Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Passing Thought of Little Interest 2

You know what's really awful and jaw-droppingly amateur?

Well yes, Bonekickers obviously. Ok, and Spooks: Code 9.

But also the way that writers of Big Finish audios forget that Doctor Who is supposed to be real on one pretty basic level and that, therefore, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart would not introduce himself as 'The Brigadier' just because that's what fans call him (Minuet in Hell, I think), nor does passing mention of someone called the Doctor automatically lead people to assume that the person speaking means The Doctor, the interfering Time Lord, and not - for instance - a medical man who happens to be kicking about (Bride of Peladon).

Does no-one edit these things?

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Underwhelmed

As a Doctor Who obsessed boy there were a handful of Target novels that I adored. They weren't necessarily the best or the cleverest books, nor were they the most fully-realised nor the most fabulously well written. What they had though was a sense of huge scale; an epic feeling caused by massive distances in time and space. Chief amongst these was Doctor Who and the Underworld, a story which was not only set at the very edge of space where galaxies were created, but which featured a planet which had formed around a spaceship. What a great idea*, I thought at the time - I bet the TV version is utterly brilliant!

Foolish, idealistic boy that I was.

And yet, on the basis of the first episode at least, my recent viewing of Underworld wasn't a complete disappointment. It may just be that the CSO had yet to intrude, but I enjoyed episode one immensely.

Possibly a residual fondness for the novel meant that where others saw lack of interest and laziness in the acting performances, I thought the flat, emotionless speech of the crew simply reflected their 100,000 years of tedious life.

There's no need to look for excuses for others positives though - from minor things like MinYANS being pronounced differently from the MinYINS I expected, through the nicely underplayed links between the Time Lords and the Minyans (the fact that the TARDIS is recognised not by some computer analysis or by sight but by the wheezing of its materialisation sound is excellent) to the happiness gun and the regeneration machines.

I particularly liked K9 being used to run the ship (presumably the Minyans use something similar to Time Lord technology, hence the Doctor knows enough detail to hook him up on the spot, otherwise they could do that for every dodgy ship) and the Doctor figuring out the hull was getting thicker, like House diagnosing a disease from a oddly coloured fingernail and fondness for blue cheese.

It's not perfect and it certainly doesn't fulfil the promise of brilliance I expected from the novelisation, but generally at this early stage it doesn't fall down due to script or acting issues. There are some odd directorial decisions, which might explain why the director, Norman Stewart, helmed only one more Who and then asked to be moved back to non-directorial duties. Most glaringly, when the crew force the Doctor at gun point to order K9 to fly into the nebula the Doctor is standing right behind the robot dog and so K9 presumably heard all of the threatening dialogue. All that was needed was to have K9 slightly further away or out of earshot/sight line - presumably it's this kind of elementary mistake that critics of Stewart's direction have in mind.

Still, for all that I'd heard Underworld as 'utterly woeful' it had started pretty well (did I mention the excellent model work?) and I was looking forward to watching episode two.

Fool that I am.

Even allowing for CSO so bad as
to distract even me, the second episode is abysmal. Did Tom Baker fall out with someone just before filming started, because his performance is miles worse than in part one? It's still miles better than most of the Trog acting though, but as the story goes nowhere and looks so bad, it doesn't really matter. Twenty two minutes of apparently half-pissed performers droning out the contents of a leaden script, as their heads appear and disappear into the background. Really, who decided that the BBC could do CSO well enough to construct half of the sets out of blue screened photos?

In short, this is an episode of Who where
the best thing in it is the guards' hoods.

All the great stuff I remembered from the book - 'the sky is falling', the old guy trying and failing to dig his family out, then his grief turning to suicidal anger -turns out to be awful on screen. The Trog's resignation to their fates is accurately conveyed it's true, but only because resigned Trogs and listless and uninterested actors are harder to differentiate than you'd think.

And so onto episode three, where I found myself pondering on just how bad episode two must be when the inclusion of some lift muzac in episode three marks a major upturn in quality. It's a big enough upturn, in fact, to move Underworld back into the very low reaches of what are the majority of ordinary Who stories.

By this point I was clutching at straws and desperately casting about for something to cling onto - the Gravity Lift music is funny
, and there are a handful ok, one decent line: 'the Doctor has saved many fathers'.

Added to these two tiny straws, I'm willing to suggest that the Trog son's performance is really quite good - semi-comic at times and non-realistic, but it at least feels like a deliberate decision to play the part in that manner, which is fair enough imo. I could even point out that the use of CSO means a lot of the shots the director has to use are the same longish shots from either straight ahead or at a slight angle to the action, which is hardly his fault.

So much for the positives. The negatives still do win the day by quite a margin. Chief annoynace for me is the characterisation of the Doctor. First off he seems quite happy to see Alan Lake et al kill any number of guards. Possibly they're only stunned, since the weapons of the P7E crew and the Guards seem to fire the same rays (for obvious reasons) and multiple hits on Herrick don't kill or even wound him particularly badly, but that's never made clear.

Worse though is the Doctor's lack of
urgency in getting to the scene of the Trog Dad's execution and then, once there. standing back and preparing to watch the man being executed by way of the world's slowest burning material. Bad enough having no plan whatsoever, but doing nothing and leaving it to the son to save his father and then settling for grabbing a sword and waving it self-importantly around in the aftermath?

Other less jarring minus points are awarded for the other Trogs acting (again) and the laughably bad design of the Seers heads, which have something of the look of a metal Mr Blobby about them I thought. As for the slow and poorly shot 'running' battle through the corridors as the Trogs make their escape - well there's no way to ameliorate the culpability of the director here, sadly. It's just a very poorly realised series of shots.

God, there's another episode to go. In the interests of sanity I'll skim over it quickly. The Orcale features a bit, there's a couple of fission grenades which can't be defused and which the Oracle (fortunately) doesn't recognise, all the Trogs (about 35 of them in total) escape in the Minyans ship and the Doctor - the bloodthirsty git - is delighted to see all the guards and their families getting blown to pieces. It's one of those episodes where the holes in the plot, society and characterisation are so obvious even Russell T Davies would be embarrassed.

Thinking back the other Target novel I really, really loved was The Sun Makers which comes right before this. I still haven't seen that and on the basis of Underworld I'm not sure I should...

* Later nicked by Rusty in The Runaway Bride.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Two Plays

The Zygon Who Fell To Earth - Paul Magrs

Story

The Doctor and Lucie bump into Auntie Pat (from 'Horror of Glam Rock'), only in the 80s this time rather than the 70s. And she's married to an ex-muso named Trevor, who turns out not to be entirely what he seems...

Great Bits

* "I wandered lonely as a clown"

* Mimms the Gay Zygon with his slight stirrings of human emotion.

* "Palpate her cybernetic dugs"

* Auntie Pat not being fussed that Trevor is a Zygon and giving the Doctor a row for lumping all Zygons together

* "I've gone native"

* "Change your form if you're going back to reception"

* "Certainly not, I was always like this"

* "Or as you know him...TREVOR!"

Minor Disappointments

It's a shame that "Sting him, sting him to death" didn't end "sting him vewwy hard" like Life of Brian.

Major Disappointment that turned out not to be

And I was just thinking that the end was a bit flat with [SPOILER] selfishly coming back - then felt a right halfwit at the strangely moving final revelation.

Major Disappointment that you can only blame Nick Briggs for

This was going to be called Trevor of the Zygons, which may well be best Who title ever. Nick 'No Talent' Briggs pooh-poohed the idea however.

Conclusion

As a sort of sequel to last year's Horror of Glam Rock this fits comfortably into the first of Magrs' two basic approaches to Big Finish plays - the essentially light-weight and silly but with an undercurrent of 60s northern soap opera strand (I know that's quite convoluted for a 'basic' strand).

Full of whimsy and packed with genuinely funny dialogue, if you liked the earlier play you'll love this.

And with Tim Brooke-Taylor molesting a Skaresen, what's not to love?


The Boy that Time Forgot - Paul Magrs

Story

With the TARDIS stolen, the Doctor and Nyssa try to use a seance to get it back - only to end up a long, long time ago in the presence of an old, old friend...

Great Bits

* the basic premise of the story

* an Alternative Universe that's actually interesting and whose existence has consequences.

* the Cliffhanger to part one.

* "I've never been taken up the Limpopo. I've never braved the inhospitable bush"

* the names of the various Scorpions

* the way in which Nyssa gradually realises that the old, old friend is still an absolute arse.

* Andrew Sachs. He's very, very good.

Minor Disappointments

The sacrificial death of one character may be customary but I was still disappointed when it happened near the end of the final part of this play.

Major Disappointments

Actually, thinking about it, that death may count as a major disappointment.

Major Disappointment that you can only blame Nick Briggs for

Exile. Ok, so it has nothing to do with this but just how inept, juvenile and crap was Exile*? And the rest of the Unbounds were so good, as well.

Conclusion

It's about as unexpected a comeback as you're likely to get in Doctor Who, on a par with bringing Ivy back to Corrie.

And yet it works.

By turns funny, clever, silly, sad and moving this is the perfect exemplar of the second strand of Magrsian audios for Big Finish: the relatively serious story which plays about just enough with the series' history (see also the excellent sixth Doctor offering, The Wormery).

There's not much I can say about it without spoiling it completely (I may already have gone too far, I think) so just go and buy a copy and give it a listen.

Unbelievably, it's so good that it tempted me into getting the previous Davison audio. Maybe this could be the play to bring me back to the BF fold**?

* Whatever the otherwise reliable Rob says
* *I really hope not - the Classic Series figures are taking up all my money as it is

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

I've read well and I've heard it said...

According to Simon, according to The Big Read, the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books in their list. :

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you love.
4) Strike out the books you have no intention of ever reading, or for whatever reason loathe.
5) Reprint this list in your own blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve only read 6 and force books upon them.

Let's see how trashy my reading tastes actually are:

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling - for no obvious reason since they got progressively more badly edited and full of rip-offs of better writers
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare - a load of them at school
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime And Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - in Cyprus, on holiday
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown Read it, not reading anything by him ever again.
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones' Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Which makes 53 by my reckoning.

That's better than I expected (and there a couple n there like The Color Purple that I think I've read but I can't be sure) although several hundred books less than my count of Doctor Who novels read, which probably marks me out as something less than the intellectual creme de la creme.

Having nicked this meme from Simon, I'll now pass it on to Scott, who likes this kind of thing.
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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Combating Evil: A Primer

From recent watching of Doctor Who, some notes on defeating Evil.

1. Should you wish to lure an evil genius scientist away from his nefarious experiments just as he's about to unleash a monster on the planet, knock on his door. He won't be able to resist answering and while he's doing so your temprarily blinded assistant can cause havoc.

2. If you're concerned that one or other of the new friends you've made may be infected by a malevolent space virus, look out for the one suddenly wearing giant space sunglasses.

3. The best place for a mechanical dog in a music video is on top of a crumbly brick wall in the countryside. Don't ask my why though.

4. The likelihood of one of your companions having an exact duplicate amongst the guests at a country house party is the same as that party expecting a man dressed the same as you are and with a very similar name to your own. The laws of BBC drama mean that the man they are expecting will only turn up after you've left.

5. Watch out for Michael Sheard - he's never up to any good.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Passing Thought of Little Interest 1

There's a reason that Jaws is a classic. It's not the mildly laughable shark or Robert Shaw's bizarre performance as Quint; nor is it the head rolling out of the gashed boat or the literal fountain of blood as Little Jimmy gets bitten in two.

No, the real star of Jaws are Roy Schneider's wonderfully nineteen seventies glasses.

Seriously - can you imagine another action movie ever in which the hero wears such uncool eyewear?

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