Some New DVDs

Some nice DVDs arrived from Amazon UK today. Two lovely boxsets of Gerry Anderson’s complete classic UFO, all twenty-four episodes (each boxset containing four DVDs), and a BBC ninety-minute television movie from 1972, Nigel Kneale’s classic horror/supernatural tale, The Stone Tape.

UFO has been a huge favourite of mine since I first saw it on local television as a young boy of about nine or ten years old. Up until now, I’ve only ever owned VHS video tapes of a handful of episodes, so it’s nice to finally get the entire series on DVD. I’m going to take my time watching these twenty-four episodes, one at a time.

Nigel Kneale’s classic The Stone Tape is one that I’ve never seen before, and I know of it only by the very high reputation it has acquired over the years. I’m really looking forward to watching this one, as I’ve always been a huge fan of Kneale’s four Quatermass serials, and I’m expecting good things from this one.

Quite a few hours of great telefantasy await my eager attention, so I’m off to watch a DVD. I think I’ll start off with The Stone Tape

Andersonic Issue 19 Is Out Now!

Andersonic #19

The latest issue of one of my favourite fanzines, Andersonic Issue 19, has been out for a while now, so I reckon that it’s long past time that I gave it a plug. So, what has Richard Farrell and his Merry Crew dished up for us this time?

As per the details on the Andersonic website, the current issue features:

  • Mary Turner interview – a new interview with Century 21’s sculptor/puppetry supervisor in which she discusses her work at Century 21 and the later Cinemation series.
  • Ken Holt interview – Ken talks of his time working at Century 21 on the later puppet series, UFO and The Investigator. What links a bi-plane, green paint and a very unfortunate ram?
  • Space:1999/ The Black Sun – a look at David Weir’s first draft script for this popular episode.
  • Thunderbirds at 50/ Still Flying High – our writers look at why Thunderbirds has endured to become Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s most popular series.
  • UFO/The Cat With Ten Lives – Alexis Kanner has a strange feline all over him. We look at one of UFO’s finest episodes.
  • Strip Story – a look at the Fireball XL5 strip ‘Electrode 909’ from the heyday of TV Century 21.
  • Reviews – we review ‘Filmed in Supermarionation, the Network box set and Bringers of Wonder on bluray. Plus back cover art by Richard Smith.

Andersonic is, by far, my favourite fanzine focusing on all things Gerry Anderson, from puppet shows, to the live TV series, to films, to the modern CGI series. These days, most fanzines are usually some kind of electronic publication – PDFs/ebooks or websites. Andersonic bucks that trend. It’s a genuine, traditional, “real” paper/print, high-quality A5 zine that you can hold in your hand and collect, just like the classic zines of yore. These days, when the classic print zine is a bit of an endangered species, zines like Andersonic are rare, precious gems.

It contains 44 pages of gorgeous articles, reviews and artwork, and has black & white interiors, and colour covers, front and back (both interior and exterior). And at only £2.75 (not even the price of a pint of beer), and with postage free (within the UK only), it’s an absolute steal.

All self-respecting fans of Gerry Anderson and the series he has produced over the years really should be reading every single issue of this zine. Go get yourselves over to the Andersonic website and buy a copy, right now!

Andersonic Issue 18

Andersonic 18

The best recent news on the fanzine front is that Richard Farrell and the gang have just released Andersonic #18 onto “the streets”, and just in time too, as I was in dire need of something good to read.

For those unfortunates who aren’t “in the know”, Andersonic is THE best (as well as my own absolute favourite) Gerry Anderson-based fanzine, covering all the various Gerry Anderson shows, both the various live series and the classic puppet shows, as well as the excellent CGI animated New Captain Scarlet series.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that Andersonic is a real, honest-to-goodness A5 printed zine, not an electronic publication. Real “paper” zines are as rare as hen’s teeth these days, so this is a big, big plus, as far as I’m concerned, as I’ve always loved real zines, the ones you can actually hold in your hand and turn the pages. I LOVE real, paper fanzines.

Here are the contents of Issue 18, according to the Andersonic website:

  • David Elliott interview – a new interview with APF’s editor and director in which he discusses his work on the APF series.
  • Alan Perry interview – Alan talks of his time working at APF/Century 21 on series such as Stingray and Thunderbirds and directing Captain Scarlet and the live-action UFO, working with puppets, actors and chihuahuas.
  • Thunderbirds – Is it Invisible TV? A look at why the Andersons’ series are often overlooked by the more academic articles about television.
  • UFO/ Computer Affair – Someone’s in lurve but Ed Straker needs a computer to see it. We look at an underrated episode…
  • Joe 90/ Most Special Agent – two writers discuss this series opener. One of them likes it… the other one’s not so sure.
  • How do you watch your fave series? – Our writers reveal their little rituals when watching a bit of Anderson telly.
  • Strip Story – we look at an individual comic strip to see what makes it tick. This issue – Countdown’s Stingray story ‘Model Mission’ drawn by Brian Lewis.
  • …plus Alpha Log reports, 2014’s event reviews and The Overseers of Psychon. New art by Nigel Parkinson and cover image by Martin Bower.

My copy of Andersonic #18 arrived several days ago, and just as soon as I can get one of those rare quiet evenings to myself, I have lots and lots of great reading to look forward to. At only £2.70 (British Pounds Sterling), inclusive of postage (within the UK – check the website for postage elsewhere), for 44 pages of wholesome Anderson goodness, you can’t even buy a pint of beer down the pub for that. All fans of Gerry Anderson AND of fanzines should get their booties posthaste over to the Andersonic website and order themselves a copy of this delicious little zine.

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.

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…

Classic British Telefantasy: My Top Ten Favourites (Part Two)

Here’s the second part of my rambling list of favourite Classic British Telefantasy series:

At Number Four is Sapphire and Steel, one of the strangest telefantasy series ever. Short on budget, hence relatively scarce (but effective) special effects, but oozing with quality writing, and oppressive, frightening mood and terror, this was a truly classic sci-fantasy series, featuring two of the most charismatic and mysterious central characters in telefantasy history, Sapphire (played by Joanna Lumley) and Steel (played by David McCallum). The sheer mystery, the fact that nobody ever found out who or what the main characters really were, where they came from, or what the hell was actually happening most of the time, added greatly to the attraction of the show. The fact that Sapphire and Steel was rarely repeated on television also added to the effect, as all we had to go on for many years were our fading memories. Luckily the series has been made available in recent years, firstly on VHS video, and then on DVD. And even more fortunately, it definitely lives up to our fond memories of the show.

At Number Three, it’s UFO, by far my favourite of the Gerry Anderson shows, not a stone’s throw from the top of my list of favourite British telefantasy series. First airing in 1970, and set in the not so far off future of 1980, the gorgeous hardware, the aliens, sexy women (those gorgeous moonbase babes – Gay Ellis, oh my poor heart!), and interesting characters were a huge attraction for a young boy like me. From an adult perspective, that totally kitsch, retro futuristic feel (unintended at the time, of course), gives UFO an undeniable charm that allows the series to still hold up really well today. The complex alternate-universe 1980-that-never-was, combining a mix-mash of styles from 1970 and the imagined future “1980” (which actually feels more mid- or late-21st Century) give it a retro but also an undefinable “sometime just a few years from now” feel which makes the show work even in 2013, although its version of a 1980 “future” is actually thirty-three years in our past.

At Number Two, it’s Quatermass. If there’s any British telefantasy that might give Doctor Who a run for it’s money, it has to be Quatermass. The original Quatermass serials were well before my time (I wasn’t born until 1960, and those serials appeared in 1953, 1955 and 1958), although I really enjoyed the three film versions and the 1979 Quatermass serial featuring John Mills as the Professor. Reading a number of excellent Quatermass articles in various telefantasy fanzines during the 1980s really fired up my interest in the original 1950s serials. I was also fortunate, at some point during the early 1980s, to come upon three books containing the scripts/teleplays of all three original 1950s serials (complete with nice b&w photos). I was hooked on the original serials even more by that time, and, just to complete the circle, soon afterwards I also bought the novelization of the 1979 serial. I was now a hardcore fan of Quatermass in all its forms, both serials and films.

A few years later, I was absolutely elated to get my hands on the VHS video release of the third (and the best of the three) 1950s serial, Quatermass and the Pit, and finally got to see what all the hype was about. I’d always loved the 1967 film version of Quatermass and the Pit, but the original serial absolutely blew my mind. It was way, way better than the film, and remains, to this day, my favourite ever single piece of British telefantasy. If the first two serials had been as good as the third (only two episodes of the first serial still exist), Quatermass might’ve made it to the Number One spot in my list. I was doubly delighted, about ten years ago, to get my hands on the excellent three-DVD release of The Quatermass Collection, featuring the beautifully restored Quatermass and the Pit, the entire (unrestored) Quatermass II, and the two surviving episodes of the Quatermass Experiment. This remarkable DVD set is an absolute treasure, and any British telefantasy fan worth their reputation should have a copy of this in their collections.

And finally, at Number One, it’s Doctor Who, just about my favourite telefantasy series of all time. I’ve been watching Doctor Who since I was five or six years old, way back in the mid-1960s. I like the modern version of Doctor Who, but not as much as the classic 1963-1989 series. I love the classic 1960s Hartnell and Troughton b&w stories, but my favourite Doctor Who eras were the Jon Pertwee years and the first half of Tom Baker’s run on the show. In my opinion, the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe years were, without a shadow of a doubt, the best ever in the show’s history. This show had (and still has) so much history, continuity and detail. The Doctor(s) and the Tardis, travelling anywhere in time and space, Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Sutekh the Destroyer, Omega, the Master, the list goes on and on and on, spanning the alphabet, from Autons to Zarbi, Doctor Who is immense. It was a huge part of my growing up process from early childhood right up into adulthood and to the present day (I’m now 52), this is the British telefantasy series (indeed THE telefantasy series, British or not) that has had the biggest effect on my life.

And just outside the Top Ten, in no particular order:

The Avengers – I quite enjoyed the weekly exploits of John Steed and Emma Peel, and later Tara King (I was too young to remember the earlier stories with Cathy Gale). Emma and Tara were certainly extremely easy on the eyes, and those two ladies absolutely kicked ass each and every week. The series was extremely psychedelic (hey, it was the Sixties!) and was overly camp at times. I was never a fan of the camp thing (hated it, actually), a major reason why I didn’t enjoy the show quite as much as other UK telefantasy shows. I also quite liked The New Avengers, although it only occasionally crossed into telefantasy from its primary action adventure format. But it was worth watching for Joanna Lumley, playing Purdey, another gorgeous yet kick-ass Avengers female.

The Champions – enjoyable super-spy hokum in which three super-powered agents save the world each and every week from mad scientists and other menaces. I quite enjoyed this, although, with the exception of a handful of episodes, there was very little real sci-fi in the series, other than the agents showing their weekly portion of super strength, super speed or telepathy. I mostly liked it for the great theme tune and the epitome of eye candy provided by the absolutely gorgeous Alexandra Bastedo (who played Sharon McCready), who was, as far as I’m concerned, one of the most beautiful women ever in the history of telefantasy.

Thunderbirds – loved the hardware, but, unlike Captain Scarlet, most of the stories themselves were not sci-fi enough for my tastes, even at that early age. Also, and despite my liking for Captain Scarlet, I was never really a fan of those damned puppets. I hate those wooden actors! I always preferred the live-action Gerry Anderson series.

That’s about it for the more famous British telefantasy series. At some point in the future, I’ll be devoting one or more blog posts to other, more obscure British telefantasy, particularly series aimed at children. My own memories of most of these are very incomplete and vague, so I’ve been buying a few of the more recommended classic children’s sci-fi series on DVD from Amazon UK. So far, I’ve got my hands on the entire original series of The Tomorrow People, Timeslip, Sky, Children of the Stones, The Owl Service, The Demon Headmaster and the 1980s version of Tom’s Midnight Garden. I think I’ll nab a few more series so I can post a reasonably comprehensive blog review.

Classic British Telefantasy: My Top Ten Favourites (Part One)

I love television sci-fi (also known as telefantasy). But as much as I like the US sci-fi television shows, I’ve always been an even bigger fan of British telefantasy. So I’ve compiled a list of my favourites, in this case sticking to the more famous classic series, avoiding the more obscure shows, as they’ll be a subject of another article at a later date. I’ve also made a point of staying away from more modern series, preferring to concentrate on series from the 1980s and earlier.

There are also a few other series that I haven’t listed, as I never really watched them when they were on TV. Star Cops is a perfect example. I liked what little I did see of it (and it was VERY little), but I didn’t see enough of it to make any kind of informed comments about the series as a whole. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to picking up Star Cops on DVD from Amazon UK, and rectify that situation.

I’ve also deliberately avoided listing the classic children’s telefantasy series, as those are a different category, and will also be the subject of a later article. Some of them, like The Tomorrow People and Timeslip, are quite well known, but most are pretty obscure these days, at least in comparison to Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 and the other more famous telefantasy shows, and are remembered only by those people who saw and loved them back when they were kids. I have only vague memories of most of them from my own childhood (I was only nine years old when Timeslip aired back in 1970). The ones I do remember, or that I actually have on video/DVD, will be the subject of a later post in the Classic British Telefantasy series.

So here, in reverse order, is the first half of my list of Top Ten Classic British Telefantasy series, spanning the period from the 1950s to the 1980s:

Firstly, at Number Ten, we have Survivors, the extremely grim Terry Nation post-apocalyptic series in which 95% of the human race has been wiped out by a plague, and a small group of survivors tries to piece together a semblance of normal life and re-establish civilization. Despite most of humanity being eradicated by a virus, thankfully there isn’t a single bloody zombie in sight. Every viral apocalypse in telefantasy these days ends up with freakin’ zombies taking over the world – I’m totally sick and tired of the endless zombie crap pushed in our faces. The most dangerous enemies that our central characters faced in Survivors were themselves and other humans. With the structure of society gone, we saw the best, and worst of humanity in this dog-eat-dog world. I also really liked the modern version of Survivors. A very good remake indeed.

At Number Nine, it’s Captain Scarlet, the direct predecessor to UFO, and the only Gerry Anderson puppet show that I ever really liked. Almost certainly this was because of the more overt sci-fi content of the series, compared to, say, Thunderbirds, which was more of a hi-tech thriller with a few sci-fi elements, gadgets and visuals thrown in. I was too young to have anything but the most vague memories of anything before Thunderbirds (although I reckon I’d have enjoyed Fireball XL5, as it was a hardcore space opera series, my kinda thing). As a sidenote, I’ll also add that I REALLY liked the more modern CGI incarnation of Captain Scarlet. I actually preferred it to the original, to be honest, with the exception of the dire theme music, which doesn’t remotely compare to the gorgeous theme music in the original series. It’s a great pity that Gerry Anderson is no longer with us, as CGI could’ve been the way forward for future possible revamps of other Anderson series, such as UFO and Space: 1999 (2099, 2199?). We’ll never have the chance to find out now.

At Number Eight, it’s Red Dwarf, the funniest sci-fi comedy, ever. I know a few sci-fi fans would consider this opinion as sacrilege, but I always greatly preferred Red Dwarf to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I usually found to be very… unfunny. HHG was a good satire on serious SF concepts, but I guess I’ve just never been a fan of the Douglas Adams brand of humour. Give me the crazy shenanigans of Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kryten and Holly any day. Red Dwarf “sent up” sci-fi themes in a much more grass-roots, funny way that appealed to me and all its legion of fans. Some of the daft situations that Lister and co. ended up in were both mind-bending and hilarious.

At Number Seven, we have Space: 1999. As with UFO (and most Gerry Anderson series), I absolutely loved the hardware and visuals, although, I couldn’t always say the same about the acting and stories, which could be hit and miss, particularly in the “revamped” Season 2. But my biggest beef with the series was the science, or, rather, the lack of it. I know that realistic science in UFO and the earlier Anderson shows was also pretty much non-existent, but Space: 1999 really took the biscuit, even by Anderson’s usual naff-science standards. And by the time Space: 1999 appeared on UK television, I was a bit older, in my mid-teens, at grammar school, and increasingly interested in and savvy about science. I was starkly aware of just how ridiculously stupid the science and many of the plots in Space: 1999 really were, and it bugged me quite a lot, despite my overall enjoyment of the show, which was visually gorgeous and trippy, in a post-2001: A Space Odyssey kinda way.

At Number Six on the list, aptly enough, it’s good old Number Six himself, The Prisoner. This was a really weird series, very cerebral and complex, and half the time, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but it was definitely great fun. To be honest, I think that everyone involved with the series was smokin’ weed or something, it was so trippy. All I know is that I enjoyed it a lot, and made a point of tuning in every week to watch the adventures of Number Six, and his attempts to escape from The Village. My favourite bits always involved Number Six getting chased all over the place by those big, white ball thingies making those weird roaring noises. I certainly got a rollicking great surprise in the final episode, when it was revealed that the elusive Number One was none other than Number Six himself.

At Number Five in my list of Top Ten Favourite Classic British Telefantasy Series, it’s Blake’s 7, an inverted, dark mirror image of Star Trek. The human Federation of this series rules much of the galaxy, but this is no enlightened civilization. This Federation is a monstrous, oppressive, totalitarian dictatorship of a kind that the likes of Hitler or Stalin could only have had wet dreams about. Opposed by Roj Blake, Kerr Avon and their motley band of honourable outlaws, the ruthless and evil Servalan gave us one of the smoothest, most glamorous and icy-cold female villains in all of telefantasy. Despite liking the entire four-season run of Blake’s 7, I had a preference for the “Liberator Years” of the show, as I got really miffed when they destroyed the Liberator and replaced it with that crappy garbage scow, Scorpio. Imagine replacing one of the best ships in all telefantasy with that POS! This was a stupid and overt attempt to imitate the Millenium Falcon, with Star Wars being the then-current box office phenomenon. Star Wars was riding a huge wave of popularity in all forms of media, and everyone was tripping over each other trying to imitate it in some way or another. It’s a pity that the producers of Blake’s 7 decided to downgrade from the Liberator to the Scorpio in order to follow a damned media trend.

OK, that completes the first half of my Top Ten Classic British Telefantasy series. The second half is coming up in Part Two.

(To Be Continued)

Fanzines – Creative Genius at the Grass Roots (Part Four)

Okay, here’s the fourth and final part of my ramblings on my memories of and experiences with fanzines. This one takes us right up to the present day and the most modern fanzines.

I’ve already mentioned how I faded away from collecting fanzines in the late-1990s, and have only really rekindled the passion for zines again over the past five years or so. I’ve seen some really big changes since I came back to collecting fanzines again. The number of print zines has obviously declined drastically over the years, at least since I last collected fanzines on a regular basis, back in the mid-1990s. Things are obviously very different nowadays compared to how they were “back then”, and many former zine editors and writers have either turned professional, or moved on to different creative activities, totally unrelated to fanzines.

At one point, particularly in the 2000-2005 period, I was beginning to think that the traditional paper Doctor Who fanzine had become an extinct species (which is the main reason I didn’t get back into them again much sooner). But fortunately there are still a few traditional paper zines out there, if you look hard enough for them, and there seems to have been a minor resurgence in Doctor Who zines in recent years, most likely as a result of the popularity of the modern Doctor Who television series.

Of the modern DW “paper” zines, I’ve managed to get together a nice little collection of a few of the best:

Richard Farrell produces the excellent Plaything of Sutekh, a new A5 kid on the block, which has two issues under its belt so far. This one certainly looks like it’s going to be a front-runner among the new breed of Doctor Who zines. Richard also produces the equally excellent Andersonic, another high-quality A5 zine dedicated to the Gerry Anderson television shows, in particular the two live shows, UFO and Space: 1999. Both of Richard’s zines are inspired by the classic Circus, which he was a great fan of (and a contributor to, if I recall correctly). This should give you an idea of how high the quality is of both these zines.

Oliver Wake produced seven issues of the excellent Panic Moon, a sexy little A6 Doctor Who zine, before calling it a day. Most of the issues are still available from him.

Grant Bull edited three issues of Blue Box, before moving onto bigger things. Blue Box is an unashamedly retro/cheapo A5 zine, deliberately produced in the old pre-computer DTP style, paying tribute to the classic cut ‘n’ paste photocopied Doctor Who zines of yesteryear.

Kenny Smith has just put out the 12th issue of The Finished Product, an excellent A5 zine dedicated to the niche market of Big Finish audio adventures of the Doctor and his companions.

Richard Bignall has produced three issues of the classy Nothing at the End of the Lane, a huge A4 prozine of incredible quality, dedicated to behind the scenes aspects of Doctor Who. Issue three is available directly from him, and an omnibus of the first two issues is available from Lulu.com.

Colin Brockhurst and Gareth Kavanagh have put out two issues of the simply amazing Vworp Vworp!, another high-quality and colorful A4 prozine which pays tribute to the classic official Doctor Who Monthly/Magazine of days gone by.

Most of the above still have a few back issues in stock. All fans of Doctor Who, or of fanzines, or of both, should do themselves a huge favour and try out some of these zines. They cover a wide range of types, from tiny A6, through traditional A5 (both retro cut ‘n’ paste and more slick DTP), to gorgeous, full-sized A4 glossy colour prozines. They also cover an enormous range of subject matter, but each and every one of them is stuffed to the gills with amazing Doctor Who (and in the case of Andersonic, Gerry Anderson) goodness.

They’re unmissable gems, every single one of them, and there’s absolutely nothing on the newsstands remotely as good, as enjoyable or as deserving of your meagre pennies. Support these zines, buy a copy of each, and encourage the editors to keep producing these wonderful slices of fannish goodness. I know one thing for sure – my life would be a lot poorer and less interesting without them.

There are also many other fanzines out there, both physical/paper and electronic, most of which I haven’t gotten around to trying out yet (but I will). Go find them, and enjoy. Happy hunting!

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Jr, Alfred Bester, Henry Huttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…