Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl


TitlePirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Release Date: July 9, 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

The first – and only other – time I watched this movies was when it was first released in the theaters.  Expectations were low for a movie based on a theme park attraction and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, of all people.  But early reviews were good, so some friends and I went to see it and it was … fun!  Johnny Depp’s quirky take on Keith Richards as a pirate is of course the most memorable thing about this movie.  But on rewatching, it’s clear the other actors are doing a good job too.  Keira Knightley portrays Elizabeth Swann as a natural leader and Orlando Bloom realizes that playing the straight man doesn’t mean being dull.  I also notice that the many action set pieces are not only entertaining but they all also advanced the plot or character development.  So this movie does everything that a big budget cash-in on a theme park ride produced by Jerry Bruckheimer shouldn’t and remains a classic.

Rating: ****1/2

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Movie Review: The Wizard of Oz (1939)


Title: The Wizard of Oz
Release Date: August 25, 1939
Director: Victor Fleming
King Vidor
George Cukor
Richard Thorpe
Norman Taurog
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

I watched this movie for the first time in a long time, and well, it’s basically just as I remembered it, which is a good thing.  It’s an adventure, it’s a symbolic journey of self-discovery, it’s a musical, it’s funny, it’s scary.  It looks really fake, but to the point that the painted sets and props are weirdly effective works of arts in their own right.  I was born long after color film was standard but the transition from the sepia of Kansas to the majestic colors of Oz is still astounding. Watching as an older adult, I am also impressed at how the young Judy Garland handles being central to almost every scene. About the only thing that is not good about this movie is that it’s not a good adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book which I also love.  One day, I’d like to see a faithful film adaptation of the movie made too, but this version will always stand alone as its own great thing.

Rating: *****

TV Review: Doctor Who (2018)


TitleDoctor Who
Release Dates: 2018
Series: 11
Number of Episodes: 10
Summary/Review:

This is going to be tough because I love this show so much, yet I’m going to have to state some unpleasant truths.  This was not a very good series of Doctor Who. The baseline of competency was met again and again, and no episode was truly awful, but this series never seemed to aspire to anything beyond sheer competency.  There are a lot of people involved in creating a television series, but I believe that a lot of the blame for the failures of Series 11 can go to the showrunner Chris Chibnall, who scripted 5 of the 10 episodes, and co-wrote another.  I had concerns about Chibnall going into the series based on his previous work for Doctor Who and Torchwood, but had also admired his work on Broadchurch, at least the first season.

Compared with the previous showrunners, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, who each contributed numerous innovations to Doctor Who storytelling, Chibnall did not seem interested in taking many risks in that area.  I should note though, that there was some risk-taking in this series.  For one, this is the first time a woman – Jodie Whittaker – was cast in the role of the Doctor, and while that shouldn’t be risky in 2018, it was nevertheless, controversial.  The consequence though is that Chibnall and company appeared not to want to make any further waves and wrote the Doctor as a very passive character, to the point of criminal indifference, which is not something you want to see paired with your female representation.  The optimist in me thinks that now that the writers have seen how Whittaker performs the Doctor, and with one season under their belt, that they will be willing to take more risks with her character next series.  At the very least I hope they cease writing dialogue where Whittaker is forced to just describe what is in front of her much of the time.  These writers need to heed the advice to show not tell.

Another big risk is that Chibnall chose to cast three different companions, creating the largest Tardis Team since the Fifth Doctor also traveled with three companions in the 1980s.  It was also the first time that 4 major characters were introduced in the same episode since the premiere of the series in 1963.  The consequence of this risk is that there was very little time to develop four new characters and tell new stories at the same time.  Yaz was particularly effected by the crowded Tardis in that the audience never seemed to learn much about her despite her having the potential to be the most interesting character as a foil to the Doctor.  She’s also the most competent character, so her quietly getting things done didn’t leave much time for interesting character beats.  Ryan and Grahams were served better as they had the theme of there growing familial relationship as they mourn Grace to carry them through the series.

Chibnall took risks in how the series is presented.  Since the return of Doctor Who in 2005, a series has had 12-to-13 episodes, 45 minutes in length, plus a Christmas Special.  Chibnall cut the total number of episodes to 10, but extended the length of individual episodes to 50 minutes.  The problems of character development may have been better addressed with 2 or 3 more stories.  While previous series usually had some two-part episodes, and at least a semi-serialized nature where the series built on a story arc or theme, Chibnall chose to have all the episodes of series 11 be stand-alone stories, with the exception of an episode 1 villain ineffectively returning in episode 10.  The structure of a Doctor Who episode was modeled on the procedural drama genre of television for the first time.  I can’t criticize that choice because Doctor Who should be able to function in any genre, even if it didn’t work for other reasons.

The series was a commercial success with better ratings than Doctor Who has had in some time.  The argument can be made that more straightforward, stand alone episodes attract a larger number of viewers who can pop in to watch an episode without having to know a lot of the details behind the story.  I’m pleased that Doctor Who is succeeding, even if it’s not the type of Doctor Who I enjoy.  But I would also contend that television viewers – including children – are more sophisticated viewers than they were a generation or two ago and can handle more complex stories and serialization.  Not the least because a large percentage of people who end up viewing this show will do so by bingewatching on streaming services rather than watching each episode as it airs.

Despite my heavy criticism of the show, there was a lot I enjoyed about it.  Whittaker was excellent in portraying the Doctor as funny, compassionate, and a strong leader.  She deserves better material to work with.  I also love all the new companions, they are great characters and each bring something to the team. The production values were excellent for the most part including cinematograpy, sets, costuming, and music.  It was a pleasurable program to look at the vast majority of the time.  While the politics of the show seem to be moving rightward overall, it’s also important to recognize the representation in this series.  Women and people of color are appearing in the show, as well as writing and directing, more than ever before, and telling stories previously ignored in the previous 36 seasons.

Here are my thoughts on an episode by episode basis with links to full reviews.  The number in parentheses is a rating on a scale of 10.

  1. The Woman Who Fell to Earth (7) – A good introduction, that swiftly brings together our new Tardis Team with good character beats for each, and keeping Jodie Whittaker on her toes as she resolves both the problem and her new identity.  Sure, the villain is rubbish, but monsters are only secondary to this story and we’re never going to see Tim Shaw again, right?  The biggest downer is that Grace, one of the most compelling characters and a natural for the companion role, dies just as we’re getting to know her.
  2. The Ghost Monument (5) – The first episode introduced all of our new characters, while the purpose of this episode is to reunite the Doctor with her Tardis.  Along the way, the new companions get their “wow, we’re on another planet” moments.  The plot seems only incidental and is discarded once the Tardis is found, setting a pattern of Chibnall-authored stories that are unresolved.
  3. Rosa (7) – The first historical of Series 11 is set in 1950s Alabama and does a great job of capturing the period and the pervasive nature of Jim Crow racism.  The message of the show, that social change occurs only when great individuals like Rosa Parks take small actions (and that they will suffer to achieve incremental changes) seems out of touch with what audiences need from Doctor Who in 2018, though.
  4. Arachnids in the UK  (6) -The return to Sheffield episode does a good job of introducing us to Yaz’s family and setting up an adventure involving giant spiders, and even make us sympathetic to the monsters.  The story once again ends with a feeling of loose ends untied.  And while Doctor Who certainly can’t depict the overthrow of Donald Trump, they could at least offer consequences to a Trump surrogate.
  5. The Tsuranga Conundrum (7) – I seem to be alone in liking this space adventure, and certainly think it’s the best Chibnall-authored script of the season.  For one, it actually tells a complete story with beginning, middle, and end.  And the other, all the characters – regular and guest – play a part in the story and have significant character moments.  It’s also funny.  I guess people just don’t like cute monsters.
  6. Demons of the Punjab (8) – This Yaz-centered story travels back in time to visit her grandmother in 1947 during the partition of India and Pakistan.  The personal story of one family set against tragic historical events is definitely the best story of the season.
  7. Kerblam! (5) – Honestly, this story is not as bad as it’s rating.  It’s well constructed and entertaining, and I suppose a good example of Right Wing Science Fiction.  But it loses points because the Doctor being not only indifferent to, but tacitly supporting, the suffering and exploitation of labor is counter to everything I know about the Doctor.
  8. The Witchfinders (8) – Another entertaining historical with Alan Cumming guest starring in a wonderfully hammy performance as King James I.  The Tardis Team have come into their own and work together to solve the problem.  And Whittaker’s Doctor, for once, isn’t hopelessly passive, taking action even when it may be changing history.
  9. It Takes You Away (6) – A strange, entertaining story with a few twists, and a talking frog.  I didn’t think the story was the best, but I did enjoy the bonkers quality of it, and the sign that Chibnall-era Doctor Who was recognizing the previous 10 series of Doctor Who and finding new ways to build on it.
  10. The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (4) – A total bummer of a finale that seems only to function as a sampler of the worst aspects of Series 11.  The rest of the series looks worse in retrospect because one could no longer believe it was building to something meaningful.

If you have time and desire to read more about Series 11, check out this excellent post from the Movie Blog.

Okay, now we move on to the New Year’s Day Special!  I have high hopes.


Series 11 episodes ranked:

  • Demons of the Punjab (8)
  • The Witchfinders  (8)
  • The Tsuranga Conundrum (7)
  • The Woman Who Fell to Earth (7)
  • Rosa (7)
  • It Takes You Away (6)
  • Arachnids in the UK  (6)
  • The Ghost Monument (5)
  • Kerblam! (5)
  • The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (4)

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Book Review: Birthright by Nigel Robinson


Author: Nigel Robinson
TitleBirthright
Publication Info: London Bridge (1993)
Summary/Review:

The TARDIS crashes and Bernice Summerfield finds herself alone in the East of London in 1909, albeit the Doctor has somehow found a way to supply her with a bank account to draw upon, and the support of the Waterfield family for a place to live.  Soon she’s investigating a series of grisly murders attributed to Springheel Jack, but are actually committed by … aliens!  Meanwhile, Ace is on a desert planet in the far future aiding the surviving humans against the insect-like Charrl.  And the Doctor is off having adventures in another book that I won’t be reading.

This is the first example of a “Doctor-light” story that became common in the future Virgin Adventures and in the new television series.  It also continues the trend of characterizing the Doctor as a manipulative mastermind, the Ace as surly and violent, and Benny as clever but self-doubting.  Even the surreal dream-like sequence of the conclusion is a New Adventures’ trait.  Nevertheless, it’s a much more simply-written, straightforward narrative than some of the other, more complex books.  And barring a few examples of sexist language, it’s a pretty enjoyable adventure to read too.

Rating: ***

Comics Review: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor


Author:  Nick Abadzis
Artists: Elena Casagrande
Colorist: Arianna Florean
Letterer: Richard Starkings and  Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 1: Revolutions of Terror 
Publication Info: Titan Books, 2015.
Summary/Review:

The Tenth Doctor comics explores adventures that take place after he tragically mindwipes Donna (I’m still not over that), and reluctantly begins traveling with a new companion, Gabby Gonzalez. And what a wonderful companion she is!  Gabby is a young Mexican-American woman living in Brooklyn and working in her family’s restaurant and laundromat, but dreaming of becoming an artist and going on adventures.  She’s utterly charming and clever, and well characterized for a character original to the comics.

This volume contains two adventures.  The Doctor and Gabby meet when the Pranavores, a psychic lifeform that exists in a symbiotic relationship with intelligent lifeforms and feeds off their positive energy, come under attack.  Their assailants are the Cerabavores, scientifically modified Pranavores who hunt the Pranavores by causing the humans they’re associated with to have horrific visions.  Gabby’s quick wits and cheerful spirit help the Doctor defeat the Cerabavores and he invites her on a one-time trip on the TARDIS.

Because Gabby is an artist, he takes her to see an art gallery on a magnificently strange planet and meet an artist named Zhe who uses her mind to create block transfer sculptures.  Of course, Zhe is in trouble, trapped in stasis while two malevolent apprentices she created attack the Doctor and Gabby.  The story is illustrated with fun house visuals accompanied by Gabby’s sketchbook where she tells the story through sketches and notes to her friend.  It’s a wonderful visual story best suited to the comic book art form.

This is a great start to the Tenth Doctor comics series and of course, Gabby is invited back for further travels so there’s more to look forward to in upcoming comics.

Rating: ****


Author:  Robbie Morrison
Artists: Daniel Indro & Eleonora Carlini
Colorist: Slamet Murjiono & Hi-Fi
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 2, The Weeping Angels of Mons
Publication Info: Titan Books, 2015.
Summary/Review:

Gabby & The Doctor land in No Man’s Land in the midst of The Great War in 1916.  There they discover that Scottish infantrymen and their German opponents are both facing a much greater danger – The Weeping Angels!  The battlefield scenes of mud, smoke, and darkness are a perfect fit for the angels and the comic quickly sketches an interesting cast of guest characters.  Gabby continues to be wonderful and is growing into one of my favorite companions rather quickly.  The story builds on the Weeping Angels mythos created in “Blink” but not as well explored in their later tv stories.

<HUGE SPOILER>The brilliant – if obvious in retrospect – twist is that one of the soldiers is sent back in time to a nearby French village, where he marries and settles down as a farmer, waiting to catch up to the First World War and bail out his friends.</HUGE SPOILER>

The only downside to this comic is that the Doctor seems to a sanctimonious ass for much of this comic, which I guess is true to the characterization of the Tenth Doctor, but I still don’t have to enjoy it.  The volume also includes a one-issue story called “Echo” set in contemporary Brooklyn which is highly derivative of the Pranavores plot except these are creature who amplify sound instead of feelings.  The resolution is also derivative of “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks” so it makes me wonder if the creators of this issue were just in a rush to get something out.

Rating: ****


Author:  Robbie Morrison
Artists: Elena Casagrande, Eleonora Carlini, Rachael Stott, and Leonardo Romero
Colorist:  Hi-Fi and Arianna Florean
Letterer: Richard Starkings and  Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 3: The Fountains of Forever
Publication Info: Titan Books, 2015
Summary/Review:

After a silly, short story about the TARDIS laundry and a golem of sonic screwdriver activated dirt, the Doctor and Gabby return to New York.  Gabby’s friend Cindy is seething with jealousy and the two quarrel, an unfortunately stereotyped depiction of relationships among young women.  The plot moves into a story about ancient artifacts, a cult, and an aged movie star that eventually reveals itself to be a sequel to Pyramid of Mars.  Honestly, I got bored with it and ultimately lost the plot.  This is a disappointing volume after the first two collections were so very good.

Rating: **


Author:  Nick Abadzis
Artists: Eleonora Carlini, Elena Casagrande & Leonardo Romero
Colorist:  Claudia SG Iannicello and Arianna Florean
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 4: The Endless Song
Publication Info: Titan Books, 2016
Summary/Review:

The Tenth Doctor and Gabby’s adventures continue, beginning with another conceptual being, the Shan’tee, who are perceived by humans as music, making for a clever albeit somewhat cliched adventure.  Gabby’s notebook returns as Cindy, left behind on Earth, reads it to herself and notices that stories are changing.  Unfortunately, the story devolves into something more boring involving Ebonite, but is redeemed by the appearance of Jack Harkness!  The final story involving early humans and Neandethals is kind of, eh?

Rating: ***


Author:  Nick Abadzis
Artists: Eleonora Carlini, Elena Casagrande & Iolanda Zanfardino
Colorist:  Arianna Florean, Rod Fernandes, & Hi-Fi with Azzurra Florean
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 5: Arena of Fear
Publication Info: Titan Books, 2016
Summary/Review:

This volume starts with epic weirdness as the Doctor and Gabby are forced into an epic fight against Captain Jack, Cleo and Cindy.  Everyone’s memories are twisted and the story from the Pleistocene era is incorporated, so it’s just so very strange.  Later they travel to the UK and end up in a spooky story involving a witch in a well. I feel that the characterization of Cindy is improving and that the stories are feeling less contrived, but I do wish there was less emphasis on continuing story arcs.  I just don’t care about Anubis

Rating: ***1/2


Author:  Nick Abadzis
Artists: Giorgia Sposito
Colorist:  Arianna Florean, Azzurra Florean, Mattia de Lulis and Adele Matera
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 6: Sins of the Father
Publication Info: Titan Books, 2017
Summary/Review:

This volume begins with the Doctor and Gabby enjoying some down time in 1920s New Orleans and Cindy even finding romance (and while it’ll be played as a tragic romance trope, it’s still nice to see new things done with her character).  Music infects this jazz age story and the Nocturnes are back to infect the music, perhaps the best return of an original monster in these comics. And then Anubis and Sutekh return.  Yawn!

Rating: ***


Author:  Nick Abadzis, James Peaty
Artists: Giorgia Sposito, Warren Pleece
Colorist:  Arianna Florean, Azzurra Florean, Mattia de Lulis, Hi-Fi, Adele Matera
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt; Nick Abadzis & Arianna Florean
Title: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor, Vol. 7: War of Gods
Publication Info: Titan Books, 2017
Summary/Review:

This volume pairs the ongoing (and hopefully conclusion) of the yawner of the Sutekh story.  The Revolving Doors story sees Gabby going to London for the first time and dwelling on the Tenth Doctor’s man pain.  These comics have fallen a long way in my estimation since they began.

Rating: *1/2


Author:   Nick Abadzis
Artists: Giorgia Sposito
Colorist:  Arianna Florean
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor – Facing Fate, Volume 1 – Breakfast at Tyranny’s
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2017)
Summary/Review:

Hooray for new storylines!  Anubis continues in the story but now as an amnesiac going by the name Noobis, and more interesting for doing so (especially when depicted as an actual dog).  The first story sees the TARDIS team stuck in a virtual reality in a New York City department store, that is basically The Matrix with tentacles.  Things get better when they travel to ancient China – with portions of the comic in the style of traditional Chinese art – and liberate a castle full of hundreds of Cindys!

Rating: ***


Author:   Nick Abadzis
Artists: Giorgia Sposito
Colorist:  Arianna Florean
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor – Facing Fate, Volume 2 – Vortex Butterflies
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2018)
Summary/Review:

The Doctor leaves Gabby and Cindy in a house he keeps in London (but not the English house he has in the Virgin New Adventures, alas) where Sarah Jane comes to their aid when Gabby falls ill.  The Doctor meanwhile seeks out what is troubling the TARDIS, and discovers that the Vortex Butterfly is a manifestation of Gabby’s Block Transfer powers.  It’s a nice way to develop an ongoing story going back to the origins of the comics, but it also is resolved a bit too easily.

Rating: **1/2


Author:  Nick Abadzis
Artists:  Giorgia Sposito
Colorist:  Adele Matera
Letterer:  Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt
Title: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Facing Fate Volume 3 – The Good Companion
Publication Info: Titan Comics (2018)
Summary/Review:

This appears to the conclusion of the Titan Tenth Doctor Comics featuring Gabby.  The Time Sentinels are a strange and kind of uninteresting antagonist.  But I do like how this book brings back old themes and characters (Cleo and Zhe) to tie together Gabby’s ongoing story.  It’s interesting to see how much – and how believably – everyone has changed since being introduced.  There’s also a nice cameo at the end.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson


AuthorBrandon Sanderson 
Title:Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read By the Same Author:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, and Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Summary/Review:

The Alcatraz series continues with the great humor and cleverness of the previous books, including a great running gag on chapter numbering.  The book focuses in on the history and meaning of the Smedry Talents bringing alight some fascinating details.  The story also finds Alcatraz and his friends in the middle of war, with all the loss and sacrifice that entails.  While humorous and never comes to a point that death seems possible, the book does exposit on the frightening reality of children in war.  Finally, Alcatraz makes an unexpected alliance.  Another great book in this series, and I look forward to the next and final volume.

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman


Author: William Goldman
TitleThe Princess Bride
Narrator: Rob Reiner
Publication Info: Phoenix Books (1999) [Original published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1973)]
Other books read by the same author: The Silent Gondoliers (as S. Morgenstern)
Summary/Review:

“Life isn’t fair, it’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”

The recent death of William Goldman prompted me to seek out one of my all-time favorite books, The Princess Bride.  If you’re familiar with the classic 1987 film adaptation, Goldman’s book is even more funny, more clever, and more sweetly satirical. The book is written with a framing device in which he discovers that a beloved adventure book read to him by his father when he was sick as a child, was actually a long political satire that bored his own son.  So Goldman decides to publish an abridged version with only the good parts.  All of this framing device is fictional, as Goldman invented both the story of The Princess Bride and a fictional wife and son.

The audio book version I found to listen too is disappointingly an abridged version, ironic since The Princess Bride is already supposed to be an abridged book. Many of the scenes that don’t correspond directly to the movie are left out of the audiobook, including the majority of Goldman’s framing device interrupting the narrative.  The audiobook doesn’t even have the Reunion Scene.  As a bonus, the book is read by Rob Reiner – director of the film – in his wonderful Bronx accent.

It’s definitely worth putting this on to play to your kids if you’re not up for reading the book out loud yourself.

Recommended booksThe Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Rating: ****1/2

Comics Review: Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Blair Shedd, Rachael Stott
Colorist: Blair Shedd, Anang Setyawan
Letterer: Richard Starkings,Jimmy Betancourt
TitleVol. 1: Weapons Of Past Destruction
Publication Info: London : Titan Comics, 2016.
Summary/Review:

Way back in 2011, I started watching Doctor Who with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor.  He remains one of my favorite Doctors and it’s disappointing that there’s only one season.  Even the Eighth Doctor has been able to get a ton of stories in audio dramas and novels.  So I’m pleased to read the further adventures of the Ninth Doctor with Rose Tyler and Jack Harkness.

Appropriately, these comics are set after The Doctor Dances and before Boom Town, the story in which the Doctor, Rose, and Jack spend a dinner with Mickey telling stories about adventures we never got to see.  I’ll have to go back and watch that show to see if the comics illustrate any of those stories.

The crux of this volume is that the Doctor and his companions discover an arms market selling Gallifreyan weapons.  They soon find themselves in the middle of a war that is rehashing the battles of the Time War.  The Doctor angrily – and carelessly – announces that he’s selling off the “mind of a Time Lord.”  The comic is epic and imaginative and uses the format well to illustrate ideas that wouldn’t have worked in a tv show.

Rating: ***


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Adriana Melo, Chris Bolson
Colorist: Matheus Lopes, Marco Lesko
Letterer: Richard Starkings,Jimmy Betancourt
TitleThe Ninth Doctor, Vol. 2: Doctormania
Publication Info: London : Titan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

There are two main adventures in this story.  First, the Doctor and his companions arrive at a planet where the Doctor is a big celebrity.  This leads to lots of meta-commentary about Doctor Who as a television show and fan culture. Ultimately, this story leads to a hunt on Raxacoricofallapatoria.  I don’t know if anyone was clamoring for more Slitheen stories, but they are the signature monster of the Ninth Doctor, and this comic does a decent job of setting a story on their planet.

The next story is much better with timey-wimey twists.  Mickey Smith calls the Doctor to San Francisco, but he’s the older, more confident Mickey whose married to Martha and teamed with her as free lance monster hunters.  The story requires that Rose not see future Mickey and the Doctor not meet his future companion Martha which makes for interesting plotting. Meanwhile, Rose is lured in a group of people who’ve gained flying powers and are contending with gargoyle creatures.  Her flirtatious romance with a handsome young man in the group is true to Series 1 Rose before she ended up romantically interested in Tennant’s Doctor.

This comic collection builds on the Ninth Doctor’s adventures in a fun and visually varied ways.

Rating: ***1/2


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Adriana Melo, Chris Bolson
Colorist: Marco Lesko
Letterer: Richard Starkings,Jimmy Betancourt
TitleThe Ninth Doctor, Vol. 3: Official Secrets
Publication Info: London : Titan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

The Doctor, Rose, and Jack continue there adventures by working with a 1970s or 1980s where they end up working with UNIT division in Bristol lead by Harry Sullivan.  This is a nice touch since it would be impossible to bring back Harry on TV due to Ian Marter’s early death. The story also introduces Tara Mishra, a UNIT nurse and soldier who joins the TARDIS Team!  Who knew the Ninth Doctor would be getting new companions between The Doctor Dances and Boom Town!

The second story sees the team travel back in time to 17th century Brazil, where the Doctor deals with both Portuguese slavers and alien mer-people.  Meanwhile, Jack continues to make discoveries about his past and the moments erased from his mind by the Time Agents.  Rose is uncertain she can trust Jack after what is revealed.

The characterization of Jack relies much on what would learn about him from Torchwood, while the Doctor in these comics is also informed by revelations of the War Doctor.  The creators of the comics cleverly retcon these things that no one knew about in Series 1 without overdoing it.

Rating: ***1/2


AuthorCavan Scott
Artists: Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson, Marco Lesko
Title:  The Ninth Doctor, Vol. 4: Sin Eaters
Publication Info: London : Titan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

With Jack having left the team, the story begins with the Doctor incarcerated in a high-security prison on a space station for the murder of Tara.  It is, of course, a fakeout to give the Doctor a chance to investigate the prison’s suspicious rehabilitation methods.  Things go wrong when Rose arrives in disguise and is unable to prevent the Doctor having his anger and darkest thoughts removed into a doppelganger called a sin eater.  The sin eaters would be absolutely ridiculous in televised Doctor Who, but some how they work as in pen and ink, where the body horror is quite so bad. The whole story is built on well-worn science fiction tropes, but still somewhat entertaining.

The remainder of the volume pays off the plot of Jack Harkness losing his memories and the Doctor offering up the Mind of Time Lord plot is also paid off.  Once again the Doctor is held in captivity for much of the story as four alien agents attempt to bid on his brain.  The Doctor is able to defeat his enemies with his grief (not unlike a plot twist in an episode of Class). Tara ends up staying behind to help a devastated planet, freeing up the Doctor, Rose, and Jack to return to Cardiff to meet up with Mickey and Margaret.

Rating: ***1/2

TV Review: Class (2016)


Title: Class
Release Dates: 2016
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 8
Summary/Review:

This spinoff series from Doctor Who was designed as a young adult science fiction drama with the scripts being written by popular young adult author Patrick Ness.  It’s curious that in many ways Class is darker and more mature (and more gory) than Doctor Who, although teens actually do like that kind of thing, tv productions don’t generally recognize it. The premise of a team of people fighting off the monster-of-the-week that emerges from a rift in space and time is very much reminiscent of the very grown-up Torchwood.

The show is set at the Coal Hill School, a frequent setting of Doctor Who going back to the first episode in 1963.  Because of the Doctor’s frequent visits to Coal Hill with the TARDIS time and space have become unstable creating the rift.  The Doctor has also placed two alien refugees at the school, disguised as human for their protection: Charlie, the prince of the Rhodians, and Ms. Quill, a revolutionary from the same planet who is tied to Charlie by a mental link that forces her to act his protector.  They are each the only survivors of their species after genocide by the Shadow Kin.

The rest of the kids are ordinary, highly-intelligent students with the typical problems of teenagers. Ram is talented football player who grieves the loss of his girlfriend to the Shadow Kin.  April is nerdy and well-behaved, but hides a troubled past with her father.  Tanya is the youngest in the group having moved up three years at the school and comes from a Nigerian immigrant family.  Matteusz is a Polish immigrant who is ostracized by his parents for being gay, and has a romance with Charlie.

The cast are all really charming and the show does a great job at developing their characters, albeit sometimes unevenly to serve the plot.  The scripts are especially good at exploring grief and young people learning to trust and work with one another. Ms. Quill is a scene stealing anti-hero, revolutionary become physics teacher.  The Shadow Kin are the main villain in this series and the four episodes they appear in are strained by the Shadow Kin being rather ridiculous and uninteresting.

The best two episodes come near the end of the series.  Episode 6 – “Detained” – is a bottle episode where the five students are shoved out of normal space-time and encounter a creature that makes them confess uncomfortable truths.  It’s good drama and also symbolic of young people learning to communicate with one another honestly.  The next episode – “The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did” – features Ms. Quill on adventure using a TARDIS-like device to travel into metaphysical realities in search of regaining her free will.  It’s a very imaginative and really lets Katherine Kelly to expand her character and acting chops.

Unfortunately, Class was canceled after one season, which is possibly a good thing because the cliffhanger hints at a premise that I don’t think would’ve worked well.  If the showrunners had known that they had only one season I think that they could’ve have reshaped these 8 episodes into a more self-contained miniseries.  But now we’ll just have to use our imaginations – and Big Finish audio dramas – to find out to find out what happens next.

Movie Review: Bruce Almighty (2003)


TitleBruce Almighty
Release Date: 12 February 1993
Director: Harold Ramis
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

I didn’t choose this movie, but I gave it a fair shake.  Jim Carrey plays Buffalo tv reporter Bruce Nolan who seeks to move away from fluffy segments to an anchor position.  But after a day of miserable bad luck – and learning that his rival was promoted to anchor instead of him – Bruce takes his anger out on God.  And so God (played by Morgan Freeman, of course) decides to let Bruce take over His work while he goes on vacation.

Bruce starts off by causing mischief and doing pervy things like making a woman’s skirt fly up (although I’ll have to confess that I chuckled when Bruce literally made a monkey fly out of a bully’s butt).  Then he uses his powers to create dramatic news events that he is onsite to cover for the local news thus enabling himself to move into the coveted anchor spot.  But his increasing self-centered behavior drives away his long-suffering girlfriend (played by Jennifer Aniston) and he’s overwhelmed by trying to answer prayers.  This leads to the formulaic part of this movie where Bruce learns a Very Valuable Lesson about life and love.

I find myself kind of surprised that this movie came out as recently as 2003.  For one thing, it feels like a mid-90s screwball comedy built to capitalize on the popularity of Groundhog Day (complete with an selfish tv reporter gaining superhuman powers and then Learning a Very Valuable Lesson).  For another, I thought after more nuanced, comedy-drama performances in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon (and soon to come in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that Jim Carrey had moved on from broad dreck like this.  I guess not.

This is obviously not my kind of movie, but I think Carrey and the rest of the cast can do better. Despite a handful of good laughs, this movie wasn’t worth watching.

Rating: *1/2