Book Review – The Invisible Man (Audio)

  • Title: The Invisible Man
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Author: H.G. Wells (original novel)
  • Adapted by: Jonathan Barnes
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Characters: Griffin (the Invisible Man), Dr. Kemp, Teddy Henfrey, Mrs. Hall, Thomas Marvel
  • Cast: John Hurt, Blake Ritson, Dan Starkey, Annette Badland, Peter Noble

Spoilers

Big Finish’s audio play adaptation of HG Wells’ classic The Invisible Man is a full audio play and not simply a single person reading the book, or even a two-hander adaptation. The play has a full cast, music, and special effects. The CD version even includes audio-only tracks and interviews as extras.

The story is framed by on the first disc, Kemp interviewing Thomas Marvel to learn the story of the Invisible Man, though it soon picks-up with Griffin turning up, out of the snow, at an Inn, and paying lots of money to not be disturbed. At first the innkeeper, Mrs. Hall, is glad of the money and willing to leave the man alone as he requests. But eventually she becomes suspicious, especially the way Griffin treats her maid, waitress, and cleaning girl. When the money runs out, Griffin quickly gives her more – but Mrs. Hall remarks that the amount he gives her was the exact amount taken from a local vicarage in a recent robbery. Being suspicious already, she calls in the police. They, however, are unable to catch the Invisible Man, and he escapes.

Griffin encounters a drunken tramp on the road, and talks/bribes/threatens him to become his partner. This is Thomas Marvel, who is able to fill in Kemp on his own direct experiences. However, although he at first benefits from the partnership, eventually Marvel learns to fear Griffin (with good reason) and even turns himself over to the police for a series of robberies and thefts since he believes he will be safer in jail.

Griffin talks Marvel into returning to the Inn so he can claim his books and clothes. The book are especially important as they apparently contain the secret to permanent invisiblity but are written in code. Marvel makes off with the books, and they both fail to get Griffin’s clothes – though Griffin does escape.

Once he escapes, Griffin shows up at the house of Dr. Kemp. Kemp slips a letter to his maid, but tells her to wait three hours before delivering it by hand to Colonel Adye at the local army base. Kemp interviews Griffin, who tells his story in his own words, from his fascination with light, to his career as a student then a professor who studies light. Though Griffin doesn’t reveal his formula, he does reveal his general process and theories.

The army colonel arrives, but yet again they are unable to catch Griffin. Kemp suggests they put glass on the roads, order that all doors be locked, lock-up all food, and monitor all exits from the city by road, ship, and rail. Although the Invisible Man eludes capture for awhile, after he kills a man, the Invisible Man is eventually captured, attacked, and beaten by a mob. It is Kemp who prevents the mob from killing him. He is captured and dies in jail.

However, Kemp, who is interviewing Marvel, demands from him the Red Books that contain the Invisible Man’s secrets. Griffin had said that he and Kemp were the same, and although at first Kemp seems stable and sane and even happy with his life – in the end, Kemp also becomes obsessed with light and concealment.

I have actually read HG Wells classic The Invisible Man although it was years ago. I remember it as being more political – more about isolation and being marginalized than the mere terror of someone becoming invisible. Yet this adaptation is still excellent. Hurt plays Griffin with a whispering menace, and it quickly becomes clear why everyone fears him – he’s a scary dude, invisiblity or no. Many of the other characters in this tale are also lower class (Marvel, Teddy, Mrs. Hall, the two servant girls and even the female university student) who ultimately place survival above helping Griffin. Still, it is a good story, told in a creepy way. Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click here to order The Invisible Man on Download or CD.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

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Book Review – The Many Deaths of Jo Grant

  • Title: The Many Deaths of Jo Grant
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jo Grant, Rowe (guest), Third Doctor
  • Cast: Katy Manning, Nicholas Asbury (Rowe)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/27/2017

**Spoiler Alert** The Many Deaths of Jo Grant is an audio in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series. The story opens at UNIT HQ, where the Brigadier is upset because the Doctor has left in the TARDIS and he needs him. Jo is waiting for the Doctor to return. But when the Doctor does return he brings a baby alien princess whom he’s rescued from her planet which has been invaded by fierce alien conquerors. No sooner than the Doctor arrives though than the aliens also arrive, threatening to destroy Earth to get to the baby. UNIT fights off the aliens who teleport in to HQ as well as their space ship, but the aliens have fantastic weapons. Jo, the Doctor, the child, and an UNIT soldier named Private Rowe try to leave. Jo sees the Doctor in danger and sacrifices herself to save him.

Two more vignettes follow – in one Jo dies, thrown into a pit to be eaten by a giant mouth (it sounded similar to the creature in Return of the Jedi that Jabba threatens to thrown Luke into.) In another instance, Jo again sacrifices herself – to save an alien planet, after the Doctor is unable to do it because he’s knocked out.

But each time, in each vignette, there are two re-occurring figures: Rowe, and a space-suited figure with a mirrored faceplate that only reflects Jo’s own face – not allowing her to identify the figure inside the suit. Jo also keeps experiencing deja vu.

Jo then wakes up in a space ship, exiting a strange pod, and meeting the Doctor. He explains she’s been trapped in a mindscape – a torture device that has been banned for centuries.

But they are soon confronted by Rowe, and he threatens Jo and the Doctor with a disrupter – the two fight and are seemingly both destroyed.

Jo wakes again. This time she sees that the Doctor is also in a pod. He had entered the Mindscape to rescue her and it was the Doctor in the mirrored spacesuit. Meanwhile, Rowe is an alien scientist, from the conquerors who are after the alien princess. Rowe’s people are selfish and have no empathy with others – especially the worlds they conquer. The idea of sacrificing yourself for something greater or to save someone else is so foreign to Rowe’s people they simply can’t understand it. So Rowe had put Jo into the Mindscape to study her. He had “killed” Jo in the device 412 times. But Rowe’s people are also experiencing troubles with the princess’s planet. The princess’s people, in desperation, are taking any ship they can and crashing it into Rowe’s people’s outposts, military depots, and weapon stores. This kills the pilot and any skeleton crew on board the ship but these kamikaze attacks are having an effect against Rowe’s people too because they are completely unprepared and do not understand the idea of sacrifice for a cause. Rowe was studying Jo to try and understand her feelings for the Doctor and her willingness to sacrifice herself for him.

In the end, the Doctor makes a deal with Rowe – he wins the baby princess’s freedom but promises not to take her home to her planet. He and Jo are also freed and will return to UNIT.

This was a good story, Katy Manning does an excellent job telling it, and although I felt she had Jo a bit too innocent at times (the story is set between “Carnival of Monsters” and “Frontier in Space” – and in “Frontier in Space” Jo really kicks butt – preventing the Master from hypnotising herself, rescuing the Doctor several times, she’s even instrumental in figuring out the solution to the problem) so this Jo should be more grown-up and capable, not the somewhat incompetent girl of “Terror of the Autons”. Still, seeing how much Jo cares for the Doctor and what she’s willing to do for him was well-played. It’s somewhat odd having the other actor in the story being Rowe – who’s several different characters or versions of the same character, but it does always help to have two people in a Companion Chronicles story. And like many of the stories in this range – it does have the feeling of a Missing Adventure book or a Past Doctor Adventures book which I appreciated. I hated seeing Jo die over and over – it seemed cruel, and I figure she’d have serious issues with dying 412 times – even if it didn’t “really” happen. But still, it’s a good story and worth checking out.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click here to order The Many Deaths of Jo Grant on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Supergirl Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Supergirl
  • Season: Season 2
  • Episodes: 22
  • Discs: 5
  • Network: CW
  • Cast: Melissa Benoist, Mehcad Brooks, Chyler Leigh, Jeremy Jordan, Floriana Lima, Chris Wood, David Harewood
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

This review contains spoilers for the second season of Supergirl.

With it’s second season, Supergirl switches over to the CW, which frankly, is where the show belongs instead of on CBS. Also, Supergirl is now officially part of the CW DC-verse (aka the “Arrowverse”) and this season of the show includes two crossovers. Click here to read my Season 1 review of Supergirl.

There are some character changes for Season 2, Cat Grant is in the first two episodes, but then she leaves to find herself, putting new reporter, Kara Danvers, in the care of Snapper Carr. The opening episodes with Cat show her both as her acerbic self and as a mentor to Kara, and when Kara announces she wants to be a reporter, Cat hands her a sealed envelope – inside is Kara’s resume, with the word, “reporter”, written across it. But rather than shepherding Kara through her new role, Cat leaves. Snapper, Kara’s new boss, is rude, entitled, and a bit racist and sexist. As annoying as that is, by the end of the season – Kara’s experiences with Snapper do show a different type of mentorship – and for a show with a younger audience, an audience that it probably dealing with “old guard’ bosses at work that behave like Snapper or worse, and it shows how to deal with it and with people like Snapper. Kara even follows her heart and publishes a story on her own, a story that Snapper refused to publish due to his own prejudices. Breaking her contract with Catco gets Kara fired. To get her job back, not only does Kara need to find another exclusive story, and bring that story to Snapper with it’s resources and documentation done precisely as Snapper wants, but she has to share the byline with Snapper who did nothing on the story. Then Kara has to apologize to him and declare he “was right” and that she’s learned a lot from Snapper. Watching that scene is hard and it made me bristle – clearly it was Snapper who’s anti-alien prejudice prevented him from wanting to publish either story in the first place. In both cases, Kara was right in her stories – and she wasn’t writing mere opinion, but facts.

Snapper also co-opted Kara’s work and took credit for it. But, as unfair as that seems – it’s also the way of the world. That type of stuff happens all the time in the real world, and in all sorts of industries. Supergirl shows, especially to it’s young audience of teens and twenty-somethings, how to deal with those situations in the real world. Essentially by swallowing her own pride and sucking up – Kara gets her job back, and is given more freedom to do want she needs to do – be a reporter. Would Snapper have treated a male reporter the way he treats Kara? Probably not. If Kara’s stories had been full of anti-alien trash and prejudice with no research and just prejudicial language and hate speech – what would Snapper have done? Probably publish them without a single red-pen edit. In a sense, his Archie Bunker attitude is the one being criticized, while at the same time showing just how to circumvent such people. Snapper also attacks James, whom Cat has named as her successor during her sabbatical. But within an episode or two, James tells Snapper off – pulling the “I’m the boss whether you like it or not” card.

Season Two also introduces Maggie Sawyer, a National City cop, and a lesbian. Alex meets her, they become friends, Maggie gets Alex to realize she is also a lesbian, then Maggie rejects Alex. They do get back together, and Maggie is present in some form or another for the rest of the season. The Maggie/Alex relationship is brilliantly played, with ups and downs, rather than as a fairy tale. It becomes clear that both Maggie and Alex have some self-esteem issues. Both have had trouble in the past being true to themselves and opening up to others. These flaws make the characters more interesting, and give the audience different types of characters to identify with.

Winn also meets a girl (are we sensing a pattern?) an alien named Lyra. Their relationship seems fine, and very hot, until she sets him up to make it look like he broke into a museum and stole Starry Night by Van Gogh. Winn, though, doesn’t buy the police line that he was simply used. Even when Lyra tells him the same, he pushes, until he finds out that Lyra was blackmailed into the theft and a series of others to pay off her brother’s gambling debts and free him from the alien mobsters who are holding him. Even though Supergirl, Winn, Alex, and the DEO are able to free Lyra’s brother and arrest the mobsters, after the incident we seldom see Lyra.

The season introduces Megan McGann, (aka M’Gann, Miss Martian) whom at first seems to be a Green Martian refugee like J’onn J’onezz. She turns out to be a White Martian instead, one whom became disgusted at the genocide of the Green Martians on Mars – and whom helped some escape. The relationship between the two also has its ups and downs and ends with M’Gann deciding to return to Mars to find similar thinking White Martians.

Finally, Kara, herself finds love – but it’s a bumpy, season-long process. At the very beginning of the season, a Kryptonian pod crashes on Earth. It’s occupant is Mon-El of Daxam. Since Daxam, sister planet to Krypton, has also been the enemy of Krypton for centuries, we get the rare experience of seeing Kara’s prejudice against someone – namely Mon-El. She even jumps to conclusions and blames him for a crime that he is innocent of and has no knowledge of. When it quickly becomes apparent that she was wrong, Kara, to her credit, admits her mistake. She then starts to work with Mon-El, trying to basically make him exactly like herself – from wardrobe, to internship at Catco, to becoming a superhero, to wearing silly glasses to hide his identity. It doesn’t work. However, over time, the real Mon-El emerges, and as Mon-El becomes his own person – it is that person that Kara falls in love with. And Mon-El also improves himself because of knowing Kara. Once he gives up on being an intern at Catco, Mon-El gets a job as a “mixologist” at the alien bar that’s a reoccurring location for the season. But he gradually becomes more involved in helping the DEO and Kara.

This season also introduces Lynda Carter as President of the US, who passes the Alien Amnesty Act, allowing alien refugees to become US citizens. In contrast to her compassion and understanding, Cadmus – run by Lillian Luthor (Lex’s mother) is an anti-alien organization that wants the destruction of all aliens – especially Supergirl and Superman. Like most people who act out on unreasonable prejudices – Lillian sees all aliens as the same – something evil, to be hated, to be feared, and Lillian also uses her resources to stir-up hatred in the general population. Lillian is unable and unwilling to see people as individuals but sees all others as evil ones to be hated and feared. Cadmus makes threats over the airwaves, taking over the media in National City. They use alien weapons to commit crimes and attack people then blame aliens for the crimes. Cadmus even co-opts Jeremiah Danvers, Alex’s father and Kara’s adoptive father, convincing him that deporting all aliens is the Final Solution to the Alien Problem. Yeah. For the most part, however, even with the destruction, death, and set-backs (at one point the alien bar is attacked and every alien is killed), the DEO, Alex, Maggie, and Supergirl are able to stop Cadmus and Lillian.

In contrast to Lillian, Lina Luthor is actually a good person. She becomes a fast friend of Kara (who, again, was willing to hate her for being a Luthor, but saw Lina as a person and became her friend instead), and goes up against her own mother to protect the people of National City, including aliens. Lina is fascinating, she’s also a businesswoman, re-branding “LuthorCorp” as “L Corp” to distance the corporation from her notorious brother and evil mother. She develops an alien detector, which becomes a plot point, though not an over-used one.

The beginning of the season tends to have a lot of stand-alone episodes, though threads are being laid for season-long plots, especially in terms of the characters and their relationships. One problem with the stand-alone episodes is it generally goes like this: alien menace arrives, alien menace (or cyborg or constructed alien like Metallo, etc.) defeats Supergirl in a fist fight or by using special powers (Kryptonite, absorbing her powers, etc.) Kara goes to the DEO and John, Alex, Winn, and maybe James or Maggie come up with a way for Supergirl to defeat said alien menace. Supergirl challenges the menace and wins. This is a boring and repetitive plot. Fortunately, it’s only a few isolated episodes in the first half of the season, and all of those, as I’ve said, have other character stuff going on, but it’s something future seasons really need to avoid. Besides, seeing Supergirl get defeated over and over again weakens the character, and makes her subsequent wins unbelievable.

There are two crossover events for this season of Supergirl: Invasion and the Musical. Invasion is the 4-part crossover that features the entire CW DC universe (aka the Arrowverse). Invasion is actually a pretty much stand alone episode. For the Supergirl episode that introduces it – it’s pretty much just the last five minutes of the episode, when The Flash and Cisco arrive via a universe-hopping portal and ask Kara for help. She then leaves with them and spends three episodes as a lead character in Invasion. Unfortunately, those other episodes are not included on the DVD set. Because the DVD releases of all four shows were spread out over a month, it’s also not possible to stop watching Supergirl and skip over to Invasion (until after The Flash and Arrow were finally released that is). I highly recommend that, since I do enjoy the crossovers, the crossover story be released as a separate special DVD with all four episodes in order. Which isn’t to say those episodes shouldn’t be included on the season sets of their respective shows. But like the Doctor Who Christmas specials – Why not release the Crossover Event as a DVD a few weeks after it airs? I’d buy it – and I’d still buy the season sets at the end of the season. From watching Invasion during the highly-rated Crossover Week – it’s pretty stand alone anyway, and it’s a good introduce to the Arrowverse for new fans. An inexpensive DVD/Blu-Ray release would be an awesome idea.

The Musical is a story that is integrated well in the season arcs of both Supergirl and The Flash. In Supergirl, Kara has just found out that far from being the “palace guard” that she thought Mon-El was – he’s the prince. Although every one tells her to work through her anger at being lied to, in the end, Kara breaks up with Mon-El. Meanwhile, on The Flash, Barry and Iris are in a similar situation – Barry had proposed marriage to Iris, she accepted, then for plot purposes they broke it off (there will be more when I watch and review The Flash). Again, at the end of a Supergirl episode, suddenly an “alien” is being led into the operations center of the DEO, he breaks free of his bonds, and whammys Kara, who collapses. Now by this time, my copy of The Flash had arrived from Amazon, so I was able to go straight to “Duet” and watch it. In “Duet”, we find that the “alien” is the Music Meister, an imp with Mxyzptlk-like powers and an interest in “true love”. He traps Barry and Kara in a musical, which features some actors from Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow as well as The Flash – though everyone is playing different characters. They sing. I was disappointed with “Duet” though. The music was, overall, only so-so both the old songs (“Moon River”) and the originals (“Superfriends”). The storyline in the musical is OK, but pokes fun at musicals (“It really is easy to convince people in a musical!”) The story does end with a beautiful scene of Barry proposing again to Iris (for real) and in song. Kara also sees the error of her ways and declares her feelings for Mon-El.

The final arc of Supergirl is brilliant – well acted, relevant, smart, and a better season finale than even Myriad. Cat Grant returns and we realize just how much we’ve missed her. The President (Lynda Carter) becomes a important part of the story. We meet Mon-El’s parents, played by Kevin Sorbo and Teri Hatcher – and discover that Queen Rhea is the most controlling parent in the the universe (not to mention a little nuts). Rhea returns and tries to get Mon-El to return to lead the survivors of Daxam as prince and future king. But Rhea hates Kara because she’s from Krypton, and after all when Krypton was destroyed it bombarded Daxam and made the planet a wasteland. Mon-El eventually is forced to sacrifice himself and his love for Kara, but she rescues him. This puts Rhea on the warpath. She passes herself off as human, approaches Lina, and gets Lina to work with her on a portal to move goods and people from point A to point B instantaneously. There are two issues with this: one – major side effect, the radiation from the generator that runs the portal turns telepathic aliens into dynamos that attack with the uncontrolled power of a tornado, and two – Rhea has no intention of the portal being used for the humanitarian uses Lina envisions, instead she brings in a fleet of Daxamite ships, which attack National City and hold it hostage.

In the end, even though Supergirl challenges Rhea to single combat for the planet, Rhea cheats – not only by using Kryptonite, but by calling in her guards and airstrikes despite Supergirl winning. This causes Supergirl to release a weapon of mass destruction developed by Lillian and Lina Luthor – they seed the entire planet with lead, which is toxic to Daxamites. This kills Rhea outright, and means Mon-El has to leave the planet. He escapes in the Kryptonian Pod, only to be swallowed up by a wormhole.

I had to wonder about the whole “lead” thing. First, lead is highly poisonous to humans, birds, and animals – it causes brain damage to children and babies; yet Lillian, Lina, and Kara don’t seem to even notice this fact or care. Second, it’s stated several times that Supergirl and Superman (who makes several guest appearances this season) cannot see through lead. If microscopic pieces of lead are in the very atmosphere, it would rend both characters blind until the lead settled out of the air, at the very least. It would be like walking outside on a day with heavy mist – you get wet. Not as wet as in a downpour, but your face and hair is going to be covered in a fine spray of water. So the “fix” to get rid of the Daxamites doesn’t make a lot of logical sense.

Still, Season 2 of Supergirl is an enjoyable series. The characters are likable – and it’s nice to see the interpersonal struggles without either falling into the extremes of soap opera plots or perfect characters who never have problems. I liked the relevance of the series, from Superman’s “I’m with her” statement while standing next to Supergirl, to the female president who has compassion and sense, yet is still strong and capable, to the last episodes being entitled, “Resist” and “Nevertheless She Persisted” – this is a show with something to say, and that is good. Also, looking at the credits in the episode guide flyer included with the set – nearly every episode is written, co-written, and/or directed by women. And that is awesome! This season also has less of a “aimed at teenaged girls” feel and more of a “general audiences” feel which is good, many of the people who “need” the messages of this show won’t watch a program they think is for teen girls. Kudos on that.

Recommended.

 

Book Review – Doctor Who: FrostFire

  • Title: FrostFire
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Marc Platt
  • Director: Mark J. Thompson
  • Characters: Vicki, Cinder (guest), First Doctor, Steven, Jane Austen (guest)
  • Cast: Maureen O’Brien, Keith Drinkel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/23/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Frostfire is the very first title in the Big Finish Doctor Who Companion Chronicles, and it does show a little bit in technical details – more about that at the end of the review. This story features the First Doctor (as played on the television show Doctor Who by William Hartnell) and his companions Vicki and Steven. The story is narrated by Maureen O’Brien (Vicki) who is literally telling a story to an unseen monster whom the CD jewel case identifies as “Cinder”, however, he is never identified in the story itself.

The story begins with the Doctor landing in London, where he, Steven and Vicki attend the 1814 Frost Fair. They meet Jane Austen at the fair, and among the novelty acts and food, they are harassed by a strange Italian and rescued by a British gentleman, Sir Joseph Mallard, and his wife, Lady Georgiana. The Doctor, Steven, Vicki, the couple, and Ms. Austen are drawn in to see a Cabinet of Curiosities show, only to discover amidst the kitsch and fakery, a genuine Phoenix egg. The Phoenix, however is not a creature of fire – but of ice. It entraps Georgiana and also captures Vicki’s attention. The Phoenix goes on a rampage, killing with ice. Jane Austen takes everyone to her brother’s house, offering an escape from the creature and lodgings for the TARDIS crew since she’s discovered they have no lodgings or plans in London yet.

Once at Jane Austen’s brother’s house, Georgiana takes ill – and the harassing Italian returns to bother her. The party is going well, until the Phoenix shows up in the fireplace, sucking the heat out of the room (literally). A chimney sweep boy falls out of the fireplace, unharmed, but Georgiana is entranced by the Phoenix and gets captured. Vicki is freaked out because she thought the creature wanted her as well.

The Doctor, Steven, and Georgiana’s husband, Joseph, head to a men’s club to look for news. Jane Austen, Vicki, and the chimney sweep boy, investigate on their own – discovering many people and animals of London have been frozen solid by the creature. They end up at a church, and find the egg and Lady Georgiana. When the Doctor and Steven arrive – Georgiana takes Joseph away, and the Doctor and company track them to the Royal Mint. The creature had planned to use the furnace that is normally used to melt metals for coins, to be born. This plan is ultimately thwarted, and Georgiana and her husband rescued. During the fracas to stop the Phoenix and snuff out the fire of the furnace, Vicki is hit in the eye by a cinder.

The story pulls back, as it has a few times throughout the telling, and we meet the mysterious guest in Vicki’s basement – a cinder of the Phoenix. Vicki, now living in Cartridge with Troilus, as Lady Cressida, knows eventually the Phoenix egg will be found in Tunis, and taken to the Frost Fair where the entire cycle will begin again.

Maureen O’Brien does an excellent job performing Frostfire and having Keith Drinkel as Cinder helps because it gives her someone to react to, and Companion Chronicles always work best as two-handers. However, the entire CD is only four tracks, so some are extremely long, like over 22 minutes long. This was very inconvenient when listening while commuting in the car (I’ve have to start at the beginning of a track and re-listen to a lot before reaching any new material.) Also, this is this the only CD in the series I’ve listened to with no extras, such as interviews.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order FrostFire on CD.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Legends of Tomorrow Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Legends of Tomorrow
  • Season: Season 2
  • Episodes: 17
  • Discs: 4
  • Network: CW
  • Cast: Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh, Arthur Darvill, Franz Drameh, Victor Garber, Maise Richardson-Sellers, Dominic Purcell, Nick Zano, Matt Letscher, John Barrowman, Neal McDonough
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

This review contains spoilers for the second season of Legends of Tomorrow.

Season 2 of Legends of Tomorrow starts off very much as an anthology series – Rip Hunter is missing, and the remaining Legends are travelling through history to fix “aberrations” or changes in the established timeline of history. The first nine episodes have the Legends in a variety of places: World War II, where they meet the JSA (Justice Society of America), including Amaya Jiwe (Vixen) who joins the Legends. Also introduced in the season premiere is Dr. Nate Heywood (Citizen Steel). The Legends also end up fighting zombies in the civil war; they travel to 17th century Japan meeting Katana’s great-great-great etc grandfather, and they go to the Old West where they meet Jonah Hex again. These episodic stories are fun, and also allow the characters, especially the new ones to grow and the team to gel. Sara Lance (White Canary) is appointed leader and captain in the wake of Rip’s disappearance.

Eobard Thawne, from the first season of The Flash is one of three main villains, however, the Legends don’t know that is who they are facing. Firestorm finds a secret message from a future Barry Allen warning of an evil speedster – which they don’t immediately share with the team. Damien Darhk, from Season 4 of Arrow is another villain. Sara meets Darhk in the season premiere and intends to kill him, but her team prevents her, since killing Darhk in the 1940s would change everyone’s history. The third partner in the trinity of sin is Malcolm Merlyn (from Arrow from the beginning). Thawne, Merlyn, and Darhk make for great villains. Audiences who have watched the CW-verse (or Arrowverse) from the beginning are familiar with their stories and their endings. Many of our characters, especially Sara, have personal conflicts with the villains. And by introducing them more gradually, as well as their goals, the series flows better than last season where the main villain (Vandal Savage) just did not work. Also, each episode begins with a spoken intro that explains the premise of the show, however, Legends of Tomorrow keeps this from being boring by having each character repeat the info in their own style, and in episode 10, “The Legion of Doom”, it’s one of the “villains” from the Legion who put their own spin on the by then familiar introduction. Note that officially, the villains are “The Legion of Doom”, despite Sara saying, “Yeah, we’re not calling them that”. Nate had come up with the moniker, after a “Hanna-Barbara cartoon I watched as a kid”.

After “Invasion” the 4-part crossover featuring all four CW DC shows, the conflict between the Legion and the Legends heats up. In “Raiders of the Lost Art”, the Legends meet George Lucas while he is a film student, and have to convince him not to quit film school. The episode is filled with Star Wars references and a great deal of fun. They find Rip as well, who has completely forgotten who he is, his mind being scrambled by contact with the Waverider time drive. Rip thinks he is a film student, working on a student film of his script, “Legends”. Not only does “Legends” feature versions of all the Legends, but Rip is frustrated by a really bad actor playing the Vandal Savage character, and the script introduces the plot for the rest of the season, the search for the legendary “Spear of Destiny”, which has been broken in to multiple pieces. Rip calls this the McGuffin of his script. This is the type of self-referential humor that Legends manages to do really well. It also helps that the villains and the season-long plot are introduced slowly.

The second half of the season has the Legion of Doom (Merlyn, Darhk, and Thawne) and the Legends all looking for the Spear of Destiny. The Legion also messes with time to try to trap the Legends – and the Legends have to put it back. Rip, meanwhile, is captured by the Legion at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Art”, and tortured for information. However, the Legion discovers that Rip can’t tell them anything because his personality has been overwritten. However, one of the Legion pulls an artificial tooth from Rip’s mouth that hides a bank acct number, the Legion goes to the bank, first intending to rob it, then having Rip simply ask for his vault to be opened, only to discover Rip doesn’t know his passphrase. The dynamics between the Legion are great. Once they get the future tech that would restore Rip’s mind and personality, Malcolm alters it to make Rip a mindless tool of the Legion. Although the audience won’t know it until later – this is also when Captain Cold is pulled out of time from before he dies and recruited by the Legion.

With Rip on the Legion’s side, the Legends are in trouble. The Legends also discover that the Spear was broken into pieces, and each piece was given to a member of the JSA to guard. The JSA was then scattered throughout history. So, we now have a quest to get back the spear. The Legion strikes first, killing Dr. Mid-Nite in the future and taking his piece. The Legend gets Rip’s piece of the Spear from 60s Los Angeles, saves George Lucas, but as mentioned previously, fails to save Rip Hunter. Another piece of the Spear is found in Camelot, guarded by Stargirl, whom the locals know as Merlin, and whom has created the Round Table. Commander Steel, Dr. Heywood’s grandfather, and member of the JSA, worked for NASA, and hid his piece on the moon. But with all their successes, and even assembling the Spear themselves, the Legends decide they must destroy it – the Spear is too powerful an object for anyone to wield. They head to the Battle of the Somme in World War I, to meet JRR Tolkien, who had written an unpublished paper about the final resting place of Sir Gaiwan, said to be the hiding place of a vial of the Precious Blood of Christ – the only substance that can destroy the Spear. The adventure with Tolkien is also great, with multiple Lord of the Rings references, and includes a quote of the “Men of the West” Speech from the film Return of the King. But for all their efforts, the Legends fail and the Legion of Doom gets the Spear.

The penultimate episode, “Doomworld”, has a world re-created by Merlyn, Thawne, and Darhk. However, they have also messed with the Legends – making them into their worst and most unlucky selves. Dr. Heywood, however, figures out something is wrong. He meets Ray who has created a device to restore the Legends memories. This works OK, until Jax tries to restore Professor Stein – who resists and breaks the device. There’s a massive fight, but in the end, Thawne gets the Spear and drops it into an very hot reactor to destroy it (not unlike the destruction of the One Ring by volcano in Lord of the Rings). The Legends decide they must go back in time and prevent the Legion from getting the Spear in the first place. In the end, it’s Sara, who all along had been the strongest voice to say they mustn’t use the Spear, who uses it to defeat the Legion. Yet, when the team arrives in Los Angeles – time doesn’t seem quite right.

Legends of Tomorrow is quite fun and the second season was an improvement on the first. Sara shines as captain, able to make tough decisions, wrangle her crew, but also able to learn from her own mistakes, and even to develop compassion. These characters are still screw-ups, which is a great way to do superheroes – as perfect characters are boring. The crew this time around: Sara, Professor Stein, Jax, Dr. Ray Palmer, Mick Rory, Dr. Heywood (Steel), and Amaya (Vixen) work better than last year’s line up.  I missed Rip in the early part of the season, and for much of the second part of the season he’s working with the villains, but overall he’s there enough – and Sara actually made for a better captain with a better leadership style. Dr. Heywood fits in to the Legends immediately, and Amaya also is not as awkward a character as Hawkgirl from last season. And Vixen’s power, the ability to channel the power of any animal, is very cool and realized beautifully. Overall, Legends of Tomorrow was my personal favorite of the CW shows last season.

You can also read my Season 1 Review of Legends of Tomorrow.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Ringpullworld

  • Title: Ringpullworld
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Paul Magrs
  • Director: Neil Roberts
  • Characters: Turlough, Huxley, Fifth Doctor, Tegan
  • Cast: Mark Strickson, Alex Lowe
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/30/2017

**Spoiler Alert** I usually enjoy Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series, and Ringpullworld is no exception. The Companion Chronicles feature stories told from the point of view of the Doctor’s companions, and are closer to a traditional audiobook format, often with the main character telling the story to someone else. In the case of Ringpullworld, the narration of the story is split between Turlough, the Fifth Doctor’s Companion, and Huxley, the novelizer from Verbatim 6. The story actually opens with Turlough being quite cross or angry at Huxley, who is irritating him by constantly describing everything Turlough does and sees.

The Fifth Doctor, as played on the long-running BBC series, Doctor Who by Peter Davison, Turlough and Tegan had landed on the planet of Must, where they were latched on to by the three novelizers – Huxley, Wolf, and Joyce. The six explore the one building on the planet and find a strange artifact. Tegan dismisses it as a “tin of beans” but Turlough notices the Doctor seems oddly unsettled by the object.

Investigating the object, it is Tegan who also gives it a name, The Ringpull, as in, the ring used to pull open a tin can or a can of pop (soda for those of you outside the Midwestern US). When investigating, the three are shrunk and drawn into the micro universe inside the tin. The story then cycles back to it’s beginning. Turlough, empathetic with the Ringpull Universe, a whole galaxy that because of the natives war-like nature has been trapped on it’s own and cut off from the rest of the civilized universe, decides to steal a ship and free the Ringpull Galaxy. So Turlough, with his novelizer, Huxley, along for the ride, steals a ship and intends to open the Ringpull using a backpack of the Doctor’s tools.

The Doctor had already told Turlough that it would be a bad idea, and as Turlough heads off to open the Ringpull he is pursued by the Doctor and by the local aliens that he stole the ship from. Turlough and Huxley are captured, and as part two opens they are stuck in a cell. Huxley reveals he can telepathically communicate with his fellow novelizers through the Great Narrative. So, Turlough discovers the Doctor and Tegan are on the bridge of the ship, and the Doctor is pleading for Turlough’s life. Then Huxley reveals something else; as a narrator, not only can he reveal the past and narrate the present, he can provide a flash forward – reveal possible futures from the current moment.

Turlough is talked in to learning these futures. Huxley tells him one straight off – Turlough will be executed by the aliens – keel hauled and thrown into space with no protective suit. But, Turlough doesn’t accept this, so Huxley continues with another – The Doctor and Tegan rescue Turlough, but during their escape, they are forced to open the Ringpull, leading to catastrophe. Turlough, understandably, isn’t too pleased by this idea either. Then Huxley tells him he can provide the best possible future possibility. Not only that, he can link up with Turlough mentally and let Turlough read his thoughts and see the future for himself. Turlough takes him up on it. Turlough then narrates his own story. In this last version, he is again released, and he and the Doctor talk the aliens in to opening the Ringpull themselves. This happens, and the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough escape in a ship, riding out the explosion that destroys the warlike invaders, frees the Ringpull Universe, and even returns the Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough to Planet Must, where their novelizers decide their adventures are too dangerous and release them from their parasitic relationship.

Then Turlough realizes he is back in his cell. The third possibility, which had felt so real, was, like the others, only a possible outcome. Turlough begs Huxley to tell him what would happen, but Huxley says he must wait and see, that to find out which possibility actually happens – he must live it. This frustrates Turlough to no end, then the door begins to open, bringing with it the future – and the ending music.

I enjoyed Ringpullworld and listened to it twice in my car. This is one of the few audios Mark Strickson (Vislor Turlough) has done, and I enjoyed it. The story moves at a fast clip, and actually has a great deal of humor, as Turlough and Huxley have a great double act relationship. They irritate each other, but Turlough has a certain affection for Huxley, who reminds him of his friend from school, Hippo. In fact, during the audio, Turlough actually calls Huxley, Hippo on several occasions. The story, of a trapped galaxy, gives one food for thought. The only thing I didn’t like about the audio was it’s lack of a definitive ending. Still this story is recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order Ringpullworld on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Riverdale Season 1 Review (Spoiler-free)

  • Series Title: Riverdale
  • Season: Season 1
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 3
  • Network: CW
  • Cast: KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse, Madelaine Petsch, Ashleigh Murray, Marisol Nichols, Luke Perry
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

The CW’s Riverdale is much, much better than I expected, and, in a sense even better than it has any right to be. The show is like Twin Peaks meets the Archie comic books characters meets a typical CW teen/twenty-something soap opera, with a little bit of the original Scooby Doo Mysteries from Saturday mornings, and just a dash of film noir. The series spends it’s first few episodes introducing the characters and their world, but quickly becomes focused on one question and plot point: Who killed Jason Blossom?

When watching a long-form mystery – there are two tests: how does it work on first viewing? And does it still work upon re-watching? Riverdale passes both tests. When watching this show last year week to week, each episode brought new secrets, new revelations, new information, as slowly week-by-week the kids from Riverdale: Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead not only formed their own relationships – but uncovered the mystery and found out the murderer in episode 11 and 12. Upon re-watching the series, knowing who the murderer was – the series was still very watchable, even more so. Knowing “whodunit” did not, as it often does, especially in long-form mysteries, make this show boring, or make the viewer (well this viewer) want to bang their head against a table or yell at the characters in frustration. So it’s a good mystery. There a few scenes, here and there, in the entire first ten episodes, that have a stronger meaning once you know the murderer’s identity, but the entire series also holds up incredibly well. Riverdale has the same staying power for it’s first season as a neo-noir like L.A. Confidential, or a classic one like Double Indemnity.

Each episode of the series has opening and closing narration by Jughead, who is writing a manuscript about Jason’s death (in episode 1, everyone in town thinks he accidentally drowned – this changes when two gay teenagers go to the river for a tryst and instead find Jason’s body). This adds to the film-noir feel, and acts as a reflection on the events of the series, much like the narration in many classic films noir, especially those directed by Billy Wilder.

The series also has, as a CW show, that excellently done, teenagers learning how to grow up and dealing with conflicts with parents. However, in Riverdale, pretty much every parent is nuts – and hiding a lot of secrets. And what I picked-up on a second watch was that these parents are still holding on to feelings from high school: old crushes, resentments, rivalry, anger, jealousy. In a sense, these bonkers parents never grew-up, and Archie and his friends are considerably more mature than their parents. Which isn’t to say these kids are perfect. The series opens with Archie having a Summer fling with his music teacher – something he tries to continue into the school year, but it of course falls apart – and unprofessional teacher leaves after episode 4. Later in the series, Betty convinces Archie to have a birthday party for Jughead because he doesn’t care about his birthday and never even had a party. Cheryl, back to feuding with the others, crashes the party and turns it into a kegger. When you compare the behavior of the “kids” with the parents – a central question emerges: Will these young characters repeat the mistakes of their parents? Will they be ruled by the same prejudices, the same hatreds, the same jealousies, and the same assumptions? Or will our characters be better? And in season one, for the most part they seem to be better.

The cinematography in this series is incredible. The series starts in Summer, the Fourth of July, with everything lit in a warm, golden glow. It proceeds through Fall – with mist and haze, then in to Winter. Perhaps accidentally, perhaps not, but the changing of seasons perfectly reflects the series’ slide into darkness as more and more secrets come to light. The use of red to indicate the influence of the rich Blossom family is striking throughout the series. The snow adds to the feeling of scenes, as does the mist and rain. This is one of the few television series I’ve ever seen in my life that looks like it actually takes place in the Upper Midwest (even in a fictional town), rather than on Hollywood backlots. And the cinematography is movie-worthy. This show CW can hold up to show just what they are capable of, because it shines.

Finally, the DVD box set includes deleted scenes for most episodes. Some of these deleted scenes are simply extra bits, probably cut for time. But there are a series of scenes between Veronica and her mother, Hermione, that changes their relationship – and not for the better. And there’s a scene between Jughead and his father, JP, that is just fantastic. That scene also sheds light on a seemingly bad decision Jughead makes in the final episode (he’s between a rock and a hard place – so his decision also makes sense for the character, if not being the best thing he could do). Between the scenes with Hermoine and the scene with Jughead – it seems to be setting-up season 2, something I am eager to see.

The question of who killed Jason is revealed in episode 12. But where in most series, the following episode (and last of the season) would merely be a chance for the characters to catch their breath, the screenwriters to wrap-up loose ends, and the series to be reset for the next season – Riverdale takes a darker path. Episode 13 sees fallout of the revelation of the murderer that feels real, but scary. It also sees major changes for the characters, especially for Jughead. There are events in the last episode of the season that will no doubt lead directly to Season 2, and I’m not just talking about the shocking twist at the end of the episode.

I highly, highly recommend watching Riverdale. It wasn’t just hype that made this show one of the most talked about series introduced last year. If some of the teen-aged hijinks at the start of the season bother you, stick with it. I initially wondered why Archie was introduced in such an essentially negative way – but having re-watched the entire thing, I realized it was actually a method to introduce a character that on paper could be considered perfect: captain of the football team, musician, popular, ladies man, but also friends with the “unpopular” kids at school – gods, Archie Andrews could have been the most boring “Marty Sue” character on TV. So, starting with showing him having a fault? That makes the character more interesting. It also serves plot purposes, and shows his honesty beyond his issues with women (Archie manages to have a relationship with every girl at his school anyway). Oh and Betchel Test? This show smashes it wide open. Does it count as “talking about a man” if the guy in question is dead and the women are trying to solve his murder? Riverdale is a must-watch, and I give it 5 out of 5 stars. Again, highly, highly recommended.