Back to blogging?

  on July 26th, 2012

It’s been a long time, literally years but perhaps it is time to get back into blogging.

Why, though? I never had anything great to say (as should be obvious from the podcast!). No, it’s less about wanting to tell the world something, having some revolutionary idea in some cafe in Rickmansworth, more about having something to look back on in years to come.

I pretty much feel the same about the podcast, really. I look back and wonder what I initially thought of such and such. Sometimes I’m lucky and we talked about it on the podcast and that’s great because not only do I get to hear what I thought at the time but also what some of my friends thought too.  It is interesting how opinions can change over time and just how easily thoughts are lost in the maelstrom of everyday life.

So in many ways a blog and the podcast is a diary.  Well, first and foremost the podcast is about having fun on the night but a chronicle, a snapshot, of our thoughts and opinions at the time is a valuable secondary purpose, at least to me!

Another motivation for restarting the blogging is that I now have an ‘Unlimited’ cinema card.  It is my intention to see a film at the local cinema at least once a week for the next year.  Getting there straight from the office will often leave me hanging around for an hour or so for the film I want to see.  What better to do but a bit of blogging? Dinner, did I hear you say? Blogging is cheaper (and probably more filling) than the food around here!

So tonight it’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.  A ‘romcom’, I believe. Not normally my thing but it has a certain Sci-Fi element and short of rewatching The Dark Knight Rises, the choice is currently rather limited!  Perhaps a future blog entry may look at the merits or otherwise of seeing what may be described as a ‘chickflik’ (I assume they spell it in such an obnoxious manner!) on my own. It feels weird, to say the least. Maybe that will change with time..?

For now, naturally I encourage my fellow Staggering Storians to put their random thoughts on the Internet for all to read, too!



Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour

  on April 10th, 2010

The Eleventh Hour - Amelia's ToysHigh praise has been thrust upon it from all directions it seems and, I’m afraid, my own opinion of Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour mirrors those plaudits.

It would have been a remarkable piece of television even if we’d never heard of Doctor Who before.  That it was so amazing when we were all so used to the series by now is, I believe, an even greater achievement.  It is very clear that the new production team, headed up by writer extraordinaire Steven Moffat, took their immense responsibilities very seriously.  They had a quite the tight rope to walk – retool the series for a new decade but yet keep it recognisably the same.  Personally I had high hopes for their efforts but even I was surprised by just how good a job they have already done.

Clearly the most obvious change is the new Doctor, as played by Matt Smith.  Moffat is on record as saying he was looking to cast older, probably late 30s to early 40s.  The outcry from certain quarters over the young age of Matt Smith is well documented, as is Moffat’s insistence that Matt got the job because he was the best of the best. Moffat appears to be entirely vindicated as the almost universal opinion appears to be that Matt Smith absolutely nailed the part, with one reviewer, Matthew Bell from the Observer, even saying ‘he might be more the Doctor than anyone who was the Doctor before.’  That’s incredibly high praise given how nervous everyone seemed to be about Matt, especially given how popular his predecessor, David Tennant, is.  Or perhaps I should say ‘given how popular his predecessor, David Tennant, was’ as I’m seeing, in quite a few places now, people turning around and saying how they were fed up with Tennant or didn’t even like him in the first place! Have these people changed their minds over the 65 minutes or are they only now emboldened enough to admit it?  One thing is clear, Matt Smith has taken the part and really made it his own.  The uncertainty that lingered after so many first stories for a new Doctor just isn’t there this time.  He IS the Doctor and hardly anyone seems upset by that now.

People who know me will also know that I had high hopes and expectations for the new companion, Amy Pond, as played by Karen Gillan. Yes, I do somewhat exaggerate my infatuation with Karen Gillan for comedic effect but, of course, she is very attractive and, vastly more importantly, incredibly good at her craft of acting.  I’d previous seen her in the BBC’s The Well web series and, with rather more range, in the Channel 4 comedy sketch series the Kevin Bishop Show.  Again I went into the Eleventh Hour with very high expectations for Amy Pond and was anything but disappointed – she may well end up being both the most interesting and most likeable companion yet.  Just look at those final scenes around the TARDIS console, she absolutely convincingly goes through a whole range of emotions from amazed, suspicious, outright fearful to overjoyed.  Amy is utterly conflicted and you could see all of that in Karen Gillan’s performance.  Amazing stuff.

Before I get onto the story itself I should also briefly talk about the young Amelia Pond, as played by Caitlin Blackwood. Unfortunately I was already spoiled that we’d meet Amy as a child before Karen Gillan took over as the grown up version.  I also knew that Caitlin is Karen Gillan’s real life cousin.  That sounds a bit unsettling to begin with but when you then hear that this 7 year old also had no prior experience with acting and it was all sounding like a disaster in the making.  We’ve all seen far too many child actors destroy every scene they are in (the Phantom Menace, anyone?) and these first few minutes of a new era of Doctor Who really could be a bit of a make of break situation.  What was Moffat thinking?  Entirely the right thing, as it turns out – Caitlin was amazing, a brilliantly funny and natural performance.  She made little Amelia really endearing and it did break your heart to see her sitting out in that dark lonely garden for the Doctor to return when, I’m sure we all knew or had figured out, he just wouldn’t.  A vital set of scenes that both set up Amy’s character and had to hook the audience in to the new series.  The casting people, the director and, of course, Caitlin Blackwood deserve some serious recognition – they gave it a fairytale opening that, I’m sure, almost anyone else would have ruined.

Onto the plot of The Eleventh Hour itself.  On the face of it, it’s a bit slight.  That’s not the point of a first episode like this though, is it? We need to see the new Doctor stamp his mark on the series, we need to be introduced to the new companion.  Not since the episode ‘Rose’ in 2005 has so much had to be done in a single story of Doctor Who.  But wait, is it as slight as it at first appears? I don’t think it is, I think there is a lot more going on in this story than meets the eye (no pun intended!) I’ll leave such speculations to the end, though.  For now, the plot – there is a crack in Amelia’s bedroom wall and the Doctor discovers it’s actually a crack in space/time (or something like that).  On the other side of the crack is a prison and ‘Prisoner Zero’ has escaped through that crack to Earth.  The Doctor appears to close the crack before having to rush back to the TARDIS, where upon he returns not 5 minutes later but 12 years.  Grown up Amelia (now Amy) and the Doctor rush around for 20 minutes trying to avert the destruction of planet Earth by Prisoner Zero’s gaolers by pointing out the shapeshifting prisoner’s whereabouts to them.  Once that is done, and the Earth is safe, the Doctor goads the alien destructor fleet back to give them a good tongue lashing and a veiled threat that he’d sort ’em out if they ever tried that sort of thing again.

As plots go that doesn’t sound much for the extended 65 minute (well, 63 minute) running time.  It doesn’t but I didn’t find any slack moments, in fact it is just full of gem after gem.  Little Amelia ‘praying’ to Santa (despite it being Easter) for some help with the crack in her wall, maybe a policeman, just as a Police Box crashes in her back garden. The wonderfully funny food sequence, including the immortal line – “You’re Scottish, fry something!”  No doubt the sales of custard and fish fingers have increased markedly this past week, too!  A bit earlier the whole: “You’re soaking wet.” “I was in the swimming pool.” “You said you were in the library.” “So was the swimming pool.”  Or how about: “On this floor, how many rooms? Count them for me now.” “Why?” “Because it will change your life.”  Or, a minute or two later: “Oh yeah, yeah, course! It’s an interdimensional multi-form from outer space, they’re all ‘terrified’ of wood!”  Then there’s the: “Blimey. Get a girlfriend, Jeff.”  Or the whole scene: “Amy, he’s taking his clothes off. … Are you not going to turn your back?” “Nope.”  Or: “No TARDIS, no screwdriver, two minutes to spare… Who da man? … Alright, I’m never saying that again, fine!”  Or: “Hello. I’m The Doctor. Basically… run.”  I could go on and on but I think we all get the idea!

I’m rapidly running out of time here, trying to finish off this review before the Beast Below begins in about 10 minutes!  I don’t want to spoil this review by tainting it with knowledge of the next episode.  I’ll just sum up the episode quickly then, before getting onto a bit of speculation.  Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour was a triumph.  It had the darkness, that much talked about ‘fairy tale’ quality that we’d been told to expect, a great sense of humour that really enhanced the darkness by contrast.  Great pacing, wonderful music (ignoring the new theme tune, I’m still undecided on that at this point!) and generally (and genuinely) a fresh and invigorating take on Doctor Who.  I can’t say enough good things about it. Superlatives fail me!

On 2nd, 3rd and 4th viewing I am noticing things that might hint at the wider story arc.  People were a bit concerned that Moffat made it all a bit too obvious with the crack and the talk of the Pandorica and silence falling.  I suspect that’s only the tip of the iceberg and in 12 weeks time we will look back at The Eleventh Hour in an entirely new light.  My theory is currently that time has shattered somehow and Amy’s home village of Leadworth is either at the heart of it or at one point of failure.  Some potential evidence:

  • The Doctor seemed remarkably surprised to have skipped 12 years.  Even after the TARDIS is repaired he doesn’t realise 2 further years have passed. Is that because time isn’t working correctly in Leadworth?
  • Just when is the ‘modern day’ Leadworth meant to be set anyway? Modern laptops and mobile phones suggest sometime around 2010 but…
  • Why does Rory’s hospital badge say issued 30th November 1990? Wouldn’t he have been about 8 years old back in 1990?
  • Rory’s car is an ancient N reg mini.  Is that a coincidence?
  • Is Amy really dreaming that young Amelia hears the TARDIS and looks up?
  • Why does Amy seem to have a doll or two of the Doctor with him wearing a brown top rather than his blue shirt?

And a few general questions:

  • How did Amy explain the shed to her Aunt? Presumably said it was the Raggedy Doctor, was she punished for lying?
  • Just what happened to Amy’s parents?
  • Where is/who is Amy’s aunt?

Yes, I’m convinced Moffat has something a little more interesting for us than the usual RTD season arc we’ve all been used to.  I’m very much looking forward to further speculation as the episodes come along.



Is Media Nostalgia a Thing of the Past?

  on November 6th, 2009

Here comes BodLast night I found myself stuck in a YouTube chain of watching late 70s, early 80s children’s TV opening credits.  It all started with looking up Floella Benjamin on Wikipedia (after hardly believing that was really her in the Sarah Jane Adventures yesterday – she looked far too young but it was, nonetheless, her!).  That led me to seek clips from Play Away on YouTube and it didn’t stop there…

Seriously dating myself (no – not in that way!) I watched the opening credits to the likes of (I’m sure there were more) Play Away (with Jeremy Irons!), Rentaghost, The Flumps, Bod, Worzel Gummidge, Jamie And The Magic Torch, The Adventure Game (including the last 5 minutes, where the contestants have to cross the vortex), Rainbow, Grange Hill (the original opening with the exploding sausage! Also Gripper’s exit scenes from the series), Wizbit, Jigsaw, Look and Read: Dark Towers (no credits, just a good few minutes of the programme) and three crappy American series from the early to mid 80s – Automan, Manimal and Street Hawk.

Is there a point to all this rambling?  If there is it is this: will children in the future fail to have the vague nostalgic memories of children’s TV past that we do, because the programmes will always be instantly accessible in perpetuity?  For the most part I was only looking at the opening credits last night which is enough to evoke memories but not enough to destroy them!  In the not too distant future we will almost certainly be able to bring up programmes at will.  Children won’t have the same experience that we had – namely that a TV programme was generally shown once and rarely (if ever) repeated.

Perhaps inaccessibility to a past event isn’t required to generate nostalgia but I do wonder if being able to quickly and easily revisit an old childhood memory might be a bit traumatic when they find it isn’t quite as good as their memory suggests.  No, that’s the situation our generation is in, looking back 30+ years without anything to bridge that gulf.  Future generations won’t need to have such a gap – as they progress through childhood they can watch programmes to death and revisit them later in childhood, only to find they don’t like them any more.  Perhaps for that reason alone TV (and ‘media’ in general) nostalgia will be a thing of the past and maybe that’s no bad thing!




  on September 27th, 2009

QuatermassQuatermass – the 1950s granddaddy of British Science Fiction TV.

In our next podcast (number 55, due out any minute!) we discuss, amongst other things, the original Quatermass trilogy (as written by Nigel Kneale) and the film remakes it spawned.  Given we won’t be giving too much background information I’ll take this opportunity to explain it a bit for those who aren’t all that familiar with it all.

Back in 1953 the BBC broadcast the first of three, 6 part, serials revolving around our protagonist Professor Bernard Quatermass.  Quatermass was a throwback to, even then, earlier times when scientists were considered heroes.  Attitudes were changing, scientists were beginning to be distrusted.  Their thirst for knowledge and progress put all of us at peril – just look at the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki only 8 years earlier.  This sets the stage for the first Quatermass adventure:

The Quatermass Experiment

Professor Quatermass and his small team of the British Experimental Rocket Group have succeeded in being the first to send a manned spacecraft into orbit.  We join the action when all contact has been lost with the craft and its three crew. Quatermass and his ground team think all is lost.  Eventually their radar does pick up the craft but its clearly veered far off course, having a much wider elliptical orbit than intended.  There is no voice communication from the crew.  Are they dead or it is just a malfunction?

After the space craft crashes into London the intact crew module is opened to find only one of the three crew.  Where did the other two go? The door hadn’t been opened.  Their empty spacesuits were still locked together, as if they hadn’t been taken off.  The one survivor, Victor Carroon, is gravely ill and perhaps changing into something less than human…

Looking back at the Quatermass Experiment now it feels a bit like a 1950s B-Movie but, at the time, it was revolutionary, especially for television.  Back in those days only a few million people had televisions sets in Britain and there was the only one channel to watch. Nonetheless The Quatermass Experiment has gone down in history as one of the first must-see serials, truly a piece of landmark television.  According to Wikipedia, film historian Robert Simpson said that the serial had been “event television, emptying the streets and pubs for the six weeks of its duration.”

Most of the, very few, previous attempts to do Science Fiction TV on the BBC were squarely aimed at children.  Quatermass certainly was not, as its (progressively getting later) timeslot suggested.  Initially it was screened, on a Saturday evening, at 20:25, moving steadily later as the serial became more shocking, for the final part to start screen six weeks later at 21:00.

Quatermass II

Two years later, in 1955, a sequel series was produced. Professor Quatermass is still heading up the struggling British Experimental Rocket Group, now with plans to build a lunar colony. Events bring Quatermass face to face with an alien invasion via meteorite showers, contact with such a meteor turning people into the aliens’ unwilling slaves.

Very much Invasion of the Body Snatchers, before that film arrived the following year, this serial inspired (to say the least) the famous and renowned first Doctor Who story for the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee – namely Spearhead from Space.  The concept of an alien intelligence slowly infiltrating the government has since been much used and in this 1955 early cold war environment it’s very easy to see where the idea might have originally come from.

Like the Quatermass Experiment, Quatermass II was performed live on the night of broadcast but as the budget had been essentially doubled they could pre-record even more film inserts. A lot of that pre-recorded material took advantage of the fact it didn’t have to be tied to a studio and were the most ambitious shots ever done in British television to that time.

Again Professor Quatermass’ adventures were a huge success with the (now burgeoning) British viewing public and would live on in the viewer psyche for decades to come.  Apparently 90% of viewers questioned, soon after the serial concluded, had watched at least five episodes of the production.  A viewing figure that little or nothing could hope for today.

Quatermass and the Pit

Perhaps the best remembered Quatermass story hit our screens at the end of 1958 and through to early 1959, in the form of Quatermass and the Pit.

Partly inspired by the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 this tale told of an ancient insectoid Martian race that millions of years ago had come to Earth and genetically manipulated humanity, giving us much of our darker aspects.  This story also takes the previously SF-only series into the realm of the supernatural (although all ‘explained’ scientifically, of course) with telekinesis, telepathy and racial memories.

This was the final Quatermass the BBC television produced (not counting the 2005 live remake of the Quatermass Experiment, featuring Jason Flemyng as Quatermass and David Tennant as Dr. Briscoe).  In the mid-60s there were plans for the BBC to make a fourth Quatermass serial but, after a difficult and prolonged gestation, it finally went to the rival ITV station in 1979.  Simply called ‘Quatermass’ that serial, starring John Mills as a retired Bernard Quatermass, concluded the Professor’s adventures.  As I have yet to see this particular story I shall leave talk of it until a later time!

Watching Quatermass Today

The original BBC serial of Quatermass and the Pit was, again like it’s two predecessors, performed largely live on the night of broadcast but with film inserts to cover scenes too complicated to perform live or requiring location work.   Fortunately by Quatermass II the BBC had realised what they had on their hands and telerecorded the live transmission (basically pointing a film camera at the TV monitor as it was performed!)  For that reason Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit still exist in the BBC archives and are available on DVD.  They began to telerecord the original The Quatermass Experiment (a very unusual undertaking in 1953) but stopped after the second episode as they didn’t think the results were of high enough technical quality to be resold abroad (not helped by an insect flying about the monitor (and therefore being inadvertently filmed) in episode two).  Those two episodes are available on the BBC’s ‘Quatermass: Complete Collection’ DVD boxset, which contains all the 1950s TV serials and various documentaries.

Besides the original BBC serials there were also corresponding big screen film adaptation made of each of the three by Hammer Film Productions.  Named The Quatermass Xperiment (or, in the US, The Creeping Unknown), Quatermass 2 (US title: Enemy From Space) and Quatermass and the Pit (finally both the same name in the US and the same name as the original serial!)  The first two featured, the somewhat controversial choice of, the American actor Brian Donlevy as Professor Quatermass.  Donlevy being the only man, on screen, to play Quatermass in more than one story.  Quatermass and the Pit starred, the much better accepted (and British! (specifically Scottish)), actor Andrew Keir as Quatermass. Keir is the only other man to have played Quatermass twice, though the second time on radio rather than screen in the BBC’s 1996 The Quatermass Memoirs.

As we say in the podcast, if you are a fan of Doctor Who (or, really, British Sci-Fi in general) then you owe it to yourself to seek out Quatermass.  Its impact on British Science Fiction TV cannot be underestimated.  I would recommend the BBC serials over the Hammer films, at least initially (though I personally think Hammer’s Andrew Kier might be the finest Quatermass) as that way you’ll see them exactly as the original 1950s TV audience did – groundbreaking television.  I would warn you though, this is very early television we are talking about, over 50 years old, so don’t go in expecting modern acting, pacing or visual effects!  Close the curtains, turn out the lights and try to imagine you’ve never seen its like before!



There are conventions and there are conventions…

  on September 24th, 2009

Podcasting Banned From DWAS Time & AgainThe Time & Again DWAS convention will only be allowing people from the one particular podcast to record any conversations with the guests.  Clearly they are well within their rights to do so but it has ruffled a few feathers, to say the least.

A heated debate raged on Twitter earlier this evening between one podcaster who would be allowed to record and another who wouldn’t. Forgive me for being vague, I don’t want to turn this in any way personal, it’s the policy I want to examine not the people on any side of the of the ‘debate’!  I only name the event because people deserve to know in case the policy might affect their choice on whether to attend or not.

I want to take the heat out of the situation and look at it rationally and hear other people’s opinions on the subject, should they have any.

When asked, via email, “what are the chances of getting a few words with your guests for our podcast?”, the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS) responder replied “On this occasion we have agreed that <redacted!> will do any podcast in return for advertising on their site which we have been getting for some months now. At this stage I’m afraid I cannot turn around and say that someone else is also having access. However for the future,…?”

On the face of it that doesn’t sound totally unreasonable and does leave things open for the future.  It does, however, totally fail to take into account the sort of social gatherings conventions are, especially in this newly connected world.

DWAS, at one time, used to hold the biggest Doctor Who conventions in the world until the American cons, especially Gallifrey One, really took off.  Since then DWAS have rather melted away and haven’t held one of their once annual Panopticon extravaganzas since 2003.  Time and Again is very modest by comparison.

Perhaps we were spoilt by Whooverville? There all podcasters were treated equally, invited in even.  It was a wonderful atmosphere of freedom, fun and socialising.  It was run by fans, for fans.  The guests interacted with fans throughout the day in a casual way not a forced restricted way.  It was utterly unlike the sort of media expo where guests are segregated from the fans and any interaction has to be paid for in advance (the organisers acting like their pimps).  It’s a shame DWAS (a fan run organisation) has apparently gone at least some way down that route.  Even the great (and massive) Gallifrey One has, somehow, avoided that trap.

Doctor Who fandom has long since had its ‘in crowd’ of fans, a level above the ‘ming mong’ crowd.  That was always a sad state of affairs and I’m sorry to see that sort of elitism still exists.  I’m not asking for a fan panel like the podcaster’s panel at Whooverville.  I’m not asking for the guests to be forced to talk to every person with a handheld recorder – this isn’t a publicity event for a new film, after all.  All we’d like is to be able to ask a guest or a fan attendee if they’d be prepared to talk to us for a few moments.  We’re not looking for long in-depth interviews – that wouldn’t be fair on all the other attendees (or the poor people we’re wanting to talk to!)  Leave it up to the individual we ask to decide for themselves if they are willing to spare us those few moments.  If they’d rather not, then tell them they shouldn’t be afraid to say no.  We don’t consider them to be duty bound to do so, only for us not to be prevented from asking.  As one Twitter user said ‘There’s a difference between denying access to guests and giving podcasters special access. A big difference.’  I don’t think any of us are asking for special access, just equal access.

Whooverville was a masterstroke – invite all the podcasters along and get a lot of free publicity and general good will.  Good will epitomises Whooverville.  Time & Again seem to be taking the opposite view.  If the bad will I’ve seen generated this evening is anything to go by then Time & Again (and DWAS conventions in general from now on) could well go down in infamy.  That’s just not a way to run a convention.

Those people behind this short sighted decision should do themselves a favour and take another look at it.  Conventions should not be about control freakery but openness and fun.  Unless I’m not seeing the full picture here, this seems like a largely pointless self inflicted wound. A wound that may fester for years to come.  Reconsider.