Category Archives: tv reviews

Animated Star Trek Round-Up: Episodes Five Through Ten

startrekheaderSix more episodes down in my quest to watch all of the animated episodes of Star Trek.  And it feels like this half-dozen episodes contain a lot of sequels and call backs to classic Star Trek.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does lead to a bit of an exposition dump in certain installments.

One thing I’ve noticed in watching these episodes is that they’re lean and mean when it comes to the storyline.  With half the running time of original series installments, there is no time for side tangents, filler or padding.   This set also includes an episode I have vague memories of watching on a  Saturday morning growing up and thinking it was interesting.  At this time, my awareness of Star Trek came mostly from ads on the back of comic books for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and from the series of Power Records that were out at the time.*

* I think a whole post on the Power Records series could be coming in the near future since those really helped cement my early interest in all things Trek.

And so, here are my thoughts on the next six installments of animated Trek.

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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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Review: Doctor Who: Harvest of Time by Alastair Reynolds

Doctor Who: Harvest of Time

When I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.

After reading Stephen Baxter’s Second Doctor tie-in, I wasn’t sure the melding of a big-name genre writer with the universe of Doctor Who could be very successful.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised that within twenty pages of Reynolds’ The Harvest of Time that not only had he captured the spirit of the Jon Pertwee era on the printed page, but that I was also enjoying the book immensely.

Set at the height of the Pertwee era, The Harvest of Time takes place before the on-screen events of “The Sea Devils” and finds the Doctor and UNIT trying to fend off an alien invasion brought about by the Master. But instead of the season eight cliche of the Master bringing a group of aliens to Earth and rapidly losing control of the situation, Reynolds makes this alien invasion one unintentionally triggered by the Master. Seems that our favorite Time Lord villain was sending out a signal to himself across the timelines to help his present self escape his Earthly prison. However, his signal is picked up by an alien race who has already destroyed one world and has now set its sights on Earth and gaining the Master as part of their nefarious plot.

Harvest of Time feels like a story that could have been made during third Doctor’s tenure — assuming they had the budget and special effects technology that help bring the new series to life on our screens. All of the UNIT-era regulars are on hand and it’s clear from Reynolds use of them that he is not only a fan of classic Who but also a fan of the Pertwee era. And while this novel feels like it could easily take place during that era, it still has a scope and scale that simply couldn’t or wouldn’t work as well on our TV screens. Examining the nature of time and the implications of time travel, the story is one of the most entertaining novels — tie-in or otherwise — that I’ve read this year.

It even made me year to dust off some of my old third Doctor era DVDs and give them a viewing (again). It also made me want to run out and read more of Reynolds’ non-Who offerings.

Easily the best of the big name genre author tie-in novels, The Harvest of Time gives me hope that the editors of this line would be willing to try this experiment again with some other more recognized authors. And hope that Reynolds might have another Doctor Who story in him because if he does, this is one fan who’d love a chance to read it.

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Review: Star Trek: Allegiance in Exile by David R. George II

Allegiance in Exile

Lately I’ve been revisiting the Star Trek universe via a combination of DVDs, Blu-Rays and streaming video as well as listening to the great Mission Log podcast.

All of that, plus reading a few heavier books (both in terms of content and page count) put me in the mood for a light, fun palate cleanser tie-in novel. And so it was that after a year of languishing on my to-be-read pile, I finally decided it was time to give David R. George III’s Allegiance in Exile a look.

Set in the final year of the original five year mission, the novel finds Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise discovering an apparently deserted planet that holds a deadly cache of self-defense weapons. After the ship and landing party are attacked (including the destruction of a shuttle or two), Kirk and company discover a way to detect and disable the installations.

While Kirk struggles with what the future could hold and the next step in his career (he’s not ready to leave the bridge of the Enterprise just yet), Sulu meets and falls for a member of the crew, who was part of the landing party with him. Of course, this can only mean one thing — the crew member in question’s life span is reduced to about twenty or so minute (or in this case about 100 pages).
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Thoughts on Bosch

boschJust as they did last year, Amazon is allowing the audience to decide which of several new pilots will go to series.  But unlike last year, this time around there were two pilots that immediately caught my eye and I added to my “to watch” list sooner rather than later.

The first is Chris Carter’s new series The After and the other Bosch, which is based on the best-selling mystery series by Michael Connelly.

I had some free time this afternoon and enough time to watch one of the two series.  After much debating, I decided to go with Bosch first.

First of all, I will admit that I’m a big fan of Connelly”s mysteries and the Bosch novels in particular.  So, I had some fairly high hopes and expectations heading into the series.

And while it did take me a few minutes to reconcile how the various actors involved in the series differed from my own mental casting (for some reason, my mental image of Bosch is closer to Ron Pearlman), overall I like what I’ve seen so far.

The series has a couple of things going for it right up front.  First is that Connelly is involved as a producer — he even co-wrote the pilot episode.  In addition, some of the creative team in front of and behind the camera gave us The Wire, which I’ve heard nothing but great things about and is on my bucket list of TV shows to watch when time permits.

As the pilot begins, Bosch is stuck in court, facing charges in a civil trial related to a perp that he took out two years before.   While Bosch was exonerated by Los Angeles police department, he’s still facing civil penalties from the family of the man who was shot.   Bosch is going a bit stir crazy being stuck in court all day and pulled off regular duty rotation — so much so that he trades Laker tickets to a couple of guys on the force to cover their weekend shift.

While doing this, Bosch uncovers a case of a child’s bones buried in the hills.   Bosch manipulates the system and his partner, Jerry Edgar, to stay on the case while he’s in court facing trial.

As an introduction to the universe of all things Harry Bosch, the pilot works extremely well. And while I’ll readily admit that Titus Weliver wasn’t the actor I had mentally cast as Bosch, it only took a few minutes for me to get past this and to really like Weliver in the role.  The series has softened Bosch a bit — in the books, he’s a bit of jerk to people — so that we’ll at least root for him as a hero, or possibly an anti-hero.

I’ve read that should the pilot get ordered to series, it will follow Connelly’s “City of Bones” as the backbone of the season.  Interestingly, I believe this is next in line of the Bosch novels I haven’t ready yet and it’s sitting on my to-be-read pile.  It may have to make a move up the pile a bit since the mystery intrigued me enough that I wanted to know more once the fifty or so minutes has finished streaming to my set.

As for the rest of Bosch’s world, it’s all there — from his love of jazz to his taste in food and liquor.  There are also several familiar faces from the novels that crop up.

So far, I’m sold.  If Amazon decides to move forward on this one, I’ll watch.  And given that Bosch has a good sized catalog of books, this is a show that has ample material for a long and fascinating run.

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Review: Doctor Who: The Trial of the Valeyard by Alan Barnes (Big Finish Audio Drama)

Doctor Who: Trial of the Valeyard

This year’s Big Finish extra release explores one of the more controversial and debate-worthy characters from the original run of Doctor Who — The Valeyard..

The Doctor is recalled to the station and asked to defend the Valeyard on a series of charges. But has the High Council stacked the deck against the Valeyard even before the trial begins and does that answer tie into the “true” identity of the Valeyard?

For years, the Valeyard was declared off-limits by the BBC for further explanation. But with the series continuation, the question of if or when the series might be allowed to delve into the Doctor’s darker side has been one that has cropped up from time to time (especially after the Dream Lord made his appearance in series five).

“The Trial of the Valeyard” is geared directly at hard-core classic Who fans, full of speculation and piecing threads together along with winks, nods and Easter eggs galore for long-time fans. I’m not sure if writer Alan Barnes was aware of how things would play out with the 50th anniversary special and the Doctor’s regeneration order, but if he wasn’t, he and Moffat must be on the same wave length or drinking some of the same Kool-Aid.

And yet for all the answers and connecting the dots, Barnes still leaves us with new questions about the identity of the Valeyard and just how the revelations here could or should play out within the establishing continuity of the show. With the recently released “Night of the Doctor” bringing some of the Big Finish continuity into the official canon of the series, I can’t help but wonder if some of the ideas put forth here might not be included in future installments.

If they are or if they aren’t, this is still a fun audio adventures with plenty of rewards for the obsessed Who fan in me.

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TV Round-Up: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD — The Bridge

shield_thebridgeOn paper, there is a lot I should have liked about the winter finale of Agents of SHIELD.

From familiar faces from the first nine episodes to the promise that certain threads might finally be coming together, I had high hopes for the episode as it unfolded.   Even putting aside the rumors I’d read about the installment having a “huge cliffhanger” that would “leave us guessing,” I kept waiting for that moment when everything would come together, click and I could finally say — “At last, I’m really excited again about this show.”*

*Looking back, I only had to wait 24 hours for a show to do that with the mid-season finale of Arrow that not only delivered on its promise but also raised the game for the second half of the season.

Watching “The Bridge,” I felt that instead of seeing a culmination of some threads from the early part of the season, instead I was getting an episode that suffered from the same thing that many middle installments in a trilogy do — reminding us of what we liked about the original installment but not moving too many things too far forward so we can have something to pay off in the final installment.    Instead of serving as a bridge to the second half of the season, I felt more like “The Bridge” was content to tread water and keep us in the same spot we’ve been the past few weeks.

I feel like a broken record for saying this, but I really, really hope that they do something about what happened to Coulson soon and stop teasing us with it.  Having him kidnapped because of his death may finally force this plot line forward…but then again, I feel like I’ve been hoping for that for weeks now and the show is merely content to tease me on the answers may be coming and then deny them to me again and again.  At some point, the full disclosure of what happened to Coulson will be so built up that no payoff or resolution can ever live up to it.  Has the series reached that point yet?  It’s possible.  I will wait and see if the episode coming out of this hiatus in January offers any answers.

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TV Round-Up: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: The Hub

agents-0f-shield-the-hubWith “The Hub”, I find myself far more intrigued by the coda of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD than I did the forty-one or so minutes leading up to it.

It’s kind of a shame because there were some interesting pieces to the episode, but they didn’t all come together.  If anything, “The Hub” suffered from a lack of focus.

When SHIELD intel reveals that a new weapon nicknamed the Overkill Device has been built and fallen into the wrong hands, agents Ward and Fitz are sent in to sabotage it.  It’s a covert mission and one whose details are only known to agents with a level eight clearance or higher — a clearance level Coulson has when we start the episode, but one that he may not necessarily still have when the episode is over (looks like we’ll have to wait and see on that one).

Of course, being kept out of the loop doesn’t sit well with Skye, who immediately begins plotting to find a way into the top secret files to determine the truth of the mission.  She’s helped out by Simmons, who proves to not be so deft on her feet in coming up with a convincing cover story.  There’s probably a reason she’s not in the field that often.   I will say that the scene with Simmons coming up with excuses for why she’s at a panel with a flash drive was one of the more amusing on the program.  It also shows that Elizabeth Hendridge does well with humor and that she could be more capable of delivering Whedon-esque dialogue than I’d originally given her credit.

I also liked the continued plot threat of Skye’s growing loyalty to the team and her friends.   Presented with the chance to try and find out more about the mystery surrounding her parents, Skye goes for the data on Ward and Fitz’s mission, only to uncover an uncomfortable truth — it’s actually a suicide mission since SHIELD has no extraction plan in place for the two.

On the one hand, I can see how Ward might be expendable, but it’s hard to believe that SHIELD would want or allow someone as technologically savvy as Fitz to be killed in the field or worse yet, captured and allowed/forced to develop tech for the enemy.  Sure, it worked out that Tony Stark’s tech helped him to escape from his captors and eventually became an asset for the good guys, but we can’t forget that Starks initial mandate was to develop and replicate his work on weapons systems for terrorists.

The mantra of this episode was “Trust the system.”  And it really felt like the series was trying to remind me that I needed to have faith that all these pieces would come together and that the series will eventually find its footing and become the show we’re all hoping it’s capable of being.  And yet, it’s another week where I feel like the pieces were all there for a home run of an episode and instead we only got a run-it-out double.

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TV Round-Up: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD — F.Z.Z.T.”

IAIN DE CAESTECKER, ELIZABETH HENSTRIDGE

My first thought after viewing this week’s Agents of SHIELD was that I’ve really got to stop watching the “coming next week” trailers for this show.    What the trailer promised and what the episode actually was were two very different things.

But even beyond the disappointment that the episode wasn’t necessarily what was advertised, I still came away from the latest installment feeling an overall feeling of disappointment.

For those of you who missed the trailer, it made this episode appear to be our crew facing a truly scary, horrifying threat that would test the team to their limits.  And going in with that kind of bias and the way the early portions of the episode were playing out, I found myself expected something along the lines of “The Naked Time” from classic Star Trek or “Ice” from The X-Files.  Namely that you’ve got some kind of catalyst (virus, alien parasite, etc) that makes our regular characters act in ways they normally can’t or won’t  but yet reveal something about the character that we may or may not have known previously.   And I have to admit I was really looking forward to seeing that and hoping it might lead to some interesting insights about who these characters are and why we should have a greater investment in them — even after just six episodes.

I also have to admit part of me was intrigued by the notion that SHIELD would kill off a main character in the sixth episode and for the potential that decision could have on the series going forward.  Certainly, there is precedence for a Joss Whedon show killing off a regular in the first half of the first season (Angel).  And while I didn’t necessarily want to see Simmons be the one who had to be sacrificed,  for a commercial break I was pondering just how the show could and would explore her death and its impact on everyone on the team.

Then, a magic cure is found and Ward is able to save the day in the span of two minutes and I come away feeling like this one was a missed opportunity.

Again, part of that could be my own bias and expectations.  And I think part of it is that SHIELD is maybe a bit too willing to play it safe.

I found myself casting my mind back to Iron Man 3 and the chances it was willing to take with Tony Stark and the Marvel movie universe.  It would have been easy to find a reset button that kept Tony in the suit, but instead the movie took a different turn with Stark deciding to walk away and leaving me wondering what was next for the universe and the character.   So far, SHIELD has offered some hints about this, but it’s always pulled back a bit and left me curious, but not hungering for more in the same way that Iron Man 3 or The Avengers did.

The biggest culprit in this is Coulson.   I may need to dust off the Blu-Rays of the first set of Marvel movies and watch the Coulson scenes again because, right now, I’m not really feeling how the character is significantly different than the one we saw in the movies.   I find myself getting frustrated at various characters telling us that Coulson has changed but we’re not being shown how he’s changed.  I really feel like a flashback episode of Coulson leading a team or being an agent pre-Avengers might help at this point.  Or maybe if we had some kind of indication of where the writing staff may be going with how he’s come back after dying in The Avengers.  We’ve had a lot of vague hints, but nothing really concrete.

I will say that I do like the fact that Coulson feels something is up and is beginning to look into things himself.   The idea that he “feels” different but can’t put his finger on why or how is a good starting point.  If and when the explanation arrives, hopefully we’ll look back and see seeds being sewn in this episode.  I still have faith in Whedon to put things out there that don’t seem important on first glance but which pay dividends down the line.  (Best example is the way in which “When She Was Bad” foreshadows every single dramatic beat of season two of Buffy…if you’ve seen season two and know what to watch for).

I also like the fact that Ward realizes he’s the butt of a lot of joke and that he’s willing to go along with it.  The impressions of Ward by Fitz and Simmons were great as was Ward’s own impression of himself.  I still feel like this character has a long way to go, but they’re making some positive steps in the right direction.

What I’m also unsure about is the depth of the relationship between Fitz and Simmons and between Coulson and Mae.   And, I’m not necessarily referring to something romantic (though some scenes this week did hint at sexual tension between each “couple”).  Again, this is something the series can and should explore….maybe a flashback episode would be in order.

So while this wasn’t my favorite episode of SHIELD, it certainly wasn’t the strongest.  I feel like it was a bit of a stumble as the series attempts to find its stride.  I hope it gets back on track next week.

I can’t say what it’s about though…because I’ve decided to try and avoid the previews.  (Odds are, the preview will find its way to me though since the Tennessee football game is on ESPN Saturday…)

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