Thursday, August 31, 2006


Sapphire & Steel Go Back to School

It’s the end of August, and deep inside me a boyish instinct says it’s time to go back to school. One of the most terrifying things I ever saw as a boy was an episode of the weird Joanna Lumley and David McCallum supernatural / science fiction / horror investigation series Sapphire & Steel, a series that came to a premature and pitiless end 24 years ago today. Now it’s being made again as a series of audio dramas and, appropriately, the latest one out is The School. It won’t make you keen to rush back to the classroom.

This is the point in a review where I’d usually explain what the series is about, but there’s a problem with this one. Sapphire & Steel is almost wilfully incomprehensible; if anyone ever came up with a complete explanation, all it could do is spoil it. Sapphire and Steel are two agents from some strange dimension; their opponent is time, not just a process but an almost malevolent force that can break through into our reality using old and often beloved items or ideas. They stop those breakthroughs, ruthlessly, and Joanna Lumley and David McCallum – both hot properties as blond, beautiful secret agent stars – carried out six assignments on ITV between 1979 and 1982. Starting life as a show for children, it became a scary series that messed with your head and turned nursery rhymes into tea-time terror for tots, along with such elements as a railway station haunted by ghostly soldiers, a man without a face coming out of a photograph and a surreal re-enactment of 1930s murder mysteries.

The most popular – and in many ways the most horrific – stories seem to be the second and fourth assignments, featuring the railway station and the man without a face. It’s the last two that do the most for me; the final one raises the stakes, concluding the series in an almost uniquely downbeat way (think of Blake’s 7, A Very Peculiar Practice and very few others). It’s the most terrifying for me because, after five stories where the investigators can outmatch anything, their opponents are suddenly on an altogether different level. What petrified me as a boy, though, was an episode of the fifth story, climaxing as a man in a 1930s dinner suit topples over, his face a mass of hideous diseases (five years after Doctor Who on TV really terrified me). Just to add to the effect, we were at my grandparents’ and in a different ITV region which showed the serial on a different schedule, so I didn’t get to see the rest of it the following week and instead remembered the cliffhanger for years to come…

It was a decade later that it finally came out on video, and I bought it a little nervously. I’d only ever seen that one episode, and would the series match up to years of fancied horrors? I watched my first full story while at university, with my housemates scornful. Then they watched it with me, in the early hours of the morning; to my lasting satisfaction, it scared the pants off them. For some reason, the VHS was hardly released when it was deleted, and the DVDs they brought out a few years ago have gone the same way – and it’s one of the few ITC series that isn’t getting an outing on a digital channel. Fortunately, it’s still making something of a comeback. It’s another series that Big Finish has licensed for audio drama, and though its talented creator hasn’t written any of those scripts, he’s writing for this Autumn’s scary new Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. Hurrah.

Big Finish started their Sapphire & Steel series last year, with a certain degree of success. The biggest problem was that, unlike their Doctor Who dramas, they don’t have the original cast. David McCallum said “too busy,” and Joanna Lumley simply said “no”. Their replacements are actors of similar standing, though – huge movie actor David Warner, and star of House of Cards and Ultraviolet Susannah Harker. They’re good, but very different in style; even from his voice you can tell David Warner is much older than she is, and the authority he brings to the role tends to unbalance a previously more equal partnership. Another problem I had with last year’s stories was that I found them a little familiar; for a series where you’re meant to wonder ‘what’s going on?’ with several of them I kept being able to spot the twists coming. Fortunately, the first of their ‘new season’ this summer kept me guessing.

The School is a great place to start listening to Sapphire & Steel, but I should first let you know that I know the author, Simon Guerrier. Not only is he a very nice chap, but he reads this blog (and there’s a suspicious child’s name which, like Richard and one in the League of Gentlemen, I’ve thought it best not to ask about). However, if I didn’t like his story I wouldn’t urge you to listen to it – though I probably wouldn’t write him a bad review, either (I’d be more likely just not to mention it, and find a slippery form of words to dodge the question if he asked me what I thought, as usual with some authors). No, this one’s actually rather good, and the reason I particularly like it is that I started off thinking it wasn’t. Bear with me; initially, I thought the cast was too small, the teachers were stereotypes and they accepted the investigators far too easily, but I love having the rug pulled from under me, and this deftly tripped me up on each of my early assumptions.

Like the school-set Doctor Who story this Spring, The School has surprisingly few distinct children, though, given that, a surprising number of children’s lines are spoken. Instead, it focuses on a small group of teachers, the friendly – perhaps far too friendly – headteacher marvellously voiced by Keith Drinkel, a young teacher who doesn’t quite have the grip you’d expect on his subject and another who’s perhaps taking her moralistic attitude to discipline a little far. What are they planning for the school’s hundredth anniversary? Just how much do school pupils think about cruelty, violence and sex? And why can’t anyone remember seeing the headteacher’s wife? As new questions kept cropping up throughout I experienced the enormous pleasure of getting my answer to almost all of them wrong as I went along. There are plenty of shocks along the way, with moments of our heroes behaving just as you’d expect – Steel’s ruthlessness memorably emerging as the head blusters,
“Now, Mr Steel, I don’t think it’s really your job to surrender my teachers to whatever this – thing is…”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
– and others when they very much don’t, giving way to possession by the feelings of pupils past. That sometimes gives an uneven feel, partly as Steel slapping Sapphire to bring her out of being ‘a little girl’ makes their relationship seem less balanced than ever, and partly because gravel-voiced David Warner’s little boy acting is suddenly not a patch on Susannah Harker’s girlishness. There are points, too, where I feel it falls out of creepy and becomes gratuitously gruesome, though they’re probably the bits I’d have loved most if this had been the ten-year-old me’s introduction to the series.

Simon suggests in the notes on the cover inlay that he was inspired by a teacher humiliating him at the age of ten for being right when she was wrong, and the play makes much of the sense of injustice felt by children against bad teachers. Simon’s experience comes to life here in a particularly educational way; you too can be taught the difference between tapinosis and meiosis, which little Steel isn’t completely comfortable picking up. When the disciplinarian with the problem keeping discipline takes over another teacher’s class, I was vividly reminded of the way supply teachers would be torn to pieces when I was at school. And there’s the best, definitively teacherly, put-down of the operatives’ habit of talking to each other telepathically. Add to that a throwaway line from The Deadly Assassin, more than a dash of The Stone Tape and a moral about the importance of asking questions, and I found it satisfying right through to the appropriately unhappy end.

Should you listen to it, however, you may wish to use your fast forward buttons to adjust the CDs at a couple of points. I love a good trailer, and you’ll find one for the next story at the end, but I find Big Finish’s recent habit of sticking one at the start too (and for a different series) distinctly irritating; this isn’t the cinema, and we don’t even get the Pearl & Dean music. More offputting is the end of the first disc; at the half-way point of the story, suddenly there are a bundle of extra features for one of last year’s stories, Daisy Chain. I hasten to add that it was probably the strongest and certainly the least ‘traditional’ Sapphire & Steel story they’ve done so far, but it really breaks the mood; stop your disc, listen to the second one, then go back, but only if you’ve listened to Daisy Chain; if not, it rather spoils the end. There’s an informative interview with author Joe Lidster that tackles head-on why that story was controversial; with his strong grip on character and relationships, I found myself agreeing on almost every particular, and especially on his treatment of Sapphire. Hearing him saying how it had to end without the title music to show how serious the subject matter was, though… No, sorry, Joe, but most of these stories have unhappy endings, and different types of death aren’t graded by point scores; it just came across to me at the time as “my story’s more serious than yours!” and pretty much saying that outright in your interview merely sounds pseudy. Probably best not to follow the interview with some ‘hilarious’ out-takes, then?

Speaking of which, if you’re familiar with the doomy monologue spoken over the opening credits, Richard and I once came up with our own version on holiday. Not to be read by those sensitive about their scares, or stomachs…

All ingestionalities will be ladled by the flavours controlling each confection.

Transmarzipanic heavy fondants may not be used where there is life.

Medium calorific weights are available:
Jammy Dodger
Custard, Cookies and Cream.

CUSTARD AND CREAM have been assigned

Labels: , , ,



Regular readers will expect politics here (of course), Doctor Who (no doubt), and wonder where today’s review of The Avengers has got to (ask BBC4, who aren’t showing it this week). What you might not expect is a restaurant review, but if you live near or happen to visit Stockport, there’s one I’d recommend. Richard and I nipped up north for a few days last week to visit our respective parents. While there we tried out my parents’ new favourite place to eat, the EleganZe Turkish Restaurant and Meze Bar on Petersgate in the middle of Stockport. And it’s superb.

They do have a website, but it’s rather, ah, minimalist; so is the restaurant’s décor, but that’s in a good way. Still, at least there’s a map. Have a look at the menu there – it’s quite mouth-watering, and I find myself wanting to go back there and sample the Chef’s Special (lamb with creamed aubergines), but from the lack of an e-mail address I suspect they had to get someone else to do it and are just leaving it like that. That’s a shame, as among EleganZe’s attractive qualities is the price and the combinations offered for it, which the site doesn’t really advertise. We went along at lunchtime (12-3.30), when they offer a set menu of starter, main course and coffee or tea for just £4.95. The set menu is a selection from the ordinary menu, rather than providing cheaper alternatives, and the selection changes every week – ideal for that missing regular update to the website. But once you go offline and walk into the restaurant itself, I have no complaints.

Richard and I both went for the £4.95 lunch menu, and though we were very tempted by a lot of it, we both decided to try things we wouldn’t normally go for. I’m particularly fond of lamb, while Richard prefers beef and chicken; naturally, he chose two lamb dishes, while my main course was chicken and my starter was one of their wide range of vegetarian dishes. The Havuc Tarator was about as far from what I’d usually order as I could go: yoghurt flavoured with garlic and mixed with grated carrot, served with pitta. Slightly to my surprise, it was delicious, thick, cool and tangy, though Richard’s Sigara Borek – rich little minced lamb pastries – just nipped it for me. The main courses, however, were the other way round (both served with rather nice piles of salad and rice). Richard had opted for Kasarfi Kofte, char-grilled, delicately spiced minced lamb filled with cheese. It was tasty and rather nice, though as Richard said, not unlike a very upmarket lamb cheeseburger without the bun. On the other hand, my Chicken Casanova was terrific. Sliced chicken, tomato and courgette in a thick, creamy wine sauce, it was quite the tastiest thing I’d had in months. All in satisfying portions, too. As you’d expect, my parents have been there frequently, and there’s nothing they haven’t spoken highly of; we were driving back to London the next morning, but we very nearly delayed a few hours to try EleganZe again. Only that my parents couldn’t make it and the thought of approaching London in rush hour put us off.

I have to praise the service as well beyond anything you might expect. There was a very pleasant ambience when we visited, and the owner, Anil, was friendly and welcoming even before, about half-way into the meal, I introduced myself as the outlying member of his regular Wilcock clan. Apparently, I look nothing like the rest of the family (I reckon I have my Mother’s nose. Poor Mum). Richard and I rarely eat out in central London – until discovering EleganZe, the only restaurant I’d really recommend is our local and Docklands’ finest Indian, the Gaylord (no, really) – but let’s just say that London restaurants are not relaxed and welcoming places, let alone in all the horror stories in reviews.

The remarkable service I’m talking about, however, wasn’t while we were there. My Grandad’s 95 and not in good health; after living a very independent life, this year he’s had to move to Stockport and sheltered accommodation and is frequently in hospital, as he is at the moment. Though EleganZe opened last July, my parents discovered it in February and instantly fell in love with the place, as did my Grandad, a much less cosmopolitan eater. After two visits, Mum and Dad turned up without Grandad. Anil and Rachel immediately asked after him; hearing he was in hospital, they were not just concerned, but sent him a card. When he was discharged that time, they then sent flowers and – as Grandad particularly likes their soups – gave Mum tubs of soup to take home and get his strength up. On other occasions they’ve even changed their opening hours to fit in with when he was up to a visit.

So there’s a restaurant with a wide menu of inexpensive and particularly good food, run by people so nice that the service can only be described as way above and beyond the call of business. Is it any wonder that I’m recommending it? If you get the chance, pop in and try a meal.

Besides, after Millennium doing down Polish food recently, I thought I should stick up for the restaurant trade. Millennium’s Daddies have even been to a Polish restaurant in London, and while it wasn’t quite as impressive as EleganZe, the food was jolly nice (I don’t remember eating a single beetroot, though there were some very tasty things done with potatoes).

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Choosing Doctor Who DVDs Made Easy

Doctor Who: one of the longest-running and best TV series ever made. When there have been over 180 stories made so far, and even the 50-odd adventures now available on DVD can be daunting, where do you start? The obvious DVDs to recommend are the 2005 and (due November) 2006 season boxed sets, but there are also plenty of superb DVDs available to introduce the 1963-1989 series. Depending on what you’re looking for, I’ve picked out sets of half a dozen DVD releases you might pick up as a ‘beginner’s guide’, as exceptional DVD releases, or simply as great stories. Inspired by Tero’s request for an introduction to the series, here are some suggestions if you want to try some as well.

I love all periods of Doctor Who and can recommend any of them, but of course I have my own favourites. Though each set presents a mix of decades and Doctors, you’ll find my selections favouring William Hartnell’s performance as the Doctor and stories from Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor. Each of the different sets has a balance of some of the defining features of Doctor Who; a traveller in time and space who finds fun and fights oppression, a dash of horror, adventures in history, memorable characters and memorable images, but each has its own particular strengths, too. Each even has its own colour scheme, though that’s of no significance other than making it easier to divide all the text into three distinct groups.

Update Note: In addition to the three sets immediately below, I’ve placed updates with outstanding releases from subsequent years down at the bottom. The tips on bargains from 2006 obviously no longer apply, but it’s always well worth shopping around; you can usually find some of them somewhere for under a tenner in shops or online once they’ve been out more than a few months.

A Beginner’s Guide

Designed to be fairly easy to get into if you’ve never seen the series before. A particularly strong selection if you want to see alien worlds, big ideas, monsters and links to the new series, and introducing the idea of regeneration from one Doctor into another.

The Beginning (An Unearthly Child / The Daleks / The Edge of Destruction)
Doctor Who’s first three stories, both inspiring and quite different to what’s to come; a 1960s mystery leads to a trip to the Stone Age, then to a dead planet and the Daleks before psychodrama in the TARDIS. Great characters, solid stories, brilliantly done. An impressive set of documentaries and other bits across three discs, too, including
the original Pilot episode. Oh, and it’s currently only £15.99 at, which is about half the price on the shop shelf.

Carnival of Monsters
The TARDIS lands on a cargo ship crossing the Indian Ocean in 1926… Or does it? Plus fearsome beasties, a satirical if gaudy alien world and a witty, intriguing script, along with extra extended scenes on the DVD.

The Ark in Space
Humanity sleeps to live past the end of the world… But alien horror awaits them. A huge influence on both Ridley Scott and Doctor Who’s 2005 relaunch. Gripping and brilliantly designed (save for the monsters). The DVD comes with the option of a shiny new CGI space station, too.

Pyramids of Mars
It’s 1911, and a malevolent alien once taken as a god by the ancient Egyptians now prepares to rise and destroy the world… Archetypal Doctor Who, a superbly atmospheric chiller with great period detail, music and probably the most terrifying villain in the series (heard again in 2006 as the voice of the Beast), accompanied by an great set of extras – particularly a celebration of the stories from this period of the show’s remarkable producer.

The Robots of Death (currently on sale at HMV for a tenner)
A futuristic murder mystery where robots are the weapon, not the real murderers, gorgeously designed and featuring a particularly memorable ‘explanation’ of the TARDIS for the Doctor’s sceptical, skin-clad companion Leela. This was only the second Who DVD released, so it has fewer extras than many of them, though.

The Caves of Androzani (currently on sale at HMV for a tenner)
The Doctor gets caught up in a drama of war, revenge and money, all superbly directed by Graeme Harper, now back directing stories for the 2006 series. Outstanding acting, music and lots of special features on a Doctor’s departure.

Alternatives: if you fancy more black and white Doctor Who, you might try The Tomb of the Cybermen in place of The Ark in Space, another monster chiller featuring a superb performance for the Doctor, frozen sleep and transformation from human to alien, though this one has monsters that are a little more effectively realised but a little less horrifying in concept. If you feel like more 1980s Doctor Who, you might try The Visitation in place of Pyramids of Mars, featuring more aliens in an historical setting with a great musical score, though it’s more ‘textbook’ than ‘terrifyingly evil’. Oh, and with a different closing take on a famous historical event.

The Best DVD Releases

Showcasing what you can do with the shiny silver format, each of these has been chosen not just for the story but because they’re exceptional DVD releases. A particularly strong selection if you want to see villains, wit and flamboyant style, too.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth (currently on sale at HMV for a tenner)
It’s 2167, and the Daleks are the masters of Earth… A futuristic take on ‘what if the Nazis has won the War’, complete with Daleks sieg-heiling around a deserted London. Some of it’s beyond the show’s budget, but there are fabulous CGI alternative flying saucer effects on the DVD, which also features particularly endearing documentaries and even how to make a Blue Peter Dalek cake amongst extras given room by two discs.

The Talons of Weng-Chiang (currently on sale at HMV for a tenner)
A hugely enjoyable story of fog-bound Victorian murder and music hall, which despite the subject matter is one of the wittiest, most quotable pieces of television going. With two discs, there are plenty of extras, but the most striking one is Whose Doctor Who, a Melvyn Bragg The Lively Arts documentary from 1977. Arguably the best all-round release.

City of Death (currently on sale at HMV for a tenner)
An uneven but very amusing caper, with some great filming in Paris, beautiful music, Julian Glover as a very enjoyable villain, much of the script from Douglas Adams, the Mona Lisa and even a cameo from John Cleese. Two discs give an informative documentary, raw footage and some hit-and-miss comedy, though it rather lacks the participation of Tom Baker.

The Leisure Hive
War, science and the Mafia supply the backdrop for this stylishly made story, which gave a new look and sound to the series and now looks and sounds stunning on DVD. A good selection of extras include the gorgeous music on its own, various ‘making of’ features and a particularly acerbic commentary.

The Cybermen attack in a futuristic macho action thriller which is good dumb fun, but it’s almost more entertaining to watch when the actors are reunited for the bitchiest commentary going. Other extras that stand out include a review programme from the time, documentaries and a rudely entertaining sketch.

The Curse of Fenric (currently on sale at HMV for a tenner)
Doctor Who’s always been good at horror stories, and this is a particularly intelligent and creepy one of vampires in the Second World War. The outstanding bonus for this two-disc release is a wholesale new edit of the story, with new scenes, effects, music and a movie format, but there are many other extras, including features on the writing and on the Special Edition version, as well as convention footage.

Alternatives: if you fancy more black and white Doctor Who, you might try The Mind Robber, which features a particularly good ‘Making Of’, a documentary on the Doctor’s companion Jamie, and even some Basil Brush. Another excellent all-round release is Pyramids of Mars, with several documentaries about the story, a comedy sketch that’s actually funny and a superb piece on the producer of the time (arguably the best the series ever had).

Simply the Best

This selection’s simply been made up from what I reckon are absolutely the best Who stories available on DVD, most of which hadn’t fitted into the other two lists. A particularly strong selection if you want to see villains, adventures in history, big ideas and sheer drama.

The Aztecs (currently on sale at HMV for a tenner)
A fable about the perils of meddling in history with an outstanding script and performances (particularly for the Doctor, his companion Barbara, and the blood-soaked High Priest of Sacrifice). The DVD also has a South Park-style cocoa recipe which makes me laugh, along with informative documentaries and even an educational bit of Blue Peter.

The Mind Robber
A place where nothing is impossible… A great cliffhanger launches our heroes into the Land of Fiction for one of the most surreally imaginative stories, accompanied by well-known characters from literature and, on the DVD, entertaining and informative extras.

Genesis of the Daleks
This dark, Nazi-themed war story hinges on a moral dilemma and a fantastic lead villain’s performance. Brilliantly directed and scored, it’s also often voted the best story the series ever did. Two discs include pretty comprehensive documentaries on the making of the story and the history of the Daleks, along with a Doctor Who Annual from the time.

Pyramids of Mars
It’s 1911, and a malevolent alien once taken as a god by the ancient Egyptians now prepares to rise and destroy the world… Archetypal Doctor Who, a superbly atmospheric chiller with great period detail, music and probably the most terrifying villain in the series (heard again in 2006 as the voice of the Beast), accompanied by an great set of extras – particularly a celebration of the stories from this period of the show’s remarkable producer.

The Talons of Weng-Chiang (currently on sale at HMV for a tenner)
A hugely enjoyable story of fog-bound Victorian murder and music hall, which despite the subject matter is one of the wittiest, most quotable pieces of television going. With two discs, there are plenty of extras, but the most striking one is Whose Doctor Who, a Melvyn Bragg The Lively Arts documentary from 1977. Arguably the best all-round release.

Revelation of the Daleks (currently on sale at HMV for a tenner)
A brilliantly black comedy of horror at the funeral parlour, with a villain enjoying himself enormously and perfectly chosen guest stars (William Gaunt, Alexei Sayle, Eleanor Bron…). It’s another one directed superbly by Graeme Harper, now back doing stories for the 2006 series. The DVD extras include new effects, a documentary and deleted scenes.

Alternatives: looking at the two I’ve picked in other lists too, you might try as alternate ‘repeats’ The Caves of Androzani for The Talons of Weng-Chiang (both having a touch of Phantom of the Opera) or The Curse of Fenric for Pyramids of Mars (both really going for the ‘horror’ element, as well as a trapped god of evil plotting to escape). The Tomb of the Cybermen, which nearly made it to the first list, nearly made it to this one, too. But didn’t. Awwhh.

For American readers in particular, an alternative six stories to try might be The Key to Time, the 1978-9 season of the show following Tom Baker’s Doctor on a quest through all six stories. It’s Doctor Who at its most fairy-tale and fun, all castles and nearly-wizards and royals, a series of comfortingly familiar adventures in faux-history. All charm, wit and science fantasy with very few monsters, it’s very different from much of the series, but enormously enjoyable. The drawbacks are the way the last couple of stories run out of steam, and that its very lightness of touch means the Key to Time as a threat of impending chaos and destruction is a bit of a washout (as a big sparkly excuse for a quest, though, it’s magic). Why just for Americans, then? Because it’s been released as a fairly minimal DVD box set in the States, but not yet on Region 2. My advice for non-completists on this side of the Atlantic is to wait, as they’re bound to come out here eventually and as a much more impressive DVD release with many more extras and fully restored prints.

I’ve tried to give a few ‘balanced’ samples, but in the end it’s all down to what you fancy – you might just as well simply pick up ones you like the look of (though the DVD covers are variable, to say the least). It’s always worth looking out for which ones are on special offer at the moment, too; at the time of writing, HMV has several Doctor Who DVDs knocked down to £9.99, so I’ve highlighted some of the best of those along the way. And, of course, it’s not an exhaustive list – there are great stories I’ve missed out for space, there are plenty of elements of Doctor Who there wasn’t room to showcase, and there are new DVDs coming out all the time. Whichever Doctor Who DVDs you decide on, give them a spin, and enjoy.

2007 Update: With The Key To Time at last released as a British box, a great set of DVDs with a great set of extras, it seems time for a small update for any visitors clicking on this link at the side with releases since the list above. For the ‘beginner’s guide’, you might consider the whole of The Key To Time, the scariness and fabulous alien jungle of Planet of Evil, or Robot, Tom Baker’s first story (and mine); exceptional DVD releases for extras and other features have included The Invasion with its striking noir-style animations, plus two boxed sets each bursting with extras, The Key To Time (probably the most impressive and enjoyable set overall) and New Beginnings; while New Beginnings may just pip The Key To Time as the best stories released in the last year, with two really top-notch tales out of three.

2008 Update: The Beneath the Surface box set was the highlight of the year, with one of the very best stories, Doctor Who and the Silurians (accompanied by a superb ‘DVD essay’ about the times in which it was made), plus a middling story that looks great and, all right, a rather poor one. The extras on The Brain of Morbius lift a terrific story to a must-buy DVD, too. The other 2008 releases aren’t essential, but The Time Meddler stands out as an intriguing ‘beginner’s guide’ story that sets out what the series is about. Both that and the fun Black Orchid have splendid little comics features, while relatively extras-light The War Machines is a rather impressive story (again, good as a beginning).

January 2009 Update: There’s a stand-out boxed set release scheduled for late January: Tom Baker’s E-Space Trilogy (Full Circle, State of Decay and Warriors’ Gate) has two stunning stories and one rather good one, and looks chock-full of extras. Due February is a William Hartnell double box of The Rescue and The Romans, a little re-introduction story and a near-farce, both worth a look; but among the other DVD releases that have been announced for sometime in the rest of the year are by my lights the three best that aren’t out already, so I’m happy. There’s Image of the Fendahl and The War Games (a three-disc special), both absolutely brilliant tales, and best of all, my favourite story in the whole of Who, The Deadly Assassin. 2009 looks promising, then…

Labels: , , , ,


Big Finnish

I’d just entered a piece here this morning when Blogger went down. There was a moment of fear and swearing; was it just my blog? Was it just my PC? Then the mingled relief and “Well, I hope Blogger isn’t completely f****d,” when 8am passed and Lib Dem Blogs showed the last two days’ posts suddenly down from thirty-odd to nine, with the number of functioning blogs cut by two-thirds. It made me think of the pleasure and the precariousness of this ‘self-publishing’ phenomenon, and of how pleased I was a couple of months ago by a request from Finland.

Being a large and complex website, Blogger sometimes has problems. It’s very efficient at fixing them quickly, but while it’s malfunctioning there’s panic out of all proportion to the problem. In part, it’s because we’re used to the 24-hour news cycle and are outraged when we have to wait minutes, perhaps even an hour or so, before we can get our fix or supply one to others. But I think it goes deeper, and I can remember other Lib Dem bloggers making a similar song and dance of how annoying it was that Blogger was down when it happened a few months ago.

One of the unsung advantages of blogging is that it entirely bypasses the rejection letter. That’s probably why people make such a big do in their writing when their Blogspot isn’t working properly. It’s not really irritation at a technical problem, but atavistic fear that even your self-published scribblings won’t publish you.

In the world of Doctor Who fandom, there used to be a huge self-published (usually self-photocopied) industry of small magazines known as fanzines, a term once identified by Joanna Lumley on Call My Bluff as a small wicker basket. They’ve become less common since everyone’s had their own website, but a few are still going, and they fulfilled a similar need to the Lib Dem FOCUS leaflet: ‘nobody’s printing me, so I’ll put it out myself’.

I’ve never been terribly good with deadlines, and when given the chance of submitting anything, almost always failed (the discipline of the Time Team in later years is a rare exception). Still, I’d always rather liked the idea of seeing my name and, more importantly, my ideas – preferably at great length – in print. I remember making one big attempt at getting into a fanzine, and I was delighted when I had what I considered an intelligent and different article accepted by the fanzine I reckoned to be the best of the lot, about ten years ago. Obviously, since that acceptance letter they’ve never produced another issue. A chap could take it personally.

Imagine my delight, then, when I got an e-mail a couple of months ago from a terribly nice chap in Finland called Tero Ykspetäjä. Doctor Who begins transmission in Finland in September with last year’s stories starring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, and he’d become fascinated with the series. He’d read about it in the press and in blogs he frequented, as well as really liking The Second Coming, another drama written by Russell T Davies and starring Mr Eccleston. Tero had then come across my blog, and it turned out he was just the sort of reader I’d written So Who is This Doctor Bloke Anyway? for.

He runs off a sci-fi newsletter for his local group, and wanted to include my introduction to Doctor Who to give them an idea about this new series. Would I mind if he translated it into Finnish and published it? No, of course not. I was flattered; however often I publish articles online, somehow knowing one of them’s being passed round a pub in a fanzine made up of some photocopied sheets makes it seem more real, and while they can have drinks spilt on them, they can’t crash. He also asked me for some recommendations about other good Doctor Who adventures that would be suitable for a newcomer, if they are available on DVD, and I’ve belatedly given some suggestions.

In the meantime, here’s Tero’s favourite bit of Kuka onkaan tämä Tohtori?, describing the essence of the Doctor and what the series is all about in its core:

Tohtori uskoo vapauteen ja vihaa tietämättömyyttä, yhdenmukaisuutta ja eristäytyneisyyttä. Hän ei ole kenenkään työntekijä eikä käytä univormua tai kanna asetta. Sarja on sekä hyvin brittiläinen että valtaapitäviä vastustava. Se kannustaa itsenäiseen ajatteluun, hauskanpitoon ja moraalisesti hyvien asioiden puolustamiseen, ja välttää ongelmien ratkaisua niitä ampumalla. Sarjan mukaan kenenkään ei tarvitse uskoa, mitä heille kerrotaan, ja vielä vähemmän tehdä niin kuin käsketään. Ja se on jo vuosikymmenten ajan pelotellut lapsia ilkeillä hirviöillä ja musiikillakin, ja siitähän hyvässä perheviihteessä on kysymys: ohjelmasta jossa on tarpeeksi sisältöä kaikenikäisille katsojille.


Unhelpful Headlines

Anyone listening to the BBC’s headlines about Charles Kennedy this morning will be misled. Shocking, I know. I admit I’ve read the Times pieces (oh, look, a newspaper that means us no good is serialising this; another shock), and while they’re in no way helpful to Charles or the Lib Dems in general, the headlines still misrepresent them. He “had a serious drink problem before he took up the post,” says Today, “and senior Liberal Democrats concealed it from the electorate.” You’d think that was one headline, but in fact – if the Times’ story is fact – it’s two.

Charles was elected Leader in 1999; according to The Times and the new hatchet job biography, the meeting where he admitted to four senior Lib Dems that he was an alcoholic was in, er, 2003. Even Millennium can work out on his fluffy feet that the numbers come in the wrong order for the way the headlines are presenting them and that they’ve conflated two stories in the most damaging but least truthful way.

I can’t see any good that’ll come out of going into exactly who did what at the beginning of the year, and said I’d stop talking about it on the morning of the Leadership election. No-one has given any reason why re-opening the wounds will be of the slightest use to anyone but our political opponents and Mr Murdoch’s circulation figures, and I’m not wildly enthusiastic about boosting either. Let’s just make the best of where we are now, eh? I hope both Charles and Ming give satisfying speeches in Brighton, and I suspect that’ll see them taking the fight to our opponents rather than navel-gazing little bands of followers still thinking it’s clever to turn their fire on each other.

8.10 Update after Blogger comes back online: I’d sent a complaint to the Today site before posting here, after being infuriated by the 6.30, 7.00 and 7.30 headlines. I suspect others complained too, as the 8 am news carefully separated the two claims into distinct sentences. Still not a helpful story, of course, but no longer an outright lie from the BBC.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Doctor Who – Inferno (Alternate Universe Mix)

Cast your mind back a month to Britain sweltering under a heatwave. It’s difficult to believe, looking out this evening over the grey Thames linked to the grey sky by the grey rain. Almost as if it was some alternative dimension… (Wibbly-wobbly effect) Well, that’s perhaps the cheesiest daytime TV link I’ve ever written, but a month ago it was terribly hot and I was writing about the Doctor Who – Inferno DVD. Since then, I’ve been thinking about some related items: the Inferno novel; the Doctor Who Annual on the DVD in pdf form; and the Third Doctor’s whole character.

I’ve also had a look at some of the other Inferno reviews doing the rounds, and would recommend two in particular. Shaft! An Analysis of Inferno by Fiona Moore and Alan Stevens (who I find it disturbingly easy to picture as the alternate Brigadier and Liz. Or even vice versa) is intelligent and thought-provoking, especially on the story as a round-up of the season and on free will versus fascism. Though their analysis of the roots the fascist Britain has in defeat is persuasive, I don’t quite go along with their revisionist take on the Brigadier and Benton – see what you think, though. The other is in Late and Tarry’s ever-reliable About Time series of books… Reliable at least in provoking a reaction, whether it’s exclaiming, ‘Brilliant! I’d never thought of that!’ or shouting abuse at it for getting completely the wrong end of the stick / being immensely pompous / infuriating pseudery (usually involving Top of the Pops). About Time 3, available direct from the publishers or, to save British buyers paying ridiculous charges from America, at specialist shops like Tenth Planet, have an exciting theory tying in with Larry’s Doctor Who novels that the ‘Inferno’ punctures a shell created beneath the Earth around intrinsically hostile matter from an alien (Yssgaroth) universe, which is why it’s so horribly mutagenic and, in never cooling down, refuses to obey ‘our’ laws of physics. On the other hand, despite being the self-styled definitive work on everything, they’re too up themselves to repeat the story about the eyepatches. Alan and Fiona also have funnier captions.

Doctor Who – Inferno: The Novelisation by Terrance Dicks

Published in 1984, appropriately for the Big Brother-style leader of the alternative Britain, this is one of Terrance Dicks’ better Target Doctor Who novelisations, particularly those after his early burst of quality and enthusiasm. It was how I first came to know the story, and it was gripping; the macho thriller style really suits Terrance’s sparse writing, coming across as taut and tense where more detail could easily have become bloody and off-putting (as in the semi-sequel by David A. McIntee). At the standard Target length of 126 pages, it seems absurdly short, but it crams a lot in with much smaller type than usual. Though this leaves very little room for additions to the bare script, there are a couple of stylish pieces of scene-setting that help sell the whole thing: the opening,
“It was the greatest scientific project that England had ever known,”
or the Doctor’s musings on the origins of the fascist state. There are also a few moments of hindsight, such as the Doctor’s “elegant velvet smoking-jacket” (which at this stage looks plainer, blacker, and much less velvety than the description influenced by Mr Pertwee’s later excesses implies) or hearing that it was “still the early days of his exile,” and I get the feeling Terrance may be taking the piss slightly when he notes that
“The strange force that had taken over Stahlman made him immune to the Doctor’s Venusian aikido, and he even withstood the fearsome Martian karate.”
There are a few cuts to keep the page-count down, mostly in excising almost all the sideways glances back to ‘our’ world while the Doctor’s on the alternative Earth. There’s a brief recap for them at the start of Chapter 13 (the equivalent of Episode Seven), but not lowering the tension by breaking the oppressive mood of fascist Britain actually improves the book. You can’t see the doggy mutants (never called primords) either, of course. There are quite a few cuts to Greg Sutton’s lines; he’s much less of a sexist git, but also seems to have fewer lines warning of everything going horribly wrong once the Doctor’s convinced him, including weakening his rant about the “toy soldiers” keeping them in, even though that was the most memorable scene to read at the time – beating the “screaming out its rage” cliffhanger on the page without its screaming sound effects. There’s less of the brutality of the fascists preventing anyone escaping the disaster, or the starkness of the government abandoning them to die. On the other hand, there’s a memorably grisly simile as the world is destroyed, where
“The air was filled with the dying screams of the mutants who had been huddled around the complex, and were now devoured, like fiery sacrifices to their savage god.”
Reading lines on paper in some cases magnifies their effects; the way everyone descends into caricature at the anti-climax is exaggerated, with the Doctor at least getting a bit of internal desperation to paper over his behaving like a nutter and regretting it afterwards, but the Brigadier ‘soothing’ him in front of Sir Keith is influenced by the times the character later slipped into being a comedy, disbelieving bungler. Stahlman’s demand that the Doctor be arrested immediately – merely for telling them to stop, which as an adviser is his prerogative – is something the Brigadier or someone needs to counter with ‘We’re not in a police state, you know.’ Even if not for its comedy value, Stahlman simply can’t say things like that, except to raise the tension artificially and encourage the Doctor to throw a wobbly.

At the time, my Dad was a senior librarian in Stockport Libraries, and would see copies of books they might like to order, ‘on approval’, as soon as they came out. Doctor Who hardbacks (essentially for the library trade) came out months earlier than the paperbacks, and I was so taken with reading this one that I wanted to share it. As it wasn’t my book – nor even the library’s yet, for that matter – I couldn’t lend it to my friend Stephen, so it was one of just three that I remember reading onto cassette in its entirety for him. The cassette’s long since been taped over, or perhaps destroyed, so I can’t hear how bad I sounded at twelve, nor how badly I characterised everyone, before any misguided soul requests a podcast.

There were several things about the book that inspired this enthusiasm, right from the stark, one-word title that grabbed me rather more than any of the Fifth Doctor ones of the time, and a striking orange cover of a technician infected by the Earth’s primordial rage, framed against a blazing sky. I was twelve, and though I no longer had my early book-and-photo-based conviction that the Third Doctor was the best, it was the right age for the macho world of UNIT to seem exciting. I think, though, that most of all it was that Terrance Dicks seemed to have returned to form. I’d loved his earlier books like The Auton Invasion, but by 1984 had long been disillusioned by his regular flimsy the-script-with-‘he-said,-she-said’ publications. In the late ’70s and early ’80s the Target books had become thin and dull, and after a few ‘old’ stories like The Aztecs and even The Dominators that had just made something far more interesting than the uninspired Peter Davison tie-ins they accompanied in the publishing schedules, it was great to find that even ‘Uncle Terrance’ was improving. The stripped-down, tightly written thriller elements were perfect for his economic writing style, with the added advantage of being able to tell a strong story that we weren’t able to see. It still works to read, though now it’s in the shadow of the DVD in a way that some of Mr Dicks’ early books still aren’t; the novel of Inferno reflects a good story, but The Auton Invasion adds enormously to the already impressive Spearhead From Space (while many of the other Jon Pertwee stories, less impressive on screen, remain brought to vivid and less tacky life on the page). So, while a lot of its 1984 impact was to do with the underlying story, the writing style remains far superior to the bulk of the novelisations from the late ’70s on, with the author’s obvious love for the subject matter consistently seeing him raising his game.

THE DR WHO annual 1971 (on pdf with the Inferno DVD)

Stephen first got to know the novel of Inferno when I read it to him in 1984; I first got to know this Annual just last year, when he lent it to me. We were having a Doctor Who conversation long into the evening, and he mentioned a violent bit of un-Doctorishness from an Annual which I didn’t recognise… It turned out that the story in which “Doctor Who” lays about him with his trusty laser pistol, calls the Brigadier “sir”, calls in UNIT’s Army Chemical Warfare division and concludes with the line, “This time I’ve got to admit how welcome it is to have a few professional killers around” is one I don't have, The Dr Who Annual 1971. Stephen was kind – or punishing – enough to lend it to me, but now it can be yours to read too, not for hundreds of pounds on Ebay but for the price of a DVD.

It’s quite entertaining but forgettable, and when the standard of stories is this poor I miss having a comic strip, which at least usually supplies more visual style. It seems here that the Doctor mostly works for UNIT and is occasionally an international troubleshooter flying around the world like Jason King. All the stories here tend to have UNIT, mysterious deadly aliens and very peremptory endings, but, to be fair, with odd pieces of impressive artwork. Most of it features quite groovy paintings of Jon Pertwee (the Doctor) and all right ones of Caroline John (Liz Shaw), though they clearly didn’t pay for any photo references for Nick Courtney and just make up their own ‘Brigadier’. The best picture is on the contents page, with a double spread of a pink, one-eyed, tentacled Lovecraftian thing and a (nearly as scary) boggling Pertwee. As with most 1970s Annuals, there are many one-page fillers, often repeating the same themes (space quizzes, space suits and satellites, for example) several times. ‘Factual’ piece The Planet People, on Roman gods, chooses Pluto as the most exciting one to start with, which this week seems a bit of a shame. Oh, and there are puzzles and games like the thrilling snakes-and-ladders-with-arrows The Space Chase, in which there’s a ham-fisted attempt to reference the TV series as the Silurians have stolen a part of the Doctor’s car and he must get it back (no, space isn’t involved) from one that looks almost entirely unlike a Silurian but suspiciously close to a painting of It, the Terror From Beyond Space. None of it’s inspiring, though it does try ineptly to be educational, including with odd little one-paragraph factoids stuck into the text of the stories, which are rather bizarre.

It starts with The Mind Extractors, which says it all, and if it has a point it’s to scare kids off smoking with scary cigarette-like wriggling alien protrusions. More memorable is Soldiers From Zolta. It’s not memorable in a good way, though; not just a rotten story, but with only disappointing black and white line drawings on purple and brown. It looks rather like the last Second Doctor Annual, and, oh my word, it’s ugly. The tale of ‘mass politics for peace causing huge disturbances and all manipulated by the communists Zoltans’ make it seem far more pro-establishment than usual, too. It’s got touches of that year’s TV story The Ambassadors of Death, dumbed down, made conservative, and with rip-off Cyberman drawings. Bizarrely, the invaders apparently manipulating gullible human peaceniks are killing their allies as well as their enemies, and as the Doctor realises this he visits a bungalow, sees an hallucination triggered by an alien insect and, after it dies away, nothing more is heard of the Zoltans. So how did the Doctor make his deductions, what were the Zoltans trying to do, and why did they give up? It’s like having a Part One to a story, then cutting straight to the coda.

Unfortunately, that story pretty much sets the tone, with off-key references to Who stories that have just been on TV, bizarre characterisation and plots that seem like the writer jotted down a few initial ideas and then wrote ‘the end’ rather than coming up with a workable climax. Still, along the way we get some variation. Caught in the Web starts off in the desert and then flies to the Arctic, excitingly, but features a stunningly rubbish alien shape that looks like a man in a grey all-over suit with a frilled head (there’s no excuse when you’re drawing it from scratch), while The Dark Planet has a strange role-swap as the Doctor turns alien-killer and the Brigadier comes in at the end almost in tears, protesting “What things we would have learnt.” The closing story, A Universe Called Fred, is full of pseudo-scientific postulations about sub-atomic universes and dodgy pictures of Pertwee and flying pink people. Here, the Doctor has constructed a sub-space radio for use between dimensions, to contact sub-atomic inner space. Uh huh? He and Liz fly down into it to be caught in a battle between two doomed microscopic races. Luckily, the Brigadier switches off the Doctor’s machine and out our heroes pop. Yes, just to put the cap on this collection, there’s no resolution at all to the problem – it doesn’t even end. It might as well be a pensieve.

The ‘infamous’ story is Caverns of Horror, a hideously macho rewrite of Doctor Who and the Silurians with the Doctor and UNIT drawn by a series of tremors to investigate some ‘fairyland’ caverns. There’s a striking Pertwee painting and, reflecting the tone, exciting action pics of him with his miner’s helmet, shooting away at giant grasshoppers with his shocking pink laser. The moral of is that the soldiers are right to kill everything and Dr Who is wrong to think they’re trigger-happy, as he goes almost mad in the presence of the “loathsome” insects. He asks the Brigadier not for DDT, but cyanide, scared by formic acid and hoping they’re not intelligent, terrified by them pouring their larva on him: “something cracked in Doctor Who’s mind”; “with a howl of inexpressible horror”; “sobbing and gibbering”; he begs that there should be not the “smallest chance of any living thing surviving.” He regarded all life as sacred – “But those things… ugh!” And that’s where the closing line Stephen referred to came in. Let’s say I wouldn’t rush to give anyone this as an introduction to the series.

The Third Doctor

After being so vivid on screen, slightly ambiguous in the novel and so poorly characterised in the 1971 Annual, I found myself thinking about the character of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor. I love the Doctor in all his incarnations, but I have to admit that Pertwee’s the one I sometimes find most difficult to like. It wasn’t always that way; when I was a boy, though I’d never seen any of his stories, I thought he was brilliant, just on sight of his spectacular photos. Perhaps the defining example for me now is Terror of the Autons, the story that followed Inferno six months later. The Doctor suddenly acquires a more dashing and colourful wardrobe and poses thrillingly amid his co-stars in the fantastic publicity photos for the story that so captivated me as a boy; but when I finally got to see the TV story itself, lumbering direction replaces thrilling still photography and the Doctor becomes an unbearable git throughout.

While there’s a huge leap in Terror of the Autons, Inferno’s in many ways the turning point for this Doctor. It closes his first season and (it later turns out) is the final outing for a companion who can converse with him on a scientific level (yet almost never called ‘Doctor’ Shaw) rather than one he can shelter under his cloak and patronise. His attitude to science is one of the main keys to his character, as is his ‘look’. Unlike the first two, he’s a very ‘look at me’ Doctor – he establishes the Doctor as a flamboyant figure, dressing up, never shutting up and all showy action. It’s in Inferno that he starts running around on gantries and using ‘Venusian Aikido’, striking the ‘man of action’ pose he’ll increasingly adopt to disguise his inability to take the action he’s desperate for and leave the Earth. At this point, he’s already a little aloof and has his foibles, but he’s passionately idealistic in a way that’s just about to dry up and be reduced to sour lecturing and scoring cheap points. After this, he looks more striking but is a patronising git; for me, it’s because as his exile to Earth wears on, he loses confidence in his ability to escape, to change things and ultimately in his own identity, which used to be a traveller in time and space who’s at no-one’s beck and call. The reason he becomes so insufferable is that he’s become cynical and insecure, and needs to pretend he’s still as capable as ever.

The Third Doctor is all overcompensation. Of all the Doctors, he’s the one who most often states what he’s about (a scientist and traveller), but least practices it. Unable to travel, he’s emasculated, and constantly tries to show off his aptitude for travel instead. He’s always grabbing vehicles and showing how proficient he is with them; he tinkers with pieces of TARDIS technology not inside the TARDIS, where he has access to the most advanced equipment in sterile conditions and without distraction, but outside – even taking the central console out – and the only reason that makes any sense of this is in order than he can loudly draw attention to what it’s supposed to do. More than any other Doctor, he’s an appalling name-dropper, another trait that takes off in Inferno. ‘I gave cooking tips to Alfred the Great, you know: “Why not stick to trout, Alfie,” I said,’ the Doctor might boast, but for an ulterior motive. ‘I can’t travel through time right now,’ he’s saying, ‘but don’t you forget that I have done. I really, really have done. No, believe me, I have.’ The Time Lord jailers who stranded him on Earth appear to have cursed the Doctor, like Cassandra, to be surrounded by people who don’t believe in his dream of time travel, from Jo (who thinks it’s a joke), to the Brigadier (who thinks it’s all done with mirrors), to Sarah, who’d rather follow her career than take a trip in his unreliable machine even when it finally works.

The Doctor’s self-styled role as a scientist is just as fatally undermined by his own protestations. Like the First Doctor, he professes himself a scientist and explorer, but banned from exploring, his scientific genius is constantly bent in a peculiar way – to bashing other science and scientists. He claims to be intellectually curious, but this is more of a ‘say’ than a ‘do’. More than in any other period of Doctor Who save perhaps the Gothic horror ‘There are things Man was not meant to know’ early Fourth Doctor, his curiosity manifests itself in outright scepticism that usually develops into rabid technophobia. ‘Your technology is evil and nasty and destructive,’ is his message to everyone else. ‘I don’t approve of oil, or cars, or doomsday weapons, or computers.’ Inferno is the key moment in this; he fails to prevent the Project and panics – instead of another attempt at persuasion or switching to stealthy sabotage, here he becomes a brutish Luddite. Throughout his stories, he instinctively mixes with scientists, but feels the need to put them down, and although the Doctor’s rarely fond of computers in any incarnation, his especially loud fulminations against them in this body become one more attention-seeking device; as he scores yet another point over a box of lights with an open-reel tape that can’t answer back, what he’s really saying is, ‘Look at me, not this thing. Pay attention to me. I’m an alien, and I’m frightfully clever, and you should be deferring to me instead of this, because my scientific knowledge is superior to anyone else’s. Just because the Time Lords have closed off half my brain as part of my sentence doesn’t in any way mean that I’m not still utterly brilliant, and I’m in no way concerned about it.’

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, before he’s rewritten as a buffoon, has a fascinating relationship with his insecure, anti-science Scientific Advisor. The Doctor needs to be ‘on top’ because he’s not very self-confident, while the Brigadier, by contrast, alternately indulges him and indicates he has the measure of him. Several times in Pertwee’s first season in particular, the Brigadier leans back with the half-smile of a parent while the Doctor sounds off, and when the Doctor argues in Terror of the Autons that he needs a scientist to replace Liz or he’ll never stop sulking, Lethbridge-Stewart delivers one of his rare but devastatingly accurate put-downs, that all the Doctor actually wants is someone to hold his test-tubes and tell him how brilliant he is. He knows that while the Doctor is stuck on Earth, working with UNIT is his safety blanket, or the Time Lord might have to go out and make some life for himself. By railing against them, they become a proxy for the captors he can’t touch and an excuse for staying where he is to help these ‘needy primitives’.

After Inferno, the Doctor becomes still ruder and more of a showoff, so the scripts pit him against caricatures instead of characters (even the Brigadier) to make him seem less unsympathetic. In a way it’s a shame, not just because it makes the stories more shallow but because it distracts from the Doctor’s real insecurity. The pilot for the new setup is Inferno, complete with environmental awareness, the utterly obnoxious Stahlman and comedy love-hate scenes at the end, but the Third Doctor will have four more years of this. He’ll keep trying to escape, but the more he shouts about it the less clear it is that he would actually leave given the chance. Once he’s finally given a functional TARDIS again, he hangs around on Earth. It’s a mixture of Stockholm Syndrome, fear that he simply isn’t up to the independent life he used to lead, and a crushed spirit that has him suddenly sticking up all the time for the Time Lords who stranded him in the first place, like Winston Smith coming to love Big Brother. In Inferno, he’s still impassioned rather than institutionalised, and you get him at his best. While for me it’s an enormous relief when he finally regenerates into Tom Baker and we get the Doctor back, I can understand and feel for this outwardly arrogant, inwardly broken Doctor, even if I still find him hard to like.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Storm Warning Warning

Tonight at six o’clock and again at midnight, BBC7 will broadcast the first part of Storm Warning, an exciting Doctor Who adventure starring Paul McGann, the Doctor from the ill-fated 1996 TV Movie. With a lively lead performance from Mr McGann and introducing an equally lively companion, it’s fun, pure and simple – set on the doomed airship R101, this is a slice of 1930s pulp adventure, with few pretensions to anything deeper. If you’ve never heard Doctor Who on the wireless (or, through the miracle of modern technology, via the digital televideogrammaton), this is a splendid place to start.

The 1990s were an uncertain decade for Doctor Who. The BBC had quietly cancelled it on TV, leaving the flagship continuing the series as Virgin’s New Adventures books – a superb line, but with an audience in the tens of thousands if they were lucky, rather than the millions for BBC1. In 1996, a co-production with an American network brought Paul McGann to our screens as the eighth Doctor in a TV Movie with a good lead performance but a terrible script… It did well in UK ratings but tanked in the USA, leaving those who talk of, say, ‘The Tom Baker Years’ when referring to other Doctors to dismiss his reign as ‘The Paul McGann 90 Minutes’. It didn’t help that the BBC took over publishing the original novels in 1997; where few of the Virgin books had been poor, sadly few of the BBC books were very good, and the whole line stuttered on for years with little sense of direction. The real shot in the arm for late ’90s Doctor Who came when Big Finish began producing full-cast audio plays in 1999. They’re still going, still a mixture of good and bad, but on occasion they’ve really struck gold – authors like Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Rob Shearman who worked on them and sometimes the New Adventures too have even gone on to write for the new TV series.

I thought some of the early Big Finish CDs were superb, particularly New Adventure-ish day-after-tomorrow stories like The Fearmonger and The Shadow of the Scourge (ignore the appalling cover picture for the latter) or those with an historical tinge like The Marian Conspiracy, The Fires of Vulcan and The Holy Terror, but people really got excited when Paul McGann signed up for a season of stories released in early 2001, making him feel more like ‘the current Doctor’ than a nostalgia trip with some of the previous ones. Storm Warning was the first of these, and a lot of his first couple of years with Big Finish are hugely entertaining. Last year, the enormously successful television comeback for Doctor Who gave BBC7 the idea of launching it on the radio, and they turned to Big Finish. The BBC had done the odd radio Who before – on this day in 1993, they began The Paradise of Death with Jon Pertwee – but it hadn’t been terribly good, and the Big Finish Paul McGann stories had the advantage of not just decent quality but quantity, making up a series of stories that followed on from each other and were ideal for broadcasting. Well, almost ideal; while Big Finish emulate the old Doctor Who format of dividing a story into four 25-minute episodes, it’s fair to say that their timing is a bit stretchy. So, if you get the CDs, you’ll notice most stories have rather a lot more in them; the editing’s been done by one Nicholas Briggs, a name you may recognise as the actor who voiced both the Daleks and the Cybermen for the new TV series. As well as an actor and sound technician, polymath Nick is a writer, director, composer, moral theologian and the new producer of the Big Finish range. But can you draw, Nick? Ah hah. You probably can.

The best thing about Storm Warning is how much Mr McGann seems to enjoy it. His Doctor is joyous, with a zest for life and an instantly great chemistry with new companion Charley. The script is generally fun and undemanding, with many delightful things about it as well as the odd weakness. Former Doctor Who Magazine editor Alan Barnes had written some splendid comic strips for the Eighth Doctor (and still writes some very jolly ones in the children’s fortnightly Doctor Who Adventures, though today’s not a good day to sample those; his latest is the first he’s written for them that’s been truly dreadful, but he’s usually much better) but was evidently not used to writing for radio yet. Still, Mr McGann even manages to make lines come alive when they’re pretty much ‘let me describe this thing in front of me to you… Or even to myself!’ Probably his best moments are when he’s just met Charley and, as well as giving the second best name-drop about Lenin I’ve ever heard, they instantly hit it off as fellow adventurers. India Fisher’s Charlotte Pollard is rather posher than Rose, but hardly less perfect a companion, plucky and enthusiastic, having come aboard the R101 disguised as a boy in best Blackadder fashion (having met India, I can’t imagine the improbable amount of strappage she’d need to make that remotely plausible) because she wants to have an adventure. India had previously appeared in Winter For the Adept, almost the most disappointing of all the Big Finish plays (best just to ignore the feeble story and skip forward to the hidden scene at the end, which is a scream), and you might recognise her from her occasional appearances in BBC2’s Dead Ringers.

The star performance of the guest cast is provided by Gareth Thomas, the eponymous Blake of Blake’s 7, who gives a marvellously blustery turn as former general and Minister of Air Lord Tamworth (all the passengers of the R101 are fictitious), reminiscent of the Brigadier. Others include Nick Pegg and Barnaby Edwards, now acting in Doctor Who with their bodies rather than voices as opposed to the other way round in their roles as the blokes inside the Dalek casings. Mr Edwards plays the obligatory 1930s ‘conniving foreign villain’ Rathbone, though in a revisionist twist he’s an Afrikaner and so, of course, acting for the British Empire. It helps make it all a slightly more complex terribly British Boys’ Own adventure than many of the time, with a great ‘big movie’ feel as an antidote to the terribly American TV Movie it follows. There’s even a big, movie-style music score, from the opening jolly 1930s newsreel fanfare onward.

Amidst the smashing gung-ho action, there are some intriguing questions about the R101. Who is the mysterious passenger in Cabin 43? What is the strange rendezvous for which the dirigible is required by the Empire? And, as listeners will know it’s doomed to disaster on its maiden flight, what will bring about its fiery destruction? Well, as is often the case, some of the answers are much less interesting than the questions. Without spoiling all the details, when yet another Doctor Who story features an ‘alien culture appointing a single lawmaker to completely control their brutish natures’ and makes it more Star Trekkish than ever, with nameless aliens divided by function to tell us a moral about human violence, it’s bound to be by far the weakest part of the story. But that, and the slightly more satisfying conclusion, are all things to look forward to in later episodes.

Storm Warning continues at the same times over the next three weeks, and I assume they’ll be carrying on with the next five stories they’ve licensed from Big Finish (yes, I know; Big Finish produce Doctor Who on licence from the BBC, and another bit of the BBC buys it back again. Isn’t life confusing?). Two others you should particularly listen out for over the next few months are The Stones of Venice and The Chimes of Midnight. The Stones of Venice is a gorgeously atmospheric tale of a doomed city only let down by shying away from full-blown tragedy at the end, while Rob Shearman’s The Chimes of Midnight isn’t quite his best work, but still a satisfying slice of spookiness. Imagine Upstairs Downstairs meets Sapphire and Steel (hmm, another series I may just write about soon – if you’re familiar with it, imagine this story as the ‘downstairs’ half of Assignment 5), full of drama, absurdity and heartbreak, and best served as a Christmas ghost story.

Stay tuned.

Labels: , , , , ,


Back to the Future

After months of policy vacuum, the Tories have had two ideas at once – steady, they’ll burst something! With an Observer-friendly policy for The Observer and a Telegraph-friendly policy in the Sunday Telegraph, you might think they’re facing two ways at once. Take both stories together, though, and they may be onto something: with an apology for supporting apartheid and a possible tax cut on shares, there’s more than a whiff of ’80s nostalgia in today’s initiatives. They form one message. Could their new pitch be, “Remember the economic good times, and don’t worry, we’re repudiating the nasty social policies”?

Of course, neither policy costs very much. “We got it wrong on apartheid” is hardly a risky argument a decade and a half after the fact, and if it upsets Norman Tebbit and Bernard Ingham, well, I imagine Mr Cameron will regard that as useful positioning to establish how ‘moderate’ he is. Meanwhile, abolishing stamp duty on shares apparently costs £4 billion – no doubt Labour will call this a crippling drain on public services, but really, it doesn’t take a lot of work to find should they ever commit to it rather than just ‘call for’ it – and allows them to say they’re being nice to pension funds, while also sending a dog whistle to everyone who liked making lots of cash through subsidised gambling on the stock market under Mrs Thatcher.

Not costing very much has its downside as well as its advantages. It does raise a question of how much you really mean it. Offering something to encourage greed tends to inspire people to ask for more – they’re greedy, you see – while more than a few people may be unimpressed by Mr Balloon’s mealy-mouthed fan letter to Nelson Mandela. Toby Philpott thinks it’s too little, too late, but the comment that made me laugh aloud is the first appended to Mr Cameron’s very own article.

Meanwhile, if the ’80s are back in fashion, will the Tories next be apologising for going to such extraordinary lengths to make these illegal?


Guardian Front Page: “C4 ‘too downmarket’ ITV chief says”

My moderate and meaningful reaction to that headline* from the boss of It’s TackyVision yesterday: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha no, really.

It’s possible he may have a point about Channel 4, but he should have got someone else to make it. For their own sake, there are some pots that really have to keep quiet about ‘the kettle problem’. Besides, selling off bits of the BBC because it works? Sigh. ‘If a public service is popular, it must be privatised, because public services should only be looked down on’. He’s just jealous because BBC1 makes ITV1 look bad… No, hang on, that’s too backhanded a compliment. It’s everything on ITV1 that makes ITV1 look bad. It’s just that BBC1’s starting to demonstrate again that popular can be a synonym for ‘brilliant’ rather than ITV1’s definition of it as ‘shit’.

*That headline appeared on the front page of The Guardian’s print edition yesterday; you’ll notice that the online edition doesn’t use it. It’s possible I may have discovered the first ever statement too ridiculous to be put on the Internet.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


A New Blog… And It’s About Time

I’ve previously mentioned Doctor Who Magazine’s Time Team, a splendid project reviewing the whole of Doctor Who. After sending in my ‘reader’s thoughts’ for some years, I’ve now created a blog to record them all. Fifteen years ago today, the BBC finally got round to broadcasting the experimental Pilot episode of Doctor Who, judged unsuccessful at the time and remade before the series started – the only piece of TV Doctor Who the Time Team don’t cover. This seems an opportune moment to start this selection. So, I’ve started a new blog: Next Time, I Shall Not Be So Lenient!

I’ll still be putting Doctor Who and other TV reviews here (‘boo’ or ‘hooray’, according to taste), so it won’t change what I’m doing on this blog at all. My intention with the new one is to start at the beginning of Doctor Who and simply publish all the random thoughts I’ve sent into the Time Team over the years, so it’ll be less a set of reviews than a bunch of crazy soundbites which I hope will at least be diverting. At least, that’s what my friend Stephen who’s been nagging at me to set this up thinks (subtle attempt to pass the buck, there).

There’s a slight problem to begin with, in that I didn’t start sending in comments to DWM until the end of William Hartnell’s time as the Doctor, so there are a couple of dozen stories I’ll be doing reviews for at the start, and I’ve begun today with the Pilot episode, An Unearthly Child. I’ll be posting a few pieces over the next week or so to explain exactly what I intend to do with the new blog, but after that it’ll probably settle down to about once a fortnight.

In part this is because I’m not prolific enough to keep more than one blog running flat out. Regular readers will notice I’m not prolific enough to keep even one blog running flat out! My occasional LiveJournal, notably, had been languishing until I found something different to do there and started talking about the odd Doctor Who signing, which at least makes it ‘occasional’ rather than ‘derelict’. The main reason for spacing out posts, however, is that although for most of them I need in theory just copy in something I’ve already written, it’s taken the Time Team since 1999 to get from the Doctor Who stories of 1963 to 1982. It wouldn’t do to overtake them.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, August 25, 2006


The Fun Takers

Poor old Pluto.

Now Millennium’s expounded on the subject again, I can add my own gripe against the miserable International Astronomical Union, who yesterday voted to revoke Pluto’s status as a planet. We now only have eight planets in our solar system, though they’ve bottled it slightly and called Pluto and others ‘dwarf planets’, or ‘we’re too craven to stick up for taking away the word completely even though that’s what we mean’. This was, apparently, after the nomenclature ‘pluton’ was found already to mean something geological, which doesn’t inspire confidence in the IAU’s ability to do their homework.

It seems what did for Pluto is that, elliptically crossing Neptune’s orbit, it’s not the main planet in its own orbit, and they’ve arbitrarily decided that one’s the limit. What about twin planets that spin around each other as well as a sun, eh? I’ve read enough sci-fi to know that they sound jolly nearly plausible.

Apparently one of the reasons they’ve created a definition to exclude Pluto is that otherwise, our solar system might eventually end up with ‘more than fifty planets’. Well, gosh. So on two counts, the Solar System is now an exclusive club with a limited number of places, rather than one that allows entrance by merit and measuring and things, eh?

More importantly, has no-one told them that it’s fun to add more things on to a mobile, but glum to have to take them off?

Still, it means Holst is up to date again.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Oh No / Hooray (Don’t Inhale As Applicable)!

Woe, woe! Lib Dems at 17%; let’s implode! Hooray, hooray! Lib Dems at 24%; let’s celebrate! Relief, relief! We’re now on 22% with the pollster who gave us 17; it proves they were wrong / we’ve made spectacular gains (delete to taste)! Yes, well. Liberal Democrats really shouldn’t inhale polls. They’re a very blunt instrument, and the only convincing one I’ve seen recently showed declining ID card support: the only one with a clear long-term trend instead of an hysterical margin-of-error blip.

(Oh, by the way, I’ve updated the last Avengers review, if you want to take a peek.)

The 24-hour news cycle pumps up opinion polls and the blogger’s desire to find something interesting and up-to-the-minute to write about (guilty!) makes them seem even more important. They’re really, really not. They’re a very rough guide to a changeable public, all measuring slightly different things, and unless there’s a really blatant trend over many months and many polls, experience demands you can’t take them remotely seriously. What’s the vague direction from the polls? That Labour are suffering a bit; that the Tories are up a bit; that the Lib Dems are pretty much where they’ve been for the past few years, after a rough Spring. Well, gosh. It seems the polls tell us at great expense and with many hysterical headlines, er, exactly what any remotely competent observer of British politics knows just by sticking their finger in the air. Looking at the detail of the polls reveals, shock horror, that people don’t believe a word the government says about terror. Well, again, ask someone at the bus stop after so many cries of ‘wolf’, and can anyone honestly expect anything different?

So, when the Guardian splashed on Tuesday that in their latest ICM poll Labour were at a 19-year low (31%, down 4), that the Tories were doing brilliantly to open up a nine-point lead (40%, up 1), and downplayed the Lib Dem figure when everyone had howled about it the month before (now 22%, up 5), Lib Dem bloggers went on the attack to talk up our recovery / ICM’s unreliability / whatever they thought sounded best (sorry to single you out, Stephen, but at least you had both a digest and a sense of perspective). As they should, of course, because our opponents will make the most of polls for political warfare, and so must we. If I was putting out a leaflet, I’d stick “Poll shows Lib Dems surge up 5% while Labour collapses!” on it, because that truthful report of the poll makes a good headline. But I wouldn’t hold my breath that that poll truthfully reports anything but, er, its own polling data, just as I felt a complete lack of panic when last month’s poll was ‘bad’. I’m sure propagandists for all three parties will find something to hit with in the latest figures (Lib Dems: ‘Didn’t we do well!’ Tories: ‘Didn’t we do well!’ Labour: ‘The Tories might get in and they will eat your babies!’). But people will believe each of them about as much as they believe, well, the opinion polls.

And, yes, I know the media have a bias towards seeing everything as a two-party story, and I know it’s unfair that we got far more coverage for a ‘bad’ poll last month than for a ‘good’ poll this month. It’s terribly unfair… But it’s not necessarily proof of an anti-Lib Dem conspiracy. Think of it this way. Which is more exciting, good news or bad news? Bad news (I know, what a nasty world we live in). Who is the news worst for this time? Labour. Is it worse news for them that one party is now only nine points behind them or that the other party is now nine points ahead of them? It’s worse that a party is nine points ahead. And so, while it’s only moderately good news for the Tories, that’s the story any journalist will pick. Last month the even-the-Guardian-now-suggests-it-was-a-rogue poll said we were the big losers, and, gosh, that was the headline.

So while it’s fine to use a poll as a campaigning point, please, please, don’t believe they’re actually some great truth that you need be genuinely bothered about unless there’s some really huge, dramatic change that shows across a range of polls and reflects something actually happening in the country, rather than a few percentage points waggling up or down. I didn’t blog when some people were running round in small circles last month saying “We’re doomed, doooooomed I tell you!” in part because I didn’t want to sound too much like Michael Winner, but now that our two most recent poll figures have been pretty good ones at 24% and 22%, I feel I’m less likely to be accused of only trying to put a brave face on it when I say, “Calm down, dears, it’s only an opinion poll.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006


The Avengers – Dial a Deadly Number

Tonight’s Avengers on BBC4 (7.10, or an earlier than usual 11 o’clock tomorrow night) is particularly splendid. In a final proof that the ‘secret agent’ bit less important to our ‘agent’ heroes than just having fun, watch Steed trying to pull apart Emma’s cover story in front of the villain just because he enjoys the verbal fencing, then marvel at possibly the greatest duel ever seen on television – in wine-tasting. It also scores highly on ‘Ooh, it’s him’, with not just Peter Bowles but the vicar from To the Manor Born together for the first time. Don’t miss it.
Steed plays bulls and bears – Emma has no option
Update on August 24: a week later, I’ve finally had the chance to review this properly, so I hope you saw and enjoyed it in the meantime. With the Proms on BBC4 for a few weeks, there’s no regular Avengers at the moment (I trust they’ll be back), and even tomorrow night’s Death At Bargain Prices has already been shown in this run, so there’s no review especially for this week. Back on Dial a Deadly Number, however, I did of course watch it again and enjoy it immensely.

It’s a slightly old-fashioned story, sparkling with sex and snobbery, featuring the familiar Avengers theme of old versus new and a particularly striking script. The two leads are both particularly good, too, and given plenty to do, as Emma proves to be an expert in finance and medicine – oh, and Steed proves to be an expert on wine and women. Yes, the means of murder is obvious from the first scene, but there are lots of suspects, and while someone’s killed by his own weapon (rather an Avengers cliché), again there are enough villainous sorts not to have to give away who. It all centres on a terribly traditional bank finding an exciting new way to keep afloat; like the Avengers themselves, bankers Boardman and Harvey reflect both old-fashioned values and modernity, but here the team is rather less harmonious and the moderniser more than a little suspect. The plot turns on deadly dealings in the stock market – and who can’t believe that brokers and bankers are capable of sheer, murderous evil? – and on some diabolically advanced technology which – and I know you’ll find this hard to believe in such things – involves a device one can carry in one’s pocket and enable you to be reached by means of a phone call. I know, I know, it’s less plausible when they go off on these wild science fiction ideas, isn’t it?

It’s brimming with familiar guest stars: Jan Holden, Anthony Newlands, Gerald Sim (aka the vicar from To the Manor Born, the series later to give Peter Bowles the star part that broke him out of always playing villains), Michael Barrington, Clifford Evans, John Bailey, Norman Chappell… All of them cut a dash, from sniffy bankers to dowdily camp undertakers, but the two that always strike me are both actors who appear in several Avengers apiece, once previously even in another episode together (Second Sight), but who show exactly opposite ways to be a returning guest artist. I’m always surprised when I realise how many times I’ve seen John Carson in something; he’s something of a human chameleon, and almost unrecognisable from the reserved Dutch millionaire he was in his Honor Blackman Avengers (Gerald Sim, John Bailey and Norman Chappell all appear in quite a few unassuming little parts, too). Here, he plays an unusually grubby murderer with a seedily sexual edge who has stopped a clock for every victim since learning his trade as a Second World War partisan, and who leaves you feeling slightly unclean. After ‘Loveable Roy Kinnear’ in the previous episode, there is of course another of my half a dozen most outstanding Avengers guest stars that each appears at least four times and always steals the show, this time ‘Villainous Peter Bowles’ as the laughing John Harvey. Where Mr Carson submerges himself in a completely different part, Mr Bowles is an urbane and charismatic villain who’s instantly recognisable, as he will be in each Avengers episode where he makes an appearance. With so many villainous guest actors doing such good work in this episode alone, what surprises me here is how little he’s on screen, but though featured rather little he steals every scene he’s in. I vividly remembered the final fight with him in the wine cellar from the early ’80s repeat, and on seeing it again at last when the video was released in the mid-’90s I found I’d pictured the details so sharply that it was difficult to believe I’d really not seen it for half my life.

There are times when the episode seems a little uneven, as it lurches from exceedingly talky lectures on the stock market to a number of thrillingly unconventional ‘duels’, but when the good bits are so good I can forgive it almost anything. See a ‘bullfight’ with a motorbike! Gasp as Steed’s verbal fencing with Emma tries to blow her cover for the sheer fun of it! And swoon not at Steed’s pistol-shooting but his wine-tasting skill in one of the most breathlessly tense duels ever filmed! It’s an absolutely stunning scene, as Steed and Boardman pace to opposite ends of the wine cellar to shoot tastings at each other, played deadly seriously; it’s Boardman’s own cellar, of course, and as in any rigged duel, it’s impossible for Steed to score a hit. Naturally, he does.
“1908 would… not be the year. 1909. From the northern end of the vineyard,”
finishes Steed, making Boardman’s monocle pop like a splash of blood. The climax takes place in the wine cellar, too, with a grim and gritty gunfight leavened by banter about bribery and, of course, the popping of corks (“A very adaptable wine”) that all combined to make it supremely memorable.

One of the unique aspects of The Avengers is that even when hard at work, our heroes are still treating it as a game. Could any other series have the ‘secret agent’ bit less important to the agents than just having fun? You may remember Emma telling ‘Jock McSteed’ “You don’t have a Scots accent” in Castle De’Ath as she tried to sink his cover story for the sheer hell of it; here he gets his own back when told
“Mrs Peel is another client of ours; from Barbados.”
“She arrived last week.”
“You surprise me.”
“Why’s that?”
“So little tan.”
“Ah – the rainy season.”
“Of course.”
While in any other ‘spy series’ the fellow agent would chip in with a defensive factoid to divert the villain’s suspicions, here it’s villainous Mr Harvey who has to come to Mrs Peel’s rescue, pointing out the “Annual average 36 inches. Half of which falls between September and November.” That trying to catch each other out for fun is more important than trying to catch the crooks is one of the most delightful definitions for me of why I love The Avengers. The Bill, it isn’t.

There’s rather more sex than usual, too, with Fitch a seedy voyeur (and very fourth wall, as he watches scenes we’ve just seen again on film) and Steed and Emma both flirting with other villains.
“May I come in?” asks Mrs Boardman at the door of Steed’s flat.
“Please do.”
“It’s much as I’d imagined it.”
“The fact that you imagined it at all intrigues me.”
She’s well-played and has some good lines, but the attitude to sex is very old-fashioned for this series; there’s the implication that a woman who’s having an affair is irredeemably wicked, and probably anybody’s. To cap it all, she’s not even the main villain and doesn’t get a proper comeuppance (she’s apparently divorced ‘off’). Still, she’s impressive on screen, and Steed gets a terrifically caddish moment with her. Psychotic engineer Fitch has built Steed a replica watch with a bomb in it that Ruth Boardman plants on him – yes, that old deadly watch / pen trick beloved of The Cybernauts and many other Avengers tales, though in fairness this does both pen and watch and was the first example of it to be filmed – and Steed exposes her complicity by carelessly whirling it in front of her. She cracks and tips him off about Mr Fitch, enabling Steed to play the same trick again, making Fitch jump as Steed taps his watch on the table. It’s a great mix of tension and a visual gag, as is Steed’s early scene in stockbroker Yuill’s office. Mr Yuill has several stuffed fish on his wall to accompany Steed’s fishing for information, and as he hooks the broker over a dead company chairman the camera cuts in rapidly to the pike on “It was quite a killing.”

If there’s something that seems a little strange and un-Avengers early in the episode, it’s that, despite the penthouse, its feet often seem on the ground; there are shots of London that could be seen in any series, rather than being set in some mythologised Britain, and when Steed’s being lectured on put options by a broker he seems just to be in The City. Steed carrying a gun and using it to shoot a biker assassin seems, well, rather as if it’s a scene from a different series altogether – it may be a tense little action scene, but it seems rather real-world violent for The Avengers. It’s a relief when they end up in the wine cellar for several scenes of Peter Bowles being urbanely sinister, and it becomes hyperreal rather than realistic. A slow starter, then, but once it gets going… It’s magnificent.

Labels: , , ,

Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?