Thursday, June 29, 2006

Two 14-year-old girls use myspace, pose as woman to meet and rob man

Viz readers will recall Suicidal Syd's attempt to meet a German cannibal mentalist via the internet. Unfortunately his prospective murderer turned out only to be a 14-year-old girl posing as a serial killer.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Mutants

The Mutants has always been one of my favourite Target novelisations. That is a statement that can lead to disappointment, and by Kroll, it did this time.

I had a genuine struggle to get to the end of episode six. Performance-wise it's dreadful - some of the worst acting I've seen in DW so far from Cotton, a barely convincing display from Stubbs. They were such a cool, laconic duo in the novel.

And you wouldn't believe how much more impressive it all looked in my imagination. The Marshal was fat and compact, menacing like Mussolini instead of wobbly like Russell Grant. Skybase had wide silver metallic corridors, the Marshall's office was much bigger with a huge mural, Jaeger's lab was untidy and packed with equipment. Solos had hot steamy jungles, not cold misty forests. Even the Target cover picture looks better than the original story.

Giving the production its due: the Marshall is quite believable, even in his mad scenes. Jaeger is obviously played primarily as the cold, heartless experimenting SS doctor German scientist stereotype, whereas in the novel the untidy, bumbling Heinz Wolff German stereotype is to the fore. Given the impact of his actions on the Solonians, perhaps the former portrayal does in fact work better.

Over on the Good Scientist side, Sondergaard is watchable, although there is a dreadful bit in his cave. It's shot across a table on which are various objects that he picks up and uses to illustrate his explanation to Jo and the Doctor. It's like a schools science programme.

A couple of aspects of the story are present in novel and video, but only stand out as awkward in the latter. The amount of Doctor/Jo separation (and consequent lack of fun interaction) in the story is very noticeable. And it's somehow much less plausible that Jaeger would fall for the 'Stand here and watch this circuit till it explodes' trick twice, when you actually see him doing it while the noise the circuit makes rises to an obviously dangerous pitch.

Crumbs of comfort: my imaginary Investigator was actually quite like Peter Howell, and the radiation cave wasn't too dissimilar to the original, except it didn't look so much like a vaulted brick cellar, and there were no CSO lines.

Suspension of disbelief rating: HIGH. Acting, Varan's wig, the lot. (Some of the location scenes are OK)

Overall rating: 2/5. I can't even mark this up for having an interesting central trope, because even that is explained so much better in the novel.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Greatest Show In The Galaxy

Some time ago I got hold of the Target novelisation of this story and was surprised to be drawn into the story. The clowns dressed as undertakers driving a hearse had a Prisoner-esque flavour, and the characters had a larger-than-life allegorical quality. I particularly liked the self-referential elements - the implacable family audience, and the Whizzkid who famously says 'although I never got to see the early days, I know it's not as good as it used to be, but I'm still terribly interested.'

Having posted enthusiastically elsewhere along these lines, I decided to have the courage of my convictions and watch the actual story.

I was prepared for disappointment this time, but actually escaped unscathed. Even Ace wasn't as annoying as I remembered her. In fact the Doctor/Ace relationship began to seem convincing and likeable. I got a distinct Leela/4th Doctor vibe, as if the Doctor had a project to educate Ace to solve problems through other means than Janis thorns or Nitro-9.

And their relationship is paralleled by the quite different, exploitative relationship betwen Captain Cook and Mags. I've since read that the Captain is supposed to be a symbolic anti-Doctor. That works for me.

Nord does not. He's a children's programme villain like Mildred's Uncle Ben, with his amusing threats and comedy motorbike. Neither - sadly - does the Whizzkid. It's great to have him played by the Adrian Mole actor, but Gian Sammarco (now a psychiatric nurse - 100% true) deploys a quality hardwood acting technique that drains the character of life. Maybe it's an attempt to show the Whizzkid's detachment from reality?

Update: I later did a Target comparison for this story.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


1982: Kinda first broadcast. Slated by fans as incomprehensible and containing big fake snake. 12-year-old Shallow finds it 'boring'.

1995 approx: Kinda discovered by fans to be best story ever, despite containing big fake snake. Shallow doesn't notice, having retired from fandom in 1988.

2006: Restored to fandom once more, Shallow reads Kinda novelisation and decides to buy video. Now read on...

I realise now why I didn't like Kinda first time round. It's complicated. There's a surface layer satirising pith-helmeted colonialism and 'we had to destroy the village in order to save it' militarism. Then underneath there's the struggle to prevent history from grinding into motion again on Deva Loka. What price the Doctor's time travelling experience on a planet which prefers history not to happen?

Top concepts which are backed up by quality execution. Where would this be without Simon Rouse? Shouty mad characters like Hindle can go wrong in DW in so many ways, but he hardly stumbles once, even with the regression to childhood bits climaxing in the 'You can't mend people!' line. I liked the relationship between Todd, Sanders and Hindle; Sanders abdicates responsibility, allowing Hindle and his insecurities to step into the gap, while Todd looks on, unable to stop him. (Is this an id/ego/superego metaphor?)

I'd forgotten Nerys Hughes was playing Todd. She's pretty good. I was particularly convinced by the scene where she has to try and fool Hindle into opening the Box of Jhana while simultaneously being very frightened indeed of him. Plus, if she hasn't got the best pins ever to appear in Doctor Who, I'll eat my Davo TARDIS toffee tin.

Adric and Tegan don't require such a kindly viewer as they do in other stories. At times I didn't even notice they were acting. The Tegan v Tegan dream dialogue isn't as bad as I thought I remembered it, too.

Mary Morris was a bonus, as I'd forgotten she was in it. I got a distinct and welcome Ursula Le Guin vibe from the Karuna/Panna scenes, as if The Word For World Is Forest had been crossed with The Tombs of Atuan.

It seems to me with this story that the Doctor doesn't have all that much to do until he devises the circle of mirrors plan in episode 4. The action goes on around him, and he's sidelined as an 'idiot'.

Incidentally the Target novelisation of this is surprisingly good. Terrance isn't just a shooting script sausage machine. He conveys Hindle's childish petulance very well indeed.

Suspension of disbelief rating: LOW. That snake may be fake, but it's only in a few shots. I don't like seeing studio floor between the dry leaves on the ground, either, but I suppose it could be smooth rock.

Pet theory: Nyssa dreamt the whole thing.

Overall rating: 5 / 5. And it takes a top story to get that from me outside seasons 13-14.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

State of Decay

Recently I've been bigging this story up on message boards. I've always liked the idea that there are all kinds of aberrant societies festering away in E-Space, and wished the Doctor had spent longer exploring them. The juxtaposition of advanced technology - the scout ship, the rebels' technocotheca - with a medieval culture is also a favourite SF trope of mine. But, even more so than with The Stones of Blood, the reality of seeing the story again has been a harsh one.

For a start, the music is incredibly intrusive. It's like having someone experimenting with the Square Wave voice on a BBC micro in the same room: too loud and not suited to the mood either.

I don't mind the model shot of the Tower amid the green landscape. I used to remember that as hinting that we knew very little else about this nameless planet. But that impression has been spoilt by the carefully drawn map (complete with seas and rivers) which we see during the scene where the Doctor plans the attack on the Tower.

I expected to find Adric a bit annoying, but wasn't prepared for Romana II being an equally big pain. She's got 'snotty posh girl' turned up to High in this, which works when she and the Doctor are conversing with the vampires, but seems unnecessary in the other scenes.

I'd forgotten how much I disliked the senescent Purple Doctor of season 18. He may have survived the aging process in the Recreation Generator in The Leisure Hive, but he was never the same man afterwards. Yes, on one level that was a clever prefiguration of the 'decay' theme which runs throughout the season. But it doesn't mean I have to like watching him. The 'rouse him at the name of E-Space' speech strikes a particularly false note.

There are other silly moments too. The erring youth in the initial scene with the peasants slides across the hut floor as if it were, say, a smooth studio floor. Aukon's detection of Adric's mind among those of the peasants is less impressive given that he has probably also spotted the massive great shiny star on the front of his tunic, which his jerkin fails to conceal. And the Bok-like image of the Great Vampire on the scanner screen is just stupid. The pulsating ground under the Tower was a hundred times scarier. Less is more.

The Lords are mostly good enough. Terrance describes Zargo and Camilla in the novelisation as looking like the King and Queen from a pack of cards. And they do indeed have some of that artificiality that you'd expect to see in beings who've stolen extra years of life from others. There's an impression of Camilla being the power behind Zargo, and Aukon being the power behind both of them.

Suspension of disbelief rating: HIGH. Too many scenes of Pythonesque guards running back and forth. The 'scout ship turns round in space' model shot left me unconvinced even as a 10-year-old. And the scene at the end where the Lords advance, shoulder to shoulder, on the Doctor, reminded me of the 'Fracula and Drankenstein' strand on Emu's Broadcasting Company circa 1980. Sheer comedy.

Overall rating: 2 / 5. Like Zargo, Camilla and Aukon at the end of episode 4, my liking for this story had been artificially preserved beyond its proper time, and has now crumbled away into dust.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Stones of Blood

Continuing the old series vidfest with my impressions of The Stones of Blood.

There's a divide between comedy and horror in this story. In some places they work together, in others they don't.

Somehow the jokey hyperspace trial scenes don't sit too uneasily with the mayhem on Earth. I don't know how that works. Perhaps I subconsciously think that huge mobile bloodsucking monoliths are really a ridiculous comedy idea which fits well with Baker T's barrister's wig and the Megara (who seem much more camp this time round).

On the other hand I thought the initial scenes in the stone circle, which are surely meant to establish a sense of foreboding and apprehension, are badly deflated by Romana stumbling around in high heels.

I remember the plot of this story very clearly from the origination, but my visual memories are misleading. I recalled De Vries as being much more like Peter Bowles in To The Manor Born, and Vivien Fay as being thinner and sharper-faced. And Romana I is far more like a children's television presenter than I remembered - a sort of icy professional 'let's get this over with, shall we?' air.

It's a difficult job being one of the eccentric old women of Doctor Who. One false move and you're over the line into the Amelia Ducat/Mrs Remington territory of being simply annoying. Amelia Rumford stays on the right side with ease. She has the character of the old-school female academic off to a T.

K9 seems, well, more like a prop this time round. I'd forgotten his eye area didn't glow in the earlier stories. The Ogri on the other hand retain all their original menace, particularly when looming through doors and outside windows. The combination of the grinding noise and the glow of bloodlust is well judged. The ubiquitous crows also work. Just because something's as corny as hell doesn't mean it isn't effective.

You'll have detected a much more equivocal note in my reaction to seeing this story again, compared to Seeds of Doom.

I still like the concepts in this one: the rational explanation behind the bloodsucking stones, the ship hovering just 'above' the circle in hyperspace for thousands of years, the idea that advanced beings consider it a criminal offence to impersonate a religious personage (nice of them to protect us primitives against exploitation).

But I don't seem able to overlook the flaws in the execution. Why does Seeds get a pass in that regard? Perhaps we'll find out when we consider my impressions of the next story.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Seeds of Doom

Inferno was a story I'd always wanted to see. Seeds of Doom is one I've always wanted to see again, as my first memories of watching Doctor Who are from this story, which I first saw just over 30 years ago.

The horror attributes of the Krynoid stand up well to the test of time. The transformation is made much more effective by the way that Keeler stays lucid more than long enough to appreciate what's happening to him, and the Krynoid's ability to control other plants still creates a credible threat. Yes, I know it's done with strings and people shaking branches, but it's done well.

Scorby is an excellent villain. I don't have a problem with the Boycie thing - there was always a suggestion of real menace behind Boycie's banter, and here we see it unmasked. I could easily believe that he meant to shoot Sarah and the Doctor out of hand in the Antarctic, and it's good to see the Doctor having to deal with someone who's prepared to do that right now without so much as a pre-death megalomaniac rant. Kudos to Robert Banks Stewart for keeping him round till late in the story, rather than moralistically killing him off early.

Harrison Chase... fan talk had prepared me for a slight degree of campness here, but I wasn't expecting to instantly recognise Camp Freddie from The Italian Job. He's credible both as plant fanatic and Krynoid possessee, and manages to deliver a line like 'I could play all day in my green cathedral', but I was expecting a bit more menace and a bit less petulance.

Sarah is fantastic in this. I particularly liked her horrified reaction to Harrison Chase's death in the mincing machine ((c) TCA). Because you would be shocked if you saw that happen to someone. And there's a great toss of the head/narrowing of eyes when she's hit Scorby with the 'gun in your hand' speech and its tiny-penis subtext. Don't be fooled by the girly exterior. She's still got the passion she displayed in her first season with Pert.

This passion isn't the only reminder of earlier days. Seeds of Doom is said to be atypical for its era, and it does seem like a reserve Pert/UNIT story hastily dusted off for emergency use. Why are the Doctor and Sarah hanging about on Earth at the start, as if it's still season 11? The Doctor is unusually ready with guns and fists throughout, and his dash to London by car is a pure Pert plot element.

Generally the Doctor doesn't seem his usual self in this story. When he tells Beresford to call in the air strike, that just seems like the last item on his 'how to deal with a Krynoid' checklist. All the action is simply aimed at stopping Chase from obstructing the weeding process. There's nowhere else for the story to go, no real scope for a 'there should have been another way'. I think this derives from the nature of the Krynoid, which can't be persuaded to return into space or do anything other than carry out its germination cycle.

The return of UNIT in this story is a disappointment. As with The Android Invasion, UNIT without the Brigadier isn't UNIT.

The other fan truism about Seeds is that it is bloated. I don't agree that the Antarctic episodes are unnecessary. They serve to establish both how the Krynoid transformation works, and Scorby and Chase's ruthlessness. The later episodes however would benefit from one less escape-and-recapture by the Doctor and Sarah, and the omission of Amelia Ducat. Some eccentric old DW women work (Amelia Rumford) and some do not (Mrs Remington). Ducat falls into the latter category, though it's interesting to see that she has an early prototype of the Hyacinth Bucket joke.

The final scene is simply bizarre. Yes, it doesn't make sense in plot terms because we have no reason to believe that they used the TARDIS to go to the Antarctic in the first place. But the actors clearly aren't taking it seriously. It reminded me very strongly of that eighties Christmas BBC trailer which included a scene of the Davo era TARDIS crew waving from the police box doors and shouting 'Merry Christmas!'

Suspension of disbelief rating: MEDIUM. The Antarctic exterior scenes are frankly poor, and the country house model is obviously just that. (It's a good model though.) And was the Doctor serious in suggesting that they amputate Winlett's arm? Also, Stevenson is a dead ringer for Bob Fleming from the Fast Show: during the lab scenes I wanted him to keep coughing while Moberley barked 'Arse! Arse! Arse!'.

Overall rating: 4 / 5. It's no mean feat for a story I first saw aged 6 to still impress me. Particularly when it turns out to be so atypical of the DW genre.

Monday, May 01, 2006


I haven't ventured on a review before, so let's just call this my impressions of the story.

I've always wanted to see Inferno since I first read about it in the DWM episode guide circa 1982. Alternative universes and people metamorphosing into beastlike forms are high on my interesting SF trope list.

The alternative world was worth the wait. Evil Liz was a delight, as (for different reasons) were Evil Brig and Benton. DW abounds in wicked Marshals and Generals on other planets, but the British squaddie is always portrayed quite cosily, so it was great to see them getting to threaten the Doctor with guns and hit him with rifle butts.

But the Primords sadly didn't live up to the hype, reminding me of nothing so much as the metamorphosed Jim Dale in Carry On Screaming. Sutton set my teeth on edge in both versions, particularly when he's bantering with Petra in the prime universe.

I've been told that the Doctor has more edge in series 7. I wasn't disappointed. Even his costume reflects the difference, making him dapper whereas later he was flamboyant. His frustration at being trapped on Earth is palpable, and his insulting farewell remarks to the Brigadier in ep 7 are shocking when you're used to later Pert.

I particularly enjoyed seeing some of that frustration come out when the Doctor resorts to smashing the control consoles with a hammer in ep 6, and has to be dragged off by UNIT soldiers.

I was impressed that the story courageously consigned everyone in the Evil universe to a fiery death. An eighties Doctor would have needed a 15-minute epilogue in ep 7 to pop back to that reality to save everyone.

Suspension of disbelief rating: MEDIUM (stock footage of lava, 'falling over in earthquake' acting, dreadful picture quality in some exterior shots)

Overall rating: 3 / 5. Looking forward to watching it again to see how my impressions develop.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Shallow at work

I'm so pleased with myself. I have an old boom box which blows a fuse if you use the tape deck, but where the amplifier part works fine. So I opened it up, connected a stereo socket to the amplifier inputs on the PCB, and drilled a hole to install the socket. Now I can use it as an active speaker set for my MP3 player and the separate tape deck I keep in the computer room.

This proves that if I don't throw something away because I can find a use for it, I'm not always deluding myself.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Someone else has been thinking about Death of a Salesman and Buffy.

It's often said that the 'Death of a Salesman' production in Restless bears no resemblance to the play. I don't agree, particularly when I think of the piano scene, where Buffy scolds Riley while Harmony weeps on the sofa. The combination of the music and Buffs' relentless declamation reminds me strongly of the scene where Willy's loud conversation with the Woman is interrupted by continual banging on the door from Biff.

Monday, January 16, 2006

My taste in games is simple. Sim City 2000 has been one of my favourites for years. But recently I saw Sim City 3000 going dead cheap in a supermarket. You still can't do anything about the UFO attack, but now there's a siren you can let off during this and other disasters. It's very satisfying indeed. Plus, you get a telling-off from the news ticker if you cry wolf by sounding it when there isn't a disaster happening.