DVDs: Ripper Street is a new BBC series starring Spooks' Matthew MacFadyen as the police inspector who took over the Whitechapel beat after the Ripper murders, and its first series (8 episodes) proves to be a dark mix of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movies and CSI: Victorian London. The Ripper murders loom large in this world, a world where modern serial killing has just been invented, and the characters are clearly haunted by those unsolved crimes as well as their own secrets. Inspector Reid lost a daughter under unusual circumstances and it could tear his marriage apart. The sad and sympathetic Sgt. Drake must harness his innate violence and the regret that comes with it. And Captain Jackson, the brilliant yank doctor living in a whorehouse, why is he running from American lawmen? Those each episode features its own case, the overall story of each character is advanced, and neither introductions nor deaths are rendered meaningless by the next installment. This is a living, breathing, and very filthy world, and I'm happy to note a second series has been ordered. The DVD extras are quite disappointing however. Only a few minutes of actual making of material (with some depth, so the complete interviews might have been worthy), supplemented by material from other sources also owned by the BBC. So we have a 5-minute tour of Whitechapel from some other program, and the Jack the Ripper: Prime Suspect documentary that uses modern forensic techniques to solve the most famous cold case in history. Unfortunately, there's a SERIOUS sound mixing problem that blares music at you while you can hardly discern the narrator's words. Let's hope for better next year.
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is China's first 3D movie, and it shows. Elements are too often coming at the camera, or obviously separated from the background plate. In general, the effects are overdone and not completely realistic. Director Tsui Hark has gotten better at it since the effects-laden Zu Warriors, but I find him closer here to Double Team than the superlative Seven Swords. Not to say the film doesn't have some good qualities. There are some great roles for actresses, many of which steal the show right out from under Jet Li's feet. There's a nice "special appearance" by Gordon Liu (as was remarked by my KFF club, ALL Gordon Liu appearances are special). And there's a nice mix of drama, comedy and action as the heroes go up against an evil bunch of eunuchs. Flying Swords, like a lot of modern Chinese films, I find, has an over-convoluted plot and could have jettisoned one or two subplots for clarity. It's fun eye candy, but far from the director's best. The DVD extras include some short but deep making of featurettes, 20 minutes of interviews with cast and crew, and a half-hour montage of behind the scenes footage. Pretty good.
Audios: Retconned first Doctor companion Oliver Harper's story arc ends with Simon Guerrier's The First Wave, and I'm sorry to see him go so early, though it does tie into Steven's heartbreak season, losing four - now five - companions in a row. Coming off a hard SF story, I'm surprised to find another, and one that resembles The Cold Equations so closely in tone as well. Again, Steven and Oliver are running out of air, and again, the cost of traveling with the Doctor is addressed. Making this the Doctor's first meeting with the Vardans largely redeems these ineffectual aliens from The Invasion of Time and gives the episode a bit more weight for continuity buffs. Needless to say, Guerrier's prose is once again a highlight, and while The First Wave is perhaps the least engaging of the three, it's still well above many Doctor Who audios in quality.
Quinnis was a world mentioned all the way back in The Edge of Destruction as an untold adventure from when the Doctor was traveling alone with Susan. Marc Platt tells that story in the simply-titled Quinnis, with some slightly spoilery framing material coming off An Earthly Child (which I haven't heard yet). Platt creates a strange and intriguing world built on high bridges, praying for rain and afraid of a bird-like creature that acts as a portent of doom (and played by Carole Ann Ford's own daughter). It's a beautifully told tale, in which Susan's willingness to make friends may prove a weakness, even though the plot often takes a second seat to descriptions and world-building. That does fit the first Doctor's era however, and Quinnis is at least interesting as a prequel to the series as we know it.
John Dorney's tribute to the Rocketeer, a first Doctor, Ian-narrated adventure called The Rocket Men, is quite exciting, as pulp SF should be. William Russell really captures the breathless, hair-raising action that's demanded of him by a script that keeps turning every situation into a cliffhanger. This is done with an unusual structure that goes back and forth between two sequences, often revealing how Ian will get out of the situation through retroactive story-telling. It's very well done, and it would work simply as an action piece. However, Dorney goes the extra mile by making this about the Ian-Barbara relationship, exploring the feelings that seemed obvious on screen without any television script making note of it (at least, until the Sarah Jane Adventures). I'm loving the heck out of the 1st Doctor Companion Chronicles.
Gaming: Organized a video game Olympiad for university students this Friday. The idea was to have teams compete in a variety of games of all types and all eras. We had everything from Halo 4 on the Xbox 360 all the way back to Missile Command on the Atari 2600. The most recent NHL game on the PS3 and the original Zork. Players had to score millions of points on the Dreamcast's Giga Wings 2, do choreography for Just Dance 3, and reduce pollution in a SimCity 2000 version of Sault-Ste-Marie (I'm kidding, I think it was Chicago). And we had popular games like StarCraft II, Sonic, Angry Birds, Super Smash Brothers and Mario Kart, but also obscure dreck like Super Nintendo's Shaq Fu. I hope the teams had fun. As the one handling the Zork station, I can't say I was met with anything other than players' puzzlement and frustration. "You mean there aren't any graphics?" At least no one was eaten by a grue.