Castle of Fear

Don’t let the title fool you, Castle of Fear is rum and raisin and it’s heavy on the rum. If some strange intergalactic anomaly ever caused Doctor who and Monty python to be crossed this would be the outcome. Heck the Holy Grail even gets a name check; as does the Python staples of Knights with OUTRAGOUS French accents. Scenes have not so much been stolen as given homage and while it may cause you to check the box cover to ensure its Doctor Who it’s a lot of fun. I got a lot of strange looks for laughing loudly in a crowded train when I heard the rather cheesy Blacksmith joke but I dare you all not to laugh when you hear it; you’ll know which one.

It took me a while to realise that Casle of Fear was this flavour. It takes until episode 2 before you can be sure as it does tend to veer a bit in tone. The opening is brilliant and catches you off guard; the ending is truly shocking. And there are some nice who staples; multiple time zones playing off each other in what I think is a unique and interesting way ( I’ll probably be corrected about this)

The Baddie is a named who villain. I’m not going to spoil it but it’s not a major league player but it was a nice return. The only minor grip is that its voice makes you think of another villain. Not the production teams fault. It has a very distinct on screen look which helps the voice seem different on TV and the audio doesn’t have this advantage. The threat is also nicely integrated into established who lore.

What is it about then? Well it’s hard to give to much away but it’s a historical. We’re drawn into the story of Hubert, The new Earl of Mummerset, trying to regain his Castle. With his Turkish aid he may at first seem a bit Robin Hood but that doesn’t last for long; Hood only had to deal with an evil sheriff. Hugo finds he needs to evict a bunch of Demons from his Castle. While this is going on the Doctor and Nyssa are hundreds of years away, enjoying a traditional Stockbridge Christmas play. But when the Dragon slays St George it’s only a matter of time before they have to cross Hugo’s path…

The music does a good job of setting the scene and the sound work is excellent. The actors certainly enjoy themselves and while some of the support performances are a bit OTT it works rather well. It’s also a nice touch that we have the same actors playing their characters descendants over time zones. This works really well as the story comes to a close. Davidson and Sutton work really well together. Nyssa works much better as a companion when she’s one on one with the Doctor and its nice to see both of them giving top notch performances; even as the tone of the story jumps around. When the danger is there the sense of fear and urgency is conveyed very well but both of them are happy to go with the flow when things turn comical. Nyssa also shows she’s not just a Damsel in distress and is very proactive in the resolution.

This is the most fun I’ve had listening to an audio in a long time. While I normally enjoy them I had a constant smile listening to this tale. It may not be for everyone; its Monty Python trappings could annoy people wanting a more serious tale. But this story has a lot going for it and while it’s light in tone the ending certainly isn’t and should catch you off guard.

A recommended 8/10

Castle of fear is available at Big Finish in CD and downloadble format

CAPRICA: A Review

 

It also focussed itself on a younger audience, with its protagonists – and indeed antagonists – being a lot younger than the parent show.

Caprica is gorgeous though, although perhaps a little harder to engage with for those who are looking for guns and ships and battles. Again, it uses the terrorist allegory – sometimes not very subtly – to look at the devil in the detail and how disparate people are thrown together and create a destiny they can’t escape from. Knowing how it all turns out gives the characters a sense of destiny which is both intriguing and tinged with melancholy.

The cast is uniformly excellent, from big named Eric Stoltz, a surprising piece of casting as Daniel Graystone, the creator of the Cylons and Esai Morales as Joseph Adama, father of BSG William, cast as much for his craggy similarity to Edward James Olmos as his stillness and dignity in execution. As the families fracture due to circumstances they cannot stop, it’s an intriguing conceit and one which justifies a detailed watch.

 

The tagline is “The future of humanity begins with a choice” and it’s great to see how that choice will shape a future we’ve all seen.

Blue Forgotten Planet Review

doctor-who-blue-forgotten-planet-295x300The Sixth Doctor and Charley arc is rounded off beautifully in this the final part of the departure trilogy, Nick Briggs witting has always been packed with detailed action but also the emotional roller coasters that come with it, this being best demonstrated in his Dalek Empire series. Blue Forgotten planet is no different. There at times when you could cut the atmosphere he has created with a knife, and if the final scene doesn’t make you cry at the very end I’d be very surprised.

The Vyrans make their welcome return since Patient Zero and further expand on this interesting race. Whilst motivations of their actions are not discussed the listener is shown a truly alien ethos in the dedication of the Vyrans objection but also their own particular understanding of morality an judgment.

The musical score in this play really makes it feel like a Blockbuster and the action equally so. In fact it is this reviewers opinion that Colin Baker has never reached such a high standard as this before. Working with India Fisher has given a fresh approach to the sixth Doctor and has certainly given a spark to Bakers acting, one which I hope he is able to maintain.
Absolutely wonderful.

The best big finish this year, 10/10

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

 

It follows the plight of another Battlestar – the Pegasus – up to the end of what becomes Season Three, and focusses on its crew and Commanding Officer Helena Cain, played by Star Trek‘s Michelle Forbes.

Cain is a far different commander to Adama, and her decisions and lust for power spiral out of control, particularly when they rejoin the Fleet. A mixture of power politics, a study in meglomania and a below decks biog, Razor is another interesting aside to the main series and for completists a must. It does nothing wrong, and is as gorgeous and clever as everything else with a BSG label.

 

If I were to criticise it it would be that it perhaps imitates rather than innovates, echoing some Star Trek The Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager plots, but that’s really me being churlish. Michelle Forbes is a surprising and clever choice as Cain – another name from the past which has nothing to do with their predecessor – and she pulls off this complicated and ultimately doomed character with aplomb.

Like The Plan it shows the ship yards being attacked, and perhaps, for this alone, it’s worth it’s purchase price.

Battlestar Galactica: A Series Review

 

Some of the most iconic characters from the original series were virtually unrecognisable, none more so that Starbuck, changed from the Dirk Benedict vehicle of the original to the damaged, tortured, fallible, and, perhaps most shocking of all, female Captain Kara Thrace, played by Katee Sackoff. This had Galacticans both intrigued and outraged in equal measures.

The series, particularly the mini series, isn’t a viewer friendly watch. Camera angles swipe and twirl, the Star Wars-esque dog fights gained call signs and machine guns more reminiscent of CAG or Top Gun and the whole thing became an allegory for terrorism and the alien within.

The vast role call of characters were treated with equality – this wasn’t a triumvirate lead Star Trek series, and it wasn’t a Leading Man series, despite Miami Vice‘s Edward James Olmos’s Admiral William Adama giving an intense, understated and powerful performance as the military Battlestar leader. The series was at once action adventure, at once human story, at once religious allegory, at once soap opera and it drove each of the disparate parts in a terrifying and surprising directions.

Each season had different emphasis, and each brought different aspects and layers to all of the characters. Some, like Saul Tigh and Galen Tyrol grew as the series evolved. Others, like Felix Gaeta made terrible and unback-outable decisions and, indeed, received injuries of war which never healed.

 

In the final seasons, the emphasis of the alien amongst us was ramped up when it turned out that five of the main characters were indeed Cylons, the enemy who had destroyed virtually all of humanity, and seeing much loved and rooted for characters struggling with their duality was a joy to behold.

Gaius Baltar, played by James Callis, was another who shared nothing with his predecessor other than the surname, and gave us a flawed and often fallible character with a God-complex who was, at times, utterly insane.

All in all, Galactica did have some faults – filler episodes haunted some sections of seasons unnecessarily, odd plot deviced – fat Apollo, for instance – seemed to have no logic and the denouement was a downbeat and head scratching affair after all we’d invested in it – but on the whole the series was a sparkling jewel and a new and innovative way to look at sci fi. It took the Star Trek model – Wagon Train To The Stars – and showed them how to do it.

So say we all!

 

Battlestar Galactica The Plan: Review

 

There are lots of gaps in the series when multiple stories happen simulataneously, and not all the questions were answered in the finale of BSG. This goes some way to explaining at least some of these, and director and star Edward James Olmos manages to weave established footage with newly shot scenes in an elaborate web which gives an entirely different look on the whole series you think you know.

Star of this is Quantum Leap‘s Dean Stockwell playing, as ever Cylon John Cavil, in particular two different versions, one who singularly plotted and wants the complete destruction of humanity and another who – perhaps – sees the error of his ways. His performance is fabulous, subtley changing very little between the various Cavils but enough to allow us to see a shift, a shift which would eventually spread to the whole Cylon race.

 

Joining him it seems is the whole cast from the entire series, but this isn’t the case. Clever editing, CGI and splicing allows Olmos to slot in old scenes in the style of DS9’s Trials and Tribbleations with new shots and it’s a clever conceit which gives us a different angle to things we already knew and also allows us to see scenes we;ve only heard of in the past, like, for instance, the “mysterious stranger” who saved Ellen Tigh on Caprica.

The cast who do return slip perfectly back into their roles effortlessly and it’s a little bittersweet knowing that now this series has ended there’s no returning to these characters.

 

If I was to criticise it at all I’d suggest The Plan is a little elitist. You have to be a serious Galactican to get all the references, nods and continuity, but if you have followed the series completely and know what’s going on, this is a great extra and “joining the dots” which will have you salivating for more.

Ashes to Ashes Finale Review

The final episode of Ashes to Ashes isn’t just that. It’s the end of a saga which began away back when Sam Tyler woke up in the 70s in Life On Mars, so there’s a lot hanging on the episode. There are questions everyone wants answered – who is Gene Hunt? Where is Alex Drake? What is Jim Keats up to? Do we get the answer to these questions? Well, yes. The finale of Ashes to Ashes will have some kicking themselves, some smugly nodding and saying “see! I told you!” and some scratching their heads.

Above all else though, this is a typically split story of the case-of-the-week and the Ashes mythos, but as the episode continues it becomes apparent that these aren’t necessarily two different things. “We’re coppers,” Drake reminds Hunt, “This is what we do.”

It begins in filmatic style. No title music, no intro “My names Alex Drake…” stuff, but straight to it, with the team investigating a gangland slaying. This is very Sweeney, and leads them to diamond smugglers and Dutch (or Hollandaise as Ray puts it) gangsters. It’s a high profile case which Gene, in his customarily friendly racist way invites Interpol to get involved in.

But this case ends up being the charge of Ray with Chris and Shaz as Alex is distracted by images of a shallow grave in an abandoned farm in Yorkshire, so much so that she has to go there. Closely followed, unbeknown to her, by Gene.

As Ray takes centre stage in a daring sting operation, Keats scuttles around in his usual Dionysian manner, whispering into their ears and, more importantly, leaving them their bespoke videos to watch. He also completes his report on Gene, a large box with a very significant something in it.

Keeley Hawes is fabulous in this episode as an every despairing Alex, and her revelation of who exactly is in the shallow grave, as well as her final fate, is heartbreaking. Dean Andrews, Marshall Lancaster and Montserrat Lombard manage to hold centre stage too in their scenes as each discovers who and what they are in terrifying and soul destroying videos, and have a shared “Life on Mars” moment as the revelations sink home.

Daniel Mays Jim Keats finally gets to reveal his true colours when Gene confesses all to a heartbroken Alex, and he is terrifying. Slick, convincing and friendly but also unhinged, desperate and hungry. His collapse into a feral state in the denouement is very creepy. His scene at the elevator echoes many a great horror movie. Red, those elevators are…

But the episode belongs to Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt, who conveys all the foibles and flaws of Hunt along side the brave stoicity (is that a word?) that his character fully deserves. His reason for being there too is heartbreaking and Glenister managed to convey this with only his eyes as Hunt’s stone scowl barely moves. His acting though when he pulls a gun on Alex at the graveside “Tell me it’s not Sam, Guv,” she pleads, is fabulous. A man lost. And found.

And so to what’s exactly been going on in Ashes To Ashes. Who is Gene Hunt? Do we find out? Yep. And where they are, and who they ALL are. Do they turn their back on the Guv? Well, yes they do, for a while, but Ray says it all as they stand outside the Railway Arms with a familiar face beckoning them – all – in “You’ll always be the Guv to me,” he says. “You’re in danger of getting gay on me, Raymondo,” Hunt replies.

That’s all I’m saying. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who’s read down to even here. If you WANT to know what’s going on, then PM me, I’ll tell you. It really is a very satisfying although very heartbreaking finale and a fitting end to the universe. Fire up the Quattro? Well, in this episode, they do just that. Sort of.

I for one am going to miss Gene Hunt, but when the strange man bursts into his office at the end shouting about offices and iPhones, the look on Gene’s face says it all. He puts down the Mercedes manual and opens his door. “Oi, mush,” he barks. “A word in your shell-like”.

Fire up the Mercedes, perhaps?

Amy’s Choice Reviewed

This is a difficult episode to review without giving away the nature of the Dream Lord and his beef with the Doctor and seeing as how that is really the crutch of the story I’ll try my hardest to circumnavigate that particular spoiler.

The basic story is straightforward enough. Caught in the Dream Lord’s malicious machinations, the Doctor, Amy and Rory are given two realities – on the TARDIS which we all know, but a TARDIS without power, slowly tumbling into a freezing ice star, and one set five years in the future where Amy and Rory are married, Amy is pregnant and Rory is the local doctor. Rory’s dream, it seems. But the old folk in the village – described as Upper Leadworth – are not all they seem to be, and when the Doctor turns up things start getting a bit murderous. So, Amy’s choice is simple. Which is real? Choose the wrong dream, and everyone dies.

When the writers for this season were announced, both Simon Nye and Richard Curtis certainly raised some eyebrows. For my own personal taste, I was less concerned with Simon Nye’s commission, and, for what it’s worth, I’m pleased with what he’s come up with. Full of sparky and punchy dialogue, he really has got a handle on the characters and after the flash bang of Flesh and Stone and the romp of Vampires of Venice, this really is a character piece. The physical threat – zombie-esque old folks – sounds funny and is, but is also reasonably creepy, although the sight of an old timer limping over a field with a zimmer isn’t the greatest scene ever to have graced the series. In the other “reality” the slowly freezing TARDIS is as good as anything in the series, and the set slowly filling with frost and ice is wonderfully evocative. But for Nye, these are incidentals, because his script is specifically designed to magnify and concentrate on the three characters.

Toby Jones as the Dream Lord is very good, and effortlessly strolls through the episode like a pint sized Fred Kreuger, but with cutting reposts rather than cutting talons. His observations on the Doctor and his association with companions and just about everything else is a brave move as it highlights the frailities of the character and the concept, and it echoes both the Master and Davros’s criticisms of the character too. It’s safe to say that these words by his greatest enemies really do get under his skin.

Arthur Darvill as Rory again excels in a role which is slightly more Mickey than Vampires of Venice would have suggested the concept was going, but he is likeable, bumbling and brave. He also is a little desperate and defeated here, which is endearing. A big fan spoiler may have been negated in this episode too.

Amy takes centre stage to an extent here, but that’s fine after a few weeks of the Doctor being “da man” and Karen Gillan manages again to balance that feisty independence with an absolute need for the Doctor and to be the traditional companion. I still disagree that she is like no other companion ever before – I could see Rose, Martha and Donna all behaving the same in this story, and even characters like Jo or Tegan would have reacted similarly, but it doesn’t stop Amy being engaging and personable.

Matt again is a firecracker, and the first few moments, echoing Vampires of Venice, is a comedy tour de force. Whilst snippets of comedy are good in Who, it is nice to see the story, and maybe more importantly the Doctor, taking a darker turn and his own self doubts and inner turmoil, so keenly devoured by David Tennant, are again brought to the fore here. Matt is a much more introvert actor than David, who as a classically trained thesp is all about projection. Matt brings a subversion to the performance. It’s all about the eyes. In very Doctor style, he works out who the enemy is really quickly and keeps it to himself, but still has trouble figuring out how to deal with it. In the end, his leap of faith with Amy is poignant and very subtle. Matt goes from brave to gawky to awkward to heroic in this episode. There are some lovely turns. Discovering who the enemy is and the doubts that enemy has put in his mind will resonate in Whovian memory and we, as big time fans, will read a lot into his expression, considering that this could be a portent of the future as well as a ghost from the past. Something the Doctor’s been suppressing for a number of years. Matt doesn’t do menacing as well as David, but he does the rest with aplomb.

Catherine Morshead does a great job distinguishing the two realities with some nice sweeps and tints and the final scene really sparkles cinematography-wise. She also has a number of clever edits which in themselves create great comedy or drama. And, at last, we get to spend some time in the TARDIS – and it is shot beautifully. We’re still not really getting to see much more of it though. Not even the wardrobe, which could easily have featured. There is another mention of the swimming pool though.

Simon Nye has said he doesn’t think Steven Moffat will let him loose on the show again. Surprisingly, I think this would be a shame. He’s created an episode which is both fantastical and follows the fairytale elements of the series (no Arc references this week though) but also has a nice solid sci-fi idea. He also nails each character. At times the episode has the feel of a Doctor Who Magazine comic strip in its vibrancy. I’d definitely like to see Nye write again.

American Series Release

A couple of recent releases from UNIVERSAL include:

Psyche: Series Two

This is one of those series which is bubbling away nicely in America but has made little impact here. Starring James Roday and Dule Hill, it concerns the antics of a pair of friends working for the police one of whom turns out to be actually psychic. Well, at least someone who has “advanced observational skills”.

Soaring away into Series Five stateside, this DVD brings us Series Two, and begins with a funny Tim Curry guest starring episode aping American Idol in which is caustic Cowell-alike is targeted by a hitman.

The whole series is a genre twist on the Buddy Movie and action comedy series like Moonlighting, and is a fun, inoffensive way to spend an hour. Episodes are very pop-culture heavy, some of which will be lost on a British audience, but the whole thing works well with the psychic version of CSI and very personable stars.

Well worth catching.

Warehouse 13: Series One

Warehouse 13 is the latest FBI-investigate-the-paranormal grandchild of The X Files, and a pretty competent one it is too.

Starring Joanne Kelly and Eddie McClintock  as the Mulder and Scullyesque Bering and Lattimer they are charged by a secret organisation to retrieve missing mystical and supernatural objects for the epitomous Warehouse 13 and also to try and discover new ones, leading them into some hit-and-miss adventures along the way.

Not as dark as The X Files, and with echoes of Indiana Jones it is again a fine example of the science fiction TV which would be even better if it wasn’t so easily identifiable as derivitive. There is a great cast though, with some intriguing back stories, and a well thought out mythos and world with many recurring characters. Recently airing in America is series two, which is no mean feat these days.

Another series worth a look at, even though McClintock does look a bit like Chico!

A Legend Reborn Audiobook Reviewed

…and this is exactly what it is. A series of interviews, clips, news reports and reportage gathered from various BBC broadcasts with linking narration from Elisabeth Sladen and written by Andrew Pixley, so we know the facts are accurate.

This was another audio I listened to days after David had left, and again it’s very bitter sweet, as it contains quite a lot of his early appearances, and shows what a love and enthusiasm he has for the show, making his final words in the series all the more sad.

It’s interesting too to hear Freema and Chris Eccleston being cagey about storylines we’re all familiar with now, and perhaps too it’s good to hear Eccleston enthusing about the programme in a way a lot of people seem to have forgotten – he was very, very into it.

This is a handy little pocket sized collection for the purists and a nice archive for anyone who liked to follow this kind of thing. As a child I would audio-tape Blue Peter and Swap Shop when ever a Doctor was on it, and it invariably ended up with my Nana asking if I wanted soup or my dad asking when the football started, and this is the twenty first century equivalent to that.

You lucky, lucky people.

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