June 29, 2013

Sexual harrassment at science fiction conventions

Yesterday Elise Matheson - someone whom I have never met - posted online about her experience reporting sexual harassment at Wiscon, an American science fiction convention. It's incredibly bold and powerful reading, and anyone who attends science fiction conventions should go and read it. In response to Elise's post, Alisa Krasnostein - somebody I have met and for whom I have an enormous amount of respect - posted about her own experiences with this sort of awful behaviour. I applaud and support both women for speaking out about this. I needs to be spoken about.

I love science fiction conventions, one annual convention in particular, and will probably keep attending them for the rest of my life. They're not just an event to me, or a gathering of friends. To a large extent it feels like family; people I may only see that one weekend for the entire year, but with whom I immediately pick up where we left off as if time wasn't an issue. They mean a lot to me, these conventions. They have a big problem, however, and we all need to fix it.

June 28, 2013

The Pull List: 26 June 2013

The JL3K Superman (design by Howard Porter)
Since the New 52 launched in September 2011 DC have periodically introduced new monthlies to replace books that weren't selling very well. It's been a real mixture of promising ideas and boneheaded cock-ups (really, DC? You thought a Vibe comic would sell?), but overall I've really appreciated the company's attempts to push their lines out into new characters, or even bringing back half-forgotten cult favourites like Amethyst.

The sales on these new books generally aren't there, however, and it's difficult not to notice a pattern developing among DC's new and upcoming monthlies. Earlier this month they released Superman Unchained, a third monthly Superman book (the fourth if you count the out-of-continuity Adventures of Superman, and the sixth if you count Superboy and Supergirl), and this week they released Batman/Superman (which is the seventh Superman title and the fifteenth Batman franchise monthly) and Larfleeze (the fifth Green Lantern monthly). On the horizon are Justice League 3000, a Legion of Super-Heroes replacement that becomes the fourth Justice League franchise book, Sinestro Corps, a sixth Green Lantern book, and Superman/Wonder Woman, a second Wonder Woman book and also an eighth Superman book.

Basically this means that - assuming we only look at New 52 books - the Batman, Superman, Justice League and Green Lantern titles will account for more than 50 per cent of DC's entire superhero output.

Launching a new title is hard, I get that. I applaud DC for giving chances to new properties like The Green Team (reviewed below) and The Movement. I don't think expanding existing books and lines is the answer, however; it runs a risk of cannibalising sales and damaging their properties (six monthly Green Lantern books? Really?). A case in point: I really enjoyed the first issue of Batman/Superman (also reviewed below): can I afford to pay another US$3.99 a month for another Batman book when I could easily spend that money on buying Lazarus (also below)?

What do you think? How many books for a character is too many books?

This was a bizarrely packed week for comics, so under the cut please find (take a deep breath) reviews of All-New X-Men, All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman/Superman, Daredevil, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, The Flash, The Green Team, Hawkeye, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Journey into Mystery, Lazarus, The Massive, Star Wars Legacy, The Wake, X-Men and Young Avengers. (Not reviewed: Prophet, as I'm already one issue behind and read that book digitally on a tablet I keep forgetting to recharge.)

June 27, 2013

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: "Hercules in the Underworld"

In his fourth TV movie adventure, Hercules (Kevin Sorbo) investigates a crack in the earth that seems to lead directly to the Underworld. When his wife Deianeira is threatened, Hercules must bargain with the God Hades to save her life.

I've been rather tardy in reviewing this TV movie, because it's the worst kind of thing a reviewer can write about: something average. It's not as good as "Hercules and the Circle of Fire", and is certainly much better than "Hercules and the Amazon Women", but on its own merits it just kind of hangs there in an awkward fashion - too poor to recommend but too good to condemn. It's just... it is what it is.

June 26, 2013

Under the Dome: "Pilot"

Bless Australia's Ten Network for arranging to broadcast Under the Dome in this country less than a day after it's US broadcast: it's been obvious for years that this is the best strategy to combat online piracy, yet for the most part Australia's networks have resisted the urge to do this. I think this was the first full hour of commercial television I have sat through since 24 ended.

Under the Dome is a 13-episode adaptation of Stephen King's science fiction novel, in which a small American town is mysteriously enclosed within an impenetrable dome and cut off from the rest of the world. While key residents of the town look for a way out or a means of destroying the dome, some begin to use the isolation to their advance and others begin to slide into a pit of madness and murder. The series is produced by King alongside Steven Spielberg, while the head writer (and the writer of this pilot) is Brian K. Vaughan of Saga and Y: The Last Man fame.

For the most part this pilot is very, very good. It does have a few poor elements, and we'll get to those in a moment.

June 25, 2013

Cool World: Shek O

Hong Kong is a crazily busy city, and it often doesn't take long there for the average visitor to start craving a bit of piece of quiet.

Last October I was delighted to visit Shek O, which was - in mid-morning on a weekday - delightfully peaceful and quiet. It's a seaside village on the south-east corner of Hong Kong Island, and has pretty much all the open air cafes, corner shops and deckchair vendors you would expect from a seaside village. It's also got a lovely view of the South China Sea.

I didn't go swimming - to be honest, any city where they recommend you check the paper for daily pollutant levels before jumping into the ocean is probably not a city where it's worth going for a swim. For the record, the Hong Kong SAR government rates the beach quality as "Grade 2", which is pretty much average as it's a three-point scale. The beach is fitted with a shark net.

While I didn't try swimming, I did have an explore over the rocks: you can see them in the photograph above and they're populated with a charming species of colourful blue crab (all of whom moved far too quickly to photograph.

Bodacious Space Pirates: "The Odette II Leaves Port"

Marika and Chiaki fend off the hackers from taking over the Odette II's systems, then take their yachting examination and finally set off with their class on a sail around Tau Ceti.

You're possibly waiting for a "and suddenly they are attacked by pirates", or somesuch; certainly I spent most of this episode waiting for the exciting action to kick in. It doesn't. This is an oddly sedate episode, spending its time on the characters in a more relaxed setting rather than filling the screen with explosions and chases. It isn't bad, it's just a bit unexpected. With another 23 episodes to go, it's probably a smart idea to ensure the audience really do know who the characters are and what they're like.

June 24, 2013

Who50: "Remembrance of the Daleks"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #19: "Remembrance of the Daleks", a 1988 four-part serial written by Ben Aaronovitch and directed by Andrew Morgan.

I always found it funny that Doctor Who's 25th season featured an officially declared 25th anniversary story, "Silver Nemesis", that featured silly Elizabethan time travellers, a talking statue, elderly Nazis and a very small-scale Cyberman invasion of Windsor, and in the same season but not representing the 25th anniversary, was this outstanding four-part serial featuring the return of the Daleks, fresh questions about the Doctor's past and true identity, UNIT-style action and a period setting in Coal Hill Secondary School where Doctor Who started all the way back in 1963.

Enterprise: "The Crossing"

The Enterprise is overtaken at warp speed and captured inside a massive alien spacecraft. There they encounter a mysterious species of non-corporeal life forms capable of temporarily possessing human bodies, while the human consciousness detaches and experiences a paradisaical life beyond their own physical form. Commander Tucker wants everybody on the ship to try the experience - but Captain Archer suspects that all is not as it seems.

And, of course, all is not as it seems, which means I suppose that things are as they seem since we'd never expect the aliens to be entirely benevolent - otherwise it would make for a pretty boring episode. Instead this is a tightly written, tense little thriller as the Enterprise is gradually taken over by an alien intelligence and there doesn't seem to be a thing Archer can do about it.

June 23, 2013

Babylon 5: Season 2 in review

Just as common wisdom would have it, Babylon 5's second season is definitely a step up from its first. I think a large part of that is the reduction in the number of non-arc-related episodes written by people other than J. Michael Straczynski. He's still a very uneven writer, but he definitely (and understandably) has a better handle on his own series that other writers do.

Another big change in Season 2 was definitely replacing the deliberately calm, closed character of Jeffrey Sinclair with the far more emotional, open and humorous John Sheridan. Bruce Boxleitner energises the series with his presence, and seems to allow a lot of the regular cast to shine a bit more as well - either that or they're simply a lot more comfortable in their roles in the second year.

The rest of my thoughts are, as with the Season 1 review, probably best summed up in dot point.

The Pull List: 19 June 2013

A spot of dissatisfaction (see below) with a miniseries has me wondering what it is that makes a good one. When it comes to superhero comics: what elements divide the good from the bad? If they're an "event" miniseries, what should they include or exclude to make them as entertaining as possible?

I'm in love with the idea of the event miniseries, but in practice they don't seem to work too often. Secret Invasion was terrible. Siege was terrible. Infinite Crisis wasn't too hot, nor were Zero Hour or Blackest Night.

I did really enjoy Final Crisis, although that was a pretty impenetrable comic for many people. I think the best event series in recent years is still The Sinestro Corps War, which managed to feel genuinely epic while still finding time for a proper, satisfying conclusion and limiting itself to a few select titles.

Marvel have several miniseries about to kick off, and DC has Trinity War in August. At the moment I'm feeling a bit burned and might stay away and catch up with them in trade.

Under the cut: reviews of Age of Ultron, Batman and Batgirl, Batwoman, It Girl and the Atomics, Legion of Super-Heroes, Revival, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Wild Blue Yonder, Wonder Woman, The X Files and X-Men Legacy.

June 21, 2013

The Pull List Online: Takedown

It's been a while since I reviewed any of the smaller online comics I've been reading via Comixology: here's a look at one that I've read recently and which I think really deserves your support.

Atypical Comics. Written by Geoffrey D. Wessell. Art by Zach Bassett.
Geoffrey D. Wessell is an extremely promising comics writer who's been circling a professional breakthrough for a while now: his webcomic Keeper has been a wonderfully provocative and original title, combining professional football with serial killer horrors. This new one-shot, featuring art by Zach Bassett, is a wonderfully knowing pastiche of British comics anthology 2000 AD, in particular their headline character Judge Dredd.

The official solicitation text reads: 'Officer Josiah Bledsoe is one of the toughest cops in the Department of Adjudication. But his limits will be tested with the return to Earth of the Star Corps traitor who ruined his dreams, and is now the right hand of the dreaded Nebula Empire! Be here for the TAKEDOWN of a lifetime!'

June 20, 2013

Babylon 5: "The Fall of Night"

A representative from Earth's Ministry of Peace finally arrives on Babylon 5 to address the Centauri situation - but the answer may not be the one Sheridan is hoping for. A Narn cruiser jumps into orbit around Epsilon 3 with a request for sanctuary - but if the Centauri discover it is there all hell may break loose. It all comes together in "The Fall of Night", the Season 2 finale of Babylon 5.

The advantage of arc-based television drama is that you regularly get episodes like this, where a string of emotional payoffs can be lined up in a row, and without too much in the way of a self-contained narrative the episode can still feel immensely satisfying. Here we get big developments regarding Earth's government, the coming war with the Shadows and - perhaps most strikingly - precisely what Ambassador Kosh looks like inside that encounter suit.

June 19, 2013

Enterprise: "Canamar"

Captain Archer and Commander Tucker find themselves trapped on a prison ship bound for the penal colony of Canamar. While the Enterprise crew race to find and rescue them, they must negotiate through a dangerous prisoner revolt on the prison ship if they are to escape with their-

Hold on a minute. This is all feeling dangerously familiar. Four episodes ago, in "Dawn", Tucker was shot down in a misunderstanding and had to negotiate with an alien while the Enterprise looked for him. Two episodes before that, Tucker was kidnapped by aliens in "Precious Cargo", and had to negotiate with an alien while the Enterprise looked for him. Three episodes before that, Archer and Reed were captured by aliens while the Enterprise crew looked for them. So this is the fourth iteration of what is, broadly speaking, the same storyline in 10 weeks. I'm wondering if it's actually some meta-textual remake of "Cause and Effect", the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where the crew keep re-living the same day without realising it.

June 18, 2013

Babylon 5: "Comes the Inquisitor"

As the horrible reality of the Centauri occupation of the Narn Regime sinks in, Delenn is visited by a mysterious inquisitor who works for the Vorlons. Sebastian, a 19th century Englishman kidnapped from Earth centuries ago, will push Delenn to her limits to demonstrate her worth to lead the fight against the coming darkness.

I want to jump ahead of pretty much the entire episode, to focus on the final denouement. Sheridan challenges Sebastian just as the inquisitor is about to board the Vorlon starship, and Sebastian essentially confirms that he is fact the 19th century serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. I found myself quite taken aback by this revelation, and more than a little disgusted. I'm still attempting to unpack whether my reaction is fair, or excessive, or nonsensical, but I can't deny I was very angry at the use of Jack the Ripper for what is essentially a bit of populist entertainment.

Who50: "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances"

Welcome to the Top 20! Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #20: "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances", a 2005 two-part serial written by Steven Moffat and directed by James Hawes.

Christopher Eccleston only played the Doctor for one 13-episode season, but it was such a critical year for Doctor Who that Eccleston managed to make a big impact in those 13 episodes. He is one of my favourite Doctors: deeply wounded and traumatised by war, struggling to recover and clinging on like mad to the first human he makes a connection with: Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). I was never a huge fan of the 10th Doctor/Rose pairing, but I love the 9th Doctor/Rose pairing to bits. In short: Rose saves him, and in return - in the season finale - he saves her.

Before the finale, however, there's this: a creepy, disturbed story of possessed children wearing gas masks, stalking the empty streets of World War II London.

June 17, 2013

Babylon 5: "The Long, Twilight Struggle"

The Narn-Centauri War, which has been boiling away all season, finally comes to a tragic end with mass casualties, mass drivers and the Centauri conquest of the Narn homeworld. Meanwhile, Sheridan and Delenn are invited down to Epsilon 3, the planet around which Babylon 5 orbits, to meet with Delenn's old mentor Draal.

"The Long, Twilight Struggle" has two plotlines in it. The first, which follows Sheridan and Delenn down to Epsilon 3, is pretty tedious to watch, particularly because Draal (John Schuck) is written and played with a light-hearted touch, and he's not amusing in the slightest. So let's overlook that aspect of the episode and concentrate entirely on the conclusion of the Narn-Centauri War, because that thread is genuinely tragic and high-quality drama of which the Babylon 5 team should remain very proud.

Who50: The Bottom 20, #1-3.

Here we go: my three least favourite Doctor Who stories.

#3: "Timelash"
1985. Written by Glen McCoy. Directed by Pennant Roberts.
This is absolutely the worst serial of Doctor Who's first 26 seasons. It's amateurishly written, badly directed, gaudy and excessively colourful, and performed by actors either inexperienced and wooden or - particularly in the case of Paul Darrow - overacting to such a remarkable degree that they sabotage the drama and turn it into unintentional comedy.

The use of H.G. Wells as a fictional character, and the implication that the events here inspire him to write all of his literary works, is a dreadful cliche that Doctor Who had - until this story - somehow managed to avoid. David Chandler is hysterically awful as "Herbert", just to add insult to injury.

Poor Colin Baker. He was - and is - a fantastic actor, and had the potential to be a marvellous Doctor. Via Big Finish's audio dramas he's had the chance to prove that, and it's just a shame that so many of his televised adventures were as awful as they were.

June 16, 2013

Who50: The Bottom 20, #4-6.

Three more godawful Doctor Who stories that, in the words of The Simpsons' Comic Shop Guy, I hate so much that I will only watch them two or three more times.

#6: "Journey's End"
2008. Written by Russell T Davies. Directed by Graeme Harper.
"The Stolen Earth" was a shameless celebration of the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who, bringing back as many characters as he could pack in, as well as the largest Dalek invasion of Earth he'd ever attempted. It reunited the Doctor and Rose, and built up to one of the best cliffhangers the series has ever had, with the Doctor in the middle of an unexpected regeneration.

Then we get "Journey's End", where the Doctor doesn't regenerate at all in what still feels like the cheapest cop-out the new series has attempted. By the end everybody's laughing around the TARDIS console while towing the planet Earth through the universe at a billion light years an hour, leaving the Doctor just enough time to give Rose her own David Tennant sex doll before giving Donna Noble a lobotomy and having a bit of a cry.

June 15, 2013

The Pull List: 13 June 2013

Pity the female superhero. For a while I thought things were genuinely looking up, particularly at Marvel where a string of female-led superhero comics have been launched in the past 12 months. Then comes the dips in sales, the lack of enthusiastic marketing and, ultimately, cancellation.

So I knew that Red She-Hulk was finishing at the end of its current story arc. It's pretty obvious that Katana will bow out by October. Now I hear that the final issue of Journey to Mystery, starring Asgard's Lady Sif, comes out in September.

I applaud Marvel and DC for giving more female-led titles a chance, but I really hope the failure of so many books in the current wave don't deter them from trying again. The tragedy is that these comics have been some of the most consistent and enjoyable books either company's been distributing lately.

Under the cut: reviews of Batgirl, Batman, Demon Knights, Great Pacific, Katana, Killjoys, The Manhattan Projects, Star Wars, Thor: God of Thunder and Worlds' Finest.

June 14, 2013

Who50: The Bottom 20: #7-10

Another day, another four stinkers. This time we're counting down from #10 to #7 with William Hartnell and Peter Davison.

#10: "The Gunfighters"
1966. Written by Donald Cotton. Directed by Rex Tucker.
Doctor Who does a western. Badly. Oh okay, you want more? There are two big problems with this serial as I see it. The first is that rather than go for an earnest attempt at a British TV western the production team goes for comedy, and the comedy simply isn't funny enough to justify its existence. Secondly, the western is a genre of open plains, big canyons and prairies, and the production team is attempting to replicate that in a studio the size of a large suburban living room. It just doesn't work.

The notorious song that plays out in the final episode doesn't actually bother me all that much: after three episodes of television this dull and awful, why the hell don't they finish with a song? It's more interesting than anything else in this serial.

June 13, 2013

Who50: The Bottom 20, #11-15.

Another five awful Doctor Who stories. Rather than write a lengthy introduction, how about I simply dive straight in?

#15: "Nightmare of Eden"

1979. Written by Bob Baker. Directed by Alan Bromly and Graham Williams (uncredited).
There's a big problem with Season 17 of Doctor Who, in that everybody wants to make it a comedy. As lead actor, Tom Baker had always injected comedy into his performance. Stacked on top of that were scripts edited by comedy writer Douglas Adams. Stacked on top of that are a chain of guest casts who clearly believe a script filled with jokes and absurd situations are best served by 'hilarious' over-acting. Double-digit inflation in the UK has also meant that the series (whose budget hadn't increased in three years) looked cheaper than ever.

There is much to recommend in "Nightmare of Eden", notably the bonkers premise (dessicated aliens can be snorted as a drug), but there's also much that drags it down, including some of the worst-looking aliens in Who history and some of the worst acting as well - Lewis Fiander as Professor Tryst is a key offender.

June 12, 2013

Who50: The Bottom 20, #16-20.

Throughout 2013 I've been highlighting my 50 favourite Doctor Who stories and serials, counting down towards the 50th anniversary in November. Of course, as I have favourites it logically follows that I have least favourites. Doctor Who may be my favourite TV show, but that doesn't mean it's always good. Sometimes it's rather bad. Sometimes it even makes me want to punch my fist through the TV screen.

So this week I thought I'd examine a few of the low-lights of television's greatest science fiction drama. We're going to count down from #20 to #1. These are, in my opinion, the very worst Doctor Who has to offer. Today it's #16-20. I'm sure sooner or later I'm going to cite one of your favourites as one of my least favourites - feel free to defend the indefensible with a comment.

June 11, 2013

Who50: "The Evil of the Daleks"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #21: "The Evil of the Daleks", a 1967 seven-part serial written by David Whitaker and directed by Derek Martinus.

To wind up Patrick Troughton's first year as the Doctor, the Daleks returned in this epic seven-part serial by David Whitaker. Whitaker had already introduced Troughton's Doctor in a Dalek serial some months previously, and together "The Power of the Daleks" and "The Evil of the Daleks" act as wonderfully dramatic bookends to the season. (Of course there are two William Hartnell serials tacked onto the start of the season, but in retrospect they feel more like leftovers from Season 3.)

When I describe "The Evil of the Daleks" as epic, I mean it; the story begins with the TARDIS being stolen from Gatwick Airport in 1966 before travelling back in time to the 19th century and then across the universe for the Doctor's confrontation with a Dalek Emperor on the planet Skaro. At the time it was considered to be the final Dalek adventure, since Terry Nation was keen on shipping the Daleks over to the USA for an attempt at their own television series. In the context of Doctor Who's 50 year history, this is one of the best Dalek stories ever recorded. In the context of its own time, "The Evil of the Daleks" is nothing short of the climax to the first four years of Doctor Who.

Cloak and Dagger (1984)

Cloak and Dagger is an amiable children's thriller from 1984. I liked it as a child, and with Umbrella Entertainment finally releasing it to DVD in Australia I figured it was a great opportunity to revisit my childhood and see whether the film stood the test of time

 The film follows Davey (E.T.'s Henry Thomas), who receives an Atari game cartridge containing a secret CIA computer chip. Helped by his imaginary friend, superspy Jack Flack (Dabney Coleman), Davey goes on the run from the operatives who are prepared to kill him to get it back. It was directed by Australian Richard Franklin (Patrick, Brilliant Lies) and released by Universal Pictures as a double-bill with The Last Starfighter.

So has it stood the test of time, or has it received a visit from the dreaded 'suck fairy'? Well... yes and no.

June 9, 2013

Assassin's Creed: Revelations (2011)

Some time ago I reviewed Assassin's Creed III, the most recent installment of Ubisoft's complex science fiction/historical epic. I was deeply unimpressed by it, finding that the game had removed much of the freedom that previous versions of the game had allowed and replaced the charismatic protagonists of the other games with a surly and unlikeable one.

Feeling the itch to play more Assassin's Creed in the style that I had come to enjoy, I finally got around to purchasing the game released before last year's edition: the 2011 sequel Assassin's Creed: Revelations. This game once again follows Italian assassin Ezio Auditore, this time following in the path of the original game's protagonist Altair and searching Constantinople for five missing keys that will open a centuries-old library. It's very much the final part of a trilogy, comprising Assassin's Creed II, the Rome-set Brotherhood and then this.

It's wonderful. It's exactly the sort of game that made me such a fan of Assassin's Creed in the first place, and a wonderful palette cleanser after the disappointment of last year's effort.

June 7, 2013

The Pull List: 5 June 2013

June! It's June already! How on Earth did that happen?

This week DC Comics unveiled their latest sales ploy for September, "Villains Month": all regular titles replaced by "point one" issues (as in #23.1) and retitled to feature various villains of the DC Universe. Each book will also feature a special 3D motion cover, and all will be priced at US$3.99 - even the ones that are temporarily replacing $2.99 monthly books.

But wait - that's not all. You'd think they'd just replace each regular monthly with one villain issue, but that would be too simple. Instead it's pretty much the core best-selling titles that are receiving multiple spin-offs, in a desperate bid by DC to claw back some market share. So we're getting (in one month) four issues of Detective Comics, four of Batman, four of Batman and Robin, four of Action Comics, three of The Flash and two of Aquaman. There are others (Superman, Earth 2, Batman: The Dark Knight) but for now I wanted to look specifically at books I'm already buying each month.

So: Detective Comics, Batman, Batman and Robin, Action Comics, The Flash and Aquaman. In August I will spend US$20.94 on these titles. In September DC genuinely expects me to pay US$74.79 to continue reading the same comics. That's about three and a half times as much. Can anyone else see this sales grab backfiring on the company? I mean, I'm continuing with Action Comics at the moment, but since Grant Morrison's left I'm not bound to that book with glue. If I stop buying it in September I could be saving US$3.99 a month - or US$15.96 in September alone. I could use that money to subscribe to Brian Wood's promising new X-Men comic instead.

I liked the New 52 launch of September 2012, and I liked the "Zero Month" of September 2013. "Villains Month"? Not so much.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Age of Ultron, All-New X-Men, Astro City, Batwing, Bedlam, Daredevil: Dark Nights, Daredevil: End of Days, Detective Comics, Green Lantern, The Movement, Red She-Hulk and Stormwatch.

June 5, 2013

Who50: "The Robots of Death"

Who50 counts down to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who by reviewing my favourite episodes and serials over the history of the programme, counting down from #50 to #1. Today, #22: "The Robots of Death", a 1977 four-part serial written by Chris Boucher and directed by Michael E. Briant.

The Doctor and Leela arrive on an isolated sand miner, with a minimal human command crew and a vast array of servant robots. When the human crew are murdered one by one, the Doctor rapidly moves from chief suspect to the Sandminer's only hope of escaping "the robots of death".

If "The Ark in Space" was the beginning of Tom Baker's tenure as the Doctor, "The Robots of Death" comes towards the end of that tenure's height. Sure, there were many great serial produced after 1977, but for all intents and purposes this is Doctor Who at its very best. In fact while there may be better individual stories to be found in other seasons, for pure consistency of quality Season 14 (1976-77) is very likely the best that Doctor Who has ever been.

June 4, 2013

The X Files: "Pilot"

It's been 20 years since The X Files first broke onto television screens. These days it's remembered, and rightfully so, as one of the most significant and popular American dramas of all time, so it's actually a little hard to go back and rewatch the pilot episode as if you don't know what's coming. I have attempted to do my best.

Medical doctor and FBI academy instructor Dana Scully is enlisted by an FBI section chief to join Special Agent Fox Mulder on the "X Files", FBI cases that defy explanation or traditional investigation. Her task in not just to assist him, but also to report back on the validity of his work. Together they travel to northern Oregon, where a string of deaths in the woods have failed to be explained.

June 3, 2013

The WGA's 101 Best-Written TV Shows Ever

The Writer's Guild of America has announced its official list of the 101 best-written television programs of all time. The full list is available here. Obviously as the WGA is an American organisation they focus on American TV shows, but as a big science fiction fan I was keen to see how my favourite genre fared on their list. Here are the SF shows that made it:
  • The Twilight Zone (#3)
  • The X Files (#26)
  • Lost (#27)
  • Star Trek (#33)
  • Twin Peaks (#35)
  • Battlestar Galactica (#38)
  • Game of Thrones (#40)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (#49)
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation (#79)
  • The Prisoner (#90)
 I'd quibble over where those show placed in relation to each other (Lost better than Star Trek, Game of Thrones and The Prisoner? Hardly.) but it's generally speaking a list I can get behind.

My picks for the next Doctor Who

Over the weekend the BBC has confirmed that Matt Smith, current star of Doctor Who, will be departing from the role of the Doctor after the 2013 Christmas special. This opens up what is actually my favourite time to be a Doctor Who fan: the wait to see a new Doctor. It's a series all about change and new ideas, and so there's always the potential - usually untapped - for some really outstanding or intriguing choices.

This isn't a list of actors that are likely to get cast as the 12th Doctor. Instead this is a bunch of actors that I strongly believe would make an outstanding Doctor, and who represent a jump out of the box; a "what if" scenario for a world where the BBC is more adventurous that they're likely to be.

June 1, 2013

Popular Posts: May 2013

This past month the blog experienced a sudden leap in popularity: as a result there's not much point splitting this month's most popular posts between overall winners and just those published in May. Here are the posts that people liked the most:
  1. Star Trek Into Darkness review (link)
  2. Fun with Stats: Who's the longest-running Doctor? (link)
  3. Doctor Who: "The Name of the Doctor" (link)
  4. Babylon 5: "Midnight on the Firing Line" (link)
  5. Kindle Worlds, and why it might be bad for fandom (link)
  6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (link)