Thursday, 3 December 2020

Daleks!



Ahead of the Doctor Who holiday special, Revolution of the Daleks, Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, has been checking out the latest spin-off series streaming on YouTube.

Daleks! Tell on...

Guest post by Nick Smith

It’s not easy being mean. Just ask the Daleks, who sucker-punched their way into pop culture almost six decades ago, thrilling and chilling readers and audiences ever since.

My first encounter with the Skaro squad came with Genesis of the Daleks back in the mid-seventies. But it was their search for Davros in 1979’s Destiny of the Daleks that really captured my imagination. I didn’t care that they were a bit tatty, or that Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor made fun of them. I found them fearsome, fascinating and most important of all, easy to imitate in the school playground. The bullies of the small screen took my mind off the real-life bullies I couldn’t exterminate [you had me at exterminate - Ed].

A few years later I got hooked on a periodical called Doctor Who Monthly (DWM). One of the strips I loved to read was a reprint of Dalek adventures first published in TV Century 21 magazine from the sixties. Ron Turner’s art was packed with eye-catching design and colour, the supporting characters were memorable, and the Daleks’ devious plans were a big draw too.

Since then, I have been drawn to any little reference to those comic strips, whether in the Dalekmania documentary or in the hovering Dalek hordes of Bad Wolf. Imagine my delight when BBC’s new five-part animated series Daleks! delivered a golden emperor, hoverbouts, galactic machinations and conniving robots, all Terry Nation and David Whitaker-spawned staples retooled for 2020. Furthermore, this was new Who material, the first official on-screen spin-off since 2016’s Class [I didn't get beyond the pilot with Twelve - Ed].

Storywise, my expectations were low. This was a show for kids, surely; at just over ten minutes, the episodes didn’t have room for deep themes or grand character arcs. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Daleks in this show are fallible, backstabbing, on the run from a powerful space entity but still as devious as ever. The brass-bumped emperor is pompous and the scarred old strategist is loyal. Along with the entity, they face stubborn librarians, reprogramed rivals and (finally, after 55 years) the Mechanoids. I‘ve always had a soft spot for these big bots from the First Doctor story The Chase, with their beautiful architecture and their high-pitched voices, speaking a mix of code and broken English. It’s a delight to see them back in action.

Although the episodes are brief, there’s enough meat in them to tell a solid story, develop the main Dalek characters and squeeze in a twist or two. These Daleks aren’t as menacing as they appear in Doctor Who but their threat is in their numbers – we see their armada in full force – and in their Machiavellian antics.

The animation is uneven; while most of the spacecraft and alien cities are highly detailed, the explosions and robots are highly simplified and unrealistic [should've used the Unreal Engine - Ed]. Nevertheless, the faceless Daleks, obviously easier to animate than humans, are imbued with life and momentum, as are the slick ‘camera’ moves.

Daleks! provides a great opportunity for a new audience to familiarize themselves with Doctor Who’s main menace, and for die-hard fans to get a fix before the New Year’s Revolution. I dearly hope that this show leads to more seasons and more spin-offs. Anyone for Saturday Morning Cybermen? [an excellent suggestion - Ed]

Watch Daleks! for free on YouTube and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Way of the Mandalorian



With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker concluding the epic nine-part Skywalker saga a year ago. The Disney+ live-action spin-off series continues to fill the void during the pandemic.

This contains spoilers for The Mandalorian Chapter 12 and 13 streaming now on Disney+. You have been warned, Padawan!

Following Din Djarin's (Pedro Pascal) memorable meeting with Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), Mando and The Child AKA Baby Yoda take a detour to visit some old friends on Nevarro and repair the battle-damaged Razor Crest before continuing the search for the Jedi. Kryze told Mando to seek fan-favourite Ashoka Tano (The Clone Wars) on the forest moon of Corvus.

Director Carl Weathers, who plays Greef Karga in the live-action Star Wars spin-off, dives into George Lucas' original trilogy sandbox and serves up a thrilling tale filled with 'toyetic' moments that transported me back to childhood; playing with Kenner and Palitoy action figures, playsets and accessories at Christmas.

All the while connecting the prequel, original and sequel trilogies with midi-chlorians sourced from The Child and allusions to the creation of Emperor Palpatine's (Ian McDiarmid) puppet: Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). And that's before Moff Gideon's (Giancarlo Esposito) Dark Troopers, first seen in the Star Wars: Dark Forces video game, seemingly appear aboard his Arquitens-class light command cruiser. Oh, boy!

Ahsoka lives!

Chapter 13, directed by Dave Filoni (Star Wars Rebels), sees Ashoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) immediately enter the fray in an episode that will be long remembered as it explores the grander mythological themes of the Star Wars saga, sets up a new spin-off series and rewards longtime fans (myself included) amidst scorching lightsaber and blaster fire action.

The Jedi is an emotional tour de force in which we learn Baby Yoda's name is Grogu, how he was saved from certain death in the Jedi Temple, on Coruscant, by a mysterious rescuer when the Emperor passed Order 66 as Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) turns to the dark side, becomes Darth Vader and goes on a murderous rampage (Revenge of the Sith). This is lent further poignancy in the knowledge Ahsoka was Anakin's former apprentice.

There's tragic foreshadowing as Ashoka refuses to train Grogu (he'll always be Baby Yoda to me) due to his attachment to Djarin. If The Phantom Menace is any indicator, I've got a bad, very bad, feeling about this.

If this wasn't enough to process, Grand Admiral Thrawn (Heir to the Empire) is namechecked when Ahsoka defeats the Magistrate (Diana Lee Inosanto). Wherever the Razor Crest, tracked by Moff Gideon's Imperial forces, is taking us, it's going to be the very best of Star Wars.

This is the way.

Monday, 30 November 2020

Doctor Who battles Daleks New Year's Day



The release date trailer for Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks was shown before Strictly Come Dancing's results show last evening on BBC One.



Chris Chibnall, the series showrunner, said:

"We’ve crammed this year's Doctor Who Festive Special with an explosion of extraordinary acting talent. Where else would you get British acting royalty, a globally renowned US screen star, an (inter)national treasure of stage and screen and one of Britain's hottest young actors — just in the guest cast! Put those together with Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole (and Daleks! Did I mention Daleks!) — and you get a cast to be exterminated for. And things will explode. Promise."

Alongside John Barrowman returning as Captain Jack Harkness, Chris Noth (Sex and the City) reprises his role as a disgraced hotelier, Jack Robertson.

As expected, the holiday special will be shown on BBC One and BBC America on New Year's Day! Let's hope to herald a much more positive 2021 for everyone.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

David Prowse, Star Wars' Darth Vader, dies



James Earl Jones was the unmistakable voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars but David Prowse embodied the towering armour-clad dark lord cinemagoers first saw board the battle-damaged Rebel Blockade Runner in A New Hope. Prowse's Bristolian accent wasn't menacing enough for a Sith Lord with a propensity to Force choke anyone who had a lack of faith in ancient religion.

Prowse passed away Saturday, aged 85. The sad news was posted on Twitter by the actor's management.

Mark Hamill, who played Darth Vader's son Luke Skywalker in the original and sequel trilogies, shared a tribute to Prowse on Twitter.

"So sad to hear David Prowse has passed," Hamill wrote. "He was a kind man & much more than Darth Vader. Actor-Husband-Father-Member of the Order of the British Empire-3 time British Weightlifting Champion & Safety Icon the Green Cross Code Man. He loved his fans as much as they loved him."

I met Prowse twice. Firstly when he visited my primary school, where I would suffer a life-changing head injury in October 1977, as the Green Cross Code Man and secondly years later at a special screening of the original Star Wars trilogy in the early nineties. He was warm and genial. Incidentally, the first time I saw Darth Vader, in person, was at my local Debenhams department store (now John Lewis) during the release of Return of the Jedi. Mum kept it a surprise and took me to the toy department where the lift opened to reveal the dark lord himself and Stormtroopers...

Prowse was banned from official Star Wars events in 2010 having allegedly fallen out with Star Wars creator George Lucas. In a newspaper article in 1978, he revealed, to cheering fans in California, Darth Vader was, in fact, Anakin Skywalker, Luke's father, two years before The Empire Strikes Back. This may have been a lucky guess. However, thank goodness social media wasn't a thing.

Discovering Prowse played Darth Vader, in the pages of Marvel's making of Star Wars magazine, is a cherished childhood memory. The actor also appeared in Doctor Who, The Tomorrow People and Space: 1999, which are available to stream on BritBox.

He will be long remembered.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Captain Jack's back in Doctor Who Christmas special



This month marks the 57th anniversary of Doctor Who and there's plenty for fans (myself included) to celebrate.

From the return of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), last seen in Series 12, to the introduction of Jo Grant (Katy Manning) in The Collection: Season 10 Blu-ray (affiliate link). The latter features the iconic debut of The Master, played by the late Roger Delgado, in Terror of the Autons, which I first saw at the 20th anniversary celebration at Longleat. Season 10 features some of my favourite Target novelisations from the classic era.



Barrowman, who fronted spin-off series Torchwood, said: “Putting on Jack’s coat and setting foot back on the set of Doctor Who was just like going back home. It’s always thrilling to play Captain Jack.

“He’s a character very close to my heart who changed my life, and to know the fans love him as much as I do makes his return even sweeter.

“I hope everyone enjoys Jack’s heroic adventure with Thirteen.”



Executive producer Chris Chibnall promised “an epic and emotional feature-length episode".

He said: “A Doctor Who festive special means treats galore, and there’s no bigger treat than the return of John Barrowman to Doctor Who for an epic and emotional feature-length episode.

“If anyone can blast away the sheer rubbishness of 2020, it’s Captain Jack. Daleks beware.”

Matt Strevens, executive producer for BBC Studios, added: “After a tantalisingly brief appearance in Fugitive Of The Judoon, it’s a total joy and thrill to welcome back John as Captain Jack.

“One of the most iconic characters in Doctor Who lore, his presence ignites this festive special from the start.”

Revolution of the Daleks will air during the upcoming festive period on BBC One and BBC America.

To cap it all, on a personal level, it was an unexpected pleasure to see my tweet republished in the official Doctor Who Magazine (DWM). This is the third time my prose has appeared. I've been watching Doctor Who for as long as I can remember...

Monday, 23 November 2020

PS5 is next-gen magic in a pandemic



So, last Thursday marked the launch of the PlayStation 5 (PS5) in the UK and Europe. Arguably, Sony’s next-gen console is the must-have of this holiday season. More so than Microsoft's Xbox Series X and S if mainstream media coverage is to be believed and, as the lucky owner of a PS5, I can see why first-hand.

You managed to obtain a rarer than hen’s teeth PS5 whilst others couldn’t or had them cancelled (looking at you Currys PC World), I hear you cry? Well, having foregone both next-gen console pre-orders, to bump the spec of an imperative iMac upgrade, and the looming prospect of a COVID Christmas, I took a chance on launch day and ordered from John Lewis via the retailer’s iPad app as the site invariably crashed due to tens of thousands of eager fellow PlayStation enthusiasts.

To my genuine surprise and delight, the gamble paid off and a shiny Sony next-gen console was safely delivered very early the following day. John Lewis’ customer service is among the best and that free 2-year guarantee isn’t too shabby. Other retailers are available and your mileage may vary but praise where it’s due - especially during a pandemic.

Initial thoughts on the disc-based PS5 after a couple of days use. The console is by turns gigantic and Cupertino-designed spaceship sleek compared to previous generations. A far cry from the Atari VCS where my video game odyssey began with a cousin’s unwanted Christmas gift in 1980. My eight-year-old self would have jumped at the chance of owning a console and accessories in Imperial Stormtrooper livery. Rebels! Schmebels!


Initial setup was buggy and a few apps crashed but that comes with day-one territory. Following a quick restart and system software update, the PS5 (mounted horizontally as if levitating a la Dua Lipa) runs whisper quiet and lightning fast compared to its PlayStation 3 (PS3) and PlayStation 4 (PS4) predecessors. The solid-state drive (SSD) impresses. The Blu-ray disc drive supports 4K UHD, unlike the PS4 Pro.

The look and feel is premium next-gen in spite of a lack of customisation options for the dashboard (post-launch updates will fix that) and the DualSense controller is a joyful revelation: an inspired fusion of PlayStation and Nintendo innovation distilled in Astro’s Playroom (pre-loaded on every PS5). This gaming gem is haptic feedback heaven and here's hoping third-party developers utilise it.

The DualSense is my new favourite controller of all time after years of advocating the excellent Xbox controller over PlayStation’s DualShock (DS), which I've never got on with since the launch of the original PlayStation 25 years ago.

The day-one launch titles are impressive, most impressive (more so in the midst of a lockdown). As a lifelong fan of Marvel’s web-slinger, I had to get Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales Ultimate Edition and will buy Demon's Souls and Sackboy: A Big Adventure on Black Friday.

The PlayStation Plus Collection for PS5 is the icing on the cake for launch week. Days Gone, a first-party action-adventure survival horror video game that launched to mixed reviews in 2019, is way more fun than expected, Detroit: Become Human is stylistically at home on the PS5 and I can’t wait to revisit Horizon Zero Dawn ahead of Horizon Forbidden West.

PS4 backwards compatibility is every bit as superlative as the fine folks at Digital Foundry (DF) enthusiastically suggest. Sony should be shouting from the rooftops for the first time since PS3.



Before I wrap up this PS5 launch review. Jim Ryan, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s CEO and president has warned the console has sold out everywhere before Christmas.

“Everything is sold. Absolutely everything is sold,” Mr Ryan told Russian news agency TASS.

"I’ve spent much of the last year trying to be sure that we can generate enough demand for the product. And now in terms of my executive bandwidth I’m spending a lot more time on trying to increase supply to meet that demand."

Mr Ryan said that the COVID-19 outbreak may have impacted the number of consoles available at launch. “We might have had a few more to sell, but not very many: the guys on the production/manufacturing side have worked miracles,” he said in the interview.

If you missed out on pre-ordering or limited launch day stock, there's some good news this Black Friday. Walmart, Best Buy and GameStop restock this week. So, it may be a happy Thanksgiving for US-based fans after all.

To paraphrase teenage pop music crush Kylie, do I believe in magic? Why yes, I do. And don't we all deserve a fun fillip in these troubling times? As a fan of PlayStation since it was originally announced as a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), I can't wait to play without limits...

Did you manage to get a PS5 on launch day? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Star Wars author challenges Disney empire



Author Alan Dean Foster, who ghost-wrote the original Star Wars novelisation for George Lucas, wrote sequel Splinter of the Mind's Eye (before The Empire Strikes Back) and the original Alien trilogy novelisations, isn't receiving royalties from Disney following the company's acquisition of Lucasfilm and Twentieth Century Fox.

Foster, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, has published an open letter, which he hopes will be wildly shared. As a lifelong fan of Disney, Star Wars and his work, I feel compelled to repost verbatim:

"Dear Mickey,

We have a lot in common, you and I. We share a birthday: November 18. My dad’s nickname was Mickey. There’s more.

When you purchased Lucasfilm you acquired the rights to some books I wrote. STAR WARS, the novelization of the very first film. SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE, the first sequel novel. You owe me royalties on these books. You stopped paying them.

When you purchased 20th Century Fox, you eventually acquired the rights to other books I had written. The novelizations of ALIEN, ALIENS, and ALIEN 3. You’ve never paid royalties on any of these, or even issued royalty statements for them.

All these books are all still very much in print. They still earn money. For you. When one company buys another, they acquire its liabilities as well as its assets. You’re certainly reaping the benefits of the assets. I’d very much like my miniscule (though it’s not small to me) share.

You want me to sign an NDA (Non-disclosure agreement) before even talking. I’ve signed a lot of NDAs in my 50-year career. Never once did anyone ever ask me to sign one prior to negotiations. For the obvious reason that once you sign, you can no longer talk about the matter at hand. Every one of my representatives in this matter, with many, many decades of experience in such business, echo my bewilderment.

You continue to ignore requests from my agents. You continue to ignore queries from SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. You continue to ignore my legal representatives. I know this is what gargantuan corporations often do. Ignore requests and inquiries hoping the petitioner will simply go away. Or possibly die. But I’m still here, and I am still entitled to what you owe me. Including not to be ignored, just because I’m only one lone writer. How many other writers and artists out there are you similarly ignoring?

My wife has serious medical issues and in 2016 I was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. We could use the money. Not charity: just what I’m owed. I’ve always loved Disney. The films, the parks, growing up with the Disneyland TV show. I don’t think Unca Walt would approve of how you are currently treating me. Maybe someone in the right position just hasn’t received the word, though after all these months of ignored requests and queries, that’s hard to countenance. Or as a guy named Bob Iger said….

“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

I’m not feeling it.

Alan Dean Foster

Prescott, AZ"


What are your thoughts on Foster’s feud with Disney? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 20 November 2020

Wonder Woman 1984 this Christmas on HBO Max



Here's some good news for fellow DC Comics fans. Wonder Woman 1984, starring Gal Gadot, is coming to selected cinemas and exclusively on HBO Max this holiday season.

“At some point you have to choose to share any love and joy you have to give, over everything else,” director Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) wrote on Twitter to coincide with the release of the official main trailer. “We love our movie as we love our fans, so we truly hope that our film brings a little bit of joy and reprieve to all of you this holiday season.”



“As we navigate these unprecedented times, we’ve had to be innovative in keeping our businesses moving forward while continuing to super-serve our fans,” said Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, which includes Warner Bros. Pictures. “This is an amazing film that really comes to life on the big screen and, working with our partners in the exhibition community, we will provide that option to consumers in the U.S. where theaters are open. We realize that a lot of consumers can’t go back to the movies due to the pandemic, so we also want to give them the option to see WONDER WOMAN 1984 via our HBO Max platform.”

“We appreciate how patient audiences have been and given the great anticipation around WONDER WOMAN 1984 we are grateful to be able to make this terrifically entertaining movie widely available in these challenging times,” said Toby Emmerich, Chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group.

Wall Street mused on the hybrid release strategy. "This is an unprecedented move for a major Hollywood media company, especially for a $200 million film, and a grand experiment that could have long-lasting implications if successful," Credit Suisse analyst Douglas Mitchelson wrote in a report. "Up to now, speculation had been that Wonder Woman 1984 would either be delayed or be released in theaters and then shift over to HBO Max after a short exclusivity period."

There's no news whether Warner Bros. will follow suit outside the US. However, it's very possible the first sequel to Wonder Woman will be available on direct-to-consumer streaming platforms as most cinemas remain closed, around the globe, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Personally, I'd be delighted to unwrap Wonder Woman 1984 so to speak, safely in the comfort of my own home, on Christmas Day. Would you? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

PlayStation shapes London Underground



The London Underground is being invaded for 48-hours. No, it's not Doctor Who's Cybermen or Yeti this time.

The PlayStation 5 (PS5) finally launches in the UK today and Sony's marketing mavericks have all but taken over the holiday season. Xbox Series what? As a platform-agnostic gamer, I jest of course.

However, many non-gamers (including my dad) are more aware of the next-gen PlayStation than Microsoft's consoles launched last week. Demand for both next-gen consoles is at fever pitch, more so given the pandemic and being back in lockdown with Christmas only weeks away.

Did you manage to get a PS5 on launch day? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

The Mandalorian in Minecraft



The Force is strong with Minecraft.

Mojang, part of Xbox Game Studios, announced on Life Day, a Wookiee Thanksgiving celebration debuting with the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978, new Star Wars downloadable content (DLC) featuring the original trilogy and The Mandalorian and The Child AKA Baby Yoda. The second season of the Emmy-winning live-action series is currently being shown exclusively on Disney+.



Minecraft is free for Xbox Game Pass subscribers (myself included). So, I'll be downloading the Star Wars-themed DLC from the Minecraft Marketplace for some holiday hijinks.

Who doesn't want to throw snowballs at AT-ATs? Let me know in the comments below.