Halo MCC – The PC Release of the Master Chief Collection could Save the Series

In a stunning move, 343 industries have exceeded fans’ expectations two-fold by not only announcing that Halo: Reach will be added to MCC, a wild but popular fan request, but also announcing that the long-awaited PC release for MCC is imminent and, remarkably, the game will be available on Steam. This is perhaps the biggest piece of Halo gaming news since the announcement of Halo: Infinite, and fans are ecstatic.

This can only mean good things for the Halo community, as provided that 343 doesn’t make the same mistakes as they did with MCC’s Xbox One release back in 2014, the Halo community is going to grow with a new influx of PC players who are either newcomers to the franchise and are curious or nostalgic former fans, perhaps those who never bought an Xbox One and switched to either Playstation or PC, who will now take the opportunity to revisit the franchise.

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Xbox 360 Era Halo Games are coming to PC at last on the MCC –

Another important thing to note is that the release of MCC on PC will mark the first time that Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Halo 4 will be released officially on the PC. In fact, a mainline Halo game hasn’t been released on PC since Halo 2 Vista in the mid 2000s, so this announcement is a big leap forward for Halo in the PC community. With the inclusion of the full classic multiplayer systems for all the Halo games, as well as Firefight, Spartan Ops, Forge, Theater, and not to mention the Campaigns for every classic Halo game, MCC in its current state is quite an impressive game in terms of content.

However, there are some technical conditions to this release regardless of what version of MCC you have – for console users, Reach’s Campaign and Firefight are premium DLC, whilst the multiplayer and forge are available for free. For PC users, each game in the MCC will release separately in chronological order – that is, starting with Reach, then CE, then 2, and so on. 343 industries have decided to release MCC on PC in this way to ensure that there are as few issues as possible with the release and to mitigate any immediate problems. Whilst this may frustrate some PC users who really want to play Halo 2 Anniversary or Halo 3 on PC, this is a good sign that 343 industries are have learned from the mistakes of the original release of MCC in 2014.

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More NEW Content for the MCC is Coming

To get involved in what is essentially the Beta for Halo MCC (starting with Halo: Reach) on PC, and the concurrent Beta for Halo: Reach on the console version of MCC, it is possible to sign up to the Halo Insider program via the Halo Waypoint site.

The PC release and the inclusion of Reach are not the only pieces of good news, however. 343 industries also confirmed in the same announcement that the long-awaited Custom Games Browser is also coming to MCC. This will allow players to search for live Custom Games and join them as they would a Social Matchmaking game. This makes it much easier for players to set up their own Custom Games with enough players to test a forge map, try out a wacky game mode, or just host their own matches on the classic maps or modes they love that don’t pop up as often in Matchmaking. This is already a feature of Halo 5: Guardians and it was perhaps the best thing added to the game since Jorge’s Chaingun, and it was able to give the game a dignified send off as its impressively long post-release life came to an end at last.

However, as bombastic and exciting as all this glamorous news is, let us not forget that this isn’t even the full extent of the work that 343 industries is doing on the Master Chief Collection. In fact, months before this update dropped, a previous update to MCC that added new Skulls to Halo: CE also came with a promise that more content is being created for the classic Halo games, particularly new game modifiers in the form of either Skulls from later Halo titles being created for their classic predecessors, or even brand new Skulls that are being developed and tested by 343 industries behind the scenes. Factor in the Halo: Reach release, and the fact that Halo is coming to PC, and this opens up some exciting new opportunities, particularly with the idea of Custom Skulls, an idea that several fans have put forward as a possible means 343 industries could use to bringing modding to MCC on PC. Speaking of which…

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Will Modding the MCC on PC be Possible?

Although not every fan would necessarily ask for it as a feature, the idea of including modding capability for Halo: MCC on PC has been thrown around. For one, we know that modding Halo on PC is hardly a new idea – mods have been created for Halo: CE (via the official Halo: Custom Edition), Halo 2 Vista (but only just) and even Halo 5: Forge for PC, and we have already covered a popular new mod that was recently released for Halo: CE on Sacred Icon before – known as Halo: SPV3, this incredible mod is a full conversion that adds features from many other games to the original Halo and expands the weapon sandbox, levels and enemy variety. Could this kind of content become available for all the games included in the MCC for PC in the future? Could we see a new renaissance of the Classic Halo portfolio thanks to the ability of the community to continuously create new content?

Given that games like Skyrim or Star Wars Battlefront II, both games that have been available for a considerable number of years, still have a massive playerbase thanks to the release of new mods, it could well be possible that the Halo community, which has suffered more than a few distinct schisms and crises since 343 industries took over the series, may finally come together once again in the way that the original release of the MCC back in 2014 was intended to.

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How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part Three: Good Plots in Disguise

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 Two focused on the mishandling of many of the series’ villains, particularly relating to continuity, and this carries over into this piece focusing on the various plot devices, MacGuffins, and other contrivances used in the series.

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The Allspark and the Matrix

As MacGuffins go, the Allspark isn’t half bad – it is basically the lifegiver for Transformers, at least that is how it is depicted, and for the first two films it is a very important factor in the stories even after its destruction. If the films has continued to revolve specifically around the Allspark or the knowledge it contains, then the series would be much more cohesive. For all its flaws, Revenge of the Fallen does at least try to continue the importance of the Allspark by having the plot kick off by the discovery of two surviving shards of the cube, but by Dark of the Moon the Allspark is all but forgotten, replaced by the Matrix of Leadership which Optimus acquires in the second film. Had it been better explained that the Allspark power had been somehow transferred to the Matrix then this would explain how it can be used to revive the dead, but this still does not explain why Optimus does not use the Matrix to create more Autobots, or revive dead ones like Jazz and Jetfire. The later films decide to simply write out the Matrix altogether, which although servicing the plot does little to expand the continuity.

Ultimately, this is a symptom of poor pre-planning – undoubtedly the Transformers films were not planned in advance, and each one was essentially a standalone project – this explains other discrepancies between films, such as the designs of the Transformers changing or the physics of the universe fundamentally shifting – for example, do Transformers bleed blood or Energon? Had the films been better planned, undoubtedly the Allspark would have made a return as implied in dialogue from Revenge of the Fallen, and Cybertron would be remade allowing the Decepticons to return home with the Autobots fortifying Earth, in a similar fashion to the cartoon series. However, the lack of continuity means that this never transpired, and unfortunately the mainline Transformers movie series suffered as a result.

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Rewriting History

Another fault that many later Transformers films suffered from was the repeated attempts to rewrite history, by either incorporating Transformers into Human mythology and lore (which is nonsense) or implying that Transformers either created, relocated or at the very least interacted with ancient humans. Although having Transformers exist as an ancient race that were once active on Earth as a plot device would work for the plot of one film, perhaps for justifying the unearthing of a hidden Decepticon army or the Matrix as in the original film. However, each and every film uses this motif in some form for each of their MacGuffins. The Allspark is buried in Hoover Dam, the Matrix is entombed in Egypt, the Pillars are buried with Sentinel on the moon and the fourth and fifth films go so far as to imply that the Earth itself is either a creation of or the host for an ancient race of Transformers. The effect is dulled by the fact that each and every major event in Earth’s history is connected in some way to Transformers – the extinction of the dinosaurs, stonehenge, the pyramids – even the moon landing – so by Transformers 6 the audience would not be surprised if it was revealed that the Transformers were somehow responsible for Brexit.

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The ‘Chosen One’

As if a constant use of different plot devices wasn’t bad enough, many of the films also try to imply a ‘Chosen One’ prophecy either with Sam, Cade, or Bumblebee – but again, like the MacGuffin complaint, this trope becomes far less effective the more it is used. However, the first film does a good job of veering away from this and opting instead for the ‘coming of age’ story for Sam. This is maintained in the third film too with his arc of being ‘the Messenger’, a role he eventually decides he fills perfectly. Overall, though he is a strange character indeed, Sam is possibly one of the best things about the series, as he is well acted by Shia LaBeouf and is generally a likeable character. Unfortunately, one of his central arcs – his relationship with Mikaela – was dashed when Megan Fox was dropped from Dark of the Moon, and although Shia is at his best in the third film, the character of Sam was dropped in favour of Cade. In an ideal world, both characters would exist simultaneously in the films and fill similar roles to Sparkplug and Spike from the original cartoon series.

If a ‘Chosen One’ prophecy concerning Optimus was fully fleshed out, that would perhaps be the only version of this trope that audiences would accept – the idea that, as a Prime, Optimus has a specific duty or role to fill that he is destined or otherwise obliged to fulfil. This idea is ham-fistedly shoved into Revenge of the Fallen with the idea that ‘only a Prime can defeat the Fallen’, but that plot thread is immediately concluded at the end of that film, and by Dark of the Moon the importance of Optimus’ rank is diminished somewhat by the inclusion of Sentinel Prime. Again, it comes down to poor planning – had all five films been planned out in advance, the series might have carried a Chosen One plot concerning Optimus with some degree of effectiveness. As it is, due to the mishandling of the franchise and a lack of basic cohesion, each attempt to use a ‘Chosen One’ plotline involving destiny or a prophecy came across as a feeble attempt to give the series a deep backstory when in reality, the audience is well aware that each new film is  essentially a cash-grab, and at this point and any attempt to effective translate the heart and soul of the original Transformers cartoon into movie form has long since been squandered. Narratively, the series lies in ruins – and although commercially the franchise has been a huge success, particularly in China, for most fans the series has been a total disappointment, and no amount of sequels can fix an inherently broken backstory or inspire any kind of optimism in a generation of jaded fans.

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Conclusion

For for those fans who were initially invested in the Transformers movies, however, all hope is not lost. With the recent release of Bumblebee, the series seems to have initiated a form of ‘soft reboot’, with reshoots to the film including a redesigned Cybertron and various classic G1-inspired characters that seems to effective ‘re-write’ the backstory of the first Transformers film. Overall, though it was fun while it lasted, it seems Michael Bay’s disjointed Transformers series has come to an end, with five movies each as bizarre as the last, but from it seems to have sprung a glimmer of hope for Transformers fans that a new movie series spearheaded by people who appreciate the classic series and want to bring the nostalgic iconography to a new generation. We can only hope that new films in the series learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, and improve the quality of the films to rival high-quality cinematic universes like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

At the end of the day, attempting to fix the Michael Bay Transformers series was always going to be an impossible task. But by breaking down the flaws into these individual sections, hopefully fans can read this review and agree that, in the future, any Transformers cinematic endeavour should be pre-planned, staffed by people who appreciate the series and able to tell a unique story to the same quality of other shows and games in the Transformers franchise.

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Star Wars – Top 10 Jedi Council Members (Clone Wars Era)

In the waning days of the Galactic Republic, some extremely powerful Jedi took seats on the Jedi Council, particularly as the war began to take its toll on the Jedi Order. At the height of its power, the Jedi Council counted several of the most powerful force users to ever live among their number,  and even Darth Sidious himself would think twice about taking on the entire Council at once – hence the need for Order 66. However, there was also a distinct power hierarchy among the Council, and several members had specific duties that gave them particular importance among the Jedi. As such, this list will rank the Top 10 Jedi Council Members from the Clone Wars era.

10 – Anakin Skywalker

anakin.jpgAlthough possibly the most powerful Force user to sit on the Council, Anakin’s low rank on this list is due to how little time he actually served on the Council, and justified by the fact that he would inevitably betray them and play a key role in the destruction of the Jedi Order. However, Anakin’s raw power does make him a formidable Council Member in his own right, and although he was not granted the rank of Master, chances are had he not betrayed the Jedi he would have gone on to be one of the Council’s most powerful leading members.

9 – Yarael Poof

yaraelA prominent member of the Council before the Clone Wars, Yarael sacrificed his life to save Coruscant from a dangerous terrorist group just before the conflict started, but was still considered among the Council’s greatest members even afterwards. A master of the Affect Mind ability, Poof was known to occasionally use the force in ways that other Jedi would frown upon – such as influencing the minds of bullies to make them flee in terror from their harmless victims – but was overall a great addition to the Council and a far better choice than his successor, Coleman Trebor.

8 – Saesee Tiin

tiin.jpgA powerful Jedi who would often assist Mace Windu throughout the Clone Wars, Saesee Tiin was a renowned pilot who played a pivotal role in the Space Battle above Coruscant, during which he captured a Separatist capital ship with help from a battalion of EVA troopers. However, Saesee’s downfall came at the hands of Darth Sidious, and he became one of the first victims of the Great Jedi Purge when he was struck down by the Sith Lord during their duel.

7 – Kit Fisto

fisto.jpegAppointed to the Jedi Council during the Clone Wars, Kit Fisto was a renowned duellist and his amphibious nature made him an ideal choice for defending water-based worlds such as Mon Calamari. Often deployed on dangerous missions, Fisto was one of the few Jedi to survive and encounter with General Grievous, and his lightsaber was fitted with a second crystal to refine the blade to allow it to work underwater, making him one of the key Jedi in the Clone Wars. Like Saesee Tiin, Fisto would meet his death at the hands of Darth Sidious, but of the three Jedi Masters Mace Windu brought with him to fight Sidious, Fisto survived the longest in the duel, proving his skill in combat.

6 – Plo Koon

plo.jpgA Kel Dor from Dorin, Plo Koon was known to be among the most compassionate of the Jedi in the Order, and was responsible for the induction of Ashoka Tano into the ranks of the Jedi as well as saving the lives of many Clones during the War, believing them to be people with rights rather than expendable infantry. His key achievements during the Clone Wars include the discovery of the Separatist flagship the Malevolence and the retrieval of the long-lost Council Members Sifo-Dyas’ lightsaber.

5 – Ki-Adi Mundi

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A famous Cerean who was among the few Jedi allowed to take wives due to the rarity of his species, Ki-Adi Mundi was certainly one of the most powerful force users of the era and was a skilled duellist, able to hold his own against the most effective Jedi Hunter of the era, General Grievous. Although he supported the Cerean policy of isolationism, Mundi himself was happy to play a key role in Galactic affairs, provided that his people be left alone, and he would tragically die at the hands of his own Clone Troopers following the execution of Order 66.

4 – Shaak Ti

shaak-ti.jpegAmong the few Jedi to survive Order 66, Shaak Ti often played a defensive role during the Clone Wars, assigned to protect the vital cloning facilities on Kamino and then later reassigned to protect the Jedi Temple in the waning days of the war. Surviving several encounters with General Grievous as well as being among the few survivors of the catastrophic Battle of Hypori, Shaak Ti was clearly among the most powerful of the Jedi, and her activities on Felucia following the Rise of the Empire were pervasive enough to mobilise the force-sensitive natives of the planet against the Sith.

3 – Mace Windu

mace-windu_b35242e5.jpegServing as Grand Master of the Order for a time, Mace Windu was considered the most powerful Jedi by many, and used his unique lightsaber style as well as rare abilities that he could channel from the dark side to further the aims of the Light. Although Windu was certainly unique among the Jedi, he made no secret of this, even fashioning a purple lightsaber to distinguish himself from his comrades. Despite utilising several dark side abilities, Windu was seemingly immune to temptation, although his instinctive mistrust of Anakin would eventually lead to the Jedi’s undoing.

2 – Obi-Wan Kenobi

obi.jpgFamous for being the Master of not only Anakin but also Luke Skywalker, and a former pupil of Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan was an ideal choice to sit on the Council following the onset of the Clone Wars as his skills as a diplomat were legendary, leading him to be given the nickname ‘the Negotiator’, a name he would later bestow upon his flagship in the War. During the Clone Wars, Kenobi proved a key asset to the Council and participated in many battles on planets as important as Geonosis, Naboo, Coruscant and Kamino, as well as being the only Jedi who was able to defeat his former pupil, Anakin Skywalker. One of the few Jedi to survive the Purge, Obi-Wan played a key role in inducting Luke Skywalker into the frail remains of the Jedi Order, thus ensuring that the Empire would one day be defeated.

1 – Yoda

yodaThe last of the Jedi Council to perish following the collapse of the Order, Yoda was among the Jedi’s oldest members and served as Grand Master of the Order for years before the Clone Wars. Wise and powerful, Yoda was skilled in almost every aspect of the Force, from meditation and premonition to lightsaber skills. He duelled many of the most powerful Sith during the Clone Wars, including Count Dooku, Asajj Ventress and even Darth Sidious himself, and was a key strategist during the conflict. Showing a particular interest in protecting the native wildlife of worlds caught up in the war, Yoda used his friendship with native peoples like the Wookiees to ensure that the limited numbers of Clones assigned to defend Kashyyyk were reinforced against Separatist attacks. Following the war, Yoda went into exile on Dagobah and continued the training of Luke Skywalker after the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Once he had passed on all the knowledge and training that he could to Luke, Yoda promptly died, becoming one with the force and, as the Jedi Council’s last surviving Member, effectively ending the institution. However, Yoda’s teachings proved instrumental in allowing Luke to turn Anakin Skywalker back to the light, destroy the Sith and save the Jedi.

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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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