Sunday, September 19, 2004

Ghost Light

Just been looking through the new BBC DVD of the Doctor Who adventure Ghost Light ... and it's well up to the usual standards. For folks that might not know, this was the last Doctor Who adventure recorded at the BBC before the show was cancelled, and it's certainly one of my favourite stories. It's so rich in content, both script-wise, in the Victorian sets and characters, and in the performances ... it's hard to single anyone out as being stand-out as they are all stand out. The DVD comes as usual with a host of extras, this time including a pile (about 15 - I lost count) of deleted scenes, a documentary about the story which interviews most of the cast and crew (which is competently edited, but perhaps lacking a little of the flair of other releases), some sequences of the story being recorded in studio, an interview with author Marc Platt from a 1990 convention as well as the usual commentary track, a couple of easter eggs and stills and so on. It's always amazing to me that BBC Video and a team of people calling themselves the Restoration Team can come up with so much to pack out the CD with. The Doctor Who DVDs put most commercial releases to shame with their content, most of which has been especially created or uncovered for the releases - none of reusing material from earlier laser disk or video releases here. The story itself is also pretty good. At the time I remember thinking/saying/writing that this was Doctor Who for the video age as it is actually really hard to figure out what is going on from just one viewing - Ghost Light is an adventure which stands up to repeated showings, and each time you hear/see something which adds another piece to the puzzle for you. It's a great little production all told, and, if you hadn't guessed, comes highly recommended.

Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires

I managed to pick up a DVD of this Hammer title recently and watching it I realised how much you forget, just how good the old Hammer films were. I think I must have seen this one before, but to be honest I couldn't remember that much about it. However it's a cracking mix of Hong Kong Kung Fu style action, vampires, Dracula and ladies with their tops off. I was impressed with the fights, fast and furious, and the idea that this rag-tag band of people could cross the wilderness to battle seven decaying zombified vampires was somewhat hilarious. I loved the make-ups for the risen dead - all skeletal and decaying - but I wondered how they got back to their graves ... when they first rise, they are all but fricaseed by Cushing and pals, and yet next time, they all rise from the same graves again ... obviously something clever going on there. Unfortunately John Forbes-Robertson as Dracula at the start and end looks as though he has just been playing the part on stage - his make up is simply dreadfully overdone. He's also really chatty, but it's a blessing when Shen Chan takes over for the bulk of the film as he's just so much better. When the zombie-vampires rise, I was interested to see that some of them seem to be hopping - hopping Vampires is a Chinese phenomenon that I know about from films like Mr Vampire, and I guess that the Chinese extras roped in for the sequence either weren't told what to do and some just made it up, or that the director knew about the differing mythologies and asked some of them to move like that. Whatever the reason, the pack of jogging/hopping/running corpses is really quite impressive. The ending rather lets it all down, when Dracula turns back into Forbes-Robertson in the hallway, and Cushing manages to spear him first time. Some good disintegration effects ensue. But what on earth is that (very small) vat of boiling blood doing in the lair ... and why does one of the vampires seem to emit steam when it's bat medallion is taken near the start ...? The great thing about these films is that even the bits that don't make sense add to the whole, and overall the film is just great fun. Even Julie Ege gets to do something, even if her death at the end is somewhat gory and nasty.

Sunday, September 12, 2004


Some people out there might know that for the last 20 years or so I've been reviewing books for a variety of places, but mainly for Starburst and Shivers magazines. It's a strange life being a reviewer, you get to pen about 100-300 words on something which might have taken years of someone's life to create, and in those words you can destroy it completely. To be honest I often think that some reviewers take great pleasure in doing just that, and that they are unbearably smug with it (and I know that some magazines actually ask their reviewers to submit bad reviews and actively give books to people they hope won't like them). Me, I try and find something nice to say if I can, and if I really can't find anything nice then I'll probably not cover that book. Why spend space saying that something is awful when you could be helping to spread the word about something that is good. It's also worth noting that as with any other sort of writing, sometimes you get things wrong in a review: you spell a name incorrectly, or get some other detail wrong, and of course then the author comes down on you like a ton of bricks, especially if you're daring to criticise their masterpiece. I mention all this as I had an email today from an author, basically having a right old go at me for a recent review of his book ... seems that because I had not praised it to the skies like others apparently had, and because I callously (and unprofessionally of course) gave away the ending of one of the short stories, and because I couldn't tell from the book whether it was self-published or not, and because I dared to have an opinion as to the type of story I like ... it all amused me more than anything. As if being accused of not knowing what I was doing, of getting more experience before I reviewed short stories, and being described as 'simple minded' is really going to endear me to this author and his work in the future. I'd like to share with you his closing line: "In short, this inaccurate, incomplete, superficial treatment of a very strong story collection is an injustice. This book is receiving rave reviews, often five star reviews, in longer, more comprehensive treatments by other reviewers. Your review, as written, is amateurish drek." Thank you and goodnight. I think that every writer would benefit from being a reviewer, to try and exercise tact and diplomacy when discussing works which they then may appreciate the effort that went into creating. And that every reviewer should have a piece of their work that they're proud of reviewed by someone else at some point, so that they can see how it feels to be on the receiving end of criticism. Maybe if this happened, then people would be perhaps a little more tolerant of criticism, and perhaps not be so keen to slag off and put down works based on their own agendas.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

New Who

I've been thinking about the new series of Doctor Who quite a bit (as you might expect) and having seen the coverage being given to it by the various magazines, I'm finding it amusing how they're all trying to outdo each other with the coverage, while trying terribly hard not to 'spoil' anything. One of the magazines has a sealed section wherein there are 7 pages of photographs and a location report. Others have interviews with the designers and of course with Russell T Davis ... it's all very interesting. Now cast your minds back ... I'm old enough (!) to remember when Season 12 was on, and I still remember the continuity announcer at the end of The Ark In Space saying that the next episode was called The Sontaran Experiment. I have to admit that at the time I had no idea what a Sontaran was ... the name hadn't 'stuck' from The Time Warrior at all ... and then after Genesis of the Daleks, they announced that next week would be Revenge of the Cybermen ... I still remember that as I knew what/who the Cybermen were and this was *so* exciting. My memories of Invasion were there for me, and of being terrified witless by the Cybermen in that story ... Flash forward to today, and I wonder if this new series will retain that excitement. I really hope it will, and that the feeding frenzy of each magazine trying to top the one before will tail off and that some real surprises will be had by viewers. There's a part of me who wishes already that I didn't know that the ------- were in the first episode, or that the -------- were going to appear ... and I'm concerned that I'll come to the episodes already expecting a lot when perhaps my expectations will never be met. Of course there's also a rabid Doctor Who fan side of me which wants all the scripts now, as many photographs as I can assemble, and copies of all the merchandise :) However experience from 1996 tells me that this won't happen. Fans won't get scripts in advance this time around. There won't be photographs galore until afterwards (and even then there might be actually not that many). There won't be actor interviews in which things are given away ... in many senses fandom is a *very* different place than it was even in 1996. The Internet has changed it all considerably - any news can be read instantly by millions of people within seconds of it happening - so trying to keep things quiet becomes something of an impossibility. Print media must therefore concentrate on what has not got online, and so we have a culture of secrecy emerging again which all but made Doctor Who fandom impossibly insular and unfriendly in the seventies and early eighties - the 'I've got/know something you don't know' attitude where photographs/videos were hoarded and only a select few had any access to anything at all. I like the modern fandom where virtually nothing is secret - episodes can be bought on VHS or on DVD or even downloaded from the Internet for free if people have a good connection and a lot of patience. I hope the concern that the production team has not to let anything out about the new series doesn't end up breeding secrecy and lack of trust ... I hope people appreciate new WHO for what it is, and don't try and spoil it all before it's even started.