What I thought of Doctor Who:Shada

The Tom Baker era of Doctor Who is for many of a certain age, their era of Doctor Who, and it was always a tragedy that the last Douglas Adams story, Shada, was never completed due to a strike. Various attempts over the years have attempted to recreate it as best as possible with varying levels of success but the new 2017 recreation/completion mixed with original unbroadcast footage is as probably as close as we’ll get.

This would have been Adams final story for Who as at this point the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was just taking off and it really is built round Adams writing a love letter to his time at university in Cambridge. In fact much of the action takes place in a professor’s room not to mention that the action is on the whole, far more intellectual than modern Who’s more action/adventure style. This isn’t perfect, and the script has holes in it that you’d think would have been picked up had their not been the strike but the joy of watching Tom Baker in his pomp, aided by a glorious Lalla Ward (who I hope provides Jodie Whitaker with inspiration) in an adventure together most of us haven’t seen is simply wonderful, not to mention nostalgic.

As for the plot, it is something that adds greatly to Time Lord lore (Shada is the Time Lords prison planet) but on the whole the story suffers from being planned as a 6-parter. It gets a bit flabby in places, and a clever pun gets overused. There’s also the issue of poor monster henchmen and the aforementioned holes in the plot leaves holes at crucial points.When it does work it simply is a thing of genius. Baker and Ward are clearly loving the dialogue which is clever without being smug, or totally outwith of most people’s ability to understand. Adams is having fun here, and the scene where Baker’s Doctor convinces a ship’s computer that he’s actually dead is just pure Adams. There’s also a running joke where poor K9 is frequently treated with contempt which mirrors much of what the production team thought at the time.

Shada is an interesting experiment. The animation doesn’t quite work, but suspend your belief enough and it does the job in giving us an unfinished Douglas Adams work.The extras are a delight, and as for the new scene filmed with Baker? That’s a delight and nicely links forward/back to Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special. Overall Shada is a joyful piece of nostalgia and a celebration of what made Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor so incredibly special.

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What I thought of Crisis on Earth X

The superhero team-up is getting to be commonplace nowadays with both Marvel and DC films throwing heroes together with a variety of success, but it is to the world of television that we should look for what is by far the best example of how to do a superhero team-up and that is the four-part ‘Arrowverse‘ story, Crisis on Earth X.

One of the reasons the Justice League film failed was it pulled characters from the comics in a pretty generic ”bad guy looks to take over the Earth” storyline. Crisis on Earth X uses an old JLA storyline from 1982 written by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas called Crisis on Earth Prime as the basic inspiration of the storyline which was given away from their marketing material a few months back. They also take a few things from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitley’s All-Star Superman

As well as elements of Alan Moore’s Superman stories, especially this…

Essentially they dip into the history of DC Comics, nick what they want, adapt it to the storyline and spit out something that works beyond what the limits of telly budgets should do. By using mainly second tier characters (thanks to the restrictions imposed upon them by the film arm of Warner Brothers) the producers have carved themselves a superhero universe unafraid of not just embracing the soap opera elements of serialised superhero comics, but the political aspects that often get buried in superhero comics.

The plot revolves round an alternative Earth where the Nais won WW2, and the Nazi counterparts of Green Arrow and Supergirl, along with Prometheus, Reverse Flash and Metallo along with hordes of disposable Nazi soldiers invade the Earth of our heroes not just to expand the Nazi empire but to steal Supergirl’s heart and place it into Overgirl’s (the Nazi Supergirl) body as she’s dying as she’s soaked up too much solar radiation. The stakes essentially are high so virtually every superhero (along with various sidekicks and partners) in the Arrowverse comes together to fight the Nazi menace. That is a lot of costumed characters!

It should fall apart. It is simply too big for a TV series to do but ambition, along with a nice script that gives everyone their little, or big moment and although there’s some heroes not included in this (Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter and the Arrowverse Superman) this somehow makes a gigantic cast work in 162 minutes of television, as well managing to propel all four series (Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow) on in terms of characterisation and plot.

There are faults. There’s a bit too much crawling around in air-shafts in one episode, Supergirl is effectively written out the action for nearly two episodes, and some of the supporting cast vanish after episode one. In the final showdown the ambition overtakes the budget as the effects of an army of super-powered Nazis who happen to have a space/time ship on the civilian population falls down as they couldn’t get the masses of extras. However all the big actions set-pieces still outdo anything the Justice League film did, and matches much of what Marvel splash billions on.

But the positives outweigh the faults. Having Nazis as the baddies is more relevant in 2017 than it was in 1982, and this element of politics of having a diverse squad of heroes made up of of men, women, straight, LGBT, white, black, Muslim, Jewish, Hispanic, etc heroes beat Aryan white supremacists into the ground. In the era of Trump, Brexit and increasing white nationalism across the west it is nice to see Nazis being hit, and hit a lot. Crisis on Earth X works and to think it’s based off a 35 year old comic only people like me remembered makes it deliciously fun. I mean, the sight of The Flash and The Ray (a second tier DC superhero played by Russell Povey who pops up out of nowhere) fighting the Red Tornado will give old DC fanboys like me more fun than we’ve had in ages. Even seeing the Crisis logo is a nice buzz.

Does this wash away the taste of Justice League? yes. Does it give Marvel a few tips? Yes. Does it respect the comic source material and wallow in the fact? Yes. Is Crisis on Earth X perhaps the best example of a superhero team up outwith of the first Avengers film? Yes. This is a joy from the minute it starts to the end with its flaws being weak enough to ignore.and you can sit down and enjoy this as a wonderful letter to the superhero comics of the past as well as showing how to do superheroes in the present.

Nicolas Cage on drugs

Back in 1990 Nicolas Cage was still a young actor with some great credits to his name and a reputation in exact opposite to the one he has today as a jobbing actor who will do any auld shite for the money. In 1990 he was doing the rounds publicising his new film, the wonderful David Lynch film Wild at Heart.

Also in 1990 Terry Wogan was the UK’s leading chat show host with his amiable teatime chat show on BBC One which didn’t do more than allow people to plug their latest book, film ,etc. Enter into this one Nicolas Cage on what must have been spectacular drugs…

Cage is spectacular here. This is what actors should do when asked to plug their latest film rather than blandly answer questions, but once Cage was off the drugs we were only treated to this sort of lunacy in his films as he increasingly cared nothing for his work beyond the cheque he got for being in something. This though remains a brilliant example of live telly and how you can get anything…

Happy 53rd birthday Doctor Who

Back in 1999 Doctor Who was long dead on television. It was the preserve of people’s nostalgic memories of when Saturday night telly was something golden and glorious, not to mention it was the life of the hardcore fan. On this, the 53rd birthday of the programme’s first broadcast, here’s a glorious sketch from BBC2’s Doctor Who night from 1999 featuring a then more or less unknown Mark Gatiss, a vaguely known David Walliams and Peter Davison…

Happy birthday to Doctor Who and all us old fans who’ve kept the thing going since we were old enough to buy a Target novelisation with a Chris Achilleos cover…

TV Go Home is a lost joy

The years linking the end of the last millennium to the days before 911 seem now to look like some Golden Age where the worst thing we had to worry about was the new Oasis single. Now we’re happy if we look forward to a month without nuclear war or Nazis stamping over us, and one of the bits of the media that reflects today’s horror is Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

Back in 2001 Brooker was still trailing in the slipstream of Chris Morris and best known for his work as a games journalist and one of the great websites of the age, TV Go Home best know for giving us Nathan Barley, who started out as simply Cunt.

In 2001 Brooker and Channel 4 produced a 6-part series based upon the site which although patchy still has enough delights to make it a bit of a lost gem of British comedy. Daily Mail Island in particular seems like a piece of prophesy thanks to Brexit making Brooker’s satire seem oddly dated, and that was why Brooker stopped the site as culture had caught up with satire.

The series hasn’t ever enjoyed an official release which is odd considering how marketable Brooker is in 2017 especially, but the series is up on YouTube and should be enjoyed as it really does hit the mark more than it misses.

Enjoy before they get taken down…

The near-forgotten glory of the Hitman and Her

Back in the days of the late 80’s and early 90’s the idea of late night television was still fresh but TV companies weren’t too clued up on what to schedule so ITV in particular would be a Russian Roulette of anything remotely watchable to anyone. Of course the people most likely to be watching telly at 2am were either the unemployed or people staggering back from clubbing.

Which leads me nicely into one of ITV’s stalwart bits of programming in their Golden Age of late night telly (1987-1993), The Hitman and Her. The ”Hitman” was Pete Waterman, then riding incredible levels of success from his PWR record label who released works from the likes of Kylie Minogue. The ‘Her’ was Michaela Strachan, a TV presenter now best known for her work on the BBC’s wildlife programming bu from 1988 to 1992 could be seen each week standing near Darren from Mansfield as he spilled Fosters down his new chinos as he drunkenly tried to dance at clubs like the Ritzy in Nottingham.

Or the horror that was the Black Orchid.

Or yet another Ritzy, this time in Leeds.

Or astonishingly at Manchester’s famous Hacienda.

Or at any dodgy club where people would drunkenly attempt to pull, sort themselves out a knee-trembler down an alley before staggering home with a kebab and a fungal infection as you collapse on your sofa just as Darren from Mansfield is seen dancing in the backed trying not to look at Strachan’s arse. The Hitman and Her acted as a mirror upon people’s lives at a time when clubs were trying to still be neon-clad hellholes that attracted your average lad and lass, as well as the new, alternative rave scene with both often colliding onscreen in all the messy glory you’d expect.

Late night telly in 2017 is a depressing mess of quiz shows designed to rip the drunk/stupid/desperate or repeats with signing because programmers think the deaf never sleep. The Hitman and Her is a reminder of a simpler age when youth culture wasn’t so cynical and late night telly could throw up simple joys such as this. The past really is another country, and revisiting these grainy YouTube videos while sober brings back the days of staggering home, sticking the telly on and falling asleep laughing at Waterman and Strachan’s ludicrous antics. But Waterman may be many things but he loved and knew his music, even rave, and Strachan was just fun but we’ll never see anything like this on TV ever again and that’s a pity.

What I thought of Star Trek: Discovery

The new Star Trek series, Discovery, has two shiny new episodes on Netflix and it really is interesting viewing purely for the fact it tries to do something different with the concept while at the same time ticking off as many boxes you’d expect from a Star Trek series as you can imagine in around 90 minutes.

Sonequa Martin-Green stars as Michael Burnham, the first officer of the USS Shenzhou, a starship commanded by Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou.

Martin-Green plays Yeoh’s first officer and this shift in focus from the captain to a member of the crew pays off right away in that Star Trek: Discovery feels different. We’re not having a story told through the eyes of a captain, but rather a first officer, and one that is related to the original series Mr Spock.  So from the start everything is familiar but slightly new, fresher and it feels better rather than just go through the motions which considering the jaw-dropping amount of executive producers on the programme it’s a wonder the show actually got made in the first place.

Thankfully the names of Nicholas Meyer (director of Star Trek’s best two films, The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country) and Brian Fuller (ex of Hannibal) show there isn’t just someone who gets what Star Trek should be, but someone who gets how to make a series work.

The plot revolves round the Klingons coming back after a century as T’Kuvma (a sort of Klingon ultra-nationalist like Nigel Farage but with a Mars bar stuck on his head) hopes to reunite all the houses of the Klingon Empire to take the fight to the Federation to stop them for corrupting the purity of the Klingon race. Very topical and done surprisingly well as we see the Federation at first avoid conflict before being dragged into battle but only reluctantly.

In the middle of this Martin-Green holds the thing together from just being another Generic Space Adventure, which at times this does creep into being. She manages to convey enough conflict between what’s best for her crew and how that contradicts Starfleet’s ethics well, and it’s that conflict that drives these first two episodes. Backed up by a strong performance from Yeoh and some nice supporting performances, these opening episodes establish the world we’re in and the central character. Having the Klingons as the central antagonist keeps that sense of familarity too, though I’m not keen on the redesign at all.

There are flaws. Apart from the main two characters everyone else barring Doug Jones’s lanky alien is a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out so when people start dying there’s little emotional attachment to them, and for a programme named after a starship, the Discovery doesn’t actually show up in these episodes then again the basic design is an abandoned one for a Star Trek film from 40 years ago. Neither does Jason Isaacs who makes anything better by just being in it.

Overall this is a nice start. Dark enough to keep a section of fans happy while still being positive enough to be called Star Trek. How it develops remains to be seen but all those folk hating on this because it had a female lead, or there’s a gay relationship (this is in future episodes I assume) are just the sort of people who don’t get that Star Trek is supposed to be an inclusive vision of the future. These people are essentially like the racist Klingon zealots in these episodes. Anyhow,this is good stuff and I look forward to seeing where it goes.