Doctor Who – Into the Dalek Review

The Moffat era was somewhat sparse when it came to quality Dalek stories – which is surprising, considering Steven Moffat himself was such a fan of them. Throughout this era, particularly Matt Smith’s era, Moffat almost took the Daleks for granted, as when they did appear, the episodes were rarely about them specifically in the way that an episode like 2005’s Dalek was. As such, Into the Dalek, the second episode of the divisive Series 8, comes as somewhat of a refreshing change compared to earlier Moffat-era Dalek stories, as this episode is all about one very specific Dalek, and gives us a closer look at the inner workings of a Dalek than we have ever seen before. But how does this episode stand up, nearly five years later?

The Opening

It makes sense to start at the start, and one of the most eye-catching things about Into the Dalek is the opening scene, which immediately grabs your attention in a manner similar to that of Star Wars: A New Hope, as we are shown the tiny human ship desperately trying to outrun a massive Dalek Saucer in an asteroid field. The low angled shots of the Dalek ship effortlessly ploughing through the asteroids as the human ship dodges and weaves around them depict the near-unstoppable power of the Dalek Empire, and how ill-equipped the humans are to deal with the threat. The rapid cuts to the cockpit of the ship, showing pilot Journey Blue trying to radio her command ship, attend to her dying brother and fly the ship all at once furthers the idea that the Humans are vastly outgunned when compared to the cuts to the clean, efficient Dalek bridge.

We see a Dalek move towards a control panel, it shrieks its familiar cry, and Journey’s ship is finally destroyed. But the flash of her exploding ship morphs into the familiar spinning lights of the TARDIS, as she wakes up on the floor with the Twelfth Doctor stood at the controls, holding coffee. This image is one of the enduring impressions that this episode leaves, as it is a truly memorable opening sequence that is sadly underappreciated. Peter Capaldi gives a stern rebuke to Journey’s attempts to order him around at gunpoint, which serves as the introduction to the theme of this episode, the idea of the folly of the military and soldiers in general, and as if to ram this point home, following the title sequence, we immediately cut to Danny Pink in the playground of Coal Hill School, ordering children about like a drill sergeant.

Danny Pink

Opinions on Danny Pink and his relationship with Clara seem to vary among fans. On the one hand, he was an honest attempt at developing a character that was unaware of the space-and-time antics and had to be kept in the dark as a series arc, something that had not really been done since Series 4 as Moffat seemed to sway away from the Earth-based parental angle of the Russel T. Davies era and instead kept the majority of his domestics in the TARDIS. But on the other hand, although it is a refreshing change to introduce this kind of character, many have argued that his characterisation was painfully flimsy and that he was underdeveloped – which is hard to argue with. It has to be noted that the Earth-based scenes in this episode were written by Steven Moffat, and these few short minutes focusing on Danny are packed with Moffat tropes from conversational faux-pas to the classic cutting ahead and flashing back routine, so these scenes can be skipped if this sort of thing isn’t for you.

Clara and the Doctor

Another controversial thing about this era is Clara, as opinions on her are widely divided. The best way to think of Clara is as New Who’s Peri – her character is who she is, and is unapologetic about it, whether you like it or not. Ironically, she was first introduced as the most basic, generic, cardboard-cutout companion you could imagine, but during the Capaldi era she is given a chance to actually establish her own character, and Moffat takes the opportunity that any of us would as showrunner, and wrote a companion with serious personality flaws to play out how they clash with the Doctor. He did this knowing that kind of Doctor-Companion relationship doesn’t appeal to all fans, but took the chance, which is commendable. The result is a strange mix of genuinely heartfelt acts of kindness displayed by the Doctor and Clara to each other, to them arguing or falling out or manipulating each other.

As such, they are perhaps the closest thing that we will get to a Sixth Doctor and Peri homage in the New Series, and Into the Dalek shows this down to a tee – the Doctor is melancholy and brooding in the TARDIS, and the companion is attempting emotional support with little success. For those who have seen it, this scene mirrors a similar one in Vengeance on Varos, arguably the best Sixth Doctor TV story, although the topic in question is markedly different. In Varos, the Doctor is facing the idea that the TARDIS has died mid-flight and stranded them in the Vortex, whilst in Into the Dalek, the Doctor is confounded at the possibility of a ‘Good’ Dalek that has made him begin to doubt his own morality. In a way, it is a good problem to throw at a new Doctor, particularly a more grumpy incarnation who is unsure of himself. After all, if a more mean and standoffish version of the Doctor met a ‘Good’ Dalek, who would be the better person of the two? Speaking of the ‘Good’ Dalek:

Rusty the Dalek

Rusty is a rare example of a depiction of an ‘individual’ Dalek, arguably the best way a Dalek can be depicted in the series, as it is by far the most interesting way to portray them. All the best Dalek introspectives have focused on the morality or decisions of a single Dalek, be it the Dalek from Jubilee, the Metaltron, Dalek Sec, and in this case, Rusty. The title Into the Dalek is fitting for more reasons than just the obvious.

The Dalek philosophy is fundamentally challenged in this episode, and it is hard to decide whether Rusty’s sudden change of heart is madness or morality. There have been a few instances of the ‘single captured Dalek’ plot in past Dalek stories, such as Jubilee, The Dalek Transaction and Dalek. But Into the Dalek puts a unique spin on the idea, making Rusty a memorable Dalek in his own right. The effort that went into painstakingly constructing the Dalek prop for this story is impressive, and can be read about in detail in Dalek 63 88’s excellent segment on how Rusty was built using materials to hand.

Maximum Extermination

Another aspect to this story that makes it important in the chronology of Dalek episodes in Moffat’s era is the fact that it features the extermination effect, a staple of successful Dalek stories in early NuWho but sadly neglected during the tenure of the Eleventh Doctor. In fact, the extermination effect had not been used since Series 5. Rusty’s rampage through the Human ship, followed by the climactic battle between the Daleks and the Human soldiers, marks the first time the Daleks are seen doing what they are supposed to do on-screen in a long time.

Not only that, but the exceptional use of model shots during these action scenes is inspirational. The team used 12-inch RC Daleks for the bridge scene and again in the boarding corridor scene, and the results are really good. Practical effects are used for when Rusty turns on the Daleks and destroys them all, and the special effects team made excellent use of a stunt Dalek blown up in several different ways to depict the Dalek Assault Squad being destroyed one by one.

The result of this hard work is something truly special – a Dalek action sequence made in the spirit of Classic Who, but one that is exciting enough to be engaging for modern audiences. And overall, this same praise can be extended to Into the Dalek as a whole, as the episode does a great job of bridging the familiar with the unusual and its creative ideas are executed brilliantly thanks to the inspired work of Doctor Who’s behind-the-scenes team.

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Doctor Who – The Best of Big Finish, Part Seven

Kingdom of Silver

This Seventh Doctor story serves as a fitting thematic sequel to the TV story Silver Nemesis, as not only is it a three-part story featuring the Cybermen, but it also mirrors that stories’ focus on war and peace. Kingdom of Silver is an interesting story that plays on several recurring motifs in Big Finish Cyberman stories, and is unapologetic in its presentation of the Cybermen as ruthless and manipulative. The Seventh Doctor, companionless in this story, meets a mercenary on a primitive planet, both of them having detected a strange signal emanating from the planet’s capital. During a peace conference between the planet’s main ruling parties, the Cybermen make a resurgence. This is a great audio that is a rare example of Terry Molloy playing a role that isn’t Davros, and he gets a chance to play a very different role in this story. Sylvester McCoy is enigmatic and devious as always, and there are some great twists and turns in this story that keep you guessing.

The Wrong Doctors

A Sixth Doctor audio steeped in lore, The Wrong Doctors is a rare example of a multi-Doctor story featuring two versions of the same incarnation of the Doctor from completely different points in their timeline. This story features a version of the Sixth Doctor from fairly early in his timeline, and another that is far more mature and level-headed, meaning it is essentially a clash of the TV and Audio depictions of the Sixth Doctor. Colin Baker does a fantastic job in this story, and Mel actually works really well as a companion, as this story serves as the first chronological story for Mel after the somewhat odd way in which she was inserted into the TV series during Trial of a Time Lord. At least, that’s the idea, although as the story progresses we see that things are more complicated than they first appear – hence the two versions of the Doctor. To sum up this story, it is a treat for Colin Baker fans.

Terror of the Sontarans

A unique and interesting Seventh Doctor audio, Terror of the Sontarans delves into the psychology of the Sontaran race, something that is not often done on Doctor Who. Whilst Sontarans are known for their discipline and reluctance to show fear, this audio shows what happens when Sontarans are confronted with something that makes them go truly insane. What is fascinating to consider with this audio is that Sontarans are all clones, so when one Sontaran berates another it is essentially just shouting at another version of itself. The idea of a group of Sontarans breaking the norm for their race and deciding to show creativity or fear has some interesting consequences, both for them and all others who get caught in the crossfire

Time in Office

This audio is one of a kind. Each part is an individual story that feeds into the overarching plotline that the Fifth Doctor has finally been recruited by the Time Lords to serve his time in office as Lord President of Gallifrey, hence the title. As one might imagine, the meek and affable Fifth Doctor goes on to cause chaos on Gallifrey, not least due to Tegan’s antics as Human-Time Lord ‘Ambassador’. Speaking of which, there is a fair amount of comedy in this story, and it isn’t supposed to be taken all too seriously. The audio plays heavily on the blustering and stagnant representation of Time Lord society that we got in the Fourth Doctor episode The Deadly Assassin, and it is clear why the Doctor was so eager to leave the planet. This audio also pays excellent homage to stories such as The Invasion of Time and The Five Doctors from the Classic Series that were set on or heavily related to Gallifrey, so its a real treat for fans of Time Lord lore.

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Doctor Who – Series 9 Daleks Explained

The mutual love of the Classic Series that both Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi shared meant that the Twelfth Doctor’s era was packed with Classic Who references. Arguably the most overt were the appearance of several classic monsters, such as the Mondasian Cybermen, and spiritual sequels to several classic episodes, such as Genesis of the Daleks being continued in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar. The latter two-part story features the appearance of several iconic Dalek designs, seemingly with little explanation as to why they appear. Variants such as the Special Weapons Dalek, a Renegade Dalek, 1960s Dead Planet Daleks and even Dalek Sec. But why are so many different types of Daleks featured in this episode?

The Asylum Problem

The real-world answer for the diverse variety of Daleks in this story is that the production team, particularly Moffat himself, decided to use more Classic Daleks in response to the poor reception of Asylum of the Daleks. The dark lighting and dulling-down of the paint jobs on the props in the Asylum meant that they were difficult to recognise in the episode, and their limited screentime coupled with the fact that the Special Weapons Dalek was completely idle was seen as somewhat of a missed opportunity by fans. So, when the next chance to introduce more kinds of Daleks to New Who came along, Moffat took it.

The fact that the Series 9 opener featured the Dalek central control on Skaro meant that there was now a chance to populate the set with Classic Daleks in a well-lit atrium, rather than a dank dusty chamber. The Dalek props were sourced from a variety of collectors and prop manufacturers, and a few were even hired from novelty businesses. Some were accurate representations of Classic Daleks, such as the Renegade Dalek and Special Weapons Dalek props, but others were modified varieties, such as the bright blue 1960s Daleks. But what was the lore reason behind these Classic Daleks showing up again after all these years?

The New Dalek Paradigm

As of Victory of the Daleks, it can be assumed that the Daleks featured in the New Series are all members of the New Dalek Paradigm. It has been shown that the Progenitor Daleks and the Bronze Daleks are part of the same faction in the Dalek Parliament, and depending on when The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar is set in the Dalek timeline, it could be that Skaro had been rebuilt for hundreds, even thousands of years before the Twelfth Doctor arrived to meet Davros. It is even possible that the Classic Daleks seen in the episode are survivors from previous wars that are kept safe at the heart of the Empire, as a form of experienced Elder Council. Or, the Daleks have been snatched from their own timeline to add their DNA to the pure Dalek race. Either way, it would seem that Bronze and Classic casings have replaced the Paradigm designs in the new Dalek regime.

However, it is clear from behind the scenes images that the Paradigm Daleks were on set, suggesting that they were originally to be included in the episode but were pulled at the last minute. As a previous Sacred Icon theory post suggested, the Paradigm could now be an elite time-travelling Dalek caste similar to the Time Controllers and Time Strategists of the Big Finish Audios. In that sense, the mainline Dalek Empire is composed of Bronze Daleks, with Classic Daleks appearing in the safe depths of Dalek space. Meanwhile, the Paradigm Daleks travel up and down the timeline, interfering when they see fit.

Russell-era Daleks

Another interesting addition to the Daleks seen in Series 9, however, are a particular set of Russell-era Daleks. The same kind of Dalek Supreme seen in The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End also appears here, although it is clearly a different individual as it displays a distinctly different personality from its 2009 predecessor. Whilst the previous Supreme shunned Davros and locked him away, the Series 9 Supreme shows Davros more respect and even praises him. The return of the red Supreme Dalek in this episode is a welcome addition, and is a clear deviation from the consistent use of the White Paradigm Supreme in the Matt Smith era.

The other significant Russell-era Dalek is the distinctive Dalek Sec, and as another theory post suggested, the fact that the Black Dalek featured here is definitely Sec going by the identification tag means that this Dalek is in fact Sec at a point in his timeline either before the events of Doomsday or, more likely, between Doomsday and Daleks in Manhattan. This is interesting as it suggests that the Cult of Skaro could have had more exploits between the ones we see on-screen that could potentially be developed in a Big Finish audio series.

Skaro Shenanigans

So now that the appearances of the forms of Dalek seen in Series 9 have been explained, hopefully the reasoning behind Steven Moffat’s decision to include them seems more clear. Many fans would agree that the appearance of Daleks from different eras of the show in the New Series is definitely welcome, but perhaps it should be used more sparingly. Hopefully if the Daleks return to battle the Thirteenth Doctor again, they adopt a standardised design whilst still retaining varieties like the Supreme Dalek and the Special Weapons Dalek, but fans can only hope.

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Doctor Who – Big Finish Dark Eyes Box Set Review

When browsing the online catalogue of Big Finish audios, either via their site or through some other means like the Wiki, eventually the eyes of the curious will be drawn to the wide variety of Eighth Doctor Box Sets, starring Paul McGann among various other stars. Recent releases like Ravenous and the Eighth Doctor: Time War series are heavily promoted by Big Finish, and with good reason – the Eighth Doctor Box Sets were the pioneers of their kind, and the first four Dark Eyes box sets comprised Big Finish’s first complete four-set story line. So in many ways the Dark Eyes series, the set that started it all, is considered the progenitor for all other box sets. So how does this first box set hold up? Is Dark Eyes worth a listen?

Time and Space

Being the first box set of what would become the first series in what would become a huge range of Eighth Doctor box sets, Dark Eyes has a lot on its shoulders. Interestingly, the premise of the opening story is somewhat humble. Brooding and depressed due to a series of recent Dalek victories, the Doctor decides to take the TARDIS to the end of the universe, to see how things play out. Either the Daleks are stopped, in which case life can prevail, or they are not, in which case the universe would be overrun with nothing but Daleks. During this trip, however, the Doctor’s TARDIS is intercepted by another Time Lord, Straxus, who warns the Doctor not to go to the end of the universe and instead offers him what he wants most – a source of hope, in the form of Molly O’ Sullivan, a Voluntary Aid Detachment nursing assistant from World War One who has the eponymous ‘Dark Eyes’, and also seems to be the key to a Dalek plot to eradicate the universe.

In many ways, Molly’s introduction mirrors that of previous Eighth Doctor companion Lucie Miller, except rather than the Eighth Doctor reluctantly taking Lucie as his companion, in this case the companion is reluctantly recruited by the Doctor. Molly does take some getting used to as a companion – she calls the TARDIS a ‘Tardy-Box’ and is hesitant to believe anything the Doctor says, but throughout their first adventure they get to know each other and inevitably as the scale and stakes of the conflict they are sucked up into get higher, their friendship begins to blossom. Speaking of stakes, the Daleks have teamed up with a rogue Time Lord known as ‘X’, whom the Daleks call Kotris, and are attempting to use retro-genitor particles to wipe out the Time Lords completely. Kotris, having grown tired of the Time Lord’s hypocrisy and meddling in affairs, had made a deal with the nefarious Dalek Time Controller, a truly wonderful character played brilliantly by Nicholas Briggs. The best way to describe his Time Controller voice is as a sane and composed version of his insane Dalek Caan voice.

World War One and the Daleks

The World War One setting of the first story is a brilliant choice for a Dalek story, and the Daleks spend a lot of time creeping around and being uncharacteristically patient, not revealing themselves until very late in the story. The Doctor lands in France and is caught in a gas attack, which incapacitates him while his Gallifreyan physiology heals him. In the meantime, he is picked up by soldiers and taken for medical assistance, meeting Molly in the process. The first story in the box set is a great introduction to Molly as a character, as it first shows her in her time period dealing with the war before catapulting her into the much more threatening Dalek incursion that follows.

Overall, the Daleks are effective not just in the first story but across the entire box set. the Dalek Time Controller, as previously mentioned, is excellent, and the second audio in the set in particular depicts the Daleks at their most ruthless. Unfortunately, the series doesn’t dwell on the idea of Daleks in World War One, as the pacing begins to increase as soon as they appear. It is perhaps telling at this point that Dark Eyes may have originally been set to be eight episodes long instead of four, perhaps even as another series of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, and several ideas had to be crammed together into one story in order to condense the series into a four-part box set. Whilst this does allow for some fast-paced action and varied set pieces in the second audio, it also means that none of these ideas are particularly fleshed out.

The Arc and the Eyes

The best way to describe the story arc for the first Dark Eyes box set is as a tentative first step in what would become a long journey. And as first steps go, it makes some great progress. Throughout these first four audios the groundwork for the majority of the Dark Eyes series is laid, although the fact that the series was almost planned as it was being made means that not all of the vital elements of the Dark Eyes series are present here. One of the most iconic things about the Dark Eyes series, Alex MacQueen’s incarnation of the Master, does not appear until midway through Dark Eyes 2, although Kotris is a great antagonist and Toby Jones plays a great villain.

Molly O’ Sullivan gets a great introduction in this box set that not only sets up her character arc perfectly but also gives us a great idea of the kind of person she is, and how she reacts to situations bearing in mind the fact that she is from a time period that is now over one hundred years ago. Like the first series of the Eighth Doctor Adventures did for Lucie Miller, the first Dark Eyes box set presents Molly with a diverse array of challenges and testing situations to overcome, and as such the listeners glean a lot about her character early on. Although her demeanour takes some getting used to, Molly is an empathetic and charismatic character who pairs well with the Eighth Doctor.

So, is Dark Eyes worth a listen?

Absolutely, there is no doubt about that. The first Dark Eyes box set not only serves as an excellent introduction to the incredible Dark Eyes series, but each story is exciting and interesting in their own right, and not one of the four hour-long episodes in this box set feel like they are not pulling their weight. Big Finish does an excellent job of translating the Eighth Doctor into different release formats, from his debut in the Main Range to the New Who style EDAs and now the Eighth Doctor Box Sets. Paul McGann does a fantastic job with every story he is given, and he always gives it his all. Molly O’ Sullivan is a fantastic companion who has an excellent introduction here and the Daleks are as great as ever.

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Halo – Top 10 Covenant Vehicles

From the iconic Ghost to the elusive Shadow, we rank the Top 10 Covenant Vehicles in Halo here at Sacred Icon

The Covenant have a lot of vehicles, and each and every one is unique in its own way, which is one of the things that makes Halo so fun to play. Since Halo: Combat Evolved players have been thrilled at the prospect of stealing an alien hovercraft, and inevitably driving it off a cliff. After all, driving a tank is all well and good, but driving an alien tank is better. As such, welcome to the Top 10 Covenant Vehicles in Halo, starting with:

#10 – Shadow

A Covenant transport vehicle that only features in one level of Halo 2, the Shadow is the ‘Bus’ of the Covenant, used to transport squads of soldiers around. The Shadows that players face in the Halo 2 level Metropolis are adapted for transporting Ghosts, and opportunistic players will destroy the Shadow’s cargo before it can be used. However, Shadows do feature a massive heavy plasma cannon for defence, so the task is not easy. The Shadow very nearly didn’t appear on this list, primarily due to the fact that it isn’t actually driveable by players, however the plasma cannon can be manned if the vehicle’s crew is killed, and those who do so will find that it can fire at a comically fast rate when operated by a human, making it quite a destructive tool if the chance to use it ever arises.

#9 – Chopper

A Brute scout and rapid attack vehicle that is as menacing as it is unsafe, the Chopper was born from a desire of the developers to give the Brutes more of an identity as a race, and as this is their primary vehicle, it embodies everything that the Brutes are known for. The massive front wheel that doubles as a ram is unwieldy and offers no protection to the driver but is a devastating weapon, capable of destroying a Warthog. The Chopper is a fun vehicle to drive, but it is monstrous in its appearance and would probably be the most uncomfortable vehicle to use for transport on this entire list.

#8 – Spirit

The original Covenant dropship featured in Halo: Combat Evolved, the Spirit is immediately recognisable for its tuning-fork shaped design, and was the Covenant’s mainline dropship before the Phantom became prominent. It is undoubtedly fast, able to clear entire valleys in seconds, but its unwieldy design makes it a less than ideal form of transport. Since the player cannot drive this vehicle, we never get the chance to see how this ship performs, but Captain Keyes is able to use deftly fly this ship and even use the prongs as battering rams to squash a pair of Hunters, which gives us enough of an idea of the capabilities of this vessel. However, with with only one plasma turret for defence, the Spirit doesn’t stand a chance of beating the Phantom.

#7 – Wraith

The Covenant’s main tank, the Wraith comes in several variants, the most common being the standard plasma mortar version. This weapon might seem an odd choice for a main battle tank, as the Human equivalent, the Scorpion, is arguably more effective with its direct and to-the-point 90mm cannon. But the Wraith’s weapon is not to be underestimated, as many inattentive players who fail to heed its characteristic hollow wail will be taken by surprise as fiery blue death rains down from the sky. Driving this vehicle is fun too, although the tank is very slow. Some variants come with a secondary gunner position to fend off boarders, and the infamous Anti-Air Wraith is a completely different variety altogether, featuring double Fuel Rod Cannons. Through a glitch players can drive this Wraith in the campaign of Halo 3 several times, and it proves incredibly effective.

#6 – Spectre

The Covenant’s answer to the Warthog, the Spectre is a fast and nimble vehicle designed for rapid attack and scouting. Its design means that it can hold a driver, a main gunner and two passengers, one more than the Warthog can, meaning that if both riders are equipped with heavy weapons, the Spectre can pack quite a punch. Its E-brake and excellent hover systems mean that it is even capable of driving up walls, provided the angle isn’t too steep, which is a fun and unique feature. The only thing that really lets the Spectre down is its light armour, and the fact that it only ever appeared in one game.

Honourable Mention – Prowler

It is also worth mentioning the Prowler, the Brute answer to the Spectre that appears in Halo 3. This vehicle, like the Chopper, is designed to embody Brute design philosophy, so all the emphasis is on the front ram for maximum damage. Unlike the Spectre, the Prowler’s turret is at the front, meaning it does offer some protection for the driver from forward-facing attacks. However, the Prowler’s driver is dangerously exposed from all other angles, meaning the vehicle can be stranded with a well-placed sniper shot, leaving the exposed gunner as the next logical target.

#5 – Ghost

One of the Covenant’s most iconic vehicles, the Ghost is a common sight in Halo games, usually driven by an Elite but occasionally by Brutes, Grunts and the occasional opportunistic Marine. Fast and highly manoeuvrable, the Ghost is the perfect one-man scouting vehicle, and its broad front armour shields the driver from forward facing attacks. However, it is vulnerable to attacks from the side, and some models can be critically damaged by a single shot to the exposed turbine on the side. Regardless, the Ghost is a fun vehicle to drive that handles very well and features powerful armaments in its two front plasma cannons.

#4 – Banshee

Any veteran Halo player would recognise the tell-tale wail of the Banshee as it arcs down for an attack run, as this light air vehicle is the Covenant’s primary airborne attack craft and often escorts dropships or guards large Covenant targets from the air. Later Halo games feature vast aerial dogfights against Banshees, and Halo: Reach even introduced a space variant, meaning that wherever the Covenant is airborne, Banshees are likely involved. There have been many variants of the Banshee over the years, with some focusing on speed and manoeuvrability and some featuring heavy fuel rod bombs.

#3 – Revenant

This fast attack vehicle is the ultimate Covenant cruising machine. Essentially a Covenant sports car, the Revenant combines the speed and agility of the Ghost with the punch of a tank, featuring a ‘mini-Wraith’ medium plasma mortar that lacks the raw power of the Wraith’s heavier version but is more than capable of mopping up other light vehicles. The Revenant features room for a single passenger, half that of the Spectre, but the Revenant is arguably better armoured and gives the driver control of the main weapon.

#2 – Phantom

The Covenant’s primary dropship, the Phantom is an ideal flight machine that features multiple armaments of either plasma turrets or plasma cannons, is capable of flying in space, transports entire squads of soldiers into battle, and can either deploy its troops via gravity lift or, to save time, open the passenger compartment up and drop the troops directly onto the battlefield. The Phantom’s only weakness is the engine turbines, which can buckle under concentrated heavy weapons fire and in some games the dropships can be destroyed due to a chain reaction if enough damage is done to the propulsion systems. Sangheili Phantoms are even fitted with active camouflage, meaning they can go completely invisible at a moment’s notice.

#1 – Scarab

The ultimate ground assault vehicle, the Scarab is a behemoth four-legged walker that comes in several varieties, each more deadly than the last. The most common design is the one seen in Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach, which sports a huge rear-mounted anti-air gun and a main beam cannon capable of ripping through vehicles. This model can be destroyed, however, if enough damage is done to the leg joints and the vehicle is boarded, as enough firepower directed at the power core will cause an overload. However, the version seen in Halo 2 towers above its weaker counterpart, is completely indestructible and sports two heavy plasma cannons and a main beam emitter capable of tearing through buildings. Not only that, but it features a more enclosed main control room and space for transporting dozens of soldiers, making it the perfect vehicle for almost any terrain.

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Halo – Who Are Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant?

The end of Halo 3 saw the death of the Prophet of Truth, the final destruction of the now Flood-infested capital city of High Charity and the apparent destruction of the Covenant as we knew it, with the remaining Elites making peace with humanity and the Human-Covenant war officially coming to a close. So why is it then that in Halo 4, Master Chief goes back to fighting Elites again? Didn’t the Elites leave the Covenant in Halo 2? How can the Covenant be back when it was destroyed in Halo 3? If you have ever found yourself asking these questions when playing 343 industries’ Halo games, then this crash course in post-war Covenant history will help fill answer these questions.

The Great Schism

Years of internal conflict followed the fracturing of the Covenant as the Brutes and Elites fought

The origins of Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant lie in the Great Schism, an event triggered during the events of Halo 2 that fractured the Covenant Empire. In the chaos surrounding the discovery of Installation 05, the death of the Prophet of Regret and the release of the Flood, the Prophet of Truth enacted the first stage of his plan and replaced all the Sangheili (Elite) guards with Jiralhanae (Brutes). This angered the Elites to the extent that many left the Covenant, and the Arbiter assumed leadership over most of the Elite forces in the immediate area around Installation 05, as High Charity descended into civil war. The holy city’s defence fleet practically destroyed itself in open combat as the Elites and Brutes battled for dominance, and to make matters worse High Charity itself was infiltrated by the Flood and transformed into a dreaded hive.

So by the time of Halo 3, the surviving Elites from High Charity and Installation 05 came to Earth in what few ships had survived, and this new fleet, dubbed the Fleet of Retribution, aided UNSC forces and would later form the backbone of the Swords of Sanghelios, the Arbiter’s new faction that opposed the Covenant. Following Halo 3, the Arbiter’s forces returned to Sanghelios and would establish themselves as a proper faction, amassing fleets and thousands of followers, mostly Sangheili who saw through the Prophet’s lies about the Great Journey. However, not all Elites saw it that way, and from as early as the first days of the Great Schism in Halo 2, Elite warlords in Covenant space took advantage of the fracturing of the Covenant and established their own tiny empires, often on colony worlds and former outposts. Considering the sheer size of the Covenant, this meant that there were now dozens of these factions, each sporting significant military assets usually comprised of the older and out-of-date domestic patrol fleets of the old regime.

The Rise of Jul ‘Mdama

The opportunistic ‘Didact’s Hand’, Jul ‘Mdama

So before Truth had even met his end, the Covenant itself had already fractured beyond repair as a result of his actions. The fragile relationship between many of the races of the once mighty empire dissolved, with Covenant space rapidly descending into a disorganised mess. With the fall of High Charity, the Covenant’s centralised capital city and primary control centre, coupled with the deaths of all three Hierarchs, communications between Covenant worlds began to break down. Some, like the Sangheili colony of Hesduros, were aware that the Covenant had fallen but were unaware as to the circumstances, whereas some colony worlds refused to believe that the Covenant had even fallen at all. Although these worlds were hardly equipped with state-of-the-art Covenant technology, they all each possessed a defence fleet, ground troops and other military assets. In theory, an opportunistic figurehead who was aware of everything going on behind the scenes could have easily taken control of the Covenant and there would have been little issues, minus the loss of High Charity.

A Hesduros-produced Elite Combat Harness was radically different to its Covenant counterpart

Unfortunately for the Covenant, however, this didn’t happen in time. Although, a leader would eventually emerge to reignite the flame of the original Covenant, albeit without the former empire’s unity and co-ordination. Jul ‘Mdama, a pragmatic Sangheili who disavowed the Covenant religion but still revered the Forerunner’s technological prowess, recognised humanity as the greatest potential threat to the Sangheili, as their rapid expansion would stunt Sangheili development. As such, he worked his way into extremist Covenant factions and began to advertise himself as the new Prophet, amassing followers with the promise of taking them to Forerunner technology. By swaying several colony worlds to his cause, including Hesduros, Jul ‘Mdama’s military assets rapidly expanded, to the extent that his followers and even some in the UNSC began to refer to his faction as simply ‘The Covenant’. Although they were using outdated or improvised equipment, armour and ships, the new Covenant was just as fanatical and driven as the original regime had been. This would only intensify when Jul’s forces found and finally gained access to the Forerunner Shield World of Requiem, as not only did they gain allies in the Prometheans, but they also increased their claim to the former Covenant faith when they allied themselves with the Didact.

Awakening

A CRS-class light cruiser from Halo 4

So, by the time of Halo 4, Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant were not only a fairly large military force, but also a significant threat to humanity, despite their status as a ragtag Covenant splinter faction. as previously mentioned, the ships and technology used by Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant were hardly up to the usual Covenant standard, but they were still capable. The bulk of their fleet was initially made up of CRS-class light cruisers, a diminutive ship formerly used for patrol duties that was a tiny cousin of the Covenant’s much larger mainline battleship, the CCS-class battlecruiser. As the supply of these ships began to dwindle, however, colony-based shipwrights began to manufacture new Sangheili warships based off old designs, such as the Sangheili Man O’ War and the gigantic Brigantine carrier. These ancient designs, upgraded with modern Covenant tech, began to slowly replace the old Covenant warships in the fleets of both Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant and the Arbiter’s Swords of Sanghelios. Likewise, newer models of Ghost, Wraith, Phantom and Banshee began to replace the aged and rapidly dwindling Covenant vehicles. Many of Jul’s old Covenant ships amassed around Requiem for three years, attempting to gain access to the planet, when the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn, carrying the Master Chief, drifted into orbit.

And this is the start of Halo 4, Master Chief awakens following his four-year cryo-sleep to find he is in orbit around a Forerunner Shield World surrounded by Covenant ships, and immediately sets to work destroying one, demonstrating the weaker status of CRS-class cruisers compared to the CCS-class battlecruiser. It would seem, therefore, that ‘Mdama’s Covenant were significantly weaker then the previous Covenant had been, although that is not necessarily the case. Following the Didact’s attack on Earth at the end of Halo 4, Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant became a primary target of the UNSC. After Halo 4, during the Spartan Ops missions, the UNSC Infinity returns to Requiem to deal with the considerable number of Covenant forces that remain there, and the following ‘Requiem Campaigns’ would later expand into a massive conflict for control of the Shield World. Unwilling to relinquish Requiem to humanity following the death of the Didact and the defection of Doctor Catherine Halsey to Jul’s cause, the Covenant destroy the Shield World and flee into space. Forming a unified fleet, Jul Mdama’s Covenant would fortify its presence on Sanghelios and other former Covenant worlds. However, a crippling blow would be dealt to Jul ‘Mdama’s faction soon after the destruction of Requiem, and it ties into the rise of Cortana’s faction of rogue AIs, the ‘Created’.

Second Fall

Jul ‘Mdama fight Spartan Locke in his final duel

By the time of Halo 5: Guardians, Cortana had taken over many of the AIs in the Galaxy, including the Prometheans. This sudden turn took Jul ‘Mdama completely by surprise, and his Covenant experienced a mini-Great Schism of its own when their forces were suddenly forced to fight both the UNSC and the Created. Taking advantage of this confusion, Doctor Catherine Halsey managed to contact the UNSC, betraying Jul ‘Mdama to them in exchange for recovery. By this time, Jul was on the planet Kamchatka, attempting to determine the purpose of a Forerunner communication node that activated, causing his Prometheans to turn on him. This led to a massive battle on the planet, during which SPARTAN Fireteam Osiris managed to fight their way to Halsey and assassinate Jul ‘Mdama in the process. And just like that, the head of the New Covenant was severed. By another stroke of extreme bad luck, the retreating Covenant fleet from Kamchatka was then destroyed by Blue Team, leaving a massive power vacuum in the faction formerly known as Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant.

Following this, the remains of Jul’s Covenant rallied at the city of Sunaion on Sanghelios. Described by the Arbiter as the Covenant’s final stronghold on the planet, Sunaion had served as a bastion for the religion as much of the population of Sanghelios gradually swayed over to the Swords of Sanghelios. By this point, even before the death of Jul ‘Mdama, the Covenant had begun to splinter – one of the factions only CAS-class carriers was stolen by an Elite named Sali ‘Nyon and his forces who formed a whole new splinter faction, and as such the Covenant had truly descended from religious theocracy to deranged fanatical cult. By the time the Arbiter’s forces arrived at Sunaion, the Covenant had resorted to blaring loud transmissions through loudspeakers across the city, insisting on the supremacy of the Covenant faith as their fleet and army crumbled.

Aftermath

And thus ends the tale of Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant. Whilst it seems fitting that the remains of the Covenant Empire would fight on to the bitter end, it may not be the end for the Covenant, as despite the death of Jul ‘Mdama, many faithful Covenant citizens still remain. Following the rise of Cortana’s Created at the end of Halo 5: Guardians, not much is known about the state of the Halo universe, although it is known that Cortana travelled to Balaho and managed to sway the Unggoy population to her cause, suggesting that she may continue where Jul ‘Mdama left off – as an opportunist who manipulates those who clung to the Covenant religion and fashions them into a military faction for power. Ultimately, Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant proves the same enduring point that the Fall of the original Covenant did – that religious theocratic oligarchies are bad, especially when the leader happens to be a power-mad callous pragmatist willing to exploit the faith of their followers and achieve their goals regardless of the cost.

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Doctor Who – First Look at Series 12 Monsters – Judoon Confirmed to Return

Since filming for Series 12 of Doctor Who began in Gloucester, fans have been secretly hoping for a glimpse at what is going on behind the scenes of Jodie Whittaker’s second series as the Doctor. Fans are particularly anxious to learn what enemies the Doctor will face this series, as the Thirteenth Doctor’s debut series was noticeably lacking in threat factor aside from Tzim-Sha and a Dalek. It is good news then that the BBC seem to be more forthcoming about what this new series will feature, however, as they have revealed that the Judoon will be making a return through photos released of the filming in Gloucester.

The most interesting image depicts the Doctor in a standoff with a distinctive Judoon Captain, who sports a mohawk, flanked by Judoon soldiers who appear to be holding a brand new type of blaster. Since their introduction, the Judoon have been depicted as an intergalactic ‘police-for-hire’, stormtroopers with a strict legal code who are employed as hired thugs to execute criminals or carry out other security duties. As such, they often clash with the Doctor on the subject of ethics, as they are known to be brutish and single-minded in their task, and have even been known to execute people on the spot for any perceived crime.

However, the Judoon are not always a foe to the Doctor, and several instances have portrayed them in a positive light. The famous cameo in The Stolen Earth shows that the Judoon guard the Shadow Proclamation, the Galactic Lawmakers, and a Judoon aids Sarah Jane and her friends in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode Prisoner of the Judoon. They have also made the jump to audio, as Big Finish’s Classic Doctors:New Monsters audio Judoon in Chains depicts the Sixth Doctor defending a Judoon on trial for his life. As such, it is not yet completely clear whether or not the Judoon in Series 12 will act as an ally or an adversary to the Doctor, although judging by the released picture, it would seem they are butting heads over something.

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