Category Archives: non-book

Star Trek: The Animated Series Round-Up: The First Four Episodes

startrekheaderThese days there’s a lot of Star Trek out there.   At last count, there were over 700 episodes from the various series plus a dozen movies.*

*If you add in the fan-made productions, it only increases the number.

I guess you could say that if you’re a Star Trek fan, you have a lot to choose from.   Given the size of the buffet, it’s easy to get caught up in only going back for your favorite course again and again — in my case, this would be the original (and still the best) Star Trek.   Even within the original three year run, there are  certain runs that I’m more familiar with or re-visit more often than others.**  And as with an smorguboard, there are going to be some areas that you neglect, don’t visit or maybe overlook.

**To combat this, I did a re-watch of the third season a few years ago and found I enjoyed it.

One of those blind spots in my Star Trek fandom is the Animated Series.   I’ve seen a sampling of episodes in repeats and from picking up the commercial VHS releases on clearance back in the day.  And like the completist that I am, I’ve purchased the DVD set and have it sitting on my shelf with the rest of episodic Trek.   When it first came out, I had every intention of watching the entire run, though that quickly got sidetracked.

I’ve read a smattering of the Alan Dean Foster adaptations of the episodes and found them a bit more satisfying than than the actual episodes themselves.

And so, I’ve had this gap in my Trek fandom for a while now.

Enter the Mission Log Podcast, which for the past year and a half has been turning a critical eye to every episode of the original series and determining the morals, messages and meanings as well as looking at whether or not the episodes stand the test of time.    With the original series in the books, the podcast has turned to looking at the animated series and it’s given me a good excuse to sit down and finally take in the animated series.

So far, we’re two Mission Logs into the lookback at animated Trek and four episodes into the animated run.

And, of course, I’ve got a few thoughts on things.

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Thoughts on A Couple of Big Finish Doctor Who Releases

Doctor Who: The Final Phase (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures, #2.7)Doctor Who: The Final Phase by Nicholas Briggs

Why must every run of Big Finish stories end with the Daleks?

When the range first brought the Doctor’s greatest nemesis back in audio form all those years ago, I was excited, intrigued and couldn’t wait to hear them. Now I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “The Daleks again?!?”

Perhaps the classic series knew what it was doing when it operated under the less is more theory of Dalek stories. Having a bit of space in between stories featuring the Daleks (or even the perception that there is some space between them) helps make the Dalek stories seem a little more special.

I get that Nicholas Briggs loves the Daleks and I get that he’s really good at doing their voices. I just find myself wishing that every Big Finish arc I listened to didn’t all end up with the Daleks somehow behind the plot.

And so it is that we end the latest round of Tom Baker audio dramas with a whimper and not a bang. I can see what the stories are trying to do by trying together a lot of threads from the course of the seven installments that make up the Tom Baker/Mary Tamm season together. But honestly, looking back over the stories the ones I enjoyed the most were the stand-alone titles and not the ones that attempted to give the season an overall theme or arc. Baker quickly settles back into his role as the Doctor with a flourish and Mary Tamm does a fine job as the first Romana. This comes as little surprise me to me since I’ve listened to the two bounce off each other on the DVD commentaries for season 16 and they’ve still got chemistry in spades).

“The Final Phase” tries hard to wrap things up but I can’t help but feel like it would have been better served if this story and the preceding “The Dalek Contract” had been done as either an extended run two-part story or possibly three episodes. The events that take place here feel padded at four episodes and like there’s a lot of verbal running up and down corridors taking place to fill time. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t necessarily find the a verbal sparring match with the Daleks all that interesting. (Terry Nation was on to something when he realizes that long exchanges of dialogue by Daleks can become inherently uninteresting after a certain point. Hence why he have Davros and the superlative “Genesis of the Daleks.”)

Tying in threads from the earlier two-disc release, this two part story doesn’t have anything revelatory or new to say. The Daleks are going to betray Cuthbert and their alliance? Check and saw that coming. The Daleks want to lure the Doctor into a trap and will hold various people prisoner to do so? Check and again, saw it coming. In the end, this wrap up to the season feels more like “been there, done that” that in really bringing any closure or wrapping up the season.

It’s a shame that this is the final time Tamm will reprise her role as the original Romana. As I said before, Tamm is great. It’s just the material that lets her down.

Doctor Who: The King Of Sontar (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.01)Doctor Who: The King Of Sontar by John Dorney

While I was disappointed by how the previous season of fourth Doctor adventures ended, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued the start of a new run of fourth Doctor and Leela stories. I guess since John Dorney is behind the script for the first installment, “The Kings of Sontar,” that shouldn’t come as too big a surprise. Dorney is one of the most consistent writers for the Big Finish range and this latest story continues his streak.

The fourth Doctor and Leela are sent by the Time Lords to Dowcra base, where an elite group of Sontarans led by augmented Sontaran Strang has aspirations of ending the war with the Rutans and setting about conquering the universe. There’s a threat to the universe as we know it with the Doctor squarely caught in the middle, trying to figure out if and how he can and should stop it.

The story itself unfolds in a fairly expected fashion for the first fifty or so minutes. And then characters make a few decisions that lead up to a electric scene in the TARDIS and some intriguing conflict between the Doctor and Leela. Dorney builds on some of the established conflicts between these two from their television days and gives this run of stories the potential to be something interesting and special. Whether or not the range can pay-off what’s put in place here remains to be seen but it certainly has this listener intrigued and interested in a way I haven’t been since the initial excitement of Tom Baker coming to the range wore off.

Baker and Louise Jameson slip easily back into the familiar roles of the Doctor and Leela and it’s nice to hear David Collins back in Doctor Who.

I can only hope that Dorney will be on board to help wrap up this run of Big Finish stories. Or that maybe, just maybe we can have a run of stories that don’t feature the Daleks as the pivotal enemy behind things. AT this point, I’m scared to look ahead at the upcoming installments and art work for fear of having things given away — or being disappointed to see a season-ending Briggs story.

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And the new Doctor is…

Peter Capaldi Doctor WhoEarlier today, I tuned into the BBC’s world-wide extravaganza, celebrating the revelation of the actor who will play the 12th Doctor.

In many ways, the event reminded me of the season finale of a lot of reality shows — lots of celebratory clips and looks back, all the while keeping the reason for tuning in under wraps until the last possible moment.*

*I enjoyed the reflections by Peter Davison and the first set of panelists.  The second set, not so much.  But then again, I grew a bit tired of Wilf in the overbaked “The End of Time.”  And while it would be easy to go Comic Book guy on the Who fan on the panel, I can’t honestly say that I’d do any better, knowing every word and utterance would be broken down and dissected by a world-wide fan boy audience.

And then finally, the news broke that it’s Peter Capaldi is taking on the role.

At first, my thought was “Who?”  (no irony intended).  Thanks to the power of the Internet, I was able to do some research and find out a bit more.  And, so far, I’m sold on Capaldi as a solid choice to follow-up my favorite Doctor of the modern era.**

**He’s got a Scottish accent…as does my all time favorite Doctor.   Already in good company there!

As I thought about the half-hour celebration and revelation, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a time years ago when I found out that Colin Baker had given way to Sylvester McCoy.  I recall that it was mentioned during a pledge break on the local PBS station and I was completely shocked by the news.  Part of it was because I’d just read an interview with Colin Baker days before saying he wanted to break Tom Baker’s seven-year tenure as the Doctor and part of it was that was in the days before the Internet and connecting with fellow Who fans wasn’t as easy as it is today.

I also recall that my local PBS station (KTEH in San Jose) quickly got hold of a press conference with McCoy, John-Nathan Turner and a couple of other Who dignitaries and aired it one evening as part of a pledge break special.  (I think it took the place of or pushed back an interview with Patrick Troughton, but this was over 25 years ago and my memory is probably not all that reliable).

The difference between then and now struck me.  Back then, the press conference was relatively low-key with little or no production values.  Today’s announcement was over the top with all the bells and whistles.  The McCoy reveal was done early, while today it took 25 minutes of build-up to get to the reason everyone was tuning in.

It’s the difference between fandom then and now.   Back then, I never thought I’d see young people wearing t-shirts proclaiming their love of the show nor did I think there would be all the sheer plethora of tie-in items that I see on the market today.   I see these fans with a mixture of envy because it’s cool to like Doctor Who these days and bitterness since I was a fan when being a fan wasn’t cool.  I also wonder how many of them will be fans of the show ten years from now or a couple of years after it retires again.    Or how many of them will abandon the show with an older actor in the role who isn’t young, hip and fits the profile of sexy?

Oh I’m sure they’ll continue to swoon over David Tennant (the most overrated Doctor of all time) but I wonder how long that will continue and when they’ll move on to the next flavor of the month….

Update:  A quick search of YouTube turns of this video, which I think is the interview/press conference in question.

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Movie Review: The Croods

The_Croods_posterWhile Pixar is still the gold standard for computer animated films, Dreamworks Animation has slowly but assuredly been closing the gap with offerings like Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.  And while their latest offering The Croods isn’t quite as much fun as How To Train Your Dragon, it’s still a solid, entertaining, fun animated movie that the the kids will adore and that adults won’t feel like their being forced to sit through.

In pre-historic times, the Crood family has stayed alive thanks to Grug’s (a well voice-cast Nicholas Cage) philosophy that they should fear everything and that danger lurks around every corner.  The family spends much of their time hiding out in their cave, venturing out only to find food every once in a while.  For the most part, the family is willing to go along with Grug, since many of the stories he relates about the outside world end up with various parties dying.   That is, except for his teenage daughter Eep (voiced by Emma Stone), who believes there’s more to the world than hiding in the cave and barely getting by.

One night, Eep sneaks out of the family cave and meets Guy, a boy who has the secret of fire and warns her that the world as they know it is coming to an end.  Eventually Guy is forced to take not only Eep but the entire Crood family with him on a trek to find higher ground and survive.  Of course, this sets up an inevitable conflict of leadership styles between Guy and Grug, most of which are effectively played for genuine laughs.

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Movie Review: Wreck It Ralph

For thirty years, Ralph has been the adversary in the classic hit video-game Fix It Felix.  Lonely and in search of a friend, Ralph is told by his fellow game inhabitants and several other classic video game villains that he’ll never be more than the bad guy.  Determined to me more than his programming, Ralph leaves the game in search of a gold medal that he believes will win him the friendship and respect of his fellow game inhabitants.

By going “turbo” (invading other games in the arcade), Ralph achieves his goal of getting a medal in one game, only to lose it in the brightly colored racing game, Sugar Rush to “glitch” Venellope.   Ralph and Venellope hatch a plan to help her win the race and get his medal back.

With Wreck It Ralph, Disney is attempting to do for video games what Toy Story did for toys.    And, for the most part, it succeeds though the film probably won’t be as well-regarded by adults as the Toy Story trilogy is.

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TV Thoughts: Arrow, Nashville

Arrow: Pilot

While I tuned into Smallville on and off for most of its ten seasons, I can’t ever say I was really a huge fan.  Part of it my initial TV snobbery, dismissing it as little more than a hybrid of Buffy and the X-Files (though to its credit, Smallville‘s explanation of  x plus kryptonite equals wacky happening made a bit more sense than some of the later seasons of the X-Files attempts at explaining wacky events).

I watched enough to know that Green Arrow was part of the last couple of years of the show and that a vocal contingent of fans would like it if the character as portrayed on Smallville had got his own spin-off.

I wasn’t necessarily one of them and after watching the pilot, I’m glad this series is starting fresh.   I’m not a huge Green Arrow fan (in fact, I’ve read none of the comics featuring him and have no clue about his mythology) but it seems like the pilot episode has taken a page from the recent Christopher Nolan films and kept the hero a bit more grounded.  I’m not saying that it’s realistic that a guy would survive on a desert island for five years, all the time bulking up and training himself for a mission to clean up his city.   But there’s a darker, grittier feel to Arrow than we got from Smallville–and there are a whole lot of echoes of Batman, which could be exactly what the CW is going for here.  OK, so Oliver Queen only has one dead parent and a mother who is apparently not happy that he’s back, but there’s a whole lot of room for angst.  He’s also got a member of the house staff who believes in him (though it’s the maid and not the butler in this case) and he’s got access to lots of money and his own version of the Batcave.

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Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan Review

I didn’t cry when Adric died.  Nor did I cry when Rose Tyler left (the first time).  (I was honestly a bit relieved since I’d wearied of her character and the multitudes who declared her the best companion ever…)

Sarah Jane Smith’s departure, while bittersweet, didn’t get me all misty-eyed.

I will admit that as the Ponds made their departure from Doctor Who this week, not only did I have a lump in my throat, but I was also fighting back tears like I did in the first ten or so minutes of Up.

Damn you, Steven Moffat.  You got me.

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Movie Review: Looper

Genre fans have pinned a lot of hope of Looper, an action thriller with a clever sci-fi twist.  The good news is the movie not only meets but it exceeds those expectations.

Sixty years in the future, humanity invents time travel and them immediately outlaws its use.   However, criminal elements have set up a clever system where victims are captured, sent back in time thirty years and killed by hired thugs called loopers.  Since the person hasn’t been born yet, it’s technically not murder and not crime to dispose of the body.

The catch comes when it’s time to close your own loop.    The looper is sent back in time and killed by the younger version of himself.   You then get a big payday and are out of the business, free to live your life for the next thirty or so years until it’s time to be popped back in time and die.

However, in the future it appears a new crime boss has appeared on the scene, called the Rainmaker and he’s closing all the loops.

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Movie Review: Hotel Translyvania

Coming out of Hotel Transylvania, my wife turned to me and said, “You’re going to give it a good review, right?”   She was then disappointed when I said, “Probably not” and she’s been after me for the last couple of days to say nice things about the movie.

She really liked it.  The kids we saw it with at the preview screening really liked it.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t overly impressed by the film.  It had some nice isolated moments, but overall the picture feels a bit flat when compared to the work being done by Pixar and Dreamworks Animation.

Maybe I expect too much from an animated feature.  Or maybe it’s my own predisposition against Adam Sandler comedies.  Because that’s what Hotel Transylvania is at its most basic level–an animated Adam Sandler movie.

Sandler has assembled his usual cast of friends from other comedies to lend their voices to some of the great Universal monsters.  Sandler plays Drac, who years ago built a huge castle hidden from humans where he could raise his daughter, Mavis.  Approaching her 118th birthday, Mavis is eager to head out into the world and see if humans are really as bad s her father says they are (he’s got good reason to mistrust them–they killed his wife).  Using an elaborate ruse, Drac tricks Mavis into believing everything he’s told her about humans is true and she decides to live her life in seclusion and safety along with Dracula.

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TV Thoughts: Revolution — Pilot

Watching the first episode of Revolution, I was mildly intrigued but just couldn’t help asking myself one big question–just how long can they sustain this before they’ve either a)provides resolution to all the relevant and interesting questions or b)strung out those answers to the point that I’m frustrated and tune out?

I kept getting this strange feeling that this would work better as a limited run series (in which characters could or would die or be put into more significant peril) or a mini-series.

I’ve heard the show will try to keep interest up with flashbacks to the days between the power going off and the events we’re seeing now.  It sounds a bit like Lost with the flashes with one big exception.  In Lost, I was interested enough in the characters after the initial episodes to want to find out more about them.  So far, there aren’t a lot of characters on Revolution that I find myself wanting to find out more about what they did in the days following the loss of power and where events are now.

I couldn’t help but feel a lot of times during the pilot that this show was an heir to Jericho.  That feeling was further underlined by the tease at the end, where it’s revealed some people have power still and can use it.   It does answer the big question I had during the pilot–namely if the answer for bringing the power back on is on a thumb drive and there’s no computers to read it, is it really of any use?

Of the myriad of characters we met in the pilot, I’ll admit I’m most intrigued by Billy Burke as Miles.   It will give the show credit that the idea that he was once connected to the guy in power on the other side of things is interesting and one I hope will be explored well.

Of course, the show’s big stumble is that I found myself less than interested in the lead of Charlie Matheson.   All during the episode, I kept feeling like the NBC promo department is missing a huge opportunity to tie in to The Hunger Games mania.  Because the character of Charlie really isn’t that far separated from Katniss and it seems like you marketed this show that way, you might draw in some of those rabid fans to your new series .  This is likely while I’m not part of a marketing department, though.

For now, I’ll give Revolution a couple of more episodes and see how it goes.   It could be good addictive fun or it could peter out and frustrated me like Jericho did.

I’m hopeful but not overly optimistic about this one.

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