Review: Doctor Who: the Name of the Doctor

If you’ve not seen the episode: or indeed any of series 7 of Doctor Who look away now! “Spoilers…”4198239-low-doctor-who-series-7b

“My grave is potentially the most dangerous place in the universe.”

A couple of weeks ago someone a fellow fan mentioned how much he missed the cliff-hangers that Doctor Who was once famed for. Well, hold on to your console folks, as we just got ourselves a doozy…

Before we get to that though, what about that opening? In the pre-title sequence we finally got our explanation of who Clara is, via a fly-by through lives of the Doctor, putting Clara at key moments throughout his timeline – as an ever present, ever watching saviour. Well, it would explain how he got out of a few tight spots).

I have to admit to emitting a large ‘squee’ at the sight of the first Doctor and Susan creeping into that dry dock on Gallifrey to steal a TARDIS, “a long, long time ago” – (how about that for a sci-fi caption).

Clara was quite cleverly inserted into moments of each Doctor’s timeline via a Forest Gump style splicing, and the effect was somehow both clunky and perfect, all at the same time. It essentially felt like the 50th anniversary episode come early and goodness me, come November 23rd, the stakes have been well and truly raised.

The episode soon settled down, and once again employed the services of the Jenny, Vastra and Strax triumvirate, and pleasingly for the first time they didn’t grate. In fact, I found that I enjoyed the light humour mainly courtesy of Strax.  –

(Clara: To River Song, “Sorry Professor, I didn’t realise you were a woman.” Strax: “Neither did I”)

We did have to casually accept the fact that the children that Clara looks after were now back at home as if nothing had happened lat week. I mean, sure, they’d travelled in a time machine that’s bigger on the inside, visited the distant future and encountered terrifying cyborgs, but now they’re back at home and doing their homework with no qualms or ill effects! Whatevs.

That aside, the episode soon took on a dark turn with the hissing, sharp teethed Whisper Men brining genuine scares.

“I’m so sorry madam, I think I’ve been murdered,” is simply one of the most chilling lines I think I’ve heard in Doctor Who. It was somewhat undone of course by a Sontaran gizmo bringing Jenny back to life, but hey – it’s all larks.

As far as performances go Matt Smith deserves a mention. His switch from losing at Famous Five style larks playing Blind Man’s bluff with the aforementioned kids, to his tears moments later at the realisation that his potentially greatest secret had been discovered, was something to behold. It’s not often we see the Doctor cry – I believe Tennant was the first, and it was a powerful moment.

doctor

River Song made a welcome return and it’s a testament to Alex Kinston that the character has never tired despite frequent appearances. Her appearance marked a completing of the circle for writer Steven Moffat, ending the story he started with the introduction of Song, back in The Silence in the Library.

We also get some return on the promises of Dorian Maldovar from Good Man Goes to War and the explanation of the Silence falling, as the lights winked out.

As they landed on Trenzalore, we find that it’s the planet is more of a tomb for the TARDIS that the Doctor. The giant size of the TARDIS exterior is explained as it’s dimensions leaking out as it dies – a fitting memorial to the Doctor. Inside though, there is no body – just his time stream, fizzing and sparking at the heart of the dead TARDIS. The Great Intelligence, played with hammy relish again by Richard E. Grant, jumps in and murders him throughout his timeline, but somehow the Doctor on the floor doesn’t just disappear, but gets to writhe around in agony.

Clara, then realises what she must do, indeed, what she is destined to do, and jumps in after him to save the Doctor – though how she does this isn’t really clear. Nor is it clear how he is able to jump into his own time stream, and somehow rescue Clara, bringing here to some unknown place. (Well, it escaped me)

Non of that really matters though, as we then get one of the greatest endings of any Doctor Who episode either. I am pleased to admit I was thrilled to recognise the distinctive tones of John Hurt, from his one line with the back to camera, and the dramatic words the appeared on the screen worked superbly well for me.

What so clever though is the way Moffat avoided the pitfall of having to actually reveal the “name of the Doctor”, which would, of course, have been a crushing let down – sometimes the questions is more powerful that the answer. It’s dealt with by Moffat’s superb play on words –John Hurt’s Doctor did what he had to do, but it was not, “in the name of the Doctor”.

But who is this Doctor? And what did he do? The theories are reverberating round the vortex that is the internet. Is he the Valeyard? -The evil version of the Doctor that was amalgamation of the in between stages between regenerations that we met in a Trial of a time Lord (1986), or is this a regeneration that has been blotted from history?  The one between McGann and Eccleston and the one that did the terrible acts that, “broke the promise” and whose actions led to the destruction of Gallifrey in the Time War? Acts that the Doctor has since been running away from. Who knows, to coin a phrase.

We can hope that these questions will be answered in the 50th anniversary special and it’ll seem a long wait until November. What we got here though is an episode that was in many ones one of the best we’ve been treated to since the series can back to our screens on 2005. It seems to have given us a resolution, not only to the mystery of Clara but also to the mysteries of series 6, but also manages to set up some serious dramatic possibilities for the 50th anniversary special.

Crikey. I could do with a jelly baby.

 

Review: Doctor Who – Nightmare in Silver

cyberman_chess“Upgrade in progress….”

On the BBC iPlayer the description for this episode was “Hedgewick’s World of Wonders: the perfect theme park day out. And ground zero for a deadly silver resurrection.”

“Hedgewick’s World of Wonders” would on balance have been have been a better description of this oft times bizarre episode of Doctor Who- but then seeing as it comes from the pen of the Neil Gaiman bizarre is par for the course.

There was a light whimsical tone from the off, but the rather clunky ending of last week’s episode that had the children casually discovered that Clara was a time traveller (“OK, well what-eva”) meant that somehow the Doctor had just allowed them to come along for the ride. It seems that one minute he can’t bear to ever have a companion again, and then a few weeks later he’s an intergalactic, time travelling crèche service.

The episode moved along at a pace enough that we soon forgave it for this, mostly, though it was an obvious ploy to get children properly scared of the dark.  It’s wasn’t called Nightmare in Silver for nothing.

The Cyberman coming alive and grabbing our proprietor generated the requisite jump of fright from the wife (third week running I think), and the Cybermites were a clever upgrade from the Cybermats – which unless I’m not mistaken haven’t been seen on screen since the 1970s. Always good to get something Old Skool in there for the long-time fans. the Cyber army awakening was also a clear nod the the classic Tomb of the Cybermen from the second Doctor era in the 1960s.

The design on the Cybermen themselves were a pleasing upgrade on the previous versions we’ve seen in New Who, of which I’ve never been a particular fan, with a new voice and walk that was scarier than before.

It was good to see actors of the calibre of Tamzin Outhwaite and Warick Davis but it must be said that the star of the show was very much the star of the show – Matt Smith. There was much to relish about his performance with the Cyber-hive mind battling for his brain – Smith looked like he was enjoying that one.

The influence of the Borg though was a little too overt for my liking though, which seems unfair as the Borg were clearly based on the Cybermen in the first place, but thems’ the brakes.

After a promising start though the episode did descend into the silliness we’ve come to expect from Moffat’s tenure and the throwaway casual approach didn’t translate into a feeling of real peril.

Still, all told I’d like to see more from the mind of Gaimen in Doctor Who – though not necessarily with a classic villain.

That leaves next week’s episode as the only hope to add some real gravitas to Series 7 – with the small matter of the Doctor’s real name promised to finally be revealed. No pressure then.

 

 

Review: Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror

crimson_horrorGatiss: if there’s one thing that he does quite well it’s creepy and weird with a slathering of dark humour and all these elements were present in The Crimson Horror.

The episode was classic Who in many respects and bore many of the hallmarks of a writer who has clearly been a fan of the show for a very long time. For a fan brought up on the Davison era (that’ me) the reference to the ‘gobby Australian’ –Tegan, brought a smile to the face. (It did seem a little rude, but then the “Brave Heart Clara” comment –Tegan’s catchphrase – softened the impact).

There was much to enjoy here – the episode looked sumptuous from the opening shot and the scenery chewing performances were to be savoured – from the coroner in the morgue who enjoyed his work far too much, to the delightfully over-the-top Diana Rigg.

It was also well directed. The now familiar trope of not featuring the Doctor heavily was also well employed here, and the tease of having his first appearance in the eye of a victim worked well. The grainy old-film reel effect used to show the mysterious history of the factory was excellent too.

What didn’t work for me though was the ‘comedy’ element. The man repeatedly fainting was nearly funny – but not quite. And I seem to be the only one who thinks that the CBBC style characters of Jenny, Strax and Madame Vastra, don’t really add anything to Doctor Who. No desire for a spin-off here. And as for the ‘Tomtom’ joke – if it served some purpose I wouldn’t have minded too much – but it served no purpose but to make us roll our eyes.

And as well as Rigg did with Gillyflower, the reveal of Dr Sweet felt a bit… silly. It’s going for body horror, but it looked more daft than terrifying. Old style Doctor Who indeed.

The Doctor’s reaction was also somewhat jarring – he didn’t seem bothered about the creature or the life of the old woman Gillyflower.

But what really dropped the episode into the aforementioned CBBC category was the epilogue – with Clara’s time travelling escapades discovered by here charges at home using the power of Google. Really? It’s a clumsy set-up, and receives  a Must Try Harder school report.

A well-made, intriguing episode then, but let down somewhat by misfiring comedy elements and a rather childish approach to story-telling.

And without wishing to end on a downer, the Cybermen of the new Who has never really done it for me. Let’s hope next week’s episode can change tha. Only two more to go…

Review: Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS


Steven_Moffat_s_Doctor_Who_episode_guide__The_Journey_to_the_Centre_of_the_Tardis
“I look at you every single day and I don’t understand a single thing about you”.

That should have been the the standout line from this episode. The Doctor freely admitting to Clara that she is his obsession, the centre of his universe, his sole motivation to continue his travels.

But then there was also:

“You know I’ve got to tell you, I won’t be needing you in my quiz team.”

Guffaw.

It was so obvious to us that the Doctor was faking the auto-destruct countdown that it was a relief that author Neil Crossman said as much head on, admitting that the scavengers the Doctor was dealing with weren’t the brightest sparks in the box, and giving us a good laugh at the same time. Well I found it funny.

Crossman did the same things with the ‘Deux Ex machina’ solution – the classic sci-fi reset button, characterised on screen by a Big Friendly Button. The figurative becoming literal. I still didn’t understand how it did what it did, but hey, that didn’t seem to matter.

I found it ironic that an episode set entirely in the TARDIS interior could actually offer up mind-blowing ideas and locations that were arguably on the grandest scale ever taken on by the series. The TARDIS is the most astounding space ship in all of science-fiction, so it was really high-time that that the new series finally got round to taking it on.

It opened with a solid set-up as to why the Doctor lowered the shields on the TARDIS and a fantastic 360 degree shot round the console – which previous sets have never allowed – so good job there. But as ever there was plenty that didn’t convince. How did the Doctor get out of the TARDIS when the doors had not opened? How did Clara get buried far away from the console is an exceedingly, easy to lift piece of metal.

On the bridge with ‘Eye of Harmony’, (which just happened to be a star suspended in a permanent state of imminent collapse into a black hole), why did the two Baalen brothers burn up, when the Doctor and Clara didn’t? Yes, they touched in each other, which reasserted the timeline, but what did the Doctor do to interrupt his and Clara’s death timeline?

4066729-low-doctor-who-series-7b

But hold on one moment. To paraphrase another epic sci-fi moment. My God! It’s full of star! Can we just back up one moment here? There is a star collapsing into a black hole inside the TARDIS!!!

Mind blown.

We know from Doctor Who lore that the Time Lord’s power comes from harnessing this technology and that this was what Omega and Rassilon trapped at the heart of Gallifrey. But was there an Eye of Harmony at the centre of every TARDIS? Or did the Doctor somehow remove the Eye and place it inside the TARDIS in the aftermath of the Time War? Either way, if there was anything to indicate the truly infinite nature of the TARDIS interior – this was it.

That said it took about five minutes to get from the TARDIS console room to the Eye – though we did enjoy seeing the Orrery and the swimming pool on the way. (But what has happened to the classic TARDIS roundels?).

The TARDIS reconfiguring itself was pretty cool, and the echo consoles were good too. And the echoes and whispers of classic lines about the TARDIS that emerged and swirled around the room as the scavenger dude dismantled the console would have put a smile on the face of any long-time fan, and fits in nicely for the 50th anniversary. It was also especially effective in 5.1 surround sound!

console

The library that Clara hid in and the bottles containing auditory knowledge had a distinctly Hogwarts feel to it – as did the large leather bound book containing the Doctors deep dark secrets that he has never revealed to anyone in hundreds of years.

Here’s a tip then Doc – don’t leave the book out on a pedestal that practically says ‘Read Me’ – keep it on a USB stick, eh? Sheesh.

The Doctor’s name is clearly this season’s story arc with clues laid down like bread crumbs on the way – a thousand Dalek’s screaming “Doctor Who?”, the Doctor What? – “If you like comment”, and others.

doctor-who-7.10-journey-to-the-centre-of-the-tardis-heart

As the show approaches its 50th year, Moffat is taking on another pillar of the Doctor Who ethos and threatening to lay it bare. But do we want that? When the second Doctor’s final story introduced us to his home planet and his people it felt like a deepening of the character – but surely revealing the Doctor’s name will simply strip away sense of mystery that remains in the character.  Especially if his name is Alan.

This episode then was all about Doctor Who geekery, and there’s an argument to be said that having writers who are clearly life-long fans of the show isn’t necessarily a good thing. We cared little for the scavenger crew who with their bickering felt like they had wondered out of Eastenders, and the revelation about the Android brother fell a little flat.

For the long term fan though this is an episode that will go down as one of the most important in Doctor Who – even if as a story, it didn’t amount to very much. Next week – the lesbian Silurian and Drax the silly Sontaran. Forgive me if my heart sinks – but comedy aliens in London is not my idea of a good time.  Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

It was a dark and stormy night… Doctor Who back on track

doctor_suit

 “We’re all ghosts to you. To you, we must be nothing”

“No. No you’re not that”.

“What can we possibly be?”

“You are the only mystery worth solving”.

So how scary was the intro to last week’s Doctor Who? I have to admit I’m not a fan of horror genre, probably because I’m a complete wuss, but I was genuinely surprised by how creepy the opening sequence of ‘Hide’ was. One gasp and one actual scream from the missus shows that if the director was going for scares, he really hit the mark. One has to wonder how kids react to this sort of stuff.

Real class was added to the proceedings by the presence of actual Hollywood actor Dougray Scott and the lovely Jessica Raine out of Call the Midwife playing empath Emma Grayling, (wearing an outfit that was a wonderful homage to Sarah Jane Smith, from, well 1974), and having both Raine and Jenna Louise Coleman on screen together was certainly a treat.

The haunted house scenario was played for all its worth. We got pelting rain, loud banging, words appearing on the walls, candles blowing out, and of course, a screaming wispy wraith captured on film. It might be Creepy Horror 101, but it was effectively done.

The scenes when the Doctor and Clara go exploring for the ghost in the house were pretty nervy stuff, helped along by Emma saying enigmatic things like, “the music room is the heart of the house”. Erm OK, thanks. And did anyone else thought we were going to get the Weeping Angels again in the room full of mannequins?

There were also some bizarre non-sequiturs (Carlisle was the opposite of bliss?) but otherwise, thanks to a suitably unsettling score, the scares around the history of, “the wraith of the lady, the maiden on the dark, the witch of the well”, were effectively constructed.

With such an effective build-up it was something of a disappointment then when we finally learned the explanation for the ghost. The ‘bubble universe’, which appeared to be the forest from the Gruffalo, was rather speedily explained for my liking. If the episode didn’t really make much sense from there what saved proceedings were some stunning visuals.

I’ve always loved the look of the TARDIS set against incongruous backgrounds, and we got that as the Doctor visited the same spot across the millennia. (But what does ‘same spot’ mean across the entire lifetime of the planet – as tectonic plates crumble and shift?)

While it may be dubious scientifically, (OK, I know time travel isn’t real), it did throw up a truly moving exchange between Clara and the Doctor as she realises that even aside from age, he drifts through time like a wraith. Does anyone mean anything to him if he can see their entire life cycle at a glance? Clara was coming face to face with her own mortality and having trouble with the Doctor’s ease with it all. Does he care? The irony is that perhaps the only reason he does care about Clara is because she’s a mystery, wrapped up in the riddle.

We got the Cloister bell tolling, which we know means that the stakes were high but it did get confusing to find that one minute the TARDIS refuses to fly to the bubble universe for fear of being drained of power, and moments later it’s on its way there regardless.

This typified an episode that prioritised fast, furious fun over entirely making sense. but then that’s Doctor Who. And if episode can casually throw away classis Who references such as the Eye of Harmony and blue crystals from Metebelis III, and make it seem both convincing and moving, then it’s alright in my book.

Next week we get an episode based around the interior of the TARDIS, which I’ve been waiting for ever since they brought the series back. Dang, I’m excited.

T-Mobile Full Monty SIM – now only £16 a month.

T-Mobile UK has lowered the price of its ‘Full Monty’ SIM only tariff to just £16 a month.

Nice!

For that you get a SIM on a 12-month contract with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited data. It’s not 4G but at £16 a month it’s something of a steal. You also get Tube wifi access, which is only of use to tube-taking Londoners, but still good to have.

It was nominally £31 and has been £21 a month but now it is cheaper. Which is nice.

And as it’s only 12-months, you’ll be fee to jump to a 4G contract, which should be more affordable by this time next year.

Go get.

Speck iPhone 5 cases review

Forget chasing after bag snatchers and standing up to bank robbers – in this gadget loving age the definition of brave has to be anyone who uses their smartphone without a case. Confronted with such individuals, we can’t help but stare at them with both fear and wide-eyed admiration. After all, if they are willing to risk a scratch, scuff or major damage to the computerised jewel in their pocket who knows what crazy things they might do.

But we don’t want to encourage such reckless abandon. It’s like driving without a seatbelt or bungee jumping without a bunjee. Crazy and exciting – but after a few glorious moments, sure to end in disaster and tears.

No, we say. Stay safe and case-up.

Now as we are unapologetic worshipers at the altar of Jobs, you’ll find iPhone’s nestling in the pockets of our jeans so, inevitably, the cases we’re looking at today are for the latest iteration, the iPhone 5.

There are myriad companies that make cases and protective covers for the iPhone – it’s a massive industry, accounting for nearly $450 million in the US in 2011, and no doubt a lot more in 2012.

That’s a lot of cases so let us guide you straight to one of our favourite brands – Speck. Based in Palo Alto, California, it is about 20 minutes’ drive from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, which helps to ensure that its cases simply work better with Apple products. (N.B. This is nonsense, obviously).

I was one of these early iPhone 4 guys, and one of the cases on offer was cooler looking than the others but it required waiting TWO WHOLE MONTHS for delivery. Yes, rather than buying a cheap case in the mean-time, I lived close to the edge and didn’t get a case. Crazy? Well it’s just the way I roll.The make first came to my attention after the iPhone 4 ‘Antenna-gate’ incident, which for those of a geeky persuasion will recall in June 2010. This was when many complained that the iPhone 4 dropped calls when held in a certain way, leading Steve Jobs to write the immortal line in an email to a disgruntled customer, “you’re holding it wrong”. That didn’t go down well and the result of the fall out from Antenna-gate was that Apple was forced to give away free cases for early iPhone 4 owners, or ‘bumpers’ as the US irritatingly insists on calling them.

For him: Speck PixelSkin HD

Supplier: http://www.speckproducts.com/
Price: $29.95

UK Supplier: Amazon.co.uk – Black only
Price: £19.14

Rating: 5/5

That case was the Pixel HD from Speck. Sure enough, when the iPhone 5 arrived being a’ wild and crazy guy’ I decided I wanted exactly the same case to protect the new phone, and sure enough around the day of release, Speck announced the PixelSkin HD for iPhone 5.

What I like about this case is that it offers pretty comprehensive protection for your iPhone without adding too much in the way of bulk. It’s also tough and I can attest that it saved my iPhone from numerous bumps, scratches and in all likelihood breakages.

It doesn’t offer any direct protection for the screen, but the ridge of the case is raised all the way round so that when your iPhone does fall to the ground it still offers good protection. The power button at the top and the volume button at the top and bottom are covered. While sturdy the case isn’t too thick, so I never have any problems plugging in headphone or the like. If you’re using a dock you might be able to keep the iPhone in the case while using it. I say might though – you’ll still need to take it out in most cases.

It’s good news then that it’s very simple to pop the case on and off easily, which is useful as dirt and dust will creep inside over time and you’ll want to take your iPhone out and give it a clean. That’s always a good moment to remind yourself how thin and light and generally wondrous your Jesusphone is, before you quickly place in back in its protective skin.

The best bit about the case though it where it gets its name – the grid-like array of squares on the rear. Speck offers another case with squares also called the PixelSkin, but these are smaller, hence the ‘HD’. It looks great, but what’s good about this is that this gives the case a grippy feel, so it’s less likely to slip out of your hands or slip off a sofa.

I prefer my black iPhone to be matched with a black case, but Speck usefully does the case in four other colours – red, blue, graphite and harbour (whatever that is). We were sent the red one, and the colour is rich and deep.

Finally, the shiny plastic finish is smart, which makes it easier on the eye that many cheap cases. The Speck Pixel HD isn’t the cheapest case around, but for me, it’s smart, stylish, strong and great value.

For her: Speck FabShell FreshBloom Coral
Supplier: http://www.speckproducts.com/
$34.95
UK Supplier: Amazon.co.uk
£11.99

Rating: 5/5

If you want something less minimalist on your iPhone, then Speck also offers the FabShell range. The one that was sent for testing has a fabric finish integrated down the back and down the sides of the case. Again, the first impression is of quality and style. By its very nature a case is going to alter the look of your phone, and if you have picked up an iPhone it’s fair to say that image is important to you, (he said, knowingly knocking the cheap plastic feel of all Android phones). The Fabshell gives your phone that slight arty touch, without falling into pretention. It also feels great to touch, adding a tactile enhancement that oozes class.

Putting the FabShell on, I noted that the shell was thicker than the Pixel HD. This made it a little trickier to get on, but this is offset with offering even greater protection. The ridges for the ports are inevitably a little deeper though, so be warned and the power button is a tough more difficult to push and the mute button on the side is harder to get to as well.

The line drawing finish of the one we were sent (FreshBloom Coral) wasn’t particularly to my taste, but there are a good number of cool looking ones on the Speck web site – Raw Edged/Pomodoro looks good to me, so there’s bound to be something to your liking.

Verdict:

There’s no denying the quality of these iPhone cases. They add rather than detract from the look of your phone, and offer solid protection without adding too much bulk. Highly recommended.

Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones review

Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones review

Price: £169.95
Supplier: www.johnlewis.com
Score: 8/10

Bowers & Wilkins are well known as one the crown jewels of the British hi-fi industry, if not of British industry in general, so it’s always a little bit exciting when it releases a new product. With many of its speakers costing eye watering amounts, its recent foray into headphones has been quite surprising for the affordability of its products—its top-of-the-range P5’s come in at just £250 for example—not bad for a company that will sell you speakers that sit firmy in the “if you have to ask you can’t afford it category.”

The P3’s are a product unashamedly designed to fill a gap in the market. At £250 are the larger P5s are serious propositions, but at £180 the P3’s have an eye on the group that is looking for high quality but in a more practical and affordable package.

A key advantage over the P5s is that the P3’s fold up. You could slide them into a largish jacket pocket or put them in a hard case is provided so you can pack them in a bag. Take care opening that hard case though as it snaps shut rather eagerly. In fact, it’ll have your hand off if you’re not careful.

The P3’s certainly look like as classy as you’d expect from B&W, with a soft touch finish and smart silver edging. The look is refined and tasteful rather than streetwise, and make for a very different statement compared to the likes of Monster headphones. With the Bowers & Wilkins logo imprinted large of the sides you’ll be broadcasting you’re appreciation for a different approach to audio than the mainstream and that’s certainly reflected in the performance as well.

B&W were keen to make the P3’s as comfortable to wear for as long as possible. Key to prolonged listening while retaining comfort is acoustic fabric. The ear pads are made of heat sensitive memory foam that feels soft, but firm and is designed to mould itself to your ears after prolonged use. I can report it works and after brief periods of discomfort, I could wear these comfortably for hours. The ears can get a little hot after a while, but that’s the nature of wearing something covering the whole ear.

The ear pads are held on with a neat magnet system, underneath which sits the cable. The default one has an in-line controller designed for iOS devices only. An alternative cable is supplied for other brands but there’s no inline control for them.

It has to be said that the in-line controller itself is one of the weaker parts of the P3 design. It feels insubstantial and it’s difficult to distinguish between the controls. Pressing up or down alters the volume and pressing it in the centre pauses—and frequently when I wanted to do the former I ended up doing the latter, which can rather take you out of the mood of whatever you’re listening to.

And listen you will. The Bowers & Wilkins P3’s offer an audio experience that is very much in keeping with the brands traditions. It’s a fine refined sound. Paul McCartney’s recent Kisses on the Bottom is composed of the ex-Beatles take on some Jazz standards and the P3s are all over this. The cool breezy atmosphere and delicacy of the piano and the timbre of Macca’s smoky vocals are well clean and detailed. Higher frequencies and a wonderful mid-range come together to make a fantastic sound.

One of the odd things about the P3’s is the bass. Compared to the likes of typical Monster over ear headphones the P3’s base is full, but well balanced and neutral. Some may prefer the way Monster’s go about their bass business, but in fact the B&W P3’s are a lot more accurate. That’s not to say that the P3 don’t have deep rich, and creamy bass – they do. Try Sly and the Family Stone, or Billie Jean or something up to date like Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack and you’ll know what I mean.

At times though the bass can seem to lose a little control, making things a touch muddier than I would like. Oddly, one area this makes a difference is with Podcasts. With deep, bassy speech, the P3s can sound a little boomy, making them harder to listen to than cheaper headphones that lack bass and instead emphases higher frequencies, which give voices a more brittle tone that can easily be followed. (One solution on the iPhone was to use the Vocal Eq setting, though you can only do that with the native iPhone audio app).

What the P3s do a really great job of though, is giving a sense of space to your music. You can place instruments in a band and separate out the parts, which makes everything very involving and often dramatic. Their airy sound really bring the soundstage to life making it a more natural experience than that of say, the Atomic Floyd in-ear headphones I reviewed recently.

By way of comparison I had a quick listen to the Bowers & Wilkins P5 and found that the P5 were even richer and more detailed. B&W hasn’t killed its own more expensive goose with the P3s.

If you’re deciding between the two you have to balance up cost, practicality and sound quality. If the latter is a priority the P5s are the better choice, but you’ll have a less practical package for the commute.

For me personally I’d take an in-ear pair for regular commuting and use an over ear pair for more critical listening. In that situation I’d prefer the P5s but then you are paying £80 more for them. If the cost saving and the increasing portability of the P3s appeal then rest assured you’re still getting a very fine sounding pair of headphones.

Verdict:

Bowers and Wilkins has produced a set of headphones that improves on the more expensive P5 in portability, but doesn’t quite equal them for sound quality. Based on the price, this is a well judged position for them to be in. Which is more important is up to you, but on strictly audiophile grounds the P5s have the edge, and niggles with the iPhone in-line controls blot the copybook from the otherwise high quality package. That said, I like the P3s a lot and personally, I’d take the P3s over any comparable Monster headphones, thanks to a more natural, accurate sound.

 

Atomic Floyd SuperDarts headphone review

Manufacturerhttp://www.atomicfloyd.com/
Score:  8/10

When I was asked if I wanted to review a set of Atomic Floyd headphones I took the approach of saying yes first, and doing my research later. Having never heard of the brand, it turns out that it’s a new manufacturer of high-end headphones with a focus on robust build, idiosyncratic design, and sound quality. It’s good see a British name competing with the likes of Klipsch, Monster, but it’s a tough market to compete in as the premium headphones market has really taken off. This is because people are finally starting to realise that it’s worth forking out for a decent set of headphones rather than putting up with the crappy pair that come bundled with most smartphones and music players.

At £200, the SuperDarts are clearly a serious proposition so they will need to do a lot to impress. Yes, you can certainly spend a lot more, but for most it’s a lot of money to even consider for headphones.

Design and features

The SuperDarts have a distinct look. With their silver honeycombed pattered base and black ear plug they resemble microphones, albeit very small ones that you put into your ear.

As you’ll note from my unboxing, the packaging immediately imbues a feeling of quality. The box is encased in a vacuum packed wrapping embossed with the Atomic Floyd logo (which reminded me very much of the Rebel Alliance logo from Star Wars – just me?) and the rest of the lavish packaging keeps the sense of quality high. If you’re not keen on excessive branding however, you might have issue with the Atomic Floyds. British they might be but there’s no sense of conservatism here – the brand name is written on these headphones in five places and there are two logos too.

If you’re wearing a pair of headphones every day robustness is important, as I’ve found to my cost with two sets of Klipsch headphones that didn’t survive. Both sounded great, but this was of little comfort when both failed to survive the rigours of a daily commute.

The SuperDarts deal with this by having a cord encased in Kevlar. Not only is it strong but it means that when the cord does get tangled up it’s far easier to unpick.

The earpieces are solidly made, as does the in-line iPhone control, the mid-cable point and at the headphone plug end. The latter is impressive as this is often a weak point on headphones. That said, the upright design of the plug means it sticks out so it’s not as good as the angled plug that the Dr Dre Tour Monster in-ear headphones that cleverly let the cable run along the top of your phone.

The in-line controls are easy to use, and it feels solid enough in the hand so you can pause, play and  change volume without looking. Call quality was also fine on a busy road, so the microphone is decent.

A long standing issue I’ve had with in-ear headphones is that I have undersized ear canals. As such, unless the ear plugs are small, the earphones will just fall out. I was a bit disappointed to find that there were only three sets of plugs in the box with the SuperDarts – you get more choice with Klipsch or Shure. I ignored the larger set, and tried the medium set and found these were too big. The smallest fitted, but just about. I found that the headphone itself is large and the ear plug didn’t provide much cushioning and as such, were not as comfortable as I would have liked. They were fine for an hour or so, but after extended listening I needed to take them out to give the old lug holes a rest.

 

The other issue is that due to the less than perfect fit, they tend to fall out when commuting. A small tug on clothing and they pop out, especially on the left side, which is slightly heavier due to the in-line remote. Atomic Floyd do offer a set of headphones with hooks to keep them in place and those might solve that issue. I got round it by hooking them round my ear, which seemed to do the trick, but it’s only a workaround.

In terms of tech, the SuperDarts  feature twin drivers – so each earpiece contains a dedicated driver for mid and high-end frequencies and another for bass. When fitted snugly with a good seal, they provide a good noise isolating experience and no sound leakage either.

Sound quality

Sound quality was excellent. Unlike other headphones from certain brands, (yes Monster, we’re talking to you), the sound is even handed, with no unnaturally extended bass. The bass is intense and full but not overly warm and doesn’t swamp the higher frequencies. Acoustic guitar is bright and jangly when it should be, and electric guitar is searing and crisp. The highs are clear and fresh and there’s a lot of detail in the mid-range.

That said, they don’t have the expansive soundstage compared to very different headphones such as the Bowers & Wilkins P3s, which more readily let you identify instruments in the sound space. Rather it’s direct – it feels as though it’s being injected straight into your brain. The more upfront sound works well for pop and rock, but it is more tiring. I don’t think a classic listener would enjoy these – certainly not for extended periods.

Overall though, it is very good. Bass lines are tight and rhythmic and the mid-range reveals the nooks and crannies of the sound. The only set that I’ve heard that are better are the Shure SE535’s but these cost almost double.

Verdict:

The SuperDarts tick a lot of boxes. Their looks might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s undoubtedly distinctive and they are very well made, so likely to withstand the rigours of a daily commute. Crucially, they sound great, with a rounded and detailed sound that you’d need to spend almost double to better. However, I can’t ignore that fact that I found that they are not the most comfortable to wear for long periods and have a tendency to fall out my ears when on the move, which blots the copybook for an otherwise very accomplished and desirable set of headphones.

Transparent aluminium – it’s real! (Sort of).

This is how my brain works. During a random browse of the BBC web site I post this story on new ‘ultra-thin’ glass. I immediately think of Star Trek IV and Scotty trying to create a tank for the whales they have to transport back to the future, using ultra-thin lightweight, transparent material that hasn’t been invented using 1980s technology. As I’m sure we can all agree, that’s always a tricky one.

In the film this was called, ‘transparent aluminium.’ (or rather Transparent Aluminum – as the Americans say it).

And get this, it’s real! Sort of.

Transparent aluminum

It’s actually called, “aluminum oxynitride or AlON” and it’s not actually metallic, it’s a ceramic. But It is an incredibly tough transparent material so that will do me. My favourite bit is that fact that while it’s only recently been actually developed, the theory was knocking about in the mid-80’s and the Star Trek writers could well have heard of it, and used it in the script.

Star Trek always had a knack of presaging real technology – communicators and mobile phones being the most famous example – warp drive and transporters less so. But whatevs – transparent aluminium baby!