Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 7: Nightmare in Silver (Spoilers)

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In every series of Doctor Who, there comes a time when an old enemy must be revisited. Though the second half of Series 7 would seem to have fulfilled this requirement with “Cold War,” the episode focused on the Ice Warrior Skaldak, it was decided that Neil Gaiman‘s episode would be about the classic Cybermen. This had me worried for several reasons. In almost every episode of New Who that has featured these baddies, their stories have been near carbon copies of one another. They have been characterized by a lack of imagination in terms of plotting, and little to no evolution of the Cybermen themselves. Which is why “Nightmare in Silver was, hands down, the best Cyberman episode that we have had in a long, long time (as well as one of the best episodes of Who overall).

Doctor Who - Series 7BNeil Gaiman has said that the Cybermen had always been one of the scariest Who villains of his childhood. For this episode, he was tasked with restoring them to their former creepy glory, and succeeded admirably. These new Cybermen have lost the clanking, steampunk nature inherent in their previous iterations, and have become creatures of evolution. Reminiscent of the quickly-evolving tech industry of today, they adapt almost instantaneously to new weapons and obstacles and send out updates to every single soldier with the “patch.”

Hedgewicks-TicketThe episode takes place on a theme park planet called Hedgewick’s World of Wonders that was destroyed while humans battled Cybermen thousands of years prior. The Cybermen were vanquished, at the cost of the galaxy that they had inhabited. The entire galaxy that the Cybermen took over was obliterated. Scientific improbability aside, this is a new reaction to the Cyber threat – the futuristic version of total war. It shows ruthlessness – and a certain selflessness – present in the future human race that we have not seen often in Who.

486731_531756970193775_438965392_nThe Doctor takes Clara, as well as Angie and Artie – the two children for whom Clara is nanny – to the theme park, not expecting the devastation they find. A few soldiers remain on the planet to guard against a potential resurgence of their old foe. They also encounter a chess master with dwarfism named Porridge (played by Warwick Davis), who operates a seemingly defunct Cyberman to frighten people. The group readies to leave, but the Doctor decides last-minute to investigate the strange metal bugs infesting the place. These turn out to be Cybermites – tinier versions of the classic Cybermats – and partially convert Angie and Artie into walking coma patients, to be used to build more Cybermen later. And then the ‘mites find the Doctor.

Doctor-Who-713This is when Matt Smith shines as an actor. He is partially converted into the leader of the Cybermen, or the Cyberplanner, because of his extraordinary mind. However, the Doctor is strong, and a battle for supremacy over his body and brain ensues. The marvelous interior of the Doctor’s consciousness – where Doctor and Cyberplanner threaten and snarl at each other – is split between golden Gallifreyan lettering (on the Doctor’s side) and electric blue energy (on the Cyberplanner’s side). Finally, the two agree to play a game of chess for control over the Doctor’s body. Throughout this scene, Smith switches back and forth between Doctor and Cyberplanner (who has christened himself Mr. Clever), a seemingly endless dance of two incredibly intelligent foes. The two are simultaneously polar opposites and completely indistinguishable from one another, which was a frightening choice on Smith’s part and only emphasized his incredible acting prowess.

Mr. Clever is temporarily incapacitated when the Doctor slaps a golden ticket onto the circuitry on his face, because apparently the Cybermen still haven’t fixed that annoying weakness to gold and cleaning fluids. Meanwhile, Clara has taken charge of the soldiers – who turn out to be a nearly incompetent punishment platoon – as Cybermen reawaken from beneath the surface of the world. She and her motley army station themselves in a castle surrounded by a moat, and take stock of Clara_cyber_guntheir resources: one gigantic anti-Cyber gun; five hand pulsers which, when placed on the back of a Cyberman’s head, render them inert; and a bomb that has the capacity to blow up the planet. The Doctor joins Clara shortly with Angie and Artie in tow (still comatose yet able to walk). Clara ties him to a chair so that he can finish his chess game with Mr. Clever, then goes off to muster her troops. Continue reading

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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 6: “The Crimson Horror” (Spoilers)

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Doctor-Who-Madame-Vastra-Jenny-and-StraxSince both Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures left the air, there have been slots open for new Doctor Who spinoffs. “The Crimson Horror” gives us a taste of the most obvious – and potentially greatest – choice. With plenty of innuendo to go around and witty one-liners flying everywhere, as well as a certain Sontaran‘s endearing obsession with violence, the return of the JennyVastraStrax triumvirate in 19th century Yorkshire is a witty glimpse into a world that deserves its own series.

doctor-who-season-7-episode-11The beginning of the episode is curiously Doctor and Clara-free, which – although frightening at first – is a refreshing change. We are introduced to the conundrum of the week: the Crimson Horror and its ensuing trail of bright red bodies in the river. An undertaker presents to the team the belief that the last The_Crimson_Horrorimage a soon-to-be-corpse sees is forever burned across their retinas in an image known as an “optogram.” Vastra discounts this immediately as superstition. However, with the help of unexplained (but very Victorian-looking) technology, the eyes of the latest stiff are found to reflect a very familiar face – that of the Doctor himself.

Doooooo-weeeeee-doooooo… Continue reading

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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 5: “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” (Spoilers)

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Besides the 50th anniversary special feature-length film/episode 3-D thing, “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” immediately caught my attention when scanning episode titles before Series 7.5 premiered. Fans have been teased with the endlessness of the TARDIS since the beginning of Who, and though several rooms have been revealed in the past, “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” was an episode that promised to focus exclusively on the interior of the ship that has been a pillar of the show since 1963. Every fan of Doctor Who has their own preconceptions of what rooms the TARDIS holds – myself included – so naturally there was bound to be some disappointment involved. How could a television episode live up to that title? But before we get there, let’s start at the beginning.

doctor-who-series-7-hide-promo-pics-34The Doctor begins the episode by commenting on the hostility between Clara and the TARDIS. This has been a recurring theme throughout the second half of Series 7, and one that will no doubt be connected to the fact that Clara keeps popping up in different times as different versions of herself. The TARDIS seems to react aggressively towards anything with an unnatural timeline, and Ms. Oswald would appear to fit the bill. In previous series, the Doctor’s companion and the TARDIS have had little to no interaction. The fact that this is suddenly reversed is a compelling development. The Doctor is insistent that the two get along, and shuts the TARDIS down to “Basic Mode” so that Clara can fly it.

What piqued my curiosity about this scene was that Clara seemed able to pilot the TARDIS relatively well in the previous episode, “Hide.” No, it was not River Song-level flying, but it was impressive nonetheless. So the fact that she suddenly needs training wheels is somewhat confusing. But I digress.

Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 6.12.59 PMThe crew of a passing scavenger spaceship notice the TARDIS on their radar and reel it in with a magnetic tractor beam, hoping for loot. This seems to cause the TARDIS to go haywire. Amidst the mechanical havoc around her, Clara notices an egg-shaped metal object rolling across the floor and bends to pick it up – then drops it almost immediately as if burned. The console room shakes and then goes dark.

“Please tell me there’s a button you can press to fix this!”

“Oh, yes, a big friendly button!”

Continue reading

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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 4: Hide (Spoilers)

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The Caliburn Mansion...

The Caliburn Mansion…

...is actually the interior of the Diogenes club!

…is actually the interior of the Diogenes club!

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The Doctor has turned into a teenager. Aliens, beware…

The folks at the BBC have done it again, airing yet another episode of Doctor Who on April 20th. Titled “Hide,” this week’s romp through the Doctor’s world centers around supernatural events occurring in and around the mysterious Caliburn mansion, where Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine) are investigating the “Witch of the Well” who is rumored to be haunting the place. Emma uses her empathic abilities to reach out to the specter, while the Professor snaps photographs and takes readings on a wide range of odd devices.

The news that Neil Cross would be writing this episode made me rather nervous. After the rather ham-handed grandiosity of “The Rings of Akhaten,” I suspected that he would try to transfer the same techniques to “Hide.” Which rarely, if ever, make a successful ghost story. Episodes are made thrilling and truly frightening notGhostbusters through gigantic plasma spheres with jack-o’lantern faces, but with a creak in the dark room, a shadow passing across a window, a camera angle that gives you the feeling that there’s something right behind you, a brief returns to normality before being assaulted yet again by tense forays into the dark unknown. And, thankfully, “Hide” included all this and more.

Sexual tension you could cut with a butter knife.

Sexual tension you could cut with a butter knife.

The characters were the central focus of the episode, which was a welcome relief from the giant scale of the episodes that have characterized Series 7. The tension between Emma and Alec as they fumble their way through a budding romance is lovely, though Raine’s acting falls somewhat flat at times. However, their relationship offers a mirror to the Doctor-Clara dynamic, as love story signals conflict with Emma’s warning to Clara about the Doctor: “There’s a sliver of ice in his heart.” Which one?

The Doctor does his classic about-face as he has a “Eureka!” moment and runs into the TARDIS with Clara. We see a brief montage of that exact spot on Earth throughout the millennia as the Doctor snaps photographs of the place where the Caliburn mansion was/is/will be. Continue reading

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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 3: Cold War (Spoilers)

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On Saturday, April 13th,  the newest episode of Series 7.5 of Doctor Who was aired (Sunday the 14th, for those hailing from the United States). The story takes place on a sinking Soviet submarine (alliteration FTW) during the Cold War. The quarters are cramped and tensions are running high as the vessel slowly fills with water and an Ice Warrior named Skaldak – who believes himself to be the last of his kind – runs rampant. Or perhaps slithers, as he does in fact vacate his armor and travels through tSkaldakhe sub making very Basilisk-y rasping sounds. This is the first time we have seen an Ice Warrior without a helmet, and the face is quite cool (though depressingly humanoid, as most TV aliens are). The clawed hands reaching down from the rafters (do submarines have rafters?) were exceedingly cheeseball and would have been right at home in an early episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Series 1 of Doctor Who.

MUSINGS

I enjoyed the comparison of (and contrast between) the “real” Cold War – the period of political and military tension between the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc taking place in the outside world of this episode – and the “cold war” occurring within the sub, which was in essence a game of chicken between several trigger-happy (cattle prod-happy?) naval officers, a really cranky Martian, an ages-old Gallifreyan and his 21st-century companion who were both anticipating Vegas and were instead confronted with a wet, cramped submarine and a lily-livered TARDIS…and twelve nuclear missiles.

ice-spaceship-1-1The ending was a charming example of deus ex machina – an Ice Warrior spaceship appears, looking very much like the classic interpretation of a flying saucer (except with some bitchin’ purple lights lining the edges). It then draws the submarine up to the surface of the ocean with a tractor beam and Skaldak beams out, refraining from remotely blowing up the submarine and showing everyone that yes, friendship is magic.

The Doctor-Clara dynamic is fantastic – Matt Smith and Jenna Louise-Coleman play off each other extraordinarily well. Most characters have a chance to throw out several grintacular one-liners, and the script is intelligent and smooth. (Thank you, Mark Gatiss.) The professor, played by David Warner, is an endearing refresher as a kid stuck in an adult’s body. (His one question to Clara upon discovering that she is a time traveler is “Ultravox – do they spilt up?” Love that guy.) Also, was it an accident that Clara hums “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran when she gets nervous? Bad Wolf allusions, anyone? There are rumors flying everywhere about the 50th AnniversarDoctorLaughFunnyy special/series finale, so this could be relevant or just a red herring. Also, the Doctor seems to be carrying around a doll that looks very much like Rose Tyler. In the final scene, the Doctor finally explains why the TARDIS mysteriously disappeared – he implemented a protocol called HADS, or Hostile Action Displacement System, which teleports the TARDIS out of danger – and it was brilliant. Plus the Doctor gets to do annoyed-little-kid facial expressions. Smith’s acting is fantastic as always, and he and Clara defeat an enemy without violence, which was nice. (This was also the case with “Rings of Akhaten,” and I appreciated it.) However, the fact that Clara let the Doctor tell her to stay put was just infuriating. No self-respecting companion ever heeds the Doctor’s words. Ever.

So, all in all, a very well-scripted episode that could have had more dramatic tension, but in the end was satisfying and gave us several red herrings.

Read my dissection of two trailers for “Cold Warhere, my review of Episode 2 “The Rings of Akhatenhere, and my review of Episode 1 “The Bells of Saint John” here.

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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 2: The Rings of Akhaten (Spoilers)

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First of all, I’d just like to make the point that this episode has been getting way more negative reviews than it deserves. “The Rings of Akhaten” is a rollicking space-y adventure complete with Star Wars-ian alien fauna and some seriously awesome visual effects from the masters fromp017c9sc The Mill. The story structure is not revolutionary, but neither is it absurdly nonsensical like several of its predecessors. (“Fear Her,” anyone?) I believe the word here is ‘dependable’ – Moffat took a framework that has succeeded in the past and re-worked it. That said, there are several plot holes and gaps of logic – flying a space motorcycle through the void without a space suit, for one. Not to mention several occurrences of underwhelming dialogue. Before we get there, however, let’s backtrack a bit…

SUMMARY

The episode begins with the Doctor observing the meeting of Clara’s parents – a clichéd but ultimately sweet rendition of the “dramatic rescue of the damsel in distress” trope…except in this situation, Clara’s father is the damsel. Smacked in the face with a maple leaf, he decides it’s a great idea to meander into oncoming traffic flailing his arms about. His future wife pushes him out of the way in the nick of time…and true love ensues.

rings-akhaten-dave-ellie-4Cue montage of Clara growing up (come on, we haven’t had one of those in ages). We see her mother giving her the “101 Places” book we saw in “The Bells of Saint John” (and now we know the origin of the leaf that constitutes the first page). Her mother then inexplicably dies (hopefully we’ll learn more about that later, as it is a major character shaper).

Cut to present-day TARDIS, and the Doctor is asking Clara what she would like to see. There is ssssssssssaaaaaaaaaaaa_zpsc13a1018some fierce buildup as she ponders this question, and though her answer – “something awesome” – seems somewhat anticlimactic, the Doctor responds with his usual enthusiasm and begins dancing around the TARDIS console while pressing buttons and pulling levers in the standard takeoff sequence. (Interestingly enough, the order in which he does it all is actually the same episode to episode. And yes, I’ve double-checked this.)

doctor-who-rings-of-akhaten-overnights-mainThe Doctor takes Clara to the Rings of Akhaten – seven planetoids orbiting a gas giant. Their visit coincides with the Festival of Offerings, which the Doctor passes off as the alien version of Pancake Tuesday. In reality, the Festival “celebrates” the aligning of the planetoids with a live performance by the Queen of Years, the young Merry GejelhMeet_the_brand_new_Doctor_Who_aliens_from_The_Rings_of_Akhaten (played wonderfully by Emilia Jones). The Old God – christened “Grandfather” – resides in a golden pyramid on an asteroid, and the song is meant to placate him, acting as a lullaby. We see Clara in her “governess” role again as she comforts Merry and assures her that, despite her fears, she will not fail her song.

Merry is stolen away by Grandfather via tractor beam while she is singing and is taken to the pyramid. The Doctor and Clara arrive just in time (riding 0aforementioned nifty space motorcycle, paid for with Clara’s mother’s ring because of its sentimental value) to convince her not toThe Rings of Akhaten sacrifice her soul. Then, just as Grandfather is about to

escape his glass cage… Continue reading

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Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Spoilers)

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Before I begin, I would like to make several comments regarding the nature of this novel. First of all, The Fault in Our Stars, despite the fact that the narrator disdains upon such titles, is in truth a ‘cancer book.’ To be fair, it’s not an up-ending, inspiring tale of dreams achieved and goals met, wishes come true and everlasting exuberance found – but nonetheless it is a standard-bearer for the fast-emerging genre of teen fiction the Daily Mail has dubbed “sick lit.” The title character, Hazel Grace Lancaster, is introduced as a suffering victim yet pities herself not; she endures the trials that define her existence as a cancer patient – namely the deaths and sacrifices of her friends, as well as her own unstable condition – and emerges from the ordeal sadder but wiser, and potentially more hopeful about her wretched existence. Thus some reviewers might afford it more praise than it is due purely because it details the suffering of the terminally ill and does not attempt to gloss over the gory details for the sake of a glittering, felicitous end. I shall attempt not to allow such precepts to cloud my objectivity, though neither shall I endeavor to present this book in an unduly negative light.

I would also like to point out that The Fault in Our Stars is a deeply moving, poignant novel. So much so, in fact, that immediately after reading it I was compelled to flip the TV on to watch dazedly as the heroes of Torchwood shot at some aliens for forty-five senseless minutes. It’s that kind of book – one that presents ideas in such a way that we readers must take cover in mindlessness to shield ourselves.

The Fault in Our Stars fills me with a sense of uncertainty. Upon finishing it, I wondered if I should try to capture my thoughts about it right away, or wait and let them percolate. Would it be less meaningful on a re-read? Is it a book to re-read? Or one to preserve forevermore as a series of first impressions?

The last letter from Augustus Waters to Van Houten, though intended to place a small glow of optimism where the eloquent young man once lived within the heart, only amplified the hopelessness of the entire situation. ‘You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.’ To which the femme mourant, as it were, responds with a resounding and overtly wedding-referential ‘I do, Augustus. I do.’ I leave wondering how long it will be till Hazel kicks the bucket. Will she go out with dignity?

I’d rather not end this review on a negative, snarky note, because it is possible that I have been stubbornly cynical to deflect the wave of insight that this book has set upon me. Let me say this: The Fault in Our Stars is a well-written, earnest novel that never felt slow. Even the lengthier scenes had energy, and that is a difficult endeavor to skillfully accomplish as a writer. Upon completion, I felt honestly moved. That is not a statement I make often with regards to teen fiction. So, all in all, I applaud John Green for writing an accessible novel not only concerning cancer, but people. Thank you.

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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 1: The Bells of Saint John (Spoilers)

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SPOILERS AHEAD. SPOILERS, I SAY! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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Clara and the Doctor in “The Snowmen.”

Doctor Who Series 7 returned to televisions worldwide on March 30th with the invigoratingly flashy midseries premiere “The Bells of Saint John.” With all the hype leading up to it, however, some disappointment was inevitable. This episode was tasked with introducing Clara Oswald yet again, this time as the Doctor’s 21st century to-be companion. (For those who are unfamiliar with the mythos surrounding Clara, the Doctor has met different versions of her across different times.) “The Bells of Saint John” also promised a riveting adventure and strong story to boot.

spoon1The central plot itself foundered somewhat when it was asked to support the forgettable monsters known as the “Spoonheads” as well as fail to explain why “The Great Intelligence” (played by Richard E. Grant)photo wanted people’s souls all of a sudden when snowmen seemed to entertain it just fine only a few hundred years prior. Viewers never learn how the soul-snatching actually works – there isn’t even a pseudo-science explanation delivered hastily by the Doctor. Plus, the plot and story structure both seem like reiterations of “The Idiot’s Lantern,” and why on earth did Miss Kizlet want Clara to have computer skills if her sudden awesome hacking prowess ended up being the mysterious corporation’s downfall? (By the way, Celia Imrie was wonderful as Miss Kizlet. When UNIT is cleaning up the scene after all of the Spoonhead controllers have been wiped, and she looks up and asks for her parents…I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time.) Continue reading

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Quasi-Review: How Google Glass Could be Awesome-er

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google-glass2-b910424100ec7c2fc4b6efd0f280d51613e864db-s6-c10Google Glass is a ubiquitous, head-mounted computer that Google is currently developing. The “Explorer Edition” will soon be available to a select group of people based on their responses to the prompt “If I had Glass…” for $1,500. A consumer version of the product will likely be released by the end of 2013/beginning of 2014 for even less.

Screen Shot 2013-03-30 at 10.19.12 AMWhen you put on Google Glass, you don’t immediately see a screen – you have to focus on the top right area of your view, and suddenly the small box materializes. This is undoubtedly to make it unobtrusive. (Or perhaps Google is trying to adopt some of Apple’s minimalism.) However, I feel that this extra step – looking up and refocusing to see the screen is unnecessary. This kind of technology should be fully integrated into users’ views. Its uses are also relatively limited for what it is. Yes, it can complete the majority of tasks smartphones can: web search, weather, taking photos, etc. But it could do so much more. Continue reading

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Review: BBC Radio 4/Radio 4 Extra Adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere

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neverwhere_1

The cast of Neverwhere acknowledges the show’s creator. From left to right: Benedict Cumberbatch (Islington), David Harewood (the Marquis de Carabas), Natalie Dormer (Door), Dirk Maggs (dramatizer), James McAvoy (Richard), David Schofield (Mr. Vandemar) and Anthony Head (Mr. Croup).

My interest was piqued a while back when Neil Gaiman mentioned on his blog a radio drama called Neverwhere, based on the eponymous novel. After doing some research (thank you, Wikipedia), I discovered that this was in fact the third incarnation of Gaiman’s Neverwhere saga, the first being a TV mini-series composed of six half-hour episodes. Intrigued, I decided to listen to the radio show. About a minute in, all I heard was a cacophony of noises and voices and couldn’t tell what was happening at all, never having listened to a proper radio series before. Thus I deduced that the series was meant for people who had already read the book, and set about procuring a copy at once (thank you, Amazon Kindle). Upon finishing the novel (which was fantastic, by the way) I returned to the radio series. Even as someone unused to relying purely on my sense of hearing when being told a story, it was a gratifying experience. I was glad to have read the book beforehand, because on the rare occasion that I felt overwhelmed in the wash of sound, I had a sense of what was going on nonetheless. However, this confusion only occurred only a few times, and usually lasted a maximum of twenty seconds. I do not think that the series would have been any less enjoyable had I not read the book beforehand.

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Very collected indeed.

And it most definitely was enjoyable. Hearing the voices of people I’ve seen in movies or on television shows was rather strange and quite cool, because sometimes it’s hard to believe how much voice can affect character. For example, take Anthony Head as the sadistic logophile Mr. Croup. When I first heard his voice, I most definitely would not have been able to tell it was Anthony Head’s, nor would I have connected it to the voice of the calm, collected Rupert Giles from Buffy.

Actually, many of the actors in Neverwhere have some amount of neek cred… Continue reading

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