Round-Up

With Christmas just around the corner and both The Apprentice and The X-Factor ending soon, this is a good opportunity to assess how their respective finals are shaping up. I’ve done this in years past, just not at the same time. However, The Apprentice was shifted to a winter timeslot to avoid clashing with World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, which means, in the festive spirit, this week’s blog will be a two for one deal. First up are the Apprentice’s Final Five who will have their business plans dissected by Lord Sugar’s advisors; Claude Littner, Mike Soutar, Claudine Collins and series 8 winner, Ricky Martin. That’s right folks, for the second time in Apprentice history Margaret Mountford has left us. Will Ricky Martin channel some of his wrestling background to strike fear into the candidates? I certainly hope so.

Bianca Miller

I’m sorry but Bianca once sold six boardgames to a small retailer and allowed them exclusive rights to sell the game within Westminster. I feel like that hasn’t been brought up again and that it needs to be. I was legitimately surprised Lord Sugar didn’t fire her on the spot for that error. While Bianca hasn’t made any major mistakes since week six, and even led her team to victory in week seven, I don’t think she has really stood out either. That isn’t necessarily a sign of her demise, because Lord Sugar is looking for a business partner, not a character. But the success of other candidates might outshine her middling progress. An argument could be made for her business plan being where she will truly shine but after selling six board games exclusively to a small shop in London her business plan will probably have a big pothole when it comes to the numbers.

Daniel Lassman

Every year there are candidates who make wild boasts about themselves. More often than not these boasts are not backed up by the candidate’s actions on the show. This years’ resident over confident candidate is Daniel and true to form when it came time to sell Daniel’s sales figures didn’t match his mouth. But I believe it’s a matter of perspective. On the high street, on a personal basis, Daniel can’t sell. In professional pitches though? That’s a different story. In that environment, he’s generally been better received (though telling potential clients that he wouldn’t wear their wearable technology in week two was a notable slip). Nick even remarked this past week that the supermarkets liked Daniel’s pitching style when it came to shilling their premium puddings. Not that anyone is willing to let him show it. After those early mistakes, it seemed like all of the other candidates repeatedly pushed him to the side in tasks. Lord Sugar must see something in him to keep him around and I think Daniel has shown that he can change and grow. When it comes to winning though, I think there are stronger candidates.

From right to left, Roisin Hogan, Bianca Miller, Solomon Akhtar and Daniel Lassman pitch their tea inspired cheesecakes on the 2014 series of The Apprentice.

Roisin loathed Daniel’s deviation from the plan from the supermarkets liked it.

Mark Wright

This guy is a favourite for a lot of people but I really don’t like his style of business. I haven’t seen a task yet where he wasn’t underhanded and manipulative and the pudding task showed that it’s not just towards Daniel. Daniel has gotten some criticism for lacking integrity but I think there’s far less honour in Mark’s style. From what I’ve seen, I think he’s a better seller when it’s one on one with people but hasn’t always been the best in pitches. He’s been known to lie as well,  such as fluffing up his actual job, which leads me to wonder how sound his business plan is. His track record says that he might have a chance of winning but I hope not.

Roisin Hogan

Roisin was my favourite. She is still my pick to win but I’ve gone off her business style lightly after watching her play down Daniel and Solomon’s accomplishments in the boardroom following the pudding task. Her comments weren’t terribly derisive but watch her face when Nick and Karen undercut her and you’ll see what I mean. I don’t know if she’s intentionally trying to sabotage their chances or if she just doesn’t like them. And while she is very productive and to the point, sometimes her organisation and strictness can be a detriment. Its notable that the one pitch where they didn’t sell any puddings was the one without the guys with just Roisin and Bianca. I think she needs to relax a bit but this is a stressful competition so I can’t blame her really for trying to get things done right. At the moment I’d say she has the best odds but her business plan will really decide whether she sinks or swims with Lord Sugar.

Solomon Akhtar

Otherwise known as a poor man’s Tom Pellereau. Solomon has made himself out to be an idea man whose strengths lie in branding but his abilities haven’t stood out in the same way that Pellereau’s did. But I don’t think Solomon has any major weaknesses either. His track record for just about everything is decent. That may make him a jack of all trades and a master of none. The larger concern for Lord Sugar will be the business plan as that’s where it will become clear whether Solomon can focus those various abilities into a successful concept. There are stronger candidates but Solomon is the dark horse of this years final five.

The X Factor 2014 finalist Fleur East performing on stage.

Singer, Rapper and Dancer: Fleur East continues to impress.

On to The X-Factor final now. Andrea Faustini took third place in the episode last night so we’re now down to Ben Haenow and Fleur East. Either way, Simon Cowell has mentored the winning act. Speaking of the judges, as much as I dislike her style and generally disagree with her assessment, it was a pity that Mel B couldn’t be there for Andrea. I was glad to see Tulisa Contostavlos return, though I have to say, in an ironic turn, she was prettier before the beauty work. On to the finalists….

Ben Haenow

I like Ben Haenow. I don’t like that everyone, especially Mel B, seemed to be forcing him into a soft rock route despite that blatantly not being the kind of singer that he wanted to be. His voice was good too, though some songs could be hit and miss. It is his likeable personality that has kept him in the competition when his singing hasn’t always been up to scratch. He’s a good contestant but at the end of the day, he’s just a contestant.

Fleur East

The unique selling point for Fleur is that she has taken her performances to the next level. Yes she can sing decently, and rap sufficiently, but she dances and has stage presences that the other contestants just don’t have yet. Maybe it will develop later for them but Fleur in recent weeks has shown that she can do concert worthy performances. I would say that Fleur’s solo performance from last night was better than Meghan Trainer’s performance of her son ‘All About That Bass’. Winner or not, she’s ready for a career in this music industry.

So there we have it. My picks for the winners are Roisin Hogan and Fleur East. If you disagree with any of my comments or choices, voice your opinion in the comment section below.  Tonight we find out if Fleur takes the top prize X Factor but viewers will have to wait a full week to see if Roisin becomes Lord Sugar’s next business partner. And then it’s only four days until Christmas.

Suicide

The big entertainment news coming out of this week is Warner Bros. casting announcement for the upcoming DC Comics film, Suicide Squad. Rumours and hype had been building up to the announcement over the last month. Margot Robbie was reported to be in the role of Harley Quinn then there were suggestions that Jared Leto, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Jai Courtney were all in talks with DC. So this has been coming for a while but it was good. It gave us confirmation of who we can expect to see and the roles they’ll be playing. And people are excited. Me? I’m approaching the film with a cautious optimism.

However, I will say that I am a lot more interested in seeing Suicide Squad than I am of the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Maybe that’s just because I’ve know less about the Suicide Squad and the development of the film. That’s not to say that I’m on the inside but I’m well aware that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was originally a Man of Steel sequel that has gotten lumped with the job of creating a shared universe, a role that Marvel gave to five separate films. And don’t let Warner Bros. fool you. The fact that they moved Dawn of Justice so that it wouldn’t clash with the opening of Captain America: Civil War shows that they don’t have faith in the movie to compete with Marvel.

Jared Leto, Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Tom Hardy, Cara Delevangne and Jai Courtney have been cast as The Joker, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Rick Flag, Enchantress and Captain Boomerang in the upcoming Warner Bros film adaptation of the DC Comics comic book, Suicide Squad.
Ladies and Gentlemen, your Suicide Squad cast.

Done right, Suicide Squad could be a good way of DC Comics finally planting their foot in the superhero team up scene. Sure, it should have happened in 2013 instead Man of Steel but better late than never I suppose. And unlike Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice this isn’t DC Comics forcing Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman into a situation to make it crystal clear that they all exist in the same universe and to act as a wink-nod that there is definitely a Justice League film coming. Christopher Nolan dissuaded Zack Snyder from inserting a post credit scene to Man of Steel (though he disputes the exact quote). Why would he need one? Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is pretty much one big pre-credit stinger for the two part Justice League films in 2017 and 2019.

Suicide Squad will be hard to do wrong. There is a pre existing story and plot that they can adapt for the screen. Furthermore, it has an advantage over other superhero groups in that these are bad guys forced to do good. That even separates them from Sony’s upcoming Sinister Six spin off, although we know so little about that film that there may well be some overlap. But Suicide Squad still has the trump card of having more recognizable villains. I like Spider-Man, even the new Amazing films, but I will admit that none of his rogues gallery, not even Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, are half as iconic as The Joker.

Joker’s presence in the Suicide Squad does throw up a red flag for me though. While Jared Leto can do menacing and insane, my concern derives from the fact that The Joker was never actually a member of the Suicide Squad. If I’m wrong on that, feel free to correct me in the comments below. I do know that he was involved in some of the backstory for some members but as far as I am aware he never joined. It might be interesting if Joker’s presence was only in Harley Quinn’s flashbacks, and Leto was simply cast as a teaser because they plan to use him later. That would be a good way of building a shared universe and having your films inform one another. But it could also be that Warner Bros. doesn’t trust Suicide Squad to sell tickets and are sticking big names in the roster to entice audiences. This is compounded by rumours that Jesse Eisenberg may reprise his role as Lex Luthor, though my feeling is that will largely depend on how fans react to him in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The casting does worry me a bit as well. I like all of the actors individually. As mentioned, I think Leto has the talent and ability to play The Joker. Tom Hardy is also a very likeable actor and will probably help to make audiences care about a group of villains. Margot Robbie is there for sex appeal but The Wolf of Wall Street revealed that she can at least do mean and manipulative. Outside of those actors, it could go either way. Will Smith was good in action films in the late 90s, early 2000s but his recent films haven’t had the same acclaim. Cara Delevangne is known more for modelling than acting. Jai Courtney isn’t an actor I’m familiar with and while he is on the rise, Terminator: Genisys could put a stop to that.

An image of Amanda Waller, Deadshot and Harley Quinn from the Suicide Squad comic books by DC Comics.
Can you imagine Margot Robbie and Will Smith in these roles?

Out of those six actors only two aren’t big name actors. And of those two lower list actors one is actually well known outside of film. On top of that, Oprah Winfrey is the first choice to play Amanda Waller, with Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis next in line. That’s a lot of star power for a film that shouldn’t really need it. And WB can’t use the excuse that casual viewers don’t know who the Suicide Squad are. Guardians of the Galaxy was not a household name before their movie and Bradley Cooper, the most well known actor in that group, was a voice actor. Even if they don’t know who the squad are, even people who don’t read comics and don’t watch movies know who The Joker is. Before Guardians of the Galaxy, no one knew who Groot was. Warner Bros. already has name value.

Why this worries me is because it looks like Warner Bros. is trying to stack the odds in their favour. They are so concerned about getting people to buy tickets and get them into the theatre. There is no thought going into the actual content. Is Leto the best actor to play the The Joker? It doesn’t matter. He’s an Oscar winner and people pay to see his films. Done well, Suicide Squad could be better than Guardians of the Galaxy. It could be the best DC film in years. But that’s not what they’re aiming for. So I’m cautiously optimistic. Optimistic because this could be great. Cautious because I can already see the signs of self-sabotage.

Brooding

Earlier this week, Fox TV Show Gotham reached its mid season conclusion. The show, which details the events of Detective James Gordon in the crooked police force prior to the arrival of Batman, will return in January but, thus far, prospects are looking good. I was being cautious in my optimism when I previewed the show back in September, given that Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasted what I felt was vast potential. Of course, it still got a second season and it’s not really close to getting cancelled so it wasn’t that bad.

In regards to the numbers, Gotham is beating Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the ratings by virtue of about two million viewers. That’s actually a bit misleading though. When compared to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first season, Agent’s tenth episode actually did better than Gotham, though not by much. It might be worth noting though that Agent’s fell further, having drew over twelve million for the pilot before dropping to about six million for the mid season. Gotham started lower, at eight million but quickly leveled out to somewhere in the region of six million.

What that suggests is that Gotham has managed to hold on to most of it’s initial viewers. Two thirds of the viewers who tuned into the pilot are still hanging around to see the adventures of Benjamin McKenzie as Detective James Gordon. But it’s also useful in predicting the future by suggesting that by this time next year when Gotham is in its second season, it may have shed a further third. But that doesn’t necessarily matter. If Gotham goes to Netflix in the interim between seasons, it could pick up a strong online viewership and following that could keep it afloat despite fletching ratings, or could even help to improve ratings. Netflix was a big reason for Breaking Bad’s surge in popularity.

Benjamin McKenzie stars as Detective James Gordon in Fox's Gotham.

Anger is a common emotion of a man with a city fighting against him.

Ratings are not a reason to watch a show, however. Gotham’s premise is strong and it allows for some good stories. The story of Detective James Gordon coming up the ranks and cleaning up the police force in the years prior to Batman draws from the comic book arc ‘Batman: Year One’, written by Frank Millar, but with one notable change. No Batman. So often in Batman films and programmes and comics, we are told that Gotham is corrupt and needs Batman. Gotham presents that city and we begin to see how much it needs Batman’s intervention as Gordon struggles to enforce justice, constantly taking one step forward and falling two steps back.

Part of the problem I had with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was that it never truly detached itself from the wider universe. The team would spend episodes going on cool sounding missions but those missions always had something to do with Extremis or they would talk about Thor and Captain America, basically reminding the audience of the more exciting things going on that this team isn’t a part of. It was like someone wrote a fanfiction where they and their friends were friends with the Marvel superheroes but the superheroes never show up. It gets boring when you’re watching a show for it’s special guest appearances.

As I said in my preview, Gotham avoids that issue by virtue of just being itself. Gotham can actually give us Batman, albeit the innocent boy version but that’s an interesting story in of itself. Viewers know the story of Bruce Wayne training to become Batman, but Gotham explores how seeing his parents murdered drives the boy to become a crime fighter. How did he become the world’s greatest detective? Gotham shows him poring over police files and analysing crime scenes. When did he begin to develop his physical strength and ability? Gotham reveals that Bruce was bullied and asks Alfred to teach him to fight. It’s very compelling to see Bruce Wayne growing into Batman.

David Mazouz and Camren Bicondova star as Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle in Fox's Gotham.

This might be the most amicable that we’ve ever seen Batman and Catwoman.

The actors themselves are great, with David Mazouz, Sean Pertwee and Robin Lord Taylor as the standouts among the cast. Mazouz plays Bruce with surprising deftness considering his age and Pertwee manages to strike a well maintained balance of mentor, authority figure and servant which draws audiences into scenes without stealing the spotlight. Taylor too is truly creepy as Oswald Cobblepot, already known as The Penguin. Outside of those three I have seen praise for Jada Pinkett Smith and criticism of Benjamin McKenzie. My feelings are to the contrary. Personally, I believe McKenzie brings an earnestness to the role that makes him genuine and sympathetic. Furthermore, the show hasn’t given him much range to display other than gritted determinism and frustration. Pinkett Smith, on the other hand, often comes across as over the top.

That might be a problem with the tone of the show rather than the fault of Pinkett Smith’s acting. There is an issue in that at times the writers want Gotham to be gritty and realistic, like the recent Christopher Nolan trilogy, but then it veers towards Adam West territory by introducing villains such as ‘Balloonman’ who kills his victims by strapping them to weather balloons. It’s true that Batman has his fair share of silly villains and comical stories but they generally vary from writer to writer, not from scene to scene.

So far Gotham has been enjoyable to watch. There’s an obvious shelf life on the story, given that at some point Bruce Wayne has to disappear for training. If he waits too long, characters such as Harvey Dent and Edward Nygma, who are already several years older than the boy, will be old men by the time he takes up the mantle of Caped Crusader. Until then, I’m just going to enjoy the journey and look forward to the change of scenery as Gordon takes up a security position in the newly opened Arkham Asylum.

Strangled

BBC Two’s Northern Irish crime drama, The Fall  is now two weeks deep into the second season. When we last left Belfast, Gillian Anderson’s DSI Stella Gibson had failed to catch the woman killer, Paul Spector, played by Jamie Dornan. Spector himself had made some mistakes, having failed to kill one of his victims. That and a former girlfriend who knew him under a pseudonym gave the police an accurate and detailed description. Under those circumstances, what would you do? Spector runs to Scotland. That doesn’t quite seem far enough but, as the second season begins, he’s on his way back to Belfast.

Returning to the scene of the crime, or in this case the country of the crime, is always the stupidest move a killer can make. On the one hand, it is easy to understand why. Spector returns to wrap up loose ends, such as the ex-girlfriend, and deal with a teenaged admirer. That and he had a daughter whom he cares about. While the series creator believes that Spector is incapable of love, Dornan disagrees and the argument could go either way. In general, he seems to have a soft spot for children to point where he will pal around with the kids of his victims, even at the sacrifice of his own survival. To the surprise of no one, the child tells the police.

The series seems to be clearly winding towards Spector’s capture or death. They’re on his trail and closer than ever, it is just a matter of whether or not he is willing to go quietly. I would guess not but I was surprised that Spector evaded capture in the first season. What bothers me is that Stella will probably get the credit for his capture when Spector’s own actions have really led to his defeat. I get that calling the police with the kidnapped woman’s phone is a display of power, a psychological presentation of his control over the situation, but expecting the kidnapped woman’s daughter to kindly keep her mouth shut is just sloppy.

Teenage admirer, Katie Benedetto, played by Aisling Franciosi, gets tied up and taught a lesson by Paul Spector, also known as the Belfast Strangler, played by Jamie Dornan.

Bondage has always been part of his M.O. but it seems more intentional since the announcement of Dornan as Christian Grey.

I still haven’t warmed to DCI Stella Gibson’s character yet. The character is not quite as sexually active as she was in the first season, although that might have something to do with her one night stand buddy being dead, but she still strikes me as boring. Between Stella and Spector, there’s no real emotion to story, outside of grieving victims and their families. Stella is just as cold to the world as Spector, and even he has the characteristic of being nice to kids. Even when Stella was being promiscuous, she approached it with the same systematic mentality that she does police work. She is depicted at times as more sociopathic that the killer. If the show came to an end and she tore off her face to reveal a robot underneath I would not be surprised in the least.

Some people will say that DCI Stella Gibson is just a strong female character. That’s fine but they really don’t need to try so hard. Trying too hard is generally better than not trying hard enough. At least when trying too hard there is a visible display of effort. But when it comes to storytelling, focusing too much on one area can cause other aspects to suffer. It is a common criticism of fan fiction, where fans either write their favourite characters or original creations in a way that makes them look superior to characters that the writer does like. This is not simply a case of a character being written as more competent. Areas in which a character was skilled are taken away and the fan favourites are written to be more talented, better looking and a superior person in very well.

This tends to happen less in published works of fiction and television shows because those writers have matured enough to know how to balance characters. Every character is a person, with all the inherent flaws and shortcomings that come with that but they’re also talented in their own way too. Yet, it still happens but more so in the way that Stella is portrayed in The Fall. The writers are directing all of their focus on to making a character appear to be a certain way that it actually makes them less of a person. They become a caricature of what they were intended to represent.

Gillian Anderson's DCI Stella Gibson in a rare moment of vulnerability.

We limit women by deciding what constitutes strength and what embodies weakness.

In fiction nowadays there seems to be an ideal of what a strong woman is and it’s just as limiting to gender equality as the false perception of women as weak willed and docile from years past. Consider Friends. Friends and The Fall have very little in common but Friends had three very clear, strong women characters all with their own strengths and weaknesses. No one could ever have called them emotionless and yet they had careers, Sometimes they were silly, sometimes they were serious, sometimes they were the butt of the joke and sometimes they were creating the laughs. They were equal to the male characters but beyond that they were strong, well rounded characters. Strong, well rounded characters that just so happened to be female.

There is a difference between displaying emotions and being a slave to your emotions. Women were once considered to be the latter by society but The Fall displays a turn to the opposite extreme. The only female characters who display emotion in the show are the female victims. The main female characters are much more reserved and restrained with their feelings. It isn’t an accurate portrait of real life and results in rather flat, two dimensional characters. It has some similarities to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In it, a female sociopath aided in the capture of a sadistic woman killer. The difference is that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had Mikhail Blomkvist who acted as the emotional centre of the novel and films.

There’s still a level of depth that is missing. Stella is dull, as mentioned above, while Spector’s actions are basically explained by way of him wanting control. But that’s not a very informative answer. Despite watching seven episodes of police tracking this killer I still feel like I don’t know any more than I knew from the first episode. I mean, other than that he has a family and likes tying women up and strangling them in his spare time. It might be good practice for Fifty Shades of Grey but it makes for very shallow viewing. It’s dark for the sake of darkness. The Fall is one of the better original dramas on British television but it is still a far throw from greatness.

Amateur

I really wanted to like Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. All of the post-season trailers and promotional material hyped up a new, darker direction for the Doctor. The Doctor has always trend close to the dark side, an example from the modern series being Ten’s punishment of Family of Blood, but Steven Moffat teased the audience with an explicitly dark, ambiguous character. Unfortunately, Capaldi’s Doctor showed very little moral ambiguity. Sure he had a few adventures where people died and he used their death to figure out how to stop the monster of the week but that’s always been typical of the doctor’s adventures. That’s why it’s so special when the Doctor declares “Just this once, everybody lives!”

Instead of ambiguity, The Doctor just seemed a bit confused about the quality of his character. For the first few episodes, this could have been put down to the regeneration which tends to shake things up and take some time to get use to. However, having Clara reply with ‘I don’t know’ felt a bit misleading. Clara had no reason not to know, lest we forget that she was there when the Tenth and Eleventh iterations nearly assisted the War Doctor in destroying Gallifrey. Committing genocide of the Daleks and the Time Lords doesn’t really compare to maybe pushing one guy out of a glorified hot air balloon.

Perhaps the only difference between then and now is that the other Doctors’ actually came up with alternate plan to save Gallifrey at the last minute. So Clara doesn’t know if the Doctor is good or not because he just doesn’t try as hard anymore? Of course, that was at the start of the season. With season 8 now concluded, we can look back and see how it all came together tonight in an explosive finale, right? Normally, yes, but this was one of the dullest, by the number finales of recent memory. Clara had a bigger shift to the dark side the Doctor, and seemed properly unpredictable, rather than the Doctor, who just fell into dramatic situations.

Steven Moffat inserts Clara's eyes into the Doctor Who opening sequence to add to the suggestion that she is a future incarnation of The Doctor.

Doctor Who shouldn’t need cheap tricks to engage the viewer.

The whole moral dilemma, which they pretended had been going on for the entire season but only really showed up in about four episodes, was promptly resolved in about two minutes. Seeing two people hug reminded the Doctor that he’s neither good nor bad, he’s just an idiot with a box. It is a kind of resolution but it’s one with no consequences and wastes what little dramatic tension Moffat had built. Consistent storytelling that develops over the course of a season is within Moffat’s repertoire, just look at Season 5 and the ever prominent cracks. So why has he struggled to do the same in recent seasons?

Other plot points that recurred over the course of season 8 also suffered the same lack of resolution. The Doctor’s sudden dislike of soldiers wound up having no purpose other than creating arbitrary conflict between him and Danny Pink. The Doctor spends a solid portion of Death in Heaven pow-wowing with UNIT without too much fuss. He does complain but it’s mostly about them not letting him just do his job. And Moffat knows the anti-soldier attitude is rubbish, going so far as to throw up portraits of the former companion, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart to signal his awareness of The Doctor’s past relationships with military figures.

The conflict between the Doctor and Danny did nothing for the story. The Doctor had no real reason to be suspicious of Danny because of his military background and The Doctor was not an officer, as Danny accused him of being. Danny’s military experience does provide some aid in the end, but their their predisposed dislike spawned from nothing and went nowhere. I was valuable time that could have been spent building up Clara’s relationship with Danny. Instead, we see very little of Clara and Danny alone. When Danny dies at the beginning of Dark Water, her near villainous actions lack potency because the relationship was relegated to the sidelines.

Peter Capaldi  and Michelle Gomez as The Doctor and Missy in the Doctor Who season 8 finale Death in Heaven.

Maybe if Missy could stop making pop culture references her plan might actually succeed.

Most of what we did see of their relationship was Danny being annoyed that she would run to The Doctor in a dangerous situation. And then run into the dangerous situation. That’s not to say that Danny can’t be worried about his girlfriend but too often he would tell her what she had to do, rather than letting her make her own decision on the matter. Danny, on the whole, wasn’t very thoroughly thought through as a character. He was just a plot device, designed to give Clara something to care about when the Cybermen came to town. The only important characteristic he displayed was his military background but with the whole of UNIT at his disposal, Moffat could have plucked out anyone to do the same job.

And so we come to the finale’s villains: the aforementioned Cybermen and The Master, or Mistress, Missy for short. If it’s taken a long time to get around to them, it’s because they don’t really do much. I liked the idea of uploading people and downloading them into Cybermen, although it did remind me a little of The Great Intelligence’s plan from The Bells of Saint John. But the Cybermen aren’t even a threat really. They’re a tool. Missy is the real threat but aside from blowing up one plane, she just grandstands. And the reveal was rather lacklustre. The Missy=Mistress=The Master theory has been floating around since her name was revealed.

It’s become almost cool to criticise Moffat but what else can be done in this situation? Viewers expected more of an anti-hero Doctor but what we got was the same puns and jokes repackaged in older wrapping. Even the name of the episode was horribly uninspired considering no-one in heaven actually dies. ‘Return of the Living Cybermen’ would have been a more fitting title given the zombie theme. I don’t like to criticise anyone just for the sake of it but I know Moffat can do better. This one goes on Nick Frost’s naughty list.

P.S. If you enjoy what you read on this blog and/or my novel and would like to know more about the person behind the blog posts, you might be interested in an author interview that I recently did with thebookreview.net. It looks at my inspirations, how I deal with obstacles and what I’m working on next. You can find it at www.thebookreview.net/plagiarized-book/ Please check it out. Thanks.

Interstellar

Science Fiction is not known for its sentimentality. Being fiction, it is borne out of possibility and potential that is not necessarily tied to reality. That isn’t to say implausible, rather that in fiction we can put into action that which didn’t or hasn’t happened in the real world. Launching off from this, Sci-Fi is almost always about some kind of scientific theory that is currently unknown or unproven to the world. The science doesn’t even have to be particularly accurate. ‘Aliens come to Earth’ doesn’t have to explain anything about how beings develop on different worlds, about how faster than light space travel is possible or why the aliens might be vulnerable to Earth’s atmosphere but so long as those things happened and the aliens are here, then that makes it science fiction.

Yet Christopher Nolan’s science fiction epic Interstellar is dripping with sentimentality. Which is made all the more odd due to the fact that the film is based on some actual ideas about how wormholes and black holes might theoretically work. But the film attempts to have it both ways by showing what it might actually look like to move outside of our own three dimensions and saying that sometimes feeling matters more than fact. That’s not wholly unrealistic. There are many people who believe that a higher power can work in harmony with scientific fact. The real question is whether the film manages to strike that balance. Arguably, the scales are tipped slightly towards emotion.

The main thrust of the story follows Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a NASA pilot turned farmer who lives on an Earth ravaged by dust storms and crop blight. Humanity is dying and Cooper is forced to leave his daughter Murphy and son Tom on a mission to find somewhere else to live. Turns out NASA sent out twelve scouts to test planets for their compatibility with humanity by using a wormhole that appeared 50 years ago to travel to another galaxy. Only three of the planets are possibly habitable. Cooper and the crew attempt to visit each one by one but some tragedies and betrayals lead to a lack of resources and time.

Matthew McConaughey, Mackenzie Foy and Timothée Chalamet star as Cooper and his children Murphy and Tom in Christopher Nolan's Sci-Fi space epic, Interstellar.

What was the plan if a ghost hadn’t caused the last space pilot to stumble upon NASA?

As much as this is a film about space and the titular interstellar travel, it is a film that continually looks back towards Earth and inward to the the soul of humanity. Although, in saying that, people don’t exactly come off looking too swell, being considered abstractly as being too selfish to care about the survival of the species over their personal survival. It’s obviously a hard choice and many would struggle with it but people in the film aren’t even given a chance. They’re just entirely written off and it’s up to the crew to actually do something about it.

I say that it’s up to the crew but it’s actually up to something far more powerful than them. This is entering SPOILER territory, so if you don’t want to get caught in this black hole’s horizon, skip ahead to the next picture. So throughout the film there is an ominous ‘they’ that is frequently referred to. ‘They’ put the wormhole near Saturn. ‘They’ build a five dimensional tesseract within a black hole. ‘They’ are actually humans from the future, evolved outside of time and space and communicating with Cooper and helping him to communicate back in time to his daughter, such as giving her coordinates to the NASA space station or the data to saving the human race in the form of morse code.

Events which were originally contributed to a ghost or scientific anomaly are revealed to be Cooper, lovingly guiding his daughter to the answer. Interstellar asks the question why do we love and that is the question it is concerned with. It isn’t concerned with explaining why our future selves are seeing fit to build wormholes and warping time for Cooper’s benefit. What makes Muprhy, played by MacKenzie Foy and then Jessica Chastain, so special is never addressed, she just is. The film doesn’t even care to explain why the Earth is in the state that it is in, it’s just a background horror that motivates humanity to look to the stars. Interstellar is a science fiction movie that is more concerned with the soul than science, and actually it’s all the more weaker for it.

The three most potentially habitable planets share the new galaxy with a massive black hole , affectionately called 'Gargantua '.

The data from the singularity is needed to save Earth. If only someone could survive entering it…

Some of the best moments in Interstellar are when the crew are exploring new planets and interacting with new environments. The film strangely excels when it moves away from Earth and yet it keeps returning there to update the audience on the lives of Cooper’s children. Dialogue is generally enjoyable but it does stray into pretentious a few times, most notably Anne Hathaway’s entire monologue on love. The music by Hans Zimmer is remarkably powerful but the film also knows when to be quiet…mostly. There were times when the music was so loud it was actually difficult to hear the lines that characters were speaking.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the comparison to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Throughout the film I was constantly seeing aspects of 2001 in Interstellar, from the reverberating crescendos of the orchestral music to the strikingly beautiful images of space and space travel. Interstellar will no doubt be this generation’s 2001 but while 2001 is near perfect a sci-fi as you’ll find, Interstellar skirts around the edges, failing to be as truly provocative and compelling as it wants to be. While Interstellar takes us to space and constantly looks down, 2001 is all about looking up and even when that has disastrous consequences, it never turns its attention back to Earth. All the questions that Interstellar asks, 2001 answers without even having to ask.

However, Stanley Kubrick and Christopher Nolan are completely different directors and it is unfair to base the success of the later’s work on the former’s. Nolan will be remembered for the ambition of Interstellar for many years to come. While the content may be too light for hard science fiction fans and too complex for the casual viewer, the underlying message is one of hope and excitement. Perhaps it is has a point. Maybe it is time to be amazed as the vastness above us again.

Tease

Why does Spring 2015 have to feel so far away? I was already anticipating The Avengers: Age of Ultron but most recent teaser trailers has gotten me even more hyped for the sequel to Marvel’s cinematic team up. Phase two has, on the whole, been more enjoyable for me, with both Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier both improving on their debuts. Iron Man 3 was undoubtedly the weak link of the build up and The Avengers: Age of Ultron even appears to make that film relevant. This film can not come too soon.

Iron Man 3 was a fun film, I can’t argue that, but for me it lacked the same personal significance of the previous two Iron Man films. Once Thor and Captain America had their respective sequels it also became apparent that Iron Man 3 didn’t quite measure up in terms of high stake action. On top of that, the ending basically neutered Tony Stark by having him trash his suits and use the healing abilities of Extremis to mend his heart. He gave up his super powered lifestyle for Pepper Potts, or so it seemed. At the time it seemed anticlimactic but now it is clear that we will see the consequences of those actions in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

If the original The Avengers was a story of growth for Tony Stark then The Avengers: Age of Ultron is his fall from grace. Stark was a self-serving jerk who basically used heroism as a means to experiment with new toys but throughout the course of The Avengers he became a reliable hero who would die to save others, taking the actions that none of other Avengers could. But even that sacrifice had an impact, as seen from the post traumatic stress which he suffered in Iron Man 3. What I really like about what the Age of Ultron trailer implies is that just because Stark has grown doesn’t mean he can forget about Iron man and all those other versions he created.

The Hulkbuster version of the Iron Man made an appearance in the Marvel Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer.

Iron Man has really let himself go.

My disappointment over the remotely controlled Iron Man suit in Iron Man 3 has even been turned on its head. Initially, I felt that it created an arbitrary level of danger because there was no real threat if Tony Stark was in no actual danger. It made sense in terms of a man with PTS but from a storytelling stance, it detracted from the suspense of action scenes. In the Age of Ultron trailer it seems that the remotely controlled suits have taken on a life of their own if the ‘Got no strings’ line is anything to go by. I was curious how they would depict Ultron given that his original creator, Hank Pym, won’t appear until July 2015 but as far as alternate origins go this one is fairly interesting.

For fans saddened by the idea that Tony Stark might never put on the suit again, the trailer also provides hope. At one point Stark dons the hulkbuster armour to go one on one with Bruce Banner’s angry alter-ego. This raises an intriguing point. Bruce Banner is not in complete control of The Hulk as he was in The Avengers. What changed we probably won’t know until May next year but one things this does mean is that the rampaging Hulk doesn’t know friend from foe. Ultron is clearly using The Hulk in much the same way Loki once did but this time Stark is prepared. Have I mentioned that I really can’t wait to see this film?

The trailer also sort of suggested that we could see Chris Hemsworth relinquish the title of Thor and that Steve Rogers could die. I think these are misleading however. Hemsworth dropping the Hammer could easily just be a spit-take moment where he witnesses something incredibly overwhelming. And for a guy who is often considered to be a minor deity he can’t be easily overwhelmed so it’s telling the viewer that what they’re seeing is really powerful. The trailer does make it look like resignation but it is just playing into the recent modification to the Thor character in the comic books. This Thor still needs to deal Loki playing dress up as Odin and ruling over Asgard in Thor: Ragnarok and he can’t do that depowered.

An Image of Captain America's broken shield appeared in the trailer for Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Foreshadowing or misdirection?

Admittedly though my only reason for doubting the death of Steve Rogers is due to the now confirmed rumours of the comic books story ‘Civil War’ being adapted for screen in Captain America: Civil War. Maybe they could do Civil War with Bucky Barnes or Sam Wilson as Captain America but I don’t think it would have the same emotional weight. The broken shield in the Age of Ultron trailer is just like Thor dropping Mjölnir. It is meant to shock the audience but I wouldn’t read too much into it. In fact, because those were teased in the trailer, I’d be willing to bet that if anyone dies it won’t be Thor or Captain America.

If this trailer confirmed anything for me, it was that James Spader was absolutely the perfect choice to voice Ultron. Oh, man, that voice. It had that quietly terrifying quality that I haven’t seen done that well since Bryan Cranston’s stint as Walter White/Heisenberg.I loved how it started fairly human and became gradually more computerized without becoming difficult to understand. When you can get me hooked on a character with the sound of their voice alone, you’re moving in the right direction.

I really can’t overstate enough how much I am looking forward to this movie. I know, I shouldn’t be careful not to build up my expectations until they become unreasonable. However, between the teaser trailer and the Phase Three announcements, The Avengers: Age of Ultron is looking like it will put to rest the notion that Marvel couldn’t repeat the initial The Avengers build up and success. In fact they’re going beyond that. They are weaving stories that move fluidly from phase to phase. Even when I’m disappointed, I’m playing right into their hands.

Decade

It turns out that Lost isn’t the only show celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Unlike Lost though, Alan Sugar’s The Apprentice is still running. The business competition returned last week with season number ten and began with a surprise. Rather than the usual sixteen contestants there were twenty Lord Sugar wannabes in this year’s batch. This came with the caveat that, at any given moment, Lord Sugar could decide to fire more than one of the applicants.  The first task was so bad I actually thought he might have fired all of the final three.

While some may consider being more frivolous with the firing to be gimmicky, it actually adds some much needed suspense to the show. There have also been complaints recently that the competition was becoming dull with the same type of tasks being assigned each year. But I actually haven’t felt that. Although the tasks are similar there’s generally enough deviation to make it interesting. The wearable technology task, for example, is nothing like any fashion or technology task previously shown. It required an understanding of technology, an eye for fashion and enough perception to know what people would actually wear. Not that any of candidates had any of those qualities.

The mixture of different products and added fear that anyone could go if they show themselves to be exceptionally poor is what keeps me tuning in week to week. And this week the teams had to make candles. The style of the task is similar to the beer brewing assignment from task from last year although with obviously differing markets. Although neither team really knew the market. Tenacity project manager Katie Bulmer-Cooke’s previously experience was the smell of her own home while Summit team leader Roisin Hogan is an accountant. So both managers for this task had little business knowledge of the candle market.

Lord Sugar joins forces with Nick Hewer and Karen Brady again in order to find one business partner among 20 potentials.

Maybe 1 of the 20 will stop using one-liners long enough to show some business sense.

Having market knowledge doesn’t always help anyway. Lord Sugar made a point of telling the candidates that this task was all about margins, advisement that both Katie and Roisin took on board. It is just a pity that the rest of Roisin’s team didn’t make a note of it. Admittedly, Roisin was pushing for prices between £20-25 and only advocating lower prices when necessary, whereas Katie was gunning hard with high end prices of £40 and offering £25 as the lowest reduced price. Roisin’s sub team, however, immediately started selling at the bottom line as soon as they reached the market. Katie’s sub team also struggled, failing to sell later in the afternoon, but selling less at a higher price meant that they had more profit.

It came as a surprise that Tenacity won really, given the garish, yellow candle that they created. I can’t imagine who paid upwards of £30 for that. Summit did everything right in terms of creation, a neutral coloured candle which clients liked the scent of. It was just in the selling where the team was let down, so it was less surprising that the two weakest sellers, Lindsay Booth and Nurun Ahmed, got the finger this week. Lindsay’s elimination must be the most amicable firing in the show’s history. She was so agreeable to her own failings that I almost expected her to resign. Lord Sugar got in there first though, and Lindsay which back to her swimming academy.

Nurun Ahmed fought for her position but I thought she should have gone in week two. While Summit’s camera t-shirt might have had some appeal to the niche vlogging market I can understand why none of the retailers made any orders given the privacy risk. But it still sounded and looked better than the frankenstein creation that Tenacity made. It had flashing lights, solar panels, built in heaters and a phone charger, after which I almost expected a go go gadget propeller to allow the wearer to fly. The individual ideas had some merit but Nurun completely a skewed both the market research and the advice of the designer but failing to choose one concept.

Roisin Hogan, James Hill and Nurun Ahmed fought to remain in the competition.

Roisin brought back James and Nurun but did the right one get fired?

This week though, Nurun’s failures were of a different kind entirely. Despite experience selling in a market place, Nurun had the second lowest sale figures for the entire team. On the You’re Fired post-show, Nurun did make a point that the markets in which she is familiar are very different to London markets. That’s a fair comment, but any selling experience at all should have been beneficial here and on top of that where exactly does she think her business with Lord Sugar would be situated? It would be British business and as such she would need an understanding of British trends. Her lack of selling ability, coupled with indecisive leadership on the previous task, more than warranted her firing this week.

That being said, there were other candidates who could have been fired as well. James Hill, the sub team leader of Summit, was largely to blame for selling the up market candles at low prices. But Lord Sugar is always slow to fire the arrogant, talkative applicants so long as they sell well. Plus, when the proud ones eventually come down off their high horse, they usually prove themselves to be fairly decent businessmen and women. On the other side, there is Sarah Dales. As a former hypnotherapist, one would have thought she could have coerced a few more people into purchasing candles. Though I actually agree with her insistence that £40 is too much for a candle, her poor selling capabilities and her directionless leadership in week one probably means that as soon as she’s unlucky enough to be on the losing team, she’ll be out the door.

Three weeks in, and I’m thoroughly enjoying The Apprentice. At this stage, it is difficult to pin one contestant down to win the business partnership because so many of the candidates grow over the course of the series and we don’t know their business proposals in detail yet. Even good business sense won’t win the competition if their plan is incomprehensible. And we probably won’t know the plans in detail until the final four interview stage. Until then, just enjoy the ride.

Women

There seems to be little doubt that Gone Girl will be one of the most talked about films of the year. Even as February of next year rolls around, audiences will still be talking about whether the film deserves the Academy Award for Best Picture or whether David Fincher got overlooked again. And it’s easy to see why people are talking about the film. Gone Girl is one of the best thrillers in years; the kind of dark, morbid mystery that Fincher excels at and that we’ve seen him do before with the movie adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Nowadays though, being good is rarely enough to inspire conversation. Films also have to be controversial, and, boy, is Gone Girl controversial. It’s controversial for the normal reasons such as gore and sex, some of which I really can’t talk about without spoiling the third act of the film, but it’s also drawn a lot of attention due to it’s depiction of women. I know what you’re thinking. Here’s an intelligent thriller written by a woman (Gillian Flynn) and featuring a woman as it’s main character, how can it be anti-feminist? But that hasn’t stopped a lot of readers from suggesting that Mrs. Flynn is misogynistic in the writing of her characters.

Firstly, as almost any writer will tell you, just because a novel is written by a woman doesn’t mean that their female characters are going to be stronger any more that you could expect a man to write great male characters. If that were true there would be no great depictions of robots or aliens because no robots or aliens have written books and I think Philip K. Dick proved he could write a compelling android despite having no mechanical parts himself. In the same vein, people often congratulate George R. R. Martin for his strong, female characters. And if a man can write strong women in his books, it’s feasible that a woman could write weak female characters because the ability to write well or not has no relation to gender or sex.

Rosamund Pike arguably pulls out the performance of her career in David Fincher's adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel, Gone Girl.

Male fantasy or male nightmare? It’s still a male perspective.

However, I don’t think that Amy Elliot Dunne, played wonderfully by Rosamund Pike, is a weak female character. She is a well written, complex character who does some bad things but it made sympathetic by the actions of her husband. The first half of the film is borderline cliché. Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne comes home after meeting his sister one morning to find his wife missing and an overturned table. Further investigation by the police uncovers blood on the kitchen floor and a half burnt journal written by Amy detailing her husband’s detachment and anger issues. And…that’s maybe as far as I can go without ruining the rest of the film.

I will say this, neither Amy nor Nick are reliable. That seems to be the main reason why some viewers and readers accuse Flynn of misogyny. Not all of her claims about Nick in the journal are true which paints her as a bit of a nag who tries to gain favour by being sympathetic. It is very manipulative and deceiving and confirm all the bad attitudes that men have towards women. But that’s unfair to the writer because not all women are good. Gillian Flynn herself addressed the issue in an interview:

“Is it really only girl power, and you-go-girl, and empower yourself, and be the best you can be? For me, it’s also the ability to have women who are bad characters … the one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing. In literature, they can be dismissably bad – trampy, vampy, bitchy types – but there’s still a big push back against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad and selfish”

One villainous woman does not a make her a misogynist. It is unfortunate that the other female characters in the movie all tend to be gullible and underhanded as well with the only exception really being Nick’s sister. Even that doesn’t bother me because I don’t think the writer was trying to say ‘look how stupid and evil all women are’ but maybe because I’m a writer myself I’m giving her more benefit of the doubt. That said, while she’s not a weak woman for possibly all of the wrong reasons, I don’t think that she’s a strong female character either.

Ben Affleck plays to his strengths as the unsympathetic Nick Dunne in David Fincher's adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel,  Gone Girl.

I’m Batman.

Amy Dunne’s methods utilise sex and sympathy to paint a picture of herself that makes her husband appear a lot more despicable than he really is. Getting Affleck to play the part probably helped viewers find the character unlikable but it bothers me that Amy’s method are basically using men’s perception of women against them. Men perceive Amy to be weak so she pretends to be weak to get her way but to me that’s just being strong within the confines that a male dominated world allow. The type of woman that men think uses rape as a weapon and babies as a bargaining tool. It’s the reason that I prefer Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth as strong women over Cersei Lannister, because they’re strong in a way that makes them equal to men and makes men feel uncomfortable. Amy’s strength won’t make men uncomfortable, it’ll just make them point and say ‘look, I was right.’ But it’s not misogyny; the character is just complex.

Besides, the film has problems other than its depiction of women. Marriage is said to be hard work but no couple in the film works at it. It’s just a power play. On a very basic storytelling level, there are problems too such as how the police never analyse the blood splatters and no mention is made of how the wounds on Amy’s body are inconsistent with the crime scene. That disappointed me because I expected more from Flynn due to her police reporter background. Furthermore, without going into detail, the plot falls apart right around the climax, where it just sort of pitters to its end.

It is unfortunate that this movie and the book are so wrapped up in whether it is feminist or not because it takes away from just how good a thriller this film is. David Fincher is the perfect director for this type of film and Flynn’s story is a great modern mystery, even if it falls short of brilliant. It gets a little risqué at times but if you can hold your nerve it’s a highly entertaining thriller that keeps the audience guessing right until the absolute last moment.

Sing

Every series of the X-Factor has some kind of overarching story to lure in potential viewers. It’s more like a scripted television drama than a reality singing competition in that regard. Either it’s a conscious effort by the producers to appeal to the sensibilities of teenagers and young adults in this generation who spend the majority of their time watching the lives of fictional characters unfold, or they just don’t believe musical talent and singing ability can reliably draw an audience. In which case, they’re in the wrong business.

This series is no different. Having seen the departure of three quarters (and at one point all four were thought to be leaving) of the judging panel, the big event of series eleven is that Simon Cowell has returned to the UK version. The official reasoning is that he is coming back to the original in order to find a global superstar. Unofficially, the failure of the X-Factor US to produce ratings has caused Simon to come running back with his tail between his legs. And he’s bringing Cheryl with him. Oh, joy. I can’t complain about her too much though. She’s easily more tolerable than Mel B’s tough, no nonsense shtick.

The truth is that it works. This is a blog post about the first live show and I’ve spent the first two paragraphs talking about the judging panel and Cowell’s return. As much as people might wish that the show was more about the contestant with legitimate singing skill, it’s the drama that gets people talking. That’s free promotion for the show. By the time the weekend rolls around, you’ve been thinking about the X-Factor all week because you’re talking about what Mel B said or who Cheryl brought back. That is exactly what Simon Cowell wants. At some point though, I do have to talk about the actual competition, so here goes.

Simon Cowell, Cheryl Versini Fernandez and Louis Walsh return to join Mel B on the 2014 X-Factor judging panel.

Mel B almost eliminated herself with her own shoes.

Over 25s (Cowell)

Fleur East

Not the strongest performance in regards to either rap or song but it was cool and fun in a way that managed to avoid being cheesy. I do think she will outlast the other acts in the Over 25’s category but she will probably struggle against some of the younger boys and girls.

Ben Haenow

In what I suspect could be said about most of the contestants, Ben is an alright singer who simply fails to stand out in any meaningful way. He might have sang a tolerable version of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ but both his look and the song have been done before. That kind of performer tends to fall by the wayside unless they pull out something spectacular.

Jay James

Jay started strong and be brought it back up during the bridge but it fell a bit in between. He’s not a bad singer though and showed himself to be diverse in his ability with his performance of Sigma’s ‘Changing’. It is a good position from where he can hopefully grow.

Stevi Ritchie performs 'Livin La Vida Loca' on the first live show .

Probably the only break-out Stevi is likely to have.

Stevi Ritchie

Oh, so this is the joke act for 2014. He’s an average singer at best but he is popular so he’ll hang around until the competition starts heating up. Just have fun with him until then.

Groups (Walsh)

Blonde Electra

What did we do to deserve two joke acts? It’s like if Jack Black and Ke$ha raised t.A.T.u. I do find it amusing that their song was only a number one in Finland. Fortunately, they have annoying singing voices and aren’t terribly popular so they probably won’t linger around for too long.

Eight piece boy band, Stereo Kicks perform of the first live show of the X-Factor.

Can one boy band have too many boys?

Stereo Kicks

Aside from having the blandest name in history, Stereo Kicks also boost the most members of any manufactured boy band group…unless you count the frankenstein group NKOTBSB. And they needn’t have worried about another boy band singing Katy Perry because they had the better performance. Marginally. Nothing was bad but nothing really stood out either. It was just boring.

Only The Young

Only the Young are one of those groups that are competent but feel slightly out of place on a show like this. Their song choice came across as skittish and disheveled so if they do make it through to next week they might have to review their style.

Overload Generation

It’s telling why these guys weren’t Walsh’s first pick. All five members looked a bit lost and stiff and worst of all, they were very hard to listen to. Maybe it was nerves but they need to get over those quick. Popularity might keep them in the competition but they’ll struggle outside the contest if that’s all they’ve got.

Paul Akister is brought back for a second attempt to wow the judges in The X-Factor.

Paul did his best to set the show off on the right foot.

Boys (Mel B)

Paul Akister

Paul had some decent moments but I didn’t enjoy the song choice. In part that might be Mel B’s failure for picking it, but it song seemed to overwhelm his voice so that very little came through until he did a few flourishes at the end. Singing can’t just be about biding your time then booming your voice. It needs to be strong throughout. In essence, he was controlled by the song when he should be taking the lead.

Andrea Faustini

Andrea is an odd duck. He sings better than one would expect, especially when that song is Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’. That said, calling for him to win the series because of that one song was perhaps overdoing just a tad. As surprising as he singing ability is, I do think there are better contestants in the competition, although only time will tell.

Jake Quickenden

Another likable contestant who doesn’t have the best singing voice and sang a song that we’ve heard many times before. It was very typical and with so many acts who are actually challenging themselves, likeable just isn’t going to cut it.

Jack Walton performs a different version of 'Only Girl (in the World)  on the first live show of The X Factor 2014.

Jack Walton stands out from the crowd by actually singing well.

Jack Walton

This was a textbook example of how to change a song in a way that makes both the singer and the song seem original. It actually took be a moment to recognise the song thanks to how Walton performed it. Props to Mel B on that one. He’s a good singer with a solid sound so I imagine he’ll do quite well.

Girls(Cheryl)

Chloe Jasmine

Regardless of whether her poshness is an act, Chloe is a competent singer. That said, while I like the idea of jazz version of ‘Toxic’, she didn’t perform it quite as well as I would have liked. The song was cool and it suited her style of singing but it just didn’t come together as I expected. Controversy might put her near the bottom but the judges will save her if it comes to that.

Stephanie Nala

Back in my Britain’s Got Talent final analysis, I said I enjoyed the Luminites’ blend of easy listening and hip-hop. None of that has translated into Steph’s solo career. The attempt to soften Ken Booth’s reggae version of ‘Everything I Own’ was just not cohesive with Steph’s style. I don’t think it’s enough to send her home but she needs to do something different next week.

Lauren Platt does a nice imitation of Foxes' cover of 'Happy' on the first live show of X-Factor 2014.

Pretty in pink, but did it clash with the slow tempo song?

Lauren Platt

Like Jack Wilton, this was another brilliant example of doing a song in a different way that lifts both her singer and the music. And Lauren nailed it. Right up until they brought in the percussion. Lauren still did well but I felt that it could have remained down tempo for the entirety of the song and it would have been a very methodical rendition that people would have remembered separate from Pharrell’s original. That’s not to take anything away from Lauren. She was great.

Lola Saunders

It’s nice when the wildcard acts demonstrate exactly why they were brought back. This was a solid performance throughout and I thought some of the song lyrics tied into her struggle with her nerves which was a nice, subtle touch. And who cares what she wears. This is the X-Factor, not Britain’s Next Top Model.

At this stage in the competition it is almost impossible to tell who will leave tonight, nevermind who will win. And a double elimination awaits so one of the more popular acts could leave in a controversial twist to ram home the notion that anything could happen. From here, the show could go in any number of directions and it’s that fact, not the singing, that will keep viewers coming back week after week. That many not be a good thing anymore though. To find out if your favourite singer makes it through to next week’s live show, tune into ITV at 8:15pm.