Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Fifteen years after being made redundant from Wernham Hogg, David Brent is a sales rep for a cleaning products company. In his spare time, he pursues his dreams of becoming a rock star. As he’s rejoined by the old documentary team, he takes three weeks holiday, hires a band with his pension savings, and goes off on his big tour – mainly taking in venues around Berkshire.

It’s presented in a similar style to The Office, with humour mainly coming from Brent’s delusional ambitions and everyone else’s frustration with him; there are a lot of genuine laughs, particularly for fans of the cringe-inducing style of humour you’d expect from this character. While some of the awful songs are entertaining, however, they do all repeat the same gag – with titles like ‘Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds’ and ‘Native American’, Brent wants to be seen as compassionate, but causes more offence and makes everyone uncomfortable – and this does get tiring quickly.

The bigger problem with Life on the Road, though, is that it lacks the humanity of The Office, in which likeable characters including Tim and Dawn would offset Brent and prevent him becoming too grating. 

Later on, there’s an attempt to get both viewers and other characters to sympathise with Brent. But this comes rather abruptly, with the self-obsessed musician not learning anything or developing, and so the more optimistic note on which the film ends feels tacked on and undeserved. Gervais wants us to cringe at his humour, but it’s this shoddy writing that will make you want to look away.
On 29.11.16 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

The Daleks have been around for over fifty years now, and so doing something new with them while staying true to their character is a difficult task. But the cover and promotional art for Order of the Daleks, the latest in Big Finish’s monthly range, boldly flaunt its new take – a Dalek of stained glass.

Before they meet this colourfully designed villain, the Sixth Doctor and his companion Constance Clarke land on Strellin, one of those medieval planets which somehow still have similar religious orders to Earth. They're lead to a monastery, where the Brotherhood of the Black Petal are guarding a mysterious secret... yeah, alright, that secret is the Daleks.

The fact that it’s a small number of wounded Daleks allows this story to take on a smaller-scale yet more horror-inflected tone than the more epic stories of, for example, the War Doctor series. This is something that writer Mike Tucker pulls off effectively, with some genuinely scary moments. The stained-glass Daleks of the cover, their casings repaired by the monks, are either a great visual idea or a very silly one – opinions will be divided on this.

Colin Baker’s on fine form as the Doctor and it’s good to hear his relationship with the inexperienced yet practical Constance develop. John Savident is perfectly cast as the petty, arrogant Pendle, who comes at odds with the Doctor to amusing effect, particularly in the story’s early sections. Olivia Hallinan’s Asta gets the story’s strongest character arc, as she must step out from under the shadow of her overbearing superior.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

On 22.11.16 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    1 comment

With the rebellious Jyn Erso adorning the cover, it's a Star Wars-centric edition, bringing you up to speed on the galaxy far, far away in anticipation of the new prequel spin-off Rogue One.

I've contributed a few bits and bobs to this issue - there's my retrospective on the Assassin's Creed games, my Doctor Who news column, my obituary of the great Steve Dillon, and a couple of reviews (including one where I'm incorrectly credited as Andrew Marshall - the proofreader should have caught that, but he is also me Andrew).

Starburst 431 is available now from all good cantinas, spaceports and junk dealers, or via the HoloNet!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

On 15.11.16 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

The recent cinematic revival of Star Wars has introduced a whole new generation of fans to its galaxy. The Galactic Atlas aims to get them in the know regarding many of the saga’s planets, moons, and battle stations.

It’s a big (approximately A3-sized) hardcover volume, full of maps depicting major galactic locations. These maps are not strictly geographically accurate, rather they aim to capture the ‘feel’ of these worlds, and so include depictions of many of the events which took place there.

The maps are in fact illustrated by Tim McDonagh, and he’s done a sterling job at it. Each planet is given a double-page spread, and is captured in colourful and absorbing detail, allowing you to lose much more time than planned poring over it. 

Planets covered include those from all seven existing films, plus some locations from the Clone Wars and Rebels television series. Excitingly, there’s also a spread dedicated to the desert moon of Jedha, a spiritual home of the Jedi, which will make its debut in the upcoming Rogue One.

This is largely aimed at younger readers or those new to the Star Wars galaxy, but the charming illustrations and high production quality will nonetheless keep the parents and hardened fans hooked, too. The perfect treat for aspiring Skywalkers!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

On 10.11.16 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

Alleviate the stresses of the world's descent into totalitarianism with this kids' Doctor Who comic.

And not just because I've written the Paternoster Gang story in it. But largely because of that.

In THE HOWLING ON THE HILLS, Vastra, Jenny and Strax travel to Dartmoor to investigate a strange alien presence, and come to blows with a shady government agency.

The illustrations by Russ Leach are fabulous as ever. See, I'm not just promoting myself.

Doctor Who Adventures #20 is out now in all adequate newsagents!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Recently, Netflix UK put up all of Star Trek, and The Original Series is an important part of cultural history that I'd only ever seen bits and pieces of, so my housemate and I set out to get through the three seasons. Here are my notes (primarily episode by episode, with some skipped if the episode was too tedious for me to be arsed)...

1.1 to 1.6
I was surprised by how much these early episodes were not a sci-fi but a bawdy sex comedy. Most of them are either about a sexy woman appearing on the Enterprise and charming the crew or about a male member of the crew/new man on board being possessed and getting creepy over Janice. Either way, there’s always a shot in which a man looks at a woman’s arse in the corridor. This comes to its peak in the utterly ridiculous ‘Mudd’s Women’. Thankfully, the stories get a bit more varied and imaginative after this.

1.7 – What Are Little Girls Made Of?
The first episode that feels like Star Trek as I’d imagined it, even if it is still heavily sex-based.

1.8 – Miri
The story about the people who’ve been kids for hundreds of years is fine sci-fi fluff, but Kirk flirting with one of them (the eponymous Miri) is really creepy, the fact that the planet exactly resembles Earth is set up as a major plot point and then never mentioned again, and Shatner has his most ridiculous line ever – “NO BLAH BLAH BLAH!”

1.10 – The Corbomite Manouvre
Really enjoyed this tale of the Enterprise being held up in space by a spacefaring Windows screensaver – a proper sci-fi adventure with an intellectual focus on tactics and outthinking the opponent. Kirk’s eponymous lie is a clever way out, and has a nice message about the dangers of mutually assured destruction that must have struck chords at the time.

1.11/1.12 – The Menagerie
‘Star Trek characters watching Star Trek’ is becoming one of my favourite tropes.

1.14 – Balance of Terror
The first appearance of a well known villainous race, this time the Romulans. Like The Corbomite Manouvre, it’s a space-bound game of tactics, an imaginative look at how a border conflict might play out in a sci-fi setting, and genuinely quite tense.

1.17 – The Squire of Gothos
This one demonstrates why I hate sci-fi villains that are too powerful – they require ridiculous deus ex machinas to be defeated. When all seems lost and the god-like Tremaine is about to kill Kirk, his parents show up and tell him off for being a naughty boy. Right.

1.18 – Arena
The Kirk v Gorn fight might be notoriously clunky, but watching the two hunt each other across the planet is genuinely quite fun. That ‘characters watching Star Trek’ trope appears again and the Metrons will forever be known as ‘Space Gays’ in my mind.

1.19 – Tomorrow is Yesterday
A time travel episode is a fun idea, but we get to see hardly any of 1960s Earth and it feels like much more could have been done. Plus, the ending is another shite deus ex machina – they’ve fucked everything up irredeemably, so they fly towards the sun to reverse time and undo it. Does that not mean they can do just that to get out of any situation from now on? And the time-travel mechanics, with characters being sent back to their own time and place because the ship they were on elsewhere was going backwards in time, make even less sense than anything I’ve seen in Doctor Who at its stupidest.

1.20 – Court Martial
The first time the death of a crew member has had some consequences! But boring.

1.21 – The Return of the Archons
A world where everyone has been pacified so there is no violence, except for the one part of the year where they all go fucking mental, which is, erm, never explained or even mentioned again and seems to be there just as an excuse for a woman to kiss Kirk.

1.22 – Space Seed
Considering this is the introduction of iconic villain Khan, it is a bit of a sex episode, as there’s a lot of focus on historian McGiver wanting to bang Khan.

1.23 – A Taste of Armageddon
A nice sci-fi set-up – two planets raging war virtually, and those the maths deem dead have to submit themselves for incineration. But the plot falters, with our heroes getting captured, escaping, and getting captured again a few too many times. Would have been nice to have seen some of the other planet involved in the conflict instead.

1.24 – This Side of Paradise
Jizz flowers.

1.25 – The Devil in the Dark
Quite a good episode about the hunt for a silicone-based creature, and a nice attempt at an unusual creature design, even if you can tell there’s a man crawling around inside it. The highlight is McCoy healing the creature by shoving a trowel of concrete up some orifice on it.

1.26 – Errand of Mercy
The first Klingon episode, and it’s got a strong message about the ultimate futility of territorial wars, even if it means we have to suffer yet another up-themselves super-powered arbiter race and Kirk in very OTT warmongering mode. There’s also quite a bit of filler, including Kirk and Spock blowing up… something… for… some reason. And the Klingons look shit – men in brown face paint with Fu Manchu-style facial hair.

1.27 – The Alternative Factor
The science in this one is painful… Spock’s explanation of the anti-matter universe goes on for ages, and just gets more and more sketchy. I’m no expert on antimatter, but the bollocks is even more obvious than ever and prevented me from enjoying this. Plus, Lazarus’ ridiculous facial hair changes length and thickness from scene to scene. And why do they let him explore the Enterprise unsupervised after he’s pledged revenge on its crew?

1.28 – The City on the Edge of Forever
I had high expectations due to its top place in polls, but this really is a very good episode. With Kirk and Spock in 1930s Chicago, it plays with their friendship and with Kirk falling in love rather than getting too wound up over the science, and yet the story moves forward pacily without much filler. There’s a time travel dilemma (reminiscent of Doctor Who’s Father’s Day) that feels morally complex, avoids easy solutions, and carries emotional weight for Kirk. And in Joan Collins’ Edith Keeler, we have a strong female character who, for once, is a lot more than just a bit of arse. All of this adds up to her inevitable death being genuinely sad. Fantastic episode. Plus, Kirk explaining Spock’s appearance to a police officer is gold – “My friend is obviously Chinese” goes up there with “No blah blah blah” and “there’s no right way to hit a woman” as one of his best lines.

1.29 – Operation: Annihilate!
After Kirk had some genuine emotion in the previous episode, in this one, his brother dies and he looks a bit sad for five seconds before moving on. He also has a nephew who, for no clear reason, is never named, only referred to as “my nephew”, and who is entirely forgotten about in the last twenty minutes. They realise the evil amoebas are killed by light, so test this ‘light’ thing by shining it into Spock’s eyes and blinding him, then realise the amoebas are actually killed by UV light and that this experiment was even more pointless than it first sounded. Thankfully, they have 300 UV satellites handy, and Spock’s a Vulcan so can recover from shit like this (another recurring trope).  Still, at least the amoebas look silly when they somehow fly.

2.1 – Amok Day
Spock is horny so Kirk diverts the ship from its important mission. The way this episode largely ignores everything that’s been built up about the Vulcans being logical annoyed me – OK, so Spock had lost his sense of logic because he was in his horny season, but all the other members of Vulcan society should have built a logical system to control this, rather than sticking to some tradition including duels to the death, women becoming the property of the winner, and massive gongs.

2.2 – Who Mourns For Adonais?
Scotty’s the horny one this time! But his historian crush instead falls for the Greek god Apollo. Of course she does. It’s another pretentious superpowered space twat, which is the most tiring of Star Trek tropes. Still, the giant green hand is a funny visual. The aliens having inspired Greek myth was probably an original and intriguing idea at the time, though the seasoned Whovian in me saw it coming.

2.5 – The Apple
This episode really is a shambles, using every possible Star Trek story cliché – the ship spiralling towards a planet, the plants that attack people, the paradise that’s not really paradise, the primitive aliens controlled by a computer, the aliens not understanding human customs, etc. – and not really doing anything with any of them. It flims and flams from one tangent to the next, not knowing which to bother following all the way, and ultimately doing none of them.

2.11 – Friday’s Child
Ah, the episode where McCoy slaps a pregnant woman. He’s in a really grumpy mood throughout this one, actually. The plot’s a mess – why exactly the big fight breaks out at the end I’m still not sure, and there’s a subplot mini-cliffhanger where the Enterprise gets blocked in space by a Klingon ship which is then never mentioned again.

2.12 – The Deadly Years
So much padding… It feels like the original draft of this episode’s script came to twenty minutes, and they had to more than double it with shit. We’re shown Kirk’s getting old because he gives the same order twice, and then it happens again with a different order, and then again. And then there’s the horribly long ‘court’ case scene over whether he’s fit to stay as officer, in which each of these incidents is brought up and discussed in detail – the whole scene doesn’t develop a single bit of plot and could be easily cut. Plus the subplot about Kirk’s ex-girlfriend (yes, another one) is extraneous and feels tacked on. They don’t get around to trying to work out what saved Chekov from the aging radiation until ten minutes before the end, at which point they work it out immediately. Christ.

2.14 – Wolf in the Fold
The one where Scotty murders a prostitute. A bit of a shift in genre. And then Jack the Ripper possesses the starship and all the crew get high. Thing is, the episode seems to get bored of the court case story after a bit (well, so did I) and so they never actually prove it wasn’t Scotty, or why the knife was in Scotty’s hand. They just teleport some guy into space on little evidence then fuck off. He could still have been the murderer!

2.15 – The Trouble with Tribbles
A ridiculously silly episode with a much lighter tone than usual, and as a result one of the best episodes yet. Though it does show off just how incompetent the Enterprise crew are – their mission is to guard some grain, and they couldn’t screw it up more. That iconic scene of Kirk trapped in a pile of Tribbles is very funny, as is watching him struggle with the ludicrous problems as they pile up throughout the episode, including Scotty getting into a drunken bar fight (and so soon after he murdered that prostitute!).

2.16 – The Gamesters of Triskelion
Following a particularly funny and enjoyable episode, this tedious drivel just feels even more tedious. Elongated scenes of Kirk explaining love to an alien girl. Spock, McCoy and Scotty having the same argument four times. Lots of getting captured, escaping, and getting captured again. And another race of omnipotent pretentious space twats.

2.17 – A Piece of the Action
The crew visit a planet themed around 1920s Chicago, with various gangs vying for control. Kirk’s solution is to choose one of the gang leaders and say “You’re in charge now. By the way, we have bigger guns than you, so give us 40% of your stuff.” Everyone seems to accept this. It’s a classic example of the crew not really fixing a planet’s problems and probably fucking everything up more. Still, Spock looks cool in the gangster suit.

2.18 – The Immunity Syndrome
A spacey one, with a big energy-draining space amoeba. But it has another of Trek’s classic faults – the writer clearly had no idea how to get the crew out of all the troubles he’d thrown them into. Near the end of the episode, they arbitrarily decide ‘anti-energy’ would kill the creature, so set off an anti-matter bomb. The creature blows up – while they’re still inside it! But they’re fine. Spock was in one of the shuttlecraft at the time, and McCoy even says “I don’t know how, but the shuttlecraft survived”, with no follow-up to that. Sigh.

2.21 – Patterns of Force
The Nazi episode! Despite its very high and rather silly concept, this is coherently plotted, has some exciting action, and has some interesting discussions about the nature of power and questioning authority.

2.22 – By Any Other Name
The one where Scotty gets an alien pissed on scotch to distract it, but then passes out having drunk too much himself.

2.23 – The Omega Glory
The stupidest piece of TV I’ve ever seen. Starts out about a spaceship crew who’ve turned to salt, then forgets about that and is about two warring tribes, one of which is an Asian stereotype, then it’s revealed that the savage white tribe originally had a society coincidentally exactly the same as the USA until they were beaten by the Asians, who are communists (well, the writer clearly has no idea what ‘communist’ means except for ‘evil’). The tribe worship the American flag and constitution. Kirk monologues the constitution in full-on Shatner mode. It’s insane.

2.24 – The Ultimate Computer
An incredibly dated computer-themed episode, though it does have some similarities to how sci-fi views AI today and at least it’s a different plot that Star Trek hasn’t done yet, which is, depressingly, an achievement. It is odd when the ore freighter that the Enterprise’s new computer destroys is revealed to be unmanned… and thus controlled by a computer, whereas the whole point of this episode is that the Enterprise is becoming the first computer-controlled ship.

2.25 – Bread and Circuses
For the third time in five episodes, the crew find themselves on a planet themed around a historical Earth society. It has the same lack of explanation as The Omega Glory. It does seem that when other sci-fi franchises would use parallel universes, Star Trek uses planets that just happen to be the same as Earth but with some historical deviation – in 2.23, the East destroyed the West in the Cold War, and here, the Roman Empire never fell. There are some nice ideas – the Coliseum has become televised, the unusually revealing Spock/McCoy conversation where Spock nearly admits he’s scared of his human side peeking out – but I just can’t get past this stupid repetition. And the final scene, where the crew realise that because the slaves are developing Christianity, everything will be fine. Sigh.

2.26 – Assignment: Earth
Seemingly from a different show to Star Trek, with Kirk and co awkwardly crowbarred into the plot. Was actually a backdoor pilot for another idea Roddenberry had, and it shows. Whole sequences with no sign of the Enterprise crew!

3.1 – Spock’s Brain
Spock gets his brain stolen by a tribe of women who can’t possibly operate machines by themselves (as Kirk, Scotty and McCoy keep pointing out) so need a man’s brain to control everything for them. The male tribe nearby describe this female tribe as the “givers of pain and pleasure”. Must be the most sexist episode yet.

3.2 – The Enterprise Incident
Another Cold War-inflected Romulan episode, and actually quite good, even if it does start off weirdly, with Kirk being more of a prick than usual (it’s all part of a ruse...). Though surely breaking into a Romulan ship and stealing their cloaking device would be enough to start a war?

3.3 – The Paradise Syndrome
Another fucking alien society based on an Earth culture, this time Native Americans. But this time, there’s actual speculation as to how it happened – an ancient alien race stole them from Earth and put them here. McCoy even speculates that this race may be the cause of all the humanoid species across the galaxy. Which is interesting. Kirk falls into the stupidest, worst designed, most difficult-to-fall-in-unless-you're-a-complete-tool trapdoor in the galaxy.

3.4 – And the Children Shall Lead
I was expecting a remake of Miri, but this actually does some different things with the ideas of creepy space children, even if the villain does look like a blancmange.

3.5 – Is There in Truth No Beauty?
This episode has one of my favourite transitions in all of the show... A guest on the Enterprise has looked into an alien thing which drives people mad, then wandered off. Spock: "He must be going insane!" Cut to oblivious Scotty showing him the engine room. "The controls are all yours. And there's a bottle of scotch here if you can manage it.” Now, I've seen people complaining that, in the new Star Trek movies, the Enterprise gets damaged and destroyed too often, but after watching TOS, that seems about right. The crew are utterly inept, it should blow up much more often than it does.

3.6 – Spectre of the Gun
Kirk and co. are forced to recreate the Gunfight at the OK Corral. And the sets are only half built, clearly a budgetary thing written away in the plot as a flaw of the alien simulation. Ridiculous.

3.7 – Day of the Dove
An alien being turns all the ship’s phasers to swords and pits them off against the Klingons. Tropey and predictable.

3.8 – For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky
This is an interesting one, with a pretty original idea in the society unknowingly confined to one asteroid-like ship and McCoy dying of a terminal illness. The deus ex machina when they happen to discover a cure to McCoy’s illness in the last minutes is spectacularly shit.

3.9 – The Tholian Web
The one where McCoy mixes Klingon nerve gas with brandy and prescribes it to all the crew, supposedly to keep them all sane from a spacefuck.

3.10 – Plato’s Stepchildren
Jesus Christ. The scene of the telekinetic space arsehole controlling Kirk and Spock and making them do stupid things lasts almost fifteen minutes, and then it does the same fucking thing again in the finale. They must be dancing around like pricks for half the episode.

3.11 – Wink of an Eye
There’s a nice idea in the time-accelerated aliens, but the mechanics of it don't fit together – weeks should pass for them as Scotty goes from the bridge to the transporter but they’re still trying to fix the same console, for example.

3.12 – The Empath
Another race of bulbous-headed, shiny-cloaked alien wankers do an experiment on the crew. Poorly paced, with lots of talk and not much action.

3.13 – Elaan of Troyius
This has got to be the most sexist episode of Star Trek yet. Yeah, even worse than Spock's Brain. The eponymous Elaan has been taken aboard the Enterprise and forced into marriage against her will, yet is still presented as the antagonist, a woman who dares speak up for herself and so needs to be tamed. Naturally, Kirk is an absolute dick to her and then bangs her. Then sends her to be married anyway.

3.14 – Whom Gods Destroy
The over-acting of the villain in this outshines even Shatner. He seems like a Rik Mayall character except not in a comedy. But the bit where he’s in Kirk’s body and throws a tantrum allows Shatner to pull all the over-acting plaudits back in his direction.

3.15 – Let That Be Your Last Battlefield
We were really excited about the blurb for this episode saying it features “two duo-chromatic and mutually belligerent aliens”. Sounds fun. But it turns out to be, of course, a bit naff. There’s an interesting if unoriginal point made about the pointlessness of going to war over racial differences, but it drags, and then that ending… the crew just let the two aliens run around the ship and transport themselves down to the doomed planet, and then Kirk decides to turn the Enterprise around and fuck off. I was really expecting him to beam down himself and resolve their differences, but no – it just ends.

3.16 – The Mark of Gideon
Good by season 3’s standards, but not by any other standards.

3.17 – That Which Survives
Another not bad episode. Spock is incredibly sassy in this one.

3.18 – The Lights of Zetar
The interesting-sounding library planet is barely used. Nothing new here. Very season 3.

3.19 – Requiem for Methuselah
Yawn. Kirk gets so pissed off at an old man that he wrestles him instead of taking the vital medical supplies to his dying crew.

3.20 – The Way to Eden
Some hippies take over the Enterprise worryingly easily and then fly it to a random planet which they assume, on no real evidence, is the mythical Eden. It’s not, and the fruit is poisonous. They eat it anyway and die. Everyone in this episode is a moron.

3.21 – The Cloud Minders
Very good by season 3’s standards, possibly its best yet, though that’s not saying much. It has a female character who’s more than just a shag for Kirk (Vanna, the leader of the rebellious miners), a strong point about how corporations should look out for their workers’ safety rather than treating them as a lower class, a visually interesting setting (predating Star Wars’ Cloud City), and several scenes of actual action. But it’s marred by the secondary female-of-the-week, a woman who falls for Spock and has absolutely no influence on the plot. All her scenes are just pointless. There’s also a scene where, after Kirk’s given the crew an order, Spock and Scotty repeat that order to each other and then decide to do it… padding much? Cut twenty minutes out and this could be an excellent episode.

3.22 – The Savage Curtain
The bizarreness of this episode’s opening, with Abraham Lincoln floating on a chair in space, sets us up for another good one. And despite the central concept (an alien who's technologically superior but lacks a sense of human morality uses the crew in some sort of experiment) being a classic Trek trope, the nature of the experiment (pitting historical heroes against villains) is a neat new take on it. But the whole thing does drag on, taking itself very seriously, and doesn’t exactly use the wackiness of the concept to its full potential. Also, Hitler should have been one of the villains. And, given that characters keep comparing this situation to historical wars, there should have been an army of thousands of Lincolns rather than four against four. Maybe it could be remade with a big Hollywood budget? Someone call Simon Pegg.

3.23 – All Our Yesterdays
They go into the past of a planet that has the same history as Earth’s (that again...), and Spock regresses to the hornier mindset that Vulcans apparently had 5000 years ago. Time works weirdly in Star Trek. There’s a bit where a guy tries to push Kirk into a time portal on something resembling a shopping trolley.

3.24 – Turnabout Intruder
We’ve finally finished! Which is a bit of a relief after the tedious season 3. It’s a bodyswap episode, which surprisingly Star Trek hasn’t done before. And it has been a while since Spock tried to court martial Kirk, or vice versa. Risks being dull and predictable, but is saved by some magnificent Shatnering.