Thursday, April 24, 2008

Being More Human...

Great news everyone...

A six part series of Being Human has been commissioned, due in no small part I'm sure to the Herculean efforts of big blabbering web mouths like myself, Piers, Oli, Jase, David and many more. Hi five gang.

The Guardian says;

BBC3 controller Danny Cohen has ordered six more episodes of Being Human, the one-off drama pilot about a flatshare between a ghost, a werewolf and a vampire broadcast earlier this year.

Cohen has commissioned the full series of Being Human from independent producer Touchpaper Television, part of the RDF Media group, after the one-off episode was shown in February as part of the channel's drama pilot season and peaked at nearly 450,000 viewers.

Filming on the series, which will once again be written by Toby Whithouse, will start later this year for transmission in 2009.

The BBC said it would confirm casting at a later date. Russell Tovey, Andrea Riseborough and Guy Flanaghan starred in the pilot.

BBC Wales head of drama Julie Gardner, who was one of the show's executive producers, said: "BBC drama is always looking for diverse and surprising pieces, and Being Human hit the spot with its irreverence and wit."

Cohen added: "Of all our recent drama experiments on BBC3, Being Human struck the most powerful chord with the audience. At its heart is a bold and adventurous concept and I'm looking forward to seeing how this is realised across a series."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Grindstone time

I didn’t come here to blog, if blog really is a verb now, but to work. It’s difficult to settle down to work after so long a break though. The mind wanders...

Emma and I have finally moved into our new home in Sedgley. I have some lovely photos to post but there’s a USB lead with a tiny little connector somewhere in this house and until I can locate it no more of my stunning photies will be appearing on these pages. Of course I could google ‘house’ for images and post a picture of someone else’s house, it would probably be similar after all.
Actually it would be even easier for me if you could just look out of your nearest window, go on. See a house? No? Ok, nip out of your front door and look over your shoulder. House? Bingo (pun intended, and really quite witty I think). My house looks a bit like that (unless you live in a mansion, a motor home, a flat, under a rock, in a castle, cave, hole in the ground, canal barge, hollowed-out tree, caravan, forest, space station, Lada, tree house, farm house, hen house, poor house or outhouse).

The no pictures scenario is quite a bummer as my favourite bit of my house is the writey room. I used to have a desk (illustrated here) in my old house in Cardiff but have been sans surface since last August. Now I have a whole room. Wow. Actually it does also contain all my – shall we say – geeky stuff. Most of it anyhoo. But you’ll see when I find that pesky lead.

Due to the house moving process and major upheavals of last year I haven’t done any proper work for quite some time now, I have a few projects to get straight on with or finish off and then the rest of this year is going to be devoted to building my portfolio. I’ve got an ace short film script I’m halfway through, a script for a challenge that I think may turn out to be good enough to form the long awaited (by no-one but me really) BBC Writers Room follow up, and of course Hitman, which I got into a pickle with and now just need to kiss off, so to speak.

Step one, though, is getting into a routine. I’d say back into a routine but I’m not a liar. I’ve always been a binge writer but I can’t work that way anymore, got to do the Rocky thing now (cue music), train up, work hard and get fit – only in a writing sense.

So I’d best crack on…

Planet of the Ood (Spoil-Sphere)

“Every now and then you let one go”

Donna and the Doctor visit the home world of the Ood, the servile race first encountered in The Impossible Planet. They go on to discover that the third great and bountiful empire of the Human race is built on slavery and profit, like most other empires.

For the first time since the Tardis resumed it’s televised travels in 2005 we have a proper snowbound setting. Planet of the Ood slots in happily amongst The Ice Warriors, The Seeds of Doom, Dragonfire (maybe) and those other ones that have slipped my mind for the moment. The ice planet of the the Ood, the Ood-sphere, is beautifully realised and the travellers are able to interact with their environment more satisfyingly than has been possible before.

Donna has another great episode as she is initially repulsed by the Lovecraftian physiognomy of the dying Ood before recovering herself and once more accepting this great universe of diversity. She is appalled at the treatment the Ood receive and at the idea that cruelty and corruption are as rife in the greater universe as they are in her own world.

The Ood are at the centre of this story rather than so much dressing as they were in their previous adventure. There was apparently talk of the Pentallian in 42 having a cargo of Ood, this idea was scrapped or forgotten and that can only have been a good thing as to shove them into another story as extra dressing would probably have seen them consigned to the monster scrap heap forever. Instead, with Planet of the Ood, Keith Temple is able to explore the background of these creatures, seemingly born to serve, and indeed to make that background fit with what we’ve already seen.

The Ood have three brains, it transpires. They have their proper brain, kept in their pasty noggin, which presumably looks after making their legs move, their heart beat (if they have them) and reminding them to breath or whatever; then they have their hind brain, which they cart around in their hands, and this enables them to ‘sing’ (telepathically, and probably is also the creative bit that likes choosing wallpaper, composing haiku’s and so on; then there’s the big giant Ood brain that looks after them all and tells them what to do. This super brain has been kept silent for a couple of centuries by the Human race so that the Ood look for their instructions elsewhere – and receive them from the humans that have enslaved them. This rather neatly explains not just why the Ood live to serve, but also how come their so susceptible to telepathic suggestion (although –it was the Devil I suppose).

The latest in a long line of weary pencil pushers to manage the export of Ood, which are sent across the galaxy as a valuable commodity, is Mr Klineman Halpen (played with relish by Tim McInnerny) but McInnerny makes him a selfish middle manager rather than an over the top villain. Halpen is rude, stressed, pompous and clearly hates what he does, being as much a slave to the Ood industry as the Ood are, as his receding hairline to proves.

Planet of the Ood stuffs a lot to think about into it’s trim running time, it offers up slavery, cheap clothing, the evils of empire and commerce and the idea of having a conscience about where you work and shop. Despite all that it avoids being preachy by dressing it up with great action sequences, a giant claw, a full scale battle for a climax and some great humour.

The episode also has a number of very satisfying comeuppances; it’s a delight when Solana Mercurio, the PR girl, doesn’t go with her conscience and switch sides, as a result she falls victim to the revolting Ood; when the brutish, insane security chief ends up getting gassed it pays off his harsh treatment of the Ood, his crazed mechanical claw attack on the Doctor but most of all his obvious pleasure in the suffering of others (a great turn from Roger Griffiths); and however unlikely Halpens transformation may seem it is a fitting end for the character. It seems justice is both swift and poetic on Ood-Sphere, a shame then that the episode as a whole ends rather swiftly with the blithe statement that the Ood are returning now. So all the humans are ok with that, then? If that thread isn’t picked up later in the series then it represents quite an oversight.

You want niggles? Alright then. Firstly I didn’t like the brain. Giant brains are difficult to manage (ask the Rani) but I ws just about ok with it until it ate someone. I found that a bit hard to swallow (ahem). Secondly, the delegates for the tour of Ood operation seemed to be from Wall Street circa 1988, couldn’t wait for them to buy the farm. Thirdly, I’m not sure the Doctor’s in a position to take the morale high ground about sweat shops and cheap clothes when he’s warming his tootsies in converse trainers. Finally, one slight fannish regret in that I had thought we might get a glimpse of a Sensorite, being as they were so close by but no, although the Sensorites like to keep to themselves so I suppose if nothing else it’s in keeping with established continuity.

Another great episode, series four continues to deliver the goods. Some more hints at things to come in the shape of the Ood’s, perhaps ungracious, comment that the Doctor’s song must end soon, and a nod to the past as Halpern, like Blon Fel-Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen before him, lets one go.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Fires of Pompeii (Spoilerus Maximus)

“If you could decide who lives and who dies... that would make you a monster”

The Doctor takes Donna into history for the first time, where she learns that some things are meant to be even when you travel in time, and sometimes because you travel in time.

The Fires of Pompeii very much feels like an old fashioned Who story. You can almost see Hartnell wandering through those markets and Ian arguing with Lucius. There is even a subtle reference to The Romans as the Doctor alludes to his previous visit to Rome, and the fire that followed it

With a script by James Moran, famous word jockey and Scribonaut of this parish and owner of the fingertips behind Severance, you know it’s going to have a lot of humour and so it does. When the full horror of the Doctor’s responsibility and the fate of Pompeii is brought home to us however, events take a turn for the tear jerking.

Donna builds (rebuilds?) upon the good foundations of her returning story as she develops into a sparky companion that really won’t accept any lofty Time Lord pretensions to responsibility on a cosmic scale. People are dying and she wants it stopped, she’s only interested in the human cost and offers our Doctor a more insistent moral compass than he’s had in some time. Perhaps even since the days of his travels with Ian and Barbara.

The prophecies of Pompeii merit a mention. Lucius tells the Doctor that ‘She is returning,’ which must mean Rose mustn’t it? Or is that too obvious? Is there really something to all this talk of the Rani? The granite-armed prophet goes on to tell Donna that she ‘has something on (her) back.’ This is mystifying and somehow terrifying, what could it mean? Actually it did remind me of another old enemy, the Eight Legs – surely The Great One couldn’t be the ‘she’ who is returning?

More references to the past as the Doctor refers to an early adventure and the Shadow Proclamation and The Medusa Cascade are mentioned again. Most chillingly events echo the words of Mr Copper in The Voyage of the Damned (repeated above) when the Doctor does indeed decide that Caecilius and his family will live, while all Pompeii burns. Does that make the Doctor a monster?

The Fires of Pompeii looks spectacular, partly due to the much mentioned filming that took place at the Cinecittà in Italy but also due to the fantastic sets that were erected at Upper Boat. The final moments as Pompeii is washed away by a tide of flame are beautifully cinematic, and gloriously inappropriate. Trust the Doctor to save a family from that terrible fate then make them watch their friends burn. This story is that rarest of things; an instant classic. Every bit as satisfying as I hoped it would be and a sure sign of great times ahead.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Partners in Crime (Spoilers)

It hardly seems like a year has passed but the fourth series of Doctor Who is upon us. There have been concerns, even in these very pages, about the return of Donna Noble to the show after her appearance in The Runaway Bride. Shouting at everyone and repeating 'The wha-?' might pass for comedy on BBC2 on a Thursday night but it doesn't make for a decent Doctor Who companion, especially following the divine Martha Jones (straight into my top 3 with Ian Chesterton and Jamie!). You might have said Catherine Tate had a lot to prove in the series opener.

The episode begins with the Doctor and Donna both independently investigating a miracle diet pill. Amusingly they keep just missing each other for the first half of the episode, before coming face to face whilst both not-so-secretly observing the villain deal with a nosey journalist. Their mimed conversation was hilarious, even if it did get them busted. Once reunited Tate and Tennant get to show off the chemistry that they have cultivated together, seemingly on and off set, as the bored temp and the lonely God investigate Adipose industries.

Partners in Crime seems quite an unusual episode in some ways, there is no real global peril, quite a low bodycount (on screen at least), and a markedly different alien creature in the Adipose; cute little fellas with cheeky grins and a snaggle tooth. Even the villain, Miss Foster (played like a malevolent Mary Poppins by Sarah Lancashire) is really only breaking the law alittle bit. She does little worse than tie up a reporter and try to hijack the Doctor's trolley.

Russell T Davies' script teases us with references to the past and glimpses of the future. The Doctor refers to the shadow proclamation, whilst the ghostly figure of Rose Tyler sows a mystery no doubt to be explored through this fourth series. Worse yet the red fingernails of Miss Foster and her sonic device ('identical' to the sonic screwdriver? Really?) remind us of the the end of Last of the Time Lords and the persistent disturbing rumours of the return of the Rani respectively. Surely not even RTD could make that work?

The direction was excellent, James Strong is among the very best of the cadre of directors that Doctor Who repeatedly returns to (and possibly imprisons at Upper Boat), and Murray Gold's score was fresh while referencing his music from The Runaway Bride and, to tremendous effect, Doomsday. The Adipose themselves were well realised whilst their parent spaceship was breathtaking. The return of Bernard Cribbins to Doctor Who should not pass without mention, what a pleasure to have him back even under such sad circumstances.

To add insult to injury indications are that the ratings were stronger than for the last two series openers despite the early time slot. Shut my mouth!

For many fans the greatest fear for this series was whether Donna could work on more than just a comedic level. On the basis of this energetic and entertaining episode those fears were unfounded. In fact the comedic moments that so concerned me turned out to be some of the highlights (the image of the Tenth doctor, laiden down with Donna's luggage is likely to remain a favourite in my memory). Welcome back Donna Noble!

More references to the past next week when it's volcano day, but what does it all mean?

Charlton Heston, 1924 - 2008

Charlton Heston played so many great and significant parts, in so many important films, yet it is as the last man on Earth, Robert Neville, in The Omega Man that he made the greatest impression on me, waking me to a world of science fiction possibilities as I discovered the Post-Apocalyptic sub genre.

The expression 'Larger than life' is bandied about a fair bit but was probably first coined by someone just after meeting Heston. It's partly about the roles he played in such excellent films as Ben Hur, El Cid, Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Ten Commandments, Earthquake, The Three Musketeers, Touch of Evil, The Awakening and his splendid, if unlikely, turn as Sherlock Holmes in Crucible of Blood.
He was a fearless actor and to a young boy discovering cinema in the 1980's he seemed to loiter in every section of the video shop whispering 'psst, check out these Biblical Epics, hey - try these disaster movies.'

In recent years he's been a figure of some fun for his time as President and spokesman of the NRA (particular after 'film-maker' Michael Moore's 'documentary' Bowling for Columbine) but some mockers tend to forget that Heston has never been afraid to stand up for what he believes in, whether it was marching with Martin Luther King, supporting 1968's Gun control Act, or opposing McCarthyism.

The Guardian