FANTASTIC VOYAGE (USA, 1966) ***½
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox; Release Date: 24 August 1966 (USA), 14 October 1966 (UK); Filming Dates: 25 January – mid June 1965; Running Time: 100m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: CinemaScope; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: U.
Director: Richard Fleischer; Writer: Harry Kleiner (screenplay), David Duncan (adaptation) (based on a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby); Producer: Saul David; Director of Photography: Ernest Laszlo; Music Composer: Leonard Rosenman; Film Editor: William B. Murphy; Art Director: Dale Hennesy, Jack Martin Smith; Set Decorator: Stuart A. Reiss, Walter M. Scott; Costumes: Bruce Walkup, Truman Eli, Ollie Hughes (all uncredited); Make-up: Ben Nye; Sound: David Dockendorf, Bernard Freericks; Special Effects: Johnny Borgese, Greg C. Jensen (both uncredited); Visual Effects: L.B. Abbott, Art Cruickshank, Emil Kosa Jr.
Cast: Stephen Boyd (Grant), Raquel Welch (Cora), Edmond O’Brien (General Carter), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Michaels), Arthur O’Connell (Col. Donald Reid), William Redfield (Capt. Bill Owens), Arthur Kennedy (Dr. Duval), Jean Del Val (Jan Benes), Barry Coe (Communications Aide), Ken Scott (Secret Service), Shelby Grant (Nurse), James Brolin (Technician), Brendan Fitzgerald (Wireless Operator). Uncredited: Brendon Boone (Military Policeman), Kenneth MacDonald (Henry – Heart Monitoring), Christopher Riordan (Young Scientist).
Synopsis: A diplomat is nearly assassinated. In order to save him, a submarine is shrunken to microscopic size and injected into his bloodstream with a small crew. Problems arise almost as soon as they enter the bloodstream.
Comment: Imaginative sci-fi memorable for its superb production design and photographic effects, which deservedly won Academy Awards. The script is solid, even if the dialogue is a little hokey at times, and provides the requisite set-pieces, helping build tension in the story. The concept of miniaturisation is fanciful, but once you get past that element there is much to enjoy in the fantasy it creates. Boyd makes for a likeable square-jawed hero and Welch adds glamour to the mix. Capably directed by Fleischer and with an eerily discordant score from Rosenman.
Notes: The picture marked the first major screen role for actress Raquel Welch. Won Oscars for Art Direction-Set Decoration (Jack Martin Smith, Dale Hennesy, Walter M. Scott and Stuart A. Reiss) and Special Effects (Art Cruickshank). Novelised by Isaac Asimov. Followed by an animated TV series in 1968.
Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 60m) ***½ pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Jamie Childs; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Denis Crossan; m. Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Sharon D. Clarke, Samuel Oatley, Johnny Dixon, Amit Shah, Asha Kingsley, Janine Mellor, Asif Khan, James Thackeray, Philip Abiodun, Stephen MacKenna, Everal A Walsh. In a South Yorkshire city, Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien are about to have their lives changed forever, as a mysterious woman, unable to remember her own name, falls from the night sky. Can they believe a word she says? And can she help solve the strange events taking place across the city? Whittaker’s debut as the first female Doctor is a refreshingly straight-forward story but lacks any real wider threat being seemingly contained to a small area around Sheffield. Whittaker acquits herself well and in her post-regenerative state is sparky and witty. Walsh, Cole and Gill look promising as future companions. The whole thing is sumptuously photographed – mostly shot at night to create a more claustrophobic atmosphere – and the score is appropriately menacing, without being overbearing. This serves to give the story a more cinematic feel. As debut stories go it ticks most of the boxes and creates a new feel for the series that is seemingly a back to basics approach and that’s not necessarily a bad thing after some of the overblown and lazily written concepts that had crept in during Steven Moffat’s tenure. That said dumbing down the show would be a mistake. A promising, if flawed opener. The episode’s title is a reference to THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976) starring David Bowie. [PG]
Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 60m) *** pr. Peter Bennett; d. Rachel Talalay; w. Steven Moffat; ph. Richard Stoddard; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, David Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Pearl Mackie, Lily Travers, Jared Garfield, Jodie Whittaker, Jenna Coleman, Matt Lucas. Two Doctors stranded in a forbidding snowscape, refusing to face regeneration. And a British army captain seemingly destined to die in the First World War, but taken from the trenches to play his part in the Doctor’s story. This is the magical last chapter in the Twelfth Doctor’s epic adventure. He must face his past to decide his future. And the Doctor will realise the resilience of humanity, discovering hope in his darkest frozen moment. It’s the end of an era. But the Doctor’s journey is only just beginning. Self-indulgent bow-out for Capaldi’s Doctor with a confusing plot device designed to wring-out every emotion from fans of the series. It will likely have left non-fans cold with its frozen-in-time plot line as both 1st and 12th Doctors hold back their re-generations. There were nice touches in this episode – notably the resolution of the WWI army captain’s story and the meeting up with an old friend/foe. Bradley doesn’t always get the 1st Doctor right, but this is not helped by him being given some weak lines, knowingly poking fun at the changes in cultural environment since the days of those early serials. Capaldi is excellent, as ever, and it is sad to see his Doctor finally go. Whittaker’s brief appearance looked promising and left us on another cliffhanger. The production values were good and the photography excellent, but hopefully new producer Chibnall will move away from Moffat’s penchant for complex concepts and get back to good old-fashioned story-telling to win back a broader audience base. 
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017; USA; Colour; 152m) **** d. Rian Johnson; w. Rian Johnson; ph. Steve Yedlin; m. John Williams. Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Andy Serkis, Warwick Davis. Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past. Highly entertaining action-packed addition to the saga, which revisits many of the themes explored earlier in the series and as such may seem overly familiar. The basic chase plot is stretched a little with some lazy progressions, but despite its length the film doesn’t stand still for long nor does it outstay its welcome. Hamill and Fisher feature more heavily and there are one or two twists along the way, but its mid-trilogy position inevitably leaves certain issues unresolved. The visual effects and location work are exemplary. Also shot in 3-D. 
Jason and the Argonauts (1963; UK/USA; Eastmancolor; 104m) **** d. Don Chaffey; w. Jan Read, Beverley Cross; ph. Wilkie Cooper; m. Bernard Herrmann. Cast: Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond, Laurence Naismith, Niall MacGinnis, Michael Gwynn, Douglas Wilmer, Jack Gwillim, Honor Blackman, John Cairney, Patrick Troughton, Andrew Faulds, Nigel Green. The legendary Greek hero leads a team of intrepid adventurers in a perilous quest for the legendary Golden Fleece. Rousing fantasy adventure with memorable special effects design by Ray Harryhausen – including the giant bronze statue Talos and the army of skeletons. A game cast and resonant score by Herrmann add significantly. It took Harryhausen four months to produce the skeleton scene, a massive amount of time for a scene which lasts, at the most, three minutes. Remade for TV in 2000. [U]
Time Machine, The (1960; USA; Metrocolor; 103m) **** d. George Pal; w. David Duncan; ph. Paul Vogel; m. Russell Garcia. Cast: Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Alan Young, Sebastian Cabot, Tom Helmore, Whit Bissell, Doris Lloyd, Paul Frees, Bob Barran, Josephine Powell, James Skelly. A Victorian Englishman travels to the far future and finds that humanity has divided into two hostile species. Definitive version has great production values, a strong central performance from Taylor and the nightmarish ultimate evolution in the Morlocks. Works as a prophetic tale of the impact of man’s need for eternal conflict through imaginative vignettes. Dramatic score by Garcia adds to the atmosphere. Won an Oscar for Special Effects (Gene Warren, Tim Baar). Remade in 1978 (for TV) and 2002. [PG]
Kong: Skull Island (2017; USA; Colour; 118m) ***½ d. Jordan Vogt-Roberts; w. Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, John Gatins; ph. Larry Fong; m. Henry Jackman. Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Will Brittain, Miyavi, Richard Jenkins, Allyn Rachel, Robert Taylor, James M. Connor, Thomas Middleditch. Re-working of KING KONG (1933). In the 1970s, a diverse team of explorers is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted but beautiful isolated island that goes by the name of Skull Island, in the Indian Ocean. They soon discover that the island is home to a wonder of colossal proportions — the gigantic and prehistoric ape known as King Kong, who possesses great strength and semi-human intelligence. Fast-paced and CGI heavy monster-fest is great fun with a witty script. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in spectacular breath-taking action set-pieces. Hiddleston is wooden in the lead, but Reilly excels as a discovered veteran who had been trapped on the island 28 years earlier. Jackson adds brio and Larson is appealing. Kong may be an impressive computer-generated creation but lacks the personality of the 1933 original. Also shot in 3-D. 
Doctor Who: World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls (TV) (2017: UK: Colour: 106m) ∗∗∗∗½ pr. Peter Bennett; d. Rachel Talalay; w. Steven Moffat; ph. Ashley Rowe; m. Murray Gold. Cast: Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Pearl Mackie , Michelle Gomez, John Simm , Oliver Lansley, Paul Brightwell, Alison Lintott, Briana Shann, Rosie Boore, Samantha Spiro, Simon Coombs, Nicholas Briggs, David Bradley. Friendship drives the Doctor into the rashest decision of his life. Trapped on a giant spaceship, caught in the event horizon of a black hole, he witnesses the death of someone he is pledged to protect. Is there any way he can redeem his mistake? Are events already out of control? For once, time is the Time Lord’s enemy. Moffat’s season finales have generally been a case of excellent set-up and disappointing pay-off. This story comes close to meeting that trend, but ultimately wins out because of the superb performances, a witty script and its no-win situation. Capaldi excels here in fighting his moral dilemna. Gomez and Simm spark well with Capaldi and each other and there is a sense of irony about the resolution of their story. The first episode set up the premise brilliantly in one of the best ever episodes of the series. The resolution felt a little contrived in places and overly sentimental in the resolution of Bill’s story, but this is otherwise an excellent finale with a superb twist right at the end leaving us looking forward to the Xmas special to come. 
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016; USA; Colour; 134m) ∗∗∗½ d. Gareth Edwards; w. Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Gary Whitta; ph. Greig Fraser; m. Michael Giacchino. Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jonathan Aris, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, Valene Kane, Warwick Davis. A Rebellion soldier and criminal, is about to experience her biggest challenge yet when Mon Mothma sets her out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. Visually stunning and action-packed lead in to the original STAR WARS trilogy that cleverly lays the foundations. This instalment has a darkness emphasised by the impressive production design and often bleak locales. The new characters, however, lack any real depth as they are simply cyphers for the set-up. The performances also lack spark and chemistry – the actors delivering sometimes stilted and forced dialogue – but there remains a spirit to this adventure that suggests there is longevity in the franchise. Also shot in 3-D. 
THE HUSBANDS OF RIVER SONG
1 episode / 56m / 25 December 2015
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Alex Kingston (River Song), Matt Lucas (Nardole), Greg Davies (King Hydroflax), Rowan Polonski (Flemming), Robert Curtis (Scratch), Chris Lew Kum Hoi (Alphonse), Phillip Rhys (Ramone), Anthony Cozens (Concierge), Nicolle Smartt (Receptionist), Liam Cook (King Hydroflax’s body), Nonso Anozie (Voice of Hydroflax).
Plot: It’s Christmas Day on a remote human colony and the Doctor is hiding from Christmas Carols and Comedy Antlers. But when a crashed spaceship calls upon the Doctor for help, he finds himself recruited into River Song’s squad and hurled into a fast and frantic chase across the galaxy. King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) is furious, and his giant Robot bodyguard is out of control and coming for them all! Will Nardole (Matt Lucas) survive? And when will River Song work out who the Doctor is? All will be revealed on a starliner full of galactic super-villains and a destination the Doctor has been avoiding for a very long time.
Comment: Christmas specials have been a hit-and-miss affairs over the years and this particular episode demonstrates the inconsistency perfectly. Obviously written as a fun romp with a seasonal theme it is often amusing, but seldom challenging. That is probably the point. Who wants heavy drama on Christmas Day other than fans of Eastenders? This episode, therefore, is not meant to be a serious addition to the series, merely an entertaining diversion. As such it provides contrast when compared with the majority of series 9 through the lightness of its approach. Capaldi demonstrates his true range by being as adept at comedy as he is at drama. The plot really isn’t worth scrutinising and the whole episode is merely contrived to re-introduce Alex Kingston’s River Song. Her return is welcome, but her seeming inability to recognise the new Doctor even when presented with his TARDIS seems inappropriately dim. Their scenes together, however, demonstrate a strong chemistry given the high level of association the character has with the Matt Smith era. In all this is an enjoyable, if light, addition to the annual Christmas Day outings.