Monday, December 28, 2009

Doctor Who: The End of Time Part One

Before moving on to the actual write-up, let’s take a moment to offer some high praise to BBC America for showing this episode a day after it first screened in the U.K. A day! For the first time on American TV, we aren’t seeing the premiere of a Doctor Who Christmas special when it’s warm outside, and the Christmas-themed portions of the story don’t seem hopelessly out of place. Back when I wrote up “Journey’s End,” I pleaded with Syfy to show the various David Tennant specials in a timely manner, so that audiences wouldn’t be forced to go elsewhere to get their Who fix or, even worse, get bored and forget about the show altogether. Good thing Syfy no longer has first-run rights here in the States, because I highly doubt they would’ve made the same programming move that BBC America made. Further, BBC America is committed (at least for the time being) to showing the episodes uncut, which is just as if not more important. Keep it up BBCA, and you’ll keep building a devoted audience. Heck, even a week or two after the U.K. premieres would be more than acceptable in my book.

It’s always difficult to write about the first half of a two-part finale, and never more so than in this case. This episode is all over the place in tone, and yet hangs together quite nicely, although it took me two viewings to realize the latter. Yet whatever one might think about “The End of Time Part One,” there’s no denying that the bigger picture has yet to be seen, and what Russell T. Davies unveiled in this hour is only a setup for the real finale. About the first 15 minutes of this thing just zoom by, setting up one aspect of the story after another. In fact, there are so many elements that are set up throughout the hour that one wonders how they can all be addressed in the finale proper.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Sherlock Holmes Collection

With a brand new Sherlock Holmes movie hitting the big screen in just a matter of days, it probably goes without saying that there will be a demand for classic adventures featuring the world’s most famous detective. The folks at A&E have unearthed this collection from the bowels of the BBC and are presenting these episodes from the ‘60s series starring Peter Cushing for the first time here in the States.

The back of the box claims that “only five episodes of the BBC’s celebrated 1960s Sherlock Holmes series survive. Coincidentally, all five star the inimitable Peter Cushing…” This is somewhat true, but also a bit misleading. The series spanned two seasons in the U.K. The first batch was produced in ‘65 and starred Douglas Wilmer in the title role. As I understand it, nearly that entire run exists, only it’s never been released on DVD either here or in the U.K. For the second season, which was produced three years later, Wilmer was unwilling to return, so Cushing was hired to take his place. (Nigel Stock played Watson in both seasons.) As is often the case with old BBC TV, many episodes were scrapped and the Cushing season was hit the hardest. Actually, six episodes still exist, but two of them comprise “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” so it’s actually five stories, rather than five episodes. The six episodes are spread across three discs, and as one might expect from a color ‘60s BBC show, the majority of the program is shot on videotape, while the occasional exterior work is shot on film. The picture and audio quality is acceptable across the board, but you can tell that no real restoration work has gone into this set.

Read the rest of this review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars

When it was first announced that Doctor Who was taking a break from normal seasons in 2009, I thought, “I can handle that – not a big deal.” After all, aside from the Fox TV movie with Paul McGann in 1996, I’d lived without new televised Who for 16 years before the show came back in ’05. Each new season since then has been like a little gift. Surely one year with “only” four specials would be a breeze? As 2009 droned on, however, it seemed an interminably long wait for new outings of the series, and it didn’t help matters that the one outing we did get – “Planet of the Dead” – was a subpar piece of storytelling at best. The other three specials are all being unveiled on BBC America in the last weeks of the year (actually, the big finale will play on the second day of 2010!). Anyway, this was my roundabout way of illustrating how much I’ve come to take the new series for granted, and thankfully “The Waters of Mars” is as strong a slice of Who as just about anything the series has done up to this point. It is, in fact, everything “Planet of the Dead” wasn’t, which may very well have been the point.

The Doctor (David Tennant), still traveling alone, lands on Mars in the year 2059. He trudges across the desolate, red landscape and bumps into a robot, called Gadget, that takes him to its leader on Bowie Base One, which is a clever enough joke – although one that’s a bit old hat for anyone who’s basked in the wonder that is Life on Mars, which coincidentally (or not) starred John Simm, who we’ll be seeing more of next week. Inside the base, the Time Lord meets the crew, led by Captain Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan), and quickly realizes who they are, and is as awestruck as any fanboy we’ve ever seen. Bowie Base One holds humanity’s first group of colonists on Mars, only the Doctor knows they all mysteriously died on the 21st of November, 2059. Guess what the date is? He quickly realizes that he should go, as this is an instance where he shouldn’t meddle with time. He sees it as a fixed point in the universe, and, as he explains later in the episode, “What happens here must always happen.” But events conspire to prevent his exit, and before long the crew begins succumbing to what ends up being a virus – it transforms them into hideous, zombie-type creatures, with cracked faces and the ability to use water as a deadly weapon. Only Doctor Who can find an inventive, frightening way to use water as a killer, and its ideas such as this that make the show the unique concept it is.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Life on Mars: Series Two

Let’s get an important issue out of the way: If you haven’t seen the first season of the original U.K. version of Life on Mars, you’ve no business reading this review. Move along – there’s nothing for you to see here. But do go check out our review of the first season, buy the set, and then come back here if you liked what you saw (and chances are, you will). Life on Mars is great television, and the Brits may have a lot to teach Americans about the economy of storytelling, as Series Two is again comprised of eight episodes, which in turn wrap up the entire story; the whole thing is a mere 16 episodes, which makes its two seasons together a whole episode shorter than the one season of the ABC remake from last year.

The first season of Mars offered up a fairly even mix of procedural and out of time weirdness. We didn’t learn much more about the “whys” of Sam Tyler’s (John Simm) predicament by the end of the season than we knew at the beginning. Season Two kicks off without showing its hand immediately, and yet from the very first episode, the viewer gets the feeling the stakes have been raised. A series of nasty killings leads Sam and Gene (Philip Glenister) to casino owner Tony Crane (the criminally underrated Marc Warren), whom Sam recognizes as a nemesis from his future (or is it his present?). Gene believes Crane to be clean, but Sam knows better, and throughout the episode a hazy version of Crane threatens Sam’s life in the hospital many years away. Crane’s girlfriend, Eve (Yasmin Bannerman), may be the key to putting him away for good, if only Sam can convince her that forming a lifelong partnership with Crane will lead to her eventual death. It’s a pretty amazing (and complex) kick-start for the season, and Warren makes for an unusually effective boogeyman.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation - Volume Two

Earlier this year, when the new Star Trek movie was released in theaters, Paramount trotted out two “Best of” collections from their most endurable franchise. One compiled four episodes from the original series, the other dished up four installments from The Next Generation, and both were very nice discs aimed at the casual collector who has little interest in forking over big bucks for entire seasons of either show but would like to own a few classic episodes for periodic enjoyment. Fast forward to the DVD release date of the latest Star Trek film, and Paramount has offered up another two discs from the same two series, again each featuring four episodes for your short-attention span enjoyment.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

The William Castle Film Collection

Forty-two years after his death, B-horror legend William Castle remains synonymous with cinematic gimmicks with names like “Emergo,” (a glow-in-the-dark skeleton that flew over the audience), “Percepto” (a small vibrator under some theaters seats) and “Illusion-O” (a “ghost viewer”). Though his modestly budgeted productions delighted the young, they were impossible to take seriously and never earned him the kind of respect given to less avidly commercial auteurs. Still, he was a solid movie craftsman of the old school with a buoyant attitude who worked with Orson Welles, Roman Polanski, and possibly influenced Alfred Hitchcock’s move into sensational horror with Psycho and The Birds. As a director, he was a competent craftsman whose essentially good-natured works aimed a bit low. As a showman, however, Welles, Polanski, and Hitchcock had very little on him.

Read the rest of this DVD review - which was co-written by Bob Westal - by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.