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Oxygen review: This series just gets better and better

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Well, this is slightly late.

In my feeble defense I have been doing exams and fortunately we have a three parter coming up so I can take a break from writing until the Monk story is finished. For now though, we have the best story in the series so far and the best in the show overall since probably Heaven Sent or Flatline.

This is just a spectacular episode in every way. For the first time this series the characters were in real danger and the tension was brilliant. There’s just a sense that the characters could die at any point and thanks to the brilliant final reveal this story has a lasting effect on the Doctor. Finally, the danger of the Whoniverse is back.

Look at this. Just look at this. This is such an awesome ship.

Even the mere premise is genius. The idea of oxygen as money is a fascinating idea similar to the ideas of Sleep No More last series, however Jamie Mathieson actually utilised his ideas well and incorporated them into the story without making the episode any less entertaining or tense. Doctor Who has done satire before- The Sun Makers springs to mind immediately- but New Who doing a very topical satire attacking capitalism (although the writers of Doctor Who didn’t know there would be an upcoming election otherwise we’d have a Peladon story) is not something that happens often. Unlike Kill the Moon, which stopped being a Troughton-esque base under siege halfway through, Oxygen never loses sight of the space zombies or the scares.

Wow, I’ve gone about the themes but haven’t even discussed the characters yet. This is easily the best the Twelfth Doctor has been since the Zygon two parter (like the Third Doctor, Twelve seems to fire on all cylinders during political scripts). He’s funny, cold, serious and most importantly, vulnerable. Even before he’s blind he is out of his comfort zone with no TARDIS and no sonic. After he is blind, the story’s stakes are raised to an even higher degree than before. It’s just like 42, where David Tennant being possessed by Toraji gave the episode a dramatic edge which made for truly compelling viewing. There is a reason Oxygen is so tense in the second half and that’s due to the vulnerability the Doctor is in. This episode also demonstrates one of the Doctor’s best aspects- his willingness to help anyone regardless of who they are.

The Doctor’s ability to survive in space has been established before but there’s never been consequences.

The companions were also on top form. This is Nardole’s first true adventure as a companion since the Christmas special and he worked very well in the already established Doctor/Bill dynamic. It’s so refreshing to have an alien companion and whilst many people feared Nardole would only be a comedic character, this episode proved them wrong. He has a defined purpose in the team and it looks like he’ll be taking a central role tonight. He’s easily the most unique New Series companion and I hope he sticks around. Bill continued to be the best companion since Donna and I can’t express how good it is to have a companion who experiences fear and can help the audience connect with what’s going on. I snarked whilst watching that she had died after the incredible losing oxygen scene but I honestly feel some kids probably thought she had died. That’s a mark of a great episode, where you care about characters you know will survive.

Honestly, with one exception which I’ll discuss later, I don’t think there was a single problem with the episode. It was perfectly based, the zombies were great (no aliens again but the faceless bureaucrats behind the killings were a great villain) and the direction was fantastic. The opening was perfect, with a scene of two astronauts being picked off by the zombies, setting the scene perfectly for the scares ahead. I personally wasn’t too scared but I can imagine kids being pretty terrified and unlike Knock Knock there was no happy ending. This was hard core sci-fi at its best.

These are the scariest monsters since the Foretold. The fact that they’re human is even scarier.

So, the one problem I had? I think the villain should have been Gus from Mummy on the Orient Express. It would have added continuity, made a great episode even better and solved a loose plot thread. The themes from Oxygen would not have been lost and it would have given the episode a tangible threat. Don’t get me wrong, I love the twist that there was no hack and the suits were just doing what they were programmed to do but Gus could have easily been controlling them. That said, it wasn’t an objective problem and not everyone would have liked that so I admit this is just a personal gripe that doesn’t actually make the episode worse.

What else is there to talk about? I feel I’ve discussed everything…

Oh yeah, the final scene.

What a genius idea this is. Making the Doctor blind will just make the upcoming episodes so much better if Moffat runs with it well. It also makes the question of how Peter Capaldi will regenerate much more interesting. As if the return of Missy and the promise of a three parter wasn’t already enough to hype me for tonight, we now have a blind Doctor and whoever is in the Vault will know that. I thought Knock Knock would be the arc based one whilst this would be standalone but I was completely wrong, as this episode will have lasting consequences on the series, making a fantastic episode even better.

So, a three parter with actual villains and Missy? Sign me up. I’ll be back in early June to tackle the biggest story since Series 3.

Doctor Who Knock Knock review

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We’re a third of the way through the series already- where’s the time gone? To be realistic, the weeks are going slowly due to my upcoming exams (HELP!) and Doctor Who is the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak.

I’ve made it no secret I’ve found this run of episodes to be very strong so far, but much like Series 8 and 9 we’ll have to wait to see if a dud comes around at some point towards the end (let’s hope not). Knock Knock continues the series’s strong run so far, and is reminiscent of stories like Ghost Light and Image of the Fendahl, two of my favourite stories. Whilst not as strong as those stories, this is still a very entertaining and well written addition to the already strong Series 10. It’s probably my favourite so far.

This is the first time this series where the Doctor and Bill are separated and this is where the episode shines. We see how far Bill has come in just four episodes as she basically tells the Doctor to go away and let her live her life, which is great although I’m not a fan of how Steven Moffat always has companions pop in and out of their daily lives. Whilst I like The Caretaker, we really didn’t need another similar episode in Series 10 dealing with the companion’s dual life so I’m glad that wasn’t the focus this week. Scaring children (and my mum who only watched because of David Suchet) and creating an entertaining story was the focus. It wasn’t as character based as last week, but I’m sensing themes and arcs throughout the series I’ll discuss later.

Haunted house, creepy bugs, body horror. This episode truly feels like a Guillermo del Toro film.

The Doctor was again fantastic (let’s hope Mike Bartlett is invited back in Chris Chibnall’s run) and I always love seeing him work independently and with other characters that aren’t the companion. He gets great lines (“Don’t be scared. It doesn’t help”) and I’m enjoying him every week. Thee most interesting aspect of his character is his interactions with whoever’s in the vault, which I’ll get back to later. Overall, another strong outing for the Twelfth Doctor, who is shaping up to be a truly great Doctor in his final series and it only looks better from here.

The best part of the episode for me was the Landlord. He’s the first truly complex villain of the series and I love how by the end of the episode you truly feel sympathy for him despite his villainous actions. His motives are understandable and he really is a tragic figure, as he’s so caught up with keeping his mother alive that he’s forgotten to live a life, in contrast to both the Doctor and Bill who have experienced loss and moved on. We’ve now had two human villains this series and the Landlord is a lot better than Sutcliffe last week. I’d honestly call the Landlord my favourite original villain since House from The Doctor’s Wife. To think I believed him to be a major character in the whole series when he’s just a one-off character.

One major criticism is that I wish all of Bill’s friends stayed dead (morbid I know but a kid died last week) or at least some of them didn’t come back. Maybe they’ll come back later in the series but I just wish there were some deaths in the episode to increase the stakes. Another problem which the episode shares with the rest of the series so far is the slightly rushed ending. The scenes with Eliza are the best of the series so far with brilliant writing, acting and emotion but there isn’t enough to let the emotions sink in before the tease about the vault. There’s also a lack of explanation about where the woodlice creatures come from or the full extent of their powers. The rushed endings have been a constant problem this series and I really wish the episodes were an hour long. There’s a three parter coming and a two part finale so I doubt this will be a constant problem but it’s been a recurring issue so far.

Not the episode’s fault, but I wish the marketing hadn’t given away Eliza in the trailer. It would have made the reveal in the episode terrifying.

A positive element of all the episodes have been the introduction of themes and character arcs I think will be expanded upon later on in the series. The main theme I think so far is about how to move on from loss or trauma, as it’s popped up in every episode so far-

  • The Pilot: Bill has to let go of Heather and the Doctor has to let go of his oath to accept his new companion.
  • Smile: The Vardi cannot let go of the grief that the colonists faced when the oldest member died and see grief as a virus.
  • Thin Ice: One of the main themes of the episode. Bill moves on from her trauma at seeing someone die and the Doctor admits that he moves on all the time.
  • Knock Knock: The Landlord is unable to move on from the promise he makes to his mother.

Could this go anywhere? I think so, and Steven Moffat is smart enough to bring together all the episodes thematically like he did with Series 5, 8 and to an extent 6. I think it could be to do with what’s in the vault, which I think could either be Missy, The Master, the Myrka, Frobisher the Penguin or Susan. Two of those guesses will definitely not be happening.

“And then there was that time when I fought the Abzorbaloff, but we don’t talk about that…”

In conclusion, Knock Knock is a great story that’s better on rewatch once you know what’s going on. I find it far superior to Hide but not as good as the Classic Who stories I mentioned earlier. This week it’s Oxygen, which looks so awesome I’ve decided to not read or watch anything linked with it. I want to go in completely blind.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 review

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Yes folks. Two posts in a week. And a post that isn’t a Doctor Who review!

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned how much I love Red Dwarf. I LOVE Red Dwarf.

And speaking of awesome sci-fi comedies (how’s that for a segway?), we have the latest Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. After the emotional highs of Civil War and the uniqueness of Doctor Strange, this movie was a return to the goofy banter and silliness of the earlier Marvel movies. This isn’t a bad thing at all, as the first Guardians movie is one of my favourite Marvel movies, and this movie is even funnier. The funniest characters are Drax and Baby Groot, who steals the show every time he’s on screen. I won’t spoil the jokes as this will be a spoiler free review, but the high level of comedy is maintained throughout the movie.

Much like Age of Ultron, this movie is a bit more complex and character based than the first movie. The team is split up and there are two stories going on: Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax get caught up with a mysterious figure claiming to be Star-Lord’s father whilst Rocket and Groot are being pursued by Ravagers. That’s the basic plot and I won’t give too much away, but it takes the Two Towers/Empire Strikes Back approach and takes time developing each character by splitting them up and focusing on the different dynamics. It really works and when the team unite at the end, it’s immensely satisfying.

My favourite character in the movie is Rocket Raccoon and he’s basically everything I love in a character: snarky, funny, complex and an anti-hero. He gets some awesome development in this movie and while the story doesn’t focus on him, he’s still my favourite character overall. His interaction with Groot are as hilarious as ever and the dynamic he shares with Yondu is great. Star-Lord gets the most focus and he goes through a lot in the film, and the film itself is a lot more emotional than the first, with darker themes and a major, major event that addresses one of the biggest issues in the MCU.

The villain of the piece is one of my favourite in the MCU.  Without giving anything away, they’re a lot better than most villains in the franchise and gets a lot of development. They are probably my favourite MCU villain along with Loki, Ultron and Alexander Pierce (I’m seriously trying to not spoil anything here- I’ve seen so-called “spoiler free” reviews that reveal plot points and characters. Kind of defeats the purpose of spoiler-free.) There are a lot of new characters, and I’ll admit not all of them are that memorable and there’s a character whose sole purpose is to be a punchline. It’s not too bad as it’s a funny joke, but some characters are pretty one dimensional.

The action is fantastic throughout, though not as innovative as Ant-Man or Doctor Strange. The climax is quite similar to other endings in the MCU but the emotional weight makes up for it. In an age where there are new Star Wars movies it’s hard for space battles to be particularly unique but there’s a still a distinct Marvel feel to the action and there’s a strong amount of variety in the action and plenty of quiet moments. The movie has really good escalation, with a big mystery and gradual character growth until the absolutely bonkers third act where the story gets genuinely fantastic. Despite this, the overall tone of the film is still optimistic, which is needed in movies at the moment and particularly due to the MCU getting darker. Much like the first movie, it’s standalone, so all you need to watch is the first Guardians of the Galaxy without having to know anything else about the MCU. It does help to have knowledge of the Marvel universe though, as many Easter Eggs and references are linked to the comics. Stan Lee gets one of his best cameos and the five (yes five) after credits scenes are a mixture of fun scenes and one very important one, so keep watching when the credits roll.

Overall, Volume 2 is another fantastic Marvel movie. Whilst it’s not as good as the first film or even the two MCU movies of 2016, it’s still a great time at the cinema and offers heart and emotion along with awesome action, humour and Baby Groot. Next up for the MCU it’s Spider-Man and then Thor, Hulk and Doctor Strange teaming up. I can’t wait.

Doctor Who Series 10: Thin Ice Review

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With it being slightly frosty this week, yesterday’s episode was very appropriate for the weather. Regardless of weather, this episode still continues the trend of fantastic stories from Series 10. I’m serious, if these early episodes are supposed to be the “weaker” ones, then I just can’t wait for the upcoming ones.

One of the best things about this episode is how it’s completely different from last week. We’ve gone from a sci-fi mystery with robots and lasers to a Regency-era costume drama with a big fish/snake thing. It’s this kind of juxtaposition that I love from Doctor Who, and this is probably the biggest contrast for consecutive episodes since Rings of Akhaten/Cold War.

The character work was superb this week, as both regulars got huge amounts of development. Sarah Dollard really knows how to write the Twelfth Doctor and he gets one of his best outings in a while, with his characteristic snarking, humour and cynicism mixed with humanity and warmth. The highlights are when he punched Sutcliffe for his treatment of Bill (I’ve seen people complain about this, but trust me, the Doctor is NOT a pacifist. Just watch any Jon Pertwee or Colin Baker story) and his speech about human progress.

Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age, that’s… what defines a species.

There’s also the continued development of Bill, and this episode once again shows what Moffat and co should have done with Clara in Series 7- show that travelling with the Doctor was not always fun. In this story, she sees a child die (pretty dark considering Doctor Who is a family show) and is understandably upset about it. There were hints of this in Cold War when Skaldak was killing the redshirts, but Clara never had a moment to reflect on what she saw. By having Bill realise the darker side of the Doctor and respond in a realistic way, it makes her more human and relatable. There are plenty of fantastic scenes between them and all three episodes so far have essentially been just her and the Doctor learning about each other. I feel like beginning from Knock Knock, the stories will get larger and more plot based.

I really liked the villain, Lord Sutcliffe, and he was basically exactly what I wanted after two weeks with no villains. I said I liked him when it’s really more “love to hate”, as in he’s so evil and careless that I just couldn’t help but like him and hate him at the same time. He’s essentially a villain from the Jon Pertwee era and as a massive fan of that era, I appreciated the return the stingy, metaphorically moustache twirling, condescending, obnoxious figure of high power that just irritates the Doctor and the audience. He’s so evil that his death is immensely satisfying. It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent human villain on Doctor Who, and Sutcliffe is probably the best since Solomon from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. I’d have liked to see more of him though and have his plan expanded.

I’d love to see this guy spar with Edmund Blackadder, considering he was also in Regency London. I’d call the episode Fish and Finality. I reckon Sutcliffe would not be able to stand a chance against Blackadder.

There’s so much more to love about this story. One of the best aspects was how it handled the racism of 1814 and taught the children watching that it is never appropriate to be racist, regardless of what time period someone’s from (just because nearly everyone in 1814 was racist doesn’t excuse it). Whilst I love the Shakespeare Code, it didn’t really deal with the obvious issues that Martha would be dealing with in the 16th century. Thin Ice deals with the issue of Bill facing racism in the past a lot better, even if it was just by the Doctor knocking Sutcliffe unconscious in anger. Part of Doctor Who’s original goal was to educate the kids, and this was a good way to do it. Throwing in a real historical event and giving it a Doctor Who twist also makes the historical aspect of the show stand out more than just stories which happen to be in the past (what did the Vikings and Stuart settings add to the Ashildr stories last season?)

Another interesting element was the lack of aliens (again). It’s never really confirmed whether the sea serpent is from Earth or not and I like it that way. Whilst it is yet another misunderstood creature, the presence of Sutcliffe means there was an actual villain, although I really want the monsters this week to be the “we will kill you all” kind. Comparisons to The Beast Below are obvious as well as the Torchwood episode Meat (I’ve only recently gotten into Torchwood and I’ve been watching the good ones with my dad). There were also elements of Kill the Moon (companion makes a choice that revolves around a moral dilemma) but it’s handled better here because there weren’t any one sided dilemmas and no giant flying moon babies.

Ice to meet you (I know, I know, puns are terrible. Eye won’t make any more)

Overall, we have yet another strong episode. I feel like I’m in the minority when I say Smile is my favourite of this opening trilogy (its sci-fi aspects, clever twists and great dialogue sell it for me) but Thin Ice comes a very close second. As one of my most anticipated episodes pre broadcast it didn’t disappoint. There wasn’t much about the story arc, but we got a hint towards what’s in the vault (my Master theory is getting stronger) and it appears that Nardole will become a regular from next week.

Speaking of next week, we have a mysterious landlord, a haunted house, tree dudes and things in the wall. It feels like Ghost Light and the SJA story The Eternity Trap combined. Before that though, I’ll be reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2.

Smile review: All is forgiven Frank

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Well, another week, another Doctor Who. After the fast paced frenzy of last week and the introduction of a great new companion, this week took a much slower pace with an episode that evoked Classic Who, in particular The Ark in Space and The Happiness Patrol.

As I said in my Series 10 hype post, this was the episode I was the most worried about, considering Frank Cottrell Boyce’s only other Doctor Who script was In the Forest of the Night. Fortunately, Smile was a lot better, and I enjoyed it even more than The Pilot.

A big part of this was because of the Doctor and Bill’s interactions, with Nardole completely disappearing from the episode in the first scene. The episode played out like a Part One of Classic Who, where the characters explore the setting by themselves. This was especially important as we needed to know how this new TARDIS team functioned and how Bill adjusted to life in the TARDIS. Having no real action or supporting characters meant the story could have been dull, but due to the interactions and continued character development I was entertained throughout.

My thoughts on the episode in a nutshell.

I love the structure of this story, with the pieces slowly being unravelled and the plot slowly fitting together to form a very enticing mystery. Each plot point made sense and felt necessary, with every aspect of the story slotting into place by the end. I’ll admit the ending was a bit weak, with the Doctor essentially rebooting the robots with his sonic screwdriver, but the resolution still ultimately left me satisfied due to the great build up.

The emojibots worked well in my opinion. They weren’t particularly scary but I don’t think they were meant to be, especially considering the whole story was just a misunderstanding between the Vardis and the humans. It was quite brave to have a story with no real villain (The Edge of Destruction, Listen and to an extent Gridlock all show how a story with no villain can work, as does Smile) and I appreciated the small scale nature of the story and due to the lack of a real antagonist the emojibots served their purpose well as a physical threat to keep the story from being too boring. This is the second story in a row with no actual villain, so I’m hoping this week we see the return of the evil, slightly hammy doomsday villain, because sometimes that’s good.

This frowny face is hilarious and is basically my reaction to there being yet another election I can’t vote in.

I found the Doctor’s characterisation in this episode spot on. It’s so refreshing to have the Doctor not know what’s going on and he has to solve everything by slowly investigating the situation and putting the pieces together. Something even rarer was the Doctor making a massive mistake and almost blowing up the cryogenic chambers. The Doctor rarely makes mistakes and seeing him make one was very refreshing, especially in comparison to the know-it-all persona that Steven Moffat loves. The balance between the gruff Doctor of Series 8 and the more quirky Doctor in Series 9 has been very well balanced, so it’s once again a shame that this is Peter Capaldi’s final series. I call it Peter Davison syndrome, where a Doctor only really comes into his own in his final series.

The story had a very William Hartnell vibe, from the slow pace to the Doctor miscalculating to the awesome link to Thin Ice at the end. Much like a William Hartnell story, we have a story which is more about the characters and the setting than the alien threat. The supporting characters however weren’t the best, and they only really popped up in the final third. This is where the story dips slightly, as In the Forest of the Night syndrome hits and we get some forced moralising, albeit more subtly. I wish the story developed the misunderstanding more and delved more deeply into the ideas of emotion and grief, which was the instigator of the whole story. The more I think about it, the more Smile is really just a more macarbe Inside Out.

I love the contrast between the clean city and dirty spaceship. This whole set looks like something out of the Tom Baker era.

 

SMILE OR DIE!

However, these are just a few flaws in what is a very enjoyable story. Bill continues to be great (in a few episodes time she may end up being my second favourite New Who companion, if not number one) and if the quality remains this good, we could have the best New Who series, surpassing even Series 4 and 5. Considering Smile had the most potential out of all the episodes to be bad, the fact that it’s good bodes very well for the episodes that looked great from the start.

Such as this week, featuring elephants and a frozen Thames. I cannot wait for this Saturday.

Doctor Who Series 10: The Pilot review

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It’s finally here! After 16 months (excluding last year’s Christmas and the entirety of Class) Doctor Who is back without Clara! Yes!

It’s been so long since a new companion I actually had to rewatch the Bells of St John to remind myself of the last time a companion got introduced. To be precise, it’s been over 4 years, which is why The Pilot is so refreshing and feels so new.

As usual, this will contain spoilers, so definitely watch the episode first before reading.

Compared with the Bells of St John (which is a stupider title let’s be honest) this is a much more subtle affair. There’s no massive mystery surrounding Bill and the action is subdued for the first half. It’s more comparable to Rose or Partners in Crime, where the dynamic between the Doctor and the companion take centre stage over the alien plot.

I’ve complained in the past how many Capaldi era villains (Skovox Blitzer, moon spiders, Fisher King, Lenny the Lion and to an extent the Veil) have had no impact on the plot, been sidelined or are underwhelming. Here, I’m willing to let the lacklustre villain aside as there was a clear focus on reintroducing the world of Doctor Who and introducing the new companion. I will not be so kind on this week’s Emojibots if they end up being as stupid as some people think they will be.

So what about the rest of the story? Well, obviously this is Bill’s first story and in 50 minutes I already like her more than Clara. To be fair, I liked Nardole in one Christmas Special more than Clara and it’s pretty easy for me to like a companion more than Clara. Bill is the complete opposite of Clara, who was incredibly unrelatable as time went on and essentially became the Doctor by Series 9. Here however, we have a companion who is completely normal with a normal life and with no big mystery surrounding her, which is great. She’s a combination of Donna and Ace (my two favourite companions after Sarah Jane) and I like the fact that the Doctor acts like a father figure to her like the First, Third and Seventh Doctors were to their companions. This is the dynamic we should have gotten with Clara, and it’s a shame Peter Capaldi is leaving this year so this dynamic may be lost (depends who the new Doctor is).

This scene is awesome and it’s the best “companion enters the TARDIS” scene in my opinion.

Nardole returns yet again, and once again proves that a bit of comedy is never a bad thing. He and the Twelfth Doctor have very good physical comedy and character beats that remind me of the Second Doctor and Jamie. It’s clear from this episode that Nardole now acts as the Doctor’s conscience, as shown when he tells Bill “He doesn’t see the tears”. He doesn’t appear to be in the next one, so I can only assume he’s staying behind at the university to guard the vault, which seems to be the story arc of the series. Many people, including myself I’ll admit, were hesitant about Nardole’s presence in the series, but from his two stories as a companion I’m very happy with what I’ve seen. I loved the call back to Robots of Death when he explains the TARDIS dimensions to Bill and his “Wa-hay” when Bill says the famous line that all companions say when they first see the TARDIS.

What’s in the vault? My money’s on John Simm’s Master.

Another great thing about this story is that I actually got scared. Whilst the monster isn’t the most original concept (the Flood and the Midnight Entity come to mind as similar concepts) the scene where Bill is trying to figure out who’s in her house and she sees an eye in the shower plug was genuinely creepy and I had my knees up to hid the screen. My mum thought it was too scary, but that’s the point of Doctor Who in a way. As someone with fond memories of being scared of the werewolf, the faceless granny, the Empty Child, Weeping Angels, the Flood and the Silence, I think it’s great that a new generation have their own behind the sofa moments.

I’ll admit that I think the chase portion of the episode was the weakest aspect. We have a random trip to (CGI) Australia, a BBC quarr- I mean an alien planet and a war between the Daleks and Movellans (Steven Moffat has just outdone the Macra in Gridlock with “random Classic Who” villain returning. What next? The Malus?). This aspect of the episode is entertaining, it’s just a bit random and I wish the whole episode was in the university where the dark lighting could have kept the creepy tone throughout. On the subject of the Daleks, I think this confirms the popular belief that the Daleks have to be used every year otherwise the BBC use the rights (they appeared in the LEGO Batman Movie though so maybe the BBC do own them). Their appearance is very brief, even briefer than their cameos in Waters of Mars and Wedding of River Song, and are just there to add another scene to the plot. That said, I’d rather have a brief cameo than a rushed Dalek story taking up a slot in the series. I just hope Chris Chibnall uses them well.

I actually rewatched Into the Dalek thinking the Daleks would be important. How wrong I was.

Despite all this, the story was not the focus for this episode, and what it focused on worked very well. The new TARDIS team is great, the story arc is intriguing (how Missy, the Monks, the John Simm Master, the Mondasian Cybermen and possibly the Landlord fit into all this I don’t know) and it’s just great that Doctor Who is finally back on consistent schedule (I say consistent but this week’s episode may be delayed due to football. If that happens heads will roll). Introductory stories are never the best, but they’ve all been good, and The Pilot continues that trend.

Onto Smile, the episode with the Emoji Bots. Let’s hope it’s better than In the Forest of the Night…

Let’s talk about the Oscars

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As many of you probably know, the Academy Awards (otherwise known as Oscars) took place on Sunday. Whilst the whole ceremony has been overshadowed by the “wrong Best Picture” debacle, there is another debate that is worth discussing, and that’s the fact that the ratings were the lowest in a long time. I know why: general audiences aren’t interested in the Oscars.

What do I mean? I mean that the movies that the Oscars choose to celebrate and the movies that general audiences choose to celebrate are very different. Of course there’s some overlap but let’s be honest here; most people care more about Civil War and Rogue One far more than La La Land. I’m not saying that you can’t care about all three, but ask someone on the street what they watched and they’ll probably say Star Wars. This isn’t just me saying I prefer superhero movies and other sci fi/fantasy blockbusters, which I do, but it’s just a general statement on how the shape of the movie industry is. Hollywood today is built on blockbusters, some are good, some are bad, but the 21st century is built on franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter and Star Wars.

When the Oscars first started in 1929, movies were still a relatively new deal. It wasn’t until the 1970’s, with the arrival of Jaws, A New Hope and Superman, that the “blockbuster” first started to emerge and audiences gravitated more towards killer sharks, space battles and men who can fly over the heavy dramas of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”. This trend continued into the 80’s with Indiana Jones, ET and Batman before the 90’s became dominated by blockbusters such as Jurassic Park. Today we have a strong balance, but the Oscars still seems to think they are stuck in the Golden Age of the 30’s-60’s, and as a result are ignoring the biggest movies which people know.

Here’s a challenge- without using the Internet, how many Best Picture winners in the last 15 years can you name? With the exception of Return of the King, chances are it’s not much, if at all. The simple fact is that Best Pictures are not the most interesting. I’m not saying they’re bad, not at all. I really like the King’s Speech, which won the 2010 Best Picture. But Inception and Toy Story 3, both of which were also surprisingly nominated, are much more remembered and equally good. If the “Best movies of the year” consist of movies with limited releases that people haven’t heard of, they’re not going to care about the outcome. It’s even worse when the vast majority are only released towards the end of the year, basically defeating the whole “of the year” aspect of the Oscars, and even worse than that when the movies aren’t even released in other countries until after the ceremony, meaning people in the UK (we get Oscar movies in January and February) may be watching a movie win “Best Picture” that they can’t even see yet. No wonder people aren’t watching the Oscars, they don’t even know the movies being nominated.

LOTRTrilogyPoster

Now, I know blockbuster movies have been nominated and even won. Return of the King famously won 11 Academy Awards, and as much as it deserved every award (the Lord of the Rings trilogy is as a whole my favourite film), the cynic in me believes it only won because if it didn’t, there would have been riots on the street. It was the same reason Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated in 2015; it was so acclaimed by critics and general audiences there would have been a public outcry if it didn’t at least get nominated. In fact, the current Academy rules of a maximum of 10 movies are in place due to the huge uproar over the fact that The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for Best Picture in 2008. Despite this, the situation is still the same, as the Academy are making the same mistakes, and they literally have no excuse. They nominated 9 this year, so why couldn’t they have used the final slot for Civil War? Last year there were two slots left empty: surely The Force Awakens and Inside Out could have been considered, and in 2014 The Winter Soldier, which is definitely Oscar-worthy, was left out (on the subject of the 2014 nominees, while it didn’t win, I did really enjoy The Imitation Game). I’m not saying these movies have to win, I’m just saying that the nominees need more diversity to get more people interested.

So how to avoid this issue? Simple. Have a new category for Best Blockbuster. I’ve suggested this in the past but I think it bares repeating, as even I have to admit something like Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok isn’t going to be Oscar-worthy. So in order to honour all kinds of movie, have an award where superhero movies and other non-Oscar movies can compete. Have Civil War battle Rogue One and Doctor Strange and let the fans decide which is the winner. The BAFTAS (which I have watched every year since 2015, mainly because Stephen Fry is all kinds of awesome) have an award which is decided by the public (the Rising Star Award) so by having the Oscars let the public decide which blockbuster they enjoyed the most that year would be a great way of respecting the movies that the general public like watching. The box office says it all: with the exception of Return of the King (again) and Titanic, Best Picture winners never make as much money as the big movies, mainly because they’re lower budget so don’t need as much but because most people would rather watch LEGO Batman than the movies nominated this year. I know I did. I do want to watch Arrival though, which is a sci fi movie that got nominated this year, and sci fi is my favourite genre.

So that is how and why I believe the Academy Awards should evolve to adapt to the current movie industry. Well that and getting the right envelope to announce Best Picture. They’re never going to live that down.

The Skulduggery Pleasant Guide: Part 2

It’s that time of month again (well, not really but my Thirteenth Doctor post and my Berlin school trip has somewhat delayed this post) where I dive into the brilliant world of Skulduggery Pleasant in anticipation of Resurrection (otherwise known as SPX). We now have a cover, which is awesome

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Best desktop wallpaper ever!

But first, a look back at the original books. The original trilogy focused on introducing the characters and the world, with the story arc being the Faceless Ones, ancient gods who seek to return to the real world. With the tone of the books set, this next set of books focused on the Necromancers, sorcerers who used another kind of magic different from the type used by Skulduggery. It’s also worth saying (as it’s not really a spoiler if you’ve read the first book and I forgot to mention it last time) that Stephanie has changed her name to Valkyrie due to plot specific reasons. With that aside, let’s go straight into it-

  • Dark Days

dark-days

The title foreshadows the darker tone that the books will take after this book. There’ll still be comedy, but the stories get more complex and emotional. This one is essentially a James Bond thriller, as a bunch of villains from the previous books team up to try and take down the Sanctuary (the magic government) whilst Skulduggery, Valkyrie and the rest of the gang try to stop them. There is so much happening here but it’s never convoluted or boring. It’s hard to discuss where this book goes without delving into spoilers, but it resolves major plot points whilst setting the stage for the rest of the books.

My personal favourite of this trilogy, Dark Days is an action packed (seriously, it’s got so much action) and more mature book than the first three. The highlights include the villain (my personal favourite from the series) major revelations for the characters, a true shaking of the status quo and an epic car chase in the middle. It truly is one of the finest chapters in the saga, with many many hilarious moments-

“That is an awful plan. On a scale of one to ten – the Trojan War being a ten and General Custer verus all those Indians being a one – your plan is a zero. I don’t think it is a plan at all. I think it’s just a series of happenings that are, to be honest, unlikely to follow on from each other in the way in which everyone’s probably hoping.”

  • Mortal Coil

mortal-coil

“You’re under arrest for multiple counts of murder. You have the right to not much at all, really. Do you have anything to say in your defense?”

The Goblet of Fire of Skulduggery Pleasant in that it’s where they start getting long. Actually, aside from that there’s not much similarity. Once again discussing without spoilers is difficult, but the book focuses on the ramifications of the events in Dark Days whilst also setting up events in the future books. This is also the point where it’s abundantly clear where the series is headed-like any good series, it transcends its premise (skeleton detective with magic) and becomes something more, whilst still sticking to what readers want. The plot is essentially Valkyrie dealing with a major twist in Dark Days and an army of spectres being unleashed on the world, which is about all I can say without spoiling.

The Necromancers come into the forefront here, and what makes Derek Landy’s take on the Necromancers great is that he doesn’t go with the cliched “all necromancers are evil”. Rather, the necromancers are all different: some are good, others not so much, whilst others are in the middle. There’s also a brilliant subplot that mocks Twilight. By this point, the characters have all evolved and changed, and it’s only going to get more epic.

  • Death Bringer

death-bringer

Remember how I said in Part One that the Skulduggery/Vengous exchange wasn’t the funniest exchange in the series? Well, that’s because this book contains the funniest exchange. I won’t post the full exchange but it does involve the line “The sparrow flies south for winter”. Trust me, it makes sense in context. A major honourable mention for funniest moment goes to the “Detective Inspector Me” sequence-

“I’m Detective Inspector Me. Unusual name, I know. My family were incredibly
narcissistic. I’m lucky I escaped with any degree of humility at all, to be honest, but then I’ve always managed to exceed expectations. You are Kenny Dunne, are you not?”
“I am.”
“Just a few questions for you, Mr Dunne. Or Kenny. Can I call you Kenny? I feel we’ve become friends these past few seconds. Can I call you Kenny?”
“Sure,” Kenny said, slightly baffled.
“Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s important you feel comfortable around me, Kenny. It’s important we build up a level of trust. That way I’ll catch you completely unprepared when I suddenly accuse you of murder.”

If you thought The Faceless Ones was epic, then brace yourselves as this is even more bonkers than usual. War has sprung between the Necromancers and the Sanctuary and caught in the middle is Skulduggery and Valkyrie. A word of advice- do NOT look up what happens in this book beyond the bare basics. There is a twist here that is so unexpected and out of nowhere which shakes up the very foundations of the series. Despite this being, in my eyes, the most character driven and dark novel, it’s still hilarious, action packed (I seriously want to see how a certain fight is done if the series ever makes the leap to the big screen) and the third act of the book is probably the best two hundred pages that I’ve ever read. However, it’s STILL not my favourite book of the series.

Overall, I feel like these three books are the high point of the saga. The first three books are awesome but quite simple and straightforward mystery/action fantasy stories, and the next three I’ll discuss next month, but these three just sum up why I love this series- they’re funny, heartfelt, entertaining and complex.

The Skulduggery Pleasant Guide: Part One

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On July 29th 2016, I was in Iceland, tired from a plane flight that was only five hours but felt a lot longer. My tiredness subsided the instant I read the news- a tenth Skulduggery Pleasant book was coming in 2017. My favourite book series was back with a bang.

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My “Skulduggery Shrine” on my shelf. I don’t actually have the first one as I read that at junior school and fell in love with the series.

So, with a new book on the horizon, naturally the nine previous books are going to be republished with new covers which look awesome. Unfortunately/fortunately, I have the equally awesome older editions with one hardback. The first three books, otherwise known as the Faceless Ones trilogy, were re-released a few days ago, so I felt like it was time to discuss them this month, with the next two months covering the other two trilogies, At the end of my third post, I’ll sum up why I love this series and my hopes for a movie adaptation. These posts are designed to persuade anyone who hasn’t read these books yet to try them, as this year is a pretty good year to start.

  • Book One: Skulduggery Pleasant

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Much like Harry Potter, the books start off simple. This is an incredibly fun read that pulls the reader into a gripping mystery from the first page. Here’s the first paragraph:

“Gordon Edgley’s death came as a shock to everyone -not least himself. One moment he was in his study, seven words into the twenty-fifth sentence of the final chapter of his new book, And the Darkness Rained Upon Them, and the next he was dead. A tragic loss, his mind echoed numbly as he slipped away.”

What a hilarious, dark and clever way to start. Gordon Edgley’s death fuels the mystery of the first book. Through this simple hook the rest of the characters are introduced. The main character of the series is Stephanie Edgley, Gordon’s niece who inherits his house and who gets embroiled into the mysterious world of magic. There are major revelations regarding her character that I will not spoil. The other main character is of course the Skeleton Detective himself, Skulduggery Pleasant. He’s a fedora wearing, gun toting, trench coat donning, snarky, magic using detective who just happens to be dead and a walking skeleton. He is one of my all time favourite characters in the whole of fiction. Everything I love about a character gets thrown into Skulduggery Pleasant; the cool clothes, the snarky nature and the antihero aspect.

There are other characters, but I won’t go too in depth into them as it’s best to discover for yourselves the great characters. The plot is fast paced and exciting, with twists and turns. I mentioned in a previous post how Derek Landy’s writing appeals to me, as it’s very cinematic and reading it really feels like a movie is playing in your head. Which kind of makes a movie adaptation pointless, but it won’t stop Hollywood trying. I don’t to reveal everything about the book, but I can assure you it is a thrill from start to finish.

  • Book Two: Playing with Fire

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This is the book where all the elements of the series really start coming together. We get more characters, such as the awesome Billy Ray Sanguine, and many aspects of this book are continued through to the ninth (it makes me so happy not saying “last book”). This time around, the stakes are not just doubled, but tripled, as the heroes have to battle three villains. Somehow, it’s even more bonkers, fun and carefully plotted than the last. It’s my favourite of the original trilogy, and probably my second favourite of the lot (I shall reveal my favourite in due course).

It’s also side-splittingly funny. One of the best aspects of the series is the constant witty banter and funny lines. Even as the books get longer and darker, Derek Landy never forgets to add humour, but knows how to restrain it for character and emotion when necessary. Playing With Fire is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, with this legendary exchange between Skulduggery and the villain, Vengous, being only one of the hilarious moments in the book. And it’s still not the funniest scene in the series:

‘”Are you going to shoot me?” Vengeous sneered. “I wouldn’t be surprised. What would a thing like you know about honor? Only a heathen would bring a gun to a sword fight.”

“And only a moron would bring a sword to a gunfight.”

This book remains one of the highpoints of the series for me. The characters, humour, action, plot and thrills all combined together to make this book the one that convinced me to keep reading the rest.

  • Book Three: The Faceless Ones

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Not to be confused with the Doctor Who story of the same name (Derek Landy is a Whovian and I’m hoping that one day he will write an episode. Or two. Or three.) The third book brings the plot elements of the previous two together to create another great story. This time, a massive conspiracy causes Skulduggery to come into blows with a criminal gang determined to destroy the world. This, along with Death Bringer and The Dying of the Light, are the trilogy closers and they are all great, but we’ll get to those later.

The trilogies are organised very well. The first book introduces the new elements of the world and the story arc, the second one ups the stakes while the third closes it with a big explosive finale. The Faceless Ones is one of the more serious books, with it being the finale to the initial arc, but there are still fantastic moments of humour like this-

“Then I reckon we got ourselves a good old-fashioned standoff.”
Nobody moved, or said anything, for the next few moments.
“Old-fashioned standoffs are mighty borin”

This book changed the series. No longer were the stories standalone action/detective plots but they were now part of a much larger narrative. Once you finish this book you will immediately want to move onto the next, where the Necromancers rise…

But that’s for next month, where the next batch of new covers will be released. I hope these posts will help people to discover these awesome, awesome books. I feel like they’re the perfect blend of young adult (a genre I usually avoid completely) and younger children, although like Harry Potter they do get darker and more mature as they go on.

The Return of Doctor Mysterio review

After a whole year without Doctor Who, this Christmas saw the return of everybody’s favourite time travelling Scotsman. This year combined the world of Doctor Who with superheroes, another one of my favourite genres. With tough competition from other Christmas specials such as A Christmas Carol, The Snowmen and The Christmas Invasion, The Return of Doctor Mysterio thankfully maintained the (mostly) strong quality of the Christmas specials. Although let’s be honest, all this special had to be was not be The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe to be better than that one.

An interesting note I made straight after the episode finished. In the show’s entire 53 year run, the only story where the Doctor travelled with a male companion throughout was The Keeper of Traken, where the Fourth Doctor and Adric were the TARDIS team, with Nyssa not becoming a companion until the next story Logopolis. If we exclude The Next Doctor, End of Time and Closing Time, where the Doctor was travelling alone and had a temporary companion, as well as the Massacre, where Dodo joins right at the end of the story, then The Return of Doctor Mysterio is the only other story in the whole show’s history to have that distinction.

doctor-and-nardole

For all the naysayers, let me assure you that the Twelfth Doctor and Nardole still isn’t as odd as the Sixth Doctor and Frobisher the shape shifting penguin.

Incidentally, I really like Nardole. He didn’t have much to do in Husbands of River Song, but this year he fits into the companion role well. I love his interactions with the Doctor and he had plenty of funny lines (I love his exclamation of “Oo, elephant”. I dunno why.) I’m also glad he’s returning for Series 10. Bill may be the main companion, but having a second companion is great. Just look at Two/Jamie/Zoe, Four/Sarah/Harry, Nine/Rose/Jack and Eleven/Amy/Rory. I also like any companion who breaks the “girl from modern Earth” trope.

As for the Doctor, well, he’s brilliant as always. It’s funny how I think the Twelfth Doctor is so much more enjoyable when not partnered with Clara. He works so much better with Perkins, Ashildr, Osgood, River Song and Nardole, not to mention his appearance in Class. He even worked better with Davros, that’s how much I didn’t enjoy Clara. In this special we once again see the funny side of Twelve. I’ve heard people complain that he got sidelined, but I honestly don’t see that. He goes through the episode eating sushi, making puns and pressing buttons randomly. That’s the Doctor I love.

The plot is very cliche, but that’s OK for a Christmas special. The main villains, Harmony Shoal, were a great link to last year’s Christmas special (looks like they’ve been taking notes from the Master in “quick reappearances”). I love the way the brains have eyes and how their faces rip open to hide guns. Their plan was reminiscent of Spearhead from Space, Terror of the Zygons and Aliens of London, and while it doesn’t make much sense (it didn’t make much sense in any of those stories either), I’m willing to forgive plot holes when the story is entertaining.

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This special means that the Shoal of the Winter Harmony has appeared in the show as much as the Mara, the Macra, Omega, Peladon, the Monk, the Rani and Sil the Mentor and almost as much as the Zygons. Huh.

This is an absolute laugh riot from beginning to end, and it’s right up there with The Romans, City of Death, The Unicorn and the Wasp and Robot of Sherwood as one of the funniest stories in the show’s history. The highlight of the whole episode for me was Lucy’s interrogation of the Doctor using Mr Huffles. I honestly do not think any scene in Doctor Who history is quite as ridiculous or completely hilarious. My favourite aspect of the scene is the Doctor’s pained expression when hearing Mr Huffle’s “screams”. It’s as if he doesn’t know whether the toy is actually in pain or if he just doesn’t like the noise.

The superhero aspect was also handled really well. Superhero movies are popular so it makes sense for Doctor Who to tackle it (and it is NOT the silliest thing the show has ever done, as I’ve stated here). Just like the Jon Pertwee era homaged James Bond and the Tom Baker era homaged Hammer Horror and later Star Wars, Return of Doctor Mysterio homages the superhero genre while also fitting into the Whoniverse nicely. I am slightly disappointed that there wasn’t a Karkus reference, as any mention of The Mind Robber is a plus for me, but that’s a personal gripe.

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Much like last year, in amongst the silliness there is a simple story that’s built on character. Not only does the plot stand on its own but it links in with the Doctor’s grief over River, thus explaining Nardole’s presence, and potentially sets up the Doctor’s mindset in Series 10. All the characters felt relatable and real, and it gives me real hope that Bill will be great in the way Donna, Ace and Sarah Jane were.

All in all, The Return of Doctor Mysterio was a great episode that helped me ease back into the show. Between this and Husbands of River Song, which I also immensely enjoyed, not to mention the pretty great spin off Class, the sour taste of Hell Bent has been almost completely wiped from my memory (I may enjoy most of Steven Moffat’s stories but I certainly did not enjoy the finale). This year has lacked Doctor Who, but for me personally it’s allowed me to get even more into it. I’ve met two Doctors in London Comic Con, enjoyed countless Big Finish, almost finished Classic Who and immersed myself in the Doctor Who graphic novels. This Christmas special was just the icing on the cake for my Doctor Who experience this year, and while it’s no Christmas Carol (which is one of my favourite stories), it’s a dumb, silly and highly enjoyable romp in the vein of The Runaway Bride and The Next Doctor. That’s pretty much all I need for Christmas specials.

And that’s all.

Oh wait, I forgot something…

Oh yeah, Series 10 trailer-

Well, this almost overshadowed the whole special didn’t it? What can I say other than I’m looking forward to this a lot, and in a year which will also see more Star Wars, Skulduggery Pleasant, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man, Doctor Who will unsurprisingly take priority. Bill seems like a very down to Earth and fun character and the relationship between the Doctor and Bill from this trailer indicates a similar relationship to the Third Doctor and Jo or the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Bill seems like a combination of Ace and Donna, and with Nardole thrown in too, this TARDIS team seems like it’s going to be great. Not much to say really other than the Doctor is back.