Sunday, May 31, 2009
England is such a crazy country. One day you have to wear a coat to work in the morning as it's so cold ... the next it's chucking it down with rain so hard that you need a big golf umbrella (ella ella eh eh eh) to keep dry, and then that evening it's so scorchingly hot that you can't wear a jacket! But we live here and so are kinda used to the vagiaries of the weather ... Taking advantage of the nice weather, my partner Sam decided that she wanted another car (to be fair, we need two as I will be using the one for work, and so she needs another for her work) and so headed out and ended up getting the most adorable little silver softtop MG ... so we have been posing in it with the roof down, catching the rays, and generally enjoying the sunshine and the weather. The other week we ended up down by the river Thames and spent an amazingly relaxing afternoon eating tapas and drinking Long Island Iced Tea and beer while watching people go by. Both Sam and I love watching people ... I think it goes with the territory of being writers. Sometimes you see someone and a story just pops into your head! Their background or history or something equally bold and diverse and strange about them. Film-wise we finally saw Twilight ... hmm ... not that impressed. Some nice scenes where the evil vampires are hunting, but apart from that. And, I'm sorry, but vampires do not 'glitter' in sunlight. They smoke and scream and writhe and burn ... burn ... BURN! Much, much better was Ultraviolet, a kick ass SF vampire romp with Milla Jovovich. I liked the stylish way it was put together, the effects were great, and Milla struts her stuff wonderfully. The vampiric element was effectively handled as well, but it was also quite subtle too. Until next time ...
Sunday, May 24, 2009
I managed to pick up a paperback edition of Tony Lee and Pia Guerra's graphic novel The Forgotten a month or so back and had a happy time reading it on the way to and then back from Paris, bracketing a nice weekend away. The strip had been published originally by IDW in their Doctor Who series (which, in a very rubbish way, is only available in the US. Such a shame as it's really very good) and now has been collected in this graphic novel format. I picked up a copy from Forbidden Planet, but it should be available online I guess. FP also stock some of the individual comic magazines, but a good place I have found is Graham Crackers, a retailer based in the US. Their website (www.grahamcrackers.com) lists just about every issue still available. Anyway, the idea behind Tony Lee's tale of ten Time Lords is straightforward, and yet it manages to work so well that I think it's probably the best multi-Doctor story we'll never see on television. The Doctor and Martha (for she was the companion at the time of writing) arrive in a museum which seems to contain a multitude of objects all related to the Doctor in some way. Unfortunately the Doctor has lost his memory and has no idea why this is. The pair stumble across a room which contains all the Doctor's standard outfits, along with a key item for each. 1st: cane; 2nd: recorder; 3rd: keys to the TARDIS; 4th: bag of jelly babies; 5th: cricket ball; 6th: cat badge; 7th: umbrella (ella, ella, eh, eh, eh); 8th: cravate; and 9th: psychic paper. By holding each object in turn, the Doctor is able to 'see' an adventure his earlier self had, and in doing so it returns part of his memory to him. The ideas come thick and fast, with mini-adventures interspersed with the main narrative. As the Doctor remembers, so he comes under attack, first from Autons, and then by giant spiders before finally being hunted by a Sandminder Robot and a clockwork Droid. However a mysterious someone is controlling events from behind the scenes, and I won't say more or it will spoil the lovely surprises that this story has to bring. I loved all the continuity elements - and there are a lot of them - but they are worked into the story brilliantly and don't seem forced at all. Indeed, some points of continuity are worked into the resolutions as well. Overall the story has a very satisfying feel to it, and you can tell that the creators have a great love for the subject matter. One of the small pleasures for me was trying to spot as many of the objects in the museum as I could, I managed quite a few, but I wonder if there is a definitive list anywhere ... Another wonderful item which I have to rave on about is an Ice Warrior Helmet ... a what I hear you cry! Well, the Ice Warriors from Mars are probably the last, great, Who monster from the dim and distant past not to make an appearance in the new series on television. We've had the Daleks, the Cybermen, Sontarans, the Master ... even the Macra ... but no Ice Warriors as yet ... give it time I say. Anyway, this is one in a range of scale helmets produced by the amazingly talented people at Weta in New Zealand. When I first heard about the helmets I was a little unsure ... I had seen similar ranges for Lord of the Rings and Narnia amongst other current film franchises, but wasn't convinced that Doctor Who really lent itself to such a range. Well, if the quality of this Ice Warrior one is anything to go by, this should shape up to be a pretty awesome little addition to the collectors' shelves. It comes in a rather nice little printed box, with a great pic of the creature on the front. Inside, nestled in protective polystyrene is the helmet, and also a smart looking stand on which to display it. The first impression is how heavy the helmet is. After all it is cast in metal, and then painted up. It's a brilliant re-creation of the Martian creature, complete with red eye shields. If I was going to be picky, I'd suggest that a mouth section would have completed it nicely, but I can understand why that wasn't done, as the mouth is not really a part of the helmet, being part of the creature underneath. However in the series, it's suggested that the helmet might also be a part of the creature, with electronic 'ear pieces' and so on ... The helmets are limited to 500 each, and the limitation number is given on the base of the stand. With others in the range including a ceremonial Time Lord headpiece and a Cyberman head, they would look very nice indeed lined up in a display cabinet I think. Even the price isn't too shabby, being around the £35 mark each with shipping of £7.62. They are available from Weta direct from their website at www.wetanz.com. The helmets also ship from the UK directly, and don't come winging their way from New Zealand!
Sunday, May 10, 2009
That's the way to do it! Went to the pics recently to see the new Star Trek film and had one of the best times I can remember at the cinema in recent years. What a brilliant film! I have to admit that I am not the world's biggest Star Trek fan. I'm not even sure I have seen every episode of the original series and certainly can't name them or know what order they came in. Later Star Trek variants bored the pants off me, with perhaps only the Borg episodes coming close to interesting me (and that's only because the Borg were a cunning reworking of the Cybermen from you know what). But this film had it all. J J Abrams takes us back in time to before the original crew of the Enterprise were in situ, documenting the events which surrounded and led up to them all meeting and ending up at the helm of the USS Enterprise in the first place. The touches were all there - Captain Pike, Romulans, Vulcans, Kirk's legendary way with women ... but recast and mixed up so that it's not quite what you expect. The actors are uniformly brilliant, with each managing to capture traits of the original cast members without it being too forced. I particularly liked Simon Pegg's Scottie (along with the almost obligatory appearance by Deep Roy who must hold some sort of record for genre film appearances by now) and Uhura was also nicely played, though I couldn't get my head around her romance with Spock. Sylar out of Heroes played Spock and was suitably broody and logical (even if I did expect him to wave his finger at Kirk and start to trace a line of blood across his forehead ... a little Heroes reference there for the initiated). The effects were awesome, with so many magnificent crowd-pleasing sequences on show. To pick just two: the sight of Vulcan imploding into a black hole was jaw dropping, and I loved, just loved the shot of the Enterprise rising up above the atmosphere of Titan like some sort of submerged behomoth hoving into view. The film managed to play with the emotions maginificently as well, eliciting tears in the pre-credits sequence - and any film that can bring you to tears in less than ten minutes is doing something right! But it then handled the comedy well, with Kirk's inflated hands and tongue, as well as his chase by the plant-monster-thing on the ice planet. Of note in all this is the sequence with Scottie in the water tube - a nicely handled piece of sctick which ended, predictably with Scottie being saved. The plot was well worked out (Doctor Who take note), playing with time in a way which got the brain cells working overtime. I adored the sequence near the end where Nero's ship is being destroyed on one side of the black hole in the sequence at the start of the film, while simultaneously being sucked into itself at the end of the film. Lovely stuff. Nero himself was suitably loony, but perhaps was also the weakest character as although he talked a lot, we never really saw what was driving him apart from his insane desire for revenge at any cost. Overall it's a rollicking two hours, which pass like lightning and which never drags. A brilliant way to revisit and reinvent the series, setting it up for more films, and along the way, by means of the cunning 'alternate time line' conceit, avoiding problems with the hard core fans of maintaining continuity with the original series. Truly a magnificent achievement.
Finally ... getting some time on a Sunday afternoon to sit down and pen some thoughts about recent Who and other things ... Thanks to those of you who nudged me to see if I was still alive after all this time. I am ... and I'm OK, though there have been some quite dramatic changes in my life since last I blogged. Anyway, onwards and upwards and first on my list of things to catch up with are the two latest Doctor Who specials. We had The Next Doctor at Christmas, and at Easter there was Planet of the Dead. Heading back to Christmas first, and at the time I wasn't sure how to take The Next Doctor. It seemed to be quite a fun romp at times, but scattered through with disjointed elements which didn't seem right. Overall I felt it was certainly one of the weaker Cybermen adventures, with only the very cool black and silver with brain showing variant to elicit much interest - though quite why this CyberLeader was like that is anyone's guess. I liked the setting and the idea of David Morrissy being the Doctor was a nice conceit which unfortunately fell into the Doctor's Daughter school of not being that at all, and all being something else entirely ... a shame really as again, the 'gosh wow' idea of it was better than the actuality. As usual for BBC Drama, the setting was well realised, but I'm not sure that the number of black gentlemen who were seen around could have been correct - at this time in England's history, weren't black men and women menials rather than toffs? Which brings us to Rosita and her perfect Cockney accent, let alone that she's treated as an equal ... hmmm. The Cybershades were frankly rubbish. Eliciting no form of excitement at all and looking like something which had been constructed from the pages of Doctor Who Adventures Magazine (but then perhaps that was the intention, to feature a monster which every child could effectively pretend to be with a sheepskin rug and a cardboard mask ... And why would the Cybermen convert cats and dogs anyway? There are enough people around after all. Then it all goes Oliver with Miss Hartigan's Fagin capturing the kids to work in a factory ... again, not much explanation as to why the kids were used ... why not controlled humans? Why were they needed at all? And of course finally it turns into Transformers and a giant Cyberking rises from the Thames to stomp all over London ... I have no idea what the point was, but it all looked nice if you disengaged your brain. Yes ... different from the other Christmas specials, perhaps not as good as Voyage of the Damned, but better than The Runaway Bride ... But then we get Planet of the Dead. Oh dear. I had high hopes for this, but it turned out that everything we had heard about it was exactly what it was. Recorded in a Dubai which looked like sand dunes in Cornwall, and featuring some woman off EastEnders and The Bionic Woman who acted well but had no clue really, and a race of giant flies who eat excrement, and you start to think that it's all going to hell in a handcart. What niggled me most about this was the lack of plot. The Doctor is on a London bus acting like the loony you try to avoid and wittering on about easter eggs and fiddling with something electronic when the bus is sucked through a space time portal and dumped in the desert. As happens you know ... We then have most of the running time taken up with Doctor on said bus trying to figure out how to get back while another loony on the bus goes on and on about death coming (no love, it's just a swarm of alien stingray things), while on Earth, UNIT has it's hands full as they've inexplicably put Lee Evans in charge of the tech ... Lucky that on board the bus is the Bionic Woman who can't do anything useful really, but who has a gold chalice she just nicked and which is exactly what the Doctor needs to turn the bus into something out of Harry Potter and fly back home again. And that's about it. Obviously co-writer Gareth Roberts has a thing about flying beasties as he's used them in The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp as well as Planet of the Dead. Maybe we should call it Lara Croft on the Planet of the Flies and be done with it as that was really what it seemed to be about. Of course we had to end with the loopy woman going on about something returning and knocking four times ... but then her predictions of death were so way off kilter that if the Doctor has any sense then he'll ignore her. But then again, he's so used to everyone he's ever met suddenly turning up again on a giant Dalek saucer, or at the end of the world, or in a submarine or somewhere equally unlikely, that if I were him, I'd just assume that Rose was coming back for him having worn out her clone Doctor, or that Donna had remembered her past and rather than Wilf have to put up with her whining about that, decides to find the Doctor himself and give him a piece of his mind. I've been hearing the rumours about Tennant's swan song and thinking ... oh no, not again. It's interesting to look back just a couple of years ... I watched a repeat of Army of Ghosts and Doomsday again last week, and I was again reduced to crying my eyes out over the ending. They should have left it there, they really should. The production team seem to have stopped trying in many respects. Now that Doctor Who is rightfully back on top of the schedules, and that it's pulling in more money than ever before in its history through merchandise and overseas sales, it seems like the golden goose cannot be harmed. So the scripts get a little rushed and shoddy, less care is taken over the finer details than in which celebrity casting we can use this time around ... it's all worryingly like the slow decline of the show under John Nathan-Turner, when scripts came second to crowd-pleasing reunions and a wacky opportunity to record in Spain gave us The Two Doctors rather than spending the money on a decent set of scripts and some great ideas. I worry because I care ... I love that Doctor Who is top of the telly pops again, and that my interest in it is seen as being cool and interesting rather than geeky and sad ... but if the scripts aren't cutting the mustard, then the public will turn away quickly and find something else to watch. Primeval perhaps, which has really given Who a run for it's money with this new season. The episode shown along with Planet of the Dead apparently killed off one of the lead characters in a way that was dramatic and effective. Not just for show, or to try and grab viewers (as no-one knew it was going to happen), but in a script that was tense and well thought through. The Who production office has many, many very talented people working in it, and I know they do care ... but complacency has a way of creeping in. I'm glad that Russell T Davies has stood down and that Steven Moffat now needs to prove himself against the mirror of Davies' television juggernaught. This should provide the necessary boost and up the ante for everyone to create not just Doctor Who, but a bigger, bolder, better Doctor Who. Something that amazes and terrifies in the same breath, something which is thought provoking, touches on the human condition, and which works on a number of levels. No pressure then ...
Monday, May 04, 2009
My word, doesn't time fly ... I'm feeling very guilty at having completely neglected my blogging and hopefully will be able to make some time to catch up a little over the next few weeks. There's a lot been happening for me personally which is the main reason for the the lapse but I have notes on the Christmas Who special, and the recent Easter episode to talk about (Lara Croft on the Planet of the Flies), as well as hopefully some other random subjects. So apologies to all, and I'll try and pen something more pithy over the coming weeks.