Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leela and City of Death

Thanks to those lovely folks at Underground Toys, I have a duo of little figures to talk about ... to be more accurate, it's a single figure release, and a boxed set of two figures.

First off, Leela. This was released for the San Diego Comic Con this year, and is a lovely addition to the range of classic characters. The likeness is very good indeed, and the figure is packed on its own, making it slightly more affordable than the boxed sets. I do wish that the classic figures could come down in price though, as they are very expensive for what they are, and I don't really buy the argument that it's because they don't sell as well as the new series stuff.

This is a 'Face of Evil' variant, and so Leela is dressed in the skins she wore in those episodes. There is also a nice crossbow accessory along with a boly, plus her ubiquitous knife, and even the gun that is used later in the episodes.

Articulation is the same as on all the figures, with joints at the knees, thighs, waist, wrists, elbows, upper arms, shoulders and head.

Overall it's a fine addition to the range, and hopefully we'll start to see more of the classic companions and monsters appearing.

The box set is from the story 'City of Death' - one of the better Tom Baker adventures - and consists of the fourth Doctor in a variant outfit from the story (they have even added the little paint badge he wore for the duration to his coat), and also a figure of Count Scarlioni.  The likeness here is just OK I feel, but I really like that he comes with a changeable head, so you can replace his human visage with that of Scaroth of the Jagaroth. In more nice touches, there is a Mona Lisa painting accessory (which in a very nice touch has THIS IS A FAKE written across it in ink which illuminates with UV light), the Doctor has a sonic screwdriver of course, and there's also a pistol for the Count to threaten the Doctor with.

Overall it's a well produced and thoughtful set, with some nice accessories. I like that the Doctor's shoes are scuffed and different colours, as though he has been walking in mud ... maybe a nod to the 'beginning of life' conclusion to the story.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Ward Story

Two films probably from totally different spectrums today ... one is the latest directed by John Carpenter, while the other is a Korean horror film, a sequel to one of the best examples of the art.

First up then is The Ward, a new film from John Carpenter. Now this is Carpenter's first film as director since 2001's Ghosts of Mars, and so it's been ten years since he was at the helm ... and he's not lost his touch. The film follows the story of  Kristen (played by Amber Heard who you will recall I raved about in Drive Angry) who finds herself banged up in a creepy psychiatric hospital for burning down a house. There she learns that she is with four other girls of similar age all looked after by a spooky matron, and subject to the whims of a ghost which seems intent on killing them all off. The ghost appears to be that of Alice, a former inmate, and Kirsten needs to find a way to escape before she is next on the menu.

The film is very well directed, with lots of great tracking shots and atmosphere. Where it all falls down is in the plot, which is, to be honest, somewhat cliched and evokes a groan of 'oh, so that was it?' rather than stunned amazement. For a good example of 'stunned amazement' then checkout a film called Triangle ... but here we have something which seems very old hat and not really cutting it for a 2011 film.

If you've not seen it, then I won't give it all away. However it is a good and entertaining film which should keep you guessing ...

A Chinese Ghost Story 2 is the sequel to Tsui Hark's legendary 1987 film A Chinese Ghost Story (or Sien nui yau wan to give it the original title). I first discovered this gem back when Jonathan Ross presented a series on televison about Korean Horror, and was blown away by it. The sequel is not quite as imaginative and as charming as the original, but it does a good job of trying to match it. Our tax collecting scribe from the first film, Ling Choi Sin (Leslie Cheung), still ruing that he didn't get to be with Lit Sin Seen (Joey Wang), meets up with another mage Chi Chau (Jacky Cheung) and together they find themselves caught between the machinations of a general and of another master magician. Add to this a pair of twins, one of whom looks like Sin Seen (and is played again by Joey Wang) and the scene is set for another batch of magic and monsters set amongst the crumbling temples of the area.

It's a great little film, and the performances are superb. However take my advice and watch the subtitled version - we started to watch the English dubbed version and the English voice actors are awful - totally robbing the film of any sense of professionalism. Another criticism is that there is too much time spent on a large demon monster which stalks them through the film. It's a nice mechanical effect, but it all goes on too long, and the somewhat whimsical 'Freeze' spell routine starts to grate. The cinematography is good as you would expect, and there's a lot of fighting through trees and travelling underground ... but you just have to suspend disbelief and go with it.

Overall the two films are good additions to the old DVD collection ... and worth checking out. I also discovered that A Chinese Ghost Story has just been remade and has an awesome set of posters available ... it seems to be called A Chinese Fairy Tale this time, and I look forward to seeing if it fulfils the promise of a remake ...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where's David?

This Saturday I'm going to be at the lovely Waterstone's store at Liverpool One, signing copies of talespinning and chatting to folk. So please pop along and say Hi if you're in the area.

WATERSTONES, Liverpool One, Liverpool. 26th Nov 2011
Sam Stone will be signing her new book, Hateful Heart, Book 4 in The Vampire Gene Series, at this very popular store. David J Howe will also be there with his new collection talespinning.

Time: 12-4pm Date: Saturday 26th November.
Address:Waterstones, 12 College Lane, Liverpool, L1 3DL.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Talking Plush Keyrings

I've just been sent the cutest little foursome of Doctor Who goodies! They are from Underground Toys, and are plush characters from the show, which also have keyrings attached, and which talk as well!

They retail for around the £6.99 mark, and if you fancy something different to hold your keys then these could be just what you have been looking for. The only slight issue is that although they are small, you would still need a sizable bag or pocket to keep them in - they stand around 5 inches tall and 3 inches wide.

First up is the TARDIS. Now how can a TARDIS talk I hear you ask ... well it can't. So this makes the materialisation noise when the front is pressed, and in a neat touch a bright blue light illuminates on the top. It's very cute and puffy and for collectors of TARDISes, then this will be a must have.

Then there are two Daleks. A blue one and a red one, and apart from the colour they are the same, with a voice chip that alternates between 'Exterminate! Exterminate!' and 'You would make a good Dalek!'. 

Finally there is a cute little Cyberman. Wheras the Daleks and TARDIS are in proportion, this fellah looks more like the super-brain creature from Colony in Space, with a massive head atop an almost foetal body. This one says 'Upgrading is compulsory!' and 'You will become like us or you will be deleted!'

Released just in time for Christmas, these will make perfect stocking fillers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Prison In Space

Missing stories have long been something of a cause celebre in Doctor Who circles. And by 'missing' I don't mean those which were made and shown on telly but which have now been wiped by the Beeb and are unavailable. I'm talking about the stories which were commissioned, but for a wide variety of reasons were then canned, cancelled and not progressed into production.  There are probably more of these than there are actual made and transmitted stories, and in the past, and especially prior to the end of the 1980s when there was a Doctor Who Production Office in London, and John Nathan-Turner was in the hotseat, the official view was that these should not be novelised or put in the public domain as they were probably not progressed for good reasons - their not being good enough being a main one - and so they are not 'lost' or 'missing' or anything like that, but just ideas which didn't make the grade.

However in recent years, the approach has softened, and Big Finish have been allowed (as they seem to be allowed to do just about anything) to make audio stories of these lost adventures.

Last year they released the audio of The Prison In Space, a story by Dick Sharples which would have formed part of season six in 1969, the final season of Patrick Troughton's time playing the Doctor. And now we have a sparkling script book as well. This has been produced by Richard Bignell, and is available from Lulu and comes very highly recommended indeed.

It's an A4 sized book, and contains the full script for The Prison in Space, as well as the initial breakdowns and outlines. Moreover it also includes the original scene breakdowns for Brian Hayles' Lords of the Red Planet - an Ice Warrior story which was superceded by The Seeds of Death. Unlike many of these so called 'lost' adventures, The Prison In Space actually almost went into production - costume and set designers were allocated and work had started on it before it was canned. So it's a fascinating look at a 'what could have been' story.

As most previous commentators have said, the main problem with the story is it's 'planet ruled by women' concept and the inherent sexism that this sparks in certains lines of the Doctor and in the approach ... for example all the guards wear tight and revealing black rubber outfits, and Jamie ends up spanking poor Zoe at the end to break the conditioning that she has undergone to convert her into one of these 'dolly guards'.

The book also contains reviews and commentaries from several worthy folk, and articles by Bignell and historian Andrew Pixley placing it all into the context of the time and what else was going on with the show.

The cover is a startlingly wonderful piece of art by Jason Fletcher showcasing one of said dolly guards along with the Doctor and a representation of the Prison itself.

If you are at all interested in the history of Who, then this book is invaluable.

The Prison in Space:

Monday, November 14, 2011

X-Men Drive the Block Angry

Or ... David has watched some more films. This time I chose three which looked interesting. Two I had heard of, and one I'd never heard of ... so what did I make of them?

First off we watched the new X-Men film, called X-Men First Class, presumably because it's an origins piece as to how the X-Men came to first get together. I'm not familiar with the X-Men comics at all so have no idea whether what was presented was 'correct' or not, so all I have to go off is the film. In it we meet a young Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) who has a talent to read minds. He helps the government when a young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) tries to get vengeance on some thugs and they join forces against Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) in true villain form. The problem I had with the film was that it seemed very disjointed. It was more a sequence of 'what powers does this one have' than a coherent film, and although the mutants were very interesting, it quickly became a little boring. I liked the central idea with Mystique that no-one loved her in her blue form, and that she had to love who she was herself before anyone else would love her. The chap who became Beast was interesting as well as his 'talent' - to have hands instead of feet - seemed pretty useless to me, and it took him tampering with his own DNA to turn him into Sulley, the big blue monster off of Monsters Inc. I liked the dragonfly lady, but couldn't see why she would be able to hawk explosive spitballs around, and the lady who could turn into diamonds was also interesting. But overall ... despite the great effects, the film left me a little cold. Just an okay from me on that one. I think the earlier X-Men films were much better.

Next up was Attack the Block. And oh dear. From the off, the main protagonists are shown to be a bunch of little shits. The sort of kids that society seems to be plagued with these days - irresponsible, lacking respect for anything and anyone, speaking in a sort of dumbed down patois regardless of their ethnic origin, and basically troublemakers looking for trouble. They mug a girl (Jodie Whittaker) on her way home from work, stealing her ring and wallet, and then see a meteor land. But on the meteor (or is it some sort of spacecraft?) is an animal which the gang leader Moses (John Boyega) proceeds to chase and kill. But this seems to anger a pile of other space creatures who arrive, and they then chase and attack the yobs who end up joining forces with the girl they mugged to try and survive. To be honest, I disliked these kids so much that I was rooting for the aliens all the way through. Unfortunately the aliens are beaten and the surviving kids hailed as some sort of heroes ... it all left a bad taste in my mouth. I suppose on an intellectual level I can praise the writer and director for so accurately depicting these little shits, and the actors too for making them so unlikable. But a film needs heroes you can relate to and root for and this failed in that respect. The monsters are bargain basement, looking more like shaggy apes with joke-store glowing teeth than aliens - they reminded us of the Cybershades from Doctor Who a couple of years back, and they were rubbish too. Not a great film by any means, and certainly not one I have any desire to see again.

The third film I got because it looked like a thriller in The Fast and  the Furious vein, however Drive Angry is actually nothing of the sort. The first surprise is that it's a supernatural yarn, and the second that it's really good!  Nicholas Cage plays a mysterious drifter called Milton who seems to have supernatural powers. He joins up with a gorgeous waitress, Piper (Amber Heard), and the two of them head off after the Satan-worshipping cult, headed by Jonah King (Billy Burke) who have kidnapped Cage's granddaughter and who plan to sacrifice her. On Cage's trail is the Accountant (William Fichtner), a brilliantly portrayed being who is powerful and vicious and who just wants to get Cage back in check again. It transpires that Cage has escaped from Hell to perform his rescue, and will stop at nothing to achieve it. So Drive Angry plays out as a sort of road movie, but with supernatural shenanigans (in fact, the TV series Supernatural is probably part of the inspiration for the film), some great characters and performances, and some neat effects and ideas. It was a surprise to me that it was as good and as enjoyable as it turned out to be. The title, by the way, comes from the license plate of Piper's car: DRV AGRY.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Vampire Horror!

As well as their Doctor Who releases, AudioGo also do a range of horror CDs, and recently I was sent copies of the two new ones: Vampire Horror! and Ghostly Terror!

Now I love horror, but here we have some of the usual suspects of the genre - basically out of copyright tales from decades ago - revitalised with some modern readers and some limited musical cues. Unfortunately this reliance on the old stories of M R James and others results in some CDs which are antiquated to listen to, and which ultimately disappoint as those tales might have been fine 50 years ago, but to a modern audience, they feel very dated.

First up on Vampire Horror! is  The Vampyre by Doctor Polidori. History tells us that this was the tale written by John Polidori during (or after) that same Geneva holiday with Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wolstonecroft Shelley which resulted in Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus  being written. Unfortunately Polidori's tale has not stood the test of time. It is long winded and hard to follow, and the reader in this case (Bill Wallis) has a voice which is either too indistinct to hear or too loud resulting in much twiddling of the volume control. It's also unfortunately the only one on this set which actually features a vampire ...

Next up is the best one, M R James' Wailing Well, read by Anthony Head. Head is a brilliant reader and the story is also rather good, setting the scene well in a boys' school, and following the exploits of a group as they decide to visit an old well despite being warned away. For there is something else there, which is capturing the souls of those who get to close.

The third story is For the Blood is the Life by F Marion Crawford, and this is a strangely constructed story within a story within a story, and thus tends not to work too well as an audio piece. Basically a grave barrow has a ghost/phantom laying on top of it which can drain the energy from those who stand on the grave in moonlight (hence the vampire theme). The reader here is John Telfer, and he does a good job with it.

Finally we have An Episode of Cathedral History, another from M R James, read by Cornelius Garrett. This is another story within a story piece, this time about a cathedral and what is found when the altar is dismantled. The tale features some sort of creature, which is very similar in description to the one in Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book (which features on the Ghostly Terror! CDs) and so it's a little hard to see how this fits as a vampire tale.

As a CD set, Vampire Horror! is very nicely produced, and the stories are well read (with the exception of the first). It's just a shame that they are so dated and in the case of James at least, well known and easily available, and that they don't actually feature vampires ...

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Where's David?

This coming Saturday, Sam and I will be at the Waterstones in the Arndale Centre, Manchester signing copies of books.

Apparently Noel Fielding from the Mighty Boosh is there at the same time, so this could get interesting ...

WATERSTONES, Arndale Centre, Manchester, 12th November 2011
Sam Stone will be signing her new book, Hateful Heart, Book 4 The Vampire Gene Series, at this very popular store. David J Howe will also be there with his new collection talespinning.

Time: 12-4pm Date: Saturday 12th November.
Address:Waterstones, Arndale Centre, Manchester, M4 3AQ

Looking forward to seeing anyone who can make it along.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Fish! The Fish!

Now my normal reaction to hearing about fish, is to quote that bit from Red Dwarf where Cat repeatedly orders fish from the spaceship vending machine ... but this blog isn't about that sort of fish ... it's about the sort which have sprung up in just about every town centre at the moment - the little tankfuls of the critters which nibble your feet ...

I mean, what a strange thing to do. Get some fish to nibble all the dry skin off your feet ... but they are all pervasive and everywhere, and the other weekend in Whitby I succumbed to the ministrations of the fish myself.

It was something of an interesting experience.  You sit with your feet dangling in a tank of luke warm water and let these fish swarm and nibble at you. The initial tickling when you first pop your feet in the tank is excuciating, resulting in much squirming and shuddering, but it soon settles down and you have all these fish swimming about around your feet and sort of sucking on the patches of dead and hard skin. They don't have any teeth, so it's all about the sucking and cleaning. And it tickles. A lot.

The fish are called garra rufa and come from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and they don't actually eat the dead skin. They are looking for algae which normally grows on rocks and other hard surfaces, but their sucking action cleans and softens the skin on the feet. There was even a typical UK tabloid scare-story about them in the papers in October, something that the NHS was quick to decry: If only the papers would print the factual denial as large and as prominent as they printed the original scare stories.

What interested me, however, was how anyone discovered about these fish in the first place!  Can you imagine going for a dip in a natural pool or river somewhere and being literally surrounded by hundreds of these fish, all attaching themselves to your body and nibbling away! I would have thought you'd be out of the water like a flash!  And how many people mistakenly go for a dip in a river of piranah fish, thinking they might be garra rufa?  It doesn't bear thinking about. At least they wouldn't make the same mistake twice ...

Another thing crossed my mind too while all these little fish were nibbling away ... they seemed to have a taste for it ... so what would happen if people stopped coming?  Would the fish somehow escape from the tanks and come after humanity in some sort of feeding frenzy?  Or would the action of the fish on the feet transfer some fishy DNA into the human subjects, leading to some incredible half-breeds like something out of Lovecraft's witch-cursed Innsmouth?

Even now I might have some fishy DNA swimming around in my body, converting me into a water-breathing creature of horror ... So far there has been no sign of any gills opening up ... but I'll keep you in the loop if it happens.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Diary Notes

For several years now Danilo have been publishing the annual Doctor Who Calendar, and in recent years have added a diary and other items to their release list. This year's offerings are the Calendar and Pocket Diary, and also a Desk Calendar.

The main release is the large square Calendar, covering all of 2012. The cover features the main players and promotional image from the 2011 season: the 11th Doctor, Amy and Rory reflected in an Astronaut's helmet. The internal pages cover the main characters to have appeared in the season, but the selection is poor and is centred on the first half of the season only. One assumes that Danilo didn't have available to them pictures from the latter part. So we have Pirates and Gangers and Ood and Sontaran and Cybermen, but no Dolls, Minotaur, Silurian or Cybermats.  The design is also very basic - cut out photos of the characters against a starfield background - given some of the amazing design work out there, it's a shame that the product doesn't take advantage of it.

While researching the Calendar, I discovered that a personalised calendar can be obtained from This is a nice idea, and allows for something slightly different to be produced and tailored for the fan who likes to see their name in everything.

The Pocket Diary is a slim affair with a cover of the 11th Doctor and Sonic Screwdriver. Inside it has colour pictures on each page, but disappointingly, there are only 6 pictures repeated over and over: 11th Doctor; Ganger; Amy; Silent; Rory; and Ood. There are also no Doctor Who dates noted (for example the 23rd November being the show's 49th birthday) which is again a shame.

The final item is the desk diary. This features the Doctor, Rory and Amy on the cover, and contains a page per month. The imagery is similar to the main wall Calendar, and features cut out images against a star background. At least here we find Madame Vastra, Headless Monks and Madame Kovarian alongside the more standard fare which makes it more interesting, but strangely Rory the Roman makes an appearance (was he in the 2011 season?). Again, there's nothing featured from the latter part of the season.

Overall the Danilo items are well produced and printed. It's a shame that they don't cover the 2011 season more broadly, but for this I blame the BBC for not supplying them with imagery early enough. It's also a shame that the imagery is somewhat unimaginative, giving the items a very bland feeling compared with the magnificent collage art on display in The Brilliant Book or on the Ravensburger jigsaws to name but two licensed products which really went the extra mile. But then again, maybe this generic look is what Danilo and/or the BBC want from the licensed calendars and diaries ... hopefully they will be able to provide something more visually interesting for 2013, which is, after all, the 50th anniversary of the show.