Class Season One - Episode 5 - Brave-ish HeartBookmark and Share

Saturday, 12 November 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Class - Ep5 - Brave-ish Heart - Miss Quill (KATHERINE KELLY), Dorothea (POOKY QUESNEL), Charlie (GREG AUSTIN), Matteusz (JORDAN RENZO) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)
Starring: Sophie Hopkins, Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Vivian Oparah and Katherine Kelly. 
Written By: Patrick Ness
Directed By: Philippa Langdale
Released Online (BBC Three) - Saturday 12th November 2016

This review contains spoilers

 

As befits the first two-part story in Class, there's certainly an epic scope to this tale. The threat of genocide hangs over proceedings, with all of humanity about to fall prey to a bloom of exponentially amassing petals... unless this floral invader can be completely wiped out instead. At the same time, April and Ram are on a mission to defeat the King of the Shadow Kin. Either storyline would be compelling by itself, and in many other series the build up of petals would probably be enough to carry the main plot, but Patrick Ness ups the ante by cleverly intercutting between these two story strands before finally integrating them. 'Brave-ish Heart' also shows a spirit of parental inclusion by having Huw and Varun cross over into Corakinus's world as well as April and Ram. Consequently, it isn't just the teenagers who are taken out of ordinary Shoreditch life, as the wonder of the fiery 'Underneath' (perhaps unintentionally resonating with Stranger Things' 'Upside Down' realm) incorporates a cross-generational presence. Elsewhere, this episode feels insistently marked by Ness's ethos of inclusivity - for example, at a vital moment Matteusz proves crucial to events instead of somehow being placed as a supporting character (and he's given a sharp, smart line about his Polish identity too). And despite an escalating narrative threat, the show's creator-writer also finds time to sketch in more of Ram's cultural background, but without making an issue of it.

 

There is much to marvel at, even if there are occasional mis-steps. Personally, I didn't believe that Huw would simply wander off at the end, readily accepting April's wishes: this felt more like a character being made to do what the writer wanted to telegraph as the right thing. And for me there was also a tension between the dialogue given to April's mum at the episode's conclusion and the logic of storytelling; what we're shown here doesn't seem to entirely fit with the expressed sentiment that there was nothing "lesser" about her previous way of life. But Patrick Ness is highly alert to the pitfalls and problems of representation, and is actively trying to counter particular ways of responding to this storyline. Class is keen to impart its lessons without being misunderstood.

 

Dorothea, played with sinister precision by the always excellent Pooky Quesnel, tells us that the multiplying petals can't be destroyed by conventional means - hence the need for the Cabinet. Yet at one point we witness a smattering of petals on a car windscreen being squished like bugs. This visual image is a striking one, especially as blood squirts out, but it doesn't quite make sense in relation to the petals' alleged indestructibility. As their massed ranks grew and grew, I couldn't help but be reminded of Star Trek's infamous Tribbles, even if they were animal rather than vegetal.

 

Class - Ep5 - Brave-ish Heart - April (SOPHIE HOPKINS), Ram (FADY ELSAYED) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)

Where the petals offer an offbeat, skewed threat, the Shadow Kin sometimes feel more akin to a generic fantasy race. Their realm is effectively represented, though I should note that the BBC's episode preview marked some of these sequences as "work in progress", so final heat haze effects and so on were probably still to be added. But the Shadow Kin really come alive in the moments where their portentous fantasy selves are undercut by a more everyday depiction - we hear a grumble of "teenagers!" when April and Ram's romantic interlude is interrupted, for instance. Too much of this comedic undermining would, of course, undo the Shadow Kin's 'warrior race' designation, but it adds tone and colour to what can otherwise feel like a programmatic image of villainy.

 

The previously alluded to "Governors" start to take on a greater role this week, and I wonder if we might actually encounter their collective before (or during) episode eight. As Coal Hill Academy has been taken over by a suitably shifty organisation, presumably one I. Chesterton is no longer involved. But the gradual emergence of this shadowy group presents Quill with a new set of possibilities, and Katherine Kelly again makes the most of her character's enforced ambivalence and caustic attitude. Mind you, the ethical weight of genocide isn't explored as much as I'd expected it to be, becoming more of a story calculus or an equation to be solved - who will commit genocide against who? - rather than an unsquarable circle or a morally impossible act. While Charlie anguishes over his Princely duty, however, Matteusz sees the situation rather more clearly, and even adopts one of the Doctor's key tenets.

 

'Brave-ish Heart' is a busy episode, always bristling with dramatic action and character moments. Tanya's impassioned defence of April and Ram is one such delightful instant, as is Ram's hilariously strained attempt to sound laddish. Setting in motion what promises to be a powerful story arc for Quill while revisiting Charlie and April's defining dilemmas from the opening episode, Class continues to more than make the grade.             





Power of the Daleks - Episode One - AnimatedBookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 November 2016 - Reviewed by Marcus
Credit: BBC Worldwide

Episode One of Power of the Daleks is arguably the most important episode in the entire history of Doctor Who. So much was riding on the success of the story. Doctor Who would only continue if it was proved possible to replace the leading actor. If the audience could accept such a change then its longevity was assured. Even if it came off air for while it could always return, refreshed and updated. If the experiment had failed, if only William Hartnell was accepted playing the Doctor, then the series would wither and die, and would now be an obscure relic of the past.

Given it is such an important episode it is one that been viewed by relatively few people. The entire story has been missing from the BBC archives since the mid-seventies , just a few clips and telesnaps remain.  Which make it such a joy that the story has now been animated, allowing a whole new audience to relive the excitement of the original broadcast.

The story is very well written, as would be expected given it was written by one of the creators or the original series, David Whitaker. He uses the change of the main character to push the story along, with Ben and Polly as confused as to who this strange man is as many of the audience would have been. The conflicting signals work well. The Hartnell reflection is contrasted with the ill-fitting ring. Is this man really the doctor? The recorder can get irritating through. 

The first thing the new Doctor witnesses, outside the TARDIS, is a murder, which gives the team a focus and serves to push forward the story, with The Doctor being mistaken for an Earth examiner.  By far the most anticipated part of the story was the reveal of the Daleks. The tension is ramped up and we get our first view of the metal monster, glinting in the darkness, draped in cobwebs.

Patrick Troughton nails the character of his Doctor from the start. His performance is superb and you certainly feel the mystery and the impishness of the character. This man may not be the character we are used to, but he certainly leads the action, keeping everyone guessing as to his motives. Troughton was a superb character actor, at the top of his game, and it shows. 

He is well supported by the two companions, the first to witness a regeneration. Ben and Polly, played by Anneke Wills and Michael Craze are very underrated, by virtue of so much of their contribution to the series being lost. But they make a good team and you can sense the confusion of two young adults plucked from 1960's London and now witnessing their only friend changing before their eyes. 

The animators have done wonders bringing the story back to life. The project has been intense, with budgets tight and deadlines always looming, but Charles Norton and his team have achieved something special. Some characters are realized better than others. The older actors, with defined jawlines and rugged features, lend themselves to animation more than the younger members of the cast.  The Doctor is superb with the characterisation spot on. The planet Vulcan is eerie and mysterious with pools of mercury bubbling away.

Full marks too to  Mark Ayres for his heroic work restoring the soundtrack. It's difficult to believe the original source was a domestic tape recorder plonked in front of a domestic television. The dialogue is now crystal clear and Ayres has used the original music and sound effects tapes to create both a stereo and 5.1 mix. 

The announcement of a  colour version of the animated story is a surprising development, especially given Norton expressing his opinion that the story works best in Black and White. I suspect many fans will double dip and get both versions and if the colour version being more young fans to the delights of the Second Doctor, then it is a worthwhile investment. 

Overall the Power of the Daleks is a supurb story, and well worth adding to any Doctor Who Library. And who knows, if sales are healthy enough, this could just be the start.

 

 

 



Associated Products

DVD - Region 1
Released 31 Jan 2017
36% off
Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks
DVD - Region 2
Released 21 Nov 2016
Doctor Who - The Power of the Daleks [DVD] [2016]
$13.67



Class Season One - Episode 4 - Co-Owner of a Lonely HeartBookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 November 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

Class - Ep4 - Co-Owner Of A Lonely Heart - April (SOPHIE HOPKINS) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)
Starring: Sophie Hopkins,Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, 
Vivian Oparah, and Katherine Kelly. 
Written By: Patrick Ness
Directed By: Phillippa Langdale
Released Online (BBC Three)  - 5th November 2016

This review contains spoilers.

 

As soon as the 'Previously...' montage starts, I could tell straight off the bat, that this, the fourth of eight episodes of the new BBC3 drama would have heavy links to the first instalment, glossing over what happened in the last two episodes quickly, and concentrating on a recap of episode one. Sure enough, as the episode itself starts, we open on the Shadow Kin's home world, where we find their leader desperately using any way that he can to claim the heart that he now shares with April for himself. 

Back on Earth, as a result of the Shadow Kin's desperation we discover that the link between the Shadow Kin leader and April to be getting stronger and stronger. It is first noticed when she heals quickly after cutting herself. Unfortunately from there, things rapidly escalate, with the link between the two of them actually starts manifesting swords into April's hands when she is angry, something that isn't at all helped by April having an increasingly shorter fuse as the Shadow Kin manage to get an anchor on the heart. As every minute of the episode passes, the link between the two gets stronger and stronger. None of this  is aided by the reappearance of April's father, Huw (played by Happy Valley's Con O'Neil)  who has just been released from prison and is desperate to make amends with April and her mother for any harm that he had previously done.

Elsewhere in the episode, we find out a lot more about the mysterious box that is in Charlie's bedroom. We also get a better insight into Charlie and Quill's 'arrangement'. And there is a sinister and well informed new head teacher at Coal Hill Academy, who makes Quill an offer that she really might not be able to refuse. Oh - I nearly forgot to mention, we also have the small problem of some viciously carnivorous, and rapidly self-replicating blossom that has a very nasty bite. The blossom has somehow found its way through the rift and has started feasting on squirrels and birds.....

The theme of the episode seems to centre itself around one of duty. Be it the duty of a Prince to his people - as Charlie ponders the fate of the population of his home world or the duty of a father and husband, desperately trying to reach out to a family that he has damaged beyond repair. We also have the duty of a protective Mother, plus - as Ram and April's relationship steps up a gear, the duty of a lover.

As we have come to expect, there is a lot of humour in the story, especially when the link between April and the leader of the Shadow Kin starts to work the other way during a rather passionate moment ("I don't suppose.......we could have a moment of cuddling?"). We also have more humour thanks to the wonderfully dysfunctional relationship of Charlie and Quill, as they wrestle with the thought of going to Coal Hill's parent's evening together. 

The cast are growing on me, this story has Ram and April front and centre, while the focus of last week's story, Tanya takes a bit of a back seat.The Shadow Kin as a race fair a lot better here than in episode one, where I must admit that I wasn't that impressed with them. They seemed quite a generic villain, but here on their sizzling home world, spewing boiling anger and desperation, they come across as a real threat.

Now, lets not forget the introduction of that killer blossom, which is a great move, and which elevates the episode above just having the Shadow Kin as the main threat, the blossom is a slow building threat that is at first ignored, and then only really addressed when it could well be too late.

Before closing off this review, I feel that I must mention the special effects, as they are very special. I loved the way that the home world of the Shadow Kin was depicted, it's as if their scenes were shot in the very heart of a volcano, all floating embers and shimmering heat, it was very atmospheric, and made those scenes feel very alien. But lets not forget that it is also about the more subtle effects. The scene that opens on Earth is truly beautiful, and something that has obviously been inspired by the feather at the beginning of Forrest Gump. We follow a single, innocent looking blossom floating slowly through the scene, and eventually down to the ground.

Co-owner of a Lonely Heart is very enjoyable episode, and is unique in the series so far in that it is not only a direct sequel to the very first instalment, but in true, old fashioned Doctor Who tradition, it ends on a cracker of a cliff-hanger that leaves at least two or three very important plot threads dangling.





The Chimes of Midnight - Limited Vinyl EditionBookmark and Share

Friday, 4 November 2016 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty
The Chimes of Midnight (limited edition vinyl) (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Robert Shearman
Director: Barnaby Edwards

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor); India Fisher (Charley Pollard); Louise Rolfe (Edith); Lennox Greaves (Mr Shaughnessy); Sue Wallace (Mrs Baddeley); Robert Curbishley (Frederick); Juliet Warner (Mary)

Big Finish Productions – Released September 2016

This deluxe vinyl edition of TheChimesofMidnight follows on from the story being voted the best of Big Finish’s main range in their 2015 poll (runner up Spare Parts will also get the vinyl treatment next year). The release is limited to 500 copies and comprises the original story and a brand new retrospective documentary spread across four discs.

The story

As noted above, The Chimes of Midnight has been voted the best of Big Finish’s main range, and I’m not going to argue with this. Chimes is one of those Doctor Who stories where all the elements come together to create something truly exceptional. The writing, performances and production are pretty near faultless.

Putting a Doctor Who spin on classic TV shows Sapphire and Steel and Upstairs Downstairs was a clever choice by Robert Shearman. From those inspirations he tells a story which is both darkly funny and genuinely moving, skewering the injustice of the British class system in the process.

This is a story all fans of Doctor Who should own, and demonstrates not only the best of Big Finish, but one of the best Doctor Who stories in any medium.

What’s different?

The move in format CD to vinyl has resulted in some unavoidable modifications to the story. Instead of the original CD’s four episodes, this edition is split into six parts of around 20 minutes each. Rather than ending on a cliff-hanger, each disc finishes at a convenient (usually dramatic) point in the dialogue. It’s better to think of this as a compilation spread across six sides than as a six episode version, although I suspect some purists may miss the original cliff-hangers.

The documentary

The fourth disc in this collection contains a brand new documentary looking back at the production.  We’re fast approaching the 20th anniversary of the start of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range and it’s great to see the company celebrating their history. The audio releases have been a significant part of the Doctor Who landscape for nearly two decades, and it’s nice to see them getting some more in-depth exploration.

The documentary rounds up a broad range of contributors to Chimes’ creation, and conveys they sense that the story’s success was in part due to the coming together of the right people at the right time. Along with writer Robert Shearman, director Barnaby Edwards and the Big Finish producers, we also hear from sound designer Andy Hardwick and composer Russell Stone. Hardwick and Stone give a wonderful insight into their craft, and it’s great to see these (sometimes neglected) areas getting the attention they deserve.

For me the highlight of the documentary is the interview with Robert Shearman, in particular his discussion of discarded ideas for the story, and an audio tour of his own house (which inspired the story’s setting).

The one thing that feels missing from this documentary is a contribution from the cast. It would have been nice to hear Paul McGann and India Fisher’s take on The Chimes of Midnight’s continuing popularity but it’s a minor oversight in this excellent piece.

Overall

The Chimes of Midnight is a Doctor Who classic of the first order and is essential listening for fans. The documentary accompanying the release is a fascinating insight into the story’s creation, which brilliantly captures the context of the time it was created.

This release is a limited edition of 500 at a premium price, so it’s a shame that it will have a small audience. Hopefully the documentary will get a wider release at some point. If Big Finish have plans to explore their back catalogue in future such releases it would be great to see some cheaper downloadable options, alongside premium, physical releases like this.

The Chimes of Midnight (limited edition vinyl) (Credit: Big Finish)