Category: TV

The growing power of the Idiot’s Lantern…

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Surprise Return of the Spaceship Show

Legends of Tomorrow Series 1

Legends of Tomorrow Series 1 

Time for a change…

Difficult, supposedly vastly expensive carrying a weight of second-string comic book characters… DC’s Legends of Tomorrow’s first season embraced comics’ legacy of canned titles, team-ups and continuity re-defining events… But it also managed a significant coup – the return of that old staple of American genre television, the spaceship show!

A gleeful trawl through the Arrowverse and Legends of Tomorrow’s first year, where spoilers abound.

DESPITE ITS HIGH CONCEPT, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW REMAINS THE LEAST CERTAIN OF CW’S TRIUMPHANT RUN OF TELEVISION SHOWS BASED ON DC COMICS PROPERTIES. But that’s not down to any particular or peculiar weakness the show has brought to that growing mix. On one hand, its roots are firmly embedded in the existing Arrowverse, with most of its characters appearing there first. On the other, even in the ever-changing world of comics, the show’s temporal and paradoxical plots mean that a character’s death has an even higher probability of being reversed. But there’s no doubting that Arrow, The Flash and (the soon to be joining her cousins) Supergirl are simpler and purer concepts. Built around families of characters swiped from the comic books or intelligently bolstered, they mix enjoyable villain of the week shows with increasingly complex series arcs, always in the reliable cribs of DC’s fictional but well-established cities. Legends is the pinnacle of the oh-so-comic conceit of ensemble team-up that the other shows have played with, but has jettisoned the larger super-powered egos to pull them through multiple locations and times and become the closest thing The CW and Warner Bros Television can get to putting the Justice League on the small screen.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (Series One, 2016)

Forming teams

“Apparently, time wants to happen”

Last decade the laudably long-lived Smallville put its own version of the Justice League on screen, featuring a few of the familiar big players, but during a vastly different time for DC and Warner’s ambitions on small and big screen. While DC’s subsequently struggled to assemble that team for cinemas, there’s no doubt that alongside their animated films, the Warner Bros produced television series are their strongest suit. the brave new world began with Arrow in 2012, picking up one of DC’s, and indeed Smallville’s more interesting characters and building a show around him. Nothing was certain four years ago with the Smallville approach notably dating since its cancellation, a Wonder Woman pilot falling just before she met her first Olympian hurdle and Aquaman never making it further than a prolonged Entourage punchline.  Arrow soon established a firm, soap-to action treatment of the source material, that while it may not quite represent the Oliver Queen seen in the comics, rose above the young superhero clichés that had perpetuated since Superboy and Supergirl to do what few expected. It established a stable, compelling world that sucked in and interpreted as much DC Comics lore as it could, and sett the foundations for the introduction of three more DC-based shows over the next four years. Star City’s Oliver Queen has long proven a fine building block in the Comic line. An everyman, lacking the super-powers but without the all-encompassing role and symbolism of Batman, he’s the arrogant spoilt rich kid who suffered a powerful fall down the rungs. That moralistic journey aside, his gruff manner and modern-day Robin Hood persona works as well in an urban environment as the battlements of Nottingham. One of the film universe’s great losses was David Goyer’s Supermax, a low-key unbranded film that would have seen the Emerald Archer take down assorted villains of the DC universe after a super-jail break-out in a kind of meta-meta-Die Hard. With the ‘rise’ of Dredd and The Raid since that was pitched, DC have cleared its desk and embarked on one of the least clear, direct assaults at big name franchise Hollywood’s ever seen.

A Flashpoint

On television, Arrow’s now readying its fifth season. While there’s a sentiment that the wealth of irresistible crossovers that dominate what’s now called the Arrowverse around mid-season has debilitated that original show, their power during sweeps period remains undeniable. They’re not going anywhere. And this being DC, there’s always a crisis round the corner ready to shake the status quo of shows that currently exist across multiple time zones and even different Earths (Zoom took Flash to Earth2 during his second season; Supergirl currently lives on another one altogether). That could all change as the third outing of The Flash confronts the comics’ Flashpoint storyline and the multiverse makes its presence felt. In the DC universe, the Flashpoint Paradox merged multiple worlds into the new multiverse of the New 52. On TV, with all four Arrowverse shows joining The CW network for the first time later this year, that’s just one gift this immense Source Wall of a property provides.

But that potential has also been allowed by a few deft decisions. The real strength of these shows is their continual growth and momentum. If there are any criticisms in the season-end reviews, it’s not that these shows stand still. A major help was Warner and DC’s decision that the film and television lines would be kept distinct, a sentiment that’s true to the comics and the multiverse. And although the major players of the DC universe were unlikely to make an appearance, a clash that was once led the adventures of young Bruce Wayne to quickly and oddly develop into Smallville, all the more odd when Superman Returns materialised in 2006, all bets are now off. An inadvertently hilarious Krypto-elephant in Supergirl’s National City this past year was that her more famous cousin appeared in shadow, by SMS or just as a pair of boots. Fortunately, this unintentional silliness has been resolved with the casting of a Superman for the premiere of Supergirl’s second series. Again, this is a multi-verse, so why not? And as soapy as The CW shows may be, there’s a lot that DC’s take on the small screen could feed into the comic’s all too serious short-form adventures on the big screen.

The Flash on Television

Past is the Prologue to the Present

“As the first Time Master was so fond of saying, ‘That was then, this is now’”

Yes, the twist, is a great power source of the Arrowverse. Fast-paced, almost glossed, not hanging around to worry about fully explain things whether in the grit and techno-bubble of Star City or the physics-stretching science of Central City. It sounds unfair, but it’s a blistering pace and scope that hangs together thanks to the goodwill it engenders. There’s barely a bad episode of pelting 40-minute comedy drama among the bunch, even when those old staples of evil doppelgangers and Red Kryptonite pop up. They’re shamelessly referential to pop-culture and other science-fiction; always happy to go for a quick joke before sinking teeth into some deep drama and moral quandry. The shorthand of pizzas in The Flash (every night) or the coffees in Supergirl (every morning) just help to build this four-colour universe.

And behind the scenes, they’ve all had an agenda to steadily explore the wealth of the DC universe. Like Marvel, the decades have produced thousands of characters that can draw in hundreds of genres. From Arrow’s urban roots to the entrance of magic and a certain John Constantine during its fourth season. To the rapid entrance of the Flash two years ago, introducing meta-humans, time travel and the multiverse. And then the pincer movement of Supergirl (over on CBS for its first year) and Legends, that opened up the universe to Kryptonians, Martians and Thanagarians among other alien races. Arriving just four years in, sucking up characters mostly introduced on Arrow, The Flash or through crossovers, Legends took that ball of momentum and ran back, forth and all over with it. In a universe already known for its sly references and team-ups, Legends emerged fully made. Continue reading “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Surprise Return of the Spaceship Show”

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Doctor Who: The Master in the 1990s – “I’m glad one of us is amused”

The Master Eric Roberts

TV Movie The Master Eric Roberts

 

One MaRCHster long-read to unite them all…

As the Doctor Who: The Movie reaches 20 years old, this is it – a special bonus MArchSTER looking at 1996’s peculiar and divisive incarnation of the Master. An irresistible glance, as oddly, the cycle of the Doctor’s Time Lord rival almost came full circle…

“Humans, always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there”

OVER A DECADE AFTER DOCTOR WHO’S SUCCESSFUL RETURN TO BRITISH TELEVISION, THE WEIGHT OF HINDSIGHT HANGING OVER THE DOCTOR’S SHORT FORAY ACROSS THE ATLANTIC COULDN’T BE GREATER. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a film that struggled to accommodate the wealth of the show’s history, while refusing to fully reboot from the roots of its original run, ended up dipping into the past so much. And through the trials and tribulations that marked its emergence, despite its resolutely fin de siècle setting, how fitting that the American TV Movie paid tribute to the Master in the decade of his first appearance…

The Television Movie (1996)

A history of villainy

“You want me to kill you?”

The path Doctor Who took to America was long and tortuous. Even when it reached production, the sheer number of stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic made tough going. There’s no doubt that between the stand-offish/love the property found at the BBC of the time and evangelistic/waning interest among American production companies, casting demands, excessive script notes and strengthening Canadian dollars that impacted its Vancouver production, what reached the screen wasn’t quite what anyone expected.

Philip Segal was the producer who saw the opportunity and pushed to bring the property, left fallow by the BBC. Having fond memories of watching the show while growing up in the UK, before he emigrated to the US and ultimately joined Steven Spielberg’s Amblin, His single-minded passion lies behind its very existence.

When pre-production finally swung into gear after years of protracted placing of jigsaw pieces, creating the Bible for the potential American series fell to writer John Leekley. A writer who grew an obsession with Pertwee era-Who during development, but was set to become one of the franchise’s lost figures. His outline was canon-defying, pitching previous Doctor Who mentor, ally and enemy Cardinal Borusa as the Doctor’s grandfather, aiding his grandson on a quest to find the Doctor’s his missing father Ulysses. The plot of what would become the series’ back-door pilot, drafted in 1994, fell to the Doctor’s escape from Gallifrey, a trip to London and a meeting with Churchill during World War II. Segal blamed this on his Third Doctor and UNIT obsession and a “bad case of Dad’s Army”. Leekley’s ensuing Indiana Jones-styled script pushed Steven Spielberg out of the frame, coincided with the arrival of Trevor Walton, Fox’s head of TV movies, and ultimately forced the writer’s removal. Robert de Laurentiis entered, steering the script away from Borusa, introduced a comic companion but retaining Leekley’s concept of the Master as the scripts main antagonist.

When the script fell to writer Matthew Jacobs in 1995, a wonderfully unruffled interviewee on the subject, whose father incidentally had a guest appearance in the 1966 serial The Gunfighters, he was aided by the BBC’s Jo Wright in an executive producing (and key holding) role during the sharp run-up to production. As Jacobs has said, ““My script was basically Doctor Who am I?” World War II was out, Gallifrey too, and continuity returned with the inclusion of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. With minimal dialogue, he was set to regenerate into Paul McGann who had seen off a number of rivals including his brother Mark to land the main role. With the canon reinstated, the Master was confirmed, continuing the antagonism that led back to his first appearance in 1971’s Terror of the Autons.

But in a production that aside from its great BBC investment, enjoyed a British director, star, two executive producers and writer, at least, the villain was what Segal called a “line in the sand”. Fox and Universal insisted on a named American actor from a prescribed list, which Segal circumspectly added was a triumph of “commercialisation over creative rationale”. And so the Master took an unexpected new form… Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Master in the 1990s – “I’m glad one of us is amused””

Doctor Who: The Master in the 2010s – “I need my friend back”

Masterful appearances The Master in Doctor Who

The Mistress, Time Lady and Cyberman

You’re still obeying me? Excellent. The MaRCHster takeover reaches the current age end with quite possibly the Master’s most successful comeback. But the Twelfth Doctor, made for the kind of rivalry that was denied his predecessor, encountered a Master very different to previous iterations. this was one intent on taking us all for hellluva ride. Far removed from the tin-pot schemes of the 1980s and all those miserable constraints of survival, the time of the Mistress was upon us. A tale of … Hey Missy!

Dark Water and Death in Heaven (Series 8, 2014)

IT LOOKS LIKE THE MASTER, NOW THE MISTRESS, IS BACK FOR GOOD. SERIES EIGHT WAS EMPHATIC ABOUT IT, BEFORE SERIES NINE WAS PLAYFUL… Showing her face in almost every episode during 2014, the Master’s total appearances were very nearly 25% greater by the end of that year than the beginning. All those little asides may have seemed arbitrary, even after the great reveal of Dark Water, but programme credits ensured they were canonically embedded every time. Add in her appearance in the opening two-parter of Series Nine and that rogue’s easily amassing a frequency of appearances on a par with her/his early 1970s arrival. Time to stop mixing pronouns and determiners – we all know who we’re talking about. And Missy is undoubtedly already in the league of Delgado’s dapper ‘80s incarnation and Ainley’s smug ‘80s successor. Michelle Gomez’ recent nomination for a BAFTA, something Peter Capaldi’s Doctor astonishingly didn’t achieve for his work in Heaven Sent alone, can’t be underestimated. This incarnation, quite impossible to follow, will be around some time. And there are signs that the show itself is moving in her wake. As if in acknowledgement, the last series saw the current grey haired grump of a Doctor developed an increasing penchant for velvet jackets and capes last seen during the master’s prime.

Masterful appearances The Master in Doctor Who

How the Master’s canonical* appearances stack up in 2016. (*with the honorary inclusion of 2003’s Scream of the Shalka)

40 years on from his arrival, the Master’s life cycle has reached ever new levels of absurd drama. Yes, even more than his bug-eyed husk scheming on Gallifrey or years hidden in a garden on Traken. In fact, after the slide from suave villainy to desperate skeleton during the 1970s and those ridiculous grasps at ongoing survival through tenuous plots of the 1980s, the 21st century has set a new bar for villainous highs and impossible odds of survival lows. Last decade, the Master’s return was hidden in plain sight, through rumour and electioneering. It was a light but neat exploration of what Moffat inadvertently branded the show’s timey-wimeyness in that same series; a counter-balance to the alternative timeline year of hell that formed from his actions in the last episode of the series. The Master who fought impossibly, and gothically, back from the dead to see off the Tenth Doctor at The End of Time was never quite the same as a result. He was still brilliant, still unhinged, but with flashes of skull that recalled his death-tempting slumps of the past. He wasn’t a complete incarnation and was last seen dragging Rassilon and the Time Lords back into the Great Time War from which the cowardly rogue had previously taken great pains to escape. If the Master was going to return it would have to be breaking the Time Lock and overcoming the mystery of Gallifrey that has done much to distinguish the New Series from the Classic

A new world

“Those words from me are yours now”

The world the Mistress slowly returns to is a whole lot bleaker than the one the Master left, but that’s partly down to her convoluted scheme. From the Twelfth Doctor’s debut in Deep Breath Series 8 is a bleak one over all, dogged by death and war, taking breaks in the dainty, absurd teatime surroundings of the show’s mysterious new Mary Poppins. The quick, sad and blunt beginning of Dark Water reconfirms that thanatopsis, as if it was needed. There’s still a light spin on a tried Moffat trope as the old lady’s confused voice, employing that well known Tenth Doctor line, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” tells Clara that Danny Pink is dead. And so that strange relationship comes to a close in an extraordinary opening to a season finale that’s even more bizarrely the show’s first two-parter in three years. It doesn’t quite scan considering the previous series of the pair’s relationship, but sets a fast rolling beginning not for the drama but the concept. So begins a story that starts and ends in deceit, in fact it’s riddled by it. Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Master in the 2010s – “I need my friend back””

Doctor Who: The Master in the 2000s – “No beard this time… well, a wife”

Master The Master John Simm

Master The Master John Simm

When it came to the 21st century, we should have known we were in for a helluva ride. Far removed from the tin-pot schemes of the 1980s and the side-notes of the previous decade, the time of the Master was upon us. Having escaped the Time War by the skin of his overstretched regenerations, even the Master couldn’t have guessed how big he was going to get. A select journey from homicidal Prime Ministers to paradox machines…

The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords (Series 3, 2007)

IF COINCIDENCE HAS A FIELD DAY ANYWHERE, IT’S IN THE VAST AND CONTRADICTORY EXPANSE OF THE TIME VORTEX. And so the third series of the refreshed, renewed and lightly rebooted Doctor Who found at the end of time and the last stand of humanity when a chance encounter with an old but doddery genius, a forgetful but kind, old professor left the TARDIS crew stranded and the Doctor, in the best and worst way, not the last of his race.

Hindsight of subsequent six series can’t dull the freshness of Russell T Davies gratuitous dystopian trick in the antepenultimate episode of Series 3, just about kicking off the show’s first three-parter since 1989. In 2005’s first series, Davies had returned the Daleks to the small screen, navigating the intricacies of the Terry Nation estate to bring some Pepper-Pot classics back to the show. In the second year came the not so imperious return of the Cybermen, this time opting for a parallel universe origin tale. Following hotly behind the unexpected Macra cameo in Series 3’s Gridlock, the Master was the next obvious candidate to make a return, and so completing a set of classic villains and monsters, who’d rocked up in the New Series in the same order as they had during the 1960s and 1970s. The Master was a big scalp of course, as the production team had as much fun hinting about his return as fanboys had speculating. Take the guest starring appearance of Anthony Head in Series 2’s School Reunion, carefully flashing up in the series trailer next to partially obscured sign “…Master”. Of course, he was the “… Headmaster”, and despite enjoying the Western stand-off he had with the Doctor, fans retreated to their lairs waiting for the inevitable. And so it came. The first new Time Lord in a world very much built around the idea that the Doctor was alone, the last of his kind.

Was that really six series ago?

Straight to the Point

“Oh, a nice little game of hide and seek, I love that”

Following the events of Utopia, surprisingly resilient tension-filled momentum that remains unbeaten in the show, the resulting two-part finale has no intention of hanging about. There’s a fresh Master, force regenerated to match a bounding incarnation of the Doctor (and no doubt taking advantage of a fresh regeneration cycle bestowed on him by the Time Lords before cowardice took over), hijacking the Doctor’s TARDIS and heading into the unknown of space and time. Fortunately, with the traditional vortex effect, Captain Jack’s old vortex manipulator, which would stay with the show for some time to come, hurls the Doctor, Jack and Martha into our present day to set about discovering what became of the rogue Time Lord.

Absolute Power

“The Master is Prime Minister of Great Britain”

The Master, stable and secure as a majority-backed, popular and time-rich Prime Minister is a great conceit. Not only does it let Russell T Davies turn his scripts back to pointed politicism but also saves the usual skulduggerous slow reveal of the Master’s plot that had on more than one occasion reduced him to pantomime. It also gives us a glimpse of the Master at full power, a considerable challenge for the Doctor to overcome but also height of great distance for a defeated Master to fall. The Master had never been so outlandish and sadistic. And that’s saying something. Although there is more in common with his original suave, indifferent, amoral and confident appearance in a sequel four decades before than had been seen for years, what would unravel from these heightened stakes is true marmite for Whovians.

We are allowed plenty of time to watch this incarnation in action, from teasing and murdering at will to sending very specific messages to the Doctor and crucially, his companions. John Simm’s incarnation may be a little strained, just as the Tennant version of the Doctor was, but in many ways is also picks up traits from the Ainley incarnation who’d happily sneer at the lesser mortals. Far removed from the 1980s however, he’s dispensed with his faux-suave nature as he’s rediscovered his taste for large-scale plots (it helps to have real taste buds back) and finally, an appreciation of companions. Both the Doctors and of his own. Of course, the taste for larger scale plotting had really returned during the 1996 TV Movie, along with the wet shave. But who would have put any space currency on both remaining with him after meeting the Eye of Harmony.

After the future Earth smashing of the Series One finale and the monster mash-up, London bash-up of Series Two, the third series needed to be as large as this international, universe threatening romp and he was the Time Lord for the job.

Filling the TARDIS

“Mr Saxon does like a pretty face”

Perhaps the strangest change for this Master is, much to multiple Doctor’s amusement in the succeeding short Time Crash, is… His wife. The rather strange first lady of Britain is later revealed to be very much The Master’s companion – the first time we’ve seen him adopt one as the Doctor might. Aside from broadening the drama, it’s hard not to see this as a reflection of the fact that a partner-less leader is simply not electable in this day and age, psychic boost or not.

Despite having the time to manipulate events at source, the Master’s Harold Saxon’s has invented his past to gain the top job as the effective cameo from Nichola McAuliffe’s journalist highlights. And best of all, the real icing on the cake: his rise to power was possible thanks to the power void left by the actions of a very angry Tenth Doctor, dispatching Prime Minister Harriet Jones at the end of The Runaway Bride. Yes, this is a plot well laid. And while Utopia was a novelty, a fairy-tale glimpse into what could have been with a kindly and skilled, ‘better’ version of the Edwardian Doctor, it’s clear that these last two sons of Gallifrey, the Doctor and the Master, are fully entwined. Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Master in the 2000s – “No beard this time… well, a wife””

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