Friday, October 01, 2021

Review: The Evil of the Daleks Animation

 

Long before we had telesnaps ... before audios ... before the novelisation ... before we really knew that much about the story, I loved The Evil of the Daleks. The main reason being that I'm one of the lucky ones who actually remembers watching it on its first transmission ... I was also watching Doctor Who when it was repeated, but strangely I have no memory of that second showing ...

The Evil of the Daleks was only the second time that Doctor Who had been repeated, and the first time that a whole story had been repeated (the first time, fact fans, was the very first episode, which was repeated the following week before the second episode aired, because power cuts had blacked out screens over much of the north of England the previous week - nothing to do with the assassination of JFK as is often claimed). But what a story to enjoy a second showing.

There is much history around the story: it was intended as a final swan-song for the Daleks as creator Terry Nation was trying to sell a Daleks-only series to America at the time (it didn't happen), it was written by David Whitaker, the show's first story editor, and the man who penned much of the Dalek spin-off fiction in the sixties, a new companion was introduced in the form of Victoria Waterfield ... lots happening.

The structure of the story is also superb. It's seven episodes long, so lots of room for characters and situations to grow and to breathe. The first two episodes are set in the 'present day', kicking off at Gatwick Airport at the conclusion of The Faceless Ones with the TARDIS being stolen by Edward Waterfield (John Bailey). From there we head back to 1866 and a country house owned by Theodore Maxtible (Marius Goring) wherein he has been experimenting with turning base metal into gold, and has inadvertently summoned the Daleks through a static electricity-charged mirror-lined cabinet. The Daleks have their own agenda though and have kidnapped the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) in order that they might help the Daleks discover what 'the Human Factor' is. Jamie is to be tested, and all the elements which go to make him human are recorded by the Doctor. This leads to a cracking and action packed set of episodes featuring Jamie and his new friend, the mute servant Kemel (Sonny Caldinez), as they try to find and rescue Victoria (Deborah Watling) from the clutches of the Daleks. 

From here we then all head to the Dalek's home planet of Skaro, where the Doctor finally meets the Dalek Emperor (voiced brilliantly by Peter Hawkins) and discovers that he has been duped - the Daleks only wanted the Human Factor so that they could distil its opposite - the Dalek Factor - the impulse to kill and destroy.  They want to spread the Dalek Factor over the Earth, and intend to use the Doctor to do that.  The Daleks have developed an archway which will impregnate the Dalek Factor into any creature which passes under it, and thus Maxtible is turned into a human Dalek!  The Doctor, as always, is one step ahead, and replaces the Dalek Factor in the arch with the Human factor. He then pretends to be controlled and arranges for all the Daleks to go under the arch, creating a rebel faction of Daleks which have the Human Factor within them ... and of course civil war erupts on Skaro and the Daleks, and their Emperor are all destroyed. 'The Final End' he whispers from a rocky ledge overlooking the devastated Dalek city ... and perhaps, at the time, it was.

Now, I'm not the world's greatest fan of the new animated episodes of Doctor Who. I find them hard to watch as those involved tend to take it upon themselves to change too much. When we have the audios, telesnaps and even existing episodes, as well as camera scripts, photographs, and the memories of those who made the original shows, there's really no excuse for this divergence from the intended look and feel of the episodes. However scenes are repositioned, backgrounds made bigger and grander, plot elements are changed around, scenes are cut completely, and even the audio soundtrack is changed to match the alterations made to the visuals ... all this is done, it is claimed, to reimagine the episodes for a modern audience ... and yet the BBC markets them purely as an animation of a missing story ... neglecting to mention all the changes, tweaks and editorial differences that have been applied. For me, I wish they'd leave the soundtrack alone, and animate to try and replicate the original product, and not to try and get all creative and to make something totally different.

All that said, The Evil of the Daleks actually works magnificently as an animation. I watched the colour version - I thought why not - they're not trying to replicate the original, so why not watch the colour presentation... The main reason it works so well is that the story and the soundtrack is so good. The actors' performances leap from the screen, and the animation - which is more akin to The Faceless Ones or The Power of the Daleks rather than the frankly abysmal animated episode of The Web of Fear - supports it and brings the scenes to life. The settings are well done, reflecting the original sets nicely, and generally speaking the characters look like their televisual counterparts.

I feel that the characters who appear earlier in the story come over better - Maxtible, Waterfield, the Doctor, Jamie, Kennedy (Griffith Davies) and Perry (Geoffrey Colville) ... possibly because episode two of the adventure does still exist and so we can see how they moved and dressed. The weakest is possibly Victoria - she doesn't look much like Debbie Watling unfortunately. However the character of Arthur Terrall (Gary Watson) is also weak - again possibly because there's limited photographs and no visuals of his movements. I also suspect that Terrall was included in the original scripts just to pad them out in the middle section. He seems to play no significant role in the plot, and the idea that he is full of electricity and magnetism is introduced and then forgotten - is he some sort of Dalek-controlled robot? No, as he seems human and has a Dalek control device on the back of his head ... but then why is he magnetised? It's an interesting idea which is never developed in the original teleplay.

In the first two episodes, unfortunately the animation team decide to pepper the visuals with little easter eggs again - this is including in-jokes and Doctor Who elements into the scenes which were not there on the original. This time I spotted the following:

- 'Hickmans' written on the cans of oil and anti-freeze in the warehouse (referencing fan Clayton Hickman). This is a carry-over from The Faceless Ones animation where the same thing appeared
- The posters outside the garage. Here we have 'Birdcage WHO' - I'm not sure what this is, but we see that John Smith and the Common Men is appearing in concert (mentioned in the first ever episode of Who), there's a Chameleon Tours poster (from The Faceless Ones), Izzy Sound might be a reference to Izzy, the eighth Doctor's companion from Doctor Who Magazine's comic strip, but then we also have 'Julia Xavia' with a photograph of the Drahvin Maaga (Stephanie Bidmead) from the Galaxy Four Doctor Who story. There are some other photos too here, but nothing I could recognise. Perhaps 'Dillon' is referring to Steve Dillon, one of the Doctor Who Magazine artists? No idea.

The music played in the Tricolour Bar has been changed - we should have had The Beatles with 'Paperback Writer' ... at least its removal and replacement is pretty seamless, so well done on the audio front. There were rights issues when the soundtrack for The Evil of the Daleks was first released and the track was replaced there with 'Hold Tight', by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. On the animation release this track remains. Maybe the rights issues persist ... 

Another random thing I spotted was that the clock in Waterfield's office always showed 4pm ... and other minor gripes are the Daleks' countdown clock for the detonation of Maxtible's house having the Dalek measure of time - rels - on it, and the window that Kemel falls out of during the fight with Jamie now becoming a door (a door to an outside sloping rooftop - very odd).

When we get to Skaro at the end of the story, the animation really steps up a notch. There's little in the way of visuals for these episodes - there are some lovely telesnaps (https://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/photonovels/evilofthedaleks/) - but the animation of the Dalek city, the corridors, and the encounter with the Emperor Dalek are all really well done. The Daleks too are nicely animated and move well ... I liked the various smoke effects and the way it was all integrated together. The final battle in episode seven is also well done, and while the TV version had to make do with toy Daleks and miniature explosions in the longshots, here we have proper Daleks, and it all looks the better for it - good example where deviating from what was on television works, as you can improve on what was originally intended, rather than just changing it for change sake.

I do have one further strong memory from watching the show, but unfortunately it's not one which is ratified by any of the telesnaps or other surviving material. It had an impact on me as a child though ... When Maxtible, and then the Doctor, pass under the conversion arch and are changed into human Daleks, my memory is that one of their hands was pressed to their forehead, while the other was outstretched like a Dalek plunger arm - thus they were physically pretending to be Daleks as well as speaking like them ... This is of course how we all 'played' Daleks in the school playground, and so it's possible that this element was picked up on and incorporated by the production team into the narrative ... or it could be my totally misremembering it.  What I do recall however, is even aged around 5, that it was a little silly to see on screen - that feeling is part of the memory and may be why I recall it. There's a point on the soundtrack when the Doctor or Maxtible turn around having been converted, and the watching friends express horror that they are now a Dalek - in my memory they knew this because the hand went up to the forehead and the other arm outstretched ...  And the reason for my explaining all this is that in the animation this doesn't happen.

Overall, this release really brings The Evil of the Daleks back to life. There's a black and white version of the animation on the disks, and the colour. There's also a version which uses the telesnaps in case you fancy watching that, as well as the usual making-of documentaries and photo galleries. The existing episode two is also here to enjoy.  All in all it's a great package, and truly cements in my mind that The Evil of the Daleks is indeed one of the best Doctor Who adventures ever made, and that if it still existed, we would be celebrating it along with other classics like Pyramids of Mars, The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Caves of Androzani ... all times when Doctor Who really pushed the boat out as far as scripting and performance and visual impact ... and all reasons why we still talk about, and enjoy those adventures today.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Review: The Essential Terrance Dicks Vol 1 and Vol 2



I doubt there is a Doctor Who fan alive who doesn't know the name of Terrance Dicks. He is synonymous with the show ...

If you don't know who I'm talking about: Terrance Dicks was a writer on Doctor Who (and other popular TV shows like Crossroads and The Avengers) in the late sixties. In 1970 he worked as Script Editor on the show, writing many episodes himself, and he continued to write for it after he left as Script Editor in 1974. In 1973 he was approached by Target Books to pen some novelisations of the show for them, and he ended up writing over 60 of the books! He was also a prolific children's writer in many other fields.

Many Doctor Who fans cite Terrance as the man who got them to read books, and he is universally loved and praised for his work.

I was lucky as a young fan back around 1976, to make Terrance's acquaintance through a fanzine I was starting up, and also a friend (Paul Simpson) who had already made contact with Terrance and who invited me along with him to meet the author! Thus began a life-long friendship with Terrance. I would pop over and see him and Malcolm Hulke (who lived in the next street) regularly, chatting about his work and Doctor Who. Terrance came to events that I organised and spoke and met other fans: he was a gracious and friendly man, always willing to chat and to share advice.

As I grew up and started work, so my Doctor Who projects became ever more professional, with books coming out from the BBC and Virgin Publishing ... then I had my own publishing house, Telos Publishing, and more Doctor Who projects followed. Terrance was always there, always at the end of the phone to help and chat about the obscurest of Doctor Who trivia ... he would call me sometimes with questions he had been asked, knowing that I would have the answer.

And then on the 29 August 2019, the phone stopped ringing. Terrance Dicks had sadly passed away. And an era came to an end.

Spurred by the love that the fans had for Terrance, or 'Uncle Terrance' as they termed him - I think 'Uncle Terrance' was seen to be trending on Twitter as news of his death spread! - the BBC ran a poll among fans as to which of his many novelisations were the favourites ... and these two new hardback titles from BBC Books are the result.

Containing ten of his most loved adaptations of Doctor Who adventures, the books collect some of the best writing that there has ever been related to the show. Terrance had a knack, a love of the material, and a deft way with words, which transformed the scripts into thrilling adventures on the page.

Opening the first volume, which includes Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen, Doctor Who: The Wheel in Space, Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion, and Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks, you are greeted by the opening line: 'Through the ruin of a city stalked the ruin of a man.' A superb and evocative opening which shows Terrance's skill with brevity. He can sum up in a sentence what others might take pages to describe. It's a rare talent!

The first volume contains a Foreword by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, perhaps a strange choice for the book. Indeed, the text itself provides no clue as to who he is at all - there is a short biography of Terrance on the back cover flap, but nothing more in the book itself. Checking Wikipedia reveals: Cottrell-Boyce is an English screenwriter, novelist and occasional actor, known for his children's fiction and for his collaborations with film director Danny Boyle. He has achieved fame as the writer for the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony and for sequels to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car, a children's classic by Ian Fleming. Ah ... and he also wrote a couple of episodes of Doctor Who in 2014 and 2017.

The second volume of novelisations contains Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars, Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang, Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock, and Doctor Who: The Five Doctors. The Foreword here is by Robert Webb, at least a name known from his television comedy work, but again there's no information in the book as to who he is. He also played a robot voice in a 2012 episode of Doctor Who

It's a shame there's no longer tribute or biography of Terrance within the two books, and no surrounding matter to support the reprints of the novelisations putting them into context (for example The Auton Invasion and Day of the Daleks were both written early on in 1974, while The Wheel in Space was a much later book in 1988). This seems something of a missed opportunity to me.

If you just want the stories, then at £25 a book, this is perhaps an expensive way of reading them - cheap paperbacks can be picked up online all the time (except perhaps for The Wheel in Space which is very hard to find). But as a tribute and celebration of Terrance Dicks and all that he brought to the many worlds of Doctor Who they are a lovely collection. 

Friday, August 06, 2021

Review: Doctor Who: Team TARDIS Diaries: Paper Moon

Team TARDIS Diaries is a new series from BBC Books/Puffin, and initially there are two to be bought (the other one is called Ghost Town by Susie Day). They are an interesting concept, in that the book tries to be interactive with the reader - not in a 'make your own adventure' way, but more in the way the storytelling progresses. They use a conceit that the book is actually printed on psychic paper and so can tell the thoughts of whoever is holding it ... thus as the story progresses it passes from a straightforward narrative to Ryan, to Yas and to Graham (with a nice sequence of the Doctor holding it towards the end) and you see the story unfold from the different viewpoints.

The 'issue' here is of course that the book is aimed at and written for 7-9 year olds, and yet I do wonder how many 7-9 year olds are actually watching and enjoying/understanding Doctor Who on television ... some of the ideas and concepts seem far above that age group to me ... especially the latter part of season 13 ...

As a short read, it's therefore typically simplistic and one-note ... The Doctor and her 'Fam' receive an invite to the death of one of the psychic trees who go to make the psychic paper ... and there they run into some pirates ... the illustrations are nice and are scattered through the book in the current style of works by David Walliams and similar and it's so light and fluffy that the book almost floats!

This current incarnation of Doctor Who just doesn't know what it wants to be. The BBC seem to want the show to be current and edgy and ticking all the right boxes as far as race and sex and 'right on' correctness are concerned ... they also seem to think it's aimed firmly at kids as far as the books and merchandise is concerned ... But then they present simplistic stories with a cute alien dog-like creature (Pting) which eats anything and everything (perfect for 7 year olds) alongside tales of machinations by the Master using creatures from parallel universes and attempts to combine cyber-history with Time Lord history which are so complex that even die-hard fans of the show have trouble putting it all together! Or tales of Dalek invasion which look at politics and possession of a very adult and disturbing kind ...

But then you have a jokey, smiley, quipping Doctor who dashes about with her 'Fam' in a TARDIS which looks cold and alien and certainly not a friendly home-space ... she grins and talks a lot, but does very little and has no gravitas ...

It's a strange dichotomy ... books for 7 year olds who have probably never watched the show, and if they did, then they probably might recognise the 'fam', but as to being able to follow the stories ... probably forget it ... and a show which seems to be made to deliberately alienate any fanbase it might have had, in the hope of finding a new one ... somewhere ... somehow ... but with no apparent plan or aim underpinning that hope.

As books for kids, though, these are great!

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Review: The Water Margin

Everyone of a certain age probably remembers The Water Margin ... it was an hourly serial shown on Saturday nights around 1976, and immediately before BBC2's popular double bill of horror films ... 

I suppose it's popularity arose out of the fever for 'Kung Fu' and all things oriental around that time ... popularised by the films of Bruce Lee, and David Carradine as Cain in the TV series Kung Fu ... but this was something slightly different.

Indeed, this was a 1973 Japanese production of a 13th-century Chinese epic by Shih Nai-an of a group of 'knights' who rose up against a corrupt government and overthrew it ... The original Japanese series was picked up by the UK, and translated into English by David Weir ... but not subtitled ... no, the original cast were dubbed into English ... and what was clever, was that they didn't worry about an exact translation. They looked at the lip movements and tried to match English dialogue to it, so that the whole thing came across as more naturalistic than a direct over-dub ...

It was wildly successful, and the series lived on in the memories of all who saw it. Now the whole series is available on DVD ... and it's the English dub that we all know and love ...

'Do not despise the snake for having no horns,' says Bert Kwouk at the start of each segment. 'For who is to say it will not become a dragon!' ... and thus the story is told.

Basically it's the tale of Lin Chung (Atsuo Nakamura), a captain in the Emperor's Guard, who is disgraced by the scheming Kao Chiu (Kei Satō) as he wants Lin Chung's wife, Hsiao Lan. And so he has her, and then banishes her also. Lin Chung is dragged off in chains across the desert, and eventually winds up at Liang Shan Po, a watery district far to the south of the Capital city. There he finds friends and starts to build a community which will eventually rival the government.

Along the way there are others who join the fight. Legend says there are nine dozen heros - 108 - who will fight ... and we follow the paths of some of them as the series progresses. Chief among them is Lin Chung, but also the female warrior Hu San-Niang (Sanae Tsuchida), Lu Ta (the Priest) (Isamu Nagato), Yang Chih (Blue Face), Wang Lun (Yoshirô Kitahara), Wu Sung (Tiger Hunter) (Hajime Hana), Shih Chin (Tattoed Dragon) (Teruhiko Aoi), Chu Wu (Ryôhei Uchida), Sung Chiang (the Good Judge) (Takeshi Obayashi), Li Kwei (Black Whirlwind) (Hitoshi Omae) and others ... all have parts to play in the drama. The cast is all over the place online with spellings different to those on the box set ... so please excuse me from not crediting them all!

What is good about The Water Margin is that it never gets boring ... everything moves along at pace and there are fights and battles along the way, and characters you like and can relate to. Lin Chung is essentially a good man, a man of peace, and so even at the end of the second series, he is reluctant to just kill Kao Chiu, preferring to let 'nature' have it's way ... but the series still ends on a good note ...

As enjoyable television, the show is superb, combining some great performances, both on-screen and verbal, amidst fast and furious action. The music is great also!

The English cast are mostly uncredited, but here is what I have been able to discern:

Michael McClain (Lin Chung), Miriam Margolyes (Hu San-Niang), Peter Marinker, Sean Lynch, David Collings, Simon Lack, Elizabeth Proud, Michael Kilgarriff and Trevor Martin. David Collings is fairly easy to spot as he also provided the voice for Monkey in the similar series of the same name, but others less so.

Here's a piece on the dubbing process: https://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/dubbing-the-water-margin/zvmft39

And that brilliant theme and titles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVVRMBWGBqw

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Review: Monkey

What a strange and memorable series Monkey is ... I'm sure many readers of a certain age will recall the adventures of the Buddhist Priest Tripitaka (Masako Natsume), and his travelling friends Monkey (Masaaki Sakai) (a monkey God), Sandy (Shiro Kishibe) (a fish spirit) and Pigsy (s1: Toshiyuki Nishida, s2: Tonpei Hidari) (a pig spirit), along with (in the second season) Dragon (Shunji Fujimura), a horse which can turn into a human ...

We've just finished rewatching the entire series, and so I felt a few words of review were in order.

The show originated in China, along with its soul mate, The Water Margin. Whereas The Water Margin was for adults, with more serious plots and storylines, Monkey was definitely for kids. It had lots of fighting, demons who were basically humans wearing furry hats and make-up, and who often as not had horns on their heads, and plots which presented the simplest of moral challenges for the protagonists.

Series One is the better of the two. Here, it all seems to take itself more seriously, and the actor playing Pigsy is better (he changes for Series Two for no apparent reason).

Why the show succeeds is in the dubbing into English. As with The Water Margin this was undertaken to try and match the words to the characters' lip movements, rather than being a literal translation of the dialogue. Thus it all seems to work, even if what they're saying isn't what was intended. This all reminds me of the dubbing of The Magic Roundabout, where the original French soundtrack was scrapped, and it was given a new English narration based on what the writer thought the story was about, rather than what it actually was. I have no idea if any episodes of Monkey ended up being about something completely different, but it's amusing to think they did.

Another thought that struck me was how the series prefigured all the Power Rangers shows, which also have a band of heroes fighting monsters and demons, many of whom have outrageous costumes and make-up ... there are a lot of parallels.

The English Dub actors for Monkey were as follows: Monkey: David Collings; Tripitaka: Maria Warberg; Sandy: Gareth Armstrong; Pigsy: Peter Woodthorpe; and Horse: Andrew Sachs.

You may notice that the monk Tripitaka, is voiced by a woman ... well he's played by one as well (Masako Natsume) ... but no-one ever comments or suggests that the character is anything but a boy! It's the British Pantomime tradition alive and well!

When we move into Series Two, several things change. The titles are different, and not as good. The closing title music is different, and not as good. Pigsy is played by a different actor, who is not as good, and indeed Peter Woodthorpe seems to give a different vocal performance to the character, again which loses much of his charm. Overall the show becomes sillier, more one-note and less compelling. The stories are all samey and generally involve a village being terrorised by Demons which the group have to try and defeat ... It's a shame really as the series still had much potential which was unfulfilled.

One thing I really enjoyed were the visual effects. Generally speaking, every panoramic longshot of mountains or lakes or whatever were models, with tiny figures of the characters in them, and the effects of Monkey on his cloud, spinning through the sky, and other such visuals, are superbly realised. There are such a lot of them too - the effects budget must have been quite high for the series.

There's surreal episodes too, like one where a small child has toothache, and so Monkey reduces himself in size so he can enter the boy's mouth and beat up all the decay who are singing songs as they attack the enamel! The effects here are again tremendous, and the sets and costumes suitably strange.

Overall, Monkey is a fun little series, which benefits from a rewatch. It's not quite as good as perhaps we remembered, but it has lots to commend it.


Review: Panopticon Destiny (2021)


Anyone fancying a delve back into the early days of UK fandom, and, indeed to the first ever convention dedicated to Doctor Who, could do much worse than to seek out these DVD releases from Reeltime Pictures.

The year was 1977, and a young chap called Keith Barnfather organised the world's first ever Doctor Who convention ... held in a Church hall in Battersea, London, the event was attended by about 200 fans from all over the country (and some from overseas!) who were members of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, under whose aegis Keith organised the event.

In 2017, 40 years later, Keith organised a reunion event, which brought many of those same fans back to the same venue to meet and reminisce and to see special guests including John Leeson, Mat Irvine and Terrance Dicks talk about the event and their memories of it.  The whole thing was recorded by Reeltime Pictures and released as Panopticon Genesis the same year.

Now Keith has delved into his storage cupboards, and found the original cassette tapes on which he recorded the panels at that original convention all those years ago. Back then there was no budget video, and no-one thought, or had the funds, to record the event for posterity on film ... so all that remains are still photographs, and Keith's tapes.

Thus Panopticon Destiny revisits the event with footage from the 2017 gathering, along with commentaries from various people involved to set the scene for the audio restoration of these tapes. The task was undertaken by Alistair Lock, an audio genius of some standing, who talks us through what he had to do to extract listenable sound from the murk and hiss and hum of the years. What he achieves is quite incredible, and you can hear Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker's replies to questions with clarity. 

It's incredible to think that this was the first ever time that the actors - including Louise Jameson - current producer Graham Williams, Visual Effects designer Mat Irvine, and writer Terrance Dicks, had ever been faced with a roomful of 200 or so fans and taken questions from them! There had been smaller events and gatherings previously, but nothing on this scale before.

There's also included on the DVD a panel at a more recent DWAS event - 2017's Capitol II - where Keith Barnfather, Kevin Davies and Andrew Beech talk about that first ever convention.

It's an incredible glimpse back into the past, and it's superb that Keith had the foresight to record - and keep! - the cassette tapes of the panels ...

The audio from that 1977 event is also presented on the DVD ... so you can listen again to those questions and answers from 44 years ago!

The DVD is available from:

PANOPTICON GENESIS: https://timetraveltv.com/programme/492

PANOPTICON DESTINY: https://timetraveltv.com/programme/500

Monday, May 31, 2021

Review: JNT Uncut (2021)

 JNT Uncut is a new DVD release from BBV, and I think there's some words of explanation needed to put this interview into context, and to provide a little history.

Way back in 1993/4, a chap called Bill Baggs was a big fan of Doctor Who, and, like many other fans, he decided to do his own Doctor Who on audio. However, aware of the BBC's rights position, he took the actors who had appeared in the show, and made his own adventures, calling them 'The Stranger'. He even named his production company BBV, the rumour being that people might mistake it for BBC - in fact BBV doesn't even stand for Bill Baggs Video as you might expect, but Bill & Ben Video! 

Baggs also licensed the rights to use various Doctor Who monsters from their creators and copyright owners, and thus we had audios featuring Zygons, Kryoids, the Rani, K9 (also featuring 'The Mistress', played by Lalla Ward), the Sontarans and The Wirrn, and written by people like Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Briggs, Lance Parkin, Robert Shearman (writing as Jeremy Leadbetter) and Pip and Jane Baker. Where he couldn't get the rights, he did something similar, as with the Cyberon - converted humans and nothing at all like the Cybermen ... 


In amongst all this audio and video drama work, Baggs also released some documentary tapes. There was an interview with Sylvester McCoy and others, recorded by McCoy himself as a sort of 'travelogue' when he was travelling to the set and location for the making of the 1996 TV Movie, which starred Paul McGann as the Doctor. Bidding Adieu was something of a coup at the time, and there was much interest in what Baggs was doing.

Indeed, Baggs had in many ways picked up the baton of Doctor Who spin off audio started by Briggs and Gary Russell back in 1984 when they launched their own cassette series called Audio Visuals, a range of tapes which ran until 1989. It wasn't until 1999 that Big Finish started releasing audios, again starting with Bernice Summerfield spin-off stories, and Baggs had very much paved the way for them to do that with his own releases, showing what could be done with the monsters and the characters when freed from BBC budgets.

Another project which Baggs created was a video version of a factual book by Adrian Rigelsford called The Doctors. The book was released by Boxtree in February 1995 and covered the whole of the Doctor Who series to that date. Unfortunately Rigelsford's research methods extended to making up facts, interviews and quotes from many who were involved in the show, and then using them to enforce his own invented narrative about the show, and thus the book was largely discredited once historians and proper researchers got to see it. However, the book was released, and Baggs decided to do a video version of it. The problem of course is that in interviewing anyone he could find, much of Rigelsford's 'research' was discredited ...

However, Baggs managed to pull together a creditable documentary, called The Doctors: 30 Years of Time Travel and Beyond which was probably most notable for the interview with Peter Davison, where the actor was less than complimentary about the show.

The interview with producer John Nathan-Turner presented on this Uncut DVD was also recorded for this documentary. It was recorded at a time when Doctor Who was no longer being made by the BBC, and the year before the TV Movie was released. Nathan-Turner was at this time no longer a BBC Producer, having left the role a few years previously. He was, however, still involved with the merchandising, advising on the official Video and Audio ranges for the BBC.

It's a surprise therefore that he agreed to be interviewed by Baggs at all, but in this piece, recorded down in Nathan-Turner's home town of Brighton, he seems guarded and unamused by everything. Baggs can be heard off camera, asking questions and trying to lead Nathan-Turner in to offering opinions, but the Producer isn't biting, and is giving serious and straight answers. He comes over as professional, considered, and, indeed, given what went on in the Doctor Who Office, generous to his colleagues and actors in praise and understanding of what they were all dealing with.

There are no scandals rehashed here, and I wonder if Nathan-Turner had half an eye on keeping back anything which might be of genuine interest for his own documentary or set of memoirs.

It's amusing, however, to hear Baggs trying approach after approach to get the Producer to open up, and Nathan-Turner blocking him at every attempt. This isn't to say that the interview isn't interesting ... it is ... and Nathan-Turner has a lot to say - he's not responding with simple 'yes' and 'no' answers, but with long and considered responses. He's just not dishing the dirt.

It's a fascinating interview with John at a certain point in time, which is why it's a shame that this is all that is on this disk. There are no sleeve notes which put the piece into context, there are no extras on the release - save some PR video for Baggs' audios and other current projects - and I have to say that the DVD sleeve is awful. With dark text on a black background, tiny font and poorly reproduced pictures, this just screams 'poor quality fan release'. However the quality of the piece with John is fine - Baggs however is very hard to hear, but then to be fair, his questions were never intended to be heard on the final interview anyway.

There is some further information on the interview on the BBV website: 'Bill Baggs first met JNT as a fan at the BBC Doctor Who Production Office in the 80's. He later worked with JNT on various projects. Bill conducted this interview as part of the BBV DVD 30 Years of Time Travel and Beyond produced in 1995. In the recording sequence of filming, Bill conducted this interview last in order to give John the opportunity to respond to criticisms from other contributors. The cafe where it was filmed was local to JNT in Saltdean, near Brighton where he was a regular visitor. When Bill first approached John about the documentary, John was initially resistant to take part, asking why he'd been left until last. However, once Bill explained the logic of 'save the best 'til last' John agreed.' 

It's a shame that this text isn't also on the DVD case!

If you are a fan of Doctor Who, then this is an interesting view of John Nathan-Turner, with the story told in his own, measured, words at that particular time.

JNT Uncut can be obtained from https://bbvproductions.co.uk/products/JNT-Uncut-DVD-p339234531

Monday, April 26, 2021

Review: Malevolent (2020)


One of the most noticeable things about the plethora of low low budget films on Amazon Prime and Netflix is the number of ghost and haunting-type screenplays that there are. I guess this is because making a haunted house/shop/lift/car film with a small budget is easier than most other sorts of horror flicks. I tend to think this shows a lack of imagination and ambition, and is perhaps insulting to classic low budget films of the past like Night of the Living Dead and Halloween ...

Therefore when you see a film which says it's about a group of so called paranormal investigators scamming victims with fake 'exorcisms', my mind immediately went to the cheap and rubbish setting. But in this case, I was doing the film a disservice ...

We chose this one to watch as one of the leads, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, actually stars in my wife's forthcoming film The Stranger in Our Bed (she wrote the bestselling book on which the film is based, as well as the screenplay). We've not yet seen the film ... so we thought we'd catch up on what Lloyd-Hughes was like as Jackson, the lead investigator ... and he's brilliant!

Malevolent, directed by Olaf de Fleur Johannesson with a screenplay by Ben Ketai and Eva Konstantopoulos, based on the novel Hush by Eva Konstantopoulos, starts out like many other Haunted House films: a group of young and pretty investigators looking into some hauntings, faking some results and then claiming they have removed the problem ... except it's all a scam to get money.

Then they get a gig at a crumbling mansion in which the owner, Mrs Green (Celia Imrie) claims there is screaming. They investigate, but Angela (Florence Pugh), one of the team who actually does seem to have real psychic powers, starts to see young girls appearing, but they have their mouths sewn shut. The house has a murky past, and Mrs Green was somewhat involved ...

This is then where the film turns on its heel and becomes something of an Eli Roth torture-porn-type film, with Mrs Green turning out to be a dab hand with the needle and thread, as well as with a hammer, a pair of garden secateurs, and other sundry nasty implements of pain.

If you have a strong stomach, then it's not a bad watch. There are some moments of WTF as we progress, with previously unseen characters appearing, and a confusing ending - I don't think the writer or director really knew how to end it ... or they wanted it to appear on those websites which explain the endings of films to people ...

It's certainly a step above other fare, with great production values, some superb performances from all concerned, and convincing effects. The cast also includes James Cosmo - and he's always worth the price of admission - but Celia Imrie, along with Florence Pugh, are the real stand-outs here - both holding their own as the paranormal erupts around them!

Friday, April 23, 2021

Review: The House of Screaming Death (2017)

We found this film on Amazon Prime, and with no expectations, decided to give it a whirl.

It's always something of pot luck with films on Amazon as they seem to have no quality control at all, and so many is the time that we've started and then failed to finish a film. With The House of Screaming Death, at least we managed to stay the distance, but it was a struggle.

The good points first. The title is superb. Except that when you watch the film, there is no screaming ... plenty of death though. Ian McNeice, playing The Architect, is superb. A quality actor, with a smashing voice which brought back fond memories of John Houseman telling the story of the fated smugglers at the start of The Fog. He acts as the Storyteller here, introducing the four tales which make up the film. The sequences are well staged and shot, and promise much ...

Then we have the four short stories which make up the film. And this is where the problems start. None of them are particularly coherent, falling into the trap of low budget filmmaking of having them way too drawn out and talkie. There isn't much in the way of action, and characters spend interminable amounts of time standing and talking to each other ... and the dialogue is often not up to scratch too. There are several anachronisms scattered throughout. For example, in a sequence set in 1974, one character laughs off that his partner is scared by saying 'I see dead people all the time', which is of course a line from The Sixth Sense, released in 1999. A better line would perhaps have been 'They're coming for you Barbara', from the 1969 Night of the Living Dead

There are also one too many stories here - the film is overlong and needed to have half an hour at least cut from it - so the first story, 'The Lady in Grey', where a voice-over narrator tells us a tale while a chap mopes around the house, should have been cut completely. It's the weakest of the four.

Next is 'The Witch in the Mirror' which shows more promise, but which falls down as it is so complicated. A stern edit could have sorted this one out. But the acting is mostly dire and stagy, and believability is a real issue.

'The Vampyre' is third, and while it seems modelled on an M R James-type scenario, is nowhere near as good. The effects are also poor - the vampire's make-up has unfortunate visible lines in it - and the talking ... the endless talking ...

Finally we have 'The Diabolique' which is another talkie tale, virtually indistinguishable from the others. So much so that I'm struggling to remember anything about it!


The film purports to be an homage to the great days of Hammer and Amicus, and portmanteau films like Asylum and The House that Dripped Blood. But the filmmakers needed to have a good close look at what made those films work: simple stories, a camp sense of fun, and an outrageous tone in the horror which presented true surprise scares and endings for the audience.

I suspect that no-one will be surprised by the end of The House of Screaming Death, except to wonder what it all means and why all the dead bodies are there ... It is, to be fair, a classic anthology ending, and McNeice plays it for everything.

It's always saddening to have to give a poor review to something into which an awful lot of time and effort has been put. I wish the filmmakers had had the courage to step away from their own scripts, and to take advice from elsewhere, or to adapt extant stories from the plethora of British horror anthologies which exist. A good script editor would also have been a boon here. However, I have to say that this is nowhere near the worst film that we have tried to watch ... there is a lot of promise ... and even getting a project of this scope completed is a major achievement!

One thing the makers did get right is the publicity. Looking online there are loads of teaser trailers, posters and imagery which promise something far, far better than they actually presented. A case of their ambition outstripping their resources perhaps. I hope they get something together to do another film, and next time, keep it simple, keep it fun, and get in a really good scriptwriter!

Review: A Cure for Wellness (2016)

This is billed as a psychological horror, and I'm not sure if that is 'code' for confusing and bemusing as that's the reaction that I had to it.

Directed by Gore Verbinski (who was behind three of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and the 2002 The Ring) and written by Justin Haythe, based on a 1921 novel The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, the film follows Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), who is sent by a financial company in New York to Switzerland to retrieve their CEO, Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener) who has decided to stay at a 'wellness centre' in the Alps. Lockhart's attempts are blocked by Dr Heinrich Volmer (Jason Issacs) and when he leaves the place he is involved in a car accident, and wakes at the centre, discovering that he is now an inmate himself. 

There then follows all sorts of strangeness, where the water from the local aquifer is given to all the patients, but it is toxic and makes their teeth fall out. Lockhart befriends Hannah (Mia Goth) who has been there all her life and she turns out to be Volmer's daughter, who he wants to marry - there is a 'cure' which they take from small blue bottles which seems to prolong their lifespans. There are also eels in the water which eat desiccated human bodies which are tipped in there ...

The explanation from Wikipedia runs: 'Lockhart discovers the transfusion wing of the spa is a front for macabre medical experiments, and that the water from the local aquifer possesses unique properties – toxic to humans, but with life-restoring properties for the eels living in the water. The baron had devised a process to filter the water through the bodies of humans and distil it into a life-giving essence; Volmer uses the patients as filters for this process.'

Thus Lockhart has his stomach filled with eels whilst lying in an iron lung contraption, and his body starts to excrete the 'cure' ...but Volmer has a fake 'face' - we see several, presumably replacement faces, growing in a lab - and the whole thing ends with the facility going up in flames during a ball for the patients, and then Lockhart escaping with Hannah ...

It's a long, confusing and confused film, although beautifully shot and edited. DeHaan is as one-note here as his next performance in Valerian, however, and you are never quite convinced that he is this trusted emissary from the financial company as he just looks too young. There's a lot asked of him though, and in the end he does acquit himself somewhat. Lockhart starts to lose his teeth, but then they come back again, and what about all the eels in his stomach? We never see them removed, so is he now immortal as well? And why does Volmer want to marry his own daughter? I suppose because she's the only other immortal that he can be with? Why do they capture and keep the CEO of a company, someone who is sure to be missed? And then do the same with the emissary sent to retrieve him? Isn't this just drawing attention to yourself?

And what's with the eels? And the poisoned water? It's all very arbitrary in its explanations and plot.

The film reminds me a little of Dario Argento's Suspiria in as much as we have a hero who is forced to stay at a facility where they are getting up to all manner of nastiness under the covers ... but here there are no witches, just science. It's interesting that Mia Goth went on to play Sara in the 2018 remake of Suspiria!

Overall it was an enjoyable, if confusing, watch. There's some nice material here, and, DeHaan aside, the performances are good. Hannah seems very child-like in her movements and innocence, but this at least is worked for in the plot and explanations. It's also somewhat overlong, and could perhaps have been shortened to when Lockhart realises his own fate in the institute. That would have been a bleak ending though, and one suspects that early screenings revealed that audiences might prefer a more feelgood ending ... and so they added another 30 minutes or so to the film as a result! I have no idea.



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Review: Anti-Life (2020)

Well that was something of a mish-mash of ideas! Anti-Life (which also seems to have been called Breach) has elements of Alien in there, and The Thing, and also pretty much any sci-fi film with Bruce Willis ... add in conceptual stuff like Earth being evacuated, Humanity in giant spaceships heading for a new planet, and you might start to get the idea of what Anti-Life is all about.

The problem with it is that there's almost too much going on, and stuff happens for no particular reason than to progress the action. Basically there's a ship heading off to a new planet, and Our Hero, called Noah (Noah's ark ... get it), played by Cody Kearsley, gets on it with his pregnant girlfriend Hayley (Kassandra Clementi), who happens to be the daughter of the Captain. She is put in stasis for the journey, but strangely Noah pretends to be a junior janitor and joins the crew who are to keep the ship going for the next 80 days or however long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, Bruce Willis is there as Clay, a senior janitor, who makes moonshine in the cargo hold ... there's also a worrying amount of some powerful acid-like stuff on board which eats through everything a little like the Alien's blood in Alien does ...

And there's an alien life form too ... not sure where it comes from but it's inside one of the crew, Shady (Johann Urb), and bursts out of him, exploding his body as it goes, and then infecting another crew member, Blue (Johnny Messner), who is nearby. Annoyingly the effect is cut away from and we don't see the monster ... in fact this is a common trend throughout, not showing anything until we get to the Big Bad at the end ... and then we realise why ... it's just not very good!

The alien infects person after person, turning them into zombies which then rampage and attack everyone else ... and so the thing spreads. The crew discover that guns and lasers and so on might chop the humans up into pieces, but those pieces then join back together to form a Thing-like composite creature which continues to rampage ... And then they discover that the acid stuff kills the human shells - melting them away.  So they use that ...

Meanwhile the alien collective has got into the nuclear power centre of the ship and has accelerated it towards New Earth - it wants the planet! So Noah and Hayley have to stop it!

The film had the potential to be quite good, but there's too much running around and shooting, and not enough of the monsters (apart from the infected humans, who drool black goo, have a tentacle where their tongue was, and scream a lot!).

Oddly, the whole thing reminded me of author Sam Stone's far superior short novel, The Darkness Within which deals with similar themes (human race heading to the stars on a ship, an alien incursion, turning the humans into zombies etc) but which handles them far more logically and cleverly than this film does.

Overall it was an enjoyable mess of a film, with Willis phoning in his performance, and the effects of the composite monster at the end being something of a letdown. Diverting, but annoying, as it could and should have been so much better.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Review: Love and Monsters (2020)

This film crept up on us ... and we watched it on Netflix the other night ... it's a revelation!

It starts with a nice Zombieland vibe with a narration and animations from our genial hero, Joel Dawson (Dylan O'Brien) who is living in a bunker with a group of friends. An asteroid has wiped out most life on Earth and caused reptiles and insects to grow to giant size and prey on the humans. In the bunker, all but Joel have paired up, leaving him lonely and with only kitchen duties to look forward to as he freezes up when attacked.

Joel decides that he needs to go and find a girl called Aimee (Jessica Henwick) who he was separated from when the humans first fled from the enlarged amphibians. So he sets off alone, armed only with his trusty bow and arrows. Along the way to the beach, where he knows Aimee is from her brief radio contact, he is rescued from a monster's nest by Clyde Dutton (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt) and makes a friend in a dog called Boy. There are monsters large and small and eventually he arrives at the beach only to find that Aimee and her colony have been 'rescued' by an Australian called Cap (Dan Ewing) ... but all is not as it seems.

What I liked most about Love and Monsters is that it presents a straightforward character in an extraordinary situation ... and just about managing to muddle through it all. There is a great deal of charm in the script by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson, and director Michael Matthews makes it all sing. The monsters are superbly realised. They look real and horrific, and move in ways which make your flesh creep. It's a marvellous tour de force of CGI and really does not disappoint.

As the film progresses, so much of it becomes simply charming. I loved the sequence with the active robot, giving Joel a glimpse of his parents again; the dog is incredible, acting so well on cue and stealing the show; the giant crab at the end, echoing what Joel had been told earlier ... and so on. Everything is worked for here, and the characters and the effects mesh seamlessly together to create a very believable narrative.

It's a hugely enjoyable film, with a nice feelgood ending, and I can see that it's one which we might need to return to.