How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part Two: Decepticontinuity

Welcome to the next piece in a new sub-series of ‘How to Fix’, revolving around the monumental task of fixing the Transformers movies, which started in 2007 with Transformers and have since become infamous for their paper-thin character development, over-dependence on CGI and racist or otherwise offensive content. Since fixing such an infamously bad franchise can hardly be done in just over one thousand words, this ‘How to Fix’ feature has been broken down into parts, and each part has been broken down into segments, Part One dealt with several missed opportunities of the series’ basic foundation, including the odd characterisation of Optimus Prime and the use of classic characters for cheap shock value deaths in later sequels. This piece opens with another great missed opportunity that could have made the Transformers movies great:

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Megatron

Although there is very little wrong with Megatron as he is presented in the first film, gradually, like Optimus, his original character begins to fall away and is replaced with an aimless idiot. For a start, it has to be asked – what was the actual reason for Megatron being on Earth? Each film gives a different reason. Initially he’s there because he was hunting the Allspark, but it is later implied that he was there at the behest of the Fallen, and then later, to meet Sentinel Prime. Overall it seems Megatron is treated as whatever the film needs him to be as the cackling villain, and rather than have him come up with a devious scheme in each film in a similar fashion to G1, instead the Decepticon leader often plays second fiddle to other evil Transformers, to the extent that he has less than ten minutes of screen time in the entire of Dark of the Moon.

Ultimately, like so many other things in this iteration of the iconic franchise, Megatron was wasted. The greatest tragedy was that Hugo Weaving was great as Megatron, and he steals every scene he is in and clearly had a great time recording his lines, which enhances his performance. In fact, it is safe to say that Megatron is one of the best things about the series as a whole. The issue with him is that he barely features, and when he is featured, he is usually playing the Starscream role to some other generic villain, which as a knock-on effect damages Starscream’s character as he is given very little to do in these movies and the audience has to be outright told by Megatron that Starscream is ‘traitorous’ because that’s what he was like in G1, but the film spends absolutely no time establishing this.

Still, back to Megatron, the concept of another Cybertronian villain working alongside Megatron only to be betrayed or otherwise undone by the leader of a faction that literally define themselves around their abilities of deception would have been fantastic, and we see an inkling of this in Dark of the Moon, in which Megatron eventually backstabs Sentinel Prime in a final moment of glory before being unceremoniously beheaded by the power-mad Optimus. However, Megatron’s overall motives and even basic character lose even more focus in the final two movies, as the character becomes Galvatron in Transformers 4 only to the revert back to Megatron in Transformers 5, and by that point it was clear that the writers held no regard for even basic continuity between films.

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The Decepticons

In the original Transformers cartoon, the Decepticons were as diverse and recognisable as the Autobots, which was essential as the series was designed to sell as many toys as possible, and it stood to reason that kids would want a diverse and recognisable cast of villains in their favourite franchise. However, Michael Bay didn’t seem to think so, as when producing the new Transformers films he not only limited the Decepticons in terms of their character but also their visual design. The original film does, to its credit, attempt to make each Decepticon distinctive from one another, but even as early as the second film any hope of Decepticon characters beyond Megatron, Starscream and Soundwave getting any development at all were dashed as the producers opted to make the Decepticons a faceless generic army of evil-looking robots – most of the Decepticons in the second film don’t even possess vehicle modes.

In similar fashion to the shortcomings of having a new villain depose Megatron in each film, the movies also suffer from ‘trailer syndrome’ – the idea that each film has to have a bigger and more powerful Decepticon than the last in order to put something explosive in the trailer. The second Transformers film started this with a combination of ‘Wheelbot’ and Devastator – both of whom share a combined screen time of about eight minutes in the actual film, yet make up the majority of the trailers. Transformers 3 had Shockwave and the Driller, which again appeared very briefly in the film and were easily dispatched. Unfortunately, in a fashion similar to how the films used the Autobots for cheap emotive deaths, the iconic Decepticon characters were also squandered for cheap action sequences. Transformers 3 is particularly bad for this, as Shockwave, Soundwave, Starscream and Megatron are all dispatched too soon for the sake of an action sequence.

But it isn’t just the main Decepticons that suffer the wrath of Michael Bay’s total disregard for character – as the films progressed the once threatening Decepticon forces were reduced to mindless fodder. In the first Transformers film, total of six Decepticons are featured with each having a unique body type and vehicle form. Most take part in the final battle, during which a lot of time is dedicated to the humans and what remains of the Autobots figuring out each individual Decepticon’s weakness and taking it out. However, by Transformers 3 the Decepticons have inexplicably obtained an army of soldiers despite Transformers 2 asserting that they are running short of energon and that the ‘hatchlings’ keep dying. Again, note that the Decepticons seem to be driven by desperation in these films – rather than by a lust for conquest as in the original series. The fact that Optimus seems completely indifferent to the fact that his race is nearing extinction and Megatron just wants to do something about it makes the audience question the basic foundations of the story.

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Each New Bot on the Block

As previously discussed, this franchise suffers badly from the repeated use of the ‘bigger baddie’ – the idea that the villain you thought was the strongest and most powerful villain in the series is surpassed by an even bigger villain. The problem with re-using this idea is that it quickly becomes cheapened – to recap, Megatron is upstaged by the Fallen in Transformers 2, Sentinel Prime in Transformers 3, Lockdown in Transformers 4 and Quintessa in Transformers 5 with no explanation given as to why, after four attempts at working with another evil Transformer, Megatron doesn’t decide to just go it alone for once. The series even went to the trouble of reformatting Megatron into Galvatron for the fourth film, which would have been the prime opportunity to bring him back as the main villain for the series, except his role is reduced to a lackey for Attinger and eventually a minor threat compared to Lockdown.

The repeated sidelining of Megatron coupled with the films lack of basic continuity not only makes Megatron’s true motives for being on Earth unclear but also contributes massively to the decay of the threat posed by each film’s newest Decepticon army. Despite the loss of fan-favourites like Ironhide and Ratchet to the new big bad of Transformers 3 and 4, respectably, the true irony is that even with Leonard Nimoy voicing Sentinel Prime and the inherently interesting idea of a faction-less villain in Lockdown the films fall short of realising the potential that Megatron himself had as a villain. In many ways, the character could have stayed dead at the end of the first film and it would have made very little difference to later films.

Though it cannot be said that Sentinel Prime and Lockdown weren’t good villains, others like The Fallen were less than impressive, and Shockwave may as well have not even been in Dark of the Moon since he did absolutely nothing and then died. If it wasn’t for the less effective usurper villains, the few good ones would be far more effective.

Next in this series is Part 3 of How to Fix – Transformers, in which we shall discuss the continual re-use of another lazy writing trope, the ‘chosen one’ prophecy, as well as several others, with the recurring theme of each film starting with a ‘reset’ of sorts.

Next: Part Three – Good Plots in Disguise

 

Doctor Who – Big Finish – I, Davros Review

Davros, arguably one of the most iconic and recognisable characters in the history of Doctor Who, is also legendary for being one of the series’ least developed. As villains go, Davros is very much a ‘Palpatine’ kind of villain – as far as the TV show goes, he’s evil and that’s that, with no explanation or further extrapolation required. This is by no means a bad thing, in fact many of the best villains are the ones that are just inherently insane, but Big Finish had already had one spat at developing Davros’ character in the aptly named Main Range audio Davros, and in that story they presented a previously unseen angle to the character of Davros that left listeners wanting more. As such, Big Finish took a leap of faith and created the I,Davros series – a four-part prelude to Genesis of the Daleks, with each part showcasing an important moment in Davros’ life on Skaro, from his boyhood to the day he received his injuries.

Innocence

Innocence_cover.jpgThe first audio in the series depicts Davros as a child, in a similar fashion to The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar from Series 9, although the circumstances are starkly different. Depicted as a self-entitled prodigy rather than a defenceless victim, this version of child Davros invokes little pity from the audience, as even in his youth it is clear that the Davros we all know is already beginning to emerge. However, the show is stolen by an unlikely candidate – the cunning Calcula, mother of Davros and perhaps the best addition to his backstory. Cold and ruthless, Calcula’s depiction in this audio makes it clear where Davros gets his sadistic or unfeeling tendencies. Some of the material depicted in this audio is fascinating, particularly as a fan of Genesis of the Daleks, as the Kaled history and culture is expanded upon as well as the history of the Thousand-Year war.

Purity

Purity_coverThe second story in the series expands on Davros’ military career and his attempts to be transferred to the Kaled Scientific Corps. Now thirty years of age, Davros is as ruthless as ever but is held back by his commanding officers, something that frustrates him throughout the story and drives his desire for power and influence. His lack of conscience is also expanded upon, as even when confronted with physical reminders of his horrors he has committed, he remains as pitiless as ever. One of the most interesting recurring themes throughout this series is the fact that Davros was already Davros before he was injured, and the excuse that his raving megalomania is the result of feelings of impotence are swept aside as little more than a misconception. Ultimately, as hinted at in Davros, the horrors of war are what forged the mind of Davros – his scars were just a formality.

Corruption

Corruption_cover.jpgArguably the pinnacle of the series, Corruption depicts Davros’ rise to power in the Scientific Elite and has the most links with the audio Davros, as many of the events that are shown in that story are repeated here, but expanded upon. The highlight of this story is the return of Shan, Davros’ potential lover and eventual rival who was essential in the early development of the Dalek theory. This story also shows arguably the most important event in Davros’ life before the creation of the Daleks – the Thal attack that left him scarred, and his initial reaction to his new form. It is here that Terry Molloy demonstrates his deep understanding of the character and, despite not taking over the role of Davros until a decade after Genesis of the Daleks, he shows that he is the definitive Davros as his excellent performance is the highlight of the series.

Guilt

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This audio deals with the immediate run-up to Genesis of the Daleks, and fully realises the intent of demonstrating how life on Skaro rapidly declined over the course of the series. Now little more than a bunker, the once proud Kaled race has covered their battered city in a vast dome, and the insane Davros experiments with mutating the infant population of his own race. Highlights of this story include the introduction of a young Nyder, the expansion of the Kaled political system that was seen in Genesis, and of course the final stages of the Dalek project being completed, setting the scene for the first encounter that Sarah Jane has with Davros in the Wastelands. With the prelude complete, Guilt does a fantastic job of bridging this series with the show and creates an atmosphere that is very reminiscent of the world we saw in Genesis of the Daleks.

Conclusion

All things considered, I,Davros is an excellent depiction of the backstory of one of Doctor Who’s most iconic villains and not only does an excellent job of tying in both Davros and Genesis of the Daleks but also tells four gripping stories in its own right, many of the plot details of which have been omitted from this review as it is definitely something that is best experienced rather than simply retold. Though there are some issues with the series, such as a largely unnecessary framing device of Davros standing trial on Skaro, and the idea of him retelling his story to the Daleks making little sense as they would hardly be interested in the first place, overall this is a minor drawback that has little impact on the series as a whole. I, Davros is well worth a listen and as it is available as a bundle from the Big Finish website for just £14.79, it is one of the easiest Big Finish collections to pick up for those who are unsure of where to start with the Doctor Who audios.

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How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part One: More Than Meets the CGI

Welcome to a new sub-series of ‘How to Fix’, revolving around the monumental task of fixing the Transformers movies, which started in 2007 with Transformers and have since become infamous for their paper-thin character development, over-dependence on CGI and racist or otherwise offensive content. Since fixing such an infamously bad franchise can hardly be done in just over one thousand words, this ‘How to Fix’ feature has been broken down into parts, and each part has been broken down into segments, starting with what is arguably the biggest misstep in the Bay universe.

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Optimus Prime

The most glaring problem with the movies is Optimus Prime and how he is depicted. Gone is the wise and principled Prime from the cartoon series and in his place we are given an imposter wearing the voice and outward personality of his namesake as a mask to disguise his violent and sociopathic tendencies. We see these traits come out when this Optimus has any combat scene following Revenge of the Fallen, but in fairness, Optimus Prime in the first Transformers movie is a fairly accurate representation of the character, even down to his brutal decapitation of Bonecrusher on the highway – which in the context of the film was entirely justified, as Optimus had to prioritise saving the people on the highway.

However, in just about every combat situation from the second film onwards, Optimus Prime is a savage psychopathic brawler who seems to delight in mutilating his victims to death in a variety of grisly fashions. Gone is the wise mantra of ‘freedom is the right of all sentient beings’ that the original Optimus Prime stood by, as the Michael Bay version of Optimus has ripped people’s faces off, torn someone’s spine out with an axe, and shot a defenseless prisoner in the head with a double-barreled shotgun at point blank range. However, as all of these acts are committed against Decepticons, the films act like there is no moral baggage on Optimus’ shoulders whatsoever.

In fact, Optimus seems to be almost callously indifferent to the deaths of not only the vast majority of his species, but even his fellow comrades, as although he briefly laments Jazz’s death in the first film, not a tear is shed for Ironhide, Wheeljack or Arcee, and although he does seem appalled by the death of Ratchet in the fourth film, he uses that as an excuse to go on yet another violent rampage. Whilst Megatron has consistently voiced his desire to ensure the survival of their species throughout all five films, Optimus is insistent on stopping him, despite having no plan of his own of how to actually go about restoring Cybertron. But this brings us to the next biggest problem with the film series:

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The Autobots

The Autobots in the Michael Bay Transformers films are very strange indeed. One would assume, given what is at this point common knowledge about the Transformers series, that the Autobots would take the place of main characters and primary heroes of the series – but this is not true. The Autobots play little more than an assisting role to the heroes for all five films, and whilst Bumblebee and Optimus are given more screen time, Bumblebee is treated more like a pet and, as previously discussed, Optimus is a maniac. In the original cartoon series, characters like Ironhide, Ratchet, Jazz and Wheeljack were developed characters with their own relationships, personalities and roles within the team. In the Michael Bay movies, the Autobots are cardboard cutouts with silly voices that are in the film because the branding requires that they are there.

Throughout the entire franchise so far, aside from the cases of Optimus and Bumblebee, no attempt is made to develop any of the Autobot characters in any way, and eventually the surviving two Autobots from the first film – Ironhide and Ratchet – ended up being wasted in the exact same way that they had been in the original G1 movie – for cheap shock value deaths when the writers couldn’t think of any other way of making the film’s villains threatening. Whilst killing main characters is a good way of making the audience hate a villain, a prerequisite of this is that the character killed is actually known to the audience, and not a faceless drone. The same logic can be applied to Star Wars’s Order 66 scene – it is only emotive to superfans who know the characters from wider lore, but to the average viewer it is practically meaningless.

There is also several consistency issues with the Autobots – some appear and disappear between films with no explanation, and others appear for the first time but act as if they have been around since the beginning – either way, it is safe to say that there is a reason that Bumblebee and Optimus are the only Autobots that the audience remotely cares about – they are the only two that the film bothers to do anything interesting with, despite their potential. A reboot of the Transformers movie series should definitely focus more on the Autobots and less on the Human characters. Speaking of which:

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The Humans

Though it has been said many times, the Transformers movies focus far too much on the Human characters. At the end of the day, however, this was an inevitability – when making this kind of cartoon series into a live action film there are dozens of things that need to be taken into account, like how the average moviegoer is going to be able to relate to the film and how much money would have to be spent on CGI to animate the Autobots, if they were the main focus. However, just because there are logical reasons why the Humans have to be at least one of the main focuses of the franchise, doesn’t mean that the Humans that are featured have to be completely insane, immature social outcasts.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of the human characters depicted in this franchise are unhinged – they are either prone to constant inane chatter, buffoonish bumbling or yelps of fear – and Sam Witwicky is arguably the worst, being guilty of all three. The vast majority of characters get so little time for development that they are presented as obvious stereotypes, and though the Humans get far more screen time than the Autobots this is squandered on pointless awkward scenes – one of the worst being the scenes of Sam at his job in the third film – that completely undermine the point of the movies. It would hardly be an issue of the majority of the run time was dedicated to the Humans if the time that was spent on the Autobots wasn’t so wasted, but the final nail in this series’ coffin is that the time spent with the Humans is wasted too, so the whole thing comes across as a gigantic waste of everyone’s time.

Next in this series of completely objective and constructive articles is Part 2 of How to Fix – Transformers, in which we shall discuss Megatron, the Decepticons and the ‘Big Baddie’ syndrome that the films grew to suffer from.

Next: Part Two: Decepticontinuity

 

Doctor Who – The Best of Big Finish, Part Six

Though it has been some time since the last Best of Big Finish was released, since then Big Finish have announced dozens of new box sets so this article will showcase some of the best of Big Finish’s more recent box set releases.

Classic Doctors, New Monsters Volume One

BF-Doctor-Who-Classic-MonstersHaving a box set dedicated entirely to the concept of monsters from the New Series battling Classic Doctors is somewhat disheartening, as it implies that this is something that we will not see in the Main Range, but the payoff is worth it when listening to this box set. Each monster present is developed to a degree not seen in the TV series episodes in which they appear, and the focus of each story is on the returning monster. New Series monsters that seemed interesting but were never given the time or focus in the episode that they deserved, like the Sycorax, who were hardly the focus of their debut episode and are given more time in the limelight in Harvest of the Sycorax. The best of the box set is The Sontaran Ordeal, as it is set during the Time War and gives a small taste of the horrors of the conflict but from the perspective of the fringes of the war. In terms of best use of the returning monster, Judoon in Chains helps humanise the Judoon and is probably the most interesting of the set story-wise, although Fallen Angels does a great job of translating the Weeping Angels to the audio format.

The Diary of River Song, Series 5

river-5.jpgThough it may seem odd to include the fifth instalment of a series of box sets, this collection is entirely standalone and requires no prior context from previous River Song stories. What it does require, however, is a love of the Doctor’s arch-enemy the Master, as each of the four stories in this set features an incarnation of the evil Time Lord battling River Song. The first audio features Missy, at a point in time before she first met the Twelfth Doctor and still believes that River Song is the one responsible for the Doctor’s death. The story revolves around this concept from Series 6, but a lot of the actual conversation between Missy and River refers to many situations in the Classic series, and even a few references to other parts of Who canon too. Geoffrey Beevers appears as the decayed Master in Animal Instinct, and is the only true Classic Master to appear yet he stands out even among the dynamic newer Master incarnations. This box set also features the first appearance of Eric Robert’s incarnation of the Master, as well as the return of Derek Jacobi’s War Master, fresh from the Time War. Talking of which…

The War Doctor – Only the Monstrous

dwtwd01_onlythemonstrous_1417sq_cover_large.jpgBig Finish’s decision to fully elaborate on the events of the Time War after the 50th Anniversary came as no surprise, but John Hurt’s performance as well as the quality of the writing blew any potential naysayers out of the water when the first box set was released. People had been concerned that fully depicting the Time War would detract from the mystery, and whilst that is perhaps still true, the audio format allows for much to still be left to the imagination and allows for a depiction of the conflict that would not be possible on-screen. The first of four War Doctor box sets, the three stories featured focus mainly on the War Doctor coming to terms with his new role as a warrior, and do not feature the Time War’s events as directly as later releases, allowing for a lot of room for the War Doctor’s character to be firmly established.

The Sixth Doctor – The Last Adventure

51Prc9jSJ8L._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWith the horrendous ordeal surrounding Colin Baker’s departure from the Classic Series and the subsequent botched regeneration scene that bridged the Sixth and Seventh Doctor at the start of Time and the Rani, there was a lot left to be interpreted by what we saw on-screen. For a start, there is a narrative gap between Colin Baker’s final story, The Ultimate Foe, and Sylvester McCoy’s first story, one of many throughout the Sixth Doctor’s era that allowed Big Finish to expand his timeline by adding hundreds of new stories. However, in The Last Adventure, Big Finish aims to tell a number of stories that lay the groundwork for the events that would lead up to the opening scene of Time and the Rani. What they produced is a box set of four fantastic stories that each take place at different points in the Sixth Doctor’s life, each with a different companion. This proves to be a great tribute to Colin Baker’s era not only at Big Finish but as the Sixth Doctor in general, and his regeneration scene is as poignant and heartwarming as any of the New Series regenerations.

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How to Fix – Star Trek: Voyager

In this edition of ‘How to Fix’ the topic covered will be much broader than usual, as this piece will attempt to put forward several ways in which the concept of Star Trek: Voyager could have been better implemented into the show by the writers. On paper, the premise of Voyager is excellent and innovative for Star Trek – the idea how a Federation ship and crew would survive in a hostile part of the Galaxy for years, how the morals and tenants of the Federation would be tested by the situation, and how the Maquis and Federation crewmembers would eventually adapt and change to accept each other and take on the challenges that the Delta Quadrant throws at them is fantastic, but the true potential of this was never fully realised in the series.

To its credit, Star Trek: Voyager was able to implement many of these things and more into its seven season run, with one of the show’s primary themes for the early seasons being survival at all costs and the growing relationships between the crewmembers taking centre stage later on, but overall the final result feels lacklustre and many in the Star Trek fanbase have reacted by ranking Voyager as their least favourite of the Berman-era Star Trek shows. Whilst there is a lot to love about Star Trek Voyager, there is also a lot that could be improved, starting with:

The Setting

voyagerThe ship for which the series is named, the Intrepid-class starship the USS Voyager proves to be a sturdy example of a Federation starship throughout the series, earning it a top spot on some Federation starship rankings, but after seven seasons of being battered by all kinds of Delta Quadrant hostiles from Kaizon to Borg one would think the ship would have shown signs of more wear-and-tear, but oddly, the ship looks pristine throughout. Although this was likely done to reduce budget and continuity concerns, having Voyager look progressively more battered as the series went on would have been a nice touch to effectively convey to the audience the dire situation the ship is in. As previously mentioned, the early seasons did make a convincing deal out of the crew being stranded, such as implementing replicator rations and having the ship have to salvage fuel and repair parts, but later on the crew of the ship seemed to regard their trip as business as usual and not the death-defying voyage of fear and trepidation that it was made out to be in the early seasons. We get a glimpse of what this might have looked like in episodes like Year of Hell, which certainly portray in interesting alternate angle on the Voyager crew’s situation that makes their actual journey through the Delta Quadrant look like a routine scout mission.

The Maquis

maquis.jpgAnother interesting plot element to Voyager that was seemingly abandoned as the series progressed was the idea that a significant portion of the crew are made up of members of the Maquis, a terrorist organisation that opposed the Cardassians and, through treaty, the Federation itself. There are some episodes early on that deal with the difficult dynamic between these two crews, particularly the plight of B’Ellana Torres, who goes from authority-hating upstart to Chief Engineer (albeit over the course of a surprisingly small number of episodes) but overall the Maquis were an underused concept. What didn’t help was that Chakotay, the First Officer of Voyager and leader of the Maquis crewmembers, was as boring as a cardboard cutout and by extension his initial subplot in the first season was too. The show should have kept the Maquis plotlines running for longer, as having Seska turn up as a recurring Maquis antagonist eventually just became one of the many unrealistic things about the show that distracted attention away from the other Maquis crewmembers. If used properly, the idea of having Maquis crew could be an interesting test to the Federation way of life, particularly if a more hot-headed Chakotay had stood up to Janeway’s mad antics a little more.

The Crew

Star-Trek-Voyager-Season-4-Postere-nobyai3awks3woq3z1rcm86gr6wqlk8w24nn5mug3c.jpgChakotay isn’t the only character on Voyager with series issues surrounding writing, as characters like Neelix, Seven of Nine and Harry Kim are written so many contradicting story arcs that all three seem like totally unrealistic characters. The audience is left unsure what to feel about Harry Kim throughout the show, as he sometimes comes across as a lovable buffoon but at other times seems to be clearly incompetent, and is actually replaced by a parallel universe duplicate partway through the series and nobody seems to care. However, by far the character in the main crew that needs the most improvement is Janeway herself – although Kate Mulgrew does an impressive performance and the character has become one of the most famous Star Trek characters of all time, unfortunately she was written to be deliberately obnoxious and, at times, reckless, and whilst this would have been a great direction for the character had it come on through some moralistic dilemma after being stranded in the Delta Quadrant for so long, Janeway seems to be wired this way from the start and it seems odd that she was not put in command of one of Starfleet’s warships.

The Borg

seven.pngTo say that Voyager ruined the Borg is clearly an understatement as they reached a peak in The Next Generation that would never be topped – the villain decay they experienced over the course of Voyager was an inevitable side effect of them becoming a primary villain near the end of the show, and to its credit the series did utilise them fairly effectively at first, only to have their fear factor slowly diminish over the years as they appeared again and again. However, one of the main factors that contributed to the decay of the Borg as villains was the introduction of Seven of Nine, who clearly attempts to imitate the ‘Data’ type of character that has become customary in Star Trek but was also used as a means of artificially injecting some ‘sex appeal’ into the series after falling ratings, and it shows. When Seven of Nine is introduced she practically takes over the show, and potentially interesting character arcs for other characters were sidelined in favour of her, and although her love-hate relationship with the Borg is an interesting plot thread to introduce after she is separated from the collective, this should not have been the main plot of the series from Season 3 onward.

Janeway

janeway.jpgHowever, a pressing issue that spans the entirety of the series is Janeway herself – although clearly a capable Captain, able to get her crew back home from the Delta Quadrant more or less in one piece and negotiate peace treaties with a variety of Delta Quadrant races. However, her actions are often questioned by her crew, and despite her insistence on adherence to protocol, Janeway breaks the Prime Directive several times over the course of the series, as well as committing several other dubiously moral acts such as the execution of Tuvix. Ultimately, Janeway exists as a sort of ‘necessary evil’ in the series – as the one most capable of making tough decisions, Janeway was most qualified to be Captain during Voyager’s stay in the Delta Quadrant. However, it is fitting that Janeway was promoted to the Admiralty before Picard, as Janeway’s character profile far better suits the insane megalomania and habit of ‘making the hard decisions’ that Starfleet Admirals so often display.

Although Voyager lasted for seven seasons, the same length as both TNG and DS9, it is often the lowest rated of the Berman-era Star Trek shows – perhaps unfairly. After all, it was dealing with concepts new to Star Trek, and for a first attempt it does manage to tell a self-contained story and deliver a fair amount of excellent individual episodes. Particular strengths of the series include the character development of the EMH Doctor, and many Star Trek fans are now less harsh on Voyager following the mixed reception of both Enterprise and Discovery. However, its faults are notable, and hopefully by laying them out future Star Trek shows can learn from the mistakes of this underloved but overstuffed show.

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Doctor Who – Top 10 Big Finish Cyberman Stories

Big Finish has been producing the Doctor Who Main Range (formerly called the Monthly Range) since 1999 and is therefore fast approaching its 20th anniversary of creating Doctor Who audio dramas. Big Finish have not produced as many Cyberman audios as they have Dalek ones, but after 20 years of production, there is still a significant number of excellent Cyberman stories. This article ranks the best of the Big Finish Cyberman stories, starting with:

#10 – The Gathering

Gathering_(Doctor_Who)The Gathering has a strange place in the Cyberman story pantheon in that it doesn’t feature any actual Cybermen, but rather deals with the horrific aftermath of a Cyber incursion. This audio tells the kind of story that would be unlikely to appear in the TV series, and not only because it features some gruesome body horror, but the story also serves as Tegan’s return to the Fifth Doctor’s life after several years, and the focus on this aspect of the story, coupled with the lack of any actual Cybermen, is what puts this instalment at the bottom of the list. However, that is not to say it is a bad story, and it is an audio that Peter Davison fans should definitely check out.

#9 – Last of the Cybermen

dwmr199_last_of_the_cybermen_cover_large.jpgA homage to the Cyber-War plot from the early Cyberman stories, Last of the Cybermen depicts humankind’s final assault on Telos in an effort to wipe out the Cybermen for good. Featuring the Sixth Doctor alongside Second Doctor companions Jamie and Zoe, this audio has many twists and turns and has a terrifying depiction of the conversion process but is somewhat deflated by its pacing issues and underwhelming conclusion. Although it is fun to have Jamie and Zoe back fighting Cybermen, this was done far better in Legend of the Cybermen and as such this audio is further down the list than it would otherwise have been.

#8 – Human Resources

human resources.jpgThe final two-part story to the first series of Eighth Doctor Adventures, Human Resources Parts One and Two are an excellent conclusion to the strong first outing for the Eighth Doctor and new companion Lucie, played by Sheridan Smith. The story arc of the series is brought to a satisfying close and the Headhunter also makes an appearance, although the Cybermen themselves do not feature until quite a way through the story – which is good for tension, but means that there is not as much time for Cyber-action as is normally the case in 2-hour long audio plays.

#7 – Hour of the Cybermen

DWMR240_hourofthecybermen_alt_1417.jpgThe newest Cyberman story in the Main Range, Hour of the Cybermen is set on Earth and is a rare example of a Sixth Doctor UNIT story. The premise is simple – the Doctor arrives on Earth only to find that the UK has been afflicted with a terrible drought – but only the UK, not the rest of Europe (perhaps a veiled political message?) and eventually the Cybermen are revealed to be behind it. What makes this audio unique is the fact that it features the return of David Banks and Mark Hardy, who played the Cyber-Leader and Cyber-Lieutenant in Earthshock, The Five Doctors, Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis. Their iconic voices make this audio a real treat, and although Nicholas Briggs does a fantastic Cyberman voice, it is good to hear the old voices back again.

#6 – Sword of Orion

dwmr017_swordoforion_1417_cover_large.jpgSpeaking of Nicholas Briggs, Sword of Orion was the first story he wrote for the Eighth Doctor and the Cybermen in the Main Range, as well as being the first Cyberman story Big Finish produced. The format is simple but effective, which is particularly good considering the fact that this is Charley Pollard’s first ride in the TARDIS. The Cybermen also get some great action in this story, and their sinister nature is portrayed excellently in several scenes, particularly a gruesome encounter that the Doctor has with a Cyber-conversion plant that has stalled in mid-production = leaving the partly-converted victims to die horribly. Overall, this story is a strong instalment for the Cybermen, but doesn’t quite do enough new with them to warrant being in the top five.

#5 – The Reaping

The_Reaping_coverThe first Sixth Doctor to feature the Cybermen also features Peri, and deals heavily with her family and backstory meaning that those who are not fans of this particular companion may be immediately turned off this story. However, the concept itself is novel, with the idea of a highly futuristic Cyberman turning recently deceased humans into more Cybermen is similar to the concept for the New Series finale Death in Heaven, and that episode’s focus on the companion is also shared by this audio. Peri’s tragic story coupled with some really grisly Cyberman scenes makes this audio a must-listen for fans, particularly since it sets up several elements for both The Harvest and The Gathering.

#4 – Legend of the Cybermen

61lCIfV0rALAs previously mentioned, Legend of the Cybermen is a fantastic story involving the Sixth Doctor alongside Jamie and Zoe, and features the Cybermen invading the Land of Fiction from the Second Doctor story The Mind Robber. For those who haven’t seen that episode, it was essentially introduced as an excuse for the production team to use lots of historical and fantasy props for an episode, but ended up as a psychedelic journey through a crazy land featuring several fictional characters, and in this audio the Cybermen arrive there to convert them all. As the Cybermen work from an angle of total logic, this story depicts a sort of holy war for them, as they try to wipe the ‘scourge’ of fiction from the land.

#3 – The Harvest

dwmr058_theharvest_1417_cover_large.jpgThe first and arguably best of the loose ‘Cyberman Trilogy’ of The Harvest, The Reaping and The Gathering, this Seventh Doctor audio features the debut of Hex as well as the first encounter that the Seventh Doctor and Ace have had with the Cybermen since Silver Nemesis. The story focuses not only on Hex encountering the Doctor and Ace but also the side story of the Cyber-Leader transitioning into a human, something that is fascinating to listen to. With some great dialogue between the Doctor and the three main antagonists of the story, as well as the computer ‘System’, The Harvest is definitely one of the best Cyberman stories in the Big Finish back-catalogue.

#2 – The Silver Turk

20141022095558dwmr153_thesilverturk_1417_cover_largeThough the Eighth Doctor has a fair few Cyberman stories, this is his first and (so far) only encounter with the Mondasian Cybermen. The premise of having Mary Shelley in the TARDIS makes for a fascinating listen, particularly as she begins to feel sympathy for the Cybermen. Over the course of the story, several Mondasian Cybermen are used as marionettes and performers, and although they are somewhat sympathetic, they are also horrifying in their own right, and there are some really creative ideas that come together well in this story – but to give away any more would certainly venture in the territory of spoilers.

Honourable Mention – The Isos Network

dwea0204_theisosnetwork_1417_cover_large.jpgAlthough some fans will be put off by the more traditional ‘talking book’ style of the audio adventures of earlier Doctors, there are some genuine gems in amongst the catalogues of the first three Doctors. The Isos Network is an excellent bridge between the final two Second Doctor Cyberman episodes, and although there are some strange concepts included in this story, such as giant sentient slugs, the Cybermen are still fantastic in this story and the voices in particular are excellent.

#1 – Spare Parts

dwmr034v_spareparts_1417_cover_largeThe top spot, however, goes to Spare Parts, a story that serves as the origin story for the Mondasian Cybermen and has several links with the final First Doctor story, The Tenth Planet. Pitting the more human and fallible Fifth Doctor against the Genesis of the Cybermen was a fantastic move, as it sets up a dark and gritty tale that gives Genesis of the Daleks a run for its money, and that’s saying something. The gloomy world of Mondas with its desperate, hopeless inhabitants is countered by the down-to-Earth and optimistic Hartman family, and their tragic story helps drive the emotional weight of the story. The Cybermen themselves are at their best in this story, creepy and intimidating, and Nicholas Briggs does a fantastic impression of the original Mondasian Cybermen voices. Filling out its four parts nicely, this audio is a great jumping-on point for new listeners and is perhaps one of the greatest Big Finish audios of all time.

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Star Wars – Battlefront II Conversion Pack v2.3 Review

Following up on last week’s article comparing EA’s Battlefront II with the original Star Wars: Battlefront II from 2005, this review will cover something slightly different but still related to the original Battlefront II. One of the major selling points for the original Battlefront II is the mods, and one that many consider essential is the Battlefront II Conversion Pack v2.3, a mod that adds dozens of new features to the game including new maps, new units, new heroes, new weapons and new vehicles. What makes this mod important is that it also adds many of the maps and features of the original Star Wars: Battlefront to the game,including the beloved Bespin: Platforms.

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What’s Old

Many of the original Battlefront’s maps were fans favourites, including Geonosis: Spire, Kashyyyk: Docks and Rhen Vhar: Harbor, and the look and feel of the original Battlefront is replicated in this mod through the use of the ‘Classic Conquest’ mode, which aims to faithfully re-create the original Battlefront, even down to removing the sprint feature. Lots of the old maps are also playable in normal Conquest mode with the new units and vehicles, but the mod also ensures to retain the original Star Wars: Battlefront II as well – playing on Conquest mode on the original maps from the game gives you the classic Battlefront II experience with no significant additions – and many of the original maps have added modes that include the new units and vehicles.

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What’s Even Older

kotor.pngProbably one of this mod’s biggest selling points is the addition of a whole new era – the KOTOR era, set four thousand years before the events of A New Hope, based on the legendary Knights of the Old Republic games. This era is included on almost every map, and even sports its own Space map, and features many units from the KOTOR era including Dark Jedi Acolytes, T3-Units, Sith Heavy Troopers and the surprisingly effective Jedi Gunman. One slight drawback with this era is the total exclusion of all vehicles on ground maps, something that makes maps like Bespin: Platforms and Hoth somewhat redundant. However, the Heroes in this mode are varied and exciting, and there is even a Hero Assault option enabled on most viable maps for the KOTOR era, meaning you can pit all the KOTOR Heroes against each other in a similar fashion to Hero Assault with Galactic Civil War. Speaking of which…

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What’s New

Torrent.jpgThis mod adds a huge range of content to both the Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War eras including new units, new classes, new vehicles, new weapons, new Heroes, new modes and overall a generally improved gameplay experience compared to the standard game. Every new map now features several new classes, and as points are earned the player is ‘promoted’ until eventually unlocking the Commander class, which is a boon-focused unit with a powerful blaster and an orbital strike droid. Before that, however, the player unlocks a Commando class, and for the Clone Wars era the Clone Commando is used for the Republic faction from the game Star Wars: Republic Commando, which is a fantastic detail in itself, but the Commando class itself is perhaps the best part of the game – it completed changes the gameplay, as you get stronger and more versatile weapons to the point that it feels like you’re playing as a Hero.

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What’s Even Newer

The fun doesn’t stop there, however, as there has been a patch and even a content update for this mod – the latter of which adds the ability to play Galactic Conquest in the KOTOR era, even adding the KOTOR era ships and fully integrated with the standard Galactic Conquest system of unit and bonus purchases coupled with the strategic fleet movement.
This mod also features countless other brand new features that add even more to an already bountiful mod. Hunt mode is now expanded to feature the KOTOR era and more maps, including Felucia, Polis Massa, the Death Star and even the maps from the original Battlefront. A new Order 66 mode pits Jedi against Clones on a variety of maps, and there is even a mode that pits random creature Jedi against various bounty hunters, and playing as a Jawa Jedi is hilarious.

drallig.pngNot only that, but there are several new versions of classic modes that are spread across the various maps. Trying out different combinations of modes and eras can lead to some unexpected and sometimes hilarious results, such as pitting KOTOR-era Sith against Ewoks, Mandalorians against Sith Assassins on Kamino, Clones against Acklay on Felucia or even Jedi vs Sith in the Death Star.

The best thing about the Conversion Pack mod is how much it makes the 2005 Star Wars: Battlefront II feel like a totally new game, whilst at the same time preserving everything that fans loved about the original. Not only that, but it also incorporates elements from some of the most popular Star Wars games out there, from adding the maps of the 2003 Battlefront, to the addition of the KOTOR era, to even something as simple as adding in the Commando class, clearly this mod was created by true Star Wars fans who understand what players want from a Star Wars Battlefront game.

EA should be taking notes.

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