Thursday, 30 July 2009

Anatomy of a Chainsword

Don't buy one of these for a Dalek at Christmas, it'll be awkward.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

My Favourite Episodes Part Three – The Tick: The Tick vs. The Tick

The Tick was a strange show, a children’s animation series based on an independent comic by Ben Edlund, it contained surreal humour, comic book parodies and odd dialogue. The show ran for three seasons comprising 36 episodes in total and was a moderate Saturday morning hit in America during the mid 90s.

I discovered the show via a recommendation from my mum, who shouted up the stairs to my teenage self one day that there was something on BBC Two that I might like. Intrigued by what she could be talking about I flicked on the channel to discover The Tick being shown during the weekday 6pm slot on BBC Two (this was during the 90s when BBC Two would show some kind of cult TV show in this early evening slot, it had played host to Star Trek [all flavours of], Buck Rogers, Buffy, and others. This was before satellite and cable TV snapped up the rights to play cult shows on a perpetual loop.) I watched the last ten minutes of an episode of The Tick (unfortunately I can’t remember which episode it was) and was intrigued and amused by the superhero parodies and the surreal humour.

I watched the next few episodes of The Tick and was hooked, here was a show that seemed to aim directly at my nerdy obsession with superheroes, comics, and Monty Python. I later caught the entire run of the first season of The Tick on BBC Two when it was moved to a summer holiday early morning schedule. I remember waking up at the crack of 10am to race down stairs and watch and record the show with my little brother. I kept my VHS tape of the show until I moved away from home to university and then it eventually disappeared somewhere between moves. I was shocked to discover that other students at university had seen The Tick, I only managed to convince a couple of other people to watch it back home so to discover other like minded nerds who had watched the show independently was amazing to me. The Tick was soon passed around my social circle via dodgy VHS copy to indoctrinate the uninitiated and my joy was unbound when I found that satellite channel Fox Kids was showing the second and third seasons of The Tick on a daily basis. Another tape was created and then lost somewhere between lending to friends and friends of friends. It didn’t matter; I’d seen my favourite episodes enough times to remember them almost verbatim.

So that long preamble leads me to my favourite The Tick episodes, The Tick vs. The Tick. Why is this episode my favourite? Because this was the show’s first detailed journey into the colourful supporting cast on the show. The Tick and his nervous sidekick Arthur take a couple of friends (Die Fledermaus and Sewer Urchin) on a night out to an exclusive superheroes club – The Comet Club. Once the friends manage to get past the super powered Doorman they discover that a big angry jerk called Barry already uses The Tick as a superhero name and he’s not happy to share it. There’s also a lunatic called The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight who is intent on destroying the venue with all the superheroes inside. Die Fledermaus tries to chat up various superheroines with little success and Arthur is forced to spend the evening with a talking dog and orangutan in a shed titled, The Sidekicks’ Lounge.

What I love about this episode is the interplay between the superheroes and the obvious hierarchy between them. The Tick is highly regarded as he has a set of useful powers (he’s nigh-invulnerable and super strong) and he’s saved The City (yes, the name of The Tick’s city of operations is The City) whereas heroes like Sewer Urchin are looked down upon and ridiculed by others because of lack of powers and recognition. The sidekick/hero divide is explored by the scenes in the Sidekick Lounge where Arthur receives career advice from a talking dog; the feeling is that the heroes take the credit while the sidekicks do all the hard thinking. Barry is interesting as he’s not a hero, he just dresses up as one so he can hang around The Comet Club and bully weak heroes and feel important but meets his match when he takes on the super strong and stubborn Tick. It’s fun stuff that really breaks down the superhero and presents them as neurotic creatures with idiosyncrasies. The episode also has fun coming up with heroes with ridiculous names and powers; a woman armed with a Poodle Gun that fires yapping poodles, Agrippa (Roman god of the aqueduct), Fish Boy – Lost Prince of Atlantis (he wears water wings), and Bigshot (the gun wielding vigilante currently going through therapy).

The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight is quite possibly the best villain in the entire series, he’s a small, mentally unhinged man who drives a VW Beetle while alternatively shouting and muttering to himself. The utterances are largely nonsensical but some seem to detail his villainous origins, here are some of my favourites:

“Surfs up space ponies! I’m making gravy without the lumps!”

“I don’t like the cut of your jib he said, so I said ‘It’s the only jib I’ve got baby!’”

“You'll never prove a thing copper, I'm just a part time electrician. I... I... I... Bad is good, baby. Down with government!”

The episode ends with one of The Tick’s morals or lessons learned; in each episode he almost inevitably gets the issue confused and gives a rousing speech about something entirely unrelated. This time he gets it pretty much right when he asks “what’s in a name?” and comes to the conclusion that Barry would still be a jerk no matter what his name is.

The voice acting in The Tick was always superb, Townsend Coleman did a fantastic job as the titular character; his voice maintained a combination of supreme confidence, naivety and righteousness. I also love Cam Clarke's performance as Die Fledermaus, a cowardly womanising version of Batman.

The Tick was in the right place at the right time, an incredibly funny show aimed at adults as well as children, it was at home with other cartoon classics of the 90s such as Animaniacs, Batman The Animated Series, Freakazoid, Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, and Sam and Max. It really was a rich vein of cartoon entertainment and I’m not ashamed to own some of those DVDs as the quality holds up today. The Tick was one of my favourites and showed my teenage self that there were others out there who shared my eclectic tastes and joy in cartoons.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Gaze Into The Fist Of...Batman?!

So this one time Batman went on holiday to Mega City One and ended up with a parking ticket.

I'm sure Judge Dredd will overlook that minor misdemeanour...

From Judgement On Gotham; words by Alan Grant & John Wagner and art by the infamous Simon Bisley.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Satan Hates It When You Sneak a Look at His Battleships

Judge Anderson is on the receiving end of one of Satan's feared maneuvers - the sucker pimp slap.

From the trade paperback 'Satan' written by Alan Grant and illustrated by Arthur Ranson.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Batman's Spring Loaded Fist

Guy Gardner meets Batman's fist.


Art by the wonderful Kevin Maguire from Justice League International #5

Monday, 20 July 2009

Stop Sniggering At The Back, It's A Perfectly Reasonable Sound Effect

This panel is infamous and most of you will have already seen it, but in the interests of cheap comedy and completeness I have to post this delightful panel:

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Punisher Punches a Polar Bear

It's a classic panel and if you're a fan of Chris Sim's Invincible Super-Blog then you'll see it everytime you visit and see one of the greatest blog banners ever created. There's so much that's fantastic about this panel, the shock on the polar bear's face (mirroring the audience's shock), the dynamic punch that seems to thrust out of the page and toward the reader's face, the red background... Sigh, it's just perfect.

Panel from Punisher: Welcome Back Frank Part 4. Art by the ever amazing Steve Dillon.

Friday, 17 July 2009

My Favourite TV Episodes - Part Two - Spaced: Art

Welcome to the second of my favourite episodes, this time I’ve gone for a sitcom that every self respecting nerd loves – Spaced. Watching Spaced is a blast of nostalgia for me, originally broadcast in 1999 the first series arrived shortly after I’d finished university, I was skint and terrified at the prospect of being thrust into the world of work and having to become a responsible adult with a career. Tim and Daisy’s adventures as mid 20s slackers tapped into my fears and lackadaisical outlook on life but reassured me that plenty of other people felt the same way. Tim and Daisy never had successful careers but they always had fun as they hung out with friends and did all the things that the audience did (visit the pub, go paintballing, create a killer robot in a shed) whilst making the same references to games and movies too. The Spaced gang were a surrogate circle of friends, moreso than the American phonies in Friends (although I did enjoy that show, their life experiences may as well have taken place on the Moon) the characters in Spaced were a collection of misfits and losers each with their own self doubts and crippling character flaws (in broad terms - Daisy is lazy, Tim is angry, Brian lacks self confidence, Marsha is lonely, Mike is… well Mike.)

I watched the show again over the course of a couple of days last month, it had been a few years since I’d last watched it. I was the same age as the characters at that point (25) and found the show to be a pretty accurate portrayal of life as a 20 something loser living with friends and generally having a good time despite other concerns like a crap job and lack of cash. Watching it now as someone in their thirties (31) it makes me a little melancholy, it makes me appreciate and long for those simpler times when everyone I hung out with was struggling to find their way in life but enjoying copious amounts of booze, games and free time. Those rose-tinted days have faded away as friends eventually got married, landed proper jobs or moved away to pursue marriages and proper jobs. The cosy slacker community days are long gone but Spaced serves as a perfectly preserved example of slacker behaviour at the turn of the century.

It was genuinely tough to make the decision as to which single episode was my favourite; ‘ Battle ’ is the paintball episode, the introduction of Colin the dog to the cast, and we also get to meet the infamous Duane Benzie, played by Peter Serafinowicz. ‘Epiphanies’ is the clubbing episode where Tyres unites the group through a remix of the A-Team theme. ‘Gone’ features a climactic imaginary gun fight, a stoned and drunk night out, and the return of Duane Benzie. Every episode is precious to me, so to pick just one was extremely difficult but in the end ‘Art’ won out.

‘Art’ features a great zombie sequence (inspiration for Shaun of the Dead), a hilarious interview scene where Daisy fails to land an important job, a surreal, over the top guest performance from David Walliams, and some cracking interplay between Daisy and Tim concerning jobs and Resident Evil.

Daisy’s job interview is a marvelous scene of misguided confidence as Daisy expects to walk into the interview without any preparation or ideas and get a writing job at Flaps magazine. The interview itself is ridiculous and the use of The Magic Roundabout theme to symbolize Daisy’s lack of attention and disorientation is brilliant. Then the interview ends with a peace sign and “Girl Power!” Fantastic.

Brian and Vulva’s ‘art’ performances poke fun at surreal, modern art installations and pretty much represent what the non-art fan thinks of such projects. Vulva in particular is a completely ridiculous character and almost seems to be a living nightmare with his frightening facial expressions, makeup and outfits. It’s not surprising that Tim reacts to Vulva in fear and punches him out.

The episode combines everything that’s great about Spaced into one episode; film references, gaming, absurdity, the main characters’ inability to cope in the real world, and very clever and funny dialogue. The climax to the episode is completely out of left field and bizarre, almost as if Pegg and Stevenson didn’t quite know how to end the bar scene and just decided to throw in a hallucinatory zombie attack to move things along. I find it all the more enjoyable for its surreal nature.

If you asked me again in a month’s time which Spaced episode was my favourite, I would probably give a different answer. I love the series as a whole, it’s a wodge of nostalgia wrapped up in a big ball of comedy fudge. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Judge Dredd Is Not a Twilight Fan

Here's a tip for the vampires, don't try to seduce Judge Dredd.

Words by TB Grover (Alan Grant & John Wagner) art by Kim Raymond - from 2000AD #396

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

My Favourite TV Episodes - Part One - Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani

This is the first in a series of posts chronicling my favourite episodes of my favourite shows. Rev posted up a list of 20 in a single post but my memory doesn’t work so well these days so I’m going to post my favourites at the rate that I rewatch them. It’s going to be erratic but hopefully entertaining.

WARNING: I am going to be positive here, there will only be small traces of snark and no fury in these posts. Read on at your peril.

Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani

Okay, I’m cheating with my first choice because The Caves of Androzani is a four part story and I’m not going to choose just one of the episodes. So there. This is Peter Davison’s swan song as the fifth Doctor and is, in my mind, the best regeneration story so far. The story was written by Robert Holmes and the episodes were directed by Graeme Harper; a Doctor Who creative dream team. Robert Holmes had penned many of the series’ finest stories, such as The Ark in Space, Pyramids of Mars, and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Graeme Harper was just starting out as a director but his direction was dynamic and creative from the first episode.

I first viewed The Caves of Androzani when I was six years old (it was first broadcast in March 1984) and it’s the earliest Doctor Who story that I can clearly remember watching at the time. I think I saw episodes before then but I don’t have childhood memories of them; only The Caves Of Androzani stuck in my mind and left an indelible impression. Throughout the rest of my childhood my enduring image of the Doctor was of a doomed hero, his outfit stained and torn, lying on the TARDIS floor and giving up his life in order to save his friend.

Later stories wouldn’t form such strong impressions and in fact I lost interest in the show during the Colin Baker era (forgive me Colin but your period was too scary for me at the age of six.) I still maintained my interest in Doctor Who but I read the Target novelisations of the older Doctors instead of watching the show. I didn’t return as a regular viewer until the Sylvester McCoy era; I remember awaiting Time and The Rani with great anticipation – what a fool I was, but I was still hooked on the McCoy era after that.

I was lucky though, my first episode could’ve been The Twin Dilemma and that would’ve scarred me for life.

The plot of Caves begins with the Doctor and Peri arriving on Androzani Minor, a barren planet that seemingly contains nothing of interest. Peri has the misfortune of falling into a cave system where she and the Doctor come into contact with raw spectrox (it’s alien bat poo that can be refined to make an immortality drug!) and they both contract a fatal case of spectrox toxemia. From this point on the Doctor and Peri become embroiled in a plot involving gun runners, miners, an evil corporation, androids, bat milk and bat poo, and an extremely unconvincing magma monster. The Doctor struggles to find a cure whilst avoiding the many factions vying for control of Androzani Minor. The Doctor is not central to the story at all, he’s an innocent victim in the schemes of the main players on Androzani Minor and for once he doesn’t care about the big picture, he just wants to save his friend Peri from a painful death.

There are so many players and concepts in The Caves of Androzani that it’s amazing everything holds together so well. There is an android army led by a Phantom of the Opera style villain (Sharez Jek) who are in opposition to an evil corporate CEO (Morgus) who will do anything to maximize his profits, a group of gun runners working for both Sharaz Jek and Morgus, a magma monster that eats anyone who wanders too far into the caves, and a society that uses spectrox (remember it’s processed bat guano) to delay the aging process. This story features the finest example of world building in Doctor Who as the audience learns snippets of information on Androzani society and its political situation. It’s also a Doctor Who story that combines a political thriller with gung ho action scenes. It’s a very special and rare story.

Peter Davison’s performance is brilliant; the fifth Doctor starts off at his most sarcastic and humorous as he spars with the local authority figures, but becomes more desperate and determined as the story progresses. It’s a very powerful display and throws off the fifth incarnation’s nice guy act as such behaviour becomes useless in the cut throat world of Androzani. The finale of episode three with the Doctor defiantly daring a group of mercenaries to kill him as he pilots a spacecraft on a collision course is full of wild eyed intensity from Davison, which is shocking because this Doctor never seems to get angry, just exasperated. To see him launch into a rant is shocking and powerful. Davison’s final scene at the end of episode four is fantastic (if slightly overshadowed by Nicola Bryant’s cleavage) as you really do wonder if the Doctor will survive his regeneration, “I might regenerate, I don’t know... feels different this time...”

Graeme Harper’s direction is superb; he manages to give the show a real sense of pace which was in direct contrast to many of the episodes of this era. The sequences where the Doctor is fleeing from machine gun wielding mercenaries looks fantastic, even though it’s just Peter Davison and some hairy blokes running around a sandy quarry. Harper also manages to hide the awful magma monster in shadows and use it very sparingly as it’s clear that it undermines a very good story. Harper would return to the show when Doctor Who was relaunched and he seems to now be the director of choice for the episodes with lots of action or powerful moments.

The most wonderful thing about Caves of Androzani is that it’s a tragedy. SPOILER (for a twenty-five year old story) – practically everyone dies. Few survive the conflict on Androzani Minor, not even the Doctor. Peri survives due only to the heroism of her friend. The important thing is that the characters aren’t just names on a list to be killed (like previous story Resurrection of the Daleks, which seems to introduce characters in order to kill them in the next scene), the characters in this tale are developed and given personalities before being killed off in the final episode and not one of them suffers a lackluster death. It’s grim and gritty done in the right way, the deaths matter and they serve the story.

The Caves of Androzani is my favourite Doctor Who story for many reasons but I’ll never forget that it taught a six year old me a simple lesson of determination and triumph in the face of adversity and overwhelming odds. It defined heroism for me and placed the Doctor in my heart forever.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Deadpool Quotes The Beatles

Hey look, it's Deadpool saying something silly as he clocks a guy!

Words by Joe Kelly & pencils by Ed McGuiness - from Deadpool #2

Sunday, 12 July 2009

All Violence All The Time

It's the return of comic panels, the posts that cover a lack of content or inspiration from yours truly. This time I'm going with the theme of punching, kicking, or strikes with a foreign object. I'll start with a classic that's pretty much the greatest comic punch ever:

Words by T B Grover (John Wagner & Alan Grant) and art by the amazing Brian Bolland from 2000AD #227.

Friday, 10 July 2009

TV Snark - Torchwood: Children of Earth - Day Five OR The Most Annoying Sound in the World

The conclusion to Torchwood is a morbid affair, don't expect any heroics in this episode...

Recap: After the death of Ianto and the civil servants in the 456 virus attack, Jack and Gwen are held by the government. Frobisher agrees to do a favour for Jack by releasing Gwen and having her transported back to Cardiff. Jack remains in custody and is locked away in a cell next to Lois who was also arrested after her defiant stand at the end of the previous episode. Lois calls out to Jack but he ignores her as he sits alone in his cell, contemplating Ianto's death and his role in the current crisis.

Prime Minister Green orders Frobisher to attend a press conference to add credibility to the inoculation excuse that will cover the school children abduction. Frobisher assumes that he will pretend to offer his children for 'inoculation' but the PM insists that Frobisher will have to sacrifice his kids for real to maintain the cover story. This head slappingly stupid moment from the PM (how did he think Frobisher was going to take this order?) leads to a distraught Frobisher arguing and pleading with the PM before storming out and ordering Spears to procure him a Requisition 31, which at first glance seems to be a plain biscuit tin.

UNIT visit the alien and ask what the 456 will use the children for, the answer is chilling as the aliens reveal that the children release chemicals that they enjoy. The 456 are junkies looking for a hit. That's a great idea but it doesn't hold up to logic. First of all, why don't the 456 ask for breeding couples so they can grow their own children and not rely on Earth to give into their demands every few decades? And don't tell me that the aliens breathe another atmosphere so it wouldn't work - they have space travel and are surely capable of creating environments for humans to live in. It'd be the equivalent of growing their own herbs and wouldn't be that hard to do (as long as they refrained from puking on their captives every time they talked to them.) Second, the 456 threat to eradicate the human race now carries no weight. Are the 456 really going to destroy their supply of wonder drugs? No. The government at this point could've negotiated a much better deal once they realised the aliens were twitchy junkies and were probably making empty threats.

Frobisher heads home to his family and gathers them all together in the main bedroom and we see that Frobisher's Requisition 31 was in fact a pistol. He guns down his family before turning the weapon on himself. Jesus. During this heart warming scene, Spears visits Lois in her cell and tells her what a great man Frobisher was. There is a lot of terrible emotive music all over this scene, "Oooooooo, woooooooo, ooooooo, etc."

Gwen and Rhys (the blackmail idea being dumped after Gwen's capture) head back to Cardiff and meet up with PC Andy to visit Ianto's family and deliver the news of his death. Ianto's sister Rhiannon decides to follow Ianto's warning from last episode and gathers up the neighbourhood kids so she can hide them in her house (conveniently hoarding them in one place for the government child catcher squad). Gwen and co inform Rhiannon about Ianto's death and then the army arrive to take away the council estate kids. Gwen and Rhys herd the kids away to hide in a big abandoned shed while PC Andy and Johnny (Rhiannon's husband) start a small riot against the army.

Agent Johnson has an expected change of heart and decides that she wants to fight the 456. She kidnaps Jack from his cell and Mr Dekker (the man who constructed the alien chamber and expert on the 456) is snatched from Thames House where he had survived the virus attack by hiding in a hazmat suit. Johnson convinces Jack that there must be some way of fighting off the 456. Jack works together with a sarcastic (and somewhat bizarrely supervillainesque) Dekker and discovers that they can use the same 456 frequency to send feedback to the alien and kill it. The logic isn't very clearly explained (because there isn't any) but suffice to say that it's the old cliche of 'reversing the polarity of the neutron flow'. The only problem is that in order to broadcast the signal they will have to use children and sacrifice one child to be the main transmitter as such an ordeal will kill said child (for some reason Dekker seems to revel in this).

Jack still has his family nearby and he sacrifices his grandson to death by psychic nosebleed. The annoying sound is transmitted through the children all around the world and this causes the junkie alien to explode. Case closed. Somehow all the parents that were fleeing with their children now know that the threat is over. Convenient. Jack's daughter understandably flees from Jack.

Six months later, Rhys and Gwen meet up with Jack. Jack has wandered the Earth but has grown tired of it, finding it too small a place to hide from his own guilt. He intends to hitchhike onboard a vessel on the edge of the solar system and wander the galaxy. Gwen provides Jack with his newly repaired Time Agent watch which Jack can use to send a signal to the alien craft. Gwen tells Jack that he can't run away from his problems but Jack states "watch me" and teleports off into space. Gwen cries a lot.

Thoughts: Phew, well that was hard to get through. This was an episode devoid of joy or light heartedness which made it miserable viewing. I don't mind a downbeat ending but it seemed out of place in a show like Torchwood. The story proved that Torchwood are bumbling amateurs that were incapable of ending the threat to Earth. Ultimately it was Jack working in conjunction with a specialised black ops team that saved the day (at great personal cost.) The conclusion turned the hero into a child murderer and gave the audience little hope for the future when Torchwood (who have already proved to be incompetent) are reduced down to Rhys and a pregnant Gwen (oh and I suppose Martha who was 'on holiday' throughout the whole incident.)

It's a shame that RTD didn't pen all of the scripts for this series as he seems to be the only writer capable of juggling the humour, relationships, and pathos and make it an entertaining mix. Although having said that this episode needed something to take away the unremitting misery as it adopted Battlestar Galactica's grim and humourless spirit. None of RTD's lightness of touch was in this episode but his deus ex machina ending was reigned in slightly as it didn't undo everything for once.

Still, it was a brave ending and I'll be interested to see where they go next with Torchwood. This storyline seems to have cast down the original light hearted and childish approach to its stories and I wonder how the writers will approach Torchwood from now on. It's clear that despite the opening blurb that Captain Jack would deliver at the start of every episode, Torchwood are most certainly NOT ready.

Performance wise, I have to say that Peter Capaldi was very good, in fact his performance was so great that it seemed as though he was in a different show. He really did act up a storm and overshadowed all of the other performances in comparison. Torchwood have a few vacancies now so perhaps a higher calibre of actors could be procured for the next series?

The music was appalling in this episode, every emotional point in the story (and there were a lot of them) was met with plaintive wailing. Torchwood really needs an overhaul in its music as the same old themes were used over and over in each episode and really began to grate.

Episode five was a decent conclusion to a disappointing storyline, I still don't think that this was a great show by any means and I think fans are getting a little carried away because we've had a mature story with real consequences for once. There still remains the usual weaknesses of Torchwood, poor dialogue, bad logic, lazy plotting and some weak performances from the cast. I think the format experiment hasn't worked, the episodes were overlong and the story was stretched to breaking point. If this had been a series finale, three part story then we could have had the best Torchwood plot so far, as it is it's a flabby meandering sci-fi thriller with a depressing finish.

It was better than Demons though.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

TV Snark - Torchwood: Children of Earth - Day Four OR Nicholas Briggs Is In This One!

The penultimate episode of season three of Torchwood has arrived, does it improve on yesterday's dull offering? Yes, but...

Recap: Scotland 1965 and Jack is selected to round up some sacrificial orphans in order to obtain the cure to a virus from the 456. Jack is selected because he's deemed to be "someone who doesn't care." So Jack does his duty and sends Clem's friends into the light, Clem wanders off and escapes instead.

In the present day, the Torchwood crew are in the Hub2 which is located in London apparently; guess I was wrong yesterday but the show still uses Cardiff locations to double as London so it IS confusing to a Cardiff resident like myself. Confusing geography aside, the crew are forced to deal with a manic Clem who shoots Jack dead out of fear of the immortal child catcher. Clem freaks out after committing murder but calms down once Gwen uses her cow eyes to influence him.

Frobisher demands to know what the 456 intend to do with the children once they have them. The alien allows one person to enter its special atmospheric chamber and the government mook (who wears a red suit but doesn't get killed) discovers that the children get turned into ventriloquist dummies (sitting at the heart of the alien form I guess). Apparently they becoming unaging but do suffer from woodworm.

The government consider the 456 demand of 10% of the Earth's children whilst Torchwood record the entire meeting through Lois's contact lenses. Nicholas Briggs (the voice of the Daleks and top man at Big Finish, the producers of Doctor Who audio plays) appears as a minister, which shatters the fourth wall for me and a few other dorks that recognise him. The gathered ministers debate the morality of handing over the kids to the 456 and eventually decide to haggle the figure down to 6700.

The 456 alien does not want to haggle though and insists on 10% or the entire human race will be destroyed (where will it get its children from after that though?). To hammer home the point the 456 force children around the Earth to quote the 10% figure for each of their respective nations.

The government ministers have another meeting and decide to give up the kids. Various selection methods are proposed, lottery for example, but sadly no-one thinks of a bake sale competition. Torchwood ruin the civil service plans for rounding up child sacrifices though when Lois reveals that she's recorded everything they've discussed and will release it to the public unless Torchwood are allowed to take over the operation.

Jack and Ianto storm off to the building that houses the alien whilst Rhys runs off with the blackmail evidence. Gwen and Clem stay behind to be arrested by Johnson and her crack team of bumbling idiots.

Jack and Ianto face off against the 456 alien and demand that it drops its demands and sods off back into space. The alien replies by unleashing a deadly virus (from its sealed environment chamber?) which quickly spreads throughout the building. The building is sealed to prevent its escape into the general populace, leaving Jack, Ianto and hordes of screaming civil servants to die. Jack and Ianto try shooting the alien with the magic pistols of neverending ammo but the environmental chamber is bullet proof.

The alien releases a strange noise that carries over the webcam into the Hub2 and kills Clem through psychic nosebleeds. Gwen uses her cow eyes and Johnson looks slightly concerned.

Ianto eventually succumbs to the virus and dies in Jack's arms. Nooooooooooooooo! Now who'll make the tea and do the hoovering?

Thoughts: Well this episode was a vast improvement on yesterday's offering as the story progressed and offered some genuinely interesting moments. However, the pacing is still a bit 'off' as the characters were very static and didn't move anywhere until the final 15 minutes. Most of the time was spent with characters sitting around discussing events, and whilst some of those scenes were interesting discussions on the morality of child sacrifice and the overpopulation of the Earth, it would be nice to have a change of pace throughout an episode to avoid things getting too stale.

Another problem I have is that at sixty minutes, the episodes outstay their welcome. I don't know why the format was changed from forty-five but the longer episode length seems to leave each episode floundering, desperately trying to pad the runtime. Perhaps five, forty-five minute episodes would be better?

The death of Ianto was unexpected but it seems to be an attempt at creating a 24 style shock rather than for any good storyline reason. It's a shame that Ianto's background was actually placed in the show as a cheap attempt to build a connection to a doomed character. Still Ianto's death gives Jack some angry vengeance to dish out in the last episode whilst giving Barrowman some emotional scenes to cry through rather than just showing his arse and grinning.

The success or failure of this storyline depends on tomorrow's conclusion; it's definitely a story that could've (and should've) been told in three parts and would have been much leaner and exciting for it. A strong conclusion could elevate this story into a decent sci-fi thriller (albeit with a very flawed middle). A limp or patented Torchwood stupid conclusion will render it a dull, flabby, miserable attempt at mainstream acceptance. I hope for the former, I expect the latter.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

TV Snark - Torchwood: Children of Earth - Day Three OR Civil Service Meeting 18238

Torchwood rumbles on, does Day Three improve on yesterday's action packed but silly offering? Find out...

Recap: Torchwood relocate to an old warehouse/aircraft hanger in Cardiff. The team decide to indulge in petty crime to finance their war on aliens as Gwen (former WPC) gives everyone tips on bag snatching. Then we see a LOT of bag snatching.

The government continue to worry about the 456 whilst not doing very much. Lois gets roped into helping Torchwood as Gwen magically teleports herself to London in the blink of an eye (after a morning of purse snatching) to give Lois a pair of surveillance contact lenses (as seen in Torchwood season two, continuity fans). Lois turns out to be the worst spy in the world as she crafts unconvincing lies and delivers them like Homer Simpson does when he's lying. Still her awful lying fools Frobisher and Spears into allowing Lois to come along to meet the 456.

Clement continues to act barmy and is arrested in the pub after he steals a wallet. Gwen conveniently manages to rescue him from a central London police cell though and drags him back to Cardiff so he can then call Ianto 'queer'. He used a no-no word.

Eventually, after what feels like 500 civil service meetings in one episode, the aliens arrive via a pillar of fire and one(?) of them plonks itself in the special chamber. The chamber is conveniently full of dry ice so we can't see anything of the alien other than gooey discharges which it frequently sprays against the glass walls. Lovely.

Jack eventually remembers that he was part of the alien abduction conspiracy in 1965 and tries to blackmail Frobisher by stealing his wife's phone and threatening to reveal everything. Frobisher calls Jack's bluff when he in turn reveals that he's captured Jack's daughter and grandson.

The 456 alien (in what feels like the longest scene ever) reveals its demands and requests 10% of all the children on Earth as a gift.

Jack returns to Torchwood and terrifies Clement who recognises him as the man who originally handed the 1965 children over to the 456. Jack was the child catcher!

Thoughts: Good grief, this episode felt like every one of its sixty minutes was stretched out to an unbearable degree. The scenes involving the alien and the meetings between the civil service, UNIT and America were padding of the worst kind. It's clear that the story is really stretching to cover the five days now and what seemed to be a tight thriller has now become limp and tedious.

Torchwood again fails to maintain any kind of tone or moral compass as Gwen and co delight in robbing the innocents of Cardiff. There's no real moral quandry or deliberation about the act, in fact Gwen is very eager to use her police skills for petty crime. At the end of their thieving montage, Ianto manages to do the shopping and buy Jack an exact duplicate of his old outfit, complete with identical coat. Sigh. They could've taken the opportunity to update Jack's look but no, everyone continues to dress like a cartoon character always wearing the same gear day in and day out.

The 456 aliens are a massive disappointment as they're hidden behind smoke after their arrival. The show tries to build suspense by having the alien make strange noises and thrash and excrete in its chamber but this is all undone by the dullest first contact scene I've ever watched. Frobisher talks for an Ice Age and the alien replies in monosyllabic utterances. I imagine that on paper the scene was supposed to be very tense and eerie as the alien communicates in a strange and stilted manner. Unfortunately this doesn't come across in the scenes at all. I grew ever more impatient with the long sentences and pauses in between and was shouting at the show to "get on with it!"

It's only the half way point and I'm already bored of this story. I'm struggling to think how they can even drag another episode out of it without collapsing under its own padding. If I wanted to watch running up and down corridors to avoid capture or a series of civil service meetings, I would watch Trial of a Timelord instead.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

TV Snark - Torchwood: Children of Earth - Day Two OR Gwen is NOT Jack Bauer

Episode two was more viscerally entertaining than the first episode due to a heavy dose of action but the story is already beginning to feel a bit stretched out...

Recap: Crawling from the wreckage of the Hub, Gwen is attacked by two paramedics who are government hitmen in disguise. She handily defeats them with a fire extinguisher and twin pistols that WILL NEVER BE RELOADED EVER. Ianto crawls from the wreckage too and is shot at by the world's worst sniper, but Ianto jogs away from this threat and escapes into the night.

Gwen turns into Jack Bauer as she interrogates one of the fake paramedics by shooting him in the foot and yelling, "WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?!" This proves that RTD finally got around to watching 24 and decided to steal liberally from it. She learns that the evil government are hunting Torchwood. She runs directly home but luckily for her the government are inept and haven't already monitored her home - in fact agent Johnson doesn't know where Gwen lives until she finds PC Andy who leads her there. Gwen picks up Rhys and flees into the wild Cardiff night.

Ianto doesn't take refuge, he decides to wander around Cardiff city centre in his bomb damaged clothes before eventually deciding to get in contact with his council estate dwelling relatives via coded letter. Ianto evades capture through dumb luck rather than skill.

Meanwhile, Jack's various body parts are salvaged from the Hub's remains and are zipped up in a body bag and locked in a cell. In a move that surprises no one apart from the people trying to kill him, Jack's body begins to regrow. Evil government agents Johnson decides to chain him up in the cell (giving the audience the cheap thrill of seeing a naked John Barrowman in bondage) and fill the room with concrete.

Gwen and Rhys manage to sneak aboard a truck full of potatoes headed for London, Gwen reveals she's pregnant which causes Rhys to worry a lot more than usual. Gwen arrives in London and makes the bizarre decision of phoning the government that wants her dead. Luckily for Gwen she speaks to the new girl in the civil service, Lois Habiba, who decides to aid Torchwood by leaking secret files and information to Gwen and Rhys over a meal of steak pie and chips.

Callum, the man armed with super power of supersmell doesn't do a lot other than act mental in a pub and smell something that makes him run around a lot.

Gwen and Rhys manage to infiltrate the secret facility that is holding Jack (due to two inept guards that really shouldn't be guarding a top secret building) but they eventually make a mess of things and are discovered. Gwen fires her two pistols a lot whilst being entirely unconvincing. Just as Johnson is about to capture Gwen and Rhys, Ianto shows up in a big forklift truck and steals the now encased in concrete Jack. The Torchwood team escape in the very slow truck while vehicles explode and the government doesn't really bother to follow. To quote The Simpsons, "They're very slowly getting away!"

In a scene that seems to last forever, Ianto...very...slowly...drops...the...concrete...block...into...a...quarry. This releases Jack giving us some shots of John Barrowman's arse. The Torchwood crew are reunited and drive off.

The government have followed some detailed instructions sent by the 456 to construct something. That something turns out to be a dry ice room, or a special chamber filled with a poisonous atmosphere to house an alien, depending on how willing you are to suspend your disbelief. The creepy man who built the chamber looks into it and breathes heavily on the glass. That is our cliffhanger for episode two. Rubbish.

Thoughts: Children of Earth's structure is beginning to resemble an overlong old series Doctor Who adventure, the plot is somewhat thin and is beginning to crack already under the pressure of sustaining five episodes. Although there was some much needed action as Gwen did her best Jack Bauer impression, the 456 plot didn't really progress other than having Torchwood escape the immediate trouble they were in. The aliens announced that they would appear tomorrow, which given the daily format, seemed to break the fourth wall as they were basically announcing they would arrive in the next episode. Other than that, the civil servants conducted more meetings and read some memos and built a special chamber. The lack of advancement of the overall story made this episode seem like mid storyline filler - the equivalent of the Doctor and companion running down corridors, getting captured, and then escaping again.

The fact that Torchwood still aren't coming across as competent is frustrating as they seem to get by on luck and coincidence rather than meticulous planning and competence. The attempt at crafting spy thriller action into the show immediately conjures up thoughts of 24, The Bourne Identity and Casino Royale, which causes Torchwood to appear as the ridiculous sci-fi show that it is. Gwen's unconvincing gunplay is particularly embarrassing.

What I found frustrating is that RTD (as script editor, he didn't write this episode) is recycling ideas from his tenure on Doctor Who as the council estate characters rise up to aid Ianto in a fashion similar to Rose's mother and Mickey. This isn't a bad idea by any means but it is one we've seen before in the same universe and the Torchwood audience will be fully aware of it.

On some levels I enjoyed this episode more than the first because it provided cheap action thrills, gave me something to laugh at (as Torchwood's inherent silliness and stupidity crept back in,) and it didn't make my attention deficient brain seek other distractions. But despite the titillation this was a step back to Torchwood's childish roots as it attempts to act grown up, like a small child trying on Daddy's business suit and then playing in the mud.

Monday, 6 July 2009

TV Snark - Torchwood: Children of Earth - Day One OR How Not To Kidnap A Child

Torchwood has returned as a five part, daily show on BBC One. Has the format improved the show or has it regressed from the progress made in season two? Let's find out...

Recap: In 1965 Scotland a group of children are unloaded from a bus to meet with a large ball of light. All the children, bar one, advance into the light and disappear. In the present day, children all across the world suddenly stop still and chant "We are coming" in English (no matter their native language.) Torchwood investigate when Gwen and Rhys (of all people) notices a strange pattern in the children's behaviour. Jack and Ianto decide to help by kidnapping family members. We find out that Jack has an adult daughter and a young grandson whereas Ianto has a sister who lives on an estate where the Torchwood SUV is stolen (again.) They both fail to obtain children to experiment with.

A young doctor by the name of Rapesh comes close to joining Torchwood after witnessing Jack and Ianto removing an alien parasite from a dead body. Rapesh also claims that a racist alien is killing non-whites in Cardiff. Unfortunately Rapesh fails the Torchwood job interview when he starts talking about suicides.

The government spend the day panicking about something called the 456 (an alien radio frequency), which sounds disturbingly similar to The 4400 given the subject matter of alien abduction. The government (in the shape of Mr Frobisher, who I hope turns out to be a shape changing penguin) decide to terminate Torchwood before they uncover anything about their dealings with the aliens.

Gwen investigates the children phenomenon and discovers that one adult succumbed to the mass chanting, Clement McDonald. He was the boy from 1965 that didn't step into the light. He is living in a mental hospital, scared to mention his real name and possesses the power of supersmell. He can sniff out lies, pregnancy, aliens, and government agents. I don't know why.

Rapesh meets up with Jack to try and provide him with a child for experimentation (after Jack and Ianto fail at borrowing family members) but Rapesh shoots Jack dead and summons Johnson, a government agent who kills Jack again for good measure and implants a bomb in his chest. Johnson then kills Rapesh to tidy up the loose ends. She also orders agents to pick up Clement McDonald but he uses his supersmell powers to escape capture.

Gwen races back to the Hub to use the advanced technology there to confirm she's pregnant. Jack is scanned too and it's revealed there's a bomb in his chest. Gwen and Ianto flee the Hub as Jack explodes and destroys the building (no one mentions Myfanwy the pterodactyl though, did she survive?)

Thoughts: Well, it was okay. Sort of. It was a different Torchwood to the usual fare, being slower paced and more down to earth. This episode focused more on character than events as the show reintroduced Jack and Ianto's relationship and progressed Gwen and Rhys's marriage to the next step via a pregnancy. The government scenes were sketchy enough not to actually explain anything other than providing some vague motivation for a cover up that involves the destruction of Torchwood.

All of this would be fine and well in a slower paced mystery but this is Torchwood and we expect something a bit more exciting and ridiculous! This episode seems to be caught between a political thriller and a Torchwood investigation and it never really manages to convince as either. The performances and tone seem to shift too frequently to really get a feel for what the story should be, one moment Gwen is trying to connect with a disturbed man and the next he's sniffing her hand and giggling at 'gizmos'. Ianto's home life was a terrible scene as the council estate cliches leap to the fore with dialogue such as, "Have you gone bender?" and the theft of the Torchwood mobile, which makes the organisation look comically inept during a serious story about government conspiracy. As such, the episode never really settles into a rhythm.

The episode, for me, wasn't sufficiently entertaining on its own as it seemed to lay the foundations for the rest of the story. Hopefully things will pick up in the second episode (the trailer suggests that Gwen indulges in some violence) and the show can provide some action to go with the somewhat dated story of alien abductions and conspiracy theories (because this story seems to have come from the X-Files circa 1994.)

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Audio Review - Torchwood the Radio 4 Plays

In preparation for the impending doom that is Torchwood Week, I decided to listen to the three Radio Four plays broadcast last week. It was a mistake...

The first play is 'Asylum' and it's available here. Have a listen if you dare, or start listening then skip to the last couple of minutes because you won't miss anything. The plot focuses on a teenage girl who arrives in present day Cardiff through one of the rifts that always flares up and dumps time lost people in the city centre. PC Andy arrests the girl after she's accused of shoplifting and then we spend forty God damn minutes listening to Gwen, Andy and the girl discussing bath water, future immigration laws, crap future slang, and future racism. What will happen to the girl and where does she come from? You honestly won't care after about ten minutes in.

It's excruciatingly dull and doesn't take advantage of the format (audio should mean that your special effects budget is only limited to the number of unusual noises you can make) to include any spectacle or high concepts. Frustratingly, the episode even gives Ianto next to nothing to do other than be someone for Jack to talk to and explain events. Yes, even though the Torchwood crew is down to three members, Ianto still can't do anything other than follow Jack around and occasionally ask questions. Oh, wait a minute, he did do the shopping at one point.

I can't stress how dull and unimaginative this story is. It may as well be an episode of The Bill with future half-alien girl replaced with a homeless Polish immigrant run away. Torchwood is a show of wildly varying quality but this is quite simply awful and possibly the worst of the lot due to it containing nothing of interest, wit, or excitement.

The next play was of slightly more interest but was oh so stupid:

'Golden Age' is set in modern day Delhi. Jack and co have followed traces of an energy field there and are keen to find out what's creating it. Ianto discovers that a shipment of technology with the name Jack Harkness emblazoned on it has been delivered to a familiar looking gentleman's club. Jack last visited the club 80 years ago when it was Torchwood India and is shocked to find everyone he met then is inside alive and well. How are they still youthful? What is generating the strange energy field? If you can't figure it out within five minutes then you are quite possibly a human vegetable.

'Golden Age' suffers from a thin plot and a clumsy script. Whilst the ideas contained within are suitably imaginative, they're very simplistic and are immediately hamstrung by some awful dialogue and performances from the guest artists. The Duchess is the leader of Torchwood India (which only seems to consist of her and a butler and an Indian servant) and she starts of as a mad woman and degenerates from there, it's an incredibly over the top performance. I also noted a couple of lines of dialogue that are not only awful, but are delivered terribly by the actors.

Captain Jack: "I didn't choose to be immortal; I just can't die... no matter how hard I try... and that's just wrong!"

For some reason John Barrowman decided to inject some Shatneresque pauses in his delivery making the line much worse than it already is.

Next was this exchange where the villain's device was given an incredibly stupid name:

Captain Jack: "What is it? What did you keep?"
The Duchess: "A time store, that's all - a space refrigerator."

A space refrigerator. Really? Jack then goes on to suggest that you should use it to store a bacon sandwich instead of people. I hope the bacon is made from space pigs otherwise you could just save money and buy a regular fridge.

The whole episode focuses on Gwen, Ianto and Jack being given a very long and tedious tour around Torchwood India. Gasp as they see - the lawn! The rose garden! The kitchen! The whole episode contains padding from start to finish; long conversations about what drinks characters are ordering, the incidental music between scenes seems to go on for a few seconds more than usual, dull descriptions of rooms, it's an exercise in tedium when the solution to the mystery is obvious. Torchwood India only deceive Jack and co because Jack and the others are curiously too polite to call them on their bullshit.

Ultimately it's an interesting concept that has no meat on the bones, you'll feel like you're being told a once entertaining story by an incredibly dull chartered accountant.

The third and final play, 'The Dead Line' sees an evil phone network send people into comas. Jack is stupid enough to ring the evil phone number and he receives a call that sends him into a deep coma. Ianto spends the episode sitting by Jack's bedside, leaving Gwen (with the help of husband Rhys) to do the investigative legwork. What is this insidious phone menace? Where did it come from? All signs point to the premises of an old abandoned building society...

This is probably the most competent of the three plays but suffers, like the others, from having a somewhat leisurely pace. Still, at least this play has supporting characters that aren't annoying or over the top like the previous ones. Rhys was a welcome inclusion in this episode as his common sense adds something that the Torchwood team usually lack, and the big oaf is likeable enough.

Of the three, this is closest to an actual episode of Torchwood but still suffers from a lack of scale or big 'visuals' that audio could conjure. It's a bland piece of entertainment, it won't engage you on many levels but it won't have you shouting at the radio in frustration.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Robin Hood Cancelled Just After Blogger Busts His Ass Recapping It

Well it looks like the final episode of Robin Hood series three was its last, as reports of its cancellation have hit the news.

Hop on over to Dan's Media Digest and The Guardian for details and quotes.

The last episode was a good way for the show to go and without (*deep breath*) Richard Armitage, Keith Allen, Lara Pulver and Jonas Armstrong it would have been a totally different series, especially with a rumoured change of location from Hungary to Scotland. I'm not sad it's gone and I hope the BBC use the money saved to come up with another piece of imaginative entertainment. I've said before that I'd rather the BBC try to produce thrilling and engaging shows than not try at all, even if the shows so far have been disappointing.

But hey, Robin Hood can hold its head high because it wasn't anywhere near as bad as Demons.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

TV Snark - Robin Hood: Something Worth Fighting For (Part Two) OR In This Issue - EVERYONE DIES!

Are you ready to say goodbye to the third season of Robin Hood? Don't worry, I'm sure everyone will be fine...

Continuing from last episode, the Sheriff is besieging Nottingham castle with his army of Hungarian guards. Robin and Guy decide to ride out to meet him and find out how the Sheriff survived Guy's attack a few episodes ago. Apparently Guy just didn't make sure that the Sheriff was dead and so he recovered from the wound. Oh, okay then. Obviously we, as the audience, know this because we saw the Sheriff give the old twitch of life at the end of that particular episode but still, he could've come up with something clever. Also, he gave a Guy a warning as he lay dying that, "nothing is as it seems" and that didn't go anywhere did it? Still, quibble, quibble.

The Sheriff grows tired of the parley and decides to unleash his devastating new weapon that won't backfire on him like all the other super weapons he's ever had. A trebuchet launches a cask of Byzantine Fire into the city which set fires to a couple of mook peasants who were simply sitting around. The Sheriff gives Robin an ultimatum, he must hand over Guy, Isabella, and the castle or be wiped off the face of the Earth. Robin has no clever retort so he just scowls and rides off. At this point I'm wondering why the Sheriff is playing fair and letting Robin and Guy go, I mean he's a cheating bastard why doesn't he shoot the two men and storm the castle minus its two leaders? Oh well, I'm far too practical, I'd never be a good medieval despot.

The opening titles roll and I realise (after watching the episode) that they inserted scenes from old episodes into the flashing teaser images. Seems they decided to protect the audience from inadvertent spoilers, which is probably one of the few things the production has got right.

Archer, Tuck and Kate examine the remains of the Byzantine Fire bomb. Obviously Archer knows all about the stuff ("it's sticky, like oil!") and Tuck decides that he can use his SCIENCE to produce more of the stuff if he can figure out the compound. Yeah, Tuck, sure you can.

Guy points out that Robin could have killed the Sheriff earlier but Robin gives some excuse about morals and ENGLAND and stuff. Whatever Robin, you and your flexible morals. Robin decides that Allan needs a funeral so Robin says some brief words and burns the body. Well, that was brief wasn't it?

Guy visits Isabella and they banter a bit about killing each other, in that cute way that siblings do. Guy can't murder her so he gives Isabella some poison to kill herself with if the army storms the castle. I'm sure that will prove to be a wise decision.

Kate decides to hop over the wall to find troops in Loughborough and raise the siege. Yes, the least capable outdoorsman of the Merry Men is going to stealth past the Sheriff's army. Sure.

The Merry Men hold a meeting and moan at Archer for selling Byzantine Fire to the Sheriff in the first place. Guy also points out that Archer tried to kill them earlier that day too. Archer declares that Robin has put peasants' lives in danger by using them as a makeshift army, then he strops off.

Robin decides that he needs to use a crack squad to take out the trebuchets. Robin leaves Much in charge, which means Much is competent this week then? Robin takes Little John, Tuck and Guy with him on the raid. Two of that group are big and loud, not ideal for sneaking into an enemy camp at night. Despite the potential for two oafs to ruin it, the Merry Men sabotage the trebuchets by causing them to launch the missiles straight up into the air and land on them. That's a complicated bit of sabotage but hey, it looked spectacular with the explosions and whatnot. Robin and co almost get captured when the Sheriff's men prepare to attack the castle early but Archer rides to the rescue and they escape back inside the fortifications. That has to be one of the shortest 'quitting the band/team/group' sequences ever.

Meanwhile Isabella tempts her jailer into letting her out for some hanky panky. The jailer is dumb enough to fall for it and Isabella stabs him as a reward. In the show's defence, prisoners escape from the dungeons all the time and the jailer turnover must be pretty high, so I guess they just hire anyone to guard the cells now. He was probably Hungarian and didn't know what was happening anyway. I notice that Lara Pulver sure is pretty when she's not contorting her face into a Cruella De Vil impression.

There's some exciting sword and arrow play as the army storms the castle and breaks down the main doors. Robin and co defend the castle with lines of archers and hit and run tactics, causing me to wonder if someone has actually had a think about the military tactics in this episode. Well done, better late than never.

The fighting continues until the Sheriff produces Kate as a hostage. The Sheriff tells Robin that he captured Kate on her way back from Loughborough (she must have a car because there's no way she's making that journey in a few hours). There will be no relief army as King Richard has been captured and held to ransom by Leopold of Austria and his troops won't fight without him. Robin points out that the Sheriff earlier claimed that he wouldn't take any prisoners, but the Sheriff points out that if he kills everyone, he won't have anyone to tax. Yay! Finally, an episode where someone realises that killing all the peasants would be bad for the economy. Is Robin Hood trying to redeem itself in one last effort? Robin stalls the Sheriff while Much dangles himself down from the battlements and snatches Kate away from peril.

The invading army retreats for now and Robin and Kate reunite. Robin then delivers a stirring speech about things and stuff, there's a lot of shouting. The respite isn't long though as the army's archers begin to invade and start shooting at the Merry Men. While there's some more exciting combat, Sheriff and Blamire decide to use the secret tunnel from last episode to invade the castle but they run into Archer's trapped chamber. The trap is long gone but the heavy door that sealed the room off isn't, so the Sheriff decides to blast through it with Byzantine Fire (whatever happened to good old pitch? I remember in the second series when it was used to burn and explode everything.)

Tuck has figured out the composition of Byzantine Fire, the base of which is nut oil that the Sheriff just happens to have gallons of in the castle stores. Of course.

Isabella distracts Guy into following her beneath the castle. Archer tags along too because he's got nothing else to do at the moment. The two men are in the tunnels to hear the Sheriff blow up the door, Archer runs off to fetch Robin while Guy stalks after Isabella. Guy soon catches up with her and she offers Guy his poison back so he can use it on himself. Oh, burn! The Sheriff arrives too and decides to fight Guy one on one, despite having lost to him last time. When did the Sheriff develop a sense of fair play? Robin and Archer arrive to help Guy and a three way battle commences.

The fight ends when Guy pushes Robin out of the way of an Isabella backstab (she still manages to slice Robin's neck though) but gets impaled by the Sheriff and Isabella for his efforts. Everyone stops fighting because the play fighting has ended up with someone getting hurt and someone's got to run and get an adult. Isabella gloats at having killed Robin as her dagger was coated in Guy's poison, she reckons Robin will be dead by sundown. Mwahahahahaha! The Sheriff and Isabella conveniently retreat to gloat.

Now Richard Armitage has his death scene and it's quite well done as Guy thanks Robin for redeeming him and allowing him to die proud and free. *Sniff* Bye Guy, you dressed as a silly Goth person most of the time but you were probably the most interesting character on the show. Plus, it was easy to make jokes about you. Robin ruins the scene by not crying, "Noooooooooooooo!"

Robin evacuates everyone into the side tunnels underneath the castle so they can slip past the Sheriff's invading army unseen. Little John gets to perform a feat of strength as he pulls the grating off the tunnel exit (it's in his contract.) Robin kills a guard on the way out but he's ailing from the poison as he huffs and puffs his way to the forest with the peasants. Robin then confides in Tuck that he's going to die.

After everyone has fled into the forest, Robin and Archer head back to the castle to perform one last trick shot. Robin shoots an arrow into the room where the Byzantine Fire is kept and where the Sheriff and Isabella are currently standing and wondering where everyone has got to. The arrow lands in a barrel. There's a comedy double take from the Sheriff when he realises that the barrels are full of Byzantine Fire...

Robin and Archer flee as the entire castle explodes.

One minute it's there, the next it's gone.

The Sheriff, Isabella and all of the Hungarian guards are killed in one fell swoop. There's a decent bit of CGI to make the crumbling castle look good. Obviously the idea of one explosion being large enough to destroy the ENTIRE castle is very silly but at least it was a big finish.

Robin rejoins the Merry Men where it's revealed to everyone that he's going to die. Robin delivers a pep talk to each Merry Man and Archer to remind them to continue the franchise. Robin leaves Kate so he can die alone and see his dead wife manifest before him. Yes what's her name; Mable, Maureen, erm Marian! That's it.

Marian appears and she and Robin embrace and then giggle in each others arms. Robin then slowly passes away. It's quite well done and Marian at least is wearing something approaching noble lady's garb rather than the Topshop stuff she used to wear when she was alive. I was disappointed that Robin didn't regenerate though.

The Merry Men hold a funeral for Robin and decide to continue the fight against tyranny because they are all Robin Hood (which the series has seeded as a concept since the second series at least, so well done there) thus continuing the franchise for at least another season.

Ultimately, this episode was the best of the entire series. The plot was plausible, there were no dialogue clunkers and whilst there were signs of the traditional lazy plotting and shortcuts, it didn't offend too much. Each character death was wrung for all its emotional worth and whilst there was a bit of cribbing from other films, Robin trails his hand in the grass in one moment that was straight from Gladiator and the spectral wife come to visit as he lay dying reminded me of The Crow, at least they cribbed the good bits. Overall Robin Hood series three was much improved on the previous efforts but it still was never in danger of being a GOOD show. Prince John livened proceedings with his ridiculous behaviour and Isabella was an intriguing romantic interest before she went completely mental. Guy became entertaining once he became a Merry Man and I would've like to have seen a couple more episodes with him in that role. Unfortunately the improved elements are mostly gone now and the show is left with the weaker characters. If Robin Hood is commissioned for another series I hope there is a focus on delivering stories that were as exciting and, well, at least as competent as this one.


BUT - Torchwood week begins next week!

Oh God, why do I do this?