A Big Hand for The Doctor is the début release from Puffin’s e-book series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer sends the First Doctor off on an historical adventure that pits him against the rather nasty Soul Pirates whilst trying to come to grips with a temporary replacement for his missing hand.
Sadly something seems amiss right from the start, the tone failing to evoke the Hartnell era; with artificial hands, contemporary asides & rooftop duels this isn’t the cantankerous Doctor viewers were first introduced to half a century ago. A major authorial misstep that reinvents the First Doctor making him more like his 3rd incarnation – in fact re-imagining this as a Jon Pertwee adventure makes it far more satisfying. The villains of the piece are a more successful invention. The Soul Pirates are baddies in the Who tradition with a particularly ghoulish modus operandi, vividly realised by Colfer, involving the shows youthful target audience. A shame then that they’re so two dimensional, feeling underwritten. As are many things in this short story which, despite some vivid passages, leaves the reader thinking they’ve picked up the second half of a two-parter.
A brief forgettable adventure that is unsuccessful at capturing the essence of William Hartnell’s Doctor, & therefore unsuccessful at introducing him to modern fans, Colfer’s tale will doubtless frustrate devotees with its pointless pop culture allusions & action hero reinvention of its protagonist. Having said that young readers may overlook these shortcomings & The Doctor’s devotion to his granddaughter remains intact, a driving force of the plot. The swashbuckling elements & blockbuster movie antics also add a sense of fun to the yarn & overall A Big Hand for The Doctor is an undemanding read, which references another well known & much loved work of children’s literature. Its just a shame that this, the first in the series, is ultimately a flawed endeavour. At best a Saturday morning cartoon version of the First Doctor.
Heroic Time Lord The Doctor is transporting the remains of his recently exterminated nemesis The Master to their home world of Gallifrey. But even in death The Master cannot be trusted & when his evil essence escapes, causing a malfunction in the TARDIS which sends it hurtling towards Earth on New Years Eve 1999, the future existence of humanity is threatened.
The long running television show Doctor Who – the butt of countless jokes with its unconvincing monsters, wobbly sets & alien planets that look suspiciously like old quarries – is now the geeky sci-fi show it’s cool to watch thanks to a 21st century makeover by acclaimed television writer Russell T. Davies in 2005. Almost a decade previously there was another attempt to resurrect the programme with this joint venture between American & British television.
After a scene setting prologue a reassuringly familiar police box arrives in San Francisco & the 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy maintaining continuity) meets a rather ignominious end; gunned down by young ne’er-do-wells & rushed to hospital only to die on the operating table presided over by Dr Grace Holloway. Some time later ambulance driver Bruce has an alien encounter of his own. The Master chooses him as host which, in one of director Geoffrey Sax’s neat editorial choices, is intercut with The Doctor’s latest regeneration in this much-anticipated small screen return for Doctor Who.
For hardcore Whovians there are doubtless some troublesome elements in this oft-mooted movie, the revelation that The Doctor is half-human being the most obvious. But attempting to juggle the demands of long-term fans, introduce the character to new viewers & tell an exciting adventure is no easy task. For the most part Sax & scriptwriter Matthew Jacobs pull it off in a briskly directed adventure with an action focused finale that pits the rival Time Lords against each other, the fate of mankind in the balance. But the drama of the potential destruction of Earth, a by-product of The Master’s attempt to acquire the body of The Doctor, is never convincingly realised & a couple of plot threads aren’t satisfactorily explained – such as a fudged search for an atomic clock. But proceedings have a glossy sheen with some more action orientated moments giving it wider appeal without feeling out of place. The TARDIS in particular is wonderfully presented with its brass fixtures & fittings recalling the machines imagined by the likes of Jules Verne & H.G. Wells.
Successfully papering over the narrative cracks is Paul McGann’s performance. From his first scene of amnesia-induced confusion to his heroic determination he makes for an immediately accessible Doctor, both amiable & eccentric balancing otherworldliness with a genuine likeability. Driving the plot forward his relationship with Grace, a thoroughly contemporary if not thoroughly memorable companion, is convincing. Alas the same cannot be said of Eric Roberts. Obviously cast to appeal to an American audience he delivers an embarrassingly hammy performance that sits uneasily against McGann’s engaging portrayal. Although giving him a companion of his own adds a new dynamic, another parallel between hero & villain, the script doesn’t do Roberts any favours saddling him with chunks of expositional dialogue.
Although occasionally lacking the charm & sense of fun that made the original series so memorable this attempted feature length revival is still entertaining with a scene stealing central performance, a few references to the past & the show finally getting the production values it deserves. In fact it will probably find a more positive response in light of the current series & will certainly appeal to modern fans, providing a neat stylistic bridge between old & new. What’s most disappointing is that this confident debut by McGann was never followed up by a series (although McGann continues to entertain as The Doctor in Big Finish’s audio adventures). As the end credits roll TV viewers will want to travel with him through time and space on more thrilling adventures but will have to be content with this memorable one off escapade.
It’s not too harsh a criticism to label series 4 of Being Human as little more than an extended reboot. Beloved characters were given swift exits & remaining regular Annie – ironically the most interesting character but the one most underdeveloped by the writers – finally sprung into action at the series’ climax in a move that saw her leave for good. So now the slate has been wiped clean with a new supernatural trio ready to start afresh, can the show survive?
As expected there’s a lot going on in The Trinity, but despite a focus on creating new plot threads to its credit this opening episode is hugely enjoyable. Indeed it’s undeniably liberated by the absence of the original cast & creator Toby Whithouse is now free to expand upon the new characters & the fresh challenges they will face, both domestic & demonic. In spite of the changes there’s a reassuringly familiar mix to the narrative combining historical flashbacks, everyday flat-share banter & an apocalyptic story arc bubbling below the surface
It helps that in Damien Molony, Kate Bracken & Michael Socha viewers have 3 likeable characters with a realistic group rapport. Each actor invests their respective role with humour & pathos, a tone key to Being Human’s success. Whether it’s Hal (Molony) bemoaning the state of the flat while chained up to restrain his vampiric cravings or lycanthrope Tom’s (Socha) emotional vulnerability the human element of the show is still in evidence. Bracken has arguably the hardest job but succeeds in portraying recently deceased Alex’s ghostly status, accepting who she is & how she is both supported & supports her house-mates is nicely handled.
Alongside the main cast The Trinity introduces ostracised office geek Ian Cram (by turns a wonderfully awkward & menacing performance from Colin Hoult) who’s bloody rampage after becoming a vampire leads to his manager’s demise at the hands of returning beleaguered government official Mr Rook, dispatching this witness in gruesome fashion armed only with a pen. Then there’s Phil Davis as sinister Captain Hatch, an elderly wheelchair bound hotel resident prone to foul-mouthed outbursts. The climactic revelation of who this ominous old man really is may not be a total surprise, but it promises great things to come. Things that in some way demonstrate how the show has evolved. Being Human has lost some of the ordinariness of its original premise & may be increasingly relying on familiar supernatural tropes, but on the evidence of this opening episode it’s a return to form that will doubtless leave fans with an optimistic feeling for the future of this revitalised show.
So here we go once more with the comic misadventures of Karl Pilkington, a man thrust into the limelight by Ricky Gervais to become a comedy star of the small screen. For this third series, in an attempt to revitalise the format, Karl has been teamed up with actor Warwick Davis who took the lead in Gervais’ previous sitcom Life’s Too Short. Are things still as funny third time round?
Although things appear undeniably contrived (it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to discover that a lot of what transpires is staged) there is still some mileage left in the format. This time there’s an attempt to echo the travelogue shows of Michael Palin, with the duo sent on a specific journey rather than simply visit various countries & famous holiday destinations.The joke may be wearing thin but its hard not to laugh at some of the predicaments the duo get into; attending an historic Venetian fancy dress party, meeting gypsies etc. This despite the fact that they serve no real purpose in the pair’s attempts to replicate Marco Polo’s travels. Most amusing of all is Karl’s verbal jibes at the expense of Warwick & his fame as an ‘actor’. Whether this can sustain a whole series remains to be seen but overall this first episode is agreeably entertaining.
Professor Van Kholer is visiting the Philippines, but upon arrival is kidnapped by the henchmen of the evil Mr. Giant. The crimelord intends to use Kholer’s scientific breakthrough, The N Bomb, in his plans for world domination. Only one man can save civilisation. & that man is midget superspy Agent 00.
For Your Height Only is the oft-told story of a three-foot high suave secret agent from Manila who is an expert in both armed & unarmed combat, a legend on the dance floor & a seducer of women. In other words it’s a cheap, trashy & totally ludicrous parody of the 007 films & follows the usual Bond formula with our pocket-sized protagonist sent on his mission armed with an array of gadgets (including x-ray specs, jetpack & remote control steel brimmed hat), romancing a bevy of beauties & saving the world as only he can.
The fight scenes are hilariously entertaining with diminutive actor Weng Weng jumping around like Yoda &, when not armed with gun or sword, repeatedly kicking/punching his enemies in the balls. Little Weng risks life & limb, launching himself off bridges & buildings with seemingly scant regard for his own safety, all in the name of entertainment. Often it looks like he’s been thrown into shot from off camera, which only adds to the fun. As does the scene in which he uses an umbrella as a parachute. Whether engaged in such high risk feats or romancing undercover agent Urma he wears a John Travolta style white suit, & even gets a chance to strut his funky stuff in the local discotheque.
The whole thing is as madly enjoyable as it sounds & the dubbing, whether intentional or otherwise, adds to the humour. Weng has been given a squeaky impish voice, all the henchmen sound like gangsters from films of the ’30s & the dialogue is equally priceless. Just to ram home the point as to how mean the bad guys really are one of their number declares that “the forces of good are our sworn enemy. They must be exterminated, & I mean lethally!” They are also so enraged by Agent 00’s meddling that they “declare war on that little stinker!” While Urma appears to have fallen for his charms when she tells him, “you’re such a little guy…very petite, like a potato”, another female admirer enquires as to whether he is “a sexual animal” before informing him that “sex is like tequila. One sip & you’re a goner!”
In Weng Weng the world of cult movies has at last found it’s definitive action hero. For Your Height Only is a unique cinematic experience that has to be seen to be believed right up to its action packed finale in which, like all the best spy movies, the good guys storm the villain’s secret base & the hero has a final showdown with his arch foe. If you think watching a midget beat people up is funny – & it is – then this whacky Bond spoof is definitely worth seeking out.
When a comic book reaches issue 100 it’s time for celebration, but in the case of The Walking Dead carnage & loss was the order of the day. The centennial issue saw the death of Glenn, one of the longest standing & most loved characters; in the comic’s inimitable style this was a brutal & explicit moment. The repercussions are still being felt & #104 continues to show the fallout from Rick & co’s encounter with Glenn’s murderer Negan, leader of an army of marauders who live by taking half of the supplies of intimidated communities.
The cover artwork gives a flavour of what to expect in this latest offering from writer Robert Kirkman. Carl, unhappy with his father’s apparent acceptance of Negan’s rule decides to take matters into his own hands. Meanwhile Jesus, under Rick’s orders, follows Dwight in the hopes of discovering Negan’s home turf. That’s pretty much it plot wise as this is a narratively light issue but seems to be moving inexorably toward a dark end to the current story arc. There is a palpable sense of foreboding & inevitable tragedy permeating proceedings. Disappointingly Charlie Adlard’s artwork again suffers from a slightly rushed feel but, after a period where the comic has been treading water somewhat, The Walking Dead seems to be heading in a new direction that will unquestionably see major changes for all the characters.
Almost a quarter of a century ago a sci-fi sitcom arrived which quickly gained a cult following. Red Dwarf focused on the misadventures of likeable slob Dave Lister, the last human being left alive trying to find a way back to earth on the titular spaceship. Joining him are Rimmer, the annoying hologram of his former room mate, the vain feline descendent Cat & later the subservient mechanoid Kryten. After the departure of co-creator Rob Grant at the end of series 6 & a couple of disastrous further series Red Dwarf returned for a 3 part special in 2009. Sadly this was equally terrible, but a ratings hit for satellite channel Dave. So much so that a 10th series was commissioned. Can it recapture the spirit of the classic years?
Against the odds Trojan is a genuinely funny episode, ignoring the numerous changes to the format it returns to the simplicity of the show’s premise; 4 mismatched bickering characters slumming their way through deep space. There’s definitely a back to basics approach & long term fans will find themselves on familiar ground with the consistently annoying Rimmer attempting yet again to pass his Astro Nav exams. Chris Barrie slips effortlessly back into the role, as do all the cast playing to their character’s strengths in a running gag that has a satisfying pay off before the plot kicks in.
Trojan focuses on Rimmer encountering his far more successful brother Howard (Mark Dexter entering into the spirit of things with an hilarious expletive driven definition of his neurotic sibling) & is packed with gags, a nice mix of physical comedy & quotable oneliners – “we just hosed him down & gave him a hat” – that give each character the chance to shine. The intervening years seemingly doing little to diminish the gangs comic timing, doubtless assisted by the return of a live studio audience.
Maybe it’s a case of lowered expectations but this debut episode of the new series, whilst not the best episode ever, could sit comfortably alongside the era of Grant & Naylor. It has a handful of sci-fi gags, gives the cast their own definitive comic moments & has some great production design & solid FX work. Maybe the prospect of more Red Dwarf is something fans can finally look forward to, rather than dread.