Tuesday, 17 May 2011
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Directed by: Richard Clark
Or is it?
The general consensus all over the interwebs seems to be that this episode was a triumph, and one of the best episodes of Who ever. As a Doctor Who fan of *mumbles* years standing, I naturally find this tremendous, and the fact that, to some extent, I wonder what on earth they were all watching is my partly my own fault of course. I avoid spoilers, as a rule, but am enough of fan to notice the level of secrecy surrounding an episode, so while I watched this without knowing what would happen, I was aware of the build-up, and thus perhaps primed for "oh..."-ishness, which is a horse of very dangerous kidney. (In my own very particular case -- obviously Doctor Who isn't made for just me, that would clearly be disastrous.)
Anyway, the thing about Doctor Who I like best is the Tardis. But, having been told by Doctor Who Magazine that this episode would "change the way we see a key part of the series mythology"1 and yet also being familiar with the the works of Lawrence Miles, these revelations weren't gosh-wow surprising to me, even without spoilers. (To be fair, "normal" people who switched over to Doctor Who Confidential after this episode would have found that programme helpfully re-playing clips like the famous "Does he still stroke bits of the Tardis?" conversation between Rose and Sarah Jane from School Reunion, so is it really quite that mythology changing anyway?)
Of course, none of this would have mattered if the characters of Uncle, Auntie, and the original Idris had been as interesting as they first seemed, but they were all offed in short order. And even this wouldn't have mattered (for absurd Tardis fanboys like me, at any rate), if the "more of the Tardis than we've seen since the show's return" had been more than corridors with Star Trek style doors that went "scchwwissssh!" (even though, uniquely amongst anything Star Trek, I love that.) This mention of Star Trek is apt, I think. A fan of Trek told me this week that they liked this episode because the Doctor's affection for The Ship reminded them of Kirk's love of The Enterprise. But Doctor Who isn't (or shouldn't be) Star Trek, or even an sf or cult series at all; it's not when it's been at its best, I'd aver.
Aho! I've still watched this twice, and may yet do again. But an episode where the highlights (to be clear: for me; I'm odd) were "I like biting, it's like kissing, but there's a winner!" and "Did you wish really hard?" --- "I'm sexy!", is not even the best episode of the Moffat era. (That's Amy's Choice, which is one the best ever.)
1 Issue 434.
[Credits: The "Previous Tennant" gag appears thanks to the vigorously witheld permission of Mark Blackmore]
Monday, 14 March 2011
Solomon Kane, that's a good name, isn't it?
Anyway, before we see, later this year, whether the latest cinematic attempt at Conan manages to properly capture Robert. E. Howard1, or whether the best "Howard" film will remain, in fact, Rambo, there is this film version of Howard's second most famous character, starring James Purefoy as the titular dour puritan.
To be honest, I was a bit trepidatious about this despite my love for a] Kane; b] Howard; and c] Purefoy2. I can't stand origin stories you see. They're worst in superhero films of course; endless stuff the audience either already knows or doesn't care about before anything interesting happens. And then, if there's been a few years between films and a change of director, they have to "reboot" the bloody concept and start all over again. For heaven's sake, isn't it?. In recent years I've adopted the brilliant plan of not watching the first film of superhero franchises at all, and starting instead from Part II, but even this isn't foolproof: watching The Dark Knight, having carefully avoided Batman Begins, what do you find but that a large chunk of the three-day running time is an origin story for Two-Face...
Anyway, Solomon Kane. While we watch it, let's also consider Howard's own first tale of Solomon Kane, "Red Shadows", from the August 1928 issue of Weird Tales.
I liked it. It's easily the best cast Howard-based film yet, Purefoy is excellent as Kane, Bassett treats everything with a proper seriousness, and there are moments that brilliantly capture the spirit of Howard. (Though, perhaps unfortunately, the best of these is right at the start, a splendid evocation of Howard's proficiency, as H. P. Lovecraft put it, with "the description of vast megalithic cities of the elder world, around whose dark towers and labyrinthine nether vaults linger and aura of pre-human fear and necromancy...")
And yet...In "Red Shadows", Kane, after evil is done to an innocent girl, declares "Men shall die for this" on the second page of 26 (in the recent Gollancz Conan's Brethen edition of Howard's tales), and the story climaxes in the dark jungles of Africa. Here, we have a brilliant pre-credits sequence in Africa, then it's back to England for an origin tale, and Kane swears his oath to avenge evil done to an innocent girl after 40-odd minutes (of 100 or so).
Perhaps I'm being unfair. In one of the interviews on the DVD extras, Michael Bassett says:
I wanted to have an origins tale, which is not something that Robert Howard did in his original works. His short stories are Soloman Kane as a fully formed character and there are only hints of who he was prior to this kind of puritan avenger.and judged by his intentions he succeeded completely, and made a fine film, with the sort of lean and efficient running time that the Dark Knight's of the world can only dream of. Is it just me though that thinks it would have been better to have started with the 'fully-formed' Kane, and had only hints of his dark past? This goes back to Rambo being an elemental force of nature rather than a "character", and something Faction Paradox creator Lawrence Miles said about how adventure fiction runs on iconography rather than characterisation, and how "the lead characters [in adventure stories] are great symbols. If you tried dissecting their psyches, they'd fall to bits in a second."
I think he's right, and that characters like Soloman Kane aren't ultimately best served by knowing their origins and the details of their (as here) traumatic childhood family experiences. A Heroic Fantasy, I think (and especially Howard's) works best not as a character piece, but as an unstoppable frenzy of action. (Which is perhaps why the best examples remain short stories from nearly a century ago, rather than modern two-hour films). Even so, I'd definately watch a sequel to this, and I really want one of those hats...
1 The early signs aren't good, at least for me, as the bloody thing's apparently going to be in 3D, and 3D really, really makes me sustain a fury of the most vitriolic kidney.
2 Whatever one thinks of Rome3, Purefoy's performance as Mark Antony was a thing of shining excellence.
3 I really liked it, to be fair...
Thursday, 3 February 2011
I have no problem with dumping books that become a chore. There are too many things to read to waste time on something you aren’t enjoying. I’m late to Larsson, since I assumed, correctly as it turned out, that this wouldn’t be for me, but I gave up halfway. I found the prose leaden and the mystery uninvolving, there simply as a structure on which Larsson could hang his crusading anger over sexual violence against women. I’ll still watch the film.
"when she was working at the computer her fingers flew over the keys";
"wandering the corridors [...] like a stray cat";
"a hopeless case" and "nothing but trouble".
...she had an older desktop Mac G3 at home, as well as a five-year-old Toshiba P.C. laptop that she could use. But she needed a fast, modern machine.Unsurprisingly, she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a powerP.C. 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 megs of R.A.M. and sixty-gig hard drive. It had BlueTooth and built-in C.D. and D.V.D. burners.Best of all, it had the first forty-three centimetre screen in the laptop world with N.V.I.D.I.A. graphics and a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels, which shook the P.C. advocates and outranked everything else on the market. 
Monday, 31 January 2011
Monday, 28 June 2010
The most famous examples here are the tales that make up the influential BLIT sequence ("BLIT", "What Happened and Cambridge IV", "comp.basilisk FAQ", and the Hugo winning "Different Kinds of Darkness"), which, via maths, terrorism, genuinely haunting and disturbing images, and pertinent points about information and childhood, detail the implications of a scary sf idea in a combined length of (think on this, fatnasty fans!) 28 pages...
Equally, "Waiting for the Iron Age", in just 4 pages (think on this fatnasty fans! -- you've done this -- Ed) sorts out the Wandering Jew legend in double quick time, whilst, as Langford says in his afterword, giving, "our man a longer run for his money than anyone else..."
Another thing with reviewing Langford, of course, touched on above, is his encyclopaedic knowledge of the sf world: if one were to, as one might, try to comment on the "The Motivation", by 'cleverly' mentioning the Christopher Priest-like nature of the title, and then try and draw a parallel with Priest's (very different) story "The Watched", one would find, on reaching the end of Langford's (excellent) story, that he's already there in his (as is typical in this collection) informative and splendid afterword. Heigh ho...
And what great titles, though! ("In A Land of Sand and Ruin and Gold"; "Blossoms That Coil and Decay"; "The Lions in the Desert" etc.)
Seriously, everyone should have this....
1 An exageration. Just!
2 I mean here the genuine laugh-out-loud moments that render you actually unable to speak even when reading alone, rather than as a shorthand for "quite funny". For more of these, see He Do The Time Police In Different Voices.
Thursday, 24 June 2010
If a man tried to kill Ryder Hook, that man went in peril of his own life. 
Like any civilised man, Hook drank tea whenever he could. 
Apart from her legs, which Hook - being the ungraceful galactic adventurer he was would call short and fat if called upon to describe them - the lady Terifa was seemingly a most nicely fitted-together representative of the female section of Homo sapiens. 
The steel bar bounced. For any normal man that steel bar powered by all the dark ferocity of a homicidal maniac would have shattered his skull into bloody fragments. Blood and brains would have spurted past the splintered bones. But, then, Ryder Hook was not a normal man. 
Hook knew he'd been growing spineless and weak and a great ninny in star city. 
3 For more of Hook swearing, see Dave Langford, again. (Scroll down to "God's Hooks")
Monday, 21 June 2010
That I really should stop saying I'm going to do stuff "next" or "soon", as I always forget: galactic cycles ago, in February, I said some things about Coming to Dust, the first part of Lawrence Miles's The True History of Faction Paradox audio series, as released by the stout fellows at Magic Bullet, and said that "soon" I would say things about this. Oh well.
Ship of a Billion Years picks up the story, straight from where Coming to Dust left off. Cousin Justine of the Faction Paradox has passed through the space-time tunnel to the titular Ship, while Cousin Eliza and the Society of Sigismondo try to find out more from their captives Jala and Merytra. Meanwhile, Sutekh is planning a coup....
There are many great things about this.
First, the dialogue, an aspect which is perhaps even more important than usual in a non-visual medium. Examples, as the cliche goes, abound, but to pick a few: when asked if Jala, their captive great ape is dangerous, Eliza replies, "Not now I've broken its legs." (This is actually a prelude to a genuinely rather harrowing torture scene [which in typical Miles fashion, begins nevertheless with John Pemberton feebly saying to the captive Merytra, "Believe me, we can be quite firm when we want to be!"] The switching from dark humour to genuine emotion in brief brush-strokes is splendidly done throughout.)
Julian Glover as the Osiran Lord Upuat gets the best lines, however. Justine has become his chamber slave, and at one point Upuat points out various other Osirans to her: "That's Bast. She's worshipped as a goddess of not following orders on some worlds. You'd probably like her. I think I had sex with her once. Left scratches on my pelt for days..." Later, after Sutekh, arch-villain that he is, has told him he must "submit or be destroyed", Upuat replies, "Hmm. I'm not keen on either, to be honest. Couldn't I just sit back and not interfere?"
One of the things that it's hard not to do with the Faction Paradox audios, which generally pre-date the current return of Doctor Who, is to list ideas that first appeared here and are done rather better than they were in the more famous TV behemoth that followed. To pick a trivial example, the formal tongue of the Osiran Court is like a more spooky version of Judoon-speak, and, much more importantly, there is the idea of a Time War. In the RTD-era Doctor Who, it seemed to me, there was no real sense that the Time War actually happened in four dimesions: often the images made it just seem like a space battle between the Daleks and the Time Lords. Here, after Justine has travelled through the tunnel to the Ship, her companions back on Earth try and find out what's happening to her now by reading ancient texts and legends -- one of the non "history-proofed" members of the Society reads a line from an ancient Greek text, then reads it again and doesn't notice that he reads something completely different on the second occasion. (Yes, I know that there is more sense of Time being a factor in the current series of Who, in the arc about Amy's crack [if you'll pardon the expression] but even so...)
Which leads to the other great thing about this -- the characterisation. In an interview he did years before these plays appeared, Miles said that (admittedly in the context of TV drama rather than audio plays) that the idea of "character-driven" TV was overrated, and that "great television runs on iconography, not on giving characters stock emotional problems and letting them drone on about them for hours on end." Certainly the Egyptian Gods of the Osiran Court are icons, here, but the other characters generate genuine emotion in the listener in a series of completely non-droney, excellently written touches, the prime example of which is the story of Corwyn and Astarte (a great performance from Patricia Merrick) Marne's eight-month old daughter. Rescued from the poisoned Faction Paradox race bank discovered in Coming to Dust, her adoptive parents find that she slips out of their memories, that her room sometimes briefly appears unfurnished and empty when they enter, and that, when they remember things they have done, their daughter is not present....
This is genuinely emotional and affecting, and so much more effective for being sketched in brief moments rather than dolloped about like (as it seemed to this ageing cynical fellow on his first viewing anyway) the rather over-done and shallow cry-now-dammitry of, say, that Van Gogh episode of the new Doctor Who....
Anyway, marvellous stuff, and we haven't even considered the hints and reversals in the latter stages. Not soon or next, but when I remember, then: Part 3: Body Politic...