31 May 2015

Bearchow 2015 - US upfronts

No long post this year: just some quick points.

  • The Cancellation Bear had an above average number of misses this year, I believe.
  • Revenge should have been axed last year, but economics always meant it would get a fourth season.
  • CSI's treatment by CBS (graveyard slot, order cut, sticking out the finale against NBC's 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live show) made it clear that it was for the chopping block. The two hour movie to wrap the show up is the least the network can do for a franchise that has made it billions. CSI: Cyber has taken its graveyard slot and will probably get axed next year as well.
  • Person of Interest was always likely to be renewed; what was the surprise was the order for only 13 episodes for Season 5, which now means the Machine is generating itself as in danger of a violent death.
  • Castle (which we didn't even see here until May) has peaked in terms of ratings, is now on its way down and probably won't be around for too much longer, regardless of ABC comments to the contrary. The apparent 13 ep order seems to confirm problems - there were major issues getting the leads signed up for Season 8.
  • Agents of SHIELD's performance means I don't have to write anything about Whedon's lack of success in network television, but I doubt it goes beyond four seasons.
  • The Mindy Project getting axed after three seasons (although it was picked up by Hulu for tow more) broke a seven-year trend of "a third getting you a fourth". Fans of a number of shows, especially Agents of SHIELD, will be a bit more nervous next season.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine was renewed early; it's a great show.
  • NCIS has dropped from its Season 10 peak a great deal, but is still a strong performer. I wouldn't rule out a ratings stunt involving Cote de Pablo at some point in the next couple of seasons.
  • Empire wasn't just a juggernaut, it was a full-blown Death Star for FOX. Unfortunately the rest of their line up didn't do that well.
  • Minority Report looks interesting, but I can't help thinking that it's covering areas already done by Person of Interest

... and the Orion Slave Girls are green (Review: 'Star Trek 1.12': "The Menagerie: Part II")

Before I start, I really want to say something about Alexander Courage's theme music. The opening four notes (Ding... Ding... Ding... Ding...) are some of the most recognisable in science fiction and combined with Shatner's narration make a great opening.

Yep, this is definitely stuff from "The Cage", I'm certain of it. In the second part of this story, after an excellent recap delivered via the captain's log device this show made famous, the ship continues heading towards Talos IV, a world of big-headed aliens with the ability to cast very convincing illusions and with a decent sense of humour (there's a great bit at the beginning where they chastise Pike's "primitive reactions"). They want Captain Pike for breeding purposes... not with them, but... no I won't spoil it.

Nearly of this episode consists of the 'flashbacks' to Talos IV and the similarities between Pike and Kirk are clear to see. Both in fact are in a line of square-jawed heroes going back past Dan Dare and probably into the 19th century, while going forward into the 21st (Captain Jack Harkness is one of these); Kirk's version of it is so memorable (mainly because of Shatner's excellent portrayal) that many go for parody because they can't hope to top it.

Via the illusions we get a rather entertaining fight between Pike (along with Generic Princess in Distress) and a barbarian with a big fur hat, as well as bad teeth. Not content with the odd knife in the back, Pike ends up giving him one in the front as well!

Another of the illusions is one of the most famous characters in Star Trek - the Orion Slave Girl, who's been popping up in the closing credits for a while now. I sense William Theiss was involved somewhere... and I wonder how long it took to apply all the green make-up! It's a much spoofed scene, although the original isn't all that good, IMHO[1].

Overall, it's clear from watching the 'pilot' that there's a good many problems. Pike is too stoic and reserved; it's like Cary Grant (who retired from acting in this year) or Jimmy Stewart got command of a starship. The method of solving the main problem just isn't Star Trek to me. Few of the planned regulars really stand out at all... and I'm sure that the execs weren't too keen on the female uniforms.

The twist at the end is quite nice and there's a lovely scene between Kirk and Spock at the end.

To be honest, I was really rather bored with this by the end. There's some good ideas, but the execution was lacking and I can see why Desilu went for a major revamp for the main series.

As I was watching this on 29 May, I noticed a message on my watchlist saying that the content expired in 2 days. I took that as meaning that Amazon's deal with CBS expires on the 31st; a similar message also appeared against Community, also owned by CBS/Paramount, IIRC. If a new deal is signed, I'll carry on watching via Amazon Prime, if not by the end of June, I'll have to fork out for the DVD.

I'm not done with this voyage yet by a long chalk.

[1]As a side note, a good few years ago, CSI did an episode involving a murder at a convention, which featured Hodges holding his phone communicator-style and saying "He's dead, Jim" to lead detective Captain Brass, then followed up with some fantasy sequences featuring the lab staff apeing various Trek character, including Wendy Simms as said slave girl.

As a second side note, there is an episode of Castle set in a convention which also does some TOS spoofing, including Kate Beckett delivering one truly epic prank.

27 May 2015

'Fringe' 1.6, "The Cure"

Yes, I know it's been nearly ten months since I last watched this, but a lot of things came up. However, with most of my US shows having nearly wrapped up, I hope to watch some more of this series. Mind you, it's going to need to be better than this episode.

A woman is thrown out of a white van in the middle of a street by a guy in a hazmat suit. She goes into a nearby dinner, where she ends up making everybody bleed from the eyes before her head explodes. It's a rather grisly episode again, although the actual head exploding bits are not shown, as this isn't HBO (I couldn't bear to look at one particular scene in Game of Thrones).

Thus the FBI are called in and the team have to locate another missing woman before the same thing happens to her. There's a pharmaceutical company boss who is clearly evil because of his facial hair, an interesting deal with Massive Dynamic, who are shaping up to be big player and a scene involving radioactivity that made my willing suspension of disbelief fail. A lot of the episode feels a bit padded out to me and I'm not sure why this is a 48-minute format; did it air that way?

Olivia gets some character development (although that pesky accent issue rises again) including a great speech on how being guided by emotions is not necessarily a bad thing - and how it's generally a sexist comment levelled by men against women. Walter is again superb; clearly on a higher and different mental track then everyone else, although the negative social consequences of it are also clear to see. Peter Bishop acts as a Baby Bear between the two polar opposites of Olivia and Walter.

One final point: if you're going to do an armed raid on a place, isn't it a good idea to have an ambulance ready and waiting outside?


I was clock-watching for a good part of this episode, which did rather drag out. There were some good bits, definitely, but this is a mediocre episode.


26 May 2015

Analysis of a surprise victory - General Election 2015 analysis

I have to admit I was very surprised when the exit poll put the Tories just shy of a majority... and rather unhappy when they actually won one.

Looking back at it, however, their victory was pretty obvious. Thus follows a quick rundown of what I feel are the key factors in their victory.

This poll comes in very handy for looking in more depth.

Why the Conservatives won
  1. The economy: Unemployment is falling, wages are catching up with prices. Many people are expecting the economic recovery, slow as it is, to reach them. When I have to answer the question "Am I better off than I am five years ago?" with a "yes", it's clear that the circumstances for a change of government aren't reached.
  2. Avoidance of major scandals: "Plebgate" was relatively small fry, phone-hacking certainly didn't impact the PM directly and the expenses issue was dealt with in the last Parliament.
  3. Solid media support. Nearly all of the papers supported the Conservatives and constantly ran stories against Labour; I've seen one study that it was even more negative than 1992.
  4. The over-55 vote. The Tories still have very strong support (almost 50% in fact) among this age group. Bigger concern for the future is what happens when the post-war baby boomers pass away.
  5. The SNP. Despite not standing in any non-Scottish seat, fear of having the SNP control a Labour government influenced many floating voters to back the Tories.
  6. David Cameron has been a competent Prime Minister and only made one major gaffe in the whole campaign on food banks.

Why Labour lost
  1. The economy: Labour never held a lead on this matter and wasn't trusted by the electorate (fairly or not) after the recession on the matter. The next leader will need to address this in a big way without isolating the core vote in the process.
  2. The Green Party: Took away a good deal of the left-wing vote - enough in some of the key marginals to make the difference between victory and defeat. Something important for campaigning next time is to say "Vote Green, get Tory".
  3. It wasn't left wing enough for Scotland... and its organisation there in the last few years has been abysmal.
  4. It was too left wing for Middle England: the party was not trusted on the EU (we should have backed a referendum) and immigration. There is also a potential white working class issue in the North that needs to be addressed. If you add up "right-wing" versus "left-wing", the former got 50.5% of the UK-wide vote.
  5. Ed Miliband. While he won the 'short campaign', he was never preferred by many to David Cameron, being seen as awkward and un-Prime Ministerial. Mind you, none of the other 2010 leadership contestants would have faired too much better - David Miliband was even more associated with the Blair government for example. The "Ed stone" was a stupid mistake, but one of few in the last stages.

UKIP, the Lib Dems etc.

  1. The electoral system basically limited UKIP to one seat; had we had PR, they'd have probably got more votes. As such some of their support probably voted Tory to keep Labour out. Regardless of referendum result, the EU will be a far smaller issue next time - I think.
  2. The SNP's support surged after the referendum and they were able to hold onto it; in fact increase it. This may be a high-water mark for them; it may not.
  3. The Lib Dems paid a heavy price for not blocking the Tories enough while in government - and the tuition fees move killed them among students. I dread to think what the next lot of council elections will be like for them. The Alliance Party in Northern Ireland may have lost by association, but I can't be sure of that.
  4. Plaid Cymru had an unimpressive campaign and stayed where they were.
  5. Interesting to see the revival of the Ulster Unionists; now back to two seats. Possible resurgence of moderate unionism?
Further thoughts
  1. 37% and a majority of essentially 15 aren't huge wins; the Tories may have a tough time with rebels.
  2. Labour doesn't need to win an overall majority next time; it just needs largest party, something it can do with only a 50 seat gain.
  3. Labour's got a better membership base now and we can work with that.
  4. The economy may crash before 2020 but it may not. We can't rely on it.
  5. We've got to court the Murdoch press, as unpleasant as that will be. 

Eurovision 2015

I chose not to watch it this year; I just wasn't bothered. I see that we came nowhere near winning and only got four points.

I don't think it's something I'd want the UK to win at any time soon. If we did, we'd have to host it and with the BBC likely to enter some seriously dire financial straits in the next few years after the Royal Charter review, it's an expense it can ill-afford.

24 May 2015

All the leaves are blue... (Review: 'Star Trek 1.11': "The Menagerie: Part I")

The ship is summoned to Starbase 11, where the ship's former captain, one Christopher Pike, is being looked after following serious radiation exposure that has confined him to a Davros-style wheelchair and being only able of communicating via a blinking light. Spock, who had served under him previously, then proceeds to seemingly abandon all good sense, taking Captain Pike and essentially hijacking the ship for a journey to Talos IV.

And the risks are high; Talos IV is off limits by Starfleet order... on pain of death...

The guest cast budget for this episode, the first of a two-parter, must have been high indeed; a quick guess... maybe 30 plus extras? Then again, see my comment below. Well, they weren't filming in location; the old painted backdrops get frequent appearance, although at least the set designers are good enough to not to have a completely flat floor.

Spock demonstrates some real cunning here through his actions to assume command of the ship, including falsifying orders (including edited voice recordings) and also some use of the Vulcan nerve pinch.

However, Kirk again demonstrates why he is the boss, chasing after Spock in a shuttle, deliberately going beyond his fuel limits and forcing Spock to pick him up, along with Starbase 11's CO. Spock then surrenders without a fight.

The second half of the episode then sees Spock's court martial, the debut of some very fancy dress uniforms and as his mitigation, Spock introducing what is basically a flashback sequence as his evidence, namely his previous visit with Pike's crew to Talos IV thirteen years earlier (complete with heavily redressed ship), a planet seemingly home to a shipwrecked Earth expedition, a good number of blue leaves and aliens with big heads of the sort that have been aped considerably since, including in Mars Attacks! among other works.

What is good is the fact that this evidence is displayed on screen... but there seems to be an IC explanation for why it looks like a TV drama. However, we seem to get a lot of unnecessary stuff, including a scene with Pike and the then ship's doctor. My OOC guess... and I'm going to hold off on looking this up (although a quick look for "big headed aliens" suggests I'm right)... is that we're seeing an awful lot of the material from "The Cage", the unbroadcast pilot.

The cliffhanger is interesting with a further twist; it's less of a "dun dun dun!" and more of the sort that ends the first half of a play.


While I'm intrigued as to how this is going to be resolved in the second part, the extended flashback sequences were not really needed or could at least have been seriously trimmed down.


20 May 2015

Reviving Covert-81

You may be interested to know that my Cold War spy sim, Covert-81, is hopefully going to be revived at Phoenix Roleplaying after the site acquired AJJE Games and its associated intellectual property.

My original post on the matter can be found here. If you wish to sign up, the proposal thread is here.

09 May 2015

Seriously, was this episode made on drugs? (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.10, "The Corbomite Maneuver")

I have to begin this review with the sad news of the death of Grace Lee Whitney, aka Yeoman Rand, at 85. While Rand's role in the series isn't that big, she certainly adds enjoyment to every scene she appears in, with this episode featuring a great one involving Kirk getting an unexpected dinner.

Rest in Peace.

The late 1960s were known for, well, drugs. Lysergic acid diethylamide, aka LSD, no longer patented at this time and not yet criminalised in most countries, is well known for its psychedelic effects. After watching this episode, I'm wondering whether this played any part in writing this episode. A quick Google search revealed one unsourced Reddit post on the matter and Roddenberry's ashes going into space with one Timothy Leary (him who popularised "Turn on, tune in, drop out").

This episode sees the Enterprise, while exploring an uncharted region of space, accosted by a radiation emitting spinning Rubik's Cube-esque object (the Cube, arguably the best thing to come out of communist Hungary, had to yet to be invented). Once they destroy it (the first use of ship weapons in the franchise), they're stopped by some strange sphere in space that wants to destroy them for trespassing... and is operated by a reject from the Blue Man Group.

There's another twist, but I won't say any more bar than I think Roddenberry was on something... So, I'll cover some other points in more depth:
  • Kirk is again superb in this one; demonstrating a tactical master stroke in how to bluff on nothing. Also, he gets his shirt off yet again, to the point of wandering the corridors without it on. At least he doesn't do so on the bridge!
  • Much of this episode revolves around a guest crewman, one Ensign Bailey. Definitely a novice; it was probably a good thing we don't see him again.
  • Spock has some great lines; Vulcans do seem to have a sense of humour, that's for sure.
  • We get to see some good old "Starship Acting" on several occasions in this one; i.e. the ship gets hit and the crew throw themselves in an exaggerated manner around the room, sometimes not all in the same direction...
  • Why is Uhura wearing gold? She should be wearing red.
    • My research says this was produced third (i.e. the first ep after the two pilots) and ended up airing tenth.
    • I also note that I'm watching a remastered version with improved effects, so not everything is as was in the 1960s.


A very, very weird episode, but nonetheless very enjoyable. One wonders if it would be even better stoned.


08 May 2015

VE Day - 70 years on

As the UK deals with the election result, let us pause to remember those whose sacrifice made this election - and elections in many other nations - possible by defending our freedom.

Many of those who fought in that war will go to their rest in the next few years; it is our duty to ensure that what they experienced is not forgotten.

Because if we do, we may find ourselves having to fight for our freedom again.

Election results 2015

It's fair to say that I'm very disappointed in the results of the election. I never thought I'd see the Conservatives do as well as they did, with an overall majority, albeit a small one, now projected.

Ed Miliband should step down and we need to have a long look at what went wrong. We did run a very good campaign, but it clearly wasn't good enough. Were we too left wing? Were we not left wing enough? Were we both? Was it the economy what swung it? Something that needs some serious focus grouping. We are facing serious challenges to our support from both the Greens and UKIP in England; I don't need to mention the SNP.

Small consolations were Galloway losing in Bradford West, Labour actually making a small gain on vote share from 2010 and our London performance. Also, the completely unexpected near total wipe-out of the Lib Dems.

David Cameron is in for possibly the next five years; it's entirely possible that he might get ousted before then, but don't count on it.

Instead, the left needs to focus on winning councils in 2016 (including London's Mayoralty) and use all our legal influence to mitigate the damage Tory policies will do to the disadvantaged in this country.

I'll do a fuller analysis in a couple of weeks once the dust has settled.

06 May 2015

General Election 2015 - Final call

  • Conservatives narrowly win popular vote, but don't exceed 35% or 290 seats.
  • Labour just get most seats.
  • Lib Dems end up under 25 seats, but Nick Clegg hangs on.
  • SNP win over 50 seats in Scotland, but don't get a clean sweep.
  • Farage loses narrowly in Thanet South.
  • No easily viable government emerges.
  • We have another election by this time next year.

02 May 2015

Second World War post delayed

Due to lack of time on my part with the General Election, I'm planning to put my post on the neutral nations of the Second World War back to the summer; closer to the anniversary of VJ Day. I intend to make this a more global affair covering the major neutrals around the world.