Babylon 5: Convictions

b5I’ll be the first to admit that seasons 3 and 4 of Babylon 5 are the most incredible seasons of the show.  It’s at the heart of everything that has happened and will happen.  Powerhouse writing!  When I watch this show, I keep a notebook at hand for things I want to mention on our blog.  Now, I liked this episode, but I had precisely this written down: .  No, that wasn’t a mistake.  I actually had nothing at all on the page when I was done.  And I ask myself: why?  We’re in JMS-land, where Straczynski is exclusively the writer of the story.  Why didn’t I find something to talk about?  Did I not like this one?

No, that wasn’t it.  This was the episode of “the elevator”.  Oh, you’ll remember it when it happens.  Let’s rewind.  I’m very good with titles because with most shows, the title tells you what you need to know about the episode you’re watching.  But, though they are changing more since binge viewing has become a thing, when Babylon 5 came out, we were not getting one-off episodes of a show.  We were getting 22-part chapters of a visual book.  This means, chapter titles did not always tell you all of what was going to happen in an hour long episode and sometimes episodes blur together.  How does convictions tell you what’s to come?  It sounds like we’re going to deal with a religious episode and when Brother Theo arrives, it seems guaranteed.  Or when Lennier lies to make a mouthy drunkard go away but is, moments later, caught in an explosion, one wonders if his convictions will be challenged.  But that’s all setup.  It’s setup for a bomber and for Ivanova to question if Free Mars or Home Guard are behind it.  But for fans of the show, the most impressive part of the episode takes place after Londo is forced to enter an elevator with G’Kar and they are trapped together after an explosion.  This becomes a character piece about these two men.  G’Kar hates Londo and his people.  He could kill Londo at any point.  But they are trapped and are basically being cooked alive inside a metal oven.  G’Kar can withstand it better than Londo can, but things are looking bad for both of them.

As usually Katsulas gives a stunning performance.  Just a look from those demented red eyes as he glares at Londo, almost at peace with his impending death, is a performance worth talking about.  But it’s not just his dark side that Andreas sells so well.  Watch him arguing with Garibaldi as they walk through the station.  As he misjudges where Garibaldi is going and has to run after him, or moments later when he takes his eyes off Garibaldi for a second, he turns to see he’s talking to himself.  He sells comedy as easily as rage.  This is an actor of fantastic range and it’s a tragic loss that he’s gone.  Londo, meanwhile, manages to convey some genuine feeling for Lennier, who has been the only person to save his life.  As he sits with Lennier, one remembers that Londo was not always the bad guy.  We liked him once.  He was the comic relief.  Like real life, these characters are complex and have many sides.  And I love that.  I love that there’s not a bad guy, per se, just differences of opinion.  (I find myself writing that twice today about two different shows, ironically!)  The episode ends with these two great characters lying on the floor of the elevator calling each other names.  Back and forth: bastard, monster, fanatic, murderer… It’s comical and yet there’s sincerity behind their words.  A stunning performance, and the title should have been “The Elevator”, and we’d never forget.

Although in fairness, that says nothing of the actual problem the station is facing: there’s a bomber on the loose.  Londo and G’Kar are just victims of the bomber.  Which brings us to another great performance by Patrick Kilpatrick, a veteran bad guy.  I’ve seen him in a number of things and when you’re good at a role, why not stick with it.  For his visit to B5, we have him threatening to blow up the station.  We know it’ll survive, but the tension mounts and when we get a slow motion scene of him releasing the dead-man’s switch, we wonder if the station will suffer casualties.  Kilpatrick plays the maniac to perfection, as he sweats and panics while taunting Sheridan with his presumed power.  He is a fun villain to watch and that makes it more rewarding when Sheridan beats him.

Why didn’t I have anything written down when I was done with this episode?  Because I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.  And because I’m still in awe of the acting of Katsulas and Jurasik.   And the season is just getting started… ML

The view from across the pond:

“We touch to share your blessing.”

I think we’ve all heard that chat up line before. I suppose if I had to pinpoint why Babylon 5 has been such a disappointment so far it would be the very thing that a lot of people praise the series for: it’s nearly all written by the same person. Unfortunately that person simply doesn’t seem to be a very good writer so far. One question all writers should ask themselves is “why am I writing this?”. There has to be a point to what you are doing. Not for the first time we have an episode that is functionally a whodunit, but misses the point of a whodunit altogether by introducing both the killer and the killer’s motive at the moment of final confrontation rather than integrating both throughout the episode in a way that is (not easily) guessable. Whodunits follow a pattern for a reason, and without that you have television viewing as spectacle without the need to engage the brain. I felt like a vegetable watching this for most of the episode. No grey matter required.

What we were left with was a triumph of style over substance with some impressive bangs and flashes, and mercifully a brilliantly acted killer. Patrick Kilpatrick, a man with more Patricks in his name than anyone surely needs, saves this episode single-handedly. He does crazy and dangerous compellingly, and is very scary as Robert Carlson. Unless I missed something, his motive was simply the fact that everything in his life has gone wrong, which is also very scary, despite being somewhat lacking in whodunit terms.

So apart from a stellar acting performance at the end, there was little point to the main plot, which rumbled along slowly and went nowhere but the inevitable – through some obligatory stunt glass. The subplot with the religious group was so boring that I have absolutely nothing to say about it. The subplot with Lennier was also relatively pointless. It was pretty obvious he wasn’t going to be written out just two episodes into the series, so there was no real sense of jeopardy, and there was no need to drive the point home that he is a good man almost to a fault, because we already know that. It might have been justified by Londo being touched by having his life saved by somebody else for the first time, which fits in rather well with his search for a genuine friend in the last series, but it never really went anywhere and lacked a scene with Londo visiting Lennier after he wakes up, which should have been the coda to the episode. That lovely little speech Lennier gives about sacrificing the present for the future should have been within earshot of Londo at the very least, and then you have a point to the whole thing.  Londo would have realised that Lennier saved him because his beliefs compel him to, and for no other reason.  Without that, it was just another scriptwriting blind alley.

But there was one thing JMS did get right this week: G’Kar and Londo trapped in a lift.

“We must work together.”
“No.”
.”What do you mean, no?”
“No.”

One again this illustrated for me how JMS never quite realised (so far) the good bits and the bad bits about his show, constantly failing to capitalise on the good stuff. At any given moment, if G’Kar is on the screen the series bursts into life. This was the only part of the episode that had a point to it, and the only part that was entertaining beyond (a) spectacle or (b) an actor doing creepy well. It should have been a much stronger focus of the episode.

“As the humans say, up yours, die.”

What we have here is a glorious subversion of the Locked in a Room trope. Television dramas are full of this trope, especially sci-fi, because it’s a great tool for the writer. Force two characters to be together in this way and you force conflict (and often resolution), especially if the characters are avoiding each other or something of that nature. The way it usually pans out is that the two trapped characters have to work together to escape, and form a bond or resolve a conflict in the process.

What’s so fabulous about this is that it takes the trope and then has one of the characters laugh through it all and completely refuse to play his role, delighting in the humour of it all along the way.

“Can anyone hear us?”
“I hear you!”

It illustrates the depth of his hatred for Londo. There will be no reconciliation here. G’Kar wants to live, but he wants to see Londo die more. Man, he’s a great character. I promised Mike that I would watch every episode of Babylon 5 and by now I think I would have to admit to sticking with it merely to fulfil a promise, if it wasn’t for G’Kar. As long as he’s in it, I’m a willing viewer.   RP

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Nekromanteia

nekromantiaMaybe I’m becoming too old fashioned and a bit cynical in my old age.  I remember when these CD’s would show up on my doorstep and I’d be super excited to listen to each one.   I’m not saying I’m not enjoying them, but when you’re listening to something casually, you let things go.  When you’re listening critically, you have a different focus; you’re ready to talk about various elements and what do we talk about normally?  Things we love, and things we hate.  Let’s be honest, we’re never going to get into a deep and meaningful conversation about flip-flops because, who cares?  They go on your feet to protect them from the hot sand at the beach.  Can we really get deep about that?  But open a conversation about the final season of Game of Thrones and you open a can of worms with it.  It’s a question of things we’re passionate about, and I’m a Doctor Who fan for something very close to 40 years!

I went into Nekromanteia without looking at the cover so I wasn’t to know right away that we were getting that powerhouse team of the Fifth Doctor, Peri and Erimem until after the first thing that derailed me: the voices of the Witch.  Like many of you, the Wicked Witch of the West was one of the earliest witches I’d ever seen or heard on television and the handful of cartoon ones that may have come along in my youth sounded like her anyway.  So hearing the opening with the witch-voiced creature and that shrill, high pitch… it put me off from the start.  So what might have been promising was starting off as anything but!

That’s not to say there weren’t things that improved the listening experience.  Like their last outing, Erimem is still new to the crew and has plenty she doesn’t understand so when Peri mentions coming back in 20 minutes, she has to ask if Peri has such a precise ability to measure time.  Peri has to explain that she has a watch.  It’s a tiny, perhaps even inconsequential line, but it reminds the audience that Erimem is not from our time and has a lot to learn.  I loved that someone refers to the Doctor as “Mr. Beige”, considering the colors of his clothing.  And the episode does feature some impressive cliffhangers, including Erimem being shot and the Doctor being killed.  

But this is probably the point that lost me the most.  The Doctor’s head is ripped off (which isn’t my issue) but he’s brought back by magic, by Shara.  And what exactly was he?  A god?  The whole “you’ve died so I took you to a cricket match, old boy, but I’ll magic you back to life because you’re really good” doesn’t work for me.  The only Deus Ex Machina I really go for is the video game of the same name, not the get-out-of-death-free writing style.  I should probably take issue with the brutality of ripping off someone’s head, but then I’d have to take issue with someone having his tongue cut out.  I don’t want to get all high and mighty about such things though, because then I’d have to shoot myself straight to the gutter because of Peri.  She wakes up naked (she had to be bathed for sacrifice) and seems to remain that way for the bulk of the story.  (Her rescuer claims that he’s “trying not to think about” but I don’t buy it!  In fact, I bet I know why he rescued her to begin with.  I digress.)  And she tells him she has the word “trouble” tattooed on her ass.  (How much you want to bet that he checked when she wasn’t looking?)

And then we have the ending, which was like Deus Ex Machina 2… not the sequel to the first game, but I mean, squared, I just can’t get that little two to pop into the corner of the word “machina”… because throughout the story, for some odd reason, Erimem is wandering about the planet with her cat.  Look, my cat thinks he’s a dog and comes to greet me when I get home at night.  He even walks to the car when I get out, but most cats don’t do these sorts of things.  So we knew somehow Atronach was going to play a part in the resolution, which should have felt “oh that was convenient; didn’t see that coming” but instead feels like “Oh, just let the cat absorb the god, so he can be out of the TARDIS already!”

Considering this team-up, I expected far better.  The only consolation is that I have a very good imagination and this one at least offered some reward for such a trait.  (I even imagined the word “trouble”…)  ML

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The Prisoner: A. B. and C.

The Prisoner A B and CIt’s early days but things seem to be settling down into a formula. Each week we have a new Number Two, who tries a new scheme to get Number Six to answer questions. This episode the question is slightly different, in that Number Two is already convinced of the answer to why Number Six resigned, which was last week’s question. Instead, he wants to know which of his acquaintances he sold out to, from a choice of three enemy agents or defectors. The starting point is a false assumption, and at least by the end of the episode we have ruled out one reason why Number Six resigned, and probably the most obvious reason. We also have a very different Number Two from last week. He looks nervous right from the start, clearly terrified of what will happen if he doesn’t deliver results for his boss, and is prepared to risk killing Number Six, something that previous Number Twos have always absolutely ruled out. He is a desperate man.

The scheme of the week is a silly one, it has to be said. It falls squarely into the category of sci-fi as fantasy with a veil of technobabble. If Number 14 wore a pointy hat and waved a magic wand at least the episode would be honest about the idea being sold to us, but instead we are sold a crazy non-science in which 60s technology allows a man’s dreams to be converted to pictures on a screen. Asking us to accept that somebody can be inserted into his dream with a tape of the person’s profile is a leap further, and the final straw is Number 14 finding a way to put words into their mouths, even emoting the lines correctly. Note how she thinks of that idea off the cuff and just happens to have exactly the right equipment hooked up to achieve it.

It doesn’t help that little attempt is made to offer up images from Number Six’s perspective. Apparently his dreams consist of images of other people’s perspective of him, or a camera’s perspective when nobody else is around, but almost never what he would actually see through his own eyes in a dream. OK, let’s face it, his brain has the title sequence in it. The frustrating thing is that it could so easily have been made to work. It just needed a transition shot between his eye view and the standard camera view to get the ball rolling each time. We would have understood that as a storytelling technique. Viewing doesn’t need to be immersive, but it does need some kind of a handle to bring us into the narrative, whereas this episode throws us right out of it with no attempt at making the story actually work on any level, apart from just being a lot of fun.

And it is a huge amount of fun, despite the issues. This week it’s the turn of Peter Bowles to turn up with an outrageous moustache; a theme is developing. Number Six continues to be one of the best characters in anything, ever. Just look at the way he straightens his (bow) tie, a Bond-like swagger with a touch of bow-ties-are-cool. Patrick McGoohan communicates Number Six’s thought processes with every little subtle change of expression, such as the flicker of recognition when he sees Number 14 in the village, and looks at the mark on his wrist. You can see the cogs whirring, and what marvellous cogs they are. He is amazingly calm, observant and astute. No wonder Number Two looks nervous.

“Anyone who had nothing to hide would ask where I got it.”

Such clever writing. I also loved the final dream sequence, the only one that the director really sold to us well, with the dream going wrong and the action shot from funny angles and perspectives. I guessed the identity of the man in the mask straight away, and it didn’t help that the outline of his glasses was clearly visible underneath (to be fair, this might just be a symptom of modern picture quality and larger screens – I’m not sure it would have been so visible to a contemporary viewer), but it didn’t diminish the moment. This might be a series that requires a huge suspension of disbelief, but it does what it does with style.   RP

The view from across the pond:

We come to the third episode of The Prisoner and Colin Gordon is the new #2.  I am pretty positive he has an ulcer.  Notice how terrified he is of that enormous red block we’re expected to take as a phone?  Terrified, I tell you.  (I imagine all those who work for the Village are a bit uptight; everyone is so stern in this place, they are probably all a little bit terrified!)  So #2 drinks his milk, a known palliative for the common ulcer.  But I point it out because drinks feature a lot in this episode.  Everyone is having a drink at the party, champagne flows freely, #2 drinks his milk and #6 is given tea at night by a maid (of which, he seems to be appreciative of her service. This lead my wife to ask if he wouldn’t be more clued in to that trick, but he gets there in the end!)  So he pours his tea down the drain, drinks tap water, … and promptly collapses anyway.  (Who drugs the tap?)  But the drinks don’t end there, oh no!  How does #6 overcome #2 and #14?  He dilutes “dose C” with water that he gets from a nearby carafe.  Now, I’m no doctor, but I don’t know how advisable it is shooting water into ones bloodstream.  Call me overly cautious, but I think that could be dangerous.

Anyway, let’s talk about the episode.  This story offers a clever way to take McGoohan out of the Village and into “the real world” where we can focus on other settings.  #2 uses the old psychedelic drug ploy to manipulate #6’s mind.  Those in charge believe #6 was going to sell out to one of 3 people: A, B or C.  Of course, by the time we get to C, we learn they really only had it narrowed down to two people because the third is basically “anyone”.  So yes: two people or potentially anyone, thus not really narrowed down at all.  Good job #2.  Let’s look over three observations… perhaps we can call them “A, B, and C?”

A. Madame Engadine’s party is a happy place, unlike the oppressiveness of the Village.  Engadine invites all her spy friends for a party and I imagine the invitation was to Spycon68.  Come as you are or as someone else.  Cosplay is a blast at these: you could be in costume and no one would know it!  All kidding aside, this story opens some interesting observations.  When #6 is hooked up to the machine, we see what’s playing in his mind and it’s the opening scene where he’s ranting at the man at the desk.  This plays over and over.  #2 says, “He’s very single minded.”  This leads to a far more interesting reply from #14: “I sometimes think he’s not human.”  According to #6, “last week, #14 was an old lady in a wheelchair”.  So, what would lead #14 to suspect anything of #6 at all.   What opinion could she even begin to form of #6 in a week?  How long could she possibly have known him?  Or perhaps she knows of him?  So 6 is on the table and his eyes open.  This offers us a view of #14 on the big screen.  Sure, that makes sense but one should admire the trick from the perspective of late 60’s television especially if we consider that the image he has of himself is a third person perspective, but when he sees #14, we get a first person view of what he is seeing.

B. Let’s also consider that this is mostly a “dream episode”.  We see plenty of evidence but perhaps none greater than leaving a nighttime party with Engadine, driving in broad daylight, and opening the doors of a church to look into a nighttime courtyard, but the dream aspect is significant if one considers that everyone seems to know about his pending vacation.  “Have you the feeling that you’re being manipulated?”  #6 seems to know there’s something amiss even before his final dose which he dilutes.  Does that mean he had nothing to hide when he planned his “vacation” and is, in fact, projecting on others that they knew, or did others actually know he was going, simply because he had nothing to hide?  Presumably he hadn’t posted in on the not-yet-existent Facebook, because if the opening is anything to go by, he leaves the office where he resigns only to attempt his escape immediately thereafter.  Does it even matter, since the whole thing is a drugged dream?   After manipulating the dream state, he appears to walk into the lab and tells #2, “I wasn’t selling out.  That wasn’t the reason I resigned.”  He stays a step ahead of the powers behind the Village and reveals quite a bit about his motives in that one bit of dialogue.

C. Finally, when he follows #14, it should have come as a surprise that no one sees him.  Now, one might be inclined to quote Sherlock Holmes: “That is what you may expect to see when I follow you” but the Village is under ultra-high surveillance; there should be no way for 6 to follow 14 without #2 seeing at least some of his sneaking around.  Notice that #2, in a rage, yells, “doesn’t he ever get tired?” as he watches #6 on his walk; so complete is his level of surveillance!  So how come no one noticed 6 following 14?  No one saw him get into the lab?  Why wasn’t the lab under surveillance?  And yet, I’d argue that it was being watched all the time, based on the final image of the episode.  2 tells 14, “Your drug failed.”  She replies coldly, “No, he succeeded.”  Realizing his failure, 2 turns in terror to look at the red phone, which begins to ring.  Someone knows of the failure and they are not happy.

It is interesting that we are watching a show about a guy who is basically tortured every week, and while he doesn’t succeed in escaping, he always seems to be one step ahead of his captors and he does have the occasional victory from time to time.  This was his first.  Will there be another?  That would be telling…  ML

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Orphan 55

Orphan 55Why do I watch Doctor Who? What is it about it that makes me keep watching? Why has it been my favourite television show for the vast majority of my life? It’s a very hard question to answer, because there are so many factors, but an important one is hope. Doctor Who shows us good triumphing over evil, gentleness and intelligence triumphing over brutality and ignorance. It gives hope for the future. The Doctor loves humanity, his favourite, indomitable species.

I don’t watch it for a party political broadcast on behalf of the Green Party.

Look, I’m not going to argue with climate change. I’m certainly not getting in to the rights and wrongs of that and to what extent any individual viewer watching this can do anything about it, because this is supposed to be a review of a Doctor Who episode. I don’t come to Doctor Who looking for politics or scaremongering journalism (and if anyone thinks the world is really as terrifying as the tabloid press would have us believe, then you need to read Factfulness by Hans Rosling – and before you ask, no, he’s not a climate change denier – far from it). I certainly don’t come to Doctor Who for this:

“How did Earth end up like this?”
“Good warnings from every scientist alive.”

I don’t come to Doctor Who for a writer who has no understanding of how Doctor Who even works, stamping over any significance of anything we were just watching by saying it didn’t happen because it’s just one possibility. Oh, so everything we’ve ever watched that was set in the future from our point of view is meaningless then? If only somebody had told me we were watching a series about parallel universes all this time. How did I miss that one for the last 37 seasons?

I don’t come to Doctor Who for a writer who knows so little about Doctor Who’s past that he has the Doctor struggling to breathe immediately when her oxygen starts running out, or for a lazy rewrite of Jurassic Park set in yet another rewrite of the future of the Earth. I don’t come to Doctor Who for a Doctor who stands around looking mopey instead of actually flying her damn TARDIS back to where she was, to save two stranded people, and instead acts as the mouthpiece of the writer with a diatribe to the viewers, telling us nothing other that exactly what we all know. I don’t come to Doctor Who for a writer who thinks that a bunch of people running from one place to another and being picked off one by one is in any way what a Doctor Who story actually is, rather than some lazy, derivative horror flick, or a writer who thinks an enormous explosion can go off a few feet from where a group of people are standing, blasting a hundred feet up into the air, and they will be just fine.

Most of all, I don’t watch Doctor Who for misery, dreadful writing and… I can’t quite believe at long last I’m going to have to use this sickening word that has been thrown at the series so much… an agenda. I can’t tell you how close I came to switching off this utter trash before I got to the end, and only my loyalty to a series I have loved since I was a child stopped me from doing that. But I won’t suffer having to sit in front of this kind of rubbish any more. No, there’s too much good television competing for my attention. Doctor Who gets to do this once, and once only, and then I’m gone.

Once more, and I’m out of here. Enough is enough. Can we please have our Doctor Who back?   RP

The view from across the pond:

It’s a bad sign when Sunday rolls around and I forget Doctor Who is on.  It’s a sign of the times.  The series is losing a fan of 40 years by having gaps that are over a year long and having writers that can’t actually write.  So I sat down to watch Orphan 55 and the first thing I can tell you is that I missed the title because I wasn’t interested in the title; I was interested in the writer.  Not seeing Chibnall’s name was all I needed.  (I had to go back when the episode was over to see what the title was!)  Ed Hime wrote last seasons It Takes You Away, and while that was the strongest episode of that season, we still had a number of questionable choices with it.  How does his second outing work out?

The first 8 minutes are a deluge of getting the plot setup.  It’s so rapid fire that it feels rushed instead of the way last weeks Spyfall felt exciting.  We get another off-screen adventure referenced as a giant tail is moving in the TARDIS and the Doctor has to apologize for not knowing it was mating season, while Graham doesn’t care about that at all and gets coupons for a free vacation leaving said creature in the TARDIS while they are away.  Something was bothering the Doctor based on Yaz’s “mood” comment, but we have no idea if that’s meant to be from last weeks ending, or the reptile in the TARDIS.  Within minutes, they land, meet “Hyphen with a 3” (which makes sense when she explains it: Hyph3n.)  And we get an over-use of the UK-centric phrase “get in” which undoubtedly comes from some sport nonsense but ever since Bill Potts, I’ve heard it used more and more and this episode gets a whopping 3 “get in’s” out in under a minute!  Like I said: rushed.

The episode starts to go somewhere when Ryan gets a virus that you know immediately will play a part later, but has no logical place in the story now.  Luckily the Doctor has Hopper First Aid Training which entails a series of idiotic things like pinching an ear, sneezing, and sucking ones thumb.  (Great!  Just what we need: child fans running around sucking their thumbs to spread as much sickness as is possible because they think it’s cute!)  Like I said, this is all happening in the first 10 minutes of the story.  Once we get our first flash of teeth, a glimpse of an eye, and a peek at the faces of the Dregs, the mood changes.  We are dealing with a rushed version of Alien as the 23 guests are 10-little-indian’d out of existence.

This leads to some great drama with the main cast: Graham’s concern for Ryan is marvelous when he’s not sure if his grandson is alive or one of the victims of the Dregs.  (In fact, watching Ryan and Bella as they are trapped is terrifying!)  Mandip Gill, as Yaz, really sells the terror too.  I was especially impressed by her acting when she has to watch Vilma get killed by these nightmare creatures.  On the other hand, I felt the non-married pseudo-romance between Vilma and Benni was wasted.  The ring was there solely for the audience and is never used again.  When Benni goes missing, we don’t even get to see what’s happening to him.  Is he being turned into one of them, like Noah in Ark in Space?  I was sure that was what we were going to find out when he was speaking to Vilma through the (impressive looking) vehicle.  Worse, when he announces that he has 2 questions, his “would someone shoot me” almost sounds like it’s in response to her accepting his marriage proposal. So much for romance!  And Silas seems to be his dad’s pride and joy until he has the opportunity to throw a fit and runs out of the room into danger with a “you never listen to me”; a grossly out-of-context response from a kid whose dad did listen to him every other time!

It’s not just the personalities that felt out of whack.  When the group escapes into the tunnels, did no one think to close the hatch behind them?  Seems too obvious, but I’m not being chased by hungry humanoids.  And for a group of creatures on the hunt, what was that one Dreg doing just standing there?  Maybe playing Charades?  “Oh, I know, it’s a tree!  It gives us oxygen in exchange for CO2!”  Lucky that!  But when it opened its eyes after the Mind Meld and lifts the Doctor up, her leg movements really sold me on the scariness of the situation.

And you know what?  The Dregs are something I’ve wanted since the 1994 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Genesis where the crew are trapped by a primitive Worf after he degenerates into a monster.  Doctor Who always encounters creatures that can be reasoned with.  Hell, even the Krynoid of Seeds of Doom, a plant creature, can speak English!  I wanted, just once, a creature that can’t be reasoned with; one that can just be terrifying without having to discuss its motives.  And we got it, finally and done beautifully in this episode.  So why criticize it? Because that was the main thing about this episode: for every good thing, it was coupled with a stupid thing.  I loved the look of the truck, the dome, and the vacation spot.  Turn the coin over, and I thought the Breath Right nose strips was lazy on the part of the costume designers.  What happened to the days of David Tennant’s orange space suit?  I love the humor and laughed deeply when Graham walks into the invisible wall and says “Am I having a stroke or something!”  His “I’m a bus driver” was a close second; I just wish he’d master that like McCoy from classic Star Trek.  “Damn it Doctor, I’m a bus driver, not a …”   The Doctor gets a few good lines.  I loved her attempt to defuse the family conflict (but flip the coin and that was idiotic too because it didn’t make sense!) but her best was “If I had a crayon and half a can of SPAM, I could recreate you!”  But even as I type those good things, I think, what was the point of Bella anyway, barring looking pretty?  Ok, more on her in a second…

So the big reveal in this episode is Ravolox.  Oh, no, sorry… wrong season.  Orphan 55 is a planet “too toxic for life”, uninhabitable.  The Doctor explains what an Orphan planet is and … I missed the boat.  I said to my wife: that’ll be what happens to Earth one day.  But I didn’t put it together until they find the sign from Marble Arch.  (Oh, sorry, did it again!  Wrong episode!)  The Russian underground sign, I mean.  I had that moment where I thought “oh, how did I not see that coming?”  As a cautionary tale, yes, it’s great, but what lost me was the Doctor’s monologue at the end.  Suddenly, there are multiple time lines and this is a “possible future”.  Two episodes in a row and the series is taking away any threat for the future.  Last week, the Doctor can stop her friends from dying by going back into their past to create a get-out-of-dying-free card.  Now, no threat to earth really matters because it’s only one possible time line.  It was there solely to smack the audience in the face with a message about global warming.  The episode ends with her saying “or…” and we get a flashback to the terrifying Dregs.  But this is where they missed a golden opportunity to be heroic, which is, according to my records, what the Doctor is supposed to be!  To quote a certain web series, how it should have ended was…

“Or…” Flash to the Dreg.  Then we hear the TARDIS rematerializing around the mother and daughter who were left to die (even though Graham tried to convince Ryan that they’d be alright as they shoot through something more terrifying than the Walking Dead!)  The Doctor comes in and saves Bella and Kane and we get a heroic ending after all.  Instead, we get a message forced down our throats.  While I may be in agreement with the message, this was not the way to get it across to us.  And I’ll add one last thing.  The problem with the Apex Predator on a barren planet: like any series where Vampires want to eat all the humans, eventually there’s nothing left to eat.  There were an awful lot of those creatures on a planet with nothing else to eat.  Something to think about…

Well, I just hope next week I remember it’s on to begin with.  I think more than Global Warming, what the writers should be worrying about is a future without Doctor Who.  I think that future is far closer than the world of the Dregs.  (Although perhaps not by much!)   ML

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When They Cry Rei

ReiThis is the third series in the When They Cry franchise and finally sees the characters move on from Rika’s original time looped trap. Sadly it’s only five episodes long, so there is little time to enjoy seeing the characters in a context other than that repetitive scenario, although the episodes are slightly longer than usual, at around 30 minutes each rather than 20-25. Unfortunately only three of the episodes are really worth watching.

The series is made up of a single episode dream sequence of sorts, followed by a three-episode arc, and then another single episode story. The two single episodes are very silly. The first is really only an excuse to get all the characters into swimsuits for the usual fanservice at a swimming pool shenanigans. It’s quite uncomfortable viewing, with Keiichi perving over each of the girls in turn and Rena in particular getting all excited about the chance to catch sight of his “fur seal”, a euphemism which I have to say is a new one on me. The plot, if you can call it that, consists of everyone trying to remove each other’s clothes, for the very contrived reason of a swimming costume that works like a magic attraction spell. The other single episode story is a little better, but then again it could hardly have been worse. It basically does the old love potion storyline, with meteorite crystals used in place of the usual magic potion, and very contrived ways to get the crystals into people’s possession. It seems to be an excuse to get Rena throwing herself at all the men (and one woman), troublingly mainly the adults, with the others trying to cure her of the curse before she “goes all the way”. The targets of her affections seem very pleased with the attention, so this is another uncomfortable one to watch, although at least this time it is not used as an excuse for fanservice, and does have a strong final message of friendship over-riding the curse.

Comparing those two with the three-episode arc is chalk and cheese, and this is where the set becomes well worth the money. It’s another parallel universe story, with Rika getting killed in a road accident and waking up in another version of Hinamizawa, but this time unconnected with the version of events she was trapped in before. Instead, she is cut off from her god friend Hanyu, who cannot enter the new universe, and Keiichi is absent, having never moved to the town. Everyone else is there, from her group of school friends at least, and it seems to be a perfect world, free from the violence and terror she experienced in the original. The temptation of course is to stay in this apparently perfect world where nothing bad ever happens, especially as she now has her mum again, but it soon becomes apparent that the friendships she forged in the original world were strengthened and defined by the hardships they faced together. Staying in this perfect world means accepting different (and sometimes not quite so nice) versions of her friends, and losing Hanyu forever, but on the other hand she has her mother back. It’s a difficult decision to make, especially as the only way to return home means committing a horrendous crime herself.

I’ve seen a few series with this kind of impossible choice set-up, and they often find a third way instead. Not so here. The series follows through on its premise to the end, and I was impressed by how the animators didn’t feel the need to show us a particularly unpleasant moment that takes place unseen during the third episode of the arc. It’s enough to know that it happened, and to think about how it must have felt for Rika. For a franchise that has shown us so much violence, that was a particularly mature decision on the part of the studio.

When They Cry has been a series about the importance of friendship, right from the start, and that theme has followed right through to this third and final series. They may be unusual friendships, with the most important of all being a decades-old bond between a little girl and her demon friend, but friendships come in all shapes and sizes.   RP

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Erased Episode 2

“Palm of the Hand”

The view from Igirisu:

This week we get the debut of the opening and closing title sequences and the first outing for the fabulous ending music. Both sequences are metaphorical rather than literal, with the ending particularly creative artistically. The opening tends to showcase feelings and fears rather than actual events, with the grim reaper putting in an appearance, blood soaking across the screen, the wonderful Revival effect and the school being flooded, presumably a metaphor for events spiralling out of control.

Kayo Erased

Once again, there is a huge amount packed into 20 minutes. We get to see some new possible suspects. There is a brief introduction to the teacher, Gaku Yashiro, but much more of a focus on Satoru’s friend Kenya. Bearing in mind that we can’t rule out the killer being a child in 1988 at this stage, Kenya is a fascinating character. He is oddly mature, which can be explained away by his great intelligence, but he is remarkably perceptive for a child. He is the first to notice Kayo’s sufferings, and he immediately realises that Satoru is a like-minded friend who wants to protect her, cutting through all that childish you’ve-got-a-girlfriend stuff. We also meet Satoru’s other childhood friends, including Kazu and Hiromi. The latter is voiced by female voice actors in both the sub and the dub and looks feminine but is actually a boy. This sort of thing is often played for laughs in anime, but Erased is mature enough to be matter-of-fact about it, and maybe it might serve another purpose further down the line…

Then we have Kayo, and she’s immediately fascinating. We get brief glimpse of her mother, first with that incredibly creepy smile of hers, and then beating Kayo, animated tastefully but shockingly, without being gratuitous. It is obvious right from the start that Kayo is a remarkable person, holding herself together despite living a horrendous life. She has an enforced maturity to her, and at one stage her philosophy echoes that of Airi in the first episode. Her essay is all about escaping. She also manages to retain a sense of humour, although it is understandably dark humour:

“Does that mean you’d kill to protect me?”

But it also indicates a lack of understanding about what a friendship actually means. If Satoru is actually going to form a friendship with her, which he wants to do in order to save her, Kayo is somehow going to have to learn what that means. She is going to need to learn how to be a child.

The meetings between Satoru and Kayo are very interesting, and beautifully animated, particularly their moment in the park in the snow, with their breath visible in front of their faces. We get our first indication of the complexity of how Revival works:

“Take it easy dude, you’re 29. Why are you getting all flustered?”

This is of course because it isn’t a simple matter of a 29-year-old developing feelings for a 10-year-old. Revival isn’t just about Satoru inhabiting his younger body. It’s much more of a union of his two selves. A large part of Satoru now is the child he used to be, and the child he has become again.

Even while packing in so much, this episode found times for the quieter moments of reflection, and it had an important lesson for us:

“I let times like this slip by without even thinking about it.”

The moment where Satoru walks back into his childhood home for the first time is done brilliantly, with the camera panning back as he takes in the scene, a look of joy on his face. Later the simple act of sitting at a dinner table with his mum and eating her home-cooked meal makes him cry without quite understanding his own emotions. He also apologises for getting angry with his mum earlier in the day, which is of course something that happened pre-Revival. It’s a powerful message: make the most of what you’ve got in life, and appreciate it, because one day those precious moments will be gone for good. We can’t go back into the past like Satoru, but we can perhaps all appreciate what we have in the present a little bit more.   RP

The view from Amerika:

Episode two continues the mystery that started with Satoru finding himself 18 years in his own past.  Wondering why he’s back there and if he will have to relive those 18 years, he goes about the life of his 10 years old self.  But with nearly two decades of additional life experience, some of his memories are a bit vague and he struggles to even remember where he sat in his classroom.  Luckily, those friends he made back then are still around, because for them no time has passed, and they help him acclimate without ever realizing what he’s going through.

One of the things I love about this series, and we will definitely be seeing more of it, is that it focuses on true friends and the bonds of family.  Satoru’s friends help him adjust.  He starts to work on how to be a good friend and through Kayo, will live the motto “a friend in need, is a friend indeed”.  Not understanding why he was sent back 18 years, he tries to see what it is he has to change and observes something of his classmate, Kayo.  He starts to work out that, just maybe, Kayo is why he’s back in the past.  And his friend Kenya (oddly, voiced by a woman in the dub, even though the character is male) proves to be very clever indeed, realizing something is up with his friend Satoru. In fact, it’s Kenya who points Satoru to some school essays after believing Satoru has a crush on Kayo.  Rather than belabor the point with the rest of the group, he allows Satoru to deal with that on his own, but draws his attention to the essay because even he can see it’s a cry for help.  Her essay, “A Town Without Me”, is both beautiful and dreadfully sad.  It is indeed a cry for help.  Evidently, Kayo is an interesting character.  She’s a loner.  She’s cynical and distant.  And she’s beaten rather brutally by her mother which we see in a violent silhouette that rips our heart out, and may even bring us a bit of rage that any human being can do this to another, let alone their own child…  Her life experiences have taught her how to read people and her comment to Satoru, “you’re fake too” is eerie in its accuracy, although she can’t possibly know how right she is.

Episode 1 set the stage for who Satoru is and what his ability is all about. Episode 2 sets us up for what he has to do, presumably, to correct the future.  In the process, we get some truly stunning visuals.  The scenes at the park, particularly at the end of the episode are both melancholy and utterly beautiful.  There’s something about Kayo standing alone in the cold park that screams “take her in”; someone needs to help and protect her.  Thankfully, Satoru realizes this too.  I was also gobsmacked by the film reel again.  I love the use of it to indicate a passage of time and I found the brief image of it burning even more amazing considering this is anime; someone drew this!  The scene of Satoru running past Kayo and the image going into slow-motion was cinematic, again making me forget this was an animated series.

For such a heavy series about the death of a child and the murder of one’s parent, it can’t stay all bleak if one wants to hold the attention of the viewer.  Little moments of comedy are the subtle touches that really enhance a series like this.  It’s not overdone, or it would take away more than it would add.  As it happens, it adds beautifully throughout the series.  Kayo’s “you’re an idiot” makes me chuckle frequently.  (Maybe one day I’ll share a personal anecdote about that to add spice to this story!)  When Satoru tells his friends that he’s not in love with Kayo, he says “I’m just curious about her!”  His friend replies, “That’s the same thing!”  I had no idea!  By that logic, I might have to speak to someone about myself…  And my favorite, which will crop up again, is Satoru’s belief that his mother might just be a “witch” as she always seems to know what he’s thinking.  (What he won’t know until one day when he’s a parent is: that’s just the mark of a loving parent!)   And that brings me back to the beginning: this is a story about family, friends, and appreciating those around us.  There’s an old phrase, “you can’t go home again”.  In essence, it means what’s gone is gone.  Satoru has a chance to relive a part of his life, and he clearly appreciates it so much more now.  In some ways, life is cruel that way.  We often don’t know or appreciate what we have until it’s gone.  Satoru has a chance to both appreciate those things and to prevent himself from losing some of them.  While his situation may have been spurred by tragedy, this may be a gift of epic proportions.   ML

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Babylon 5: Matters of Honor

b5We’re about a week into 2260 and Matters of Honor is preparing us for the conflict that is to come.  After the finale last week with Kosh showing himself outside his encounter suit, the forces of light start to grow and we meet the wonderful Marcus who has traveled far to help Sheridan and his army.  We also get our first view at one of my favorite ships in Science Fiction: The White Star.  Meanwhile Earth is trying to make head or tail of the ship found in hyperspace at the end of the last episode and send a representative to investigate, one Mr. Endawi.  Londo is trying to leave Morden and his colleagues behind now that they have beaten the Narn but Morden is going over his head gaining allies in both Earth and Centauri governments.  And that’s not the only thing going over Londo’s head: Shadow vessels are too, as we first saw in The Coming of Shadows.  He’s remembering these ships while speaking to Mr. Endawi about what was reported on ISN.  That dream seems to be quite damning for poor Londo!  And Morden demands a planet on the border of Centauri space.

I’ll point out that the depressingly sad episode, Confessions and Lamentations, that took the Markab out of existence also gave us a free jump point to destroy when Sheridan is testing out the White Star.  I love this sort of world building.  Watching Sheridan defeat another indestructible enemy is marvelously triumphant.  And let’s not forget that the ship is called the White Star, considering Sheridan is responsible for destroying the Minbari ship, the Black Star.  Since this ship is a gift and provided by the Minbari, is this a form of reconciliation?  Why would the Minbari offer this to Sheridan with a name that would clearly annoy members of the Warrior caste?  Or is this something only the Religious caste was responsible for?

In this regard, the episode is all setup.  Marcus arrives and is a strong ranger capable of being severely injured one minute, only to spring up and go about his business the next.  We get a chance to see him using his Minbari fighting skills after a particularly clandestine meeting with Delenn in a bar.  The White Star is capable of some impressive maneuvers but just how much can it do?  Will G’Kar’s information to Endawi make a difference?  How much does Endawi know about what is going on back home?  Is it just a ploy to see what those on B5 know?  And will G’Kar’s information be of any use to him?  And why was the ISN report taken offline?

The episode is full of questions, which is fine for an opening episode.  The cast is proving to be coming together more and more.  Ivanova proves to be very adept at information gathering too, as she sums up everything Sheridan has going on even as he is about to tell her himself.  It’s a great moment and really casts Claudia’s character in great light.

“The day something happens around here and I don’t know about it, worry.”

Lastly, a War Council is created.  In business, strategic meetings are the bread and butter that can keep a business alive and Sheridan’s line: “lack of information can kill you” is at the heart of many a company.  Sheridan, like Star Trek’s Captain Picard, has created an inner elite council to discuss activities on the Shadows.  We will see just how much information they are capable of gathering over the next few weeks.  ML

The view from across the pond:

“Well, as answers go, short, to the point, utterly useless and totally consistent with what I’ve come to expect from a Vorlon.”
“Good.”

The form of mild torture that goes by the name of Babylon 5 continues. I can’t quite believe it’s Season 3 and I’m still watching. There should be medals for this kind of staying power. At least the writer is starting to understand some of the ways he has been torturing the viewers and is turning them into humour. We have had two years of being annoyed by Kosh’s irritatingly cryptic answers, and for the first time here he is used simply for a moment of light relief. Mr Riddles has become a comedian.

“I really hate it when you do that.”
“Good.”

Anyway, on with the opening credits, and as usual they couldn’t resist fiddling with the music again. All the main cast now also appear as superimposed mug shots. I feel like the Second Doctor when he says “you’ve had this place redecorated, haven’t you. Don’t like it.” What I do like is the opening chit chat with Ivanova instead of Sheridan, especially this bit:

“The Babylon project was our last, best hope for peace. It failed.”

Doesn’t that just pull the rug out from under our feet, after two seasons of “hope for peace”! It’s a trick that only works once (and presumably we’ll have to listen to it at least another 21 times), but it made me laugh a bit.  They should have tried that with Star Trek.  “Space: the final frontier.  We screwed it up.”

So what else is new here? Gone from the opening credits are Talia, who went bad, Warren, who barely featured in the series before dying tragically in a way that absolutely nobody cared about, and Na’Toth, who was brilliant until she became a different person altogether due to recasting. In their place we have Jeff Conaway as Zack Allen, who we’ve seen before in a supporting role, and Jason Carter as Marcus Cole. This week’s episode revolves around his introduction. He’s a Ranger, he’s heroic, he’s competently acted, and he has a lot of hair. That’s about all we can say so far.

Returning to sneak around some more this week is Morden, and Londo follows up his determination to be the stupidest person in the universe by doing a deal with him, with being the stupidest person in the universe by trying to ditch him. Good luck with that. I liked how Londo’s quarters have changed to reflect his success, packed full of blingy things. He also appears to have a magic television.

“I was wondering what you might know about this ship.”

Endawi then proceeds to show him the footage of the Shadow ship by pressing one button beside the television. That’s a clever TV right there. I have to press many buttons on mine to get it to play what I want, generally with it trying to play what I don’t want first, all accompanied by a selection of swear words.  Some things never change though.  Londo’s clearly lost the remote.

Morden steers clear of the magic TV and instead conjures up an image of the Milky Way. I was amused to see that being divided up into territorial sections. This isn’t post-war Berlin we’re talking about. I can only assume J. Michael Straczynski didn’t have much of an idea how many stars there are in the Milky Way. Nobody is quite sure, but we’re talking hundreds of billions. The notion of a couple of races of aliens being in charge of all that is ludicrous.

Like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a series set on a space station eventually gets itchy feet. When DS9 really started kicking off and became a series about a war, doing everything the same as B5 but better, the Defiant was introduced as a way to get the main cast off the station and fighting. Babylon 5 does the same thing this week, with Sheridan getting his new toy. He seems awfully excited by the very big monitor screen. It is cool though.

Predictably, we end the episode with Morden moving on to pastures new. Maybe it’s time for Londo to be taken down a peg or two, at last… RP

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