Monday, 26 June 2017

Doctor Who: World Enough and Time (Episode Review)

Welcome to your latest episode of Doctor Who, the show where a Time Lord must veer and navigate his way around the growing plot holes in the universe. That would be a joke, but it's sadly reached the point here where it's next to impossible to actually ignore just how many of them there are. In a script like World Enough and Time, something which had the potential to easily be the kind of smart, interesting and high concept story which made the modern series great, getting it right should have been easy. Yet, the kind of addiction to complexity which has marred the later years of Moffat's run rears its head again, so at one point you're starting to admire some of the ideas behind it, only to be left bashing your head against a wall in the very next moment.

The story here is one the series has - supposedly - been building towards for some time now. Missy has been released from captivity and is being given the chance to prove that she is capable of good by resolving a crisis situation on another vessel. Tumbling into a black hole, time has been warped with one end of the ship travelling faster than the other. With most of the crew missing and thousands of unknown figures now stalking its decks, things are only made worse when Bill is taken captive by a very old enemy of the Doctor, and held in a nightmarish hospital...

The Good

Even the worst two-parters of this era always made the point of raising interesting questions, or at least fun possibilities for great stories. That's the case here again, and the actual use of time dilation as the cause of the ship's major problems is a big mark in its favour. It's not immediately clear just what has happened, but enough information is offered that a smart viewer can pick up on the situation before the facts are fully laid out. The actual initial execution of the tale's staging elements, the subjects and ideas which gradually establishes the story, are also well executed as you start to see just where and how things are going horribly wrong.  This relates as much to the Doctor and his companions as the bigger picture on hand, with some interesting glimpses of world-building and a very Warhammer 40,000-esque setting showing up.

The actual situation Bill finds herself in is also a good one, as she is trapped at one end of the ship while the Doctor and his companions are at the other. As such, ten minutes for them is almost three years for her, and we do get glimpses of her adapting and being forced to work in a hellish environment. Well sort of, we'll get back to that point, but it's at least enough to show her settling in for a long wait and almost starting to accept her home, as she follows the Doctor's subconscious order. Yet, that is ultimately what ends up damning her here, and the gradual hellish transformation of all present around her - and the fact it is done seemingly out of necessity - is also a terrifying strength of the story. The people there seemingly have no other choice but adapt to their environment, no matter the cost.

Naturally, as you might imagine, that point above this ties into the Cybermen themselves. The BBC heavily promoted the presence of the original Cybermen in its material, and they have shown up in everything from magazine covers to major trailers. Being the original set from the 1960s, with only just a few general upgrades in places, you would expect them to look and seem ridiculous. Well, that's true, they are, but the story is good enough to twist that element into a strength. There's an odd charm to their makeshift design, from the bulky chest piece to the lack of armour on the head, and even the eerily human hands. They generally look like something which was made from makeshift parts in the name of survival above all else, and were built out of pragmatism rather than simply to destroy an enemy, and this manages to make them oddly more terrifying than even the much more advanced designs.

World Enough and Time also pairs up the Cybermen's archaic look with a number of new, quite horrifying, additions from a detail surrounding just what the handlebars were actually for initially to the cloth faces. They're the result of years of medical treatments, and we see many of the early stages which led to their creation. Each is horrific, looking like something out of a more PG rated Silent Hill and you are always painfully aware of just how human they are. There's no brief illusion that these are robots, and even the sing-song voices have a very sinister edge to them. It's honestly an incredibly effective execution of something from the Classic series which could have so very easily torpedoed this entire story.

The cinematography is top notch and the depiction of the environment via so few very limited scenes is a new benchmark for the series. There were few times when the sets themselves seemed artificially limited or restricted to a single location, and what little is glimpsed of the world beyond is grimy and failing. It's exactly the sort of place you would't want to be, the kind of hellish failing environment which makes Blade Runner's Earth look good, establishing the hellish hospital as a safe haven.

The actual presence of the Master here is interesting, as it's very much a throwback to an old classic series mark of the character. While we ultimately see little of him, there are very strong suggestions here which work in favour of the character. How much behind the scenes influence he has had on the Cybermen, just what he has been doing or even how he has gotten there are all engaging questions, and there's even value to be found in re-watching the story to pick up on a few points. Plus it helps that John Simm is playing him more along the lines of Anthony Ainley and less Joker this time around, where he does display a bit more menace over gibbering madness.

The Bad

The plot holes. There are some very, very big ones here which you can pick up on even if you're not trying to watch for them. Almost all of these link back to the time dilation element of the story, starting with how Bill herself was kidnapped. A group which are not only kept under guard and on life support are capable of making a seemingly deadly journey up to the other end of the ship, but they do so within a minute or two of detecting new arrivals. Keep in mind, this should take them months if not years to do so, and to grab one person is bizarre bordering upon insane. It also undermines the whole "exodus" angle which keeps bring brought up with the Cybermen, pushing the conversion angle to try and claim that they all need to be transformed to make the journey, only for the opening scenes to show that they can easily pull it off. Yes, some of this could be answered in the next episode, but that seems unlikely.

In that, that's a big problem with the story on the whole. Like so many past releases, it's all questions and no answers, leaving everything for what might follow. In most tales this might be okay, but given the track record of these finales, that seems unlikely. This is also paired up with the writer's need to be complex for complexity's sake and, as a result, sadly making it much weaker overall. The time dilation element is an interesting twist and showing her slowly adapting to her environment is a nice twist. The problem is that there's nothing else done with it. She waits, keeps waiting, speaks with a few people, and that's it. This is no The Girl Who Waited, as it honestly does little to nothing with the idea save for building up the Cybermen over time. If the TARDIS crew had started at the other end of the ship, it could have saved time, allowed for a more focused story, and showed off more of the makeshift city as a whole with little lost.

In fact, even the main impact of the Cybemen is downplayed. They're present for a shock ending and the initial stages of being built up are genuinely great, but there's little done to properly explore their presence here. There's no effort to land on the world, give a story about how their presence has impacted society or even the sort of situation which desperately required they be made. This is something the classic show has often outdone the new one on, to the point where I can stop and point to a tale which did this perfectly - Spare Parts. A Cyberman audio set in Mondas' early days with the Fifth Doctor arriving there to uncover no end of cybernetic nightmares on the failing world. The problem is we might have lost that one thanks to this now being presented as the true "Genesis of the Cybermen", undermining the whole angle that the audio dramas are largely in continuity with the show.

The whole cleverness issue keeps rising again and again, where the episode will opt for spectacle and impact over actual logical storytelling, or even sticking to previously established points. Throughout their history, even in their very first appearance, the Cybermen have stated that they feel no pain, yet here it tries to claim that they simply don't care about it. You can call this a minor thing, but it's one of a multitude of points where the story throws things in purely for their own sake, but all without ever bothering to actually have it work within the greater narrative or have any meaning within the story itself. This even extends to the very idea that the colony ship itself was the start, which undermines the tragedy of Mondas' fate. The whole original idea was that Mondas' out-of-control flight from the solar system rendered it so increasingly uninhabitable that the very mentality behind the Cybermen was brought about thanks to necessity over actual choice. Here, it just seems that a few people did it on one ship out of necessity, an then promptly flew back to Mondas and did it there because they could. After all, if the planet is good enough to be sending off colony ships and accepting intergalactic travelers, it can't be that bad off, can it?

Even if you ignore the plot holes or the episode wasting its potential of exploring the setting, there is no denying that the story is simply dragging its feet and fails to make use of what it has on hand. This goes for the characters, where it limits their presence or even their intended use. Missy, for example, is stuck making fun of the story (and trying to drive the fans insane) for a few minutes before she fades almost entirely into the background, and it seems that the script has no idea what to do with anyone besides Bill and to a much lesser extent the Doctor himself. Yes, you can blame the time dilation for this issue, but that comes down more to the problem of failing to make use of a good idea over it actually limiting the involvement of their best actors.

Plus, if we're going to be honest, there's a lot of stuff being recycled here in terms of storytelling. Stop and compare this with Dark Water and you'll see more than a few very, very similar staging elements and ideas cropping up.

The Verdict

Upon first viewing this one seemed okay on the whole. Despite the insane contradictions to Spare Parts, there was a decent sense of purpose to the events at first, but when you actually sit down and start to consider how it all plays out, you realise how little sense was made and how much was wasted. Even without getting into the whole issue surrounding the opening scene depicting the regeneration, and all the drama related issues that causes, the episode defeats itself so often that you are effectively required not to think about anything that is going on in order to enjoy it.

Perhaps next week's finale will resolve all of this, but unless we see a lot of answers and a massive up-swing in coherent storytelling, that seems unlikely.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Dark Imperium by Guy Haley (Warhammer 40,000 Book Review)

Perhaps the single greatest strength of the Horus Heresy series is its narrative. While you can point to all the wonderful toys the tabletop game has given marines to play with, and the striking new rules for massed armies, the story was what kicked it off. It got people hooked, invested in the characters and desperate to know more. Even now the novels are still going, building upon the long road to Terra, and supplemented by the Forgeworld rulebooks, So, it was only natural for this brave new universe to be spearheaded by a series of its own, and fill in the gaps left by the bigger books.

Dark Imperium, as a result, sticks close to the core of the main series. It focuses upon Guilliman's war against Chaos, soon after his return to Terra, and his new crusade against the Traitor Legions, specifically Mortarion's sons. However, while Guilliman's new Primaris Astartes wage a war against their older generation veterans, new threats are emerging on other fronts, and Guilliman soon realises that there are more changes to this galaxy than he first realised...

The Good

Perhaps the single strongest point of the novel overall is its ability to add more of a human touch which was lacking in the bigger novels. While there were brief moments and odd sections which made for a stronger tale than you would expect in a mass printed book, it often lacked a few of the more personal elements which only novels can pull off. As such, Guilliman himself and his view of the galaxy is vastly expanded upon from the few quotes we got. His dislike for the infinitely less secular M41 is used for equal amounts of humour and pathos at many points, and even his opening scene in the modern Imperium focuses more upon all that has taken place in such a short time. Plus his dislike for the modern Ultramarines who follow Sicarius' example, and the Second Captain's constant glory seeking and title hunting, is a nice clash even if it is subdued.

However, the story also pushes to build links with the older eras and past events to both lessen and enhance the jarring nature of the story's sudden beginning. In terms of lessening it, we see Guilliman's last days leading his chapters in a bid to kill Fulgrim, filling in certain gaps and showing how the Imperium was changing even then; giving readers something familiar to work off of and always hungered to see. In terms of enhancing it, we see Guilliman reacting to the Imperium's semi-feudal nature, noting how far things have fallen since he was leading it. A powerful theme to be sure, and it works well in separating this version of the primarch from his earlier self in the Horus Heresy novels.

The story is also relatively simple and straight forwards, focusing more upon an out and out war with some infiltration themes. However, this works in its favour, as you get plenty of fun explosions, battles and corruption on display, but it works in more than a few new and interesting details. The quieter scenes with Guilliman stand out as he's trying to work with the myriad of armies and regiments of the Imperium add in some interesting notes, while the Primaris marines themselves are introduced with more fine details and qualities than the rulebooks. Their odd link between Guilliman himself and their own primarchs is reflected upon, a number of personal qualities and details are added such as how the Primaris marines were organised and named. Not to mention the effect this has had on the wider Imperium, or how Guilliman is trying to rework its military to more effectively counter the growing threats.

Haley also sticks to his guns with his broad focus, as we get everything from a few auxiliary troopers to a primarch in order to depict the whole war. Anyone who has read Pharos will know how well he can pull this off, and the humans themselves are often pushed about to show more of the overall setting or to offer something for Chaos to work off of. This is certainly a welcome element, but the real strength stems from how they're used to remark upon how un-enhanced humans are used, treated and fight in this setting. Or, at the very least, how they react to the massed presence of Traitor Legions swarming over the entire galaxy, and Nurgle will always seek to use them against the Imperium given their weaknesses to his gifts.

Finally, the battles and engagements are notably very brief but are satisfyingly over-the-top. Apparently to make up for the brief length, Haley just opted to throw in anything he felt would be fun. So, we open up with a full fledged primarch fight, then a massed space battle between two massive fleets, an orbital assault by the new Primaris troops, and the sort of violent meat-grinder which is often only associated with Stalingrand. Also lots of space marines from various primarchs working together.

So, it's entertaining, retains a few great bits of lore to help build upon what came before, and even cuts back to the Scouring. What's wrong with it? A lot sadly.

The Bad

Now, you won't realise this at first but the story has some major lore issues at various points. They rarely factor directly into the story itself, but they're obvious enough that anyone who has read plenty of 40,000 lore will quickly pick up on them. For example, it's strongly suggested that Guilliman's survival is the result of a mixture of eldar psychic power and Imperial technology, to the point where he is directly told that he should avoid removing it. So, naturally, the first modern scene promptly introduces him without it and even a full armouring up sequence. Minor, yes, but it keeps going from there. Belisarius Cawl is abruptly retconned out of nowhere to be over ten thousand years old, and has been working on the Primaris project ever since the Scouring began, to the point where it's strongly suggested Guilliman himself ordered it. Then, atop of this, you get moments like various Primaris troops somehow instinctively retaining the cultures and attitudes of their chapters despite barley knowing them, and being given to some very odd chapters. The book lists off a few - mostly First and Second Founding forces - but promptly name-drops the Revilers. A group best known for out-Blood Ravening the Blood Ravens to the point where they attacked an Inquisitorial fortress to get at the goods inside and had the Imperium initiate a "shoot on sight order".

Such bits are minor, but that both makes them better and worse. They're never fully in focus so you can skim over them if you focus hard enough just to stick to the main story, but the fact that there is so many leaves you asking as many questions as it answers. Not to mention some very laughable additions at certain points, when it tries to establish a few new ideas, but doesn't fully set them up or properly establish their origins. This stems more from the fact it needs to link into the prior rulebook trilogy and tries to follow directly on from it, but it never explains things. When it does, it's in almost a throw-away manner to the point where the reader is just supposed to accept it, no matter how ground-breaking it might be. Like the eldar siding with the Imperium and abruptly helping to bring Guilliman back to life from a mortal wound.

However, where it seems to suffer the most is in terms of how it simply cannot spread into broader details. Haley tends to work best with a blend of humans and certain emotive elements of the environment. Give him a decaying statue, a pile of corpses or even a whirring mass of alien machinery and he can produce a decent scene. Yet, have him stick characters on the bridge of a warship or in a basic room, and he seems to have trouble adding a little more emotion to the scene itself. He seems to list out the details one after another, and while you can still tell there is a talented writer doing his best with what he has, he's not in his element. This seems to reflect upon the characters as well at times, as the primarchs suffer here. the Fulgrim and Guilliman scene is brilliant to read up to a point, at least until the characters go full ham with their dialogue. This promptly goes to the other extreme with Guilliman's inner thoughts, where more than a few times he's so overly human that it would be hard to think of him as a Space Marine, let alone a demi-god capable of founding a galactic empire. Sometimes it works, but in other times it can really work against the charm of the character himself.

The Verdict

Ultimately this isn't a bad book at all. Haley was given a very difficult task from the get-go, and balancing as many elements as he did was quite admirable, especially when it came to re-introducing Guilliman to the universe. With that said though, the book's structure ultimately works against this. Despite the hard cover and expensive price, this is effectively a light novel, and only the large print allows it to fill out as many pages as it does. Between this and the various very strange inconsistencies, there's a sense that this was possibly rushed out the door to try and capitalize on the new Edition of the game.

Still, for all its flaws, there's no denying it did fill in more than a few gaps in terms of the story and helped to add a bit more flesh to the bones of the new setting. With a look into the new Imperium as it is being re-founded under Guilliman, the Primaris marines and the potential nature of Chaos unchained as it is, there's plenty to like. Pick it up if you're interested in some light reading which explores this new setting, but it's far from being another Horus Rising.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Doctor Who: The Eaters of Light (Episode Review)

So, right after we got back on target, here we are with another delay. Why? It's a case of clashing deadlines. Between two audio drama reviews, a major new Black Library release and an entire new Edition of Warhammer 40,000 (Yes, the rules will follow soon) there have been a few stops and starts of late. Plus, it has to be said, much like Empress of Mars this is ultimately a very flawed story at its core. Not an exceptionally bad one and - if you're in the right mindset - one you can enjoy, but hardly a smash hit either.

This Eaters of Light sees the TARDIS crew showing up in Scotland's ancient past, back when the Romans were pressing forwards on all fronts. Curious to know the fate of the mysterious Ninth Legion, the group set out to try and uncover the answers for themselves. Unfortunately for all involved, the thing which killed the legion is still hunting about the land, and is still very, very hungry...

The Good

To start off with one of the bigger successes, this episode is definitely one of the biggest highlights balancing out the strengths and dynamic of the current TARDIS crew. While we will sadly not see them for much longer, the trio have done a great deal to work off of one another, remark upon situations and even drag one another into major problems. So, when the Doctor and Bill show up in ancient Scotland out of little more than a borderline bet to see who is right, dragging Nardole out of bed to get after them, it's hard not to crack a grin. It's the sort of overall dynamic we used to see a bit more of during the classic era, and it does lead to more than a few amusing situations.

The same sense of playfulness and understated zainy continues throughout the story, with the Doctor doing everything from using popcorn to escape his foes to Nardole going from a hostage to a native member of a clan within the space of a few days. It's the same sort of thing which made many elements of the previous Eleventh Doctor's tenure so fun when done well, but the fact it's not quite so forceful in its delivery or utterly overblown makes more than a few gags all the funnier. It also helps in this regard that it can easily shift from humour to severity at the drop of a hat, with little to no major issues, leading to some surprisingly well executed scenes.

A few of the older ideas we have seen done to death are repeated here, but play out in a different manner. In particular, Bill picking up on the TARDIS' translation circuit on her own was an entertaining diversion, while it hardly subtracted from the obvious threat of the story, it assisted in building towards the fact there are still a few things she has yet to get to grips with while displaying her intellect. It's a hard balance to strike and one which worked relatively well here, even if you could argue that it should have been picked up on quite some time ago. It gave a bit more for the two to play off of while completely separated in the story, and helped to further emphasize how Bill is someone who can perform acts of brilliance in her own right - Something we desperately needed after the Monk trilogy.

The actual monster itself proved to be an interesting twist on a few old dynamics, playing upon some of the alien dragon concepts which have been done before, but with a greater focus upon horror. The striking image of a Roman Legion decimated by this thing, and the description of how it consumes its victims gave it more substance than a few monsters, as did its use of glowing tendrils to attack others. This meant you rarely saw the whole creature, just enough of it to know there was something big and bad behind it, leaving your imagination to make up the rest.

Finally, and most pressingly, whatever else is said about The Eaters of Light, it does try to avoid many old cliches, especially in regards to splitting groups like this. The whole situation could have easily devolved into a very old and very tired scenario with the Doctor and Bill backing a separate group of survivors, natural enemies of one another, either making the situation worse or leading to group in-fighting. Instead, the story flows naturally and for the most part they end up being on the same wave-length even without meeting up or communicating. When they do clash, it is ultimately after the fact over a poor decision by the Doctor, and he eventually agrees that it was a mistake he never should have made.

Plus, there is a surprisingly funny gay joke in this. An obvious one perhaps given the Romans involved, but given the usual treatment of the subject when it comes to older societies, it was chuckle-worthy.

The Bad

Sadly, there's a lot of bad here as well, as the story just requires you to accept a massive amount of information and details even when they make no sense. The whole conflict with the monsters and how they are eventually contained seems poorly thought out, and many obvious alternatives or possible methods of stopping them seem to be ignored. Furthermore, the entire intro to the episode opens up more questions than it resolves. The "ghosts" are never fully answered, why ravens caw proves to be quite facepalming by the end given how sincere it was supposed to be, and a few moments arise only to be shown once and never again.

It's particularly irksome that the story keeps throwing in new elements rather than making better use of the ideas it set up in the first place, as it's trying to treat itself as something of a mystery. This is abandoned early on and turns into a monster stalking them, only for it to suddenly focus upon other old mysteries instead, with the monster showing little of itself until the final scene. This really killed off a lot of the tension within the story, and prevented a much more effective overall tale from arising. Simply sitting down and focusing upon one thing would have worked for the best here, but that's never discussed nor does it take place.

Things are further hurt by the fact that so few of the side characters leave any impact at all. This might sound harsh, but many of them were visibly cannon fodder on both sides, and even the survivors left little impact. A good story can still bump off people but leave them with enough lines, history or distinction to still allow them to remain in your mind; as proven with the likes of The Impossible Planet, Under the Lake and Time Heist to name a few. Normally this might not be so big a deal, were a few certain deaths not supposed to matter so much to the audience, and were they not given effectively one scene to make an impact and little else.

Finally though, even some of the basic resulting themes and ideas seem to have little overall impact. This is thanks to the Doctor suddenly just starting to sacrifice himself when, to be completely blunt, it would have been the single stupidest waste of his life in the history of the series. With dozens of alternatives on offer and possible counters, he seems almost eager to throw himself into hell by the end. Something I hope might be followed up on in the coming two-parter, but it seems very unlikely.

The Verdict

Again, The Eaters of Light is very flawed but not without its promising parts. However, it lacks the qualities which made me personally enjoy the Empress of Mars despite its obvious failings and only seemed to truly hold up in a few areas. While it's not something truly worth avoiding, it's really just watchable at the most, and you might find yourself seriously wincing at some very stupid moments here. Watch it if you're after another historical tale, but otherwise just wait until next time.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Warhammer 40,000 Core Rulebook - Lore (8th Edition Review)

Yes, it's a bit of an odd title for this one, but at least it gets the point across.

With Guilliman alive again, Cadia annihilated and Chaos having openly fractured the galaxy, the grim darkness of the far future is in a state of change. The storyline is now rolling forwards and with the old fading away to make way for the new, and with major threats arising, this rulebook was a chance for people to see what might come in the months to follow. This is one reason we are judging the lore, but the other is simple - This is often a first look into the setting for new members. 

This book needs to fully explain what the situation is, who the factions are and fully outline the basic status quo for an ongoing universe. If anyone is going to stay with this game, their impression of the setting on the whole will be a major factor in that, and this really needs to grip them from the start. With the changing story factoring into this as well now, more than a few people have questioned how well the writing team could balance a sense of history and aged conflict with rapid new developments. So, for those wondering, yes, that's why we're bothering with the lore on this one. It might not be as detailed as a codex, but it's still something exceptionally important to Warhammer 40,000 overall.

So, with that done, let's get on with the show.

The Good

For the most part, the latest rulebook is style over substance. You know the sort of thing that entails, the kind of situation we have seen in codexes a few dozen times over now. The sort which leads to mass splash pages and less text. However, with that being said, the rulebook seems to be one of the few to follow this approach and truly get it right.

The opening several pages consist of multiple gigantic splash pages, filled with gorgeous high quality artwork depicting the current state of the galaxy. The first is a burning city overrun with daemons, and forces barely holding the line against them. Another is a duel between a Black Templars champion and a daemon of Khorne, while another shows a close range engagement between traitor and loyalist forces. It's a big bold approach, filled with colour and action, linked together with the best kind of purple prose following directly on from the usual "eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods" lines. It's not taking anything away from the book or robbing the lore of a very limited page count, and for any new members it immediately establishes the sheer grandeur and level of obscene action in the game. Many claim that a picture is worth a thousand words and - while it is a point I will argue vehemently against until my dying days - this strikes a memorable and very definitive impression of the game in their mind.

This use of splash images is present throughout the book, and arises on multiple occasions when it comes to major locations or certain big armies. a chunk of it will be taken up by some exceptional artwork. A personal favourite is the image of Mars, ringed by vast orbital factories and space elevators while the the surface is littered with ancient machinery. To anyone new to the game, this is the sort of thing which will constantly remain in their mind and, if they love the setting, will hunger to know more. Combined with a few paragraphs which often outline the basics, it's enough to push them into researching this. Now, in most books this would be a point worth damning the rulebook over, but here I think there's an odd kind of genius to it. Given the nature of the internet - and the sheer number of codices present in the game - anything present here will often be eclipsed by more easily accessible information. So, this could be seen as the starting point to get someone to Google the army, find more information and start wiki surfing. While this isn't the sort of thing I would normally let slide it is something which has worked with other franchises, and the times when this book balances the right amount of general information with a larger image, I personally think it works. 

The rulebook also tries to balance out the sense of what came before with a few key elements and ideas to establish the fact we will see more updates, progression and major conflicts. This could have easily seemed forced or even something akin to the whole setting pulling a full 180, but there's a better take on this than what you might expect. The book instead tries to focus more upon the fact that the Imperium often gained as much as it lost, rather than simply crumbling away into nothingness. In the same way technologically it forgot how to build new robots but recovered the construction template to the Storm Eagle, we get statements like this -

"Yet despite constant calamities, the Imperium did not just endure, it grew. Each year, hundreds of new planets were added to the fold, even while others were lost. Unstoppable in its momentum, the Imperium churned on. Explorator fleets were launched like clockwork from every forge world. Relentlessly, they sought former colonies or new planetary systems to exploit. The end result was a strange paradox. Even while crumbling at the edges, losing planetary systems by the score to sedition, xenos invasion, or galactic phenomena, the Imperium continued. Colonies lost since the dawn of space travel were still being discovered each year."

On the whole it's nice for the major canon to actually reflect and remember this sort of thing, and hopefully means we'll see the more insanely archaic elements of the Imperium dialed back to more understandable levels. The sort where it's understandably flawed and insane, but not completely and utterly stupid. A nice change from Codex: Cult Mechanicus, and this could even be a slight indication that the new lore will be heavily referring back to older events, or even exploring past conflicts. Yes, that one is a forlorn hope but it has happened a few times in the past.

This balance between the timeline of new and old ideas. It would have been a very easy thing to completely overlook the older setting as a whole, or the broader details of the Heresy and the timeline, while focusing purely upon the new elements. Yet, despite this, much of the initial lore focuses heavily upon informing the reader of the general basics. What took place with the Horus Heresy, the various ages of the Imperium, a few key conflicts and the general major conflicts throughout the setting are presented one after another. It takes some time for it to actually reach the new developments and, while points are peppered in towards the start with the galaxy split by chaos or the Primaris Founding, most of the lore is reserved for the latter half of the book.

The new events and changes are explained to a satisfactory degree, getting the point across and explaining where and what has changed about the universe. It details how the fall of Cadia has severely broken the ability for certain worlds to rapidly communicate with others, how many are no longer accessible and the constant war zones arising across major worlds. A few even point towards impending battles, such as how Armageddon itself will be overrun by Khorne and Tzeentch's forces, wiping out many involved in the original conflict or how the galaxy has become the Ruinous Powers' playground. It's enough to make sure you know that everything will not be forgotten overnight when it comes to older lore, and that many new events will either be tying up danging threads or working from existing elements.

Finally, the rulebook also reserves a few extended segments on everything from Warp travel to abhuman species in the Appendix, detailing a few of the finer points completely overlooked and ignored by the rest of the tome. As much, it's enough to help people understand that there's a bit more depth to certain ideas, and many secondary elements which are often out of the spotlight. This ties into the elements mentioned before about encouraging lore focused fans to look up more info, and even a few oddly amusing moments to reflect upon the setting's humour.

Unfortunately, while there is good here, there are more than a few key problems with the book overall.

The Bad

the bad points here stem more from a few unfortunate modern trends over anything else. The big and very obvious one stems from how the book seems extremely resistant to offering any finer details on subjects. The more detailed looks into the lore, structured nature of explanations when it comes to sub-factions and even just offering a bit more insight into the universe as a whole. For starters, the rulebook's streamlined and image heavy nature means the trend of limiting the timeline has been taken several steps further. While it does explain each era in brief, there are no secondary events or even major ones listed. The Tyrannic Wars are simply listed as a tyranid invasion, bereft of the key conflicts surrounding it. The Scouring details nothing of the Iron Cage incident or the Codex crisis, and nothing at all is listed of the various conflicts with the Tau Empire in the later ages or the Armageddon wars.

Skipping the fine details on such things would be fine for the most part, and there are large sections where this does work for the reasons outlined above. However, it does also introduce a few major failings as a result. The really big one is obviously the fact that it makes understanding the sheer scale and level of detail throughout the game's history harder to comprehend. The other, is that it makes certain later bits confusing as they refer back to such battles, but never fully set up the context to what these conflicts are or why they matter so much. Yes, having people get interested enough to look up more info works well, but there needs to be a bit more here to still allow the reader to know just enough and allow it to largely stand up on its own two feet. More importantly though, it robs the setting of any sense of serious age at times or an idea of how long things truly take. Because they are judged age by age and lack any actual listed years within their millennia, it makes events like the Primaris founding come out of nowhere. It quite literally jumps from Guilliman arriving at Terra to creating these marines, meaning it looks like he could have done it over a weekend. 

The Imperium takes up much of the page count once again, but it is struck by and odd lack of substance. Each minor faction within the Imperium itself is grated only a very minor paragraph to outline just who and what they are, but it never bothers to do anything more. It's enough to let you know the likes of the Arbites are law enforcers, but it never gets into anything more, from their power to the nature of their authority. The book seems to actively avoid any part which might tie it down or add to a larger page count, as bits like the High Lords of Terra, the power structure of Imperial offices or even Administratum control are all but completely missing from the book. When it does stop to focus upon things like Navigators or the finer points of how the world interacts with the Warp, the actual article is brief to the point of telling you only the most basic details. With the xenos races it's even worse, to the point where many get only a single page or two to outline their presence in the setting, and little else. Hell, each of the Chaos gods are given only a few words in their descriptions to cover their characteristics, which are as basic as "Khorne - Hates Magic Loves Skulls". Again, it's just not enough.

There also seems to be a few odd editorial choices here, at least in regards to what information is revealed. For example, little to nothing is done to reconcile the old headache which is the Wulfen, to the point where two paragraphs directly conflict with one another. One briefly states that the Wulfen are a curse, only for the very next one below it to announce that they are a recent arrival and were all present in the 13th Company. I'm honestly not sure if someone is actively trolling us, or if a writer is ignoring this mess and just hoping we will ignore it from here on. This is as equally problematic with the war zones as it doesn't know when to stop. Each of these is intended to lead into a bigger event, to help emphasize the sheer scale of the new conflicts and even lead into the new era overall. They're set up, detailed enough to make it look as if they will lead into another book or even a supplement, only for them to abruptly spoil the ending as well. This is like a film trailer showing off the villain being killed or the entire event being resolved, before you've even started to properly hear about it.

Some of these problems could have been dealt with by more easily building an atmosphere of grim darkness or something equally distinct, but the book doesn't quite achieve this goal. Oh there are plenty of quotes from characters, plenty of battle cries and brief bits which help to give an impression of the general factions, but there are few to no short stories. The book needed bits like the rather gruesome one where an eldar Ranger is ambushed by a kroot, or in-universe documents to truly help give a sense of worth to some points.

However, perhaps the most glaring issue is how the book fails to really both broaden its scope and flesh out a few new factors. Much like Age of Sigmar, the setting sadly looks as if it is set to veer into the "Everyone vs. Chaos" conflict, but almost everything presents this as space marines against Chaos. Not the Imperial Guard, not the Imperium as a whole, not the Inquisition or even just a combined force, but simply the space marines over all others, both in the artwork and the lore. Yes, the astartes do tend to dominate the game and hog the spotlight, but this is to the point where you might as well not know any other army in the Imperium exists at points, and any advance or spearhead stems only from them and no one else. Yet, for all this, there's not enough there to properly help flesh out the armies on either side or give full context to the new developments. For all the images of Primaris marines which show up here, and the times they are hyped, the book itself tells you next to nothing about them.

All in all, the more negative qualities portray this as a book which is being cautious to the point of being unwilling to take advantage of some of its best qualities. Trying to edge forwards and experiment with a format which will work for an ongoing and progressing narrative, but still reflecting upon some of its history.

The Artwork

The artwork here is stunning. For all the problems and failings here, there's an excellent mixture of new and old elements here, with the new being pushed front and center. It is present in the opening few pages and it's the first thing you see after the opening text, but many of the major blown up images are also brand new. When an image is re-used, it's often at least worked into the book in an interesting way, such as worked into a bigger collage or combined together as an opening segment to a new section of the lore. It's definitely one of the best takes on it of the past few years, and it seems as if someone had paused to really look over how best to use what they have on hand.

The Verdict

In terms of lore, the book is middling really. As an experiment, I gave this to a friend unfamiliar with the setting to look over and see what he thought of the setting as a whole. It did get him interested and it did provoke him into wanting to know more, so on that front it was a definite success, but he was still left confused as to what many key details meant or some of the finer points on essential parts of the setting. As such, it does work on a few fronts, but there needed to be much more work in many other areas. If you're after lore on the new events and units, i'm afraid you will need to wait a while until something more comes along.

So, that's the lore done for this part. Join us in a few days when we start to look into the gameplay mechanics.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Horus Heresy: The Crimson King by Graham McNeill (Book Review)

It's been some time since we have last had a truly out-and-out traitorous book. With the developments surrounding the Imperium Secundus, the push towards the Siege of Terra and the gathering of forces, a few elements have been left by the wayside. Many among the traitors' ranks are still unaccounted for, and seem to have been left to their own devices. This is true of the Thousand Sons more than any other force as, in its full spectacle, A Thousand Sons managed to tell their entire story within a single volume. In what remains one of the series' greatest releases, it told the reader everything of the Sons' rise and fall, meaning you might be left wondering what else is there to tell. A lot, as it turns out.

The Crimson King examines what happened to the legion in the wake of its arrival on the Planet of Sorcerers, and the gathering of its remnants. Magnus' faustian pact is known to many, and the legion itself is ravaged with the flesh change once more, but their story is not over. Magnus himself wants little to nothing to do with the ongoing conflict, and busies himself with desperately attempting to restore their lost repository of knowledge. Unfortunately, even this is denied to him. Robbed of much of his power, he is slowly fading with every passing effort. Now, it falls to the Sons to rescue him, no matter the cost.

The Good

A major positive in favour of The Crimson King is how it tries to simply follow on from the past story. While there are a few shout-outs and references to larger events, you could easily go right from A Thousand Sons to this without the need to read anything between them. A few elements do arise and a number of characters previously isolated from events do appear, but in the vast majority of cases you quickly get the gist of things within the book. It's something always worth citing as a major strength in any long running series, and an indication that the writers involved have not become so wrapped up within their own story that it is no longer accessible to casual readers. Even without that though, the book does a surprisingly good job of filling in certain details for itself, giving you just enough to keep going and even reminding you of a few critical elements which might have been forgotten in the intervening years.

The characters prove to be a major driving point in the story as ever, and you start to finally see where the Thousand Sons might become their more malevolent selves. While A Thousand Sons set up their fall, the fault largely lay with Magnus himself and few to no characters displayed any indication of falling to Chaotic influences. Here however, you start to slowly understand how even those so badly burned by Chaos as the Sons could be gradually pushed into its service. Ignoring how psychic powers were core to their very culture, even accepting that the Sons' own thirst for knowledge led them to damnation, you quickly see how they are all but addicted to knowledge. Even caution only tempers this by so much, and Ahriman's opening scenes quickly make it clear that they are far from above using their own powers to attain their goals, even with the risks it incurs.

The desperation of the situation has altered the legion as a whole, but much like the Iron Warriors in Angel Exterminatus, you can still see elements of their loyal selves in their actions. It is simply tainted with bitterness and desperation now, and even with their best efforts it is clear just how easily even the best of them can fall prey to the worst of temptations. While the story is hardly subtle when it comes to this point - and Ahriman carrying the Book of Magnus is enough of a reminder on its own - many of the core elements are well executed enough that it's hard not to enjoy it. The subject of daemons and attempts to fight fate in particular stand out as some of the story's highlights, and moments both during and between the major battles return to the same points time and time again. Just as soon as you think you have made your mind up on one subject, something will be added to quickly change it, hooking you until the end.

The battles themselves are what you would expect from McNeill by now - Big, bloody, fast and excellently told, but props need to be given to his presentation of psychic combat. It seems that this book was an excuse for the author to truly cut loose and play with a few ideas, so with have psychic powers being used for any number of things over time, from trying to predict the future of a medical operation to altering the senses. Plus it's used to show off their power with body horror which would leave John Carpenter applauding the descriptions. As psychic powers rip men inside out, mutations plague many marines and warriors are cut in twain, the book always makes it clear just how visceral each fight truly is. No matter which side is winning, the actual blows will always be among the most satisfyingly brutal of the series so far.

There also seems to have been a concerted effort to correct a few past perceived mistakes, both in regards to certain armies and characters. While he might have seen his fair share of successes, there is no denying Lucius tended to end up worse in McNeill's books. Yet here he's back to full strength, and happily dueling his way up the ranks, one warrior at a time, even using his trademark whip to easily overcome a few powerful foes. The loyalists meanwhile have the benefit of a much more traditional depiction of the Space Wolves (because, as welcome as stereotype breaking depictions are, sometimes you just need the fun of a boisterous space viking who can back up his boasts) but also the Ultramarines. The latter in particular proves to be one of the best quietly badass figures we have seen in a while. A former Chief Librarian turned Knight Errant, Dio Promus lacks the more overt pushes and glorification you would expect, but nevertheless shows off the best of his legion's capabilities. By the book in the best way, carefully tactical, pragmatically using the abilities of others as needed while being a powerhouse in his own right, he serves as the Sons' main threat for much of the book. The opening chapters sell it so well that, upon encountering two of the best swordsmen in the legion, he is able to force them into retreat with a casual threat.

Naturally, there is a very tragic end to all of this. Unfortunately it is next to impossible to explain without spoiling almost the entire book, so I will simply say that it was very satisfying. It lacked the direct nature and sheer impact of A Thousand Sons' finale but it nevertheless proved to be a fantastic next step on their way to damnation. Especially when it came to using many seemingly unchanged elements or more positive qualities of the Sons against them during their final hours before they performed an unthinkable act.

The Bad

If there is a major negative to be found here, it stems largely from the introduction. While many key elements are explained, outlined and even expressed through descriptions, it lacks the proper build-up or lead-in you would expect. Honestly, upon reading it for the first time i almost thought that there was a chapter missing due to the abrupt nature of the start, and the lack of coverage for certain key elements. While fans of the audio dramas will know why Lucius is with the Thousand Sons, his presence can be extremely perplexing at first, and the attempt at a cold open just doesn't work. It evens out quickly, but even after having re-read it several times, there is a distinct lack of key information.

Another definite problem is how, while you can see how Chaos itself and even element of Prospero's burning have impacted the legion, it lacks much of the scarring you would expect. Oh it was a traumatic event, but the book treats it as having had less of an impact upon the Sons than the Drop Site Massacre did upon the shattered legions. This is almost certainly in part the fault of a time-skip, but even accounting for that it just lacks much of the punch you would expect for such a tale. The Sons lost everything after all, but they are persevering and surviving, almost treating the burning of Prospero as a setback at points.

The more obvious nature of the book also hurts a few plot elements which were treated as major twists. They weren't. There's one or two you can see coming from whole chapters away due to some heavy foreshadowing. While the actual execution might have been enjoyable, waiting for it to take place simply meant it lacked much of the plot relevance it was obviously supposed to have. This in turn also hurts the Sons, as it's always painful to read any book where any supposedly smart man can't see the answers before him, but all the more so when this should have been taught to them from past pains.

Finally, the biggest bugbear stems from Magnus himself oddly enough. He takes a back seat in this story, and while that is certainly fine given his more prominent role in past books, there are times when he seems far more like a story device than a true character. He's there to be reacted to and create the key event which pushes the plot along, and while his conversation with Lorgar is one of the book's most enjoyable bits, it's certainly not up to scratch with what we have seen before. Having legionaries stepping out from under the primarchs' shadows is often a good thing, but that doesn't mean it should come at the cost of the primarchs themselves.

The Verdict

Overall, this is a very solid read. Definitely flawed in places and there will be sections you will want to skip, but still enjoyable. There's no denying this could have been a much more well rounded tale with a little more time, and the awkward opening hurts it more than anything else, but once the ball gets rolling it proves to be another success story. If you enjoyed the likes of The Outcast Dead or Scars, where you knew something critical was wrong but could still have some fun with the tale and all its tidbits of lore, this is definitely one of you. Otherwise, pick it up softback but don't shill out for the hard cover publications.

Oh, and for those wondering, yes there is a Stephen King shout out, only it's not to the story you're thinking of.

Verdict: 6.8 out of 10

Monday, 12 June 2017

Doctor Who: The Empress of Mars (Episode Review)

So, last time left me asking for just a good episode. Something to erase the last trilogy and fully focus upon what Doctor Who was good at - Science fiction. Well, thankfully, we actually got it. Sort of. While certainly not a modern classic, Empress of Mars is a definite step in the right direction, and at least captures some of the old charm. It's willing to expand upon existing ideas, experiment with old tropes and play around with time travel however it needs to.

In this particular case, the image of "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN" carved miles high under the surface of Mars is enough to get the Doctor's attention. Somehow a Victorian expedition managed to reach the red planet long before anyone from modern earth, and mark it no less. However, the Doctor eventually finds that the humans are not alone. There is an Ice Warrior among them, having survived the fall of his people and guided them to the world to reclaim what remains of his civilisation, and any who might still endure there...

The Good

While the Ice Warriors returned to the small screen a few series back in Cold War, the episode itself was rather lackluster unfortunately. Suffering from many of the problems with plagued the Eleventh's run, it was an insane gibbering mess of a story which seemed to think the first act was a mere formality it shouldn't be held to. If anything, it's probably best remembered for focusing upon the odd morality of the Martians and the much needed revamp of the old design. Here though, there seems to be more of a push to address more of their general nature. The Doctor's speech describing them is simply beautiful and spot-on for the sort of potentially villainous race they're known for, and what little we see of the species' hive works extremely well in their favour. They're far more alien than their humanoid bodies would suggest, and in that regard I also personally appreciated the costume design of the Queen herself. It's slightly more slender to be sure, but there are fewer definite physical differences between the males and females than most would normally push for with such designs.

The actual story itself is direct and certainly extremely pulpy in an H.G. Wells style, but it there's a definite sign of trying to work that in its favour. The old concept of colonial take-overs on Mars and invasions is one with a very striking image, and almost an archaic one by today's standards, but it's one which Doctor Who can still get away with. Most beyond this would feel the need to alter, update or even abandon the concept entirely, but with Who's generally flexible nature, it's easy to pull off. In fact, if anything, the show here proves that it can do so without breaking continuity, as the finale has heavy ties to later (earlier) tales from the Classic series.

The actual developments and conflict here between humans and Ice Warriors might have been rapid, but you could see why it would take place and how it would play out. This was always going to be a one-sided affair, and given how the two groups were at loggerheads there was little you could really do in terms of political shenanigans. So, instead the episode focused upon being relatively fast paced and executing its ideas just as well as it could, at least in terms of thematic. It does sadly once again veer headlong into political commentary for some bizarre reason, but the fact it ties in well to the classic stories means it's somewhat easier to overlook. This is the rare example of a race which went from genocidal conquerors to galactic peacekeepers after all, and even the simple indication of how that might have started is a nice thing to have.

The actual core cinematography is well handled given the limited nature of the environment. Shooting around a great many red tunnels is always going to be a difficult job, but there's enough close-ups, special effects and interesting costumes to work around that. The script at least justifies this largely being focused in a single place, and adds in a few colourful elements to distract from how it is all focusing upon a relatively limited set. Plus, the battle scene itself is entertaining for a few key reasons. It's the first time we have seen a sonic cannon (it's what they were called in the old series and i'm sticking with it) in action since Jon Pertwee's run, and the updated crushing effect is surprisingly effective in displaying the horror of being hit with an advanced weapon. Furthermore, a few moments such as the Ice Warriors tunneling their way around the enemy camp was an interesting twist given their nature as upright tanks, and doing more than just walking through enemy gunfire.

Unfortunately, while there are positives, dear lord do we have a lot of flaws to work through as well.

The Bad

Many elements and ideas set up here are just instantly tossed out the window. Despite being a longtime Doctor Who fan, Mark Gatiss seems to have ignored many points surrounding the TARDIS' operation, the way it picks out people and even a few earlier points from the series like how it creates a bubble of oxygen for those just outside of it. Even with that being said though, he also manages to get primary school science wrong. Mars suddenly has the same gravity as Earth for example, without even the benefit of some technobabel written into the tale. Right after the script also cites how the Ice Warriors are brilliant engineers.

The side characters and secondary dialogue here also ranges from amusing to downright abysmal, especially in regards to some of the more openly political elements. Some of it you can put down to simply - once again - playing upon the old sub-genre of Victorian space travel, and a few of the cockney rhyming slang terms weren't bad. Then, however, you have the use of British superiority showing up and used in a face-palming manner, and characters who are openly cannon fodder being given three odd lines, some bizarre importance to the story, and then are abruptly killed off again. It honestly seemed as if the tale had no idea what it wanted to do with them, and while there are one or two genuinely good moments which serves the plot well, the rest is often horribly bungled.

Things are only weakened further thanks to the forced inclusion of Missy into the tale, which seems like something added via editorial mandate over something to fit the story itself. The TARDIS could have easily been separated from the main characters in one of a dozen ways, even just being trapped near the surface would have been fine, but instead it abruptly flies off and Missy is needed to bring it back. If her role is supposed to be the show's ongoing overarching story, it's definitely not a positive one to be sure, and it seems that half the time she's just being thrown into the tale over actually being adapted into the tale as a whole. A damnable shame as, if they had just gone the full mile and added her into the story, it could have worked extremely well. After all, advanced aliens who can be easily manipulated into wiping out humanity is Missy/the Master's whole shtick, so it would have been a chance to have her tested on the road to redemption. It would have certainly been something to show over just having her locked away and broken out as needed, at any rate.

Yet, more so than anything else, where Empress of Mars fails the most is in terms of its villains. Well, at least at a few key points. The introduction of the Ice Warriors is solid, the battle is great and the Empress herself is certainly interesting enough to give a good deal of presence to an otherwise minor role. Unfortunately, the story promptly abandons their competence and bullet proof nature as Captain Catchlove (yes, that is apparently his name) can take one hostage with a knife. This is a moment so stupid that you'd be forgiven for simply giving up on the story there and then, and it utterly undermines the previous scene of them running through the British army without slowing down. How so? Because apparently their armour can shrug off bullets, explosives and all the rest, but their exposed throat can be cut with a knife. Anyone who complains that the eyestalk is too obvious a weakness for the Daleks? Yeah, you have no idea how good you have had it compared to this.

The other problem is Catchlove himself, who is such a staggering caricature of British Imperialism that he's almost impossible to take seriously. Some of this might be down to the actor himself, unfortunately, due to his gleeful expressions while doing evil, but even without that the dialogue he is given is quite horrific at times. It might not have even been so bad were this not such a blatantly black-white situation with Colonel Godsacre (and again, yes, that's his actual name) as a positive example. The idea is good as it's present to show the best and worst of the British Empire, but the lack of subtlety and limited execution harms the final moments of the tale.

The Verdict

While I will personally admit to enjoying this one, you still have to give it a massive amount of leeway to fully have some fun. It's vastly more entertaining if you have fond memories of the Ice Warriors or classic stories like Tomb of the Cybermen, or even just fondness of Victorians colonizing Mars. After all, Redcoats raiding an alien tomb is hard not to make awesome with a good villain. If you can overlook the more obvious political commentary at work and the dumber moments then give it a watch, but otherwise skip it until next week.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Doctor Who: The Lie of the Land

So, that happened. Normally this sort of review would require a more meaningful opening, even just a few general comments, but this honestly left little to no impact here. What we have here is a rushed version of the "big impact" stories Doctor Who hungers for, a lot of big ideas or themes instantly tossed aside with little impact, and a desperate attempt to jump onto modern politics.

So, we have the worst aspects of Moffat's writing at work again - just when he seemed to be getting better - and a repeat of Peter Harness' floundering flailing attempts to make political commentary on something. Your guess as to exactly what is as good as mine, but it's very generally anti-government and anti-censorship in this case; while once again also making such a mess of it that i'm genuinely embarrassed to have the same stance as him on this topic.

Look, the situation here is simple: The Monks have taken over - their motivation for doing so, or where the powers which allowed one to toss a nuclear submarine about like a toy has gone, are left completely ditched and left up to the viewer - and they have re-written history. They now try to present events with them always in control, always defending humanity and pushing it along the correct lines. This is used to excuse their tyranny, and make the population far more compliant to their demands for further control as they take over.

Bill has been left with at least a partial memory of events prior to this conflict, but with no sign of anyone else from the TARDIS present, she has been left to fend for herself. Well, save for one bit of knowledge. The Doctor is still alive, but unfortunately he has sided with the aliens.

The Good

To be honest with you, there's not much here. To give credit to those involved, everyone present in the scene where Bill and the Doctor meet up again were acting the hell out of their roles, and there are one or two very awesome moments leading up to their return. In addition to this, the intro is actually enough to get you hooked at first glance, as it quickly sets up the situation and themes with astounding effectiveness while also playing upon the Doctor's monologues. 

The direction as a whole was fantastic this episode, and even in its worst moments there was no denying that the actual visuals, effects and presentation were expertly edited and handled. It was enough to give a sense of desperation and scale to the invasion itself at every turn, and even enough to allow for how dire the story actually was to be forgotten.

Finally, the story does actually bother to stop and delve into a few of the much bigger problems left by the last story. While it is gradually hand-waved away, the whole quarantine issue is used to help justify a time-skip between the last story and this one, and it is expressed that it's what prevented Nardole's return. The actual reason and requirement for unconditional devotion to the monks is explained as well, and in a much better tale it could have been something very interesting. Sadly, it's mostly just an excuse to have a massed occupation of the world with humanity already falling into line under it. Something which was done far better in a few other tales, both on the television and on here.

So, that's that for the good stuff. Brief, yes, but it had to be mentioned. Now onto the disastrous story itself.

The Bad

Last time the tale relied heavily upon the sheer stupidity of its main characters and heroes for the villains to win. Well, now the tables have turned. Despite having seemingly immense power and twisting reality itself to their will, planning out every possibility and event, to being beaten in a few weeks by a handful of people. No, not in the awesome way, in the way which leaves you seeking the nearest wall and inserting your forehead into it with considerable force.

Consider the following for a moment: The Monks have spent ages planning for every outcome possible, running it time and time again to test every single last possible future. they are capable of altering the world on a whim and can even pick out a single person among billions who can resist them. Even without that, up close and personal they can pick out ulterior motives by just scanning a person's mind. They are now in power, they have all the control they want an a subservient populace.

So, naturally, their next move is to completely and utterly trust the Doctor with a major position of power. The man whose digital recreation not only rebelled against them the second he knew of their existence, but whose victories against invasions they have tried to pass off as their own accomplishments. They leave him alone for six months, ignore him entirely, do not even bother to imprison him or keep an eye on his companion, and just go about their business. When he does make his move, they barely seem to react, doing nothing to stop his return, deploy no guards outside their all-important pyramid save for a psychic field which can be overcome by a person's voice repeating the truth, and don't bother to guard the very device ensuring their power.

Even their very abilities seem to have been dialed back by a hundred degrees, to where the rebelling thoughts of Bill, Nardole and a few dozen resisting humans cannot be detected right in front of a Monk!

Even if you get over that particular issue though, you then have the major problems surrounding their plans. The really big ones. For starters, the psychic link created to hold the public hostage is broadcast through their pyramid and amplified across a multitude of statues made in their likeness, which is somewhat fair enough. It gives them something of a weakness for any future stories while making them still quite powerful. Yet, it then goes the extra mile by claiming that their psychic link needs to be maintained with the one person who first created it (Bill, in this case) and passed down from parent to child. So, if that person is killed for any reason, they're screwed. If they fail to sire a child, they're screwed. If their species doesn't retain a reproductive method akin to humans, they're screwed. Really, one car crash, office fire, heart attack or natural disaster in the wrong place or at the wrong time, and they are buggered to the point of fleeing the planet. You could argue that this could be bypassed via a few guards or even just keeping the person in stasis, but no, she's just there being treated like anyone else.

This is honestly such blatant stupidity that these guys could have been beaten by Dr. Evil overnight, not the Doctor himself.

So, where is this all going anyway? What was the big point behind it? To make some criticism against the government. It's very general, very ham fisted and atrociously written until you can barely tell what it was supposed to be leveling criticisms against in the first place. We see a mother being dragged away for retaining "proper" thoughts, various icons scattered about the world to give a face to the enemy and proclaim their power, and mass propaganda broadcasts. The Doctor at one point even drops the line "fake news" but i'm not even sure if the writers knew the context behind that running joke with the orange bastard slouching in the Oval office. Look, if this episode is going to force you to sit through the writer's insane politics, i'm going to get involved as well.

The point is that this was a very lazily written attempt to be relevant, but it failed miserably, and even the follow-up attempts to give some message of hope just creates further problems as it goes along. In fact, the resolution behind it is not only mind-numbingly stupid, but genuinely left me questioning the mental well-being of Bill. Again, we're avoiding it due to spoilers, but it comes out of nowhere and just resolves everything. Once it happens, the story offers some very brief excuse as to why no one remembers anything of the last few months, all the statues are mysteriously destroyed, and things go back to normal. Yes, the villains accomplish this in their last moments, and no this doesn't make any sense. If anything it opens up a few new plot holes thanks to the investigations which would need to be made into all the people they killed, and a major question as to what happened to those they abducted.

Even if you were unfortunate enough to get hooked into this one because of the problem of a confrontation between Bill and the Doctor, you're cheated out of any fun. It's all a massive fake-out and is instantly resolved within a minute or two of taking place. Yes, even the regeneration clip is little more than a bait-and-switch, and the episode even tries to make fun of this; despite the fact he might have wasted one of his new lives on what was little more than an unnecessary "gag". The scene itself also makes no sense, and save for one funny joke involving the kitchen, it is entirely worthless.

All of this would be bad enough in of itself of course, but then we get the reveal of what's in the vault. Yes, it's Missy, as we all knew. she sits there for a while, chats and gives away a possible method to beat the Monks and that's about it. It's once again filler, and while the story tries to claim she's going "cold turkey" on being evil, it has no impact or meaning overall. Just like everything else here.

The Verdict

To hell with this episode. In fact, to hell with this trilogy. File it away, burn it, destroy it and scatter the remains. This is a poor joke, and the sort of thing the show looked as if it was finally moving on from at long last. The only thing it should serve as to future writers is as a guideline on what to avoid, and what is testing the patience of its audience.

So, yes, skip it and let's just hope the next story is a great one. Hell, after this, I would settle for just a good one.