lead into the trailer for next week? episode, are nothing less than a masterstroke. The boys at the Mill FX house have done wonders in this series of DOCTOR WHO but here they have excelled themselves as the camera pulls back from Rose and her little cluster of Dalek captors, to show the full extent of the Dalek force – hundreds upon hundreds of Daleks, many of them in flight as we saw in the ?alek?episode, each of them chanting the Dalek credo of ?xterminate!?it? probably not the place of a review of ?ad Wolf?to comment on the highlights of next week? instalment, ?he Partings of the Ways?but there are visuals here which match – and even surpass – the very best on display in modern US space opera, whether it? on TV or on the movies.

It may look, from the rating I?e given ?ad Wolf?alone, that there? nothing wrong with this episode. This isn? the case; there are always niggles. But really this time it? pointless to criticise the odd misjudged piece of dialogue here or dodgy set-up there (Joe Ahearne directs the episode well but it? only towards the end that he gets the chance to show what he can do). This episode is the very distillation of the essence of the new DOCTOR WHO, craftily crossed with images torn out of the pages of old Dalek comic strips from the 1960s. But these images have been brought to life now, for the first time, and it? a joyless soul who won? have felt a very special thrill on seeing the gleaming 21st century Daleks back, en masse (to the accompaniment of the familiar heartbeat throb of the interior of their spaceship and a crafty recreation of the famous cliffhangar from the end of the first episode of the first Dalek serial way back in 1963, as a Dalek advances on Rose and we just see its sucker moving towards her as she screams) and as mean and twisted as ever we remembered them.

So we?e nearly at the end of the road. One more episode to go, not just for this series but for Christopher Eccleston (Bar a possible Christmas special – ed.) in the role he? so effortlessly made his own in just thirteen weeks. Sad as it is to see him go, we can all relax, safe in the knowledge that the work he? done in re-establishing DOCTOR WHO as, make no mistake about it, just about the most important show on British TV today, is very probably going to pay off for years to come. DOCTOR WHO 2005 has exceeded all my expectations and then some. ?ad Wolf? pure and simple, is a bona fide DOCTOR WHO classic. Is it Saturday yet???]]>

SERENITY

(some spoilers, so be warned)

I came to the preview screening of this uber-hyped movie cold. Unlike the excited morass of bobble hat wearing fans around me at the Vue cinema in the West End, I knew little of the films background or of the short-lived series that preceded it. I? seen one and half episodes in reruns on the Skiffy channel, barely taking in what appeared to be just another rerun of a failed series, cut-price cowboys in space complete with dodgy gee-tar twangs.

This was not the case with Joss Wheldon, who wrote the script and makes his directorial debut with this movie. About him I knew plenty, but then so would most people with an Internet connection. However, as someone who got turned off Buffy by the smart dialogue (why does everyone have to be that sharp / funny / kooky? I? not, neither are my friendsu, never bothered much with Angel (too much posing and premonitions) and has never quite forgiven the man for Alien Resurrection (I know the studio interfered, but even soU) I was airing on the side of the sceptical. I always saw Toy Story as something of a one-off, toys are allowed to be funny, geeks aren?.

In brief, Serenity revolves around a crew of inter-galactic malcontents aboard an independent trade ship called Serenity, on the run at the edge of the law fighting against an overbearing dictatorship called the Alliance. Think of Blake? Seven crossed with Gunsmoke and you are almost there. It revolves around the kookiest member of the crew who is in reality a super-conditioned psychic weapon on the run with her handsome Dr brother from said Alliance. She is almost out-kooked by the cute kooky engineer, but not quite. Its?largely predictable if you are used to this type of plot, but has enough twists to keep you entertained.

So what did I not like about this? Well, the pacing at the beginning, seemed rather off-kilter at first, too much jumping around between planets just to see new faces. As a newcomer, the film made a good attempt to introduce you to the ships crew and their complex inter-relations that the fans love to preach about on message boards (actually, its just another case of someone loves someone, someone loves some-one else etc, nothing more complex than Home and Away). What it lost was the background of the universe, and in particular what could be interesting supporting characters, especially the character of Shepard. I suspect some of them were included mainly to keep fans of the show happy, but they felt a little rushed and forced into the plot. Whelons?direction will hopefully be given time to mature in film. At times we saw a lot of simple TV face on shots, whilst at other times he was wildly intuitive in his camera work with tracking shots making full use of the opulent sets. The action sequences were somewhat blurred and played out too fast though, some of the chick-combat scenes were almost painfully aping Buffy.

What did I like? Well, pretty much all of the rest! Great effects for one thing, with a space battle that takes the dull overlong one at the start of Revenge of the Sith, stamps all over its face, kicks it into the corner and triumphantly wees all over it. It really is that good, as are all of the other shots. Pure space-ship porn. The production design is also incredible, far beyond that of what I saw in the series, in terms of scope. This extends way down to the building designs and costumes. I love the sets of the ship and its unparalleled levels of clutter. This proves triumphantly that low budget sci-fi movies can be made well these days. Now all we need is for Warner Brothers to wake up and give us a Babylon 5 movie.

The plot, despite its aforementioned predictability, is great. At heart, its not much beyond your average sci-fi series and at times it feels like a two parter at the end of a season, but provides an excellent set of villains in the form of the Reapers (demented faceless cannibal space rapists) and a great series of macguffins and set sequences. The acting is also excellent. The capable cast can handle all the kookiness and witty dialogue that Joss can throw at them with great skill; they clearly love their characters. I did. I even grew to like the kooky, oh so witty dialogue and the annoyingly cute ever so kooky girls, especially the lovely Jewel Staite as Kaylee. Sean Maher was also a highlight as the out of place Doctor. Nathan Fillon deserves his own lead role in a TV series. He is pure concentrated alpha male with a rough edge that Boranez never quite managed as Angel. In fact, In many ways, the characters are evolutions of the archetypes we saw in Buffy.

Along with Batman Begins and War of the Worlds, 2005 has been a good year for sci-fi fans. Serenity is a great way to end it off. Unreservedly recommended to even passing fans of the genre. What can Hollywood learn? Don? cancel series too quickly! Make more sci-fi for fans (Babylon 5 is a good prospect now we have no Trek..) Wheldons?future in Hollywood as a writer and hopefully as a director is now assured. With a bit of luck, some of the excellent young cast will also go on to do great things. Who knows, this may even get a sequel.
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DOCTOR WHO ?GENESIS OF THE DALEKS

?enesis of the Daleks?is the most-repeated DOCTOR WHO TV serial in terrestrial TV history ?oh, look, there is it again! ?and its reputation as the most popular classic series serial of all time (it says so on the sticker on the front of the DVD) is hard to ignore. Its inevitable DVD release has been well-timed, surfing as it does on the still-swelling tide of renewed Dalek fever and coinciding with the recent reappearance of Elisabeth Sladen in the new TV series. But familiarity breeds contempt and while newbies may find this old-fashioned six-part tale from 1975 a gripping backstory to their new worst enemies, those of us who?e seen it far more times than is healthy will probably just watch it the once and slip it onto their DVD shelves ?positioned between ?he Green Death?and ?rk in Space? of course.

Familiarity aside, ?enesis of the Daleks?is rattlingly good stuff. Dalek creator Terry Nation takes us right back to the origins of his metallic cash-cows as the Time lords send a reluctant Doctor to the planet Skaro just as looney tunes crippled scientist Davros (an outstanding performance by the late Michael Wisher) is perfecting his ?ark 2 Travel machines? deadly, pitiless mechanical housings for his mutating Kaled people, the ultimate weapon in their war of attrition with the Thal race.

It? a bold and gritty adventure, the first real signs of a change in tone from the somewhat light and frothy later Jon Pertwee years as incoming producer Philip Hinchcliffe refashioned the series into something altogether more adult. Thus we see grim World War One style trench warfare, poison gas, ruthless extermination and earnest debates about genocide and moral choices. There? barely a gag or a quip in sight and the whole story is suffused with a bleak hopelessness which is likely to come as quite a shock to those more accustomed to the bright primaries and slick humour of the 21st century incarnation of the series.

Tom Baker, just four stories into his long tenure in the title role, is superb here and the performances in general are pretty much exemplary. Made at a time when the BBC was particularly cash-strapped there are some more than decent production values and while the Dalek props themselves could have done with a bit of time spent to make them look newer and more unfinished, their few appearances give them a power they?e not really enjoyed in their increasingly comic-strip 1970s TV romps. Ultimately, another must-purchase for any and all fans of DOCTOR WHO.

THE DISCS: A sprawling two disc presentation sees the story itself, beautifully presented, on dic one with an intermittently-interesting commentary by Baker, Sladen and one or two other luminaries. Disc two is bulging with tasty extras. ?enesis of a Classic?is a sixty-plus minute ?aking of?talking heads feature spoiled only by six rather irritating ?earn to speak Dalek?segments where voice artist Roy Skelton embarrasses himself and the viewers by repeating Dalek dialogue from the serial in his own untreated voice. And the point of the exercise is? There? also a long documentary on the history of the Daleks themselves, a Blue Peter extract, photo galleries and other bits and bobs worth investigating. A classy presentation.

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JEFF WAYNE? MUSICAL VERSION OF WAR OF THE WORLDS ?LIVE!

Back in 1976 record producer Jeff Wayne (best known at the time for his work with teen idol David Essex) was given a copy of HG Wells?seminal ?ar of the Worlds?by his father Jerry with a view to reinterpreting the timeless story of alien invasion as a musical. Wayne Junior was captivated by the story and two years later the fruits of his lengthy labours were unveiled in the form of a sprawling, epic double album narrated by Richard Burton and featuring the vocal talents of Essex, Phil Lynott, Julie Covington, Justin Hayward. The album was an international smash hit, spawned several hit singles and became a bona fide phenomenon. Even then Wayne Junior harboured a dream whereby his musical vision would become a living, breathing stage musical. It took nearly thirty years for the technology to become available to make the enterprise even a remote possibility. But in 2006 it finally happened and the stage version finally made its debut, gently tweaked and updated for a modern sensibility and here? the visual record of that astounding achievement, released as a fabulous 2 disc DVD boasting a glorious DTS mix and a bagful of handy extras.

Watching ?ar of the Worlds?it? easy to see both why the story has become so renowned and also why it took so long for the musical to make it to the stage. The themes of the story are endlessly fascinating; Mankind routed and ravaged by hostile alien aggressors, it? a theme which was new and daring in the Victorian age when Wells?novel first appeared and science-fiction has been trading off the idea ever since. The story is fast and furious, at once utterly terrifying and entirely plausible. What could be more frightening a prospect than the idea of humanity brought to its knees by an infinitely more powerful alien intelligence? Wayne? pounding, driving ?ve of the War?leads the listener (and now, finally, the viewer) into a brutally-realistic depiction of the first interstellar war, with Earth as the devastated battleground.

Here in the 21st century ?ar of the Worlds?comes alive on stage in ways it could never have done before. What could have been a dry, lifeless concert performance by the massive orchestra, conducted by Wayne himself, is turned into a visual tour de force courtesy of some stunning on-stage visuals protected. After a moody but not-entirely convincing prequel sequence, where the Martians plot their invasion from their dying planet, Burton, as on record, narrates the proceedings, courtesy of an eerie animated disembodied head suspended across the stage. Stunning images flash across the screen; the alien capsules exploding from Mars, the first attack by the heat-ray belching Tripods, the destruction of the noble Thunder Child, the spread of the lethal Red Weed across the planet. It? all there and more, with a full-sized Tripod creature straddling the stage and a dazzling light and smoke show overwhelming the auditorium. Hayward appear on stage to sing ?orever Autumn?and the updated cast include tenor Russell Watson as the fevered Reverend Nathaniel and Alexis James as the deluded Artilleryman with his dreams of a ?rave New World?

Musically ?ar of the Worlds? born into an age of disco and punk, has more than stood the test of time. This colourful stage version presents it as it? never been seen or heard before and really is a must-have for anyone who? ever thrilled to Wayne? original epic score. The musical? on tour again in 2007 and one you?e seen this marvellous disc you?l be first in the queue for tickets.

THE DISCS: Recorded on high-definition video the picture and sound quality is incredible even on bog-standard software. The one-disc version includes a brief interview with Wayne and some behind-the-scenes stuff and the second disc has a surprisingly-candid tour feature, more interviews, rehearsal footage and much more. Go on, give your speaks a work-outz/p>]]>