Doctor Who, Season 8 – “Deep Breath”

I know it’s hard to believe, but we’re already half-way through the new season of Doctor Who. So I thought that it’s about time that I started posting a few brief opinions on each episode, hoping that I’ll be able to catch up before we get to the end of the season.

The season opener, Deep Breath, was a longer than usual 75-minute episode. It’s a typical regeneration debut story, much more about introducing the new Doctor than anything else, and, as such, it did that very well. Here are what I regarded as the plus and negative points:

The Good Stuff:
The most important thing first. I loved the new Doctor. Peter Capaldi is a fine actor, and I think he’s going to be excellent in the role. He’s totally different to the previous incarnation, and that’s how it should be. He’s a grumpy, sarcastic Scotsman (and very funny, in a totally different way to the manic Matt Smith), with a strong streak of “alienness”, which any good Doctor needs to offset his humanity. He pushed all the right buttons for me in his debut story, and I’m looking forward to watching him grow into the role.

I also really liked seeing Lady Vastra, Jenny and Strax again. I always enjoy the appearances of the Paternoster Gang, and I think that Strax is absolutely hilarious. Lots of humourous moments and good character scenes in this story.

The Bad Stuff:
The story itself was okay but wasn’t exactly amazing either. The plot was a bit on the thin side, and if you take out Peter Capaldi and the Paternoster Gang, the episode would barely have rated a C. Also, Steven Moffat’s seeming obsession with having the Doctor constantly revisit the Victorian era is starting to wear a bit thin, as much as I might like the Victorian era.

I also had a couple of major plot and character quibbles with this story:

Number One is Clara’s totally out of character reaction to the new Doctor. Yes, I know that Steven Moffat was using it as a strong dig at the type of fan who was reacting negatively to Matt Smith leaving, and all of the stupid, irrational hating on Peter Capaldi before they’d even seen him in the role. But it was a completely wrong reboot of Clara’s character. Any other companion reacting like this, yes, maybe, just maybe it might’ve been a bit more realistic, but not the Impossible Girl.

She’s met all of the Doctors, and a new one shouldn’t even phase her, older or not. Hell, she’s even been in an adventure with three different Doctors, Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt, in The Day of the Doctor, so she’s pretty familiar with regeneration and other Doctors. I know that some people are of the opinion that Clara doesn’t remember any of her other lives (or the Doctor’s she met), but I’m firmly in the “yes she does” camp. But even if she doesn’t, she would never, EVER have reacted in this way.

Her overly-negative, almost hysterical overreaction to the Peter Capaldi Doctor being “older” is also way out of character, and totally immature and unrealistic. She’s already met an older Doctor (Hurt), and got on really well with him. The Clara that we all know simply would NOT have behaved like this towards the new Doctor.

Number Two is a major plot/continuity cock-up by Moffat: the phone call from the Matt Smith Doctor on Trenzalore to Clara. He says to Clara that the time is getting close, and “it’s going to be a real whopper” (obviously referring to the upcoming regeneration). This scene was quite poignant and well-acted, until you actually stop and remember back to what happened at the end of The Time of the Doctor. The Doctor, as far as he was concerned for the ENTIRE episode, wasn’t going to regenerate. He was going to die.

That was the whole damned point of the story. He’d run out of regenerations, and, right up until the climax of the episode, when the Time Lords popped up and gave the Doctor a new cycle of regenerations (after Clara pleading with them, of course), he was resigned to meeting his end while fighting to save the people of Trenzalore from the Daleks. He didn’t know he was going to regenerate UNTIL IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. So Matt Smith’s Doctor wouldn’t/couldn’t have made that phone call to Clara. As beautiful and emotional as the scene undoubtedly was, it was also a stupid continuity error and very sloppy writing on Moffat’s part.

So overall, a couple of major issues, and a fairly average, unremarkable story. That said, there were quite a few nice character pieces, sad bits, and slices of humour. The performances of Lady Vastra, Strax and Jenny were excellent, as usual. And Peter Capaldi’s performance (which is, after all, the most important thing) as the new Doctor was A-rated. So Deep Breath was a success, both as a regeneration story and an introduction to the new Doctor.

Doctor Who Back on UK Television!

Like every other Doctor Who fan on the planet, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of the new season, and most of all the first full appearance of the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Now at last, Doctor Who returns to UK television tomorrow, Saturday, 23rd August, at 7.50pm, in a 75-minute feature-length episode.

The first episode of twelve in the new Season 8 (or Season 34, if you prefer to include the classic series, as I do), is Deep Breath. Here’s a list of the twelve episodes of the new season:

  1. Deep Breath
  2. Into the Dalek
  3. Robot of Sherwood
  4. Listen
  5. Time Heist
  6. The Caretaker
  7. Kill the Moon
  8. Mummy on the Orient Express
  9. Flatline
  10. In the Forest of the Night
  11. Dark Water
  12. Death in Heaven

The last two episodes are the two-part Season Finale. I’ve deliberately avoided giving any spoilers. Indeed, I’ve actively avoided encountering any spoilers myself, and I know absolutely nothing about the episodes other than their titles. I’ve become royally fed up, every single year, having each new season ruined by spoilers all over the internet, on TV and in the magazines, so this year it’s been me dodging any kind of spoilers as nimbly as I can. Fingers crossed I can make it to Saturday, and woe betide anyone who ruins things for me. :)

I’ve always been a huge fan of Matt Smith and his portrayal of the Doctor. Starting off as a relative unknown, he took to the role like a duck to water, and he has been, without a doubt, a huge success as the 11th Doctor. He brought us a zany, eccentric, manic, and often truly alien version of the Doctor that reminded me most of Tom Baker (on speed), which can never be a bad thing as far as I’m concerned, as TomDoc has always been my favourite Doctor of all.

By adopting some of the best elements of not only Tom Baker, but also other previous Doctors (there’s a lot of Patrick Troughton in there as well), combined with his own natural hi-energy craziness, Smith created a new persona which really appealed to me in a “he was born for the role” kind of way. I absolutely loved him, which came as a big surprise to me as I was really apprehensive back when he first took over from David Tennant. Even in the less notable episodes, he lights up the screen and he makes even the worst stories watchable, even if only to enjoy Smith doing his thing.

So Peter Capaldi has a lot to live up to, although I’m sure he’ll be more than up to the job. He’s an accomplished actor, and has been around for a long, long time. He’s also a lifetime Doctor Who fan, and has been since he was a young child. Or at least he was an obsessive fan of the classic series (I’ve no idea what he thinks of the new series), from the beginning with William Hartnell, right on through to the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. So this bodes well for the show, in my opinion.

I’m actually looking forward to this older, darker Doctor, and to seeing how he works with the current companion, Clara (Jenna Coleman). Roll on Saturday evening, 7.50pm!

Sci-Fi Film Marathon, Saturday 5th July-Sunday 6th July, 2014

I’ve said several times before that Sundays at our house have become a favourite of mine for sci-fi on TV and DVD, so much so that I’ve taken to referring to the day as “Sci-Fi Sunday”. Well, this weekend was no different, with the local UK Freeview television channels coming up with the goods yet again, airing some excellent sci-fi films over the weekend. The only unusual exception was Channel 5, which most weekends has at least one sci-fi film on, but not this time around (but lots of Disney stuff on today, for anyone who’s into that kinda thing).

The additional plus this weekend was that Saturday was almost as good as Sunday, for a change. This week it’s not just “Sci-Fi Sunday”, but an entire “Sci-Fi Weekend”, during which Film4 hosted no less than four classic sci-fi films, and Channel 4, ITV2 and BBC Three aired one each. Add to that the two sci-fi DVDs that I watched with my friends on Sunday night, and that amounts to quite a sci-fi marathon over two days.

Unfortunately the BBC channels, particularly the two big ones, BBC One and BBC Two, are very poor when it comes to airing any kind of sci-fi, preferring instead to aim for the lowest common denominator and concentrate on an unrelenting garbage diet of soaps, sport and reality TV. I think the BBC considers Doctor Who to be their absolute limit for sci-fi these days, and tough luck if we want anything else. When there’s no Doctor Who on the BBC channels, there’s very rarely any sci-fi at all. If it wasn’t for the news or documentaries, I wouldn’t watch BBC One or Two at all. The same for BBC Three. Aside from a couple of episodes of Doctor Who on Friday evenings, it’s complete crap.

Once again, Film4 was the undisputed champ, with two sci-fi films on Saturday, and two more on Sunday. Saturday afternoon started off well, with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). Then we did a bit of channel-hopping over to Channel 4 for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), and then it was back to Film4 again for some Arnie in Conan the Barbarian (1982). Sunday afternoon saw Film4 picking up where they left off on Saturday night, with The Phantom (1996), running straight into Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). The usual Sunday evening visitors started drifting in by that point, so once the Star Trek V film was over, we switched from TV to DVD, with the first part (of three) of the Sci-Fi Channel’s excellent Dune mini-series (2000).

Then it was back to the TV for another film. Given what I said earlier about the BBC channels being very bad for sci-fi, I almost died of shock when BBC Three actually aired Tron: Legacy (2010). This was followed soon after on ITV2 by The Matrix Reloaded (2003), the very good second film in the Matrix Trilogy. Finally, and taking us from late Sunday night into early Monday morning, it was another DVD, the much underrated fourth film in the Alien series, Alien: Resurrection (1997). I’ve heard many people whinge about how bad they think this film is. I disagree with them. I always enjoy it when it is re-run on TV.

I’m slinking off to bed now at just after 4am, exhausted, but very satisfied after two days of great sci-fi films. Here’s looking forward to next weekend! :)

Panic Moon May 2014

Panic Moon May 2014 cover

One of my favourite Doctor Who fanzines is Panic Moon, edited and published by the extra-talented and hard working Oliver Wake. Just hot off the presses (well, last month, so pretty recent) is the newest edition of Panic Moon, dated May 2014.

Now Panic Moon isn’t just one of those fairly common electronic fanzines. It’s a genuine, old-fashioned, paper and ink fanzine. But to add to it all, it isn’t a typical A5 or A4 fanzine. It’s a sexy, tiny little A6 zine, so cute and cuddly that you can just slip it in your pocket and take it anywhere with you. This may seem to be a pretty strange choice of size, but it works. This is definitely an attractive little zine.

And the quality of the contents are nothing to sneer at, either. As with previous issues of Panic Moon, the standard of the contents is very high, covering both classic Doctor Who and NuWho, and illustrated with some very nice original artwork. We also have articles and other bits ‘n’ pieces on the following:

  • An Unearthly Child
  • Marco Polo
  • The Time Meddler
  • The Savages
  • The Time of the Doctor
  • Doomsday
  • The Girl Who Waited
  • Doctor Who in Germany
  • missing episode animations
  • space opera in Doctor Who
  • the connection between The Daemons and Ghost Light
  • in praise of Carmen Munroe
  • Michael Grade
  • the Raston Warrior Robot
  • Tanya Lernov
  • the TARDIS doors
  • Planet of Giants
  • The Enemy of the World

That’s quite a lot to squeeze into a tiny little zine like this. But that’s Panic Moon all over – small and wholesome. For less than the price of a pint of beer (and that includes postage), you get a lovely little fanzine, with oodles of great reading. This is a real bargain, and all self-respecting Doctor Who fans should be supporting fanzines like this. Do yourselves a big favour and grab a copy, while it is still available.

For more information on the May 2014 edition of Panic Moon, head on over to the Panic Moon blog, where you’ll find pricing and ordering details.

Yet Another “Sci-Fi Sunday”

Sundays at our house have become a favourite of mine in recent months, so much so that I’ve taken to referring to the day as “Sci-Fi Sunday”. The reason for this is that the local UK television channels almost always air one or more sci-fi films in the late afternoon and evenings. Then, at night, my friends pay a visit and we always finish off Sundays by watching two, maybe three more sci-fi movies on DVD. Well, yesterday was no different.

Beginning with television, by hopping between two channels, Channel 4 and Channel 5, I managed to find three sci-fi films in a row. We started off with Barry Sonnenfeld’s fun 1999 steampunk western Wild Wild West, based on the rather strange 1960’s sci-fi TV series of the same name. It’s not exactly a masterpiece, but is definitely a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Next up was Simon Wells’s 2002 reimagining of George Pal’s classic 1960 film The Time Machine. I recall when I first watched this one that I wasn’t very impressed, and considered it a poor remake of the original. But I’ve mellowed over the years, and the film has definitely grown on me with each subsequent viewing.

Finally, we were treated to a real classic, George Lucas’s epic 1980 Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. As far as I’m concerned, this one was EASILY the best of the original Star Wars trilogy, by the proverbial country mile. I’ve seen it dozens of times, and I still enjoy it every single time.

That was it with the sci-fi films from the television channels, but there was still more to come, as the DVDs came out. The 1998 Alex Proyas-directed noir-sci-fi classic Dark City has always been a particular favourite of mine. It’s moody, atmospheric and simply gorgeous visually. I hadn’t seen it in quite a while, so it was an absolute pleasure to sit down to this one again. This film was probably the highlight of the evening for me.

Finally, to round off the night, we had the classic 2001 first film of Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. This one is a gorgeous Big Screen classic in every way. I really enjoyed all three films in the trilogy, which is the height of irony, as I absolutely hated the books (I dislike Tolkein and that particular brand of fantasy immensely). The films work for me visually, and distill everything that was good in the novels, while cutting out all the endless padding and rambling (in other words, most of the novels). I find it weird that I’ve always liked fantasy onscreen, but not in books. Very strange indeed.

That’s a few classic movies and many hours of fun movie-watching for one day (more than the rest of the week combined). Roll on the next “Sci-Fi Sunday”! :)

Some Sunday Evening Movies

Another quiet, relaxing Sunday afternoon/evening, sitting in, just watching sci-fi films on television and DVD. Sunday has become one of my favourite days for films. There’s almost always something good on for sci-fi fans on a Sunday.

I started off this afternoon watching two-in-a-row on Film4. The first was an “oldie-but-goody”, AT THE EARTH’S CORE, starring Peter Cushing, Doug McClure, and the absolutely gorgeous Caroline Munroe. Based on the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of the same name, the monsters and special effects might (definitely) look a bit hokey compared to modern movies, but it was fun, and not a mess of explosions, fighting and SFX without a story, which is a problem afflicting many modern sci-fi films.

This was followed by CONGO, the first Michael Crichton-based film that I’ve seen in a while that didn’t have dinosaurs in it (I’ve seen lots of re-runs of the various JURASSIC PARK films over the past few months). Not a bad film, even if carnivorous gorillas don’t seem to have quite the same attraction as lots of raptors or the compulsory Tyrannosaurus Rex. :)

Finally, on DVD, something a little more modern. I’m not usually a big fan of films based on computer or consoles games, but I gotta admit that I liked PACIFIC RIM. Firmly based in the Kaiju/giant monster vs giant robots genre, there are lots of great SFX and titanic fight scenes between the various kaijus and men in giant robot suits, but there’s also a half-decent story, which is a major plus. Another fun film.

Well, the sci-fi films are all done now, and the evening is almost over, so it’s back to Film4, and DIE HARD 2. All-in-all, a very good evening’s viewing.

UFO – The Last Four Episodes

Gerry Anderson’s UFO has always been one of my favourite telefantasy series. This past week, I’ve been indulging myself with a marathon session, watching all twenty-six episodes, spread over two box sets and eight DVDs.

Tonight, I’m sitting here with a couple of old friends, watching the final DVD, which contains the last four episodes of the series – Reflections in the Water, Timelash, Mindbender and The Long Sleep. These four episodes, the last three in particular, are among my favourites of the entire series.

Towards the end, UFO went down an increasingly psychedelic path, with more complex and interesting scripts, which I preferred to the earlier more linear and simplistic stories. Given how the series was developing, I’ve always thought that it was such a great pity that UFO didn’t get the green light for another season.

We’re almost at the end of The Long Sleep, and the end of the series itself. I’ve always thought that this one had a particularly sad ending, with the rather gruesome death of the girl and the obvious emotional impact that this had on Straker, who had become very fond of her.

But, then, UFO never did have happy endings anyway, in contrast to almost every other contemporary television series. And that’s possibly one of the things I liked most about it…

Andersonic Issue 17 Is Out Now

Andersonic #17

Several posts back, I mentioned that Issue 3 of the excellent Doctor Who fanzine Plaything of Sutekh had hit the stands. And now, what seems like barely five minutes later, Richard Farrell and His Merry Crew have also unleashed Andersonic #17 upon the unsuspecting world. I haven’t even had time to finish reading Plaything of Sutekh #3 yet!

In case you don’t know, Andersonic is our favourite fanzine dealing with all the various Gerry Anderson shows, both live and puppets (and let’s not forget the excellent CGI animated New Captain Scarlet series). And it’s also a real A5 printed zine, not an electronic publication, which is a huge plus in my book.

So what’s in the new issue? Well, I’ll just repeat here what it says on the website:

Sylvia Anderson interview – a new interview with Sylvia in which she discusses her work on the APF/Century 21 series and her creation & casting of such well-loved characters as Lady Penelope, Parker, the Angels and Ed Straker.

Alan Shubrook interview – Alan talks of his time working at Century 21 on series from Thunderbirds up to UFO. He discusses his methods, materials used and his favourite miniatures created for the series, as well as sharing behind the scenes anecdotes. The interview is illustrated with Alan’s own photographs taken at the studio.

Space 1999/ Siren Planet – a look at the original script written by Art Wallace which was later rewritten to become the series’ second episode ‘Matter of Life and Death’.

Thunderbirds/ Desperate Intruder – two writers take opposing views on a mid-season outing where Brains finds himself up to his neck in it.

UFO/ The Long Sleep – we curl up with a tube of Smarties and take a look at one of UFO’s weirder episodes. Take a trip with us back to that ruined farmhouse…

Home Taping: 1999 – Mark Rosney recalls the days before VHS

Strip Story – we look at an individual comic strip to see what makes it tick. This issue – Countdown’s UFO story ‘The Final Climb’ drawn by Jon Davis

…plus DVD reviews and other stuff. Internal art by Steve Kyte, cover image by Martin Bower.

I’ve just ordered my copy, so lots and lots of good stuff to look forward to. I love it all, particularly anything to do with UFO, Space:1999 and Countdown comic. :)

At only £2.65 (that’s British Pounds Sterling), inclusive of postage (within the UK, that is, check the website for postage elsewhere), it’s not even the price of a pint of beer. So why don’t you all scoot over to the Andersonic website and order a copy.

Sunday TV Viewing

I’m just having a nice, quiet Sunday afternoon here, chillin’, sitting at my computer and watching some TV. Sunday is always good for sci-fi films on UK television, and today has been no exception.

I’ve just spent the past few hours watching the movie adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (2007). I’ve got the novel and the graphic novel, but have only ever managed to catch bits ‘n’ pieces of the film before. Well, I caught it all today, and it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. Quite humorous in parts, and less mainstream fantasy than the likes of Lord of the Rings, which suits me fine.

The two leads, Claire Danes and Charlie Cox, as love interests Yvaine and Tristan, were pretty good, as was Mark Strong as the nasty bad guy Prince Septimus. But the best of the lot were Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil witch Lamia, and Robert de Niro as the hilariously camp Captain Shakespeare. He was brilliant, and absolutely stole the show for me.

At the moment, I’m watching The Incredible Hulk (2008) on ITV2, whilst right now, over on Channel 5, is the very weird Zathura (2005), by the same guys who brought us Jumanji (1995). And that will be followed when it finishes by The Fifth Element (1997). Non-stop sci-fi film goodness, on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Choices, choices. It’s a pity that there aren’t several of me, so that I could watch them all at the same time in different rooms. :)

Some New Books

Here are some new books that I’ve recently picked up from Ebay UK, Amazon UK, and from my regular supplier of comics and books in the US, genial Jack Curtin:

  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 19 edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF TIME TRAVEL SF edited by Mike Ashley (trade paperback)
  • HAWKMOON: THE HISTORY OF THE RUNESTAFF by Michael Moorcock (trade paperback)
  • INSIDE THE TARDIS – THE WORLDS OF DOCTOR WHO by James Chapman (trade paperback)
  • GREAT TALES OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg (hardback)
  • THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY 2013 edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • AFTER THE END: RECENT APOCALYPSES edited by Paula Guran (trade paperback)
  • WORLDS OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS edited by Mike Resnick and Robert T. Garcia (trade paperback)
  • MODERN GREATS OF SCIENCE FICTION – NINE NOVELLAS OF DISTINCTION edited by Jonathan Strahan (trade paperback)
  • RAGS & BONES: NEW TWISTS ON TIMELESS TALES edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt (hardback)
  • THE SECRET HISTORY OF MARVEL COMICS by Blake Bell and Dr. Michael J. Vassallo (oversized hardback)

That’s quite a nice haul, if I do say so myself. Interestingly, these are almost all fiction, mostly anthologies of short fiction. Out of the eleven books, nine are fiction, and eight of those are anthologies. The other (the Moorcock) is an omnibus of four novels.

Only two of the books are non-fiction, which is pretty unusual, given my buying habits in recent years, which has swung sharply towards more non-fiction. Maybe next time it’ll be mostly non-fiction.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on this, just to see whether it is a blip, or the start of a new trend swinging back towards buying more fiction.