Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Lee Mack, Callum Dixon, Claudia Jessie etc.
Produced by: Nikki Wilson
Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle
Composer: Segun Akinola
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
After the moving emotion and historical power of last week’s episode, this week the Doctor was back to the future and in outer space. Following a delivery from the Kerblam shopping emporium the Tardis crew receive a message pleading for help. Quicker than you can say Amazon, the team are soon undercover at the space factory trying to find out what’s going on at Kerblam.
It’s a pacey episode with some excellent one-liners and a pretty involving plot. The writer Peter Tighe manages to cram in some corporate sabotage, a romance plot and creepy androids – called TeamMates – reminiscent of the electric cab drivers from Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990). It also features some excellent guest appearances from comedian Lee Mack and Julie Hesmondhalgh who stand-out in their under-written roles. Aside from a couple of wonky narrative moments and dodgy CGI conveyor belt chase the episode was very enjoyable.
In terms of subtext there were some interesting points to be made about online shopping empires and the idea that machines are making human beings redundant. However, this wasn’t laboured but successfully integrated into the humorous and, at times, suspenseful story. Indeed, this felt more like one of the lighter Matt Smith or David Tennant episodes in terms of wit, action and theme. My main issue now with the series is that the Doctor’s characterisation is not as interesting as previous ones.
It is now the seventh week for Jodie Whittaker’s tenure and in each episode I have really wanted her to stamp her acting authority on the role. She is a great actor but perhaps some of the directing is failing to make the most of her ability. The show is entertaining enough but it does feel too dramatically lightweight in terms of Whittaker’s performance at times. Of course, I am still really enjoying the show but at present the Doctor is more of a cypher rather than a rounded character. Jodie Whittaker is carrying the episodes brilliantly but there’s got to be more weight and intensity for me.
DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 5 REVIEW: THE TSURANGA CONUNDRUM (2018)
Directed by: Jennifer Perrott
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Produced by: Nikki Wilson
Executive producer(s): BBC Productions, Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Brett Goldstein, Ben Bailey-Smith, Suzanne Packer etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Well, this was a lot of fun. I really connected with this latest adventure, which found the Doctor and her crew initially scavenging on an alien junkyard planet, before suddenly being caught in a surprise sonic explosion. They wake aboard the Tsuranga – which is an automated space hospital – like a flying version of the National Health Service. Discombobulated and injured from the mine explosion the Doctor, companions, Tsuranga’s crew and patients are soon to be faced with an even bigger danger.
Small but devastating the danger is called a P’Ting. It’s a creature that scoffs non-organic material; a cute looking eating machine that will devour the ship. It attacks the vessel and begins literally eating it out of space-ship and home. The Doctor, aided by the ship’s medical staff Astos and Mabli; plus General Eve Cicero; her brother Durkas; synth robot Ronan; and Yoss, a pregnant man are all threatened by the darned P’Ting. I wondered if there was some sociological subtext to the P’Ting as it eats its way through the hospital in space, with Chris Chibnall critiquing the devastation of the NHS by the Tories. However, this message wasn’t to the fore and overall it was essentially a fun genre episode with lots of action and humour throughout.
The standard genre set-up of a base/ship under siege is a Doctor Who staple. Despite the simplicity of the plot, it felt fast-paced and thrilling to me. The guest stars were excellent too, notably the comedian Brett Goldstein who stood out during his time on screen. There was some silliness with Ben Bailey-Smith’s Durkas rigging up a nebulous engineering control to pilot the crashing Tsuranga; nonetheless the entertainment levels remained very high. I especially enjoyed the humour and emotion gained from the alien bloke (who looked very human) giving birth; while Tosin Cole’s Ryan examined further his own relationship with his estranged father. Overall though, this was another light and uncomplicated episode from Chibnall, Whittaker and the team, but one that had me laughing and thrilled throughout.
Produced by: Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Isaac Klausner, Damien Chazelle
Screenplay by: Josh Singer
Based on First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Jason Clarke, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott
Music by: Justin Hurwitz
Cinematography: Linus Sandgren
Edited by: Tom Cross
I’m probably not the best person to review this film. I do not like flying. I am not a fan of the concept of space travel. I’m firmly in the camp that we should sort our problems out on Earth first. Plus, the geo-political reasons of the era for going into space, such as the Cold War including the “space-race” with the Russians, seem such an alien concept to an idealist as me. Rather naively I just wonder why they couldn’t have just got on with each other.
Having said I am very much aware that in terms of scientific breakthroughs and sheer feat of human achievement, NASA, its staff and the astronauts involved, deserve unlimited praise for their work. Aside from the financial cost and loss of lives, getting into outer space remains an amazing feat of science and technology. But, what of Damian Chazelle and Ryan Gosling’s rendition of Neil Armstrong – is it all that? I will consider the film with a view to its Oscar potential while reviewing the movie as entertainment too.
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
BEST FILM CHANCES – 7/10
As a work of technical excellence First Man is a wonderfully striking film. The visuals and scientific renditions relating to space travel are incredible. The human story works mainly as a biopic from Armstrong’s perspective as he, and his team, prepare to go into space. Moreover, it also works well as a study of grief and obsession. Armstrong is shown, via Ryan Gosling’s minimalist presentation, as an intelligent and steely individual who buries his life in his work to overcome a deep family loss. Given we already know how the story ends then it is to the film’s testament that the drama is maintained throughout. The dangerous nature of space travel and lives lost while shooting for the moon are powerfully highlighted. Yet, when we reach the lunar destination suspense had peaked before that point. Thus, the story relies on the stunning visuals more than drama to carry it to towards the final credits.
BEST DIRECTOR CHANCES – 8/10
Chazelle, as he showed with Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016), is a young film director of some force and intelligence. Having directed Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons with an aggressive jazz-style, he would imbue La La Land with an optimistic, colourful and uplifting energy. First Man is completely different though. It is methodical, slow-burn and restrained in performance and shows Chazelle’s expert range. Here is a filmmaker who designs his films dependent on the subject matter. First Man is a confident cinematic work and Chazelle creates his own vision while also echoing the likes of Terence Malick and Stanley Kubrick.
BEST ACTOR – 8/10
I’m a big fan of Ryan Gosling. He has been in a number great films of recent years such as: Bladerunner 2049 (2018), The Nice Guys (2016), Drive (2011), Half Nelson (2006), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Blue Valentine (2010) and more. He is a crafty performer as he doesn’t seem to be doing much. His acting style is like an iceberg; little on the surface but extreme depth below. This makes him perfect for a role such as Neil Armstrong and Gosling’s rendition is pure cinema. His face rarely moves but in his eyes and stillness a real gravitas is brought to the screen. I would expect he will go close to winning the Oscar if only for his accumulation of impressive acting work.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 8/10
Claire Foy delivers a sterling performance as Janet Armstrong. She is shown to be a caring mother but also a fiery protector of her husband. Foy’s acting actually transcends a mildly underwritten role as her intensity deserved more scenes than she is given. Nonetheless, it confirms Foy as an actor of some power and magnetism.
BEST SCORE CHANCES – 9/10
The best scores, in my view, not only stand alone as fine works of music but also blend with the visuals to excellent effect. Justin Hurwitz’s score for First Man is a wonderful achievement and surpasses his work on La La Land in my view. While the moon landing is an incredible visual feat and silence is used to great effect, Hurwitz’ score never fails to shine throughout.
BEST TECHNICAL AWARDS – 9.5 out of 10
In terms of technical achievement in emulating the era in space and on Earth, First Man, is unforgettable. I’d fully expect it to win some or all technical awards for editing, sound, visual effects, design, etc. – it truly is a technical marvel!
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #3 – STAR TREK THE ORIGINAL SERIES – SEASON 3
My voyages on the first Starship Enterprise came to an end after seventy-nine intelligent, crazy, moving, mind-blowing, occasionally silly but always fascinating original series Star Trek episodes. Thus, having recently written reviews on the first and second series I have now completed watching the third series. In tone, the third and final season was probably more serious and I actually found the lack of comedy or parody worked in its favour.
Often maligned by some fans and critics alike for having some of the worst episodes of Star Trek ever filmed, the third season, in my opinion, is actually very good. There are a few episodes, notably Spock’s Brain, that are just ridiculous and some, like Turnabout Intruder and Elaan of Troyius, that are rooted in regressive sexism. Plus, there’s a very familiar formula feeling too with contrived space-set situations echoing episodes from prior seasons. But to be honest I actually like that formula, which is why I still enjoy watching shows such as Quantum Leap, Doctor Who and indeed, Star Trek.
Thus, while formulaic familiarity set in, the budgets were cut and Scotty’s hair was all over the place from episode-to-episode, Season 3 still had some really memorable moments with great monsters, energetic villains, handsome actors and solid science-fiction concepts. Okay, some of the writing was at times lacking the snap, crackle and pop of say Gene L. Coon’s or D.C. Fontana’s scripts but I enjoyed the series very much. Here are six episodes which I feel still stand the test of time in terms of ideas, stories and drama.
THE ENTERPRISE INCIDENT – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 2
This terrific episode has a brilliant spy versus spy plot as Kirk and crew attempt to steal a Romulan cloaking device. Crosses, double-crosses, fake deaths and conspiracies occur as the Enterprise finds itself at the mercy of Romulan vessels. Spock shows himself adroit at firstly betraying Kirk and then “romancing” the female Romulan Commander. While it doesn’t seem appropriate for his character to act this way it is of course part of a very logical plan. Nimoy’s performance is excellent and he again proves, underneath all that Vulcan make-up, he’s able to portray an emotionless character with much verve and charisma.
SPECTRE OF THE GUN – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 6
One of the over-hang scripts from Gene L. Coon’s reign as executive producer and show-runner successfully melds sci-fi with the Western genre. Kirk, Spock, Chekov and McCoy are transplanted by darned Melkotians into a virtual reality version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. The only problem is they are all destined to die in the gun fight and must find a way of overcoming historical fate. Despite the contrivances in the narrative, the episode has much to offer thematically on violence and guns; as Kirk must decide between using force or peaceful means with which to overcome his foes.
FOR THE WORLD IS HOLLOW AND I HAVE TOUCHED THE SKY – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 8
Season three had some wonderfully pretentious episode titles and this one was no exception. However, it is a very effective episode that finds the Enterprise attempting to prevent an asteroid from colliding with a Federation planet. However, the asteroid is not in fact a hurtling lump of space rock but a planet civilisation that provides a home to highly devout religious people. The clash of the Federation rules with the religious group’s rules provides much impetus for the drama. Moreover, the added woe of McCoy discovering he is dying and finding solace in the love for Natira of Yonada, makes this both an intriguing and moving episode.
WHOM GOD’S DESTROY – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 14
The lunatics have literally taken over as memorable villain of the piece, former Fleet Captain Garth, gains control of the insane asylum at Elba II. Using shapeshifting abilities Garth is able to hoodwink Kirk and crew and take them prisoner. It’s a fun episode which finds the seasoned TV actor Steve Ihnat revelling in his role as the maniacal egomaniac Garth. There are lots of twists and turns throughout and the final fight scene involving Kirk fighting “himself” is most memorable as Spock must decide who the real Kirk is or who is Garth in disguise. While it’s quite a theatrical episode set in one location there’s load of fun to be had.
LET THAT BE YOUR LAST BATTLEFIELD – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 15
Arguably the best episode of the season finds two battling humanoid aliens who will stop at nothing to wipe each other off the face of their war-torn planet. Frank Yorshin – who I recognised as The Riddler from the 1960s TV show Batman – portrays Commander Bele as a fanatical zealot. With his special telekinetic powers Bele takes control of the Enterprise and will stop at nothing to take his rival, Lokai, to trial and death. Indeed, Kirk is even forced to set the Enterprise in self-destruct mode to counter Bele. This is thematically a very strong episode as it critiques mindless racism and the senseless path of endless war. It’s also quite bleak at the end as a brilliant montage symbolises the potential destruction of Earth. Okay, so the message could be seen to be broad, and literally black and white, but it remains brave writing given it was released in the 1969 when civil unrest in the USA was rife.
ALL OUR YESTERDAYS – SEASON 3 – EPISODE 23
All Our Yesterdays found Kirk, Spock and McCoy dispersed back in time on endangered planet, Sarpeidon. I guess the ticking time bomb narrative of a dying world had kind of been done to death by now but it did not detract from an entertaining storyline which found Spock and Kirk in different timelines having entered a time portal by mistake. Kirk goes back to a medieval setting and is accused of being a sorcerer; while Spock and Bones are bombed five thousand years back to the ice age. Spock even finds time to fall in love as his genes regress with the age. Sounds silly but as Spock might say, I found it “fascinating.”
Executive producer(s): BBC Productions, Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Susan Lynch, Art Malik, Shaun Dooley
Composer: Segun Akinola
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Continuing my weekly review of the new Doctor Who season we found our heroes and heroines rather worryingly floating in space at the end of the last episode, The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Such concern and drama was quickly dispensed with immediately as the Doctor and companions soon found themselves out of the frying pan and into the fiery threat of a space-ship crashing on a seemingly deserted wasteland planet called Desolation. We also got a first look at the opening credit sequence with full blast of the updated, yet very retro feeling, theme tune. Both were, like the first episode of this new season, very familiar yet quite alluring.
The opening action set-piece of The Ghost Monument was pretty suspenseful as a space shuttle hurtled to the planet surface rather dangerously. It also introduced us to two working class space travellers called Angstrom and Epso, portrayed by quality character actors Shaun Dooley and Susan Lynch. They were final two contestants competing for the grand prize in an Intergalactic Space race run by dodgy bookie/gangster/oligarch, Illin (Art Malik). Unsurprisingly the Doctor, and crew, got caught up in the frantic chase to the ‘Ghost Monument’ finishing line.
Like the previous week the episode was dominated by strong visuals, decent effects and a breakneck pace which, while being slightly thin on emotional depth, was extremely fun. The South African vistas, representing Desolation, were absolutely stunning and gave the episode a very cinematic feel. Essentially a road-chase movie narrative we found the characters on space-ships, boats and doing lots and lots of running about. The race itself added a bonus sub-plot of suspense but the main dramatic question remained: was the Doctor going to find the Tardis? Well, what do you think?
Overall, I really enjoyed this episode. Like last week Chris Chibnall is still finding his feet with the characters and the Doctor’s persona too. My gut feeling is there’s one too many companions needed but Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill remain very watchable. Moreover, Whittaker’s performance is excellent as she is so talented and energetic. But there were times when her Doctor seemed too uncertain; for me the Doctor is always decisive, even when under pressure. Generic Soldier-Bots aside, the new villains ‘The Remnants’ were quite chilling and I hope they come back. As our space explorers battled them they dropped in a little sub-plot thread that could develop further over this promising start to the season. Indeed, who is the Timeless Child: just another enigmatic narrative Macguffin or something deep and meaningful? Only time will tell.
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson
Executive producer(s): Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark, Jon Favreau (pilot), Liz Heldens, Lili Fuller
Production company(s): Fuzzy Door Productions; 20th Century Fox Television
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
If you search YouTube for Star Trek fan films you will find hundreds of them. In fact, I myself have written and produced one myself called Chance Encounter (2016). However, you will not find a shiny and more expensive Star Trek homage and fan film – in all but name – than Fox’s big budget science fiction series, The Orville. It was written and created by uber-talented Seth MacFarlane and joins the stable of shows and films he has been involved in, including: Family Guy, American Dad, Ted (2012) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014).
The Orville is set on the titular U.S.S. Orville (ECV-197), a mid-level exploratory space vessel in the Planetary Union, a 25th-century interstellar alliance of Earth and many other planets. Seth McFarlane portrays Ed Mercer, a journeyman officer who is depressed due to his wife’s infidelity, and constantly turning up to work hungover and uninterested. A chance at redemption comes when he offered the captaincy of The Orville. He is then joined by his first officer, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who so happens to be his ex-wife. This slightly clichéd dramatic turn does actually become a positive fulcrum for the twelve episode run, providing many jokes and bitter asides between the two. Their dedicated crew is a mix of aliens, humans and a genius robot called Isaac; who may as well be called Data to be honest.
The Orville is an interesting show to review because I could understand someone watching it randomly because of say, liking Family Guy or Ted, and then not enjoying this at all. Because aside from the odd sight gag or wicked one-liner, this is not all out comedy. The Orville is instead a really solid science fiction show which mixes satire, action, comedy and drama. Indeed, while there is much to smile at, many episodes feature contemporary moral dilemmas involving: relationships, religion, social media, race, gender issues and sex. Most of all this is Seth Mcfarlane’s tribute to Star Trek. He even goes as far to enlist Trek producer Brannon Braga to executive produce and helm several episodes; while Jonathan Frakes also directs episode 6 – Pria.
Overall, I really enjoyed the show because of its similarity to Star Trek and because the characters drew me in too. Seth Macfarlane is not the greatest actor but he is a very likeable everyman. He is also ably assisted by a very committed supporting cast and the slick production. Many episodes whizz along at a decent pace and it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. There’s some excellent supporting characters along the way portrayed by Charlize Theron and Rob Lowe. There’s also some brilliant science fiction stuff which I loved including: space weapons; space ships; time travel; worm holes; ion storms; alien creatures; special powers; cannibal monsters; and hologram devices. Basically everything that Star Trek had The Orville has and that’s why I enjoyed it.
Producer(s): Barney Reisz, Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones
Distributors: Endemol UK – Netflix
Season 4: 6 Episodes
Writer(s): Charlie Brooker plus William Bridges (USS Callister)
Directors: Toby Haynes, Jodie Foster, John Hillcoat, Tim Van Patten, David Slade, Colm McCarthy
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson, Michaela Coel, Billy Magnussen, Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, Andrea Riseborough, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Andrew Gower, Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole, Maxine Peake, Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright etc.
Technology: the final frontier; allowing humans to boldly go where no human has gone before. Indeed, one of the most incredible elements of our world is the technological breakthroughs we have made over the past century or so. We have: electricity, nuclear power, robots, driverless vehicles, television screens, computers, mobile phones, satellites, GPS tracking, drones, 3D printing, smart home air-conditioning, Hadron Colliders, huge space-ships which travel beyond the stars, WI-FI, the world-wide-web connecting everyone with anyone, holograms, the social media phenomenon, virtual reality head-sets, software algorithms, x-rays, gamma knifes, DNA, cloning, MRI scans, Hyperloop tube trains, Sat-Nav, Google, immersive video-games; plus many more medical, military and industrial inventions which make our lives so easy today.
But with such wonderful and fantastic discoveries there is always a dark side. While we may create a medical breakthrough which cures on the one hand we’ll ultimately invent some new weapon or means with which to kill ourselves. So while technology is mainstay of our existence it also can feed our obsessions and thus become an extension of our poor choices, violence and insanity. The scariest thing is we think technology is absolutely necessary and we cannot live without it. I mean, all we really need to survive is water, air, food, shelter and perhaps, as The Beatles sang, love. For all its’ positives, technology is an addiction and can be used to do wrong and cause harm.
Charlie Brooker’s sublime anthology series Black Mirror is now in its 4th Season (2nd on Netflix). It taps into the fear factor technology brings and presents nightmare scenarios that more often than not possess a prescient twist. Who can forget the very first episode of BM which had Rory Kinnear’s Prime Minister having to fuck a pig as a means to pay a hostage ransom? The subsequent tabloid news that our then former Prime Minister David Cameron had, allegedly, stuck his member in a pig’s mouth suddenly made BM incredibly prophetic. This season is another televisual triumph with an incredible array of acting, directing and production talent with each episode offering the feel and scope of a cinema release. I’ll be honest being a massive Charlie Brooker fan I would probably enjoy a video of him dancing in a tutu whilst juggling tomatoes; however, I can confirm these six episodes were beyond brilliant too.
Within the fabric of each episode Brooker holds a mirror up to the future and invariably it will come back black. However, the touching love story of San Junipero (from Season 3) offered some light in the BM universe and similarly Hang the DJ (officially 3rd in the Season 4 list) contained a wonderful love story at its’ heart with Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole giving humorous and touching performances. It also contains a Truman Show (1998) style ending and a twist that I thought was absolutely fantastic. Indeed, what appears to reflect the dystopic controlling techno-world of romance apps becomes something entirely real and beautiful by the end.
While Hang the DJ offers hope, the remainder of the episodes are bittersweet, brutal and unforgiving in their rendering. Actually, I suppose the Star Trek pastiche USS Callister has a kind of optimistic ending and is bloody funny in its affectionate satire of Trek archetypes and monsters. However, Jesse Plemons downtrodden Silicon Valley programmer holds a dark secret during his immersive Virtual Reality gaming experiences. Full of Star Trek references and themes, the clever script merges ideas relating to gaming and DNA technology with fantastic sci-fi meta-textual moments.
Arkangel also has an element of brain implanted software which enables a neurotic mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) to track and view her daughter’s every move on a computer screen. Despite the revolutionary software used this story is based wholly in familial reality as the relationship between mother and daughter becomes strained as she enters her rebellious teenage years. The danger of “helicopter” or overbearing parenting becomes too apparent in satisfying soap operatic story.
Brooker relates many of his scripts in genre territory so the more outlandish or fantastic ideas are grounded with an identifiable cultural identity. The horrific murder plot of Crocodile unfolds in true Hitchockian fashion as an insurance adjuster tracks down the details relating to a vehicle accident but tragically stumbles on something altogether more deadly. The ending of this story is particularly far-fetched, as Andrea Riseborough’s architect gets deeper and deeper in the mire, however, Brooker must be praised for taking risks with his twists.
Rather simpler is the pursuit thriller Metalhead, presented in crisp black and white, as a woman (the brilliant Maxine Peake) attempts to survive in a dangerous land full of robotic guard-dogs. It’s mainly a tense one-hander and the future never looked so drained of hope and colour. The final episode Black Museum was even more grisly as Douglas Hodge shows Letitia Wright’s tourist around his grim parade of exhibits. Brooker’s writing is as strong as ever and the horrors of the entwining anthology stories are shocking and powerful. It’s a dark, dark episode which contains the fantastic idea of uploading one’s digital soul into a loved one’s to share their consciousness. This plays out with both horror and humour in a compelling end to the season.
Being a total Charlie Brooker and Black Mirror fan; a big lover anthology stories; plus a fanatic of horror and tales with a twist it’s obvious to say I loved this seasons offerings. They are clever, dark, funny, sickening, silly, romantic, scary, twisted stories full of satire and warnings about the dangers of technological progress. Ultimately, though it is not science or computers or mechanics which are the danger; but rather humans use and abuse of said technology. Because, for all our ingenuity and invention we more often than not use machines negatively and Black Mirror reflects that (im)perfectly.