Visit the official Doctor Who website

Visit the official Doctor Who website
Look to the future

Asylum seekers...

Asylum seekers...
Refuge of the Daleks

Doctor Who picture resource

Doctor Who picture resource
Roam the space lanes!

Explore the Doctor Who classic series website

Explore the Doctor Who classic series website
Step back in time

Infiltrate The Hub of Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood

Infiltrate The Hub of Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood
Armed and extremely dangerous

Investigate The Sarah Jane Adventures

Investigate The Sarah Jane Adventures
Fearless in the face of adversity

Call on Dani’s House

Call on Dani’s House
Harmer’s a charmer

Intercept the UFO fabsite

Intercept the UFO fabsite
Defending the Earth against alien invaders!

Uncover the secrets of the Dollhouse

Uncover the secrets of the Dollhouse
Programmable agent Echo exposed!

Hell’s belles

Hell’s belles
Naughty but nice

Love Exposure

Love Exposure
Flash photography!

Primeval portal

Primeval portal
Dressed to kill or damsels in distress?

Charmed, to be sure!

Charmed, to be sure!
The witches of San Francisco

Take on t.A.T.u.

Take on t.A.T.u.
All the way from Moscow

Proceed to the Luther website

Proceed to the Luther website
John and Jenny discuss their next move

DCI Banks is on the case

DCI Banks is on the case
You can bet on it!

On The Grid with Spooks

On The Grid with Spooks
Secret agents of Section D

Bridge to Hustle

Bridge to Hustle
Shady characters

Life on Ashes To Ashes

Life on Ashes To Ashes
Coppers with a chequered past

Claire’s no Exile

Claire’s no Exile
Goose steps

Vexed is back on the beat!

Vexed is back on the beat!
Mismatched DI Armstrong and bright fast-tracker Georgina Dixon

Medium, both super and natural

Medium, both super and natural
Open the door to your dreams

Who’s that girl? (350-picture Slideshow)

Thursday, 29 December 2005

"Not bad for a fella in jim-jams!"

The overnight viewing figures are in for Christmas Day and "Doctor Who" performed well, pulling in an audience of 9.4 million, being beaten only by "EastEnders"! That's slightly more than Paul McGann's debut in 1996 but a little under Christopher Eccleston's earlier this year. It was a sensible move to schedule "The Christmas Invasion" for broadcast actually on Christmas Day rather than in its regular slot of Saturday evening, when its potential audience might still have been engaged in last-minute Christmas shopping!!

The story began on Christmas Eve so there may well have been a temptation to put it out on Saturday at 7pm instead of Sunday. It occured to me, while watching the BBC THREE repeats of episodes three and four of series one on Tuesday night, that we've already had a perfectly good Christmas special earlier in the year in the shape of "The Unquiet Dead". This story was also set on Christmas Eve but in 1869 as opposed to the present day and, while I'm on the subject, the current four-part serial on BBC 7, "The Chimes of Midnight", is also set on Christmas Eve, on this occasion at the beginning of the twentieth century. So, Doctors eight, nine and ten have all visited Christmas Eve! It's getting to be a habit!!

It's hard to form an opinion on David Tennant's interpretation of the role just yet because he didn't really enter the fray until the last twenty minutes of the hourlong episode but he does look very promising. I shall wait until the end of the next series before making up my mind as my opinion of Chris Eccleston's Doctor has grown more and more favourable the more I watch him.

I will say that David's sword fight with the Sycorax leader put me in mind of Jon Pertwee's Doctor, specifically the fencing sequence with Roger Delgado's Master in "The Sea Devils", while the undermining of his enemy with humour was obviously inspired by Tom Baker's portrayal. The new Doctor's reaction to the Prime Minister's destruction of the retreating Sycorax vessel was also that of Jon Pertwee's to the brigadier's annihilation of "The Silurians". I was reminded of Chris Eccleston's Doctor's disposal of Cassandra, in "The End of the World", in David Tennant's final dispatch of the enemy leader as the pyjama-clad hero walked detachedly away with the words "no second chances".

Only a few minor quibbles! I found Camille Coduri's voice very shrill in the Christmas tree sequence and I thought the signposting of the upcoming BBC THREE spin-off series, "Torchwood", a bit heavy-handed. I enjoyed the teaser for the second series, at the end of the episode, and I guessed the final shot would be that of a Cyberman! The design of the cat people, from next year's opening episode "New Earth", looks good on brief acquaintance and it will be interesting to compare it to the cheetahs from Sylvester McCoy's finale "Survival". David's debut was a nice present from the BBC and, despite recording it, watching the repeat should provide everyone with a happy New Year.

Saturday, 24 December 2005

Tomorrow, A New Beginning...

It's Christmas and Jackie Tyler is at home preparing for the festive season, not knowing if her daughter Rose will be home in time - or at all! Then she hears the familiar, ancient grind of the TARDIS...

Mickey, Rose's sometime boyfriend, is hard at work at the garage when he also recognises the sound. Both he and Rose's mum race across the estate just in time to witness the TARDIS' gloriously chaotic crash-landing. The doors open and, much to their delight, out steps Rose but with a complete stranger - except it isn't a stranger - it's the Doctor.

Disorientated, yet overwhelmed to see them, the Doctor takes a few minutes to regain his balance and consider what it is he wants to tell them. "Oh! I know! Merry Christmas!" he yells, before collapsing.

The Doctor falls in and out of consciousness, with Rose and Jackie powerless to help him. In a bid to boost Rose's spirits, Mickey suggests a spot of Christmas shopping. A good plan - until they find themselves under attack by a sinister brass band of masked Santas.

However, the Doctor and his friends are not the only ones with problems. Prime Minister Harriet Jones has just been informed that a British space probe, on its way to Mars for a Christmas Day landing, has gone missing. It has been kidnapped by a monstrous race known as the Sycorax, who are hellbent on taking over the world.

Meanwhile, back at the Tylers', Mickey and Jackie are trying to fend off a killer Christmas tree, while Rose tries urgently to wake the Doctor...

Thursday, 22 December 2005

"Angel" - No Show!!!

Five are not going to broadcast the fifth and final series of "Angel". The "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" spin-off has had a rough ride on terrestrial television since it began on Channel 4. The programme was deemed too violent and, during its first season, was consequently heavily, and rather badly, edited for a 6pm transmission slot. People complained and it was rerun, often in double bills, late on Saturday nights. The damage was done though and it obviously didn't find an audience as, after running the second season in the same late night slot, Channel 4 gave up on the series.

Five acquired the rights, moved it to Mondays, but continued broadcasting it late at night. Had I been Five's scheduler, I would have put it on straight after "Charmed" around 8pm on Saturday evenings, where, at the time, they were running James Cameron's "Dark Angel". Ironically, the reruns of "Dark Angel" are now in the graveyard slot once occupied by "Angel"! Even more ironically, since "Dark Angel" finished its first run on Saturday nights, this early evening slot has been occupied by reruns of the first season of "Buffy" and more recently the first season of "Star Trek: Voyager"!!

There have been rumblings about Chris Eccleston's prompt departure from the recent revival of "Doctor Who" because, it is claimed, audiences had invested in his character. At least "Doctor Who" is returning to our screens just with a different lead actor, which is, in any case, built into the concept of the programme. But, what about when an audience invests in four seasons only to be told they are not allowed to see the final year? You could argue that you have had your time wasted, been sold a book with the last chapters missing! This happened with "Millennium" on ITV1 several years ago. They broadcast the first season, at least twice to get their money's worth, and then left regular viewers wondering "what happened next"?

I am a fan of Juliet Landau. Interestingly, I was already a fan of her parents' work, particularly on the Gerry Anderson series "Space:1999", although, when I first noticed her as Drusilla in "Buffy", I was unaware of who she was until I did a little research! She is pictured above with vampire accomplice Darla, played by Julie Benz, in both actresses' last ever appearance in "Angel", in the twentieth episode of season five, "The Girl in Question". Just as I have yet to see Juliet's guest appearance in a season three episode of "Millennium", it seems as though I will have an equally long wait before seeing her final two appearances in the last season of "Angel", if at all! Perhaps I should take consolation in that I have seen her guest appearance in "La Femme, Nikita"... twice!!!

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

All Rise!

Last night's BBC Radio 2 documentary, "Doctor Who: Regeneration", exclusively revealed that the first of the four episodes to feature the long-awaited return of one of the series most popular adversaries is entitled "The Rise of the Cybermen". This will appear fifth in the run of thirteen episodes likely to air from the end of March 2006. The title of the concluding episode of this two-part story is still unknown while both episode titles of the Cybermen story that concludes the second season are now known. Episode twelve is called "Army of Ghosts", as stated in a previous post, and is followed by the apocalyptic sounding "Doomsday".

The first of the two two-part Cybermen stories is set on an alternate Earth doomed to disaster, making it sound like a reworking of the Jon Pertwee classic "Inferno" which incidentally is due out on DVD next year. The second outing sees the Cybermen awaken in our universe where they have allied themselves with something from the Doctor's past. All four Cybermen episodes are directed by Graeme ("The Caves of Androzani" and "Revelation of the Daleks") Harper, as seems likely is the other two-parter. Set on a nightmarish alien world, and opening with the episode "The Satan Pit", this would make a total of six episodes, almost half the season under the helm of the classic series director. Good news indeed.

Other news concerning the next run is that the Face of Boe, originally seen in second episode "The End of the World", will be making a return appearance and this time in a speaking capacity apparently having "some important words for the Doctor"! Stephen Fry's episode is being held over to season three because of the demands it makes on the effects department. His episode, the eleventh, is now being written by Matthew Graham. Episode ten will feature the Abzorbaloff, the creature created by a "Blue Peter" viewer.

Meanwhile, returning to the Cybermen episodes, Roger Lloyd Pack was worried he wouldn't be able to take on the role of enemy John Lumic after he fell down the stairs at home and broke a leg. Scripts have been rewritten to accommodate his injury and now sees him wheelchair-bound. Apparently, this has had the effect of adding to the mystery and intrigue surrounding his character! Let's hope he makes a speedy recovery.

Saturday, 17 December 2005

"Bleak House", then and now!

It's difficult to choose a stand out performance from the latest television adaptation of "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens, when they were all so uniformally excellent, but, if pushed, I would have to say newcomer Burn Gorman as Mr. Guppy (pictured) stole the show. He had the voice, the facial mannerisms, the body language, all off to a fine art. The only thing he didn't do was wipe his hands in the table cloth while first proposing to Esther Summerson, as Jonathan Moore did in the same role twenty years ago!

It's been difficult to avoid comparison with the production from 1985 as it was this earlier version which first brought the story to my attention, despite already being a fan of costume drama and the novels of Dickens. Denholm Elliot brought more grit to his portrayal of John Jarndyce in the mid-Eighties while Denis Lawson, in turn, brought much humanity to a truly good-natured human being.

Both versions of "Bleak House" featured a comedian but in different roles! Charlie Drake was Smallweed in the older dramatisation; Johnny Vegas played Krook in the serial which concluded its eight-week, fifteen episode, run yesterday evening. Both versions featured actresses better known for cult roles in the same part!! Diana Rigg, Mrs. Emma Peel in Sixties classic "The Avengers", played Lady Dedlock previously while Gillian Anderson, Dana Scully in US SF series "The X Files", portrayed her on this occasion.

For anyone who has missed what is, without doubt, the drama of the year, there is an opportunity to see the final two episodes again this Sunday afternoon or view the entire serial on BBC FOUR over two nights at the end of the month. Failing that, I thoroughly recommend investing in the DVD release available from the end of February, next year.

Friday, 16 December 2005

Back from the USSR!

Three years after t.A.T.u burst onto the pop scene amid a blaze of publicity, and scored a number one hit with their UK debut "All The Things She Said", the controversial Russian duo are back with a new album and single. The single, "All About Us", charted well while the album, "Dangerous And Moving", which came out on 10 October, seems to have found only a limited release. I have seen it in HMV but in none of the supermarkets which is a shame as I think it is power pop at its best!

On the left of the above picture is Julia Volkova and on the right redhead Lena Katina whose on stage antics together seemed to upset a lot of media folk prompting chatshow hosts Richard and Judy to suggest their viewers boycott the girls' original release. The former "This Morning" presenters might do better to target the misogynistic lyrics of certain rappers than attack something as mild as this and which is no more than a marketing gimmick. In any case, it made no difference to the success of what I think is a perfectly crafted pop song though that probably had as much to do with the skill of Trevor Horn's production as it did the ability of the two singers!

Thursday, 15 December 2005

So here it is, Merry Christmas...

Ten days to go until David Tennant makes his debut as Doctor number ten! The significance of the title of this post will become clear when you see the part of the episode where Mickey hears the TARDIS above the radio!! The remarkable thing is that "Doctor Who" hasn't appeared on Christmas Day for exactly forty years!!! That episode was "The Feast of Steven" and appeared as light relief in the middle of the 12-part "Daleks' Master Plan" epic in which first Doctor William Hartnell turned to the camera to wish viewers a Merry Christmas.

The new episode sounds as though it follows the structure used for the closing two episodes of the Chris Eccleston season. The first half, instead of robot game-show presenters, features a deadly quartet of robot brass instrument-playing Santas and a lethal rotating Christmas tree as the vanguard to the alien invasion. This time, instead of Daleks, we meet the Sycorax. My first thought on seeing this new villain was that Jon Pertwee's Doctor would have enjoyed them because of the half mask design, which he believed allowed the actor behind the make-up to give a real performance.

Christmas this year is a "Doctor Who" feast across both TV and Radio with the documentary "Regeneration", next Tuesday on Radio 2 at 8:30pm, preceding the television special. Before that on BBC7, beginning this Saturday, Robert ("Dalek") Shearman's highly regarded 4-part eighth Doctor story, "The Chimes of Midnight", also set on Christmas Eve, receives its first broadcast. Chris Eccleston's season is rerun on BBC THREE from Boxing Day in daily double bills leading up to the first repeat of "The Christmas Invasion" on New Year's Day, exactly a week after its first transmission. All-in-all, a lot to look forward to!

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

The Shape of Things to Come!

This screencap of David Tennant as DI Peter Carlisle, from episode three of Peter Bowker's dark six-part comedy thriller "Blackpool", brought a smile to my face when I saw it. Unfortunately, I didn't see this serial when broadcast, from 11 November last year, though I believe it's been available on DVD since the beginning of August, but the makers of this drama can't possibly have known about David's future casting as the tenth Doctor, as, like most programmes, "Blackpool" was probably "in the can" several months prior to transmission. And yet, unwittingly predicting his future, here is David crossing the road in front of the Blackpool "Doctor Who" Exhibition with the added bonus of a couple of Cybermen clearly visible behind him!

It seems like a good opportunity to mention a few updates regarding the production of the new series of "Doctor Who". As well as "The Christmas Invasion", six of the thirteen episode titles are now known of the series proper; the first four, although two of these are unconfirmed, and two more from later in the series. Episode one is NOT called "The Sunshine Camp" but seems to be going by the name of "New Earth", at present, and features the return of Zoe Wanamaker in some capacity although it isn't certain whether or not she is reprising the role of Cassandra, from the first season episode "The End of the World". Episode two, as stated in an earlier piece, is entitled "Tooth and Claw".

Contrary to rumours, Anthony Stewart Head is NOT playing The Master in the third episode, "School Reunion", but a headmaster called Mr. Finch, possibly in a similar vein to the late Michael Sheard's headmaster in "Remembrance of the Daleks". It is interesting to note that John Leeson WILL be reprising his role as the voice of K9 in this episode whereas none of the original series Dalek voice artistes were invited back for season one! The design of K9 is to remain much the same whereas the Cybermen, featuring in episodes five and six, are in for a refit. While some have said the Borg are how the Cybermen should have looked, I hope the production team resist copying "Star Trek"!

And the news just in is that episode four of the second series, written by Steven Moffat, and author of the first season's most interesting story, is tentatively titled "The Girl in the Fireplace". Rumours abound that Billie Piper's ex-husband, Chris Evans, has been approached to play Satan in the two-part story opening with eighth episode, "The Satan Pit"! Billie is said to be NOT averse to this piece of casting as they remain on good terms. To my mind, if true, his inclusion would smack more than a little of the stunt casting of which Eighties Producer John Nathan Turner stood accused!! Meanwhile, the return of the Daleks seems an unlikely possibility in twelfth episode "Army of Ghosts", the opening episode of the third two-parter that closes the season, given the cost of renegotiating terms of their use with Terry Nation's estate and that Russell T Davies is quoted as saying the Daleks have been taken as far as they can... ...for the time being...!!!

Monday, 5 September 2005

Return of the Psychomodo!

Steve Harley is back on the third of October with a new album of songs entitled "The Quality of Mercy". I say back but he's not really been away as you can listen to his half-hour radio show, "Sounds of the Seventies", every Tuesday night just after 10pm on BBC Radio2. I usually catch up with it on the BBC Radio Player, online, sometime during the week.

Recently, Steve did a special show featuring photographer Mick Rock over from the States to take the cover shot for Steve's new album. Their collaboration goes back to Steve's second album "The Psychomodo" which spawned the hit single "Mister Soft". It was interesting to learn that Mick did that cover the same week he did the one for "Queen II". His first cover was for Lou Reed's album "Transformer" from which the single "Walk on the Wild Side" was taken, which just about sums up the glam rock era of pop music in the early Seventies! This album was produced by David Bowie and his band's guitarist at the time, the excellent but underrated Mick Ronson. It seems only natural, therefore, that Mick Rock took the shot for Bowie's most famous album, "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars".

Instead of being credited as a solo record, Steve's new album is billed as by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. As far as I'm aware, Steve hasn't used the Cockney Rebel moniker since the Seventies. Until now, the live performances have been credited simply as The Steve Harley Band but he says the time is right to return to the Cockney Rebel ident. This then, presumably, is the third version of Cockney Rebel. The original lasted two albums, "The Human Menagerie" which gave us the haunting but commercially unsuccessful, at least in the UK, "Sebastian" and the aforementioned "Psychomodo". It was with the second incarnation of the band, renamed Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, that they hit the big time with the number one single "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)", perhaps better known now for its appearance during the football sequence in Brit flick "The Full Monty" but originally taken from their third album, "The Best Years of Our Lives".

I was lucky enough to see the second line-up of Cockney Rebel perform twice, both in Bristol at the Colston Hall. The first was to promote the third album and then again a year or so later on the "Timeless Flight" tour. Duncan Mackay was the keyboard player on both occasions. I saw him play live a third time a while later, at the same venue, and met him backstage afterwards, when he was part of the second version of 10cc, the very week they were at number one with the single "Dreadlock Holiday", from the album "Bloody Tourists". As well as playing on this single and "Make Me Smile", Duncan also played on Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights", so he's had a trio of number one singles and practically nobody has probably ever heard of him! Also a part of the Cockney Rebel line-up on these two tours was guitarist Jim Cregan who played the acoustic solo on "Make Me Smile". When Rebel eventually split, he joined Rod Stewart's band and more recently has been playing with Katie Melua.

So many connections! With the release of Steve's new album imminent, it seemed like a good time to mention a few of them!!!

Friday, 2 September 2005

Kate Bush is back!

It's certainly been a while but singer Kate Bush will release her first album in twelve years in November - a double album entitled "Aerial". This also marks the first time she has released a double album - so plenty of new material! The new collection of songs will follow a single, "King of the Mountain", released on 24 October, with both the single and album produced by Kate herself.

On a personal note, I was lucky enough to be present at her first ever gig, in Liverpool, opening her only tour to date, back in 1979. I must admit that when her first single, "Wuthering Heights" appeared I didn't like it but was won over on hearing the second, "The Man With The Child In His Eyes", which remains one of my favourite pop songs to this day. On viewing the sheet music, I subsequently realised what an interesting song "Wuthering Heights" is. Both singles can be found on her debut album "The Kick Inside". Her tour was to promote both this and her follow-up album "Lionheart".

The 47-year-old performer's last album, "The Red Shoes", reached number two in the UK album chart in 1993. Kate's last public appearance was in 2001, when she received Q magazine's "classic songwriter" award in London. I'm looking forward to hearing her new compositions.

Thursday, 1 September 2005

Michael Sheard (1940-2005)

I was sad to learn of the death of popular character actor Michael Sheard from cancer at the age of only 65. He appeared on television in no less than six "Doctor Who" Stories as well as in a Big Finish audio "Doctor Who" story. To "Doctor Who" fans he will probably best be remembered for his performances as Laurence Scarman in the Tom Baker story "Pyramids of Mars" (pictured) from 1975 and as the doomed Headmaster in "Remembrance of the Daleks", a Sylvester McCoy story from 1988, which, in an odd coincidence for me, I rewatched just a few weeks ago.

As K9 returns to the programme, in episode three of next year's series, it is interesting to note that Michael appeared as Supervisor Lowe in the robot dog's opening story, from 1977, "The Invisible Enemy", a reworking of the Donald Pleasance/Raquel Welch movie "Fantastic Voyage". He also guested as Mergrave in fifth Doctor Peter Davison's opening yarn "Castrovalva" in 1982. Predating all of these are his appearances in the William Hartnell third season story "The Ark" in 1966, as Rhos, and as Dr. Summers in my favourite Jon Pertwee story "The Mind of Evil" in 1971.

As well as appearing in my favourite third Doctor tale, Michael Sheard also guest starred in my favourite "Space:1999" episode "Dragon's Domain" as Dr. Darwin King at the end of 1975. This simple but brilliantly evocative story pre-empts the Alien series of films in its depiction of an entity hellbent on survival at any horrific cost. Just over four years later, Michael popped up in another popular SF series playing Klegg in the second episode of the third season of "Blake's 7" entitled "Powerplay", first broadcast in January 1980.

Over the years he was seen in many of the shows which now have a cult following such as "Adam Adamant Lives!", the original 1970 version of "Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)", the "Department S" spin-off "Jason King", the Roger Moore/Tony Curtis vehicle "The Persuaders!", the non-SF live action Gerry Anderson series "The Protectors", "The Sweeney", "The New Avengers", "The Professionals" and "Minder". He made many appearances in "Dixon of Dock Green", "Softly Softly", "On the Buses" and the first season of "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet".

As in "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet", he was often cast as a German and often as that most notorious of all Germans Adolf Hitler perhaps most memorably opposite Peter O'Toole in the television adaptation of Geoffrey Household's "Rogue Male" in 1976. He even played Hitler in a two-part episode of "The Tomorrow People", ITV's answer to "Doctor Who" at the time! Arguably, the most prestigious production he appeared in was Stephen Poliakoff's "Caught on a Train" as Preston, in 1980, alongside Peggy Ashcroft and Michael Kitchen. A remarkable acting career.

To return briefly to Michael Sheard's appearances in "Doctor Who". I mentioned at the start of this piece that he guested in a Big Finish audio. In the eighth Doctor story "The Stones of Venice" he played Count Orsino opposite Paul McGann and this can be heard in exactly a month from now, starting Saturday 01 October, on BBC7 following the conclusion of the Cybermen adventure beginning this weekend.

Much Ado About Billie!

There's plenty to look forward to in the forthcoming autumn season on BBC television. Having seen the trailer twice, I have to say it all looks very colourful. There are four modern interpretations of Shakespeare plays, presumably in the same vein as the adaptations of "The Canterbury Tales" a few years ago. They boast a host of well-known faces. Bill Paterson from "Sea of Souls" and Sharon Small, best known as sidekick Havers in "The Inspector Lynley Mysteries", both appear in "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

In "The Taming of the Shrew" there are performances from "Ballykissangel" and "Brassed Off" actor Stephen Tompkinson as well as "Hustle" actress Jaime Murray. As "Spooks" returns to BBC1 for a welcome fourth season, but with none of the original leads, on September 12, former "Spooks" actress Keeley Hawes, now perhaps better known for "Tipping the Velvet", pops up in a version of "Macbeth" set in the enclosed and heated world of a top restaurant kitchen!

But, being a "Doctor Who" fan, the one I am most looking forward to is "Much Ado About Nothing" which features Billie Piper as a TV weathergirl! I have been speculating on which one she will base her performance? Though not a betting man, my money is on Channel Five's Lara Lewington. I have often been heard anticipating her appearance at the end of the lunchtime news bulletin!! To use the words with which she opens each forecast, all I can really say about that is... "Hello there"!!!


Another picture which brought a smile to the faces of my family! I'm sure I don't need to say WHO is pictured!! Suffice it to say that I found this marvellous parody on one of my frequent surfing expeditions and it's just too good a drawing to keep to myself!!!

Thursday, 18 August 2005


It's always nice to receive a postcard, especially with a picture that brings a smile to your face, and one arrived this morning from my Mum and Dad which did exactly that! Not having had a particularly good day yesterday, it was an excellent way to start the day, but then my Mum has always been good at choosing just the right card. As it can't fail to lighten any moment, I thought I'd share the image with the rest of the world!!!

Sunday, 14 August 2005

Anniversaries Galore!

This year sees no less than five British science fiction/fantasy television shows celebrate their initial appearance on our screens. I thought I'd mention them because in 2003, as "Doctor Who" celebrated its fortieth anniversary, "Quatermass", ten years its senior, seemed to get overlooked. The recent DVD release and revival on BBC4 this year have gone some way to make amends for not celebrating its fiftieth anniversary two years ago! Incidentally, new "Doctor Who" David Tennant appeared as Doctor Briscoe in the latest adaptation of "Quatermass" and, having co-starred alongside "Star Cops" actor David Calder in the recent Radio Four adaptation of "Dixon of Dock Green", seems to be making a habit of appearing in revivals of old shows!!

The youngest show to celebrate its birthday this year is "Bugs". Co-starring Jesse Birdsall, and my personal favourite series of the Nineties, it ran for four seasons and a total of forty episodes. Full of action and adventure, explosions and plenty of gadgets, it celebrated its tenth anniversary on April 1st. Co-created by Brian Clemens, better known for his work on "The Avengers" and "The Professionals", and Stephen Gallagher, who'd written "Warriors' Gate" and "Terminus" for "Doctor Who" as well as overseeing ITV adaptations of his novels "Oktober" and "Chimera", "Bugs" wasn't treated particularly well by the BBC. By the time it reached its fourth season it was removed from the schedules midrun and the final three episodes weren't shown until almost a year later!

Three Gerry Anderson shows also have cause for celebration this year. Supermarionation series "Thunderbirds", concerning the exploits of secret organisation International Rescue, has been enjoying repeat runs for forty years! First seen on our screens in 1965, it ran for 32 episodes, 26 of them filmed in 1964 with the remaining six made two years later as well as spawning two feature film spinoffs along the way. A minor gripe of mine is that BBC2 doesn't see fit to repeat "Fireball XL5" for a change, the excuse being that it was made in black and white which doesn't seem to prevent reruns of "Bilko" or "The Munsters"! "Fireball XL5" hasn’t been shown on terrestrial television since ITV repeated it, weekday mornings, twenty years ago in 1985. ITV reran "Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons" at the same time on Sunday mornings and, even though I prefer the indestructible hero, I remember thinking how much more humourous, and therefore probably more entertaining to the general public, was "Fireball XL5"!!

The other Gerry Anderson shows to celebrate their birthdays are two of the live action series he co-created. Having tested the water with a third feature film, the terrific but vastly underrated live action "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" (1969), recently given a rare though very welcome screening on ITV1, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson went into production with "UFO", first seen on television in 1970. Now 35 years old, 26 episodes were made, an initial 17 being followed with a further nine. It starred the late Ed Bishop as SHADO Commander Ed Straker with George Sewell co-starring as Colonel Alec Freeman in the initial batch of episodes. A second series was proposed but gave way to the other Anderson production celebrating its anniversary, "Space: 1999". Now 30, having first appeared in 1975, this series ran for two very different seasons chalking up a total of 48 episodes between them. It starred husband and wife team Martin Landau, as Moonbase Alpha Commander John Koenig, and Barbara Bain, as Doctor Helena Russell, fighting for their survival after the Moon is blown from its orbit following a nuclear explosion on its dark side.

Last, but certainly not least, and also celebrating 30 years since its first appearance, is "Survivors". This series ran for three seasons and a total of 38 episodes altogether. It was devised by Dalek creator Terry Nation immediately preceding his other great success "Blake's 7". After a flu pandemic is accidentally unleashed on the population of the world, those few left behind face the enormous uphill struggle of building a new life whether battling nature or people with alternative views on how to proceed. The initial run of 13 episodes starred Carolyn Seymour as Abby Grant with James Bond creator Ian Fleming's niece Lucy Fleming as Jenny Richards and Ian McCulloch as Greg Preston. I love all the shows celebrating differing degrees of longevity but, of the five, "Survivors" is my favourite.

Thursday, 11 August 2005

Congratulations Katie!

Following the phenomenal success of her debut album "Call Off The Search", singer Katie Melua has become a British citizen after pledging her allegiance to the Queen in a citizenship ceremony.

Best known for "The Closest Thing To Crazy", a near-perfect pop song of which there are too few nowadays, the 20-year-old star was born in the former Soviet republic of Georgia but moved to Belfast aged eight and settled in Redhill, Surrey, five years later.

She took the oath with her family in Weybridge, Surrey, and said she was "proud to now be a British citizen".

"As a family, we have been very fortunate to find a happy lifestyle in this country and we feel we belong."

Wednesday, 10 August 2005

Harper to direct Cybermen!

"The Christmas Invasion" filming is well underway and the second season of new "Doctor Who" seems to be shaping up nicely. Best news is that Graeme Harper has been allocated the two Tom MacRae written Cybermen episodes. When I heard Harper would be working on the programme again, twenty years on from "The Caves of Androzani" and "Revelation of the Daleks", I kept my fingers crossed hoping he would direct this story and it has come to pass! Wise move, Russell!! I hope Graeme retains the style and flair visible in his two Eighties classics. There is a tendency to homogenise these days and I just hope they allow him free reign within the structure of the series. He is also directing the second two-parter, which opens with an episode called "The Satan Pit" by Matt Jones, the first story to be set on an alien planet since the show's return.

The organisation of the second series is slightly different from the first. The aforementioned two two-part stories have been pulled towards the centre of the season so that the first one is an episode later than in the first season and the second an episode earlier meaning they are separated by a single episode at the exact middle of the series, set in England during the 1940s/50s, to be written by Mark Gatiss ("The Unquiet Dead"). "The Long Game", regarded by many as the weakest episode of the first season, occupied the central position of Christopher Eccleston's year and it seems as though Russell is aware of the need to strengthen the midpoint of the run judging by the revised structure.

Returning directors from the first season are those that made the strongest stories, not surprisingly! That may have more to do with who is available or who wants to work on the programme again more than the design of the executive producer but you never know. Russell isn't stupid and I'm sure he wants to harness all the strongest elements to make the best series possible. Regardless, it is good to know James Hawes ("The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances") is returning who, as well as directing the Christmas special, is also working on episodes one and three. The first is tentatively titled "The Sunshine Camp" and written by Russell who is writing five of the thirteen episodes for the second season, three less than in the first year, including the season's two-part finale which opens with an episode entitled "Army of Ghosts". The other James Hawes directed episode, "School Reunion" by Toby Whithouse, features the return of Elisabeth Sladen as Pertwee/Tom Baker era companion Sarah Jane Smith and co-stars Anthony Stewart Head, Giles from "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer", promoted from librarian to headmaster of a very strange school!

The second returning director is Euros Lyn ("The End of the World"/"The Unquiet Dead") who will helm episodes two and four. The first of these, written by Russell, is entitled "Tooth and Claw" and features an evil race of cat women. The other is set in 18th Century France and penned by Steven Moffat ("The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances") who is writing just one episode this time round. Writers new to the fold include comedian and actor Stephen Fry who is scripting episode eleven.

All in all, the second season looks very promising and I wish detractors, both in fandom and the press, would keep their mouths shut until they have something to criticise. Personal attacks over David Tennant's appearance are infantile. I think he looks the part, the unbuttoned shirt collar behind the tie reminiscent of Troughton and the footwear suggesting Davison. There is a lot to look forward to.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Sooner than expected - The Doctor is back!

A new series of "Doctor Who" has just begun on BBC7! While we patiently wait for the next batch of TV episodes, four four-part Big Finish audio dramas have just started airing. These stories are already available to buy on CD but are being broadcast for the first time. So, if you don't own the discs, these sixteen episodes represent new material!! The season stars Paul McGann as the Doctor. Choosing his stories, instead of going with the audio adventures of the actors more familiar to us in the role, is an interesting move as it places the possibly-forgotten eighth Doctor centre stage.

Paul was terrific as the Doctor in the 1996 TV movie and it is a shame that a series with him in the title role didn't follow. The all-important ratings were excellent in this country beating, incidentally, all but the first episode of the recent revival with Chris Eccleston. In the States, however, this pilot film didn't fare so well and that was where the co-funding came from. British actor, British writer, British director, American money!

The failure can't be blamed entirely on US involvement. There were a lot of problems with the script. Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy said he had a lot of fun making it in Chicago but that he shouldn't have been in it! What he meant was that changing leads 25 minutes into the movie was a mistake. They should've started out with Paul and avoided changing the face of the hero. Introducing a new audience to the concept of regeneration so soon meant the wait for a new series was extended another nine years!!

Those of us who warmed to Paul's performance back in 1996, as well as new fans of "Doctor Who", now have the opportunity to see how the eighth Doctor develops. He is joined on his travels by Charlotte 'Charley' E. Pollard, a 1930s society girl played by India Fisher. In the first four-part story, "Storm Warning" by Alan Barnes, Charley sneaks on board the doomed airship the R101 with the intention of meeting a young American trader in Singapore on New Year's Eve but bumps into the eighth Doctor instead...

The second story, "Sword of Orion" by Nicholas Briggs, finds the travellers up against old adversaries the Cybermen while in the third, "The Stones of Venice" by Paul Magrs, the pair find themselves in a sinking city. In the final adventure, "Invaders from Mars" by Mark Gatiss, writer of the recent Dickens episode, they meet film director Orson Welles at the time of his radio production of "War of the Worlds". Simon Pegg from "The Long Game" co-stars in this story. Listen out for a great joke during the season finale when the Doctor meets a character called Bix Biro and asks him if it's a pen name!!!

Saturday, 23 July 2005

"Exhibition of a Lifetime"

First of all, Captain Jack came face to face with the robot incarnations of Trinny and Susannah, on the Game Station, in the penultimate episode of the recent series of "Doctor Who" and it was assumed he had defeated them but it would seem otherwise... Having relocated to Brighton Pier, the pair of presenters find a new adversary awaits them as Chris pays his second visit to the "Exhibition of a Lifetime", on the eve of his ninth birthday, and overpowers them with nonchalant ease!

Saturday, 16 July 2005

In Remembrance

I was saddened to hear that Ed Bishop (seen on the right of the picture) and Michael Billington (on the left), both principle cast members in Gerry Anderson's "UFO" (1970-1971), died at the beginning of June within five days of each other. Bishop, who died in hospital on the morning of Wednesday, 8th June, just three days shy of his 73rd birthday, played SHADO Commander Ed Straker in all 26 episodes of "UFO", and voiced Captain Blue in all 32 episodes of the Supermarionation series "Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons" (1967), while Billington, who passed away on Friday, 3rd June, aged 63, played Colonel Paul Foster in "UFO".

Both actors appeared in the James Bond film series, Ed Bishop as a space tracker in "You Only Live Twice" (1967) as well as the uncredited role of Klaus Hergersheimer in "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971) and Michael Billington featured in a small but important role as Barbara Bach's Russian lover Sergei Barsov in the pre-credits sequence of "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977). Bishop also had a small non-speaking role as the Aries 1B Lunar shuttle captain in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968). More recently, he appeared as a journalist in the third season of the CBBC SF serial "The Demon Headmaster" (1996-1998).

From the days before VCRs, I have vivid memories of switching between Jon Pertwee's first year as "Doctor Who" and "UFO", broadcast at the same time, desperately wanting to watch both!

Saturday, 9 July 2005

"Revelation" Revealed!

"Revelation of the Daleks" is released on DVD this coming Monday and I recommend it without reservation. Not only is it a terrific "Doctor Who" story, it is simply a glorious piece of television drama. It doesn't matter that the Doctor's involvement in the first half is minimal or that the Dalek voices seem a little spineless; this is storytelling with guts. All the characters are fully fleshed and three-dimensional right down to the nameless mutant who forgives Peri for killing him near the beginning of the adventure.

After I first watched it, just over twenty years ago, I remember I found myself counting the moments of pathos. You find yourself feeling sorry for characters you would not usually feel any sympathy for under different circumstances. Jobel, for example, is a hideous man, a user of women for his own gratification. He is played to perfection by Clive Swift, best known as Hyacinth's harassed husband in "Keeping Up Appearances". He certainly won't be harried here! You despise Chief Embalmer Jobel when he sidles up to Peri, near the start of episode two, for trying to chat her up with the immortal, "Those rose-red ruby lips were made for kissing" - to which she retorts with the splendid put-down, "But not by you" - and yet you feel sorry for him when Tasambeker stabs him to death with an enormous syringe even though he has just callously snubbed her affections with the rhetorical, "Do you think I could possibly fall for a fawning little creep like you when I have the pick of the women here". With his dying words still full of conceit, "What have you done, you've killed Jobel", his orange toupee slips from his head to the floor and it is this little directorial attention to detail which makes the viewer think, what a pathetic excuse of a man!

Moments later, the Daleks corner Tasambeker, as she begins to regret her action of killing the man she loves. Naturally, being Daleks, they exterminate her mercilessly for betraying Davros. She had warned Jobel of what she had been sent to do just before he infuriates her enough into going through with it. The woman's inadequacy is breathtakingly captured by Jenny Tomasin, best known as the almost-equally put upon maid Ruby in "Upstairs, Downstairs". I've always compared the killing of Tasambeker in "Revelation" favourably with the scene in which Daleks pursue Ace in "Remembrance of the Daleks". They keep firing and missing as Ace goes round corners and yet when they corner her they start talking about it instead of finishing the job! Tasambeker is a supporting character and thus dispensable whereas Ace a companion and needed for the next story!! Therefore, the writer of "Remembrance" shouldn't have put himself in a position where, logically speaking, the Daleks should've been chanting "Exterminate" while giving chase and not once their prey was finally trapped by them!!!

I've mentioned merely but a few moments from "Revelation" though its ninety minutes running time is packed with similar emotionally complicated but rewarding scenes. If you think Captain Jack's inclinations in the recently finished season are new to the series then watch Orcini's actions on the death of his Squire. Author of "Revelation", Eric Saward has often been accused of heavy-handedness in his writing yet here he is much more subtle than Russell T. Davies has been twenty years on! If you think it was a new and wacky idea to have the Daleks exterminate a television celebrity in "The Parting of the Ways" then marvel at the demise of Tranquil Repose's resident DJ as played by the wonderful Alexei Sayle. And, if you think that Daleks couldn't elevate themselves before now, or even before "Remembrance", then, to quote the Sixth Doctor, "Look, listen and learn". I wholeheartedly recommend the purchase of this DVD even though I still have my Betamax recording all these years after its original transmission!

Sunday, 26 June 2005

Daleks thwarted!

That elusive and enigmatic figure known only as TimeWarden creeps up stealthfully behind two alien visitors from the planet Skaro in an attempt to prevent the Dalek invasion of Gloucester on September 14 of last year! It turned out the creatures had arrived to promote the BBC Experience and the extermination of innocent bystanders and passers-by was thankfully kept to a minimum!!

Two generations of "Doctor Who" fans!!

This is nephew Chris and myself meeting for the first time last August 27 when we travelled back to the age of steam at Brecon Mountain Railway on one of the great little trains of Wales!

Saturday, 18 June 2005

Time Is Up... at least for the time being!

Tonight is the thirteenth and final episode of the first season of "Doctor Who" for almost sixteen years and, for once, a pivotal moment in the programme's history has been preceded with good news. The series had already been recommissioned for a one hour Christmas special and second season of thirteen 45-minute episodes. Then, last Wednesday, at the press screening of the final instalment, it was announced that a second Christmas special, for screening at the end of 2006, and third season of thirteen episodes, to be shown in 2007, have also been commissioned. This means that the BBC have committed themselves now to making a total of at least 28 more episodes!

The benefits of knowing so early on that "Doctor Who" will be in production for the next two years can only be advantageous to the production team. I’m sure Russell T. Davies' mind has already formed ideas about where to take the show beyond next season and, for the fan, it ensures a certain longevity at least, rather than a brief revival followed by sudden death! I suppose some might argue that 41 episodes in total still only constitutes a brief revival when you consider that William Hartnell's first season alone comprised 42 episodes with a further nine made in the first season block for showing at the start of the second year. But the pace of life is different now. Ironically, it was slower then but more were made.

The Sixties was such a creative period not just in television, not just in other artistic arenas such as cinema, and both popular and classical music, but also in the worlds of science. It was the decade in which mankind travelled to the moon using such primitive technology that today the same mission would be considered as needlessly endangering the lives of those brave astronauts. We have better technology in the present time for a return visit but finance prohibits. We also have better technology for producing such shows as "Doctor Who" but unfortunately more bureaucracy controlling the medium. A further irony is that bureaucracy is something the programme itself has warned us about many times! The hope is that bureaucracy can always be defeated as is evidenced by the very fact that "Doctor Who" has returned at all. For this one reason alone, The Doctor will always be a welcome guest in my life!

Thursday, 9 June 2005

Desert Island "Doctor Who"!

With only two episodes left before the first new season of "Doctor Who" for almost sixteen years reaches what promises to be a tumultuous climax in a battle against the Daleks, I thought it might be an opportune time to compile my list of favourite stories that, as well as reflecting on some of the great stories of the past, also includes one from the ninth Doctor’s era. There are several new classic stories to choose from that have indeed justified all the hype and kept the show true to its original spirit and as fun as it always was. Coincidentally, I have the requisite number of eight choices as per the radio show from which this idea is affectionately borrowed!

From William Hartnell’s era my choice of favourite story would have to be "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". The use of extensive location filming, for the first time, enhances the atmosphere greatly. I know that, forty years on, the Robomen look and sound silly and the flying saucer is obviously dangled from a piece of string but the serial’s shortcomings are compensated by the imagery of the Dalek rising from the River Thames and a group of them patrolling Trafalgar Square, not to mention crossing Westminster Bridge in the trailer. And then there is the sensitive ending marking Carole Ann Ford’s departure from the series after playing the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, for ten stories...

So many perfect serials from Patrick Troughton’s time on the show! "Fury from the Deep" is my choice simply because it frightened me more than anything else I’ve ever seen. It has several excellent cliffhangers and I’ll never forget one of the characters walking out to sea and not stopping as she becomes totally immersed by the water or Victoria trapped in a locked room as the seaweed and foam threaten to engulf her. I long to see this story again but, alas, it seems gone forever. Years later, when I became interested in the programme in a more academic way, I discovered the director Hugh David (David Hughes) had taught my Dad maths at Grammar School and his wife, who had been the English teacher, guested in the Tom Baker story "The Ark in Space".

My favourite period of the Jon Pertwee era is the beginning. I love the first six serials because they are complex and challenging. Of the six, "The Mind of Evil" is my favourite though writer Don Houghton’s other serial, "Inferno", comes a close second. The reason I like it is because the idea of a parasite feeding off the fear in men’s minds is so much more frightening than some lumbering monster! It’s a cliché now but the camera closing in on the prisoner’s hand, pulling the trigger on the Doctor, only to pull out the following week to reveal the Brigadier’s gun preventing the death of our hero was new, and therefore clever, to me at the time.

My favourite Tom Baker serial is "Genesis of the Daleks" despite the BBC always falling back on it for repeat seasons! Writer Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, devised the character of Davros in order to raise the standard of dialogue between hero and enemy, succeeding here in discussing many moral issues. Sarah Jane Smith seemingly falling to her death from the rocket scaffolding, as she tries to make her escape, and the freeze frame is another moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I just couldn’t see how they were going to get out of that one when it first aired!

Cliffhangers play an important part in making a good serial and "The Caves of Androzani" boasts two of the finest. When Peter Davison’s Doctor and new companion Peri are shot dead at the end of the first episode I didn’t foresee the resolution. It’s a shame it took until the last story of this era to get it right but director Graeme Harper presents us with a thoroughly gripping tour de force. Christopher Gable is electrifying as Sharaz Jek and I love the scene of the dying Doctor, coat caked in mud, struggling to carry his companion back to the TARDIS in an act of self-sacrifice that leads to his premature regeneration at the story’s close.

"Revelation of the Daleks" is "Doctor Who" for adults. Writer Eric Saward presents us with an alternative take on the Doctor through the character of Orcini, and his sidekick with personal hygiene problems, which is why Colin Baker’s Doctor doesn’t really enter the fray until over halfway through. Nicola Bryant, as Peri, is lucky to have worked with Harper on both his serials which probably accounts for why she is one of my favourite companions when all the others, Polly, Victoria and Zoë, hail from the mid-to-late Sixties. There are moments of real pathos in this serial such as Natasha discovering what has really become of her father and the death of Jobel, which is no mean feat when you consider the ghastly nature of his character!

From Sylvester McCoy’s three years on the show, my choice has to be "The Curse of Fenric". This period has come in for much criticism when, certainly during the last two years, the show was actually beginning to find its feet again. It wasn’t all played for laughs as is often suggested. One of the scariest things in this serial isn’t the Haemovores or the rather placid Ancient One but the transformation of the two girls into vampires because the allegory, equating loose morality with bodily decay, is far more frightening than any monster could be, even when those monsters are well-realized. The story contains some very memorable dialogue too. Who can forget the chilling menace of "We play the contest again... Time Lord", at the end of episode three, and "Don’t interrupt me when I’m eulogizing"?!!

Finally, from the single season that constitutes the Christopher Eccleston era, my eighth choice is Steven Moffat’s two-part story that begins with "The Empty Child" and concludes with "The Doctor Dances". Set during WWII, like "The Curse of Fenric", this production has everything including a spine-tingling transformation sequence featuring "One Foot in the Grave" actor Richard Wilson towards the end of the first episode. The unearthly boy of the title is called Jamie, no doubt after the second Doctor’s Scottish companion. His mum is called Nancy, undoubtedly after the character who befriends Fagin’s boys in "Oliver Twist", linking back to the earlier Dickens episode. And the Glenn Miller tunes were previously aired by the DJ in "Revelation of the Daleks". Just a few of the subtle references that help make this story as near perfect as possible.

And, if I was only allowed just one of the eight to take to my mythical island it would have to be, if it still existed in the BBC’s archive, "Fury from the Deep". I don’t think I would be disappointed, given the opportunity to see it again, as anything that can leave such an indelible mark on the memory has to have been an extremely powerful piece.

"Mind Robber" DVD

The ironic thing about there having been an extra episode tagged onto the front of the season six "Doctor Who" serial "The Mind Robber" when it was made, back in the late Sixties, is that, collectively, the five episodes underrun to such an extent that the story has the equivalent running time of a four-parter! I wonder how it would work re-edited as such?

"The Mind Robber" is a good choice of story for release on DVD at the present time, however, because of the similarity of ideas between it and episode twelve of the current season. This penultimate episode sees Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor subjected to a "Big Brother" scenario, while Rose endeavours to make sure she isn’t "The Weakest Link" and Captain Jack receives a makeover from robot versions of Trinny and Susannah! This makes "Bad Wolf" sound not only like a modern reworking of "The Mind Robber" but also "The Celestial Toymaker".

These two black and white stories set the mould for later adventures such as "Death to the Daleks", "Pyramids of Mars" and "The Five Doctors" all of which feature puzzles that have to be solved to either avoid certain death or advance further into an enemy's domain or both. While outwardly oddball, it has become a traditional type of story that the Doctor and his companions are forced, against their will, to play games for their very survival!!!

Thursday, 12 May 2005

Chronicling Hammer's "Dracula" Movies!

It's open to debate, and that's part of the problem and fun with cataloguing such things accurately, but I've always believed there to be seven films in the Hammer "Dracula" cycle. Although "Brides of Dracula" has Dracula in its title, and good though it is, the Count's absence from this film surely excludes it from being part of the canon, strictly speaking. I include the two "modern" takes that Hammer took on the story. They reunite Lee as Dracula with Cushing as nemesis Van Helsing for the first time in the series since its début and thus give the feel of the cycle having come full circle.

Based on the aforementioned, this would make my personal favourite, "Taste the Blood of Dracula", the fourth of the seven and thus the middle film of the cycle. The "Frankenstein" series also comprises seven and its middle film, "Frankenstein Created Woman", covers the same territory as this Dracula movie, namely Victorian values and three aristocrats who get what's coming to them!!! I'm sure it wasn't planned this way, at least not from the outset, but there is a kind of beauty to viewing them with this sequence in mind. There is no lumbering monster in this Frankenstein film which makes it atypical of its series just as, without many of the familiar trappings we have come to expect such as priests, suspicious villagers and disgruntled coach drivers, "Taste the Blood of Dracula" is also atypical.

Alas, my argument isn't watertight! Although Dracula isn't mentioned in the title, in "The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires", released by Hammer after their last "official" Dracula movie "The Satanic Rites of Dracula", the character is included although this time not played by Christopher Lee. Therefore, it could be argued there are eight films in the cycle, nine if one still wishes to include "Brides of Dracula", and therein lies the problem. It is impossible, however desirable, to pin an exact number of films to the sequence!

Thursday, 14 April 2005

"Doctor Who - The Unquiet Dead"

"Doctor Who" is getting better week by week with "The Unquiet Dead" easily the best of the first three episodes. When I saw the first episode of "Dark Season", back in 1991, I thought this is pure "Doctor Who" and naturally assumed Russell T. Davies would be a good choice to write future episodes. Thus, at first, it might seem a little odd that I should prefer the script by Mark Gatiss! This has probably more to do with the fact that the opening two episodes of a series tend to set up the situation and Mark just happens to be the first writer allowed free reign and future scripts by Russell will improve on what Mark has done.

It’s not just down to the writer. The director’s input greatly affects the final feel of a drama. Think how bad "Revelation of the Daleks" might’ve been without Graeme Harper at the helm! It is menacing right from the off despite the inclusion of a DJ. And yet neither of Graeme Harper’s two serials would’ve been as scary without the incidental music of Roger Limb. Thus when I heard Russell was doing "Doctor Who" I hoped he would bring the director of his two children’s serials Colin Cant and composer David Ferguson with him as I believe they both played an important part in making "Dark Season" and "Century Falls" frightening within the bounds of children’s drama.

I think what is missing from new "Doctor Who" so far is edge-of-the-seat direction and incidental music that sends shivers up your spine. David Ferguson didn’t just do this on the aforementioned serials but for their immediate predecessor, "Moondial", and in subsequent Barbara Vine adaptations, for an adult audience, as well. Interestingly, like Christopher Eccleston, he has also worked on "Cracker". Without checking on IMDb, I’m not sure what has happened to Colin Cant other than some work on "Coronation Street".

I want to be positive about new "Doctor Who" and yet I find myself thinking that the last time it went back in time to approximately this period was "Ghost Light" and which would I rather watch again given the choice between the two? It also seemed like the moral differences between Rose and the maid had been lifted straight from "The Curse of Fenric". I also questioned whether it was a good idea to actually meet Dickens as good as Simon Callow was and is in this role. I loved the imagery at the end of him gazing on as the TARDIS dematerialised but thought about how the seventh Doctor didn’t actually meet Darwin in "Ghost Light" or the fourth Doctor missing Da Vinci in "City of Death". I’m sure we all remember what happened when the sixth Doctor met H. G. Wells!

Apparently there have been complaints that "The Unquiet Dead" was too scary for the very young but it has always been the programme’s intention to be frightening in the safe environment of your own home. I found it full of humour, like the two previous episodes, with lines such as "She can’t have got very far, she’s 85" and, after the corpse returns from the dead, "There’s life in the old girl yet"! Actually, I know a lady of that remarkable age who has just got back from seeing her daughter in America so there isn’t as much truth in the first quote as would at first seem!

Tuesday, 29 March 2005

"Doctor Who" - Old and New

In many of the promotional interviews for the new series of "Doctor Who", the potential audience has been told that this version is more domestic than the classic series and will deal with the lead characters’ emotional lives more than it did in the past. Yet, I can remember in "Survival", the very last serial, broadcast sixteen years ago, seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy going into a little corner shop, the proprietors of which were Hale and Pace no less, to buy cat food! Life doesn’t get more domesticated than that.

To say the original series was weak in dealing with emotional issues, in order to promote the new series as being strong in this area, simply isn’t fair. Sometimes the old show was good at it, sometimes it wasn’t, and the new series will probably be the same. No one can forget Sophie Aldred’s Ace coming to terms with the poor relationship she’d had with her mother, when, during "The Curse of Fenric", she admits the truth to herself and cries out, "I love you, Mum", almost hoping she might hear.

The truth is that companions haven’t always run away screaming and to say so does a disservice, especially, to the writers, as well as the actresses portraying the Doctor’s assistants. Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith must have been a pretty gutsy lady to climb the scaffolding of the rocket ship to try and escape her captors in "Genesis of the Daleks". The fear of being recaptured, the possibility of falling to her death would have been uppermost in her mind and enough to make anyone nervous at the very least.

Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler, in the opening story "Rose", is understandably just as scared as any of her predecessors would have been when she is cornered in the shop’s basement by the awakening Autons. But, by the end of the episode, she plucks up enough courage, literally, to swing into action to help the Doctor out of the tight spot he’s gotten himself into. So, my contention is that the arc of character development is the same as it always was, though maybe with less depth this time round, possibly because of the shorter running time?

Friday, 4 March 2005

More thoughts on "Scarlet"...

Just finished watching "Swarm", the third episode of "New Captain Scarlet" to be transmitted. When Destiny and her squad of Angels shoot down an enemy aircraft on a collision course with Skybase, a swarm of metal-eating wasp-like insects are unleashed and attack her interceptor. Scarlet rescues her but she unwittingly returns to Spectrum HQ with one of the little critters in her clothing!

The creatures cocoon Lt. Green when she goes off-duty, in a scene reminiscent of the one missing from the original "Alien" movie. They tap into her brain to discover the logistics of Skybase and avoid the possibility of detection that would arise through connection to the computer system. Scarlet and Destiny become trapped together in a lift for over an hour as the swarm begin to take over. After escaping their confinement, they discover, when Destiny accidently knocks over a jug, that water is the Achilles heel of the insects.

The episode is excellently realised despite the absense of Captain Black so early in the run when it would’ve been better, after the opening two-part story, to firmly establish him as Scarlet’s nemesis. That error is undoubtedly down to the carelessness of the broadcasters and not the producers. ITV have a long history of not broadcasting episodes of Gerry Anderson series in the order in which they were intended!

Everyone is impossibly beautiful with an emphasis on the curves of the female characters very noticeable especially when Destiny is either in her cockpit or climbing down ladders which, no doubt, makes it sexist but is in the nature of these things in a financially competitive market.

All five Angels now launch upon danger, instead of only three of the five in the original series, which suggests they are all on duty all of the time which isn’t logical! Lt. Green is seen going off-duty and sleeping in this episode, and we meet her stand-in, so when do the Angels get any time-out or sleep? If they do, who replaces them?!! That would mean too many characters and is obviously a concept contrivance. Great fun though and I’m looking forward to the next episode, whichever one they show!?!

Sunday, 27 February 2005

Return of the (virtually) indestructible hero in Hypermarionation!

Gerry Anderson's "New Captain Scarlet" began its 26 episode run on the morning of Saturday 12 February 2005 on CITV although, to be honest, I wish it wasn't part of "Ministry of Mayhem"! Why are ITV afraid to try for a bigger audience late afternoon/early evening? Also, in "MOM", the gap between the two halves of the first episode was much longer than a regular commercial break would be!

I'd like to know the thinking behind changing Lt. Green from male to female especially as there are already five female characters in the shape of the Angels although, of the five, we only meet Destiny in the first episode. The suggestion is that, like Councillor Troi when "Star Trek: The Next Generation" began, she is the character through which the emotional content of an episode will be channelled.

I'm also curious about the change of name from Cloudbase to Skybase? That aside, it moved at a furious pace and, in so-doing, lost the luxuriously sedate menace of the 1967 original. The Supermarionation version was much aided by Barry Gray's music whereas the score for the new CGI series meanders rather nondescriptly, instantly forgotten. I wonder what the closing credits are like? We weren't given the chance to see or even hear them on CITV!

There was much to recommend the new show. Particularly impressive were the Angel Interceptor flight sequences and Captain Black's resurrection, fist through the coffin lid! Coming across as a vampire-like figure with his great coat swirling behind him reminded me of "Blade Runner" although audiences with shorter memories are more likely to associate it with Spike from "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer"!

What would be nice is for younger viewers to want to discover the beauty of the original puppet series which, for all its woodenness, still felt three dimensional; something you just don't seem to get from computer generated material. Even so, I enjoyed it and will stay with the series both now and when it returns later in the year...