Friday, February 24, 2012

Don't Believe Everything You See on Facebook, Issue #2

The meme this parodies is mercifully in its final death throes, but if you spent any amount of time on Facebook in the last couple weeks, you no doubt noticed this bit of obnoxiousness more than a couple times. If you spend a lot of time of Facebook, you watched it start out as a mild diversion and then grow into a behemoth clogging your newsfeed.

It wasn’t terribly clever, and it only seemed to be amusing to the people who were sharing it. It also sent a message that needs to be stamped out right here and right now: Most people – your family, your friends, your co-workers, etc. - are in fact not thinking about what you do, and that’s because most people are too busy thinking about themselves and what they’re doing or going to do, which, in turn, is exactly why this meme ran so fucking rampant. It’s a Catch-22 of massive Facebookian proportions. It presents the delusion that the rest of the world cares about your nonsense, when in fact, they just simply do not, as they are too busy caring about their own.

Oh, I hear your cries! “Lighten up, Ross! We were just having fun!” Well your fun is impeding my sharing and receiving of useful information, and it’s pissing me off. If Facebook is indeed a tremendous waste of time, this meme is entirely emblematic of why.

On the surface, this is good times and great oldies, but lurking beneath is something much more sinister (but let’s face it: oldies can be pretty sinister to begin with). I think the implication here is that our parents were somehow “better” than the parents of today (i.e. “us”) because they let kids run recklessly and didn’t think so hard about whether or not bones would end up broken. Fair enough, but it’s not going to convince me that there’s anything wrong with not wanting your kid to be rushed to the emergency room if it can be prevented with a little common sense.

More importantly, however, when my son was a preteen, I’d never have let him go out of the house wearing a half shirt like the kid in the background. I might also have advised him to not sit like Farrah Fawcett when someone nearby has a camera in hand. Take that, parents of the ‘70s!

I looked up other pictures of Gillian McKeith. There’s no question that she’s not as conventionally attractive as Ms. Lawson, but there’s also no question that whoever put this together chose the most unflattering photograph they could find of her. Had the following shot been used instead, the graphic wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic.

For the record, I’m a big fan of both exercise and butter (though probably not at the same time).

Yes, let’s use fictional people (from the ‘60s, no less) to attempt to prove some kind of idiotic point about marriage today. What was that? Oh yeah, they were based on some comics from the ‘30s! I’ll see your Gomez and Morticia Addams and raise you a J.R. and Sue Ellen Ewing.

This is such a prime example of liberal hubris, it must be called out. Something that really gets under my skin about Democrats is their inability to know when to just fucking stop; to realize when they’ve won. It’s like that guy who thinks he’s a comedian, but he’s not, because he’s unable to instinctively recognize when a joke has reached its end. Here, someone has put together an impressive list of accomplishments by Barack Obama. It would stand tall, proud and strong, but they just had to go ruin the entire message with that last sentence: “What did you do in the last three years at your job?” You know why I didn’t do any of those things at my job in the last three years? Because I’m not the fucking President of the United States, you sanctimonious asshole!

This is why I do not go to Superbowl parties. Don’t play with your food, especially when you have this much of it (and all of it so unhealthy!) Last month I realized that I’m invited to more Superbowl parties than any real holiday of the year. Are there really more people gathering together on that one day than any other? Come on, folks, take just half the dollars you’re putting into this nonsense and do something cool on Halloween. You know how many Halloween parties I was invited to last year? None. Me, of all people! It beggars the imagination, yes it does. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Robin of Sherwood on Blu-ray

If you’ve not seen or heard of Robin of Sherwood, don’t be dismayed by the fact that this article focuses on material from later in the series. It’s Robin Hood, OK? How lost can you possibly be, and how many spoilers can possibly be revealed? What might be important to know, is that I have no great love for the myth of Robin Hood. There are really only two versions[1] of the story that have ever jazzed me, and one of them is this series, which I’m slowly becoming rather fanatical about. Now this could mean one of two things to you, depending on your feelings about all things Hood. If you are a Hood fan and you haven’t seen this show, then by all means seek it out, and there’s no better way to do that than via Acorn’s recently released Blu-ray sets[2]. If you are not a Hood fan, then, like me, you may very well find Robin of Sherwood to your liking. Read on…   

Few TV series are able to creatively move past replacing their lead actor. Obviously, Doctor Who is the major exception to the rule, going so far as to incorporate the change into the narrative of the story, to the point where it’s not only something people accept, but actively embrace (well, the smart ones do anyway). Robin of Sherwood had been on the air for two seasons when its lead actor, Michael Praed, decided to jump ship to star in a Broadway revival of a musical version of The Three Musketeers, which must have been quite a disaster as it closed after a mere nine performances. Praed picked himself up and moved on to play on Dynasty for a season, while the producers of Robin moved ahead as if the death of peasant-turned-hero Robin of Loxley had always been a part of their masterplan.

Series creator and lead writer Richard Carpenter came up with a wonderful invention by pillaging and altering the Robin Hood myth even further (by this point, he was clearly adept at making it his own). In the history of Hood, there are, apparently, two very different origin stories. Carpenter’s preferred origin – that Robin was a man of the people – is the one he used to introduce and explore Praed’s Robin of Loxley. But with Praed leaving the show, he was forced to kill off his central figure, and he envisioned the mystical Herne the Hunter choosing a new man to don the mantle of Robin Hood. He turned to the other origin story, in which Robin Hood was disgraced nobleman Robert of Huntingdon, who gave up his position in society to fight for the common man. To play Robert, the son of a big screen Robin Hood was chosen: Jason Connery, son of Sean, who’d starred in the lovely, heartfelt Robin and Marian a decade earlier.

Obviously taking over the lead role in a successful series is no small feat, and perhaps for Connery the task was even more daunting given his father’s history (be he a Hood or not!). I’d kind of written off Jason’s Hood in the past, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t really give his episodes a fair shake. With the release of this Blu-ray, I set out to rectify that, and lo and behold I discovered a character that was more enjoyable and interesting than Praed’s take (who, admittedly, felt a little stiff). The thing with Connery’s Hood is that he spends a great deal of time proving his worth, whereas the Praed incarnation, being the original, had it pretty easy.

Clive Mantle as Little John & Ray Winstone as Will Scarlet
The action picks up about a year after the events of the Season Two finale, with the Merry Men[3] having dispersed and moved backwards into simple lives once again. After being bullied into adopting the mantle of Robin Hood by Herne, Robert must round each of them up and convince them to return to dangerous lives of derring-do, which isn’t an easy task. Amongst the trials he must suffer is getting into a massive, epic brawl with Will Scarlet (Ray Winstone). But there’s perhaps no area where Robert has a tougher time than in the wooing of Marian (Judi Trott), who’s devastated by the loss of Robin of Loxley, and doesn’t want to fall in love again, despite the fact that she does indeed take a liking to Robert. Their story plays out over the course of the 13 episode season, and it doesn’t have quite the happy ending one might hope for.

Judi Trott as Marian
Season Three was twice as long as each of the two seasons that preceded it, resulting in Praed and Connery basically getting equal screen time, despite the fact that the former technically played the lead for a longer period of time than the latter. Admittedly, Connery takes a bit of time to fall into the part, but certainly by mid-season he arguably plays it with more zeal than Praed did over his two season stint. His Robin also seems to be having more fun, and as a result, maybe the series is more fun, too. (Granted, these are all semantics – the show is mostly wonderful from start to finish.) What’s perhaps most noteworthy about Connery is that he really doesn’t resemble his famous father at all – not in appearance, and certainly not in sound; you’ll find no Scottish brogue here. This guy is definitely his own dog, and his lineage is quickly forgotten.

Richard O'Brien as Gulnar
So what of the series itself? What makes it so special, and sets it apart from all the other Hoods? For starters, it’s steeped in mysticism, which isn’t something that any Robin Hood before it featured. This adds the element of surprise, because once characters can use magic, anything can happen. Season Three features a wicked sorcerer named Gulnar (played almost ludicrously over the top by Richard O’Brien of Rocky Horror fame), whom Robin makes an enemy of in the opening two-parter, and who comes back to haunt our hero and his allies a couple more times throughout the season. One of the season’s best episodes is called “Cromm Cruac,” in which Gulnar raises a village from the dead, and ensnares Robin and the Merry Men into its seductive gaze. In addition to being one of the most compelling, it’s also one of the most emotional outings of the season. Another great revisionist piece is entitled “The Sheriff of Nottingham,” in which the Sheriff (Nickolas Grace) loses his standing and is put through all manner of indignities. Grace is the ace up the show’s sleeve. Anytime he’s onscreen the show is all the better for it, yet it also knows how to use him and his sidekick, Guy of Gisburne (Robert Addie), sparingly and properly.

Robert Addie as Guy and Nickolas Grace as the Sheriff
Surely you remember Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? That movie stole liberally from Sherwood. Alan Rickman’s Sheriff was a pale imitation of Grace’s, and Morgan Freeman’s Azeem was clearly a riff on the Saracen Nasir (Mark Ryan), a character created solely by Carpenter. (I’m sure there are other instances, but boy it’s been a few years since last I viewed it.) Costner’s was a typical, watered-down Hollywood version of something very special that came before it. Ironically, it may have been that very movie that so put me off the Robin Hood myth for the past 20 years. Now, all these years later, the series that inspired it, is providing me loads of entertainment. Go figure.

If you’re anything like me - and certainly you must be, or else you wouldn’t frequent The Rued Morgue - you hate the Bryan Adams song “Everything I Do, I Do It For You” with an unbridled passion. You’ve probably even hurt yourself trying to change the radio station when it’s quietly crept up on you, or maybe you’ve even hurt someone else, desperately escaping from a department store, when you realized exactly what it was that was playing over their sound system. You’ll find no such song in Sherwood. Instead you’ll find a score written and played entirely by Irish band Clannad, who provide a soundtrack that’s nearly a perfect match for the dually heroic and dastardly goings-on. A year after they weren’t used in Prince of Thieves, they scored a modest hit with “I Will Find You” for Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans. This is music that stays with you long after episodes are over, and lovingly greets you when you come back to the show a week or two later for more installments.

Finally, there’s the look of it all. In Costner’s flick everything appeared squeaky clean. It looked like a Hollywood production, rather than a slice of history. Not so with Sherwood, and that’s another of its many charms. Its texture is reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is an odd comparison, sure, but if you’ve seen that movie, you’ll no doubt know what I’m talking about. That grainy, dirty look just so ably defines the Middle Ages, and Sherwood has it and then some. Yet it also, frequently, offers up lush, green forests, misty moors, and gorgeous sunsets and sunrises. This is a show that’s as much about its look and sound as it is its acting, plot and action. Of course, there are some recognizably ‘80s haircuts on display, which I suppose could be a deal breaker for some folks, but if something that minor gets in your way of enjoying this otherwise fantastic series, then poor, poor you. If only somebody could steal from the rich and reward you.

Robin of Sherwood wasn’t really cancelled, but behind the scenes money troubles kept it from moving on to a fourth season, so Season Three was to be its last. It doesn’t end on any massive cliffhanger, however, and while some issues are never resolved, it mostly feels like it comes to a proper “open end.” It covered quite a bit of ground over its three seasons, and too many more years would’ve no doubt found the series repeating itself (there are only so many stories that can be told under the Robin Hood banner, magic or no magic), and as it stands there’s a perfect balance between the two lead actors, so neither man can claim to be the “real” Robin of Sherwood which, I think, is as it should be.

[1] The other version of Robin Hood that I love is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the aforementioned Robin and Marian.
[2] Blu-ray Set 1 contains the first two seasons of the series starring Praed, while Set 2 contains the third season with Connery.
[3] The phrase “Merry Men” is thankfully never used in this series. Above all else, these men aren’t merry much of the time, so it would be a very silly way to refer to them.   

Blu-ray Extras: The real reason to buy these sets is for the High Def upgrade, and this show looks bloody gorgeous in 1080p, but it’s worth mentioning that it was shot on 16mm, so expectations should be kept in check, in that regard. But as an example of period, non-BBC British TV from the ‘80s, you’ll likely find none that looks better than this. It was easy enough to fall into this show’s hypnotic universe via DVD, and now the Blu-ray makes it even more so. (All the screengrabs in this review were taken from the DVD, and not from the Blu-ray, by the way.)

The High Def extras on the two Sherwood sets are minimal, as both sets are comprised of three Blu-rays each, which feature the series proper, and a fourth disc – a DVD – with all of the extras ported over from the previous DVD editions. However, Set One does feature, in High Def, a new, longer (by about 13 minutes) version The Electric Theatre Show documentary which was on the DVD set, as well a photo gallery of “nearly 500” images that runs for 24 minutes. The Blu-ray also features five commentary tracks and four music-only tracks that were available on the DVDs, although those can hardly be considered High Def extras (though I suppose some might consider the music-only tracks presented in a lossless format to be a nice bonus). Set Two also features nine commentaries and three music-only tracks, and another nice 23 minute photo gallery.

Beyond that, the fourth disc, DVD extras presentation is a killer on both sets. Many people put a great deal of work into these sets to bring viewers all sorts of oddball extras (that I’m not going to line list), but the highlight must surely be the exhaustive talking heads and clips documentaries that feature on each set. Between the two sets, over the course of nearly three hours, just about every single person involved in the making of this show – both in front of and behind the camera – is interviewed at length. I don’t think they missed out on anyone, including Praed. And it’s a huge testament to the power of this series that all of these people are so incredibly happy to sit around and talk so enthusiastically some 15 or 20 years on (I’m unsure of when these were recorded actually). Winstone claims the series spoiled him for every acting job he’s had since. There isn’t a single person who has anything even remotely bad to say about working on Robin of Sherwood, and this isn’t a case where anybody has any reason to lie. They’re clearly being genuine and full of good will toward this series that in many cases catapulted its players to fame. These people had a blast making this series, which is reflected in the quality of the series itself.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe - Blu-ray review

Another year, another Doctor Who Christmas special, and in this case, it’s the last new Who we’re going to see until some time in the autumn, so we’d better make the most of it. I went well and truly gaga over 2010’s “A Christmas Carol,” and it’s easily the smartest and most well written of these the series has yet produced. Back then I had doubts that Moffat could best it, and as it turns out, he did not. He did give it a very good go, however, and “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” is still probably a better entry than any of Russell’s holiday efforts, although I should declare that a late December viewing of “Voyage of the Damned” – a story I’d previously considered the embodiment of everything that I hated about modern Who – left me feeling that I may have been a little harsh on the piece over the years. Indeed, diving in and pulling these seasonal treats apart always feels a little like kicking puppies, and we all know where that leads – hurt puppies, a phrase which could be the subtitle of this review. Or maybe just “The Apology.” Read on…

The action begins with the Doctor (Matt Smith) high above Earth, aboard a massive spacecraft, and in the process of presumably saving the planet from some unnamed and unseen aliens. The ship explodes and the Doctor plummets through space toward the giant blue orb below, chasing a floating spacesuit along the way (this sequence is reminiscent of Roger Moore and Jaws from the beginning of Moonraker). Improbable as it may seem (and it most certainly does), the Doctor hits the Earth’s surface, and the suit begins “repairing” him (he should keep this gadget in the TARDIS at all times!), but not before he’s discovered by Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner, who I will forever equate with Mike Leigh’s Naked). Without batting an eye, she aids the mysterious spaceman - whose helmet is on backwards, so she never sees his face – in his search for a police box. Right off the bat, there’s something remarkable about Madge, and as the story moves forward, we discover that there are many remarkable aspects to this woman.

The story fast forwards to 1941 - three years in the future - right around the holidays, and Madge has received a telegram delivering tragic news about her husband who's a pilot in the war. Given that it’s the season, she elects to not tell her two children, Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole). The trio evacuates London, and heads for a relative’s house in the country. Upon arrival, there is no relative, only the bouncy, enthusiastic man referring to himself as the Caretaker (the alias is a nice nod to the end of Season Six), who intends on treating them to a delightful holiday season. Of course, things don’t go quite as planned, and before long all four of them are on a distant alien planet, in the middle of an alien forest, being only vaguely threatened by acid rain, sentient trees and harvesters from Androzani Major (see also “The Caves of Androzani”). The sci-fi aspects of the story are far less interesting than the emotion beneath it all and the places the emotions takes these people. 

Whether by design or default, Steven Moffat has, with “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe,” created not just another entry in the ongoing Who Christmas Special oeuvre, but also the very first Doctor Who Mother’s Day Special. On the surface this tale has all the December hallmarks, but its heart is squarely located in the celebration of All Things Mom. In many ways, this special is the opposite of “A Christmas Carol.” Whereas Kazran Sardick was a greedy, selfish man, Madge Arwell is a selfless, thoughtful woman. Whereas the Doctor found himself in a situation in which he was forced to meddle with Sardick’s life, with Madge he’s merely providing something of a good-natured service. In “A Christmas Carol,” the Doctor was the driving force; here he inadvertently supplies the “magic” that allows Madge to rise to the occasion so that she can do the great things. I often feel that Moffat doesn’t write women very well (as my frequent rants about Amy Pond will attest), and I’m not sure he does here either, as Madge seems to be more of a collection of brave deeds than an actual person, and yet I must give him props for at least trying, so as to possibly silence his detractors, one of whom I all too often am. If nothing else, he's created a narrative that seems to get at the heart of the power of women, and that's a triumph itself. My wife missed seeing this episode on Christmas. I fully intend to save her first viewing for May 13th of this year, and I think she’s gonna love the sentiment behind it.

Indeed, with Season Six I frequently became very cynical about my favorite television show, and hopefully this close-to-a-year-long break is exactly what I need. “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” is a lovely, heartfelt episode of Who. Certainly the riff within the title leads to some expectations, but aside from a few flourishes, it bears no real resemblance to the classic C.S. Lewis tale, which is probably for the best. The final scene of the story, which sees the Doctor having a reunion of sorts, pretty much melted my hardened heart, and got me all stoked for Season Seven, which I suppose is the best Christmas present of all.

In the meantime, there are going to be loads of classic Who DVD releases (the classic range is nearly complete) coming out in the coming months, so there’s no better time to dive in and explore much of what came before. I’ll still be here watching and writing, and hopefully you’ll be reading and then watching.

Blu-ray Extras: As is to be expected, the special looks crisp and gorgeous and sounds just amazing. These days, I almost never have complaints about the presentation. How can you with a show that looks and sounds better than almost everything else on TV? 

Thankfully the disc includes the prequel to the story, which was released on the internet a few weeks before the episode played on Christmas. “Thankfully” because it goes some way toward explaining what’s happening when the episode proper begins. Something tells me it was supposed to have been part of the episode, but a decision was made to chop it and put it online as a tease. In any case, it’s highly recommended that you go into the special features menu and watch it before watching the episode.

Boffo points for presenting the three “Best of Doctor Who” specials (which each run at about 44 minutes) that played on BBC America in the weeks leading up to the premiere of the second half of Season Six, which are comprised of your standard mix of clips and talking heads. The clips come only from Season Five and the first half of Season Six, and the discussion is pretty much restricted to the Eleventh Doctor’s era. The heads are a real oddball assortment of celebs – Alison Haislip, Paul F. Tompkins, Reggie Watts, Hugh Douglas(!), Scott Adsit, Chris Hardwick, and Amanda Palmer to name but a few. The whole exercise won me over in the second installment (which is all about the companions) when the lovely Natalie Morales (The Middleman) showed up, draped in a Tom Baker scarf and showing a tasteful amount of cleavage. I adore this girl – even more so now that I know she’s a Who freak - and sure hope that somebody recognizes her talents soon. Make her the Doctor’s new companion, please! In any case, there’s so much fannish good will being tossed around during these specials – not to mention worthy points of view - that I couldn’t help but feel like I’d been a little hard on Season Six. We’ll see how I feel later this year when Seven kicks off.

Lastly, the disc includes an “in-game reward code” that can be used in connection with the online game “Worlds in Time.” No doubt this makes sense to a gamer, but since I am not one, it held no value for me, nor did the goofy stickers that make all the Doctor Who villains look like Muppet Babies.

Madge: "Lily and Cyril's father - my husband - is dead and they don't know yet because if I tell them now then Christmas will always be what took their father away from them, and no one should have to live like that. Of course when the Christmas period is over I shall...I don't know why I keep shouting at them."

The Doctor: "Because every time you see them happy you remember how sad they're going to be. And it breaks your heart. Because what's the point in them being happy now if they're going to be sad later. The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later."

(Thanks to Sonic Biro for the screencaps.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Human Centipede 2 [Full Sequence]

Laurence R. Harvey & Ashlynn Yennie

Writer/director Tom Six is one hell of a salesman. Peddling his particular brand of wares is no small feat, and peddling them successfully, even more so. I was rather on the fence about his controversial debut, The Human Centipede [First Sequence], admiring parts of it more than the whole, but with this follow-up he’s accomplished what few before him have, and that’s creating a sequel that bests its predecessor. On the other hand, since the first movie wasn’t all that tits in the first place, maybe the achievement should be kept in check. Maybe.

With this new film, the concept goes completely meta, with the first film existing as a movie within the universe of the second film. A short, fat mentally challenged man named Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) is obsessed with The Human Centipede, watching it repeatedly, making a scrapbook of its imagery and medical procedures, and even keeping a centipede pet of his very own. He lives with his aged mother (Vivien Bridson), and as the narrative moves forward we discover he was sexually abused by his father, who has left both of them. The mother is a wretched piece of work, constantly berating and blaming her son for everything that’s wrong with her life, and there’s little left to the imagination as to why Martin is the way he is. Although he can clearly speak, Six chooses to not ever let us hear him do so. As about 99% of the film is spent with Martin, the result is a movie told mostly through imagery rather than dialogue.

Read the rest of the Blu-ray review for "The Empire Strikes Back of mouth to ass movies" by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani - Special Edition DVD Review

As recently as 2009, several years into the run of the new series of Doctor Who, “The Caves of Androzani” was voted the #1 Who story of all time by the readers of Doctor Who Magazine – a dubious poll for a show about time travel to be sure, but still noteworthy when discussing this 28-year old piece of television. Surely “Androzani” should have been bested by “Blink,” or maybe the “Human Nature” two-parter by this point? Seems not, although it might be telling to see a breakdown of who voted in this poll (surely readers of DWM are not representative of how the general public feels?).

In any case, it’s not my intention to take anything away from the story; I marvel at the seeming potency of this particular serial. Several of my Who-devoted friends would agree that it’s the tops, and while I can’t say that I do, neither can I offer up any reason why “The Caves of Androzani” shouldn’t be someone’s – or even everyone’s - favorite Doctor Who story. The case could even be made (and probably has been) that “Androzani” is the last truly great story of the classic series – laying waste to the entirety of the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy eras in one fell swoop - and it might be a case easily won. It really is that good. “Androzani” even managed to get a shout-out from Steven Moffat as recently as “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe,” back in December. 

The Doctor comforts Peri in the presence of Sharez Jek
In the interest of informing the uninformed, here’s the story in brief. Androzani Minor is a backwater shithole - no doubt this is how writer Robert Holmes described it in his script – good for only one thing: Spectrox, the key to giving the denizens of its parent planet, Androzani Major, a lifespan nearly twice as long as normal (a youthful appearance seems to be a bonus of the process). As you might imagine, Spectrox is worth a lot, to a lot of people, yet in its unrefined state, it’s little more than a deadly toxin. Enter the Doctor (Peter Davison) and his new traveling companion, Peri (Nicola Bryant), who innocently stumble across some raw Spectrox, only to find themselves quickly succumbing to its ravages. As if that weren’t bad enough, the pair accidentally find themselves embroiled in a petty war involving a ruthless, fatcat businessman, sleazy gunrunners, an incompetent militia, and an obsessed, masked scientist and his (mostly) faceless android servants. The Doctor has no designs on saving the universe or a planet or outwitting any of his opponents; all he wants to do is find the antidote to the toxin, save Peri’s life, and take leave of the entire situation. Events spiral out of everyone’s control, as the story builds to an epic climax.

The Doctor and Peri with General Chellak
Phew! Just putting it down into those words makes me realize how utterly mesmerizing “Androzani” really is, and how I’ve perhaps grown accustomed to taking it for granted over the years. It's the final story of the Peter Davison era, and it’s hard to see this particular tale being anything but a regeneration story. Indeed, it is the ultimate regeneration story, and it’s probably influenced every regeneration story since. Death is written on every wall from as early as the first episode, and a sense of thrilling dread lurks around every corner. And it makes perfect sense that the Fifth Doctor - on whose watch Adric was killed - would go to the ends of the Earth (or in this case the universe) to make damned sure he doesn’t lose another companion.

The narrative of “Androzani” centers around bad, dumb luck, and something I took away from this DVD set was how easily the story itself could have been a failure if not for all of its components falling into the right places. Holmes hadn’t written for the show for six years. It’s borderline amazing that he was coaxed back and encouraged to write what’s arguably his finest script (out of many fine scripts) of the series.

What’s even more amazing, however, is that John Nathan-Turner took a chance on the relatively wet behind the ears director Graeme Harper. This could have been a disaster, yet it ended up anything but. Harper was hungry to make a name for himself, and it shows. His direction of “Androzani” is nothing short of revolutionary for this series, and he crams the frame with one invention after another. Harper remains the only director to helm stories in both the classic series and the new, however “Androzani” remains the jewel in his crown. What he was able to achieve with little money and no time should have been an inspiration for every Who director that came after him.

John Normington as Morgus
Then there’s that perfect cast, each of whom brings something solid to the table. John Normington’s Morgus, Christopher Gable’s Sharez Jek, Maurice RoĆ«ves’ Stotz – without any one of these guys, “Androzani” would be so much less, and I didn’t even mention Martin Cochrane, Robert Glenister, Barbara Kinghorn, Roy Holder, and David Neal, who round out the superb supporting cast. And then there's Davison himself, who really knocks it out of the ballpark, giving the best performance of his era, and rightly so, given the rich material he's working with. He's in turns sarcastic, smug, desperate, caring, determined, thoughtless, thoughtful...the list goes on. Bryant does a decent job, too, but early on this is choreographed to be The Peter Davison Show, and that's exactly what it is.  

Bet you thought I wasn’t going to mention the magma monster? Being classic Who, there’s of course always at least one element keeping a story like this from reaching total perfection, and in this case is a plastic-y looking creature, but much like Holmes’ “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” before it, there’s simply no way this monster keeps this from being Doctor Who gold, and you should certainly not let it, either. (It’s onscreen for probably all of 90 seconds of the serial’s 99-minute running time.) If you have never seen “The Caves of Androzani,” or didn’t buy the previous DVD edition, there surely cannot be any safer Doctor Who DVD purchase this year. If you did own the old DVD, read on…

DVD Extras: “Androzani” was first released on R1 DVD back in 2002, and it was a fine DVD with remastered picture and sound, featuring a commentary track with Davison, Bryant and Harper, as well as some enlightening behind the scenes footage of the regeneration shoot, an extended scene, a piece on Sharez Jek, some trailers and news items discussing Davison’s departure, as well as a photo gallery, the production notes subtitle option, and an isolated music score. All of this material has been ported over to the new edition. On the original disc, some matte paintings in Episode One were fixed, and viewers were allowed to watch the original version via seamless branching. The Special Edition does not allow for this, and instead offers up the original sequence as an Easter Egg. (The only item not ported over is the “Who’s Who?” text feature, which is a fairly insignificant omission.)

So what’s new? First and foremost, there’s a making of doc entitled “Chain Reaction.” Unfortunately, due to the passings of both John Nathan-Turner and Robert Holmes, we just don’t get an accurate representation of what went into putting this story together at its earliest stages, which I think could have been fascinating. The topic is left to Eric “Mr. Personality” Saward to discuss, and as usual he seems so uninterested in everything. (This guy could make a solid career out of boring folks.) Beyond that, it’s a fine doc and about on par with these sorts of things. There’s also a short piece on Graeme Harper entitled “Directing Who: Then and Now,” which via its title is pretty self explanatory. There’s an extra extended scene that’s not of very good quality. There’s a nice little vintage news show with Russell Harty which features both Davison and Colin Baker, and also this edition features the Radio Times listings in PDF form.

Beyond all of the extras, the serial has been given another visual overhaul, but quite honestly I couldn’t tell a huge difference from the old disc. The below screen grabs demonstrate the differences in picture. Notice that really only the exterior, filmed scenes offer up an improvement. The interior videotaped scenes – of which most of the serial consists – look nearly identical to the original release. For the fan who owns the old edition, I can’t really call this set a priority purchase, especially with so many discs currently on the horizon.

2002 Release

2012 Release (Note that the TARDIS is actually blue here)

2002 Release

2012 Release

2002 Release

2012 Release

2002 Release

2012 Release

Friday, February 03, 2012

Doctor Who: The Sensorites DVD Review

Possibly long overdue for a DVD release is the first season adventure, “The Sensorites.” “Long overdue” because the titular alien race were the influence for the prominently featured new series race, the Ood; “Possibly” because the Sensorites aren’t particularly fascinating figures, and Ood fanatics (surely you exist?) dying to get a peek at the mysterious species’ origins, are likely to come away wondering how the Sensorites were the inspiration for anything.

As I understand it, according to Russell T Davies, the Ood come from the same general area of the universe as the Sensorites, and as such are related. Even their planets of origin have similar names: The Ood-Sphere and The Sense-Sphere. This is a terribly clever way, I think, of taking a faulty idea from the classic series and finding ways to make it work in the new show, without ever using words like remake, reenvision, or reimagine. Saying that the two species are related does two things: It provides due reverence for the original idea, and it adds a nice layer of continuity for long term fans. These days Moffat gets all the credit for being the clever one, but let’s not forget that mad Uncle Russell wasn’t missing any crayons from his box of colors, either.

An Ood and a Sensorite
“The Sensorites” sees the show taking a detour into the realm of science fiction, smack in between two historical stories, “The Aztecs” and “The Reign of Terror.” The first season of Doctor Who was pretty fair about evenly taking turns between the two types of stories. In the second season there was more of an emphasis on the sci-fi, even though from today’s vantage point, the historical tales of the Hartnell era seem to be the ones that hold up better. When the show wasn’t featuring the Daleks, its sci-fi wasn’t as strong, which speaks to how tight of a concept the Daleks really were way back then. But since sci-fi is an ever-evolving artform, it dates itself in ways that these old historical stories tend not to. Back in 1964, “The Sensorites” probably seemed like a pretty cool story, especially to kids, at whom the show was squarely aimed at that point.    

It begins with a lovely, warm scene of the TARDIS crew discussing their numerous journeys up to this point, and the impact they’ve all had on one another since Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) first stumbled into the time machine, as well as the Doctor’s (William Hartnell) and Susan’s (Carole Ann Ford) lives. The scene is followed by a tracking shot of the crew walking out of the console room through the TARDIS doors, and outside the ship to the interior of another spaceship – a series of moves that’s quite the rarity in the classic series, let alone its first season! It’s quick and subtle, and yet once you see it, you simply can’t unsee it, and the marveling at the decision to connect the two sets together to achieve the desired effect begins. For the first five minutes alone, it’s impossible to dismiss “The Sensorites” altogether.

Quickly the narrative moves forward, as the time travelers explore the spaceship on which they’ve landed. They discover the human crew, all seemingly dead. The Doctor, rather uncharacteristically, insists that nothing can be done for them, and so it would be best if they all just took leave, but before they can, the dead begin to rise. Ahhhh, it turns out the humans weren’t dead, but rather in a deep, coma-like sleep – put there by the Sensorites. The first couple episodes have a nice sense of dread about them, and the cliffhanger for Episode One, “Strangers in Space,” is rather creepy, as we get our first look at a Sensorite, from Ian’s point of view, floating silently in space, and peeking through the ship’s window.

More is learned about the Sensorites when the action moves to their planet below, the Sense-Sphere. It turns out they’re just as afraid of the humans as the humans are of them, and the more the story explores the Sensorites, the less alien they become, despite the fact that they’re telepathic, afraid of the dark and loud noises, and most peculiar of all, they’re unable to tell each other apart - ideas that aren’t ever taken to any kind of proper conclusions. New mysteries pop up on the Sense-Sphere, as well as some fine character development for Susan, who gets some good stuff in this piece, including an exploration of her own telepathic powers, an aspect of Gallifreyans that got minimal play on the original series, but Davies explored further with the Tenth Doctor. One of the great Susan moments of this serial is in its final episode, “A Desperate Venture,” when she speaks of her home planet, of which she says, “At night the sky is a burnt orange, and the leaves on the trees are a bright silver!” Years later, Davies would use similar words to describe Gallifrey in “Gridlock.”

Indeed, one cannot help but wonder what influence this story might have had on Davies at some point, or maybe he just saw it as a flawed work, worthy of borrowing bits and pieces from. “The Sensorites” has an unsophisticated kind of earnestness about it, which might be why it’s so difficult to dislike. I must also admit that my opinion of it was somewhat colored by the documentary included in the extras entitled “Looking for Peter,” in which Toby Hadoke searches for information on Peter R. Newman, the writer of this story. “The Sensorites” is not just Newman’s sole Doctor Who credit, but aside an obscure non-horror Hammer film called Yesterday’s Enemy, it amounts to 50% of the deceased writer’s only official credits. If Newman had some massive resume, I might be more inclined to pull apart this work, but as is, I feel the need to label it a mild curiosity, even if not an altogether successful effort and one that should be given some reappraisal in the name of all that’s decent.

DVD Extras: In addition to the aforementioned “Looking for Peter” - which can’t be recommended highly enough, as it’s quite an engaging addition to the proceedings – there’s a rotating commentary track with stars William Russell and Carole Ann Ford as well as guest stars Joe Grieg, Martyn Huntley, and Giles Phibbs, as well as behind the camera folks Frank Cox (director), Raymond Cusick (designer), and Sonia Markham (make-up designer), all moderated by Hadoke. “Vision On” and “Secret Voices of the Sense Sphere” are two short pieces centered on Clive Doig, who was the vision mixer during this period of the show. There’s also the usual photo gallery, production notes subtitles option, and PDF materials, which include Radio Times listings, a short RT piece on Hartnell, and some design drawings from this serial. Finally, there’s a trailer for the “Revisitations 3” box set, which will of course be broken up and released separately for Region One, in the form of special edition double-dips of “The Robots of Death,” “Tomb of the Cybermen,” and “The Three Doctors.”