Tuesday, October 23, 2012

James Bond - Dr. No

The sixth 007 novel, Dr. No published in 1958.

Bond has recovered from his ordeal at the end of From Russia to Love and is sent to Jamaica to investigate a couple of missing persons connected to the secret service. Both M and Bond seem to regard it as a bit of a holiday assignment but before long 007 is sneaking onto Crab Key island and encountering both Honeychile Ryder and the infamous Dr. No.

It is fairly easy to see why they chose this one for the first film. Bond does a lot more than in Casino Royale, and, of course, there is some exotic travel, a creepy villain and the Bond girl to beat all Bond girls. 007 also receives his signature weapon in this book. Fleming, who confessed he knew nothing about guns, had received a letter from a firearms expert called Major Boothroyd who put him right about Bond's Beretta. Fleming rewarded his correspondent by having him appear as the armourer who suggests Bond switch away from this "ladies' gun" to the more powerful and reliable Walther PPK. Not that Bond gets to fire it, he does use a Smith & Wesson .38 against Dr. No's dragon vehicle but with little effect. Bond's personal friends continue to do badly and the loyal Quarrel dies horribly when their plan to disable the dragon fails.

After this setback we get a memorable encounter with the sadistic Dr. No, complete with mechanical hands and thick glass contact lenses, who explains his plans to Bond before forcing him through his torture tunnel (not a euphemism) and staking Honeychile out to be eaten by crabs. Inevitably Bond survives to turn the tables on the bad guy and dispose of him in such a suitably ironic way that I wonder why they didn't keep that in the film version. Although on reflection it would perhaps have been more appropriate for the Roger Moore Bond era.

This is a terrific Bond adventure spoiled only by the period's view of the "Yellow Peril" and the Chinese in particular. Apart from this 21st century anachronistic quibble this is Fleming in a purple patch, with From Russia to Love behind him and Goldfinger to come. Again it easy to see why the James Bond novels were generating such excitement at the time.

One villain with several medical conditions (including Dextrocardia), the most memorable Bond girl ever, no sporting encounter but one torture sequence and several gruesome deaths.

James Bond will return in ... Goldfinger

Monday, October 22, 2012

Big Finish - The Company of Friends

From July 2009, Big Finish release 123 - The Company of Friends. Written by Lance Parkin, Stephen Cole, Alan Barnes and Jonathan Morris, and directed by Nicholas Briggs.

This is one of the regular releases which has four short individual stories instead of a longer multi-part drama. Four of the Eighth Doctor's companions introduce adventures they had with the Doctor. Let's consider them in turn.

Benny's story by Lance Parkin has the famous archaeologist Bernice Summerfield running into the Doctor while on a dig. Benny is a long running Big Finish character who was originally created by Paul Cornell in the Virgin new adventures books. This is a fast and furious adventure which involves a little jiggery-pokery with time travel to make it all fit. So fast that it sort of blurred past me. 2.5 stars and on to the next.

Fitz's story by Stephen Cole. Fitz Kreiner is another Eighth Doctor companion who originally started in a novel and this is his first appearance in a Big Finish story as far as I know. On the planet Entusso a new alien protection organisation is setting itself up a commercial business which is apparently promoted by the Doctor. Again this tale shot by me and probably needs another listen. Maybe It is because I have no familiarity with Fitz that it just seemed a blur. 2 stars

Izzy's story by Alan Barnes. Sticking with the theme of taking companions from other media Izzy Sinclair was the Eighth Doctor's companion in many of his comic strip adventures. Appropriately enough this story concerns Izzy's attempt to use time travel to secure a copy of the infamous missing last issue of Aggrotron, the most dangerous comic in the galaxy. Alan Barnes has edited the Judge Dredd Megazine and Aggrotron is a thinly disguised version of the greatest comic in the galaxy, 2000AD. Izzy desperately wants the last issue because it revealed the secret identity of the lead character Courtmaster Cruel, another thinly disguised nod to Judge Dredd whose face is never seen in the comic.

Izzy's story was a much more engaging story for me as a 2000AD fan, particularly as I am currently reading Thrill Power Overload - a history of the first 30 years of the comic. Izzy herself may be slightly annoying but the story is great fun. 3.5 stars

And finally, Mary's story by Jonathan Morris is the pick of the bunch. And it was the first Big Finish story I reviewed on this blog all the way back here. The way Morris introduces the Doctor to Mary Shelley and the other guests at the Villa Diodati while also showing her to elements of the Frankenstein story she will go to write is just fantastic. And it is backed up by the best all round cast of the four stories. Great stuff and still 4 stars.

Overall The Company of Friends averages out at 3 out of 5 precious back issues of Doctor Who Magazine. Next up will be some more 2000AD before I embark on the Key 2 Time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Big Finish - The Big Shot

From July 2002 comes The Big Shot by David Bishop, directed by Ken Ainsworth.

A foppish Brit-Cit film director arrives in Mega-City One for a retrospective of his work, but there are rumours of a big money contract on him and a legendary assassin who may have arrived to gun him down. Much to his irritation Dredd is assigned to the protect the target by Chief Judge Hershey and Mega-City mayhem ensues! Interestingly the exchanges between Dredd and Hershey are very similar to those being played out in the pages of 2000AD right now.

I have heard this 2000AD audio drama before and knew what was coming. The twist is fairly easy to spot but it doesn't stop this from being another enjoyable short story in the Judge Dredd universe. Toby Longworth is even better as Dredd than he is as Wulf in the Strontium Dog stories. I was less convinced by the character of Judge Amy Steel who is, as far as I know, a Big Finish creation and does not appear in the comics. She doesn't sound tough enough to be a Mega-City Judge but maybe David Bishop decided we needed a more human character to introduce us to this violent world, in much the same way as Alex Garland does with Anderson in the Dredd 3D movie.

It's a quickie story and gets a quickie review. 3 out of 5 legal eagles for The Big Shot. Now back to Doctor Who and The Company of Friends.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Big Finish - Down to Earth

I recently indulged myself with a special offer of 2000AD audios from Big Finish. First up from June 2002 is Down to Earth, written by Jonathan Clements and directed by John Ainsworth.

Simon Pegg plays the mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha from the 2000AD Strontium Dog comic strip, and Toby Longworth is his partner Wulf Sternhammer. In this episode Johnny has to return to Earth to rescue Wulf who has been wrongly arrested and subjected to some weird experimentation. Other regular 2000AD characters like the Gronk and Middenface McNulty also appear and there is a fun cameo by Servalan herself, Jacqueline Pearce as the villain of the piece.

One of the great strengths of 2000AD over the years has been the humour that features in even the grimmest of stories, and Jonathan Clements does a good job of carrying that across to this audio drama. He is also well served in this by his cast. Simon Pegg is perhaps a bit too famous now and I tended to see him rather than Alpha when I heard his voice. Toby Longworth has the advantage of us not knowing what he looks like and his voice is perfect for Wulf, and as Dredd in the other 2000AD audios.

The only thing wrong with this story is that it is rather short. I have become accustomed to Big Finish stories being four episodes and I could have done with a bit more here. Otherwise it is just lovely to hear some of my favourite comic book characters brought to life. 4 out of 5 for the first of these 2000AD reviews. You can listen to this and four other stories on the BBC site (if you can tolerate Real player).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Alienating your audience

I should be doing other stuff. There is a lot of real world stuff going on but I need to get something off my chest (or out of it?). Last night I finally got to see Prometheus and complete my Alien marathon. The reviews were all fairly poor so my expectations were set very low and this film still managed to get below them.

The budget for this film was $130 million. Really? Couldn't they have spent some of that money on checking that the script made sense? I suppose with one of the writers from Lost we can expect some confusion. I watched every episode of Lost and that was a load of nonsense, and so is Prometheus.

For starters let us consider the shuttle medical pod that gets used in the ridiculous self administered surgery scene. Charlize Theron has her own shuttle/life-boat on the Prometheus with its own special medical pod, so why when Noomi Rapace tries to use it for an emergency caesarean does the computer state it is set for male procedures only? Are they trying to give us some sort of weird clue about Theron's character? Seeing as how she spends most of the movie wearing a skin tight bodysuit because, well because she can, there doesn't seem to be any doubt about her gender.

All the medicine in this film was terrible. Rapace performs her own emergency caesarean alien-ectomy and delivers a squid baby. She then pulls out the umbilical cord, but what was that attached to? You need to remove the placenta as well, Ms Rapace, or you're going to bleed to death. And another thing, let us assume that there is some good reason for wearing bandage boob wraps when in hyper-sleep but surely when you wake up you would put some more functional underwear on?

What do alien squid babies eat? There has always been a problem in the Alien franchise about how the beasties go from pretty small to enormous without apparently consuming anything, but this example is particularly extreme. Maybe it has been munching all the bandages they use for underwear while it has been in the medical pod.

But by far the biggest problem with Prometheus is that the highly paid, brain-box scientists act like such morons. The examples are too numerous to mention. It is left to Idris Elba and his fly-boy crew to act with a bit of sense, at least when he's not trying to do his own gender test on Charlize Theron.

This film is truly terrible, but you have probably seen it yourself by now and know that already. £130 million to make and takings in excess of $400 million. Meanwhile Dredd 3D cost £50 million and is currently struggling to make even half of that back. There is no justice.

At the time of writing life is being particularly unfair to someone I love so the fortunes of multi-million dollar Hollywood movies are mere trivia, but what rubbish trivia this is. Even the AVP films were better.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Big Finish - The Angel of Scutari

Big Finish release 122 from June 2009 - The Angel of Scutari. Written by Paul Sutton and directed by Ken Bentley.

This completes the Ace and Hex miniseries and sets up a cliff-hanger which would not pay off until over a year later in Project: Destiny. The Tardis crew arrive in the Crimea in October 1854 and get caught in the middle of the terrible clash between the British and Russian empires.  As ever the trio get separated, while the Doctor is off manipulating events and trying to fix a few problems in the time-stream Hex gets to meet the woman who inspired him to take up nursing, and Ace encounters a young Russian writer.

I am on record as not liking the historical Doctor Who adventures either on television or in the audio dramas but this was actually very enjoyable. Paul Sutton makes the wise decision to have this story concentrate on Hex who is left to get on with providing medical and nursing care for the wounded in the British army barracks at Scutari. In a neat twist the changes in basic care that he introduces inspire the Lady with the Lamp herself. I confess that when I first heard Philip Olivier as Hex I was bothered by his Liverpudlian accent, but just like Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe Olivier's performance has won me over. It has been interesting to have a companion who is less than impressed with the Seventh Doctor's manipulations. He has also become increasingly disillusioned by the numbers of deaths he has witnessed since first entering the Tardis. The Angel of Scutari leaves Hex alone in the Crimea long enough for him to make a difference, and to do something positive to balance the scales.

On the other hand this story was a bit of a backward step for the character of Ace. Big Finish should decide whether they are going with the baseball bat Ace from the television show, or the battle hardened warrior Ace from the New Adventures books. In Enemy of the Daleks we clearly had the older, warrior Ace who can quickly take charge in a combat situation. But in the early parts of this tale we are back to the petulant, whiny Ace, although she does morph into a different, more mature character when she travels with that famous Russian writer.

All in all an enjoyable story and the best of this mini-series for me. The extras were pretty good as well and I was surprised to hear Hugh Bonneville in there who I hadn't spotted during the drama itself. 4 out of 5 misplaced musket balls for The Angel of Scutari. Now for some 2000AD!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Big Finish - Enemy of the Daleks

Big Finish main range release 121 from May 2009 - Enemy of the Daleks by David Bishop and directed by Ken Bentley.

I got it wrong at the end of my Burning Prince review. Enemy of the Daleks is the middle part of an Ace, Seven and Hex mini-series that began with The Magic Mousetrap and will conclude with The Angel of Scutari. The trio arrive on the planet of Bliss expecting just that, but finding a classic base under siege and a scientist with a terrible plan to defeat the Daleks. Something bad is about to happen and the Doctor thinks it is his job to make sure it does.

You can't beat the Doctor Who combination of Daleks and a remote base in peril. Especially not when you have Nicholas Briggs' Dalek voices and another creepy monster voiced by Jeremy James who can do remarkable things with his larynx. This is an enjoyable production with all the right elements and it is nice to hear more of Hex developing his doubts about the Doctor's motivations, sowing seeds that would not pay off for another 3 years. Philip Olivier is growing on me. Meanwhile Kate Ashfield gives an interesting performance as Lieutenant Stokes, swapping Zombies, in Shaun of the Dead, for Daleks here but still in as much trouble. We recently watched her in a rather good adaptation of John Wyndham's Random Quest for the British Invaders podcast.

I also enjoyed listening to the CD extras on this release but I'm glad that Big Finish subsequently decided to shift them from the end of the first disc to the second disc. Much easier to listen to the interviews without fear of spoilers when you have heard the whole production rather than half-way through it.

In summary, great Dalek and monster voices, interesting Zulu references and some good Hex and Ace moments. 3.5 out of 5 Dalek eye-stalks. The Angel of Scutari is next.