Saturday, November 21, 2015

Review: "Hear the Raven"


The first episode of Doctor Who since the Eighties to...


Still there?

Yeah. So that's it. No more Clara Oswald.

What happened? The Doctor and Clara are on the TARDIS. They get a call from Rigsby, an old friend from last season. Turns out he's got a tattoo counting down on his neck. They arrive and find out he's got some kind of "Quantum something-or-other" on him. Long story short: he's gonna die and aliens are going to kill him.

The investigation leads to a "trap street", a hidden street with aliens living on it. The aliens are under the protection of Ashilda, our immortal Viking woman who is the one who put the tattoo on Rigsby for killing an alien woman.

While the Doctor and Clara poke about, they find out that the tattoo countdown invokes some kind of alien spirit that takes the form of a raven. When the time is up, it kills the tattoo holder. The tattoo can be passed along if both parties are willing, but someone dies.

Clara manages to persuade Rigsby (a new father) to pass the tattoo to her, thinking she'll be safe as Ashilda has guaranteed her safety.

The investigation finds that the alien woman Rigsby allegedly killed is actually alive in stasis. The whole thing is a trap to get the Doctor in place so a teleport bracelet can be put on him for some nefarious purpose. Ashilda turns out to be behind it as a plan to save the alien street.

Then everyone finds out Clara did a tattoo switch. It seems that prevents Ashilda from having any control over the situation and revoking the death sentence. It's implied Ashilda was planning to let the raven kill her to spare Rigsby after the trap was sprung, but Clara has inexplicably cut Ashilda out of the deal somehow.

We then get several minutes of meaningful looks and good-byes before - yes - Clara dies. On screen, no less.

The Doctor is then teleported away, but not before warning Ashilda that he's pissed and she'd best stay out of his way.

The episode ends with the TARDIS marked up in with a pic of Clara and some artwork.

So, yeah. First Companion killed onscreen (permanently) since Adric was killed in "Earthshock". Can't say I'm sorry to see Clara go. She was a vague character that never really found her voice or point in the series. I've heard folks describe her as a "manic pixie girl", and that label fits. She was a sort of Mary Sue (though not quite as bad as River Song) and annoying as a result.

Overall, the episode felt rough, clunky, and excessively contrived. The whole thing was obviously too much of a "part one" of a continued story and Clara's death felt silly and anticlimactic. I expected more somehow.

So yeah. I'm chalking this episode up as weak tea.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: Fidelis Co - Alcon Backpack and GTG Duffle Bag

Back when I was still supporting Kickstarter projects, one gained my attention and intrigued me: the GTG Duffle Bag by Fidelis co.

I was expecting to do some weekend traveling at the time and needed a good day bag. The description intrigued me. I figured if it didn't come in time for my planned trip, I'd have another "go bag" to use.

It came in time (a rare Kickstarter indeed) and I made use of it. It worked out perfectly. Had plenty of room, was sturdy, comfortable on my back, and made a perfect airplane carry-on.

Time passed and I continued to commute on BART for work. From time-to-time I have to lug a work laptop around and my normal messenger bags were starting to put a strain on my back. Fidelis, at that time, had sent Kickstarter backers some coupon code or something for their site opening.

Curious, I browsed and saw what I'd forgotten from their Kickstarter offering: they have a backpack. The Alcon Backpack, to be precise.

Moments later, I had an order in. A week after that, I had a parcel at my doorstep (well, at my office, but I quibble).

So I have a lot of bags. The Alcon is easily my favorite backpack and my current commuter bag. It's sturdy, rides well on my back, has comfortable shoulder straps, and has an interesting feature: a hood built in for rainy weather. The flap has a zipper to access the interior (and pull out the hood). The locking mechanism for the flap is very solid and satisfying.

The bag has another interesting feature: one side is a strip that can take Velcro patches. They sell accessory pockets (for example) that one can place on the side of the bag. These pockets aren't flimsy material. They're on pretty solid and would be noticeable if someone thought to pull a pocket off.

I have to say, Fidelis Co. is an impressive company that makes some damn fine bags. I intend to watch them for future offerings and should I need another bag, they're likely going to be my first stop on any search I conduct.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review: "Sleep No More"

Wow. As "Doctor Who" episodes go, this one was a special brand of WTF.

Spoilers follow. Blah-blah.

You were warned.

Okay, so the episode is done in a "found footage" format. No opening credits (first time ever). Narrated by some bespectacled wonk, it plays as shown from various camera angles starting with a crew of four soldiers coming to a space station that's gone quiet. As cliche soldiers go, they're pretty standard: there's the young female captain, the younger mouthy political wonk, the jokester, and the genetically-modified killing machine who happens to have a bit of a crush on the young mouthy wonk.

They get on the station and go through the motions of looking at the poorly-lit surroundings with flashlights.

In grand tradition, they stumble across the Doctor and Clara. There's a moment of guns pointing then the Doctor does the psychic paper thing and everyone is friends.

Then they're attacked by weird lumpy humanoids that growl a lot.

They're separated from jokester guy who later gets killed.

The main group finds a lab with a bunch of pods. Clara gets sucked into one and we all find out that the pods are "Morpheus", a technology that lets you go without sleep. Mouthy wonk guy is proud that he doesn't use it but the captain does, as does so many people back home on Titan.

I'm flashing to "Titan Maximum" as I read that. God I miss that show. Sorry. Going on...

So they find in one of the pods the bespectacled wonk who is narrating. Turns out he's hiding from the monsters in the pods. He's also the guy who created Morpheus.

In a scuffle with the monsters, the group got a part of an arm. Turns out the monsters turn to dust easily. The Doctor analyzes the dust and finds out it's eye-gunk from when you wake up in the morning.


Turns out the monsters are made up of eye gunk. Ponder that.

Okay, so there's another attack. Bespectacled guy is apparently eaten by one of the monsters and the group is divided again. Genetic killing machine and mouthy political guy go off in one direction while the Doctor, Clara, and the soldier captain go off in another. There's shenanigans. Killing machine sacrifices himself to save his crush: mouthy political guy, but that guy gets killed a few minutes later.

Meanwhile the Doctor works out that there's actually no cameras anywhere. Not on the soldiers' helmets. Not on the station. Nowhere. Turns out the "found footage" is coming from dust mites of sentient eye gunk that are eating people.

Ponder that for a moment.

Okay, move on.

Turns out bespectacled guy is alive and in-league with the monsters. He's trying to smuggle a creature to Titan to spore and infect all humanity.

He gets shot by the captain, then there's a scuffle with monsters. They flee back to the TARDIS but are cut off. The Doctor performs sonic sunglasses wizardry and destroys the "gravity shields" that are keeping the station in orbit around... oh crap, I forget. Neptune? Doesn't matter.

The creatures are crushed by the increasing gravity and turn to dust. The Doctor, Clara, and soldier-girl get in the TARDIS and flee to safety, planning to go to Titan to destroy all the Morpheus machines causing the creatures to exist.

Then we cut to the footage. Turns out bespectacled wonk is still alive. And he's actually an eye-gunk shell and has been all along. The "found footage" includes an electronic signal (blipped on screen) to infect anyone who watches.

Yup. That's you, audience.

And that's sort of it. I guess everyone dies "Ringu" style"? I... I really don't understand what that ending was all about.

Honestly, the best part of the entire episode towards the last quarter when the Doctor started going on about how nothing that was going on made any sense.

Way to break the fourth wall, Doctor!

I can't tell if this is a two-parter with the next episode. It doesn't appear related in the trailer.

So... yeah. This was sort of a waste of time. Nice mood and ambiance (for "found footage", a trope I truly hate), but a complete and utter failure in plot.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Review: "The Zygon Invasion"

So we get to the two-parter known as "The Zygon Invasion" for Doctor Who. Spoilers. Usual caveats apply. Etc.

Still there? You were warned.

Part one starts off with fighting happening in some unknown place. Fleeing from the fighting is a familiar face: Osgood from U.N.I.T., the Doctor's number one fan-girl. This is, of course, a bit confusing as we saw her get vaporized by "Missy" in last season, but it turns out that there's been two Osgoods since the events of "The Day of the Doctor". One Zygon and one Human. Nobody knows which is which and the Osgoods have been in charge of keeping the peace in the truce between Humans and the Zygons who live in-secret amongst us.

It turns out that a splinter group of Zygons has broken the peace, wanting to live as Zygons and not shapeshifted into humans. So they want "the Osgood Box", some MacGuffin that can be used to end the cease-fire somehow. So they captured Osgood and interrogated her, but not before she was able to send off an SOS to the Doctor.

Meanwhile, Clara finds something amiss in her apartment building and gets snatched by Zygons and replaced.

The Doctor comes and meets with U.N.I.T. and Clara. He wants to talk to the splinter group and negotiate. Kate wants to use some nerve gas Harry Sullivan made to kill Zygons but the Doctor stole. There's a lot of tension.

Clara (secretly a Zygon) and a U.N.I.T. flunky do investigation in London on weird disappearances of people while Kate goes to New Mexico to investigate where Osgood disappeared. The Doctor goes to Turkmanistan to where the renegade Zygons had a training camp.

There is a lot of paranoia resulting in a lot of dead U.N.I.T. people. Clara is revealed as a Zygon before she kills all the U.N.I.T. redshirts with her. Kate is cornered by a Zygon and the Doctor is on a plane returning to the UK when Zygon-Clara calls him to say Clara is dead just before she fires a missile at his plane.

Part two starts off where the cliffhanger ended. Turns out Clara is alive and in a Zygon pod. Being a Mary Sue, Clara is able to use her special Clara mind-powers to influence the Zygon holding her shape and interfere with Zygon-Clara's assassination of the Doctor... mostly. The Zygon-Clara still blows up the plane, but the Doctor and a rescued Osgood (retrieved in the prior episode) escape to safety. Presumably the pilot is killed, but no mention is made either way. Kind of cold, really.

So Zygon-Clara finds out that her interrogation of Osgood does not get her the "Osgood Box" that she believes to be a device to force all Zygons to assume their true form, forcing war between Zygons and Humans.

Frustrated, she goes to Clara's pod and mind-melds with Clara to interrogate her. Turns out Clara knows where the "Osgood Box" is. It's in the Black Archive (from "The Day of the Doctor"). Zygon-Clara meets with Kate Lethbridge-Stewart who returns from New Mexico, apparently replaced by a Zygon.

Zygon-Clara takes Clara's pod with her and they jaunt off to the Black Archive. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Osgood have a bit of banter. The usual thing with the Doctor rambling on (he claims his first name is "Basil", for what it's worth). He wants to know if Osgood is Human or Zygon and she's not telling.

Everything comes to a head in the Black Archive where Zygon-Clara finds out there are two Osgood Boxes, each with two buttons. The Doctor comes on-scene, as does Kate. We get a reenactment of the show-down from "Day of the Doctor" only with these boxes. The Doctor claims one will either release the Zygon-killing nerve gas or detonate the nuke under the Black Archive, depending on which button is pressed. The other one will either force the Zygons into their true form or disable their shapeshifting, turning them pure human forever.

There's a lengthy bit of speeches in which the Doctor tries to convince Kate and Zygon-Clara not to press the buttons. He talks about his role in the Time War and the terrible consequences. It's pretty much the same fare that's been rehashed since 2005, so nothing new there. In an interesting turn of events, his speech works. Kate closes the box, buttons un-pressed. Zygon-Clara is reluctant, but finally agrees to not press the buttons.

Turns out the boxes are fakes. They don't do anything.

The Doctor wipes everyone's memory save for Osgood, Clara, and Zygon-Clara. Turns out this is the fifteenth time this showdown has happened.

Zygon-Clara takes the place of the missing Osgood. The Doctor and Clara jaunt off in the TARDIS. The Osgoods go off for ice cream.

The summary makes this story sound ridiculous and stupid, but I have to say I enjoyed it. The paranoia of the episodes was well-done and the threat was kind of cool. The villain being a splinter group of idiot children was a nice twist. And it was especially-nice that the Doctor's preaching found an audience for a change. Overall, it was pretty enjoyable.

EDIT: so there are a few points that bugged me in this episode:
  • Why did the Doctor keep asking Osgood if she was human or Zygon? What did it matter?
  • Mary-Sue-ness aside, how is Clara able to perform her bit of psychic mojo against the Zygons?
  • Why do they keep portraying Kate Lethbridge-Stewart as borderline bloodthirsty? I thought she was supposed to be more "science" and less "guns".

Review: "Spectre"

Saw Spectre on opening night for the US last night.

In the words of one of my UK friends, it was "Spectre-actular". And I have to agree with her.

Taking place after the events in Skyfall, James Bond finds himself in the midst of yet another super-conspiracy, only this one leads to the evil organization that all Bond long-time fans know of: S.P.E.C.T.R.E.

I loved the film. It was reasonably fast-paced, with solid action and fun. Bond's crew (M, Q, Moneypenny, etc.) got to have some fun this time around and the movie had some familiar faces, especially Andrew Scott (who plays Moriarty on the "Sherlock" series).

Probably my favorite was Léa Seydoux, the "Bond girl". She was a good mix of smart, tough, sexy, vulnerable, and... well... um... sexy. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't totally in-love with her. Well, in-lust. Wait. Where was I?

Oh yes, Spectre. The buzz is that Daniel Craig wants to step down from playing Bond. Certainly this will make a good swan-song, for him.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Review: "The Girl who Died"/"The Woman who Lived"

I have to say, I'm liking the fact they're doing two-part episodes these days.

So, spoilers. Blah-blah.

Still there?

You were warned.

"The Girl who Died" - set in Viking times (only with horned helmets... so no authenticity, but we're talking "Doctor Who", so moving on), the Doctor and Clara arrive and are grabbed by viking raiders who take them back to their village. The best thing about the scene is the vikings destroying the sonic sunglasses (which are not permanently destroyed, alas). The Doctor attempts a bluff by claiming he's Odin and gets trumped by an image of Odin in the skies. He spies a girl (Maisie Williams) who gets his fascination. She is named Ashilda and is unusually clever (and mouthy) for a viking girl.

A bunch of alien soldiers materialize, grab all the warriors in the village, and then grab Ashilda and Clara when Clara uses the broken sonic sunglasses to try to free herself from viking chains.

Ashilda and Clara discover that the aliens zap the warriors to turn them into a sort of testosterone milkshake for the alien masquerading as Odin. Clara tries to bluff freedom for the two of them, but Ashilda winds up challenging the warriors to a duel the next day.

They're returned and Clara tries to convince the Doctor to help. The Doctor intends to abandon the village as the fight is hopeless, but Ashilda and Clara convince him to stay.

The Doctor starts to train the remaining villagers (none of whom are warriors), then comes up with a clever plan to fool the invaders.

Cue fancy hand-waving, culminating in stealing an alien warrior helmet to Ashilda can dream up an illusion to scare off the aliens.

The plan works but Ashilda's heart gives out working the alien helmet and she dies.

The Doctor has one of his melodramatic moments and then uses some alien med tech to bring Ashilda back from the dead. And it makes her immortal. Before he takes off, he leaves another alien immortality chip thing so Ashilda can make an immortal companion if she wants.

To be continued...

"The Woman Who Lived" - Ashilda has now been alive for 800 years and it's the 1600's. She's disguised as a robber known as the Knightmare. The Doctor arrives (sans Clara) hunting alien tech. He stumbles across Ashilda's path and finds out she now calls herself "Me" and can't remember most of her past. She's now cooperating with an alien cat man (seriously, don't ask) to get an amulet that will get him home.

The majority of the episode is Ashilda (aka "Lady Me") and the Doctor talking about the impact of immortality on her and how it's made her numb to humanity.

She wants to travel with him and he's reluctant (why? I don't know. I mean, he traveled with Susan, Romana, Captain Jack, and K-9, all of whom don't have short lifespans, but except for a brief reference to Captain Jack, that point is glossed over).

Turns out she's working with alien cat man 'cause he promised to take her off-world if they get the amulet that can use a person's death to open a portal to his world or something.

Ashilda is ready to kill her manservant but the Doctor pleads for her to remember her humanity. Then some soldiers come to tell Ashilda that they captured a highwayman rival of hers - some guy who tried to rob her earlier and lost - and they plan to hang him. She decides to use his death by hanging to open the portal and leaves the Doctor trapped.

The Doctor finagles an escape and follows. The highwayman is doing stand-up gallows comedy (with truly awful puns that I have to applaud and curse by turns). Everyone arrives, the Doctor gets the people to free the highwayman but Ashilda uses the alien amulet thing to kill the highwayman and open the portal.

So turns out the cat man lied and aliens start blasting through the hole in space. Ashilda and the Doctor use the remaining immortality chip to revive the highwayman, sealing the portal. The cat man is killed.

The Doctor is unsure if the highwayman is immortal, thinking the portal may have drained that energy, but Ashilda is still stuck. She now knows the Doctor won't take her with him because their perspectives are too much alike and it makes them lack empathy. That's why the Doctor has companions, to give him perspective for empathy.

Ashilda reveals she knows of the Doctor by stories and that he has a reputation for cutting off and leaving messes behind. She decides her purpose will be to clean up the aftermath of the Doctor's adventures on Earth.

The Doctor is rocking out in the TARDIS with his electric guitar when Clara returns. She tells the Doctor about some student who took a selfie as a gift to the Doctor for some reason. The Doctor looks at the picture and sees Ashilda in the background, looking at the student and Clara.

All-in-all, I'd have to say these eps were the best of the season thus far. I really liked "The Girl Who Died" and Maisie Williams really carried the episode. If she weren't on as Arya Stark, I'd dig seeing her as a Clara-replacement. The story had an old-style feel with proper villains and good, proper trickery mixed with drama.

I was less-fond of "The Woman Who Lived". Ashilda now is another Mary Sue like River Song, which would be annoying if it weren't Maisie Williams. Still, there was a lot more exposition and navel-gazing than I'd like in the ep and it didn't particularly impress me. Plus the damn sonic sunglasses are back. Oh well.