Doctor Who S10E07 “The Pyramid at the End of the World” Review

dw_ep7_15It is often agreed among many writers that the middle chapter of a trilogy is the most difficult. Even filmmakers agree about this. Peter Jackson has often called The Two Towers and The Desolation of Smaug the most difficult entries in his Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. This is often because the middle chapter of a trilogy struggles due to not having a proper beginning or end. The story was already begun in the previous chapter and the story cannot be resolved before the final chapter, leaving the middle chapter having the unfortunate problem of having to progress the story enough but not too much. And The Pyramid at the End of the World is no different. Which isn’t to say it was a bad episode, on the contrary it was an entertaining one, but the episode struggled due to its status as a middle chapter in this three part story.

The episode started out with a rather intriguing concept; the mysterious Monks made their reappearance by placing a large pyramid in the middle of a brewing conflict between three of the world’s largest armies, threatening the end of the world is nigh but they can save it. All humanity has to do, is consent. It’s a rather fascinating idea and the scenes where the Doctor, Bill, Nardole and the world’s military leaders were discussing the implications of consent and what exactly they were consenting to were perhaps the best of the episode. The Doctor’s hypocrisy of demanding that humans should never allow themselves to be ruled by an alien species, in the same moment that he himself is President of the Earth, was a nice touch.

Doctor Who S10 Ep7 The Pyramid At The End Of The World

But that said, the episode seemed to breeze past this in favour of the military leaders deciding they didn’t need to heed the Doctor’s advice; without real rhyme or reason for them to have even begun to distrust him. Especially since, at this point in the series, the Doctor has handled two massive crisis as President and handled them very well. The episode never lingered on the things it was doing well in these sequences in favour of rushing things towards the episode’s cliffhanger. Likewise, the Doctor and Nardole deciding bacteria was the cause of the coming apocalypse was a very quick leap. However, due to the recent attacks, lines about terrorism were removed from the episode by BBC so this could be a fault of those edits.

The slower pace this series has clearly been worth it for developing the Doctor and Bill’s relationship. The cliffhanger of this week’s episode would not have been nearly as strong without us having spent so much time with the two. The idea that pure consent can only come from love was an excellent touch and sealed the cliffhanger as being one of the most powerful since Clara’s Death.

But despite this, the episode was incredibly unsatisfying. Falling victim to being a middle chapter, the episode didn’t have a true beginning or a true ending which is perhaps the worst position you can leave the audience. The afore-mentioned The Two Towers and The Desolation of Smaug manage to avert this by making sure there was a suitable “climax” to the story. Previous Doctor Who three parters have also made sure each part was satisfying in its own right. Last series for instance had each part perfectly act as its own self-contained story connected by a larger over-arching story. In fact, the second part of that story Heaven Sent is often regarded as one of the best episodes in the show’s entire run. Even the Series 3 three part story Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords managed to make the second part of the story incredibly satisfying. The Pyramid at the End of the World however struggles to give a sense of satisfaction. Instead it leaves you wanting. While sure, this increases anticipation for the final part in this three part story, next week’s The Lie of the Land, it doesn’t help The Pyramid at the End of the World at all. In fact, this will likely be an episode that won’t individually be classed as great. Perhaps this is a fault of Peter Harness as a writer. His previous multi-part episode, 2015’s The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion suffered from a first part that was incredibly unsatisfying standalone, while still being good.

doctor2bwho2bthe2bpyramid2bat2bthe2bend2bof2bthe2bworld2b02

The episode also struggled with really allowing us to connect with the story and its supporting cast. Being a multi-part story, there’s no doubt at least some of the episode’s cast will make a reappearance in the next episode, but relying on the conclusion of the story to suddenly start developing it’s cast really doesn’t make much sense.

A major niggle of mine with this episode is how much of the episode relies on characters being stupid. Complain about Prometheus all you want, but the scientists in that film have nothing on the scientists here. For one, who designs an airlock that relies on a combination lock that doesn’t have braille numbers?! Or at least the numbers be embossed so one can feel them. It’s hard to believe such an obvious design flaw could be made, especially in the UK. What if the lights weren’t working and/or you had no way of seeing the numbers? Also who even designs an airlock where both doors can be left open at once? It kind of defeats the purpose of an “airlock”. Secondly we have a scientist who, while hungover, is clearly having trouble reading. So does he make absolutely sure his entries are correct before submitting them like any real scientist would do? Nah. It’ll be fine. Just submit them. The same scientist also removes his helmet, which is quite frankly just moronic, among potentially dangerous chemicals. I can understand the Doctor not telling Bill he’s blind (the Doctor’s pride has been focused on many times before) but these scientists really take the cake. “Idiot plot” is a term used for a plot that hangs together only because its characters act stupid for the sake of said plot. The Pyramid at the End of the World is a prime example.

And surely The Doomsday Clock would have been a better title for the episode?

However, the Monks were once again excellently creepy. It may only be just over halfway into the series but they are almost certainly Series 10’s standout monster. That makeup is just horrifying to look at and throw in that chilling voice and it’s the perfect recipe for instant nightmares. If there’s one area the episode exceeded in, it was giving us lots of terrifying moments with them. Hopefully, The Lie of the Land gives us a lot more.

Now I’m not going to say The Pyramid at the End of the World was a bad episode. On the contrary, it’s entertaining and it’s certainly not the worst episode Series 10 has to offer. That said, it suffered from being very unsatisfying and being a huge step down in quality from Extremis. It also suffered from underdeveloped characters, a plot that relied on its characters making incredibly stupid decisions (even when not under stress) as well as rushing a little too quickly to the cliffhanger hampered what could have been a great second part to this story. But an excellent cliffhanger and showing off more of perhaps the creepiest Doctor Who villain this side of the Weeping Angels, The Pyramid at the End of the World proved to be a suitably entertaining addition to Series 10, if not particularly standout.

6/10

Trivia and Speculation:

Bill refers to the President of the United States being “orange”, despite the President seen in the simulation not being so. Clearly Donald Trump’s victory was something even the Monks couldn’t foresee.

The Doctor is President of the Earth. The title was bestowed on him back in 2014’s Dark Water/Death in Heaven and the Doctor used his authority as President again in 2015’s The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion.

Due to a filming conflict with Holby City, Jemma Redgrave was unable reprise her role as Kate Stewart in this episode and so the character was removed.

In the Next Time trailer, we see Bill shoot the Doctor. Is this the moment where the Doctor “regenerates” as seen in the trailer? Hint: Look at the picture on the wall.

Advertisements

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge” Review

Directed by: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Benton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Orlando Bloom, Stephen Graham, David Wenham
Plot: Captain Jack Sparrow finds the winds of ill-fortune blowing even more strongly when deadly ghost pirates led by his old nemesis, the terrifying Captain Salazar, escape from the Devil’s Triangle, determined to kill every pirate at sea…including him. Captain Jack’s only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artefact that bestows upon its possessor total control over the seas.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a strange franchise. In 2003, it was lunacy to believe that a film based on a theme park ride could spawn one of the most popular film franchises of all time and one of cinema’s most popular characters; Captain Jack Sparrow. And yet, here we are 14 years later for the fifth instalment in the franchise that, much like its hero, somehow manages to strike treasure despite having the worst luck imaginable.

5a5d4ca8-4200-11e7-a718-97a052f84fc6

Salazar’s Revenge (titled Dead Men Tell No Tales stateside), is very much an attempt by the Pirates of the Caribbean team to take a The Force Awakens-style approach to series. Namely by picking up several years after the last instalment, taking the franchise back to its roots and framing the story around a younger cast who may or may not be descendants of existing characters while beloved fan-favourites make their return.  How successful this attempt is may vary depending on how much you enjoyed previous instalments. But coming from someone who enjoyed all 4 previous instalments, Salazar’s Revenge provided a nice course correction for the series after it went slightly wayward in the last instalment On Stranger Tides which suffered from there being no real plan for the series post-At World’s End. Instead, Salazar’s Revenge feels more like it’s setting the stage for bigger and brighter things going forward. In layman’s term, it’s clear by the end of Salazar’s Revenge that Pirates of the Caribbean 6 is the movie Disney really wants to make, but Salazar’s Revenge is the movie they have to make in order to get the characters and story to the required positions.

Which isn’t to say Salazar’s Revenge is inconsequential. In fact, it’s perhaps one of the more entertaining entries in the series. Despite a very rough opening half hour, during which the movie jumps around setting up multiple plot lines and characters making it hard to invest, the movie manages to kick things into gear and manages to be incredibly entertaining throughout the rest of its runtime with healthy mixes of action and comedy. Which isn’t to say the first half hour is laughs and action deprived, it just never quite gels together up until an escape scene involving a guillotine. It’s at this moment, along with perhaps the funniest moment in the film that everything just seems to snap together.

pirates-dead-men-images

What follows then is pretty much the movie equivalent of going on the theme park ride itself. Its fun, it’s thrilling, there’s laughs and it’s over before you know it. You want to get back on right away, but even then you feel something is missing. Much like the ride, there’s lots to see but very little to connect with. We spend too little allowing us to connect with our new leads Carina (Scodelario) and Henry (Thwaites), which is a shame as both show signs as being incredibly strong characters. Even Javier Bardem has very little time to make much of an impression as villain Salazar. Bardem gives a good performance, but the film seems to show an aversion to giving Salazar screen time. Despite the Pirates series offering up some very memorable antagonists, Salazar doesn’t make much of an impression. Perhaps this could be rectified in future instalments? Or… dare I say it… an extended cut of the film? Despite Disney’s aversions to such things.

Instead, most of our time is spent with Captain Jack Sparrow. To which there isn’t much to say. Let’s face it, you either like Depp’s zany performance or you don’t. There’s very little to say apart from; here’s more of it. The real star of the film however is Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa. Barbossa is, far and away, the franchise’s best character and Rush clearly has a blast playing him. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in this franchise is having more fun making these films than him and the film gives him plenty to play with. There’s even moments where you wonder why the film isn’t about Barbossa instead of Jack. Indeed, the film the trailers showed; implying Barbossa was going on an epic journey to find Jack is probably a more interesting film than the one we got.

escenas-piratas5-5

But, despite these positives, Salazar’s Revenge has problems. As well as the rough opening half hour, the film struggles with an incredibly predictable plot. While this is an issue of the film taking a “back to basics” approach, it’s a little disappointing to see the series rely too much on the franchise clichés. Likewise, there’s something slightly off with the characterisation of the returning characters; Jack is a little too wacky, Jack’s crew is a little too bumbling for instance. Perhaps this is due to a new writer taking the reins of the franchise from Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (Rossio’s script was nixed by Depp). Hopefully the characterisation will be more consistent in future instalments. Also the film squanders the return of Orlando Bloom. Bloom, relegated to two very short scenes in the film, should have been given a much larger role in the film. While Bloom’s scenes are great and fan pleasing, it’s a shame to see the franchise’s once hero relegated to nothing more than a glorified cameo.

Salazar’s Revenge is a fun and exciting, yet unremarkable, entry in the long running franchise. Those who have enjoyed previous entries will have a good time and the film won’t convert those less than enthused with the series. That said, Salazar’s Revenge does have its merits. Despite the flaws, there’s something undeniably charming about the whole thing. It’s funny and it’s engaging. And it’s very very hard to not have a huge grin on your face when watching Jack Sparrow being pulled along at high speeds on a boat by a zombie shark.

6.5/10

Doctor Who S10E06 “Extremis” Review

matt-lucas-peter-capaldi-and-pearl-mackie-in-doctor-who-extremisHow would you react if you found out your reality wasn’t real? That was the question posed by Steven Moffat during Extremis last night. It’s a deep question and one that doesn’t exactly have an easy answer. While it is not exactly a new concept to Sci-Fi, a very successful movie trilogy has already dealt with humans discovering they’re trapped in a simulation of the real world for instance, Extremis dealt more with the psychological aspects of such a revelation. For how would you react if you discovered you weren’t actually “you” and were just a simulation of the real “you”? Bits of code programmed to think and feel like the real “you”? That every thought you have isn’t yours and is just a programmed response? It’s an incredibly terrifying question and, as we saw with Bill, it’s an idea most of us will refuse to accept. It also becomes incredibly terrifying when we consider the fact that even though we can’t prove we’re all in a simulation, we can’t exactly prove we aren’t either…

For this is where Extremis excelled; posing a deeply philosophical question and surrounding it in a thrilling Da-Vinci Code-esque story with a forbidden book hidden deep in the Vatican’s forbidden library complete with alien Monks roaming the halls. Doctor Who does The Matrix meets The Da-Vinci Code is probably the most apt description of the episode. And it still wouldn’t come close to describing how damn good the whole thing is.

While Doctor Who has done the whole “what you think is real isn’t real” before in the fan-favourite episodes Amy’s Choice and Last Christmas, Extremis took the concept to a whole new level (amusingly it seems to now be tradition for each companion to be trapped in a fake world for at least one episode). The psychological ramifications of discovering your life is nothing more than computer code is terrifying and the scenes where the characters discover this were chilling. Calling to mind that all time bone chilling moment back in Forest of the Dead where Miss Evangelista revealed to Donna Noble that she was in a simulation simply by simply saying “Look at the children”, we saw Bill and Nardole discover the truth as a CERN scientist asks them to say a bunch of random numbers and learn, not only were they both saying the same numbers but the scientist was also predicting the numbers correctly. It was a very dark moment in the episode, further added by the fact the scientist was simply killing time until the bomb he’d set to kill himself went off.

doctor-who-extremis-photo015-1495225434080_1280w

This horror was only added to by the presence of the Monks; the alien masterminds behind the simulation. They showed a surprising amount of cunning for Doctor Who villains. Why invade the world unprepared when you can practice and make invading Earth a fine art? And their confirmation that every simulation they’ve run has ended successfully with Earth’s last defence, the Doctor, dying is certainly a very chilling thought. How can the Doctor hope to defeat a foe that has already perfected defeating him countless times? In essence, this makes the Monks the Doctor’s most dangerous foe yet by default. Let’s not even factor in that the Monks were actually scary, silently creeping around, talking without really talking. A sequence where a blind Doctor stumbles around the Haereticum trying to avoid the Monks who he can’t see or hear is practically chilling. If the next two instalments of this three part story use the Monks just as effectively, they will easily emerge as one of Steven Moffat’s best creations.

But this episode was perhaps most notable for the revelation of who is in the vault the Doctor has been guarding. And it’s none other than the mistress of all evil herself; Missy. Seen in an extended flashback throughout the episode, we see just how Missy came to be in the vault. Captured for an unknown crime, Missy is due to be executed by the Doctor’s hand as per custom on the planet (the executioner must be of the prisoner’s own species). The Doctor takes an oath to guard Missy’s body for 1000 years but does not kill her, instead locking his oldest friend in the vault. Michelle Gomez was at once a delight as the evil Time Lady and comfortably steps back into the role despite being absent for 17 episodes. Gomez plays the character with utter glee, yet also an emotional side as we see Missy truly afraid for the first time. The woman who faced certain death twice without barely flickering an eyelid being so utterly afraid was a powerful moment and Gomez did perfectly. If there was ever any doubt that Gomez was the perfect Master, then let it be erased with this episode. With the Doctor realising he may need Missy’s help to defeat the Monks, it looks like we’re going to get even more Missy over the next two weeks. And more Missy is never a bad thing. As the villainess herself would say; “Oh Missy you so fine, you so fine you blow my mind, hey Missy! Hey Missy!”

maxresdefault

 The episode was helped brilliantly by a wonderful performance from Peter Capaldi. With the Doctor still blind after the events of Oxygen, Capaldi took the Doctor to a slightly different place this week. Seeing the Doctor try and keep his general attitude of “walk about like you own the place” without actually being able to see where he is was a fascinating idea to explore and Capaldi brings it to life spectacularly. The Doctor’s brazen overconfidence that his blindness means nothing while hiding it around others, only for the shield to crack when alone showing him to be just as terrified as most of us would be if we lost our sight was engaging to watch. The episode’s ending, seeing a terrified Doctor clutching the door to the vault, terrified that his beloved Earth is in danger and his blindness, being “lost in the dark”, may be what stops him from being able to defeat the Monks was a truly powerful moment.

All this would not have been possible without a truly amazing script by Steven Moffat. Moffat has proven time and time again that no one quite “gets” the show like he does and Extremis is another impressive addition to his already glowing Doctor Who CV. Much like Listen and Heaven Sent, Moffat brings the Doctor down and utterly breaks him with true fear and it’s the scenes where the Doctor is alone, when he has no one to be the “Doctor” for, where the episode truly shines. Moffat also sprinkles some truly excellent dialogue throughout (the Doctor’s “Super Mario” analogy is a standout) along with some truly hilarious jokes such as the Doctor saying he might get a reading chair with shackles as he might be able to finally finish Moby Dick with one and of course the Pope bursting in during the middle of Bill’s date, all of which leads to another belter of a script and easily the strongest of the series so far.

Extremis is one of those Doctor Who episodes that comes along every once in a while and reminds me why I love this show so much. It’s funny, it’s scary, it features some truly wonderful writing and performances, and it’s tightly paced and never feels rushed. It also poses some truly deep philosophical questions that will linger in your head long afterwards along with some fascinating and terrifying new monsters. Not only is Extremis the best episode of Series 10 so far, it might actually be one of the best episodes period.

10/10

 

Trivia and Speculation:

With this episode, Bill is now the fourth companion in a row to be trapped in a fake world. Donna was trapped in a simulation in 2008’s Forest of the Dead, Amy was trapped in a dream world in 2010’s Amy’s Choice and Clara was trapped in a dream world in both 2012’s Asylum of the Daleks and 2014’s Last Christmas.

Italian/English actor Joseph Long plays the Pope in this episode. This is not his first foray into the Doctor Who universe. He previously played Rocco Colasanto, the jolly and kind hearted Italian who, along with his family, was a fellow refugee with Donna Noble and her family after the destruction of London and ended up in forced housing with her in Leeds in 2008’s Turn Left, set in a parallel universe where the Doctor was dead.

The Doctor interrupting the first dates of his companions seems to be a habit. He previously interrupted Clara’s first date with Danny Pink (multiple times) in 2014’s Listen.

River Song’s diary makes a reappearance, presumably recovered from the Library where the 10th Doctor left it in 2008’s Forest of the Dead (coincidently another episode that dealt with characters trapped in simulations).

The Sonic Sunglasses make their return here, last seen in 2015’s The Husbands of River Song.

Missy mentions that the word amongst the Daleks was that the Doctor was living in domestic bliss on Darillium, as seen in The Husbands of River Song. When Missy was last seen she was cornered by the Daleks on Skaro in 2015’s The Witch’s Familiar.

What crime did Missy commit that led to her being captured and sentenced to death, and would lead to the Doctor being fine with her dying? Perhaps Missy has killed someone close to the Doctor? Or has committed an unforgiveable offence against him?

 

 

“Prey” Game Review

Released: Out Now
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Platform Reviewed On: PS4 Pro

The Prey brand has had a lot of trouble over the years. After the first well received entry, the franchise immediately fell into trouble and it would look like Prey 2 would never arrive. That sadly turned out to be the case. Now, years later, Arkane Studios (behind the incredibly popular Dishonored series) have revived the series. But instead of being a remake/sequel to the original Prey, this game is more a reinvention, bearing very little similarities to the original and, if rumours are to be believed, the game was not originally intended to use the Prey name at all. But ignoring all that, how does the game fare?

prey_mimicswarm

Well ultimately the game is a success. Its fun, it’s thrilling, it’s scary. In short it’s everything a horror game should strive to be. Taking place aboard the space station Talos I, the game finds players waking up as amnesiac Morgan Yu and finding out their entire life as they know it has been a lie. With Talos I currently suffering an outbreak of a strange alien race known as the Typhon, it’s up to the player to figure out what to do, where to go and who to trust. And that’s all I’ll say about the plot. Because the best thing about Prey is the real sense of being at a disadvantage. Due to the player’s amnesia, there’s the overwhelming paranoia that every other character in the game is taking advantage of it. As many you encounter claim they are the only one you can trust, it’s up to the player to decide who is lying and who isn’t. For this is one of the most peculiar things about Prey. It’s sense of total freedom. While the game is ultimately a very linear game, it is still incredibly open for players to do what they like. Feel a certain character could betray you? Go ahead and kill them. There’s no repercussions. While the story itself is ultimately very shallow (much of the depth to the story is found through optional material), it’s still engaging enough that you want to see it through to the end. Especially since it’s probably one of the few times where it’s true that the story is truly your story.

This openness also extends to the game world itself. While some areas are locked away for story purposes, there’s nearly always a way around it. A way to open a door before it should be. This amount of total freedom that Prey offers players is almost unprecedented in today’s gaming world. Even games that promise to let players do what they like often make it impossible for certain characters to be killed or certain areas to be accessed before they can be. So this amount of freedom is a welcome one.

prey_phantomlobby_feb10-ed

Prey’s freedom also extends to the gameplay. Arkane are big promoters of the “play your way” style and Prey is no different. Abilities are numerous and varied with one to suit every playstyle. Favour stealth over direct confrontation? You can upgrade your character to move quicker and quieter and hit harder with stealth attacks. Favour going in all guns blazing? Upgrades to health and weapon power are available. Favour using telepathic powers? Yep. Upgrades for that too. There’s enough upgrades to suit every player’s playstyle. I still find myself amazed how many options I have. I ultimately favoured a more balanced playstyle (in order to sample as many of the abilities as I could) and found the game allowed me to explore any ability path I chose that, by game’s end, I felt my Morgan Yu was utterly unique. Depending on playstyle, it’s very likely no two players will have the same experience. One player may find Prey a fun, all guns blazing action game while the other may find it a slow, tense horror thriller. This sort of style also makes Prey an immensely repayable game.

Prey’s enemies, the Typhon, are just as varied. While there are only a limited amount of enemies (there are only about 10 different enemy types from memory), the game mixes them up enough that no two encounters ever feel quite the same. From smaller enemies, Mimics, that can take the appearance of everyday objects to hide and to larger enemies who will actively seek you out, there’s enough variety that the game never feels unbalanced. Perhaps the best enemy type is the “Nightmare”, introduced once the player either reaches a certain point in the story or purchases too many upgrades. The Nightmare actively hunts players down for a limited period of 2-3 minutes. The player must then make a decision; kill it or run. Neither option is a permanent solution, because it will always be back. The sense of paranoia created here is amazing for the Nightmare’s appearances are truly unpredictable. Recalling memories of Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, the fear of always being hunted is amazing.

The game’s soundtrack is amazing as well. Apart from a few niggles (some sound effects are a little too loud, making for quite an uneven mix at times) everything sounds great. Mick Gordon (who did the score for the Doom reboot last year) does an excellent job here with a very electronic sounding score that, at times, manages to be more unsettling at times than the game itself.

gallery-1472030389-prey-phantoms-qc16-1470345789

Plus something has to be said about the scares. While the game does overdo “jump scares” at first, when an object you think is safe suddenly turns out to be Mimic accompanied by a loud musical sting, the game levels out after a while and while such sequences are still scary, the mix is a lot better. Likewise this adds to a lot of paranoia throughout the game; did that chair just move?

Combat is fast, fun and fluid. With a host of weapons and abilities on offer, there’s enough to suit every playstyle. A great mixture of guns, powers and other weapons gives you a large armament to face off against your foes with. While ammo can be limited at first which is frustrating, you can quickly find fabrication plans allowing you to craft as much ammo as you need. Requiring you have enough material that is. Being able to craft ammo is a bonus as some enemies are bullet sponges and will take a lot to put down.

The game also mixes things up by introducing Zero-Gravity. The outside of the station is free to explore, acting as a “fast-travel” system of sorts. The Zero-Gravity is a fun addition that is frustrating and awkward to use at first, but after a while it quickly becomes second nature and is preferable to trekking through the entire station (and all the enemies within) just to reach a certain area.

Perhaps the game owes more to System Shock than the original Prey, indeed the developers themselves have called the game a love letter to System Shock. Prey then, feels like a successful successor to the series. To sum up Prey, it’s a successful blend of System Shock, Bioshock and Alien: Isolation.

In a year that has already provided strong competition in the horror genre with Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, it’s hard to believe that a game has already come along that is better. Offering a longer story (if one chooses to seek out optional objectives like I did, the game can take over 18 hours to beat), addictive gameplay, lots of freedom and endless replayability; the Prey reboot more than lives up to its name and emerges as, not just a great game in its own right, but one of the best games, if not the best, of 2017 overall so far. An early Game of the Year contender? I’d argue that is very possible.

9/10

 

Doctor Who S10E05 “Oxygen” Review

telemmglpict000127710244-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqek9vkm18v_rkiph9w2gmntm3najpw-2_ovjcis6cocuJamie Mathieson, writer of the acclaimed Doctor Who episodes Mummy on the Orient Express (a personal favourite of mine) and Flatline as well as 2015’s The Girl Who Died, returns to the show with his fourth episode; Oxygen. Mathieson has been called by many the “Steven Moffat” of the Steven Moffat era; a writer who continually writes strong standalone episodes who many wish to see as showrunner one day (before Chris Chibnall was announced to take over the show in 2018, Mathieson was the top pick for many fans). So does Mathieson’s latest entry exceed lofty expectations? It really does and perhaps emerges as the strongest episode of Series 10 so far.

Perhaps the strongest thing about Oxygen is how it takes a rather tired old Doctor Who trope, the “base under siege” story, and manages to make it feel fresh and exciting. Much like Mummy on the Orient Express, Mathieson creates a unique monster with a very unique gimmick that makes the episode stand out from other episodes using a similar set up. The spacesuits being the villains was an unforeseen twist early on, with the marketing of “zombies” being very clever misdirection. The monsters were technically zombies sure, but just not the ones we expected. This continued on with a very unique concept; oxygen being a commodity, packaged and sold by corporate capitalists. It was a rather dark idea for the future and it was rather frightening seeing how those living in the future saw the packaging and selling of something of the most basic of bodily functions, breathing, as normal.

This tied into the episode’s overall theme, which had a very anti-capitalist/anti-corporate message. While this was no doubt a total coincidence, it’s rather fitting that during the current time of political uncertainty, with the rich and powerful capitalists and governments becoming more intertwined and inseparable while the average person is quickly being judged as an asset/investment judged on their profitability, that a Doctor Who episode should tackle how wrong this attitude is. For indeed, the government should work for the people first and not the rich businesses. This was perfectly summed up when the Doctor mentions that their enemy are the “Suits”, both metaphorically and literally. It’s rather terrifying seeing human life judged as an “organic component” that can be removed once it is no longer “profitable”.

doctor-who-oxygen-photo017-1494514386879_1280w

But returning to the episode’s main threat, the “zombies”, we saw a lot of rather innovative ideas here. The limited amount of breaths available to the group led to some rethinking of classic Doctor Who tropes; no frantic running down corridors here. Instead the group had to conserve their breath as much as possible and that means trying to stay calm in the face of death. One of the most interesting ideas was seeing Nardole keep telling Bill to breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth, to make sure she didn’t burn through all her oxygen in a hurry. Much like Smile, the episode needed the characters to remain calm in order to survive; with varying levels of success.

I must add that Nardole was an excellent addition to the episode. Nardole has only been a bit player in the series so far (perhaps confirming the rumour he was a late addition) but has quickly emerged as being a wonderful character. Much like River Song, it’s wonderful having a character who knows the Doctor incredibly well and thus able to call him out on things as well as, perhaps, having smarter ideas about some things. Matt Lucas plays the character incredibly well and I certainly hope Nardole has a big role in the rest of the series. He also got the funniest line of the episode; “Some of my friends are bluish”.

But where this episode really thrived was in how it dealt with the Doctor and Bill’s relationship. Despite only knowing her for a short time, the Doctor has come to care for Bill incredibly deeply. Seeing the Doctor sacrifice his eyesight just to save Bill was a powerful moment as was the moment when the Doctor agonised over being unable to save Bill and promising her he would find a way to save her. The Doctor’s worry over her was so great that he couldn’t even tell her a joke when she asked for one as way to end things on a smile.

doctor-who-oxygen-photo005-1494514386869_1280w

However, much like Knock Knock, the episode really didn’t develop its supporting cast enough for us to really care about them. Perhaps this is the sacrifice we have to make for having a larger TARDIS team. Instead the supporting cast was entirely forgettable. But this was no fault of the actors, it purely seemed to be a constraint of the show’s running time. It’s surely no fault of Mathieson as he has proven in the past to be able to develop supporting characters incredibly well; Maisie and Perkins in Mummy on the Orient Express, Rigsy in Flatline and Ashildr in The Girl Who Died for instance.

But that said, it was refreshing to see Doctor Who be incredibly tense for once. It’s rather amusing that this episode ended up being a lot more threatening than the supposed “scary” episode that Knock Knock was supposed to be. While the episode was far off from being truly scary, the tension was just right. Enough to make you involved, but not enough so it’s too much for the kids. The suits, along with the “limited breaths” gimmick, was a fascinating notion and hopefully Mathieson has more ideas like it buzzing around in his head. If Chris Chibnall doesn’t secure Mathieson for Series 11 ASAP, then he’s clearly missed a trick. Especially since Mathieson has a Doctor Who idea that even Steven Moffat, creator of the Weeping Angels, found “too scary” for the show.

Overall, Oxygen was another fine addition to the show’s canon from Mathieson and easily rivals Thin Ice for being the best episode of the series so far. Here’s hoping Mathieson returns for a future series. Much like Mummy on the Orient Express, Oxygen seems to be a showcase for everything the show does so well.

8.5/10

Trivia:

The TARDIS’s air shell makes a reappearance. The TARDIS’s ability to generate such a shell has been used multiple times before.

The TARDIS fluid link makes a reappearance. The Doctor previously sabotaged the fluid link on purpose way back in 1963’s The Daleks and claimed the TARDIS couldn’t fly without it, just to create an excuse to explore Skaro. This episode exposes that statement as a lie.

Speculation:

The Doctor will undergo a part-regeneration to regain his eyesight – this is where the regeneration shots from the trailer come from.

Missy is imprisoned in the vault, but for her own protection.

“Alien: Covenant” Review

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Cudrup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz
Plot: The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but it’s actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape. The crew encounter the planet’s lone inhabitant, the android David (Fassbender) sole survivor of the Prometheus expedition. But is he a friend? Or could he be worse than the horrors they are escaping?

Alien: Covenant is a strangely titled film. Its title seems to suggest this film will adhere closer to the franchise roots yet in practice the film is more a sequel to prequel/spin-off Prometheus than anything else. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, it might be best for one to temper their expectations when embarking on this entry. Not to say there isn’t lots of Xenomorph action, there’s plenty, but the film does also continue the story Ridley Scott began back in 2012.

_DSC7134.ARW

But that doesn’t mean to say the film answers all of Prometheus’s lingering questions. The true motives of the Engineers are, for now, still a mystery. The answer of what happened to Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is shocking and horrific, yet also serves as a way to close the book on that story. For now at least, the mystery of the Engineers will remain just that. Instead, Covenant feels more like a course alteration; for the first time in decades, it feels there’s a definite plan for the future of the franchise. With Scott planning at least two more films (with Scott confirming one of them will lead directly into Alien), perhaps it’s a good thing the answers aren’t coming now. For only an unskilled storyteller would reveal all their mysteries in one go. This film is content with peeling back the layer of mystery just a little, to give us a glimpse of how horror’s most iconic intergalactic killers came to be.

Various Alien sequels all attempted to do various things with the creatures, yet if Covenant proves one thing it’s that no one tops the master. The Xenomorphs, here with several new variants such as Neomorphs, are once again frightening. Teaching a lesson to all the Alien wannabes out there (such as Life released a few months back), Scott takes a masterful touch to the body horror we all know and love. For without a doubt this is the goriest of the Alien films. From a scene early one where one of the creatures decides to burst from the host’s back rather than the chest, you know this is going to be something different.

alien-covenant-trailer-breakdown-59

So it’s in fact surprising the creatures don’t get as much screen time as you’d think. Not to say the creatures feel underused, but they play second fiddle to various other aspects of the film. But when the creatures are the focus, they’re a joy to watch on screen. It’s been so long since we’ve seen the Xenomorphs in action on the big screen (not counting the dismal Alien vs Predator films), that every second they’re on screen is a blast. Hopefully we’ll be seeing plenty more of them to come.

But ultimately, the creatures are surprisingly not the main draw here. The main draw for certain is Michael Fassbender’s David. David was the best thing about Prometheus and the same is true here. David, in his years of isolation, has apparently developed a bit of a god complex and it’s the scenes David shares with fellow android Walter (also played by Fassbender) that emerge as the strongest in the film, including a rather surreal moment where David kisses his counterpart. As David slowly tries to corrupt Walter to his way of thinking, the audience is forced to ask themselves; is David just a robot who’s gone a bit mad or has he actually developed his own being, his own purpose? At what point does David stop being a robot and start being a person? For, like Pinocchio, David no longer has any strings holding him down and is a “real boy”. All these questions and ideas are so interesting, that one almost wishes there were less Xenomorphs and more David.

Katherine Waterston meanwhile shines as Daniels, this film’s Ripley stand-in. Daniels is more emotionally vulnerable than Ripley, leading to a great contrast between the two. Waterston calls to mind Ripley from the original film, inexperienced, scared and fighting for her life. Daniels is a very capable protagonist and one very easy for audiences to root for. If Waterston doesn’t return for Covenant’s sequel, it will be a wasted opportunity.

neomorph1-700x300

Another emboldening aspect is just how gorgeous the film looks. From the New Zealand location shots to the gorgeous sets of a destroyed Engineer settlement to the grungy hallways of the Covenant (which bring to mind the industrial feel of the Nostromo from the original), every set is packed with detail and beauty. While the film doesn’t play on colour all that much (a definite attempt to tone the colours down as much as possible is apparent) it doesn’t stop the film itself from looking beautiful. After seeing the film, I understand why the decision was made to release a horror film in IMAX. Because the film deserves it. Hopefully a HDR colour grade on the UHD Blu-Ray release will make the film pop even more.

Special mention must also go to the film’s sound mix. Like any good horror film, sound is an essential tool of the film. It provides an envelopment experience that can’t help but draw you in. Jed Kurzel’s score is also a high point, especially for nods to Jerry Goldsmith’s original score for Alien.

Alien: Covenant then is not only a worthy entry in the franchise, it’s one of the best. Outshining Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, Covenant takes its rightful place as the true next instalment in the Alien series. Following Prometheus of course. Beautiful, disgusting, terrifying and shocking all at the same time, Alien: Covenant emerges as one of the strongest films of the year so far and, perhaps, of the summer season overall. I look forward to seeing how Scott shepherds the franchise onwards over the next two films.

9/10

Doctor Who S10E04 “Knock Knock” Review

Mike Bartlett’s debut episode of Doctor Who starts perfectly with a perfect setup for a good story; Bill and her friends move into an old creepy house with an old and creepy landlord and there’s something living in the walls eating people. It’s such a perfect Doctor Who concept. And it’s done to almost perfection. If one liberally uses the term almost.

1280-doctorwho-bill-knockknock-1494095591626_1280w

When Knock Knock excels is in its creepiness. With the creaking sounds, moody lighting, enveloping darkness, the Landlord appearing from nowhere, a wooden woman sauntering about and the real sense the characters are completely cut off from the outside world, the episode has a definite creepy atmosphere, the likes of which have not been seen in the show since Amy Pond wandered round an abandoned orphanage wondering why there were gaps in her memory in 2011’s Day of the Moon. For while there’s always that one episode a series that aims to scare the pants off the kiddies, more often than not those episodes sacrifice atmosphere in favour of a scary looking monster.  Whereas here, the opposite is true. The atmosphere is perfect. It’s calling out for a scary monster to emerge to make everything click. But such a monster never emerges, leaving the episode a bit of a horror movie without its monster. An Elm Street with no Freddy Krueger, if you will.

Which isn’t to say the episode would have been improved with a big scary monster running around. But the episode’s main threat, the Alien Woodlice, never really cross the threshold from “slightly creepy” to “scary” that other monsters such as the Weeping Angels and the Silents crossed in their debuts. I was spending the whole episode waiting for “more” and ultimately the woodlice were the main threat. And they were… alright I guess? They served the episode well, but when people list the best monsters of Series 10 they’ll most likely be ignored; especially since the “the monster doesn’t understand it’s doing wrong, it’s only trying to help” trope is quickly becoming tired (this series already used it in Smile).  Like some Doctor Who episodes, they are utterly forgettable antagonists.

doctor-who-knock-knock-promo-pics-12

This was showcased in the final ten minutes of the episode, where the plot was very quickly (and rather haphazardly) resolved. With everything happening so quickly, it was rather hard to digest what was actually happening. Not to say the resolution was bad, in fact there were some really good ideas, but the way everything was handled lacked. This was a problem that was spread through the episode, with the plot not really kicking off until at least 20 minutes into the episode and everything then being resolved 20 minutes later, really giving us only 15 minutes of typical Doctor Who action. While the slow burn first act allowed Bartlett to properly develop the episode’s atmosphere and characters, it did lead a sense of everything feeling rushed once things kicked into gear. Perhaps this showcased a limit of the 45 minute format. With an extra 15 minutes the episode could have breathed a bit more, devoting more time to the conclusion to help space it out and allowing more time with everything the episode did so well. For future series, BBC should consider bumping the running time of each episode to 1 hour to alleviate this “rushed” feeling, since it’s becoming clear for the last few years that the show’s writers are struggling developing a full story within the current time frame.

A longer running time could have also helped the episode develop its cast. Apart from the Doctor, Bill and the Landlord, the characters struggled to stand out. Perhaps it’s thankful that Nardole took a backseat this week because of this. While having a large cast is necessary for Doctor Who, just so a character can “die” every few minutes, it also means that these characters struggle to be developed. Even as the cast is whittled down, Bill’s housemates are still pretty blank and forgettable characters, with none of them particularly standing out or showing much individuality apart from one likes music, one has a crush on Bill, one is easily scared etc. Now this could be the age old Television issue of writers in their 30’s or older struggling to write characters in their teens/early 20s, but it could also again be an issue with the show’s running time. Regardless, the supporting cast (who we’re supposed to care about) are as nondescript and lack individuality. Not unlike the cast of your average slasher film which, if it was intentional, is a stroke of ironic genius.

doctor-who-knock-knock-promo-pics-27

The same cannot be said for David Suchet’s the Landlord. Unlike the rest of the supporting cast, the Landlord is memorable and utterly chilling on screen. Contributing most of the episode’s creepiness, Suchet does an excellent job feeling like he’s walked out of a horror film all his own. While there are times he almost veers into typical “Scooby-Doo villain” territory (to the point where you wonder why no one ever clocked on that he’s obviously evil) Suchet manages to keep the Landlord grounded by being creepy, but not too creepy. This also works later in the episode, especially when it’s revealed the Landlord is only killing people to keep his mother alive; that after all his time he’s still a little boy scared to lose his mum. Suchet’s performance brings the character of the Landlord to life ensuring that, even though the rest of the episode may be forgettable, the Landlord will be remembered.

Ultimately, Knock Knock is perfectly passable filler but is ultimately the first underwhelming episode of Series 10. It’s enjoyable, offers some creepiness with an enjoyable antagonist, and is a perfectly fine way to pass 45 minutes. However it’s also rushed, suffers from underdeveloped characters, has a lacking resolution and offers up some underwhelming monsters. In the grand scheme of things, Knock Knock will be a perfectly forgettable episode; it’s good fun when it’s being watched but won’t linger in the memory.

5/10

Trivia:

The character Harry was originally supposed to be the grandson of 4th Doctor Companion Harry Sullivan. This was ultimately cut from the episode due to Bartlett and Moffat feeling general audiences would not remember the character.

If the Landlord’s house looks familiar, that’s because it is. The location, Fields House in Newport, has been used several times before in the show including the interior of General Latimer’s house in The Snowmen, Clara’s house in Last Christmas and Wester Drumlins – the lair of the Weeping Angels in Blink as well as various episodes of Sherlock. The upstairs hallway scenes were filmed at a house in Usk meanwhile, which was also used in 2011’s The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.

The Doctor is unable to escape because yet again, the Sonic Screwdriver doesn’t work on wood. This would not be the first time the Doctor would struggle with the most common of materials; he once faced wooden enemies in The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe and not one, not two but three incarnations of the Doctor were utterly stumped by a locked wooden door (which unbeknownst to them wasn’t actually locked) in The Day of the Doctor.

Speculation:

Who oh who could be locked in that vault? My bet’s on Missy. Who else would joyously play “Pop Goes the Weasel” at the thought of young people being eaten?