Saturday, March 30, 2013

Big Finish - 99 Code Red

The 11th release in the Big Finish 2000AD range, 99 Code Red by Jonathan Clements, directed by Nicola Bryant.

Dredd responds to a threat to release a viral plague in a Brit-Cit themed tourist attraction. He has to deal with some less than competent fellow judges, a storm, and a hospital locked down in quarantine. Things are going to turn very ugly if Dredd can't identify who has the deadly vial in time.

One of the problems with any heroic fictional character is that they are often surrounded by incompetent assistants whose errors the protagonist can correct. Judge Dredd is the product of an intensive training and conditioning programme in the Academy of Law. Yet so few of the other judges seem to come up to his high standard. This is particularly the case with the bunch of sloppy, doughnut eating colleagues he encounters in this theme park sector of Mega-City One. Their names and the briefing scene pay a nice homage to that classic of American cop shows, Hill Street Blues, but they are just there as comic relief and Dredd has to do all the hard work himself.

The storyline gets rather complicated and confused with parodies of British culture, Shakespearean robot actors, and a media blitz led by the Enigma Smith newscaster character. It took a while for things to settle down and it was only in the final third that I got a clear idea of what Dredd was up against and who the suspects were. Still it does allow Toby Longworth to do plenty of shouting as he tries to get control of the chaos in the hospital.

Interestingly this was directed by Nicola Bryant, who plays the Doctor Who companion Peri. I believe she has also directed one of the UNIT stories for Big Finish as well. Maybe it is her direction or maybe it's the script but this one rather left me neither shaken or stirred. Again it's not a bad story, just not as memorable as either of the two Strontium Dog stories that Jonathan Clement has done. Nor is it anywhere near the heights of Death Trap or Get Karter. Another middle of the road 2.5 out of 5 exploding pustules.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Big Finish - The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner

Another purchase from Big Finish day. The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner by Jonathan Barnes, directed by Nicholas Briggs and Martin Montague.

Sherlock Holmes has retired and lives a reclusive life keeping Bees in a cottage on the South Downs. When Dr Watson pays him an unexpected visit he is followed by a man who is haunted by the sinking of the Titanic, and by a ghastly woman in white who brings death whenever she appears.

This is a cracking story. It fits neatly into one of the gaps in the Holmes canon and creates an interesting back story about a terrible mistake which has forced his retirement and driven him away from London, and from his friend Watson. In truth the murder mystery almost plays second fiddle to the powerful themes of loss, grief and a broken friendship. Of course there has to be some Holmesian magical deduction and there is plenty of it, and not all of it is explained. We just have to accept that Sherlock Holmes, a bit like the Doctor, can do certain things which are beyond the ordinary man.

The best Holmes stories start with an apparently supernatural scenario which allows the great detective to unravel the mystery and find the rational solution to the impossible puzzle. And the mysterious woman in white who leaves a trail of sea water and death is a perfect set-up, and gives us a nicely gruesome image for a radio play.

The cast are all excellent. Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl as Homes and Watson, are spectacular. Briggs conveys Holmes' retreat into seclusion after the mistake which appears to have ruined his life. He believes his special abilities are starting to desert him and he is no longer as sure and arrogant as he once seemed. Meanwhile Richard Earl gives us a Dr Watson who is grief stricken after the death of his wife, and by the loss of his friendship with Holmes. They are both just perfect in the roles. The rest of the cast is pretty good too, Michael Maloney has a great voice and two of my Big Finish favourites, Tracey Childs and Toby Longworth round out a splendid ensemble piece.

I could quibble slightly with the medical details of the murderer's methods and the way Holmes cracks the case, but they are almost incidental features in this powerful story about loss, guilt and grief. It's a fantastic addition to the Sherlock Holmes legend and I'm going to have to get more from this Big Finish range. I enjoyed it so much that it's impossible to give it any less than 5 out of 5 ghastly apparitions. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Big Finish - Creatures of Beauty

This title was mentioned during one of the talks at Big Finish Day 3. It sounded very intriguing so I went straight to the sales desk and here, from May 2003, comes Creatures of Beauty, written and Nicholas Briggs.

The planet Veln has been ravaged by an ecological disaster, Nyssa is in an interrogation cell, an alien race called the Koteem are trying to interfere, and the Fifth Doctor must work out what has gone wrong and who are the real villains?

With a hero who travels in time it is perhaps obvious that some of his adventures might occur out of order as it were, and he might have a mixed up, "timey-wimey" way of looking at events. The clever concept of this drama is to tell the story in non chronological order. We jump straight in about half way through and only later discover how Nyssa and the Doctor got where they are, and the global events that have provoked the crisis. By the end of the fourth act we have all the pieces of the jigsaw and can rearrange them to solve the mystery.

Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton have to sell us the confusion and still deliver the key moments of the plot, and both are up to the task. I like Davison's Doctor and wish I had been watching during his television run. David Daker is very impressive as Gilbrook, although I thought he was Peter Sallis when I first heard his voice. I also enjoyed David Mallinson as the conflicted psychiatrist and interrogator Brodlik.

However the real star of this show has to be Nicholas Briggs who as well as writing and directing, also did the sound design and music. I liked his gentle but eerie musical cues which suited the mood of the piece perfectly. Mr Briggs also does the alien voices and plays half a dozen minor roles. He must have had a very busy couple of days back in 2003!

I confess I may not have got all the pieces of the puzzle straight yet but I did enjoy this story and its weirdly disturbing feel. 4 out 5 alien landing pods, but 5 stars for Nicholas Briggs himself.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Big Finish - The Whispering Forest

Through the back catalogue again with The Whispering Forest from 2010, written by Stephen Cole and directed by Barnaby Edwards.

The second of the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough trilogy. The Tardis crew are looking for evidence of the deadly Richter's syndrome and land on a Forest world where they find a weird group of hygiene obsessed colonists who live in fear of infection, and of been snatched away by mysterious robots from the woods.

It's probably bad timing that I listened to this so soon after Spaceport Fear which has some similarities of plot. The idea of survivors from an earlier expedition who have developed a strange society and culture based on convoluted memories of their origins crops up here again. And the mystery of the threatening, robotic "Takers" also seems very familiar. At the heart of the matter there are no new stories, just newer versions of old ones so it is not surprising to find some repeated themes here.

Having said that the build up of the mystery of Purity colony and the robot Takers is pretty good. The weird sound effects of the forest give the first two parts a nice creepy feel. And the cast are all very good including another appearance from Hayley Atwell who was so impressive in Blood of the Daleks.

Despite the similarities with Spaceport Fear this one made more of an impact on me, and was more enjoyable, than Cobwebs. The story did seem a stretched out in the final part once the mysteries were solved but those are the constraints of the four act structure.

4 out 5 orange glowing Android brains. Let us see if the final part of this Richter's trilogy, The Cradle of the Snake can outdo that score.

Big Finish's Big Day Out

Yesterday I made the snowy journey to Barking for Big Finish Day 3. Again this was a co-production between Big Finish and the autograph company Tenth Planet. And once again the star attraction was Tom Baker, but there were plenty of other guests and some interesting panels to attend.

Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter play the marvellous Jago and Litefoot in their own spin-off series and they were both there in fine form.

I picked up the first series of their stories for them both to sign, along with the lovely Lisa Bowerman.

Chase Masterson played Leeta in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and has recently started her own Big Finish series as the impossibly glamorous bounty hunter Vienna Salvatore. She brought a lot of Hollywood sparkle to the slightly run down setting of a comprehensive school in Essex!

Also very glamorous, and rather surprising to find there as a Tenth Planet guest was Caroline Munroe, one of my teenage heartthrobs.

I hadn't planned on meeting Tom Baker again this year as I wasn't sure about the long queue but after Ms Munroe signed this picture for me I picked up a ticket for Tom and snuck in at the end when the queue had disappeared.

Sadly Tom seems to have got my name wrong this year! Oh well.

I also met Michael Keating who played Villa in Blake's 7 and Carole Ann Ford who was the first Doctor Who companion all the way back in 1963. Everyone I met was also very happy to record short audio clips for the British Invaders podcast which you may well hear in future episodes.

I bought another of the Big Finish Sherlock Holmes range, The Perfidious Mariner by Jonathan Barnes. Expect a review here soon.

The final highlight of the day was the chance to sit in on a recording of the Big Finish podcast, with Nicholas Briggs and Paul Spragg on fine form. Mr Briggs used the audience as impromptu extras for some crowd scenes that are coming up in a future Fourth Doctor release, the Dalek Contract, which I shall have to buy now just to hear if our jeers and laughter make it to the final cut!

It did feel as if the event has slightly outgrown the school setting and they have already announced that next year's event is moving to a hotel in Slough. It would also have been nice to have the programme of events ahead of the day itself, but I suspect Big Finish are rather busy at the moment as they build up towards the 50th anniversary events. But let's not detract from a fun day out with some interesting chats with jolly nice people. Well done Big Finish, hope to see you again next year.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Comic Con Cornucopia

A quick post to upload some more photos from London Super Comic Con. Here is the best Judge Dredd writer there is, John Wagner, signing the 36th birthday issue of 2000AD.

I picked up a slightly battered Avengers issue to get it signed by both Roy Thomas and Neal Adams.

This is an Ampney Crucis cover for 2000AD signed by the writer Ian Edginton, and artist Simon Davis who I spoke with while queuing at Bill Sienkiewicz's table. A very nice chap and I had't realised until I met them how much the characters of Crucis and his butler Cromwell resemble their creators.

And here's a couple from the Thought Bubble convention, held in Leeds last November. David Lloyd signed a V for Vendetta cover from Warrior magazine.

The 2000AD artist Henry Flint on his fantastic Dark Judges cover.

Just two more. Another 2000AD cover from prog 1807 which was the great cross-over issue from last year. As you will see I'm trying to get all the creators to sign this one at some point. There's even a Tharg scribble on there.

And while I was at Thought Bubble I did run into a little trouble with the Law. 'Nuff said.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

London Super Comic Con

The second London Super Comic Con took place last month in the cavernous Excel centre in London Docklands. While it didn't quite have the same star attraction factor as last year's headline guest Stan Lee it still managed to bring many big name creators from home and abroad. The event was well organised and more spacious than last year, whether this was due to a larger hall or a slightly lower attendance only the organisers could say. The result was a more relaxed feel to the wandering around browsing the back issue boxes.

This year's star name was the comic artist Neal Adams who kept up the same non stop pace as Stan the Man last year. Despite the high prices he was charging for signatures, sketches and prints his stand seemed to be always busy. I managed to get to one of his free signing sessions and he kept the line moving quickly while still being cheerful and chatty. Here he is signing a classic House of Secrets cover for me.

And that cover itself.

Other highlight guests included a return trip for Brian Bolland who signed the 36th Birthday issue of 2000AD for me, and Bill Sienkiewicz who signed a classic Demon Bear image on a New Mutants cover. It was also nice to meet legendary writer and editor Roy Thomas.

There was an entertaining selection of panels including a 2000AD session which was patrolled by several costumed street judges. I also had the chance to chat with legendary writer and co-creator of Judge Dredd, John Wagner. Sadly His colleague Carlos Ezquerra had to cancel because of a Spanish air strike. Hopefully I will get a chance to see him at a convention later in the year.

I spent a lot of time happily browsing back issues and buying far too many 1970s horror comics. It was also fun to meet up with Brian and Bryan from the CGS podcast and to get to a listener meet up in a very crowded and noisy pub in the evening. All in all a good two days. It was good to see that the organisers had learned from last year and had the queues, the hall layout, and the panel room acoustics sorted out this time. Hopefully the convention was enough of a success to keep it going and I can look forward to next year's event.

One last item of note, the cosplayers were really out in force this year and very impressive they all were too. This very slick video gives you the general idea.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Big Finish - Seeds of War

The latest Big Finish main range release is Seeds of War by Matt Fitton and Nicholas Briggs, directed by Barnaby Edwards.

The third of the run of Sixth Doctor and Mel stories and my favourite so far. From the synopsis: 
A race against time takes them from the Great Tower of Kalsos to the Reliquaries of Earth. In an epic journey across the ten systems, their fates are intertwined with one family. The Tevelers are to feel the effects of war more than most. The Doctor has a plan. Mel is sure he can save the day. But something is lurking. Watching. Waiting. A presence the Doctor knows of old. But just how far does its influence pervade? The Eminence awaits.

A sprawling space epic with four distinct parts each set in a different location and all featuring the growing menace of a new (or old) villain, The Eminence. David Sibley does a marvellous job as the voice of the new baddie, and all the performances are very strong in this drama. Despite the shifting locations the writers wisely focus on the fate of the central Teveler family who hold this story together and give it that important human element. In fact I was a bit disappointed when we didn't get back to the surviving family members as the story concluded. They were all likeable characters and it would have been nice to learn their fate.

The fate of humanity is at stake as the forces of the Eminence try to destroy their crops and all food supplies. Given enough time the Sixth Doctor may be able to save the day but the odds are stacked against him, despite Mel's continued faith that he will save the day. Interestingly in the midst of all this the Doctor has to run a realistically portrayed resuscitation  I really felt for him as he struggled to save a life while Mel confidently promised the relatives that he would. I have been in similar situations myself and they are not pleasant  Well done to Big Finish for getting this right.

I've been a but unsure about Colin Baker recently but he and Bonnie Langford are very good here. In fact the whole cast are very strong with Ray Fearon standing out as Barlow. It's a terrific story with a memorable villain. Best of the mini series. 4 out of 5 glowing orange eyes.

Big Finish - Cobwebs

From the back catalogue of the Big Finish monthly main range series - Cobwebs by Jonathan Morris, directed by Barnaby Edwards.

The Big Finish synopsis: in search of a cure for a sickness that’s so far claimed six billion lives, scientist Nyssa arrives at an abandoned gene-tech facility on the toxic planet Helheim. ‘Hellhole’, more like. Nyssa’s not alone. The TARDIS has also been drawn to the Helheim base – and in its cobweb-coated corridors, she soon runs into the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough, her travelling companions of half a century past. But who, or what, has engineered this strange reunion? The Black Guardian, perhaps? The answer’s here, in the dark. With the Cractids. In the cobwebs.

Oops, this one slipped by without a review. I listened to this a couple of months ago when things were a bit hectic and somehow never got round to writing it up here. This is the first part of a mini series of three stories which put the old Tardis crew of Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough back together with the Fifth Doctor. And there's lots in here to appeal to me, a creepy abandoned base, some nasty monsters, and what appears to be the dead bodies of the Doctor and his companions themselves. Plus there is the always likeable and engaging Peter Davison. But this one just passed me by. I listened to it, I enjoyed it at the time, but it hasn't left a lasting impression on me.

The solution to the puzzle was interesting although fairly obvious in retrospect and I do recall that Sarah Sutton was very good and the creepy crawly noises were fun but apart from that not much. Maybe I should give this story another chance when I've got some more time. In the meantime it gets 3 out of 5 middle of the road spiders. More detailed reviews to follow.

Big Finish - Blood of the Daleks

Two recent sale offerings from Big Finish - Blood of the Daleks parts 1 and 2, written by Steve Lyons and directed by Nicholas Briggs.


A two part story which introduces the character of Lucie Miller and throws her straight into the fray with her sudden appearance in the Tardis. The Time Lords are interfering with the Eighth Doctor's life and have sent him a companion whose mission is to get him involved in events on the planet of Red Rocket Rising where a mad scientist is tampering with Dalek technology.

These adventures were clearly written for radio broadcast on BBC radio 7 as it then was (BBC 4 extra now). They are a perfect introduction to the Eighth Doctor and Lucie, and they have a suitably impressive cast to deliver the goods. I confess that after listening to so many four part stories recently I find that the rhythm of these shorter stories is slightly difficult to get used to. However they are very entertaining and listening to them one straight after the other did help.

I can't keep going on about how good Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith are (but they are), they just seem like natural occupants of the Tardis and their slightly spiky relationship is great value. Meanwhile Kenneth Cranham, Anita Dobson and Hayley Atwell are all splendid and Nicholas Briggs does his usual marvellous job as the voices of the Daleks and their mutant brethren.

I think that taken together this adventure gets a 3.5 out of 5 star rating from me. Obviously I have listened to the Luice Miller saga in completely the wrong order, Starting with the end of her character arc and then jumping all the way back to the beginning. I'm not sure if I have the time or money to explore more of her stories. I still have 14 more Big Finish dramas waiting for me to get through, and goodness knows what I will pick up at next week's Big Finish Day. I think a Fifth Doctor adventure is next on the list. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2000AD Prog 1823 - A medical review

Haven't done one of these in a while but there's another medical storyline in the latest Judge Dredd strip, Black Kisses by T.C.Eglington, with art by Karl Richardson and letters by Annie Parkhouse.

Spoiler warning. The following contains minor spoilers for a story which, at the time of writing, isn't on the newsstands yet. Look away now.

Black Kisses is quite a neat stand alone Dredd tale about an infectious tattoo that is killing people. There is a bit of social commentary about the perils of promiscuity, revenge and sexually transmitted diseases while Dredd solves the mystery and deals with an incompetent rookie Judge.

In this scene a Tech Judge carries out a post mortem on one of the victims and explains how the tattoo is passed from person to person like a virus. Click below for a larger image.

Naon-technology is the current "go to" concept for science fiction writers when they want to explain any bit of magic, but we can't hold that against Eglington, everyone is using it at the moment. However. he does get his skin pigments slightly wrong. Skin colouration is caused by the body's melanocyte cells which produce different types of the pigment Melanin. Brown or black skin tones are caused by the Eumelanin pigment which is the variety we produce when our skin starts to tan. But the Tech Judge refers to Pheomelanin which causes a red colouration. We all produce a certain amount of Pheomelanin for the red areas of our bodies, lips and nipples and so on. Some individuals produce a lot of this red chemical, so you could say it is the Ginger pigment.

If the story had been called "Red Kisses" the Tech might have got away with it, but as the transmitted tattoos are clearly black in colour then I think what he meant to say was Eumelanin. Still a slip of the tongue (or of the google) shouldn't subtract from what is a pretty good Dredd story with a clever plot device. 3 out of 5 medic-droids.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Superman Returns

And the final release from the Superman franchise so far, Superman Returns from 2006, directed by Bryan Singer.

Superman has been gone for 5 years travelling through space to visit the site of his exploded home planet Krypton. Meanwhile the world has got used to being without him, and Lois Lane has even won the Pulitzer prize for her article "Why the world doesn't need Superman." And then he comes back to find that while he was away everyone, including himself, has got 10 years younger. Kate Bosworth was just 23 when she played Lois in this movie. Brandon Routh was 25, which is only a year younger than Christopher Reeve in the first movie, but he still looks too young, especially if we are to believe he has been on a 5 year sabbatical  Do reporters that young get sabbaticals, or win the Pulitzer?

There was a major costume redesign which went with the darker blue, and the burgundy coloured cape recalling the Dark Superman colours from Superman III. And they added raised texture and details to the shield and his boots. Meanwhile Kevin Spacey turns in a high powered performance as Lex Luthor although we were all fed up with his real estate plots by now. In fact the storyline of this film sucks (again). Maybe it is the essential flaw of the Superman character that he is so ridiculously powerful it is difficult to come up with an opponent to truly challenge him.

So what does that leave us? Well, although he is a touch young looking I really enjoyed Routh's performance, particularly his recreation of Christopher Reeve playing Clark Kent which is spot on. There are also some fun moments including Superman coming up against the Gatling gun on the roof of the bank robbery with the bullet flattening against his eye. Again this is a bit of storyline that makes no real sense, what was the robbers' plan? To steal the loot and then set up a super gun on the roof and kill everyone? Maybe they should have spent some time on an escape plan instead.

The repeated Christ imagery that the film-makers give us with Superman is a bit laboured and, to be honest, boring. Spacey is good but Luthor is an idiot (again). Bosworth looks to be about 16 but everyone else is fine. And the thing is, I really like this film. I enjoyed it the first time I saw it and I enjoyed it again now. What could have done if they had ever found the correct story for Reeve or Routh? Maybe Doomsday would have worked. Still I am all set up for this summer's Man of Steel now. Bring it on.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Superman 4 - The quest for a decent script

Christopher Reeve's final outing as the Man of Steel was in 1987's Superman IV - The Quest for Peace, directed by Sidney Furie.

Superman finally decides to address the problems of the world and dispose of all the nuclear weapons by hurling them into the Sun. However Lex Luthor is back and manages to piggy-back a device onto one of the missiles which leads to the creation of the Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow) who will battle Superman in several pointless and messy encounters.

So many questions from this one. What makes Superman's cape flutter in space? How can he talk to the Cosmonauts in a vacuum? And why does Clark Kent reveal his secret identity to Lois (again) for five minutes and then wipe her memory (again) with that kiss trick? I felt like Will Smith's character in the Men in Black movie shouting "Stop messing with her brain!"

On the plus side Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder return and Reeve is as good as ever. But the special effects are really creaky and the flying sequences are poor. Plus there are those terrible eighties fashions that we all thought were great at the time.

They had such a great actor as Superman and they kept wasting him with duff scripts. Oh well. Let's zoom twenty years into the future and see what Brandon Routh and Kevin Spacey can do.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Superman 3 - The Comedy of Errors

It's been a long time since I did one of these but I have finally caught up with the last two films in the original Superman series. Superman III was directed by Richard Lester and released in 1983.

This is the one where Richard Pryor plays an idiot savant computer hacker who helps Robert Vaughan, Annie Ross and Pamela Stevenson come up with a plan to kill Superman and then build a giant super-computer which can also kill Superman. And let's face it none of that makes any sense whatsoever. The whole plot of this film is ridiculous right from the moment when we are expected to believe that weather satellites don't just monitor the weather but can actually be reprogrammed to make it as well.

Any attempt at the action of Superman II is put aside in favour of broad comedy including the bizarre opening sequence of prolonged slapstick featuring a host of British comedy actors in minor roles. Meanwhile Richard Pryor does one of his movie comedy turns that were so popular in the late 70s and early 80s. The only point of this film is when Pryor's dodgy Kryptonite variant produces the Dark Superman leading to the battle between him and Clark Kent in a junk-yard  Once again Christopher Reeve is too good for this rest of the film and his performance as Superman sinks into an evil slump is compelling and leads to that perfect moment where Clark Kent defeats his evil twin and rips open his shirt to reveal the true Superman shield.
Interestingly the colours used for the Dark Superman costume would show up again when they tried to re-jig the outfit for Brandon Routh in Superman Returns.

Once the real Superman has returned then we have the final showdown with the super computer and some terrible computer game graphics. It's really terrible. The special effects are also worse than in the first two movies and the wires holding Christopher Reeve aloft are visible in several shots. Worst film of the franchise so far, and yet I seem to remember finding it quite funny when it came out. Just shows you that 22 year olds know nothing.