Saturday, October 22, 2016

Red Dwarf 11x06 Can of Worms

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If you're generous and pretend 'Give & Take' was a proper Lister episode, every Boy from the Dwarf has had his time in the spotlight in the back two thirds of this latest series, which was pleasing and inevitably variable. As "long-awaited" as a Cat-centric episode was, my hopes weren't any higher going in than for 'Krysis,' so at least this time I had the chance to be pleasantly surprised.

It might be the most average episode of this most average of runs, but it's funny, and that's enough to excuse all the things I'd normally be more cynical about (and am obviously going to be anyway). Like the fact that it's the second time they've made a sequel to 'Polymorph,' something I'm not going to bother being spoiler-conscious about as there's no danger the prisoner they come across is going to be what she appears to be when vampire GELFs have already been name-dropped.

Is it better than 'Emohawk' in that regard? Obviously not, because that's encased in the densest layer of my impenetrable childhood nostalgia possible and I saw this one when I was 31. If you're not similarly burdened and you're able to compare the sloppy sequels more objectively, it's not necessarily any worse. There's less emotion-sapping, apart from a quite chilling scene with an apathetic Lister, instead mining the multiplicity angle for laughs.

My biggest regret is that the series wimped out on what would have been a spectacular final twist, especially in a run of episodes that's received a lot of criticism for its endings. I would have loved Cat's concubines to have been real, then naturally never seen or mentioned again, and for that uncomfortable virgin shuffling to have all been an act. To hell with the plot making sense, it wouldn't have messed up the continuity any worse than the previous story.

Red Dwarf XI, there. One episode I loved, one I hated, one that could so easily have been brilliant that its decline pissed me off, the other half was alright. It's been a lot of fun.

"A nomination for JMC Crew of the Year is staring to look unlikely" - Dave Lister

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Red Dwarf 11x05 Krysis

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There's no rule that Kryten episodes have to be crap (well, maybe there is now). Sure, 'Beyond a Joke' and 'Krytie TV' instantly earned their places among the dregs of the series, but series XI is supposed to be harking back to the good old days - and 'The Last Day,' 'Camille' and indeed 'Kryten' are all top 10 or borderline.

The tease of Kryten's midlife crisis Ferrari suit had already made me a little wary, so I can't say I went into this one with hopes as high as 'Officer Rimmer.' It's the penultimate episode of the series, so being the worst of the bunch (god forbid it isn't) is practically a tradition (or at least is now). But as if a lightweight plot and irritating guest character weren't enough, they even throw in loads of insane continuity for good measure. Even by Red Dwarf's impressively lax standards in that area.

Has Red Dwarf really been taking place c.2,976,000 years in the future all this time and everyone's been rounding up, or is Kryten now from a time several tens of millennia later than he previously claimed to be? Why does the 3000 Series look a lot like Kryten, when it was previously said to have been an eerily realistic model? Has the Kochanski plot been resolved or forgotten if the crew can just go into stasis for undisclosed periods willy-nilly? Did Doug Naylor really invent a nonsense stat about the universe being half-way through its lifespan just so he could make that joke? Even the revelation that the universe truly is devoid of proper alien life felt disappointingly final.

If this had gone out first, I would have been devastated. As it is, I just feel a bit sick. It may be the worst of the whole Dave revival so far, but at least it's not as bad as 'Krytie TV.' When you find yourself dragging out that sentence, you know things aren't swell. Some nice effects though, right?

"The blinking machine's gone full-on red blinky" - Cat

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Red Dwarf 11x04 Officer Rimmer

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So far, the retro emphasis in this new series has been squarely on the latter two thirds of the Grant Naylor years. This time, the nostalgia shifts back to the early days of Rimmer's neuroses but keeps the series 3-6 monster finale to give us the long-awaited sequel Me50.

It's clearly a reflection on my preference for character-based 'Dwarf over action 'Dwarf these days that this was my favourite one so far. It feels like Old Iron Balls has had short shrift in the recent ensemble episodes, so an over-generous dollop of Rimmsy is just what the doctor ordered.

Yes, it's ridiculous that he never learns his lessons (as Kryten points out), but it's completely true to character that he'd jump at the chance to pointlessly advance his career for his own pathetic ego and punish his former colleagues just because he can. And it's brilliant that Rimmer's "achievement" was a complete fluke motivated by cold cowardice.

The bio-printing machine is also the most original bit of sci-fi kit that we've seen in the series for a long time. The story may have its roots in various classic episodes, but for once, the machine isn't similarly indebted. And as brief as it was, the aside about Lister selling out his genome into perpetual corporate slavery was horrific and hilarious in equal measure.

I haven't even mentioned the effects. I have to assume that overlapping split screens are something that's fairly easy to do these days if you have talented people - this is on a Dave budget after all - but how bloody impressive was that? There's even a bonus for sci-fi nerds as Red Dwarf's ramscoop is canonically confirmed. Now it just remains to be seen whether Kryten's and Cat's turns in the spotlight will be as entertaining.

"Things are about to get a whole lot more Rimmery" - Arnold Rimmer

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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Indiana Jones naturally ages into the era of sci-fi B-movies and the fans are incensed by it. I suppose the bright side of missing out on the earlier films in my childhood is that I didn't have to get angry about the Phantom Menace of the Indy franchise (I suppose more accurately its Force Awakens).

I suppose George Lucas & co. could have come up with a new period character to tell this story, but it still would have included the bit with the fridge, so you still would have hated it.

I didn't think it was that bad. I found the bits that tried to recapture the Indy spirit weaker than the controversial new stuff, "Mutt" is more annoying than Short Round, and after basking in glorious model shots for the previous trilogy, the unconvincing CGI inevitably pales. Forget the fridge, I'm more annoyed about that.

"I have a bad feeling about this" - Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr.

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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

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Well when you put it like that, I suppose the previous film was a bit of a mis-step after all.

The Jedi of the Indy trilogy plays it entirely safe this time around, which would normally irritate me. But with one impossibly entertaining scene after another, I can't fail to love it almost as much as the first one.

As fun as the Ford/Connery bickering is, and as nice as it is to see Venice again, this one doesn't trump Raiders for me.

"You call this archaeology?" - Henry Jones, Sr.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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True to convention, the Empire of the Indy trilogy is a shade darker and more exotic than its neighbours. The comparison breaks down at this also being the most infantile and generally least beloved of the original films.

I can see why - it doesn't hold a whip to Raiders, that's for sure - but it's still one hell of an enjoyable mine cart ride. I suppose my main issue is that all the zany action feels less grounded in reality this time around, even if Raiders pulled off equally paranormal feats.

As far as characterisation and Ford's performance go, it feels like it comes further down the line than the first sequel (technically prequel - what's that about?) If you really have a problem with Short Round's presence, you need to accept that you're not watching a film for grown-ups, as some people enjoy the annoying runt. Any problems you have with screeching spoiled brat Willie are fair enough though.

"Nothing shocks me, I'm a scientist" - Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark

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There are some franchises that have just never interested me and I've avoided at every opportunity, like James Bond. There are others, like Indiana Jones, that deserved to be a bigger part of my childhood than they were.

I know I saw Temple of Doom one time when I was seven or eight, and briefly appropriated Indy attire and the dramatic red-to-yellow titling for my own stories. But that wasn't even one of the best ones. Why didn't anyone show me Raiders or Crusade? It's borderline child abuse.

I didn't see this certified classic until about 10 years ago, after a writer whose opinions I respected wrote a gushing review on its DVD release. I was surprised: Indiana Jones was considered a quality thing? I'd only just recovered from learning that about Ghostbusters. What had I been missing out on?

Raiders didn't disappoint, from its frantic opening to its Nazi saluting monkey. You don't need me to go into specifics, you've seen it plenty of times. It's the perfect escapist film for any age, but how much better would it be if I had childhood nostalgia to back it up?

I'm currently watching the films again to introduce them to the wife, who also loved it and was denied the chance to see it when those melting faces would have really made an impression. If I have kids and I haven't shown them Raiders by their tenth birthday (that list includes other items like H.P. Lovecraft bedtime stories), send in the authorities.

"Asps, very dangerous. You go first" - Sallah

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents 2x01 The Genesis Chamber

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At 82 years old, Tom Baker's in fine fettle on this recording, which thankfully gives him plenty of comedy to work with along with the customary scolding and technobabble.

The story itself isn't especially original (Metropolis in space), but that doesn't seem to matter that much when the overall experience is so pleasant. I know these aren't 'lost stories' in any real sense (at best, I'm assuming one-line summaries fleshed out to six parts), but the TARDIS banter especially would have been brilliant on the telly.

"Leela, questions first, carving on hearts later. It doesn't work the other way round" - The Doctor

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents 1x02 The Devil's Armada

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Another gloomy gothic adventure, surprise surprise. This time set in an Elizabethan England besieged by the Spanish Armada and invisible imps stirring up bloodthirsty prejudice, as if alien interference was ever required for that.

It only gets really entertaining towards the end of part three, when the Doctor and Leela head out to sea and the repetitive Renaissance muzak gets all nautical, then there's even a sciencey/TARDIS solution to thwart the superstition.

The weirdest part is the Doctor riling up the English troops with jingoistic sentiments that are supposedly just him being over-the-top. But when he says Earth is his "second home," you can't help but feel he's choosing local sides.

"Good and true, salt-of-the-earth Englishmen always listen to reason" - The Doctor

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents 1x01 The Ghosts of Gralstead

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Like most right-thinking people, even those of us born a decade or so too late to enjoy it first-hand, I recognise the Philip Hinchcliffe-produced era of Doctor Who as the most satisfying and consistent incarnation of the series. After a solid first series in the role, Tom Baker's adventures grew increasingly (some would say worryingly) macabre before the new production team came in and lightened things up, the spoilsports.

I wasn't under any illusions that these new stories - crafted nostalgically in that mould by Marc Platt, based on story ideas from Hinchcliffe that he and Robert Holmes supposedly "were kicking around" - would be as good as those forebears, or that they'd even have made for a better season 15 than the mixed bag we got (to be honest, the gothic thing had probably run its course anyway). But they seemed more worth checking out than Big Finish's Fourth Doctor Adventures in general. Maybe I'm just won over by glossy packaging.

This first installment wouldn't have made for a great episode, as it's pretty much entirely a retread of 'Talons,' right down to being stretched out to six tedious parts. I might not have liked K-9 much, but I wouldn't have preferred season 15 to literally be another season 14. Corpse snatchers Bulmer and Davy aren't likely to get their own successful Big Finish spin-off any time soon, but at least they try to make amends for the uncomfortable Sinophobia in that earlier episode by including a sympathetic African man. All's forgiven then.

"Something nasty is on the loose in London with a very unhealthy appetite indeed" - The Doctor

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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Red Dwarf 11x03 Give & Take

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The first two episodes of the current run each had their flaws, but they were still impressive overall. This is the first one that lacks that specialness. They started out with the good episodes, didn't they? How bad is 'Krysis' going to be?

Probably the best thing about it is the sinister atmosphere, as the Boys from the Dwarf are chased by yet another deranged killer robot. They were even making self-deprecating quips about this cliche back in the days of 'Quarantine,' but there's nothing of the sort here.

Probably the worst thing about it is Rimmer facing off against service machines again, ending in an undesirable call-back to his vending machine war in 'Only the Good.' I didn't mind Snacky, although the reveal of his label was funnier than any of his dialogue. Still, at least Kerry Shale's godawful Medibot is (inexplicably) absent, and they throw in a Skutter, which is nice.

Time travel plots in Red Dwarf tend to bring ugly plot holes with them, and even though it's only used very briefly here, we're not spared. If they stole past-Lister's kidneys (and that's what always happened), how did the robot extract a pair? Can we pretend it's a piss-taking call-back to Lister's appendix continuity rather than a bizarre oversight?

"Why do skeletons never wear any clothes? No wonder they all die" - Cat

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Star Trek: Enterprise 4x22 These Are the Voyages...

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For fuck's sake.

"Here's to the next generation" - Jonathan Archer

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Star Trek: Enterprise 4x21 Terra Prime

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We skip the padded middle third and head straight to the action-packed finale. It's alright, but overall, this season hasn't been the overlooked gem of second wave Trek that I was promised. Probably better than Voyager, at least.

Archer's stirring speech makes a fitting finale to the series, even if other elements of resolution are cruelly convenient. It's nice to get a brief tour of Mars, and the sentimental nod to Carl Sagan was well-judged. Speaking of good judgement...

"A final frontier begins in this hall. Let's explore it together" - Jonathan Archer

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Star Trek: Enterprise 4x20 Demons

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After the farcical darkness of the last two-parter, 'Trek gets depressingly pertinent again in this more sombre story of xenophobia. It feels uncomfortably like it's commenting on the world today, but of course, things have always been pretty terrible, and will apparently continue to be that way for at least the next century and a half.

But being decidedly more mature doesn't make this the better episode, and even some satisfying casting choices of people who are better known from other things (Peter Weller's at the head of the pack) doesn't make these characters' actions and motivations any less predictable. It just makes the regulars look like idiots when they don't cotton on straight away.

Less TOS fan service this time, but Colonel Green is canonised and they mention Coridan, which I always thought was from 'Wars.

"I have no intention of using this weapon again, provided that every single non-human on this planet leaves immediately" - John Paxton

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Star Trek: Enterprise 4x19 In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II

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The classic creature parade continues as they throw in a Gorn for good measure. It may not look especially convincing, but at least it puts up a fight.

I wouldn't go as far as calling a Mirror Universe episode "smart," but this does a good job of setting up the Terran Empire we'd see in 'Mirror, Mirror' while foreshadowing its downfall in Deep Space Nine. Once again they have their sexist cake and eat it by making Hoshi a conniving slut for most of the two-parter before revealing her as a strong, independent woman at the end, so I guess that's nice, and there's a new spin on the gimmick of our universe's heroes looking down on the dystopia by having an exaggerated ghost Archer looming over his counterpart's shoulder.

But it's the little details that really work. I enjoyed the continuation of the Vulcan goatee most of all, and giving us detailed Wikipedia entries for characters whose future histories we'd never see is a gift that's appreciated. This might be the best Enterprise episode after all... which kind of suggests the series was taking the wrong approach all along, doesn't it?

"Great men are not peacemakers. Great men are conquerors" - Jonathan Archer

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Star Trek: Enterprise 4x18 In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I

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This two-parter was one of the few Enterprises I bothered to watch the first time around, since even a recovering, disillusioned Trekkie couldn't resist that bait. I thought it was ridiculous.

This time around I was a lot more tolerant of its absurdity - the performances are over-the-top and hammy and the Mirror Universe concept is as nonsensical as ever, but if you switch off your brain and let your critical faculties take the evening off, it's quite a lot of fun.

Really, it's surprising they waited this long to reprise 'Mirror, Mirror' considering the multiple other direct prequels they've done this year. It may have had something to do with Deep Space Nine already doing it to death in one of that series' less satisfying arcs.

It's ultimately the 'Tholian Web' sequel that's more interesting though, not least the titillation of stomping around on the recreated bridge of the Enterprise (I mean the Defiant (not that one)). I was less fond of the CGI Tholians and their 100-years-earlier-but-somehow-more-advanced web, and that fun opening is hard to take seriously since it's so obvious they couldn't afford to get James Cromwell back, but this isn't the embarrassment I remembered.

And while the revamped theme is obviously better than the usual theme song (not that that's much of a challenge), I still think they should have gone with a death metal cover version.

"Will you kindly die?" - Phlox

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Star Trek: Enterprise 4x17 Bound

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This was looking to be quite the appalling 'Mudd's Women' homage for a long time (of all the episodes to pay tribute to) until a last-minute turnaround allows them to have their titillating cake and eat it.

Canonically explaining the intoxicating Orion effect that dates back to Star Trek's original pilot as being down to simple pheromones is a bit of a Klingon forehead, and the twist that it's the men who are really subservient to the women doesn't really make any sense when you apply it even to episodes earlier this season.

But for all its massive flaws, I did quite enjoy this episode. I like the idea of space still being this dangerous place where you're likely to run into pirates at every turn. Still, I can't help but feel that the background detail of establishing the first Starbase would have made for a much more interesting A-story.

"Creatures such as these come with troubles of their own. Women are the same throughout the galaxy, aren't they?" - Harrad-Sar

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Star Trek: Enterprise 4x16 Divergence

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Trip's manual debugging of Enterprise is pretty cool, but the spectacle of him climbing between two warping ships is up there with the dumbest sights in the franchise. Cancellation seems more reasonable today.

Now that you've explained the Klingon foreheads to no-one's real satisfaction, I hope you're going to address Romulan ridges and the 23rd century's retro tech and sexism before we reach the end. No point opening that unnecessary box if you're not going to follow through.

"The captain and I have had a slight misunderstanding" - Malcolm Reed

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Star Trek: Enterprise 4x15 Affliction

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We're on a single-digit countdown to the end of televised 'Trek for a decade or so, but let's waste some of that precious time explaining why Klingons didn't have bumpy foreheads in TOS, even though we already know the reason and your in-universe solution inevitably creates new problems. On the bright side, at least it's only a two-parter this time.

This wouldn't be too big a deal if the story was worth it, but it's just another shooty Klingon one. Phlox is kidnapped, Trip's been transferred and Reed's put in the brig, but if I don't care about any of these characters by now, it's just not going to happen.

"When I asked you to bring me a subject for dissection, I assumed he'd already be dead" - Phlox

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Star Trek: Enterprise 4x14 The Aenar

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It turns out the Romulan attempt at destabilising these old adversaries actually brought them closer together. Who could have predicted that right from the beginning of part one?

Anyway, that story's all over and done with now, as the Tellarites sod off (maybe they couldn't be bothered with the make-up) and we head to Andoria (it's not called 'Andor' any more?) to get a good, long look at it. The ice caverns and underground cities are all very nice, but did they really need to introduce Andorian Remans? Especially in a story that already features Remans and reminds me about that film. You've got four decades of Trek to borrow from, don't go to Nemesis.

Since it's part three, there's the customary big shoot-out finale set against the touching reunion of psychic siblings we're not given time to care about and the latest development in the uninspiring Tucker/T'Pol romance. I can't wait to see how this pans out. Please get it over with quickly so we can get back to exploring.

"As far as I know, there are no species in the galaxy that have mastered the art of mixing romance and vocation" - Phlox

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