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Brian Blessed – Timelord

August 8, 2020 Leave a comment

I note with interest that the UK tabloids have picked up on the fact that Brian Blessed hasn’t been out of the house in a while and is freely available to chat away online. Namely, there’s a headline floating around stating that Brian ‘shocked the BBC’ with his pitch for Doctor Who.

They are several problems with this. One is that it’s pretty hard to shock the BBC. Partially because corporations aren’t people1 but mostly because the people working for the Beeb have pretty much heard it all. The general public have many ideas and aren’t backwards about sharing them.2. Also this is an anecdote from the 1960s. But my main problem is this is a gag taken way out of context. And before we get started, yes, Brian has frequently made the point that name Who sounds like the Chinese surname Hu. It’s one of his standard celeb stories and he’s been telling it for decades.

I’ve seen Brian Blessed on stage quite a few times and have chatted away with him more than once, mostly back-stage3. It is possible to have a normal volume conversation with the man and he’s a very interesting and well-travelled chap.

Brian is a regular on the UK sci-fi convention scene and he has a ‘routine’, which is a highly charismatic ramble about the state of the world, science fiction and science in general. It’s something of a ‘feel good’ rally; Mr Blessed is a kind man with a wealth of life experience and mostly what he says is practical motivational stuff in which he tells us that the world can still be a bright and good place.

Brian Blessed

The Brian Blessed impersonator helpline is currently experiencing a very high call volume.

I once had the total pleasure of watching professional insult merchant John Robertson interview him on stage and goodness me was that fun; the two riffed on each other very well indeed and Blessed was a delight. John was in his element; he fed the lines and Mr B kept producing the funnies. All of which came with an added measure of joy, rude-words, mischief and love. Blessed’s bombastic nature is tempered by wisdom and respect.

Brian doesn’t simply swear; he produces artisan crafted profanity designed to delight. One of the few true Profanomancers, a wizard with the pun and the naughty word. Which brings us to ‘the Doctor Who thing’. Inevitably whilst on stage some member of the general public will ask if Blessed would ever play Doctor Who and you will get one of two responses; he’ll either talk about Blake’s 7 (which is close enough and he was actually in that), or he’ll claim that he wanted the character to be called Doctor Hu. Because that’s a Chinese name. And that’s the whole bit, a pun on Hu/Who4. Sometimes he’ll then point out that if they actually did that it should of course go to a more appropiate actor5. We would see Brian’s serious face. Then he’ll talk about his travels across the world. Then he’ll talk about Tibet and kicking the Dalai Lama in the bum. Which is a whole other story which again, taken out of context sounds terrible but is actually just a very silly story told by an elderly actor who’s been doing that all his life.

Because that’s the gig, and that’s the act. And a little thing like a global pandemic isn’t going stop Brian Blessed from telling ridiculous stories.

1: Let’s recognise corporate personhood for the nonsense it is. Though the idea of Amazon Prime suddenly manifesting a body and going to parties does amuse me. I’d imagine he’d be able to transform into a truck.
2: All I need to say is “Mrs Brown’s Boys”.
3: Be under no illusion; he has no idea who I am beyond ‘oh yes, Starburst.’
4: He also once declared he’d quite like to play The Corsair6 in Doctor Who, but of course that was a run up to some jokes about The Pirates of Penzance.
5: Not that anyone asked me, but let’s have Jessica Henwick as the next Doctor.
6: Once someone explained to him what a TimeLord Space Pirate was. Did you know Brian has trained to go into space? Because of course he has.

My Dublin2019 Schedule

July 28, 2019 Leave a comment

Here is a list of panels that I will be on at Worldcon in Dublin next month. You can catch me there or during the convention. I’ll be around at various parties, gatherings and watching panels also.

YA book to film adaptation
16 Aug 2019, Friday 10:00 – 10:50, Wicklow Hall 2B (CCD)
We all know text to visual screen adaptions are hard. What unique difficulties does the YA genre present in the translation from print to screen?

Can technology save the world?
16 Aug 2019, Friday 15:00 – 15:50, Wicklow Room-3 (CCD)
Elon Musk and others believe that technology can and will save the world. Can tech handle growing demands on the earth for resources? Can we invent our way out of climate change? We talk GMOs, nanotech, geo-engineering, and also our faith in tech as a ‘get out of gaol free’ card. I am moderating this one.

The Cost of Comics – What Format works best?
17 Aug 2019, Saturday 10:30 – 11:20, Odeon 5 (Point Square Dublin)
Roy of the Rovers went from a weekly strip to a book and is now being relaunched as quarterly graphic novels. Shonen Jump (the world’s most famous weekly comic) is moving to a free online model with downloads on subscription. As costs increase for individual issues, should we move to larger publications released at longer intervals? Is it possible to balance what is best for readers, creators and the publishers? I am also moderating this one.

Anime and the west
17 Aug 2019  Saturday 13:30 – 14:20, Stratocaster BC (Point Square Dublin)
Alongside the resurgence of the popularity of anime, more and more western cartoon creators are citing anime as their inspiration and are starting to incorporate the style into their own shows. What has been the impact of this in the western world? If an animated work was created in the west but is stylised like anime, can it be called an anime?

D2019

Dublin 2019 Worldcon Logo

 

To every generation

August 1, 2018 Leave a comment

There’s a Buffy The Vampire Slayer picture book. It’s aimed at children. Or more accurately, the parents of kids who have fond memories of the show.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a show that came out over 20 years ago. It’s more than reasonable to assume that the people who loved the show growing up have since gotten older, settled down and decided to pass on their love for the show to their offspring.

To every generation a Slayer may be born, but Buffy fans stretch across generations. Of course, it’s a pretty scary show, so how young should you start a potential Buffy fan? How about with an adorable Picture Book that has Buffy, Willow and Xander go on a sleepover? Kim Smith is no stranger to creating books firmly aimed at small hands which happen to be based on more grown-up fare. She’s nailed it yet again; this is a book that will delight kids and make adults grin in a silly sort of way.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer – A Picture Book is a charming affair. Like many of the Pop Classic s before it, it reduces an iconic bit of pop culture down into its simplest form. The story is pretty straight forward. It focuses on a young Buffy Summers who’s afraid of the monster in the closet, so she gathers her friends together to figure things out. Obviously there’s also a trip to Library to meet Giles, and there’s plenty of surprises for fans. By which we mean some very nice illustrations of notable things from the Buffy Mythos.

Compared to previous works, it’s much more simplified than the other books. Smith’s version of Back to the Future had a meatier story to compress, as did the Pop Classic version of ET an Extra-Terrestial. It is however, just as fun. We aren’t convinced that this could really be called baby’s first horror though. You have to be a certain age to really get spooky stuff, and that’s what the Goosebumps books are for.

A little bit of spookiness is good for anyone. Horror (and it’s upmarket cousin, Crime drama), is our way of coping with the more mundane nastiness in the world after all. So a little bit of spooky magic fun is always welcome.

Categories: Books, Geek

BANANAMAN – The Musical

I first heard of an adaptation of Bananaman in the works a couple of years ago. Originally intended as a movie, they aimed much lower as it developed and turned it into a musical.

We are currently living in a world where comic-books are king. However, notably, missing from the huge roster of comic book reboots are characters from The Beano.1 This national treasure has never taken itself seriously and is packed with very silly fun. Enter Bananaman The Musical, an attempt to add this unique voice in the world of comics to growing chorus of superhero stories. The result is highly pleasing; A hilarious musical for Generation X and their kids.

For those who weren’t lucky enough to be young in 80’s Britain, Bananaman is a deeply silly take on boyish power fantasy comics such as Bill Parker’s Shazam, Siegel & Shuster’s Superman or Mick Anglo’s Marvelman. Eric Wimp is a schoolboy who, when he eats a banana, turns into a yellow and blue musclebound idiot who can bend steel and fly. Many of us will remember the 1983 cartoon, featuring the vocal talents of the Goodies. Sightline Entertainment, the producers of this show certainly did. As we entered the Southwark Playhouse’s main stage, the interlude music was a collection of 80’s kids TV show theme tunes.

The show opens with an explanation of how boring Eric Wimp’s life is, how dull Acacia Road and introduces the characters. Notably, Fiona the Newsreporter is re-imagined as a schoolgirl reporter with own YouTube channel, and is an actual character rather than a prop. In proper Beano style the girls are just as awesome as the guys, thank you very much.

Jodie Jacobs tackles the difficult task of Crow exceptionally well. This is a crow that flaps around and sings, and the puppet is very charming, very witty and carries much of the narrative on its slender feathered shoulders. Mark Newnham sells the earnest rubbishness of Eric Wimp perfectly, and Matthew McKenna is clearly having the time of his life as Bananaman. His comic timing his perfect.2

The show is stolen, in part, by the villains. Which is exactly what you want. Marc Pickering is Doctor Gloom, and chews the scenery as the smartest buffoon in the room and has all the best songs. Carl Mullaney’s General Blight tempers Pickering’s performance with an absurd sense of manic outrage and the two bounce off each of as cackling baddies throughout.

The songs are fun, cracking and catchy. They tell the story but are the sort of songs you’d listen to again and again. They mock the recent seriousness of the superhero genre with a playful sense of fun and are quite memorable.

They are some flaws with the storytelling; Eric’s intelligence is established early on, in fact his nerd and geek credentials have their own song. When Eric turns into Bananaman, fans know that the hero has the muscles of twenty men and brains of twenty mussels, but this isn’t established until much later. It’s a minor detail, but one that could be easily fixed. The scenes at the end rush slightly too quickly, but that’s fine. By now you’ve climbed aboard the Banana boat of fun and are laughing so hard it’s tricky to keep up with the gags.

The venue also delivered a few sound issues early on, but these where swiftly resolved. That said, this isn’t a super-slick production and nor should it be. The source material is chaotic and silly and that’s part of the appeal. A highly professional production throughout though one with a deliberately anarchic vibe.

I particularly loved the way some of the ensemble cast where dressed as ‘brown-coat and flat cap’ janitors when moving bits of the set around, and that they were actual character.

A splendid fourth-wall shout out that was instantly recognisable to the target audience. Costume Supervisors Nia Evans and Daisy Woodroffe have done an amazing job getting the look the characters spot on, right down to the socks and the titular hero looks as silly as he does wonderful. They are some lovely Easter Eggs in the show’s design, from the mortar-board hat on the teachers to a sign pointing to Bash Street. Director Mark Perry has nailed it; this is The Beano come to life.

Bananaman The Musical is a lovely ripe banana, dipped in nostalgia and fun, served with glee and manic silliness. Sadly it looks like it won’t tour. The press junket we attended seemed focused mostly on the London theatre scene, and this is definetly a show aimed more firmly at what marketing types call ‘Facebook Families’3.

This sort of thing is exactly what British Theatre needs – fun, friendly and commercial. It’s a huge shame that not even the soundtrack is available anymore. Hopefully someone will bring it back to life.


1: A fine and fun kids comic from DC Thompson, and an amazing example of British humour.

2: I confess that the first quick-change caught me unawares and I was utterly impressed. Then I realised that Wimp and Bannanman are played by different people. I am a muppet.

3: Middle Class families looking for something for the kids that won’t bore the adults. But cost is king. We all know a Facebook Family, they’re the ones with their little ‘uns in the profile.

Categories: Geek, Old Reviews, Theatre

Life Sized Imperial Knight Titan, anyone?

February 24, 2014 1 comment

So if you’re a massive Warhammer 40,000 nerd (which you may have noticed that I am) then you won’t have missed the fact that they’ve recently launched models of the Knight Titans. These are meant to nine-metre tall walking robots that do the scouting and skirmish work for much larger giant robotic killing machines.

I am a big fan of this idea, and it got me thinking about Zoids, those robotic skirmishing toys from the 80’s which happened to also have a great comic strip written by none other than Grant Morrison. They too were meant to be dinosaur sized, the smaller ones clearing the way for the bigger ones.

Someone even made a huge model of the big daddy of all Zoids, Zoidzilla. It was on Blue Peter and did the rounds at various fayres and festivals of the time. It roared and looked cool.

This is the only picture I could find of it. A family snap of chap called Alex Light. He doesn't look like that anymore :)

This is the only picture I could find of it , a family snap of chap called Alex Light. He doesn’t look like that any more 🙂

So this got me to thinking; maybe someone will make life-sized Imperial Knight? They’ve done Drop-Pods and tanks in the post, how difficult would it be to make a giant killy robot statue? (Probably very, but still).

Wouldn't fit in the back garden, sadly.

Wouldn’t fit in the back garden, sadly.

Categories: Geek

Mr Banks versus The Grumpy

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

More and more these days, it seems every Hollywood movie that comes out immediately hits a wall of criticism for simply existing, often weeks before anyone has actually seen the thing. The movie that’s currently enjoying this sort of attention is Saving Mr Banks, a star studded retelling of the production Mary Poppins, focusing on media mogul Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and the creator of the Mary Poppins and children’s author, PL Travers (played by Emma Thompson).

Predictably, it’s already drawn criticism that the film doesn’t focus on Traver’s back story enough; she was an interesting person with a rich and full life, and the movie focuses on a narrow band of her experience. Those looking to fling mud also point out that Disney have made a movie about their founder that paints him in a positive light, which is an odd criticism when you consider it; why would a light-hearted feature about the creation of a classic children’s movie overfill it’s plate with the darker side of the human condition? Critics seem keen to dig out their grudges against Hollywood and Disney and particular, and whine at length at about how unfairly the material has been treated.

Partially, this post is an excuse to stick this image on my blog

Partially, this post is an excuse to stick this image on my blog

This approach both confuses and amuses me. Because if I wanted to be educated and informed, I’d pick up several books on the matter, perhaps seek out a few documentaries. Movies like this are meant to entertain first and foremost1. Being critical of this sort of movie whilst failing to acknowledge it’s validity as a source material is to fundamentally miss the point.2. A word to the wise; simply ranting about how a dramatisation isn’t as historical accurate as you want it to be is one of those things people do to appear deep and clever, but typically reveals them to be pedantic, shallow and rather mean instead.

Disney can be relied on to entertain; that’s their job and they’ve gotten better and better at it over the years. If you’re expecting Disney to teach you the real and true history behind some of its classic works, then that’s either naïve or you’re deliberately looking for things to be snarky about.

Let’s be honest, most of us had not even thought about Travers until this film came out. The movie is almost fifty years old, so many of saw the film on telly when we were too small to consider who made the film or what its origins are. It’s a familiar thing that has always been there, so it’s likely that you’ve taken its existence for granted. That fact alone makes Saving Mr Banks something I want to see, I would hazard a guess that those who already knew about Traver’s life are now vastly outnumbered by those who have gone out and educated themselves as a result of this recent exposure.


1: Put it this way, you are as likely to learn real Scottish history from Highlander as you are from Braveheart.

2 : I call this the Daniel Day Lewis effect. To my knowledge, Lewis has never appeared in a movie based on history that didn’t take total liberties with the source material.

Categories: Geek, Movies, Rants

The First Show

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment

So, the first leg of Operation: Gobshite has finally landed1, and it’s radio related. This Sunday was the first ever episode of The BookWorm, a little book show that I co-host with my friend Ninfa Hayes and produced by AL Johnson. You can catch it every Sunday on Fab Radio International

It’s meant to be a rather irreverent look at the book world. We’re not Radio 42 by any stretch of the imagination, and are quite far removed from taking ourselves seriously. We love books, and draw our inspiration from the fantastic worlds we find between the covers. We also laugh a lot. It’s pretty much an excuse for me to do some of the things I love to do; talk to creative people and get enthused about creative things.

It’s a relief to have the first show live and done. After weeks of practice, worry, pondering and generally messing about we finally went live, and it was glorious. Things didn’t go completely smoothly, but that’s all part of the fun.

This is not my first radio show; I presented a rock radio show in college, and I’ve been a contributor to other cool shows in the past, but The BookWorm feels like I’ve finally found my groove. Time will tell, but it’s been a fun ride so far. Listen live at 12pm GMT3 Every Sunday.


1: Like a Martian War Machine, the charmingly titled Operation Gobshite has three legs. Talking nonsense on a Radio Show is only one part of this.

2: Fab Radio International is very much about being alternative. It’s very much influenced by the sort of innovation, co-operation and free-thinking that defines the city of Manchester, and it has this wild feel to it that is rather fun.

3: 7am EST. Sorry colonials.

Categories: Books, Geek

Regeneration Speculation

November 22, 2013 3 comments

Note from the future: This is a very old post and was relevant at the time. Also Jodie Whittaker is amazing as The Doctor.  We return now to your scheduled ‘old rants’ reading. 

I’ve been trying to write a blog post about Doctor Who, regeneration and the role of The Doctor being played by a woman for some time now. Mostly I go round in circles and learn a little bit more about my own tastes, personal prejudices and slowly gain a greater understanding of inequality and sexism. It’s a very useful intellectual exercise for me, but consistently makes for a bloody boring wall of text as I1 waffle on. I’ll try to make it less dull, without tying myself up in knots about how to make the world a more egalitarian2 place.

So duly warned, here are some things to consider about regenerations.

a) Every regeneration is a reboot – I think people get distracted by the fact that because Doctor Who’s reboots happen as part of the narrative, rather than outside it, that this makes changing the show’s format some how easier. It’s not. The story and casting are only part of making a show. Casting Tilda Swinton (for example) as The Doctor is as easy to do as casting Katee Sackhoff as the next James Bond.

b) Having a preference for a certain shape, colour, gender or anything else in your future timelords does not make you a bigot, in the same way that preferring Roger Moore to Sean Connery as James Bond does not automatically make you anti-Scottish.

Being a bigot is the thing that makes you a bigot. For example, if your reason for not wanting Tilda Swinton to play The Doctor boils down to “girls smell”, then you need to have a word with yourself.

If, however, every time you close your eyes and picture The Doctor and you see someone who is short, bald and male (and your list of preferences are all actors who resemble Danny Devito) then that’s just your taste and your shouldn’t let anyone tell you that your tastes are wrong or weird; they’re your tastes and you should enjoy them as they’re part of who you are.

c) Casting, if done well, should be based on who the producers of the show think they could do the best work with. No other criteria should enter into it. Which brings me on to point 4.

d) The only way you’re going to get to make the decision is to become the next show runner of Doctor Who. If you’re so inclined, you should make this a personal goal3. I also think speculating on who the next show runner is just as interesting as trying to guess who the next Doctor is. I suspect it’ll be Mark Gatiss next, but I’d love it to be Jane Goldman.

e) With that in mind, lobbying the BBC to produce a version of Doctor Who with a female lead is the wrong approach. Producers should feel free to pick whomever they’re happy working with. Tell the BBC you want more sci-fi and fantasy shows with female leads and female show runners. Please, because the BBC needs to do more SFF in general. Then when the job for show-runner comes up, shout your preferences from the rooftops. 

1: I’m fat white bloke of average height in his late 30’s. I’m happy with my body and gender and very happily married to a rather lovely lady. As such I feel I have very little to add that hasn’t already been said by other fat white lucky sods.

But I like to waffle on, so there.

2: Being an egalitarian does not mean you only have to eat eagles. Yum yum, eagles. You can’t be an egalitarian without being a feminist by the way; can’t be for a fair society without dealing with the most obvious imbalance.

3: A hall of fame that includes the likes of Verity Lambert and Russel T Davies.

Categories: Geek, TV Tags: ,

Ordos

November 30, 2012 1 comment

They are a great many of projects that I’d love to do, but I am completely aware that I don’t have the time or resources to handle them with the level of care I feel they deserve. Many of these are LARP1 projects. Despite my huge love of games and a desire to tell wild stories, LARP is very hard to do well.

One of these dream projects is a thing that I call Ordos. Set in the Warhammer 40K universe, players would play members of the Inquisition. Each player would select an exquisitely detailed character from a set list, and it would be quite rules light. Inspired by NWO Games Ars Magica campaign2, this would bring together incredibly powerful characters and make them interact with each other.

There would be 3 games in total; Xenos, Malleus, Hereticus.3, and each would have very high costume standards and set pieces designed to evoke the universe.

(c) Volpin Props

The 40K universe simply begs to have many great props made for it.


Each event would be a High Conclave, and in the game world, the events would be spaced centuries apart. (In reality, you’d get an event every 18 months or so). The site would ideally be a repurposed industrial building, with plenty of places for conspirators to sneak off and talk in hushed tones. The Victoria Baths in Manchester would be ideal.

The idea would be to bring to live the complex and gothic world of Warhammer 40,000 without falling into the clichés that haunt LARP systems. Because the medium began as a way of simulating fantasy adventures, many LARP suffers from a focus on action, typically using rubber or foam weaponry.4 Though this has its place, the real appeal to larp is the same as any other media; it’s ability to bring you out of yourself and explore a fictional world, and this can be done without the need for waves and waves of monsters.

Such games are possible. As we speak, someone is organising a Battle Star Galactica game on an old battleship. It looks marvellous, but it’s unlikely I can afford it. I do hope it is the way that LARP will go in the future and time will tell. To echo the battle cry of many a games organiser, I want to play these sort of games, not run them.


1: LARP, aka Live Action Roleplay, often described as cross-country pantomime, it’s a deeply silly and extravagant hobby that combines the many of the logistical problems of theatre with the heartache and insanity common to novelists. Once you’ve ran the game, that’s it; it will be never repeated, you were either there or not. It’s a great experience that feels brilliant and looks very silly. It’s utterly ephemeral and there really is no other media quite like it.

2: New World Order Games were a merry band of larp organisers who created a series of remarkable and highly detailed game based on the Ars Magica roleplaying game. To give you a hint as to how much work went into briefing the players, you can take a look at 700-page book composed of the all the players briefs for the first game. Later games have two volumes rather than just the one, and an equal amount of love went into the props and costume. Unsurprisingly, several members of that creative team now produce other highly popular games.

3: These are three major factions of the Inquisition. For the uninitiated, Warhammer 40K’s version of the Inquisition is a fear inducing organisation who are utterly above the law. They root out demonic infestation, treachery and alien influence, and can use any means to do so, including blowing up worlds.

4: The game I’m currently writing, Greater Goods and Lesser Gods experiments with these ideas, but goodness will there be a lot of action. It’s a 1950’s Dan Dare style game, and it should be huge fun.

Categories: Games, Geek

Dan Abnett Interview

November 26, 2012 Leave a comment

No blog post update today; way too much to write up. Instead, take a look at this interview I did with Dan Abnett for Starburst magazine.

Link Here.

Categories: Books, Comic Books, Games, Geek