Friday, June 29, 2007

We'll always have Paris..?

It's a sorry pathetic world where people are famous just for being famous and where newspapers and television are filled with tittle-tattle 'items' about what celebrity did what where or flashed which to whom. Mika Brzezinski isn't taking it anymore and I don't think we should either. Watch This video to see the moment news said 'no'.

Take a stand. Draw a line. Say no to celebrity culture. Say 'I'm as mad as Hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'

Maybe we can save the world.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning...

A brief note on The Sound of Drums mainly to say that I'll comment in full once the final episode has been broadcast. I normally prefer to consider multiple parters as a whole (yes, I know I covered 'Utopia' on it's own but... my blog my rules, OK?).

I will say though that John Simm's Master is a triumph. A dark and twisted anti-Doctor able to do in one episode what the preceding three series and two Christmas specials worth of villains had failed to do - that is to shut the Doctor up and wipe the grin off his face. This Master visibly rejoices in chaos and destruction. The final close up on the Doctor, old and infirm, restrained by Mrs Saxon and the Master, is the most chilling image the series has yet offered us.

Good luck Martha, please look after him.

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In other news I continue to be totally useless at getting any work done. I intend to get a lot done this week and next week (it's another weeks holiday - yes it's writey-week again!) and hopefully kick start my routine again. Ever since we got the car everything seems to have gone to pot. What the connection is I've no idea.
Speaking of the car I'm driving up to Sedgley to meet Emma on Saturday morning. This will be my longest journey yet. Spare a thought for me with only Mo Dutta to keep me company!

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I got back into reading 2000AD at the start of this year for the first time in nearly ten years. While I've been enjoying it enough to keep buying it there's not really been much cause for me to mention it here... until now.

There are two new strips in the comic, just a few weeks into their run. Both are written by Pat Mills, one of them is excellent. Defoe concerns the adventures of a zombie exterminator in an alternative seventeenth century England overrun with the undead. Defoe is a character who seems to have much in common with the best anti-heroes of the western genre. He is a war veteran who lost his family in a terrible tragedy with a gruff demeanor and a nice line in monosyllabic answers. Such a character translates into this warped vision of historic London admirably and has quickly become the first story I read every week. Sorry Joe.

Elsewhere in the Galaxy's Greatest I've become quite fond of Nikolai Dante though it often seems like little more than an excuse to print nudie drawings of ladies. Judge Dredd has been pretty good and shows signs of something really exciting coming up. Detonator X was dull, Savage was excellent (though he doesn't look like Stanley Baker anymore, which is bad), Robohunter was very funny with beautiful art and Greysuit, that second new Pat Mills strip, is a tedious retread of Mach 1, which was a tedious retread of the Six Million Dollar Man, which was just tedious.

The Megazine's comic content has been outshone totally by it's non-fiction features, interviews and the excellent film reviews. Still the current Anderson story is good and Blood of Satanus III looks gorgeous thanks to the wonderfully wrong, wrong, wrong artwork of John Hicklenton.

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In fact, despite resisting for some years now I've recently been reading the odd comic. I was always more a fan of specific characters in the past so whilst I may have read every issue of 'Tec between about 1986 and 2003 I'd never tried Transmetropolitan or Bone. My slavish loyalty to the Dark Knight has finally been defeated now, thanks to getting burned once too often by DC's (and Marvel's) insistence on crossover 'events'.

It was a great pleasure therefore to enjoy book one of Warren Ellis's excellent Transmetropolitan collection. It's not often something stays with me so long after I read it yet I find snatches of Spider's wisdom flit into my head with surprising regularity. I will certainly be reading the rest of the series and looking for other interesting comics of the last ten years (feel free to offer suggestions).

It's liberating to finally be able to go into a comic shop without buckling under the crushing weight of responsibility that loyalty to certain characters or publishers can impose upon you.

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Finally a note to say if you missed Angry, Sexy and Working Class on Radio 2 on Friday night then you can listen to it via the stations interweb site and should doso at the earliest opportunity as it was excellent. Narrated by Christopher Eccleston it's a series about British New Wave cinema of the late fifties and early sixties. Lot's of soundbites from key people of the period and a timely reminder that British Cinema should not be an oxymoron and certainly shouldn't follow the crowd.

Look out for it on Friday nights at 7pm.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ban this sick filth...

Just to be clear then.

Psychological horror films involving murder and mutilation intended for an adult audience = acceptable.

Psychological horror game involving murder and mutilation intended for an adult audience = unacceptable.

'Gangsta' culture being poured into our children's heads encouraging questionable attitudes to women, placing low value on educational achievement, and glamorising violence through the medium of films and pop music = acceptable.

Adult entertainment controlled via legal certificate = unacceptable.

'Lads mags' plastered with naked girls and filled with the kind of depraved rotten filth and freakshows you used to have to search for on the internet but now available to browse in your local newsagent = acceptable.

Video game = unacceptable.

Remember when James Ferman got replaced by some other nameless suit and the BBFC passed every film they'd previously banned since about 1971? I remember thinking 'Jeez guys, you don't have to pass everything!'

Well it took a while but in a way it's nice to see them lose all reason and ban something for no clear reason. Somebody buy them a dictionary and pick out the word 'equitable' with a fluorescent marker.

It isn't that I was looking forward to 'Manhunt 2' by the way. I just don't like knee-jerk reactions.

That is all.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Utopia (Spoilers)

Some may have expected Utopia to be a fairly lightweight episode, particularly given that it would be bringing Captain Jack Harkness, the indestructible libidinous time traveller back on board the Tardis ready to go into the two part finale. No. The best kept secret this year is that the finale is not two parts, but three.

Stopping off to refuel the Tardis on Cardiff's rift the Doctor is horrified to see his old friend Jack Harkness running towards the Tardis (and away from Torchwood) and throws the dematerialisation lever. Never one to take no for an answer Jack clings to the Tardis as it plummets through the vortex riding the Doctor's type 40 right to the end of the universe and a barren, post apocalyptic world where humans live in a refugee camp and are tormented and hunted by savage, tattooed feral people called the Futurekind.

The humans in the base are waiting to board an enormous rocket intended to take them to 'Utopia', a legendary haven for the human race at the end of time. The only slight problem is that the rocket won't work and the smartest man around, Professor Yana, is having trouble admitting this to his expectant charges.

Good thing the Tardis turned up. Though he isn't too familiar with the technology the Doctor's happy to pitch in and help and in no time the rocket is ready to go.

It's at this point that Martha accidentally brings something very significant to the Professor's attention. A silver fob watch with strange markings that means nothing to Yana but which Martha recognises as identical to the device the Doctor used to rewrite his Time Lord DNA and make him human in Human Nature.

If we're honest the Futurekind, the rocket and Utopia are all irrelevant. Just a backdrop to bring the Doctor and Jack back together and to finally reveal just what the Face of Boe meant by You Are Not Alone (Yana). It's possible that Utopia may yet play a part in the story but the base under siege elements and the last exodus of humanity into space angle have all been used before and are used here for that reason. They are familiar and require little explanation or back story. Just as the future soldiers using machine guns and what appear to be 20th century military trucks show us that knowledge (and technology) is lost and gained and lost again. When there's no more power for your electric egg whisk you'll use a fork to scramble eggs.

The Professor in his Edwardian outfit and with his excitable, irascible manner is intended to remind us of the Doctor. A kindly scientist trying to save the last humans with his young companion and willing to sacrifice himself to save the many. Sir Derek Jacobi plays the character very much as his interpretation of the Doctor, until the moment he opens the watch. His eyes burn with cold evil as he hisses his name, before murdering the alien who has been his companion for seventeen years. The Master is back.

The Doctor reacts badly to seeing Jack on the Tardis scanner but later explains to Jack that he is an anomaly, and that the Doctor's Time Lord instinct is to fix that anomaly. This is the reason the Doctor left Jack on Satellite Nine all that time ago, why he never went back for him and why he ran when he saw him headed for the Tardis. Jack doesn't seem to bear a grudge and is happier in these forty five minutes than he was in thirteen episodes of Torchwood, he's also strangely more 'Jack' than he was in his own spin off and John Barrowman lights the screen up in every scene. The rapport between Barrowman and Tennant is electric whether they are sniping at each other or having a heart to heart through the reactor room door. It's a pleasure to have Captain Jack back in Doctor Who.

David Tennant has been stunning throughout his second year as the Doctor. He always seems to find something new to show us about the Tenth Doctor and in this episode it is fear and desperation. We've seen him scared before, when possessed by the Sun particles in 42, but here he's terrified. The moment Martha tells him about the watch it seems clear he knows exactly what's going on. Suddenly it seems like he may have known all along, his dismissal of the Face of Boe's secret, his reaction to Martha's news, his apology to the Master, when he is locked out of his own Tardis. 'It's just the two of us now...' What have you done, Doctor?

John Simm's post regenerative Master is full of energy and humour. His portrayal looks likely to be a dark reflection of Tennant's Doctor and the sparks should really fly when these two come face to face...

...assuming that the Doctor can extricate Martha, Jack and himself from the Futurekind overrun Silo and find some way back to the twentieth century without his Tardis, that is. Utopia ends with what is certainly the strongest cliffhanger of Russell T Davies' Doctor Who, and is one of the best ever.

With such a strong run of episodes by Paul Cornell and Steven Moffat it was going to be a challenge to maintain that quality as we went into the series climax. Davies has once again proved that he is the king of Doctor Who and should be venerated above all other writers. This is a 'Golden Age'.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Human Nature (Spoilers)

Human Nature is considered to be one of the very best in Virgin’s New Adventures series of novels. It’s reputation is huge and the news that it as to be adapted for the Tenth Doctor's adventures was greeted by great excitement and anticipation. Expectations were high but could the TV version live up to the ten year reputation of the original?

If anyone was up to the task of adapting the book then it had to be the original author. Besides representing the cream of the Doctor Who novel author pool Paul Cornell also scripted Fathers Day for series one of the new Doctor Who. An episode much loved and subsequently Hugo nominated. It was also cited by Christopher Eccleston as his favourite script of that series and certainly widened the range of subject matter that the show could explore in this bold new age.

Human Nature sees the Doctor rewrite his own DNA to recreate himself as a human being. The cause of this drastic action is a family of time travelling hunters who are intent on bagging the last of the Time Lords to increase their own lifespan and power. The Doctor sends the Tardis to rural England in 1913 to lay low until these hunters have burned out their tiny life spans. It seems that the Tardis rather than the Doctor creates John Smith, as his human incarnation is known. Presumably the Tardis also chose the time and place. The Tenth Doctor previously posed as a teacher in the excellent second series episode School Reunion, though the disguise was less thorough then. Similarly though his companion found herself in a less privileged position. This time as a maid, rather than a dinner lady.

The shadow of war hangs heavy over this tale. Many of the pupils who survive these events will die in the awful battles of the First World War and the knowledge that this will happens casts the ‘King and Country’ mentality in quite an unflattering light. Particularly the Headmaster's hope that Latimer will have a ‘just’ war to prove himself in, as if war is just something like a cricket match or game of squash. A tool for turning boys into men, hopefully by sending them to kill technologically disadvantaged foreigners. For all his stirring patriotic hyperbole the Head certainly runs at a good lick when the aliens vaporise his colleague.

In his time at the school John Smith develops an attachment to the school nurse, Joan Redfern. The Matron is a widow whose husband fell in the defence of the crown and who can’t abide the sight of the boys playing at soldiers. Having never expected to love again she is surprised to find herself falling for the strange new teacher. Not as surprised as Martha though. In all the Doctor’s twenty-something instructions for looking after a Time Lord who’s turned himself into a human he didn’t think to include any for the eventuality that he might fall in love, as humans often do.

The Family of Blood are an unpleasant, though decidedly small time, group of villains who lay devastation on the school and environs in their merciless pursuit of the Doctor. They care not one jot for preserving the web of time or what consequences their ham fisted meddling may have. It is their total lack of responsibility or compassion that damns them to their ultimate terrible fates.

Knowing that all the Family want is the watch that contains the consciousness of the Time Lord John Smith is tempted to give it to them in the hope of a normal life. The sequence showing that normal life that the Doctor can never have is heartbreaking. Though it dashes her own hopes Joan is able to give John Smith the courage to do the right thing.

In dealing with the emotional fall out of these events the Doctor, back in his body and right as rain, demonstrates the total ignorance of sensitivity that we have come to expect of him. He goes to see Joan and invites her to travel with him, to start again. For that moment the Doctor is the most frightening monster in this story. His offer is obscene and yet he cannot understand why Joan refuses. Until she puts him in his place by pointing out the human cost of his whim.

Is it that humbling question that spurs his terrible vengeance upon the Family of Blood? Or does he do it for John Smith? For their greed and wanton destruction the Doctor gives them their immortality in eternal imprisonment.

Human Nature is as great a success as a television drama as it was was a novel. What changes have been made only enhance the story and the degree to which Cornell has grown as a writer in the intervening twelve years shows through in the finished script.

The scarecrows feel a little like they’ve been chucked in to ‘monster things up’ but they are still effective and if anything a little underused. They look brilliant and move in a suitably creepy manner but we don’t see all that much of them.

The acting is excellent though a few performances must be picked out for special mention. Harry Lloyd plays Baines the schoolboy as an understated sap but his transformation into an alien is chilling. He convinces totally and his perpetual smirk reminds viewers of the Joker as he takes such pleasure in death and destruction.

Thomas Sangster gives a sensitive performance as Tim Latimer that belies his young age. Latimer never seems a victim and the strength of his performance makes the final scene, where we see the character as an old veteran, affecting on an emotional level.

Jessica Hynes creates a believable 1913 lady who knows her place in the world and how that world works but can still question that knowledge when faced with the impossible. Given a second chance at happiness she is forced to sacrifice it for the greater good. Mrs Redfern is unlikely to have loved again one supposes.

Freema Agyeman has to carry much of this episode as the Doctor is out of action and once again she shows Martha’s intelligence and resourcefulness. A highlight of the series is Martha’s ‘okay,’ when her friend Jenny agrees to some gravy in her tea. The only irritation is the continued references to Martha’s feelings for the Doctor, haven’t we been here before?

David Tennant makes John Smith everything the Doctor is not. Smith is unsure of himself, a daydreamer, indecisive and a bumbling romantic. His terror as he begins to believe that the Doctor is real and he himself an invention is heartbreaking and enough to make the viewer resent the Doctor just a little when he puts on his glasses and shows off for the Family. In dealing out their punishments the Doctor is dark, cold, distant and alien and a stark contrast to his human creation.

This story also has a few nods to the past to treat long term fans. John Smith’s ‘journal of impossible things’ features portraits of a number of earlier incarnations of the Doctor while his parents Sydney and Verity are named for the creator and first producer of Doctor Who.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Blink (Spoilers)

Sally Sparrow is fascinated by old houses and discovers a message left for her forty years earlier under the living room wallpaper of an old house in Wester Drumlins. Next moment her best friends vanished and she keeps having conversations with a DVD extra.

Each series of Doctor Who has had at least one determinedly Doctor-lite episode. The first series The Long Game saw much of the story told from the point of view of Adam and the inhabitants of Satellite Five. Series two saw Hustle star Mark Warren take a lead role as Elton Pope, Doctor-watcher extraordinaire. Both are good episodes but suffer for the lack of everybody’s favourite Time Lord (especially Love & Monsters as when he does turn up his motives and actions seem somewhat questionable).

The first stroke of genius from 'Doctor-lite' newbie Stephen Moffat is to use only three sequences of the Doctor, but one of these taking the form of a video recording which we see played through several times and which plays in the background in many other scenes. In this respect the episode could hardly be more Doctor-full.

The second genius brainwave is in the creation of a monster which cannot be observed moving. By their very nature the 'Weeping Angels' must always be stationary and is therefore also cheap. There may not even be any CGI in this episode, there certainly aren't any showy effects sequences.

In Sally Sparrow we have a curious, impetuous heroine reminiscent of Sarah Jane Smith in attitude. Finding herself caught in a mystery she pieces the clues together to save the Doctor and Martha who are stranded in 1969. Had she had the opportunity to meet the Doctor properly she is just that sort of person he’d whisk away for an adventure.

Carey Mulligan is an engaging and likeable guest lead who has strong support from her colleagues Lucy Gaskill, Finlay Robertson and especially Michael Obiora as the Policeman who is rather taken with Ms Sparrow, before getting blasted back to the sixties.

Steven Moffat’s Who scripts are always eagerly anticipated but what he delivered for series three was a total surprise and a resounding success. His talent for invention and ability to write sexy, modern dialogue are second to none. Blink is that rarest of things, an instant classic.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I don't know nuffin' about no skellingtons...

After some fifteen months of fluffed parrallel parks and dodgy roundabouts the DVLA finally saw fit to grant me a full driving licence on May 29th, two days before my thirty second birthday. The fact that this occurred just two weeks after my wife defeated her own demons and gained a full licence added fuel to the celebrations.

Strange to think that a month ago I was wondering if I would ever pass my test or if I was rather doomed to only ever know driving as something you did on your day off while paying a man to watch you and chat about rock music. Now I bomb up and down the M4 everyday like Adam West zipping out of the Batcave in his Lincoln. That said I do miss my instructor.

No disasters so far though I've had a couple of scares. I worry that I'll become complacent and make mistakes but I guess everyone does, except them as don't.

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I haven't produced a lot of work in the two weeks since my last entry. I sent my SFX Pulp Idol entry in (called 'Human Experience' and featuring the words 'napalm', 'handkerchief' and 'Shakespeare'). Emma was a stringent editor who questioned every unnecessary sentence. I'm not sure I could have shaved 900 words off it without her help.

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The last three episodes of Doctor Who have probably been the best three episode run in the history of the series. I will cover them in more detail but I find it incredible (and a bit scary) that Steven Moffat is able to produce work of this class and invention with such consistency.
The television version of Human Nature, as expected, is one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time.

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My spare moments in the last two weeks have seen me catching up on Heroes, the excellent NBC show to be screened on BBC2 later this year. With one episode to go I heartily recommend that anyone who reads this makes a point of watching this exciting and ingenious slice of telly at the earliest opportunity. It is excellent.

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Watched Hot Fuzz again last night. It is a very funny film. I still prefer Shaun of the Dead but it's probably because it's a zombie film. I also have the feeling that the internal logic of Shaun makes more sense but surely that's just silly?