DOCTOR WHO: THE TWO DOCTORS

Review By Paul Mount, 2.5 out of 5

1985. DOCTOR WHO is in trouble. But this time he’s not just bedevilled by Daleks and surrounded by Cybermen. No, he’s up against two terrible enemies which will prove to be the downfall of this most remarkable of television adventurers; viewer apathy and BBC disinterest. As this tired twenty-second season of DOCTOR WHO rolled around audiences had fallen (to a mere six million which ironically, by today’s standards, would be hailed as a great success and lead to an instant recommission for another season), the series had lost its ability to tell clever, thrilling stories (preferring instead to lose itself in its own long-forgotten history) and its likable new star Colin Baker had been lumbered with an unsympathetic characterisation and a dreadful pantomime costume. It’s hardly surprising that future production of the series was ‘suspended’ during the broadcast of ‘The Two Doctors’.

In truth, ‘The Two Doctors’ has precious little to recommend it. It’s a world away from the witty, inventive dramas the series had been pumping out just a few years earlier. The story, such as it is, involves sixth Doctor Baker embarking on a quest to save his former self (Troughton) who has been captured and imprisoned by rogue Sontarans who want to extract the vital Time Lord gene which makes the race capable of time travel. Throw in some augmented cannibals, sunny Spanish locations and dreary direction and you’re left withTothing of any real substance. Like the tedious overeating scenes featuring salivating Androgum Shockeye (Stratton)and the corrupted second Doc ‘The Two Doctors’ leaves its viewers hungry and unsatisfied, desperate for more fulfilling fare.

Desperate is a word which really sums up ‘The Two Doctors’. Teaming Baker with Troughton really does neither actor any favours. Baker, as the new TARDIS incumbent, is only a handful of stories into his tenure. Reminding viewers of a far superior predecessor effectively torpedoes any chances he has of winning over the show’s remaining audience and Troughton’s currency is diluted somewhat by the arbitrary and unnecessary nature of his reappearance. With ‘The Five Doctors’ fresh in audiences memories ‘The Two Doctors’ exists for no other reason than to get Troughton back on the screen. Admirable in itself, it robs ‘The Two Doctors’ of any sense of occasion; it’s just another story over-reliant on the programme’s own past. It’s another excuse for the general public to switch off because they’re not in on the joke and they really don’t remember much about the show’s history. They watch DOCTOR WHO to be entertained and excited. ‘The Two Doctors’ does neither.

For a show now so obsessed with its own continuity ‘The Two Doctors’ takes dreadful liberties with it. The script has Troughton acting as an agent for the Time Lords and happily wittering on about his own raceo bit rich considering all this backstory was only revealed in his last adventure ‘The War Games.’ It serves only as sloppy storytelling and takes away a little bit of the mystique of the Troughton era. The less said about the sixth Doctor’s violent and murderous tendencies in the story the better ?although I seem to recall this was a bit of a running theme throughout the year, one which lead a well-known Australian fan to dub the series ‘Doctor Hooligan’. Trite maybe, but difficult to argue with. The humanistic, generally pacifistic Doctor of earlier years has been replaced by a brash, gaudy, irritating boor quite happy to shoot people, toss them into pits of acid or, as in ‘The Two Doctors’ snuff their lives out with chlorophyll. The idea may have been to create an edgy, unpredictable character; in fact, it just makes him and his show unlikable and unpleasant to watch.

At three fifty-minute episodes, ‘The Two Doctors’ is long and uninvolving. Peter Moffatt’s direction is famously unsympathetic ?the hitherto-unrevealed bad guys the Sontarans (great villains ruined here by awful rubber masks and shouty performances) are exposed in a long shot ?and Robert Holmes, the show’s best writer, delivers a distinctly under-par script. The performances are flat and unenthusiastic, the special effects grim even by DOCTOR WHO standards. Unless you’re a completist, this is a release to avoid at all costs.

THE DISCS: Even the extras on this two-disc set are disappointing. The forty minute tribute to Robert Holmes is fun, lots of familiar and unfamiliar anecdotes recounted by professionals (rather than fans, which is a relief) serves to remind us how many of this great writer’s stories are already out on DVD and how much better than ‘The Two Doctors’ they all were. There’s too much boring studio and location footage and a nearly-unwatchable feature where Production Assistant Gary Downie wanders around Brighton beach reminiscing about location filming in Spain. Deadly dull, this isn’t even supported by production stills or drawings ?just more clips from the story we’ve just watched. Far more useful would have been a feature on the cancellation crisis which received plenty of media attention at the time and would have been a damn sight more interesting that Downie’s wistful memories. Even the commentary track can’t enliven the story; director Moffatt remembers little about the filming and Colin Baker’s not firing on all cylinders here. The track becomes irritating and unlistenable when Jacqueline ‘Darling!!’ Pearce turns up now and again. The most damning comment about the story itself is that the JIM’LL FIX IT extract ‘A Fix With the Sontarans’ is better than the story because it’s only eight minutes long and not one hundred and fifty. All in all, a shabby and disappointing release.

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION

Review By Liam O Brien, 4.5 out of 5 “Make it so”

With the airwaves seemingly clogged with endless science fiction dross nowadays (Andromeda I mean you) and the new Star Trek show Enterprise underperforming, perhaps its time to reaquante ourselves with an old friend. Star Trek has been around for a long time now, with the countless films and tv shows filling up its vaults, its hard to remember that this didn’t used to be the massive franchise it is now, but a smaller series that filled the evenings of many with science fiction that had the power to excite and enthrall- when Star Trek stories could still be original.

Star Trek: The Next Generation first appeared in 1987, and since then it’s seven seasons and four subsequent films have advanced the characters and kept up the quality. But few will remember the first season or even the poorer second, but they should, because even if the pace changed from season three onwards, the first season was Star Trek at its best- stripped down, simple and well written.

The pilot episode, Encounter At Farpoint does not need a lengthy and pointless spacedock launch, the USS Enterprise-D is in space and that’s what matters. Where is she? Going where no-one has gone before, not fighting wars (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) or attempting to get home (Star Trek: Voyager). This simplistic approach serves TNG well, as the episodes roll by, a new discovery, a new mystery.

The reason this show is so good comes down to solid characters with plenty of room for development, the lack of reliance of SFX (the visuals are pretty poor, the shots of the Enterprise are used over and over and over again each show) very good scripting, and new, fresh ideas that eclipse Kirk and co. The obvious masterstroke is the Holodeck, a device that over seven seasons gave us a chance to see our heroes in settings they would have otherwise never got too.

The characters are all interesting and complex. Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard frankly kicks Kirks doddery old ass, with a gravity and conviction that only a Shakespearean actor could add to the mix. Jonathan Frake’s Commander Riker is instantly likeable, and of course, Brent Spiners Data is simply the best science fiction character ever. The rest of the crew are instantly memorable, and its worth noting that this season is the only one with the legendary Tasha Yar on board as security chief.

The episodes, while some are duds, are on the whole excellent fare, ranging from the brilliant (Skin Of Evil, The Last Outpost, Lonely Among Us, Heart Of Glory) to the piss poor (Haven, The Big Goodbye).

The packaging and the extras are excellent. The featurettes with cast and crew and the Star Trek computer style menu are definite plusses. Overall a very nice set, if a little pricey, but well worth it.

ANY GOOD?: Ok so later seasons did more and went into even deeper territory, but this season was the set up for seven years and four films of Trekking bliss. The characters, the story’s and the superior scripting make this season well worth your cash. Its also worth noting that this season does not end with a cliffhanger ending, so this is a nicely contained 25 odd episodes. As Data would say- fascinating.

FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE

DER GOLEM

Review By Liam O brien, 3.5 out of 5

“The Golem! The Golem!”

Its nice to see the odd curio released on the shiny disc to add some substance to the dvd shelves at your local Virgin once in a while. DER GOLEM is one such little oddity, released only recently, fully remastered and cleared up for this digital age. A German film, released in 1920, DER GOLEM is the tale (based on a Jewish legend) of a Rabbi forced to breathe life into a clay creature (the golem) in order to save his people. Shot in black and white (but tinted in many instances, for example, the crimson of the burning Jewish ghetto) DER GOLEM is perhaps the original monster movie- FRANKENSTEIN Mk 1 if you will. The creature itself is played well by actor/director Paul Wegener- who had played the titular monster twice before elsewhere. Its imaginative, sumptuous looking stuff- the tinted pictures play like an enchanted story book- and that’s all this is, a ninety minute fairy tale, shot through with invention and an obvious love for the subject by director Wegener. The total absence of any spoken dialogue (I got my quote from the insert cards within the film) gives it a bizarre detached feel, the old film stock (showing its age despite restoration) gives DER GOLEM a dreamlike quality that films today struggle to match.

The story is in essence a parable about power, and how in the wrong hands it can be abused. The Golem is a suitably powerful presence, while its ultimate downfall is suitably tragic and subtle. There is little else that can be said about this strange little film- lavishly done, it draws you in and fills you with wonder. Its could be called dull by today’s standards- don’t go in looking for car chases and lashings of CGI. DER GOLEM is a potent reminder of the groundbreaking early stages of cinema, where it was more of an artform, not just a device through which one could make billions. Yes its dated, yes it is slow, but DER GOLEM is a simple story, well told.

THE DISC: A lovely menu, involving the rabbi opening a book of spells that leads to a spread of special features that’s better than I hoped for from a film that’s over 80 years old. Film historian R Dixon Smith provides an informative (if dry) audio essay on the film, while photo galleries, scene selections and dual language versions of the film complete a healthy, if not mind blowing package.

ANY GOOD?: Well worth a look, but it won’t be to everyone’s taste, with a leaden pace and little in the way of plot. It does, however, make a refreshing change from the tie in, franchise saturated world of 2003.

3.5 OUT OF FIVE.

VAMPIRE PRINCESS

Review By Dom Conlon, 2.5 out of 5

Don’t be fooled by its ’12’ rating, Vampire Princess is hardly the type of animated series to keep the kids quiet. It’s subject matter and depiction are all remarkably dark and brooding and even the action has a resigned air of inevitability about it that undermines any sense of victory or conquest. Having said that, it is still a welcome change to the increasing onslaught of extended toy adverts that are cynically being pumped out of many animation houses these days.

Vampire Princess centres around the stuggle of Miyu (the titular ‘heroine’) and her sole companion Larva as they work to eliminate a race of demons known as Shinma from the Earth. Thematically, Vampire Princess explores what it means to be human, the nature of evil (and the consequences of weakness or vulnerability), relationships and of course the staple diet of light versus dark. Like much anime, the series sets out on a deliberate story arc which at times overwhelm the requirement to entertain within a single story but which does promise real development and real rewards for the faithful viewer.

The series begins, naturally enough, with disc one and three half hour stories. It’s a slow start with very little in the way of action but much in the way of character development as we are introduced to Miyu and the schoolgirl world in which she resides. The pacing only becomes an issue at times when you hope for a little less atmopshere and more actual insight into Miyu’s life. For the most part, however, we are content to be lulled along with the stories.

For those more used to Western animation it may come as a surprise to experience a script which whilst at times clumsily translated, refuses to restrict itself to simplistic good/bad terms. Just as in the superb Spirited Away, the notion that anyone is purely good or purely evil is shied away from. Some of what is presented as evil is done so in a way that suggests reason rather than nature. Yet again and again it is more the promise of what Vampire Princess could have been rather than what it is that keeps you watching.

By no means a bubblegum movie, the violence is occasionally more extreme than one would expect though, as with all the action in the series, it is confined to short, sharp bursts in an otherwise sedentary pool of reflection. Demons being cut in two, speared and otherwise mistreated are depicted in true line trembling detail. Such scenes continue only so long as is needed to make the point that a creature is wounded or dead and so the term gratuitous never becomes an issue. On top of the general downbeat hopelessness however it takes on a certain grimness.

In later stories, we learn much more about how Miyu came to be where she is, doing what she does and there are some enjoyable stories (though mostly after the first disc). The development cycle begins eventually to bring out some real supernatural thrillers that work well at unsettling occasionally.

Yet when the titles finally roll and the compulsory theme tune sounds, the feeling of frustrated dissatisfaction hangs in the air. Typical of much of the anime produced around this period it hints at more than it delivers. Art is competant but rarely anything beyond the generic. Storylines are mostly a little half hearted as though the writer wasn’t quite comfortable with the structure. When a story breaks through this then it does so in style and evokes a sense of creepiness and depth that should have been seen as a constant. In the end though, it seems the theme of teenage alienation was taken too seriously.

Vampire Princess Miyu – Vol. 1 – Initiation
Vampire Princess Miyu – Vol. 2
Vampire Princess Miyu – Vol. 3 – Illusion
Vampire Princess Miyu – Vol. 4
Vampire Princess Miyu – Vol. 5

RED DWARF 2

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 >

With the last few series having been distinctly lacklustre it’s easy to forget just how good the original three or four years of RED DWARF actually were. With perilously low budgets, the focus of the writing was on the characters and their interpersonal relationships. It was only later that the money increased ?the first signs of increasing BBC confidence are on show in Season Two with more effects work and some outside filming ?and the series lost its edge and became another high-concept science-fiction series with a few lame jokes thrown in for good measure. Early RED DWARF, like the very best British sitcoms, was about disparate people locked up together in a love-hate relationship, sniping at each other, battling to get the upper hand but ultimately relying on one another more than any of them would care to admit. RED DWARF isn’t really so far removed from the likes of STEPTOE AND SON with the cheesy Lister (Charles) acting as the lowlife anchor figure dragging down the ambitious Rimmer (Barrie) whose own character deficiencies get in the way of his dreams ?as well as the fact that he’s dead and actually only exists in hologram form, of course.

RED DWARF 2, impressively presented over 2 DVDs by those nice people at the BBC, sees the first flourishes of the unfettered imaginations of series creators Grant and Naylor. The Dwarfers leave the confines of their ship for the first time and the six episodes explore some hoary old SF clich??virtual reality games, alternative dimensions, computer overintelligence ?and balance them nicely with genuinely funny dialogue and interesting situations. The whole look of the show is much improved from the rather drab, grey first season. Barrie and Charles have clearly settled into their roles, John-Jules is the perfect support as the fashion-conscious Cat and Norman Lovett is by turns dry and knowing as Holly, the ship’s omniscient (but rather dim) computer. The android Kryten, later to somewhat dominate the series when portrayed by Robert Llewellyn, makes his first appearance here and it’s easy to forget how good David Ross was in the role. Six quality episodes then, probably about the best of the Dwarf in terms of both story and genuine comedy.

THE DISCS: A nice quality image is balanced by a slew of impressive extras. The cast have a raucous time commentating on the episodes, there’s an A-Z of the series (first shown on BBC2’s RED DWARF night a while back), some deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, raw FX footage, the full-length version of ‘Tongue Tied’ the song which opens the last episode of the second series, a revealing interview with Doug Naylor and an Easter Egg so well hidden I can’t find it. Well worth your money and that neat spine design suggests that if you buy one you’re pretty much obligated to buy ’em all.

DOG SOLDIERS

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 At last! The film which gave the moribund British film industry a much needed punt up the posterior finally arrives on R2 disc, months after it’s appearance in R1. And for once we Brits get a better deal with a much more satisfying collection of extras than the earlier addition. Hurrah!

DOG SOLDIERS, Neil Marshall’s inventive new look at the werewolf myth, exploded into British cinemas like a breath of fetid air last year, blowing away all the crinoline and big trousers of our period dramas and sidelining that nice Hugh Grant (if only temporarily). Like 28 DAYS LATER, DOG SOLDIERS took a skewed new look at an old idea and did it with gusto.

It’s the Scottish Highlands (well, it’s really Luxembourg but that’s the magic of the movies for you) and a group of British squaddies are off on special training manoeuvres. Imagine their surprise when they stumble across the mangled remains of a previous Special Operations Unit. Imagine their terror when they’re attacked by a bunch of wandering werewolves. Fleeing from the carnage the squaddies fall in with passing local Megan and together they take refuge in an old farmhouse and take arms against the werewolves who are trying to get in. Much screaming and shooting ensures and there’s a fair amount of intestinal spillage too. Yum.

DOG SOLDIERS is a loud, audacious film and, whilst there’s little original in either content or execution, it’s also a refreshingly enjoyable experience. Marshall’s script bounces along and there are plenty of genuine jump-in-your-seat moments and loads of swearing from Granny to grumble about. The shoestring special effects are quite refreshing and the tone of the piece stays on the right side of kitsch without ever toppling into screaming parody. All in all, a surprisingly successful British horror film. Who’d have thought I’d ever write those words again?

THE DISC: Plenty of darkness to challenge your player but the disc is well up to it. Bags of extras including a raucous beery commentary from Pertwee, McKidd and Marshall, an alternative drier commentary (from the R1 disc) by the Producers, some deleted scenes (rightly deleted) and a humour-free gag reel, trailers, Making of feature and ‘Combat’, Marshall’s first attempt at film-making. It’s a sensibly-priced disc (even cheaper if you surf a bit) and a nice addition to any collection.]]>

MILLENIUM

Review By Liam O Brien, 3 out of 5 MILLENIUM When you sit at home waiting for STAR WARS to come out on dvd, its nice to know that even though there are some big movies yet to see the light of dvd, the odd one slips through that you have never heard of but is actually quite good. MILLENIUM is one such film- I for one had never heard of it, but its solid enough stuff to warrant a look. The basic idea is this- in the year 3,000 the human race has messed up the planet quite comprehensively- the poor atmosphere has rendered them sterile. They have however an ace up their collective sleeves- using time travel gear, nip back in time to the late 80?, and pick up some people who were meant to die in say, a plane crash (as in the movie) bring them to the year 3,000 (which thank god, contains not a hint of Busted) get them to procreate and save the species. Until it all goes pair shaped- a stunner is dropped by a time traveller on a plain due to crash. The gun is left in the ?ast?and subsequently found by crash investigator Kris Kristofferson. Thus begins a chain of events that could have serious consequences for the future of the human race.

Split into two distinct halves, MILLENIUM is a clever little genre picture. The first half almost totally focuses on the efforts of Kristofferson to uncover what really happened on the ill-fated plane. The second half belongs to Cheryl Ladd (who?!) a woman from the year 3,000 trying to sort things out after the stunner fiasco. The film not only changes focus, but slips back in time to give the story from both characters point of view. Its undeniably clever and makes sense. The script makes sure things never get muddled, moving plot and character along well.

The world of the year 3,000 is pretty grim and dark- it looks like the future, eighties style. Add to this the bizarre characters that fill this future world (and their haircuts) its all a bit retro. But the script, direction and (generally) casting hold up well. If the d?uement is a tad ambiguous then it just adds to the films appeal. MILLENIUM is the rare time travel movie that actually thinks things through and ensures that it all makes sense. The fact I had never heard of it only meant I went in with no expectations and came out smiling, MILLENIUM is a solid little film- if your stuck for anything else to do, you could do a lot worse than spend 90 minutes in its company.

THE DISC: No extras to speak of, but the picture and sound are both crisp with not a hint of grain. THREE OUT OF FIVE