Tuesday 31 May 2011

Brixham bound.....

Your attention please: there will now be a break in your irregularly-scheduled blog-type witterings as we're heading down to Brixham in ( hopefully! ) sunny Devon tomorrow. It's a last-minute decision sort of thing.

In the words of Peter Kay we've "Booked it, packed it, fooked off....."

See you all soon. Peace.

Monday 30 May 2011

Doctor Who: The Almost People ( review with spoilers )

"I've reversed the Jelly Baby of the neutron flow....."

Part Two of this story brings double trouble for the Gangers as the Doctor now has his own duplicate and, unlike most previous multiple-Doctor meetings, they get on famously. No snide comments about his effectiveness being halved this time: the two Docs have a ball, finishing off each other's sentences, complimenting themselves on their cool taste in bow ties etc. And we also get a lovely little nod to past Doctors:

"The Flesh is struggling to cope with our previous regenerations....."

As the Ganger Doc tries to stabilise his Flesh-y form he blurts out lines from past incarnations and presents us with the startling sound of Tom Baker's voice coming out of Matt Smith's mouth! And also a mention of Cybermats. Foreshadowing future stories here...?

Back at the plot, the Gangers are starting to have second thoughts about their "war" with the humans, and everyone is desperate to escape the island as the threat of acid, poison gas and a final, fatal explosion escalates. The Jimmy Ganger is manipulated by the Doctor into speaking to "his" son via holo-phone, further strengthening his empathy with humans. Jennifer, however, pushes on with her campaign, tricking a more-than-usually gullible Rory and manifesting more icky powers such as growing eyes on the monastery walls to act as CCTV.

Amongst the running around in corridors, a confused Amy confronts the Ganger Doctor and reveals to him that she's possibly seen his death in the future. Of course, the two Docs have switched places and now the "real" Doctor knows his Terrible Fate. Before this can be explored any further Jennifer turns into a stretchy, CGI monstrosity, the Ganger versions of Cleaves and the Doctor sacrifice themselves to defeat her, and the survivors are whisked away in the Tardis. "Jimmy" is reunited with his son, whilst Cleaves and Dicken ( the one acid factory employee who was "almost" totally inconsequential ) are dropped off at the HQ of their evil corporate masters in the ( probably vain ) hopes of alerting the world to the horrors of Ganger slavery. But the real climax of the story is ( like in the Tenth Doctor's Utopia ) a cliffhanger that points the way to the next story and turns out to be far more important than the episode preceding it:

"I said 'breathe', Pond. Remember? Well, breathe....."

In the Tardis Amy is (SPOILERS! ) having contractions and about to give birth. And she looks so thin! In the big revelation of this first half of the series we learn that the Amy who's been running around and having adventures for possibly the last six episodes was in fact a ( SPOILERS! ) Ganger and the Doctor's trip to the monastery wasn't random but was a fact-finding mission. Except "stuff" and "shenanigans" got in the way.....

"We're coming for you, I swear it. Whatever happens, however hard, however far we'll find you."
"I'm right here....."
"No you're not. You haven't been here for a long, long time."

The Doctor promptly melts the Amy Ganger, severing its connection to the real Amy who, we discover, is in the clutches of Eye-Patch Woman ( scariest midwife ever? ) and is "ready to pop".....

Phew! It's a traumatic, shocking cliffhanger which prompts re-evaluation of the entire series so far. Has Amy been missing since the end of A Christmas Carol ? ( As hinted at by exec. producer Beth Willis on this week's DW Confidential ) Or was she switched with her Ganger by the Silence? And what of the little girl, last seen "regenerating" in a New York back alley? Is she Amy's child or something else? The real problem with this turn of events is that, for all the Doctor's talk of doing things the humane way, he has just effectively killed a Ganger. And, as my learned colleague Mr. Steve W says here, this undermines all the Doctor has learned about the Gangers being "real" people. Anyway, a harder edge is sure to come in handy for the Doctor soon, even if it's morally suspect
( shades of the Sixth Doctor! ), as he races to find Amy, and a good man goes to war.....

Four Out Of Five Bow Ties

Sunday 29 May 2011

The cool and the crazy

You know who you are.....

But Blogger obviously don't.

For some reason my lists of Followers seem to have vanished off this blog and 15 Albums* - which is a pain in the arse. I know it's the height of fashion to moan about Blogger at the moment, but I'm jumping on the bandwagon.

Come on, Blogger! Get it right!

Maybe it's time to migrate to Wordpress.....

*Which I've finally updated with a post on Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs. Check it out...

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Bob Dylan: still searching for that thin, wild mercury sound

It's the mighty Bob Dylan's 70th (!) birthday today, unbelievable as that may seem.

Here he is in his Blonde On Blonde period, possibly auditioning for the role of the Fourth Doctor a few years too early.....

And hanging out with The Band's late, great Richard Manuel.....

And fresh from the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan photo session with the sadly also departed Suze Rotolo.....

As you can see from the choice of photos, "my" Bob Dylan is the big hair/Beatles boots/just gone electric Dylan, not the earnest folk-singer Dylan*, or the inexplicably-Christian Dylan, or.....
well, anyway, Happy Birthday to His Bobness! Long may he reign!

*Although he does put in an appearance in the fourth photo, only looking slightly earnest :-)

Soundtrack: Visions Of Johanna by you-know-who

Monday 23 May 2011

Doctor Who: The Rebel Flesh ( review with spoilers )

( The staff at The Glass Walking-Stick - me, basically - would like to apologise for this ridiculously late Doctor Who review. The spirit was willing but the, er, flesh was weak... )

After last week's Gothic, spaced-out adventure, the Tardis comes back down to Earth with a bump. Literally. A solar storm hits the time machine, upsetting Amy and Rory's game of darts (!) and forcing the Time Trio to crash- land on 22nd century Earth. They find themselves on a remote island where a monastery has been converted into a factory for mining some kind of acid and pumping it to the mainland. It's unclear what use this future society has for acid ( the old-fashioned, corrosive kind, not "Aciiieed!" for old school ravers ) but it's obviously important and dangerous work. So dangerous that Gangers are used.....

Gangers are doubles or doppelgangers created by The Flesh, an industrial vat of "fully programmable matter", and controlled by the consciousnesses of their human templates / operators. When a Ganger is injured in the hazardous depths of the factory, the humans simply let it die and return to their own bodies. That is, until the solar storm hits and the resulting power surge turns the Gangers "rogue".....

"You gave them your lives. Human lives are amazing. Are you surprised they ran off with them?"

The Rebel Flesh is a new version of the classic "base-under-siege" scenario, with obvious nods to The Thing and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. The twist here being that these duplicates didn't intend to steal your life, but aren't too happy about giving it up either. Paranoia abounds: who can you trust when the person next to you may be your friend... but may also be a flesh-morphing duplicate?

While not a classic episode this is certainly a lot more substantial than I'd expected from Matthew Graham, the man who brought us the tedious Fear Her back in Season Two. The monastery setting is wonderfully creepy with its dank, dripping corridors and dungeons slowly filling up with deadly, leaking acid. Director Julian Simpson handles the necessary exposition well and ramps up the claustrophobia as the humans and Gangers play cat and mouse with fatal consequences. The Gangers themselves are faintly disgusting in a teatime-body-horror kind of way, all melted-wax, veiny faces and Plastic Man-type bodily contortions. ( I've got a feeling that part two of the story will propel us to the almost-inevitable morphing of all the surviving Gangers into one blobby, gestalt entity. Not unlike John Prescott. )

I'm especially heartened that, for once, the threat doesn't come from Out There, isn't alien - Doctor Who can come across as almost xenophobic at times, which is surely far from the heart of the show's humanistic ethos.

Another bonus is that Rory starts to show a bit of pluck in this episode, defending the Ganger version of Jennifer from her human colleagues who see her as a monster to be destroyed, and from Amy who isn't too sympathetic either. Of course, it helps that Jennifer's cute. When she's got her human face on.....

The episode leaves us with the well-telegraphed cliffhanger of a Ganger Doctor straightening his bow tie and saying "Trust me... " But can we? Tune in next week.....

Four Out Of Five Bow Ties

Saturday 21 May 2011

Viva Vince Noir!

Happy Birthday to Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh, aka The Hitcher.....

aka Tony Harrison.....

aka Vince Noir.....

aka The Spirit Of Jazz.....

aka Noel Fielding :-)

( He's a great, surrealistic, crazy comedian... but I just wish he'd make an effort with his appearance..... )

Friday 20 May 2011

Jeff Jones

Blind Narcissus by the late Jeffrey Catherine Jones
( 10th Jan. 1944 to 19th May 2011 )

Jones was one of the premier fantasy artists of the last 40 years and will be sadly missed. The above is one of my favourites of Jones' pieces, which I first saw in The Studio, the fantastic collection of work by Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith, Mike Kaluta and Berni Wrightson.

There are, understandably, a flood of tributes to this outstanding artist on the net, some of the best being by fellow bloggers

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Classic Comics: Thor 181

Ever since enjoying Kenneth Branagh's Thor movie a couple of weeks ago, I've been digging out some of the Thunder God's classic comic book adventures. This issue, Thor no. 181 - "One God Must Fall!" - holds a special, Asgardian magic for me as it was one of the first comics I ever owned, as well as being a great little mag in its own right. As can be seen from the scan above, my original copy is showing all the signs of its 40+ years age: ragged and worn with a damaged spine. A bit like its owner! I've long since bought a better copy but I couldn't part with the "original" - we've got history together :-)

Thor 181 is the last issue of the very short-lived Stan Lee / Neal Adams / Joe Sinnott collaboration, which served as a ( Rainbow ) bridge between Jack Kirby's and John Buscema's runs on the comic. Adams' dynamic, realistic artwork has its rough edges smoothed off by Sinnott's polished inking, presumably in a bid to keep the Kirby "house-style" intact, but is still a delight. Adams shifts the story from Earth to Asgard to Hades and back, equally adept at depicting the stygian depths of the Netherworld or the gleaming halls of the UN. And Stan has a ball with the usual sub-Shakespearian dialogue :
"Thou art elusive like the frightened fawn... But soon thou must tire... And then shall come thy fall!"

The plot is your basic "body-swap" tale. Loki has taken over Thor's body and is running riot on Earth, while poor old Thor ( in Loki's body ) has been condemned to Hell ( sorry, "Hades"... don't want to upset the Comics Code! ) by a righteously angry, but far from all-seeing, Odin. After the Warriors Three and Lady Sif rescue Thor/Loki from Mephisto ( "Begone! This stench of goodness sickens me!" ) and Loki/Thor has beaten Balder on Earth, the Gods of Thunder and Mischief face each other in a building site - and Neal Adams brings us this amazing full-page splash.....

.....which blew my tiny mind when I first saw it!

Eventually, after taking a serious beating from Loki/Thor, our hero tricks his way back into his own body to proclaim:
"There is nothing in Asgard or Earth I cannot do... For I stand as Thor... the rightful God Of Thunder!"
Exit Loki with his tail between his legs.

The issue concludes with the usual ( at least, back then ) house ads, letter pages and Stan's Soapbox which, this month
( October 1971 ), concerns the formation of the Academy Of Comic Book Arts - "a forum, a fraternity, and a free-wheeling foundation upon which to build a greater-than-ever comic book medium."
So sayeth Stan!!

Saturday 14 May 2011

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Wife ( review with spoilers )

OK, let's make one thing absolutely clear. She's not his wife, there's no confetti, no wedding, no bridesmaids and definitely no sister-of-the-bride whose arse has its own Facebook page. Phew!

What we do get is a typically oddball story by world-renowned fantasy author and Goth godfather, Neil Gaiman. I must admit I've been looking forward to this episode even though I'm not one of those Neil Is God types. ( I liked a lot of his Sandman run and a few other comics, but I've never read any of his novels, which often look Clive Barker-lite to me. )

After a prologue introducing three suitably raggedy, Gaiman-esque characters ( and a random Ood! ), the story proper starts with the Doctor receiving the Time Lord equivalent of email from an old Gallifreyan buddy named The Corsair, and promptly plunging the Tardis down the plughole of the universe, to end up on a mysterious junkyard asteroid. The Matrix - the "soul" of the Tardis - has been drained out of the time machine by the sentient asteroid ( known as "House" but not looking much like Hugh Laurie ) and deposited in the body of Idris, a batty Bride Of Frankenstein lookalike played by the wonderful Suranne Jones.

"Biting is excellent! It's like kissing, only there's a winner..."

Idris is dismissed as mad and dangerous by Auntie and Uncle, her patchwork junkyard "family", but the Doctor soon realises there's something else going on. Her madness is reminiscent of a regeneration, as the Tardis' consciousness tries to make sense of being trapped inside a human body. As Idris becomes more stable, the Doctor realises he can finally communicate with his longest-serving companion, "his" time machine. Although, the way Idris tells the story, she abducted him all those years ago, not the other way around.....

Although there are other elements to this story, like Amy and Rory being trapped and terrorised inside the Tardis by House, the heart of this episode is the strange relationship between the Doctor and Idris. And while this story is at times self-consciously kooky and ( typically for Gaiman ) short on plot but long on characterisation, the performances and chemistry of the two stars keep it all from collapsing under its own weirdness. Well, for me anyway. I know this is a real Marmite episode which you will either love or hate, but it's certainly evidence of the show taking risks with its own folklore and fanbase, which is probably needed every now and then to keep things from going stale. For me, it's preferable to Doctor-Who-by-numbers like last week's rather damp pirate tale.....

There's a lot to love in this episode: the "valley of half-eaten Tardises", the Doctor's naked emotion ( steady, fangirls/boys! ) as he watches Idris "die", the creepy scenes in the seemingly-infinite Tardis corridors, the console built from junk, and - best of all - this exchange between the Doctor and the human Tardis.....

"I just wanna say, you know, you have never been very reliable."
"And you have?"
"You didn't always take me where I wanted to go...."
"No, but I always took you where you needed to go!"

Oh yes! I've waited a long time to hear those words. Finally, the raison d'etre of the Doctor's adventures is spelled out! I almost punched the air at that moment..... but, of course, stereotypical English reserve prevented me :-)

Anyway, now I've calmed down, I'll award this controversial story:
4 and 1/2 Bow Ties out of 5

Wednesday 11 May 2011

V For Versatility

I was very pleased to find out today that I'd been awarded the "Versatile Blogger" award by Lazarus Lupin from the weird and wonderful strange spanners - cheers, mate! It's always good to get these little nods from fellow bloggers, especially from one as talented as Lazarus. If you don't already, you really should check out his blog!

As part of the deal I'm supposed to tell you 7 random things about myself, which sounds like the most boring thing in the world but I'll give it a go. In no particular order:

1. I'm allergic to seafood but I can eat prawn crackers until they're coming out of my ears
2. I've got a birthmark on my forehead that was only partially covered up by plastic surgery
3. I used to be in a "band" which consisted of me, my mate Paul and anyone else who dropped by, and went by such names as Heretic, Vicious Bastard, The Sons Of Evil and Primal Scream ( we discovered the latter was already taken )
4. I really don't like The Shawshank Redemption
5. Some of my favourite words are "cahoots", "transcendental", "moreish" and "blackguard"
6. The nearest I've come to a paranormal experience is that one time in Littledean Hall in the Forest Of Dean...
7. I'm really not very good at writing lists about myself

Well, that was about as painful as expected. The next thing is I'm supposed to pass this award on to 15 other blogs. 15? I'm not too sure about that. Think I'll do just 5.
But they're 5 really great and versatile blogs.....

( Go on, Cal, have another award! )

( Hey Mickey, you're so fine! )

( MDJ is A-OK! )

( Moody? Hilarious? Versatile? Yep, yep and yep. )

( Love the word "giraffability"..... )

( Of course, I've left out a load of lovely people whose blogs are concerned with more specific topics and may not count as "versatile" but certainly are excellent. So, apologies to Matthew, Steve, Dez and many others..... )

Fake Tales Of San Francisco by the Arctic Monkeys
Brimful Of Asha by Cornershop
Galvanize by the Chemical Brothers
You Trip Me Up by the Jesus And Mary Chain
Lust For Life by Iggy Pop

Sunday 8 May 2011

Doctor Who: The Curse Of The Black Spot ( review with spoilers )

"Yo ho ho! .....or does nobody actually say that?"

After the twists, turns and mysteries of the last two weeks, the show kicks back with what reviewers of Doctor Who are contractually obliged to call a "romp". The Doctor and the Ponds answer a distress signal and find themselves on a becalmed pirate ship, being menaced by a "stroppy homicidal mermaid", dealing with an unfriendly crew and generally swashing their buckles. Or buckling their swashes... I'm not too good on these nautical terms.

Amy gets to show off her surprisingly impressive sword-fighting skills, much salty dialogue of the "scurvy dog" and "this is mutiny!" ilk is thrown about, and just about every pirate cliche is run up the yardarm. Sadly, it seems much more fun for the cast than the viewer.

The sense of claustrophobia and dread the story calls for is mostly absent and the "funny" lines aren't that funny. Lily Cole is striking as the Siren, but has very little to do and no dialogue, while the reality of her assumed menace turns out to be yet another "automated spaceship programme that doesn't know when to stop" ( see The Empty Child, The Girl In The Fireplace and The Lodger ) which is a Nu-Who trope that's definitely outstayed its welcome. Oh, and Rory nearly dies. Again.

But the story isn't all that bad. There are some lovely scenes between Matt Smith and Hugh Bonneville, as pirate captain Avery, Karen Gillan looks cute in her tricorn hat, and Arthur Darvill again shows off his comic abilities as well as providing some real pathos in the later scenes.

This story is obviously intended to provide a breather between the intense first story and Neil Gaiman's much-awaited episode next week. As such it could only pale in comparison, but Who's
( relative ) failures are more entertaining than many shows' successes, so I'll rate this episode:

3 out of 5 Bow Ties. Or pirate hats.

Wednesday 4 May 2011


And to think I was so worried about the Thor movie.....

It just had so much potential for being a disaster. A virtually unknown leading man, all that "Get thee hence, mortal!" dialogue, flowing blonde locks and red cloaks, a big ol' hammer.....

How wrong can you be? James and I watched the movie in our local flea-pit a couple of nights ago and both loved it.
Director Ken Branagh is a self-confessed Thor fan from an early age and handles the material with just the right balance of seriousness and humour. The plot sticks closely to the classic Lee/Kirby and Lee/Buscema tales of Thor from the '60s and '70s, which is fine by me.

After a brief prologue on present-day Earth, we find ourselves soaring through the heavens to Asgard, home of the gods. After a brief but well-sketched introduction to Odin, Thor and Loki, and to the theme of rivalry between the brothers for the old man's attention, the scene is set for widescreen hammer action, as Thor and his companions misguidedly attack the Frost Giants of Jottenheim. Cue spectacular CGI battles across shattering icy landscapes, shame and banishment for the upstart Thor, and sly looks from the shadows from wily Loki. Exiled to Earth, Thor is powerless and presumed mad, has run-ins with hospital staff and government agents, meets up with gorgeous astro-physicist Jane Foster, has to face Asgardian super-weapon The Destroyer, and learns humility the hard way, before finally returning to the Golden Realm for a showdown with the usurper Loki.

OK, the things I love about this movie:

Chris Hemsworth is totally convincing as Thor, managing to capture the arrogance of the young god as well as his growing maturity and nobility. He is physically a perfect fit for the role and brings charm and good humour to a character who could be pomposity itself.

The interpretation of Asgard ( glistening spires and towers ) and the Rainbow Bridge ( a fantastic portal between worlds ) is glorious, and is a fitting tribute to the work of visionary comics artists like Jack Kirby, John Buscema or Walt Simonson.

Idris Elba as Heimdall, gate-keeper of the Rainbow Bridge, is seriously bad-ass...

Branagh's direction is superb, only being as flashy as it needs to be to tell the story. The transitions between Earth and other, fantastic realms are virtually seamless, Branagh managing to make it all feel part of the same universe.

The love story between Thor and Jane is actually quite sweet. Although I'm sure any sequel would have to touch on the familiar question of how a god can love a mere mortal.

Mjolnir!! It's hammer time! The action scenes are great, expansive explosions of chaos, with Thor's hammer spinning, smashing and summoning storms..... but not turning into a gnarled, old cane at inopportune moments.....

Tom Hiddleston ( Loki ) and Natalie Portman ( Jane ) are both wonderful in their very different roles and I'd love to see the god of mischief meet the woman of science in a future Thor movie. Somehow, I don't think they'd get on.....

The things I don't like about this movie:

Not much, really. My only real complaints would be that Thor's Asgardian buddies, the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, are under-used ( please let's have more of them in the sequel! ) and Thor's battle with The Destroyer feels truncated when it should have been epic. Oh, and the 3D was mostly pointless. The only film I've seen in this recent 3D fad to totally convince and to warrant the process is ( of course ) Avatar. I'd be very tempted to see Thor again in good old 2D. And, going by the box office figures so far, I wouldn't be the only one.

Oh yeah, for once I came away from the cinema quite happy with the trailers on offer. Instead of promos for the latest drippy rom-com or gross-out teen movie, we saw very action-hero-appropriate trailers for Green Lantern, POTC: On Stranger Tides, X-Men First Class and Captain America. As Marvel's next big-screen hopeful, Cap's got a lot to live up to.....

Soundtrack: Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill and Sorry Somehow by The Klams

Sunday 1 May 2011

Doctor Who: Day Of The Moon ( review with spoilers )

Cliffhangers: they're strange things. Steven Moffat certainly thinks so. He's very good at writing tense, exciting cliffhangers, but he doesn't seem keen on resolving them. This worked well in Season Four's Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead where the story jumped from the cliffhanger of Donna Noble's "death" to the strange, virtual world she found herself in. The sheer oddity of the situation left the viewer wondering where Donna was and how she got there, which sidestepped the "with one mighty bound he was free"-type of cliffhanger resolution.

This week's episode begins three months after last week's cliffhanger. Amy, Rory and River are on the run from the authorities, while the Doctor is being held prisoner in Area 51. This is a great, pacey opening to the story, with more beautiful visuals in the Utah desert, and another chance to see River perform her party-piece of leaping out of a spaceship/skyscraper. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a cheat. We see a very short flashback to the time travellers escaping from the Silence in the warehouse in Florida, but this truncated resolution to the cliffhanger begs too many questions:

What happened to Rory? The last we saw, he was trapped in underground tunnels, surrounded by the Silence, with River screaming his name. How did he get out?
How did Amy get from Florida to Utah? And why? ( Apart from the obvious reason that the production team was making the most of their location filming. )
What was River doing in New York, apart from possibly having cocktails?
If no-one can remember the Silence the second they turn their backs on the aliens, how did Team Tardis compare notes on their enemies, let alone even realise they had enemies?
Even though the image of a bearded, manacled Doctor, imprisoned in Area 51, is an incredibly powerful one, it makes little sense. Why was he captured but not the others? And how?
There are, indeed, more questions than answers.....

That said, I really did enjoy the rest of the episode. The scenes of Amy wandering the deserted Southern Gothic children's home were very creepy, especially the image of the obscenely bald Silence hanging from the ceiling like bats. And the story moved from an X-Files sensibility to a Twin Peaks-type surrealism as the mystery of the little girl deepened and a ( wibbly wobbly timey wimey? ) eye-patch-wearing woman appeared and disappeared before Amy's eyes.

Matt Smith's Doctor was as wonderful as ever, sharing some tender scenes with Rory and Amy, escaping with ease from a "perfect prison", poking gentle fun at Richard Nixon, and thwarting the Silence's plans with a little help from Neil Armstrong's foot. And he looked cool with a beard.

River got some moments of quiet poignancy ( her "last kiss" with the Doctor ) and a chance to kick butt, as seen below.....

Although my questions about the cliffhanger will probably never be answered, the episode also posed more questions that will surely form the arc plot for this series. Why did the Silence have their own version of the faux-Tardis seen in The Lodger? Is their threat really over? They did take control of the Tardis at the end of the last series, after all, and they seem to have prior knowledge of the Doctor. Why did they need Amy to tell the Doc about her pregnancy? How does Canton come to be at Lake Silencio in 2011? And just who ( or Who? ) exactly is the little girl, last seen seemingly regenerating in a New York back alley? There are a lot of threads to pull together there but I'm still confident that Moffat can sort it all out by the end of the series. We've still got 11 episodes to go.....

Notwithstanding my earlier questions, for the creepiness, the fantastic visuals and the intriguing mysteries, I'll give this episode:

4 out of 5 Bow Ties


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