30 December 2015

Ich bin eine blonder Spionin (Grand Review: 'Homeland' Season 5)

So, Homeland came back for a fifth season after a mostly high-quality fourth run that moved away from the original plot, sending its leads to a new location... from which not all of them came out alive.

This review contains spoilers from the get-go.

So, Carrie Mathison is back, defending the US from terr...

Record needle scratch

No, she isn't. She's left the CIA after the events of the fourth season (so she didn't crash her car then) and is now in Berlin, working as the head of security for a German billionaire, where she can look after her toddler daughter, who really has inherited her late father's hair colour. In addition, she's acquired a new boyfriend... and a new religion. Carrie Mathison is now a paid-up member of the Roman Catholic Church.

While she's doing this, a pair of hackers working out of a sex club (OK, was it really necessary for the plot for that to be their location?)  decide to muck around with a jihadi recruitment time at the same time as the CIA are taking a look... and somehow manage to accidentally access the CIA servers, downloading thousands of documents relating to a rather dodgy activity.

Namely the fact that in order to conduct domestic surveillance on dodgy people in the Federal Republic of Germany while dealing with restrictive privacy laws as a result of what previous governments did on non-dodgy people... by getting the US to do their electronic eavesdropping for them.

This naturally leads to quite a few problems...

I won't be doing a full plot breakdown this time due to a lot happening and sheer lack of time to write this, so here are some of the salient points.
  • Carrie in a balloon hat at a children's party? Both hilarious and adorable. Seriously, every scene in this could be improved by the balloon hat. The 1970s-style black wig is also welcome to return.
  • Ms. Mathison is useless at her Listen checks; she gets ambushed from behind twice in this show. Also, bright blonde hair isn't very good in a game of hide and seek. Also, it's not a great idea to offer your gun to a terrorist.
  • To try and figure out who is trying to kill her, Carrie decides to go off her meds to improve her thinking... which merely results in her going a bit crazy. Seriously, you don't do that sort of thing without professional medical personnel to hand. Also, I call scenes like that 'I want another Emmy scenes' as Claire Danes is clearly trying to get another one in them. 
  • Howard Gordon, the show runner here, worked on 24 and it really shows; there are multiple episode endings that just needed a "beep beep beep".
  • Also, Sean Callery's music remains superb; I'm looking to watch Jessica Jones at some point if I can find another legal avenue outside of Netflix and the fact that he's done the music for that is another reason to watch it.
  • Speaking of Jack Bauer, Carrie gets a distinct lot of Bauer action; notably running into a train tunnel to stop a terrorist... but jumping out of the way of an oncoming train. That's a James Bond move (Skyfall in fact). I did consider retitling this 'Blonde, Jane Blonde'. Mind you, she's not totally 'half-nun, half-hitwoman' (she's definitely no nun) - getting distinctly upset after killing the terrorist. I'm not sure she's actually killed anyone face to face before, but I may be wrong here.
  • Also, there's another distinctive mole in the form of Alison, who turns out to be working for the Russians. In one moment that would make Jack himself wince, she gets information from someone by shooting her bodyguard in the head, then kills him and then shoots herself in the shoulder to make it look like she didn't do it. As the seven F-bombs (I counted) she drops  immediately after makes clear, it would probably really hurt.
  • Peter "The Mighty" Quinn really goes through the wringer here; being shot, then nearly killed by sarin gas and almost killed when Saul tries to wake him up to get key info from him. At the end, he's in a coma and Carrie is about to seemingly smother him with a pillow when the sun lights up the room - a rather odd cliffhanger. I really doubt he'll be coming back for Season 6.
  • Saul Berenson is not a guy you want to mess with, especially in the bedroom. Alison ends up with the car she's in being shot up by four or five people with assault rifles, killing her and her Russian minders. That's definite overkill.
  • Dar Adal is a really dislikeable fellow. Far too much of a 'smooth operator' for my tastes.
  • The 'dissident journalist' Laura Sutton is very annoying, which may have been intentional on the part of the writers. She really isn't a sympathetic character, although recklessly releasing secret info onto the internet isn't a good idea. Exposing illegal practices needs to be done, but there are better ways to do it.
    • Re Sutton, the secret world's perception means that any real mess-up tends to be put down as conspiracy i.e. an actual suicide of a suspect here.
  • The shoot saw graffiti artists hired to write Arabic graffiti put 'Homeland is racist' instead of what they were meant to do. That said, few people really come out of this looking good. The Americans don't look great, the Germans are definitely dodgy... but the Russians come out worst of all, willing to let a major terrorist attack go down for their own ends.
  • Berlin Hauptbahnhof features extensively here (and very nice looking it is) as a potential terrorist target - although I would note a geographical error; the Berlin U-Bahn doesn't go to Potsdam; the S-Bahn does and there's only one U-Bahn line that serves that station, U55, which only goes as far as the Brandenburg Gate - an extension to link it to U5 has been delayed until 2020. Indeed, Berlin looks very good throughout.
  • The last episode does really peter out somewhat. 24 was able to keep the action going a lot better and not run out of steam 30 minutes before the end. The German billionaire's proposal (which sounded like he wanted to marry her!) was a bit out of left-field.

While not perfect and with some notable flaws, this is a strong season for Homeland and it will be interesting to see where our blonde spy goes next.

I don't want this killed with fire. I want Carrie to kill things with fire.


28 December 2015

Where's Your Head At (Review: 'Doctor Who' 2015 Christmas Special, "The Husbands of River Song")

Yes, I did get the TARDIS LEGO set for Christmas. It took me nearly 5 hours to assemble it and bar some minor niggles, looks very nice. I built my own TARDIS console room out of LEGO as a kid, so it's nice to have the real thing.


While having a sulk on a human colony in the far future, the Doctor is unintentionally roped into a caper with his missus, River Song. Unfortunately, she doesn't recognise him due to the fact that they meet out of order (and she's not met this version), with hilarious consequences.

This review contains spoilers.

The Doctor quotes Hamlet, or something close to it and does end up getting very hammy at points in this episode. All the Doctors have eaten scenery at one point or another, including Capaldi, who is a good enough actor that he can overact effectively - most notably the scene where he does the whole "bigger on the inside" speech. He does a good job here, having gotten the 'old grump act' down to a fine art, but he really needs a proper companion to fully ground him. He makes a rather Bond-esque quip at the demise of one character, which is definitely off and his comment at a crash site that there's no-one worth saving also seems very cold.

Alex Kingston's River Song, like Flynn Carsen from The Librarians (of course played by Kingston's ER co-star Noah Wyle), is best in small doses. While her flirty, lightning quick personality is enjoyable in this episode, once she gets all slushy towards the end, I was rapidly getting bored. Unlike Root from Person of Interest or for that matter the Doctor himself, she lacks the level of development and overall charisma to sustain a regular role. (Goes to check if there is Doctor Who/Person of Interest fan fic with Root in it)

River isn't alone in her operation, in which she is attempting to retrieve a very valuable gem from inside the head of a genocidal dictator, being joined by Nardole (Matt Lucas) and Ramone (Phillip Rhys, who is best known to me for being a terrorist suspect in Season 2 of 24), the latter who is married to River. These are two reasonably well done male companions, although I must admit I've never really watched Little Britain. Both of them end up losing their heads - literally.

They lose their heads (which remain alive, something of a Moffat trademark over the years) at the hands of King Hydroflax, a dying tyrant who likes to eat his enemies after battle, whether they are alive or dead, and is still worshipped by those on his planet. Doctor Who has done wonders over the years of conjuring up entire worlds and campaigns in dialogue, with images being created in the dialogue that the writers of The Blacklist or Game of Thrones wouldn't put onto screen. Hydroflax's head is played by Greg Davies, a stand-up comic who at 2.03m (6 foot 8) is the second tallest actor to appear in the show this year - being beaten by the tallest man in Europe, one Neil Fingleton, who played the body of the Fisher King- at 30 centimetres higher, he has also played a giant in Game of Thrones and did the motion capture for Ultron in the most recent The Avengers movie. He (Davies) does a very good job with only his head sticking out of a red metal suit, which is separately voiced by Nonso Anozie, who demonstrates a ruthless efficiency to the point where to survive he will happily disintegrate his own head.

(Answer re Root - one is here - S4 spoilers)

Effects Speaking of disintegrating heads, I'm not sure that reducing one to a pile of ash is entirely suitable for 6pm on a Christmas Day; we also get an alien opening up his own head to retrieve a metal ball from inside it. Anyway, the days of 'wobbly sets' are long gone (indeed, they were never as big a feature as popular myth has it - some of the set design was superb considering the budget and space available, most notably the TARDIS) and as a result, the CGI is looking very good, especially the stuff nearer the end on Darillium.

As mention earlier, this is a very zany plot; something that wouldn't be out of place in an episode of The Blacklist (no crossovers there sadly). This said, once we're done with the caper, the romantic scenes at the end, which are setting up the 'end' for River in her timeline (i.e. "Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead" from Season 30) weren't holding my interest and I really didn't like the "happily ever after" caption at the end.


While there is a brilliant madcap energy in the first half of so this episode, it starts to lose the pace badly and by the end, I'd kind of had enough. Sixty minutes is too long a time for a Doctor Who episode in general unless it's really good and this isn't.


25 December 2015

Jesus was a refugee and other thoughts - Christmas 2015

As a Christian, you end up hearing the story of Christmas so many times that you end up not always appreciating it. Recently, I attended an event with a series of monologues by various characters in the Christmas story that helped remind me of some of the practical matters relating to it.

Like the following:
  • Mary was a teenage girl who get unexpectedly pregnant out of wedlock. That still carries considerable social stigma in many cultures, including my own (adults much less so) and Joseph must have had one eye on his own reputation.
  • Nazareth to Bethlehem, as the crow flies, is about 111km or 70 miles. Today, it's a 3 3/4 hour journey by public transport that involves multiple changes and a detour around most of the West Bank; Bethlehem itself is in Palestinian territory. The direct route would have involved travelling on unpaved roads and that's a multi-day journey by foot or donkey; especially with a heavily pregnant woman, not to mention other attendant dangers, that's not an easy trek.
  • Giving birth at this time would have been hard and attendant with risks; giving birth is generally hard, even if the result is worth it.
  • Then, after Herod decides to kill a large number of babies, the family had to flee to relatives in Egypt until the puppet ruler had died. This basically makes the holy family refugees - and sadly, there have been far, far too many refugees being 'created' this year.
That said, Jesus came to bring hope for a better world. He has enriched my lives and many others. While a lot of bad has been done in his name, so has a great deal of good - such as the food banks in my own borough, helping needy people at this time.

Things will get better, God has promised that!

With that, I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas.

16 December 2015

Club Magicana, drinks aren't free (Review: 'The Librarians' 2.7, "And the Image of Image")

Since I reviewed the first episodes of this TNT series last year, The Librarians, the follow-up to the TV movie trilogy starring Noah Wyle (ER, Falling Skies) has become one of my favourite shows. It's very fun to watch, doesn't take itself too seriously and has great stories, with well thought out updates on ancient stories.

The second season has if anything improved further; everyone knows what they're doing and there's something enjoyable every week.

This review contains spoilers.

The overall plot of the second season deals with the Librarians (plural - Flynn Carsen is now joined by the three others from the first episode, promoted to junior Librarians in their own right) having to face the threat of Prospero, the magician from The Tempest made real by the sheer number of tellings of said play and out to take over the world, with the aid of Moriarty, who seems to have a thing for Colonel Baird. You really don't need to be aware of this to enjoy this episode at all, which finds Cassandra and Jacob in London (more on that later) after a day of research heading for a drink... when a woman is hit by an 'invisible car' just outside a trendy nightclub. They soon discover that other accidents have occurred connected with it; people with no history of drug use having overdoses for example... and their magical 'clippings books' that alert them to stuff like this haven't logged it.

Thus Colonel Baird and her team of geniuses must enter a new and deadly arena of battle... they're going clubbing. At a club it turns out is owned by one Dorian Gray...


Flynn isn't in this episode at all, which is no loss - he's best in small doses, I've found.

Eve Baird, the Guardian (who it has been established is more there to prevent the Librarian from going power-mad than to protect his/her life; Flynn Carsen's 11 years so far in post is very long by the Library's standards, with it being mentioned here that they once went through three in eight months) continues to combine tactical skills with earthly grounding and an intense degree of snark. As well as, in this episode, a low cut corset and tight leather trousers. Rebecca Romijn was a former Victoria's Secret model (a reflection - this Victoria woman is useless at keeping secrets) but is far more than that. She's genuinely very funny in this episode, as the out of her comfort zone Eve and makes some good comments on how she's been perceived as just a sex object in the past. Also, "Worst. Plan. Ever!"

If Cassandra Cillian was in Doctor Who, the Daily Mail would be running (heavily illustrated) articles about her outfits - she wears shorter skirts than Amy Pond. Anyway... Lindy Booth is a lot more than a woman with a high Charisma stat (seriously, someone needs to make a RPG book of this), she's a superb actor and hilarious in this episode, in which Cassandra, through no fault of her own I should add, ends up very drunk, then very hungover - including some corkers when she does her hand-wavy math thing, akin to those bits in the Minority Report movie only in the air and a purple rhino turns up. Seriously, I don't know which of those Cassandra bits was funnier, drunk or hungover - an honourable mention goes to the slo-mo power walk in which Cassie ends up stacking it in heels.

Jacob Stone also has some great scenes, including an argument with a bouncer over the comparative literary talent of the US and UK, as well as having to make an ad hoc defibrillator to use on an unconscious woman. He also makes a brilliant point about selfies and historical portraits.

Eziekel Jones, resident thief and hacker (his clipping book is electronic) also gets some superb material. We learn that his way of dealing with retina scanners - hack the company that makes them so his own eyes are already logged (Hardison from Leverage is kicking himself for not thinking of that one) and that he continues to be a vain narcissist, but still on the side of the goodies.

Jenkins, the immortal caretaker of the Library, who is in fact Galahad, one of the Knights of the Round Table, whose job is to provide the team with information and guidance, as well as slightly disturbing stories about his routines and chorus scenes... Right, that's my Python reference done. He too is excellent here, played superbly by the multi-Emmy winner John Larroquette.

Humour is something that runs deep through this series; with many a comic line or moment. Things I've not mentioned are "Ezekiel. Be a comb", Cassandra's fascination with Eve's face (the show is dropping major hints that she is bisexual) and a line about Jenkins having gotten grey.

The villain is Dorian Gray, who is not in fact fictional here, but an immortal whose power is now based on selfies and the power of the Cloud to divert his sins onto others - this show is a genius at updating these stories to the present day. The way he is defeated is also clever.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner... but I do tend to pay special attention to works set there made by foreign networks. There are some howlers here - the use of some American English terms not used in British English ("blocks", "cellphones") and some of the accents are more than a bit off - the only real Brit was the bouncer.


Minor niggles aside, this is a superb bit of television and it's a shame we only got 10 episodes a year... but we will be getting a third season of this, something confirmed on Tuesday. This makes me very happy.


12 December 2015

Star Citizen Alpha 2.0 released

The latest alpha version of Star Citizen has been released to all backers - I'm downloading it at the moment.

I played a batch of the test versions before the 'live' release and compiled my first YouTube gaming video as a result for Phoenix Roleplaying's account - you can watch it here.

09 December 2015

57 fanfic writers just punched the air (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.12, "Hell Bent")

This contains major spoilers.

The third and final part of this season finale sees the Doctor back on his home planet of Gallifrey, where he is very, very cross at what has happened to Clara. So he intends to do something about this. Unfortunately, this is going to cause problems for the universe, because he her death is a fixed point in time.

This is very much an episode where we see the Doctor really lose it. He basically 'kills' someone without provocation (OK, he's a Time Lord and he's going to regenerate, but still), banishes Rassilon despite the fact there's not really anywhere in the universe for him to go and is fully prepared to destroy the web of time to save Clara. This is all superbly played by Capaldi, who convincingly portrays someone who really doesn't like having you interrupting his tomato soup, especially after you've trapped him in a castle for 4.5 billion years. It's also a nice change to have the Time Lord lose his memories of travelling with someone.

Clara appears in this more than I'd expected - in fact, she's very much the focal point of this, plucked out of a time a moment before she gets a raven in her chest. She demonstrates why the 'Impossible Girl' is one of my favourite companions; she's witty, intelligent and willing to sacrifice herself, knowing when the Doctor has gone too far, as he most certainly has here. She realises that she needs to go back at some point to Trap Street and 'face the raven', but there's not exactly a rush. The next companion will have a lot to live up... I'd say big shoes to fill, but Jenna Coleman is only 5'2; at any rate, I look forward to seeing her play Queen Victoria.

Me/Ashildr return in this episode and she has become a lot calmer after living for several billion years. Her scenes with Capaldi are great and while this is effectively the end of her time on the show, it's made me look forward to the next season of Game of Thrones more.

Each season of Doctor Who has a central mystery, and in this one it revolved around the identity of 'The Hybrid', a creature that is supposedly the combination of two warrior races. Moffat has some excellent fun teasing the reveal and stringing the fans along over the whole 'half-human Doctor' thing (cf the 1996 TV movie). His actual reveal is quite genius, drawing up a nice link between Clara's first episode and her last. The showrunner has a knack for setting things in motion that take years to play out; we also get a return of his own contribution to the Monster A-List, the Weeping Angels, which remain very frightening creatures. Seriously, the only people I know with more warped minds than this on television are in the writers' room of The Blacklist.

As mentioned this occurs mostly on Gallifrey, being rather heavy on the Time Lord lore - indeed, the Sisterhood of Karn turn up again. Rassilon (Donald Sumpter in his fourth appearance in the franchise) is a bit of a busted flush who seems to have lost most of his power - it would have nicer to have Timothy Dalton back, but the other Time Lords are very good, most notably the General that the Doctor shoots - leading to our first on-screen sex change regeneration. I've become a lot more accepting recently of the idea of a female Doctor in fact, with the great job done with the Master/Missy. The planet is back, but out of the way enough that it won't impact things too much.

The ending is a triumph. Clara and Me get to go off and have their own adventures in a TARDIS stuck as an American diner (the same one from "The Impossible Astronaut" in fact, with the console room a replica of the original, complete with some features that were only in the first episode in 1963 then dropped for budget reasons) - there will be fanfic. Meanwhile, the Doctor returns to his own TARDIS, where to the triumphant strains of "A Good Man", Twelve's own leitmotif, he gets a new sonic screwdriver and heads for new adventures. The former is going to inspire a lot of fan fiction, while the latter allows the BBC to sell yet another toy - I've got two sonic screwdrivers myself; namely the RTD era version (which was a present from the Anglican Chaplaincy at my university when I turned 21) and the version now lying on Skaro.

I will say one further thing about the music here; we get a return for "The Doctor's Theme" (as known as the "Bad Wolf" theme) that dates back to the RTD era as well and it's very nice to hear it in some scenes.

Drawbacks? The episode does drag a bit and some aspects, namely Clara's actions, are a bit predictable; also, as mentioned, Rassilon isn't very good.


While a bit dragging at points, this is an episode that managed to have its cake and eat it. Clara both survives and dies; the Doctor goes off the rails and returns to them before totally destroying himself, while we also get the return of Gallifrey without it being a problem.


06 December 2015

Lawyers... in space!!! (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.20, "Court Martial")

Now, I'm a fan of The Good Wife and Suits. I'm also a fan of Star Trek. However, I don't generally expect those two genres to mix.

After an ion storm that resulted in the death of a crewman, Captain Kirk reports to a Commodore at the nearby Starbase as how it became necessary to leave him behind... unfortunately, the computer says something different and Kirk ends up facing a court martial...

It's clear from the outset that this is an episode that's not had the largest budget spent on it. Most of it is done in only a few rooms and with some model shots (obviously improved for the DVD version), with no exciting trips to Kirk's Rock or places like that. Indeed, there is no Sulu or Scotty in this one.

The ion storm in question isn't even shown; just a scene on the bridge with people shaking about a bit (not even a proper flinging yourself across the room). It isn't fully explained why Kirk has to eject the pod containing the dead crewman, one Lieutenant Commander Finney (who it is soon established has had problems that Kirk has kind of contributed to), in the first place, just that it's necessary to avoid the destruction of the ship.

So we get a courtroom drama of the sort made most famous in A Few Good Men among other things. Kirk can handle the truth, but he has problems handling the prosecution lawyer, who, quelle surprise, is yet another former girlfriend of his. How many has that man had?

His defence lawyer is an eccentric 'dead tree publishing' fan played by Elisha Cook, Jr. (best known for his role in The Maltese Falcon, but also one of those actors in a lot of things with a distinctive look) who decides not to bother cross-examining the prosecution witnesses. We also get the rather irritating daughter of Finney, who seems to have come out of Central Casting's 'airy young woman department'.

The trial, in which we hear the words 'Starfleet' and 'Starfleet Command' for the first time, is a standard clichéd affair with dramatic interventions worthy of Perry Mason and Spock being his logical best. It's noteworthy that Commodore Stone (played by Percy Rodriguez, a man known for a very authoritative voice), who presides over the court martial as well, is the highest ranked African-American character in the original series.

The conclusion sees the discovery of what really happened, a piece of technological use that would make the team from the late CSI scratch their heads at its implausibility and a fight scene which not only involves yet another incident of Kirk's tunic getting ripped, but also some very, very obvious use of stunt doubles.


Definitely not your usual episode of Star Trek and it's clear this was done on the relative cheap. If I wanted to watch JAG in space, I'd watch something else.


02 December 2015


MPs will vote tonight on whether the UK will conduct air strikes against Daesh (as I will now call them) in Syria as well as Iraq.

If I was an MP, I would have to reluctantly vote in favour. We are already attacking them in Iraq and they have already tried to attack us - indeed, they have killed British holidaymakers in Tunisia already. They will probably try to attack us in the UK and will probably succeed. What they choose (and they have free will) to do should not impact what we do.

There is a real need for a comprehensive peace strategy in Syria and I have not yet seen one. We do need to cut off their sources of money and arms. However, they already have weapons and money, which they are using to commit mass murder of anyone who will not accept their poisonous world view. Leaving it to the Russians, who are using unguided mass carpet bombing, will increase the risk of civilian casualties. We may well need ground troops and I'm not sure they are there in numbers at the moment - however, there is a real and active attack going by Daesh forces, which we need to impede. Every vehicle we destroy is one not being used by them to carry out their crimes.

We need to bring peace to Syria; but I sadly cannot think of a way in which the continued existence of Daesh helps that.

30 November 2015

Doctor Who meets Groundhog Day (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.11, "Heaven Sent")

This review contains some spoilers.

And now we come to the most unusual episode in this show's history - 55 minutes with pretty much entirely Peter Capaldi and just Peter Capaldi. There are certain actors I could watch doing their thing all day, for example Amy Acker (and not for perverted reasons) or Liam Cunningham. Capaldi would join that list but only with decent material... unfortunately, some of this isn't that decent.

So, the Doctor ends up in a bizarre castle being stalked by one of those ever popular creatures that will kill you if they can catch you... but they move slower than I walk. Of course, the thing with these creatures is that they don't (or can't) get exhausted whereas humans or Time Lords can. Or they just run out of corridor.

One thing that actors playing the Time Lord have to become good at is talking to themselves - or rather to camera - in a fourth-wall bending manner. This is particularly required when doing Big Finish, but that's something rather different. Capaldi is excellent here; his Doctor is definitely in a dark place and not the one belonging to Garth Marenghi for that matter (oddly enough that's set in Romford). The Doctor has some mathematical calculations that would make Sherlock Holmes envious in this - this guy doesn't just jump out the window for the sake of it, he knows what he's doing. There's also a wonderful effects job with a skull that it would spoil to reveal.

The Maze, where nearly all of the rooms reset themselves when you leave them, is the stuff of nightmares. Seriously, you could make a good computer game with something like this. In fact, someone probably already has. One question that was raised on Gallifrey Base after this was about what would happen to all the excrement generated... something probably best not to think about it.

The Veil, with its attendant flies - and those don't tend to appear very often - is a chilling manifestation of death with some truly nasty hands; we don't tend to see the sort of injuries in Doctor Who (something that the Moff noted was an advantage of the 8pm timeslot - you can show blood) and when it's with one particular character, it's more distressing.

That said, this episode really, really drags. It raises some interesting philosophical questions... but could have done with being a good ten minutes shorter. That said, the ending, in which the Doctor reaches somewhere he's been trying to get to for ages (literally and metaphorically) is superb... with that final line even more so.

"Hell Bent" looks to be a very interesting episode indeed.


This was a very dragging episode. If it wasn't for that ending, I would be marking it a good deal lower. However, that's one very interesting ending, so:


26 November 2015

Ashildr, no! We will not let you go (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.10, "Face The Raven")

This review contains major spoilers.
So, Clara is dead, in essence stabbed in the back by a Quantum Shade. I entered this episode pretty much knowing that she was going to die in this one; the Moff dropped a comment at the Doctor Who Festival saying that there would be a 'shocker' in this moment and then the BBC essentially revealed it on the morning that the episode was to air in the UK.
So, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories about spoilers. It's a fact that the ratings for this season have been notably down - the average is a 1.2m viewers reduction an episode not counting iPlayer. So, the BBC would want to drum up media interest and therefore the ratings by dropping some big hints that 'Tonight Someone Dies'. This has been an ongoing practise for many years in many countries; the trick is to do it well. The good example I can think of is the Season 2 finale of NCIS, which put all the regulars in mortal peril, made you think that everyone was safe... then had one of them shot in the head. Of course, nearly all media productions leak and people do because there's little chance of them actually getting caught; I can't think of a recent example myself outside of putting entire episodes onto the Internet, but I'm going to ask at Gallifrey Base.

In any rate, we knew Jenna Coleman was leaving because it did leak and so the BBC had little benefit in trying to hide it... but the purist in me wishes we could have had another Adric-style sudden exit. One of the best moments of the last few years was John Hurt's reveal as The War Doctor; I knew he was in the 50th Anniversary Special, but not who he was playing.

The Twelfth Doctor's 'formal' costume hasn't been seen very much in this current run, by which I mean the white shirt version with the red-lined jacket. It's appropriate for this episode that he wears something more 'in fitting' with what is a death episode. There's definitely some strong humour here ("Did you make this human?") but we get to see a very angry Doctor in this... at one point threatening to unleash the Daleks and Cybermen on 'Trap Street', which of course would be abandoning his name even more than the War Doctor ever did. It puts his speech in "The Zygon Inversion" into context... it's easy to preach forgiveness and reconciliation in most cases, but a sight harder when you're the one that's been directly wronged.

Clara makes a very Doctor-y move... which ultimately doesn't work. She takes Ashildr at her word... and fails to realise that people can't always keep said word. Some stuff about why she can't pass the 'chronolock' onto anyone else appears to have been cut from the episode for pacing reasons... but she faces her death with dignity. Although I'm not the first to admit that tight sweater was pretty distracting.

Riggsy returns from last season's "Flatline" (My review of that is here) and does a decent job; I didn't remember the character that much from the original episode, but it's clear that he is somewhat of a reformed character... who really didn't deserve the stuff he's been put through in this episode.

Me or Ashildr... definitely a woman who has bitten off far more than she can chew. Her control of Trap Street is ruthless by modern standards, but you do have to remember that she was born in a time when executing thieves was commonplace - in a society where a bad harvest could endanger an entire community and a theft could lead to starvation. That said, she's definitely shed any claim to 'good' status with that... although arguably she'd lost it previously as she's murdered people in the past.

Trap Street is a very interesting idea with links back to the Zygon two-parter; the fact that aliens cannot live openly on Earth is a reflection of older struggles in the LGBT community. Also, it does look very atmospheric. We get to see some of the vast array of creatures that have appeared in the show's history - I noted a credit for RTD as he'd created the Ood.

The Raven... I believe they've got a link with death. Very well done in terms of effects and getting struck by one is definitely a horrible way to go.

For all the 'spoilering' done, this was still a superb episode and sets things up very nicely for the rest of the finale. It's frankly a better exit than any companion in the post-2005 era... and one of the best in the show's 52 year history.

The Purple Air Farce (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.19, "Tomorrow is Yesterday")

Well, it's been a good while since I've done one of these and since then we've got the announcement of a new TV series, which I am very much looking forward to. Meanwhile, let's go back to 1967... which is something the crew of the Enterprise kind of do in this episode...

After an encounter with a 'black star', NCC-1701 is warped back to Earth in the late 1960s. As they fly over Earth, a US Air Force plane intercepts them... and they end up destroying it with their tractor beam. Beaming the pilot on board, they now find themselves with a problem - getting back home and dealing with the pilot...

A couple of interesting spacey points that I want to begin with. I'd never heard of a 'black star' before with super gravitational effects - a black dwarf, yes and definitely a black hole - but not one of those before. My research suggests that the term 'black hole' wasn't in popular use at this time; John Wheeler is credited with popularising it (not creating it, which he always denied) after a 1967 meeting) although the concept most certainly existed back into the 19th century. Interesting how space science has developed even in the history of Star Trek.

Another one is actually more tragic. The story doesn't specify the precise year it takes place in (although the Star Trek Chronology would place it as 1969), but refers to being three days before the first manned 'moonshot', which was seen as likely in the next few years - although some at NASA thought it would be well. I wondered if this was made before the Apollo 1 disaster, the death of three astronauts in a fire during a launch rehearsal... and I was right. In fact it aired 26 January 1967, the day before that tragedy.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy are all on fine form here; as well as dealing with the main plot, they also have to deal with a faulty computer programmed with a flirty personality, which adds some more humour in what is intended to be somewhat of a humorous episode - Kirk getting some great stuff with the Air Force. We also get Scotty at his engineering best, quickly fixing the problems that got them there.

The US Air Force, depicted in action via stock footage (the pilot, Captain John Christopher, flies a F-104 Starfighter) generally comes right out of Central Casting... we've got Ed Peck as a very stern Air Police officer and a Sergeant who spends his entire time on the ship gawping in amazement at the Transporter Room. Also, in an episode heavy with 'Starship Acting', we get to see both sides in a fight use 'Kirk Fu' in a scene that reminded me of 1960s Batman in its exaggerated action. Also, is it the colour wash or do those uniforms look purple to me?

Now I've seen a lot of 'timey-wimey' stuff in my time as a Doctor Who fan, especially where Steven Moffat is involved, but even I had to metaphorically scratch my head at how Spock resolves part of the problem re the crew.



A reasonable enough episode, but by no means brilliant and with some distinctly head-scratching moments at times. Also a bit too slow for my liking.


23 November 2015

52 Years of Doctor Who

Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the broadcast of the first episode of Doctor Who. The current run has been very good, with the Twelfth Doctor well developed now... and Clara's departure will live long in the memory.

Although ratings have again fallen, the international performance is strong and the fact there are plans for five years in the future suggests the show still has a long time to run. I definitely hope it goes on - there's nothing else like it on TV.

17 November 2015

The Blair Bait-And-Switch project (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.9, "Sleep No More")

I attended the Doctor Who Festival at the ExCeL Centre today; highly enjoyable and very interesting, with some real insights into the production of one of my favourite TV shows. Also, some superb cosplay examples out (wouldn't do that myself, not my cup of tea).

Anyway, onto tonight's episode, penned by man of two hats Mark Gatiss. This 'found footage' episode is definitely the most unusual story in the show's history; no title sequence (just a sort of title card) and in fact a narrated story put together by a scientist. I've got to say that it's definitely going to be one I remember for many years to come... so I guess it did its job.

Capaldi plays it very seriously in this episode; while there are jokes, he's not in a larking about mood, getting to the point and making several key realisations that something is quite, quite dodgy. The current lead actor in this show can turn quickly from hilarious to scary... a skill that not all of the Doctors have possessed over the years - Tennant, Smith and Capaldi can do all do it, but with the greatest respect to the other Doctors, some of them can't.

Jenna Coleman, whose arc is heading towards its conclusion and by 6 December will be an ex-companion if not sooner, also plays it more restrained than normal - there's no jokes about kissing Jane Austen (although kudos for the writers for making her seemingly bisexual without it being the key part of her character) or Year 7s here.

Rassmussen, the operator of the station, is played by Reece Shearsmith. I've not been overly keen on his work - while he was good as Patrick Troughton in An Adventure in Time and Space, I wasn't a fan of Missing and found the one episode I watched of Inside No.9 not my cup of Tetley's. However, in this case, he definitely does the job, being suitably creepy in his addresses to camera and proving very much to be an unreliable narrator; indeed Gatiss knows the potential problems of the sub-genre of found footage, which he neatly resolves here.

The Sandmen (one of which turned up at the last panel at the Festival, albeit obscured by the blue lighting) are very well realised - one of many superb works from Millennium FX since the show came back. The whole idea of them is a very interesting one; perhaps slightly illogical, but hey, this is Doctor Who, a show with a spaceship bigger on the inside than out.

The soldiers were definitely one of the most interesting parts of an episode that very much focuses on them; this episode not only has the first openly trans actor in the show's history, but I believe is also the second episode (after "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS") where Caucasians do not make up the majority of the cast that aren't wearing a monster suit. The Indo-Japan idea was very interesting and better executed than Firefly (which for all its merits, had no regulars of Asian background).

Also, the final twist... quite superb.


A very unusual episode of Doctor Who and highly, highly atmospheric. Not a true great by any stretch of the imagination, but still very good and superbly written.


16 November 2015

Blog activity

Things are likely to be somewhat reduced for a while; for various reasons, I've had to cut back on my computer activities.

Some things, including my Homeland season 5 review, will be much later and probably much shorter than planned.

14 November 2015

Terrorist attacks in Paris

The murder of 129 people (at least - there are still about 80 in a critical condition) in Paris is the worst atrocity brought upon western Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004.

This was a highly coordinated attack involving at least eight people; there will have be an analysis as to what clues, if any, were missed by the French authorities to see what lessons we can learn to prevent future attacks. Or at least try to prevent some - I sadly think it's only a matter of time before we have another one, possibly even in the UK.

Make no mistake; these terrorists are utterly warped. For them, going to a rock concert is a capital offence, worthy of execution without trial. I'm not sure you can ever reason with them.

I am concerned about what the results of this may be; for one thing, I'm severely doubting the Schengen Agreement can survive in its current form. Also, the French presidential election next year may led to Marine Le Pen winning... and then things will really get ugly.

I only pray that moderates on all sides prevail.

11 November 2015

Armistice Day 2015

101 years after the start of the war to end all wars; they're still going on... and sadly will probably keep going on.

We should all do our best to limit conflict and assist those who are its victims; for there are many indeed.

Lest we forget.

27 October 2015

You ain't nothing but a Rufus Hounddog (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.6, "The Woman Who Lived")

There is a well known 'thing' in media analysis called the Bechdel Test. Developed by Alison Bechdel as somewhat of a joke for a comic strip whose name might trip some filter or content things on Blogger way in 1985, it basically measures female representation in media. To pass the test, a film must have two named female characters, who have a conversation with each other... about something other than a man. It is somewhat of a flawed test - indeed, Sex and the City actually fails it - but still an interesting one. It should also be pointed out that many classics fail it - including Star Wars - and you can still have a good story without it.

It is therefore interesting to note that the first female written Doctor Who episode since 2008 (Helen Raynor's Sontaran two parter) - indeed Catherine Tregenna is only the fifth such writer in the show's history[1] - passes this test... but barely. Lucie Fanshawe is not seen in the rest of the episode after the titles, I believe.


The Doctor is on fine form again in this episode - demonstrating his ability to blunder into situations and be very, very grumpy. He gets some great lines, especially his entire first exchange with 'The Knightmare' and also gets some really emotional exchanges with Ashildr.

Clara is only in the final scene of this episode - she's teaching Year 7s Taekwondo - and isn't honestly missed that much. The scene she does get is entirely fine, don't get me wrong. I get the strong feeling this was the 'companion-lite' episode; the show typically has at least one 'companion-lite' and one 'Doctor-lite' episode a season to get all the filming into the timeslot.

Ashildr, or Me... what a tragic character. A more well thought out depiction of the problems of immortality I have not really seen. The Doctor is a Time Lord and so living to 2,000+ years is entirely normal for his people, but it's not for humanity - we get to see a woman who has has lost everyone she's ever held dear and has no end in sight... as well as only the memory capacity of a standard human. It's clear that she's gone rather mad as a result and arguably crosses the line - but does get some redemption at the end. A return for her is definitely welcome; all of her scenes are great and Maisie Williams holds your attention.

Sam Swift the Quick... well, Rufus Hound is arguably not everyone's cup of tea. His cocky swagger reminds me of Lord Flasheart, played of course by the late Rik Mayall, but Mayall did it much better. His pun-laden speech at the Tyburn gallows (which was in fact outside the City of London as it was then, although not next to a castle) sets a new record for penis jokes in an episode of Doctor Who at two, although this episode doesn't quite reach the heights of dirtiest jokes told in the show's history - tied between RTD and Moffat in fact.

Me's ally is a well done 'cat' creature... and I was actually reminded somewhat of the Kilrathi from Wing Commander in the Tyburn climax. Indeed, all of the special effects were good here - something that remains a strong point of the show.

Speaking of the climax, which involved insanely overpowered fireballs (see Irregular Webcomic! for more of those) and some really rather magical stuff, I wasn't overly keen on it. The show's starting to get a bit overly casual with cheating death and super technology; I'd personally reign it back in.


Not having Clara in this actually helped - it allowed for a lot tighter focus for the story and much more screen-time for the frankly superb Maisie Williams. Got to say next week looks very interesting as well.


Please note that there will be no review of the next two-parter as I'm just too busy at the moment.

[1]Barbara Clegg, writer of 1983's "Enlightenment" (the first classic story I ever saw, not counting the TV Movie) is the first - while Lesley Scott was credited for "The Ark", it appears she actually didn't contribute anything to the script at all.

20 October 2015

An a-Maisie-ing woman (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.5, "The Girl Who Died")

I'm going to have to start with the elephant in the room... not that you could ever compare the adorable Maisie Williams to an pachyderm. Arya Stark is one of the best things about Game of Thrones; it's become abundantly clear that her actor is definitely a name to watch and after that show (I personally hope that Arya's not going to end up having a death scene of her own... but you know what Games of Thrones is like), I'm sure she's going to do great things. She's only 18 and has already gotten more plaudits than actors twice her age.

As the Viking girl Ashildr in this episode, she is highly engaging in every single scene; especially a two-hander with Capaldi in which she demonstrates an almost Time Lord sense of her place in the universe. The reveal of her actual status is well done - and it's combined with an explanation of why the Twelfth Doctor has this current face.

Peter Capaldi gets a chance to portray the multiple facets of his Doctor - at times larking about, downright rude and distinctly brooding. It's very, very interesting to see that what was originally meant to be a gag about the Doctor speaking 'baby' (which I would point out is a 'language' common to infant Homo sapiens the world over) becomes the source of some key emotional scenes. I would however have to say that the use of "A Good Man" for key moments is a bit too noticeable.

I'll miss Jenna Coleman once she's gone from the TARDIS; she's proven to be one of the best companions of the last 10 years and in this episode, she definitely has some great scenes. In particular, the one on the Mire spaceship, where she gets pretty close to defusing the entire situation without any further fighting... only for Ashildr's big mouth to wreck it all. Sometimes sentient beings let their pride get in the way of their common sense.

The Vikings were generally pretty well done; while horns on the helmets is of course an anachronism (and a deliberate one), they're sympathetic people. Training a batch of hapless villagers to defend themselves is a rather old plotline, but it's done well here - I have to admit that 'Noggin the Nog' was my favourite Doctor-bestowed nickname. And managing to start a fire before the enemy even arrives... classic.

The Mire - good one shot villains whose reliance on technology ends up being their downfall; both the external suit and creature inside are very good SFX jobs. Their defeat did seem a bit tonally odd - "Benny Hill" music and all, but it was soon brought by a key discovery that shaped the final part of the episode.

The ending sees the Doctor make a well-intentioned decision that could have significant consequences... and one several people may come to regret.


An enjoyable episode with some funny moments and a great performance by its key guest star. Not one of the greats, but definitely a pleasant 45 minutes. The next time trailer also looks very interesting.


16 October 2015

Star Citizen - Citizencon 2015 Report

This post was written for the excellent people at the Guard Frequency podcast and will hopefully be mentioned in a future edition of the show. At any rate, since they couldn't go, I decided I would write a report for them.

Also, I didn't take many photos of the event itself - it was a bit dark for any decent ones once it had started. You can watch the livestream again (or for the first time) via the Roberts Space Industries website. 

The journey in a Virgin Trains Class 390 Pendolino from London to Crewe via the Watford Gap was comfortable (the tilting mechanism isn't nausea inducing at all) and on time, but I was not overly enthusiastic about the free lunch I got in the First Class area, namely a pre-packed sandwich, biscuits and some chocolate. It was, however, a sight better than the Northern Rail Class 323 that would be my connection to Manchester Airport, which was very bare-bones and made funny noises whenever it accelerated.

I checked into my hotel room, having two groups of hard men wrestling with a funny shaped ball on in the background as I checked my incoming emails - Scotland narrowly won, doing much better in this tournament than my native England. Definitely a lot more space in my room than in my Aurora LX, that's for sure.

At 6pm, I called for a cab to get myself over to the Runway Visitor Park for the event led by Chris Roberts, who has not been having a great couple of weeks, what with the activities of certain opponents of this project.

I decided to arrive a bit later than the doors opening time so I wouldn't have as long to wait before the scheduled start time of 8pm local time. In fact this merely meant I ended up near the back of the queue to get in, something which meant it was half an hour before I got in. This is not the longest time I have spent in a queue for a convention by the way. 

During the wait, much discussion was had especially of one D. Smart. A guy I was with thought he should have come wearing a Smart mask. It was also clear from conversations before and afterwards that some people had travelled some serious distances to be here, getting up at very early hours.

The Runway Visitor Park hosts an array of old aircraft and I would certainly want to visit there properly at some point. The main hall contains one Concorde (which the main stage was underneath), which those with VIP passes could actually go in. Unfortunately, I didn't actually have one... as mentioned, I only have an Aurora as my main ship, plus whatever else I have on REC.

I must admit to being disappointed with the goodie bag - one badge, one unpainted model, one sticker and one poster. OK, I really liked the poster - which is now in my bedroom - although it was a bit difficult to get into my suitcase, let along the other drawstring bag I brough with me. Good thing I will have a virtual version for my hangar to go with my Golden Ticket (he says, trying not to brag).
However the food was very nice, even the lamb despite what Morrow said later on. We were also given a voucher for a free drink from one of the two bars; as I'm not really an alcohol person, I had a J2O. Anyway, enough about my drinking habits or the lack thereof and onto the event.

I noticed quite a few people in costume, some of them in ones from a somewhat different Verse to our one - including no less than two guys dressed up as Jayne Cobb from Firefly complete with knitted hat. As I quipped to one of them, he was an awful long way from Canton. Cosplay really isn't my thing however and it was actually a good thing I brought my coat as it got a bit chilly later on until they turned on the heaters. There were of course frequent sounds of planes taking off in the distance.

Pride of place for best "gimmick" of the night goes to the guy who brought along a lampshade on a stick, which he got many CIG people to sign. Speaking of signing, there was a poster for all the attendees to sign, which got a bit hard to find free space on by the time I'd gotten into the venue.
Slightly less pleasing was the fact that the number of people in costume possibly outnumbered the number of those with two X chromosomes, that is women, who were not on the catering staff. 

Speaking of women, Sandi Gardner is surprisingly short in real life even with heels on. Not of course there is anything wrong with that.

The event in fact started half an hour late - apparently they were finishing a build. As I thought to myself, this is CIG; half an hour is nothing compared to the many other delays we've encountered over the three years since this project started.

We of course started off with Sandi reading out a letter she'd written to the community thanking them for all their support - she's been subjected to some vile accusations over the internet from various people over the last few months and it was clear that it has gotten to her. Trolls should be aware that words do hurt. She was then given a massive bunch of flowers.

The video summary of the story so far was interesting, but only served in my mind to highlight that we've had somewhat of a drought in actual playable content over the last few months - not that I don't like the Social Module, it's just that I was hoping for some FPS action by now.

We then moved onto the next steps for the game - 1.3.0, which is basically a further upgrade to the Social Module and Arena Commander... then 2.0, which was the first really big announcement of the event. The delay to FPS was worth it because we're going to get the PU, or at least the start of it much earlier than I thought we would. Even the area around Crusader is going to be huge by any standard and filled with much more than you'd find in a certain other space game at the moment. We then got to see a live demo of the Crusader action - this can be found on-line, but looks very impressive indeed. This included some decent spaceship action and also a spot of FPS against some pirates, although I'm oddly a bit disappointed we didn't get to see what happens in the game when you turn into a Norwegian Blue, so to speak i.e. 'die'. Roberts was very clear not to give firm dates on anything - as we know what happens when we get those.

Then was the announcement of the Ark Star Map from Dave Haddock - and the fact that it's already gone live. I took a look at this when I got home and while it's still very bare bones, it looks great. The travelling through the jump point between systems actually reminds me somewhat of Stargate SG-1, but we will of course have somewhat bigger ships.

The Million Mile High Club - well, I don't think I'll be eligible for it myself, but maybe you guys can invite me? Hint, hint? As for the stuff over the Saitek HOTAS, this didn't really interest me. I'll stick with my Speedlink Black Widow for the moment, thank you very much. I do intend to try to use the referral program with my own contacts - at any rate, I hope we hit a million citizens soon. (Edit: I wrote this on Monday, that milestone was achieved on Thursday)

The reveal of the Sabre fighter; well, it looks impressive, but I'm not likely to do a great deal of actual dogfighting in the PU at any rate. Piracy isn't my cup of tea and at any rate, I have problems getting hits with guns in AC as is.

Right, onto the big event... the Squadron 42 cast reveal. We got the suitably rousing speech from Gary Oldman's character (I didn't recognise his voice initially) - and let's just say that he's trumped one Eleanor as my favourite fictional character called Bishop. Hopefully he won't end up like one Admiral Tolwyn, for those of you who are Wing Commander fans. After the speech, we then got the reveal of the cast via the title sequence, with various levels of cheers as the names popped up. It's definitely the case that you really can't do a British-based project these days without having at least one person who has been in Game of Thrones in it - indeed we have two in the form of Liam Cunningham and Gemma Whelan. The former is in fact my favourite casting choice - Ser Davos Seaworth is on my favourite characters from the show and it's also notable that this isn't his first time playing a Captain of something - he was a submarine commander in an episode of Doctor Who.

I must admit that I had to look some of the actors up later - and mistakenly thought Rhona Mitra, whose career includes Strike Back and apparently being the original Lara Croft model, was the former MMA fighter, who is in fact Gina Carano... Anyway.

Chris demonstrating the size of the scripts was impressive, although the optics of him dropping the SQ42 scripts weren't brilliant.

The actual demo - well, if that's the early version, the real deal is going to be something else... and will indeed be a computer testing game - I got my current PC solely for Star Citizen in fact. It looks superb - and the guilds with an Idris will be very happy bunnies indeed as it is superbly detailed - even with dialogue sync issues in this. Looking forward to seeing some actual combat in that game.

Only slight gripe is that there isn't an option for the player character to be female - it would be nice to have a choice and that's something hopefully for the future.

As a final note, I will say that no-one looks very dignified in a motion capture suit with their face covered in tracking dots.

They brought out a cake at the end, but I don't think this was for the guests - at any rate, it was getting a bit late and I wanted to get back to my hotel. I was one very happy man when I got back to my room. I popped into Manchester proper the following day and I must say I was impressed by that as well - I would go there again.

I'd like to thank Imperial News Network, whose live blog has served as a memory aid for putting all of this together.

See you in the Verse and I will be staying on the Guard. Keep up the good work.

Silent Hunter (the operator of the Phoenix Roleplaying Twitter account)

14 October 2015

Less Fisher King and More Fisher Price (Review : 'Doctor Who' 35.4, "Before the Flood")

Doctor Who can be a very unpredictable beast at times. Just because one episode is a barn-stormer, doesn't mean that the next one will be - "The Caves of Androzani" was notably followed by "The Twin Dilemma"; BTW, I'm currently listening to the The Sixth Doctor - The Last Adventure from Big Finish and the Sixth Doctor is very well done there.

So, we start off with the Doctor discussing Beethoven and bootstrap paradoxes - both of which have turned up in the Whoniverse before. His liking for Beethoven was mentioned in the expanded universe in 2000 and the latter at at least three times in Steven Moffat stories; well... in fact you've kind of got it all the back to 2005. Then he plays electric guitar - Peter Capaldi's misspent youth coming up again. The fourth-wall breaking speech at the beginning was one of the highlights of the episode.

Clara continues to act as the Doctor's restraining influence; without her 'human touch', it's possible that the Doctor would have indeed actually gotten himself killed. She's definitely firmly ensconced herself in the role of the companion... which is going to make it even more of a pity once she goes from the show.

The base crew were good - I did feel sorry for O'Donnell when she died and the scene with Cass was very tense. Mind you, if you're going to murder someone, it's not a good idea to drag your axe on the floor, regardless of whether your target is deaf or not.

The Fisher King, while very well done in the special effects department, was otherwise uninspiring. He just seemed generic and not a massive threat in any way. He was disposed of rather easily I found and he is definitely not the sort of character that I'd want to return. I also was not keen on Prentiss, who I found annoying - as I believe I did the previous member of his race in "The God Complex" (I believe it was that one).

The effects in general were also very good - the flooding of the valley of course featured in the trailers, but kudos to the designers for the military training ground decked out to look like a Soviet town - these sort of facilities, suitably updated to reflect 'current' areas of operation i.e. the Middle East, still exist for the British Army.

The conclusion and the resolution to the mystery is a good one, although one does start to wonder if the sonic sunglasses are being overused. This said, I'm glad this story is over as it did feel a bit too long; not the best two-parter by a long chalk.


I did find this one dragging quite considerably; while the overall pay-off was good, much of this could have been a lot better than it was. This said, full credit for some good use of time travel.


Maisie Williams is in the next episode; I hope this will be a stark improvement... get it, Stark improvement? I'll get me coat...

05 October 2015

Not Quite The Ace of Base [Under Siege] (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.3, "Under The Lake")

This is an episode where I have varying and mixed impressions; so I'll go through them in some form of order and hope that this all makes sense to you... at least more than this episode made to me at times.
  • Starting on 21st November 2119 and then jumping forward three days; it should have been two days of course.
  • Well, they certainly lit the underwater facility much better than the one from "Warriors of the Deep".
  • The Twelfth Doctor is on decent enough form; definitely acting true to his character of someone who is too busy saving the world to care about social niceties - or reading the cue cards. I'm also liking the sonic sunglasses which add levels of functionality that the screwdriver didn't have.
  • Clara was good, but not overly so. I think I preferred her in the previous two episodes. I'm probably going to argue that this may down to the writer, Toby Whithouse, having not written for Clara before - or for that matter for the Twelfth Doctor (his last story was "A Town Called Mercy" before he worked on the single season 1970s spy show The Game).
  • The black man dies first; it's been a good few years since we had that happen in the show, I would say.
  • The 'ghosts' - well, we've had stuff like this before, but it was well done and certainly atmospheric.
  • Very interesting idea to have a deaf member of the base crew; although from my own personal experience, not all deaf people are completely mute.
  • The rest of the base crew were certainly well-played, but it wasn't explained why they seemed somewhat under-dressed. Scottish lakes are not known for being that warm.
  • Apparently flooding a nuclear reactor is a "common" crash procedure to absorb all the neutrons; it was done at Fukushima. But don't you have control rods to try first?
  • The ending was certainly an interesting one and it's nice to see some amount of time travel form the key part of the episode.

Entertaining enough, but nothing overly impressive. Hopefully part two will be better.


03 October 2015

Realtime Trains

Thought I'd mention this site, which I also own the app for:


It provides real time information on rail services, including freight services, so you can see what is likely to come past any particular station. Also, for many services, it tells you what type of train is booked to run it; so I today learned that I'm likely to get my first Pacer ride by the end of the month.

Not sure what to say about that.

28 September 2015


The Labour Conference will not be debating Trident after a motion on the matter failed to get enough support from trade unions.

I'm of two minds on Trident; I'd like to see a world without nuclear weapons, but am worried without them we'd have had another world war by now. The £80bn we're going to spend on replacement is a lot; but guaranteeing us against an invasion? That might be worth the price.

27 September 2015

In which Missy beats Root (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.2, "The Witch's Familiar")

As I suspected, all the stuff that seemed to have happened in the cliffhanger turned out to be at rather misleading... well, I kind of didn't expect [spoiler] to go that early anyway.

This was a much more talky episode - not to say that there wasn't some action. We got many scenes between the Doctor and an arch enemy, the actor playing the latter having to rely on voice acting as he was under heavy prosthetics. It did seem a bit odd that he was suddenly being all introspective and remorseful... but the fact that it was unconvincing was probably meant to be the point.

One does wonder if the Doctor having to use that isn't going to cause problems for him later; that did seem a lot of stuff to use. Capaldi had another strong episode; a bit less manic in this one, but still very much nailing his version of the Doctor. I also rather liked the flashback scene near the beginning. It seems that 'vampire monkeys' are a real mythological thing.

Clara spent much of her episode encased in a Dalek - there is a reason for this and it kind of helps that Jenna Coleman is only 5'2"; it makes it easier for her to fit insider the casing of the 'current' Daleks, which were designed around Billie Piper's eye-line. Anyway, she has another good episode, especially her many scenes with another character.

Namely, Michelle Gomez's Missy. I described the character of Root from Person of Interest, played by Amy Acker, in an earlier post as the "most deliciously crazy and unpredictable one I've seen in my life". With apologies to Mrs. Acker, I'd have to say that Missy is arguably much more crazier in this episode - using a rather unconventional method of measuring the depth of a hole for one thing. That said, Missy definitely reveals that she is on the side of the baddies towards the end of this. As such, if I had to pick between her and the computer hacker from Texas to go in my adventuring party, the latter wins hands down every time as she probably wouldn't try to kill me.

The Daleks get some very interesting additions to their back-story - it's worth noting that Moffat has officially denied a long-standing rumour about them being contractually obliged to appear in every season - and in particular, some further levels of horror added to their story.

The conclusion sees a spot of classic timey-wimey on the part of Moffat and a considerable amount of classic era invoked; one does wonder if this was perhaps over doing it.

Finally, sonic sunglasses? Well, it gives another lot of merchandise to sell, that's for sure.


Not quite as good as the previous part of the story, but still a well told story that reaffirms the central creed of the Doctor.


21 September 2015

50 minutes of pure joy (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.1, "The Magician's Apprentice")

I didn't really know what to expect from this. What I did not expect was for Steven Moffat to hit it not just out of the park but out of the city.
Firstly, the opening was superb. The hand mines were brilliantly realised and that reveal of the boy's name was something I did not see coming.
Having never watched The Thick of It, I had no idea just how funny Peter Capaldi could be. That scene with the guitar had me laughing out loud. However, this is not all a funny episode - Capaldi gets to show a wide range and has firmly nailed the Twelfth Doctor in a tale with links going back to the Fourth Doctor.
Clara Oswald is on fine sassy form in this episode; demonstrating the firm confidence of an experienced time traveller and also some very funny lines.
Missy returns here - no spoiler - and after the show doesn't even bother to explain how she survived last time  (indeed makes a point of not doing so) manages to be even crazier than before. Michelle Gomez is adept at combining comic material with real menace; this version of the Master will kill just on a whim.
UNIT turn up again and there's some good material for them including a great gag about the mythical lost city of Atlantis for the fans - there are a lot of these in the episode.
The Daleks are also back - we get a smorgasbord of models going back to the very start. To say more would be spoilery, but I was impressed and I find the Daleks over used myself.
Lastly that cliffhanger is one of the best in the show's history. The solution may seem obvious but this is not a show that always goes for that. We shall see.


I don't tend to give top marks to professional works unless they are pretty much perfect.
This was.


15 September 2015

75 years since the Battle of Britain

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the arguably climatic air engagement of the Battle of Britain.

If you think your job is stressful, just imagine what it must have been like for the pilots. At any moment, a bell could ring and you would have to scramble to your aircraft. Then engage a group of German fighters and bombers, knowing that any moment you could end up seriously injured or even dead. Getting shot down meant a difficult exit from a burning aircraft - no ejector seats back then.

Once that's done, land, then possibly do it again in a few hours.

Considering what they had to go through, I sincerely hope The Few will never be forgotten.

12 September 2015

So Jeremy Corbyn has won

Labour has just elected its most left-wing leader since the war in the form of Jeremy Corbyn. He now faces the much more difficult task of persuading a country that has decisively rejected Labour twice (we polled worse than the 1997 Tory result in the last two elections) to back his vision for the United Kingdom.

I hope this election doesn't end up resulting in very bad things for Labour... only time will tell.

09 September 2015

Record-breaking monarch

Queen Elizabeth II has now become the longest reigning monarch in British history, beating Queen Victoria about ten minutes ago - there is no exact timing as the precise time her father, George VI, died was not recorded.

As a great source of continuity and national leadership, I congratulate Her Majesty on this milestone, although I know it has a sad tinge because it is only because of the early death of her father.

God Save The Queen! Long may she reign!

06 September 2015

Sometimes a serial killer story is good (Review: 'Castle' 7.15, "Reckoning")

After over six years of locking up bad guys with her, Richard Castle has locked himself into a relationship with Kate Beckett by actually marrying her. On the second attempt. The first didn't quite work out due to him disappearing on their wedding day and turning up two months later with amnesia, a gunshot injury and signs of having dengue fever. What exactly happened there is still to be determined.

The shippers' dreams have come true, although it has to be said the way it did could have been handled quite a bit better by the writers. The episode in which they actually marry featured an interesting idea (namely what would happened if Castle and Beckett had never met) that was not very well executed and made the actual wedding at the end feel tacked on, not to mention tacky - an adjective that could also be applied to Beckett's "wedding dress" and I ring bells at weddings in what is culturally Essex. Castle does still have a lot of charm about it, but that was a serious misstep.

Another thing has sort of changed - Castle, after being barred from directly working with his missus, is now a private investigator, which allows for him to do his own investigating... but the cases tend to involve the 12th Precinct in some form. It's worked a lot better than it had any right to...

This review contains some spoilers.


There are two distinct types of Castle - "comedic" Castle and "dramatic" Castle. You can usually tell by the lighting - the latter is far darker. In any event, this is definitely the latter.

In fact, this in fact the second part of a two-parter, so I'm breaking my usual rules in reviewing this as one episode rather than in combination, but I can break them if I want them.

In the previous episode, the team discovered that the recurring serial killer 3XK aka Jerry Tyson (he's known as 3XK because he kills three women in short succession then takes a rather long break), who was last seen falling into a river after being shot by Castle was in fact alive, having killed another  victim. Owing to nearly all of the evidence against him having been stolen, making a case against him will be much harder. The 12th Precinct found someone who they thought was him... but was in fact someone who had been given cosmetic surgery by evil plastic surgeon Kelly Neiman to look like him... or is he?

Then Det. Beckett gets jabbed in the shoulder with the old needle of instant sedation and ends up on the long list of female coppers who have been abducted by serial killers... although she might already be on it.


Nathan Fillion has won awards for this show and you can see why: he can convincingly play both the usual happy-go-lucky wild theorising Richard Castle and the on the edge, do not mess with him, Richard Castle. Here he breaks out a gun and beats up a guy who he thinks knows where his missus is; you know that he's not the sort of character that would kill an unarmed man, but we certainly see him going to the sort of things that would get most police officers (which of course he is not) in serious trouble. It is also refreshing to know at the end of the episode that he is not a complete idiot who lets himself end up alone with a serial killer, via some Leverage-style flashbacks.

Beckett (as Castle still generally calls her - the rule on this show is that if the couple start calling each other "Rick" and "Kate" things are deadly serious) spends most of her episode strapped to a gurney and gagged. This isn't a tremendous problem as Stana Katic can do more acting with her eyes than some actors do with their entire bodies. It's also notable that Beckett isn't a damsel in distress; she in fact could have extricated herself from the situation - and pretty much does - without any of her guys.

Martha and Alexis get two scenes in this episode before being packed off to Europe for their own protection, so there's little to say there about them. A pity, as Molly C. Quinn is really good and more screen time for her would be much appreciated.

The rest of the 12th Precinct do a good job. Captain Gates in particular has a strong episode, acting as a voice of reason and trying to stop Castle from doing something stupid. Esposito's military service comes into handy and it's clear the entire group still work well together.

3XK aka Jerry Tyson is one of those twisted serial killers who instead of just killing their target decide to make them suffer first. Here he makes a drug addict woman resemble Beckett and then blow her brains out via remote-control shotgun. He's a master manipulator, but he meets his match in Richard Castle, who has managed to manipulate millions into buying his novels after all.

Kelly Neiman is played by Annie Wersching, perhaps best known as Renee Walker in 24, who delivers a suitably creepy performance. It's a pity that what would have been a rather awesome fight scene between Neiman and Beckett doesn't actually feature in the episode.

The end of the episode sees Castle end up getting the sort of punishment for assaulting a guy that Captain Kirk got at the end of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. If you've seen that film, you know what I mean. At any rate, the show's strength in that it knows when not to beat an idea into the ground... including this 3XK arc, which I am really glad is now concluded.


I have to say that this was an engaging episode of Castle; I didn't clock watch and the performances were overall very good. It's nice to know that the show can still do both drama and comedy at a high quality.

Also, while I am still deeply tired of the entire serial killer sub-genre (it needs a serious break)


Castle was renewed for an eighth season in the May up-fronts, but not after some quite major issues getting Fillion and Katic to sign new contracts; its Season 7 finale was written as a possible show ender. That's a sign of a show on its way out; another is that the ratings have dropped significantly from the Season 6 peak (I think the botched wedding might have played a part in that). I would not be surprised if Season 8 (which I will be reviewing an episode for) proves to be its last.

05 September 2015

The refugee crisis in Europe

We're seeing the biggest influx of refugees and economic migrants into Europe for many a year; there's not been this many displaced people turning up since the war.

They are fleeing intolerable conditions in their own countries; be it the ravages of Assad or Islamic State (to reference a comment about the Iran-Iraq war, it's a pity they can't both lose), poverty in Kosovo or general repression in Eritrea.

We need to be dealing with both the crisis and the cause of the crisis. The EU needs to get together and agree a equitable distribution of asylum seekers; it is not fair to expect one or two countries to expect to bear the vast majority of the associated costs.

Also, we need to tackle the people smugglers; they are simply trading on human misery with little care for their charges. We have the capacity to take people from the refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey in a safer manner.

Finally, we need to defeat Islamic State (I don't think you can talk to these people even if you want to), as well as facilitating wider peace deals in Syria and Libya. Then continue to act to end the unequal world economy that causes much of this migration in the first place.

In the meantime, sadly, more people seeking a better life - or children who haven't got a huge clue what is going on - are likely to die crossing the Mediterranean. They are in my prayers.

02 September 2015

Lack of reviews etc

If you're wondering why there aren't any further reviews of anything recently, I've been highly busy with other shows and other things. I hope to get back to this stuff soon, but it probably won't be until at least the end of the month.

20 August 2015

Person of Interest

I've not mentioned it on this blog previously - at least not in any real depth - but I'm going to quickly post about it here.

If you've definitely not seen it, you should definitely check it out. Start at the beginning - it's a bit slow to get started but by Season 2, it becomes truly excellent.

The TLDR summary is that it's a series about a guy who developed a supercomputer to use comprehensive surveillance predict acts of terrorism and found it was also predicting regular crimes. As the government aren't that interested in the latter, he hires a former CIA operative to work with him to stop the crimes. Every week, "The Machine" gives them the Social Security number of someone about to be involved in a violent crime. They don't know what it is - or whether the person involved is a perpetrator or a victim. It's their job to find out and hopefully stop it.

It's a lot more fun - and also pretty funny - then it sounds; as well as thought-provoking. Also, I will say Amy Acker's character, when she turns up, is the most deliciously crazy and unpredictable one I've seen in my life. She also has brilliant entrances... consistently brilliant entrances.

15 August 2015

VJ Day 70 years on

Today marks 70 years since the surrender of Japan. The war in the Far East sometimes doesn't get the attention it deserves, but it was just as key and just as unpleasant as the war in Europe.

As the surviving veterans remember and we commemorate their sacrifice for the peace and freedom many nations enjoy today, I thank you for your service.

May we never have to go through something like that again.

14 August 2015

Labour leadership votes

I'll be voting Andy Burnham 1st, Yvette Cooper 2nd. I believe that they offer the best policies to be a credible alternative to the Conservatives at the next election, but to be honest, we're not likely to win it unless there's another recession.

As for Jeremy Corbyn, if you want to vote for him be my guest, but don't say you weren't warned if it (as I think it will) goes very wrong for Labour. He may have principles, but I don't think his policies are right for this country and I think they won't appeal to the Middle England voters we have to win back from the Tories if we're to form a government.

For the deputy, it'll be Tom Watson... not sure about other preferences yet.

09 August 2015

Well that was a slog (Review: "War and Peace", 1869)

Well, I've finally managed to do it - I've completed a read through of Tolstoy's literary door stopper. It's not the longest novel ever written; not even in the top ten in fact - but I can only imagine that the original Russian text is even longer due to the greater length of Russian words.

Did Tolstoy have an editor?

Voyna i mir, to quote its Russian title, is (primarily) an epic about a group of rich Russian families in the period between 1805 and 1820; with particular focus on the Napoleonic Wars, specifically the Corsican's invasion of Russia, which saw him capture Moscow (getting a bit further than Mr. One Testicle), which promptly ended up being mostly destroyed in a big fire before having to retreat due to the Russian winter.

The "war" is better than the "peace" by a good margin; Tolstoy did extensive research on the period and captures the intrigues, politicking etc. of the Russian high command very well. In addition, Tolstoy (having served in the Crimean War and ended up a pacifist as a result) exposes the chaos and difficulties of fighting a war before the invention of radio communications brilliantly, not to mention the horrors that exist eternally.

That's not to say that the non-battle stuff is poor; there's some good character arcs, with Pierre Bezukhov's quest for meaning in life being particularly key. The life of Russian aristocracy (parties, gossip and marrying for money) and general Russian customs is insightful; also an insight into days when if someone went on a trip, you had no idea when they might actually return... if at all.

Where the novel really runs into problems, however, is when Tolstoy takes a break from it to have a moan at historians he doesn't like; especially those who thought that the events were all driven by the 'great man' Napoleon Bonaparte; he argues that many thousands of individual wills were involved. Some of this may be OK, but when he devotes an entire second epilogue of 12 chapters to a discussion of free will versus inevitability, you're really just desperate for it to end. In addition, the first epilogue actually just kind of stops.


While definitely a good book and certainly worth a read, Tolstoy's habit of going on long diatribes knocks this down considerably. The story is interesting, but if I wanted a discourse on the nature of historiography, I would have read a different book.

Personally, I prefer Crime and Punishment.


08 August 2015

The Gorn Identity (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.18, "Arena")

Beaming down to the remote Earth outpost of Cestus III, the crew find it has been destroyed by alien attack. As they pursue the ship, they are stopped by another advanced group of aliens, which transport Kirk off the bridge and put in a contest to the death with the other ship's captain, a powerful reptilian Gorn.


I'm going to start off by mentioning the fact that Mythbusters, back when Grant Imhara (who plays Sulu in Star Trek Continues) was still on the show, examined a key element of the story here. Without saying too much, let's just say that they found some problems with it.

Secondly, I have seen this episode before, but very little of it was fresh in my memory; it loses little on a second watching.

This episode starts hitting some classic beats early; the three leads are well-characterised (this is another strong Kirk story) and it's not long after we beam down that a red shirt purchases the farm.

There's a lot of close proximity explosions that you would never get away with today (indeed, slightly reckless use of explosives is a common theme in this era of science-fiction); indeed all three of the regulars apparently ended up with tinnitus as a result.

We then get a rather good spaceship chase (I was almost expecting Scotty to say "She cannae take it, Captain!", although I don't think he ever quite said that line) and then the main 'arena', taking us to Kirk's Rock for the second time this season. The battle of strength and wits is thrilling as well as engaging, although I do wonder where the cameras are that allow the crew to see it on the main screen back on the bridge.

This is a great episode; Kirk in particular demonstrates the whole UFP creed in this. If the Prime Directive is about non-interference, the Secondary Directive is about defending yourselves, but not using violence unnecessarily - as he demonstrates in the climax. It's proved to be the right decision.

The Gorn costume is slightly unconvincing (it was probably uncomfortable for the actor in it) and there is also a fairly big plot hole in all of this; if you intend to lure a ship into a trap, shouldn't you bring enough resources with you to make sure that you can actually close the trap? Also, it's difficult to deter invaders without allowing someone to send a message back.


Quintessential Trek (and oft homaged); if it wasn't for the slightly dodgy Gorn outfit, I'd be giving this a 10.


06 August 2015

70 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first of only two (thank the Lord) uses of nuclear weapons in warfare.

One can agree or disagree whether the dropping of the bombs was justified or indeed necessary to end the war. However, I think we can all agree that the fact they were used is a tragedy in itself; if you end up in a situation where killing 100,000 civilians is the least bad option, it's a pretty bad situation.

Hopefully as the last survivors of the bombings pass on, the memory will remain - and they will never be used again.

01 August 2015

Life, Jim, but more immature than we know it (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.17, "The Squire of Gothos")

I'm slightly disappointed this isn't called "The Squire of Qo'nos"... you may or may not get that.

As our favourite starship is about to cross a void in space that supposedly contains no planets, one turns up on the scope. Then Kirk and Sulu disappear off the bridge, taken off the ship by Trelane, a superbeing who has a considerable amount of flamboyance but not a lot of maturity.


I'm going to start this episode by discussing the 'guest' of this episode, Trelane, a world-creating super-being who has developed his ideas from Earth through long-distance observation, but his history is a bit inaccurate; apparently he's looking at Earth 900 years in the past because of the whole speed of light thing... which considering that the stuff in his house is of Napoleonic vintage, rather flies in the face of the later established Trek timeline placing this series in 2264 - this had not yet been determined by the writers.

Trelane, played by the late William Campbell, who was very active in the convention circuit for much of his later life, manages to be one of the most watchable and simultaneously most irritating people you will ever see; a strong performance by Campbell. The 'retired General' Trelane is an immature brat with a powerful machine, managing to 'mention the war' as soon as he discovers a crewmember is of German descent, mistake Uhura for a captured slave. It makes you want to slap him, but at the end of the episode, you end up changing your mind; for there is a very good reason why he is like that.

At one point, Trelane dressed as an English judge (apparently there was some difficulty in finding a wig... or more specifically Shatner agreeing to allow time to find said wig), plans to hang Kirk; this is of note for me as a British opponent of capital punishment myself; it had only been two years since the final British executions were carried.

One big drawback, however, some very obvious green backgrounds in sight in the 'outdoors scenes' and a dodgy split-screen effect at the end; even Doctor Who in this period generally made more of an effort than this.

A well written episode with a great twist at the end; the relatively small number of guest cast allows for a tighter episode that keeps you engaged through its whole running time.

However, some obvious effects issues mean I can only give this 8/10.



The next episode is "Arena"; another one I've seen before and also one featured in Mythbusters... more to be explained next time.