Red Dwarf X: Dear Dave – Review

Red Dwarf X Dear DaveWow, I can’t believe that next week will be the last episode of Red Dwarf X. I spoke last week of its ups and downs, but I’m happy to say that this week’s review will be staying firmly in the “ups” department.

Dear Dave is probably my favourite episode of Red Dwarf X so far. I liked its plot, I liked its jokes and I liked it for being true to both the series as a whole and the style of Series X. Dear Dave finds Lister feeling a little bit down because he’s the last human being alive. Things are made worse when he receives some very old mail from an ex-girlfriend who tells him he might have had children. What follows is a clever and warm story that focuses on Lister as a character in much the same way as the also excellent Fathers and Suns. 

What makes Dear Dave work so well is in its strong anchoring to the core values of a single character. Lister’s defining feature is that he’s the ultimate reflection humanity at its most mundane, and its most normal. The show rarely explores the tragedy of his isolation as the last man alive, and Dear Dave doesn’t really dwell on it either, but it does finally explore how that defines him as a person.

Another great strength about this episode, and something that has been working well for the whole series, is consideration of what life on board Red Dwarf is like. In previous episodes this year we’ve seen the installing new AI, getting mail from the on-board computer and been introduced to the rest of the ship’s mechanical inhabitants. This time around the vending machines from Fathers and Suns play more of a part in the story, and it really works. I really liked these vending machines the first time around, and it fits in well with the show. We’ve had talking vending machines before, but giving them personalities a bit more in line with the very popular Talkie Toaster is a winning combination.

I get the feeling that, though the scripts haven’t always been great, the writers have been very good at finding a balance in the setting this year. They understand that the claustrophobic episodes work best, but they still try to show you more of the ship. In fact, I think this is one of the first seasons in which the size of the ship really feels apparent from internal shots. But they’ve also found the balance in the amount of characters and the feeling of an isolated universe. In Series 7 we saw the re-introduction of Kochanski, Series 8 saw the resurrection of the crew, both moves that fundamentally changed the nature of the show. In Series X we finally find a middle ground that works. We have the main cast, and a supporting cast of computers, vending machines, garbage trucks roaming the hallways. We’re also seeing encounters with other races that are more indicative of a giant, empty universe than the Star Trek-esque common encounters of Series 6.

Best of all, the cast seem on top form this week. Dear Dave was a pleasure to watch. We’re certainly back to the high standards of the first two episodes, but it’s also probably the first really standout episode of the series. I liked Fathers and Suns a lot, but I think Dear Dave will be the episode that I remember (like Backwards or Gunmen of the Apocalypse) as an icon of its series.

Red Dwarf X: Entangled – Review

Red Dwarf Crew It’s hard to believe it’s already a month since Red Dwarf returned to our screens. Red Dwarf X is proving to be enjoyable, occasionally disappointing, but generally a worthwhile successor to the show of years gone by. Now we have Entangled, an episode that seems to sum up both the good and bad in a half hour of comedy that feels true to its roots, but never really becomes very funny.

The premise of Entangled is actually pretty good. Lister takes Starbug out to meet some local lifeforms called BEGGs and gets caught up in a game of poker. Unfortunately luck is not on his side and he loses Starbug and, in an attempt to win it back, Rimmer. This is a classic setup that gives the show some of its best moments. The crew attempt to bargain with the BEGGs but things don’t exactly work out. At the same time, Kryten and Cat are suffering from an outbreak of synchronicity, in which they both encounter extraordinary coincidences. This is funny at first but becomes less so as the episode continues until it becomes as much of an annoyance to the audience as the characters themselves.

However, Entangled starts to fall down pretty rapidly from a good opening. In an attempt to remove a device from Lister’s groin intended to do something nasty if he attempts to run away without paying his debts, the crew visit a ground breaking research facility and we reach one plot too many for a half hour show. Almost everything after this point is a waste of time and the episode never really catches up with its promising beginning. It feels a lot like the writers didn’t know where to go with the poker game plot and abandoned it halfway through. It’s a shame, because whatever was likely to have developed from there was bound to be a lot more interesting than the rushed mess that followed. I don’t want to be too down on the show. We’re certainly not in Lemons territory again, but I can’t shake the feeling that the writers were expecting a 45 minute runtime.

For long term fans, part of the annoyance of Entangled is probably going to be the most egregious use of plot recycling so far. For a start, the poker game plot is ripped right out of Emohawk. This wouldn’t be too bad except it’s really not as good as Emohawk. The BEGGs are not that different from the GELF tribe and it would probably work better if they’d just used them again. Worse still is the repackaging of the Luck Virus from series 5 in Kryten and Cat’s coincidence generating quantum entangling. The writers were clearly aiming to hit the same sort of beats, but when the coincidences start solving problems in a way that is poorly explained and (once again) seems to be pulled out of thin air, I must admit that I started to lose a little patience.

Entangled isn’t bad. It’s well written and still feels true to the characters and spirit of the show, but it feels sort of lazy. It’s not just the rehashing of old ideas that hurts it, but the general lack of effort gone into pacing and plot structure. The show has always been a sitcom and the jokes absolutely have to come before the clever sci-fi concepts, but there also needs to be a strong, clear skeleton to build those jokes around. All too quickly Entangled forgets its narrative thread in favour of an ever more ridiculous series of events that become less and less funny as the show goes on and it’s a real shame because each element would probably be interesting AND funny if it weren’t crammed into 30 minutes along with its brethren.

Entangled isn’t the worst episode of Red Dwarf X, but it’s probably the most disappointing because it could, and should, be so much better than it is.

Red Dwarf X: Lemons – Review

Kryten, Rimmer and the Cat in LemonsThis review contains big spoilers. 

Lemons is, I am sad to say, everything I expected Red Dwarf X to be, and everything the first two episodes weren’t. Lemons is a cartoony, clumsy episode that evokes the worst moments of the Back to Earth specials and reeks of trying to be far too clever. Worst of all, Lemons subscribes to that “and after that” school of writing that seems to be ruining all the best shows these days.

Let me sum this up for you.

Lemons opens with the crew discovering a flat pack “rejuvenation shower” that makes the occupant young and healthy, they make some jokes about flat pack furniture while doing a poor job assembling it. The shower sends them back in time to 23 AD by mistake, where they discover they don’t have the means to return. Their only option is to travel to India to find lemons so they can make a battery. And after that they meet Jesus, and after that they take him back to the ship, and after that they perform surgery on Jesus, and after that Jesus gets disillusioned about his future as the messiah and travels back to 23 AD. The first half plays out reasonably naturally, but the second half isn’t a tidy flow of events. Instead one tired development turns up after the other, with little thought as to how, or why, the episode is progressing.

This episode just does not work. The initial gag about a flat pack sci-fi gadget is naff. This kind of 90s observational humour doesn’t suit the show, and the gags have all been done to death. On top of that, the basic premise is so poor. Kryten tells the crew that the rejuvenation shower rewinds your genes, but he says nothing about it sending your genes back in time. Perhaps I’m being nitpicky, but even if you’re happy to accept that the machine has gone wrong and is sending people back in time, why Britain in 23AD? I’m not questioning the scientific accuracy so much as the pulled-out-of-our-bottoms quality it all has. It’s an awkward and unfunny opening that doesn’t feel like cause and effect. The shower feels very much like a late addition, any bad gag gadget that could send the crew to 23AD would do.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except the plot that follows isn’t worth the effort. It looks promising when they’re talking about potatoes, lemons and batteries. We are led to think this is where the episode is going, a gag filled romp through the past while they attempt to find a way home, but this is soon forgotten with the introduction of Jesus. From here on it all gets coincidental and stale. Sure, they’re in about the right time period for Jesus, but why is he in India? They say that it’s during the missing years in the Bible when Jesus travelled, but it makes no sense. The sets don’t look much more like India than the middle east, the only reason seems to be the location of the lemons. Sure, the show goes to great lengths to convince you that it’s possible Jesus would be in India at the age of 23, around the same time as lemons, but it all seems so pointless. Why is it set in India? Couldn’t Kryten think of a fruit you could make a battery from that’s native to Jerusalem?

From there it just gets worse. They take Jesus back to the ship and he reads about all the wars Christianity has caused, but it never really goes anywhere and none of the gags are worth the very lengthy setups we’ve had to endure over the course of the show. Couple this with the absolutely feeble pokes at Christianity that could only entertain a very militant atheist. I watched this episode with my partner who was raised an evangelical Christian and is now a happy non-believer. Her response was that it all felt too easy, and wasn’t particularly funny.

Lister shaving in Future EchoesRed Dwarf can be a very funny show. When it’s at its best, it takes a science fiction concept that isn’t funny in itself, and then explores all the humour possible in the situation. This has been a trend from the very early episodes. Take Future Echoes in which the crew witness small snippets of the future that can never be changed. This isn’t a naturally hilarious concept, but the episode is one of the best. Watching Lister trying to stop the cat from breaking his tooth to prove that he can avoid his own death has the comedy and depth that sets the show apart. Most of the very best episodes follow this formula: Backwards, Justice, Back to Reality. Even last week’s Fathers and Suns, takes two basic premises, being your own father and a computer that can predict your behaviour, and then explores the humour in them. In years to come Fathers and Suns will probably be remembered as the standout episode in Red Dwarf X

Lemons isn’t like those great episodes of Red Dwarf. It doesn’t establish a scenario and then try to find the humour in it, it flits from routine to routine, desperately trying to create humour. When you couple this with Ikea jokes and bad religious satire, the effect is just embarrassing  Three episodes in to a series that is already on pretty shaky footing, it’s not what the show needs. What doesn’t help is that the episode has clearly been hacked to pieces in the edit. I don’t know how much longer the original must have been, but there are clear gaps. At one point Rimmer remarks that they need a battery, it is delivered like a joke and the cast even seem to leave a gap for the audience laughter, but we have no frame of reference. Lister discards are battery as unimportant earlier in the episode, but it’s a throwaway line in the middle of a list and isn’t described in the same detail. We’re clearly getting half a joke, and it’s not the only time this happens.

Lemons suffers in the same way the first episodes did. The actors don’t have as strong delivery as they used to, the setups are a little more cartoony than they used to be and the characters all seem a little dumber. There’s a real BBC Three feel that doesn’t help the show much, and everyone, from the cast to costume and set designers, seem to be producing a parody of Red Dwarf rather than the genuine article. However, this has been balanced out by some of the best story outlines in years, some very funny jokes and a real sense that the show is trying its best. Lemons has none of this balance, it just feels rushed, cheap and stupid. Many of the cast and crew have come out and sold this episode as their favourite, if that’s the case then I dread to see what’s yet to come.

Red Dwarf X: Fathers And Suns – Review

Crew of the Red DwarfLast week in my review of Trojan, the first episode of Red Dwarf X, that the series opener felt true to the series roots, but did not feel particularly ambitious. The second episode in the series, Fathers and Suns, keeps the authentic Red Dwarf feeling but couples it with a much tighter, riskier plot. It’s a gamble that really works.

The episode is a little busy, with three running plots that don’t come together until the end. The main thread of the episode deals with Lister’s parenting skills. Back in series 7 we learn that Lister is, through a quirk of time travel, his own father. It wasn’t a particularly good episode at the time, coming during an awkward phase for the series, and so the humour wasn’t really explored in full. In Fathers and Suns, we see Lister reacting to the realisation that he hasn’t been the best dad to himself.

At the same time, Kryten and Rimmer attempt to make up for Holly’s loss by installing a new ship computer. Once she is up and running, Pree gets straight to work by predicting her orders before they’ve been given. She does this by syncing her behaviour patterns to the senior officer onboard, Rimmer. This is a great set up that ranks among the show’s best, though it does feel a little drawn from earlier episodes like Queeg and Cassandra. Still, the final episode is very original and great fun.

Finally, there is a running plot about Chinese Whispers that I won’t spoil here, but really ties the whole episode together very nicely.

The jokes find their mark more often this week too. Though, the biggest laughs still come from only a couple of very well written sequences. The highlight of Fathers and Suns is a brilliant sequence in which Lister attempts to give himself some fatherly advice, but just about all of Pree’s dialogue is good for a chuckle.

All in all, this is a very fine episode of Red Dwarf. The new series still feels a little awkward in places. The delivery could be tighter and a few of the longer jokes feel like they’re forced to run for a few punchlines past their best, but on average it’s 30 pretty solid minutes. The script is a lot tighter than last weeks, and the plot never feels rushed or choppy. Instead we have three different scenarios that play out almost independently, with each being thoroughly mined for the best jokes, before they all reunite for a very nice climax at the end. Minor quibbles aside, this episode really feels like it could stand alongside some of the best of the past and if the series keeps up this pace then it will probably be the best since Series 6 when Rob Grant left the show.

Red Dwarf X: Trojan – Review

Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and KrytenRed Dwarf has returned!

I’m a big Red Dwarf fan (as you might have guessed when I named it the number one sci-fi sitcom ever made) and so I figured I should share my feelings on Trojan, the first episode of Red Dwarf X.

It has been thirteen years since the last series of Red Dwarf, and as we begin Trojan, it really feels it. The cast look older, the budget seems to be a lot thinner and there’s something about the sets that seems a little contrived.

A lot of the look of Red Dwarf X seems to be manufactured to push our nostalgia buttons. This isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t sit as comfortably as previous years where the show changed it’s visual style every couple of seasons but never seemed out of place. I suppose I would best sum up the effect of returning to the series as “authentic but awkward.” A lot of effort has clearly gone into making a show to looks right, and yet it never seems as comfortable in itself as Series 6, which introduced an entirely new setup to the series and yet felt more natural than ever. Later on in the episode, the crew visit a derelict ship which feels even cheaper and despite being a lot more showy, it lacks the character of sets of the past, seen in episodes like D.N.A or Legion.

These initial impressions carry on to the cast, costumes and even the writing. At first, everything feels a little forced. Similarly to the Back to Earth specials from a couple of years ago, Red Dwarf X returns to the cast of series 3-6. No attempt is made to resolve the cliffhanger of Series 8 which isn’t a bad decision, but it does create a few nitpicky problems for long term fans. Lister refers to himself as the last man alive, something that was certainly true for most of the series but isn’t certain after the end of Series 8. I bring this up, not to be pedantic, but because the show itself seems unclear. While no other humans turn up in the episode, we are introduced to another hologram, serving on another Space Corps ship, who makes no mention of the fact that we are supposedly three million years in the future. While we’re on the subject, why can people touch holograms now? Rimmer’s hard light drive seems to have been adopted across the universe now. While Red Dwarf X returns us to the most familiar cast and setting, it presents us with something of an unknown universe. Maybe this isn’t important to the series, but for fans of the series, it might be a bit distracting.

However, that’s a lot of the bad out of the way pretty quickly. Despite initial awkwardness, which could be as much to do with the 13 year gap as anything else, the show hits its stride after a few scenes and the writing settles down into a nice pace.For example, the episode opens with a routine about traffic accidents in 70s Sweden that involve a moose. It’s a funny joke that gets carried too far, too fast and we’re only a couple of minutes in. The back and forth pangs of pushing too much for “dwarfy” humour. The flip side to this is that when the joke pops up again later in the episode, it is easily one of the funniest, most natural moments of the show. This is a pattern that characterises Trojan.  It’s hit a miss, and gives the impression of a writing team that are trying a little too hard to hit all the right notes, but when it works it’s a joy to watch. The great jokes might not be plentiful, but they’re truer to the best of the series than anything from Series 8 or Back to Earth.

Where the episode really falls down is in plotting. The jokes, and a good dose of nostalgia, are carrying this episode but the main plot involving Rimmer’s brother and a derelict Space Corps vessel feels rushed and choppy. It’s a nice episode to open on, but nostalgia will only take an audience so far, so the plots will have to get stronger in weeks to come.

Red Dwarf X opens in perhaps the best possible way. It meets the audience’s basic requirements for a Red Dwarf episode but it doesn’t get anyone’s hopes up. It is funny and at times it is very clever, but it is never particularly ambitious. When it works, it works well but it is far from a complete return to form. However, it promises that the show still has legs and that it could still go places from here. In this respect, it performs much better than the feeble Back to Earth. It entertained me for half an hour, it made me laugh, and I am looking forward to the next episode. After 13 years, can we ask any more?

The Five Best (and Worse) Time Travellers.

Doesn’t Looper look like an interesting film? As a sci-fi buff, I try to keep my cynicism far away from any upcoming film releases and just enjoy the hype for a bit. Fingers crossed for more interesting, mainstream sci-fi in the future, though Bruce Willis’ last attempt didn’t exactly inspire people.

Still, to celebrate my growing enthusiasm for this flick, I’ve compiled a lot of my 5 best, and worst, time travellers.




The Time Traveller

TimeTravellerTimeMachineIt’s only fair to kick things of with the Time Traveller from H.G Wells’ classic work The Time Machine. Unnamed in the book, the Time Traveller is an eccentric English inventor who calls together a group of colleagues at his home to demonstrate his latest invention. His device, as you might have guessed from the title, is a time machine. He uses the device in the hope of discovering an idyllic society, however things don’t work out quite as he imagined. The further forward the Time Traveller ventures, the more complications seem to crop up in mankind’s search for peace.

The Time Machine is a seminal work of literature, and is not only one of the first books to really explore time travel as a narrative device, but also one of the first to really examine the consequences. However, the Time Traveller earns his place on this list on his own merits. Not only is the character a scientific genius, but his is driven not by personal gain, but an insatiable dream of seeing mankind achieve true peace.

Kyle Reese

Kyle ReeseYou could be forgiven for forgetting about Kyle Reese. After all, that’s what the Terminator franchise did until the lousy Terminator Salvation. However, for those who still enjoy the first entry in the series, Kyle is a pivotal character that carries the film exceptionally well. Sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese always strikes me as something of a tragic figure. Raised in a war torn world, it becomes his sole responsibility to save mankind’s greatest leader. He must do this while navigating a world he doesn’t understand, for a future that nobody else can see. This character driven element is the start of the narrative that would bind the various elements of the first two Terminator films together so strongly and make them as successful as they were.

The Doctor

The Doctor with Rose and Captain JackWhat can you say about the Doctor that hasn’t already been said? Star of the longest running science fiction series in the world, The Doctor is one of the few characters on TV that is grounded is strong ethical principles. The motivating force of the character is the desire to do good, not for personal gain or for the future success of mankind, but because it is the right thing to do. Part of the show’s character has been, until recently, a decision to not minimise or gloss over death. Perhaps the finest thing about the Doctor’s character has been the BBC’s unwillingness to show killing as part of the job. Couple that with a fine brain, two hearts and the ability to change actor frequently and you have one of the most compelling characters in TV history.

Part of me wanted to put The Doctor right at the top of the list but I had to stop myself. While the Doctor is  definitely the finest adventurer and hero on the list, I’m not so sure about Time Traveller. While Time Travel is his prime mode of transport, it very rarely features in his stories as a plot point and so it’s little more than a storytelling device. For this reason the Doctor got bumped down a bit.

Henry DeTamble

Book CoverThe Time Traveler’s Wife is probably my favourite book. That’s a hard category to narrow down, but Audrey Nieffenegger’s novel is an exceptional work. The story of a married couple whose lives are panning out in slightly the wrong order, Henry DeTamble is the cause of all this drama.

Born with a rare genetic condition that makes he leap forwards or backwards to significant places in his life, Henry is a survivor. He knows how to pick a lock, steal clothes (he can’t bring them with him) and talk his way out of a bad situation, until he bounces back to the present. The novel presents a growing conflict between Henry’s erratic leaps through time and his knowledge that one day he won’t be fast enough or strong enough to keep it up. The Time Traveler’s Wife is a gripping read, from the first page to the last, and Henry is a big part of that.


Marty McFly

Marty McFly and DocPredictable, I know. But Back to the Future is one of those films that is so popular for a reason. It is one of the most well constructed, entertaining films ever made. A perfect balance of comedy, family drama and science fiction with one of the most exciting climaxes ever filmed.

Marty himself starts of as something of a blank slate. A typical 80s teen, he rides a skateboard and plays the guitar, until he is sent back in time to the year 1955 and accidentally stops his parents from meeting. On paper, the role seems flat and lifeless, but Michael J. Fox brings it to life with a warmth that is hard to resist. Perhaps his biggest strength as an actor is in taking the relationship between Marty and Doc, and making it completely believable despite the age gap. This relationship would serve as the foundation for three films and never once did it seem unrealistic thanks to two actors with such great chemistry.

The Back to the Future trilogy is so great because it’s about how Time Travel can tell use more about people and Marty McFly is the perfect vehicle to explore these themes with.


So, those are the Time Travellers that make sci-fi worthwhile. Now what about the duds. 



George and Gracie

George and Gracie the WhalesI feel terrible including George and Gracie on this list because, well, they’re Whales and it’s not really their fault. Sadly their inclusion in Star Trek IV, the most overrated of the Trek flicks, necessitates their inclusion.

There’s a lot to like about Star Trek IV, I know. After two very serious films, the chance to put familiar characters in the present day and explore a little comic relief can be very fun. The problem is that the film takes about a half hour’s worth of plot and builds an entire film around the Enterprise crew wandering around 1980s San Francisco. The cherry on top, however, is the purpose for their visit. An alien probe (in a plotline very similar to Star Trek: The Motion Picture) is approaching Earth with a message for the humpback whales, and will destroy the planet if it doesn’t get an answer. The only solution is, apparently, to travel back in time and find some. Enter George and Gracie.

Every time I see this film, I wonder how much technology has decline in the 23rd century. I mean, we could probably knock up a fake humpback whale soundboard right now if we needed to. Perhaps that sort of deception is just not allowed at Federation HQ.

Henry DeTamble

Eric Bana as Henry DeTambleYes, I know someone named Henry DeTamble appeared on the other list, but this is about a completely different Henry DeTamble who appeared in a recent film that was also called The Time Traveler’s Wife. This Henry DeTamble was not a particularly interesting Time Traveller and his only character trait seemed to immitate Eric Bana contemplating firing his agent.

Professor John Robinson

Professor John RobinsonOf all the things wrong with the Lost in Space movie, one of the worst is its sudden transformation into a completely different film in the last half hour. A sudden leap into the future finds a young Will Robinson is being looked after by a mutate Dr. Smith that has eaten all his family. In this desolate future, he has constructed a massive time machine that is destroying the universe. His father, Professor John Robinson, finds him via some kind of rift in the space-time continuum and attempts to convince him that Monster-Dr Smith probably doesn’t have his best interest at heart. He then uses Will Robinson’s doomsday time machine to go back and stop the whole last half hour from happening. If only we could do the same.


Superman Christopher ReevesNow don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with Superman’s credentials as a superhero. Rather, I take issue with the hideously bad, cop-out ending to Superman: The Movie.

The film plays out pretty well for the most part. At the end of the 70s, Superman had matured somewhat from his goofy 50s persona and it wouldn’t be long before John Byrne would write the Man of Steel miniseries sealed the deal and established the modern Superman continuity. Superman: The Movie has some of the weaknesses of the old era, a goofy Clark Kent, a “criminal mastermind” Lex Luthor instead of the industrialist, it’s quite a modern take on the character. Luthor isn’t quite a mad scientist, but has an elaborate property scam, and the atmosphere at the Daily Planet is more of an authentic newsroom than a comic book office. The culmination of the film shows Lex Luthor’s plan succeed, Lois Lane buried during a deliberately triggered Earthquake and Superman facing real loss and pain for the first time.

Then Superman flies round the world backwards until it starts spinning the other way and time turns backwards with it.

Suddenly we’re back with the Superman that keeps cities in bottles and opens his Fortress of Solitude with a giant key.

Now I know that technically this isn’t Time Travel, Superman stays where he is and everything else goes back in time, but I’m counting it because the effect is the same and if the movie can use such a stupid cheat then so can I. You know what bugs me the most about this? It’s so far from how science works, it’s impossible to actually suspend your disbelief. Every time the globe starts to slow, I wonder where all of human civilisation doesn’t get flung off into space.

I could continue but if I don’t stop now I’ll burst a blood vessel.


Tempus from Lois and ClarkAnother Superman related one, but a bit different. Fans of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman will probably know this character, but most people probably had enough sense to stop watching by this point. It is my fondest hope that Lois and Clark will go down in history as the show with the fastest decline in quality from the first series to the second. Never has a great show divebombed like this one, and with the nightmare that was Series 2-4 came Tempus.

To be fair, Tempus’ first episode isn’t bad. Well, relatively speaking when you consider the dross that the show was usually doling out by this point. H.G Wells turns up and tells Clark Kent that he knows his secret identity and he needs his help. Apparently Wells is the Time Traveller that he wrote of in the Time Machine, he did go forward in time and find a Utopia, established by Superman. Unfortunately, he brought a master criminal named Tempus from the future back with him for reasons that probably seemed better at the time and then lost him.

Unfortunately, once Superman retrieves Tempus and H.G Wells takes him back to the future, he returns. More than once. Each time the Tempus episodes became more and more embarrassing and loyal viewers could only dream of a show that once brought us the finest screen incarnation of Superman in years.


So, that’s it, my five best and worst time travellers. Feel free to argue it out in the comments.

Doctor Who: Aslyum of the Daleks Review.

Doctor Who AsylumYes, I know I’m a little late for a review of Asylum of the Daleks with the next episode of Season 7 going out tomorrow, but it’s taken me this long to get my thoughts in order. However, I’m a massive Doctor Who fan and a science fiction blogger, so I can hardly let it pass without comment.

I should probably begin by saying that my hopes were not high for this episode. I have been a big supporter of the revamped Doctor Who right up until the end of Season 5. Unfortunately last year really disagreed with me. I found Season 6 to be high on spectacle and melodrama, but beneath the surface there was no real substance to it. As we were pulled along what must be TV’s most convoluted story arc in recent years, all the sense of adventure and exploration that made to show what it was seemed to be left behind. Since 2005 Doctor Who has had its ups and downs, there have been decisions I didn’t like and developments I thought were poor, but I always firmly believed it was a fundamentally good show. For me, and I know I’m at odds with fandom here, last year’s run sacrificed solid foundations in favour of short term spectacle, and I don’t think it paid off.

All is not lost, however. While fandom might shout the loudest, clearly there are deeper concerns within the BBC about the direction the show is travelling in. Showrunner Steven Moffat announced that Season 7 would not be driven by a running story arc. This can only be an improvement, but it did not put my mind at ease. The damage caused last year springs from a fundamental misunderstanding in why people watch the show, and while soap opera style drama elicits a powerful response from fandom, it loses the general audience. This goes beyond the story arc to the way that the show’s writers view both the show and the audience.

Aslyum of the Daleks went some way to easing my concerns, though not all the way. Spoilers following.

Opening the episode with my least favourite trope of the current era, the bizarre idolatry of the Doctor, wasn’t a good sign, but things did get better. Soon we were treated to the knowledge that the least believable marriage in screen history has come to an end (though not for long, I’m guessing) and a hit and miss story about a giant Dalek nuthouse. Credit to Moffat for opening with a Dalek story because the sooner we get them out of the way, the sooner we can stop worrying about them coming along and ruining the fun. The Daleks can be great villains, but they haven’t been since the Tom Baker years, so it’s hard to get the enthusiasm up. Asylum is a fairly original story at least, in which the Daleks are discovered to keep all the Daleks that had gone insane. Trouble is brewing, however, and the Daleks are too scared to visit the planet themselves. They recruit the Doctor and his part-time companions, the Ponds, to form a strike team that will beam down to the planet and shut if it’s defences so the Daleks can nuke the planet from orbit.

It’s not a bad story, there are good ideas throughout, but the plot itself is little more than a monster movie chase piece as soon as they land on the planet. There’s a few twists, some small and one big, and by the time we get to the end there’s a nice little conclusion that bodes well for the future. At the same time, it’s one of those mundane filler scripts that seems better suited for a videogame tie in than a full episode. It’s like Curse of the Black Spot or Vampires in Venice without the period charm on either. It’s certainly the least interesting series opener we’ve seen for a while, despite the feeling that it’s trying very hard. Moffat seems to be toning back the aggressive overuse of “clever” character banter that cursed last year, but nobody really seems to do anything. Bit by bit, things happen and the characters just sort of react. The Doctor never actually contributes much to the story and there are few moments where he does anything that only he could do. His purpose just seems to be to explain things that the audience aren’t trusted to work out for themselves, and of course he’s seen it all before.

So what about the positives? Right of that bat I have to say how nice it was to watch an episode that began, had a bit in the middle and then ended. The problem with overly complicated story arcs is not, as Moffat seems to believe, that people can’t follow them, but that they lack satisfaction. Becoming invested in 45 minutes of television only to find out that the majority of plotlines aren’t going to be resolved for months does not provide narrative satisfaction. This is particularly bad when the story is not, strictly speaking, a serial as the supposedly self contained elements of the plot become sidelined and devalued. This is why Curse of the Black Spot fails so completely, the entire episode reeks of a sort of condescending gesture. A half-assed bone thrown to those old biddies who can’t follow the arc. Asylum of the Daleks wins so many brownie points from me simply because it’s the first Doctor Who story in over a year that really feels like it’s trying to entertain me on its own merits.

Also, the Doctor is better here than he has been for a while. Despite his general uselessness in the plot, they’ve toned down the corny gags a lot. Part of the problem with Matt Smith’s Doctor has been that he plays the role with a ramped up eccentricity. This worked in Season 5 because nobody knew how Matt Smith would play the Doctor and so the scripts will have been written for “The Doctor” rather than “Matt’s Doctor.” Chances are, whenever you watch Season 5, you’re seeing dialogue written with David Tennant in mind, being performed by a very different actor. The results are wonderful. By the time of Season 6 however, everyone starts writing for the more eccentric Doctor, and presumably, Matt Smith continues to put his eccentric spin on the character and he becomes completely unbearable. That combined with the show’s tendency to clown the Doctor up now, and you get a character who is being played solely for laughs. The climax of this was surely last year’s Christmas Special, in which the Doctor rigs up a kitchen with a tap that pours lemonade and enters wearing a spacesuit backwards. This is toned down dramatically in Asylum and you get the sense of the Doctor as a believable explorer for a bit.

Asylum isn’t great. It’s not the worst Dalek story in recent years, that still goes to Victory of the Daleks, which is probably the most awful episode of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen. If it had arrived in the middle of Season 5, I’d probably be looking on it very differently, but the truth is that despite its many, many flaws it represents a step in the right direction for the series as a whole and that’s so reassuring, I can’t bring myself to dislike it.