Category: Sci-Fi Café


BBC war of the Worlds b

Review by C.J. Bunce

Back in 2018 we celebrated the 120th anniversary of the publication of H.G. Wells’ genre defining science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds here at borg We’ve also reviewed several adaptations and retellings over the past decade.  The latest historical adaptation is a 2019 three-part BBC series now streaming here on Amazon Prime.  Director Craig Viveiros’ The War of the Worlds may be the best yet at blending the old and the new–the end of the 19th century with the demands of modern viewers.  Suspenseful, consistent with H.G. Wells’ Edwardian themes, this short series is chock full of very British characters and concepts taking on several science fiction cautionary paradigms: warnings of the dangers of new technologies, the cost of hubris, prejudice, and colonialism, and the adventures, fear, and trials that come with the unknowable future.

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The next season of Doctor Who will be a season of firsts–with the first woman to play the Doctor: Jodie Whittaker, two companions of color:  Mandip Gill’s Yasmin and Tosin Cole’s Ryan, and the first scripts from writers of color in the series’ 55 year history.  Whittaker, Gill, and Ryan joined new showrunner Chris Chibnall and executive producer Matt Strevens in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con Friday for the first public event featuring the new cast and crew for fans.  They revealed no spoilers for the season but provided a first look and feel for the characters and approach for this next season.  Only one of the three actors playing a new companion, Bradley Walsh, could not attend the panel, but provided a brief video message during the panel.

“The thing about this role, which is why it’s so amazing for any actor to play the role, is that essentially gender isn’t relevant, and that’s completely liberating,” Whittaker said at an SDCC press event.  “I have never approached a role thinking, ‘How would a woman play this role?’  I just am one.  I don’t think a guy has ever thought, ‘How do I play a guy in this scene?’ – you just are…  So essentially my energy, my approach to this, is coming from a very instinctive place, which is genderless to me.  The best thing about the Doctor is I’m not playing either–I’m an alien.”

Courtesy of BBC America, you can watch the entire hour-long panel from Friday showing the first public appearance of Whittaker as the new Doctor right now, along with a preview of Whittaker and three new companions in some clips from the upcoming season.  Check it out:

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Probably no other visionary from the 19th century except Mary Shelley and Jules Verne is as synonymous with the genre of science fiction as H.G. Wells.  How many science fiction works did Wells inspire with his stories, with elements infused into books, television series, and movies–120 years later and never going out of print?  Only hours ago the BBC announced a new three-part series adapting The War of the Worlds will be arriving later this year, starring Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Shaun of the Dead), Eleanor Tomlinson (Jack the Giant Slayer, Alice in Wonderland), Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later, Once Upon a Time), and Krypton and Sherlock’s Rupert Graves.  The War of the Worlds.  The Time Machine.  The Invisible Man.  The Island of Dr. Moreau.  A new series of graphic novels from Insight Comics is adapting all four of Wells’ classics.  These go beyond the old Illustrated Classics editions, taking on several science fiction paradigms: warnings of the dangers of new technologies, the cost of hubris, and the adventures and trials that come from the unknown worlds of the future.

First in the new series is an action-packed adaptation of The War of the Worlds.   Tailored from the original 1897 tale of freakish alien tripod alien invaders annihilating parts of England, the writer known as Dobbs provides a faithful take on Wells’s work.  It’s always interesting to see new interpretations of the look of Wells’ invaders, and artist Vicente Cifuentes (best known for his DC Comics art) provides a visually striking view of the varying appearances of the invaders as well as an authentic and engaging feel for the 19th century setting of the original novel.

Scientist Dr. Robert H. Goddard referenced The War of the Worlds as an influence for creating the real-world liquid-fueled rocket that would later take humans to the Moon.

Take a look at these sample pages from the first book in the new H.G. Wells series from Insight Comics, courtesy of the publisher:

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This year we found one series that could easily sweep most of the categories–a single television series that had everything: compelling story, a full range of emotions, great characters, tremendous action, a sharp use of humor, all kinds of genre elements that were satisfying and left viewers feeling inspired.  Richly detailed sets and costumes.  An impossible feat to replicate.  No drama came close.  No other visual effects spectacle could touch it.  And its audience is everyone.  A truly epic addition to television viewing, that series is The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the greatest television series to come along in years.  If you love genre like we do, this was as good as it gets.  And like icing on the cake, along came The Mandalorian at year end.

But we’re not going to ignore the other good things that happened on the small screen this year.

Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here and the best Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg SeriesDoom Patrol (DC Universe).  With this year’s series Doom Patrol we got a look at two borgs, DC Comics’ Cyborg, an update to Martin Caidin’s original Bionic Man from the 1970s, and an older borg created before the word was even coined in the 1960s, Robotman.  Both characters revealed a glimpse at what life might be like with significant cybernetic enhancements (when brought together by a modern Dr. Frankenstein).  For 2019, it was the way to get your borg fix on the small screen.

Best TV Series, Best New Limited TV Series, Best TV Fantasy, Best Writing for TV, Best TV Costumes/Makeup, Best TV SoundtrackThe Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix).  It was worth the wait.  Jim Henson’s seemingly impossible to replicate artistic vision was successfully achieved thanks to his daughters and the company he founded.  The kindest heroes, the darkest evil, a truly epic, legendary story for the ages.  Everybody is cranking out CGI extravaganzas, but how many are creating artistry so fundamentally real, with so many individual artists and artisans contributing and achieving so much?  Even that wouldn’t be enough if not for the layered mythology and epic adventure story.  Add great humor, high stakes, emotional impact, an all-star voice cast, Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s  imaginative musical score, and those puppets and all that go into them–it adds up to a rare thing–a Henson masterpiece.

Best TV Sci-fi Series, Best TV DramaThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  Amazon Studios could not have adapted a series more faithfully, making changes for the medium and the times, than its take on Philip K. Dick’s most celebrated novel.  The use of science fiction to tell a deep and twisty level of subplots and unique setting all came to a perfect conclusion in the series finale.  Exciting, intelligent, frightening, and the most thought-provoking series this year, it was also different from its sci-fi competition.  Honorable mention: The Mandalorian (Disney+)–but only if we allow space fantasy since the series is not true science fiction, The Orville (Fox)–for its two-part epic movie-worthy space story, “Identity.”

Best New Ongoing TV Series, Runner-up: Best TV Soundtrack, Runner-up: Best TV Costumes/Makeup The Mandalorian (Disney+).  Not a lot needs explaining with this series, which in only its first two hours we rated it closer to the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back than anything with the Star Wars label on it since.  The Western motif is still alive, not all that hidden here in space fantasy garb.  And we won’t get started on the impact of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) on the genre-loving world and beyond.  Credit Jon Favreau’s visible enthusiasm and love for the original movies for the success of this surprisingly awesome arrival–the series is proof Star Wars is far from over.

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It has been a Christmas tradition in the UK on and off again for more than fifty years.  The Doctor Who Christmas Special returns for another episode this Christmas Day, available in the states on BBC America.  This year Fathom Events has teamed up with BBC to bring the show to movie theaters, for two days only.  So you can watch it in television in traditional style and/or see it a few days later on the big screen.  One of several Doctor Who screenings held by Fathom Events over the past three years, it’s as close as Doctor Who fans can get to experiencing a full-fledged Doctor Who movie.

Superheroes is the theme of this year’s entry, as revealed in the trailer below.  “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” features the 12th Doctor played by Peter Capaldi, but without his normal companion Jenna-Louise Coleman.  The good Doctor teams up instead with a journalist played by Charity Wakefield (Wolf Hall, Sense & Sensibility, Jane Eyre), and the duo teams up with a new superhero to defend Earth from another alien threat.  The show co-stars Justin Chatwin (Orphan Black, War of the Worlds), Matt Lucas (Alice in Wonderland, Doctor Who, Galavant, Community), Adetomiwa Edun (The Hour, Bates Motel, Law & Order UK), and Aleksandar Jovanovic.

mysterio

The theater screenings will take place at 7 p.m. local time December 27 and 29, 2016.  Check out the Fathom Events website here for theater locations and to purchase tickets.

Here is a preview of “The Return of Doctor Mysterio:”

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The one-two punch of the third season of the 12th Doctor on BBC’s Doctor Who plus the new spin-off Class is the two-hour TV block sci-fi fans won’t want to miss this season.  Last week witnessed the first episode of Peter Capaldi’s final season on Doctor Who, with Pearl Mackie as the new companion, a vibrant and refreshing character named Bill Potts.  It also saw the premiere of Class, full of intrigue, exceptional actors, and great characterization for an introductory episode.  Aliens and time travel fans should take note, as a fun ride is ahead this season.

It’s the 36th season for Doctor Who and tenth season since the 2005 reboot.  Whovians who have fallen in love with Karen Gillan and Jenna Coleman and their predecessors will find how easily Mackie slips into her role.  After the sweetness and syrupy music over the past few seasons that supported Clara Oswald, the series was due for some fun and a break from the weight of emotion that Oswald’s plight brought to the Doctor.  And Mackie’s Bill looks great, with a cool jean jacket full of flair and a wild shirts that fit in with the past styles of Doctor Who garb.  And that hair!  Bill provides a full character study in her first episode, “Pilot,” where an alien race of space oil beings seek out a star pilot in a woman who is the eye of Bill’s affection.  The result is another creepy and brilliant Doctor Who villain that will hopefully surface again.  Matt Lucas–who is hard to forget as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland–returns as Nardole, a part that is also quickly folding nicely into the show.

class-show

In the United States we had been offered up only the briefest teaser preview for the new Doctor Who spinoff TV series Class. With two stars of the Jeremy Piven star vehicle Mr. Selfridge in lead roles–the brilliant actress Katherine Kelly and the up-and-coming actor Greg Austin–the series was primed to be good, and episode one, “For Tonight We Might Die,” did not disappoint.  As we had speculated earlier this year, the series seemed to be revealing what Doctor Who would look like with a woman playing the lead role.  Katherine Kelly went head-to-head with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and proved she has the right stuff for the part.  She’s perfect as a headstrong leader, and the younger leader played by Austin fills the niche that the companion would serve in the Who-niverse.

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Our borg.com Best of 2017 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2017 here and the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2017 yesterday here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg TV Series, Best TV BorgHumans (AMC). From the awakenings in the first episode of season 2, AMC’s Humans kicked in full throttle as the borg show to watch this year.  Continuing to explore what it means to be real and addressing the desire and need to overcome oppression, the show took ideas from Frankenstein and THX-1138 and everything in between to show us realities of life as a borg as it took the world from robotic cyborgs to sentience.  And this year’s best borg goes to all the Synths on the series, as each showed a different side to what a world full of cyborgs might be like.

Best Sci-fi TV Series, Best Soundtrack for TVThe Orville (Fox).   The Orville expanded on elements from across all sci-fi, like space battle sequences and planet flyovers using Star Wars-inspired camera angles (including real model ships, not just CGI), completely new and unique aliens (the only thing close to these can be found in Doctor Who), and a fantastic, triumphant musical score from Bruce Broughton.  A visually gorgeous show that took itself seriously more than trying to mock anything that came before it.  The science fiction series we’ve been waiting for since Star Trek Voyager ended.

Best Fantasy TV SeriesWynonna Earp (Syfy).  Wynonna Earp’s second season proved the first wasn’t a fluke.  The sharp-tongued, swaggering, tough-as-nails gunfighter, her sister, the sheriff, and the ghost of Doc Holliday added some new team members and some great supernatural villains, providing a series we couldn’t wait to get back to each week.  Wynonna’s handling of the Revenants and a transport back in time was even more fun while she managed her pregnancy.

Best Retro TV SeriesStranger Things (Netflix).  The only question after binge-watching the second season of Stranger Things was struggling to decide whether it was better than the first.   It had the same look and feel of its first season, but somehow the characterization was really amped up, the action more exciting, and the tension pretty much perfect.  Stranger Things really had it all–stars of our favorite 1980s movies, throwback references to video games, music, fashions, and the obscure like no other show–and with a second season that eclipsed the first, it proved it is the real deal.

After the cut, come back for more of our Best in Television 2017, including our pick for Best TV Series:

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Mr Robot

Review by C.J. Bunce

The term “mind-blowing” is one of the most over-used phrases on the Web.  In truth, I am not sure I have ever seen anything I would call mind-blowing.  Yet if something were to come close, it may be the pilot to USA Network’s new intense, psychological thrill ride, Mr. Robot.  Although I haven’t seen roughly half of the pilots for the new series hitting the small screen this summer, of what I’ve seen this will top the watch list.  That’s saying a lot considering the eight other new sci-fi series I previewed here at borg.com this past week: CW Network’s Stitchers, ABC’s The Whispers, Syfy’s Killjoys, Dark Matter, and The Expanse, TNT’s Proof, AMC’s Humans, and Netflix’s Between And don’t forget about BBC America’s Orphan Black, CW’s iZombie, and Fox’s Wayward Pines, sci-fi series already airing.  Never before have viewers had more new sci-fi options on TV to choose from.

With top-notch, successful series like Monk, Psych, Burn Notice, and White Collar under its belt, USA Network may have another winner on its hands, and prove once and for all you don’t have to be HBO or Showtime to produce compelling television.

Rami Malek (Night at the Museum, Medium, 24, Battleship, The Legend of Korra), stars as Elliot, a tech for a cyber-security consulting firm, a drug addict, a loner, a genius.  I suspect we’re not supposed to know yet what he truly is:  Hero, Villain, Vigilante, Cyber-terrorist, or something of each.  He suffers from depression and possibly schizophrenia, he makes bad personal decisions, and his political views and odd mannerisms fuel his paranoia.  Paranoia, suggesting someone is always watching, as he roams, cloaked under his hood, wandering the streets of New York City.  Is any of this real, or it it all in his head?  Will we ever know?  Is Mr. Robot even sci-fi as the title would suggest, or a strange fantasy, or supernatural, or something entirely different?  Filmed like a modern but dark and gritty, fourth-wall breaking Ferris Bueller and emitting the uneasy dread of an updated WarGamesMr. Robot faces current social issues head on (and even the wall-breaking may not be real, and only something in Elliot’s mind).  We last saw a show take on similar subversive themes in the excellent Syfy series Continuum.

Christian Slater Mr Robot

With single-camera cinematography by Tim Ives, creator/writer Sam Esmail reaches right into our world of social networking and power in the hands of an elite group of decision makers and plunges the viewer into Elliot’s personal fears.  Something almost painterly goes into each shot, often surreal like a Wes Anderson movie, yet the stylishness never slows down the pace of the action.  In one set of scenes, an approaching Ferris wheel car off-camera appears to jar the actors and us out of our seats and keep us on our toes–twice.  Elliot is unaffected.

Malek gives us a character first unlikable–his world is disturbing and ugly, yet this anti-hero quickly grows on you to be somehow sympathetic, his dodgy eyes, uneasiness, and jittery mannerisms will keep you on edge for the entire hour.  The pilot may be the best pilot we’ve seen since the premiere of Lost.  Rounding out the experience, like John Carpenter would use to support his own thriller, Mac Quayle (American Horror Story) provides an intense, thumping, almost Daft Punk-inspired soundtrack that speeds the narrative along. 

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Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany as everyone

Well it’s been one long year, with plenty to do and see, plenty of good and not-so-good to read and watch, and we’re certain we read more and reviewed more content this year than ever before.  And that in no less way was true for TV watching.  At the same time we waded through all that Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre films we thought were worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our 25 picks for our annual Best of the Best list.  Today we reveal the best content focusing on the moving image, and tomorrow we’ll run through our picks for the best in print and other media.  We hope you agree with many of these great creations of the entertainment industries, and wish everyone a great 2014!

Year’s Best Fantasy Fix — The Wizard of Oz in Theaters.  It’s a film that has been viewed on TV so many times you might take it for granted.  It’s historically been on many movie reviewers’ Top 20 movies of all time.  But when you watch The Wizard of Oz on the big screen in the middle of a year of modern blockbusters you realize how it can stand up against anything Hollywood has to offer today, even after 70 years.  Remastering the print for a new generation to see it in theaters was a highlight for movie watchers this year.

Almost Human partners

Year’s Best Sci-Fi Fix — Almost Human, Fox.  Like Continuum last year, the new series Almost Human created a future world that is believable and full of extraordinary technologies based in today’s science and touching on social issues of any day.  And even putting aside its buddy cop and police procedural brilliance, every episode plunged us into future police grappling with incredible technologies–DNA bombs criminals use to contaminate a crime scene, identity masking technology to avoid facial recognition video monitors–it was the best dose of sci-fi in 2013.

Best TV Series — Orphan Black, BBC America.  What rose above everything on TV or film this year was BBC America’s new series, the almost indescribable Orphan Black From its initial trailers that piqued our interest, to the surprise series consisting of one actress playing multiple roles that dazzled from out of nowhere, magical special effects, and a unique story of clones and X-Files-inspired intrigue propelled Orphan Black to be our clear winner for Best TV Series of 2013.

Sleepy Hollow

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Into the Dalek screencap

Review by C.J. Bunce

With the historic reboot of Doctor Who in 2006 and all of Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat’s world building since then with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and their five companion voyagers– what if the creators have been holding back?  What if we haven’t seen nothin’ yet, if all these great science fiction episodes were all leading up to the real payoff with the 12th Doctor?  I got that feeling last night with only the second Doctor Who episode of the season.  This new Doctor is here to stay, and the writers are driving full steam ahead, plunging Clara (Jenna Coleman) and the Doctor straight into the darkness without giving us a chance to breathe.

We’ve heard it before: Resistance is futile.  But this time the phrase is not about Star Trek and the futility isn’t about we humans, as the new Doctor stumbles into his latest encounter with one of his most hated borg nemeses: The Daleks.  With “Into the Dalek” Steven Moffat has created what I am sure we’ll look back on as an episode up there with the David Tennant episodes “Waters of Mars” and “Silence in the Library” or Matt Smith’s “Cold War.”Doctor 12 and DalekIn only his second outing as the Doctor, Peter Capaldi is already comfortable in the role he was destined to play since his days sending fan letters to the BBC as a young boy.  With last week’s season opener “Deep Breath,” we were introduced to Capaldi’s Doctor in a typical Doctor Who post-regeneration episode–part with the Doctor learning to “love the skin he’s in” while also getting a taste of how his companion is going to adapt, wrapped in a Tanagra/El-Adrel IV story.

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