Friday 8 December 2023

Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder

Wild Blue Yonder is the second of three specials celebrating the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who.

The second special's promotion is steeped in redacted mystery. Nick Smith, our US-based veteran Whovian, discovers what it all means.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Since the Daleks first returned to Doctor Who in 1964, the series has performed a delicate balancing act, bringing its viewers familiar sights and themes alongside new, unpredictable adventures. At the height of its 60th anniversary, this balance is trickier than ever.

How can a nostalgic show like Doctor Who continue to surprise us? How can it give us what we crave – the Doctor being insatiably curious, exploring strange new worlds – and stay fresh simultaneously?

Wild Blue Yonder, the second of three consecutive specials, revitalizes a well-worn wedding adage by including something old (a top-tier previous Doctor and companion combo), something new (a bizarre alien spaceship), something borrowed (shades of films like Passengers and Event Horizon) and something blue (the TARDIS!).

The high-wire act works, with mystery, humour and pathos all rolled into a tightly paced story that purposefully focuses on the Doctor, giving David Tennant plenty of time to remind us what a good and charismatic actor he is.

The Wild Blue Yonder was a phrase coined for the official U.S. Army Air Corps (now Air Force) song in 1939. It means venturing into the unknown, mysterious territory of the sky. In this new story, the Doctor and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) find themselves on a gleaming white space vessel so vast that they need a futuristic golf cart to get around.

Donna keeps us grounded in reality, considering the cleaning routine. The Doctor is obsessed with the ship's mysteries, confounded by the appearance of two strange, bendy, gruesomely toothsome creatures.

Although there’s a real sense of threat from these monsters, the sets are too brightly lit for the story to be scary. It’s hard to lurk in the shadows when we can see every nook and uncreepy cranny. The show has been overlit in stories like Warriors of the Deep and Dragonfire, but that was back in the ‘80s when the Beeb didn’t always want to spend the time and money on effective lighting. In Wild Blue Yonder, the Doctor and Donna talk about being terrorized but we do not share their fear; it’s harder to be scared with the lights on.

Aside from that questionable directing choice, this episode is near perfect, full of ideas and excitement, giving the lead actors lots to do and providing us with a sweet scene where the Doctor is reunited with his old friend Wilf. Sadly no longer with us, Bernard Cribbins depicts joy, hope and fear in a heart-breaking last hurrah.

Since Tennant is so confident and personable in his role, this is the story that will really make us miss him when he regenerates into the next Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa - an event that has been a year in the hyping but will still seem like a surprise, since we’re just getting comfortable with Tennant again. It’s a clever conceit and a risky one – by giving the people a treat and whisking it away, there’s a chance they’ll turn their noses up at the substitute.

Luckily, the familiar and the unfamiliar have always coexisted in the world of Doctor Who.

Have you seen Wild Blue Yonder? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

Thursday 7 December 2023

LEGO Fortnite is live!

LEGO Fortnite has gone live! Drop into a world of unlimited imagination – and llamas – with the ultimate survival crafting game! What will you build?

Niels B. Christiansen, CEO of the LEGO Group, said: “Our partnership with Epic Games is focused on developing digital play experiences that are designed to be fun and safe, and have the potential to bridge the worlds of physical and digital play to inspire kids. Together with Epic Games, we are building digital worlds designed with kids in mind from the outset - we hope other creators and brands are inspired to do the same.”

This is the first play experience to come from the long-term partnership between Epic Games and the LEGO Group to develop fun and safe digital spaces for children and families.

Tim Sweeney, CEO & Founder, Epic Games said: “LEGO Fortnite offers players a new way to express themselves through worldbuilding and is an important step forward in the evolution of the Fortnite ecosystem. We look forward to continuing to partner with The LEGO Group to build immersive digital play spaces that are fun for kids and all types of players.”

The LEGO Fortnite journey is just beginning, with new world building, gameplay features, and more LEGO Style Outfits arriving in updates starting in early 2024.

Fortnite is available to play for free on PlayStation 4 (PS4), PlayStation 5 (PS5), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC on Epic Games Store and cloud-based gaming streaming services.

Discover more and link your accounts on LEGO AU, CA, UK and US (affiliate links).

Will you be playing LEGO Fortnite? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Star Wars: Brightstar

Whilst Star Wars fans (myself included) wait for a new movie and further spin-off series on Disney+, fans continue to produce short films based on George Lucas' space opera.

Star Wars: Brightstar, directed by Raphaël Hébert, is an award-winning fan film sans Skywalkers or Mandalorians.

Read the official synopsis:

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a fugitive family living in peace must brace itself when their past has tracked them down."

The 20-minute short film features an electrifying lightsabre duel and an emotional core evoking the original trilogy.

If you have a Star Wars fan film you'd like to share, please contact me.

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Grand Theft Auto VI's first trailer

A teaser trailer for the sixth instalment in the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) video game franchise has been released early by Rockstar Games.

Rockstar Games on Monday confirmed an unauthorised third party had accessed and downloaded details of the highly-anticipated GTA sequel.

A statement from the company said: “We recently suffered a network intrusion in which an unauthorised third party illegally accessed and downloaded confidential information from our systems, including early development footage for the next Grand Theft Auto.

“At this time, we do not anticipate any disruption to our live game services nor any long-term effect on the development of our ongoing projects.

“We are extremely disappointed to have any details of our next game shared with you all in this way. Our work on the next Grand Theft Auto game will continue as planned and we remain as committed as ever to delivering an experience to you, our players, that truly exceeds your expectations.

“We will update everyone again soon and, of course, will properly introduce you to this next game when it is ready. We want to thank everyone for their ongoing support through this situation.”

GTA VI heads to the state of Leonida, home to the neon-soaked streets of Vice City and beyond in the biggest, most immersive evolution of the Grand Theft Auto series yet.

With a reported budget of over a billion dollars and featuring a female protagonist (Lucia), GTA VI will be released on PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Xbox Series S|X in 2025.

GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas will be available to Netflix subscribers (myself included) on mobile devices on 14th December.

Are you looking forward to GTA VI? What did you think of the first trailer? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Fallout teaser trailer

Prime Video has dropped a teaser trailer for Fallout from the showrunners of Westworld.

Read the official synopsis:

"A nuclear war breaks out across Earth in the year 2077—an era of robots, hover cars, and a deep and abiding nostalgia for the America of the 1940s. After the incendiary mushroom clouds, the story flashes forward 219 years. How did humanity fair over those blighted two centuries? Lucy (played by Yellowjackets star Ella Purnell) has no clue. She has lived her entire life inside a subterranean vault, where every need and want has been satisfied while generations and generations await the day when it is safe to surface. When a crisis forces Lucy to venture above on a rescue mission, she finds that the planet above remains a hellscape crawling with giant insects, voracious mutant animal abominations, and a human population of sunbaked miscreants."

Fallout premieres exclusively on Prime Video (affiliate link) on 12th April.

What did you think of the teaser trailer for Fallout on Prime Video? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 2 December 2023

FX's Shogun this February on Disney+

Disney+ has dropped an official trailer for FX's Shogun coming to Disney+.

Read the official synopsis:

"When a mysterious European ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village, its English pilot, John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), comes bearing secrets that could help Toranaga tip the scales of power and devastate the formidable influence of Blackthorne's own enemies - the Jesuit priests and Portuguese merchants. Toranaga's and Blackthorne's fates become inextricably tied to their translator, Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), a mysterious Christian noblewoman and the last of a disgraced line. While serving her lord amidst this fraught political landscape, Mariko must reconcile her newfound companionship with Blackthorne, her commitment to the faith that saved her and her duty to her late father."

I still have vivid memories of watching the Shogun miniseries, starring Richard Chamberlain, in 1980. Along with Star Wars, the live-action adaptation of James Clavell’s bestselling novel piqued an interest in samurai legend.

The premiere of the 10-episode limited series will include the first two episodes, followed by a new episode each week.

FX's Shogun will premiere worldwide exclusively on Disney+ on 27th February.

Are you looking forward to FX's Shogun on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 1 December 2023

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters

Godzilla is back on the small screen in a live-action series sans Godzooky on Apple TV+.

After a misty-eyed timey-wimey reunion in Doctor Who, Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, goes on a monster hunt.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Over the past ten years, Legendary Pictures has done a bang-up, stomp-down job of bringing a universe of monsters to a modern audience. They released the Kraken in their 2010 Clash of the Titans remake, made giants great again in 2013’s Jack the Giant Slayer, and gave us giant robots versus kaiju in the same year’s Pacific Rim.

But it was 2014’s Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards (The Creator, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) that really proved Legendary could do monsters right, leading to a crossover series of titanic proportions that includes Kong: Skull Island and the forthcoming Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, due out in 2024.

With Marvel Studios creating lucrative crossovers on the big and small screen, a Legendary streaming show set in their ‘MonsterVerse’ is an obvious move. But is it a necessary one?

Judging by the first three episodes of Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, the answer is no. It’s fun to see Godzilla pop up once or twice, as well as movie big-shots Kurt Russell and John Goodman, but beyond the stars and roars, this is a show based around a shady, military-style organization with ties to the US Army – hardly a unique premise.

The characters are as forgettable as they are likeable, aside from Russell (who plays former U.S. Army colonel Lee Shaw) and his son Wyatt Russell, who plays his dad’s younger self in a nice casting move and is a charming chip off the old block.

The series is a US-Japanese co-production, with original Godzilla herders Toho involved. There are some nice nods to kaiju lore and it would be great to see more characters and creatures from the original movies.

If the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) can dip into its rich history, why can’t the MonsterVerse reintroduce some of Toho’s imaginative creations like the all-singing, all-smiling miniature worshipers of Mothra?

OK, maybe not.

Self-reference can easily become a narrative barrier to audiences, as shown when Monarch relies on familiarity with the new Legendary movies. If you don’t remember everything that happened in those films, there are some flashbacks to help but otherwise, you’re on your own.

Speaking of barriers, the title is hardly a draw. It’s as if Legendary wants to trick non-monster fans into watching before the hapless viewers realize that this is Godzilla’s party and he’s the one throwing the buildings.

The scale of the saga is impressive, as it jumps from the 1950s to the 2010s to the present day and shows what the world would be like with Godzilla disaster shelters and big Japanese signs that probably read, ‘have you seen this behemoth?’.

At their best, the Legendary movies return to the roots of their larger-than-life characters, with sympathetic monsters and richly drawn human beings. A 10-part series provides time for those characters to develop and grow on us, and the Godzilla allegory – the danger of toying with nature – will always be relevant.

While Monarch is a big, scaly bundle of joy for kaiju kids and fans of Kurt Russell (who isn’t?), it definitely needs an extra splash of imagination beyond its cool monsters.

Are you watching Monarch: Legacy of Monsters on Apple TV+? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Hasbro sends in the Star Wars Clones

'Tis the season. Gift the Galaxy is a 10-week celebration revealing and highlighting Star Wars toys, apparel, and more, helping fans find a gift for everyone on their list. Or if you’re a fan (myself included), maybe you’ll find something new for your own wishlist!

Our friends at Hasbro have sent over the latest reveals for Star Wars: The Black Series and Star Wars: The Vintage Collection!


(HASBRO/Ages 4 years & up/Approx. Retail Price: $44.99 / Available: Spring 2024)

STAR WARS fans and collectors can imagine scenes from the STAR WARS galaxy with this premium 6-inch STAR WARS: THE BLACK SERIES CLONE TROOPER LIEUTENANT & 332ND AHSOKA’S CLONE TROOPER figure pack, inspired by the characters’ appearances in STAR WARS: AHSOKA. Throughout the Clone Wars, clone troopers fought Separatist battle droids across the galaxy. Though little Republic support could be spared in helping Ahsoka Tano assist a besieged Mandalore, a 501st clone trooper division pledged their loyalty to Ahsoka with repainted helmets. Fans and collectors can display these fully articulated figures featuring premium detail and multiple points of articulation in their collection. Includes 2 figures and 6 entertainment-inspired accessories. Available for pre-order 11/29 at 1pm ET exclusively at Target.


(HASBRO/Ages 4 years & up/Approx. Retail Price: $54.99 / Available: Summer 2024)

By the end of the Clone Wars, nearly all clones had switched to improved armor, including variant forms used for troopers in specialized roles. A 501st clone trooper division pledged their loyalty to Ahsoka Tano with repainted helmets. Fans can celebrate the legacy of STAR WARS, the action-and-adventure-packed space saga from a galaxy far, far away, with this premium 3.75-inch scale STAR WARS: THE VINTAGE COLLECTION PHASE II CLONE TROOPER 4-PACK inspired by the STAR WARS: AHSOKA live-action series. These figures feature premium detail and design across product and packaging inspired by the original Kenner line, as well as the entertainment-inspired collector grade deco. Includes 4 figures and 6 entertainment-inspired accessories.

Available for pre-order 11/29 at 1pm ET exclusively at Hasbro Pulse and ShopDisney at a later date.

Discover even more epic gifts at Amazon (affiliate link).

Which Hasbro Star Wars announcement is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Fallout first look

Vanity Fair has an exclusive first look at Fallout from the showrunners of Westworld.

“The games are about the culture of division and haves and have-nots that, unfortunately, have only gotten more and more acute in this country and around the world over the last decades,” said showrunner Jonathan Nolan, who is adapting the game series with wife Lisa Joy and directed the first three episodes.

“We get to talk about that in a wonderful, speculative-fiction way. I think we’re all looking at the world and going, ‘God, things seem to be heading in a very, very frightening direction.’”

The live-action adaptation of Fallout is canon as Bethesda's Todd Howard explained to Vanity Fair.

“We view what’s happening in the show as canon,” he said. “That’s what’s great, when someone else looks at your work and then translates it in some fashion.

“I did not want to do an interpretation of an existing story we did. That was the other thing—a lot of pitches were, you know, ‘This is the movie of Fallout 3…’ I was like, ‘Yeah, we told that story.’ I don’t have a lot of interest seeing those translated. I was interested in someone telling a unique Fallout story. Treat it like a game. It gives the creators of the series their own playground to play in.”

Fallout premieres exclusively on Prime Video (affiliate link) on 12th April.

Are you looking forward to Fallout on Prime Video? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 26 November 2023

Doctor Who: The Star Beast

The Star Beast ushers in a new era of Doctor Who with Disney+ bringing the beloved BBC sci-fi series to an international audience under the auspices of returning series showrunner Russell T Davies.

This year is the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who and the 30th anniversary of befriending Nick Smith at university. Without further fanfare, Nick, our US-based veteran Whovian, has a close encounter with a space gremlin. Meep! Meep!

Guest post by Nick Smith

I was snagged by one of the oldest marketing tricks in comic books, a big Number One on the cover. There was also a competition to win a trip to Blackpool, a copy of the Genesis of the Daleks LP and an invitation to join UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. My stubby little eight-year-old hands held a copy of Marvel UK's Doctor Who Weekly and once I opened it up, I never looked back.

The issue was actually Number 26, but since this was a First New Look Issue it justified the big old one on the cover. I wasn’t duped. I could read. And read I did – an editorial written BY THE DOCTOR HIMSELF, signed off, ‘Happy Times and Places.’ A backup strip about the Sontarans, who I remembered from an early Tom Baker adventure. There was a Fantastic Fact about Harry Potter (not a wizard but a gardener from Northumberland), a special offer to get a free Boba Fett action figure (with a non-functioning laser rifle), and a Tale From the TARDIS adapting The First Men in the Moon.

Best of all – the story I kept going back to, and the reason why I reread the issue until the back page fell off – was The Star Beast, a cleverly written, beautifully drawn comic about a cute little alien called Beep the Meep who crashes to earth and needs the Doctor’s help. All was not as it seemed, and that O. Henry twist was what really kept me coming back and made me a lifelong fan of Doctor Who comics.

A whopping 43 years later, imagine my delight when that little alien appeared on my TV in a tightly woven show with high production values, sincere performances from its main cast, and the kind of acknowledgement of minorities that the strip strove for with its companion of colour, Sharon.

This time around there is a non-binary character who has a reason for being in the story beyond social commentary, and the envelope-stretching never gets in the way of the adventure, capping it instead.

Although original writer Pat Mills and artist Dave Gibbons get a credit at the beginning of the special, there’s no mention of co-writer John Wagner. Some of Wagner’s ideas and nuances are lost in the rush to tell not just Beep’s (Miriam Margolyes) story but also that of the Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) as they are reunited in the first of three specials.

New viewers are not spoon-fed the whole ‘cosmic Time Lord hero’ premise of Doctor Who. Instead, the focus is on the Doctor and his feisty companion, her family and even characters who are mentioned but not seen, such as Kate Stewart of UNIT. Those newbies are encouraged to seek out the answers by watching and/or reading about previous stories, to dip into the Doctor’s 60-year history.

UNIT is now a bland, black-clad paramilitary band of peacekeepers. They are not secret (they’re mentioned on the news!). There is a new scientific advisor but no distinctive leader, no Sergeant Benton or Captain Yates. Benton, Yates and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart were what made UNIT special (apart from their raging gun battles with alien gargoyles). A new UNIT spin-off series will hopefully redress this lack of personae.

This story made me laugh in some places and choked me up a little in others, the kind of emotional ups and downs I expect from Russell T Davies’ best work. After the silly skit that was Destination: Skaro, the Children in Need special, The Star Beast has enough weight to warrant repeat views and bodes well for the new Season One – which isn’t really Number One. The more things change…

If this new special makes kids think, appreciate storytelling and use their imaginations as much as that old comic strip did with me, it will be very special.

Have you seen The Star Beast? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).