Doctor Who Series 10: Episode 1 – “The Pilot”

Earlier this evening saw the welcome return of Doctor Who to our TV screens after a prolonged absense, when the first episode of Series 10, “The Pilot”, aired on BBC1 at 7.20pm.

This is the beginning of not only Peter Capaldi’s final series as the Doctor, but Steven Moffat’s final series as showrunner. We’re also introduced to the new companion, Bill Potts, a “canteen lady” at a university, who has, for some reason unknown to her, somehow been called up for an interview with one of the university’s most prestigious and popular professors, who just happens to be the Doctor, ably assisted by his rather strange companion, Nardole. After her interview at the Doctor’s office, he becomes her “tutor”.

Much of the episode focuses on Bill and her personal life (she may not be the first openly gay companion in the series – that honour goes to Captain Jack Harkness – but she is certainly the first gay, black, female companion). She starts a relationship with a student called Heather, but things immediately take a turn into the twilight zone when Heather shows Bill a weird puddle, which gives “wrong” reflections of the people who look into it.

The puddle is actually an alien “space oil” entity that eats/absorbs Heather and proceeds to chase after Bill in a watery form that mimicks Heather. First to Bill’s flat, then to the Doctor’s office, where Bill, the Doctor and Nardole are forced into the TARDIS, which jumps first to some kind of locked, guarded vault (which I reckon we’ll see a lot more of later in Series 10). Then it’s to the other side of the world, to Australia (where the Doctor has to explain about himself to Bill). The Heather-water thingy follows them there.

Next the TARDIS travels to a planet on the other side of the universe, twenty-three million years in the future. The Heather-entity finds them even there. The damned thing can time travel. It can go anywhere that the TARDIS can go. Finally, the TARDIS lands in the middle of one of the greatest space battles in all of time and space, between the Daleks and Movellans. The Heather-entity follows them there as well. Bill, against the wishes of the Doctor, decides to confront her pursuer, and realizing that the Heather-entity is only following her because of the promise that Heather had made to Bill that “she would never leave her”, Bill releases Heather from the vow, and the entity just melts away and vanishes. It hadn’t been following Bill to harm her, but to invite her to join it (unfortunately she would’ve ceased to exist as a human, just as Heather had). The TARDIS returns to the Doctor’s office, where he tries to wipe Bill’s memory, but she refuses to let him, and leaves, only to meet him waiting outside with the TARDIS, inviting her to join him.

Overall, I quite liked “The Pilot”. It wasn’t Earth-shatteringly brilliant, but it was a pretty decent story, and although quite subdued and relatively low-key, it served as a good introductory episode for the new companion. It was a nice “character” episode, and I thought that the whole introduction of Bill thing echoed strongly the very first episode of NuWho (“Rose”) very nicely indeed. The entire exciting chase sequence later in the episode only lasted a few minutes, but was pretty effective, and I loved the very short “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo of the Daleks vs the Movellans, giving us our first short glimpse of that famous war first mentioned way back in the Peter Davison era.

The short sequence with the Dalek blasting away (totally ineffectually) at the Heather-entity was quite chilling, with it just standing there ignoring the Dalek laser blasts as if they were nothing, and repeating “Exterminate!” every time the Dalek screeched it. It was a strong reminder that there are lifeforms out there far more powerful than even the Daleks. The Heather-entity assuming the Dalek’s likeness makes me wonder what happened to the poor old Dalek. Did she destroy and absorb it, or did it crap itself and scarper? 🙂 The scene where Bill touches the Heather-entity and it shows her all of time and space was also pretty well done. That was a tough one for Bill to turn down, but I reckon the dying and being absorbed thing kinda put her off a bit. 🙂

Anyway, a good start to Series 10. Roll on next week and the second episode, “Smile”.

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Sci-Fi Cinema vs Sci-Fi TV – The Verdict?

I rarely go to the cinema any more, if at all. The last film that I went to see was The Avengers, four years ago in 2012. Before that, it was X-Men: First Class in 2011, Avatar and Star Trek, way back in 2009, and The Dark Knight, in 2008. All in all, I think I’ve been to the cinema no more than a half dozen times since my son died, back in April 2006.

Why? For starters, the cost. Going to the cinema is an expensive pursuit these days, and the cost of admission alone isn’t much less than the price of a DVD. Then on top of that, you have to factor in the transport costs to and from the cinema, plus paying out for something nice to eat afterwards or during the film. It can make for a costly night out, and it just might be cheaper to go to the pub instead.

So is it worth paying that kind of money just to watch a film, particularly when the chances of being badly disappointed by any new Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster are unfortunately extremely high? The quality of the typical big Hollywood sci-fi movie over the past couple of decades has been absolutely dire, especially when we look back at how good the classic sci-fi films of the 1950s-1980s were by comparison. I don’t even bother going to see most films at the cinema at all these days, no matter how much they’re hyped. I simply prefer to wait for the DVD to come out and watch the film in the comfort of my own home. The fact is that, for me, the cinema is no longer the essential large viewing experience that it once was.

In years past, if I wanted to watch the film on a large screen, I HAD to go to the cinema. Now I have a lovely big widescreen TV at home, I can buy the DVD when it comes out, and watch it as often as I like (with subtitles, pause, rewind, etc) in the comfort of my own home, either alone, or with friends. So Why bother forking out a load of cash to go to the cinema, where there are all kinds of annoyances (mobile phones flashing non-stop throughout the film, disruptive cretins yapping incessantly and misbehaving, annoying kids kicking the back of your seat, people walking up and down the isles or back and forth in front of you during the film, the inevitable sore backside sitting on those crappy cinema seats, which makes the last hour or so VERY uncomfortable during longer films, etc), when, for a less than £20, I can have the DVD, a few cans of beer (a pleasant bonus when viewing at home, but strictly verboten in cinemas), and lie back on the sofa and enjoy the film on my BIG television in comfort and in peace and quiet?

But the most important reason? It’s illustrated by a remark made by friend and fellow member (Dennis Howard) over on the FanCentral social network a few years ago. He said (in words to this effect) that he rarely watches (modern) sci-fi films any more, because he’s very rarely impressed by them, and because all of the best sci-fi is happening on television anyway, not in film. It’s a spot-on observation, in my opinion, and one that I agree with very strongly. There’s only so much you can squeeze into a two-hour film, and when you consider that most modern Hollywood sci-fi movies are mostly made up of action sequences, big explosions and special effects, it doesn’t leave much time for anything else. As a result, two of the most important things that should be paramount, but tend to suffer badly in newer Hollywood movies, are the actual stories/plots and character development. I almost always walk away from the cinema afterwards feeling dissatisfied about those two aspects of a film.

This is where television has cinema beaten hands down. Old-style sci-fi television was strictly episodic in nature, with a built-in reset button at the end of every episode. But Babylon 5 changed all that back in the 90s, and today, most decent modern sci-fi series can have intricate on-going plot arcs and sub-plots that simply are not possible in a two-hour film, and the same holds true for the ongoing character development of both the main and the supporting cast. Add to this the fact that modern special effects on TV have reached such a high level of technical quality and sophistication that television sci-fi no longer looks cheap and cheesy, and we can see that most decent sci-fi concepts would be better served in a television series than in a film. Hey, even if the series gets cancelled after one or two seasons (an ever-present danger with the TV networks), we still get a LOT more than we ever would from a two-hour movie.

Sure, I still buy the best of the films on DVD, although they do tend to be older sci-fi cinema classics rather than modern films. But these past couple of years, I’ve turned more and more to television shows, and taken to buying DVD boxsets of classic and modern sci-fi series. I started off with buying classic older series such as Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel, UFO, The Tomorrow People, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Time Tunnel, Timeslip, Children of the Stones, Sky, Quatermass, The Invaders, Fireball XL5, Space Patrol, Moonbase 3, Babylon 5, the X-Files, Stargate SG1/Atlantis/Universe, Quantum Leap, and Star Trek TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY/ENT. But I’ve also been grabbing boxsets of more modern series as they’ve come down in price – Fringe, BSG, Heroes, Smallville, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, NuWho and a few others. I just wait patiently for new stuff to be released on DVD at reasonable prices, and buy them.

I’ve pretty much adopted the same policy as Dennis, to concentrate mostly on sci-fi television series, but take that further to such an extent that my objective has become one of grabbing as many classic sci-fi television series as I possibly can on DVD. Aside from having all these old gems to watch, it also gives me a lot more to talk about here on my blog, on FanCentral, and in any of the other geek forums that I hang out in. Which can only be a good thing, if I do say so myself. 🙂

More New DVDs April 2016

I’ve been buying a lot of DVDs recently, and they keep rolling in, although I think I’ll start switching back to books for a while after this. And for a change, none of the latest batch of DVDs are Gerry Anderson-related.

Actually, the first one up IS vaguely related to Gerry Anderson. Roberta Leigh’s classic puppet show Space Patrol aired on UK television during 1963-64, and was pretty much contemporary with and competition for Anderson’s Fireball XL5, was also set in space, and featured… er… puppets. Add to this the fact that Roberta Leigh was Gerry Anderson’s employer for the first couple of puppet series that he produced, and there IS a strong connection. This particular DVD boxset is the classic six-disc edition released by Network Distribution back in 2003, compiling all thirty-nine episodes plus a nice bunch of extras.

Second up is the gorgeous Network Distribution (Again? These guys are everywhere!) 2015 restoration of Nigel Kneale’s classic Quatermass (1979) four-part, 207 minute serial, plus a bunch of other extras, including the much shorter and heavily edited feature-film version The Quatermass Conclusion plus a nice booklet by Cult Sci-Fi TV historian Andrew Pixley. Also, for good luck, I picked up a copy of the original 2003 Clear Vision three-disc boxset release. The picture quality isn’t nearly as good as the lovely 2015 Network restored version, but the packaging is nice, and the extras are different, as is the booklet, written by Ian Fryer. So it’s well worth having, particularly since I got it at a very reasonable price.

Finally we have Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD, a remarkable 105 minute documentary giving a comprehensive overview of the background history of and crazy goings-on at the (in)famous 2000AD, the various personalities involved, the most famous of the strips, and even sidetracking into the two Judge Dredd films. Totally engrossing, and I’d recommend it to any fans of UK comics.

That’s a great haul of DVDs. They should do me nicely until the next batch arrives. 🙂

Some New Gerry Anderson DVDs (Part 2)

A couple of posts back, I mentioned about being on a roll with buying Gerry Anderson DVDs. Well, that trend is showing no signs of abating. I’ve recently picked up another couple of Anderson items on DVD, so the collection is growing quite a lot right now.

First up is the excellent Network Distribution 2013 DVD boxset release of the classic 1962 series Fireball XL5. We have all 39 episodes of the original series, restored and remastered, one full episode gorgeously recolourised. There’s also two excellent new documentaries, a load of other extras, and a lovely colour booklet by television historian Andrew Pixley. This is a seriously cracking boxset.

Second up, we have yet another Network Distribution release, this time from 2014. We have what is probably the best Gerry Anderson documentary ever made, bar none. Filmed in Supermarionation is almost two hours of fascinating Anderson history, detailing the development of Anderson’s puppet shows and their pioneering techniques from 1957 up until the end of the 1960s. This is a fascinating documentary, and kept me rivetted to the TV for the entire two hours. There are also some nice extras on the DVD

I’ve also just watched the two documentaries on the Fireball XL5 boxset, and they are also seriously good. Now to watch a few Fireball XL5 episodes! 🙂

Some New Gerry Anderson DVDs

Last time out, I posted about a few new DVDs that I’d recently picked up, namely Nigel Kneale’s creepy 1972 television horror film The Stone Tape, and two DVD box sets comprising the entire twenty-four episode run of Gerry Anderson’s classic sci-fi television series UFO.

Well, this time out, I’ve gotten my hands on two more Gerry Anderson DVDs. First up is the 1969 film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, and second is The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson. I’ve been enjoying both DVDs, for different reasons (I’ll always find something interesting in any Gerry Anderson DVD), and I’ll make more detailed comments on both of them individually in upcoming separate posts.

I’m on a real roll with buying Gerry Anderson DVDs at the moment. I’ll be forking out for a few more Anderson series in the near future – Space: 1999, Captain Scarlet (classic and modern), Thunderbirds and Joe 90 are high on the list. But I have a strong hankering to make my first choice Filmed in Supermarionation. I’ve heard so many good things about this classic Anderson behind-the scenes documentary, but I’ve never actually seen it. So the curiosity is getting the better of me, and it has moved to the top of the list.

I can’t wait to see that one! 🙂

Some New DVDs

Some nice DVDs arrived from Amazon UK today. Two lovely boxsets of Gerry Anderson’s complete classic UFO, all twenty-four episodes (each boxset containing four DVDs), and a BBC ninety-minute television movie from 1972, Nigel Kneale’s classic horror/supernatural tale, The Stone Tape.

UFO has been a huge favourite of mine since I first saw it on local television as a young boy of about nine or ten years old. Up until now, I’ve only ever owned VHS video tapes of a handful of episodes, so it’s nice to finally get the entire series on DVD. I’m going to take my time watching these twenty-four episodes, one at a time.

Nigel Kneale’s classic The Stone Tape is one that I’ve never seen before, and I know of it only by the very high reputation it has acquired over the years. I’m really looking forward to watching this one, as I’ve always been a huge fan of Kneale’s four Quatermass serials, and I’m expecting good things from this one.

Quite a few hours of great telefantasy await my eager attention, so I’m off to watch a DVD. I think I’ll start off with The Stone Tape

Doctor Who: Heaven Sent

Now THAT was a cracker! In my opinion, Heaven Sent, written by Steven Moffat, is a great follow-up to Face the Raven, the best Doctor Who episode in a long, long time, and definitely the best episode of Series 9 so far.

It was dark, scary, moody, mindbending, intelligent – it’s just how I love Doctor Who, and is the kind of episode that we’ve seen far too little of in recent years. With the exception of Chris Eccleston’s excellent single season, Series 9 is the nearest that Doctor Who has come in tone (if not quite in quality) to the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe era, by far my favourite era in either Classic or New Doctor Who. I was glued to the screen for the entire forty-five minutes, although I’m not too sure if I like the whole “I am the hybrid” idea, at the episode’s climax. If it pans out like that, it would be just a little too silly for my liking.

Peter Capaldi has taken the role of the Doctor by the scruff of its neck and made it his own, and Clara/Jenna Coleman has grown into an excellent companion. I’ll be sorry to see her go at the end of this series. Despite the multitude of rabid Clara haters I’ve seen online (fandom makes me sick at times – there are far too many total assholes out there claiming to be fans), I’m pretty sure that future critics and fans will look back on Clara Oswald as being one of the better companions in the history of either Doctor Who series.

There’s been a certain amount of moaning and groaning on Facebook and elsewhere that, if we see many more episodes like Heaven Sent, “we’ll lose the general audience”. I disagree. Fans who have grown up with NuWho, TRUE fans, and not the “flyby brigade”, who only watch it if there’s nothing better on the other channels, will still stick to the show like glue. I do agree that there has to be a certain amount of balance between the lightness and humour vs the grimness and serious stories, to vary the pace in between the individual episodes, and give us an entire range of the spectrum between extreme the dark, scary stuff and the lightweight fluffy episodes. But this kind of story is so much more my idea of what Doctor Who should REALLY be like. Others may have their own ideas of what Doctor Who should be like, but Heaven Sent is mine.

However, I do concede that there has to be a balance. But the moaners who can’t tolerate ANY heavy, serious episodes at all really get my goat up. They should just clear off and watch airhead sitcoms or soap operas, if all they want is non-stop, upbeat nonsense. We really do need these “deep” stories occasionally, to balance out the lighter, more dumbed down, all flash and no substance single episodes, that supposedly are aimed at the “general” audience and kids (who, these days, aren’t as stupid as the marketers seem to think). Thankfully, with all the two-parters, Series 9 has seen only a couple of these single episodes, and even they were linked. A big improvement on previous years, in my opinion, and I hope that this trend in favour of two-parters continues.

The David Tennant and Matt Smith eras had FAR too many of those dumb single episodes, far too much old silliness, with the totally ridiculous romance nonsense between the Doctor and human female companions, other completely irrelevant, soap-opera-ish, non-Who-ish distractions, and simply too much bad writing. The Matt Smith era, in particular, was virtually unwatchable at times, despite the fact that he himself was an absolutely AMAZING Doctor. He carried the show most of the time, to be honest, and I continued watching it just for him. In my opinion, Capaldi’s arrival, and the complete change in tone of the series, has revitalised Doctor Who, although there are still too many dodgy stories. But hell, that’s always been true of Doctor Who. Lest the rose-tinted glasses crowd forget, the Classic series also had more than its fair share of total clunkers.

It’s not 1966 any more, fer cryin’ out loud. It’s almost 2016, and modern audiences (including kids) are far more sophisticated than they were back in the 1960s and 1970s. And the show is no longer aired at 5.15pm in the evening, but a full three hours later, sometimes not ending until after the 9pm watershed. I can no longer understand the endless obsession with forcing the show into a shoebox where it has to appeal to five year-olds as well as fifty-five year olds. That approach just doesn’t seem relevant any more.

In most cases, instead of more challenging stories, in recent years we’ve ended up with far too many middle-of-the-road, lightweight “fluff” single episodes aimed at keeping kids and general viewers who are not hardcore Doctor Who fans happy, what I refer to as the “Popcorn Who” audience. Personally, given Doctor Who’s current late timeslot, and the fact that the typical modern audience is much more varied and sophisticated than it was forty or fifty years ago, I really think the series should be written accordingly today, and aimed at a similar audience to Steven Moffat’s other excellent show, Sherlock.

I know those “popcorn” episodes are for keeping up the general audience figures, but too many of them and you lose the hardcore fans (like myself). They are just too bland and lightweight, and while I can take the odd one in between the more intelligent, serious episodes, string more than two or three of them together and I’ll give up on that season as a lost cause. Thankfully Heaven Sent was way over at the other extreme, where I prefer my Doctor Who to be. I like my Doctor Who dark, scary and serious.

I’m hoping Hell Bent lives up to the quality of Heaven Sent (and that Moffat will be able to do it two episodes in a row, as this has been a weakness of his with two-parters). If it’s even half as good, it’ll be a decent series finale. And if it’s on the same level of quality, we’re in for one of the greatest series endings in modern Doctor Who.