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About 18 months ago I reviewed James Goss' novelisation of City of Death, Douglas Adams' Fourth Doctor / Romana story set in Paris. It had never featured in the Target Books line of adaptations, because Adams would not consent to anyone else turning it into a novel, and the BBC wasn't prepared to pay him anything like his going rate to do so. In the end, Goss did what I felt was a pretty good job of capturing Adams' style, and the result worked very well as a stand-alone book, even if it did have to try to deal with some of the stranger aspects of the plot.

Douglas Adams wrote two other Who scripts. Shada famously fell victim during production to an industrial dispute, although a cobbled-together version exists (I've not seen it). The Pirate Planet, by contrast, is well-remembered for its audacious central conceit and for Tom Baker and Bruce Purchase (as the Captain) engaging in what TV Tropes refers to as Ham-to-Ham Combat.

Well, Goss evidently did a good enough job with City of Death to get the gig of adapting The Pirate Planet, and as he explains in his afterword he was able to visit the Douglas Adams archive at St John's College, Cambridge, which turned out to hold not just the original draft script but also an earlier story treatment by Adams that much of The Pirate Planet drew upon. Goss' novelisation is based to a substantial extent on these, and so whilst it is very recognisably the story we saw on television it is fleshed out and sometimes unfolds a little differently. In some respects this is because the page doesn't suffer the budget limitations of the 1970s BBC, so for example scenes set in Zanak's main city actually feel as if they're in a crowded metropolis where it periodically rains diamonds rather than one small set with half a dozen extras and a few fake gems scattered on the floor. Another scene extensively rewrites and expands the third-episode cliffhanger to give a very different explanation of how it was resolved that gives far more agency to Romana.

Adams wrote The Pirate Planet shortly after writing The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and even on watching the TV series the similarities come across. Goss turns this up even further for his novelisation, adding point-of-view scenes in which characters - notably the long-suffering Mr Fibuli - reflect on the absurdly comic horror around them in a very HHGTTG style.

Goss' novelisation came out last Friday; I downloaded the Kindle version and started reading. Even though I knew how the story turned out, the combination of Goss' respectful pastiche of Adams' style and the new elements of plot was captivating enough that I finished that evening. I promptly wanted to remind myself of the original series so S and I bought it on iTunes and watched it last night. Even with the constrained budget and limited special effects, it still works very well, and the playoff between Mary Tamm (as keen young - for a Time Lord - graduate Romana) and Tom Baker is delightful. On reflection, that order was probably best, as it meant I read the book with only vague images of the TV episodes in my head and so my imagination was unconstrained by some of the more painfully low-budget aspects of them. (As the BBC's own archive page on the story admits, the Mentiads spend a lot of time marching across fields to get from A to B in a rather Pythonesque manner).
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"These violent delights have violent ends."

What this isn't: a tired retread of the 1973 movie.

What this is: the best TV drama about artificial intelligence since seasons 3-5 of Person of Interest, which is hardly surprising as its Jonathan Nolan's next project after PoI.

We watched this as it was broadcast, and then again over Christmas when we did a Westworld marathon over a couple of days so that our guests [ profile] cthulie and T could watch it. I'd been planning to do a re-watch anyway as, perhaps more than any other series I've seen, Westworld rewards a second viewing once you've seen the first season through. The reasons for that are hard to explain without spoilers; suffice it to say that everything you see is significant, but much of it is not as it may first seem. In fact, there's a preview of this just in the pilot episode, when viewers familiar with the 1973 movie will think they know exactly what's going on - and then have their assumptions very nicely inverted.

Good as the narrative is, the series is really made by the performances of some of the leads. In particular, Evan Rachel Harris and Thandie Newton give intense and compelling, yet quite different, portrayals of two of Westworld's robotic 'hosts' that are coming to realise that their world is an elaborate artifice. Both have justly been nominated for Golden Globe awards and I'm sure many more nominations will follow.

The cinematography (much in Monument Valley) also contributes much to the series, as does the soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi, who also composed the music for Person of Interest and Game of Thrones. An added bonus is the deliberate in-joke that the pianola we regularly hear in the town saloon/brothel plays rearrangements of modern tracks; identifying them, and their relevance to the plot, is another of the pleasures awaiting viewers.

Oh, and you'll get even more from the plot if you've read this:

- the idea behind which forms the basis of a key element of the plot.

The quote I opened with is one that turns out to have particular significance within the plot. As does the one I close with - in particular, when it signposts one of the most stunning revelations of the series.

"It doesn't look like anything to me."
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Following on from my Stranger Things review, and [ profile] a_cubed's comment about the title sequence, there's a detailed deconstruction of it at Art of the Title, complete with a lengthy interview with the creative director of the animation company that produced it.

I'd immediately picked up the visual reference to Stephen King horror novels of the 1980s, but I'm delighted to find out that the animators studied the kind of glitches and compositing defects that might have arisen using 1980s techniques to create such a title and deliberately incorporated them.
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(Netflix streaming, 8 x 45-min episodes released en bloc.)

Recently we were treated to Deutschland 83, a Cold War spy drama that attracted much praise for its evocation of 1983 Germany in a positive nostalgia-fest of music, fashion and cars for anyone who remembers the era. Now we have Stranger Things, a drama that is a veritable hymn to every horror/sf film, tv series or book set in early 1980s small-town America.

(Odd trivia point: the events of Stranger Things take place over a few days in November 1983, at almost exactly the same time as EX ABLE ARCHER and thus the final couple of episodes of Deutschland 83.)

Stranger Things has been described as very much a homage to the works of Steven King, John Carpenter and Stephen Spielberg, although the work it very much put me in mind of was Dan Simmons' Summer of Night, with a group of pre-teens faced with supernatural horror in a Midwest town. Without giving too much away, Stranger Things sits closer to the sf rather than supernatural end of the horror axis, although it's careful not to explain everything (and there is certainly plenty of scope for a second season.)

Winona Ryder is superb as Joyce Byers, mother of Will Byers - one of the group of D&D-playing proto-nerds the show centres on - whose disappearance drives the plot. Her depiction of someone who's fully aware that her behaviour looks just like paranoid psychosis, but doesn't care because she know's she's right, is as compelling as it is horrifying. Of the young actors, all are excellent; I'm sure many of the show's fans recognise elements of their younger selves in the characters of Mike, Dustin and Lucas, whilst the show's real breakout role is 12-year-old Millie Bobbie Brown as 'El', the near-mute, shaven-headed girl whose appearance is as mysterious as (and quite obviously connected to) the disappearance of Will. Combining an intensity beyond her years with an awkward naiveté, she perfectly conveys a character struggling to cope both with an outside world she has never experienced and abilities she barely understands.

Stranger Things isn't perfect. The sets for the more sf/horror elements of the show vary from impressively well-realised to looking all too much like Doctor Who of the era it's set in, and for a show that is so dense with reference to horror movies of the era you find yourself shouting at some of the characters "Haven't you seen Alien?" But I can forgive Stranger Things that, as I forgave Deutschland 83 its habit of making its central character the beneficiary of some of the most unlikely turns of good luck so as to get him out of the scrapes the plot dropped him in to. Both series are as enjoyable both for the evocation of an era as for their plots, and if I'm in the ideal target audience for Stranger Things then certainly so are many of my friends. If you've got access to Netflix, give it a go - but be prepared to binge, as you won't want to be waiting to find out what happens next.
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The news about Gareth Thomas' death set me thinking about whether or not there ever will be a reboot of Blake's Seven. I'm not sure who would be cast now as Blake, but for Avon you want someone with a vague resemblance to Paul Darrow and, ideally, a track record of playing a well-spoken sociopathic genius.

There's no question really.



Aug. 16th, 2015 10:50 am
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Looking at what was available on Netflix last night I watched the first episode of Gotham. Interesting premise and nicely produced - any views from people who've seen it as to how well it develops?

But good heavens, Sean Pertwee - who plays Alfred - is really starting to look like his father, isn't he? Dig out a blond wig and a cape and we could have a 3rd/12th Doctor crossover episode, subject to SP or some overdubbing actor being able to do JP's very distinctive voice.

Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor
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Following on from this, we watched episode 3 of Daredevil, after which [ profile] attimes_bracing opined that it seemed rather repetitive and she was finding the violence wearing. I commented that I could see signs of a plot arc emerging, so we agreed that I'd watch episode 4 and let her know what I felt.

Well, episode 4 ('In the Blood') certainly takes the wider plot forward, and has one of the most interesting and non-stereotypical depictions of a villain I've seen in a comic adaptation. Vincent D'Onofrio portrays Wilson Fisk as intelligent, pensive, socially awkward and bordering on downright shy, whilst also being a monster capable not just of ordering the most horrific violence but of personally dealing it out. And speaking of that, I had to advice S that no, the violence does not let up - indeed, the episode's conclusion is positively Verhoevenesque. I suspect I'll be watching the rest on my own.
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Recently Seen

Mad Max: Fury Road. As visually (and aurally) amazing as everyone says, but a superb film for far more reasons than that. I've heard it said that it's thin on plot, but it's not: it has a very spare and efficient plot, which it advances with ruthless narrative drive save for the couple of interludes when a pause works just as well in terms of developing the characters. Everyone seems to try to come up with their elevator pitch for the movie: mine would be "If Games Workshop combined Battlecars with Warhammer 40K and had the result orchestrated by Rammstein."

(I actually have a copy of Battlecars, a relic of the fabled times when GW were more than All Warhammer All The Time.)

Daredevil. The Netflix TV series, not the movie. Only seen a couple of episodes so far, but impressed by them. It's evidently trying to be the Torchwood of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, more violent and adult than the continuity it sprang from but dropping enough references to it that we know it comes from the same roots.

Penny Dreadful, S2. Victorian gothic melodrama to the max! Interested to see where this goes, with one of the S1 background characters seemingly promoted to / revealed as the Big Bad. I hear that Fox is planning a TV version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which I would have thought will run into the problem that Penny Dreadful pretty much is that already.

The Game. It would be a bit harsh to describe this as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with the serial numbers filed off and with Birmingham doubling for London – harsh, but not entirely unfair. Inevitably this means that [ profile] attimes_bracing and I are playing 'spot the location' but it's standing up pretty well as a drama in its own right, although the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy the plot is growing episode by episode.

This looks familiar... )

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Need to catch up on this, as I've only seen the first episode so far, but it certainly looked and felt right. Alas, lack of time has precluded my re-reading the book in advance.
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From this discussion thread on io9 regarding True Detective - a US crime drama that makes references to [spoiler redacted, but it's widely seen as a Lovecraftian piece of literature] - comes a very handy phrase: 'Genre-curious'.

A genre-curious show would be one that isn't overtly or explicitly sf/fantasy, but which includes references to the genre or makes use of its tropes. Although I've yet to see it, it sounds as if True Detective qualifies in the first of those categories, while Hannibal might fall into the second; it has no supernatural elements*, but draws heavily on favourite genre themes such as psychological alienation and horror.

(*Although that depends how you interpret aspects of S1E05 "Coquilles".)

I'm just wondering what other shows might count? The League of Gentlemen and Sherlock come to mind, although that's hardly surprising given Mark Gatiss' involvement in them. Any others?
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The Wedding of River Song

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did it wrap up the Amy/River plot arc? Sort of. Did it work as an exposition of time travel. Um, I have serious doubts.

Yes, of course there are spoilers )
major_clanger: Clangers (Royal Mail stamp) (House MD) start to look for subtle references in the final scene end music. I've now reached S4E09, 'Games', in whichSPOILER ), and the end music is an instrumental version of Norman Greenbaum's 'Spirit in the Sky'.

Except, of course, the most famous cover version of that track is arguably the 1986 one by, yes, Doctor and The Medics. Coincidence?
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As you may recall I thought last week's opener to be rather uneven, mixing good legal points with some rather dodgy ones. This week ...spoilers )


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Simon Bradshaw

September 2017



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