Sunday, 26 April 2015

DANDY SPACE LOG 1-2 & 1-3

He combs the Galaxy like his pompadour on the hunt for aliens... both friendly, and not...

Series One, Episode Two - “The Search for the Phantom Space Ramen, Baby”


The first episode to feature the wonderfully named Colleen Clinkenbeard as Scarlet, this sees Dandy, Meow and QT embark on a quest to find the fabled phantom ramen, said to have a flavour truly of another dimension. They visit every ramen restaurant in local space: the Ramen Galaxy, Ramen Nebula, AndRamenDa, Full Metal Noodleist and (ra)Men in Black. And BooBies, of course. Meanwhile, Dr. Gel and Bea continue their pursuit of Dandy.


He's Dandy Baby: He's got a secret stash of ramen hidden on the Aloha Oe for when the aien-hunting has been slow and money is tight. At least, until he discovers Meow has eaten it all, at which point he tries to flush the creature out of the airlock. He easily becomes convinced to dedicate himself to finding the ultimate bowl of ramen, despite having no money to pay for any of it. In Ramen Nebula, he moonwalks up to Scarlet and tries charming her. It almost looked like he was getting somewhere until he asked her to get his tab. He might be an ass man, but he's a boobies man too. He thinks nothing of jumping head first into a wormhole to see where it leads. He seems genuinely moved by the ramen chef's story. He offers him a ride out of his dimension... but maybe he's just thinking of the unregistered alien bounty.


He's Just a Little Obsolete, Baby: He's basically a vacuum cleaner with add-ons. He's the only one to stay behind in the main universe, monitoring the link while Dandy and Meow are visiting the Ramen Dimension.


He's Not a Space Cat, Baby: He reckons he's a ramen connoisseur heard tales of phantom ramen on his travels; it's the only thing that distracts Dandy long enough to stop him getting thrown off the ship. Dandy is being pursued by the Gogol Empire (although he doesn't know why), yet Meow checks in online at every restaurant and shrugs it off as the troopers just getting lucky. He can't run while carrying ramen.


The Scarlet Lady, Baby: Scarlet is the no-nonsense registration officer who invariably deals with Dandy's alien submissions, and almost invariably dismisses them as absolutely worthless. She eats as Ramen Nebula, and doesn't take kindly to being hit up for woolongs. Easily the most proficient fighter we see in the the series, Scarlet absolutely kicks the Gogol troopers' asses.


It's Tech in Space, Baby: The best way to find your way around the Galaxy is using Gogol Galaxy Streetview. The final ramen cafe gets its ramen delivered from offsite, through a combined dumbwaiter/interdimensional transporter, which uties an unstable wormhole to bridge the divide to the Ramen Dimension. In this swirling realm are myriad island asteroids, upon one of which is the phantom chef and his ramen stand.


We're Alien Hunters, Baby: Dandy brings an Andromengero to the Alien Registration Centre. It's a purplish brown blob, extremely common and utterly valueless. There are 58.6 billion registered Betelguesians, so Meow really is no good as bounty. Dr. Gel sends Gogol battlesquad troops after the heroes; they're spindly green creatures but armed to the topknots. The ramen chef is an ancient, shrivelled, hunchbacked, roughly humanoid creature, who's been hiding out on his asteroid for ten thousand years, making his ramen and sending it through the wormhole. It's unique salty taste comes from his tears of loneliness. He learned of ramen when he crashed in Japan as a young extraterrestrial on the run. Dandy offers him a way out of his exile but he declines.


The Bottom Line, Baby: The phantom ramen chef's story really is kind of moving, in a bizarre, food-obsessed kind of way. Dandy's at his best when he's on some kind of quest, pointless or otherwise, but the highlight of the episode is the introduction of Scarlet, who'll be more important as the series goes on. The Ramen Dimension is spectacular. There are some fun Star Wars references in this episode too; Scarlet's apology to the proprietor of Ramen Nebula brings to mind the the Mos Eisley Cantina scene in the original Star Wars, and there's a brief reference to Tatooine when Meow is tweeting.




Casting Call: Suicide Squad

I am, in general, less than enthused by DC's upcoming roster of superhero movies. The trailer for Batman vs. Superman looks grim and boring; what's worse is that I'll almost inevitably end up paying to go see the damned thing anyway. There are a few announcements that have peaked my interest, though, and one of them is Suicide Squad, the first film outing of DC's ever-changing crack team of villains and anti-heroes. If they get this right, it could be genuinely brilliant. If they don't, well, at least it's got a cracking cast.

Will Smith
Floyd Lawton/Deadshot

Deadshot is the primary recurring member of the Suicide Squad, a crack marksman and assassin who, due to years of training and the helpful addition of a cybernetic eye, never misses. Well, he missed once, but that was against Batman. He has suffered a particularly abusive history and is a lot more sympathetic than most of the characters on this list, but he still has an absolute disregard for human life. More amoral than evil, but no less deadly for it.

Everyone knows who Will Smith is. Previous screen Deadshots have been played by Michael Rowe on Arrow and by Bradley Stryker on Smallville.

Jared Leto
The Joker


The Joker needs no introduction. The Clown Prince of Crime is Batman's greatest enemy, and will surely go on to appear in future films against the Caped Crusader after this. Jared Leto, lead singer-songwriter for Thirty Seconds To Mars and a very well-regarded actor known for, among many other things, Dallas Buyers Club, is set to take on the role. He'll have a very difficult time convincing naysayers he's right for the part, and has to equal, if not better, Heath Ledger's legendary performance in 2008's The Dark Knight. Ledger, though, had the similar problem of coming into the long shadow of Jack Nicholson, whose role as the Joker in 1989's Batman was considered definitive... until Ledger outdid it. In recognition of the character's 75th anniversary, director David Ayer has released the first official image of Leto in full make-up. Quite wisely, they're going for a completely different take on the signature look to previous screen outings, one that will no doubt appeal to some while enraging others. I'm not sure about the forehead tattoo, or the wanky glove, but otherwise, this is interesting. Pure poser Joker.

Margot Robbie
Harley Quinn

Created for the excellent Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn has gone onto become a staple character in DC's comics and a fan favourite. The former psychiatrist for the Joker, Harleen Quinzel (really) fell for the villain and became his lover and sidekick. They have a passionate but fractious relationship, and it'll be fascinating to finally see this in live-action. Harley had no superpowers to begin with, but became fast friends with Poison Ivy, who injected her with a serum which increased her resilience and strength. In recent comics, she has become more vicious, before attempting to reform her character by turning to crime fighting. We'll see how much, if any, of these developments make it to the movie. Harley is probably the most fun of all the characters in this film, and getting her right could make or break it as much as the Joker. Her initial cartoon portrayal was modelled heavily on her voice artist, Arleen Sorkin. Margot Robbie certainly looks the part. She's previously appeared on the big screen in About Time and The Wolf of Wall Street, before co-starring with the aforementioned Will Smith in Focus.

Joel Kinnaman
Rick Flagg

Rick Flag is actually three characters, father, son and grandson, but they're all heavily associated with the Suicide Squad. The original Captain Rick Flag led the Suicide Squadron during WWII, while his son was the leader and core member of the modern incarnation of the Squad, and has been responsible for some of its most glorious missions. Joel Kinnaman is Rick Flagg (sic), previously known for the Robocop remake and The Killing. He should be a pretty important character in this admittedly huge cast. Tom Hardy was initially linked to the role but dropped out of negotiations.

Jai Courtney
George Harkness/Digger/Boomerang

Yes, this is Captain Boomerang, a pretty laughable villain who was recently given a shot in the arm when Nick Tarabay portrayed him in Arrow and The Flash. "Digger" Harkness is an Australian criminal who uses various trick boomerangs to aid his crimes. He's also a massive racist, so this should be fun. Tenner says he gets his teeth punched in by Deadshot.

Viola Davis
Amanda Waller

Amanda Waller, known as "the Wall," is a former congressional aide who has proven herself to be both a powerful enemy and ally for various heroes in DC comics. Ruthless and uncompromising, it was Waller who recreated the Suicide Squad, enlisting various supervillains with the promise of pardons or parole. She's had a number of screen appearances in recent years, played by Pam Grier on Smallville, Angela Bassett in Green Lantern, Cynthia Addai-Robinson on Arrow, and now Viola Davis. Initially they were looking at getting Oprah Winfrey to take on the role, and she's certainly evil enough.

Scott Eastwood
Steve Trevor

Steve is primarily a Wonder Woman character; as her primary love interest in the earlier comics, he goes right back to 1941. It's no shock then that Eastwood is set to reprise the role for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. Usually portrayed as a US intelligence officer, his role here would seem to be as the straightforwardly heroic side of the leadership of the Squad. Scott Eastwood is, of course, Clint Eastwood's son, and whatever he achieves, that's the first thing anyone is ever going to say about him.

Carla Delevingne
June Moon/Enchantress

The "Switcheroo-Witcheroo" as she was first billed, the Enchantress is, as she sounds, a sorceress armed with an array of magical powers. Interesting that DC are including a magic-based character so early on. Being profoundly non-magical, both Batman and Superman are susceptible to magical attacks. The Enchantress has acted as both villain and hero over the years, and was part of the Shadowpact, the original magical superteam in the DC universe. This has since been superceded by Justice League Dark, who faced the Enchantress as an antagonist; still, I wouldn't be surprised to see her turn up in the JLD movie. The upcoming starlet Cara Delevigne is set to play her.

Adewale Akkinnuoye-Agbaje
Waylon Jones/Killer Croc

A favourite Batman foe, Killer Croc began his appearances as a thug with a tragic background, who suffered from a genetic abnormality that gave him scaly, reptilian skin. Unlike real-life diseases of this type, this is in Croc's case a form of genetic atavism, and he has gradually become less humanoid and more reptilian as time has gone by, his strength and agility increasing while his human personality subsides. Adewale is best known as Mr. Eko in Lost, but has a host of genre and non-genre roles under his belt. His appearance in Suicide Squad sounds like it'll be little more than a cameo, but you don't waste an actor like that so he may well be back.

Raymond Olubowale
King Shark

If a crocodile man wasn't enough, there's also a shark man! King Shark, aka Nanaue, is the son of the Hawaiian Shark God and displays all the characteristics of a shark in a (roughly) humanoid body. Able to breathe underwater and almost invulnerable to harm, he's potentially a very powerful opponent but has never really hit it big. Again, this looks like a cameo for the little known Raymond Olubowale, but I could see him coming back for the Aquaman feature. King Shark is, however, primarily an enemy of Superboy, and actually had to work alongside him in the Squad before.

Karen Fukuhara
Plastique

Primarily an opponent, and love interest, for Captain Atom, Plastique, aka Betti Souci, is another character of shifting affiliations, having worked for both the Suicide Squad and the Justice League for brief periods. She has the power to generate explosive forces from her body. Jessica Parker Kennedy portrayed a young version of the character on Smallville, while Kelly Frye plays her on The Flash. Karen Fukuhara is a young actress and Suicide Squad seems to be her first major production.

Adam Beach
Slipknot/Weiss

Christopher Weiss is another of the lesser DC villains who's main fame comes from joining teams like the Squad. He developed a unique formula for super-durable ropes which he combines with his expert mastery of knot-tying. He's an assassin as well, but good luck to Adam Beach in making this guy cool. Currently starring in Arctic Air, Beach has years of TV appearances on his CV.



From left to right, standing: David Ayer (writer/director); Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flagg); Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc); Jay Hernandez (role unknown); Jai Courtney (Boomerang); Viola Davis (Amanda Waller); Adam Beach (Slipknot); Jim Parrack (rumoured to be Deathstroke); Ike Barinholtz (rumoured to be Hugo Strange).
From left to right, seated: Will Smith (Deadshot); Karen Fukuhara (Plastique); Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn); Cara Delevigne (Enchantress). Jared Leto was away on tour when this was shot.

Monday, 20 April 2015

DANDY SPACE LOG 1-1

This is the first installment of what will be my guide to all twenty-six episodes of the magnificent, idiotic, ingenious anime Space Dandy! The entire series is available on Netflix in the UK and US, both in the original Japanese with subtitles and in the English dub. This is a guide to the dubbed version, although there are episodes where sticking the subs on reveals some more information that's been lost in the translation to the brilliant English script.

Space Dandy's English-speaking cast include Ian Sinclair as Dandy, Alison Victorin as QT, Joel McDonald as Meow, J. Michael Tatum as Dr. Gel and R. Bruce Elliott as the Narrator.


Space Dandy is a dandy guy... in space!



Series One, Episode One - “Live With the Flow, Baby”


It is Space Century 0014. We Meet Dandy and QT, and they meet Meow, while they search for new aliens at their favourite hideout, BooBies. Meow promises them he knows a planet that's full of mysterious alien species, so they set out in the Aloha Oe, but when accidentally engaging the malfunctioning warp drive, they burst through the outer dimensions, a continuum criss-crossed with cosmic strings. Dandy, of course, pulls on one, becoming dragged across space/time via the fabled element of pyonium. They are pursued by Dr. Gel of the Gogol Empire, but, stuck on a deadly planet inhabited by terrifying aliens, Dandy elects to engage the supernova device. Everybody dies. The End.

He's Dandy, Baby: His name's Dandy but you can call him Space Dandy. He's an ass man, as all right-thinking men are. An “elite” alien hunter, Dandy hunts for undiscovered species and returns them to the Alien Registration Centre for payment. He visits BooBies regularly, ostensibly because it's an alien hangout, but also because the drinks are cheap, the ladies are lovely and because he has one overriding mission: to visit every branch of BooBies in the Galaxy. Dandy goes with the flow; that's his pure philosophy. When confronted by the interdimensional majesty of a cosmic string, Dandy's first reaction is to yank on it. He doesn't really think his plans through, and gets himself and his crew killed.


He's Just a Little Obsolete, Baby: QT is a service robot Dandy picked up cheap on some backwater planet. His drives are out of date, he can't update his programmes because his operating system is too old, and he needs to consult the Alien Hunter's Guide to supplement his database. His battery life is terrible, and he gets pretty thick when he's in power save mode. He's not impressed by Dandy's attempts to educate to the finer things in life.


He's Not a Space Cat, Baby: Meow – short for Mrrrmmrrrmmrrmmwww – is a Betelgeusian, an alien species that looks like a cat. But he's not a space cat, OK? He's hanging out in BooBies, perving on the girls and taking snaps of their assets. Why a feline alien wants to perv on humanoid girls is anyone's guess, but he's come to the right place. Initially, QT thinks Meow might be an unidentified alien due to an unusual mark on his cheek. It turns out this is a sticker he won for ordering the Gilgamesh tequila. He knows some obscure planets but really doesn't know how to navigate.


Let's Get Our Asses to BooBies, Baby: Where zero-g meets double-D, BooBies is a breastaurant, like Hooters or Twin Peaks, but in space! A space station shaped like a magnificent pair of bosoms, it is indeed an alien hangout, and has many beautiful waitresses, from every species with boobs. Truly, the appeal of the breasticles crosses the divide of culture and species. We meet our favourite recurring waitress, Honey, a blonde bombshell who is pretty easily distracted.


Tell My Story, Baby: The story is narrated by an mysterious voice, who is, strangely enough, audible to Dandy and QT. He pretty much phones it in though. I think he's only in it for the fourth-wall-breaking.


It's Tech in Space, Baby: Dandy has all manner of nifty gizmos for catching aliens, including a bola balls, a laser fishing rod, and of course, his trusty spaceship, the Aloha Oe. The warp drive is on the fritz, and in any case, Dandy doesn't like using it – he's heard too much warping makes your hair fall out. The ship's matter transporter is also out of date; it takes an age to warm up and a good five minutes to beam someone off a planet. Dandy's ultimate weapon is a surfer doll that sends the ship's drive into overload and turns everything in the vicinity supernova. Only an idiot would use it.


We're Alien Hunters, Baby: There are many varieties of alien life in the Galaxy, from humanoids to cat-like Betelgeusians to huge pink blobs. The planet the Aloha Oe is drawn to is inhabited by gigantic wyrms, in various flavours: fire-breathing, lightning-throwing and composed of water. There's also a huge green robot guy who comes out of the ground, and those are just the less weird ones.


I Know This Planet, Baby: The planet promised by Meow is an absolute dive. It even begins collapsing under Dandy and Meow's feet. Damned space cat.


There's Bad Guys Too, Baby: The Gogol Empire and the Jaicro Empire are at war for the fate of the universe. The Gogol 7th Fleet of the Galactic Force is headed by Admiral Perry, a mighty villain with a flaming skull (not unlike the dread Dormammu, although his outfit is like Nightmare's from the Kirby games). Admiral Perry is after Dandy, for he, apparently, holds the key to the universe. He sends his agent, Dr. Gel after him. Dr. Gel is a hulking green primate, who flies a ship shaped like the Statue of Liberty, biting down on a ball gag. He is supported by his diminutive assistant, Bea. Neither survives the pursuit of Dandy.


Don't Quote Me, Baby: “Nothing trumps the rump, my friend; anyone who thinks otherwise is either blind or a fool.”



Bottom Line, Baby: It's just the introductory episode, of course, but this displays all the trashy, over-the-top absurdity of Space Dandy at its finest. There are hints of the greater mysteries to come, but from the off, it shows a joyous disregard for continuity and consistency, killing off every major character before drawing attention to the fact that this makes no sense whatsoever. Even the first episode is chock-full of references to other productions, from the warped Planet of the Apes inference of Dr. Gel and his Liberty ship to the monsters cribbed from Galaga. Not to mention that Space Dandy almost certainly takes place in the same universe (multiverse?) as Cowboy Beebop, starting with the use of Woolongs as currency. Some people hate the, well, boobiness of the whole thing, but it's a parody of the shameless fan service that many more popular anime series display (and a lot less graphic than some). It's puerile, ridiculous and over-excitable, but it's the foundation of what will be some truly intelligent science fiction in episodes to come.

Friday, 17 April 2015

REVIEW: Marvel's Daredevil

Now, that's how you do it.


It's understandable that some people are starting to become a little fed up with superhero films and series now. As the new big thing, they have become ubiquitous, and for every geek who looks forward to the next snippet of comicbook movie news, there's ten people who got bored with it all around when The Avengers was in the cinemas. Which is a pity, since there are some genuinely very good productions out there. Still, it's not too much of a surprise that many people were unenthused by the news that Marvel/Disney had five series planned for streaming on Netflix. Superhero overkill, it might sound like. However, going by the first of these series, Marvel have finally found their niche for television. If anyone asks which of the many comic-based shows are worth watching, then Daredevil is what I shall tell them.


There's a qualifier, though. Daredevil is dark as hell. “Dark” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, and it's usually pretty meaningless, but in the case of Daredevil, it's very apt. Daredevil is cynical and unflinchingly brutal. I'm genuinely impressed by Disney for allowing something so bloody to go out under their name. I'm usually the first to condemn an adaptation for being needlessly grim; you only need to look at the recently leaked trailer for Batman vs. Superman to see something that's had all the joy mercilessly sucked from it. With Daredevil, however, the darkness has a point. Life is vicious and unjust, but we can try to fight against that injustice. Sometimes, violence must be met by violence, but in doing so, we risk becoming what we are fighting against. It also helps that the darkness is not relentless; there's plenty of humour and quieter, more philosophical moments to offset it. While Arrow just dragged on and got boring, Gotham can't seem to balance its tone between grimdark and absurd, and Marvel's own Agents of SHIELD has taken a season and a half to become must-see TV, Daredevil set itself as a self-contained story, told over thirteen chapters, perfectly balancing the tone so that it was an intense, powerful, and entertaining experience.


That said, I absolutely wouldn't want all of Marvel's productions to be like this. The Netflix set is set out to be the street-level section of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, harder, dirtier and distinctly unsuitable for kids. Marvel's great strength on screen is their variety, with different films hitting different marks. Someone who loved Guardians of the Galaxy may hate Daredevil, however, they are to my eyes both excellent adaptations of very different comicbook properties that each do their own thing very well. Daredevil in comics has long been a very dark affair; the series so far hasn't come close to some of the depths to which the comics have plunged. There's still the future, of course; after the team-up series The Defenders, presumably late next year, I would be surprised if we don't see a second run of Daredevil. That said, the showrunners have killed off a surprising number of major characters, including one I would have sworn would make appearances in other series. It makes for an unpredictable viewing experience, and unlike the comics (or The Avengers movie), I don't think we're going to see dead characters returning to life.


Daredevil has always been a great concept: the blind lawyer who fights crime by night, empowered by enhanced secondary senses and martial training. A character who has to juggle twin identities, who fights to protect his city without the aid of superhuman strength, just skill and determination. So far, so Batman, but unlike Bruce Wayne (or his current TV stand-in, Oliver Queen), Matt Murdock doesn't have a vast fortune behind him to make things easier. That's the strength of this adaptation, compared to the previous cinematic version (which was enjoyable enough, for all its flaws). It's a ground-up approach, with Murdock arriving on the scene in little more than simple black clothes and a black bandana. It's not an origin story – god knows we've had enough of those of late – but it's an early draft of a character, learning how to be the superhero he's destined to become. He doesn't even get called Daredevil until almost the final scene of the series; something that many modern superhero adaptations go for, leaving the often corny names out until in-universe media coin them. Instead of an origin story, we get a work-in-progress whose beginnings are sketched in with detailed flashbacks. It helps Murdock become the most three-dimensional character in a cast that is full of them. Indeed, none of the major characters feel anything other than entirely real, and even lesser characters have depth. No one comes across as rushed or sketched-in. This is a vital part of the series' success; not only in the fundamentals of making a compelling drama, but also in bringing a lesser known property to the screen.






The cast are, to a one, absolutely compelling. Charlie Cox is not the man I'd have cast as Murdock, which just goes to show how little I should be listened to, because he is note-perfect. Handsome and confident, but tempered with a certain awkwardness that it's never quite certain is real or put on, Cox's Murdock is a deeply flawed individual who struggles to balance his inherent anger and violence with his need to do the right thing. Daredevil is unusual in that he is a religious superhero, his Catholicism both a source of strength and conflict. Cox is himself from a Catholic background, and has said that he found this element of the character easy to recreate. His accent is also note perfect, at least to my admittedly untrained ears. What must have been far more challenging is playing a blind man, something that is incredibly difficult for a sighted person to convincingly portray. Both Cox and Scott Glen, as Daredevil's mentor Stick, are entirely convincing as blind men with preturnatural precision in their bearing and skills. It's quite remarkable.


It's difficult to single anyone out for particular praise, because the cast is so very good throughout. Eldon Henson makes an excellent Foggy Nelson, a character who has previously been ignored or poorly presented in adaptations. While he has his moments of comic relief, Henson's Foggy is no useless comedy sidekick, rather representing the ordinary but skilled, hardworking and noble other half of the Nelson and Murdock firm and friendship. Henson is physically right as well; odd-looking but certainly not unattractive, but nonetheless not up to the same grade as Cox's good looks, There's a real charm to his performance, and genuine poignancy to his, as he sees it, betrayal. The central trio is completed by Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page. What could have been nothing more than a mutual love interest for Matt and Foggy, has instead been a headstrong and entirely compelling character. Karen's presence is the catalyst for the entire plot, but she is no mere plot device; the trouble she gets into are a direct result of her own investigations, no less than Matt's injuries are a result of his actions as Daredevil. Woll is really quite something, dominating scenes even when she is not the focus. Indeed, she often takes attention away from Matt and Foggy's interactions, and that's not simply because of her stunning looks. I hope if there is a second series we get to learn more about her past; there's a great deal more to be done with the character that I am certain Woll can illustrate brilliantly. An interesting fact is that Woll's real life partner is suffering from a degenerative disease that will eventually rob him of his sight. Without wanting to trivialise their experiences, I wonder if this allowed her a certain insight into playing someone close to a blind character.


The remaining cast are equally as impressive. Again, it's impossible to call out to everyone, but there are certain actors who are especially deserving of praise. Vondie Curtis-Hall is an excellent choice for Ben Urich, the stalwart reporter for, in this version, the New York Bulletin. A wonderfully characterful actor, Curtis-Hall is a perfect choice for the old city boy who's seen and weathered it all. Bob Gunton is as watchable as ever as Leland “The Owl” Owlsley, wisely portrayed as a straightforward criminal type rather than the more outlandish supervillain of the later comics. He's a slippery one, if a little obtuse. Both Rosario Dawson and Ayelet Zurer are excellent in their roles, Claire Temple and Vanessa Marianna respectively. Although neither of character exists for anything other than their relationships with the show's hero and villain respectively, both are equally as well-rounded and three-dimensional as any of the characters. Claire Temple, integrated with the character of Night Nurse (a wise streamlining of concepts), in particular could do with more exploration, but given her character's links in the comics to other upcoming characters such as Luke Cage, I think it's a certainty we will see her again in the remaining Netflix. As for Vanessa, I doubt we shall see her until any second Daredevil series, which is a pity. Zurer's scenes with D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk are a highlight of the series, a complex, dangerous but believable relationship between two formidable individuals tied together by real love and affection.


Yes, Vincent D'Onofrio. His performance as the Kingpin is quite incredible, possibly the most remarkable performance in the series. While physically impressive, D'Onofrio does not have the gigantic stature that the comicbook character has, nor his previous screen incarnation as portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan. This doesn't matter in the slightest, however. D'Onofrio portrays the crimelord as man barely suppressing a furious rage, one that threatens to erupt with terrifying brutality at any moment. He is absolutely terrifying, but nonetheless, a hugely sympathetic and complex character. His refined exterior contrasts with his thuggish true face, yet there is real love there, for his mother, for Vanessa, for his right-hand man Wesley (albeit, in that case, an undeniable and distracting Burns/Smithers vibe). An astonishing meeting of fine writing and acting, Wilson Fisk is the standout character of Daredevil, more compelling even than the hero. He is, of course, the dark reflection of Matt Murdock, a man who puts on his own sort of disguise to remake the city in the image he sees fit. Both are trying to change Hell's Kitchen to something greater, but their methods and goals are at odds. Nonetheless, the two men become dangerously similar when pushed to extremes. Both are moulded by the hard lessons they learnt in childhood. There are fascinating parallels. The Kingpin has long been a favourite villain of mine, since his major role in the nineties Spider-Man cartoon series, but it's opposite Daredevil that he comes into his own. D'Onofrio's portrayal is the most powerful version ever, and I would be astonished if we have seen the last of him. Certainly, the actor himself is keen to return (he has shown particular enthusiasm for appearing opposite the new Spider-Man.

Daredevil is also visually accomplished, in a very different way to the glitz of Marvel's big screen outings. Elastic's beautiful, haunting title sequence sets the scene, introducing us a dingy, dirty city that nonetheless has a certain visceral beauty. Excellent cinematography by Matt Lloyd elevates the surroundings to a theatrical arena, the bold use of colour enhancing environments. Most impressive are the fight scenes, of which there are many. Although they are of course choreographed, they never feel like they are. The fights in Daredevil are tired, dirty and bloody. There's been a trend for screen fights in recent years to be more physical and believable than the dances of previous years, but Daredevil takes it to another level. There's one fight, at the end of the second episode, that simply blows all competition out of the water. Filmed in a single long take, imperceptibly switching between Cox and his stuntman, it's utterly, brutally, astonishing. No Hulk vs. Iron Man smash is going to top that for sheer impact.

The tying in of Daredevil into the MCU is handled especially well. While there's the occasional jokey reference which feels a little out of place, for the most part it is done with restraint and skill. The ruinous setting of Hell's Kitchen is an intrinsic part of the Daredevil story, but in reality, Hell's Kitchen no longer truly exists, having been greatly cleaned up and gentrified to become a fairly desirable neighbourhood they'd rather be known as Clinton. The writers of this series have used the so-called Battle of New York, the invasion and destruction that occurred in The Avengers, to reduce the area back to its decrepit roots. Beyond that, links are few and far between, with most comicbook characters included unique, thus far, to this series, and realistically portrayed. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the long run. There are still unanswered questions, most notably regarding Stick and the Japanese criminal organisation he turned up to fight (which I presume to be the Hand). Murdock will, at some point, fight as part of The Defenders against an unknown foe, and it would not be a surprise if he had some role in the great battle that will come at the end of the next phase of Marvel movies. Until then, there's the hope of another season of Daredevil itself. Matt, Foggy and Karen may have triumphed against injustice for now, but they've painted a very big Bullseye on their heads.



Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Perennial Miss Wildthyme

A new Iris Wildthyme anthology is now up for pre-order from Obverse books! Edited by the very talented Paul Dale Smith and featuring both new and trusted authors, The Perennial Miss Wildthyme is set to be released in hardback this autumn. Of course, earlier Iris Wildthyme volumes, including the previous volume Iris Wildthyme of Mars, are still available in paper and electronic formats.



Dwarf Planets


That's the first ever full colour photograph of dwarf planet Pluto and its major moon Charon. OK, it may not look like much, but it's a significant first. No spacecraft has ever been close enough to Pluto before to take a quality image, but now NASA's New Horizons space probe is closing in on the Plutonian system, snapping photos using its special long exposure colour imager (which is, charmingly, called Ralph). The resolution is low at the current distance, but even in this image we can see that Pluto has a brighter appearance than Charon, indicating different surface materials. The New Horizons team on Earth are now refining the image to make it clearer, and better, more detailed images will come as the probe gets closer to Pluto. As I write this, it's 89 days away from closest approach.



Meanwhile, NASA's Dawn spacecraft is in orbit around Ceres, the nearest of the dwarf planets, in the asteroid belt. Dawn is the first spacecraft to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet, and has been stable in orbit for around a month, since March 6th, although frustratingly much of that time it has been on the dark side of the orbit and unable to take photos. We do have some excellent images taken from its approach though. Above are two excellent monochrome shots of Ceres, half in shadow due to the position of the spacecraft relative to both the planetoid and the sun, while below is a composite colour image of the Cererean surface. This is not a true colour image, but is enhanced to show the diversity of surface features more clearly. From both images, we can see that the Cererean surface is heavily cratered and displays considerable variation. The bottom image shows several shots of the surface taken using an infrared mapping spectrometer, clearly showing the two mysterious bright spots on the surface of Ceres which are as yet unexplained and are provoking debate. It's an exciting time for space exploration. Makes up for that tragically disappointing solar eclipse.




Wednesday, 15 April 2015

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TOS 2-16 - 2-17

2.16) The Gamesters of Triskelion
or
Captain Kirk vs. Gladiators

The Mission: Check up on an automated station/track down the missing away team.

Planets visited:


Gamma 2: A barren, uninhabited planetoid that is the location of an unmanned communications and navigations station. In the remastered version it has a ring.

Triskelion: A planet in the treble star system M24-Alpha, 11.6 light years from Gamma 2. There was once a civilisation there, but now it's fallen into ruin.

Alien life forms:

The Providers: The remaining natives of Triskelion. There's only three of them left and they've been reduced to brains in jars. Very colourful brains in jars, at that. Once they had physical forms, and so on and so forth, heard it all before. Now they entertain themselves by betting their hard-earned quatloos on the thrall fights.

Drill thralls: Various humanoids captured from all over the Galaxy. They include: Shahna, a green-haired lady in a skimpy silver bikini who looks like Lady Gaga; Kloog, a big, hulking brute with tusks (who might be a Kalar from Rigel 7, as seen in “The Cage,); Lars, a statuesque rapist; Tamoon, a yellow-skinned tart with a manly voice; an Andorian and a black guy who gets used as training fodder. They're all controlled by Galt, a scary-ass wizard in an impressive collar. At the end of this, they win their right to self-government; which should be fairly straightforward, as there's only about twelve of them on the entire planet.

Captain James T: Sounds painfully bored at his check-up mission and genuinely cheers up when his transporter beam is zapped across space to Triskelion. His enthusiasm soon gives way to anger at the treatment of his crew (particularly Uhura) and the thralls. Kirk is such a charmer he manages to completley sway Shahna with some smooth-talking and a smooch – before punching her lights out. Shatner's performance reaches new levels of intensity in this episode.

Shirtless Kirk Alert: Practically the whole bloody episode.

Green-Blooded Hobgoblin: Completely dismissive of Scotty when he says there was no malfunction on his end when the transporter beam is zapped across space. He maintains a stolidly logical apraoch to searching for his lost crewmates and almost sounds excited at the discovery of an ion trail.

The Real McCoy: Loses his temper at Spock, but soon calms himself down.

United States of Africa: Having Uhura point out the parallels between the Providers activities and the slavery on Earth is a fine approach. There's also no way around it: Lars attempts to rape Uhura, albeit off screen. It's a really upsetting scene, nonetheless. Uhura remains strong throughout the episode, though, refusing to vicitmise fellow slaves. She's efinitely the best thing about the episode.

Tsar of all the Russias: He's a cocky little sod in this episode, until he comes face to face with his drill thrall – yellow woman Tamoon, who really fancies him.

Great Scott: Scotty gets riled up by Spock's calm approach and is egged on by McCoy, before Spock reminds him of his place.

Trivia facts: This episode was parodied in The Simpsons in the episode “Deep Space Homer,” where Homer fought Barney for quatloos. That was better sci-fi than this, too.

The Verdict: Trek at its campest and silliest, marred by excessive amounts of violence against women. It looks like this is trying to make some point about slavery and human bloodsports, but it's lost in all the daffiness. The final scene is incredibly corny.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Casting Call: X-Men Universe updates

Deadpool is coming! R-rated and set for February next year, this is looking good, with set photos and teasers already starting to appear, and Ryan Reynolds himself tweeting updates to keep fans interested. As well as this, casting updates are coming through for the next X-Men film proper, Apocalypse, expected May next year. Looks like X-fans of the nineties and noughties (like yours truly) are set to be entertained.

DEADPOOL

Brianna Hildebrand
Ellie Phimister/Negasonic Teenage Warhead


Not many people will recognise the name, but Negasonic Teenage Warhead is a favourite amonst certain fans. Created by Grant Morrison for his excellent New X-Men run in the early noughties, Ellie Phimister was one of the new generation of mutant students, a heavily made-up goth with exceptional powers of clairvoyance and precognition. While never a major character as such, she was significant, and managed to play an important role in ongoing developments despite dying twice. Her mutant name, as it happens, is cribbed from a song by Monster Magnet. Relative unknown Brianna Hildebrand is set to play NTW in the Deadpool movie.

T.J. Miller
Weasel

Weasel, whose real identity is, improbably, Jack Hammer, is Deadpool's best mate and long-suffering sidekick. He has no powers, but he is a genius, albeit a socially awkward one. He also went to the same school as Peter Parker and Jessica Jones, not that Fox will have the rights to make any reference to this. Still, nice bit of trivia. Deadpool and Weasel are quite often at loggerheads, including one period when Weasel was tasked to bring his comrade in while posing as superhero House. T.J. Miller is a stand-up comedian and actor, although his best known film role, in Cloverfield, was almost entirely off-camera. This will be his second stint as a Marvel character; he recently voiced Fred in the excellent animated feature Big Hero 6.



Morena Baccarin
Vanessa Carlysle/Copycat

The stunning and very bankable Morena Baccarin comes fresh off her stint on Gotham to join Reynolds on the short list of actors playing both Marvel and DC characters. Baccarin is set to be Deadpool's love interest (lucky girl?), Vanessa Carlysle, who comic fans will recognise as the mutant Copycat. A shapeshifter, not unlike Mystique, Copycat can adopt the form of her targets right down to the genetic level, so that she is able to duplicate their powers as well. She took the form of the X-Force agent Domino in her first appearance, and we later found out that she became a mercenary to escape a life of prostitution after she met and fell for Deadpool. Later, however, she was captured by the Weapon X facility and altered to become one of their agents. I would expect much of this to make the transition to the film, since it seems to fit with the overall plot of Weapon X victims and escapees. Of course, given her abilities, Baccarin may not actually be Carlysle's true appearance...

Ed Skrein
Ajax

The villain of the movie, Ajax, whose real name is know only to be Francis, is a mysterious and deadly individual was part of the Weapon X project. He experimented on numerous victims, taking pleasure in harming those he took exception to, most particularly Deadpool. Of course, in Deadpool's case, he's created an enemy who is virtually unkillable. Indeed, Ajax's attempted murder of Deadpool may be what costed him his sanity in the first place. A genetically and cybernetically enhanced agent, Ajax has the usual superhuman strength and endurance, plus superhuman speed and an incredible tolerance to pain due to having the bulk of his natural nervous system removed. He also has an intuitive capacity which allows him the edge in combat. Ed Skrein is an English rap musician who has segued into acting of late and looks to be on the brink of making it big in that field. He's best known as Anthony Walsh in The Tunnel but also appeared as Dario Naharis in the third season of Game of Thrones, before being recast in season four.

Unknown: 
Colossus/Piotr Rasputin

Joining Deadpool, Xavier, Magneto, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Moira McTaggart, Angel, Gambit and possibly Wolverine in the list of returning characters is Colossus, the powerfully built mutant with skin of steel. What we don't know, however, is who is playing him. Daniel Cudmore played the part as a student of the Xavier School in  X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, but he is not set to return for Deadpool.

X-MEN:APOCALYPSE

Ben Hardy 
Angel/Warren Worthington III


No surprise at seeing this character included in X-Men: Apocalypse. Warren Worthington was one of the five X-Men in Professor Xavier's original team, but didn't appear in the movie franchise until X-Men: The Last Stand, in which he was played by Ben Foster. Given that Apocalypse is set a good twenty years before The Last Stand, this might pose some continuity problems, but perhaps we're better off forgetting all that nonsense, especially as this is a fresh timeline and all. Angel was a significant part of the Apocalypse storyline in the comics, and the corresponding arc on the hugely popular 90s X-Men cartoon series. In this storyline, Warren loses his wings, and in his desperation, agrees to side with Apocalypse in return for a new pair. Apocalypse's genetic techniques cause Warren to grow a new pair of wings formed from a sort of semi-metallic material, and as a side effect, his skin turns blue. Changing his codename from Angel to Archangel, he becomes Apocalypse's Horseman of Death. Production art for both the feathered and metallic versions of Angel has been released. Ben Hardy, aged 25, is off Eastenders, but I shan't hold that against him.

Olivia Munn
Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke


Breaking news, this one. Olivia Munn's casting seems to be dividing people. As I can make outm, she's been in some poor productions but is generally regarded as a decent actress. Psylocke is one of the more popular and more powerful mutants in the X-Men roster, so seeing her join X-Men: Apocalypse is no huge shock. Her backstory is complicated, to say the least. Betsy Braddock is the sister of Brian Braddock, aka Captain Britain, and first appeared in his Marvel UK title in the seventies. She displayed powerful telepathic abilities, but fighting alongside Captain B. she was blinded.

In the eighties, she was brought into the X-Men franchise in The New Mutants, whereupon she received both bionic eyes and her codename, Psylocke. Her abilities increased, including teleportation and the manifestation of "psy-blades" - purple telepathic energy blades. Later, Psyclocke merged with her enemy, the ninja Kwannon, so that the modern Psylocke is actually in the body od a Japanese warrior. Also, she's died and come back to life, just like everyone else in Marvel. I think we can expect her backstory to be simplified quite drastically in the movie. I think we can count on three things: purple hair, purple psy-blades, and possibly a relationship with Angel (and American actress playing an Englishwoman and an English actor playing an American, of course). Psylocke has actually appeared in the film franchise before; Meiling Melancon portrayed a version of her in X-Men: The Last Stand, albeit in a minor fashion and without much in the way of Psylocke's characteristics.

Lana Condor
Jubilation Lee/Jubilee


Jubilee is the most nineties of X-Men characters, probably most famous for her major role in the animated series, so seeing her turn up in the eighties-set Apocalypse is going to be strange. Props though for casting an actual Asian American girl to play her. Lana Condor is so new to acting that IMDB have absolutely nothing on her except her height. She's clearly an actual teenager though, which is refreshing. Jubilee has the mutant ability to generate plasma streams, i.e. fireworks, making her an especially glam mutant. The character had entirely missable cameo appearances in the first two X-Men films, but it looks like she'll be a proper character this time round.



Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Television Heaven

A quick update regarding articles published on Television Heaven. I've just had my reviews of Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin and Pathfinders to Mars/Pathfinders to Venus published there. More to come soon (I am most shockingly behind my schedule for these). Links to all my articles and reviews below.

Pathfinders in Space
Pathfinders to Mars/Venus
Raumpatrouille Orion
The Quatermass Experiment
Quatermass 2
Quatermass and the Pit
Doctor Who: The Keys of Marinus
Doctor Who: The Time Meddler
Doctor Who: The Mind Robber
Doctor Who: The Daemons
Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks
Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin
Doctor Who: 2005-12 overview

Comics Round-Up (April 1)

Much Who. Some Marvel. Plus other bits. UPDATE: A couple more issues added on rather than start a whole other post.

Doctor Who: Eleventh Doctor #10 & Ninth Doctor #1 (Titan)
Doctor Who Magazine #485 (Panini)

Titan are now publishing four Doctor Who lines, one for each of Doctors Nine to Twelve; on top of that there's the UK reprint magazine, plus Panini's Doctor Who Magazine and the BBC's own Doctor Who Adventures. That's a lot of Doctor Who comics every month. DWM is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the modern series, so it's quite appropriate that Titan also mark the occasion with the debut of their Ninth Doctor series. "Weapons of Past Destruction" is by Cavan Scott and Blair Shedd, and is terribly good. Really, quite excellent, beyond the pleasure of seeing the Nine/Rose/Jack team back again after so long. Scott absolutely nails the ninth Doctor, and this story, dealing with the fallout of the Time War, is perfect for him. It's Nine's contradictory personality, that of the wounded veteran meeting the grinning northern thrillseeker. Shedd's artwork is just wonderful, perfectly recreating the actors but never becoming stilted or photo-realist. A very fine start to the run.

Out of the others, only the Eleventh Doctor series has interested me enough to carry on. Much of "The Other Doctor" is taken from elements tried and tested in the series proper - the female companion taking the role of the Doctor, the memory watch, the gigantic TARDIS, the power of stories - but is mixed together in a new and fascinating way. The Doctor has been corrupted, by his own good intentions, becoming a sort of corporate despot - an interesting inversion of what he eventually becomes at the end of this life. Far more convincing than any previous "evil Doctor" shenanigans.

DWM's "Blood and Ice" begins a new ongoing story, with the twelfth Doctor and Clara arriving in Antarctica. There's some interesting future history, as in, genuine extrapolation of historical fact to future consequences, and while this is very much setting the scene for the story, the final image is a doozy. It's a twist that's astonishing has taken this long to happen, and particularly that it's happened in the comics rather than on screen. A good month for Doctor Who comics.

The Amazing Spider-Man #17
Spider-Gwen #3 (Marvel)

Perfectly enjoyable installments in their respective series, but nothing spectacular. Dan Slott is perfectly good at writing Spider-Man, but perhaps it's for the best that there's a shake-up coming. Latour's Spider-Gwen is the better of the two, and I'm really loving Rodriguez's artwork, but this still isn't a stand-out issue; but then, they can't all be.

The Multiversity: Ultra Comics (DC)

The penultimate issue of Morrison's story, and the novelty is wearing out now. This is set on Earth Prime, roughly the real world, defending itself from the multiversal incursion by creating Ultra, a new version of the super hero Ultraa, created from the very stuff of comicbooks themselves. It's kind of fun to see Ultra face off against Ultraa and various other comic beings named Ultra-this and Ultra-that, but frankly the big problem with this comics is that it's nowhere near as clever as Morrison thinks it is. The time-looped narrative, the concept of a living meme - all interesting enough, but this is Morrison himself on the project: "It's the most advanced thing I've ever done. I'm so excited about this... It's a haunted comicbook, actually, it's the most frightening thing anyone will ever read. It's actually haunted - if you read this thing, you'll become possessed." Surely he doesn't actually believe that bollocks? It's also very hard to take the idea of a sentient comicbook seriously when there's an advert every three pages.

The Wicked + The Divine #9 (Image)

This looked like it was going to be a heavy exposition issue, the sort that mythologically complex stories need from time to time just to make sure that everyone's keeping up. Instead, it ends with a sucker punch reveal that I really, really should have seen coming but knocked me for six. The Pantheon is complete and I'm excited to see what happens next.

Spider-Woman #6 (Marvel)

Really loving this title now. Jessica Drew is a wonderfully bolshy, overconfident character, completely out of her depth running alone but determined to make it work. It's the sort of thing you usually expect from younger hero characters, and it's interesting to see a well-established character like Spider-Woman in a period of transition like this. Also, it's just generally a good fun story right now.

Saga #27 (Image)

An excellent issue. This is all character work, focusing on Marko and his conflicting ethics, his background, his romance with Alana and the difficult choices he has to make. however, unlike some issues, this kicks the narrative into a new direction. Both sets of characters - Marko/Prince Robot and Alana/Klara/The Brand - are now set on distinct paths that should, eventually, bring them back together. Explosively. I should wager.

Bring Back Bronto?

Hitting the science news pages this week is the proposal, by Emanuel Tschopp of Lisbon University and his team, that Brontosaurus be reconsidered as a valid taxon, independent of Apatosaurus.

The story of Brontosaurus, and how it no longer technically exists, is one of the most well-known palaeontological tales. Back in the late 19th century, the so-called Bone Wars raged between rival scientists hoping to make names for themselves in the developing field of palaeontology, particularly with regards to the Dinosauria. As part of this, numerous genera were discovered, but many were in fact duplicates - multiple specimens of the same genera, granted several names. In taxonomy, with some very rare exceptions, the names of taxons are given seniority by publication order. The great bone pioneer Othniel Charles Marsh discovered Apatosaurus ajax in 1877, only for him to rediscover it two years later from a slightly different fossil, which he named Brontosaurus excelsus. Neither specimen was complete, although the second fossil was quite substantial, and both lacked a head. Over time, analysis of the two specimens concluded that, in spite of some differences, they were similar enough to be considered part of the same genus, albeit granted separate species. Apatosaurus was named first, so it had priority, and so Brontosaurus excelsus became Apatosaurus excelsus.


A modern reconstruction of the Apatosaurus, showing Diplodocus-like skull and spines.


However, Brontosaurus is by far the superior name for a dinosaur, and it is not surprising that it caught on in a way that Apatosaurus never has. Aside from the simple sound of it, the meaning is far more stirring. Apatosaurus has the rather wishy-washy translation of "deceptive lizard," while Brontosaurus has the far more fitting meaning of "thunder lizard," as befits such a mighty beast. When mounting the second specimen at the American Museum of Natural History, Henry Fairfield Osborn labelled it Brontosaurus, perpetuating the name. Brontosaurus became a hugely famous dinosaur, appearing in many textbooks and popular media, in spite of the fact that, according to scientific consensus, it never technically existed. The lack of a skull also caused problems. The creature was far stockier than its close relative Diplodocus, and was reconstructed with a heavy, boxlike skull based on that of the more distantly-related sauropod Morosaurus (itself later recognised as a junior synonym of Camarasaurus). It was years before the correct skull was considered to be similar to the gracile, almost snakelike head of the Diplodocus. Over the years, three more species have been reliably assigned to Apatosaurus: A. louisae, A. parvus and A. yahnahpin.


An outdated reconstruction of the Brontosaurus


Nonethless, Brontosaurus, boxy head or no, has remained a hugely recognisable dinosaur, far more so than the correct name. It even maintains an influence in palaeontological circles. The genus Eobrontosaurus, meaning "dawn thunder lizard," was suggested as an ancestral form, but has itself been absorbed into Apatosaurus (and now Brontosaurus). The Diplodocoidea, the sauropod clade that contains the families most closely related to Apatosaurus, is often referred to as "the brontosaurs" by palaeontologists, purely colloquially. It's an evocative name, and everyone can imagine a brontosaur.

After all this time, however, Tschopp's team's analysis has suggested that there are indeed enough differences between A. ajax and A. excelsus that the latter be removed from the genus and reassigned to its own, resurrecting the name Brontosaurus for scientific use. A similar move occurred a number of years ago when the species Brachiosaurus brancai was removed from the genus and assigned to its own, Giraffatitan. Under the proposal, A. louisae remains, while the other two species are reassigned to become B. parvus and B. yahnahpin.

I remain on the fence; as I've stated before, I'm not keen on the tendency to split similar fossils into dozens of genera, when modern animals feature many species, often with major differences, in the same genus. As this article states, it's really an issue of semantics rather than science. Tschopp's paper is available here and does list a number of differences between the species, and exhaustive analysis that should be applauded. Wiipedia, while never the most reliable of sources, has already moved the species concerned to a new Brontosaurus article, which is a good indication of the direction popular opinion will go. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TOS 2.15

Oh, yes...

2.15) The Trouble with Tribbles
or
Captain Kirk vs. Fluff

The Mission: Protect a vital shipment of grain called quadrotriticale bound for colonists on Sherman's Planet, which will be ceded to either the Federation or the Klingon Empire depending on who manages it best.

Planets visited: None. The action takes place on Space Station K-7.

Captain James T: On great form here. I love how he's spoiling for a fight when he gets to K-7, and seems genuinely disappointed that the Klingons ahven't attacked and that he's just been called in to guard some grain. Once more, he's at odds with the local official, Mr Baris (William Schallert). He seems to be the only person who's never heard of quadrotriticale. He and the Klingon captain, Koloth, have crossed paths before.

Gree-Blooded Hobgoblin: For a logical Vulcan, he's really got the put-downs and quips nailed now. Deadpan delivery, of course. Whatever he claims, he likes tribbles.

The Real McCoy: Fascinated by the tribbles' biology. I've never seen him so excited without a woman nearby. He doesn't seem to know the difference between bisexual, asexual and hermaphroditic, though.

Tsar of all the Russias: Seriously has a complex about making Russia seem important. Given that he's on a fricking space station, you'd think a mention of Gagarin might be obvious, instead of making up shit about scotch being invented by “a little old lady in Leningrad.” Drinks wodka. Almost strikes a Klingon when he insults Kirk.


Great Scott: Thinks that vodka is a soda pop drink. He's very collected here, calming Chekov down when he's riled by Korax's insults.. until he insults the Enterprise, when he goes off on one and smacks the guy. Judging by his “no tribble at all” line, he has a very similar sense of humour to me. James Doohan did his own fight stunts.

United States of Africa: Uhura is a soft touch. It takes Cyrano Jones about three minutes to talk her into buying a tribble.

Alien life forms:

Klingons: Looking more like humans in light make-up than ever. So much so that it's really quite funny when the Deep Space Nine sequel mentions that their spy, Arne Darvin, must have had a good surgeon. All these Klingons need to pass as human is a quick shave. They hate tribbles (the feeling is mutual). They've poisoned the grain to disrupt the Federation's plans for Sherman's Planet. Klingons speak Klingonese.

Tribbles: Fuzzy balls of fluff that make pleasant chirrupping noises and everyone (except the Klingons) just thinks are so damned cute. They eat voraciously and reproduce extremely rapidly; they are self-fertilising hermaphrodites and are born pregnant. They have no teeth, so how they eat all that grain remains a mystery. They make excellent Klingon detectors.

Regulan bloodworms and Denebian Slime Devils: aren't very nice things to be called.

Future History: Sherman's Planet was discovered by astronomer John Burke, of the Royal Academy in “old Britain” in 2067. The planet's governance is decided on the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty (a nice bit of continuity with the previous Klingon episode, “Errand of Mercy”).

Trek Stars: Koloth is played by William Campbell, who previously played the alien Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos.” He's the cheekiest Klingon ever. Campbell returned to the role – in full Klingon make-up – in the Deep Space Nine episode “Blood Oath.” Stanley Adams is pretty fabulous as galactic rogue trader Cyrano Jones.

Cliché counter: Kirk rubs a bureaucrat up the wrong way. Chekov drops some nonsense about something being discovered by a Russian. There's a great big fight, comedy music every two minutes and it ends with a joke and a big laugh from the main cast. But at least this episode is actually funny, so it feels right for once.

Things to Come: This episode was popular enough to spark two sequels: “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” in the Animated Series, and “Trials and Tribble-ations” in Deep Space Nine, the latter being the 30th anniversary episode which brilliantly spliced the current cast into the original footage. Tribbles will show up as set dressing in Enterprise and several movies, up to and including Star Trek Into Darkness.


The Verdict: There's a reason this is a fan favourite. A Star Trek comedy that's genuinely funny, this is great fun from start to finish. The cast are basically parodying themselves throughout, but it's in keeping with the atmosphere of this great little story. Kirk buried under a mound of tribbles is a wonderful image. No wonder they chose this one to rework for the 30th anniversary. The should have snuck Sisko into the back of a shot when they were remastering it.