Sunday, March 27, 2005

Doctor Who - Rose (the review)

So after months of waiting, finally the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who has been transmitted (properly this time and not watched on a PC from the version of the episode leaked onto the internet). I was one of the millions watching last night, and I saw it again this morning. So what's the verdict? I loved it to pieces, basically. It had all the hallmarks of Who as I know and love from the past, but remixed and reimagined for a 2005 audience. It was very clever in a great many ways, managing to appeal to children (the belching wheelie bin being the most obvious example of that) but also to adults (with the Doctor being both mysterious and engaging all at the same time). My 11 year old son loved it, as did my brother, and even some friends enjoyed it, along with their young kids (who were scared by Mickey being eaten by the wheelie bin). The dialogue sparkled, with many, many moments of laugh out loud humour, and impressive visuals. Favourites for me are the 'many planets have a North' moment, the point where the Doctor realises that the London Eye is the transmitter and smiles broadly, plus of course a lot of Clives' explanations to Rose (where I think Russell must have been reading Daniel O'Mahony's Telos Novella THE CABINET OF LIGHT before writing it). Plotwise, I thought it was very clever the way that the story was sketched in using a shorthand form of narrative and editing which gave all the information without labouring the point: we get to see Rose, get a sense of her mundane day to day existance through the opening scenes (mum, work, boyfriend, London and so on), and we immediately know and understand her as a character as a result. I was reminded in the direction of shows like Daniel Peacock's What If which uses a similar shorthand in the editing to get as much information over as possible in the shortest time. I also loved the idea that this is the tail end of a much longer adventure for the Doctor - the story of his involvement with the Nestene Consciousness in some far flung wars, in which the Doctor tried to help but failed, and now the Consciousness has ended up on Earth, hoping to feed and recoup its strength, only to find the Doctor there again armed with 'anti plastic' - whatever that may be. I loved the opening title sequence which was both reminiscent of the old slit scan process but refreshingly modern - but I have to say that I don't think the actual 'Doctor Who' logo works in the sequence ... it's for me far too 'normal' a logo and is fairly unmemorable. I would have preferred a reworking of the old diamond logo personally. But the title music was excellent, retaining all the great elements of the original with a modern twist, as was the incidental music - I appreciated the more upbeat score, again, redolent of children's TV drama of today. Christopher Eccleston was simply suberb as the Doctor. He seemed to have the right mix of the old and the new, and for all the hype about his 'costume', I don't think of it as a costume at all, in just the same way as I never considered the first four Doctors to be wearing a 'costume'. It all really went wrong in my opinion when the 'costume' started to overshadow the Doctor, and to be a statement in its own right: the cricketer, the bright and loud, question marks everywhere ... The idea should be that the Doctor wears whatever he feels comfortable in and that the outfit simply works in whichever adventure or environment he is enjoying at the time. I smiled a lot at his dialogue too: the exchanges with Rose's mum, though somewhat strange and awkward (she seems to be a very desperate woman, poor thing) worked so well with the Doctor's final 'Naaa' reposte; the speech to Rose about spinning through space captured some of that elusive magic for me; and the later exchange with Rose in the TARDIS about being an alien ... lovely. Expecially when she comes back so quickly with not minding that he is an alien. Billie Piper is a revelation. She is so, so good in the role of Rose. Even the cockney/London accent didn't upset me and sounded fairly natural. I liked her very naturalistic interaction with the Doctor a lot, and their partnership bodes well for the rest of the episodes. My only reservation perhaps was that her leaving with the Doctor at the end seemed a little ... forced. After not going with him the first time, why does knowing that he can travel in time as well tip the scales ...? I feel maybe we were missing a line or two from the no-hoper boyfriend Mickey in the interim which set her mind to realising that she should have gone with the Doctor after all ... and then she gets offered a second chance. The Autons were fairly effective as a menace, though the fannish side of me missed the whine which should have accompanied their appearance. I loved the fact that their guns made the same sound as in the '70s though. But again the creatures seemed a little too jerky and uncoordinated for my liking. I think I would have preferred them to be smooth and in control ... but this is a minor thing. As is that I would have liked to have seen the child-Autons shooting at people, and also to have seen bodies falling with the smoke hits billowing from them ... it's very telling that in 1970 we were allowed to see people collapsing when hit, but not in 2005 ... not a single person was actually seen to die as a result of the dummies coming to life. What did amuse me was that when discussing the episode with my son, I referred to the dummies as Autons, and he didn't know what I meant, because of course they're not called that in the episode itself. Curse this prior knowledge ... The large Nestene Consciousness at the end was a neat piece of CGI work, and I liked the sounds it made - a pig squealing noise for the most part, but interspersed with some recognisable words as well. The Doctor talking to it when we couldn't hear (or understand) its side of the discussion did seem to be a little strange, but Rose's acrobatics saved the day, and all ended well. The TARDIS interior was superbly realised, and very well introduced with Rose's initial reaction being to run back outside again. She then does the checking all around the blue box thing, before realising that there is nowhere else to go and heading back in again. But what a console room ... very impressive indeed, if lacking in some of the more homely touches which perhaps should have been there. I'm still quite a fan of the console room from the McGann TV movie, and missed the comfy chairs and library aspects of the room. It all seemed very large, clean and sterile, apart from the console itself which had an organic aspect to it. Maybe later in the episodes we'll see more of the TARDIS and some of the creature comforts which one might expect the Doctor to enjoy will be revealed. Overall I absolutely adored the episode. After sixteen years, the production team had a lot to live up to, and I for one was not disappointed. They managed to recapture the magic of the show in a way which I hope is reflected in the ratings and in people coming back week on week for their 'fix'. One thing which was missing, and which I did regret, was the good old cliff hanger ending. Several others commented on this to me, that they would have liked to have left the episode on a knife edge ... there is no other show which regularly does this (of course most of the American series do this for season ends) and it would have been nice to have included it each time. I hope the lack of a 'key' into next week's episode does not have the adverse effect of discouraging people to watch (or whatever the opposite of leaving them wanting more is). 'Rose' was fast moving and at times almost too fast - explanations came thick and fast, and I missed Rose's comment about 'breast implants' at first because I didn't hear what she said. The editing was frantic, and there was a palpable sense of urgency about the whole thing, which only really subsided in the long sequence where Rose and the Doctor walk to the TARDIS talking about what has happened and who the Doctor is. I can't wait until next week to see the next instalment, and I applauded the little teaser at the end of this episode. So we get to meet Cassandra, the Trees, the Moxx of Balhoon and the Face of Boe ... all at the end of the World ... I've got my seat booked already.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Doctor Who - Rose

Well ... that was an amazing 45 minutes. Just finished watching the first episode of the new series of WHO and I'm totally blown away. More words tomorrow, but if you want to leave your own thoughts on it here, then just click on the COMMENTS section below this post.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

An honour indeed. I got this email today from the very nice people at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: *** Dear Mr Howe As you may know, the online edition of the Oxford DNB offers a 'Day of the Life' free to anyone as part of its public homepage; we store seven lives at once which allows for a gallery of 'Lives of the Week' with every subject available to all for a week in total. You can see the current selection by clicking on: I'm just writing to let you know that, to mark the return of Dr Who on Saturday 26th, we will be using your entry on Jon Pertwee as our 'Life of the Day' with the caption 'The doctor returns'. Of course, if there's anyone else you think would like to know about this then please do email them the homepage URL The article will be available for seven days. Articles chosen as 'life of the day' are emailed to people who have signed up to the free mailing service and they are read worldwide by many thousands more each day who visit the site. Best wishes Dr Philip Carter Publication Editor, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography *** So what are you waiting for? Go and check it out.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Doctor Who Night

Well that was fun ... a pre-new series night of Doctor Who type stuff. I'd not really seen the documentary before, and thought it was well done. I realise it was a repeat, but I think I let my video watch it before and never got around to seeing it until now. Everyone aquitted themselves well - and it was nice to see Tom Baker appearing alongside everyone else as well. It's a shame they didn't factor in any archive footage of Troughton (maybe from Pebble Mill) or Pertwee (from any number of interviews he did) to represent them, but nevertheless it was a great slice of vintage WHO. John Culshaw was cool ... and I always smile when he slips into Tom Baker, and around the TV we were all doing Baker impressions as well ... big smiles and exclamations of 'Weeeeelllll' and 'Aaaahhhhhh' all the time. The facts were amusing and I guess this was a cheap way of adding to the 'night' without actually spending any more money on anything other than John in a crypt somewhere ... The MASTERMIND show was also well done, with John Humphreys managing to be not quite as patronising as he has been in the past towards the contestants. I was very amused by the quip from one of the contestants about him having regenerated from Magnus though. The questions were good I thought, not too hard, but with some stinkers in there as well. I didn't do too badly on the WHO, though it's debateble whether I would have bettered the 22-24 marks got by the contestants. However I stink on general knowledge, and so I would have failed there totally. It was great to see Christopher Eccleston at the end, and Karen looked suitably impressed/embarrassed to have won. All in all it was a good evening's entertainment. A prelude if you like to the first of thirteen main courses starting next Saturday night. Be there.

Printer Problems

I bought a new printer yesterday ... sounds simple enough, but no ... nothing could be so easy really. I wanted a new laser printer because the toner had run out on my old one which I've had for 5 years or so, and the replacement cost was immense. So it seemed to make sense to buy a new printer which has cheaper consumables. So off to PC World we go, and browse through their Printers ... and there's one which is a Which Best Buy - a neat colour laser from Epson which, as it was ex-display, I got some more money off as well, bringing it down to less than the other black and white ones which we were looking at. So we get it home, and of course it doesn't work. The thing just flashes red and green lights at me when you turn it on. I poked and prodded it a lot but nothing could make the thing work. So I phone PC World ... not a single one of their stores has this model in stock so they can't get another from somewhere else ... so I check Epson online and find a local store which does repairs ... but they don't do lasers ... so I phone Epson and after about 15 minutes get through to their helpline ... to find that I'd chosen the wrong option ... but that the laser helpline isn't open at weekends anyway so I need to call back on Monday. The good news is that hopefully Epson do on-site maintenance for the warranty period so they can just come and take this one away and bring me one that works. Otherwise it's back to PC World next weekend to take this one back and to see which other ones they might have which would be good ... It seems to be a factor of life that nothing you ever buy ever works right first time, and that you always have to mess around phoning people, taking things back to shops and whatever before you get what you wanted. Oh well ... for the next week then, all my printing will have to be on the back-up HP deskjet printer ... still going strong after about 8 years now I think.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

New Who

As I write it's just over a week before Doctor Who returns to UK TV with the first episode of the new series. And I cannot wait. No, I don't want to download it from the Internet and watch it on my poky PC screen (this is always assuming I can be bothered to wait the hours and hours it would take to download on my dial up connection). I want to be watching it for the first time with everyone else on the 26th March ... But this week we saw the trailers. Proper trailers. With Daleks in. And spaceships. And fireballs. And a TARDIS interior which is awesome. And a Doctor who I already adore. I cannot wait. Did I say that already? And then there's the wall to wall newspaper coverage ... something in the papers every day. Granted some of it is made up (thank you the Sun and the Star for your ongoing efforts here) but most genunine. And then there's the billboard adverts. I was impressed to see one at Waterloo Station in London, and then this morning, my train stopped at Clapham Junction and there it is again, bigger than I have ever seen ... wow. However ... one note of warning. I asked my 11 year old son if they were talking about the Doctor and the new show at school, whether they were looking forward to it in the playground. And his response was no. If you mentioned it, you'd be called a sad freak ... hmmm. So it's fine to collect beyblades, to watch incomprehensible Pokemon cartoons and to be able to quote The Simpsons verbatim ... but to talk about Doctor Who in the playground makes you a sad freak. I wonder if the attitudes will change as the series rolls out. I'll be asking my man on the spot what he thinks and whether his friends have changed their tune. But for the moment ... I really cannot wait ...

LA Story

February saw my annual sojurn to the sun to join a pile of friends for the superb Gallifrey convention in Los Angeles ... this year was no different and I had a whale of a time running around LA with friends, buying too many DVDs, and catching up with all manner of people. Shaun Lyon, the convention organiser, as usual pulled out all the stops and the incredible guest list included Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts, Elisabeth Sladen ... plus more writers, artists and other creative people than I have ever seen in one place together. The LA weather did it's best to dampen spirits - it was apparently the worst rain for 100 years - but undaunted, we braved the torrents dashing between the blocks in the hotel, and I even went on trips in the rain. One to Universal was especially fun where the place was unexpectedly packed out, everyone looked the same in canary yellow rain ponchos, and where we didn't mind how wet we got on the Jurassic Park ride as it was wet enough outside anyway ... Back at the convention, and the Telos panel was small but perfectly formed, with myself, Arnold T Blumberg, Shaun Lyon and Jill Sherwin talking about the forthcoming books, and my revealing the line up for the rest of the year, including covers and other snippets of information. With the exchange rate being favourable to us Brits, the annual DVD binge was undertaken, and I stocked up on several titles I had been waiting to get hold of, and several which were the usual impulse buys. Roll on next year ...

Horror of Fang Rock

It's been a while since I blogged here, so there's a few things to talk about ... First off, the new DVD of Horror of Fang Rock ... what a wonderful story. I always liked this one, even from when it was first transmitted way back when. A simple concept: people stranded on a lighthouse being picked off one by one by an alien nasty. But it's so well executed. Tom Baker is at his manic, mysterious best here, and Louise Jameson gives her all as Leela, with some wonderful lines and moments: undressing in front of Vince; 'I'm not a Lady ...'; 'You are a Time Lord ...' and many more. The guest cast are also superb (I love Rueben, but Vince is also very well played), and the sense of terror which is built up is tangible. The scenes set outside the lighthouse work superbly and the fog and mist rolling around, not to mention the strange green light, crackling electricity sounds and the view from the alien's eye all serve to heighten the tension which is being generated. I still adore the episode ending where the Doctor realises he's locked the menace in with them ... and the scenes of him verbally sparring with the alien Rutan are simply superb. As with much vintage WHO, it's such a shame it's all a little bit let down by the toy ship crashing on the rocks (though even this is quite effective) and the jelly-fish like Rutan which seems to prefer it's natural form, when that of Rueben would seem to be far better suited to wandering up and down stairs in a lighthouse... It's a wonderful package, and no small wonder that this story is so highly regarded and has been used as an example of just how good WHO could get. The extras on the DVD are, as usual, worthy of mention. An excellent look at writer Terrance Dicks' DOCTOR WHO career, a piece on director Paddy Russell, plus the usual commentarys, easter eggs and so on ... oh, and a strangely placed piece called The Antique Doctor Who Show which features yours truly wittering on about WHO merchandise. I have no idea why it's on this DVD ... but I hope you enjoy it anyway ...