Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Jamie And The Magic Of Animation

It's true I've been quiet on the subject of Doctor Who lately. Couldn't even be arsed to post any comments about The Runaway Blah, this year's Christmas not-very-special - I preferred The Sarah Jane Adventures. But then, I'd probably have preferred last year's Christmas dinner. Thank goodness (or, rather, thank the very generous person who gave me a copy as a gift) for The Invasion on DVD. "Crikey, DM, that was a real treat!" Penfold would have said, I'm fairly convinced of that.
Until now, my experience of the story had been confined to a) the excellent Ian Marter novelisation, with its gloves-off brutality, spattering of gore and general feeling of a more adult read than your usual Target book and b) the BBC audio. I think I may have had the VHS release at one point, with missing episodes narrated by someone or other (Nicholas Courtney, I'm tempted to say) but (in case it's not obvious) I didn't recall much about it. This, I'm reasonably sure, has more to do with the fact that I hit 40 later this year than anything to do with the story itself.
At 8 episodes, it is undeniably overlong and there's a great deal of runaround. But it's all played with the customary charm of the era, with Troughton in fine form, doing his mix of doddery, gravitas and a bit of a Laurel & Hardy routine as he's chased along an alleyway by a barrage of Cyber blasts. Kevin Stoney is superb as Vaughan, a madman who really gets mad, especially when letting rip at whining thug-hound, Packer. (Packer comes over as a more convincing hardman in the novelisation, but Peter Halliday creates a memorable lieutenant to Vaughan.) It's Vaughan, rather than the Cybermen, who's really in charge. Such that, it's down to the Doctor to defeat him or make him see the error of his ways, from which moment on, the Cybermen can be dealt with by the liberal application of missiles, MOD stock footage and Zoe's mathematics. (She's not just a pretty face. Indeed, at one point, one of the military staff is seen to check out her famously cute butt - a moment that had gone unnoticed on the audio and, I'm fairly sure, in the Ian Marter novelisation.) Personally, I'd perhaps have preferred to see the Doctor rig the Cerebreton Mentor device (what a great name!) for general broadcast and have him wipe out the Cybes with a multi-channel blast of emotion. Or something of that order. Okay, that may have run the risk of having a multitude of insane Cybermen rampaging around, but hey, sequel material right there. I did enjoy the idea of the insane Cyberman and, as usual with a lot of ideas like that, felt they could have done more with it. Just as I loved the whole scenario of having UNIT use a C130 Hercules as their mobile HQ.
Yes, overlong shmoverlong, this is the story Rise Of The Cybermen/Age Of Steel should have been. Um, actually, it *is* this story. Except somehow they lifted all its essential ingredients and made a Cyberpig's ear of it.
The irony with this DVD release is that, with absolutely no disrespect to Pat, Wendy, Fraser or any of those involved in the original, Cosgrove Hall (makers of such classics as Dangermouse and Jamie & The Magic Torch) have done such a fine job of animating the missing episodes that you end up wishing more of the episodes had been missing and needed to be brought to life that way. Partly that's novelty value in evidence, but they're a joy to watch. And I don't get to say that about many black and white cartoons. In any case, I definitely want to see this sort of thing become less of a novelty and have more missing episodes given this very magic treatment.
Lovely stuff. Thanks for that.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Martin Scores Oscar

The Oscars are a funny business. They're often rendered meaningless as any mark of quality by the kinds of movies they're awarded to. And yet, for some reason, it still mattered that Martin Scorsese never got one and now that he has, I feel compelled to commemorate the occasion. I've not seen The Departed yet (largely because, as a remake of Infernal Affairs, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed, I can't imagine the story will hold many surprises for me), but I will get around to it eventually and I'm sure I'll be able to tell then whether it's a Scorsese movie that, remake or no, deserves such special recognition. It can't possibly be better than Goodfellas, obviously. And maybe these Best Picture and Best Director Oscars are just the ones Marty should have won for that movie, slightly overdue. To be honest, it was one of those oversights that was getting to the stage where it didn't matter which movie he won one for. But that's not to take anything away from The Departed or the achievement. Well done, Marty.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Prime Time Eval

Primeval. Like Torchwood but made by ITV. Which is not as damning as it sounds, but then again it doesn't elevate Torchwood in any way either. If we're gonna have kids rescuing cute CGInosaurs, I say bring back Surface damn it!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Disparate Entertainments

All work and no blog makes, er, for dull blogs I suppose. Yes, I've been busy. Not the sort of thing I'd often take the trouble to report - mostly because if I'm that busy, I'm generally too busy to report it. But as an excuse for not having blogged for a little while, it serves. Of course, I did post that short story of mine, but that was largely a bit of filler and, apart from a tiny intro paragraph didn't require much other than a quick cut n paste.
Still, it's not all been work here. I've been busy keeping myself entertained as well as productive.
For one, I've just now watched the first episode of the current season of ER. I'm horrified. Not from the harrowing emotional stuff, the trauma of an armed abduction, the operating room gore or the shock ending. No, I'm mortified by the sudden absence of the opening credits and theme. Come on, people, that's part of the weekly viewing pleasure.
Part of the reason I'm late in catching up with this (the 13th!) season is that me and the wife have been enjoying something of an ER marathon over the past few months (Seasons 1-6) and I have to say that even with all the drama of the Season 13 opener I've just seen, it can't match the level of emotional attachment the show commanded back then. So thoroughly involving it was I'm now considering getting a hold of Season 7 on DVD and maybe make my collection cut off point the really really sad one where Mark Green dies. I must be a masochist - I've only just gotten through the season with the departures of Jeannie and Carol and the deaths of Lucy (sniff) and Mark's dad. As at the beginning of last year's season, I find I'm just not as involved with or fond of a lot of the newer characters: I didn't care that much about Sam, Morris I'm thoroughly indifferent to and as for Ray, well, Ray-shmay. There are still those I like and am interested in (Luka, Abbey, Neela, Pratt) and of course we didn't want Jerry to croak, but it will have to pull out all the dramatic stops this year to compensate for all the favourite characters I'm missing these days.
Desperate Housewives has started out well this year and while I found it still retained its sparkle last year, it looks set to re-ignite more of its first-season flames with a mystery that's much better integrated into the Wisteria Lane community. On the surface, it looks fairly straightforward: Bree's married a wife-killer. But you know there has to be more to it than that and I'm looking forward to the show digging deeper and turning up who knows what. Kyle MacLachlan is great as Orson and if not for his dodgy wife-murdering past he'd be the perfect match for Bree. Double the OCD. On top of which we have the fireworks of Gabby's divorce and Susan's thread - with an amnesiac Mike being spoonfed a new version of the truth by evil Edie - is the usual Susan mix of goofy and tragic. (Although you have to wonder if loss of memory is also accompanied by loss of instinct and intuition: newly recovered from coma or no, surely Mike can tell Edie is a witch and Susan is honest, with just a screw or two loose.) Mainly, I think I'll be hoping for a stronger storyline for Lynette this year and watching her kick in the door of the interloping tramp this week was a joy to behold. I'm easily pleased, I guess.
Except, it must be said, that hasn't been the case with books lately. One poor mate of mine has been in the habit the past few years of buying me books for birthday and/or Christmas. Books that have usually been the subject of critical acclaim or come highly recommended by someone. And then I go and find them a bit lacking or not that special or, as in one case, particularly awful. And yet, he's a good mate, because he bought me books this Christmas too and having read one of them so far, I can safely declare it to be 'a good un'. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susannah Clarke) was a book I'd heard good things about, but the weight and size of it were a bit daunting - doesn't anybody write short books these days? Luckily, once I'd dipped into it, I was grabbed. Oddly, in a way, because there's nothing very dramatic in it - indeed, there are a couple of points where it sidesteps some potential dramatic conflict - but it has the sort of rambling brilliance of an English classic, where you're happy to allow it to wander where it will simply because it's just so good. The tone is generally light and entertaining, but there's more than enough shadowy material for contrast and a few moments of genuine creepiness. Wizards and Waterloo, it's a thoroughly novel novel. The one problem I had with it lay with the blasted footnotes. Entertaining as they were in their own way, they were a source of consant interruption to the narrative and a distraction. Probably a necessary one, but there we are. That's just me. I guess I've never been very fond of footnotes in novels ever since battling my way through James Fenimore Cooper's Last Of The Mohicans.
Anyway, I'm following it up with Galactic North, a collection of SF short stories by the usually brilliant Alastair Reynolds (he's not just about the stylish covers, you know). There don't appear to be any footnotes and the stories are kind of long for short stories, but still they're short.
As well as all the reading and watching, we also had the pleasure of going out to a concert recently. Living where we do, we don't often get many 'big names' playing down here and I'm not sure Nerina Pallot qualifies as a 'big name' anyway, but she was great. Songs that I enjoyed well enough on her CD (Fires) really came alive in the relatively small theatre that served as the venue. She's a highly gifted songstress, and she flitted easily from piano to guitar to piano as the mood took her or as it suited the song, injecting such a wealth of passion into every performance, aided only by regular refills of G&T. Yes, I commented afterwards that it should have been billed as Unplugged and Tanked-up. She's quirky and kooky, but very funny with it and the only downside was that when playing her CD a day or so later, I found myself wanting to hear the live versions. Hmm, maybe I'm really not so easy to please.
As if all that fun wasn't enough, I've also been catching up on some movies. Working my way through a list, in fact, that I made last year of Movies I Really Ought To Get Around To Seeing. There were about 50 in all on the list and I believe that was back around September or somewhere like that, and I've now seen 15 of them which isn't bad going. Some failed to live up to expectations, some surpassed and others didn't have any expectations attached at all, managing to surprise or disappoint purely on their own merits. But perhaps more on some of those at a later date.
Meanwhile, in other news, my wife passed her driving test on Monday! Yay! She's been driving for twenty years already, but being from the States she needed to get herself licensed for the UK roads. So I'm going to finish on a self-indulgent "Well done!" to her. After all, these blogs shouldn't be all about me, me, me, should they.