Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Thoughts

It's that time of year when thoughts turn to what the New Year might bring. And so I thought I'd post a few thoughts here about 2011 ... not one of the best years for me personally, but one in which lots of lovely things happened too.

It was the year I turned 50! 50! That's almost ancient. And yet I feel the same as I did when I was 20! We had a lovely party down in Surbiton and lots of my friends and family came along to celebrate. It's events like that which show you who your real friends are.

My vast family extended again as my sister gave birth to a lovely daughter, bringing her family up to five children. I can see that I'm going to be a great-uncle before very long and probably multiple times. Also, my son James got married to Rachel, and they had a lovely wedding in Cambridge. It always feels strange when your own kids leave home, get married and lead lives of their own. Andrew is 18 next year too, and planning to head off to University - both James and Andrew are hardworking and intelligent and I am so, so proud of them both. I guess the next thing will be when I become a granddad ...

Other things happening over the mid-year period included Sam having to undergo a major operation. She had been suffering with chronic back pain for months and nothing seemed to be affecting or improving it, and eventually we realised that it was a side effect of other issues she was having, all of which resulted in her having to go to hospital in July for a hysterectomy to try and sort it all out. After several weeks of bedrest, followed by months of recovery time, she is now doing very well indeed, and is back to her old 'up and at em' ways.

All of this happened over the course of the summer, and the less than good news continued when I was released from my work contract with LTSB at the end of July, as I had worked the maximum duration with them in one stint. The work there was hectic and busy, involving lots of overnight support, and with what was happening to Sam, all this left me exhausted and drained to say the least.

Thus, heading into August (my 50th birthday party) and September, I was not in a good state. I was tired and worried about all sorts of things from finances to Sam's health, to my ongoing divorce ... too many things to try and juggle all at the same time.

Thus, what then happened at and after the annual British Fantasy Society, FantasyCon, hit me totally for six. I don't wish to dwell on it here, but I made some fundamental errors of judgement (described by one of my friends as me being a 'muppet' which is about right) which, in hindsight are very easy to see. But with my own mind being split many ways by everything else that was happening, I was relying on my friends in the BFS to ensure that everything was OK, and perhaps to have mentioned to me their concerns, or tried in advance to help out. But not a single person said a word beforehand, but a great many chipped in afterwards.

The convention was a success, but the fact that people connected with me and with Telos Publishing won some of the BFS Awards in the usual fair and democratic vote which has been used since the awards started in the seventies, caused some people to get so upset (starting with a grumpy rant by Stephen Jones in which he accused me of all manner of things, most of which he has done himself in the past), that without even talking to me to find out my side of the story, they petitioned the BFS' President to remove me as Chair and to replace me with an acting-Chair of their own choosing to try and sort 'it' all out. I had little choice in the matter, and found out I was standing down when the BFS announced that they had cleared me of any wrongdoing in the administration of the Awards.

Then, people who I had considered friends, and some of whom I had known for some twenty years or so, set out to try and destroy me and Sam online, making claims of corruption where there was none, insinuating wrong-doing when there was none, and perhaps worst of all, claiming that Sam's novel, Demon Dance, was not a worthy winner of the award for Best Novel. It had been voted on by the members of  the Society in a fair vote, but the fact that it won seemed to be a travesty in their eyes, a major blip that needed significant action to try and resolve. So they took control of the BFS themselves, put in place completely new rules for voting so that 'this can never happen again' ... what can never happen again? Sam win an Award? The whole thing was just awful. The worst part of all is that all these people that I looked up to and respected as friends stabbed me repeatedly in the back, never once trying to see it from my point of view, never once actually coming to me to ask what happened, never once stopping to think that there were real people at the other end of their barbed comments, put downs, and veiled accusations. I felt and still feel so betrayed and upset.

I shudder to think what might become of an organisation which purports to celebrate the whole of the fantasy and horror genre, but will only do so if it is the 'right' fantasy and horror, if a book has been written and published by those who are in with the 'right' people and cliques. The arrogance of these people astounds me, and their self-rightiousness over whatever they perceived to have been 'wrong' here - all without ever actually stating in public what was 'wrong' - beggars belief. They could have just talked to me. We could have sorted out the Award voting and rules in a civilised and friendly way, but they wanted blood. It was and is all just so nasty and unnecessary.

Sam and I won't be attending FantasyCon again, and at the moment I really don't want to see any of these people again. I still don't know what Sam and I actually did so wrong to be treated the way we have been treated. She wrote a book. It was published. People bought it and liked it. Members voted for it in the awards and it won ... isn't that something to celebrate rather than to pour scorn and hatred on? I admit in hindsight that the person administering the Awards should have no vested interest in who wins them (or even who is shortlisted), and apologise for not seeing this in advance - but the rules at the time did not bar this, and in any case, the BFS was several people down on helping out and so I did what I hoped was the right thing, and did what I could to ensure that everything that needed to be done was done, I also tried my best to ensure that the voting was above reproach and had someone independent check everything and do the final counts and tallies. I realise now that I should have just told the rest of the BFS committee that there would be no awards unless someone else came forward to do everything - as I say, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I would like to thank the very few people who publically supported me and Sam, and to note that there were many, many more who offered support in private emails, phone calls and notes, but who didn't want to go public because they were worried about what those 'in charge' would then do to them ... a climate of fear is not a good one in which to run a society.

As Stan Lee would say ... 'nuff said'.

Writing and selling books is a hard, hard thing to do though, influenced by many factors, and the most important thing is to stay positive, stay focussed, and to keep on moving forward. So despite the rocking that our confidence took, we are doing just that, and looking forward to a positive and productive 2012.

My own collection of fiction, talespinning, came out in September, and I'm very proud of it. It collects just about every piece of fiction that I have written over the last thirty years or so - including some unfinished novels and a couple of screenplays. It has had some brilliant reviews, and is selling very well indeed. Hopefully we'll get a digital edition up at some point in 2012.

Sam and I have been invited to several conventions and events next year as guests, which is fabulous. We both love travelling and meeting people, and so are looking forward to doing that next year. One problem that this gave us though was that we realised that we simply couldn't fit in or afford our annual trip to LA for the big Gallifrey convention in 2012 ... and so we reluctantly made the hard decision to miss it next year, and to try and save our pennies for the 2013 event - which, as this is the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, should be the biggest and best yet. We can't wait to see all our
friends there then.

I have enjoyed writing more to this blog over the year - sharing my thoughts on Doctor Who toys, films, television, and the occasional diversion from all of these things and I hope I can keep it going. Part of the reason why I have been able to do this is the lack of paid work, and obviously I am hoping that 2012 will bring another job with someone to whom I can bring my experience and expertise to bear.

So to everyone who has enjoyed reading this blog in 2011, to all my friends, I'd like to wish you all a happy and prosperous new year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Time Tunnel

[opening narration for most episodes]
'Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America's greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time.'
Having just finished a mammoth run of watching all of the sixties Irwin Allen show The Time Tunnel from beginning to end, I had to write something about it ...

When I was a kid, I loved watching Doctor Who (natch) but also my other favourite show was Lost In Space. This was on ITV and we saw it in black and white (not having a colour telly until 1972). I remember being out one Christmas and catching sight of an episode of Lost In Space in full colour on a television in a TV shop - what a revelation that was. I suspect my parents had to drag me kicking and screaming away from it!

Anyway, as well as Lost in Space, Irwin Allen also made some other shows. There was Land of the Giants which I could never quite get into, and also Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea which was better, but the one which I really liked was The Time Tunnel.

The premise is pretty simple, two scientists, Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) and Tony Newman (James Darren), get themselves thrown about in time via the Time Tunnel, which is operated from 1968 by General Kirk (Whit Bissell),  Dr Raymond Swain (John Zaremba) and Dr Ann MacGregor (Lee Meriwether), sometimes assisted in the early episodes by Jerry (Sam Groom). They seem unable to bring the scientists back home, but at the end of each episode throw them off and onwards somewhere else.

I have always considered that The Time Tunnel is what Doctor Who could have been if the latter show hadn't discovered the Daleks early on, and realised that the science fiction element was the way to go forward. For the best part of its 30 episodes, The Time Tunnel stays resolutely rooted in the past, with every significant moment in the history books being the location in which poor Doug and Tony get dumped. Each episode follows a similar pattern, they arrive (tumbling head over heels into whatever place it is), are immediately set upon by whoever the natives are, whether pirates or cavalry or indians or townsfolk or whoever, as a result of which Doug and Tony are split up, and the remainder of the episode is them trying to figure out where they are and what's happening, while the folk in the Time Tunnel back in 1968 have to locate them in order to get them out of there before whatever historical event it is happens.

One of the big problems with the series is that it is inconsistent. The production team obviously made a decision that each episode would be stand alone - there is never anything carried from one to the next, and even Tony and Doug's clothes inexplicably 'reset' each time. But this is carried over into the scripting, with random mcguffins being introduced one week and then forgotten about the next. For example in the Billy the Kid episode, we're told that if the Time Tunnel in 1968 tries to talk to Doug and Tony in the past, then this drains the energy to the extent that a switch cannot then be attempted for another 3 hours, but in the very next episode, Kirk is merrily chatting away to them without a care in the world.

They also seem able to send whatever they want through to whatever time the travellers are in - a ring, detonators, a sort of flashing rod thing - and even people can be sent there, like a doctor. Others can be transported back to 1968 with ease - a pirate, a kid with a bomb - and yet despite all this they are totally unable to bring Doug and Tony back no matter how hard they try.

It all gets a little laughable when you watch the episodes in succession, as these elements are highlighted and made very obvious.

It's also brilliant how Dr Swain is so negative all the time. Whenever he's asked to do anything, it can't be done, there's not enough power, we need to check ... and then when Kirk insists, it's all carried out with no problem at all. Then there's Ann, who fawns over Doug and Tony, and yet who sometimes can't get a fix on them at all - 'Let me try,' says Swain, and of course the man can achieve what the woman found impossible.

There is a story editor credited on the show, but I've no idea what he was doing as the scripts vary wildly in all regards. Bob and Wanda Duncan have the idea that for the Time Tunnel to get a fix on Doug and Tony, they need to know the precise date and location to do that. Other writers don't worry about such things. Sometimes there needs to be a 10 second countdown to switching them out, other times it's done instantly ... all these things are little niggles in the wider enjoyment of the show. There's one episode where someone steals a component from their equipment to stop them interfering ... and they have no replacements!  So the whole of this complex under the Nevada desert has no replacement parts at all? That if something goes wrong, then, they are totally stuffed! It beggars belief really.

As the series progresses, so the historical situations start to become more and more random ... and Doug and Tony seem to know everything about every time period. It's common for them to observe a rampaging battle (presumably nicked from another film or TV production) and to be able to tell where and when they are from the outfits and guns in use. Other settings are more esoteric, as when they join Robin Hood and his merrie men, or Joshua as he prepares to attack the city of Jericho... even Merlin and King Arthur get a look in - myth or real seems to make no difference to the Time Tunnel.

However it is some of these episodes which work the best - possibly because they are not strictly tied to historical fact. The Merlin episode is nice as the magician is powerful and can pop back and forth between the Time Tunnel and the events in the past.

It does become apparent, though, that the series is working with a small number of sets and locations, and that they crop up time and time again. There's the Western Town, the jungle, the beach, the tent, the rocky desert area, and various house and hotel interiors. After a time, it seems that the travellers repeatedly arrive in the same place! The stock footage is always well integrated though, and whichever films they took it from, they always try to ensure that it matches what the show is doing, even down to the right costumes and settings for the stock to be included into.

Then there's the final two episodes, where the series finally properly discovered science fiction. There is an earlier episode featuring aliens, and one where they head off on a chase through time which breaks the mold a little. However the last two are perhaps the best of this format. The penultimate one features some fly-headed aliens in the desert preparing to destroy the Earth as part of a 'rite of passage' for the alien leader (who strangely has a human face rather than a fly-like one). At least the alien make-up is better than a couple of the earlier episodes where aliens all had silver faces and wore silver suits. I liked that the explanations here were a little out of the norm - not conquoring or anything, just as a 'point' in becoming an alien commander. The episode also has 'drone' aliens, and I like that the ideas have been thought through at least in principle that this alien society has several levels.

The final episode is perhaps the best of all of them, featuring some crystalline aliens in black cloaks who are intent on stealing all the oxygen from the Earth. This was one I remembered as a child, their shakey hand outstretched to touch you, and if they did, then you could be turned into an alien yourself. it's well done and very creepy. It's a great shame that this is the final episode, and moreso that there is no ending - Doug and Tony just get thrown on somewhere else.  I do wonder why they didn't take the opportunity to film a sequence where they do get back, where the people in 1968 greet them, and it's the end of their journey. This could then have been tagged onto whichever was the final episode made, whenever that was ... but this sort of forethought tended not to happen unfortunately.

A lot of the alien 'tech' seen as the episodes progress is stolen from Lost in Space, as are some of the sound effects and musical cues, but this doesn't seem to matter. Overall, for me, the episodes which feature some fantastical element work better than the purely historical. And this brings me back to the comparison with Doctor Who. Subjects covered by both shows include the French Revolution, the Aztecs, the Trojan War and Marco Polo, and yet despite the high production values of The Time Tunnel, Doctor Who seemed to have the edge on the scripts and apporoach taken to the historical events. And, as mentioned, the fact that Doctor Who delved far more into the science fiction element meant that that series thrived and diversified, wheras The Time Tunnel became somewhat stale and samey, even though the historical events were different each time.

Despite all these observations and comments, I have really enjoyed revisiting the show. It has a charm, and is always well made and watchable. The explosions and fights are all really nicely done, and some of the ideas and concepts are just brilliant.

A list of all The Time Tunnel episodes is on IMDB here:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rare Exports

It's Christmas, so what better film to watch than a Christmas film! However, being as this is me, I'm not looking at more traditional Christmas fare, but something a little bit out of the usual.

We stumbled across Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale in our weekly trawl of Blockbusters looking for interesting things to watch. First of all, it's subtitled - the original film is Finnish - and then the lady in the shop was saying she wasn't sure we'd like it ... we weren't sure ourselves as it looked like it could be some slasher/torture fare perhaps, but decided to give it a try. And I'm glad we did!

The film is about Santa Claws, but not the sanitised, Coca Cola happy bearded man variant. This is the original, dark, demonic Santa who came and took away and ate children who were naughty. It's set in an isolated Finnish village, all ice and snow, and a group of Western scientists/explorers have found something buried under one of the local mountains. In a nice touch, one of their drill bores has discovered a vast layer of sawdust and woodchippings deep underground - the waste from Santa's workshop perhaps?

Alongside this story, we follow the lives of two kids, Piatari and Tommi who are worried that the explorers have found Santa and will set him free. Piatari finds footprints outside his window, and the reindeer are all found slaughtered meaning that the village will have no income for the next year. The boy's father, Rauno, sets a bated trap, and they capture what seems to be Santa himself - a filthy old man, naked, and with a long white beard. He is mute and plays dead and deaf, but becomes alert when Piatari is close ... and they realise that what they have is not Santa, but one of his helpers. And that Santa is actually still captured at the Scientists' base.

The film is charming and very imaginative. I loved the idea that Santa's 'elves' all look as we might expect Santa to look - old men with beards - but they are basically going around kidnapping all the children, and also making plans to defrost Santa himself from the huge block of ice that, The Thing-like, he is trapped in.

The direction is assured and the cinematography lovely, with all the ice and snow lending a superb backdrop to the events. The actors are great, with little Piatari stealing the show. From the cast list, it seems that Onni Tommila who plays him may be the real life son of the man playing his father, Jorma Tommila, and it's great casting!

Peeta Jakobi plays the Elf who is captured, and he does a brilliant job of making this Santa look-a-like creepy and disturbing.

The film has a strand of humour running through it which lightens it all, and the ending is imaginative and memorable, giving the whole thing a sort of fairy tale (more Grimm than Andersen) feeling.

If you get on with subtitled films, then this should be added to your 'should watch' pile along with other fare like the NightWatch films, The Adventures of Adele Sec-Blanc, and of course A Chinese Ghost Story. It's perhaps better than the recent Dead Snow as well ... definitely a Christmas Treat to be enjoyed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

8mm Rise of Captain America

Some more films watched, so some more reviews and comments ...

First off, Super 8, a new film from Steven Spielberg. We had little idea what this might be all about, having picked it off the shelf of Blockbusters in desperation. As it turned out, it's not a bad little film at all. I was initially concerned that it might be like Blair Witch or Cloverfield, presented as though it had all been filmed on 8mm stock by a bunch of kids, but thankfully it's not like that at all.

The plot follows a group of children in an American Town. They are making their own 8mm zombie film, and have roped in various friends to help. The main focus is a boy called Joe who recently lost his mother in an accident at work. Joe is doing the make-up on the film (as he is a dab hand at making horror model kits) and takes a shine to Alice, the daughter of a man who his father (the local deputy sheriff) blames for the death of his wife - I hope you're following all this! - as he went off sick on the day she died and she did his job instead.

Anyway ... it's 1979 and these kids are filming some stuff at the local train station, when a train comes through and is hit by a man in a van causing destruction of the train in flaming fireballs. The kids try and film some of the aftermath, but something alien, alive, and angry was on the train and it escapes.

Thereafter the kids use the army men as a background to their own film, as the army cordens off the place and tries to find the alien while it rampages about killing people and generally causing havoc. Joe also has a strange white cube that he found at the crash site ... a cube which seems to have mysterious properties.

I liked the way the film built, the characters were all good, and you could relate to them. If I have a criticism, it's that the alien isn't seen soon enough - you get lots of fast CGI flashes, but the slow burn to its eventual reveal is too long! But the effects are good, and the ideas original. 1979 is very well recreated, with no mobile phones or video - instead they have to wait 3 days for their film to be developed ... I remember those days well!

The ending is a little ET (well, this is Spielberg) and of course Joe and Alice are united as best friends. Overall, it's maybe an 8/10 from me.

Next up we decided to sample Rise of the Planet of the Apes. An interesting idea, to create a prequel to the original Planet of the Apes films, but the downside of doing that is that you know what the plot is and what the outcome will be. Despite this, we really enjoyed the film. The main reason for the enjoyment is the simply amazing, standout performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar the ape.

I feel that Sirkis is simply the best at this sort of thing. His performances made the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the recent King Kong remake, and the argument that he is not worthy of any award for his work as these characters are CGI is a nonsense. Without Serkis' heart and soul, the characters would be dead. As it is, they live and breath and you totally understand them.

Thus it is with Caesar. The film follows his life from a baby rescued from an experimental facility where they are trying to find a cure for conditions like Alzheimers by experimenting on apes, to his life as the 'pet' or more truthfully companion to the scientist who rescued him, and then to his teenage and adult years.

Sirkis brings real pathos to the character, and his facial expressions and body language is awesome. Caesar is eventually confined to an ape sanctury sort of place where the beasts are abused, and slowly Caesar uses his enhanced intelligence to work out how to escape. The film ends with the apes rampaging through the city, destroying all before them ... and you are on the side of the apes the whole time!

I loved the film. I thought it was well made and had heart and feeling. I cried with Caesar at points, and the action scenes made me cheer with enthusiasm. So for a film which set out to join some pre-existing dots, it does so much more. Certainly a 9/10 from me, and the hope that Sirkis finally gets some industry recognition for his amazing work.

The final film watched this last week is Captain America: The First Avenger. Now I've probably mentioned before on this blog that I'm not a comics fan, so as usual I have no idea how accurately the film follows the comics. It's basically about a man who wants to be a soldier like his Dad, but who is too small and sickly to get in. This is until he stumbles across a government programme to actually find a soldier who has heart and who cares for others rather than someone strong and fit.

So the weedy Steve Rogers is pumped full of some experimental stuff, and is transformed into the tall and strong Captain America. The realisation of this is all quite clever, as Rogers is physically shorter and very weedy beforehand, and is tall and muscly afterwards - yet both parts are played by the same actor, Chris Evans (the flamey one off of The Fantastic Four).

His nemesis is the wonderful Johann Schmidt, played by the even more amazing Hugo Weaving (The Matrix and Lord of the Rings amongst others). Johann is really a character called Red Skull, so called because he has a ... red skull ... and I'm not sure why he pulls his human face off mid-way through and then never replaces it - why bother with the human face at all in that case! Never mind.

The film follows Captain America as he is initially used for propoganda by the Army, but then single-handedly rescues 150 men from behind enemy lines. He then lines up for the final face-off battle against Red Skull who plans to deliver nuclear bombs to all the major cities of the earth.

It's fast and furious, well made and pretty exciting in a 'leave your brain at the door' way. The characters are all larger than life, and Captain America makes a pretty neat hero all told. Probably give this one something like 8.5/10. It's worth watching!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Siren Song

Trying new films can become a little addictive, and I quite like discovering something in the local Blockbuster which turns out to be OK ... but sometimes low budget films can be a little bit hit or miss.

Take a film called Siren for example. It's got a great cover showing a bikini clad girl holding a big knife ... It's not bad at all overall. The basic plot follows a man Ken (Eoin Macken) and his girlfriend Rachel (Anna Skellern) who head off on a boat trip with another male friend Marco (Antony Jabre) who is an ex-of the girl. The very start of the film shows a gorgeous woman in red waiting to be picked up at a lonely crossroads, a car drives up and she gets in, then the couple try and have a liaison in a deserted toilet block but she thinks she sees someone and it all stops ... but then we realise that the couple are play-acting and are in fact Ken and Rachel.

This opening is great but doesn't have any relationship to the rest of the film. The trio arrive at an island where a man swims out to them. He doesn't speak English but has blood coming from his ears. He dies on board so they decide to take him to the island to bury him. There they find another girl, called Silka (Tereze Srbova), who seems to know what is happening but won't say. Silka seduces Rachel, and the two men both find her very attractive as well ... but then the film goes off into a little world of its own with hallucinations and doubles, wandering about, finding bodies, people vanishing ... and all completely unexplained.

It seems that Silka is a Siren and kills men (but why, we don't know). We also don't know why she is seducing Rachel - I thought maybe Rachel was the Siren but didn't realise it, or that she and Silka were sisters ... but no. Eventually Silka is killed, and Rachel is left on the island alone as both the men have been killed as well ... and the film ends.

It's beautifully shot and really well acted from all the cast, but the script really needed some work to focus things and to add some sort of context. If Rachel was the Siren, and was just 'play acting' as human, then that would have linked nicely into the opening sequence. But as it is, the film starts well, but loses it's way about half way through, and then limps to an ending which, if not making much sense, just leaves the viewer hanging with no real closure.

Overall it's enjoyable to watch and has a nice claustrophobic feel to it. The locations are well chosen and used, and the cast excellent ... just don't expect it to make sense.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's a Wind Up

Among the myriad of Doctor Who toys which cross my path are some which are really simple and cute and do what they say on the tin. When some of the stuff being released costs literally hundreds of pounds to buy, it's great that there are some true pocket money toys out there.

I recently got the three new releases from Blew, a company which seems to have offices all over the world! They have released some lovely little wind-up Daleks and a TARDIS, all for a rrp of around £6, but which can be found in some of the cheaper shops (like B&M) for half that.

The TARDIS is a nice little model - it even has a wood grain effect on the outside rather than being smooth which I liked. The action on this one is that you initially pull it back, and then release it. The TARDIS then spins round 360 degrees while moving forward. A very simple and effective desktop toy. Why it's therefore called a 'wind up' TARDIS I don't know, as you don't wind it up.

Here's a video of it working:

Along with the TARDIS, there's also two variants of Dalek available: a red one and a yellow one. Personally I like the yellow (Eternal) one - every Dalek seems to be in red or blue, so to have something different is nice. The Daleks are slightly different from the TARDIS in that when you wind it up and release them, they then patrol forward, the head swinging from side to side. It's a simple toy and yet something which I find quite brilliant.

Here's a video of the Dalek in operation:

The toys would make ideal small presents for the Christmas tree, and I hope we get to see more brilliantly simple examples being released.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Where's David

This weekend I'll be at the lovely Waterstones store in the Arndale Centre in Manchester selling copies of my collection TALESPINNING and chatting with anyone who wants to chat!

Sam's there too with her Vampire Gene series ... so please pop along if you're there doing your Christmas shopping ... we'll have a tin of Roses chocs on the table too :)

WATERSTONES, Arndale Centre, Manchester, 17th December 2011.Sam Stone will be signing copies of 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 17th December.
Address: Waterstones, Arndale Centre, Manchester, M4 3AQ

Friday, December 09, 2011

Vworp Vworp!

Anyone versed in Who mythology will know that the title phrase on this blog is the words used in the Doctor Who comic strip to describe the noise that the TARDIS makes when it arrives and departs. What you might not realise is that it's also the title of simply the best fan magazine to have been published in recent years, and possibly the best fan magazine ever!

Vworp Vworp! is a magazine dedicated to Doctor Who Magazine ... and in particular to the comic strip it publishes. Issue two has just been published after a year's wait following issue one, and it's something that is well worth waiting for.

My copies (yes, there are two variant covers available for the magazine) arrived bagged, and opening the plastic bag, what should fall out but free gifts!  Not just any old tat, but some new games called 'Vworpabix' - based on the 1970s Weetabix Doctor Who giveaways, the team have lovingly created some new ones using new series characters. More than that, there are even some stand up figures to play the games with. Now. Listen up. This is seriously impressive. It would have been fairly straightforward to have created the art and printed the figures up so that you could cut them out with scissors. But that's too simple for the Vworp Vworp! team ... the figures are scored and perforated just as the original Weetabix ones were!  You have no idea how much that simple factor impressed me! 

But this attention to detail is what marks this fan magazine out. It is simply gorgeous. 102 pages. ALL in full colour. Containing pictures and interviews, facts and figures, and stuff which simply has never been seen before. There are interviews with the first few editors of Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly - from the inspirational Des Skinn, through to Sheila Cranna. There is an extensive section looking at Absalom Daak - Dalek Killer ... covering all the ideas and aspirations that his creators had for him which never came to fruition. There are interviews with artists like Dave Gibbons, Steve Parkhouse, David Lloyd and many others. There's a new comic strip by Paul Magrs. A strip featuring the Adipose and even another 'Star Tigers' strip - continuing the adventure already seen.

But raving about this magazine cannot do it justice. It is every bit as professional and as absorbing as Doctor Who Magazine itself. The writing is interesting, the layout amazing, and the whole thing just reeks of quality, professionalism, enthusiasm and WOW all rolled into one.

Seriously. If you are remotely interested in the Doctor Who comic universe and the history of Doctor Who Magazine, then this is an essential buy.

More information and ordering of copies can be done online at Note that as of the date of writing, ordering is temporarily suspended due to the demand! But they say that ordering will be reopening soon.

Where's David

This weekend I'll be at the lovely Waterstones store in the Trafford Centre selling copies of my collection TALESPINNING and chatting with anyone who wants to chat!

Sam's there too with her Vampire Gene series ... so please pop along if you're there doing your Christmas shopping ...

WATERSTONES, Trafford Centre, Manchester, 11th December 2011.
Sam Stone will be signing copies of 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: Sunday 11th December.
Address: Waterstones, 42 Regent Crescent, Trafford Centre, Barton Dock Road, Manchester M17 8AP

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Return of Denys Fisher

Once upon a time there was a toy manufacturer who loved toys. He loved them so much that he decided that one of the top TV shows should have some toys made by his company. And so, in 1977, he released a set of action figures for kids to play with. The range was small, but included the very wonderful Tom Baker as the Doctor, Louise Jameson as Leela, plus of course their space-time ship the TARDIS - a police box which could 'dematerialise' a character placed in it by using a spinner in the light on the top. Of course, to be truly playable, the Doctor and Leela needed some monsters to fight, and so a Dalek and a Cyberman were included, as well as an amazing robot which the fourth Doctor had battled in his very first adventure.

The toys were brilliant. Totally amazing to children, who really didn't mind that the Doctor looked a bit like Gareth Hunt off of the New Avengers, or that Leela had totally uncontrollable hair. They even didn't mind that the Cyberman had a nose ... or that the Giant Robot was held together with rubber bands ... it was the concept and the playability which was key, and these toys had them in spades.

But the range died almost as it begun. Even a late addition of a little K9 model couldn't save it.

That was the end of the Doctor Who Action figures for a good long while. It wasn't until the new series came back in 2005 and Character Options started to release some 12 inch figures that the idea was floated again ... but again it seemed to die. Character released the Doctor (David Tennant) and Martha as well as Daleks and Cybermen, a Cat Nun, Judoon, Dalek Sec Hybrid, Ood and a Clockwork Man, but the range was not to continue. Kids seemed to be more into the little five inch figures, and the 12 inch variety was stopped - I remember seeing a 12 inch Sontaran at a Toy Fair which never made it to production.

Now, in 2011, a new company is trying the larger action figures. This time they are eight inch figures, and are very much an homage to the old Denys Fisher figures of the seventies.

There is a fourth Doctor, resplendent with hat and scarf, and even looking like Tom Baker this time. There is no companion in the initial batch, but there are three monsters. There's a CyberLeader, complete with shiny suit. He has no nose, but his chest unit is a little too small, but otherwise he's wonderful. He even has a Cybermat! Then there's a Sontaran, not one of the small, blue new series ones, but a good old fashioned one, complete with removable helmet and spud-like features. Finally, there is the Master ... but not the Roger Delgado or Anthony Ainley human version ... here we have the amazingly grotesque Peter Pratt decayed version, lovingly resplendent in rotting black robes and with the Sash of Rassilon around his neck. It's a great toy and even comes with the Rod of Rassilon as well!

All four figures are fully articulated, and have been developed with much love and care by Bif Bang Pow! the company behind them. They are very playable, and with the addition of one of the miriad of TARDISes which are already on the market, kids have a full set to stage their own adventures with.

There are four more figures promised for 2012 (Morbius, Scaroth, Leela and Sutekh) and it's another great selection. Personally I would perhaps have chosen others - maybe a Sea Devil, or an Ice Warrior? - but if the range does well, then I'm sure that more and more will be added to the range.

The figures retail for $39.99 for two (which equates to around £25.50 in UK currency) which is brilliant value! If we take the 1970s figures, these figures cost £2.95 when released. Using the Retail Price Index, the 2010 equvalent price is £14.30, so £13 is spot on price-wise.

Strangely, Character have just released a ten inch figure of the eleventh Doctor, though this seems to be an exclusive for the Toys R Us chain ... so we've had 8, 10 and 12 inch figures available now ... it's never ending.

The Bif Bang Pow! range can be bought in the USA from Entertainment Earth :

And in the UK, they seem to be available from Forbidden Planet. The .com variant has the four for next year at £14.99 each which is very reasonable, but the variant doesn't seem to carry the range.

There's a part of me which gets a childish frisson of joy at seeing these figures ... it takes me right back to being a kid ... and that's what collecting is in some ways about.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Twins of Evil

Having temporarily run out of DVDs to watch last night, we turned to some of the staple classics and chose to rewatch Hammer's wonderful Twins of Evil film.

I have loved this for a long time. When it was repeated on television sometime in the seventies, I even recorded the soundtrack onto tape so I could listen to it - in the same way as I re-enjoyed all the old Doctor Who stories before I had video to record them with. I love Harry Robinson's score - it's so evocative and just sends shivers up my spine every time I hear it.

The cast is near perfect - from Peter Cushing's wonderful ascetic Gustav Weil, through the evil Count Karnstein played by Damien Thomas (I wondered what had happened to him, and a quick check of IMDB shows that he's done a ton of stuff, lots of series, and is still working today!, and even the minor roles like Luan Peters (remember her from that Fawlty Towers episode 'The Psychiatrist'?) and Alex Scott as Hermann manage to shine.

Of course everyone goes on about the twins themselves, Madeleine and Mary Collinson, feted for appearing in Playboy before they made in the film (see here for more on that story:, and they're not bad at all. I like the way that the 'good' one is obviously good, and the 'bad' one has that look about her ...

The film is very well made, set in Hammer's indeterminate time period and it's European setting (this time the town is called Karnstein, presumably after the castle and the Count who lives there), and the most is made of the locations. The film is actually quite vicious, with several burnings of young women, not to mention a chap at the end who gets a flaming torch in the eye, and of course the beheading of Frieda, which is very well done indeed.

Even the traditional vampiric disintegration of the Count at the climax is well done, and I remember thinking how good it was the very first time I ever saw the film.

For me Twins of Evil is one of the best of the Hammer films. Others I am very fond of are Vampire Circus, most of the Dracula films, but probably Taste the Blood of Dracula, and Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires on top, plus many others like Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile.

Hammer are at the moment releasing new novelisations of some of their catalogue, and this initially sounded promising, but recently I heard that the novelisation of Vampire Circus relocates and retells all the action in a modern setting ... no!  Most of the charm and appeal of these films is that they are set in the 'Hammer-verse' and to mess about with that would seem to be a recipe for disaster ...