Sunday, 31 March 2013

"I'm Sure That In 1985 Plutonium Is Available In Every Corner Drug Store..."

"...but in 1955 it's a little hard to come by." says Doc Brown in Back To The Future

1985 was the year that Nelson Mandela rejected an offer of freedom from the South African government, the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior was bombed and sunk, the Live Aid concert took place, the wreck of the Titanic was located and the first artificial heart patient to left the hospital.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1985:

Jonathan Pryce, Michael Palin, Robert DeNiro, Ian Holm, Sheila Reid, Bob Hoskins and Peter Vaughn are fantastic in the little battle over Buttle or Tuttle in Terry Gilliam’s phenomenal film about a world of bureaucracy gone mad.

Back To The Future
Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are fantastic in this brilliant and intricately plotted time-travel piece that effortlessly combines SF, action, comedy and romance. This is an absolute cinematic masterpiece. Here's the trailer.

As a rule, board games probably shouldn't be the inspiration for films and yet an adaptation of Cluedo makes for a cinematic experience that is much more fun than you might expect. Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Lesley Ann Warren, Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd, Madeline Kahn and Martin Mull are great in this very silly whodunit. Or rather whodunit and where and with what?

The Purple Rose Of Cairo
Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels and Danny Aiello are wonderful as Woody Allen pits cinema against the real world and both are found wanting. A character leaves The Purple Rose Of Cairo for New Jersey and a rude awakening.

Doctor Who: Vengeance On Varos; The Mark Of The Rani; The Two Doctors; Revelation Of The Daleks
Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant return as the Sixth Doctor and Peri for the twenty-second season and highlights include Vengeance On Varos, an excellent commentary of screen violence, video nasties and even reality television before it really existed. Nabil Shaban, Martin Jarvis, Forbes Collins, Owen Teale, Stephen Yardley and Sheila Reid are wonderful. The scenes of the chase through the punishment dome, the body horror, Arak and Etta as passive viewers and the ending are brilliant. As The Mark Of The Rani appears on necks in the North East of Victorian England, the Doctor and Peri have a different sort of adventure. Kate O'Mara, Terence Alexander and Gawn Grainger are brilliant, the location footage looks wonderful, the music is beautifully understated, the Rani's TARDIS console room is a beautiful piece of design, the interactions between the three Time Lords are great and the Rani mocking the dynamic between the Doctor and the Master is lovely. Two Doctors meet in The Two Doctors as the Sixth Doctor encounters the Second. Robert Holmes' script is wonderful, in a lovely nod to the past the first scene is briefly in black and white, the Spanish locations look brilliant, the music is very evocative, the Androgums are a rich seam of very dark humour, the trenchermen scene is great, Jamie works very well with the current TARDIS crew, the Sontarans get some nice dialogue and it's great to see the Doctors finally meet, however briefly. The Pro-Vegetarian subtext is not-subtle, but does it really need to be? "Primitive creatures don't feel pain in the way that we would" cuts straight to the point. Baker, Bryant, Frazer Hines, Jacqueline Pearce, John Stratton, Laurence Payne and James Saxon are all wonderful and as usual Patrick Troughton is nothing short of fantastic. The season finale, Revelation Of The Daleks, is atypical, but brilliant. The Doctor and Peri are only one of a myriad of subplots and political intrigue. Somehow it never feels cluttered. The Daleks are also used sparingly and are all the more effective for it. The script is great mix of dark sardonic humour and horror, so the resulting episodes are delightfully grim, ironic and violent. The funereal Tranquil Repose sets, the glass Dalek and 'The Great Healer' all look great. The direction is full of excellent and varied use of high and low camera angles and tracking shots. Terry Molloy, Eleanor Bron, Clive Swift, Trevor Cooper, Hugh Walters, Alexei Sayle, William Gaunt and John Ogwen are superb. That such an fantastic story was broadcast as Doctor Who faced cancellation betray the lunacy of that decision.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Copper Beeches; The Greek Interpreter; The Norwood Builder; The Resident Patient; The Red-Headed League; The Final Problem
Jeremy Brett and David Burke are fantastic as always. The second season opener The Copper Beeches is very creepy and the conversations between Holmes and Watson about literary criticism and countryside matters are brilliant. Charles Gray is wonderful as Holmes' brother, Mycroft in The Greek Interpreter. The Norwood Builder is a compelling case of murder and Colin Jeavons is a wonderful addition as Lestrade. Patrick Newell is wonderful as The Resident Patient and the opening scene is absolutely bloody terrifying. The Red-Headed League is beautifully shot and Richard Wilson and Roger Hammond are wonderful. Eric Porter is great as Moriarty and Burke is wonderful in his last appearance as Watson in the sprawling story, The Final Problem.

M.A.S.K.: The Deathstone; The Star Chariot; The Book Of Power; Highway To Terror; Video VENOM; Dinosaur Boy; The Ultimate Weapon; The Roteks; The Oz Effect; Death From The Sky; The Magma Mole; Solaria Park; The Creeping Terror; Assault On Liberty; The Sceptre Of Rajim; The Golden Goddess; Mystery Of The Rings; Bad Vibrations; Ghost Bomb; Cold Fever; Mardi Gras Mystery; The Secret Of Life; Vanishing Point; Counter-Clockwise Caper; The Plant Show; Secret Of The Andes; Panda Power; Blackout; A Matter Of Gravity; The Lost Riches Of Rio; Deadly Blue Slime; The Currency Conspiracy; Caesar's Sword; Peril In Paris; In Dutch; The Lippizaner Mystery; The Sacred Rock; Curse Of Solomon's Gorge; Green Nightmare; Eyes Of The Skull; Stop Motion; The Artemis Enigma; The Chinese Scorpion; Riddle Of The Raven Master; The Spectre Of Captain Kidd; The Secret Of The Stones; The Lost Fleet; Quest Of The Canyon; Follow The Rainbow; The Everglades Oddity; Dragonfire; The Royal Cape Caper; Patchwork Puzzle; Fog On Boulder Hill; Plunder Of Glowworm Grotto; Stone Trees; Incident In Istanbul; The Creeping Desert; The Scarlet Empress; Venice Menace; Treasure Of The Nazca Plain; Disappearing Act; Gate Of Darkness; The Manakara Giant; Raiders Of The Orient Express
The first episode sets the tone for the rest of the mammoth sixty-five episode first season as M.A.S.K. take on VENOM, Miles Mayhem's evil plot forces Matt Trakker to assemble his Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, Matt's son, Scott, and T-Bob are kidnapped, Hondo MacLean is injured, but cured by a MacGuffin and it all ends with a moralising coda. Crucially it shows off the capabilities of each of the vehicles and masks. VENOM's dastardly plans take them on a tour of the world and M.A.S.K. follow accordingly, over the course of the season the stories and animation get more complex and just over halfway through the new characters, vehicles and masks begin to arrive. Rhino, Thunderhawk, Gator, Condor, Jackhammer, Manta and Outlaw are all fantastic designs and, vitally given the nature of the audience, they closely reflect the toys they are based upon.

The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl's little story about Billy's dream of opening an old sweet shop with a hideous name and the motley crew that run the Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company is wonderful, while Quentin Blake's illustrations are as brilliant as ever.

Doctor Who: Polly The Glot 3; Once Upon A Time Lord; War-Game; Funhouse; Kane's Story, Abel's Story, The Warrior's Story & Frobisher's Story
Frobisher is kidnapped in the last part of Polly The Glot and while Dr. Asimoff gets a happy ending, the Sixth Doctor is forced to head into the cabinet of Astrolabus to rescue him in Once Upon A Time Lord and finds himself in world made up of the likes of The Lord of the Rings, Tarzan and Rupert the Bear (and in the case of the latter the strip takes on the style of Alfred Bestall's original perfectly), before Astrolabus attempts to leave the page. His fate catches up with him and the Doctor is freed of his influence, but not until Steve Parkhouse has revealed that Astrolabus is autobiographical (as far as maniacal Time Lord can be) by giving him the line: "How can you long...I have been writing your life? What will you do? Now that I'm...gone?" After the scope of the previous run of strips, War-Game initially feels like a let down, but I like the chess allegory and the abrupt ending. The Funhouse takes control of the TARDIS until the Doctor turns back time within it, the regression of the Doctor and Frobisher is impressive. As their titles suggest Kane's Story, Abel's Story, The Warrior's Story are three distinct stories which are drawn together in finale Frobisher's Story, this innovative structure gives these stories an epic quality, mixing recent events in the comics strip with plenty of TV continuity it also introduces Peri to the strip, while the Valley(s) of the Gods, the Skeletoids and their rampage all look great.

Recommendations welcome. Not next month, but the month after: 1984

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Big Reveal

Last year I decided to take part in the A to Z Blogging Challenge and I didn't have a theme. I wrote about the same things I did the rest of the time only more often. It was a struggle.

This year I have a theme. Mina Lobo and David Macaulay are asking us to reveal our theme ahead of the challenge itself.

This year I plan to write 26 alphabetical chapters of about a thousand words each that will make up a circa 26,000 word novella. I don't want to say any more at this early stage.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Top Ten Movie Countdown Blogfest

Alex J. Cavanaugh is asking us to list our top ten favorite movies.

I struggled to limit it to just ten and made a longer list which included Moon, Papillon, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, Stranger Than Fiction, There Will Be Blood, Aliens, Deconstructing Harry, Brazil among others...

Tommorrow I might have come up with a different list, so let's call this my top ten films of today:

10 - Withnail And I (1987)
An eminently quotable love letter to the end of an era.

9 - Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Woody Allen's Greek Tragedy is a very funny, very clever and very rewarding watch.

8 - The Sword In The Stone (1963)
This is my absolute favourite animated film.

7 - Cool Hand Luke (1967)
The man the system couldn't break. They don't make anti-establishment films better than this.

6 - Four Lions (2010)
A comedy about suicide bombers could have been a horrific experience, but Four Lions deals with challenging subject matter so well that it's easy to enjoy the comedy on its own merits.

5 - Trainspotting (1996)
This inventive adaptation to a novel I would have presumed unfilmable really does have a lust for life.

4 - Son Of Rambow (2008)
A beautiful film about childhood, innocence and an obsession with a certain supersoldier. I'm always in the mood to watch this.

3 - The Wicker Man (1973)
Brilliantly bleak and your best chance to see Christopher Lee in drag.

2 - The Fisher King (1991)
Terry Gilliam's fairy tale of New York is a fantastic and heartbreaking film.

1 - The Station Agent (2003)
I adore this film.

What are your favourite films?

Friday, 15 March 2013

Charity Nose No Bounds

Today is Red Nose Day. The bi-annual fundraising extravaganza that sees millions of people doing something funny for money. Comic Relief has been organising Red Nose Days for 25 years and has raised over £620 million (as of 2011).

In recent years, the red noses have gone on sale in trios and I was moved to take the following photos in 2009 and 2011. As has almost become a tradition now, I've taken another photo in the same vein with this year's noses:

You should donate.

Thursday, 14 March 2013


After Harlem Heroes, the surviving members of the team leave aeroball behind them and turn their attentions to playing a new sport, Inferno. If Aeroball was a cross between American Football and Boxing played with jetpacks, then Inferno is Aeroball meets Ice Hockey on jetpacks and motorbikes.

Dredd Alert does Inferno as well.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Stone Ducreuxs

Here's another brilliant painting by Joseph Ducreux.

This one is a self-portrait, painted circa 1793 and known in French as Portrait de l'artiste sous les traits d'un moqueur. It isn't hard to see why this would take off as an internet meme.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Martians In Motion

Last month, I posted this about future Doctor Who DVD releases and I'm delighted to announce that the information contained within was completely wrong about The Ice Warriors.

Contrary to what I'd heard, the August DVD release of The Ice Warriors will feature animated versions of Episodes Two and Three. Here's a preview:

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


Clapham Junction Railway Station is 150 years old this week and I took part in the celebrations yesterday.

Check out the amazing hat.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Happy Prime Of Life

I've just realised that this will my five hundredth post on here. So the pressure is on to try and be profound, but I don't have anything profound at hand and so this will have to do:

I bought a batch of second hand books recently and when I was having a look through one of them out fell a previous reader's bookmark.

It fell on the floor and it was immediately apparent that it was a letter from a doctor's surgery. It was on headed notepaper and folded into thirds in that way that seems obvious until I try to do it myself. I checked the address and it had come from Paisley. Not a part of the world I know.

I unfolded the letter, a bit wary that I might be about to poke my nose quite far into someone else's business. I read the letter and I was relieved. There were no specifics. I may have poked my nose, but thankfully not directly into an open wound.

The letter reads:

Dear Doylee,

I hope these give you many minutes of pleasure, and to take you back to earlier days, when you actually were very discerning, but just didn't realise it.

Happy Prime of Life,


Dr. Andy

Imagine my initial surprise at the tone of the letter and my relief at realising that Doylee wasn't receiving bad news. I don't know whether the "these" that the letter were the books I'd later bought or whether it applied to something else entirely. It doesn't really matter. What a lovely letter. Of course the people of Paisley may be less impressed to discover that a doctor is using NHS funds and supplies to send books to his friends. I checked the surgery's website and Dr. Andy is still there.

If anything I wrote gave anyone "many minutes of pleasure" I'd be ecstatic.

Friday, 1 March 2013

"It's A Miracle These People Ever Got Out Of The Twentieth Century"

So says a despairing Doctor Leonard McCoy during a visit to 1986 in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

1986 was the year that the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated on launch, the first PC virus starts to spread, Voyager 2 makes its first encounter with Uranus, the Chernobyl disaster took place and a treaty ends the Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years' War between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly.

My father was in the Royal Air Forces and we spent 1986 in Germany on a military base.

These are a few of my favourite things from 1986:

Jumpin' Jack Flash
This film is a gas, gas, gas. Whoopi Goldberg is fantastic in a spy film that often feels like it should be perfect family viewing, but instead it is replete with some top quality swearing.

Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Jenette Goldstein, Al Matthews and Bill Paxton are great in a magnificent ensemble cast as James Cameron's excellent sequel shifts the focus from horror to action. Sequels are rarely this good.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
The fourth Star Trek movie has the biggest crossover appeal as the crew of the late Starship Enterprise boldly go back to the late twentieth century. The cast are fantastic and show a flair for comedy, indeed this is more of an ensemble film than any of the others. The environmental subject matter is well handled, the culture shocks are enjoyable and the lighter tone is a surprisingly good fit.

For a film that is largely a series of set pieces strung together unified by a quest and a design aesthetic. Inventive and visually arresting throughout. Creating a new fairy tale would always be difficult, but creating one that feels timeless and grimmer than Grimm's is practically impossible and Labyrinth is a huge success on its own terms.

Hannah And Her Sisters
Both of Hannah's sisters have relationships with both of Hannah's husbands in both of this film's storylines. One tragic, one comic and Woody Allen and Dianne Wiest are hilarious in both. Art sold by the yard, Page 112 of e. e. cummings and every scene with Hannah's parents are great. While we're at it take a look at the German language poster.

Transformers: The Movie
As a child, the cartoon about robots in disguise captivated me, but this big screen edition certainly lived up being more than meets the eye. Even watching it now, I still find it extraordinary. This toy friendly cartoon is absolutely crammed full of deaths. Deaths left, right and centre. A touching way of breaking bad existential news to children or a cynical method of making way on toy shop shelves for the new lines on offer before regretting it and realising enough to realise that they need Optimus Prime back. You decide.

Short Circuit
Johnny Five discovers he is alive and the result is much, much better than Frankenstein with a laser makes it sound. The search for input, definitions of life and rights for robots make for a great family film with a thought provoking story. Yes, really.

Stand By Me
Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman, John Cusack and Kiefer Sutherland are all wonderful in Rob Reiner's excellent movie that has become the definitive coming of age story.

When The Wind Blows
Jimmy Murakami's animation of Raymond Briggs' tale of the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust is brilliant, comic, tragic and heartbreaking. A mix of both drawn animation and stop-motion animation with fantastic music and arresting imagery which arguably packs a greater punch than many live action depictions.

Doctor Who: The Trial Of A Time Lord
The twenty-third season is unique as it is made up of a single fourteen-part story, ostensibly divided into four sections. The Trial Of A Time Lord begins with a truly fantastic model shot of the Time Lord space station and introduces the idea of the Doctor on trial admirably. Colin Baker, Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham are wonderful in the courtroom scenes which start and end well, although the scenes do get very repetitive in between. The first section of evidence with its Marb station, its books of knowledge and the redacted information is intriguing and Nicola Bryant, Tony Selby, Joan Syms and Tom Chadbon are great. The second section of evidence is a much bleaker affair, the Doctor's interrogation of Peri is very unpleasant, Peri's death and what comes after are horrific and the end result is very brave television, with great performances from Brian Blessed, Nabil Shaban, Christopher Ryan and Richard Henry, while Baker is chilling and Bryant is absolutely excellent. Bonnie Langford makes a far better debut in the third section of evidence than its reputation suggests, it takes the from of a nice little murder mystery, the Mogarians and Vervoid designs are great and it ends on a great cliffhanger. The stakes are raised to their highest ready for the finale, as the proceedings move into the Matrix and the imagery is superb, the Dickensian Fantasy Factor, the Messrs Popplewick, the desolate beach, Anthony Ainley is clearly having ball, Baker, Jayston and Selby are wonderful, while Geoffrey Hughes almost single-handedly lifts it to the level of a masterpiece. An epic is probably not the best course of action when the series is on trial itself, but the story manages to be both more and less than the sum of its parts.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes: The Empty House; The Abbey Grange; The Musgrave Ritual; The Second Stain; The Man With The Twisted Lip; The Priory School; The Six Napoleons
Jeremy Brett returns as Sherlock Holmes in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Edward Hardwicke makes a brilliant debut as Watson in The Empty House, the scenes reuniting him with Holmes are genuinely touching and Mrs Hudson's part in the plan is hilariously realised. The Abbey Grange is another opportunity for Brett and Hardwicke to display how well they work together. The treasure hunt of The Musgrave Ritual is nice change of pace and Ian Marter's cameo is wonderful. Patricia Hodge and Colin Jeavons are great in The Second Stain. Clive Francis and Denis Lill are fantastic in The Man With The Twisted Lip. Brett and Hardwicke are wonderful together in the tracking scenes, and Christopher Benjamin is magnificent in the very sinister episode, The Priory School. After nearly seven minutes entirely in Italian, The Six Napoleons, Eric Sykes, Marina Sirtis and Jeavons are wonderful, and the scenes of Brett and Hardwicke playing with Lestrade are a lot of fun.

The Singing Detective: Skin; Heat; Lovely Days; Clues; Pitter Patter; Who Done It
Michael Gambon, Patrick Malahide, Bill Paterson, Alison Steadman, Joanne Whalley and Janet Henfrey are fantastic in Dennis Potter's seminal work, while Lyndon Davies is phenomenal as the young Philip Marlowe.

Blackadder II: Bells; Head; Potato; Money; Beer; Chains
Another generation, another Blackadder, another Baldrick. This time around we're in Elizabethan England and Edmund is a Tudor courtier trying to win the favour of the flighty Queen whilst keeping his head, but more importantly the second series creates the dynamic that we know and love. Rowan Atkinson, Tim McInnerny, Tony Robinson, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry and Patsy Byrne are fantastic and Blackadder II's highlights include Gabrielle Glaister and Rik Mayall in Bells, Percy's neckruff fashions in Head, Tom Baker and Simon Jones in Potato, Ronald Lacey as the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells, a nugget of purest green and "The path of my life is strewn with cowpats from the Devil's own Satanic herd!" in Money, the ornamental devil's dumplings, "I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach...of a concrete elephant!", Miriam Margolyes and Hugh Laurie in Beer and Ze Master of Disguise in Chains among many more.

Yes Prime Minister: The Grand Design, The Ministerial Broadcast, The Smoke Screen, The Key, A Real Partnership, A Victory For Democracy, The Bishop's Gambit, One Of Us
Jim Hacker arrives at Number 10 Downing Street and once again has no idea of the status quo that the civil service has subtly balanced. The move to Prime Ministerial duties gives the show a larger scope than Yes, Minister, but the humour remains largely the same. Highlights include is a brilliant satire on the nuclear policy of the Cold War, a turning point that sees Sir Humphrey tested like never before as he loses The Key, a parody of ministerial ignorance of overseas territories like Grenada and the Falklands until they were invaded and all the speeches made by Sir Humphrey Appleby. Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne, Derek Fowlds, Clive Merrison, Deborah Norton, John Nettleton, Peter Cellier, Donald Pickering and John Normington are wonderful throughout.

M.A.S.K.: Demolition Duel To The Death; Where Eagles Dare; Homeward Bound; The Battle Of The Giants; Race Against Time; Challenge Of The Masters; For One Shining Moment; High Noon; The Battle For Baja; Cliff Hanger
The format of the second season of M.A.S.K. is a departure from the first as our heroes and villains take up racing with a vengeance. It's M.A.S.K. does Wacky Races with VENOM taking the place of an army of Dick Dastardlys. New toys in shops meant new vehicles, characters and masks being added to the cartoon and racing across four continents required some fun, but far fetched, stories involving transportation rights, slave mining, a scientific formula, a plant to cure a disease, a microfilm, money raised for charity, plans for a top secret plane, a high profile hostage and some dangerous seeds. Buzzard, Goliath and Bullet are all great new additions. In the new format Scott and T-Bob have virtually disappeared, except for the moralising codas which bizarrely now even include VENOM.

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
The sequel to Terry Pratchett's The Colour Of Magic consolidates his Discworld. Rincewind survives falling off the edge of the world, meets Cohen the octogenarian Barbarian, visits Death's Domain and is given Twoflower's Luggage in an adventure which brings a new meaning to the Big Bang.

The Jolly Postman, Or Other People's Letters by Janet & Allan Ahlberg
A children's book about a postman who delivers letters to fairy tale characters like the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, and the Three Bears which contains the actual letters themselves is a brilliant, brilliant idea and you can see why it has endured.

Doctor Who: Exodus, Revelation! & Genesis!; Nature Of The Beast; Time Bomb; Salad Daze; Changes
Building into a nice little mystery with each chapter, Exodus, Revelation! and Genesis!, the Cybermen look great and Frobisher's monomorphia is in retrospect both very comic and very tragic. Nature Of The Beast is a sombre affair save for Frobisher's great interjections. The Time Bomb is a nice little paradox of a story. Peri's mind wanders through Alice In Wonderland and populates with talking vegetables in the great absurd one-shot Salad Daze. As a story, Changes is slight, but the visuals of the exploration of the TARDIS are fantastic, Peri gets some nice dialogue and the fight between Frobisher and the other metamorph is nice and varied.

Watchmen: At Midnight, All The Agents...; Absent Friends; The Judge Of All The Earth; Watchmaker
The first four parts of Watchman show us a comic that redefines what comics can and should be able to do. The motivations of the characters are well drawn, their story has an unprecedented depth. A world that has outgrown the superhero discovers that it needs them more than ever.

Alex Kidd In Miracle World
One of the reasons that the Sega Master System was the greatest games console ever: this brilliant game was built into the console itself.

Recommendations welcome

Later this month: 1985