Review: Doctor Who – The Sun’s DVDs

After almost exactly six weeks, my DVDs from The Sun have arrived. How’s that for precision? Haven’t watched them all yet but impressions so far:

The Day of Armageddon (Hartnell): I’ve never seen this one before and I realise I have almost no recollection of the other episodes in the story either. But Hartnell’s a bit more spry than I remember – he’s practically doing forward rolls over Daleks at times – Kevin Stoney looks really silly with his “Guardian of the Solar System” make-up and Peter Hawkins can’t disguise his Bill and Ben voice enough to make the Daleks anything more than laughable. All the same, I’d forgotten just how complicated Hartnell plots were. UPDATE: I’d also forgotten just how keen they were on ‘hard sci-fi’ aliens, despite their limited budgets. And the incidental music is fantastic.

The Faceless Ones (Troughton): One of my all-time favourite stories – I even wrote a sequel at university that had the working title of “Gratuitous Violence of the Chameleons” (you can tell where I was coming from and why my screenwriting career never came to anything) – this one’s a bit duller than I remember. I think the other surviving episode, number three, was the better one. Instead, we get the Doctor and co being chased around 1960s Gatwick airport by an all-star cast including Colin Gordon, Wanda Ventham and Donald Pickering. Lots of violent deaths, brainwashing and implacable aliens all the same, so thumbs up.

The Spearhead from Space (Pertwee): It’s entirely shot on film, it’s the first Jon Pertwee story, it’s written almost entirely with adults in mind and it’s got the best companion ever in it (Liz Shaw), ripping the piss out of the Brigadier and eventually saving the day through sheer scientific genius and daring – pah to everyone who thought feminism on Doctor Who started with Sarah Jane Smith. Anyway, what more to do you need to know? It’s fantastic! Go and buy the full story. You’ll have to forward wind past the traditional comedy yokel poacher scenes that were so beloved of the Pertwee era.

The Robots of Death (Tom Baker): Ignore the silly costumes, silly special effects, silly make-up and silly Tom Baker. This is a cracking murder-mystery with some deeply disturbing robots. Trouble is, the title gives the game away a bit, but it’s still a classic, even if you only get to see the first episode – imagine giving someone an Agatha Christie novel but ripping out the last chapter first. Same thing here.

Earthshock (Peter Davison): “The Cybermen want to destroy Earth, and will use any means at their disposal” says the back of the DVD and on the front is a lovely picture of a Cyberman. Hmm. This is episode one. Essentially, false advertising then, since the Cybermen don’t do anything in this episode other than stare at a monitor and say “Destroy them! Destroy them at once!” in the last ten seconds. Plus it does ruin the cliffhanger (why are they ending there? We already know the Cybermen are the baddies). But this is another cracker of an episode with all sorts of unpleasantness happening in creepy caves. We do have to put up with the traditional Davison moanathon by the various companions, though. “Doctor, why haven’t you taken me home yet? Doctor, why haven’t you let me fly the TARDIS yet? Doctor, why have you overdone my eggs – you know I like them runny?” Shut up you whiny little brats. Where’s Liz Shaw when you need her?

Rose (Christopher Eccleston): Actually, the weakest link of the whole lot. Some nice lines of dialogue and the Nestene are back from Spearhead from Space (without Liz Shaw though), but still not wholly brilliant. Am not going to bother putting it into the DVD player, because I know I’m going to be cringing the whole way through it. Sorry, Eccles.


A test of musical arithmetic

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts“Rob, do you like David Byrne?”

Yes, I do.

“Rob, do you like Brian Eno?”

Yes, I do.

“Do you think, therefore, that you will like David Byrne and Brian Eno?”

I’m not sure I’d ever considered the combination of those two musicians. Do their skills complement each other or are they mutually incompatible?

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to find out if you’d like them or not – you can stream their entire album, “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”, over the Internet from this here web site, provided you have QuickTime. I wasn’t unduly impressed, but it might grow on me.

Now I’ve taken the test. Will you?


William Fichtner joins Prison Break

William FichtnerGood old William Fichtner. He’s survived a lot of rubbish in his time, mainly through being a good actor. He managed to make a whole episode of the dire fifth season of The West Wing watchable. He’s been a high-point of various series and movies, including the never-seen-in-the-UK series MDs, which co-starred John Hannah, and the I-wish-it-had-never-been-seen-in-the-UK movie Armageddon.

Lately, though he’s been reduced to being creepy in Invasion. As we all know, that’s now been cancelled, the moral of the story being never star in sci-fi shows written by former members of The Partridge Family who also happened to play little Joe Hardy of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew fame (I’m not saying it’s an easily generalisable moral). What a shame.

But the good news is that now that show’s over, he’s free to appear as Prison Break’s equivalent of Lieutenant Gerard. He’s the one with the unenviable task of chasing Michael “I have a cunning plan” Schofield and the other prisoners through Dallas (yes, season two’s being shot in Dallas instead of Chicago – where will all that snow go?).

EquilibriumIncidentally, that move reunites him with Dominic Purcell, who plays Michael’s brother Lincoln, since they both appeared in the Christian Bale Matrix-a-like flick Equilibrium, a film that knows its audience so well, it actually had a “view fight scenes only” option on the DVD. Cracking scenes they were, too, since an entire new martial art, “gun kata”, was invented for the movie, but all the same…

Film reviews

Review: X-Men 3

X-Men 3
In my hurry to slag off the Odeon on Monday, I forgot to review the film I went to see: X-Men 3.

Let’s keep this one short. It’s directed by Brett Ratner, director of Rush Hour, Red Dragon and Rush Hour 2. If you’re aware of his work, that’s all you need to know.

If you’re not, imagine an “averaging device”. What’s an averaging device? It’s a thing that takes the absolute worst movies ever made and the absolute best movies ever made and then turns whatever it’s shone on into the complete average of the two groups.

Brett Ratner is an averaging device.

X-Men 3 isn’t awful. It isn’t good. It just chugs along, doing the same sort of things that the previous X-Men movies did, except you don’t feel a single thing. The effects look good, but you won’t really be wowed. The acting varies from bad to good, but you won’t care either way. Most of the major characters don’t actually get to say anything since Halle Berry stole all their lines. Some of the cinematography is interesting, but even in the most potentially shocking moments, when favourite characters get killed off willy nilly, you just won’t care. The camera angles, pacing and everything else about the movie are designed simply to get the plot from the beginning of the film to the end – nothing else.

Only the dialogue manages to escape being average and that’s by descending into complete banality. The plot, which is vaguely about a potential cure for mutants and the argument about whether they should take it or not – are they a disease or are they a normal part of evolution – could have been good. But while Bryan Singer, who directed the previous two movies, made sure his plots were reasonably smart, Ratner makes his averagely stupid. Magneto wants to take his army across to Alcatraz. Does he hire a fleet of helicopters or speed boats? Maybe use a submarine? No, he moves the Golden Gate Bridge. Looks good – well, average actually – but makes no sense whatsoever.

So save your money, particularly if you were thinking of watching it in The Gallery.

Two new channels joining the Sky EPG

Apparently, there aren’t enough film channels on Sky Digital. Film Four, Film Four Weekly, TCM, Sky Movies n, Sky Movies Gold n (where n is an integer member of the positive reals), etc, etc. Not enough. No. Not enough.

So there’s another channel on the way that’s going to be better than all the others put together. Actually, I have no idea if that’s true. I’d like it to be true. The only one I watch at the moment is TCM and that’s because

  1. it’s free
  2. it occasionally has a good movie on it

And when I say I watch it at the moment, I mean once a month at the most.

So a shiny new film channel that’s free and has good movies on it would be nice. I don’t think Film Four is going to be it, even when it becomes free next month. And I’m not sure if Film24 is going to be it either, but I’d like it to be.

Film24’s based in Pinewood according to the web site. This means either it’s being run by Pinewood (which would be nice) or they’re just based in Pinewood – if you’ve never been there, take it from me that there’s a hell of a lot of companies based on-site that have nothing to do with the studios proper and indeed have nothing to do with movies at all.*

Also coming soon is Fight+. Or is that Fight Plus? What if they do a time-shifted version of the channel? Would it be Fight++?

Fight+, as the name suggests, is a channel dedicated to fights. Not Bum Fights, but proper martial arts and boxing. Now I’ve been meaning to blog for some time about the sorry state of martial arts coverage on British TV: repeats on Sky n (where n is a member of the set {1,2,3}) of Fight School, which is to actual martial arts what Big Brother tasks are to life in a FTSE100 company, and endless reshowings of the Paris-Bercy martial arts festival on Eurosport do not make for “coverage”, I’m afraid. Anyway, I’ll rabbit on about that when there’s a slow news day – I’m thinking some time in August.

So is Fight+ going to change all this? Already a big hit in Sweden and ready to sweep across the world, I’d say no. Frankly, endless UFC, wrestling, ESPN boxing and cage-fighting matches don’t do it for me, and we already have enough of them on Bravo. The current programme guide has one karate bout listed, which apparently also includes kickboxing (did they change the name of karate when I wasn’t looking?). But that’s about it. I’m amused by the idea of “Master Wongs fighting system”, whatever that might be. And as for:

Naked Womens Wrestling

Watch some of the sexiest female fighters rumble and tumble as they compete against each other in a very sensual naked way.

FFS! I hate sharing viewing interests with a demographic that seems to think “naked womens wrestling” is a legitimate programming concept. I’d rather watch yet another staged Paris-Bercy aikido vs tae kwon do “what a surprise! It’s a draw!” session than grace Fight+ with even a second of my viewing time if that’s its plan.

Tsk tsk.

Prude or pro-feminist? I’m not sure which.

On the other hand, Fight+’s supposed game plan is spelled out in this Wikipedia article and seems to suggest they’re aiming for greater variety in their pick of martial arts and programming, so it may be all right by the time it arrives in the UK.

Anyway, that’s two new channels coming to Sky soon, so brace yourself. There’ll be more to come.


* I could do the journalist-thing and find out which it is, but frankly I can’t be bothered. It’s not exactly life or death is it? Plus I’m supposed to have been spending the last three days taking days off work. See how that panned out?