Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review - "Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John"

"The time has come," the blogger said,
"To talk of Doctor Who:
Of time - and space - and Dalek ships -
Of bow ties and the TARDIS oh so blue."

Please excuse my terrible attempt at poetry, but I was just so excited for the return of Doctor Who to our television screens, that I wanted to make this review as interesting as possible. Well, anyway - Doctor Who is back. Matt Smith has returned and he is this time accompanied once more by Jenna-Louise Coleman as the ever mysterious Clara Oswald in Steven Moffat's "The Bells of St. John."

London is under attack - the citizens just don;t know it yet. Something is uploading human beings to the wi-fi network. Luckily, Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) needs help with her computer and somehow ends up phoning the Doctor (Matt Smith). Once everyone's favourite Time Lord has had a change of clothes, he's off to discover what's amiss in the city.

I suppose that I should warn you now - if you have not yet seen "The Bells of St. John" then you should certainly go see it before continuing this review. Now then, onto the episode itself. "The Bells of St. John" is immensely enjoyable. Steven Moffat wonderfully creates an episode full of twists, turns, never-ending excitement and fun. That's what makes the episode so great. The whole episode is a non-stop thrill ride, from the beginning until the end. Moffat has crafted some wonderfully witty dialogue and Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman have wonderful screen chemistry together. Clara is a head-strong, independent character and she really goes toe-to-toe with the Doctor in this episode. What's more, the episodes doesn't dwell on to much back story - partially because Clara is the central mystery of the upcoming seven episodes, but also because it moves at such a brisk pace.

While Steven Moffat said that this episode would be Doctor Who's take on James Bond, I don't really see it. Sure, the episode is fun and light from end to end and features a lot of great set-pieces, but it is not Bond-esque. The scene with the Doctor and Clara aboard the crashing airplane is genuinely exciting, and seeing the Doctor on a motorbike racing through London cannot help but bring a smile to your face. In addition, there are some great villains. Miss Kislet is an interesting antagonist and the return of Richard E. Grant in a cameo as the Great Intelligence was a genuine surprise. On the negative side, the Spoonheads are something of a wasted opportunity - but do put in an interesting appearance. And the introduction of the anti-gravity motorbike really came out of nowhere, but was fun.

I keep coming back to the word fun. Quite honestly, when it comes to Doctor Who that is really what I am looking for. I am not going to critique and nitpick the way I would do with Sherlock Holmes-related media. To me, Doctor Who is pure, first-class entertainment. And "The Bells of St. John" certainly delivered, kicking off the second part of Season 7 in grand style. I therefore award this episode 3.75 stars out of 5.

Coming Next Week: "The Rings of Akhaten" (Click here for a little something to wet your appetite)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Peter Cushing - The Immortal Sherlock Holmes?

To me, Peter Cushing is invariably linked to "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Quite a few years ago, shortly after I first became interested in the character of Sherlock Holmes, a community theater chose to put on a play of "The Hound." Not knowing the story, and perhaps too young to read Conan Doyle's original, I settled for a movie version which was being broadcast on television. It just so happened to be the 1959 film with Peter Cushing as Holmes and Andre Morrell as Watson. It was my first real exposure to "The Hound" and to Holmes media, aside from the Jeremy Brett television series.

Looking back on it now, the 1959 version of the "The Hound of the Baskervilles," could possibly be my favourite. Despite the fact that it doesn't follow the plot of Doyle's novel, Cushing's performance is grand, and the atmosphere of Gothic horror and suspense is beautifully created. Even though Cushing is perhaps not everyone's first choice as Holmes (and he is currently losing in the poll), I still wanted to include him and give dear old Peter Cushing his fighting chance to be considered for the honour of The Immortal Sherlock Holmes on this blog.

Hammer Film's "Hound of the Baskervilles" was perhaps a long-overdue film for Sherlockian fans. It had been twenty years since the last adaptation and 13 years since Basil Rathbone had left the role of Holmes. Sure, there had been television versions of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but nothing spectacular. So, along comes a studio who had just made a name for itself by recreating Gothic masterpieces such as "Frankenstein" and "Dracula," and their next project was a Sherlock Holmes film - in Technicolor nonetheless. In the role of Holmes was Peter Cushing - the Baron Frankenstein and Professor Van Helsing from Hammer's previous two outputs. As Watson was Andre Morrell - best known to audiences as Professor Quartermass. As for Sir Henry Baskerville - there was Christopher Lee, the long, lean actor who had beautifully pantomimed the role of Frankenstein's Monster and delivered chills as Count Dracula.

Honestly, the 1959 version of "The Hound" is spectacular. If you are a self-respecting Sherlockian and you have not seen it, I highly advise you do so now. Everything about it is wonderful. The costumes, the sets, the acting (for the most part) and most importantly the atmosphere. I feel that this version of the film is the only one so far which has nailed the atmospheric overtones the novel was permeated with (even if that meant creating a ruined abbey, an abandoned mine shaft and giving the villain a set of webbed hands). What's best about this movie is Cushing's acting though. He plays Holmes as cold, condescending and rather prickly. Nevertheless, it's brilliant. Sherlock Holmes was never supposed to be a warm and friendly guy, and think that Cushing's acting is inspired. That's why I know use his picture for my Google Profile. But that's beside the point.

I really ought to give this movie more time, and hopefully I will in the future. Sadly, "The Hound of the Baskervilles," performed badly at the box office and Hammer's hopes of continuing the Sherlock Holmes series were squashed. However, Peter Cushing would return to the role of the detective in 1968 for "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes," a television series commissioned as a follow-up to the highly successful run with Douglas Wilmer as Holmes. Watching, "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes," one cannot help but interested. Though the production values aren't fantastic, the show is fascinating in that it was the Granada television series' predecessor. While Cushing wasn't the cold, prickly man he was from the Hammer film, he continues to excel in the role - slowly us a more relaxed and down-to-Earth detective. Cushing felt so passionate for the role, that he involved himself with the script-writing process and even costuming.

It is unfortunate that a number of the episodes of the show no longer exist. It was the BBC's policy in the late '60's to "junk" a number of film reels after a show's transmission. Therefore, a great chunk of the detective's history is lost. To Sherlockian worldwide, we hope the lost episodes turn up sooner or later. Peter Cushing returned to the role of Sherlock Holmes one last time before his death in the 1984 television movie, "Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death." Today, many fans consider this Cushing's finest hour as the detective.

In summation, I have a special place in my heart for Peter Cushing. I am very fond of his performances, and look to him as one of the very best Sherlockian actors. While criminally underrated, Cushing continues to shine as one of the best for Sherlock Holmes fans.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Basil Rathbone - The Immortal Sherlock Holmes?

Interestingly, of the three men who I considered possible candidates for the Immortal Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone was the one I discovered last. Nevertheless, Basil Rathbone has settled a place in my heart as one of my very favourite Sherlockian actors. Whether he was acting in 20th Century Fox's series or Universal's, he consistently portrayed the detective wonderfully.

What makes Basil Rathbone perhaps most interesting is he was truly the first actor to be identified with the role of the detective. Granted, British character actor, Arthur Wontner, was associated with the character for six years in the early 1930's, but sadly Wontner is forgotten today. So, that makes Rathbone perhaps the first actor who was known for playing the detective. Rathbone wanted to lose the shadow of the detective later in life, but he was forever in the character's debt. Prior to 1939's "The Hound of the Baskervilles," Basil Rathbone was mainly known for playing villains. At the time, he was perhaps best known for playing the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne in Warner Bros.' "The Adventures of Robin Hood" in which he ended up skewered on the end of Errol Flynn's sword.

History was truly made in 1939 when 20th Century Fox went into production on "The Hound of the Baskervilles." It would be the first sound film to feature Sherlock Holmes in his proper Victorian milieu - and he wouldn't return there for another 15 years. To this day, the 1939 version of the story is perhaps the best remembered and most enjoyed by fans. Rathbone looks wonderful in his debut role, truly becoming the part like no one had done before. Even in his first few moments on screen, Rathbone showed himself to be the epitome of thousands of reader's imaginations - wonderful encapsulating the detective's potentially stiff, upper-crust nature.

Looking back on it today, it's odd that Basil Rathbone, the star of the film as Sherlock Holmes, is actually billed second under Richard Greene, a relativity inexperienced actor who was playing Sir Henry Baskerville. Perhaps in Fox's mind, Holmes wasn't the romantic lead of the movie and therefore didn't deserve top billing. Nonetheless, this was rectified in the studio's second film, "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" which is quite possibly Rathbone's finest hour (or rather hour and 21 minutes). Once more he was looks wonderful in the role and he plays the detective with such style, one's liable to become memorized by his performance. He is able to draw the viewer in so well - much like Jeremy Brett did and Benedict Cumberbatch continue to do.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson
(From 1944's "The Pearl of Death")
Everything changed when the series moved to Universal studios in the 1940's - except for Rathbone's performance. He still played the role with style, and even though the series was set in the (then present day) 1940's, Rathbone still brought the same Doylean fidelity to the part. It was only in his last few films could you see Rathbone's interest begin to fade in his character. The part had lost the appeal and the challenge, and of course he feared typecasting. In 1946, Rathbone stepped away from the role. He didn't return to the screen until 1954 after a hiatus on the stage. It was during this time that Rathbone won his a Tony for Best in a Play for his work as Dr. Sloper in 1948's "The Heiress."

So - Basil Rathbone is surely one of the most famous actors to have taken on the role of Sherlock Holmes. he is highly regarded in Sherlockian circles and is certainly worthy of that honour. Despite the fact that I came rather late to Rathbone's work as Holmes, I certainly enjoy his performance, and he is tied for my favourite Sherlockian actor. However, I think that Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas summed it up best in their magnificent book, "Universal Horrors" which chronicles the Universal horror and mystery films from 1931 to 1946. They wrote:

...Their enduring charms have not been lost on generations of film fans. Until the popular...television series with Jeremy Brett in the '90's, Basil Rathbone was virtually unrivaled as the quintessential screen incarnation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's master detective.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Jeremy Brett - The Immortal Sherlock Holmes?

It may sound hard to believe, but sometimes one liable to forget just how good of an actor Jeremy Brett was. During his run as Sherlock Holmes on the Granada television series, Brett established himself as one of the greatest performers in Sherlockian history - bringing the great detective to life like few have before him or since. He remains one of the most beloved actors to Sherlock Holmes fans, but is he the immortal Sherlock Holmes?

Much like I did with the "Audio Holmes who Shall Reign Supreme" back in late February, I shall look at the three nominees who could deserve the title of The Immortal Sherlock Holmes. Today, we shall begin with Jeremy Brett.

24 April, 1984 - this is a momentous day for Sherlock Holmes fans. They probably don't know it yet, but the history of Sherlockian entertainment is about to change. Granada has mounted a Sherlock Holmes television series, which they hope will be the Sherlock Holmes series of all Sherlock Holmes series. Michael Cox is the man behind the mission who was determined to bring the television show to life. The conception of the show might have started on troubled grounds, having been sued in 1983 by the producers of the two made-for-television movies starring Ian Richardson as Holmes, but Cox persevered. In the all important role of Holmes was Jeremy Brett, who was determined to bring the detective to life, and remain true to Arthur Conan Doyle's original creation.

On the 24th of April, history was made as "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" debuted starring Jeremy Brett and David Burke. To the Sherlockian enthusiast, this show was certainly some of the best entertainment to come their way until "Sherlock" in 2009. The show was brilliantly executed and Jeremy Brett was perfectly cast as Holmes. He closely resembled the original illustrations of Sidney Paget from the Strand Magazine, and even some scenes mirrored his drawings exactly. David Burke as Watson will revolutionize the portrayal of the famed medical practitioner for years to come, leaving behind him the portrayals of Nigel Bruce and others.

Jeremy Brett from his final season as Sherlock Holmes
As a Sherlockian fan, I think that "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" is some of the best television shows of all time. Jeremy Brett and David Burke are wonderful as Holmes and Watson and both men seem to be having such a fantastic time in the roles of detective and his faithful Boswell. I feel that any self-respecting Sherlock Holmes enthusiast must watch this series. While the following three series and the made-for-television adaptations do have their moments, it hardly compares to the level of excitement and fun which is generated from watching "The Adventures." However, as the show progressed, it became obvious that the quality began to drop. It is quite sad that as Jeremy Brett's physical and mental health decreased, so did his ability to firmly grasp the character of Sherlock Holmes. Just when the best of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories were gone and an actor was needed to carry the show, they did not have one.

"The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" - Jeremy Brett's final season as the detective - is very hard to watch. Brett is obviously struggling to finish, and his final few episodes are a far cry from the great moments which the earlier episodes were able to inspire. On 11 April, 1994 - a little less than ten years since the show's start - Jeremy Brett made his final appearance as the detective in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box." Brett died at the age of 61 a little over a year later.

So, do I consider Jeremy Brett the immortal Sherlock Holmes? I honestly cannot say. That's the sole purpose of this series and poll. Over the next few days, I'll look at Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing and see if any of these three actors truly deserves the title as the Immortal Sherlock Holmes.

Take the Poll: So, is is Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone or Peter Cushing? Of these three actors, could any of them be considered the Immortal Sherlock Holmes - the one who shall transcend time and be remembered for years and years after as the one and only Sherlockian characterization? So if you feel so inclined, take the poll and leave a comment.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Doctor Who Season 7 So Far Part V

Well the time has come to finally say good-bye to Amy Pond and Rory Williams. As these two leave the TARDIS for good, we are faced with the question whether Steven Moffat  has written a script which is good at all. So, without further ado, let's take a look.

The TARDIS crew arrive in present day New York City. However, their pleasurable trip to the city that never sleeps turns sour when Rory is abducted by an alien race known as the Weeping Angels, who have sent Rory back in time to the 1930's. Teaming up with the Doctor's other stalwart companion, River Song (Alex Kingston), the Doctor and Amy must save Rory before it's too late.

Personally, I believe that "The Angels take Manhattan" is a tour-de-force. Everything about it, is wonderful - from the performances by Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Alex Kingston, to the mood created by the Weeping Angels is genuinely creepy. The fact that the story is set in the noir-like 1930's is great, and this really lends some nice atmosphere which permeates the episode. The Weeping Angels have been considered one of the scariest "Doctor Who" monsters of all time. They debuted in Moffat's episode "Blink" universally recognized as one of the show's best episodes. They returned with great effect in "Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone" where they encountered the Eleventh Doctor.

The Weeping Angels Attack
(Spoilers Ahead) The only negatives concerning this episode is the gimmicky nature of one of the film's twists. The fact that the Statue of Liberty is supposed to be a weeping statue, is rather hard to believe. The scenes featuring the evil Lady Liberty are certainly interesting to look at, but it really does not add anything to the plot. As for the ending, it is perhaps a bit rushed and abrupt, it still packs the emotional punch that it needed. "The Angels Take Manhattan" is was certainly the wonderful send-off that Amy and Rory deserved. (End of Spoilers)

So, to sum up - "The Angels Take Manhattan" is a great send-off for the Doctor's companions. It features wonderful performances and a well-written script. This episode is rewarded with a 4 out of 5 stars.

Well, that's all folks - this has been a great look back at the five episodes which made up the first part of "Doctor Who's" seventh series. Next week marks the return of the show to the air, and you can be sure that a review will be posted shortly thereafter.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review - "A Big Hand for the Doctor"

To celebrate 50 years of "Doctor Who," the BBC and Puffin Books have collaborated on creating a series of 11 e-books, all written by famous authors who will tackle a story for each of the eleven Doctors. First up was Eoin Colfer who tackled the First Doctor in "A Big hand for the Doctor."

1900 - the Doctor and his granddaughter, Susan arrive in London on the trail of the infamous Soul Pirates. In his last battle with the cursed intergalactic beings, the Doctor lost his hand, and is now on the search for the pirates in an effort to reclaim his missing appendage. However, the Soul Pirates are a dangerous gang of men and the Doctor surely has his work cut out for him this time.

To most audiences, Eoin Colfer is best known for writing the "Artemis Fowl" books. I have never read the series, so I cannot say if Colfer's style of writing is typical for this story. Nevertheless, I just didn't like it. He makes everything seem as though it isn't all that important and even when he dealing with dark, serious material, he deals with it in a flippant and rather non-serious manner. Even in situations where children have been abducted by the Soul Pirates and are facing death, the tone is still a light one. This felt at odds with the rather dark story being told. Furthermore, Colfer seemed to be parodying the First Doctor. In some ways, the First Doctor perhaps the hardest to write about. He's a stuffy, upper-crust man who really portrays a somewhat cliche pompousness. He is really at odds with any of the other incarnations who followed him.

Nevertheless, the First Doctor is important to the history of the show, and should be treated with some respect. I feel like if Colfer was going to write in a more relaxed, comedic style, he should have selected a later Doctor. However, instead we get a character who really doesn't act like himself. We have an energetic Doctor going cane-to-sword in a fight with a pirate and acting in your stereotypical action-hero kind of way. This is certainly not the way that the First Doctor was portrayed - a man who left most of the legwork up to his companions.

William Hartnell as the First Doctor
So, can I find any things to like in this story? There were occasions when the humour was funny, and the way that the standoffish nature of the Doctor was examined was interesting. The ending which featured J.M. Barrie writing about the events he witnessed (a man fighting a pirate with a hooked hand a children covered in what appears to be star dust) was quite clever, and I liked the way it was presented. Aside from that, I really cannot think of much more that was truly "Doctor Who"-esque about the story.

To sum up, "A Big Hand for the Doctor," is a rather underwhelming beginning to a potentially great series. Eoin Colfer handles the character of the First Doctor rather poorly, and one is inclined to think that if he had written a story featuring a different Doctor, would it have been better? That's a what-if, and I don't like to indulge in them too often though. I give "A Big hand for the Doctor" a 2 out 5 stars.

Coming Next Time: "The Nameless City" by Michael Scott

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Some "Sherlock" Season 3 News!

I can certainly empathize with the poor chap in the above e-card. However, the wait for Sherlock is slowly but surely getting shorter. Yesterday, Monday the 18th, filming began for the third season of the show. And today, the title of Mark Gatiss' season opener was revealed. It is..."The Empty Hearse."

Mr. Gatiss, you are a genius! On the off chance you stumble across this blog, you should know that. Aside from the wonderfully punny title, we know little about the other top episodes for the upcoming third season, aside from the fact that Steven Thompson is writing the second episode and Steven Moffat is writing the all-important season finale. 

I honestly do not have much more to say with this post. I just had to spread the news while it was still new. As soon as more information becomes available, I'll continue to post here.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Doctor Who Season 7 So Far Part IV

In retrospect, each episode of Series 7 part 1 of "Doctor Who" has had a definite purpose thus far - "Asylum of the Daleks" introduced Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswin Oswald, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" introduced the concept of the darker Doctor, "A Town Called Mercy" built upon the moral decisions which the Doctor most make deciding life or death and now "The Power of Three" looks at Amy and Rory's life inside and out of the TARDIS.

For a year, small, black cubes have been falling from the sky. They appear to do nothing and soon they become part of everyday life. Nevertheless, the Doctor (Matt Smith) believes that the cubes are far more sinister, and takes it upon himself to discover what the true purpose of the cubes are and save Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill).

"The Power of Three" is the penultimate episode of Amy and Rory, so this episode is building up to "The Angels take Manhattan." In all, this episode is a good one. It perhaps is not as spectacular as some of the other episodes in this series thus far, but it does have some nice moments. The best part of this episode is the actors since the plot is rather secondary to the interactions of the characters. Matt Smith is wonderful in this episode, balancing his humouress side and serious side so well. The true stars are Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill though. This is really their episode as we look at how they are so different from other people.

This aspect of the story is one of its best, and one wishes that this could have been examined in more detail throughout the story. While the plot concerning the cubes is interesting, it doesn't really have much of a pay-off. There is lost of build up wondering what the cubes will do, and then when they do it, it's a bit of a let-down. But, as I said, this episode is not about alien invasions or the Doctor saving the day again, but how he changes the lives of everyone around him.

Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon
There are a number of tear-jerking moments throughout the episode. One of the characters in the story turns out to be the daughter of the Brigadier (played by Nicholas Courtney), a character who appeared dozens of times throughout the run of the Classic Series. During the Series 6 finale, "The Wedding of River Song," it transpires that the Brigadier has passed away (in commemoration of Courtney's death), and seeing another character carry on the legacy is nice. The expression of Matt Smith's face when he learns that she has taken over for her father is wonderful, and to any fan of "Doctor Who" this a truly heartwarming moment. In addition, as the episode ends, Rory's father (again played by Mark Williams) tells the Doctor to take care of Rory and Amy. The Doctor promises, but this scene is made all the more sad knowing that the following episode marks the end of Amy and Rory's times travelling throughout time and space in the TARDIS.

So, let's recap. "The Power of Three" is an enjoyable and tear-jerking episode. It makes for a nice build-up to the companions' departure and is overall a good story. I give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Coming Next Time: Amy Pond leaves the TARDIS in "The Angels Take Manhattan"

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review - "Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes"

I do apologize to any of the few people who may frequent this blog that I have not been posting a whole late lately. I found myself extremely busy of late, which is surprising as I am not one of those people with an extremely busy schedule. Nevertheless, I haven't had much to review lately. There seems to be a bit of a lull in the number of Sherlock Holmes-related items to review, and I do like to keep a nice balance of Sherlock and "Doctor Who" on this blog. So, I'm reaching into my archives to review the BBC mini-series, "Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes."

Some twenty-odd years after he gave up the role of Sherlock Holmes, Ian Richardson returned to Sherlockian territory in this series. Based off of a series of novels by David Pirie, the books examine Arthur Conan Doyle's days studying under Dr. Joesph Bell (Richardson) and how they solved mysteries together. The series commenced with a two-part made-for-television movie entitled "Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle." Robin Laing starred as the youthful Doyle who meets Bell for the first time and they embark on a mission to bring a multiple murderer to justice in sleepy Victorian Edinburgh.

The concept for the series of magnificent. Having Bell and Doyle solving mysteries side-by-side is genius and it is fascinating to watch the origins of the Holmes and Watson friendship. The best thing about the original movie is the acting. Ian Richardson is wonderful and always and Robin Laing makes for believable, level-headed Arthur Conan Doyle. However, the script ruins the enjoyable experience. It seems as though the scriptwriter for the film was under the impression that if the story ins't dark as a piece of coal and bogged down with racy, controversial material it's no good.

The main problem is that much of the plot is centered on the wealthy aristocrat who lives in the town (played very well by Charles Dance) who makes his ventures into a house of ill-repute about as subtle as a nuclear bomb explosion. Of course suspicion falls on him when his wife grows ill and people in the city begin dropping like flies. Although he is vindicated of his crimes, he doesn't get away Scott-free. Aside from acting as the world's biggest and most obvious red herring, he adds very little to the plot and when we finally do discover the murderer's identity, it's in the last few minutes of the movie and he gets away without being brought to justice. An excuse for no proper ending is provided by saying that the murderer would later go on to be connected with the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888. This adds nothing to the plot whatsoever, and I'm inclined to think this was just a way of speedily wrapping up the story.

With the series getting off a shaky start, I decided to give it one more chance. Ian Richardson returned, but this time Doyle was portrayed by Charles Edwards, who I feel is a bit better of an actor. He is a little less whiny and much more shrewd than Laing. In "The Patient's Eyes," a young woman comes to Doyle because she fears she is being pursued by a ghost on a bicycle. This nod to "The Solitary Cyclist" is one of the best things that can be said for the episode - a jumbled mess which really falls apart in the end.

As is standard with BBC productions, the costume and set design are beautiful and really do a handsome job of transporting you back to the Victorian era. As I noted above, Ian Richardson really brings the character of Dr. Bell to life and is far and away the best thing about the series. The coy nods to Doyle's canon are nice too (Bell deduces things about Doyle's father from his pocket watch ala "The Sign of Four"), but overall the series lumbers under the weight of poor scripts. To the Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, I do recommend them just to see Ian Richardson's fantastic performance, but the series isn't all that spectacular. I give "Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes" a 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Doctor Who Season 7 So Far Part III

"A Town Called Mercy" is the third episode in the first part of "Doctor Who" Season 7, and it is possibly the best. It easily features Matt Smith's best performance from the season thus far, has an interesting premise and plenty of things for the "Doctor Who" fan or the spaghetti-western enthusiast to enjoy.

The Doctor, Amy and Rory (Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill respectively) arrive in the town of Mercy, a desolate town in the American 'Wild West.' They discover that the isolated town has been terrorized by an alien being called the Gunslinger (Andrew Brooke), a being created by the town's resident alien, Kahler-Hex (Adrian Scarborough), who now seeks his revenge. The Doctor must make a moral decision - hand Hex over to the Gunslinger or not?

"A Town Called Mercy" is built off of a rather simple plot. Toby Whithouse, the episode's writer, is wonderful at creating a feeling of eerie suspense throughout, which succeeds in making the Doctor's choice so difficult to make. I felt that the episode showed just how much the Doctor's choice pitted the townsfolk against themselves, which was without a doubt the most interesting aspect of the story. In that respect, the episode felt like "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street," an episode of "The Twilight Zone" written by the famed Rod Serling.

It's a Stetson...Stetsons are cool
Matt Smith is up to challenge in this episode. He portrays the darker side of the Doctor wonderfully, and really captures the vulnerability of the Doctor. His greatest scene is in which he tells Amy that he if he simply left Hex to die at the hands of the Gunslinger, he could right so many wrongs that he has made during his long life. Series Six of "Doctor Who" examined the impact that the Doctor's travels has on universe, and this built upon that theme wonderfully. As usual, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill deliver solid performances, although they probably have less to do here than usual as this episode is really about the Doctor.

I know this review probably isn't as in depth as some others, but I really do not have much more to say about "A Town Called Mercy." It was a very enjoyable episode featuring some interesting writing and fantastic acting. I award "A Town Called Mercy" 4 out of 5 stars.

Coming Next Time: Cubes are falling from the sky, and it is up to the Doctor, Amy and Rory to figure out what is going on in "The Power of Three."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Spectral Hound?

Without a doubt, the most famous Sherlock Holmes novel would have to be "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that the novel has been adapted for film and television countless times. But few of those adaptations keep something about the hound the same as the novel. And that is the spectral, unearthly glow which the beast gives off.

On the page, the idea of the glowing ferocious hound is an interesting one and the way in which Doyle describes the scene from the novel is quite electrifying. I quote:

"I sprang to my feet, my inert hand grasping my pistol, my mind paralyzed by the dreadful shape which had sprung out upon us from the shadows of the fog. A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog."

This description certainly does make for some interesting reading. The atmosphere is perfect - the fog-shrouded night, the quiet, the threat of on-coming danger followed by a beast which is glowing fiercely in the night. All of this adds up create what in the early 20th century would have been a perfect witch's brew of a horror story. Recently, I re-read "Hound" and was astonished at how again after all these years, the above passage can still trigger shivers up and down your spine. But this begs the question - why would one of the book's most successful elements not be used in television - a medium which could make the hound quite terrifying with its phosphorescent glow intact.

The answer may be quite simple - it simply would look bad. I suppose that filmmakers do occasionally learn from the mistakes of others because when it comes time to adapt "The Hound of the Baskervilles" to the screen, most of them forego the spectral element and simply have Sir Henry Baskerville savaged by a very large, evil dog. It was attempted in one of the very first "Hound" adaptations to give the dog its characteristic glow by scratching the hound's outline frame by frame on the original negative. The pain-stacking process did not have the greatest results on film.

Tom Baker foregoes his fedora and long scarf
for the deerstalker in 1982's "Hound" adaptation
During the 1982 adaptation of the novel, which adhered to the novel's plot more closely than any other version, the hound made another glowing appearance. This time, the yellow-ish tint of the beast makes it look quite uproarious and the fact that the dog itself looks about as threatening as a poodle, is quite disappointing. Even the Jeremy Brett version of the novel adapted in the mid '80's tried to achieve the spectral look, and failed rather miserably. This hound is bright florescent green and quite laughable to look at. It detracts from an overall good adaptation and certainly and underrated one. Perhaps it is best that in the long-run, screenwriters and filmmakers removed the spectral glow and simply made the dog a big, nasty, killer dog. Those results look a bit better on film (with a few exceptions - cough 2002 version - cough).

It is interesting to look back on how "The Hound of the Baskervilles" has changed throughout the years. What began as simply a mysterious ghost story, has become part of our culture and has been embraced by fans of Gothic literature and Sherlockian fanatics throughout the world.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Just Plain Ugly: Creative Liberty Gone Too Far

Everyone blogger is entitled to at least one rant, so I shall take that opportunity (warning spoilers abound):

When an author approaches a pastiche, there should be some consistency in character - right? After all, isn't a pastiche supposed to be a loving tribute, an homage to the original author's work? A pastiche should show that this particular author shows devotion or interest in another character or story, that they have taken the time to craft an entire story's plot to fit that character. That's what a good pastiche should do.

Of course, there is the occasional writer who shows little interest in the character they are carrying on. In that case, they take creative liberties. Sometimes their stories have redeeming qualities, but more often the liberties which are taken outweigh the good. Sure - every writer who is handling a pastiche is taking creative liberties. The very essence of what a pastiche is is a creative liberty. However, when an author's creative liberty swallows the story whole than you have a problem - especially when you are the Sherlockian fanatic that I am.

Every once and a while, you'll come across a story which is really well done. Despite an abundance of liberty taking, the story is handled so well that you cannot help but like it. For instance in both "The House of Silk" by Anthony Horowitz and "Dust and Shadow" by Lyndsay Faye, Sherlock Holmes faces the authority of the law when he becomes embroiled in the villain's deadly scheme. Both stories deal with the detective's public image about to shatter like a mirror and how he must regain the public's trust and solve the case. Plot threads like this are nearly nonexistent in the canon, however they do provide some wonderful character insight. My first thought of Sherlock Holmes is not him deftly breaking out of jail, and yet it becomes quite credible if handled in the right manner. Obvious love for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character is displayed throughout these two books and even though a large portion of their plot is devoted to a large creative liberty, it makes sense.

But what if you are crying foul - that's not big enough of a creative liberty. What about something like "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution?" You cannot get more liberty taking than in Nicholas Meyer's novel which takes the entire canon and flips it on its head. Here we;re presented with a Sherlock Holmes who is badly addicted to cocaine and who needs immediate medical attention. Meyer's novel gives us an entirely different view on what happened to during Holmes' three year absence from Baker Street following the Reichenbach Falls incident. In Mr. Meyer's universe, that never happened. You cannot get more distant from the canon that this novel, but you know what - it works! Meyer shows his obvious love for the characters of Holmes, Watson, Mycroft and maybe even Professor Moriarty. Their names are just there for marquee value, they're present because Nicholas Meyer loves Sherlock Holmes and has managed to create a beautiful piece of writing.

We've looked at some good - maybe its' time to observe some of the bad. To be perfectly honest, I thankfully haven't run up across too many bad pastiches. Perhaps my biggest quibble with pastiches is when authors try to use Sherlock Holmes has a name-only. For example, Larry Millett has written a quite lengthy series which details Holmes' involvement in a number of cases set in Minnesota. Nonetheless, Holmes is not the main character of these books. They are a jumping off point for Millett's own detective. One wonders why he simply didn't write his own mystery series with his own character instead of using Sherlock Holmes and then not using him.

When it comes to creative liberties, there isn't more much liberty taking than in the late Fred Saberhagen's series of books which chronicle the life and death(s) of Count Dracula. You don;t get much further away from Doyle than in "The Holmes-Dracula Files" which portrays Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula as...cousins. Yes folks you read that right - the man who so denied any existence of the supernatural whatsoever is related to the Prince of Darkness, Master of the Undead, King of the Vampires - Count Dracula. Granted, Saberhagen's book works out well for the first 3/4 or so. It's not until the end when we learn of this strange family bond (plus we get the Giant Rat of Sumatra thrown in for good measure). As a one-off story it might have been tolerable, and then...he wrote the sequel. "Seance for a Vampire" finds Sherlock Holmes and Watson way out of their depth when the detective is kidnapped by vampires.

Again, these two books are tolerable. The style of writing is good and for the most part Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Mycroft Holmes and even Count Dracula (even though he's presented as a protagonist and not an antagonist) are treated fairly well. I certainly wouldn't be the first person to recommend both of these books to the die-hard Sherlockian, but at least they do have some good things in store. But, we're about to go where no man has gone before and returned alive. We're going to pull back the curtain which conceals the Just Plain Ugly. What we are about to look at is by far the worst pastiche I have ever come across.

"Sherlock Holmes: War of the Worlds" is an abysmal mess. I really don't even know where to start with it. If I had the heart, I'd look at all of its shortcomings, but I just don;t have the time. To be fair, Manly Wellman and Wade Wellman are two competent writers. Their episode of "Rod Sterling's Night Gallery" entitled, "The Devil is not Mocked" is a wonderful piece of fiction, and even makes us wonder - in a world filled with the Nazi menace, how much of a threat can one man like Count Dracula be. The same cannot be said for this book, and I wonder if the two men ever read a Sherlock Holmes story before. The presentation of the man who is called Sherlock Holmes in this story sounds nothing like the character we have come to love.

The fact that he is romantically interested in Mrs. Hudson is strange enough (Mrs. Hudson is about thirty or so apparently and widowed), but he just does not come across as likable at all. He has very few scenes with Dr. Watson and the dialogue between Professor George Edward Challenger is simply stilted in the extreme. The overall premise is not bad at first glance, but after reading the book I really wanted to distance myself from it as best as possible. It now sits on my shelf, never to be opened again - a sad reminder of what can happen when creative liberty is taken too far.

Well folks, we've come to the end of this tangent. If we can look on the bright side of things, I'd say that on a whole I have encountered more good pastiches than bad ones. While not everyone is qualified to create a pastiche, those who are oftentimes excel magnificently. Maybe when the memory of some of the weaker Sherlockian pastiches have faded from memory, we can look unto a more certain future for the Sherlock Holmes-reading public. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Doctor Who Season 7 So Far Part II

With a title like "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship," you know that you're in for a wild, fun ride. And that's exactly what  this episode delivers. This episode is an exciting 45-minute romp, with some surprising bits of serious character development added in. But, I'm jumping ahead of myself.

The Doctor (Matt Smith) has created something of a rag-tag gang this time around. In addition to Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), he has along with him Queen Nefertiti, Rory's father, Bryan and a big game hunter, Riddell. Together they all arrive on a seemingly abandoned space ship the size of Canada which is hurtling towards Earth. The Doctor and his companions have only six hours to stop the spaceship and save its strange, prehistoric cargo.

"Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" was written by Chris Chibnell, who already written episodes such as "42" and "The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood" for the show. These three episodes were not at at the top of my list, but nonetheless, Chibnall does have what it takes to write a good "Doctor Who" story. He certainly laid his cards on the table with this episode where he shows off the wide range he can write. He expertly blends humour and seriousness throughout the story. In that respect, the script for "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" is one of the best things about this episode.

The best acting award for the episode goes to Matt Smith. He is able to handle the serious and comedic nature perfectly. The best joke in the episode comes when we learn that the Doctor still has a Christmas list despite the fact he is over 1,000 years old. I have included a link to the clip from the episode below.

However, as the episode progresses, Matt Smith is able to show us the darker side to the Doctor wonderfully. In his confrontation with the episode's villain, Solomon (played by David Bradley), Smith shows off his acting chops, surely making him one of the most versatile actors in "Doctor Who" history. The other actors in the episode are great too - especially Mark Williams as Rory's father. The chemistry between Arthur Darvill and Williams is splendid. An honourable mention has to go to Rupert Graves as Riddell. Graves portrays the arrogant Riddell wonderfully. Also, for anyone interested, Rupert Graves also plays Lestrade in BBC's "Sherlock" (a show I cannot recommend highly enough - but then again, you might have been able to guess that).

The Doctor is ecstatic over the discovery of the
prehistoric reptiles...on a spaceship!
As I mentioned above, this episode provides us with an opportunity to see a darker side to the Doctor. This is a great facet to the Doctor's character, who is usually portrayed as pacifist and against violence. However, this episode shows us how even the Doctor - a centuries old alien can fall victim to the human emotion of anger. This was a brave move to incorporate this into such a fun episode, and this side of the Doctor would be viewed in greater detail in the next episode, "A Town Called Mercy."

"Dinosaurs on a Spaceship," is a fun and entertaining episode. Despite what might at first glance by a simple, mindless story actually has far more in store. While it is not my favourite episode from Season 7 thus far, that is merely based on opinion. I award "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" a well-deserved 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Coming Next Time: The Doctor puts on a cool stetson as the sheriff of "A Town Called Mercy."

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sixth Doctor Part VI - "The Two Doctors"

First there was "The Three Doctors." Then there was "The Five Doctors" and then "The Two Doctors." Colin Baker's first encounter with a previous incarnation, "The Two Doctors" is an interesting "Doctor Who" serial to say the least.

It is interesting to note that there are times when certain episodes of "Doctor Who" are universally loved by all - except for a select few. This story is one of those instances. Perhaps "The Two Doctors" is not universally loved by everyone who has ever seen it, but a large majority of its viewers have taken a strong liking to it. I will be perfectly fair, I liked this story, but I feel as though there was untapped potential in here, and improvements could have easily been made to make this serial a truly memorable one.

Commissioned by the Time Lords, the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his companion, Jamie (Frazer Hines) arrive on a large space station to meet with one of their head scientists. However things go horribly wrong when a dangerous race of aliens called the Sontarans invade the station and kidnap the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) find themselves on the same space station in the invasion's aftermath and learn that they must save the Second Doctor before it is too late. Their journey will cross the universe as they arrive in Spain and learn the dark secret agenda of the Sonatarans.

"The Two Doctors" was written by Robert Holmes, who had been associated with the series for years and had been responsible for some of the series' greatest episodes. With a script from him, it seemed as though this story was in good hands. That's not exactly what happened. The greatest problem with this story is its rather weak script, which seems to have crippled a number of the Sixth Doctor's stories. There are occasionally some good moments, but the script for the story is just jumbled. The worst part of it all is that the two Doctors hardly have any screen time together. They don't share a scene until the 3rd and final episode, and that's only for a very short while. What's more, the Second Doctor is little more than a plot device in this story. He has very little importance in the story and when he's on screen he has little to do, thus giving Patrick Troughton very little to do.

Well, let's look at a few of the positives shall we? First of all, Colin Baker is now perfectly comfortable in the role of the Doctor. This episode shows that he has found a good balance between kindness and cockiness and his performance as usual is fantastic to watch. Also, the villains of the story are great. While the Sontarans are rather underused, the main humanoid villains are brilliantly executed. The stand-out performance is that of John Stratton who stars as Shockeye, a cannibalistic alien with a desire to "taste a human beast." He is without a doubt, the creepiest part of the episode, and his truly terrifying presence delivers chills up and down your spine.

One Time Lord to a TARDIS if you please
I am able to overlook separating the two Doctors in the story - I am able to overlook the little screen time and chemistry that they may have, I may even be capable of overlooking the obvious padding which the story suffers, however there is one problem which I cannot understand about this story. That is the excessive amount of violence. While "Attack of the Cybermen" used violence to show the strength and power of the Cybermen and "Vengeance on Varos" used it to show how twisted and warped the government and people of the planet had become, "The Two Doctors" had no need for such excessive violence. Lots of people die throughout the story and there isn't much reason behind it. (If you wish to avoid spoilers jump over the rest of this paragraph) For example, one of the minor characters in the serial is an English actor named Oscar who is on holiday in Spain taking care of a friend's restaurant. When the Second Doctor, whose DNA has been changed through a number of experiments, and Shockeye arrive, the latter kills Oscar when he refuses to pay for his repast. Oscar adds very little to the story, and his only real reason to be there is to die - but you know what - he didn't even need to die? His death adds nothing at all to the story, and it is only there to be there.

"The Two Doctors" isn't the worst Sixth Doctor serial into which you could look. The script faces a number of problems, but the location shooting in Seville and Colin Baker's performance do make up for it in some respects. It was nice to see one of the previous Doctors share the screen again since it would be the last time a Doctor's previous incarnation appeared in an episode. It awarded Patrick Troughton one last chance to play the Doctor, and he shows his obvious love for the character in this story. One only wishes he could have been on screen a bit longer. As the Second Doctor might have said: "Oh my giddy aunt...oh crumbs."

Coming Next Time: Can I survive the "Timelash?"

Notes: I don't usually add notes to these analyses, but I just felt like I should. Patrick Troughton leaves a great impact on the series. Following William Hartnell's rather stuffy, upper-crust version of the Doctor, Troughton's was completely different and set the standard for the type of personality the Doctor would most likely have in the future. He greatly influenced Matt Smith's performance as the renegade Time Lord, who cites the Second Doctor serial, "Tomb of the Cybermen" as his favourite. Patrick Troughton died two years after his final performance as the Doctor in "The Two Doctors" at the age of 67.