Archive for the SF Category

Outcasts

Posted in BBC, SF, TV with tags , , , on April 3, 2011 by pieman70

Yes, I know we have had the budget (I wasn’t keen) and one of the biggest marches of recent history, but I feel I have to comment on Outcasts

For those who didn’t know, outcasts was the BBC’s latest attempt at a big budget, grown up SF series. In itself this is a good thing, I love Dr Who but I always had fears that the old beeb would assume this was all that was required for its SF output, so it’s good to see them branching out a bit.

The BBC certainly didn’t skimp, it was filmed in South Africa, written by Spooks scribe Ben Richards and brought in some fairly big name actors such as Daniel Mays (Ashes to Ashes) and Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) and it had an audience who were willing it to be good to show that grown up SF could work in a prime time slot.

Outcasts was set in and around the human settlement of Fort Haven on the planet Carpathia and followed the colonists as they struggled to survive on an alien world. They would face conflict from without, in the form of the genetically modified ACs and a mysterious alien force, and from within as the charismatic and manipulative Julius Berger tries to unseat Tate, the colony’s president.

First, I quite liked it, it was flawed and often slow, but the concept was intriguing and some of the characters grabbed me. Of course this may say more about me, I found joy in Bonekickers.

So, what went wrong? Why did it end up graveyarded on sunday nights? Why did it turn off both sci-fi fans and mundanes alike?

Sadly most of the blame has to fall at Ben Richards feet. The first episode had many mildly intrigued, but not blown away, and the slow pacing sent viewers switching to Gypsy weddings or whatever else was on in droves. This flaw would have been fine on its own and it could have earned a solid audience from genre fans alone, sadly Richards didn’t help himself there.

I can’t confirm this, but Ben Richards appears to be a bit snobbish about SF. His first error was to wax lyrical about how Outcasts wasn’t really SF, it was more a frontier western but on an alien planet, more about people that aliens, space ships and lasers. Yes, anyone who knows SF will roll their eyes at this, it shows a writer who dismisses SF as childish space ships and bug eyed monsters which is kind of insulting to the genre that gave us Brave New World and Blade Runner. This alone did not put people off.

The main problem in my eyes was that the writers, and richards as show runner has to take some responsibility here, hadn’t watched or read any SF before making an SF drama, the net result of that was they didn’t know a hoary old cliché when they dreamed one up. The warnings were there, in interviews the writers spoke of the “space western” as if it was a brand new idea. Old concepts themselves do not make a series bad, but some background knowledge of the genre would have highlighted where the ideas had been tried previously and where they had been better executed. This may have changed some directions and perhaps forced the writers to drop some dead ends and develop some ideas more completely. For example, they had a brief “gold rush” idea with diamonds, and it could have developed further, with people slugging it out for stones that were precious on earth but common as pebbles on carpathia, showing the odd things we value, but it was forgotten pretty quickly.

Finally, Outcasts biggest problem was a lack of internal consistency. People aquired abilities, gizmos that would easily solve problems disappeared entirely (brain reading machine, I’m looking at you) this just seemed like lazy writing and did affect my enjoyment, and I was massively sympathetic before it started.

So, what was good, Cass and Fleur, the two P&S operatives (police) were engaging and likeable and even Tate, who started off giving the impression that they really wanted Patrick Stewart for his role grew on me. The stories picked up as it went on as well, and the reveals of some mysteries were actually pretty good (Cass’ backstory in particular) but it sadly was too little, too late.

I may later post about an alternative way I would have run outcasts if I don’t decide it makes me too much of a monday morning coach

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So am I a Syfy fan now?

Posted in SF, TV with tags , on April 20, 2010 by pieman70

The UK Sci-fI channel has followed its US companion and re-branded to SyFy.  This is despite most people thinking the re-branding was stupid and pointless.  Presumably it is in aid of something like “Brand Cohesion” or “Reflexive corporate image synergy” or some other meaningless marketing rubbish, probably dreamed up by the same person who said “Why are we just selling to geeks, if we call it the Syfy channel instead of Sci-Fi we’ll remove that stigma that has stopped people watching it for ages.  It even has a tagline “Imagine greater” and why when I am World dictator marketing people will have a hard time of things.  I can’t believe anyone looks at Syfy and thinks “hmm” then sees “Imagine greater” and says “I’m sold”

No, marketing dude, that was probably the period, which Sc-Fi is only just coming out of, where the channel seemed to be trying to show as little Sci-Fi as possible.

I remember the old days of the sci-fi channel, it was unashamedly geeky, Bionic Wednesdays, where a whole afternoon was filled with repeats of the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman, MST3K, Quantum Leap.  Sure, it lacked anything you hadn’t seen before, even its films were usually old, and not the blockbusters either.  But damn it I watched it, because sometimes I want to see old SF series.  The channel evolved a little in the early 2000’s, taking a slightly “Weird” approach it almost looked like the guy who is an enormous geek but tries to claim he’s more “Alternative”  Still, it hadn’t lost too much of its geeky content, and even netted some of the better leftovers from Sky and BBC clearing the US Schedules.  Without Sci-Fi then I wouldn’t have seen Now and Again.  They also introduced themed slots, like saturday morning carrying a couple of hours about Anime, with reports on japanese culture and usually a couple of Anime series (To my memory it was the excellent Neon Genesis Evangelion and the odd but fun Martian Successor Nadesco) along with themed horror nights on friday nights.  These two periods represent in my opinion some of the best programming on the sci-fi channel.

It went a bit downhill from there, the channel seemed ashamed to keep showing its old repeats and similarly didn’t buy anything particularly expensive, what resulted was a mass of duff “Direct to DVD” movies, usually involving Dean Cain fighting some giant reptile.  It got worse, as they expanded (And I firmly believe the SyFy name change was part of this) into showing documentaries on dangerous wildlife and extreme weather.  Now you may show Killer Shark vs Giant octopus IV, and I’d even allow some sort of super storm/volcano/asteroid drama as a kind of “What if Disaster movie” but the documentaries were pushing it.  Similarly sometimes they’d show duff action films, no objection in principle but let bravo sho the non SF ones.  I refuse to believe there is a shortage of duff SF themed action films.

Recently things have been improving.  Sci-Fi got some fairly high profile series like Knight Rider, Warehouse 13, Sanctuary and Dollhouse.  In fact the name changing away from Sci-Fi has preceded an increase in actual Sci-Fi on the channel, as if the marketing bod was distracted by his re-branding excercise and the geeks got to pick the programming.

My advice, Capitalise on this success, try and get some more original series, but remember, you need schedule padding, people will watch repeats of Quantum Leap and I know will definitely jump at anime series and MST3K if you can get those.  New programming isn’t the be all and end all.  I have no objection to the crappy B Movies, I watched Warbirds (WWII female pilots and US soldiers vs dragons) and it was poor, but enjoyably so.  Things like this need a home and Sci-Fi or even Syfy could be a place for them.  Avoid turning into Bravo 3 and there could be a future in the old nerd yet.

Defying Gravity & Virtuality

Posted in Defying Gravity, SF, TV, Virtuality with tags , , , on January 12, 2010 by pieman70

In my preview of this years TV I may have mentioned Defying Gravity as a show I was interested in seeing, well its been and gone and I’ve managed to catch it thanks to BBC’s IPlayer and no thanks to BBC’s bizarre roaming schedule.

Defying gravity was made as an international co-production, loosely based on a BBC Drama doc about a more realistically themed tour of the solar system.  Defying gravity ditches some of the hyper realism of its documentary predecessor, a technobabble nanotech idea explains gravity in most parts of the ship (Although they are very consistent in showing the “Gravity Suits” under clothing) and eventually uncovers a mystery surrounding what is in Pod 4, however for the most part the Antares is a realistic ship, its slow and low tech.  This meant that the series would mainly focus on the crew interaction and the dangers inherent to space travel.  This is added to with some focus on mission control and the politics there, and with flashbacks to the training and selection process.

I really warmed to the characters, both in their training and on the mission.  This I think was the show’s strength or weakness; basically if you don’t click with the characters you won’t enjoy the show as a lot of it is people in a tin can naval gazing.

I will agree with the critics on one thing, the Final episode was fantastic, the show’s critics say this is how it should be.  I say it showed what something like Defying gravity could do where other SF would have a space battle.  They really highlighted the risk of landing on Venus, a very hostile place and still managed to advance several plot threads in the process.

Perhaps DG was a little slow, but then so is the Antares on her grand tour of the universe.  Shame we won’t see the rest of the solar system, however for those who want to know where it’s going an interview with the creator exists here.

A quick aside, It may have been a couple of years ago, Ronald D Moore made his attempt at a similar idea.  He even also lumbered it with a duff title, Virtuality.  It never made it beyond pilot, and I won’t say how I saw that.

Virtuality follows the crew of the Phaeton, an international mission to find a habitable planet outside of the solar system.  The reason, because Earth is dying.  However, in order to keep funding the mission is also a giant Reality TV show, with cameras on the ship recording the crew’s conflicts.  In fact two of the crew serve as director/producer and presenter.  This leads to some nice asides, like some of the food supplies being donated by a ready meal company, the crew having to wear different clothes, depending on that day’s sponsor.

The virtual bit comes from the way the crew get to escape from their tin box.  Each crewmember has access to a VR module, however, there is a ghost in the machine and he seems to be intent on doing cruel and nasty things to the crew while they’re in VR.  However the twist at the end of the pilot could reveal something more.

Overall Virtuality is grittier and less sanitised than Defying Gravity, and many thought more interesting.  I can’t judge, Defying gravity had many hours for me to bond with its crew while virtuality had a pilot, still it’s a shame it never got commissioned.

War Of Kings

Posted in Comics, Darkhawk, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inhumans, Marvel, Nova, Realm of Kings, SF, War of Kings with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2009 by pieman70

WOK001_covMarvel’s other cosmic event has finally wrapped up (Ok I finally got out to buy comics) anyway it’s been quite a surprise, namely because its two run up titles (X-Men kingbreaker and Darkhawk) were a little lacklustre.

The story is of course about a second Kree/Shi-Ar war, only this time the Kree are lead by the Inhumans and their king Black Bolt, while the Shi-Ar are lead by Cyclops’s other other other brother, Vulcan.  Also involved are the newly formed Nova Corps, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Darkhawk (or should I say Razor)

This was actually quite different to the Annihilation events, in that the tie ins told other aspects of the story leaving the main effectively a self contained story regarding the progress of the war as seen by Crystal from the Kree side and Gladiator from the Shi-Ar.  The tie ins were of the good sort where they added to the story if you read Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ascension, but didn’t detract from it if you didn’t, so Nova was really more about Rich’s battle with the out of control Worldmind/Ego and Guardians was half about their efforts to end the war diplomatically (With fun and disastrous results) and half about trying to avert the ultimate end to the war.

The end was spectacular, Black Bolt and Vulcan fight on a giant bomb, which eventually explodes tearing a huge hole in space, exactly as Adam warlock predicted.  Warlock manages to stop its expansion but the cost is that he becomes his evil future self, The Magus, and at the cost of Phlya and Gamera, although I doubt they will stay dead.

We now have an interesting state of affairs to the cosmic marvel universe, namely there is an empire in chaos and a dirty great rip in space, Darkhawk is on the run as while under control of the Razor personality in his armour and the Nova Corps are back to severely reduced numbers (A nice touch is that all the new Novas are in trainee uniforms similar to rich’s old “Kid Nova” suit)

Overall it was good, well written with good art and really had the impression of a large scale galactic conflict.  Tie ins were, as said before good but unintrusive and overall this was a good event, if lacking the “Galaxy is doomed” feel of the previous two, also a good example of how to run event tie-ins.  Mainstream Marvel take note.

I had my fears about what spinoff we would get from this event; I feared it would be a Starjammers in the universal rule of no area of marvel must be without X-Men of some description, although Ch’od is brilliant.  I’d have been happy with an Imperial Guard title or Inhumans, or a Darkhawk one.  Instead we’re getting Realm of Kings.

Yes, from war of Kings comes Realm of kings, stuff is coming through the big space hole, and it looks like evil avengers.  Fortunately we’re getting a couple of decent looking LS from it, Inhumans and Imperial guard.  Not really happy about blundering into another event, but at least I don’t have another ongoing to pick up.

Last Years TV – The latecomers

Posted in Chuck, Reaper, SF, TV with tags , on October 17, 2009 by pieman70

In this post I’m going to examine the two late entries to last years TV, both too late to make the television awards.  However their respective channels, in this case Channel 4 and Virgin 1 got a mention so in some sense they were there.  I am of course going to talk about Reaper and Chuck.

chuckChuck has been an absolute delight this year, providing a good few twists and turns regarding the status quo, such as the Fulcrum Intersect, and has managed to hit home exactly how precarious Chuck’s situation is, and how this is ruining his life.  Meanwhile the antics of his supporting cast, particularly the Buy More crew have been fun, in fact so much fun that I wouldn’t really miss the spy stuff if it was gone.  Either way, you care about all these characters from the heartbreak where chuck has to emotionally crush Morgan to save his life, to the strange Joy to an episode which finishes with Jeff and Lester’s band Jeffster doing a number.  It may only get one more season, so my advice to the makers of Chuck, the finale of the final season should involve chuck telling everyone about the intersect in order to mount a comedy rescue of Sarah inadvertently destroying fulcrum in the process.  This series needs a mad happy ending.

reaperReaper has been cut down before its time.  It’s a shame because it’s similarly a great fun show.  This season Sam has been trying to take on the devil, in mostly unsuccessful ways, culminating in a high stakes game of Quarters.  Sam, as always could be annoying if not played just right, as it stands he carries off the right combination of slacker and miserable in just the right doses.  As with chuck, a large amount of the appeal comes from the supporting cast, who were boosted this season with Andi, sock and Ben being joined by Sam’s Zombie dad, Nina, a demonic assassin who is now dating Ben and possibly the most fun Morgan, the Devil’s other son and Sam’s half brother.  As always the show wouldn’t be complete without Ray Wise as the Devil.  I honestly believe that if there was a real devil and he saw Ray Wise in reaper, He’d be annoyed that he wasn’t having nearly as much fun.  A great mix of comedy and underlying menace.

I’ll miss you reaper.

Last Years TV – Battlestar Galactica

Posted in Battlestar Galactica, SF, TV with tags , , on September 5, 2009 by pieman70

BSGAnd on to another series that aired its finale this year.  The end to Galactica had been eagerly awaited and not without some trepidation, could they do the series justice?  Will we like the ending?

Fortunately this latter half season delivered, it delivered a lot.  We have the fleet slowly tearing itself apart after the revelation that earth is a nuclear wasteland, reveal of the fifth Cylon and the cracking Mutiny.  One of the funny things was how many comments that had come in last season over how annoyed Gaeta should be, he looses a leg and Starbuck just keeps getting indulged.  Finally he cracks and the story is compelling stuff.

On the subject of Galactica I sometimes think its importance is overlooked.  It’s getting mainstream awards and is frequently mentioned alongside non-genre TV.  I may have harped on about this before but Galactica is so much more than normal crossover genre TV.  Lost, Heroes even the X-Files were all set in friendly present day, its familiar and if you screw up your eyes you can pretend that you’re not watching SF, because all that SF stuff is childish and unrealistic unlike say 24 (No offence to any fans of 24 but it does get more outlandish than a lot of SF)

Galactica didn’t give you that comfort; we have humans living on a fleet of space ships being chased by killer robots.  Try and tell me that isn’t SF.  Surprisingly people saw through it, and aside from the odd patronising article usually citing how SF is normally for weird geeks with no girlfriends, but this is really good, it showed that crossover appeal can be achieved with a full SF setting.

While the credit crunch has sapped budgets, and indeed the Caprica spinoff looks a lot more like normal “Friendly” crossover stuff (Set on Caprica, but I’m curious how many SF trappings we will actually have) It shows it can be done.  I just hope a writer takes advantage.

Last Years TV – Stargate Atlantis

Posted in SF, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe, TV with tags , , , on August 18, 2009 by pieman70

AtlantisIt will probably be next year by the time I’ve finished rounding up all of last years TV, probably why the Pie Man television awards is a better format.  Still, I thought I’d make some comments on some series.

Incidentally, Reilly 2040 has done his own version on his blog, I heartily recommend you check it out (Obviously not you Reilly 2040, you being my main reader and all)

Anyway, one show which completely failed to register on either my awards or Reilly’s was Stargate Atlantis, which is odd considering it was its final season.  To be honest, it was because for a large part this season was a little bit meh.

Atlantis always did suffer from padding, not network mandated; just it tended to run on the formula of

  1. wrap up cliff-hanger from previous season
  2. Padding episodes
  3. Mid season arc
  4. Padding
  5. Final arc leading to season cliff-hanger

It worked, provided the previous, next and mid season arcs were good enough, it’s just that this season wasn’t particularly memorable.  The wrap-up and conclusion to the season opener wasn’t bad, and the slowly developing arc with Todd the wraith was fun, but in general I struggle to remember any of it.  One thing I will say is that Robert Picardo was a breath of fresh air to Atlantis, finally having a leader who could genuinely cause a little friction compared to Weir’s “No Col Sheppard, don’t do that or I’ll cry”

And that’s really it, in the end I’ll miss Ronin being hard, I’ll miss Sheppard and I’ll miss Rodney McCay and his rather charming romance with Dr Keller.

On the other hand we have Universe starting this year, which looked iffy, like Stargate Voyager, but then the announcement that it featured none other than Robert Carlyle has sparked some pretty serious interest.  With an Atlantis TV movie as well I’ll still be following the Stargate crews for at least another year.