Saturday 30 January 2021

Make Mine Mighty Marvel Masterworks

As fellow fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) dust themselves off following the latest revelatory episode of WandaVision on Disney+. Marvel Comics has announced an enticing new collected comic book series for younger readers. Mighty Marvel Masterworks.

Collecting AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) #1-10 and material from AMAZING FANTASY (1962) #15, MIGHTY MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN – WITH GREAT POWER will feature Peter Parker's web-slinging adventures from the very beginning — including the tragic origin that started it all; the first appearances of the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, Doctor Octopus, the Sandman, the Vulture and Electro; and guest-star nods from the Fantastic Four and Human Torch!

Collecting FANTASTIC FOUR (1951) #1-10, MIGHTY MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE FANTASTIC FOUR VOL. 1 will feature the fateful cosmic voyage of scientist Reed Richards, pilot Ben Grimm and siblings Sue and Johnny Storm, who became known to the world as Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, the Invisible Girl and the Human Torch —the Fantastic Four. See the first of their many extraordinary adventures including their first battles with legendary villains such as the Mole Man, the Skrulls, the Puppet Master, the Sub-Mariner, and the diabolical Doctor Doom.

Collecting UNCANNY X-MEN (1963) #1-10, MIGHTY MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE X-MEN – THE STRANGEST SUPER HEROES OF ALL will feature Professor X's original teen team as they set off on a mission to forge peace between man and mutantkind. Meet Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman and Marvel Girl and thrill to their first encounter with the Master of Magnetism, Magneto, and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

Own the very foundation of the Marvel Universe in new must-have collections! Check out Michael Cho's cover for MIGHTY MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN – WITH GREAT POWER as well as the Exclusive Comic Book Shop Cover by Steve Ditko and pick up the MIGHTY MARVEL MASTERWORKS when they hit stores this summer!

Will you be collecting Mighty Marvel Masterworks later this year? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 29 January 2021

Netflix adapts Tomb Raider for 25th anniversary

Tomb Raider celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Crystal Dynamics has announced a new video game and Netflix is producing an animated series adaptation both of which follow the story of the rebooted trilogy, which began in 2013.

Camilla Luddington (Grey's Anatomy) provided the voice and motion capture reference for Lara Croft in the rebooted trilogy. Hopefully, she's reprising the role for the upcoming game and Netflix series.

The multimedia action-adventure franchise became synonymous with PlayStation but premiered first on Sega's ill-fated Saturn in October 1996. The success of the original video game spawned sequels, comic books, films (starring Angelina Jolie and most recently Alicia Vikander in the titular role) and more. I still have an extensive collection of merchandise.

Game director Will Kerslake explained that the new game will 'unify' classic and reboot timelines:

"[Crystal Dynamics'] origin trilogy back in 2013 told the story of Lara's early days [...] while the classic games featured a seasoned and confident adventurer, travelling the world, unlocking its secrets, often standing alone against cataclysmic forces. We envision the future of Tomb Raider unfolding after these established adventures, telling stories that build upon the breadth of both Core Design and Crystal Dynamics' games, working to unify these timelines."

Are you excited for a new Tomb Raider video game and series, and what are your memories of playing as Lara Croft? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 28 January 2021

Buffy joins Star on Disney+

The Walt Disney Company has announced its biggest content drop for Disney+!

The Star brand launches on Disney+ on 23rd February with hundreds of films and television series from Twentieth Century Fox and Star Originals.

Highlights for fans of cult sci-fi and fantasy include Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files. These seminal series sustained me during the nineties and early noughties before Doctor Who returned in 2005.

Grahame Robertson, a social media friend and fellow fan of all things geek, pointed out that we don't know which version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will appear on Disney+. This aberration is the source material used on All 4, Amazon Prime and Netflix. Pro-tip: keep hold of your DVD box sets.

Emma Caulfield, who played demon Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, currently stars in Marvel Studios' WandaVision. Incidentally, the multiverse mystery of WandaVision is underscored by Emmy winner Christophe Beck (Frozen) who composed the magnificent music of stablemate Buffy the Vampire Slayer: there are echoes of the episode The Hush in Wanda's theme.

Jan Koeppen, President of the Walt Disney Company EMEA, said: "Star will be an integral part of Disney+, making it bigger, bolder and even more exciting. The arrival of hundreds of TV series and movies including our exclusive Star Originals will make Disney+ the premier destination for high quality entertainment with something for everyone."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off Angel, a series I fondly remember discussing with a care nurse who looked after my late mum, is conspicuous by its absence as is Joss Whedon's other series, Dollhouse.

Whilst we're at it. There's no Roswell or Dark Angel, created by James Cameron (Avatar). Hopefully, not for too long.

As Star isn't optional, Disney+ will rise from £5.99 to £7.99 a month. However, I'm using the streaming service daily and have no plans to cancel as lockdowns continue over the coming months.

What are you looking forward to watching on Star? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon from Disney's home to yours

Disney has released a new trailer for Raya and the Last Dragon.

The latest movie from Walt Disney Animation Studios will premiere in selected cinemas and on Disney+ 5th March. It will be available to stream at additional cost to Disney+ subscribers with Premier Access.

Although I didn't bother with the live-action Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon is more my jam and an uplifting tale of friendship in adversity is a welcome tonic in lockdown.

Raya is played by Kelly Marie Tran, who was trolled on social media for her role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and given scant screen time in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and is clearly having a blast headlining here.

"Everything's been taken away from Raya," producer Osnat Shurer said. "She's totally on her own. She's got nothing left save for her father's sword, her friend, Tuk Tuk, and a shard of something that might be magical. And she sets out into Kumandra seeking the last dragon, Sisu, with the hope of restoring peace to her land."

Raya and the Last Dragon was uniquely produced in homes during the pandemic. Whilst nothing can replace the serendipity of working closely together, technology (pioneered by Apple and Lucasfilm) has enabled socially distanced creatives to collaborate on a world stage. This blog, itself, is a beneficiary.

"As filmmakers, [directors] Don [Hall] and Carlos [López Estrada] bring a combination of animation know-how and emotional storytelling to Raya and the Last Dragon, bringing our fantasy adventure to surprising, original, and dynamic heights," Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee explains. "They both saw the potential for this film and had a strong vision for the story, especially for our lead character, played by the wonderfully talented Kelly Marie Tran. And no small feat, directors Don and Carlos, writers Qui [Nguyen] and Adele [Lim], and the entire crew of 400 Disney Animation artists are making this film together, while separated and working from home."

There are no viewing figures for Pixar's Soul, which was released on Disney+ last Christmas. However, if this strategy continues to be successful in driving Disney+ subscriptions upwards of 90 million, Marvel Studios' delayed Black Widow could be next in line to receive a simultaneous release in cinemas and on Disney+.

Are you looking forward to Raya and the Last Dragon? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Harry Potter live-action series for HBO Max

According to an exclusive from The Hollywood Reporter (THR), Warner Bros. is in talks to produce a Harry Potter live-action spin-off series for HBO Max.

Given the unprecedented success of Disney+'s live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, it's unsurprising the Burbank-based studio would want to leverage one of its banner brands (despite a backlash against the franchise's creator from fans) to increase the subscriber base for its nascent streaming service.

A year ago, before a global pandemic transformed all our lives and social distancing became the 'new normal', I went to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London as a birthday treat and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of an enduring friendship with Professor Michael Williams.

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London transcended expectations and is comparable to the Doctor Who 50th Celebration and Star Wars Celebration Europe at ExCeL London. I wanted to congratulate the organisers and review the tour, but sadly the pandemic meant this got overlooked.

A Jedi mind trick missed at Star Wars Celebration Europe, with proof of entitlement (this can be a DWP letter or Blue Badge), we jumped the snaking queue and were allowed in an hour early - mirroring how my late mum sweet-talked our way into the Doctor Who 20th Anniversary, Longleat, decades before. This meant we could spend more time ambling, leisurely, around a festive Hogwarts - declining the very kind offer of a tour guide (Michael had visited previously).

Once out of lockdown and with the easing of restrictions, I can't recommend the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, with plenty of rest areas and helpful staff, highly enough to fellow fans of Harry Potter and filmmaking!

Aside from the promise of a live-action series for HBO Max, there's the third instalment in the middling prequel series and a new open-world video game for PS5 and Xbox Series S and X.

What are you looking forward to most from the Wizarding World? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 24 January 2021

Pandemic pushes back No Time To Die

It's fair to say a lifelong love of fast cars and gadgets was influenced by the James Bond franchise and its merchandise. So much so, the iconic Aston Martin DB5 inspired over 2 decades of silver car ownership beginning with a Rover 200 in the late nineties. In 2011, I was featured in both BMW and Motability magazines with my 1 Series Coupé M Sport.

The status quo ended with an eyecatching Misano Blue BMW 1 Series M Sport (nicknamed TARDIS hot wheels), collected the week before the first coronavirus lockdown last March. Listening to John Barry and David Arnold's soundtracks enlivened weekly essential shopping trips to Aldi in the 'new normal'.

However, Andrew Lewin cautioned such a scenario could lead to 'exuberant' driving. I cannot confirm if this is true, but I have been channelling a socially distanced Bond when talking to admirers of my latest car.

Like most Bond fans, I've waited patiently for Daniel Craig's swansong in the titular role. No Time To Die has been pushed back, again, until October and at this stage in the pandemic, I wish there was an opportunity to watch at home in lockdown. Disney released Pixar's Soul on Disney+ and Warner Bros. followed suit with Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max.

There are persistent rumours No Time To Die may appear on Apple TV+. The Cupertino-based tech giant has the cash to spare ahead of an expected record-breaking $100 billion quarter.

Even when theatres can safely reopen, many cinemagoers (myself included) will be reluctant to return. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 22 January 2021

Bewitched by WandaVision

WandaVision, the first live-action Marvel Studios series for Disney+, premiered last Friday. The series’ ambitious raison d'être is to break the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based stellar scribe, peels back the suburban sitcom facade of WandaVision's seemingly married bliss and discovers familial trauma behind the white picket fences.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Thanks to viral lockdowns and cinema shutdowns, the way we watch television is changing more than ever. We can watch our favourite shows in eternal looney loops on smartphones, laptops, tablets or even - gasp – on TV!

In the USA of the ‘50s, however, shows were watched in our living rooms, reflecting and memorializing life at the time. At the end of the decade, westerns ruled the airwaves: Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, The Rifleman and their ilk all represented an open-range freedom that civilized America was losing fast.

Behind this herd of wild rides came the sitcoms, including Father Knows Best and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, the latter running on ABC for a stunning 14 years. Long before Ozzy Osbourne made reality shows a little less real, Ozzie and Harriet were played by a real-life couple, with establishing shots of their actual home. Along with their IRL kids, they epitomized the social mores of life at the time. Their network neighbours, the Cleavers, were wholesome, hardworking and fit right in.

As time went on, regular families weren’t enough and gimmicks magically appeared. American television presented us with a man and his witch, a man and his genie or even a man and his Martian. Humorous situations arose from the strange partners’ naivety, their unorthodox powers and the reactions of the normal, suburban stiffs around them. Samantha (in Bewitched), Jeannie (I Dream of Jeannie) and Uncle Martin (My Favorite Martian) all imitated normal humans rather than using their abilities to fight crime on a nightly basis.

Avengers members Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) do not fit in, although they try hard, in their Disney+ show.

WandaVision celebrates those old TV shows, teasing old-fashioned tropes without mocking them. Wanda is the witch who has to keep her magic secret. Vision is the humanoid with an alien-looking face. There’s a neighbour called Agnes (presumably referencing Agnes Moorehead, who played Endora in Bewitched) who has a husband called Ralph (Jackie Gleason played Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners). There’s a mother-in-law joke, Hays code-approved separate beds and ‘60s hairdos in a mix of nostalgia and knowing nods to the modern-day struggle for marital equality.

The new show is charming, thanks to the acting skills of Paul Bettany. His co-lead Elizabeth Olsen, who was forgettable in the Avengers movies, has a chance to show her worth here but it’s Bettany who really shines, especially when performing a Tommy Cooperesque magic act in a bit where his android works get gummed up.

WandaVision’s imitation of classic monochrome series is a sincere form of flattery. Show creator Jac Schaeffer even inserts commercials for Stark Industries and a Hydra product, acknowledging the ad-led aspects of the past. The theme tune is a melange of beloved TV music and there’s even a hint of the I Dream of Jeannie melody in episode 2’s end credits.

So far, so clever. But how does WandaVision stand as a show on its own, out of context? The comedy is weak because Wanda and Vision can get out of any situation, leaving the sitcom to sink or swim by its ‘fish out of water’ gags.

The programme’s other saving grace might be its luxurious budget. Leave it to Beaver’s highest budget was $40,000 – about $265,000 in new money. WandaVision’s budget is reportedly as high as $25 million dollars per episode (eclipsing The Mandalorian's first season). Wherever that money went, the production values are not shown on screen although, with Wanda slowly realizing that all is not what it seems, the show will become more technically complex as it progresses.

WandaVision does serve as a welcome reminder that comic books aren’t just about superheroes hitting each other. They can depict romance, suspense, pop culture references, soap opera situations and sitcom imagery. By broadening the minds of regular TV viewers, WandaVision could act as a gateway to different kinds of sequential storytelling - if they stick around past the hoaky opening.

It’s worth noting that the Scarlet Witch has been around since 1964 in comic book form, and the comedies and advertisements aped here were part of the world she came from. Perhaps this is Schaeffer’s reason for starting the show with black and white footage and low-key jokes that will turn off casual viewers. Or maybe Wanda has created this cosy world to escape from a harsh reality where her husband is dead. Only time, and future episodes, will tell.

New episodes of WandaVision premiere every Friday exclusively on Disney+.

What are your WandaVision theories? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 19 January 2021

The Muppet Show is coming to Disney+

The Muppet Show is coming to Disney+. The original series ran for five seasons from 1976-1981 and featured memorable guest star appearances including Mark Hamill (Star Wars).

"It's going to be great to welcome back longtime fans, and to give a new generation of fans a chance to see how we got our start, how Miss Piggy became a star and so much more,” Kermit the Frog said in a statement.

"Today, I’m proud to say: 'It’s time to play the music, light the lights and meet the Muppets on Disney Plus tonight!'" Kermit added. "And as for Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys in the balcony, I can only add: 'Sorry, guys, but... here we go again.”

Kermit, Miss Piggy and friends hold a special place alongside Doctor Who and Luke Skywalker. So much so, my parents gifted Muppet memorabilia to the children's hospital where my life was saved, against the odds, in 1977. If we ever meet when it's safe to do so, over tea and cake I may tell you the full story of the boy who lived.

Still no sign of Muppets Tonight, which is a travesty as Sandra Bullock is an all-time great guest and a crush of mine.

All 120 episodes of the original The Muppet Show start streaming 19th February on Disney+. Are you excited? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 18 January 2021

Apple TV+ free trial extended to July

Apple is extending its free 1-year trial for Apple TV+ until July 2021. A win-win for consumers (myself included) who took out a free subscription, included with an eligible device, before or during the pandemic.

This is a smart move by the Cupertino-based tech giant.

The streaming market has become saturated with Netflix, Amazon Prime, BritBox, HBO Max, NOW TV and many more all vying for your money during socio-economic uncertainty. And Disney+ dominates with its live-action Star Wars and Marvel Studios spin-offs, and decades-spanning back catalogue soon to be further bolstered by Twentieth Century Fox film and television assets under the Star brand from February.

So, the $2 trillion dollar company is building a strong catalogue of originals to hook subscribers for the long term. During the holidays, I finished Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet and Servant ahead of its second season this month. However, and perhaps ironically, I've yet to watch For All Mankind from Ronald D. Moore who was behind the seminal Battlestar Galactica reboot. Personally, after availing myself of the free trial, I'll switch to Apple One, which combines Apple TV+ and Apple Music.

Will you continue to subscribe following the free trial? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday 14 January 2021

Lucasfilm Games expands Star Wars galaxy

Following Disney's revival of Lucasfilm Games, there has been a steady stream of positive news this week including a new Indiana Jones adventure from Bethesda. Finally, EA loses exclusivity for all things Star Wars from 2023, and Lucasfilm Games has already announced a story-driven, open-world title from third-party developer Ubisoft Massive utilising the Snowdrop game engine for Tom Clancy's The Division.

“EA has been and will continue to be a very strategic and important partner for us now and going forward,” Sean Shoptaw, senior vice president of Global Games and Interactive Experiences at Disney, told WIRED. “But we did feel like there's room for others.”

EA has cancelled more in-development titles than released games since acquiring exclusive rights to the Star Wars brand. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Star Wars: Squadrons being highlights in the wake of microtransactions souring Star Wars Battlefront II. EA pivoted but presumably only due to pressure from Disney during the release of The Last Jedi. The optics were poor, very poor.

"We’re looking to work with best-in-class teams that can make great games across all of our IP," Lucasfilm Games' VP Douglas Reilly said. "We’ve got a team of professionals here at Lucasfilm Games who can work with the developers, shape the stories, shape the creative, shape the games, to make them really resonate with fans and deliver across a breadth of platforms, genres, and experiences so that all of our fans can enjoy the IPs that they know and love."

By opening up the franchise to more diverse developers, Lucasfilm Games expands the creative possibilities for telling compelling interactive narratives in the Star Wars universe.

This is the way.

Wednesday 13 January 2021

Indiana Jones is back at Lucasfilm Games

A day after Disney's announcement that Lucasfilm Games is returning for all things Star Wars, an all-new original Indiana Jones video game is coming from developer Bethesda (part of Xbox Game Studios) sometime in the future.

The Indiana Jones franchise, from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, spawned classic LucasArts point-and-click adventures during the 16-bit era. Most notably, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, which I last played with a friend on an Amiga A500. Alas, Indy is still lost in a frozen tundra all these decades on.

The untitled project is from acclaimed executive producer Todd Howard (The Elder Scrolls) and MachineGames, a first-party studio that handily has a storied history in fighting Nazis in the Wolfenstein reboot, in collaboration with Lucasfilm Games.

You have no idea how exciting this news is to a lifelong Lucasfilm fan and gamer such as myself. It'll be interesting to see if Indiana Jones' next adventure is an Xbox exclusive for Series X and S. Many will remember the controversy surrounding timed exclusive Rise of the Tomb Raider, itself inspired by the matinee adventures of Indiana Jones.

Are you annoyed Indiana Jones has switched to Xbox? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 12 January 2021

Lucasfilm Games returns for Star Wars

Disney has announced that it's bringing back the Lucasfilm Games brand for Star Wars video games and more as Lucasfilm celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021.

Lucasfilm Games was originally founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas in 1983, during the release of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, before popularising point-and-click adventures with Maniac Mansion and becoming LucasArts in 1990.

Read the official press release:

"Lucasfilm’s legacy in gaming stretches back decades. And with Lucasfilm and the galaxy far, far away entering a new and unprecedented phase of creativity, so will the world of Lucasfilm Games — developed in collaboration with the finest studios across the industry."

The brand has so much nostalgia for generations of gamers (myself included). Rescue on Fractalus!, Ballblazer, Koronis Rift and The Eidolon are amongst my all-time favourite video games from the 8-bit era on Commodore 64. And I vividly remember playing the Labyrinth movie tie-in video game whilst listening to David Bowie and Trevor Jones' soundtrack.

What are you hoping Lucasfilm Games will mean for Star Wars, Indiana Jones and more? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 10 January 2021

WandaVision two-episode premiere on Disney+

WandaVision, the first Marvel Studios live-action spin-off series for Disney+, premieres with two half-hour episodes this Friday.

The $225 million dollar 9-part sitcom format series, starring Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda) and Paul Bettany (Vision), begins Phase 4 and is the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) instalment since Spider-Man: Far From Home. Vision perished in Avengers: Infinity War. So, fans (myself included) are speculating this is all in Wanda's traumatised mind.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was initially going to launch the MCU on Disney+ last October but got delayed due to the pandemic.

WandaVision will directly tie into the events of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (currently filming in London and rumoured to introduce the X-Men) and Spider-Man 3. The series appears to be inspired by the House of M and Vision comic book storylines.

Here’s the official synopsis for WandaVision:

“Marvel Studios’ “WandaVision” is a blend of classic television and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which Wanda Maximoff and Vision—two super-powered beings living idealized suburban lives—begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems.”

The initial reaction from critics, taking to social media, is positive. Citing the series' ambitious blend of comedy and mystery with knowing nods to the soap noir genre popularised by director David Lynch (Twin Peaks).

“I hope it says get ready for the new and the different,” said Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige during Sunday’s Zoom press junket, “I hope all of our movies have said that one after the other over the years but certainly with the Disney+ opportunities, it has allowed us to expand creatively what we do. This show being our first one, I love how bold it is. I love how different it is. We have things that you will only be able to see initially in theaters. We have things that are made for that. This is very much made to be seen week after week on television which is very different for us and was very fun.”

Phase Four continues with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiering the first of six episodes on 19th March. The delayed Black Widow standalone movie is expected in cinemas in May.

Checkout Funko's full range of Marvel Pop! figures (affiliate link).

Are you looking forward to WandaVision and do you think the Olsen twins, Elizabeth's sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley, will cameo? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 8 January 2021

Blake's 7: Star Wars for cynics

When BritBox, a joint venture between the BBC and commercial broadcaster ITV, announced it was adding a classic sci-fi and fantasy collection, many of us hoped Blake's 7 would be included. Indeed, I hadn't seen the beloved cult sci-fi series since the early nineties. BritBox, the exclusive home of all things classic Doctor Who, didn't disappoint.

Blake's 7, from Dalek creator Terry Nation, soon joined the subscription-based streaming service, and I had every intention of binge-viewing. It all started promisingly enough with the realisation I couldn't remember anything at all about season one: noting it drew heavily upon the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker eras of BBC stablemate Doctor Who. But I got distracted over the holiday season by the return of Baby Yoda on Disney+.

Thankfully, Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, is here to save the geek galaxy from my festive fail.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, BBC’s primetime space opera Blake’s 7 was an obvious response to the success of Star Wars. Audiences wanted more spaceships, more aliens, more derring-do. There are many similarities, including rebels (Blake and crew), an evil empire (The Federation), a ruthless, bad-ass villain (Supreme Commander Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce) and a funky ship (the Liberator).

With hindsight, Blake's 7 even shares Star Wars’ bleak outcomes, from the tragic life of Anakin Skywalker to the deaths of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Master Yoda et al. But at the time, the BBC was going against the grain, eschewing the glossy optimism of Universal Studios’ Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for more adult, cynical (some might say realistic) might-conquers-all pessimism. It’s Robin Hood in space, where an elegant, indestructible Sherriff of Nottingham has more chance of winning than the outnumbered merry spacemen.

Following the gloomy bent of Survivors, a show about the plucky people who remain after a global pandemic, creator Terry Nation went darker with Blake’s 7. The hero, Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas), is convicted of ‘assault on a minor’ among other ‘moral deviations’ by a dystopian government that has already brainwashed him; the opening titles incorporate his torture. Fun!

Blake’s crew, gathered after escaping from a prison planet, is made up of thieves and murderers. Banding with Blake is no guarantee of survival, and without the lucky break of finding a high-speed alien spaceship, it’s doubtful whether the rebels would have survived for long. Blake’s idealism is sometimes dangerous, other times inspiring. Avon (Paul Darrow) and Vila (Michael Keating) are initially self-centred but they both risk their necks to help their friends.

Blake’s 7’s dark edge is one of the reasons why we’re still talking about it today, 40 years after it wrapped with a killer ending [Christmas 1981 was the stuff of childhood trauma - Ed]. It peels back the idealistic layers of freedom fighting and shows that one man’s rebel alliance is another man’s terrorist group [a theme explored in The Mandalorian - Ed]. Pacifism doesn’t work (as tried in the episode Volcano) and bold heroics can get you killed.

The deaths of beloved characters such as Gan (David Jackson) were shocking at the time of first broadcast, long before Lost and The Walking Dead made such sudden losses commonplace and far less effective. Under Federation rule, no one is safe and that sense of risk is paramount.

The backdrop of galactic politics has been mirrored, and given greater depth, in more recent shows like Babylon 5 and the Battlestar Galactica reboot. The real allure of Blake’s 7, however, is its captivating characters. All of them have entertaining traits; even the waspish Orac and the obsequious Slave are endearing, mostly thanks to Peter Tuddenham’s meticulous voice work. Vila Restal gets the best lines as the cowardly comic relief with a heart of stolen gold. Space Commander Travis (Stephen Greif), the eyepatched Guy of Gisbourne to Blake’s Robin Hood, gets his own story arc.

Kerr Avon is one of the most fascinating protagonists in the history of television. He weighs the odds but sometimes takes risks that put his life in danger or takes a great toll on his friends (especially in the Season 3 closer, Terminus and Season 4’s Blake). He appreciates the irony of his situation, smiling to himself at the futility of fighting the Feds. With his enigmatic grin, he’s a Milky Way Mona Lisa and his performance is a joy to watch.

The show is dated. The hair is permanent. Some of the monsters defy belief (the giant insect in The Harvest Of Kairos is terrible in the wrong sense of the word). The writing is clever and engaging, the situations gripping, with toe-tappingly rhythmic dialogue and a sense of impending doom. But the scripts are seldom as witty or imaginative as Blake’s 7’s televisual bedfellows, Star Trek and Doctor Who.

Despite its production flaws, there’s plenty to make Blake’s 7 worth watching today: the model and prop designs, the themes and visuals (like a giant space brain!), the strong female protagonists and antagonist, and the sheer impetus of Blake’s crusade are all highlights of this very special slice of sci-fi.

What are your memories of watching Blake's 7? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 6 January 2021

Luke Skywalker returns in The Mandalorian

Having waited almost a month in the hopes of not spoiling surprises for fellow Star Wars fans, I wanted to share my reaction to Luke Skywalker's return in the second season finale of The Mandalorian on Disney+.

After a torrid year spent self-isolating due to being at high risk from coronavirus, seeing a childhood hero at the peak of their powers during the holiday season was 'emosh', as I originally tweeted without giving anything away to my followers on Twitter.

A week before Christmas, Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni and the fine folks at Lucasfilm had left this lifelong fan (as well as many others) in tatters and shaking - such was its raw emotional power. Overwhelmingly so.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) had answered Grogu's AKA Baby Yoda's summons from an ancient Jedi temple, destroyed Moff Gideon's (Giancarlo Esposito) Dark Trooper army with aggression worthy of his late father Anakin Skywalker AKA Darth Vader, and would train the tyke in the ways of the Force if he wished to leave Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal).

Grogu decides to follow Luke and the goodbye between the pair evoked the finale of E.T. - the Extra-Terrestrial. As Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) warned, Grogu has formed an attachment to Din and we all know the consequences for a Jedi coupled with what happens to Luke's academy before The Force Awakens.

If that wasn't enough. R2-D2, Luke's faithful droid companion and my first Star Wars action figure, appears. All too much for this fan - at least I spared social media the ugly mess of my live reaction. Triggered by composer Ludwig Göransson effortlessly segueing from an eclectic fusion of Brad Fiedel and Ennio Morricone to John Williams' lush leitmotivs with goosebump-inducing aplomb as a familiar X-wing flies into view.

Looking to the future of The Mandalorian and the live-action spin-offs already announced. It's increasingly clear showrunner Jon Favreau's endgame is to introduce Grand Admiral Thrawn for a live-action Heir to the Empire trilogy adaptation on Disney+.

Author Timothy Zahn's sequel to the original trilogy was released 30 years ago and ushered in a new era for the franchise created by George Lucas.

If so, then we'll see more of Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. He's the hero we deserve as hope leads us out of these dark times...

Tuesday 5 January 2021

Star Wars: The High Republic launches

Star Wars: The High Republic, an interconnected mega-story successor to Shadows of the Empire, was announced by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and launches today.

Like stablemate the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the story will be told in phases: Phase I: Light of the Jedi, Phase II: Quest of the Jedi and Phase III: Trials of the Jedi.

"Phase I runs through 2021 into 2022. I'm not going to tell you how far it goes into '22, but I can say that there will be a steady stream of books, comics, and magazines coming your way on a monthly basis, which is really exciting," revealed Lucasfilm Publishing creative director Michael Siglain during a virtual panel Monday. "When we talk about this being a multi-year initiative, that is true. We are absolutely playing the long game here."

The book series should satiate fans (myself included) whilst waiting for The Book of Boba Fett this December exclusively on Disney+.

Buy Phase I: Light of the Jedi (affiliate link) today.

Are you excited for Star Wars: The High Republic? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 4 January 2021

Star launches with The X-Files on Disney+

Star launches on Disney+ on 23rd February - a month after my birthday (hint, hint). The Walt Disney Company has announced the first films and television series coming to the new adult brand.

Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives, Family Guy, The X-Files, Die Hard and much more will be available to stream on Disney+ from next month. Hopefully, the Alien and Predator franchises won't be too far behind once pre-existing distribution deals have lapsed. Incidentally, Marvel is now publishing all things xenomorph and cloaked alien hunter following the acquisition of Twentieth Century Fox film and television assets.

Star Originals is expected to include Hulu's live-action Aliens series outside the US. Channel 4 is currently showing The Handmaid's Tale but that will most likely be added to Star, too.

All this extra content comes at an inevitable cost.

As Star isn't optional, Disney+ will rise from £5.99 to £7.99 a month. However, I'm using the streaming service daily and have no plans to cancel as lockdowns continue over the coming months.

NOW TV will most likely be a new year cancellation casualty as I'm watching 4K UHD content on Apple TV+, Amazon Prime and Netflix (a subscription was gifted at Christmas).

Are you looking forward to Star showing mature content on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 3 January 2021

The Doctor stuck in jail on New Year's Day

Revolution of the Daleks aired on New Year's Day, exactly 49 years after the first episode of classic Doctor Who serial Day of the Daleks. It's a direct sequel to Resolution.

Was the holiday special a timey-wimey treat? Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, fresh from a nostalgic trip back to 1984, enlists the help of his fam.

Guest post by Nick Smith

"Should we explain it to him?"
"Nah, it’s more fun watching him struggle."

- Ryan and Graham, Revolution of the Daleks

For those of us who have been following Doctor Who for years, New Year’s Day brought the welcome return of the TV show we know and care about with lots of familiar elements. Alien invasion? Check. Feisty companions? Also, check. The Doctor locked up in a cell? Very check, except this prison has had the Doc locked down for much longer than he/she is used to.

So far, so cosy. But with its references to Daleks, time travel, the Doctor’s past and Captain Jack’s immortality, what sense does it make to someone who’s never seen the show? I decided to find out.

The willing test subjects are my workmates Chai from Puerto Rico and ‘Lucky’ Charm, originally from the Philippines. They are fiercely intelligent and good friends who can be relied upon to be brutally honest. Their many questions are answered by my Californian girlfriend Dana, who has been following the show for several years and knows the difference between Kamelion and a Kerblam Man. We live in Florida so we stream the show on BBC America. Since the special is interspersed with LOTS of adverts, there’s plenty of time to fill our friends in on what the show means to us (or in Dana’s case, what David Tennant means to her).

The first question comes when a scene is set “367 minutes later.” Charmaine asks, ‘how many hours is that?’ It doesn’t take Chai six hours to do the maths. But it does distract them while the story continues with a long talky scene between lady in red Jo Patterson (Harriet Walter), who Dana recognizes from The Spanish Princess, and Jack Robertson (Chris Noth), who everyone recognizes from Sex and the City. ‘Why’s Mr. Big there?’ asks Chai. ‘He likes England,’ is Charm’s solution.

We see the Doctor and assorted aliens in prison, including a Pting. Chai wants to know how it excretes the energy it gobbles up and we explain it’s busy trying to eat its way out. Charm gets a sudden phone call and has to go pick up her own companion – her daughter Gabby. Charm’s cheerful verdict on the show: ‘it’s robots attacking humans.’ Doctor Who goes on without her. Will Chai stick around to watch the entire episode? Dana and I are on the edge of our sofa waiting to find out.

Back to the story: As the remnants of the reconnaissance scout from 2019’s Resolution are used to forge a Defence Drone, Chai asks, ‘is this how the Dalek was created?’ so Dana tells her that Revolution leads on from a story broadcast two years ago, and that the Daleks have been around for 57 years. This is how Chai learns how long the show’s been going.

By the time Chai realizes that, ‘the Doctor is in space somewhere,’ Captain Jack Harkness appears in full Papillon mode. On Earth, even the feckless Jack Robertson knows that cloning Dalek DNA is a very bad idea. After that, Chai is hooked. ‘I’m intrigued,’ she says.

So are Dana and I, more by the interactions of the fam we’ve been following since 2018. ‘They shouldn’t be mean to her,’ says Dana, although she understands that Yaz (Mandip Gill) and crew are unhappy because the Doctor has been missing for 10 months. I reason that Ryan (Tosin Cole) – who seems especially troubled compared to his previous appearances – has been in a warzone and is still recovering from fighting the Cybermen, let alone dealing with the realities of being Earthbound after travelling all over time and space.

Chai is more practical. ‘Daleks don’t have spines,’ she says.

‘They rely on a host,’ Dana and Chai say together.

While newbie Chai is enjoying the story and adds Who to her Amazon Prime watchlist, she has a tough time grasping what the TARDIS console is and where it’s located. Veterans know the tropes of the show; new viewers are left, like the clueless Jack Robertson, to flounder. Later it becomes apparent that the ‘device,’ as Chai calls it, is inside a police box. Well, of course!

Once the feature-length episode is done, Chai remains impressed. ‘it captures you,’ she says, ‘even though I don’t know these characters.’ She compares it to the Power Rangers-style Japanese tokusatsu programmes she watched when she was a kid. ‘Something that ran this long became part of the family, through generations.’

What will generations to come think of Revolution of the Daleks? As anticipated, it’s a more traditional “monsters attack” story than the weighty self-reference of The Timeless Children. The Daleks are given their reason for being in the story, not by some Unique Exterminating Point, but because they remind the Doctor of who she is. ‘We’ve got previous,’ she says, ‘we’re not best mates.’

The production is slick and cinematic; sound is the only issue, specifically in a scene where an alarm drowns out what the characters are saying. Writer/showrunner Chris Chibnall reruns bits from previous adventures (Planet of the Spiders and Turn Left, both with an alien intelligence on a companion’s back) and from the Alien franchise (which has already been Whomaged in various stories, including Resurrection of the Daleks and Last Christmas). But it’s a thrilling tale nonetheless, with Jack Robertson providing comic relief and the departure of two companions adding emotional depth to the adventure.

Perhaps Team TARDIS’ disillusionment with the Doctor is supposed to mirror fans’ gripes with the show; if so, Chibnall makes no apologies. He does make the companions’ departures poignant and logical. They will be missed.

Revolution of the Daleks amuses and entertains, with confident lead actors and memorable visuals. At times it feels rushed and a little crowded, leaving Graham (Bradley Walsh) with less screen time than he deserves, considering the focus on relationships and sense of self. Just as the Daleks have a distinct idea of who they are, Revolution also cements present-day Doctor Who’s run-first, ask-questions-later identity, reinforces Jodie Whittaker’s role as the Doctor, and remains accessible for all newcomers.

What did you think and are you excited that John Bishop was teased as new companion, Dan? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 1 January 2021

New Year's Day of the Daleks

Happy New Year! This is your polite reminder Doctor Who is back for a very emotional New Year's Day special.

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) is in jail as Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill), Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) and Graham O'Brien (Bradley Walsh) battle the Daleks alongside Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).

The defence drones, commissioned by the Prime Minister (Harriet Walter), look like the Reconnaissance Dalek from Resolution. Please announce an action figure, before my birthday later this month, Character Options.

"It’s very emotional. I think we’ve all been in tears watching it," executive producer Chris Chibnall said of Revolution of the Daleks.

"It’s a really important mix of a special, where you get lots of thrills, lots of spills, lots of humour, lots of Dalek and lots of emotion.”

"It’s hard, but we don’t shy away from what it means for this family to have its final moments together and it’s emotional off-screen," he added.

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

Revolution of the Daleks is on BBC One and BBC America. The special will be available to stream in 4K UHD on BBC iPlayer. Stay tuned for Nick Smith's review soon.