Saturday 22 February 2020

Overdue Doctor Who Reviews

As I'm even later with my Doctor Who reviews than is traditional for this 'ere blog, I'm just going to jot down a few quick thoughts on Series 12 so far... before it's actually over... starting with

Spyfall ( Parts One & Two )
A hugely confident opening story with the Doctor and friends getting involved in all sorts of globe-trotting Bond-esque shenanigans and coming up against an old enemy. Well, it's the Master  -  not much reason for a *spoilers!* tag at this stage in the game. Some fun guest appearances from Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry ( next series French & Saunders? ), gorgeous location filming in South Africa, and the debut of Sacha Dhawan as that old Jackanapes, the Master, with a reveal almost the equal of the Jacobi / Sim regeneration in Utopia. And the fact that we share a surname with Lenny Henry's character gave James and me a few chuckles at certain lines.

Orphan 55
A slight stumble after the wide-screen adventure of the first two episodes. This story had quite an '80s vibe, even going so far as basically copying the main concept from The Mysterious Planet. Again, some impressive location filming in Tenerife and a fairly creepy menace in the shape of the de-evolved future humans known as Dregs, although this wasn't quite enough to save a weak story with under-developed supporting characters. And, if you're going to get an actress as accomplished as Laura Fraser in the show, why not give her something to do?

Nikola Tesla's Night Of Terror
Proving yet again that the, er, current production team seem far more comfortable with stories set in the past, this episode again went for the "celebrity historical" format, this time centred around the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Featuring some fine, scenery-chewing guest performances from Robert Glenister and Goran Visnjic and a well-realised early-twentieth century New York, this was the definition of the fun, historical romp.

Fugitive Of The Judoon
In a purely selfish way, I was really looking forward to this episode, as it was set in my home town of Gloucester. As I'd suspected, Gloucester Cathedral was played by Gloucester Cathedral, while the rest of Gloucester was played by Cardiff. ( There were some very "blink and you'll miss it" shots of Gloucester Docks too. ) Not a major problem as it was still lovely to see those irascible space-rhinos the Judoon stomping around our lovely Cathedral in their search for the titular fugitive. And that fugitive turned what had seemed like a stand-alone episode into a pivotal moment in this series' story-arc ( yes, there actually is an arc this year ) because their quarry was revealed to be... another Doctor! Or is she? The introduction of the "Ruth Doctor" was a real rug-pulling event in the show and has opened up some exciting possibilities for the future. Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall injected new mystery into the show with their intriguing script and I'm really interested in where it will all lead.
Oh yeah, Captain Jack Harkness returned too, very briefly. I'm sure we'll see him again before too long.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag  -  a series of seemingly unconnected deadly events around the globe forcing the Tardis Team to split up and look for solutions. The story gave us disappointingly human-like aliens, a fairly sweet gay love story, a nod to Hitchcok's The Birds and yet another environmental message ( after Orphan 55's climate-change warning ), this time centring on pollution in general and micro-plastics in particular. It also inspired me to write the following on Twitter:
Tonight's #doctorwho drinking game:
One shot every time someone is teleported
Make it a double if they're teleported against their will
A pint and chaser every time all the regulars plus guest cast are squeezed into the frame to explain the plot to each other
Good luck!

Can You Hear Me?
A long overdue chance for the human Tardis travellers to return to Sheffield to catch up with friends and family. And, of course, it all goes wrong when a creepy bald guy with detachable fingers (!) keeps popping up to feed on people's nightmares.
It was nice to see more of a focus on the companions in this story. It still feels like we barely know them. The nightmares they experienced were suitably revealing, Graham's in particular ( his cancer returning, an alternate version of Grace haranguing him ) were very affecting. The menace in this episode, the fear-scoffing Zellin, was revealed as an Eternal, another call-back to the classic show, and was a memorable opponent. And, yes, you could have felt very wobbly if playing the drinking game this episode. Which I'm obviously not endorsing. Please drink responsibly. Don't text and drive.

The Haunting Of Villa Diodati
The long-awaited Mary Shelley episode saw the Doctor and friends gatecrash the infamous night in 1816 when the Shelleys, Byron and Polidori all played the Doctor Who drinking game and told each other ghost stories. Mary, of course, came up with the immortal Frankenstein on that dark and stormy night and this was an obvious opportunity to drop the Cybermen into a historical.
A cracking episode with some suitably eerie, candle-lit horrors and entertaining encounters between the time travellers and the Romantic poets. The Lone Cyberman, as mentioned by Captain Jack, was up to no good near Lake Geneva and was soon causing moral quandaries for the Doctor... as well as snapping necks. This story gave Jodie Whittaker the opportunity to show an angrier, more forceful Doctor, facing up to her mistakes and trying to save lives she'd put at risk. Not before time  -  while the friendly, goofy side of this Doctor is fun, I don't often feel that the character is "alien" enough and this chance to give Whittaker a meatier role was appreciated. This all acted as a precursor to the two-part finale which starts tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

Soundtrack: Various songs by Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Stan & Jack by Pete Doree

It's here! The Big One! Kirby says "Don't ask! Just buy it!"

All this hysterical hyperbole ( and agonisin' alliteration ) is my way of plugging this Marvelous new mag by ace cartoonist and faithful friend of The Glass Walking-Stick, Peerless Pete Doree.
As if Pete wasn't busy enough producing The Bronze Age Of Blogs and The Kids From Rec Road 
( seriously, you need to check them out ) he's now pouring all his artistic talent and love for the Silver and Bronze Ages into a brand new comic featuring the amazing, astonishing adventures of Smilin' Stan and Jolly Jack.

Yep, these are the adventures of The King and The Man, fearlessly facing deadly doom in dark dimensions, ably aided and abetted by other cavorting cartoonists along the way  -  Ditko, Kane, Wood and more all turn up as crazy caricatures, fighting frightful foes and cracking wise in weird, way-out worlds. ( Phew! As Pete said to me on Twitter, trying to talk like Stan Lee is exhausting! )

It's all great stuff, very funny and full of a genuine affection for these legendary comic creators and the worlds they conjured up on cheap newsprint all those years ago. It's highly recommended... so...
whaddaya waitin' for? Go and buy the fershlugginer thing awready! You can get it here  -  and tell Pete that Honest Irving Forbush sent you!

( As a bombastic bonus, Pete's been sending out personalised sketches with early orders  -  here's mine above. Get 'em while you can, True Believers! )

Friday 14 February 2020

Valentine's Day with the Eighth Doctor

A couple of weeks back I went to the True Believers comic con in Cheltenham ( something which is turning into an annual tradition for me ) and I commissioned the above sketch of the Eighth Doctor from the hugely-talented Mike Collins. I'd previously bought a Third Doctor sketch from Mike but this one wasn't for me, it was for my lovely wife Sarah. She's a huge fan of Paul McGann ( as am I, but in a slightly different way ) and, of course, we met the man himself at the Gloucester Comic Con back in 2018. I thought this was a great opportunity to buy a very special Valentine's Day present for Sarah and I think Mike did a wonderful job of capturing the McGann Doctor, in all his Byronic glory.

( I'll post some more stuff from True Believers soon... including more Mike Collins artwork! )

Sunday 9 February 2020

Random Januaryness ( featuring Star Wars! Punk rock! Welsh mountains! )

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a month called January in a year called 2020.
A ( band of heroic resistance fighters  ) good-for-nothing, lazy blogger decided he should get his blog back on track and post his futile thoughts more regularly. To prove his utter commitment to this idea he didn't post anything until the month called February. This month. Now. Starting with...

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker
Late to the party as ever, I finally got round to watching SW:TROS ( great acronym! ) last weekend.
I dragged my old friend Kev along as well  -  like me, he had also grown up watching the original Star Wars movies back in the good / bad ol' days of the '70s and '80s.
I'd recently re-watched Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi, just so I could remind myself where the space saga had got to in the previous installment. I'd certainly enjoyed that movie when it was released but now, on my third or fourth viewing, I realised that I really liked it. In fact, I'd say it's the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. Heresy? Maybe. For me, TLJ is a superior Star Wars segment ( alliteration alert! ) because it dares to move the story along, to provide some actual character development and decent dialogue, plus there are some gorgeous visuals along the way. With that in mind, what did I think of JJ Abrams' saga-closing Chapter IX?
Well, it was pretty good. I enjoyed it. Talk about damning with faint praise?

Because it was the final Star Wars ever ever ever ( until Disney decide to reboot it all with James Bay or Zack Snyder in charge ) there were a lot of nostalgic, fan-pleasing elements to the movie  -  old characters returning ( some warranted, some not ), many call-backs to previous chapters and a general feeling that this was, again, Star Wars' Greatest Hits  -  The Remix. And mostly that was all fine. There were some spectacular space battles ( hey, it's Star Wars! ), a proper resolution to the Rey / Kylo Ren storyline and a warmly nostalgic ( there's that word again ) epilogue with Rey visiting the old Skywalker homestead on Tattooine where the whole epic had begun.

However, I was disappointed that most of the narrative themes and ideas introduced in TLJ were abandoned by JJ. I thought that the "Rise" of the title would have referred to a rebirth of the Force in the universe as hinted at by that Sorcerer's Apprentice moment at the end of the last movie, but that was seemingly forgotten. The question of Rey's parentage which looked to have been resolved in the last installment was clumsily reintroduced with the previous message that "anyone can be a hero" now negated by retrospectively inserting her story into yet another hidden lineage. And the sidelining of Kelly Marie Tran's character Rose looked very much like a cowardly caving-in to the reactionary #notmyskywalker bigots, and was very disappointing.
Maybe there should have been a more over-arching plan for these movies? It did come across like each part of this latest trilogy was a reaction to previous stories ( whether for good or bad ) and not a concerted whole. All in all, SW:TROS was a fun movie, sufficiently pleasing to old fans like me and certainly not the car-crash that the prequels were. I just wish it could have been something more.

Back down to Earth now, and on the 18th of January I went to my first gig of the year, a benefit for Cheltenham's food bank at the Frog & Fiddle. This went by the moniker of Punks Against Poverty and boasted some top local ( or relatively local ) bands.

Sophie had been home over Christmas so we persuaded her to come along for some ear-blasting Punk rock 'n' roll  -  and a few drinks. Here are Sarah, Sophie and myself with good friend and Borrowed Time superstar Glenn.
We missed the first band who had the un-promising name of Pretty Vacant but saw second on the bill Ska-Punksters King's Alias who played an energetic set, strangely featuring some distorted acoustic guitar noise. After them, all the way from the People's Republic of Stroud, it was time for my most-watched band of all time, the mighty Chinese Burn...

The Burners were on fine form, their catchy Pop/Punk/Disco/ Rock 'n'Roll enlivening the crowd and seemingly making some new converts. Frontman Ben Rigsby was as ever a whirling Dervish, busting out his best Iggy / Rotten / Jagger-esque moves whilst being a danger to the life and limb of his band mates, all the while spitting out his literate, intelligent and acerbic lyrics. I'm always grateful that they're still up there, still blasting out such faves as Shut Your Mouth, John Belushi's Dead and Defending Stalingrad, especially as lead guitarist Dave had been quite ill recently and this was his first gig back with the band. Well done Dave! What a trouper.

Next up were the constantly-gigging Borrowed Time, playing on home turf for the first time in a while and assaulting our ears with their Punk-Metal anthems. BT classics like Under The Radar, Chains and the eco-warning of The Day We Broke The World sounded as impactful as ever and they even unveiled a new song ( the title escapes me now ) which added to their arsenal of sharp, angry songs. They may be living on borrowed time but they're making the most of every minute.

Then there came a surprise as legendary Gloucester Punks Demob played a couple of impromptu numbers. They had all been at the venue, either playing in other bands or as punters, so decided to hit us with some old skool Street Punk for a good cause. Loud, righteous and subtle as a flying brick, Demob may not be to everybody's taste but they always mean business.

The headliners were Swindon's Slagerij ( Dutch for "butcher's" apparently ) who were yet more purveyors of Ska-Punk. I'm not really a fan of this style  -  it can be very generic and I always feel slightly uncomfortable about the cultural appropriation involved  -  but Slagerij certainly put on a great show. Very enthusiastic, very tight and extremely proficient with a pleasingly goofy approach after some far more serious bands. All summed up by their song and probable motto "Turn It Up... Rip The Knobs Off!"
So, a fun night supporting a worthy cause. Here's another pic of us happy punters... with added Caz!

After all that, er, glamour ( cough! ) I'm going to end with some lovely views of freezing cold Snowdonia. I mean, why not? A couple of weeks back we moved Sophie up to North Wales where she'll be training for her next season as a dancer at Haven holiday parks. We spent a very brief and bloody cold time taking photos of the landscape on the journey back. An absolutely stunning area  -  we'll definitely have to go back some time and explore it properly.


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