Channel 4 Cancels Time Team

In last week’s edition of Radio Times (March 23rd-29th), I was extremely saddened to read that Channel 4 has scrapped their excellent and popular archaeology series, Time Team, which has graced UK television screens for the past twenty years.

As a big fan of archaeology and history, this news has come as a huge disappointment to me. Time Team is one of my favourite programmes on UK television, and over the years has helped to popularize and animate archaeology and history for the general viewing public. It is both educational AND entertaining, something which is greatly lacking in most television scheduling these days. So to find out that Time Team is being dumped by Channel 4, frankly, sucks Big Time.

Some people would say that twenty years is a good run, but the show is always fresh and entertaining, and getting better, year by year. So why cancel it and replace it with yet another piece of mindless crap that we don’t need? Yet another bloody programme about cooking (isn’t obesity rampant enough already?), buying houses, auctioning, or whatever other cheap, boring fad that the TV channels are obsessed with riding into the ground? As soon as one of these programmes achieves a certain level of success, multiple clones inevitably sprout up all over the place, like weeds. There’s already far too much of this rubbish on TV. We don’t need any more.

I’m one of those viewers who prefers to watch programming that’s a bit more educational and informative, dealing with subjects such as science, history, and current affairs, rather than the endless parade of mindless, vacuous reality TV, soaps and sitcoms that the television channels constantly force down our throats. But hey, I’m all for a bit of variety, and I’m well aware that a large section of the population actually LIKES reality TV, soaps and sitcoms (God help us all). I can’t stand this kind of thing myself, but I am more than willing to compromise, just as long as there’s also something on TV occasionally for me.

Television channels should cater for everybody, minority tastes as well as more mainstream, popular viewing. But the sad fact is, in recent years they have done so less and less. There is little left on commercial television for the more discerning viewer, and we have so much cheap, unimaginative, unintelligent copy-cat programming infesting our television screens that I’m often driven to despair, trying to find something that’s actually worth watching. We may have a lot more television channels these days, but they are full of complete rubbish and endless repeats. The quality of television viewing has definitely declined over the years, and we can ill afford to lose a great series like Time Team.

Just by coincidence, my late Thursday night viewing this week included a 20 Years of Time Team special on Channel 4. Apparently this, according to the Radio Times, is the VERY LAST programme in the series, so I’m absolutely gutted. I’m sure that Time Team repeats will abound in future, but we really need new programmes in this excellent series. If tired, boring soaps like Eastenders, Emmerdale and Coronation Street can rattle on endlessly for decade after decade, why can’t something as interesting as Time Team? The series deserves at least another twenty years, if you ask me.

Next time I partake of the demon drink, I’ll raise a glass to Tony, Phil, Mike, Carenza and the rest of the Time Team crew, and pray that this isn’t the last we’ll see of this talented bunch and their herculean efforts to make archaeology fun and accessible to the man and woman in the street. RIP Time Team, but I hope it’s not for long.

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Doctor Who Returns to UK Television

This coming Saturday, 30th March, at 6.15pm, sees the return of Doctor Who to UK television screens, as we finally get to see the first episode of the second half of Series 7, The Bells of Saint John. I’m really looking forward to the start of this sequence of new stories, as is, I’m sure, every other Doctor Who fan on the planet.

As far as I’m concerned, Matt Smith has been a huge success as the 11th Doctor. His zany, eccentric portrayal combines the best elements of previous Doctors, but is influenced mostly by my favourite Doctor of all, Tom Baker, which has to be A Very Good Thing (at least in my book). Even in the Doctor Who stories which are… let’s say… not exactly the best, Smith puts in a performance that is rarely less than excellent, and, by sheer acting ability alone, often elevates the quality of those episodes beyond that of the mediocre scripts.

I’m also looking forward to seeing how he works with his new companion, Clara Oswin Oswald (played by Jenna-Louise Coleman). We’ve already seen her a couple of times before, firstly in last season’s Asylum of the Daleks, and then in the last Christmas Special, The Snowmen. She’s already died twice, but keeps coming back, which bodes well for some intriguing story and character development in coming stories. From what we’ve seen so far, Jenna-Louise Coleman is an excellent young actress, and Clara Oswald should more than ably fill the shoes of The Ponds as the Doctor’s new companion.

But most of all, and I’m sure many Doctor Who fans will empathize with me here, I’m looking forward to the monsters. Yes, the monsters! What adversaries, both old and new, will the Doctor be facing this year? I’ve caught the trailer on TV a few times over the past week, and I’m pretty excited about it. The Cybermen are back, looking better than ever. But what excites me the most is that we’ll at last be getting to see the Ice Warriors, the very first time they’ve appeared in the new series.

The Ice Warriors have always been one of my favourite classic Doctor Who monsters, right up there with the Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, Silurians, Sea Devils and Zygons, and it’s long, long past time that they made an appearance in the new series. They look absolutely amazing, at least from the brief glimpse that we got of them in the trailer. I don’t know which episode of the new season the Ice Warriors will appear in, but I can’t wait to see them. Hopefully Moffat and co. will do them proud with an excellent story.

Roll on Saturday evening, 6.15pm!

A Quiet Night In – A Few Good Movies

I’ve been sitting in tonight for a change, having a nice, quiet Friday night viewing session, which certainly makes a change from a night out on the town, or visiting relatives, which is more like my usual Friday night.

At the moment I’m watching a real gem of a late-night film on television, Gremlins, one of the true classic movies of the 1980s, and still one of the funniest films ever. I’ve seen it at least twenty times, if not more, and I’m still sitting here, cackling like an idiot. Just watching the scene right now with the gremlins in the cinema, watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and the little terrors all singing along to “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go.” Hilarious! 🙂

Earlier this evening, I also watched a couple of very nice DVDs, starting off with Jaws, one of the real classic Steven Spielberg movies. Even with the dodgy-looking (by today’s standards) shark, it’s still a very scary film, and that atmospheric, frightening music each time the shark was about to make an appearance still sends chills up my spine.

Next up was James Cameron’s fantastic Aliens, still one of the best bug-hunt sci-fi films ever. As sequels go, this one is a rarity, just as good as the classic Ridley Scott original, despite being a completely different type of movie. Most sequels very rarely live up to the original film.

Three old classic films, and still three of the best. Why the hell can’t Hollywood make movies like this any more? All in all, a very nice night’s viewing. I’m going to bed a happy man tonight. 🙂

The cinema’s just gone BOOM!! blowing up all the gremlins except for Stripe. He’s a bad little mutha******. 🙂

When I Was Young – Christmas 1975

I think it’s fair to say that spoiling children is not a good thing, as spoiled kids have absolutely no appreciation for anything that they’re given. It seems that the more you spend on them, the LESS they appreciate it.

Spoiled, ungrateful kids really piss me off. You know the sort I’m talking about, spoiled brats throwing a tantrum, hurling a £300 games console back at their parents because it isn’t what they wanted for Christmas. “I want an X-Box! You got the wrong one! Wahhh!” (I have actually seen this happening). If any kid of mine ever threw a tantrum like that, they would find themselves playing with Lego and not a £300 games console. Those kids need a good, swift kick up the arse, if you ask me. And the parents need an even swifter, harder boot to the rear end for making their kids turn out like that in the first place.

Modern society has become so materialistic that it sickens me. It’s all about (for both kids and adults) how many nice, shiny, expensive new things you can acquire. I get so angry when I see how much more is spent on Christmas presents these days compared to when we were kids, and the complete ack of gratitude on the part of most of those kids receiving those expensive presents. Speaking as an Old Phart, I can state with some authority that back “in our day” we got a heckuva lot less, but we appreciated it a lot more. Which brings me to Christmas 1975, and one of the best Christmas presents I ever received.

I came from a very poor family (I could give you a “We were so poor that… ” story, but you get the picture). My Dad had to raise five kids on his own, after he and my Mum split up. He gave up his job to look after us, and, as a typical working-class man in the early-1970s, he was very ill-equipped to do so. Indeed, he almost gave up on many occasions, but he loved us, so he hung in there against all the odds, refusing to leave us hanging high and dry, where many other men would’ve given up altogether.

The worst part of all this was that our lives were a constant struggle against poverty. Life on the dole in Northern Ireland at the start of the 1970’s was no laughing matter, especially if you had to raise a family on it. Maybe it wasn’t exactly Bangladesh, but it was as near as a so-called advanced western society came to it. We managed to eat, just about, and very poorly. Meat only two or three times a week at most (I got real sick of chips ‘n’ beans), and chicken only very rarely, on special occasions (like Christmas and New Year). Buying clothes for the kids and paying the bills and debtors was a major problem. What we would take for granted today as the everyday little luxuries in life were totally out of the question for us back then.

And, most of all, Dad dreaded Christmas, with a passion that even I could only imagine, for all my strong dislike of the Festive Season. Christmas meant extra spending on food and presents. But how could you spend extra when you didn’t have it in the first place? Trying to feed the kids and buy a few cheap presents to give at least an impression that it was Christmas was a recurring nightmare for my father. And this went on every year for at least a decade (until we were old enough to work and contribute to the household ourselves). He’d buy a few little toys and confectionery items for the younger kids, but I was older, and toys didn’t do much for me. He knew I liked books, but wasn’t too sure what kind of books. So he’d usually pick up something on space or prehistoric animals, which he knew I had a thing for, and that generally kept me quiet.

Then one year he struck gold. I remember it well. Christmas Eve, 1975. He landed back late with the Christmas presents, and handed them out to us. Nobody in our family believed in Santa, aside from the two youngest, who were very young and already in bed. I was fourteen years old, and the other two brothers were twelve and eleven, so we were too old to believe in Santa. We knew Dad was the Man with the presents, and we were waiting like hawks when he came in the door.

The younger brothers got their usual ration of toys and sweets, which kept them very happy indeed. Then he handed me my present, obviously a book of some kind, large format and hardback. I ripped off the wrapping paper eagerly, expecting another book on dinosaurs, or spaceships, or Doctor Who. But I was in for a real surprise. It was an Annual, and not just any old Annual. It was the Avengers Annual 1975. I’d already been a crazy superhero fan for several years by that stage, and collected all three Marvel UK weekly comics, the (Mighty World of Marvel, Spider-Man Comics Weekly, and The Avengers), even if it meant walking the four miles home from school every day in order to save my bus money for them (no such thing as pocket money for poor kids like us in those days). But I’d never been able to afford the expense of any of the Marvel Annuals, which, at nearly £1, almost twenty times the price of the average Marvel weekly, were well outside my budget at that time.

And here was my father handing to me the Avengers Annual 1975! He might as well have been giving me the Crown Jewels. I threw my arms around him and gave him a big hug. He was very taken aback by this, as he wasn’t one to display much overt affection in public (Real Men didn’t do that kind of thing back then), although we all knew that he loved us. But he was obviously surprised and delighted that I was so happy with the present. He’d taken a chance on it, thinking that I might like it, being a fan of superhero comics. But the degree of joy I’d shown was completely unexpected. He shook his head in bewilderment, smiling, as I rushed off to find a quiet spot to read my new found treasure.

You wouldn’t even have known I was in the room, as I sat in that corner, reading the annual over and over again for hours on end. I was captivated by the gaudy front cover, with Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Vision smashing through a wall. And the even better back cover with all the Avengers together in one pin-up. There were more pin-ups inside. And the stories! Wow! The first one was a great Steve Englehart/Don Heck strip featuring The Mighty Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men at the mercy of Magneto.

The second strip was part two of the same story, with the three remaining Avengers, plus Daredevil, and the Black Widow, all taking on the power of Magneto and his mind-slaves (namely all the other Avengers plus the X-Men). In another strip, the Avengers took on the Lion-God, my least-favourite of the stories in the annual, but still interesting. But the greatest eye-opener for me was a classic Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Captain America and Bucky strip, set during World War II. I loved that one! I’d never seen any stories in a Golden Age setting before, and I found it completely fascinating.

Overall, this was a fantastic gift from my father, and out of all the Christmas presents I have ever received, that Avengers Annual from 1975 has always meant the most to me. And the cost of that amazing present? A cool ninety pence. That’s right, not even one lousy English pound. Sometimes the value of something, no matter how cheap, goes way beyond anything monetary. Which is a big reason why I get so riled these days by spoiled kids and their lack of gratitude for the vastly more expensive things they get, and the stupidity of their dumb parents for splashing out so much money on the ungrateful little brats.

I still have it, that 1975 Avengers Annual, and all the other annuals that my father made sure to buy me for the next few Christmases after that. I wouldn’t part with any of them, not for any amount of money, even though they’re aren’t really worth a lot in money terms. They mean too much to me, carry too many fond memories for me of my late father, and all those Christmases from long ago, when we struggled just to survive the Festive Season, when we were lucky to get fed, let alone receive presents.

That cheap little present still means more to me than anything I’ve gotten for Christmas in all the years since then. There are some things that money simply can’t buy!

Reading History: The Invention That Changed the World by Robert Buderi

I’ve always been fascinated by history, and in my other (non-SF geek) life I’m actually an historian by profession (I used to be a history teacher, believe it or not). So, for a change, I’m going to recommend not an SF book, but this really fascinating BuderiPic-2 technological history book that I picked up a few years ago, and which has been sitting in my “to read” pile for donkeys ages now. The book is The Invention That Changed the World, written by acclaimed author Robert Buderi. I’ve at last finally gotten around to digging it out for a proper read, and it’s long past time that I did.

One of the main things that attracted me to this book is the fact that it not only covers World War II (one of my favourite historical periods), but also does so from a perspective that I rarely see in history books. I have to admit that I’m finding it both unusual and refreshing to read a WWII history from a different, technological perspective, rather than a social or military one, which is what you see in the vast majority of history books.

World War II and the post-war period has always been one of my favourite historical eras, and I’ve also always had a fascination for science and technology from any era, past or present. Any book which mixes technology with history has a great chance of being a winner with me. And this one does it in style. So it wouldn’t be too far wide of the mark to say that I’m enjoying The Invention That Changed the World, and I’m enjoying it a lot.

The importance and implications of the development of radar and the part it played in the Allied victory during the war simply cannot be stressed enough. It was absolutely pivotal in the victory of the RAF over the Luftwaffe in 1940, and, in the later stages of the war, the non-stop Allied aerial bombing campaign that helped bring Germany to its knees would not have been nearly as effective but for radar, which allowed bombing flights to be continued in all types of weather, day and night.

I think that this blurb from the back cover sums it up nicely:

‘The Invention That Changed the World is a technological thriller better than Tom Clancy’s best. It will introduce you to wonderful characters you will never forget. The atomic bomb was a sideshow in World War II compared to radar – and finally Robert Buderi tells the amazing story of radar’s invention in the heat of war and its equally amazing elaboration across the years.’
                RICHARD RHODES

‘Nuff said. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Go out and get it from your local bookshop or library, right now. You won’t regret it.