Sunday, December 11, 2011

2000AD Prog 2012 - A medical review

2000AD prog 2012 is the big Christmas 100 page special, rather like the old annuals that British comics used to put out. It's an excellent jumping on point for 2000AD as several new stories start in this issue so there isn't a lot of previous continuity to catch up on.


The Judge Dredd story in this issue is a stand alone that parodies choose your own adventure books. It's ok but after the building tension of the recent Day of Chaos and Assassination List storyline it seems a bit lightweight.

More interesting is the first part of a new Absalom story, "Sick Leave" by Gordon Rennie, with art by Tiernen Trevallion and letters by Simon Bowland. Harry Absalom is a police inspector who heads up a paranormal investigation team that spun out of another 2000AD strip called Caballistics, Inc. He is a cranky and hard drinking old-school police officer who is also suffering from advanced cancer. While his team are investigating some strange graffiti in an East London estate, Absalom is at the hospital for a consultation with his oncologist. He is shown into a clinic room where he encounters a demonic ghost version of himself.


The above panels reveal that Absalom has cancer of the Pancreas which has a notoriously poor prognosis. Sadly, you can't diagnose Pancreatic cancer from x-rays as the demon does here. It needs a CT or MRI scan to detect the tumour in the Pancreas gland which lies behind the stomach and underneath the diaphragm, which separates the chest from the abdominal cavity. The demon seems to be looking at chest x-rays with lots of dark, round shadows on them. Presumably these represent metastases or spread from the original cancer. Technically the shadows should be in in the peripheries of the lung fields and not, as they are shown in these panels, overlying the central structures of the heart, mediastinum and sternum. You can see an image of a real chest x-ray with metastases here.  Spread to the lung can occur in many different types of cancer, and are not typical of pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately you can't tell what type of cancer causes lung shadows like this just by looking at them. Still, let us assume that demon, ghost thingys have diagnostic powers beyond those of us mortal doctors.

The other very interesting thing about the Absalom strip is its references and nods to other classic works of occult fiction. The next page in this issue includes these panels.


Harry Absalom refers to Inspector Trout from the Abominable Dr. Phibes movies, starring Vincent Price. Inspector Calhoun was played by Donald Pleasence in the 1972 film Death Line, in which he investigated Cannibals in the underground.

Jack Regan was, of course, played by the late John Thaw in The Sweeney. Inspector Barlow was a character in the British TV shows Z Cars, Softly, SoftlyBarlow at Large, and Second Verdict, and was played by Stratford Johns. Regan and Barlow didn't investigate the paranormal although Barlow, with his colleague John Watt, did look in to the Jack the Ripper case once.

Finally, the "Irish git who was involved in that Zombie mess up in Manchester" is a reference to the film The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, and to the police sergeant played by Arthur Kennedy.

The images in the third panel show from the left, Dr Phibes, Inspector Barlow, Jack Regan and, I think, Inspector Trout. Hopefully, somebody will let me know where the demon with the inverted cross on its head comes from.

The artist and writer got a bit confused about Pancreatic cancer, metastases and chest x-rays, but they more than made up for it with the cult references. For medical accuracy this story gets a solid 3 out of 5 outpatient clinic appointments. However this is a great first episode and I've now got something to look forward to in 2000AD other than Judge Dredd. If you are interested you can read the first episode of the original Absalom story from prog 1732 here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Big Finish - The Witch from the Well

This is Big Finish release 154 - The Witch from the Well.


The eighth Doctor and Mary Shelley get caught up in a seventeenth century witch hunt which gets more complicated when the fast return switch on the Tardis separates them by 400 years.

This story didn't quite hit the heights of The Silver Turk but it is very good. There's a nice creepy element to the mystery of the titular witch. Personally I could have done with that mystery carrying on for a bit longer before the science fiction solution is revealed, but that is just my preference for spooky ghost stories.

There is only one problem with these eighth Doctor stories and it's the music. I assumed that Big Finish were using the appropriate theme music for each doctor and that this was the music from the TV movie. But as Paul from the TimeVault podcast pointed out on my previous post this is actually a remix.

When Channel 4 did their countdown of the 100 scariest moments they included the original Doctor Who theme music as an entry in its own right. The rock journalist Alexis Petridis described it then as a perfect piece of music, and I agree. That's not to say that I don't like the updated versions for the subsequent Doctors, I actually enjoy all of them apart from the movie version. If you want to listen to an interesting run through of all the theme tunes up to the tenth Doctor then check out Tom Dillahunt's Podcast Who and, in particular, his episodes 40, 41 and 42.

Anyway, this soft rock of version of the theme tune is the worst version out there, it really spoils the cliffhanger endings to the four episodes in this story. But let's look past that and give this Big Finish story 3.5 out of 5 Radiophonic workshops. Next up I'm jumping back in the Big Finish timeline and will be listening to Neverland.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Last Boredcast

Here's another bad movie review to liven things up. This is The Last Broadcast from 1998.


This is an extremely low budget movie of the found footage variety that pre-dated the Blair Witch Project, and may have influenced it. A team of paranormal investigators travel into the woods to research the legend of the Jersey Devil. Bad stuff occurs and years later a documentary film-maker tries to figure out what happened from their surviving videotape.

My copy of the DVD bears the tagline "Incredibly creepy. Don't see it alone." Personally I would amend that to "Incredibly boring. Don't watch it at all."

Now don't get me wrong I am a big fan of shows like Ghostwatch and I found the Blair Witch Project really quite scary, but this is dull as ditch-water. I don't normally spot twist endings but I saw this one coming a mile off, and it still makes no sense.

Terrible film. And if you don't believe me just send me the price of a stamp and it's yours. 0 out of 5 stars. A new low for bad movie bingo.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seriously now

"We interrupt this broadcast." Don't worry, normal service waffle about Doctor Who, comic books and bad Pierce Brosnan movies will resume shortly but this is important.

A sceptical blogger wrote a piece about the Burzynski clinic, an American facility which charges thousands of pound to treat people with cancer with its "pioneering" Antineoplaston treatment. This has been in the news recently because of some high profile campaigns to raise funds to send British patients to Texas for this treatment.

We can all understand how the parents of a child with incurable cancer will look for any possibility of hope at all, and likewise we can see why well-meaning celebrities would lend their support to fund-raising. However, we have to consider whether such a treatment actually works. Many of the newspaper articles about the Burzynski clinic mention that the treatments are "not available on the NHS". There may be a reason for that.

The Burzynski clinic make the chemicals they call Antineoplastons, which are normally found in urine. In keeping with my Doctor Who theme this sounds as pseudo-scientific as reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. However it is still possible that the treatment might do something You can read more about it on this useful site from the US National Cancer Institute. The important thing to note is that there have been no randomised, controlled trials of the treatment to date.

In the spirit of scientific openness we might expect Dr Buryznski and his colleagues to welcome enquiries and discussions about his treatment. Instead the clinic has responded to the original blog and others with threats of legal action written in the most bizarre fashion. Again you can read some of the email threats here.

Interestingly the resulting blog frenzy has brought a lot of attention to bear on the Burzynski clinic in another ironic example of the Streisand effect. If they had kept quiet then the original posting might have sunk without trace.

Anyway, you can read the various websites and make up your own mind. However, to show my support for the original blogger and oppose the irrational threats to free speech and critical enquiry I will add the following:



That's it. Thanks for reading. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Target Acquired

I'm supposed to have less books now. I have a Kindle and everything, I've had a major de-clutter, so why am I making impulse purchases of second hand paperbacks on eBay?

I do have one shelf of old paperbacks. I have all the Quatermass scripts in their original Penguin releases. I seem to be accumulating a few classic 1970s Panther science fiction books with their great Chris Foss covers, but more about those later.

And now I have these.


Four of the 1970s Target novelisations of some of the Doctor's classic adventures. I'm blaming this entirely on Paul from the TimeVault podcast and Brian from British Invaders.

They do look rather nice on the shelf though.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 30 - To finish we need a great tune for the end credits - what's your favourite sci-fi theme?

I chose Rebel Alliance over The Empire but have already said that the bad guys get the best tunes. I love the Imperial March from Star Wars, as composed by the great John Williams. I've been watching some classic Irwin Allen television recently and was astonished to find out that Williams composed the original theme tunes for Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants. To be honest I could pick one of those tunes but let's stick with my original idea and march out to the Darth Vader theme.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 29 - Best pre 1980s sci-fi

Another film that I remember from those great days in the 1970s when all this fantastic science fiction turned up on TV. I was completely floored by the ecological message in Douglas Trumball's Silent Running and absolutely charmed by the three service robots. It was great to see Huey, Dewey and the remnant of Louie show up in the recent Where'e WALL-E? poster.

However, I haven't seen this film in years. I suspect it might be a little boring now but I shall have to get hold of a copy and let you know.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 28 - A great sci-fi B-Movie

Everyone loves Forbidden Planet. The only dispute could be whether it is actually a B-movie or was it something bigger than that? It's another movie which I remember having a considerable effect on me when I watched it on television in the 1970s, largely due the idea of the terrible ID creation that Professor Morbius unleashes. It was only years later that I learnt the whole thing was based on Shakespeare's The Tempest. It's got Leslie Nielsen in his straight acting days, the lovely Anne Francis and it was the first movie to feature Robby the Robot. And just look at the fantastic poster. B-Movie heaven!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 27 - Who are the nastiest bad guys?

Great bad guys make for great science fiction. Think of the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Borg. I'm sticking with the big screen for this category though and also sticking with yesterday's film. There is something really creepy about the Reavers from Firefly and Serenity. As Zoe put it in one of the TV episodes:

"If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing - and if we're very very lucky, they'll do it in that order."


The film provides an explanation for their behaviour which was a mystery in the TV series, and it somehow made them even worse. Honestly, Reavers could give me nightmares if I let them.



Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 26 - Best battle scene

I want a space battle for this category and I'm torn between the single ship encounter at the end of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan and the huge conflagration that occurs when the Reaver ships meet the Federation at the end of the Serenity. Both battles feature stunning examples of clever captaincy. Much as I like the shot of the Enterprise rising through the static discharges of the Mutara Nebula I'm going to go with the big shoot-out in Serenity.


Interestingly it relies on a similar gas cloud, nebula thingy as a plot device to set up a clever manoeuvre. It's short and nasty and shows off the brilliant special effects work. And stuck right in the middle is the Firefly class ship Serenity, crewed by people who are trying to do something smart and right.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2000AD Prog 1761 - A medical review

Continuing on from my previous post let's look at Prog 1761 and the medical details in part three of the Judge Dredd story, The Assassination List.


Again, written by John Wagner,  with art by Leigh Gallagher and Chris Blythe, and letters by Annie Parkhouse. Things are building up nicely. Thanks to a pre-cognitive Psi Judge, Dredd and the Council of Five have some inkling of what the Sov Judges are planning. They know they have the kidnapped scientist and are forcing him to produce a biological agent. One of the Mega-City Judges refers to it as a "Chaos Virus". I hope that there isn't going to be any confusion between a virus and a protozoa. To be fair Dredd and his colleagues don't know the exact nature of the organism that is being developed against them. So calling it a virus is not necessarily wrong at this stage.


Meanwhile, Judge Beeny pays a visit to another scientist and discusses his work with something called Phages.



Once again John Wagner gets his science right, Bacteriophages are indeed viruses that infect bacteria by injecting pieces of RNA or DNA into their genetic material. I remember been fascinated by them at medical school, particularly because their structure resembles the Apollo lunar module. Phages have been used to treat bacterial infections, so the hint that they might be of use in a threatened biological attack is a good one. The professor would need to modify his phages to attack Toxoplasma Gondii but that may be possible by the year 2132. In real life the main research and use of Phage therapy has always been in Russia, so the idea of Mega-City One using it to defend against a Sov-Judge attack would be a neat reversal.


Using the correct terms gets this story another 4 out of 5 rating. The story is gathering pace as the Day of Chaos approaches.

Day 25 - Funniest sci-fi

There may be some Star Trek fans who find Galaxy Quest offensive. I hope not, because it seems to me to have been made with a considerable amount of affection for the source material. It makes fun of the ridiculous aspects of television science fiction and of fandom, but it also highlights the heroic intentions of Gene Roddenberry's original series.


The cast are so great it's difficult to pick out individual performances. Tim Allen does a fantastic turn as a washed up star who unleashes his inner Kirk. Sigourney Weaver gets to make knowing jokes about her hair, cleavage and those pesky air-ducts. Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shaloub and Enrico Colantoni are all fantastic. The effects, story, bad guys and the jokes are all perfect. It's a comedy I can watch repeatedly. Great fun.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day 24 - Who's the No. 1 captain?

Much as I would like to choose Captain Mal Reynolds again I'm sure that this question is asking me stick to the Star Trek universe. And it has to be Kirk. Or should I say: KIRKKKKK!!!!


He's the man with a plan, he's the one I would pick to get me out of trouble (if I can't get the Doctor that is). Whether he's played by the Shat, or by the new swaggering Chris Pine, he is the business.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Big Finish - The Silver Turk

This is Big Finish release 153 - The Silver Turk, written by Marc Platt and directed by Barnaby Edwards.




The Eight Doctor, Mary Shelley, and Cybermen? What a prospect, and I’m glad to say that this doesn’t disappoint. Over the years Big Finish have turned out high quality audio dramas exploring many of the Doctor’s incarnations, and allowing his adventures to continue long after the show was de-Graded in 1989. In particular, it has allowed Paul McGann to flesh out the Eight Doctor from the ill-fated TV movie and given us all a chance to get to know his character more.

And, in a stroke of genius, Big Finish have given him Mary Shelley as a travelling companion. As this four part story begins the Doctor has just whisked Shelley away from that famous meeting at the Villa Diodati in 1816, and taken her to the Vienna Exposition in 1873. Amongst the wonders she encounters there is a curious, metallic automaton who defeats all comers at Checkers and Chess. This is another clever nod back to the history of a real automaton known as the Mechanical Turk. However, unlike the original, there is a dark mystery lurking beneath the Turban and bandages of the Silver Turk.

Before long the Doctor is struggling to prevent some of his oldest foes from taking control of the city, and indeed the planet. As the cover image suggests these are first generation Cybermen from the days of the Tenth Planet story, allowing Nicholas Briggs to give us a fantastic vocal performance as he replicates their peculiar, discordant sing-song voices. And, of course, the meeting between Mary Shelley and creatures who are part organic and part machine allows for some clever parallels between the Cybermen and the monster that she will create in Frankenstein. The moment when she is taken prisoner by a disabled Cyberman and starts to sympathise with its plight is particularly chilling.

McGann is very good as the Doctor and gets to make a knowing joke about the wig he sported for the film. He is ably backed up by Julie Cox as Shelley, and by the familiar voice of David Schneider as a helpful taxi driver. Big Finish are renowned for their sound design and this production is no exception. In fact, the only fault I can find with this is that the Eight Doctor is saddled with my least favourite version of the classic theme tune.

The Silver Turk is available on CD from Big Finish for £14.99, or by digital download for £12.99. If you are looking for a cheaper introduction to Big Finish then Mary’s Story is available as a 99p download. This is a short prologue to this adventure and recounts the Doctor’s first meeting with Shelley. It also serves as a perfect introduction to the joys of the Big Finish audio adventures.


This builds on the promise of Mary's Story and gets a full 4.5 out of 5 flowing Byronic wigs. Recommended.

Day 23 - It's party-time! Which sci-fi character are you going to dress-up as then?

I used to think I could have a go at a Judge Dredd costume but that would be a lot of work. Instead of that, let's look at a costume that is much easier. I now have to wear my glasses nearly all the time, or just for looking at stuff as we say in my house. I couldn't pull off the look of Superman, but I might manage a clumsy, bumbling Clark Kent.

This would be a straight-forward costume.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Big Finish - House of Blue Fire

This is Big Finish release 152, with the seventh Doctor in House of Blue Fire.


Four strangers with memory problems find themselves in a large mansion, waited on by a mysterious butler and preparing for dinner with the unknown master of the house. Each of them has a specific, and quite severe phobia, and all of them seem to be in danger until the arrival of the Doctor (of course).

This was quite a fun haunted house story, and there's almost nothing I like better than ghost stories. Once again the manipulative charms of Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor are growing on me. I am going to have to get hold of some of his original stories to watch.

As always, Big Finish provide excellent sound design and music, and the cast includes the great Timothy West as the enigmatic Soames. Unfortunately one of the other actors rather spoiled this for me by jumping in to quickly with all of her lines. I was reminded of a story that William Goldman tells in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade. Laurence Olivier was in rehearsals to play the villain in Marathon Man and asked Goldman if he could change the order of some of the lines slightly, he explained that this change allowed his character to think about what was being said before responding. The actor in this piece leapt in so quickly on her cues that her character would not have had time to listen to what was being said and formulate a reply. It rather broke the spell of the play for me.

However, apart from that this was another solid Doctor Who story and I would still recommend it. This gets 3.5 out of 5 Sonic Screwdrivers. Next up is the eight Doctor and those pesky Cybermen.

Day 22 - Coolest alien race

Thee is something that is both cool and terrifying at the same time about the Borg. I wonder which Star Trek writer came up with this brilliant concept that became the "killer app" for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Their implacable will and the stark simplicity of their spacecraft (why should space craft be streamlined?) makes them great television baddies.

They are flesh melded with machine, they return again and again, and they have a great catchphrase, in fact they are the Star Trek equivalent of the Daleks. No wonder, that they work so well.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 21 - Fave alien invasion movie/series

The invasion stories that disturb me the most are the silent, secret type. The big budget, let's destroy famous buildings and monuments approach is much less interesting. When I was young I was really creeped out by all the classic science fiction films that the BBC used to show. I vividly remember the horror of the idea of small town America being taken over by relentless Pod people who seemed just like us apart from a disturbing lack of emotion.

All sorts of different readings are possible for this film, and it has been linked to the politics of its era. Despite all this the writer, director and actors just thought they were making a good old scary movie. It's difficult to beat that image of Kevin McCarthy running though the traffic trying to warn his fellow travellers that "You're next!"

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a great invasion movie.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 20 - What's the best adaptation of a sci-fi book/story?

Now I like this question. One option would be to go for an adaptation that radically changed the source novel like Blade Runner or Minority Report. Or I could look for a more faithful adaptation like Dune or Fahrenheit 451. Then there is another category, films which made an appalling travesty out of great books like the Will Smith I, Robot.

Having considered all that I'm going to return to an earlier theme on this blog. Like most other geeky children of the seventies I was Planet of the Apes mad at the time. After being shocked by the dramatic conclusion of the original film I sought out the original novel Monkey Planet by the French writer Pierre Boule. This was quite a different planet to the one shown in the film. In the book the Apes are very civilised and technologically advanced, and the differences between the Apes and the stranded astronaut are intellectual and philosophical.

So this is a film that, in my humble opinion, improves upon the source material. The best adaptation of a book is the original Planet of the Apes movie.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 19 - Empire or Rebel Alliance?

This is the boring low point of this 30 day challenge. Plucky, good guys with the coolest space-ships or evil, planet-destroying bad guys who are controlled by a demonic Emperor? I'll pick the Rebel alliance please.


I will say one thing for the Empire though. They have the better theme tune.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

2000AD Prog 1760 - A Medical Review

Back when I started this blog of waffle I said I would occasionally write about matters medical, something that I have so far failed to do. There is a good blog by a chap called Scott who writes medical reviews of American comics but I don't expect he will get to 2000AD, so here is a medical review of the latest Judge Dredd story from Prog 1760.

This is part two of The Assassination List written by Dredd legend John Wagner, with art by Leigh Gallagher and Chris Blythe, and letters by Annie Parkhouse. This is part of a much larger story arc called Day of Chaos which will be the next mega event for Dredd and the 400 million inhabitants of Mega-City One. I have wondered before whether this might be the event that finally kills off Joe Dredd and replaces him with his younger clone, Judge Rico. However, the timing may be wrong as there is a new Judge Dredd movie coming out in 2012 and comic companies generally want their title characters alive and well to tie in with a film release.

The background to this story is that East Meg Judges who survived The Apocalypse War are plotting their revenge on Mega-City One. They are forcing a kidnapped scientist to produce a deadly bio-weapon which they intend to unleash on their enemies. This presumably will cause the Day of Chaos in much the same way that Orlok the Assassin used a chemical agent in the water supply to provoke Block Mania and soften the Mega-City up before the Sov-Judges launched the Apocalypse attack.


The organism they have chosen as the basis for the bio-weapon is a real one. Toxoplasma Gondii is a protozoa that normally infects cats. It can, indeed, infect rats and change their behaviour. Usually this change makes rats less fearful of cats and may even attract them to cat urine. The evolutionary advantage for the infecting Toxoplasma organism is that this increases the likelihood of it infecting more cats, which are its natural habitat, so to speak.

If humans manage to contract Toxoplasmosis from infected cat faeces or poorly cooked infected meat then usually the symptoms are quite mild, unless you are immunocompromised or pregnant when it can cause special problems. However, what is really interesting here is that there are theories that Toxoplasmosis can affect human behaviour, it has been linked with Schizophrenia and with anti-social behaviour in men. So the suggestion that an altered form of Toxoplasma Gondii could induce an insane, murderous rage is not too far fetched at all.

For using real medicine and getting the name of the organism right this Judge Dredd story gets 4.5 out of 5 medic-droids. On top of that it is building up nicely towards some terrible event, and Judge Dredd continues to be the best story in 2000AD. Incidentally the cover image shown above is not from this story but from another ongoing strip called Indigo Prime.

Day 18 - Best use of SFX on the small screen

CGI special effects on the small screen are still a bit dodgy, and very hard, and expensive, to get right. There are other effects that are very impressive. It's still hard for me to believe that the Weeping Angels in Blink were actually actors in silver paint. Classic Doctor Who. But I am trying hard to look beyond the British Invaders universe.

Let's go back to a classic. I love picking holes in Fringe but it is no X-Files. And if we're talking classic X-Files we have to be talking about the scary episode Squeeze. Eugene Tombs was a splendidly creepy bad guy and the scenes when he distorts his body to climb through a narrow chimney is really impressive. The special effects guys did a great job and, along with some thoroughly nasty sounds, it makes for a terrific episode.



Saturday, November 12, 2011

Day 17 - Best use of SFX on the big screen

It's 20 years since it was released but I still think that it is hard to beat the special effects in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It's strange that the SFX guys have still not improved on the CGI figures in this film. And it's a rip-roaring adventure film with Arnold's best moments on screen.

I echo the comments of the late, great Bill Hicks when he said "You couldn't beat these special effects .. unless..."


Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 16 - A great quote!

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
...
Time to die.


Almost breaks your heart doesn't it? That's Roy Batty's famous Tears in the Rain speech from the end of Blade Runner, as delivered by Rutger Hauer. Has Hauer ever been better in a film? His performance as Batty is one of the great creations in all of science fiction. He is smart, menacing and, ultimately, a tragic figure. And depending on which version of events you believe Hauer actually wrote or re-wrote the above lines from the original script. Epic stuff.



Thursday, November 10, 2011

Big Finish - The Doomsday Quatrain

This is the Big Finish Doctor Who release 151 The Doomsday Quatrain, featuring Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor.
The Doctor lands in sixteenth century Florence and meets Nostradamus which allows him to make a neat joke about how his wife once knitted him a scarf, a nod back to a comment the fourth Doctor made in The Ark in Space. Of course, with the Doctor around strange things are usually going to start happen and this story is no exception.

Having said that I generally don't like the Doctor's encounters with historical characters, this had a neat twist which was very enjoyable. The seventh Doctor has a reputation for being a master manipulator and that's how he acts in this story. In a way it's classic Doctor Who with the Doctor playing two sides off against each other using no special abilities other than his wits.

I enjoyed this much more than the previous short stories. I like my Doctor Who in a serialised form with cliffhangers and the sting leading into the theme music. I also like how Big Finish use the right version of the theme music for each incarnation of the Doctor.

Overall, this is a good story with some fine performances from McCoy and the other actors. There's a monster voice that sounds a bit like a parody of a typical Doctor Who baddie but otherwise the sound design is great. I'm going to give this a solid 4 out of 5 Tardis fast return switches.

Next up is more of the seventh in The House of Blue Fire

Day 15 - Which Spaceship would you most like to own/fly?

I already picked my British Invaders spaceship so let's move out into the wider universe. It's far too obvious to pick the Millennium Falcon and besides, it breaks down all the time. Likewise the Nostromo from Alien blows up. X-Wing fighters crash in swamps, the Discovery one has a dodgy on-board computer, the Event Horizon goes to hell, and the Enterprise looks like it takes a lot of work to keep it up there.

On the other hand Serenity looks like you really could fix it with a Swiss army knife and a roll of gaffer tape. It's got some style, it's kept in the air by love, and it just wants to do good works. Plus I might be able to afford it or one like it.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day 14 - An under-rated sci-fi gem

This is a tricky one. I confess I struggled to think of a movie that I believe is great but is generally under-rated. In the end I have strayed slightly outside of genre. This is more of a comic book movie than pure science fiction, but I like the slow build as the plot and the twist reveal themselves. It is a film that gets over looked in discussions about M.Night Shymalan's deteriorating career. Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson are reliable as ever, as are the supporting cast. The script is good and the action sequences are almost shockingly real. In particular there is one fight with Willis's character just hanging on with a grim determination until his job is done. As a comic book fan I love the way that the raincoat Willis wears becomes a super-hero's cowl and cape.

I think Unbreakable is really under rated.



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Outlandish Behaviour

Bad movie bingo is back! In amongst the 30 day SF challenge and my Big Finish reviews I found time to watch Outlander from 2008, directed by Howard McCain.


James Caviezel plays an alien bounty hunter called Johnny Alpha Kainan who crash lands in eighth century Norway and has to help a bunch of Vikings hunt down a deadly dragon beastie that has escaped from his space ship. John Hurt's in there as the Viking king, plus there's Sophia Myles as a tough Viking warrior maiden, and Ron Perlman plays a huge hammer wielding Viking called Wulf Gunnar (sorry).

Come on, if you're going to make a Strontium Dog movie have the guts to come out and say so. Honestly, 2000AD should sue. All it needed was a Gronk to turn up and I would have been content.

This was rubbish but vaguely enjoyable rubbish. If the leading man wasn't so gloomy all the time it would have helped, but on the whole not too bad. I wouldn't recommend spending more than £1.99 on it but if you have the popcorn this film will do the job.

Two beasts, no breasts, heads, shoulders, knees and toes roll. 3 out of 5 Joe Bob Briggs stars. Now if they had just called it Strontium Dog, or even Terror Tram they could have challenged Pierce for the title.

Day 13 - What's your favourite flavour of Star Trek?

This question is probably meant to concentrate on the TV series and asking me to pick between TOS, TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager or Enterprise but I'm going to cheat. I think my favourite incarnation of Star Trek is the movie reboot by J.J.Abrams. Much has been written about the 2009 film so I'll just say that it was a really clever and cool way to restart the Star Trek universe. I thought the casting was great, the action sequences and special effects were fantastic, and it even has a green skinned woman just like classic trek. I also didn't mind the shaky camera and constant lens flare that annoyed so many viewers.

It was neat to see Captain Pike in there and to find that he appears to have avoided his fate as shown in the Menagerie. And while on the subject of Pike I can recount a rather good suggestion by Simon Mayo that during the sequence of the film where Pike is being tortured by Eric Bana to reveal the Federation security codes, British audiences might amuse themselves by shouting at the screen "Don't tell him, Pike."

Anyway, I look forward to the next film in the new Star trek flavoured series.



Monday, November 7, 2011

Big Finish - Recorded Time

This is number 150 in the Big Finish Doctor Who line. A set of four short stories featuring Colin Baker as the sixth Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri Brown.

Now here is yet another embarrassing confession from the co-host of a podcast all about British science fiction television. I have seen precisely none of the sixth Doctor's TV adventures. I know that his run on the show was nearly as chequered as his coat. He was treated badly as the BBC controller Michael Grade put the show on hiatus, a foreshadowing of the decision to cancel the show altogether in 1989. Fortunately Colin Baker has had the opportunity to continue his portrayal of the Doctor in some very successful Big Finish productions. And Baker is, by all accounts, a thoroughly charming and likeable person. A few months ago our local newspaper reported that he had been in town at a charity event and I was genuinely disappointed that I hadn't known in advance to go along and shake his hand.

So I turned to these audio dramas with some interest. Four short stories in which the Doctor and Peri find themselves in the court of King Henry VIII, go up against some futuristic baddies, get trapped in the world of Jane Austen's novels, and finally find themselves on a strange space ship and suffering from complete amnesia. I found them a bit of a mixed bag. Although I enjoyed the meeting of the Doctor with Mary Shelley I generally like the historical Doctor Who stories less than the others. So I was less impressed with the Henry and Austen stories. However the two more traditional science fiction stories were far more enjoyable.

Perhaps because they are just short stories I was less engaged than I thought I might be. They weren't bad just nothing outstanding. 2.5 out of 5 Tardis control console stars. Next up is the seventh Doctor and the Doomsday Quatrain.

Day 12 - What's your Yeah I know it's rubbish but I LOVE it sci-fi film?

This one is easy. It's the science fiction film that we ALL know is is rubbish but we all love it anyway.

Dum-dum-dum-dum-dum .... Flash! Ah-ah.

We should hate this movie but it's just a great romp. The stellar cast enjoy themselves hugely. The costumes are fabulous. The dialogue is cheesy, "Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!". And then there is that pounding Queen soundtrack.

It's a great film. Give in to the power of the dark side and watch Flash Gordon again.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 11 - Fave space film series

I can't really choose the Star Wars or Star Trek movies as so many of them are rubbish. I think this question is asking me for a film series mostly set in space and I can only think of one other. I wish there was a Serenity series to pick but sadly that seems unlikely to happen. So that leaves me with the body-horror bad guys. With Colonial Marines who, if you were paying attentions, got their asses kicked. With shaven headed prisoners and a dog/bull beastie. And finally with the strange mix of Joss Whedon, the director of Amelie, and Ron Perlman.

I really like the Alien movies and I'm looking forward to the forthcoming Prometheus. Those creepy Giger monsters are my favourite space series.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 10 - Which sci-fi universe/reality would you most like to live in?

I don't want to live in most of the science fiction universes I read about. Most of them are full of wars, Tie-fighters, body horror monsters, explosions in space, and robots that rise up to destroy their makers. The obvious problem is that a utopian universe would be lovely, calm and safe but that doesn't exactly make for exciting fiction.

It would be lovely to live in a universe where there really was a time-travelling alien with a sonic screwdriver who was always there to save the Earth. But again I'm looking beyond the British Invaders worlds. So let's look at a society which has perfected medicine, and has eliminated need and scarcity. Everything is available at the drop of a hat, the humanoids in this society don't age, they have drug glands, an inbuilt neural net that connects them to a vast Internet, and they spend their time having terrific parties or pursuing their academic or cultural interests. Iain M Banks' The Culture is the place to be if you want perfect safety and happiness all the time.



Of course, perfect safety and happiness doesn't really drive plots along so Banks skilfully brings The Culture into contact and conflict with other space-going civilisations to generate the tension needed for his stories. They even have a branch of The Culture known as Contact specially for this purpose.

So put me in the Culture universe and I'll be very happy. And I won't feel the need to push the limits like some of the Culture humans do by rock climbing without an AG belt, lava rafting, or swinging about in a decrepit cable car system. Well, not at first at least. I guess happiness and immortality gets boring eventually.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Day 9 - No. 1 Sci-Fi Hottie

Once again I have to think outside the British Invaders box so I can't pick Servalan again. Instead I'm going to go with the first thought that popped into my head. Well, maybe not the exact first thought, I do want to keep this clean after all. I haven't seen this movie in a long time and suspect it may be a bit creaky and all too camp now, but it made a big impression on me at the time.

My number one science fiction hottie is Barbarella.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 8 - Best Robot / Android

I really wanted to choose Kryten from Red Dwarf but I've decided to try and get out of the British Invaders box as much as I can for the rest of this challenge. I almost went for the R. Daneel Olivaw character from Asimov's Caves of Steel which I have blogged about before. However I am sitting at my desk wearing a t-shirt that bears the slogan "Klaatu Barada Nikto" so it has got to be a robot who sort of terrified me as a kid even though he's basically a goodie working for a benevolent alien. It must me something about his size, his stillness and, of course, he has a death ray as all good 1950s science fiction films demanded. It's Gort from the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Big Finish - Mary's Story

Big Finish produce very high quality audio dramas which continue the adventures of characters from classic Doctor Who. They also have ranges covering Sapphire and Steel, Sherlock Holmes, 2000AD and Blake's 7 (coming next year). Whenever I listen to their stuff I am always impressed but time and money usually prevent me from getting more content from them. My Skype buddy Brian from Canada who hosts our British Invaders podcast has persuaded me to take out a 6 CD subscription to their regular monthly Doctor Who releases. So I've gone for it and promised to post my reviews up here as I go along.

The first one is The Company of Friends: Mary's Story. This is a prologue to some other stories that are coming up and it is available for download for only 99p!


Paul McGann plays the eighth Doctor in a story set after the TV movie, and the Mary of the title is none other than Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. The short story tells how Shelley became the Doctor's companion for a while and also sets up various parts of the Frankenstein legend. Now you can either take a purist's view and object to this meddling in the story of Frankenstein and the book's origin, or you can regard it as a neat idea which melds two fictional worlds in a charming way.

Personally I thought it was great. It is rather short, but it is lovely stuff. It's nice to hear Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor as we never really got enough of him. Maybe one day we will learn how he regenerated into his ninth incarnation. Julie Cox makes a fine Mary Shelley and we even get a bit of Lord Byron, played by Robert Forknall. In a nicely ironic moment the Doctor compliments Byron on his "look".

Anyway, this is a great audio drama that left me wanting more. I'm going to give this a Tardis score of 4 out of 5. Next up is the sixth Doctor in Recorded Time.

Day 7 - Best Non-human character

Tomorrow is Robots so this must be my favourite alien (wasn't that an American TV show?). It's a no-brainer again, which in a way is a shame as it means there is less to write about. The best alien in science fiction is a humanoid with two hearts, the ability to regenerate and who represents the last of his race. Best non-human? It has to be the Doctor.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day 6- Best Sci-Fi Villain

I'm going to contradict myself this time. In the 30 day British Invaders challenge I chose Steerpike as my favourite villain. Now we are broadening the canvas to include all of science fiction and I am going to choose another British SF character as my favourite villain. I know, it doesn't make any sense but just look at him. Just think what he represents, just think of the lives he has cost. I should probably try and think outside of the British Invaders box a bit more for this challenge but for now my favourite villain is the man who makes me want to get back beyond the sofa.

Davros.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Creature Feature

I interrupt the 30 day science fiction challenge for The Abominable Snowman (as you do). This is the 1957 black and white Hammer film directed by Val Guest. It was adapted by Nigel Kneale from his 1955 BBC TV play called The Creature. Sadly that BBC version doesn't survive but the Hammer movie has recently been re-issued on DVD and I got it as part of this year's birthday haul.


The plot is fairly straightforward, Peter Cushing recreates his role from the TV version as Dr John Rollason, a botanist and climber who is researching Tibetan plants while staying in a remote lamasery in the Himalayas. He gets recruited by an American expedition who are looking for the Yeti. Five climbers set off together and ..., well things don't go according to plan.

Peter Cushing is, as ever, fantastically watch-able. I think it is the air of calm competence that he brings to all his roles. Whether he is playing Sherlock Holmes, Van Helsing or Grand Moff Tarkin he always seems to know exactly what he is doing. Here he is absolutely convincing as an efficient climber and a calm and rational scientist. This contrasts with the loud and brash Americans who deliver all their lines as if shouting in a street market. Although, to be fair, one of the Yanks is played by a British actor, Robert Brown, who would later go on to play M in the James Bond movies of the 70s and 80s.

You could choose to read some form of assessment of post war relationships into this film. The Americans have all the money and the guns, and Britain has the technical know-how and a placid stoicism to go with it. I can imagine British cinema audiences being quietly appalled by the shouting Americans and siding with Peter Cushing who doesn't make a fuss but just gets on with things.

Anyway, that may be too deep a reading for what is essentially a Hammer monster movie. It's a pretty good one at that. We do eventually get to see the titular creature but like any good horror film they save the reveal until the very end. I won't give to much away but suffice it to say the ending relies on Cushing to make a peaceful and rational decision, much like conclusions that Kneale wrote for Professor Quatermass.

This doesn't get a Joe Bob star rating because this isn't a candidate for bad movie bingo. Instead it represents the only chance to see any form of Kneale's 1955 TV show. A stealth British Invaders review perhaps?

Day 5 - Best Sci-Fi Hero

So here's a moment of insight and reflection. I wouldn't be very good in a war, and in particular I would have been useless in the trenches. I don't know how they ever went over the top. There is that dreadful and terribly moving ending to Blackadder goes Forth when they all realise that the bluster is done with and they are really going to have to charge into the face of the enemy machine guns. I would have been a blubbering wreck laying in the mud.

But having said all that I think I might have been moved to go over the top by Mal Reynold's St Crispin's day speech in Serenity. Reynolds is a great science fiction hero. I prefer him to Han Solo because Reynolds has the better scripts. He's funny, he's smart and he nearly always has a plan. Even though he is basically a space pirate he is a great leader and stands up for the little people, the weak, the tired and the poor.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds only got one movie but he is the business.



Sunday, October 30, 2011

Day 4 - Best Sci-Fi Heroine

This one is straightforward. There can be only one answer here. She's the reluctant heroine who just wanted to do her job properly and get paid. She was great in the first film and even better in the second. Both the third and fourth films have huge problems but she is easily the best thing about them.

The best science fiction heroine has to be Ellen Ripley.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Day 3 - Favourite Sci-Fi Book/Story

When I was younger the answer to this question would probably have been Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel especially the Panther paperback with the great Chris Foss artwork on the cover. A few years ago I might have chosen a rather strange and gloomy book called Shipwreck by Charles Logan. But right now my choice comes down to two books both of which I have blogged about before.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson is a fascinating novel about a world that is only very slightly removed from our own. It has a likeable and quirky heroine and an intriguing plot about a strange corner of the internet. It also reduced the remarkable character of Hubertus Bigend who links this book to the next two in the Blue Ant trilogy.

On the other hand Consider Phlebus by Iain M. Banks is as far from our world as you can get. It was also the first book in a series which introduced us to the Culture, but like the best of the Culture novels it is about an outsider and a huge space opera conflict. It has grim, militaristic aliens, some fun bits of space piracy in the style of the old role playing game Traveller, there's a sexy Culture agent, and of course our first meeting with Culture AI Minds and their hilarious ship names.

It's tough to choose between them but because Pattern Recognition is more of a contemporary novel than true science fiction I am going to pick Consider Phlebus as my favourite science fiction novel.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Day 2 - Favourite Sci-Fi TV Series

There are an awful lot of science fiction TV shows in contention for this category and I could waste some space by talking about some of my favourites. But ...

Duh-dum-de-dum, duh-dum-de-dum. Whoo - ooooo!

There can only be one. As a co-host on a podcast all about British science fiction television I have to pick the longest running and best science fiction show there is.


The excitement generated by the return of Doctor Who in 2005, the thrill of that first Dalek episode, the scariness of episodes like Blink and Turn Left, and the sheer enjoyment of considering all that has gone before. It has to be Doctor Who.



Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 1 - Favourite Sci-Fi Movie

Straight in with a big question. What's your favourite science fiction movie ever? I went to my somewhat limited shelf space to look at the possible contenders and one film almost lifted me off my feet and slapped me around the face slowly while shouting "Wake up!".


This film has a special place in my memories. I remember walking through Leicester with a group of college friends on the way to see Blade Runner on its release in September 1982. The poster was one of the first things we put up in our student house. I had the Vangelis soundtrack on constant play for ages, and when Susan and I set up house together we even tried to find drinking glasses like the ones in Deckard's apartment.

It is a complicated film with all sorts of baggage in its history. It wasn't a very happy shoot for the production team. Harrison Ford doesn't like to talk about the film and describes his character as a detective who doesn't do any detecting, although I would disagree with that. There's also the troublesome voice over, the tacked-on ending using footage from The Shining, and Sean Young at the height of her crazy movie career. Plus there are seven different versions of this film which has been tinkered with nearly as often as Star Wars.

Yet despite all that it's a great film, with a fantastic atmosphere, and fascinating imagery. I love the future world depicted in Blade Runner, the sets are great, Rutger Hauer has never been better, and the climax of the movie in and on top of the Bradbury building is just great.

Blade Runner is my favourite science fiction film of all time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Challengers of the Unknown

It's that time again. I've found another challenge of the "let's encourage daily blog posting variety". I'm aware that the new movie Contagion refers to blogging as "just graffiti with punctuation" but what the heck, I like writing about this stuff and the daily challenge aspect is fun. So it's a more general science fiction subject and here are those 30 categories.

Day 1 - Favourite Sci-Fi Movie
Day 2 - Favourite Sci-Fi TV Series
Day 3 - Favourite Sci-Fi Book/Story
Day 4 - Best Sci-Fi Heroine
Day 5 - Best Sci-Fi Hero
Day 6- Best Sci-Fi Villain
Day 7 - Best Non-human character
Day 8 - Best Robot / Android
Day 9 - No. 1 Sci-Fi Hottie
Day 10 - Which sci-fi universe/reality would you most like to live in?
Day 11 - Fave space film/series
Day 12 - What's your Yeah I know it's rubbish but I LOVE it sci-fi film?
Day 13 - What's your favourite flavour of Star Trek?
Day 14 - An under-rated sci-fi gem
Day 15 - Which Spaceship would you most like to own/fly?
Day 16 - A great quote!
Day 17 - Best use of SFX on the big screen
Day 18 - Best use of SFX on the small screen
Day 19 - Empire or Rebel Alliance?
Day 20 - What's the best adaptation of a sci-fi book/story?
Day 21 - Fave alien invasion movie/series
Day 22 - Coolest alien race
Day 23 - It's party-time! Which sci-fi character are you going to dress-up as then?
Day 24 - Who's the No. 1 captain?
Day 25 - Funniest sci-fi (intentional or otherwise)
Day 26 - Best battle scene
Day 27 - Who are the nastiest bad guys?
Day 28 - A great sci-fi B-Movie
Day 29 - Best pre 1980s sci-fi
Day 30 - To finish we need a great tune for the end credits - what's your favourite sci-fi theme?


Watch this space, starting soon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Well it's hardly scientific but it's really quite terrific"

At last a worthy competitor for Pierce Brosnan's Deaths on a Train! Ghost Ship from 2002, not to be confused with Death Ship from 1980, or with the Goonies rip-off Ghost Ship from 1992.


A rough and ready salvage crew discover an abandoned and rusting cruise liner. They investigate and discover crates of gold bars. The most obviously fake gold bars I've seen in a film for a while but no matter they are hooked and the mayhem begins.

This was great! No cliche is left unturned. The crew are all instantly recognisable stereotypes, they say things like "Stick together" before immediately wandering off alone, and they break nearly all the rules of survival for horror movies. The only unpredictable aspect is guessing who will be picked off first and how. Gabriel Byrne plays the salvage crew's captain and must have wondered what film he had wandered into. Meanwhile Julianna Margulies from E.R. does her best as the tough action woman and inevitably becomes a genre final girl. And the villain of the piece turns out to be the person we suspected all along, the clue is in the character name.

This is a truly terrible film that deserves a Joe Bob star rating of 4 out of 5 stars. one beast, two breasts, heads roll, arms roll, in fact every major body part rolls. This goes into joint first place with Death Train. The secret to a good bad film title would appear to be first word something spooky, second word a mode of transportation. I look forward to a film called Terror Tram or Scary Scooter.

Incidentally the film poster above is very similar to a 2000AD cover used for the Leviathan series that I have annotated elsewhere. It is of course based on a famous art deco poster for an actual ocean liner.