Random stuff on Life, the Universe and Science Fiction

TV

The Best of Netflix UK So Far

The moment we’ve been waiting for is here, Netflix has come to the UK. The catalogue isn’t huge yet but there’s a lot of good stuff there. Here’s my top 5 list of my favourite things on Netflix UK that you might not have seen before. If you’ve started a Netflix free trial already, click on each title to be taken to it’s page on Netflix.

Henning Mankell’s Wallander

The Swedish series of TV movies based on the books of Henning Mankell about Kurt Wallander, a homicide detective working in the town of Ystad in Sweden. The first film is based on the last (at the time) Wallander novel Before the Frost which introduces Linda Wallander, Kurt’s daughter, as a young police officer, just out of training. The other 25 films continue from thee with original stories.  If  you’re in the mood for some great mystery drama and subtitles don’t bother you, definitely give it a go.

The 4400

American sci-fi series from the USA network that never really took off over here. Telling the story of 4400 people who have vanished over the course of 5 decades and suddenly all reappear together, without  having aged, beside a lake in Washington state, and the FBI agents tasked with investigating what happened to them. It slowly becomes obvious that many of the 4400 are developing strange powers. It’s one of the most underrated sci-fi shows of the 2000s and it’s well worth a go.

Das Boot

Wolfgang Petersen’s finest hour. Before he made the move to Hollywood, he made this fantastic gripping film about the crew of a German U-boat in the middle of the Second World War’s battle of the Atlantic. Filmed on a real U-boat, this is definitely one of the best war films ever made. The original theatrical version was 2:30 long before being extended for a 4:30 TV miniseries. This version is the Director’s cut which cuts a happy medium at 3:30. Short enough for a single sitting, but long enough to include many of the fantastic character scenes that didn’t make the original theatrical cut.

Zulu

One of the great British war movies, tells the true story of the historic Battle of Rourke’s Drift in the Anglo-Zulu war. Following the slaughter of a large British force at Isandlwana, a 4000 strong column of the Zulu army turns its focus on the small mission station at Rourke’s Drift manned by just over 100 British soldiers. Stanley Baker and Michael Caine (in his first major role) play the two Lieutenants who work together to organise the defence. This film was made with the full cooperation of the Zulu nation with current Chieftain Mangosuthu Buthelezi playing his own ancestor, King Cetewayo.

Twin Peaks

Another series not widely distributed in the UK is Twin Peaks. Brilliant series about the small town where the murder of teenager Laura Palmer sends the town in to mourning, but everyone in the town has secrets. Every character in this series is a little odd at least and the acting is fantastic but the standout performance is from Kyle MacLachlan as FBI agent Cooper who comes to the town to investigate the death of Laura.

 

I hope you get a chance to check out some of these and here’s looking forward to Netflix UK growing it’s catalogue over the next few months.

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Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 1 Preview Showing (Spoiler-free Review)

This blog post will not contain spoilers beyond the identities of the main cast and a basic outline of the premise of the story all of which is already public knowledge. If you want to go into the first episode knowing absolutely nothing about the story, do not read on.


A few weeks ago, I was on my way home from work when I saw a tweet from the Doctor Who News Page that there was to be a special preview of the first episode of the new series of Torchwood at the British Film Institute (BFI) cinema on London’s Southbank. I tried desperately to book on my phone but the BFI’s booking system disagreed with my HTC Desire’s browser so I had to wait till I got home 15 minutes later. Fortunately there were a handful of single seats left, though they were swiftly disappearing, and I managed to book myself a seat in the middle of the cinema in the third row from the back.

Fast forward to today and the date of the showing had arrived. I escaped from the rain and took my seat in the National Film Theatre to enjoy the show. After a quick introduction from a man from the BFI the guests of honour were introduced. Attending the showing were stars John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Bill Pullman, Kai Owen and Tom Price as well as producers Russell T Davies and Julie Gardener. Then, after the standard warning about not posting spoilers on the internet or videoing the performance, we got underway.

We get straight down to business with the premise of the series being presented very early on. Suddenly, no one in the world can die. Not that they’re indestructible, they can be injured, but they just don’t die. At the same time, the CIA find mentions of Torchwood and they try to find out more about it. Gradually, the old Torchwood crew are re-introduced with Jack’s entrance particularly well done.

Action in this episode takes place on both sides of the Atlantic and there is plenty of it. Despite taking time to introduce the characters and concept to new viewers, there’s lots of action to get excited about just in this one episode. Gwen especially gets some awesome moments. The action sequences are where the increase in budget from American investment is most clear. There’s some really cool stuff they just couldn’t have done without that extra cash.

The episode was a great ride. Lots of humour balancing nicely with the seriousness of the main story lines. The balance was also right between the info for the new viewers and jokes for long-standing fans. There are a few Wales jokes that I imagine will go right over the heads of the majority of Starz’s audience. The acting was great as always and Murray Gold’s cinematic score really suited the large scale of the episode.

The evening finished off with a Q&A with Barrowman, Myles, Pullman and Davies with lots of great anecdotes, far too many to share here, but one of the highlights was a hilarious story about Barrowman hiding in the shower in Myles’ trailer and scaring her half to death.

I had a great evening and can’t wait to see what’s coming up in the next 9 episodes. I’d encourage both current fans and newcomers to give it a go.

TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY premiers on Starz in the USA on 8th July and on SPACE in Canada on and UKTV in Australia on 9th July. BBC1 has yet to set a premier date for the UK but it’s expected to be around the same time in early July.


30 Day TV Challenge: Day 4 – Your favorite show ever

As most of you will have guessed, as far as fandom goes I am above all a Star Trek fan and this is the pinacle of that. The other shows are great and I love them all but the huge ensemble cast, including many great recurring characters, and ambitious, detailed and far reaching storytelling, not afraid to tell a story over multiple episodes and seasons, pushes this show to the top of the heap.


30 Day TV Challenge: Day 3 – Your favorite new show (aired this t.v season)

From Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis, this series is a perfect modernisation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great investigator. Set in modern day London, Benedict Cumberbatch stars with Martin Freeman as Doctor Watson. The thing that sets this apart from so many adaptations that have failed is that it keeps Holmes as just that, an investigator. He’s a fantastically talented detective, an eccentric, but what he’s not is an action hero. This series keeps Watson and Holmes doing what they’ve always done but in the modern day.


30 Day TV Challenge: Day 1 – A Show That Should Never Have Been Cancelled

Well, everyone has chosen Firefly here so I’ll go against the obvious with-

All the Star Trek sequel series started with an average first couple of seasons but Enterprise was never really given a chance to shine. Maybe it’s because DS9 and Voyager both started while the previous show was still going strong whereas Enterprise was out all on it’s own but the audience just didn’t give it the chance to get better that they’d given to DS9 and Voyager. Seasons 3 and 4 were really good, but unfortunately by that time people had stopped watching and it was cancelled just as it was beginning to show how good it could be.

I was one of those that really didn’t mind the original opening theme that much, but this is what it should have been –

And here’s the original-


Babylon 5 Viewing Order

A few people I follow on Twitter seem to be doing a big Babylon 5 watch at the moment, a highly worthwhile thing to be doing considering the quality of the series and the fact you can get all of it for under £50. In fact I’d encourage any scifi fan to give it a go.

It’s quite a complex series with many continuing arcs over 6 seasons of two different TV shows, 5 TV movies and a straight-to-DVD film, and It’s easy to be spoiled, not to mention confused by watching it in the wrong order. For example there’s a film called ‘In The Beginning’. Should it be watched at the beginning, certainly not!

To that end, I thought I’d share my preferred viewing order. It’s pretty close to the broadcast order but placing a few things into chronological order so they make more sense. Watching it this way there should be no spoilt revelations or confusion. The Crusade spin-off series has it’s own issues with a messed up broadcast and production order but I’d endorse the ‘Chronological Order’ found here. I hope many people take the plunge into Babylon 5, it’s a great series (Season 1 feet-finding issues aside) and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Babylon 5 Viewing Order:

Film: The Gathering
Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4 up to ‘Into The Fire’
Film: Thirdspace
Rest of Season 4
Film: In The Beginning
Season 5 up to ‘Objects at Rest’ (Penultimate episode)
Film: River of Souls
Film: Legend of the Rangers
Film: A call to Arms
Crusade Complete Series
Film: The Lost Tales
Season 5 ‘Sleeping in Light’ (Finale)


Dollhouse, Season 1

It’s been a while since my initial post on this blog but I think I’ve decided what I want to use it for now so it’ll hopefully be more frequent from now on.


I came to watch Dollhouse recently with some trepidation. I watched the pilot when it first came out with some excitement. I’ve been a Joss Whedon fan for a while. Buffy was good and Firefly and Doctor Horrible were both fantastic so any new Whedon project was something to be excited about. I sat down to watch it with my fiancée and the pilot was pretty… meh. It just didn’t grab me and the concept made us more than a little uncomfortable. Clearly the concept of the Dollhouse is morally wrong in every conceivable way and there just wasn’t enough acknowledgement of that in the script. Too many of the characters seemed to have no problem with it. So we left it at that and didn’t watch any more.

Over the intervening years, lots of people whose opinions I respect on the subject have recommended it to me and told me that it gets better after the first few episodes so when my fiancée got given it for Christmas and offered to lend it to me, I decided to give it another go.

The pilot is still the same and I still have the same problems that I did with it at the beginning. Morality problems aside, it just isn’t that interesting, and the next few episodes aren’t a lot better. However, in the second half of the season the plot really picks up and twists start coming thick and fast. Episode six, ‘Man on the Street’ is the first episode that’s really any better than average and from then on they get better and better. They also get more and more into the morality of what the characters in the show are doing and it’s delt with a lot better as it goes on. The episode 11-12 two parter that rounds off the season one story line is really exciting, with guest star in Alan Tudyk getting to really show off how fantastic an actor he is.

The real highlight of the set however is episode 13, ‘Epitah One’ that acts as the coda to the series. Set in the far future where the Dollhouse technology is out of control, it stars Felicia Day as the leader of a group of people struggling to survive in that future who stumble upon the long-disused Dollhouse and what they find gives us some teasers into the way the show is going to go in season two.

If they keep up the quality of the last few episodes of this season into season two, I can see it being pretty good, but I don’t think it’ll reach the heights of Whedon’s previous creations.