Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dalek Films on Blu Ray

I am a massive fan of the Dalek films. Always have been. I know they're a sort of 'side canon' if you like, but they are a great and entertaining pair of features, with some brilliant performances, and the best sixties Daleks this side of 'Evil of the Daleks'!

I had them on VHS, I had them on DVD ... and now I have them on Blu-Ray ... but to be honest, they are something of a disappointment.

First off, the picture quality just isn't up to what I would expect from Blu Ray. The pictures seem washed out somewhat, and the quality of the second film, Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD in particular seems very poor. The opening scene of the robber in the car is all grey and washy ... not crisp black and colours. It's almost like it's a DVD copy and not a Blu Ray copy - I hope they haven't cocked up the initial release!

There are extras on the reconstruction work that was done, and they talk a lot about problems with the Technicscope format, and light bleeding from the top of one frame to the bottom of the next - well I see this in the second film - especially scenes on the Dalek spaceship where there are strip lights which then wash out the bottom of the frame as well.  But I thought they were fixing this?

Other extras include an interview with someone called Gareth Owen, who doesn't have a clue what he's on about!  All the Daleks for the films were built by Shawcraft and later used on the TV series too ... it's a shame that this interview is there as it's so incorrect and just serves to muddy the waters of proper research into the films.

Good to see the Dalekmania documentary on there, but why wasn't the black and white clip that was recently recovered included? Why no proper behind the scenes documentary about the films? Maybe we're so spoiled with the 2Entertain releases of the Classic Series, but it seems such a wasted opportunity that something could have been done and wasn't. There's so much that could have been included - archival footage of the Daleks at Cannes perhaps (assuming anything exists), interview snippets with Cushing ... it could have been narrated by Bernard Cribbins ... could have ... could have ...

So my initial reactions are muted. A great idea to clean up the films and give them a pristine release ... but it seems to not be quite so pristine ... and with no effort made on the extras, something of a damp squib. Such a shame :(

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Recent Books

I want to talk about a couple of recent books which I got hold of ... both self-published by fans of Doctor Who and both very different.

The first is the second of Keith Miller's compilations of his old Doctor Who Fan Club magazines and newsletters. This is The Official Doctor Who Fan Club: Volume 2: The Tom Baker Years, and what it covers is pretty self-evident from the title.

In the first volume, we were presented with Miller's love affair with the programme, aided by production secretary Sarah Newman, and his encouragement by the BBC to run a fan club - even as far as printing up and mailing out the newsletters for him!

Here we see the shattering of his interest, as the show changed hands (Barry Letts gave way to Philip Hinchcliffe and then to Graham Williams) and the BBC's legal department got all heavy handed on a young fan.

The additional letters and correspondence are sparser here, though the set reports are welcome, and it's good to see that Elisabeth Sladen at least was a sympathetic ear. But the overall feeling is of loss of interest and drive precipitated by an increasingly distant BBC, and also by the, perhaps in hindsight, inevitable interest from the BBC legal department about the legality of publishing a fan magazine in the first place.

The book is, as was the first volume, a marvellous archive of the period, and Miller's magazine Doctor Who Digest, was certainly one that I looked up to at the time, and tried to emulate with my own early fanzine efforts.

More details about the book can be found here: http://www.odwfc.com/

The second book is a, frankly, impressive and amazing tome called Time & Space Visualiser, and it has been put together by the talented Paul Smith - I have raved about his earlier work on the Wonderful Book of Doctor Who 1965 and the pastiche Radio Times Special for the new incarnation of Doctor Who from 2005 onwards. Plus he did the Signature Collection books for Telos :)

The book is a collection of full colour graphical representations of facts and figures about Doctor Who. Now many books have published lists of viewing figures and AI ratings, transmission dates and times ... and so on - fundamentally the building blocks of a reference work! - but what Paul has done is to take these, and many, many more views of the show, and build graphical images around them. These are not pie charts or bar charts (though there are some like that here), but wonderful artistic representations of the figures.

Some examples picked at random: Charts of 'Writers and directors ranked according to popularity of their stories amongst fans'. This uses results from a 'Dynamic rankings' website to present the information as a barchart of coloured pencils (writer) and batons (director). We can see that Neil Gaiman is the most popular writer (followed by Phil Ford, Robert Shearman and Richard Curtis), while Hettie MacDonald is the most popular director (followed by Adam Smith, Toby Haynes and Nick Hurran).

'Significant Heights and Depths experienced in Doctor Who' looks at just that, with some lovely silhouette graphics. The lowest is the Silurian Base in Derbyshire (-250m), and the highest is the Det Sen Monastery (4,600m).

'The Dominance of the four-part story in Classic Doctor Who' explores that subject ... we can see that there are close to 100 four part stories, as opposed to 1 one part story, and 1 fourteen part story. Interesting facts here include that Four parts is the only story length that every Classic Doctor had!

And finally: 'Relative contributions of authors and artists to the Target range of Doctor Who novelisations' - this presents a bookshelf graphic, and cover sketches in relative size to show the stats. Thus Terrance Dicks has most as writer with 65 stories; Ian Marter is next (9) and Malcolm Hulke is third (7). On the cover artists: Andrew Skilleter did most (42), with Chris Achilleos next (28) and Alister Pearson third (23) - it notes that Pearson did a further 48 covers as reissues.

As you can see, the content is diverse and simply overflowing with facts and figures, numbers and charts - all fascinating to see in themselves, but also providing for thought provoking moments of realisation, when you discover that more episodes of Doctor Who have been transmitted on December 25th than any other day of the year!  Or that it would take you 231 days to watch the entirety of Doctor Who at one story a day, or 15.1 years to watch them all at one episode per week!

The book is available from Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Time-Space-Visualiser-history-visualisations/dp/0957606206/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370775658&sr=8-1&keywords=time+%26+space+visualiser

And in the USA it's here: http://www.amazon.com/Time-Space-Visualiser-history-visualisations/dp/0957606206/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370775692&sr=8-1&keywords=time+%26+space+visualiser

Although it is fairly expensive, this is a full colour, 120 page paperback that has been produced with such love and care by Paul, that if you can afford it, please buy a copy!

More information and some selected pages can be seen on the Wonderful Books website here: http://www.wonderfulbook.co.uk/visualiser.html

Recent CDs

Catching up again with some recent merchandise which arrived at Howe Towers and here are some thoughts on some recent CDs which have kept me entertained on some long car journeys.

First off, a Big Finish Companion Chronicles release, The Scorchies, which is read by the lovely Katy Manning, and aided and abetted by Melvyn Hayes (if you're wondering who he is, then cast your mind way, way back to a show called Here Come The Double Deckers on Saturday morning telly, and realise that he played Albert the street cleaner ... and also to a show called It Ain't Arf Hot Mum! in which he played Gunner 'Gloria' Beaumont - recently I see from IMDB he's been in EastEnders and was voices in Budgie the Helecopter and SuperTed, as well as appearing in the 'TV Miniseries' of Shada - not sure what that is, not aware there ever was a TV Miniseries of Shada. Looking closer I see it's Big Finish's Paul McGann version of the story ...)

I was looking forward to this release as the PR said it combined together the horror of kid's animated puppet shows with Doctor Who, and thus it does, with a cast of characters, all voiced by Hayes, who seem to have been ported in from other shows: thus we have Grizz Fizzle (a Muppet); Cool Cat (a pink cat reminiscent of Bagpuss); Professor Baffle (probably Professor Yaffle, again from Bagpuss); Hamble an ugly doll (from Play School but which wasn't 'alive' in that incarnation) and the Magic Mice (again from Bagpuss).  Unfortunately, and unlike many other reviewers I note, I felt it all fell flat.

Manning is brilliant. She doesn't really tell the story as perform in it - basically Jo is kidnapped by the Scorchies who are actually alien life forms which take over a world by being cute on telly - a little like the modus operandi of the Nimon - and she does it with aplomb.

Unfortunately the puppets don't work for me. Hayes' voices, while good, are all wrong. The main voice for Grizz Fizzle sounds so much like a comedy yorkshireman character from The League of Gentlemen or a million other shows, that it ends up being grating rather than entertaining. Cool Cat does nothing but say 'cool', and Professor Baffle, while starting out well (and having greater significance than the listener might thing at first) says he is baffled *every* time he opens his mouth. It's all too repetitive and samey, and not really reflective of similar characters on these shows. It's like James Goss has taken the basic characteristic of these characters and then presented them just as that - as one-dimensional tropes rather than as believable threats.

I also hated the musical numbers - all the same/similar beat and rhythms, and with unimaginative lyrics. Sorry guys, but this one showed so much potential in the idea, but the execution killed it. I suppose that's what you get when the Big Finish chaps, by their own admission in the sleeve notes, come up with an idea in a pub one night!

Moving on to the next three in BBC AudioGO/Big Finish's Destiny of the Doctor range. I looked at the first three in an earlier post here (http://howeswho.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-merchandise-keeps-on-coming.html) and so here's my thoughts on the next three.

The Fourth Doctor's era is represented by Babblesphere by Jonathan Morris, who seems to write about three Doctor Who scripts a month at the moment!  This is read by Lalla Ward, who does a very good job indeed in telling the story of a world taken over by it's mad computer, with a nice line in irony pointed at the current online trends for Facebook and Twitter, where every mundane thought is made available to the masses to see. This takes the idea to the limit, where participation is mandatory, and people are chipped to put them in constant contact with the hive-mind computer.

I enjoyed this one a lot. Morris managed to capture the fourth Doctor's era well, and the story was interesting and well told. There were quite a few clich├ęs though in the writing, and the Doctor tended to come across as a walking pastiche of his own era - less is more in telling a tale, and perhaps Morris shouldn't have tried quite so hard to reference and namecheck all the tropes which have come to identify the era. Not quite as good as the Second Doctor entry, but certainly in second place for me so far.

Next up is the Fifth Doctor's entry, Smoke and Mirrors by Steve Lyons. Here we have Janet Fielding reading, and the immediate problem is that she can't do the voices! Tegan, as an Australian, is fine, but she retains her Australian twang whoever she is speaking as, and as the script doesn't identify the speakers well enough, it all gets very confusing as to who is talking and when. The exception is when she does the Master, and here Fielding manages to get over the menace and pomposity of the character. The idea of Houdini being involved is interesting, but somewhat falls flat for me, and the story is too complex for the space. I didn't really enjoy it that much I'm afraid.

Part of the trouble is that in this era, there are just so many characters: the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa, Adric, the Master ... having Houdini there as well, and also a pile of circus Carny folk too makes for a complex adventure, which is hard to pull off well on audio - the story needs to be structured to split everyone up and for everyone to have things to do all the time ... complex!  This would perhaps have been better to have been a straight 'Tegan narrates' adventure, seen through her eyes only. This would play to Fielding's strength as the voice of Tegan, and play down the issues I mentioned above.

Finally, the Sixth Doctor, and Nicola Bryant reads Trouble in Paradise by Nev Fountain. Unfortunately this is a real stinker of a story. Unimaginative and boring, Fountain takes us on a trip to the old world where Christopher Columbus is busy discovering America. Peri comes over as a walking encyclopaedia about the man and what he did - convenient - and the Doctor speaks nothing like the Doctor. This is not helped by the actor playing Columbus - Cameron Stewart - who actually sounds like sixth Doctor Colin Baker so much, that I again on occasion thought that Columbus was the Doctor ... very confusing.

Then we get time-travelling buffalo people called the Bovine ... please. If there's one thing I dislike about science fiction, it's when the names of a people or their planet reflect the main identifying attribute of said race or planet. So when spider people are called Arachnoids from Arachnia, or if a planet is dry, it's called Aridius; or when all the females are bald, they are the Alopecians ... that sort of thing. Sorry folks, just didn't work for me. It's basically a timey wimey adventure where our Bovine chum goes back in time to try and stop himself ... yup, we're also in City of Death territory.