Red Dwarf XI: Episode 5 – Krysis

October 20, 2016 by  
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It is always tough when you go through a mid-life crisis, and even tougher when you are going through it while three million light years into deep space.

This is what has happened to Kryten (Robert Llewellyn), who has started forgetting to make breakfast for Lister (Craig Charles) and beginning to think that there is no point to life now that he has reached the half-way point of his lifespan. He’s lost his belief in Silicon Heaven. He’s even starting to lose his love of cleaning! Lister comes to realise that Kryten is having a mid-life crisis, but before he, Rimmer (Chris Barrie) and the Cat (Danny John-Jules) can stop him from doing something he will regret, Kryten paints his body Ferrari red and installed some subwoofers into his body.

Lister decides that the best way to get Kryten out of this state is to find a vessel that was link to his original, the Nova 5, find a service mechanoid on it, and show how much Kryten has evolved since he has broken free of his programming. They find the Nova 3 which has a mechanoid called Butler (Dominic Coleman), but when they meet him they discover that Butler has had a much better life than Kryten: he’s more talented, more intelligent and more artistic, thus making Kryten jealous. Is there any way at all that Lister can get Kryten out of his rut?

This is not the best episode of the series, mainly because it sacrifices too much of the comedy over more dramatic sequences, especially near the end. None of the gags really sustain themselves. While the new red body is good for starters, it begins to wear a bit thin later on. The same is true of Butler: it is funny at first to learn how better he is than Kryten, especially in a scene when both of them try to communicate with a GELF and Butler tries to improve Kryten’s pronunciation, but overall it all feels a bit forgettable.

Red Dwarf is on Dave at 21.00 on Thursday nights.

Taskmaster: Series 3, Episode 3 – Little Polythene Grief Cave

October 18, 2016 by  
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This week we witness one of most disgusting ways to win a challenge ever, a return of a classic task, and some balloon-on-bread action.

The prize task sees the contestants trying to impress Greg Davies and Alex Horne by bringing their best battery operated item. Luckily no-one went anything rude, but there was something rude in the first task proper: filling an eggcup with as much of their own sweat as possible. Rob Beckett was also cheekily given an extra task to do at the same time, which was to do the whole challenge while speaking in an accent that was not his own, which resulted in him speaking just about every known accent and some unknown, while eating peppers.

While Paul Chowdhry exercised, Dave Gorman built his own little Clingfilm greenhouse and Sara Pascoe purchased the sweat of the people filming her, Al Murray went to extreme lengths, claiming that sweat and urine were made of the same things, and thus filling the eggcup with that liquid instead. Fortunately he was disqualified, and quite right too.

Elsewhere, we witnessed Beckett making a human domino rally; the panel completing the now classic “buy a gift for the Taskmaster” challenge with Gorman paying tribute to Davies’s hometown of Wem, Shropshire; making meals in the shape of flags leading to the Pub Landlord making a beautiful British flag from rice; and the difficulties of using bread to hold down helium-filled balloons.

This is one of the best episodes so far, partly because of the range of skills displayed, but it is also one of the most disturbing, and not just because Murray thinks that sweat and urine are interchangeable. A flag might look pretty, but you don’t necessarily want to eat a meal based on one.

Taskmaster is on Dave at 22.00 on Tuesday nights.

The Crystal Maze

October 16, 2016 by  
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This year, my two favourite TV shows from my childhood have returned. Robot Wars returned successfully and has been recommissioned for a second series. Does The Crystal Maze also deserve a full series? I hope so, but there are some improvements that should be made.

Being aired as part of Stand Up to Cancer, Stephen Merchant is guiding a team of celebrities around the four times zones: team captain Rio Ferdinand, vice-captain Sara Cox, Jonnie Peacock, Michelle Keegan and Josh Widdicombe. Tackling physical, skill, mental and mystery games in the Aztec, Medieval, Industrial and Futuristic zones, will they be able to win enough crystals to successfully complete their final challenge inside the Crystal Dome? We’ll leave it for you to find out if you haven’t seen it.

Starting in the Aztec Zone, they started with a welcoming message from Richard O’Brien – a nice touch, as the computer. Normally the computer is in the Futuristic, but I think we can allow it this once. Also liked the photo of Ed Tudor-Pole in Industrial – they didn’t name him, but it was good to see him honoured as well. It was also good to see Maureen Lipman playing the role of Mumsy, providing some tricky questions. Of the five contestants, Widdicombe the best of the lot because of his humour value and his skill on the show. Sara Cox was also entertaining, but for other reasons that are a bit of a spoiler if I were to reveal them.

One problem I did have was that being an original fan of the show, I kept being pedantic when I was watching it. I was a bit confused as to why the captain was not allowed to choose the type of game to play. Surely they could have had at least four games in each zone, one of each, and allow Ferdinand to choose which type of game to play. While I was one of the people who helped crowdfunded The Crystal Maze experience in London where this was filmed, some of the studio designs were off-putting, from the use of push rather than sliding doors in Futuristic to the visible smoke alarms in Aztec and Medieval. I know that healthy and safety is a concern, but they could have done more to hide them. I was also annoyed by the fact that during the challenges, whenever they cut to Merchant outside they removed the clock, which they didn’t in the original series.

If I were to commission The Crystal Maze for a full series (rumour has it though that it won’t), some of the more technical aspects can be more easily handled like the clock and the choice of puzzles. Maybe the Manchester version of the Maze currently in development will be better constructed too. I do hope that Channel 4 do make it a full series however. Despite its faults, it still contains the things that make the original great: fun conundrums, a good host, and the satisfaction of feeling superior while shouting at people knowing that the challenge they are doing is so incredibly easy.

The Crystal Maze can be streamed on More4. You can find out more about Stand Up to Cancer at


October 14, 2016 by  
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Westworld? Anyone with the vaguest interest in the Western genre will remember Westworld, Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi-cowboy-shoot-em-up. So, it’s with little anticipation that this HBO/Sky Atlantic series hit screens last week.

Unfortunately, I just didn’t get it. Everyone else seemed to – the debut episode was HBO’s biggest series opener in three years. For me, it was a bit underwhelming and confusing and episode two did little to make things any clearer. It’s fair to say I’m not on the hook, yet – but it does show potential.

The plot is loosely the same: Westworld is a fantasy theme park where visitors pay to live out their dreams on the Wild West frontier – it’s an immersive all-in type deal where you have the choice to live alongside the state of the art robot citizens (known as hosts) – or you can do as most choose to and either kill or have sex with them. This is the sort of debauched fantasy theme park you’d expect Donald Trump to be championing; it’s a place where anything goes and holidaymakers are encouraged by the madam of the saloon/brothel to cast off inhibitions and “be whoever the f**k, you want to be!”

Thandie Newton, Angela Sarafyan

Everything in the park is scripted. Visitors are drawn into storylines depending on whether they want to be a goodie or a baddie. It’s a familiar kind of hyper reality where behind the scenes boffins play God with technology and surprise, surprise are unable to put back the genie once it has escaped the bottle. Chrichton, you’ll remember, redrew this theme for the hugely popular Jurassic Park – where the cowboys were replaced with living breathing apex predators and most of the human cast became menu items.

Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright in Westworld

This is a big budget production and once the initial sparring stops and the real story emerges, this could be a winner. It is certainly a show with a stellar cast: Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright play the two lead creators whose fascination with AI and consciousness threatens to bring chaos; Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden play hosts who, particularly Marsden’s Teddy, are locked in an abusive, bloody Groundhog Day; Simon Quarterman and Sidse Babett Knudsen are the constantly manoeuvring corporate suits for whom everything comes down to cold hard cash.

The guests flit in and out and only Ed Harris has so far had any prolonged screen time to flesh out his sinister and sadistic man-in-black-ooooooh-he-must-be-a-baddie-type character. Harris plays a man, who’s been visiting the park for decades, but it’s more than the sex and adventure on offer that motivates his return to the park, he is seeking a doorway to the maze.Ed Harris as the mysterious man in black

On-demand platforms have been a blessing to long-form storytelling. The likes of Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos and Game of Thrones all would have made good film franchises – but free of the shackled format of tying up a story in 120 minutes, these series have fledged into hugely popular, multi-threaded and complex modern classics. It is difficult to say whether Westworld can distill its crisscrossing intrigue into a fathomable plotline but it will be fun riding along to find out.

Westworld is showing on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday at 9pm.

Red Dwarf XI, Episode 4 – Officer Rimmer

October 13, 2016 by  
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The Red Dwarf crew has faced many horrors: emotion-sucking GELFs, rogue simulants, despair squids, evil versions of themselves, and have even witnessed Winnie-the-Pooh being shot by firing squad, but this time they face possibly the worst horror of all: Rimmer with power.

Rimmer (Chris Barrie), along with Lister (Craig Charles), Cat (Danny John-Jules) and Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) are on Starbug when they get a distress called from a uranium-powered ship called the Nautlius, trapped on the other side of an asteroid field. The ship has a “bio-printer”, which prints off crew members whenever a mission arises, and the members disappear whenever they are no longer needed. Admittedly, there is the problem of paper jams meaning that in the case of the ship’s captain Edwin Herring (Stephen Critchlow) his printout has a stretched-out head that is always looking at the ceiling, but that’s something you can get used to.

As the Nautilus is powered by radioactive material, Rimmer decides to destroy the Nautilus with a missile. The missile doesn’t blow up the ship however, it just knocks it away to safety. For this amazing piece of good luck, Captain Herring decides to promote Rimmer to the rank of “Officer” and to visit Red Dwarf. With his new rank, Rimmer immediately starts to abuse his powers, segregating just about everything on ship: having his own beautifully crafted lifts and corridors while the rest of the crew are left with virtual wreckage. When Captain Herring boards Red Dwarf, his mission is complete and thus his print out disintegrates, meaning that there is no-one capable of demoting Rimmer back to Second Technician. Rimmer then takes the bio-printer and starts making duplicate copies of himself, all ranked below him so they will obey his commands without question, and creates his own Officer’s Club purely for “himselves”. Things become even worse however when the bio-printer jams when trying to print out multiple copies of the smeghead.

This is probably the best episode of Series XI so far. When it comes to Red Dwarf nothing is quite as good as when we delve into Rimmer’s disgusting attitudes, behaviour and… well, everything really. Rimmer’s already wonderfully horrible, so when his bitterness, pettiness and weasel-like behaviour goes to its most extreme limits, the results are always going to be a sight to see, and the end result is probably one of the most memorable monsters Red Dwarf has ever had.

There are also good performances from the other regulars. Another great scene is where Lister discovers he is on the bio-printer files because he once accidentally sold his genome. He asks Kryten to help him delete the record, but Kryten “refuses” to do so, by telling Lister how do it while saying while he himself does not carry out the final act.

If there is a flaw with this episode it is that the ending is very abrupt. You suspect that there ending was going to be longer but it had to be cut as the episode was running too long.

Red Dwarf is on Dave at Thursday nights at 21.00.

Taskmaster: Series 3, Episode 2 – The Dong and the Gong

October 11, 2016 by  
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Taskmaster Series Three 2

This week Greg Davies’s game show featured condiment art, nudity and some furious use of a pair of corkscrews.

Tonight’s episode would see contestants Al Murray, Dave Gorman, Paul Chowdhry, Rob Beckett and Sara Pascoe fighting for five heavy items that can each fit in a shoebox. With a lump of marble, a possibly dangerous snake and a copy of Alan Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives among the things up for grabs, the first task proper saw each of them trying to surprise Greg’s assistant Alex Horne when he came out of his shed. Beckett may have won this task by dressing up as an old lady and firing water out of a pressure hose at him, but my personal favourite was Murray, who decided to bang a gong and firing four air horns with his feet, while wearing just shoes, socks, underpants and a flat cap.

We also witnessed the first team task of the series, with teams consisting of Murray, Gorman and Chowdhry (the bearded men) against Beckett and Pascoe (the sinister Aryan twins) as both followed a wild goose chase to release Horne from a pair of handcuffs. After this they then painted upside-down self-portraits using ketchup, brown sauce and other condiments; and tried to pop a row of balloons in as quick a time as possible.

The surprising Horne challenge was the best task of the series so far, because of the completely unexpected nature of what was going to happen. There was also some added sneakiness from the creators with them hiding a message in the balloon challenge which the competitors had to try and decode.

Taskmaster series three is keeping up the quality of the first episode, so things are going well.

Taskmaster is on Dave on Tuesday nights at 22.00.

Red Dwarf XI: Episode 3, Give and Take

October 6, 2016 by  
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Red Dwarf Give and Take 1

This week the crew end up dealing with a serious medical emergency, and the only one that can save the day is the most selfish being in the universe.

Lister (Craig Charles), Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Cat (Danny John-Jules) and Kryten (Robert Llewelyn) come across a space station that is due to be destroyed in five hours by a meteor shower. The crew decide to board it in order to salvage anything useful. The space station is home to Asclepius, an advanced medical droif – although it doesn’t look advanced when Rimmer and Kryten meet it (it only has four buttons).

This is perhaps due to the fact that the droid they think is Asclepius is actually Snacky, a snack dispensing machine. The real Asclepius is now insane, kidnaps Lister and Cat, and begins operating on them. When Rimmer and Kryten encounter the real Asclepius, they destroy it, but also destroy something else in their crossfire – Lister’s kidneys, which the robot had removed in an operation. Escaping to Red Dwarf before the meteors destroy the space station, Kryten tells Lister that the only way to save him is to find a kidney and change its DNA using Asclepius/Snacky’s “advanced” technology. However, they have one big problem. The only other individual on board Red Dwarf with any working kidneys is Cat. How is Lister going to persuade the most selfish creature ever known to give him something when he has nothing to offer in return?

It has to be said that this episode didn’t seem as funny as last week’s edition. While again it was good to see more from the Cat with him developing more as a character, this episode didn’t have as many great comic moments. There were some highlights though. The best of these is when Rimmer sees Snacky to get some psychotherapy, which sees a montage sequence of Rimmer trying to explain all the horrible incidents in his life which have made him the smeghead he is, including him in near tears when he exclaims: “Why did she get the green crayon?”

However, out of the three episodes of the series so far, this one has felt the weakest. Hopefully things will pick up again next week.

Red Dwarf XI is on Dave at 21.00 on Thursday nights.

Taskmaster: Series 3, Episode 1 – Pea in a Haystack

October 4, 2016 by  
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Taskmaster Series Three 1

Dave’s challenge game show returns, complete with frozen peas, not-so-frozen snowmen, and some swede-on-Swede action.

Joining Greg Davies and Alex Horne for this series this time are comedians Al Murray, Dave Gorman, Paul Chowdhry, Rob Beckett and Sara Pascoe. After sorting out the prize task, with the winner of this episode getting five flamboyant clocks – only one of which really counts as a clock as they also consisted of a sundial, a stove and a microwave oven – the comics were challenged to get to a microwave before it finished cooking soup in as few steps as possible, in a path blocked by hurdles and crash mats. It seems Chowdhry is going to be the least likely contestant to win judging by this first task, as he just stepped on the hurdles.

Following this we had the challenge of propelling a pea the furthest, making sure it lands on some red carpet, in which we see Gorman coming up with a devious way to cheat; building a snowman when there is no snow outside, leading to Pascoe to make one out of ice cream and a horrific film of it melting; and the live task, which involves balancing swedes on some Swedish people.

The best bit about this opening episode is the inventiveness of some of the contestants, especially in the snowman task. Aside from Pascoe’s use of ice cream we also had Murray using ice-cubes (with horrific results), Beckett with marsh mellows, Gorman using powdered mash potato and Chowdhry combining Slush Puppies and a white rabbit.

It is a nice start, but we need to wait a bit to see how it compares to the previous two series.

Taskmaster is on Dave at 22.00 on Tuesday nights.

Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls – episode 3

October 4, 2016 by  
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Mark Jenkins the outsider

We’re smugly self-satisfied this week, resting back in a post episode three glow. After enduring the flailings of the various M to Z list celebrities who have been marooned courtesy of Bear Grylls on a south Pacific island, we can scoff indignantly that their lack of action has finally brought its comeuppance.

The catalyst for the humongous mentality shift is a session with Dr Dawn on the weighing scales, which reveals the group has lost more than 20 stones between them, and a night at the mercy of the mighty sandfly – a tiny beach dwelling parasite that enjoys a nocturnal feast courtesy of the celebs continued insistence of sleeping on the ground.

Bug-bitten and visibly diminished, the penny, at last, has dropped with the camp inhabitants and the serious business of trying to construct basic shelter and feed themselves is embraced with something that could easily be mistaken for real effort.

Dom Joly, Ollie Lock and a Pufferfish

Unfortunately, real effort is no substitute for lady luck or common sense, and so in spite of their best efforts the group return to camp sans dinde. To compound the cloud of doom hovering over the camp, the fishing party also returns without bounty. When fortune isn’t smiling on you, you are offered hope – in the form of a fish – before being dashed when you realise it is a pufferfish; a creature that protects itself by producing the lethal toxin tetrodotoxin, which is up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide.

A sanguine Ollie Locke muses “The only fish we’ve caught, the only potential food we have – is one of the most poisonous fish in the sea. This island really does have the most extraordinary way of sh***ing on you!”

Exhausted and dispirited Mark ‘The Hotel’ Jenkins heads back to camp to see how the other islanders have fared in his absence. With no firewood visible, he falls into full micro-manager mode and critiques the efforts/work output of the rest of the group – particularly Karen Danczuk.

Having instigated last week’s coup and taken over as leader Mark’s casual sexism and belief that:

  1. He is the only person putting in the correct effort
  2. He is always right – and speedily succeeds in isolating him from the rest of the camp.

There is no carrot with Mark, it is 100% stick.

“He’s got a real problem with me that man, states selfie queen, Danczuk. “You know what it is? It’s woman in power.”

“He’s so sexist … he comes in here like a chihuahua, just attacking,” she bleats to the rest of the group. “That, for me, has all the ingredients for a very insecure man.”

Mark Jenkins Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls

To disprove his insecurity and reassert his masculinity, Mark opts to showcase his leadership qualities by hacking at logs with his machete before inventing an utterly useless turkey catching contraption.

Dom Joly with impeccable comic delivery queries whether it is the most efficient method for catching turkeys: “It’s not a well-known hunting method,” he says with tongue in cheek. “In fact, I think, I saw it on a cartoon once.”

Unperturbed, Mark sets off in his pith helmet into the jungle in search of his prey, only to return crest-fallen and outwitted by the birds. His failure signals the end of his time as camp leader and a populist revolt installs Karen Danczuk as the new decision maker supreme.

“When I set my mind to something I usually succeed,” she states. Thankfully her confidence is well-founded because the very next day two hapless turkeys stroll a little too close to camp and are promptly pushed to the head of the menu. Happy days all round and a huge morale boost for camp.

It’s rather strange that The Sun reported viewers were unimpressed that the starving celebs had caught, killed and eaten the two turkeys. If I been on an island with no food for 10 days, I wouldn’t give a second thought to wringing the necks of whatever edible unfortunate crossed my path. I don’t remember the synopsis of the show or the titles saying this was Celebrity Vegan Island with Bear Grylls. If you get squeamish at the site of poultry being killed next week, probably isn’t for you, but with Ollie Locke getting his shot at leadership it should have its lighter moments.

If you take one positive thing from this experience let it be your support of the Stand Up to Cancer campaign, you can learn more about what the charity does and how you can help at Channel4/su2c.

The Animals of Farthing Wood: The Complete DVD Collection

October 3, 2016 by  
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Animals of Farthing Wood 1

It is always interesting looking back at older TV shows, especially those aimed at children, because you get the feeling certain shows would not be made in the same way, or at all, if they were made now.

The animated adaptation of Colin Dann’s Animals of Farthing Wood novels, originally produced by the European Broadcasting Union and shown in the UK on BBC in the mid-1990s, appears to be such a show that would be made differently if it was produced today. For a children’s show there is a surprisingly high body-count, which you suspect is considered allowable because the characters are animals rather than humans.

The first of the three series see the titular animals leave Farthing Wood after humans come in to develop the land, making their way to White Deer Park nature reserve. They make an oath to protect one-another and not to eat each other during their trip. The animals are led by Fox, with the assistance of elderly Badger, pompous Owl, and their guide Toad. Along with them are the mischievous Weasel, sarcastic Adder, and cry-baby Mole. Their journey is full of danger, mostly caused by human activity. This ranges from a fire caused by a burning cigarette, crossing a motorway, and surviving a fox hunt.

In the other two series, the Farthing Wood animals come into conflict with other animals. In the second they come into a territorial dispute with a group of blue foxes, and in the third they deal with an invasion of rats. Several of the animals start their own families, such as Fox who in the first series finds his mate Vixen, and later their have children and grandchildren; other animals become part of the group, like Whistler the Stork who gets his name from the whistling sound his wing makes after a hunter shot a whole in it; and others fail to make through the journey, die in harsh winters, or fall victim to human activity.

As stated, the number of creatures that die in The Animals of Farthing Wood is surprisingly high. Characters die from being shot, poisoned, run-over, trampled, fighting with each other, natural disasters, old age, and failing to survive hibernation. You do see blood as well, which is rare for a series with a “U” certificate. You suspect that the blood would be one thing that might not be shown if the series was made now.

However, it is these scenes that make The Animals of Farthing Wood stand out from other shows at the time. It is a children’s drama that relied on action and plot rather than comedic elements. The thing that makes The Animals of Farthing Wood good is the danger, the tension and the suspense. It is like a proper drama, only aimed at children and made in a much more accessible way. Thus, the death scenes and violence are arguably a good thing, because it provides an alternative to the more escapist cartoons normally aimed at children. The series actually makes you care for the characters, which was a rarity then, and when you compare British children’s cartoons to those of the USA and Japan, still a rarity now.

The Animals of Farthing Wood: The Complete DVD Collection is released by Network and is available to buy now.

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