The Quatermass All-Purpose Media Review Thread

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Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Doctor Who: The Abominable Snowmen Reanimated by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln.

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: Serial NN, 6X25 minute episodes

The Abominable Snowmen was the second story (though the first to be filmed, with The Tomb of the Cybermen filmed at the end of the previous season) of the so-called ‘monster season’ that comprised Doctor Who’s fifth year. With only the second episode available in the BBC archives, it was one of the serials chosen to be animated in recent years. But how would it fare?

Arriving in the Himalayas, in 20th century Tibet, the Doctor seems to believe that he and his companions will receive a warm welcome at the nearby Det-Sen Monastery when he returns their holy Ghanta bell. But they receive anything but a warm welcome. The monks of the monastery have been attacked by the normally peaceful Yeti, and British explorer Professor Travers accuses the Doctor of murdering Travers’ own companions. But the threat is a very alien one: the belligerent Yeti are actually robots, controlled by a malign alien intelligence. And its pawn in the monastery is someone the Doctor has met before, an old friend turned foe…

In many ways, this is the typical ‘base under siege’ story, but unlike examples like The Web of Fear (by the same authors and a sequel to The Abominable Snowmen) or Fury from the Deep, this one feels a touch underwhelming. True, it is atmospheric, enjoyable, and original in that the Yeti are robots and the Great Intelligence is one of the first HP Lovecraft-style monstrosities to appear in the series, and there’s no denying the adventurous nature. And yet, it feels stretched to fill the six episode running time, the padding less well disguised than with The Web of Fear.

Patrick Troughton, Deborah Watling, and Frazer Hines are all great in their roles as the Doctor, Victoria and Jamie. I do feel some of the other characters are either dull, or inconsistently written. Norman Jones as Khrisong performs well, but his character flip-flops between paranoia and reason, while Jack Watling, while an excellent Travers, isn’t brought to account for his earlier actions against the Doctor. Of the guest stars, the undeniably superlative one is Wolfe Morris playing Padmasambhava, as well as the Great Intelligence possessing him, managing to portray the former’s gentle but driven nature, as well as the latter’s sheer malice.

The animation, while low budget as before in these animated missing stories, still manages to be pretty good. In fact, one of the things I applaud is changing the appearance of the denizens of Det-Sen so they actually look Tibetan. The sound of the Yeti’s spheres is eerie, and in some ways, works well with their silence rather than the roaring monsters of the sequel. One major quibble I have is with Padmasambhava’s design in the animation, looking more like a cartoonish mummy than the wizened old man seen in the surviving telesnaps.

The Abominable Snowmen was a decent, but rather average Doctor Who story, especially compared to others from the same era. A shame, that…

***½
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
7,705
2,950
REVIEW: The Lord El-Melloi II Case Files (Dub) Episode 0: A Gravekeeper, A Cat, and A Mage, Episode 1: Babylon, the Condemned, and the Memories of the King, Episode 2: The Seven Stars and the Eternal Cage and Episode 3: Thunder and the Underground Labyrinth by Ukyo Kodachi, from the light novels by Makoto Sanda

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: LEMCF0-3, 4X25 minute episodes (dubbed)


When I first watched The Lord El-Melloi Case Files, the dub was not yet available, nor did I have any inkling that it would ever be. However, with its release on Blu Ray, the dub was made available for my perusal. But could it match or even exceed the original?

Waver Velvet has survived the Fourth Holy Grail War, a battle royale between resurrected heroes and the mages holding their leashes, but not without scars. Guilt-ridden, he assumes the post of his former teacher, Kayneth Archibald, aka Lord El-Melloi, and has the El-Melloi lordship foisted on him as a caretaker by Kayneth’s heiress, Reines. Waver now has to juggle teaching students, trying to repair the finances of the Archibald family, navigating the byzantine politics of the Mages Association, and solving mysteries. Assisted by his apprentice Gray, a descendent and doppelganger of Arturia Pendragon, as well as his students, Waver has to delve into cases where who and how are less important than why…

While I no doubt said this in the prior review, it bears repeating. On the one hand, there’s no real coherent plot or story arc in these initial episodes, which is to this series’ detriment, thus far. On the other hand, it’s actually refreshing to see a corner of the Nasuverse that isn’t about Servants or world-ending disasters, instead having a very Sherlock-esque urban fantasy mystery series, and with some decent humour at times to boot.

Lucien Dodge does well as Waver, though I think he does overplay Waver’s more acerbic traits a tad, making him seem slightly more harsh towards Gray in particular. The girl in question is played excellently by Kayli Mills, with Khoi Dao and David Errigo Jr rounding out Waver’s supporters as Flat and Svin respectively. And Allegra Clark is a delight as Reines, managing to balance her nastier side with a surprisingly mature tone.

As mentioned in the previous review, the production values are great. Indeed, they get close to the high standard established by UFOtable, and emulated by A-1 Pictures and Cloverworks. Plus, the choice of an instrumental opening rather than a J-Pop one is pretty suitable to this series.

Overall, the dub was on a par with the original in many regards. I intend to try and finish the series this time…


****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Doctor Who: White Ghosts by Alan Barnes

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 4DA 3.02, 2X30 minute episodes

As part of Doctor Who’s anniversary year, I resolved to clear my backlog of Doctor Who stories as much as possible. Many of them come from the audio dramas done by Big Finish. I decided to start going through the audio dramas with one of the shorter stories, a Fourth Doctor story called White Ghosts. But how would it fare?

On the edge of the universe lies a nameless planet shrouded in near-perpetual darkness and lacking much of an atmosphere. The seemingly obstructive and arrogant Senior Tutor Bengel is supervising an expedition, she and her students modified to exist on this world, where light only appears but once a millennium. The Doctor and Leela, reconciled after a recent clash, land on this world, in order to warn them of a missile on its way to the planet. But the planet has lethal plants that grow only in the light, and soon, the missile will cause them to grow. But these plants are not the only dangers the time travellers face…

I have to confess, the plot was a little underwhelming, albeit due to the fact that it was only two episodes long, not giving it time enough to develop. The twist around the expedition and their modifications also seems vestigial, meant to add to the horror, but simply feeling superfluous to rack up the tension. Still, the story is wonderfully atmospheric, with a reversal of the plot of Pitch Black, and the Harvesters, while presumably written in to give the story a resolution, nonetheless feels more natural than the revelations about the modifications.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are on fine form as the Doctor and Leela, especially with them working out their differences in the wake of Leela’s actions in the previous story, The King of Sontar. Virginia Hey is fairly good as Senior Tutor Bengel, though I have to wonder at the swerve in her characterisation. Ditto Bethan Walker as Aranda.

Production values are where Big Finish shines, having had many years to perfect their craft in shaping soundscapes. The sound effects and music sound like they came from the 70s, and the mix is suitably atmospheric. Honestly, I have little else to say.

Overall, while not as stellar as it could have been, White Ghosts was an enjoyable and atmospheric story, one that reaffirms the Doctor and Leela’s friendship, despite their differences. A shame it couldn’t have been a bit better, though…


***½
 
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Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
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2,950
REVIEW: The Lord El-Melloi II Case Files (Dub) Episode 4: A Workshop, a Grave, and a Necromancer, Episode 5: The Lance that Shines to the End of the World and the Fairy Eyes, and Episode 6: A Girl, a Department Store, and a Gift by Ukyo Kodachi, from the light novels by Makoto Sanda

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: LEMCF4-6, 3X25 minute episodes (dubbed)

So, here I am coming back to the dub of The Lord El-Melloi II Case Files. But how would these three episodes fare in the dub? Let’s find out…

To Gray’s concern, Waver’s fixation on joining the Holy Grail War again is getting stronger to the point of obsession. But in order to have a chance, he must do a favour to one of his superiors in Clock Tower, investigating the deaths in the Marburry Workshop, even if that brings him into conflict with the vicious Clock Tower Policies investigator Adashino. Gray may prove instrumental to stopping things from getting any worse, but she needs to learn more about her mentor’s fixation on the Grail War, leading her to a shopping trip to remember…

The stories are enjoyable enough, even if the Marburry Workshop arc feels in some regards like a repeat of the Ernest Fargo episode expanded to fill a couple of episodes. And the Gray-centric episode feels a bit like filler. And yet, there’s some wonderful dialogue, humour and pathos that showcases Waver and Gray’s respective story arcs. And the Marburry Workshop story is still one of the better stories in the series so far, bringing in not only more about Arturia’s central role to the mythos, but also Kairi Sisigou.

Lucien Dodge and Kayli Mills are, as usual, quite excellent as Waver and Gray. And as much as I despise the characters, Julia McIlvaine as the duplicitous Adashino and Lauren Landa as the haughty Luvia do well with their characters. Patrick Seitz also makes a welcome return from the dub of Fate/Apocrypha as Kairi.

The production values, as always, are pretty damn good. One of the highlights is the battles against the Black Dogs in the Marburry Workshop episodes, with the Black Dogs eerie-looking, and Grey’s use of Rhongomyniad wonderfully done. Luvia’s battle using both magic and wrestling in the third episode was also enjoyable.

Overall, this set of episodes, while not truly stellar, were excellent in the dub. Here’s hoping the next lot, the first part of the Rail Zeppelin arc proper, are as good if not better…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Doom Coalition- The Eleven by Matt Fitton

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 8DADC 1.1, 1X55 minute episode

Long ago, I listened to the first boxset of a Doctor Who audio drama called Dark Eyes. I’ve not finished the entire quartet of boxsets, but I have decided to make a start on the sequel boxset quartet, Doom Coalition. And with the first story in it comes a new and interesting villain, the Eleven. But how would his debut fare?

In his seventh incarnation, the Doctor captured the insane Time Lord criminal known as the Eleven and ensured his incarceration on Gallifrey. A brilliant, murderous malcontent whose prior regenerations have become separate personalities in his mind, the Eleven is a subject of a thesis from Kiani, a student researching Time Lord criminology. But the Eleven escapes during their interview, and the Doctor, now in his eighth incarnation, is drawn back to Gallifrey by his old friend Padrac to stop him. But the Eleven, despite his insanity, has a plan, one which will engulf Gallifrey in chaos…

While the story itself is a bit too short for any meaningful plot to take place, and is the first instalment of the Doom Coalition story arc, it still manages to be an enjoyable and tense romp that enriches the lore of the franchise. Indeed, much of the mystery revolves around the Eleven’s mind games and staying one step ahead of the opposition. And while it does devote much to setting things up for the arc, it also does well as a standalone story. I felt it could have done with a bit more meat on the bones of the plot, but otherwise, it was good.

Paul McGann is a delight, as always, as the Eighth Doctor, with Nicola Walker also excellent in the first story I have heard her in as Liv Chenka. Mark Bonnar is a wonderfully deranged mess as the Eleven, a far cry from the more subdued roles I see him in on TV. Of the rest of the cast, my personal favourite is Robert Bathurst as Padrac, a character originally alluded to as far back as the TV story The Deadly Assassin, and revealed to be an old acquaintance and former schoolfriend of the Doctor’s. There’s even a welcome cameo from Sylvester McCoy in the prologue showing the Seventh Doctor witnessing the Eleven’s incarceration.

As always, Big Finish knows how to do great production values in the audio medium. True, at times, the sound mix is a bit dodgy for dialogue, but overall, is pretty good, with iconic sound effects being used well, and new ones being utilised to great effect. This, plus the overall mix, work together to make The Eleven’s story even tenser.

Overall, while not perfect, The Eleven is an excellent start to the Doom Coalition arc. And another bit of my audio drama backlog eaten away…


****½
 

Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko and Michael Reeves, from a story by Alan Burnett.

TYPE: Movie

DETAILS: 80 mins

I have to admit, I’ve never watched that many episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, beyond a few here and there. Still, it was past time I did so in some way, and I thought I would do so by watching the first movie based on that series. Mask of the Phantasm is considered a high-water mark for all Batman animated films to emulate, but how would I enjoy it?

Many years ago, before Bruce Wayne began his crusade against crime in earnest, he nearly gave it up for a woman called Andrea Beaumont. But her sudden departure from his life cemented his commitment to avenging his parents. Now, Batman has to contend with a more lethal vigilante, the Phantasm, who is targeting various mob bosses. With Batman’s name darkened by the Phantasm, the masked vigilante’s killings blamed on the Dark Knight, Batman must exonerate himself. But when Andrea comes back into his life, things get even more complicated…

The story is a good one. Not a particularly stellar one, as it’s fairly simple and straightforward once the flashbacks are stripped from it, and the mob characters and Reeves are fairly generic. But the emotional highs and lows are spot-on, and the Phantasm makes an interesting mirror of Batman’s own crusade.

The late, great Kevin Conroy is brilliant as Bruce Wayne and Batman, showcasing the psyche behind the man as he struggles with the decisions to continue his crusade. Mark Hamill is on fine form as the vicious Joker, a role he has made his own. The remaining cast isn’t as stellar, save for Dana Delaney as Andrea, Stacy Keach as the voice of the Phantasm, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr as Alfred, who all do pretty well themselves.

The animation, admittedly, is not quite of the type I have gotten used to in this day and age, and there’s a few bits here and there that I consider questionable. But there’s some use of crude CGI at the beginning that fits the style of Batman: The Animated Series perfectly. The cinematography is perfectly atmospheric, and the final fight is one of the best done.

Overall, this was a good film, and one that shows the potential of Batman in animated film. A shame it wasn’t a touch better, though…

****
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Destroy the Infinite by Nicholas Briggs

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 4DA 3.06, 2X30 minute episodes

Once more, I’ve come to the Fourth Doctor Adventures of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas. This one is a prequel to several stories that feature a new enemy for the franchise, the gaseous Eminence, and its undead Infinite Warriors. But how well would it fare?

The Doctor and Leela travel to Delafoss, the Doctor hoping to show Leela one of the most unspoiled and beautiful colonies humanity has ever established. What they find is a polluted hellhole, eaten away by industrialism. But this is not the result of humans, but the oppressive regime of the Infinite Warriors, the undead minions of the gaseous consciousness known only as the Eminence. And it is creating the ultimate battleship, the Infinite, to wipe out all resistance to its growing empire for once and for all…

The plot is perhaps the weakest element of the story, partly due to the running time of the story, and partly due to the fact that it is filled with the clichés present in many a story before it (both in Doctor Who and in other franchises like Blake’s 7 and Star Wars, the latter of which seems to be a particular influence), often relating to rebellion and military action. Yet for all that, it’s also a cracking good yarn, reminiscent of many of Terry Nation’s stories, amongst others. The dialogue is excellent, and the pace barrels along, making everything enjoyable and exciting.

Tom Baker, as always, is brilliant as the Doctor, getting to match wits with the Eminence. So too is Louise Jameson as Leela, who gets quite a bit to do in this story. The rest of the characters, for the most part, are fine enough, but not as noteworthy as I wished, with the exception of David Sibley. His portrayal of the Eminence and its minion Commander Zarith are both suitably chilling and menacing, albeit in differing ways.

Production values are superb, as usual. The soundscape is cinematic, and the music sounds much like Dudley Simpson’s scores from the era. It took me some time to get used to the Eminence’s voice-changing effects, as I thought it at first to sound vaguely cheap, making it sound like radio static, but the effect is used to…well, great effect.

Despite a simple and cliché-ridden plot, Destroy the Infinite was a fun romp, and one that gives a good introduction to a sinister enemy. Here’s hoping more stories about the Eminence is as good…


****
 

Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Skeleton Knight in Another World Episode 1: The Wandering Knight Sets Out to Make the World a Better Place and Episode 2: A First Job, A Girl’s Wish, and An Approaching Shadow by Takeshi Kikuchi, from the light novels by Ennki Hakari

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: SKOW1-2, 2X25 minute episodes

One of the isekai novel series I got into recently was Skeleton Knight in Another World. Despite some disturbing elements and a thin plot in that initial volume, I liked it enough to give the anime version a go. But how would it fare?

Meet Arc, a Japanese gamer who is transformed into his player character and transported to another world. He is naturally delighted to be isekai’d with an overpowered character, though not so much given that his character is basically a walking skeleton. All the same, he decides to do low-key work. But his knight errant tendencies may come back to bite him…

I have to admit, there’s a few flaws with these first couple of episodes. The plot isn’t that great for the initial showing, understandably, and I felt that a certain attempted rape scene could have been emphasized less. Yet despite these hindrances, this story is an entertaining and enjoyable ride, with Arc’s heroism shining forth even in the darker areas of this world.

Brandon Johnson is a delight as Arc, bringing the gamer-turned-skeleton’s nerdiness and good nature to the fore. He even seems to take a leaf out of Chris Guerrero’s book from the latter’s role as Ainz Ooal Gown from Overlord, switching between a nerdier voice and a deeper one with ease, though he doesn’t outright copy it, instead doing his own take. Of the remaining cast for this set of episodes, Emi Lo as Ponta and Trisha Mellon as Marca round out the cast as noteworthy.

The production values are excellent. The animation blends traditional animation with CGI almost seamlessly at times, and it serves the serious and comedic elements well. And the opening titles are a fun romp, with an uplifting song sung by Norwegian Youtube anime singer Per Fredrik ‘PelleK’ Åsly.

Overall, while not stellar and certainly with a few scenes that may put off viewers, Skeleton Knight in Another World nonetheless remains a fun romp in spite of the bumps in the road. Here’s hoping it takes a turn for the better…

***½
 

Quatermass

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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Dark Eyes 2- The Traitor by Nicholas Briggs

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 8DADE 2.1, 1X65 minute episode

Having begun to eat into my backlog of Doctor Who audios, I decided to revisit the Dark Eyes quadrilogy of boxsets. I’d listened to the first boxset years ago, but hadn’t made a start on the remainder. So how would the first instalment of this boxset, The Traitor, fare?

The human colony of Nixyce VII has been taken over by the Daleks, most of its populace turned into slave labour in turning their world into a massive weapons platform, while the rest have been turned into Robomen enforcers. Liv Chenka, an old acquaintance of the Doctor’s, is a divisive figure to the populace. To the ruthless resistance, she is The Traitor, little more than a quisling. To others, she is a figure of hope, one the Daleks are exploiting to their own ends as she seeks better medical care for them. But after the resistance’s attack leads to Liv inadvertently taking the resistance’s leader to medical facilities, she knows things have taken a turn for the worse. And then, the Doctor, now in his eighth incarnation, makes himself known…as does a mysterious fleet approaching the Nixyce system, to the concern of not only the Doctor, but the Dalek Time Controller…

Ironically, this story is not so different from the previous audio story I had reviewed, Destroy the Infinite, and considering it is by the same author and using similar Terry Nation-style tropes, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. The plot is thinner than I would’ve liked, but it’s also tense and entertaining. It’s a lot darker, and a lot less fun, though there’s a lot of moral ambiguity on both sides of the scale. The cliffhanger is frustrating, considering what could scare the Doctor enough to help the Daleks, but I guess that will be resolved in a later story in the boxset.

Paul McGann, as always, is brilliant as the Doctor. Meanwhile, Liv Chenka is played with wonderful and sardonic aplomb by Nicola Walker, even if this is only her second appearance in the audios. Of the rest of the cast, it is Nick Briggs in particular who does well, not as the standard Daleks, but playing the lilting tones of the dangerous and unstable Dalek Time Controller.

As for the production values, well, what needs to be said? Big Finish, by this point, have the ability to create a cinematic soundscape down pat. From the tinny echoes used for Robomen and their imitators wearing their helmets to the sound effects of the Daleks, everything contributes to the soundscape.

Overall, this was a good start to the second Dark Eyes set. Here’s hoping it only improves from there…


****
 

Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Skeleton Knight in Another World Episode 3: An Austere Elf Dances for Her Comrades, Episode 4: Infiltrating the Slave Market! In Search of the World’s Evil and Episode 5: A Secret Revealed and a Bond Forged by Takeshi Kikuchi, from the light novels by Ennki Hakari

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: SKOW3-5, 3X25 minute episodes

So, here I am, coming back to Skeleton Knight in Another World. But after a bumpy start, would the series improve at all? Let’s find out…

Arc’s adventures in dealing with bandits leads him into a clash with Ariane Glenys Maple, a Dark Elf who is seeking out members of her people, captured and sold into slavery. Although she is reluctant to team up with him on their first meeting, their second leads her to retain him. Their job is to take on the hedonistic Lord Tryton Diento, one of the masterminds of the Elf slave trade in this country, and rescue Ariane’s people…

This set of episodes marks the beginning of the overarching plot of the series proper. While it’s still not that much to write home about, it feels more like the series has found its tone, and even the darker scenes feel less gratuitous than certain scenes in the first episode. Plus, it’s nice to see that, at the end of these episodes, Ariane shows enough trust in Arc not to attack him on seeing his skeletal body.

Brandon Johnson is a hoot as Arc, switching between nerdy and bombastically heroic tones quite readily, like a heroic version of Chris Guererro’s Momonga from Overlord. Caitlin Glass is good as Ariane, after her brief cameo in an earlier episode, balancing compassion and anger in her role. Topping off the newcomers is Sarah Wiedenheft as ‘Chiyome’, managing to make an impression despite her brief appearance.

Production values are quite excellent. Indeed, their use of CGI in certain scenes for characters is done better than many other shows that do such a thing. And some of the more comedic moments are animated well, even when using a cruder animated style.

Overall, these episodes of Skeleton Knight in Another World were enjoyable, and a step up from the initial episodes. Here’s hoping they go from strength to strength…

****
 
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Quatermass

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Dec 7, 2010
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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror by Nina Metivier

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: Serial 12.4, 1X50 minute episode

I have to admit, I’ve been reluctant to watch more episodes of Jodie Whittaker’s time as the Doctor, especially as reading the synopses made it feel like the character was mishandled from her second season onwards. Yet I still feel that I should at least watch more episodes from her tenure as the Doctor. Thus, I decided on one of the pseudohistoricals from the twelfth series, about Nikola Tesla…

1903, and the War of the Currents is in full swing. Nikola Tesla is never a stranger to controversy, with Thomas Edison lambasting AC current, the electrical system Tesla championed, as too dangerous. And yet, when he claims to have heard a signal from Mars, his reputation takes a further blow. A death in his laboratory at Niagara Falls leads him and his assistant having to be saved by the Doctor and her companions. But is Edison the one to blame for alien technology being used against Tesla? Or is Tesla the target of more extraterrestrial influences?

Thankfully, my fears of whether I would like this story or not were mostly unfounded. It’s an entertaining pseudohistorical romp that involves a couple of the most colourful characters of the modern era, Tesla and Edison. True, I feel more could have been done with the concept, and the Skithra seem a touch generic as an alien threat, and yet, it’s a celebration of Tesla’s genius and humanity that touches the heart.

Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor proves to be well-characterised in this episode at least, which is good, given my discontent with how she’s been characterised in some episodes of her tenure. Her companions are fine enough, though I think Bradley Walsh as Graham is the best, having some nice lines in this. Goran Višjnić as Tesla is a delight, as is Robert Glenister as Edison and Haley McGee as Dorothy Skerrit. Former Sarah Jane Adventures regular Anjli ‘Rani Chandra’ Mohindra is clearly enjoying hamming it up as the Skithra Queen.

For all that I have my issues with Chris Chibnall’s time as showrunner, the production values during his era are excellent. The special effects for the Skithra and their ship, as well as the climatic battle, are all excellent. I do have an issue with how the prosthetic for the Skithra Queen works, as there seems to be a gap around her eyes, but this is a minor blip.

Although never quite reaching perfection, Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is an excellent example of Doctor Who, despite my misgivings about the era it was produced in. A fun romp, and one of the undeniable classics of the Thirteenth Doctor…


****½
 

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REVIEW: Skeleton Knight in Another World Episode 6: Learning About the Darkness of This World at the Elf Village, Episode 7: A Miracle for the High-Minded Princess, Episode 8: Allied! Dashing through the Darkness with the Beastpeople and Episode 9: The Capital in Chaos and a Maiden’s Oath by Toshizo Nemoto, from the light novels by Ennki Hakari

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: SKOW6-9, 4X25 minute episodes

So, here I am with the next round of episodes from Skeleton Knight in Another World. Having recently read the novel which these particular episodes were adapted from, I was eager to see how they turned out. But how would they?

Arc is excited at being let into the Elf Village of Lalatoya, his deeds and Ariane’s father being the elder of the village smoothing the way. Ariane’s mother also shows him that he still has a long way to go in terms of skill in combat. But he soon finds himself allied with Ariane once more to save her enslaved people. On the journey, he inadvertently foils the assassination of Princess Yuriarna, but it is at his destination that he gets an even greater surprise: the catgirl ninja, Chiyome, who wants his help and Ariane’s in freeing the slaves in the notorious Etzat Market…

I have to admit, one of the faults of this arc is that, in hindsight and something I only realised on viewing these episodes, is that the story has become a touch formulaic, even as early as this. We have Arc interfering in an attack on a noble orchestrated by others, as well as his participating in freeing slaves. That being said, it’s still a fun romp to see him and his allies deal with the more brutal elements of this world. What’s more, Glenys’ fight with him shows Arc can’t just curbstomp everyone he meets through raw power, a refreshing change from most other isekai series of this stripe.

Brandon Johnson, as always, is a delight as Arc, managing to come across as a far more heroic take on Momonga from Overlord. Meanwhile, Caitlin Glass does well as Ariane. Sarah Wiedenheft is cast well as Chiyome, as more of her character is shown, while Jarrod Greene is both heroic and hilarious as the macho Goemon.

Production values are still pretty damn good. The animation is gorgeous, and the use of CGI characters is done far better than the norm of such things. The battles are well done, as is a rather poignant funeral scene in the last episode of this arc.

Overall, these episodes were enjoyable. Not truly superlative, but certainly part of an entertaining romp…

****
 

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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Dark Eyes 2- The White Room by Alan Barnes

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 8DADE 2.2, 1X60 minute episode

Having begun the second Dark Eyes boxset, it’s now past time I listened to the second episode of that Doctor Who audio drama. The White Room brings in the Viyrans, a ruthless and amoral species of virologists. It would be my first time hearing them, but would it turn out well?

1918. It’s the dying days of the First World War, the Armistice not far away. Molly O’Sullivan is looking after deserters in her old acquaintance the Doctor’s house on Baker Street, and when the Doctor arrives, he finds one of the deserters, Sean Casey, suffering from a disease that turns him transparent. He is no deserter, but an escapee from the Blackwell Convalescent Home, whose ambitious researcher Dr Herbert Goring has hired ruthless men to kidnap research subjects. But the Doctor soon realises that Gorin bows to the mysterious Surgeon-General…one of the amoral Viyrans. And it has its own plans…

The story is very different to The Traitor, a little more cerebral, and yet, somewhat harder to follow. Some elements, like how the Huntsmen led by Zachary, were able to get away with what they did, seem lacking proper explanations, as if they were cut out, and the tone is irregular at times, and I am yet to see how it ties into the events of the previous story. Yet for all that, this story is an atmospheric exercise in medical horror.

The cast is superlative, with Paul McGann wonderful as the Eighth Doctor. Ruth Bradley makes a welcome return as the acerbic Molly. Of the guest cast, it is Ian Brooker who does best, pulling double duty as the ambitious and callous Dr Goring, and the main Viyran. A few of the Irish accents of the actors is a bit thick and hard to understand at times, though.

As always, Big Finish truly shines in their production values, having honed their crafting of audio dramas to a fine art. The soundscape is cinematic in scope, with the Viyrans having their own unique sound that is as menacing as the Daleks or Cybermen, but unique to them. Honestly, what else can I say that I haven’t already?

Overall, this was a good story, and a different one to how the boxset began. Here’s hoping Time’s Horizon continues this trend…

****
 

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REVIEW: Skeleton Knight in Another World Episode 10: Hope for the Future Found in the Desert, Episode 11: The Monster-Taming Barbarian Laughs in the Darkness and Episode 12: I Shall Cut Through All the World’s Evils! by Takeshi Kikuchi, from the light novels by Ennki Hakari

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: SKOW10-12, 3X25 minute episodes

So, here I am with the last episodes of Skeleton Knight in Another World, at least for now. But these episodes adapt a volume of the series that was a downturn in quality for me. How would the adaptation fare?

Heading to the Holy Revlon Empire, Arc and Ariane encounter not only many beasts, but situations that have Ariane questioning her dogma that humans and Elves will never co-exist. Their search for Ariane’s kidnapped people, however, will lead them to a vicious encounter with Fumba, a beast-tamer of considerable skill and ability. And despite his working for the Empire, he has no loyalties to anyone but himself…

Compared to my feelings about the book, the adaptation manages to be something of an improvement. I felt the decision to relegate the Lamburt part of the story to a footnote actually helped, despite how sweet that bit was. And tinkering with Fumba’s story arc so he was more of an actual threat, as well as giving him a backstory, one I wasn’t sure was in the light novels, actually added something, helping disguise the formulaic nature of the story. True, the plot isn’t any great shakes, but it was an improvement on the source material, and is a good finale for the season.

As usual, Brandon Johnson as Arc and Caitlin Glass as Ariane are good, even if I think Ariane’s jealousy is being played up a touch too much. Sarah Wiedenheft as Chiyome is good too. Ian Sinclair steals the show as Fumba, chewing the scenery as a vile villain who just manages to avoid overstaying his welcome, and also managing to be a little more of a threat, and all the better for it.

Production values are, as always, pretty good. I do wish the final battle was a touch more epic, but it was great to have the opening theme play over Chiyome and Ariane’s final clash with Fumba. Cinematography was done well too.

Overall, this was an improved adaptation on the book it adapted. Here’s hoping any future series keep up the good work…


****
 

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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Dark Eyes 2- Time’s Horizon by Matt Fitton

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 8DADE 2.3, 1X65 minute episode

So, here I am with the third story in the Doctor Who: Dark Eyes 2 boxset. But how would this instalment, bringing in the Eminence, fare? Let’s find out…

Embittered by the events on Nixyce VII, Liv Chenka has volunteered to be the medical officer on an expedition to the very edge of the universe. Centuries later, she and the crew of the Orpheus awaken…but they’re not alone. The Doctor and Molly travel to their ship, and Liv, angry at the Doctor’s actions in helping the Daleks, orders him imprisoned, despite his seeming ignorance of his actions. But that may yet prove a mistake, for the Eminence is present at the edge of the universe, it has designs on the Orpheus, and only the Doctor may be able to stop it…

Some of the best Doctor Who stories are the ‘base under siege’-style plots, and this is one of the best examples, with tension thick enough to be cut with a knife. While short, the plot is rich and exciting, as well as putting in some intriguing timey-wimey mystery, with the Doctor yet to get involved in the events of The Traitor. And of course, the Eminence is well-used.

Paul McGann is a delight, as always, as the Doctor. Ruth Bradley as Molly is good, and Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka gets to have some meaty moments, as well as have some justified conflict with the Doctor. The rest of the cast is good too, with David Sibley in particular oozing menace as the Eminence.

Once more, what needs to be said about Big Finish audios’ production values other than superlative? A cinematic and immersive soundscape helps ratchet up the tension and atmosphere, and bring the story to a polished sheen. The music, the sound effects, and the treatment of the voices help the entirety of the story.

Time’s Horizon marks a quantum leap forward in terms of quality of the Dark Eyes 2 set. Time will tell if the finale reaches such dizzying heights…

*****
 

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REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by Steve Kloves, from the book by JK Rowling.

TYPE: Movie

DETAILS: 155 mins

So, here I am at last, watching the adaptation of what is actually my favourite book in the Harry Potter series. The Goblet of Fire marked a turning point in the series. But would the film live up to the hype?

Harry Potter is plagued by dreams, seemingly portending Voldemort’s return. And after surviving a riot by Death Eaters at the Quidditch World Cup, he’d be forgiven for thinking he’d have a quiet school year. But the Tri-Wizard Tournament has been announced, with three champions apiece being chosen from Hogwarts and rival schools Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, all older students. Only, when the champions are announced, Harry is made a fourth champion, much to his shock. Even as much of the school turns on him, Harry has to wonder, why is he being forced to compete? Who is behind this? And what will happen at journey’s end? A dark force is arising, and not everyone will get out alive…

As with the previous adaptation, this does a manful job of being pragmatic in its adaptation, cutting out a lot of stuff that is relatively superfluous, even if I miss a few elements. True, other elements changed, like how certain characters are portrayed (specifically Ron and Dumbledore), are more questionable. Yet the bits added help make the story more cinematic, with a brilliant chase scene done for the First Task to amp up the thrills as an example.

The main cast does well, even if I feel that Emma Watson as Hermione wasn’t given enough to do, and Rupert Grint has to deal with Ron’s character being derailed further than he was in the book. Of the new cast, Brendan Gleeson and Robert Pattinson do particularly well as Moody and Cedric, with a pre-Doctor Who David Tennant showing his chops as Barty Crouch Junior. It is Ralph Fiennes in particular as Voldemort that I really enjoyed. Having enjoyed his turn as Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon, he managed to balance some of the hammier aspects of Voldemort with his quieter, understated but no less malevolent ones, bringing forth the character’s high voice from the novels.

The production values are superlative and typical of a blockbuster that is done right. The music and cinematography is done well. Of course, a highlight are the special effects, something always of note in a fantasy film, with one key element being Voldemort’s face, created through altering Ralph Fienne’s face with CGI, and very well at that.

Overall, while not quite at the same extremely high standard of the previous film, this film was a great adaptation of my favourite book in the series. Well done to all those involved…

****½
 

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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Dark Eyes 2- The Eyes of the Master by Matt Fitton

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 8DADE 2.4, 1X65 minute episode

Finally, I have come to the final instalment of the second Dark Eyes boxset. But how would this story, pitting the Eighth Doctor against a new Master, fare? Let’s see if this is a satisfying conclusion to this set…

Tracking down Liv Chenka’s employers in the Ides Institute, the Doctor, Liv and Molly arrive in London in the early 70s. Hoping to find an acquaintance working for the Institute killed by the Daleks in a now-rewritten timeline, Dr Sally Armstrong, the Doctor and his companions learn that Armstrong is still alive…but that is not for the better. For she is working for the miracle eye surgeon Dr Harcourt De’ath, who is actually the Master. He is working for the Time Lords, but as always, has his own agenda, one that involves Molly, her dark eyes, and the Eminence…

This was a pretty good story, and a good finale that finally explains away what happened in the first episode. True, I feel like it was a bit low-key for a finale, and I have to wonder why the Master used the Eminence to create a surveillance network, despite his ambitions for an army. And yet, it was a pretty good story that ended the boxset well, as well as setting things up for the future.

As usual, Paul McGann is brilliant as the Doctor, with Nicola Walker as Liv and Ruth Bradley as Molly doing well too. Alex McQueen is a delight as a camp but menacing Master, finally being able to show off his malevolence after the misdirection in the UNIT: Dominion miniseries, while Natalie Burt as Sally plays a malevolent twist as a companion to the Master. A nice touch is David Sibley returning as the Eminence.

As for the production values, well, what else can I say? Big Finish have making cinematic soundscapes down to a fine art. True, I feel that at times, some dialogue in the sound mix was a touch hard to understand, but otherwise, it was great.

Overall, The Eyes of the Master was a fitting, if not perfect, end to the second Dark Eyes boxset, and a great example of Doctor Who in the audio medium. I intend to continue the rest of the story arc soon…

****½
 

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On a more personal note, I made a resolution to try and finish the Dark Eyes 2 boxset before or on the upcoming 60th anniversary of Doctor Who. Hell, maybe I can finish the story arc before the end of the year...
 

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REVIEW: The Rising of the Shield Hero Season 2: Episode 1: A New Roar, Episode 2: Footprints of the Spirit Tortoise, and Episode 3: Shaking Land by Keigo Koyonagi, based on the light novels by Aneko Yusagi

TYPE: TV series

DETAILS: ROTSH2.1-2.3, 3X25 minute episodes

The second season of The Rising of the Shield Hero was a controversial one in the fandom, adapting and abridging most of five novels to fit in thirteen episodes, compared to the 25 used for the prior season. Yet that wouldn’t stop me from watching this season. But would I be disappointed?

Naofumi Iwatani has finally found acceptance as the Shield Hero, even as the threat of the Waves of Catastrophe still loom overhead. But when mysterious monsters attack Lurolona Village, Naofumi is drawn into a very different battle. The other three Heroes have gone missing, a massive monster called the Spirit Tortoise is on the rampage, and their only hope may be the mysterious Ost Hourai, who knows more about the situation than anyone else…

As an adaptation, I have to admit, my reaction was mixed. A number of key scenes were removed, like the Hengen Musou training and Ren’s duel with Éclair, who is given hardly any introduction herself, while some scenes had their emphasis changed, and Itsuki’s nastier side has been mostly removed. Yet these flaws don’t detract too much from what is still an excellent and enjoyable romp, where the stakes are appropriately higher, with a considerably more direct threat to the world being posed.

Stephen Fu had big shoes to fill replacing the late Billy Kametz as Naofumi, but despite a few stumbles here and there, he manages it, with Naofumi even shown as being happier than he was in the original series. Erica Mendez and Brianna Knickerbocker make welcome returns as Raphtalia and Filo respectively, as does Kira Buckland as the skittish Rishia Ivyred. Amber Lee Connors and Dawn M Bennett rounds out the new cast as Ost Hourai and Éclair respectively.

Production values are quite excellent. The Spirit Tortoise is given an eerie air with a special kind of CGI animation, and its familiars look suitably monstrous and intimidating. The battle scenes are enjoyable, and the effects are done well. What else need I say?

While a flawed adaptation in some regards, this was still a fairly good start to the second season of The Rising of the Shield Hero. I just hope it continues that way…


****
 

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REVIEW: Doctor Who: Shadow of the Daleks 1- Aimed at the Body by James Kettle

TYPE: Audio drama

DETAILS: 269A, 1X30 minute episode

Big Finish often gives away sample episodes of its stories, and one of them was the initial episode of the first Shadow of the Daleks anthology. But how would I enjoy this initial episode? Let’s find out…

In the middle of a mountainous wilderness in Australia in 1933, driven cricketer Douglas Jardine and his fellow tourists Mrs Calderwood and her daughter Flora are stranded. The paranoid Jardine believes it to be the work of bitter Australians taking revenge for his ruthless tactics on the cricket pitch. And when the Doctor shows up, tensions begin to soar. With a changing landscape, a mysterious one-eyed statue of metal appearing, and strange songs in the air at night, can the Doctor puzzle out this mystery?

I have to admit, I feel ambivalent about this story. Short as it is, there isn’t much time to develop the characters or any plot, and as it seems to be part of an overarching story arc, a lot of the mystery is left up in the air, much to my frustration. On the other hand, it’s also a tense and surreal psychodrama, on a par with the first episode of The Mind Robber, or the entirety of The Edge of Destruction or Midnight, even if I feel it doesn’t remotely reach the heights those stories reached.

Peter Davison does well as always as the Doctor, with this being a Doctor at one of his most tense and intense. Jamie Parker makes the most of an intensely unlikeable role as Jardine, though I wish he got bumped off, while Dervla Kirwan and Anjli Mohandra are also good as Calderwood and Flora. And Nicholas Briggs, as always, is good as the Daleks, and Daleks who seem to be afraid of something.

As to the production values, well, what need be said? Big Finish have making a cinematic soundscape down to a fine art. The sound mix seemed a bit indistinct at times, but I have to wonder whether that was down to my using headphones rather than a speaker system.

Overall, this story is a decent and surreal psychodrama, but it being part of a story arc and having a particularly detestable character in Jardine brings it down somewhat, as does the truncated running time. A shame, really…

***½
 

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