This Week in Geek (14-20/02/11)


DVDs: Director Lau Kar-Leung returns to the 36th Chamber of Shaolin with Disciples of the 36th Chamber, a fun romp that shows what happens when an irreverent soul who doesn't think he needs any more training comes to the temple. That soul is Chinese folk hero Fong Sai-Yuk (from Jet Li's The Legend), here played by Hsiao Hou, up against Gordon Liu's famous monk San Te, and a whole horde of Manchus. Though some of the slapstick is a bit over the top, I'm once again impressed at Lau Kar-Leung's inventiveness, both in the fights and in the general camera work and story.Good fun and one of my favorite Shaw Brothers final freeze frames ever. The sole extra is a strong commentary track by expert Bey Logan.

The Doctor Who TV Movie is finally available in North America, and though it has a bad reputation, I happen to think there's a lot of good in it too. This was the first time I've seen it whole since 1996, and I was very impressed with the direction. Camera shots, editing, themes, effects are all very good, and Paul McGann makes a as great a Doctor as Daphne Ashbrook's Grace makes a companion. That it plays fast and loose with some of the canon can usually be chalked up to it trying to lead to a series, and those fast, loose ideas would no doubt have been explored and brought to conclusion then. However, there are some pretty major weak points, foremost among them a Swiss cheese plot that's dead on arrival (too many cooks HAVE spoiled the broth), and the wrong-headed casting of Eric Roberts as the Master. In any case, this is an instant favorite when it comes to Doctor Who DVD packages, in large part because we hear completely different people talking about the program (people we're not likely to hear from again). The commentary track with the director didn't do much for me (and he frequently contradicts the production notes), but the one moderated by Nick Briggs and featuring both Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann is huge fun. We've got a big documentary about the talks leading up to the TV Movie, Who novelists and a comedian talking about the movie's good points, behind the scenes material, Hollywood featurettes that reasonably cover the actual making of, a couple of alternate takes, a great and even touching documentary on how Blue Peter kept the program's memory alive during its off-years, another on the spin-off material that kept it going during the "Wilderness Years", the 8th Doctor installment of the comic strip series, a look at how the movie was received by the press, effects tests that include a flying spider dalek... This thing is sweet, and worth it even if you think yourself lukewarm about the 8th Doctor's only televised outing.

Audios: In Paul Magrs' The Wishing Beast, the 6th Doctor and Mel land in a dark fairy tale featuring scheming witches, a monster who eats people and then the layers of their souls, and... vacuum cleaners? If you're familiar with Magrs' work, then this seems perfectly reasonable. He likes to mix genres and mediums, and to generally take the mick and subvert the format inside the boundaries of canon. This one has some nice bits and wit, like the crones thinking Mel is the hero and the Doctor the companion, and the dialog is good. The wailing of the ghosts isn't all that well realized however. The fourth episode is actually The Vanity Box, which occurs on the heels of the longer story. It's about a box that "takes the years off" and has the 6th Doctor in drag. Like I said.

Frozen Time by Nicholas Briggs starts with the 7th Doctor being found in an ancient block of ice in Antarctica, and that's a hook so awesome, it's hard to live up to. It does feature good performances and classic Doctor Who monsters (there are two possibilities and I won't spoil which shows up), as well as strong action beats. I think the transitions to flashbacks could have been clearer at times, but this is a minor complaint. Otherwise, this is an unusual way for a Doctor Who story to start, and the ride that follows it generally pleasant. I hardly missed the companions (which doesn't mean I would want to lose Ace and Hex!).

Son of the Dragon by Steve Lyons is one of the best audios I've heard all year. It's a pure historical about Vlad the Impaler that takes itself seriously, but still manages cheeky references to Dracula lore and films. Featuring the 5th Doctor, Peri and Erimem, it reminds me a great deal of Marco Polo, with a voice-over journal at the top of the acts, and an invisibly epic scale (to the battles, for example). Peri's a little screechy this time around and the Doctor is sidelined for a bit, but Erimem is in top form, as noble as we'll ever get her. May well get into my top five at year's end. Great stuff.

Reality games: I'm writing this not long before a new season of the Amazing Race is set to begin, and only a couple days since I ran my own version of the reality competition on the campus where I work (in so-called "real life"). This was our 6th annual race, all part of a year-long competition between the university's clubs and schools. The good news is, I didn't puke this time. I did have a massive asthma attack after I braved a snow field to wrap a target around a tree, but it was worth it just for that Roadblock's participants cussing me out afterward. The angriest team must have been the Nutritionist school's however, who went from 2nd place to last in the final challenge, which required them to get a hard-boiled egg into a glass bottle, intact. Nutritionists defeated by an egg... one for the books. From what I hear, people had fun despite the tortures I helped put them through, but we won't be doing the race in winter again for a while. This was the second time we did, and both times it was raining cats and dogs. Fortunately, no one slipped or got hurt.

Art: Jayunderscorezero tells me he's received the Reign of the Supermen iron-on he won in my Reign #100 contest a couple weeks ago, so now it can be revealed to the world. Hope you liked it Jay!
Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. The Fishmonger Scene - Hamlet 2000
II.ii. The Fishmonger Scene - Fodor (2007)


snell said...

The other aspect of the TV Movie that often gets ignored is how it much it set the stage, tonally, for so much of what RTD did in the relaunch. The very thought of The Doctor being even inferentially romantically involved with a Companion was widely derided in 1996, for example. No it's SOP...

And then there's the unanswered question...why were the Daleks trying the Master?

De said...

Looks like I'll be selling my old Region 2 disc.

Jeff R. said...

Just because the trial was on Skaro doesn't mean the Daleks were running it

Jayunderscorezero said...

Thanks again! I'll have to send you a photo when I actually iron it on to something...

Siskoid said...

Jeff: Isn't the line something like "When the Daleks put my old foe the Master on trial..."? (too lazy to check)


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