Friday, 29 December 2017

Judge Dredd: Mega City Zero Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

The year long story ‘Mega City One’ has been collected together in one huge 12 issue volume that tells a hugely different type of Judge Dredd story, one that has made massive changes to the current status quo for Dredd and his universe that are still playing out today.

The story begins with Judge Dredd waking up in a sea of green, grass covering everything the eye can see. Through some initial investigating Dredd, and the readers, discover that this is what remains of Mega City One. The huge Mega Blocks are gone, the sky is no longer full of vehicles, the streets are no more. All that remains of Dredd’s home is endless grass.

This is the main mystery and drive of the book, as Dredd not only pieces together what happened to Mega City One, but must try to find a way of undoing it, if possible, and restoring law and order to the land. Along the way he meets a trio of young girls, Quill, Lolo, and Iggy, that he initially arrests, but then ends up taking under his wing, caring for them, raising them, and even training them to be Judges. The relationship between Dredd and the girls is one of the highlights of the book, especially as it shows a more caring side to a character that often gets stereotyped as cold and uncaring.

Whilst he’s not suddenly a happy and loving person, he does mellow enough to show that under that stern expression and Judge’s uniform he’s still a human being, capable of caring for others. This weird family is a great addition to Dredd’s world, and whilst the girls initially hate him, they really do even come to care deeply for him come the end of the book, calling him Judge Dad on more than one occasion. The addition of the helmet wearing pug, named Pug Dredd, completes the family unit.

The mystery of the grass and the disappearance of 800 million plays out slowly, making room for smaller, single issue adventures along the way. Dredd and the girls come across a society of people who put grammar above everything, a misogynistic men’s rights matrix simulation, and even a group of cannibalistic vegans. Judge Dredd has always been a book with some degree of social commentary and poking fun of of the times it’s made in, whether it be the subtle naming of stories, to in your face characters and events, and this continues here in ‘Mega City Zero’, with issues such as ‘Grammar Nazi’s’, ‘#NotAllMen’ and ‘You Have 4 New Followers’.

Though some of these issues feel very stand alone to begin with, it becomes clear that they are playing some small part in a much bigger whole come the end of the book, with these experiences not just shaping Dredd into the man that he must become for this new world, but also filling in a lot of the gaps in the history of what has happened since the destruction of Mega City One.

The book crafts a long and interesting story, one that is as much about it’s characters as it is something of a reboot of the Judge Dredd universe. It takes it’s time letting you get to know the girls, as well as giving a good insight into how Dredd himself has changed. It takes a lot of the history of the universe and uses this to inform it’s decisions, yet manages to create a unique jumping on point for new readers as it establishes it’s own version of the Judge Dredd franchise.

This isn’t a reboot, but it does act like a reset. It takes everything that was great and entertaining about the franchise and begins it anew and refreshed, setting into play a different and exciting new era for the character.

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Arrow Season 6 Mid-Season Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

The last season of Arrow did a lot of good. It introduced several new characters to the series that brought in a some much needed new energy, it gave Oliver a more diverse and entertaining team of people, and it gave us a villain that was a huge improvement on the year before. Despite all this, it was still the weakest of all the CW DC series.

Fortunately, the sixth season has continued to maintain much of this improvement of quality, and has even got better in a number of areas.

One of the biggest of these changes has been the shift in Oliver’s (Stephen Amell) personal life, with his son William (Jack Moore) now a part of his life and living with him full time after the death of his mother. This is a huge shift, one that gives Oliver a sense of responsibility that he can no longer dodge his way around. Yes, he’s been a company CEO and is the Mayor of Star City, but he’s always found ways of balancing these with him being the Green Arrow. Now, this is something he can’t do.

Now comes the time that Oliver has can no longer split his time between his personal life and his career as a vigilante, and as such comes the second major change to the series this year, Oliver has stepped down as the Green Arrow. Yes, this seems like something that won’t last for long, and has already come undone in a way as Oliver has taken up the mantle once again to allow Diggle (David Ramsey) time to recover from his injuries so that he can take on the role once again, but the show very much seems to be pushing this as a temporary return to the role.

How this will play out when the series returns is anyone’s guess, but it does look like Diggle will be taking over as Green Arrow again at some point. Hopefully he does, as this has been some of the more interesting parts of the season so far. This year has also shifted the villains around slightly, focusing on a group of much smaller level adversaries than previous seasons have. Instead of one big bad guy we’ve got a team-up of smaller threats like Vigilante (Johann Urb), Black Siren (Katie Cassidy), and Anatoly Knyazev (David Nykl).

After years of putting Oliver up against single threats that all have to rival his skills and abilities, like Prometheus (Josh Segarra) and Deathstroke (Manu Bennett), having a collection of people that couldn’t really pose a huge threat to him one on one, but together make a group very capable of destroying his world is a good change to the standard season narrative that we’ve come to expect.

The addition of the FBI investigation sub-plot also works particularly well this season, and feels like a nice call back to earlier years of the show. It’s good that this story hasn’t already been resolved, that it’s lasting for more than a handful of episodes, and that it feels like it’s going to have major consequences once it reaches it’s conclusion. Plus, Sydelle Noel is great as Agent Samandra Watson, and acts as a very different kind of threat to Oliver and his team.

So far season six of Arrow has proven to be incredibly solid, a series that is using everything that is has built in the past to deliver a strong season, bringing back dangling plot threads, using smaller villains from the past, and showing some huge character growth from previous years. Hopefully this will continue to the conclusion of the season.

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Thursday, 28 December 2017

Star Trek The Next Generation: Mirror Broken #5 Comic Review

Originally Published on Set The Tape

‘In the otherdimensional Mirror Universe, there is no United Federation of Planets, only the Terran Empire, where advancement comes through assassination, brutality is commonplace and kindness is a weakness. The Terran Empire is on its last legs in its war with the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance, but Captain Jean-Luc Picard has obtained what he believes to be the final chance for victory: a revolutionary new Galaxy-class starship, Called Enterprise, that could turn the tide of the war. Having assembled a crew of fellow mutineers and pirates, including the Enterprise’s first officer, William T. Riker, Picard has achieved the impossible: engineering the theft of the Enterprise and the elimination of its captain. Just as Picard and the Enterprise faced its first challenge, a trio of Imperial ships looking to recover the stolen starship, an even bigger threat emerges – a massive Klingon-Cardassian armada.’

The final issue of Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken brings a close to Captain Picard’s plot to seize control of the brand new starship Enterprise. With the issue opening with the Enterprise surrounded by a small fleet of Klingon and Cardassian ships this story is filled with action.

Luckily the writers, David and Scott Tipton, are smart enough to know they can’t just have the Enterprise tear through their opponents. This would end up feeling too powerful, too big a shift in the universe that the series has been building for the last four issues, and just kind of boring.

Thankfully, the book takes advantage of not just the Enterprise having some help from two other Imperial starships, but also makes use of the design of the Enterprise too, not only splitting the saucer section from the secondary hull but also deploying the Captain’s Yacht, a part of the ship that was never seen in action across all 174 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The book brings together a daring plan, one that shows the Enterprise as an incredible force, and even brings in the classic Picard Maneuver to strike at dozens of targets in quick succession, using the third warp nacelle on this version of the Enterprise to allow them to use the tactic multiple times.

Thankfully, the final issue of the series not only includes action, but manages to include some great character moments too. The book makes you think that Picard is going to betray Riker, that he’s been using Troi to maneuver him into a position where he’ll be killed; which means that there’s a surprising amount of tension as you’re almost waiting for Riker to be killed before the issue ends. Whilst this doesn’t happen, it creates enough intrigue to have me wanting the book to return, to see more of these versions of the characters and how they interact with each other.

One of the other big character moments in the book is Guinan getting the chance to interact with Picard, showing us how caring and even tender Picard appears to be with her. It’s a surprising moment, and one that shows us a side to this version of Picard that I’d come to assume didn’t even exist.

With the book concluding with the crew’s victory, the Terran Empire posing a credible threat to the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance, and several interesting and unique character dynamics created, I really hope that the title will get a second run or, fingers crossed, an ongoing series.

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Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Star Trek The Next Generation: Mirror Broken #4 – Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

‘In the otherdimensional Mirror Universe, there is no United Federation of Planets, only a Terran Empire, where advancement comes through assassination, brutality is commonplace and kindness is a weakness. The Terran Empire is on its last legs in its war with the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance, but Captain Jean-Luc Picard has obtained what he believes to be the final chance for victory: a revolutionary new Galaxy-class starship, called Enterprise, that could turn the tide of the war. Having assembled a crew of fellow mutineers and pirates, including the Enterprise’s first officer, William T. Riker, Picard has achieved the impossible: engineered the theft of the Enterprise and the elimination of its captain, but a new problem emerges: what will be done with the remaining Enterprise crew members loyal to the former captain?’

The fourth issue of Star Trek The Next Generation: Mirror Broken sees a shift in the series, as Captain Picard and his band of misfits finally get their hands on the Enterprise. Now that the advanced ship is finally under his control the problems move away from how to obtain the vessel onto how to run it. An issue compounded by the fact that they have dozens of people on board who can’t be trusted.

One of these issues is solved by Captain Picard getting Wesley Crusher involved and out of sick bay. Whilst Wesley Crusher was always something of an un-liked character in the television series, and his presence on the bridge was always something that never quite felt right, here it actually makes a lot of sense. They have a skeleton crew, they only have one person trained to pilot the ship, so getting someone’s who incredibly smart, and knows the ships systems is the best move that they could make. Plus, having Picard tell him that he will not have someone on his bridge who wears a jumper is a great little poke at the series.

The question of what to do with those members of the crew that were loyal to the previous captain led to a surprising answer, as Picard gave them over to a penal colony run by the scientist that developed the mirror universe’s torture devices, where they will be experimented upon.

It’s a grim scene, and one that reminds the reader that this is not the universe that we are used to, and these are not the characters that we have come to love. The Picard from the television series would fight tooth and nail to protect people, this version smiles at the idea that he’s delivering people to torture and death.

The penal colony scenes did include a nice nod to the Star Trek: Enterprise mirror universe episode ‘Into A Mirror, Darkly’, as it included the mirror universe design for the Gorn, a much sleeker and reptilian design than the prime universe.

This issue also introduced us to another familiar face from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Guinan. Brought on board the Enterprise inside a huge metal container, surrounded in secrecy and rumours, her personality and role in this universe is still unclear, though it does appear that Picard relies upon her advice like his prime universe counterpart. How this relationship works, and what this version of Guinan is like are details that I’m eager to learn about.

With a cliffhanger that promises exciting action to come, with the Enterprise facing off against close to thirty Klingon and Cardassian ships, the issue sets the stage for brilliant things to come.

Go to Amy's Blog

Monday, 25 December 2017

Eccentric Earth Coming Soon!

Eccentric Earth is my latest project, a podcast where I will be joined each week by a special guest to talk about a story from history. The guests won't know what the topic is before recording, and will learn along with you, the audience.

We're aiming to find the strange, amazing, and little known stories from history, to learn, educate, and have a little fun along the way too.

The first episode of Eccentric Earth will launch in one week on 1st January 2018, so make sure that you stay tuned for more updates soon!

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The Walking Dead: Season 8 – Mid Season Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

The Walking Dead has been struggling for the last few seasons, with a drop in ratings and critical reception, meaning that the latest season of the show has a lot of work to do in order to bring itself back to the level of popularity of previous years. As such, the showrunners have made the choice to focus on action this year, labelling season eight as ‘All Out War’, as the fight against the evil Saviours reaches new heights.

Season eight has brought together the tree communities of Alexandria, Hilltop, and The Kingdon to fight against Negan (Jeffery Dean Morgan) and his followers. Kicking off the season with a bang (literally), the subsequent episodes have begun to slow in pace, falling back into old Walking Dead habits of poor pacing.

One of the biggest issues with this new season so far has been the lack of any real character development or growth. In the past the series has put story second to characters, willing to waste a whole episode on characters wandering around the woods not doing much, just to allow them a chance to develop, to talk through their feelings, their viewpoints, their motivations. Whilst this can sometimes lead to lulls in the story its never really boring if done right.

With so much focus this season on the war with the saviours these character moments have fallen away to the sidelines, and it’s led to the season being duller than usual. Yes, there are more gunfights, more explosions, and more running around from place to place, but after so long of the same thing it doesn’t feel exciting anymore. When we’re cutting between half a dozen different groups of people, all of whom are having shootouts, it gets old very quickly.

This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some moments of character focus, we’ve had some time looking at Carl (Chandler Riggs) and his outlook on the war, we’ve had Jesus (Tom Payne) pushing for a more peaceful way, and we’ve seen the breaking of King Ezekiel (Khary Paton), but none of these plots have been given the time that they really need, or that the season would have done so in the past.

With the season ending on a surprise turn of the Saviours managing to get the upper hand, capturing some of our heroes, and destroying Alexandria, it’s unclear of how the second half of the series is going to go. The heroes went into this season with such a strong sense that they had the upper hand, that they would win the fight, but are now at one of the lowest points they could be. Seeing how this plays out is sure to be interesting.

One of the biggest shocks of this first half of this season, however, is the shock reveal that Carl has been bitten by a Walker, and is going to die in the final moments of the mid-season finale. With Carl being alive in the comics series, the character having been around since the very first episode, and still essentially being a kid, many fans felt that Carl was going to be safe, perhaps even being set up to take over as leader one day if Andrew Lincoln were ever to depart the show.

The reaction to Carl’s upcoming departure, however, has shown a much poorer side to The Walking Dead, angry, self-entitled fans. Within days of the reveal fans have been calling for showrunner Scott Gimple to be fired from the series, even having a petition with over 33,000 signatures from fans.

There’s nothing wrong with loving a series, but when you get to the point that you feel it’s okay to call for people to lose their jobs because you don’t like a creative decision about a fictional story, that’s not okay. Hopefully this isn’t something that will carry on for long, and the majority of the show’s fans will realise that tantrums like this will only hurt the series, because fans acting like this only hurts the overall impression of the show.

With a lacklustre series of episodes that has been trying to push action over story and character development, angry fans, and a lack of any wow factor, the first half of  season eight has been incredibly dull and boring. Unless The Walking Dead can address these issues soon it’s sure to continue to decline in both quality and ratings.

Go to Amy's Blog

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken #3 – Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

‘In the otherdimensional Mirror Universe, there is no United Federation of Planets, only a Terran Empire, where advancement comes through assassination, brutality is commonplace and kindness is a weakness. The Terran Empire is on its last legs in its war with the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance, but Captain Jean-Luc Picard has learned of a final chance for victory: a revolutionary new Galaxy-class starship that could turn the tide of war. The ship is called Enterprise, and Jean-Luc Picard intends to take it. Having assembled a crew of co-conspirators, including the Enterprise’s first officer, William T. Riker, Picard puts into motion his master plan to claim the ultimate prize: a warship that could tame the galaxy.’

After plotting and planning for the first two issues, Picard and his renegade crew finally put their plan into place to steal the Terran Empire’s greatest starship, the ISS Enterprise-D.

The Enterprise is finally ready to be unleashed upon the galaxy, and Captain Jellico arrives on the ship to rule with an iron fist and evil temperament, having one of his crew dragged off to be tortured simply for not having a pressed uniform within minutes of being on board.

Thanks to the majority of the Enterprise crew already hating their captain it becomes easy for Riker and Brehms to turn many of those on board against Jellico, making way for Picard and his assault force to board the ship and take over.

The assault on the Enterprise is short but brutal, with Picard and his crew willingly killing anyone who stands in their way. Data in particular is a frightening image during this assault, with huge laser cutters strapped on his arms and an eyepiece that looks like that which belonged to the Borg Hugh, he looks like a Borg version of Data, walking the halls of the Enterprise, killing anyone who goes against him.

The Enterprise itself is beautiful, with a unique redesign that has transformed it from an exploration vessel to a battleship, complete with a huge cannon beneath the saucer section and a third warp nacelle. The ship also has a design painted upon the saucer section that’s partly reminiscent of the dagger hilt of the Terran Empire logo, yet also like some kind of sleek predatory bird that really sets it apart from its regular universe counterpart.

This issue also introduces us to the mirror universe versions of Beverley and Wesley Crusher. It still seems too early to know just how Beverly differs from her regular self, but this universe’s Wesley is instantly different, with a manic, crazed appearance, and a calculating evil that’s almost chilling.

After two issues of build up it’s nice to see the book kick things up a gear, to see how vastly different these versions of our heroes are, and how brutal the action can be. Now that we’ve seen what these characters are capable of, and just how good the action can be, it sets the stage for what may be a very exciting and brutal series to come.

Go to Amy's Blog

Friday, 22 December 2017

Doctor Who: Ranking the Steven Moffat Episodes

Originally published on Set The Tape

As the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who comes to an end this Christmas with the final appearance of Peter Capaldi in the lead role, there’s no denying that Moffat has crafted the series into its own animal under his leadership, distinctly different to the Russel T. Davies run that came before. With Chris Chibnal about to take over as showrunner, now is a good time to rank Moffat’s episodes.

37. Last Christmas

Doctor Who Christmas specials are always something of a hit or miss, and are usually some of the weakest episodes. Last Christmas sees The Doctor and Clara stuck inside a dream world with Santa fighting alien facehugger like creatures in the Arctic. A very disjointed and mismatched episode that fails to really add anything to the franchise.

36. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

In this Christmas special The Doctor helps a family during World War 2 deal with the loss of their father. Whilst the emotional heart of the episode is enjoyable, and has a sweet conclusion, the inclusion of a Christmas present that acts as a doorway to another planet, living wood people, and deforestation drags the episode down a lot.

35. The Girl Who Died

Having Game of Thrones‘s Masie Williams appear in Doctor Who was a big deal, and something fans were looking forward to, unfortunately, a bland story about alien vikings led to her first of four appearances in the show being lacklustre and somewhat boring.

34. The Caretaker

Watching The Doctor pretend to be a normal person isn’t as good as the writers seem to think, having had the character do so several times in the revived series with ever decreasing results. Here, The Doctor infiltrates Coalhill School as the new caretaker in order to track down an alien threat. The interactions between The Doctor and the staff and students aren’t particularly funny, and the alien is quite boring and forgettable.

33. The Husband of River Song

The 2015 Christmas special is, like many others, fairly disjointed, mixing some very silly comedy and some more heartfelt character moments. The villain of the episode is too ridiculous to be anything other than bad, but the episode does give some great additions to the River Song story, as well as introducing Matt Lucas’ Nardole to the series.

32. The Zygon Inversion

The final part of a two-part story of Zygons on Earth beginning a terrorist war with humanity, the story lacked a lot of charm and wow factor that it needed to make it truly great. Thankfully, the second episode (the only one of the two penned by Moffat) included a truly brilliant scene in which The Doctor has the two sides facing off against each other ready to press a doomsday button and gives one of the best speeches he’s ever had about war, loss, and the pain of performing genocidal acts. This moment helps to elevate the episode, though can’t quite save it from being mundane.

31. Hell Bent

The Doctor returns to Gallifrey, takes over the planet without firing a single shot, and saves Clara from the timestream moments before her death. Whilst there are some moments in this episode that should feel grand and epic the undoing of Clara’s death is a big let down. With the series apparently unwilling to ever actually kill a companion (Donna forgetting her time with The Doctor, and Amy and Rory getting to live long and fulfilled lives in the past) it feels like there are very little stakes in travelling with The Doctor.

30. The Pilot

The Pilot introduced Bill Potts to the series, and established a number of plot threads that would go on to be important in the final episodes of Capaldi’s last season. The episode also featured the first overtly lesbian relationship in the series. A solid episode that reintroduced audiences to the world of Doctor Who as it follows Bill through her discovery of The Doctor.

29. The Snowmen

Nothing screams Christmas quite like a snowy Victorian tale, so a Christmas special set in the past, involving sentient killer snowmen, the Paternoster Gang, and a huge mystery around The Doctor’s upcoming companion Clara make this one of the best Christmas specials yet.

28. Asylum of the Daleks

The first episode of the seventh season, and Matt Smiths last, Asylum of the Daleks managed to bring the Tardis team back together, offer an interesting adventure filled with easter eggs and nods to the classic series, as well as beginning the mystery around Clara Oswald. Whilst the adventure through a planet of insane Daleks proved interesting and even frightening at times, the emotional drama between Amy and Rory gave the episode something extra.

27. The Angels Take Manhattan

The final appearances of Amy and Rory, The Angels Take Manhattan pitted the Tardis crew against the Weeping Angels in a story of love and loss that not only showed how great Amy and Rory are as characters, but how strong their love for each other is. Featuring Weeping Angel babies, some brilliant action sequences, a chilling musical score, the return of River Song, and a conclusion that breaks the heart, the only thing that lets the episode down is the inclusion of a giant Weeping Angel.

26. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

The first episodes Moffat wrote for the series, this two parter gave us some truly memorable moments, such as a gasmasked child asking ‘Are you my mummy?’, and introduced fan favourite Captain Jack. Christopher Eccleston is great in these episodes, and brings some great life to Moffats script in what has become a top episode for many viewers.

25. The Magicians Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar

This two-part season opener saw the return of Michelle Gomez’s Missy as she teams up with Clara to find The Doctor, who has gone on something of a bender as he prepares for his death. With the return of the Daleks, their creator Davros, and the planet Skaro, the episodes deal with the sins of the Doctor’s past. The inclusion of Missy helps to add some extra fun in these episodes, and the positive reaction to her teaming up with The Doctor may have led to her story arc in season ten.

24. Into The Dalek

The Daleks have become an icon of Doctor Who, and have been included in almost every single series of the show since they first appeared, as such it can sometimes be hard for the series to make them new an interesting. Into the Dalek managed that by shrinking down The Doctor and a group of soldiers and sending them inside a Dalek, giving us a look at the creatures that we’ve never had before.

23. Deep Breath

Regeneration episodes can be hard to get right, The Doctor usually spends some time asleep, then acts really weird until he can figure out who he is now. The first half of Capaldi’s first adventure is very much like this, with him acting much more like a madman than the Doctor. Thanks to a good ending, and some great scenes with the Paternoster Gang the episode ends up being quite good.

22. Dark Water/Death in Heaven

The conclusion to Capaldi’s first series as The Doctor, the two-part finale brought back the Cybermen, gave a tragic end to Clara and Danny’s story, and reintroduced The Master to the series as the insane Missy. Whilst the introduction of Missy divided fans, she would go on to be one of the best enemies the series has given us, and her first outing here showcases just how crazy and evil she can be.

21. Let’s Kill Hitler

The title alone gets this episode points, as the Tardis crew end up in Nazi Germany, dealing with Hitler, a mechanical assassin, and a murderous River Song. The revelation that River spent years as Amy and Rory’s childhood friend before she regenerated into the River we know was a surprise reveal, one that added further confusion to her complex timeline. The episode managed to not only include some ridiculously fun moments, but packed in an emotional conclusion as River goes against her programming to save the man she would go on to marry.

20. The Bells of Saint John

The first introduction of the real Clara Oswald, this episode is packed full of run and over the top action sequences, such as a jumbo jet crash and riding a scooter up the side of The Shard. A great episode that would go on to set the tone for The Doctor’s future adventures with his new companion.

19. Time Heist

Everyone loves a good heist movie. So when the series can condense one down into 45 minutes, include The Doctor and a cast of interesting and diverse sci-fi characters the series is giving us one of the best standalone experiences it can.

18. The Girl in the Fireplace

Another episode that has gone on to become a fan favourite, this episode saw David Tennant’s Doctor travelling from a spaceship in the future to 18th century France, where he intersects the life of Madame de Popadour, and has to save her from sinister clockwork men who want her organs in order to repair their ship.

17. The Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead

The episodes that introduced River Song to the Doctor Who universe. Whilst this episode would pack in a lot of content, microscopic creatures that live in shadows and eat flesh, and a virtual reality world that Donna becomes trapped in, it’s the story of River and The Doctor that makes this episode stand out. Upon first viewing it may not seem like much, but after seeing the rest of Rivers story her sacrifice to save her husband, who doesn’t even know who she is here, is utterly heartbreaking.

16. The Day of the Doctor

The 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who had a lot to live up to, and mostly manages to do so, with Matt Smith and David Tennant’s Doctors teaming up with The War Doctor, played by the Oscar nominated actor John Hurt. Whilst the episode managed to pack a lot into its run time, the inclusion of too much fan service, such as the inclusion of Billie Piper and Tom Baker, did let it down somewhat.

15. The Time of The Doctor

The final story featuring Matt Smith, The Time of The Doctor sees The Doctor living hundreds of years on the planet Trenzalore defending the citizens from thousands of his foes. The episode packs in action and spectacle, but also gives a satisfying emotional conclusion to Smiths time on the show.

14. Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

The first story to feature the Weeping Angels since their introduction in the acclaimed Blink, this two-part story had a lot to live up to. Thanks to the inclusion of River Song, some great guest actors, and some extremely creepy horror moments this two parter became the Aliens to Blink’s Alien, and gave us one of the best horror stories Doctor Who has produced.

13. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

The season finale to Smith’s first year as The Doctor, the first part managed to include several iconic villains such as Daleks, Cybermen, and Autons, whilst the second part opted for a smaller character focused story. Whilst the two parts could have felt somewhat disjointed, they work together well to showcase not just The Doctor, but Amy, Rory, and River too.

12. A Christmas Carol

So far, still the best Christmas special the show has given us, this story sees The Doctor taking inspiration from Charles Dickens to help change a horrible old man into a good person in order to get him to save hundreds of lives. Packed full of fun, as well as a truly wonderful and heartbreaking love story, this episode showcases just what the franchise can do in a one-off special if it puts the effort in.

11. The Beast Below

The first adventure with Matt Smith’s Doctor following his regeneration, the story begins feeling very much like a Russel T. Davies story, with a silly concept and wacky monsters, but quickly shifts to a much deeper story that puts The Doctor in a horrible moral dilemma. The first episode that really showed that Moffat’s run on the series would be very different to the previous four seasons, it helped set the tone for things to come.

10. The Eleventh Hour

One of the best regeneration stories the series has done, The Eleventh Hour sees a freshly regenerated Matt Smith having to save the world from destruction with only 20 minutes to do so, without the Tardis, and with no Sonic Screwdriver. A great adventure story that showcased how fun and smart the new Doctor would be, as well as giving a great introduction to Amy Pond.

9. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

The introduction of The Silence, one of the creepiest and most interesting group of villains in the show, this episode set up a massive mystery that would unfold across the rest of the series (and Smith’s entire run). Shifting the production to America, the episode managed to have a scope and grandeur that many episodes lacked, and the addition of geek favourite Mark Shepherd to the cast topped of the experience.

8. The Wedding of River Song

In a lot of ways, the conclusion to the story began in The Impossible Astronaut, this episode brought the story of The Silence to a conclusion, as well as finally marrying River Song and The Doctor. With a story that really makes the most of time travel, some scary moments, and one of the best scenes in the series, this episode is a great series finale.

7. The Night of the Doctor

Only seven minutes long, this mini episode led into the events of the 50th anniversary, and brought back Paul McGann to play The Doctor one last time. Showing a small piece of the Time War, and the regeneration of the 8th Doctor into the War Doctor, this short piece manages to pack so many great moments in.

6. Listen

Moffat has managed to come up with some great concepts for monsters, like the Weeping Angels who are statues when you look at them, or The Silence who you immediately forget when not looking at them, and Listen adds to these great concepts with a monster designed with perfect camouflage. What makes this episode particular great, however, is that we never really get an answer to if these monsters exist. Are the events of this episode filled with monsters, or just spooky coincidences? The lack of answers make this scarier.

5. A Good Man Goes To War

With Amy Pond taken prisoner by The Doctor’s enemies he gathers together an army of allies from across time and space in order to save his friend and defeat an army without firing a single shot. Showcasing how amazing and bad arse The Doctor can be when he need to, this episode also packed huge plot revelations with the reveal of River Songs true identity, as well as introducing the Paternoster Gang for the first time.

4. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls

The final episodes of Capaldi’s time as The Doctor, this story brings together Missy and The Master, as well as the return of the original Cybermen as it tells the story of not just their creation, but the defeat of The Doctor. With both The Master and Missy suffering fatal wounds, the beginning of The Doctor’s regeneration, and the death of Bill, these episodes manage to be hugely bleak. A brave choice to end the series on such a down note, but one that works brilliantly.

3. The Name of The Doctor

The final episode before the 50th anniversary, this episode not only acts as a better celebration of the franchise than the actual anniversary episode, but showcases just how great an actor Matt Smith is. Finally answering the mystery of who Clara Oswald is, featuring every single Doctor, and the return of both River Song and the Paternoster Gang, this episode is a true celebration of Doctor Who at its best.

2. Blink

The episode that introduced the Weeping Angels to the franchise, and made people pay attention to Moffat’s writing, this is still the best episode featuring the Weeping Angels. With The Doctor barely appearing in this story, it takes full advantage of following a regular person within the Doctor Who universe, and packs in the scares.

1. Heaven Sent

The only episode in the who franchise to only feature The Doctor, Heaven sent sees him trapped within a hellish clockwork prison, chased by a corpse-like monster that wants to kill him, following the death of Clara. Over the course of the episode we discover that The Doctor has been trapped within this prison for billions of years, living the same few days over and over again, dying each time. The refusal to give in, the determination to break his way out and save his friend, even if it takes all eternity punching a diamond wall shows how strong the character is, and the final moments when you realise that he’s been letting himself suffer and die again and again just so he can escape is chilling and shocking. A true showcase of how amazing the character really is.

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Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Looking back at… Jumanji

Originally published on Set The Tape

Released at Christmas 1995, Jumanji has gone on to become one of the most beloved family films of all times, featuring on many top 100 lists. Starring the beloved Robin Williams, the film is a wacky adventure involving giant jungle plants, rampaging animals, and crazed hunters, which manages to include a more serious story of family drama, loss, and trauma.

Beginning in 1969, the film sees a young boy,  Alan Parish (Robin Williams), at odds with his father play a mysterious board game Jumanji with his friend, Sarah Whittle (Bonnie Hunt). When Alan gets sucked into the mystical game the film shifts forward twenty six years as Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Shepherd (Bradley Pierce) move into Alan’s old home and discover Jumanji, releasing an adult Peter from the game, along with a host of wild animals.

Despite being filled with stampedes and chase scenes, the trauma of the four central characters is what’s at the core of the film. Alan is haunted by the loss of his family after being trapped within the jungles of Jumanji for half his life, chased by a nightmarish version of his father (Jonathan Hyde). Sarah has lived her life as an outcast, seen as crazy by the people around her because of what happened to Alan. Judy and Peter are freshly orphaned and still coming to terms with the loss of their parents.

During the course of the film the four main characters learn to overcome their fears and their past trauma, especially Alan, who must confront Van Pelt, the hunter from inside Jumanji that shares his face with Alan’s father.

The fact that the film is able to play around with it’s own timeline and undo all the events of the film by the final scenes is actually fairly good, rather than being something of a cop out, with Alan and Sarah able to remember everything that happened, using this knowledge to prevent the deaths of Judy and Peter’s parents. The resolution might seem a little contrite to some, but giving each of the characters a happy ending feels good and well earned.

Williams is great in the role, able to portray both the emotion and the craziness that the film calls for, being incredibly warm towards Peter and Judy and helping them through their trauma, even when having to deal with the fact that he has lost his family himself. The real gem of the film, however is Bonnie Hunt, whose performance as the psychobabbling Sarah is able to steal the scene from Williams almost every single time.

Whilst at the time of release the effects were considered to be very high quality, they have aged in places, particularly with the CGI elements appearing old. The practical effects, however, do hold up a little better, thanks in part to how well the cast are able to interact with them.

Bringing together some great action adventure moments and some of the best actors of the 1990’s, Jumanji is able to entertain and charm more than 20 years after it’s release, even inspiring a sequel all these years later. A great film with a lot of charm.

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