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Some Thoughts on “Doctor Who: Kinda” and “Snakedance”

Recently I had the opportunity to view a pair of Fifth Doctor episodes, “Kinda” from 1982 and its sequel “Snakedance” from 1983. Since the two stories are so closely connected, I thought it made sense to review them together.

Both stories feature Peter Davison as the Doctor, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka; Matthew Waterhouse appears as Adric in “Kinda” but is not present in “Snakedance” (being trapped on an exploding spaceship will do that to you). In “Kinda”, the TARDIS lands on the peaceful planet of Deva Loka, but, of course, the TARDIS crew manages to stumble into trouble. While Nyssa is confined to the TARDIS as the result of mental distortion the planet effects of those of her species, the Doctor and Adric become the captives of a mad commander. As for Tegan–well, she becomes possessed by an alien force known as the Mara, who hopes to use her as a gateway to regaining corporeal form and destroy Deva Loka. In “Snakedance” we learn that although the Mara was banished to another dimension at the end of “Kinda”, it retained its hold on Tegan; through her it pilots the TARDIS to its old home world of Manussa and once more works to regain a flesh appearance.

“Kinda” really made an impression on me for several reasons–Hindle was a truly insane villain; Todd was a fun character that I would have liked to see join the TARDIS (she was smart, savvy, and willing to listen to the Doctor’s theories but also not afraid to put him in his place), and the Kinda were a truly unique, intriguing civilization. Also, Janet Fielding gave an outstanding performance not only when Tegan was trapped inside her own mind but also when the Mara gained control of her body. But as outstanding as she was in “Kinda”, she was absolutely on fire in “Snakedance”. Seriously, I was a little bit sad when Tegan was finally freed of the Mara’s influence; she made such a good villain. That snake skull was a good yet creepy addition, too.

By returning to the Mara’s home world in “Snakedance”, we got the chance to learn more of the backstory than was featured in “Kinda”, and we also got to see the effects it had on the culture despite having been banished from Manussa about 500 years ago (at which point it fled to Deva Loka). Interestingly enough, it was prophesied that the Mara would return, but most people passed it off as a myth. It’s entirely possible that the people might have assumed the Mara was a myth as well if its banishment hadn’t been a well-documented historical event.

On the whole, I think these were two of the Fifth Doctor’s best stories (I think “Kinda” might even outrank “The Caves of Androzani” as my favorite Fifth Doctor episode now), and I definitely recommend you watch them. You won’t be disappointed.

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Some Thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”

Despite what the title suggests, “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” is not a documentary about Doctor Who. Rather, it’s a serial from 1988 starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. The Doctor and Ace receive an invitation to visit the Psychic Circus, renowned for being the greatest traveling circus in the galaxy (although I didn’t notice anything particularly psychic about it) only to discover that it’s become a nightmarish entertainment arena where you can die if the audience does not like your performance. Getting out alive will be easier said than done, and it doesn’t help that there are other performers who are only interested in saving themselves instead of working together to ensure they can all go free.

There were several things I liked about this episode–for one thing, I thought Mags was a unique and intriguing character, and I would have liked to see her become a companion (note to self: check Big Finish audio dramas to see if the Doctor ever meets her again). I also really liked the twist about the creepy family beings the Gods of Ragnarok. However, here’s where we get into the things I didn’t like about the episode–the Gods of Ragnarok were really fascinating, but we didn’t see them until close to the end. I wanted to know more about them, how many times the Doctor has faced them before–on the whole, it felt like a waste of a good villain.

Unfortunately, “Greatest Show” was made in the era when the BBC was actively trying to kill Doctor Who, and some of the “Why won’t this show just die already!?” mentality was coming through. The biggest thing was tonal dissonances; it would be dark and creepy one minute, and the next, we’d have the Doctor making groan-inducing puns. I have no problems with Doctor Who, classic or new, combining horror and comedy, but the transition between the two was so jarring in this case that it almost made the episode seem as if it had a personality disorder.

That being said, “Greatest Show” still had its high points, and I would still recommend it for people to watch. However, this may be more of an experienced Whovian episode than someone who’s still new to it all–I wouldn’t want a newbie to watch it and then brush off Doctor Who as being dumb.

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Some Thoughts on “Star Trek Beyond” *Spoilers Ahead*

The latest installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise debuted just in time for the 50th anniversary year of exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new forms of life and new civilizations, and boldly going where no man has gone before. It was a thrill to experience on the big screen, but if you want to know more, you run the risk of spoilers.

To prove how serious I am, I got River Song to come and tell you all about the spoilers.

If River hasn’t convinced you to go away, nothing will, so I may as well commence.

It’s Year Three of the famous five-year mission, and Captain James Tiberius Kirk is wondering why he’s still here. He complains that his life is beginning to feel episodic (the franchise has become sentient! They’re going to figure out to break out of the Matrix!) and hopes that a temporary layover at the starbase Yorktowne will help break up the monotony. What he hasn’t told his crew is that he’s applied for a vice-admiral position and plans to leave Spock in command of the Enterprise. Naturally enough, all of this changes when they rescue a survivor of an alien exploratory mission who needs help rescuing the rest of her crew. The planet they’re stranded on lies in the middle of a dense nebula, and guess which ship has the best navigational equipment in the fleet?

So off they go to assist the aliens only to find that it was an ambush to lead them directly into the hands of the mad warlord Krall. The Enterprise is destroyed (The Search for Spock wants its plot device back), and the majority of the crew are Krall’s prisoners. It’s up to Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Scotty, and their new friend Jaylah to set them free and stop Krall from destroying the entire Federation. But Spock is badly wounded, and their only vessel is the broken-down USS Franklin, an NX starship that went missing over a hundred years ago (and can hit a whopping warp 4 without exploding).

There are so many points I want to cover that I hardly know where to start. I think I’ll just start with Jaylah. I loved her character, and I loved how well she meshed with the rest of the crew. I know they won’t be recasting Chekov for the next movie, but I hope they’re able to bring Jaylah back; I would love to see her continue to grow as a character and have a chance to explore deep space.

I enjoyed the twist about Krall being Balthazar Edison, the Franklin‘s original captain. Most people hated Enterprise, but I loved it, and I’m always glad when they’re able to reference that show in some way. Granted, I haven’t watched enough to remember if the Franklin was ever mentioned, but the mere fact that we had Kirk and Co. on an NX-era bridge pleased me greatly. Also, I thought it was a good idea to follow the idea of the original 2009 film and create an original villain; Benedict Cumberbatch aside, one of the big flaws of Into Darkness was that they tried to recast one of the most iconic villains and remake one of the best storylines Star Trek ever had. But Idris Elba didn’t have to worry about being compared to any other actor in the role, which gave him a certain amount of flexibility.

The regular actors have really grown into their roles; Karl Urban and Simon Pegg have especially reached new heights in their respective roles of Dr. McCoy and Commander Scott. I think Karl Urban in particular is having a bit too much fun as McCoy, but it makes for a good performance.

Mini-rant time: I was so hoping we finally saw the end of the pointless Spock/Uhura romance, but they seem determined to keep dragging it out. Why? Why!? I beg you; end it in the next film already! Apart from being annoying, I feel it interferes with Zachary Quinto’s portrayal of Spock. His logic feels less…sharp, somehow, since he’s in a relationship, but he’s still a master of zingers.

Speaking of Spock, they handled Leonard Nimoy’s death in a very respectful way. It was still sad, but at the same time you felt that your grief was shared by every single person watching the movie, so that made it a little easier. They couldn’t do much about Anton Yelchin’s death because he died after filming was complete, but the simple “For Anton” at the end of the movie was a welcome touch. Any future movies will feel empty without him.

The first two movies were fun romps, but Beyond feels as if it the reboot has finally grown up. It had the most Trek-like feel of all of the modern movies, for which I credit Simon Pegg’s influence. Mr. Pegg, if by some chance you should stumble upon this humble little corner of the internet, you did good.

Final verdict: it was brilliant and a perfect way to celebrate the 50th anniversary. If you haven’t seen it yet, go do so.

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When You Have No Clue about a Franchise and Enjoy the Movie Everyone Else is Hating

The majority of you are probably aware that Independence Day: Resurgence is currently playing in theaters. It is the sequel to the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day and once again features the good ol’ US of A pitted against fearsome alien invaders who want to mine the Earth’s core. Here’s the thing, though–I haven’t watched Independence Day yet, and I didn’t want to see Resurgence for that very reason. Movies are supposed to be watched in order, people! We must have standards and rules if we don’t want chaos to descend! Watching movies out of order is two steps away from anarchy!

Ahem. Sorry about that. Once I got over my initial hangups, I found that I enjoyed the movie. I didn’t know about a lot of the characters at first, but I figured things out about them from context. On the whole I found it to be an intriguing story that hinted at a deeper, more richly layered backstory, and it got me even more excited to watch the original.

Needless to say, I developed quite a bit of confusion when I began seeing a plethora of reviews tearing it to shreds, asking questions like, “We waited 20 years for this?” Basically, most of the articles I’ve seen on it have been saying it’s a horrible sequel with terrible acting and lousy writing, and I’m over here like, “But…but I liked it. I thought it was good.” Granted, my opinion of it may change after I watch the original, but I still thought it was a fun mishmash of war movies and science fiction.

Or maybe this is all just a lesson in you can’t always believe what the critics have to say about a movie. Sometimes you just have to watch things for yourself and form your own opinion.

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“Jurassic Park” is a Book with Bite

Last year was when I watched all of the Jurassic Park movies for the first time, which was a bit unusual for me because I normally read the book first. However, I didn’t read it until last week. Part of me is kind of glad I didn’t read it before the movie because chances are I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much (I’m one of those people who nitpicks about changes made from book to movie, in case you didn’t already know from my Hobbit and Les Miserables reviews).

There wasn’t a whole lot changed from the book, though; it’s the same basic premise of, “Hey, look, we cloned dinosaurs and put them in a park; isn’t it neat?” and three hours later everyone is on the carnivores’ menu. There were minor deviations that didn’t affect the overall plot; the most noticeable changes were that Lex and Tim’s ages were reversed, Grant and Sattler were most certainly not in a relationship, and both Hammond and Malcolm are dead by the end of the book. They kept them alive in the movie for the sequel, I suppose, although I think I remember reading that The Lost World was already a book before they adapted it, and they never fully explained how Malcolm was in that when he was supposed to be buried in the first one. Or maybe I’m thinking of something else entirely.

I liked the book’s pacing better than the movie’s–it was a nice, medium pace, not too fast and not too slow, and there was more time to flesh out details that didn’t get as much attention in the movie. Also–and this is probably a weird observation–but there was something about the book that felt more intellectual than what the movie was like. I’m not sure if that makes any sense or not, but that was the impression I received.

Overall, I think both the book and the movie were well done, and it’s not often you can find a movie that lives up to its book.

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Victor Frankenstein: Surprisingly Good

A couple of weeks ago I got around to watching Victor Frankenstein, a fanciful little tale that came out last November. I knew right from the get-go that this movie was going to have 100% nothing in common with the book. I knew the prickly pedant in me would not hesitate to tear it to shreds for all of its divergences. I knew this version of the Monster would still not be the philosophizing phenom that Mary Shelley wrote in her book. I knew all of these things, all of them–and I watched it anyway because the trailer looked cool.

But you know what? It was actually a pretty good movie. It follows the story of Igor (which is automatically a dead giveaway that this is nothing like the book because there’s no Igor in the book) and how he became Frankenstein’s assistant. In this version, Igor is a clown in a traveling circus and is often mocked and abused because of his hunchback. He finds comfort in books and is a self-trained doctor of sorts, treating the various ailments that afflict his fellow circus performers. These skills prove invaluable when he saves the life of Lorelei, a trapeze artist who slips and falls in the middle of a performance. Frankenstein is one of witnesses when Igor saves Lorelei and realizes that this man has a great mind and is made for better things than the circus, so he takes him home, fixes his back, gives him clean clothes, and puts him to work as his assistant.

One of the things I wanted to give this movie credit for doing is avoiding the love triangle cliche. As soon as I saw Lorelei, I thought, “Oh, boy, here we go, Victor’s going to fall in love with Lorelei, too, and it’s going to cause tension between him and Igor, and it’s going to be one of the reasons they stop working together, and why are these things so stupid?” But that isn’t what happened at all. Igor and Lorelei got to have a happy little relationship with very little interference from Frankenstein. Granted, he didn’t approve of their relationship because he felt it distracted Igor from their work, but he didn’t stand in their way, either. On a similar note, I was surprised that there was no mention of Frankenstein’s fiance Elizabeth. Maybe in this version he wasn’t engaged (which is easy to believe), but her absence still seemed a bit odd.

The friendship between Frankenstein and Igor was unexpectedly layered, thanks in part to James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe’s excellent acting. Radcliffe brought Igor to life, making him feel like a real person instead of a caricature, and McAvoy electrified (no pun intended) the screen as Frankenstein, capturing the mad scientist’s charisma and passion in a way I have rarely seen. He also brought out Frankenstein’s arrogance, most notable in the way he treats Igor. He regards Igor less as his own person and more as an object–at one point he even tells Igor, “You are my greatest creation.” Igor, on the other hand, is a loyal friend, grateful to Frankenstein for the way he changed his life yet willing to challenge him when he thinks he’s going too far. I think Frankenstein does recognize and appreciate that loyalty even if he doesn’t do a very good job of reciprocating.

Another aspect I liked was the philosophy portion. So many movies these days are all flash and no thought, but Victor Frankenstein requires you to think. There are many conversations about God, science, if there should be a boundary between the two, and how far that boundary should extend. There’s one scene where Frankenstein and Igor are trying to convince Lorelei of the importance of their work, and Lorelei is understandably cautious, yet she cannot help but be enthralled by the picture Frankenstein paints of the good he hopes his work will accomplish.

I know this movie didn’t get very many positive reviews, but I found it unexpectedly enjoyable. They left the end open for a sequel, and if that movie is of the same caliber as this one, I wouldn’t complain in the least.

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“You Will Sing Only for Me”: A Review of the 1962 “Phantom of the Opera”

Yes, the Opera Ghost once more creeps from his murky underground lair to cast his ominous shadow over my blog. To be honest, though, I’m happy to have found a topic for another Phantom post–it feels like forever since I’ve written on this topic.

This particular version of The Phantom of the Opera was a Hammer Films production from 1962 and starred Herbert Lom as the Phantom, Heather Sears as Christine, and Edward de Souza as…Harry? Yes, it’s Harry, not Raoul, because this version is set in London, so I suppose Raoul didn’t sound English enough. On the future Doctor Who star front, we had Michael Gough (the Toymaker) as scheming sleazebag Lord Ambrose d’Arcy and Patrick Troughton (the Second Doctor) as the Rat Catcher…who was on screen for all of five minutes before a dwarf stabbed him in the eye. Oh, well.

So in this version, Harry is producing Lord d’Arcy’s new opera about Joan of Arc, but mysterious acts of sabotage keep happening in the theater as they get closer to opening night–the pages of the score are torn and missing; the drums have been slashed; one of the stagehands is found hanging from a beam as his body swings out onto the stage and terrifies the audience and the singers–y’know, the usual. The soprano Maria, who was supposed to play Joan, flat-out refused to return to the stage after the whole incident with the hanging body, but all is not lost. Harry discovers that Christine, one of the members of the chorus, has a lovely singing voice and with a little training would be perfect for the role of Joan. Lord Ambrose the Skeezy invites Christine to dinner to discuss giving her lessons, but she hears a mysterious voice in her dressing room warning her not to trust him. The voice also goes on to say that he will teach Christine how to sing, but she must sing only for him. When Christine later tells Harry of the voice she heard, they both return to the dressing room to investigate further, but they are both involved in something they do not understand…and they run the risk of angering the Phantom unless they both do as he says.

Like the 1943 version, the Phantom is a mild-mannered musician who snaps like a twig when he suspects his music has been stolen (in this version, it really is) and has his face scarred with etching acid. The deformity makeup was very interesting in this movie–and still leagues ahead of what they had in the 2004 version.

Herbert Lom as the Phantom

Professor Petrie is not impressed by your bad sunburn.

What I didn’t particularly like was how they gave the Phantom a henchman in the form of the mysterious dwarf. It made the Phantom less powerful and menacing, and I feel the character loses something that way. Yes, it made him more sympathetic because the dwarf was the one running around murdering everyone (and not necessarily at the Phantom’s behest), but making the Phantom less terrifying lessens the impact of the story. What was especially interesting was that they toned down his obsession with Christine. In this version he’s not necessarily in love with her, but in her voice he hears the kind of talent he always wanted to perform his music, which is why he trains her as relentlessly as he does.

Harry, on the other hand, is my favorite movie Raoul. He has no patience for stupid and gets things done. When Christine is in danger, he jumps into action without a second thought, and he is the one who pieces together the Phantom’s identity when no one else can figure it out. A lot of the narration focused on Harry’s investigations into the Phantom’s identity, which made it similar to the book’s focus on Raoul’s attempts to figure out what was haunting Christine.

All in all, it was an enjoyable movie despite the deviations from the book. It felt odd to have the Phantom’s character be so muted, but Harry more than made up for it. And if you can enjoy a movie despite its deviations from its source material, it’s a sign that the screen writers managed to do their job and do it well.

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