Sunday, October 22, 2006

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 4 Review

US Airdate on the WB: October 5th 1999 – May 23rd 2000

Changes are all the range as the Slayer makes the transition from high school to college, Willow finds herself interested in magic and girls, Oz departs, Xander hooks up with Anya, Giles struggles to find his role and Riley and Tara see Buffy and Willow with new challenges. Oh and there’s Spike, voice stealers, The Initiative and Adam to contend with.

This Certainly Wasn’t In The Brochure – After three years of the innocence of adolescence it was inevitable that the transition from high school to college to the adult world was always going to be a hard one. I don’t mean just entirely for the writers to make it feel organic but also for audiences to accept that some changes may not see the Scoobies at their best. For the most of this season, the once airtight friendship with Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles see them behaving more like strangers than friends that have been through thick and thin together. It’s a bit jarring to watch but in my opinion (and I may be in a minority of people here), Season Four is every bit as engaging to watch as ever.

The season opens with a low key opener entitled “The Freshman” where Buffy is clearly out of her depth in UC Sunnydale compared to Willow and Oz. We see the usually strong and snappy Slayer humiliated by a professor, bombarded with the roommate from hell and having the shit kicked out of her by a group of vampires, led by the nicely named Sunday. Even a Hugh Hefner dressed Giles tells Buffy she has to grow up and it isn’t until a returned Xander cheers her up in the Bronze that Buffy is able to show Campus that she isn’t a Slayer that should get on her bad side. Then the episode ends with a group of mysterious soldiers snatching a vampire. Yes, people we’ve gone from The Master, Spike/Drusilla/Angelus and The Mayor/Faith to our big bad being a group of scientists and soldiers underneath UC Sunnydale and calling themselves The Initiative as baddies. I knew they were going to be the weakest and least engaging group of big villains this show has ever faced and they are.

For the first seven episodes, The Initiative are mainly snooping around snatching demons while the Scoobies deal with personal problems such as Xander’s inability to keep a crappy job and embarking on a mostly sexual for the time being relationship with witty nymphomaniac Anya as Buffy learns the hard way that some men want sex and nothing else when she becomes involved with Parker. It also doesn’t help Buffy when Spike returns with a vamped Harmony in the third episode “The Harsh Light Of Day” and proceeds to use her sexual humiliation as a source of fun while looking for the Gem of Armara (a ring that makes vampires immune to sunlight). Willow fares no better when Oz is drawn to fellow werewolf Veruca and proceeds to sleep with her as a means to stop from hurting people in the wonderful “Wild At Heart”. Sadly it dents Willow’s ego and gives us our first major hint that magically, Willow could be problematic. The upshot is that Oz leaves Sunnydale to find a way to control his own nature and Spike gets kidnapped by The Initiative.

Our least favourites of season big baddies are brought to the fore in “The Initiative”, when we learn that they are lead by ice cool bitch Maggie Walsh and one of her top soldiers is Riley Finn. Played by Marc Blucas, Riley is a bit of a dork but any serious lover following Angel was always in for a hard time and although I didn’t ship him and Buffy as a couple, boring or not, it’s probably the most healthiest relationship she has been in when you think about. There are times when I found myself liking Riley and others when I found him to be a pain in the backside. His pursuit of Buffy is kind of cute and their flirtation in “Pangs” (a Thanksgiving episode complete with Chumash Indians, Buffy making dinner and a hiding Angel) and “Something Blue” (where Willow’s “will be done” spell makes Giles blind, Xander even more of a demon magnet and Buffy and Spike lovers), does lead to a beautiful first snog in the groundbreaking “Hush” as their identities are then revealed to the other.

Let’s talk about “Hush” shall we? For all those idiots out there who could never take this show seriously, here was a reason why you should. Can you name any adult show out there that has ever done a silent episode and actually succeeded both critically and commercially with it? I know I can’t. Also let’s add that this had some of the most creepiest villains with The Gentlemen (who needed seven hearts), some of composer Christophe Beck’s best work and introduced the wonderful Amber Benson as the wonderful Tara, a character whose presence is more than welcomed throughout the season.

The later half of the season which saw the series go into the year 2000 in an interesting manner focused on many things, one namely being Spike. Unable to hurt people due to a chip in his brain, Joss Whedon would use this as a perfect reason to keep Spike around in Sunnydale but attempting to redeem the character in a manner that would be believable was tricky as despite giving shelter to him and using him for information purposes, the Scoobies still hated his guts as well they should. Suffice to say, Spike wasn’t enamoured with them either and took great joy in taunting them.

Despite hokum episodes like “Doomed” and “A New Man”, the series further progressed the Buffy/Riley relationship and the predicted sinister side to The Initiative in “The I In Team” and “Goodbye Iowa”. Hot sex scenes aside, we saw Professor Walsh for the danger she really was and her efforts to get Buffy out of the picture resulted in the rise of part human/demon/cyborg Adam bumping her off, injuring Riley and basically escaping.

This plot then got put on hold for the wonderful return of Faith in the season’s unforgettable two parter “This Year’s Girl”/“Who Are You”. Having Eliza Dushku back for two episodes injected more excitement into this season that Adam could ever hope to achieve and the fun she and Sarah Michelle Gellar must have had while playing opposite roles you can only imagine. These two episodes are also noteworthy for the by now obvious coupling between Willow and Tara and how a complete stranger could easily tell that Buffy wasn’t herself literally after only meeting her once raised intrigue (that and the spell sabotage thing). Forget Buffy/Riley or Xander/Anya, it was Willow/Tara who was the ultimate couple of the season.

And with the return of Oz in “New Moon Rising”, the writers did tug with our emotions a lot. I mean I felt bad for Oz, Willow and Tara but I ultimately cheered when Tara got her girl. The episode also had me cheering at Buffy for telling Riley about Angel, Riley ditching The Initiative and the Spike/Adam pairing.

As a villain, Adam lacks mainly because he has no complexities in the same way that either The Mayor or Faith had the previous season. Adam simply wants to kill, kill and kill so while it may be interesting that he can be immune to reality altering spells in the excellent Jonathan showcase “Superstar” and views himself as a paradox or that he kills the painfully annoying Forrest, the character just doesn’t hold my interest.

What did were the departure and returns of old characters and their development, the individual personal Scooby stuff. This season is lighter compared to the first three, so I didn’t take the big bad seriously.

Although at Adam and Spike’s interference did get the Scoobies to briefly fall out and acknowledge their distance in “The Yoko Factor”, before the reaffirmed friends used the essence of the First Slayer to break into The Initiative and stop Adam’s wacky idea of making a race of human/demon creatures. While the Buffy/Adam scrap in the excellent “Primeval” may not have been as cool as the Buffy/Faith scraps earlier on in this season, it was definitely a killer of ending The Initiative arc and the season. Well it would have been but Joss Whedon decided to end this season on a more psychological and foreshadowing note with the intelligent “Restless”. Set mostly in dream, we see Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles’ fears and fantasies played out before us while as an audience we can draw whether or not these people have changed for the better or at all this season. Having Buffy duke it out with the First Slayer as Tara warns that “You think you know, who you are, what’s to come. You haven’t even begun”. Even if you didn’t like Season Four, that line is seductive enough to hold you for Season Five. It certainly held me.

DVD EXTRAS: Four seasons in and the extras are only getting better and better and while I wish they would stop adding the scripts and cast biographies, my love for the writers increased with brilliant commentaries for both “The Initiative” and “This Year’s Girl” by Doug Petrie, another hilarious one from Jane Espenson on the comical “Superstar”. Both David Fury and James A. Contner hold their own wonderfully for penultimate episode “Primeval” (originally intended to end the season) but Joss Whedon once again does win hands down with “Hush” and “Restless”. The other features include a heavily detailed “Season 4 Overview” and making of “Hush”. Lovers of James Marsters will enjoy “Introducing Spike” but I personally couldn’t get enough of “Buffy: Inside The Music”. There are also a couple of stills to mull over as well but overall, this is how you treat a series on DVD.


4x01: The Freshman = 8/10, 4x02: Living Conditions =6/10,
4x03: The Harsh Light Of Day = 7/10, 4x04: Fear Itself = 7/10,
4x05: Beer Bad = 8/10, 4x06: Wild At Heart =9/10,
4x07: The Initiative = 6/10, 4x08: Pangs = 9/10,
4x09: Something Blue = 8/10, 4x10: Hush = 10/10,
4x11: Doomed = 6/10, 4x12: A New Man = 7/10,
4x13: The I In Team = 8/10, 4x14: Goodbye Iowa = 7/10,
4x15: This Year’s Girl = 10/10, 4x16: Who Are You = 10/10,
4x17: Superstar = 8/10, 4x18: Where The Wild Things Are = 4/10,
4x19: New Moon Rising = 9/10, 4x20 = The Yoko Factor = 7/10,
4x21: Primeval = 9/10, 4x22: Restless = 9/10.

Season Four is currently available on both VHS and DVD.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 3 Review

US Airdate on the WB: September 29th 1998-18 May 1999, plus July 13th (3x22) and September 21st 1999 (3x18)

It’s that special year in everyone’s life – the end of high school and for Buffy that means an ex-lover back from the dead, friendships tested, dynamics changed, an unstable rogue Slayer and overly ambitious Mayor. I did mention the end of high school, right? Hope I didn’t leave that part out.

School’s Out Forever And Don’t You Just Love It – Ah, Season Three the last innocent season of the series before the big, big life as an adult stuff would take over and some people the last good season of Buffy but to me, not quite as good as Season Two but hey, an undeniable classic no less. Season Three opens with the low key but essential episode “Anne” as a disillusioned Buffy attempts to keep her head down and mind her own business, which is obliterated when her urge to help an old friend and more homeless people escape from a mad demon slave cult and a hell dimension. It’s not the strongest opener the series has ever done but main battle has a super cool fight sequence (“I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you are”) and although the Scoobies have a hard time slaying vampires without their slayer and best pal, the sheer effort and willingness of them to protect their town is oddly effecting. That added with a bitter Joyce/Giles scene on their own parental guidance towards Buffy over the years.

One of the strongest elements of Season Three is how the consequences of “Becoming Part 2” are dealt with and while it may have been upsetting for our Scoobies to not welcome Buffy back with open arms immediately, their actions and attitudes towards while harsh are realistic and it’s also wonderful that Kendra’s death sparks the activation of new Faith who makes more than a spectacular entrance in “Faith Hope And Trick”. Played with absolute perfection by Eliza Dushku, Faith is polar opposite to Buffy as you can get – she relishes the kill, deliberately shunts responsibility and her wild and promiscuous ways are fun to watch in the first half of the season. It’s amazing that despite the hostility in her episode, her and Buffy manage to semblance a friendship in a way that Buffy and Kendra never got the opportunity to.

Not that Buffy was short of people in her life in this season. With a more open relationship with Joyce and things back on track with Willow, Xander, Giles, Oz and Cordelia, it was appropriate that a soul fuelled and repentant Angel would spell trouble for Buffy, so much that Xander gets to act self-righteous and Faith shows that being impulsive has it’s drawbacks in “Revelations” when she tries to kill him. In between this action we also got to see Buffy briefly date Scott Hope (a one note guy but prettier than a future love interest), Joyce and Giles have crazy sex when they are reverted to acting like teenagers thanks to chaos lover Ethan Rayne in the hilarious “Band Candy” (Snyder alone is pathetic in that), Xander and Willow cheat on Oz and Cordelia with quite the fallout when Spike abducts them in “Lovers Walk”, an episode which more or less foreshadows Buffy and Angel’s off-kilter relationship later on in the year and the rise of new big bad – The Mayor.

Well we’ve had vampires as big baddies in the first two seasons so it made sense to do something different and Harry Groener is an excellent fix as a man so evil and determined and yet so charming and engaging to watch. How could you not laugh at his OCD like behaviour or wonder about his failed attempt of assassinating Spike. Unlike The Master and Spike and Drusilla, The Mayor is mostly kept in the background for the first half of the season so as down town we deal with Willow and Oz repairing their fractured relationship in “Amends” as Angel is driven into killing himself by The First Evil but the biggest thing in the 1998 aired episodes is the introduction of vengeance demon Anyanka/Anya who brought a whole new meaning to the concept of “be careful what you wish for”. Because in “The Wish”, Xander and Willow are vampires and underlings to The Master, Cordy gets slaughtered, Buffy is a nihilistic young lady and Angel is a bigger wimp than Wesley.

The latter half of the season is a mixed bag of stuff. While “Helpless” and “The Zeppo” aren’t personal favourites of mine, they are noteworthy for Buffy meeting the Council, having Giles tow the line between duty and love for his slayer (and suffering the price as well) and Xander briefly finding a sense of self worth after shagging Faith.

Faith’s storyline becomes the driving force of the remaining episodes as repeating the trick of sending an ally off the deep end (last year Angel, now Faith) works to the series gain yet again when Faith kills the deputy mayor and goes to extremes of blaming Buffy and turning on everyone left, right and centre. There’s great moments as Buffy, Xander and Angel all try to reason with her but the reckless actions of Wesley, the priggish replacement for Giles and Faith’s ultimate desire to embrace her darker tendencies (after dusting malicious vampire and Mayor lackey Mr Trick) see her allying with The Mayor in the superb two part episodes “Bad Girls” and “Consequences”. If you thought the dynamic with Buffy and Giles is brilliant to watch, then you’ll the one with Faith and The Mayor, no matter how twisted it happens to be.

The Scoobies versus Faith and The Mayor does get put aside long for Vamp Willow to reappear in “Doppelgangland”, Buffy to experience the crap side of having psychic powers while using Jonathan wonderfully in the polemic “Earshot” and of course the Scoobies to celebrate their prom, complete with hell dogs, Anya and Angel sensibly dumping Buffy in the not originally titled “The Prom”.

With these distractions then dealt with, the ongoing arc has moments of showing true colours and deception (“Enemies”), hostage taking (“Choices”) before the mother of all showdowns. While I prefer both parts to “Becoming”, the sheer genius of “Graduation Day Parts 1 and 2” has to be talked about. I mean let’s face it, Buffy and Angel finally parted ways (the latter getting his own series), Oz and Willow done the deed, Cordy and Wesley shared an embarrassing kiss, Xander and Giles something useful to do, The Mayor showed his love for Faith and we got probably the best girl fight in TV history with Buffy and Faith, all knives and handcuffs scrapping it out, which put Faith in a coma and Buffy nearly killed to save her lover. It also saw The Mayor turn into a giant snake, had him blown to pieces along with Sunnydale High, Snyder killed and the Sunnydale students beating the living daylights out of vampire and that nice self reflecting ending Oz telling the gang that they survived High School. This finale ended one aspect of Buffy but it did not end the goodness of this show because there is still quality material to come.

DVD EXTRAS: Like I said every season, more improvement and while adding the scripts are tedious, the other extras are fine. Once again we get four commentaries, this time David Fury on the so-so “Helpless”, Doug Petrie on “Bad Girls” and director Michael Gershman on “Consequences” (essential for all Faith lovers out there) and a hilarious one from the lovely Jane Espenson on “Earshot”. I love the obvious enthusiasm the writers and directors had for this series but no commentary for “Graduation Day Parts 1 and 2” – that sucks! Thankfully the in depth overview for Season 3 (on Disc 3 no less) is fantastic along with the features on “Buffy Speak” while Disc 6 caters to “Wardrobe” and “Weapons”. There’s also some stills and cast biographies if you’re interested as well.


3x01: Anne = 7/10, 3x02: Dead Man’s Party = 6/10,
3x03: Faith, Hope And Trick = 8/10, 3x04: Beauty And The Beasts =6/10,
3x05: Homecoming =7/10, 3x06: Band Candy =8/10,
3x07: Revelations = 8/10, 3x08: Lovers Walk =9/10,
3x09: The Wish=10/10, 3x10: Amends =8/10,
3x11: Gingerbread = 7/10, 3x12: Helpless =6/10,
3x13: The Zeppo = 5/10, 3x14: Bad Girls = 9/10,
3x15: Consequences = 9/10, 3x16: Doppelgangland = 8/10,
3x17: Enemies = 7/10, 3x18: Earshot = 8/10,
3x19: Choices = 7/10, 3x20: The Prom = 8/10,
3x21: Graduation Day Part 1 = 10/10, 3x22: Graduation Day Part 2 = 10/10.

Season Three is currently available on VHS and DVD

Thursday, October 19, 2006

My Review of Doctor Who's: "Revelation Of The Daleks"

Written by Eric Saward
Directed by Graeme Harper

Dalek: “It is The Doctor.”
Davros: “Excellent. My lure has worked.”

Last time viewers had to wait four years to see a certain Creator and this time, it’s only been a year since Davros made his last appearance on screen. Arguably this has to be his best serial since “Genesis Of The Daleks” but maybe that’s just me.

The Doctor and Peri meanwhile have landed on Necros, a pretty icy planet that for once forces Peri to actually wear some sensible clothing for a change. Funnily enough, Peri isn’t particularly thrilled with this idea but asking The Doctor if she can slip into something more comfortable is met with derision as well.

However The Doctor isn’t here to be frozen to death but more to visit the deceased friend Stengos. This guy seems to be pretty popular as there are two other people on the lookout for him but for the first few scenes its The Doctor interest in him that takes precedence.

Of course arriving on a mysterious planet also means the first spot of bother and when a mutant attacks The Doctor for no reason, Peri is forced to kill. Given that we’ve had to endure most serials with Peri repeatedly getting captured and screaming it’s relieving to see her be the one to save The Doctor for a change.

The mutant however isn’t an evil creature but the unsuccessful experiment of a scientist called The Great Healer. Seeing this poor disfigured person piques The Doctor’s curiosity but there’s a fair amount of resistance from Peri. She’d rather go back in the TARDIS and leave Necros but you just know that The Doctor doesn’t feel the same way.

As for The Great Healer, even if it wasn’t revealed so early, I would’ve guessed automatically that it was an alias Davros was using. It seems that he’s got a neat little business set up on Necros by coming up with his own unique way of combating famine. Well Davros might be a psychopath but he’s also a clever one.

That being said he has to deal with the likes of Kara. She’s not particularly thrilled to be handed virtually all of her money over to Davros so he can make his own advancements. Of course she has to play nice with him but the hostility both her and Davros have for one another can be seen in their very conversation.

To give her some credit, Kara doesn’t just bore viewers by whining to her secretary Vogel about how much she loathes being under Davros’ thumb. Instead she decides to have him killed and hires Orcini, one of the best assassins to carry out the task. Although it’s a smart move on her part, I still don’t like her.

I think it’s because I’ve meant a fair amount of people like Kara who are disingenuous with virtually everyone they talk to. Even with Orcini and his squire Bostock, Kara displays total insincerity. Then after she’s gotten them to leave she makes some nasty remarks about the two of them.

Orcini is probably one of the most likeable characters in this serial along with Bostock. Both of them are strong minded and savvy men and while they argue on tactics, there is a good rapport with them. Although neither of them trusts Kara or Vogel, Orcini happily takes to the task of killing Davros for reasons of honour.

As for Stengos, his daughter Natasha and the rather weak willed Grigory break into Tranquil Repose in order to find his body. Between arguing and shooting staff members there, what they find is pretty gory even for Doctor Who, which isn’t altogether gory.

We’ve seen all kinds of Daleks but a Glass Dalek with Stengos’ head in it, partially converted is really gruesome. It’s nice that you see him try to resist the Dalek mentality before he succumbs and Natasha is forced into killing. Then her and Grigory end up arrested and tortured by workers Lilt and Takis.

The other interesting dynamic is Tranquil Repose. It might have a good reputation but with Davros using it for his own means, the thuggish manners of Lilt and Takis and the repulsive Jobel, played excellently by Clive Swift, it’s hardly Fishers And Sons, now is it?

There’s also Tasambeker, who goes from being sympathetic at one point to utterly pathetic the next. In a sense you feel bad for her due to the monstrous way Jobel behaves with her but when she gets thick with Lilt and The Doctor at different points, your sympathy tends to waver. Working with Davros was also an ill informed decision on her part.

When he’s not moaning about traitors and using statues to lure The Doctor into a trap, Davros is irritated by Jobel. It seems Davros doesn’t like when people refuse his offer of immortality so he gets Tasambeker to kill Jobel. She only does it after Jobel excelled himself in being cruel and afterwards she got killed by Daleks.

Another character who sparkles in this serial is the DJ. A part of me can’t believe I’m actually saying that he’s so bloody irritating in the first half of this story but as soon as he’s paired with Peri he shines and so does she. Peri mentions being a little homesick and the DJ makes a good effort to warn The Doctor and protect Peri from the Daleks. Sadly he’s also another casualty.

Orcini on the other hand has twigged that Kara has set her up and his plan to exterminate Davros doesn’t exactly go to plan either. It seems that Davros was being clever with the head in the jar. When that’s dispatched he appears in his usual form with the ability.

To Orcini’s credit he gets the pleasure of killing Kara and even Davros thinks high enough of Orcini. Of course the real person Davros wants to interact with is The Doctor and they get some of the best exchanges in my opinion. Both Colin Baker and Terry Molloy spark with each other.

Davros lets The Doctor know about his plans, building a new race of Daleks, using corpses as a food solution. Davros’ reasoning for the latter is twisted but consistent with him too. We know how little he cares for human life and only he would get a sick pleasure in making a joke when The Doctor is horrified by what he’s doing.

Davros doesn’t get too long to be smug though. Thanks to Takis, a bunch of Daleks from Skaro arrive to arrest him and with Orcini blowing off his hand, things aren’t looking good for Davros. He can’t even persuade the Skaro Daleks to attack The Doctor and that is a bad sign.

With Tranquil Repose blown to bits, more people dead and Takis and Lilt forced into taking a new business venture, the ending of this serial is lighter. To be fair this isn’t the most darkest of serial, in spite of it’s gore so the ending actually works in it’s favour and both The Doctor and Peri deserve a better holiday after this.

Also in “Revelation Of The Daleks”

It was nice for Davros to actually be introduced early in this serial. Pity this wasn’t a common occurrence with a lot of his stories.

The Doctor: “You eat too much.”
Peri: “Hardly. I’ve just given my lunch to the fish. Can’t I wear something more comfortable?”

There was a lot of comments about food and weight in this serial than you’d usually get from a series like this.

Mutant: “You wouldn’t think I used to look like you.”
The Doctor: “What happened to you?”

Tasambeker: “An attendant has been murdered.”
Jobel: “Why couldn’t it have been you?”

Peri’s botany was mentioned again in this episode, especially towards the end when The Doctor found his own protein solution.

Peri: “Okay. Just don’t drop me.”
The Doctor: “Drop you? I’ll be lucky if I can lift you with the amount you weigh.”
Peri: “Watch it, porky.”

Davros (to himself): “Suddenly everyone sees and knows too much.”

If Davros loathed that DJ so much then why didn’t he have him killed the moment he set up shop in Tranquil Repose?

Jobel: “Mind you, you’re the first living client I wouldn’t mind working on.”
The Doctor (to Peri): “He does go on, doesn’t he?”

The Doctor: “Friend of yours?”
Tasambeker: “What’s it got to do with you?”
The Doctor: “Absolutely nothing at all. I was only taking an interest.”

Big praise to Graeme Harper who did an excellent job with this serial. He directed a few of my favourites such as “The Caves Of Androzani”, “Doomsday”, “Utopia” and “Turn Left” to name four.

Jobel: “I love a Miss who plays hard to get.”
Peri: “Then you’ll love me to death.”

Dalek: “You will obey.”
Kara: “How inconvenient. You know how difficult it is to find good secretaries.”

The place where The Doctor was supposed to take Peri was Blackpool. Originally the next serial was supposed to be located there instead of “Trial Of A Time Lord”.

Davros (to Tasambeker): “As I said, I once offered Jobel immortality. He refused. I now make the same offer to you. Serve me with your total being and I will make you a Dalek.”

The Doctor: “May I ask what you’re doing here?”
Orcini: “You may but only a fool would expect an answer.”

After this serial aired, the show went on hiatus for eighteen months sparking a fair amount of controversy as well.

Kara: “Now we both die. Satisfied?”
Orcini: “You before me.”

The Doctor: “But did you bother to tell them that they might be eating their own relative?”
Davros: “Certainly not! That would’ve created what I believed is termed ‘consumer resistance’.”

There was a lot of music in this episode but Glen Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”. It would also be used in “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances”.

Davros: “You’ve not heard the last of me. I shall return.”
The Doctor: “And I shall be waiting.”

This was released on DVD in 2005 but then re-released in 2007 as part of the Davros box set. Great commentary with Nicola Bryant, Graeme Harper and Eric Saward.

“Revelation Of The Daleks” was a satisfying way to end Colin Baker’s first season. Davros and the Daleks were well served; there was some great supporting characters, brilliant dialogue and pithy black humour to boot.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 2 Review

US Airdate on the WB: September 15th 1997-May 19th 1998.

Hitting the second season of the deadly Sunnydale, Buffy finds almost dying a tough experience. Sadly for her, that’s nothing compared to the dangers of Spike and Drusilla, Career Week at school, a potential stepfather from hell, the death of a pivotal ally and the horror of her first time resulting in a frightening transformation from the love of her life.

Having Sex Reveals That All Men Are Evil – Season Two is the first of many turning points for Buffy, both the character and the series itself. For one, it’s from here onwards that the series goes from an enjoyable supernatural romp to a series where the meaning “life or death” situations are literally redefined. It’s the season (of which there will be many) where the characters are put through the emotional gamut time and time again. Funnily enough, it’s also the season when I stopped being a casual viewer and became an obsessive. Misery love pain, eh? Well I’m not a misery guts but I love my drama dark, meaty and raw and for a series with a large teen following, Buffy would more than satisfy that appetite.

Highly regarded as the best season of the show’s entire run, Season Two opens with the superb “When She Was Bad” where our beloved heroine doesn’t take well the fact that she nearly died last summer so she behaves like so much of a bitch that Cordelia of all people tells her to get over her pain. This is excellent advice and is only really taken into consideration when Giles, Willow and Jenny are to be used as a sacrifice to resurrect The Master and Xander rips Buffy a new one of her attitude. Post Traumatic Stress aside, Buffy snaps out of her funk and rescues her pals and apologises to Angel. So all is well that ends well for now, right?

Um not really because for a second year in a role our main big baddies happen to be vampires and the Cockney punk rock duo of Spike and Drusilla does live up to the promise of more trouble. They’re really here for the Festival of St Vigeous where their vampire powers are at their height but Spike loves the idea of messing with Buffy and proceeds to attack her at school during Parent/Teacher night. Spike is a cocky so and so sired by his insane lover Drusilla who in turn was sired by Angelus, giving them the nice tie into Sunnydale that helps heighten their ongoing plots in both the season and the remainder of the series.

Debuting in “School Hard”, another classic episode was only the tip of the Spike and Drusilla iceberg and these two continues to wreck havoc whether it was trying to kill a vulnerable slayer “Halloween” or “Lie To Me” or abducting Angel in “What’s My Line Parts 1 and 2” where his blood could restore Drusilla, Marti Noxon made her scripting debut or Buffy learned that her brief death meant the activation of another slayer – the uptight and duty bound Kendra, Joss Whedon were not only bringing baddies to be reckoned with but also villains of the epic scale to rival movies. The first half of the season also deserves the credit of the beautiful Giles and Jenny romance, pairing the sparring duo of Xander and Cordelia and debuting monosyllabic musician Oz. Hey, if Xander and Giles can get laid, so should Willow and most people will agree that this is Seth Green’s best role to date in his career.

The second half however only improves on the opening half after we got through a clever analogy of the stepfather from hell (who’s a robot and played by John Ritter no less) in “Ted” and the incredibly banal “Bad Eggs”.

The moment that captured the ratings was the 17th birthday from hell for Buffy when not only Spike and Drusilla raised a beast called The Judge that could exterminate humanity but sex with Angel turned him back into the former killing machine known as Angelus. We’ve also had boyfriends who are bastards after giving it up but Angelus’ mission to utterly destroy is ever bit as captivating as it’s disturbing. “Surprise” and “Innocence” are the defining moments in any television series but there is the exact moment that also culturally thrust Buffy into the mainstream. The stunning two parter also brought pain for Giles when Jenny was revealed to be a part of the gypsy tribe that was supposed to prevent Angelus from ever coming back. It’s just too bad for her and everyone else that her silence and attempts of redemption by finding a way to re soul Angelus results in a horrifically violent death in the unforgettable “Passion”. This particular event is also sandwiched in between Willow discovering Oz is a werewolf and Xander learning the hard way that having wanting to jump your bones isn’t always a good thing.

The final five episodes of the season continue the consistence quite well as Buffy tries not to let her psycho ex-lover get the better while dealing with an asshole of a principal that is Snyder. A tale of unrequited love gone wrong dominates “I Only Have Eyes For You” and manages to thrash the bogey man themed “Killed By Death” and the much maligned “Go Fish” (which debuted second pivotal staff writer David Fury). Someone really should’ve thought the Creature From The Black Lagoon tribute a lot better than the mess we got here.

The second season ends on a truly excellent but heartbreaking note with the triumphant “Becoming Parts 1 and 2”. If this didn’t have you glued to your seat and the hankies at the ready, then nothing would. With Willow badly injured, Kendra murdered, Buffy framed for said murder, Snyder revealing his true hatred for the Slayer, Giles kidnapped, the fallout Buffy suffered from telling the naïve Joyce about who she really was and the ultimate fight to the death between Buffy and Angelus as he opened Acathla and planned to send the world to hell, the pain came big time when Willow restored Angel’s soul and Buffy still had to send the love of her life to hell to save humanity. Not dealing with this, Buffy skips town and the Scoobies are left to their own devices. It’s not the most positive way to end a drama fuelled second season but it’s certainly keeps with the brilliance that this whole season constantly throws at you. I know I was literally counting the moments for Season Three after the last two episodes were finished. Needless to say, I wasn’t alone.

DVD EXTRAS: Like with many a series, every season of Buffy improves on the DVD and extras scale and the season is served with four interesting commentaries as David Greenwalt has plenty to say on his directorial debut with “Reptile Boy” and Marti Noxon isn’t shy in talking about the series darker side sexually with her anecdotes on “What’s My Line Parts 1 and 2”. Similarly Joss Whedon has high praise on the series defining “Innocence” but why there aren’t commentaries for “Passion” and “Becoming Parts 1 and 2” beggars’ belief. Other highlights in this generous helping the usual scripts and the fun and lengthy features on the shows design (“Designing Buffy”), monsters (“Beauty And The Beasts”), as well as prosthetics (“A Buffy Bestiary”). Many of these have interviews and brief comments from regular cast and crew, which despite a notable absence from Sarah Michelle Gellar; you do have surreal moment of listening to James Marsters in his Californian accent and learn how the teeth on the vampires are done. If that doesn’t float your boat there are some US trailers for certain episodes of Season Two and new cast biographies but honestly, I think there is a lot here for DVD lovers to chow down on.


2x01: When She Was Bad = 9/10, 2x02: Some Assembly Required = 6/10,
2x03: School Hard = 9/10, 2x04: Inca Mummy Girl =5/10,
2x05: Reptile Boy = 7/10, 2x06: Halloween = 8/10,
2x07: Lie To Me = 9/10, 2x08: The Dark Age =6/10,
2x09: What’s My Line Part 1= 8/10, 2x10: What’s My Line Part 2=9/10,
2x11: Ted = 7/10, 2x12: Bad Eggs = 4/10,
2x13: Surprise =10/10, 2x14: Innocence =10/10,
2x15: Phases = 7/10, 2x16: Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered = 8/10,
2x17: Passion = 10/10, 2x18: Killed By Death =7/10,
2x19: I Only Have Eyes For You = 9/10, 2x20: Go Fish = 4/10,
2x21: Becoming Part 1 = 10/10, 2x22: Becoming Part 2 = 10/10.

Season Two is both available on VHS and DVD.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My Review of Doctor Who's: "The Mark Of The Rani"

Written by Pip And Jane Baker
Directed by Sarah Hellings

The Rani (re The Master): “What’s he up now? It’d be something devious and over complicated. He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.”

What’s better than having two quarrelling Time Lords in a serial? Simple answer would be three. After you’ve got to have the Sixth Doctor interact with The Master and that other devious Time Lord – The Rani. Well it does make for a lot of fun, right?

The Doctor and Peri wind up in Killingworth when the TARDIS is deliberately sent off course. The thing about this is that they’re in the 19th Century and also caught up in the events of the Luddite riots. Angry villagers do not love the idea of machinery replacing and dedicate their time to sabotaging any attempts of development.

However these villagers are behaving more erratically than usual and when they start venting their rage out on geniuses such as George Stevenson, there’s something more sinister afoot. The Doctor is determined to get to the bottom but Peri would prefer to get the hell out of there.

If I’m being honest, the Luddite rebellion aspect of this serial is pretty boring, mainly due to some shameless overacting on the part of the disgruntled workers. Even in their rage, I’d imagine that we’re supposed to feel some sympathy for them but for the most part, I find them a bit of a hindrance to the story. It also doesn’t help that The Master is able to use to attack The Doctor at various different times during the story.

At least the cause behind their rage is a lot more interesting. Not only do they hate development but everytime they head to a certain bath house, they end up leaving with a red mark on their neck as well as the inability to sleep. As plot twists go, there’s a satisfying element to it.

The Rani is the culprit the sleep deprivation and as guest villains go, the woman is borderline perfect. In all fairness besides The Doctor and The Master, there aren’t that many Time Lords that are actually that interesting. Okay so we did have that meddling Monk and there was Romana but overall we’ve been lacking on that score.

Kate O’Mara is an excellent piece of casting as she manages to make The Rani both ruthless and logical in her madcap schemes. The fact that she also avoids doing the femme fatale act also gives her an added bonus. The Rani is an exiled Time Lord who’s been coming back and forth to earth to use human as guinea pigs for experiments.

What’s even more interesting is that when she is reprimanded for her actions, she doesn’t waste a minute to point out how humans are equally as callous to the lesser species themselves. I have to admit that while her actions are seriously wrong, it hard to counter that argument.

The best part of the serial however is seeing The Rani and The Master working together to take down The Doctor. The Master is still seething over the actions of “Planet Of Fire” and while The Rani is only too aware of their ongoing feud, she is literally forced into helping The Master with his vengeance plan.

It can easily be argued that this serial didn’t need The Master in it but after a few watches, I’m actually glad that he is there. I don’t doubt this serial still would’ve been good without him, but Anthony Ainley does pull in a good performance alongside Colin Baker and Kate O’Mara as all three Time Lords sparkle.

One of the things that makes me love The Rani is her assessment of both The Doctor and The Master. As enemies go, the two of them have ‘can’t live with or without’ type of rapport and The Rani is only too quick to point it out. After all it was The Master who contrived this little meeting. Both The Doctor and The Rani clearly have better things to be getting on with than pandering to The Master’s whims.

However with angry villagers about, The Master manages to persuade The Rani into harnessing the intellect of the geniuses that are arriving to Killingworth for a meeting to their own advantage. Using the hapless Luke as well manages to ensure that the meeting isn’t cancelled but he becomes surplus to requirements when The Rani’s booby traps turn him into a tree.

The final 15 minutes of the serial focuses a lot less on the meeting (which makes sense given that George Stevenson is the only genius we meet) and more on The Doctor and Peri stopping The Master and The Rani. It’s interesting that The Doctor’s compassion for humans can be used against him too but it was blatantly obvious that Peri wouldn’t be clever enough to stop the two villainous Time Lords from escaping.

The final few scenes are rather amusing though. On one hand you’ve got The Master and The Rani in the latter’s TARDIS experiencing a bumpy thanks to a certain someone’s interference but at the same time you’ve got that hilarious final line where The Doctor admits to Lord Ravensworth that he and Peri mainly argue.

Now the dynamic between The Doctor and Peri isn’t one of my favourites and here’s it a bit hit and miss. There are times when he overreacts to some of the questions or comments that Peri often comes out with but there are at two moments in the serial where it’s clear that he does care for her. It would’ve been nice if the show had found a happy medium with this team up.

Also in “The Mark Of The Rani”

Originally this serial was supposed to be called “Enter The Rani” or “Too Clever By Far”. I think the latter title would’ve been a good choice.

Peri: “Well I only asked a simple question.”
The Doctor: “Indeed and it was the wrong question.”

Both The Master and The Rani wore disguises here. The Master was a scarecrow and The Rani an old woman in the bath house.

The Rani (to The Master): “You and The Doctor are a well matched pair of pests. You bring nothing but trouble. Now I need a new assistant.”

The Rani: “Do you trust anyone?”
The Master: “Yes, myself.”

Instead of something skin tight for a change, Peri wore a dress that practically looked like it came out of a Disney movie.

The Doctor: “Well you had me fooled if it’s any consolation.”
The Rani: “It’s not.”

The Rani: “No, don’t kill him, kill this one. Touché Doctor.”
The Doctor: “Don’t hurry back.”

This might sound disloyal but not only does The Rani seem more intellectual than The Doctor but she’s got a better looking TARDIS to boot.

The Rani: “The Time Lords will never permit it.”
The Master: “Who is going to alert them?”
The Rani: “Indeed.”

The Doctor (to himself): “The Rani is a genius. Shame I can’t stand her. Wonder if I was nice she’d let me – no, no.”

Among ruling a planet, one of The Rani’s experiments ate the Lord President Of Gallifrey’s cat. Those T-Rex embryos looks incredibly fake however.

The Rani: “I don’t make mistakes.”
The Master: “If that were true, you’d still be on Gallifrey.”

The Master (re The Doctor): “I’d feel happier if I could see him.”
The Rani: “A sentiment he’d reciprocate.”

The DVD released in 2006 has a great commentary with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Kate O’Mara as well as other neat extras.

Lord Ravensworth: “I will venture one question, Doctor. What exactly do you do in there?”
The Doctor: “Argue mainly.”

This is the only serial written by a husband and wife duo as far as I can tell.

“The Mark Of The Rani” is surprisingly a lot better than it’s given credit for. The three Time Lords are excellent, Peri is mostly helpful rather than helpless and although the riots drag, everything else is reasonably satisfying.

Rating: 7 out of 10.