Doctor Who – Gridlocked (Spoilers)

14 April, 2007

Pretty good. The Doctor returns to New Earth in the year 5 billion and 53 and promptly allows Martha to get kidnapped.
The concept of the motorway is really good, taking modern conceits of traffic-jams, pollution and car-sharing to ludicrous extremes that manage to work. The idea that people are on the motorway to get from New Manhattan to New Brooklyn for years is pulled off well.
The return of the Macra is quite cool. Admittedly they’re nothing more than mindless beasts and the story could have worked with anything else in their place, but it’s nice that they get reused for their 40th anniversary, especially as their only previous serial is completely missing.
We got to hear the Face of Boe’s message finally and, as expected, it’s “You are not alone”, which was actually used in the character notes in the 2006 annual.
Good to see Novice Hame again and I love that the Doctor’s initial reaction to seeing her again is to be happy and hug her, before remembering that she was involved in growing humans to carry plagues. Speaks volumes about his character.
The final scene where the Doctor tells Martha about Gallifrey felt a bit too much like a patient talking to a shrink though.
I have three other problems with the story as well:
1. The Undercity is said to be sealed off from the rest of New New York, yet when Martha is taken to the car by her carjackers, it’s clearly broad daylight.
2. Brannigan and Valerie have been in their car for years and moved five miles from Battery Park, but it’s implied that Marth’s car got on the motorway from near where Brannigan picks up the Doctor. Surely you could just drive through the empty streets of the Undercity to get to the last access to the motorway and shave years off your journey.
3. Once he gets all the information and starts working, the Doctor saves everything far too easily with a method that surely must have occurred to Hame and Boe.

Still, good episode and nice to see the Macra again. (well, I say again, I’ve only seen very brief clips of them before).



9 April, 2007

It looks like Rob Liefeld’s going to be butchering Killraven next year. Yay(!)

All hell’s broken loose

8 April, 2007

My friend Adam, over at Drastic Comics has really gone and done it now. In the news post accompanying his latest strip, he mentioned Scott Kurtz’s recent video where he “teaches” the viewer how to digitally ink with a graphics tablet. Ad reckons it’s bloody patronising, seeing as beyond it not involving paper and real ink, it’s the same to real inking. I’m inclined to agree with Adam. Really, the video’s just one of those vanity pieces showing an artist creating a piece, which I think only really works when you’re doing something truly amazing, like that Mona Lisa in Paint video. The music sucks as well.

Scott Kurtz bashing isn’t the point of my post though, (however PvP is highly over-rated and has stolen jokes from Scott Pilgrim of all places at least once). What’s really surprised me is the vitriolic reaction from some of the PvP readers and Kurtz himself. Drastic is hardly in the same range of readership as PvP, so why Kurtz thought it’d be a good idea to publicly retaliate on Ad’s Live Journal I don’t know, as it’s just served to give Drastic more publicity. It’s like he’s given the quiet heckler a megaphone so he can try and shout him down. The PvP fans who have responded on both sites’ blogs have been quite immature for the most part as well, generally resorting to the claim that everyone dissenting (that would include me, seeing as I threw my hat into the bear pit as well) is just “projecting their own failings and inadequacies” onto Kurtz, which is actually quite a sycophantic attitude.

Will all this cause the end of web-comics as we know it? Probably not. But it’s interesting to watch

Bonus: The Mona Lisa recreated in MS Paint video. Just be careful when you get all jealous about not being able to do something that good in Paint, that you don’t go transferring your failings onto others!

Doctor Who – The Shakespeare Code (spoilers)

7 April, 2007

So, continuing the theme of “The Doctor meets famous historical people” rather than just doing sci-fi historicals on the strength of the story alone. Not that The Shakespeare Code has a bad story. Gareth Roberts really delivered a solid story with a cracking script. Lots of funny lines and, most importantly, Shakespeare worked well as a character. The decision to make him the Elizabethan equivalent of a rock star was good and it works really well. They decided not to bother making him look like the common perceived image of Shakespeare, which helped strengthen him beyond just historical name dropping.

The witches were also good. Over the top certainly, but it’s all inspired by Shakespeare (and is also meant to inspire Shakespeare) so it suited the tone. The lead witch rose to the occasion suitably.

Martha on the other hand was slightly more annoying. There were a few spots where Agyeman’s acting was slightly lacking and a bit unnatural (even for a completely supernatural situation, if you catch my drift). That said, she did allow for some rather nifty moments, such as when she raised the issue of her being black and walking around Elizabethan England and her consternation as Shakespeare tried to find a suitable PC word to describe her race. That was quite cool. I was wondering if they’d address that or just try to ignore it and I think addressing but essentially blowing it off was the best decision.

Also surprisingly good was the complete lack of the sonic screwdriver. Wasn’t used at all, because it wasn’t needed, which is brilliant, as it generally neuters The Doctor’s inherent skill and interaction with stuff. He also got to go all psychic as well, which is always nice to see referenced.

Really good ending as well, with Queen Elizabeth I seeing The Doctor with Shakespeare and getting all raged and calling him her enemy. Nice use of the mechanics of time travel there and leads into a possible sequel/prequel.

Running themes: No Saxon this week, as obviously it’s far too early to fit in with it. There was something I picked up on though, with the lead witch referring to the Eternals when she was talking about her species. I’m pretty sure that’s not the Eternals from Marvel Comics, but rather a race of aliens that popped up in a few 5th Doctor stories. I think the White and Black Guardians were Eternals. The Doctor mentioned them in an episode last season, I think the Impossible Planet/Satan Pit. Something to keep an eye on there.

Next week: Gridlock, which features the return to New Earth, Ardal O’Hanlon (from Father Ted) as a cat person and something lurking in the sewers of New New York.

Transformers: Stormbringer

6 April, 2007

Can’t believe I forgot to post about this when I got it. Better late than never.

Now, last year, at the Bristol Comic Expo, I went to the Talking Transformers panel with Simon Furman, Andy Wildman and Geoff Senoir. It covered a range of stuff and, a few annoying kids aside, was pretty cool. On the panel though, Furman said that he though EJ Su, artist on Infiltration for IDW, was a better storytelling artist than fan-favourite Don Figueroa. At the time I thought he was quite wrong. Su is a fairly good artist, but come on,  Don’s a legend. The Beast Wars: The Gathering mini proved this, with some fantastic artwork by Don. But, Stormbringer has made me reassess what Furman said and I find myself agreeing with him.

It’s not that Don’s work has gone down the crapper or anything. He’s still a fantastic designer and figure drawer, the sketches at the back of the volume prove that. But, there are quite a few moments where his story-telling leaves something to be desired. One page has a series of identical sized panels running down showing what I think is Thunderwing’s feet as he’s being shot at by Optimus Prime and I honestly couldn’t tell you what the sequence is supposed to be showing. Is he falling over, is he wobbling, is he charging forward before getting knocked down, is he falling to his knees? I’m really not sure.

I have to attribute part of the cause of the problem to the colouring. It’s done by Josh Burcham, who also coloured the awesome Beast Wars, but it’s a world away. It’s far too washed out, especially the sections set on Cybertron, which once again is shown being all one colour (although IDW has it grey rather than brown like Dreamwave’s Armada series had it). Nothing really pops. It’s like they’ve consciously tried to avoid the cardboard cut-out style that afflicted the DW books and gone to the other end of the spectrum to where everything’s a dull wash of colour.

Still, the story is pretty bitching, building upon the cool military unit structure for both armies that Furman introduced in Infiltration. The new Wreckers are awesome (although they’re actually fairly similar to all the previous versions) especially as Springer gets a key role (I love Springer). It’s nice to see the Predacons getting some use in a place of power as well. Kudos really must go to Furman for managing to make the Pretender concept, a pretty rubbish gimmick enforced upon the comics by the toyline where Transformers now came with a large plastic, humanoid shell to fit inside, and turning it into a nice plot element. Bludgeon in particular looks awesome.

Stormbringer is very good, and proves that Transformers works easily without human characters, but I can’t help but be underwhelmed slightly by the art.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

3 April, 2007

Hallmark have recently started repeating the first season of this generally pretty strong crime drama and, as someone who started it watching it from season 3 or so, it’s mind-boggling how unfocused and messy the first season was. I’m surprised the show managed to get renewed on the basis of it’s debut.

The problem is mainly with the cast. There is a fairly strong core there, with Capt. Craggen returning, Homicide: Life On The Street evacuee Det. Munch and new characters Det. Stabler and Det. Benson, but they’re not supported well. Michelle Hurd is pretty damn rubbish as Det. Jeffries, wavering being trying to be tough and so overly compassionate that it looks like her bottom lip is going to quiver right off her face. And that’s the main cast.

There is another detective that hangs around a bit, Det. Briscoe, nephew of the Lenny Briscoe of L&O Prime, but he’s actually really annoying. Full of youthful exuberance that really doesn’t work with someone investigating sex crimes. It’s strange though, in some episodes he acts as a main cast member in terms of narrative involvement and screen time, yet he’s only credited way down the running order of the supporting actors in the end credits. He doesn’t even make the guest starring list that runs after the opening titles.

The big problem is a lack of an ADA. The show has since kept one on as a main cast member, from Alex Cabot to Casey Novak and they both work well. But in this first season they keep borrowing Abby Carmichael from L&O Prime. While that does add some realism to the workings of the DA’s office (ie that the top prosecutors wouldn’t always get their cases from the one pair of detectives), it does limit her integration to the SVU stories.

It also means that the floodgates are opened for other cameos. The episode I caught last night had appearances by 5 of the 6 main cast members of L&O Prime: Jack McCoy, Abby Carmichael, Adam Schiff, Lenny Briscoe and Ed Green. That’s far too much for a mid-season episode of a spin-off show that’s supposed to be standing on it’s own feet. They all have reason to make appearances of course; Briscoe knows Craggen and, of course, his nephew (who wasn’t actually present in this episode), so he’d stop by (with Green) to see him maybe. Carmichael and McCoy could get an SVU case to try and Schiff could show up because he’s the DA (which the current DA does fairly often). But all of them at once doesn’t work.

The story was quite good though, as strong as any current SVU episode. It dealt with the investigation of a murder where the suspect claims to have been in the car with the victim, who she just hooked up with in a car, when he was shot by an unknown assailant, but turns out to have a past connection with the victim, claimed he raped her in college. It’s just let down by the uneven and stodgy cast of characters.

Still, it does all get better later on in the show’s lifetime and current episodes of SVU are just as strong as L&O and Criminal Intent, let alone any other crime drama out there. But surely I can’t be the only one surprised that the show got better after it hired Ice-T?

Doctor Who – Inferno

1 April, 2007

Is it over? I started watching this about 10pm yesterday and it feels like it only finished a few minutes ago. It’s so long. There are many Classic Doctor Who serials that run to 6 parts and bloody feel like it, but Inferno runs to seven, seven, and really feels like it. It’s not so much that it’s padded with unnecessary side plots or anything, it’s just so damned so and repetitive that the 2 hours 40 minutes feel like an eternity.

The story, about The Doctor slipping into a parallel universe while trying to prevent a demented scientist from being allowed to drill through the Earth’s crust, could easily have been told in 5 episodes, probably even 4. The events of the final episode should really have been nothing more than a five minute coda to the preceding one.

The trouble arises from the hammering in of all the parallel world stuff. I don’t know if 1970s sci-fi fans would have been too savvy in regards to the concept, but I’m pretty sure they could have picked it up quicker than the writer/producers of Inferno thought. Star Trek’s Mirror Mirror episode dealing with the parallel world gimmick would have aired only a couple of years earlier and there would have been novels and stuff, so it’s not like it’s a huge concept.

The parallel world depicted, one of fascist rule is interesting enough and most of the actors manage to pull off the differences between their characters fairly well, although Caroline Johns slips occasionally into nice Liz Shaw while playing Evil Liz Shaw. And while Nicholas Courtney managed to make Brigade Leader Lethbridge-Stewart a convincing callous, cowardly bastard, he’s really not much of a shouting actor.

Inferno was one of the early Pertwee episodes that the BBC decided to get rid of the colour copies of, so is now only in colour thanks to various second generation copies of the NTSC version transmitted in America. As such, it looks pretty ropey, with motion blur in places and pretty weird colours. You acclimatise, eventually, and I’m absolutely sure that the Restoration Team did all they could with what they have, but it’s a little off-putting.

The other unfortunate bit about Inferno is that it’s the last episode with Liz Shaw (apart from her mini-cameo in Five Doctors) and she’s given no real farewell. Nothing’s even mentioned at all. The episode ends as standard and then she doesn’t turn up in the next season’s opener Terror of the Autons. It’s a shame, I liked Liz Shaw, even if she did dress rather inappropriately for a military scientist. Well, civil servant. It was nice to have a female assistant who wasn’t a complete idiot and had a backbone. She was certainly less annoying that her successor, Jo.

So, Inferno’s ok, but it’s wearingly tedious at times and it never manages to be as good as it should be.