Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Review: Doctor Who Novels: Ruby Red and Caged

 A new Doctor ... and so BBC Books brings us a couple of new original novels tying into the new series ...

The first two are Ruby Red by Georgia Cook and Caged by Una McCormack. There doesn't seem to be an order to them, but I decided to start with Ruby Red ...

This is Cook's first novel, and it's a slight affair. The Doctor and Ruby answer a distress call and arrive in 1242 Russia, at the time of a conflict on Lake Peipus between the Estonian and Novgorad armies. There they find an alien called Run, who is undertaking a coming of age challenge. It was she who sent the distress call as she wanted out, but instead her two sisters arrived to try and ensure that she completed the challenge.

There is an evil alien creature, the Genetrix, hiding under the ice, and the creature has been creating parasites to take over and control the armies - ultimately it wants to take over the world!  And of course the Doctor and Ruby have to stop it!

Although I have literally just finished reading the book, I'm struggling to actually remember anything about it. There's lots of action, but not much happens, and the book is quite simplistic. The Doctor and Ruby are not described at all - they could be any incarnation/any companion - which is a shame as I would have thought that you'd want to establish them more firmly in the readers' minds. The Doctor does have a couple of turns of phrase which would only suit the fifteenth incarnation though.

The TARDIS groans at one point at the end and so I suspect this establishes the events as taking place prior to the end of Season One ... but there's nothing else in the book to place it in the Doctors' timeline.

Caged is much more enjoyable. Written by experienced author McCormack, it's slightly shorter at 190 pages (Ruby Red has 200 pages) but feels far more complex and adept. Here we have an alien called Chirracharr who lives with her fellows on a planet. The race is completely happy and content and they seem to be living a perfect life. There's also a couple of other aliens called Tixlel and Raxlil who are monitoring some Experiment ... and of course the Doctor and Ruby who arrive on a planet which seems to be uninhabited. How all these characters and their stories intersect is the meat of the book - and I don't want to give it all away as it's well written and evolves nicely with some surprises along the way.

I really liked how McCormack gives you no clues - a very Iain Banks type of writing where you just immerse in the alienness with no explanations - the Doctor and Ruby are as off guard as the reader is, and it worked nicely in this book. The alien Chirracharr is a great character - an innocent who just trusts everyone as no-one has ever shown her any harm.

Interestingly, there's still no descriptions of the Doctor or Ruby, so this might be a deliberate editorial ask on the part of the publishers (or from the Doctor Who office). Space Babies and Ambulances are referenced which places this book after those television adventures, and Ruby also mentions that she 'outran a Shreek' and I'm not certain what that refers to. Maybe an unseen adventure?

Overall I enjoyed the two titles ... a nice introduction to the fifteenth Doctor in print, and two adventures which seem to 'fit' into the overall themes and way that the show has been presented on television. The covers are well done and dramatic, the artist appears to be Lee Binding There's a third novel, Eden Rebellion by Abi Falase, coming later in the year.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Review: Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)

If Korean horror is your thing, then you might get a kick out of this new release from Second Sight ... It's being promoted as the scariest film ever ... but I don't think it's that!

The basic idea has been done many times before. A group of teens - in this case they run some sort of a Haunted Podcast show - decide to enter and explore Gonjiam, an old creepy asylum which is said to be haunted. They want to capture the ghosts and scares on video, mainly to increase their audience, as there's some sort of conceit where the more viewers they have, the more money they make.

So one chap stays in a tent in the forest outside, while the others head into the asylum to explore.

The film takes an age to get there ... we see the teens meeting up, drinking, eating, packing, travelling ... for goodness sake just get to the action! And so they enter the asylum and spend ages creeping around, scaring themselves, finding all sorts of strange artefacts like old photographs, creepy dolls, torture boxes, hospital areas and the like ... It also appears that the chap running the Podcast is faking much of what happens ...

But then, of course, things start happening which cannot be faked. Ghosts are seen, water drips, the rooms' doors open and close by themselves, and before you know it, the two girls are racing away in terror ... and then one of them gets possessed by something ...

There are a couple of nice jump scares, but there's really nothing here that I've not seen before. The setting is familiar from films like Session 9 or Silent Hill, with elements from Return to House on Haunted Hill or the remake of Thirteen Ghosts cropping up ... It's also like any film you've seen where the protagonists are trapped and being stalked in a creepy old house/asylum/hospital/underground bunker. There's the usual Korean tropes of girls with long black hair, strange noises and the like ... but it's not really scary. Entertaining, yes, if you like this sort of film, as I said, but this is the issue with promoting your film as 'Genuine Scares' and 'the perfect horror movie' ... there's too much out there which genuinely meets that sort of description, and the film you're promoting needs to deliver on every element to meet that.

There's also a 'found footage' element to the narrative in that the visuals come from the cameras and such like that the team have with them ... but it's not really 'found' in that we're seeing this in 'real time' ie as shown to the unseen watchers of the Podcast.

Overall it's not bad. It's overlong, takes too long to get to the asylum, and sadly too predictable to be really scary.

Available from: https://secondsightfilms.co.uk/products/gonjiam-haunted-asylum-blu-ray-pre-order-available-june

Director: Jung Bum-shik

Starring: Wi Ha-joon, Lee Seung-wook, Park Ji-hyun

Special Features 

  • New audio commentary by Mary Beth McAndrews and Terry Mesnard
  • Fear the Unknown: ZoĆ« Rose Smith on Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum

Archive featuerettes: 

  • The Beginning of the Rumours
  • The New Faces
  • The Sanctum of Horror
  • The Truth of the Ghostlore
  • The Live Recording
  • The Press Conference
  • Trailers

    Catalogue number: 2NDBR4215

    Certificate: 15

    Region: Region B

    Language: Korean

    Subtitles: English

    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    Review: Doctor Who: The Devil's Chord

    I have a lot of problems with 'The Devil's Chord'. It's a very atypical Doctor Who story in many senses, and while it is enjoyable to watch, the moment you start to look more closely, you realise that there's actually not much substance here.

    It's a mishmash of scenes which have been put together in order to service a few key elements which, while they sound good on paper, actually don't make an actual story.

    There's the Beatles, of course, one of the most popular singing groups of all time. 

    Let's have the Beatles in the show, but they don't look anything like the Beatles from 'real life', and (presumably) because we can't use any of their actual music, we'll make them be affected by the world having lost music - and that's what the Doctor needs to try and fix.

    So why has the world lost music? Seems to be because back in 1925, a music teacher played something called the Devil's Chord ... which summoned an entity calling themself Maestro, who proceeded to remove/destroy all music from the world as a precursor to trying to destroy all music everywhere.

    Interesting, though, that in 1925, there's a knowing child called Henry Arbinger (Harbinger) who is a prelude to Maestro's arrival - so the Gods knew that this teacher would play the chord? Or did they make this happen somehow - was Maestro ALWAYS going to appear at this point? And the Doctor was ALWAYS going to have to sort it out?

    And to play the character of Maestro (they/them) we have a larger than life Drag Queen character, Jinkx Monsoon (she/her), who, frankly, is superb! Her (Jinkx's) lips curl and quiver and she eats up the scenery like no other! No mention that the character of Jinkx is actually performed by a person called Hera Hotter (they/them), but then this is no different from any other actor who has changed their name for a screen persona (like John Pertwee, Peter Moffett, Percy James Kent-Smith, David McDonald or even Mizero Gatwa to name a few). Whatever the reasoning, the performance is amazing, over the top, and a joy to watch!

    Maestro, presumably because they own and can control music or some such, plays the Doctor Who theme on the piano and we go into the titles with that. Then as we come out of the titles, the theme is playing on the record player on the TARDIS. This is very Meta, and this 'meta-ness' is something which isn't really Doctor Who!

    Anyway ... Back in 1963, the Doctor and Ruby have arrived to see the Beatles perform, but realise quickly that they can't as there is no good music. The news in the newspaper is wrong as well (and one-to-watch actress Susan Twist is playing a member of the canteen staff!) - something has changed history. I liked the use of a proper sixties song here - Marlena Shaw singing 'California Soul' (which was released on the 1st January 1969 - so we're a few years adrift from 1963).

    The Doctor gets Ruby to play the piano (why it had to be up on the roof I don't know) which summons Maestro as they own all the music, which terrifies the Doctor as he realises he can't fight them. I liked that Maestro announces their presence with the Giggle - a seven note refrain which the Toymaker used in 'The Giggle' to send everyone on Earth mad.

    But there's June Hudson, ex BBC Costume Designer famous for designing the Fourth Doctor's iconic outfit, here playing an old lady, and she gets killed by Maestro for daring to play the piano.

    In a show which is currently wall to wall Murray Gold music - which is actually very intrusive. Can't we have some quieter scenes sometimes without the music 'telling' us what to think and feel at every turn? - it was a breath of fresh air when the Doctor uses his sonic device to dampen all sound, and we have scenes in complete silence. Very well done! Even Maestro applauds this move! I did say the episode was enjoyable!

    Then we learn that Maestro is one of the pantheon of Gods, like the Toymaker is/was, and is all powerful. Cue a rerun of a scene from the seventies story 'Pyramids of Mars' where the Doctor takes Ruby back to her own time, which is now a nuclear wasteland - this is what will happen if they don't stop Maestro.

    But ... wait ... hang on ... in the very last episode didn't we see the Doctor basically warning that we cannot change history - stepping on a butterfly in the past can change the future? Well this is the same thing isn't it? Maestro has killed music and so changed the history that the Doctor and Ruby knew. But a lot of other things could be a lot better perhaps? Maybe the Doctor is happy to change history if he doesn't remember or know what that history should have been or resulted in in the first place? So he's shaping history to fit his own memories is he?

    Another thought. If all this Gods business is because the Doctor spilt some salt at the edge of time in 'Wild Blue Yonder' as has been suggested, then why not take the TARDIS back there and clean it up? However, Susan Twist (her again) cropped up in a prelude to 'Wild Blue Yonder' as Newton's maid, so maybe the salt-spilling actually has nothing to do with any of this!

    But the Doctor doesn't have time to consider these history changing actions as he and Ruby are taken into the Maestro's realm (much as he was whisked into the Toymaker's realm in 'The Giggle') and the Doctor realises that a different chord would banish them. (Incidentally the TARDIS is groaning by this point).

    So the Doctor is off to try and find the chord, but Maestro captures Ruby using some 'living' notes and annotated staves, and the Doctor and Maestro then have a music battle. I'm not making this up, honestly.

    This is The Mask crossed with Tom and Jerry as the Doctor and Maestro slug it out, with physical notes hanging in the air and Maestro using a stave as a whip ... the piano is thrown into the corridor with the unfinished chord hanging above it while Ruby is trapped in a double bass and the Doctor in a drum!

    Just when we think it's all over for the Doctor, John Lennon and Paul McCartney arrive and play the chord on the piano, adding the missing note. Maestro is dragged into the piano again and leaves with a warning that 'The One Who Waits is almost here!' and then they're gone!

    Music is back, and on a big billboard on top of the building there's a poster advertising Chris Waites and the Carollers' new single (this is a reference to the very first episode of Doctor Who in 1963 where Susan (the Doctor's granddaughter, who they spend a long time setting up and explaining in this episode) was listening to a single by John Smith and the Common Men (John Smith was the stage name of the Honourable Aubrey Waites. He started his career as Chris Waites and the Carollers).) We don't know what was on this poster before the music returned as we didn't see it.

    You can hear that single online here: https://youtu.be/WVrH0SRTDUY. It's quite good.

    Anyway ... Music is back and the episode is over ... except ... for an inexplicable reason, the Doctor and Ruby break into song and dance with a hoard of dancing extras, including people in wheelchairs, all hand jiving and dancing and flipping themselves over and over - it's like the start of Austin Powers International Man of Mystery! The song is 'There's Always A Twist At The End' ... but on this occasion, there isn't! Is that ironic? They are doing the dance The Twist though, so maybe that's what it's about.

    But wait ... watching from a doorway is Henry Arbinger - but wasn't he killed/vaporised/vanished by Maestro back in 1925? There's something strange going on ... if he's back ... Maybe he's the twist?

    The song and dance is over, and the Doctor and Ruby return to the TARDIS, where the Pelican Crossing is inexplicably now musical and lights up with sounds as they cross it.


    It's entertaining. It's watchable. But there's barely a plot in there. Maestro removes music from the world and the Doctor has to defeat them to bring it back. It's sort of the same in a way as 'The Giggle' where the Toymaker has filled the world with the Giggle, and the Doctor has to defeat him to return peoples' sanity. Along the way stuff just happens

    There are numerous fourth wall breaking winks and asides from Maestro, not to mention the aforementioned Doctor Who theme music element ... plus the spontaneous song and dance. It's all great fun, but it's not Doctor Who! They just about got away with it with the Goblin Song in 'The Church on Ruby Road' as there was an in-story reason for that to be there ... but here? It's just tacked on the end as though they were running short by 3 minutes or so and needed to fill the time!

    Doctor Who always succeeded over some other science fiction shows because while some of what it presented was, frankly, ridiculous, everyone always played it straight. Consider certain episodes of Lost in Space where the cast can't keep straight faces and Jonathan Harris is increasingly hamming it up (I love that show too, by the way)! There were no real instances of knowing overacting in Doctor Who (Derek Francis in 'The Romans' or Paul Darrow in 'Timelash' perhaps? Your mileage may vary) and the drama always came first. Here we have a story where the spectacle comes first, with the drama way down the list.

    Maybe this has something to do with season arcs or whatever. Maybe it's the nature of these 'Gods' to want to behave over the top and manic, to the extent of twisting the Doctor's reality so that he is an actor in a TV show ... maybe? But that's not explained on screen. At least not here. Maybe it's the Toymaker's influence? Maybe it's that ridding the world of Maestro has brought music back, but all in a bang, so people can't help dancing and singing, and that the physical elements on Earth become infused with the 'magic' and take on musical life of their own? Again, not explained.

    Overall its not my favourite episode of this new series by a long chalk, but there's still an awful lot to enjoy about it. Traditionally a series would try and 'bury' less successful episodes somewhere in the run - ie not putting them first or last - and maybe that's what happened here. Place this second, and hopefully people will have forgotten it by the time the end rolls around. I've no idea!

    Saturday, June 15, 2024

    Review: Doctor Who: Space Babies

    This review has been a long time coming. For the first time, possibly ever, life has been so busy that I've rarely been at home when Doctor Who has been transmitted on the BBC each week ... and even when I have, circumstances have conspired to make it impossible to watch the episodes 'on time' or online, and then, as I like to watch a second time before I pen the review ... trying to fit that second viewing in has likewise been impossible!

    So. I finally managed to get time to watch 'Space Babies' for a second time ... and so here are some thoughts.

    I've always appreciated that Doctor Who can tell all manner of different stories ... and that, for the most part, anything goes ...  And of course if you don't like a particular episode, then there's another along next week which you might like. Thus Doctor Who has always been. For every 'The Twin Dilemma' there's been a 'Caves of Androzani' ... for every 'The Web Planet', there's been a 'The Crusade' ... different stories, takes, times, eras, casts ... and tone, sometimes wildly different tones. 

    The problem in 2024 is that the internet amplifies the cries of those who didn't enjoy (or who claim to not enjoy but keep watching anyway), and seems to make them louder ... drowning out the voices who quite liked what they saw. Plus there's a lot riding on people knocking and complaining about the show. There are YouTube Warriors out there who get paid the more people watch their content, and bad news always 'sells more' than good. So it is in their interests to decry, loudly and forcefully, anything they see which they think they might get more clicks from by hating.

    And I ignore all of them.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion ... so here's my take.

    On first viewing I felt that 'Space Babies' was a strange way to open a new season with a new Doctor. OK, we'd seen him in 'The Church on Ruby Road' ... but this was the start of a new season and a new era for the show - Disney Who!

    It seemed light and inconsequential somehow - a space station run by babies, whose parents had all inexplicably abandoned them, apparently against their own wishes, but one adult had stayed to look after them.

    Lets get the questions out the way first: why are these babies just left there, presumably to die, by the corporation? (This is actually answered in a line from Jocelyn: 'It's the recession. The government closed the Babystation to save money, but the law says it's illegal to stop the birth machine.') Moreso, the space station is abandoned with a finite supply of food and air ... so this is a death sentence! Why don't the babies age? They have been there six years, but none have aged. And how do they know how to operate the station? I know there's an AI to look after them but even so! And who built all the levers and hands and ropes and pulleys to enable them to operate it?  Maybe it was all the work of the on-site accountant Jocelyn? But that seems unlikely. And there are more babies growing in vats - the Doctor says it's a baby-making machine, but no-one thought to turn it off? (Again ... apparently it was against the law to do that!)

    This is all a polemic on certain abortion laws which say that you cannot terminate a foetus before it's born, but at the same time, the same state provides no support for babies once they are born. There's also an element regarding refugees: that they have to actually turn up on your shore before you will help them ...

    I remember my reviews of the earlier Russell T Davies scripts, and this is a common complaint. There are questions which don't have answers ... probably because as far as the narrative is concerned (and a 45 minute runtime), they don't need answers. The viewer has to just accept, and move on ... and never is this truer than here!

    So the Doctor and Ruby arrive, and find the space station run by babies, and there's a monster in the lower levels. A bogeyman. In fact a literal bogeyman as it's made from the snot and tissues discarded by the babies over the course of the years. There's something about the machine creating it because the babies needed to be scared ... or something ... but then the babies, who were all crying and wailing at the very mention of the bogeyman, suddenly get all motivated to try and hunt it down ... but then when Jocelyn tries to kill it, the babies are upset at that as well. Make your minds up! But of course the Doctor has to rescue it rather than killing it, and so, in scenes very reminiscent of Alien3 - I think - the one with the mutant Alien/Human hybrid anyway - the Doctor has to shut the airlock and save the monster rather than open it and kill it!

    I did wonder what the monster was intending to do with the Doctor/Ruby/any babies if it caught them. Was it going to just kill them?  It showed no signs of any intelligence, so saving an irrational, roaring, killing, snot-monster seems a little reckless to me. And even if it did get ejected, then wouldn't the Machine just make another one?

    Other random things about the episode.  I noticed 'mavity' on the screen near the beginning, so that 'joke' is perpetuating. Actress Susan Twist crops up this time as one of the original crew on a monitor screen. The button to close the airlock is helpfully inside the airlock - wouldn't there perhaps also be one outside? And finally, the space station has no propulsion of its own, so the Doctor 'blows' it towards the 'home planet' by venting all the trapped and built up methane from the dirty nappies. But physics says that the station will then just continue on that course and basically crash into the planet, drawn there in part by its mavity. Assuming of course that the planet hasn't moved in the interim or the Doctor took any movement into account when he vented the ship. So he's just assuming/hoping that the inhabitants of the planet have some means to intercept the station and get all the babies (and accountant) off it before it burns up entering the atmosphere and crashes down to the surface. That's a bit of a risk to take! Plus what damage might the space station do if it did crash? Someone didn't think this through!

    And finally, finally, the ongoing story. I mentioned Susan Twist's appearance earlier, and we have the appearance of snow falling when the Doctor discusses Ruby being found outside the church. There's also the idea that he can never revisit that time again.  But then the TARDIS does some sort of a DNA analysis of Ruby, and I'm not sure what the point of this was. The readings seem to show that she's human, and is aged either 10 years, 3 hours; or 19 years, 3 hours - you can't really see what that first number is. If it's 10; then that's odd. If it's 19; then that seems perfectly normal to me. Oh, and it snows in the TARDIS as well ... maybe the snow is important?

    The mystery deepens.

    There's also an interesting sequence at the start where Ruby accidentally steps on and kills a butterfly during a visit to ancient dinosaury history and is instantly transformed into some sort of reptile creature called Rubithon Blue. Luckily the Doctor somehow manages to bring the butterfly back to life (mysterious), and the timeline is corrected. Is this some sort of foreshadowing? Or just a fun scene to show what can happen if you trample through time. It's something not really touched on before in the series - that changing the past also changes the present and the future based on that point of view. The issue of course is that EVERY time is someone's future, so perhaps the Doctor was correct in 'The Aztecs' when he tells Barbara that you cannot change history ... not one word! Which of course implies that you can't actually do or change anything! Which is pretty hard!

    Overall I quite liked the story. It's simple, yes, but it ticks all the right boxes. It's exciting, and the babies are cute and well done. The sets and the space station are smashing, and the director wisely keeps the bogeyman's appearances to flashes and CCTV camera views, using close cutting and never quite showing the viewer the full creature. Although the full thing does look pretty good, there are obvious parallels to the Giger design for Alien.

    Not the greatest start for a season, but not bad, and the narrative certainly gives Gatwa and Gibson a lot of material to work with to make their characters shine.

    Friday, June 14, 2024

    Review: Doctor Who: The Celestial Toymaker Animation (2024)

    I'm not the greatest fan of the recent Doctor Who animations. I think I'm of an age where I would prefer to see the episodes themselves, and if I can't do that (because the BBC wiped a load of them and they are currently 'missing') then I'd rather see something which is close to what the episodes actually looked like. I'm also of the view that if you're going to spend money to 'remake' them, then animation is not really the way to go ... why not literally remake them, with a new cast but using the old scripts ...


    For this sixties William Hartnell story, 'The Celestial Toymaker', the team have decided to take the idea of reimagining everything to another level.  Previous stories had the sets and the effects reimagined, and increasing divergence from what was seen on television/intended by the original director. But here it's a totally new and different visual from the original.

    I'm not sure which came first: the ideas for this animation, or the reintroduction of the character of the Celestial Toymaker in the TV series ... Gary Russell, who worked on the animation in its early stages, suggested on Facebook that the animation was planned and underway a long time before 'The Giggle' was made ... which suggests that perhaps Russell T Davies and the TV Series team took some cues from what was being done and incorporated them into 'The Giggle'. For the TV story and the animation do act as a strange sort of side-by-side set.

    We have the idea of doors leading to other doors, the Toymaker appearing and disappearing like magic, an over-large Toymaker overseeing all he surveys ... and the colourful palate with which the sets and characters are painted.

    For the animation, it almost works. I say almost, as the weak point is the human characters. The Doctor, and his companions Steven and Dodo, stand out as being awful. They barely resemble the on-screen counterparts, and while I like the animation of Dodo (I suspect that whoever was acting as the animation base for her was a better actor than those for the Doctor and Steven), the Doctor and Steven are stiff and wrong-looking throughout.  It's a shame that these characters (and perhaps the Toymaker himself) couldn't have been rendered as more human-looking, to better counterpoint with the toys and dolls and soldiers who make up the rest of the cast.  Luckily the Doctor isn't in the story much - he is made invisible by the Toymaker for the second and third episodes, and only his hand is seen ...

    The changes to the other characters' look really works as they are unreal characters, larger than life in some cases, so their creation as 2D/3D playing card characters, or as knitted toys, makes the most of the idea that the Toymaker has turned real people into his playthings.

    The soundtrack has been amended and augmented to 'sell' the new visuals, with new sound effects accompanying various appearings and disappearings (the effect seems to be from another sixties Doctor Who story, 'The Mind Robber') and other aural changes to accompany what we see on screen.

    In many respects, it's the perfect story to benefit from this sort of radical reinvention (perhaps the only other might be the aforementioned 'The Mind Robber', and I do wonder if the use of the sound effect is a 'clue' to someone's theory that the Toymaker is actually running the 'Master Brain' in that story. Not something I'd ever considered to be honest ... but I've seen it said. Likewise the idea that the Toymaker is of the same 'pantheon' as the Great Intelligence, or the Animus, or the Eternals ... some Doctor Who fans do love to try and join everything together - even when there's no on-screen evidence to suggest anything of the sort!)

    I was, to be fair, dreading seeing this animation as the initial visuals released online were so poor and so divergent from the TV visuals. But, watching it, it does work. The whole thing complements the story, and it's more engrossing with something interesting to look at.

    I have to mention that the disks do have a remastered version of the existing episode four, and that's superb to see, and there's also a 'photo reconstruction' of the story as well, using the unaltered* soundtrack, images and telesnaps (pictures taken at the time off the television - in this case there are actually none from this story available, but I have a feeling they used some from other stories ...) and even some animation to visualise more complex sequences. This is very well done, and sort of shows that they didn't really need to have gone the whole reimagining route in the first place as what did happen on screen was perfectly good enough!

    * It's worth mentioning that the soundtrack does have one particular change which is down to attitudes and sensibilities changing over time. The King mumbles a rhyme at one point: 'Eenie, meenie, minie, mo ...' and the second line included a word which has now fallen from popular usage and which is considered offensive. It's mumbled by the King under his breath so was barely heard anyway, but all versions of the soundtrack on this release have it excised/covered up.

    Other extras on the disk include the first in a series of 'Escape Room' presentations, wherein Doctor Who cast members try and work out how to escape from a room full of clues and objects. Sorry, but this is dire. It's presented by Emily Cook, and the sequences where poor Peter Purves (who played Steven in the sixties), Maureen O'Brien (who played Vicki in the sixties) and, oddly, Lisa Bowerman (who was in Doctor Who right at the end of it's initial run in the eighties, in a story called 'Survival'), try to work out what to do and how to do it are painful. I only managed to take about 10 minutes before I had to turn it off.  Sorry chaps and chapesses ... I know your hearts are in the right places, but this just didn't work for me.

    Overall, this is another Doctor Who release which might be of interest to some, but not for others. I suspect that young fans who watched and enjoyed Neil Patrick Harris as the Toymaker in 'The Giggle' might get a kick out of it as it shares sensibilities with that performance and story. As for us older fans, well it depends on how set you are on your Doctor Who being and looking exactly as it was when it was first transmitted in the sixties. The TV series itself is certainly not that - and hasn't been for many years now - but I appreciate that 'messing with the past' can be a hot topic, and it's not for everyone. So choose wisely ... 

    'Make your last move, Doctor ... Make your last move ...'

    Wednesday, June 12, 2024

    Review: Doctor Who: The Highlanders on Vinyl

    Demon Records have joined forces with HMV for the next release of a Doctor Who vinyl ... and this is on something called 'HMV Vinyl Week' ... not sure what that is, but it seems to be a week when HMV have available a variety of exclusive LP records for sale. It's a little like 'Record Store Day' (which is just for independents) for HMV ... And this record is in the '1921' range of releases ...

    So the release that they have chosen this time is the soundtrack to a sixties Doctor Who story called 'The Highlanders'. This is interesting as firstly, the actual television episodes don't exist - so we can't see the story. And secondly as this story was the introduction of the Doctor's Companion Jamie, played by Frazer Hines ... and indeed it's Hines who narrates the soundtrack (by which I mean he fills the listener in on what's happening during the sequences when there's no dialogue and it's hard to tell what's going on).

    The LP records are in a blue and a red translucent vinyl (I assume echoing the colour of Jamie's tartan) and each comes in a slipsleeve containing Radio Times style billings for each episode. The cover image is a strangely unimpactful image of the TARDIS on the battlefield with Redcoats and Highlanders fighting, and with a cannon in the foreground.

    Overall it's a nice addition to the range of vinyl releases of Doctor Who.  Good to see another sixties story get the treatment.

    RELEASE DATE: 14th June 2024
    FORMAT: 2LP 140g Translucent Red & Blue Vinyl
    BARCODE: 5014797909540

    Available from: https://hmv.com/store/music/vinyl/doctor-who-the-highlanders-(hmv-exclusive)-1921-ed

    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Gary Numan at Sheffield Leadmill - 20/05/24

    I have a long history with Mr Numan! Way back in the mists of ancient time, my brother Alan and I happened to catch him and Tubeway Army performing 'Are "Friends" Electric?' on Top of the Pops ... some research suggests this might have been 24 May 1979 ... and there's even a video of the performance on YouTube!

    The next day Alan went out and bought the single, and then, when we realised that the album, Replicas, was available, this became the first album that I ever bought ... and I loved it to pieces.

    I went on to devour the next album, The Pleasure Principle (released 7 September 1979), now dropping the Tubeway Army name, and Alan and I managed to get tickets to Gary's gig at the Hammersmith Odeon that year as well (on the 18th September) and we were blown away by the performance and the music. (As a sideline, support at that gig was an unknown band called Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and the two chaps had a tape machine centre stage and set it going and then sung along ... I liked the music but I disliked the singer's voice!)

    After that I got Telekon, the third album ... but after that, the music seemed to dip and I was less enthralled by it ... so I drifted away. Later on I discovered (via Alan) that there was a double album called The Plan, containing pre-'Our Friends' tracks and B sides ... and I got and loved that as well ... I also remember from that time a preview of four tracks ('Cars', 'Airlane', 'Films' and 'Conversation') for The Pleasure Principle on the John Peel show (transmitted 25 June 1979) that I loved to bits ... and of course the original Tubeway Army LP, reissued mid-1979which, again, I got and loved!

    Now, some 45 years later, and for Alan's 60th Birthday, I managed to get tickets for the Anniversary tour at the Sheffield Leadmill ... the idea of the tour was that Gary was playing material from those first two albums and so that really appealed to me ... And it was just 4 days adrift from the anniversary of that iconic first television appearance.

    So we rocked up at the Leadmill after a fairly long and boring train journey, and hung around waiting for the doors to open. Because I had a bad foot from a fall before Christmas last year, and Alan has bad knees, I had arranged for us to have seats in 'the mezzanine' ... and a friend, Alex, had done the same ... so we managed to get in early, beating standing in the queue for ages, and were taken to 'the mezzanine' which turned out to be a small raised platform in one corner of the room, from where we had a great unobstructed view of the stage (ok, we couldn't see the left hand side at all and I didn't even realise that this was where the keyboards/synth player was!) but we also had a rail to lean on and seats when we needed them ... so it was great!

    The gig started late - around 9pm (people had suggested 8pm was when it started), but from the outset, it was astonishingly good.  A rendition of 'Replicas' led into 'ME' and the crowd was loving the music and Gary was in his element ... performing and singing, and even smiling on occasion! He was joined on stage by two 'priests' on guitar (Steve Harris (Guitar) and Tim Slade (Bass)), and these solemn. bald-headed creatures rocked the instruments and even played up a little as they went ... there was also a drummer (Jimmy Von Boom - aka Jimmy Vincent Lucido), and the synth player (David Brooks) ... and all were superb.

    Pic (c) 2024 David J Howe

    The familiar songs came thick and fast, all very familiar from those first two albums ... the lighting was amazing, with strobes, and red, blue and green spots playing out over the stage and into the audience, with strobe and other effects too, all tied in with the music and the songs ... it was superb!

    What Gary had done was to take the original songs, and given them some meat and heft so they weren't exactly the same as on the albums, but were all recognisable ... There was a smashing beat and vibe throughout, and thankfully the bass wasn't too loud so you could actually hear them without them all distorting or the beat making your chest and teeth ache!

    Pic (c) 2024 David J Howe

    I loved the rendition of the instrumental 'Airlane' about half way through, and then we came to 'Down in the Park', possibly one of my favourites ... and it was sublime ... a superb performance ...

    As is usual for these events, Gary and the team finished up and waved and headed offstage ... but it's always a ruse ... as a couple of minutes later they were back, and the familiar opening warble of 'Cars' started up and of course the crowd went wild ... then ... the one everyone had been waiting for, 'Are "Friends" Electric?' ... and although his voice seemed to be a little stretched by this time, Gary went for it and turned in a great performance of his breakthrough hit ... When at the end his voice cracked as he said 'You see it meant everything to me', you really believe it.

    Thank you Gary for 45 years of music and pleasure ... You made two old chaps very, very happy!

    The following Photographs are (c) Alan Howe 2024

    The following Photographs are (c) Alex Storer 2024