Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sci-fi catch-up

It's been something of a sci-fi catch up weekend so far. In the last few days I've watched five episodes of Battlestar Galactica Season Three, finished the last couple of episodes of The Day of the Triffids and watched the four episodes of the Dr Who story Resurrection of the Daleks, not to mention the episode from the new series on BBC 1 last night. Of all those mentioned my least favourite was last night's Dr Who. I was bored, I found myself checking my watch a couple of times, glancing anxiously at the Radio Times - when would this finish? Not good. It is all very clever and slick of course and the effects are far superior to what has been seen before but it seems to lack something of the charm and excitement of the earlier episodes of Dr Who. The Doctor himself no longer seems to be a character, more a caricature. I am not sure it is entirely David Tennant's fault as the script is just as much to blame. And the new assistant, Martha Jones, just Rose by another name it seems. I am not impressed with her at all, she seems to me to be a carbon copy of Billy Piper's character and a rather less interesting one too.

One of my main gripes though is that the action always takes place on Earth or so it seems, either the past, present or future and the whole world seems to revolve around London or Cardiff, which is often disguised as the capital. Where is the imagination and adventure in that? Okay, so the other Dr Who I've been watching - Resurrection of the Daleks - is set in London partly but the story is balanced with encounters in deep space and aboard a space station. The budget back in the early 80s must be far less than what it is now, yet I enjoyed these episodes so much more than the current Dr Who. It seems that the new version has become too cocky, too clever and Dr Who is, or at least shouldn't be, that at all.

The Doctor was more of a character back then. Although Peter Davison is not one of the better actors to portray the Doctor, he nevertheless gives the part a certain dignity and believability, something which I feel is absent from Tennant's portrayal. The scripts were not as sharp but they worked and the story-telling was first rate. All round the characters are more engaging and interesting.

Much the same could be said for The Day of the Triffids. This was a lot better than I expected and it owes a lot to its well chosen cast, a fine script and chilling music. The Triffids do not appear to be much of a threat although considering the budget and technical constraints of the time, they are reasonably effective. Moreover, its the story and the characters, which are particularly strong and make this series work as a sci-fi drama.

Another excellent sci-fi drama is Battlestar Galactica, a show that is always going to dark places and unsettling its audience. It is audacious, bold and gripping, just what good sci-fi should be. I can't sing the praises of this series enough, its just the best thing on TV at the moment. The series is now into its third season and is just hitting its stride. The shift in focus at the beginning of the series and concentration on the cylons has seen a series of stunning revelations, exceptional episodes and first-rate drama. It feels very real, very human and I like the fact that its characters are flawed and vulnerable. So often it has shown how there is more to the fight between humans and cylons than simply good and evil or right and wrong. There are terrible acts perpetrated on both sides and sometimes it is necessary to do evil things to preserve freedom.

I think that sci-fi should be like that. It should challenge our view of the world, our morality and beliefs. It should make us evaluate what being human means and as stated in one of the episodes of Battlestar Galactica it is not enough to survive, we have to earn the right to survive. Indeed, sci-fi for me should have an important message to convey about our contemporary world. Although it maybe set in a time or place far removed from our own, good sci-fi is about holding a mirror to ourselves.

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