Book Review – MOONRAKER (1955) by Ian Fleming

MOONRAKER  (1955) ****½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 325pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1955
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1955
Introduction by Susan Hill (20pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57687-7
Moonraker      Blurb: He’s a self-made millionaire, head of the Moonraker rocket programme and loved by the press. So why is Sir Hugo Drax cheating at cards? Bond has just five days to uncover the sinister truth behind a national hero, in Ian Fleming’s third 007 adventure.
      Comment: Anyone familiar with the 1979 film adaptation – the low point of Roger Moore’s tenure as James Bond – should lay any preconceptions at the door. This is one of the very best James Bond novels. Unlike the first two in the series, Fleming’s third 007 adventure gives his lead character room to breathe and as a result, he becomes a more human hero. The first part of the book is the set-up and is almost routine in its playout – showing Bond’s life between missions. The introduction of Sir Hugo Drax, who is suspected of cheating at cards at M’s private club, sets the foundation for the remainder of the story. Drax is something of a celebrity figure and is respected for his development of an atomic deterrent in the ever-escalating cold war environment. The death of Drax’a security chief raises suspicions and Bond replaces him. Slowly he infiltrates Drax’s operation, run by a team of German technicians and supported by Drax’s personal assistant Gala Brand, who is, in fact, an undercover special branch officer. As Bond and Gala slowly unravel the reality around Drax’s test flight for his Moonraker rocket – echoes of WWII resentment and Russian coercion come into play. The final section of the book is taut, suspenseful and one of the best passages of writing in Fleming’s bibliography. Drax is one of Fleming’s best villains and Krebs a sinister henchman. Gala is an appealing heroine, who is brave and resourceful. The lonely life of a spy is described in Bond’s routine work and the ironic coda and his relationship with his boss, M, is explored to some degree. This set the template for more fantastical plots and charismatic villains and as such is highly recommended as a great example of what the series offered.

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS (USA, 2015) ****½
      Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Production Company: Lucasfilm / Bad Robot; Release Date: 14 December 2015 (USA), 16 December 2015 (UK); Filming Dates: 16 May 2014 – 3 November 2014; Running Time: 135m; Colour: FotoKem; Sound Mix: 12-Track Digital Sound (IMAX 12 track) | Dolby Atmos | Dolby Surround 7.1 | Dolby Digital; Film Format: 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383), 70 mm (horizontal) (IMAX DMR blow-up) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema (also 3-D version), DCP (2K DCP) (Normal 3D versions), DCP (4K DCP) (IMAX Laser versions); Film Process: Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Dolby Vision, IMAX (source format) (Escape from Jakku scene), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: J. J. Abrams; Writer: J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt (based on characters created by George Lucas); Executive Producer: Tommy Harper, Jason D. McGatlin; Producer: J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Kathleen Kennedy; Associate Producer: Michael Arndt; Director of Photography: Daniel Mindel; Music Composer: John Williams; Film Editor: Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey; Casting Director: Nina Gold, April Webster, Alyssa Weisberg; Production Designer: Rick Carter, Darren Gilford; Art Director: Neil Lamont; Set Decorator: Lee Sandales; Costumes: Michael Kaplan; Make-up: Amanda Knight, Lisa Tomblin; Sound: David Acord, Matthew Wood; Special Effects: Chris Corbould; Visual Effects: Nina Fallon, Meredith Meyer-Nichols, Lillias Ng, Louise Bertrand, Ben Lock, Sophie Dawes, Chrysta Marie Burton, Janet Lewin.
      Cast: Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Max von Sydow (Lor San Tekka), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca Double), Pip Andersen (Lead Stormtrooper), Simon Pegg (Unkar Plutt), Kiran Shah (Teedo), Sasha Frost (Jakku Villager), Pip Torrens (Colonel Kaplan).
      Synopsis: 30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat rises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of Heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.
      Comment: The best of the STAR WARS films outside of the original trilogy, fans of which will no doubt readily accept this continuation and overlook some of its flaws – notably in originality in plot and character development. But as the start of a new trilogy, it also succeeds in capturing the uninhibited spirit of those first three films. The result is a lively, action-packed and thoroughly enjoyable addition to the series. It is great to see Ford back as Han Solo and his scenes will give older fans a warm and satisfying smile. The new characters portrayed by Ridley and Boyega are likeable and the script keeps the right tonal balance. Yes, it is a virtual replay of the original STAR WARS, but there is also a freshness here that was lacking in the second trilogy. Also shot in 3-D.

Film Review – THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US (2017)

New on DVD in January 2018 - Netflix DVD BlogTHE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US (USA, 2017) **½
      Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox / Chernin Entertainment; Release Date: 9 September 2017 (Canada), 6 October 2017 (USA/UK); Filming Dates: 5 December 2016 – 17 February 2017; Running Time: 112m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: D-Cinema; Film Process: ARRIRAW (2.8K) (6.5K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Hany Abu-Assad; Writer: Chris Weitz, J. Mills Goodloe (based on the book by Charles Martin); Executive Producer: Fred Berger, Becki Cross Trujillo; Producer: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, David Ready, Jenno Topping; Associate Producer: Amira Diab; Director of Photography: Mandy Walker; Music Composer: Ramin Djawadi; Film Editor: Lee Percy; Production Designer: Patrice Vermette; Art Director: James Steuart; Set Decorator: Shannon Gottlieb; Costumes: Renee Ehrlich Kalfus; Make-up: Natalie Cosco, Adrien Morot; Sound: Mildred Iatrou, Susan Dawes; Special Effects: Ron Kozier, Andrew Verhoeven; Visual Effects: Korey J. Cauchon, Edward Churchward, Thomas Tannenberger, Rebecca West.
      Cast: Kate Winslet (Alex Martin), Idris Elba (Ben Bass), Beau Bridges (Walter), Dermot Mulroney (Mark), Linda Sorensen (Pamela), Vincent Gale (Airline Customer Service), Marci T. House (Airline Rep), Dania Nassar (Female Patient (Mrs. Qabbani)), Lee Majdoub (Translator), Andres Joseph (Dinner Guest), Nancy Sivak (Nurse), Bethany Brown (New York Waiter), Orval Roberts (Logging Truck Driver).
      Synopsis: Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow-covered mountain. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across the wilderness.
       Comment: Story of survival in the icy mountains following a plane crash turns into a cliched romance in its coda, undermining the elements of authenticity the filmmakers strived hard to achieve. Winslet and Elba are a reporter and doctor who are left stranded in the snowy mountains following the crash of their light aircraft with just the dead pilot’s dog for company. Initially antagonistic, they grow closer as they realise they need to rely on each other to survive. The survival elements of the story initially work well, but once the romance begins Abu-Assad follows the traditional Hollywood tropes. The result is a manipulative and manufactured drama, despite the strong performances by its two leads.

Book Review – LIVE AND LET DIE (1954)

LIVE AND LET DIE  (1954) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2019, 303pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1954
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1954
ISBN: 978-0-099-57686-0
      Blurb: Mr Big is brutal, brilliant and feared worldwide. Protected by Voodoo forces and the psychic powers of his prisoner Solitaire, he is an invincible SMERSH operative at the head of a ruthless smuggling ring. James Bond’s new assignment will take him to the heart of the occult: to infiltrate this secret world and destroy Mr Big’s global network. From Harlem’s throbbing jazz joints to the shark-infested waters of Jamaica, enemy eyes watch Bond’s every move. He must tread carefully to avoid a nightmarish fate.
      Comment: Ian Fleming’s follow-up to his debut James Bond novel Casino Royale is a fast-paced and entertaining read. It is also a relic of its time and the text, although softened in this version, should be taken in that context in the way it deals with its largely black cast of characters. Bond is up against Mr. Big, who is smuggling sunken pirate treasure to help fund the Russian spy network SMERSH. Bolstered by its action set-pieces – notably as Bond and Felix Leiter penetrate Mr Big’s empire resulting in Leiter “disagreeing with something that ate him” and the tense finale where Bond and Solitaire are hauled over a corral reef. The book has three settings – New York, the Florida keys and Jamaica and is the first of the books to introduce a globe-hopping element. Bond is presented as a tough and single-minded agent with little time for sentiment. Mr. Big is an impressive, if two-dimensional, villain. Themes of voodoo permeate throughout the plot, but are not fully explored. Solitaire is a little bland and her supposed powers to see into the future are underplayed as a potentially interesting character dissolves into the typical captive woman yearning for Bond to free her. Fleming was still honing his craft at this stage and better stories and plots would follow, but it remains a good example of why the series became so popular.

TV Review – THE DEEP (2010)

THE DEEP (UK, 2010) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: Tiger Aspect Productions; Release Date: 3-31 August 2010; Running Time: 289m (5 episodes); Filming Dates: December 2009-March 2010; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Jim O’Hanlon, Colm McCarthy; Writer: Simon Donald, Paul Rutman; Executive Producer: Greg Brenman, Eleanor Moran; Producer: Will Gould; Director of Photography: Adam Suschitzky, Damian Bromley; Music Composer: Samuel Sim; Film Editor: Chris Wyatt, Helen Chapman; Casting Director: Jill Trevellick; Production Designer: Simon Bowles; Art Director: Andy Thomson; Costumes: Trisha Biggar; Make-up: Gilly Popham, Linda A. Morton; Sound: Simon Gershon; Special Effects: Chris Reynolds; Visual Effects: Thomas M. Horton, Shanaullah Umerji,  Simon Carr, Becky Roberts.
      Cast: James Nesbitt (Clem Donnelly), Minnie Driver (Frances Kelly), Goran Visnjic (Samson), Orla Brady (Catherine Donnelly), Sinéad Cusack (Meg Sinclair), Sacha Dhawan (Vincent), Vera Graziadei (Svetlana), Tobias Menzies (Raymond), Tom Wlaschiha (Arkady), Antonia Thomas (Maddy), Dan Li (Hatsuto), Nigel Whitmey (Lowe), Molly Jones (Scarlet), Amit Patil (Cg generalist), Nick Nevern (Stas), Richard Brake (McIndoe), Goran Kostic (Zubov), Ron Donachie (Sturridge), Nicholas Pinnock (Charlie Goodison), Shonagh Price (Sandra), Simon Donald (Dr. Christianson).
      Synopsis: A research submarine beneath the Arctic stumbles upon a terrifying secret with Earth-shattering consequences.
      Comment: Whilst the story gets more and more preposterous and the dialogue is often risible, this underwater thriller still manages to hook you in for the most part through its makers’ sheer enthusiasm for the material. Nesbitt is part of a submarine crew captained by Driver to return to the site beneath the Arctic ice where a previous research team (including Nesbitt’s wife, Brady) and their vessel disappeared. On arrival, they find they are not alone and have stumbled across a covert Russian drilling operation in UN waters. The story moves along at a nice clip, slowing occasionally for cliched moments of character development. Moments of tension and suspense are built at regular intervals as the crew begin to find themselves out of their depth. The acting is generally good with the cast often overcoming the limitations in the material. The technical attributes and visuals are excellent for the most part, with great production design of the hi-tech submarine – notwithstanding the occasionally obvious CGI moment. After managing to hold our attention through the first four hour-long segments, the story goes off the rails in the last episode with lazy writing that fails to tie up the character arcs and the plot satisfactorily as it lays on the emotional trauma. The result is a generally entertaining but flawed story that may satisfy undemanding genre fans.

Film Review – WILD (2014)

Wild (2014) | The CinephiliacWILD (USA, 2014) ***½
      Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Production Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures / Pacific Standard; Release Date: 29 August 2014 (USA), 13 October 2014 (UK); Filming Dates: began 11 October 2013; Running Time: 115m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: Codex; Film Process: ARRIRAW (2.8K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Jean-Marc Vallée; Writer: Nick Hornby (based on the memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed); Executive Producer: Nathan Ross, Bergen Swanson; Producer: Bruna Papandrea, Bill Pohlad, Reese Witherspoon; Associate Producer: Jeffrey Harlacker, T.K. Knowles, Cheryl Strayed; Director of Photography: Yves Bélanger; Music Supervisor: Susan Jacobs; Film Editor: Martin Pensa, Jean-Marc Vallée (as John Mac McMurphy); Casting Director: David Rubin; Production Designer: John Paino; Art Director: Javiera Varas; Set Decorator: Robert Covelman; Costumes: Melissa Bruning; Make-up: Kymber Blake, Tanya Cookingham, Miia Kovero; Sound: Mildred Iatrou; Special Effects: Bob Riggs; Visual Effects: Julien Maisonneuve, Jean-François Ferland.
      Cast: Reese Witherspoon (Cheryl), Laura Dern (Bobbi), Thomas Sadoski (Paul), Keene McRae (Leif), Michiel Huisman (Jonathan), W. Earl Brown (Frank), Gaby Hoffmann (Aimee), Kevin Rankin (Greg), Brian Van Holt (Ranger), Cliff De Young (Ed), Mo McRae (Jimmy Carter), Will Cuddy (Josh), Leigh Parker (Rick), Nick Eversman (Richie), Ray Buckley (Joe (as Ray Mist)), Randy Schulman (Therapist), Cathryn de Prume (Stacey), Kurt Conroyd (Greg’s Friend), Ted deChatelet (Greg’s Friend), Jeffree Newman (Greg’s Friend).
      Synopsis: A chronicle of one woman’s one thousand one hundred mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy.
      Comment: Story based on the memoirs of Cheryl Strayed who hiked across the Pacific Crest Trail in order to bring some sense to her life following the death of her mother and the breakup of her marriage. Witherspoon gives a wonderfully gritty performance as she comes to terms with the gruelling landscape and the challenges presented along her journey. We get to gradually understand her motivation through flashbacks of her life. We see her mother (Dern) leave an abusive relationship, taking her children with her and schooling them in how to embrace life. When her mother dies of cancer, Witherspoon’s life unravels and she goes off the rails. The experience of her adventure enables her to get her life back in perspective. It is a well-directed and acted movie, but the flashback scenes, whilst totally relevant to the story, are occasionally distracting and somehow detract from the portrayal of the ordeal of the hike. There are still touching and humorous moments along the way and the production team have managed to capture the beauty and danger of the wild.

Film Review – THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932)

Pre Code Confidential #4: Boris Karloff in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU ...THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (USA, 1932) ***½
      Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Production Company: Cosmopolitan Productions / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) ; Release Date: 5 November 1932 (USA), 24 November 1932 (UK); Filming Dates: 6 August 1932 – 21 October 1932; Running Time: 68m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Charles Brabin; Writer: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf, John Willard (based on the novel by Sax Rohmer); Director of Photography: Tony Gaudio; Music Composer: William Axt (uncredited); Film Editor: Ben Lewis; Art Director: Cedric Gibbons; Costumes: Adrian; Make-up: Cecil Holland (uncredited); Sound: Douglas Shearer; Special Effects: Warren Newcombe (uncredited).
      Cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Fu Manchu), Lewis Stone (Nayland Smith), Karen Morley (Sheila Barton), Charles Starrett (Terrence Granville), Myrna Loy (Fah Lo See), Jean Hersholt (Von Berg), Lawrence Grant (Sir Lionel Barton), David Torrence (McLeod), Everett Brown (Slave (uncredited)), Steve Clemente (Knife Thrower (uncredited)), Willie Fung (Ship’s Steward (uncredited)), Ferdinand Gottschalk (British Museum Official (uncredited)), Allen Jung (Coolie (uncredited)), Tetsu Komai (Swordsman (uncredited)), James B. Leong (Guest (uncredited)), Oswald Marshall (Undetermined Role (uncredited)), Chris-Pin Martin (Potentate (uncredited)), Lal Chand Mehra (Indian Prince (uncredited)), Edward Peil Sr. (Coolie Spy (uncredited)), Clinton Rosemond (Slave (uncredited)), C. Montague Shaw (Curator Dr. Fairgyle – British Museum Official (uncredited)), E. Alyn Warren (Goy Lo Sung – Fu Manchu Messenger (uncredited)), Olive Young (Cantina singer (uncredited)).
      Synopsis: Englishmen race to find the tomb of Ghengis Khan. They have to get there fast, as the evil genius Dr. Fu Manchu is also searching, and if he gets the mysteriously powerful relics, he and his diabolical daughter will enslave the world!
      Comment: Karloff is excellent as Sax Rohmer’s evil Dr Fu Manchu in this pre-Hays code adventure controversial for its racial overtones. Stone leads an expedition to Africa in search of the tomb of Genghis Khan to claim the sword and mask from within. Karloff seeks the treasures for his own benefit. Sumptuously designed and with torture scenes that would have pushed the censors a couple of years later, it is a fascinating adaptation of Rohmer’s simplistic story if rather leaden due to the static camerawork. Loy is deliciously treacherous as Karloff’s daughter who seduces Starrett – the pair being an obvious influence on FLASH GORDON’s Emperor Ming and Princess Aura. Charles Vidor was fired after a few days of shooting and replaced as director by Brabin. Rohmer’s original novel was serialized in Colliers between 7 May and 23 July 1932.

Film Review – BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970)

Views From Da Crow's Nest: Rise of the CGI ApesBENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (USA, 1970) ***
      Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / APJAC Productions; Release Date: 23 April 1970 (Italy), 26 May 1970 (USA), 11 June 1970 (UK); Filming Dates: began 14 April 1969; Running Time: 95m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: G/15.
      Director: Ted Post; Writer: Paul Dehn (based on a story by Paul Dehn and Mort Abrahams and characters created by Pierre Boule); Producer: Arthur P. Jacobs; Associate Producer: Mort Abrahams; Director of Photography: Milton R. Krasner; Music Composer: Leonard Rosenman; Film Editor: Marion Rothman; Art Director: William J. Creber, Jack Martin Smith; Set Decorator: Walter M. Scott, Sven Wickman; Costumes: Morton Haack; Make-up: John Chambers, Edith Lindon, Daniel C. Striepeke; Sound: Stephen Bass, David Dockendorf; Special Effects: Johnny Borgese (uncredited); Visual Effects: L.B. Abbott, Art Cruickshank.
      Cast: James Franciscus (Brent), Kim Hunter (Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), Linda Harrison (Nova), Charlton Heston (Taylor), Paul Richards (Mendez), Victor Buono (Fat Man), James Gregory (Ursus), Jeff Corey (Caspay), Natalie Trundy (Albina), Thomas Gomez (Minister), Don Pedro Colley (Negro), David Watson (Cornelius), Tod Andrews (Skipper), Eldon Burke (Gorilla Sgt.), Gregory Sierra (Verger).
      Synopsis: The sole survivor of an interplanetary rescue mission searches for the only survivor of the previous expedition. He discovers a planet ruled by apes and an underground city run by telekinetic humans.
      Comment: This sequel to the phenomenally successful PLANET OF THE APES (1968) was designed as a cash cow for the ailing Fox studio. The rushed nature of its production is often apparent in a film which had its budget halved with ape masks  compromised for the extras. The story sees Franciscus arrive in similar fashion to Heston in the previous film to find Heston is still alive but has vanished. Harrison, as Heston’s companion from the first film, takes Franciscus to the ape city where he discovers the apes are planning a war with human mutants who live underground in the Forbidden Zone. Sets re-used and re-dressed from previous Fox productions such as HELLO DOLLY (1969) are effective in portraying a decayed New York City which has become the mutants’ home. The final act sees doomsday played out in apocalyptic fashion as the apes invade the mutants’ base. Dehn’s script has lots of anti-war messaging but lacks the nuances and polish that made the original so good. The film moves from set-piece to set-piece with little room for character development or conflict. Once the action moves underground in the final act the pace and often violent action picks up through to the gloomy conclusion. However, the film feels a little lacklustre and whilst Hunter and Evans reprise their roles they have much less impact here. Gregory is the standout as the gorilla general who leads his army to their ultimate fate. Followed by ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971).

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – THE HAUNTING OF VILLA DIODATI (2020)

Nadia Parkes, Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, and Lili Miller in Doctor Who (2005)DOCTOR WHO: THE HAUNTING OF VILLA DIODATI (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 16 February 2020; Running Time: 49m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Emma Sullivan; Writer: Maxine Alderton, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Agnieszka Liggett, Joe Skinner; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Lili Miller (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Nadia Parkes (Claire Clairmont), Jacob Collins-Levy (Lord Byron), Maxim Baldry (Doctor John Pollidori), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Lewis Rayner (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Sarah Perles (Elise), Stefan Bednarczyk (Fletcher), Nicholas Briggs (Cyberman Voice).
      Synopsis: The Doctor and gang arrive at the Villa Dioscidati, Lake Geneva, in 1816 – on a night that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats – but the ghosts are all too real. And the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions…
     Comment: Another episode that has a lot right with it but still manages to frustrate. The story has a great setting in an old house at Lake Geneva and the premise is obviously geared toward events inspiring Mary Wolstencrof to create the vision for her novel Frankenstein. The house is suitably spooky, populated with quirky characters and some chilling surprises. But yet again there is too little time to cover all the ideas on show and the narrative appears muddled as a result. There are still too many companions to fully justify themselves Cole’s acting has been wooden at best and here he gives possibly his worst performance delivering lines with little conviction or flair for humour. The shoe-horning in of the Cyberman threat – which we could all see coming following pre-empts earlier in the series – raises more questions than are answered here. The closing two-parter will hopefully square these off. Whittaker has the occasional strong moment, whenever she is given more to do than just dial-up the quirky scale beyond Tennant levels. She is very good in the scene close to the finale where she debates the actions she should take with her friends.  The series is running out of time to hit the heights we have come to expect but hopefully, the season finale will deliver.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: CAN YOU HEAR ME? (2020)

Image result for doctor who can you hear meDOCTOR WHO: CAN YOU HEAR ME? (UK, 2020) ***½
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 9 February 2020; Running Time: 49m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Emma Sullivan; Writer: Charlene James, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Agnieszka Liggett; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Ian Gelder (Zellin), Buom Tihngang (Tibo), Clare-Hope Ashitey (Rakaya), Sharon D Clarke (Grace O’Brien), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Kahn), Aruhan Galiva (Tahira), Sirine Saba (Maryam), Nasreen Hussain (Anita Patel), Everal A Walsh (Gabriel), Michael Keane (Fred), Amanda Liberman (Mum), Willie Jonah (Old Tibo), Anthony Taylor (Andrew).
      Synopsis: From ancient Syria to present-day Sheffield, and out into the wilds of space, something is stalking the Doctor and infecting people’s nightmares.
     Comment: An episode with lots of ideas around the psychological impact of nightmares linked to a god-like race known as the Eternals who feed off the mental instability that the dreams cause. It’s an intriguing and creepy episode for two-thirds of its runtime powered by some wonderful visuals, an intelligent script and a deliciously evil villain in  Gelder’s Zellin. The companions all get their own sub-plots as each has an element of their psyche manipulated by Zellin.  Unfortunately, things unravel a bit in the final third and give us a finale which is resolved all too quickly – continuing the issues the production team have in trying to tell complex stories and deliver new concepts in a single-episode format. It’s a shame as there is so much promise here, but Chibnall either lacks sufficient editing skills to understand how to best land the ideas of his writers or he is trying to cram too many story threads together and as a result creating too much for the viewer to absorb.