iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
imageA while ago we watched the recently rediscovered Second Doctor tale 'The Enemy of the World' on DVD (a present from my wonderful wife). Since my Hartnell and Troughton knowledge is shamefully poor compared to my knowledge of later Who, I had no knowledge of the story except for the 'high concept' premise: world dictator Salamander is a dead ringer for the Doctor. I don't even remember reading the novelisation. I suppose I was expecting some kind of Man in the Iron Mask storyline in which The Doctor must impersonate the dictator, but - although much of the story is driven by this concept - it seldom actually happens. What we get instead is a very enjoyable spy thriller, quite tightly edited and pacey in contrast to much 1960s Doctor Who (we get next to no recaps at the start of most episodes).

Episode one is particularly action-packed, with a helicopter and hovercraft providing probably the greatest concentration of real hardware in one episode until Pertwee's swan song 'Planet of the Spiders'. Subsequent episodes are more studio-bound (with some of the most painfully cramped 'outdoor' scenes ever committed to videotape.) But despite that the story fair barrels along without the usual quagmire of capture-escape-recapture that plagues six-parters - partly because of the slightly bizarre left turn it takes around episode 4. (The worst I can say about the pacing is that the Doctor spends too much time sitting on his hands, but given that Troughton is pulling double duties that's understandable). It's a highly melodramatic story, and the late plot twist involving Salamander's buried secret stretches credibility almost to breaking point, but David Whitaker's deft script never loses control of its pulpy twists and turns. Unlike some Who from the era, this holds your attention right to the end.

Troughton's performance as would-be dictator Salamander is broad, particularly the 'interesting' choice of a thick Mexican accent, but he's utterly unlike the Doctor and really shows his versatility. (It's notable having seen Orphan Black that the two Troughton characters don't share the screen until the finale, presumably a by-product of production constraints). In fact Whitaker crafts several strong characters who transcend their various 'types' - notably including an extremely capable female character in Astrid, and a rounded black female character in Fariah - with the help of a mostly excellent main cast.

It all wraps up a tad swiftly and conveniently, hinging on one too many character reversals and convenient coincidences, but not enough to mar a thoroughly enjoyable serial.
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Tomb)
Eleventh Doctor and AmyA new teaser image from the upcoming Doctor Who season, featuring the Doctor and Amy in silly poses, some returning and new monsters, and a swirly blue time vortex that looks like the Tom Baker credits reimagined in computer graphics. Wonder if the background is part of the new credits sequence...

We also caught up on some ye olde Doctor Who recently. City of Death is a serial I have very vivid memories of watching as a child in the 1970s: Scaroth revealing his one-eyed face, his spaceship exploding, the trip to renaissance Italy, the multiple Mona Lisas, the time bubble that accelerates egg into Chicken, and vice-versa. It's all there in my mind's eye. Fortunately this one holds up surprisingly well, even going back to it after all this time. Although we're moving into his later, less uniformly successful, years in the role Tom Baker is a joy. The location filming in Paris is effective (even if it gratuitously packs in every Paris cliche going, and seems to feature endless shots of the Doctor and Romana aimlessly wandering), and the pacing is snappy, particularly for vintage Who. Douglas Adams' (pseudonymous) witty script doesn't hurt, either. It's not an absolute classic, and in common with a lot of old Who there's a certain sense of gabbled exposition and rushed anticlimax, but it's very solid.

Next up was Masque of Mandragora, an earlier Tom Baker story featuring Sarah Jane Smith as the companion. In contrast to 'City of Death' I seem to have no memory whatsoever of watching this when I was younger. All my vague recollections come from the target novelisation. That makes watching it slightly surreal since I broadly remember key elements from the book, but imagined them completely differently. Viewed with modern eyes this one has a script, acting and production values that feel significantly above the baseline standard for 70s Doctor Who. There's a vigour to the characterisation that reminded me of a Robert Holmes script, and the renaissance setting really works; the Doctor fits in seamlessly into an era poised between superstition and scientific discovery. Seeing actors like Tom Piggott-Smith in essentially Shakespearean garb helps my suspension of disbelief immensely, and the setting is aided by unusually convincing location filming in Portmerion (looking not too much like The Prisoner). The set-up also feels unusual, with the Doctor being essentially responsible for the threat. There are a few wobbly sets and creaky special effects, and like 'City of Death' the denouement is rushed, but there's a lot to enjoy. Plus there's a blatant sequel hook at the end. Come on Mr Moffatt, you know you want to...

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (TV)
Yay, bank holiday!

Apropos of nothing in particular, I indulged in a bit more nostalgic Doctor Who watching recently.

'Battlefield' starring Sylvester McCoy was the extended DVD version. While it's one of the Seventh Doctor's better outings (i.e. it's not utterly unwatchable), it's very stilted. In general it feels like it was shot on a shoestring budget in approximately two days with no time to rehearse. (Which knowing Who is probably exactly how it was shot.) McCoy does his best to appear, by turns, mysterious, impish and brooding, but I remain utterly unconvinced that he's any of those things. Worse, I can't help feeling that the Doctor is written significantly better than he's played, which is never a good feeling to have about the lead character. Likewise Sophie Aldred as Ace gets a lot of gushing teenage behaviour for which the actress seems too old. There are a few decent scenes and likeable supporting characters, and a welcome return for Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier. Oh and a cool blue demon. But overall: meh. Sorry, Tim!

'Image of the Fendahl' starring Tom Baker is better. Okay, it feels like it was shot on a shoestring budget in approximately two days with no time to rehearse, but at least Tom Baker is convincing. The story is an odd pastiche of 'Quatermass and the Pit', involving ancient aliens from Time Lord mythology who have somehow influenced human evolution. The plot is woefully illogical and under-explained, to the point where it feels like key scenes must be missing. On the plus side it has Chris Boucher's usual crackling dialogue and pin-sharp characterisation, and a very decent supporting cast. I have no recollection of watching it my youth so I can't lean on nostalgia with this one, but I do remember the novelisation which probably helps.

On a related-ish note, here are a couple of BBC News videos:

An interview with Russell T Davies about completing filming on his (and David Tennant's) era on Doctor Who. (It includes the trailer for 'The Waters of Mars' special that aired after the Easter special.)

A five minute interview with Richard Dawkins that barrels through all the questions you'd expect, against a ticking clock, and gets Dawkins's usual precise answers.1
--
1 Dawkins is of course best known for his cameo in last season's Doctor Who finale (not to mention being married to Romana mk II), but has probably done a few non Who-related things in his life.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Dalek Fandom)
Continuing my attempts to make myself look prehistoric by wallowing in Doctor Who nostalgia from the 1970s, here's a fantastic little tin that my Mum brought over recently (in her continued attempts to rid the house of all our old tat...)



Click for bigger versions and just admire the time and care that's gone into crafting this jewel in the crown of merchandising. I'm thinking the illustration alone must have demanded at least half an hour and a tube of Pritt Stick.

Here's the bit they would look at on Antiques Roadshow to confirm its provenance:


Apparently BBC Enterprises took the bold decision not to disown it. I do have a nostalgic fondness for the old girl, though.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Tomb)
There's a decent little interview with Steven Moffat here about the fifth season of Doctor Who and how his writing style will change.

Meanwhile I recently came across something from my childhood that I just had to share.

You see, when I was young in the 1970s everyone liked Doctor Who and Davros was a scary villain. I know, obviously that's impossible to imagine today.

This is one of the Doctor Who game cards you used to get in packets of Weetabix. The back of each cereal box had a game board, and when you had all four game boards you could also add them together to make one really huge game board with the Tardis console in the middle. The cards were slotted in around the board, and then it was just a case of rolling dice and moving around the board, randomly landing on hazards. Sadly I no longer have the boards, but there are pictures here: 1, 2, 3, 4. Total nostalgia rush.

I have loads more of the things. As I recall they were traded in the playground at School and rare ones had the approximate market value of gold bullion. Ah, them were the days.

Who

Mar. 22nd, 2008 10:05 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Tomb)
Nice cinema trailer for new Doctor Who, Season 4 here. It still has Catherine Tate in it, sadly. There's only so long I can remain in denial about her. It also has some significant returning faces, and various nice shots of Rome, Ood and Sontarans. Oh, and Bernard Cribbins. Quite well done, all told.

We've been continuing to watch various old Doctor Who stories recently, with mixed success. I mentioned last time how much I enjoyed Tom Baker's debut story 'Robot'. Sadly 'Planet of Evil' from the following year is less impressive.1 The setting is atmospheric, especially the weird alien jungle, but it just lacks the necessary character banter from the Doctor to lift the so-so plot. Likewise Pertwee's debut story 'Spearhead from Space' manages to be simultaneously snappily edited and draggingly slow, which is disappointing. Even the Autons can't really lift it from tedium.

We then progressed to the 'Beneath the Surface' box set. 'The Silurians', despite being very long, is consistently entertaining with good characterisation, decent location filming, Fulton Mackay, Geoffrey Palmer and a vague attempt at moral complexity. Okay the Silurians themselves look crap and the young, headstrong one has a hilarious voice but otherwise it works very well. The sequel tale 'The Sea Devils' is less good but still quite enjoyable. You can't go too far wrong with Roger Delgado and Sea Devils, and in true Pertwee fashion the story is stuffed to the gills (geddit?) with location filming and speedboat chases. The end of the -ahem- "trilogy", Davison's 'Warriors of the Deep' is both better and worse than I remembered. Better in that it was a tiny bit less polystyrene than I recalled, but worse in that the Silurian and Sea Devil dialogue is nothing but undiluted exposition and cliche of the worst kind, delivered at about four words per minute. "Soon.. we.. will.. have... our... revenge..." kind of stuff. (Also, why are the Silurians calling themselves Silurians when we know from 'The Sea Devils' that it was a misnomer? And why do they talk about "Our Sea Devil brothers"? Don't they have a name other than a pejorative nickname some sailors slapped on them in the 1970s?)

I'm enjoying old Who overall but it's a very hit and miss experience. My boss's 6 year old boy was apparently sat down in front of an old Tom Baker episode recently and immediately started complaining that the monster looked fake. Sign of the times.

--
1 Although a few moments gave me powerful deja vu from watching the show in the 1970s, and from reading the novelisation -- it's surprising how often that happens. Those novelisations were a big part of my childhood.

Television

Jan. 11th, 2008 06:05 pm
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Serenity)
I'm not normally one for fan-made videos setting TV clips to music but this one of Firefly/Serenity to the music of Wicked has Joss Whedonian and Tim Minearian endorsement, so I went to look. It's extremely well done.

< insert obligatory *sob* for Firefly here >

While I'm here, the 2007 in Review piece in Strange Horizons has a very small contribution by yours truly, in which I inexplicably can't find anything better on TV last year than Doctor Who. Three times in a row. It's just wrong. Fortunately everyone else is very erudite and reads books and stuff. Also [livejournal.com profile] pikelet is insane but you knew that.

Of course The Wire is far better than any SF-related TV currently airing but that doesn't count for Strange Horizons. My Season 4 DVD arrived today, and Season 5 has just started in the US. It's just so very satisfying, layered and intelligent and you should all be watching it but will you lot listen? *Will you*?

In lieu of any other good TV and with anyone who could potentially write some being on strike, we've resorted to DVDs. We've been hugely enjoying Cracker on DVD, a series we missed in its entirety when it was on TV. Robbie Coltrane is fantastic, and the writing is incredibly sharp, with a real interest in psychology and themes rather than just the surface process of investigation. This definitely puts it a notch above most other ostensibly 'crime' related television which seems more formulaic with each passing year. We've only the final one-off special and the more recent Cracker reunion TV movie to go.

We've also been bingeing on old Doctor Who. The Time Warrior is splendid, and gives me my fix of Sontarans in a way that The Sontaran Experiment just didn't accomplish. The Claws of Axos is, sadly, complete rubbish despite featuring some iconic images that have stuck with me since childhood. In contrast, Tom Baker's debut story Robot is great. Yes, even the rubbish FX are great. All of this has made me so nostalgic that I've rashly ordered the Beneath the Surface box set, despite it having the really terrible Warriors of the Deep in it.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Tomb)
Given the astonishing constraints of time and budget that a little vignette like this must face, I have to give Steven Moffat kudos for pulling off as much characterisation and even perfunctory plot as he did.

Spoilers for the Doctor Who Children In Need Special 2007 )

Edit )

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Dalek Fandom)
My parents came up the other week and brought with them a load of old tat from my childhood that was unnecessarily taking up room in their house.

It included this fine piece of 100% pure nostalgia, biro scribbles and all:



And there's more... )

I don't even remember owning a book called The Adventures of K9 and Other Mechanical Creatures by Terrance Dicks. I'm impressed that Radio Times felt the need to produce a Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special. But most of all I'm awed by the absolute cack that passed for content in old Doctor Who annuals: exciting find-the-centre-of-the-maze puzzles; quizzes about the solar system; inane prose stories with dodgy illustrations done by someone who'd once had Jon Pertwee's face described to him; comics by someone who had missed the aforementioned description. It's all here.

Unless you had exactly the same childhood as me this will all mean nothing to you (oh Vienna) but for me this is pure gold.

Nostalgia

May. 14th, 2007 12:12 am
iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (TV)
Tonight I watched Frost and Pegg's Perfect Night In on Channel 4, featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's stilted and under-rehearsed links between a random assemblage of clips from their childhood--but OMG what clips. At times it seemed that Simon Pegg and I shared exactly the same childhood. Monkey, The Incredible Hulk, Children of the Stones (I only saw one episode of that but it screwed me up for life), Box of Delights, Doctor Who, Blake's Seven, Animal Magic... I now feel old and nostalgic. The links were quite endearing too despite their awkwardness but I couldn't help but wish for a bit more of an in-depth geek-out about the contents.

iainjclark: Dave McKean Sandman image (Default)
This is the most nostalgic thing ever:



Oh the hours of my life that were wasted on a C64. Mainly playing Elite, a game with about two frames per second.

EDIT: Woo! Video of the BBC version, which was a little smoother than the C64, in the same way that your bathtub is a little smoother than the Atlantic Ocean.

EDIT: Am so very old.

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