TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: LEGEND OF THE SEA DEVILS (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: LEGEND OF THE SEA DEVILS (2022, UK, 47m, 12) **½
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
dist. BBC; pr co. BBC Studios; d. Haolu Wang; w. Ella Road, Chris Chibnall; exec pr. Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; pr. Nikki Wilson; ph. Mark Waters (Colour | 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; ed. Tom White; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; ad. Ifan Lewis; cos. Ray Holman; vfx. DNEG, sp fx. Real SFX.
cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Marlowe Chan-Reeves (Ying Ki), Crystal Yu (Madame Ching), Craige Els (Marsissus), Arthur Lee (Ji-Hun), David Tse (Ying Wai), Simon Carew (Sea Devil), Jon Davey (Sea Devil), Chester Durrant (Sea Devil), Mickey Lewis (Sea Devil).
The Easter Special and penultimate outing for Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor is yet another frenetic and haphazard episode. The Doctor, Yaz (Gill) and Dan (Bishop) travel to 19th century China, where a small coastal village is under threat from both the fearsome pirate queen Madame Ching (Yu) and a monstrous force, which she unwittingly unleashes. The production looks glossy and the effects work is good, but here again, the script tries to cram in too much plot and action leaving little room for breath or dramatic build-up. There is also the constant background (and not so background) music that often drowns out the dialogue in the sound mix. Whilst it is good to see the Sea Devils make an appearance, they lack the menace they had in their debut back in Jon Pertwee’s tenure. There is still much to like in the performances of Gill and Bishop, whilst Whitaker’s energy only partially offsets her lack of gravitas.

Film Review – STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013, USA, 132m, 12) ***½
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures / Skydance Productions / Bad Robot; d. J.J. Abrams; w. Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof (based on the television series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry); pr. J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci; ph. Daniel Mindel (DeLuxe | 2.39:1); m. Michael Giacchino; ed. Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey; pd. Scott Chambliss, Amelia Brooke; ad. Ramsey Avery.
cast: Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (Bones), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Peter Weller (Marcus), Alice Eve (Carol Marcus), Noel Clarke (Thomas Harewood), Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime), Nazneen Contractor (Rima Harewood), Amanda Foreman (Ensign Brackett), Jay Scully (Lieutenant Chapin), Jonathan Dixon (Ensign Froman), Aisha Hinds (Navigation Officer Darwin), Joseph Gatt (Science Officer 0718), Jeremy Raymond (Lead Nibiran).
Action-packed and effects-driven follow-up to 2009’s STAR TREK reboot coasts on the familiar character interaction of the lead cast to overcome its story shortcomings. This time the crew of the Starship Enterprise returns home after an act of terrorism within its own organization destroys most of Starfleet and what it represents, leaving Earth in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain James T. Kirk (Pine) leads his people crew on a mission to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction, thereby propelling all of them into an epic game of life and death. Rehashing elements of 1982’s STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, this film cannot recreate the tension generated in that earlier model. Abrams tends to go for broke on the visual effects and mass destruction, stifling the story and blunting the characters’ motivations. The cast gives game performances and the visuals are sensational, but the action is too often overblown and lacking in credibility – notably during the protracted climax. There is still much fun to be had though, and this largely comes via the familiar character interactions. Pine, Quinto and Urban have captured the camaraderie seen in the original series characters and their interpretations are spot on. Followed by STAR TREK BEYOND (2016).
AAN: Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton).

Film Review – STAR TREK (2009)

STAR TREK (2009, USA, 127m, 12) ****
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures / Spyglass Entertainment / Bad Robot / Mavrocine ; d. J.J. Abrams; w. Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman; pr. J.J. Abrams, David Witz; ph. Daniel Mindel (DeLuxe | 2.35:1); m. Michael Giacchino; ed. Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey; pd. Scott Chambliss; ad. Keith P. Cunningham.
cast: Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime), Eric Bana (Nero), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Karl Urban (Bones), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Ben Cross (Sarek), Winona Ryder (Amanda Grayson), Chris Hemsworth (George Kirk), Jennifer Morrison (Winona Kirk), Rachel Nichols (Gaila), Faran Tahir (Captain Robau), Clifton Collins Jr. (Ayel), Tony Elias (Officer Pitts), Sean Gerace (Tactical Officer), Randy Pausch (Kelvin Crew Member).
A hugely entertaining reworking of the classic 1960s TV series sees the crew of the Enterprise set on a new timeline. The brash and arrogant James T. Kirk is looking to live up to his father’s legacy with Quinto’s Mr Spock keeping him in check. All the favourite characters are back as the crew tackles a vengeful, time-travelling Romulan looking to create black holes to destroy the Federation one planet at a time. Whilst the plot may not stand up to scrutiny, the action set-pieces are thrillingly staged, and the visual effects work is first-class. Abrahams directs with gusto and a strong feel for the characters with the richly humorous interaction between the leads that made the TV series so popular evident again here and only occasionally feeling forced. Followed by STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013).
AA: Best Achievement in Makeup (Barney Burman, Mindy Hall, Joel Harlow)
AAN: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing (Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson, Peter J. Devlin); Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Mark P. Stoeckinger, Alan Rankin); Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh, Burt Dalton)

Film Review – WESTWORLD (1973)

WESTWORLD (1973, USA, 88m, 15) ***½
Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Western
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (USA), MGM-EMI (UK); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. Michael Crichton; w. Michael Crichton; pr. Paul N. Lazarus III; ph. Gene Polito (Metrocolor | 2.39:1); m. Fred Karlin; ed. David Bretherton; ad. Herman A. Blumenthal.
cast: Yul Brynner (Gunslinger), Richard Benjamin (Peter Martin), James Brolin (John Blane), Norman Bartold (Medieval Knight), Alan Oppenheimer (Chief Supervisor), Victoria Shaw (Medieval Queen), Dick Van Patten (Banker), Linda Gaye Scott (Arlette), Steve Franken (Technician), Michael T. Mikler (Black Knight), Terry Wilson (Sheriff), Majel Barrett (Miss Carrie), Anne Randall (Daphne), Julie Marcus (Girl in Dungeon), Sharyn Wynters (Apache Girl), Anne Bellamy (Middle Aged Woman), Chris Holter (Stewardess), Charles Seel (Bellhop), Wade Crosby (Bartender), Jared Martin (Technician).
Michael Crichton wrote and directed this tale set in a futuristic theme park where paying guests can pretend to be gunslingers in artificial Wild West, Roman and Medieval settings populated by androids. After paying a sizable entrance fee, Brolin and Benjamin are determined to unwind by hitting saloons and shooting guns. But when the system malfunctions the escapist fantasy suddenly takes a dark turn. Crichton builds his setting with humour and not-so subtle comments on fantasy fulfilment, but it is not until the system failure, embodied by Brynner’s steely cold robot gunslinger, that the story catches fire. The finale, with Brynner’s relentless pursuit of Benjamin, is full of tension and can be seen as a major influence on John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) and James Cameron’s THE TERMINATOR (1984). Crichton himself would revisit his plot in a different setting for his novel “Jurassic Park”, which was sensationally filmed in 1993 by Steven Spielberg. Followed by FUTUREWORLD (1976). Later adapted for TV as Beyond Westworld (1980) and Westworld (2016- ).

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022)

DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022, UK) ***
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
dist. BBC One; pr co. BBC; d. Annetta Laufer; w. Chris Chibnall; pr. Sheena Bucktowonsing; ph. Robin Whenary (Colour. 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; b/cast. 1 January 2022 (UK); r/t. 58m.
cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Aisling Bea (Sarah), Adjani Salmon (Nick), Pauline McLynn (Mary), Nicholas Briggs (Daleks (voice)).
The third successive New Year Special in Chris Chibnall’s reign to feature the Daleks and it is fair to say this is the most low-key of them. Sarah (Bea) owns and runs ELF storage, and Nick (Salmon) is a customer who visits his unit every year on New Year’s Eve. This year, however, their night turns out to be a little different than planned with the appearance of an executioner Dalek. Like all stories using time loops as their basis, this one has several lapses in story logic and continuity. There is fun to be had, however, with Bea and Salmon delivering likeable characters and performances. As for the rest, there is little new or original on offer and the Daleks’ dialogue often feels out of character. Once again, the producers try to shoe-horn a companion’s infatuation and physical attraction to the Doctor, and it just feels like it is placed there to tick the diversity box as it adds nothing to the story itself. It will likely play out over Whittaker’s final two stories later this year. The result is a passable hour’s entertainment, but little from this or the FLUX series convinces me Chibnall will pull anything extraordinary out of the fire for his final two stories.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: FLUX (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: FLUX (2021, UK, Colour, 6 x 49-60m) ***
BBC One
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
Chapters: 1. The Halloween Apocalypse ***; 2. War of the Sontarans ***; 3. Once, Upon Time **; 4. Village of the Angels *****; 5. Survivors of the Flux ***; 6. The Vanquishers **
Exec pr. Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; pr. Nikki Wilson (1, 2, 4), Pete Levy (3, 5, 6); w. Chris Chibnall, Maxine Alderton (4); d. Jamie Magnus Stone (1, 2, 4), Azhur Saleem (3, 5, 6); ph. Robin Whenary (1, 2, 4), Phil Wood (3, 5, 6); m. Segun Akinola; ed. William Webb, David Head; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; cos. Ray Holman.
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Jacob Anderson (Vinder), Craig Parkinson (Grand Serpent), Craige Els (Karvanista), Kevin McNally (Professor Jericho), Annabel Scholey (Claire Brown), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart), Thaddea Graham (Bel), Rochenda Sandall (Azure), Sam Spruell (Swarm), Steve Oram (Joseph Williamson), Barbara Flynn (Tecteun), Nadia Albina (Diane), Jo Martin (Fugitive Doctor), Jonathan Watson (Sontaran Commander Stenck / Skaak / Sontaran Commander Ritskaw), Dan Starkey (Svild).
Ambitious and epic in scope this thirteenth series of the revived Doctor Who was also complex, confusing and populated by too many characters. In Flux, the Doctor and her companions navigate a Universe-ending anomaly called the “Flux”, while dealing with enemies and secrets from the Doctor’s past. The story is told in six inter-linking chapters. The result is a decidedly mixed bag. The chapters that could, with some slight tweaks, serve as standalone episodes – the almost traditional “War of the Sontarans” and the deliciously creepy “Village of the Angels” (superbly directed by Stone)  – are the ones that work best. As for the rest we had the enjoyable but overly frenetic scene-setting opener “The Halloween Apocalypse”, the baffling and confusing “Once, Upon Time”, the slightly less baffling “Survivors of the Flux” and the largely unsatisfying conclusion “The Vanquishers”, which left as many unanswered questions as answered ones. The production was certainly the most extravagant ever attempted by the series – crossing various timelines on Earth and locations across (and outside) the Universe. Each of these settings was superbly realised by excellent visuals and great CGI and the series has never looked better. The technical team can hold their heads high. The lead performances were, overall, good. Whittaker has settled into her Doctor well and at times showed the gravitas that had been missing in the previous two seasons. Gill had much more to do, and Yasmin became a stronger and more pro-active character. Bishop provided some good laughs and was likeable as was Els’ dog-like Karvanista. McNally was also extremely likeable as Professor Jericho and he played the role with conviction. Parkinson’s Grand Serpent was enigmatic and the Sontarans have never looked better. The side story concerning Anderson and Graham’s characters, however, felt phoney and could easily have been excised. Where the story was really lacking, once again, was in the writing. Chibnall has had problems throughout his run in creating engaging drama and logical plots. That malaise continued here despite the additional space. Instead of letting the story breathe, he decided to fill it chock full of confusing exposition and too many peripheral characters. The best stories of the previous two seasons had been those from other writers and the best story of this series included the considerable contribution of Maxine Alderton – the others were all written by Chibnall. Playing loose with the show’s mythos through adding more back story to the Doctor with the use of Flynn (as the Doctor’s “mother”); the re-appearance of Martin as another incarnation of the Doctor; and the mysterious Swarm and Azure holding the Doctor’s memories in Gallifreyan watch. But none of this is resolved in the finale with the Doctor fractured across three timelines. Chibnall may well address these loose threads through the specials to follow, but the immediate problem is the story concluded with the big questions remaining unanswered and it asks a lot of casual viewers to stick with it. When Russell T. Davies finally takes back the reins in 2023 my biggest hope is he takes the programme back to its core roots with more straightforward and engaging plots that use temporal physics as a travelling device rather than a central plot premise. History has shown that the episodes which play with temporal themes and settings are those that tend to satisfy the least. For now, we are left with a third successive frustrating series, albeit an improvement on the previous two, and the prospect of a New Year’s special which once again will put time at the centre of its plotline.

Film Review – SERENITY (2005)

SERENITY (2005, USA) ****
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures / Barry Mendel Productions; d. Joss Whedon; w. Joss Whedon; pr. Barry Mendel; ph. Jack N. Green (Colour. 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), Digital (Texas Instruments DLP 1280 x 1024, 1.9 : 1 anamorphic). Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format). 2.35:1); m. David Newman; ed. Lisa Lassek; pd. Barry Chusid; ad. Daniel T. Dorrance; rel. 22 August 2005 (UK), 22 September 2005 (USA); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 119m.
cast: Nathan Fillion (Mal), Gina Torres (Zoë), Alan Tudyk (Wash), Morena Baccarin (Inara), Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Sean Maher (Simon), Summer Glau (River), Ron Glass (Shepherd Book), Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Operative), David Krumholtz (Mr. Universe), Michael Hitchcock (Dr. Mathias), Sarah Paulson (Dr. Caron), Yan Feldman (Mingo), Rafael Feldman (Fanty), Nectar Rose (Lenore), Tamara Taylor (Teacher), Glenn Howerton (Lilac Young Tough), Hunter Ansley Wryn (Young River).
A group of rebels led by war veteran Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) travels the outskirts of space aboard their ship, Serenity, outside the reach of the Alliance, a sinister regime that controls most of the universe. After the crew takes in Simon (Maher) and his psychic sister, River (Glau), whom he has just rescued from Alliance forces, they find themselves being pursued by the Operative (Ejiofor), an Alliance agent who will stop at nothing to find them. The events of the film take place six months after the last episode of the Firefly (2002) TV series, which was cancelled prematurely by the network despite its loyal fan base. Here, Whedon attempts to tie-up some of the loose threads that resulted from the series being dropped. Whilst the movie may require its audience to be familiar with the series, there is still much to enjoy for newcomers. The action is ramped up and there is the witty character interaction that endeared the TV show to its audience leaving sufficient of the series’ spirit on show to make this a success. All the regulars return and there are shocks and surprises along the way. Whedon’s direction is fast-paced and the cast hit the ground running. It’s a shame the movie did not earn sufficient box office to warrant extending the franchise.

TV Review – INTERGALACTIC (2021)

INTERGALACTIC (UK, 2021, 8 x 45m) **
Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure

net; Sky One; pr co. Babieka / Moonage Pictures / Tiger Aspect Productions; d. Kieron Hawkes, China Moo-Young , Hannah Quinn; cr. Julie Gearey; w. Julie Gearey, Laura Grace ; exec pr. Paul Gilbert; series pr. Nick Pitt.

cast: Savannah Steyn (Ash Harper), Eleanor Tomlinson (Candy), Natasha O’Keeffe (Emma), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Tula), Thomas Turgoose (Drew), Oliver Coopersmith (Echo), Imogen Daines (Verona), Diany Samba-Bandza (Genevieve), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Yann Harper), Craig Parkinson (Dr. Lee), Parminder Nagra (Rebecca Harper), Neil Maskell (Wendell), Samantha Schnitzler (Captain Alessia Harris).

The year 2143. Climate change has screwed the planet and the world’s cities, now mostly underwater, are controlled by a pseudo democratic government called the Commonworld. After sky cop Harper (Savannah Steyn) is set up for a crime she had nothing to do with, she is placed on board prisoner transport ship the Hemlock bound for an off-planet prison. On board she is thrown into the melee of a mutiny stirred up by a band of hardened female criminals who threaten to kill her if she doesn’t fly them to safety.

Intergalactic must be one of the biggest wasted opportunities to hit our TV screens in recent years.  Backed by Sky with a top-notch production design (by Mark Geraghty); more than acceptable visual effects; and a solid-gold premise inspired by one of British TVs best sci-fi adventure series (Blake’s 7) this should have been a celebration of what is great about British TV. Unfortunately we had to deal with characters, who for the most part were very difficult to like and left us with no-one to root for; incessant and overly gratuitous use of foul language; banal and cliched dialogue and storylines; and a finale that wasn’t. The latter is partly explained by the fact there were two more scripts to shoot before production was curtailed by the pandemic. The producers, directors and writers must take the blame for the rest. Tonally, the series veered from witty and tongue-in-cheek to violent and abrasive – often in the same scene. The former losing out increasingly to the latter as the series progressed. That would have been okay, as the stakes were raised in those later episodes, but what we were left with was a depressing tale of self-centred characters whose cause and motivations were never fully explained to any logical or believable level. The performances were almost universally one-note and ranged from the awful (Duncan-Brewster, who simply snarls her way through her entire performance) to the passable (most of the rest) . Only Turgoose managed to inject any depth into his character, whilst Coopersmith struggled to bring some Han Solo-esque charm to his. The series had admirable qualities in its use of a diverse cast and its pushing most of the leading roles to females. There are also the occasional amusing and witty lines of dialogue that shine like beacons amongst most of the writing (Turgoose remarking the one planet they visit was “worse then Bolton”). Stereotypes are much in evidence, however, and the story becomes increasingly predictable and derivative of other, better productions (and that is saying something when one of the inspirations was Con-Air). The design of the Hemlock, the prison ship stolen by the mutineers, is genuinely impressive and it is a shame it is not peopled by characters we would like to spend more time with. The camera work is good, but the direction often feels amateurish and the cast seem unable to bring any level of empathy to their characters.  There is a backstory for each that feels like it was taken from the “bumper book of prison characters” and there is insufficient subtlety in the writing to present these backstories in anything other than flat monologues. For an example of how to write a sci-fi show about a group of misfits and a totalitarian government, Geary should have looked no further than Firefly, which attacked similar themes with much more style and wit as well as characters you wanted to spend time with, rather than wince at every aggressive use of the “f-word” – instead she did not even look to the strengths of Blake’s 7 and landed much closer to Con-Air – more is the pity. It is hard to see the series being picked up for a second run, which is a shame in that it will likely kill off any further attempts to create a rebirth for British sci-fi TV for the foreseeable future.

Film Review – THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935, USA) *****
Horror, Sci-Fi

dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. James Whale; w. William Hurlbut (adapted by William Hurlbut and John L. Balderston and suggested by the original story written in 1816 by Mary Shelley); pr. Carl Laemmle Jr.; ph. John J. Mescall (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Franz Waxman; ed. Ted J. Kent; ad. Charles D. Hall; cos. Vera West (uncredited); m/up. Jack P. Pierce, Irma Kusely (both uncredited); sd. Gilbert Kurland (Mono (Noiseless Western Electric Recording)); sfx. Ken Strickfaden; vfx. John P. Fulton; rel. 19 April 1935 (USA), 27 June 1935 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 75m.

cast: Boris Karloff (The Monster), Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Valerie Hobson (Elizabeth), Ernest Thesiger (Doctor Pretorius), Elsa Lanchester (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley / The Monster’s Mate), Gavin Gordon (Lord Byron), Douglas Walton (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Una O’Connor (Minnie), E.E. Clive (Burgomaster), Lucien Prival (Butler), O.P. Heggie (Hermit), Dwight Frye (Karl), Reginald Barlow (Hans), Mary Gordon (Hans’ Wife), Anne Darling (Shepherdess), Ted Billings (Ludwig).

In this sequel to Universal’s classic 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, Mary Shelley reveals the main characters of her novel survived. After recovering from injuries sustained in the mob attack upon himself and his creation, Dr. Frankenstein (Clive) falls under the control of his former mentor, Dr. Pretorius (Thesiger), who insists the now-chastened doctor resume his experiments in creating new life. Meanwhile, the Monster (Karloff) remains on the run from those who wish to destroy him without understanding that his intentions are generally good despite his lack of socialization and self-control. Whale brings in elements of wit and the macabre thereby opening out the story. Notable amongst these new elements is the addition of Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorius. Bizarre, sinsiter and camp in equal measures Thesiger is unforgettable and provides a much needed offset to Clive’s more melodramatic turn as Frankenstein. Karloff returns as the monster and is given the added power of speech following his meeting with a blind hermit (Heggie) in a scene that adds both pathos and humour. The film comes into its own in the climax laboratory scene with Thesiger and Clive bringing Lanchester’s “bride” for the monster to life. The sequence is technically superb with its use of light and shadow, obtuse camera angles and rapid editing. The sequence shows what a true artist Whale was. The gothic set design, innovative creature make-up and dynamic photography are all top draw. Whilst some of the performances may come across as hammy, you must remember this is the early days of the talkies and a certain staginess is inevitable. The look and atmosphere are unforgettable and the film has come to be rightly regarded as a classic of the genre. Clive broke a leg in a horse riding accident. Consequently, many of his scenes were shot with him sitting. John Carradine is one of the two hunters that appear at the hermit’s cabin proclaiming the hermit’s guest is in fact the monster. Followed by SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) and remade as THE BRIDE (1985).

AAN: Best Sound, Recording (Gilbert Kurland)

Two new Sky series recall earlier classic British TV with differing results

Intergalactic (2021, UK, Episodes 1-4) **½
Fearless young cop and galactic pilot, Ash Harper (Savannah Steyn), who has her glittering career ripped away from her after being wrongly convicted of a treasonous crime and exiled to a distant prison colony. But on the way there, Ash’s fellow convicts stage a mutiny and seize control of their prison transfer ship.
Mare of Easttown (2021, USA, Episodes 1-3) *****
As her life crumbles around her, a small-town Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) investigates a local murder. The series explores the dark side of a close community and provides an authentic examination of how family and past tragedies can define our present.

Intergalactic" (2021) British movie posterSky has two series currently available or broadcasting that have their roots in classic British TV series. The first is the heavily publicised British sci-fi action adventure Intergalactic (Sky One), with the whole series of 8 episodes (curtailed from 10 by the pandemic) available to download for subscribers. The series is the brainchild of Julie Gearey and has a largely multi-ethnic female led cast led by Savannah Steyn as a discredited cop forced to serve her sentence off-world, where she falls in with several other prisoners who take over their transport ship, the “Hemlock” (a cool Millenium Falcon styled spaceship) and go on the run from the Common World. In their midst is a terrorist leader, who has her own secrets the Common World need to suppress. An added complication is the Steyn’s mother is the the leader of the Common World security team in pursuit of the escapees. There is much murkiness behind the back story, which gradually becomes clearer as the series progresses. The plot sounds familiar because it is a direct riff on the 1970s classic “Blake’s 7” , only here the action is more violent, the language much coarser, the characters less likeable, the stories less original and the dialogue is a mix of the truly awful and the occasionally witty. The look and tone is also highly derivative in taking elements of “Mad Max”, “Firefly” and Con Air” blending together their more cliched elements. The cast is, on paper, a strong one that includes Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Eleanor Tomlinson, Thomas Turgoose, Natasha O’Keeffe, Oliver Coopersmith, Imogen Daines, Diany Samba-Bandza, Parminder Nagra and Craig Parkinson. Most of the performances are one dimensional and lacking in nuance as the cast struggle to take their characters beyond the machismo of their dialogue. That said there are moments where the potential for a stronger series emerges – I am currently half-way through the run and after a dodgy start there have been some genuinely funny moments as well as a few unintentional ones. Where the series truly scores is in its look. The production design and CGI visual effects are excellent, if occasionally a little over-processed, from the opening shots of London in ruins to the new raised city and beyond into the galaxy. Its often pulpy trash, but it is also somehow strangely addictive as it struggles to add a fun factor.  Hopefully the characters will settle down and become more rounded as the series progresses. For now it borders between the awful and the entertaining as a distinct guilty pleasure. I’ll come back later with my views on the last 4 episodes.

Kate Winslet as Mare SheehanMare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic), on the other hand, is a reminder of the high quality output from American production company HBO (Home Box Office). Here Kate Winslet plays a detective in a backwater Pennsylvania town. She is dogged by the fact she has been unable to solve a missing persons case and is embroiled with a current murder investigation where the suspects come close to home. No doubt the two cases will at some point be linked. In between time, she has her own domestic issues to address following the death of her son, the break-up of her marriage and her grand-parenting duties due to the absent mother, who is wrestling with a drug problem. It all sounds miserably downbeat, but here the writing is so strong and the characters totally believable with a razor-sharp script (written by Brad Ingelsby) injected with dark humour and witty dialogue. So far I have seen the first three episodes (of 7) of the series, which is being run weekly by Sky concurrently with HBO. The story has more than few echoes of one of British TV’s very best series, “Happy Valley”, and I would be surprised if it were not an influence on Ingelsby. Like “Happy Valley” this series has a gripping and multi-layered story with genuine character interactions and superb performances from its cast – most notably Winslet, who is flawless. It is a drama that sucks you into its world and holds you there in its vice-like grip. It looks set to be one of the best series since the turn of the century.