This Week in Geek (4-10/02/13)


Got the first two seasons of Misfits and the first three of Cougar Town, and the Judge Dredd Case Files vol.2 for both a friend and myself.


DVDs: Being Human got out of Season 3 by losing a cast member, but the show had lost another by the time Season 4 started, and yet another by the end of its first episode! Could the show survive and thrive with a largely new cast? I'm here to confirm it could and did. For one thing, Annie has always been the heart of the series, and she definitely helps smooth the transition between cast members. And I love the new characters! We've met Tom the werewolf before, and he's a fine addition, a sad and naive vampire killer for whom your heart can't help but go out to. And now there's Hal, a vampire who can only control the blood lust by adopting OCD behavior. This apocalyptic story arc starts and ends in harsh drama, with the middle episodes containing more comedy (Hal and Tom are a great double act). One more series to go before show runner Toby Whitehouse is freed to do Doctor Who (I don't know this, I'm just joining the legion of fans who think it's a good idea), and I'm really keen on seeing where Being Human goes from here. The DVD includes three prequel scenes for the new characters, showing off the show's tonal variety very well (though one is mislabelled as a "sequel" on the case); interviews with the cast and crew; a few deleted scenes; and various behind the scenes featurettes. All of them quite good and only occasionally too brief.

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (literally, the Real Men) is a Taiwanese epic based on the historical Wushe revolt in the late 1920s, and being produced by John Woo, I think it's fair to call it Taiwan's own Red Cliff. In the early 20th century, Japan took Taiwan and enslaved its tribal natives until they rebelled 20 years later. Knowing nothing about this, I was fully expecting the film to offer an alien experience and on that score, I wasn't disappointed. The history, language and culture were completely unfamiliar, and while the Seediq do have an odd connection to the Vikings, with their Rainbow Bridge, their willingness to commit ritual suicide because the soul must be protected above the body is an uncomfortable notion for Western audiences. It's hard to get into the protagonists' motivations at times, but the action is strong, the locations are beautiful, and there's no lack of money being thrown at the screen. In Taiwan, the film was shown in two parts, lasting some 4½ hours in total. That's immense. Even at 2½ hours, the Western release is pretty long, and I might have cut down further on the final battle. But overall, a good experience, not just for its anthropological value, but its gorgeous shots and fine direction. While there's a lot of graphic violence (the Seediq are headhunters), the director often finds a way to cut away for artistic effect, dulling the violence's edge and creating a more spiritual tone. The DVD includes a good 35 minutes of "making of" material, with few talking heads and mostly behind the scenes footage, biased towards the crew rather than the cast. I still wanted more, certainly, about the Seediq and the historical accuracies or inaccuracies of the film.

If you've been reading the blog, you know what I thought of Doctor Who's The Face of Evil (loved it, and underrated gem), but what about the DVD extras? As usual, the production notes and the audio commentary have some interesting things to say about the serial and in this case, about the creation of Leela as companion. That commentary is shared by Louise Jameson (Leela, of course), the actors who played Calib (attention Star Wars completists, he talks about his work on A New Hope too), Neeva, Gentek and the Sevateem assassin, as well as the film cameraman and producer Philip Hinchcliff. Toby Hadoke does his usual good job of moderating, and reads from an excessively witty email sent by writer Chris Boucher. The making of covers a lot of different ground, from Leela's casting to paying tribute to director Pennant Roberts to the actual details of the serial itself, and is supplemented by 9 minutes of film trims and alternate shots showing how Doctor Who would have been filmed and edited. In addition, we get an interview with Louise Jameson for 2003's Doctor Who Stories, her Swap Shop vintage interview and plenty of pictures both from this story and her promotional shoots, including the dreaded "black face Leela" failed make-up. Less relevant to this story are newspaper reactions to the fourth Doctor era, and Who-related adverts for toys (DVD) and tea (pdf).

Audios: Thanks to a dentist appointment that involved a lot of waiting around AND some much needed grocery shopping, I managed to finish five Companion Chronicles audios from Big Finish, so as you can see, I'm quite enjoying them. We start with The Catalyst, a Leela story by Nigel Fairs that creates a rather tragic rationale for all her "tales told" in this series as an old and wizened Leela meets the Z'nai, an alien enemy from one such untold story. I'd listen to Louise Jameson doing Leela all day, but her Tom Baker is harsh and oppressive, which shouldn't come as a surprise, I suppose, given the actors' relationship back in the day. The story itself I found a little confusing at times because it didn't have a real sense of place. I often found myself surprised that we were in the TARDIS or not in the TARDIS in any given scene. I'm sure it's my fault for getting distracted, but sound design might have helped there. The story itself, involving the Doctor's "trophy room" and one of his unfinished tasks works well, however, and Leela is very well written.

Andy Lane's Here There Be Monsters has the exploratory wonder of the Hartnell era down pat, though I expect its science is a lot more accurate. Carole Ann Ford tells the story as Susan and does a great job of bringing Lane's images alive, and her impressions of her cast mates are well done and amusing. The audio play has the TARDIS' original crew landing on a ship run by a massive plant (oh indolent humanity, don't you want to do ANY work for yourself?), punching holes through the universe and endangering it for the sake of navigational buoys (basically). The way Susan wanders off and because a interdimensional go-between is just the kind of thing she was always getting up to, but with a veneer of slick, updated SF. I would have liked to see this one on screen, I think it would have been produceable at the time.

After an audio about a human-made object, I was surprised to see it followed directly by something so similar in The Great Space Elevator, but that's not writer Jonathan Morris' fault. The story shares many similarities (a female reader, this time Victoria), some wondrous description, and an alien being that functions on a different level, but is different enough in plot structure. What we have is a possession story and a threat of invasion (the second Doctor's bread and butter), which wasn't really the previous audio's gist. Deborah Watling makes little attempt to render her cast mates, sadly, not even a wee Scottish accent for Jamie, but it's probably good she didn't try of it didn't come naturally. Her own voice has changed considerably over the years, and she can hardly even manage Victoria's crystal tones. I don't mean to sound negative, as this is probably the best Troughton Companion Chronicle yet, though it is also the most straightforward.

Marc Platt hasn't disappointed me yet in this series, and The Doll of Death is a clever, creepy and fun audio that's high on my list to re-listen sooner rather than later. His retro-time concept plays a palindromic trick on the plot, which I'm sure will bring a second level to the repeat experience. On first listen though, the star is clearly Katy Manning's Jo Grant. Her reading is quite simply EXCITING. It runs at a breakneck pace, is full of tension and is filled with Jo's verbal tics from the series. Fooling around with time is something the Pertwee era did often, so this fits in well, but it's also got possessed toys and creepy leitmotif in the "Are you my mummy?" style. I quite liked it, if you couldn't tell.

And we're back to Leela in Nigel Fairs' Empathy Games, which shares some of the same strengths and weaknesses as his previous Leela story. The prose is more descriptive, and the alien world where people get rid of their negative emotions through the eponymous games gives a better sense of place, but some of the action is still hard to discern. In this case, because it's slightly too abstract. The fourth Doctor again sounds very harsh, but is thankfully out of the action for longer. Sorry Louise, I find you Tom Baker irritating (but everything else is tops, though it's hard to believe Leela would do Cockney accents so well, haha). And though the story is pretty good and uses Leela well, it's the framing tale that's really touching. Yes, there's a little of it, but it made me well up anyway. Sheesh, I'm such a girl.

Zine: At the risk of overdosing on Doctor Who, I also finished the 14th issue of the Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games, its "Villains Issue", and it was a mixed bag. The main article on the use of villains in Doctor Who RPGs had some good ideas, but also a naive view of history and politics that made me wince at times. The article on creating villains did so without the odd examples, and was better for it. There's an exhaustive list of villain motivations and a beginner's look at the villain's tools and resources as well. Connected to the issue's theme, you'll find stats (for all three official RPGs) for The Two Doctors' Androgums, an adventure module with a strong villain (based on Warhammer 40k), and another with a cyberpunk feel that's predicated on the TARDIS going to parallel worlds on a regular basis, so it might not fit your campaign (I recommend just making it some alien planet because it's a pretty good plot). Unrelated to the theme, we have an article on how to use continuity in games (good advice), an etiquette article on convention play (interesting for me since I've never attended one), an event report on Chicago TARDIS 2011 (as usual, the diarists hit all the beats, make it an interesting read and don't skimp on the game-related moments), and reviews of the 2012 Brilliant Book, "Everything I Need to Know I Learned from D&D", and (much too briefly) the Worlds in Time online game.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Zeffirelli '90

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Freedom Fighters to Gang Busters.


idiotbrigade said...

haha 'talking heads' commentaries on a movie about headhunters. You cut-up.

Siskoid said...

You know how it is. I'm so witty I don't even notice I do it anymore.

Cut-up, hehe.

American Hawkman said...

Can't wait to see your opinion on Cougar Town... it's my second favorite show from halfway through Season 1 until now. (Second only to Parks and Recreation.) Good stuff.

Siskoid said...

I agree, I've seen all three seasons already, but the DVDs were out of print. And anything I download and watch, I invariably buy. I agree that it's quite the funny show, usually on par with Parks&Recs for laughs and heart.

Martin Gray said...

I'm glad you're enjoying Being Human. And if anything, I think the latest series - we're two episodes in - is the best for years. You're in for a treat, if this quality keeps up.

Siskoid said...

That's what I hear! Of course, I probably won't get to them until the next DVD comes out in 2014.


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