content by

Alasdair Stuart

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 Huston, 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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Joss Whedon’s Exit is a Huge Opportunity for Batgirl and the DCEU

Joss Whedon has stepped away from the Batgirl movie, citing the fact he just didn’t have a story to tell. It’s an interesting moment of honesty but, regardless of your overall opinion of him, Whedon doesn’t matter in this instance. What does matter is that one of DC’s most iconic characters is in need of a director and scriptwriter, and DC have a massive opportunity to use that need to signal a sea change in their approach.

It’s not concrete, not yet, but in the wake of Wonder Woman’s success, DC finally seems intent on bringing some variety to their movie universe. We’ll see for sure when the first stills from Shazam! hit—those are due any day now, apparently. Regardless, there’s a real sense—embodied within the movie universe itself by the return of Superman—of hope coming to the DCEU for the first time in a while. A major change, for sure, and a welcome one at that. Batgirl is the perfect character to be in this pivotal position: a fundamentally hopeful, pragmatic heroine with one yellow Doc Marten in noir and the other in action adventure.

[Let’s look at some potentially game-changing writers and directors…]

Is There Still Hope for The Walking Dead?

The Walking Dead, which returns for the second half of its eight season this Sunday, finds itself in the midst of interesting times. Yet again. It feels like overly familiar territory, at this point. The Walking Dead is a show that excels at pushing its luck, knowing full well that there is fertile ground out beyond its viewers’ comfort zones—and trusting them to follow it loyally, out and back again.

In the first half of this season, for the first time, it may genuinely have gone too far.

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How Netflix is Changing Science Fiction (Beyond Big Marketing Gimmicks)

Sense8. Okja. Bright. The OA. Mute. Travelers. Dark. Altered Carbon. The Cloverfield Paradox. Plus The Expanse and Annihilation, internationally speaking. In the last few years Netflix has positioned itself as a hub for contemporary genre fiction TV and movies. And these titles are just the tip of the iceberg; Netflix’s anime slate is impressive too, not to mention their laundry list of other live action TV shows and movies.

In terms of the company’s recent SFF releases, the movie slate they’ve put together is worth taking a serious look at. Specifically, Bright, Mute, Annihilation, and The Cloverfield Paradox. Those four movies tell us a lot not only about Netflix’s approach, but also about the way mid-level, cerebral science fiction and fantasy is viewed in the west at the moment. While it’s not all bad news, it’s certainly not all good, either.

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How Jordan Peele’s Get Out Made Low-Budget Horror Oscar-Worthy

Get Out is the first truly great western horror movie of the 21st Century. It’s Rosemary’s Baby for the post-millennial world, a social horror story that is seethingly angry, terrified, terrifying, and frequently hilarious. I work with horror for my day job—normally prose but often cinema too—and Get Out is one of the finest horror movies I have ever seen. Hell, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It absolutely deserves every single one of its Oscar nominations—deserves to sweep the board, in fact. Whether it will do so is dependent on how fond the Academy is of World War II (odds are, far too much) and or sexy mermen (hopefully very), but even getting to this stage, to these awards? It’s unprecedented in about a dozen different ways.

That unprecedented success is particularly impressive when you consider its production history and realize that Get Out is the perfect expression of the same cinematic equation behind movies such as Insidious, Ouija, The Conjuring, and The Purge.

[Here’s how Peele and the Blumhouse model changed the game…]

Everything You Need to Know about Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is a US/UK produced anthology series adapting ten of Dick’s short stories for the big screen. It’s very much in the Black Mirror style, presenting standalone episodes with strongly individual visual identities under a single banner. It starts airing in the US today (January 12th)) on Amazon Video—but thanks to some, shall we say, eccentric scheduling decisions, the first six episodes aired in the UK last year.

Here’s your guide to what to expect (avoiding major spoilers, of course), and which episodes to seek out!

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