Friday, 16 October 2015

Doctor Who:
Under the Lake / Before the Flood

The second of this year's two-part Doctor Who stories is much more of a classic tale than the first, in the traditional "base under siege" mold. After the series' massive and chaotic opener, what did the Hurds make of this change of pace?

Matthew:
Watching this first episode, I realised how much I enjoy the Doctor exploring new locations and slowly discovering what's going on. Seeing him creep around an empty base, just as confused and uncertain as we are, is way more interesting to me than when he already knows the situation, like he did with Davros. Likewise, the slower pace and single location let us get properly invested, rather than jumping from space to school to medieval parties.

And yet, at the risk of seeming like a hypocrite, I did think this episode was maybe a little too slow. It might just be the lack of resolution going into the cliffhanger, but the story seemed very slight to me - like not a great deal actually happened. Did you two feel that, or did this work for you?

Amy:
I really enjoyed Under the Lake. It was more of a monster of the week episode than a huge epic adventure. It reminded me a little of The Impossible Planet in some ways: A base at a difficult to get to location with a small crew of people, which is a format that works well. Especially if the other characters are interesting, which I thought they were. I enjoyed the Doctor's handy flashcards.

Overall, I really enjoyed it and don't really have anything negative to say about it! Apart from I still think the sound is off and I really hope the sonic sunglasses aren't here to stay.

David:
Obviously, I really enjoyed Under the Lake as well. It would be hard not to, with its claustrophobic, tension-dripping atmosphere. The episode was a clever homage to the great sci-fi horrors like The Thing and Alien, and was intelligent and well-crafted enough to never feel like a parody or an imitation.

It's always interesting to see the Doctor come across something he's not encountered before, and his excitement about the possibility of real ghost was palpable (even if the crew didn't share his enthusiasm).

This episode built on the strengths of last week's one, focusing on telling a simple story well, with a healthy focus on characters. After all, a horror movie only works if we care about the people in danger, and they made us care, even before the Doctor showed up. Is that the benefit of having a double episode, or are the writers just more confident with Capaldi now? Time will tell, I'm sure.

So what did everyone think of episode 2?

First just let me back up what you two said!

I'm a big fan of the way Capaldi doesn't fuss about or dwell on death, and I thought the flashcards were a great way for Clara to try and deal with that. Likewise, his excitement about new and unusual things - even dangerous ones that are killing everyone around him - is always a joy. I do think this story went a little too far with it's big "kiss it to death" speech, though. Ghosts with an earworm seem quite tame compared to much of what he's faced before, so I never quite bought it.

As for the second episode, I'll try to stay positive for now, and say that I really enjoy the new fourth-wall-breaking openings that we see here and in Listen. That was really fun, and letting him rock out over the opening credits was just awesome. Other than that, the design of the Fisher King looked amazing, but I thought his great design was wasted in this episode because (positivity ends here) everything else about this episode is rubbish.

I agree that the second episode wasn't as good as the first but I wouldn't say it was rubbish. I didn't like that the Doctor kept going on about "the rules". The rules only ever seem to apply when it's convenient to the plot when in many other episodes there doesn't appear to be any rules! I still enjoyed the characters and the setting and it didn't suffer from an overly complicated and convoluted plot, which has been a problem in other episodes.

I actually wasn't too keen on the design of the Fisher King though!

If last week’s episode was The Thing, then this week’s episode was The Thing (prequel), carefully ticking off all the boxes to make sure past events lined up with what we knew about the future. There was even an axe! But like The Thing and The Thing, the original is always going to be better.

That said, I actually enjoyed Before the Flood. Sure, it wasn’t as good as the first part of the story, but there was plenty about it that I liked. I agree that the opening and the design of the Fisher King (very StarCraft II) were very strong, but I was also a fan of the way it balanced the two timelines and the interactions between the characters in the present and the past. This episode continued the strong character work set up in the first episode and kept you caring about the whole crew. (Side note: What is it with Moffat and killing of Doctor fangirls? First Osgood and now O’Donnell!)

Along with the flashcards last week, this episode was also a good reminder of how callous the Doctor can be when he needs to be, allowing people to die to test a theory and valuing Clara’s life over everyone else. While the Doctor has never been afraid to make difficult decisions, after angsty Tennant and Smith, it’s refreshing that Capaldi is so pragmatic about the whole thing. The solution to the episode was obvious from about half way through (of course it was going to be him in the capsule) and the confrontation with the Fisher King seemed to be over before it began, but I still enjoyed it. The moment with the axe and Cass was really effective (and very reminiscent of Ben Affleck’s Daredevil), the lingering question of the bootstrap paradox was well done and the characters were fully formed and worth investing in. If only there’d been more Fisher King…

One bugbear I did have was that the Doctor’s impending death and his acceptance of his impending death. It seems to have been a really reoccurring theme for the last few seasons. We always get teased that this will be the big one, the proper one, and then, after accepting his fate, he finds some way to wriggle out of it. As a plot device, it’s wearing pretty thin. Although I must admit that faking his own death and putting himself in cryo (while a little Jack Harkness) was a much more satisfying workaround than pulling a handy Life Model Decoy out of nowhere √† la The Wedding of River Song.

What's funny is that I don't necessarily disagree with anything either of you have said. The setting and the characters did continue to work for me, the split-timeline was a great approach that I'd love to see the show do more with, and I agree that Cass' Daredevil moment was really well handled (though couldn't she just have, y'know, turned around?).

But that's all surface stuff, and I felt like the episode was using it as a crutch - if you go any deeper it all starts to fall apart. Like you said, the totally-for-realsies fakeout death is played out by now, and the nebulous Rules of Time are even moreso. But then there's also the super-disappointing use of the Fisher King, the totally unfunny stuff with the undertaker, the complete waste of the new environment (imagine if that town hadn't been deserted), and that weird Father's Day loop that didn't achieve anything.

Even Capaldi's matter-of-fact attitude to death - which is usually my favourite thing about him - seemed almost callous and unfeeling here, which is not the same thing. He's used death to test theories before, of course (see Mummy on the Orient Express), but only when he can't do anything to prevent them. Here he puts up a token "stay in the TARDIS" objection but, beyond that, doesn't even try to stop O'Donnell running off alone to what he knows is probably her death. In fact, if we accept that he only let her run off to test his theory, then the Doctor directly causes her death by putting her name next on the list. He did that after she'd already died, of course, but also after he decided to break the Rules - paradoxes be damned!

And yet, the entire Bootstrap Paradox only seemed to be there to explain why nothing the Doctor Ghost did made any sense. It was a really stupid, nonsensical way to send a message to the future (and a dangerous one too, since it both unlocked the saferoom and got O'Donnell killed) but we're supposed to let it slide because the Doctor was just acting out the stupid plan he'd already seen, not making up the stupid plan himself. Then the epilogue goes out of its way to smugly point out the paradox, despite how stupid it is, and despite that fact that we never needed it explained any of the times the show has used it before. It's the entire plot of Blink, for goodness sake!

But the worst thing, for me, was when the Doctor started casually throwing around the word "souls" - and going on about how mystic and sacred and pure they are. In other words, Doctor Who suddenly got all religious on us which (as well as just generally bothering me as an atheist) flies directly in the face of the whole last series, where the myth of life-after-death was revealed to be nothing more than a Cyberman trap. Just like in Army of Ghosts, come to think of it.

Basically, I hated Before the Flood. I thought it was a mess of a story that misused its characters, insulted its audience, wasted its villain, and never actually paid off any of its main ideas - yet it seemed convinced that it was being really clever. I did enjoy Under the Lake, and I can see what you two enjoyed in the second part too, even if I didn't. I think that this probably would have worked a lot better as a regular one-part episode but, as it stands, this one simply wasn't for me.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Doctor Who:
The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar

It's that time of year again, folks! The UK's best TV programme is back on our screens! But enough about The Great British Bake Off - we're here to talk about Doctor Who.

Series 9 promises to be an interesting and unusual experience, as two-parters not only return for the first time in three years, but actually make up every single episode. It's more in keeping with the original series' classic multi-part stories, but will it work for our more modern sensibilities?

To find out, we've gathered a small herd of Hurds - David, Amy, and me, Matthew - to go over the episodes each week and share our thoughts. Join us below, as we take a look at the first two-parter of the series.

Matthew:
I was planning to start by asking what we thought of the last series and of Capaldi so far, but I feel that will almost certainly come up anyway. But where to start instead? There's just so much going on in these episodes - tanks and planes and invisible planets - that it's hard to pick one.

So let's just start at the beginning, with what I thought was easily the best scene in either episode: a strange warzone with spaceships fighting bows and arrows, super-creepy mines, and one hell of a reveal at the end. I loved this opening - what about you two?

Amy:
I really loved the opening too! There were so many interesting ideas with the hand mines and the spaceships and the wooden bows. I thought it was great! I was disappointed when that isn't what the episode was about though. The interesting warzone was forgotten about and not really explored, sadly.

David:
I thought the opening was great as well - really creepy, really atmospheric and grabbed you straight away. All things that Moffat excels at. And then the Doctor turned up in the nick of time, just like he always does, offering wise words, rambling speeches and a tiny glimmer of hope, just like he always does. It was classic Who.

And then came the reveal. Davros hasn't been seen since 2008, yet the mere mention of his name is enough to send shivers down your spine. That right there is the sign of a great villain. And here he is as a child. A genius twist and a brilliant pay-off for the standout scene in the episode. It's just a shame it peaked so early.

It was a truly amazing setup - to the point that I assumed it was setting up the whole arc of the season, rather than just these first two episodes. I was actually a little disappointed that we reached adult Davros so soon - although I did appreciate seeing the contrast between the two versions. I also think I like this old and tired rendition of the character much more than the crazy, ranting, over-the-top "Daleks' pet" that we saw in 2008 (although that guy does make a brief comeback in the second part). I just sort of wish he had more to do, or more impact on the story. Like Amy said, the first episode sort of forgets what it's supposed to be about.

It doesn't just forget about the warzone though. There were loads of really good, interesting ideas that weren't explored and weren't really explained and didn't really hold that much relevance to the plot; the planes stopping, the planet being invisible, the medieval guitar. It just seemed to have too many ideas all shoved together. As for the plot, I'm not really sure I could tell you what it was. It's almost as if it's trying too hard to be epic and galactic that it forgets the storyline.

Another thing, and I don't quite know if it's the fault of Doctor Who or the BBC or someone else, is that the sound was really strange. The music was really loud and often a lot louder than the dialogue. There were quite a few times when I found myself desperately straining to hear. At the risk of sounding like a moaner watching Jamaica Inn, Davros mumbled a lot and I couldn't really hear a word he was saying!

The first episode was good, don't get me wrong, but it just never seemed to gel. It suffered from what I think is Moffat's biggest weakest - throwing a load of great ideas at the wall and not bothering to see what sticks.

Man made of snakes? Great. Missy back? Great. Planes freezing? Great. Invisible Skaaro? Great. The Doctor throwing an epic party? Great.

All great ideas, but not a single one given the care and attention it needed. Of all the great ideas, the much discussed opening was the one that was give time to breathe, and as a result, was the only part of the episode that truly worked.

Like I said, still a good episode, with lots of good parts, and plenty of great ideas, but it just didn't seem to work as an episode.

I completely agree. The first episode really summed up my feelings about Capaldi's entire run so far. I enjoyed it at the time but looking back, with the exception of a couple of stellar episodes (namely Listen and Orient Express), what I remember enjoying are individual moments or ideas rather than entire episodes or arcs. The whole run has felt kind of disjointed and unfocused, and The Magician's Apprentice really drove that feeling home and made me fear the worst for the series to come.

The second episode, on the other hand, seemed much more assured and comfortable with what it was doing. There was much more of the things that worked the first time, like regretful old Davros and Missy being delightfully sadistic, and those ideas were actually given enough time to breathe.

I agree that the second episode worked a lot better than the first. There were still a few things left unexplained though I think, like how is Davros alive? Didn't he die in that fire at the Medusa Cascade? And Missy not being dead was very briefly glossed over, which I know is kind of an in-joke, but I still feel like it should have been explained a bit more. I also don't really think the snake man was quite used to his full potential.

Although Clara is growing on me, I still think there are inconsistencies in her character. Sometimes she's really clever and works things out really quickly, things that even experts at UNIT can't work out or how Missy and her transported, and yet she couldn't think of a way to let the Doctor know it was her in the Dalek? She just kept saying "I am Clara Oswald" even though it had been clearly established that it didn't work. We know Clara Oswald is in the Dalek's vocabulary (as is "weird" which I found odd) so why not try "Clara Oswald is alive" or "I travel with you" or "Danny Pink".

I half expected her to say "soufflé" actually - it definitely needed an Asylum callback. And while I agree the drama felt very manufactured, I still loved that moment. After two episodes siding with Missy (even though she vapourised those UNIT guys) it was good to have that final betrayal. I am kinda loving Missy in these episodes.

Incidentally, I think this is the first time that we've seen the Master leave present-day Earth since the programme came back. That's something I've been hoping for and I look forward to more of it in the future. Loved that her first ever meeting with Davros amounted to a (literal) poke in the eye for anyone expecting it to be a big moment.

I really liked this second part - it took what worked the first time, and ditched all the unnecessary stuff. I was worried at first, but Moffat managed to turn it around and deliver what might be his first really solid Dalek episode.

I must admit, though, that the final scene of child Davros didn't hit anywhere near as hard as it needed to, in order to pay off that amazing opening. I wanted to see the Doctor properly change something - something timey-wimey to spin this series off from - but what we got felt like a damp squib.

I have to confess to quite liking the ending. You're right in that it didn't hit as hard as the gut-punch of an opener, but it won me over by simply being another instance of Doctor Who using time travel correctly, and I'm always a sucker for that.

I thought the second episode was a totally different story to the disappointing first, and showed off Moffat's biggest strength - waiting to see which great idea sticks, and then basing an entire episode around it. In this case, a quiet and heart-felt conversation between Davros and the Doctor. Might not sound all that exciting for a two-part series opening (especially not when compared to episodes like The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon), but it worked. It really worked.

Overall, I did enjoy the first episode, but it just feels like it's trying too hard. I definitely think the second episode was much better. The Doctor showing his compassion only for it to be his weakness, as always, and then him outsmarting Davros because he'd worked out the plan all along, was great! I would have liked to have seen more of the battle ground and that war, but overall I hope the the series is on the same level as the second episode and not the first.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Trailer Park: Toil and Trouble

You've probably noticed that there's been no new Hex Picks over the last few weeks. Sadly, it looks as though The Trailer Park may be going the same way. The Hex Dimension website is winding down for the time being, if hopefully not forever. It's been a great opportunity to be part of what went on there, and I wish everyone involved the best.

It's good, then, that our last collection of trailers can be quite a strong one. I like the look of almost everything we see here, and even the one that doesn't quite work for me looks pretty damn stunning.

So to read the final Trailer Park before it goes extinct, please click the unexpectedly appropriate dinosaurs below.

Clever girl.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Trailer Park: Awakenings

It's been a very odd week for trailers. Not exactly quiet but... smaller? Usually you can count on there being one or two big blockbusters or big names, but this week there's only one on the list that I've ever even heard of - and then only because it's a remake!

Instead, the picks this week are maybe a bit more arty and more indie than usual. But there's nothing wrong with that, and it's nice to focus on the kind of trailers I'd probably have overlooked before I started this feature. Some of them look positively great, too - click below to check 'em out.

Is that a Cornetto?

Monday, 25 May 2015

Trailer Park: Pixels and Piracy

I like weeks like this one, where there's a strange mix of all different types of film trailers. There's fantasy and sci-fi and horror and comedy and even a biopic, of all things. Some of it looks great - some of it looks bloody terrible. There's something for everyone!

Click on the giant glowing Pac-Man to take a look at our eclectic picks.

Waka-waka-waka...

Monday, 18 May 2015

Trailer Park: The DC TV Puppetry Jamboree

After breaking one of my unspoken personal rules for The Trailer Park last week (no offensive content), I've gone and broken another one today. I had planned to restrict myself to only one TV trailer per week, and even then only if there weren't enough films. But there were so many good TV promos last week, and so few decent film ones, that I've gone back on that rule too.

Despite this, it's actually a really strong week overall. All five trailers are pretty great, and I absolutely love more than half of them. This feature may have morphed slightly away from how I originally envisiged it, but maybe that's a good thing! You can decide for yourself by hitting the link below.

Is it a bird?

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Hex Picks: Apocalyptic Films

At the end of last week, we in the UK learned that we now have a Conservative majority government.

On a completely unrelated note, our theme this month is the end of the world. Click below to check out our movie choices!

Ooh, what kind of pies?