Film review: War for the Planet of the Apes

The previous installments in the Planet of the Apes prequel series – Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – were both very strong films. I admit I found their titles to be a bit misleading; the actual Planet of the Apes has neither risen nor dawned at the end of either film. Not to mention, I felt it would make more sense for ‘Dawn’ to be the title of the first film. But the overall story, intended to take us from the present day to the simian society we know from the original 1968 film, has been handled very well: what began as the accidental consequence of a laboratory experiment has now escalated to a community of intelligent apes fighting for survival against a desperate and diminished human race. According to Wikipedia, a fourth film is planned; but War for the Planet of the Apes still functions satisfactorily as the conclusion of a trilogy, not quite bringing the story all the way to its inevitable conclusion but getting close enough.

Two years have passed since the end of Dawn, when conflict between the apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), and the humans who survived the Simian Flu epidemic, began in earnest. Even as his people are hunted and killed by soldiers, all Caesar wants to do is survive and find a place where his community can live in peace. That changes when the apes’ home is discovered by the leader of their attackers, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), and Caesar himself suffers a terrible personal loss. While most of the apes begin journeying to a safe refuge, Caesar goes in search of the Colonel, hoping both to give his people the best chance of survival, and to get his revenge.

From both the trailers and the title, I was expecting the movie to provide a grand-scale conflict, but this isn’t the case. Most of the first half deals with Caesar pursuing the Colonel, while the rest of the film focusses on various characters being imprisoned and what they do about it. I was a little disappointed about this, and I would have liked more of an indication of what’s going on in the wider world. Only hints are dropped to expand the setting that is presented to us: when Caesar and his allies meet another talking ape named Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), they ponder whether there might be more such apes beyond their own community. We also get indications of why the humans are destined to end up the way they are in the original film, without giving too much away.

But aside from getting a bit slow around the second-third act boundary, the story is still a very compelling one, with some powerfully emotional moments as the characters are put through hell and try not to lose hope. There are little details added to make the overall conflict more complex and interesting, such as the anti-ape graffiti around the soldiers’ base and on their helmets, and the existence of ape defectors which side with the humans and are known as ‘donkeys’. (The enemy apes are referred to as ‘kongs’ – get it?) The visual effects used to create the apes, from their expressions to their fur, are just as amazing as ever. And then there are the characters. Since we’re mainly viewing things from the apes’ perspective, most of the humans are simply vicious killers; but we do get one or two more sympathetic individuals, such as a little girl (Amiah Miller) who is adopted by the apes and actually serves a purpose in the story beyond being a symbol of bright-eyed innocence.

The apes – most of whom can only speak with sign language and facial expressions – get a lot more development and diversity, from Caesar’s loyal lieutenant Rocket, to the eccentric and somewhat cowardly Bad Ape, to the wise and thoughtful orang-utan Maurice. But as with the previous two films, it’s ultimately Caesar’s story – and once again, it’s quite a different arc from what we’ve already seen. Rise covered his origins and how he was moulded into the being that he is. Dawn saw him struggling to maintain peace with the surviving humans while also trying to do what was best for his own people. Now, with his people at war, his responsibilities as a leader have only increased; and he’s on a quest for vengeance too, which forces him to start looking inward and questioning his own morality.

While War for the Planet of the Apes may not live up to the escalated scale that its title suggests, it’s still a very good film – with a solid story, characters and themes – that stands on the same level as its predecessors. So if you liked those, you should like this one too. Rating: 4/5.

Advertisements
Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Doctor Who – Series 10: Final Thoughts

“I really love the fact that we’re still getting this level of quality from Doctor Who, nine series and more than ten years since its revival. Hopefully this shows that it still has plenty of momentum and will just keep going strong!”

That’s how I ended my final thoughts on Series 9 in 2015. Series 10 was most likely going to be quite different given that the Twelfth Doctor had lost Clara and was getting a new companion, with presumably fresh new storylines to go with it. After seeing the first trailer that revealed Bill, I wasn’t sure how likeable she was going to be; but as with any series of Doctor Who, I tuned in with optimism. Many fans felt that their hopes for Series 10 were met; some even called it the best series of Doctor Who so far. But I didn’t agree; in my eyes, while the series wasn’t a total disaster, it was well below average, and I grew less and less enthusiastic about it as the weeks went by.

This was Steven Moffat’s final season as showrunner: was he running out of steam, having gotten tired of Doctor Who? I don’t think so, especially considering the positive reactions of other fans. Aside from Moffat repeatedly re-using concepts from previous stories (e.g. The Lodger for The Pilot, The Girl in the Fireplace for Smile, Asylum of the Daleks for The Doctor Falls), the signs of effort were there. Some of the isolated standard adventures – Thin Ice, Knock Knock, The Eaters of Light – were very enjoyable. But elsewhere, Moffat made some poor creative decisions and relied too much on the tropes regularly associated with his work. Earlier this year, in Series 4 of Sherlock, we were given overly convoluted and ridiculous stories like Sherlock going up against the long-lost psychopathic sister whom he had repressed all memory of, and fake-outs like a scene where Moriarty appears to have returned from the dead, only for it to be revealed after about a minute that it’s a flashback. Doctor Who Series 10 had some of the same problems.

Moffat continued to use fake-outs heavily. Oh, Missy has been executed – wait, no, she hasn’t. Oh, Bill is dead – wait, no, she isn’t. (Twice.) Oh, the Doctor is regenerating in the snow – wait, no, he doesn’t. Once you’re expecting something to be a fake-out, all suspense and shock is lost. The meta jokes were also over-used way too much, until the characters speaking aloud what more cynical fans often think completely lost its charm. As for the writing, when Moffat gets it right, he provides something really clever and impressive, like in The Pyramid at the End of the World. But as well as getting bogged down in his own cleverness in Extremis this season, the central story arcs didn’t work very well. The guarding of the vault wasn’t especially interesting – particularly as so many people guessed who or what was inside – and it made the Doctor look like an irresponsible fool for willingly neglecting that responsibility. It was also hard to take Missy’s apparent redemption arc seriously; the Master has such a long history as a villain that it was practically impossible to believe s/he could ever truly turn good. Admittedly, this did have a good conclusion where after skirting the boundary of good and bad, Missy did decide to stand with the Doctor, only to be killed by her past self before she could let him know. Meanwhile, the reveal of the Mondasian Cybermen and John Simm’s Master would have been brilliant in the finale if we hadn’t already known they were coming.

I also didn’t like the Twelfth Doctor as much as in the two previous series. Peter Capaldi’s acting is as fine as ever – he gets some excellent monologues, as per usual – and he still plays the old hero, trying his best to save people where he can while still being realistic about their chances. But he was placed in situations and driven to make decisions which, while true to his character, made him look foolish: from vowing to guard the vault and then ceasing to bother, ignoring the warnings that he himself had given Nardole; to being rendered blind and then lying about it to Bill; to being over-indulgent with Missy, who has a centuries-long history of mass murder, eventually letting her run free without any apparent kind of security just in case she is in fact deceiving him.

And then we have the Monks, who get a three-episode story arc despite being among the most pathetic villains that the revived series has ever produced. Even the Slitheen, the walking fart jokes that look like the Teletubbies’ predatory cousins, were better than these guys. The Monks did display a little unconventional strategic thinking at the ‘pyramid’ stage of their plan, but besides that:
* We don’t even find out their name in the first episode where they’re introduced, despite them running the plot of the episode.
* They put considerable time and effort into building complex simulations to determine how to take over the Earth, which seems like a huge waste of time if they have the necessary information anyway.
* Their plan involves getting humans to willingly hand over their freedom, and they choose to endear themselves to humanity by looking like walking corpses.
* They succeed in taking over the world and then apparently do nothing with that power besides standing around menacingly.
* When their control over humanity breaks, they immediately run away and play no part in the rest of the season.

Finally, not the least of the season’s problems were Bill and Nardole.

Bill

Looking back over the series, my overwhelming feeling towards Bill is apathy. This has nothing to do with Pearl Mackie, who did an excellent job with what she was given and was able to handle the more emotional scenes commendably. As a character, the main things which stood out about Bill were that she was gobby and self-aware, questioning everything around her. The first quality was not used in an especially funny or endearing way, while the second was amusing at first but got old quickly. Bill was also the first openly gay companion, but that didn’t really affect anything beyond her love interest in The Pilot. Besides that, she was a nice enough person, but she didn’t have anything else that made her stand out as likeable (like Donna’s comedic moments) or interesting (like the progression of Clara’s character across two-and-a-half seasons, culminating in her becoming an equivalent of the Doctor). Thanks to her having a couple of vaguely negative traits and no outstanding positive ones, I simply didn’t care about Bill very much, not even when she got turned into a Cyberman. I did like the progression that took place early on in her relationship with the Doctor, and the bittersweet conclusion that her story was brought to, but I’m not heartbroken to see her go.

Nardole

Unlike Pearl Mackie, I do have a little bias against Matt Lucas, since I absolutely hated Little Britain. Yet I thought he was actually pretty funny as Nardole in The Husbands of River Song – but not so funny that I was clamouring to see the character again after that episode, and I’m not aware that anybody else was either. Yet, in The Return of Doctor Mysterio, there he was. Making this relatively minor character into a recurring companion seemed like a very random decision, but as Nardole remained present for the duration of Series 10, I found myself wondering how drunk Steven Moffat was on the day that he made that choice.

It wasn’t that Nardole was actively annoying for the most part – he even had some cooler moments every now and then. He just really did not need to be there; he contributed very little that was meaningful. The show did try to give him a purpose by linking him into the main story arc with the vault and having him keep reminding the Doctor of his oath, not that it mattered since the Doctor never listened to him. But that was basically all he was there for: he –  or an equivalent character – could have just stuck around the vault full-time, only making brief appearances at the beginning and end of each episode. However, he was both mobile and intelligent enough to want to come on adventures in the TARDIS too; yet he hardly ever did anything on those occasions. In Empress of Mars, the show itself acknowledged Nardole’s superfluousness by having the TARDIS carry him out of the adventure, dematerialising for no reason; it didn’t even turn out to be a clever plot by Missy to get herself out of the vault.

Like Bill, I did not find Nardole a good enough character to get invested in. And if he had to be there, the show should either have had him staying in the background, or playing an active role in adventures, rather than just twiddling his thumbs unless the Doctor needed an extra person to talk to.

Best and Worst Episodes

01. The Doctor Falls (9/10)
02. Knock Knock (9/10)
03. Thin Ice (8/10)
04. The Pyramid at the End of the World (8/10)
05. The Eaters of Light (7/10)
06. Oxygen (7/10)
07. Empress of Mars (6/10)
08. Smile (6/10)
09. The Pilot (5/10)
10. The Lie of the Land (5/10)
11. Extremis (3/10)
12. World Enough and Time (2/10)

Best episode: Funny – usually in a two-part finale, it’s the second episode that’s a letdown. But this time, it was the setup in World Enough and Time that had problems, and the payoff in The Doctor Falls that really delivered, with its use of the Cybermen and the two Masters, as well as the conclusion of Bill’s journey. It also made me feel more emotional than any of the other episodes in the series, making it an easy choice for the best one.

Worst episode: Even though I gave World Enough and Time the lowest rating (and I may have been overly harsh), many of the things I didn’t like about it were in context with the rest of the series, like the meta jokes. Had the story taken place in another series with another companion, I would probably have liked it better. Extremis, on the other hand, is a bad episode all by itself. It had confusing switching between times and places, twists that didn’t feel connected, and a story that wandered round in circles for too long. Like my least favourite episode of Series 8, Listen, it was a good example of what happens when Steven Moffat tries to be too clever.

How This Series Compares

Here’s my mean average episode ranking for Series 10, including the last Christmas special.

01. Series 9 (7.6 – SD 1.7)
02. Series 4 (7.1 – SD 0.8)
03. Series 1 (7.1 – SD 2.2)
04. Series 5 (7.0 – SD 1.4)
05. Series 8 (6.9 – SD 1.8)
06. Series 6 (6.8 – SD 2.0)
07. Series 3 (6.5 – SD 1.3)
08. Series 7 (6.5 – SD 1.6)
09. Series 2 (6.3 – SD 1.9)
10. Series 10 (6.3 – SD 2.1)

There it is at the bottom, with a very slightly higher standard deviation than Series 2. Quite a disappointment after how good Series 9 was. The final episode did alleviate many of my negative feelings, and the Christmas special looks like it’ll be a good one; but after all this, I’m definitely ready to see a new showrunner. What direction will Chris Chibnall take the show in? We shall see.

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Film review – Spider-Man: Homecoming

This was the movie I was looking forward to most in 2017. When it comes to my favourite superheroes, Batman and Spider-Man are neck and neck; so I was very excited when Sony and Marvel Studios did a deal that would allow Spider-Man to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War was enough to leave me eager for more – but perhaps my expectations were raised too high, because while Spider-Man: Homecoming is not a bad movie, it falls far short of greatness.

After being recruited to help Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) tackle Captain America in Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is dropped off back in New York, with the new high-tech Spider-Man suit that Stark made for him, and assurances that he’ll be in touch if anything comes up. Two months later, Peter is still waiting, unable to focus on his high school life while he tries to help the city as Spider-Man and dreams of becoming an Avenger. Finally, a threat presents itself in the form of Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton): a salvage worker who feels cheated by the government in the wake of the Chitauri invasion, Toomes has set up an underground business stealing and selling alien technology, assisted by his vulture-like flying suit. With his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) as his confidante, Peter takes it upon himself to bring Toomes and his henchmen to justice, despite repeated conflicts with his school career and Stark’s warnings not to get in over his head.

This film succeeds in being very different to the two Spider-Man film series that came before it. For one thing, it assumes that everybody watching already knows Spider-Man’s origin story: there’s not even a summarising montage at the beginning like in The Incredible Hulk. Peter’s spider bite is briefly mentioned, and the only references to Uncle Ben are ambiguous and indirect, like when Peter worries about putting his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) under more stress. Feeling confident enough to dive right into the present life of its hero certainly doesn’t do the movie any harm. It also feels more experimental as it mixes in high school tropes – though this can make story sections predictable sometimes – and gives us an awkward, inexperienced Spider-Man, which fits perfectly given that he’s only fifteen. His initial ventures into patrolling New York see him giving directions to pedestrians and stopping crimes that aren’t actually crimes, which is probably what the average day would look like for a wannabe superhero in real life. Even the settings are unfamiliar for a Spider-Man story: at one point, he has to chase a van through a suburban neighbourhood where there are only trees to web-swing from. It’s a far cry from his usual elegant swings among Manhattan skyscrapers. The whole approach reminded me of Kick-Ass, particularly as Peter’s youth and clumsiness makes him appear more vulnerable and makes you fear for inevitable, painful consequences.

Spider-Man is known for being a more light-hearted hero – especially if you can sidestep his origin story – and the film certainly gets that right, with a decent blend of comedy. (Three words: Enhanced Interrogation Mode.) I also liked how Peter’s relationship with Tony Stark is portrayed, with Tony having more interest and respect for Peter than is initially apparent. This definitely isn’t Iron Man 4 by another name as some people suspected: Tony only makes a few appearances, and that shot from the trailers of Spider-Man and Iron Man zooming along side by side isn’t even in the movie. As is typical with MCU movies, there are quite a few Easter Eggs, such as at least one potential future villain with a revealing tattoo on his face. As I know Spider-Man better than I do most comic book characters, it was fun to guess at whether things were deliberate references or not, like whether a girl in the background with long white hair might be Felicia Hardy.

Tom Holland does an excellent job with what he’s asked to do: keeping the character of Peter Parker likeable, capturing the adolescent awkwardness, enthusiasm and dorkiness of this incarnation, and finding time for the odd quip from behind the mask of Spider-Man. His physical performance is particularly good: he’s much springier and lighter on his feet than any previous Spider-Man (presumably owing to Holland’s background in dance), whether he’s jumping or web-swinging – indeed, just like a jumping spider. Questions like ‘how does he compare to Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield?’ are ultimately unfair because Holland is playing such a different version of the character, less mature and still finding his feet; this whole movie is a depiction of the transitional phase that went by relatively briefly with Maguire and Garfield.

As for villains, the film avoids reprising anyone from previous installments just yet, and gives us the Vulture, who was intended to be the main antagonist in Sam Raimi’s planned Spider-Man 4. (The Shocker is technically there too as one of Vulture’s henchmen, but he only has a few brief scenes and doesn’t get a full costume.) Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is definitely one of the stronger villains in the MCU, not just because his motivations are understandable, but because rather than a god or a mad scientist or a corrupt businessman, Toomes is just an ordinary working-class guy, somebody who could live next door to you. Outside of his secret criminal business, primarily intended to provide an income for his family, he enjoys an ordinary homelife and seems like a nice bloke – then he threatens to kill you if you get in his way, and leaves you in no doubt that he means it.

For all the good stuff, the film unfortunately has its share of problems too. The script, which is pretty good on the surface, is let down by a lack of decent character moments. The majority of Peter’s interactions throughout are with his friend Ned, who is the typical annoying, overenthusiastic best bud, lost in how super-cool Peter’s secret identity is. The other side characters are badly underdeveloped: Peter’s love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) didn’t get nearly enough screen time for me to care about their budding relationship; and the other girl in his peer group, Michelle (Zendaya), seemingly exists only to make snarky comments. As for Aunt May, Peter hardly gets to talk to her at all. The action is also below average. We don’t get much of Spider-Man actually fighting the Vulture: the first three times that they encounter each other, it’s only brief, and in the climactic battle, the editing is too rapid and the light too low to properly see what’s going on.

Spider-Man: Homecoming deserves credit for trying hard to do things differently from its predecessors, and the elements that it does get right are top-notch. Unfortunately, due to its more mediocre ingredients, I found the end product to be something of a disappointment, though still a reasonably entertaining movie. Rating: 3.5/5.

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doctor Who – Series 10, Episode 12: “The Doctor Falls”

  • The beginning of this episode left me thinking wistfully of a time when Doctor Who cliffhangers actually followed directly on from when the previous episode ended.
  • We finally get the Two Masters concept used in full, and it’s really great. I love their interactions, like the dancing, and John Simm’s clearly enjoying himself being in the role again. I actually like him better here than I did in his previous appearances. He’s toned down the clownish insanity a bit and is more classic Master; he even stands and dresses a bit like Roger Delgado. As for Missy, it’s like she genuinely was trying to reform – it wasn’t part of some grand scheme after all – but the presence of the Master compels her to take the easy route and revert. She almost seems to decide whether she’s good or evil on spur-of-the-moment impulses.
  • At least we get something of an explanation as to how the Master survived in The End of Time, even if it’s open to having holes poked in it. Wasn’t Gallifrey about to be destroyed when the Doctor stopped the Time Lords from coming through? Or did the events of The Day of the Doctor undo all that, meaning there was time for the Master to be cured and subsequently exiled somehow?
  • Hmm, another not-so-subtle poke at Donald Trump.
  • I like how the music ‘This is Gallifrey, Our Childhood, Our Home’ starts playing as the Doctor monologues on the rooftop.
  • I had to stick my tongue in my cheek when the Master tells Nardole, “He told me he’d always hated you,” and again later when Nardole himself says, “For a moment there, I was feeling a glimmer of purpose.”
  • I did guess that Bill was only imagining she was no longer a Cyberman, which was presumably so that we could actually see Pearl Mackie’s face for a good portion of the episode. Also, we’ve already had this concept in Asylum of the Daleks. And if she can override the programming and still feel emotion (because companions always need to be special like that), how come she’s not in constant pain? Damn, this series has turned me into a cynic.
  • The episode really gets the emotions going from here, as we lead up to the climax. Cyber-Bill’s conversations with the Doctor, and him admitting he can’t do anything, are pretty tragic in spite of my personal lack of attachment to Bill. Peter Capaldi gets yet another brilliant monologue as he reinforces the Doctor’s character to the two Masters: “It’s the best I can do, so I’m doing it.” And I did feel tense and wondering how things would turn out as the final battle approached.
  • A perfect conclusion for the two Masters as they end up destroying each other, like the ending of Double Indemnity. Too bad the Doctor will never know that Missy was in fact ready to reform. Though I suppose some future showrunner will find a way to make the Master live again if and when they feel like it.
  • So that does look like all she wrote for Bill and Nardole. Having Bill be unexpectedly reunited with Heather was pretty darn heartfelt; even though I should be annoyed because Bill technically doesn’t die and is cured from being a Cyberman, I’m not because it was a really nice conclusion for her.
  • So yeah, that regeneration at the beginning of the last episode was indeed a fake-out. Hopefully in the Christmas special, we’ll find out why the Doctor was apparently regenerating even before he got shot by a Cyberman. Was it the penalty for breaking his oath? Some explanation as to why he now doesn’t want to regenerate would also be welcome: is he just tired of life?
  • Wait, the First Doctor?! Awesome! And he’s played by David Bradley from An Adventure in Space and Time? Even more awesome!

Well, after last episode (which I might have been a little too harsh on), I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this finale so much. The build-up from the first part may have been flawed, but the payoff in this one was excellent. It was easily the most emotional episode of the season, and I wasn’t even as happy to say goodbye to Bill and Nardole as I expected. Definitely a worthy season finale, and bring on the Christmas special – and for goodness sake, somebody tell us who the Thirteenth Doctor is going to be already. Rating: 9/10.

So, my final thoughts for Series 10 are going to be rather complicated. Watch out for them soon!

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Celine Dion Live in Leeds!

 

Celine Dion has been my favourite singer for a long time, and one of my dreams has been to see her perform live. Back in January, I was tremendously excited to learn that Celine would be touring Europe later in the year – which would include performances in the UK. I managed to snag tickets for her Manchester show, and happily sat back to wait for the end of June.

But we all know what happened at the Manchester Arena back in May. A few uncertain weeks later, it was announced that following those tragic events, the arena would not be re-opening until at least September, and Celine’s two shows there would have to be postponed. I was fearful of a complete cancellation, but further news followed relatively quickly: Celine would be performing on the same date, but at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, though tickets were not necessarily guaranteed due to the smaller size of the venue. Fortunately, I still managed to get tickets for myself and my mum, so we would still be going after all.

Given all the uncertainty that had led up to it, it was only when we took our seats that I allowed myself to fully relax and feel truly excited. My thrill levels rose as the spotlight shone upon a figure on stage. Except it wasn’t Celine Dion; it was…Sia?

There she was, complete with black-and-white fringe covering her eyes and a big black bow on her head, singing Chandelier. Seemed like a surprising support act.

But when the song was over, “Sia” threw away her wig and revealed herself to be a French-Canadian musical impressionist named Veronic DiCaire. Clearly having as much fun as the audience, she proceeded to put on a fantastic little show, with impressions of Adele, Shakira, Christina Aguilera, Tina Turner and others. She deservedly received a standing ovation when it was over.

There was a short break – and then, finally, Celine herself was on stage, her musicians and backup singers behind her. A huge grin formed on my face as she kicked off with The Power of Love; those vocals are good enough on a CD, but listening to them live is something else – even if the crowd singing along occasionally came close to drowning them out!

 

As expected, the subject of Manchester was raised early on, as Celine explained everything that had happened to ensure as many fans as possible still had a show to go to, and gave her own message of love and support to the UK. The moments where she engaged with the audience in-between songs were pleasant, with a little humour and a lot of emotion, particularly when talking about her late husband Rene; she came across as a truly lovely lady. As for the songs themselves, the two-hour show featured a long setlist with most of her greatest hits, personal favourites including Coming Back To Me Now and Because You Loved Me. Celine’s song from the Beauty and the Beast remake, How Does A Moment Last Forever, was featured, and immediately followed up by her original song from the animated film.

With most of her ballads in the first two-thirds, Celine moved in a more energetic and funky direction for the final third. Then she left the stage and it looked like the end – but everybody knew it wasn’t, as there was still one notable hit she hadn’t performed! Sure enough, Celine’s voice came out of the darkness, gently singing the opening theme to Titanic – and appearing on the stage in a wide ballgown, she launched into My Heart Will Go On, with the audience joining in. Well, of course that beauty had to be saved for last.

Though it wasn’t quite last: when that was done, Celine stepped out of the dress – leaving it sitting on the stage like a wigwam – and headed into the audience, climbing about halfway up the steep sides of the arena, apparently to see what the view was like for all of us. After some concluding remarks, she gave one last song – Love of my Life – and then made such a quick exit that the final round of applause was relatively short and quiet.

So, what was it like to finally see Celine Dion live? Just as wonderful as I imagined, if not more so. I’m so happy at being able to fulfil this dream, and I hope I get the chance to see her again one day. So thank you, Celine and everyone involved, for a fantastic evening!

Posted in Miscellaneous | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Kerbal Space Program: Ever-Expanding Horizons

Progress on Kerbal Space Program has continued steadily: having accomplished landings on the Mun and Minmus, and recovered debris from space, the Career Mode contracts were asking for more advanced manouvers.

There was, for example, the contract to perform a docking in orbit around Kerbin, and thus begin constructing my first space station. Building a rocket bigger than any before, I launched a science laboratory – with attached solar panels and viewing cupola – into a polar orbit, hoping that this would allow me to collect more science as the station passed over Kerbin’s different biomes. Science labs, once loaded with data, are able to harvest science points; while the science takes longer to collect, you get more in the end than you would simply returning the data to the space centre. After I sent a shuttle with a docking port after the space station, it took some time first to catch it on its unusual orbit, then to master the use of reaction control thrusters and get into position for docking. Finally, the docking ports came close enough to drift together, and as the Spice Girls would say, two became one.

My Kerbin space station has not seen any usage since that initial docking mission, however, as I can’t find much use for it; the only new science I can collect in Kerbin orbit is through EVA reports, which don’t yield very much. The Mun and Minmus, however, could be much more profitable. I constructed a new space station in orbit, with a nice big engine at the rear, two big fuel tanks on either side, and a lander attached at the front – next stop, Munar orbit! Except when I ignited the engine, the twin fuel tanks proved to be very unstable, causing the space station to wobble all over the place. Not to mention, acceleration was slow with all that weight, and by the time the space station arrived at the Mun, much of the extra fuel had been used up. However, there was still plenty left for multiple landings, yielding lots of science. When sending a space station to Minmus, I avoided placing so much stress on it by sending the station and its extra fuel in two separate launches, performing a docking in orbit around the smaller moon. Landing missions from this space station have proven very fuel-efficient, given the lower gravity which means less need to reduce and add speed.

With that done, I was now looking outside Kerbin, for it is far from the only object orbiting its sun. There are, for example, asteroids which may drift close to Kerbin, potential sources of science and ore for mining. Arming a spacecraft with a giant claw which would grab anything that it touched, I decided to try and snatch one of these asteroids, which was due to pass closer than the Mun. Getting the spacecraft on the right inclination, however, used a lot of fuel – so I became cautious, wanting to get out to the asteroid quickly, grab it, then slow it down until it was orbiting Kerbin. But it wasn’t quite that simple: even when I managed to get my spacecraft on target for a rendezvous with the asteroid, it was clear that with their speed relative to each other, they would either zip right past each other, or the asteroid would smash the spacecraft out of its way like a bowling ball. There was nothing else for it but to consume more fuel and slow the relative speed. By the time I did manage to grab the asteroid with my claw, there was only enough fuel left to place the asteroid in a wide, unstable orbit; and even that was hard as I wasn’t quite lined up with the centre of mass, and the asteroid spun wildly whenever I lit up the engine.

The contracts, meanwhile, called for an even more distant target: Duna, the in-game equivalent of Mars. First, I had to time-accelerate until Duna was in the correct position – it’s much harder to catch another planet than a moon. Then, following online tips, I built an unmanned spacecraft which I named Watney 1, after the hero of The Martian. Sent on its way, Watney 1 became the first spacecraft to leave Kerbin behind altogether, and enter orbit around the Sun. Nearly two hundred days and some little manouvers later, it was headed for an encounter with Duna, but a significant problem became evident: there was not enough fuel left to put the spacecraft into orbit, let alone land it.

 

Luckily, there was a way to slow the probe down without using fuel: aerobraking in Duna’s atmosphere. It was a tense time as Watney 1 flew above the surface of the red planet, surrounded by flames; three solar panels were ripped away as they could not be retracted, though fortunately the probe had spares. Watney 1 emerged on the other side, battered but with enough fuel to enter orbit. After broadcasting a bucketload of science from above Duna – and even Duna’s moon, Ike – Watney 1 used all its remaining fuel for a one-way landing on the surface. The atmosphere made a heat shield necessary, but as with Mars, the atmosphere of Duna is much thinner than that of Earth, so a combination of parachutes and retro-rockets were used to slow Watney 1 down to a safe landing, in a middle of a lonely desert plain. Unfortunately, Watney 1 didn’t have quite enough electric charge to use all of its scientific instruments, and its rover couldn’t be controlled as it had the wrong sort of antenna, but it was still a very productive mission in terms of science.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at even more ambitious contracts, including constructing a base on the Mun, which I still have no real idea how I’m going to pull off. Well, I’ve done okay so far…

Posted in Video Games | Tagged | 1 Comment

Doctor Who – Series 10, Episode 11: “World Enough and Time”

  • The problem with starting off your story with a flash-forward that shows the Doctor regenerating is that if you know Steven Moffat well enough, you immediately think “I bet it’s a fake-out.” I know the Doctor is supposed to regenerate soon, but we don’t even know who the Thirteenth will be yet!
  • I enjoyed watching Missy doing her thing in the introduction – theoretically trying to be good while still being herself – but I hated everything else about it. Highlighting whether or not the Doctor should be called Doctor Who, referring to Bill and Nardole as Exposition and Comic Relief – the self-awareness is on such high levels that it ceased to be funny long ago.
  • The Doctor has clearly just decided “Fuck my oath” as he sits in the TARDIS eating crisps while Missy walks around free. (Yes, I am getting so frustrated with this series that I’ve reached the point of swearing.) And Nardole can’t even be bothered to put up a fight anymore, because what’s the point? Hey Doctor, remember that electric-shock bracelet you put on Margaret the Slitheen back in Series 1? Maybe we could give Missy one of those just to be safe?
  • I admit, I wasn’t actually expecting Bill to be shot. But immediately cutting away to a more light-hearted flashback once again made me think “Fake-out” and care even less than I already did. And sure enough, some people with bags over their heads turn up and assure us that Bill will be repaired!
  • The concept of time running at different speeds at opposite ends of the ship due to the black hole is interesting – and also appropriate, because for much of this episode, I felt like I was on the end where time was going slowly. Even the big twists at the end are dragged out as long as possible so when you’ve figured out what’s going on, it takes the episode another minute or two of pointless teasing to confirm it.
  • Is there anything else good about this episode? Well, the Doctor wanting Missy/the Master to become a genuine friend again because she’s the only person around who’s like him is good. The masked patients and their voice synthesisers going “Pain, pain, pain” are pretty creepy.
  • When I realised that this was an origin story for the Mondasian Cybermen, I thought that was pretty clever too. (Not the rest of the episode, just that part.) It explains away the Cybermen’s low-budget appearance when they appeared in the 1960s, and it’s a pretty horrifying addition that they can feel pain but just don’t care about it. But then the script had to spoil it by going, “It’s a genesis of the Cybermen! You know, just like that episode Genesis Of The Daleks? See what we were getting at there, because surely you could never have had that thought on your own? SEE? SEE?!”
  • I have to confess, I wasn’t that excited about the Mondasian Cybermen turning up in this series. In The Tenth Planet, I couldn’t take their ‘broken synthesiser’ voices seriously.
  • So where exactly does all this fit in on the personal timeline of John Simm’s Master? After he regenerated, he spent all his time on Earth – aside from a few little trips to the end of the universe – until he was killed. Then when he was resurrected, he remained on Earth until he apparently died again. Everything between that and the first appearance of Missy is a blank. Does this maybe happen for him after The End of Time? Are we going to get an explanation for how he survived that episode? Are we going to see him regenerate into Missy?

I have not been happy with this season and as you can probably tell, this episode has made me feel even worse. I’m almost feeling angry. This episode isn’t like Extremis – it’s not trying too hard to be clever, it has all sorts of other problems. It has some elements that aren’t too bad, but it spoils those by meandering too much and dangling wasted potential in front of our faces. Two incarnations of the Master meeting each other, for example, would be really cool if everything around them was better than it is. And it continues to deliver things that I’ve had enough of. I’m sick of self-awareness, I’m sick of fake-outs, and I’m sick of seeing tropes and plot elements that I’ve already seen a bunch of times before on this show. I really hope the finale will be an improvement, but my hopes are not high. I just want to get to Series 11 so we can all start from scratch. Rating: 2/10.

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Evening with Simon King

Last night, my dad and I attended a very enjoyable lecture by wildlife filmmaker Simon King, organised by the Lancashire Badger Group. While Simon spends most of his time behind the camera these days, he was a familiar face in the wildlife documentaries I watched in earlier years, such as Big Cat Diary, Britain Goes Wild and Springwatch.

The focus of the lecture was generally observation of British wildlife. Simon was a brilliant speaker, and was particularly good at making the audience laugh. Much of this came from his animal mimicry, as he demonstrated how the calls of tawny owls, little owls and cuckoos can be used to attract them, as well as using vole squeaks to lure in a barn owl. There was naturally some talk of watching badgers, and he also played some videos of filming fallow deer and otters.

The Q&A was particularly scintillating, as Simon recalled some of the hairier moments in his career – including being attacked by a rabid cheetah – and mused on whether or not we have a spiritual connection with wildlife. (He felt that if we did, surely all animals would be connected with each other too, because what’s so special about humans?) Finally, somebody asked him if he had any tips about getting into the wildlife filmmaking industry. As part of his answer, Simon noted honestly that you have to think carefully about your motivation for doing so, as it’s extremely questionable whether wildlife documentaries have really done much to help conservation efforts in the long run. He ended with a reading of the poem Sometimes a Wild God.

Thanks to Simon King and Lancashire Badger Group for a great evening!

Posted in Nature | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Doctor Who – Series 10, Episode 10: “The Eaters of Light”

  • I do quite like these little random statements about the world that the Doctor makes, like how crows can speak but nobody has intelligent conversations with them anymore.
  • I also like this episode’s historical setting. It’s nice when Doctor Who gets historical: there are some enjoyable First Doctor historical episodes that don’t even have any aliens in them. Mind you, I don’t think there were any black soldiers in the Roman legions, but I guess sometimes having the best actors for the role and maintaining diversity takes precedence over historical accuracy, as with last week’s story.
  • Nardole’s story about the Mary Celeste contradicts the classic series – all the way back in the First Doctor era, the crew of the Mary Celeste were frightened off their ship by Daleks. The Lusitania has apparently only featured in an audio story – I’d like to see a whole episode based around it.
  • I liked the character of Kar and the progression that she goes through: from setting the creature free irresponsibly but with understandable motivations, to realising what she’s done, to understanding that she has to stop focussing inward.
  • The design of the creature is good – it looks like something out of Primeval. Plus a dragon-like monster seems more at home in ancient Britain than something with a more alien template.
  • Bill talking about how the Doctor always becomes “boss of the locals” made me think about why this kind of self-awareness is only good in small doses. I suppose it’s because we get tired of being told things we already know!
  • The Twelfth Doctor gets the opportunity for another anti-war speech – it doesn’t quite reach the levels of The Zygon Inversion, but what could?
  • Ah, how my eyes rolled when they started making out that the Doctor would sacrifice his life before the season finale. At least the pretence doesn’t last long.
  • “You have a vault to guard.” And what a great job he’s been doing of that this whole series. I suppose it’s believable that after such a long time at this mundane, thankless task, the Doctor would push the boundaries a little (going travelling) then push them further when he gets away with it (actually letting Missy out but under restriction). I don’t doubt that it’s going to come back to bite him, as I trust Missy/the Master as far as I could throw her and so should he.
  • “You never learned to hear the music.” I was expecting a reference to the drumming there, particularly as we know for sure now we’ll see John Simm next week.
  • Oh, and Nardole………..was there.

Despite having some slow periods, this was a solid episode in pretty much all departments. Rating: 3.5/5.

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doctor Who – Series 10, Episode 9: “Empress of Mars”

  • Ah, I always enjoy seeing NASA in anything. Too bad the Doctor and his buddies have to come along and ruin the dramatic atmosphere in Mission Control.
  • I do like the concept of Victorian soldiers on Mars, but it’s not used to its full potential – they’re just hanging about in tunnels and steampunk is kept to a minimum. There are a few little things I still liked, such as the slang (e.g. “You’ll get your share of the rhino”), though I couldn’t say whether it’s accurate or not; and the portrait of Queen Victoria resembling Pauline Collins, who played her all the way back in Series 2.
  • It’s almost like the show itself realises how superfluous Nardole is outside of the business with the vault, as the TARDIS spirits him away from the adventure without warning or explanation.
  • So Bill’s thing for this episode is making movie references, and still being a bit mouthy. I’m still not into her.
  • While we’ve seen plenty of “the humans are the alien invaders” stories in sci-fi before, this one at least feels different in that it’s only a small band of humans – who don’t have the power to trash the whole planet a la Avatar – and the resident aliens have the clear advantage when the fighting starts.
  • And of course some greedy bugger ignores the warnings for the sake of some treasure, and brings hellfire down on everyone else. Isn’t that always the way?
  • The design of the Ice Queen is good, especially the insectile eyes – she looks like a proper Doctor Who monster without the need for CGI. I like the rattling reptilian noises that the Ice Warriors make too.
  • For God’s sake, Vincey, you never start talking about your beloved fiancee or pulling out pictures when you’re about to go into battle. You might as well be wearing a neon sign that says ‘KILL ME!’
  • I haven’t watched any classic episodes involving the Ice Warriors yet, so I don’t know about their history in the old series, but presumably their continued survival outside Mars ties into them coming to rescue Skaldak in the Series 7 episode Cold War?
  • So, any explanation for why the TARDIS went away in the first place? No?

This one came close to being a nice classic adventure, but honestly, I found it lacking in much of real interest. Not only that, but I’m just getting tired of Bill, and Nardole, and the vault – this whole series has been a let-down so far. Here’s hoping for something better from the last three episodes. Rating: 3/5.

Posted in TV Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments