Monday, December 28, 2020

Review: The Blackout: Invasion Earth (2019)

The Blackout: Invasion Earth is a Russian film, dealing with alien invaders attacking the Earth. It's all a little muddled though, and while the military action on display is impressive, after a while you tire of the explosions, shouting and running.

Simplistically, the whole World is 'attacked' by some Alien means and plunged into darkness, all the humans dying instantly. This is, except for an area around Moscow ...

The army based there find themselves under attack from a huge pack of rampaging bears, and manage to escape. Then there's one of the aliens, Id, who 'speaks' telepathically (great make-up!) and is looking for his brother, Ra. Id claims to be on the side of the humans and will help them. Ra brings a load of humans back to life and uses them to attack Id and the army people ... but this fails and Ra is killed.

Then a vast spaceship descends, opens its entry/exit ramp and just sits there ... so the army group head inside to explore.

Reading that the film was originally intended as the start of a series makes sense, as the plot is very open ended and has much which just happens, making little sense, and just washing over you. The effects are pretty decent though, and I found myself wondering what they could have done with a better and tighter script.

The ending especially just hangs - the film seems to just stop - and makes little sense given what has happened before, and also relies on a massive coincidence, which is just not believable.

The characters all seem faceless and somewhat bland to the extent that I have no clue what any of them are called ... it just doesn't seem important!

As something to pass a couple of hours, The Blackout: Invasion Earth is distracting and diverting enough ... just don't expect anything on the par with films like Independence Day!


4th November 2020, London UK -  A top recon team step in when an alien invasion shuts down the planet, in The Blackout: Invasion Earth, released by 4Digital on 28th December on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital platforms.

Imagine Chernobyl crossed with Battle: Los Angeles, with a touch of Predator, in this Russian sci-fi blockbuster that sees a future world teetering on oblivion. Featuring hi-tech effects, heavy-duty military equipment, bloody bear attacks and a suicide mission to end them all, The Blackout: Invasion Earth is a thrilling and chilling, action-packed epic that sees the fate of humanity resting in the hands of a group of heavily armoured, but massively overmatched soldiers (headed by Aleksey Cahdov, star of Nightwatch), and a lone female journalist. This is two hours of doom and destruction, intense firefights and mind-control mayhem - and a strange, leather-clad figure called Id, who holds the key to the blackout.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Review: Doctor Who: 'I Am The Master' & 'The Official Doctor Who Annual 2021'

Good old Auntie Beeb and Ebury have been doing a roaring trade in Doctor Who titles over the last few months, and short story collections seem to be the order of the day ...

I Am The Master is an eclectic collection of six stories about arguably the Doctor's greatest enemy - certainly the one he has known the longest ...

What's less clear is which Master is featured in the tales ... some are obvious while others are seemingly interchangeable.

We kick off with Peter Anghelides' 'Anger Management'. The Master is being held prisoner by a biomechanoid called Loge in a device which traps the prisoner for seemingly years from their point of view, while only minutes pass for Loge. 'Slow Captivity' it's called, and I loved the conceit of it. Loge wants the Master to help with the rescue of three alien warlords ... but can he outwit his captor?

I think the Master here is the first incarnation (Delgado) and all the trappings are included: rubber face disguises, tissue compression eliminator ... It's well written and a good kick off for the book.

Next up is Mark Wright's 'The Dead Travel Fast' which pits a decayed and decrepit Master (so either Pratt or Beevers) against the author Bram Stoker, who is visiting Whitby on holiday ...  There are lots of great allusions here to Stoker's novel Dracula and the whole piece is written through diary entries, again akin to the book. I enjoyed it a lot. Some great writing and description here.

Third is Jacqueline Rayner's 'Missy's Magical Mystery Mission'. Oh dear. I just couldn't get into this one and had to give up on it. The prose is simplistic and the story just not interesting. The characterisation of the Master, here in his/her 'Missy' persona (Gomez), is accurate to her television portrayal, but I found that hard to watch as well, being somewhat too eccentric and crazed for my liking. So if you liked Missy on television, then maybe you will get on with this story too.

'A Master of Disguise' is by Mike Tucker, and here we're introduced to a man, Moses, who makes all the Master's various rubber disguises. I'm not sure which Master this is though ... I'm tended towards the Delgado variant though as this seems to fit best with the story, though it could be the Ainley. It's nicely written and the ideas are good, with the Master even impersonating the Doctor at one point!

The next tale is unfortunately another disappointment. 'The Night Harvest' by Beverly Sanford is hard going. I think it's the Simm Master as the dialogue is wordy and the overall plot seems obtuse and hard to follow - the sort of crazed logic which this incarnation of the Master had in the TV show. I think my main issue, though, is that I don't really care about the other characters. Tala is the viewpoint character, and she's somewhat boring. Add to this lots of dialogue and the whole thing drags. Not top of the pile for me I'm afraid.

The final story, 'The Master and Margarita' is the best in the book. Matthew Sweet takes as his background Tsar-ist Russia and this adds a great backdrop to the story of spawning mushrooms and alien infiltrators. The language is intelligent and authentic, and the Master himself - I think this is the most recent Dhawan version - is nicely characterised.

Overall this is a varied collection with a couple of disappointments, but the remaining stories are certainly worth the price of admission.  

Moving to the latest Doctor Who Annual (for 2021), and this is a curious beast which must have posed enormous challenges for the publishers and the writer.

The Annual of olden days used to be an eclectic collection of original stories and artwork, comic stories and occasional 'factual' pages, all interspersed with quizzes, crosswords and other puzzles. But they were aimed at fans of all ages, so the stories were not 'dumbed down' and the writing was always entertaining, even if the stories were often about somewhat esoteric subjects which wouldn't be seen on the television variant.

Unfortunately Penguin, who now publish the book, decided to move completely away from original fiction, and now present a book each year full of photographs and features pretty much solely from the current or most recent series. Plus it's written for five or six year olds, with text so simple that it's almost painful for an adult to read. Likewise the quizzes and puzzles are hardly taxing ...

For this edition, then, they have decided to present 4 pages on each of the stories from last season, interspersed with 2 pages looking at other elements. There are 'fake' reviews of places the TARDIS has been from Graham, Mary Shelley (strangely with a Twitter handle of GothGirlMary1797) and the Judoon Pol-Kon-Don (the review is just 'Ko Fro Lo Bo' etc). Bits of the book are as though written by the Doctor (and read like some perky over-caffeinated junior school teacher telling her class what she did on her holidays). There's a few pages at the back dedicated to the overarching Time Lord Victorious project which are dull and of course this whole TLV project relies on people seeking out all the variant parts across multiple merchandise lines to get the complete story!

It's tricky to really be able to 'review' the Annual as it's a book which does not stand up to detailed scrutiny. It's purpose is a Christmas-stocking filler gift for kids, and as such it's a light and transient skim through television stories which the children might have seen earlier in the year.

This slightly older (but young at heart) fan, however, wishes there was more to challenge and entertain the younger reader. This year would have been perfect for some original fiction, some great artwork and some more in-depth factual glimpses behind the scenes. But that's unfortunately not where the publishers' or the BBC's head is at with the show. Such a shame.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Review: He Came From the Swamp: The William Grefe Collection (2020)

I'm possibly not alone in never actually having heard of William Grefe, which is a little odd as I am something of an aficionado of the sort of ultra-low budget films he made ... but looking at the titles in this new collection and retrospective of his work from Arrow, I suspect that these are a little lower than even I usually go.

Kicking off the four disk set of seven films is Grefe's first feature, a charming little piece called Sting of Death (1966).

To even start to understand these films, you need to understand also that there was a subculture in the sixties of films which involved 'beach parties'. In fact, beach parties seem to have been really popular for a time as there are quite a few films which feature them. Basically a group of pretty young men and woman all strip down to their bikinis and swim trunks and dance on a beach to music, throwing their arms and bodies around in jerky movements, a little like a spider with St Vitus' Dance. The films feature a lot of this ... so be warned.

The plot, if it can be called that, of Sting of Death is that people are being killed by poison which seems to be coming from a Portuguese Man of War jellyfish ... but it's deadly! Cue a deformed handyman at a hip pad owned by some scientist-types. He seems to be turning himself into a jellyfish man (mainly by putting an inflated plastic bag on his head) and killing the hip cats who have descended on the house for numerous beach parties. They are dancing on the boat as it arrives, then they dance on the jetty, then they dance around the pool ... and somehow our jellyfish man gets into the pool unseen, and kills a girl before getting out again, unseen.

Grefe wisely keeps his monster to shots of flippered feet and wet-suited legs for the most part, only revealing the whole horror of the jellyfish man towards the end ...

It's a turgid affair, not even enlivened by the many shots of gyrating bodies and girls bottoms.

The next film is Death Curse of Tartu (1966), and this touches on the obsession with cannibals and curses which seemed to be around at the time. Unfortunately it has even less of a plot than Sting of Death and seems to revolve around people running around in the Everglades, being chased by crocodiles, finding caves with sarcophagi in, and a living mummy which inexplicably changes into a native American of some sort before it ends. 

It's obvious that Grefe had access to one of those swamp-boat things with a big propeller on the back as it's used here as well in the next film, The Hooked Generation (1968). The attention span of watching these things is growing less with each entry. The Hooked Generation looks at drugs: usage and trafficking. We have a group of unsavoury characters who are trying to smuggle drugs, but one of their number is already high and the rest are pretty hopeless too. They evade the Everglades police, killing them in a shootout, and hideout somewhere, taking captive a young couple who saw them.

It's slow and talkie, but does show a slight narrative step up from Death Curse. Again, this is selling into the obsessions of the time, with a girl in a bikini in trouble, bad drug traffickers, and drug taking.

The next film is even worse! The Psychedelic Priest (which is actually called Electric Shades of Grey on the print) had, as explained in a documentary/interview on the disk, no script, and this is painfully obvious in the film which basically follows a priest who is given some acid, and who then trips and wanders through various music festivals which feature the worst music imaginable. He picks up a female hitch-hiker and she falls for him, but he decides to return to the Church. It's a slow, motiveless and boring slice of cinema, and all I can assume is that it went down well with drive-ins where the viewers were similarly indulging either in drugs or in each other - either way paying no attention to the film at all.

I note that it was made in 1971 but not released at the time. It's release came in 2001 on a direct-to-video label ... perhaps it should have remained unreleased and forgotten.

The Naked Zoo (1971) has a little more going for it. For a start it stars Rita Hayworth in the twilight of her career! The plot has had more work done on it this time, and the film follows a writer who seems to have no trouble getting the girls, but he seems to have a preference for the older lady and is having an affair with Hayworth. Her wheelchair-bound husband is killed in an engineered accident, and then the writer kills her too with a combination of drugs and shock treatment!  But who exactly is the young girl he is also dating ...?  The drug use/party culture is still strong here, but it's more focused and better made than the previous films, and the acting is likewise notched up a rung or two.

Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) is a creature feature, but here the sharks are the 'good' guys! The film is set against a backdrop of shark-hunters and exploitation, and follows a chap who has befriended the sharks and has a tooth necklace given to him by some 'shark god' ... he decides to do away with all those who threaten the sharks, which strangely includes an underwater performer at a local bar. The plot again is better here, and the underwater footage is pretty decent. This was apparently the first 'homage' to Jaws which hit cinema screens and in some ways is testament to the success of the Spielberg film.

The final film in the Collection is Whiskey Mountain (1977). This follows two men and their wives who decide to head off to somewhere called Whiskey Mountain. The film seems to be mostly a travelogue showing them riding their bikes and crossing rivers and so on, but eventually it settles down to them finding a shack and being captured by a group of drug smugglers. The men are tied up in a cave while the women are raped. The men escape and try to go after the druggies, but the local sheriff won't believe them ... and the film ends with one of the men and the two women lined up in the sights of the sheriff's gun as he hovers above them in a helicopter.

It's a strange beast, and unfortunately a pretty poor quality print as well, and it looks like it was made in the sixties rather than the seventies.

What is very interesting about this set, and now I've watched all the films, is that, strangely, it's the first, Sting of Death which now seems to have the most appeal. Yes the monster is dreadful, and yes, it's corny and fairly loose in its presentation, but at least it has a plot and is vaguely enjoyable in the sense that you can marvel and smile at the wetsuit-clad jellyfish man ... 

I enjoyed the extras which pepper the disks. The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire  is a fascinating look at a very under-appreciated area of horror entertainment, the various live ghost and horror shows put on by theatres back in the 40s and 50s.

The documentary about Grefe is also interesting and illuminating, showing the lack of budget and issues which beset some of these low budget films, and how passing trends - go-go girls, bikers, sharks, cannibals - can be turned into films seemingly at the drop of a hat!

I also liked the little piece on Crown Distributors on the final disk - which is not mentioned in Arrow's PR.

As usual, Arrow have pushed the proverbial boat out with the visuals, packaging and production of this set, and it all looks stunning. I just hope that buyers coming to these films fresh aren't too disappointed by the no-budget thrills and spills that they contain.


Available now on the Arrow Video Channel:


  • Seven William Grefé films, all newly restored from the best surviving film elements: Sting of Death (1966), Death Curse of Tartu (1966), The Hooked Generation (1968), The Psychedelic Priest (1971), The Naked Zoo (1971), Mako: Jaws of Death (1976) and Whiskey Mountain (1977)
  • Brand new, extended version of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures’ definitive documentary They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations on 4 Blu-ray discs
  • Original uncompressed mono audio for all films
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Fully illustrated collector’s booklet featuring an extensive, never-before-published interview with William Grefé and a new foreword by the filmmaker
  • Reversible poster featuring newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
  • Reversible sleeves featuring newly commissioned artwork for each of the films by The Twins of Evil


  • Brand new introductions to the films by director William Grefé
  • Archival audio commentaries for both films with William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
  • Sting of Death: Beyond the Movie – Monsters a-Go Go! – a look into the history of rock 'n' roll monster movies with author/historian C. Courtney Joyner
  • The Curious Case of Dr. Traboh: Spook Show Extraordinaire – a ghoulish look into the early spook show days with monster maker Doug Hobart
  • Original Trailers
  • Still and Promotion Gallery


  • Archival audio commentaries for both films with director William Grefé and filmmaker Frank Henenlotter
  • Hooked Generation behind-the-scenes footage
  • Hooked Generation Original Trailer
  • Still and Promotion Gallery


  • William Grefé’s original Director’s Cut of Naked Zoo
  • Alternate Barry Mahon re-release cut of Naked Zoo
  • Original Mako: Jaws of Death Trailer and Promo
  • Still and Promotion Gallery


  • Whiskey Mountain Original Trailer
  • Still and Promotion Gallery
  • They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé – the definitive documentary presented for the first in High-Definition and in a brand new, extended cut

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Review: Doctor Who: The Monster Vault

2020's large format, full colour tome from BBC Books is called The Monster Vault ... but forgive me for a moment as it all seems very familiar.

It's a big book - 312 pages - with a £25 price tag ... but haven't we seen it all before? The content is an A-Z of the monsters and aliens that the Doctor has faced in the show. It's not complete in that it doesn't include absolutely everything, and it does not cover the 'reality' or 'behind the scenes' element except for a brief section at the back. For each entry there is the creatures' history as explained (mostly) on screen, with a couple of deviations from the facts we know into what the authors are making up and surmising - but unless you knew, you wouldn't know the difference as it's all presented as 'authoritative'.

For example, the first entry, for the Abzorbaloff, claims that the creature's entire body is in a constant state of suction ... I don't recall that from the TV episode ... Next up is Alpha Centaurians and there's talk of their home planet having an abundance of food and no predators, so the creatures developed politeness. This is pure conjecture ... and so the book goes on, mixing fact from the TV show with a large dollop of conjecture and extrapolation on the part of the authors.

But haven't we seen books about the monsters before? Indeed, there was Lesley Standring's Illustrated A-Z (1985); I myself wrote A Book of Monsters (1997) which focussed on the behind the scenes creation and development of them, again copiously illustrated. Then, for the new series, Justin Richards produced Monsters and Villains (2005), Aliens and Enemies (2006), Creatures and Demons (2007), The Ultimate Monster Guide (2009, updated 2010), Monster Miscellany (2011) and The Secret Lives of Monsters (2013). There was also 100 Scariest Monsters (2011). So a fair few books focussing on the monsters, using only the fictional material presented on television, and illustrated with lots of photographs.

The Monster Vault seems to be the latest in a never-ending stream of similar books from BBC Books. Indeed, it is illustrated with photographs, but each creature gets a rather nice full page 'visualisation' courtesy of Lee Johnson which often looks like a photograph or perhaps a collage of pictures - it's hard to tell what is a photograph and what is artwork.

I think if I'd not been aware of the plethora of similar titles over the years, this book would be quite impressive. It's beautifully produced and laid out, and has monsters galore to sate any appetite. It's also obviously aimed at the younger set, with nothing over and above the descriptions and potential background and pictures. There are some 'unanswered questions' dotted throughout. Like for example why the Chameleons kill people when they're 'high-minded'  - they do so using a slow moving laser, unsupervised. Which is a bit daft, a bit of a joke, and totally invented (though the sequence with the laser is decidedly strange in the story) - the text is included solely to 'explain' a rather weak plot point in the story in which they appear. This continues with somewhat strange 'explanations' of why a Draconian state room is coloured green, how Haemovores can shape metal with their hands, and why the Rutans lost interest in Earth as a planet of strategic importance.

The book covers the entirety of Doctor Who with entries for Sensorites and Monoids alongside Chameleons (2nd Doctor), Solonian Mutants (3rd), Ogri (4th), Tractators (5th), Vervoids (6th), Cheetah People (7th), Jagrafess (9th), Weeping Angels (10th), The Flesh (11th), the Teller (12th) and Zellin & Rakaya and Thijarans (13th) and many more besides. And of course the Daleks and Cybermen are here too.

Just as we think it's all over there's a very welcome final chapter looking at the behind the scenes elements. This again includes photos from all eras of monsters being created, worn, fitted ... there are design sketches and shots of them being built ... it's probably for me the best and most interesting ten pages in the book! 

Overall this is a smashing book, well produced and laid out, which will provide hours of interest for fans new to the show in discovering more about all the various creatures that the Doctor has battled over the years. 

Doctor Who: The Monster Vault
Written by Jonathan Morris and Penny CS Andrews
Illustrated by Lee Johnson (interior) and Ben Morris (cover)
Edited by Paul Lang
Published on 22 October 2020 by BBC Books, priced £25 ISBN 978-1-78594-533-5

Monday, October 19, 2020

Review: Color Out Of Space (2019)

I've long been a bit of a fan of H P Lovecraft - it's the ideas, the slow burn and of course the tentacle monsters that do it ... and while there have been some film adaptations of his work in the past (think of titles like Re-Animator, The Haunted Palace, Dagon and From Beyond) none of them have quite managed to capture the creeping horrors described in Lovecraft's fiction.

Color Out Of Space however manages to do just that, and it does it very well indeed. We are introduced to a dysfunctional family. Father Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) lives in the backwoods somewhere in America, miles from civilization or anywhere else for that matter. His wife Theresa (Joley Richardson) tries to cope with their son Benny (Brendan Meyer) and their rebellious daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) as they grow up, not to mention the youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard). Into their lives comes Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight), a hydrologist making a survey of the water in the area. He's attracted to Lavinia ...

Then, one night, a meteor crashes onto their land, leaving a crater and a red hot ball of something ... alien. Everyone is mystified, but soon strange red flowers start appearing, the grass turns red, and Jack sees a strange insect hatch from a jelly-like object down the well. 

From this point onwards, life for the Gardners changes. Their herd of alpacas gets frisky, Theresa cuts her fingers off while chopping carrots, and the dog runs off, to be found later on ... changed ...

But things can get worse ...

What I liked about Color Out of Space is the way it starts slowly, drawing you into this family, and then when the meteor arrives, you just know that it's not going to be good. The 'color' of the title seems to be a bright luminous pink/purple, and the idea here is that the meteor contains a creature of some sort which is this colour ... a sentient colour. But more that that, it's a sentient colour which likes to assimilate the humans ... so we have some tremendous Blob-like scenes of melting flesh and physical change, and also moments which are straight out of John Carpenter's The Thing of mutated dogs and a crazy mixed-up alpaca creature ... not to mention what happens to the people!

It's a bleak film in some respects as there seems no respite and no way for a backwoods farmer to even fight this alien menace ... but the film finds an ending, even if it's slightly underplayed and underexplained.

The film is a very enjoyable and entertaining watch, and Richard Stanley has worked wonders with the source material to deliver something which, even if not 100% faithful, feels like Lovecraft.  I particularly liked his use of practical effects throughout, augmented on occasion with some CGI (or perhaps animation). There was only one short shot which I would have preferred to be practical when it didn't appear to be so ... but I'm not telling you which it was as I'm trying to avoid spoilers here!

Well worth seeking out, and it provides something new and interesting for jaded horror fans to appreciate ... cosmic horror which is truly cosmic and horrifying!

Review: Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers first came out in 2002, and for 2020, there is a new cinema release coming out, all restored and looking amazing.

For those who have not seen it, it's something of a treat, being director Neil Marshall's first cinematic outing. The film, scripted, directed and edited by Marshall, follows a group of soldiers under the command of Wells (Sean Pertwee) as they take part in a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands. They find the commander of the group they are training against, Ryan (Liam Cunningham) wounded and his troop slaughtered by creatures unknown. They are rescued from the wilds by Megan (Emma Cleasby) who happens to be passing in her jeep, and she takes them to the only house in any range to try and get help. But it's deserted, the occupants missing. So the soldiers take up residence and patch up Wells who has had his guts ripped open by the attacking creatures.

Soon the house is under siege by a pack of ravening werewolves, and worse, the danger is also coming from within as Ryan also turns into one of their number.

The film is something of a masterclass in ratching up tension and excitement as it moves from what at first appears to be a 'soldiers on patrol' piece to a superior werewolf movie. Marshall keeps the action going, and a favourite sequence is when Wells and Cooper (Kevin McKidd) have to escape the werewolves by basically breaking through the walls and floors of the cottage to get away!

One minor disappointment is that there is no actual full transformation sequence, so if you're expecting effects on par with The Howling or An American Werewolf in London, then this is not the place to come. There are some contacts and fangs-type initial transformations though. The film is low budget but Marshall gets every penny on the screen, and it also benefits from some standout performances from Pertwee and McKidd.

The ending might be seen as a little predictable, but it all adds to the charm, and overall the film is a superb slice of horror of the sort we thought filmmakers had forgotten how to do!


Distributor: Vertigo Releasing
In Cinemas: 23rd October, 2020
Release date: 23rd October, 2020
Digital release: 12th October, 2020                                

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Review: Doctor Who Book: Time Lord Victorious: The Knight, the Fool and the Dead

It's been a bit of time since I've been sent some WHO stuff for review, but the last couple of weeks have seen some new items come in.

First up is the novel The Knight, The Fool and the Dead by Steve Cole. This is part of the whole Time Lord Victorious program which James Goss has overseen for the brand, and this is a novel published by Ebury. Well, I say a novel - it's more like a novella, or perhaps a long short story. It has 178 pages, is a small hardback with large text which is widely spaced out.

Indeed, it took me around an hour to read it - and the story is fast moving. There's a planet, Andalia, where some death-dealing creatures called Kotturuh invade and kill everyone. The tenth Doctor gets involved and with the help of an Ood called Brian (who seems to be placed out of time) saves a girl called Estinee who is using something called a Life Shroud ... and they chase off after the Kotturuh, eventually confronting them. There are apparently a lot of references in the book to other elements of the overall 'Victorious' plot and the show, but many of these unfortunately just passed me by. I did like a couple of flashback 'interludes' featuring the first and ninth Doctors, but it's unclear to some extent what they have to do with the rest of the narrative.

It isn't really Doctor Who as I remember watching it, though the tenth Doctor is nicely characterised, as it's all so simplified in terms of the writing level and the plot and ideas. I guess someone a lot younger than me would enjoy it, but I prefer a little more complexity. I would assume/guess there's around 30-33,000 words here which doesn't really give it space for the story to breathe.

The inclusion of a new mega-threat in the Kotturuh is okay, but Brian the Ood just seems silly, especially as he's inexplicably wearing a dinner suit ...  but then he seems to have been included for comic relief!

As this is all part of the bigger Time Lord Victorious project, perhaps it will all make more sense when we see how it all develops and unfolds, but given how hard Doctor Who merchandise is to find these days and how expensive it all is, I wonder if the young people that this seems obviously aimed at would have the patience or money to be able to get all the pieces of the puzzle ... there's a chart available with Doctor Who Magazine which explains all the elements and the timeline for their release and it includes LP records (who under the age of 30 has a record player these days) and even immersive theatre, CDs, action figures and display statues!

I hope it works. I hope it helps to revitalise the Doctor Who merchandise market as it seems fairly stagnant at the moment despite individuals and companies doing their best to produce what they hope might be popular.

I just wonder if this was the best way to start ... 

Review: Orphan Black

Every so often a series comes along which is so compelling, that it just drags you with it. We first caught Orphan Black on telly - I forget which channel. It might have even been on Netflix, though I don't think it was. We watched to the end and were enthralled throughout. So much so that for Christmas last year I got a well-priced Box Set of the series, and we have just finished watching it all again!

So what is Orphan Black? It's a thriller series, but one which takes as it's basis and background the ideas of clones and DNA and genetic manipulation and longevity. So there's Big Science involved, and mysterious organisations (the Dyad Institute and Neolution) and powerful men controlling these structures.

Into this world falls Sarah Manning. In the opening episode, Sarah is standing on a train platform waiting for her train. She's a bit of a rebel, a bit of an outlier of society. Down from her on the platform is another girl. She seems agitated, and when she turns to look at Sarah, she has the same features - she is Sarah's double. She places her bag on the platform and abruptly steps off in front of a train and is killed!

Sarah is shocked, but, ever the opportunist, she steals the girl's bag as she leaves. She discovers that the girl was Beth Childs, a policewoman ... and from this point Sarah's life is turned upside down. She learns that Beth was a clone, and that there are other clones too: blonde Helena is a twisted and insane version of herself; Alison Hendrix is a soccer mom living in a perfect home with a perfect husband, Donnie (Kristian Bruun), and two adopted kids; Cosima Niehaus is a science nerd, studying hard genetics and DNA to try and find a cure for the respiratory disease which threatens to kill her ...

All these characters clash together, along with Sarah's brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) (they were both adopted by the same mother, called Mrs S (Maria Doyle Kennedy)) and discover that they are all part of a global conspiracy to control birth and genetics and sell it to the highest bidder.

So that's the basic set-up, and each season follows and develops the ideas and concepts and keeps opening the show up.

In season One Sarah assumes Beth's identity to try and find out more about her and discovers a hidden world of clones and corporate espionage. Someone is also killing the clones, one by one, and the race is on to find out who ... Sarah's daughter, Kira (Skyler Wexler), is also the focus of intense interest of Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer) who runs Dyad as Sarah (and Helena) are the only clones who are fertile.

In Season Two we are introduced to clone Rachel Duncan, who is high up in Dyad, and Delphine (Evelyne Brochu), a Dyad scientist who works with, and falls in love with Cosima as they try to find a cure for her illness. Meanwhile Sarah is trying to stay alive while Alison is trying to lead a 'normal' life in the suburbs but ends up killing one of her 'perfect mom' rivals.

Season Three brings in the idea that as well as Sarah and her clones (termed Leda) there are also Male soldier clones (called Castor) (Ari Millen) and Sarah must discover what and why they exist. We meet another Leda clone, Krystal Goderich, and Cosima meets and falls for Shay (Ksenia Solo) who may or may not be another spy ...

Season Four fills in backstory with Beth investigating what is going on, and the discovery of Neolution's plan to implant tech worms in humans to harvest and control their DNA. Meanwhile Helena is being held captive, and the Neolution cult, headed by the aged P T Westmoreland (Stephen McHattie), has a base on an island where Cosima is being forced to conduct experiments ...

Season Five brings it all to a close, with Dyad and Neolution being attacked by the Clones ... but will there be a happy ending? Will Sarah and her sistres survive, and how will the world look in the aftermath.

I have deliberately tried to avoid spoilers in this brief rundown, and really the show is far more involved and engaging than it's possible to explain in a review. Furthermore, sharp eyes will have spotted that I have mentioned no actresses for Sarah and the clones. This is because they are all played by the same actress, Tatiana Maslany, who is simply a revelation and utterly the best thing about the show. Every one of her characters is different, from the way they dress, through their speech and even the way they move and react. You always know exactly which you are watching, and even when one clone has to pretend to be another (which happens a fair amount), Maslany manages to imbue her performance with aspects of both. It's a brilliant performance! And her depiction of the feral and unpredictable Helena is simply a joy. 

Furthermore, the direction and technical skill on display is immense as we often see several Clones together in the same shots, same scenes. The effect is flawless and you totally believe that these characters are separate and different and, indeed, are all together partying or talking or whatever. It's actually hard to believe that they are all the same actress, it's that good! There's little wonder she won the Primetime Emmy Award (2016), a TCA Award (2013), two Critics' Choice Awards (2013 and 2014), and five Canadian Screen Awards (2014–18).

Another pitch perfect element of the show is the title sequence and accompanying music. The music especially is so hauntingly memorable and builds beautifully over its short span, but this is enhanced by the visuals which encapsulate perfectly the themes of the show. There's DNA strands and separation of an egg, two 'Sarahs' split away from each other ... it's a magnificent piece of work in its own right. It is no surprise that Technicolor's Design team won an Applied Arts Award for the opening title design.

If you gather that I am a fan of the show, then you'd be right. Supporting Maslany in her multiple personas is a company of simply superb actors. Kudos to Jordan Gavaris as Felix, who manages to be the rock that Sarah clings to, while all the time being big brother to Alison and Cosima, while navigating his own sexuality through painting in the nude! He is a superb character, and very well played. Then there's Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs S, a towering performance of a mother who will do anything to protect her kids, even when she's more involved than she would like to admit. Kevin Hanchard plays Art Bell, Beth's partner in the police. He has a struggle to accept what's happening, but turns out to be a powerful ally. Even minor parts are cast and performed well, making the whole show one of the most watchable and enjoyable that I have ever seen.

If you get a chance to watch it, then do so. If you like spy thrillers, conspiracy shows, and action/adventure then I don't think you'll be disappointed.

For further reading there's a great piece on the show here: But Beware Spoilers!

I just found too this SDCC panel where the cast are challenged to perform against different clones with Maslany playing all of them!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Moses and Men

I'm absolutely delighted that the lovely Mr Paul Finch has taken one of my stories for his latest Terror Tales collection, Terror Tales of the Home Counties.

Moreso as that's where I was born and grew up: Tolworth in Surrey, near to Surbiton and Kingston-Upon-Thames. It was nice to revisit some childhood memories for the story, and to also bring in some real places, locales and people ...

I decided to set the tale down by the Hogsmill River, which runs through Tolworth and Berrylands and on into Kingston where it joins the Thames. Just beside the A3 road - which is the main thoroughfare from London down to the South Coast, and which is claimed to be the UK's busiest stretch of non-motorway road - there is a patch of greenbelt alongside the river called the Elmbridge Open Space. The river also runs under the A3, and just beside there, as in my story, there is a small block of flats (,-0.270892,329.16h,8.1p,1z). The tunnel under the road is there too, as are the hideouts and fallen trees where my brother, Alan, and I used to go as kids. It was a different world back then, when there were not predatory pedophiles hanging around on every street corner to snatch you away, and when your pocket money could buy you a bag of chews and sweets to last a week - or at least it seemed that way. The view of the river from the A3 can be seen here:,-0.270032,343.93h,-7.03p,1z.

To the mix of my story I also added a real life character, sadly now deceased, called Moses. And it is from him that the story gets its name. For I have realised Moses - a friendly chap, outrageously dressed, who was often to be seen in and around Kingston and New Malden, just chatting away to people - as a sort of unknown and unappreciated superhero!

To find out more you'll have to read the story!  It's in Terror Tales of the Home Counties, edited by Paul Finch and available from Telos Publishing Ltd - ... or see farther down this post :)

In the meantime, here's a pic of the locale:

And there's a nice piece all about the river here:

And if you'd like to see the real Moses in action, here's a couple of videos:


As it's the anniversary of Moses' passing ... here's the text of the story for free ... hope you enjoy ...


David J Howe

 The moonlight barely made it through the tree branches overhead, but Toby was glad of the darkness. He listened intently, but there was no sound, just the gentle rustling of the trees in the wind. Maybe soon he’d be able to move away from here ...

For the hundredth time he wondered why he had gone out that night at all. It was all Simon’s fault. If his school friend hadn’t double-dared him to spend the night in their hideaway by the river he wouldn’t be there ... and now look at where this stupid adventure had got them.

Toby drew in as much breath as his eleven-year-old lungs could manage. He had to stay calm or the thing might come for him. Toby settled his back against the tree trunk and let the breath out in a silent huff. He focussed on holding the panic in, all the time wondering how he would escape this awful nightmare.


It was about five o’clock in the afternoon the previous day, when Simon and Toby had made their way down to the Hogsmill River. They lived in a small block of flats alongside the A3 road – one of the main routes into London from the Home Counties. About a mile away they could see the stark outline of Tolworth Tower. Office blocks for the most part, though with a large Marks and Spencer’s shop underneath.

The Hogsmill was a small stream, which flowed under the A3, heading for Kingston, where it joined the Thames. Where it came from no one seemed to know – explorations upstream tended to end where the river diverged from the footpath – certainly there was a large hill here, but where the river emerged was something of a mystery.

But down by the flats where Simon and Toby lived, it was easily accessible, and there was also a strip of green land all the way alongside it. Various exploratory trips had revealed the presence of old hiding places and camp sites, sometimes with the remains of fires still in them.

The boys had never seen anyone else use them, but this didn’t mean there was no-one about. The sites were often well hidden right on the bank on the edge of the river within enclaves of fallen trees and branches, and could be entered by crawling through hidden tunnels which were often themselves blocked with wood or foliage. It was a paradise for Toby and Simon. They loved the idea of their own secret hiding places, and often headed down there with sandwiches and bottles of drink.

On this particular evening, Toby had managed to smuggle a blanket out of the flat, and some crisps, and a bag containing a couple of Mars bars and an apple. Simon was to bring his own supplies, which included a battery powered radio. It was summertime, so the weather was warm, and there seemed to be no issue with what they planned. Just some harmless excitement for the summer holidays. They’d each told their parents that they were going to the other’s home for the night, so their families would not be worried.

They met at the gates into the greenbelt beside the river, and made their way to the hiding place.

Simon even had a box of matches and a tightly rolled wad of newspaper in case they decided to light a fire, but both boys were wary of that. Both were in the Cubs, and had gone camping with their troop. They had seen first-hand how hard it could be to get a fire going, and also how hard it could be to control once it was lit.

Neither wanted the whole of the area to go up in flames and for it to be their fault.

So this was brought as an emergency measure only.

They settled down in the den, and busied themselves throwing pebbles into the river. One side of their lair opened to the side of the river, so it was perfect for watching the water and idling away the day. The river had fish too, which could be seen flitting in between the algae and plants, but despite various attempts with rods made from old sticks, and line from bits of string with bent paperclips on the end, and the occasional bait of worms or other pieces of food, they had never managed to catch anything.

The evening drifted by and the boys were calm and relaxed.

All was fine until darkness fell.


Toby looked out of the den again. It was pitch dark outside, and there was no movement at all. Maybe he should try and make a break for it.

Simon had run. He had taken his chance and raced for the exit to the greenbelt area. Toby had heard him go and the last he had seen had been his heels flashing in the faint light. He hoped he had got out.

Toby stirred and moved slowly, trying hard not to make any noise. When he got to the entrance to the den, he paused.

The night was silent and still.

He pushed aside the brush that partially covered the entrance and stepped out.

His foot cracked a twig.

Just a gentle snap.

Toby froze. Foot poised.

From somewhere in the darkness he heard something moving, something careful and predatory getting closer once more.

He pulled his leg back and retreated to the den again, pulling the brushwood over the entrance behind him with a rustle.

He wasn’t sure if whatever it was in the dark would hear that. But it was close now and making a gentle crunching sound as it moved around.

The smell was awful. A rotting, noxious mixture of everything that was bad. Toby had once found a rabbit killed by the side of the road, and the smell from the decayed corpse as he and Simon investigated it with sticks had been similar. But even that wasn’t as bad as this miasma, which accompanied the thing.

The creature was snuffling around outside now, stirring the dry leaves and grit as it went. There was a scraping sound. Toby saw what seemed to be a giant spider leg, thin and segmented, with lots of large hairs or thorns growing from it.

This went on for a few minutes. Something big and heavy moving about outside, shifting things noisily. Toby clamped his hands over his mouth and nose to still his whimpering and his breathing and to keep the stench from his nostrils. The worst thing he could do now was make a sound.

Toby could hear his own heart beating. Thumping in his ears. He was sure that whatever was outside could hear it too.

He forced himself to calm down. He shut his eyes tight and took in a deep breath and let it out as slowly as he could. This helped and after a few more breaths, he opened his eyes. The darkness was still there, but there was silence outside now.

He looked around. Nothing to see. The box of matches and paper was still on the floor. Toby picked up the matches and shook the box. There was a soft rattle as the matches moved. His eyes shifted to the river, still flowing gently past. The sound was relaxing somehow. Maybe he could wade along the river and get out where there was more light and open ground, perhaps by the main road?

He leaned out of the hide and looked upstream. It was no more than a couple of hundred yards to where the water passed under the road. He could do it.

He crouched still, listening.

There was nothing to hear. No night-birdsong, or insect noise. There was usually some sound but tonight there was nothing. He suspected that all the usual night creatures had the right idea and had stayed at home … nothing wanted to be outside at the same time as whatever the thing was that he had heard.

Toby made up his mind and returned to the riverbank. He took off his shoes and socks and rolled up his trousers. There was no sense in getting everything saturated. He dipped his toe into the water and the sharp cold bit him. He scrunched up his face and put his whole foot in the water. It was chilly, but not unbearably so.

He was pleased that the water was at least clean. The river was fairly well maintained by various associations. They would come every year and pull out all the rubbish that accumulated there, old bicycles, bottles, traffic cones, supermarket trolleys and the like, and generally keep it neat, tidy and healthy for the fish and the ducks.

He slid his other foot in and smiled. It wasn’t so bad.

Something moved against his foot and he jerked. It was just a fish or something. Having a little nibble on his toes. Nothing to be worried about, he told himself.

He picked up the matches and paper and his shoes and socks, and gently pushed himself away from the bank. The river bed was uneven and slimy, and every time he moved his feet they slipped a little. With the current pushing against his legs, it was tricky to stay upright. Every time he looked down at his feet, the patterns on the black water running past gave him a sort of dizzy feeling and he had to either close his eyes or look back up to stop himself falling over.

He fixed his eyes on the lights of the road, and started wading slowly in that direction. With each step he put his foot down carefully, waggling it a little to ensure he had a firm perch before moving the other one. He didn’t think there was any glass on the bed, but there were rocks and stones and other unidentifiable objects, and the last thing he wanted was to trip and fall. The water gurgled and bubbled as it ran past him, and the sound of his legs cutting the surface was hushed and quiet. He hoped that nothing could see him, smell him or hear him.

He looked across at the bank. It was pitch dark there. There was no moon tonight and no stars – clouds had come in – and so apart from the lights ahead on the main road, there was no source of illumination.

He pushed on through the water, one foot after the other, slowly and steadily.

As he moved he could hear the gentle drone of cars on the A3 increase. There weren’t too many at this time of night, but the road was so busy that there were always cars passing.

At this moment though, Toby was pleased to see any sign of normal life.

There was a crack and a rushing sound on the bank, as though something large had just moved past him. Toby stopped and stood still in the water.


He turned his head and in the light from the road he saw something moving among the bushes and reeds that lined the bank. He couldn’t make out exactly what it was but it was big and quiet, and the light seemed to fall off it.

He stepped forward again, toes searching for a hold underwater. The water sloshed around him, and he felt rather than saw the thing on the bank pause and listen.

He stopped moving again.

The current run of traffic on the road passed, and there was silence as no cars approached. In that stillness, Toby thought he heard something breathing. Then more cars cruised past and the sound of their engines overpowered the slow, heavy exhalations.

He moved forward again, every step bringing him closer to the traffic bridge.

Toby realised that his feet were growing numb. He could barely feel his toes as they sought out the best footing, and the chill was extending up his legs. He shivered, gripping his belongings against his chest as though they would help to keep the heat in his small body.

He started to count in his head as he stepped. One, two, three … Every step brought him closer and closer to the bridge. And every step was a success.

Eventually Toby was standing by the black mouth of the tunnel under the road. Up above he could hear the sound of the occasional car passing. In between the sounds of the cars, there was silence.

Toby swallowed and looked around. There was nothing to be seen in the inky gloom. The streetlights far overhead shone a yellow glow over the grass and river, but the shadow of the bridge was dark.

Toby took a further step under the bridge, the water washing up his legs. His foot hit something on the concrete base of the riverbed under the bridge, and it gave. Something moved beside him … and shifted above him, and Toby instinctively jumped back as a wooden plank of some sort clattered from the bridge roof and splashed into the river. He had obviously dislodged something and the plank had fallen from above

There was a movement over on the field, and in the yellow glow Toby saw the thing that had been hunting him. It was hard to make out any shape, except a large, dark, multi-legged shadow that moved swiftly across the grass, heading for the bridge.

Toby let out a squeal of terror and scrambled into the tunnel.

His feet stumbled on bricks and other rubbish there, and the concrete was slippery too. He managed to get further under when he heard the splashing of something coming up behind him. He could dimly see the slightly lighter arch at the other side of the bridge, and he headed for it as fast as he could. His feet slipped with every step on the mossy and treacherous concrete; his few possessions were clamped to his chest.

Suddenly, something loomed out ahead of him, something man-sized.

There was a splashing sound, and as Toby continued his way to the other end of the tunnel, he heard someone clearly say, ‘No-one’s gonna take children from Kingston town. No. Not happening.’

Then there was a swoosh of air and a muffled crunch. There was more splashing, and a growling, keening sound echoed around the tunnel.

Toby paused and looked back. Silhouetted in the tunnel entrance, a black shadow on a grey background, was the figure of a man.

He was large and stocky, and had a plank of wood in his hands. Toby could see in the gloom that it seemed to have nails protruding from the end. The figure braced itself and swung the wood as a shape that Toby could not make sense of leaped out of the darkness. The wood connected with the monster with a solid thump and a sound like breaking twigs. There was a hiss and the creature rapidly backed away towards the far entrance to the tunnel. It had more legs than Toby wanted to count, and one of them was dragging behind it.

The creature lunged back and the man swung the plank again, missing the monster narrowly, his weapon swishing through the air.

Toby pressed himself to the side of the tunnel. There was a slight indent here, and a flat area on which to stand. No water went over this, so Toby’s footing was firmer.

He realised that he was still holding the newspaper in his hand. He hooked his shoes over his arm and pulled the matches from his pocket. The first match scraped on the side of the box but wouldn’t light. But the second caught with a fizzing flare, and Toby lit the top of the wadded roll of newspaper.

There was more splashing and hissing from where the man and the creature were still holding each other off. With a rush, something came through the blackness at Toby and he held the burning paper up in front of him.

He caught sight of a hideous mouth with fangs, multiple eyes and legs, and an alien intelligence, before the stranger took advantage of the distraction and caught the creature full on with the nails and plank of wood.

In the flickering light from his makeshift torch, Toby saw the thing convulse and shake. The man took another smack at it with the wood, and it fell back, hissing and mewling like some baby. Toby took a shuddering breath as it backed away down the tunnel, the water splashing around its legs.

With a final hiss, the thing vanished beyond the entrance, and over the man’s breathing, Toby could hear splashing and the cracking and breaking of the trees along the riverbank as it departed. The man walked to the end of the tunnel and checked outside. He paused, listening, and then, after a moment, returned to where Toby was crouching at the side.

‘You okay?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ Toby said. ‘I think so.’

‘Come on then. We can’t stay here. Gonna get you out of here.’

Toby allowed the man to help him up. He held out his hand and it was almost engulfed in a large paw.

The two moved to the other end of the tunnel on the far side of the main road above.

There was a low barrier there of wooden railway sleepers with a section of wire mesh above it. This seemed to be there to stop rubbish from flowing down river under the bridge, and there was indeed a traffic cone wedged in the wire along with some large pieces of wood and other flotsam.

The man moved a section of the wire, creating a clear path through and he and Toby emerged on the other side of the bridge.

‘It can’t get over the top,’ said the man, nodding upwards. ‘And if it tries to come under … well I’m waiting.’

He helped Toby cross the water, which was fairly still here due to the barrier created by the mesh, and the two of them stumbled up the bank.

Once they were standing safely on dry ground, Toby got his first good look at the man who had saved him. He was stocky, maybe just under six feet tall, but what intrigued Toby most was that his skin was black as coal. The man smiled down at Toby, his teeth gleaming yellow in the light from the road above them.

‘You OK?’

Toby nodded, and as his eyes took in what the man was wearing, he realised that he had seen him before. Even in the yellowed light from the lamps, Toby could see that the chap was wearing a crazy mixture of clothes, most of them wildly patterned and coloured pink, red and white. Slightly farther up the bank, Toby saw a supermarket trolley festooned with items ranging from a pink skateboard to a child’s brightly coloured pull-along luggage.

The man grinned again. ‘You got nice skin,’ he commented. ‘Gotta keep it that way.’

‘I know you,’ Toby said. ‘I see you in Kingston on the way to school sometimes.’

The man nodded. ‘Kingston, yes. I’m Moses.’

Toby nodded. Moses was something of a local legend. He was most often to be found in the centre of Kingston, sitting on one of the benches, or standing on a street corner, dressed in the maddest and craziest outfits. Toby remembered one that was all red and white stripes.  Moses was currently wearing a clown wig that was similarly patterned. Another time he had been dressed all in black, with a highwayman hat on … but regardless of what he wore, Moses always had time for everyone. He wasn’t a beggar, he never asked for money, but he smiled and talked and told everyone how wonderful everything was … he was a legend. You couldn’t see Moses without a smile coming to your face.

Toby looked around as Moses smiled at him. He hoped that the thing wasn’t going to come back.

‘Should we get away from here?’ he asked.

Moses smiled. ‘You can get away,’ he said. ‘You could.’

Then Moses seemed to stop for a moment. Toby saw his face crease as though he was trying to think of something important. His eyes darted around and narrowed, but then he relaxed. His lips parted in a wide grin.

‘Yes,’ the man said. ‘Let’s move away.’

They made their way up to where the trolley was standing. Moses reached into it and pulled out a bright red hat. He swept his hand over his curly hair and crammed the hat down.

Toby smiled. He looked so ridiculous that you had to smile.

Moses glanced at Toby. ‘You smilin’,’ he said, and his own grin returned. ‘That’s good. Keep smilin’.’

Toby looked back at the river tunnel under the A3. ‘What was that … that thing?’

Moses’ smile dropped. ‘That’s the bad thing,’ he said, suddenly serious. ‘That’s why I’m here, keepin’ a look out, and a watch. It’s why I’m an inventor and not a builder, why I know about the animals and the flowers and rhododendrons and people …’

His eyes clouded slightly once more, and Toby realised that Moses was affected by the battles with this dark creature. He was struggling to stay focussed.

‘Come on, Moses,’ said Toby. ‘Let’s get you back to Kingston.’

Moses grinned and took hold of his trolley. ‘It won’t be back,’ he said. ‘Tonight, anyway.’

He looked at Toby, again suddenly serious. ‘You shouldn’t be out. Not at night. There are … things … which you don’t want to meet or see.’

Toby thought of his friend Simon. He hoped he had got back home safely.

‘Come on,’ he said.

The two made their way back up to the main road. There were hardly any cars, and they walked together along the pavement towards one of the footbridges over the road. The bridge happened to be right by the flats where Toby lived.

Once they had crossed the footbridge, Moses took Toby’s hands again.

‘You stay safe little friend.’

Toby nodded.

Moses moved off, walking back along the road towards Tolworth where he could jump on a bus towards Kingston and home. Most bus drivers knew him and allowed him free rides. Moses, it seemed, was allowed to go wherever he wanted. As he walked, he talked. Even on his own. He was Moses.

Toby nodded to himself. That was only right, he thought. After all, if a town or a city has a protector, whether it’s someone from the comics like Batman or Spider Man, then they ought to have the freedom of the place for all the good work they did.

But sometimes, the person doing all the good work was unknown. Sometimes he was an apparent itinerant called Moses, who never had a bad word about anyone, but who lightened the day for everyone who met him. Someone who just made you feel good.

And who kept the monsters at bay.