|May 14, 2013||Filled under 2013|
The Cybermen are back and they are better than ever thanks to the mind of Neil Gaiman and his Nightmare in Silver, the confrontation between not only the Doctor and the Cybermen but also the Doctor and himself, a unique twist on a Cybermen story that made this an excellent episode that was in my personal opinion one of the strongest the series has seen for a while.
I think a lot of people were expecting a episode similar to The Doctor’s Wife and the tragically sweet humanisation of the TARDIS but this couldn’t have been any more different with the Doctor instead facing up to a Cyber version of himself determined to take over his mind leading to a wonderfully handled battle of chess and psychological battle to keep the Doctor the way he’s always been. There were all kinds of great little ingredients thrown in there that made Nightmare in Silver such a joy to watch – Warwick Davis making a name for himself as the charming Porridge whom I really enjoyed and Tamzin Outhwaite too, not to mention the return of the Cybermen – but it was all about Matt Smith in this episode and the Doctor.
See, this was Matt Smith’s finest 45 minutes as the Doctor in my honest opinion. You saw him pushing the character of the Doctor way beyond who he normally is to display this disturbed, power-hungry cyber version of himself arguing back with a sly look and sheer evil as the upgrade of the Cybermen tried to take effect. It made for awesome television, genuinely awesome television and really elevated how good Matt Smith really is as the Doctor as this descent into madness whilst arguing himself back into sanity just made some amazing scenes and really was the highlight of the episode. When the writing is as good as performances as that then it’s so nice to get episodes like this. Plus I liked the symbolism of red vs blue, good vs evil and all that. Very well put together.
I was a big fan of the Cybermen too who seemed much more scary than I actually imagined them. Perhaps it was the darker tone of the episode but they were just seemed to have a bit of fear behind their every move as they grew in numbers. They were powerful and they made an impact – some of the things like moving faster than they ever have was a bit odd at first but it all added to the impact they had as an enemy of the Doctor. Also, their new upgrade mechanism is much more elaborate and less… cheap than when Trigger was in charge of the Cybermen. Silly Trigger, getting cheap hands free sets from Del Boy.
I’m also pleased that a love story was completely dispelled by the Doctor when Clara looked into his eyes to determine if it were the Doctor himself or the Cyber equivalent looking to take control. It all felt much more familiar when he told her she was basically a pain in the arse. Much nicer, that Doctor. Charming bloke.
There were flaws though to Nightmare in Silver that I can’t ignore. It wasn’t a great idea to bring along the kids that Clara nannies when she’s not being a multi dimensional goddess, of course – they added absolutely nothing to Nightmare sadly with the girl being more annoying than anything and the boy… not actually doing anything in my memory at all. They just seemed like added weight with no real purpose apart from the attachment to Clara. When you think back to some other attachments to companions, whether it be Wilf for Donna or Mickey for Rose, they always brought their own thing and these kids don’t. They’re annoying. Also I was a little disappointed to see the outcome of the episode settled so simply with something, I assume, could have been done at any time of the story. Unless I missed something, couldn’t Porridge have just beamed-him-up-Scotty after setting the bomb or something seeing as he knew of his importance? I don’t know. It seemed cheap for something so nicely played out.
However even with it’s flaws I really enjoyed this one. Vincent and the Doctor had it flaws but it’s still my favourite episode – this isn’t too far off for me. What made it ultimately were those utterly compelling scenes of the Doctor arguing at himself and you can only applaud Matt Smith for making them so wonderful to watch. Next week though, everything we could ever know about the Doctor could change the history of the show… will Moffat actually do what he’s hinting he’s doing to do? And just who or what is Clara?!
|May 5, 2013||Filled under 2013|
This week’s episode brought a return to the Victorian era and the awesome due that are Madame Vastra and Jenny, and just for giggles, they brought alone the wonderful Sontaran sidekick that is Strax just to make it even better. Hurrah! It was also the return of Mark Gatiss who penned this episode and luckily he didn’t disappoint with an intriguing, rather than exciting, battle between the Doctor and the mysterious Mr Sweet who inevitably ended up being a… chest… thing. I’m not sure what Mr Sweet was. But it freaked me out regardless.
I think what was most enjoyable about the Crimson Horror was mostly done to the inclusion of Vastra, Jenny and Strax who quite frankly make a fantastic trio and I don’t think they’ve ever disappointed. It amazes me that Doctor Who and it’s producers haven’t looked into creating a spin-off for them because I imagine their detective ways would be much welcomed. Vastra brings a certain level of calm and deduction to her skills, Jenny is the brawn of the operation who gets stuck into things and Strax is just the brilliant addition with all the perfect one liners and all three came together to be a real highlight in the Crimson Horror.
It’s also credit to how good everyone was in this episode that, in all honesty, it didn’t feel like the strongest story in the world and yet it all felt very good all the same. It was enjoyable to have a story that didn’t feel rushed through – for the whole 45 minutes it all played out nicely before a war of words between Gillyflower and the Doctor led to her eventual falling and death. It also gave a sense of frailty to the monster that had attached itself to the elder Gillyflower, crawling away into the darkness desperate for another body to leech from but struggling with its every grasp at getting away. Dame Diana Riggs was just wonderful though as Gillyflower, and for a dark, twisted old bat (Gillyflower, that is) her character really shone out in her upper hierarchical power trip.
Plenty of credit needs to go to the role of Gillyflower’s blind daughter who you truly felt for in this constantly. Her inability to see led her to be the perfect test subject from her own mother and as the story unravelled and as you learnt more about the torture she had been facing for all those years, as she learnt the truth and as the Doctor grew fonder of her existence upon learning such things, you really did have a huge amount of empathy for her. It was delicately handled but all so rewarding. What interested me was her constant use of saying ‘the monster’ when referring to the Doctor – it’s an interesting twist on who he is from what experiences she had had of him based on sound and feeling alone thanks to his rejection of the tonic Gillyflower had tried to use on him… but it was just interesting to have him being referred to as the Monster I felt.
As I say it possibly wasn’t the strongest story in the world but the execution of it and how well performed pretty much every role was as part of the story really upped the level that was being output and made it feel much better than it should’ve been. At its heart, the Crimson Horror was just a bog standard filler episode but it gave off much more than that, to the point that Gillyflower’s daughter Ada gave off a ‘Joan Redfern’ feeling with how she and The Doctor were so close despite his need to leave and move on from her life. The story actually surprised me too in the fact that I was expecting the story to play out for some greater power like the Great Intelligence running the faux factories and for the Doctor to sonic screwdriver his way to victory but in the end it was more thoughtful than that and a welcome surprise of how it eventually turned out.
Of course, I say that it’s a filler episode but the finale of the Crimson Horror jumped straight into the story arc of wondering just who this mysterious Clara is and how her life ties into the Doctor’s adventures. The strange twist of the kids that Clara nannies discovering her ability to time travel was a bit different and I’m not sure how I feel about it (wouldn’t you feel more shocked? They just seemed to laugh and accept it as fact) but it’s all beginning to lead towards our own discovery of how her existence works. The Doctor avoided all questioning of this by constantly reminding everyone who asked that she was complicated and how she could still be alive and so forth, but at least we’re getting baby steps to finding out just how the world of Clara works.
Oh, and a round of applause for the Thomas Thomas joke with the sat-nav child. Ridiculous but so very sneaky!
So the Crimson Horror was an excellent surprise and far better than I was expecting. As I say, Dame Diana Riggs did a wonderful job as the controlling Gillyflower and it all went surprisingly well for an episode I wasn’t expecting too much from but that’s what I get for doubting Mark Gatiss. As for next week? Well, where do I even start… the return of the Cybermen, Warwick Davis and the writing return of the absolute genius that is Neil Gaiman. Bring it on.
|April 29, 2013||Filled under 2013|
Indie games are the best. Every so often you come across an absolute gem of a game that everyone should play and you then find out it was ultimately only really created by one or two people who make it even more amazing. This is very much the case with the fantastic PC (and soon to be PS3) game Thomas Was Alone, a simplistic platformer where you control several right-angled shapes who all have complex emotional stories to tell. Yes, they are squares and rectangles and they have feelings and emotions – and that is part of the reason why this is such a cracking little game that I’d advise everyone to give a go. It keeps it remarkably simple – all you can do with your blocks is jump and move left and right. That’s it. That’s all you need. combine that with an aesthetically pleasing game that continued the theme of simplicity, a continued sense of achievement and satisfaction as you progress and it all adds up quickly as to why this has been an indie success recently.
So, what are my own 5 reasons that should convince you to pick up Mike Bithell’s simplistic adventure? (note – there are some spoilers about the different characters ahead)
- You control basic geometric blocks and yet have these have more character than a lot of blockbuster titles – I’d put money on this being my favourite thing about Thomas Was Alone. Ultimately the goal of the game is to get through stages by getting from Point A to B and overcoming the ledges, obstacles and challenges between but along the way you get told this fabulous story about these various blocks. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but these simple little shapes have such character and depth to them that it gives a huge amount of credit to the writing of the game that it can offer substance to basic shapes and make it work beautifully. There are tales of love, jealousy, betrayal and every other little bit of inter-group tension that you could imagine from a group of friends and strangers - only now through the form of blocks.
- The humour of the game absolutely nails it, right on the head – There are genuine laugh out loud moments constantly throughout Thomas Was Alone that can make a fairly bleak story at times all the more funnier with the way the characters’ feelings are expressed. again I go back to my credit of the strength of the writing that they can make something oddly funny about a set of blocks that are either short and fat, long and lanky or just boring blocks who think they are a superhero. It’s crazy to think that you can find yourself relating to such objects but such is a delicate handling of this writing that you genuinely want to believe that these are general thoughts being expressed about the blocks and it just makes them all the more hilarious from time to time with some of the stuff that comes out about them. Claire’s decision that, as she is slow and cumbersome that she is secretly a superhero is surprising and hilarious and leads excellent into my next point as to one of the reasons why this is…
- You constantly get the story narrated by the genius that is Danny Wallace – Like I even need to express my love of this point. Whilst I am biased beyond believe for my favourite author and all round funny guy being the voice behind the story, his tone and manner of dealing with the impact of a story like this just ebbs and flows more than comfortably through your progress jumping between block to block as you learn about them more and more. There’s just something awfully soothing about the way he narrates. That doesn’t sound creepy in the slightest. I think what helps this humour that comes with the game itself between the many words that he reads out fits the exact humour that I’ve always been so used to hearing and reading from Wallace so it makes an excellent match and association. His narration allows the more lonely of thoughts to be somber and thoughtful but can perfectly jump to excitement, quirkiness and happiness within the click of a finger. It’s some superb narration and Mike Bithell is incredibly lucky to have snagged Wallace’s talents for the game.
- It gives proof in the pudding that graphics don’t make a game – As if I haven’t mentioned it enough yet, this game has a lot of blocks. You control blocks, the landscape is very blocky, it is generally very 2D and rather blocky. Yet I don’t think I’ve blinked an eye twice at this as there’s no dip in how immersive the game is to play and how much you get into it. 2D platformers have a long and illustrious history of being simple but beautifully brilliant because of how enjoyable the game is to play. There’s so much emphasis on creating uncanny valley graphics now that it’s no surprise really that games like this from smaller studios of people with smaller budgets and less need for huge game worlds and whatnot have a fresh charm to them that make a lot of indie games such as this so appealing. It’s just a bonus when something comes along that is just an absolute ball of fun to play and with a sense of achievement to getting through it too. I must also note that there’s something incredibly calming about the aesthetics of the game too – whether it be its simplicity of the colour scheme or the soothing soundtrack that comes with it, it’s all rather lovely with a set of headphones in to sit down and play.
- Thomas actually isn’t alone! Hurrah! - Whilst you begin with the reserved little block that Thomas is, as you begin unlocking new blocks and start building up your crew of blocks the variety of characters between them and their interchanging relationships soon provide a little party of characters that you’d be surprised become both engaging and endearing despite being no more than a right angled graphic. I love the little moments as you progress that give you quarrels and arguments or intrigue and then as you build up your repartee of skills between Thomas’ new found friends the game starts chucking new puzzles at you to match the effort needed to use each block’s skills whether that be from bouncing or from anti-grav solutions or whatever. It’s just a joy to play jumping from character to character and using each character to solve puzzles as they become trickier and trickier.
The likes of Braid and Super Meat Boy have helped indie platformers get their name on the back as massively popular titles in recent years that are worth paying for and it’s a hugely positive thing about the marketplace of games right now that indie titles such as these can compete with the multi-millions marketing of the world’s biggest games. Sometimes though keeping it simple works and you won’t find much simpler than Thomas Was Alone – and yet it never makes it too simple to be boring or obvious when working things out so the challenge remains throughout. It’s most definitely one of my favourite games so far in 2013 (I know it’s a 2012 game!) – although this is a fair achievement when you consider how much I loved Bioshock Infinite.
I could go on to you about how much of an enjoyable time I’m having with Thomas Was Alone but to be honest my advice would be to just play it and see for yourself. Being a smaller indie title it’s available at the lovely price of £5.99 on Steam for both PC and Mac, and there’s even a demo available on the website for both formats too so everyone’s a winner. Even PlayStation 3 owners will soon get the privilege to download it too which is just a bonus. So even if you give the demo a go I doubt you’ll be disappointed when you have 5 excellent reasons above to buy Thomas Was Alone. Plus, think about Thomas – he’s alone and he needs someone to help him find other blocky friends to make his life more fulfilling and interesting.
You wouldn’t do that to poor Thomas now, would you?
|April 27, 2013||Filled under 2013|
This week’s episode saw our favourite duo heading deep into the confusing, twisted layout that runs within the infinite walls of the TARDIS herself as the Doctor and Clara found themselves adventuring in their own little home, if you will. Well, I say little – Journey…etc gave us a rather clear idea as to how complex and ridiculous the TARDIS actually is when it comes to how big it really is. Turns out it’s actually infinite, allows echo rooms of the current room you’re in to be created and has its own ability to cause labyrinths and just plain maze confusion. Splendid!
The story focused on an intergalatic junk collector ship picking up the TARDIS with a Red Dwarf-esque opening and ultimately these collectors get promised the ultimate bit of scrap collection they could be wishing for in return for their services to save Clara from the crashed TARDIS upon this space junk ship. Of course, this never really goes to plan and everyone gets lost and ultimately we find space zombies hidden in the TARDIS who turn out to be Clara dying from them being stuck in the engine room, until the Doctor saves the day by telling himself about a big friendly button. Upon retrospective from writing that sentence, it was actually a pretty poor ending. Deus ex machinas and rushed endings are becoming too much of a common way to end episodes this year… just something worth pointing out.
I had really high hopes for this episode as it sounded like an absolutely epic idea for an episode and it turned out, luckily, to be very good despite the flaws of the story. Was it as good as I was hoping? No, not at all. The idea of delving deep into the TARDIS and discovering her secrets is quite the idea and whilst we learn a few things we never really find out anything new which is a bit disappointing. I do love the idea of never-ending corridors though, which is appropriate for the eternally running Doctor and his love of corridor-based pacing. Plus we got to see the swimming pool – hurrah! After all those years of the TARDIS though and the recent emphasis on its personality, so to speak, you’d love to uncover all the secrets and mysteries even further than what we had today but I suppose as the Doctor says, secret’s are meant to be kept secret…
The story itself was fairly mind-bending at times and I wasn’t too sure about the whole deal of the echo rooms alongside each other a,d eventually the Doctor and Clara just ending up in what looked like an art exhibition before simply being able to go back through a tear in time so the Doctor could assist the Doctor himself to stop everything happening in the way it did. It’s a good idea and it was actually executed very well as the seeds were laid from the start of all their problems but I couldn’t help but feel a little confused by everything going on. Perhaps it’s just me being a bit slow – although technically doesn’t this make it a multi-Doctor story? Well… no, but I like the idea of the Doctor talking to the Doctor! Interesting to see the return of the crack in time too, which you may remember from Smith’s opening series as the Doctor…
Interesting to me was that there was ultimately no real ‘foe’ of the Doctor in this episode to fight up against our beloved aged time traveller – rather than this, the Doctor was technically fighting up against those helping him including Clara of course. It was a nice twist on the stories we get with the Doctor and their desire to prevent the repeated events of time occurring to save themselves worked alright. Again, a bit mind bending for my stupid head to work out and very wibbly wobbly. Still unique to have a story with none of the Doctor’s enemies and manage to make it work to an extent.
If there’s anything to take away from Journey… though, it’s that Clara’s role in the show clearly is starting to turn into a considerable storyline that I assume we will soon find out about. Her discovery of the Doctor’s name in the book of the Time War and the Doctor’s complete lack of understanding for her existence, not to mention another death for the lovely Clara of course, is just allowing the mystery of the new companion to grow and grow. Who is she? What is she? WHERE is she?! And most importantly, how did she end up on Emmerdale? Some things are better off left alone.
So that was the Journey to the Centre of the Tardis, a flawed and slightly underwhelming looking at the inner sanctum of the legendary blue box but still a good episode all the same. It just felt like it was missing something to make it properly great but it did mean we’ve had three weeks of fairly freaky episodes now and it doesn’t look like stopping any time soon – our favourite Victorian lesbian detectives in Madame Vastra and Jenny return with their potato-head Sontaron Strax all come back from their appearance at Christmas. I do really like Vastra and Strax so I’m very happy about this news!