Saturday, December 03, 2022

Review: New DOCTOR WHO books Christmas 2022: A Short History of Everyone; The Official 60th Anniversary Annual 2023; Origin Stories

It's been a little time since I've had a chance to chat about some new Doctor Who titles, so it's been a pleasure to look at these three titles, all of which appeared recently ...

First up is Doctor Who: A Short History of Everyone. This is actually material compiled from three earlier titles published by Penguin: How To Be A Timelord; The Companion's Companion and A History Of Humankind; but the material has been reworked with additional illustration and 'jottings' to bring it up to date and relevant for the 13th Doctor.

It's a strange book really: it's aimed at the younger market, so the layout is all handwritten text with notes scribbled in the margins, faux post-it-notes scattered about ... as though the Doctor has compiled all this information together in one place, complete with photos and drawings and sketches and so on, and it's just been printed! There's sections 'written' by Ace, and Grace Holloway and UNIT and Susan and so on ... All as though the Doctor has kept a scrapbook of everything as they wander through their adventures. And it's all very 'talking down', with quips and jokes and all aimed at ... maybe a 6 year old?

But there is a fondness about it ... it's busy and interesting to look at, quite diverting ... it's just all so young-aimed. I suppose in a way the show with the 13th Doctor was aimed far younger than the 12th or previous Doctors. The storytelling onscreen was simpler and the moral dilemmas more straightforward and in-your-face, so possibly this is where they were trying to pitch this book ...

As an introduction to Doctor Who for a young fan, it's pretty good, though lacking much in the way of meat. It is excellently designed and structured though, and the authors (Craig Donaghy and Justin Richards) have done a great job in trying to cover as many bases as they can. As always with these books, there's a focus on 'modern Who' ie post 2005, but there's a fair amount of Classic Who represented too with information on past Doctors and companions, as well as a handful of monsters who have not (so far) reappeared in the new series: Haemovores, Sil, Krynoid, Axons, Jagaroth and so on.

All in all, a nice little book which should be diverting for any young fan!

Next up is Doctor Who: The Official 60th Anniversary Annual 2023. Over the years the Doctor Who Annual has undergone various transformations. From being predominantly fiction-based for most of the Classic Series, to now being a photo/latest series-based book in line with the majority of Doctor Who publishing in the 2000s.

For the 60th Anniversary volume, writer and designer Paul Lang has pulled together as much as the 62 pages allow ... And again this is all written for younger readers ... using slang and trying to be flippant and funny all the time. Some of it works, but there's a part of me that really hankers for the adult-written but accessible factual texts of the past ... I guess the Annual is not the place to be looking for that!

There a history of the Doctor here, Daleks, Companions, Weapons ... that some items are missing is covered in that the 13th Doctor had her memory wiped ... so this is only the stuff she can remember ... it's fiction posing as fact posing as fiction ... very Meta!

We have Sontarans, Sea Devils, Swarm and Azure ... Karvanista ... foes of the Flux ... some puzzles and quizzes, a drawing challenge ... There's even a short story here by Jasbinder Bilan - 'Clara Oswald and the Enchanted Forest' (which is actually from the book Origin Stories! Nice piece of PR there!)

The Annual has always been traditionally the Christmas stocking present for kids, and this volume continues the tradition. Like the Short History, it's busy and there's a lot crammed in ... plenty to read and look at on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, some activities to do, a story to read ...  

As a celebration of 60 years, Annual-style, it's good, and Lang covers all the main bases. It's also gone up in price by £1 - the first price rise since 2009 - 13 years! Which is not bad going.

Finally for this selection, Doctor Who: Origin Stories. This is a collection of ten short stories (and an Epilogue) featuring the lives of some of the Doctor's companions before they met the Doctor ... Two of them have been written by the actresses who played the companion: Sophie Aldred contributes an Ace story, and Katy Manning pens a Jo story. It's also good to see credit and acknowledgement being given to the creators and copyright owners of several of the characters and elements used within the stories.

The 'Ace' story, 'Chemistry', kicks things off, and it's a tale of Ace at school where she invents Nitro9 and blows up the Chemistry Lab ... but the Doctor is there too as a chemistry teacher who helps her ... and then the Head turns into a monster and the Doctor saves her ... 

It's nicely written, but I'm not a great fan of narratives where the Doctor inserts his/herself into the past lives of companions before they met him ... that would do all sorts of harm to the timestreams as well as screwing up in-show continuity (just look at Clara!)! Sadly this meant that several of the stories in this book were not for me.

'My Daddy Fights Monsters' by Dave Rudden is a tale of young Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and an encounter with an alien 'Assessor' observing the Earth and trying to find more out about the Doctor ... At least the Doctor isn't in this one ... it's OK ... a little simple ... but something that could conceivably have happened in Kate's past.

The next story 'The Myriapod Mutiny' is by Emma Norry and features Yas and Ryan, again at school and again facing some alien incursion ... and the Doctor makes an appearance too ... but it's OK as their memories are wiped at the end ...

Then there's a Davros story by Temi Oh, a Sarah Jane Smith tale from Mark Griffiths in which she meets the fourth Doctor but then forgets all about it at the end, a second tale from Dave Rudden has Vastra telling a story of her early life to Jenny, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé writes about Martha Jones who meets the Doctor and then forgets all about it, Nikita Gill's story features Amy Pond and Rory, Jasbinder Bilan tackles Clara (who again meets the Doctor and then forgets all about it), and finally Katy Manning spins a tale of Jo Jones (nee Grant). This is more of a memoir - various little excerpts from her life - and she meets a time traveller ... but it's Iris Wildthyme from Paul Magrs' books and audios rather than the Doctor ... and then finally the Epilogue where we get another story from Dave Rudden which features the Master/Missy.

Overall this is an uneven and disappointing selection. Too many of the tales rely on a past, and then forgotten, meeting with the Doctor, and for many of these companion characters, part of the point of them appearing in the show was that their past lives were uneventful and lacking meaning: a meaning that travelling with the Doctor gave them. Maybe because it's aimed at the 5-10 year old reader this sort of repetition is okay ... the young fan just waiting and anticipating in each case for the Doctor to appear ... 

Conceptually a book focussing on stories of what happened to the companions before they met and travelled with the Doctor was perhaps always going to be a struggle ... either there is no story there, or they had already met (and forgotten) all manner of alien monsters and nasties, and of course the Doctor was there to put things right. It does have a beautifully composed cover though - sadly uncredited in the book.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Review: Doctor Who and the Daleks (2022)

Every so often a Doctor Who item comes along that when you first year about it, you scratch your head and wonder why ...  This was my reaction when I heard about this new edition of Doctor Who and an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (as it was originally called) being released by BBC books. It's a large format hardback illustrated by Robert Hack, one of the artists whose work has been seen on trading cards and in the Doctor Who comics and graphic novels ... he's also a fine fellow in real life!

So I wondered how they could make this work ... what a strange choice of something to release ... a book that has been in print almost non-stop since it's first release in 1965 ...

And yesterday I got a review copy.

And wow!

Sometimes a book just gets everything right, and this is one of those times. The size is sort of mid-way between a large format A4 sort of size, and the smaller Royal size that some hardback fiction is released at. But the slightly squarer format really works.

Probably my only complaint is that title. They have called it Doctor Who and the Daleks ... I would have preferred the original and more nostalgic Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks ... but that's just being picky.

The book contains the text from the 2011 reissue of the novelisation by BBC Books in their 'Target' imprint ... but this time, for reasons best known to them, they omit to credit Justin Richards for the 'Changing Face' and 'About the Authors' texts, and Steve Tribe for the 'Between the Lines' section. There's also nothing about Robert in the book itself (he does get a mention on the back cover flap though). It would have been nice to have seen an afterword piece from him on his work, the unused cover ideas and so on ... Neil Gaiman does get a credit for his superb and nostalgic introduction though ... which sets the scene nicely for the story to follow.

The real beauty of the book kicks in on the first page, as we are treated to the first of the many illustrations of a car on a foggy Barnes Common being driven by Ian Chesterton. This reminds us that this is David Whitaker's superb novelisation, which differs in some respects from the televised story ... like Neil, I have memories of the Barnes Common opening, the car accident, and the strange man with the everlasting matches ... and it's all here ...

Robert's illustrations take you into the story and present scenes as we move through ... it's all here ... mutations in the swamps ... Dalek mutants ... Thals being exterminated ... Ian climbing inside the Dalek casing ... and, finally, the incredible glass Dalek itself!  All rendered in gorgeous illustration which leap off the page.

If this was an experiment, then it really worked well! The book is beautiful to look at, and the story is one of the very best from the Doctor Who Novelisation range.

At £30 the book is not cheap, but I'm assuming that you can probably find it for less if you search - at the time of writing Amazon have it for £19.99 which is pretty good!

As a gift to give to a new fan of the show, it's pretty perfect ... and for us old nostalgists, it brings back lots of smashing memories ...

Top marks to BBC Books for this one ... and maybe we'll see more stories adapted into this format in the future!

Doctor Who and the Daleks is published in hardback by BBC Books (an imprint of Ebury Publishing). 3 November 2022, £30.00

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Review: Hellraiser (2022)


I'm a massive fan of Clive Barker and his work ... from the moment those first Books of Blood were published I was hooked on his imagery and sheer imaginative skill in spinning tales.

One of his first novellas was called 'The Hellbound Heart', and Clive adapted it himself into the screenplay for his debut directorial feature, a little horror film called Hellraiser way back in 1987 ... and the rest is history.

That original story laid the background and the groundwork for the Hellraiser mythos. That there were mysterious puzzle boxes scattered over the Earth, which could be obtained for a price ... Those who sought them were looking for the ultimate pleasure, the borderline between pleasure and pain, and the boxes promised this. However in truth, the boxes summoned demons from Hell, travellers in the paths of ecstasy and torment called Cenobites, who had used and scarified their own bodies in pursuit of the ultimate in sensation. They were masochists and sadists who offered the ultimate in pleasure, but at a cost. And opening the box summoned them ... and they would then take their victim with them when they returned.

The story followed Kirsty, who discovered that her stepfather Frank had been taken by the Cenobites, but that he was now trying to return to the world using her stepmother Julia to procure victims and blood to feed his revival. Frank will let nothing stop him, even taking his own brother's skin as part of his attempt to outwit the Cenobites.

In the story, it is really Frank and Julia who are the monsters, and yet it was the Cenobites, led by the regal priest, colloquially termed 'Pinhead' as his head was covered in pins, hammered into his skull in a geometric design, who grasped the imagination. A new cabal of original monsters, poised to take you to the edge of sensation, and then beyond into a hell of their own devising.

That original film is a masterpiece of imagery and horror. Nothing quite like it had been seen before, and it spawned two direct-ish sequels (Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth), and then a plethora of franchise spin-offs which steadily descended into the dreadful as the studio tried to make the ideas work for them. Sadly some of the scripts started life as non-Hellraiser projects and were then co-opted to try and make them work ... and it showed!

Now, in 2022, we have another Hellraiser ... and this is billed as just Hellraiser again, reportedly rebooting and restarting the franchise once more. Unfortunately, it doesn't really do that, and it's so distant from the plot of 'The Hellbound Heart' that it might as well have been assigned number 11 in the series!

The new production is very much a film of two halves. The first half feels like another of those random horrors where the Hellraiser mythos has been added to try and sell the script. A girl, Riley (Odessa A'zion), is a recovering addict (a trait which could have been used as part of the plot but isn't) living with her gay brother Matt (Brandon Flynn), his boyfriend Colin (Adam Faison) and a roommate Nora (Aoife Hinds). Riley and her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey) randomly break into a storage warehouse and find a puzzle box. Riley opens the box which makes a blade emerge, but she manages not to get cut by it. This summons the Cenobites who want her to choose another as a sacrifice ... Matt ends up being cut by the blade and is taken to Hell.

Riley and Trevor track down the warehouse to a man named Roland Voight (Goran Višnjić), who we saw in a prologue sacrificing another innocent kid to the Cenobites. They head to his abandoned house which has been set up with protective gratings in a very 'puzzle box' like configuration (though this idea seems to be abandoned/forgotten and they act just like normal protective gratings).

Riley finds Voight's notebooks and finds out the history behind the box and the Cenobites ... noting that victims need to be pricked by the blades for them to be taken!

This sets everything up for the endgame where the humans take refuge in the house while the Cenobites attack from outside ... and this second half of the film feels much more like a Hellraiser film ...

I don't want to give too much away, as there are some lovely visuals in the film. There are new Cenobites to 'enjoy' too, which continue the idea that these people have done these things to themselves in order to feel pain/pleasure ... however there is a rather nasty undercurrent of torture porn where the kids are taken and basically tortured by the Cenobites, and they never asked or wanted this to happen at all - they didn't even open the box! ... it's somewhat at odds with the themes of the original novella and film.

The Priest (Jamie Clayton), better known as 'Pinhead', here has been reimagined as female, but with a deep voice which gives for an interesting impact, and the character works well - providing a still point in all the horror and torment for some discussion of what motivates the creatures to do what they do ...

What is sadly lost for the most part is that people seek out the boxes for that ultimate pleasure. Who can forget the scene in the original Hellraiser where Frank in Larry's skin is literally pulled apart by chains ... and before which he licks his lips in pleasure and utters the classic line 'Jesus wept!' at the sheer overload of pleasure in what is happening to him.

In this new film, the Frank/Larry role is taken by Voight, who has a Cenobotic torture instrument attached to him which plays with his nerves, taking him to the brink of pleasure/pain every few minutes. He is after the ultimate experience, and indeed by the end of the film, he has achieved his desire.

So this new Hellraiser is an uneasy mix of unrelated teen stuff, mixed with a pot pourrie of ideas harvested from the first and second Hellraiser films. It misses out on the main theme of pleasure/pain in favour of making the Cenobites more generic monsters who will chase you and kill you (or in the case of the Chatterer, gnaw you to death!) which is a great shame and somewhat cheapens their initial concept and origin.

There's a really nice central idea with the puzzle box where it takes a variety of configurations and each means something different ... this could have been the central core of the film, perhaps where Riley has to outwit a different Cenobite each time, each geared towards providing a specifically 'Hell' themed interpretation of what the pleasure/pain/sensation divide was. It's a shame that the idea of the house also being a box was not developed, but then the house does seem a little like that in 13 Ghosts as it is ... so perhaps it was for the best.

Overall I felt that this was something of a missed opportunity. Pinhead arrives far too late on the scene, but the new look and styling works. The other Cenobites (Jason Liles as the Chatterer - aside from 'Pinhead' the only returning creature from the original films, Yinka Olorunnife as the Weeper, Zachary Hing as the Asphyx, Selina Lo as the Gasp, and Vukasin Jovanovic as the Masque) are interesting, though in some cases it's hard to see quite what has been 'done' to them which somewhat reduces their impact. They have names in the credits but there's little in the film to understand which is which and why they are called that. I loved the 'room re-configuration' effects which were very well done as the portal to hell opens to allow the Cenobites ingress. When the back of a moving van undergoes the same process, this was exactly the sort of imaginative reworking which was needed.

The new film reuses some of Christopher Young's melodies and scores for the first two films. A strange choice I felt, but it works even if it highlights how great Young's work was compared with the new compositions for this film.

Ultimately it's the lack of an actual plot which holds this new version back. There's a lot of stuff happens, and it's overcomplex, but there seems little narratively to hold it all together. The idea that the box needs to take the blood of the next 'victim', willing or not, and whether human or not, is a new one, and the film should have made more of the rich mythos that it was mining rather than trying to insert new themes into the mix.

Not bad as a horror film, but disappointing as a Hellraiser reboot.


Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Review: More Doctor Who Targets to Tickle Your Fancy

Ask any Doctor Who fan about the Target Books and you will most probably receive an outpouring of love and appreciation for a long-running range which has kept the Doctor's adventures in print form since 1973!

And they're still coming! BBC Studios through the Ebury imprint, recently released four more paperbacks under the Target banner ... all novelising recent or older adventures of the Doctor.

First up, there's two titles credited to David Fisher, who died in 2018. These are actually taken from audio versions of the stories that he penned in 2011 and 2012. The original Target novelisations were by Terrance Dicks, who adapted Fisher's scripts, and so these are Fisher's own take on the adventures he wrote. They have apparently been slightly tweaked for the printed format, but present two adventures for the fourth Doctor, as played by Tom Baker.

'The Androids of Tara' is a double-trouble romp, loosely based on The Prisoner of Zenda, where the Doctor and Romana arrive on the planet Tara looking for a segment of the Key to Time, and get themselves involved in robot shenanigans as Romana is the spitting image of the planet's Princess Strella.

'The Stones of Blood' is a somewhat different kettle of fish, where, looking for another segment of the Key, the time-travelling twosome become embroiled first in an adventure on Earth where blood-drinking rocks turn out to be accomplices of an alien criminal who is posing as a mythical being ... and then to a spacecraft trapped in hyperspace whereon two justice machines, the Megara, are pondering on where their prisoner has gone, and decide to put the Doctor on trial for releasing her!

They're both great romps with lots of surprises in store ... 

Moving slightly more up to date, and James Moran contributes a novelisation of his scripts for 'The Fires of Pompeii' in which the tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and companion Donna Noble, head back to Italy on the day that Vesuvius is due to erupt, and discover alien beings hiding in the hot underground tunnels, and a sect of apparently psychic seers who have unexplained powers.

Finally, Rona Munro, the only author to have straddled both classic and new Doctor Who brings us a novelisation of her twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) story 'The Eaters of Light'. This sees the Doctor, Bill and Nardole travel back to second century Scotland to encounter a lost legion of Roman soldiers, and an alien creature from another dimension ...

I suppose if the books have a theme at all, it's one of visiting the past ... but as with all the Doctor Who novelisations, these are great fun, and especially with the latter two, where the actual televised adventures were only around 45 minutes long, they slightly expand on the material and provide more background to the characters.

Audio readings of the four adventures are also available, with Clare Corbett reading 'The Fires of Pompeii' and Rebecca Benson (who played Kar in the televised story) reading 'The Eaters of Light'. Also, ebook versions of all four titles are available.

Monday, September 05, 2022

The Stranger in Our Bed - Available in the UK!

My amazing wife's debut thriller is finally available to watch in the UK from today (Sept 5th) ...

Prepare for Britain’s answer to 'Gone Girl'. Feeling trapped in her controlling marriage to wealthy husband Tom (Ben Lloyd-Hughes, 'Industry', 'Sanditon'), Charlotte Carlisle (Emily Berrington, 'Humans') begins an affair with another man, who one day mysteriously disappears without a trace. Behind her husband’s back, she secretly begins an investigation into the disappearance, teaming up with her lover’s sister Becki (Terri Dwyer, 'Hollyoaks') to uncover the truth behind what happened. It quickly becomes clear that nothing is at it seems, and after becoming witnesses to a murder, the two become entangled in a dark and twisted game of cat-and-mouse. With her life on the line, Charlotte must uncover what’s really going on – before it’s too late.

Also starring Andi Osho ('Shazam!', 'Good Omens S2', 'The Sandman'), Bart Edwards ('The Witcher'), Joseph Marcell ('Fresh Prince of Bel Air', 'Doctor Who') and Nina Wadia ('Bend It Like Beckham', 'The Sandman').

Directed by Giles Alderson ('Knights of Camelot', 'World of Darkness') and produced by Terri Dwyer for Buffalo Dragon, based on the best-selling book by Samantha Lee Howe.

The film is available on all digital platforms (including: Sky, iTunes, Amazon, Google, Xbox, Virgin Media, Rakuten) ... There's a lot of them about, so here links to a few of them ... but it might also be available elsewhere. We don't think it's legitimately available for free anywhere ...

There is no UK DVD/BluRay physical release at this time, but there is a USA DVD (which is USA Region 1 - so normal UK players can't play it) available here:

And the brilliant soundtrack by Ian Arber is also available for download here: UK:

The original novel is available from HarperCollins One More Chapter (

If you watch the film and enjoy it, then PLEASE consider leaving a rating or a review on IMDB:

But please don't leave a 10* review no matter how much you loved it as these appear to generally be seen as a red flag and are not taken seriously 🙁

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Curse of the Double Exposure

 Back in the olden days, when television was watched once and then you moved onto something new, there was no concept of being able to watch something again. Unless the BBC or ITV decided to repeat a show, you had one chance to watch it and that was all.  There were no video machines, and so the best you could do was to make an audio recording of a favourite show so you could listen to it again ... but a second best was to take photographs of the television screen.

I was doing both! From around 1974 I was recording DOCTOR WHO on audio each week. My dad had a decent reel to reel setup and he also had the technical knowhow to wire the system into the gubbins from the back of an old television and allow for direct recordings to be made of the tv sound. Some people had to hold a microphone up to the television and insist that everyone in the room be quiet ... but I had no such worries.

Then, from around 1975 I started to get into photography. and by 1976 I was out interviewing Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke for my fanzine. and then in 1977 it was fanzines all the way!! And the first DOCTOR WHO convention in August 1977 paved the way for more photographs and better kit!

Thus I started to dabble in taking pictures from the television set. And it wasn't as easy as it looked! First of all, of course, you had no idea whether what you were taking was actually coming out. A roll of film had to be completed and then sent off or taken to the chemists to be developed and only then did you know if it had worked or not.

Trial and error revealed that you need to slow the shutter speed down. Television (or at least good old 625 line television) is not comprised of a single image. There is a pattern of dots/lines and these refresh themselves every so often, so in order to get a photo of the whole image, your shutter speed needed to be slower than the speed it took the image to refresh.

Also, I discovered that a camera with a SLR system was better - you could actually see the image you were taking through the eyepiece.

Because you had to slow the shutter speed, you also needed a tripod to ensure that the camera was steady, otherwise blurred shots would result. And sometimes, you'd get some photos which were double exposed as you pressed the shutter when you saw a good image, but at that second it changed to a different image ... and you ended up with both on your film!

A recently discovered a load of 'failed' double image pictures from DOCTOR WHO and realised that today, with digital cameras and computers, there was no need to use a camera/tripod/film any more. Any image you want can be taken direct from a video file with a Screen Capture ... and of course you would NEVER get a double image this way - unless the director had done a fast cross fade so there was actually two images on screen at the same time.

So I thought, before I bin them, I'd record these images here. All taken with my SLR camera, on a tripod, poised in front of DOCTOR WHO being shown live on the television ...

I've probably got more somewhere ... so enjoy ... the accidental fruits of the lost art of taking pics of a live television transmission!

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Review: Late Night Horror: The Corpse Can't Play (1968/2022)

Being something of a horror buff, I'm always interested when something new appears ... and so I was fascinated when I saw online that the archive television preservation organisation Kaleidoscope were releasing an episode of a TV horror series previously unknown to me ... Late Night Horror. This was a 6 episode series, made in colour (very early for that) for the BBC in 1968, and then repeated once in 1970. All the series was lost (due to the BBC's policy of wiping tapes and destroying material which was felt to have no further commercial value) but a single episode was discovered in a private collection back in the 1980s, but then vanished into another collection, only to emerge again in 2016, where Kaleidoscope bought it, and restored it.

Now they have released it, along with a short book looking at the history of the show, and it's a fascinating glimpse of this series.

Continuing the theme of the restoration, what was recovered was a black and white film print, but technology and some brilliant minds have managed to use colour information recorded on the frames of the print to regenerate and recreate the colour ... add many, many hours of manual work retouching and repairing faults on the print, and you have something which could be transmitted again today - it's actually quite incredible!

The episode which has been recovered is called 'The Corpse Can't Play', written by John Burke, and is a neat little vignette set at a kids' party where the adults prepare sandwiches and cake while the kids run riot around the house, shouting and screaming and pushing and shoving. A latecomer is 'Simon' who brings the best present, but who is then tormented by the birthday boy ... and the ultimate results are quite horrific.

I enjoyed seeing it a lot, and it actually brought back vague memories of the tale. I would have been 7 years old in 1968 so I doubt I saw it then, and nor in 1970 ... but perhaps I am remembering the story from a print appearance - several of those adapted saw light in The Pan Book of Horror Stories and the original story, 'Party Games', was in The Sixth Pan book of Horror Stories (1965) ... so maybe that's where I know it from ... not sure.

The package from Kaleidoscope is available here:

This includes a DVD of the production (plus a feature on the restoration and a rather nice trailer for the series featuring Valentine Dyall as 'the Man in Black') and the book.

While the book is a welcome addition, they really need to pay more attention to the layout which is very sloppy and brings the whole thing down a notch in my opinion. I think, personally, I would have preferred a presentation in a DVD case, with the DVD there, and the book sized to fit inside the case too ... But that's me being mega-picky.

As a piece of historic television, this presentation is to be applauded, and I hope that other horror series could be found and restored to this quality ... Well worth a look if you're interested in television horror!

Here's the titles for the show ... in black and white and from a BBC Radiophonic Workshop demo reel. The music is by Dick Mills and appeared on the BBC LP Out of this World.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Review: Shark Bait (2022)

I love a good monster film ... and sometimes I think we don't get enough of them ... but this example falls back on a tried and tested trope: Sharks! Yes, those much-maligned denizens of the sea, who have a habit of being caught in tornados - or sharkenados - or terrorising innocent humans in everything from Jaws onwards.

Perhaps my favourite shark-menace film of recent years is The Shallows in which Blake Lively finds herself trapped on some rapidly submerging tidal rocks off a deserted beach as a highly intelligent shark attempts to snack on her ... and common with many of these films, the shark shows more intelligence than the humans it's trying to eat ... however with Lively, it might have met its match!

Which brings us to Shark Bait (called Jetski on IMDB, presumably an alternate title) ... another teens in trouble romp, where a group of dysfunctional kids on spring break - Nat (Holly Earl), Tom (Jack Trueman), Milly (Catherine Hannay), Tyler (Malachi Pullar-Latchman) and Greg (Thomas Flynn) - all with their own neuroses and sleeping with each other and angst and so on, head out to sea on a couple of stolen jet skis only to accidentally crash them into each other, leaving them all huddled on one ski, which of course won't now start. And one of them has broken their leg ... bleeding into the water ...

Cue the shark!

And that's more or less it. The kids are pretty hopeless and daft and you don't really care that much about them as they get picked off one by one by this shark ... the gore effects are realistic and nasty, and the water turns red on several occasions ...

Of course we have a Final Girl (I think she's Nat, but I could be wrong) who manages to outwit the shark, gets the jet ski mended and operational again, and heads to shore on some deserted beach somewhere - it's not clear where she ends up - but ol' sharkie is still out to get her ... even jamming itself between shallow rocks in an attempt to deprive her of her legs ... it's something of a daft scenario, and just how hungry must this shark be? It's already eaten four of her friends! Maybe it wanted some brains ... the one thing missing in this film.

Overall I found this to be a fun, but improbable, film. It's one where you have to leave your critical faculties at the door and just enjoy it - probably with some beer and friends. It's nicely made and the effects are excellent. The shark looks/seems real and it provides a tangible threat to the imperilled teens. Just don't expect anything more than a succession of deaths!

The only real issue is that shark attack films are very common ... and it's therefore hard to produce something which really stands out (as The Shallows managed). 

SHARK BAIT is released on digital platforms and DVD from 6 June 2022

SYNOPSIS: A group of spring-breakers enjoying a weekend in Mexico. After a big night of partying on the beach until dawn, the friends steal a couple of jet skis and take them out to sea, but end up in a horrific head-on collision. The group finds itself stranded miles from land and struggling with a badly injured friend. With no clear way home and predators circling in the choppy waters below, the true horror begins…

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Review: Demonia (1990)

What to say about this new Arrow release of a 1990 film co-written and directed by Lucio Fulci, he of Zombi 2 and The Beyond fame  To be totally honest, I've never 'got' why people admire him so much. The best of his films seem just okay, and the worst ... well ...

Sadly Demonia falls into the latter category. Apparently it was denied any release anywhere until picked up direct for DVD, and watching it you can see why. It opens with a scene of some nuns being inexplicably crucified in an underground vault somewhere - scenes which reoccur later in the film - and this is the most exciting thing about it! Then we cut to the present day, where archaeologists are exploring the area, and you think, maybe they'll find the crypt and unleash zombie nuns who will slaughter everyone ... nope. Instead one of the archaeologists, a girl named Liza (Meg Register), who has a penchant for looking upset and cross, and staring out into thin air a lot, and who previously fainted at a seance and saw a creepy nun, goes exploring and finds the crypt. She seems horrified by her discovery and starts smashing a wall down to get to where the nuns were crucified ... She's an archaeologist, so coffins and bones should excite/intrigue her, not horrify her ... and where's the 'preserving the scene' instinct ... completely missing!

Thereafter random people start to die by harpoon gun, in a meat freezer, torn in two in a trap in the woods, and, most hilariously, clawed to death and eaten by pet cats!  Seems the ghostly demon nuns are out and about and after some sort of revenge! Liza has been possessed or something, and so the archaeologists storm the crypt and set the remains of the crucified nuns on fire, allowing Liza's dead body to appear on the ground ... and the film ends.

Sadly it's slow and ponderous, and the narrative follows Liza as she mopes about, staring into space (the photo here is typical of her expression through most of the film). It's a relief when the killings start, but you do wonder how ghostly nuns could arrange all these deaths. In particular the one where the chap is ripped apart in the forest: nicely set up, and the gore is not too badly done ... but it's more laughable than scary. You just don't really care about anyone in the film!  It's been described as a 'nunsploitation' film which seems about right. There's an info-dump in the middle where we learn that these nuns had been having sex parties with local boys, killing them as they reached orgasm an drinking their blood! 

The Arrow print is, as usual, good, and shows off the cinematography nicely. The underground crypt is a great set, and the locations are scenic. It's a shame that the script is just not up to scratch.

For fans of Fulci though, and admirers of what is described as perhaps his last good film (I dread to think what the subsequent ones are like), this is a smashing restoration and package!

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Deluxe crucifix-style packaging featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Kat Ellinger


  • 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
  • Restored original lossless mono English and Italian soundtracks
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Audio commentary by Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci
  • Holy Demons, a video interview with uncredited co-writer/assistant director Antonio Tentori
  • Of Skulls and Bones, a video interview with camera operator Sandro Grossi
  • Fulci Lives!!!, camcorder footage of a visit to the Demonia set, including an interview with Lucio Fulci
  • Original trailer


  • Fulci Talks, a feature-length 2021 documentary by filmmaker Antonietta De Lillo, based on an in-depth, career spanning video interview with Lucio Fulci from 1993, conducted by De Lillo and critic Marcello Garofalo
  • Original lossless mono Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Review: Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils

Oh my word. There is so much to say about this episode of my old favourite Doctor Who ... it was so anticipated following the trailer at the end of the previous episode which revealed that the Sea Devils - last seen in 1984 and before that in 1972 were coming back!  The visuals in the trailer which then appeared were spectacular too ... but we've been here before: the show looks great, but disappointed in the plotting ... what would 'Legend of the Sea Devils' bring ...

Okay ... I think it was Russell T Davies who said, or expressed the view, that if you were writing a Doctor Who and you came across something in your story/plot which could be filled with something from the show's past, then why not use it.  Better to use it, even, than to invent something 'new' but which was, in actuality, exactly the same.  I think this was how the Macra came to be involved in the 'Gridlock' story. It seems that current showrunner Chris Chibnall both understands, but fails to understand this approach.

Original Sea Devils, 1972
He brings back the Sea Devils, great idea! But then changes several key elements of their heritage. (No real surprise here as the show has consistently, in its modern incarnation, reinvented and changed classic monsters from the past - I'm thinking Cybermen, Silurians, Zygons, Ice Warriors - and most often not for the better. In fact, even a modern monster - the Weeping Angels - were consistently evolved by their creator into something which their original 'incarnation' was never said to be ... so this 'development' for want of a better word, happens all the time. Oddly, though, Chibnall's take on the Sontarans in the Flux series was miles better and closer to the original idea and ethos of the creatures than anything previously in the modern series.)

For a start, these Sea Devils ... why are they called Sea Devils? That name came from a (probably) drunk, (definitely) shell-shocked rig watchman in the middle of the sea, when asked by the Doctor who had attacked and killed his friend. This is something that we might call 'Ice Warrior Syndrome' as they too were called that by a scientist upon discovering one buried in the ice. It's not their name! Ice Warriors are actually Martians! Sea Devils are what ...? We've actually never been told, although the Doctor claimed that the Silurians (a land 'cousin' of the Sea Devils) should have been called Eocenes as they came from that period of the Earth's history, and not the Silurian era (amusingly it is the Doctor himself who first uses the term Silurian to refer to them) ... At best they would perhaps be called Earthlings as they all come from Earth ... Modern humanity should then perhaps be called Holocians? As we live in the Holocene era ...

Anyway ... for the purposes of writing about them, I'm going with the flow and calling them Sea Devils as well.

These are Sea Devils from 1533 ... and possibly earlier. There's no information given as to how long they had been around and active. Again, from the earlier story, and with no background given in this one, the Sea Devils (and Silurians) put themselves into hibernation when the Moon, as a rogue asteroid/planetoid was thought about to crash into the Earth. It didn't and went into orbit instead (note that this is 'Who' history and bears no resemblance to real life history!), and the hibernation chambers then failed to wake the creatures. They eventually woke when disturbed by humanity's explorations of the sea bed and underground digging ... Potentially not something that was happening in 1533! So it's not explained why the Sea Devils were active, or even what they were doing in 1533 ... presumably trying to change the Earth's poles to create climate instability and to flood the place so they could take over again ...

And then we have the issue with the Sea Devils - the technology they have in 1533 (or that this particular group of them have) is at odds with what we had previously seen. In the past they used hand-held heat weapons to burn the undersides of boats, to burn through walls and to kill people ... The Silurians had a third 'eye' which was used to manipulate machinery, operate controls, and also to kill others. (It also seemed to be a flashing indicator of speech in 1984, but lets gloss over that!). In this story, however, the Sea Devils seem to have some sort of teleport ability, and gravity-nulling control (their ship can fly through the air! And they can leap enormous distances unaided). They also have electric cutlassses with the same blue light threaded through them - a little like light sabres I suppose. They also use something called Hexotoxic poisoning - something the Doctor claims is a Sea Devil weapon - except that we've never seen them use it before.  It sounds like someone remembered that in 'Warriors of the Deep' the humans used Hexachromite gas to kill the invading Silurians ... but that wasn't a Silurian/Sea Devil weapon, it just happened to be on the seabase. But they remembered it wrong and thought that the gas was supplied by the invading reptiles. No idea. They also have a blue device on their tunics which flashes when they speak. No idea why as it does this even when Sea Devil talks to Sea Devil ... maybe the race just likes to have things which flash when they speak.

Their control centre seems powered by some sort of green liquid, and then there's this gemstone which will reverse the magnetic fields of the planet ... not sure how it does that! And where did such a gem come from in the first place? The Doctor says it's Sea Devil technology ... They can also put a human into temporal stasis for hundreds of years, and then thaw him out apparently unscathed. This is at least in line with their being able to hibernate and revive themselves ... or would be if they were not reptiles and so actually able to hibernate and come back to life. Something that cold blooded creatures can do, but mammals would have a hard job achieving. But I guess we could assume that their equipment works on both reptile and human ... that is if they didn't treat mammals with disdain and as totally inferior - so why develop and test the tech to hibernate them as well?

The Myrka, 1984
So they've brought back an old, well-remembered monster from the show. Costumier Ray Holman and Monster-Maker Rob Allsopp made them look amazing! And they do! From the animatronic/CGI heads, to their amazing pirate costumes they are brilliant!  They even managed to get the voices almost right too ... just a touch more sibilance and they would have been perfect!  They even sampled the Sea Devil 'death scream' from the original 1972 story for when they were killed. A lovely touch. But they changed all the tech, and gave them little motivation to be doing what they did.

And then there's their 'creature', the huge and brilliantly realised Huasen, which emerges from the sea and attacks everything it encounters! Now ... in 1984 the Silurians/Sea Devils had a sea monster called the Myrka - which, frankly, was dreadfully realised, looking more like a bright green pantomime horse than any viable threat. So why not call this new sea monster a Myrka? It's back to that original comment that if you have something which could be from a past story, then why not use it?

Madame Ching
So ... we have our monster ... the plot. however, is a little all over the place. In 1807 a pirate captain called Madame Ching (Crystal Yu) follows a map to find a giant statue of a Sea Devil which is protected by a man, Ying Wai (David Tse), and his son, Ying Ki (Marlowe Chan-Reeves). She hits at it with a sword until a gem falls off. This gem had trapped the Sea Devil Leader, Marsissus (Craige Els), in stone for hundreds of years ... and now he comes back to life and goes on the rampage, summoning other Sea Devils to attack the village. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and 'fam' (I hate that term) (Dan: John Bishop, Yas: Mandip Gill) arrive, hear the screams from the village, and go to help. They trap Marsissus in a net, but he escapes and summons his ship (still there after 274 odd years) which flies in on the air ...

And the Doctor utters the phrase which probably got this story commissioned: Pirate Sea Devils in 19th Century China!

So Madame Ching is looking for the lost treasure of the Flor de Mar, a ship which sank in 1533 ... she wants it to pay a ransom on her sons who have been captured by other pirates. But no-one knows where the wreck is ...

So the Doctor and Yas head back in the TARDIS to 1533 to find out. They discover that the ship was attacked by Sea Devils and sunk - so they know where it is. However, returning to 1807, and it's nowhere to be seen on the sea bed. But then the sea bed falls away and the TARDIS is apparently swallowed by the Huasen which emerges from the revealed cavern.

The Doctor and Yas are now, suddenly and inexplicably in the Sea Devil base. So where is it? Inside the Huasen? No idea. But the Sea Devils have the captain of the Flor de Mar, Ji-Hun (Arthur Lee), captive in stasis, as well as the TARDIS. It seems that these powers come from the gem - to freeze light and time, and to transport matter - which the Doctor says is Sea Devil technology.  See my earlier comments! And IF these powers all come from the gem, then how could Marsissus teleport and fly and whatever without it earlier on in the story?

The Sea Devils' ship heads for the surface when the Doctor activates some lever to make it do that, and inexplicably they escape and swing over to Ching's ship, where Dan and Ying Ki have been roped in as crew. Not sure how they escaped from the Sea Devils though ... the missing jewel is around Ying Ki's neck, so Marsissus appears and takes it - he wants to use it to change the Earth's magnetic field and melt the ice caps!  But suddenly there are Sea Devils climbing up the outside of Ching's ship ... and they all fight. The Sea Devil ship returns underwater with the Doctor as she intends to destroy it ... and she's also angsting about Ji-Hun killing Marsissus - what about all the other hundreds of Sea Devils that the six of them fought off and killed, without a scratch to any of them!

Anyway, so the Doctor engineers an implosion/explosion sort of thing, but inexplicably for it to work, two cables need to be held together, so she tells Yas to get out! But Ji-Hun is there and he insists on making the sacrifice himself. So the others all head back to the beach before the ship explodes, presumably killing all the remaining Sea Devils on it as well as Ji-Hun - the Doctor doesn't seem so upset about this. She's too busy leading Yas on and making provocative statements about loving their time together and wanting it to last forever ... wasn't that what Rose said to the Doctor in 'New Earth'?

ROSE: It's beautiful. Oh, I love this. Can I just say, travelling with you, I love it.

DOCTOR: Me too. Come on. 

My overwhelming feeling having watched the episode twice now, was that it improved on the second watching as you knew which bits to try and listen to for explanations ... the sound mix is awful and the effects and music often drown out key pieces of dialogue, especially from the Doctor as she tends to gabble, her accent also getting in the way of understanding what she's saying.

The Doctor, Yas and Dan meet Madame Ching
However, it felt to me more like watching an extended trailer for a story rather than the story itself. Director Haolu Wang uses a lot of fast cuts between scenes with material missing which make you wonder what happened. Like one moment the Doctor and 'fam' are on the beach, they hear screaming coming from the village, and the next scene, Marsissus is caught in a net trap engineered and set and sprung by the Doctor and 'fam' ... there's a lot of this short-cutting in the episode, leaving out explanations of how and why in favour of action and movement ... which is fine, but you end up not really caring any more, as if the script can't be bothered to explain things, then why should you worry about it too ... 

I wonder about Marsissus and his Sea Devil pals. He presumably vanished back in 1533 when he was turned to stone and displayed at the village (and why was the statue giant-sized and holding a tiny human in its hand?) ... so what happened to the other Sea Devils? Are they all just incredibly long-lived and so sat around in their underwater lair, twiddling their fins, waiting for their boss to come back. Why didn't they slaughter the village in 1533 and take their leader back? And when Marsissus is revived in 1807, how come all the Sea Devils are suddenly there to take commands and attack and whatever ... are these new Sea Devils? Or the same as before? Where have they been hiding? Why haven't they been attacking and generally pirating while their boss was away ... and no other Sea Devil became the boss? No-one took charge and decided what to do?

The Doctor
There's other elements too which make little sense. At the start, the Doctor's earring is affected by magnetic fields out at sea - which can also apparently make rocks bounce off it ... so is her earring made of iron, nickel or cobalt? Surely it would be made from silver or platinum, neither of which are magnetic (but then neither are rocks) ... and if it affected anything, then why weren't all the things on shore drawn to it - why just her earring ... why not Dan's hook hand, or his metal trouser fly, or buttons, or anything made of a magnetic metal really ... It doesn't stand up to any scrutiny at all.

This theme continues with things happening which you just have to roll with ... yes it's all exciting and looks amazing, and the music is great ... but you need a good plot to weld it all together ... and this is something that Chibnall and his writers (this episode is co-written with Ella Road) seem to consistently miss. I have to say though, that as the Whittaker era has progressed, things have slowly improved in the plotting department. Her first season was pretty woeful, but improved in the second, Flux showed a lot of promise, but they totally dropped the ball on most of it at the very end. And now we have 'Legend of the Sea Devils' which actually has no apparent Legend in it ...

I can't even hand on heart say that it's some new modern way of storytelling, as series after series of other shows prove that you can tell emotional and exciting stories in a 45 minute format ... that you can care about characters and plot, and make it all work ... it's just Doctor Who which seems to muff it every time and lose sight of the importance of plot and character over flashbangwallop.

Finally ... and yes this has gone on a bit ... when fans are more excited over the trailer for the next episode, than the episode you've just seen, then it must be obvious that something is not working ... 

And a CODA: people commenting that I didn't like it ... well strangely I did enjoy it ... faults and all it rushed past in a manic panic ... visually stunning, some great performances, loved ALL the costumes and sets ... it's just that darned annoying thing called a plot that was lacking!!!