Saturday, April 26, 2008

Review: Doctor Who, Episode 4.4, "The Sontaran Stratagem"

Each season of New Doctor Who has seen the return of a classic villain: Daleks in the first, Cybermen in the second, the Master in the third and now the Sontarans. The Sontarans were introduced in the 1973 Third Doctor serial, "The Time Warrior", and last appeared in the 1985 Sixth Doctor serial, "The Two Doctors".

This episode is the first half of a two part story written by Helen Raynor, responsible for last season's "Daleks in Manhattan" and "Evolution of the Daleks". Those episodes were decent but nothing special. I'm much more impressed by this one. It's a cracking good yarn with a lot of action and a lot of fan service. Douglas Mackinnon, who directed half of the episodes of Jekyll, handles all of the story's elements well and brings a cinematic feel to it. I'm looking forward to next week's conclusion.

Warning: spoilers below, please highlight the white space with your mouse to read them.

Donna's flying the TARDIS!

Martha's on the phone!

Martha and Donna are bonding! Yay!

OMG! Martha's engaged!

UNIT soldiers everywhere!

The UNIT commander is practically squeeing like a fanboy over meeting the Doctor.

The UNIT dating controversy is referenced. Even the Doctor's not quite sure about when it all took place.

Donna gets saluted, too! Yay!

Donna's grandfather is awesome.

The Medusa Cascade is mentioned again.

Oh no, now there's an evil clone of Martha on the loose.

The Sontarans describe the Doctor as a "face changer".

400 million cars around the world begin emitting poison gas and Donna's grandfather is trapped in one of them. Cliffhanger!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

It's official. Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) will direct The Hobbit and its currently untitled sequel. The sequel will be an original story detailing the six decade gap in-between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I'm excited by the news. Short of Peter Jackson directing these films, this is the best possible choice. Jackson will be one of the producers and may also contribute to the screenplays. The Weta design team will be working on the films as well.

In other del Toro news, his latest film, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, will be out in July. He said that he's open to making a third and final Hellboy film, but it will be at least 2013 before it could be made now that he has the two Tolkien films to direct.

The first season of Joss Whedon's new television show, Dollhouse, went into production this week. Whedon reunites with actresses Eliza Dushku and Amy Acker, veterans of his previous shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The cast also includes Olivia Williams, Tahmoh Penikett (Helo on Battlestar Galactica) and Harry J. Lennix (who was amazing as Aaron the Moor in Julie Taymor's film, Titus). It's rare that I get excited about a new television show before it actually airs, but I'm excited about this one.

One week to go until Iron Man arrives in cinemas. If it's as good as the previews make it look, it'll be really good.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Re-Watched

It's over. Last night, I finally finished re-watching the entire run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the beginning. Seven seasons (or series, if you use British terminology). 144 episodes. 6,480 minutes. It took a few months, but I accomplished it and the experience was worth it.

After watching it all over again, I think its greatness is undiminished. It still deserves to belong on the short list of not only great genre shows, but great television shows in general. Even now, eleven years after its debut and five years after it went off the air, it's still one of the best written shows to ever grace mainstream television. Watching it is like taking a crash course in good storytelling. Its influence on shows like Justice League, Battlestar Galactica, New Doctor Who and Torchwood is apparent.

It remains significant for its portrayal of young women, and for the surprising amount of feminist and leftist ideas bubbling beneath, and quite often bursting through, the surface of its fictional universe. Perhaps not always consistently so, but that's only to be expected when you have a large and shifting writing staff producing material. I would also argue that no other American television show has handled a character coming out as a lesbian or her relationships with women quite as well as this one did, despite the original network, the WB, trying to keep scenes of two women kissing out of the show (moving to a different network, the more open-minded UPN, for its final two seasons allowed it to develop without that and other creative interference).

The middle section of its run, seasons two through five, were its finest. The first season was very much a case of creator Joss Whedon and his writing staff figuring things out as they went (especially in light of the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer theatrical film being regarded as somewhat of a failure). If the sixth and seventh seasons as a whole weren't quite up to the same level as the four they followed, they were still remarkably good and individual episodes like "Once More, with Feeling", "Seeing Red", "Villains", "Grave", "Conversations with Dead People" and "Chosen" were as good as any from earlier seasons. "The Body" from the fifth season remains the best single episode out of all of them.

The final episode of the fifth season, "The Gift", would have been the best possible ending for the show had it not returned for two more seasons on a different network, but the show's actual final episode, "Chosen", wasn't too far behind it. "Chosen" still has emotional and dramatic impact. I feel like it was a satisfying end to a great story told over many years. I still don't feel the need to read the comic books that continue the story.

The box set includes a bonus DVD that offers a revealing round-table retrospective of the show by creator Joss Whedon; showrunner Marti Noxon; writers Jane Espenson, David Fury and Drew Goddard (who went on to write Cloverfield); and actors Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, Emma Caulfield and Danny Strong.

In short, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was and is a great television show.