Category Archives: Science Fiction

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 9 – “Empress of Mars” – An Amazing Exploration of What it Means to be a Soldier

   The Ice Warriors are one of my favorite aliens in “Doctor Who.” These are a species who are amazing warriors with a code of ethics that makes them complicated. They are driven by honor and I love seeing how that plays out in their interactions with humanity…be it in Classic Doctor Who or “Cold War,” their first time returning in the new series, which was an episode also written by Mark Gatiss. Non-spoiler thoughts, I really enjoyed this episode. Mark Gatiss is great at writing these guys and I can’t wait to see more of them in the future as so far I have yet to see a bad Ice Warrior episode.

The episode was directed by Wayne Yip and written by Mark Gatiss.

The story involves a legion of Victorian British on Mars who are transporter there after they help Friday (an Ice Warrior they discovered and helped heal) who was alone on Earth. All as not as it appears to be as they discover the Tomb of the Ice Empress. Trouble begins to unfold as fear and greed create conflict between humanity and the Ice Warriors.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of this story as we have Friday who is a warrior who was a prisoner of war in way and made friends with his enemies, you have the Empress caught in the old ways wanting to restore an empire that no longer exists, you have Catchlove who is blinded by pride and personal honor and Godsacre a man who was hung for cowardice who is ready to lay down his life to protect his men and in turn saves them because the Ice Queen sees the honor in his act and makes his men part of her Empire. It is a powerful scene and shows just how complicated conflicts based around honor can become.

First Contact – First Contact is shown in two different ways. The Ice Empress kills one of the soldiers who awakens her as he is still jewels from her tomb and over the course of the series it involves holding back her anger as well as the fear from some of the soldiers who Catchlove is leading given how outmatched they are by the Ice Warriors. We also see peaceful first contact too when the Ice Warrior beacon is awakened at the end  and the alien Alpha Centauri welcomes them to the Universe (setting up the group they will be a part of Classic Doctor Who later in their timeline).

A Conflict of Honor – The driving issue is one of honor and understanding as both Catchlove and the Empress want territory for their respective powers and live for the fight and domination, while the Doctor, Friday and Godsacre have been hurt too much by what honor has done…Friday was last of his people until the Empress was awakened, the Doctor was the last of the Time Lords at one point and Godsacre was so terrified at what he had to do in war that he ran. It is those who have lost and who realize the horror who are willing to submit their honor and in turn find a higher form of honor in the process. Catchlove is killed and it is Godsacre’s submission along with Friday’s protecting of those he can (the Doctor, Bill, the soldiers) that lead peace and a union between the two species. There will always be fights but there is no reason that personal and greater honor can be met rather than it leading to the destruction of all.

The Cons: The Ending Scene – Missy appears at the end after the TARDIS pulls Nardole away and there is this awkward almost sexual scene where the Doctor says she has to go back into the Vault. It is just strange and breaks the tone of the entire episode.

I really liked this episode. It was on par with “Oxygen” from this season but not as good as “Extremis” but I still consider it a favorite episode and hope that Gatiss can write more episodes like this. Like “Cold War” he is in his element when he is writing about conflicts of honor between soldiers and finding resolution and hope amidst fear. This episode is a shining example of the writing he is capable of on this this show and I look forward to more adventures like this in the future.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 6 – “Extremis” – Hope in the World of Illusion

   “Extremis” is a great episode. It is easily up there with “Listen” and “Heaven Sent” for meditative explorations of who the Doctor is and what it means to be him, and it manages to pose bigger questions in regards to sentience too, which strengthens it further. Before I get into spoilers, this is a favorite that is well worth your time.

    The episode was directed by Daniel Nettheim and written by Steven Moffat, showing that when it comes to episodes that really should be individual bottle episodes, he can still do great.

   The story involves the Doctor (blind after last episode) is sent an email through his sonic glasses about the Vatican text “Veritas” a text that leads it’s readers to commit suicide. From here the Doctor works with Bill and Nardole to find out the mystery surrounding the text.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is very horror movie esque with the text that kills anyone who reads it and it quickly takes the richer turn where it questions reality. The episode begins with a jump down the rabbit hole and doesn’t stop until it is explored.

The Monks – The Monks are the main threat as they are the ones running the simulation that our characters (who are programs) exist in. They look like giant bats and seem to speak through their minds which is a great aesthetic. My only worry is that they’ll end up being as underwhelming as the Angels and Silents as both of them had really strong introductions but progressively had worse payoff down the line.

Whatever Happened to Missy – The episode begins with a flashback where we see Missy (the Master) being executed for her crimes. In the end she is saved by the Doctor who keeps her trapped for her time for her crimes as he knows she is still a threat. The scenes before he saves her are powerful as River sends Nardole to remind him of his goodness and Missy reminds him of their friendship as we learn that Missy is the one being held in the Vault.

The Nature of Reality and Sentience – Our characters exist in a simulation run by the Monks so that they can best learn how to conquer Earth. The programs are exist recreations of those on Earth and so are real and do exist, even though they are only programs. This is the core point of the Episode and exploring the horror of that knowledge.

What it Means to be the Doctor – The final reveal is the Doctor sending an email to himself through the psychic link in the glasses. This is great as it captures that the Doctor is the fighter and his point is resistance and defense of others and with that hope, even in death. This Program Doctor was amazing as in the end he became the Doctor. The Doctor is hope and in his last act of existence the program gave the Doctor and hope a chance.

Okay: The Vatican – The Vatican is okay, they are played for jokes a bit at the beginning but feel like another player in the threat of the unknown after we arrive at their Archive. I still think they could have been handled better though.

   This is an episode well worth your time that humanizes Nardole and Bill a lot (showing their flaws, courage) even though they and the Doctor are programs…at this point the programs are people showing just how powerful the threat of the Monks is as they have been killing sentient beings over and over again so that they can figure out how to best conquer Earth. I’m intrigued at where the story goes and if we will ever see the simulation our world in this episode exists in, come up again.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10. The Vatican bits can be hit or miss but the overall story is great.

Colossal (2017): An Amazing Exploration of Monsters as Metaphor

     “Colossal” is an amazing film. This is a film that has giant monsters, explores ideas of addiction and abuse through use of the monsters and has a great script and actors to go along with it. Hathaway is empathetic but also monstrous at times and Sudeikis’s Oscar is this constant threat through the film that lends power to the narrative.  All this is explored masterfully by Sedakis and Hathaway and Vigalondo’s script is so tight that it flows from scene to scene in exploring each scene and never feels bogged down with McCeary’s music to help better express these themes. I’m a fan of Monster and Kaiju films and this is my favorite type of these films since “Pacific Rim.”

     The film was directed and written by Nacho Vigalondo and produced by Nicolas Chartier, Zev Foreman, Dominac Rustam, Nahikari Ipiña and Shawn Williamson.

      The story involves Gloria (Anne Hathaway) getting kicked out of her boyfriend’s apartment in New York after her life of drinking and joblessness has come to a breaking point. Having nowhere to go she returns to her childhood home where her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) gets her a job at his bar. She soon realizes that the recent monster attacks in Seoul are from her as everytime she enters a playground the monster appears. From here she must deal with the consequences of becoming the monster while facing addiction and abuse.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is powerful as the idea of someone controlling a monster when they enter a certain area is really neat as it allows for human psyche to be explored. The monster works as metaphor and lends power to the themes of addiction, abuse and going from selfish to selfless.

An Exploration of Abuse and Recovery – The main arc is Gloria getting over her alcohol addiction when she’s kicked out of her apartment in NY and returns to her childhood home where she reconnects with a childhood friend who starts gas-lighting her (as he does his other friends). It comes to a head when she realizes that in the park she becomes a monster and begins getting her life back on track when she realizes her drinking and walking through the park is killing people. As she realizes how toxic her boss is she tries to leave but he finds that he becomes a giant robot in South Korea so begins destroying Seoul or threatening too if she leaves the town. At this point she’s over her addiction and now it it getting rid of an abuser which she does by leaving to South Korea and in doing her Monster appears in the small town and throws him away, ending his threat and in turn she finally has freedom as she has cut out the addiction and stopped the abuse.

 Okay: The Location of the Monsters – Narratively it honestly would have made more sense for the Monsters to be fighting in NY since that is where Gloria leaves from when she is causing a lot of damage to those around her when she leaves. Because the location is South Korea we don’t get the perspectives of any of the South Koreans unlike traditional Kaiju movies where the people in the location are the ones who drive the plot and story. It was still okay as her going to South Korea was powerful and underspoken, no one knew she was the Monster so to the people of it was very much it’s own thing (she never gets credit for being the monster outside of her small friend group), a being in and of itself not being controlled but acting as a protector. If she’d been Korean it would have made more sense that the Monster was located there…instead her only connection is a school project to honor South Korea where her and Oscar get their powers. Again, it wasn’t bad but it still could have been better. She’s from NY so put the Monsters in NY or have her be Korean so we can get the perspective of the people there outside of news reports…and so it makes what is happening even more personal.

     As I said before, this is the best monster film I’ve watched since “Pacific Rim.” This is a film that is intelligent, explores big ideas and has really rich and flawed characters. The villain feels like a threat and someone you’d meet in real life and even my one issue with film is more of a nitpick, which really comes with being a critic. Go and check this film out if you have the chance. I saw it at Salem Cinema, the indie art house in my town, so that is probably your best bet for catching it…though if it becomes popular it will no doubt get the wider release it deserves. I highly recommend this film and hope we see more smart films like this in the future as this is easily one of my favorite films to come out this year.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 5 – “Oxygen” – A Heavy Handed Enjoyable Space Thriller

   “Oxygen” is a flawed and amazing episode that is heavy handed with it’s message but is powerful in how it tells it’s story. This is one of my favorite episodes of the new series, even with all of the flaws. It changes things in a way that looks like it may last and we get to see more of the negative in humanity which we largely only got with the 9th and 10th Doctor. Suffice to say, before I get into spoilers…I recommend this episode.

  The episode was directed by Charles Palmer and directed by Jamie Mathieson.

   The story involves the Doctor, Bill and Nardole becoming trapped on a mining space station where they have limited oxygen and are being hunted by A.I. suits as they rush to save the survivors and themselves.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise -The idea of a space station run off oxygen workers by is so wonderfully dsytopian I can’t help but appreciate it. It also gives tension and consequence immediately as the limited oxygen creates a ticking clock.

The Tension – The station expels all excess oxygen added to the station, which forces our heroes to get the suits where they only have a certain amount of breaths, on top of this the suits are controlling the dead who died from lack of oxygen and the survivors are fearful and angry. If any one of these goes over the edge, everything is over for our heroes.

The Miners – The miners are great, we get to see the politics and relationships between them and how they are survivors. They are the characters ready to do anything to get off the station which adds another level of tension to our main characters predicament.

The Doctor, Nardole and Bill – The dynamic between these 3 is wonderful. Nardole is the responsible worry wort holding the Doctor to his promise that he made Nardole make of keeping an eye of the Vault, Bill is the new adventurer who doesn’t have the Doctor’s recklessness the Doctor is the wizard, manipulating and planning his way through every situation even when it looks like he’s lost his mind and lost everything.

Consequences – The Doctor saves Bill but goes blind in the process from the vacuum of space. This is still true at the end of the episode and we see how powerless he feels as so much of what he does it tied to his ability to read what something by seeing it. I hope we have him this way for a while as even TARDIS tech could not heal his eyes.

Okay/Con – Execution of the Message – The message of the episode is that capitalism is bad and eventually people will be exploited for the very oxygen they breathe. I put this as okay because “Doctor Who” has always been a message show, the problem was this wasn’t done with enough “show” there was a good amount of “tell” even though we were witnessing the very premise and didn’t need to be told it. I won’t put it as a complete con but it was the weakest part of the episode.

  This is a flawed and amazing episode that is worth checking out. The tension is strong throughout the entire episode, Nardole and Bill clash with the Doctor while the Doctor has moments where even he loses hope. We also have minor characters we care about and perfect tension through the entire episode. This is an episode that I highly recommend. Can’t wait to see how the consequences of the Doctor’s blindness unfold.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 4 – “Knock Knock” – Boring Side Characters in a Better Story

  “Knock Knock” is the worst episode this season thus far. We are given a whole bunch of side characters who give nothing to the film, a horror story that doesn’t really go anywhere and the Doctor as the biggest jerk he’s been thus far in Series 10. Before I go more in depth on these points, this episode isn’t worth your time and is skippable.

   The episode was directed by Bill Anderson and written by Mike Bartlett.

   The story involves Bill looking for a new place to live with a bunch of flatmates. When they meet the mysterious Landlord they sign the contract to live in an old castleesque house. All is not as it appears to be though as her flatmates begin disappearing and the Doctor arrives to help solve the mystery.

SPOILERS

The Pros: The Reveal – The reveal is that the Landlord is keeping his mom alive with the bugs who feed off the energy of people and help sustain her life. She is a part of the house and is wood. After she finds out the cost of her life she ends the life of herself and her son causing the house to collapse. This basic plot was interesting but it only felt real at the end…

The Landlord – The Landlord is creepy and David Suchet gives a lot of character to the role. He’s welcoming and threatening and he is easily the most compelling character in the episode. It’s a shame more wasn’t done with him.

Okay: The Doctor and Bill – The Doctor and Bill fight all the time. Bill is embarrassed of the Doctor since she wants to become friends with her flatmates and the Doctor isn’t listening to Bill because he wants adventure and to protect her. Neither was a pro this episode. The drama felt like drama for it’s own sake and not story.

The Cons: The Flatmates – I couldn’t tell you what any of them like. They aren’t really characters just plot contrivance and when all of them get taken by the house I found it hard to care. They distracted from the main story and there was no reason that we are given outside of Bill to care about any of them.

The Writing – The writing is cliche and atrocious. The Doctor tries to act all cool, Bill acts jealous and the kids don’t really function as characters just ideas of characters…so the tension is gone in the entire piece in what could have been a great horror episode.

   This is the worst episode of the series so far and I must emphasize again that it is skippable. You’ll get more time with the Doctor and the Vault later or just watch the Vault scenes on youtube. The story is a slog and even great characters like Bill and the Doctor cease to be interesting…The reveal and the Landlord are not reason enough to see this episode.

Final Score: 4  / 10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017): The Greatness of These Characters

 “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is on par with the first film, being it is once again comedic, dramatic and character greatness executed beautifully by James Gunn once again. For my non-spoiler thoughts…this film goes deeper into developing the characters, the action is solid and for once Marvel has a great villain in one of these films! I highly recommend this film and won’t be surprised if it ends up being in my Top 5 Films of 2017.

    The film was written and directed by James Gunn, while being produced by Kevin Feige.

  The story picks up a few months after the first film, with the Guardians protecting the Sovereign’s batteries, which are being targeted by a giant space creature. After the battle they receive Nebula as payment but soon find themselves being pursued by the Sovereign after Rocket steals their batteries after insulting them. After the battle the team is separated as Rocket and Baby Groot deal with the Ravagers, Gamora and Nebula face off and Peter meets his Father.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and fascinating once again! We get to see the Ravager homeworld where they take up contracts and have fun, we meet the high strung Sovereign driven by genetic perfection and Ego, a being who is a living planet who wants to consume the Universe and cares about his son Quill. Each of these groups gets exploration that shows part of the reason why this is the best part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Soundtrack – Tyler Bates did the soundtrack and we once again get some amazing hits that are masterfully woven into the fights, the character interactions and the tone and feeling of different scenes. I think the first film used the songs and feel slightly better, but this was still a blast.

The Action – The action is amazing! In this we see  smaller fights to clever traps laid by Rocket, to a giant faceoff with the Guardians facing Ego and the Sovereign. It is a lot of fun and the action serves a purpose as any time we get it it is advancing the plot.

The Characters and Their Arcs – James Gunn is a great writer and it is fully on display in this film as it is the character and their arcs and relationships that drive the action and story of the film. He is dealing with a lot of different character groups this time, but each of them has a huge emotional payoff in the end.

Drax and Mantis – Drax meets Mantis, who is Ego’s assistant who helps him sleep. She senses emotion and it is in their relationship we see her learn about the complexity of feelings as well as Drax finally opening up as we see his jokes hide how much he misses his wife and daughter. Their friendship is wonderful and platonic and has some of the best jokes.

Nebula and Gamora – Nebula and Gamora’s arc involves them opening up about the trauma Thanos put them through (we learn Nebula was torn apart and had her body replaced by machine parts every time she lost a fight to Gamora). In the end they forgive each other and realize they aren’t the enemy, Thanos is and from that they truly become sisters rather than weapons of Thanos.

Rocket and Yondu – Rocket and Yondu were outcasts who grew up with no one. Yondu was a Kree Slave who was rescued by a Ravager captain and in turn became one as well (until he loses it all over the course of the film) and Rocket is pushing everyone away until Yondu calls him out, letting him know it isn’t worth it and that he gets it too (what he only realizes after he’s lost everything). This arc was powerful as we see how rich their friendship is because of all they’ve lost and their devil may care attitude towards life. These two are my favorite characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Films and possibly the MCU as a whole.

Peter and Ego – Peter really wants a father and learning Ego is his father is what he always wanted…until he realizes that Ego only cares about him as a means to an end. This leads to their fight as Peter gets beyond his need to be loved and accepts the love that he already has from the Guardians and Yondu an rejects the absolute power at that Ego is offering.

Ego – Ego is a Celestial and because of this is eternal and immortal. It is from this mindset that he came to the realization that he matters the most so all should become him. You can see where he comes from as he has outlived countless lives and species, but also how he misses the point that all life matters. He clearly cares for Peter but that is because Peter is a part of him. Like his name Ego never sees beyond his Ego and that is what leads to his destruction. If he valued others he would have lived and most likely become an ally or a powerful neutral force, instead he wanted it all and that was what lead to his destruction. Kurt Russell does an amazing performance, putting Ego as one of the best villains in the MCU.

Yondu and the Ravagers – Yondu’s main arc begins when the other Ravagers reject him for the child trafficking he was doing for Ego. His exile leads to him being taken out by Nebula who helps a rival among Yondu’s crew named Ravager take control of the ship and leads to the capture of Baby Groot and Rocket. In the end Yondu takes responsibility and we see him take the fight to the monster that is Ego and that he stopped trafficking once he realized that Ego was killing them (this is when he takes on Quill). In the end he realizes that he can’t atone for what he’s done and stands with the Guardians Ego, sacrificing himself to save Peter, his son, which leads to the Ravagers giving him a Ravager funeral and accepting him back in and honoring him in his death. Rooker really is fantastic.

Family is Greater Than Blood – Family being greater than blood is the main theme of the film besides letting go of the ego. We see this in how Yondu is the father that Peter’s actual father never was and that the Guardians are family with one another…they fight with each other but in the end they always have each other’s backs.

The Killing of the Ego – This idea functions as both a metaphor (Peter letting go of his need to please his Dad and his forgiving of Yondu) and Yondu losing everything but finding what matters moist…Quill and the Guardians…he finds family after his old family…the Ravager Captains exile him…Though he gets them in the end too as they find him redeemed in his fight where he helped defeat Ego and saved the Guardians. Ego is the antagonist and wants the Universe to be him and for a while this appeals to Quill when he sees eternity, until he realizes that it was Ego’s selfishness that lead to Ego killing his Mother which sets off the fight against him and saving the Universe again.

Okay: Some Actions Sequences Go Too Long – The final fight against Ego could have been cut in half and still had the same power behind it. I didn’t care about the Sovereign arriving and felt that they were unnecessary. The best parts of the fight were the times that Ego was trying to sway Peter, when that wasn’t happening it looked cool, but the action stretched on too long for me to call it a pro.

Slow Down Shots – There a few times in the film where the action slows down to near standstill. I found this super distracting from the flow of the action that blended seamlessly with the music, with the exception of these sequences.

Motivation of the Sovereign – I get that these guys are easily insulted, but I was surprised they didn’t call up the Guardians first and attack only after Rocket would have most likely insulted them again. In this way they were way too reactive. They still worked as secondary antagonists but they weren’t as compelling as the Ravagers because of their motivation.

  This is a film that I highly recommend. This is where the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains fun and for once we get a story that has nothing to do with Infinity Stones, which in turn leads to us getting time to get to know the characters better. We also have a villain with motivations and a connection to our heroes that matters, and he feels like an actual threat as well as loss and character payoff that comes with a rocking soundtrack. As a side note, my friend was in one of the scenes at the end as one of the Ravager Captains bodyguards/lieutenants! I hope they do more with those Captains and their crew in Volume 3! I really enjoyed this film and it is definitely on par with the first “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Which is rare in Marvel Movies as often their sequels aren’t as strong as the originals. So if you haven’t watched this film yet, I highly recommend that you do.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 3 – “Thin Ice” – Bland Villain and Monster Bring Down Good Character Moments

   “Thin Ice” is the first mediocre episode this series. This is an episode that has great character moments with Bill and the Doctor but the support characters, villain and the creature are so boring and unfleshed out that it brings down the entire peace. It isn’t a bad episode, as the characters stuff was strong enough to keep me engaged, but it isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination.

    The episode was directed by Bill Anderson and written by Sarah Dollard.

   The story involves the TARDIS transporting the Doctor and Bill to the Thames Frost Fair of 1814. It is here they must unravel the mystery of the creature underneath the Thames as Bill is confronted with a choice that will define her and humanity.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros; The Doctor and Bill’s Relationship – This is an episode where Bill debates with the Doctor his role. She asks if he’s killed and it takes him a long time to say that only when it is one of the last options available…and in it we see the Doctor as a soldier and veteran, while for Bill this is all so new to her as she is faced with these choices for the first time and better understands the danger in the adventure.

The Doctor – The Doctor is great in this in how he expresses that he does what he does to help and safeguard life because he is called to it…by his companion, the TARDIS, or the people they are helping. I saw it as partially him pushing responsibility off himself, but it also helped illustrate how he’s been learning. So much of 10’s trauma was because he got involved and didn’t listen. I think 12 has learned from the past in that way…now lets just see if the writers will keep it consistent.

Bill – Bill is faced with the darkness in humanity in this one…from there hanging out with pickpocketing children, to a racist landowner who is controlling the monster for money. In the end she does what she can to save as many people as possible and trick the villain…and from here we see how the Doctor and the TARDIS make the companions more like them.

Humanity’s Choice – Save the creature and risk human lives…or keep things the way they are and live the guilt of enslaving another being. This was the core dilemma at the end of the episode that turns Bill more into the Doctor as she chooses the second choice and larger moral implications that come with it. All life matters…be it alien or human.

The Cons: The Villain – The villain is a racist landowner exploiting the creature for resources as it has been in his family for generations. He is so bland and uninteresting and easily one of the worst villains to come out of Doctor Who. There was no motivation beyond greed.

The Supporting Cast – There are a bunch of child actors and none of them can act. This usually isn’t smart to do in any film medium and Doctor Who isn’t known for it’s great writing…and young actors usually don’t have the charisma to carry a scene the way an older more experienced actor could have…to make up for the pitfalls in the writing and dialogue.

The Monster – The monster is a giant fish that sounds like a a whale that we never get to fully see. It eats people, so we know it is dangerous…and apparently it’s a native to Earth, but that is all we know. It is there to be rescued and that is it.

   This is a film that is only worth your time if you are a major fan of the show and a completionist. There are way too many 2 Dimensional characters in this episode and even the core concept of the companion being the stand in for humanity could have been explored a lot better. There are some great dialogue and character moments between Bill and the Doctor, but this is a time where that wasn’t enough to bring the episode to good or great.

Final Score: 7 / 10