Tag Archives: television

Twin Peaks: The Return

Twin Peaks - The Return banner25 years or so ago David Lynch and Mark Frost left television and film audiences baffled as their journey to the dark heart of Americana, Twin Peaks (and spin-off movie Fire Walk With Me), came to an end with one explanation unraveling a whole host of further questions.

Now here we are in September 2017 and the 18 hours of Twin Peaks: The Return has come to a close, I’ll try not to give too much away, but safe to say it’s left us in a place that is, to use the cliché, ‘Lynchian’.

Dropping us right back in where we left off, but at the same time with the timeline shifted to the modern-day, we find Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) where we last saw him and his apparently possessed alter ego roaming free and up to no good.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper

MacLachlan as Cooper

We are also taken back to the town of Twin Peaks where much has remained the same, but also things have changed, and we meet other characters new and old as the tale winds its way there and back again.

Unlike the original run the murder mystery is almost totally forgotten, replaced with a bigger sense of mystery that has wider scope and feeling, but still driven by the death of Laura Palmer.

Much like the original series to tell this story Lynch plays on television conventions with each thread of the ongoing story in this newly expanded world, having a different feel.

Amongst them there is an (intentionally ironic?) X-Files like FBI procedural that follows FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (Lynch) and his team’s explorations of the whereabouts of Agent Dale Cooper, the twisted soap opera of Twin Peaks town, something akin to modern crime dramas like Breaking Bad as we learn about the exploits of Mr C (MacLachlan) and then, in the extended world of Dougie Jones (MacLachlan), a kind of surreal sitcom.

David Lynch as Gordon Cole

Lynch as FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole

Laced through all of this is an extended exploration of the other world seen in the original series, the world of the Black and White Lodges and more, that at its most extreme feels like a sequel to Eraserhead and there are strong suggestions that we are in that same universe.

In this vein one episode around the middle of the series is entirely given over to exploring this and in some ways it feels like it offers an explanation for at least some of the goings on – though of course things are never that cut and dry.

As the series goes on and all the threads come together things escalate as Lynch’s expert sound design ties things together and at points the quaint small town feel gives way total nightmare, even outside the lodges, as it appears universe morph and mutate as much as the story and meaning.

Kyle MacLachlan as Mr C

MacLachlan as Mr C

While all the performances are excellent, whichever aspect of things they exist in, it is undeniable (and regularly reinforced) that Kyle MacLachlan is the star. Playing at least two (three… four… more?) characters it really is a tour de force spanning the whole series and all its different worlds while being the tie that binds them all together.

As things head towards their conclusion it feels like all the loose ends are being tied up, but of course this is David Lynch really at peak performance so I won’t say much more… other than to say that The Return continues the escalation of Twin Peaks into an exploration of the state of humanity, or at least that might be one way of looking at it.

This all makes for one of the greatest pieces of televisual art I can remember seeing, it has all the gripping mystery and plot of the aforementioned likes of a Breaking Bad combined with the unique world view of Lynch that marries surrealism with a mesmerising nature that makes you not want to miss a single moment for fear a crucial event will pass you by.

Nine Inch Nails at The Roadhouse

‘The Nine Inch Nails’

Added to this as a bit of bonus, but one that sits perfectly in the tone of the programme, most episodes culminate at The Roadhouse with a musical performance from various real world bands and musicians from the renowned likes of former Lynch collaborators Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, to new artists and I’m looking forward to picking up the soundtrack when it’s released.

If you’ve not seen the series and want to avoid spoilers don’t watch to the very end of this video – otherwise… The Nine Inch Nails…

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Marvel’s The Defenders

Marvel's The Defenders logoOver the last few years Marvel and Netflix have teamed up to give a place within the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to some of the comic and movie juggernaut’s less brightly coloured characters.

From Daredevil to Iron Fist the four initial characters, five if you count anti-hero Punisher who’s yet to have his own series, they’ve all had their good and bad points and, much like the movies had The Avengers, have had an obvious target in mind, The Defenders.

I had my concerns going into the series as, while I had generally enjoyed the two Daredevil series (I think due to my already established interest in the character and his story), Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist had all suffered from having too many episodes and not quite enough story.

Jones particularly dragged in places despite the excellent Kilgrave story, but, in The Defenders, a shared underlying thread has come together in a genuinely satisfying way.

The Defenders - Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

Story faults aside, what had impressed about the standalone series was how each sat within its own genre version of the Marvel world, from gritty 70s style crime cinema (Daredevil) to a kind of tidied up blaxploitation (Luke Cage) and, in the first few episodes at least, but threaded throughout, The Defenders echoed these motifs around the individual characters very well.

The story, as previously mentioned, pulled elements of all the shows together but it’s particularly parts of the Daredevil plot and the Iron Fist back story that lead things. Featuring Marvel’s famous band of evil ninjas, The Hand, and their ongoing plans for New York – as usual based loosely around machinations of power and destroying things that don’t stand up to too in-depth an exploration but make for a good antagonising force.

Sigourney Weaver in The Defenders

Weaver as Alexandra

While we’d met a few members of The Hand in the past their new apparent leader revealed here comes in the form of Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra.

Echoing many of her famed genre roles of the past its clear that Weaver is having a great time chewing up scenery in a brilliantly villainous fashion with little of the potential nuance that modern villains might often have, though as the series goes on her story gains a little more depth, but nothing to change her excellently played villainy and a story arc that looks like it will make her more sympathetic actually develops the other way.

She’s ably backed up by previously introduced members of The Hand which leads to the forming of The Defenders as a kind of angsty, grumbling, street level version of The Avengers.

This formation is expectedly rocky but does lead to some brilliant moments between the characters dotted throughout the series hinting at more to come, particularly between comic book co-stars Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones). This is best demonstrated in the series’ fourth episode where things all fall into place (well as much as they do at any point) and we get probably the most of the quartet in a room talking before the inevitable fighting starts.

The Defenders in action

The Defenders in action

Speaking of action, as with the previous series, this was all much more ‘realistic’ (for superhero stuff) than the movies with plenty of blood and far more heft to what happens, including a number of severed limbs and decapitations which really are to be expected when katanas seem to be the general weapon of choice.

While there wasn’t quite a single standout action moment like some of the past series had, everything there was, until the very end, was brilliantly handled and really it was the weight of implausibility that only mildly tainted the big battle scene in the climax.

At only eight episodes compared to the lead in series’ 13, it was far tighter, focussing only on the one story, while giving us hints of side arcs but not feeling the need to explore them in detail.

In all this made for the most satisfying of the Marvel/Netflix series so far, but it may well suffer from not being as accessible to those who haven’t seen all the build up, but for those who have it’s a pretty non-stop ride and a nice alternative to the ever-increasing sci-fi scale of the cinematic releases.

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GLOW

Netflix Glow posterNetflix latest hit ‘own brand’ series is something of an odd fish. While their Marvel series and Better Call Saul obviously come from established franchises and others are fairly solidly angled genre pieces, GLOW seems to throw things together and hope something entertaining comes out the other end and, to a degree, it does.

Based on the story of the mid 1980s GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling promotion/show it presents a fictionalised version of the lead up to their first television taping from initial auditions to broadcast, similar to the documentary GLOW: The Story Of The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (also currently available on Netflix in the UK).

To make it into a drama the series focuses on one of the ladies, the apparently totally fictional Ruth (Alison Brie) a struggling actress in LA who stumbles into the wrestling show. Around her are the cast of wrestlers-to-be (including her former best friend, Betty Gilpin as Debbie) and the producer and director duo of Bash (Chris Lowell) and Sam (Marc Maron), the latter of whom becomes a kind of second lead.

To make this work the main thread of the story takes on a soap opera style, possibly also in a kind of reference to soap opera-like nature of wrestling storylines, which for me is a slightly odd construct but it works for the most part to keeps things rolling along in its half hour per show format.

GLOW - Alison Brie

Alison Brie as Ruth

Along with this though two other aspects collide in a way that makes it often a little on the unbalanced side.

The first, that certainly runs throughout, is the comedic side provided by Maron.

At its best this leads to some genuinely funny moments at which points Maron’s dry delivery is wonderful, but elsewhere it feels a little too much like he is hijacking proceedings with a very different style to the rest of the show, either way he is one of the highlights.

At the other end of the spectrum there are a few moments where the story gets a bit too serious which jars with the otherwise lighthearted tone, this particularly comes with an accidental pregnancy and abortion plot line that just doesn’t sit quite right and feels just dropped in to make up time.

Aside from this it is, for the most past, a light and colourful show a little like the one it is telling the story of (though with a far higher budget).

GLOW - Marc Maron

Marc Maron as Sam

Of course as a fan of wrestling there’s one crucial aspect that would make or break the show for me and that is its depiction of what NJPW calls ‘The King Of Sports’ (I know…). Thankfully in this it does a great job.

From the start its clear things are going in the right direction as not only does Johnny Mundo (aka John Morrison aka John Hennigan) appear as a wrestling coach but one of the regular cast is played by the artist formerly known as Kharma in WWE or Awesome/Amazing Kong elsewhere, Kia Stevens (and in a nice touch the gym is named ‘Chavo’s’ in tribute to that famed member of the Guererro family some of whom were involved with the original GLOW training).

GLOW cast

The GLOW girls

As the show goes on more pro-wrestlers cameo, notably Carlito Colon and the artist formerly known as Brodus Clay in WWE, and at no point is the actual in ring work made a joke of with a reasonable nod given to the effort required given the broader context of the show and these ladies pull off some moves that would never have been seen in the mid-80s outside of Lucha Libre.

With the series culminating, as one might expect for such a show, with an apparently triumphant first screening, GLOW is far from a classic but there’s enough to enjoy in a lighthearted guilty pleasure kind of way, particularly with its nostalgia heavy 80s soundtrack and style, and, while I’m not sure how much fuel there is for a second series, I wouldn’t be disappointed to see it go on.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager

The Captains - Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager

Captains Picard, Sisko and Janeway

Around the time JJ Abrams semi-reboot of Star Trek was released, back in 2009, I set out on my own ‘on-going mission’ to rewatch (or in some cases watch for the first time) the entirety of the Star Trek TV and film canon.

I’ve already posted reviews of a few of the films (The Wrath of Kahn, First Contact and Insurrection) but here I’m going to focus on what is, for me, the main run of the TV show from the launch of The Next Generation in the mid 80s to the climax of Voyager in the late 90s.

Of course none of these could exist without Gene Roddenberry’s original 1960s show which was certainly groundbreaking in several ways but sadly petered off rather swiftly leading to its cancellation after just three of its five years.

Its success on syndicated repeats though kept the ideas it espoused alive and, following an animated series and the launch of the film series in the late 70s, led to the idea of the series’ first not quite reboot, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek The Next Generation core crew

Star Trek: The Next Generation crew

While the idea is a little clichéd now (and was even then) ‘TNG‘ set its stall as a real development from the off with bigger budgets and bigger ideas permeating its seven seasons.

While the first few seasons are somewhat hobbled by some of Roddenberry’s more 60s ideals; there’s still a strong streak of the originals idea of a strapping Star Fleet officer having his end away with exotic aliens, they do hint at the greater development beyond.

The opening episodes, Encounter At Farpoint, strongly indicate a lot of this with new life form, Q (John De Lancie for the entire run), putting the human race on trial and exploring morality and ethics in a very obvious way that, as it goes on, becomes a slightly more subtly handled linchpin of the ongoing franchise.

While this is a bit of a one-off at first, as the series’ goes on and we get past the rather two-dimensional introduction to new races like the Ferengi, and on wider television we move into the era or Twin Peaks and The X-Files, things start to coalesce with deeper ideas being investigated in the traditional hard sci-if way of finding things in the future setting to reflect the current world and current ideas.

USS Enterprise-D

USS Enterprise-D

Along with this it introduces some characters who have become not just staples of the Star Trek world but, in some cases, have slipped into broader popular culture.

Of course there’s the crew, led by Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard, who’s phrase ‘make it so’ has entered the pop culture sphere as has the actor who would go on to become Professor X for much of the X-Men film franchise. Another notable character who has crossed over a little is the android crewman, Data (Brent Spiner) and, latterly, Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher.

To my mind though the most important thing TNG gave us was one of the new ‘species’ it introduced, The Borg. Playing on particularly timely obsessions with technology, in many ways they prefigure the likes of The Matrix by a good decade and develop as the show goes on into one of TV’s most interesting villains and continue to develop into one of the main antagonists of Voyager.

Borg

An early example of a Borg drone

As TNG goes on it also develops from a standard ‘monster of the week’ style format into a broader storytelling context that grows into a universe building piece.

In its final episodes this allows it all to come full circle, back to elements introduced in the opening Q story making for a generally satisfying climax before the Enterprise-D crew headed onto the silver screen.

What the universe building also led into was the expansion of the franchise into other series, first Deep Space Nine and then Voyager.

In some ways ‘DS9‘ continues in the style of TNG with standalone episodes making the bulk of the first couple of seasons, but even then there are much more obvious overarching themes at play and heading into different directions than TNG dealt with.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine crew

Deep Space Nine crew

This is particularly focussed around the aftermath of war, foreign policy & diplomacy and religion due to its setting in the recently liberated Bajoran system following a lengthy occupation by the Cardassian Empire.

While all of these are dealt with in a way that still suits early evening prime time TV, DS9 does take things a step further than TNG as it goes on and actual war breaks out, taking up the bulk of the last few seasons in a largely ongoing story (with occasional asides).

In this it gets increasingly ‘dark’ (for wont of a better word) with lead characters even dying a long way into the run in very effective fashion and with the aftermath of this dealt with in surprising depth.

It’s during this that the already impressive practical special effects begin to dabble with CGI and, while rudimentary by today’s standards, it opens up the storytelling into more action oriented territory which is something Star Trek as a whole often lacked.

Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine

Thankfully it does this without losing the story or the ideas as has become a problem with over heavy CGI sci-fi since, including, sadly the last couple of Trek films, particularly Star Trek Beyond

While it’s often considered the lesser series, Voyager continues much of this and, in one sense, with the most ambitious concept of all as it launches its crew to the other side of the galaxy and traces their attempts to get home.

Across its seven seasons Voyager does have its wobbles and maybe a few too many moments of apparent luck and coincidentally bumping into past characters that doesn’t fit the epic trek of the ongoing story but, in between it has some of the more interesting stand alone stories as the conceit removes much of the galactic baggage that had built up across TNG and DS9.

Star Trek Voyager crew

Voyager crew

Of course it would be remiss to not also mention that it gives the Trek universe its first female lead in the form of Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) who grows and develops into probably at least an equal to DS9‘s Captian Sisko (Avery Brooks) – I’ll be honest no one is going to best Kirk or Picard.

The last few seasons again provide the highlights as The Borg loom larger and again CGI is used to create things more inventive than a parade of humans with forehead prosthetics (though there are still plenty of them), like Species 8472 who for TV at the time are quite a feat of animation.

What possibly hampers Voyager somewhat is that many of the ideas it explores are just retreads of what we’ve seen before, with new aspects in most cases but it still has a little too much of a hint of repetition, particularly with first the holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) then former Borg Seven Of Nine’s (Jeri Ryan) explorations of humanity more than echoing TNG’s Data.

Voyager

Voyager

The other thing that feels a shame is that the series ends rather abruptly and, while it satisfies part of the main story, it feels there was more to tell and wrap up before coming to an end.

While it’s obvious that TNG is the superior of the three series in many ways they all have their share of merits and, on my personal ‘trek’ it was the concluding part of DS9 and much of Voyager that provided many highlights, possibly because I had seen them less than TNG.

Along with this though they stand as some of the foundations of the TV renaissance of recent years (along with The X-Files, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and others) that has led to the likes of Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones and the Marvel Netflix shows with wider concepts and ongoing stories becoming the main focus of TV rather than the more easily disposable medium it had previously been.

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Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Sherlock: The Abominable BrideSince 2010 Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have regularly neglected their duties on the revived Doctor Who to revive another great figure of British popular culture, Sherlock Holmes, creating three series of genuine crossover event television (I had a look at series two here). At Christmas 2015 this reached something of a cross roads with Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, an apparently stand alone, one-off, special taking the action from the modern-day back to its original Victorian setting.

The plot takes us back to Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson’s (Martin Freeman) first meeting, in this case in the subterranean morgue of ‘St Bart’s’ hospital, circa 1880 something, before fast forwarding to a point following the duo’s famed adventures as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So we get references to these tales, most obviously The Hound of The Baskervilles and more telling to the plot The Final Problem.

It’s in these opening sequences that the story first stumbles as the apparent need to cram in references to both Conan Doyle and Moffat and Gatiss’ own version feel somewhat heavy-handed making it harder to get immersed in both the world and the story. Once this settles down though the tale of ghostly murder does pick up and get rolling, most notably from the meeting with Mycroft (Gatiss) onwards.

The Abominable Bride

The titular bride (Natasha O’Keeffe)

As it goes on an uneasy feeling falls over the whole thing and it isn’t too long before the reasons for this become obvious and this is another slight stumble as the story is clearly trying to do two things at once. On the obvious front it wants to progress the over arching story that started back in 2010, while on the other it is trying to be a compelling mystery in its own right. This leaves the middle section very uneven and while the period setting is fun it never quite rings true.

From there it largely gives up on the period plot and the modern-day one is the focus once more leading, in a way, to some interesting situations (both fun and serious) concluding on something of a loose cliffhanger teasing ahead toward the next series (currently set for early 2017).

Performance and production wise the whole thing is as top-notch as one would expect, in fact Sherlock is consistently one of the best looking and well made BBC productions I can remember, and the Victorian period is particularly well rendered with interesting little flourishes of telegrams and newspaper cuttings echoing the text messages and online news reports of the modern-day tales.

Watson (Freeman) and Holmes (Cumberbatch)

Watson (Freeman) and Holmes (Cumberbatch)

In the end then The Abominable Bride is a mixed bag of a tale that isn’t as stand alone as I had hoped but works well within the larger context and has got me suitably excited for what’s to come. I couldn’t however help but feel I’d like to see this team tackle some of the original stories in the original setting as I think they could make them just as good and engrossing as their modern variations and breath a new life into them away from the more running and fighting Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. versions.

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Filmed in Supermarionation

Filmed In Supermarionation posterTelling the story AP Films (APF) and, later, Century 21 Productions, Filmed In Supermarionation offers the chance to step back to the 1960s with the people behind the likes of Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.

While there seems to be an interesting story to tell here, this film never quite manages to find it. We start off with Parker and Lady Penelope introducing us to the story, which they are oddly reading from a book (surely watching the movie would make more sense) and, for the first half of the film at least, we cut back to them and Brains, from time to time, to move things on.

This device disappears part way through the movie though leaving what could have been quite a nice quirky aspect of the filming feeling poorly thought out, which is a thought that continually occurred across the following 120 minutes.

The general arc takes us from through the early puppet TV shows produced by Gerry Anderson and into the more famous sci-fi series that followed up to the odd live action/puppet mixed that sealed their fate. The bulk of the film consists of a mix of talking head interviews, archive interviews and what could have been some interesting segments where Anderson’s son takes some of the original puppeteers back to where the studios used to be.

Parker and Lady Penelope

Parker and Lady Penelope

Unfortunately, and not wishing to sound cruel, a lot of these segments have more of the air of an outing from an old folks home than an insightful documentary and, while all involved are charming, there is little genuine insight to be had here.

It doesn’t help that neither studio really exists anymore (one is clearly now a mechanics workshop) so its left with what often feels like people stood chatting in a car park next to a model.

The talking heads sequences aren’t much better and, aside from the rather dry Gerry Anderson talking about his dealing with TV impresario Lew Grade and Sylvia Anderson telling the bulk of the behind the scenes story, it left me feeling like I’d spent some time with a parade of old English eccentrics, more than anything else. The chap who voiced Parker, however is something of a highlight.

Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson

What Filmed In Supermarionation is most successful at is reminding me how much I used to love the likes of Stingray and Captain Scarlet, when they were revived in my youth in the late 80s and early 90s, and quite how impressive some of the work they did was considering when they were made. Stingray in particular looks a good decade ahead of its time here in terms of production quality and Captain Scarlet has some surprisingly dark and brutal touches I hadn’t previously considered.

I think the biggest problem with Filmed In Supermarionation comes with the fact that it was conceived as a feature documentary but can’t escape the TV feel, so, rather than the cinema and Blu-ray release it has had, I think it would be much more suited to a cut down run on BBC Four (or the like) as its first hour drags as we work through the earlier, less well-remembered, shows.

Filmed in Supermarionation

One of the recreated sets

As expected the segment on Thunderbirds is the most in-depth and seems to be where most of the talking heads come to life most as well, possibly hinting at why this was the most successful of the shows, but again not much is revealed that hasn’t been well discussed in the past.

In an odd move, it leaves things on something of a down beat note as we find out that once Century 21 folded, most of the models were simply smashed and thrown in skips in front of the people who’d spent years working on them. This kills the warm nostalgic feeling that had been built and left me not too keen to watch the bonus disc of classic episodes of the TV shows, which is surely something of a crime.

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An Adventure In Space And Time

An Adventure in Space and Time posterBeing a Doctor Who fan the last few weeks have been something of a treat simply due to how much one of my favourite TV shows and characters has been, not only on TV, but also in the general media and, aside from the 50th Anniversary episode itself, The Day of the Doctor, the one thing I had been most looking forward to was this dramatisation of the show’s early days.

Written by Mark Gatiss, a fan of the show and now writer for the series, it takes us from Sydney Newman’s (Brian Cox) first idea for a science fiction show to appeal to children and adults, through to the first regeneration and, for the most part, focuses on the actor who played ‘the first’ Doctor, William Hartnell.

Hartnell is portrayed here with amazing accuracy by David Bradley who, while clearly, physically, not being the same man, seems to channel something of his energy, most clearly in the scenes where he is being the Doctor, but with what feels like an amazing authenticity away from this as we see Hartnell at home and meeting fans of the newly popular show in a park.

An-Adventure-in-Space-and-Time-2483408It is Bradley’s performance that creates the heart of the story as we see Hartnell as a fully rounded man. As well as the side that interacts in quite a touching way with fans and the show’s original producer, Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine), An Adventure In Space and Time does not shy away from showing him as an irascible older man, prone to outspokenness and temper.

This makes for a performance and programme that feels genuine, even though it is clearly dramatised and thus heightened, but the whole thing has a ring of truth about it.

Daleks on Westminster BridgeThis is backed up by the production design that recreates BBC studios of the time with startling accuracy from the cameras down to the cramped conditions Doctor Who was originally produced in, as well as the sets and monsters from the show itself, including a marvelous recreation of the original TARDIS console room.

The Daleks, one of the shows most iconic creations, particularly stand out and seeing them in colour, based on the original designs, rolling both through the studio and across Westminster Bridge, is fascinating and hints at how they could once have been genuinely frightening to youngsters.

Verity Lambert and Sydney NewmanAnother star of the show is BBC Television Centre which is shot in such a way as to make it look genuinely majestic, an impressive feat for a donut made up of many offices, but it manages to capture something of the magic it has always seemed to posses to me as a fan of so many of the TV shows made in its studios.

So I am a fan of Doctor Who and of BBC TV Centre, and An Adventure In Space and Time is clearly written as something of a love letter to both of these. That said, I think for anyone with an interest in TV history and well produced TV drama there is something here and Gatiss has managed to write something that works on both levels and, in Bradley, the producers have found someone capable of creating an astonishing performance of both William Hartnell and the Doctor.

And, with its references to Doctors to come, it also acts as a fitting tribute to mark the show’s 50th anniversary.

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Doctor Who – Terror of the Zygons

Doctor Who - Terror of The ZygonsAhead of their return in the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who in November, Terror of the Zygons has made its way onto special edition DVD and, being the monsters’ only previous appearance on the show, I thought it worth a look at what they have to offer.

Originally broadcast in 1975 we are, of course, dealing with what is now known as ‘Classic Doctor Who’, so special effects are generally far from special and the show is firmly in its place of being a children’s sci-fi drama that can be a guilty, or, to be honest, not so guilty, pleasure for adults.

Being 1975 The Doctor is in his Tom Baker regeneration and this story line showcases this version of the character in the finest style. I haven’t always been a fan of Tom Baker’s Doctor, often finding him too eccentric, if that’s possible, but here he tempers the eccentricities with the genuine, all-knowing, nouse that makes The Doctor such a great character.

The Doctor - Tom BakerThis is best summed up fairly early on in the story when The Doctor first realises that maybe more is afoot than some oil rigs sinking and he lets the The Brigadier know in deathly serious tones while bedecked in an absurd Tam O’Shanter and tartan scarf, on top of his usual attire.

The story itself is a four-parter based around the idea of the Loch Ness Monster, but, being Doctor Who, with aliens thrown in for good measure alongside a bit of zeitgeist fitting stuff about oil rigs and even a hint at a female Prime Minister.

ZygonsThe aliens in question are the titular Zygons who, much like many of the creatures from this era, are lacking a little in the design department compared to current work, but in terms of character certainly have something going for them. While they are large and orange humanoids and have inexplicable amounts of ‘suckers’ on what appears to be their skin, they do have a sinister side as they are taking on the form of humans in an attempt to use the Loch Ness Monster, actually a cyborg of their own creation, to take over the world, with a bit of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers feeling.

What gives the Zygons this sinister edge is that, while the actors are almost totally covered in makeup and costume, their eyes are plainly visible and the direction, particularly of their early appearances, focuses on this.

The Brigadier and The DoctorTerror of the Zygons is also something of a landmark as it marks the final regular appearance of The Brigadier, who only appeared on a rare guest appearance basis afterwards, and it gives him, and companion Harry Sullivan, a good send off in typically understated ‘Classic’ Doctor Who style as the Doctor and Sarah Jane head off for more adventures.

Featuring the Brigadier means UNIT are also in on the action and, I have to say, I certainly prefer this, more lo-fi, version of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce than the one seen in the more recent stories with Benton being another great and often underappreciated character, although UNIT do seem to have the least reliable fleet of Land Rovers and Jeeps ever seen.

BentonOverall Terror of the Zygons hadn’t really stuck in my mind since I first saw many years ago, but, on re-watching, it certainly comes across as one of the stronger episodes with some great ideas packed into the standard style and feeling of mid-70s Doctor Who and is certainly worth a watch, not just because of the link to the upcoming 50th anniversary episode, though it has certainly given me some ideas about how that could play out.

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Fist of Fun – Series 1

17 years after the event I’ve finally got hold of the first series of Fist of Fun on DVD, but could it live up to my memories?

I clearly remember watching Fist of Fun during my early secondary school days when it was broadcast on BBC2 and it filled an area of my TV memory alongside the likes of The Glam Metal Detectives, Friday Night Armistice and The Day Today.

Since then I had always wondered what happened to Fist of Fun as, while it got a second series and a follow-up show (TMWRNJ, or This Morning With Richard Not Judy), it was never repeated and, as such, was very hard to find copies of online.

So it was with some excitement that I received my copies of the DVD release of the show that came about thanks to its masterminds, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, and the DVD production company Go Faster Stripe, who have been releasing less mainstream comedians works for a few years now.

Lee and Herring (well, actually Herring and Lee)

Upon starting it up all was familiar, the set of a seemingly industrial basement, Peter Baynham’s (now a Hollywood scriptwriter) self titled character in a bedsit in the corner and the characters of Lee and Herring compering a show of their stand up and sketches along with various asides with different levels of surrealism and absurdity.

As always with something like this, returning to it with such fond memories was always going to be a bit of a gamble, and certainly there was stuff here I had mis-remembered (in particular appearances by ‘Rod Hull’, though I understand they will come in the second series) but in general it was as good as I had remembered and, despite a couple of duff sketches, generally held up to my memories and expectations.

The Actor Kevin Eldon as Simon Quinlank

In general terms the series falls in with a group of similar shows that seemed to typified mid-90s comedy, pre The Fast Show, with one-off sketches delivered by something approaching an ensemble cast with no particular thread and different things each week.

A few of the sketches here which really work very well are Simon Quinlank (the hobbies expert) and the story of Pestilence of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse taking a job as a milkman.

This type of show seems to have disappeared from out screens now as panel games and more fast show inspired repetitive sketch comedy fills the schedules, but I’m happy to say that Fist of Fun lives up to my youthful memories of it and captures a brand of comedy that mixes Monty Python, 80s alternative comedy and what has come since in one package acting as something of a comedy crossroads that certainly deserves more recognition than a little remembered footnote it seems to have become.

Extra Features

A more recent Lee and Herring

While the series itself is, of course, the main part of this DVD set – it also comes along with two and a half discs of extras exploring the work and men behind the series.

For starters each episode has at least one commentary which are clearly recorded by Lee and Herring on their first watch of the shows possibly since the mid-90s which adds a real dynamic to them which matches my feelings of watching the episodes as well as providing some interesting facts about the making of the show and some other stories totally unrelated to the show, but that’s the sort of thing that makes a good commentary for me.

Following on from the commentaries we join Lee and Herring sitting down to go through Richard’s extensive collection of old scripts and magazine and paper cuttings tracing the story of the duo’s early years from university to the getting on TV which does give something of an insight into what led to their mid-90s TV work.

Related directly to the series, there is also the studio rushes from the recording of four of the six episodes which really fall into the category of ‘for the completest’ as they are essentially the unedited shows as they were recorded, though they do contain a few lost gems in the form of sketches that didn’t make the final cut but are still entertaining.

On top of all of this we get an hour-long live show clearly based on Fist of Fun, though not titled such due to copyright reasons, that does a very good job of replicating the feel of the show while also demonstrating Lee and Herring’s live work.

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