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Sunday, 21 April 2013


Um... I thought this was going to be a ghost story! And it sort of was; well, a ghast story. But there was so, so much more going on! All over the place! Um...

 So, the Doctor and Clara turn up in the 1970s at a house where a war-haunted scientist/ghost hunter and a cute empath are about to attempt to contact the spirit of the Witch of the Well, a seemingly ever-present (and ever-afraid) lost soul who has called out for help. There's a bit of spooky wandering about and bumping noises, some horror-staple creepiness and some lovely jumpy bits. And then the episode took a side-step into a territory nobody really expected it to go.

You see, the ghast is actually the echo of a time traveler from the future who has crash landed in a collapsing pocket universe that is running at a very different speed - one second in that universe lasts about 100,000 years in ours. This has resulted in the image of a frightened woman imprinting itself across history in the same area, inflicting the same second of terror and distress on unsuspecting house-guests for generations. And she's being chased by a hideous creature that seems to want passage to our realm!

It sounds bonkers and it was, but it was very, very good! 'Hide' managed to cram an effective ghost story, a quiet romance, some arc-plot, some great sci-fi action and a big, silly ending into a 45 minute period that should have felt too busy but didn't. Lost Time Traveler Hilla turned out to be the great-great-granddaughter of the awkward couple-to-be guest stars, Dougray Scott (wonderfully underplaying a man who's seen far too much in his time) and Jessica Raine (companion material, if you ask me!) And despite looking a bit silly up-close, that Crooked Man was as freaky as they come! 

The story of the week was wonderful - a close contender for the best we've had all series. But it was one scene in particular that stood out as something special in my eyes; There's something very unnerving about seeing the TARDIS being bitchy and mean to the companion. She doesn't like Clara one bit, does she? I can't wait to find out why! There is nothing about this episode that didn't grab my imagination and drag it through the streets, hitting it with a stick. There wasn't a second of the last two acts of this episode that I expected. This was billed as a ghost story and wasn't. A surprise for us all, I think.

If Bells was a modern tech thriller, Ring was a space opera and Cold War was a classic homage then Hide was... like nothing we've really seen before. Genuinely original, genuinely odd and very, very good fun. We're half way through 7b and I'm loving it all!

Next week we Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS - which is kind of a big deal!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

Today I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening of Gerard Butler's new action epic (for which read "big, silly, shooty, blowy-upy film") 'Olympus Has Fallen'. And I bloody enjoyed it!

Basically, Korean terrorists muscle their way onto US soil, into US airspace and into the US's whitest house - The White House - and take President Harvey Dent and his staff hostage. Disgraced Jack Bauer-alike Mike Banning (Butler) is forced back into action as the only one-man kick-ass machine in the area at the time (all the others are horribly killed by massive guns during the first fifteen minutes of the movie). Of course, the stakes are high as the Korean madman running the show is trying to get his hands on the codes for a secret Nuke-stopping safe-guard system that will leave the USA largely undefended.

This is a brave (if overly bold) movie that doesn't pull its punches for a second (except that very last second when the Americans obviously have to win); the terrorists have no qualms whatsoever about shooting important and likable characters in the face without warning just to get the attention of Acting President Morgan Freeman (a warmonger plunged into a situation that leaves him totally out of his depth) and us, the audience. The death count is very, very high throughout and there is enough blood and guts to push this good looking (if CGI heavy) gem into the fun-but-gritty realms of 'Die Hard With A Vengeance' rather than the safer territory of 'Die Hard 5: The Unwarranted And Unbelievable Money-Spinner'.

I won't go into plot intricacies (there aren't many) but even if I did it wouldn't spoil the story as you've already seen it a million times; it's all unexpected combat skills, sharp one-liners and eleventh-hour rescues. The film also has some very funny, very sweet dialogue too, however, which make you really care about the characters in ways that most action blockbusters never quite manage. There are great performances throughout, too. Aaron Eckhart just passes as Presidential but remains human throughout - a wonderful performance. The same must be said about Butler, who somehow manages to out-do both Bauer and McClane in terms of ballsy brute force and no-nonsense villain-killing.

If you're looking for a balls-out action gunfest then this is a great choice. Switch of your cynical brain, sit back and enjoy a cartoon-patriotic love letter to America, made by Americans for Americans; this is the '24' movie they never got around to making. I loved it. It was a big, loud, flashy, exciting One Man Army staple. A wonderful addition to the Unbelievably OTT Action Epic Hall Of Fame. A grisly, sweary and - most of all - FUN two hours. Take your Dad along with you and he will love you forever!

'Olympus Has Fallen' comes out on general release this weekend. Go and see it. You probably won't regret it. And even if you do, at least you're one of the very few survivors!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Cold War

Wow. If ever there was an episode to divide opinion in the most surprising way then it was this. Cold War, Mark Gatiss' Ice Warrior return; in my opinion the best episode of the whole of series seven (including the Ponds' last five).

Let's get it out of the way straight away; there was little in terms of actual plot in this episode, but its claustrophobic setting and near-real-time format meant that it hardly needed anything to push it along. The story was very simple and, I think, very effective.

In 1983 a Russian Nuclear submarine finds a creature encased in Arctic ice and ill-advisedly thaws it out. The creature was a Martian Ice Warrior which had been frozen for more than five thousand years. A clumsy attack from the Russians is all it takes to send this confused and desperate soldier into attack mode. Enter the Doctor and Clara, missing Vegas by miles and years.

Without retelling the tale frame by frame, it was up to the Doc to mediate between frightened humans and deadly Martian. And that's it. Forty minutes of an alien stalking the atmospheric innards of a leaky submarine. And it worked.

Many claim it was boring; I can't agree. It was hellishly suspenseful, taking the singular threat format of series one's 'Dalek' and adding the fact that this alien probably could be reasoned with! Others claim nothing happened; again, I can't agree, although I concede that what could have been a more perilous hunt was softened by the episode being a single-parter. With a little more of a journey this would have made a fabulous two-parter.

Still others claim that the dialogue was clunky in places, which I will agree with. There were too many attempts to force the fact that this was happening in the 80s down our throats and a few clunky "we've seen these monsters before" reminders too. But I don't care. After last week's disappointing if pleasant offering, this week dragged me back into my love for Doctor Who with a great story of desperation and responsibility told with a minimalism that only adds to the pleasure of watching.

Cold War was simple, creepy and looked great. Even the Ice Warrior armour - something that has always looked so silly that even a redesign can't shake the giggles - was used to brilliant effect, ramping up the peril by giving a knowing audience something they aren't familiar with, even after 39 years of knowing the baddies. Seeing the Ice Warrior out of its armour could have been a very bad idea, but it was handled with style; the vicious, if slender, claws slowly grasping from the darkness more than makes up for the rather generic CGI face we got (but shouldn't have got) to see towards the end.

All in all, I have one or two niggles and no complaints. I loved it. I've watched it three times already and will be doing so again later tonight too. It was a lovely surprise - it could have been awful and it really, really wasn't.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Rings Of Akhaten - Tried Too Hard

Okay, before I tear it into pieces, please believe me when I say that Rings held my attention and that I did actually enjoy it. I don't hate the episode and the great thing about Doctor Who, for me, is that I like some rubbish episodes and dislike some great ones. So...

My problem with many sci fi novels on the market - some of which are praised as wonderful by others - is the way that some authors go far too far with the "fi" bit. When I read a blurb that goes "The Ice moon of Blaagrat has been at war with the fire moon of Ghamalshaal for fifty generations. Countless lives have been lost, found, then lost again. But the tribesmen of Booshan think they've finally found the key to peace - a young shaman boy named Bookgraaval!" I go Zzzzzz!

This week's Doctor Who was a bit like that for me. An alien ceremony on an alien world with a hidden and horrible threat that poses no threat at all, in any real terms - there was no way in the world that anything bad was going to happen. Even when the Star (which was the real villain apparently, rendering a well-realised "mummy" alien more than redundant) was seconds from destroying all that surrounded it, before moving on to devour all life in the universe, the people gathered for the ceremony remained seated and watching, as though it was a nothing more threatening than a stage-play. 

Someone on Twitter said it felt like an opera and they are right, in a way it did! But then, it wasn't trying to be. It was still trying to be exciting and action-packed family entertainment. Kids will love the monsters, the soppier among us will love the sentiment, but those looking for jeopardy and weight would need to look elsewhere, in my opinion - and Operas need those things too.

Then there were the Vigil, who look fantastic and carried a menace that was lacking in both the star of Akhaten and the Mummy that was its... what... decoy? But the Vigil were introduced and disposed of in a minute. Two at the most. It was disappointing.

When Doctor Who does "big alien planet" it tends to either look TOO CGI and epic, which removes some of the personality of the inhabitants, or it looks like a corner of an aircraft hanger dressed to be "a corner of an alien market" or the like. Tonight's Who gave us both of those. The setting was odd. A system-wide event of cosmic significance watched only by a few thousand gathered aliens. It was a case of trying too hard to look too good. Doctor Who, for my money and especially since its HD days, looks better when shot on location - in forests, wastelands, on beaches, streets and rooftops or even within spaceships - but tonight's episode looked every bit like it was filmed on a sound stage.

It was all a bit gentle. It was all a bit small beer for the setting, despite a cosmic threat (which I never found myself believing was much of a threat at all). And the characters were few: Clara, The Doctor and The Queen of Years (unfortunately child actors never fare too well in Who) and a hundred or so "generic alien-headed monsters". It felt like a badly-adapted novel done on a budget. But I still enjoyed it, a bit. Enough to watch again if I needed something to watch but not enough to tune in to if it was repeated on schedule.

Overall, the emotion was forced, the threat was weak and disposed of too easily, the great ideas within (the Doctor's history being vast, Clara's history being powerful) were thrown away. The humour was a little too childish (barking aliens and alien fruit) and the ending happened without me really noticing.

What saved this episode in terms of importance to the ongoing story were one or two little things that could have been missed if the plot (there was one, I'm assured) had caused you to zone out a bit: Clara's little snub by the TARDIS ("It doesn't like me") and the fact that she has a seemingly ordinary past. And the last three minutes, where it's clear that neither lead character trusts the other completely, was the most exciting part of the whole 43 minutes: my heart actually fluttered when that TARDIS door closed between them!

A lovely episode to throw on when there's nothing on telly and you've watched all your favourite episodes of Who to death already that week; it's a "I haven't watched that in a while" type of episode, I think. But The Rings Of Akhaten was lacking a little something for me. Weakest episode this series, including The Snowmen and the five that came before it. Ice Warrior on a submarine next week. I hope it lives up to my expectations!

Friday, 5 April 2013

BBC Rule Eccleston Out For 50th

So today, responding to rumours that Christopher Eccleston had "stormed out" of preparations for the Doctor Who Fiftieth Anniversary Special, the BBC have stated that nothing so dramatic has taken place and that Eccleston was never on board to appear in the special. 

So that means we know, for sure, that we're getting the Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor, but definitely not getting the Ninth. And I think I'm okay with that! I'd like to see Paul McGann involved but, again, it wouldn't be the end of the world if he wasn't. Interesting that there's no news either way on him as of yet. I wouldn't be at all shocked if he showed up - he's high on my list of Best Doctors.

So, Ten and Rose, Zygons, John Hurt, Eleven and Clara, Joanna Page as Elizabeth I (probably) and many, many more surprises promised... This is going to be one hell of a treat after all!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Episode News

Loads of news has arrived over these last few days about the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who:

David Tennant and Billie Piper have been confirmed as appearing in the special feature length episode, alongside current Doctor Matt Smith and his most recent companion Clara, played by Jenna Louise Coleman. Speculation is rife among fans as to whether this is actually the Tenth Doctor or whether it is the "metacrisis Doctor" created half human in Journey's End. Recent filming locations would suggest this is the Doctor and Rose, pulled from their timeline of adventures in series two.

Appearing as guest stars along side two confirmed Doctors and two great companions are "Gavin & Stacey" star Joanna Page and screen legend (and shit dragon) John Hurt. It promises to be a massive, massive adventure - and we've only just broken the skin of what to expect!

Possibly most exciting of all the news to break is today's enemy announcement. The Zygons are back! The ugly looking fella above (the second spot-on redesign of a classic monster in so many weeks) was spotted filming scenes set (it would appear) in medieval times (or somewhen). As usual, just before the news could go properly viral, the BBC released this promo image, assuring once more that they get the scoop and not the pesky Fans With Cameras. Isn't it beautiful?! More when we get it. Stay tuned!