Friday, 30 November 2012

"88 Was A Good Vintage"

So says Sam Tyler in Life On Mars whilst bemoaning ending up in 1973.

1988 was the year perestroika began in the USSR, the Singing Revolution began in Estonia, a cyclone in Bangladesh kills thousands and leaves 5 million homeless, the UK government bans broadcast interviews with the IRA and the BBC begins to use actors to voice their words, Ronald Reagan has the new American Embassy in Moscow torn down due to Soviet listening devices.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1988:

Sally Field, Tom Hanks, John Goodman and Mark Rydell are great in this comedy about comedians, from the hopelessly unfunny to the downright self-destructive. These stand-ups are a mixed bag, but the funniest scenes are probably in the Krytsick family home and Hank's sarcastic offstage rants and Singin' In The Rain. Here's the trailer.

Short Circuit 2
Johnny 5 returns and finds himself in a city filled with input, but also plenty of crime and people trying to take advantage of him. Michael McKean is great, but of course the robot is the real star. As a child I had no idea that Fisher Stevens had blacked up to play the part of Ben, I can't tell you how disappointed I was when I found out and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it was a fairly recent discovery on my part. Here's the trailer trailer.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without this modern re-telling of A Christmas Carol and the threat of a pair of antlers being stapled to a mouse's head. Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Glover, David Johansen, Carol Kane and Alfre Woodard are great. Here's the trailer trailer.

Red Dwarf: The End; Future Echoes; Balance Of Power; Waiting For God; Confidence & Paranoia, Me², Kryten; Better Than Life; Thanks For The Memory; Stasis Leak; Queeg; Parallel Universe
The greatest SF comedy series of all time begins at The End as the first episode kills off all but one of the crew. The characters of Rimmer, Lister, Cat, Holly and Hollister arrive practically fully-formed and Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett and Mac MacDonald are phenomenal. Travelling through light speed subjects the crew to Future Echoes and proves that this show is going to subject the audience to some pretty big ideas and the Cat's broken tooth, Rimmer's retelling of the biggest splits of Lister's life and the "What things?" conversation are fantastic. Examining the relationship between Rimmer and Lister, Balance Of Power veers from petty to bittersweet and back again nicely. Noel Coleman's Cat Priest spends his whole life Waiting For God whilst Rimmer seeks out aliens who can give him a new body in an episode that examines the beliefs of the three main characters, the Cat's indifference, Lister's embarrassment at being worshipped and Rimmer's atheism combined with his abandonment of scientific rigour in his desperate search for aliens he names Quagaars. Lister catches a mutated viruses with give him physical hallucinations and both Craig Ferguson and Lee Cornes are wonderful as his Confidence & Paranoia, darker than it's contemporaries this is another episode with great ideas at its core. Me² introduces a theme that Red Dwarf will return to time and time again as Rimmer is confronted with another version of himself and demands alot of Chris Barrie and he delivers whilst the Norweb federation, ippy dippy and gazpacho soup are all high points.
Series II invigorates the show and sees the crew leaving the ship. They meet Kryten and David Ross is fantastic as the mechanoid in an episode with some magnificent gags. Lister reading Rimmer's bad news is hilarious, the observation dome scenes are touching and the Rimmer's psyche taking its revenge on him in the Total Immersion Video Game Better Than Life. Lister gives Rimmer some of his memories and they have a profound effect on him in Thanks For The Memory, a truly beautiful piece of televison which shows the pathos which the show is able to achieve. The crew travel back to before the accident via a Stasis Leak and it's great to see MacDonald back as Hollister, while the Cat's repeated "What is it?" and the final scene are wonderful. Charles Augins in fantastic as Queeg replaces Holly and the showdown between them and the reveal are great. The boys from the Dwarf travel to a female dominated Parallel Universe and while the end result may not be subtle, but there are some nice gags and Suzanne Bertish, Angela Bruce, Matthew Devitt and Hattie Hayridge all give lovely performances as the parallel crew.

Doctor Who: Remembrance Of The Daleks; The Happiness Patrol; The Greatest Show In The Galaxy 1-3
The twenty-fifth season sees Doctor Who return to its 1963 roots in Remembrance Of The Daleks and injects some welcome mystery into the show. The Doctor as a master manipulator, the Hand of Omega, the Dalek civil war and the Special Weapons Dalek are all brilliant additions to the mythos. Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Pamela Salem, Simon Williams, George Sewell, Michael Sheard, John Leeson, and Terry Molloy are fantastic. The cliffhanger at the end of Part One is thrilling, the cameo scenes with Joseph Marcell, William Thomas and Peter Halliday are wonderful, the Doctor's massive deceptions and the bait in his trap are excellent and a real turning point for the series. The commentary on racism, while not subtle, is integral to the plot, perfectly in character for the Daleks and it's great that the story doesn't shy away from more terrestrial examples. The 1963 period detail and references to the first ever episode of Doctor Who make for a far better anniversary story than Silver Nemesis. The Doctor and Ace take on The Happiness Patrol as Doctor Who takes on right wing politics in a brilliant little story that is an incisive parody of Thatcherism. McCoy, Aldred, Sheila Hancock, Harold Innocent, Lesley Dunlop, Rachel Bell and John Normington are wonderful. Helen A is a great representation of Margaret T, the gaudy Film Noir meets shocking pink design of dystopia Terra Alpha while hideously perfect somehow supersedes camp, the pink TARDIS looks great, the music is fantastic and despite his critics the Kandy Man is a terrifying monster, he may be Bertie Bassett on the outside but on the inside he's sadistic to the core. The concept that happiness means nothing without sadness is fascinating and a brilliant subversion of what the Doctor usually fighting for. The first three parts of The Greatest Show In The Galaxy are brilliantly creepy and invites you to share Ace's fear of clowns. McCoy, Aldred, T.P. McKenna, Jessica Martin, Christopher Guard, Gian Sanmarco and Ian Reddington are wonderful, the family audience are very funny and whether it is intentional or not, Whizzkid's dialogue, particularly "Although I never got to see the early days, I know it's not as good as it was, but I'm still terribly interested", is a very accurate depiction of fans and the sooner we admit it, the better we'll all be.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Big Goodbye; Datalore; 11001001; Home Soil; Coming Of Age; Heart Of Glory; The Arsenal Of Freedom; Symbiosis; Skin Of Evil; We'll Always Have Paris; Conspiracy; The Neutral Zone; The Child; Elementary, Dear Data
The first season continues with The Big Goodbye, the episode which first defines the holodeck using the brilliant 1940's noir Dixon Hill program and Patrick Stewart, Gates McFadden and Brent Spiner are all on top form. Spiner is fantastic as he pulls double duty as both Data and Lore in Datalore. 11001001 is inventive and bittersweet. The scientific ethics of Home Soil are great, but the episode deserves to be highly thought of, if only for giving world the phrase: "Ugly Bags Of Mostly Water". Both plot strands of Coming Of Age are wonderfully sinister and Wil Wheaton puts in a great performance. Michael Dorn and Vaughn Armstrong are fantastic in Heart Of Glory which brings the Klingons into the 24th century. The adaptive weaponry of The Arsenal Of Freedom is impressive in this darkly comical episode with a nice punchline. Symbiosis concerns an unusually gritty dilemma and a nice dramatic use of the Prime Directive. Skin Of Evil serves as a brave exit and Armus looks great. Romantic and also SF literate, We'll Always Have Paris is an episode that sees the beginnings of a mature TNG and the simplicity of the Manheim effect is very impressive. A tense atmosphere of intrigue permeates Conspiracy and the ending is suitably creepy. The Enterprise visits The Neutral Zone in the season finale as the Romulans re-enter the fold impressively and the culture clash between the Data and the defrostees is interesting.
Marina Sirtis and Wheaton are great in second season opener, The Child and Whoopi Goldberg and Diana Muldaur both make great debuts. Spiner and LeVar Burton play Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in Elementary, Dear Data with aplomb, Pulaski's provocation is great, Victorian London looks brilliant and Daniel Davis is fantastic as Moriarty.

Star Trek: The Cage
The first pilot for the original series finally saw the light of day this year. The Cage is a piece of science fiction that feels very pure. It is filled with great ideas, looks fantastic and features brilliant performances from Jeffrey Hunter, Susan Oliver, Leonard Nimoy, Majel Barrett, John Hoyt and Meg Wyllie.

The Return Of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Foot; Silver Blaze; Wisteria Lodge; The Bruce-Partington Plans; The Hound Of The Baskervilles
Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke return as Holmes and Watson in The Devil's Foot which brings them back in style and deals with Holmes' addiction sensitively. The theft of Silver Blaze is a nice change of pace and Peter Barkworth is wonderful. An visit to Wisteria Lodge provides a strange eerie mystery and Freddie Jones is fantastic as the only policeman Holmes respects. Charles Gray, Denis Lill and Geoffrey Bayldon are wonderful in The Bruce-Partington Plans. Ronald Pickup, Fiona Gillies and Bernard Horsfall are fantastic in the beautifully shot feature-length episode of The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Hardwicke and Brett are wonderful as their separation gives Watson a bit more to do and Holmes has a real zeal upon his return.

Blackadder: The Cavalier Years & Blackadder's Christmas Carol
Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry and Warren Clarke are great in Blackadder: The Cavalier Years, a short made for Comic Relief, which shows us a Blackadder from the English Civil War and gives Fry the opportunity to play Charles I as if he were channel the current Prince of Wales.
Blackadder's Christmas Carol concerns Ebeneezer Blackadder, an uncharacteristically nice example of the lineage settling in for a very messy Kweznuz, but who learns the true spirit of Christmas from visions of the exploits of his ancestors and descendents thus teaching him to be as selfish as they were. Revisiting Blackadder II and Blackadder The Third as well as pair of alternative futures. Atkinson, Robinson, Fry, Miriam Margolyes, Jim Broadbent, Pauline Melville, Nicola Bryant, Denis Lill, Robbie Coltrane, Miranda Richardson, Patsy Byrne and Hugh Laurie are all great.

Yes, Prime Minister: Power To The People, The Patron Of The Arts, The National Education Service, A Tangled Web
The political to-ing and fro-ing at Number 10 continues with the second half of series two. Four more wonderful episodes of Jim Hacker's short-lived optimism, Sir Humphrey's obfuscation and Bernard's endearing pedantry. Paul Eddington, Night Humphies, Derek Fowlds, Deborah Norton, John Nettleton, John Bird and Geoffrey Beevers are wonderful. The explorations of them and us thorough illustrations of local government, arts funding, education and media manipulation. Here's a slice of Bernard's dialogue from the last episode that take Donald Rumsfeld's known knowns to its logical conclusion and beyond: "The fact that you needed to know was not known at the time that the now known need to know was known, and therefore those that needed to advise and inform the Home Secretary perhaps felt that the information that he needed as to whether to inform the highest authority of the known information was not yet known, and therefore there was no authority for the authority to be informed because the need to know was not, at that time, known or needed."

Stoppit And Tidyup: Beequiet And Beehave; Eat Your Greens; Comb Your Hair; Wash Your Face; Go And Play; I Said No!; Hurry Up; Calm Down; Don't Do That!; Go To Bed; Sayplease And Saythankyou; Clean Your Teeth; Take Care
Terry Wogan narrates these wonderful, anarchic five minute visits to the land of Do As You're Told. Populated as it is with characters named after and epitomising all those stock phrases parents say to children, despite this there is no moralising. Not Now and the big bad I Said No are scary, but it's the Sit Downs that terrify me.

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
Not Sorcery, but Sourcery as in the actual source of magic itself. Rincewind heads an unlikely group that finds themselves pitted against a Sourcerer, an eighth son of an eighth son of an eighth son, while the One Horseman and Three Pedestrians of the Apocralypse wait in the wings. The fifth Discworld novel is absolutely epic in scale, but not without losing the humour.

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Packed full of Shakespearean references this novel takes the plot of Macbeth and the concept of witches and owns the both. The kingdom of Lancre comes to life in more ways than one as Granny Weatherwax returns and is joined by the excellently named Magrat Garlick and Nanny Ogg, who may well be one of the best characters in the entirety of literature. Ever.

Where's Wally Now? by Martin Handford
Wally gets lost all through time and space in a sort of greatest hits of history taking in the Stone Age, Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Vikings, Crusaders, Aztecs, Samurai, Pirate and into the Future. Carelessly he also loses a book at each stop, but who can be bothered to help him find them?

Doctor Who: Claws Of The Klathi!; Culture Shock!; Keepsake; Planet Of The Dead; Echoes Of The Mogor!
The Victoriana and the visit to the Great Exhibition in Claws Of The Klathi! are wonderful and the artwork is a huge improvement on recent Seventh Doctor strips. Culture Shock! is exacly that, a weird change of pace that proves to be a shot in the arm for the strip and the "We've got people to see, places to go, things to do!" ending has a welcome sense of vigour to it. The Doctor's run in with Keepsake is atmospheric and the visuals are great and the landing gear probably something Sylvester McCoy would have loved to have filmed. The TV show's twenty-fifth anniversary (see above) was celebrated in the comic as well and Planet Of The Dead is a better version of The Seven Doctors than fans might have expected and Lee Sullivan's likenesses of the Doctors are fantastic. Echoes Of The Mogor! has striking visuals and a suitably creepy feel.

Recommendations welcome.

Next Month: 2012


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Outside of Star Trek, I'm drawing a blank on 1988...

Dave said...

That's not a bad start.