Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 8

Our favorite soft-spoken Toronto detective / inventor returns for another season of mysteries. Here’s what we thought of season 8.

  1. “On the Waterfront, Part 1” – 4.5
  2. “On the Waterfront, Part 2” – 6
  3. “Glory Days” – 2.5
  4. “Holy Matrimony, Murdoch!” – 8
  5. “Murdoch Takes Manhattan” – 7
  6. “The Murdoch Appreciation Society” – 9
  7. “What Lies Buried” – 8
  8. “High Voltage” – 4
  9. “The Keystone Constables” – 4
  10. “Murdoch and the Temple of Death” – 7
  11. “All that Glitters” – 6
  12. “The Devil Wears Whalebone” – 8
  13. “The Incurables” – 5.5
  14. “Toronto’s Girl Problem” – 4
  15. “Shipwreck” – 2
  16. “Crabtreemania” – 6
  17. “Election Day” – 7
  18. “Artful Detective” – 5.5

This season’s average rating is a 5.8, which is not the best Murdoch Mysteries has done, but is a very strong showing for a series in its eighth year and with no signs of faltering.

This season has the distinction of seeing Detective Murdoch and Dr. Ogden finally tie the knot. Of course, neither their wedding nor their honeymoon can go off without a murder to brilliantly solve together, giving us a delightful pair of episodes in “Holy Matrimony, Murdoch!” and “Murdoch Takes Manhattan.” The latter episode also features a spirited B-story back in Toronto which allows Dr. Grace to take the wheel for a high(-ish)-speed car chase.

The lowest episode of this season is “Shipwreck,” at 2, in which Murdoch finds his beloved childhood priest fallen from his pedestal. There are good parts to the episode, but it is dragged down by slow pacing and uninspired acting. “Glory Days,” a 2.5 in which a legendary lawman of the US old west thinks he’s hunting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Toronto is not much better, as it wallows in the unappealing tropes of male resentment.

But these low points are more than outweighed by a number of fine episodes. The best of the season is “The Murdoch Appreciation Society,” at 9, in which Murdoch’s in-universe fans stage a fake mystery for the chance to watch him work, which becomes tangled up with a real murder plot. Also notable are “The Devil Wears Whalebone,” an 8, which features one of the series’ more inventive murder weapons, and “What Lies Buried,” also an 8, a tense and claustrophobic drama in which Murdoch seeks a killer within the police force itself. Along the way, we get the usual Murdoch hijinks with vaudeville theatre, staged wrestling matches, the early days of the women’s suffrage movement, and an Indiana Jones pastiche.

All told, it’s another fun go around with Detective Murdoch and company.

Image: Dr. Grace at the wheel, from Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb

Post edited to correct grammatical errors

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries Season 7

Turn-of-the-twentieth-century Toronto detective William Murdoch is back for season 7, and so are we. Here’s what we thought of the episodes this time:

  1. “Murdoch Ahoy” – 6
  2. “Tour de Murdoch” – 7.5
  3. “The Filmed Adventures of Detective Murdoch” – 7.5
  4. “Return of Sherlock Holmes” – 8
  5. “Murdoch of the Living Dead” – 5.5
  6. “Murdochophobia” – 4
  7. “Loch Ness Murdoch” – 7
  8. “Republic of Murdoch” – 7
  9. “A Midnight Train to Kingston” – 0
  10. “Murdoch in Ragtime” – 6
  11. “Journey to the Centre of Toronto” – 10
  12. “Unfinished Business” – 7
  13. “The Murdoch Sting” – 6
  14. “Friday the 13th, 1901” – 6
  15. “The Spy Who Came Up to the Cold” – 6
  16. “Kung Fu Crabtree” – 4
  17. “Blast of Silence” – 2
  18. “The Death of Dr. Ogden” – 4

This season’s average rating is 5.8, which is pretty good. There is one standout great episode and one standout awful one, but most of the season is middling to good, which makes it good for comfort rewatching.

On the whole, this season holds up well. It offers a lot of what we have come to expect from Murdoch. There are clever takes on modern stories, like the zombie-ish “Murdoch of the Living Dead,” the turnabout con in “The Murdoch Sting,” and half of “Friday the 13th, 1901” in which Drs. Ogden and Grace get a horror movie plot (meanwhile, the boys enjoy an adorably Canadian story about curling). There are also the usual return appearances by our favorite guest characters, like Terrence Myers and Alan Clegg in “The Spy Who Came up to the Cold,” which uses the assassination of US President McKinley as fodder for an espionage thriller. And James Pendrick, the perpetual inventor of things before their time, is back to invent… Murdoch Mysteries!

This season is five episodes longer than previous seasons, coming in at eighteen episodes, which is great. We’re always in favor of more Murdoch. We also see signs of change starting to show through as this season features more people of color as incidental characters and women pushing against the boundaries of social convention.

Our lowest rating for the season goes to “A Midnight Train to Kingston,” at 0. This episode features the return of genius serial killer and Murdoch fanboy James Gillies. We have made our feelings about genius serial killer detective fanboys clear before, and we still have no interest in seeing more of them.

On the other hand, “Journey to the Centre of Toronto,” which takes up contemporary speculation about a hollow earth with a steampunkish spin, makes for a thoroughly delightful 10. This episode suffers a bit from odd pacing and a somewhat unsatisfying ending, but it presents Detective Murdoch and company with such a unique challenge, and they rise to it with such gusto, that we can forgive these weaknesses. We also love the adventurer character, Elva Gordon. It’s a shame she can’t become a regular guest like Myers and Pendrick.

Few series can stand up to the pressures of a long run without faltering, but Murdoch Mysteries continues to deliver. Long may Murdoch continue!

Have a different take on this season? Let us know!

Image: Detective Murdoch explaining an earth-burrowing mole machine, from Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 6

It’s another season of Murdoch for us to rewatch and rate. This one flies high at the beginning, then crashes and burns at the end. Here’s our take:

  1. “Murdoch Air” – 10
  2. “Winston’s Lost Night” – 6.5
  3. “Murdoch on the Corner” – 8
  4. “A Study in Sherlock” – 7
  5. “Murdoch au Naturel” – 7.5
  6. “Murdoch and the Cloud of Doom” – 6.5
  7. “The Ghost of Queen’s Park” – 6
  8. “Murdoch in Ladies’ Wear” – 2.5
  9. “Victoria Cross” – 5.5
  10. “Twisted Sisters” – 3.5
  11. “Lovers in a Murderous Time” – 3
  12. “Crime and Punishment” – 0
  13. “The Murdoch Trap” – 0

This is a remarkable season of Murdoch Mysteries, ranging from the very best the show has to offer to the very worst. The average for this season is only 5.1, which is the lowest yet for a season of Murdoch, but the average is deceptive since this season is half good-to-brilliant and half disappointing-at-best with not a lot falling in the middle range. It’s an odd roller coaster of a season, and, like all roller coasters, it eventually ends at the bottom.

That bottom is pretty darned low. “Crime and Punishment” and “The Murdoch Trap,” both rating a solid 0, make up a two-parter in which two of our least favorite things get combined: overly clever serial killers who get away with everything and artificial barriers thrown up by writers to squeeze more drama out of romantic angst. Darcy Garland, the multi-season speed bump to the blossoming relationship between Detective Murdoch and Doctor Ogden, suffers a character assassination this season as he goes from being reasonable and charming to being obstreperous and capricious, all for the writers’ increasingly desperate ploys to keep Murdoch and Ogden apart as long as possible. Rather than offer us something truly new and original on tv—reasonable adults dealing with complicated emotions with compassion, self-awareness, and generosity—the writers fall back on one of the most worn-out tropes of mystery fiction: have the offending interloper murdered by a genius serial killer who frames the detective. These are two episodes we will never be watching again.

But what a joy of an episode we get to start the season off with! “Murdoch Air” earns its full 10 rating with a thrilling opening, some great character moments, the return of the beloved James Pendrick, a dash of international intrigue courtesy of Myers and Clegg, and an exhilarating ending that has Murdoch soaring over Niagara Falls years before the Wright brothers got airborne. “Murdoch Air” has a little bit of everything that makes Murdoch so delightful.

There are a lot of other good episodes in the first half of the season, too, bringing us young Winston Churchill boozing around Toronto, a Sherlock Holmes impersonator with a mystery of his own to solve, an introduction to the turn-of-the-century nudist movement, and a poison-gas terrorist. On the other hand, you can skip the second half of the season and not miss much.

How did you like this season of Murdoch? Was the final two-parter right up your alley? Not thrilled by the airborne first episode? Let us know!

Image: Constable Crabtree trying pizza, from Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb.

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 5

Season 5 of Murdoch Mysteries sees a new addition to the cast, ongoing relationship drama, and the return of some of our favorite and least favorite recurring characters. Here’s how we rated the season’s episodes:

  1. “Murdoch of the Klondike” – 7
  2. “Back and to the Left” – 8
  3. “Evil Eye of Egypt” – 6
  4. “War on Terror” – 6
  5. “Murdoch at the Opera” – 4
  6. “Who Killed the Electric Carriage” – 7
  7. “Stroll on the Wild Side, Part 1” – 5.5
  8. “Stroll on the Wild Side, Part 2” – 4
  9. “Invention Convention” – 8.5
  10. “Staircase to Heaven” – 4
  11. “Murdoch in Toyland” – 2
  12. “Murdoch Night in Canada” – 4.5
  13. “Twentieth Century Murdoch” – 5

The average rating this season is 5.5, a little weak but still decent. This season has a lot going for it, but at the same time has some problems that weigh it down. The season starts off strong with “Murdoch of the Klondike” in which a disillusioned Murdoch turned prospector decides to take up the badge once again, and “Back and to the Left,” an ingenious case of political intrigue which plays with the tropes of Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. The latter half of the season drags a bit under the weight of a few too many recurring characters whose stories get in the way of Murdoch doing what Murdoch does best.

Our least favorite episode of the season is “Murdoch in Toyland,” which we gave a 2. James Gillies, from season 2‘s “Big Murderer on Campus” returns with an overdone and rather absurd plot to annoy Murdoch. We have absolutely had our fill of clever serial killers who follow detectives around like puppies pooping on the furniture for attention. No more.

At the top, we rated “Invention Convention” an 8.5. In this episode, an ingenious device used to murder a competitive inventor seems to have been a collaborative effort by his rivals, but turns out to have been even more insidious. This episode features Alexander Graham Bell and lets Murdoch geek out over some before-their-time inventions ranging from the Lazy Susan to e-mail.

One of the best features of this season is the introduction of Dr. Emily Grace as Dr. Ogden’s assistant-on-the-way-to-replacement in the morgue. We enjoy Dr. Grace’s fresh and sometimes shockingly modern (for 1899) perspective, and she has great onscreen chemistry with the established characters. For a series that in the past has struggled to even nominally pass the Bechdel test, adding a second regular female character is also very welcome (although quite a few of this season’s episodes still fail the test, or squeak by on technicalities).

Many familiar guest stars return for another go this season, some more welcome than others. James Gillies we have already mentioned—he worked well for one episode, but he should have ended there. Canadian secret agent Terrence Myers makes a return appearance, as does his American counterpart Allen Clegg. Both actors are always wonderful to watch, but their episode falls a bit flat. Anna Fulford, who helped Murdoch when he was on the run in England and suffering from amnesia back in season 3, makes a welcome return, but her double episode doesn’t use the character nearly as well. On the other hand, James Pendrick is back Pendricking things up with a solar-powered electric car and a gentleman’s feud with Henry Ford that makes for an entertaining episode.

How about the rest of you? What did you love (or not) from this season?

Image: Murdoch Mysteries ladies doing science via IMDb

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 4

The adventures of Victorian Toronto’s most scientifically-minded detective continue in Murdoch Mysteries season 4, and we’re here to rate them.

  1. “Tattered and Torn” – 4
  2. “Kommando” – 5
  3. “Buffalo Shuffle” – 5.5
  4. “Downstairs, Upstairs” – 6.5
  5. “Monsieur Murdoch” – 4
  6. “Dead End Street” – 10
  7. “Confederate Treasure” – 7.5
  8. “Dial M for Murdoch” – 5
  9. “The Black Hand” – 5.5
  10. “Voices” – 6
  11. “Bloodlust” – 7
  12. “The Kissing Bandit” – 6
  13. “Murdoch in Wonderland” – 5.5

The average rating for this season is 6, down a little bit from last season’s 6.6, but still perfectly respectable. This season represents a good mix of the usual Murdoch fare: there’s a Victorian-flavored version of a contemporary-feeling story (“Kommando,” about soldiers experiencing frightening side effects of experimental drugs), Murdoch-ized takes on popular modern shows and movies (“Downstairs, Upstairs,” about a murder in a house full of servants, and “Dial M for Murdoch” about a telephone operator who thinks she overhears a murder), nineteenth-century international intrigue (“Confederate Treasure,” about the hunt for a missing fortune in gold from the time of the American Civil War), and Murdoch inventing modern technologies (sonar in “Confederate Treasure,” image scanning in “Monsieur Murdoch”). This season also brings us a tedious new turn in the will-they-or-won’t-they tease of Murdoch and Dr. Julia Ogden, as Dr. Ogden moves away from Toronto, moves back, and marries her new beau Dr. Darcy Garland, while Detective Murdoch wallows in uninteresting tongue-tied despair. Still, all in all, a solid season of Murdoch.

The lowest-rating episodes this season are a couple of 4s: “Tattered and Torn,” in which the discovery of multiple mutilated bodies encased in concrete leads Detective Murdoch to revisit an old rape and murder case, and “Monsieur Murdoch,” in which Murdoch investigates the disappearance of a young French woman who may not be who claimed to be at all. There is nothing particularly wrong with either of these episodes. Both are perfectly competent, but they are also both a little lacking. The pacing sags a bit, the casting is a little off, and the conclusions don’t entirely live up to the promise of the opening mysteries. Still, even these lesser efforts of Murdoch are fun to watch and worth coming back to now and then.

On the other hand, this season has one outstanding episode that gets a full 10 from us: “Dead End Street,” in which Murdoch discovers the clues to a murder in an intricate model of a neighborhood made by a woman who does not communicate in any other way. This case unfolds quietly but intricately as Murdoch faces the challenge of learning about the crime from a witness with an extraordinarily detailed recall of events, but whom he cannot question. Liisa Repo-Martell delivers a powerful guest performance as the model-building woman, conveying the deep intelligence and sensitivity of a person who relates to the world around her in a way very unlike her neighbors.

All in all, an excellent season of Murdcoh, with a lot worth coming back to.

Image: Murdoch Mysteries main cast via IMDb

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 3

Onward to season 3 of Murdoch Mysteries we go, rewatching and rating each episode. Here’s our take:

  1. “The Murdoch Identity” – 8
  2. “The Great Wall” – 6
  3. “Victor, Victorian” – 6.5
  4. “Rich Boy, Poor Boy” – 6
  5. “Me, Myself & Murdoch” – 8.5
  6. “This One Goes to Eleven” – 7.5
  7. “Blood and Circuses” – 5
  8. “Future Imperfect” – 4
  9. “Love and Human Remains” – 9
  10. “The Curse of Beaton Manor” – 7
  11. “Hangman” – 6
  12. “In the Altogether” – 4
  13. “ The Tesla Effect” – 8

The average rating for this season is a strong 6.6, a bit up even from last season’s quite good 6.2. Season 3 continues to build on the series’ strengths—complex mysteries, whimsical humor, and an eye for finding Victorian equivalents to modern issues—while also striking out in some new ways. One innovation this season is the introduction of an ongoing plot surrounding the newly-introduced character of James Pendrick, a visionary inventor who keeps getting tangled up in Detective Murdoch’s investigations. Starting halfway through the season, Mr. Pendrick’s misadventures lead up to a surprise finale that changes our perception of him and the preceding episodes in clever ways.

Unfortunately, the Pendrick storyline also gives us the two lowest-rated episodes of this season, both rating 4: “Future Imperfect,” in which Murdoch and company intersect with H. G. Wells and the eugenics movement, and “In the Altogether,” in which prostitutes and pornographers are caught up in a blackmailing scandal. Each episode has its merits and good moments, but they are dragged down by the need to serve the unfolding Pendrick drama, which leaves too little room for their own individual stories to develop.

By contrast, the best episode of the season, “Love and Human Remains,” at 9, tells a story that, for all its small and self-contained scope, offers a bounty of human drama and investigative intrigue. When the bodies of a murdered couple turn up at a building site, Murdoch goes digging through the past, peeling back layers of time to uncover a story of cruelty, desperation, and, ultimately, the triumph of love over adversity. It is one of the rare mysteries where you want the crime to be solved, but you end up glad that it goes unpunished.

Honorable mention goes to “Me, Myself & Murdoch,” the second best episode of the season at 8.5, which offers a similarly tangled tale of murder, abuse, mental illness, and the unbreakable bonds of love. In this episode, which nods to the historical Lizzie Borden case, a young woman is suspected of having murdered her father with an axe, only to turn out to have multiple personalities whose different perspectives allow Murdoch to piece together an older, even more grisly crime. Guest star Anastasia Phillips gives a virtuoso performance as the young woman under suspicion, whose shifts in personality from terrified to terrifying are amazing to watch.

Murdoch Mysteries remains a pleasure to watch and rewatch.

Image: Murdoch Mysteries main cast via IMDb

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 2

Here we go, rewatching and rating season 2 of Murdoch Mysteries, the Canadian show about a scientifically-minded detective in Victorian Toronto.

  1. “Mild, Mild West” – 7.5
  2. “Snakes and Ladders” – 4
  3. “Dinosaur Fever” – 5.5
  4. “Houdini Whodunnit” – 4
  5. “The Green Muse” – 5
  6. “Shades of Grey” – 5
  7. “Big Murder on Campus” – 7.5
  8. “I, Murdoch” – 8
  9. “Convalescence” – 8
  10. “Murdoch.com” – 7
  11. “Let Us Ask the Maiden” – 6
  12. “Werewolves” – 6
  13. “Anything You Can Do…” – 7

Season 2 makes a strong showing with an average rating of 6.2, improving on season 1’s 5.3. While there are no truly outstanding episodes this season, there are none that really falter, either. Everything works pretty well. The characters continue to develop, building on the strengths of the first season, and this season offers further opportunities for Murdoch to tinker with technology that’s ahead of its time, for Dr. Ogden to assert herself in a man’s world, and for Constable Crabtree to pursue outlandish theories.

The lowest-rated episodes this season are a pair of 4s, “Snakes and Ladders,” about a serial killer who may be Jack the Ripper in Toronto, and “Houdini Whodunnit,” in which the titular magician is suspected of plotting a bank robbery. Neither of these episodes is really bad, but both suffer from some weaknesses. “Snakes and Ladders” turns us off because we’ve really lost interest in serial killer narratives, but it still works as an episode. “Houdini Whodunnit” has a clever heist for Murdoch to unravel, but is hampered by some uninspired guest performances, especially in the role of the great magician himself. Still, even these episodes have their moments.

The best of the season is a pair of 8s, “I, Murdoch,” in which a daring assassination in the streets of Toronto leads to an international conspiracy and an early attempt at robotics, and “Convalescence,” in which Detective Murdoch uncovers a daring plot while laid up in bed after a fall off a rooftop. Each of these episodes offers a great example of something Murdoch Mysteries does well: “I, Murdoch” gives us a steampunk-ish Victorian story of intrigue with a twist (and a clever nod to Marvel’s Iron Man franchise), while “Convalescence” lets us watch Murdoch think and tinker in a tale that is no less thrilling for being slow-paced.

This season throws a wrench into the budding romance between William Murdoch and Julia Ogden, as the devout Murdoch, who hopes to some day be a father, discovers that Dr. Ogden had an abortion when she was younger and now cannot have children. Unlike most such will-they-or-won’t-they narrative ploys, this one taps into real emotional issues and treats both characters with dignity and respect.

This season also adds some side characters to the series, some of whom we’ll see again and some we won’t. Dr. Ogden’s sister Ruby will pop up again now and then, though Detective Murdoch’s half brother Jasper Linney won’t. Physics student James Gillies makes his first appearance here, only to reappear a few times in later seasons.

Season 2 is a worthy continuation of season 1, and it prepares the way for more great adventures yet to come.

Image: Murdoch Mysteries main cast via IMDb

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 1

Our next series up for rewatching and rating is Murdoch Mysteries, a Canadian show about a scientifically-minded detective at the turn of the twentieth century. This show combines the spirit of Sherlock Holmes with a touch of steampunk as Detective Murdoch loves to tinker and invents everything from the lie detector to internet catfishing in the service of Victorian crimefighting. Here’s our take on the first season:

  1. “Power” – 6
  2. “The Glass Ceiling” – 4
  3. “The Knockdown” – 6
  4. “Elementary, My Dear Murdoch” – 4
  5. “Till Death Do Us Part” – 5.5
  6. “Let Loose the Dogs” – 4.5
  7. “Body Double” – 5.5
  8. “Still Waters” – 6
  9. “Belly Speaker” – 2
  10. “Child’s Play” – 5.5
  11. “Bad Medicine” – 5.5
  12. “The Rebel and the Prince” – 4.5
  13. “The Annoying Red Planet” – 10

Murdoch Mysteries gets off to a good start with an average rating of 5.3, modest but respectable. It takes the series a while to warm up as the actors find their roles, but by the end of the season our favorites are all on the screen: the thoughtful, soft-spoken Detective Murdoch; the erudite, self-assured medical examiner Dr. Ogden; the pugnacious Inspector Brackenreid; and the whimsical but good-hearted Constable Crabtree. This season mostly plays as a fairly standard police show, just set a century ago, but by the end of the season you can see the team starting to have fun with the series’ trademark of transposing modern ideas into a Victorian setting, suitably adapted to the society and technology of the time.

Most of this season’s episodes are solidly in the middle range from 4 to 6, competent but not always inspired, but there are two outliers, one in each direction. The lowest-rated episode is “Belly Speaker,” a 2, about a mentally disturbed ventriloquist who seems to be confessing to murder through his dummy. This episode was probably meant to be a tense psychological thriller that keeps the audience guessing, but it’s just a one-trick pony. One-trick ponies can be entertaining if the trick is good enough, but this one’s trick is a puppet with a bad attitude and a super annoying voice. It’s not enough.

On the other hand, the season goes out with a bang in “The Annoying Red Planet,” at a full 10, in which a dead body mysteriously lodged in a tree leads to fears of alien visitation and an international conspiracy. This episode deftly weaves together contemporary speculations about life on Mars and phantom airships with the tropes of modern political thrillers and UFO narratives. It also introduces one the series’ most delightful recurring characters in the mysterious man in (a) black (top hat), Terrence Myers.

It’s a good start to Murdoch Mysteries, showing the series’ potential while also leaving room to grow.

Are you a Murdoch fan? Got a take of your own on season 1? Let us know!

Image: Murdoch Mysteries main cast via IMDb

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Rating: Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 1

We’ve taken a bit of a swerve in our rewatching and rating project. In between tv series, we’ve decided to take a run at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s our take on Phase 1:

  1. Iron Man – 7
  2. The Incredible Hulk – 2
  3. Iron Man 2 – 6
  4. Thor – 4
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger – 8
  6. The Avengers – 10

It’s a bit of a mixed bag. The overall average is 6.2, which is perfectly respectable, but the range is all over the place, from pretty bad to meh to awesome.

You can tell that Marvel was still figuring out how to make not only a new kind of superhero movie but a new kind of movie franchise. The early installations are stand-alone, fairly slow-paced, and self-contained. We can still remember how exciting it felt to have a minor character like Agent Coulson pop up in multiple movies that weren’t sequels. Nowadays we don’t even get out of bed for a Marvel movie that doesn’t have at least three tie-in characters and a place in the ongoing arc of the Phase.

The Incredible Hulk, the largely forgotten Marvel movie, is on the bottom of the heap at 2. Formulaic and uninspired, the story drags itself from one obligatory action scene to another. Having seen Mark Ruffalo’s take on Bruce Banner, Edward Norton feels flat and unsympathetic. So much backstory is assumed that this movie feels like a sequel to something we’ve never seen (it takes care not to step on Ang Lee’s previous Hulk movie without actually picking up on its story in any meaningful way). Although there are some bright spots in this movie, like the visually thrilling foot chase through a Brazilian favela, you can see why we haven’t gotten another stand-alone Hulk movie.

We’re lucky that Marvel hedged its bets on launching the MCU with two movies instead of just one. Iron Man delivers much of what The Incredible Hulk lacks. While the story is still relatively straightforward and follows a predictable Hollywood three-act structure, it is more competently handled and more subtly embellished than Hulk. We get to see Tony Stark tinker and iterate not only on his suit designs but on his ethics and sense of self, which is makes his character much more interesting to watch than Banner, who has no real character development in his own movie. Robert Downey Jr. sells the character of Tony Stark as a flawed genius grappling with the consequences of his own choices.

Iron Man 2 carries on the good work of the original without adding much to it and begins the unfortunate trend of Marvel movies whose plot is driven by Tony Stark’s emotional issues. Thor has some beautiful art design and fun character moments, but mostly ends up feeling like the product of too many compromises.

Captain America: The First Avenger delivers a solid origin story not only for its eponymous hero but for the whole Marvel universe as well. With an alternate-version World War II dominated by Hydra’s experiments with cosmic technology and an American super soldier, the ground is prepared for a modern world of superpeople. Chris Evans’s performance takes a character who could be flat and sanctimonious and makes him charming.

But it is The Avengers, at a full 10, that crowns Phase 1. Joss Whedon’s last great work before his descent into self-satisfied mediocrity, The Avengers is a superhero movie that takes not only the idea of superheroes but the idea of a superhero movie seriously. The characters have both emotional depth and clear motivations. Their conflicts arise not from plot contrivance but from conflicting world-views and emotional needs. And they smash alien monsters together real good.

Got a different take on Marvel’s first hexalogy? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Still from The Avengers via IMDb

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Rating: Doctor Who, Season 9

We’re back at it again, rewatching and rating another season of new series Doctor Who. Here’s our take on season 9.

  1. “The Magician’s Apprentice” – 4
  2. “The Witch’s Familiar” – 3
  3. “Under the Lake” – 6.5
  4. “Before the Flood” – 6.5
  5. “The Girl Who Died” – 4
  6. “The Woman Who Lived” – 4.5
  7. “The Zygon Invasion” – 2
  8. “The Zygon Inversion” – 2
  9. “Sleep No More” – 1
  10. “Face the Raven” – 1.5
  11. “Heaven Sent” – 5
  12. “ Hell Bent” – 2

This season is a real come down, with an average rating of just 3.5, the lowest yet. There are some reasons why many of this season’s episodes don’t rate very well. The showrunners made the interesting choice of making almost every episode in the season a two-parter. (Only “Sleep No More” stands alone.) This has the potential of allowing for more expansive and complex storytelling, which pays off in “Under the Lake” / “Before the Flood,” but in other cases, like “The Magician’s Apprentice” / “The Witch’s Familiar” and “The Zygon Invasion” / “The Zygon Inversion,” what we get is an episode-and-a-half worth of story with the Doctor filibustering to fill out the time.

The lowest-rated episode of the season is “Sleep No More,” which is trying to be a claustrophobic monsters-in-space horror story with a twist, but which can’t escape the absurdity of its premise. Doctor Who has managed to make a lot of mundane things scary, from children in gas masks to angel statues to repeated words, but this was a stretch too far. It doesn’t matter how much first-person shaky-cam footage you use or how much running through darkened hallways your characters do, there is just no way to make the crud that builds up at the corner of your eye when you sleep scary.

Special mention goes to the “Zygon Invasion / Inversion” two-parter, for being not only badly written and poorly paced but also having some troubling undertones. This pair of episodes picks up on the 50th anniversary special which ended with a colony of Zygons—shape-changing aliens that can mimic other life forms—settled on Earth in human form. Here, a splinter group of Zygons refuses to maintain the charade and begins waging a violent campaign against humans and conforming Zygons. The episode ends with the rebel Zygons agreeing to remain in human form. On one hand, the reversion to the status quo is necessary if the series is not prepared to deal with the ongoing consequences of a world full of humans finding themselves living next to starfish-like aliens. On the other hand, the implications of telling a group of immigrants that they can’t live openly and must hide their identity by conforming entirely to the culture of their new home is unsettling in these days of rising nativism and anti-immigrant hate. This is not the open-hearted, compassionate Doctor Who that we are used to.

The best episodes of the season are the two-parter “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood,” both at 6.5. In this episode, the Doctor and Clara find themselves in an underwater station where a crashed alien ship is killing the crew and turning their ghosts into transmitters. It’s an intriguing mystery that develops slowly as the Doctor pieces together the clues. This episode is reminiscent of the season 2 two-parter “The Impossible Planet” / “The Satan Pit,” with the Doctor facing off against an ancient evil that uses written language to infect the crew of the station.

This is as far as we’ve gotten in our Doctor Who rewatching project. We’ll update with season 10 when we get around to it, and we’re looking forward to the upcoming season 11 and checking out Jodie Whittaker’s take on the wandering Gallifreyan.

This just wasn’t the season for us. How did it work for you? Feel differently about the season as a whole or an episode in particular? Let us know!

Image: Doctor Who season 9 cover via IMDb

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