Tuesday 27 July 2010

Reviews in Time & Space: The Daleks

Taking a short break from my summer quest to see a large portion of the Doctor Who stories I've never seen, I decided to come back a visit an old favourite of mine and I'm sure many other peoples'....the Doctor's first encounter with a race that would become arguably as popular as the Doctor himself. Of course, it's none other than the Daleks.

Following on instantly from the events of An Unearthly Child, the Doctor and his companions find themselves on a faraway planet covered by a petrified jungle. After discovering a futuristic metal city on this dead planet, the Doctor purposely sabotages the TARDIS so they they have no choice but to investigate the city. But the Doctor gets more than he bargains for as they are thrust into the world of the Daleks and their enemies, the Thals. Now the Doctor and his companions must escape from the Daleks and help to end a war that has been waged for centuries, and brought the planet Skaro to its knees...

Fans of the new series be aware, the early adventures of the first Doctor (as portrayed by the late William Hartnell) are very different from the Doctor as portrayed by Eccleston, Tennant, Smith and even some of the later 'classic' Doctors. Here the Doctor is both rash and selfish, his determination to explore the city of the Daleks resulting in him and his companions not only becoming prisoners of the Daleks, but also being exposed to highly lethal amounts of radiation. These early companions are also very different, with both Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) not choosing to travel in time and space with the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan (Carol Ann Ford), instead essentially being kidnapped by the Doctor after they discover the TARDIS and the secrets behind Susan and her grandfather. While they initially seem at odds with each other (which makes for very good viewing, especially when coupled with the prior adventure), their ordeal with the Daleks brings them closer together as a group (or a family even) and is much closer to the usual dynamic between the Doctor and his companions. This character growth is evenly spread out among the 7 episodes of The Daleks, which in turn gives plenty of time for the story to progress at an even rate, looking at the horrors of nuclear war and demonstrating some of the Nazi-esque ideals Terry Nation used in creating the Daleks. It just further emphasises to me how the new Doctor Who series would benefit from more episodes per story, not only to bring back the cliffhanger format but also to make stories with potential (I'm looking at you Victory of the Daleks) not look like rushed messes.

The Daleks of this story are also very different from what they would become. Before a time where there were Dalek empires and Davros, before the Daleks had the ability to travel through time or even space there were these mark I Daleks, mutants trapped in their casings, unable to survive the nuclear fallout their war with the Thals had caused without them. Not only this, but they are also trapped within their own city, dependant on static electricity from the metal floors. These Daleks are far more vulnerable than they would become in the future, but this doesn't mean they aren't a threat. In fact, they are as equally, if not more so threatening then the fully fledged Dalek empires of the future. They may have obvious weaknesses - but they themselves know it, and this creates far less arrogant, more manipulative Daleks (a similar kind appeared in the excellent 1974 story Death to the Daleks). The original design makes these Daleks also feel a lot more alive and individual, each with their own distinct voice pitch and dilating iris in the eyestalk (a feature that was dropped when the Daleks first appeared in colour in 1972's Day of the Daleks and would not be returned to them until 2005's Dalek). Back then there was also the mystery of what exactly was inside the Dalek casing, a brief glimpse of the mutant only being seen at the conclusion of episode 3 'The Escape'.

As the DVD sleeve insert says, this is one of, if not the most important story in Doctor Who's extensive history, and that is no exaggeration. Without the popularity the Daleks brought to the series, Doctor Who may have been another flash in the pan BBC drama and it certainly wouldn't be famous for what it is today - the adventures of a time travelling alien battling monsters in time and space. When the series was originally commissioned the BBC's then Head of Drama Sydney Newman didn't want the series to fall into the generics of sci-fi strictly said "No Bug-Eyed Monsters (abbriviated to BEMs), and no tin robots." Six episodes into the series the Daleks were unleashed upon the world and, well, the rest is history. This story was not only the very first to be adapted into a novel, but also remade into a cinematic adventure starring Peter Cushing as Doctor Who (while admittedly this movie condensed the plot into a shadow of its former self, the Daleks have never looked better and therefore the two Cushing Dalek movies are particular favourites of mine).

The Daleks have been a staple of Doctor Who since the very beginning, being the only monster to have battled all 11 incarnations of the Doctor (8th Doctor Paul McGann has some excellent Dalek stories in both book and audio format). The series wouldn't be what it is today without them, so long may they continue to appear.

Monday 26 July 2010

Toybox REVIEW: Doctor Who Classics 'Silver Nemesis' Cyberleader and Cyberman

After a good few weeks of Daleks and 11 Doctor boxsets, its time to round up my current splurge on Doctor Who figures with 2 more additions to my Cyber army....the Cyberleader and Cyberman as seen in the 7th Doctor 1988 story Silver Nemesis. This set is particularly exciting as it is the first official release of a Classic Who Cyberleader. As the Cyberleader himself would put it, "EXCELLENT!"

First thing to mention would be that these figures lack the chrome finish on the helmet and chest pieces their TV counterparts do, and while this is a shame here they blend in a lot better with current Classic figures (I find chrome to be a bit of a hit or miss affair) and do have some other nice touches to offer in place of this. The sculpt is far more divergent from the earlier released Classic Earthshock Cyberman figure earlier released, so much that it does begin to feel a lot more like an entirely different sculpt altogether (some comparison pictures with the Earthshock version can be seen below). Both figures also include some very nice blue tinted piping on the chest area, which looks really good in certain lighting. Personally, I find this design to prove a far better figure than the Earthshock version.

Unfortunately the same can't be said for these Cybermen's weapon of choice. Admittedly this is more by way of design and accuracy to the TV version, but these Cyberguns are just plain awful. They are incredibly difficult for the Cybermen to hold, nigh impossible to pose in an aiming stance and not long enough for them to be stably held in both hands. The Earthshock weaponry beats this hands down.

So what does this mean for a rating? Well weapons aside these figures are fantastic and as far as I'm concerned worth the £24.99 price tag. However I will say that in reality these are really only for the hardcore Doctor Who fans and collectors. Casual collectors would be far better buying 2 Earthshock Cybermen (at around £7 each) and merely repainting the handlebars on one to create their own Cyberleader. Yes I said these figures feel different altogether to their Earthshock counterparts, but to casual collectors they'd not really feel that different. To summarise - great figures, but their place in your collection really depends on your stance as a collector.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Custom Figure: 2005 Emperor Guard Dalek

Since there are a few Daleks from seasons 1 to 4 of Dr Who I've given up hope of Character Options ever releasing, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. Using a cheap new series Dalek bought from B&M Bargains (if you're in the UK I recommend checking out your nearest one....cost me £3.99!) I went about creating a type of Dalek that made a very brief appearance in 2005's Parting of the Ways. The dome was painted using Citadel's Chaos Black paint, and the scanner arm appendage was made using the plunger arm (with the plunger cut off), a silver ball accessory from a Robot Wars figure, and paper clips and a key ring for the wire structure. Scratch-building isn't my greatest talent, but I like to think this came out okay.

Once my other NS Dalek arrives I'll be turning my attention to a far more ambitious project...

Sunday 11 July 2010

Toybox REVIEW: Doctor Who Dalek Ironside

After 4/5 years of great Dalek figures, this very likely is the last use of the RTD Dalek mould. We've seen a mutant reveal Dalek, a genetic hand print Dalek, the Cult of Skaro, Damaged Dalek Thay, an Assault Dalek, a Crucible Dalek, the Supreme One (and probably some I've forgotten to list!) but it all ends with this one....the Ironside.

And what a swan-song it is. From its army green colouring and British flag insignia to its canvas ammunition pouches - the Ironside is one hell of a good figure. The ammunition pouch isn't revmovable unfortunately, but the detailing more than makes up for it. Its at such a level it makes the 2010 New Paradigm Drone Dalek look cheap in comparison. After so many bronze (and now brightly coloured) Daleks its also nice to see the Ironside in a more dull and subdued colour - it reminds me a lot of the 70s grey Daleks from Genesis of the Daleks and such and it makes me wonder how the new series Daleks would have looked had they first appeared in more military colours.

It may be smaller and less colourful - but the Ironside in this reviewer's opinion is leaps and bounds better than what we've seen from the new Dalek toys so far and I'll be sad to stop seeing this kind of Dalek on shelves. Goodnight evil exterminator - you shall be missed.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Toybox REVIEW: Doctor Who New Paradigm Dalek Drone

My opinion of the new Dalek design wavers everyday - one day I'll think its a fantastic homage to the 1960s Peter Cushing Dalek movies and a great update to the classic design, others I'll criticise it for its lack of detail in comparison to its predecessors (the RTD era Daleks) and that it suffers from a significant hunchback. One thing I'm certain is that yellow and orange are awful colour choices, and red is also a bad choice for a standard Dalek drone. But whatever my opinions are, these are the Daleks we'll be seeing for the forseeable future so I'd better get used to it. That aside, let's have a look at what is the first of undoubtedly many uses of this mould to come.

There's not really a lot you can say about a Dalek figure - it has four points of articulation (head, eyestalk, gun, plunger) and has wheels. All of these are as good as they can be, although I'm disappointed that the eyestalk can still only move up and down (as it's now on a ball, I was hoping it would have 360 degree movement or at least go left to right). The sculpt itself, which less detailed than the RTD Daleks is excellent and extremely faithful to the design shown in the series. It even manages to make it look a lot less hunched back! Not only that, but you can really see how big the new Dalek design is - it towers over older Dalek figures and makes their weaponry look like peashooters! It's also a very nice shade of red.

Now I own a lot of Daleks (this is my 74th in fact), and while the drone is a really nice figure at the same time it feels like a bit of a let down. Maybe it's that I'm still sad that the Ironside will probably be the last we see of the RTD design (as a toy I will miss it), maybe it's that these new Daleks haven't fully settled in yet or maybe I just feel spoiled by the sheer amount of fantastic classic Daleks that have been released over the last few years. Whatever it is, it's definitely missing something. That something could, however, be it's colourful brothers....

Monday 5 July 2010

Anime REVIEW: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

The original Fullmetal Alchemist series is a classic. Check any well written "top 10/20/50/100" anime lists and you'd be hard pressed not to find one that doesn't include it somewhere near the top spot. And it's place is rightly deserved - the tale of two brothers travelling to regain their bodies after learning the fatal mistakes of trying to resurrect the dead was a fantastic 51 episode series full of action, suspense, adventure and fantastic characters. Pretty much everything an anime needs to be a masterpiece. So when it was announced that a new series was planned, one that would be following the manga storyline, while I was excited I was hesistant to believe that it would live up to the legacy the original had left. Enter Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood...

The bare bones of the plot is exactly the same as its predecessor - brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric lose their bodies (or parts of) in an attempt to resurrect their dead mother through the science of alchemy. Even the first 15 episodes of the series follow the same plot to the original (but with a lot less filler - Brotherhood covers events in about 15 episodes that the original took 25 on). But after that the similarities are gone - Brotherhood may have the same characters and themes as the original, but this is a whole new beast.

Gone are the parallel world themes, as is main villain Dante. The Homunculi Sloth and Wrath are also gone and Pride (King Bradley) becomes Wrath. Rose becomes a side character that has little to no impact on the plot whatsoever. In their place come a whole hoard of new characters including Major Armstrong's sister Olivia and the Briggs soldiers, Lin/Greed II (by far the best character in any Fullmetal Alchemist continuity), Lan Fan, Princess Mei and new villains Sloth, Pride (one of, if not the best villain I've seen in an anime) and new big bad Father - the original Homunculi. Characters like Hohenheim, Dr Marcoh and Kimblee become far more fleshed out and actually engaging and/or likeable as characters. And most importantly - all you characters you came to love from the original series are still here and as good as ever. In a way, it feels like they never left.

The art is better, the writing is better, the ending is better and far more satisfying (no more silly WW2 ending). Everything is just....well, better. Brotherhood is what Fullmetal Alchemist is supposed to be and everything just fits into place from there. The series managed to keep the plot advancing episode by episode without any sort of filler - and that's rather impressive for a 64 episode series. I don't feel like I'm exaggerating at all when I say compared to Brotherhood the original Fullmetal Alchemist feels like just your run-of-the-mill average anime series. It really is that much better (this word seems to be appearing a lot in the review).

This is the first anime series I've watched week after week as new episodes have aired, and I was never disappointed, it's been 64 weeks of pure joy. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, it's been an absolute pleasure and you will be sorely missed. I just hope that future reviews/lists will acknowledge you as, while perhaps not as groundbreaking, vastly superior to your predecessor.