content by

Alasdair Stuart

Star Trek Has the Best Credit Sequences in All of SciFi Television

I am an easy mark for a good credits sequence. “Good” doesn’t necessarily mean long, either—Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s exuberant twenty-second sprint tells you everything you need to know, while (in the UK, at least) Law and Order’s Rob Dougan-scored doom grimly trudges toward the same end. Then there’s the dozens of different versions of the Doctor Who theme, not the least of which is the Twelfth Doctor’s epic rock guitar take on his own theme music. Much like the Nerf Herder intro to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s a perfect summation of the show, and (also like the Buffy theme) it’s a strong contender for best TV theme music, and credit sequence, ever.

But Star Trek is the all-time champion. Across all six live action iterations of the show, the credits and theme music have done an amazing job of encapsulating the shows’ spirit and scope.

[Excitement! Adventure!]

Five B-List Movie Monsters Who Deserve a Bigger Following

The Predator stalks onto big screens this week. Either the third or sixth (depending on if you count the Alien vs. Predator pay-per-view fights) sequel to the surprisingly deep (and also very explosion-filled) original movie, this latest outing shows just what an enduring presence the eponymous Predator is in modern monsterdom. The Predator species, like the Alien franchise’s Xenomorphs, have stalked our screens for decades now—but they haven’t done so alone. There are other movie monsters that are just as smart, creepy, and potentially iconic…and yet somehow they never quite hit the same heights of stardom. Some, as we’ll see, spawned multiple sequels but none have ever quite found the audience they deserve. But they’re still out there, waiting, working up an appetite for chaos and destruction…

So let’s go say hi, shall we?

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Three Recent Time Loop Episodes That Are Instant Classics

Hi—my name is Alasdair, and I love time loop episodes. When done right, they’re a brilliantly efficient piece of storytelling, using the repetition of events and the accretion of knowledge to not only show us more about the characters but often give the writers a chance to have a little fun (and maybe let the production office save a little money). For years, my platonic ideals of this story have been “Cause and Effect” from Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Window of Opportunity” from Stargate SG-1. The former has the best pre-credit sequence ever (Ship explodes! Everyone dies! Cue the music!). The latter has O’Neill and Teal’c trapped in a loop which leads to wormhole golf, a magnificently terrible yellow sweatshirt, and a moment that made fans of a certain ship gleefully punch the air.

Both are immensely fun hours of TV, and recently they’ve been joined among my favorite time loop episodes by three more excellent examples of the form at its absolute best. Here they are:

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The Ten Best Episodes of Torchwood, Ever

The great thing about Doctor Who is how much of it there is to watch. The bad thing about Doctor Who is just how MUCH of it there is to watch, especially when you factor in the various spin-offs. Far and away the oddest of those is Torchwood. Set in the Cardiff headquarters of the organisation introduced in “Army of Ghosts” during the Tenth Doctor’s run, the series followed a team led by Captain Jack Harkness including newly recruited police officer Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), intuitively brilliant scientist Toshiko Sato (Naomi Mori), softly spoken butler and badass Ianto Jones, laddish doctor Owen Harper (Burn Gorman), with Gwen’s fiancé Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) and her former partner PC Andy Davidson (Tom Price) rounding out the main cast.

Torchwood was WEIRD. Pretty much in every way. The unlikely collision between the cheerfully grumpy pragmatism of Cardiff and alien life was brilliant, the cast was always impressive and, on occasion, the scripts were incredible. On others, well…not so much. The show has been streaming on Twitch recently and is also available on Amazon Video and physical discs. A lot of it… isn’t great. At all. But the stuff that’s good is really worth your time. Here are the ten standouts for me.

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Breathes New Life into the Franchise

There are few movie series that embody their tag line more than Jurassic Park. “Life finds a way” perfectly describes a franchise that opened with an all-time classic and followed it up with the worst movie Steven Spielberg has ever directed and a fun third entry that still somehow managed to reduce Tea Leoni to a shrieking peril klaxon. Even Jurassic World, which should have been a slam dunk, managed to stumble into some weird evolutionary dead ends: Claire running through the jungle in high heels. Owen being a just staggeringly unlikable leading man. The weird, violent glee it took in killing Katie McGrath’s character, Zara. For every evolutionary step forward, Jurassic World took two back. But it still landed well enough to get a sequel. Life still found a way.

And the good news is that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is far better than at least two of its predecessors, and may just be the second best movie in the franchise. There’s still a precipitous drop off between the original Jurassic Park and that number two slot but Fallen Kingdom makes a strong play for it, and breaks surprising new ground in the process…

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The Best Episodes of New Doctor Who So Far

Doctor Who returns! Twice! Sort of! The entire run of the original series (at least, all of the show that still exists) is currently streaming on Twitch, while the 2005-and-onward run of Nu-Who is available on Amazon Prime and has just returned to BBC iPlayer here in the U.K. in preparation for the arrival of the Thirteenth Doctor later this year.

That’s a hell of a lot of TV to enjoy and obsess over, but it’s also an opportunity to revisit some great episodes that have too often been overlooked, even by the rabid fandom surrounding the newer seasons. So, here’s my list—covering one episode per each season or so—of the episodes of post-relaunch, 2000s-era Doctor Who that may not make most Top Tens, but remain far more interesting and fun than they’ve been given credit for.

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Playing Favorites with the Clarke Award Shortlists, 1987-2018

The fiction featured in this year’s Clarke Award shortlist spans everything from the second American Civil War to a post-apocalyptic fable set in the ruins of a sub-genre. It’s a brilliant collection of novels that’s also indicative of the award’s past choices, too. For over three decades, the Clarke has focused on the frontiers of the genre and—especially if you look at each year’s shortlists as well as the winners—it’s basically an honour roll representing some of the absolute best SF published since 1987. I recently took a look at the complete lists, and would like to highlight just a few of my favorites…

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Don’t Underestimate the Genius of “The Deep” on This Year’s Hugo Ballot

Clipping (often styled as clipping.) are Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes. After starting out as a remix project, they’ve evolved into an experimental, industrial rap act that combines a vast enthusiasm for their field and what happens at its edges with Diggs’ fiercely literate, playful lyrics. If you like and are familiar with rap, picture the centre of a Venn diagram where the overlapping circles are labelled “De La Soul,” “Michael Franti,” “A Tribe Called Quest,” “Dr. Dre’s production style,” and “The Bomb Squad.” If you don’t like or aren’t particularly familiar with rap, then the Venn diagram reads something like “Nine Inch Nails,” “Stockhausen,” “Gil Scott-Heron,” and “early Leftfield.” Their work is massive and precise, compassionate and architectural—at times intensely funny, and at others deeply horrific. They are, by far, one of the best things happening not just in rap but in music at the moment.

The fact that Clipping been nominated for a Hugo for two years running speaks to that. Last year’s science fiction concept album, Splendor & Misery was nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form. This year, their song, “The Deep,” has followed it.

This is fantastic news, not just for the group, but for the Hugos.

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Announcing the 2018 Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2018 Clarke Award has just been announced. The Clarke is awarded to the best science fiction novel of the year and selected from a list of novels whose UK first edition was published in the previous calendar year. The judges for the award change every year, and this year’s panel includes:

  • Dave Hutchinson, British Science Fiction Association
  • Gaie Sebold, British Science Fiction Association
  • Paul March-Russell, Science Fiction Foundation
  • Kari Maund, Science Fiction Foundation
  • Charles Christian, SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival

It’s an exciting list, in terms of variety—including three debuts and a range of novels that cover a wide slice of contemporary science fiction. Here are the details.

[Read the full shortlist…]

Expanding the Arrowverse: The Evolution of the TV Superhero

We’re in the home stretch for this season’s run of DC live action TV shows right now. Legends of Tomorrow recently wrapped up with a magnificent, over-caffeinated hour of maniacal invention while Black Lightning’s finale brought everything full circle back to the Pierce family and their future. Elsewhere, Supergirl is starting in on the back end of the season, The Flash has two episodes to go and has rarely been better than it is right now, and Arrow is finally course-correcting after a dismally uneven year.

So: Five core TV shows, not counting the various animated spinoffs, all from the same production house and all dealing with DC characters. Each one is successful, each one is popular, and each one, when laid out in chronological order of release shows us something fascinating. It shows us that, despite the endless, interminable claims that superhero TV is all the same, in reality, it’s a medium that is evolving at an increasingly rapid rate.

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11 Weird Moments We (Probably) Won’t See in Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War is upon us. King T’Challa, the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man and the rest are coming together to face the greatest threat their universe has ever known; Thanos. Teased for years, the universe’s angriest purple man is finally here and he’s bringing doom with him.

The thing is though, he’s been here before and it got WEIRD. Avengers: Infinity War is adapted from Marvel Comics’ classic mini-series The Infinity Gauntlet. Over six issues, we watched as Thanos took over the universe and eradicated half of all life with a click of his fingers. Then: things got really complicated. Infinity Gauntlet is an acknowledged classic of modern western comics but what isn’t acknowledged is just how weird the whole event is. That means that some of the best flourishes and beats may not make it into the movie (or even into whatever Avengers 4 is).

So here, for your reading pleasure, are some of The Infinity Gauntlet’s best, and weirdest, parts. Spoilers for the comic mini-series ahead!

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The Walking Dead Rises Again, Against All Expectations

The last piece I wrote about the show was called “Is There Still Hope For The Walking Dead?” The temptation to title this one “…Yep.” was almost overwhelming.

It’s becoming almost a tradition to take a long look back at all the things The Walking Dead screws up in every season because, like any long running show, it does screw up an awful lot. The pacing is glacial, and the increasingly vast cast of characters is only well served by the plot and script about a third of the time. The show’s overt fondness for grimdark spectacle and repetition of narrative cycles (it’s Rick’s darkest hour, again!) is now built in irrevocably to every new season. And let’s not forget how many immensely troublesome child characters the show has featured—or the arbitrary, even controversial, removal of one of its longest-serving cast members earlier in the season. Every single one of these faults was front and center through Season 8. Every single one of these faults damaged the show. Most of them have damaged the show before, and I’m pretty certain a lot of them will do so again.

But…as the eighth season closes, The Walking Dead has done three impossible things. At least two of them have worked—and all of them have ensured the show will never be the same again.

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Duncan Jones’ Moon Is Still a 21st-century Classic

Mute, Duncan Jones’ long-awaited follow-up to Moon, hit Netflix last month, after a lengthy incubation period. It’s part of Netflix’s current trend of producing and/or acquiring somewhat esoteric genre movies, a trend which began with Bright and continued with The Cloverfield Paradox and Annihilation, up through imminent releases like The Titan. Often these releases are intended for overseas audiences, sometimes global, but the process is ongoing and has so far given us a wide slate of films that have varied from frequently great (Annihilation) to ones that seem to be setting up a far better sequel (Bright).

Mute is something of the middle child in all this, and its reviews have reflected that. Slammed for being an unusual combination of cyberpunk and film noir, as well as for a script that touches on everything from Amish woodwork to the aftermath of Moon, it’s a choppy piece of work, to be sure, but there’s some real worth to it. If nothing else, Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s characters and their transition from Cyberpunk Hawkeye and Trapper John into something infinitely darker is compelling stuff, if you’ve got the stomach for it.

[Love it or hate it, Mute gives us a chance to celebrate everything that’s great about Moon…]

Essential Viewing: The Films of Guillermo del Toro

Let’s hear it for Guillermo del Toro, ladies and gentlemen! One of the most passionate and articulate advocates for genre (in particular) and narrative (in general) as a force for good finally picked up a long overdue best Director Oscar earlier this month. His prolific body of work is filled with movies that are worth your time, so if you’re looking for where to go next in his filmography (or just in need of some excellent rewatch options), here are some suggestions…

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