Top 10 Modern Doctor Who Episodes

For us Yanks across the pond the season finale of Doctor Who will air this weekend with “The Wedding of River Song.” That said, let’s look at the ten best episodes from the modern era which started with Christopher Eccleston in 2005 and is running currently with Matt Smith. This list will only include regular episodes, not the Christmas specials and other shows that have popped up over the years.

10. “The Girl in the Fireplace” The Doctor has a brush with romance (aside from the tension between him and Companion Rose Tyler) when he meets Madame de Pompadour via time portals on a derelict spaceship.

9. “The Eleventh Hour” Our first introduction to Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Karen Gillan as Amelia “Amy” Pond showed the kismet the two had as partners across time and space.

8. “School Reunion” Old-time companion Sarah Jane Smith (the late Elizabeth Sladen) returns to the Who-verse and it’s a joy to see her holding up quite well; the scenes where she and Rose (Billie Piper) exchange Companion stories were great.

7. “Bad Wolf/The Parting of The Ways” The Ninth Doctor’s swan song is epic without being too overblown and bittersweet while giving us one of the best modern Dalek storylines and radically changes the dynamic of the show.

6. “The Girl Who Waited” This one illustrates the danger of time traveling with the Doctor when Amy enters the wrong door in a planet and winds up trapped for over thirty years waiting for rescue while time passes by normally for her husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) and the Doctor.

5. “Human Nature/The Family of Blood” An amnesiac Doctor hides from predatory aliens out to feed on him by transforming into a human that falls in love; then we are given a glimpse as to how coldly vengeful the Doctor can be when he regains his memories and dispatches them.

4. “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” When the Ninth Doctor first appeared he was an angry, morose person but here he starts to lighten up in the second part of this creepy World-War-II era episode, which features great visual sights, frights and introduces Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).

3. “The Doctor’s Wife” This Neil Gaiman-written episode has the TARDIS’ core matrix is transferred by an evil sentient asteroid into Idris (Suranne Jones) an enchanting, attractive woman who is dying. The asteroid transfers its mind into the TARDIS and tortures Amy and Rory as the Doctor and Idris (showing us a rare examination of their relationship) try to recapture the Time Lord’s ship.

2. “Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords” A three-part epic that brings back Jack Harkness from Torchwood and re-introduces the classic Who villain The Master (played first by Derek Jacobi and then with devilish glee by John Simm) who is found literally at the end of time by the Doctor and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman). Then he is reincarnated into a Tony Blair type of politician who infiltrates modern-day British politics and becomes Prime Minister, instituting a reign of terror.

1. “Blink” Any fan can see that guest star Carey Mulligan’s Sally Sparrow  is a prototype for Amy Pond. She’s pretty, smart, young and quite resourceful when dealing with the best of the new Who villains, the Weeping Angels. They appeared as angelic statues that steal a person’s temporal energy by sending them back in time, which they did to the Doctor and Martha. Trapped in the 1960s, the Doctor communicates to Sally via DVD Easter eggs, and the entire episode is a brilliant use of time travel and genuinely frightening villains. The last few seconds with the Doctor warning viewers not to blink are unforgettable.

José Soto

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Star Trek At 45

Star Trek, the original show, turned 45 years old this September. Meanwhile the tenth anniversary of the last Trek show Enterprise is also in September. The point is these milestones came and went largely unnoticed or celebrated. So we all wonder why the lack of enthusiasm?

Really, everyone lately is yakking about the Star Wars blu-rays, Back to the Future shoes, new super hero movies, Harry Potter and even a new Avatar attraction for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but barely a peep out of the world of Trek. I clicked over to the Star Trek website and it seems like a slow week in January. An article reminiscing about Enterprise, IDW comics, Star Trek: The Exhibition coming to St. Louis and upcoming conventions.

You’d think that with all the hoopla over the last Star Trek movie and how it re-energized the franchise and started things fresh that Trek would remain in the public eye. Guess again. Maybe it didn’t help that J.J. Abrams and his crew are taking forever to get a new film going. Then more and more fans are complaining about Abrams’ take on Trek and how it ruined the franchise, nullifying over forty years of Trek lore and made the film seem like a Star Wars wannabe flick.

Another thing that isn’t helping is CBS Studios not wanting to make another Star Trek show while greenlighting junk like Person of Interest and other cop procedurals. For the average Trek fan (I refuse to call myself and fellow fans as trekkies, that’s too demeaning) this is a cause for alarm. In this crowded medium, Trek has to struggle to stay in the public eye. It can’t just rest on its laurels. That attitude of taking fandom and demand for granted is why the later shows declined in quality and ratings putting us in this situation.

No Trek isn’t going away, who knows maybe the new film, whenever they decide to make it, will stir things up. Maybe it will take the fiftieth anniversary when we’ll get the articles and such about how Trek gave us cell phones and tablets (but no holodecks but we’re getting there with the 3D TVs). But Trek is best known for being a TV show, that is its home medium, so a new show has to come out to keep up with the other franchises. Just do a cartoon for now until the right people are found who can put out a quality show. That way Trek stays in the public’s mind. It worked for Star Wars with The Clone Wars cartoon. Here’s an idea do a cartoon about Starfleet Academy. It won’t be that offensive to anyone who hates the thought of Star Trek 90210 since it will more geared toward younger viewers, who in turn may become tomorrow’s fans that keep the dream alive. Just do something already.

Waldermann Rivera

Fringe Begins Its Fourth Season

One of the few returning network TV shows that’s worth watching live premiered its fourth-season opener and Fringe didn’t disappoint devoted fans.

Despite its rich history, this episode “Neither Here Or There” is a bold jumping on point for new viewers. The reason for that is because of FBI Agent Lincoln Lee’s (Seth Gabel) re-introduction to the Fringe Division, which serves to explain what the show is about for anyone who doesn’t know anything about shape shifters, Observers, or amber.

Last season, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson),  in trying to prevent the destruction of two universes, was erased from existence which resulted in a new timeline. In this one, Agent Lee’s partner (played by Stargate: Atlantis’ Joe Flannigan) is killed by a strangely translucent man-a really disgusting effect. This leads him to meeting Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Walter Bishop (John Noble) and the rest of Fringe Division who investigate bizarre occurrences.

While the episode is set up to introduce new viewers to the Fringe universe, it’s also an intriguing yet subtle re-acquaintance for fans. Yes it’s a new timeline but things aren’t that different. The changes will only be caught by fans like Walter appearing a bit more unhinged than usual. Knowing the show, more clues will be peppered among upcoming episodes. But fans will note that Peter’s existence is critical and his absence should’ve made the timeline more radically different especially when it comes to the simmering cold war between our universe and the “Over There” universe that still exists.

What worked best for the episode were all the clues that weird stuff is going on, best shown with Peter’s ghostly image that literally appears in blinks and the enigmatic Observers who want to preserve the new timeline. It’s all intriguing and makes one want to learn more about what is going on and where it will all lead. Given the show’s history, it’s unlikely that it will disappoint fans. Despite its superficial similarity to The X-Files to casual viewers this program is a lot more than monsters of the week and convoluted conspiracies.

That’s why Fringe is the best sci-fi show on the air right now.

José Soto

Meet The Alternate Star Wars Saga Cast, Part II

As this imagining continues about who Lucas would cast in the Star Wars movies if they were filmed chronologically, there is one important thing to consider. Most likely the films would’ve been completely different to the point that characters would change or even be written out altogether. There isn’t any way to accurately factor in how different the films would be. This is pure speculation under the premise that if the storyline remained exactly the same then so would the characters for the most part. As stated previously, there isn’t any way to know if Lucas would’ve gone for these picks or if the actors would accept the offers.

The Original Trilogy: Star Wars Episodes IV-VI

Luke Skywalker: Supposedly, Ryan Phillippe was a thisclose runner-up to play Anakin. So he was in Lucas’ mind. He has the acting ability to add more pathos and angst to Luke as he grows from a simple farm boy to a seasoned warrior throughout the trilogy. Then again Lucas may have hired Hayden Christensen and who knows how that would have turned out. But one actor to consider seriously is Shawn Ashmore, who appeared as Bobby Drake/Iceman in the X-Men films.  True he might’ve been a bit young but Luke was supposed to be an innocent farm boy with big dreams.

Han Solo: Thomas Jane has the good looks with a rakish demeanor, plus he’s a talented, underrated actor that could easily play a swasbuckling, rogue spice smuggler who redeems himself and wins a princess’ heart. Of course, a fan-favorite alternative would be Firefly’s Nathan Fillion, his character of Malcolm Reynolds has many of Han’s qualities but Jane looks a bit tougher, the kind of scrappy guy you want on your side during a fight. Also another Firefly alumni that could’ve portrayed a deadlier version of Han is Adam Baldwin.

Leia Organa: Selma Blair has the looks and scrappiness to play the princess-in-distress who can take care of herself in a blaster fight. Perhaps audiences would’ve been spared that goofy hairdo in Episode IV, then again remember those outlandish outfits that Padme wore in Episode I.  A viable and spunky alternative is Kelly Macdonald who, like Ewan MacGregor, appeared in the cult classic Trainspotting, so Lucas would’ve still hired someone from that film. Or Morena Baccarin, yet another Firefly alumni, could’ve played a more sultry and exotic Princess Leia.

Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi: It’s likely that Perry King or any other actor who originated the role back in the ’70s and ’80s would have been able to reprise it with the new trilogy. With that stated here’s a curveball of an acting pick: Sean Connery. The man was a legend by 1999. He has that regal yet tough demeanor with a compassionate undercurrent to pull off the role of an old Obi-Wan. This role might’ve prolonged his acting career by a few more years since it wouldn’t have led to him retiring after feeling disgruntled with Hollywood.

Darth Vader: Kurt Russell, who might’ve been picked to play Anakin in the early films, could’ve been persuaded to don a full suit with face-concealing helmet and play Vader. Maybe Ron Pearlman could’ve worn the suit? Otherwise, some unknown, muscular and tall performer would fill in the role. James Earl Jones would’ve done the voice as in the real world. If he wasn’t available then Lucas could’ve gone with Avery Brooks who also has a rich, booming and distinctive voice.

Lando Calrissian: Solid acting ability is just one reason why Blair Underwood is a lock for this role. It calls for someone that is a charming, good-looking,  former con man who is forced to turn against Han before joining the rebels in the end. The guy just looks like a hero! Another outside possibility is Terrence Howard who has many of Underwood’s qualities to play Lando.

Grand Moff Tarkin: Christopher Lee should’ve been able to play this role nicely. As seen most recently with Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Lee showed audiences why he makes a great villain with experience going back to the old Hammer films. Then again Lucas may have tapped Terrance Stamp for the role. He did appear as Chancellor Valorum in The Phantom Menace and could play cold, icy villain with his eyes closed.

Boba Fett: If Scott Glenn was cast as Jango then there’s no reason why he couldn’t play his offspring in the final films. That is if Boba had an expanded role in the final films. Otherwise, being that the character had a limited role, spoke a handful of lines and didn’t even remove his helmet, it’s probable that an unknown actor would’ve been cast instead.

Palpatine: Ian McDiarmid would reprise his role as the Emperor for the final two films. The makeup might be different. That of course depends on whether or not he originated the role with the Prequel Trilogy. Whoever else was chosen to play Palpatine could’ve continued playing him or John Noble, now seen on Fringe, could’ve done the part. That man can do twisted, calculating nemesis. Look no further than his role as Walternate in Fringe or Denethor in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

 

Chewbacca: If that character made his debut in Episode III and Peter Mayhew played him then hopefully he would still play the Wookie in the later films. It’s hard to imagine someone else doing the part, maybe Brad Garrett? He is pretty tall, but he wouldn’t have any lines so who knows if he would’ve accepted. Perhaps Chewbacca would be played by some unknown actor. Then again Chewbacca and the Wookies may not have appeared in Episode III, meaning that he would be a CG creation. In that case only Andy Serkis or Doug Jones would be able to project their acting ability through the mo-cap process.

Wicket: Lucas probably would have the Ewoks rendered in CG and made them into a completely different race. Maybe a more formidable and believable a force to defeat the Empire’s stormtroopers. Otherwise Warwick Davis would play Wicket as he did in real life.

Yoda, C-3P0, and R2-D2: They would’ve been played by the performers who originally played them. Meaning Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker, respectively. That’s because since all three characters appeared in the early films and in real life were performed in the ’70s and ’80s by these three men then logically they would continue doing the roles. One thing to note is that Yoda would have been a lot less active in the prequels due to f/x limitations. Hence, no crowd-pleasing lightsaber duels in the prequels. But Yoda may have survived long enough in the final film to confront Palpatine with a spectacular duel as he did in the final scenes of Episode III.

As for Jabba the Hutt, Admiral Ackbar, and Nien Numb, well they most likely would be CG creations instead of puppets or actors in heavy makeup. It would be interesting to see how they would’ve appeared in that case.

And just to goof around, let’s have Patrick Stewart  bridge the worlds of Star Trek and Star Wars and make a cameo appearance in Episode V as Lando’s aide Lobot!

José Soto

Thor Is Better Than Iron Man!

There’s the other blu-ray release this week, Marvel Studios’ Thor, which came off as a pleasant, unexpected surprise when released in theaters this past May. Why was it better than it seemed? Blame it on marketing, maybe (man did those awful heavy metal riffs at the end of the trailer nearly kept me away from the movie). But it looked very uninspiring in the trailers as some run-of-the-mill fantasy romp. Instead the film was a clever re-imagining of the Marvel character while celebrating its larger-than-life Kirbyesque landscape.

In the comic books, Thor is the God of Thunder from Norse myth. While the comics also state that he and his fellow Asgardians are more or less extra-terrestrials, this film full on states this as fact. The result is one of the more imaginative alien cultures shown on film. Basically, their technology is so advanced that it seems almost like magic to us. For example the famed Rainbow Bridge which leads to other realms is for all intents and purposes a sort of wormhole machine and it looked spectacular on the big screen.

More importantly, director Kenneth Brannaugh’s science-based vision of the Asgardian world is so rich that it fires any viewer’s imagination. Right away, I was able to conceptualize how Thor is probably genetically attuned to his hammer that is itself a probable lightning rod. Despite some misgivings from some about the Earth based scenes, which inject much needed humor, the entire effort pays off and enriches the burgeoning Marvel movie universe.

Why is it better than Iron Man? I could go on forever but I’ll just go over a few points. For starters, the villain Loki is so much better than Iron Man’s Obadiah Stane. Loki could’ve been a Joker rip off but in this film, he’s so calculating and subtle that you can’t help see his side that Thor isn’t entitled to rule Asgard. Stane on the other hand, is your average evil capitalist. Too many Marvel films have them. Another point is that with Iron Man, it takes forever for Tony Stark to actually become don his regular Iron Man armor. In fact, I believe there are only three scenes where he’s in the red-and-gold outfit and this happens after more than hour into the film! With Thor right away you see him using his powers (which is one of the main reasons he gets exiled to Earth) and actually Thor doesn’t bother with a standard origin storyline and that’s a relief. Instead the transformation into a hero has to do with Thor transforming his soul. And one last point is that Iron Man after a fantastic first hour starts to drag once Stark escapes his captors, then it’s waiting until he fights Stane. And that came off as a quickly done robotic fight straight out of a Transformers film. Not with Thor, I know some people complained about his scenes on Earth but to me it added more to his story and only made me wish they spent more time with the fish-out-of water aspect to it.

The film was a big hit and a sequel’s in the works. However, it did seem to get lost in the buzz but that’s because the market is saturated with superhero films. Add to that the crappy 3D conversion that everyone complains about (when will studios realize that cheaply done 3D results in hard-to-see film that will turn off audiences from shelling out moolah for any future films?) and that’s why it wasn’t as big as hit as Iron Man. That’s too bad, but now that it’s on DVD it’s worth a look.

Lewis T. Grove