The Seven Faces of Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen

April 11, 2015 in Dr Who, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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Colin Baker is probably the most controversial actor to ever play the Doctor. He was of course the Sixth incarnation of the beloved Time Lord and was much more unstable than his predecessors ever were. It was originally intended that over the years his character would grow and mellow but unfortunately his time came to a premature end and thus he never had the chance to do this. There are many different reasons as to why this period of the shows history was such an unstable one. It is common knowledge that the higher-ups in the BBC at the time were not fond of the programme and were on the look out for any opportunity which would allow them to cancel it. Eventually they got that chance at the end of Colin Baker’s first full year as the Doctor but the outcry of fans managed to get this revised to a hiatus and when the series did return it was put on trial in more ways than one. The trial had proved successful enough for the series to continue but unfortunately it was not successful enough for Colin Baker to be allowed to stay. The classic series never quite recovered from this turmoil that had plagued it at this time and it was eventually cancelled three years later. So then, what story have I chosen to represent this period of unrest? Well I choose none other than Attack of the Cybermen which was written by Paula Moore (or so the credits say) and was directed by Matthew Robinson. For those who are interested it was Colin Baker’s second story in the role of the Doctor and Nicola Bryant’s fourth in the role of companion Peri Brown. Now then, something tells me you all know the drill by now so let’s not waste anytime and get on to the synopsis.

Continuing on from where the last story left off, this one begins with the Doctor still in the process of recovering from his regeneration. The TARDIS picks up an alien distress beacon and the Doctor heads to Earth to investigate. Following the distress beacon leads him and Peri into the sewers of London where they discover the presence of the Cybermen. They then return to the TARDIS but are followed by the Cyber Leader who orders the Doctor to take them to Telos, the adopted home world of the Cybermen. He also informs the Doctor that the Cyber Controller, who was once thought destroyed, is very much alive and is waiting for them on Telos. Once on Telos Peri manages to escape and runs into the native Cryons who were almost wiped out by the invading Cybermen. Meanwhile, the Doctor learns that the Cybermen have captured another time vessel and intend to use it to change time so that their original home planet, Mondas, was never destroyed. He then realises that the Time Lords must have manoeuvred him into this situation to protect the web of time. The Cybermen then imprison him within a refrigeration unit which contains a highly volatile substance which explodes at high temperatures. He uses a bit of it to destroy the guard outside and rigs the rest up to take out Cyber Control itself. The Doctor then meets up with Peri and the Cryons who help him destroy the Cybermen guarding the TARDIS. They then escape just as the substance self ignites, destroying Cyber Control as well as the Cybermen’s stolen time vessel. With the web of time now safe the Doctor and Peri continue with their travels.

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Now then, this story is about as polarising as the Sixth Doctor’s era itself, making it the ideal choice to represent this era. On the topic of the story itself it used more than a few elements from the show’s past and in my opinion it used way too many. The return to the scrapyard in Totters Lane was simply an unnecessary call back to An Unearthly Child; the plot links with The Tenth Planet are both forgivable and forgettable; the return to Telos makes the story seem like a poor remake of The Tomb of the Cybermen; the Cybermen in the sewers is actually a nice reference to The Invasion simply because it’s subtle; and finally there’s the return of mercenary Lytton who last appeared in Resurrection of the Daleks and I quite like what they did with his character here. Now one or two of these in a story is a nice reward for long term viewers but when there’s this many all it does is alienate most of the casual viewers and annoy most of the long term fans. Now the idea behind all this was that those who didn’t like the Sixth Doctor in his first story would come back to see all the familiar elements in his second and hopefully warm to this new incarnation in the process. And in that respect it did kind of work as the viewing figures were fairly high but unfortunately a lot of people felt that the quality, especially in the second part, was low. Another major complaint a lot of viewers had was the level of violence shown, and I can’t help but sympathise with this complaint even if I don’t agree with it. There is a scene where two Cybermen completely crush Lytton’s hands as a way to get him to talk and as a one off it works quite well. So while I see why people have a problem with this scene I personally don’t. It’s a bit like the “don’t cremate me” line in Dark Water where I can understand why there are complaints it’s just that I don’t have a problem with it myself. In fact even when I was younger I didn’t have a problem with this scene. The scene I did have a problem with though was when the Doctor gunned down a group of Cybermen in the control room. Since then I have grown to accept this but at the time I felt that it just wasn’t a thing the Doctor would just casually do. However, this is far from my biggest flaw in the story as you’ll soon learn.

However, before I reveal my biggest flaw with the story I first wish to talk about the characters involved. Now we’ve already talked a bit about the Sixth Doctor so why not start with him. As previously mentioned he wasn’t the most popular of Doctors for a lot of reasons and none of them are really Colin Baker’s fault. Now since this story is so early in his era it doesn’t show him in the best light as he has still yet to mellow out at this point and is very brash at times. Now to be honest I don’t mind him in this and while it took a while for me to warm to this initially prickly portrayal it wasn’t long before I learned to appreciate him for the Doctor he is. Next up is his companion Peri Brown who is supposed to be American but unfortunately Nicola Bryant’s accent sometimes noticeably slips back into her natural British one. I’m sure there are some out there who’ll probably find the accent offensive but she certainly didn’t have the easiest of jobs and this was quite early in her time before she was able to perfect and refine the accent. But on the whole her character is quite likeable and a suitable character for the Sixth Doctor to bounce off of. Then we have Lytton who’s character is nicely expanded upon here and who’s death actually means something to the Doctor because of how badly he initially misjudged him. Lytton himself is also a lot of fun and has a great double act with Griffiths. There is some wonderful dialogue between the two and in fact one thing this story does very well is dialogue. There are some real gems of it in this story, especially in the first half and Lytton gets almost all of the best ones. Unfortunately not all of the characters are great in this and one in particular is the Cyber Controller. He’s a little on the tubby side which makes it hard to take him seriously but he also pales in comparison to the Cyber Leader who is supposed to be him subordinate but nevertheless has a much more powerful presence in all of his scenes. On the whole this story doesn’t do the Cybermen justice but that’s not its biggest flaw in my eyes. The biggest flaw is that the story lacks focus. There’s far too much going on and while some people like that I personally do not as it distracts from the main story line. So much so in fact that I’m not even sure what that is.

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Overall, Attack of the Cybermen is not one of my favourite although I have heard people say that they love it and so I thought I’d include it because of that. However, that’s not going to stop me from giving it a five-out-of-ten which is by far the lowest rating up to this point. However, you’ll be happy to know that we’ll be ending on a much higher note next week with the Seventh Doctor story Remembrance of the Daleks where a Dalek civil war is raging in nineteen-sixties London but until then be sure to sound off your thoughts on the story in the comments below.

Farscape : Kansas

April 8, 2015 in Farscape by Firebird

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The crew travels through a wormhole to Earth, 1985, and Crichton finds he has somehow disastrously changed the course of time – his father Jack is now slated to fly the doomed Challenger mission. Lying low in Crichton’s home town, the ‘aliens’ use the timely Halloween celebrations to remain (almost) anonymous, while Crichton tries to revert the timeline – in the process putting his younger self in mortal danger.

Synopsis

We left poor Crichton, floating in space looking down on the Earth. As the outline above makes clear, he didn’t just go home, he went to a home in the past. His friends follow his voice through the wormhole and come out at the same place and time.

After that it’s a pretty typical time travel story …

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with the inevitable Farscape twists. Rygel high on Halloween candy. Aeryn watching Sesame Street. Chiana seducing young Crichton.

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Meanwhile back in the future and on Moya, Grayza and Braca arrive and we discover that Braca has been working for Scorpius the whole time. Unfortunately having discovered that Crichton isn’t on board Grayza leaves one of her agents behind to wait for him.

With the timeline fixed the crew return through time and we end with another cliffhanger, Crichton finding his father and 3 other people from Earth waiting for him aboard Moya.

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The Seven Faces of Doctor Who: Snakedance

April 5, 2015 in Dr Who, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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After an unprecedented seven year run it was at last time for Tom Baker to step down from the iconic role of the Doctor and to replace him producer John Nathan-Turner choose Peter Davison. His casting had proved quite controversial at the time with Davison being far younger than any of his predecessors but this didn’t mean he wasn’t an established actor. Quite the opposite in fact as he was very much a popular figure in the early eighties due to his appearances on many highly regarded shows such as All Creatures Great and Small. But none of this could’ve fully prepared him for the immense challenge of following up Tom Baker who had been playing the role for so long that many of the younger audience members couldn’t even imagine anyone else playing the part. So how did he do it? He did it by being completely different to his predecessor in almost every possible way. He also bought a much more human and flawed element to the Doctor which is probably why so many fans of the new
series end up going to Davison first when they begin to explore the classic series. Another difference between him and his predecessor was that he didn’t stay nearly as long, leaving after only three years in the role. This was partially because of advice he received from Patrick Troughton but also because he felt the quality had sipped greatly in his second year, and many fans would agree with this statement. Funnily enough the story I ended up choosing is from this year but don’t worry, it’s one of the good ones. Snakedance was written by Christopher Bailey and it was a sequel to his previous contribution to the series, Kinda. So why did I choose this and not Kinda? Well mainly because Kinda was quite experimental and this is much more representative of the Fifth Doctor’s era as a whole. It also featured Sarah Sutton as Nyssa and Jannet Fielding as Tegan and was directed by Fiona Cumming. I think that’s all I’ve got in terms of general behind the scenes info for this story so not wishing to bore you any further with useless facts let’s more on to the synopsis.

The story kicks off with the TARDIS landing on the planet Manussa which causes Tegan to have a strange nightmare. After questioning her about it the Doctor deduces that the Mara which once controlled Tegan’s mind is trying to assert itself again. While Nyssa watches over Tegan the Doctor explores and discovers that Manuassa is the birthplace of the Mara although the legend of its return is now treated by most as just a load of nonsensical superstition. The Doctor also deduces that the Mara was originally created through a group of minds meeting in the Great Crystal and believes that the Mara will try to use this to come in to being again. Meanwhile, Tegan takes fright and Nyssa loses her amongst the crowds. She then meets up with the Doctor again and informs him of this. The Mara then takes full control of Tegan and then does the same to the Federator’s son, Lon, who knows how to acquire the Great Crystal. The Doctor and Nyssa then go out into the desert beyond the city and find Dojjen, one of the few people on Manussa who believes the legend of the return, who shows the Doctor how to resist the Mara. He then returns to the city where Lon and Tegan have already gained possession of the Great Crystall. They place it in the appropriate place which causes it too feed off of the fear of the people of Manussa and thus allow the Mara to manifest itself as a large and deadly snake. The Doctor is the only one able to resist this which allows him to interrupt the manifestation of the Mara, causing the snake to die and Tegan and Lon to be freed. The Doctor then comforts a distressed Tegan and assures her that the Mara has at last been destroyed.

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Now while this story does technically feature two companions Tegan is very much sidelined during this due to the Mara inside her which allows the much underrated Nyssa to get some time in the spotlight for once. Nyssa is a favourite of mine so any extra attention put on to her is more than welcome. Sarah Sutton’s performance is great and the character herself stands up to the Doctor more than usual in the first half of this story. But Sarah Sutton’s isn’t the only fantastic performance here, far from it in fact as the guest cast is breathtakingly good which causes the regulars to raise their game and become even better than they normally are. One of the guest cast members is Brian Miller which gives us a nice link to our previous story, The Masque of Mandragora, as he is the widower of the late Elisabeth Sladen who of course played Sarah Jane Smith in that story. Here he plays Dugdale and does such a wonderful job with the role that makes it such a great shame that his acting career never really took off. An actor who had better luck with his career afterwards was Jonathan Morris who plays Chela here who almost acts like an extra companion to the Doctor in the latter half of the story.

Then we have Martin Clunes and Colette O’Neil who have a wonderful double act as Lon and his mother Tanha. But that’s not to say their acting abilities aren’t just as good when separated. Martin Clunes especially excels whether he’s with Colette O’Neil or not and his performance is arguably even more enjoyable when Lon is under the control of the Mara. It’s a shame about that ridiculous costume the production team made him wear at the end though. However, the guest cast isn’t all this story has to offer as it also has a fantastic plot which reveals more about the monstrous Mara rather that just continuing on with what they had at the end of the previous story. Here we learn about how the Mara came in to being and while that takes away some of the mystery it still adds to the monster itself. There is also a very nice world created here however I feel that a little bit too much time was wasted in creating it as it all involved a lot of exposition whereas the world in Kinda very much told itself and while there was some exposition there it was very much restricted to what was absolutely necessary. There’s also the issue that visually it doesn’t really get the feeling of this great world across that I feel the script was aiming for. Now while the market place worked well enough for the first few episodes the climax in the cave just didn’t really have this sense that it was supposed to be a massive celebration. Now obviously they didn’t have the budget nor the technology back then to make this work too well by nevertheless I feel this could’ve been done a lot better. On the bright side, the snake has improved greatly since Kinda but still leaves a lot to be desired.

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In conclusion, Snakedance is a fun story with a strong cast helping to support a great script, even if it’s a little ambitious. It’s getting an eight-out-of-ten from me but will my ratings remain so high when we move on to the Sixth Doctor’s era next week. You can find out next week when I review Attack of the Cybermen but until then be sure to sound off your thoughts on the story in the comments below.

Blake’s Seven : Orac

March 14, 2015 in Blake's 7, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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Here we are at last at the series one finale, Orac. It’s named after a character (of sorts) previously mentioned in the last episode and properly introduced to us in this episode where it’s true nature is revealed. It is a highly advanced computer which can accurately predict future events and hack into any other computer system. It’s also got a bit of an attitude. For this episode only it is voiced by Derek Farr who also plays its creator Ensor. For all of its subsequent appearances it is voiced by Peter Tuddenham who also plays a certain other computer in the series, Zen. But my full thoughts on that can wait as for now we are looking at the end of the beginning and it’s amazing to think how far the series as come since its very beginning in The Way Back. It seemed to have a darker edge back in the first few episodes which seems to of gradually faded away and while that’s not to say the series isn’t dark still it just feels like it has a slightly softer quality which is more noticeable in some episodes than others. Bounty is a good example of this as there are dark moments such as Tarvin’s death (and Blake’s horrifyingly out of character laugh during it) that aren’t really complemented too well by the slightly ridiculous setting of an English castle. Certain characters have soften up quite a lot too since they were first introduced which is only natural I suppose. Jenna and Vila are probably the best examples to use here as the dark criminal side of their personalities was quickly dropped and the same thing eventually happened with Avon although that took a bit longer to come into affect which is probably why he’s the most interesting character in the series at the moment. Now that we’ve had a quick look back at where we’ve been let’s turn our head back to look at where we are now which is at Orac, the series one finale written by Terry Nation and directed by Vere Lorrimer, both of whom I think we can describe a veterans of the series by this point.

Continuing from where the last episode left off, the Liberator is on course for Aristo but their situation becomes a bit more desperate when they find that Avon, Jenna, Vila and Gan are all suffering from radiation sickness after spending too long on Cephlon. There only hope for survival is that there are radiation drugs on Aristo. Once they arrive, Blake and Cally teleport down and track down Ensor and his creation, Orac. They collect the anti-radiation drugs they need an give the power-packs to Ensor although they then learn that the will have to do the operation on board the Liberator. To make matters worse, they can’t teleport out due to a forcefield around Ensor’s complex and so have to leave on foot. They then run into Travis and Servalan, who are there for Orac, and while escaping through the caves Ensor dies from natural causes. With help from Avon and Vila they escape from Travis and head back up to the Liberator with both the anti-radiation drugs they need and Orac, who then predicts the inevitable destruction of the Liberator.

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Interestingly the plot shifts focus here with the primary and secondary plots from Deliverance being swapped round here along with the characters in the spotlight. Blake and Cally take centre stage now to follow the Orac plot which is enjoyable enough but as a plot for a series finale it’s rather uneventful to say the least. Sure there’s a tense stand-off between Blake and Travis but if I’m brutally honest it’s nothing we haven’t really seen before. Avon’s arrival in this scene does help to freshen it up a bit but ultimately it feels like it’s more of the same. This episode as a whole doesn’t add anything to the character of Travis like the last one did and I personally feel that was a rather bad missed opportunity. There isn’t even a big struggle to escape from a Federation fleet at the end or anything along those lines for that matter. On the plus side though we did get to see that Avon was perfectly willing to kill both Travis and Servalan for what they’d done. It’s not really all that surprising a twist for his character but it’s a nice moment nonetheless and having Blake stop him was a nice touch too as it showed the big difference between who are arguably the two central characters at this point in the series. Too some it may seem obvious as to who was right and who was wrong in this situation but to others (such as myself) it’s a little bit harder to decide. Sure, Blake can now claim the moral high ground here but does he really expect his crusade to succeed if he feels he can’t do what arguably needs to be done. While Avon’s way may involve killing in cold blood it is more likely to lead to a better future. So the question is: does the end ever justify the means?

Servalan was good here although, like Travis, I feel she had some better stuff to do in the previous episode. It’s nice to see her take a more active role in proceedings but even though she is down on the planet with Travis it still doesn’t feel like she’s doing anything. As for her scream when being cornered by the cave monster, well there are some who would defend this to their last breath and others who would say it just ruins the character but I personally am not going to choose a side in this debate and just accept that it happened and move on. And hopefully the character of Servalan will too and then go on to do better stuff in her following appearances. Moving away from the topic of the main plot for a bit let’s instead take a quick look at the sub-plot (if you can even call it that) which focuses on Avon, Jenna, Gan and Vila suffering from radiation sickness. It’s curious how often Terry Nation uses radiation in his writing. Radiation is a huge part of his first Doctor Who story The Daleks with the Doctor and his companions suffering from radiation sickness too in that story funnily enough. I guess it was foolish of me not to predict this subplot happening after the reference to the radiation levels Cephlon given how Terry Nation does have a tendency to reuse his old ideas. Whether he does this intentionally or otherwise is something we will likely never have a definitive answer too although since it’s not been done before in Blake’s 7 it’s something that can be easily forgiven. It’s interesting to see Avon soldiering on through the sickness while Vila does quite the opposite and tries to convince himself that he doesn’t have it. It’s also quite amusing to see Vila acting so grumpy when he’s summoned to help Avon search for Blake and Cally later in the episode. Finally we have the ending, and what an ending it is. It was great fun to watch Orac interact with the crew of the Liberator, especially Vila and Avon with the former taking an almost instant disliking to the new character. It’s a wonderfully written scene which culminates in an epic cliffhanger to end the series on. It leaves me very excited for what’s coming up next as it doesn’t look to be a cliffhanger which can be easily resolved and it should have an interesting effect on the crew of the Liberator itself.

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Rounding off this episode, Orac might not of been the finale I was hoping for but it still a good piece of entertainment and the cliffhanger makes me excited for what’s coming up next in the second series. I think an eight-out-of-ten is a fair rating for Orac and now it’s on to Redemption where we should get our answers about to the fate of the Liberator but until then be sure to sound off your thoughts on the episode in the comments below.

Farscape : Unrealized Reality

March 11, 2015 in Farscape, Guest Blogs by Firebird

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Crichton is sucked down a wormhole he correctly senses will appear near Moya. Within “wormhole limbo” he is confronted by an interdimensional being who is intent on discovering why Crichton was entrusted with this knowledge. The alien sends Crichton through various “realities” of past events to illustrate how dangerous it can be if wormhole knowledge is misused.

Synopsis

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Most of this episode is Crichton talking to the wormhole alien and weird filler sequences.

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The ‘Unrealized Realities’ seem to be an excuse to mash up the characters and they really don’t progress the story at all. The only real purpose of this episode is to move Crichton from predicting the appearance of wormholes to navigating them.

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After finally exercising his abilities Crichton arrives not back where he entered the wormhole next to Moya but looking down onto the Earth. At first he’s delighted and then he realises where he is, floating in a spacesuit with no way to go anywhere.

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Blake’s 7: Deliverance

March 7, 2015 in Blake's 7, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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The penultimate episode of series one is here and it’s a huge step up from what we had last week. Obviously it serves to set up the finale itself as any good penultimate episode should do but it also stands alone very well too. It also shines a spotlight onto the character of Avon who leads the expedition down to the planet and drives the primary plot while Blake is stuck up on the Liberator driving the secondary plot which serves to set up the next episode, Orac. It’s interesting to note that the two characters were originally supposed to be the other way round but were swapped and I believe that the episode’s better off for it. It’s once again written by Terry Nation and while Michael E. Briant is credited as sole director producer David Maloney also played a part in directing this episode although the extent of his involvement is unknown. This is also Michael E. Briant’s last involvement in the series having previously directed three episodes for series one. Now that we’ve finished talking about what happened behind the camera let’s move on to what happened in front of it.

Above the planet Cephlon is where the episode begins. The crew of the Liberator witness a small crash on the planet bellow and so Avon, Vila, Gan and Jenna go down to look for survivors. They find one survivor, Ensor, but the other crew member, Maryatt, has died. Ensor is badly injured and so he’s taken up to the Liberator for treatment. Blake and Cally look after him while Avon, Vila and Gan go back down to look for Jenna who mysteriously didn’t teleport back up. Meanwhile, Blake and Cally learn from Ensor that he was on his was to his father on the planet Aristo who is in urgent need of medical supplies. He also reveals that the Federation is willing to pay one hundred million credits for a machine called Orac. It is then revealed that Servalan sabotaged Ensor’s rocket so that his father would die from natural causes, leaving Orac defenceless. She then tells Travis to leave immediately to collect Orac. While looking for Jenna on the planet Cephlon Avon, Vila and Gan run into a woman called Meegat who believes Avon to be a god. They learn that she has been waiting for someone to launch their ship into space and so, after successfully rescuing Jenna, they agree to do so. Up on the Liberator Ensor holds Cally at gunpoint to force Blake to take him to Aristo. Blake reliuctantly agrees but then turns the ship around after Ensor dies from his injuries. After launching the rocket everyone is reunited on the Liberator and they then head off to locate Orac before Travis does.

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As previously mentioned, the main character of this episode is arguably Avon who, in an interesting turn of events, gets mistaken for a god on the planet Cephlon. Personally, I’m glad this was Avon and not Blake as it’s much more fun to see Avon in this position and enjoying himself a fair bit. There’s also a lot of additional humour gained by this move as well as some great lines from Vila and Avon alike. It was nice to see a different side to Avon but it wasn’t all fun and games as his first mission in charge almost ended in disaster when Jenna very nearly didn’t make it back. This not only affects Avon but Blake as well and it causes quite a bit of tension between the two. But having said that, when is there not tension between those two? Nevertheless it was interesting to see that play out. Unfortunately though, both of the female leads end up being the damsels in distress for the majority of the story with Jenna being held captive by the savage inhabitants of Cephlon and
Cally being held at gun point by Ensor.

But anyway, let’s move on from this and talk about Servalan and Travis’s brief but crucial role in this episode. Their appearance in this basically served to help set up the following episode and while it did so rather well I was slightly more interested in the new sides they were showing to the two characters. We get to see Servalan being extremely ruthless and manipulative and while we’ve always known she was capable of this this is still the first time we’ve really seen her doing so. We also get to see Travis return after his suspension at the end of Project Avalon and we see that it has had an effect on him. We also see a different side to his character when he finds that Sevalan sent Maryatt (the medic who saved his life) to his death. It’s not much but it’s just a little thing that allows us to see Travis’s humanity and it also reveals to us who is the more monstrous of our two villains. We also get a reference all the way back to the fourth episode of the series, Time Squad, in that the ship in that episode holds genetic stock in the same way as the ship in this episode. It’s not much by any means but it’s just a nice little link which shows us that the same patterns do recur throughout the galaxy and that not everything’s random. As for he story behind the planet Celphon, it is rather a simple one but given that the episode also had to set up the finale there’s not much more they could’ve done without making it seem rushed. And even though it’s simple it serves its purpose admirably. The divide between the primitives and Meegat’s people could’ve been better explained (presumably they are the remains of the two opposing factions from the war) but it’s nevertheless a nice idea that the war was so devastating that it eventually reverted society back to being primitive. Even Meegat, who seems hospitable enough, is still fairly primitive in the fact that she’s surrounded by technology that she doesn’t know a thing about. On the whole the are
some very good ideas here.

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To conclude, this episode has got me really excited for what’s in store next but the real highlight of it for me had to be Avon. Deliverance gets a nine-out-of-ten from me and so while we’re yet to reach perfection I’m still holding out hope that I will be able to give an episode full marks very soon. Next up is the series one finale and it’s title is Orac. Will it end my wait for an episode deserving of a ten-out-of-ten? You can find that out next time but until then be sure to sound off your thoughts on the episode in the comments below.

Farscape : Coup By Clam

March 4, 2015 in Farscape by Firebird

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While in quarantine high above the patriarchal planet Khurtanan, the crew shares a meal of alien mollusks and almost instantaneously suffers a violent physical reaction. Each crew member becomes bodily linked to one of the others, Crichton to Sikozu, Aeryn to Rygel, and so on. It soon becomes clear they have been deliberately poisoned by the local doctor and are being blackmailed in exchange for the cure

Synopsis

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The poisoning is interesting in that it pairs up crew members, sharing each-others physical experiences. D’Argo and Noranti is particularly amusing.

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The local political situation complicates matters. The women trying to overthrow the patriarchal regime aren’t a very friendly bunch and rather than helping Aeryn and Sikozu would much rather see them dead.

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Of course it all ends up with poor Crichton having to dress as a woman and naturally some blind fool takes a fancy to him.

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Unexpectedly Scorpious saves the day, first killing a rather nasty guy on Moya to protect Chiana and then risking his life by eating what’s left of the two molluscs so he can link with Crichton, Aeryn, Rygel and Sikozu keeping them alive long enough to get the cure.

Before they leave Rygel gets his revenge on the Doctor.

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Blake’s 7: Bounty

February 28, 2015 in Blake's 7, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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Well I guess it had to happen sooner or later, Blake’s 7 has had it’s first real dud for me in the form of Bounty. Now admittedly I didn’t give The Web the most respectable of scores but at least there I appreciated what it was trying to do and still found some enjoyment in it whereas here I just didn’t. I guess with Terry Nation having written all the episodes of the first series he had to slip up at some point and I just hope this is the only occasion as we get closer and closer to the finale. But anyway, let’s save the rest of my opinions for later in the review and instead focus on some facts. As previously stated the episode was written by series creator Terry Nation and it was also directed by Pennant Roberts. Bounty is his fourth and final directorial credit for the series and it’s rather a shame to see him go. While I’m obviously not too fond of his work on this one I still think he was a great director overall as two of his three other episodes are personal favourites of mine. For those who are interested those two episodes are Space Fall and Mission to Destiny. Also, an interesting bit of trivia in relation to this episode is that President Sarkoff’s place of residence was represented by the Waterloo Tower, a bell tower located in Quex Park in Kent. Just a quaint bit of trivia for those who are interested and for those who are more interested in the synopsis then here it is.

The episode kicks off with Blake and Cally trying to locate ex-president Sarkoff, the deposed leader of Lindor, a planet on the verge of civil war. Up until now Lindor has remained neutral but if war does break out then the Federation will more in peacekeeping forces and easily annex it. Blake and Cally then locate Sarkoff’s residence and attempt to sneak in without the Federation guards noticing. Meanwhile, the Liberator answers a distress call from another ship but ends up being hijacked by the notorious bounty hunter Tarvin, a former colleague of Jenna’s. Blake and Cally, however, have much better luck and are able to break in without detection and then head back to the Liberator with Sarkoff and his daughter Tyce. There they are tricked and Blake and Cally end up locked up with the others while Sarkoff and Tyce are held on the bridge by Tarvin. He intends to hand over the Liberator and it’s crew to the Federation in return for the thirteen million credit reward. Blake is able to escape the prison and rushes towards the bridge. Tyce pulls out a hidden gun but Tarvin stops her and the gun winds up in the hands of a reluctant Sarkoff. Blake then arrives and distracts Tarvin, allowing Sarkoff to shoot him dead. The Liberator then drops Sarkoff and Tyce off on Lindor so that Sarkoff can restore order and ensure Lindor’s neutrality.

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Now one big problem this episode has is that it lacks focus. There is obviously a primary plot and a secondary plot here but which one’s which is beyond me. It almost feels like Terry Nation started writing this with just the President Sarkoff plot and then halfway through realised that it wasn’t meaty enough to sustain a whole episode so decided to add another plot in with Tarvin which feels like it could’ve sustained an entire episode on it’s own and therefor leaves that side of the story underdeveloped. A lot of the interesting stuff takes place off screen as well with the Amagon’s attack and Jenna’s apparent betrayal taking simply being explained by Avon rather than actually being seen. Sarkoff’s story line also takes up way much more time than it should’ve done and more time should’ve been left for Jenna’s betrayal which could’ve been the most interesting thing to of happened to her since the series began but is unfortunately poorly realised which also reflects badly on Jenna’s character who’s had a bit of a rough ride up to this point.

A character who hasn’t had a rough ride however is Cally and it was great to see her using her powers of telepathy again at the start of the episode. It’s nice to see her going down to the planet with Blake and getting involved with some of the action and there’s also some nice dialogue between her and Sarkoff. Actually, one of the things this episode does have going for it is the dialogue which is very good for the most part. There are some great lines between Avon and Vila at the start when they are talking about the latter’s opinion and then again towards the end when they’re both imprisoned. There’s even some nice dialogue between the Federation guards at the start and you really do get the idea that they’re not the best the Federation have to offer just from a few simple lines about a rodent and a motion-scanner. Even Tarvin has a couple of good lines but I get the feeling that they tried to make him a loveable scoundrel kind of character but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. The line about his grandmother was still enjoyable though.

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To sum up, I think I’ve made it quite clear that this is my least favourite episode of the series so far but I also hope that it doesn’t come across as if I absolutely hate this episode with a passion as there is still a reasonable amount to enjoy in it. So it’s a four-out-of-ten from me and with that we can now finally move on to the next episode, Deliverance, which is the penultimate episode of series one but until then be sure to sound off your thoughts on the episode in the comments below.

Farscape : A Prefect Murder

February 25, 2015 in Farscape by Firebird

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The crew lands on a planet divided by generations of clan war. After experiencing strange hallucinations, Aeryn is subliminally coerced into assassinating a clan leader. When Crichton also starts having hallucinations, they must uncover the planet’s political machinations in order to prevent more killings.

Synopsis

So, either you’re going to be screaming “OMG it’s Father Jack!” or if you’ve never seen Father Ted it will totally pass you by.

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Meanwhile fans of Star Wars ought to recognise this guy.

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The episode has a strange structure, jumping backwards and forwards sometimes repeating, sometimes seeing events from another point of view until the assassination actually happens.

This guy is the villain’s henchman and the one responsible for creating the bugs that control first Aeryn and then Crichton, but once they realise what’s going on our heroes prove a little harder to manipulate than he’d counted on.

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The Seven Faces of Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora

February 21, 2015 in Dr Who, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782

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Tom Baker played the fourth incarnation of the Doctor for seven years and what an amazing seven years they were. And since he played the part for such a long time a lot of changes took place which means it’s hard to pin down a definitive story for his Doctor. Nevertheless, I still had to decide on a single story to represent this Doctor’s era and so after a large amount of indecisiveness I settled on The Masque of Mandragora. It comes from towards the end of his second full year as the Doctor and is Elisabeth Sladen’s penultimate adventure as the much loved Sarah Jane Smith. It is also the final story to be written by Louis Marks who had been writing for the series since William Hartnell was the Doctor and it was director Rodney Bennett’s last contribution to Doctor Who as well. I choose this story because it is probably the most balanced Fourth Doctor story as it is not as dark as stories such as Genesis of the Daleks but it’s also not as silly as others like City of Death. And now let’s not waste anymore time and move on to the synopsis.

The Masque of Mandragora begins with the TARDIS being dragged inside the Mandragora helix. The Doctor and Sarah manage to escape but end up bringing part of Mandragora with them to fifteenth century Italy. Here the Duke of San Martino has recently been assassinated by his brother Count Federico and the court astrologer Hieronymous. Now the only thing which stands in the way of Federico and the throne is the young prince Giuliano. The Doctor and Sarah both end up captured, the former by Count Federico and the latter by the mysterious Brotherhood of Demnos who intend to sacrifice her. The Doctor is accused of being a spy and sentenced to execution but is able to escape and he then rescues Sarah from the brotherhood. Hieronymous is then revealed to be the leader of the brotherhood who have been given great powers by Mandragora. Mandragora intends to use the brotherhood as it’s bridgehead on Earth so that it can send humanity back into the dark ages. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Sarah meet up with Giuliano who is concerned for the safety of his people. All three are then captured by Federico who intends to execute them but the Doctor convinces him to instead investigate the brotherhood. While doing so Federico is killed by Hieronymous and Giuliano can now safely take the throne of San Martino. The Doctor is then able to drain away Hieronymous’s power and put an end to Mandragora’s bridgehead leaving Earth safe once again.

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The Masque of Mandragora is, of course, a wonderful story and a very rich period piece. The sets and costumes are amazing and it truly does feel like Renaissance Italy. But perhaps what makes it authentic most of all is the location footage which, by the way, is seamlessly edited in with the studio work. Now of course they couldn’t go to Italy on a Doctor Who budget so instead they went to the tourist village of Portmeirion in Wales which stands in beautifully. Now onto Tom Baker’s brilliant performance as the Doctor and it really is wonderful here. There were times later in his era where he had a tendency to go a bit over the top but here he is under control. Of course he has to send it up just a little to make it entertaining but it’s not done so much as to make it difficult to believe in. There’s a wonderfully alien response to the death of the count and his humour during this scene has never raised a single eyebrow. But when the Sixth or Twelfth Doctors make a callous remark then all hell is raised for some reason. Obviously there has to be a limit but I’m just trying to put it into a bit of perspective, that’s all. Now enough ranting, let’s get back to the topic at hand which is this story. Alongside Tom Baker is Elisabeth Sladen who gives a superb performance as Sarah Jane Smith. The two work so great together (although I personally prefer her alongside the Third Doctor) but they also spend a lot of this story apart which allows Elisabeth Sladen to do some interesting stuff away from Tom Baker’s shadow.

Funnily enough there is a link between this serial and the previous one we looked at as Tim Pigott-Smith who plays Marco in this also played Captain Harker in The Claws of Axos. It’s an upgraded role for him as he plays Prince Giuliano’s loyal advisor and the two have an interesting double act going on between them. But more interesting than both of them though is Count Federico who is probably the best villain of the piece despite having no powers whatsoever. It’s all down to the performance and the writing and while both are fairly strong with the other villains they all just fall short compared to Federico. It is perhaps part of the reason why the last episode isn’t as entertaining as the others due to his death at the end of part three. The other reason is probably because the ending is a bit of a mess. For some it can completely ruin the story while others won’t mind it all too much as the rest of the story is good enough to overshadow it. Nevertheless it is a rather anti-climatic end to the story and while it’s not terrible it’s just not any good when compared to the quality of the rest of the piece. Now then, let’s take a few steps away from the ending and instead talk about the monster of the piece, Mandragora itself. There’s a nice idea behind it and it’s great to have a monster which isn’t really tangible but is still deadly. The special effects used do quite a nice job and they really do give an otherworldly feel to Mandragora but the voice of Mandragora is rather dire and the laugh is too over the top to be taken seriously. Luckily, these two elements don’t have too much screen time with the primary vocal point for Mandragora being Hieronymous. He’s very much your stereotypical villain but that does not take anything away from Norman Jones’ great performance. It was also a nice twist to have him revealed as the main antagonist of the piece as well as he was originally seen as a foil for Federico but then became a so much more.

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Overall, The Masque of Mandragora is a brilliant example of Doctor Who save only for the rather disappointing ending. So then, it’s an eight-out-of-ten from me and I’d say it’s definitely worth a look if you want to start exploring the Fourth Doctor’s era. Next week we’re moving into the eighties with the Fifth Doctor story Snakedance where a creature known as the Mara takes control of Tegan’s mind but until then be sure to sound off your thoughts on the story in the comments below.

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