Thursday, October 27, 2016


This is quite a tricky book to review if I'm being honest. As a lifelong Doctor Who fan and collector I sometimes feel that there is an expectation to like and enjoy everything ... but real life isn't like that, and as the years and products pass, so sometimes things come out which really aren't as good as perhaps they should be ... and as more and more is produced, one starts to hear the sound of the bottom of a barrel being scraped.

With Doctor Who books, they fall these days into all manner of categories. The programme makers and the merchandisers/publishers have a dicotomy ... they want to sell books to young kids - say the 5 to 10 age group, but the show isn't really aimed at that age group and so sometimes features material which is 'grown up' to say the least. It's the same phenomenon which gave us 'Freddie Krueger Knife Gloves' for under 10s to wear at Halloween, when the film was an 18 certificate, and the celebrated 'Freddie' was a child murderer ... hardly someone to be marketed to kids!  Same with Jason/Friday the Thirteenth Hockey Masks. But it's all about the money ...

In the BBC's ongoing quest to squeeze as much money as they can out of the franchise, we have seen the literary offerings increasingly dumbed down, with original fiction being written by the same handful of people over and over again (new voices would bring variety), books for children, colouring books ... there's even a doodle book and a dot to dot book ... but to be fair these are current versions of the sort of thing that was being done in the sixties and seventies.

If you're looking for factual books, then there are the occasional gems. Titles like Marcus Hearn's Doctor Who: The Vault and Stephen Nicholas and Mike Tucker's Doctor Who: Impossible Worlds spring to mind and stand out as great examples. Other so called 'Guides' are just lists of monsters or planets or people, copiously illustrated with the same old publicity photographs of everything ... nothing particularly new or groundbreaking and fundamentally picture books.  Nothing which really goes into the background to the series and presents new information or imagery ... Titles like Russell T Davies' A Writer's Tale are few and far between these days when secrecy as to how Doctor Who is made and developed borders on the paranoid. Thank goodness for Andrew Pixley who alone seems to be given access to document and archive the behind the scenes details for Doctor Who Magazine. Maybe Steven Moffat will be able to pen his own version, laying myths to rest and allowing others to understand the roller-coaster that Doctor Who can be to make.

Which brings us to Doctor Who: The Whoniverse. For a start, it doesn't help that it has the same title as an unofficial book published in 2015 by Lance Parkin. That was another list-based book covering all the various planets seen in the show. By contrast, what George Mann and Justin Richards' tome does is simply to take a timeline through all the worlds of Doctor Who and write it up like a history of the universe. There are a few titles which have already documented all this: Lance Parkin's A History (Mad Norwegian, 2014) is one; and Jon Preddle's Timelink (Telos, 2011) is another, so the bulk of the work had already been done. To be fair, the written content is good and accurate, but it's dry and humourless and recounts Doctor Who stories that we know, using words and terms and phrases and dialogue from the show that we know ... it's all so familiar.

To illustrate the book, rather than use any actual imagery from the show itself, they have called on the talents of some of the artists who have worked on the conceptual side of the programme, as highlighted in the previously mentioned Impossible Worlds.  I said in my review of that book that I would have loved to have seen elements in the show based on the art of Alex Fort, and here it is ... the artists have created planetscapes and paintings of monsters and spaceships ... all in a conceptual style.  What is a shame - and I say this without knowing - is that many of the paintings look 'soft' as though they have been enlarged from smaller originals. Perhaps the painting style is 'soft' in the first place, but it's a little like peering through a vaseline-covered lens (That's a Web Planet reference kids) at the images. In addition, it's amusing to see Daleks with four, three and even two rows of 'balls' on their skirts ... all depending on how the painting has been rendered and how small the images of the creatures are.

The art is, mostly, superb, and this is a nice showcase for it ... but here's the rub. The book has a competant, if fusty, text, nice illustrations ... so why does it fail? Basically because it has no point. It's a £35 hardback, large format and beautifully bound and printed with a padded cover and gold foiling, not to mention faux foxxing on the pages ... a lot of hard work has gone into what is effectively a large picturebook, containing text which says nothing new, and images which aren't actually from the show and which are blurry and misty. I can see kids being given this for Christmas, and then it lying forgotten after a few moments flicking through. There's nothing new here.

If it had been a new art book along the lines of Impossible Worlds, showing a 'what could have been' side of Doctor Who  which to be honest is pretty much what the imagery is, then it might have worked ... But then it needed a greater diversity of art and ideas, concepts drawn to different conclusions, elements given full reign rather than being what a seventies BBC Budget dictated. This indeed was the idea behind a series of artwork images that I developed for my fanzine The Frame back in the 90s, and we got some incredible images from a variety of very talented artists.

There are no new ideas you see, just ways of spinning what has already been done into something new, different and hopefully worthwhile. Maybe they thought that's what this book would be - something worthwhile ... but sadly as a complete package it fails, but through no fault of anyone working on it. I stress, it's up to the same high standard as all the Doctor Who books in terms of design and printing and presentation. I think it's the basic concept which is flawed. Which is such a shame given that the BBC and Ebury have a self-imposed limit on the number of books they will do each year. With one of the scarce 'slots' taken by this, what didn't we see instead?

Published by BBC BOOKS on 27 October 2016
Hardback - £35.00

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: Warlord Games' Doctor Who Miniatures

I've always had a soft spot for little metal miniatures. Ever since Fine Art Castings first started rolling them off their production line (in truth a casting machine in their garage!) in 1984, there have probably been more little metal figures of Doctor Who characters produced than most other items of merchandise (excluding, probably, trading cards if you count the cards individually!)

Now Warlord Games has picked up the license, and their initial release are two boxes, each containing five little figures.  Each box costs £19.99 which makes them £4 each, which is about the same price as other 35mm figures these days, so overall not too bad a price.

The figures tie into something called 'Into The Time Vortex: The Miniatures Game' but I have no idea what this is, and there's no clues on the boxes of figures ...

So ... we have one box which is 'Tenth Doctor and Companions' - this contains, as you might expect, the tenth Doctor, plus Rose, Martha, Donna, and Wilf (a surprising addition to be honest ... but then who else might they have chosen? Maybe Sarah Jane Smith?)

The figures are approximately 35mm so quite small, and come unpainted. Each also has a little plastic stand which you have to glue yourself to the base of each figure.  It's a nice set!

The second box contains 'Twelfth Doctor and Companions' and here we have Doctor 12 of course, and also Clara, Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Again, a good selection.

If you like the little miniatures, then these are a good addition to the collection. The packaging is a card box containing a plastic inner containing 6 little 'trays' and in each is a figure, and in the sixth are the bases. There's also a card wrap around the plastic inner with character details and so on printed on it.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the actual game is too ...I'm guessing some sort of 'Dungeons and Dragons' type scenario, or it could be a 'Monopoly'-type board game ... we shall see!

The Warlord Figures are available direct from the manufacturers:

Monday, September 12, 2016

Review: Too Late For Tears (1949) And Woman On The Run (1950)

These two late-period film noirs became available in the UK from Arrow Films in June 2016 as a matching pair of dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD combos, essentially replicating equivalent US releases from Flicker Alley the previous month. Both movies are presented in top-notch new high-definition restorations courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, and their release was made possible by the sterling efforts of the Film Noir Foundation, an admirable organisation dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of film noir.
            Too Late for Tears stars two noir icons, Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea. Scott’s character, Jane Parker, is out driving in the Hollywood Hills one evening with her husband Alan, played by Arthur Kennedy, when a suitcase full of illicit cash lands in their laps – almost literally, as it is thrown into the back of their moving car by a member of a criminal gang in a bizarre case of mistaken identity. She then proceeds to stake her claim as one of the most mercenary women ever to be depicted on screen, as she does everything in her power to take possession of the money and keep it from being recovered by its intended recipient, Duryea’s character, Danny Fuller. Alan is just the first of several people who come to a sticky end when they try to oppose her …
In Woman on the Run, struggling artist Frank Johnson, played by Ross Elliott, is the chance witness of a supposed gangland murder, but makes himself scarce before the police can take him into protective custody. His semi-estranged wife, portrayed by the movie’s star Ann Sheridan, then plays a cat-and-mouse game with the police as they both try to track Frank down before the murderer can get to him and eliminate him.
One of the main things that these two movies have in common, and that makes their pairing-up for release coincidentally rather apt, is their inclusion of strong female lead characters, who are both equally determined and unrepentantly single-minded in their own individual ways. Scott’s character in particular is an archetypal femme fatale, and certainly not a woman anyone would want to cross! Scott and Sheridan give excellent, career-highlight performances in their respective roles, and the movies as a whole are both extremely enjoyable, although Woman on the Run, with its unusual fairground-set climax, probably just has the edge.
The Film Noir Foundation deserves much kudos for its dogged and ultimately successful campaign to get these movies restored and then commercially released, and any noir aficionados unfamiliar with the organisation’s work would be well advised to check out its website at and consider making a small donation to its ongoing cause, in return for access to regular downloads of its superb quarterly magazine Noir City.
These Arrow releases both come highly recommended; and each is rounded off with a strong package of extras:

Too Late for Tears

  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Audio commentary by writer, historian and film programmer Alan K Rode
  • Chance of a Lifetime: The Making of ‘Too Late for Tears’, a new behind-the-scenes examination of the film’s original production, produced by Steven Smith and the Film Noir Foundation and featuring noir experts Eddie Muller, Kim Morgan, and Julie Kirgo.
  • Tiger Hunt: Restoring ‘Too Late for Tears’, a chronicle of the multi-year mission to rescue this lost noir classic, produced by Steven Smith and the Film Noir Foundation.
  • Gallery featuring rare photographs, poster art and original lobby cards.
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original poster artwork on one side, and newly-commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin on the other.
  • Booklet featuring new writing by writer and noir expert Brian Light.

Woman on the Run
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Audio commentary by author, historian and noir expert Eddie Muller.
  • Love is a Rollercoaster: ‘Woman on the Run’ Revisited, a new featurette on the making of the film, from script to noir classic, produced by Steven Smith and the Film Noir Foundation.
  • A Wild Ride: Restoring ‘Woman on the Run’, a stranger-than-fiction featurette on the film’s restoration, produced by Steven Smith and the Film Noir Foundation.
  • Noir City, a short documentary directed by Joe Talbot about the annual Noir City Film Festival, which the Film Noir Foundation hosts at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre.
  • Gallery featuring rare photographs, poster art and original lobby cards.
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original poster artwork on one side, and newly-commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin on the other.
  • Booklet featuring new writing by Eddie Muller.

Stephen James Walker

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Review: Dead End Drive-In (1986)

This is another Arrow Blu-Ray/DVD release and another film I'd never heard of before ... and probably with good reason.  It seems to be Australian-made, with no known actors in, and is a sort of Mad-Max-esque low budget tale of low-lifes.

It takes an age to get going ... we are introduced to our unlikable cast of characters, and two of them, Crabs (Ned Manning) and Carmen (Natalie McCurry) decide to go to the Drive-In to make out. Except that the Drive-In has no Drive-Out, and after they identify themselves as Unemployed, the Police come and take the wheels from their car, thus trapping them inside the Drive-In along with all the other unemployed scum from the city. The fences and gates around the place are electrified - it's a sort of unofficial prison for these people, though they do get vouchers they can exchange for food and drink ... there's a whole community here!

And so the action unfolds with car chases and explosions, '80s punked up outfits and cars and graffiti ... as Crabs tries to get some wheels for his car, but then runs out of petrol ... so he has to get some more petrol before he can try and make a break for freedom.

Somewhere in all this there's a good idea struggling to escape - the concept of luring undesirables to a place with a cheap offer for the unemployed, and then trapping them there. But the film is slow to get going, and then when it does get going, it's not sure where it wants to go.  It's not clear how the Police get away with what they're doing ... does no-one realise that you never leave the Drive-In - there seems to be no 'word on the street' that people who go there never come back ...

It's nicely made though, and the action sequences are pretty good. It's not a film I'll rush to watch again though, and while it's set in a nominal future, there's nothing particularly 'horror' or 'science fiction' about it ... it could be happening now, or 20 years ago ...

  • Brand new 2K restoration from original film materials
  • High Definition (1080p) Presentation
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Audio commentary by director Brian Trenchard-Smith
  • The Stuntmen, Trenchard Smith’s classic television documentary on Grant Page (Mad Max, Road Games) and other Australian stunt performers
  • Hospitals Don’t Burn Down, Trenchard-Smith’s 1978 public information film told in pure Ozploitation fashion
  • Behind the scenes gallery by graffiti artist Vladimir Cherepanoff
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

First pressing only: fully-illustrated collector’s booklet containing writing on the films by Cullen Gallagher and Neil Mitchell

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: The Official Doctor Who Cookbook

It's been some time since we had a Doctor Who cookbook produced under official license. The last time was way back in 1985 when Gary Downie, partner of the then-television producer of the show, John Nathan-Turner, and sometime choreographer, produced one for W H Allen, at a time when it seemed that anything with Doctor Who on the front could be published ... On that occasion the recipes were sourced from people who had appeared in or had some other connection with the show and was basically their favourite dishes, but with 'who-ified' names. No attempt was made to make the dishes look like actual monsters or aliens and so on ...

Then an unofficial book appeared a couple of years back in 2012, self-produced by Chris-Rachael Oseland and available on Amazon. What's interesting here is that in this new official cookbook, the author seems to have had some identical ideas as Oseland.  So both books feature Bow Tie Pasta, Jammie Dodgers and, of course, fish fingers and custard, but then I guess that some things are too obvious. The main difference is that Oseland includes loads and loads of recipes inspired by just about every story of the new series. There's an updated and revised edition of this book in the works, which Oseland wants to publish in a better format than the original self-published one ...

In this new BBC book, which contains just 40 recipes, one distinctly gets the idea that the recipes are way too hard for most kids to make, and the decoration relies on you being an expert and professional artist, sculptor and painter. Most of the recipes are shown in finished form as perfect cakes, pastries and dishes, but to get them looking like that would just not be possible for most mortal cooks. I'm reminded of the many internet sites which show the 'aspiration' against the 'reality', showing just how hard it is (here's an example ... There's an 'Exterminated Jelly Skeleton' which requires you to make perfect-looking bones from meringue ... which is the stickiest and hardest to shape substance known to man! The recipe says: 'Pipe an 8-9cm length of meringue onto the paper. Pipe an extra blob at each end to create a bone shape.'  Hmmm ... can't see the result looking even remotely like the perfect bone shapes shown in the photograph ... as for the bread baked to look like an Ood head ...!

So I'm not quite sure who this book is aimed at.  Even something which should be simple, like making little biscuit Doctors, relies on having a cutter in the right shape (or you have to trace a shape provided in the book onto paper and then somehow use it to cut each little man out ... But then you need a rock-steady hand, lots of different colours of icing, and a thin icing pipette to be able to decorate them ...

On the Cyberman head open sandwiches, there's a blob of hoisin sauce for the eyes, but in the picture, it is perfectly positioned and even has the little 'tear drop' present on the bottom corner ... not something that I suspect is even remotely possible to do in the real world!

The Snowman cake has perfectly jagged icing teeth ... again I feel that the actuality would be something looking more like the Snowman had been battered with a hammer and then partially melted in real life ... all the images show the results as being too perfect and finished. In fact to the extent that I wonder how much photoshop has been employed to make the images look perfect. The credit reads: photography and prop styling - Haarala Hamilton ... but what does 'prop styling' mean?

Overall it's a nice looking book, full of colour pictures, and the ideas are good and cover all elements of food from snacks to savoury to desserts, sweets and cakes.  £14.99 is also not too expensive for the book, making it maybe an impulse Christmas buy for someone who loves cooking?  But to be honest I'd hate to have to try and actually make some of the recipes as I just know that my results would bear little resemblance to the perfect images in the book.

DOCTOR WHO: THE OFFICIAL COOKBOOK is published by BBC Books. £14.99 hardback

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Doctor Who Experience - July 2016

Alongside our amazing visit to the TARDIS set, we also enjoyed an afternoon at the Doctor Who Experience, a semi-permanent Doctor Who exhibition and museum which is sited pretty much next door to the BBC's Roath Lock Studios ...

The Experience is part-interactive and part-walk-around-museum, and it's built on previous exhibitions such that it is now very impressive, and very well done indeed! I remember the early days of Blackpool and Longleat where the best you got was a video of Tom Baker wishing you well! But these days it's all dry ice and 3D video as you are walked through and immersed in your very own adventure.

I won't say too much lest it spoil it for future visitors, but it's all about an invasion by something called the Crinis, and the 12th Doctor is there on the screen, talking to your guide, and helping you through the various challenges you face. Are there Daleks? Of course there are!  Are there Weeping Angels? You betcha! But you come through (mostly) unscathed and enter the main exhibition through a nice pair of junkyard doors with the name I M Foreman written on ...

An Ice Warrior in the entrance foyer
There is so much in the exhibition, that the best way to explain it is just to show all the pictures I took! There are Daleks and Cybermen, Sontarans and Zygons, Doctor and Companion costumes galore, and four (count them!) FOUR TARDIS control rooms: We have the one from the Mark Gatiss Docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time from 2013, which replicates the William Hartnell console (which was used up until 'The Two Doctors'); then there's the Davison model (used from 'The Five Doctors' until the end of the Classic series in 1989); and finally the Eccleston/Tennant 'coral' model. Opened since we visited (we missed it by a day!) is yet another console, this time a sort of reimagined Pertwee/T Baker model.

Overall everything is really nicely displayed, with one or two larger props present as well as the costumes. The Experience focuses on the current series, so there's lots of Clara's outfits, and items from many of the most recent episodes, like the Mire, Me's outfits, Costumes and props from the 'Under the Lake' and 'Sleep No More' episodes, plus the hooded creature (the Veil) and teleport booth from 'Heaven Sent' ... overall an excellent set of artefacts which covers probably as much of the series as it can.

The K1 Robot
It was very nice to see some earlier costumes there, which have been repaired, reconstructed and refurbished by Mike Tucker and his team at the The Model Unit ... especially the magnificent K1 Robot from 'Robot' and a Zygon from 'Terror of the Zygons' ... not to mention a Tetrap from 'Time and the Rani' and Omega from 'Arc of Infinity' ... There's not that much that exists from earlier adventures (there's a lovely Yeti from 'The Web of Fear') and what does exist tends to be in private hands ... indeed, several of the items on display are noted as coming from private collections, so it's to be applauded that those who own these pieces have allowed them to be displayed and appreciated by everyone!

On our visit to the Experience, we were in very good company. Frazer Hines, who played Jamie McCrimmon alongside the second Doctor, was with us, and also Paul McGann, the eighth Doctor, popped down to Cardiff to join us on our day out. So we battled the Crinis with them, and then wandered the Exhibition, cooing at all the marvellous items on display.  As I said to Paul and Frazer though, what was needed was more Jamie and more eighth Doctor items ... unfortunately there just aren't many of them around to display!

Paul McGann and Frazer Hines
Because we had these two gentlemen with us, the staff were very kind and allowed us to take some pics on the sets themselves - these are roped off to protect the fragile consoles and, indeed, Bessie the yellow roadster, and visitors are not permitted to get too close to them. We were very careful however, and under the watchful eyes of the Curator and staff the whole time ... otherwise who knows where Paul might have navigated the console to!  So if you go to the Experience yourself (and I heartily recommend you do!) then please don't try and pass the barriers yourself, lest you feel the long arm of the security staff on your collar!

We had a simply marvellous time, and even managed to buy some interesting things in the shop at the end (I love a little shop!).

So thanks to the Curator and staff at the Experience for a truly out of this world experience ... and to my fellow travellers: Sam Stone, Amy Windham, Howard Hayes, Ken Deep, James Naughton, Frazer Hines and Paul McGann ... And we hope readers head over to Cardiff to have your very own Doctor Who Experience!

And now ... the pictures ... And for reasons best known to itself, Blogger has put them all in reverse order! And they are all of course (c) me so no pinching!

A Lego Dalek!

A happy group of time travellers ... Don't touch that switch Frazer!
Paul and Frazer clown about in Bessie

Sam and Paul ... Travellers in Time!

But which box?

A Doctor will teleport in momentarily ...

The Doctor's Confession Dial

Something very strange about the face of this
new series Zygon.

A Doctor skull

The Veil ,,, coming for you

Eye-sand monster

The Dalek in which Clara was installed

Amy Pond's collection of dolls

This is my moment ...

Tellytubby Dalek


Superb recreation of an original Zygon


The Special Weapons Dalek


Original sixties Yeti, complete with ball

Original Ice Warrior

'The Two Doctors' style Sontaran

Davros as the Emperor Dalek


The Face of Boe

Just hanging around

Outfits for the Paternoster Gang

The Doctor's crib

I didn't remember this thing from the show but
apparently it was there!

Beautiful original console

Three TARDISes together ,,,

Five Doctors console

Coral console

A display of the Radiophonic Workshop's work on the show.

Three Daleks

A Menoptra from 'An Adventure in Space and Time'

'Five Doctors' console



Entering the exhibition

Don't Blink!

A Weeping Angel in the foyer

A Smiler booth in the Cafe area

Artwork in the cafe area