“The Umbrella Academy” Season 1 – Great Character Arcs With More to Tell

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    “The Umbrella Academy” is easily one of my favorite shows. I read the original volume it is based on years ago and the show captures the zany characters and character relationships that made the book so memorable. Gabriel Bá and Gerard Way truly created a beautiful world and Netflix did an amazing job bringing it to the screen. The cast is fantastic and I can’t wait for season 2 to come out, given how season 1 ends.

The series was created by Jeremy Slater and Steve Blackman and as said above based on the comic series of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá published by Dark Horse Comics.

The story follows the members of the Umbrella Academy who were all born on the same day when 43 women around the world gave birth without any sign of being pregnant. The seven adopted by the billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves would become the Umbrella Academy. After years away his death brings them all back home and the apocalyptic plot unfolds from here.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography feels like a comic book. Color is made to stand out and some scenes slow way down, such as when Cha-Cha and Hazel are high on Klaus’s drugs and destroying a lab. The film is beautiful all the way through and focuses on characters the way a panel would. Craig Wrobleski and Neville Kidd clearly have an eye for their craft.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack like the cinematography keeps that comic book feel while capturing so beautifully how all the characters are isolated and outsiders. Gerard Way’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” and Morcheeba’s “Blood Like Lemonade.” This is a soundtrack that goes between so many styles of music while keeping an undercurrent of rock to it. All our characters are healing and going through trauma and the soundtrack expresses it.

The World – The world of “The Umbrella Academy” is amazing. You have the Commission in the future making sure bad events go according to plan and who want to end the world. There are the members of the Umbrella Academy itself and also the ones hunting them being the duo Hazel and Cha-Cha who are enforces for the Commission the way Five once was. The characters are what make this world and I’m curious to see what the show does with them moving forward.

Hazel and Cha-Cha – These two are one of the best parts of the show. Hazel is played by Cameron Britton and is fed up with the work of being a killer. Cha-Cha is his closest friend and fully devoted to the Commission. Mary J. Blige is amazing as her. Over the course of the series we see that even when they are set against one another by Five or the Commission we see there is always more going on. Whether it is regret from Cha-Cha for attempting to kill Hazel and vise versa or her rage at Hazel for moving on with another person. I hope that there story isn’t done as I really like these two.

The Umbrella Academy – The Umbrella Academy is the super hero organization created by Sir Reginald Hargreeves from the 7 adopted children who were born during the event. Each of them has powers and are used by Reginald to take down villains. I’m going to give special time to Five and Klaus as they were the most interesting and fleshed out of the characters, but it is important to mention the other members of the family. I’ll also be including the guardians that Reginald created for them.

Grace, the robot created by Reginald is the mother of Academy while Pogo is the Reginald’s butler and together they hold the secrets of what was done to all of the members of the Academy and how Sir Reginald died. Over the course of the series they go from being the most trusted by the surviving members of the Academy to in the case of Pogo killed for hiding Vanya’s power from her. They are fascinating characters and I wanted to know so much more about them.

Of the Academy members who I won’t be giving a special paragraph to. First there is Ben, the one member who is dead and can summon a tentacle monster from his body. He is still around though as his spirit talks to Klaus. There is Diego (whose power is the ability to hit anything with his daggers) who is a wonderful Punisheresque vigilante who deals with his trauma through rage but comes around the caring for the team and seeing them as a family again. There are Luther (the leader of the team whose power is physical strength) and Allison (the only character with a family outside of the team and one who controls people through suggestion) that love each other romantically and come to terms with that and how they’ve changed as people. Allison is also Vanya’s biggest ally and the one who was used by their father to hurt her the most and repress Vanya’s powers. Vanya is the one who believes she doesn’t have powers through most of the series. It is only through a creepy stalker who is manipulating her that she discovers how great her power is and kills him. Her power is energy both psychic and otherwise that she can channel through music. After the Academy turns on her and traps her she goes full bad and we soon learn is the one who causes the apocalypse leading the Academy to make a choice and time jump with her away from the end of the world that she caused.

Five – Five is the member of the Academy who can jump through space and time. Because of this he ends up going missing when he jumps and ends up in the future. Here he lives a full life working for the Commission before returning back to the present time and in turn appearing as the young kid he was once before. He is great as he is an old man in a teenage body so he doesn’t want to be with people. His arc is his coming around to his family and his work against the Commission comes to a head as at one point he works for them again as he secretly tries to stop the apocalypse and in the end he is the one who saves them all after Vanya causes the end of the world as they jump to a time and place we haven’t seen yet. His arc is also dealing with the fact that he’s seen how it all ends so wonders if it is set in stone and can’t be prevented. He’s dealing with the possible inevitability of the end and it changes his outlook as he fights against it.

Klaus – Klaus is the best character on the show and Robert Sheehan does such a fantastic job as him. Klaus’s power is that he can speak to ghosts and the dead and because of this Ben is with him counseling him. Klaus before the events of the show has been through so much abuse from Sir Reginald that his only escape has been through drugs and alcohol (he would be locked in a room with the dead as a child and was never let out). Because of this he is detached from everyone and his arc is his sobering up to the point that he can speak to their father and learn about why they were brought together. At one point he serves in the Vietnam War and loves a fellow soldier after he uses Cha-Cha’s and Hazel’s briefcase to travel back in time. He resists torture from the two of them and even manages to turn Hazel more to the good when he calls upon all those Hazel and Cha-Cha have killed. His greatest moment of awesome is making Ben corporeal which saves the Academy from an attack by Cha-Cha and the commission as Vanya is bringing about the end.

Family and Sibling Relationships – People aren’t perfect. People are dysfunctional and all of us are going through different trials from past hurt. “The Umbrella Academy” explores these relationships through the characters. We see Diego and his rivalry with Luther. Allison and her reaching out to and protecting of Vanya. Five being cared for all by all the others and the reestablishment of relationship after how long he’s been gone. We also have Vanya, who dealt with being the one without powers by doing a tell all book and how they all have to confront the hurt they’ve caused to each other that their father had brought down upon all of them. The family dynamics are fascinating and I can’t wait to see how they are developed further.

The Cost of Trauma and Abuse – All of our characters are survivors of Sir Reginald’s abuse and we see what it has done to them. They are cut off from another, escaping into drugs and alcohol (Five and Klaus) and in turn they abuse one another. The cost of trauma is constant and ongoing and we see hints of healing near the end but only after the characters have had those moments of honesty with one another on all that they’ve been through. I’m curious to see how the show explores this further as I feel like our characters are really only starting to face it and the consequences it has had upon their lives.

The Cons:

The Cliffhanger – In the end Vanya’s power wrecks the moon causing the apocalypse. Five realizes the only way out is to time travel with Vanya to prevent the end from occurring. As the city was destroyed they manage to make the time jump. This is a great cliffhanger but it is a cliffhanger, if the show had gotten canceled this ending would have sucked.

I highly recommend both the comic and the show. “The Umbrella Academy” explores trauma, abuse and sibling relationships in such a compelling way that even though I hate cliffhangers I was grateful that the show would probably get renewed. I want to spend more time with these characters and this world and I can’t wait to see where the story ends up. Definitely worth checking out for any fans of the super hero genre.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 A great start to the show, even with the cliffhanger.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 1, Episode 4 – “A Man Alone” – The Isolation of the Station

       “A Man Alone” is a fun episode. It isn’t good, but it is enjoyable. This is the 4th episode of season 1 and you can tell the writers are still finding their footing. The story is following a core mystery plot that needs more development of the villain and a B plot that gives the episode more life, but doesn’t quite make it good. Early “Deep Space Nine” was still defining itself and this episode is a good example of it. It does still make for an enjoyable outing though.

The screenplay was written by Michael Piller who co-wrote the story with Gerald Sanford and directed by Paul Lynch.

The story involves an old enemy who of Odo’s who turns up on the station who winds up dead behind a locked door, with Odo as the prime suspect. The secondary plot follows Keiko as she finds purpose on the station.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Commander Sisko – This episode is a good Sisko episode. It is in this episode we see him negotiate Bajoran hatred of Odo when Odo is blamed for a murder he didn’t commit. It is Sisko taking control of the situation that stops Odo from getting killed or injured when a mob of Bajorans has fallen attacked Odo’s office. Sisko is my favorite Captain, though at this point in his story he still a commander as he doesn’t have The Defiant yet.

Miles and Keiko – The B plot follows Keiko and her finding purpose on the station. I’m including Miles here because he is very much the supportive spouse. He comes up with a few ideas to help with the isolation and you can see just how much he loves her. Miles knows she chose to come here but it also meant giving up opportunities. Keiko also clearly can find her own way. We see her watch the fallout of Nog and Jake harassing civilians and realizes that the children on the station are just as isolated as she is. This inspires her to make a school. Keiko is truly an underrated character and this episode is a good example of why she is so good.

Jazdia Dax – This is a good Jazdia episode. We see her turn down the multiple advances from Dr. Bashir when he is being a creep and also learn more about the Trill. At this point in her life as Trill she’s lived many lives and is trying to get away from attachments. This changes later on the series, but right now she is trying to be the greatest being she can be. She has so much patience dealing with Dr. Bashir. We also see her friendship with Commander Sisko develop as she clearly isn’t his mentor Kurzon but that they can still relate and talk even with Jazdia’s aspirations to be the best of the Trill.

Isolation – A major theme of the story is how isolating it is for many of the characters on “Deep Space Nine.” Whether it is Keiko feeling like she has no purpose or Odo being othered by the Bajorans, countless people feel alone. It is out of this loneliness and isolation that friendships can arise though, as we see with Nog and Jake’s friendship in the episode. We also see how the idea for the school was born out of Keiko’s own isolation.

“The Other” – “The Other” is a major theme of the episode. This is Odo’s character and he illustrates it in a few ways. From him calling out he doesn’t trust Commander Sisko because they don’t know each other and also that because he served as security during the Occupation of Bajor and isn’t a Bajoran that Bajor will always see him as different. He is a changeling and isn’t a solid. This is a major defining part of what defines Odo and this episode shows why this is. He is the unknown and the fearful, stupid masses are easily turned against him when he is framed.

Okay:

Ibudan – Ibudan is the antagonist of the episode and he isn’t great. I’m not putting him as a con because the idea of killing your clone to frame someone is a brilliant idea. We never see him talk to Odo though. For a villain he isn’t given much to do in regards to interacting with the cast. This doesn’t hurt his presentation but it makes it incredibly average and forgettable.

The Cons:

Julian Bashir – Alexander Siddig is one of my favorite actors. This is a situation where I blame the writers. Julian Bashir comes off as a creep in this episode. Jazdia turns him down multiple times and he keeps trying. Bashir becomes an amazing character later, but early on he does not make himself endearing in any way. He’s over eager and a creep and he’s the head Doctor on the station.

“A Man Alone” is a solidly enjoyable mystery and exploration of the station. The strongest writing involve any time isolation is explored and the B Plot with Keiko and her formation of the school is good example of why. Where it falls flat is in Bashir’s inability to take a hint or to respect Trill culture (Jazdia tells him she’s not interested in romance) and Ibudan as a villain is only okay. He really needed more development and we should have seen him interact with Odo before the murder to put more suspicion onto Odo. For these reasons I can’t really say the episode was good. I’d still recommend it to any fan of the show though. There are some good things that happen in the episode, even if the overall quality never gets beyond enjoyable.

Final Score: 7 / 10. This was a solidly enjoyable episode.

 

The 3rd Doctor – Season 8, Episode 5 – “The Dæmons” – A Great and Ancient Power

      “The Dæmons” is an amazing 3rd Doctor story. This a story that goes into the lore that makes up the show, gives us a great standoff against a classic foe and has something important to say about the nature of power. This is a story that has five 24 minute parts but it feels like much less. The flow and tension of the story is beautifully handled and there are fantastic rising action with great antagonists and some wonderful exploration of our heroes. This story is quality “Classic Doctor Who,” and one I definitely recommend.

“The Dæmons” was directed by Christopher Barry and written by “Guy Leopold” the pseudonym for Barry Letts and Robert Sloman.

The story involves the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) attempting to stop a cult that seeks to awaken an ancient power beneath an English Church, while attempting to connect with U.N.I.T. for aid as the Doctor comes to face an old foe.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Tension and Story Structure – “The Dæmons” is a 5 part story that does a great job at establishing the threat, building up the standoff and having stakes and growth throughout the entire episode. This episode is great. The Doctor needs to be saved early on by Jo and U.N.I.T. The Brigadier needs to arrive with reinforcements to help against the Cult and get past the heat wall and the Cult’s actions and infiltration have to be dealt with by our local heroes, Jo and the Doctor. The action builds beautifully and the payoff is fantastic and fits with the theme of power that is weaved through the episode.

The Master and his Cult – The Master and his Cult are such fun villains. The Cult controls the local village and has people in all levels of power. The Master for example is the local leader of the church and we see cult members pop up in local government and around U.N.I.T. This keeps the tension high as the Master is winning through most of the episodes and it isn’t until Brigadier with the full force of U.N.I.T. and Jo’s sacrifice against Azal that he finally finds all his plans turn to ash and himself captured by U.N.I.T.

Azal – Azal is a powerful alien and last of species the Dæmons a powerful alien species who have been experimenting on humanity through history. It is from this that we get a force that doesn’t even care about the Time Lords beyond how he can use them to control or use Earth. He doesn’t show up that often but when he does you get why he is the big bad of the episode.

Brigadier and U.N.I.T. – Brigadier is fantastic and him coming to help against the Cult is a major plot point. For much of the episode we follow soldiers under his control as they seek to get him to the scene of the action. When he finally arrives it is a great show as we see U.N.I.T. in action against a gargoyle and and the Master’s cult. I love how Brigadier hates being under the Doctor’s control but listens anyway. It gives a great dynamic as he is the only one who understands he needs to follow what the Doctor is doing, but doesn’t have to like it.

Jo Grant – Jo is very much the Watson to the Doctor’s Sherlock. He even references this point at one point. This is a relationship where she is learning through the entire episode and her pure goodness is what saves the day in the end. Because she isn’t detached like the Doctor she is able to care about others on a way the Doctor won’t let himself do. We never see the Doctor sacrifice himself through the series in the way Jo does here. Unthinking she jumps against a killing blow that Azal sets against the Doctor, which in turn saves the day.

The Third Doctor – Jon Pertwee is such a great actor, and one of my favorite Doctors. This gave him a story worthy of his talents as we got to see him investigate, be vulnerable and own his role as the protagonist facing an old foe and forces more powerful than him. At one point he references Sherlock Holmes and he is perfect in that role as his Doctor has many aspects of his character. Pertwee’s Doctor is detached from people even as he desires to help them. This episode is powerful because it is an episode where he comes to better understand empathy and love and it is quite beautiful.

True Power – The main drive for many this episode is power. The Master wants it destroy the world, the Doctor doesn’t want it and Azal wants to bestow it to destroy his enemies. In the end the one who saves the day is Jo. She willingly sacrifices herself which reverses the power and saves all of their lives, causing Azal’s destruction and the capture of the Master by U.N.I.T. It is cliche but I still appreciate how love was the true power all along. It was Jo’s love of the Doctor that defeated the last of a powerful alien species set upon destruction.

Okay:

The Witch – The witch is an okay character. She’s introduced early and she does save a U.N.I.T. Captain from a cultist, but she also doesn’t do much beyond that. She along for the Doctor’s story once she shows up and I wish we’d had more of her facing off against the cult and the church. This was a character full of potential, who was still acted well but got forgotten by the end.

This is a great episode and an episode that shows why Jon Perwee is one of my favorite Doctors. In this we get his detachment, investigative skills, his fighting ability and all his caring. In the end this episode has him grow in his caring and shows just how wonderful Jo is as a companion. She is his Watson to his Sherlock. Seeing Brigadier and the Master using their minds and forces to the fullest also makes for a intriguing face-off that payoffs in a well earned victory for our heroes. For any fan of “Classic Doctor Who,” this is one that I highly recommend.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10. A great episode of the Pertwee Era.

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Top 5 Characters in “Gotham”

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       With “Gotham” now at an end, I was thinking at how I best wanted to explore my thoughts on the series. First, I think it is a solid show well worth your time if you are a Batman fan, though it’s flaws kept it from being great. One thing that kept it good, even with the flaws was how memorable so many of the characters were. I’m a huge fan of Batman and his rogues gallery and this series brought some amazing interpretations of his allies and rogues to the screen. “Gotham” is a show that tells the story of Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne before Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. It is here we see one version of how his enemies came to be and what motivates Gordon and defines the city of Gotham. The series was created by Bruno Heller, and the fact that this list exists shows that at the end of the day, I did like this show.

The show wasn’t always the best, there were a few times I took a break during it’s run and to me the final was serviceable but nothing I’d praise. It just established what the show had been leading up to the entire time and didn’t do it in a unique way. I’m avoiding details for those who haven’t watched the finale yet. I want to avoid Final Season spoilers as this show makes it easy to talk about the broad strokes of what worked or didn’t.

For the weak characters, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Bruce and Selina for a long time. They eventually became okay. Ra’s al Ghul was wasted and given he is played by one of my favorite actors (Alexander Siddig) I held that against the show. The Al Ghul’s in general were wasted as was the League of Shadows. They were supposed to be this apocalyptic force but they never did much to the heroes of the story in big picture scheme of the show. For the few who did do something they almost always end up dead or useless by the end of their arcs. The gangsters like Carmine and Sofia Falcone stayed compelling during their runs but they also didn’t have the unique feel of the characters I’m going to give an honorary mentions too. Same goes for Theo / Azrael and his sister Tabitha / Tigress. They were interesting but weren’t fascinating enough for an honorary mention.

For my honorary mentions. Those go to Barbara and Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Lee Thompkins to start. These were are complicated characters who often times fell on the side of the good. Also honorary mentions to Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter for being fascinating villains whose twisted mentality added to the show. None of these folks made the list but were a joy to watch and what kept the show interesting when my favorite characters weren’t getting exciting moments. Fish Mooney was also great and I enjoyed what they did with her over her run on the show. Zsasz also deserves a mention too. Whether he was working for a crime boss or on his own, he always had fun and was threatening in any situation they put him in.

How without further ado, here are my Top 5 Characters on “Gotham.”:

 

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5th Place – Alfred Pennyworth

Alfred is a character I wish we had gotten more time to know. I’m not the only one apparently since he is getting his own show in Fox called “Pennyworth.” This goes to show just how powerful Sean Pertwee’s performance was. Pertwee gave a hardness and empathy that I have rarely seen in how Alfred is written or potrayed on film. This was a man who was taking care of Bruce and fighting rogues throughout the entire season. Sometimes it would break him physically or emotionally, but he always came back. He had the compassion that Jim sometimes lost and he’d been through so much more with his time in the Special Forces of Great Britain. He also wasn’t a doormat for Bruce, when Bruce was a selfish teenager, he left. He left Bruce sort out himself but was always there to help, when Bruce was ready. The little scenes we get related to that past crystallize this Alfred as a wonderfully compelling badass. This Alfred understood the choice when Bruce was going vigilante, and even though he questioned he still supported him in the end. Some of the best scenes in this entire show came from Pertwee and I’m curious what “Pennyworth” is going to bring to the Lore of this show and the compelling character of Alfred Pennyworth.

 

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4th Place – Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska / The Jokers

“Gotham” took an approach to “The Joker” I haven’t seen before. For the character two brothers played by the same actor inhabited the role. We got Jerome Valeska’s origin in Season 1 with Jim Gordon and he was one of the main antagonists until he made his brother Jerome crazy later. Each them inhabits parts of the Joker lore. Jerome is more “New 52” (who had his face taken off and sewed back on) and is insanity who acted more on instinct and big events while his brother Jeremiah was more of the thinker. His brother Jeremiah thought big and is the one who we end up following until the end. This Joke has a a friendship with Bruce before Jerome drives him crazy and this gives depth to the craziness that comes later. As you can see I could not choose between the two and as they are both played by Cameron Monaghan. I feel that they deserve the tie. Each brings a different part of the lore to this character that is so essential to Batman’s lore. I also thought that the writer’s could have gone deeper, which is why neither of them are further up on the list. Cameron’s acting is great but at times they didn’t know what to do with this character and he rarely had season running arcs.

 

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3rd Place – Edward Nygma / The Riddler

Edward Nygma was a character I hated initially. He was all the aspects of the toxic creep and was presented as potentially redeemable for the longest time. It took him going full “Riddler” that really changed my perspective on him. It was in his role as the manipulator who wanted to make a name from it that made him compelling. “The Riddler” and Nygma contrast and them agreeing on being bad and devoting themselves to it is what made him a great villain. He had to go through Arkham to get there but when he came out it was his relationship with Penguin that added complexity, especially as his old toxic evil habits came back again. Cory Michael Smith brought so much nuance to this role and dual personalities that exist between Nygma and “The Riddler.” Even given this dichotomy though, he is always the villain and never does anything that doesn’t logically serve his own ends, but he will put his neck out for others and take risks for that core goal. We see this with Lee Thompkins and even Penguin a few brief times. His frenemy relationship with Penguin was one of my favorite things and whenever they found a working relationship, things were gold as “The Riddler” was the strategist while Penguin was willing to ruthlessly fight and kill for anything he desired. They were a dangerous duo and it was out of that relationship that “The Riddler” became one of my favorite characters.

 

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2nd Place – Doctor Hugo Strange

B.D. Wong’s version of Doctor Hugo Strange is the best version of this character I have seen thus far. The first time I appreciated Hugo Strange as a character was Gotham City as he was a manipulator pulling on the strings and winning through most of the story. He manages to trap Bruce Wayne in Arkham City in the game, which is a huge feat in and of itself. It was making him a minion in that story, which was the problem. Here is is often times serving people, but he always has a larger agenda at play or at least some level of survival to be himself beyond another’s aims. Throughout the entire series Strange was always one step ahead of foes and I can’t think of a time where he truly lost. Whomever was around would never kill him because he was far to useful and he’d use that to eventually outdo them or escape. This is the character who out of the 5 here has the least connection to Bruce Wayne, which makes me curious about what his relationship will be later to Batman, later in the lore post “Gotham.” “Regardless, “Gotham” is worth watching if only for the Doctor Hugo Strange episodes and B.D. Wong’s masterful performance. He brings in the insane mad scientist who has a familial bond with his creations and resurrections, as well as a ruthlessness of someone who in the end is doing everything to some greater unknown end.

 

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1st Place – Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin

Robin Lord Taylor truly created the best version of “The Penguin” I have seen in any of the DC Lore. This is a Penguin who has been Mayor, been through Arkham, Blackgate and risen and fallen multiple times. Even with the rise and fall of this character, with those rises and falls over seasons came to define the best of “Gotham” for me. In this show we get to learn about Penguin’s father born of money who he ended up re-establishing a relationship with, only for his step-family to kill his father and further drive him to madness. This combined with betrayals throughout his many rises lead to Penguin becoming paranoid. This paranoia became one his defining traits along with his selfish petulant nature. How did this end up being appealing? Because those aspects of the character are always there but oftentimes he would choose courage or take a risk with an enemy and make them an ally. He does this with Ed after Ed tries to kill him and easily found compromises with the Mob and gangs when he wasn’t taking them over. For how obvious Cobblepot’s flaws are he knew how to use them. This is why he is my favorite character. Along with him being smart enough to know his foes, Robin Lord Taylor granted this character limited moments of empathy and sorrow that gave depth to the character that I have not seen in any show or movie for Penguin, nor read in any comic. This is why he is 1st Place on my Top 5 Character of “Gotham.”

For any fan of DC Comics this is a show worth checking out. I’d put it far above “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin.” There are better properties like Burton and Nolan, but this is an example of good adaptation. This series is better than “The New 52” animated Batman films that I reviewed years ago aren’t nearly as good at making their heroes as compelling or deep and their rogues are forgettable. This series is in no way perfect. Characters are brought back to life, plot lines are abandoned and sometimes there are arcs that only exist for the sake of love triangle dramas. Some of these choices worked and some didn’t, but at the end of the day I stuck around for the characters. These are the five characters who made the show worth watching in the end, and the reason I’d recommend this show to any Batman fan.

The 4th Doctor – Season 17, Episode 1 – “Destiny of the Daleks” – The Limits of Logic

     “Destiny of the Daleks” is the second appearance of the Dalek’s during the 4th Doctor’s run. The first was one of my favorite episodes, “Genesis of the Daleks” that explores their origin and introduces Davros for the first time. “Destiny of the Daleks” is okay. I’ll explore why deeper into the review, but to summarize this is a story that has villains that have poor design, are never really explored and we never get to know the heroes and those assisting them. There were multiple chances to explore characters and civilizations and this episode only stuck to telling the story without going any deeper.

The episode was directed by Ken Grieve and written by Terry Nation (who as written a ton of “Doctor Who” episodes).

The story involves the Doctor and Romana materializing on a mysterious planet. From things unfold as they find themselves separated from the TARDIS. The Doctor realizes they are on Skaro as the Dalek’s are searching for Davros to help them in their stalemate with the Movellans.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Daleks – The Daleks are great. They are certainly limited by technology of when it was filmed (they can’t fly making an easy escape for our heroes at one point when they go up a ledge), but they are enjoyable in how ham the exist as a species. The design of the Daleks is distinct and their irrational hatred for anything not a Dalek (apparently with the exception of Davros) makes them hilarious in their own ways. This episode is a great example of how stupid the Dalek philosophy is. They care so much about winning and extermination they can’t even catch when a rebellion is occurring and when they are being outsmarted. On top of this they can’t go up stairs or ledges (which the Doctor uses to escape at one point) and they can only see out of their eye socket, which sticks out from the shell. The Doctor easily defeats one by putting his hat on the eye stalk leading to the Dalek panicking and being easily defeated. Surprisingly enough they do manage to be threatening early on and they are such a fun species that they were definitely a pro in this story.

Romana – This episodes doesn’t explore Romana as a character but she is always active during the episode. Most of the time she is helping the Doctor or helping to revert a genocide of some kind (The Movellans or Daleks) and it was obvious why she traveled with the Doctor. She is a character who sees the value of life and relationships and protects those around her. Her siblingesque relationship with the Doctor is great too. He is clearly the older brother as he’s been around longer but she listens and as a team they figure everything out. They are both Time Lords and there is a lot of history to get to this relationship but it is great to see in this episode.

Davros – Davros is the genocidal creator of the Daleks who the Daleks both hate and need, depending on where they are in time and space. Here their whole goal is to bring him back so they can find the Movellans. Davos is an arrogant sociopath who works because he is the mad scientist trope. Here we see that on full display as he knows his creations will rescue him no matter what the Doctor and Romana do. He is eventually defeated when they don’t see how the conflict with the Movellans could lead to a human rebellion and because of it Skaro is returned back to the status quo of inactive. Why I enjoy his character and what makes him work in this is both the Doctor and Davros are arrogant mad geniuses, but Davros is the one who has no empathy and the Doctor calls him out quite a few times in their time together. Knowing that it was this Doctor who first met Davros enriches it even more as here is where they now continue their relationship as enemies post “Genesis of the Daleks” in regards to the television stories.

The Doctor – Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor is once again shown to be one of my favorites again in this one. In this he is largely outsmarting and neutralizing foes, but he still gets a lot of good banter in with Davros, and given their history together I love how the Doctor finds humor in how unchanged the monster Davros is. It is part of what makes this episode fun. The Doctor and Davros are both intelligent, but the Doctor can think chaotically where Davros can’t and that is how the Doctor defeats both the Daleks and the Movellans as they are both logic based species trapped and consumed by it. He does the unpredictable and because of it, humanity, Romana and the Doctor win.

Okay:

The Story – The story is pretty basic. You have two logic based species trapped in a stalemate trying to use those who are more intelligent to end the stalemate. The Movellans want to use the Doctor and destroy the planet and the Daleks want to use Davros to end the stalemate. This isn’t used in any intriguing ways. We don’t really get to know any character more and the factions aren’t even explored that deeply. It isn’t awful but there is so much potential in an enemy who can fight the Daleks to a stalemate.

The Cons:

The Movellans – As said above, this episode doesn’t explore the Movellans at all. We learn they are androids but that is it. Who created them? When did they start fighting the Daleks? What are their aims beyond the Daleks? None of these questions are answered and on top of it the costumes suck. They are wearing white costumes with white bead wigs. This is an episode that basic effort was put into and it shows. There was no this was going to make great as even great actors like Tom Baker can only work with what they are given. The Movellans are such an underwritten and poorly designed species that nothing about them works. The Daleks deserved better foes. They have history behind them as to why the Doctor fears them. By the end of the episode we have no reason to truly fear the Movellans.

I would only recommend this episode to the die hard 4th Doctor Tom Baker fans. This is an average fun episode of “Classic Who” but nothing elevates it to more than that. The Movellans are just awful villains and even the Doctor and Romana aren’t given a chance to be expanded more as characters. Nothing that happens in this episode changes them and the characters that surround them, outside of the Daleks, remain unexplored. This was the return of the Davros and the Daleks and in opposition to the the Doctor they really deserved a better story and a better foe to put them in a stalemate.

Final Score:  7 / 10. In the end on okay episode that could have been so much more.

 

 

The 4th Doctor – Season 12, Episode 5 – “Revenge of the Cybermen” – Vogans and the Cybermen

       It has been a while since I’ve reviewed an episode of “Doctor Who.” I have two bigger “Doctor Who” posts coming up with a reflection on the Capaldi Era and my thoughts of Series 11, with Jodie Whitaker as the 13th Doctor. I hope to review her episodes individually at some point too once I get back into the swing of things with my “Doctor Who” reviews. Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor is one of my 4 favorite Doctors. The others being Capaldi’s 12, Tennant’s 10 and Pertwee’s 3. Each of them captures the alien nature of the Time Lord while still having that genuine love of adventure, fun and humanity. They are the balance and this episode is a good example of that for the 4th Doctor.

The story was written by Gerry Davis and Robert Holmes and directed by Michael E. Briant.

The story follows the Doctor as he and his companions Sarah Jane Smith and Michael Sullivan find themselves on Space Station Nerva, separated from the TARDIS, which will eventually catch up to them in time. They find the station full of dead bodies and under quarantine from a myseterious plague. From here they unfold the mystery as factions on and off the station seek to commit genocide upon their enemies.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Plague Mystery – The plague mystery is great as it automatically creates stakes in the episode. Our introduction to their arrival on the Nerva Station is the Doctor and his companions finding the dead and this adds to the feeling of uneasiness that pervades the episode. You can understand why the humans are distrustful of the Doctor and his companions and as the mystery of the plague being Cybermen killing people is revealed as they wish to take control of the Station in order to take on their enemies, the Vogans who live on a planet of gold, a mineral that is one of their greatest weaknesses.

The Vogans – The Vogans are an interesting people. You can see that they’ve cut themselves off from the wider galaxy and because of it you have people who are willing to go to any ends to protect that secrecy. This isolation and radicalization is the arc that they deal with as the Cybermen’s arrival on their planet and near extermination is only stopped by outsiders (the humans on the Station and the Doctor and his companions) and as their arc ends we see them open to changing from the people they were before. I like their design as they look like regal Dwarves as most are bearded and they have strong ridges on their foreheads. This fit their look as an underground people living in secret and they didn’t feel like the make-up department was barely trying. Effort was put into creating this race and I like what we learned about them in the process.

The Cybermen – This is the first time the Cybermen were back as main villains since “The Invasion” where the 2nd Doctor faced them in 1968. Knowing that history and how iconic they’ve become as one of the Doctor’s main villain their reappearance alone was really cool. In this they don’t upgrade others, just exterminate them. We see this as it is them who are killing the people on the Station with their Cybermats (a metallic snake like creature that bites people, killing them). Their whole deal is self defense in their minds as getting rid of the Vogans and their planet of gold will make them the prominent force in the region.  They are winning through most of the episode and their invasion of Vogan goes as plan until the Doctor and the human survivors begin using the gold against the Cybermen as well as the Doctor destroying the Cyber-Leader on the Station and keeping it from slamming into Voga.

Sarah Jane Smith -Sarah Jane Smith is one of my favorite classic companions. Here she gets captured a few times but she always manages to get free (usually always on her own) and is easily one of the Doctor’s most proactive companions who isn’t a Time Lord. In this we get glimpses of just how much the Doctor and Sarah care about one another too as at one point they are trapped together and not only have to free themselves but stop the Cybermen and the Vogan rocket that is going for the Station. Besides the Doctor and the human survivors from the Station who work with the Doctor she is the closest thing this episode has to a main protagonist.

The Doctor – Tom Baker once again shows why he is one of my favorite Doctors. Here we see him figure out that the plague is Cybermen at play and with the help of Sarah Jane Smith, saves the Vogans and stops the Cybermen. He is his usual aloof self taking control of situations and his times of vulnerability really show too. When he is captured he can think his way out but he still depends on others. In this we see his humanity and that he isn’t some super hero always one step ahead. I love Tom Baker and this is a good episode to showcase why he is so memorable as the Doctor, especially since he is facing such a classic foe in the Cybermen.

Okay:

Harry Sullivan – The reason I’m putting him as okay is nothing he did really stood out this episode. I know he helped the Doctor and humans but I’d have a hard time describing any one thing he did. Sarah Jane Smith was the one who was far active this episode. Harry is also a companion I’m pretty nuetral towards. I never hated him as a companion but I was never really that much of a fan either. This episode is a good example of why. He’ll always do the right thing but he rarely questions the things around him and most of what I remember him doing in other episodes is being the muscle. I could also be selling him short but he didn’t stand out to me at all this episode and wasn’t needed in the story.

The Humans on the Station – There is the evil human who tries to kill the Doctor, who is also a professor working for a faction of Vogans who want to lure the Cybermen to the station to destroy them with the rocket and is doing it all for gold. He does change sides but only due to survival. There is the commander who stays good the entire time and is the one who redirects the Vogan missile to destroy the Cyber-Ship rather than the Station and there is one other survivor killed earlier on by the professor. The two of them are not bad characters but they don’t really grow fully beyond the stock characters they are written as.

The Ending – The ending is alright. The Doctor and Sarah save the day and stop the Station from crashing into Voga. The Voga elder stops the militant Voga from destroying the Station with the missle and the human survivors and Voga have now made contact before the Doctor and his companions make their exit on the TARDIS which has finally caught up to them in time (last episode they traveled using a Time Ring so the TARDIS had to catch up to where they had traveled to, which in this case is Space Station Nerva).

This is an episode I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of Classic “Doctor Who” and those who can look past budget and love a good story. There are flaws, the Vogans should have been using gold to fight the Cybermen and them overlooking this is never explained, I guess they didn’t know Cybermen were vulnerable to gold? I loved watching classic Cybermen in action and the Doctor and his companions solving the mystery of what was going on gave the story a nice hook before we got into the action of the war between the Vogans and Cybermen that the humans were caught in the middle of.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10. Nearly great. Harry Sullivan needed more to do and I would have liked the humans on the Station to be explored better in their motivations.

“Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 – An Exploration of Identity and the Cost of War

      “Star Trek: Discovery” is enjoyable, but not without its flaws. It is a very different kind of Trek and feels like a mixture of the Abrams Reboot Universe meets DS9. DS9 is the far better show but this show explores a lot of similar themes, such as the cost of war and issues of identity. These are the core reasons why I enjoyed the show, beyond the characters of the main cast.

The show was created by Bryan Fuller (of NBC “Hannibal) fame) and Alex Kurtzman (who co-wrote the first to Abrams Trek films.

The story follows Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) a human raised by Vulcans and a member of Starfleet responsible for starting the Klingon-Federation War, while a new Religious faction lead by T’Kuvma seeks to unite all the houses against the Federation. It is up to her and the crew of the Discovery lead by Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) to find a solution to end the conflict she started.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I am a Trekkie, and this is a universe that at the core enriches what already exists in a Universe that spans The Original Series (TOS) to Voyager (VOY), from other universes like the Mirror Universe and Abramsverse. It is filled with countless aliens, conflicts and self-discovery. Star Trek: Discovery takes place 10 years before TOS and explores the details of the Klingon-Federation war. Characters are forced to take risks and pushed to their limits.

The Crew of Discovery – The crew is a diverse band of misfits. You have the Chief Engineer Stamets (played by Anthony Rapp) is gay, the ruthless Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) the fearful First Officer Saru (Doug Jones) and Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is autistic. To say nothing of a human raised on Vulcan, the main hero Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the conflicted Klingon sleeper-agent Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). Their journeys drive the show and make it worth watching.

Cadet Tilly – As someone on the autism spectrum (aspergers) it was wonderful finally seeing a character explicitly like me on “Star Trek.” Tilly is a character whose arc involves growing into confidence and taking risks, as so much of what drives her is the safety of her environment. Which for the longest time, was what I needed. Getting out of one’s comfort zone is how a person grows and Tilly faces that challenge multiple times…from going undercover as her Mirror Universe counterpart (who is an evil Captain) to dangerous away missions. I think someday she will achieve her dream of becoming a Starfleet Captain.

Chief Engineer Stamets – Stamets is the first openly gay character in any Star Trek. He is also the core of the ship, when in the end, he is the only one who can work The Spore Drive…a device that can warp the Discovery through space, time and even between dimensions. His heart is torn out when his boyfriend is killed, but he finds balance and closure in one of the most beautifully executed arcs of the show.  He is my favorite “Star Trek” engineer at this point besides O’Brien and Scotty.

First Officer Saru – Another of my favorites out of “Star Trek” lore at this point is Saru. This character is a Kelpien. He is part of a prey species on his world, and was hunted by the larger beings. How they advanced so far has yet to explained but his arc is finding the strength to be Captain. Doug Jones who I loved as the creature in “The Shape of Water,” once again shows why he is the monster master. He gives so much expression with his inflection, and eyes. Saru is my favorite character on the show and the one person who isn’t morally compromised. He is Starfleet and I hope he can Captain the Discovery next season.

The Spore Drive -The discovery in Discovery is all tied to the Spore Drive. The Drive is infinite possibilities as the ways of riding the Spore Network are discovered. It also provides conflict too as to use the Drive, it has to be controlled by a living organism (who is at risk everytime they make a “jump.” The discoveries are what drive the action and they are all tied to the Spore Drive. Whether it is Stamets in the network talking to other versions of himself, jumping to the mirror Universe or jumping to many locations in an instant…these are only some of the countless possibilities created by this device.

The Mirror Universe – At one point we cross over into the Mirror Universe…a world familiar to Trekkies where our heroes are villains. This is a 4 episode arc with tons of twists and reveals. We discover darker sides of characters we didn’t know before (as they have to pretend to be their evil counterparts so the Terran Empire doesn’t discover them), and get some wrenching emotional payoffs. This arc is later in the show, but has easily some of the best storytelling.

War and Loss – The other theme of the show, beyond discovery that the Spore Drive grants is the cost of war. We see this in the Klingon-Federation War, and how it starts, when Burnham’s anger martyr’s the Klingon leader T’Kuvma, after he had murdered her Captain. We lose a lot of people in the war, from Voq (An undercover Klingon sleeper-agent on Discovery) killing Stamets’s boyfriend, to the destruction of the Klingon Death Ship (the flagship of their fleet), to near obliteration of Qo’noS (The Klingon homeworld). The war makes the Federation ruthless and we see just how destructive the Klingon Empire can be.

Exploration of Identity – Identity is a major theme of the story, with the characters who best represent this being Michael Burnham (a human raised by Vulcans) and Ash Tyler (a Klingon pretending to be human). In both cases it involves finding balance within themselves and letting go of anger. These two identities are the main arc of the show beyond characters dealing with the actions of their Mirror Universe counterparts. This exploration starts in the beginning at the Pilot and never stops until the end of the season as it is in the Finale that Burnham and Tyler find the inner peace they are looking for.

Okay:

The Pilot – The pilot is long and boring. Though it is beautiful and has great action it could have been one really long episode or revealed and flashbacks, which would have served the story better. All it really does is set up Michael Burnham’s backstory and the reason why she is now on Discovery. Beyond that, we knew this show was about the Klingon-Federation War and didn’t need every detail as to why the Federation was now fighting it, especially the war’s resolution is not played out within the first few episodes.

Ash Tyler – Voq is Ash Tyler’s true self. He is  the Torchbearer of the Klingons and he imprints Ash’s identity upon himself as to get the secrets on Discovery I liked the romance with Burnham, but I felt their needed to be more knowledge on both whom Tyler and Voq were. They are useful plot devices, but they never grow beyond that. They both deserved better given each is compelling in their own way but in them being 2 separate identities the exploration they both needed is never received.

Fanservice – Captain Lorca has a tribble (no payoff), we see Andorians, Tellerites and Vulcans (founding members of the Federation), Burnham’s adopted dad is Sarek and in the end we see the original Enteprise with Captain Pike. Some of this was good, the other species showing up was something I wanted when I heard about this show, but ending it with Pike was total fanservice and was like the Khan reveal in “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” It was not needed and only hurt the story.

The Cons:

The Klingon Scenes – Klingons only speak Klingon and in turn we get no time to know the characters, because we are reading the subtitles. Because of this, we are told how the Klingons are but we rarely get to see their actions beyond the fights with Discovery.

The Ending of Captain Lorca’s Arc – Lorca is the “ends justify the means” Captain. We learn how he killed his crew to keep them from being taken prisoner. We see that ruthlessness again when he saves Federation colonies and how he will do anything to save the Federation. Well, he’s a Mirror Universe rebel who just wants to be Emperor. That was such an awful payoff as they just made him a creeper villain. All complexity was erased so that his arc could be simplified. I hated it.

In future seasons I would like to see much less fanservice, more focus on discovery, more problem solving that isn’t through violence and some of the characters who left at the end of this season returning. The core of this show is great and even with all the flaws that brought it down, this a show that I will rewatch when it returns to Netflix. If you are a fan of “Star Trek,” chances are you will enjoy this show as much as I did. At the end of the day it captures the core ideas of “Star Trek,” and even the worst of the cons didn’t take way from my enjoyment of this season.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great even with all of the flaws.