DAREDEVIL

I’m always wary of big-budget, high-profile Hollywood blockbusters which come out in February or March. Aren’t they good enough to be trusted in the summer melee? Do the studios push them out when the cineplexes are jaded and still full of tired Christmas extravaganzas hoping that bored audiences will try a film they might not normally bother with out of sheer desperation? The last fews years have seen a number of potentially ‘big’ movies slipped out in the early part of the year ?LOST IN SPACE and HANNIBAL are two which spring immediately to mind ?which crash and burn when their creative inadequacies become common knowledge. So it is likely to be with DAREDEVIL, the strangest and most ill-advised superhero flick since SUPERMAN 4 ?THE QUEST FOR PEACE (ask your parents).

DAREDEVIL just doesn’t feel right. Whereas the amazing Spider-Man is a Marvel creat ]]>

THE NEW GODS

For adults of a certain age (no, don’t ask…I’d have to kill you. And then eat you) in the early to mid ’70s it was all about DOCTOR WHO and THE TOMORROW PEOPLE. DOCTOR WHO was still a huge success for the BBC so Thames TV enlisted Roger Damon Price to create what was generally perceived to be an ITV ‘rival’ to the Corporation’s famous show. Price came up with THE TOMORROW PEOPLE, ‘homo superior’, a bunch of kids with extraordinary super-abilities – and a minor TV legend was born.

Kids like me loved the show because it was in many ways the ultimate wish fulfilment series. These kids could teleport themselves anywhere in the world (or even the Galaxy), they could travel in time, they could communicate telepathically and they could move things about without even touching them. How cool was that? Some of us weren’t blind to the series faults though; the acting was largely dubious, the show’s budget led to some extremely ropey special effects and the stories were often excruciatingly naff. But we still loved the show because we loved the ideas. THE TOMORROW PEOPLE fizzled out in 1979 and, largely unmourned, it was quickly forgotten. There was a brief resurrection in the mid-1990s in the shape of a glossy filmed series but it was THE TOMORROW PEOPLE in name only and there were no connections to the original series apart from the weak stories and bad acting.

But now the original TOMORROW PEOPLE concept is back – albeit in audio only form – courtesy of Big Finish Productions, purveyors of new high-quality DOCTOR WHO adventures for the last 2 or 3 years. There’s probably a delicious irony somewhere in the fact that the fans of DOCTOR WHO are keeping not only the Time Lord’s flame alive but they’re also now responsible for breathing new life into the adventures of his greatest 1970s rival. But I’m not big on irony so I’ll move on.

THE TOMORROW PEOPLE really works on audio – in a way it works even better than DOCTOR WHO. It’s hard not to feel the spine tingle at the sound of Dudley Simpson’s haunting theme music, even without the accompanying images of the title sequence (which new TP Eleanor conveniently describes to new boy Paul in the first episode of ‘The New Gods’) and the stories themselves are warm, witty, imaginative and entirely within the style of the TV show, something which the DOCTOR WHO audios haven’t always managed to achieve.

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SCHERZO

“Im all you have in the world. We are all each other has.”

For starters, Scherzo was never going to be anything approaching bad. Its written by Rob Shearman, he of THE HOLY TERROR, THE CHIMES OF MIDNIGHT, JUBILEE and DEADLINE fame. Four DOCTOR WHO plays that typify Big Finish? output- the quality, the style of these plays will turn any audio naysayers into instant converts. With Scherzo, Shearman delivers another high quality script, different from his other works, but still great entertainment. After ZAGREUS, the anniversary shindig, this had to be low key- any other way would have been suicide. Where ZAGREUS had a universal canvas and epic scope, Scherzo is quite literally set in one place, through almost the whole play, with only two characters appearing. The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Charley (India Fisher) and no one else. Well, there is a sound creature that uses their voices- but it is essentially a two-hander play, like MASTER very much in the vein of a stage production. Few scene breaks, flowing dialogue. The action here does not keep the story going- the writing and the acting does. Things are moved along by Shearman? script and McGann and Fishers acting. The shock is it works. The premise of this tale never grabbed me, but the performances on offer here expand on the characters of the ?urrent?TARDIS team, and their feelings towards each other following the ? love you?speech in NEVERLAND and the subsequent fall out in ZAGREUS.

What? obvious from the off is that the joyous, life loving Eighth Doctor has seemingly lost his reason to keep going. He seems resigned to the fact that he? going to die in this new universe (see ZAGREUS) and therefore finds little joy in anything. He essentially ?ied?when the time station blew up in NEVERLAND. It seems that his melancholy comes from the fact he was resigned to loosing everything, but has instead gained a new life- one that he didn? necessarily want, or was prepared for. Charley on the other hand is surprised by the Doctors attitude, arguing its better to be alive whatever the conditions. The ?ove?the two share, their opinions and feelings are explored, vented, and added to in this play. Indeed, the actual joining of the pair in this story adds to the truth that Charley has got under the skin of this incarnation. What happens next, will be even more intriguingU

FOUR POINT FIVE OUT OF FIVE

NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO: THE McGANN SEASON CONTINUES WITH THE CREED OF THE KROMON!

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THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN

Some ideas look good on paper. Some go on to look good on film too. THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN may have been a wonderfully-inventive comic book series (I wouldn’t know) but I still think it’s a damned stupid idea. Sadly it’s also translated into a damned stupid film, a real road accident of a movie; you know you shouldn’t keep watching but you have to in case something even more terrible happens.

Turn of the century England (last century, that is). You know the score. Foggy London streets, ‘Cor Blimey’ London coppers with whistles, huge lumbering machines trundling through the streets smashing into the Bank of England and making off with national treasures? It’s a terrible threat to national security! A masked superbaddy named the Phantom wants to trigger off a world war by destroying Venice (apparently). Only a gang of heroes recruited from the ]]>

DOCTOR WHO: EPISODE 12 – BAD WOLF

WARNING SPOILERS

?ou Are The Weakest Link?/i>

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOCTOR WHO: EPISODE 1 ROSE – FIRST OPINION

The first episode was a mix of an introduction to the alien and ‘immortal’ nature of the Doctor, an introduction to his new companion Rose and an attempt to show the usual ‘Doctor saves London from Invasion’ that was so common during the 70’s.

Although the Eccleston Doctor was suitably alien, entertaining and full of potential the only thing to lack was familiarity, but this is the bane of all new actors to step into the character of the Doctor. I haven’t had time to re watch the episode but I am sure that with a couple of viewings behind me I will accept the Eccleston Doctor more.

Plot and presentation wise I must say that (after the first 10 minutes when we actually see the new Doctor) the pace is really fast ?maybe too fast as the whole episode feels that it should have been better as episodes 3 and 4 of a 4 parter in the shows original format.

The humorous elements were unnecessarily, funny and clich?(in that order) the main two that spring to mind is the Auton Dummy arm attacking the Doctor while Rose is still jabbering on oblivious and the ‘burping’ wheelie bin. But I must remember that the show is targeted (as it should be) at 8-12 year olds, with the cross appeal to the adult audience ?so I shouldn’t take it too seriously.

The character of Clive, found by Rose with an Internet search for ‘Doctor and Blue Box’, is a conspiracy nut who has a shed worth of Documents about this mysterious man called the Doctor ?with images across many years, has real potential to rejoin the show, something I would love to see.

Special effects were passable (again as they should be) with some of the CGI looking a little too much like CGI (if you get my drift). But the first band of Autons that we saw actually looked menacing!

I an really looking forward to more from the Eccleston Doctor and although mildly disappointed with the first installment I am confident that the show will get a lot better and flourish.]]>

JIHAD

?ands up meathead!?

Where WAR PLANET at times felt tired, JIHAD, the latest Dredd adventure, sticks out as the best audio since FIRE FROM HEAVEN. Writer James Swallow has the character of Dredd pinned down as well as an established comic book writer, and has crafted a script that, while not the most groundbreaking thing ever produced, does everything a decent action- audio needs to, while keeping Dredd? black humour and using it well. The regulars are good here. Toby Longworth contributes a room full of voices that show off his talent (Dredd is still the best character he plays though) and Teresa Gallagher brings the familiar air of frustrated authority that Chief Judge Hershey needs. The guest cast are good- even if their accents aren? all that?eter David-Gough is likeable as Aussie Judge Hogan, but his accent is terrible! The same goes for some of the other foreign delegates to the vital summit Mega City One is hosting.

The writer makes this different in that he puts in little things we wouldn? expect and cuts out the things we don? need to know, like where Jonah? (the villain) Cryo-capsule was before it enters the story- other writers would put that in, but its needless- Swallow leaves it out. To add to that, he has produced a script that runs over an hour- not something the Dredd? always do, despite the promise of 70mins on the CD sleeve (it actually says 60 on Jihad, so they?e realised!). Elements are glossed over here and there, but the link to the comic adventures is done fluidly and cleverly. This story doesn? really affect the Dredd world, but it fits in with 2000ad continuity- if such a thing worries you!

In all Jihad is a fun, well written romp that pushes all the right buttons- something Dredd tales haven? done for a few months. Unlike 99 CODE RED the comedy is kept to a sensible level, and unlike WAR PLANET Jihad is interesting and genuinely exciting- despite an awfully done final battle between Jonah and Dredd, its well done stuff.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE ]]>

THE GRUDGE

Aieee!! THE GRUDGE is bloody terrifying. I? a big tough bloke and I don? scare easily but this tense, sparse remake of the classic Japanese horror JU ON: THE GRUDGE had me leaping about in my seat and, if I? been on my own, very probably squealing like a girl when the scary stuff happens – which is frequently.

Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, finally earning her acting spurs on the big screen) is a na? young exchange student relocated to Japan with her boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr from the underrated cult TV series ROSWELL). Karen? a trainee care worker who becomes inextricably linked with something creepy and supernatural – quite literally a grudge which reaches out from beyond death – when she is assigned to look after a mad old woman living in a big creaking house. Something nasty? lurking in the house and, surprisingly early in the movie, it looks as if ]]>

BIG FISH

With the horribly impersonal mess that was PLANET OF THE APES (2001) director Tim Burton broke a chain of great movies that included classics the like of SLEEPY HOLLOW and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. POTA simply seemed like Burton had lost all the quirky zest and invention that had been so prevalent in his earlier works. It seemed like he was in a rut. Because of this, BIG FISH has much to prove. Coming out in a season where samurai battle and kings are just about done returning, the movie is not only a return to form for the talented auteur, but a refreshing change of pace from the films of late. It? an intimate movie, with locations and set pieces galore, but this is nothing like the epic fare currently doing the box office rounds. It does however share traits with THE LAST SAMURAI and THE RETURN OF THE KING. It? bloody good.

The basic plot revolves around the efforts of beleaguered son Will Bloom (an excellent B ]]>