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 – 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: Reach – Why Forge World is Actually the Best Halo Map Ever

Halo has a huge number of maps, many of which have become timeless classics. Fans who spent hours each evening duking it out in arenas like Hang ‘Em High, Blood Gulch, Lockout, Midship, High Ground and countless others will all agree that Halo has some of the best map design and optimisation in the FPS world. Alongside Call of Duty, Halo may have among the best oppurtunities for map strategy in the console FPS market. One thing that Halo has over Call of Duty, however, is the diverse variety of settings and locations that the maps are based around – from terristrial battlefields to some wacky off-the-wall mazes.

The title of this piece may come as a surprise to most fans – at the end of the day, compared to the professionally-built multiplayer maps in the game, Forge World cannot compare – in its default state it is practically useless for most gametypes, and its vast size makes it a poor choice for local multiplayer. However, the clue to Forge World’s success is in the name, as this map was created with one particular purpose in mind – it is the ultimate Forge environment. At the time of release, Forge World had the biggest selection of Forge items of any Halo map, and the fact that Halo: Reach’s Forge system expanded and improved on Halo 3’s Forge in almost every conceivable way, it isn’t hard to see why Forge World was one of the most anticipated features of the game in the run-up to Halo: Reach’s release.

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The iconic Blood Gulch remade in Forge World’s Canyon

And, unusually for the modern gaming world, it actually lived up to the hype. Since it was released Forge World has become one of the most popular maps of all time, and fans have used the tools available in Halo: Reach’s Forge to create some extraordinary creations. But it is not just the expansive Forge options that make Forge World great – after all, Bungie could have simply released a blank sandbox that allowed players to build whatever they want in a large space. But Bungie aren’t known for cutting corners and would often go the extra mile, and that is exactly what they did with Forge World. At the time of release it was the largest Halo map to date, so large that the developers were able to re-create several sizeable maps from classic Halo games within the space of Forge World itself, such as Blood Gulch, Ascension and Sanctuary, all made using the various natural features of the map, and the Forge budget is the largest of any map in Halo 3 or Reach with 10,000 credits – for a sense of how big that is, most Halo 3 Forge maps barely surpassed 1,000.

The fact that so many classic maps have been remade in Forge World illustrates how versatile the map is, and betrays the fact that a lot of the map’s natural terrain and topography is either inspired or directly recreated from the environments of classic Halo maps. For example, the ‘Canyon’ section of Forge World is very similar to Coagulation, and the aptly-named ‘Pillar’ rock formation in the ocean is what forms the basis of Ascension (and its remake). Perhaps the most efficient and creative use of space in the map is the Collosseum, a large hangar-sized indoor arena embedded in a cliff-face, and the fact that the grassy area on top is the perfect size for either sports-based minigames or remaking many of Halo 2’s arena maps.

Forge World Island
Forge World’s Island, the location of many popular Forge maps

These are just a few of the possible locations to Forge on the map – others include ‘The Island’, an assymetrical playspace surrounded by water that includes a cave system, a mountain and several rocky paths for vehicular play – and that is just the basic layout, before any Forging has even been done. With some creativity and imaginative level design, fans can use the prexisting structures to make some truly incredible creations, such as using the Canyon as the crash site for a spaceship or building structures around the Waterfalls to create a suspended arena surrounded by flowing water. This is all made much easier due to the fact that Forge World was the first Forge map to allow players access to the elusive ‘Structures’ section, allowing them build their own buildings, bases and even entire arenas when previously all players could do in Forge was edit weapon and vehicle placements. This opened up a huge variety of gameplay sub-types with Forge, such as creating artwork, playing a Forge 1v1 with a friend or even creating intricate minigames and mazes.

Forge World Halo Ring Skybox
Forge World’s beautiful skybox is yet another reason why this map is so memorable

Needless to say, many of these features have gone on to be included in later Forge versions, and it has to be said that both Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians have Forge modes that expand massively on the features of Halo: Reach. For example, Halo 4 added dynamic lighting to Forge, meaning that the structures you create will actually cast shadows, and Halo 5: Guardians completely reworked the Forge tool to make it much more developer-focused, adding scripts and all sorts of features that have taken map-making to a whole new level. However, the Forge frenzy that began with Halo 3 was truly actualised in Halo: Reach, and the one map that stands out from all the others when any fan thinks of Forge is, of course, Forge World. It does somewhat beg the question of why, with all the new features and upgrades that 343i have added to Forge, they haven’t remade Forge World itself for the new generation of Halo players. 343i have released some Forge sandboxes in the past, such as Forge Island, several blank sandboxes and some smaller Forge arenas in Halo 5, but none of these have ever truly lived up to the variety, creativity and diversity of options presented by Forge World itself.

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How to Fix – Star Trek: Voyager

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

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

The Setting

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

The Maquis

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

The Crew

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

The Borg

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

Janeway

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

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

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Doctor Who – Top 10 Big Finish Dalek Stories

Big Finish has been producing the Doctor Who Main Range (formerly called the Monthly Range) since 1999 and is therefore fast approaching its 20th anniversary of creating Doctor Who audio dramas. In the 20 years that these audio plays have been in production, Big Finish has expanded their Doctor Who releases further than the Main Range to include many standalone series like the Eighth Doctor Adventures and the Dalek Empire series with a vast array of excellent Dalek stories to listen to. However, there are definitely some that stand out as truly spectacular stories and perhaps even some of the best examples of Doctor Who stories in any format, including the Classic and Modern TV series, and this article ranks the top ten, starting with:

#10 – We Are The Daleks

we are the daleks

Intended as a potential jumping-on point for would-be listeners who felt intimidated by the increasing number of story arcs and continuity related to the Big Finish Main Range, We Are The Daleks aims to tell a self-contained, somewhat familiar and yet entirely new Dalek story, and it achieves all three of these goals and more. Whilst the end result is hardly groundbreaking, and is certainly not as introspective or formula-inverting as some of Big Finish’s other Dalek stories, what fans got with We Are The Daleks was a classic Dalek romp that takes advantage of being set in the 1980s but with the hindsight of knowing what advancements in technology would bring in the 21st century, and the idea of combining Dalek technology with the basic human desire for video games was an ingenious one.

#9 – The Dalek Transaction

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Though it may seem an odd choice to include an audio from the UNIT: The New Series range considering the fact that it is a spinoff, The Dalek Transaction proves that great Dalek stories can be done in any form of Doctor Who media, not just the Doctor-focused ranges. Despite the wider lore surrounding UNIT: The New Series, Big Finish have made it very easy for fans to jump into the series with each box set, and although this audio can only be picked up as part of the UNIT: Encounters box set, you are almost immediately given everything that you need to know to understand the story and the characters. And as far as the story goes, although the idea of a critically damaged Dalek being held prisoner isn’t a new one, this story certainly takes a new and dynamic approach to the concept that pleased many a Dalek fan.

#8 – Blood of the Daleks

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The opening two-parter to the Eighth Doctor Adventures with Sheridan Smith playing new companion Lucie Miller, Blood of the Daleks aims to both introduce the audience to Lucie and the more brooding Eighth Doctor whilst also delivering a fantastic Dalek story. Unsurprisingly this episode has plenty of references to other Doctor Who stories, particularly Dalek stories, as this audio was designed as not only an introduction to new companion Lucie but also to the Eighth Doctor and the idea of Doctor Who audios as a medium, as this was the first episode in a series that Big Finish pushed as a jumping on point for new Doctor Who fans back when the New Series had only just started. As it stands, Blood of the Daleks is a great opener to the Eighth Doctor Adventures and is one of the best audios to use as a means of getting accustomed to the format, for those who have not listened to many before. The relationship between Eight and Lucie is composed perfectly, and there is a great dynamic between them that develops as the plot unfolds.

#7 – Masters of Earth

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This audio peaked the interest of many veteran Dalek fans on its announcement as it features the Sixth Doctor and Peri visiting Earth during the Dalek Occupation, as seen in the famous First Doctor episode The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The idea of the Doctor visiting eras in Dalek history from the Classic show is something that the New Series should definitely work on creating, as it gives some great marketing opportunities as well as setting up innumerable ideas for potential time-travel focused stories. Masters of Earth delivers on this, as whilst its twist is predictable, it does a great job of recreating the feel of Dalek-controlled Earth that fans saw in the 1960s. As this is an audio set later in Peri’s timeline, her character is much more manageable than she appeared in the show, and Peri arguably gets a proper encounter with the Daleks that Revelation of the Daleks tragically denied her.

#6 – Order of the Daleks

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A recent outing for the Sixth Doctor and his new companion Constance Clarke, this audio’s eye-catching cover is fitting considering how this audio stands out among many of its peers. Make no mistake, Big Finish is still just as fantastic as it always has been, but there has been a recent trend of Big Finish Dalek stories being less experimental than perhaps they once were. Enter Order of the Daleks which manages to not only utilise the concept of a Stained Glass Dalek for a great cover design but also as a great peg for an original and wholly unique Dalek story idea, that being: what would the Daleks do if they crashed on a primitive planet, and were forced to use primitive technology to repair themselves? The result is a great story that showcases how great Colin Baker is as the Doctor but also provides new companion Constance Clarke with an opportunity to make a mark on the Doctor Who timeline – and as audio-only companions go, Constance is every bit as great as classics like Charlie and Lucie. The conversations between the Dalek Commander and the Doctor in this story are brilliant and, without spoiling too much, there is some very good development of the Daleks psychology in this story that any Dalek fan should check out.

#5 – The Dalek Contact/The Final Phase

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The Fourth Doctor Adventures are a fantastic range of audios, particularly since they star one of the most popular Doctors in the history of the show, as well as fan-favourites like Leela, Romana and K-9. However, an interesting aspect of this series is that it manages to replicate one of the many odd quirks of the Fourth Doctor’s era, in that there is a disproportionally small number of Dalek stories considering the sheer number of stories that the Fourth Doctor has, both for TV and in his own audio series. The Fourth Doctor Adventures definitely benefits from this, as the few instances in which the Daleks do appear feel like special occasions and, as special occasions go, The Dalek Contact and The Final Phase are both great Dalek stories, making it especially exciting that it features the Fourth Doctor, Romana I and K-9. For fans of this era of the show, this two-parter is definitely one of the best Dalek stories.

#4 – Enemy of the Daleks

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When discussing types of Dalek stories, particularly with people who are fans of the Daleks specifically, often the stories that try a different ‘take’ on the Daleks are ranked as among the best, and with good reason. As the Daleks are so prolific among the various media formats of Doctor Who, with dozens of episodes and audios, and even a significant number of books, dedicated to them, and as a result after over fifty years of the Daleks it is often those few stories that attempt to somehow redefine or reinvent the Daleks that are considered the best. However, every once in a while a Dalek story comes along that, although playing straight to almost every single Dalek story trope that the show has ever seen, actually manages to be just so good regardless that it is automatically considered a classic. Enemy of the Daleks is definitely one of these, as what is (on the surface at least) a generic Dalek action romp also manages to deliver a surprisingly good story and present some characters with great emotional depth. When describing Enemy of the Daleks, the key phrase to bear in mind is ‘never judge a book by its cover’, although that hardly seems fair as this audio has perhaps one of the coolest covers of any Doctor Who product across all its many mediums.

#3 – The Apocalypse Element

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If it wasn’t good enough that the Sixth Doctor got to face the Daleks so early in his audio appearances, it just so happens that he got to star in what is undeniably the best of the early ‘Dalek Empire’ Main Range audios. For those not in the know, early in their career as Doctor Who audio play producers, Big Finish brought the Daleks to their main series with four totally separate yet also thematically linked Dalek stories – The Genocide Machine, The Apocalypse Element, The Mutant Phase and The Time of the Daleks, and this later went on to drive the plot of their standalone Dalek Empire spinoff series. Each main range story is good in their own right, particularly The Mutant Phase, but The Apocalypse Element is by far the greatest of the bunch. Not only does it feature Lalla Ward as Romana II, but it also delivers a cracking Dalek story that seems to present what has later become the ‘first act’ of the Last Great Time War.

#2 – The Juggernauts

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Something that might have become apparent to Dalek fans reading this list is the fact that, until this point, no Davros stories have appeared. There are several reasons for this – arguably the most important being that there is rarely a good Dalek story that also happens to be a good Davros story, usually one is sacrificed for the other. However, there are always exceptions to this rule, and The Juggernauts is probably the best example of this. Featuring the Sixth Doctor and Mel in the best story that they share, this audio approaches the Davros/Dalek dynamic in a very different light, and presents the idea of Davros, finally deciding that the Daleks have failed him, attempting to create something to counter the Daleks on a galactic scale – the ubiquitous ‘Juggernauts’. For those who are fans of the 1980s Davros stories, this audio is essentially everything that those stories were trying to be, had they not been held back by budget constraints.

Honorable Mention – The Dalek Occupation of Winter

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Although some fans will be put off by the more traditional ‘talking book’ style of the audio adventures of earlier Doctors, there are some genuine gems in amongst the catalogues of the first three Doctors. A recent example of one of these is the superb The Dalek Occupation of Winter, an audio that utilises the fact that this is one of the Doctor’s first encounters with the Daleks to great effect, and is definitely work picking up as an introduction to the different format for those who are not familiar with it.

#1 – Jubilee

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An audio made famous by the distinction of being adapted into the 2005 episode ‘Dalek’, the first appearance of the Daleks in the New Series, Jubilee has a lot more going on than what is presented in the episode it was later adapted into. ‘Dalek’ is arguably just an adaptation of one plot point from Jubilee, and listeners will quickly realise that there is a lot more to Jubilee than is to be expected of a Dalek story. One of this story’s greatest assets is the fact that it features the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn, a Doctor-companion pairing that has rarely been topped in any medium of the franchise. Considering Colin Baker’s rough time on the show and the generally negative reception that his Doctor gets as a result, it is fine poetry that his Doctor happens to be the one that has spearheaded the success of the Doctor Who audios through great characterisation, fantastic scripts and great new companions. However, the greatest thing about Jubilee (and the thing that makes it a great Dalek story) is the Dalek itself and the way it is presented. When listening to this audio all preconceived notions about the Daleks have to be thrown out of the window, as this story depicts a Dalek that demonstrates some definite growth as a character, and without spoiling too much, it is clear where the most emotive moments in ‘Dalek’ were derived from, as Jubilee presents an entirely different yet similarly emotive story that makes the audience feel conflicted feelings of pity for the most pitiless race in the universe.

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Star Wars: Jedi Knight II and Jedi Academy

As Star Wars games evolved and adapted throughout the late 20th century it was inevitable that eventually the games would take on a life of their own and become almost totally independent of the film series, and nothing is more telling of this than the success of the Jedi Knight series that focused almost entirely on characters that were never even mentioned in the original trilogy. Yet characters like Kyle Katarn, Jan Ors and Tavion have become just as synonymous with Star Wars for many fans as the likes of Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker are for fans of the movies.

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The Story

Both Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy have fantastic storylines set deep within the now ‘Legends’ canon – both games follow the story of Rebel Agent-turned-Jedi Kyle Katarn and his fight against the Reborn faction, led by Desann and later Tavion. The development of Katarn’s character is one of ‘Legends’ canon’s greatest achievements, and makes these games all the more interesting as we follow the adventures of one of the Galaxy’s most legendary heroes. The main antagonists of both games are the various Dark Jedi associated with the Reborn faction, notably Desann, Tavion and Alora, and games are also filled with various minor antagonists, obstacles and puzzles to overcome as the player explores the world of Star Wars post-Return of the Jedi. An interesting feature in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy allows the player to create their own Jedi, who trains under Kyle Katarn in Luke’s new Jedi Temple on Yavin IV. Whilst Outcast‘s story is more linear, Academy allows players to choose their own missions whilst unravelling the game’s story and decide whether Kyle’s apprentice should stay on the path of the light or embrace the dark side, which gives Academy’s story two very different endings.

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The Multiplayer

By far one of the most memorable aspects of these games was the multiplayer, with maps like Death Star, Nar Shaddaa Streets, Vjun Sentinel, Taspir, Yavin Hilltops, and Coruscant Streets being among the more enduring and iconic maps in the series. Players have been able to use the game’s well-designed lightsaber combat system to create some quite interesting moves and strategies, which was further enhanced by Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy’s improved engine that allowed for double-bladed lightsabers and more advanced gymnastic Force abilities. Every map has a vertical element that can be used in conjunction with the almost limitless freedom that the hilariously overpowered Force Jump provides to take unsuspecting players completely by surprise, which is particularly rewarding in open maps with lots of ledges and platforms. As for the multiplayer setup, there are many different game modes to try, from Free for All to Capture the Flag, as well as modes designed around Star Wars battles in the movies like Power Duel and Siege. Even when playing solo, the game’s bots are challenging enough that it is still great fun.

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The Characters

A notable aspect of the campaign and multiplayer of the Jedi Knight series is the vast array of characters – particularly in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, in which an entire team can be made up of the various types of Stormtrooper in the game – and there are a fair few familiar faces from the Original Trilogy like Luke Skywalker, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca and Mon Mothma. Like all good contributions to the Star Wars lore, however, the Jedi Knight series also has its own large cast of recognisable characters and this, coupled with Jedi Academy‘s character customisation option, means that players are never short of choice in multiplayer when it comes to characters. The voice acting in this game ranges from genuinely good to downright hilarious, particularly in Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast that has some funny dialogue but even funnier combat dialogue for the enemies.

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The Combat

It has to be said that one of the greatest assets of the Jedi Knight series is its combat mechanics, and even later Star Wars games like The Force Unleashed were never able to capture the simple-yet-effective approach that the Jedi Knight series took with its combat system. Lightsaber battles flow well and feel authentic – rather than having the player and the AI simply bashing sticks at each other until one of them drops dead, the combatants will lock blades and scoring direct body hits requires skill and precision. This means that each combat encounter feels like a mini-duel in itself, making the Jedi Knight games one of the quintessential Star Wars experiences for lightsaber combat.

There are other forms of combat present in the game too, however, and in some levels weapons other than the lightsaber are useful or even necessary. Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy feature a diverse sandbox of weapons and each has a specific function – a Star Wars equivalent of a shotgun, sniper rifle and rocket launcher are all present to make the games accessible to fans of the first-person shooter genre. Like all good FPS games, gunfights in the Jedi Knight series are dependant on movement and good aim, but many of the guns are useless against lightsaber wielders. The game’s weapon sandbox truly shines in the campaign mode, particularly since players can either mince through legions of Stormtroopers with their lightsaber, use the various Force powers to easily sweep through encounters, or choose to play more fairly and switch to gunplay for a more challenging (but ultimately more rewarding) combat experience.

Many who played the Jedi Knight games regard them as among the best of the Star Wars video games, and for good reason. Whilst it may no longer be part of the Star Wars canon, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy remains an essential Star Wars experience.

 

Doctor Who – Arachnids in the UK – Series 11 Episode 4 Review

Arachnophobes beware, as last Sunday’s Doctor Who definitely lived up to the Halloween season hype with a nail-biting runaround that, for many, brought the fear factor back to Doctor Who. Whilst Arachnids in the UK was far from the scariest episode in the show’s recent history, it certainly provides some welcome scares and genuinely creepy moments that prove the show is still willing to tackle the horror side of sci-fi.

Longtime fans were intrigued by the premise of this episode, as this is not the first time that giant spiders have appeared on the show – in fact, Third Doctor Jon Pertwee actually regenerated following an encounter with some insidious alien arachnids from Metebelis III in 1974’s Planet of the Spiders, so it would make sense if the Doctor to be a little squeamish around them. However, Arachnids in the UK takes a completely different approach to a similar idea as the spiders are common house spiders that have mutated rather than extraterrestrial invaders, which is a nice twist.

Once again, Jodie Whittaker steals the show and her character of the Thirteenth Doctor has been firmly well-established. It is amazing how soon she has found her feet in the role as the Doctor, and she has already solidified many of the details of her character from the Tennant-esque technobabble to the way she flourishes her sonic. Not only that, but the writing has given the Thirteenth Doctor a consistent character throughout her opening episodes, an improvement over the Twelfth Doctor’s introduction in which Peter Capaldi’s masterful grasp of the character was undermined by inconsistent writing.

Another marked improvement in this series over the previous Moffat-era stories is the heart, as whilst Series 10 had some great moments with characters like Missy and Bill, Series 11 has already a more compelling character in Graham than the Moffat era had with a companion like Clara. The simple approach to character development is always the way to go on Doctor Who, and the down-to-earth nature of the new companions is far more relatable than Moffat’s Mary Sues who were ‘born to save the Doctor’. Hopefully the show can learn from its mistakes and maintain the ‘regular’ kind of companion as these are far more effective.

The supporting cast in this episode are also strong, with Chris North’s character filling the role of merciless businessman that has become a staple of many Earth-based Doctor Who episodes, and Yaz’s Mum Najia played by Shobna Gulati proves a good foil for his stubborn and detached personality. The ending of this story is distinctly bleak, but has an uplifting turn at the end with the final scene in the TARDIS showing the team reunited for more adventures.

So although Giant Spiders may be a somewhat of a recycled plot idea for Doctor Who at this point, Arachnids in the UK somehow makes it feel fresh and is another strong instalment of Thirteen’s debut series.

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