Monday, 29 October 2012

"You've Been Away As Long As You Think You Have"

Is what the Seventh Doctor tells Ace upon her return to the present day (which may or may not have been 1989) in Survival, the last story shown in Doctor Who's first run.

1989 was the year that the Berlin Wall came down, a fatwā was declared on The Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie, the Hillsborough disaster claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool supporters, the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre took place and the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1989:

The Abyss
James Cameron's SF underwater epic is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. Surely nobody has ever worked harder on a film. The cast are fantastic, the story is brilliant and the CGI is still wonderful.

The Tall Guy
Jeff Goldblum, Emma Thompson and Rowan Atkinson are fantastic in this off-beat romantic comedy which parodies celebrity and musical theatre brilliantly. All of Thompson’s scenes, the Elephant! sequences and the Madness music video performance of 'It Must Be Love' are all wonderful.

Crimes And Misdemeanours
Woody Allen's experiment with structure sees a comedy and a tragedy entwine to great effect, whilst also managing to aask profound questions about the human condition. Allen, Martin Landau, Mia Farrow, Alan Alda, Angelica Huston and Jerry Orbach are fantastic.

Back To The Future, Part II
The second Back To The Future film is a great sequel that expands on the ideas and yet remains true to the spirit of the original. The DeLorean time machine travels further and visits an inspired 2015 which left a generation wishing for hoverboards and an alternative 1985 which successfully explores a divergent timeline in a mainstream piece of cinema and the scenes revisiting the 1955 events of the first film are brilliantly put together. Here's the trailer.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
The much-maligned fifth film is, marshmelons aside, much better than its reputation. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Laurence Luckinbill and David Warner are great. The story asks some big questions, provides some bold answers and is probably the film most in the mould of the original series of Star Trek. Here's the trailer.

Licence To Kill
In a great twist on the usual formula the sixteenth Bond film, 007 follows a vendetta, goes rogue and has his Licence To Kill revoked. Desmond Llewellyn and David Hedison are both wonderful, while Timothy Dalton is fantastic in his second and final outing as Bond which sees the best portrayal of the super spy sadly curtailed.

Doctor Who: The Greatest Show In The Galaxy 4; Battlefield; Ghost Light; The Curse Of Fenric; Survival
The greatest show in the galaxy ends its twenty-fifth season with the wonderful last part of The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, the reveal of the Gods of Ragnarok is great, Sylvester McCoy is excellent in the Doctor's 'audition' for them, evoking the TV talent shows of recent years and his calm exit of the exploding tent is very, very impressive. In retrospect the line, "Entertain us...Or die" takes on a more unfortunate significance...
McCoy and Sophie Aldred return for the show's twenty-sixth season with Battlefield, a story with an undeservedly bad reputation. Jean Marsh, James Ellis, Angela Bruce, Marcus Gilbert and Robert Jezek are fantastic, McCoy's business is very funny, the simplicity of the chalk circle is great, the Destroyer make-up is astonishing, twisting the Doctor up in Arthurian legend works really well and the concept of his future catching up with him is a brilliant one, but the genius of this story is how the Brigadier is written. Nicholas Courtney is phenomenal as ever, his dialogue is wonderful and everything that goes right for him plays to the expectation that he'll pay the ultimate price and so the ending is surprising and well earned. Another story, another strange reputation. Ghost Light isn't nearly as complicated as some would have you believe. It could be clearer certainly, but the pieces of the puzzle are all there: the evolution and the experimentation. The dialogue is great: "damned tsetse fly", the list of things the Doctor hates, "the cream of Scotland Yard", the Doctor's change speech. Michael Cochrane, Ian Hogg, Sylvia Syms, Sharon Duce and Frank Windsor are wonderful. Ghost Light is a brilliantly macabre story that draws together elements from all over the place to create something incredible. The Viking mystery combines with the World War II setting in the next story to create a tangible sense of unease, while the Doctor and Ace take on "Evil since the dawn of time". The vampiric Haemovores descendents from an alternative future only repelled by faith are a very scary concept and the Ancient One looks amazing. Doctor Who is full of great scripts with ambition that is beyond the reach of the budget, this script is great and the story so epic in scale that it practically redefines the word epic and yet somehow it is still well and truly within the scope of this production and "Don’t interrupt me when I'm eulogising" is a brilliant line. The all-location shoot, the weather and the period detail all give the story a cinematic feel while McCoy, Aldred, Dinsdale Landon, Janet Henfrey, Nicholas Parsons, Tomek Bork and Ann Reid are all fantastic. The Curse Of Fenric is phenomenal. Rona Munro’s script for the last story of the season, Survival, is brilliant. Ace revisiting her old haunts, her seduction by the animal instincts and the climactic battle between the Doctor and the Master are all fantastic. McCoy, Aldred, Anthony Ainley and Lisa Bowerman are superb. The scenes in suburban Perivale are all the scarier for it, the planet of the Cheetah people looks great and the Cheetah people themselves are better than their reputation suggests. For a time this was the last ever Doctor Who story and although such a thing is never desirable, we couldn't have hoped for a better last ever Doctor Who story, the themes explored in the story made this a poignant bookend to the first ever story. The Doctor's closing monologue is wonderful and it is all the more incredible that the show was cancelled after a season as good as this.

Red Dwarf: Backwards; Marooned; Polymorph; Bodyswap; Timeslides; The Last Day
Series III is a massive sea change for Red Dwarf. It's got less grey, more Kryten, a new theme tune and a head sex change. The crew visit an Earth on which time runs Backwards and the result is a great mix of high minded SF and low brow humour. Robert Llewellyn makes an excellent debut and the opening crawl, Lister and Cat debating Wilma Flintstone and "Thankski veryski muchski, Budski!" are all fantastic, but the least said about Cat's visit to the bushes the better. Rimmer and Lister are Marooned, and Chris Barrie and Craig Charles are wonderful in a brilliant two-hander: Holly's "This is not a drill" opening, Rimmer's past life regression, "Ascension Sunday" and quoting Shakespeare, Lister story of how he lost his virginity and eating dog food, Cliff Richard and the closing line are all fantastic, but more importantly this is an absolutely wonderful piece of television. The shape-changing Polymorph works its way around the crew, robs each of them of an emotion and the resulting new dynamic is a great ensemble piece featuring the funniest mention of "alphabetti spaghetti!" ever heard. Rimmer and Lister Bodyswap and aside from some dubbing issues it's great, the Cat's "Jozxyqk!", the model work is beautiful and "Oh smeg! What the smeggin' smeg's he smeggin' done? He's smeggin' killed me!", the line boasting the most smegs per square inch. Another episode built around a brilliant concept, Timeslides enables the crew to step inside a photograph and time travel back to that moment, Lister's "in-smegging-credible" jump, the Cat's snowball and the briefcase bomb are all great interractions between the photographs and the real world, but it's the character moments that really shine: Danny John-Jules' Junior Angler sales pitch, Lister and Rimmer meeting and being embarrassed by their younger selves, the repetition of "cryptofascist", Hattie Hayridge's delivery of exposition and Chris Barrie's delivery of Rimmer's speech asking "Who is the rich man?" are all fantastic and despite his reputation for being difficult Special Guest Star Adolf Hitler puts in a very impressive performance. The true success of the series finale, The Last Day, is that Llewellyn's Kryten feels like he's been a part of the show much longer than six episodes and so the thought of losing him is all the more appalling, which is best exemplified by the Officer's Club scene, but Lister's defence of boxing, Rimmer's Samaritans story, Cat's gift, Kryten's dismissal of the existence of human heaven and Holly's potentially fatal pragmatism, "the Star Trek crap", viable targets and a great performance from Gordon Kennedy. Series III not only reinvents the look of the show, but ensures it will be around for a long time to come.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Schizoid Man; Unnatural Selection; A Matter Of Honor; The Measure Of A Man; The Dauphin; Contagion; The Royale; Time Squared; The Icarus Factor; Pen Pals; Q Who; The Emissary; Peak Performance; Evolution; The Survivors; Who Watches The Watchers; Booby Trap; The Enemy; The Price
Highlights from the second season include The Schizoid Man in which Brent Spiner is great as Data possessed by his own 'grandfather'. A Matter Of Honor is a great Klingon culture clash episode. The Measure Of A Man is a fantastic episode and a very thought provoking allegory for slavery. The Dauphin is a nice little Wesley episode with great performances from Wil Wheaton, Jonathan Frakes and Whoopi Goldberg. Contagion is great, impressive visuals, an urgent threat and the realisation of the Iconians is compelling. The crew visit The Royale, a hotel based on the story of a pulp fiction novella, not a subtle episode but Brent Spiner and Sam Anderson are great. Time Squared is a nice little time travel mystery. Data and a doomed alien girl become Pen Pals in a touching episode that questions the validity and morality of the Prime Directive. Introducing the Borg brilliantly, Q Who is a game changer for the series with fantastic performances from Patrick Stewart, John de Lancie and Goldberg. Michael Dorn and Suzie Plakson are wonderful in The Emissary, an episode which adds depth to both Worf and Klingon culture itself. Frakes, Spiner and Roy Brocksmith are all great in Peak Performance.
The third season opens with Evolution which shows an invigorated sense of style and features great performances from Stewart, Spiner, Wheaton, Ken Jenkins and a returning Gates McFadden. Stewart and Anne Haney are fantastic in The Survivors, a personal look at omnipotence and a very touching use of SF. Asking big ethical questions and featuring great performances from Stewart, Ray Wise and Kathyn Leigh Scott, Who Watches The Watchers is another step up in quality. LeVar Burton and Susan Gibney are great together as LaForge seeks the solution to a Booby Trap on the holodeck and falls in love. The Enemy is a great Cold War-style thriller with fantastic dialogue and wonderful performances from Burton and Dorn. The negotiations for the galaxy's first stable wormhole in The Price are great and the ultimate cost is a great payoff in an episode which uses the Ferengi well and sets the scene for the next two spinoff series.

Wallace & Gromit: A Grand Day Out
The first of Nick Park's animated shorts featuring Wallace and Gromit is wonderful. The construction of the rocket, the take-off, the visit to the moon and it's subsequent consumption are all fantastic. The moon's sole coin-operated robot occupant is great and the shot of Gromit in place of a workbench is hilarious.

Around The World In Eighty Days, With Michael Palin
Michael Palin attempts to follow Phileas Fogg's circumnavigation of the planet from Jules Verne's novel in eighty days and seven episodes. The journey takes him through sixteen countries by foot, train, ship, balloon and husky dog. It's brilliant.

Blackadder Goes Forth: Captain Cook; Corporal Punishment; Major Star; Private Plane; General Hospital; Goodbyeee
The phrase "trench humour" could not be more appropriate than in Blackadder Goes Forth. The lunacy and tragedy of the First World War supplies an excellent backdrop for the fourth series. Captain Cook sets up the new dynamic brilliantly. The next five episodes all examine aspects of a war Blackadder describes as "a war which would be a damn sight simpler if we just stayed in England and shot fifty thousand of our men a week", from the trial and the firing squad of Corporal Punishment, Hugh Laurie's wonderful performance as George as Georgina in Major Star, Lord Flashheart, the Twenty Minuters and a fate worse than death in Private Plane, everything Miranda Richardson does in General Hospital and the series finale, Goodbyeee, is a surprisingly effective and touching tribute to a lost generation.

Last Chance To See
Natural history programming and radio don't seem like an obvious fit, but Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine's radio trip around is a wonderful audio experience, but don't just take my word for it. The BBC have put it up on their website.

Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers by Grant Naylor
The prose is so beautifully written and the jokes so exquisite that it is almost a shame that it has to be part of Red Dwarf at all. The novel explores aspects of the TV episodes The End, Future Echoes, Waiting For God, Me², Kryten, Thanks For The Memory and Better Than Life, but expands upon them to a point that renders it far more than a simple novelisation. The first Red Dwarf novel is magnificent and I really cannot recommend it highly enough.

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
The seventh Discworld novel visits a fictional country with Egyptian overtones and the best named ever conceived. It's a very funny and largely standalone novel that deals with articles of faith, assassins and the revelation that the finest mathematician on the Disc is a camel with another in a spectacular series of names.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
Dragons versus coppers it may be, but the first novel to feature the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is the beginning of the modern era of Discworld. Less fantasy, but no less fantastic.

Where's Wally: The Fantastic Journey by Martin Handford
Wally's whereabouts among the Gobbling Gluttons, the Carpet Flyers, the Ferocious Red Dwarves, the Nasty Nasties, the Deep-Sea Divers and the Land of Wallies are unknown. Find him if you can.

Doctor Who: Time And Tide; Nemesis Of The Daleks
Time And Tide wait for no man, the nilistic Tojanans and their village look fantastic in a nice strip about hope. The Doctor meets Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer in Nemesis Of The Daleks, an epic if not particularly cerebral strip full of double page spreads featuring scores of Daleks and huge explosions courtesy of Lee Sullivan.

Lego Pirates: The Golden Medallion
When I was young I loved Lego, I still do if I'm honest, but Pirate Lego really captured my imagination. I wanted to build and play with the big pirate ship more than anything, but I couldn't afford it. It was with a heavy heart that I spent my pocket money on this comic book and I only bought it because it came with two pirate figures and a treasure map, but the comic really fired my imagination: "an interesting looking chest", drunkeness, hangings, prison breaks, shark bites, volcanic eruptions, a bonk and quite a sadistic ending.

Recommendations welcome.

Next month: 1988


Jess said...

Ooh I just recently saw the movie The Abyss. It ended a little bit cheesy, but the storyline mostly made it work. Overall, I really liked it!

Great post!

Dave said...


The ending of The Abyss differs depending on whether you saw the theatrical cut or the extended director's cut. I prefer the latter, but I'm glad you liked it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wallace and Gromit have been around a long time. And so few people remember The Abyss, and it was an awesome movie.

Philip J Reed said...

If Crimes and Misdemeanors isn't my entry for 1989 you have permission to hire a mobster to bump me off so your wife doesn't find out.

Dave said...

Alex, Wallace And Gromit have barely aged.

Philip, duly noted.