Friday, September 30, 2011

Day 19 - Favourite adaptation of a novel

We've had quite a few adaptations of novels on British Invaders: The Tripods, Day of the Triffids, Hitch-hiker's Guide, The Invisible man, Gormenghast and Nightmare Man. And we will be talking about Chocky and Escape into Night on the podcast in the next 2 months. But the one adaptation that I keep returning to is the BBC's 1954 version of George Orwell's 1984.

Maybe it's the post-war austerity on display, maybe it's Peter Cushing and Andre Morell, or it could just be the whole atmosphere generated by a cast and crew doing it live with only minimal pre-recorded sections. Whatever it is the result is a gripping piece of black and white television history which you can watch for free on the internet. You can read my previous blog post about this production here, and you can listen to our podcasts about it here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Day 18 - The show that should not have been rebooted/remade

We talked about the rather fine BBC adaptation of Day of the Triffids back in British Invaders episodes 16 & 17. At the time we discussed the possibility of a remake and how the Triffids would probably be CGI. Well we occasionally get things right and in 2009 along came a remake with a stunning cast of big name actors and CGI Triffids.

And it was ... rubbish.
It was squeezed into two parts. All the stuff about the different models of society was gone. Eddie Izzard played a bad guy with no apparent motivation whatsoever. And it all became just a monster show with terrible, slimy, CGI Triffid tentacles grabbing people.

What a complete waste. Go back and watch the original which is currently £2 cheaper on Amazon as well.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Day 17 - The show that should be rebooted/remade

I'd like to see more Professor Quatermass stories but I have probably talked about that enough already. So I have looked back at the shows we have covered on British Invaders to date.

Neil Gaiman has said that he has more stories to tell in the Neverwhere universe. Apparently he has a half written novella called How the Marquis got his coat back. And like many others I would love to see more of Patterson Joseph as the Marquis de Carabas. And if Mr Gaiman is a bit busy at the moment then I am sure another writer could give us some new adventures in the fantastical world hidden below the streets of London.

Let's have some more Neverwhere.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

I'm fiddling with the template.

Normal service will be resumed shortly

Day 16 - Who was the best Professor Quatermass?

So many to choose from: Tate, Robinson, Morell, Donlevy, Keir, Mills and Flemyng. I actually really liked Jason Flemyng in the 2005 BBC live remake of the Quatermass Experiment which was a fun project to watch.

However I'm going to go back to the classic serial and to an actor who also played a terrific villain in 1984. And he was Watson to Peter Cushing's Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

My favourite Professor Quatermass is Andre Morell.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Day 15 - Your favourite writer

This is a choice between scary and funny, between the writer who has given me the creeps more than any other and the writer who has made me laugh more. Douglas Adams wrote intelligent and hilarious stories but I'm not sure that his best medium was television. The BBC adaptation of Hitchhiker's that we covered on British Invaders was good but the books and the original radio show were better. One of the books was so funny that I remember falling off my student bed from laughing so much. I could talk about Adams' work as a writer and script editor on Doctor Who but again I'm not familiar enough with that period of Who.

On the other hand Nigel Kneale was perfectly at home on television. Along with Rudolph Cartier he practically invented event television. Quatermass has had an enormous effect on British science fiction TV and his show The Year of the Sex Olympics was remarkably prescient for the future of reality television. Then there's his work on 1984, The Stone Tape and Beasts to consider. All with plenty of really creepy moments. Kneale's projects outside of TV like Halloween III were less successful but he was great on the small screen and is my favourite British Invaders writer.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Watchmen - The sequel is in the book?

Watchmen is the absolute definition of a graphic novel that crosses over into the mainstream. It is one of Time magazine's 100 best novels of the 20th century. Over on a podcast called Major Spoilers Dr Peter Coogan, who teaches Watchmen as part of a literature course, has been discussing an interesting theory. He addresses the question of whether a sequel to the book could ever work and postulates that Watchmen is, in fact, its own sequel.

The start of the theory is the text pieces that were included at the back of each issue. The first one is an extract from the autobiography of a retired super-hero from within the Watchmen universe. The extract is presented with image of a paper-clipped note that reads "We present here excerpts from Hollis Mason's autobiography ..."

The theory about the sequel arises when you try to answer the question of who is that "We". Dr Coogan goes on to discuss who within the world of Watchmen might have access to all of the back matter and might have gone on to publish their version of the events that led up to the squid-pocalypse that provides the dramatic conclusion to the book.

I won't go in to any further details, if you want to know the rest you can find it over at Major Spoilers. But it just goes to prove that every aspect of the complex multiple layers of Watchmen can be examined and new facets brought to light. One of my birthday presents was a book of critical essays about the book called Minutes to Midnight. I'm looking forward to exploring more new aspects of one of my favourite comics.

Bad movie bingo strikes back

I was home alone again last night and so it was time to play bad movie bingo again. And it was Pierce Brosnan time again! In fact I am thinking of sticking with Brosnan for my bad movie nights, there is a fair selection. This time Amazon took my £2.79 and sent me Butterfly on a Wheel from 2007.
Also starring Gerard Butler one year after "This is Sparta!" and Maria Bello, after A History of Violence.

Meh. I know, I know we are supposed to stop using that internet expression of boredom and indifference but really ... Meh.

Butler and Bello have the perfect life, the perfect marriage and the perfect poppet of a child. Do you think that something might be going to change all that? You would be right. And that something comes along in the shape of Brosnan who kidnaps their daughter and plays a cat and mouse game with them over 24 hours. There are twists and turns and nothing is what it seems. It's almost like someone listened to Talking Heads' Once in a Lifetime and thought the chorus might make a good movie pitch. "This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife. My God. What have I done?" (Yes I'm paraphrasing).

Brosnan playing a baddie is interesting I suppose, something he has done more of in recent years (Seraphim Falls, The Ghost) but here he is doing an accent. An "Oirish" accent, and would you believe he can't do a very good one? Stick to your normal voice, Pierce. Anything else is distracting.

Anyway, Pierce's terrible accent is not the problem with this film The problem is I just didn't care. None of the characters are likable, none of them. I didn't care what happened to any of them and because I didn't care all the twists and reverses were dull. Give us someone we can empathise with or don't bother at all.

One plus note: Nicholas Lea who played Krycek in the X-Files turned up briefly at the start and I got all excited but he doesn't stick around. Shame. If you get the choice between this and Death Train pick Death Train every time.

Meh. 1 out of 5 Joe Bob stars. Now on to Taffin

Day 14 - Your favourite audio drama

I picked the Big Finish Sapphire and Steel as my favourite spin-off so I'll go with something different here. I really like their range of 2000AD audios. I'm tempted to pick the Judge Death story because it has the fabulous Mark Gatiss as Judge Death himself but instead I've gone for a Strontium Dog audio drama.

Strontium Dog: Down to Earth has Simon Pegg as Johnny Alpha, Big Finish regular Toby Longworth plays Wulf Sternhammer and Jacqueline Pearce herself is the baddie. It manages to capture the mix of humour and action that the comic strip has and is good fun. In fact all of the 2000AD productions are.

Note to self, must find time to listen to more Big Finish.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Day 13 - Which missing Doctor Who story would you really like to be found intact?

The big danger with recovering a missing Doctor Who story is that it might turn out to not be as good as the collected memories and legends claim it was. The obvious example is Tomb of the Cybermen which wasn't quite as scary as everyone remembered it. However the photos that have survived of Marco Polo suggest it was a great visual spectacle and an early triumph for the BBC costumes department.

I know it would be the story that would most excite the legion of fans and they deserve a big find. Maybe some rogue Gallifreyan out there has recorded the transmission as it moves out in to space and one day it will be brought back to us.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Day 12 - Your favourite spin off from a TV show

Big Finish produce audio dramas based on several different TV shows. They are perhaps mainly known for their extensive range of Doctor Who productions but they have also done Sherlock Holmes, Dark Shadows, Highlander, Stargate and even 2000AD.

Recently Brian suggested we cover their full run of Sapphire and Steel dramas for British Invaders and they were really fantastic. David Warner and Susannah Harker are both fantastic in the title roles. There's plenty of good spooky stories and the whole cast, production and sound design are just very well done.

I haven't listened to as much Big Finish as I would like to but what I have done has all been terrific. If only time and money were no object. Anyway my favourite spin off from a British Invaders show is the Big Finish Sapphire and Steel audios.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Booty

Yesterday I had a significant birthday and I am officially an old fart. Here is some of my birthday haul from my family.

That's Attack the Block, the original Danish version of The Killing, a book of critical essays about Watchmen (soon me geek real good), Peter Gabriel's covers CD Scratch my Back, Land of the Giants (love a bit of Irwin Allen) and Nigel Kneale's The Abominable Snowman directed by Val Guest and starring Peter Cushing.

No shortage of good stuff to watch in the coming months. Just hope I can fit in all the British Invaders programmes as well!

Day 11 - Your favourite Gerry Anderson show

The possibilities are almost endless, so many to choose from. Gerry Anderson shows sort of define my childhood memories of television. The only other show that came close to them in my affections was Blue Peter.

I loved Joe 90 and remember getting the toy attache case that contained his glasses, a gun and some spy stuff. My brothers and I used to turn our climbing frame into all of the Thunderbirds vehicles. I can even just about recall Fireball XL5 with Robert the Robot and that catchy theme song. As an aside it was nice to see Robert turning up recently in Richard Sargent's "Where's WALL-E?" poster.

There are also his live action series like UFO and Space:1999 to consider but I think it's going to have to be one of the supermarionation shows. It's a struggle to choose between Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet but I'm going to go with the show that sent me a Spectrum membership card (I wish I still had that). And it has my favourite end credits sequence of all time. My favourite Gerry Anderson show is Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rise of the planet of the motion captured sprites

My Planet of the Apes marathon finished yesterday when I paid my £6.35 and sat in an empty cinema to watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
All the fanboy stuff first. There are lots of nods to the original film, the Statue of Liberty is in there along with all the famous lines and clips of old Charlton Heston films are showing on TV screens in the background. Draco Malfoy gets to be a bad guy again and his character is named after the other two astronauts from Planet of the Apes. There's also the nice touch of background news items about a manned mission to Mars and suggestions that the spacecraft is missing. Plus the planet of the apes font is used for the titles.

I thought that the writer did a good job establishing that the virus that increases ape intelligence is also the cause of the disaster which presumably send humans back to the stone age. This is not quite the apocalypse that Taylor thinks has happened by the end of the original film but it still fits. However it makes no sense for the four sequels, not that it sets out to.

The performance capture of Andy Serkis playing the part of Caesar is very impressive, or at least it is when he's not moving about much. There is the usual problem of CGI and fast movement, the apes don't seem to have any weight when they are making their huge leaps. But the close up stuff is fairly impressive, especially in the baleful malevolence of Serkis as Caesar.

The science in the movie is a bit dodgy. If James Franco's character really had developed a drug that could reverse Alzheimer's disease for even 5 years then it would be worth millions and he wouldn't keep it to himself. There is also a lot of confusion about genetics, the scientists in the film should remember the work of Lamarck on the inheritance of acquired characteristics. They do fudge the issue a bit by suggesting that the virus affects genes so it could be passed on to some extent.

Overall it was an enjoyable romp. It's been a box office success so I guess we will be seeing a sequel. For the time being however my apes marathon is over.
All that remains for me to say is "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"

Day 10 - The show you don’t get but everybody else seems to love

Another dangerous confession. I don't get Torchwood. I know it's great to have a spin off from Doctor Who that's so successful. And the characters of Captain Jack and Gwen Cooper are interesting. But I've never really got into the show. The only season I liked was Children of Earth which had creepy villains and a shocker of an ending.

I started watching Miracle Day and gave it five episodes and I was bored. Then when I found out that was only the half way point I just chucked it in. I've got other better stuff to be watching.

Somebody had better explain it to me, I just don't get Torchwood.

By the way I'm pretty sure I've got an early 80s electro-pop album with that band on the cover.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Day 9 - The most underrated show

Tricky one today. The problem is that most of the shows I think are great, so does everyone else. I've looked back at the 50 different shows we have covered on British Invaders so far and tried to pick out something that didn't get a lot of attention, had a short run and really could have sustained more episodes. Eleventh Hour with Patrick Stewart and Ashley Jensen only got 4 episodes. It did go on to get a longer American remake version but that wasn't great. The original was the nearest thing we had to a new version of Quatermass. I'd like to see some more but the two leads are probably too busy doing other bigger things.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Buried under a swamp.

From my favourite issue of Sandman to my favourite issue of Swamp Thing. This is The Saga of the Swamp Thing issue 28 from September 1984 by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben.
A quick recap. Swamp Thing was a comic about a scientist called Alec Holland who was working on a secret formula (aren't they always?). An explosion in his laboratory blew his wrecked body into a Louisiana swamp where the "bio-restorative" formula transformed him into the shambling, muck monster of the title.

Then Alan Moore took over the book and changed all that. Holland was still blasted into a swamp but he died. Somehow his consciousness infected the vegetation which transformed into a shambling, plant creature that thought it was man but then discovered it was not.

The story in this issue is a sort of breathing space, a pause after the first two horror story arcs which had seen the newly aware Swamp Thing battle a maniac and two demons. Swampy is having a quiet, contemplative moment when he starts to see what appears to be Holland's ghost. This vision leads him through the swamp and back to the house where it all began, this allows Moore to do some flashback scenes and to tell the origin story yet again. After the first 8 issues the buzz on this comic was starting to spread so this would have been a good jumping on point for new readers.

As the story continues the new Swamp Thing watches as Holland is cast into the mire and then sees his former self rise all shiny, fresh and new from the depths. As he tries to communicate with the ghost of his original form he eventually realises that he has a task to perform. What follows is another quiet and moving sequence as Swamp Thing retrieves the final remains of the man he thought he was. Shaun McManus was the artist on this issue and his gentler, more cartoony artwork really suits the mood. Totleben and Bissette's work was creepy and suited the horror stories but McManus produced 2 great issues, this one and another story called Pog that is also well remembered by fans.

In September 1984 I was studying for medical finals, working on the wards and somehow still finding time to track down these issues. I remember being totally caught up in the story telling. This calm and gentle story was  a fantastic diversion from the weird world of medicine.

Day 8 - The best DVD set you own

So here's the thing - I have had a major decluttering of late. Very few books, DVDs and CDs have made the cut. Most of the stuff that I watch for British Invaders doesn't get kept. I sell them on Amazon marketplace which in turn funds my new purchases. So choosing the best DVD set that I own is picking from a limited field. I could talk about the best DVD extras and so on but instead I have gone for a set that just looks nice. Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
Any listeners to the British Invaders podcast will notice that we haven't covered this show yet so this may be a bit of a spoiler for the future. Anyway it looks very good on the shelf, mainly because the ends of each separate DVD case unite to form this symbol which always gives me a frisson of excitement whenever I walk past it.
I have, as Larry Nightingale said, got that on a t-shirt.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bring me a dream

The Sandman number 73 from 1995. Written by Neil Gaiman, with art by Michael Zulli and colours by Daniel Vozzo.
This may be my favourite issue from Neil Gaiman's 75 issue Sandman comic. A series that, like Watchmen, V for Vendetta and Miracleman, I can proudly say that I was there from the beginning to the end. How can I sum up what Sandman is about? In a nutshell the King of Dreams is captured and held prisoner for 70 years. After he escapes he has to deal with his family, his loves and his kingdom. Along the way it is established that as a result of a bet between Dream and his sister Death a human called Robert Gadling has become immortal and meets up with Dream once every 100 years. They have also become friends.

This issue was part of the last story arc called the Wake. Gadling and his girlfriend visit an American Renaissance fair where she is one of the costumed participants. There is a fair bit of humour about Gadling's comments about the real middle ages and renaissance that he actually lived through. Then his girlfriend goes off to do her dressing up part while he gets drunk and falls asleep in a barn. He is then visited by Death, who in the comic is portrayed as a pretty, young woman who dresses as a goth. She confirms what Gadling had already suspected, that Dream has died.

And that's pretty much it, but the whole thing has a lovely, elegiac feel to it. It's a book about someone mourning the death of a close friend. It looks beautiful, it feels terribly sad and yet is also raises a smile in the same way that thinking about an old friend can. The whole series is really worth reading but this last story arc may be the most powerful of them all.

Day 7 - The show that really needs to be released on DVD

When I was bringing together the list of questions for this challenge on the British Invaders facebook page I thought I knew the answer for this one already. Nigel Kneale and Rudoph Cartier's adaptation of Orwell's 1984 was one of the gems we discovered doing the podcast. It is still available to watch on the internet but we thought it deserved a DVD release. Then Gordon Iain Aitken pointed out that one already exists.

So instead I turn to another show we covered recently. Doomwatch was a flagship programme for the BBC in the 1970s. It covered important issues in a serious way and is very well remembered. The title has even become a phrase to describe any environmental watchdog. 23 of the original 38 episodes still exist, plus another that was never broadcast. There's a Cult of Doomwatch documentary that would fit well on the DVD extras. I can only presume that some rights problems prevent its release. Maybe Doomwatch.org have the answer.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Animal!

Back issue browsing again. This is Animal Man #26 by Grant Morrison with art by Chris Truog and Mark Farmer.
So here is the route to success as a comic book writer: start out as a Brit writing for 2000AD, then go to America and get an obscure DC character, do something completely new with the book and then rock star fame awaits you.. Alan Moore did it with Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman did it with Sandman and here is Grant Morrison coming to the end of his 26 issue run on Animal Man.

The story here is, well there isn't really a story. This issue is a conversation between the writer and his character. Buddy Baker is the animal powered hero of the title who has crashed through into Morrison's real world, or vice versa. The result is the sort of bizarre story that Morrison has became infamous for. The author tells his character that he's not real and that everything that happens to him is made up, and Baker insists again and again that everything that has happened to him including the recent deaths of his family is all painfully real. Morrison punctuates this talk fest by having colourful costumed villains turn up from time to time to beat up Animal Man while the author turns to the camera and speaks directly to the readers.

It is all very Meta, as they say in post-modern literary circles. Morrison's run on Animal Man was pretty interesting stuff including one very famous and weird story called the Coyote Gospel. At the end of this particular issue Morrison is kind enough to the next writer to press the reset button and gives his successor a clean sheet. For some reason I have kept just this single issue from the run. The bizarre concept must have impressed me at the time.

Day 6 - Your worst show

Some shows from childhood can be revisited to rediscover old pleasures, and some shows should be left locked in the vault of memory with the key thrown away. I had fond memories of The Tomorrow People, I know I used to like the characters' trendy attire. Obviously I envied their special powers, who can go through adolescence and not hope that they might have some secret ability that would make them stand out from the crowd. And yes, I know that I stood in the playground with my thumbs tucked behind my belt and imagined I could "jaunt" to anywhere I wanted.

So I was keen to get hold of the box set for British Invaders but Oh, the disappointment. Let me be kind and say simply that The Tomorrow People has not aged well. The 70s fashions, the stories, the special effects and most of all the acting. Actually I'm not sure that I can be all that kind, The Tomorrow People is shockingly bad.

Terrible scripts, robots and creatures made of bits of washing up bottles that wouldn't even have got in to the top three of a Blue Peter competition, and child actors who start out bad and get worse! I confess I wasn't able to watch the whole series. It was too painful - not least because I realised that as a young teenager I had terrible taste!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Compressed storytelling

This Amazing Spider-Man #33 from February 1966 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The Final Chapter!

Wow! I mean just Wow!

I know exactly where I got this issue - eBay, and I know why I got it. In 2007 Jonathan Ross made a TV documentary called In search of Steve Ditko in which he recounted his own childhood love for Ditko's comic books. Ross and Neil Gaiman travelled to New York to track down the notoriously reclusive Ditko, they find him but he declines their request for an on-camera interview. It's well known that many of the early Spider-Man stories were plotted by Ditko with Stan Lee providing ideas and then adding dialogue to Ditko's pages. In the documentary Gaiman describes this particular issue and suggests it is one of the top five greatest super-hero moments, maybe even the greatest.

When he was discussing this story I was taken back to when I read it in the black and white Marvel UK reprints in the 1970s. Next thing I knew I was bidding for an issue on eBay and here it is. The story in a nutshell is that Aunt May is sick and only a special serum can save her if Spider-Man can get it to Dr Curt Connors in time. But Doctor Octopus has the serum in his underwater lair and as this issue begins Spidey has been trapped under a huge piece of machinery while the damaged roof begins to leak and the serum lies just out of reach. The situation is grim and Spider-Man is on the point of giving up. However he finds hidden strength and overcomes adversity in a series of gripping Ditko panels that culminate in a glorious full page image of triumph. To be honest it doesn't really need the Stan the Man Lee word bubbles. The sequential art speaks for itself. It's a fantastic moment in a fantastic issue.

More deaths on more trains

Paul from the excellent TimeVault podcast has pointed out that there is a sequel to the terrible Death Watch. Pierce Brosnan stars in Night Watch. Sadly Amazon tells me that it is only available as a region 1 import for £14.99.
£14.99 ?! I don't think so, Mr Brosnan. I shall have to find another candidate for the next bad movie bingo night. All suggestions gratefully received.

Day 5 - Your favourite show

My favourite show. I am assuming that we can leave Doctor Who out of this question as that is the elephant in the room of British science fiction television. There's been lots of stuff that I have watched for British Invaders. Some of the shows were quite new to me and some were programmes I remembered from my childhood. On the whole I tend to watch the episodes, make my notes for the podcast and then usually sell on the DVDs on Amazon marketplace or eBay. I don't keep many DVDs because of a fairly strict "one in, one out" policy on our shelving space. So in deciding this category I looked for a show that I decided was good enough for me to keep the DVD set.
Jekyll was a rather clever BBC series from 2007 written by Steven Moffat. The central idea was that Robert Louis Stevenson was recounting true events rather than fiction in his book, and that somehow his unique ability, or curse, had been passed on to one of his descendants.

James Nesbitt gave a fantastic performance in the central dual role, but there was also Dennis Lawson, Gina Bellman, Patterson Joseph, Meera Syal and Fenella Wololgar. It even had a cameo from Mark Gatiss playing Robert Louis Stevenson in flashback scenes.

It's a series that I can watch again and is my current favourite British Invaders show.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Death on a Train

A few weeks ago I handed over 99p in a charity shop for bumper fun pack DVD set that consisted of four films: Strictly Ballroom (cheesy fun), Carry On, Doctor (Ooooh, Matron!), Human Traffic (haven't seen it) and ... (dramatic pause)... Alistair MacLean's Death Train. Or to be more precise, Death Train - based on an idea for a screenplay that Alistair MacLean once had that was then turned into a novel by Alastair MacNeil, who probably got the gig because his name sounded a bit like MacLean's.

Wikipedia tells me that Death Train was a 1993 made for TV movie. It starred (get this cast list) Pierce Brosnan (before he was Bond), Patrick Stewart (after he was Picard), Alexandra Paul (before Baywatch), Ted Levine (after Silence of the Lambs) and Christopher Lee! Well, with that line up how could you go wrong? So last weekend when I was home alone I popped it into the player and climbed on board the Death Train.

A disgruntled Russian general (Lee) wants to make Russia strong again by selling a couple of nuclear bombs to Iraq (I know, it doesn't make any sense to me either). One of the bombs is on (you guessed it) a train, and Patrick Stewart has to assemble his United Nations crime stoppers team to prevent Ted Levine from taking the bomb train across Europe and into Iraq. Rather than having some crack Navy Seals unit on hand he has to recruit a motorcycle racer who used to be in the SAS (Brosnan, of course), a desk jockey who was on the US olympic Biathlon team, (Paul) and a couple of Russian helicopter pilots, one cheerful and one who looks sinister and smokes a lot (guess which one turns out to be the mole).

The whole thing is quite atrocious in a so bad that it almost turns out to be good but then turns out to be rubbish way. It may have been a European co-production because some of the actors appear to be dubbed. Christopher Lee (God bless him) appears to have actually done his own lines in Russian. I don't know if he could already speak Russian but if he learnt his lines especially for this low budget disaster then that was above and beyond the call of duty. Meanwhile Pierce Brosnan, whose character was supposed to have gone to Eton, can't decide whether he's using his American Remington Steele accent, his British Bond accent or his natural Irish brogue.

No action movie cliche is left unturned. It even comes down to Brosnan defusing the bomb as it ticks towards zero and dealing with the cut the red wire or the blue wire dilemma. No surprises here, he cuts the opposite wire to the one that the bomb maker tells him over the radio - "Just an instinct." It's a good job that film bomb makers keep putting those coloured wires in there instead of just using all black wires. Speaking of the bomb maker it is quite nice to see John Abineri in there, he's known to British Invaders listeners for Red Dwarf, Survivors and Robin of Sherwood. And the UN physicist who debriefs him is played by a very young looking Clarke Peters, Lester "smooth" Freamon from the Wire.

There's nothing like being home alone with a beer and some fast food and a totally crappy movie. If you can get hold of a copy for 99p or less then I highly recommend it. I'm going to give it 4 out of 5 Joe Bob Briggs terrible movie stars. And I'm amazed to find that this was successful enough to spawn a sequel. I'm sort of tempted. Stay tuned, dear reader.

Day 4 - Your favourite character (non Doctor Who)

So now we branch out away from the Who-niverse for the first time and find a favourite character from some other show. I'm very tempted to go with the Marquis de Carabas from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. However I don't want to keep repeating choices that have been made in other, better blogs like the Timevault.

There's one character from the the very earliest days of British science fiction TV that I really like. He's an inquiring scientist who gets involved in strange goings on and usually manages to sort them out with just the power of his mind. I am, of course, talking about Professor Bernard Quatermass.
The writer Nigel Kneale and producer/director Rudolph Cartier practically invented the genre on British TV. I love the idea that the streets and pubs would clear when Quatermass was on. Imagine all those people huddled around a limited number of television sets to watch this fascinating scientist investigate space rockets, alien invasions and a haunted underground station in Hobbs lane.

I really like the idea of this earth bound scientist who solves problemes with rational thought and the character could easily be revived for another serial.  Professor Quatermass has now been played by nearly as many actors as have played the Doctor. Who could play him next?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Avenged!

This is possibly the oldest comic in my collection. Avengers #14 from March 1965, written by Stan Lee and Paul Laiken with art by Don Heck and the legendary Jack Kirby. Title "Even an Avenger can die!"
As this story starts the Wasp has been shot in the chest and the Avengers rush her to hospital. Her husband Hank Pym aka Giant-Man (wonder what his power is?) gets rather stroppy and keeps picking up various doctors and insisting that they have to save his wife. He would go on to be much less concerned for her physical well-being in the future but we're years away from that at this point.

Once his fellow Avengers have restrained Hank the doctors explain that the bullet has collapsed the Wasp's lung and unless she gets a specialist treatment the other lung will also be affected and she will be dead within 48 hours. Unfortunately there is only one doctor in the world who can do the necessary surgery and that is the mysterious and, at first, reluctant Dr Svenson.

Then there's a whole thing with Dr Svenson actually being an alien and before you know it the Avengers are in the Arctic cracking through the ice (at this point in time going anywhere near ice must have been the last thing Captain America wanted!) and then there's a big battle with some aliens who turn out to be not so bad after all. The real Dr Svenson is found and operates on the Wasp in time and it all ends happily.

There's an excellent blog called Polite Dissent written by another doctor and comic book fan called Scott. He frequently dissects comic books that feature doctors and nurses and points out the various problems with medicine as portrayed in super-hero books. Well Scott would have a field day with this issue. I'm pretty sure that even in 1965 the treatment for a collapsed lung was much the same as it is now. A chest drain is inserted to allow the air around the lung to drain out and the lung re-inflates itself. Simples! It's even been done on a commercial aircraft using a knitting needle, a urinary catheter and a boy scout.

Scott also has a regular feature about the inappropriate use of an ENT surgeon's head mirror in comics where usually it is just pictorial shorthand to signify that a character is a doctor. Dr Svenson the famous chest surgeon is no exception and when he finally arrives to examine the Wasp he uses both a head mirror and an opthalmoscope. Incidentally when he does so the Wasp who has been in hospital for at least 24 hours at this point is still wearing her super-hero costume. I'm pretty sure that to examine a bullet hole in the chest wall the surgical team would have wanted to remove at least some of her clothing. But comics had to keep a certain level of decorum back in 1965, especially with the comics code authority stamp to maintain.

Lastly, let's consider the idea that there is only one doctor in the whole world who can perform the necessary experimental surgery. This seems a common trope in comic books and bad films. In the real medical world any new treatments are soon shared with the rest of the world by publication in peer reviewed medical journals and it doesn't take long for hot shot surgeons to find out about new procedures and get trained to carry them out themselves. The idea of a solitary doctor experimenting with new techniques without a highly competent team of fellow doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers to support them just doesn't happen. However, if you will excuse me I have to get back to my basement laboratory where my latest batch of super-soldier serum may be coming to a boil.

Mark of the Apes

My Apes marathon moves on to Tim Burton's 2001 remake (or re-imagining) of Planet of the Apes. Based on the original film and Pierre Boule's 1963 novel Monkey Planet which inspired the whole franchise.
Let's look at the positives first. The ape costumes and make-up have obviously improved immeasurably, although they seem to have a problem with the female chimpanzees' hair. Likewise the actors have obviously all been to an ape movement class and so they leap, climb and swing more like real simians. There's also a more accurate depiction of the difference in strength between humans and apes. And Michael Clarke Duncan gets to deliver the apes' version of Charlton Heston's famous "Get your stinking paws off me!" line.

After that the film rapidly deteriorates. Mark Wahlberg has gone on to do better things but he struggles here. Why is his character out of breath all the time? Is he trying to convey a sense of urgency, or is he having an asthma attack from all the flying fur? And would it have killed them to call his character Taylor instead of Davidson. It's not as if that is even a nod back to the original novel where the hero was called Merou.

Talking about flying fur how do the apes do the huge jumps that they manage in this film? A certain degree of bouncing about seems OK but here they do huge Crouching Tiger, Hidden dragon leaps. There's clearly wire work going on when General Thade flies on to the back of his horse.

Everything happens too quickly, before we know it Davidson and a rag-tag bunch of apes and humans have escaped to the forbidden zone and he has inspired the human slaves to rise up against the apes. There's a bloody battle, then a literal Deus ex Machina appears which just leaves Davidson to hop back in his spaceship, do the time warp again and make his own date with destiny and another twist ending. Incidentally if he's such a hot-shot pilot how come he crashes two separate ships when the chimpanzee makes such a perfect landing? And to think he left behind Estella Warren's cleavage to just go and crash on another ape planet. Epic fail!

Given the choice between this remake and the original choose the Charlton Heston version every time. Heston does show up in this version briefly and gets to repeat his "Damn them all to hell!" line but I would much rather watch him kneeling in the surf, pounding his fists than this expensive mess of a movie.

Day 3 - Your favourite companion

OK, it's only day 3 and I'm cheating already. This was my idea and therefore I get to play centre forward, or something like that. I'm going to pick an old companion and a new companion.

From classic Doctor Who there can be only one, and yes it is the obvious choice, and I know I am partially choosing her because of the emotional effect of her recent passing. But come on, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith was the definitive Doctor's companion for so many years. Added to that was the way she bridged the gap from old Who to new Who with the fantastic School Reunion how could I not choose her?
My new Who companion of choice is another fan favourite. I shared everyone else's outrage when it was announced that Catherine Tate would be the tenth Doctor's companion for the fourth series of the new Doctor Who. I thought that Tate was a one note comedian, and that one note was loud, brash and just consisted of repeating catch phrases over and over again. And at first that is how her character Donna Noble appeared. She was loud, obnoxious and pushy in The Runaway Bride and Partners in Crime, but as the series progressed her character changed. She become more vulnerable and more likeable, and she changed the Doctor. It is Donna that we have to thank for bringing the tenth Doctor back down to earth after his Messiah moments in Last of the Time Lords. She helped him do the right thing in The Fires of Pompeii. And then there was Turn Left.

Catherine Tate's performance in Turn Left was just about my favourite thing from the fourth season. It is one of the two episodes of new Doctor Who that I keep on my digi-box and watch regularly (the other is Blink). Her increasing terror at the something hiding on her back and her slow realisation that in order to warn the Doctor and to save the universe she must die first was just gripping stuff.

I didn't think it could happen but Donna Noble went from my least favourite companion to the best that the Doctor has had. It was tragic when her memories were wiped and she went back to what she was before. As her grandfather Wilf, played by the magnificent Bernard Cribbins, said to the Doctor "She was better with you." And she was, and so too was the Doctor. My favourite Doctor Who companion of all time is Donna Noble.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day 2 Your favourite Doctor

It's day two of the British Invaders 30 day challenge and it's a biggie. Almost nothing else divides fandom like the question "Who is your Doctor?". As we have established I started watching Doctor Who in the 1970s and my memory of the Doctor is the teeth, curls and scarf of Tom Baker. The actor who is perhaps most associated with the show and it may well be his image that pops in to most people's minds when they think of Doctor Who.

However my memories of the show in the 70s are mainly about the monsters. It was the Autons, the Sea Devils, Zygons and even the Wirrn (yes, I know) that gave me the creeps and were written to my cerebral hard drive. Then in the 80s I wasn't really watching Doctor Who or any television at all. I was either being a medical student with no television, or I was a junior doctor working all hours in the days long before the European working hours directive. I still have very little knowledge of the fifth, sixth and seventh Doctors. I know that is a scandalous confession from one of the co-hosts of a podcast all about British science fiction television.

My next confession may also be controversial: at the present moment I prefer new Who to classic Who. I liked the ninth Doctor and wish we had got to see more of him beyond the point when Rose Tyler helped him recover from what he had done in the Time War. I also liked the tenth Doctor, at least I did before he was almost deified by Russell T Davies, a process that reached its nadir in Last of the Time Lords. At least they pulled back from that afterwards and David Tennant got to do something more interesting with the character.

So having said all that you can guess that just leaves me one choice for my favourite Doctor and here he is.
Yes, Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor is currently my favourite Doctor. His character is more tricky than the tenth incarnation. He can be a wacky clown at times, and it's nice to see elements of Patrick Troughton's second Doctor in there. He is also manipulative and tough which may hearken back to his sixth and seventh selves. And he has a weird dress sense, I'm glad that variations on the line "Bowties are cool" have become his catch-phrase instead of "Geronimo!". The eleventh Doctor is not the best dressed man in the room, but he thinks he is.

I'm not sure he has been in many great episodes yet. Strangely it seems that Steven Moffat may have been better as a Doctor Who writer than he is as the show runner. He did have that great scene at the end of the Eleventh Hour that may be my favourite moment from new Who (well apart from all of Blink). The Doctor's Wife was fantastic, as was Night Terrors, and he had a few moments in A Good Man goes to War before it turned into a pile of mush.

Matt Smith has hinted that he may be leaving the show at the end of 2012 so maybe we won't get to see the eleventh Doctor reach his full potential, but for now my favourite Doctor is the "Madman with a Box".

Monday, September 12, 2011

More Monkey Business

I have a surfeit of things to blog about today, almost a plethora. Having watched the five original Planet of the Apes in order I finished off the box set by watching the two hour documentary "Behind the Planet of the Apes".

Roddy McDowell (who else?) hosts the documentary and all the major players show up including Charlton Heston, Ricardo Montalban, Kim Hunter, the make-up wizard John Chambers, and the director J. Lee Thompson.

It covers much of the ground that I have been talking about for each film. In particular the social commentary about race relations, animal testing, the Vietnam war and so on. There were bits and pieces which were new to me. In particular the early make up tests of Edward G Robinson as the Orangutan Dr Zaius. Strangely their first attempts look more like a real ape to me than the appliances they finally ended up with. Maybe Edward G Robinson just looked more like an Orangutan. Sadly the actor didn't feel well enough to commit to the brutal shooting schedule although he did go on to have one great performance with Charlton Heston in Soylent Green.

The other interesting thing was that the budget was reduced for each successive sequel which seems strange when the studio was making so much money out of them. Four sequels, a TV show, comic books, a Saturday morning cartoon and all the merchandising which would lead the way for what happened after Star Wars. I'm sure the studio made their money back several times over.

Let's step back from the documentary and finish by considering the ending of the original Planet of the Apes movie. At some point in the 1970s I think the BBC showed a series of science fiction films including Silent Running, Soylent Green and Planet of the Apes. And wow! What a shock ending that was back when there were no spoilers. The only thing we had was word of mouth in the playground the next day. I remember being stunned by the scene of Heston kneeling in the surf pounding his fist into the sand and howling out his rage at what had happened. It was all we talked about at school for days afterwards. Nowadays films with twist endings are ten a penny but had any film ever managed such a shocker before Planet of the Apes?

Looking at wikipedia suggest a few possibilities for earlier examples but this must have been the first one I encountered. A fantastic moment in film history.

Now onwards to the Tim Burton reboot, and from there to Andy Serkis and some performance capture?

Look up in the sky!

Back issue browsing again. This is Superman issue 240 by Denny O'Neil with art by Curt Swan and Dick Giordano.
The problem with Superman is, of course, the fact that he is so ridiculously powerful. When he can do anything and not be harmed then the stories become dull. That is why writers have introduced his various romantic interests over the years, and have come up with so many shades of Kryptonite to weaken him. On top of this Superman gets a sort of reboot/makeover once every 10 to 15 years.

This story is from 1971 and takes place after Denny O'Neil had taken over the book and reduced Superman's powers. In fact in this issue his powers seem to be fading altogether and although he manages to save the people in a burning building he can't save the building itself. As Superman says himself in the comic this is a bit of a come down for a character who used to juggle planets. After his failure with the building the fickle public turn against Superman hence the angst ridden cover image above.

The artist Curt Swan was the definitive silver age Superman artist and he doesn't disappoint here. There's not much more to the story but it's all very nice to look at. I don't really have many Superman comics in my collection and once again I have no idea why I've got this single issue. Must be another one that caught me eye in a back issue box somewhere.

There is a back up story from "The Fabulous world of Krypton" featuring the Scarlet jungle, which is an interesting coincidence. The jungle on Superman's home planet was the source of an infection that nearly killed the character when Alan Moore got to write a cross over with Swamp Thing in a famous issue of DC Comics Presents.

Your first programme/earliest memory

It's either the Sea Devils or the Autons and I was scared! This puts the time as somewhere in the Jon Pertwee era of the Third Doctor. So it's either blank faced shop-window dummies stepping out onto the street and their hands flipping open to reveal guns;

or it's the slow march of the Sea Devils as they rise from the waves.

I want to say the Sea Devils as they still creep me out but having watched Spearhead from Space recently I suspect that the Autons were first. Either way it was pretty scary stuff. So yes, my earliest memory of British science fiction television is indeed Doctor Who, and the fear factor.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The British Invaders challenge

The apes viewing project continues. I'm still pulling out back issues to read and blog about. And there's a ton of stuff I have to watch for British Invaders, plus the outlines to write. So waiting for a quiet time to begin the British Invaders 30 day challenge isn't going to happen. I'm just going to start and see how I get on.

So tomorrow I will start this list:

British Invaders 30 day challenge
  1. Your first programme/earliest memory
  2. Your favourite Doctor
  3. Your favourite companion
  4. Your favourite character (non Doctor Who)
  5. Your favourite show
  6. Your worst show
  7. The show that really needs to be released on DVD
  8. The best DVD set you own
  9. The most underrated show
  10. The show you don’t get but everybody else seems to love
  11. Your favourite Gerry Anderson show
  12. Your favourite spin off from a TV show
  13. Which missing Doctor Who story would you really like to be found intact?
  14. Your favourite audio drama
  15. Your favourite writer
  16. Who was the best Professor Quatermass?
  17. The show that should be rebooted/remade
  18. The show that should not have been rebooted/remade
  19. Favourite adaptation of a novel
  20. Favourite title sequence
  21. Favourite theme music
  22. Favourite villain
  23. Sexiest character
  24. The scariest or spookiest show
  25. Favourite SF comedy show
  26. Favourite children/family show
  27. Best spaceship
  28. Which missing show would you most like to see restored to the archives?
  29. Favourite alien race or planet
  30. Who would you like to play the 12th Doctor?
Join in here on on the Facebook page.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Days of Future Past

More back issue browsing. This is Uncanny X-Men 141 from 1981, written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, art by Byrne with Terry Austin inks.
This is the first of a great two issue X-Men story. Kitty Pryde has just joined the team and no sooner has she survived her first danger room session when she is suddenly possessed by the time travelling psyche of her future self. And what a grim future she has come from. The anti-mutant hysteria that has featured in the X-Men since the 60s has reached a whole new level with a mutant control act passed by the US government. The resulting war has wiped our many of the costumed heroes and the rest are living in controlled camps and forced to wear electronic collars that nullify their special abilities. The huge robotic Sentinels patrol the streets and enforce the law with deadly force.

Kitty Pryde has been sent back in time to her teenage self to try and warn the X-Men and get them to prevent the political assassination that leads to the passing of the mutant control act.  So we get to see the 1981 X-Men fighting another version of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But more importantly we see the remnants of the team who have aged and weakened. Of course Wolverine has survived and is sneaking around in his sneaky, hunter-killer mode.

This issue has a great cover as has the follow up in Uncanny X-Men 142.
There's nothing like a story about a dark, oppressive future that we might have the chance to prevent if we act now. A standard trope for science fiction and comic books but executed very well here by the X-Men team.

Those Battling Apes

It's the last of the original Planet of the Apes films. Number five is Battle for the Planet of the Apes from 1973, directed by J. Lee Thompson.
Even though this film came out only a year after number four we start with a recap of the last two films. This is delivered by the Orangutan known as the Lawgiver who is played by John Huston. Let's just say that again, John Huston dons the make up, wig and orange suit and plays an ape. Hollywood was really taking this stuff seriously in the early 70s.

It's ten years since the slave uprising in the last film and a raggedy group of apes and humans are trying to scratch out a living in the aftermath of a nuclear war. They are led by Caesar (Roddy McDowell again) who has won the war and now has to win the peace. He's got dissent in his own ranks coming from the gorillas led by General Aldo, and he has to deal with attacks from a group of human survivors living under the ruins of a radioactive city. This bunch of scarred, gun crazy loons are well on their way to transforming into the mutants who we saw in the second movie. So at least there is a suggestion of building the continuity of the whole time loop that links all the films.

This is probably the first Apes film I saw when I snuck into a cinema under-age in 1973 or 1974. But it was the film I couldn't remember anything about at all. So it all came as a complete surprise to me. Caesar has now moved from the revolutionary we saw in Conquest and here he more resembles Nelson Mandela trying to build a peaceful community after a terrible war and a reversal of fortunes for the oppressed apes and their human masters. Of course we know the peace won't last. The clue is the word Battle in the title. So soon he has pissed off the mutating human neighbours and then there are plenty of guns and explosions, including one shot of an exploding tree that they liked so much they kept using it over and over again.

Style notes: in the ten years since the last film the apes have all adopted the familiar coloured outfits that we remember from the original film. The mutants have started to wear their skull caps. And the rest of humanity get to wear rather grubby, grey uniforms. Clearly the apes get all of the soap in this post-apocalyptic society.

It's a short film with not a lot to say either for or against it. However it is very nice to see Austin Stoker who played the police lieutenant in the brilliant Assault on Precinct 13.

So if I had to rank the ape films in order of greatness then the original is still the best and then it goes Conquest, Escape, Battle and Beneath in diminishing order.

Next up, the apes documentary and then it will be time for Marky Mark

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What if Elektra had lived?

This is What If number 35 from October 1982 written and drawn by Frank Miller with inks by Terry Austin.
Six months after Frank Miller had the psychotic Bullseye kill Elektra in the infamous issue 181 of Daredevil he got to tell a different version of the story in Marvel's What If title. This comic allowed creators to tell stories about key events in normal Marvel continuity and to explore what would have happened if things had turned out differently. And because the stories didn't affect normal continuity the writers could do things that normal comics don't allow. Frank Miller used this opportunity to give us that rarity in comics, an ending.

Matt Murdock, the blind hero Daredevil, loved Elektra the ninja trained assassin and seemed to have succeeded in turning her from the "dark side". Their romance and future together was cut short by the memorably crazy Bullseye, a villain who had troubled Daredevil in the past but who Miller escalated to a whole new level of deranged danger. This story lets Miller finish the romance and sees Daredevil and Elektra walk away from the Marvel universe altogether. It's a moving moment that we don't get to see often enough in comics.

Interestingly Frank Miller returned to Daredevil in 1986 to tell a story called "Born again" which is generally considered one of the best Daredevil tales ever. Perhaps his increasing fame at that point allowed Miller to give DD another ending in issue 233 when it seemed that Murdock had again walked away from super-heroics to be with a woman he loved. Of course it made no difference and in the next issue another writer had him back in his red tights.

The only other example I can think of at the moment is the last issue in Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing. Issue 64 ended the story of Alec and Abby. It really did and they should have left things there.