The Ghost Machine

touchwoodThe Ghost Machine does a number of things, but the most notable is that it breaks the tie between the first and second episodes.  I mean, based on the evidence, the show could have gone either way: strong first, awful second… we needed a third episode to give us a hint as to what the future held and The Ghost Machine does a good job of restoring some faith.  Helen Raynor writes what is surely a close-up look at why looking back isn’t necessarily a good thing, but knowing the future could be a horrible thing too!  Plus this episode is a reminder of the parent series: there’s a whole lot of running! 

The story opens with Gwen chasing a perp and boy can these guys run!  She catches what she needs to: his jacket.  Inside is one of those ergonomic mice.  This one is masquerading as a ghost machine.   Once activated she sees the first ghost.  (If you’re already thinking Scrooge, it just proves you’re thinking!)  Like ghost one, it’s in the past and the event is harmless, but it provides a stunning opener.  I don’t know if the kid who played the little boy lost is a good actor in general, but he was astoundingly creepy while still dragging out the sorrow in his 30 seconds on screen.  His little voice, “no one knows who I am here!” is so sweet, you just want to help him, but the eeriness of the situation is totally captivating.  It seems we may be in for a horror episode.

The second ghost isn’t in the present, but it’s much closer in time.  This time Edward Morgan is seen being rather brutal with a young lady, and is found later to have raped and killed her.  This sends Owen on a path.  It also helps Jack and the Torchwood crew realize that emotions are energy.  By this point, the episode has shifted from horror to cold case file.  The question is, how can team Torchwood solve it.  Jack accurately points out that they can’t very well use the proof they have in any court of law.  So the shift to murder mystery was handled well.

Then we get to the interlude which I felt was horrendously out of place.  Horror story and murder mystery go together.  Sudden unexpected romance does not.  Jack lures Gwen to a gun range to teach her how to shoot.  I have a friend who shoots and wants to take me shooting.  If he got that close to me… we’d be having a different conversation.  But Jack gropes Gwen and presses uncomfortably close to her basically luring her away from Rhys.  To compound where it went wrong, as Gwen picks up the gun, she briefly points it at Jack who responds with shock and leaps backward.  Why?  We’ve seen him shot before!  Sure, I’d accept that it’s a natural reaction if not for the fact that the last episode went out of its way to show that he’s forgotten what it is to be human.  The only reason this doesn’t send the episode down into the negative is what happens next.

Gwen is clearly thinking of what just transpired with Jack so she uses the Ergo-mouse in her home to remind her of what she loves about Rhys.  This is a marvelous scene.  It’s down to earth, it’s real, it’s heartfelt.  It’s wonderfully acted!  And in that moment, we’ve met the Ghost of Days Present.  Obviously we have one more ghost to get to….

The Ghost of Days Future comes about when Jack and company find the Ergo-mouse has another half that, when connected, becomes a new-age XBox Controller.  It also shows the future.  Gwen sees the future – someone is dead and she’s holding a knife.  Jack had told her that what she saw was only “one of many possible futures” but he doesn’t know everything.

The finale brings it home; the future Gwen saw did happen.  It doesn’t happen as expected, but it does happen.  Her reaction just makes me love Gwen more and respect Myles as an actress; she sells her pain, horror and sorrow perfectly.  I also think Helen Raynor wrote a heck of an episode.  The entire story around Ed Morgan is that he may have escaped the law but he didn’t escape justice.  I don’t mean the way he dies (which I actually thought was ridiculous – the knife Gwen was holding would have cut him, but not stabbed the way they depicted it – they needed a different sort of knife for that).  I mean, the fact that he spent the rest of his days in terror, looking over his shoulder, becoming a fat, stinky, old man, unable to live or even go outside.  He ended up being punished for his actions.  Death was, for him, his only release.  And I credit the writing.

If I have any complaints, it’s that Owen is ultimately a bully, and I don’t like that in one of the series “heroes”.  He’s all quick to intimidate Morgan, but when Morgan flies off the handle, Owen becomes a wimp and runs off.  He’s clearly not the tough guy he thinks he is.  And for that matter, maybe not that smart – all his fake IDs?  They all have his real name!

I think it’s a great episode with some important lessons not too far off from the Dickens’ classic.  I was glad we had this one as the third story; it grabbed my attention for yet another episode.  And hey, sometimes you have to throw everything into the writing… including the kitchen sink!  ML

ghost machine

They really did throw in the kitchen sink!!

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Ef: A Tale of Melodies

Ef A Tale of Melodies MizukiI don’t know when I’ve ever seen two seasons of an anime structured as cleverly as Ef. The main characters in the first season barely feature in this second season, and instead the focus is on characters who were superficially of lesser importance in the first. As the series progresses, their stories become more and more intertwined.

As per the first series there are two separate story strands, but this time there is a stronger connection between the two, despite one of them taking place in the past. That strand sees a love triangle of sorts between Yuu Himura (remember him? Chihiro’s guardian in the first series?), his friend in the art club Nagi Hirono, who spends her time painting nude self-portraits in the art room (it’s not gratuitous – her motivations are eventually a window into her soul), and Yuuko Amamiya. You might remember her too. In the present day she’s the mysterious woman who pops up occasionally to give people advice. In the past, she’s knows Yuu from his childhood, and turns his life upside down when she turns up again at his school. Eventually we get flashback sequences even further into the past, to explain the connection between them.

The other strand, back in the present day, concerns Yuu’s best friend Kuze, who is facing death and getting his affairs in order. Into his life bursts 16 year old Mizuki, whom you might also remember from the first series of Ef, although her role was not a major one. She is a fan of Kuze’s violin music and the two fall for each other pretty quickly, but Kuze pushes her away to protect her from the future he is facing.

This series is much more intense than the first, and tackles some pretty horrendous life problems. Although I ultimately found it an uplifting anime, it is at times hard to watch all the suffering the characters have to go through, which includes the horror of an impending early death, rejection, the loss of family in a tragic accident, and severe sexual abuse. It is also quite a lot more complicated than the first series, with more characters playing a significant role across three different time periods, so it takes some concentration to keep track of everything.

I mentioned when looking at the first series that this is anime as art, employing all sorts of surprising techniques to further the narrative. That goes much further for the second series, most effectively with the black and white episode that bursts back into colour when the colour metaphorically returns to one character’s life (and one I haven’t even mentioned, such is the complexity of the series). However, there are times when I wondered if the motivation was truly art rather than cheapness. The use of text on the screen, so powerful in the first season, is overused here. One episode features a still shot of a room in flames with the characters frozen on the spot while the whole picture burns, which goes on far too long. Perhaps most frustratingly of all, the penultimate episode has perhaps five minutes of key plot development and the rest is padded out with the usual artistic tricks and the use of four… yes four… opening/closing title sequences. It makes for a disjointed viewing experience at times. Having said that, when the inventive techniques work, they really work, and the final episode in particular is visually stunning from start to finish, while wrapping up the story in a satisfying but bittersweet way. At times the beauty of the animation is breathtaking, throughout the series.

Out of the two seasons I much prefer the first, which has a tighter focus and a better balance between the storytelling and the artsy cleverness. But I think in the end the second season had more to say about the human condition, and an even stronger message of hope. It’s a heady mix of tragedy and euphoria, at times frustrating and at times stunningly beautiful… much like life itself.   RP

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Erased Episode 12

Airi Erased Episode 12 Treasure“Treasure”

The view from Igirisu:

It’s time for the final confrontation between Satoru and Yashiro, which is actually over within a few minutes, so it is interspersed with flashbacks to Satoru preparing for the moment. We find out the exact point at which his memories returned. It was very guessable that Kayo’s visit was the trigger, but the specific moment where her baby touched his hand is rather poetic. We also learn the extent to which his old school friends have been inspired by him. Hiromi has become a doctor due to his many visits to the hospital to see Satoru over the years, while Kenya has become a lawyer, his drive to catch the killer giving him an interest in law. Now his friends are ready to stand together with Satoru, and they all believe in him.

“I guess we say it because we want to give someone hope.”

The key message of the importance of friendship carries right through to the end of Erased. Satoru was only able to achieve what he has with the support of others. Of course, Yashiro is inflicted with a warped version of some very similar emotions. Satoru is also of vital importance to him, and that game of cat and mouse in 1988 has come to define him. It’s a familiar storyline: the hero and villain developing a connection with each other, perhaps a respect for each other, and finding that their lives have become defined by each other’s existence, but in this instance that very much runs in just one direction:

“I make you feel alive.”

If you look carefully there is a moment where you can see the spider’s thread attached to the top of Satoru’s head connecting him to heaven. This is what Yashiro sees, which he spoke about a couple of episodes ago. Yashiro never gets to cut Satoru’s thread, but in his moment of defeat he visualises his own thread, reflected in a puddle, and watches it snap. The game is over.

Erased all the friends

After the impossible vision of all his childhood friends together in school in 1988, which stirs the heartstrings, we move forward to 2010, with Satoru going home for a reunion, and then finally the romantic plot with Airi is wrapped up.

“Mind if I hang out here with you until it stops?”

The first time I watched this I was quite disappointed. It’s probably because I’m such a fan of romance in anime, and the reconnection between Satoru and Airi seemed tacked on, merely a post-credits coda. The loss of their original connection in the aborted timeline felt like a bitter tragedy. On second viewing I didn’t mind so much. Romance was never the focus of Erased, so in the end it’s just a lovely little bonus, and enough to indicate that the paths of these two people were fated to converge anyway. Satoru and Airi belong together. Her age is also more appropriate than in the aborted timeline. In 2010 she is now no longer a high schooler and would be about 20, while Satoru must be around 32, or 33 if he’s had his birthday yet. Funnily enough their age gap and the ages at which they meet in the new timeline is exactly the same as my wife and myself. I’ve never been a superhero though, but neither was Satoru, really. The support of his friends and family raised him up to be the best person he could possibly be, and that spark of inspiration travelled in both directions.

“I never stopped believing either.”

It has been nearly a year since I first wrote an overview of Erased and identified it as the best anime series I had ever seen. Nothing in the meantime has emerged to knock it off the top spot in my mind, and I have loved watching it again. Thank you for reading what I had to say about Erased, and thank you to my friend Mike for accompanying me on this journey. May there be many more.   RP

The view from Amerika:

How will it all end?  How will Satoru, incapacitated as he is and at the mercy of a murderer, get out of this situation?  The spider’s web connecting him to the heavens is looking very fragile indeed.

OK, it’s important to compliment the art again before we get to the story.  There’s a moment where a water droplet falls and hit the ground with force.  It coincides with the news being shared.  There was no way to show a shoe dropping, but it works with the same implied meaning.  I’ll come back to the artwork once more in a moment.  Again the theme of friendship and family are at the heart of what goes on and I respect this series immensely for that.  And comedy still has a place even in this emotionally charged episode as Satoru once again monologues that his mom is a witch for her ability to know what he’s thinking.

Right from the start, we are clued in to when Satoru’s memory returned.  It was the moment he touched hands with Kayo’s baby; the baby whose name meant Future.  In touching the future, he remembered the past.  The film reel reconnects in another visual masterpiece and his memories are restored.  This leads us to an Oceans 11 style “fill in the blanks” moment.  We see some of the missing time from before the rooftop scene and Satoru tells Kenya and Hiromi about what he remembers and in that instant, the friends are back, proving once again that time does not diminish the power of true friendship.  We also see him sharing information with his mom, his other lifelong friend.  Classic movie stuff here: the background

that will make sense of where we are now.  And that’s OK.  If we had that to begin with, the surprise wouldn’t feel as rewarding.  But it is rewarding.  Its clever and dangerous, but it does reward the viewer.  Satoru works it out and tricks the bad guy… and wins the day.  If there’s one thing I expected to be explained away that wasn’t, it was the rescue of Satoru from the icy depths.  Yashiro says he did it, but with very little explanation.  I did notice that the car was only front-deep in the lake so it doesn’t look like it was submerged that badly that Yashiro couldn’t get in and either force the seatbelt that child-Satoru couldn’t, or perhaps he had a knife to cut the offending seatbelt.  Whatever it was, the lack of a detailed explanation does not spoil the triumph of the series.

The Japanese are big fans

of Sherlock Holmes (justifiably) and there is a distinct sense of Holmes/Moriarty to the Satoru/Yashiro relationship.  Even the notion that one completes the other is very much the connection Holmes has to his arch-rival.  As Satoru is about to be dropped over the side of the building, Yashiro cries because he knows Satoru is right: only Satoru understands him.  No one else gets him or truly knows him.  Only Satoru and in killing that one person, he is effectively alone in the universe.  And I think that’s why he laughs when he sees Satoru alive; saved by his friends.  It’s not a megalomaniac laugh; it’s a genuine, happy laugh.  And it illustrates again the mirror opposite; the Holmes to the Moriarty.   One is a force for good and has friends, the other is a negative force and is alone.  Also like Moriarty, the spi

der in the center of a web, Yashiro sees the spider’s web connecting people.  The allegory is drawn home too by the camera focusing on a distant spider web in some obscure corner of the rooftop.  In some ways, the actions we are seeing in this story take place in a corner of the world.  It touches on very few souls in the grand scheme, but where Satoru goes, he makes things better.  He’s put his friends on a path.  One becomes a lawyer, one a doctor, one is married (to the wrong person, if you ask me) with a child.   Even Misato has done well for herself.  The webs that was we weave are as much about people as they are the web of time.

And speaking of the web of time, I wondered why Satoru remained in a coma for 15 years, instead of 18.  Everything Satoru has done comes from the knowledge of a time line that no longer exists.  But his actions are all about choices.  He chooses to be the bigger person and then ends up in a coma as the town goes on without him; once again reiterated by Kayo’s story, A Town Without Me.  But perhaps the answer to the 15 year gap comes at the end at the latter part of the post credits when a certain glowing blue butterfly flutters by once more.  The credit

s and early post credits show us that some time has gone by since he defeated his Moriarty.  He is now a successful manga writer.  On a cold day, he goes for a walk and finds himself under the bridge where once before he needed someone to believe him in lost timeline.  Our butterfly passes by and Satoru notices it, and he follows its path until he settles on a young girl who runs to be with him under the bridge.  His tear-filled eyes recognize her: Airi!  Perhaps he is finally back where he was meant to be and that young girl symbolizes a new start for him.  And he is now successful, not a “failure” working in a pizzeria.  He can offer something to her now as she offered him her belief and her hope once before.

In the end, this series is one of friendship, family, hope and kindness.  And it can best be captured by the artwork which reminds us that even in the day-to-day, we can always choose to be extraordinary.   ML

Erased sunset

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Babylon 5: Ceremonies of Light and Dark

b5Let’s take a look at the art of planning: this is the 11th episode.  In a series where 22 episodes compose a season, and the show itself only has 5 seasons, this is the exact middle point!  Or more accurately, since I guess you can’t have a middle in an even number, this is the end of the first half.  Now this is only relevant at the end of the episode but before I get there, I should discuss the episode itself.

This episode is timely for me personally.  It comes right after Sheridan has decided to no longer wear his Earthforce uniform.  It’s pertinent because for my job, I wear a “uniform” shirt.  But the Corona Virus has made going into the office something that we can’t do right now.  So my shirt remains off “until this is over” and we can go back to work.  So I feel like I’m in good company at least.  Meanwhile Delenn and Lennier do not know about the Corona Virus, as they refuse to practice social distancing.

OK, but all kidding aside, we’ve had a three-episode arc of super episodes, so I shouldn’t be surprised that this one would be a bit slower.  There’s a trigger happy killer on board and he’s working with a man with a scar.  Clearly these will be our villains.  Somehow Nightwatch still has people on board and they will do something to hurt Sheridan.  While that’s happening in our A plot, the B plot has Londo try to exert some control over Refa.  And if you want some lighthearted humor, Harlan Ellison provides the voice for the computer pretending to be a bit of a mobster.  (It felt forced, but at least I give JMS credit for trying.)

In the B plot, Londo is holding his knowledge of Morden over Refa.  Somewhere along the line, Londo has been rebuilding his conscience.  He tries to tell Refa how to handle things but Refa, naturally, ignores him. But here’s what I kept thinking: back in The Gathering, Sinclair tells G’Kar that he was poisoned too.  But as he later tells Michael, there is no poison.  G’Kar doesn’t know it, but it was ultimately a way to control his actions.  Might Refa not be on that same path to a lot of tests that lead to nothing?  Londo is, above all, concerned for his own people, his home; he’s a patriot through and through.  Londo wants his people safe: is he really likely to kill a man?  What happens if Refa unknowingly ingests the very “second half” unwittingly?  And wouldn’t the Centauri know something about such a poison?  No, like the spoon, I’m fairly secure that there is no poison!

The A plot is really where the episode comes together.  First I’ll share an observation: when our resident villain sings “Dem Bones”, I had to laugh because I know we are revisiting The Prisoner on our Wednesday posts and the final episode features my favorite version of that song.  This episode features it too, but possibly the least liked version I’ve ever heard.

Over to the villain: he’s a sadist.  He wants to kill for the sake of it.  He’s a terrible individual but Delenn puts that into perspective: he’s alone.  It’s a biting realization and that is ultimately at the heart of bullies, isn’t it?  They don’t relate to others well.  Like many episodes of B5, there are moments that rise the episode above.  While the realization about the bully was good, we were still on course for a mediocre episode, but something turns the tide of the story.  It starts with Marcus going on a rampage. He tells Lennier, “They always told me I had a lot of repressed anger,” Lennier asks, “And?”  Marcus delivers a great line: “It’s not repressed anymore!”  But the scene then gets stolen by Lennier who first reminds Marcus that they are not as alike as they may appear, before sharing that he loves Delenn.  (Saw that coming; all that personal space invaded whenever he’s near Delenn!)  So at this point, some great moments have occurred that nearly changed the tide but not quite enough.  There needed to be just a little more…

After tricking the bad guys out of hiding, we get that moment.  As Delenn tries to protect John (although in a rather odd choice of running past the guy with the knife rather than jumping on his back and destabilizing him), she gets that knife herself.  Talk about unexpected.  But it’s Sheridan’s handling of the scene which once again makes me a fan.  It’s frankly John’s unadulterated rage that gets me.  This was the first time I heard “no more” used with such ferocity.  (Another John, Hurt, to be exact, would use it years later to convey power only a Time Lord could appreciate!)  Through the whole beat down, our would-be assassin doesn’t get one hit on John.  “Not on my station!  Not on my watch!  NO MORE!”  For the love of Kosh, this was a great moment.  It turned the episode around for me.  It wasn’t a bad episode, it was just too weak after so many strong ones… until this moment.

Now, to wrap up, Sheridan and the crew honor Delenn’s wish to go ahead with the rebirth ceremony (of light and dark).  It’s a great moment because it shows how everyone has bonded.  When we watch our other shows here in the Junkyard, like the Haruhi series, friendship often comes up as a vital subject.   But take a step back and remember, the humans of B5 were at war with the Minbari 10 years earlier.  They are now together, in more ways than one.  “I can no longer imagine my world without you in it.”  Sometimes, an episode rises above for the most unexpected of reasons.  In this case, it was the love two people share and how that love drove John to a moment of rage. Yes, Garibaldi’s revelation is intense, Susan’s was perhaps expected and Steven’s is the first step to healing, but it was that moment for me!  And then Delenn gives them a gift…

And with that, we come back to where I started: we are at the end of the exact half way point in the series.  Sheridan’s final line mirrors that of Laurel Takashima in The Gathering: “We’re open for business”.  But there’s a difference now.  The Ceremony has left the army of Light in the colors of Darkness.  Ah, symmetry…   ML

The view from across the pond:

I said last time that what remained would be a mopping up exercise. This was a very enjoyable mopping up episode. The main thrust of the episode was the rebirth ceremony, interrupted by Delenn’s kidnapping by criminals working for the Night Watch and trying to undermine Sheridan’s power base by removing the Minbari from the equation. The chief kidnapper was a man named Boggs, who clearly wasn’t destined for heroism with a name like that.

Like a lot of people on the station, I initially thought Delenn’s ceremony was a waste of time, and in the end I was a little ashamed by that thought process, placing me in the same camp as Londo and G’Kar. They rejected the opportunity for different reasons. Londo is not ready for redemption, if he ever will be, while G’Kar doesn’t need a rebirth.

“I’ve already been born once, and quite sufficiently I think.”

In the end we did get a ceremony of sorts despite the kidnapping, and I was pleased to be wrong about my assumption that it would be a waste of time. It achieved two very important things. Firstly, everyone had to make a confession, and we had some gems among those. Lennier and Sheridan both confessed their love for Delenn (but Lennier confessed it second hand), which came as no surprise from either of them. The only surprise was that Lennier was prepared to vocalise those feelings.

“It is not romantic love as you consider it. It is something higher and nobler.”

I’m calling that as nonsense. However he chooses to describe it, Lennier is a man in love. Then we had this from Garibaldi:

“No one knows, but I’m afraid all the time of what I might do if I ever let go.”

The question is what? If he ever lets go of what? My guess is his devotion to his work, and his fear is a return to alcoholism. Speaking of which, this came as no surprise, but was still a useful development because Franklin is admitting it:

“I think I have a problem.”

And that has to be his drug addiction, surely. Oh, and by the way, Ivanova is a lesbian.

“I think I loved Talia.”

That one came out of the blue a bit, didn’t it! I mean, there were maybe the tiniest of hints. It’s a bit of a dodgy one this, because Talia is long gone, so in story terms it’s not a revelation that can lead to anything, like the others. So it really is about her sexuality rather than the object of her affections, which is a little sensationalist and in a right-thinking society should be a little bit of a “so what?” moment. It doesn’t really sit comfortably with the other confessions.

The other point to the ceremony was giving something up, which resolved Sheridan’s issue with wearing the uniform. Delenn provided him and his team with some smart new ones, so they could move on without the slight awkwardness of commanding troops while not wearing any uniform. I felt a bit sorry for the others though. Imagine how the ordinary Joes feel to be still wearing the uniform that represents their oppressors, while seeing their superiors get swanky new ones. Delenn had better get sewing soon, or that’s a prime candidate for a them-and-us situation. It’s the sort of thing to create divisions, not loyalty.

While all this was going on we had another couple of bits of business. The only part of the episode that felt like we were moving on to the second half of the series rather than mopping up was Londo half-poisoning Lord Refa, in an attempt to separate him from Morden. He still doesn’t get it, does he. The man’s stupidity is overwhelming. He severed ties with Morden, completely failing to predict the very obvious result that Morden would simply move on to another Centauri. What makes him think that won’t happen again, and Morden will move on from Refa to another again? There are two possible outcomes to his actions. Either Morden will choose somebody else, or the Centauri will become his target rather than his allies. Londo is a fool. There’s no getting out of the hole he’s dug for himself, unless JMS abandons all logic in his writing.

We also had Marcus not wanting to go to the party, because he felt that he had nothing left to give, and then showing us another side to his character by going beserk. It actually put into perspective Lennier’s strength, easily overpowering Marcus, who had just himself knocked out a room full of criminals. The whole situation taught us something new about both of them.

There was an attempt at some light relief, like there often is, but the humour completely misfired this week. The artificial intelligence computer was the one part of the episode that really didn’t work at all. It was supposed to be funny but was just incredibly silly and annoying. Oh, and hacking passwords is not about “guessing” and the passwords used to gain access to the most vital systems on the station were not even case sensitive; peekaboo is not a “strong” password.

But the main point of the episode was the ceremony, and in the end I thought it was a wonderful idea. In fact, I might try it myself. So I need to give something up, and then confess a truth. OK, here goes.

  • Giving something up: I will give up writing about Babylon 5 and this will be my last review.
  • Confession: the last sentence was a lie.   RP
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Zagreus

zagreus1

Note the cover art: domed bottom, Doctors plus enemy up top…

I have been working my way through the first 50 Big Finish releases debating if I wanted to go immediately onward or if I should pause here and try some other Big Finish products.  I struggle because this episode is both an ending and a new beginning.  But I think, considering my feeling on this one, this 50th release, I should take a break.

What happened here?  After three solid releases featuring a Doctor with a classic villain, this should have been the culmination of all that and a massive one at that.  It had Rassilon!!!  What greater villain could there be?  Alas, what we get is a 3-CD set starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and a ghostly Jon Pertwee (who was dead by the time this was made) that ends up being, as the Brigadier puts it: “piffle”.  Oh, did I mention the Brigadier?  Yes, Nick Courtney is in this, as is Louise Jameson (Leela), Lalla Ward (Romana), Anneke Wills, Lis Sladen, Mark Strickson, Sarah Sutton, Nicola Bryant, Caroline Morris, Maggie Stables, Bonnie Langford, Robert Jezek, Sophie Aldred, Lisa Bowerman, and John Leeson as K-9.  WOW, what a turn out.  But I didn’t even know Sladen was in it when listening to it and she was my favorite classic companion.  How did I not know!?!

I didn’t know because no one is who they were in the series.  In other words, that lovely list gives us nearly 3 hours of actors not being the characters we know and love. I realize I should be thankful to Big Finish for being experimental.  They didn’t do what was expected of them; they tried something different.  Bravo.  Sadly, it was an epic failure.  What should have been an awesome celebration of a magnificent series, felt instead like a train wreck.  Let’s work our way through it eh…

I also debated about doing 3 pages for this one, but considering how lame it was, why prolong the torture.  The three CDs are labeled with titles: Wonderland, Heartland, Wasteland.  But no… one write up is all we needed.

It’s all down to Alice in Wonderland.  Yeah, Doctor Who is a bit Alice-like, but you can insinuate it without caveman-smashing it over the audience’s collective heads.  Putting the Doctor and Charley into Wonderland is just overkill.  We’ll get to Charley and her trip to Dr. Zagreus in a moment, even as she holds a book about Alice… but the Doctor spends the bulk of the CDs talking to himself in that way that says “I have to relay data to the audience and there’s no easy way to do that without walking around my home saying everything that’s happening to me!”  (I may try this the next time I’m home alone to see if I feel it can contribute to a good story.  “Oh, my son didn’t put his clothes in the hamper; is he trying to tell me he feels hampered in his self expression and I need to allow for creative disarray in life?  And possibly ants, as he can’t seem to find his rubbish bin either?”  No… doesn’t seem exciting enough!)  The only good thing here is that the 3rd Doctor does try to reach out.  Since Pertwee was already lost to us in real life, this was a nice touch, but comes out as barely a recognizable ghostly voice that could have been clips from an interview for all I knew.  If you recall, this is because at the end of Neverland, the Doctor has become Zagreus and has to somehow overcome this or destroy our universe…

Meanwhile, the TARDIS is going to show Charley holograms of events but it will use faces it has in the databanks.  The non-Doctor part of disc 1 is the Davison disk.  However, we’re not with the Fifth Doctor and his companions because Davison, Sutton, Strickson etc are other people working on an experiment that splits open a doorway into a divergent universe.  Good old earth!  Always at the center of universe-spanning events.

Disc 2 is the Sixth Doctor disc, although Colin plays a vampire on Gallifrey (named Tepesh, which I’m fairly certain was a dude with bad hair in Curse of Peladon) along with Maggie Stables, Bonnie Langford, and Nicola Bryant.  They are invading the Forge of Rassilon, or the Foundry, or the Place of Rassilon’s Greatest Crimes.  While it gives some nice background on the history of the vampires and Rassilon, it also completely abolishes the recent television episode The Timeless Children, which makes this about as believable as any  bit of fan fiction.  Rassilon is about to lock away a divergent universe…

Later, it’s McCoy with Aldred and Langford and Bowerman.  This may be the lamest of them all as he’s essentially Walt Disney and there is a war going on with animal automatons.  He’s the “animator” and can deactivate them but it’s the end of the universe.  At least he gets a chance to use his line: “If we fight like animals, we die like animals!”  Of course, when that happens, a divergent universe will emerge.  You’re undoubtedly seeing a pattern.

By disc three, we have to start wrapping up so we come out of the simulation and head to Gallifrey in the Dark Tower … in the Matrix (because, we couldn’t go to the actual Dark Tower – it was under repair or something).  Romana and Leela show up but  Romana thinks Leela is a dumb savage.  Luckily, by the end of this story, she’ll think differently enough that they can work together on their own spin-off.  With Romana and Leela, the Doctor will have a chance to meet his other selves that were in the Wonderland simulations and come together.  In doing so, the Doctor can… be stabbed and die, come back as Zagreus and then have the Brigadier, who is really the TARDIS, save him?   I mean the Brig as the TARDIS we learn about earlier, when it’s mad at the Doctor for dying, so it’s Saveltride (or Evil TARDIS) and wants to destroy the Doctor because it had loved the Doctor … wait, you know what, just skip to the bit where they become friends again; the Doctor acknowledges his “friend ship” with the TARDIS.  This saves the day, but…

I wanted the Doctor to become the Doctor by overcoming Zagreus on his own, but instead, he needed the TARDIS.  And Charley.  And Romana and Leela, who both let the Doctor go off on his own at one point because “it’s the Doctor’s fight now”.  So, even though he does save the day, he contains an energy that could wipe out time itself so he exiles himself into another universe and that’s it.  He leaves Charley behind, but Leela knows the back door to the TARDIS (say what, now?), and helps Charley get back on board for their next chapter in an unknown universe.  (If it’s anything like the Delta Quadrant in Star Trek: Voyager, we’ll never even know they left!)

I’m not getting into the whole Jabberwock, or the moment where Charley proves she’s memorized the most idiotic part of Through the Looking Glass, nor will I get into the idea that the three Doctors use jibberish to beat the creature, because that wouldn’t bear thinking about.  I won’t share the Eighth Doctor’s observation of a “clever pussy” because that would be shocking.  I won’t tell you that this was worth listening to, because I think you’d have our site banned.

On the other hand, the various opening themes was a nice touch.  And I will tell you that the trumpet blast for the Tower of Rassilon did make me happy.  There were some clever moments where Colin Baker says he would find a foxhole, cave or tree to hide it; clever because to get to Rassilon’s tower, one must choose: above, between, below.  I really enjoyed a little philosophical debate about science vs religion.  I also enjoyed the use of some classic lines, like Davison’s acknowledgement that “there should have been another way!” There’s a very funny moment where Leela thinks she’s dying but Romana tells her it’s barely a flesh wound – the music had been all sad then comes to a screeching halt when she realizes Romana is right.  And the comments about the Doctor being out there allowing children to sleep safer at night was a lovely sentiment.  But the whole thing felt “derivative”.  (Thanks Romana, that was exactly the right word!)

I was so looking forward to this, but even Rassilon is a bit of a talker who isn’t nearly as powerful as his three previous Big Finish releases.  And he should have been so much more.. so much more!  (Sorry, channeling my inner Tenth Doctor there!)  So before I head into the Delta Quadrant… I mean the anti-time universe (sounds like how the Irish use time, if personal experience is anything to go by), I think I’ll go visit two old friends instead.

I’ll be calling on Mr. Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot in the coming weeks.  Let’s see how that goes.  … Anti-time indeed…  ML

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The Prisoner: A Change of Mind

The Prisoner A Change of MindThis one is another dud, at least by the high standards we have come to expect from The Prisoner, and it doesn’t have the benefit of a memorable Number Two to pull it out of the fire like last week. At first I thought writer Roger Parkes was going to do something very interesting. We started off in blistering form, with Number Six’s gestures of defiance, total confidence and frivolity in the face of a show trial in the same vein as the Nazi “special courts”. His punishment was initially to be ostracised by everyone as “unmutual”, a clear parallel with the Red Scare in the US and its associated campaign of fear. The escape route from this is to “go to the rostrum and confess”, but being as the judge “will tell you what to say” it’s not really a confession. It’s a humiliation.

The problem with this is that “public enemy number six” is clearly not going to be shaken by it. The episode works very hard to sell the horror of being ostracised by society:

“Let’s see how our loner withstands real loneliness.”

But everything we have learnt about Number Six has made it abundantly clear that he is not the sort of man who will be unable to “withstand real loneliness”. Instead he is the sort of man who would bear it for his entire lifetime rather than let it break him. So ultimately the metaphor of the flock of geese symbolising community falls flat. These people are no friends to Number Six anyway, and it would have rung a lot more true if his frivolity had followed through his period of isolation. When everyone gets up and leaves their drinks behind at the cafe, he should simply have thanked them and enjoyed the free beverages. At least that would have been in character, and I suspect only humour could have saved this episode.

The next stage of Number Two’s very bizarre plan is to pretend to lobotomise Number Six without actually doing it, even going as far as to televise the operation. Who wants to watch that? Having said that, the villagers are shown in a very bad light this week. Before watching this episode I had a little debate with Mike over his classification of the villagers as sheep, whereas all the evidence in recent episodes had pointed to them being ex-spies who were actively fighting, but some of whom had been broken by torture and brainwashing. That’s the picture we get in episodes like Hammer into Anvil, loud and clear. But in this episode the villagers really do act like sheep, and nobody seems to be on the side of Number Six until the herd turns. It’s the bleakest portrayal of the village we have seen.

This was an episode that seemed to veer wildly between moments of brilliance and silliness. Not an episode goes by where I don’t think how amazing Patrick McGoohan is as Number Six, and his standout moment this week was his reaction to being strapped down to be lobotomised. Instead of panicking, he just smiled at Number 86. It was an almost chilling level of self-control and defiance. On the other hand we had the spinning chair in the courtroom and the committee who disappear in the blink of an eye, moments that throw logic out of the window and briefly turn the series into a bad fantasy series where things happen for no reason or seemingly by magic. At least we had the obligatory fights with stripey people to brighten things up, and Number Six emerging from some shrubbery as usual. Was it written into his contract that he had to do that at least once per episode?

In the end, I suppose the best thing that can be said for this episode was that it was a charmingly British allegory of anti-Communist scare tactics and Nazi kangaroo courts.

“I think we are all more than ready for a tea break.”

They might not be in Britain, but they’re certainly British alright.   RP

The view from across the pond:

You know, I wanted to have a change of mind about this episode, but all I ever remember about it is the bushy-bearded man crying out “believe me, believe me, BELIEVE ME!!” only to then walk away a split second later as if he were walking down the aisle of his local grocery store trying to determine what pasta to buy.  That is the scene that stands out to me more than any other, even though there’s a far funnier scene that I had utterly forgotten.

#2: “…you needed time to think?”
#6: “no, NO!!”
#2: “I’M ASKING YOU NOT TELLING YOU!” (nearly hysterical with anger)
#6: “Please don’t be angry.”
#2: (in a calming, sing-song voice) “I’m not angry, my dear friend.  That is just the way things seem to be to you!”

Goodness me, did I laugh at this. In fact, I laughed at a lot of this story because it makes so little sense.  I mean, there are the Village Ploys, for one.  There’s the old “Isolation Ploy”, tried before in Many Happy Returns, but this time he’s not alone, he’s just ignored.  (See in your Ploy appendix under “The Ignore-him ploy” often used in grade school playgrounds!)  There’s also the old “spin him around until he’s sick” ploy, which does little other than make the guy run up the stairs all out of whack because he can’t find his footing, but this doesn’t work well with #6.

Then there’s #2’s proverbs.  I love his little lines of wisdom like, “he who ploughs a straight furrow need owe for nothing”.  Why is that important?  What was his point?  And I laugh at all the times #2 repeats himself while pointing at his own head.  I love it even more when he does that and the Supervisor gives him a look of such disgust that one wonders how this #2 ever came to power.  I think this was the substitute #2 while the others were at the Torturers Convention down the road.

What of the Butler?  In Hammer into Anvil, he is dismissed and prepares his bags to leave.  He never wears a number, and when everyone has left the Illuminati chamber, he’s the only one there.  He releases #6 from the Circle of Vomitous Turns.  Is he someone of importance or just a civilian, not impacted by the rules and information passing through the Village?  What of the Villagers themselves, all sporting their stripped shirts, like prisoners… oh, look at that, that’s what they are!  I guess that was the point, eh?  But this episode depicts them as a mob; there are no individuals here, whereas in Checkmate there seem to be a number of them who are free from Village control.

There are a lot of interesting ideas in this episode despite coming off like a very silly episode indeed.  The idea of instant social conversion is scary.  We are all subject to the social contract and those who do not follow it are “lone wolves” (an idea that will come back near the end of the series).  If there were a way to convert those lone wolves, that would be a powerful tool, and if the village really has that, how could #6 survive it?  As they depict it as lobotomization, it’s even more terrifying.  And there’s some indication that they do have that ability and it’s about to be used on #6.  Is that because #86 seems to turn the power down, just before it could destroy him that it doesn’t work?  I’ll tell you this: it does give credence to this #2 not being familiar with the importance of #6.  He may be treating him like a common Villager, when in fact, he is not, and #86 knows it.  (The Village also shows some other horrible torture devices here, probably prepped for the Torturers Convention, like strapping a poor guy to a chair and showing him Rover on an attack vector!  For that guy, the episode was titled A Change of Pants!)

And what of that sign on the wall: “your community needs you” with the Uncle Sam style picture?  Although their accents might say otherwise, this is the second time a very American theme has entered the Village.  (Dance of the Dead featured that line “of the people, by the people, for the people”!)  And I always think of the word “Communist” in place of “unmutual” when watching this episode because of the House of UnAmerican Activities from the 1950s.  I’m no student of history, but I do know about it and that’s what I think of every time I watch this episode.  Can the Village be in the US?  Perhaps a joint venture between nations?

One thing that did interest me and I almost forgot to mention it.  #86 has a change of mind herself, when #6 hypnotizes her.  He actually uses one of the Village’s techniques against them, but what I never got about that is simply: why didn’t he ask her who #1 is?  Sure, she may not have known, but why didn’t he try?  Or “where is the Village?”

The episode ends with my favorite ploy, but it’s reversed; #6 uses it on #2.  It’s the ever popular “Umbrella Smackdown” ploy, wherein your victim is beaten within an inch of life until he gives up the desired secrets.  #6 gets the Villagers to beat the hell out of #2, where he is lost in the sea of bodies.  But remember last episode, It’s your Funeral?  You know, all the way back one episode ago?  Yeah, #6 doesn’t want the Villagers punished for an assassination attempt on #2, but he’s alright with them beating a #2 to death? Call me weird but I don’t buy it.  Unless you consider what we know about #6 – he seems to like fair play.  The #2 of It’s your Funeral has done nothing to warrant an assassination.  This #2 is a torturer, pure and simple.  Maybe #6 is morally at ease cleansing the gene pool of such horrible people.  Evil needs to be put down, to protect other people, you understand!  And that makes it alright, I imagine.    ML

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Day One

touchwoodI often say the Brits are geniuses.  I mean it, too. But every so often a compliment can be used as a doubled-edged sword.  For instance, the creators of Torchwood must have thought: “hey, if we aim for the most offensive first-ever episode of a series, someone will come along and try to usurp us.  But no one is going to come along and aim for the most offensive SECOND episode!”  That’s some genius thinking there!  Yes, I know I referenced it last week, but I’m referring to Black Mirror again.  Sex with a pig on live television is going to beat sex with a cloud being, any day.  But the point still stands: if you want to attract an audience, it would be ill advised to write an episode to offend people.  So the obvious thing to ask next is: who wrote this one?  Surely Russell T. Davies wouldn’t.  Oh.  It was Chris Chibnall, writer of the lowest rated Doctor Who finale of the 21st Century.  Can’t say I didn’t see that coming.

So what’s wrong with Day One?  It’s Gwen’s first real experience with the team and she unleashes a monster.  There’s a euphemism waiting to be noticed.  The monster is a sex cloud and we’re going for some truly awkward scenes that makes Torchwood difficult to show to that teenage fan who wants to see more of the overall world of Doctor Who.  It’s not just the images, either.  It’s the often extremely crude language.  Not to say it wasn’t funny.  There are a number of comical lines, but I can’t help but feel like the Doctor’s universe didn’t need them.

So let’s just rewind: Gwen freakin’ harpoons a tool at Owen clearly mistaking him for a target in a javelin throwing contest. It pierces the outer shell of an asteroid from which a  sex cloud emerges.  It finds and inhabits a young woman name Carys who then goes about having sex with guys until they explode in a cloud of glowing particles and leave behind a very neat pile of dust.  Torchwood has to stop her.

Some of the places it goes wrong:

  • Jack walks in on some military monkeys randomly calling Gwen “little girl” to which Jack replies “Little girl?  From where I’m standing she has all the right curves in all the right places!”  Thankfully this series is not Star Trek!  No one will ever say this series was ahead of its time; in fact, they might talk about how sexist a line like that is.
  • After watching the camera footage of a young man who was Carys’ first victim, Jack jokes that “he came and went!”  (In fairness, I did laugh but…) Do we want a hero to be so cavalier about the death of a young man?  Perhaps sex with a pig has new meaning here.  (This may get a saving pass as Gwen is going to help be the humanizing agent later.)
  • After Carys has killed her ex-boyfriend, Jack again makes a (funny but) trite comment: “That god she’s young.  Work your way through my back catalog, you’ll be here until the sun explodes.”
  • Gwen and Carys together in the cell is just a cheap thrill to attract an audience for two woman frantically “making out” or “snogging”.  Need we refer back to the first comment?  And watching Carys rip Gwen’s top open to reveal… well, nothing… was just screaming “we want viewers, please watch this show”.  (And hey, at least three  viewers turn up as Jack, Owen and Tosh!)

In complete fairness to Chibnall, I’m guessing the idea behind this episode must have come from all the ads that he saw while in Cardiff.  There is a sequence where the camera pans over tons of sex ads and, let’s be honest, sex sells!  But I can’t help but feel like some of these moments are missing the mark.  Or perhaps overstating the point is more accurate.

Some areas where it goes right:

  • “We all make mistakes; get over it.”  This is Jack trying to make Gwen feel better about the mistake she made that cost lives.  It’s not something to be taken lightly, but it was a mistake.  Sometimes, we need that reminder.  We need a friend who understands and will support us even in tough times.
  • “Tell me: what does it mean to be human in the 21st Century?” Jack asks Gwen and she shows him that getting to know someone isn’t a cold analysis, but a personal dialogue with the person.  Its about connecting.  It’s not the technology, but the people that make the difference.  It’s an important and timely reminder and applies even more today than when the series came out.
  • “You’re the best hit there is!”  While the full merits of this won’t become apparent for 2 more seasons, it does hint at humans being a drug to other races and by the time Children of Earth comes out, this will take on a whole new, and terrifying, meaning.
  • “You have a stash of bodies?!” asks an incredulous Gwen when Jack suggests substituting a corpse to fake a death.  It’s not that this is a good thing on its own, but it’s the precursor to what’s coming later in the episode.  Gwen (and the audience) will get a chance to know the crew more and what their agency is all about.  And she will find out they have no “normal” lives outside of what they do.

There are also notable moments that are neither right nor wrong, but I loved them.  Cinematically, the camera following Carys is visually amazing.  It’s a trick I’ve seen before where a camera is attached to the front of the actor and it stares at them as they move around normally.  I also love the build up to the mystery of Jack; no one knows who he is or where he comes from.  Will we?  And I applaud the hand in the jar again.  “That’s worthless to anyone but me!”  Will it pay off one day, or is it just a neat background prop?  And speaking of background props… what the hell was up with this!?

TW first day

Come on… how does this go unspoken?

The episode ends with Jack gaining a bit of perspective, brought about by the humanizing influence of Gwen.  It’s the only aspect that allows Jack a pass with some of his comments; he’s forgotten what it means to be human.  So he wraps the episode by asking her to be normal, for him.  But after the things that have happened on day one, is there any chance she will ever be normal again?   In the world of Torchwood, what exactly is normal anyway?  ML

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