Star Trek: What’s your Inner Star Trek Alien?

What's your inner Star Trek Alien?

What's your inner Star Trek Alien header?

You don’t have to be a Trill to discover your inner alien!

A Kazon of the Delta Quadrant, a Vorta of the Gamma Quadrant or the take-it-or-leave it approach to foreheads adopted by those closer-to-home Klingons? It’s what you’ve been waiting for… Find out which of Star Trek’s alien races you really belong to with our largest ever inter-galactic life guide (well, flowchart)

STAR TREK BEYOND HAS BEAMED INTO CINEMAS SO IT’S TIME FOR JOKERSIDE TO START ITS COUNTDOWN TO THE GREAT SPACE OPERA’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY.  And what better way to start than with you dear explorer of the final frontier! Face it. We’re all cut-price Trill symbiont with a hidden Star Trek race in us – and it’s time to discover what yours is!

While five decades of Star Trek have, bar the odd incident, traversed just the stars of the Milky Way, they’ve uncovered a huge and diverse range of alien races. That variety is exactly what the show’s classic intro anticipated, but of course, those extra-terrestrials have come in guises good and bad.  You’ve no doubt already worked out which member of the intrepid crew of the Enterprise you are… So, once again it’s time to lock coordinates, engage the inertial dampers and discover your inner alien!

Continue reading “Star Trek: What’s your Inner Star Trek Alien?”

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”

Snow Boots: Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

A tale of Sire and Ice

Second, a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

There was a planet of Ice…And then Star Wars became a franchise. A glimpse back at the original Episode V, its iterations and context in the wake of The Force Awakens glorious boosting of Hollywood’s mightiest space franchise.

It was a film that needed no beginning, required no end…

HERE IT IS, EMERGING IN THE DEPTHS OF A DISTANT GALAXY WITH THE DEPLOYMENT OF A SPACE PROBE THAT THEN CRASHES INTO THE ICE SHEETS OF THE PLANET HOTH. Everything we might have assumed from the oddly triumphant and indulgent close of Episode IV wasn’t true. Everything Hollywood imagined about summer films was about to be blown out of the galaxy.

The Empire Strikes Back is legendary, there’s no doubt about it. Still quoted, among a select few, as a if not the premier example of a sequel that outdoes its original, the last three decades of try-hard comparators have failed to dislodge it. Its quality is far too enshrined to be knocked.

Here is where things began. It’s almost solely responsible for the early 21st century preoccupation with blockbuster trilogies, a neat model when it comes to actors, contracts and budgets. But just as A New Hope had slotted genres and intention together in ways never thought possible, Empire was just as ground-breaking in the way it seized and built on that position. It was a film that needed no beginning, required no end. But it served up two dramatic sledge-hammer blows at either end. And immediately, cockily, the threat level was deftly and massively raised as the audience discovers that the destruction of the Death Star had only served to annoy the Empire. Who could guess the twists, turns and ending that were to follow…

And it wasn’t just the threat that had increased.

Star Wars:  Episode IV – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The saga’s themes of family and lineage were about to be set in carbonite

Come the end it’s easy to see that The Empire Strikes Back had no choice but to ramp up the drama. That it did it so well, following the simplistic, fairy tale plot of the previous film, is Empire’s considerable achievement. We join the Rebel Alliance in a far different state to the one we left it. On the run and in a make-shift soon to be discovered base; dug into ice foundations that are a metaphor for isolation. It’s cold in space, it’s colder on Hoth. We didn’t know it at the time, but the saga’s overriding themes of family and lineage were about to be set in carbonite. So it’s little surprise that one route to that dramatic elevation falls to classical tragedy.

From Bar to Bard

In Empire our Hamlet, position and role thrust upon him, is destined to encounter his father’s ghost

Indeed, Empire pushes Shakespeare to the fore. We join the Rebel troops on the battlements of Elsinore, unknowingly waiting for a ghost of Hamlet’s father that is a far more powerful and compelling than it appears in massed stop-motion and snowtrooper-clad force. That establishes a heightened universe where Vader, seen for the first time in communication with the Emperor, the father figure he rushed to with indecent haste, can get away with the use of “thy”. But the Bard’s influence is greater than choice words. We have expanded the atavistic palette of Biblical quests and Campbellian monomyth to include the nearer world of Greek tragedy and the great playwrights in general.

In Empire our Hamlet, his position and role thrust upon him, is destined to encounter his father’s ghost at the climax of the film; and in so doing he creates one of the most famous sequences in film history. That sets the tone for the concluding part of the trilogy to examine the consequences of those revelations as the tightening familial loops meets the return to a leaner structure. By Return of the Jedi, Luke would be fully formed as his black robed Hamlet, wavering not between action and indecision but the universal spiritual concepts of light and dark. The story of how he got there just feels so much more compelling…

Holiday destinations

This is a huge galaxy… Episode V is intent on using the Battle of Hoth to force our apart.

The change to ice from the cold space and hot desert of the first film sits prettier in the hindsight of Vader’s fiery creation on the planet Mustafar, committed to film over two decades later in Episode III. The switch stands up to scrutiny in much the same way that themed ice and fire levels do in videogame platformers; it was something that no space operas had the vision or finance to attempt before, even if such intentions existed on screen, and rammed one thing home: This was a huge galaxy. And every entry in the saga would widen it further up until The Force Awakens chose familiarity. That’s a central tenet to George Lucas’ Star Wars films that he always stayed true to, and no doubt one of the reasons behind his inability to withhold criticism of the most recent instalment. The subtlety of that film’s Jakku being a cold desert planet compared to Tatooine’s hot and arid desert eco-system is lost against the broad palette of the original and prequel trilogies. But as iconic as the Battle of Hoth that opens Empire is (albeit 25 minutes in), the film doesn’t feel the need to stay there for long. While Episode IV brought our heroes together, Episode V is intent on using that battle to force them apart.

Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope

Behind the scenes consistency

Nature may abhor a vacuum, Star Wars makes a meal of it.

The original Star Wars trilogy benefits from a remarkable strength of consistency.  That overcame the uncertainty that run through the first film’s production all the way up to release, the three-year gap between each sequel and the changing personnel behind the scenes. Lucas was a constant of course, although as he stepped back from directing and writing chores. And it’s clear that The Empire Strikes Back’s benefitted from the addition of some high quality creators. Nature may abhor a vacuum; Star Wars makes a meal of it. And some of those new creators came from unexpected quarters.

Far from the beach retreat that marked the end of Lucas’ short film career in a parallel universe, the few years that followed the release of the first Star Wars film found the producer-director in wildly different circumstances. His science-fiction project had vastly exceeded expectations, unleashing a phenomenon and changing Hollywood in the process. And against the norm, Lucas proceeded to finance the sequel himself, all $30-odd million of it. Not having had the easiest ride directing the first instalment, and having taken on increasing responsibilities producing the work of his freshly minted special effects company ILM as well as the brewing Indiana Jones franchise, he sought a new director. And who better than someone who tutored him at film school? Against early protestations, Lucas insisted Irvin Kershner, previously known for smaller, character-based fare, helm the hottest sequel in Hollywood.  Kershner would make a name on action franchises through the next two decades, including the rogue James Bond film Never Say Never Again three years later, but Empire remained his finest hour. Continue reading “Snow Boots: Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”

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””

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