Review – Doctor Who, “The Caretaker”

 

This week, the Doctor goes undercover at Clara’s school in order to stop a threat to Earth (of course!).  In other news, Danny finds out about Clara’s secret life.  Both plots go equally as well.

The Doctor shows up masquerading as the Coal Hill School’s new caretaker.  He’s really there to track down and trap a robotic menace to human society.

For Clara, though, it’s a nightmare as she tries to figure out what the Doctor is up to, stop the alien threat, and keep Danny (Samuel Anderson) away from the Doctor.  When Danny becomes unwittingly involved, though, all her worlds collide.

Danny and the Doctor don’t like each other at all.  The Doctor’s bias against soldiers and Danny’s bias against officers get in the way.  They end up working together to stop the dreaded Skovox Blitzer, though.  Danny distracts it while the Doctor manages to shut it down.

Danny accepts that Clara has a life in the TARDIS, but he’s very worried about the whole thing.  They agree that she cannot keep secrets about that part of her life any more.

And Missy shows up again, as her assistant of some kind welcomes to the afterlife a man that the Skovox Blitzer killed.

 

What Hit the Target

Peter Capaldi shines at this type of comedy.  Unlike the forced attempt at humor in “Robot of Sherwood“, this story was actually funny, and the Doctor made me laugh without making me wince.

Danny’s reaction to finding out about Clara and the Doctor and the TARDIS was unique and interesting.  I liked the fact that he didn’t approve, that he didn’t embrace the Doctor, and that he was most concerned about Clara.  It says volumes about the character and his ability to stand up to the Doctor even though the latter was being very much a disapproving dad.  Loved his bit of psychoanalysis of the Doctor as an officer as opposed to a soldier.  True.

Courtney Woods (Ellis George), of course, has been seen before (in “Deep Breath“), which was a nice bit of continuity.  She was a great counterpoint to the Doctor’s companions, and I’d be happy to see her show up again in some capacity.

Missy!  It looks like she has some minions working or her in the Promised Land.  Intriguing!

Both a Matt Smith and a River  Song reference!  Loved those bits, brief as they were.

 

What Missed the Mark

The Skovox Blitzer was a throw-away villain who had tiny amounts of screen-time and even less explanation.  Let’s face it, this was only ever about bringing Danny Pink and the Doctor together.  We knew it, they knew it, but I guess we all had to pretend there was some kind of thin plot going on.

For all the Doctor’s insistence that he’s ‘not Clara’s boyfriend’, he seems oddly pleased by the idea that Clara would fall for someone who resembled the 11th Doctor.  While I found this to be interesting on a psychological level, it goes against what the series has been insisting ever since “Deep Breath”.

 

The Final Score

 

I found this to be another solid episode.  It brought out the best in Capaldi’s comic timing and his ability to balance being hilarious with being serious.  Danny finally gets a bit more to do, and I liked his reaction to all the alien shenanigans.  There’s an interesting Dad/daughter’s boyfriend relationship going on here, which is fairly new for Doctor Who.  Episodes where the Doctor is forced to spend time in the Companion’s world are always among the most fun and revealing, and this is no exception!

 

And the Quote of the Week:

“You cannot do this.  You cannot pass yourself off as a real person among actual people!”

“I lived among otters once for a month.  Well, I sulked.  River and I, we had this big fight-“

“Human beings are not otters!”

“Exactly, it’ll be even easier.”

 

 

Review – Agents of SHIELD, “Shadows”

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Sorry for the short delay on this week’s Agents of SHIELD review.  It doesn’t reflect my feelings about this solid start to the new season!

As we catch up with our intrepid team, time has passed while Coulson and Co. have been trying to both (a) take down the rest of HYDRA, (b) save humanity from threats, and (c) not get arrested.

They have some new allies in the form of Agent Hartley (Lucy Lawless) and her crew, who are currently helping track down an old (as in Peggy Carter originally secured it for the SSR) 0-8-4.  However, a new enemy is also looking for the item.  Enter Creel, the Absorbing Man, who can make his body essentially turn into whatever substance he touches.  He proves hard to kill.  So hard, in fact, that Coulson turns to asking the captive, slightly-loony Ward for assistance in snaking him out.

With SHIELD’s help, General Talbot captures Creel and takes him to the same military facility where the 0-8-4 is being kept.  May, Hartley, and their various people sneak into the base to find the 0-8-4, prevent Creel from getting it, and also steal back some SHIELD vehicles.  They escape with a cloaked Quinjet, but Hartley becomes infected somehow by the o-8-4.  Creel crashes the vehicle she’s riding in, seemingly killing her and making off with the object.

Meanwhile, Fitz is back at work but clearly not himself.  Functioning at much less than capacity, he’s also distracted by a vivid hallucination of Simmons, who left the team because she thought it would be best for Fitz.  It wasn’t.

Oh, and just in case you thought you were keeping up, there’s also a WWII-era German HYDRA baddie who’s still young and alive.  He sent Creel after the 0-8-4 and its ‘secrets about death’.

 

What Hit the Target

There were genuine surprises all over this episode.  Hartley, Simmons, Ward, Fitz, the time jump forward.  It was exciting and I really found that I wanted to keep tuned in to see how it would all turn out.  Certainly, the reveal about Simmons and Hartley’s ‘death’ both vied for the most surprising surprise of all!  (I do hope we haven’t seen the last of Hartley.)

Creel might be a great new villain.  The effects turned out pretty well, and the actor has a great physicality and menace about him.  He’s a formidable enemy, and I hope to see a lot more of him.

I loved the new characters/actors!  Tripplett is back, adding his little bit of fun to the group.  Hartley and Hunter both brought a casual vitality to the episode, which is something the show has suffered a terrible lack of so far.

It was great to see Peggy Carter and at least some of the Howling Commandos!  I’d like to see some more of them as we progress through the first half of the season, tying into her new series.

What Missed the Mark

Reed Diamond and his fake accent didn’t really float my boat as a new villain.  As much as I like the idea introduced of the man who’s somehow avoided aging and death, I wasn’t impressed so far by Diamond’s portrayal of Whitehall.  Perhaps he’ll improve when given more to do.

Talbot’s mustache and hair have got to go.  Adrian Pasdar does a good job as the character, but he looks a bit too much like a stereotypical comic book villain to be able to take him very seriously.

The Final Score

A rousing good episode to start off the new season!  The jump forward and new characters gave things a real lived-in feel, and allowed the episode to hit the ground running.  There wasn’t too much exposition, but the audience was given just enough information to keep everything intriguing.  I loved all the new characters, who added freshness and fun to the story.  Despite our fears, it does seem like the series is at least mostly keeping its momentum going.  I hope it stays!

Today in Geek History: ‘Lost’ Begins, September 22, 2004

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Ten years ago today, a plane fell out of the sky.  A polar bear was shot on a deserted tropical island.  A smoke monster began terrorizing an attractive cross-section of humanity.

This will be the first edition of a new series I like to call, “Today in Geek History”.  In this series, we’ll take a trip down memory lane to revisit some of the milestones (for better for worse) in our shared geeky history.  My first subject?  The premiere of Lost on September 22, 2004.

Whatever your feelings about how Lost unfolded or ended, it still had one of the best pilots ever aired on television.  Let’s look briefly at my favorite 7 reasons to love the Lost pilot.

1.  The score by Michael Giacchino. Giacchino can now be heard all over the big and small screens.  He most recently worked on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and will be featured in at least four big movies next year.  But Lost was the first thing I really noticed his touch on. He was on the rise, shifting from video game music to television (earning him an Emmy) and movies (for which he’d win an Oscar for his work on Up).  The understated but dramatic tones used in Lost are creepy, tragic, soaring, and melodious all at the same time.

2.  Character work balanced by action.  Unlike many series, Lost had an hour and a half to introduce its universe.  This means that it had the luxury of stopping the plot to focus on characterization of its many, many main characters.  Jin and Sun, speaking only Korean, required a delicate touch to introduce to the audience.  Jack and Kate share several quiet scenes building their budding relationship.  The flashbacks repeatedly tell the story of the same moment in time, but each time adding layers by showing a different perspective.  However, none of that means that the story ever felt slow.  By starting the episode in the aftermath of the crash, moving characters around the island, and immediately introducing the menacing Monster on the island, JJ Abrams and Co. keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.  

3.  The gorgeous location.   Hawaii would play a huge role in Lost over the years.  From its first moments on the gorgeous, horrendously marred beach, to the deep rain forest, to sweeping vistas of volcanic valleys, the island made its presence known.  Even before we thought of the island as another character on the show, you couldn’t help but be captivated by its realness and beauty.

4.  A theatrical quality. Okay, so this might be a bit unfair to other pilots, since producers had a huge (for television) budget of over $20 million to film the firsts 90 minutes of their show.  But it showed.  The wreckage carefully strewn across the beach was so visceral and the setting so real.  Sound, visuals, action and set pieces all came together to make the pilot into nearly its own movie. 

5.  Show, don’t tell.  This episode  had a huge amount of information and setting to relay in a short period of time.  The plane crash, the island setting, about 14 characters, all their mysteries and backgrounds, and the ongoing mysteries that would hopefully get the audience to come back time and again.  It needed action pieces, explanation, flashbacks, and still time to flesh out the characters.  In short, it was a big job.

But the pilot excels at using all its available tools to do so.  Take the first 8 minutes by itself.  There is very little dialogue.  Viewers are kept in the dark as much as Jack is.  A startling visual reveal introduces the plane crash.  Jack runs around through the wreckage interacting with nearly all the other characters.  We don’t need clunky dialogue or explanation to understand what’s happened here and that Jack is our lead hero.  We meet Boone, earnest but not too bright.  Hurley helps his fellow passenger out with willpower and a quip on his lips.  Maggie stands screaming in the carnage, telling us all we need to know about here.  Micheal and Jin separately search desperately for loved ones.  It’s all there, demonstrated to us rather than told.

As the episode progresses, we continue to get a feel for the characters through actions both large and small.  Kate takes charge as much as Jack does.  Sawyer talks tough but nearly cries over a mysterious letter.  Locke stares mysterious out at the ocean, enjoying life in a way that is intriguing and foreboding.  We want to know more about him even though we don’t really know why.  Jin and Sun’s relationship is clearly defined by actions more than the helpful subtitles.

For me, the ability to tell so much with so little dialogue and so little exposition is the biggest reason that Lost remains one of the finest example of its kind.

6.  Mysteries big… Polar bears, jungle monsters, and a French woman speaking for 16 years all make up some of the best, most intriguing mysteries ever set up in a first episode of anything.  I mean, it’s a polar bear, for crying out loud!  How crazy is that?  The internet exploded with speculation, rumors, theories, and spoilers.  It would continue to do so for all five years.  But even back when we were convinced that  the monster was a dinosaur or the polar bear traveled through a wormhole, you couldn’t deny that everyone had to tune in again just to figure out what the heck was going on!  “Guys, where are we?” indeed!

7. … and mysteries little.  Like the show would, the pilot offers up small puzzles too.  Locke was one of the most intriguing characters in the pilot mostly because we were given so little information about him.  He just acts mysterious, and his foreshadowing of the black and white pieces on the backgammon set turned out to be scarily prescient given what happens to him.  Also in the pilot, we are given slight answers to some small mysteries (the handcuffs, the dog, Charlie’s incident on the plane), which themselves often turn into other questions (What did Kate do?!?).  The combination of intriguing ideas both large and small served to pique the interest of any given viewer with something he or she could latch onto in the imagination. 

For its 10-year anniversary, I rewatched the pilot episode after many a year away.  It’s not quite perfect, of course.  Even from the beginning, Boone and Shannon are uber-annoying.  Kate spends too much of the episode freaking out on various levels.  There are gratuitous shots of young women in little clothing (a habit JJ Abrams hasn’t lost!).

But, by and large, so much about this pilot episode goes so right that it’s practically a unicorn. And although the super-successful series would eventually polarize fans and defy explanation in both good and bad ways, we can still sit back today and celebrate the first time we met the Losties and the first day we visited the island in all its glorious craziness.

 

 

Spoiler Review – Doctor Who, “Time Heist”

 

On the heels of last week’s controversial episode, which will probably be debated by fans for years to come, we have a more straightforward, fun – but not comedic – story.

The Doctor and Clara discover that they have been tasked – by themselves, before a memory-ectomy – with robbing the most secure bank in the galaxy.  Without knowing why they’re doing it, the pair sets about breaking in to the bank with two others: Saibra, a shape-shifter, and Psi, a man augmented to interface with computers.

The bank’s security chases after them, using its biggest asset – the “Teller”, a telepathic creature who can also destroy the minds of bank intruders.  The memory removal was done in order to avoid being caught by this creature who follows ‘thought trails’ and can sniff out any guilt.

When they finally reach the bank vault, they discover why each person on the team agreed to the heist.  Psi wants a device which can return his own deleted memories of his family.  Saibra wants a cure for her genetic mutation.  And the Doctor and Clara?  They were in it in order to rescue the Teller itself.  It seems that the creature’s mate is being held hostage to gain its cooperation.  The Doctor himself had arranged for the whole heist secretly before sending them all back into the past to carry it out.

 

What’s Best Remembered

The twists involved in the story were excellent and very Doctor-ish.  I loved that the Doctor’s motivation was to rescue the ‘monster’ and save a species from going extinct.  It’s a great reminder that even though this Doctor is gruff and grumpy and different – and that the series has a different tone this season – it’s still the Doctor at heart.

All the guest stars this week were outstanding.  Keely Hawes was among the best female villains (in both her incarnations) the series has had.  Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner may not have gotten tremendous amounts of screen time, but you fell in love with both of them quickly.

There were so many great lines in this episode.  Beginning with “nothing happens when you answer the phone” and all the way through “beat that for a date”, the dialogue was quick and witty.

 

What’s Best Forgotten

 For a bank with such high security, it was ridiculously easy for our group to wander around the service areas without surveillance, sneak around ventilation shafts (those old cliches!), and open individual lock boxes.  And they didn’t even notice that two of their security guards had been replaced.  Not too smart!

The Final Score

 I had a great time watching the Doctor and his motley crew explore a life of crime.  It was a very classic type of Who story with a very classic type of resolution.  The guests were all fantastic, the story fun to watch unfold, and the Doctor very much the man we know and love.  This might not have the kind of earth-shattering philosophical debate of “Listen”, but it’s a great story that thoroughly entertains.

 

And finally, the Quote of the Week:

 “She burns her own clones.  Frankly, you’re a career break for the right therapist.”