Saturday, June 28, 2008

Prepare for MAXIMUM FANWANK!

There is a minor divergence of opinion on the matter of what exactly constitutes fanwank (or 'fan pleasure' as I believe Wikipedia term it, rather amusingly...). Some say that in order for it truly to be fanwank, it needs to be something incredibly pleasing to the fans, or something that they have desperately wanted. So, say, Doomsday would be a definite piece of fanwank, whereas Placebo Effect and Gary Russell's much mulled-over Nimon-versus-Macra story really are not. The other is that fanwank refers to any such attempt of reusing old enemies for the sake of audience... so just about every Dalek story, then, with special emphasis on Blood of the Daleks.

I believe in the latter definition. After all, aren't compulsive masturbators still 'wanking' on the 20th straight wrist-number even if by that stage they have ceased to take any pleasure in the act? Is it not still a 'wank' if you've lost your train of thought in the sexual fantasy and end up at loose ends with an elk in your imaginary bed instead of a (don't say 'teacher', don't say 'teacher'...)... antelope?

This is even more so now, because even if I have absolutely zero enthusiasm for the complete madness that will be launched on British television screens all too soon (if it hasn't already - I can never keep track of GMT..) how can you deny it is fanwank? Well, I guess it is for the young'uns (read people about two-to-five years younger than myself...) infesting OG who've never even seen the Doctor fellate a gigantic green beanbag in family viewing hours nor jump around madly as Cybermen attempt to set his arse on fire... but even then I wonder how many people really REALLY want to see all of the modern Whoniverse pillars on screen at once like this.

Something I've been mulling over is what on Earth could the credits look like...

DOCTOR WHO
Starring DAVID TENNANT and CATHERINE TATE
and BILLIE PIPER and FREEMA AGYEMAN and JOHN BARROWMAN
and LIS SLADEN and EVE MYLES and GUY WHO PLAYS IANTO and JOHN LEESON


(As far as I know, J-Lee isn't actually in it, just wishful thinking on my part..)

What sick twisted Whoviants actually want to SEE this, though? This stuff should be in fanfic! I mean, as much as I enjoy writing about H.G Wells and The Sixth Doctor dealing with the Bendalypse Warhead as if it's a scene in Black Books or reading about Dr House's encounters with his alien counterpart, I don't actually want to see it on screen. It's a bit like watching porn with your family, isn't it?

It's a symptom of the need for season finales now, which is something I find torturous, especially the fact that this monster has been created through the fact that YANA was so mind-bogglingly big that we need something EVEN BIGGER this year, through some completely stupid laws of television. And this, in turn, is why we need the break year, so presumably season five can end with the Doctor forgetting to bring his coupons and having to pay full price for dry cleaning.

I find it remarkable, though, because now I think RTD has well and truly left JNT in the dust for the contest of Producer of The Greatest Fanwank.

After all, what does JNT have to his name?

*Brought back the Master - After a previous team had specifically created a loophole for this to happen.
*Brought back and updated the Cybermen - For the sake of viewers.
*Brought back a companion for two stories, and a heap for a 'special' - The Brig was key to Mawdryn Undead, but ultimately not that much of a distraction. The Five Doctors was a bit different...
*Brought back a one-off villain from nine years' previously when he brought back Omega
*Made two multiple Doctor stories
*Let Ian Levine somewhere near a typewriter
*Created quite a lot of clipshows...
*Brought back UNIT once
*Made one Dalek story every three years on average
*Created the Valeyard

It's decent, I'll give him that - but let's have a look at RTD's blow-for-blow rejoinder..

*Brought back the Master
*Brought back and updated the Cybermen and pitted them against the Daleks - For the sake of more viewers
*Brought back two companions for three episodes a piece in concurrent seasons, and then brings back THREE companions for one story in one of said seasons
*Brought back a one-off monster from FORTY years previously - When bringing back the Macra, an idea that JNT incidentally shot down himself..
*Made one five minute mulitple Doctor special - Yeah, JNT wins this one..
*Must... resist... cheapshots at writers...
*Creates a new show that's nothing BUT clipshows
*Brought UNIT back three times
*Makes at least one Dalek story per year
*Created Torchwood


RTD's arches and recurring plots and references to his own stories blows JNT's 'excesses' well and truly out of the water. All I have to say is that RTD is now the king of fanwank, especially with Craig Hinton gone as he has all too soon.

I just wanted to post this before it all went to air. And if, at the end of it, you're feeling dirty and used... well, what did you expect? Be glad you're not blind.

Friday, June 20, 2008

DVD Notes

Time Warrior

* The absolute first thing that I noted from this is what I suspected re: Sontaran clones. Firstly, at no point does either the Doctor or Linx refer to the Sontarans as 'clones'. Linx refers to the lack of a bi-gender reproductive system and notes that [insert big number of hatchlings] are ready by the parade - but I'm biased towards Brave New World rather than Dolly the Sheep in my reading of this, especially given that it fits in well with continuity given the Sontarans later appearances. And... there is absolutely no reference to Sontarans being identical. Even though this is taken by people as being a cornerstone of the Sontaran's being. I admit it would have been difficult to fit in, but it still makes me wonder where the idea that all of them need to be identical comes from. Afterall, Linx doesn't boast that they are all 'replicas of our greatest General' or something similar, as they would need to be to be the indetical clones that fandom likes to paint them as.

I suspect that the idea comes from The Sontaran Experiment wherein Kevin Lindsay plays both Styre and The Marshall. This is, of course, the biggest budget saving device for years.


* The second thing I noticed was - Kevin Lindsay isn't that short. Okay, unlike the actors who play the Cybermen, the Ice Warriors, the Yeti, the Autons, the Draconians et al he is not TALL, but it's quite a long way from the army of midgets that Tennant came up against. Notably, Irongron and Bloodaxe stand at about the same height as Linx, and the Doctor, from memory, is the only character to make reference to Linx's height. Once again, Two Doctors can be vindicated... for one of its many, many faults at least.

As has interestingly been pointed out to me by both my Dad AND Ewen, people were much shorter on average in the Middle Ages. As though this is part of the grand scheme Bob Holmes was working on. Does this mean that in the 51st Century (or whenever The Sontaran Experiment is set, I can't be arsed to check) the average height has degraded back to Medieval levels?


* To demonstrate what a killjoy I can be, the third thing I noticed is that this story ROCKS. Like most of the best Doctor Who stories, and certainly the best of Bob Holmes, the drama is driven by characters. The selfishness of Irongron and the boredom and resentment of Linx drive the entire plot, and it is little wonder that they are the most famous and beloved of all Who double acts. It's also worth noting that the Doctor only appears in about five minutes of the first episode, and what he IS in isn't that amazing. Irongron and Linx take over the story utterly, and it lasts until the final episode when, tragically, they buy it. Technically, they ARE the villains of the piece, but they are incredibly loveable characters and I'm sad to see them go.

At least Bloodaxe gets out in one piece..


* Another thing I noticed was that the direction was slightly stagier than usual, and very simply cut. It was very funny to learn in the behind-the-scenes material just how much this pissed Barry Letts off, as he was trying to make the show look as good as possible. The director was apparently a bloke named Alan Bromley, who was an old-hand from the 50s. So he did every scene in sequence, one take, and gave barely anyone any direction. Lis Sladen recounts a furious Jon Pertwee storming off to see Letts after she innocently pointed out that they had finished the days filming 2 hours early.

Terrance Dicks also had to cut down the number of special effects in the story before Bromley was even comfortable accepting the project, and because of this caution Barry Letts offered to handle the special effects - specifically using model work for the Sontaran ship landing and Irongron's castle exploding. Bromley refused on both counts, saying that he knew something 'much better'. As Barry Letts recounts, quite hilariously grumpily, the spaceship was achieved by dangling a tennis ball from a piece of string and over-exposing the film, and the castle exploding was nothing but a jump-cut to stock-footage of a quarry wall being detonated. So in this case 'much better' means 'really really cheap'.

The irony approaches near overload levels because of the fact that the quarry-shot, which Letts derides several times as 'cheap and nasty', is actually a very good effect. Bromley matches the shot up very well with the castle walls in the shot he chooses to use, which he arrives at via a lengthy zoom that synchs with the sound of the engines overloading. It's a very classy shot. But what makes this so ironic is the fact that the disc has those fancy-pants CGI effects... and they make the castle exploding look WORSE. The simple fact is, for a shot of a wall exploding they couldn't do any better than what Bromley cooked up, so they had to go for a different approach. So... after ten seconds of buildup for the wall blowing up, it cuts to the FRONT of the castle, where he see really obviously CGI fires and stones falling. It is quite laughably unimpressive.

For the record, though, the CGI effect of the spaceship landing does look much better. And, no, that doesn't mean 'cheaper' in this context


* My great disappointment with the DVD extras was that there was a complete dissing of poor old Professor Ruebish. Tel and Bazza both do a lot of moaning about how the character irritates them by never really getting involved in the plot, simply skulking about in the basement and never even meeting Irongron. Well, are you going to sit around 'ere, crying into your milk-and-cocoas, or are ya going to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?

Bah, what am I saying, it's not like Terrance was in charge of the final drafts of all scripts and- HEY, WAIT A MINUTE! But then he was apparently dismissive of the show throughout the entire season, busy as he was working on a show named Moonbase 3. How did that work out, Tel? I'll have to have a look on Wikipedia...

Moonbase 3 is a British science fiction television programme that ran for six episodes in 1973.[1] ... As was normal procedure at the BBC at the time,[33] the original PAL master tapes of the series were wiped some time after broadcast and, for many years, Moonbase 3 was believed to be lost forever. However, in 1993, NTSC copies of all six episodes were found in co-producer Fox's archives and returned to the BBC.[4] ... Dicks has claimed in interviews that his reaction to the recovery of the formerly-missing episodes was "Oh f*ck!"

Hmmm.

Seriously, in all honesty I think that Professor Ruebish would have made a good companion and I thought it was a great character and performance on first viewing and that opinion hasn't been altered yet. They even have Donal Pelmear, the old boy who played him all those years ago, on the making of, BUT THEY BARELY INTERVIEWED HIM! He should have been on the commentary! It's not as if Lis Sladen had anything to say.


* A great bit on the commentary was Terrance recounting the writing of the Target version... having gotten on two Bob Holmes twice about it... the two times being six months apart. And receiving two pages in the mail with a note saying "Finish it".

THAT is brilliant.

He went on to say that the two pages were better than anything he had ever written, but he decided that being able to write that well would not be would not really be good if he could only write one page every six months.


* The commentary was also great in revealing that Bob, most famed for Talons of Weng-Chiang, probably the best pseudo-historical ever made and often cited as the best DW full-stop, was so pissed off at being instructed to write a pseudo-historical that he deliberately wrote the script to be unworkable - most notably describing a gigantic battlescene featuring hundreds of soldiers in place of the dozen extras with rather short scaling ladders that there are in the final version.


* Also fascinating was Terrance Dicks revealing that he's reached the age where tact is meaningless, as he was quite happily talking about irrationally disliking the SJS character simply because 'women belong in the kitchen as far as I'm concerned', and when Letts is rather politely talking about Terry Walsh's work aping Pertwee's 'unusual' run, Tel chips in to tell us 'Yeah, he's like a big girl!'

No complaints for me as Barry and Tel really have formed quite a Holmesian double act.


* And while I can't stop going on about Terrance Dicks, I salute him for going on boldly in the face of an awful speech impediment. Many men would deliberately avoid using 'r's when possible or speak slower and enunciate more at the sacrifice of spontaniety. But good old Terry is perfectly happy to tell us about his work "Developing the Wutans in the Howwow of Fang Wock"


Keeper of Traken

* Ah, Matthew Waterhouse. I can see some people find him irritating, but I really like him. Sometimes his enthusiasm gets him carried away and he talks over the others, but that isn't much of a problem on this commentary. Sarah Sutton takes a back seat as she generally does (not to the extent of Michael Keating, of course, who seems to take a back seat in an entirely different room) but coming in with nice little asides, Johnny Byrne is an assertive enough figure to push Waterhouse away from the mic when he wants to speak, and Anthony Ainley feels like a traveller who's returned home - he sounds perfectly happy to come in with a quip here and there, and a couple of baffling anagrams that he seems to be writing on a handkerchief throughout the story.

I think I quite like Waterhouse because, to me, he feels like one of us. He looks at the show from a fan perspective, and while he certainly talks a lot, it isn't often centered on his own involvement - often it's questions about the scripts, his opinion of the episode, asking others what THEY thought.. in fact, it comes across as wanting to keep the commentary bubbling along because he's the kind of guy who listens to commentaries.

And his moment of poking fun at Space: 1999, possibly to wind up Byrne is priceless - "Oh, yes Catherine Schell. The alien shape-shifter from a COMPLETELY different Universe, who's never been to Earth, and, strangely enough, every time she changes shape she turns into something you can film in a zoo!"

Aw, bless.


* I was also surprised at hearing how seriously Johnny Byrne took it all. For some reason I thought that Johnny Byrne was a little bit like the Dave Martin / Bob Baker of the 80s... you know, just screaming "I've got an idea!" bashing on the typewriter for 50 minutes and then leaving it to the script editor to cut out the sentient orange afros and spaceships crashing into Hyde Park. I guess it's to do with the fact that all of his stories were fairly compromised..

After all, from what I've heard The Time of Neman was to be something of a multi-Doctor story, featuring an evil version of Davison's Doctor ruling an apocalyptic future version of Amsterdam. Obviously THAT needs to go through a lot of re-writes to become the four-episode corridor chasing paddingananza that is Arc of Infinity and resulted in such evils as Tegan returning Omega getting a commission.

And Warriors of the Deep... you know what I'm talking about. Ingrid Pitt karate kicking the deadly pantomime horse that electrocutes people on touch, the Silurian's second-in-command who seems bewildered by everything but is always cheerful, and that bit where Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson are slamming back vodka shots and mumbling incoherently, before turning to camera and screaming "WHAT? THAT WAS A TAKE?"

And Traken... well Traken is a story I really do like. But even then, from the DVD I learn that it was originally to feature a completely different villain and was to take place on a planet based on Feudal Japan. Johnny Byrne casually explains to us, as so often happens, that his original idea was much cooler. Well, or sounds cooler to me at least - and the thing is that Byrne was on holiday when JNT bounced into Bidmead's office and said "We're bringing the Master back", so he didn't have any hand in the re-writers at all. Damn.

It's one thing to re-write a story... and quite another to have it re-written. But Byrne was still quite pleased by the results going by the commentary.


* On the subject of cool ideas re-written it got me thinking about the near mind-explosion when I read Nev Fountain (calm down!) talking about The Kingmaker originally being a serious story about Time Lord suicide bombers assuming the identity of key historical figures if manipulation caused them to die and thus threatened the Web of Time.

Okay, wanky, but I think that idea is REALLY COOL.

The difference being of course that it wasn't the producer who said "No, a story about Shakespeare being an insane time-traveller who shoots everybody and trades places with Richard III would be better" but the writer.

Let us move on.


* Not many details from the commentary stick in my mind, aside from Sarah Sutton mentioning that the wind machine managed to blow her skirt above her head (WHERE'S THE OUT-TAKE?) which gave Tom Baker quite a big grin. Also, Anthony Ainley jollily pointing out the notorious bit where Tom Baker has a gargantuan strain of snot dangling from his nose - something I missed completely with our terrible TV reception back in the analogue days. So... what happened with that take? Did Tom just not notice it?

Oh, wait, just remembered one... Anthony Ainley enthusing ove how beautiful Sarah Sutton looks in her first close up. Because his voice is so similar to that of the Master, and the fact that she is playing his daughter, it comes across as quite creepy.


* Making of in this one was sparse compared to most other discs, but still a couple of things of interest. Found it fun to learn that Geoffrey Beevers was a fan of the series beforehand, and Bidmead's recounting of the unpredicatble nature of working under JNT, and Sarah Sutton's little remembrances... not much that stuck in the mind, though.


* The story is lovely, though, isn't it? It isn't the most eventful or exciting episode of the show, given that it has quite a stately pace, but there's something faintly magical about the entire fairy-tale nature of Traken and the plot, and the design is right up there with the very best of the series, helped massively by 18's generous budget.


* What really struck me, as it has with many stories I've got on DVD that I've had just a vague memory of - is that the ending is rather a rushed mess. The Master tortures the Doctor for a little bit, kills some people very evilly (including the great bit where Tremas is forced to kill Proctor Neman) but then... the plan that the Doctor gave Adric near the start of the episode works perfectly, causing the Source to malfunction, the Master to scream his lungs out and lots of shit to blow up. Interestingly, the Doctor manages to escape from an indestructible TARDIS by jumping through the wall.

Once Gnome-Face takes over the Keeper-ship, the Doctor just can't get out of their early enough. As with a few stories it feels like an ultra-quick wrap-up after a very lengthy slow-burn...

But then the story is really just a big lead up to THAT cliffhanger, isn't it?


Logopolis

* Haha, yes, the Master has finally returned! He unveils himself mightily by ... joyriding in his TARDIS aimlessly while giggling like a schoolgirl, briefly emerging on occassion to shoot some randoms for no apparent reason and pissing off again.

I can't say I'm entirely certain as to how this behaviour is meant to trick the Doctor into taking the Master to Logopolis, but it's probably in there somewhere, considering that the first episode is essentially one gigantic expositional exchange between The Doctor and Adric. A whole episode, people. That's amazing. It's arguable whether Logopolis has the most padding ever as a result, or if it's all important to the episode - after all, the story doesn't really revolve much around plot, per se, due to the plot itself being so monstrously simple. The story's main weapon, really, is emotion and gut feeling - it's thematic rather than story-driven. This is why it opens in such an odd way, with the Doctor meditating alone in the Cloister Room, and when Adric finds him the only explanation he offers is a brief, nihilistic essay on the Laws of Thermodynamics... he may as well have "DYING" tattooed on his forehead.

Of course, Bidmead could be conscious of the fact that two new companions are going to be added over the course of the story and wants to give Adric and the Doctor plenty of time in one another's company exploring their rather loveable dynamic, seeing as they've only really had one story together prior to this. (Interestingly on the Keeper of Traken commentary Johnny Byrne laments the way that the character of Adric got treated by the writers subsequently, as he felt the character had a lot of potential...) As one of Adric's loyal supporters, I really do like the first episode...


* As one of Tegan's many detractors I guess it's also irritating in another way. But then... I dunno, somehow she doesn't seem too annoying in this one. Maybe it's the way that there's actually credible reasons for her being extremely pissed off and whiny than it being a force of habit, she doesn't have the supernatural powers of whatever the script writers think it would be neat for her to be able to do at that exact moment (expert fashion drawings, dancing up a storm, speaking incredibly ancient long-dead unrecorded Aboriginal dialects fluently...) and the story has a clear focus that is a long way from her.

It's rather interesting that the Doctor doesn't take a liking to her - or possibly a dislike. The look on his face when she barges into the console room is priceless, he doesn't mention that he found her Aunt dead in her car until the last possible moment (and makes a rather sick joke about it before that) and generally ignores her when she's decided to stick with him in the face of the Universe collapsing. (Albeit for selfish reasons)

Janet Fielding asks Bidmead on the commentary, a bit slyly, whether he'd done any research into the way Australians speak. I can only assume this is in response to Tegan's cries of "Hell's teeth!" and similar bouts.


* I was quite interested in seeing this story because I had mentally made it the basis of another fanfic like that one I won't stop going on about (Champions' End) wherein a whole story is made out of one small, rather odd scene. Rather than expanding the prologue of the TVM into a complicated double-bluff wherein the Time Lords are trading weapons to the Time Lords to deploy against The Enemy to gain an advantage for the upcoming Time War they intend to declare prior to the New Series (deep breath) this one was to explain away a Detective-Inspector not questioning the fact that two doll-like figures on a car seat are not simply sick pranks but are a pair of shrunken cadavers by revealing that he was a TORCHWOOD AGENT.

Yeah, I know, it's a problematic idea to begin with but then I actually watched it, and the entire idea is destroyed by the fact that Tom Georgeson plays the ultimate gormless Detective role prior to Ray Carling from Life on Mars. So then it all relies on the Torchwood Agent being impossibly good at pretending to be an idiot Detective who just happens to correctly deduce that two people have been shrunk to death, who knows other police officers by name, doesn't know anything about the TARDIS, is concerned for the safety of shrieking youngsters near bikes and doesn't feel the need to restrain somebody who, on the balance of probability, is the Doctor.

So that's one less fic to write, I guess.

On the commentary Bidmead mentions that he 'shared a girlfriend' with Tom Georgeson in university. Fielding immediately asks him what he means by that and Bidmead says "Not at the same time.." Now I'm curious about whether it's the idea of Bidmead having threesomes that horrified her or simply talking about them on a family DVD.

Maybe she hasn't seen Captain Jack in action yet...


* And on the commentary Bidmead explains the entire "land the TARDIS under water... and OPEN THE DOORS!" scene... or at least tries to. It's essentially a stumbling "Well, all the water comes in and... makes it all rather difficult for the Master... it seemed like a good idea at the time, basically"

When I stopped to think about it I realised that it did actually make a kind of sense - the TARDIS is always shown to respond with the characteristics of the object the Chameleon Circuit is assuming. Thus - the TARDIS weighs the same amount as a Police Public Call Box and can be moved around just as easily. The interior is also consistently shown to respond to the movements of the exterior with some degree of immediacy - from The Romans up to and definitely including this very story.

So - the jet of water hits the Master's TARDIS. It gets knocked down, the Master gets knocked down. He mightn't be sure what's happening so he might make an emergency dematerialisation - that kicks him out of the TARDIS. He might not know what's going on, but the HADS might kick in - and that kicks him out of TARDIS. The water might sluice out of the TARDIS - and that kicks him out of the TARDIS.

See, the plan does make a kind of sense... you just have to ignore the immediate and certain deaths of both the Doctor and Adric if they carried it out.


* So... does that bracelet that the Master gives Nyssa to control her arm also give her super-human strength? Because I would have thought that thinking you could conquer a planet using one hand of a short and scrawny (though hot) teenaged girl would be beyond optimistic.


* Oh, and I thought it best to say that I finally got the ending! The CVE is opened by Pharos, and it's energies manipulated by the Logopolitan program and the Universe is stabilised. The Doctor doesn't really get the entire process (neither does the Master) so isn't sure how long the CVE needs to be kept open. But the Master DOES know how to send a recursive signal through that will close the CVE and prevent it from ever being opened again - and that WILL stuff up the Universe. So when he pulls out the Dictaphone it isn't just an idle threat - although it is a trap above everything else. As his expression tells us, when he sees the Doctor plummet to his death, he didn't really care about 'conquering the Universe', rather with killing the Doctor.

(He did want the secret of Logopolis, of course... before he discovered that the secret wasn't really of much use to him...)

Talk about 'all or nothing', though. What a fruitbat. It's also interesting to note that in Castrovalva he is immediately working at killing the Doctor again, so he's made the eradication of his old enemy absolutely top priority.

I also like to think that once the Universe was stabilised Logopolis, or something very much like it, would have re-formed. Part optimistic outlook, but also partly to do with the Monitor alluding to the Logopolitans as a Universal balancing force.


* The commentary for this one grabbed my interest as soon as I saw who was on it - Janet Fielding, Christopher H. Bidmead and Tom Baker. Hoo boy. Going off of their unflattering internet archetypes assigned to them (shrill harpy, camp testube-fondler and comb-wiedling maniac to be precise) I was expecting the most openly hostile commentary since the one sparked in my imagination by Bernie Fishnote's DVD cover of The Lord of Reedy River promising Catherine Tate, Lucy Griffiths, Kate Ryan and Sparacus together. Seriously, I thought this was going to be so full of punches and breaking glass that you could mistake it for Kaldor City if Paul Darrow happened to walk past the studio and asked somebody what THEY thought.

And... it turns out to be very civil. Bidmead himself turns out to be very concerned over whether any of the script at all makes sense and very polite, even joking along with Tom as if on a mission especially to prove that he DOES have a sense of humour; Fielding is full of fond recollections and jibes at herself regarding her sometimes amateurish performance (and hair, natch); and Tom Baker does make the expected oddball comment on occassion and has trouble following (or bothering to follow) the story, but is surprisingly candid at moments, especially when he apologises to Janet Fielding for his terribly conduct in his final season, explaining that he had a lot of conflicting emotions at that time.

Moments that stick in my mind are Baker demanding to know "Who are these murmering idiots?!" when we first see the Logopolitans, a similar comment of "A lot of people didn't like that boy" when Adric first appears, Bidmead asking Tom "what was all that about?!" with regards to his marriage to Lalla Ward prompting Tom Baker to say they had "many wonderful weeks together", and, in particular, Bidmead innocently asking Janet about the significance of quite a prolonged shot of Matthew Waterhouse's rear-end when it has already been mentioned that Peter Grimwade was gay.


* I guess I should comment on the regeneration itself, as it is the cornerstone of the whole story and really the reason why everybody remembers it.

It is... great. Although Caves of Androzani and The War Games are definitely better stories (They ARE, Silentlurker!) their actual regeneration moments are not as moving as this one. Or rather the explicit regen scene. Caves is so forceful and volcanic it hits you in the face and the viewer is quite taken aback, and War Games.. well, a lot of people go so far as to say that seeing Troughton spinning off into infinity shrieking "Oh, you're making me giddy!" over-rides all of the emotion built up over the preceding 25 minutes. (You are incorrect. But it doesn't help procedures...)

But I find the regen in Logopolis strangely moving. There's something momentous about it, what with it being the end of such a lengthy era, and I adore the way that the production team has hit just the right balance. JNT was fond of clipshow stuff, no argument possible, but here it's done RIGHT. The array of the Doctor's enemies urging him to his death, and then his companions trying to coax him back to life (well, as one way to interpret it) is beautiful symmetry and carries a nice sentiment. Unlike, say, having every single one of the Doctor's companions flash up on a screen when he gets mind-probed, for no real apparent reason at all..

Watching the transformation side-by-side with the frigging insanely primitive methods that they were using to make it happen is a real eye-opener, and makes you appreciate how good the finished effect looks. Okay, there's obviously a link missing with Tom Baker not wearing the .... (don't say 'bukkake', don't say 'bukkake'...) white... chrysalis sort of makeup that the Watcher has, but there's probably a few reasons for that, like the fact that they ran over by several hours just shooting Tom's scenes and that Tom was apparently completely unworkable in that season. I was very impressed after learning that Adrian Gibbs was in an entirely different studio, particularly.


*

This is a DVD with a great making of - though it's the sort of stuff that might rape childhood memories, assuming that you have neither read Lawrence Miles' blog ever nor listened to any Kaldor City. There's a lot of very frank talk about Tom Baker's humungous swelling ego, including some footage in the vein of that ditched Symphony Furniture radio ad that we all love. (Well, I LOVE it anyway. "Symphony. Even for monkey shaggers"...) A chat show where he goes head-to-head with the host about his TV persona being even less real than 'the Doctor' (Mary Tamm looks very awkward beside him) and a take from Shada where Tom shouts "Oh, it's just a fucking teapot!" seconds before delivering the opening lines of the scene. The poor girl playing Claire Keightley looked quite distressed.

So, some of it makes uncomfortable viewing but it's all interesting. Bidmead recounting how there was a tradition of Tom 'quitting' every year, and the only difference was that this time JNT agreed; Matthew Waterhouse talking about how he thought Tom Baker was behaving in a normal way for a lead actor and so unconsciously followed the example; and more juicy details that fandom shall devour like the emotion-fuelled hyenae we be..


Castrovalva

* Castrovalva is a story I find to be wholly remarkable, as it is Christopher H. Bidmead's second story, and comes directly after his first (An odd distinction that, if I'm not mistaken, is unique to himself, Chris Boucher and Russell T. Davies) and... seems nearly identical.

Well, not quite, but you know what I mean...

1 - Both stories are named after a city
2 - Both cities are on unnamed planets and represent a scientific principle
3 - Said scientific principle is flagged up as a theme from the first episode
4 - Both stories have their first two episodes take place mostly inside the TARDIS itself with minimum guest cast
5 - Both stories feature part of the TARDIS being jettisoned
6 - Both stories feature the Master as the central villain
7 - Both stories prominently feature Block Transfer Computation as a plot device

It is UNCANNY. And, what's more... this somehow doesn't feel that glaring. I think it has to be a deliberate act on Bidmead's part to mirror Logopolis in the beginning of a new era... whether it works is a different manner. Whereas Logopolis can justify its slow pace due to the 'slow burn' form of drama being used and its very deliberate funereal overtones... traditionally the new Doctor's debut is meant to be upbeat, quick, bouncy, dramatic. Look at them - Power of the Daleks, Spearhead in Space, Robot, Twin Dilemma, Time and the Rani... say what you want about the actual STORIES, it's hard to accuse any of them for being slow..

Of course, it could be a matter of when Bidmead got the idea for the city of Castrovalva itself, because the plot has to do a big 180 in Episode 2 to get itself to that city. It's interesting because not many stories go from "The Doctor is being hunted down ruthlessly by his arch nemesis!" to "The Doctor has decided to have a nice, relaxing holiday..." Though I'm sure Ewen can bring up some obscure TVComic examples for me...

At any rate, I think Bidmead really had to do Frontios. Simply to prove that he could actually write something else.


* Just thinking, it's a bit of a shame that Nyssa wasn't the one kidnapped - not that I don't like her but her cool-headedness does stunt the drama a little bit.

Or, at least, more should have been done with the BTC-Adric illusion. You know, something evil apart from the setting of the course. Then you could have had some real tension rather than finding out in Episode 1 that the Master has the real Adric captive. One of the problems with classic Who is that the cards are often on the table too early - imagine how much stronger that first cliffhanger could have been if Adric had come into the console room when they realise that they're headed towards Event One, Nyssa sees him "Adric, the controls, you have to do something!", Adric gives the Master's little giggle, and all of a sudden a gun appears in his hand...

Would that not be awesome?


* The Event One thing confused me on a re-watch as well... they keep using the phrase "galaxy". That's a bit parochial isn't it? Surely it's the Big Bang they're going back to, what with Nyssa's cry of "We're going back.. to the biggest explosion in history!!"

Nice that this time they didn't make it "The biggest bang in history!" Giving those programme guides a little less to play with..


* Oh, and seeing it again I noticed which impressions Davison was doing. The first time Hartnell and Troughton were the only ones that I noticed, as they're definitely the clearest - indeed, Hartnell is the only one where his voice genuinely sounds like him, and Troughton is a straight play on the mannerisms. It's a nice bit of diversion but it's easy to see why no other Doctors ever did it.

On the commentary Janet mistakedly guesses that his Hartnell is Troughton, causing Davison to grumble "Shows you how good it was, doesn't it?"

His Pertwee performance deserves to immortalised for all time, for actually making mine look decent. I can only say one line of his - "..with YOU, Brigadier!!!!" (Mind of Evil)


* It has to be said, though, that this story is a brilliant looking production. The location work is stunning, and not for the first time left me amazed at what glorious locales they have burrowed away in the dreary old mother country - it's just an obscure little forest, and yet the oversized Aztec hunting outfits worn by the Castrovalvans look entirely in context. The rocks also link up seamlessly with the video footage in the studios, and the Castrovalva set itself is nothing short of a masterpiece. Commendation needs to go to Bidmead for creating a story which really does make one set representing an entire city credible.

It makes me think that maybe Bidmead took a look at the finished product with Logopolis, noticed that the finale involved Tom Baker mock-crawling along a narrow gantry while the camera rotates, a very obvious cardboard cut-out of Anthony Ainley looking on, and culminates with a toy dropping off a miniature satellite dish and thought "Hmm, that did actually push the budget a bit"...


* At the same time, though, Castrovalva is quite an excellent piece of world building in its simplicity. We do, of course, only meet the three Castrovalvans - Rukil, Margreave and Shardovan. Oh, and the little girl, I guess. But the magic is that you don't even notice how narrow a view you're getting, because of the broad archetypes presented. It's made clear that Rukil is the typical Castrovalvan citizen, by the way that the short-tempered and fastidious Margreave does his best to emulate his behaviour, and the way that Shardovan is quite openly teased as an eccentric by the other two. From this we know the dynamic of the city-state as a whole, and don't really need any more characters, apart from the very genial 'Portreeve' at a pinch.

It's quite excellent, in fact, the way that the Portreeve and Shardovan are handled. An excellent act of misleading the audience - the twist certainly does not come out of nowhere, but is still shocking. Firstly Shardovan looks like the Master, and dresses all in black. He is also withdrawn and secretive, and doesn't take a liking to the Doctor. Because of this the audience will mistrust him. Yet, at the same time, Shardovan never does anything evil - the worst he does is block the Doctor's path when they're trying to escape near the close of Episode 3 but, of course, he doesn't trust the Doctor at all and you have to admit the blighter's acting quite suspicious. The audience may also be duped into believing that Shardovan stole the Zero Cabinet - but there's nothing to say that he did. Adric is the more likely candidate..

The Portreeve, on the other hand, could not look more harmless or behave nicer if he tried. BUT this is all superficial - when he meets the Doctor he is the only person in the city who knows who he is (the Doctor himself included) The audience may see this as an act of supernatural insight on his part, but of course it's actually foreknowledge. It is also worth noting that the inhabitants of Castrovalva don't seem to know his habits particularly well - they are surprised to see him out and about at night time and have trouble finding his house.

Seeing it again I spent quite a bit of time scrutinising the performance and make-up of Anthony Ainley in the role to see whether it was convincing. I eventually decided that it wasn't, really, as the eyes gave it away and they needed a bit more prosphetic work not to be identifiable as his own in closeup. But then... when the Master unveiled himself, my mum was in complete shock. She never suspected for a second.

So... I guess it was quite effective.


* I was also quite pleased to find that the DVD release does NOT feature, in anyway, a little tidbit apparently added to the VHS release of the story (according to an article I read) of a brief shot of a white pailing fence from behind the TARDIS dematerialising, accompanied by Ainley's perpetual malicious giggle.

Seriously, what a terrible idea.

Do we need an explanation for HOW the Master escapes this shit? No. We really don't. Then imagine how little we need a scene that shows the Master escaping, but explains nothing at all about how he came to be there. Why spoil the lingering and disturbing image of the Master screaming out for mercy in a dark tunnel as the angry mob strips away his robes? A brilliant little parallel to Dante that is very effective and, we all know, what the Master truly deserves.

I quite like the Mark of the Rani approach myself:

THE DOCTOR: You had your head cut off, was doused in petrol, and were thrown into a pit of burning pigs!
THE MASTER: A scratch! Nothing more!


*

Interesting to note at the close of the 'Master' trilogy, a slight parallel to the last series. In one story we meet the man who will become the Master as an old, kindly scientist who the Doctor accepts with great fondness, before he is possessed by the Master while the Doctor is offscreen. In the next he assumes power over a city that the Doctor is destined to visit, prepares it for merciless otherworldly forces, and effectively kills the Doctor. In the final he seems to have every means possible of certain success, especially after taking a companion captive, and is going out of his way to torment the Doctor and his friends.. until the Doctor's companions' belief in him allows him to fight back, and the Master is apparently dead at the very close.

Yes, Russell T. Davies' trilogy is completely different in terms of substance. But in terms of structure the comparison is interesting..


*

I really can't remember much from the DVD commentary from this one, but then that may be the destructive presence of both Peter Davison and Janet Fielding, who have a great talent for robbing things of all credibility. They are counter-measured quite well by the good ol' H. of Bidmead and Fiona Cumming, both of whom are quite proud of their work and deservedly so. For the most part there aren't any big surprises - Peter hates his costume, Janet hates her hair, Fiona hated having to shoot around three TARDIS sets for the first episode, and so on. In fact, the only thing that's stuck in my mind is Janet Fielding insisting she was in serious danger of breaking her neck in the rock-climbing scene over Fiona Cumming flatly saying they weren't even six feet off ground; and Janet and Peter being unable to watch a single scene to feature Shardovan without pissing themselves laughing because the guy was apparently a massive prankster.

I guess I should mention that Waterhouse in the Traken commentary asserted that Anthony Ainley was bald in real life, wearing a wig constantly and, if he is to be believed, wore a wig OVER his wig for the Portreeve scenes. Heh.



So that's it for me from the moment. I'll be back with something far less mature and shorter at a future date.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stories not as great as TERROR OF THE VERVOIDS

This is going off the recent Eurovision Ratings Competition on OG which I, erm... sort of destroyed. Oh, no, nothing permanent, everything's still standing but... well..

Okay, it works like this, you have ten stories to vote for. Top one gets 12, the next 10, then the last 8 to 1 points. This system is quite cool because it gives favourites of the group being voted for a strong lead, but stories ranked in the middle still get a significant boost. And generally there are so many to vote for in the group that ones that are consistantly voted middling can do better and so on.

I am, as is known, quite a big Colin Baker fan. The man's just class. Because of this, I wanted him to do decent out of the 'final' round, wherein the candidates were all of the winners from the individual Doctors' rounds, where each Doctor got a story in for every six stories or a similar such system. Which meant Colin only had two - Revelation of the Daleks and Terror of the Vervoids. Yes, not Varos or Two Doctors, which I would rather have gotten through.

I wanted to show my support, so I gave Vervoids 10 points after seeing nobody else had voted for it and not many of my faves had ultimately made the final. (12 went to War Games, naturally)

After I did that at least three people gave it 12 points.

Yes, I destroyed the vote.

So, in the eyes of this massively important poll (wherein Human Nature is astonishingly, the best DW story ever(!)) Vervoids made 66pts and #27 out of the final 36.

Here are the stories it beat...


#36 - The TVM 16pts

Well, this shouldn't surprise anyone, should it? It seems common consensus in fandom that the 3 hour film of David Beckham sleeping that that mentally ill artist made would make a better Doctor Who story than what Phillip Segal came up with. Or that Steven Segal would do a better job. It was only in the final by default as being Paul McGann's only foray into the world of television that we philistines give a shit about.

That said, when I was, erm, ten, nine? I liked the TVM on first broadcast. Honestly, first Doctor Who I'd seen. The bit with the snake in the throat and the motorcycle bit were awesome. Everything else is a blur. Not seen it since.

But I'm sure that it cannot compare to the wonder of seeing the grumpy bloke from GP muttering "On the previous occassion that the Doctor's path crossed mine, I found myself in a web of mayhem and intrigue" as if he has a gun jabbed in the back of his head.


#35 - The Impossible Planet 28pts

This is a story that the big kid in me loved - creepy tatooed men, gunfire, glowing red-eyes, black holes, the Devil... I mean, I did once suggest a story about a gateway into Hell opening up for a school play so I guess this sort of stuff is in my blood.

But The Impossible Planet, as much as I enjoy it, borders on being more of a collection of set-pieces than a coherent story - demonstrated by the infamous cliffhanger and the finale wherein the Doctor shouts about how great he is to a Balrog for five minutes and inspires Alan Stevens to sue the BBC.

Some writers are able to work a kind of magic where you're left no thinking about the loose strands in the story... but Matt Jones doesn't pull it off.

There's nowhere near the level of mastery as the 'guess how the Doctor knew his mate was disguised as a Mogarian' game we're invited to play halfway through that masterpiece of the Bakers' devising...


#34 - Revelation of the Daleks 35pts

Well, Revelation is a story that doesn't sit right with me in the first place. It could have been a decent Doctor-lite story if

A) There had been any need for them back then
B) Every other story in the season had not ALSO been a Doctor-lite
C) It was not ALSO a Dalek-, plot-, and companion-lite story..
D) Why the fuck would you want the Doctor not to be involved in a Dalek story???

Eric Saward's bitterness and drive for darkness results in a few good scenes and Alexei Sayle is definitely good, but the entire thing feels more like Kaldor City than Doctor Who.

And even so, it cannot compare with the shocking darkness of Edwardes announcing his intentions to break Mel's neck as a prelude to his rape of her in incredibly jolly terms?


#33 - The Aztecs 37pts

Bah, John Lucarotti! What does he have against Pip 'n Jane? Can the moral issues of human sacrifice even begin to compare to genocide against the mighty Vervoid race?!?


#32 - The Five Doctors 37pts

Okay, The Five Doctors has a lot going for it. It is the ultimate kitschy anniversary special experience - four (and-a-bit) Doctors, waaay too many companions, and outdated pieces of automobilia coming back onto the stage. It is quite infamous for having an incredibly silly plot and no real substance, but then that is part of the idea.

However, it also generated an egregious amount of tacky, poorly thought-out spin-off stories from Uncle Terrance, most of which seem to serve no purpose but to scream "No, Borusa is cool, I like the guy!" in the midst of commiting intertextual narrative auto-fellatio.

In comparison the Bakers have contented themselves with a single Rani spin-off CD - The Rani Rides The Whirlwind (or something like that, I'm not an encyclopedia). I believe the follow-ups were intended to be The Rani Rides the Washing Machine, Enter the Rani: The Price is Your Soul, and Carry on Up The Rani.

Incidentally, Kate Omara is willing to reprise the role. That's a big surprise, innit?


#32 - An Unearthly Child 39pts

Bah! It's not as if this episode has any significance.

Seriously, though, having finally seen the first episode I can understand why this story is held in high regard. Or, rather, that one episode. It's the perfect pitch for the series, filled with magic but menace, and introduces the idea so well. It's rather appropriate that the accepted title for the story (rather than 100 000 B.C which lacks considerably in terms of punch) takes it's name entirely from the first episode, the bit everybody remembers and that actually is good. In a way, it IS the first 'one-off story', 42 years before Rose (ALSO named after the companion - coincidence?) because the events are entirely unconnected to all of the running about on prehistoric Earth that always fails to even briefly sustain my interest.

This dilly-dallying over whether it counts as one story or two or what it's title should be, however, is INSIGNIFICANT compared to the Trial of a Time Lord furore, of which the stupendousglorious Terror of the Vervoids is an integral part.


#29 The Time Meddler 47pts / Enlightenment 47pts

..hang on, why the hell does this count as a draw when the guy put Five Doctors ahead of Aztecs? Man, I'm confused.

Anyway, I've barely even watched The Time Meddler, all I know is that it contains the line "What do you think it is, hmm? A space helmet for a cow??" and stars Peter Butterworth of the Carry On films. But can Butterworth compare to Honor Blackman, whose name is not only quite silly, but also led to her being cast as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger? Seriously a Bond Girl in DW, I found that awesome!

Erm... Enlightenment. I liked that one. However, spaceships made out of wood? They would be instantaneously disintegrated under the incredible pressures of space! Obviously something metal would be far more appropriate. And which story features metal spaceships? Why, the indominatably superlative Terror of the Vervoids, of course!


#28 The Fires of Pompeii 63pts

... okay I've got nothing. WHAT DID I DO? As I've said, Fires of Pompeii is, IMHO, probably the best story since the show has come back. The only New Series story I could contemplate putting into my Top Ten. It is... just brilliance. The design, the look, the script ... at the moment I can't see anything taking it from my fave of the season position, especially given the shocking apathy that overcame me upon actually seeing Doctor Who in a Confusing Adventure With a Sarth-Effricken Slapper.

So... no, Terror of the Vervoids is not better than this. It still only beat it by three points, so that's something.

But then... do sinister, towering, flame-covered Megatron clones really compare to giant leaf-covered genitals with Geordie accents?

Oh, wait. Yes. Damn.


Anyway, I guess I'd best mention the Top Ten from the competition while I'm here:


1st = Human Nature = 258
2nd = City of Death = 243
3rd = Blink = 237
4th = The Caves of Androzani = 236
5th = Genesis of the Daleks = 213
6th = The Talons of Weng-Chiang = 205
7th = The Empty Child = 195
8th = The War Games = 188
9th = The Girl in the Fireplace = 180
10th = Inferno = 158


Not exactly what I'd have picked, but I think they're all worthy contenders. Though somebody I know may disagree with an entry in one of the prime numbers on that list...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Indiana Jones and The Law of Diminishing Returns

I think two weeks ago, or something comparable (I have trouble keeping track of dates) I went and saw the latest Indiana Jones, the film once known as Indiana Jones and The Saucer Men From Mars which has since settled down into the more audience-friendly but conversely more misleading title of Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull. (Said Kingdom being founded by the Saucer Men From Mars..)

I haven't brought this up before now because the sole reason I went to see it was because I was in need of a film to watch to enter a Sydney Morning Herald competition to become an unofficial film critic, covering the Sydney Film Festival. Yes, although I would actually have to sit through the shit you can imagine being plied on semi-willing gawkers at the frigging Film Festival I was willing to do it simply to get some of my dashingly lucid strings of words in a place were people may find themselves actually reading them, even if it was via mishap.

But... I did not win the competition. My mind is still struggling to comprehend this most remote of contingencies, my ego telling me that the idea of somebody actually doing a better job is clearly utterly impossible, and thus the fault is either with the snobs adjudicating the competition being unimpressed by the mainstream nature of my choice of film, the morons adjudicating the competition being actually unable to read in the first place, or the lecherous wind-smears adjudicating the competition being unimpressed by my lack of DD-assets and/or willingness to blow them in the back alley after scrawling "I LIK3 CoOl Run1n6s!" on the back of a napkin.

As a result, I'm tempted to ignore Indiana Jones entirely, and simply review The Sydney Morning Herald itself, as a cabal of tasteless, philistine arseholes who simply aren't ready for a devil-may-care blogger of the 21st who tells it like it is and listens to Radiohead. (Obscure reference) But I guess I should digress and show my award-losing entry:

The opening of ‘Indiana Jones IV’ is promising - through use of the immortal line “What am I guilty of, apart from surviving an atomic blast?” and the introduction of Cate Blanchett’s bug-eyed psychic Soviet sword-mistress, it promises a demented thrill-ride that should be avoided at all costs by the lactose-intolerant. However, it also takes place in a locale briefly glimpsed in the very first film of the series, and seemingly throws us halfway into the story. This heralds the film’s two major problems, common among most blockbuster sequels: a staggeringly over-complicated plot and an over-reliance on gimmicky throwbacks to it’s own past. The references begin harmlessly enough, but steadily inflate in self-indulgence until one of Indiana’s old damsels springs from the woodwork, and things all get bogged down irretrievably thereon. And be prepared: this film’s ending breaks new ground in the ridiculous.

My mistakes were probably that I didn't make enough references to the fact that the kid from Transformers impersonates Marlon Brando and neglected to state that Indy's ex girlfriend appearing was Karen Allen as all other reviewers have - after all, we need to know Karen Fucking Allen is in the movie, being a titanic starlet looming over all Hollywood, an idol of the screen whose majestic career is matched only by the overly prolific Sean Young. (Note: this is sarcasm)

See the competition called for originality (which is why I didn't go down the list-the-actors-and-what-they-do path of 8 billion community news hacks take) wit, and memorability, all of which I thought I did very well, and in 150 words as specified. I'm so happy with that that I'm declaring myself the Greatest Film Critic In The World.

What's that? This is eerily similar to Larry Miles' recents bouts of egomania? No, my friend. This is different. I really am the Greatest Film Critic In The World.

Anyway, resplendent in my title and the throne I assume will come with it, I can tell you my real thoughts on Indiana Jones and The Implausible Series of Cold War Plots Set Against a Watered-Down Ed Wood Pastiche, that haven't been compressed into the amount of words that a Sydney Morning Herald writer can read without passing off from blood-loss to the brain.

As I said, the film has a great start - lots of absolutely ridiculous action, which isn't very clever and completely lacking in substance, but has become such a staple of blockbusters that we expect it in every film. It has gotten to the point where an adaptation of Lord of the Rings, one of the most stately and dour books ever to be written, featuring dwarves being thrown around like rag-dolls won't even raise an eyebrow. So... Indy is brought to the warehouse from Raiders and beat up until Cate Blanchett, still dressed as Bob Dylan just now in a figure-hugging Stasi jumpsuit, approachs.

Our Cate is batshit insane in this film, as is quickly demonstrated by her saying she will get her answers from Jones before holding her hand above his head... and then doing nothing. And THEN going all bug eyed and shaking as if she's just had a very 'special' moment. Yes, she's a frigging psychic.

A point of interest for me is incidentally that all of the Russian soldiers are played by actual Russians. This was, according to a Spielberg interview, because he wanted the accents to be genuine. This would probably be a view fit for me to champion save for a very important fact: the actual Russian soldiers get about 3 lines of dialogue - out of, what, 1000 of them? This means that effectively the only Russian character you ever hear is Colonel Doctor Ilena Spalko. Aka Our Cate - whose Russian accent rings with the same credibility of Lambert Wilson's French accent in The Matrix Reloaded (which led to me and my mates dubbing his character 'The Welshman')

Mind you, this seems pretty commonplace. Having seen The Chronicles of Narnia: Young Whitebreads Save the World Again - Now With Extra Allegory! (which is being released under the less punchy Prince Caspian moniker) I was surprised at the decision to make the Telmarines (read: bad guys) all extremely 'Euro Trash' mostly by getting them presumably from the agency that supplied the man-shaped French punching bags in both Sharpe and Hornblower, and yet Caspian himself, the one Telmarine who really plays a visible role in the story aside from Uncle Miraz, is played by an actor by the name of Ben Barnes.

No, there is not an accent missing from that e, nor is the 's' meant to be a 'z'. He's so Anglo he makes me feel exotic. And you better believe he essentially sounds like me impersonating Carlos Santana while drunk throughout the entire film. Man, this rankled me. Like - what the hell, haven't they invented young people on the other side of the Channel? They're just hiring unknowns for fuck's sake - are people coming to the cinema after seeing Ben Barnes' name on the poster? If anything they're coming for the massively misleading promise of Tilda Swinton and Liam Neeson (each get about three lines) featuring in the film and to check out whether the series has taken an inadvertent Harry Potter route with the girl playing Lucy becoming jailbait overnight. (SPOILER: She has not)

Between you and me, though, Eddie Izzard is in the film voicing Reepicheep and he alone is worth the price of admission. See it for him!

So, what was I talking about? Oh, yes, Indiana Jones is Here And Lucas Has Lost His Medication.

Okay, stuff happens and... well, you've all seen it. Indy has been captured to identify a crate in the Raiders warehouse that contains a dead alien. Curiously the Russians have chosen the most absolutely bad-arse of those present at the crash site of an alien UFO to bring in to show them which crate... and have also cleverly chosen somebody who has no fucking idea where the crate is. Think of maybe, I dunno, getting a double-agent who works in the warehouse? Rather than making Indy's fat bloke partner a double-agent instead?

So then a nuclear bomb goes off and Indy survives because he's in a fridge, then he meets the Janitor from Scrubs who won't give him his autograph and makes Jim Broadbent lose his job as seat-filler at the Oscars and just when it looks like he's nearly out of this zarking ridiculous film by going to England by train (it's a magic train) he gets cornered by the kid from Transformers, or possibly a younger version of the dad from Transformers Back to the Future-style because that would explain the massive age-differences, who is obviously Indy's son but we're not meant to realise this until the last 30 minutes, and he spews up exposition all over Indy's jacket about characters we haven't met or heard of before but luckily just when we're realising we don't care the Janitor from Scrubs starts off a massive motorbike chase threw a library and then I think I passed out from Fanta fumes and filled in the mental blanks later with details from some slash fic I read.

The film sucks. Screw this reviewing mularkey. I relinquish my title.

ANYWAY, the one truly interesting thing from the film comes from this site, wherein a fellow pundit (with some actual degree of pundicity) found, some time ago, a synopsis of Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men From Mars (Yes I am fucking serious) the original pitch for the film that Lucas loved, and everybody else hated.

The funny part is - from when Indy gets pulled out a boot [or 'trunk' if you will] onwards... is basically the film in cinemas, give or take a find-and-replace with Karen Allen's character. And the guy writing the article mocks every idea in the film ruthlessly, saying that it would be absolutely ridiculous.

And he has a point.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jared Reviews The Unicorn and the Wasp!

The Unicorn is fairly hot. The Wasp less likeable.

As a side note, Ewen is quite right that he looked rather a lot like Mark Gatiss. Which is interesting, when you think about that Marple TV movie that they did, I think called Murder in the Vicarage in which there are two vicars, one played by Tim McInnerny and the other played by Mark Gatiss and they are really, REALLY difficult to tell apart.

So... all priests in the Christieverse are Sontaran-style clones. Bear that in mind.

The astute may have realised by now that I'm planning to crap on aimlessly rather than my usual review style.. this is because I had the sneaking suspicion that this episode would be so fun for me that I wouldn't want to spoil it by pausing it constantly and jotting something down in Wordpad and, less selfishly, that it would probably end up as lots of "LOl, that's funny!" style comments.

And... I turned out to be quite accurate in my assessment. This is a very funny episode indeed, probably the silliest Who story ever (well... televised. Let's not get into Doctor Who and The Pirates and Mad Dogs and Englishmen here..nor any of those TV comic stories I've heard of where Troughton and Jamie spent weeks fighting off Quarks and giant wasps from Icecream factory planets with bows and arrows on scooters) And.. I don't know what's not to love about it. Well, aside from one thing, I guess..


The Sly, They Came in From The Cold Opening

I have a sneaking suspicion that the cold-open may have been written by RTD, ala Rise of the Cybermen, because it shares quite a bit with that one in terms of absolutely astonishingly crap writing. Of course, the main difference being that this one isn't very funny. I mean, if the wasp was buzzing at Professor Peach in complete incoherence, and Peach said "OH? And how do you intend to do that - FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE?!?" it would be piss-funny. Nonsensical, but funny.

As it is "Oh, it's you. And what were you planning to do with that lead pipe?" is... no. It's like something ripped from an Oxford textbook of what funny is meant to be. It's ironic of course, but that doesn't make the joke seem clever. It feels very dumb. If it could have been turned around to have another level to it, like, I dunno, Peach says "Ah, trying your hand at a bit of plumbing were you? Nice hefty pipe you've got there - oh, yes, I'd like to take a closer look, now you mention it, just give me a moment to read through this document I've just discovered..."

And, you know, he ducks his head down reading the birth certificate, thus ironically presenting the bloke who is obviously going to beat him with an iron bar the perfect angle to beat his head in with.

YEAH, I KNOW IT ISN'T FUNNY! But it's getting there! See, this is what I mean, the bit desperately needs work. And that's why I think it could be RTD. I'm not saying his stuff isn't funny, but even his biggest fans admit that when it comes to Doctor Who a lot of RTD's jokes fall flat, and a lot of the time it's due to what seems to be a very rushed writing - his jokes leap out at you, rather than, say, Moffat, who seems to weave them into the story. A lot of his jokes are given a setup you barely even notice and other intricacies. But there's none of that in these first few scenes, and it's really a pity because I think they have the power to turn people off the show entirely. Like, say, somebody who started screaming "SPARACUS MUST HAVE WRITTEN THIS SHIT!!!"

It's not just the lead pipe bit, it's also, of course, what deserves to be an infamous line the "Never mind Planet Zog!" bit which is just... whoa. Totally baffling. I didn't think it was possible to BE this baffled. Something that has been found is that the public like 'Planet Zog' (even when it's shoved mid-season because some cowards are paranoid people will snigger the instant anything filmed near a quarry is screened) and that 'Planet Zog' is a phrase meaningless aside to fans that follow interviews with RTD, and most fans who are familiar with it HATE IT because of it's massively condescending nature.

So... example #5000 of RTD actively pissing off his fanbase because he has them all at his mercy?


Tequila, Mockingbird!

And interesting side-discovery from this episode was this nugget from Wikipedia:

Roberts, a self-confessed fan of Christie's works, made the episode into a comedy, the first Doctor Who story to do so since Donald Cotton's serials The Myth Makers and The Gunfighters, in 1965 and 1966, respectively.[5]

Hmmm. So. The Highlanders, The Three Doctors, The Sun Makers, The Pirate Planet, The City of Death, The Horns of Nimon, The Two Doctors, Delta and the Bannermen and Silver Nemesis were all serious dramas, were they? And that's not even going into the expanded universe!

I do find the notion amusing, though, that supposedly a show could go 41 years without somebody saying "Hey, we should do a funny episode!"

And, Myth Makers the first comedy? What was the dramatic subtext behind The Romans, then? Because whatever it was, I missed it!


Anyway, setting aside all that guff, it becomes clear that once you're past the amusement abortion that precedes the story that we're into something very funny. Lawrence Miles is indeed right when he says that this is primarily a pastiche of those godawful Christie telemovies that get pumped out like Model T Fords from some BBC factory in Ispwich, committing such horrors as wasting Paul McGann as a dude in an eyepatch who does nothing but sit around looking sorry for himself. He argues that this is a case of DW elevating television above all else. I say bollocks to that - the simple fact is that Christie's media is written, and you can't spoof a written style on television, unless you try and act out the actions described in the books absolutely literally. But that joke would be beyond lost on people. So you're restricted to pastiching the most obvious visual reference point for Agatha Christie stories - said AWFUL glacial movies.

And what a brilliant... fuck, I've been using the wrong word. 'Pastiche' is beyond generous. It is a complete, butchering mockery of everything that the shows are about.

The constant flashbacks are the first thing lampooned, and done well by making them oh so much more OTT than they ever have been in the actual shows, by the ludicrous addition of harp sound effects and that weird visual 'warbling' you get in all the shows. It's great to see that all of the guests are lying through their teeth about what they did, and what's great is that this is ANOTHER joke in itself that you don't get until the end and you think about it - the murderer is the only one whose flashback does look innocent, and who doesn't seem to be lying. A very deliberate and blatant screw to the audience, especially when the identity of the murderer is massively illogical from the events of the opening scene.

Oh, and as a side note I adore the nutjobs of fandom for screaming "GAY AGENDA!" with regards to a homosexual coupling in this episode played entirely for laughs. Nevermind the fact that there hasn't been another gay couple in the series since... bloody hell, the decrepit lesbians in Gridlock is the last one that I can recall at any rate. So... one gay couple a year, that's 'agenda' worthy, is it? Arguably the classic series clocked up about that many, though none of them were explicity but, come on - Vivien Fay and Rumford? Stubbs and Cotton? That dude inexplicably dressed like an Egyptian in The Time Monster who manages to make every single line sound like a double entendre for performing oral sex on another man whilst talking to Ingrid Pitt??? Actually.. come to think of it, the entire guest cast of The Time Monster?


The Hunter Read October

So, anyway, it's farly obvious that Agatha Christie is going to be the detective in this story, but when that's happening there is the matter of what the Doctor himself is going to be doing for the next 45 minutes. See, that's the trouble with comedy stories, says the fanboy from his snippet of experience with the unfinished fic To Catch a Thief, is that it is easy to create guest characters who are funny and have them be themselves. But the show is ALWAYS about the Doctor. It's easy to create a comedy premise, slightly harder to work the Doctor into it.

The Pirate Planet goes around this by having no characters at all in on the joke.. in a sense this isn't hard because Romana and the Doctor are on a whole other plane to the audience, so what is to us completely absurd (turning a planet into a TARDIS and using it to eat other planets) is to them fairly understandable stuff. The Highlanders has the newly regenerated Doctor finding himself in a situation where a bunch of idiots are in charge, kicking back to see how his companions handle themselves and intermittenly decided to fuck with some bureaucrat's heads if he gets bored. Love & Monsters... well, that does ignore the Doctor. Boom Town! has the Doctor have dinner with an alien who accuses him of mass murder in massively illogical arguments ad nauseum... yeah, that one stands out, doesn't it?

TUATW, if any of the above takes the Highlanders road. The Doctor finds there is a murder, and that Christie is around. Now, because Tennant is (hitherto unmentioned) a pants-wetting Christie fanboy nothing could please him more with the possible exception of Mme Pompadour with a french tickler, so he wants to see how things unfold, and giving Christie a prod in the right direction when she's uncertain of what the hell she's meant to be doing.

What's funny is that the story doesn't really elevate Christie to a state of genius (as it hasn't, really, for Shakespeare or Dickens before her..) - her investigations are, in the entire point of the episode, fortuitous observations based on her own astonishingly formulaic and hackneyed form of writing. It's quite funny watching her stumble across unbelievably major clues, such as the box of thieve's tools that have been, ludicrously, dumped in the rose bed.

And, then at the same time there's the gigantic wasp going around of course..


The Beagle - Two Handed!

So why is there a giant wasp in this episode? Why? What is going on with that? I don't watch Confidential so I understand that it could have been a JNT-style demand from RTD as he wandered into the writer's room with his usual white powder-y mustache inbetween demands that a bandril be brought to his bedroom or, as somebody suggested, that the entire thing was a tribute to Craig Hinton (actually, nobody probably suggested that. Just somebody said Craig would have thought it was neat...)

But... well, monster-of-the-week and all of that but the Wasp doesn't add much to the episode. I'm not complaining but I'd have thought if you wanted an alien menace of absolute absurdity to amuse the audience you could have gone a bit further than a giant wasp. It's silly but... what about an evil Alpha Centauri?

Somebody online suggested that it would have been cool for this entirely silly story to BE the first 'pure' historical since Black Orchid and, I have to say, I champion this idea. They specifically submitted the idea of the 'giant wasp' thing to be the work of 'smoke and mirrors' or a 'mind altering drug', so I'm saying the episode should have ended with a bewildering nod to the resolution of And Then There Were None with Professor Peach being the murderer himself, having faked his own death to throw everyone off the scent, using his experience as a celebrated music hall magician and a master chemist.

For that to really work you'd want him to be played by Paul Darrow.

So love the idea? No? Right. Nevermind.

Oh, and I understand one explanation for the giant wasp thing is in the episode but - no. It doesn't make sense. I read the synopsis for Death in the Skies pretty soon after watching it. Some people think a guy dies from a wasp sting. Poirot tells them that they're morons. A long time later some dude thinks the book will sell better if people are led to believe it contains gigantic wasps. So if you do your homework it REALLY doesn't account for Christie supposedly regaining her memory of events.


Layman's Murder Club

A scene that has become something of a talking point of this episode is the 'charades' scene where the Doctor has been poisoned and is trying to communicate desperately to Donna exactly what he needs. It is funny.




Not much else to say about that. See, this is why I didn't do the minute-by-minute version of the review.

The great thing that it does is exhibit the wonderful dynamic that the Doctor and Donna have, due to the absence of any sexual undertone to their relationship, which beggars the question of why they've shifted the companion relations AWAY from this in the recent series. It seems that there's an assumption that companions are all about telling the Doctor he's very clever, not getting in the way and generally being agreeable, I suspect due to the thoroughly bland but very well-spoken Sarah-Jane Smith, who happened to be companion at the time when most people were watching.

And it's funny because people say "Oh, we hadn't had a companion like Rose before!" Well, we haven't had companions like Jamie, Leela and Romana before or since, have we? The good companions are always unique - in fact most stay away from the SJS-template that's in a lot of people's minds for no good reason, and yet the people writing Who material seem keen to deliberately avoid it.

At least, that's the only explanation I can come up with for BF's adaptation of a set behavioural guide for their companions which seems to go 1) Tell the Doctor to piss off because you're smarter than he is, 2) Go face alien menace and abuse the hell out of them for no good reason, 3) Cry like a bitch for the Doctor's help when you realise you're not quite as hard as you made out. Okay, not EVERY story, but every derivative one for some reason. Oh, but it is every story if we're talking Lucie Miller, who is the most generic companion they've ever made.

So, anyway as I was trying to say it's great to see that the new series is playing with the options that are actually available in a knockabout, asexual rapport between two grown adults. But at the same time worrying that Rose is returning, as she has the most limited dynamic with the Doctor ever...

ROSE: I worship you my surrogate father figure now take me over the console.
THE DOCTOR: ...okay. Can we make some tacky pop-culture asides as we do it?

Anyway, I am slightly irritated about the Doctor's reaction to cyanide being so extreme. Whether or not it contradicts The Two Doctors is, I suppose, something of a moot point, but the Doctor is consistently shown to be massively immune against poisons of all varieties...

But then I guess only one generation has been allergic to the Praxic Gases and so on, so it could just be that Tennant is a big, stroppy, cyanide-wuss.


Harry Potter and The Hollow-y Deaths

For me, there are two zeniths of brilliance in this episode, and in both cases it is due to piss-taking of the worst excesses of the Christie stories. The first is the dining room scene where the Doctor has concocted some improbably genius scene of finding out who the killer is and then... all hell breaks loose in a deliberately unconvincing manner, with lights cutting out and every running madly all of a sudden and - once they come on, there's no clue to who the murderer is and in the chaos - SOMEBODY HAS BEEN STABBED.

This is brilliant because

a) It is, stunningly, done absolutely straight
b) This scene, by law it seems, must appear in every Christ telemovie that gets made

The next one is the obligatory 'corral every suspect into one room and reveal their secrets one by one' scene, which is simply hysterical. The way that Donna is munching on some dinnger in a back seat as if she's watching this on the telly is meta at her best, especially when she shouts out one of the clues in jubillant realisation and her impatient demands of just who the murderer is. Then there's the revelation that Incredibly Posh Girl in Red is the famous jewel thief is followed by her revealing herself to speak with the most unconvincing cockney accent since Donald Sutherland in The Great Train Robbery and talk entirely in cliched London slang. And the obligatory completely pointless revelation that Colonel Jago doesn't need a wheelchair at all (LOVE IT!!!), and small things like the way that Christie keeps looking right at the person she has the bombshell over... before turning to someone completely different at the last minute.

And if I hadn't been sitting down I probably would have doubled over in laughter at the Doctor's endless cries of "YOU!" whilst pointing down the barrel of the camera.

The episode can't keep up this sort of peak, because there's pressure for it to have a 'proper' ending. Botheration. It feels a bit pointless, though, when the action 'climax' is a chase scene involving two quite slow-moving vehicles and.. I have to point out... NO attempt is made to take the piss with this. In this story that's pretty unforgiveable.

And then there's the Doctor at the end, giving a slightly condescending spiel to Donna about how important it all is, and here I was a little put out - Agatha Christie the best-selling novelist, ever? It seems like a bit of a sleight against mankind to me, for the utmost in generic and formulaic storytelling to remain popular throughout our entire history - and slightly out of character for the Doctor to put so much weight in market statistics.

I think it needs to be put into perspective that Christie died in the 70s. It's a bit early to judge whether her works are immortal stuff at the moment! Especially considered that they aren't really considered much in artistic terms at the moment.

Besides, although she is technically the best-selling novelist in terms of accumulated figures from all of her books, the figure is slanted due to her loyal fanbase and the fact that she wrote far more than the average writer. In terms of how many copies were sold of any individual book she is beaten by J.K Rowling, Charles Dickens and Tolkien among others.

I dunno, I guess I find something slightly depressing about Christie being hailed as the pinnacle of literary achievement...


All in all - brilliant. Once you get past the shocking opener this episode is wildly funny and a great example of what Doctor Who can do when it's in the mood. I can't fault it much - I just sit back and enjoy it. And it's great, now that he's writing for the TV series, to understand why everybody loves Gareth Roberts. 8/10


WHAT THOSE OTHER LOSERS THOUGHT

IMDBer Response: Will you all shut up about homosexuality! Good grief you're all as bad as each other. It's hardly a matter of great importance is it? There are people starving in the world and the ice caps are melting, who cares about a couple of bummers FFS.


Man With No Sense of Irony Response: And on top of that, we have some incredibly basic (not to say cliched) devices - the "diddly-dee" transitions between flashbacks, for example. It's like "Wayne's World" never happened. AND that same thunder sound effect which has been used in everything since time began makes ANOTHER appearance, the last being in Smith And Jones. And a dolly-zoom so utterly pointless and self conscious that it almost made me fall off my chair. Graeme Harper? You must be joking.

(Be sure to note that this fellow considers Wayne's World to be a landmark in film history. Wayne's World.)


Cave-Dweller's Response: Waaaah?! RTD is gay?


Nyder's Response: I wonder what they'll be saying about Doctor Who twenty years from now? Probably they'll show a clip from this episode of a man dressed as a Vicar, going "buzz, buzz" before disappearing in a cloud of pink smoke and turning into a CGI wasp!


Angrier IMDB Response: God that was crap. Donna was crap sound effects were crap, effects were crap. Donna figuring out in a split second that holding up the magnifying glass at the right point would burn the wasp was crap.

Donna was pretty *beep* as well, the doctor wouldn't stand a human killing another species purely because "their scary"

Also

Doctor: "This is the biggest library in the universe...so where is everyone?"

Me: "ON THE *beep* INTERNET"


Michelle would never *beep* a horse.

(... I didn't think that she would.)


That Same IMDBer Response One Day Later: i was drunk last night so that post was written whilst i was singing about portsmouth winning fa cup

(Wow. Would never have guessed it...)


Johnstone Response: I am outraged that there is no outrage over Donna kissing the Doctor. Where are all the anti RTD rants? Where are the people calling Dotor Who a soap? Where's the Spara thread saying that Donna and Agatha Christie had a sexual relationship? And moreso where are all of the "I'm sick of this bloody gay agenda" threads. And of course the old classic "How many steriotypical "CAMP" delights did RTD put into this episode"

What is wrong with the world? Has fandom lost it's ability to be outraged? Or have the anti-RTD brigade finally shut up and admitted defeat?


Confused Response: I couldn't figure out whether I was laughing with the episode or at it. 3/5

Paraphrased Lawrence Miles' Response: Agatha Christie? Genius? THEN HOW COME SHE NEVER WROTE FOR DOCTOR WHO?? She was still alive when they were showing Brain of Morbius, for fuck's sake. She didn't have the balls to put on the line like me. Tart.

I could piss And Then There Were None in my sleep. And then drink it! What? I am MAD Larry, after all...


Damon Queery, apparently Behind the Sofa's 'comedy' writer's response: Have we created a generation of Terrence Dickses? Of course not, there's not Doctor Who fan who's managed to procreate yet. Talk about colony collapse disorder - before the resurrection of the show the entire fan community was one box of man-sized tissues and 14 wanking sessions away from it's own collapse. Do me a cumquat. We've all got more chance of copping off with a giant wasp.

(Haha, there is absolutely nothing funnier and more groundbreaking than endless virgin jokes about sci-fi fandom. Keep it coming, brother, keep this unique brand of humour alive!)


Charles Daniels' Response: The Unicorn and the Wasp
By Malcolm Hulke

Brigadier: Doctor, do you really expect me to believe that this woman mated with some sort of giant bee monster?

Doctor: Technically they're wasps dear chap. While it may seem strange to you, Vespiforms have quite
a reputation for being very caring and tender creatures -- traits I often wished you'd share.

Brigadier: (Huff) Be that as it may, hadn't we better evacuate the area immediately?

Doctor: No need to rush and upset the guests. Agatha and I can use our deductive skills to unravel the identity of the vespiform and soon put right to things. And in the meantime you can prove rather useful yourself.

Brigadier: Oh? In what way?

Doctor: Well you know how to mix screwdrivers don't you? Keep our guests happy while I get on with the important stuff. There's a fellow.


And a brief message to Sparacus: pull your head in, mate. When I started these reviews I thought you'd be right there saying insane shit for me to put in these for added humour value. You've been fairly sane this year when you post at all. Now, I can't even keep up the pretense - there's no "Sparacus' Baffling Response" AT ALL. Now that wounds me. It wounds me deeply. So get your act together, and start telling us about the pornographic DVD extras you want of A-grade British actors having sex with one another and when you're going to the bathroom next.


Next Week: ...hmm, the Doctor has to deal with Terry Wogan and an army of massively camp internation 'pop stars'... might have to give it a miss.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

NEWBIE REVIEW #8: Lords of the Storm

Huzzah, a review that actually seems slightly topical, what with the recent if inevitable re-emergence of the Sontarans as a menace it is impossible to take seriously as the world's most overstarched, ineffectual and uncharismatic army colonel is able to kill them as if he's shooting fish in a barrel. With rubber bands.

Seems really as good a time as any to wallow in completely fabricated but very cheery memories of when the Sontarans were the baddest of the bad mofos, tearing it up left right and centre like it was nobodies business. Of course, this is utterly false but Who fans like to believe stuff like that no matter how ineffectual the Sontarans actually were. Myself very much included in that. Man, I want the Sontarans to kick soe arse every once in a while..

Here's what I said of the affrontingly sub-par novel in which the Sontarans get their arses handed to them by the Rutans for 300 pages back in my sickeningly diplomatic days:

Yeah, sorry, but I've been kind of putting off posting this - and I know it sounds pathetic but it's because a) I didn't think the book was very good and know David is a regular here, and b) A lot of negative stuff seems to have been said about this one already. Of course, there is a simple solution: focus on the positives, and bear in mind that he's been criticised by experts and probably won't rate me highly at all.

It's a Fifth Doctor and Turlough book, which is always a good combo and they're quite well realised. Maybe the inner-monologues just last a bit long but there were times when Turlough seemed a bit thick, but otherwise his cynical attitude and cowardice was all present and accounted for. Meanwhile Doc 5 does his usual run-about mumbling exposition breathlessly all while being terribly nice to people routine.

Of course, this book has problems... quite a few. The worlds around Raghi, where the plot is centred aren't very interesting to read about. There's one or two good ideas to do with the colonists being of Indian culture and having a caste system but it doesn't amount to much, and the characters we meet aren't very interesting. The plot is expanded on a great deal, but in the end it all still amounts to 'create a big decoy for aliens to blow up' - and yet the fifth doc spouts out exposition endlessly to explain it.

But - if you're like me - odds are you'll only own this book because of one thing: it's got Sontarans on the cover. Which is just as well, because the Sontarans are very well handled - in fact, reading it I got the impression the whole thing was an excuse to have Sontarans goose-stepping around killing lots of people and being oddly likeable in the process. They're great, and McIntee goes into detail about their ships, weaponry and some oddly subtle avenues like their accepted ettiquette.

This book isn't just about the Sontarans, though - it's got Rutans as well! Or rather Rutan, as McIntee goes into details regarding their species a lot more, revealing them to be a strange collective life-form, sort of like the Borg but all squidgy - far more interesting than that jelly-fish who talked like Meglos that showed up at the end of The Horror of Fang Rock. And, yes, it all ends in a big Rutan/Sontaran battle, just the sort of thing a lot of fanboys like me have wanted to see on screen for years.

It's a bit of a pity that the main guest cast and their planet are so flat, though, as it rather brings down the book's high-points. But, another poster on this board said it best when he (or she) described it as the perfect introduction to DW novels after reading Star Wars novels. Having read Timothy Zahn's books, I have to agree that this book feels like a half-way point between the two universes. It would have made a good light read, were it not for the length, but as it is it can be enjoyable - especially if you like Sontarans. 4/10

(BTW, if you're reading this David, I've also got a copy of The Face of Evil - I'll probably like that one better, eh? )


4/10? 4/10??? YOU COWARD!!

Yes, I was afraid of David A. McIntee. Possibly because he always has James Bond in his avatar and thus could hunt me down in a jet-ski before shooting me or something like that. But NOT ANYMORE!!

Well, okay, it isn't as if Lords of the Storm is a totally valueless festering pile of crap, but it definitely seems like it at times. Generally McIntee is adept at creting characters with interesting quirks at the very least, but the inhabitants of Raghi set new levels in genericness. Even in the review I didn't mention any names, and now I'm sceptical of whether the fact they'd have had any. I'm having trouble remembering what their 'roles' were even... let's see, there was The Traior, The Square Jawed-Hero, The Cute Doctor, and The Grumpy Sultan Who Needs to be Taken Down a Peg or Two...

Incidentally, Grumpy Sultan is not taken down by even half a peg, let alone two. In a scene where the Doctor has got a Sontaran cornered and is about to bring him down peacefully, Sultan pours whisky down his probic vent and sets it on fire, causing the most painful death imaginable. The Doctor's response is naturally "What the fuck are you doing?" and he comes out with something like "WOULD YOU RATHER WE HAD ALL DIED?". Obviously it is at this point that the Doctor should punch the arrogant prick in the face to show that the 5th Doctor still gets pissed off and that he thinks all life deserves better than this, and also to vent his frustrations with this fucking Ravi Shankhar wannabe clownshoe ruling the planet with an iron poppadom. But... I can't remember what happens. He probably just chews some celery and references The Gunfighters in response.

That is the only bit from the novel that sticks clearly in my mind, apart from the ending where Squared Jawed Hero and The Cute Doctor are in a room filled with about 60 heavily-armed Sontarans who all want them dead and there's no possible way for them to run to the TARDIS in time without being shot... and they make it. With no difficulty at all.

At this stage I was majorly pissed off because I WANTED them to die. Not for being unlikeable characters, but just for being so BORING. And also wanting the Sontarans to have a brief moment of competence in this story. I mean, what is it with Sontaran stories? When it's Daleks and Cybermen the writers feel an obligation for the Doctor to come up with a clever way of getting rid of them. But Sontarans? Eh, just have his mates blast the shit out of them. Seriously - Invasion of Time, Slipback, The Sontaran Stratagem and this 300-page waste of my life all work the same way. And it SUCKS. If I want to read pages and pages of the day being won through people shooting madly and rather unrealistically NOT getting shot in return, I read Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels. From Doctor Who I expect something a little more... thought-out.

Oh, also I wanted the two goodie-two-shoes characters to be dead because I think the chick was Grumpy Sultan's daughter and I wanted SOMETHING bad to happen to that guy. If not that I would have settled for Rutan gang-rape.

Ah, the Rutan[s], those loveable and benign rascals. As we know they would never dare harm humanity WHAT??? They're meant to be just as bad as The Sontarans! What the hell is meant to ensure that they don't take over and enslave Raghi right after they've dealt with The Sont? Especially since they now know the technology used by the Raghins and how weak their military is...

Oh, and just a minute ago I remembered how uninspired the writing is. The Traitor dude I mentioned not too long ago? He does his Traitor thing because he's in love with The Cute Doctor and frustrated about it and shit. But then at the end he realises that he's been evil and so rigs the wiring in the Tzun device the Sontarans have captured (What is with the Virgin books and aliens uncharacteristically using borrowed technology purely so the authors can reference their own creations? Remember the Selachian warship in Killing Ground?) so that it explodes in a suicidally noble sacrificey way.

*Sigh*

2/10. Absolute max.

The great thing about this book is that so much bad stuff has been said about it I really can't go any worse than the others...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Comprehensive Anti-Kids Show Rant

Fuck the children's show thing annoys me.

Not the very idea that Doctor Who is a show for children to watch, that bit is fine. I have no problem for that and it would be stupid to pretend otherwise.

My problem is quotes like this:

It’s really a children’s show which adults “happen to love”:
“But ‘Ah!’ I hear some sobbing imploring, ‘a large percentage of the Who audience were adults!’


From a brief perusal on Behind the Sofa, whilst looking for some of Alan Stevens' trademark ranting. Yes, obviously when I speak my case I break down in girlish tears at the imminent threat to my own masculinity, you effing wanker.

It's the militantism about the "Doctor Who is a children's show" group that pisses me off. They argue it in so agressive a nature that you can't help but feel that it's a direct attack against you, that these buggers are prancing up and down in front of you screaming "YOU WATCH A KID'S SHOW, YOU WATCH A KID'S SHOW!", as if I'm some closeted homosexual keeping a shameful secret from my family.

And the thing is... I still don't think it's true. The timeslot was specifically catering for two audiences, as we all know between Jukebox Jury and the football results, with some eye-candy for the dads, at the time that fish fingers were being served and all those nauseating 70s cliches. Yes, it was the children audience they mostly aimed for (until the 80s...) but in execution, and design (for this was what Sydney Newman had intended) it was a family show, and has never been produced by the BBC's children's department.

It is as much a kid's show as The Goodies and Blake's 7 were. But 'Ah' at this point would say somebody desperate to piss me off, as all too many are... 'Ah, but they ARE called kid's shows!'. Yes, thank you that was the point I was getting at - they really aren't. The Goodies was only marketed as a children's show as of the third season, and they liked to keep brief shots of nudity into the series as late as the fifth season (Although it was clumsily edited out here by the AB friggin' C) and Blake's 7... no.

This leads into the cross-cultural issue, which I think is the reason why a lot of Aussie people like myself resent this festering load of crap that people like to bring up when there aren't enough elements to spoil to piss groups in fandom off - here in Australia, our kids shows tend to be pretty cut and dried. As far as I can remember - since turning 9 or 8 or one of those I haven't watched any, because that just isn't done. At least in the country, where we are all dead hard. Kid's shows, from my sketchy experience, are made with zero budget, low levels of talent, ropey premises, and frightening amounts of enthusiasm. Pleasing to a child, but instantly disposable.

To apply this label to Doctor Who feels not just like an insult to the viewer's masculinity, as is the belief of the pro-childers who mock us, but to the show itself. And no matter what your thoughts are on Doctor Who, it's a show with a lot to it... equating it to Agro's Cartoon Corner (if that was the name of it) and The Ferals (which I think later became Feral TV..) and, even though it's not Australian it's of a similar nature, The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers just doesn't add up at all. There's also the fact that no Australian kid's show has ever been watched by upwards of 11 million viewers (which would make it, like, the most watched ANYTHING in the country..) or gotten... or achieved any place in the consciousness equivalent to DW, in spite of the sterling efforts of Bananas in Pyjamas and Play School (I seriously don't remember that show at all. People make references to the Windows and The Clock... I have no idea what they're talking about..)

Of course, there are people like a certain miscreant I know who pull out Press Gang as an example. BUT - it really isn't a fair example, is it? It may be brilliant (never seen it) but most of them... aren't. It's like saying that because of Cracker all police psychology shows are brilliant, ignoring Bones, Monk and, especially, NCIS (shudder).

The other element of the cross-cultural difference is one brought up during some of blogger Ben "Yahtzee" Crowshaw's finest rambling, when he talked about the bewildering differences between living in the UK and living in Queensland. He described Australia as a sickeningly happy place, and as his prime example he used our kid shows, because they featured... people. Happy people. Before he explained that UK shows for children are dominated by creatures like The Teletubbies...as he explained it as though the Poms are so miserable that the idea of people behaving like that was too incredible and that they needed alien beings to make it credible.
And this got me thinking - tying back into The Goodies and Blakes 7... could it be that rather than ever looking, really LOOKING at the shows and what they were about, it was the elements that were not everyday, that required some modicum of imagination and abstract thought, that convinced people that this was 'kid's stuff' in the conservative nature of British 'stuck-in-the-mud' society?

Well.. I don't find it implausible.

The thing that really gets me down, though, is tying the show down in this way. Why? Why a kids show? It can be so much more, it IS so much more to so many people... it's a science fiction (or 'fantasy' if you're an odious pedant who doesn't realise that the 'real science fiction' genre is a figment of your imagination) first and foremost and does a brilliant job, being utterly unique without a show like it encompassing a brilliant array of worlds and monsters and ideas... it will find its own audience? Why tie it down?

And... for the record, as somebody who only came to the show during the ABCs repeat run, I've only seen Doctor Who from my mid-teens onwards - out of the ridiculous 'children' demographic and into the slightly-more-ludicrous 'young adult' demographic. As we all now, in that age bracket you're pretty derisive of 'kids stuff' (apart from some of my weird friends who were still watching Play School when they could for some reason..) I can really say that - give or take a scene where William Hartnell explains how a light switch works for 2 minutes straight - I only thought the show ever had a 'childish' feel was during the late Pertwee era (the time that the majority of 'modern' fandom came to it, coincidence?) and over the course of three middling-to-badly received episodes in the 27th Season (curiously all made by the same director who seems to now be banned from the program for life. Coincidence?)

Again, of course, there's the counter-point that a kid's show doesn't have to be 'childish' for children to watch it - and this is the crux of the opposing argument, the ability to use the considerable ambiguity over precisely what the term really means. In all the time that I have seen OG bombarded with "IT'S A KID SHOW, YOU PILLOCKS!" posts, I am yet to see an actual argument citing any evidence or... well, anything beyond "A lot of kids watch it!" The truth is... these people just think there's something really cool about watching a kid's show for all of their adults life. As if it somehow makes them different, and cool by not conforming to society's expectations... or they just use it as a means to piss off people who take the show 'too seriously'.

Doing a little bit of non-exhaustive digging: Justin Richard's The Legend never uses the phrase 'kid's show', nor does Peter Haining's Key to Time (shut up, I don't have the 'proper' reference books..) the Wikipedia page never mentions the phrase either exept in relation to Totally Doctor Who and Blue Peter, I've looked at a half dozen "What is Doctor Who?" pages, none of which use the term... and finally I re-watched Melvyn Bragg's quite delightful Whose Doctor Who doco.

Conspicuously, again, never called a children's show and one of the first facts noted is that 40% of the audience are adults. Forty percent. That is a lot. And that's clearly not including teenagers who, of course, are a different demographic.

And, finally... I have never, in any references to Doctor Who in the media... heard it referred to as a 'long running children's television show' or any other variation. It's always referred to as what it is - science fiction.

The annoying thing is, though, that Steven Moffat is one of the mob who just say "IT IS!" and leave it at that with no qualification, save for some token rambling about the 'spirit' of the show which returns to the point of the British equating 'not miserable' to 'kid's stuff'. And The Moff's cheerleaders are in full flight and, illogical though it may frigging be, the argument will go in his way.

Thanks a lot, OGers. Were you championing everything the guy did when he was writing seven minutes of fart jokes for Rowan Atkinson and Julia Sawalha?