December 28, 2023

Misc round up

Bits and pieces too short for a full post and a few best of lists for the year 

My favourite song of 2023 -Sympathy- Declan McKenna

Of course favourite songs often relate to personal circumstances so when this came out I really felt like I needed it. I had this song going round in my head for weeks and weeks after I first heard it in the summer. I’d initially pegged it as a summer tune but it works just as well any time of the year. Its writer describes it as “like a dream about love and compassion, it wants us to let go of inhibitions and allow ourselves to truly connect with others rather than over thinking and hiding your feelings away.” It seems to mark a new direction for Declan McKenna as he matures as an artist and I can’t wait for his third album `Whatever happened to the Beach` due in February which will also include `Nothing Works, another earworm with an odd video that came out in November.

Sympathy video link -

https://youtu.be/AniO6LmCq_s?si=tquMmBdCZwNyP5io

 


November 29, 2023

Doctor Who - The Nightmare Fair

 

In this unpublished article from a couple of years back I examined the script to see what the unmade Toymaker story `The Nightmare Fair` might have been like.

 Five years after leaving Doctor Who, Graham Williams was due to return to the programme with the story `The Nightmare Fair`. Scheduled for the pre-hiatus version of season 23 it was ultimately never made though there have since been a couple of audio adaptations and Williams himself novelised the story. As producer he’d been subject to certain restrictions including budgetary cuts and a directive to tone down what had been seen by some as gratuitous violence. Ironically his return came at a time when Doctor Who was again under scrutiny over its more extreme content. As far as is known the story never reached the casting stage but studio dates were booked to start in May 1985 and arrangements made to shoot some location footage in Blackpool itself. 



November 23, 2023

Daleks Reloaded!

 

The Daleks in colour and Destination Skaro

The question of how modern Doctor Who should relate to its long history arose twice in the last week or so with these programmes. `Destination Skaro`, though ostensibly a sketch for Children in Need, reconfigured one of the show’s most iconic characters. `The Daleks` meanwhile was premiered tonight as an edited down colourised version of the second story. Both broke unspoken rules suggesting that whatever the new `Whoniverse` will be like, it will not be quite as expected.

 


November 12, 2023

Mysterious Island (1961)

 

Mysterious Island was one of a variety of pictures produced by Charles Schneer that specialised in action adventure coupled with stop motion monsters courtesy of Ray Harryhausen. Yet it lacks the flair and invention of others and comes across, despite the presence of big monsters, as rather uneventful. It is an attempt at less outlandish rather than mythical creatures; all of the dangers on the island are simply overgrown species we recognise and unfortunately this robs the story of a lot of excitement. Well, would you rather see a cyclops come to life or a giant chicken trying to be menacing? Though set largely on an island closer to New Zealand than anywhere else the movie’s location was Spain and it is populated by mostly English actors despite the characters being American.


 

November 09, 2023

War and Peace (1972) Radio Times Special

 Over on the main blog, I've been reviewing the classic 1972 BBC adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace with some scans from the Radio Times Special magazine that was published to coincide with the programme. On this post are all the pages from the magazine. If there's anyone who wants a copy of the PDF from which these were taken please message me using the form at the foot of the right hand column of either blog and I can send it to you.


November 03, 2023

Some thoughts on Doctor Who Season 20

 

I recently bought the twentieth anniversary season Collection so thought that as well as watching the extras, I'd give the actual stories a gander as well. Some of them I'd not seen in ages.  For an anniversary event, season 20 can seem odd with its best stories leaning on the more abstract and its less good ones the more traditional. Not exactly a great advert for the show’s history but a suggestion of a new direction? Forty years distance does allow the more nuanced feel of the season to shine rather more than had it been rammed full of big action stories. There may seem to be long sequences were not a lot happens but the better parts of the season are still rich in content if not pace. So now its recently been released in a great big blu ray collection it’s a good reason to re-watch. Here’s some thoughts on each of them from a 2023 perspective…

Arc of Infinity

Notwithstanding the Ergon, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. Fan lore suggests a third-tier tale and while it’s definitely not in any danger of being an under rated classic it does open the season with some verve considering the more thoughtful pace of the rest of the stories. It’s a traditional offering with the added luxury of location filming supported by a decent attempt from writer Johnny Byrne to justify the location. Byrne’s behind the scenes interview hints at aspects that perhaps were shunted to one side by the shopping list of contents – Omega, Tegan coming back (having never really left), Amsterdam – that sit awkwardly together. Coincidence is essential in fiction but the levels it rises to here are somewhat implausible. The story does manage to froth up into a decent thriller though would surely have been better had the antagonist been a new character.



October 20, 2023

More Brighton pix

 Some more snaps from my recent trip to Brighton because, why not? It's such a great place.




October 17, 2023

An Unearthly Fuss

 

How one writer’s son stopped Doctor Who’s first four episodes appearing on the iPlayer

 It seems that the placing of all the extant classic Doctor Who being made available on the iPlayer will be missing four vital episodes.  Variously called `An Unearthly Child` or `The Tribe of Gum` this was the world’s first encounter with the Doctor and for a select few fans the series was all downhill from here. (I’m joking, aren’t I?) The son of the story’s credited writer Anthony Coburn- who is called Stef Anthony Coburn - has declined the BBC’s payment for the story meaning the episodes cannot be included in the iPlayer package. There’s quite a bit to unpack in this incident not least because X (aka Twitter) has been busy with messages ranging from sympathetic support to vituperative allegations as the drama frogs swarm. 


 

October 08, 2023

The Line, The Cross and The Curve

 

If Kate Bush fans can sometimes treat her work with reverence, it says something about the artist that she is less precious about such matters herself. She's tinkered with old albums and famously dismissed this 1993 short film as “a load of bollocks” later on but at the time poured considerable effort into directing as well as writing and starring in it. Its thirty years old so in the continued absence of new Kate Bush material (though a new album called Hidden Pearls has been  rumoured for a while) I thought I’d have another look at it.

 


October 01, 2023

Remember Frosties Ad Kid?

 

Recently I accidentally had some Kelloggs Frosties for breakfast and they were dreadfully sweet even though they probably don't contain as much sugar now as in their heyday. It reminded me that back in 2006 the most annoying advert ever appeared on our screens and accumulated a lot of hate on the day's favoured online platforms. For a while `Frosties Ad Kid` became the most disliked person on the Internet. Luckily Twitter only just launched that year and was still relatively small or it could have been worse.  You may recall the ad in which a bog brush barnetted boy was seen singing tunelessly in a Suggs from Madness stylee about how the cereal is “gonna taste great” as he leads the whole town along the street like some Frosties Pied Piper. Tony the Tiger, the cereal's previous face, must have been unavailable.



September 02, 2023

The cancelling of Pluto

 

It used to be a planet. Then in 2006 it was relegated and is now called 134340 Pluto. Our chief scientist looks at the story of the little (former) planet that caused a big fuss. 

In 2006 there was a right hoodoo happening up there in the Milky Way because boffins have been re-drawing the planets and the results of their work mean that what most of us have been taught- that there are nine planets in our solar system- is now wrong. Without recourse to a fleet of spaceships or even a nifty destructor ray scientists have destroyed Pluto, at least as far as its planetary status is concerned. In late August, a new definition of a planet was approved by a seemingly self-appointed clique of scientists with presumably nothing better to do.

It all happened at the grandly monikered General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (AIU) held in Prague. 424 astronomers (who knew there were even that many?) voted on the definition after the sort of horse trading often seen at the United Nations over more serious matters. An initial proposal by the AIU’s planet definition committee chaired by Owen Gengerich, would have added three more planets to the roll call, perhaps assuming that Pluto’s position was unassailable. The suggestion was based on the fact that these bodies were the same size or larger than Pluto, one of which, the modestly named 2003 UN313 had been hailed as “the tenth planet” due to being slightly bigger whilst the other two new planets would have been the asteroid Ceres and Charon, in a promotion from being one of Pluto’s moons. This proposal caused a furore and after several days wrangling four alternative proposals were put forward.



August 09, 2023

Tips for invading Earth

 

If you’re planning an invasion of planet Earth, you might have studied a selection of TV shows to try and gauge what the best thing to do it. Unfortunately these shows are made to entertain so are no practical use to the average Supreme Zoblin commander. Here’s a few handy hints to help. Ignore them and there's really no point setting off from your hive, central command or whatever you call it...



July 07, 2023

Class episode reviews cont

 

Episode 5 Brave-ish Heart

The middle of a series run is a good place to hit a peak and this fifth episode absolutely achieves that. Visually superb and narratively involving matters come alive by focussing as much on the foibles of the characters as the overall scenario. It may be a tad self- conscious in its attempts to woo a target teenage audience and I still can’t understand a word the Shadow Kin say but overall this a bold episode that plays with big themes and big emotions and earns a strong victory.

The whole thing looks amazing- the world of the Shadow Kin is the best alien landscape I’ve seen in many a year with those `lava bubbles` a particularly good addition to emphasise its strangeness. I was also intrguied by the explanation as to where the place is- somehow underneath the Universe. Patrick Ness has certainly come up with one of the most interesting alien races in the Who stable in a long while. Meanwhile the petal invasion happening in the present day is equally well conveyed with some very gruesome looking inserts of victims.



July 02, 2023

Going back to Class

Episodes One to Four

 Seven years back we saw the last Doctor Who spin off to date, an eight part series called Class. Its fair to say that it wasn't a massive hit and finished after just the one season. Despite what that suggests there is much to like in the show and these reviews were written back in 2016 after one watch so you can see that, even if it wasn't perfect, at least one person liked it...



December 14, 2022

The Robots of Death

 A triumph that still hums with energy! Looking back at one of classic Doctor Who’s best ever stories. 

Earlier this year I saw the World of Wonder exhibition and amongst the many exhibits from the series’ past and present were some robot masks from this 1977 classic. Even now, mounted on stands devoid of the rest of the costume, they look impressive. So it is for the story they come from. Its one of those tales that they could remake today without the need for much alteration, Sure the Sandminer -which in real life was quite a modest sized model – could look better, you could have more robots, a larger crew. Yet the essence of the story works just as well forty-five years later.

There is something stately and unhurried about ‘The Robots of Death' that makes it a joy to watch every time. On paper the story is hardly original, purloining much of its content from the likes of either Murder on the Orient Express or Isaac Asimov's Robot stories, while the use of mostly brightly lit sets and a robotic enemy realised by people in costumes and masks could have been a disaster. Yet the story towers over these potential problems with ease to create a timeless 90 minutes that is amongst the very finest Doctor Who ever made. It also remains one of the series’ most quotable stories yet crucially this above average dialogue never obstructs the flow of the story, often aiding it along.