Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Babylon 5
1x12 By Any Means Necessary

Doctor Who [classic]
22x13 Revelation of the Daleks Part Two [2nd watch; season finale]
See here for my thoughts on this story.

Gilmore Girls
4x15 Scene in a Mall


Leon: Version Integrale (1994)
[#42 in 100 Films in a Year 2008]
While I have seen the theatrical cut of Leon twice before, this is the first time I've seen this notably-longer extended cut.


Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Haunted Wagon Train by Colin Brake
See here for my thoughts on this book.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
Graphic Novel, Section 4 (pages 158-175)
Graphic Novel, Section 5 (3D) (pages 176-192) [the end]
See here for my thoughts on the final sections of Black Dossier.

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks

In the '80s, Doctor Who was in trouble. The massive popularity of Tom Baker's era gave way to a well-liked Doctor (played, of course, by Peter Davison), but also to a damaging new weeknight schedule and an obsession with referencing the past that soon led to a show only fans could understand. When Davison was replaced with Colin Baker, things got worse still. The new Doctor was initially violent and garish, a total contrast to the previous meek incarnation. In spite of the dad-friendly sight of Peri's cleavage, viewing figures plummeted (I should rewrite that with a different gag...) For its 22nd season, the show was reshaped from twenty-six 25-minute episodes to thirteen 45-minute ones -- surely that could never work?! Obviously, it does if you handle it correctly, but 1985 was not the right time for Doctor Who, and it was put on an 18-month suspension... You can catch the next part of this story when I come to review my next serial, but for now let's stick with this one -- Revelation of the Daleks, the last story broadcast before the hiatus.

Colin Baker's era is generally looked down upon (not without reason), but Revelation is a brilliant story for all sorts of reasons. The subject matter is wonderfully grim. Consequently the story is packed with violence and gore, all of it effectively achieved, especially considering the programme's budget. This is underscored by a set of great guest performances, both from recognisable faces like Eleanor Bron and Clive Swift, and lesser-known (to me, at least) actors such as William Gaunt. Even Alexei Sayle's DJ character, while incredibly irritating, provides a change of pace and style that is almost entertaining -- plus, whoever thought you'd get to see a Dalek killed by rock 'n' roll! Speaking of pace and style, both hold up incredibly well 23 years on -- with a few modifications, this might even fit quite comfortably into the new series. Graeme Harper's direction especially is as accomplished as ever, some of the best you're likely to see in classic Who -- or, I'd wager, in much drama from the same period.

There are flaws, of course. The Doctor and Peri take too long to actually get involved, meandering across Necros for the whole of Part One, while inside there's some actual plot going on. In the same vein the Daleks and Davros do next to nothing for the whole of the first episode -- their return is so underplayed, and then they're so underused, that one has to wonder if the story would be even better with an original enemy. Part Two does something to address these faults, but simultaneously discards much of what was going on in the first episode. Perhaps it goes without saying that the story might've been stronger if it could have mixed the two halves together, especially as the first half has quite a slow pace while the second rattles through events in a rush to get everything done.

The DVD of Revelation has the option for both new CGI effects and 5.1 Surround Sound. I'm a purist only as far as the original at least being an option, so I merrily turned both of these on for my viewing. The surround mix is great, making good use of the rear speakers for both effects and music (one of the things that most often annoys me about surround mixes is when they don't put the music across all the speakers. Why not?! It's not occurring either on screen or in the off-screen space (to get mildly technical!), so it should come from everywhere, not specifically the front!) Mark Ayres, the Restoration Team's audio expert, seems quite happy to add new effects, recreate dialogue, etc, for these surround mixes, so that they work as well as possible. As I said, this is fine as far as I'm concerned, as the originals are always included and are the default setting, but semi-purists may have different feelings. (For more information on the work Ayres did here, check out the Restoration Team's article.)

The new CGI effects, meanwhile, are so well integrated that most, if not all, would go unnoticed to an unaware first time viewer. I didn't compare them to the originals, which may of course be flatly bad -- I sometimes find classic Who's video effects, such as laser beams, are even worse than I remember -- but these new versions don't jump out as totally incongruous. In this respect I suppose the story benefits from not having any big model sequences, or dodgy aliens that could do with replacing, so doesn't have entirely CG-model sequences that would stand out like a sore thumb. It lessens the importance of any debate over whether to turn the new effects on, whereas on other, more heavily CGI'd stories I'm still not sure which version I'd plump for (especially for a first viewing).

Before he was unceremoniously booted off the show, C. Baker only managed to make eight stories -- less even than Chris Eccleston! (Though, this is because I count The Trial of a Time Lord as one story; if you listen to those who count it as more, Baker managed twelve tales.) Whilst I haven't seen them all (in fact, I've thus far missed out on the two widely considered to be among the programme's worst ever), I think it's safe to say Revelation is among his best. That might not be saying much, so I'll add that there are probably a sizable number of the stories from all the other Doctors I would rank lower than it too. Maybe, just maybe, I might even place it somewhere in my personal favourites... but then, as I've only seen 42% of classic Who, I'm always wary of making such sweeping statements.

"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier" by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill - Running Commentary, Part 6

And so I reach the end of Black Dossier, the latest entry in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. With the Dossier itself finished last time, it's full steam ahead to the plot's conclusion.

The remaining 35 pages of the novel can be split into two sections of roughly equal length (one's 18 pages, the other 17). The first is more chase, as Allan and Mina crash land in Scotland and head to meet... the Golliwogg! Considering the general shortage of ethnic minority characters in the League -- and that most of those who do turn up are villains -- this could be seen as quite a brave choice, given its consistent controversy, but then Moore's hardly one to shy away from such things. Besides, he's a good guy, saving Mina and Allan from their dastardly pursuers, so it's all good. Moore's witty re-appropriation of existing creations is also evident here, though attentive readers will have noticed signs of it earlier. For example, the XL spaceship series, in which each model is named after how the previous one was destroyed; so when Mina and Allen jet off in the Pancake XL4, some readers will surely know how things will end (and, of course, they do). Or The Third Man's Harry Lime, who was previously (and is again) known as Robert Cherry -- "poisonous fruit", as Mina puts it.

The eventual escape of Mina, Allan and the Golliwogg is a great couple of pages: rather than a big battle, Mina simply explains what's been going on to Drummond -- including several revelations for readers, too, with a clever use of Dr No -- which turns the 'new League' in on itself, while the good guys head off for their finale. There's a couple of nice splash panels in this section. I'm often wary of splash pages/panels in League books, as O'Neill's style doesn't always lend itself to them. Sometimes they work nonetheless though, and these occasions manage that. As 'Jimmy' and Emma Night walk out of the book, one can but hope they'll return. Moore clearly has a very low opinion of Bond, having him do all sorts of despicable things and delighting in just about everyone taking a swing at him throughout Black Dossier. He leaves Em with the notion that Mina or Allan killed her godfather, so let's hope that's reason enough for them to track down our heroes in a future volume.

Finally free of their pursuers, the final section sees our heroes fly into the Blazing World, which is where the 3D glasses finally come into play (as hinted at earlier). There's little that one can say about this final section because it really has to be seen. It's utter madness, with literally dozens of things going on over ever page -- no wonder the work on it delayed the book by months! And, thankfully, it works brilliantly. There may be very little plot in this section -- essentially, Mina and Allan arrive (after a long absence, fans will note) and are reunited with old friends-- but the point is more the spectacle, and on this level it's undoubtedly a success. There are even points which use the two-tone style cunningly -- close one eye and you see one thing, close the other and you see something else. It's the sort of trick that seems obvious once you see it done, but is pretty (if not wholly original). The 3D section makes for a fantastic ending to the book, and is surely one of the most visually impressive sections in any graphic medium ever. Magnificent.

The book ends with a monologue from Prospero, which, in Shakespearean language, expounds on the purpose of the League's universe, the joys of fiction, and its vital importance to us all -- "the fantasies thou've fashioned fashion thee." In itself, it's a great speech, and a perfect way to end a book that concentrates its efforts on merging so many disparate creations from so much of human history into one universe and narrative.

"Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Haunted Wagon Train" by Colin Brake

The consistently disappointing Colin Brake is back for his third crack at a Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny book, this one being the final volume in the second batch of books and the eighth in the series as a whole. On the bright side, The Haunted Wagon Train is a welcome second trip to the past for the range. "Pioneers travelling across the American Midwest report ghost sightings, but you, the Doctor and Martha believe it's extraterrestrial activity. Can you track down the aliens before it's too late?" Ooh, spooky.

Right from the off Brake's old problems are evident, as your very first choice is between two problems the TARDIS could be reporting -- because all such faults are the decision of pre-teen boys the Doctor's randomly picked up! (Well, now, that sounds bad...) I almost gave up on the book right then. But, determined reader that I am (plus the fact that I bloody paid for this... and they don't take too long to get through), I ploughed on. Delving further, you'll find that, once again, many choices lead to new sections that both end with the same choice once again, making a number of your decisions mostly irrelevant. It would be less bad if the paths were similar but not identical, as your decisions could always have future repercussions -- for example, if you choose to meet a Western scout early on, he asks you the name of the current President. Whether you get it wrong or right, you'll go onto the same section after, so it's a pointless choice, but it really shouldn't be -- if you get it wrong he really should turn against you! Or at least be able to 'remember' it for later. But the limited scope of the book doesn't allow this, of course.

Despite these weakness, I pushed through to the book's end, one of a whopping eleven possibilities. Such variety in that respect is good at least, though as I haven't read them all there may be several almost identical ones for all I know. The plot itself -- about ghosts haunting a wagon train (as you may have guessed from the title), which, of course, turn out to be aliens -- is OK, though not exceptional. Most of the solutions seem to be of the "help the alien find a new home" variety. Compared to the range's only other historical, The Crystal Snare, the amount of detail -- or "educational worth", if you will -- is negligible, and the setting isn't exceptionally well evoked.

Another weak effort from Mr Brake, then. Luckily there's only one more book to go from him... and it's up next...