Sunday, December 31, 2006

Doctor Who - The Runaway Bride

Another Christmas, another Doctor Who Christmas Special, and for 2006 it was The Runaway Bride by Russell T Davies. I was really in two minds about this - first of all I like the idea of a Christmas Day episode very much, it provides some much needed focus for the evening, but I really was not looking forward to Catherine Tate in it as I have always found her to be monumentally un-funny, and what little I have seen of her own show marked her for me as a one-trick pony, with her 'Am I bovvered' character being iconic and hilarious, but everything else being very mundane and pointless. But this is Doctor Who, not a so-called comedy sketch show, and so maybe everything would be OK. We kick off in the same way as Rose and The Christmas Invasion did with a pan from space down to Earth, and to a wedding. Donna (Tate) is dematerialised as she walks down the aisle and appears on board the TARDIS. Why? Well this is where the technobabble starts, and on close examination, it really doesn't stand up to much thought. Seems she is full of Huon particles and they are attracted to the TARDIS (and vice versa). The problem is that Huon particles don't exist any more, according to the Doctor, and so he decides to investigate further. There's a few quickfire elements in the TARDIS scenes worth mentioning. How can the TARDIS door open into space? The Doctor says that they are protected ... but then five minutes later the TARDIS is racing along a motorway with the door open to the elements ... so this protection can presumably be turned off then. Seems a little dangerous to me. There's a reference to the Slitheen in there, and a comment that the TARDIS is sluggish as it's digesting ... what is it digesting I wonder? The moment with Rose's shirt is also very well done, though exactly what prompted Rose to leave it casually in the console room may raise a few eyebrows ... or if it wasn't Rose who put it there, why is it there? What has the Doctor been doing with Rose's clothes! Perhaps we shouldn't go there. It's Christmas eve (why is Donna getting married on Christmas eve - no-one gets married on Christmas eve - because it's Christmas eve!) and the Doctor and Donna race around Cardiff-pretending-to-be-London trying to get a taxi to take her to St Mary's Church in Haver Road, Chiswick (there is no such place). There's a lot of running about, breaking cashpoint machines, and then the spooky Santas appear. Why? Okay, so we know they were in last year's Christmas Special, but they were ... seems they want Donna for some reason (can't think why as she's been nothing but annoying and shouty so far). Needless to say after some derring do and a magnificent set-piece chase between taxi and TARDIS, the Doctor gets Donna to the reception where they are promptly attacked by Santas again, and also by remote controlled exploding Christmas tree baubles ... this begs the questions of how the Santas knew they'd need them and how they got them onto the tree in the first place ... Meantime the Doctor discovers that the company Donna was working for - A C Clements - is wholly owned by Torchwood (yawn). The Doctor destroys the Santas and discovers that they were robots being controlled from somewhere above the Earth. Cue a massive eight-spired webstar-spaceship and an unseen Empress of Racknoss slavering over the Doctor and Donna. The Doctor, Donna, and Donna's earstwhile groom, Lance, head of HR at Clements, go to the offices to explore. They discover a hidden 'Torchwood' floor (complete with Segway scooters to get about on) which extends under London and which in part emerges on top of the Thames Flood Barriers. They find a laboratory which is making Huon particles (so why didn't the TARDIS get attracted there when they first arrived on Earth?) and it transpires that the particles need a living human to catalyse them. However Huon particles are deadly ... Are you with me so far? To be honest, by this point on first transmission I had no idea what was going on. Nor did the folks I was watching with - which included two six-year-old Doctor Who-mad boys. Suddenly vast hangar doors open revealing more robot Santas and a hole drilled down to the centre of the Earth ... why? Because a Racknoss spacecraft was buried in the centre of the Earth when it was formed 4.6 billion years ago and now the Empress wants to free her children and to do this she needs catalysed Huon particles ... Seems that Lance is in league with the Empress and had been feeding Donna Huon particles with her coffee every day for six months. The Empress teleports from her spaceship to the underground lair, and she is a maginificent creation. Sarah Parish plays her with no subtlty at all and she is a raving, snarling, vicious mother from the word go. Wonderfully over the top and a great performance. But why didn't she move!! The spider body and legs looked great, but she just stood there. To have seen her scuttling about and actually interacting would have been awesome and creepy, but it seems that the CGI budget had all been used up and there was nothing left for the Empress but to animate all her eyes flickering. A great shame. The Doctor and Donna nip back in time to check out what is at the centre of the Earth (using what looks like the Slitheen surf board thing to avoid being dragged to the Huon particles on the way back - I refer you to my earlier comment) and so the Empress turns on Lance and force-feeds him Huon so he can catalyse it and free her kids instead of Donna. At this point my brain popped. If it was that easy - all the Empress had to do was pick any human, make them drink Huon and then extract the catalysed particles from their body to free her kids, then why all the plotting and robot santas and chase and so on with Donna? Why bother? Why not just kidnap someone, tie them up, feed them Huon, job done. I dunno, these megalomaniacal crazed giant spider women just can't think straight can they? Anyway, Donna is recaptured and her catalysed Huon is used to free the kids (are you still with the plot here?) and Lance is instead thrown down the hole to feed them. The Empress makes her webstar spacecraft begin 'harvesting' humans as food - it looks like it just kills them if you ask me - and so the Doctor uses the Santas' remote control and a handful of explosive baubles to blow a hole in the wall, letting the Thames flood down the hole, neatly flushing all the spiders down the plughole (which as we know, never works anyway). The Empress transports back to her webstar, at which point the Army move in and on 'orders of Mr Saxon' fire at it and blow it to smithereens. Meanwhile the Doctor has drained the whole Thames into the Earth's core. Well that's not going to do much good is it? So there's now a concentrated geyser of super-heated steam erupting back up the hole is there? And what about the North Sea ... has that been drained as well? Not to mention previously noted Who-facts about the Earth, like the presence of Stahlmann's gas, or the magnetic core that the Daleks were trying to mine ... So the world is apparently saved (we have to assume that emptying the planet's seas into the molten core has no ill effects, and that the loss of the Thames is a temporary glitch) and the Doctor asks Donna if she wants to go with him. What!!! The man must be desperate or addled or both. She is so annoying. My fear was played out - Tate basically played Donna as a riff on her 'bovvered' character throughout, with annoying shouting included. There is no way that the Doctor would want to take her with him. Oh well. At least she declines and has the uncharacteristic perception to note that the Doctor did nothing as the Empress died (shades of Cassandra's death in The End of the World) and also that he needs someone with him to stop him ... The final shot is the TARDIS shooting off up into the sky like a firework ... nicely done :) So what to make of all that ... As a Christmas special it was great. It was fast paced and kept everyone glued to the TV (except for four slow points: on the rooftop; in the TARDIS in the distant past; at the reception; and at the very end - showing that on Christmas Day it really needs to be action all the way) but the plot was a complete mess. Very complex and hard to follow. Afterwards I asked my six-year-old nephews what it had all been about and they had no idea! Something about spiders was the best I could get. But then came the thing that electrified the room ... The trailer for 2007's forthcoming series. Wow. A flash bang collage of images and sounds, introducing Martha ... Was that Cybermen? ... Rhino people ... the Face of Boe ... Cat people (again) ... what seemed to be a Space Pig in the woods ... you could hear a pin drop as all this played out. But then. Crash to silence. And a very familiar throbbing sound starts up. Then a black Dalek is on screen for a second. "DALEKS!!!!!" Screamed two six-year-olds in unison and the room erupted into excited chattering about the Daleks coming back again. "When's it on?" was the only question they wanted answering and the anticipation was electric. So well done Russell T Davies and everyone involved for a very entertaining Christmas Day evening. Okay, so the plot needed work. A lot of work. But the action sequences were awesome, and as long as you disengaged your brain from thinking, you were fine. But it's the Daleks ... what is it about that particular creation which kids find so fascinating? An hour of fast paced, well produced telly, yet it was a one second shot of a Dalek which electrified them.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Telos wins World Fantasy Award

Excuse me a moment while I go "SQUEEEE"!!! We have just heard that at the World Fantasy Awards announced on Saturday 4th November at the World Fantasy Convention in Austin, Texas, TELOS PUBLISHING was the recipient of the Special Award: Non-Professional. The Award was collected by author Graham Joyce on behalf of David J Howe and Stephen James Walker who were unable to attend in person. Graham was able to read out a note from the publishers: "We're sorry we can't be here in person to collect this Award. To be recognised by a World Fantasy Award is an incredible accolade for us, and as Telos Publishing is a small press and we do what we do for love, this means so much to us. We (that is David Howe and Stephen James Walker) would like to thank everyone who has helped Telos to produce some great genre titles, and who keep the wheels moving behind the scenes. To Roger Anderson our webmaster; Debbie Bennett who handles the online orders; and Rosemary Howe who deals with all the trade orders and paperwork. Also mention must go to Arnold Blumberg, Marie O'Regan and David Brunt who have been handing the typesetting and design, and all our brilliant cover artists. It's a real team effort running a small press and we hope that people will continue to read and appreciate our books for many years to come. Thank you" For more information on the 2006 World Fantasy Award Nominees, please visit Judges for the 2006 Awards were: Steve Lockley, Barbara Roden, Victoria Strauss, Jeff VanderMeer, and Andrew Wheeler. The full list of winners of this year's Awards is as follows: Best Novel: KAFKA ON THE SHORE by Haruki Murakami Best Collection: THE KEYHOLE OPERA by Bruce Holland Rogers Best Anthology: THE FAIR FOLK edited by Marvin Kaye Best Novella: 'Voluntary Committal' by Joe Hill Best Short Story: 'CommComm' by George Saunders Best Artist: James Jean Special Award - Professional: Sean Wallace for Prime Books Special Award - Non-Professional: Telos Books Lifetime Achievement Awards: John Crowley; Stephen Fabian For more information on Telos Publishing and our acclaimed ranges of dark fantasy/horror, crime and film and television titles, please visit us online at As soon as we have the actual award I'll post a pic here so everyone can see it. This is *so* exciting :) David

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Evil of the Daleks - Live on Stage

Yesterday I had the greatest pleasure in seeing the latest production from Rob Thrush and Nick Scovell live on stage in Portsmouth. Earlier productions were the Doctor Who stories The Web of Fear and Fury from the Deep, but this year they had turned their attention to Evil of the Daleks. If you missed it, then you missed a real treat. The script by Nick Scovell took the basics of the television story and distilled it down into two 45 minute parts which never dragged and never got boring. We're straight into the action as the Doctor (played admirably by Nick Scovell) and Jamie (a brilliant portrayal by John Paul McCrohon) find the TARDIS drawn to an old manor house in 1866 wherein something strange is afoot. They meet the Reverend Edward Waterfield (Lewis Bailey) whose daughter, Victoria (Rosie Grant) has been captured by aliens, and the bullish Theodore Maxtible (superbly played by James George) who invited the aliens in. Of course the aliens are the Daleks, and their first appearance, streaming out of a smoke filled 'cabinet' onto the stage is chilling and effective. Their voices are superb and threatening, and their movement smooth and chilling. Altogether the best use of the Daleks on stage that I can remember and totally putting those of The Ultimate Adventure to shame. The action remains in the house as people are hypnotised and controlled by the Daleks (Phil Cottril's Arthur Terral deserves a mention for his tremendous performance as the schizophrenic Dalek puppet) and Jamie is put to the test to try and rescue Victoria, leading to a first-part cliff hanger as the Daleks sweep in screeching that he will be exterminated. The second half opens with a reprise of the cliff-hanger, but surprise surprise, it's not Jamie who recieves the extermination but Mr Kennedy (Tim Skedge) who had been helping Maxible carry out his plans. With the Human Factor identifed, the Doctor realises that the Daleks were after the Dalek Factor all along ... and we head to a showdown with the massive Dalek Emperor. There was applause as the set opens to reveal this monstrosity swathed in smoke and light and the Emperor proceeds to convert Maxtible into a Dalek. The Doctor is next, but while wracked with pain, the two 'humanised' Daleks come to the rescue and soon the stage is full of pyrotechnics as the Emperor explodes, the Dalek menace is thwarted and the Doctor mutters the line 'the final end' as the production comes to a close. The audience was full of kids who all seemed to love seeing the Daleks gliding about on stage, and the adults appreciated the intelligent script and superb performances from all involved. For a low budget production, it really didn't show, and I give all cudos to Nick and Rob and everyone involved for a superb reinterpretation of one of Doctor Who's most fondly remembered classic adventures. I really hope the team put on something else soon as they are getting better and better and live on stage adds a whole new dimension to the enjoyment of Who. For more information, visit the production website at Cast pics by David C Tozer.

Indian Adventure

Having left work, my first thought was that I needed a proper holiday for a change and so we decided to go to India for about 15 days. This was prompted by a couple of things, first that it's somewhere we've never been and we felt like exploring it a little, and second that it's where Telos' printers are based, and our friends there had been encouraging us to visit them for some time. So we booked it all up and headed off. First port of call was Bangalore, which is where the printers are based. We were met by Anil (our friend who runs the printing works there) and he and his brother Manil looked after us superbly while we were in Bangalore. We did some shopping, saw some sights - visited an art gallery, shopping malls, indoor markets, and had some wonderful meals - and visited the printing factory and saw exactly how Telos' titles are looked after and handled by their 200 or so dedicated and happy workers. Everyone there was so friendly and pleased to see us that we felt really welcome. It was great to see how the books are progressed through the various stages to completion as well. What hit us of course on arrival was the culture shock of India as a place. It's busy ... boy is it busy ... with many, many people living in the cities and on the streets. The traffic was insane everywhere we went. People there seem to drive on the basis of never giving way to anyone, and ignoring any road etiquette whatsoever. This leads to some chaos and traffic jams like you would not believe! Vehicles on the road range from men with handcarts to articulated lorries and everything in between from scooters (often with 3 or 4 people on a single scooter), three wheeled taxis, camels, cows, cars, vans, coaches and lorries. From Bangalore we flew up to Delhi and off the plane were met by our driver for this part of the trip (Mukesh) who drove us on to Jaipur - about 4-5 hours away. Along the way we saw the country, incredible poverty and wealth sitting side by side, and again insane traffic - cows standing in the middle of dual carriageways; cars coming *towards* you the wrong way on a dual carriageway; and as we approached Jaipur, camels and elephants pulling carts of goods and building supplies. Building work seemed to be going on everywhere you looked. If they weren't putting something up, they were pulling it down. And of course the rubble covered the pavements and even the lanes of the roads (cars just swerved around it all). We enjoyed an Indian MacDonalds on the way - something called a McChicken Grill I think - which turned out to be a sort of spiced Korma chicken patty with mint raita and lettuce. Very nice too, if a little unexpected - I was expecting more of a standard chicken burger type thing. In Jaipur we saw the Amber fort - an incredible structure built by the Maharajas of old and decorated in Indian white and black inlaid marble. Very impressive indeed. We spent two nights here in a gorgeous hotel. Jaipur seemed to be a little less frantic than Delhi but nevertheless it was still a busy place. We also visited City Palace which is the present residence of the Jaipur Royal Family. Another place we saw here was an astonomical site developed to tell horoscopes and the time and so on - but all on a massive scale. This is where the world's largest sundial is located, accurate to 2 seconds and you really can see the shadow moving as you watch! From Jaipur we drove to Agra, and of course visited the Taj Mahal. This was an experience in itself, it's a beautiful building - a tomb - and very serene despite the millions of people thronging through it all the time. We also visited Agra Fort here. From Agra we drove back to Delhi and did a quick city tour of some sights there. We visited one of the big Mosques, and saw all the Diwali decorations and fireworks on sale in the many markets. One impressive place here is called Qutb Minar - another ruined site, but with a vast 72.5 metre high tower of stone in the middle. Then it was down to Goa for the second half of the holiday - 7 days relaxing in the sun. By this time we were totally ready for it as the travelling really takes it out of you. As did the hawkers. You cannot go anywhere without having person after person approach you wanting to sell you something or with some scam to get money going on. We were offered beads and chess sets incessantly, and saw women with babies and ragged children at every set of traffic lights begging with hand out and pathetic expressions on their face. It all gets a little too much as none of these people know what 'no' means and you can say it 20 times and they're still tagging along behind you trying to sell you something. One kid even tried to get me to change a pound coin into Rupees on the basis that the coin was no good to him - at least I assume it was a pound coin, they could be making them out the back for all I know. So we got to Goa which is a very different part of India. Wheras in all the other places (Bangalore, Delhi, Jaipur and Agra) the heat was hot and dry, in Goa it's hot and humid. And very, very green. Goa is on the West coast and is beautiful. Lots of palm trees and beaches. We were booked into a holiday village sort of place (Sun Village) which was all inclusive with all meals and drinks in with the price. The place had a nice pool and was about 20 minutes walk from Baga Beach (one of the nice beaches there, sitting on the end of Calengute Bay which as a whole had to be 2 miles long). Up to this point, we'd managed to avoid any health problems, I had even only been bitten by mosquitos twice, however on the first night in Goa my stomach erupted ... thus the second day there I had to spend in bed in our room being very sick and ill and not wanting to do anything. The third day I felt a little better though my 'Delhi belly' persisted until the end of the holiday so despite the fact that all the food and drink (and alcohol) was free at the resort, I couldn't actually eat or drink any of it for fear of aggravating the problem. So I existed on clear vegetable soup, toast and bananas for the whole week. We didn't do much this week. Just sat/lay in the shade by the pool a lot (it was too hot to lie in the sun) and chilled. We did head down to Baga beach one day to see what it was like, and enjoyed a chilled coke in one of the restaurants there as the sun went down. The Indian ocean was so warm as well - warmer than the hotel swimming pool - and full of tiny crabs and things scuttling about all over the place. After the break in Goa, it was back to Bangalore to meet up again with our friends there, and to do some final shopping before the 10 hour flight back to England. It was an incredible experience visiting the country and seeing all the sights and the people. There does seem to be a gulf between the poverty there and the rich, however we heard (and read in the papers) many stories about how the government is trying to tackle the problems, however many of the people on the streets *want* to live on the streets, and when they are given apartments to live in by the government, they just rent them out, pocket the money and continue to live on the streets! There was even a feeling that some of these apparently 'poor' street people earn more money than those in regular employment ... hard to tell really, but a totally different way of life and culture than we are used to in the UK. And I will never complain about UK traffic again - it's calm and sedate and controlled in comparison with Indian traffic. Even trying to get around Hyde Park Corner at rush hour is a breeze compared with trying to navigate a car through a market area in Agra ...

Friday, September 29, 2006


I'm feeling well wierd today as I left my job. I started with LloydsTSB when it was just Lloyds Bank back in September 1979 - in IT as a programmer. I've been there ever since, progressing from programming to design, system test, team leading, project managing, business analysis and most other jobs in between. Ended up being an IT Implementation Management specialist working on many of the Bank's major implementations over the last 10 years or so. But earlier this year they offered VR and I applied and they accepted and so as of today I left! It's hard to describe what it's like clearing your desk, deleting old emails and files, packing stuff into a bag to take home, recording the final Out of Office message for the answerphone and emails ... after 27 years of it being my home ... I had a great send off party last night, and a lovely lunch with the people I work with currently. Left the office about 2pm today ... and sort of wandered London. ... I'm glad to have made the decision to leave. It was the right decision at the right time, and I have some great opportunities opening up for me. But I'm going to miss all my friends terribly - even though I'm determined to stay in touch with many of them - as it's the people who make work fun even when it's hard going and stressful. So I'm in a funny tired and drained mood, happy and yet incredibly sad.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

FantasyCon 2006

Just got back from FantasyCon ... pretty awesome this year, with guests Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell, Juliet E McKenna and Raymond E Feist. But there were also LOADS of other creative folk there: Steve Gallagher, Paul Cornell, Simon Clark, Joe Hill, Pete Crowther, Storm Constantine, Anne Sudworth, Mark Morris, Susanna Clarke, Colin Greenland, Steve Lockley, Paul Lewis, Paul Finch, Simon Morden, Dave Sutton, Sarah Ash, James Barclay, Mark Chadbourn, Chaz Brenchley, John Connelly, Gary Greenwood, Dominic Harman, Graham Joyce, Amanda Hemingway, Matthew Holness, Paul Magrs, Adam Nevill, Steve Savile, Tim Lebbon, Les Edwards, Stephen Jones ... and many, many more I can't recall (sorry guys and girls). I was Master of Ceremonies for the event which basically meant doing all the announcements and stuff, hosting a quiz on Friday night, the Raffle on Saturday night and the Banquet/Awards on Sunday afternoon. Exausting a little, but great fun - especially when things didn't go quite to plan calling for ad libs and hasty covering ups. There were *loads* of people there this year - due to the combined effect of the guests and that FantasyCon is just the best literary conference going - and everyone seemed to have a great time, with lots of favourable comments and mutterings being heard. But it was great to catch up with Neil Gaiman - we had many conversations about new Who and books and stuff which was cool - and also caught up on news of projects - like the film of Neil's STARDUST which sounds simply awesome. And Clive ... I'd last seen Clive some 10 years ago, and when I finally got to see him after one of his panels, he looked at me, and then exclaimed 'Dave!' and stood and gave me a massive hug. I have no idea what the others around thought! Here's a pic of me and Clive at the end, after the Banquet and the presentation of the Awards. We had a launch for the book SHROUDED BY DARKNESS which went really well - the pic is of a group of the contributors: L to R clockwise: Paul Finch, Simon Clark, Dawn Knox, Steve Lockley, Paul Lewis (with book). The book went really well which was pleasing. So, a great weekend overall. Lots of interest in Telos' books, and a great many of the new horror anthology, SHROUDED BY DARKNESS, which is raising money for the DebRA charity, were sold - so go and order one from Telos this instant ( David

Sunday, August 20, 2006

TARDIS Playset and Figures

I promised myself ages ago that I would try and post some reviews and comments about some of the new merchandise that's been coming out. You can see my comments on the Voice Changer Helmet below, but here's something on another of the best toys ever to be produced for Doctor Who, the TARDIS Playset and associated figures. When I was a kid, I would have died and gone to heaven if there had been a TARDIS playset of the quality and complexity of the new toy from Character Options. When the Dapol one came out, it was so cheap and plastiky, and of course the TARDIS console only had five sides ... but at least it was a TARDIS console. Now, with the new series, we have the large and organic looking affair, with the console resting in the middle. On the TV it's a work of art, and the toy manages to capture much of the same feeling. The box it comes in is large and heavy, and immediately you start to wonder at the engineers who work out how to pack everything. This toy is an incredible array of pieces, all held in the box with sticky tape and little twisted wires. It took me at least half an hour just to unpack all the pieces, and then another half hour to assemble it. But it's worth every minute. The attention to detail is spectacular, from the console itself to the struts, the removable floor panels, the entranceway - there's even a hat stand and a little set of hammers! When the console is switched on, you get all the TARDIS sounds, from take off to in flight to various bleeps and whooshes as the different and well disguised buttons on the console are pressed. There's a hatch on the console which opens for repairs to be carried out (or for Rose to get another dose of Vortex Power). The column also glows a superb green, and when the clear perspex tubes start moving and meshing together as the ship takes off, it truly is a thing of great beauty. But what use is a Playset without some players, and Character Options have a great, if a little limited so far, range of characters to journey in the TARDIS. Of course there is the Doctor, and there's a few to choose from: you can have the original Eccleston model or the Tennant version in Eccleston's outfit (these are both in a 'Regeneration' pack which was exclusive to Argos but which can now be found in some specialist shops), or there's a Tennant in his long brown coat, or Tennant in his Austin Powers-esque suit. Some of these come with a mini-sonic screwdriver as well, so the Doctor can be armed against the forces of evil. By his side there is Rose Tyler. Unfortunately, at the moment there's only one version of Rose available, and she doesn't have full articulation and so looks like she's spoiling for a fight all the time. Later in the year, there's another Rose figure coming in a different outfit and which does have full articulation. Along with the Rose figure currently available, you get a K9 as well. This is a lovely little toy, well made and beautiful. If you'd prefer a small radio control version to zip about the TARDIS with, then that's available as well along with a Doctor figure (the same suited version as is available separately). On the baddies front, there's the masked Sycorax Leader, complete with staff and whip, and also Lady Cassandra (the flat skin woman) who comes on her own or with Chip her servant (who is lacking articulation in his elbows making him seem a little like a zombie some of the time). There's also a little blue fellah on a travel disk thing. He's the Moxx of Balhoon and only appeared briefly in the series. There's also a Slitheen figure with a lovely snarling mouth and big arms and claws. But by far the best of the figures is the Cyberman. This is a total work of art. The figure is articulated in all the right places, can be posed in many ways (though he can't sit down) and you just want to get loads of them to create your very own Cyber-Army. Every army needs commanders, and from Toys R Us, you can get a brilliant Cyber-Controller (with brain revealed) in the same scale. Also, coming soon from Argos, is a Cyber-Playset in which you'll find a Cyber-Leader (same as a Cyberman but with black 'ear' handles). So we can start to form whole batallions of Cybermen :) Of course there's the Daleks as well, and these are only available as the remote control variety in black and gold - even so, having a Dalek vs K9 remote control battle on the kitchen floor is enormous fun. There is a non-remote controlled black Dalek available in a £30 gift set from Woolworths, along with five other figures from the range, so if you don't have them as yet, and are looking for an 'all in one go' option, then this would be ideal. The problem of course, comes when you introduce the figures to the playset ... in my case, the Doctor immediately started trying to make repairs and take off, while the Cybermen tried to talk him out of it as they wanted to go to a club. Meanwhile Rose and another Cyberman tried to prove who was the fittest by exercising. Rose jogged on the spot while the Cyberman did push-ups. Meanwhile, the Cybermen discussed the situation with the Cyber-Controller and eventually the Doctor and Rose left them to it and went off in the TARDIS on their own. Other things I've seen happening on my front room table: Rose whipping the Cybermen into submission with the Sycorax's whip; the Doctor sitting on the back of K9 and riding around the console room; Cassandra and the Moxx deep in conversation about the relative values of saliva as a form of gift; and of course the Dalek trying to get through the TARDIS Police Box doors - for some reason the 'elevate' function is missing from the remote control. Overall, these are magnificent toys. They're well priced at £6.99 each for the standard figures, while the TARDIS Playset is £39.99 (which seems to be something of a bargain given all the work which has obviously gone into it). If you're still not convinced, then check out the television advert for the range. Here's a link so you can see for yourself.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Cyberman Voice Changer Helmet

Among the many toys and games appearing as a result of the popularity of the new series of Doctor Who is something called a Cyberman Voice Changer Helmet from Character Options. Now, as I have long been a massive fan of the silver giants from Mondas, I was looking forward immensely to getting this item. The cybermen were immensely popular in the second season, appearing in both the mid-season two-parter Age of Steel/Rise of the Cybermen, and the season end two-parter Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. No surprise then that they have their own range of merchandise now. I finally found out the codes for Argos a week or so before it was officially released ... but they didn't work. And even though the assistant in Argos was helpful and actually went to scour the shelves, none could be found. So it wasn't until the new Argos catalogue came out that I was finally able to get my mitts on the item. It is a work of art. Some toys are not meant to be played with. Some cry out for it. This item actually has both effects on me. I don't want to touch it as it is such a beautifully designed and made item, but you also cannot help but want to put it on and be a Cyberman. The helmet is packaged in a large box, leaving the face free. Be careful when selecting one though as the face is unprotected and so could get scratched or marked in the shop. However on this toy, the packaging is simple to remove to get at the helmet. The band of cardboard across the top (which has the Doctor Who logo on) can have it's four retaining strips of cellotape sliced, then that comes off, and the helmet can simply be slid out of the box - no retaining metal ties here. The finish on the helmet is beautiful. It is smooth and sleek and really looks like metal. There is nothing about this that looks cheap. It is a superb replica of the helmet from the actual prop and is roughly the same size as well, making it an excellent display item as well as a great toy. There are three buttons on the side, and a sliding button hidden inside. The slider can switch from 'try me' mode to the voice changing mode, and there are three settings of voice changing. I'm not totally sure what the difference is between them to be honest. I think it's the pitch of the modulation or something. One of the buttons on the outside makes the helmet emit the electro Cyber-death grip crackle, so you can attack your enemies. Another makes the helmet speak one of loads of pre-set phrases. And the middle button activates the voice change function, so that as you speak, so the mouth flashes blue and your voice is Cybernised. Brilliant stuff. If there is a downside, it's that the voice of the wearer can be heard as well as the converted voice, but that's a minor gripe for what is one of the most beautiful objects yet released under the Doctor Who banner. As if this wasn't superb enough, there is a CyberController variant of the helmet coming soon from Toys R Us. This has the same voice chip, but different packaging, and of course has the exposed brain of the CyberController too. Like the standard one, this is beautifully made and presented and really demands to be displayed so that everyone can appreciate it. The Helmet costs £30 rrp, and for what you get this is an amzing price. Not only does it look so good, but it makes you sound like a Cyberman ... and the blue flashing mouth is the bees knees. I had a quick look online and the only other voice changer helmet around seems to be the Darth Vader one which ranges from about £30 to £45 depending on where you look. But Star Wars ... pfthh ... Cybermen is where it's at and this toy deserves to be up there with the greats.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Doctor Who - Final Thoughts

Several people asked if I was going to attempt some sort of summation at the end of the season of Who and this was always my intention ... however looking back over the episodes, it's hard to really put my finger on what really went right or wrong. The season as a whole was very enjoyable. Every episode had something going for it and none were as bad, or forgettable (which is an even greater sin than 'bad') as some of the ones from last year. Whenever I have to try and list the 13 episodes from 2005 I usually miss a couple - like The Long Game or Boom Town, simply because they lacked that memorable factor. And I think a similar thing happens this year. This is the problem of having such a strong arc, or story thread, running through some of the stories, that you tend to forget the individual stories and concentrate instead on the arc. As another example of this, if you ever watched Babylon 5, then it's hard to recall individual stories. Characters and themes, yes, but what were the *plots* about... and I think Who is suffering from this. Consider the two-part Cyberman story in the middle of the season (Age of Steel/Rise of the Cybermen), and the two-part conclusion (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday). There's not much to tell them apart really. Both have Cybermen in, and battles, and a group of kids fighting the monsters, and Pete and Jackie ... the overall plots merge into one. Another aspect of the new series of Who was crystallised for me while I was speaking to my good friend and fellow researcher and writer about Doctor Who, Andrew Pixley. Andrew perceptively put his finger on the difference between 'Classic' and 'New' Who. Classic Who was all about the plots. It was a narrative driven series where the plot was the point. New Who is all about the emotion. It is the emotional development of the characters which drives the show, and not what happens. Because of this, whereas in the old series it was perfectly acceptable, for example, to spend 10 minutes in the company of Tobias Vaughn and his associate Packer, and to understand them as characters and people because this was important to the plot. However as the New series is all about the Doctor and Rose and their relationship, then you cannot spend much time at all away from them. I wonder if anyone has added up how much time on screen, in each episode, does not feature either the Doctor or Rose. I suspect it would not be very much at all. This of course has the effect of making every other character just a cipher, a part of the scenery through which the Doctor and Rose moves. The death of the CyberController in The Tomb of the Cybermen was exciting and moving as we had spent some time with the creature, and it's battles for life were interesting and gave us perhaps a better insight into Cyber-culture. However Lumic's death was emotionless as we didn't really care much for Lumic or the CyberController he became. We hadn't spent enough time with him to see him as anything other than a Davros-like raving loony, but without the emotional drive which Michael Wisher invested Davros with in his debut, or the character development that he enjoyed in the scripts for Genesis of the Daleks. The other thing which changes with the shift from narrative to emotion, is that emotion can only really be done once. As soon as you know the outcome - which is for the most part, the whole raison d'etre for the episode - then it has less and less impact each time you see it. And in fact, there is little point in re-watching as you know what happens and where it ends up. Someone commented to me that with Classic Who they can watch it over and over again and love it every time. However with New Who they have no urge to watch it past about two times. I think this is part of the problem. Why do people go back and read favourite novels or stories over and over. It's because the narrative drive is there, and even if you know the plot, you can still enjoy the journey. But with an emotionally driven story ... well who wants to knowingly put themselves through an emotional wringer time and time again? Even if, as I say, the emotional impact lessens each time. Another aspect as to perhaps why the series is being mumbled about in some quarters as not being as good as last year is in the attitude of the production team. Last year they had to try really hard. Everyone did, from BBC Worldwide, to the editors, designers, writers and actors, everyone had to give their all to make the series a success. And they succeeded. So for 2006, there's a sense of not trying. The BBC didn't trail it as much. There weren't as many interviews in the lead up, the hoardings around the country weren't there, and there was a general sense of saving a bit of money. But more importantly is the overall feel of the episodes. Consider this: This is the pre-season trailer for the 2005 series of Who. It's dangerous and exciting. It's edited like nothing we've seen, and it really draws you in and makes you want to watch this series. Now think about the 2006 series. Does that 2005 trailer, the way it's presented, written, edited ... does that bear much resemblance to the episodes in 2006? I don't think it does. It's certainly closer in theme to the 2005 series - consider the episode Rose and the editing of that: fast and furious and in keeping with this 'style' of storytelling. But the 2006 episodes just seem so safe. They are bog standard television drama. Yes, there are some great effects, but nothing inspired. Nothing to make your jaw drop open and go 'Wow!' in disbelief. Here's the first public trailer for the 2006 series. For me the 2005 trailer works. The 2006 one seems very forced. Like they were trying too hard. The problem with upping your game is that you need to keep it up. Although the scripts were excellent for the 2006 series (for the most part - several could have done with a little more work to iron out logic glitches and so on) the production itself seemed to be on autopilot. With Rose now gone (although I suspect she will be back at some point) and a new companion coming on board, I really hope that Russell T Davies has got the emotional narrative out of his system now. To have the Doctor and Martha embark on a similar emotional journey would be a big mistake. So hopefully we can instead concentrate on a narrative journey, and enjoy alien planets galore, intelligent, articulate alien monsters, and races of creatures which are not wholly CGI created. RTD is a brilliant writer, great at character and dialogue. So let's see that genius mixed with some cracking plots, twists and turns, characters you can relate to, can remember, and can feel for when they die (remember poor Vince from Horror of Fang Rock, Scarman from Pyramids of Mars, Waterfield and Maxtible from The Evil of the Daleks, Noah from The Ark in Space or even minor characters like Binro the Heretic from The Ribos Operation or Sezom from The Horns of Nimon). As a bit of fun, here's my prediction for next year: Episode 1 - the Doctor meets Martha Episode 2 - a story set in the future where the Face of Boe turns up again and utters something meaningful before vanishing Episode 3 - an original historical story by Mark Gatiss Episode 4/5 - a two parter featuring an old monster Episode 6 - a story focussing on Martha Episode 7 - a story with a guest star, probably written by Stephen Moffatt. And a CGI monster. And a reference to bananas. Episode 8/9 - another two parter, probably with someone returning from earlier in the season Episode 10 - an experimental story Episode 11 - something about a small victory, nothing universe-shattering Episode 12/13 - the monster from episodes 4/5 returns, and in episode 13 another old monster re-appears, probably the Daleks or Cybermen. Martha is written out if her contract expires, or someone close to her and the Doctor suffers a shattering loss. What do you think? Maybe I have one or two of the details wrong but the overall thrust seems to be in line with what we have seen so far. Whatever, I'm looking forward to The Christmas Invasion and to next year's offering with anticipation.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Doctor Who - Doomsday

... so the Daleks emerge from the Void Ship and say they'll exterminate everyone, but then Rose talks to them and stops them by making them think that they know more than they're saying. The Daleks have a thing called a Genesis Ark with them which seems to be a big armless Dalek thing. The episode continues with constant flitting back and forth between the Doctor, Jackie and the Cybermen and Rose, Mickey and the Daleks ... all of which is nice on screen, but a total pain to try and write up, so I'm not going to try. The gist is that the Daleks want a time traveller to touch the Genesis Ark to open it. How they knew/thought there would be on Earth in this time and place is beyond me. What if the Doctor, Rose or Mickey had not been there? The Daleks' plans would have been stuffed. And the Cybermen want to convert everyone into Cybermen and somehow the CyberLeader manages to send a transmission to all televisions about this - bloomin powerful this Torchwood place to have the ability to do that. And what would the Cybermen do once everyone has been converted? Live in Cyber-happiness? Anyway, eventually a Dalek encounters two Cybermen (numbers 1065 and 1066) in a corridor. That sounds like the start of a bad joke ... they talk, they transmit pictures of each other, and then the Dalek destroys the Cybermen. I really liked the dialogue here with the cool Black Dalek referring to destroying the Cybermen as 'pest control' and claiming that the Cybermen are superior in only one way to the Daleks ... they are 'better at dying'. Nice stuff. The CyberLeader decides to convert the humans they have captured into Cybermen and so Yvonne and Jackie along with some technician types get hauled off to their doom. The Daleks spot the Doctor on the monitor screen and when Rose IDs him to them, they are scared ... however the Genesis Ark takes up their attention and they apply suckers to it, after sucking all the knowledge about the Earth from poor Rajesh's head. What a way to go. Though why having all your brainwaves drained would either kill you or turn you into a dessicated corpse is anyone's guess. Suddenly, and with a bound, the rest of the Preachers arrive - Jake and his mates from the parallel world. Yvonne goes in to be cyber-converted in a nasty scene, and Jackie is next, but Jake's mates kill the CyberLeader with the Doctor and immediately one of the Cybermen with Jackie is upgraded to Leader status - I liked this idea that if you kill their leaders, another automatically steps in. The distracted Cybermen allow Jackie to escape, and she heads down the fire escape. Conveniently, Jake and co have their own version of Torchwood and have developed travel disks to help them move between dimensions. Very useful indeed. Back there, the Doctor meets Pete Tyler again. This is turning into happy families! All we're missing is Sarah Jane and K9 to come barrelling in and the party would be complete. Things are running along quite nicely now, and returning to 'our' earth, the Doctor brokers a deal with the Cybermen to attack the Daleks. He wanders into the Sphere room (which was sealed before - wonder how they managed to open it) and talks with the Daleks who all are revealed to have names - Thane, Sek, Jast and Karn (spellings uncertain) - and are a special secret Cult of Skaro, Daleks above and beyond the Emperor and who can think how the enemy thinks ... what? All sounds a little convenient to me. And they have this Genesis Ark thing, which is a Time Lord device, activated by touch. Of course no-one would be daft enough to touch it ... would they? Of course not. Except Mickey, naturally, who falls against it during the ensuing battle between Daleks, Cybermen and troops. Silly boy. So the Cybermen are destroyed by the Daleks, the humans retreat and the Genesis Ark is primed. The Daleks head off for more space - 30 square miles seem to be required - and so the Ark and the black Dalek fly into the sky. Meanwhile, Pete and Jackie meet and the action slows to a crawl as they talk and then hug. Sheesh. The Doctor has an idea now though, and reveals that by looking at everyone through 3D glasses he can see 'void stuff' on everything that has crossed through the void. I though the void contained nothing at all ... so what is void stuff? Anyway ... if the Doctor reopens the void breach then everything covered in void stuff will be dragged in. But that would include himself so he appropriates the clamp things we saw in part 1 to hold on to. But Rose wants to stay with him ... cue some more sentimental stuff as she argues with the Doctor and then with Jackie before Pete takes them all back to Alternate Earth and then Rose comes back on her own - there's no stopping this girl. Meanwhile the black Dalek has opened the Genesis Ark and it's not the complete backlist of Phil Collins' band, nor is it Davros ... it's a TARDIS-like thing full of Daleks which all emerge and start attacking the Cybermen. We're now into endgame ... Rose and the Doctor start sorting out the levers and clamps. The Cybermen are converging on them, but are stopped by Cyber-Yvonne who kills them. Seems her conversion was not successful for some reason and she still retains her human voice and can cry oil! This was most rubbish and perhaps the weakest part of the story. So the breach is opened and the Daleks are all dragged into it. Despite being told that the Cybermen were too, we don't see a single one go into the breach. And the black Dalek does an emergency temporal shift (as you do) and vanishes. So he's still around somewhere then. All danger and excitement now, and as we're expecting Rose to die, it's no real surprise when her lever starts to fall back and she has to grab it and push it home again ... but she's lost her hold and is being dragged into the breach and the void ... when Pete conveniently appears at exactly the right time, and standing in exactly the right spot to catch her and take her safely back to his universe. Just in time too as the breach sucks itself in and is gone. Questions here: how did he know to come back? Where to stand? And when? All a little to convenient really. The next scenes are brilliant. The Doctor and Rose. Tears. Each separated from the other forever. I cried. The acting here is the best we have seen from Piper and Tennant. And then we fade to black. But it's not all over. There's a neat coda where Rose dreams the Doctor and she, Pete, Jackie and Mickey travel to Norway to a deserted beach at a place called Bad Wolf Bay. There the Doctor appears for one final time to Rose and they get to say their goodbyes. Rose tells him she loves him, and he appears to do the same, but vanishes words unspoken. The next shot of the Doctor in the TARDIS, tears streaming down his face is the best of all - unspoken emotion and the fact that he has lost his best friend in all the universe (again). But things are afoot. There is suddenly a bride in full bridal gear in the TARDIS console room. She turns and it's Catherine Tate - a somewhat unfunny comedienne whose only decent catchphrase/character is the 'Am I bovvered?' schoolgirl. What!!!!!!! So overall I really enjoyed Doomsday. It was a fitting ending, and although I wanted Rose to die - and come to think of it, something of a wasted opportunity to do some false deaths for her (like the disintegration by the Anne Droid last year) - this was most suitable. The battles between Daleks and Cybermen seemed somewhat one-sided though - shame the Cybermen didn't have some weapon to use against the Daleks - but were a mixture of spectacle and mundaninity. And the story as a whole hung together mostly, with a few hasty elements thrown in. So what's next? Torchwood the series? Set in the Pete Tyler Universe, starring Billie Piper as Rose Tyler (well she said she was working for them)? Stranger things have been known to happen.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Doctor Who - Army of Ghosts

After a couple of weeks of episodes which were perhaps a little ho hum, Army of Ghosts upped the anti significantly and presented an episode which is perhaps the best to date in the series. I adored the opening pre-title sequence, with Rose narrating and the visuals. The planet with the rocks and flying things was awesome, and then to end with the statement: 'This is the story of how I died' was a very brave move indeed I felt. Of course, this is assuming that Rose means 'died' in the way that perhaps many viewers will take it (more on this later). So the Doctor and Rose return 'home' to see Jackie who snogs the Doctor (great reaction from Tennant to that as well) and then tells them that Grandad Prentis is coming - but he died 10 years ago! Seems there are ghosts appearing all over the world (side step: how can Jackie's TV get all those foreign channels?) for short periods of time, and people feel these are the shades of loved ones. However of course the Doctor is suspicious and so sets out to find out what these things really are. In a lovely moment he 'Ghostbusters' himself up with a TARDIS-themed bit of kit and traces the origin of one of the Ghosts. However, we the viewers know already that they're being controlled from Torchwood, a scientific/military place apparently run by Yvonne Hartmann who has scary teeth and even scarier cleavage. Aside from the ghosts, there's also a large mystery-sphere hanging in another room which seems to not exist. Office romance is blossoming between the cute Adele Oshoodi and Gareth Evans, but when they nip away for a snog, they are captured by Cybermen! Not really what they were expecting, and how on earth did a group of Cybermen set up a secret base in building works in Torchwood Tower in the first place! I'm not impressed with their security arrangements to be honest. These sequences are, however, magnificently directed and the music is awesome. Finally Murray Gold is being held in check. Less is definately more. While the Doctor is messing about trying to track the Ghosts, Jackie and Rose have a chat. Now this might be me, and I may be reading too much into it, but the gist seemed to be that Rose was no longer the Rose that Jackie knew, and that in the future, the person calling herself 'Rose' would be a totally different person, older and not even human any more. Now this could be Russell signalling that 'the story of how I died' is actually of Rose dying as 'Rose' and becoming someone else ... or it could be that she really is going to die ... we shall see next week. Anyway, the Doctor's fiddling alerts Torchwood and they see the TARDIS dematerialise on CCTV footage. The Doctor, having traced the signal, arrives at Torchwood only to be captured by the grinning Yvonne and her clappy happy soldiers. The Doctor drags Jackie from the TARDIS and introduces her as Rose (another instance/clue that Rose isn't Rose any more perhaps?) and they go off on a guided tour of Torchwood Tower in London's Docklands. As a side issue here, where is UNIT? No-one mentions them and yet they were investigating and fighting alien menaces for years before - they even appeared in The Christmas Invasion and yet here there's another organisation apparently doing the same thing that they did. Meanwhile Adele is back seeming a little blank, and she takes another co-worker, Matt, off for snogging. He is maybe expecting some action from Adele, but instead he gets to meet the Cybermen and their cutting machines (seriously ... no-one noticed all this happening in the building works?). So Rose leaves the TARDIS when it has been left in storage and, donning a fetching lab coat, heads off to explore. Of course she finds the Sphere Room where she is promptly captured. However one of the workers there - Samuel - looks familiar. It's Mickey! To be honest, I was actually really pleased to see him, and it raised a smile. We now start to head towards the episode ending. Adele, Matt and Gareth are all Cyber-controlled and start up another Ghost Shift, despite Yvonne ordering it cancelled. The Doctor realises what's happening and tries to find the transmitter controlling them - it's in the building area, and before you can blink, everyone is captured by Cybermen who have cool new guns in their arms. There's also a CyberLeader (with black 'ear' handles) and he orders Ghost Shift to 100%. It seems that all the ghosts are actually Cybermen who are taking over the Earth, coming through the dimensional instability caused by the Sphere's arrival. At the same time, the Sphere activates and starts to gain mass and reality - Rose, Mickey and the technician Rajesh Singh, watch as it starts to open ... but what's in the Sphere? The CyberLeader admits to our horror that the Sphere is nothing to do with the Cybermen, they just followed it ... And then ... And then ... Oh my giddy aunt! The Sphere opens and it's only a bunch of bloomin Daleks that emerge, flying down. Gold ones and a really cool new black one ... and it's 'EXTERMINATE!!!' and crash into the closing credits. Awesome. I was so, so impressed by this episode. Wonderful direction, faultless acting (with the exception perhaps of Adele as she was trying to figure out where Gareth had gone), great lighting, good ideas, brilliant use of music, and the coolest monsters. All in all next week will have to go some to top this. But. But I hope. I so hope. Please Russell ... no deux ex machina - no Rose looking into the heart of the TARDIS again and destroying everyone with a blink - no Doctor pulling some gizmo from his pocket which solves everything - no cop out. For once we seem to have a plot, a real plot. And proper characters. I want to cry next week. I want Rose to go in a blaze of glory. I want Cybermen and Daleks. I want adventure and excitement. Explosions and danger. 6 Days is too long to wait.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Doctor Who - Fear Her

Courtesy Shaun Lyon at www.gallifreyone.comWhat a great title! Shame it doesn't really have much to do with the episode. I can see why people might 'fear' Chloe, but it's not really the overall theme of the piece, which is more to do with being alone than anything else. Overall the episode is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is very nicely done, and the sheer normality of the situation works in its favour. On the other hand there seem to be a lot of missed opportunities here, and an almost palpable sense of holding back. The only CGI work that was obvious here was the animation of Chloe's picture at the start, the little alien flower thing going into Chloe and coming out again, the space pod leaving earth, the attack by the scribble monster and the glowing eyes on the painting in the closet. But then maybe the effects are being used far more subtly in this episode. Perhaps the crowds in the Olympic stadium were all CGI ... maybe the torch flame was ... my point is that these are not apparent to the viewer, and if they are not noticable then they have done a stupendous job. But the sense of things missing is very strong ... more on this later. Fear Her is the story of Chloe Webber, a lonely child who finds a friend in an alien life form. This creature can command energies to trap people, animals and objects in drawings which then are somehow alive and moving and keeping the alien company. I'm really not sure how having a bunch of very annoyed kids on hand stops the alien from feeling lonely - which is the whole point - but maybe we have to skim over that. The Doctor and Rose arrive, looking forward to attending the Olympics - it is 2012 - but get sidetracked into the mystery of the disappearing children. The residents of Dame Kelly Holmes Close in East London seem frightened and concerned, but it takes the Doctor to sense ionic power in the air. Some detective work later, and the Doctor traces the source to Chloe. Her mum, Trish (a fine performance from Nina Sosanya, another actor I recognised from Urban Gothic:, is scared of her and has seen the pictures in her room moving. So the Doctor puts Chloe to sleep and talks to the alien inside her. The scenes here are very eerie with little Chloe's whispered responses as the being Isolus talks to the Doctor, a perfect way to create the tension. What I was less impressed with was the Doctor then knowing everything that there was to know about the alien and its origins. Now I know this has been done before in too many stories, but it always feels a bit of a cop out - it would have been nice if the Doctor perhaps couldn't remember or was vague or something. But all the tension goes because we now know what we're up against. Isolus is lonely and loves Chloe and doesn't want to leave her - even though the Doctor is offering to help. And so the evil wardrobe painting of Chloe's dad comes alive and starts huffing and puffing as Chloe becomes agitated. Trish sings to her and this calms the situation down. These are all nice ideas, but start to become confused. Is it Chloe who is wielding the power or Isolus? Who wants to release the monster? So the Doctor and Rose head off to find Isolus' space pod, but Chloe follows, sees the TARDIS and draws another picture, trapping the Doctor. Rose is on her own, and in some great scenes she deduces where the pod is - drawn to the heat of hot tarmac used to mend the road by Kel (a nice Micky-substitute for Rose) - and grabs a pick axe from Kel's van to unearth the alien pod, which is no bigger than a thumb. But meanwhile Isolus/Chloe decides she needs more companions and so Chloe draws the Olympic crowds, snatching them all into the world of paper. The TV commentator (Huw Edwards) seems most perturbed at this - every man woman and child instantly vanishing from the stadium - but not enough it seems to halt the progression of the torch as this carries on as normal. The cartoon Doctor prompts Rose to the Olympic Torch as a symbol of love, she races to it, throws the space pod in the air, where it has just enough power to get to the torch. Isolus now realises she can escape and so bids farewell to Chloe and leaves. All the picture people are returned at this moment as well, including everyone in the stadium. What? Did I blink and miss something? A moment ago, Isolus wouldn't leave Chloe as she loved her and she was drawing a picture of the whole world to get enough people to keep her company ... now just because her pod is being charged, she leaves without a moment's hesitation, throwing away a week's work. Hmmm. I feel the 45 minute time limit might have something to do with this. Anyway, all seems well. Except that as the drawings are coming back to life, so will the one in the wardrobe and Trish and Chloe are menaced by an unseen cartoon man until they sing together and return everything to normal (it was Chloe's fear that was powering it). These scenes were tremendous in that we didn't see the horror of Chloe's nightmare vision of a father coming to get her - far better this way. But I really felt more could have been made of this whole element. As I mentioned at the start, the effects seemed very lite this week, and I wanted to see more like the attack by the scribble monster. I'd have loved to have seen some sort of a riff on the classic 'Take on Me' video by AhHa all those years ago, and have seen the Doctor in cartoon land, trying to calm and help cartoon kids cope - sort of Seseme Street on acid. Maybe even some cartoon monsters. But then again I mentioned the book Marianne Dreams last time, which was filmed as Paper House and was on television in the sixties as Escape Into Night (a series that I vividly remember watching). The basic idea of the book is that a child escapes into a fantasy world of drawings, but whatever she draws comes true - sinister megalith-like rocks surround her isolated cottage and move ever closer each night. The series and film were very effective indeed, and perhaps if this episode had gone down that path, then it would have been cited as unoriginal. I still feel that an opportunity was lost to make this episode the one everyone talked about - the one with the cartoon Doctor - rather than ending up as just sort of run of the mill. Anyway, the Olympic runner falls. Anyone know why? His name was Danny Fairweather and he falls over for some reason, but the Doctor is there to pick up the torch and to carry it on to light the Olympic fame, finally giving Isolus enough power to escape Earth and to head back to its brothers and sisters in space. Nice moments, and something which I feel the younger viewers appreciated. So all the kids returned, the Doctor and Rose head for the Olympics ... but ... the Doctor is uneasy. He can sense a storm approaching ... And that's about it. Not a bad episode, but not spectacular either. I liked it more than Love & Monsters but less than most of the others this year. I so hope that the next two weeks bring something special. My initial feeling however is that the inclusion of an EastEnders actress in what seems to be a key role might just be a mistake ...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Doctor Who - Love & Monsters

It is so tempting to do this review/blog in the style of someone from the show, but I'm resisting. I'm also really not sure whether Love & Monsters is either the best thing or the worst thing that Doctor Who has presented. I feel that perhaps it sits in the middle really, as deeply average. Trying so hard to do something new and yet failing on almost every count. What is telling, is that my notes on this episode cover just 4 sides of a secretary's notebook. The Satan Pit for example had 7 sides. I suspect the reason is that this episode has very little plot to speak of, and the absence of plot is made up for with 'comedy' scenes. So we kick off with our hero Elton. Not Elton John (I quite liked the clip of the singer in there though) but another Elton, and as he was the lead, he had to be well played. Marc Warren made a good attempt at this but at times came over as someone from one of the miriad 'teen' shows - many created and directed by Daniel Peacock - which is what this episode most resembled, even down to the group creating a 'band' (most of the Peacock shows feature a group of kids who are in a band and seem to be sub-SClub attempts to fuse teen entertainment with reality TV and pop). So Elton is telling us his story, how he first saw the Doctor in the middle of the night, standing in his front room when he was 3 or 4. We get flashbacks to him when the Nestene Consciousness attacked (2 years ago); when the Slitheen ship crashed in the Thames (12 months later); and when the Sycorax ship appeared over London. My family immediately decided that this was a cheap clips episode that all series seem to do at one point or another - usually without the main cast. And I have to say that I can see the similarities. Anyway, Elton meets up with Ursula having found her blog online about the Doctor, and through her meets Mr Skinner, Bridget and a girl called Bliss. They form a group called LINDA (London Investigation 'n Detective Agency) and start straying from the path of tracking down the Doctor by becoming friends, that is until the mysterious Mr Victor Kennedy arrives. Kennedy puts them back on the track of the Doctor - and this is where the opening sequence of the Doctor and Rose fighting an alien fits in. It's apparently called the Hoix and comes over like a Scooby Do sequence crossed with the Chuckle Brothers with the old 'running across the screen from different doors' gag, and Rose chucking blue or red buckets of liquid over the hapless alien. Very daft. But now the pace slows to a total crawl as Elton meets Jackie and she tries to seduce him. While amusing initially (only the scene in the Laundrette), this was way off beam for the timeslot and the audience and by 27 minutes into the show I was bored. When was something going to happen? Nothing had developed so far and all the talk and flirting and stuff ... sheesh. But then Elton and Ursula confront Kennedy who reveals himself as a green alien which has absorbed their friends. Quick as you like, Ursula is absorbed as well, and the talking faces on the creature's body was very unsettling, as was the revelation that the process was irreversible. Nasty. Especially for poor Bliss who seems to be on the creature's buttock. But now I was starting to see and hear Mike Myer's grotesque creation Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies. Especially the line that Ursula tasted of chicken ... So Elton runs, Fat Bastard chases, and we're back in Chuckle Brothers territory with a race through the streets. Until Elton gives up ... the Doctor of course now arrives, but only because Rose wants to give Elton a piece of her mind for harassing her mum! The creature (which seems to like being called an Absorbaloff though that's probably not its name) is identified by Rose as being a bit 'Slitheen' but which comes from the twin planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius, a place called Clom (good comedy value there), and the Doctor encourages those absorbed within to fight against the creature, Elton grabs its cane, smashes it, and it does what most aliens do at the end of an episode written by Russell T Davies, it explodes in green slime. Now we learn that the Doctor was in Elton's house all those years ago because his mother had been killed by an elemental shade which had escaped from the howling halls ... I think I'd assume that a stranger in my house, standing in a room with the corpse of my mother would be cause for intense therepy and probably repression of the memories ... I would not assume that the Doctor was some sort of friend. The sequence of young Elton and his mum on flashback cine film was nice, and the ELO's 'Mr Blue Sky' a fitting piece of music for that sequence. The show should have ended here. But it didn't. Instead we get a coda where the Doctor 'rescues' Ursula by condemming her to live forever, without aging, in a paving slab. Lovely. Does the Doctor never think about the consequences? The quip about Elton and Ursula having a bit of a love life (which I thankfully missed on the first viewing) was totally unneccessary and unwarranted - where are you when we need you Controller of BBC1? The final philosophising from Elton was also a little too much - more foreshadowing that something nasty is going to happen to Rose and Jackie and indeed everyone who touches the Doctor, even a little. So overall, an episode with high comedic value. One which seems so out of place in the series as to be unbelievable, and which takes the art of not having a plot to the extreme. I think for me, this is the season's Boom Town, and it's probably no coincidence that it's in almost the same position in the running order. Can't say I liked it or loathed it really. It's not Doctor Who - the first episode that feels like it's from another series and which just happens to feature the Doctor and Rose as guest stars. Even the X-Files like music encouraged and enhanced that feeling. Next week ... we seem to have a riff on the old favourite children's novel Marianne Dreams, filmed as the superb Paperhouse. I do hope it does something new with the idea and isn't just a retread.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Doctor Who - The Satan Pit

One of the problems with cliff hangers is that they can set you up for something which then doesn't deliver. This new series of Who seems to have a problem with this, and the majority of the cliff hangers we get are not really cliff hangers at all, but breaks in the narrative designed to up the ante. We had the 'and with a bound they were free' one at the end of Rise of the Cybermen and now we get something similar here ... all the tension and power of the end of the last episode evaporates. The pit is open. Nothing came out of it. The planet stabilises and the threat mostly goes. This is somewhat disappointing. Furthermore Jefferson's shooting of the Ood seems to have no visible results - if we had seen them dropping then maybe it would have been better. As it is I think we only see one dead Ood a lot later on in one of the service shafts. Given that last episode we witnessed the horrific sight of a dead crew member floating in space, surely seeing some dead monsters lying around would not be a problem? The action is now split. Deep in the planet, the Doctor and Ida wonder how to explore the pit - which is a deep shaft under the hatch, and on the base, Rose and the others head for Ood habitation using maintenance tunnels so that Danny can transmit something to disable the Ood who are all trying to kill them. The Beast gets chatty again and talks to everyone through the Ood, it seems to know all their secrets and lives and even claims that Rose will die in battle very soon. The music in this sequence, and indeed in this whole episode, is much better than previously. Or maybe I'm just getting used to it. It seemed a lot more effective and subdued, underpinning the action rather than competing with it. After the Beast has a go at demoralising everyone, the Doctor retorts with some hope for everyone ... a nice counterpoint and demonstrating well the Doctor's approach to life and humanity. The Doctor and Ida try and return to the surface but the Beast makes the cable break, destroying the capsule under 10 miles of cable (I wonder how big a reel that would have to be). But the Doctor and Ida use the cable and wind it onto another drum in order to lower the Doctor into the pit. Nice idea, but wholly impractical. The cable would be made of steel and be heavy and tangled. I seriously doubt that two people could easily wind it onto another reel for re-use, even if they could find the broken end. Meanwhile the folks in the base are having fun scooting through tunnels as Captain Zack routes the air to follow them around. I'm really not sure that all this was needed as the effort and power needed to constantly flush and fill the sections with air was surely more than just sealing all the non-relevant sections and airating the bits they needed to go through. But if it had been easier then we'd have lost some great tension, as well as Jefferson sacrificing himself. And of course there's the superb moment where Toby turns to the pursuing Ood, and, eyes flashing red, gestures them to keep quiet - he is still posessed! A brilliant moment and very well executed. Our survivors head for the escape rocket and blast off, Rose having to be drugged to stop her staying to wait for the Doctor. Meanwhile the Doctor runs out of cable and decides to drop the rest of the way... a little rash perhaps. But he is safe and falls onto a convenient cushion of air. But why? He finds cave paintings showing the Beast being trapped and two mysterious glowing flasks. Beyond them is the Beast itself - a massive and impressive demon creature shackled and chained in the heart of the planet. This creature cannot speak, it is all might, and the Doctor realises that the intelligence is elsewhere ... on the ship with Rose ... Rose also realises the truth as Toby tells her to keep quiet when she starts to muse on why they are being allowed to escape. It was a shame that the shackled Beast did not speak and was relegated to token monster status. All the great monsters in Doctor Who were memorable because they conversed and spoke and were a little bit more than just a rampaging thing, and this one seemed a waste. It was also all a little obvious. We expected there to be a demon-like beast in the pit and there it was! What happened to trying to surprise the audience with something they were not expecting? I was half expecting the massive creature to be just a guardian, and that the real Beast would be revealed to be Sutekh or some other entity, trapped for all eternity ... but no. But now it gets really complicated with the Doctor trying to figure out what he should do ... should he break the flasks or not? The trap is that if the Beast is freed then the planet falls into the black hole but if he does not break the flasks, then the Beast's intelligence escapes in the rocket. But the Doctor trusts in Rose and so breaks the flasks (I wonder if they were a nod to Fenric in The Curse of Fenric - another all powerful entity/force in the Doctor Who universe). This stops the gravity field and the planet starts to fall into the black hole. The rocket too, and for some reason the Beast manifests through Toby again and gives the game away by ranting, so Rose breaks the window and removes Toby's seatbelt so he is sucked out into space. The Beast in the planet starts to burn (no idea why this happened though it did look good) and the Doctor suddenly finds the TARDIS there. What? How? The TARDIS was in a storeroom thing on the base and fell into a chasm during an earthquake. There was no other debris there, the roof of the cavern was not open to the sky, so how the flip did the TARDIS get there? I could postulate that perhaps the HADS system was working and it moved itself ... So the Doctor uses the TARDIS to rescue Ida before the planet is destroyed and then tows the rocket to safety. All is well, if a little simplistic in the resolution. We never find out who or what the Beast was, where it came from, or even whether it is now destroyed (something that old, powerful and long lived may be able to survive a black hole - after all if it existed before the universe was created, it survived the creation process ...) But this vagiary is nice. Sometimes we don't need everything sorted out for us neatly. Overall this was a crackingly exciting conclusion to the story, and it mostly fitted well with part one. I'd like to watch both episodes together though. I really have no idea why the Beast wanted the Doctor to descend into the pit (breaking the cable and so on to keep him down there) but the inferrence was that there was another power at play here and it was the captors who wanted someone to break the flasks ... but if they wanted this to happen then why bother to chain the Beast at all, why not just send it into the black hole in the first place? I don't know what the business with killing Scooti was all about in part one, nor why the Ood were trying to kill everyone (if everyone died then the Beast's intelligence would never have escaped). But it was a great episode, very well directed and visually stunning and exciting. Very enjoyable. Next week ... Peter Kay, some sort of lizard monster thing, and we're looking for Rose ...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Doctor Who - The Impossible Planet

This series of Who is just getting better and better. The Impossible Planet was by far the best episode I think I've seen so far ... it cranked up the tension and just oozed effectiveness from every pore. What an enjoyable experience. The TARDIS arrives on a deep space exploration sanctuary where a small crew are trying to keep things together. The planet they are on - which at one point they say is unnamed but then say it's called Kroktor (or something) in the scriptures of Valtino (whatever they are) which translates as 'the bitter pill', and it's in orbit around a black hole designated K37J5. Of course this is impossible, but it's happening, and the debris of the universe is being sucked into the hole around them - including any atmosphere that the planet might have. The people we get to meet - Ida Scott (efficient science officer); Zachary Cross Flane (serious acting captain); Mr Jefferson (cold head of security); Danny Bartock (right-on ethics committee); Toby Zed (uncertain archaeology) and Scooti Manista (cute trainee maintenance) - all seem nice people, but are a little generic. Scooti is apparently 20 years old, and one wonders therefore how long it took for the group to get to this planet, and to then build/construct the complex base that they live in, to set up the drilling and to get 10 miles deep ... maybe they start them young in maintenance. The TARDIS is lost when there's an earthquake and a section of the base is sheared away, and the Doctor and Rose seem trapped there. However the crew are busy drilling down into the planet to try and locate a power source there which they want to tap into. This power source is also keeping a gravity well open which is how they arrived. The gravity in the base seems OK, and also on the surface as Scooti goes out in a space suit to repair something ... why wasn't she blown away or dragged off the surface into the black hole? That gravity must be awfully strong. But now the plot starts to kick in. The computer and the strange Cthulhuian Ood creatures (who speak through their balls! And while we're on that subject, if those ball things are translating for them, how would they know whether the translations were correct or not? Wouldn't they just assume that they were?) start to spout pseudo Biblical phrases like 'The Beast and his armies shall rise from the pit and make war with God' and 'He is awake'. Very spooky though. Spookier still is what happens to Toby. While examining some fragments brought up by the drilling, which are covered with runes, he hears whispering behind him and an incredible voice tells him that if he looks around then he is dead. This is Gabriel Woolf ... Doctor Who fans will know his voice well as he was the voice of Sutekh the Destroyer in the 1975 story Pyramids of Mars (and maybe there's a connection here as Sutekh was meant to be Satan as well ... hmm) and his tones are creepy to the extreme. Poor Toby discovers that the runes have transferred to his hands, and then his face is covered with them as he is possessed by the Beast. I was vagely reminded of the Pokemon Jigglypuff which would put its victims to sleep by singing to them and then write all over their faces with black marker pen ... but back to the plot. Toby goes for a wander outside without a space suit and Scooti sees him. Next thing, he's making the window by her break with some sort of power and poor Scooti is sucked out. The first death and very horrible too. But hang on ... if there's no atmosphere, then why weren't Toby and Scooti imploded or exploded or whatever happens to unprotected humans in this circumstance? The drilling stops - they have hit point zero, and so some investigation is in order. Toby is back to normal now, though he is behaving a little Lady Macbeth in checking his hands all the time. But who do they decide to send down? Ida I can believe, she is the science officer after all, but the Doctor? And only these two? Very strange indeed. Why not the archaeologist, or someone from security (wearing a red shirt just to be on the safe side)? There are others on the base after all - we just don't get to see them very much. But no. It's Ida and the Doctor make the trip. And at the bottom? A vast cave, ancient buildings and carvings, and a 30 foot across metal hatch-thing in the ground. For no particular reason, everything now seems to happen at once ... the Ood all go a bit wierd, advancing on people in a threatening way, and using their translator ball to kill a random person ... Toby gets written on again and reveals that he knows Jefferson's secrets before passing on the writing to the Ood who advance menacingly on Rose and the others at the top of the shaft ... the gravity field fails, and the planet starts to fall into the black hole ... and the hatch opens down below. The camera rises from the hole under the hatch and the voice of the beast announces that it is free ... and we crash breathlessly into the closing titles, and with no annoying NEXT WEEK trailer immediately after as well. A brilliant cliff hanger. It's all go, and I can't wait for next week to see how it all resolves itself. I hope and pray that they don't go and spoil it all with something naff ... but we will have to see. Overall a superb episode, spoilt only by some inappropriate music on a couple of occasions (when the initial earthquake happens and also when the Doctor and Ida descend into the shaft) and also the cringe-worthy scenes between the Doctor and Rose as they discuss houses and mortgages. Leave it out guys or get a room as they say.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Doctor Who - The Idiot's Lantern

Like last year's The Unquiet Dead, Mark Gatiss gets another historical adventure, this time going not quite so far back in time, but to 1953 and to the Coronation of Queen Elisabeth II (which took place on 2 June 1953). As the story opens we're introduced to Mr Magpie, a superb character well played by Ron Cook, owner of a television store. He has problems, being in debt, but his problems mount when a red lightning bolt hits his television ariel, and a television announcer talks directly to him before his face is sucked into the TV by bolts of red lightning. This is a cracking opening, and sets the scene for what is to come. The Doctor and Rose are on Earth, expecting to go and see Elvis Presley perform on the Ed Sullivan show at TV studios in New York (this would therefore place the date the Doctor expected to arrive as either 9 September 1956, 28 October 1956 or 6 January 1957) however they are in Muswell Hill, London in 1953! I thought the Doctor had control over the TARDIS now - the idea of him arriving where he doesn't expect is slightly out of place. However there is no lead in from The Age of Steel, so we have no idea how many adventures the Doctor and Rose have had in the interim. As the Doctor realises they are in the wrong place and time, someone (Mr Gallagher) is taken from one of the houses by police, their head covered. There is much consternation, and one of the the locals, a boy called Tommy Connelly (played by Rory Jennings - I knew I'd heard his name before. He was in an episode of Urban Gothic:, mentions that people are turning into monsters - something that appears to have happened already in the Connelly household as their Gran (Margaret John) is now in an upper room, and the family are terrified by her banging on the floor. The tension builds nicely, and we're kept wondering as to what has happened to Gran. However this doesn't worry Mr Connelly - Eddie (Jamie Foreman) - who has been watching a little too much EastEnders and comes over like Al Murray's Pub Landlord at every turn. Meanwhile, Magpie, under instruction from the strange announcer, has built a portable TV set. These scenes are really excellent, with Magpie's reactions - 'burning me' - a great counterpoint to the TV lady. Getting Maureen Lipman to play the announcer was a stroke of genius. She manages to bring over haughty power, calcluating alienness and genuine menace in all her appearances. A brilliant performance. So the Doctor and Rose decide to pay a visit to the Pub Landlord and family, and Rose suddenly displays talents beyond keeping her mouth open too long - lucky that Jackie went out with a sailor and that Rose knows all about Union Jacks and Flags as a result ... well you would. Wouldn't you? We finally get to see Gran, and the poor dear has no face! This is terrifying stuff, and incredibly well realised. Shame it makes no sense whatsoever. Why should wiping someone's brain make their face vanish? And how do these people breathe? Through their ears maybe? I liked the clenching, grasping hands, but again, why? Are they in pain? In torment of some sort? If so, then they all recover pretty quickly at the end. So as the Doctor races off after the police, who arrive to take Granny Connolly away, Rose decides to do some investigating of her own and turns up at Magpie's shop, only to have her own brain sucked and face wiped. The Doctor meanwhile is hauled up by Detective Inspector Bishop (Sam Cox) and ends up helping him. The scene when he sees Rose all faceless in front of him is brilliantly done, which shows how good Tennant can be ... it's just a shame that he doesn't seem able to be able to do angry very well. To be honest, the Doctor started to remind me of someone in this story, and I couldn't think who ... but then it came to me. Eric Idle. But Eric Idle as his 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink' character from Monty Python. The Doctor seemed to veer off into monalogues about things which I started to hear as a variant of the 'nudge, nudge' man. Most disconcerting. And when combined with the Pub Landlord, this started to break down the believability of this episode. I think the main issue is that the Doctor is not a part of the episode - he stands separate from the action, and he's almost like a narrator or something. I hope he can get more involved soon. The next day dawns, and family and friends (excluding Gran of course) assemble at the Connolly's to watch the Coronation. However family tiffs ensue and young Tommy goes off with the Doctor and Bishop to investigate the TV shop, wherein they find disembodied faces on the televisions (why?) and the portable TV. They are also confronted by the announcer, now revealed to be something called the Wire, executed on its own planet, but escaped into space, only to arrive on Earth (shades of The Hand of Fear). It feeds on electrical activity in the brain and wants to take power from people watching television. Bishop is faceless but the Doctor and Tommy escape as the Wire sees that the Doctor is armed (with his all-purpose sonic screwdriver), and they collect together piles of equipment from the TV shop before chasing after Magpie who has taken the portable TV with the Wire now in it to the Alexandra Palace transmitter, intending to allow the Wire to feed on a wider scale. Aside from the question of how Magpie gets into Ally Pally (even the Doctor is accosted by a guard), how does he get access to climb the mast! On this day, the security there would have been immense. But Magpie manages to do this, plugs in his portable and everyone's faces are dragged into the TV. But the Doctor connects up his gizmo which - I hesitate to say - reverses the polarity and turns the receiver into a transmitter and traps the Wire. Now ... don't think about this too long ... Ally Pally is a transmitter anyway, so Magpie's box turned it into a receiver ... and then the Doctor reverses this back, and manages to record the Wire onto a Betamax video tape ... Neat idea. I'm sure I've seen it before though, that something can be recorded to trap it ... can't think where, but I'm sure you folks will let me know. So all is back to normal. Rose gets her face back (she must have missed standing with her mouth open) as do all the others that the Wire fed on, and all is well. We even get a resolution to the small story of the Connelly's as Mrs C (Debra Gillett) kicks the Pub Landlord out. But Rose persuades Tommy not to cut his dad off completely and to go after him, which he does. This is an excellent ending to a superb episode. Despite concerns about the characterisation of the Doctor, and his general uninvolvedness, I loved this story. The mood was excellent and well maintained. The faceless people were terrifying (and brought back fond memories of Sapphire and Steel where a faceless man was on the stair ... and the villain was one of the best we've seen. Next week ... black holes, the TARDIS going further than ever before, creepy looking monsters with tentacular faces ... looks superb.