The Cloverfield Paradox: The JJ Abrams Mystery Box

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The story of the Cloverfield (2008) franchise is one that film academics will be studying for years to come, with its now regular habit of dropping sequels with little warning or promotion and quickly building a franchise. The series is now three films in and while J.J. Abrams has peeled back a few layers of mystery, there’s still a lot of questions that require answers. Dropping The Cloverfield Paradox (2018) on Netflix with next to no warning and a fourth film, currently titled Overlord (2018), due for release in October, Abrams clearly has no intentions of stopping the franchise just yet. The Cloverfield Paradox attempts to connect all the films by explaining the events of The Cloverfield Paradox have had a ripple effect across multiple dimensions, causing some to clash and create catastrophes. Which is an efficient enough explanation. But yet it leaves something to be desired. This is a problem, I believe, that can be traced back to J.J. Abrams and his “mystery box” formula.

Now, I have nothing against Abrams. He’s an excellent director and storyteller. But Abrams has shown an obsession with the “mystery box”, which at times comes to the detriment of the story. Abrams, during his TED talk in 2007, explains his Mystery Box formula as this:

“The thing is that it represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential. And what I love about this box, and what I realize I sort of do in whatever it is that I do, is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential. And I realize that mystery is the catalyst for imagination. Now, it’s not the most ground-breaking idea, but when I started to think that maybe there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge.”

This idea posits itself throughout most of Abrams’s work from the intense mystery and secrecy that surrounds all three Cloverfield films so far, to the needlessly mysterious identity of “John Harrison” (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and even the mystery of Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) parentage in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Abrams is certainly correct in that constructing these mysteries has led to infinite possibilities. Just browse any Star Wars related forum prior to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) for intense speculation on who Rey’s parents are, with candidates for possible parents including Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and even Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). With the answer to Rey’s parentage being set during production on The Force Awakens, the mystery constructed by Abrams is finally answered in The Last Jedi by Rian Johnson with: 

Kylo Ren: Do you know the truth about your parents? Or have you always known? You’ve just hidden it away. Say it.

Rey:  They were nobody.

Kylo Ren: They were filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert. You come from nothing. You are nothing. But not to me.

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

 

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While personally I feel this revelation helps strengthen Rey’s character, it did come across as slightly underwhelming to several fans especially after two years of the mystery being built up. While Abrams tried to set fans up for this by stressing that neither of Rey’s parents appeared in The Force Awakens, it didn’t stop the mystery from growing. Abrams can’t be blamed for this surely, but the vagueness of Rey’s origins in The Force Awakens set many fans up for the reveal that Rey’s parentage was a significant revelation. Perhaps, with Abrams having foreknowledge of where Rian Johnson was taking the character, there could have been a little more foreshadowing in The Force Awakens to alleviate this. In the film itself, the only possible foreshadowing is this exchange; 

Rey: I have to get back to Jakku.

Maz: Han told me. Dear child. I see your eyes. You already know the truth. Whomever you’re waiting for on Jakku, they’re never coming back. But… there’s someone who still could.

Rey: Luke.

Maz: The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

Perhaps this could be more a fault of the recent revelation that the current Star Wars trilogy had no predefined story, with each director being allowed to create their own story mirroring how George Lucas, as much as he’d like fans and the general public to believe the opposite, created most of the Original Trilogy’s narrative on the fly. But yet, Rian Johnson’s script for The Last Jedi was completed as early as November 2015 with Johnson having had multiple meetings with Kathleen Kennedy and the Lucasfilm story team months before starting work on the script so Abrams must have had some inkling of where the story was headed during production on The Force Awakens.

Was Rian Johnson cleverly subverting fan expectations? Or was the mystery created around Rey’s origins completely unnecessary?

Moving on from a surprising reveal, to one that isn’t that surprising at all. Much of the marketing for Star Trek Into Darkness focused on the villain John Harrison, who was being set up as a formidable opponent for the crew of the Enterprise. And, as Abrams repeatedly stressed in interviews building up to release, Harrison was not a redo of iconic Star Trek villain Khan Noonien Singh. And, for the first half of the film, this seemed to be the case. Until at least, this moment occurs during Harrison’s first proper confrontation with Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto):

Kirk: I looked up John Harrison. Until a year ago, he didn’t exist.

Harrison: John Harrison was a fiction created the moment I was awoken by your Admiral Marcus to help him advance his cause. A smokescreen to conceal my true identity. My name is Khan.

  • Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

 

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A brilliant use of marketing to disguise a shocking plot twist? Or a manipulative deception of the audience? The general consensus is still very divided. Many felt that the plot twist of Khan’s reveal was so incredibly obvious that trying to hide it was a complete waste of time and effort. This seems to be the sentiment shared by Paramount; Cumberbatch’s character was referred to only as Khan during the marketing for the film’s home release with no mention of John Harrison and the film’s end credits only credit Cumberbatch as Khan. So, was the John Harrison twist just an attempt to give fans a surprise and thus ignoring the fact that the Star Trek fan base had already discerned that Khan would be in the film from an analysis of the film’s marketing? The famous shot from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) where Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) press their hands together, separated by glass just before one of them commits a heroic sacrifice was recreated in Into Darkness and was even used in the trailers. Add in the presence of Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) and any Star Trek fan worth their salt would have made the logical conclusion that Khan would be involved.

The reveal itself also plays incredibly strangely in the film. The name Khan means nothing to Kirk and Spock, making the emphasis placed on it strange. It’s a reveal designed to work only for the audience and those who have passing knowledge of the franchise lore at best. It’s a reveal that sees the story take strange leaps to support it. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) makes Khan hide behind the name “John Harrison” for reasons that don’t make any sense. No one knows who Khan is in this version of the Star Trek timeline, so to hide his identity makes no sense at all. The important reveal in this scene is that Marcus has been manipulating the crew of the Enterprise into almost committing a hostile act against the Klingons, with Marcus hoping to use the Enterprise’s destruction due to Klingon retaliation as the spark to start a war. It is only the crew’s determination to do what is morally right (arrest Harrison and bring him to Earth for trial rather than just blow him up as Marcus ordered) that saved them from this fate. But yet this reveal is totally overshadowed in the film itself by the reveal that John Harrison is Khan, a reveal that I reiterate means nothing to the characters in the film. And this is the only major failing in an otherwise competently made and very enjoyable sequel. Abrams concocting a mystery around John Harrison’s identity adds little to the film and ultimately detracts from its story.

It all comes to a head with The Cloverfield Paradox, a film that attempts to explain all the mystery behind the Cloverfield franchise. The answer, as presented in the film, is due to the Shepard device on board Cloverfield station overloading, it has caused a ripple effect across multiple dimensions that has led to all the sci-fi and supernatural dangers we have seen (and will see) occurring as these dimensions collide and become unstable. It’s not a narratively satisfying answer, especially since this answer is never actually clearly defined in the film itself apart from a brief news interview at the start. The explanation that all the Cloverfield films are occurring in separate dimensions feels like a very simple way of explaining the Cloverfield franchise is an anthology franchise and each film will have little relation to ones preceding or following it. While this does mean future Cloverfield films can, theoretically, get away without explaining the origin of that movie’s threat, thus removing any limitations on what possible threats can be, it also feels like a way of quickly tying off the loose ends in the Cloverfield franchise. The origins of “Clover”, the monster that attacked New York in Cloverfield? Different dimension. The alien race that has invaded Earth in 10 Cloverfield Lane? Different dimension.

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The only interesting idea here, and one that feels lifted from the video game Bioshock Infinite (2013), is the idea that no matter what happens there will be constants in each dimension; the Tagrauto company will be involved somehow, there’ll be aliens, there’s a girl, there’s a well-stocked survival hatch etc.

While Abrams has removed significant narrative restraints from the Cloverfield franchise, he’s also chosen the easiest and narratively unsatisfying answer for the mystery he has been building since 2007. The implications in Cloverfield’s online marketing that “Clover” is only a baby and has been here for centuries come to naught for instance.

But yet, can I really fault Abrams for his obsession with mystery when it has led to so much success? The original Cloverfield grossed $170.8 million at the worldwide box office, more than six times it’s $25 million budget, on a marketing campaign based entirely on the mystery of what the film actually was. The teaser trailer famously debuted with no title attached, sparking a huge online discussion over what the movie was. Abrams would repeat this later with the second instalment 10 Cloverfield Lane being able to gross $110.2 million on a $15 million budget despite the film’s existence only being revealed less than two months before it’s cinema debut. Super 8 (2011) would also have a similar performance. Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossed over $2 billion at the box office despite its marketing not giving anything about the plot away with the film’s marketing riding the mystery of “Where is Luke Skywalker?”.  The “mystery box” approach has led to Abrams having repeated box office and critical success, despite his answers often never being as narratively satisfying as the marketing would suggest. Maybe Overlord will be able to expand on these ideas and help provide a more narratively satisfying conclusion to the Cloverfield mystery, even if not one to the franchise itself. Or maybe I’m overthinking things. Perhaps Abrams has recognised an important storytelling factor, that the ending matters less than the journey to it. Whatever the case, Abrams and his mystery box are here to stay and their impact on cinema, positive or negative, cannot be overstated.

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Doctor Who “Twice Upon a Time” Review

p05q8mdpAnd so, we have come to the end of two eras. Peter Capaldi departs the role of the Doctor after four years in the role and writer Steven Moffat departs the role of showrunner after seven years. Following the monumental triumph of the two parter World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls, this year’s Christmas Special had to be truly, well, special to live up to it and provide a satisfying conclusion to both the Capaldi and Moffat eras of Doctor Who.

In a unique twist, there isn’t an identifiable “antagonist” within Twice Upon a Time. This makes it stand out from every other regeneration story. Instead it gives us another hour with the Twelfth Doctor, managing to end his era with a bow and a sense of hope. And I feel this is possibly the best decision that could have been made; the Doctor has already fought his final battle in The Doctor Falls and really, what was going to top two Masters and an army of Cybermen?

Instead, the special saw the Doctor encountering his first incarnation (played brilliantly by David Bradley) and attempting to solve the mystery of why a WW1 Captain ended up so far from the battlefield and of Testimony; a mysterious group that harvests the memories of the dead to allow the living to commune with them. This was a rather small-scale adventure that was more focused on the Doctors learning to accept change and that your memories make you who you are; not your body.

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This message was imparted by one of the Testimony using the form of Bill, trying to explain that even though she may not have technically been Bill (Bill is still travelling with Heather through time and space), she still was debatably Bill as Bill’s memories are the sum of who she is . This tied into the regeneration incredibly well, for as the Doctors began to realise, it didn’t matter if they changed; the next Doctors would still have all their memories and would still be the Doctor. While each Doctor may be slightly different, they still are the same person acting on the same memories.

However, this led to a slight lack of urgency within the episode. With no immediate threat or ticking clock of any kind, it meant the special was slightly oddly paced. But yet, this didn’t negatively impact it. As I said before, this episode didn’t need a threat or urgency.

For this was an episode about performances.

Peter Capaldi delivered one final show stopping performance as the Doctor, reaffirming one last time why he is without a doubt one of the finest actors to ever take the role. Capaldi’s Doctor was a tour de force for the accomplished actor and this episode was no different. Capaldi brought the Doctor to life, delivering a Doctor who was both brand new and instantly familiar at the same time. Capaldi is a massive fan of the show, so to learn he had a hand in the writing of his regeneration speech comes as no surprise. The speech was masterful and a wonderful showcase of Capaldi’s range as an actor. Peter Capaldi was a wonderful addition to the show and he will be sorely missed.

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The episode marked the return of the First Doctor (last properly seen in 1983’s The Five Doctors played by Richard Hurndall) this time played by David Bradley. Bradley doesn’t try to do a William Hartnell impression however, which was probably the wisest decision he could have made as an actor. Bradley chooses to focus on getting the character of the First Doctor right through his performance, this in turn lets Hartnell begin to slip through. After the initial few scenes, the issue of Bradley not being Hartnell vanishes. Instead, only the First Doctor is on display and Bradley plays the character brilliantly. However, Moffat makes the decision to narrow down the First Doctor to a few traits. While this is common practice for multi-Doctor episodes, it does mean that the character development the First Doctor had throughout his tenure is undone in order to present a First Doctor that most remember – the grouchy old man with 60’s attitudes and sensibilities. While this leads to a lot of the episode’s funniest moments, it is a little bit of a misrepresentation of the Doctor’s first incarnation.

Pearl Mackie returns as Bill for, presumably, her final time on the show. Mackie is once again fantastic as the character and all that can be said is that she remains instantly loveable and delivers more of what we all loved in Series 10. It’s also wonderful to see the Doctor and Bill have “one last ride” so to speak. Capaldi and Mackie have fantastic chemistry and it’s great to see them get to bounce off each other one last time. Perhaps the only sadness is that this isn’t really Bill. While Testimony makes the continued assentation that with all of Bill’s memories their duplicate is Bill, we the audience know that Bill is still alive and travelling the universe with Heather. So, the Doctor’s moral problem of “is this Bill or not” has a definitive answer – it’s not. But it kind of is, but it really isn’t.

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Mark Gatiss shines in the guest role of Captain Lethbridge-Stewart, the Grandfather of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Gatiss does a fine job, delivering an excellent performance with rather limited screen time. As opposed to his previous three roles on Doctor Who, Gatiss delivers a more restrained performance here that manages to lend the character a sense of dignity and elegance that might not have worked with another actor. Gatiss showcases his great range as an actor and why he’s a treasured Doctor Who talent both in front of and behind the camera.

Twice Upon a Time is marvellously directed by Rachel Talalay, her seventh episode on the show. Talalay is an excellent director for Who, her style instantly at home with the show. Talalay manages to bring the Twelfth Doctor’s final hour to life with some truly beautiful shots and editing. If Chris Chibnall does not invite Talalay back to direct in the future, then he’s missed a trick.

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With rumours circulating about his departure, it seems fitting that the score for this episode would be a “best of” of Murray Gold’s twelve years on the show with Twice Upon a Time’s score revisiting some of Murray’s most iconic themes such as Doomsday, I am the Doctor, A Good Man, The Doctor’s Theme, Clara’s Theme and of course, the regeneration music being a reprise of the epic Breaking the Wall from Heaven Sent. If the rumours about Gold’s departure are true (his not introducing a theme for the 13th Doctor in the closing moments and instead reusing old music seems to indicate so), he will be a treasured talent from Doctor Who which will be sorely missed.

And as for this being Steven Moffat’s final script on the show, it certainly wasn’t his best. And that’s fine. It was fun, it was witty, it hit all the right beats and I enjoyed it. Moffat had clearly intended The Doctor Falls to be his final episode on the show and, as an extended epilogue to that story, it works. It flows beautifully from that story and ends the Twelfth Doctor’s story on an uplifting note rather than a downbeat one, giving Twelve one last victory before his regeneration – even if it was just something as simple as saving one man’s life. As mentioned before, the regeneration itself was beautifully written. Almost written as a set of instructions of Chibnall’s take on the show, the speech was the Doctor asserting what sort of character the Doctor should always be; never cruel, never cowardly, never hateful and always full of love and kindness. While this may not be the final episode Moffat intended, it was a good one. As a goodbye from Moffat, it is as Danny Pink described his and Clara’s last goodbye in Last Christmas; “This is bonus. This is extra.” And extra Steven Moffat is never anything to turn your nose up at.

But enough about the old. What about the new? Well in her first moments on screen, Jodie Whittaker was filled with joy and wonder and breathed new life into those closing seconds. While we have a long wait until we can form a proper opinion, I am loving what I’m seeing of Jodie’s Doctor so far and I cannot wait for her to kick things off properly come Autumn.

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Twice Upon a Time may not have been the best Christmas special, but it was certainly one of the most magical. Sharply written, brilliantly directed, masterfully scored and beautifully acted; Twice Upon a Time was as fond a farewell to both Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat than you could ask for. As an epilogue to the Steven Moffat era, it was perfect. As the running theme in Moffat’s Christmas specials goes; Every Christmas is last Christmas. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be happy.

8.5/10

 

 

 

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Review

Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Billie Lourd, Anthony Daniels
Plot: Rey (Daisy Ridley) develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance, under the leadership of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), prepares to do battle with the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

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Daisy Ridley as Rey. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

“This isn’t going to go the way you think!” shouts Luke Skywalker (Hamill) at Rey (Ridley) during a tense moment. This line of dialogue could almost be directed at the audience themselves, for The Last Jedi is certainly not the film many expected. Instead, writer/director Rian Johnson seems to show a specific inclination to not take the Star Wars story in the direction fans expected in perhaps the most surprising entry in the saga yet.

Taking the Empire Strikes Back approach, the heroes are split up for much of the film; with Rey, Luke, Chewbacca (Mayhew) and R2 on Ahch-To where we left them, Finn (Boyega), new character Rose (Tran) and BB-8 on a critical mission for the Resistance while Leia (Fisher), Poe (Isaac) and 3PO (Daniels) lead the fight against the First Order.  This works as it allows each group to receive significantly more development than they did when everyone was all together as in The Force Awakens. It also allows the film to develop a nice pacing throughout.

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Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

By far the strongest of these three segments is Rey’s Jedi training with Luke on Ahch-To. The master/apprentice dynamic between Luke and Rey is perhaps the most interesting seen in the saga so far, with Luke being perhaps the most reluctant teacher in the saga’s history, and certainly the snarkiest. Hamill slides easily back into the role of Skywalker and delivers a fantastic performance that quickly makes him the true star of the film; even though he has tense competition for the role from Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. Hamill plays the aged Jedi Master with a weariness that feels fittingly true for the character; as if all the losses Luke has suffered over his life have finally caught up with him. Luke has lost all hope and has resigned himself to exile telling a hopeful Rey; “What do you expect? Me to defeat the entire First Order on my own with a laser sword?”. This creates a rather compelling narrative thrust for the first part of the film; Luke is the galaxy’s last hope, but if he has lost hope what chance is there? Rey trying her best to restore Luke’s hope, while he resentfully teaches her to control her growing powers, are the source of many of the film’s strongest moments.

Daisy Ridley, quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest rising stars, does an utterly stellar job as Rey. Sharing the screen with Mark Hamill and managing to almost steal the film from him is no small feat. Ridley shows even more of that irresistible likeability she showcased in The Force Awakens, making Rey one of the most endearing protagonists of the year. Ridley manages to make us care deeply for Rey. We feel sorrow for her failures. We feel elation for her successes. We fear for her when she’s in danger. As this trilogy has been described as Rey’s story, Daisy Ridley proves she is perfect casting by delivering an utterly spellbinding performance.

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Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

Leia and Poe’s segment of the film is entertaining enough and offers some excellent moments, especially when Poe’s more head-on approach to fighting the First Order clashes with Leia and Admiral Holdo’s (Dern) more pragmatic approaches. This is a slow build and one that sees the Resistance pushed to their darkest hour. Oscar Isaac is once again dashingly enchanting as the Resistance pilot but is able to deliver some complexity to the character; with the film making Poe (and the audience) question if he is the right kind of soldier for this kind of war. The late Carrie Fisher meanwhile delivers a fantastic performance as Leia, with her performance here being a fitting farewell for the character and the actress; even if it feels like the film may be indulging a little too much in the uncertainty of what will become of Leia after Fisher’s death, moments which are of course unintentional due to having been filmed months before Fisher passed away. Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd does a fine job in a supporting role as Lieutenant Connix. Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo is an entertaining, if underdeveloped character. I can’t help but feel several scenes with Dern’s character were relegated to the cutting room floor, but that said, Dern gives a good performance and as a supporting character her underdevelopment is somewhat of a non-issue.

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Kelly Marie Tran as Rose and John Boyega as Finn. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

The third of these segments then, concerning Finn, Rose and BB-8 going on a mission, is perhaps the weakest. Which isn’t to say it isn’t good, it just doesn’t hold up to the quality of the other segments especially with a sequence on a casino planet culminating in an overlong chase sequence feeling like an attempt by Johnson to stretch out the film’s runtime and could easily have been trimmed down by a few minutes. As Finn and Rose’s mission is meant to be time critical, it really does feel they take one diversion and setback too many; almost as if to bring the arbitrary time limit closer to add a sense of urgency. But I can’t fault this too harshly because, as I said, it’s still good fun. Benicio Del Toro is good fun as DJ hacker who joins Finn and Rose on their mission. While DJ’s role in the film is limited, he’s enjoyable whenever he’s on screen and certainly feels like a character we probably haven’t seen the last of. Boyega once again plays Finn with a good sense of fun, being able to inject a little more heroism into the character and managing to make Finn’s character growth feel amazingly brilliant; making us believe Finn has grown from a man who has stopped running away from things and now runs to them. Kelly Marie Tran does a brilliant job as Rose, managing to make what could have been a forgettable side character feel like an essential part of the main cast. Out of The Last Jedi’s new characters, Rose is the one I enjoyed the most and certainly the one I look forward to seeing more of in the third film.

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Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

Adam Driver delivers a tour de force performance as Kylo Ren. As with every other character, we get to see a bit more complexity with Ren this time around and Driver handles this perfectly. After murdering his father Han Solo in the previous film, Kylo is torn and the deed is clearly eating away at him on the inside. Driver manages to make every piece of conflict Ren is feeling clear and perfect. During scenes shared with another major character, Driver shows brilliant natural chemistry and manage to invest audiences in a friendship (of sorts) that might not necessarily be something audiences would have expected to be invested in. It’s a testament then to the amazing casting in the film that it’s a very close race between Hamill, Ridley and Driver as the best actor in the film.

Andy Serkis is having the time of his life as Supreme Leader Snoke, the mysterious leader of the First Order. While Serkis doesn’t get to do too much with the character (much about Snoke is still left unanswered for now) he manages to make a much more lasting impression than he did in the last film. Snoke’s role in The Last Jedi is only brief, but it’s significant and Serkis manages to bring some much needed life to the antagonist. Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux and Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma on the other hand don’t get as much to do, but offer some memorable moments.

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Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke. Copyright: Lucasfilm.

Juggling all these different characters and plotlines is where any other movie would fall apart, yet Rian Johnson manages to do it masterfully. All the storylines converge towards the end of the second act in a surprising and thrilling way. Despite this being Johnson’s first Star Wars film, he manages to craft something utterly unique yet also feels like it belongs in the universe. It’s strange in a way. The Last Jedi is totally unlike any Star Wars film to date, but yet is perhaps one of the most Star Wars-like films in the entire franchise. It’s old and new at the same time. Familiar and utterly brand new. If this is the intent for Star Wars going forward then I’m fully behind it.

Johnson also manages to add a sense of mystery and magic back to the Force itself, making it more in line with what we learn in the Original Trilogy rather than the Prequels. Fans will be relieved to learn that Midichlorians are never mentioned.

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Copyright: Lucasfilm.

Visually the film is gorgeous, with amazing cinematography throughout showing off the beautiful sets and framing all the on-screen action perfectly. If Blade Runner 2049 didn’t exist, I’d argue this was the most beautiful looking Sci-Fi movie of 2017. All of this is peppered with some fantastic action sequences throughout the film with the climatic battle on the mining planet of Crait being one of the best in the franchise along with a tense duel between two of our leads and Snoke’s personal guard. All of this is accompanied by a fantastic score from John Williams who develops many of the themes introduced in The Force Awakens, along with some familiar ones from the Original Trilogy, to create a fantastic listening experience both in and out of the film.

Now, onto the big issue. This is going to be a controversial film. If you’ve made any sort of theory about The Last Jedi in the last two years, prepare to throw it away. When I said Luke’s line of “This isn’t going to go the way you think!” could almost be directed at the audience, I wasn’t lying. Johnson manages to do the unthinkable and make a completely surprising Star Wars movie that goes in directions that were impossible to see coming. Certain decisions are made that some fans may balk at, but I found these decisions, upon reflection, to be the right decisions for the story and the characters. By the end of The last Jedi, the direction Lucasfilm intends to take this trilogy is clear. It may not be the direction many expected, but it’s a direction I feel is the right one.

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Copyright: Lucasfilm.

It’s hard to describe how narratively and emotionally engaging The Last Jedi is. I found myself on the edge of my seat, glued to the screen, reacting to every twist and turn. In essence, I was hooked from start to finish. The Last Jedi is everything you could want from a Star Wars film and a sequel in general. It enhances and improves on it’s predecessor, it takes the story in a new and refreshing direction, it develops the characters and is ultimately a more entertaining chapter overall. Peter Jackson once said that the middle film in a trilogy is the most difficult to get right. Thankfully The Last Jedi does not fall prey to this. Setting the stage for a big and grand conclusion, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a must see adventure that will surely go on to be remembered as one of the boldest, and possibly one of the best, sequels of all time in not just the perfect tribute to forty years of Star Wars, but to the dearly departed Carrie Fisher as well.

9.5/10

“Justice League” Review

img01Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds
Plot: After his heroic sacrifice, the world mourns the loss of Superman (Cavill). Crime begins to run rampant as mysterious monsters prey on the fearful. Knowing an attack of epic proportions is coming, Batman (Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gadot) gather a team of super-powered individuals to combat the coming threat. The threat comes in the form of Steppenwolf (Hinds), an all-powerful being from another world. As Steppenwolf searches for powerful artefacts that will allow him to end the world, Batman fears that his new team might not be enough to save it. They need help, but more importantly, they need hope.

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Note: Mild spoilers follow in this review; but one of them was so obvious that I don’t think it even qualifies as a spoiler

It takes a special kind of talent (or lack of talent) to mess up a film that should be so easy to get right like Justice League. But yet, the team at DC managed to do just that.

Justice League is not a good film. That much is easy to explain. Despite starting incredibly well with an opening title sequence set to Sigrid’s Everybody Knows showing how the world has changed in the wake of Superman’s death, Justice League drops the ball incredibly quickly. The film starts incredibly rough, with the film jumping from scene to scene without any real rhyme, reason or sense of continuity. Scenes feel cut short, never feeling like they actually end. It feels like there’s someone with a stopwatch standing just off camera shouting “Too long! Next scene!” at different intervals. The film rushes to its next “big” moment with little thought for character or story. At first, I thought this was just going to be a rough opening half hour and the film would find its stride, but this was not to be. This is how the film is from beginning to end. I can’t recall ever seeing a film that was ever this desperate to reach its own credits as quickly as this one.

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While many may blame this on the studio mandated two hour running time, the problem can in fact be traced back to Zack Snyder’s own storytelling style. Snyder has always prioritised “moments” over storytelling and character. Justice League is then the ultimate version of this approach to filmmaking. The film is so concerned with reaching the next moment, that the story and characters get left behind. This problem was present in Sucker Punch, Legend of the Guardians, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman and it’s also present here. Ultimately all of the problems with Justice League can be traced back to this approach Zack Snyder takes to filmmaking.

A major casualty of this is the film’s villain; Steppenwolf (Hinds). Perhaps the worst comic book movie villain seen in a while, Steppenwolf is poorly written and poorly presented. Not least because Steppenwolf is a purely CGI creation who doesn’t blend very well with the live-action elements. Steppenwolf barely has any screen time yet we are supposed to accept he’s the most dangerous threat the DC Universe has ever seen. DC Films have had a problem with their antagonists so far and Steppenwolf is the worst of the bunch. Yes, even worse than Suicide Squad’s poor excuse of a villain in Enchantress. Hinds tries his best in a purely voice role (with some facial motion capture) but it never quite comes together. Steppenwolf’s dialogue is mostly generic dialogue we’ve heard every clichéd supervillain spout before. While Ares from Wonder Woman was also guilty of the same, he had the benefit of a rather excellent performance from David Thewlis who shared excellent chemistry on screen with Gal Gadot when threatening her. When a similar scene occurs in Justice League, there’s no sense of menace or threat. It’s hard to feel threatened when what looks like a reject from a Lord of the Rings video game spouts such plainly clichéd dialogue. Moments where Steppenwolf should be a threat fall painfully flat such as a scene when Steppenwolf growls at Wonder Woman, “You have the blood of the Old Gods in you! The Old Gods died!”. There’s no sense of threat or menace during this moment. When we’ve already been treated to some great villains in comic book movies this year such as Kurt Russell as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Michael Keaton as the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, there’s no excuse for delivering a villain as clichéd and unmemorable as this.

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Moving onto our heroes, more problems begin to emerge.

Ben Affleck seems utterly bored and looks like he’d rather be anywhere else and doing anything else. As Batman is meant to be our protagonist, this is a big problem. With rumours circulating throughout the year that Affleck was on the verge of quitting the DCEU, his performance here leads credence to those rumours. Has Affleck grown bored of playing the Caped Crusader after just one film? Did the negative reception to Batman v Superman burn him out that badly? Regardless, Affleck’s almost entirely disinterested performance does not lend the film any favours. How are we supposed to care about a Batman who is played by an actor that doesn’t seem to care?

On the other end of the scale however is Henry Cavill as Superman. While his role in this film is relatively brief for obvious reasons, Cavill is finally allowed to smile and embrace the charm and wonder of the character for the first time in the franchise. Superman finally feels like Superman. So, it’s baffling that the character is barely in the film. It quickly becomes clear that Superman’s death in Batman v Superman was not meant to fulfil any specific role in the story and was instead simply orchestrated for the shock value of killing the iconic character (another one of Snyder’s “moments”). If Cavill had been allowed to portray the character in this way from the very beginning, we’d be looking at a very different, and likely much better, Justice League. Instead one of its best aspects, a proper Superman at last, becomes a strike against it. Simply because he’s not utilised as much as he should be.

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Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is once again the shining star. Gadot was clearly born to play the part and utterly smashes it for a third time. It’s a shame Gadot is caught up in such a disappointing film. Hopefully Wonder Woman 2’s 2019 release date won’t feel too far away.

As for the rest of the League, herein lies the rub. None of them ae given enough time to properly develop. Ezra Miller’s Flash is just a wisecrack machine. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is presented as a typical “Surfer bro” who is just angry at everyone all the time while Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is about as interesting as watching paint dry. None of this is a fault of the actors. They all do a fine job with what they have. All of this can be traced back to the editing and writing of the film. In an ideal world, the movie would slow down and let us get to know these characters just a little bit more rather than the briefest of development they are given. This may ultimately have been the problem with rushing the DCEU; by not giving any of these characters their own movies, we don’t have reason to care and a crossover ensemble movie with at least eleven principal characters just isn’t the place to introduce and develop new characters. Or at least in a movie that runs towards its climax faster than the Flash himself.

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The action meanwhile struggles to be entertaining. This is nothing to do with how the movie is shot, as Snyder certainly knows how to frame a scene. But while the cinematography looks fine, its ultimately all for naught as it all manages to be incredibly bland and uninteresting to watch. Snyder, again, prioritises moments within these action sequences but forgets to make the action itself interesting. As the heroes run around fighting Steppenwolf’s armies in a big kerfuffle of CGI, the one thought that kept running through my mind was “this action scene should not be this uninteresting”. But that’s ultimately what extends to all the action in the film. It’s bland. It’s slathered in CGI. And it’s ultimately incredibly dull to watch.

The sound in the movie is also worth criticising. Sound effects are mixed too loudly, making action scenes not just difficult on the eyes but on the ears as well. Sound mixing is all over the place; dialogue is at times hard to hear and big triumphant moments in the score are lost in the mix. The hyped return of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme for instance is almost lost as explosions and booms bury the score in the mix, making a heroic moment for Batman lose its impact.

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As for the story, the comparisons to the plot of Avengers Assemble are hard to miss; a villain from another world searches the Earth for a cube shaped McGuffin to unleash his army and destroy the world if a team of superheroes can’t stop him. Narratively, the film tries to hit the exact same beats; the first act assembling the team while the villain goes around collecting items necessary for their plan then a second act sees the heroes divided on a key issue before they all come together for an epic battle. But the film doesn’t seem to quite land them in the same way. It’s as if Snyder and writer Chris Terrio didn’t quite understand the magic that made Avengers Assemble work, eventually bringing on Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon to write new scenes (and eventually direct the reshoots in Zack’s absence) to do it for them… and failing. Narratively the film is a mess. There’s no emotional connection to events that occur, several key story elements are left unexplained, the heroes act like complete idiots when the plot demands they must do and so on. Justice League is the type of film where a convenience is created to move the story along to the next beat, instead of letting the story flow and develop naturally. There are many moments in the film where something narratively convenient will happen to advance the so-called plot. A moment in the second act where the heroes leave a key item abandoned in a car park where Steppenwolf can conveniently steal it left me scratching my head in confusion. When Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective, is part of the team, these types of heroic blunders are inexcusable.

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Justice League is a mess; a collection of Zack Snyder moments strung together by a paper-thin plot and incredibly poor character work as well as perhaps the worst villain ever seen in a major superhero film. If more films like this are on the cards, then DC need to seriously rethink their superhero universe. There’s a moment in the film where Batman quips that his working as part of a team “may be temporary”, and honestly, I feel that might be for the best. It takes a special kind of incompetence to make a bad Justice League movie and it’s here in spades. Justice League is not the superhero crossover we need, nor the one we deserve. It’s sort of like that person you’ll always give another chance to impress you, but instantly regret as they only find new, bigger ways of disappointing you.

 

3/10

“Thor: Ragnarok” Review

Directed by: Takia Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Hopkins
Plot: Imprisoned, the almighty Thor (Hemsworth) finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk (Ruffalo), his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilisation. 

mv5bmty1nda1mjc3mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwntexmjgwndi-_v1_sx1777_cr001777744_al_The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a big year. After two massive successes with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, the franchise surely couldn’t hit a home run and have three great films in one year? Yet that’s exactly what it did. Thor: Ragnarok is big, bold and thrilling, emerging as one of the franchise’s best.

For the third Thor film, Marvel could have played things incredibly safe with a fairly atypical superhero entry. Yet, they went for the risky choice. Hiring Taika Waititi, known more for quirky comedies than action movies, was a risk that paid off. For Thor: Ragnarok is not just the best Thor film, but one of the best in the Marvel Universe. The film takes a drastic tone change for the franchise, opting for a big action-packed space comedy rather than fantasy. And yet, this stylistic change works. From an opening sequence where Thor fights the forces of Surtur to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, things instantly feel fresh and unique. If Marvel has been trying to refine their “formula”, then Thor: Ragnarok is the ultimate refinement. There’s little that doesn’t work within the film.

Much of this is due to director Taika Waititi. Waititi brings his own unique style to the film, giving it a unique style and flavour not found within other superhero films. The quirky comedy and the embracing of the inherent silliness of the entire thing was perhaps the best decision that could have been made in regard to this film. Waititi gets that watching a guy in long hair wave around a magic hammer is, ultimately, a very silly idea, so he has fun with it. And this leads to some of the best comedy ever seen within the Marvel Universe.

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But yet this added comedy does not stop the film from having an impact. In fact, this comedic tone helps the darker and more emotional beats of the film hit even harder than usual. In fact, it’s just surprising exactly how much this film is able to get away with. People have been crying out for superhero movies to have more consequences and they don’t get much bigger than this. The emotional beats hit harder than they ever have before. In fact, in terms of emotional impact, some of the moments here have greater impact than Captain America: Civil War.

All of this is helped along by an absolutely stellar cast. Chris Hemsworth has shown before that he has strong comedic chops both in the MCU and out of it and here he gets to run wild with them. Out of Hemsworth’s five appearances in the Marvel Universe so far, this is by far his best. Much like the film itself, Hemsworth shines with the comedy but really excels with the emotional beats. Hemsworth’s Thor manages to really come into his own here.

Likewise, Tom Hiddleston shines as Loki once again being a scene stealer. Hiddleston has always been a fan favourite and here he absolutely proves his worth yet again, giving Loki a depth and dimensionality that most other characters in superhero films lack. Hiddleston also provides some of the film’s most memorable comedic beats showcasing brilliant comedic timing.

Mark Ruffalo is also excellent as Bruce Banner/Hulk. Hulk is at his most complex here, with Ruffalo and producer Kevin Feige explaining this film is the first of three telling a new story for the Hulk (with the other two being the two upcoming Avengers sequels) and this works across well. While Hulk’s character arc is not resolved within this film, it doesn’t need to be. Seeing Banner awaken from two years of being the Hulk and worrying that transforming into the Hulk again will be a permanent transformation leads to some excellent character moments with Banner. Ruffalo handles these moments excellently as well as delivering some hilarious dialogue. Ruffalo’s Hulk is also on fine form with the character being able to speak properly now leading to some excellent moments. Hulk is also the source of some of the film’s best humour with one hilarious moment being an unexpected call-back to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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But the real dazzlers of the cast are the new additions. Tessa Thompson is fantastic as Valkyrie; a drunk, washed up Asgardian warrior in self-imposed exile. Thompson manages to instantly fit in with the group of Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Ruffalo and carves out a place of her own within the film. Thompson’s Valkyrie is one of the highlights of the film in humour, action and character with Valkyrie having one of the more defined character arcs in the film. Thompson is a blast on screen and I hope she sticks around for future Thor sequels as she’s quickly become an essential part of the series, being a more than adequate replacement for Natalie Portman; who did not return for this film.

Jeff Goldblum meanwhile manages to steal every scene he’s in as the Grandmaster. Goldblum is clearly having a lot of fun with the role and it quickly becomes very infectious with the film brightening up every time he’s on screen. He is certainly one of the more unusual Marvel villains but is certainly one of the most memorable and one I certainly hope to see return in future films.

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And then we have Cate Blanchett as Hela. Blanchett does a fantastic job with what she’s given, managing to make Hela an effective and memorable antagonist. The only problem is that Blanchett is not given enough time to really play with the character. The decision to have most of the middle act set away from Asgard creates the problem of Hela being sat around doing nothing for much of this time. Indeed, the film has to create a narrative convenience just to delay Hela’s plans until the third act, with a key item needed for her plot conveniently going missing at the end of the first act. But despite this, Hela still manages to make an impact. An early scene of Hela invading Asgard and being able to take out its warriors all by herself is a thrilling scene to watch and Blanchett is clearly having a blast in the role. It’s just a shame she doesn’t have enough screen time to truly become an iconic villain.

The film is helped along by some truly stunning visuals. If an award was made for the most visually stunning superhero film, Thor: Ragnarok would win it. A true visual feast for the eyes with amazing CGI and excellent cinematography and art direction. The film also benefits from a fantastic score by Mark Mothersbaugh, which even manages to revisit Patrick Doyle’s brilliant theme from the first film.

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To summarise; Thor: Ragnarok is not just a fantastic entry in the Marvel Universe, it’s also perhaps one of the strongest superhero films in recent years and one of the best blockbusters of the year. Marvel have struck gold and delivered the biggest, best and most thrilling Thor film yet. “What are you the god of again?” Hela asks Thor during a key moment. The God of all superhero movies would be a suitable answer.

9.5/10

Doctor Who: Series 1 Part 2 Retrospective

Main Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), John Barrowman (Jack Harkness)
Recurring: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler) and Bruno Langley (Adam Mitchell)

The Long Game by Russell T Davies

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From left to right: Adam (Bruno Langley), The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (Billie Piper) investigate the dark secrets of Satellite 5. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor, Rose and Adam arrive in the year 200,000 aboard Satellite Five; the hub of all news in the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire. But something isn’t right. Humanity’s development has fallen behind. Someone, or something, is purposefully keeping back Mankind’s evolution. As the Doctor and Rose attempt to discover why, Adam succumbs to the temptations that the far future offers.

The Long Game is one of those episodes that’s fine while you’re watching it but is otherwise completely forgettable. Which isn’t to say The Long Game is bad, it just suffers from being sandwiched between two of the best episodes of Series 1. There’s some great ideas presented in The Long Game, but the episode never really lingers on any of them enough to give them the proper time they deserve. A political commentary on how much the news shapes and manipulates the people is an excellent choice, but sadly it never gets enough time to breathe. It’s a great concept for a Doctor Who episode, but it’s not done justice here.

Adam’s fall into temptation meanwhile is also rushed. While it’s effective, the episode is pretty brutal in its treatment of Adam being very quick to brush him off as selfish and utterly unredeemable. While the episode makes a good point, not everyone is cut out to travel in the TARDIS, the episode never quite makes us connect with Adam; as the temptation is something a lot of us would fall into. A nice touch however is the Doctor seemingly offering Adam a second chance, by asking him to come clean, making the Doctor and Rose not entirely unsympathetic.

Simon Pegg is a delight as the Editor, bringing to life what would otherwise be a rather one note villain. It’s a shame that Pegg was cast in this episode, as his acting talents are wasted playing a one-off villain, especially one that plays second fiddle to a CGI beastie that does nothing but growl and roar.

Russell T Davies’s script is fine functionally and the episode is at the very least entertaining. However I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something that just didn’t quite click with The Long Game. Did it try to do too much? Was its CGI antagonist just not threatening enough? Is it the fact the episode is mainly set up for the two part finale, thus not allowing it to carve out an identity of its own? Whatever it was, it makes The Long Game leave a sour taste in the mouth and emerge as the weakest episode of Series 1.

5/10

Father’s Day by Paul Cornell

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The Doctor attempts to save Rose from a Reaper. Copyright: BBC

Rose asks the Doctor to take her back in time to the day her father died, allowing her to meet the man she never met and be with him at his death. However, Rose changes her mind and instead saves her father’s life creating a massive paradox and a wound in time. As monstrous creatures known as Reapers arrive to sterilise the wound; by devouring everyone and everything, the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance. Can the Doctor and Rose save the world and her father?

Father’s Day is just a fantastic episode. The first episode of the New Series to really focus on the consequences and temptations of time travel, after touching on them with Adam in the previous episode, Father’s Day is perhaps the most emotionally touching episode of the entire series. Who wouldn’t go back and spend just a few more minutes with a dearly departed loved one if they had a time machine? Rose’s motives are incredibly sympathetic in this episode and it’s the scenes following her decision to save her father, where Rose discovers that her father doesn’t quite live up to the one she created in her mind, that emerge as some of the best of the episode. Rose’s anger upon learning her Dad may have had an affair is wonderful to see, with this episode perhaps having Billie Piper’s strongest performance of the series. Guest star Shaun Dingwall, playing Rose’s father Pete, puts in a brilliant performance as well and it’s the scenes with the two of them together that really make this episode shine. The two are completely believable as father and daughter and Cornell crafts some wonderful dialogue for the two. The episode is worth watching for these two alone.

The Reapers are an amazing creation; utterly chilling and threatening, they are one of the more ingenious Doctor Who monsters. It’s a shame they haven’t been revisited because they are great antagonists, despite being apparently mindless beasts. This episode has to be commended for its high body count; possibly one of the largest in a single episode as the Reapers apparently devour everyone on Earth. While this is reversed at the end of the episode, it is still a terrifying thought when one thinks of these creatures swooping in and eating everyone in sight.

Father’s Day also excels in dealing with the consequences of time travel and teaching Rose, and the audience, a valuable lesson; time can’t be changed on a whim. The death of Rose’s father is apparently a fixed point in time; because his death defines Rose’s life. He has to die so Rose can become the woman she is. It’s nice for a Doctor Who episode to deal with a matter like this; that sometimes bad things have to happen so something good can happen.

Father’s Day is an excellent episode and in any other series would be the standout episode. As it is, Father’s Day emerges as one of the best episodes of the series, but not quite the best. But only because the competition is incredibly fierce.

10/10

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances by Steven Moffat

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The Doctor and Rose encounter Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) Copyright: BBC

Following a crashing object through time and space, the Doctor and Rose arrive in 1941; the height of the Blitz. Encountering the Rogue Time Agent Jack Harkness, the Doctor and Rose discover that the streets of London are under threat by not just Nazi bombs. For a young boy in a gas mask prowls the streets, asking for his mummy…

Steven Moffat, who would go on to write more episodes of Doctor Who than any other writer before him, makes his Doctor Who debut with an utterly terrifying but beautiful story. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances perfectly encapsulates everything that is so great about Moffat’s writing. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s exciting yet it’s also incredibly heart-warming and emotional. I’ve long stood by the opinion that Moffat is one of the best writers to ever write for the show and this story is complete proof of that.

The episode’s scares are truly terrifying. The lone child in a gasmask calling for his mummy remains one of Doctor Who’s most memorable, and most terrifying, creations; still striking fear into the hearts of children across the world. It’s such an atmospheric idea. Moffat has always had an eye for creating terrifying Doctor Who villains, and the Empty Child is up there with the best of them.

This episode also introduces us to Captain Jack Harkness; an iconic figure in the Doctor Who universe. At once Barrowman is a blast on screen, fitting easily into the TARDIS team. It’s a shame that this is the only time Moffat wrote for Jack, as Moffat’s dialogue and Barrowman’s acting goes hand in hand.

For that’s another thing about this story, despite its scares it’s also incredibly funny, with a throwaway gag of the Doctor destroying a weapons factory and planting a banana grove in its place is a favourite of mine. Moffat has a unique talent to make Doctor Who both terrifying and hilarious at the same time and its here that it really shines. From one minute the Doctor and co can be running for their life and the next they can be laughing and joking. Moffat’s trademark risqué humour is also at full force here; including the surprising joke of a married man sleeping with a local butcher for extra rations.

This story is also incredibly heart-warming, with the late game twist that the story is of a young mother in wartime Britain, it makes the conclusion incredibly beautiful; especially as it allows the Doctor to have a victory this series that he rarely has: to win without anyone dying. For as the Doctor says; “Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once! Everybody lives!”

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances is an excellent story and perhaps one of Doctor Who’s first true masterpieces in the modern era.

10/10

Boom Town by Russell T Davies

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Margaret Blaine/Slitheen (Annette Badland) details her plan to Rose. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor, Rose and Jack arrive in present day Cardiff and reunite with Mickey. They soon make a shocking discovery; Margaret Blaine, the last of the Slitheen, has survived. Quickly capturing her, the team plan to take her back to her home planet. Upon the reveal that she will be executed as soon as she arrives, tensions begin to rise in the TARDIS. Rose and Mickey’s relationship is put to its ultimate test while the Doctor is forced to consider if he can really be judge, jury and executioner.

Boom Town may seem like a passable episode on the surface and may not be an award winner, but it emerges as one of my favourite episodes of the series. While it may just be a filler comedy episode at first glance, the episode contains some excellent character development.

Rose and Mickey’s relationship is placed in full focus, with the strain her travelling with the Doctor puts on them being brought to attention. As Mickey and Rose start out having a pleasant enough evening only for the night to quickly dissolve into a mess is a little saddening to see; proving once and for all that as long as the Doctor is around, Rose and Mickey will never work. As Rose is unable to stop talking about the Doctor and Mickey admits he’s been seeing someone else, Billie Piper and Noel Clarke perfectly portray a young couple breaking down.

Christopher Eccleston is also excellent in this episode, as the Doctor is forced to confront a foe he’s willing to escort to her death. The dinner scene between the Doctor and Margaret Slitheen is the best scene of the episode, ranging from being utterly hilarious (as Margaret attempts to kill the Doctor multiple times) to emotional and touching as Margaret pleads for her life. This is one of the many episodes in Series 1 where the Doctor is forced to confront what sort of man the Time War made him into; and try and decide if that’s the sort of man he wants to be. Christopher Eccleston and guest star Annette Badland do a fantastic job in this episode and emerge as the highlights.

Another thing to be mentioned is how hilarious Boom Town is. I’d go down and say that this is probably one of Russell T Davies’s funniest scripts for the show. There are laughs galore; the entire sequence where Margaret attempts to escape from the Doctor manages to make me laugh every time.

Boom Town may not be a fantastic episode, but it’s still a great one. Funny and filled with some very funny moments, it’s a must watch for Series 1. Especially seeing as it’s the perfect breather before the finale.

8/10

Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways by Russell T Davies

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The Doctor confronts the Daleks. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor, Rose and Jack find themselves kidnapped and forced to compete in high stakes reality TV shows where the only rule is win; or die. As the Doctor attempts to unravel exactly what’s going on, an old enemy stirs in the shadows, manipulating events from afar. Earth faces total annihilation, Jack prepares to fight off the threat and the Doctor prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice while Rose faces her destiny. Whatever happens, this is the end and not everyone will make it out alive.

The series 1 finale is a masterpiece plain and simple. Starting off with a brilliant loving parody to Britain’s obsession with reality TV shows; seeing the Doctor trapped in the Big Brother house, Rose on the Weakest Link and Jack on What Not To Wear is excellent stuff and absolutely hilarious. At least until the games turn killer.

The Doctor and Rose are separated throughout most of the two parter, which works in the story’s favour. The Doctor meanwhile is partnered up with Lynda for most of the first part with Lynda filling the part of companion very well. Keeping the Doctor and Rose apart is an excellent choice as it makes their reunion all the better.

The way the first part of the story builds up the dread of something unseen in the shadows is excellent. If their presence hadn’t already been spoiled by the trailer at the end of Boom Town, the reveal that the Daleks are the masterminds would have been utterly mind-blowing. This leads to the strongest scene of the two parter; the cliffhanger to part 1 which I’m just going to leave here.

If Bad Wolf is fantastic, then Parting of the Ways is even more so. A remarkable thing is just how hopeless this finale feels. The Daleks have the upper hand, there’s very little hope for the Doctor and his friends to survive. The closest thing to a victory achieved for most of this episode is the Doctor sending Rose home in order to save her. This leads to one of the most heart-breaking scenes of the episode, as Rose desperately begs the TARDIS to take her home and a recording of the Doctor, beautifully played by Eccleston, implores Rose that the best way to honour his memory is to live a fantastic life. It’s such a wonderful scene.

This is followed by the sheer brutality of the Dalek’s assault on the Game Station, with pretty much the entire supporting cast being killed by them; including Jack. This is intercut with the Doctor conversing with the Dalek Emperor, who has gone mad and has proclaimed himself the god of all Daleks for bringing the Daleks back from extinction. This scenes are some of the best of the episode, as the Dalek Emperor questions the Doctor’s morality, questioning that if he is god the “bringer of life”, then perhaps that makes the Doctor the devil. This is followed by one of the most powerful moments in the entire series as the Dalek Emperor dares the Doctor to activate the Delta Wave (which will kill not just the Daleks but all humans on Earth); asking him to decide if he’s a coward or killer. The Doctor, after a few moments agonising over the decision, decides not to activate the wave and says “Coward. Always”. This is a defining moment for the Doctor’s character; not only is this the moment the Doctor finally decides what kind of man he wants to be in the wake of the Time War, but the moment that settles once and for all that the Doctor absolutely couldn’t have destroyed Gallifrey. It’s just not in his character, which inadvertently sets up the reveal he didn’t in The Day of the Doctor.

What follows is pure brilliance as Rose, finding the hidden message in the Bad Wolf meme, absorbs the heart of the TARDIS and returns; using the power of the vortex to destroy the Emperor and the Daleks and to resurrect Jack. However this power is beginning to kill Rose, so the Doctor absorbs the energy from her and the two take off in the TARDIS.

Eccleston then delivers a fantastic performance for his closing moments, as he says farewell to Rose (and the show) in an incredibly touching scene before he regenerates.

Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways is an utter masterpiece. It’s utterly flawless and is one of the pinnacles of what Doctor Who can achieve in the modern era.

10/10

Doctor Who Series 1 Part 2 Average Score:  8.6/10

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The Doctor in the TARDIS. Copyright: BBC

And it is with the conclusion of Series 1 that we bid farewell to Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. During this rewatch I gained a newfound love for Eccleston’s Doctor. Truly undervalued, Eccleston was utterly fantastic in the role and it’s a shame that we never got more episodes with him. Eccleston and Piper’s chemistry was fantastic and it’s a shame this wonderful TARDIS team only got one series to shine. Here’s hoping for lots of Big Finish with the two in the future.

Doctor Who: Series 1 Part 1 Retrospective

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The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Copyright: BBC

With a long wait until Christmas when incumbent Doctor Peter Capaldi will depart and new Doctor Jodie Whittaker will debut, I thought it high time to revisit the past of Doctor Who, with a rewatch of the new series starting with Series 1 (or Series 27 if you’re getting technical); starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.

The first half of Series 1 gets off to a very strong start. Showrunner Russell T Davies writes four of these six episodes so without further ado let’s get underway.

Main Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler)
Recurring: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), and Bruno Langley (Adam Mitchell)

 Rose by Russell T Davies

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The Doctor and Rose hunt for the Nestene’s lair. Copyright: BBC

Staying late at work one night, shop worker Rose Tyler is attacked by living plastic dummies and rescued by a mysterious man called the Doctor. As Rose continues to bump into the Doctor and his continuing battles against the living plastic, she attempts to find out more about him but is soon sucked into the Doctor’s dangerous world and finds an adventure she will never forget.

Rose had a massive task to fulfil. Not only did the episode mark the return of the series to screens for the first time in 16 years (9 years if you count the movie starring Paul McGann), but it also had to appeal to classic series watchers and to people who had never seen Doctor Who before. In this manner it succeeds, in various levels. Which isn’t to say Rose is bad in any form, it’s just not exactly a very good way of selling exactly what the show excels at. But that said, Rose is still a very strong start to the series. Much like many companion introduction episodes, the Doctor himself appears in a reduced capacity in this episode; being kept mostly off-screen until the back half of the episode. Billie Piper however shows strong acting talent and is able to carry the episode herself until the Doctor steps in to take over. We aren’t given much chance to get to know Eccleston’s Doctor in this episode; with lines indicating that he has only recently regenerated allowing us to see the Ninth Doctor at the beginning of his life; oddly not showing the “regeneration sickness” his later incarnations would show (which usually amounts to a great deal of confusion as the Doctor’s mind adjusts to his new body). Eccleston manages to make an impression though and he and Piper share a wonderful chemistry that is a joy to watch on screen.

The episode itself has a rather simple plot, seeing the Doctor dealing with an attempted invasion by the Nestene Consciousness and Rose getting caught up in the middle of it. This is one of those episodes where it doesn’t really matter who the monster is; they’re here just to provide some form of threat for the Doctor and Rose to overcome and seal their friendship. But what shines through in this script is Russell T Davies’s absolute love for Doctor Who; the conspiracy theorist Clive is a loving nod to the fans, the TARDIS is treated with almost reverence within the script, the Doctor’s personality is like a “best of” of previous Doctors and the script is filled with small nods that fans can pick up on. While Rose may not be RTD’s strongest script, it’s one that serves its purposes well and is still very entertaining to watch; in spite of it being rather forgettable overall.

7/10

The End of the World by Russell T Davies

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The Doctor and Rose prepare to witness the Earth’s destruction. Copyright: BBC

For her first trip in the TARDIS, the Doctor takes Rose to a space platform in the far future where the rich and powerful have all gathered to witness the end of the world itself. But one of the guests has a killer ulterior motive and soon it’s a race against time to save everyone on board before they are all destroyed along with the Earth.

In what has now become Doctor Who tradition, The End of the World takes new companion Rose to the far future for one of her first trips in the TARDIS and confronting a dark truth about the human race; with no humans doing anything to stop the destruction of the Earth and the implication that none of them even care. The episode also sees Rose come face to face with an eventual future of the human race; while other humans have mingled with other species so to speak, the Lady Cassandra has resorted to surgery in order to keep herself “pure”; now being nothing more than “skin with lipstick” as Rose puts it nicely. The fears of “plastic surgery gone mad” are still very relevant today, so to see the show make its first major attempt at social commentary was nice to see.

This episode also saw the debut of some wonderful alien designs and concepts; most of which were never seen again after this episode. It would have been nice if some of these alien characters could have gone on to become recurring characters, but the team did a fantastic job with the costumes. Eccleston is again fantastic in the role, but the episode makes the poor choice of keeping the Doctor and Rose apart for most of the episode; when allowing the Doctor and Rose’s relationship to grow would have been a smarter move. The plot of the episode then isn’t exactly great. It’s functional, but it’s nothing really memorable; a very “safe” episode of Doctor Who. As the show was still trying to establish itself, this was perhaps a smart idea even if it makes the episode a little forgettable overall and really only memorable for a few specific moments. The episode’s guest cast fare a little better with Zoe Wannamaker being a delight as Cassandra while Yasmin Bannerman really impresses as Jabe of the Forest of Cheem. There’s also a handful of rather hilarious jokes; of note is Cassandra wheeling out a jukebox and proclaiming it to be an “IPod”. The End of the World is an entertaining enough second outing for Eccleston’s Doctor, but really isn’t one fans will find themselves revisiting all that often.

7/10

The Unquiet Dead by Mark Gatiss

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The Gelth appear via a psychic link with Gwyneth (Eve Myles). Copyright: BBC

Arriving in 1869 Cardiff on Christmas, the Doctor and Rose encounter Charles Dickens. A nearby Undertakers though has a problem; the dead just won’t stay dead. With the help of Dickens and a young maid with a peculiar ability, the Doctor and Rose discover the cause of the “undead”. Can these mysterious beings be trusted?

The “unofficial Christmas Special”, The Unquiet Dead is not only the first Doctor Who script by Mark Gatiss nor the first script not written by Russell T Davies in the new series, but it’s also the New Series’ first attempt at a “celebrity historical” and a horror episode. A “celebrity historical” is a term used to describe when an episode focuses on the Doctor meeting an iconic figure from history, in this case Charles Dickens, played marvellously by Simon Callow. Callow’s Dickens is perhaps the highlight of the episode and delivers some of the episode’s best lines (“What the Shakespeare?!”). Incidentally, the episode started the trend of having a famous writer from history encounter what they were famous for writing; with Dickens encountering ghosts and, in later episodes, Shakespeare encountering witches (The Shakespeare Code) and Agatha Christie being involved in a murder mystery (The Unicorn and the Wasp).

This episode is a chilling experience to watch, perhaps the first truly scary episode of the show. The antagonists, the Gelth, are a macabre idea and truly one that could only have come from the mind of Mark Gatiss. This episode is incredibly dark and gothic, yet also has that tinge of humour that Gatiss is known for. The Unquiet Dead is a fantastic script and perhaps one of the best in this first batch of episodes. It’s also bolstered by a fantastic guest cast; with a pre-Torchwood Eve Myles being of particular note. The Unquiet Dead is an episode I often find myself drawn to watching and that is perhaps it’s an utterly unique episode; there hasn’t been an episode quite like it since.

8.5/10

Aliens of London/World War Three by Russell T Davies

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The Slitheen plot in Downing Street. Copyright: BBC

The Doctor takes Rose home to visit her mother, only for him to accidentally bring her home one year after she left where in the time since, Rose has been missing presumed dead. But that’s not all, an alien spacecraft crashes into the Thames and with the Prime Minister nowhere to be found, an acting Prime Minister is named and the Earth’s greatest alien experts (along with the Doctor) are called in to help. But this is all a sinister trap and the Doctor must soon make a difficult choice.

The first two-parter in the new series also sees the debut of one of the most iconic new series monsters; the Slitheen. Despite it’s, at times, immature humour; there’s a well written script here in a (very) thinly veiled criticism of Tony Blair’s government with many high ranking government officials revealed to be Slitheen in disguise. While most may remember this story for “farting aliens”, there’s a bit more to it than that. This was the first story to really examine the effect on the people left behind when the Doctor takes his companion away. Specifically; we see Rose’s family and friends searching for her and suspecting she’s been murdered by her boyfriend Mickey, due to the Doctor getting the dates wrong and taking Rose home 12 months later and not 12 hours. Seeing the effect this has on Jackie is almost heart-breaking. Camille Coduri delivers a fantastic performance across this two parter, being able to make us laugh and cry at the drop of a hat.

This two parter is where Series 1 really begins to hit its stride; with the personalities and dynamic between the Doctor and Rose fully established; allowing Eccleston and Piper to fully let loose with the roles. Penelope Wilton does a fantastic job as Harriet Jones, with her emerging as one of the episode’s strongest points – an MP that actually wants to help people.

The reveal that most high ranking officials are actually giant green aliens in skinsuits is the stuff conspiracy theorists dream of and the Slitheen are certainly memorable antagonists, mainly because unlike other Doctor Who villains, the Slitheen just want to make a profit, not invade. Many may deride them for the running fart jokes, but considering Doctor Who is primarily a family show it has to be a little silly at times. Especially since it leads to one of Eccleston’s best lines in the entire show; “Do you mind not farting while I’m saving the world?” The Slitheen are a truly fantastic monster design, despite very obvious changes from the costume to the CGI version. This storyline is a particularly great one; the entire climax featuring the Doctor having to choose between Rose and the world is great stuff. I feel this two parter often gets forgotten or pushed to the wayside for its perceived immaturity, for even though the episode is littered with fart jokes galore it helps hide a rather great story focusing on first contact between humans and aliens; and makes us wonder how much we can actually trust that those in power aren’t just aliens in skinsuits wanting to sell the Earth off to the highest bidder (one wonders what fun RTD could have had with Theresa May’s government). The story also has a great heart, focusing on just what effects running off to see the universe has on the family you leave behind. Aliens of London/World War Three is highly recommended. Oh, and keep a look out for an early appearance by Torchwood character Toshiko Sato.

Aliens of London – 8/10
World War Three – 8.5/10

Dalek by Robert Shearman

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Rose encounters the “last” Dalek. Copyright: BBC

Answering a distress call, the Doctor and Rose arrive in an underground museum devoted to aliens and alien artefacts owned by billionaire Henry van Statten. As Rose forms a close bond with one of van Statten’s employees; young genius Adam, the Doctor discovers the source of the distress call. For deep within van Statten’s base lies his prize exhibit… one of the Doctor’s oldest and deadliest enemies.

And here we are at last; the long-awaited new series debut of the Doctor’s most iconic foes. Dalek is a fantastic episode, easily one of the better episodes in Series 1 as a whole and the best in this first batch of episodes. This is the first episode to truly focus on the Time War and the sequence where the Doctor and the Dalek discuss being the only survivors (or so they thought at the time) of the Time War is a fantastic sequence. This episode features perhaps Eccleston’s finest performance as the Doctor, within this first half of the series anyway. The pain visible on the Doctor’s face as he discusses the Time Lords being all but gone is clear to see and Eccleston manages to convey a complex set of emotions all at once; regret, anger and sorrow.

But perhaps what this episode is best remembered for is the Dalek itself; and boy does it deliver. The Dalek is truly terrifying as it slowly makes its way through Van Statten’s base floor by floor killing everyone it encounters (over 200 people according to one character). This is one of the few times the Daleks have been utterly terrifying and it’s amazing. The episode brings the Doctor’s iconic foe back to life in the best way it could.

What’s most interesting is Rose and her interactions with the Dalek. With the Dalek having absorbed Rose’s DNA to restore itself, the Dalek finds itself changing and Rose begins to see parallels between the Doctor and the Dalek. And we the audience do too; for Rose not only healed the Doctor (metaphorically) but she also healed the Dalek.

Composer Murray Gold also debuts his iconic Dalek theme in this episode and it’s still just as bone chilling 12 years on. The episode’s guest cast is fine but not particularly memorable. Bruno Langley does fine as Adam and paves the way for a bigger role in the next episode. Nicholas Briggs meanwhile manages to bring the Dalek’s screechy voice to life and takes it to the next level, giving us a voice that will haunt nightmares for years to come.

All this would be lost without some truly fantastic directing by Joe Ahearne and a marvellous script by Robert Shearman (it’s a crime that he has yet to return to the show). Dalek is one of those Doctor Who episodes where everything comes together perfectly delivering an absolute masterpiece. Dalek is supreme. All hail Dalek.

10/10

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The Doctor and Rose. Copyright: BBC. 

This first crop of episodes are a great start to Series 1, with not one weak link amongst them. Russell T Davies did the impossible here; he brought Doctor Who back and make it sleeker and bigger than ever without losing the show’s magic touch and charm. The only real flaw in this bunch is the budget; CGI has not aged well and the mastering on the episodes has equally not aged well; the episodes just don’t look as shiny or sleek on flat screen 4K TVs – perhaps indicating BBC should consider a full remaster of the episodes in years to come. But aside from that, the show looks fantastic for its time and this run of episodes is a fantastic way to start the series. Check back next week for retrospectives on the next 7 episodes of Series 1! And check back weekly for new Doctor Who retrospectives all the way until Christmas.

Doctor Who Series 1 Part 1 Average Score: 8.1/10