Book Review: Doctor Who – Death Riders/Heart of Stone

The Doctor Who novel range is a bit like the Time Lord himself: just when you’re comfortable with what you’ve got, the whole thing ups and changes and along comes a new version.

Following on from the New Adventures, Missing Adventures, the Eighth Doctor BBC novels and a raft of variations on the theme, the latest iteration sees two shorter novels jammed together into what the front cover explains are “Two New Adventures – One Book”.

DeathridersLong-term Who scribe Justin Richards is up first (or second, depending on which way round you hold the book) with Death Riders, a 197-page tale which takes the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and new hubby, Rory, to the Galactic Fair on the asteroid of Stanalan, just as its residents are meeting grizzly ends deep under the surface.

Next up is Trevor Baxendale’s Heart of Stone, in which the intrepid trio arrive in the middle of a pigsty on an English farm. Discovering lumps of moon rock and scenes of damage nearby, the Doctor begins investigating and uncovers a giant…well, that would be telling.

With their younger audiences in mind at all times, Richards and Baxendale cut back on the descriptive prose and scene setting to ensure events move at a fair old lick. Richards builds up his mystery with plenty of action taking place off-screen, while Baxendale puts his characters in various perilous situations as events escalate.

Of the two authors, Baxendale captures the innate Second Doctor-ness of Smith’s incarnation best, while Amy gets a few of the one-liners so common in the TV version in both books. Elsewhere, there’s a sense that Rory is too often surplus to requirement while other characters are given short-shrift thanks to the lower word counts and need to push on with the action.

Though each story has the desired beginning, middle and end, it’s hard not to feel shortchanged by the format. Younger readers may appreciate the book’s bitesize nature, but when each one is devoid of the depth or scope that a single, larger, novel might provide, it all seems rather pointless.

★★★★★

DVD Review: The Complete Lone Wolf & Cub Boxset

★★★★★

Opening with an execution and closing with an extended, balletic and bloody sword fight, the complete series of Lone Wolf and Cub films (plus “composite” film Shogun Assassin) collected in this gorgeous new box set could never be described as tame.

Sword of Vengeance (1971) begins the series in style, director Kenji Misumi deciding to ignore the inherently pulpy nature of the stories by offering a glorious assault on the senses with as a series of blood soaked fight sequences accompany our heroes on their escape from Shogun ways.

Wakayama makes for a stoic lead, barely uttering a word of dialogue throughout the series, his skill with a sword matched by Misumi (who would remain as director until the third film) and his ever-watchful camera.

The rest of the series, made over a two year period, maintains the high standard of the original, each film opening and closing with scenes of Lone Wolf and his son meandering through some new part of Japan.

Whether its dusty streets, golden desert sand dunes or, in the case of White Heaven in Hell (1974), mountains capped with thick snow, the pair trundle on indefinitely, taking on various enemies as they try to kill them with ever more ingenious techniques.

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Roger Moore in person!

A simple post title there for a simple enough post – Sir Roger Moore will be live at the National Theatre on October 16 2008 and I’m going to be in the audience!

Out and about to promote his new book, My Word is My Bond, Roger will be interviewed on stage before signing copies for the masses. I can’t wait.

Although Roger isn’t my favourite Bond, I can appreciate what he did for the film series when he took over from Sir Sean. He was also in one of my favourite series, Maverick, back in the 50s and he’s been in so many great/cheesy TV shows and films that he’s a genuine national treasure.

I read his diaries written on the set of Live and Let Die a few years back and they are superb – if the new book is as funny it’ll be worth the trip alone.

I was also lucky enough to tour the Forbidden City in Beijing in 2001, and decided to use one of those pre-recorded cassette thingies with the voice of a tour guide pointing out areas of interest. I was stunned to discover that the English language version was by none other than Roger himself! I had the joy of a 2 hour visit to the Forbidden City with James Bond!

I’ll tell him that fascinating fact on the day. Maybe.

If you’re going, drop me a line and I’ll see you at the bar for a swift Dry Martini before the show…for Queen and Country.

Doctor Who: Time Crash

Time Crash, copyright BBCA little bit of history happened last night on BBC One – Five met Ten.

Five, of course, being the Fifth Doctor as portrayed by Peter Davison and Ten being Tenth Doctor, and current TARDIS incumbent, David Tennant.

Past met present via mini-episode Time Crash, all in aid of the BBC’s annual Children in Need event. And it was a corker.

At only eight minutes in length there was a lot to pack in. Due to Ten forgetting to raise his ship’s shield there was some sort collision between…blah, blah, blah. Who cares what the reason was: Classic Who and New Who finally met the way they always should have.

The return of Daleks, Cybermen, Macra and the rest were merely a teaser.

It was great to see Davison back as the Doctor and Tennant, thanks to Steven Moffat’s affectionate script, pitched his reaction perfectly. Now the precedent has been set, they could do a lot worse than adapting Cold Fusion in a few years time.

To days to come.

[In case anyone asks, I’ve pinched the above image from the BBC website and bunged a few quid Pudsey’s way as a thank you.]

The Third Man: DVD Review

The Third ManWriter Graham Green once claimed “there is no such thing as black and white, just black and grey”, a theory proved to perfection in his screenplay for The Third Man (1949).

Vienna, 1949. Armed forces are fighting a new war against greed, opportunity and the black market. Into this world stumbles pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) in search of his friend, Harry Lime. Soon Holly is investigating Lime’s death, meeting his complex coterie of collaborators and trying to understand a world of shadows and lies.

The Third Man was the result of a collaboration perhaps even more complex than those depicted on-screen. A talented cast and crew were assembled in Vienna by British director Carol Reed and American producer David O’Selznick. It was the first British feature film to be shot largely on location, amongst the rubble of wartorn Vienna.

Using real locals as extras, the production team’s efforts ensured that Greene’s script was transformed from something individual into something unique.

The film starts as it means to go on: brisk, uncompromising and with a dash of gallows humour. Cinematographer Robert Krasker’s canted camera angles emphasise tonal shifts while director Carol Reed’s introduction of Harry Lime (Orson Welles) – a long shot then the reveal of that smirking, boyish face – is textbook enigmatic.

Though character motives can be oblique, the moral blacks and greys that permeate the film are encapsulated by Lime’s frighteningly-reasoned Prater Wheel speech. With a near faultless script, this is a treatise on motives forged in harsh times, a view of post-Holocaust Europe forever preserved in the aspic of film.

Finally, as Lime makes his escape, the city itself turns against him, drawing him into the sewers. However, Welles exudes such charisma in his too-brief screen time that on each viewing I still hope one day he’ll head up that street over there instead, run that bit faster, second guess those Limey flatfoots just this once. Maybe one day he will.

Extras

This 2-disc Region 2 edition includes a fantastic 90-minute documentary screened on BBC4 a few years back. Seeing the Vienna locations today, scenes from the film projected onto them, is slightly eerie, as if some giant tattoo has been imprinted on the skin of the city. An alternate opening narration and a few trailers round off the disc.

If you can afford it, it’ worth checking out the new Region 1 Criterion 2-discer instead. Lots of great extras, including a Steven Soderbergh commentary, make it a Third Man fan must-buy. One day…

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Damn BBC4 repeats of seminal 70s TV shows! Just as I was planning an early night after Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe, on comes Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and I’m hooked.

I watched the series on DVD a couple of years back, and enjoyed every perfectly crafted second of the thing. So why would I want to stay up and watch it again?

Ian Richardson for one. I was surprised the announcer didn’t mention the sad death of Richardson the other week, offering this as a tribute of sorts – I might like to think that, they couldn’t possibly comment.

Ian Bannen for another. Watching him as Jim Prideaux, on assignment near the Czech-Austrian border, forced me to stick with the rest of the episode. (Three posts on this blog and Bannen is mentioned in two of them. There’s a theme here…).

Two fantastic actors in a cast of heavyweights too numerous to mention. So take a look at the cast list over at IMDB.

Of course the star of the piece is Alec Guinness as George Smiley, brought out of retirement to investigate rumours of rum doings at the higher levels of Britain’s Intelligence Service. Some lengthy scenes with Michael Jayston help fill us in on the background as Smiley is tangled further into the web.

I’ve been meaning to read John Le Carre’s books for years now…must get them on the reading list.

DVD Watch

I ordered The Third Man 2-discer today, going cheap over at HMV. Hywel Bennet’s appearance at the end of Tinker.. reminds me that series one of Shelley is out in a month or two, another for the list.

And Bernard Hepton pops up in the show as well, reminding me to move my Secret Army viewing up the list. I’ve had the Complete Series set since just before Christmas…

Adventures in Primetime

“Television is a medium because it is seldom rare nor well done.” Ernie Kovaks

“It’s the menace that everyone loves to hate but can’t seem to live without. ” Paddy Chayevsky

I love telly. Good telly. And films. And books.

While it’s great to talk to mates in the pub or colleagues at work about last nights TV, a new DVD or the latest movie on at the cinema, recently I’ve wanted to tell a few more people about them, get some more of my thoughts written down for posterity. Mostly I’ll talk about old and new telly, but the odd film might be thrown in for good measure.

While the majority of series I mention aren’t on primetime TV anymore, there’s a good chance that most of them once were, and that’s another reason for the blog – just ‘cos they’re old doesn’t mean they aren’t worth watching again. Or for many people, for the first time.

So if anyone is inspired to buy the DVD or search out a repeat of anything mentioned on here, then I’ll have done my job!

Finally, the blog is dedicated to Mr James Garner: Bret Maverick in Maverick, The Scrounger in The Great Escape and LA’s finest, Jim Rockford PI in The Rockford Files.

His work and style epitomise everything I like in my entertainment. Heroes that aren’t black or white, but black and grey. Characters that would rather talk their way out of a situation than fight (who would have the guts to fight someone with a gun in real life? A Garner character would rather leg it). Humour that is understated rather than puerile or OTT. And a bit of realism in amongst the nonsense makes for good entertainment.

And entertainment is what it’s all about. In amongst the 9-5, the mortgage, the council tax, the insurance payments, the blocked drains and the news (which is scarier than any horror movie these days) are the pints down the pub, the catch-up with mates, the bag of chips on the way home and the long lie on a Sunday.

The odd episode of a favourite TV show helps balance the other crap fed to us by multi-channel Britain…but that’s another post…