Film Review – BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978)

Battlestar Galactica (1978) - Binge Watch Like A Pro!BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978, USA) **½
Adventure, Sci-Fi
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (UK); pr co. Glen A. Larson Productions / Universal TV; d. Richard A. Colla; w. Glen A. Larson; exec pr. Glen A. Larson; pr. John Dykstra; sup pr. Leslie Stevens; ass pr. Winrich Kolbe; ph. Ben Colman (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.33:1 (Television ratio), 1.85:1 (theatrical ratio)); m. Stu Phillips; s. “It’s Love, Love Love” m/l. Sue Collins, John Andrew Tartaglia; m sup. ; ed. Robert L. Kimble, Leon Ortiz-Gil, Larry Strong; ad. John E. Chilberg II; set d. Lowell Chambers, Mickey S. Michaels; cos. Jean-Pierre Dorléac; m/up. Scott H. Eddo, Marvin C. Thompson, Paul Griffin, Joy Zapata; sd. James R. Alexander (Mono | Sensurround (theatrical print)); sfx. Joe Goss, Karl G. Miller, John Peyser; vfx. John Dykstra; st. Hubie Kerns Jr.; rel. 7 July 1978 (Canada), 12 April 1979 (UK), 18 May 1979 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 125m.

cast: Richard Hatch (Captain Apollo), Dirk Benedict (Lieutenant Starbuck), Lorne Greene (Commander Adama), Herbert Jefferson Jr. (Lieutenant Boomer), Maren Jensen (Lieutenant Athena), Tony Swartz (Flight Sergeant Jolly), Noah Hathaway (Boxey), Terry Carter (Colonel Tigh), Lew Ayres (President Adar), Wilfrid Hyde-White (Sire Anton), John Colicos (Count Baltar), Laurette Spang (Cassiopeia), John Fink (Dr. Paye), Jane Seymour (Serina), Ray Milland (Sire Uri), Ed Begley Jr. (Ensign Greenbean), Rick Springfield (Lieutenant Zac), Randi Oakes (Blonde Taurus), Norman Stuart (Statesman), David Greenan (Flight Officer Omega).

The Twelve Colonies of Man are annihilated by the Cylons. Adama (Greene), commanding the last surviving Battlestar, takes it upon himself to lead all remaining survivors aboard 220 ships to find a new home. After the Galactica’s fighter pilots successfully navigate a path through the Nova of Madagon minefield, the spoiled Sire Uri proposes to settle down on Carillon, where food and entertainment are provided by the natives. However, Adama suspects a Cylon trap. Released theatrically on the back of the phenomenal success of STAR WARS (1977), this edited version of the TV series pilot cannot escape its small-screen origins. This despite some excellent model work and a well-edited and pacey space battle in the opening scenes. The story meanders on from this point into standard episodic TV fare, with a workmanlike approach to photography and direction. Benedict’s roguish fighter pilot is an obvious riff on Han Solo, but the actor lacks Harrison Ford’s nuance, whilst Hatch makes a bland hero. There is a strong guest cast assembled, including Ayres, Milland, Hyde-White, Begley, Jr. and Seymour, which is underused. Costumes and set design are typical of genre TV of the period and there is even a disco-styled song sung by a unique female trio. The TV pilot version, broadcast in the USA on 17 September 1978 as “Saga of a Star World”, runs 133m. Followed by a TV series 1978-9, two more big-screen features MISSION GALACTICA: THE CYLON ATTACK (1979) and CONQUEST OF THE EARTH (1980) were compiled from TV episodes. Later followed by a re-imagined and far grittier TV series 2003-9.

Film Review – FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)

British Quad - Posterwire.comFORBIDDEN PLANET (1956, USA) ****½
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / Toho Company; d. Fred M. Wilcox; w. Cyril Hume (based on a story by Irving Block and Allen Adler); pr. Nicholas Nayfack; ph. George J. Folsey (Eastmancolor. 35mm. CinemaScope. 2.55:1); m. Bebe Barron, Louis Barron; ed. Ferris Webster; pd. Irving Block, Mentor Huebner (both uncredited); ad. Cedric Gibbons, Arthur Lonergan; set d. Hugh Hunt, Edwin B. Willis; cos. Walter Plunkett, Helen Rose; m/up. John Truwe, William Tuttle, Sydney Guilaroff; sd. Wesley C. Miller (Mono (Perspecta Sound encoding) (Western Electric Sound System) | 4-Track Stereo (4 channels)); sfx. A. Arnold Gillespie, Joshua Meador, Warren Newcombe, Irving G. Ries; vfx. Bob Abrams, Max Fabian, Joshua Meador; rel. 23 March 1956 (USA), 8 June 1956 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 98m.

cast: Walter Pidgeon (Dr. Morbius), Anne Francis (Altaira Morbius), Leslie Nielsen (Commander Adams), Warren Stevens (Lt. ‘Doc’ Ostrow), Jack Kelly (Lt. Farman), Richard Anderson (Chief Quinn), Earl Holliman (Cook), George Wallace (Bosun), Robert Dix (Crewman Grey (as Bob Dix)), Jimmy Thompson (Crewman Youngerford), James Drury (Crewman Strong), Harry Harvey Jr. (Crewman Randall), Roger McGee (Crewman Lindstrom), Peter Miller (Crewman Moran), Morgan Jones (Crewman Nichols), Richard Grant (Crewman Silvers), Robby the Robot (Robby the Robot), James Best (Crewman (uncredited)), William Boyett (Crewman (uncredited)), Frankie Darro (Robby the Robot (uncredited)), Marvin Miller (Robby the Robot (uncredited) (voice)), Les Tremayne (Narrator (uncredited) (voice)).

When Captain J.J. Adams (Neilsen) and his crew are sent to investigate the silence from a planet inhabited by scientists, he finds all but two have died. Dr. Morbius (Pidgeon) and his daughter Altaira (Francis) have somehow survived a hideous monster which roams the planet. Unknown to Adams, Morbius has made a discovery, and has no intention of sharing it with anyone. This was a highly influential sci-fi adventure and significantly ahead of its time. Its reach can be seen most clearly in the TV series Star Trek that followed eight years later. The script is full of intelligent and challenging concepts and Pidgeon exudes both charm and menace as the stranded scientist whose obsessions turn in on themselves. Nielsen, making his film debut, plays the rescue ship captain who becomes involved with Pidgeon’s daughter Francis leading to her loyalty and trust in her father slowly evaporating. Stunning visuals for the period, notably in the exploration of the Krell city. Robby the Robot is a great creation and would become a star in his own right. The only downsides are the sometimes creaky dialogue and the dated and condescending attitude of the crew to Francis, otherwise this is a classic of the genre. It was the first mainstream film to have the music performed entirely by electronic instruments. The eerie score contributes greatly to the otherworldly environment the production team created. Those thinking that story elements have some familiarity are not without justification, with the story loosely based on “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare.

Film Review (re-watch): STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI (2017)

Here's your full-length 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' trailer | EngadgetSTAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI (2017, USA) ***½
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; pr co. Walt Disney Pictures / Lucasfilm / Ram Bergman Productions; d. Rian Johnson; w. Rian Johnson; exec pr. J.J. Abrams, Tom Karnowski, Jason D. McGatlin; pr. Ram Bergman, Kathleen Kennedy; ass pr. Jamie Christopher, Nour Dardari, Leopold Hughes, Nikos Karamigios; ph. Steve Yedlin (Colour. 70 mm (horizontal) (IMAX DMR blow-up) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema (also 3-D version). Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Dolby Vision. 2.39:1); m. John Williams; ed. Bob Ducsay; pd. Rick Heinrichs; ad. Todd Cherniawsky, Chris Lowe; set d. Richard Roberts; cos. Michael Kaplan; m/up. Peter King (makeup), Kristyan Mallett (prosthetics); sd. Bonnie Wild (DTS (DTS: X) | Dolby Surround 7.1 | Dolby Atmos | Dolby Digital | 12-Track Digital Sound (IMAX 12 track) | IMAX 6-Track); sfx. Chris Corbould, Branko Repalust; vfx. Hybride Technologies / Important Looking Pirates (ILPvfx) / Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) / Jellyfish Pictures / Mark Roberts Motion Control / Rodeo FX; rel. 9 December 2017 (USA), 12 December 2017 (UK); cert: 12; r/t. 152m.

cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker / Dobbu Scay), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Andy Serkis (Snoke), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Holdo), Benicio Del Toro (DJ), Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)), Billie Lourd (Lieutenant Connix), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Amanda Lawrence (Commander D’Acy), Tim Rose (Admiral Ackbar), Adrian Edmondson (Captain Peavey).

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. An entertaining and action-packed addition to the saga, which revisits many of the themes explored earlier in the series and as such may seem overly familiar. It also suggests a new direction as the series moves toward its final instalment, which may upset die-hard fans. The basic chase plot is stretched a little thinly with some lazy plot progressions, but despite its over-length the film does not stand still for long and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Hamill and Fisher feature more heavily and there are some new twists along the way, but its mid-trilogy position inevitably leaves certain issues unresolved. The visual effects and location work are exemplary, and Johnson’s direction is energetic. The script and dialogue lack the wit of THE FORCE AWAKENS, substituting even more dynamic action instead. Also shot in 3-D.

AAN: Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Ben Morris, Michael Mulholland, Neal Scanlan, Chris Corbould); Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) (John Williams); Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Matthew Wood, Ren Klyce); Best Achievement in Sound Mixing (Michael Semanick, David Parker, Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce)

Film Review – AD ASTRA (2019)

Ad Astra (2019) — Contains Moderate PerilAD ASTRA (USA/Brazil/China, 2019) **
      Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Production Company: New Regency Pictures / Bona Film Group / Keep Your Head / MadRiver Pictures / Plan B Entertainment / RT Features / Regency Enterprises / Twentieth Century Fox; Release Date: 29 August 2019 (Italy), 18 September 2019 (USA/UK); Filming Dates: began August 2017; Running Time: 123m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: SDDS | Dolby Atmos | DTS (DTS: X) | IMAX 6-Track | Auro 11.1 | Datasat | 12-Track Digital Sound (IMAX version) | Dolby Surround 7.1; Film Format: D-Cinema; Film Process: ARRIRAW (3.4K) (source format) (some scenes), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: James Gray; Writer: James Gray, Ethan Gross; Executive Producer: Marc Butan, Jeffrey Chan, Paul Conway, Sophie Mas, Yariv Milchan, Anthony Mosawi, Michael Schaefer, Lourenço Sant’ Anna, Dong Yu; Producer: Dede Gardner, James Gray, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan, Yariv Milchan, Brad Pitt, Rodrigo Teixeira; Associate Producer: Christina Oh; Director of Photography: Hoyte Van Hoytema; Music Composer: Max Richter; Film Editor: John Axelrad, Lee Haugen; Casting Director: Douglas Aibel; Production Designer: Kevin Thompson; Art Director: Christa Munro; Set Decorator: Karen O’Hara; Costumes: Albert Wolsky; Make-up: Nana Fischer, Jaime Leigh McIntosh; Sound: Brad Semenoff; Special Effects: Scott R. Fisher; Visual Effects: Allen Maris.
      Cast: Brad Pitt (Roy McBride), Tommy Lee Jones (H. Clifford McBride), Ruth Negga (Helen Lantos), Donald Sutherland (Thomas Pruitt), Kimberly Elise (Lorraine Deavers), Loren Dean (Donald Stanford), Donnie Keshawarz (Captain Lawrence Tanner), Sean Blakemore (Willie Levant), Bobby Nish (Franklin Yoshida), LisaGay Hamilton (Adjutant General Vogel), John Finn (Brigadier General Stroud), John Ortiz (Lieutenant General Rivas), Freda Foh Shen (Captain Lu), Kayla Adams (Female Flight Attendant), Ravi Kapoor (Arjun Dhariwal), Liv Tyler (Eve), Elisa Perry (Woman in White Pants / Shirt), Daniel Sauli (Sal), Kimmy Shields (Sergeant Romano), Kunal Dudheker (Technician One).
      Synopsis: An astronaut undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.
      Comment: Whilst the film is a technical triumph it is also a dramatic failure. The mission for Pitt to seek out his father (Jones), who is perched in an experimental lab at the edge of the solar system, in order to prevent a life-threatening electrical pulse wave is fanciful and more than a little contrived. The space setting also ensures the story unfolds at a slow pace, with echoes of Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY but actually working against the story here because in reality, it takes a long time to get to Saturn and then to Neptune. The story’s main theme of a father-son relationship turned sour is set against a canvass so broad it feels inconsequential and saps the film of any dramatic core it hoped it would provide. The performances are one-level and the script totally lacks any saving grace of humour. The result is a depressing and monotonous experience. Occasional glimpses of a more exciting movie emerge in two scenes. A buggy chase across the surface of Saturn and a bizarre encounter for Pitt, answering a distress call, with two apes aboard a Norwegian space vessel. These two set-pieces aside there is little else to connect the viewer to the characters and their plight. The visuals are outstanding and well shot but are wasted on such a shallow story. A great example of how to blend of visuals with dramatic tension can be seen in 2013’s GRAVITY.

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 – 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 – ASCENSION OF THE CYBERMEN/THE TIMELESS CHILDREN (2020)

Image result for doctor who the timeless childrenDOCTOR WHO: ASCENSION OF THE CYBERMEN/THE TIMELESS CHILDREN (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 23 February & 1 March 2020; Running Time: 115m (1 x 50m & 1 x 65m); Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone; Writer: Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; 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), Sacha Dhawan (The Master), Jo Martin (The Doctor), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Ian McElhinney (Ko Sharmus), Julie Graham (Ravio), Alex Austin (Yedlarmi), Matt Carver (Ethan), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Seylan Baxter (Tecteun), Kirsty Besterman (Solpado), Steve Toussaint (Feekat), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Jack Osborn (Fuskle), Evan McCabe (Brendan), Branwell Donaghey (Patrick), Orla O’Rourke (Meg), Andrew Macklin (Michael), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of Cybermen & Judoon Captain), Matthew Rohman (Cyberman), Simon Carew (Cyberman), Jon Davey (Cyberman), Richard Highgate (Cyberman), Richard Price (Cyberman), Mickey Lewis (Cyberman), Matthew Doman (Cyberman), Paul Bailey (Cyberman).
      Synopsis: In the far future, the Doctor and her friends face a brutal battle across the farthest reaches of space to protect the last of the human race against the deadly Cybermen uncovering the secret of the Time Lords in the process.
     Comment: Enjoyment of this two-part finale will very much depend on the viewer’s willingness (notably die-hard fans) to buy into writer Chibnall’s re-invention of Time Lord history. The opening episode is an excellent scene-setter full of energy and drama, featuring the Cybermen on a mission to reassert their domination, with an injection of mystery surrounding the so-called “Timeless Child”. Then at the cliffhanger, the Master resurfaces along with a gateway through to a destroyed Gallifrey and we move into a second episode that will divide fandom right down the middle. Firstly, Dhawan’s take on the Master as some form of unhinged psychotic has taken the character away from the charm and subtlety established by Roger Delgado back in the 1970s, with more than a nod toward John Simm’s similarly unhinged portrayal. Dhawan’s performance is way OTT and ill-serves the character, robbing him of any real menace. Secondly, the Master’s appearance relegates the Cybermen to a mere side-show as his battle of wills with Whittaker’s Doctor in the Matrix takes centre stage. The Master’s motives are muddled and his seeming alliance with the Cybermen (mirroring that in The Five Doctors) lacks any core logic beyond the madness displayed in the character. The frenetic nature with which Chibnall tries to cram so many revelations and explanations ultimately weighs down the second episode. The story’s whole is very much less than the sum of its parts – the excitement of the first episode giving way to bafflement in the second. That said, the second episode still has its moments. Whittaker is able to stretch her range more, for the most-part dialling down the motormouth patter. The visuals are very good and each of the companions gets room to breathe. However, I can’t help feeling Chibnall has created a rod for his own back here, by trying to create his own vision and tying it with what has gone before. The result feels overly forced in its attempt to re-boot Time Lord history, leaving the viewer pondering how this will change things going forward. The likely answer is it won’t as the general premise of a time traveller fighting evil throughout the universe remains.

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.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: PRAXEUS (2020)

Image result for doctor who praxeusDOCTOR WHO: PRAXEUS (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 2 February 2020; Running Time: 50m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone; Writer: Pete McTighe, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Catherine Goldschmidt; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Deian Llyr Humphreys; 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), Warren Brown (Jake Willis), Matthew McNulty (Adam Lang), Joana Borja (Gabriela Camera), Molly Harris (Suki Cheng), Gabrielle Tolol (Jamilia Velez), Soo Drouet (Joyce), Tristan de Beer (Zach Olson), Thapelo Maropefela (Aramu).
      Synopsis: The Doctor and her friends split up to investigate multiple mysteries across planet Earth. What connects a missing astronaut in the Indian Ocean, birds behaving strangely in Peru and a US naval officer washed up on a Madagascan beach
     Comment: There’s much to like in this episode through individual scenes and lines of dialogue but, as a whole, the story suffers from gaps in logic and character actions. It’s a shame because this episode is very effectively and visually directed by Stone, who manages to create a few moments of tension as well a sense of menace in those early scenes. McTighe and Chibnall’s script has some strong ideas around a viral epidemic being created through plastic pollution. But once again the production team feels the need to preach to the audience about populist issues via its heavy-handed messaging at the expense of solid story construction. Structurally, the story initially creates its mystery by having the Doctor and her companions split across three continents to triangulate seemingly independent events into a solution the answers each individual mystery. This works well and allows each companion a sub-plot. But as the story progresses the writers seem more concerned with getting over their environmental message of doom and ensuring they tick all the boxes on diverse and inclusive specifics, that they lose the plot with the plot. Historically, the series provided a haven from sexual politics but now it has almost become a campaign board, so much so that the relationships feel forced to fit the political agenda rather than add anything to the story itself. McTighe had written possibly the best episode of last season’s run (Kerblam!) and here too shows signs he potentially has a strong story in him. Whether or not Chibnall’s contribution knocked this off course cannot be discerned, but the early promise gave way to a disappointing conclusion.