The Other Doctors. 50th Anniversary and Beyond

Following on from The Other 11 Doctors, a fantastic alternate history to Doctor Who, Alasdair Stuart looks back at the alternative 50th Anniversary, and forward to the latest incarnation

The Day of the Doctor

The 11th Doctor’s run finished, in many ways, twice. The departure of Rupert Grint and Karen Gillan as Andy and Rowena Pond, the 11th’s longest serving companions was viewed as a clear ending by some fans. However, the show continued, with a traumatised, bitter 11th Doctor hiding in Victorian London and refusing to engage with the world.

It was the introduction of Ralf Little as Carl Oswald, a bartender and society school master, that shook 11 out of her slump. Carl was pragmatic, calm and utterly unimpressed by 11’s increasingly theatrical antics. He was also familiar, Little having cameoed as Carl Oswin Oswald earlier in the season in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’. But how were the characters connected? And why were Carl Oswald’s last words ‘Run, you clever girl. And remember’? The ongoing questions, combined with a memorable cameo from Emma Thompson, marked the episode as a soft reboot of sorts. It was the first of two that year.

As the build up to the 50th Anniversary gathered pace, the mystery surrounding Carl Oswald deepened. All was revealed in the season finale,  which also marked the return of Emma Thompson as The Great Intelligence. The Great Intelligence planned to destroy the Doctor throughout time, reversing every one of her victories and sending her to her death over and over again. Leaping into the Doctor’s timeline at her grave on Trenzalore, the Intelligence spread throughout time and began hunting the Doctor.
Carl Oswald followed her.

At every turn, in every time, an aspect of Carl Oswald appeared and helped the Doctor save the day. He pointed her at the correct TARDIS the day she left Gallifrey, encountered the 11th Doctor in the Dalek Asylum, again in Victorian London and again during the events of ‘The Bells of St John’. The Impossible Boy, echoing down the Doctor’s timestream, saving her again and again.

The Doctor and Carl were reunited in the centre of the Doctor’s mind, a cavern where her other selves flitted past on their way to their own lives. One remained still, one that Carl didn’t recognize. The 11th Doctor explained that this was a woman who had done something so awful, she had forfeited the right to be called the Doctor. She turned in place and Carl, and the audience, were introduced to Dame Helen Mirren as The War Doctor for the first time.

Introducing the War Doctor
Introducing the War Doctor
The Other Day Of The Doctor
The Other Day Of The Doctor

The Day of the Doctor’, the 50th Anniversary special that followed, is rightly regarded as one of the show’s finest hours. The addition of Mirren’s War Doctor, a grim, tormented figure somehow more grounded than her successors, gave the show an emotional anchor that led to some extraordinary scenes. Her interactions with Billie Piper as sentient weapon The Moment were electric, as were the multi-layered scenes between her, Perkins and Hart. The inherent tension between the two younger women and their older predecessor combined with the pop cultural clash of seeing a serious actress and two comediennes turning in career best work in each other’s fields to create something extraordinary. The War Doctor fit perfectly and both 10 and 11 were redefined by their interactions with her and each other.
But it was Keith’s cameo, as the ‘curator’, a figure fans have widely decided is a ‘retired’ Doctor from the end of her life that most fans hold dear. The brief scene between Keith and Hart is one of the show’s most poignant moments, simultaneously a celebration of the past and a passing of the torch to the future. Rounded out with a brief, eyebrow heavy cameo from the 12th Doctor, it brough the 50th anniversary into land in fine style.

The 12th Doctor Lindsay Duncan

The 12th Doctor Lindsay Duncan
The 12th Doctor Lindsay Duncan
12th Doctor-Lindsay Duncan Glimpsed briefly in The Day of the Doctor, Lindsay Duncan’s casting threw the show onto an entirely new tack. The decision to push older than Hart and Perkins was criticized by many fans and embraced by many more. The War Doctor had proved that an older Doctor wasn’t just workable but in some ways necessary, Mirren’s character giving a weight and darkness to the show that gave it a very different feel. Duncan’s casting was very much in line with that and her ‘Day of the Doctor’ cameo, all eyebrows and precise diction and fury, was applauded by audiences that saw it in cinemas.

Catapulted onto the screens, and out of the gullet of a T-Rex, Duncan has only just started in the role but is already making an impact. Duncan’s Doctor is a woman who is bitingly sarcastic and impatient but is also far more complex and nuanced than she presents herself. The Doctor’s closing speech in ‘Deep Breath’ about how the humans never seem small to her is clearly a statement of intent and the ambiguity as to whether she killed the Half-Face Man or not is clearly going to be central to her turn. Just as central is the fact that not only have we seen Duncan before, as Commander Adelaide Brooke in The Waters of Mars, but that the show is acknowledging that fact. The Doctor’s confusion about how her face is familiar to her again looks set to be a centrepiece of her first year.
Interestingly, Little’s Carl Oswald also looks set to benefit from the new arrival. The character was criticized, justifiably at times, in his initial season for being nothing more than a plot element with dialogue. That’s certainly no longer the case as Carl’s confrontations with Vastra, the Doctor and the Half Face Man all put him in a very different, far more interesting light. The wonderfully spiky, almost screwball interaction between them during the restaurant scene looks to have set the tone for a far more argumentative, and potentially more interesting, relationship than the one the character had with the 11th Doctor at times. If nothing else it’s certainly giving both Little and Duncan a chance to flex their comedy muscles.

As the 12th Doctor’s run begins, we look set for a very different kind of show but one that honours and builds on everything that’s gone before. As Madam Vastra says ‘Here we go again’. The Doctor is back.

The Death Of You And Me-What We Know About The Returned So Far

The Returned

Tonight, the fifth episode of The Returned airs. The French series has established itself as one of the most profoundly unsettling pieces of TV in years, with an air of restrained menace and an ever growing sense of foreboding. However, as is always the case with series like this, there’s a nagging fear;

What if it all falls apart at the end? What if none of it makes sense?

And, hand in hand with that is the belief that if you miss the start of a show like this you can’t hop aboard. Trust me, you can, and this article will help you do just that. Here’s what we know so far;

 

The Returned are all people who have died in the town across the last thirty plus years. We’ve never seen one actually appear, just simply walk back into their lives. They haven’t aged from the moment when they died and have no memories beyond that point. Or if they do, at the moment, they’re not telling.

Their memories seem variable, possibly depending on the circumstances of their death. Camille can clearly remember the bus crashing, and, it seems, Victor causing it by standing in the middle of the road. On the other hand, Serge has no memory of the method of his death and Simon either doesn’t remember or isn’t prepared to admit he does. Victor remembers everything about his murder and relives it constantly in his dreams.

The Returned are all extremely hungry, and there’s a hint that this hunger is growing. Simon beat a man senseless for food when he first got back and the half-eaten animal corpse in the bin at her house suggests that Camille may have resorted to tracking and killing food in order to sustain herself. There’s also some evidence of them being unusually strong, evidenced by the shot with the butterfly in the opening episode and Simon’s tremendous talent for violence.

There’s some evidence this has happened before. Both Pierre and the local Priest have talked at length about there being precedent for these events but in both cases it’s ambiguous as to whether they’re talking about Jesus or someone else. In either case, the Priest especially is remarkably accepting of the idea that Adele both sees and talks to Simon. He initially seems to believe it’s Simon’s ghost, or Adele’s subconscious manifesting itself, but again there’s no evidence this is his actual thinking.

Camille and Lena, her twin sister, may have swapped places on the day of the crash. Shortly before it happened, Camille suffered a panic attack and seemed to experience her sister having sex with her boyfriend. Camille’s return has also been one of the most tense, constantly struggling with Lena for dominance within the family. Again, this is ambiguous but it could mean that Camille is actually Lena, and is bitterly resentful of her sister for ‘stealing’ her life in the four years she was away.

None of The Returned have come back happy or at peace. Camille is trying to fit back into a nest that isn’t there anymore, Victor is still tormented by his violent murder, Serge goes straight back to his own killing spree and Simon is both intent on stealing Adele back and still troubled by the idea of being a father. Like almost everything with the series there’s a lot of ambiguity here but it’s been implied, heavily, that Simon killed himself when he found out Adele was pregnant with his child.

The town itself is even more disturbed. The bus crash tore an entire generation apart (Although I notice we’ve only seen Camille Return so far from that group of dead) but the town was in trouble long before that. Serge’s horrifying knife/cannibalism attacks were never solved, just stopped, and the area is still traumatised by them. In a particularly nice touch, that doesn’t stop anyone going into the Pub that his brother Toni runs. It’s also been implied, heavily, that Toni killed Serge to stop the murders.

That’s not all the town’s hiding either. Thomas, the police chief and Adele’s new fiancé hid cameras in the house two years previously because he was worried she was going to hurt herself. It’s also implied that Lena’s father Jerome injured her whilst they were both at the Pub, and the keloid on Lena’s back is a result of neither of them seeking treatment for it. As yet, we’ve no idea whether this is true or what the exact circumstances of the fight were. Worst of all, Pierre, the spearhead of the bus crash memorial and a community leader in the town, is a (possibly) reformed criminal who was there when his partner murdered Victor and his entire family.

There’s a longstanding view in certain types of supernatural fiction that the barrier between this world and the next is a veil and that veil can be parted by the correct people or circumstances. The veil seems particularly thin in the village. As well as the hints this is not a new phenomenon in the area, there’s the power cuts that seem to herald the arrival of a batch of The Returned and Lucy, the psychic waitress who can occasionally talk to dead people. It’s unclear at the moment whether she’s alive or dead, and also whether her abilities were what drew Serge to her. This idea of the veil being thinner in the town may also explain how Adele’s daughter can draw Simon, and Simon’s suicide, with such apparent accuracy.

Then there’s the water. Something is going very badly wrong at both the reservoir, where the water level is falling, and the power station, where’s it’s rising. Pumping has begun at the power station and robotic submersibles are being used to check for cracks in the reservoir. What’s becoming apparent is no one has any idea why these events are happening. Also, the water supply in the town is behaving very oddly, with sinister noises heard in the pipes of the church and black water spewing from a tap elsewhere.

The Returned may not be the only things made physical. What seemed to be a second attack on Julie, the only woman to survive the first wave of attacks, by Serge was revealed to be Julie apparently attempting to stab herself. She was stopped by Victor. However, Victor occupied the exact same position in the scene as Julie’s hallucination of Serge. It was either an imagined attack, a manifestation of Julie’s own terror, Victor disguised somehow as Serge or Julie’s nightmarish memories of Serge made manifest by whatever is also bringing the Returned back. This may also explain how Julie’s neighbour killed herself in what seemed to be an exact copy of Serge’s knife attacks.

 

We’re four episodes in and there’s a long way to go, but, as you can see, the show has a good idea where it’s heading. It’s an amazing piece of TV, measured and calm and completely menacing and if you’ve not seen it before, do please give it a try. Between this article and any previous episodes you can see, you should have everything you need to spend time in the most disturbing village in modern TV. Just for God’s sake stay away from the underpass…

 

The Returned airs in the UK on Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4

 

Alasdair Stuart

 

Review: The Returned Episode 1

The Returned
The Returned
The Returned – The Movie That Came Before The TV Series – Available on DVD and Blu Ray

The Returned opens quietly, as we’re walked around a small mountain town in France. We see a bar, filled with the usual teenage drinkers and an older man, Jérôme, who’s come to see one of the waitresses. She apologises and he says he’ll try again and leaves. He arrives at a support group meeting and it becomes clear that something truly awful happened here recently. Many of the residents who were touched by these events have been able to get past it. Jérôme, played by Frédéric Pierrot isn’t even close to it. He’s tired and politely broken by grief, made all the worse by the fact that the man leading the group, Pierre, played by Jean-François Sivadier, is now living with Jérôme’s wife, Claire, played by Anne Consigny. Their surviving daughter, Lena (Jenna Thiam) is barely present, and spends her days getting drunk in the local bar. This is a family, and a town, that’s quietly broken in two, nursing wounds that will never heal, despite the best efforts of Pierre and the support group.

Then, a blackout walks its way across the valley.

When it lifts, the dead start to return.

There is a constant air of otherworldly menace to the first episode of The Returned, whether it’s the offhand way Camille (Yara Pilartz) makes a sandwich or Victor (Swann Nambotin) and his silent, relentless presence in the life of town nurse Julie (Céline Sallette). Each arrival is met, not with the tears and relief that you’d expect, but a tight-jawed acceptance, the terror that the living feel betrayed by their eyes or hushed conversations out of earshot. This is an event so unprecedented, so viscerally wrong that everyone locks in place, unsure whether to embrace their dead or run as far and fast away from them as they can. It makes for a profoundly unsettling hour of TV, made more so by the fact the town is hunched underneath the black, featureless mass of the mountains. There’s an air of Picnic at Hanging Rock to the episode, that same sense of living on the boundary of the normal world and being spotted, and reached out, by something on the other side.

That sense of menace is heightened by some remarkably smart story choices. We’re dropped into the middle of these people’s lives and have to swim to the edges ourselves. The ghosts of the last four years haunt the Returned as much as the people they’ve returned to, with Jérôme and Claire’s relationship, or lack of it, at the centre of this episode.  As we work out more about them, it becomes clear there’s huge emotion behind everything they do, especially the natural way they fall back into speech patterns and mannerisms when they’re around each other. But that familiarity is  swamped, like the town itself, by the sheer enormity of what’s happened. Orbiting around them, Pilartz does great work as the supernaturally calm Camille whilst Thiam’s Lena is a rolling ball of rage, grief and horror. The fact that Camille is the same age as she was when she died four years previously, revealed late in the episode, is one of the episode’s best moments and leads to even more questions about the girls. There’s something else going on with them in particular, with the end of the episode implying that they either share a psychic bond of some sort, switched places on the day of the accident or Camille had a premonition of what was about to happen.

Elsewhere in town, the direction is as subtle. The reveal on Mr Costa’s wife returning, and his actions, are both horrifying as is the sudden, brutal (And I suspect temporary) murder of another character. In both cases questions abound; what did Mr Costa do? How did Mrs Costa die the first time? Who committed the murder in the underpass? It’s a deliberately ambiguous, and horrific scene, with the camera looking on unflinchingly as Lucy, one of the waitresses at the bar, is stabbed again and again. There’s an implication that there’s something more to it though, a suggestion that other people in the town may know what’s happened (And perhaps that it’s happened before) and have chosen Lucy as a test case. Again, just enough answers to keep you interested and lead you on to even more questions.

Then there’s Victor, played by Swann Nambotin. The youngest Returned, Victor is silent this episode but his presence draws lines of tension across every scene he’s in. Attaching himself to Julie, the town nurse played by Céline Sallette, Victor’s glacial calm is the point that the entire episode orbits around. He’s involved in the accident that killed Camille and seems to have no one to return to. His relationship with Julie is muted, calm and, thanks to great work by both Nambotin and Sallette, sweet. Whether it stays that way remains to be seen.

The Returned is menacing, gripping television. Anyone doubtful about spending time with a foreign language show really shouldn’t be, the script is so well balanced that you get swept along in the plot and instinctively follow the subtitles. This is a fiercely smart, unsettling debut and I can’t wait for the second episode. Even if I’m not sure I want to watch it in the dark…

The Returned airs on Sundays in the UK on Channel 4 at 9pm. More details, including MASSIVE face-melting spoilers can be found at the show’s Wikipedia page.

NEW Doctor Who Spin Off – Movie – Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer

Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary

For months now, fans have speculated, and complained, about the relative lack of new material for Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary. Whilst An Adventure in Space and Time, the behind the scenes docu-drama certainly looks fascinating and the anniversary special has long been confirmed, the questions haven’t slowed down. How long will the anniversary special be? Which doctors will be in it? Which companions? How does it connect to the rest of the series? Will Matt Smith regenerate, especially given the fact the show will be dealing with ‘The Fall of the Eleventh’? The questions constantly out number the answers, or they seemed to, until now.

A couple of days ago, Doctor Who magazine, and the BBC, confirmed that David Tennant and Billie Piper would be returning for the special along with legendary British actor John Hurt in an as yet undisclosed role. Of course, this has led to even more questions; how will Rose return? Will Tennant be playing the 10th Doctor or the pseudo-human clone introduced in Journey’s End? Will Hurt be playing The Master? So many questions but now, the avalanche has started and more and more answers are coming to light. And with them, comes the announcement of a second spin-off project, one which looks set to take the show in a very different, and yet familiar, direction.

Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer Movie

Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer. A straight to DVD movie adaptation of the classic Doctor Who Comics character.

Abslom Daak - Dalek Killer Book - By Steve Moore - David Lloyd - Steve Dillon - Richard and Steve Allen - Lee Sullivan
Abslom Daak – Dalek Killer Book – By Steve Moore – David Lloyd – Steve Dillon – Richard and Steve Allen – Lee Sullivan

Details are sketchy about the exact nature of the plot, and complicated somewhere by Daak’s multiple appearances in various incarnations of the comic, but what we do have confirmed is this. The movie is 90 minutes long, is built around digital sets similar to those used in Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome and principle photography was completed late last year in London. This was done ahead of time firstly to allow rendering of the digital sets to be completed and secondly to accommodate the filming schedules of those involved.

That’s what we know for sure…

Abslom Daak: Dalek Killer rumours;

-Daak’s origin and the death of Princess Talyin are dealt with in an opening montage.

-The Star Tigers, Daak’s commando unit, are present in the movie. Harma, the Ice Warrior team-member will be played by the same actor who portrays the Ice Warrior in upcoming episode ‘Cold War’. This was done as a means of saving money and maximising investment in the new costume.

-Similarly, Prince Salander, the Draconian team member, serves as a ‘demonstrator’ for the costume. The Draconians will be a major part of season 8, as will Salander.

-The plot involves Daak and the Star Tigers being hired to break into a Torchwood Archive facility housing some of the earliest Dalek shells. They are pitted against various Dalek factions throughout various time periods up to and including the present day. Again this maximises use of existing costumes and also follows up on the promise made in Asylum of the Daleks to feature every kind of Dalek in existence.

-Set piece scenes take place on the Dalek Emperor’s ship, in Davros’ laboratory and in hard vaccum, with Daak cutting Dalek’s off the hull of the Kill-Wagon as his team make their escape.

-The movie will mark the first ever on screen appearance of Doctor Bernice Summerfield. Lisa Bowerman clearly filmed something during this time period judging by her twitter feed and the filming took place in London. This would make sense as Bernice and Daak have some small, but meaningful history in the novels.

-Daak is being played by Jason Statham. Again, we know Statham filmed in London during this time and we also know he was working multiple jobs at once, including his cameo in Fast 6. Also, Statham recently publicly distanced himself from wanting a role in the new Star Wars movies, ruling him out for many genre fans. However, his continued support of British cinema, and with Hummingbird, recent move into notably different roles lends credence to him being prepared to take the role on.

There are, of course,other rumours; old Doctors being Forrest Gumped into place, Danny John Jules rumoured to be playing Prince Salander and so on but for now they remain unconfirmed. What we do know is that something involving Abslom Daak is scheduled for release shortly. Whether it’s Statham or Ray Stevenson, also rumoured to have taken the role, the fact remains that Daak is finally stepping across into the mainstream Who universe and, whether we like it or not, he’s going to shake things up as only he can. The anniversary party just got a new guest and I for one can’t wait to see who he dances with.

More Info on Absalom Daak (Tardis.Wikia)

More Info on Doctor Who (BBC)

The Alternate Start To The Cornetto Trilogy

Tremors By Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
Tremors By Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg

As we write this, the finale of the Cornetto Trilogy is entering its final stages. The World’s End is the third (well, third and a half if you count ‘Paul’) movie in the unofficial trilogy of genre fiction/comedy/blisteringly funny, smart and frequently touching dissections of the male geek psyche trilogy that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg started with Shaun of the Dead. The first two movies, Shaun  and Hot Fuzz, are fiercely smart love letters to and parodies of zombie movies and cop movies respectively and The World’s End is…well…here’s the thing. We don’t know. There’ve been conflicting reports ranging from zombies and a musical number to Simon Pegg claiming the movie isn’t actually about the end of the world at all. What we do know is that, decades after they first attempted it at college, a group of friends try and complete an epic pub crawl as…something, begins to happen out in the world. We know Wright is directing, know Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are front and center and we know that this time they’re being joined by a supporting cast including Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine and David Bailey, who I fervently hope, is making his peace with spending the next few years being asked if he’s going to be playing William Hartnell playing the 1st Doctor again soon. We also know it will involve a flavor of Cornetto ice cream, because, in each of the previous movies, the ice cream has appeared. All the signs point to The World’s End being a perfect capstone to two of the smartest, most interesting geek culture movies of the last twenty years.

But what if Shaun wasn’t the first movie? What if the trilogy had taken us down a different path. Like the man says, come with us now on a journey through time and space as we explain how, one universe, Edgar Wright’s first Cornetto movie was both very different and weirdly familiar…

Island of Lost Scripts

In 2002, riding high on the success of Spaced, Wright and Pegg went to LA to meet with the studios. They had a script ready, a self styled ‘zomromcom’ about a feckless young Englishman who finds himself forced to step up again and again as the cosy world he’s built himself is literally eaten away by the zombie apocalypse. The buzz on the script was huge, Spaced had closed out as a vast critical success and its cult status was achieved and the whole movie could be filmed, in London, for a modest budget.

There was just one problem; no studio would finance it shooting there. Pegg and Wright took meeting after meeting, all positive and all, in the end, boiling down to one request;

‘Can you set it in LA?’

The pressure on the two was almost indescrible; they were, at this stage, two UK comedy writers without a tremendous amount of work behind them and they’d been handed the brass ring; a shot at Hollywood. To turn this down would spell career suicide but to compromise the script’s inherent Britishness could mean the exact same thing. In interview years later, Wright admitted they’d kicked around rewriting it for a female lead and calling it Dawn of the Dead, but it had never gone anywhere and, for a while, it seemed Wright and Pegg would do the same.

Until they came up with an idea; they were untried, untested as big screen scriptwriters.

So why not take the initial script out of their hands altogether? The plan they presented was simple; give us carte blanche access to everything you have in devel0pment hell, we’ll pick a script, pitch it and if you like it, then that’s what we’ll push ahead on. Then, if it’s successful, Shaun would be next on the list.

Universal agreed, and Wright and Pegg picked an undeveloped script from 1987 by SHORT CIRCUIT writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock entitled “Tremors”.

The RomMonCom was born. (Romantic Comedy, with Monsters)

 

The Script

Tremors is set in the Desert town of Perfection Valley and follows the misfortunes of two British ex pats with one time big ideas trying to make their way in the world.

Valentine (Val) McKee (Simon Pegg) came to the US on a gap year and never went back. His work as a handy man in Perfection Valley means he knows, and is liked by, very nearly everyone but also means he has no reason to move on.  The fact he lives, and works, with best mate Earl Bassett, also an ex pat and handyman but more the ‘logistical side of things’ (And Perfection’s one and only drug dealer) doesn’t help either. The pair live on the outskirts of town, have all the beer, money and food they know what to do with and can drink for free at Chang’s as long as they unblock the toilets regularly. Life is good.

Life is also complicated. Val has been dating Rhonda, a geologist surveying the valley for the last six months. Now, she’s a few weeks off finishing and heading back to Berkeley. She’s asked Val to come with her. He hasn’t said yes yet. Things are getting awkward. They’re not helped by the fact Earl, whilst utterly charming, is also a foul-mouthed loser:

Earl:  Can I get… any of you cunts… a drink?

Matters come to a head when, on Rhonda’s last night in town, Val suggests they eat at Chang’s. With Earl. Again. Rhonda leaves him and a grief-stricken Val is taken out into the desert by Earl to play house music, blow stuff up and get drunker. The two men pass out on a rock and the camera tracks up as we see vast wakes in the sand, as though something huge was moving beneath the surface, pass the rock on each side and head to town. Unknown to the hapless duo the desert is crawling with giant underground monsters called Graboids. And they’ve found the town…

Walking to Walter Chang’s the next morning to buy a Cornetto, Val finds out from Walter about the disappearance of the doctor building his house on the other side of the valley. Curious, but hung over, he’s stumbles home. He’s barely through the door when there’s a scream, high pitched and squeaky, which is revealed to be Earl. He’s hiding by the back porch, watching their tool shed. The shed subsided in the night as a Graboid passed beneath it and now the creature, screaming in pain, is trying to tear itself free. The fact it takes a while for them to realize this leads to one of the best exchanges in the movie:

Val: Is it still out there?
[Earl checks, revealing a graboid appearing at the window]
Earl: Yeah. What you think we should do?
Val: Have a sit down?

Finally realizing they have to do something they start pelting the beast with cans of beer.

Val: Don’t throw that, its imported

The Graboid breaks free and the pair kill it using various power tools (Wright would later say in interview this scene is crammed full of references to classic ’80s video nasties. Fans also note the S-MART ‘Employee of the Month’ shirt Earl is wearing for much of the movie.) However, walking back along its trail they notice other creatures heading for town. The only reason they were able to kill the one beneath the shed was because it was trapped. Perfection is in a lot of trouble. They need a plan. They get:

Earl: Chang’s?

Val: CHANG’S.

What follows proved to be another fan favorite sequence, starting with Val saving the town pogo record holder (Played by young Ariana Richards) from a Graboid, taking in Val and Rhonda’s (sort of) reconciliation, the revelation that the bookish, polite Rhonda can out swear Earl and Val, Rhonda, Earl, Chang and the other townsfolk killing a Graboid with pickaxes to the tune of  the Queen song “Don’t Stop Me Now” on the Jukebox in Chang’s  before they retreated to the roof.

The movie takes a dark turn as, despite Val heroically leading one Graboid away on foot, several townsfolk, including Chang, are killed and Val, coming to his senses and realizing they need to leave, retrieves the radio from Chang’s and calls local survivalist Burt Gummer. With his ultra heavy-duty tractor, and the trailer that Val and Earl were going to turn into a swimming pool hitched up, Burt comes and gets the survivors and leads them out to his compound, showing them his gun vault, which Earl responds to with the now classic line:

EARL: By the power of Grayskull…

They recuperate and Burt assures them the Graboids can’t get in right before one smashes the wall of his gun vault because Earl couldn’t be bothered to close the gate behind them. Everyone bar Burt, his wife, Val, Rhonda and Earl are killed and Val finally loses it at his oldest friend, screaming at him about how unreliable he is.

The survivors realize they need to get out of the valley to get help. The only way to do this is by riding the tractor out across eight klicks of pure sand, but, as Rhonda notes that on the way they’ll pass the geological survey station she was working at and can use the charges she has left to defend themselves. The survivors gear up, in a scene which riffs on the arming up scene in Predator (And would later itself be riffed on in Slither), and they head out.

The Graboids attack almost instantly and just as they reach Rhonda’s, the Graboids tear a wheel off the trailer, trapping them.  Seeing them on the verge of being over-run, Earl leaps from the trailer and runs off, the vibrations of his footsteps drawing the Graboids away. Val and Rhonda get the charges but the largest Graboid they’ve yet seen tears through the shed and a lit charge is dropped into the box of unlit ones. Val grabs a handful, as Rhonda punches the Graboid’s mouth tentacles out of the way and they run out of the shed just as it blows up. Trapped on a rocky outcrop, with a cliff to one side, another Graboid swarming the trailer and Earl presumed dead, all seems lost. In a surprisingly dark twist, they reconcile and talk about asking Burt to kill them at range, leading to Val’s memorable line;

VAL: I don’t think I have it in me to lose my job, my house, my best friend and ask the local gun nut to kill my girlfriend and I in the same day.

RHONDA: Who says I’m your girlfriend?

Val’s had enough. He kisses her, grabs the charges and sprints out towards the cliff, yelling and screaming. The others watch, horror struck as the Graboids all turn and head straight for Val. Standing at the very edge of the cliff, he lights and throws all the carges behind the Graboids, the sound and vibration enraging them and driving them even faster towards him. Val, clearly terrified, holds his ground and at the last possible second leaps aside as the Graboids smash through the cliff beneath him and…sail into thin air and crash to the ground hundreds of feet below, dying instantly.

With Val about to join them, dangling over the cliff edge. Rhonda runs to save him and hauls him back onto solid ground, just as a Graboid scream echoes nearby. The survivors, bloody and tattered, turn to face the new attack and find…

Earl…with a pet Graboid.

EARL (LOOKING AT EVERYONE’S AMAZEMENT): ….What?

Embracing his friend, Val asks how he’s alive and Earl explains he threw everything out of his pockets as he ran off, including his stash. Which the Graboid ate. And which appears to have calmed it down. The screen fades out on him talking to Burt about tourists coming to Perfection, and Val and Rhonda kissing.

It fades up on ad for a brand new Perfection Game Reserve, with Burt as the Head Warden. We see footage of the military coming into town and securing the Graboids, find out Burt refused to let the carcasses off his land until he was given an extensive grant and how Rhonda now divides her time between University of Texas, where she lectures about Graboids, and town, where she helps run the reserve along with Earl and Charlie the Graboid, still permanently high. Val for his part? Is married to Rhonda and taking classes at U of T. He’s training to become a zoologist but in the meantime, he’s still fixing toilets. Just to keep his hand in…

 

Reception and Sequels

The movie opened modestly, was critically acclaimed in the genre press for the unusual step of being a monster movie set almost entirely during the day and continues to enjoy a long life on DVD and On Demand services. No less than three sequels and a short-lived TV show were produced, none of which involved Wright, Pegg and Frost in any way. This wasn’t out of any sense of falling out, after all the studio were extremely pleased with the results, but rather a sense of them having ‘graduated’. Interestingly though, the franchise would remain a regular stopping off point for English screen writers cutting their teeth in Hollywood, with both Harold Overman and Toby Whithouse writing sequels. Also, the Spaced connection remained a close one, with Jessica Hyne starring as a colleague of Rhonda’s in the sequel and Michael Smiley appearing as both the new head of the Game Reserve in Tremors III and the TV show and his own, great grandfather in the hugely entertaining Steampunk prequel, Tremors IV. That movie was directed by Greg Mottola, who would go on to work with Pegg and Frost on Paul.

Spaced fans, still smarting from the confirmation of there being no third series, were split. Many were extremely fond of the movie but many others decried it as the three having sold out. Two of the most vocal criticisms were that they should have made the film in the UK and that Burt Gummer, Michael Gross’ character, was just a beefed up version of Mike, Frost’s character on Spaced. Wright answered the first criticism both with Shaun of the Dead, which he directed to huge acclaim immediately after Tremors, and answered the second when the DVD of the movie was released. A deleted scene sees Burt asks Val and Earl whether they know his nephew Mike, who lives in the UK. Earl opens his mouth to speak and Val cuts him off.  It also caught some criticism over the perceived homosexual nature of Val and Earl’s relationship:

 

Val: [about Earl] He’s not my boyfriend!
Earl: [handing beer to Val] It might be a bit warm, the cooler’s off.
Val: Thanks, babe. [winks]

 

This was also answered by Wright turning the right wing criticisms of the movie into a marketing tool, arranging for a two day film festival at the Alamo Drafthouse, alternating movies dealing with homosexuality and buddy action movies. The festival is still running today, and Wright is viewed as a friend of both the cinema and the city.

 

Next Steps

-Wright parlayed his success into not only Shaun of the Dead but a permanent ‘talent exchange’ arrangement with the US.  This led to him essentially splitting his career between the US and the UK, culminating in the confirmation of his Ant-Man movie at ComicCon in 2012. Rumours persist that Wright is front runner to take over control of the Marvel Movie universe when Joss Whedon steps away but those have yet to be confirmed. The possibility of him directing an episode of Doctor Who however, refuses to go away and Wright seems likely to go behind the camera there for Season 8 in 2014.

– Pegg, despite the doubts of some elements of British fandom, became a movie star in his own right in the US, appearing in the Mission:Impossible and Star Trek reboot series. He also narrowly missed out on a stint on Doctor Who, and, at time of writing, is one of the last few actors in contention for the lead role in Doctor Strange.

-Frost also made it big in the wake of Tremors, not only through working with Wright and Pegg but as a regular fixture on US TV. His laconic, deadpan approach on screen and his fierce love of cooking off made him a personality in his own right leading to him being invited to appear on shows as diverse as Man Vs Food, Dancing With The Stars and The Daily Show.

-The Cornetto trilogy became, in the end, two. The UK trilogy consisting of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End concludes this year but the US version has remained frustratingly incomplete with only Tremors (Red), and Paul (Green) completed and controversy surrounding Paul’s status as a Cornetto movie given the fact it was directed by Mottola. However, in the last few months it’s been confirmed that Wright has chosen another script from the vaults;

an abandoned 1980s action comedy called Police Academy.

It seems that the American blue Cornetto is finally on the way. Even better, Wright and Pegg have confirmed this is the long-rumored crossover movie. Sergeant Nicholas Angel is going to America. And he’s bringing his ice cream with him.

Oz The Great and Powerful – Review

Oz, The Great and Powerful is crammed full of the sort of visual mania you want to see from Raimi
Oz, The Great and Powerful is crammed full of the sort of visual mania you want to see from Raimi

The idea of a prequel to The Wizard of Oz isn’t a new one with Wicked already a huge success but we’ve not seen one focus so completely on the wizard before. It makes sense too, given that the wizard is so central to the plot of the original movie. Therefore, with Oz The Great And Powerful, Sam Raimi and scriptwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire tell us the story of the wizard, his initial journey to Oz and wrap the origin of the Wicked Witch up in the plot for good measure.

Sam Raimi really is starting to look like a director with no front to him, a man who leaves everything on the field. If he’s happy, then you get crash zooms and visual jokes and the sort of frantic cinematic wit that has made his career ever since Evil Dead.

When he’s not happy, you get Spider-Man 3.

It’s a pleasure to report then that Oz, The Great and Powerful is crammed full of the sort of visual mania you want to see from Raimi. Even better, he clearly adopts the cinematic grammar of the time a little, opening on a boxed in black and white sequence in Kansas before expanding the frame out when we arrive in Oz, showcasing a glorious pseudo-puppet show set of opening credits and cramming the movie with moments of glorious cinematic eccentricity and some wonderfully black humour, especially the China Girl’s incredibly large knife.

The film is an absolute pleasure to watch, and the design is frankly astonishing. The moment where the soundtrack is played by musical plants the Wizard is passing is wonderful, as are the crystalline plants seen later, the Emerald City itself and the genuinely disturbing shattered remnants of Chinatown. The skewed perspective that L.Frank Baum’s original novels had is clearly something Raimi can and does connect with to tremendous effect.

The script also works well, combining a relatively standard Coming of Age plot for the Wizard with an ending which is essentially an extended love letter to theatrical magic. This is a particularly nice nod to the original movie, and also a completely fitting workaround for how you can have the traditional ‘boss fight’ at the end of the movie whilst still maintaining Oz’s inherent pacifism. The Wizard, who in the real world is a magician, uses his experience to con not only the witches but the people of Oz into thinking he’s something other than mortal. He becomes exactly what he wants to be; a great man, and the only price he has to pay is anyone outside his circle of friends ever seeing him again. A hero’s journey ending with a hero’s price and Oz newly decorated and ready for the arrival of a certain young girl in a few years’ time. It’s a smart, coherently plotted script that hits every beat and plugs seamlessly into the original. There’s just one problem;

James Franco.

   OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL Rating: PG  UK Release Date: 8 March 2013  US Relase Date: 8 March 2013  Formats: 3D and 2D

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
Rating: PG UK Release Date: 8 March 2013
US Relase Date: 8 March 2013
Formats: 3D and 2D
What becomes apparent very early on in the movie is what Franco is trying to do; play the role in the style of the period, crossed with the traditional Disney leading man. He’s all massive, fixed smiles, raised voices, shrieking and arm flailing and were this a few decades ago he’d fit right in. There’s something of the Dick Van Dykes to his wizard and you can’t say he holds anything back because believe me he doesn’t.

Unfortunately, none of it works. At all. The Wizard is constantly the dimmest, least likeable, loudest character in the room and after a while you just get sick of looking at him. Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Junior, originally attached to play the role, would have brought that unobtainable combination of humour, cowardice and arrogance to the role they both excel at. Franco just brings the cowardice and arrogance and it kills very nearly every scene he has stone dead. The Wizard’s a dick, it’s really that simple and when his redemption comes you’re so used to seeing him gurn and preen and wait for applause you’re waiting for it again. I’ve honestly never seen an otherwise sound movie with such a horrifically broken leading performance in it and the result is actually kind of fascinating. There’s an empty space at the middle of the movie, the smoke billowing, the curtain closed but no one behind it. As a result, you can’t help but look around at the other cast and, thankfully, they’re more than up to the task. Mila Kunis as Theodora feels a little stilted at times but her transformation is genuinely chilling and for a relatively simple set of prosthetics renders her all but unrecognisable. Likewise, Rachel Weisz as Evanora is fantastic, every inch the plausible big sister until she turns and her eyes go dead. She’s arguably the most interesting of the three and it’s a shame she doesn’t get a little more screen time. Michelle Williams initially looks like she’s fallen into the same trap as Franco, her whisper-voiced Glinda the Good Witch seeming as ephemeral as the soap bubble her kingdom is protected by. However, as the movie goes on she reveals a playful, mischievous strength to the character and even provides Franco, and the Wizard, with their single good moment when she calmly explains that she knows he’s a con man but believes in him anyway.

However, the stand outs in the cast are, oddly, both voiceover artists. Zach Braff, as Oz’s assistant in the real world and Finlay, a talking monkey who swears a life debt to him in Oz, is fantastic and holds together every single one of Franco’s scenes. He’s laconic and hysterical by turns, cheerfully off kilter and completely charming, taking a one note character and turning it into something rich and fun and interesting. Similarly Joey King, who appears as a paralyzed girl in the opening and a girl made of China, or China Girl, in Oz, does great work. It would be very easy for her to be one note once again but King brings a combination of slight mania and cheerful manipulation to the role that makes it work without ever seeming broad or once forgetting she’s a child who saw her entire village literally torn apart. If there’s an emotional heart to the movie it’s with these two and each of their scenes is a pleasure to watch, as is the excellent support work done by Bill Cobbs as the chief of the Tinkers of Oz and Tony Cox as Knuck the world’s grumpiest munchkin.

 

Finlay, a talking monkey who swears a life debt to him in Oz
Finlay, a talking monkey who swears a life debt to him in Oz

But there’s still Franco. Or rather, the lack thereof.

 

Make no mistake, Oz The Great and Powerful isn’t a bad film by any stretch. In fact it’s a very good one in a number of ways but it’s hollow, there’s absolutely no engagement with the central performance and no emotional connection at all. The Wizard smiles, screams, lies, panics, lies some more, seduces women and says ‘Zim ZALA BIM!’ roughly 800 times more than is funny or charming. I’m not even sure it’s Franco’s fault, I think he and Raimi may have aimed for a specific kind of performance and utterly, utterly failed to get near it.

Regardless, if you can get past that, and you really should, it’s a movie that’s definitely worth your time. In fact, the lousy central work is almost an incentive. After all, it’s even weirdly appropriate that for a film about the man behind the curtain, we should find no one there when we look.

 

Alasdair Stuart


The Truth About A Good Day To Die Hard

Alasdair Stuart Is A Reviewing Genius
Alasdair Stuart Is A Reviewing Genius

It’s not a Die Hard movie. Don’t worry this isn’t the lazy ‘God someone has paid me to sit on my arse and watch a movie and it’s SUCH A DRAG because it wasn’t a heartbreaking work of genius’ bullshit that some critics are especially prone to. A Good Day To Die Hard features Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney and the woman with the most anime initials ever, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as various members of the McClane family. There is punching. There is hitting. There is a tremendous amount of shooting and explosions. Blood is spilled. F bombs, 12A be damned, are well and truly dropped. It’s, some wobbly CGI aside, massive fun.

But it’s not a Die Hard movie.

It’s a Mission: Impossible movie.

And I can prove it.

Exhibit A:The Garden Ring

A crucial plot point in the movie is the lousy traffic in Moscow. You get a nice little exchange between McClane and Pavel Lychnikoff as a taxi driver about this, and how the Garden Ring is always crammed with traffic. Later, McClane realizes someone else is lying when they tell him they got somewhere quickly by using the Garden Ring. Hence, traffic saves the day.

But why is it so slow? There’s a throwaway line about how the road’s being renovated in the movie but, why is it being renovated?

Oh that’s easy.

Because of the explosion at the Kremlin in Mission:Impossible:Ghost Protocol.

The Kremlin is at the centre of the Garden Ring and it makes perfect sense that the huge destruction wrought there would still be being cleaned up. It also goes a long way towards explaining the belligerence of every Russian driver we see. They’re driving as fast and as hard as they can because they’re far too used to the city being under attack. Or asteroids falling from the sky…

Exhibit B: The Extraction

The mission Jack carries out is vintage IMF; he’s arrested and works a deal with the authorities to get near the man he’s supposed to be extracting. It’s classic IMF operating procedure for three reasons:

-Misdirection-IMF agents specialize in hiding in plain sight and taking bold, decisive action to stamp an apparent identity on the op. That’s exactly what Jack does, making no effort to cover his face, or lose a papertrail. He’s working to get caught, just like Ethan in Ghost Protocol.

-Using the system. Jack cuts a deal to be put on trial at the same time and place as Kamarov. This way, suspicion is moved away from in two ways; firstly by the fact he’s already in custody and secondly by the fact the decision to place him in the room isn’t in his hands. Oh certainly he manipulates the authorities so they have no choice but to put him there but it’s still their call, or at least, they think it is.

-Reduced Circumstances. The safehouse Jack is forced to reroute to through the interference of his father is staffed by precisely one agent. CIA would have extensive assets in the city, far more than one safehouse, one extraction point and one backup agent. IMF, still reeling from their temporary dissolution, would still be operating out of temporary safe houses like the train in Ghost Protocol and the abandoned house here.

Exhibit C: The Tradecraft

Jack McClane is a ghost, a man clearly trained to disappear into the Russian infrastructure and he does so, more than once. Over the space of the movie we see him set up a hit plausible enough to be real but without any real danger to it, lay down an escape route at minimum 24 hours before he needs it, raid a Chechen thug’s car because he knows it contains weapons and most tellingly, use a Plan C when we’ve been expressively told there is not one. Jack’s back entrance to the safehouse smacks of something only he knows and that self-reliance is absolutely what we’ve seen IMF agents without a field team demonstrate time and again.

Exhibit D: The Lack of a Field Team

We’ve already talked about how the CIA would have more assets on the ground, but IMF traditionally operate in units too. With the Kremlin disaster still fresh in their minds, Russian authorities are understandably clamping down hard on spies in town and as a result the IMF have minimal resources to deploy. Hence Jack is either operating alone, or with a CIA handler.

Exhibit E: The Target

Yuri Komarov isn’t the normal Die Hard villain by any means. He’s not a thief, exceptional or otherwise, a drug lord, a former special forces officer or an unbalanced intelligence analyst. He’s an oligarch, a Russian billionaire who got rich not just off exploiting his fellow Russians but actively killing them. He left  a scar on the Earth’s ecosystem thanks to his actions at Chernobyl and his choice to follow up on that and retrieve the weapons grade Uranium shows he’s fully prepared to do it, and worse, again. Komarov is that perfect storm; a clear and present threat to anyone he feels like. An impossibly unpredictable foe. A perfect target for the IMF.

Also, bear in mind how Mission: Impossible 3 revolves entirely around the frantic attempts to secure the Rabbit’s Foot, even though no one knows what it actually is. The IMF, much like Global Frequency, are in the business of diffusing unexploded bombs from the last century, and you don’t get much bigger than uranium from Chernobyl.

Exhibit F: Jack McClane

Jack McClane is the most insanely well trained CIA field operative in recent fictional history. We see him plan and execute a hit, construct an exit strategy, locate weapons and resources in the field, gather intelligence, engage in offensive driving, hand to hand combat, close quarter battle, fire small and heavy calibre weaponry and speak fluent Russian. He’s also clearly in extraordinary physical condition.

He’s not CIA. Or at the very least not the level of CIA he claims he is. Because whilst it’s possible that Jack is a CIA attack dog, it’s far more likely he’s an IMF pointman. After all, that exact same set of skills, and mind set, is one Jack shares with another famous fictional spy; Ethan Hunt. Of course you could also make an argument that, given his background, he’s an offshoot of one of the more humane Treadstone derivatives from the Bourne movies but that’s a whole different column…

A Good Day To Die Hard is a Mission:Impossible movie, or at least, it could be. It’s one of the things I love about modern fiction, its malleability. Die Hard and Mission:Impossible could happen in the same universe as the Bourne movies, which, in turn, take place in the same universe as David Mamet’s various dabblings with espionage fiction, Alias, and of course Chuck as well as some other unusual IMF ‘consultants’. Then on the other side of the Atlantic there’s the legacy of George Smiley, kept alive through the various Ms, the 00 section, D Section, the inimitable Harry Pearce and Tara Chace of Queen and Country. It’s the thing no one remembers about spies. They’re all so busy hiding in the shadows, none of them realize they’re all hiding in the same shadow…

The Other 11 Doctors – Female Doctor Who

(With thanks to Pete Strover and Craig Oxbrow for playing this game on Twitter last night)

So, the Doctor. The Oncoming Storm. DOC-TOR. Call him what you want, but regardless of what you call him he’s always…him. A female Doctor is an idea that’s been floated more than once, with The Curse of Fatal Death giving us a brief appearance by Joanna Lumley as the Doctor, Big Finish releasing a single disc in their Doctor Unbound series based on the premise that when a Time Lord kills themselves they regenerate into the opposite gender and Helen Mirren going on record as saying she’d love the role. Oh and Stephen Moffat polling a convention about it a little while ago and the entire audience essentially telling him they’d stop watching if he did it.

Now, whilst I have my doubts about that, the truth is that right now it’s not really on the cards. Which is a real shame because, HELEN MIRREN! COME ON, MAN! She’d be awesome! But what if it wasn’t an issue…because it was never an issue? What if, in this the 50th Anniversary year, we were celebrating five decades of a show about a female Doctor? Come with us now on a journey through time and space as we explore a very different 50 years of Doctor Who, and a very different 11 Doctors…

1st Doctor- Joyce Grenfell

Doctor Who began as a show with the odds stacked against it; a crew of mavericks put together so the BBC could say they’d given them a fair chance before firing them. However, instead of bowing to the seemingly inevitable, the crew decided to take their once in a lifetime opportunity and work it for all it was worth. The end result was Joyce Grenfell being cast as the first Doctor.

Best known as a perky, cheerful figure in post-war Britain, Grenfell relished being given the opportunity to play a darker, more mercurial role. Her Doctor was a chaotic figure, a cheerful nanny one moment and a stone eyed matriarch the next. Over time, the show even came to play with this, especially in Dalek stories where Grenfell would alternate between the schoolmarm role she was best known for and the darker, intense element she grew to revel in to tremendous effect.  Signing onto the role amidst a sea of criticism, when she left, the BBC were flooded with tributes and pleas for her to come back. She never returned to the role, although remained proud of it for the rest of her life.

2nd Doctor-Hattie Jacques

Grenfell’s replacement was no less controversial a choice. Hattie Jacques had made her name as a comic radio actress and was involved in the Carry On movies, frequently as a matronly figure. However, anyone expecting a continuation of Grenfell’s approach was in for a surprise as Jacques took the role in a radically different direction. A wildly eccentric, deadpan,  puckish Doctor, she used her reputation and physical stature to create an astonishing take on the character; a cosmic clown who could bring a tear to the eye with nothing more than a change of posture. On taking the role, decades later, Miranda Hart would cite her as a major influence.

3rd Doctor-Honor Blackman

Fresh off her success with the Avengers, Blackman took the show in a very different, far more physical direction than Jacques. Her Doctor was an action heroine, the stories filled with car chases, explosions and fist fights. Many fans welcomed this with open arms, whilst many more felt the show had become The Avengers with occasional aliens. Despite this, her run was extremely successful and is notable for a series of appearances by Vanessa Redgrave as the Mistress.

4th Doctor- Penelope Keith

The show returned to the controversy that had defined it’s casting of Joyce Grenfell with Blackman’s replacement. Penelope Keith was best known as a comic actress, and to make matters worse was in line for a leading role in The Good Life, a highly favoured sitcom being put together for the following year. In an immensely controversial move, Keith was awarded both roles and, in doing so, became the face of BBC TV for close to a decade. Her run as the Doctor was, and still is, regarded as the definitive version of the character by many fans, mixing her naturally arch, upper class comic timing with a tremendous flamboyance, laconic wit and theatricality. She attacked the role with a gusto not seen since the Grenfell years and proved such a success that jokes were dropped into The Good Life, hinting, strongly, that Margo and the Doctor were one and the same. However, behind the scenes, Keith freely admitted that the double duty and newfound celebrity was taking its toll and, ultimately, she asked to leave both shows. By the time she regenerated at the end of Logopolis (And a cheeky final line was dropped into The Good Life about Jerry and Margo popping out to Joddrell Bank for a picnic),  she had played the role far longer than any of her predecessors. That record remains intact today and Keith was recently attracted back to the role for a new range of audio dramas.

5th Doctor- Joanna Lumley

Another former Avenger, Lumley was given the thankless task of succeeding Keith in the role. She responded to this with aplomb, opting to go in the exact opposite direction to Keith’s performance, whilst at the same time keeping her inherently British approach. Dressed in cricket whites and with an air of the polite swashbuckler to her, Lumley’s 5th Doctor was arguably the nicest version of the character, a woman desperate to save everyone and shown, again and again, that she could not. Despite this, Lumley continued Keith’s sense of humour in the role and both were major influences on Perkins’ performance, with Lumley appearing alongside her in Time Crash.

6th Doctor-Miriam Margoyles

Margoyles’ performance was, at the time, widely criticised for being both too broad and too similar to earlier takes. Whilst this is debatable, it’s clear she suffered from script problems from the outset and this tainter her entire time on the show. With the advantage of time and distance however, her run as the Doctor is actually one of the most interesting. Margoyles plays her as a truly mercurial, unpredictable figure, mood changing scene by scene and with an unfettered arrogance the role had never had before, making the tragic events of several stories all the more effecting. Whilst her run was widely regarded as the least successful in the show’s history, Margoyles’ Doctor has enjoyed over a decade of new life on audio, giving her the critical acclaim she lacked, and deserved, during her time on television.

7th Doctor-Siobhan Redmond

Redmond came to the show with one remit; to give it back the edge many had felt it had lost during the Lumley and Margoyles runs. She did this almost straight away, using her natural Scottish accent, her distinctive build and red hair and dressed, very deliberately, in male clothing. She played the role with absent minded, academic charm and razor sharp comic timing. This was tempered by a tremendous natural authority and age that she could call on to chilling effect. Despite being the actress in the role when the show was cancelled, her run remains one of the most fondly remembered and critically acclaimed.

8th Doctor-Helen Baxendale

The 8th Doctor’s arrival was met with massive amounts of hype, with the unprecedented stunt casting of Julia Roberts as the Mistress overshadowing the entire production. It came and went with little fanfare, with Roberts vowing never to do TV again and British star Helen Baxendale largely, and unfairly, overlooked. However, the 8th Doctor would have the last laugh as Baxendale continues to enjoy huge success recording audio adventures for Big Finish, with current guest star companion Will Mellor.

9th Doctor-Suranne Jones

The 9th Doctor had everything to prove and the first trailers for the show demonstrated the exact level of bravado needed. Footage of Jones, in jeans, a black t-shirt and a leather jacket, sprinting away from an explosion were intercut with a monologue in the TARDIS control room where she not only trailed the show but made it clear just how dangerous things would be. Despite being around for just one season, Jones’ take on the Doctor is regarded by many new fans as the definitive one; her combination of Northern flamboyance and desperate, desperate need to atone for the sins of the Time War make it an electrifying season, with her chemistry with Rose and Captain Jack pushing these 13 episodes into contention for one of the greatest seasons in the show’s history.

10th Doctor-Sue Perkins

Fans still reeling from the 9th Doctor’s surprise exit were more than a little surprised to see Sue Perkins step into the role. In stark contrast to Suranne Jones’ mercurial, often grim take on the role, Perkins brought a lightness of touch and cheerful eccentricity that hadn’t been seen since the Grenfell years. Complete with brainyspecs, a new found joy in her work and remarkable chemistry with Rose, the 10th Doctor was a massive hit. The burgeoning romance between Rose and the Doctor, heartbreakingly cut short in ‘Doomsday’ and revived in ‘Journey’s End’, was praised by fans and critics alike, as Perkins became the first openly gay Doctor in the show’s history. Her final episodes, featuring the return of Sheridan Smith as the demented Mistress (Having regenerated from an award-winning cameo by Dame Judi Dench as Professor Yana), remain two of the highest rated episodes in the show’s history.

11th Doctor-Miranda Hart

The first real accusations of stunt casting since Catherine Tate’s bravura run as Donna Noble accompanied the announcement that well known comedienne Hart would be stepping into the role. However, just like Tate, Hart rose above the increasingly personal nature of the attacks and claimed the series as her own. Her combination of ‘Jolly Hockey Sticks’ style upper class jollity, physical comedy and surprising emotional depth meshed seamlessly with the role and led to an early run of fantastically well regarded episodes. Later seasons have seen the character take a slightly different, alien turn that many fans have had trouble dealing with, but Hart remains a rock solid core for the show. Rumours that she will leave in the as yet unannounced New Year’s 2013 special, to be replaced by Sophie Okonedo, remain unconfirmed.

So there you go, an alternate, female history of the Doctor. I would happily have watched any of these actresses in the role and who knows, one day I might. Hart does have something distinctly Gallifreyan about her…

Doctor Who Post 50th Anniversary Update

Welcome Back To Honolulu Heights: Being Human Season 5 Preview

Vampire Hal, Ghost Alex and Werewolf Tom - Image © BBC - www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/beinghuman/
I’m a weird Being Human viewer. I remember the pilot being shown and adoring it. It was a perfect combination of full bore supernatural contemporary drama and the sort of crappy bedsit sitcom/drama that British TV does so incredibly well. You got the sense that Mitchell, George and Annie would pop round to Meteor Street to hang out with Tim and Daisy from Spaced, any time they were in London, that kind of thing.

Then the uber plot arrived and the show began to pull away from me. The opening half of series two, with Mitchell struggling to rule Bristol’s vampires and the arrival of the glorious Daisy and Ivan, was fantastic and then…it turned out that anyone with any sort of religious faith was either a dangerous fundamentalist or a pervert.

Again.

I’ve got no interest in having the Religion Conversation but the show’s ridiculously simplistic view of faith managed to erode a lot of the good will it had built up.  Nonetheless I stuck with it and season three was largely great. Not only was Adam the teenage vampire huge fun (And Becoming Human, the online spinoff featuring him desperately needs more episodes), but the fact Mitchell was never off the hook for his actions in the second series made for fascinating drama.  Whilst series three had some missteps; Mitchell and Annie in the least romantic romantic relationship ever, deciding to bring Herrick back, the entire thing had a real sense of impending doom to it. The series culminated in the fantastic, horrifying scene where George kills Mitchell to save him and the final shot, of a tearful George, Annie and Nina preparing to go to war with the vampires once and for all, promised so much.

Then Sinead Kiernan left between seasons.

Then Russell Tovey admitted he was only appearing in one episode.

Which meant the only one of the original trio left was Annie.

Whilst I’ve enjoyed Lenora Crichlow’s work tremendously elsewhere, her version of Annie has always been far too scatty and frantic for me, especially after Andrea Riseborough’s fantastic, quietly laconic turn in the original pilot. To make matters worse, Annie’s plot had followed the same ‘lack of confidence, traumatic event, Akira level powerburst when narratively necessary’ track for three years. It was getting old and I really wasn’t relishing an entire season with Annie as the lynchpin.

If you toss a coin enough times, it will eventually land on its side.

That was Being Human season 4.

Despite being a season dealing with both a prophecy and a baby, two plot elements surely up there with ‘Long lost twin brother’ as overcooked narrative devices, season four was actually the strongest year the show had ever had. Whilst a couple of the comedy beats fell more than a little flat, the overall plot was extraordinarily well done. George and Nina’s daughter, in a future dominated by the vampires, has herself killed so she can travel back in time to try and change the future, at the same time as the oldest vampires on Earth are coming, it seems, to kill her younger self.  The stakes raised constantly, the fact that the baby, Eve, represented her parents as well made for real emotional weight and the final twists in the prophecy were really nicely handled.  Eve, instead of being a narrative crutch, became the hub for the entire season, and whilst there was the obligatory ‘Annie is awkward and cute around the baby’ stuff, this was the year that they finally let Crichlow do something other than mildly scatty. By the end of the season, Annie, along with new boy Hal and holdover from season 3, Tom, was a veteran, a woman who has seen her entire circle of friends die and knows with absolute certainty what she needs to do to make things right.  Until, of course, she doesn’t, because nothing is easy in this world especially when you’re dead.

Annie’s final shot in the series is perfect. Stepping out of Purgatory, with the baby in her arms, we see Annie open a door and smile, beatifically, her entire face lighting up. We know, without ever having to see them, that Mitchell, Nina and George are waiting for her.  It’s a beautiful capstone for the first iteration of the series that, somehow, manages to be a farewell for all four originals even though we only see one.

So as series five opens we have; Alex, a newly murdered ghost who’s death is sort of Hal’s fault, Hal, a centuries old vampire who’s renowned for being savage when he’s off the wagon and is going through detox and Tom, loyal, dependable, werewolf Tom, raised to fight his ‘father’s’ war since he was a baby.  The Cleaners, the mysterious, suited men who clean up after supernatural incidents who were introduced at the end of the last season are back and the always splendid Phil Daniels is playing the series villain, Captain Hatch. And we’re still in Wales. Is there the possibility it will go utterly wrong? Of course, this is Being Human, there’s always that possibility. But against all odds, and every single prediction, this is a show heading into its fifth season looking healthier and more interesting than it ever has before. If you’re not a fan yet, give it a shot. There’s nothing on TV quite like it.

Alasdair Stuart

Being Human series five starts on BBC Three at 10pm

Duncan Jones on World of Warcraft

World Of Warcraft Logo

…Good? I’m honestly pretty conflicted about this, for reasons which I suspect have more to do with me than the property. Firstly, I just don’t have the only game play gene. God knows I tried. Seriously. I was one of the first few intakes on Galactica Online and LOVED it. Flying around in a raptor, hearing the music, watching missile trails shoot off my pylons as I engaged toasters dropping on me out of the starlight. My favourite memory of that game was launching and flying through the fleet, to the Zephyr (The big, old fashioned ship with the gravity wheel), parking on top of it and just watching as the ragtag fugitive fleet passed underneath me. It felt real. I’ve never forgotten it.

Unfortunately I’ve also never forgotten logging into the game a couple of weeks later, finding literally everybody else had bought capital ships rather than levelling up to them and being blown apart over and over and over and over. I never went back, but I did try again with Guns of Icarus, a steampunk airship combat game that I helped Kickstarter. It’s a really fun game, beautifully designed, very intuitive. I joined my first multiplayer, and the first thing that came over my speakers was another player whispering ‘I am raping your children.’

So yeah, online multiplayer games, not so much for me. Or rather the games, yes, the people for the most part? Get the hell away from me.

So I can’t get excited about this as a fan because I’m not one. I have a lot of friends who play, and love, World of Warcraft and I can see it’s a rich, varied, interesting world (Also truthfully the Pandarians look so ridiculously cool I nearly signed up just to play one) with a lot of stories to tell in it. I hope, and for the most part, trust the team involved to pick a good one. Let’s face it they’re going to have to, because if they get this wrong in any way? The storm of nerdrage that will break across them will make Who fandom on its very worst day look like a small mouse being mildly surly to a waiter.

The second reason this doesn’t thrill me is because I want Mute, the Moon sequel/epilogue that was a movie, then a graphic novel, then maybe a movie again, then nothing. I’m frankly mystified by how Jones is treated by the studios, given that Moon was such an astonishing debut. Why he wasn’t trusted with the follow up, which wouldn’t exactly have broken the bank, is beyond me. Also, I am one of the four people on this planet that didn’t dig Source Code. Top marks to them for hanging a lantern on the massive Quantum Leap analogies the way they did but for me it’s a fantastically talented director and cast doing their best to lift an overfamiliar premise.

So, World of Warcraft helmed by Duncan Jones? I’m absolutely there. I’m sure it’ll be a great introduction to the universe, a good movie in its own right and will hopefully get him the critical cache he needs to get something similar to Moon made again.  I can’t in good conscience say it’s something I’m excited about, but I am, at least curious. And that’s a good start.

David Bradley as William Hartnell – An Adventure in Space and Time

William Hartnell

It’s very tempting to go a bit sour grapes about the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary. At time of writing, companies like IDW and Big Finish are making a bigger deal of the anniversary than the BBC is with, so far, half last year’s season, a single 60 minute special and a 90 minute docudrama about the birth of the show being the only things we’re getting. On the one hand there’s a lot of fan speculation that these are simply the things we’ve been told about and on the other there’s both a little disappointment and a sneaking suspicion that nothing will ever quite be enough.

So instead of speculating about what we might have, let’s talk about what we’ve got.  Namely, confirmation that David Bradley, recently seen as Solomon in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, is returning to the Doctor Who production offices to play William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time. My immediate reaction to this is that he’s a fantastic choice, not just because he looks a lot like Hartnell but because he’s a great character actor and a man completely unafraid of playing a character’s less sympathetic qualities. Bradley also has natural authority, something Hartnell had in spades and throws himself at his roles. He’s also, interestingly, a fan of Hartnell’s work so is very motivated to do the late actor proud.

Bradley at the Harry Brown European film premiere in 2009

The production history of the show, to be quite honest, has never interested me. I’m far more concerned with the stories themselves than which ones reused which props from where, but I’m genuinely looking forward to An Adventure in Space and Time. The story of the show’s birth is fascinating; effectively  given to a group of mavericks so it would definitely fail, it instead became a runaway success and the cultural institution we see today. Bradley joins a massively impressive cast and lifts it still further with his presence. Regardless of how much we’re getting for the anniversary, all signs point to An Adventure in Space and Time being a highlight. I look forward to it.

Images:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hartnell

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bradley_%28actor%29

Scifi Review of 2012 – Comics, Movies, TV and Books

Amelia Cole and the Unknown World

Comics

Amelia Cole and the Unknown World
Amelia Cole and the Unknown World

Three titles really stood out for me this year. Amelia Cole and the Unknown World, one of the launch range from Monkeybrain Comics, is the story of a female mage trapped in an alternate dimension, the fight she faces there to protect magic and magic users and that universe’s very odd version of superheroes. Oh and her side kick is an industrial Golem called Lemmy. It’s brilliant, endlessly inventive and witty and one of the best fantasy titles in years. Also, it being a Monkeybrain book, it’s insanely good value. Seriously, their entire range is brilliant but this is a real standout. Go, spend not very much money, be amazed by how many great comics you get.

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja also worked miracles this year. Bravely choosing to swim upstream from the mournful, serious archer we saw Jeremy Renner do so well as in Avengers Assemble, they recast Clint as a perpetually battered, down on his luck, man of the people. He’s scruffy and charming and completely without any luck at all, and also a profoundly decent human being. The first issue is tied for the best single comic I read this year, as we see Clint explain how he ended up owning his apartment building and gaining a dog in a sequence that honestly got me teary. Just fun, smart storytelling of the first order.

It’s competition for best single issue I read this year is Captain Marvel issue 1 written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and with art by Dexter Soy. Kelly Sue and Matt are married, and the sheer level of comic writing talent in that house may be enough to bend space and time. Or at the very least ensure they have the best collection of action figures on the block. Finally graduating Carol Danvers from the dismal ‘Ann Coulter in high end dominatrix gear costume’ character that she’s been for so long, Kelly Sue simultaneously grounds Carol Danvers with a series of smart, naturalistic friendships and lets her fly. She’s a pilot, a woman who has dreamed of flying her whole life and the first issue, and first storyline, both focus on Carol dealing with the death of her mentor, a female pilot with a charmingly dubious past. The entire story is great, taking in time travel, rogue alien technology and a group of female pilots in World War II but the first issue is the one that hit me right between the eyes. I lost a family member, who I only got close to this year, in 2012 and her relationship with my girlfriend was very similar to Carol’s friendship with Helen here. The funeral, and the moment where Carol not only decides what to do but takes her friend’s ashes on one last flight hit me where I live. It’s a great series, featuring a character finally living up to her potential and I’m delighted it’s proving a success.

Honorable mentions: The entire Monkeybrain comics line up. Seriously it’s that damn good. Also Mass Effect: Homeworlds for its highly impressive use of established continuity to tell new, personal stories about four of the series’ best characters. The Garrus issue alone is worth the price of admission. Finally, Doctor Who: The Child of Time, coelcting the first chunk of 11th Doctor stories from Doctor Who Magazine, can stand not only as one of the best Who comic stories, but as one of the best Who stories of recent years.

Movies

Marvel Avengers Assemble

Avengers Assemble literally did seven impossible things before breakfast, managing to give everyone a moment in the sun whilst telling a coherent, fun story and changing the grammar of the modern action movie forever. Don’t believe me? Name a single movie that dealt with that scale of action, and that amount of characters, in that disparate number of locations, a tenth as well prior to to its release. You can’t, because no one has done this before. Seriously, watch for action movies in 2013 to seriously step their game up because Whedon, a man who has one theatrical movie to his name, and a commercial flop at that (No one but you saw it, Browncoats. NO ONE. Doesn’t mean the movie isn’t great, because it is, just means it was a commercial flop) has run rings around every major action director, his second time out of the gate. Awesome work. Also, Coulson lives.

The Dark Knight Rises also proved massively impressive this year. . The conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy absolutely nailed it for me, making a cinematic Catwoman interesting again, redeeming Bane forever from the catastrophe he was in Batman and Robin and delivering a story that felt like all the consequences of the previous movies coming home to roost. There’s a palpable sense of danger to the movie and, as someone who watches movies professionally, it got me over and over, especially the glorious reveal in the closing minutes. Yes, at least one element of the ending is predictable but it doesn’t matter. In the end, this is a story about stories, about the space Batman creates and leaves behind him, I loved it.

And to complete the trifecta of predictability, The Cabin in the Woods. Horror cinema hasn’t had a Doctor Strangelove moment since Scream and it’s been more than overdue one. Whedon and Drew Goddard delivered in absolute spades, and the film manages to work in three separate genres at once; it’s a great ‘teens have sex in the woods and die’ horror movie, a better parody and commentary on ‘teens have sex in the woods and die’ horror movies. It’s third genre is dependent on the viewer but for me, this is one of the best Lovecraftian mythos movies ever made. Savagely funny, brutally clever and framed by staggeringly great performances by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, this is a horror movie that doesn’t change the game, it ends it. Like Avengers Assemble, I’ll be fascinated to see how people respond to it.

Honorable Mentions: Chronicle combined found footage with superheroic angst to fiercely great effect, whilst Skyfall managed to return Bond to his roots whilst still pointing him at the future. The sequence at the Commons Select Committee, with the kill team en route to M and back up far too far away, is stunning, as is the wonderfully nasty closing fight.

TV

Fringe

Fringe has been fun for years but it’s final season is extraordinary. With the Observers in full control of Earth and Walter’s decades-long plan as scattered as Walter’s memory, the show has gone all in for it’s final season. There’s a palpable sense of tragedy to much of it as characters we’ve known and loved are reintroduced and, frequently, killed, and the world itself feels run down, shabby and utterly real. The Observers may be in control, but it’s a soft apocalypse for most people and that makes it all the more horrifying, the collaborators proving to be a far more unsettling and disturbing idea than even the Observers themselves. Simultaneously old fashioned, recalling John Carpenter at his best, and entirely new, it’s a magnificent season that looks set to round out a magnificent run.

I am one of the six people on the planet who loved Last Resort and I don’t care. A pseudo-dystopian thriller about a US nuclear submarine ordered to fire on Pakistan and refusing to do so, it’s a fascinating look not only at the perception of the military mindset, but the sort of polite, passive aggressive coup that’s so common in UK spy-fi (I am going to hell for that word I just know it) and so derided in the US. Endlessly grim, inventive and smart and with the likes of Andre Braugher and Robert Patrick front and centre it’s a wild-eyed, very smart and utterly cynical TV show. The US hated it. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen in years.

Finally, on this side of the pond, The Secret of Crickley Hall proved two things; firstly that the BBC still have a dismal amount of genre fiction output, with literally nothing on the table once you step outside the Doctor Who and secondly that if you put a good writer and director and a good cast on a good source novel, strangely, you get good TV. It’s a tightly plotted, smart three hours that unfolds across two time periods at once and is crammed full of neat twists on old ghost story tropes. It’s also crammed full of brilliant performances, especially Suranne Jones and Tom Ellis as the bereaved central couple. It’s an intensely traditional story but it’s so well done, and so moving, especially in the last ten minutes, that it really doesn’t matter. Just a beautifully crafted story, told very well.

Honorable Mentions: Being Human and Misfits both fought through complete cast overhauls and emerged stronger for it, especially Being Human. Elementary also proved to be several dozen times more fun than it had any right to be whilst Arrow, so far, has been two shows; a fascinating Nolan-esque take on being a vigilante and a lumpen-paced, guest-star laden WASP soap. I hope the first wins, it’s much more interesting.

Books

Redshirts

John Scalzi’s Redshirts is brilliant, there’s no other word that covers it. Initially a very funny parody of old-school Star Trek, with a group of characters realizing that they’re the disposable crew members it soon becomes something far deeper. It’s a fantastic comedy, don’t get me wrong, but the closing third of the book is one of the sweetest things you’ll read all year. It’s a story about stories, and why when it comes down to it, they’re magical. I loved it.

The Strugatksy Brothers’ Roadside Picnic was reissued in a new translation this year and again I loved it. It’s the novel that inspired both the Tarkovsky movie and the Stalker series of computer games, and is unrelentingly bleak. Following Red, a Stalker or smuggler who breaks into areas where aliens visited Earth to extract alien tech for money, it’s difficult, bleak and absolutely essential reading.

Honorable Mentions: 2012 has been a great year for small press, with Anachron Press turning out fantastic novels, especially The Red Knight by KT Davies, and Fox Spirit launching with two fantastic anthologies, Tales from the Nun and Dragon and Weird Noir.

Websites:

Monkeybrain Comixology: http://www.comixology.com/Monkeybrain/comics-publisher/93-0

Amelia Cole Comixology: http://www.comixology.com/Amelia-Cole-and-the-Unknown-World/comics-series/8518

Kelly Sue Deconnick: http://kellysue.com/

Matt Fraction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Fraction

John Scalzi: http://whatever.scalzi.com/

Roadside Picnic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roadside_Picnic

Anachron Press: http://www.anachronpress.com/

Fox Spirit: http://www.foxspirit.co.uk/