Some Sunday Evening Movies

Another quiet, relaxing Sunday afternoon/evening, sitting in, just watching sci-fi films on television and DVD. Sunday has become one of my favourite days for films. There’s almost always something good on for sci-fi fans on a Sunday.

I started off this afternoon watching two-in-a-row on Film4. The first was an “oldie-but-goody”, AT THE EARTH’S CORE, starring Peter Cushing, Doug McClure, and the absolutely gorgeous Caroline Munroe. Based on the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of the same name, the monsters and special effects might (definitely) look a bit hokey compared to modern movies, but it was fun, and not a mess of explosions, fighting and SFX without a story, which is a problem afflicting many modern sci-fi films.

This was followed by CONGO, the first Michael Crichton-based film that I’ve seen in a while that didn’t have dinosaurs in it (I’ve seen lots of re-runs of the various JURASSIC PARK films over the past few months). Not a bad film, even if carnivorous gorillas don’t seem to have quite the same attraction as lots of raptors or the compulsory Tyrannosaurus Rex. :)

Finally, on DVD, something a little more modern. I’m not usually a big fan of films based on computer or consoles games, but I gotta admit that I liked PACIFIC RIM. Firmly based in the Kaiju/giant monster vs giant robots genre, there are lots of great SFX and titanic fight scenes between the various kaijus and men in giant robot suits, but there’s also a half-decent story, which is a major plus. Another fun film.

Well, the sci-fi films are all done now, and the evening is almost over, so it’s back to Film4, and DIE HARD 2. All-in-all, a very good evening’s viewing.

UFO – The Last Four Episodes

Gerry Anderson’s UFO has always been one of my favourite telefantasy series. This past week, I’ve been indulging myself with a marathon session, watching all twenty-six episodes, spread over two box sets and eight DVDs.

Tonight, I’m sitting here with a couple of old friends, watching the final DVD, which contains the last four episodes of the series – Reflections in the Water, Timelash, Mindbender and The Long Sleep. These four episodes, the last three in particular, are among my favourites of the entire series.

Towards the end, UFO went down an increasingly psychedelic path, with more complex and interesting scripts, which I preferred to the earlier more linear and simplistic stories. Given how the series was developing, I’ve always thought that it was such a great pity that UFO didn’t get the green light for another season.

We’re almost at the end of The Long Sleep, and the end of the series itself. I’ve always thought that this one had a particularly sad ending, with the rather gruesome death of the girl and the obvious emotional impact that this had on Straker, who had become very fond of her.

But, then, UFO never did have happy endings anyway, in contrast to almost every other contemporary television series. And that’s possibly one of the things I liked most about it…

Andersonic Issue 17 Is Out Now

Andersonic #17

Several posts back, I mentioned that Issue 3 of the excellent Doctor Who fanzine Plaything of Sutekh had hit the stands. And now, what seems like barely five minutes later, Richard Farrell and His Merry Crew have also unleashed Andersonic #17 upon the unsuspecting world. I haven’t even had time to finish reading Plaything of Sutekh #3 yet!

In case you don’t know, Andersonic is our favourite fanzine dealing with all the various Gerry Anderson shows, both live and puppets (and let’s not forget the excellent CGI animated New Captain Scarlet series). And it’s also a real A5 printed zine, not an electronic publication, which is a huge plus in my book.

So what’s in the new issue? Well, I’ll just repeat here what it says on the website:

Sylvia Anderson interview – a new interview with Sylvia in which she discusses her work on the APF/Century 21 series and her creation & casting of such well-loved characters as Lady Penelope, Parker, the Angels and Ed Straker.

Alan Shubrook interview – Alan talks of his time working at Century 21 on series from Thunderbirds up to UFO. He discusses his methods, materials used and his favourite miniatures created for the series, as well as sharing behind the scenes anecdotes. The interview is illustrated with Alan’s own photographs taken at the studio.

Space 1999/ Siren Planet – a look at the original script written by Art Wallace which was later rewritten to become the series’ second episode ‘Matter of Life and Death’.

Thunderbirds/ Desperate Intruder – two writers take opposing views on a mid-season outing where Brains finds himself up to his neck in it.

UFO/ The Long Sleep – we curl up with a tube of Smarties and take a look at one of UFO’s weirder episodes. Take a trip with us back to that ruined farmhouse…

Home Taping: 1999 – Mark Rosney recalls the days before VHS

Strip Story – we look at an individual comic strip to see what makes it tick. This issue – Countdown’s UFO story ‘The Final Climb’ drawn by Jon Davis

…plus DVD reviews and other stuff. Internal art by Steve Kyte, cover image by Martin Bower.

I’ve just ordered my copy, so lots and lots of good stuff to look forward to. I love it all, particularly anything to do with UFO, Space:1999 and Countdown comic. :)

At only £2.65 (that’s British Pounds Sterling), inclusive of postage (within the UK, that is, check the website for postage elsewhere), it’s not even the price of a pint of beer. So why don’t you all scoot over to the Andersonic website and order a copy.

Sunday TV Viewing

I’m just having a nice, quiet Sunday afternoon here, chillin’, sitting at my computer and watching some TV. Sunday is always good for sci-fi films on UK television, and today has been no exception.

I’ve just spent the past few hours watching the movie adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. I’ve got the novel and the graphic novel, but have only ever managed to catch bits ‘n’ pieces of the film before. Well, I caught it all today, and it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all. Quite humorous in parts, and less mainstream fantasy than the likes of Lord of the Rings, which suits me fine.

The two leads, Claire Danes and Charlie Cox, as love interests Yvaine and Tristan, were pretty good, as was Mark Strong as the nasty bad guy Prince Septimus. But the best of the lot were Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil witch Lamia, and Robert de Niro as the hilariously camp Captain Shakespeare. He was brilliant, and absolutely stole the show for me.

At the moment, I’m watching The Incredible Hulk (the Ed Norton version, not Eric Bana) on ITV2, whilst right now, over on Channel 5, is the very weird Zathura, by the same guys who brought us Jumanji. And that will be followed when it finishes by The Fifth Element. Non-stop sci-fi film goodness, on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Choices, choices. It’s a pity that there aren’t several of me, so that I could watch them all at the same time in different rooms. :)

Some New Books

Here are some new books that I’ve recently picked up from Ebay UK, Amazon UK, and from my regular supplier of comics and books in the US, genial Jack Curtin:

  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 19 edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF TIME TRAVEL SF edited by Mike Ashley (trade paperback)
  • HAWKMOON: THE HISTORY OF THE RUNESTAFF by Michael Moorcock (trade paperback)
  • INSIDE THE TARDIS – THE WORLDS OF DOCTOR WHO by James Chapman (trade paperback)
  • GREAT TALES OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg (hardback)
  • THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY 2013 edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • AFTER THE END: RECENT APOCALYPSES edited by Paula Guran (trade paperback)
  • WORLDS OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS edited by Mike Resnick and Robert T. Garcia (trade paperback)
  • MODERN GREATS OF SCIENCE FICTION – NINE NOVELLAS OF DISTINCTION edited by Jonathan Strahan (trade paperback)
  • RAGS & BONES: NEW TWISTS ON TIMELESS TALES edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt (hardback)
  • THE SECRET HISTORY OF MARVEL COMICS by Blake Bell and Dr. Michael J. Vassallo (oversized hardback)

That’s quite a nice haul, if I do say so myself. Interestingly, these are almost all fiction, mostly anthologies of short fiction. Out of the eleven books, nine are fiction, and eight of those are anthologies. The other (the Moorcock) is an omnibus of four novels.

Only two of the books are non-fiction, which is pretty unusual, given my buying habits in recent years, which has swung sharply towards more non-fiction. Maybe next time it’ll be mostly non-fiction.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on this, just to see whether it is a blip, or the start of a new trend swinging back towards buying more fiction.

Plaything of Sutekh #3

Plaything of Sutekh #3

I’m absolutely delighted to report that, after quite a long wait since the previous issue, Plaything of Sutekh #3 is at long last out in the wild. I’m tickled pink by this news, as it is not only one of my favourite zines, but one of the best fanzines being produced today.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Plaything is an ultra-classy, professionally produced traditional A5 print fanzine – yes, a real paper zine, not an electronic download, a website or a blog. It’s forty pages of pure, wholesome Doctor Who goodness, with full colour front and back covers, and black and white insides. It is brought to you by the same folks (Richard Farrell and John Connors) who produce the excellent A5 Gerry Anderson fanzine Andersonic. Both zines are heavily influenced both stylistically and quality-wise by one of the greatest telefantasy fanzines ever, the classic Circus. So anyone who appreciates really good fanzines will know just what they’re getting. One of the best zines currently available.

I won’t elaborate on the contents of Plaything of Sutekh #3 – all of the details are available online from the Plaything of Sutekh blog, which is where you should be heading right now, instead of reading this tatty old blog. And just to make things even better, Plaything #’s 2 and 3, which have been out of print for quite a long while, are now back in print, for a “limited period”. Snap them up before they’re gone again.

If you live in the UK, each of the zines are available for the paltry sum of £2.40, including postage. You can’t even buy one lousy pint of beer down the pub for £2.40. That’s a bargain by any measure. Postage/shipping costs vary, depending on where you live:

  • The UK: £2.40 for the zine, postage is free
  • Rest of Europe: £2.40 for the zine plus £1.70 for 1 issue or £3.00 for 2 or 3 issues
  • Rest of the world: £2.40 for the zine plus £3.90 for up to 3 issues

All self-respecting Doctor Who fans should have every single issue of Plaything of Sutekh in the reading pile by their bedside. I’ve already got mine. Take my advice, run, don’t walk, over to the Plaything of Sutekh blog, and pick up the latest issue, or, even better, all three issues, if you haven’t got them yet. That’s an awesome stack of excellent Doctor Who reading material for just over seven quid.

Plaything of Sutekh #'s 1 and 2

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary – My Personal Favourites

Now that November is over, I can look back upon Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary and state, with some enthusiasm, that it was a very good anniversary indeed, one of the best I can ever remember. There were lots of excellent Doctor Who items on television, on DVD and in the magazines, but these four were by far my favourites:

  • In first place, it was the sublime An Adventure in Space and Time, which aired from 9-10.30pm on the night of Thursday 21st November. This was simply the best Doctor Who production that I’ve seen in many years. The performances of all of the actors were exemplary, particularly David Bradley in the role of William Hartnell. Indeed, the ONLY real criticism that I could express is that An Adventure in Space and Time, at under ninety minutes, was too short, hence the need to skip over a number of extremely important details (for example, the vital roles played by Ray Cusick, Terry Nation, David Whitaker and a number of other figures in early Doctor Who history) because of time and space constraints (if you’ll pardon the pun). The drama would have profited greatly by being at least half an hour longer, or even forty-five minutes. Many, many thanks to Mark Gatiss for having the dedication and perseverance to stick with this until The Powers That Be at the BBC gave the go ahead to put it into production.
  • In second place, and, in my opinion, not very far behind An Adventure in Space and Time, was The Day of the Doctor, which aired on BBC1 on the evening of Saturday 23rd November, from 7.50pm-8.05pm. I usually find most modern Doctor Who specials to be a bit hit and miss, a bit of of fluff filler in between seasons or breaks in seasons. But The Day of the Doctor was excellent. Not perfect, but definitely excellent, and I consider it to be, despite a few minor niggles, without a doubt the best Doctor Who special of the modern era.
  • In third place, it’s the November DVD release of The Tenth Planet. I’ve been waiting to see this one for a long, long time, and it didn’t disappoint. I’d only seen a few surviving clips before (on the Lost in Time DVD), so being able to see the whole story at last was really exciting. Episode 4 is still missing, but was expertly recreated here in animated form by the same people who animated the missing episodes on the Second Doctor stories The Ice Warriors and The Invasion. Excellent DVD release.
  • In fourth place, it’s the November 50th Anniversary edition of Doctor Who Magazine, the biggest and one of the best ever editions of the magazine. There was so much good stuff in this one, simply choc a bloc with 50th Anniversary goodness, that it’s difficult to know where to start. But if I had my arm twisted up my back and was forced to choose, my two favourites would have to be Ghosts in the Machine, a behind the scenes feature on the excellent An Adventure in Space and Time, and An Unearthly Beginning, which features never-before-seen drafts of An Unearthly Child. Great stuff!

Those are my four favourites, but there were a number of other notables:

  • The reshowing of all four episodes of An Unearthly Child on BBC4 at 10.30pm on Thursday 21st November, right after An Adventure in Space and Time ended on BBC2, was one of the highlights
  • The Science of Doctor Who Special, which aired on BBC2 on Thursday 14th November, at 9pm, hosted by Professor Brian Cox (with a guest appearance by the Doctor himself, Matt Smith), another excellent programming choice
  • Yet another was the two-hour The Ultimate Guide to Doctor Who, which aired on BBC3 from 8pm-10pm, on Monday 18th November, Part 1 of which was reshown on BBC3 last Sunday at 7pm. Part 2 will be reshown on BBC3, on Saturday 4th January 2014, at 7pm.

There were others, notably:

  • The three-part Doctor Who: Monsters and Villains Weekend, which aired on BBC3 over three nights from the Friday-Sunday, 15th-17th November
  • Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited, which aired on Watch at 2pm on Saturday 16th November

These were all good, but the first four were undoubtedly, for me at least, by far the best of the bunch.

November was, overall, a great 50th Anniversary for Doctor Who. With less than a week left until the Christmas Special The Time of the Doctor, and the departure of Matt Smith and the arrival of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, the series now moves into its 51st year.

Here’s to the new Doctor and another fifty years of Doctor Who! I hope I live long enough to see it!

Countdown to “Day of the Doctor” – Two Hours and Counting Down

I’m sitting here eagerly awaiting the start of the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who Special, The Day of the Doctor, which airs on BBC1 in about one and a half hours, at 7.50pm. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Zygons again, after almost forty years. I’m also really looking forward to seeing the David Tennant Doctor and Rose again. And John Hurt. Oh yes, more John Hurt, please!

We’re all aware that Matt Smith is bowing out with the upcoming Christmas Special, The Time of the Doctor, after three really good years on the show. That’ll be sad, as I really liked him. But I’m sure the series will be in safe hands, as Matt gives over the reins to Peter Capaldi, who is a darned good actor. Steven Moffat, and Russell T. Davies before him, haven’t let us down yet with their choices of actors for the modern series. I trust their judgment. Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith have ALL been excellent in the role, and I’m certain that Peter Capaldi will be, too. I’m particularly interested in how the relationship between the new Doctor and companion Clara Oswald will pan out.

So here’s looking forward to The Day of the Doctor. I’m sure it will be a cracker, although it will have to be something really “special” to be better than the truly excellent An Adventure in Space and Time, which aired on BBC2 on Thursday night. If it’s even half as good as that one, I’ll be happy! :)

Doctor Who – Fifty Years in Time and Space

This month marks the 50th Anniversary of my all-time favourite sci-fi television series, Doctor Who. The very first episode of An Unearthly Child aired on BBC1 at 5.15pm on Saturday 23rd November, 1963, and the world of sci-fi television, and our lives, would never be the same again.

There has obviously been a lot of recent activity to celebrate the anniversary. The November issue of Doctor Who Magazine is of course a bumper 50th Anniversary special, with some truly excellent and detailed behind the scenes articles and a few other nice bits ‘n’ bobs. There have also been various television programs celebrating the lead-up to the anniversary. Last Thursday (14th November) gave us the excellent The Science of Doctor Who on BBC2, featuring the ever-brilliant and entertaining Professor Brian Cox, the Doctor himself (Matt Smith), and various other celebrities from the worlds of science and entertainment. Monday 18th also gave us the bumper two-hour The Ultimate Guide to Doctor Who on BBC3.

But the best is yet to come. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, which is being aired on the evening of Saturday 23rd on BBC1. This one gives us not one, not two, but THREE Doctors (plus Clara, of course), and Rose, AND the return of one of the best-ever Doctor Who monsters, the Zygons. I mean, what’s not to look forward to? Add to this the fact that the anniversary is actually falling on Saturday 23rd November, rather than, say, on a Wednesday, or one of the other days of the week. That alone is giving me a huge thrill. Hey, it doesn’t take much to get me excited, eh? Roll on Saturday evening! I’ll be like a young kid again. :)

However, as much as I might be looking forward to The Day of the Doctor, there’s something else that I’m looking forward to even more. Tonight, at 9pm, BBC2 is screening An Adventure in Space and Time, which promises to be an absolute gem. Sure, the 50th Anniversary Special is wildly anticipated by all Doctor Who fans, myself included. But Doctor Who specials come and go, and there have been quite a few of them over the years, some good, some not so good. There has never been a Doctor Who programme like An Adventure in Space and Time on television before. It is a “first”, and, as such, is, in my opinion, even more important than the 50th Anniversary Special itself. I consider it to be the most important Doctor Who production of recent years.

An Adventure in Space and Time is a prestigious television drama portraying the origins and earliest behind-the-scenes developments of Doctor Who and the Hartnell-era cast. It’s written by the irrepressible Mark Gatiss, and stars excellent character actor David Bradley as William Hartnell, major Hollywood star Brian Cox as Sydney Newman, and a cast of excellent young British actors including Sacha Dhawan as Waris Hussein, Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert, Jamie Glover as William Russell, Jemma Powell as Jacqueline Hill and Claudia Grant as Carole Ann Ford.

An Adventure in Space and Time promises to be something truly special, and is absolutely NOT to be missed by any Doctor Who fan. I’ll make sure that I have the phone off the hook, and all my friends and relatives will be informed that they will suffer the most horrible death imaginable if they come anywhere near my house between 9.00pm and 10.30pm tonight. They have been warned! :)

Nostalgia Collecting – Old UK Comics and Annuals

They say that nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties. I’m almost fifty-three, and I can definitely admit that it’s particularly true of me. I’ve always been a very nostalgic person, always fascinated by the past, even back when I was a kid. So pretty much my entire life, I’ve been on a quest to collect old stuff, particularly stuff that has some meaning for me, or which connects me to the “Golden Age” of my youth.

In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time and money on Ebay, picking up many of the rare relics of my childhood and early-to-mid teenage years. One of the things that I like most is to grab the occasional old (and by old, I mean 1950s-1970s) British comic, as opposed to the US Marvel comics (which I also enjoy collecting) that I became a fan of from my mid-teens onwards. Way back in the day, before I ever encountered my first superhero comics, I was an obsessive collector of several of the traditional British weeklies. But that was before Marvel UK exploded onto the UK comics scene with The Mighty World of Marvel and its offspring from late 1972 onwards, and changed everything.

Over the years I’ve bought a lot of old issues of my favourite pre-Marvel UK British comics from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, mainly Lion, Valiant, Eagle and Thunder. I would also dearly love to be able to buy a whole bunch of Countdown and TV21 (otherwise known as TV Century 21), but these seem to be harder to find on Ebay and when you can find them, they are invariably a heckuva lot more expensive than the likes of the Lion, Valiant and Thunder. Maybe someday, when I’m rich. :)

Another particular focus of my collecting has been those old UK annuals, the hardback, once-yearly collections of strips and other goodies from our favourite comics. I remember these annuals very fondly from when I was a kid. They were the “Holy Grail” for me back then, something that I eyed up enviously in the shops, and which I really, really wanted to get my hands on, but which were way, way out of my price bracket. We were from a poor family, and I didn’t have a lot of pocket money back in those days (the late 60s and early 70s). And annuals unfortunately did cost on average ten times the price of those weekly comics which were already stretching my meagre resources to the limit. Back then, annuals were simply far too expensive for me to buy on a regular basis, and so were usually only acquired when I got them as occasional Christmas presents from my Dad or other relatives.

So, in adult life, I’ve been trying to rectify things a bit by picking up a lot of these old annuals, and I’ve developed a real knack for snapping them up dirt cheap, or, at least, relatively cheaply. I’ve managed to get my hands on most of the Valiant, Lion, and Thunder annuals, and a whole bunch of assorted other UK comics-based annuals including Hotspur, Battle, 2000AD, Starlord, Eagle, Dan Dare, Countdown, The Trigan Empire and a few others. Add to those the various 1970s annuals put out by Marvel UK, and that’s a lot of annuals.

And just to add quite a few more to the already huge pile, I’ve also built up quite a collection of annuals based on various television sci-fi series, including pretty much all of the Doctor Who Annuals right from the very first one in 1964 up until the late-1970s, plus a bunch of Star Trek, Space: 1999, Blake’s 7, UFO and other assorted television-based annuals.

I often look at these ever-growing stacks of old annuals and comics in my spare room, and wonder “Am I going mental? Why am I collecting all of this old stuff? What the hell am I going to do with them?” Then I open one of them and feel the tidal wave of nostagia wash over me, all the old memories boring up from the depths of my moth-eaten excuse for a brain. And I feel good. Really good. Maybe nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties after all, and if it is, I hold up my hands and proudly proclaim that I’m a complete addict.

At least nostalgia is a much safer and more productive addiction than cigarettes, booze and drugs. And we all need our little hobbies to spend our money on, or life would be unbearable, all bills and shopping and crappy Real Life nonsense. The thought of that being all there is to life makes me shudder…