Category: TV

The growing power of the Idiot’s Lantern…

The Golden Age of Cybermen Part 2: From The Tombs to The Invasion

Golden age of Cybermen Tomb, Wheel and Invasion

Golden age of Cybermen Tomb, Wheel and Invasion

Hey, it’s the 49th anniversary of the first broadcast of the second episode of The Moonbase! So when better for Jokerside to conclude its epic look at the Cyber-legion’s best days that began on the Doctor’s 52nd birthday. Having quickly assumed a dominant position these implacable foes marched through the late 1960s with an offensive of classic stories and iconic sequences. Jokerside stands in awe at the close of the Golden Age of the Cybermen between 1967 and 1968.

THERE WAS NO STOPPING THE CYBERMEN ONCE THEY’D STARTED. They’d found their nemesis in the Doctor’s second incarnation and were determined to defeat him. Or rather, repeatedly fail to factor him into their plans until he inevitably turned up to disrupt them. Part of the problem was that the species had clearly splintered into different nomadic factions before the destruction of Mondas in 1986. That’s the narrative angle, but in terms of the production, few alien races in the vast history of science fiction television had change built into their every appearance like the Cybermen. While the fundamentals remained, designers altered, amend and enhanced the design with every story. Sometimes they strove to make further allowances for long-suffering actors, sometimes they incorporated new materials or techniques. That’s a nice nod to the nature of the Cybermen but also a neat reflection of the change built into Doctor Who itself – could the Doctor have found his ultimate villain? If he had, he soon lost them as they dwindled to sporadic appearances after the 1960s.

Golden age of Cybermen The Tenth Planet and The MoonbasePart of the problem was that much like their cybernetic upgrades their appearances were more frequent than they were evolutionary. That’s in stark opposition to the Daleks, where each of the Pepper Pot’s early appearances scaled up the plot and threat in true sequel style. While the fiends of Skaro were first encountered by humans during the their hugely successful invasion in the latter years of the 21st century, human’s first contact with their cybernetic cousins took place a century earlier – the late 1960s or mid-1970s based on your UNIT dating conundrum perspective. And wonderfully strangely, that chronological first contact was the fifth time that viewers at home had encountered them in just over two years.

1968’s The Invasion was the Cybermen’s greatest adventure, an epic eight part serial that finally elevated them to the level of sprawling adventure that the Daleks had grown accustomed to. So perhaps there’s little surprise that it concluded their golden age, retiring them off to infrequent nemeses presumably without so much as a gold watch. From the start the Cybermen had lurked in the background, and come their Invasion they relied on human accomplices to delay their appearance for four episodes. Before that, we and the TARDIS crew had already seen them hatch devious schemes to take control of Earth in the future, even discovered them in a last stand hibernation on their adopted planet of Telos. It’s an odd and fractured timeline eminently irresistible to science fiction fans. And within less than three year’s they’d made enough of a pest of themselves, and posed ironically wherever they could, to ensure they’d joined the top line of Doctor Who foes. In fact, so thick, fast and irresolute was their onslaught that they quite reasonably accelerated the rate they reached retirement rate even quicker than the Daleks.

And what an exit strategy. After skulking, tomb building and space walking, 1968 finally found them, taking on the military might of institution-in-waiting UNIT. But first, things were going to have to get a lot darker before that dawn.

The Tomb of the Cybermen (Season 5, 1967)

Golden age of Cybermen 2 - Tomb of the Cybermen“We will survive”

Tomb of the Cybermen is a inversion of the classic base under siege story seen in the metal militant’s previous two two. For once, we’re on the Cyber terrors’ territory, although they’re hardly at full strength. This four part serial really finds them on their back cyber boot for the first time, with the events of The Moonbase revealed to be part the cyber race’s long decline. It wasn’t simply their previous encounters with two Doctors, although those are mentioned– these Cybermen are once again familiar with him – but their other intergalactic conflicts and significant losses which drive them into hibernation. It’s proves an illogical move.

Fortunately, this base under siege story finds different dynamics at play. First the Cybermen have laid a delicate trap, one that adds terror to the early tension while providing a logical route to their reanimation. Secondly, it’s the human blend of archaeologists and logicians (and TARDIS crew) who are the invaders. It’s immediately obvious that the logicians aren’t seeking the lost Cyber races for an article in New Scientist and the human fascination with their master race cousins who quickly fell to myth would provide fodder for Cyber stories all the way up to Big Finish’s recent The Last of the Cybermen. Crucially that story featured companion Zoe Heriot, akin to a human calculator her entrance would be closely linked to the Cyberman, but that was for a future adventure. First there was the tomb that the BBC managed to banish to a tomb for many years…

Silver chic

“You belong to us. You shall be like us.”

These Cybermen are not nearly as modified as the last faction the Doctor encountered. Although they look slightly shabbier, that’s forgivable. Of two main differences to those encountered on the Moonbase, one is that they are repressed to the point of inert and secondly there is the emergence of an authority figure: The Cyber Controller. Noticeably different, he lacks the Cybermen’s typical handlebars, in their place an extended cranium to process and draw strategy from huge amounts of a data. A huge figure, happy to hibernate in a crouched position, he may be larger and have better squat control than a regular Cyberman, but he lacks their chest units. A rather striking and more mobile, athletic sort of figure, or possibly jumpsuit lanky, he seems to be an amalgamation of a Cyberman foot soldier and his race’s earlier Central Processing Machines. Cyber thinking had clearly become more mobile prior to their forced to retreat. Outside the television universe stories such as Marc Platt’s Spare parts would build central committees and controllers into the emergence of the Cyber race, but here the Controller appears to be a direct response to devastating and constant conflict with other races. And in their hives of sleep, his Cybermen swarm not around a Queen but a logician. And they’ve even brought little pets along to wake up to…
Continue reading “The Golden Age of Cybermen Part 2: From The Tombs to The Invasion”

“The Frankenstein Murders” – Frankenstein on TV and Film AD 2016

Victor Frankenstein 2016 AD

Victor Frankenstein 2016 AD

A special romantic catch-up with Jokerside’s favourite morality tale this Valentine’s Day! Love has a crucial place in Mary Shelley’s tale and Jokerside takes a look at 2015’s Victor Frankenstein on film and The Frankenstein Chronicles on TV through many glasses of pink sparkling wine. They’re needed. ❤ ❤ Spoilers abound ❤ ❤

WHEN JOKERSIDE LAST TOOK A LOOK AT CURRENT FRANKENSTEIN ADAPTATIONS TWO YEARS’ AGO, IT WAS A SUITABLY MIXED BAG. THE LONG-GESTATING AND HORRIFICALLY CONCEIVED I FRANKENSTEIN HAD DISAPPOINTED CINEMAS TO THE TUNE OF $70 MILLION. While on the small screen, scribe John Logan had sculpted one of the greatest Frankenstein adaptations in the first season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful.

Frankenstein’s creature is of course, never something that could or should be kept down. At the time, work was underway on Victor Frankenstein, a new big budget take on the legend, pulling together the great and good of BBC’s Sherlock, box office Brit and a script from Chronicle scribe, and son of a horror directing legend, Max Landis. It promised the biggest big screen splash since Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 gothic prize, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Hopes were very high. And on the idiot lantern, more promise lay in the rejuvenated ITV zeroing in on classic gothic horror. Alongside a dedicated stab at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a mysterious six part series called The Frankenstein Chronicles. The potential of these properties at the close of 2015 was huge, but as both took a barely faithful root to the story, could it be seized in a huge, stitched and unstoppable hand?

Victor Frankenstein (2015)

It can’t be understated: the chance for Victor Frankenstein to astonish and amaze were immense. Max Landis’ script promised a new take, taking the slant of Igor, a part of the myth that might be film’s greatest addition. Cast as Igor was Daniel Radcliffe, he of extraordinary and erratic acting choices since his Harry Potter days, and James McAvoy, an actor fully capable of recapturing the arrogant vigour of Peter Cushing’s great Baron Frankenstein of the Hammer series. And best of all, Victor Frankenstein sucked up the great and good of Sherlock, the BBC’s astonishingly successful modernisation of the great consulting detective. Memorable Moriarty Andrew Scott took the role of devout adversary to the mad scientist, while Paul McGuigan took up the directing reigns. McGuigan’s work on Sherlock almost defied belief, you only need to compare his episodes to the original pilot to see the skill and talent he brought to one of genre TV’s biggest properties. All in all, there couldn’t be a better choice. The stars were aligning, and Promethean man did they take a long time to do so. It was announced in 2011…

Fall of man

Meet your makers

And once again, it can’t be understated: Victor Frankenstein, languishing as a flop that couldn’t achieve half of I Frankenstein’s box office managed to miss by a mile. It’s a classic morality tale of its own where in spite of the great talent involved hardly any of the individual pieces connected. The blame for its poor box office, $6 million under its budget, can partially fall to theatres, particularly independent British chains, that failed to support its release, as much Victor Frankenstein is yet another low flying warning shot at the British film industry that scripts need to be worked and worked and reworked again. Some of the dialogue and all of the opposition is toe-curlingly horrendous. And it’s a damn shame. Before we get onto the ‘Luuuurve’ that defines this peace, it’s impossible to ignore those problems.

In an adaptation that updates the action to full on Victoriana and roots it in London away from the early 19th century central European setting, Victor Frankenstein never promised fidelity. Least of all because it chooses to follow the story of Igor, forming the moral heart of a story where he’s saved by Victor and has the chance to save his friend in return. But if you’re going to transport Frankenstein, it needs a reason. It must come down to more than the grimy, evocating vistas of Imperial London. That said, McGuigan’s usual supreme eye for the visual is a bit off. Amid the hectic editing, the flourish isn’t there in what should be joyous romp of Grand Guignol. In the opening sequence, Frankenstein helping Igor escape his circus prison for the thrill as much as opportunity, there’s much leaping, fire and explosion, most of it with very little cause. At one point a strong man even tears a book, just because he can. This is a tale of grotesques and the chance to widen that circus metaphor is lost almost immediately as both Igor and his obsession Lorelei are sucked into society. The swagger of a multi-layered update managed by Guy Ritchie’s successful and stylish Sherlock Holmes adaptations isn’t given a chance to develop.

Flattened characters

Out in society, the quality of the dialogue plummets into light character definition and awkward plot propulsion. Unsurprisingly, the only character who can almost rise above it is McAvoy’s Frankenstein, greedily grabbing all the great with disconnected, moustache twirling arrogance.

However, this Frankenstein is neither the earnest and misguided delusional that Branagh portrayed, nor the brewing callous Baron of Cushing. A hedonist, his drunken blasphemy and questioning of morality in front of shocked Victorian ladies tire very quickly. The attempt to flesh his motivation out is flat, particularly given the by the numbers appearance of Charles Dance as his terror of a father. Is any horror safe from Dance these days? The later reveal that his dedication comes from the loss of his brother not only feels bolted on, but in opposition to the amoral character we’ve seen earlier.

But his motivation is the least of the film’s worries. Andrew Scott, such a charismatic actor is once again hamstrung by English malevolence that seems to leave him unable to move his neck as Inspector Turpin. His character journey, defined by blunt grasps at Christianity and endlessly repeating a mantra while his psyche slides doesn’t provide the strong moral argument the film needs. His short and ill-built raid on Frankenstein’s premises, almost out of nowhere, may bring all plot strands to a sudden head but creates false drama. Turpin’s loss of his hand and inexplicable loss of his eye as his career and mind fall away, usurped by his hitherto unambitious deputy doesn’t add up. Most bizarre of all is how he’s confident enough to scratch his face with his fake hand just days after the incident. That’s bound to send him back to hospital. Continue reading ““The Frankenstein Murders” – Frankenstein on TV and Film AD 2016”

“You fool Hyde, you can never defeat us” – Jekyll and Hyde AD 2016

Jekyll and Hyde 2015 2016

Jekyll and Hyde 2015 2016

Following the gothic cross-sectional glimpses at Frankenstein and Dracula over the last two years, Jokerside looks at the rocky state of Dr Jekyll and the ever chaotic world of Mr Hyde… From ITV’s recently axed Jekyll and Hyde to what 2016 has in store for the character in adaptation. And yes, requisite mention for NBC…

*May transform into spoilers*

THE DEFINITE ARTICLE SHY NOVELLA STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE WAS PUBLISHED IN 1886. WITH IT, 36 YEAR OLD AUTHOR ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON NOT ONLY ENTERED THE ILLUSTRIOUS PANTHEON OF 19TH CENTURY HORROR WRITERS, BUT PENNED A SLIGHT STORY OVERSTOCKED WITH INFLUENCES. Although set in the far more commercial London, it makes for a heady exploration of the original city of two-sides, Stevenson’s home town of Edinburgh. In the latter days of the Victorian era, it’s also a handy analogy for contemporary fears for the individual, privatisation and public ownership, and class division. As the 20th century brought new concerns, Jekyll and Hyde was readymade to reflect them, much as the universally adaptable themes at the heart of Bram Stoker’s Dracula ensured it permanent relevance. Stevenson’s story was first adapted for the stage a year after its publication and continues to spread into films, music, books, art across the world. To the point that the good Doctor and his dangerous alter-ego make up the third most filmed literary character. The last decade has seen two major British adaptations, both modernising in their own way, while it’s provided inspiration for serials in America and America. There’s little sign of the original horror icon of split personality disappearing any time soon. And indeed, its themes have spawned other works that have stomped their own giant footprint on popular culture.  Currently mixing with the best of the box office, it’s impossible to look at the current state of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde without mentioning the Hulk in the room…

The shadow of the Hulk

“I decided I might as well borrow from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well “ – Stan Lee, 1974

Few sources have been as overshadowed by their inspirations as Hyde has been by Hulk, and Jekyll by Banner. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s most famous exploration of split personalities is a thinly veiled update, although has had far longer to explore the relationship between both personalities. Banner was similarly driven and doomed by his scientific genius, but never experimented on himself, as Lee drew liberal inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well.

The Incredible Hulk currently finds himself in successful, if not straightforward times. Assimilated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the beginning, The Incredible Hulk was a modest success in 2008 compared to stablemate Iron Man. Through the witty script of Joss Whedon, the Hulk became one of the stand-outs in 2012’s The Avengers although curiously, never with the suggestion that this audience appreciation could translate to a successful solo outing. Indeed, as Mark Ruffalo was the third actor to take on Banner in so many films, the road was rocky. While solo outing rights remained blocked at Universal, forthcoming buddy movie Thor Ragnarok (due 2017) will pit the green brute alongside the Norse God in a build-up to the two Avengers Infinity War movies that Ruffalo has suggested forms a quasi-Hulk solo movie of its own.

Two-faced

Of all the legacies of Stevenson’s creation, the Hulk sits at the top of the pile, and will be dominating blockbusters for years to come. And as a pop culture behemoth, the Hulkification of Hyde was inevitable almost as soon as Marvel’s pop culture behemoth survived cancellation after six issues in 1963, just as Banner had survived the gamma radiation. Over at DC, the home of personified literary grotesque Gotham City threw up a thin, but fascinating most-of-the-time rogue in Harvey Dent. Two Face surfaced from law rather than medicine, but has proved one of the compelling and tragic figures in the rich tapestry of Batman’s friends and rogues. Obsessed with duality and literally split down the middle as the result of an acid attack that reawakened severe and deep-rooted personality disorder. Taken down by his job, from the heights of District Attorney, he’s Batman’s fallen angel and much like the Hulk (although admittedly a little more black and white), never the villain but an amoral presence in the original Hyde mould. Like Hulk, Two Face has had a mixed form in adaptation. His first big screen moment in 1995 showed how poorly he could be treated as Tommy Lee Jones channelled the nuances of personality disorder through alternating talking and shouting. Fortunately, 2008’s The Dark Knight stunned when it pulled a Two Face origin out of its rich script, drawing on many of the same tragic lines as what might remain Harvey Dent’s finest hour: Batman: The Animated Series’ Two Face in 1992. The Dark Knight did highlight the difficulties of the character however – without re-treading his inherent conflict, Nolan’s masterpiece showed that the fleeting last act emergence of the villain was just about all he needed in comparison with other rogues of Gotham.

Crucially, both Hulk and Two Face are victims of circumstance, although scuppered by their own genius. Still, these villainous and superheroic versions of Stevenson’s character might have brought out the comic book potential of the character, but they haven’t stopped the original making his mark on the medium.

One of the most prevalent examples came in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – something even more blatant in the doomed 1997 film adaptation. After Fox’s failed television update has now morphed into a film reboot, that version won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Still, hopefully they’ll stick closer to the source. As one of Britain’s premier adapter’s and adaption curmudgeons, Moore’s love letter to these literary constructs deserves deft work.

The rebounding comic book stylings of the children of Hyde where also clear in the recent ITV adaptation, which imposed the central figure into a comic inspired set-up and even expanded the universe with nods to Marvel. As Hulk stories had soon developed in the sprawling storylines of comic book chronology, Hyde was now become an indefinite article. He is a Hyde and is not alone, least of all with the late arrival of his sister and lycanthropy dripping through another family line. “I’m a Hyde” his sister said knowingly. But that was just one of the references flowing through the blood of his most recent vehicle…

Jekyll and Hyde (ITV, 2015)

The Gordian Knot…

Before purposefully transforming into Hyde for the final time during the tenth episode of ITV’s big budget repurposing of Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Jekyll drew a comparison between his predicament and the Gordian Knot of Alexander the Great lore. How right he was. Sadly, a month since that finale aired, ITV have not only enacted their own quick slicing solution on the show, but Ofcom have found it in breach of broadcasting regulations. Continue reading ““You fool Hyde, you can never defeat us” – Jekyll and Hyde AD 2016”

Doctor Who Series 9: The Return to Gallifrey and Chekov’s Hybrid

Doctor Who Hell Bent Rassilon
Doctor Who Hell Bent Rassilon

At least there wasn’t a parallel universe…

And so Doctor Who Series Nine found the doctor where no one thought possible, back on his home planet of Gallifrey. But true to form, the culmination of years of seeding and two sublimely produced episodes wasn’t really about the Doctor’s homecoming at all. As the audience might have expected, it was more about the companion and the return to a mysterious one word story arc…

Travelling to end of time itself, inspired by Hell Bent.

“Tell them I know what they did. And I’m on my way”

WITH THE INNOVATIONS AND MODERNISING OF DOCTOR WHO’S NEW SERIES CAME THE ARRIVAL OF THE ‘FINALE’. That just didn’t happen in the old days, when seasons of serials gave you a denouement-full of finale every four to six weeks on average, mostly once a month. It was almost coincidence when a season closed with a classic story – but then, no production team aimed for a sub-standard story, let alone one to end the year. But with the show’s return in 2015, the wise call to adapt the show to the recognised series format meant an inexorable rise to a finale from the start. It was unavoidable, even if it’s seldom presented itself in the same way over the past decade. But in becoming a series, following the standardised particularly developed by American networks, the emphasis, weight and propulsion simply had to fall towards the story that closed each year. This essay series has already looked at the structure and peaks that developed from reconstructing the show around a series format, and how Face the Raven broke expectation. But in a series of predominantly multiple part stories, that episode commenced a three-part finale. And once again, as the integral difference that marks a series out from a soap, they don’t come much heavier than the finale.

Building up

“At the end of everything, one must expect the company of immortals”

But yes, that build-up throughout each series’ 12 or 13 episodes has come in different forms. Since the show’s return, the emphasis has moved from slow series-long build-ups to full and even half-series finales. Under showrunner Russell T Davies, viewers could expect a resolution that pinned less on an arc than hanging references, strung through the series’ seemingly unconnected episodes like jigsaw pieces of missing bees and big, bad wolves, all stemming from light and romping season openers. Under his successor, Steven Moffat, the show’s seen the introduction of high concept first episodes and mid-series finales. Ever more pressure was piled on each year’s conclusion through arcs and interlinked stories of increasing complexity. Although that looked to have reached its peak during the show’s sixth series, that left heavy expectations for the series that followed. And unfortunately, pressure isn’t always the show’s greatest companion.

Sombre times

“Hope is a terrible thing on a scaffold”

There was a shift after the Eleventh Doctor’s second year in charge of the TARDIS key. After the complexity of the sixth series, series finales were more identifiable by their higher concepts and lower keys. Almost as though the glut of The Impossible Astronaut, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song during Series Six and had worn the format thin. In Series Seven, the half-series finale that bade farewell to the Ponds found a sombre piece in The Angels take Manhattan, despite its showbiz name. A half-series later, The Name of the Doctor stole the drooping crown of sober finales. During the build-up to the show’s 50th anniversary spectacular, audiences might not have expected a crawl through a huge graveyard and overgrown TARDIS tomb, hollow serial killers ruining séances, the Great Stupidity or the Eleventh Doctor weeping at his impending doom in suburbia.

And that approach didn’t fall on the Fields of Trenzalore. A year on and it was more of the same in the two-part conclusion of Series Eight. While Dark Water opened with the sudden and rather inexplicable death of Clara’s beau Danny Pink, it followed the Doctor and Clara pursuit to a maybe afterlife, before delving heavily into dark speculation about death and cremation. The extended finale that followed, the joyfully titled, Death in Heaven, wasn’t only miserable in name; a considerable portion of it was spent in a graveyard. It was a far cry from the bombast of previous series finales. While they were always tinged with tragedy and danger (and so they should be, with their frequent wrap parties for major characters) their gloom had never been so overwhelming.  Continue reading “Doctor Who Series 9: The Return to Gallifrey and Chekov’s Hybrid”

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