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Sunday, 29 June 2008

Okay, This Might Be Quite Exciting...


Hold onto your pants for an extra-special, 65-minute end of season episode of Doctor Who this Saturday: Journey's End by Russell T Davies... not everyone gets out alive!

(UK only video)

Is This The End For The Tenth Doctor?


Of course not! But it's going to be interesting to see if he does fully regenerate and somehow comes back as 'himself'... as his "daughter" did earlier in the season.

There was also a slightly lingering shot of his "hand in a bottle" near the start of The Stolen Earth, so maybe that will have something to do with it.

Six days until we find out for sure!

(UK only video)

At The Fleapit: Wanted (2008)

For a woman who has made it quite clear that she doesn't like action films, as with Death Proof, Rachel has ended up enjoying one of "my" films more than I did.

Being the wise woman she is, she did point out that if I hadn't read the graphic novel of Wanted before hand, I might have liked the film adaptation more. I'm not so sure.

Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan's screenplay is so watered down and sanitised from Mark Millar's original idea that Wanted is little more than A.N. Other Hollywood action flick with several spectacular stunt sequences - 90 per cent of which you would have seen in the trailers.

With the mad genius behind Nightwatch and Daywatch at the helm, Timur Bekmambetov, I was expecting some clever touches and there are one or two - mostly near the start, while the film is remaining vaguely true, at least in spirit, to the original comics.

However, it soon veers off from the promised dark, nihilism and American Psycho-meets-Fight Club vibe, into bland lunacy, confusingly shot fight sequences and broad comedy: I cite exploding rats and the whole 'Loom Of Fate' gibberish.

I can understand making changes from the comics - they are probably way too twisted, anti-establishment and nasty for mainstream audiences - but except for the first 15 or 20 minutes, the only recognisable elements from the Millar's original material is the names of the lead characters - Wesley (James McAvoy) and Fox (Angelina Jolie).

Therefore an attempt to shoe-horn in the source material's underlying message of rebellion into the closing seconds, with Wesley's fourth wall-breaking challenge to the audience, is totally incongruous... and a bit laughable.

Wesley is an office drone, a nobody, who finds himself recruited into a millennia-old Fraternity of Assassins, who help bring out his 'suppressed' abilities (such as curving a bullet in mid-air and shooting the wings off a fly) to track down the man who killed his father.

But the story doesn't go anywhere interesting after that; I might as well have been watching some direct-to-DVD rip off of Casino Royale or The Bourne Ultimatium.

Now I'd enjoy a film of Angelina Jolie reading out the phone book and Rachel is a massive fan of James McAvoy, so neither of us were bored at any point, but even without my fresh knowledge of the graphic novel, I could tell this was a pretty vanilla affair aimed squarely at the popcorn-munching, multiplex masses.

Except that it's probably helping to shift a lot of copies of his comics and helping to line his pockets with pieces of silver, I'd suggest Millar take his name off this project and go to another studio to get it done properly. That's what I would have Wanted!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth

The Stolen Earth saw Donna and The Doctor materialise the TARDIS on modern day Earth just moments before it was 'stolen away' from beneath their feet... by Davros and the daleks.

The daleks, who it turns out are responsible for all the missing planets mentioned throughout the season, want to 'harvest' the humans... presumably to make new daleks.

Dalek Caan, last seen in Evolution Of The Daleks, had managed to emergency time shift himself back into the Time War - shattering both his casing and his mind in the process - and rescue Davros from his moment of death.

Since then they have been rebuilding the Dalek Empire and now their plans seem to be coming to fruition with an engineered confrontation with The Doctor and his 'army' of companions.

This week's episode was all about moving the various chess pieces into the right position for next week's Journey's End, the conclusion not just of Russell T Davies' two-part story but also Season Four of Doctor Who.

While the pace of the story was relentless and delivered with the scale and scope of a Hollywood blockbuster, most of the protagonists (Team Torchwood, Sarah Jane Smith and son, The Doctor and Donna) were quite passive as things happened around them. Martha bounced about with an experimental teleportation device, but really it was left to Rose to do the majority of the running about... hunting across the planet for The Doctor.

Some of the acting was superb, and the fear from Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and Sarah Jane (Lis Sladen), upon first hearing the transmitted voice of the daleks, was palpable.

The new Davros (Julian Bleach, the Ghostmaker from Torchwood's From Out Of The Rain), like his creations - the daleks - a timeless icon of evil, shifted the character's way of expressing his twisted nature from the historical 'shouty' approach to 'hissing malevolence'... perhaps we'll get some 'shouty' Davros next week?

Events climaxed in the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers: Team Torchwood and Sarah Jane are all on the verge of extermination, while The Doctor - shot down by a crafty dalek before a proper reunion with Rose - appears to be on the verge of regeneration.

If this is the introduction of a new Doctor (which I strongly doubt, as I'm sure RTD has written an escape clause in somewhere that we haven't picked up on yet), then it's the best kept secret in the history of the programme.

However, there are other secrets that need to be revealed next week - particularly concerning Rose's life on the parallel Earth (...and her alien dental work) and her ability to 'pop over' as witnessed here and in Turn Left; and the prophecy that one of The Doctor's companions is going to die (all the clues point to Donna, but it seems a bit too obvious... I think it could be Rose).

Presumably, too, the slightly underwhelming Shadow Proclamation (basically an intergalactic police force) and their declaration of war on the daleks will also be sorted out, but after all the hints and name dropping over the last few years I was expecting something a bit more...er... I dunno ... cosmic than a bunch of albinos and some Judoon henchmen.

A week is too long to wait... without even a "coming next week" clip to satiate our hunger for spoilers.

Big Thumbs Up For The Moff!

The readers of HeroPress have spoken - we're backing The Moff for 2010!

In the latest poll run by this blog, the overwhelming majority of you (55%) said that you thought Doctor Who would get better when Steven Moffat took over from Russell T Davies as executive producer in 2010, with a further 25% expecting the show to become more frightening.

A small number (18%) believe there will be no change, while a tiny dissenting minority (2%) fear the show will get worse.

While I'm certainly pleased that a writer of this calibre is going to be running the show, I'm in the "won't change" camp.

The way I see it, RTD has created a winning formula - not only bringing the show back successfully but making it the BBC's flagship programme and a big money spinner for the Corporation - and I don't believe the Beeb will allow Steven Moffat to tamper with it too much.

We also need to remember that The Moff has declared himself a big fan of RTD's work and wouldn't want to be seen to trample all over his friend's efforts, especially as Russell will still be around... and may even be invited to write future episodes.

Another Milestone...

In the five and a half months since HeroPress passed the 10,000 unique readers mark (our first anniversary as well), the site has clocked up another 10,000 hits - bringing us to the grand total of 20,000 today!

Thank you all for the support. At this rate, we could be catching The Lair Of The DM and Three Beautiful Things soon... well, maybe not...

Friday, 27 June 2008

The Dunwich Horror

The Dunwich Horror may not be HP Lovecraft's subtlest tale of cosmic horror, but it established the template that decades later would form the backbone of the popular Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game: a team of out-classed academics investigating, then confronting, "things man was not supposed to know".

Having treated us 18 months ago to an audio rendition of At The Mountains Of Madness (Lovecraft's finest work in my opinion) the talented team at the HP Lovecraft Historical Society have just released their version of The Dunwich Horror.

Presented in the style of a 1930s radio programme, the show is a combination of talking book, with narration by Sean Branney (one of the main forces behind the HPLS), and full-cast audio (with a cast of almost 20 taking the many roles in this drama).

The adaptation stays very close to the source material, starting with an examination of the strange, degenerate Whately family (probably among Lovecraft's most famous creations) and life in the isolated town of Dunwich, then expands its horizons as the professors from Arkham are drawn in by the increasingly strange and violent goings-on.

As you would expect, from the people who brought us The Call of Cthulhu silent movie, The Dunwich Horror literally groans under layers of period atmosphere and detail with its unsettling suggestions of what goes on behind closed doors in lonely rural communities.

This story, being more a straight-forward "man versus monster" one than many of Lovecraft's atmospheric tales, gives us great insight into his concept of the Cthulhian mythos with an in depth examination of the dread Necronomicon, the book that forms the cornerstone of his fantastical mythology.

It is also a rare occasion when the human protagonists don't all end up dead or in an insane asylum!

The HPLS complements its CD release with the inclusion of four incredible relica props, which work either as collector's items or for games of Call of Cthulhu: a page from Wizard Whateley's copy of the Necronomicon, a 1917 clipping from the Arkham Advertiser about the family, a page from Wilbur Whateley's encrypted diary and a vintage map of Dunwich and its environs.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Summer: A Sad Time For TV Geeks!

All of a sudden all those TV programmes I was talking about earlier this month are coming to an end, within the space of the next 10 days, with nothing in sight to replace them.

As you may have gathered from this blog, Doctor Who reaches it climax on next Saturday (July 5), while top espionage rom/com Chuck wraps up on Monday on Virgin 1. At least we know both of these are coming back.

The only silver lining to the end of Doctor Who is the possibility that Classic Who reruns will return to UKTVGold. I seem to remember they were part-way through the Tom Baker era, just on the cusp of The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, when the daily episodes stopped to make way for the BBC's main show.

However, one show that definitely isn't coming back is post-apocalyptic drama Jericho , which is - at least - promising to go out in a blaze of glory tomorrow (Friday), tucked away on the Hallmark Channel.

The current season of Heroes comes to close a week today. Once again, this slow burner has become 'must see' TV for me, after initial doubts. A large part of the problem for me was the thematic similarities between Season One's "apocalyptic bomb about to wipe out all life in New York" and Season Two's "apocalyptic virus about to wipe out all life in New York". Let's hope, for the show's sake, that its third season hits the ground running, with some fresh ideas.

Battlestar Galactica reached an incredible mid-season break last week, so we'll have to hold on until next year for the resolution of this stunning four season story arc.

In the meantime I haven't seen, heard or read about anything yet that would hold my interest over the Summer on TV. Hopefully The Sarah Jane Adventures or Primeval might come back soon.

Otherwise I might be forced to find entertainment outside... in the sunshine... and fresh air. That can't be right, surely? Somebody put something on television for me, please!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Wow! The BBC Are Really Selling This One...


Team Torchwood, Sarah Jane, Rose and Martha! Even the presence of the cheesy 'Mr Smith' computer from The Sarah Jane Adventures cannot detract from the awesomeness of this clip...

I can only imagine that the BBC are expecting record viewing figures for The Stolen Earth on Saturday as they are pushing this episode of Doctor Who more than any since this series came back to our screens in April.

(UK only video again... sorry, guys)

Wanted: A Graphic Experience!

If, like me, you mistakenly thought that the "Fraternity of Assassins" mentioned in the trailer for the forthcoming film Wanted were, in some way, "good guys" then prepare to have your doors of perception well and truly kicked open by Mark Millar's graphic novel.

I was in Tunbridge Wells yesterday with Paul, down from Scotland and visiting for the day, and spied the Wanted trade paperback (collecting the original six-issues of the Top Cow mini-series) in a bookshop with a "two pound off" sticker on the front.

Naturally, I couldn't resist such a bargin - as I'd been looking for it for weeks on eBay and Amazon - and sat down down today to read it.

It quite literally blew my mind. It's so packed with ideas I'm surprised the publishers could close the covers on this bad boy.

First I've got to stress - as I haven't seen the movie yet, but, after reading this trade paperback, have strong suspicions about - the key phrase on the cover is "the graphic novel that inspired the movie". There is no way on Earth that the general cinema-going public would buy this as film, even with the hottest of all hotties Angelina Jolie and pretty boy James McAvoy in the lead roles.

The comics present a twisted - and uncreditted - view of the DC Universe (e.g. Mr Rictus is The Joker, Fox is Catwoman, Solomon Seltzer is Lex Luthor etc and you have to love the Wanted versions of Clayface and Bizarro) where all the super-villains got together and slaughtered the superheroes then rewrote reality to create the world as we know it today.

There are traces of Watchmen, Fight Club, Squadron Supreme, The Matrix and probably a billion other homages that I missed, but this is quite possibly Mark Millar's magnum opus. I've been ragging on him recently for his shoddy work on The Fantastic Four and the feeble ending to Civil War; but this is why - he was holding back his true, dark, twisted genius.

Boy, can that man write bad language!!! He gives a Deadwood a run for its money for the swears-per-second rate. I'd also suggest the writers of Torchwood should swot up on Millar's style if they want their characters to cuss convincingly.

But, Wanted's more than bad language, high body count, dirty sex and very graphic violence, it's oh so nasty and not for the faint-stomached but is also fluid and surprisingly clever. It's too soon to judge how much of that 'clever' is from in-jokes that I happened to get because I've read comic books since I was a nipper, but the initial impact of the book was almost on a par with the my first viewing of Fight Club.

One aspect of the comics I'm sure will have been kept in the film is the ending, so I've spoiled that for myself, but it's made me even more eager to see the movie.

Three Days To D-Day...


That's Daleks and Davros, of course!
(UK only video feed)

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of some recent geeky news, you might have missed...

(1) Like Him Or Loathe Him: Ultra-geek Bill Gates, head of Microsoft, and for many years the richest man in the world, steps away from the company he set up to turn his attention to philanthropy.

(2) Laughing In The Afterlife: Comedy legend George Carlin, 71, died in the early hours of Monday morning of heart failure.

(3) Every Dog Has Its Day: Production is scheduled to begin in Australia next month on K-9, a light-hearted live-action/animation 26-part series following the adventures of Doctor Who's former companion in outer space.

(4) Back Of The Head! The first of Character Options' action figures covering the start of Season 4 of Doctor Who have been revealed. They are due out towards the end of July.

(5) Get A Life: Brit ex-pat Ian Usher is selling off his 'lifestyle' (home, transport, friends, furniture etc) in Perth, Australia, on eBay after the break-up of his marriage.

(6) Midnight's In The House: The latest episode of my favourite gaming podcast, Midnight's Lair, has been released and is available for download.

Monday, 23 June 2008

DVD Of The Week: K-9 And Company - A Girl's Best Friend (1981)

Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner didn't like the robot dog K-9 and as soon as he took over the show he made sure the metal mutt was written out... much to the horror of Doctor Who's young fan base.

Thus JNT came up with the idea of a spin-off show and K-9 And Company was born.

Sadly, only a pilot episode was made (A Girl's Best Friend) as a change at the top in the BBC meant plans for a series were shelved, but it still served as a precursor for The Sarah Jane Adventures many years later.

After an opening credit sequence that looks like a set-up for a Victoria Wood parody, the atmosphere of A Girl's Best Friend changes dramtically to sinister Dennis Wheatley black magic territory with scenes of a witch's coven in a churchyard at midnight.

Sarah Jane Smith arrives in the rural village of Morton Harewood, planning to spend Christmas with her Aunt Lavinia (Mary Wimbush) and her aunt's ward, Brendan (Ian Sears).

However, upon arrival at her aunt's estate, Sarah Jane discovers Lavinia has 'mysteriously' disappeared off to the United States on a lecture tour after upsetting the superstitious village residents by writing to the local paper poo-pooing their traditional beliefs in witchcraft.

Sarah Jane also finds a box has been left for her... from The Doctor. It contains K-9 Mark III (Mark I being with Leela on Gallifrey and Mark II off with Romana) and posh geek Brendan immediately sees the robot-computer as a way to improve production in Aunt Lavina's market garden.

However, before they can make their fortune, Brendon, K-9 and Sarah Jane become embroiled with the strange goings-on of the locals, who seem to have drifted in from Royston Vasey. Brendon is attacked, and then kidnapped, phone lines are cut, and no-one will believe Sarah Jane's claims of witchcraft.

As a 50-minute story, this rattles along with the pace of the new 21st Century Doctor Who and before you know it, K-9 and Sarah Jane are confronting the coven and liberating Brendon, before he can be sacrificed (the revelation that pretty much all the village seem to be involved reminded me of Hot Fuzz).

Much of Doctor Who is about the triumph of science over superstition and while A Girl's Best Friend confronts this head on, little mileage is made from the fact that the witches clearly have no real powers, everything can be explained logically and the only on-screen death is by natural causes - a police sergeant, cycling back to the station, has a heart attack brought on by fear of reprisal from the coven.

As The Sarah Jane Adventures would show a quarter of a century later, Elisabeth Sladen has enough screen presence and acting chops to warrant a series of her own and Sarah Jane Smith is such a well-developed character that she can work in almost any setting.

Of course, if K-9 And Company had taken off, Lis Sladen might not have been so keen to do The Sarah Jane Adventures, so that particular cloud has a very silver lining as it means we still get to see new stories about the Whoniverse's favourite investigative reporter.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Davros, Daleks and Death... Oh My!


The latest TV teaser for The Stolen Earth... six days to go!

Rachel is slightly concerned that I might be building this episode up a bit too much and I have to confess that there is a tiny, niggling doubt at the back of my mind that says: we've been here before - with Bad Wolf , Army Of Ghosts and The Sound of Drums.

All of which promised more greatness from the concluding episode of their particular season than was eventually delivered.

Let's hope The Stolen Earth and Journey's End break that curse.

(UK only video feed)

A Wretched Hive Of Scum And Villainy...

I said last month that my Star Wars figures would be taking a back seat to my Doctor Who ones because they were less "user friendly" when it came to displaying them in my gamesroom.

However, I have had requests for pictures of a sampling of my Star Wars collection. At the moment I display the larger items - namely the 12" action figures and a couple of statues (for want of a better description).

I've always had a fondness for the 12" Star Wars figures, even if when together in a glass cabinet they do have the balance issues of a gang of 20-something girls on a hen night and a tendancy to fall like dominoes at the slightest breeze or vibration of the cabinet.

Han Solo was the first of my larger-scale figures, but I do like the Imperial Officer with his cheeky copy of Marvel's Star Wars comic issue 1 clutched in in his little fingers. (This item having been picked up at one of Rachel's dolls house shows).

Obi-Wan is the only 'posh' Sideshow 12" figures I own - and probably only I'll ever be able to afford to own - as I acquired him, using credit from other figure sales from the Collectall Box in Worthing last year.

Most of the rest came from bargain sales at Woolworths - always a good source of affordable Star Wars merchandise I've found over the years (that's where my lightsaber came from as well!)

The only 3 3/4" scale figures I have in my current display are the large-size Jabba (which I have had since I was a kid and wouldn't ever sell or trade) and the Mickey Mouse and Yoda combo picked up on one of our visits to EuroDisney, which again, has great sentimental value.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Is This Going To Be The Best Doctor Who Episode Ever?


I'll confess the first time I saw this 40-second trailer, at the end of Turn Left, I had a mini-geekgasm, shaking like a little girl at a Justin Timberlake gig.

This has everything a fanboy could ask: Team Torchwood, Sarah Jane Smith and her 'son', Martha Jones, Judoon, the stylish Red Dalek, a Dalek invasion of Earth. I really can't wait for next Saturday and The Stolen Earth...

Please note this trailer will probably not be viewable by non-UK residents.

Doctor Who: Turn Left

On the Oriental planet of Shan Shen (the glorious set design of which will have got Firefly fans excited from the off), Donna is lured away from the Doctor by a sinister fortune teller (Chipo Chung, who played the blue insect woman Chantho in Utopia).

She may have been in league with The Trickster from The Sarah Jane Adventures (Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane?), who is known to The Doctor we discovered at the end, but she manages to secrete a Time Beetle onto Donna's back, which creates a parallel timeline in which, due to one small change in her life, she never meets The Doctor.

In this world, Donna doesn't get involved in the events of The Runaway Bride, leaving The Doctor to drown under the Thames when he defeated The Racnoss. This means Sarah Jane Smith ends up on the Moon with Martha in Smith & Jones (and both die because the oxygen runs out) and the Titanic crashes into Buckingham Palace the following Christmas (Voyage Of The Damned) leaving the South of England a nuclear wasteland.

Donna and her displaced family are evacuated to Leeds, where they are forced to share a terraced house with two other families as their lives fall apart.

Without London, the adipose are relocated to the USA (Partners in Crime), causing so much chaos that America is unable to send aid it promised to the UK, which consequently means Britain is one of the least affected parts of the world when the Atmos machines go berserk - as the British economy can't support so many cars.

Unfortunately, Team Torchwood give their lives fighting off the Sontaran Stratagem and Captain Jack is transported to the Sontaran homeworld.

Most of this happens off-screen and is reported to Donna through various means, because this episode is focused entirely on her - not the heroics and sacrifices of others.

This story, almost It's A Wonderful Life-like, is about the butterfly effect of Donna's single altered decision and the impact it has not only on those around her, but the entire Universe!

But this is more than 'Doctor Who does Sliding Doors' as Rose Tyler keeps popping up from her own parallel world, eventually convincing Donna that she really is an important person and that they need to find a way to save The Doctor.

Without a doubt, this is one of Russell T Davies' cleverest scripts, not only for the way it examines the impact of events from earlier episodes if The Doctor hadn't have been around to avert disaster, but also for the way everything is tied up neatly and leads into next week's incredible-looking episode, The Stolen Earth.

While the return of Rose Tyler was intriguing (even though Billie Piper looked rather ill and had adopted a strange speech pattern for Rose that suggested she was sucking a lemon), this was Catherine Tate's episode all the way.

If there are still any doubters about her acting ability after this, then they will never be convinced, unlike the rest of us, that she is one of the strongest companions The Doctor has had.

What makes this episode even more impressive is that it suggests that RTD has had a 'masterplan' since the first series for his four-year run on the show... and if not, he's a genius at creating that illusion retrospectively.

Top Shelf: The Notables

The Notables newspaper is a free, 24-page, loose sheaf newsletter - in a mock Georgian style, complete with eccentric spelling - from Scottish figure manufacturer Alternative Armies for fans of its expanding range of figures.

The newspaper mainly concentrates on the company's two fantasy Napoleonic games: Flintloque, for skirmish-level combat, and Slaughterloo, for mass battles.

Alternative Armies' figures have long divided the gaming community - you either love 'em or... you don't. I do, and have boxes of them in my gamesroom's back cupboard to prove it.

While taking their historical inspiration from Bernard Cornwell's wonderful series of Sharpe novels, the Alternative Armies Slaughterloo/Flintloque range features no human characters.

Their large, stylised sculpts are all fantasy creatures (e.g. orcs for the British, elves for the French, dwarves for the central Europeans) or anthropomorphised animals (e.g. dogs, toads and, most recently, rabbits).

These are unique figures, unlike anything else on the market, and the Slaughterloo/Flintloque ranges seem to have been going strong for years, with no sign of letting up.

As the years go on, the game world - Valon - becomes more detailed and The Notables newspaper helps fluff this out with fiction and background information, as well as news of the latest releases, information on "members' only figures", scenarios etc.

Membership of The Notables Club is easy - and free - and just entails sending an email to: product@alternative-armies.com with your name, full postal address and email address (I don't know if they send free stuff outside the United Kingdom, so it might pay to check first to avoid disappointment).

Then to get your free newspaper, you just need to register your interest each time a new issue is due to be published - so the company don't waste time and money printing copies that people aren't going to read.

One of the many things I love about Alternative Armies, besides their general, overall friendliness, is the fact that they offer a painting service (just their own figures, naturally) for a very reasonable cost.

On the other hand, the only thing I can't always get my head around is that the whole Flintloque/Slaughterloo world is the groaning under an abundance of awful, cheesy puns, from the character and unit names to towns and countries. Some 'work' and some, in my opinion, don't!

But once you grasp the tone of the humour (or ignore it completely) the figures, while an acquired taste, will speak for themselves and always draw comment and interest from all who see them on your table.

Friday, 20 June 2008

DVD Of The Week: The Invisible Enemy (1977)

With its story of an intelligent, microscopic, parasitic virus trying to take over the Universe, The Invisible Enemy is brilliant example of the great scripting and acting from this strong era of Doctor Who.

Unfortunately, its credibility is almost entirely undermined by the revelation of the enemy - at the end of the third episode of this four-parter - as a laughter-inducing child-sized prawn monster.

While watching this, whenever, this creature - the "nucleus" - was on-screen, all verisimilitude went out the window as I stifled hysterical giggles at the sight of one of the least convincing costumed creations in the show's long and glorious history.

The set-up for the story, with an invisible beast targeting a space shuttle on the way to Saturn's moon Titan in the year 5,000AD, immediately reminded me of last Saturday's Russell T Davies' script Midnight; a feeling reinforced when the entity honed in on The Doctor as a suitable vessel for its "nucleus" because of his superior intelligence.

The early scenes on Titan, as The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson, looking her most stunning, especially when she later disguises herself as a nurse in a green, PVC outfit) arrive, drip atmosphere - playing up the sense of isolation and helplessness.

The action quickly shifts to a nearby medical facility on an asteroid, where The Doctor meets Professor Marius (Frederick Jaeger) and his "best friend", the robot companion, K-9.

While being stalked through the corridors of the medical centre by virus-infected zombies (led by the ever-reliable Michael 'Mr Bronson' Sheard), The Doctor and Leela are first cloned (short-lived carbon-copies of their original selves) then miniaturised so they can be injected into The Doctor's own virus-infected brain. All very Fantastic Voyage!

This being a family show, the clones, of course, (totally unrealistically) are grown fully clothed from the donor's single cell and while I can live quite happily without seeing The Doctor naked, this sad old geek feels he was deprived of a chance to see Leela in her birthday suit. Sadly, there isn't even a DVD extra to correct this omission.

At this point, once the two miniature clones are inside The Doctor, the viewer's suspension of disbelief is pushed to near breaking point by the combination of technobabble and bizarre studio sets that pass for the literal and metaphorical representation of the Time Lord's brain. It is also here the cloned couple first encounter the organism that will become the prawn monster.

Outside of The Doctor's body the "nucleus" grows to its full-size and is taken back to Titan by its infected servants, so it can spawn with the hive of spores growing there and create a Universe-dominating swarm.

Silly monster aside, The Invisible Enemy remains an intelligently scripted and tight, solid science-fiction story.

The awkward relationship between The Doctor and Leela has carried over from Horror Of Fang Rock as he is constantly rude and dismissive of her, even though it is she and K-9 who really save the day.

Then again, he doesn't seem to mind her being quite gung ho with both a blaster pistol and her hunting knife, taking down possessed medical staff and astronauts left, right and centre.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of some recent geeky news, you might have missed...

(1) Stan's Last Great Adventure: The Oscar-winning special effects genius behind Aliens and The Terminator, Stan Winston passed away on Sunday at the age of 62.

(2) RTD OBE: Russell T Davies, the Welsh wizard behind the resurrection of Doctor Who has been awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for Services To Drama.

(3) Larklight Heads To The Big Screen: The green light has been giving for work to begin on a $200 million adaptation of my one of my favourite books, Larklight by Philip Reeve (named HeroPress 'book of the year' in 2007).

(4) Dungeons & Dragons 4e Has Been Launched: A new, and drastically overhauled, edition of the grandpappy of role-playing games hits the shelves... to some lacklustre reviews.

(5) Saturday Is Free RPG Day: The annual opportunity for fanboys to get their hands on some free stuff comes around again - look out online and in your FLGS for new RPG quickstart rules and adventure modules.

In the future I plan to run "The Week In Geek..." as my Tuesday feature, but I wanted to get this week's out there and see if there was any reaction.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Other Side Of Harry...

My old friend John Carrigan, stuntman, actor, martial artist and Star Trek afficiando, sees his first book published this week.

The Other Side Of Harry (RRP £17) is a harrowing autobiography about John's early family life which was constantly overshadowed by his father's schizophrenia.

But it is also a tale of turning a dark past into a bright future as John is now a well-respected martial arts trainer and appears in several of the popular online Star Trek spin-offs: namely, Of Gods And Men and New Voyages, where he has made a name for himself for his Klingon portrayals.

The 418-page paperback book is currently available from the publishers, Chipmunka Publishing (the world's number one mental health publisher; a social enterprise that aims to improve the way the world views mental health), but is due to hit Amazon next week and will be available to order through all good bookshops later this month.

John points out that every copy sold helps the mental health charity.

Having studied martial arts since he was 15, John was acting as a bodyguard for the original Star Trek crew when he met creator Gene Roddenberry who inspired him to pursue his acting ambitions.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

At The Fleapit: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Much mileage has been made by comparing Ang Lee's "arty" Hulk from 2003 with the new Marvel version which has just burst onto the silver screen with superstar Ed Norton as Bruce Banner aka The Incredible Hulk.

While Ang Lee's interpretation of this comic book mainstay was occasionally a bit "out there" - with a final fight sequence that went all Stanley Kubrick - this latest reimagining plays safer by staying closer to home, keeping the minimal plot to a chase theme, interrupted by some super-powered fight sequences.

The Hulk's origin is summed up neatly in the title sequence, then Banner (Ed Norton) is hiding out in Brazil, working at a drinks bottling factory, when General 'Thunderbolt' Ross (William Hurt) tracks him down and sends in the boys; including a fine turn from Tim Roth - who I haven't seen in a film for ages - as sadistic soldier Emil Blonsky.

Things go pear shaped and Blonsky comes face-to-face with the Hulk and quickly realises he wants a piece of that action as well.

Ross takes Blonsky under his wing and confides in him that Banner had originally been working, unknowingly, on a revival of the Second World War "super soldier" programme.

Where The Incredible Hulk wins round the fans is its script bulked out with Easter Eggs from the Marvel Universe - as well as a set-up for the introduction of The Leader in a future film, we also meet Doc Samson (Ty Burrell) sans green hair, all the military hardware is branded as Stark technology and in the final scene we get a cameo from Robert Downey Jnr as Tony Stark himself alluding to the formation of The Avengers.

Bruce Banner meets up with his old sweetheart, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), Thunderbolt's daughter, and she joins him in his fugitive life as they head towards New York to rendezvous with a mysterious scientist who may have a cure for Banner's condition.

Blonsky, jacked up on a super soldier serum cocktail, transforms into the Abomination, a giant twisted muscle-bound mutant creature, for the final face-off with the Hulk in the streets of NYC.

It's rather a shame, that for all the Hulk's wide-ranging rogue's gallery, as with Iron Man facing off against Iron Monger in the final reel of that film, that a villain was chosen for this showcase movie that is basically little more than a dark, twisted reflection of the main character. At least Spider-Man didn't have to confront Venom until Spider-Man 3...

Ang Lee's Hulk may have been far from perfect - mutant poodles? - and it disappeared totally up its own orifice at the climax, but when it was good it was daring and grand; this Hulk is "incredible" fun but it is far less cerebral and more mainstream, middle-of-the-road.

The Incredible Hulk is certainly truer to the spirit and tone of the original comics, and the much loved television series (Lou Ferrigno even provides the voice of the Hulk), and is fantastic summer blockbuster fare, but no matter how much I enjoyed it, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Ang Lee's take on the green goliath.

Monday, 16 June 2008

The Doctor Figures It Out!

Here are some random photographs of my ever-expanding collection of Doctor Who action figures from Character.

The dodos running in the TARDIS have escaped from the Primeval range (also by Character, and one of the few other ranges that share the 5" size scale of the Who figures), but I felt that they added an agreeable sense of anarchy to the scene and help suggest some wild time travel story that includes this particular collection of companions... and some dodos!

I'm really fond of the Toclafane accessories that have just been released with the new versions of The Master and Martha, both the 'open' Toclafane that Martha is examining and the pair of floating Toclafane that flank The Master, and came fitted with their own flying stands.

Don't forget to check in on Marcus' regularly updated site here for news, and advance images, of the latest figures.

He is also hosting a fascinating interview feature with Edmund Barnett-Ward, Director of Sculpting at Designworks Windsor, the company that sculpts Character Options' Doctor Who action figures. Read it here.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

On Track...

Every couple of years Rachel and I make it to the Chatham Model Railway Show, held over this weekend in June at the Chatham Historic Dockyard.

With Rachel's wrist now nearly fixed (fingers crossed), we're getting out and about more and luckily for us Chatham is an easy drive from our house.

The exhibition is the biggest model railway show we attend, with a range of displays from the large 'garden'-scale railways down to the N-gauge, which Rachel is particularly fond of as this is the scale of her own Midale layout (one of the few hobby items still to br moved from her parents' house to ours).

There were, as you would expect, many stand-out displays, but the one that really took our fancy was the N-Club-International-Module-Group's gigantic modular layout, consisting of 15 interlocking units, positioned around a central table and flagpole, featuring a variety of scnes from a rock concert (with flashing lights and real music), the obligatory chapel with wedding, a school and so on.

We were particularly taken with some of the animated details such as the coach veering through the lanes and the ride-on lawnmower carving a track around a field - weaving between trees and tables.
More pictures from the show can be found here.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Doctor Who: Midnight

Midnight saw The Doctor, having left Donna in a health spa, embarking on a trip across the titular, inhospitable, diamond planet to see the Sapphire Waterfall in a shuttle cruiser - the futuristic equivalent of a minibus - with six other passengers, a hostess, a driver and an engineer.

The shuttle takes a detour because of a rock slide, then suddenly - in the middle of nowhere - breaks down and is promptly attacked by a mysterious entity.

Given that no life is supposed to exist on the planet, naturally the passengers start to freak out. Then the entity gets inside and possesses lonely, frightened Sky Silvestry (Lesley Sharp, who steals the show with her performance).

This possession, which rapidly moves Russell T Davies' story into creepy, Exorcist territory, manifests through Sky first echoing the words of the other passengers, then speaking their lines simultaneously. A simple gimmick, but a very effective one to give the audience chills.

As the claustrophobia and paranoia grows, the entity starts to latch onto The Doctor, who, having shown his sympathy for the creature, as well as his brilliance, has revealed himself as a potential threat to the being.

A fine example of a classic 'bottle' episode, with the bulk of the action taking place in the one set, Midnight really pushes all the right buttons for unnerving creepiness, but is possibly too cerebral for children to get in the way they embraced Blink. Mostly, I expect they will just do the annoying simultaneous talking trick until another kid punches them on the nose.

I loved the fact that there were no simple, pat answers to what was going on, and that, for once, the threat wasn't a CGI monster or a man in a rubber suit (not that there is anything wrong with either of those, if done well).

Technically Midnight was a brilliant episode, with its reliance on sound effects and unnerving synchronised dialogue, but it could have been a brilliant episode of almost any science-fiction show. There wasn't enough of the unique "Doctoriness" that makes Doctor Who Doctor Who. This could easily have been a story from Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate SG-1, The Twilight Zone etc

The episode actually suffered because, barring the bookend scenes, the Doctor was without Donna (or any companion) and therefore only had strangers to bounce off of.

I realise that isolating the main character, away from his comfort zone, was one of the hooks of the story, but even towards the end, when The Doctor was helpless, there's no real feeling of threat as his name is the title of the show (and we know it's not time for a regeneration).

If that had been Donna, Martha or Rose the other passengers were preparing to throw out of the cabin - to be instantly vapourised in the extreme sunlight - I might have been more concerned.

It may be a personal thing, but I also don't like RTD's reliance on 20th/21st Century Earth tropes in his far future scripts (e.g. old cartoons and clips of Top of The Pops on the cruiser's inflight entertainment) and even when The Doctor is on an alien planet it's often populated almost entirely by humans.

Devoid of flashy special effects - besides the initial scene-setting exteriors of the planet of Midnight - this must have been a comparitively cheap episode to film; couldn't they have thrown in a token alien passenger?

And rather than just instantly jumping to murder as a solution to the situation, why did no-one suggest just knocking Sky unconscious first? That would have shut her up...

Stat's Amazing!

This has been a phenomenal week for HeroPress, with a sudden rush of readers last weekend that not only broke the '100 Unique Visitors A Day' barrier, but has kept our daily average over 100 as well.

Compared to the 'big leagues', of course, this is small potatoes - but I'm really chuffed. I was happy to get one reader a day (well... ever...) but for a little ol' geeky blog to hit three figures makes my heart proud.

Even the usual Tuesday trough - 78 - would have been a hugely satisfying number of hits any other week.

We could just do with a bit more feedback now... I know a lot of you are coming here because of my Doctor Who material, but I'd like to know what you think: is it fair, accurate, rubbish, too flippant, too serious...? Let me know, so I can make HeroPress even better.

Here are the visitor numbers for the last month. Where applicable I've included a note of the previous month's figures for comparison.

Visitor Numbers (as of Saturday, 14 June): 18,815 (16, 415)

Average Number of Visitors Per Day: 111 (78)

Top 5 Countries of Origin:
United States 50.5% (39%)
United Kingdom 21.2% (33%)
Canada 3% (9%)
Turkey 2% (-)
Brazil 2% (-)

Friday, 13 June 2008

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors (1973)

This rather silly story was produced to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Doctor Who and, sadly, marked William Hartnell's last acting performance before he died in 1975.

Famously, the great man was so ill at the time of filming that he could only reprieve his role as The First Doctor in short scenes shot in his home garage and then inserted as "transmissions" on the TARDIS monitor for his two junior colleagues.

Despite being slightly jumbled, The Three Doctors is a key story for introducing both the concept of multi-Doctor stories and the character of Omega (Stephen Thorne), the Gallifreyean pioneer who gave the Time Lord's the power source to fuel their time travel.

Omega would, of course, pop up again years later in Arc Of Infinity, but he shares a rather annoying trait with the President of Gallifrey (Roy Purcell) - a tendency to overact. Mainly Omega shouts and rants though his machinations in The Three Doctors.

Bob Baker and Dave Martin's script contains a neat central idea, that Omega is trapped in an anti-matter universe, on the other side of a black hole, on a world created by his own willpower, but his unable to escape because the moment his will lapses the world would be destroyed.

Oddly - but conveniently for the BBC budget - he has created a world that just happens to look like a quarry, but he has also sent an anti-matter organism to Earth to retrieve The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) to use his wullpower and intellect to aid in his escape.

Meanwhile, The Time Lords on Gallifrey are trapped by the anti-matter energy from the black hole and so break the "first law of time" to send the two earlier incarnations of The Doctor (Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell) to assist the current Earth-bound Doctor.

The First Doctor gets stuck in a "time eddy" and can only offer advice, but the Second and Third Doctors team up, assisted by Jo Grant (Katy Manning, who clings onto every available male), The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Sgt Benton (John Levene).

This is the UNIT bods' first look inside the TARDIS and if that isn't mind-blowing enough, the Brigadier can't quite get his head around the concept of multiple Doctors. He also mistakes Omega's quarry world for Norfolk!

Much of this 97-minute story seems to have been played for laughs and Pertwee and Troughton are clearly having fun, but while it is a pleasant enough romp while it lasts (and The Third Doctor is released from his exile at the end of it), it all ultimately seems a bit light-weight, even with the crucial elements it adds to the Doctor Who mythos.

But then I'm not a big fan of early 70's Doctor Who anyway, so feel free to take my comments with a pinch of salt.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Top Of The Pile: Thor #9

Away from the Secret Invasion that is dominating the Marvel Universe, but still on the same plane of existance, former Babylon 5-creator J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) is crafting a little piece of Marvel history with his skillful re-invention of Thor.

In a week that, for me, saw the start of DC's Final Crisis, the return of Captain Britain in Captain Britain & MI-13, continuing twists and mind-games in Secret Invasion and the first hints of the uninspiring origin story of the Ultimate Universe, the title that really stood out was issue nine of JMS' on-going series about the rebirth of the Norse gods in middle America.

Besides the amusing sub-plot of Kelda's human boyfriend teaching the gods how to play basketball, the main story focused on the clever manipulation of Baldur by Asgard's resident trickster, Loki (now a hot chick, by the way).

Baldur, whose raison d'etre was tied to Ragnorok, now feels listless, a drifter without a purpose... and prime material for Loki to work on; manipulating him into accidentally crossing Thor and then pulling a 'surprise revelation' out of the bag on the final page that could pit the two former friends against each other.

And there's not a hint of skrullishness about any of them...

Complemented by Olivier Coipel's fine artwork, this is some of JMS's finest comic book scripting and I hope he stays with this title for a long while.

I can understand why he was a bit "annoyed" by Marvel's heavy-handed editorial treatment of, first, the Fantastic Four that he was writing and then the Spider-Man/One More Day debacle, and I hope the "powers that be" will leave him alone to continue this masterpiece.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Doctor Who: Resurrection Of The Daleks (1984)

The Fifth Doctor's only on-screen clash with the Daleks, Resurrection of The Daleks, is rather a confusing tangle, despite the return of Dalek-creator Davros - on top shouty form.

The Doctor (Peter Davison), Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson, one of The Doctor's few memorable and interesting male companions) are thrown off course by a Time Corridor and drawn to London's docklands in 1984.

It turns out that the Daleks have stored canisters of a lethal Movellan virus there and are using 'duplicated' humans to guard it, until they can liberate Davros (Terry Molloy) from his spacestation prison and get him to engineer an antidote.

Davros, however, once awakened has other ideas.

There's so much going on in this 100-minute story that it takes a while for it to dawn on you that a lot of it doesn't make any sense. It all seems unnecessarily complicated, destined to attract attention and doomed to failure.

For instance, the Dalek's duplication system is never explained, as they show The Doctor their copies of Tegan and Turlough even though neither have been previously captured, and the choice of 1984 Earth to hide the virus seems an odd location.

The reason given is very unconvincing, as really any planet could have been used and, perhaps, one you are war with is not the ideal location!

The Doctor, himself, seems battle-hardened and almost callous in this story - or perhaps Eric Saward's macho writing style is to blame - as he is quite willing to assassinate Davros, shows no qualms about releasing the Movellan virus to wipe out the Daleks and sports various firearms on a number of occasions, even firing one repeatedly into a Kaled mutant.

At least this is acknowledged during Tegan's exit sequence and she is allowed to bow out of the series in some style... rather than just being "left behind" this time!

Resurrection Of The Daleks is also notable for its high celebrity guest star quotient: Rula Lenska is Chief Medical Officer Styles on the prison ship, Rodney Bewes is escaped prisoner Stien and future 'Dirty Den' Leslie Grantham makes his TV debut as Davros' assistant.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

DVD Of The Week: Wild China (2008)

The impending Beijing Olympic Games in China has opened up this formerly secretive country in unprecedented ways.

This spirit of co-operation, however temporary and fragile it may be, has allowed the BBC's Natural History Unit to produce - in co-operation with China's English-language State channel CCTV - Wild China.

Part nature documentary and part anthropological study of indigenous tribes, Wild China also examines the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature; how the actions of one can affect the other.

Made with the support of the Chinese Government, we have to be wary of very slight and very subtle propaganda, but just let the images in these six hour-long episodes wash over you.

As you would expect from a BBC nature documentary, the wildlife cinematography, which ranges from 'cute' to 'red in tooth and claw', will leave you wondering how they got half their shots... without mounting microscopic cameras on every animal in the world!

I've said before how I felt - in a good way - that visiting China was the closest I would ever get to experiencing life on a an alien world, and Wild China only reinforces that belief, and makes me eager to return.

The 350-minutes of documentary footage is packed with fascinating ethnic diversity, giant pandas, skull-faced monkeys, exotic plant life, strange creatures and some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on the face of the Earth.

While Bernard Hill's voice-over is very informative and authoritative, he's also rather dull and unemotional (reminding me of Kevin Arnold's teacher from The Wonder Years on occasion).

He may, as Theoden, have led the riders of Rohan in Lord Of The Rings, but he's no David Attenborough or Michael Palin.

Wild China does lack that human connection with its subject that a charismatic, on-screen host would have brought, but I guess that might not have been appropriate for this style of documentary making or so pleasing to the State Censors. One step at a time, I suppose.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Doctor Who: Arc Of Infinity (1983)

Having "accidently" left Tegan behind on Earth at the end of the last televised story, Time-Flight, so they could go off and have their "Big Finish" audio adventures, The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa are then reunited with the "mouth of legs" in the jolly romp that is Arc of Infinity.

For television viewers at the time, Tegan (Janet Fielding) left at the end of one season, then returned at the beginning of the next... albeit with a sexier hair cut.

Initially, Tegan arrives in Amsterdam - having been sacked from her flight attendant role - to meet her cousin and his backpacking mate; an awful pair of posh twits with the acting range of soggy lettuce.

Meanwhile, a mysterious anti-matter creature has tried to bond with The Doctor, forcing The High Council Of Time Lords to recall the TARDIS and sentence The Doctor to death... as the only way of stopping the anti-matter monstrostity from breaking through to our reality.

However, a traitor is working behind-the-scenes on the High Council (just for a change...) to engineer the bonding of The Doctor with the creature, which turns out to be rogue Time Lord Omega.

Elsewhere Omega, in a protective suit, has landed his TARDIS, rather co-incidentally, in Amsterdam and kidnaps the backpacking bores and Tegan to help with the transfer process - ably assisted by his duck-beaked assistant, The Ergon... a character design so 'out there' you have to wonder what the designer had been smoking before starting work that day.

Two elements that both fans and casual fans of Doctor Who comment on is: the excessive technobabble and time wasted running up and down corridors,

Arc Of Infinity suffers under both of these curses, but thankfully gallops along at such a pace that the vomit of random words that passes for the workings of Omega's plan gets overlooked in the energy of the piece.

There's also a lot of running about - both around the corridors of Gallifrey and through the streets of Amsterdam; producer John Nathan-Turner obviously wanted to get maximum usage from his random decision to film a story in Amsterdam.

The most striking elements of this story are the performances from Colin Baker (pre-Sixth Doctor) as the overzealous Council Guard Commander Maxil and Paul Jerricho as the humourless jobsworth Castellan, determined to rid Gallifrey of the troublesome Doctor.

Arc Of Infinity also gave Sarah Sutton a chance to shine as Nyssa and introduced us to a far easier on the eye (and ear) Tegan. Peter Davison pulls a particularly disturbing turn out of the bag as Omega roams Amsterdam sporting the face of The Doctor.

I was slightly disturbed by how trigger-happy both Nyssa and The Doctor were in this one, especially after The Doctor's Ramboesque turn against a Cyberman in Earthshock. Clearly it would take a Time War to firmly cement his anti-gun policy.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Play It Loud!


Rarely do I talk about my musical tastes, especially on HeroPress, but I have to sing the praises of Operator Please and their single: Just A Song About Ping Pong.

As a bit of an old fogey, who can't differentiate between Emo and Elmo and is usually several years outside the loop and behind the curve, I've only just discovered this band from Australia... but just in time to load their album onto my iPod for the Summer.

For me it recalls the thrill I felt when I first discovered bands like Devo and Shonen Knife. This is 'madly-jump-around', thrash power-pop with an infectious youthful energy (not surprising as Operator Please are all teenage wunderkind) and deserves a slot on everyone's MP3 player.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Doctor Who: Forest of The Dead

Shame on me for doubting the great and powerful Moff! While I stand by the majority of my comments on Silence In The Library, the second part of the story - Forest Of The Dead - was a whole 'nother ball of wax.

This was such an incredible turn around from the first episode, with every plot thread unfolding very satisfactorily. As soon as we saw Donna being taken out the back of an ambulance and into a contemporary Earth hospital facility, I knew we were in for something rather special.

The idea of people being unknowingly trapped in a virtual reality is, by no means, a new conceit in science-fiction, but Steven Moffat's script had enough tricks up its sleeve to handle it admirably and give Catherine Tate a chance to shine again as an actress; something largely denied her in Silence In The Library.

The lumbering skeletons in space suits remain more silly than terrifying and the shadow beasties themselves, the Vashta Nerada, were a lot more frightening as an idea than in reality, but that's not to say the episode was lacking in the trademark Steven Moffat scares; Miss Evangelista's face, for instance, was the stuff of nightmares.

The sub-plot between Alex Kingston's Professor River Song and The Doctor was handled masterfully and while the suggestion that she may be the wife of a future incarnation of The Doctor will no doubt rile some die-hard fanboys, I really loved the concept that while she and The Doctor were meeting here for the first time (from his perspective), she knew their entire future together... but couldn't tell him.

If nothing else, this was an almighty proclamation from the show's incoming head honcho that it still has a glorious future ahead of it.

Sadly, the pessimistic feeling I have had about Donna's future with The Doctor continues to grow, ever since she told Martha a few episodes back that she could travel with him forever! The kiss of death if ever I heard one... and the clues are stacking up thick and fast, both on- and off-screen that Donna's days are numbered.

I am now more convinced than ever that Doctor Who will be in safe hands when Russell T Davies passes the baton to Steven Moffat (not that I ever really had any doubts).

Torchwood Tittle-Tattle...


Thanks to Dane of War for pointing out this clip!

Amid fears that Torchwood is going to be "watered-down" in an attempt to make it more "family-friendly", we have confirmation that John Barrowman has signed on as Captain Jack for Season Three.

Filming is scheduled to start in a couple of months' time. However, the format appears - so far - to have changed to a single, five-part story to shown over five nights in a single week, in Spring 2009.

As much as I'd love a strong five-part Torchwood story (a chance to tackle something really meaty), what does this mean for the long-term future of the show?

Given that next year also sees Doctor Who reduced to a series of four one-off specials, the doomsayers will have a field day!

Of course, in the meantime, as we wait for more news, we've got the BBC Radio 4 Torchwood play to look forward to.

To quote Outpost Gallifrey: "The 45-minute show, airing as Radio 4's Afternoon Play, has been written by Joseph Lidster (A Day In The Death) and will feature the voices of John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Gareth David-Lloyd and Freema Agyeman.

"Recorded in March, the story will be transmitted on Radio 4 as part of a day's programming dedicated to the CERN project, expected to air in June or July.

"According to an interview in Torchwood Magazine with writer Joseph Lidster, Martha calls the team while investigating strange goings-on at the CERN nuclear facility in Switzerland, leading to Torchwood's very first international adventure!"

For those who like their Torchwood action a bit more plastic, the new range of action figures from Getretro, is due out sometime around June 30.

Thanks to a stroke of co-operative genius not usually seen in toy/fan circles the figures are the same size (5") as, and compatible with, the existing Doctor Who range from Character.

Friday, 6 June 2008

You Couldn't Make This Stuff Up...

Another trip to Rochester (last weekend), another visit to Backroom Books and another discovery of HeroPress treasures!

This time I unearthed not one, but three, old copies of Fantazia magazine from 1990 - each with an original HeroPress article; promoting the play-by-mail version of the game when it was going to be "the next big thing".

Reading the pieces now, it strikes me how dreadful my writing was in those days and it amazes me that anyone would have parted with hard cash to play this game.

Fantazia ("the definitive superhero magazine") was never a particularly professionally produced magazine (in issue two it gives my home address - at the time, my parents' house - as the contact address for the game; and then in the next issue quickly clarifies this by saying the contact address should be the magazine address!); run more on enthusiasm than ability.

To me this is never clearer than in my own articles. Issue two features a character creation guide that amounts to little more than "just make it up" and adds the caveat that "only the Gamesmasters know all the rules".

The following issue - for some reason a public declaration of the Gamesmasters' Guidelines - opens with: "There are no rules" and spends a couple of pages telling Gamesmasters to "just make it up".

Issue three also has a totally random essay by me on the nature of the HeroPress cosmos and alternate realities, with a surprising number of references to old episodes of Star Trek! At the time I remember being quite proud of this piece, and thinking it was a bit avant garde. Reading it almost 20 years later, it is - of course - utter tosh.

Issue eight has an article on the British superhero team G.B. Division, which I don't recall at all and suspect was taken from someone's character background or campaign idea. There's also four brief "news stories" (story hooks), bogged down by my desperate efforts to be 'hip', humorous and contemporary.

That issue's HeroPress column rounds off with a list of the 29 characters already allocated to the six initial campaigns (Royal Wells, Belfast, London, San Angeles, New York and 'Age of Albion')... and an apology for the delayed start to the game because "the rule books are not yet quite complete". Obviously they hadn't read the articles in issues two and three telling everyone just to "make it up".

I suspect it wasn't long after this issue came out that the magazine folded and I passed control of the HeroPress PBM universe over to older and wiser hands.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Sci-Fi Blooms This Summer...

The first season of the excellent geek comedy The Big Bang Theory came to an end last night with the relationship between 'hero' geek Leonard (Johnny Galecki, from Roseanne) and his hot neighbour Penny (Kaley Cuoco, from Charmed and Eight Simple Rules) taking a major step forward.

Let's hope that this seemingly happy resolution for Leonard's pining doesn't send the show's second season veering off into unfunny, later-Moonlighting territory.

Week in, week out, this show has given me more laughs in each half-hour episode than many British sitcoms do in a whole season.

During my three years at university, if ever things were getting too much, or I just needed a mental 'pick-me-up', I'd shut myself away with a pile of Friends videos, watch them back-to-back and then emerge from my room with a smile and a fresh, positive take on the world.

I can see, when the DVD of The Big Bang Theory comes out in September, this could become my 21st Century Friends!

Meanwhile, Lost Season Four wrapped up on Sunday with the usual wonderful head-frakking cocktail of death, time travel and confusion.

We were promised answers, but what we really got were resolutions to certain plot threads. We still have very little idea what's really going on. But do we care? Hell, no! As long as - in two years, when the show comes to an end - I can look back over these six seasons of television and not think I've wasted my time, then I'll be very, very happy.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
has been renewed and is coming back next year, with the delightful Shirley Manson, lead singer of Garbage and the subject of a major crush during my early university years, joining the cast as Catherine Weaver, CEO of a major high-tech company.

The beautiful, witty, Technicolour Pushing Daisies has also been renewed and let's hope when it comes back to this country it's on a network that treats it with a bit of respect.

Last Saturday, ITV concluded their short run of the first season with the announcement that a "bonus episode" would soon be available to watch on their website.

Of course, this isn't a bonus episode, but the one that was unceremoniously dropped from the running order when ITV realised they couldn't squeeze nine weekly episodes in before the start of the Euro2008 football extravaganza that begins this weekend.

The show had only been on the air a week when ITV announced that the second episode to be screened would be the third in the series - as the second episode contained "no major plot developments". Thank God, they haven't got the rights to show Lost!

Elsewhere, Battlestar Galactica, one of the few remaining decent sci-fi shows on television besides Doctor Who at present, is back to its mystical best as it rampages through its final season. Like Lost, it's way too late for newbies to jump onboard this particular runaway train.

If you are really interested in finding out what you've been missing then invest in the DVD box sets (starting with the pilot) and try to play catch-up.

Hidden away on the Hallmark Channel, Jericho is enjoying its new - if short - lease of life by taking a slightly different tack with its second season.

This probably reaches an explosive finale about the same time as BSG and Doctor Who, then I have no idea what I'll be watching.

Meanwhile bumbling spy thriller/comedy Chuck continues to entertain with more action per episode than the whole season of The Bionic Woman; which, thankfully, put itself out of our misery by being so hilariously bad (yet compellingly watchable) straight out the gate that you knew it was never going anywhere.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

DVD Of The Week: The Banquet (2006)

Much to the horror of a couple of my "intellectual" colleagues on the newspaper at the time, my review of Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 film version of Hamlet (with Mel Gibson in the lead) confirmed what every schoolboy knew - "Shakespeare was boring".

Of course, in hindsight, it dawned on me that it wasn't the Bard's works that were dull, just the way they were sometimes presented - either in the classroom or, in the case of the Zeffirelli film, on the screen.

If The Banquet had come out 19 years ago - when I was reviewing films for the Kent & Sussex Courier - "boring" would have been the last word in my limited vocabulary.

This is a very loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, given an epic wuxia make-over and relocated to Ancient China.

Compared to many recent wuxia films that have made it to the West (such as Hero, Curse Of The Golden Flower, House Of Flying Daggers etc) this is a very dark and brooding film; although not without its incredible diversity of graceful, aerial, fight sequences.

The complex plot revolves around the machinations of the manipulative Empress Wan (the ubiquitous Zhang Ziyi) and her plots to overthrow her new husband, Emperor Li (Ge You), who usurped the throne after assassinating the former Emporer, his brother, and first husband of Wan.

Central to Wan's schemes is Crown Prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu), who, while engaged to the innocent Qing (Zhou Xun) and living as a reclusive aesthete in an artists' community in the mountains, is still the rightful heir to the throne and an object of love for Wan.

Events snowball and build to the titular banquet, where - with much reading between the lines - we can see the culmination of every little scheme and bit of string-pulling being carried out by all the players in this political game.

Even without the foreknowledge that this was an adaptation of Hamlet, the high body count of the climax screams Shakespearean tragedy!

As the story unfolds, it does get a bit confusing - to such an extent that the perpetrator of the film's final crucial killing remains a mystery to me - but it all looks beautiful and flawless, as these films can.

Feng Xiaogang's direction is steady, with some marvellous sweeping shots that set the film's grandness of scale in context while keeping the character material prominent, yet the pacing feels slightly languid compared to the fast pace of some wuxia we might be used to.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Book Of The Month: Human Nature

If Human Nature/Family Of Blood were Paul Cornell's television version of the story of The Doctor surrendering his Time Lord status to become an Edwardian teacher then his original novel, Human Nature, is the Hollywood blockbuster version.

I am not going to list the vast number of differences between the two iterations of the plot, suffice to say that the 1995 book - from Virgin Publishing's New Adventures imprint of Doctor Who tales - is darker, more violent and more disturbing than the teatime terror version screened last year.

There are enough similarities though - The Doctor 'hides' away on Earth as a teacher at an all-boys' school in the years before The Great War, falls in love and is then attacked by aliens seeking to steal his "Time Lordishness" - for anyone who has seen the televised version, but never read a Doctor Who novel, to jump right in.

Cornell's writing style is pacy and generally easy to follow; although some of the more dream-like moments can catch the unsuspecting off-guard.

There are also hints of larger events, possibly story arcs from the Virgin series as a whole, which are slightly mystifying out of context.

His depiction of the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is spot on and even without the book's cover art I would have been able to tell which Doctor this was after only a few lines.

A great read that was different enough from the TV version it inspired to be a fresh story and after a while I stopped thinking "that's not what happened on TV" and began to enjoy the book for what it was.
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