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

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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.