Monday, 22 May 2017

Well, a lot happened there.

Series 10 so far has felt like a deliberate shift away from the arc-driven, continuity-heavy excesses of previous Steven Moffat series, but Extremis brings us well back into that style, with not only the start of a multi-episode invasion arc but a parallel story involving both Missy and, via Nardole, River Song. We’re back to Moffat’s tendency of coming up with a load of ideas that could individually work for a whole episode and then powering through them in a couple of minutes each, a tendency that has always resulted in episodes which can frustrate as much as they thrill, but have never been boring...

The A-story, if it’s worth applying structural terms to this episode, is that of the Doctor being summoned by the Catholic Church to investigate the Veritas. Here we’re in religious thriller territory – Doctor Who does The Da Vinci Code. If I were being harsh, I’d say that The Da Vinci Code is a good fit for Doctor Who, as like several of Moffat’s lesser episodes, it’s a really dumb story pretending to be a really clever one. If I were being generous, I’d still say that The Da Vinci Code is a good fit for Doctor Who, but because Who is, at its best, really good at mind-bending, high-stakes mystery with a little action. And also because it’s a genre that Who has never done before, which is something of a rarity.

And, you know what? I’m feeling generous. Using this format of an exciting and pacey globe-trotting adventure, Moffat manages to turn complex ideas such as the simulation hypothesis into palatable Saturday night entertainment. The use of both the Vatican and CERN neatly parallels the religious and scientific searches for creation truths, making it seem more hopeless when both sides are defeated by the big twist that reality isn’t, well, real. In fact, I’d have liked to go deeper into this, and to get to know both Cardinal Angelo and the CERN physicists better – outside of the big number-shouting set pieces, they might have had some interesting things to say about the episode’s themes. I'd have also liked an answer as to where the Veritas came from – this world was apparently an exact replica of Earth, but surely the Veritas didn't exist in that 'real' world?

But how could Extremis have spared time for all that? Perhaps by ditching the Missy flashbacks. The constant return to the execution scene feels, to me, a bit too much, and the flippancy of chucking it in alongside everything else that’s going on causes a few niggling problems... 

The executioners are under-explained (and probably will stay that way). The use of the trope where the Doctor asks his enemies to look him up and then they all run off feels like such an awkward bodge to get them out of the way. And bringing in both Missy and the references to River without Bill present goes against the initial mission statement of Series 10, which was to introduce new viewers to the Doctor Who universe alongside Bill.

It's all very jarring and, though your mileage may vary on this, I suspect Extremis would be better off without the flashbacks. On the other hand, I do like that the inhabitant of the vault has been revealed at the series' midpoint. Repeating the same tease for five more episodes would’ve got pretty tedious, and revealing it now should allow for some nice interactions between prisoner and prison guard as the series continues. But perhaps the reveal could have been more efficient – could we not have seen Missy inside the vault as the Doctor talks to her, and saved the backstory for later?

Anyway, as if that weren’t enough, there’s more going on in this episode. Let’s talk about the Doctor’s blindness. I quite liked how this was worked into the story. One other review I read criticised it for being merely used for gags, and sure, those are there (Nardole's “oh look, it’s a mysterious light shining around a corner approximately ten feet away” is particularly funny), but there's more to it than the comedy, as the blindness gives the Doctor extra challenges to overcome – not being able to detect the threats in the library, not being able to read the Veritas (hooray for audio books!). Hopefully as this arc progresses, we’ll see more ways in which the Doctor learns to use his other senses to overcome his new disability.

(And as I’m currently working through The Next Generation, I appreciate Moffat’s shamelessness in acknowledging that the simulations are sort of like the holodeck but hoping no one notices how the Doctor now has LaForge’s visor.)

Even more than last episode, Nardole really comes into his own here, earning his place on the TARDIS as much more than a comedy character – he has his own reasons to be there, has responsibilities to the Doctor, and can even be badass, in his own way. There’s less focus on Bill than any of the previous episodes this series, but hey, she’s had five episodes in the limelight, I’m happy for Nardole to get his chance.

The only real Bill-focused sequence here is her date, and while the Pope’s interruption is a very funny moment, I have to express discomfort at the way her relationship with foster mum Moira is being portrayed. Moira seems entirely defined by a homophobia so strong it reaches the point of delusion, which isn’t the healthiest relationship for Bill, and yet which Moffat has written in entirely for cheap laughs. Come on now. Doctor Who can do better.

And then we have the Monks, the new villains who’ll be terrorising the Earth over the next two weeks. There’s surely more about them to be revealed, but... I’m not convinced yet. Their design is creepy but unoriginal, reminiscent of The Fires of Pompeii’s stone priestess, and they lack any sort of physical threat – when the Doctor’s trying urgently to get away from them, we don’t really know why. Are they going to stroke him with their uncomfortably textured hands? I really want to see someone get into a punch-up with one.

Still, maybe that’ll happen in episodes to come, as Extremis is part one of a loose three-parter. And so given that it is a part one, it’s particularly remarkable just how much it packs in – perhaps more than it needs to. Still, even if this 'Da Vinci Code meets Matrix meets Next Generation meets Coupling meets Doctor Who from a few years ago' rollercoaster never fully explores any one of its many ideas, it’s a hell of a ride, and I’m eager to see what happens when the Monks invade for real.

  1. Oxygen
  2. Thin Ice
  3. Extremis
  4. The Pilot
  5. Knock Knock
  6. Smile

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

On 16.5.17 by KieronMoore in    No comments

I'm a massive, unashamed fan of Sense8 and the second season of this gorgeous, audacious show was basically what I did all weekend. Once my initial reaction to Hernando's rainbow beard had toned down, I composed myself and wrote a lot of words about season two over on Starburst.

Monday, 15 May 2017

“Space – the final frontier.” Well, any episode that begins with the Doctor doing the Star Trek opening has my attention. That quote sums up Oxygen well, though not because the episode is anything like Trek; in fact, quite the opposite. Perhaps Captain Kirk’s full, optimistic monologue would have been suitable three episodes ago, but here the Doctor goes on to lower the mood, talking about how space has a tendency to kill you. So this is full-on space horror, despite the Doctor Who cheekiness.

We’re past this series’ opening light-hearted tour of the Who universe, then, and so it’s appropriate that this episode was written by Jamie Mathieson, who’s come to be a vital part of the more boundary-pushing side of the Peter Capaldi era. Undoubtedly, Mathieson’s very competent when it comes to robust plotting, efficient characterisation, and giving everyone something to do (as seen here, unlike episodes two and four of this series), but what really stands out about all his Who work is his concepts. He has an ability to find a new setting and twist within the traditional structures of Doctor Who, to come up with an episode that shines with originality not by being as experimental as the likes of Heaven Sent but by begging the question: “What haven’t they done this before?”

And ‘The Walking Dead in space’ is exactly that. Spacesuits that kill their occupants and stomp around finishing off any survivors is the kind of nasty and genre-mashing idea that would be good enough for a big sci-fi horror movie, but that can be made very effectively on a BBC budget. The technological and body horror elements fit together very well to create the chilling image of the survivors’ dead friends and lovers being inhumanly dragged around by their own suits; it’s an image that makes you wonder if this is really suitable for a Saturday teatime and then remember that, if you're thinking that, the episode must be doing its job.

This effect is enhanced by how well the monsters suit (eyyy) the world of Oxygen. I much prefer the gritty, worn-down type of space seen in episodes like this to the CBBC-esque fairytale space we got in Smile (and if you agree with me on that, I recommend you check out The Expanse on Netflix). The details given about this station hint at a wider world – the need for oxygen credits, the ‘mythical’ union, the fact that society’s overcome one form of racism but found another – and make the world believable and tangible enough for us to care about the people who inhabit it.

Indeed, the core of the episode is those people and their need first for survival and then for revenge, making this the episode least focused on the Doctor/Bill relationship of the series so far. Yet that relationship is developed a lot anyway – another careful balancing act by Mathieson. They’re both put through the ringer, with Bill’s exposure to space being a very tensely directed sequence, in which it really feels like she could be killed, and the Doctor putting himself at great risk to save her.

If there’s any criticism of this, it’s that more could have been done to explore Bill’s feelings about having come close to death not once, but twice, though the end of the episode is perhaps right to put the emphasis on its cliffhanger. I’m intrigued to see where this blindness storyline goes... will it really last all the way up to the regeneration, or will there be some magic elixir of sight found in a few episodes time? Either way, it should mix up the dynamic a bit.

Speaking of mixing up the dynamic, Nardole gets a lot to do in this one. He’s clearly the comic relief, but Mathieson’s script and Matt Lucas’s performance are both careful not to overplay it. I know a lot of people are finding him annoying, which is fair enough, but for what it’s worth, I’m enjoying having him around. I do wonder how much of the negativity towards Nardole is due to the cultural baggage Lucas carries as a star of very crude sketch shows – look past that, and he is a genuinely good actor.

And after all, some comic relief is needed – this is Doctor Who. Even if this episode is one that feels like a proper space horror movie rather than a toned down, BBC budget ‘take’ on the genre. I’m glad they haven’t done this before, because they’ve done it brilliantly now.

  1. Oxygen
  2. Thin Ice
  3. The Pilot
  4. Knock Knock
  5. Smile

Monday, 8 May 2017

Modern day opening, trip to the future, trip to the past – all in the bag. Now it’s time for the return to the companion’s modern day life, as Series 10 continues to emulate Russell T Davies’ formula for beginning a Doctor Who series. That’s not a criticism – the formula works, in terms of showing new viewers what Who’s about and letting the show properly establish the companion and their life.

But whereas Davies would usually have this return to the contemporary take the form of an alien invasion story, Knock Knock uses a narrative type more typical of the Steven Moffat era – the haunted house. Now officially a student, after the Doctor has seemingly pulled some strings, Bill moves with her new mates into a suspiciously spacious and worryingly creaky old house.

Now, haunted houses have been done very well in Doctor Who before – Blink won a Hugo, and you should really check out The Chimes of Midnight, one of Big Finish’s best audio stories. They’ve also been done badly – please don’t remind me of Hide. This is definitely not one of the worst, as Mike Bartlett’s script builds up the menace while both direction and sound design give the old house a creepy atmosphere. 

But Doctor Who haunted houses can never be that scary, can they? The timeslot alone means the BBC wouldn’t get away with going full-on Paranormal Activity. So, to be effective, such an episode needs something special, something as creative and surprising as the ingenious Weeping Angels. What does Knock Knock have in that regard?

It has the student house angle, I suppose, with the potential of a Fresh Meat-esque sparky interplay between the gang. There’s the weirdly tall jock who unsubtly tries it on with Bill, the posh girl who’s scared of everything dusty and can’t live without phone coverage – OK, yeah, recognisable archetypes, that’s a start. And then there’s, err, the other ones. We know they're young and fun because they shout the titles of reality TV shows during moments of crisis, but other than that, not a lot of effort is put into character detail, and consequently the episode often feels flat. Not a classic yet, then.

The more interesting character is the landlord, played by David Suchet. Possibly the biggest guest star of the series, his performance veers engagingly from the charming to the sinister, elevating all the scenes he’s in. This is perhaps at odds with the direction, which wants to play his performance up to the level of parody – the “How do you get into the tower?” “You don’t” moment made me laugh instead of shiver. 

The main technique the episode uses to differentiate itself from cinematic haunted house fare, however, is a very Doctor Who trope – the third-act twist into emotional story. The reveal that the landlord is in fact the son of the wood lady is well handled in terms of believably clicking plot elements into place, while the emotion of him being a kid who became too attached to his mother and couldn’t leave allows Suchet to shine again, and should fit nicely into the story of Bill moving out from home. But...

....hang on. What story about Bill moving out from home? Her foster mother, who we met in The Pilot, wasn’t in this episode at all. There’s such an obvious parallel between Bill confidently leaving her mother figure and the landlord failing to do the same that it feels like a spectacular failure that the episode doesn’t even attempt to make that connection, instead opting for a gag version of it with the Doctor being the parent who awkwardly hangs around. Which is funny, but we really needed to see Moira for the emotional counterpoint. If, as I said in the opening paragraph, the purpose of returning to the present day is to establish the companion’s continuing ‘normal’ life, then there seems to be very little continuity to that. 

Similarly, what are the chances we’ll ever see Bill’s friends again? If Shireen is her best friend, why could we not have seen her in The Pilot? This continues a recurring problem of Moffat era companions (Amy seemed to change career every few episodes, while Clara’s family were so incidental that her dad was recast without anyone noticing), in strong contrast to the care RTD put into this side of things. At least Bill remains more grounded in reality than either of her predecessors, though this discontinuity in her life is certainly holding her story arc back.

It’s the lack of any real original idea, however, that keeps Knock Knock a long way away from the standards of Blink and The Chimes of Midnight. Still, now that both new series and new companion have had time to establish themselves, it looks like the next few episodes may, as Capaldi series have tended to do around the midpoint, start to push the boat out and be a bit more experimental.

  1. Thin Ice
  2. The Pilot
  3. Knock Knock
  4. Smile

Saturday, 6 May 2017

On 6.5.17 by KieronMoore in , , ,    1 comment

Full review on Starburst.

There’s more to Torchwood than the small team operating out of Cardiff; The Dollhouse takes us to 1970s  Los Angeles, where an all-female team of operatives keeps an eye on extraterrestrial activity in one of Britain’s former colonies.

It’s a story featuring a lot of débuts – this is author Juno Dawson’s first time writing for anything Doctor Who-related, and the three main cast members are new to Big Finish, too. Thankfully, The Dollhouse assuages any fears in its first few minutes, setting up its premise and characters in a fantastically camp Charlie’s Angels-esque title sequence that promises us we’re in for a good ride.

We have Laila Pyne as scientist Marlow, Kelly-Anne Lyons as former burglar Charley, and Ajjaz Awad as thrill-seeking Gabi. Throughout the story, this trio are a delight; most viewers will be left wanting to spend more time with Torchwood LA, and there's certainly scope for development.

As the team investigate the disappearance of several young actresses, they're sent into a series of tense and exciting situations that show off their dynamic well. Dawson also, as is perhaps inevitable when dealing with an all-female team, makes good narrative use of the sexism of the time.
On 6.5.17 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

Full review on Starburst.

The Doctor and Romana land on a World War II era British submarine at the start of this latest Fourth Doctor Adventure, but it immediately becomes apparent that not everything is as you’d expect. For a start, it’s floating in space. Most of the crew are missing, and there are creatures flying around outside, trying to get in. And then there’s the talking chimpanzee.

This is, undoubtedly, a brilliant set-up – a Douglas Adams-esque mix of sci-fi and surrealism that fits in perfectly with Tom Baker’s run on the show, and which immediately conjures up images in the mind. For that, we can commend Adrian Poynton, a sitcom writer making his Doctor Who debut.

As the Doctor investigates all the questions thrown up by this odd situation, however, the answers he uncovers aren’t quite so imaginative. The second half of the story revolves largely around a scientist regretting having created what he’s come to see as a monstrosity, a Frankenstein-inspired trope which we’ve seen or heard in Doctor Who many times, while Sheila Ruskin’s villain Flague struggles to be much more than a war-hungry megalomaniac.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Perhaps to be remembered as the one where the Doctor gets in on this year’s in-thing of punching Nazis in the face. But we’ll get back to that.

After killing off Clara Oswald in 2015’s Face the Raven, writer Sarah Dollard returns for a second crack at Doctor Who. With no such major twist to dominate the discussion this time, Dollard gets the chance to write a more typical episode, one that’s very much an ‘episode three’ in the model Russell T Davies established for the series – the companion’s first trip into the past, with a mystery and a monster but nothing too extravagant plot-wise. 

By all objective standards, it’s a very good episode three – nice choice of setting, witty dialogue, a pacey but never rushed plot. The Doctor gets to use his detective skills while the companion’s empathy and humanity plays a major part in both conflict and resolution. Just what you need at this point, and all very ably structured. But on top of that, Thin Ice manages in several ways to be more than just a historical run-around.

There’s the development of Bill’s relationship with the Doctor. Going by that RTD formula, the new TARDIS team should be comfortable with each other by the opening of episode four, so this is the time for cracks to show and, for now at least, be repaired. Bill’s anger at the Doctor over his inability to remember how many he’s seen die and how many he’s killed shows off some subtle but very solid character development, a change to Moffat’s more heavy-handed style. And the conflict’s settled by the end of the episode, at which point Bill has made a clear decision to keep travelling with the Doctor and the Doctor’s made a clear decision to let Bill stick around. End of act one. Bill and the Doctor are a team, now we’re rolling.

Then there’s the very impressive world-building on show. Both episodes so far this series have felt very insular, with the plot having little visible effect on characters other than the Doctor and Bill; this is a common feature of Moffat episodes but felt particularly bad in Smile, where no other characters showed up for the first half hour. Thin Ice, refreshingly, depicts a bustling world with a real sense of community; within minutes, we have a sense of the lives of the dodgy dealers, loveable urchins and comedy drunks who inhabit it. The effect of setting up this very well realised slice of history is that we care when it’s threatened; Dollard displayed a similar skill with the Trap Street community in Face the Raven.

Dollard also very coherently handles her theme of oppression, of those who believe themselves superior to others, and of fighting back against them. Specifically with Bill, we have the worry of being a black woman travelling into Britain’s imperial past; these concerns were brushed over with Martha in The Shakespeare Code, but Thin Ice brings them front and centre, directly correlating Bill’s struggle with the sci-fi plot about the chained up serpent, with the same hapless aristocratic bigot antagonising them both. As you’d expect and want from a writer as outspokenly political as Dollard, these racial politics are key to the episode. Addressing issues like this is what Doctor Who at its best should be doing; any episode where you can immediately imagine the Daily Mail comments gets an easy thumbs-up from me.

Which brings us back to that punch, something that it’s impossible to imagine David Tennant or Matt Smith’s Doctors doing, but which feels oddly appropriate for Capaldi’s. Though he still has much more than violence in his arsenal, as he follows up with one of modern Doctor Who’s most eloquent speeches, I get the feeling the combination of punch and speech is going to be Capaldi’s stand-out moment of the series. The equivalent in series nine was his virulently anti-war speech. You could argue that going from that moment of anti-violence to this of violence jeopardises the pacifism of Doctor Who, but don't both actions work towards the same goal? What we have in the Twelfth Doctor is a character who’ll try his hardest to prevent meaningless conflict, who’ll argue vehemently for the importance of understanding and tolerance, but who can realise when some people just can’t be redeemed, and when intolerance can’t be tolerated.

More than anything, it’s worth celebrating that Doctor Who is willing to start these discussions, to show its characters addressing real-life prejudices, and to include that Jesus line, all while providing an undeniably fun adventure. Thin Ice is an expertly crafted episode three, and a powerfully challenging Doctor Who episode.

  1. Thin Ice
  2. The Pilot
  3. Smile

Friday, 28 April 2017

On 28.4.17 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

I've written the Paternoster Gang story, titled THE INSCRUTABLE ILLUSIONIST, in the latest issue of Doctor Who Adventures. Because I'm a massive cinema history nerd, it features the Lumiere brothers and explains what really happened in those screenings of The Arrival of a Train...

The story is illustrated by Russ Leach, and the issue also features a new comic strip by Andrew Cartmel.

Get down to the shops now and pick up Doctor Who Adventures #23!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Tony Scott is generally associated with his mainstream actioners, from Top Gun to Unstoppable, but his first feature was a much more arthouse affair: The Hunger, an erotic vampire movie which bombed back in 1983 but has since built up a cult following.

It stars Catherine Deneuve as ancient vampire Miriam Blaylock and David Bowie as her husband John. When John begins to age rapidly, Miriam grows attracted to Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), a scientist studying the causes of ageing, not to find answers but to take her on as a new lover.

This love triangle may be pleasingly unconventional, but it is pretty much all there is going on. Much like Only Lovers Left Alive, it’s often a ponderous movie, with Scott’s staccato cutting between scenes only superficially livening up the pace and failing to mask the scarcity of plot. There are a few sequences when the story begins to grab the attention – John realising he’s beginning to age; Sarah furious at Miriam for poisoning her blood, in what could be interpreted as an AIDS allegory; an energetic final confrontation – but these are bookended by the more plodding sequences.

That said, even the less interesting parts of the story can be a delight to watch, with a gothic class to Stephen Goldblatt’s dark and blue-tinged cinematography, plus three incredible central performances. The Hunger hasn’t aged as poorly as some other films of the period have – it’s just as captivating and as frustrating as ever.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

After The Pilot started off Doctor Who’s current run by shaking off the complex plots and blockbuster stylings of the Steven Moffat era in favour of something more akin to Russell T Davies’ work, Series 10 is continuing that noughties Who feel by taking new companion Bill first to the future, then to the past. This week, we had the trip forward in time, in the form of Smile, by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, a writer who’s only contributed to Who once before, with 2014’s frankly dreadful In the Forest of the Night. Well, Doctor Who’s all about second chances, right?

Smile sees the Doctor take Bill to one of humanity’s first colonies, a gleaming utopia (or so it seems) far out in space. Putting aside any questions about the future timeline of humanity in the Whoniverse (I gave up on trying to make sense of that long ago), the first thing Bill, and indeed the audience, notices is just how gorgeous this place is; the crew’s trip to Valencia to film this was certainly worth the money. Then they notice the Emojibots, cute little things with a habit of turning nasty. Turns out the robots who built the city have misinterpreted their programming, and anyone not happy enough gets offed. 

As Bill and the Doctor explore this colony, the first half hour is... not slow exactly, but relaxed. This actually works to Smile’s advantage – it’s good to spend some time with this new team and get used to their dynamic, while the delight with which Capaldi and Mackie approach their roles is infectious. Bill’s inquisitiveness is helping her stand out as good companion material, though she doesn’t actually do much to move the plot forward. And plus points for the Doctor quoting Bowie.

The story is reminiscent of Seventh Doctor serial The Happiness Patrol, which used a world where happiness is illegal to spin a Thatcherism satire. There’s no such satire here, with Cottrell-Boyce’s tone being, like In the Forest of the Night, more akin to a sci-fi fairytale, which allows for the very Moffat-y gimmick of having to force a smile to trick the Emojibots and for the overly happy ending. This fairytale tone carries over into some of the production design, sometimes a little too much; that room with the corpse on display, and a book of Earth's history next to it for whatever reason, feels oddly twee and out of place. 

The robots themselves are fun, probably particularly so for the kids this series needs to win over, but I can’t help but feel it would be much creepier if the Emojibots themselves could kill people rather than being merely henchmen of a different kind of robot – a messy construction which takes away from the irony of such a cute robot actually being a threat.

Similarly, there are several parts of the episode’s plot that just feel sloppy, most notably the process of the Doctor’s investigation. It’s not clear how he works out that you can get past the Emojibots by pretending to smile. Nor is it clear why he jumps straight to the last resort of blowing the whole city up rather than investigating what’s turning the Vardies bad – particularly weird as he’d just been waxing lyrical about why Bill shouldn’t offend these robots. 

And then, near the end of the episode, he has not one, but two scenes that are presented as big moments of revelation – complete with climactic score and “of course” monologuing – where he doesn’t actually learn much that’s new. “Grief... as a plague!” Erm... I thought we’d all already worked that out. The last one is particularly messy: why does the Vardies reacting to threat mean they’re alive, didn’t we already know they’re alive, and why does realising they’re alive give the Doctor the idea to turn them off and on again? And why hadn’t he had that idea earlier, especially given he’d been going on for most of the episode about a parable which ends with the main character pressing a reset button? Nothing seems to connect, and that seriously hampers the drama of the episode.

Nevertheless, Smile isn’t bad. It’s a gorgeous-looking episode with some fun robots, which helps build up the partnership of the Doctor and Bill, as is important at this stage in the series. And it’s a big step up from Cottrell-Boyce’s first attempt. But, with a bit of logical thought, it could have been much better. To be honest, I’ve been looking forward much more to Sarah Dollard’s historical episode; with part two of Bill’s three-part tour of basic Doctor Who settings done, that’s up next.

And I did love that teaser at the end, with the elephant. I enjoy the little links between episodes. The development of the series arc at the beginning of Smile was fun, too, with Nardole showing up to remind us about this oath thing. Anyone got any good theories as to what the Doctor’s protecting?

  1. The Pilot
  2. Smile

On 23.4.17 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

The latest issue of Starburst Magazine is in stores now!

To celebrate the release of Alien: Covenant, Starburst #436 covers all things Alien-related, from a lookback over the films to a feature about cats in space. Yes, Starburst has succumbed to the cat obsession.

Also in the mag, you'll find my reviews of Solaris and Doom Coalition 4, as well as the usual Doctor Who news column.

Go here to buy it online!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Many have commented that it’s typical Steven Moffat bravado to name the first episode of his final series The Pilot, but this is reflective of a very distinct quality of Doctor Who, in that it refreshes its main cast almost every series (and has a new setting, side characters and even genre every episode) and so is never far from a good jumping-on point for new viewers. But this most recent series opener, partly due to Moffat never having intended to stay on for Series 10 and so having already wrapped up his big story arcs, tried harder than the past two continuity-heavy ones did to give the show a fresh start – which was, given increasing audience apathy, much needed.

So instead of a blockbuster romp through time and space, we had a largely stripped-down contemporary Earth story, one in several ways more reminiscent of the way Moffat’s predecessor Russell T Davies would open a series than the ways Moffat has tended to. And what Davies did best with such openers was to establish a focus on the everyday life of the companion...

And so, Bill Potts. In deliberate contrast to the ‘Impossible Girl’ Clara Oswald, this episode went out of its way to dump information about her ‘ordinariness’ – she serves chips! She’s in foster care! She can be a bit awkward around crushes! The pacing with which Moffat writes these scenes means it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to know Bill’s extended family – foster mother Moira and love interest Heather – as much as we did Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith, but this is the closest his style is ever gonna get to Rose. Besides this, two significant talking points stood out to me with Bill...

Firstly, she’s gay! This has dominated a lot of press discussion about the character, but that’s no bad thing – LGBT representation in TV is a big deal, and every time a show says that being gay is fine, a child somewhere begins to believe it. And I thought the episode handled this very well; having her sexuality be part of that depiction of Bill as ‘ordinary’ helped reinforce the message – diversity is ordinary. Bill’s romance with another girl being a key part of the plot made her sexuality much more substantial than that one time Clara made a flippant remark about shagging Jane Austen (Bill may not technically be the first LGBT companion, then, but she’s the first to mention it more than once), though, importantly, it wasn’t so much a part of the plot that Bill became entirely defined by her sexuality. A very well balanced approach. 

The other thing that stood out to me was Bill’s relationship with the Doctor. The student/tutor relationship is one that Doctor Who hasn’t explored before, and it works well here; not only is it very suited to Capaldi’s take on the Time Lord, but it allows Bill to be smart. Not in an arrogant or esoteric way – she is, after all, not one of those fancy-pants students but just the girl who serves chips – but in the aspirational, humanistic, somewhat outside-the-box way which Doctor Who rewards. 

This wasn’t how she was represented in the trailers, which emphasised that “it’s a kitchen!” line stripped of its context and so made her seem dim, though this apparent dimness did still show up in questions like “What’s sky made of?”, which is a somewhat childish question for someone who earlier in the episode got 97% on an astrophysics exam. 

Two possible explanations to that: 

1) The show’s pitching ‘being smart and inquisitive is cool’ in a way which will entertain kids, and so this seeming disparity is in fact to be commended.

2) Bill is a shameless plagiarist...

Either way, one thing’s for sure: Pearl Mackie’s fabulous. I tend not to go into as much detail with acting as much as writing, as I actually know a bit about writing, but she really, definitely is. As is Peter Capaldi, but that’s obvious by now. 

While Capaldi’s always been at the top of his game, his Doctor has had something of an inconsistent characterisation, with one season as the Malcolm Tucker Doctor and then one as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor. Both of those were fun takes on the character, but could easily lean into gimmickry (cough, driving a tank into a castle while playing guitar, cough). Here, however, he felt settled; the sternness was still there, as was the grooviness, but these qualities found a balance. It helped that he had every Doctor’s most important trait, his kindness – going back in time to take photos of Bill’s mother is something I can’t imagine the more self-centred Doctor of two series ago doing – with those other, distinctly Capaldi qualities on top. Even the Doctor’s costuming felt settled; Series 8’s suit needed something extra, Series 9 went too far with the ‘Doctor Hoody’ look, and now we’ve arrived at the perfect mix.

Just in time for him to leave at the end of the series. Oh, well.

Onto the actual plot: there’s a weird puddle that chases Bill around. There’s nothing resembling a scientific explanation, which is a shame, and it’s far from the most threatening of villains (even after I’d spent most of the week dealing with my flat’s plumbing going to shit, I failed to be scared by it). It fits into the Steven Moffat trope of not being ‘evil’ but just causing trouble by mistake, which allows for a nice message but plays into the lack of threat. That doesn’t matter a great deal here, though, for what this episode has to do is get Bill and the Doctor together, and it does that very well.

Later in the episode, the puddle chases the TARDIS crew across the galaxy, and the episode changes from its grounded RTD-esque tone to a much more typically Moffat tour of the Doctor Who universe. The Australia gag is genuinely funny. The Daleks, however... a little crowbarred in, aren’t they? Running into a warzone and hoping the puddle gets killed by Daleks has got to be one of the Doctor’s worst plans ever, but spectacle wins over logic again.

(Oh, and Nardole’s still in it. Reasonably funny, not present enough to annoy me, hope there’s a point to him later in the series.)

The Pilot, then, is in no way going to go down as a Doctor Who classic, but it does exactly what it needs to do: revitalises the show in a way that feels at once exciting and, like its Doctor, settled – confident in what its doing. It also introduces us to, from what we’ve seen so far, the most rounded and instantly likeable companion of the Steven Moffat era. Most importantly, it make us want to know what happens next.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Eating and watching films are two of my main interests in life, so when I was asked to contribute an essay about the two of them to a new magazine, I had a snack and watched a movie, and then agreed to do it.

In shops now, Beneficial Shock! aims to look at cinema with a different theme each issue, and this first course (pun entirely intended) is about food on film. It's also an incredibly well designed mag, with bespoke illustrations accompanying every feature. My piece is about surreal use of food in films based on Roald Dahl books. The artists involved, and the editor Gabriel Solomons, have all done excellent work, and I hope my words don't let them down...

Find out if they do by picking up an issue now. More info can be found on the mag's Twitter page.

Monday, 20 March 2017

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Full review on Starburst.

Seok Woo, a busy fund manager and single parent, has let his work take over his life to the extent that his daughter Soo-an can no longer stand living with him and demands to be taken to spend her birthday with her mother in Busan. And so father and daughter board the eponymous train – on the day the zombie infection breaks out.

Zombie movies may be ten-a-penny these days, and so it’s difficult to find a new approach to the genre, but this South Korean effort has a unique selling point in its claustrophobic setting; as many films before it have discovered, from Bond outing From Russia With Love to Snowpiercer, the confined and inescapable train is an excellent setting for brutal action. It’s even better with zombies on board. 

The theme of selfishness vs. selflessness is laid on heavy, particularly when it comes to supporting characters such as a one-dimensionally swinish COO and a pair of sisters who have opposing political views. And yet this is never a problem for long, as there’s always another pants-shakingly relentless action scene around the corner. 
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Full review on Starburst. 

And my interview with director G. J. Echternkamp is published in Starburst Magazine 435, in stores now!

The premise is basically the same as the original – in a post-apocalyptic America, the most popular sport is the annual Death Race, in which five drivers zoom across America, earning points for killing civilians along the way.

Being a low-budget affair, this isn’t the slickest looking car movie you’ll have seen, but it’s nevertheless entertainingly brutal, with the racing scenes coming fast and heavy and the gore reminding us what we love about the cheap and nasty exploitation movies of the ‘70s. 

Script-wise, the humour is the real appeal. Here there’s a difference in tone between the 1975 and 2000 films – whereas the original went full-on Wacky Races, Death Race 2050 is more satirical, as ridiculous and overblown as that satire is. It’s got a broad range of targets, from radical Christianity to AI technology to reality TV.

But the most striking satirical target is not any of the racers but the film’s take on America itself, now a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by – be warned, this is where it may feel a little close to the bone right now – Malcolm McDowell’s silly-haired and egotistic Chairman of the United Corporations of America.

That’s right, Death Race 2050 is the anti-Trump satire we all need. Sure, the budget shows, but what shows even more is this film’s angry, anarchistic spirit.
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Full review on Starburst.

In October 2015, Big Finish began an epic story set in the later days of the Eighth Doctor’s life. Almost a year and a half later, Doom Coalition 4 has completed that story, which now spans sixteen episodes across four box sets. The Doctor and his companions Liv and Helen have uncovered a great conspiracy among the ranks of the Time Lords, which threatens the entire universe...

Doom Coalition 4 doesn’t resolve the previous instalment's cliffhanger immediately, but spends an entire episode, Ship in a Bottle, following the three leads trapped in a time capsule. It’s a stripped-down episode – you could say a ‘bottle’ episode – with just the three characters, allowing writer John Dorney to create an intimate character study.

Next up is Songs of Love, a Doctor-lite episode in which River Song finds herself on Gallifrey, amongst the conspirators. It’s heavy on the exposition, having to put a lot of pieces in place for the finale, and on Gallifreyan politics.

The Side of the Angels takes us to 1970s New York, where the Doctor discovers another group of Time Lords with their own plan to counter the universe’s destruction. Matt Fitton’s script brings many disparate elements together into an entertaining adventure; it’s the most like a traditional Doctor Who episode of the bunch. And Rufus Hound is great as the Monk.

Finally, there’s Stop the Clock. In order not to spoil the surprises, I won’t say much about this, other than that it feels like a properly epic finale.

All in all, Doom Coalition 4 is a great success for Big Finish, as is Doom Coalition as a whole – an epic story told across sixteen episodes, with each episode contributing to the arc while standing out on its own.
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Full review on Starburst. 

Cosmonaut and psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris to investigate strange transmissions coming from its three remaining crew. When he gets there, he finds that an alien intelligence has been manifesting itself as simulacra of the crew’s memories. This strange phenomenon soon hits Kelvin hard, as he’s visited by a being who appears to be his wife Hari – who died ten years ago.

At once an epic and a very insular movie, a combination that much sci-fi aspires to but falls short of, Solaris cuts between sweeping shots of the mysterious planet and deep psychological exploration of how these ‘guests’ affect the crew. It’s a film that’s been discussed at length with regards to what it has to say about faith and memory, but which at heart seems to be about the need for human connection.

At times, it’s a captivatingly beautiful film, with this thought-provoking drama taking place against the backdrop of an impressive but worn-down space station, which seems to fall apart alongside the protagonist’s mind. At other times, the movie’s lingering nature can irritate; one particular shot of a car travelling down a road before we’ve even gone to space lasts uncomfortably long.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

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Full review on Starburst.

Film is often described as a collaborative medium, but if there ever was one movie that could be described as authored – the work of one artistic mind – it’s Endless Poetry. Not only does it show off Alejandro Jodorowsky’s style at its most bizarre, but it’s also about the surrealist filmmaker’s own life, following 2013’s The Dance of Reality as the second part of an autobiographical trilogy.

The young Alejandro leaves his family behind to join a bohemian community of artists in Santiago, Chile’s capital. Across the 1940s and ‘50s, this eclectic bunch frequent bars way into the early hours, improvise poetry at each other, and have a raucous time being abrasively avant-garde. The astonishingly weird story isn’t afraid to depict its characters in unusual ways – Alejandro’s mother sings all of her dialogue in an operatic style – or to go off on narrative tangents – at one point, he decides almost spontaneously to become a clown.

But all of this is carefully composed to capture both the vivid and extraordinary life of this cultural scene and this important period in Alejandro’s life, with the overall tone being that of a director looking back fondly but analytically on his past. The concept has potential to become indulgent or patronising, but instead Jodorowsky presents it with a sense of humour and a deftness of touch.

Friday, 17 March 2017

It's time for my monthly plug for the latest issue of Starburst Magazine!

It was my pleasure to interview GJ Echternkamp, the director of Roger Corman's Death Race 2050, for this issue. Also, I look back on the Paul McGann Doctor Who audios, give a controversial headline about Danny Dyer, and review some things of varying medium (from audio to visual!) and quality (from 7/10 to 8/10!).

And there's lots of stuff about Guardians of the Galaxy. Other people wrote that, but they're good too.

Starburst 435 is available in shops or online.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

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Full review on Starburst.

Julia Davenport has a problem in her sex life – whenever she orgasms, she releases a mysterious demonic entity with an unfortunate predilection for killing anyone in the vicinity. They didn’t cover that in sex ed lessons. Though the concept of Off Girl may invite comparisons with the acclaimed series Sex Criminals, it’s an interesting twist on the concept, with Julia’s superpower being more of a burden than a benefit. 

Fine uses this to explore the idea of a woman struggling with an overpowering need for sex. This, however, does factor in to one of the problems with this first issue. Because it’s not made clear (or even acknowledged) why she’s so damn horny all the time, some of the decisions Julia makes make her difficult to like as a lead character. This isn’t helped by the fact that the story starts with Julia already knowing about her power, which does add pacing but also leaves us confused at points, nor by the rushed manner in which a lot of the scenes are written, with dialogue being very to the point.

What does make the comic stand out, however, is Mark Reihill’s distinctive art style, which looks something like the cel-shaded style of A Scanner Darkly crossed with a modern noir. Moody and evocative, Reihill’s art forgoes detail in favour of striking character designs and strong chiaroscuro, a style which particularly fits one expressionistic sequence at the – ahem – climax of the issue.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Vastra, Jenny and Strax find themselves protecting an important figure from a vicious alien killer as their train hurtles through the French countryside in ASSASSIN ON THE RAILROADS, my Paternoster Gang Investigates story in issue 22 of Doctor Who Adventures.

The issue also features a new and exciting comic strip written by Andrew Cartmel. Both this and my story are brilliantly illustrated by Russ Leach.

It's on sale now in supermarkets and newsagents!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

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The latest issue of Starburst Magazine is available now! The main features cover the past and present of the Power Rangers franchise - not one I've ever followed personally but the writers involved seem to know their stuff. I've contributed my usual Doctor Who news column and a couple of my reviews - The Diary of River Song and Judge Dredd: Every Empire Falls - are printed.

Go go buy it now!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Full review on Starburst.

When we join the Fourth Doctor, Romana and K9 at the beginning of this latest adventure from Big Finish, they’re travelling to the Lake District in order to visit the Pencil Museum. Of course, no listener actually expects them to make it there. The time travellers in fact find themselves in a warzone populated by Sontarans, zombies, and zombie Sontarans. The rain’s similar to the Lake District, though.

Though the zombie genre may have been worn out a while ago, pitting Sontarans against the undead versions of themselves is an irresistible pitch, and regular Who franchise writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright get a lot of great material out of it.

It’s particularly interesting to have the Sontarans on the same side as our heroes for once. The pairing of the Doctor with Commander Stom, a kind of companion figure, is a highlight of the story; Tom Baker and Dan Starkey are both naturally funny actors and the script makes fun of the Sontarans’ overly militaristic manner in a witty way, rather than resorting to wackiness like some recent TV appearances.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

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“How much sorrow can one man have to bear? As much as a river of spring water flowing east” goes the poem from which The Spring River Flows East derives its name. Indeed, a whole lot of sorrow – plus some action and drama too! – is spread across the three-hour running time of Chusheng Cai and Junli Zheng’s epic, often cited as one of the masterpieces of Chinese cinema.

The film begins in 1931 and ends in the late 1940s, covering the lives of one family before, during and after the Second Sino-Japanese War, and is split into two parts. In part one, we meet a young couple, Zhongliang and Sufen. Zhongliang leaves his wife, mother and infant son behind to fight in the war, where he’s captured by the Japanese. 

By the second half, Zhongliang has escaped his captors and been taken in by a wealthy acquaintance. Finding himself in bourgeois society, he forgets about his family and his morals. Meanwhile, Sufen suffers more and more, turning to desperate measures to feed her son.

It’s a Chinese equivalent of a David Lean epic – the personal struggles of a small group set against the sweeping backdrop of history. Though actual action sequences are sparse, the filmmakers cut in genuine newsreel footage, which builds up both tension and veracity.

In Zhongliang, we have an excellent portrayal of a man who starts out as a revolutionary and a romantic but is changed by the situations he’s thrown into, becoming a coward and a cad. But the tears referenced in that poem surely belong to Sufen; her increasingly harrowing conditions have a real sense of desperation to them, and you’ll be rooting for the family to find some solace. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The latest issue of Starburst Magazine is in stores now.

This one is full of King Kong and Resident Evil coverage. You'll also find my Doctor Who news column and reviews of The Art of Rogue One and Cadet Anderson: Teenage Kyx.

Buy it here!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

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I've started contributing movie and TV-related articles to TheRichest, and my first article's up now! Really, it's just one more excuse for me to spend my time thinking about Star Wars. Take a look.

Monday, 16 January 2017

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[One very SPOILERY paragraph later on, but I'll warn you when you get there]

About halfway through La La Land, John Legend’s Keith asks Ryan Goslings’s Seb to join his synthy, poppy, electronic-y jazz band, but Seb isn’t sure, preferring to stick to classic jazz. Keith argues that he has to accept that music is moving forwards if he wants to do something revolutionary, rather than being a traditionalist recreating the old greats.

Which is an odd argument to make half way through a highly reverential throwback to classic ‘50s musicals.

Revolutionary it ain’t. Which is why I’ll be annoyed if (or do I mean ‘when’?) this beats the likes of Moonlight to nab the Best Picture Oscar, especially just five years after last time Hollywood gave it to a film about how great Hollywood is.

And yet, it’s so, so well made and I can’t for one second deny the all-singing, all-dancing pleasures of it. The story aims its emotional beats high and low, the songs are bombastically catchy, and Gosling and Emma Stone are a modern Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. I could happily look at his cheeky grin and her in those Technicolor dresses all day, if I weren’t distracted by how stunning everything else in this movie is.

That shot of the two of them against the purple LA sunset – if you stuck that in a ‘name the classic movie’ picture quiz, I’d feel bad for not getting which ‘50s masterpiece it’s obviously from. There are some experimental camera techniques which you wouldn’t see in Singin' in the Rain, too – that opening long-take with the camera flowing around the freeway blew me away. Damien Chazelle has a real flair for both visuals and music, and the way he brings the two together is just incredible.

[BIG SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH] But even that’s just a natural development of a classic genre rather than anything challenging. The only trope of the old Hollywood romance which La La Land dispenses with is the happy ending. And with that... I’m not sure it was the right decision. That last scene feels meaningful – they both got the lives they wanted, but not the love they needed – but out of tone with what you expect from the otherwise uplifting story.

One thing I wondered whilst watching was whether the film would have been more progressive – artistically and politically – had a black actor been cast as Seb. It would certainly have added depth to his going on about the history of jazz if he was talking about his African American culture. Donald Glover, maybe? I reckon he has the charm. But then again, I guess it was safer to bank on a bigger star.

Enough musing. I’m off to find the soundtrack on Spotify.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The imagination of H. G. Wells and the visual talents of Ray Harryhausen are such a good match that it’s a surprise they only came together for one film.

When Victorian businessman Bedford discovers that the reclusive inventor Cavor has come up with a technique to negate gravity, he's soon whisked along on a trip to the moon, with his narked-off girlfriend Kate accidentally on board, too.

The characters and performances are clichéd – the opportunistic businessman, the mad scientist, the whiny-but-actually-not-as-annoying-as-she-could-be girlfriend – but this does allow for some lively comic interplay between them. There’s also tension derived from Bedford and Cavor’s attitudes to the aliens, with an ultimately optimistic message about the importance of understanding other cultures.

Retaining much of Wells’ tale, this is a fantastic science fiction adventure, and the naïveté of the Victorian science only adds to the quirky charm – it’s a film where you can jump around the moon in a diving suit, because “if it can hold water out, it can hold air in”. But what allows this 1964 movie to remain entertaining today is Harryhausen's delightful stop-motion, a highlight being the giant caterpillar-like beast that accosts Bedford and Cavor.

For animation enthusiasts, sci-fi fans, and kids not yet corrupted by the lure of CGI, First Men in the Moon showcases the work of two of the most pioneering, revered names in fantastic entertainment. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Another year, another Disney Star Wars movie. Because spoiler-free reviews are ten-a-penny, here are some SPOILER-filled notes, from my perspective as both a Star Wars nerd and a writer, on what I thought of Rogue One. Which contain Rogue One SPOILERS.

  • First off, the tone of Rogue One is what makes it work so well – that mixing of what we think of as Star Wars with both other film genres and entirely original elements. It looks like Star Wars but not too much, whereas last year’s The Force Awakens imitated the original trilogy so much that, while it was great at the time, on rewatch the plot and visuals don’t stand up by their own merit (I still love Rey, Finn and Poe, though). It’s a grittier take on Star Wars, with moral greyness to the Rebellion and a commando movie-style finale. And there are planets that aren’t snow or desert-themed!
  • And it looks so good. Barely a scene goes by without a striking image that sticks in the mind long after leaving the cinema. The Star Destroyer above Jedha City. Galen standing firm by his farm, his ragged hair and poncho making him look like a character from a Kurosawa movie. Bustling streets, with dirty-armoured Stormtrooper patrols throwing the citizens around. Vader’s scarred body almost revealed in the healing tank. It’s cinematic.
  • The story both stands on its own and ties very nicely into Episode IV. That's how to do a prequel! They’d make a very good double bill, in fact – not only the close timeline link between the end of one film and the start of the next, but the way this film’s events add depth to A New Hope. The added moral murkiness to the Rebel Alliance and the destruction we’ve seen the Death Star do on places we’ve got to know makes the rebels’ attack on the Death Star much more climactic and negates the old criticism that Luke Skywalker is actually a mass murderer. This is a Rebel Alliance we believe would have no qualms with blowing the thing up. I do also like that the flaw in the Death Star was deliberate and not just an idiotic oversight.
  • I’ve seen a lot of praise for the film for having a female lead, which is indeed great, but feel it’s worth pointing out that, out of the nine main characters (the Rogue One squad plus Krennic, Galen and Saw), only Jyn is female. So it could be doing better on that front. It’s very racially diverse, though, which is great. I love this story Diego Luna posted on Twitter.
  • On a significantly less relevant to the real world diversity note, why is almost everyone human? Having an alien or two in the squad, à la Chewbacca, would have made it that bit more Star Wars-y. According to the concept art book, Chirrut and Baze were originally aliens, and I wonder why they changed this. It also stands out that all but one of the soldiers who join up with the squad in the final act are human (and, again more importantly, are all male).
  • I like the ideas behind Jyn Erso as a character – a girl who’s been beaten down by the authorities all her life to the point that she’s a rebellious criminal who’ll stand up for herself and take no shit, but is reluctant to join any organisation doing the same, even the Rebel Alliance. But I don’t think the story arc she’s given fits with this. Making it about her losing her parents (first her mother, then her adoptive father, then her real father, to be precise) brings too many comparisons with Luke Skywalker’s story. And it grates how she spends half the film trying not to join the Rebel Alliance, then finds out they tried to kill her father, and only then decides to join them. Sure, it can be partially explained as her wanting to complete the mission her father left her, but still... it’s awkward.
  • Similarly, I really like Cassian Andor, but his sudden reluctance to kill Galen when he’s happy killing even people on the same side as him (such as Daniel Mays in Cassian’s introductory scene) in the name of duty feels wonky.
  • The scene where Jyn saves that terrible child actor who’s idiotically standing in the middle of a firefight is such a ‘Save the Cat’.
  • K-2SO is hilarious, a very important edge of comic relief. It does sometimes feel awkward when other characters, usually played straight, get funny lines that don’t work as well. But Chirrut Îmwe gets the best gag – “Are you kidding me, I’m blind!”
  • I do agree with all the criticisms that CGI Peter Cushing is icky. It doesn’t look great, particularly his mouth when he talks. But what allows me to forgive this is that he’s worked very well into the story. Tarkin’s the antagonist of Krennic’s side plot, which is the best character story in the film – the ambitious officer struggling hard to rise through the closed-off ranks having credit taken away from him by this posh wanker. It adds a more personal level of nastiness to Tarkin that makes him seem even more evil when you rewatch him destroying Alderaan (another way this adds depth to A New Hope), and allows Krennic to be one of the most fleshed-out baddies of the Star Wars universe.
  • The cameos are a mixed bag. C-3PO and R2-D2 popping up in the Rebel base is fun and makes sense, as does the film’s final shot, but Ponda Baba and Dr Evazan happening to bump into Jyn in Jedha City is a coincidence of astronomical proportions and pure fanwank with no narrative purpose.
  • I'm surprised there's not been a controversy about how Jedha's political, religious and military climate is clearly based on Middle Eastern conflicts, but with the extremist insurgents being on our side, the occupying force being the Empire, and the holy city being that of the Jedi. There are even extras walking around wearing the space equivalent of burkas. There's a good thesis to be written on this if anyone's up to the job.
  • Kudos to Disney for allowing Gareth Edwards to use that ending. Never has killing off an entire film’s cast seemed so... uplifting. The word ‘hope’ may be in the title of the next film in the chronology but it’s the clear theme here, and the sadness of their deaths is cleverly balanced with the hope their victory has brought.
  • Minor point, I know, but the very first scene with adult Jyn – imprisoned somewhere with a tentacle-faced bloke – is jarring and pointless. The only information we gleam from it is that she’s imprisoned somewhere, and so is a tentacle-faced bloke. We get this exact same information, plus actual story, from the following scene in the truck. Plus, the speed at which we cut from this short scene to the exterior of the asteroid where Cassian is makes us think the prison is on this asteroid, which it isn’t. It just stood out to me, as that would be one of the first things to go if I were to cut the film down to ease its running time. On a similar note, this blog post’s going on a bit. So, one final point...
  • I like Jimmy Smits! And not just because I like saying his surname.