Posts Tagged ‘Doctor Who’

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.

The Crash of the Elysium

June 1, 2012 2 comments

Those of you who are lucky enough to be in the London area over June; The Crash of the Elysium is running from 15th of June to the 8th of July. It’s a Doctor Who themed theatre experience (and yes, I know how that sounds), and you can find booking details here.

I was lucky enough to see/experience it last year, as part of the Manchester International Festival, and I talk about it here, but in short, do go and see it, it’s very good.

Speaking of Manchester based theatre, check out The Greater Manchester Fringe, it has some very interesting events, and it is in its first year.

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The further adventures of Torchwood

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Earlier this year, Torchwood: Miracle Day‘s launch was accompanied by a trio of tie-in novels1. Previous releases have included books written by the likes of genre favourites such as Dan Abnett and James Moran, so it came as no surprise that this batch featured work by some of the more notable and ‘upcoming’ authors.

Long Time Dead by Sarah Pinborough is the most intriguing of three, as it stars recurring villain Suzy Costello. Fans of the show will recall that Suzy is a girl who just won’t stay dead, and in this, she’s back again, raising hell. Pinborough delivers a nicely chilling story of murder, other-worldly horror and science-gone-wrong with some lovingly delivered moments of utter creepiness. Just enough is left to the imagination to be nicely chilling, and though the tale runs across fairly predictable lines, the characterisation of the confused yet completely crazy Costello is superb. One to pick up by an author who’s worth checking out.

First Born features the return of well known characters from the series

James Goss’s addition to the series, First Born is the best of the bunch. It features former Torchwood agent Gwenn, her husband Rhys and their new-born baby girl on the run. The small family swiftly finds itself in a remote welsh village with a sinister secret and twisted problems. The tale is told from multiple perspectives, and Goss makes the characters compelling and endearing. Fans of the show will find a lot to love here and it’s the sort of science-fiction horror that Torchwood does well.

Man who sold the World is the weakest of the three, and suffers from the fact that the main character, Rex, is the least established Torchwood hero. (He’s only been in the recent series.) It’s a neat little sci-fi thriller, but Rex comes across as unlikeable (rather than headstrong). Author Guy Adams is a very strong writer who seems to have had the toughest deal here, and though it’s a reasonable adventure, the main characters simply don’t carry the story far enough. I was quite disappointed by this, but I do hope we see Rex again, should they do another set of spin-off novels.

1: You may have noticed I like tie-in novels. This is because I’m a big fan of shared creative works, and I find the idea of being invited to play in someone else’s creative sandpit to be highly appealing. Creating a world from whole cloth is one thing, but telling original tales in a more established setting is something else entirely, and allows for a depth often missing from single-creator works. I do wonder if some people are snooty about tie-in fiction because they feel foreknowledge is required to enjoy them. This is rarely the case, as a good tie-in writer can cater to both new and experienced readers at the same time.

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Doctor Who, The Adventure Games

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

The BBC has always been keen to embrace new technology and media. If you grew up in the 80’s, you may remember BBC Microcomputers, TV shows like Micro Live and hi-tech schemes like the Domesday Project. These days, the British Broadcasting Corporation continues to experiment, and the fruits of this work include things such as iPlayer. One of their recent projects is to investigate the notion of video games as a way of telling stories. After all, Auntie Beeb produces some world class stories intended for TV and Radio, why not tell stories using mouse and keyboard?1

The latest result of these explorations are the Doctor Who: The Adventure Games, now in its second series. The games are first person puzzlers, you take the role of The Doctor and Companions (mostly Amy, though we also get to play Rory in the most recent series), and go on a limited adventure through time and space, fighting the usual sort of villains and saving the world in the process. Anyone who has internet access in the UK can download them for free, and they’re designed to run on most PC’s, the spec being rather minimal.

Quality varies depending on each individual chapter, and also on how much of a fan you are of the show. In each case, the actual graphics and interface can be best be described as average and adequate; these games are intended to be played by anyone , so don’t expect fantastic quality graphics or a radical departure from the usual conventions of games control; this can be a little frustrating at times but it does mean that if you’re rubbish at games you should be able to have a much fun as a seasoned First Person Shooter Champion.

The first series featured four stories. City of the Daleks was the first game they ever produced, and it really is there to make the geeks make happy little sounds; it begins in London, 1963, but oh no, the Daleks have invaded.1 . So is London the titular City of the Daleks? Well, not really, and that’s part of the fun. For a first try, it’s a pretty strong opener.

(c) BBC

Voiced by the shows actors, the voice work clearly improves over time.

It’s followed up by Blood of the Cybermen, which is set on an Arctic base where things have gone horribly wrong. Combining classic Cybermen stories with the sort of frozen paranoia you get in classic sci-fi horror stories, and also has some of my favourite (yet cutest) Who monsters.

Game number three, TARDIS, is the weakest of the series, which is a real shame as it’s written by James Moran3, who’s a favourite of mine. It promises a chance to sneak around the famous spaceship and really fails to deliver, mosyly because it’s too short and too small. I suspect it’s a victim of time and budget rather than anything else.

The first series ends with Shadows of the Vashta Nerada, which features horrible shadow monsters and giant sharks. Again, it could be much better, and it’s a little maze-like in places. It’s still fun, though the first two games stand out much more than the last two.

The first series also featured a series of collectable items, little Easter-Eggs that told you either a little about real world history or a little about Doctor Who. They’ve sort of been replaced in the new series, and I have to admit I totally missed them first time, and the reason why made me laugh and groan in equal measure.

The second series has begun strongly with The Gunpowder Plot; again, it features the sort of thing that will make fans of both the classic and new series do a little dance, and the voice-acting has gotten much stronger. There also seems to be a interesting division of labour in this one; The Doctor does all the thinking, Amy does a lot of talking to people and Rory does a fair bit of heavy lifting, which is works quite nicely. It also seems much more keen to talk to you about history, and I did wonder if they had a copy of National Curriculum to hand whilst writing it.4

The series in general suffers from being simplistic and the ‘puzzle’ aspect of Doctor Who: The Adventure Games can be a little literal in places. It’s also a little buggy, but nothing that would hurt your enjoyment. As a video game aimed squarely at a family audience who happen to be fans, it works and I am looking forward to seeing more.

1: BBC projects you may have missed include Ghosts of Albion and the The Torchwood Alternate Reality Game.
2: 1963 is the year the show first aired. They do like to do stuff like this, and I think it’s great that this sort of care and attention is obvious in the work.
3: The rest of the games have been written by Phil Ford, who did a lot of work for that other Doctor Who spin off Sarah Jane Adventures.
4: Hooray for engaging kids in education. And adults, for that matter.

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He looked out and said to me “run for your life!”

October 15, 2011 2 comments

These days, it seems you can’t be a fictional hero without having your own tourist attraction. Batman and Spiderman have their own roller coaster rides, Harry Potter has an entire theme park.

So what about The Doctor from the titular show, Doctor Who? Well, in a sort of way, he does. Crash of the Elysium is a Doctor Who themed theatrical production in which the audience play the starring role. Half ghost-train and half stage-play, you come face to face with one of the show’s most terrifying monsters, all the while running for your life. The overall experience is very evocative of everything we love about the show; thrills, chills, scary monsters and friendly time travelling space-wizards. The production is a theme-park ride with class and style, which is what you’d expect for such a venerable TV-show.

(c) BBC

The acting is superb and engaging

Crash of the Elysium is of course, brought to you by Punchdrunk a theatrical company who specialise in this sort of thing. The show begins gently (like all good theme park rides) and then picks up very quickly, one moment you’re browsing some dry looking museum exhibits and the next moment,you are in an environmental encounter suit, face to face with mild peril. I won’t say much more about the plot, but if you do get to see the show, I defy anyone to attend and not get completely sucked in.

The production is also firmly part of the current Doctor Who series. Co-written by show supremo Steven Moffat, it features nods and winks to the ongoing series all the way through. This is no ‘tribute’ to the show, this is another episode of the current incarnation of The Doctor presented in a unique way.

Crash of the Elysium is one of many show’s that premiered earlier this year at The Manchester International Festival, and you will be able to catch it as part of the London 2012 Olympic cultural celebrations. If you can, do bring along a small child, or borrow a friend’s small child if you don’t have one of your own. I attended the ‘Over 13’s’ show and it was mostly adults, despite the show being written for children, as some of the plot points are aimed squarely at the young. That said, everyone attending immediately turned into delighted (and well-behaved) children, utterly enchanted by the production, the plot and the acting. My only criticism is that it only an hour long, and that I’m going to have to wait till next year to go on this ride again.

Categories: Reviews, Theatre Tags:

Confidentially Cancelled

September 29, 2011 7 comments

The BBC has announced that this weekend’s episode of Doctor Who Confidential will be the last one ever. The next series of Doctor Who will not have a documentary style companion show with it. Which is fair enough; every Doctor Who fan knows that eventually, all companions have to leave, and this may as well apply to low-budget documentaries as much as it applies to highlanders, savages, future girls and hot redheads.

What’s more interesting is see the reaction of the Who fandom. Sci-fi fans react to the dreaded word “cancellation” in the same way that baby starling reacts to the silhouette of a bird-of-prey; by generating a hell of a din and panicking blindly at the same time. Despite there being no sign of the BBC cancelling its flagship family-friendly drama, the e-petitions1 and twitter hash-tags are out in force. Thanks to the power of the internet, you too can fill the web with sound and fury, and at the same time, signify absolutely nothing.

According to former Doctor Who Producer, Russell T Davies, Confidential started out as a way of squeezing out an additional 45 minutes worth of telly out of a relatively expensive show. After all, pointing a camera at some people and asking them to talk is much cheaper than producing high-quality drama, and the trick was copied elsewhere (Heroes and Merlin, to name but two) as way of making a budget stretch as well as keeping key production staff in employment between filming blocks.

The Clapper Board (c)BBC

As nice as it is, do we really need another ten hours of this sort of thing?

Things have changed. When Confidential first came out, no one was sure if Doctor Who would be a hit. When it quickly became apparent that the Time Lord and chums was here to stay, plans for a permanent studio were laid and the show saw some heavy investment. As production continued and producers changed, they have learned that the show benefits from being shown in short bursts rather than longer ones, and how to market the whole thing to foreign markets. All things considered, it’s safe to say that we should be enjoying the adventures of a mad man in a box for some years to come. The benefits of Confidential are simply no longer required.

Other factors are worth bearing in mind as well. BBC Three, the home of Doctor Who Confidential, is desperate to cut away the apron strings of the larger, terrestrial channels. Three aims to be the channel you go to watch fresh new telly. It has already cancelled the long running (but awful) Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and the axe is falling on various docu-dramas as well. At the same time, new and different shows such as The Fades are appearing on Three, and if this is a sign of things to come, then it is a very good sign.

Still, it’s going to be missed. This year’s series gave us some lovely insights, such as the episode that let us follow writer Neil Gaiman round the set and watch him glow with delight as he got to caper about the set of TARDIS, and it’s always nice to see how things work. However, all these things will still be around, you’ll just have to pay for them when you buy the DVD, and given that we have been spoilt for this sort of thing in the past, you won’t hear me complain. Or sign an e-petition.

1: Ah, the e-petition, the modern way of showing you care without actually having to do anything.

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Torchwood – It’s Doctor Who, but mixed up

September 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Torchwood: Miracle Day, finished its fourth season recently. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet, but despite some excellent scenes, I thought it was disappointing.

Torchwood, for the uninitiated, is Doctor Who’s younger, swearier brother. Unlike the family friendly Doctor Who, Torchwood is aimed squarely at the grown-up market, but with the same sort of ‘sci-fi adventure’ flavour that Doctor Who has. The idea is that by aiming a similar show at adults, we can have stories that feature adult themes. Potentially, this could be great. Doctor Who is famous for its wild ideas, and with a license to explore the sort of thing only older people really understand, the potential for rich story telling is great indeed.

The thing is, Doctor Who has had years to hone its trademark streak of insane brilliance. Daleks, for example, look silly, but time and again have been portrayed as horrific monsters to great effect. This is partially because any writer worthy of the name knows Daleks well enough to pitch the terror at a level children can understand. And by doing so, also creeps out anyone who was once a child.

Torchwood, Miracle Day. (c) Starz and the BBC

Actually, Torchwood could do with a talking dog. Never did Doctor Who or Scooby Doo any harm.

Torchwood, on the other hand, aims straight at the grown-ups, and misses the mark. The first two series of the show had more bad episodes than good, and the good episodes only served to show us how much potential the idea had. More often than not, we sat down to watch the show expecting an adult-thriller with a sci-fi twist, and instead got something that resembled Scooby-Doo taking itself way to seriously. And the only thing that makes Scooby Doo worth watching is its silliness.

Torchwood’s third series, Children of Earth, however, hit the target dead on. The menace was one that most people could easily relate to, and the show built up a momentum of creepiness, the horrors getting more horrific, the conspiracy getting more labyrinthine, until the inevitable tragic ending. Though not perfect, this was what I expected from the idea of ‘Doctor Who for Grown-Ups’; wild sci-fi ideas, the implications of which grew to be more thrilling (and worrying) simply because I was old enough to understand the implications.

So then onto the fourth series, Miracle Day. Having learned from the previous season, they tried a similar pitch; a simple yet wild idea that allowed the show’s producers to tell a story of conspiracy, of healthcare gone wrong, of the brutality of man’s urge to endure and how redemption is not something that can always be gained through noble sacrifice. Sounds great doesn’t it?

A yet somehow, they missed again. Partially, the tale was too flabby round the sides. Too many episodes, not enough story. It meandered, it took itself too seriously, and it had way to much of the lead actor’s naked bottom in it. Shorter stories can get away with less exposition, and one of Miracle Day’s flaws is that is became a bit of shaggy dog story. We’d waited too long for an explanation, so when it came, it was a disappointment.

They tell me that there may not be a fifth series. If there is, I’ll watch it, but if never comes back, I’m okay with that as well, and that, is not a good sign.

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