Sunday 26 May 2024

Doctor Who season two wraps

Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies posted on Instagram that filming of season two has wrapped for broadcast in 2025. Little is known about the next season beyond Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson reprising the roles of Doctor Who and Ruby Sunday respectively.

Joining the TARDIS crew will be Varada Sethu. She made her surprise series debut in Boom!

Sethu, no stranger to sci-fi after appearing in Star Wars spin-off series Andor on Disney+, says: "I feel like the luckiest person in the world. It is such an honour to be a part of the Whoniverse, and I'm so grateful to the whole Doctor Who family - because that is what they are - for welcoming me with open arms and making me feel so at home. I couldn't ask for a better team than Ncuti and Millie to be on this adventure with, this is SO much fun!"

Season one is halfway through, and 73 Yards showcased Gibson's acting ability in one of the best-ever episodes in the long-running BBC sci-fi series history.

New episodes of Doctor Who stream every Friday on Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland and every Saturday on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Season one is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Are you watching Doctor Who season one? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 24 May 2024

Doctor Who: Boom

After a divisive season one double bill, Boom sees the return of writer and former series showrunner Steven Moffat to Doctor Who. He has also written the upcoming holiday special, Joy to the World. Moffat's tenure as showrunner remains my favourite since 2005. He gave us the Weeping Angels and Soufflé Girl (Jenna Coleman). Sorry, not sorry.

Boom marks the sci-fi series' first use of ILM's StageCraft (originally developed for the Star Wars live-action spin-off series The Mandalorian on Disney+).

Nick Smith, our US-based veteran Whovian, finds himself in a minefield without help from former TARDIS companion Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter). If you know, you know.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Fourth Doctor Tom Baker once stated that it was a pity so many of his stories had to end with an explosion. There had to be better ways to resolve a conflict than with wholesale destruction. From a dramatic storytelling point of view, big bangs are understandable; they are loud and spectacular and offer some closure amidst the debris. But the drama doesn’t just come from the booms. It comes from the lead-up as well – the inexorably ticking countdown, the sweat on the brow of the damned, the inevitability of death on a battlefield.

Writer and former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat takes a short, tense scene from a Tom Baker story – Genesis of the Daleks – and develops it to create a dangerous new environment inhabited by likeable characters, placing them in a seemingly fatal situation.

One of those characters is the Fifteenth Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa), who steps on a landmine.

This isn’t his first wrong-footed rodeo; see Genesis for tips on avoiding getting blown up. But this time around, the mine is smart and deadly automaton ambulances roam the cratered landscape, looking for patients to kill with kindness.

At first blush, this is a stripped-down story focusing on two people, the Doctor and his companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson). Moffat’s simple premise has a vivid, believable backstory that reflects our own war-torn world and our struggles with faith. Like the majority of top-flight sci-fi, it examines social concerns in a way that doesn’t leave us feeling bombarded.

The audience is so used to virtual backgrounds by now that the artifice of StageCraft’s digitally painted sky is forgivable. Ultimately, it’s Ruby’s reaction to this strange new world that sells it, just like the First Doctor’s (William Hartnell) companions helped to convince us that they were on prehistoric earth during their initial adventure.

It would be in keeping with Doctor Who’s spirit of innovation to show us more unusual planets, applying the same imagination to the set design that we see in the writing. Terrain could be upside down or sideways, and not in constant proportion to the humanoid characters.

The casting is generally excellent, with Gatwa, Gibson and Joe Anderson as wounded warrior priest John Francis Vater. The only miscast actress is Caoilinn Springall, who plays John’s daughter Splice Alison Vater. The part is obviously written for a younger actress; as played by Caoilinn, Splice is as dumb as a bag of hammers, with no concept of holograms, landmines or the skirmish going on around her, despite being raised in a warzone.

This is a minor flaw in a taut and exciting episode of Doctor Who that shows that not all pyrotechnics have to be literal. Boom is packed with emotional and narrative surprises that are more explosive than a mindless bang. In the minefield of contemporary dramas that feel the need to spell everything out to the audience, this layered tale is a step in the right direction for the new Doctor.

New episodes of Doctor Who stream every Friday on Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland and every Saturday on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Season one is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Have you watched Boom? 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 23 May 2024

Star Trek showrunner oversees Marvel's Vision

Variety exclusively reports Star Trek: Picard showrunner Terry Matalas has signed on to oversee Marvel Studios' second WandaVision spin-off series, Vision. Matalas helmed the third season of Star Trek: Picard to critical acclaim.

Paul Bettany will reprise the role of the fan-favourite synthezoid first introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The upcoming Marvel Studios series is expected to follow White Vision's search for Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen).

Marvel Studios' Vision will premiere in 2026 on Disney+. Before that, Agatha All Along, WandaVision's first spin-off series, will premiere on 18th September on Disney+.

Are you looking forward to Vision? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock returns to cinemas

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Paramount Pictures is rereleasing the movie in cinemas on 14th June.

The third instalment in the Star Trek film franchise directly follows on from the tragic events of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - one of the greatest sequels ever made. Spock's (Leonard Nimoy) death left an indelible impression on a generation of fans (myself included).

Read the official synopsis:

"Admiral Kirk and his bridge crew risk their careers stealing the decommissioned U.S.S. Enterprise to return to the restricted Genesis Planet to recover Spock’s body."

40 years ago, I vividly remember seeing The Search for Spock with my parents at the ABC Cinema. So many memorable moments, from the Klingon Bird of Prey and Space Dock to the USS Excelsior and stealing the USS Enterprise. All underscored by composer James Horner's soundtrack building on his leitmotifs from The Wrath of Khan. This was Horner's last hurrah for the franchise, but he pulled out all the stops as evidenced by Nick Smith's review courtesy of the fine folks at Intrada.

Pre-order Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (affiliate link) on 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Will you be watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock on the big screen? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 21 May 2024

The Acolyte star performs Star Wars theme

Music plays an integral role in the Star Wars story. Amandla Stenberg will soon be seen in The Acolyte on Disney+.

Stenberg is a self-confessed Star Wars fan and an accomplished violinist. She has always wanted to perform music from Star Wars on her grandfather's violin, and the Oscar-winning composer John Williams wrote a solo arrangement for Stenberg.

Lucasfilm has released a featurette focussing on Stenberg's recording session at the John Williams Music Building.

The Acolyte stars Amandla Stenberg, Lee Jung-jae, Manny Jacinto, Dafne Keen, Charlie Barnett, Jodie Turner-Smith, Rebecca Henderson, Dean-Charles Chapman, Joonas Suotamo, and Carrie-Anne Moss.

The Acolyte, the latest Star Wars live-action spin-off series, debuts exclusively on Disney+ on 4th June.

Are you looking forward to The Acolyte on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 18 May 2024

Agatha All Along

Marvel Studios brilliantly teased the upcoming WandaVision spin-off series starring Kathryn Hahn as the titular witch, Agatha Harkness, on Disney+.

Coven of Chaos, Agnes of Westview, Agatha: The Darkhold Diaries and Agatha: House of Harkness were all teased as titles on social media.

It was Agatha All Along. Well played, Marvel Studios!

WandaVision was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) spin-off series on Disney+ with spellbinding performances from Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), Paul Bettany (Vision) and Hahn. Agatha All Along, the satirical theme song performed by Hahn herself, spawned countless memes and topped the iTunes charts during the pandemic.

Like X-Men '97, Agatha All Along will see Marvel Studios continue to pivot away from the notion that audiences must watch all the MCU things, which felt like too much homework.

“There was a lot of pressure post-‘Avengers: Endgame’ on the public to feel obligated to watch absolutely everything in order to watch anything,” says Brad Winderbaum, Marvel’s head of streaming, television and animation. “Part of the rebranding was a signal to the general audience that we’re creating a lot of options, and you can follow your tastes within this brand. Some will be more comedic, some will be more dramatic, some will be animated, some will be live-action. Marvel is more than just one thing — it is actually many different genres that just happened to coexist in a single narrative.”

Fellow Doctor Who fans will be amused to know Russell T Davies named Jack Harkness after Agatha. Of course, the beloved BBC sci-fi series is now on Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland.

Marvel Studios' Agatha All Along will premiere on 18th September on Disney+.

Are you looking forward to Agatha All Along? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 17 May 2024

Doctor Who: The Devil’s Chord

Space Babies heralded the Disney era of Doctor Who with a double bill including The Devil's Chord, and Andrew Lewin and I would like to invite our readers to discuss all things Whovian on The WELL.

Nick Smith, after appearing on The Legend of the Traveling TARDIS podcast, returns to a not-so-swinging sixties and meets a glum Fab Four.

Guest post by Nick Smith

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) returns to earth for his second adventure of this year, The Devil’s Chord.

After a visit to a baby-making space station, Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) has spent some time in the present before asking to go back in time to meet the Beatles. Whether she is successful or not is debatable.

It’s always fun to see a human companion exploring the past, from Martha Jones' (Freema Agyeman) encounter with the Bard in The Shakespeare Code to Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) helping to stoke The Fires of Pompeii. Inevitably, though, wherever the TARDIS goes, there’s trouble in store.

In 1963, a chaotic god has stolen music like an evil governmental entity removing arts education from schools. How could such a fiendish (yet cost-efficient) scheme possibly effect our world? Showrunner and scriptwriter Russell T Davies counts the ways, which include loneliness, loss of empathy and, worst of all, no Love Me Do from the Fab Four!

Jinkx Monsoon is Maestro, the colourful meanie who has turned ‘60s London into a no-singing, no-dancing homage to Footloose. Like Kevin Bacon in that movie, the Doctor and Ruby are willing to break the rules to draw Maestro out. If you like your villains to chew scenery with the insatiability of a termite at a wood carving convention, Maestro is for you. Luckily, Ruby can play beautiful piano music that sounds uncannily like a Murray Gold composition, and the Doctor can twist like he did last Christmas. Gold’s music has saved many a soul from the blues, and his music is one of the strongest elements in this episode.

Also strong: the lighting and visuals, showing that spending a little more time - and splashing more cash - on this season is paying off. There are some bum notes; the Beatles actors don’t look anything like the group, so the Doctor and Ruby might as well have gone to see the Rutles. Towards the end of the story, the John Lennon not-a-like appears from nowhere to help the Doctor, just like the last episode’s space babies with their flamethrower.

Davies has a habit of giving characters barely justified things to do because the plot requires it, rather than following them in parallel so we can believe what they’re doing is innate. Here, we get a Lennon Ex Machina sauntering up and plonking on a piano, which helps combat Maestro. Contrived to be sure, although it is established early on that music is in his heart somewhere, aching to get out.

Physical musical notes float in the air through a major piece of the story. They are not all necessary, becoming as indulgent as Maestro’s wardrobe. As with the talking babies in the previous story, just because production company Bad Wolf Studios can afford to go to town with CGI, that doesn’t always mean that it should.

A musical number is tacked onto the end of the story after the Doctor breaks the fourth wall. It’s not the first time he’s done this, and the charismatic Gatwa makes it palatable. The suggestion is that anything goes in this magical new version of Doctor Who. But it’s worth bearing in mind that without those grumpy old guardians of science fiction, logic and structure, it becomes harder to believe in or care about the story or worry about the Doctor. If he can get out of trouble with a song and a dance, the scrutiny shifts from the coherence of the storytelling to the quality of the choreography.

Since razzmatazz and rationality aren’t mutually exclusive, hopefully, this won’t be the last time the Doctor dances. This certainly isn’t his first brush with music – we have to go all the way back to 1966’s The Gunfighters for that.

The Devil’s Chord feels fresh, with eye-popping dashes of colour and some very funny moments. It’s refreshing after the darker moments of former showrunners Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall. Davies is obviously enjoying the carte blanche he’s been given on the show, which continues to surprise and excite audiences two decades after he jump-started the TARDIS.

Unlike Space Babies, The Devil’s Chord has many layers worth tuning into, and it’s undoubtedly a story that will improve with more groovy viewings.

New episodes of Doctor Who stream every Friday on Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland and every Saturday on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Season one is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Have you watched The Devil's Chord? 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).

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Tomb Raider from Fleabag creator

An animated Tomb Raider series, starring Hayley Atwell (Mission Impossible), is currently in production for Netflix. Prime Video has confirmed a live-action series from Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

“If I could tell my teenage self that this was happening, I think she’d explode. Tomb Raider has been a huge part of my life and I feel incredibly privileged to be bringing it to television with such passionate collaborators. Lara means a lot to me, as she does to many, and I can’t wait to go on this adventure. Bats ‘n all," said Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Waller-Bridge is no stranger to archaeological adventures after appearing in Indiana Jones.

“I’m so happy to announce that we have ordered the epic, globetrotting series Tomb Raider from the incredibly gifted Emmy-award winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge and the team at Crystal Dynamics,” said Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon MGM Studios. “Fans and newcomers can look forward to exhilarating adventures that honor the legacy of this iconic character.”

The recent Fallout adaptation on Prime Video is stunning. So, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Tomb Raider will stream exclusively on Prime Video (affiliate link).

Are you looking forward to a Tomb Raider live-action series? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 14 May 2024

LEGO The Lord of the Rings: Barad-Dûr

Travel to Mordor with the LEGO Icons The Lord of the Rings: Barad-Dûr set.

Read the official press release:

"Today the LEGO Group, in partnership with Warner Bros. Discovery Global Consumer Products, reveals the LEGO® Icons Lord of the Rings: Barad-Dûr set, inspired by the award-winning film adaptations. Now in brick form, the epic dark tower and Eye of Sauron build has many hidden fan “treasures” and story references from the Lord of the Rings.

Prepare to journey deep into the heart of Middle-earth with the unveiling of the spectacular LEGO Icons Lord of the Rings: Barad-Dûr set! With its imposing 5,471 pieces, this awe-inspiring masterpiece brings to life the dark tower of Mordor in stunning detail, packed with thrilling features and beloved characters from Tolkien’s timeless saga. The journey through the dark tower continues with the throne room – which includes a compartment that opens to reveal a map, and a ladder on the top floor of the tower that can be moved left and right.

At the summit lies the Eye of Sauron that rotates in various directions and features a light brick to make the eye glow. There are also 10 minifigures, including Sauron™, Mouth of Sauron™, Orc™, Frodo, Sam, Gollum™ and Gothmog.

The build is split into four main sections, with the tower section being fully modular. LEGO fans with more than one copy of the set will be able to stack this section to build a taller tower."

The LEGO Icons The Lord of the Rings: Barad-Dûr set will be available to purchase for LEGO Insiders from 1st June, and for all from 4th June.

Discover LEGO The Lord of the Rings on LEGO AU, CA, UK and US (affiliate links).

Will you be adding it to your collection? Which The Lord of the Rings building sets would you like to see added in the future? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 13 May 2024

Doctor Who: Space Babies

The Disney era of Doctor Who begins with a double episode on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland. You can read my initial impressions here.

Following on from The Church on Ruby Road, Nick Smith, our US-based veteran Whovian, discovers a space station full of Jelly Babies, I mean Space Babies.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Babies are adorable, aren’t they? As a human race with an inkling of interest in our survival, we are programmed to love them and find them fascinating. But can a gag about babies running a space station sustain an episode of Doctor Who? Yes, it can.

Ah, Doctor Who, the 61-year-old sci-fi series that can be anything: a historical drama, a dystopian morality tale, a horror story, a musical, or a gross-out comedy. Space Babies, the first regular episode of season one, is the latter. It will appeal primarily to children who enjoy snotty comedy; for adults, there is an on-the-nose social commentary about pro-life politics, a flaming hot topic in the home country of Disney+.

The scatological humour is reminiscent of kid-friendly, fun ideas like the Slitheen in showrunner Russell T Davies’ first season of Doctor Who (billed as series one. Yes, the new episodes are being marketed as season one. Stay with me, it’s a time travel show).

Space Babies develops a manifesto that Davies initiated in last year’s Children in Need skit, Destination: Skaro. His credo, don’t take this episodic fantasy too seriously, can be liberating. It’s understandable; Davies just wants to have fun, taking the crayon box of Doctor Who’s past and adding new colours by sublimating the science and incorporating concepts of myth and magic. If classic Doctor Who can include bizarre ideas like a cosmic toymaker or a psychotic Bertie Bassett, why not pop in some talking babies and a mucus monster?

Davies and director Julie Anne Robinson focus on the new Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa, with vivid closeups to help imprint him on viewers like the first face a baby sees. Gatwa is a good actor, handling action, comedy, tons of exposition (about his character’s past, the TARDIS, and the space station he materializes in), and a potentially annoying habit of saying ‘space’ over and over. In Gatwa’s hands – or mouth – every scene is believable and entertaining.

The babies speak with uncanny lip movements (telepathy would have been less distracting) and there’s at least one glitch in the footage as Robinson gets the babies to do what they have to do to move the story forward. But since the Fifteenth Doctor’s era is in its infancy, these little hiccups can be forgiven.

The monster design is fascinating, and the homage to Alien is clever, subverting what we expect to happen, as all the best tributes do.

Best of all, the Doctor and his companion, Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), run up and down lots of corridors; it’s good to see that no matter how glossy, expensive and revamped Doctor Who gets, the tropes remain the same.

New episodes of Doctor Who stream every Friday on Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland and every Saturday on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Season one is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Have you watched Space Babies? 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).