Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nothing At The End of the Lane

The third edition of this fascinating and pretty incredible Doctor Who fanzine is now available, and it lives up to the standards of the first two editions. Given that there has been six years between issue two and this one, and standard of research is pretty darn good, and the magazine sets out to answer some of those niggly questions which us Doctor Who fans ask every so often.

The issue kicks off with a very lovely pic of Peter Purves and Jackie Lane with Sheena Marshe during rehearsals for 'The Gunfighters', along with a selection of smaller shots. I won't keep saying that I have never seen the pictures before, but pretty much every photograph in the magazine is new, and for those fans who love photographs, they are worth the price of admission alone. Just one very minor gripe, and that is that some of them are printed quite small and I would have liked to have seen them larger.

Then we're into the written content and we kick off with a piece wondering (and answering) what happened to the Dalek props given away in the TV21 competition. Well now we know ... and at least one was auctioned in 1992 by Bonhams. We move on to the Quaker Oats competition as well ...

Way back in 1989, I printed information about a Peter Cushing Doctor Who radio show in my fanzine The Frame, and now we have all the available information about it, BBC memos, notes, background, and even the script for the pilot episode! It's an incredible piece of research, and wonderful to read.

Next up is a selection of colour photos from the location filming for 'The Smugglers', some of these are somewhat black and grainy, but they are lovely to see.

William Hartnell's stint in Panto after leaving Doctor Who is covered next with some nice vintage photographs and playbills, followed by some beautiful colour costume designs from 'The Space Pirates'. I'd never seen these before and they are superb. I especially like the designs for Zoe, and her outfit turned out pretty close to the design.

A long-running unknown is revealed next, with a piece all about just who was cast as the original actress to play Sarah Jane Smith ... this fact was recently revealed in the BBC DVD release of 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs', but it looks like Richard Bignell actually had the scoop here and was pipped to it by the DVD ...  There's a nice recreated Radio Times cover to accompany the piece.

Black and white pics from 'The Enemy of the World' follow, and it's great to see some new shots from the filming here. Then we have some more random facts covering a third big screen movie, lost Scorpion Automotive Daleks, toys from 'Galaxy 4' which never appeared, and a selection of Louis Marx Dalek prototypes which never made it to production.

Continuing the Dalek theme, and the next piece investigates the Daleks given away in the 'Write Your Own Adventure' competition run in the Radio Times in 1972. More brilliant photographs and investigations here, revealing much about these enigmatic creations.

'The Living Planet' is a lost storyline from the early days of the show, written by Alan Wakeman and commissioned as part of the build up to the first season. Here we have the complete storyline reprinted as well as the script for part one.

Colour photographs from the filming of 'The Invasion' are next, and it's good to see some of the costumes in colour for the first time ...

Next up is an extensive section which explores all the story ideas and storylines submitted by writer Brian Hayles (he who created the Ice Warriors). There are loads of them from all eras of the show. Very interesting stuff indeed.

Next up are some lovely photographs from 'The Evil of the Daleks' from designer Chris Thompson, along with more telly snaps from fans which have come to light.

Finally, the magazine presents an indepth look at the background to the aborted anniversay story 'The Dark Dimension', revealing far more than had been previously known about it's development, who was involved, and why it was ultimately never made. It's another tour de force of research from Richard Bignell, and contains designs and photographs to illustrate it, as well as story outlines of the plot in its varying incarnations.

Overall Nothing At the End of the Lane represents fan research and writing at it's very best and Richard Bignell is to be congratulated for pulling together such an incredible array of images and facts, covering areas of the show which were previously unknown or little known.

For copies, head to the website at:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Trolls and Aliens

Sometimes you go for new films on something of a whim, not really knowing if they will work for you or not, and thus sometimes the selections turn out to be not really what you wanted or to your taste. Thus it is with the latest two offerings, Troll Hunter and Cowboys and Aliens.

Having been impressed by many foreign language films, and not having any issue with subtitles, Troll Hunter was popped in the machine. Oh dear.  I had heard that it was a little like The Blair Witch Project in its conceit of presenting 'recovered' footage, but unfortunately this has resulted in a film which is almost unwatchable as the picture jumps and jounces all over the place.  After about 10 minutes I was feeling ill (I get motion sickness) and so had to give up on it.

We did zoom through the rest of the film to see how it developed and what we saw did not improve the opinion that this was a very very amateur hour production, nowhere near on the same par as Rare Exports, and really hardly worth bothering with.  I can't offer a full review as we didn't watch the full film, but it was disappointing.  The trolls look OK and reminded me of many book illstrations over the years, but the dreadful acting and rolling camera made this one very much a thumbs down for us.

Disappointed with Troll Hunter, we then turned to Cowboys and Aliens, hoping at least for a watchable film. Well, it is watchable, but someone involved with it forgot the 'and Aliens' bit and it concentrates way too much on the Cowboys and Indians ...

Daniel Craig is excellent as the loner Jake, and the rest of the cast is likewise pretty good, but it's a slow burn film, with lots of material which just drags.  I felt that the whole Harrison Ford and Son subplot could have been removed without hurting the main film at all, and it is way overlength at 119 minutes as well. If it was cut back to 90 minutes then it might be a much more interesting and exciting watch.

The basic plot is daft, a bunch of aliens arrive on Earth in 1873 in order to steal the gold from the ground (we don't know why) and a group of Cowboys and Indians, helped by another alien in the form of a beautiful woman (Olivia Wilde), have to send them packing.  Along the way the aliens kidnap loads of locals for no apparent reason - perhaps to experiment on them? - and leave them all standing in a room on their spaceship looking at the light. The aliens are fast moving insectoid things and are nicely designed, but there isn't much in the way of intelligence shown by them - which is odd given the high-tec of their ship, guns, gold collecting process and so on.  It's a very ragged film.

What should have been an action/adventure shoot em up with guns and lazers is instead a slow moving affair, with a fair degree of angst and a whole 'Indians don't get on with Cowboys but can work with them and respect them' subplot in there as well.

So a disappointing evening overall ... I hope the next ones we choose are better.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fright Night and Kronos

Another two films to discuss this time ... one from ages ago, Hammer's Captain Kronos, and one current, the remake of Fright Night ...

Heading back in time first, and 1974's Captain Kronos is one of the better Hammer films, made even more special by the overall concept which was fully intended as a trial for a possible series of films (I hope I'm right saying that and it's not just an urban myth). Unfortunately the copy we got was very murky and degraded - no clean up whatsoever had been done on it and it had white marks down the screen for some of it ... and anything in the dark, well forget seeing anything much there!  Nevertheless it still stands today as a great take on the vampire myth - that here the vampire feeds on the youth of the victims and leaves them withered husks, while the vampire stays looking young and vibrant.  I suppose it's another twist on the Countess Dracula idea that bathing in the blood of virgins would keep you young.

The film contains some brilliant performances, and particularly of note are the leading triumbrate of Kronos (Horst Janson), Grost (John Cater) and Carla (Caroline Munro). These three manage to make for gripping viewing, and it's really nice to see in a film of this period that the hunchback servant (Grost) is not an unintelligent man, but a doctor and essential to Kronos in his work. Caroline Munro also brings great empathy to the role of Carla, who could have been nothing more than some pretty window dressing. But she manages to hold her own, to help Kronos in his battle, and even to dominate some of the scenes. It's a shame she is left behind at the end really, as I really wanted her to travel on to more adventures.

Other stand-out roles include the ever reliable John Carson, and Shane Briant as Paul Durward brings a baby-faced malevolence to every scene he is in. Lois Daine as Sara Durward has a cool modern short haired look which is very fetching indeed, and Wanda Ventham as Lady Durward does well with the limited material she is given.

Watching the film today, you can see that Hammer really pulled out all the stops for it, and the characters cry out for more adventures. If there was one film which could do with a remake and a reimagining then it is this ... and I wonder what a modern take and approach to the adventures of Captain Kronos would be like.

Which is totally the opposite to the way I feel about Fright Night. The original 1985 film has gone down in time as a quiet classic. Chris Sarandon's turn as a sexy vampire is memorable, and the characters of Charley Brewster, his girlfriend Amy, and best friend Evil Ed, all helped by TV Horror presenter Peter Vincent all gelled perfectly to create a film with many subtexts about sex and power, and how belief can win over against the odds.  It was a strange choice of film to decide to remake as there really isn't anything wrong at all with the original film.

But remake it they have, and in doing so they have managed to completely miss what it was that made the original so appealing. Which is strange as Tom Holland, who scripted the original, is also credited as providing the story for this ... maybe he didn't understand himself why the original became a cult classic. The actual script is by Marti Noxon, a name which seemed familiar, and IMDB confirms that she wrote several episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and was also script editor/producer/exec producer on many more ... which might explain why the new film feels more like an episode of that series than anything else.

In the new version Charley (Anton Yelchin) again finds himself living next door to a vampire (Colin Farrell) but here Jerry Dandridge doesn't seem to be hiding - he kills kids right outside his door, and makes no attempt to disguise what he is. His 'Renfield' is missing from the plot this time, and that's a shame as this element added much to the original plot. Rather than being a 'plain Jane', Amy here (played by Imogen Poots) is a stunner and acts in a very Buffy-like way throughout. The seduction of her by Dandridge is missing, and this led to some of the most powerful scenes in the original film (in the club for those who know it). Although they do recreate the club scene, it has little power as Amy is basically drugged by Jerry with his own blood and forced to become a vampire against her will - in the original film there was the subtext that Amy actually wanted this to happen, and that Jerry was more of a man than Charley could ever hope to be (even down to the sounds of Amy climaxing on the soundtrack as she is bitten in the 1985 version - something she never did with Charley).

But the biggest mis-step is in the reinvention of Peter Vincent from a small-time, washed out TV host who has something to prove (superbly played by Roddy McDowell) into a top-of-his-game arrogant stage magician played by David Tennant. In the new film, there is no reason at all for Vincent to help Charley, and indeed the idea that Charley would ever get to even meet him is laughable - there would be several layers of 'people' to get through before even the sniff of an interview was available.

I am a massive fan of David Tennant. Everything I have seen him in, he has been brilliant. Except here. This is played a little like a drunk tenth Doctor, all fast speaking, garbled dialogue, asides and mannerisms which are straight out of the TARDIS. Tennant even uses his 'Doctor' English voice for the part which adds to the feeling that he is just strolling through it. I'm so sorry if you are a big fan of Tennant in this role, but for me it just didn't work at all. I preferred him when he wore the wig and beard at the start, but when he strips it off, like the character, all the magic goes.

Overall I found the film boring and pointless. There was nothing to really interest or excite me. I did like the moment when the girl being rescued by Charley explodes as soon as she gets into sunlight, and I liked that Amy's vampire face echoed the same scene in the 1985 version. There's also a neat cameo from Chris Sarandon as a hapless driver who gets savaged by Dandridge ... but as I mentioned before, what was the point of remaking it?  The original version was and is much better, has more interesting characters who have proper motivations for what they are doing, and was made at a time when the prosthetic effects were of a standard to impress. My advice then, ignore this and get the DVD of the original film ... you won't regret it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cereal Killers

When I was a kid I used to love those cards you got with bubble gum in packs. There were a couple of series I collected and still have - all the Kung Fu cards from the TV series with David Carradine, a set of Universal Horrors cards and a set of Hammer Horror ones. The set I always wanted was the Outer Limits one and I did have a few cards from it (now lost), but sadly never managed to get a set of the cards - now they cost far too much to buy!

I mention these things as I recently came across a new company called Wax Eye who are doing a set of cards with the title Cereal Killers, and they are simple awesome. I just had to order a set from the US to see them for myself.

The art is by Joe Simko and the cards are all pastiches of popular breakfast cereals. Obviously the place of origin being the USA, there are several which I am not familiar with, but the conceit is good enough for the series to really work. So there are 'Frosted Freeks', 'Loco Puffs' and (probably my favourite of the punning titles) 'Chucky Harms' among many others. Each card has some crazy and impossible puzzles on the back - like match each card to it's silhouette (ie all the black rectangles are the same) - and other items of humour. I liked one which has a 'scratch and sniff' back which reveals that the cereal in question smells of standard grade card used to make trading cards ...

But the company isn't content to just leave it there with an amazing set of 56 cards ... oh no ... they come in little cereal boxes made to look like the ones on the cards - I got a set of three which are all shrink-wrapped together just like the little individual portion ones you get from Kellogs. Each box has 20 cards, and also an eyeball gum candy, and a premium which might be a magnet, skin transfer or black light stickers. There are also foil cards and original sketch cards included though I wasn't lucky enough to get any of those.

For anyone with a sense of humour, these are just amazing. The art is clever and all the details are right, so for 'Halloweeties' the box says 'The Breakfast of Maniacs' and proudly claims 'Made With 100% Real Pain'. The 'Exorcrisp' cereal claims it 'turns milk into pea green vomit colour' ... lovely.

If you are in the USA then the cards are apparently being stocked by Toys R Us, but in the UK, you might find them in specialist comic or genre stores, or they can be ordered direct from the manufacturers from their website.  The total cost for a pack of three boxes, plus shipping, came in at around £25 - perhaps a little steep for trading cards, but given the love and care that has gone into these, they really deserve to do well.

Wax Eye can be found online here:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gorgon Boxing

Two films last night were anything but like each other. Different decades, totally different subjects, and yet both good and satisfying.

First up was Boxing Helena, a film from 1993 that I had never got to see before. The version we have on DVD has a strange Korean or Japanese cover which spells Julian Sands' name wrong (as Julian Sand) and has a typo in the tagline ('A deep dark obsession that bares a woman's body and a mas's soul') so this didn't bode well for the DVD, but it was fine. In English and not some incomprehensible tongue, and not something filmed on 8mm from the back of an auditorium in Shanghai.

As we're just watching through David Lynch's Twin Peaks at the moment, it was fascinating to see Sherilyn Fenn (who plays Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks) as Helena, a somewhat bitchy and self-obsessed young woman, who has the misfortune to have doctor Nick Cavenaugh, played by Julian Sands, as a stalker. He went out with her once, and cannot let her go. He climbs a tree outside her flat so he can watch her wander about in her undies, calls her on the phone but then cannot say anything, and invites her to his parties. He's a strange effete chap, but Sands plays Nick's obsession with Helena very well indeed. Then, after conspiring to keep her bag and address book, he lures Helena to his house, where she is hit by a car on leaving, which smashes her legs. So we cut forward to Helena, now with both legs amputated, an unwilling houseguest in Nick's residence ... now he has her just how he wanted, in a position that he can help her and tend to her ... but this is not enough, and so he amputates her arms as well ... leaving her only a head and torso, now totally dependent on him.

The film is written and directed by Jennifer Lynch - daughter of David - and you can see some of her father's influence in the style and approach the film takes. Helena is shown to be a complete bitch, and so you're not really feeling sorry for her, however Nick is just strange - as a stalker and obsessive, he professes his love for the girl, and yet she screams at him to look at what he has done to her! It's a disturbing film, and I recall it causing some ripples at the time of first release, though this might be the news of Kim Basinger pulling out at the last moment, and then being successfully sued for breach of verbal contract (though it seems that a court of appeal then overurned that ruling, and the case was settled out of court). It's strange to see singer Art Garfunkle in an acting role as well, though he is very good as Nick's friend Doctor Augustine.

Overall it's a memorable film, mainly for Sands and Fenn's performances, and also for the twisted nature of obsession and what it can lead people to do. One wonders what a remake might do with CGI-powered amputations ... a roomful of ex-girlfriends reduced to essential components perhaps?

The other film is one of the great Hammer titles, The Gorgon. I'd not seen this for an age, and so it was good to revisit it. The story follows the story of Doctor Namaroff (played with effortless style by Peter Cushing) who is puzzled by a number of local deaths where the bodies of the deceased have turned to stone. The latest victim is Paul Heitz's father, and Heitz (Richard Pasco) and Professor Meister (Christopher Lee) believe the deaths to be the work of the Gorgon, who walks among them every full moon ...

There's much to like about this Hammer horror. It's orginal for one thing, eschewing the traditional fare of vampires, patchwork monsters and mummies, for a mythical Gorgon, a creature with snakes for hair which can turn you to stone if it looks at you directly. There's a subtext that it's actually the bite from the snakes which does the work - the victims all have bite marks on their foreheads - but this seems to be glossed over. Barbara Shelley does a good job as Carla, Namaroff's assistant, and the Gorgon itself is a lovely piece of work from actress Prudence Hyman, combined with Roy Ashton's makeup and Syd Pearson's prosthetic snakes. She remains a spooky figure, shrouded in the distance until a couple of effective close shots in the climax ... lovely stuff.

The stone bodies are very well done, looking remarkably like the actors, and the interim grey make-up as the hapless victims turn to stone is also effective. One concern would be the length of time it takes to turn though - Heitz' father is able to get back from the castle to his home, and to write three pages of a letter before he succombs, wheras others collapse almost immediately. Maybe the venom (if that's what it is) takes longer to act on some people, or perhaps the dose is different.

Our copy of the film came with a superb little booklet by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn, and this is a great addition to the disk, revealing much about the making of the film, and containing some excellent photographs.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Wonderful Book 1965

Now here's a thing ... inspired by the tremendous work done by everyone on The Brilliant Book 2010 and 2011, two fans have gone and created an equivalent work, but for 1965 ...

Paul Smith and Joe Cannon have done the most incredible job and have created The Wonderful Book 1965, and it deserves to go down in history as one of the best produced and funniest spoofs on the series yet. The book was originally produced as a PDF, free to download, but due to the interest, decided to make a very limited number available to buy using POD processes to create a lovely softcover book version. All copies are now sold out ...

The book covers the first season of Doctor Who, from '10,000 BC' through to 'The French Revolution', and follows the same layout and concept as The Brilliant Book with a mixture of interviews, comments, classic moments, all beautifully illustrated with photographs and artwork. But ... all the interviews here are made up, and all the facts have been delightfully mangled to produce a pastiche which treads the fine line between reality and fiction.

I love how in the 'interview' with Carole Ann Ford she is looking forward to Season 2 immensely ... that Barbara is a man-magnet, and how William Hartnell is grumpy. There's a lovely look at all the wigs which Hartnell tried for the part - of course representing all the hairstyles of the future Doctors ... and then there's the facts ...

That Reg Cranfield, who played the policeman at the start of the opening episode, was a real policeman (so cast because Fred Rawlings, who played the part in the Pilot was not convincing enough); how all the skulls in the Cave of Skulls were made by pupils at the Gum Lane primary school; how the Dalek actors were given LSD to make them act 'trippy'; how William Hartnell fell asleep on the floor at the start of 'Inside the Spaceship' ... and so on.  I loved these and there are many laugh out loud moments as the writers crash fiction with fact and come up with something better than both!

There's even a short story included which describes the events leading to the start of 'The Sensorites' ... nothing is left out, and the book contains so much detail - factual and fictional - that Smith deserves something of an Oscar for writing it all!  And the layout is professional and expertly done.

I have never seen a fan-produced spoof as lovingly and as carefully put together as this, and many, many people are now asking for a 'proper' Brilliant Book for all of the earlier seasons of the show as a result.

To enjoy The Wonderful Book yourself, then head for where the PDF is still available for free download.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Turks and Crusades

A couple of audios to talk about this blog. We don't often get the pleasure of being able to listen to CDs, but several long journeys over Christmas meant that we had the opportunity.

First off is the new Doctor Who CD from Big Finish. This one is called The Silver Turk and is by Marc Platt. Now, I have to give due acknowledgement here and say that Marc is one of my oldest friends, and one of the best writers around ... which meant that I was expecting a lot from this CD, especially as it doubly features the Cybermen, my favourite monster ...

The initial problem I had was that the Doctor (in his 8th Paul McGann guise) had as his companion Mary Shelley ... yes, that Mary Shelley, she of the Rights of Women and Frankenstein. Personally I think this is a step too far. I can see that Big Finish have to keep pushing the boat out and bringing in new companions and ideas, but to have such a famous historical figure grated with me.

The plot involves the Doctor and Mary arriving in Vienna in 1873, and straight into a strange situation with a 'silver Turk' - a game playing machine which actually turns out to be a Cyberman. Now here the next problem surfaced, as Sam asked me why the 'owner' was feeding the Cyberman with soup ... as far as she knew, the thing didn't eat food. But this wasn't explained, as the audio expects the listeners to be au fait with all the various Cyberman designs and versions and to have worked out from the cover that this was an early Cyberman, which was perhaps more man than cyber ... but this then led on to more continuity which listeners were expected to 'get' - advance scout parties from Mondas ... It was all a little confusing.

And then Marc starts to bring in all manner of allusions to Frankenstein, with the Cybermen rebuilding themselves from body parts, to being powered up by an electric storm, and Mary keeps banging on about how they should be pitied and so on ... it was all way too obvious a lead in to where she got her ideas for Frankenstein from.

There's another plot too, where a puppet maker called Drossel (inspired no doubt by The Nutcracker's Drosselmeyer) who makes realistic human automatons and then gives them human eyes - not quite sure why ... nor why there then needs to be a Cyberman as a chess-playing robot, when Drossel could build something to do that anyway ... the puppets all sound clattery too, explained by them wearing wooden clogs ... not sure why that should be though, except that it sounds good on audio.

Overall then, I found it disappointing. The Cyberman were somewhat wasted in the overall scheme of things, and they were also very hard to hear - the electronic distortion on their voices making the words impossible to make out. As with all the Big Finish audios, the production was very good, and the quality of the packaging and art superb. I think what let this down was the basic idea.  Sorry Marc.

The Silver Turk can be obtained from Big Finish here:

The other audio we listened to was one of Fantom Films' audio readings of the Time Hunter series. Again, my interest here is that Telos published the original novellas, and so I edited and worked with the writers on them. But Fantom are doing a cracking job at recreating them as audio books.

This one was Deus Le Volt by Jon de Burgh Miller, and was read by Terry Molloy.  The plot sees our time travelling heroes Honore and Emily, thrown back to 1098, to the siege of Antioch in the Crusades, where they find the Fendahl from Doctor Who is at large, killing the knights and growing in strength.

Molloy does a brilliant job with the reading. Every character (and there are a lot of them) has a separate and distinct 'voice' and the plot rattles along at a great pace. This was perhaps the closest that the Time Hunter series got to a pure historical - it's not until the last act when all sorts of wierdness starts happening - and it really works as an audio.  I'm looking forward to hearing more of these when we get the chance.

Deus Le Volt can be obtained from Fantom Films here: