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.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

This is virtual back issue browsing. Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow? is a two part story that appeared in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583. Written by Alan Moore (yes, him again) with art by Curt Swan and inks by George Pérez and Kurt Schaffenberger. I have the original issues of this which I bought when they first came out but I haven't un-bagged them this time. Instead this is a trade paperback collection of the story along with Alan Moore's other Superman stories. I picked this up in Gosh comics in London, a trendy Soho comic shop upstairs with a pleasantly fusty back-issues section downstairs in the basement.

This is a love letter to Silver Age Superman stories. Published after Crisis on Infinite Earths which effectively destroyed the Silver age DC comics universe, it hit the stands one month before writer/artist John Byrne rebooted Superman in The Man of Steel #1. Editor Julius Schwarz was looking for a writer to tell Superman's final story and discussed it with Alan Moore at a comic book convention. Legend has it that Moore told Schwarz that if he let anyone else write the story Moore would kill him, so he got the gig! And then combine him with the definitive Silver age Superman artist and two legendary DC inkers and the result was a perfect storm of a comic.

The story is told by Lois Lane in an interview to mark the tenth anniversary of Superman's death. It recounts his last days when all his familiar foes returned but with a new and deadly intent. Superman's secret identity is blown and he is forced to gather all his friends and take them to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic. Along the way he will be visited by old allies and villains before a final confrontation with perhaps the deadliest of all his Silver age enemies.

Everything about this story is just perfect. It has moments of humour and moments of darkest tragedy, it even has Superman in tears. It is just a brilliant distillation of all that was great about Superman before the Crisis. And yet it was produced by a writer from Northampton. I've blogged before about how difficult it was to collect American comics in the 1980s, so how on earth did Moore manage to keep up with all of the Superman stories in the 1960s and 70s? However he did it the result is the best Superman story ever published in my humble opinion.

I wanted to revisit this book after recently re-reading Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman (art by Frank Quitely and colours by Jamie Grant). This was a twelve issue series that gave us another story of Superman's last days and the challenges he overcame before the end. Now every 25 years or so the DC comics universe gets a major overhaul or re-jigging . It happened in 1985 with the Crisis, and it has just happened again with a complete reboot that has seen DC reset all its comics to issue one with new stories told from the beginning again . It occurred to me that even though All-Star Superman ran from 2005 to 2008 it is the equivalent of Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow? for the current DC reboot. Grant Morrison's story of  the end of Superman is the coda to the last 30 years worth of tales of the Man of Steel. There is, of course, nothing completely new in stories. If you observe one art form for long enough you will eventually see the same things come around again.

All-Star Superman is a lovely piece of work, although it doesn't quite hit the heights that Moore, Swan, Pérez and Schaffenberger achieved in 1985. Great comics.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Yawn Americans

I should be watching Space:1999 for British Invaders. It's a big show with lots of episodes to get through, but bad films keep getting in the way. The American, directed by Anton Corbijn and starring George Clooney.

Clooney is a semi-retired gunsmith/assassin drifting through Italy when he agrees to take on one last job and build a special gun for a mysterious female client. This is a strange and very dull film. Clooney divides his time between looking suspicious and looking pissed off. The life of a semi-retired gunsmith or assassin can't be terribly exiting even if he does get to sleep with a beautiful prostitute in a totally gratuitous and prolonged sex scene.

This is Corbijn's second film after Control, he is of course famous as rock photographer and at times The American does look like a sequence of still images more than a true moving picture. It also has two sequences that real stretch credulity. In the first Clooney visits an Italian car mechanic's garage and picks up some metal tubing, part of a gear box and a few steel washers. We then see him at his work bench apparently turning these odds and ends into an automatic rifle with a wooden stock and a huge silencer. It makes what the A-Team used to do with a garden hose and a few paint cans seem almost believable.

The other scene that doesn't make any sense at all does involve a major plot spoiler so if you don't want to know look away now, you have been warned.

OK, so it doesn't take a huge insight to work out that the target that the mysterious client wants the special gun for turns out be Clooney himself. It isn't explained why the "organisation" want him dead but let's play along with that for a moment. The bit that doesn't make sense is the scene in the middle of the film where Clooney meets the nameless hit-woman in a forest and gives her the gun for a test firing. She fires at a target and then asks Clooney to make some adjustments before final delivery. So what was she waiting for? She has a high powered rifle in her hands, and Clooney standing next to her in an isolated spot, so why doesn't she shoot him then instead of waiting until the complicated final scenes in a church parade through the streets of an Italian town? I suppose it is just possible that the mystery man that they both report to hasn't told her who her target will be at that point in the movie but still it does make the final twist seem a bit daft.

Anyway, this was just dull as dish-water. I need to find some good bad films soon. 1 out of 5 stars.
Now back to Space:1999 and those crimplene flared space uniforms.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Edged Out

My Lovefilm subscription delivered  another candidate for Bad Movie Bingo. Martin Campbell's big screen version of Edge of Darkness. To be honest I had forgotten this was on my list, I must have added it back when we covered the original BBC mini series from 1985 back in British Invaders 67 and 68. Martin Campbell directed that version as well.

OK, let's get the big issue out of the way first. Mel Gibson is, let's be charitable, a difficult human being with some unpleasant views. It feels uncomfortable to be supporting his career by even renting one of his films, but there is a long line of great art made by people who you wouldn't want to be in the same room as so let's put that to one side and look at the movie.

Gibson plays Tom Craven a Boston detective whose daughter is shot on his front door step and dies in his arms. Everyone assumes that the killer meant to shoot Gibson but his investigations lead him to discover the murky truth about her work, and then Ray Winstone shows up as a government spook to explain what's really happening. A bit like Joe Don Baker in the original Winstone has the louder and showier role although Gibson does get a lot more action scenes than Bob Peck had in the original, guess it's in his contract.

One of the things that was so good about the BBC original was Peck's portrayal of grief and I have to confess that Gibson does pretty well in that respect. They have kept the device of having him hear and see his dead daughter although he sees her as a child instead of the adult he has lost. These flashbacks or visions or whatever are quite moving, and his misery really comes across.

Overall this isn't really a bad movie, and it's a better translation of the original than I expected it to be. It doesn't have time for the slow build of the TV series so certain elements of the story have to be revealed faster, usually as a result of Gibson punching someone or pulling his gun. I came into expecting it to be a bad adaptation of a great BBC series and actually it wasn't all that terrible. I'd still suggest going back to the original but if you can cope with the idea of a Mel Gibson film this one is OK.

3 out of 5 Joe Bob stars for being neither fish not foul, not terribly bad bad or terribly good bad.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fringe Binge

Fringe season three has arrived on DVD and it's time for me to drift away from British televison for a short while and get back to the world of parallel universes, bad medicine and a cheerful mad scientist in this X-Files clone.

Spoiler alert. If you haven't watched the end of season two and you plan to then probably best if you don't read the rest of this because I'm going to give the game away.You have been warned.

So here's the problem for the Fringe writers. At the end of season two they have established that the two parallel universes are at war and they've swapped the two Olivias. Getting from there back to the freak-of-the-week episodes is difficult but so far they have got round this by having the evil Olivia, or Faux-livia, masquerading as her blonde goodie version so that the original team can continue their investigations. Meanwhile over in the other world they have given our Olivia memory implants so that she thinks and acts like Faux-livia. The rest of her Fringe team don't know about the switch so they carry on doing their thing and we get alternating episodes of Fringe cases from each universe. Clever!

Actually it's all very neat and we get to watch more X-Files type mysteries while at the same time noting the differences between the two universes. The parallel world has much better technology, although strangely they still use Penny Farthing bicycles. And their Fringe team seem much better at their jobs than our eccentric versions of Walter and Astrid. Plus the Red universe team includes a character who is dead over here in our (blue) universe.

Quite how long they can keep this up remains to be seen, especially as Olivia seems to be rejecting her memory grafts and starting to remember who she really is. But at least they have got us back to monster of the week shows. Watch this space for more from beyond the Fringe.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The British Invaders 30 day challenge is finished. Thank you to everyone who suggested questions, made comments, re-tweeted me, or started their own challenge.

In particular I would like to thank Paul from the excellent Time Vault podcast who has just started a challenge here.

Paul, Karode and Mekster re-tweeted my daily links. Karode and Wolfeeboy have been doing the challenge on their blogs, while over on the British Invaders facebook page Colin, Nick, John and Steve have been doing the challenge there.

Finally, a shout out to my friend Brian in Canada who invited me on to the British Invaders podcast and got me watching and talking about all this great British science fiction television.

Stay tuned for more ramblings and be warned, Fringe is back!

Day 30 - Who would you like to play the 12th Doctor?

It's the last day of the challenge and it's the second great question in Who-dom (you can read my answer to the first question here). So who should play next the next Doctor?

I made a few suggestions for this category in a Twitter poll recently and I could trot those names out here but I suspect the next actor chosen will be largely unknown. Who had heard of Matt Smith before 2009? Even David Tennant was just another jobbing actor when he got the part.

So after 30 days of British Invaders themed questions I am going to indulge myself in a moment of whimsy, a moment of sentiment. I'm going to choose a young chap who is at university and who, as far as I know, has no interest in acting. He does have a certain style however, and would make an interesting occupant of the Tardis.

It will never happen but I think my son Tom would make a great twelfth Doctor.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Day 29 - Favourite alien race or planet

This challenge draws towards its conclusion with a consideration of the various alien races and their planets that have cropped up in British Invaders so far. There are quite a few funny aliens in Hyperdrive and HHGG. I'm watching Space: 1999 at the moment and there's almost a new alien every week, and I haven't even got to their tame Metamorph in season two yet. But clearly the show with widest range to pick from is Doctor Who, and I think it's appropriate to return to the key show in British science fiction TV for the last two days of this challenge.

I started to run through some of my favourite monsters from Doctor Who but all the time a mechanical voice in my head kept repeating Daleks, Daleks, Daleks! Yup, it's the archetypical alien race from the archetypical show. Volumes have been written about them over the years, and about whether or not they make sense. I won't add much to more to the debate other than to say they scared me as a kid in classic Doctor Who and I also like what has been done with them in the new Who (well, for the most part. Let's not think about the Daleks take Manhattan storyline). And when you combine the Daleks with their incredibly creepy creator Davros, things just get worse (or better).

The best alien race on British television are the implacable exterminators from Skaro.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Howling, howling, howling, keep those doggies howling

Bad movie bingo now reaches a film that doesn't star Pierce Brosnan, Gerard Butler or Patrick Stewart! What can I have been thinking?

The Wolfman, directed by Joe Johnstone in 2010 and starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving.

Actually this isn't too bad. It tries quite hard to re-create some of the atmosphere and tone of Universal studio and Hammer horrors and gets quite a bit right. Joe Johnstone made one of my favourite comic book movies, The Rocketeer, and he clearly loves the source material. Del Toro isn't too bad as Lawrence Talbot, he probably got the part because he looked and sounded like a wolfman in The Usual Suspects. Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand decides to chew the scenary (amongst other things) and to do an accent. What is is about actors doing regional English accents? They all sound rubbish. Do English actors doing American accents offend the ears of American audiences as well?

The only real problem with this film is that it relies so much on the source material that we know what is going to happen right from the start. We know the bite is coming, we know he will transform, and we can predict an ending involving the Wolfman, Emily Blunt and a silver bullet. The only thing that they can do different to the original is to increase the gore quotient, so we get lots of blood and body parts thrown at the screen. There is one rather fine sequence when the Wolfman rampages through Victorian London and overturns a bus with resulting chaos and mayhem. I suspect this is a knowing nod to a similar scene at the end of American Werewolf in London.

Anyway let me give this a true Joe Bob Briggs review: Three beasts, no breasts, heads roll, arms roll, legs roll. 3 out of 5 stars. Check it out!

But Death Train is still in the lead.

Day 28 - Which missing show would you most like to see restored to the archives?

Now this one is fun. Once again I'm excluding Doctor Who because that has already had its own missing show category. When I first thought about this question I assumed I would be picking Nigel Kneale's The Road which was a ghost story from 1963 with an ingenious twist in the tale of an 18th century village haunted by strange sights and sounds. You can find the script for it on the DVD of The Stone Tape, that's if you can still find a copy of The Stone Tape.

However another idea occurred to me. When I was young I was a huge fan of Isaac Asimov, and of his robot stories in particular. I am pretty sure that The Caves of Steel was my favourite novel as a teenager. I loved the odd couple pairing of a human detective with his robot partner as they try to catch a murderer in an over-crowded city of the future.

While researching shows for us to cover on British Invaders I discovered that there was a BBC adaptation of the novel in 1964 which starred Peter Cushing as the detective Elijah Bailey and John Carson as R. Daneel Olivaw, and it was adapted for TV by none other than Terry Nation. Sadly only one or two clips of the production have survived but wouldn't it be great to be able to watch that show?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Own goal

Bad movie bingo has branched off, and this branch line follows Gerard Butler and curiously enough leads us back to Patrick Stewart. This is The Game of Their Lives a sports biopic about the 1950 USA world cup football team, or soccer as they call it in the film. That's the team that famously, or infamously, beat England 1-0 in the group stages. It was the only match they won but it shook things up a bit as England weren't supposed to get beaten in those days. These days, well we even struggle to overcome the mighty Montenegro (population 600,000 for anyone who's counting).

So we get lots of unknown young actors with brutal haircuts playing keen american soccer players who can't get on with each other, and then they do get on just in time for Gimli the Dwarf, sorry John Rhys Davies, to coach them into giant slayers, while Patrick Stewart reports the whole thing to an uncaring american public. And all set to that oodly-noodly clarinet music that composers seem to reach for whenever a film looks back at some days-gone-by vision of America.

Gerard Butler, who as a Scot must have loved sticking it to the auld enemy, trots out his american accent as the goalie. This was before his mega success in 300 and that DVD cover rather bigs up his role in this movie. He doesn't look like that at any point during the film. And the England flag is another red herring, the three lions are only in this film as the big baddies, captained by Gavin Rossdale as it happens.

Has a football film ever worked? It's easier to think of a good rugby movie than one about the beautiful game. The best I can think of is Bend it like Beckham and you could argue that's not really about football at all. And no, I haven't forgotten Escape to Victory, I'm just trying to.

Anyway, this isn't a bad film, it's just a terminally dull one. Mr Brosnan in Death Train still leads the pack by a long way. Better accents (just), more explosions, and a train!

1 out of 5 Joe Bob stars. Next up, the mark of the wolf!

Day 27 - Best spaceship

Let's assume we can't count the Tardis for this category (maybe if there was a time and space category?). That leaves us with the Heart of Gold from HHGG, HMS Camden Lock from Hyperdrive, Thunderbird 3, the Altares from Day after Tomorrow, Interceptors from UFO, Eagle transporters in Space:1999, Red Dwarf itself or maybe the Bug. All of them are fun and interesting in their own way. But ..

Come on, it has to be the Liberator doesn't it?

It looks cool, it's the fastest thing around, it's got clever alien technology (including the always convenient teleporter), and it's the ship used by a bunch of plucky resistance fighters against an evil empire. The interiors may have been made out of Meccano and that stuff they use for sound-proofing recording studios but it's just a great ship. Who wouldn't want to find an abandoned alien spaceship that lets you be the cockiest pilot in the known universe? I loved the Liberator when I first watched Blake's 7 over 30 years ago. Opinions vary as to how well the show stands up today but they had a great spaceship. At least they did, until they blew it up!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Day 26 - Favourite children/family show

No surprises here. I've ruled out the Gerry Anderson shows as they had their own category. Of all the other shows we have covered on British Invaders there is one that really stands out.

Children of the Stones was a strange and, at times, confusing show which I hadn't seen until we reviewed it in 2008. There's something about the story, the setting amongst the real stone circle at Avebury, the performances and the music that really makes this stand out from the usual children adventure serials that were so popular in the 1970s and 80s. It stands up to re-watching, not least to try and figure out the strange time paradoxes suggested by the ending.

It's got Gareth Thomas, Iain Cuthbertson and the great Freddie Jones in it, which would be a pretty good cast list for any TV show. And that music. A strange discordant mix of music and voice that still haunts me. It's a wonder that they got away with it at the time. It has just been re-released on DVD at a very reasonable price. Definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Day 25 - Favourite SF comedy show

The competition is Red Dwarf, Hitch-Hiker's Guide and Hyperdrive. All good shows in their way but none can match the charm of Spaced.

Spaced was the show that spoke to the geek within all of us. It was the show that got it right. And it was a show that I probably wouldn't have spotted if it hadn't been for my kids introducing me to it.

While at heart it was a simple sit-com format of a group of ill-matched people trying to live together it was the knowing nods to all of popular culture that delivered the show's humour and style. I remember the moment when I realised they were doing the final scene from Empire Strikes Back. Fantastic stuff.

Calling it a science fiction show is, of course, a bit of a stretch but I'm going to allow it. Spaced is the best SF comedy show out there.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Day 24 - The scariest or spookiest show

Let's try and narrow this one down. There's a show called Crooked House by Mark Gatiss which contains one really scary moment, but we haven't covered it on British Invaders so I don't want to go in to too much detail just yet.

I considered both Blink and The Stone Tape. I actually watched Blink again last night and it is still a superbly crafted bit of television that manages to be exciting, funny and scary. The Stone Tape may not have aged terribly well but I remember seeing it in the 1970s and being really disturbed by it. All I could really recall about it was a terrible sense of something old and malevolent inhabiting the walls of the building being investigated by the scientists. It's not quite so scary now but at the time it was a pretty good scare.

In the end I have gone for a piece of experimental television that seems to divide people. Either you find it really scary or really dull. Jonathan Miller's film Whistle and I'll come to you is a black and white adaptation of M.R. James' ghost story Oh, whistle, and I'll come to you, my lad made for the BBC arts programme Omnibus in 1968.

Michael Hordern plays a rather fusty academic on a walking holiday in Norfolk. He finds an old bone whistle near a graveyard and blows it. After that ... Well, not very much happens, but what does is really rather disturbing. Jonathan Miller changed the tone of James' story and made it a contemplation of loneliness and sexual repression. There is very little dialogue in the film, Hordern's character often communicates by just grunts or whispers or muttered repetitions of other people's statements. The bleak Norfolk coast line looks suitably chilling in black and white and the whole thing has a strange and disturbing dream-like quality.

It really creeped me out when I first saw it and still does. Interestingly it has recently been remade with John Hurt in the main role. The 2010 version is more about bereavement and loss and has some good moments but I still prefer the 1968 version. You can find it on youtube and you can listen to our review of it on British Invaders.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This Pond Life

The sixth season of the new Doctor Who has just finished. So let us consider the problem of the Doctor's current companion Amy Pond as played by Karen Gillan. Her red-haired good looks make her a bit of a fan favourite, especially, you know, for the dads. But is she a good companion?

The original idea of a little girl who has a rift in time lurking in a crack in her bedroom wall was interesting. Her encounter with the raggedy doctor and then the timey-wimey stuff that led her to become the "girl who waited" was also fun and gave us a terrific introduction to Matt Smith's eleventh Doctor.

The thing about being a companion to the Doctor is that it changes the person somehow. It's not always clearly stated but we get the impression that after they leave the Tardis the Doctor's companions go on to do interesting or even great things. We know that Sarah Jane Smith carried on investigating strange events after she parted company with the fourth Doctor. She was still doing so when she encountered the tenth Doctor in School Reunion. Companions from the new series of Who have gone on to work for Torchwood and UNIT. Donna Noble even became a human-Time Lord hybrid for a short while before being reverted to human and having her memory wiped.

When the adult Amy Pond meets the Doctor she is working as a kissogram girl. During her time as a companion she encounters Daleks, Cybermen and the Weeping Angels. She gets married, has a bizarre concealed pregnancy, is replaced by a plastic doppelganger and is then conveniently moved out of the way to allow the Doctor to have another episode of just him and James Corden larking around. And what happens to her after that?

There is always terrific tension in the battle of wills when the Doctor encounters one of his greatest foes, Davros. It is their verbal sparring that really makes these meetings spark. In the Stolen Earth and Journey's End episodes at the end of the fourth season Davros memorably criticises the Doctor who refuses to use weapons himself but who "takes people and turns them into weapons". It was a telling blow and one that the tenth Doctor seemed unable to answer. It could even be seen as a criticism of the new Doctor Who itself. But what would Davros say about Amy Pond's character development? "You take people and turn them into ... perfume models."

That's what Pond has become after leaving the Tardis, a famous perfume model. I know I'm not the first Who fan to point this out but it's not exactly an impressive role-model career path is it? From kissogram to perfume model. Couldn't Steven Moffat have given her a job that reflected what she had been through better than just moving to another job that she got because she looks good?

And while we're on this subject what about her baby? Obviously the identity of who her baby turns out to become is a bit of a large spoiler. And I can understand that the timey-wimey stuff means that she has little control over the sequence of events. But do we really believe that Amy and Rory would just give up in the search for their abducted child? It would seem that the Doctor can distract them with a nice house, an E-Type Jag for Rory and a modelling contract for Amy. "Oh well, this is a very nice lifestyle. We'll give up the search for Melody."

Actually I preferred what they did with Amy in the episode The Girl who Waited. At least the older, samurai sword wielding Amy was cool. I assume Karen Gillan will be back for season seven, maybe Steven Moffat will do something better with her then.

Day 23- sexiest character

It's time to return to my teenage years again, and to my questionable taste. Servalan first appeared in Seek-Locate-Destroy, the sixth episode of Blake's 7 which was first broadcast in February 1978 when I was sixteen. And sixteen in 1970s money is the same as about thirteen now, or maybe I was just a late developer.

Anyway there was something very alluring about Jacqueline Pearce's performance as Servalan. Maybe it was her short, dark hair. I know I had a similar crush on Julie Covington's cropped haired character in Rock Follies. Or maybe it was the white robes and other operatic outfits that did it for me, her first appearance was just a few months after we had seen Princess Leia in a very similar white outfit

I look back now and think that Pearce's performance went for the top and then cleared it by some distance but it doesn't make any difference. I thought Servalan was very sexy, I still do.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Day 22 - favourite villain

It's very tempting to choose the Master preferably played by Roger Delgardo, or maybe in his brief but memorable incarnation as Derek Jacobi. I could stick with my current Gerry Anderson theme and pick the Hood or Captain Black. There's also another memorable character but they are in the running for another category.

So as ever I have looked at the long list of shows we have covered for British Invaders and one villainous character stuck out. It's a very theatrical performance in a sumptuous BBC production of a cult book (actually two books). He's a creepy, master manipulator who climbs up the social ladder "faster than Ivy".

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Steerpike in the BBC Gormenghast is my favourite villain at the moment.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Day 21 - favourite theme music

The association of Gerry Anderson with the composer Barry Gray produced the theme tunes to much of my childhood. I can pick from Fireball XL5, Stingray, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and several others, but as I hinted yesterday there is only one choice for my favourite theme music. I'm not sure if it is the best piece of music from all of British science fiction television, but it is the most evocative for me. Once the countdown and the explosions are over the music that follows was what I heard when I slid down our garden slide backwards imagining I was on my way into Thunderbird 1. It still sends a tingle down my spine. I have it on my phone and have been known to start it playing as I climb into my car, which is probably more like Alan Partridge than Alan Tracy but there you go.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Day 20 - my favourite title sequence

Another category with plenty of options to choose from. There's the brilliant scene setting opening to the Prisoner episodes. I love the purple wigs and Interceptor pilots sliding down chutes in UFO. I'm very tempted by the countdown, blast-offs and explosions of Thunderbirds but we might hear more about that tomorrow. There's a great combination of music and images at the start of the John Steed with Mrs Peel era of The AvengersThe Tomorrow People had such a great opening that promised so much, it's just a pity that the programme that followed it was so terrible. And there is something magnificently eerie about the Quatermass titles.

But let's put all those to one side and consider an original that is still the best. A piece of music so spooky that it has its own entry in Channel 4's list of the 100 Scariest Moments of all time. The BBC then combined that fantastic musical composition with some video feedback and gave us the classic television opening. It's still scary enough to make me consider getting behind the sofa.