Tuesday 28 November 2023

The Spider Woman

Spiders In Pyjamas

The Spider Woman
USA 1943 Directed by Roy William Neill
Universal Blu Ray Zone B

Well this one’s a lot of fun, to be sure. Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and Mary Gordon reprise their roles as Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson for The Spider Woman, the next in the series of Sherlock Holmes films which started at 20th Century Fox and then quickly got relaunched and contemporised by Universal from the third film onwards. This one is not based on any singular tale from author Arthur Conan Doyles long list of Sherlock Holmes stories. Instead, the screenwriters have mashed up no less than five of them to concoct a mighty fun entry into the ever popular series (with this being number seven, we’re at the halfway mark). The stories pillaged for this particular celluloid confection are The Adventure Of The Final Problem, The Adventure Of The Empty House, The Adventure Of The Speckled Band, The Sign Of Four and The Adventure Of The Devil’s Foot.

And it’s quite a wonderful romp, like much of these Holmes films... perhaps one of the best of the series. It features Gail Sondergaard as Adrea Spedding, the titular Spider Woman... a female Moriarty who is set up and written as a clever villain who can match wits properly with Holmes. A kind of Irene Adler alternative in a way, it might be said.

Also along for the ride again is Dennis Hoey doing his wonderfully dim but righteous version of Inspector Lestrade. It’s only his third film in the role but already he’s gone from second fiddle to Holmes to second fiddle to Watson. At one point, where he’s whistling to try and blend in with a crowd, Watson comments “He said inconspicuous Lestrade, not half witted!” which is just one in a number of great comical lines scattered throughout the story. The chemistry between Hoey and both Rathbone and Bruce is absolute magic and it even gets quite moving when, in the wake of Sherlock Holmes’ death near the start of the film, when Watson and Lestrade are both clearly grieving, Watson gives the policeman his favourite of Holmes’ pipes as a souvenir to remember him.

What’s that? Sherlock Holmes dies early on in the picture?

Well, it’s not in a battle with Moriarty on the Reichenbach Falls but it does take place near a waterfall as, under the pretext of a fishing holiday with Watson, he fakes a cerebral haemorrhage and seemingly falls into some rocky waterfalls, apparently to his death. This is in order to try and investigate, behind the scenes, a string of murders known as The Pyjama Suicides, masterminded by Spedding and using, it turns out, deadly spiders which I suspect are somewhat fictional but which have such painful bites that the victim leaps to his death from the pain.

So not long into the film we have Holmes returning to 221B Baker Street under the disguise of a postman and revealing himself to Watson and Lestrade. Now, bearing in mind the Holmes films of this series have almost always featured Rathbone in at least one disguise, the previous film Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (reviewed here) had eschewed that trend. However, although the disguise is easier to spot because the audience is expecting (surely?) Holmes to return after dying so early in the film, Rathbone makes up for it by donning two disguises here, one of the aforementioned, highly opinionated (enough to receive a sock on the jaw from Watson) member of the English postal service and another, in brown face, of a Maharajah, in order to find out the truth behind the suicide murder scam.

This one has it’s fair share of action too, including a number of deathtraps including a toxic gas via a chemical process when a child accompanying the Spider Woman throws a harmless looking sweet wrapper into the fireplace of 221B Baker Street... and a wonderful end game sequence where Holmes is tied behind a moving target of Adolf Hitler at a fair ground with his chest exposed behind the conveyor belt standee, while an unknowing Watson nearly shoots him through the heart a number of times. The scene with the sweet wrapper is a wonderful sequence as the two adversaries, Holmes and Spedding, acknowledge their recognition of the other’s status in a cat and mouse back and forth as each destroys and offers up evidence of their role in the game, which is clearly afoot, so to speak.

One other nice thing is that, clearly seen on the wall in Holmes room at Baker Street, is the pencil figure with the bullet holes from Holmes bound target practice experiment from the previous film, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death. A nice piece of continuity there (and I guess it certainly saved time redressing the bullet hole ridden wall on the part of the set builders).

And that’s me done on this seventh and very lively example of Rathbone and Bruce’s Sherlock Holmes adventures. The Spider Woman shows everyone at the top of their game and it must have hit big with audiences because it wasn’t too long before Gale Sondergaard returned to the screens in a picture called The Spider Woman Strikes Back. Admittedly, it wasn’t a sequel or spin off and she wasn’t playing the same character but, the marketing people must have thought that cashing in on the title familiarity was a good bet. One day I’ll have to seek that one out and have a look at it.

Monday 27 November 2023

Dream Scenario


Dream Scenario
Directed by Kristoffer Borgli
USA A24 2023
UK cinema release print.

Warning: This one has some spoilerage in
terms of discussing the concept and where it goes.

A brief shout out now to new movie Dream Scenario, written and directed by Kristoffer Borgli. This one stars Nicolas Cage as Paul Matthews, a professor at a university who has never really done much with his life and never gotten around to writing his book... instead he resents that others are profiting from the same field of research as he and he comes across as a bit of a non-person, in many ways. That is until he starts invading other people’s dreams, through no fault of his own. After an opening sequence where we witness a dream experienced by one of his daughters (and I don’t think that’s particularly a spoiler... it was obvious to me from the first shot that we were in a dream) he hears how he was just a passive person in the dream... not responding to what was going on around him as anything special and not really helping out. He is a little concerned, after hearing this, that he’s seen like this in real life by both his two daughters and his wife (played by Julianne Nicholson).

However, after a few more scenes it turns out that a lot of people have suddenly started dreaming about him, from all over the world and that his persona in these dreams, one of someone who is just a casual, uninterested observer, is the common denominator (for a while). Paul becomes an overnight media sensation and is highly sought after as advertising fodder for high profile creative companies such as one run by Trent, played by Michael Cera (in the kind of role I’ve not seen him do before but he’s very good in this) and for various interviews. However, there’s a point in the movie where one person he meets has a dream where he’s not as passive but, when the young woman in question tries to co-opt him into reliving her personal dream fantasy of him, it goes kinda wrong and, suddenly, from that point on... things change.

Suddenly, Paul is seen killing and terrorising various people in their dreams and, all of a sudden, nobody wants to be around him... this affects his job, his wife’s job and various other things in his life. Even Paul himself is, as I kinda knew he would be once the movie started going down this path, haunted by himself in an aggressive dream fantasy and suddenly, the film shifts gears and becomes all about the bizarrely modern trend of ‘cancel culture’ and how it affects the innocent victims as much as people who have truly done anything wrong.

And it’s a nice little movie. It almost outstays its welcome in the last quarter of an hour or so when it takes another turn into what happens when the whole phenomenon stops but, it doesn’t quite wrongfoot itself and the way it ends is as nice a way as any (and I was waiting for that oversized novelty Talking Heads jacket to make an appearance in the film since an early reference to it). There are also some nice things going on technically, such as an early scene where Paul is recording a dinner conversation on his phone and the dinner is cross cut with him listening to the recording in his car. At some point in the sequence, the audio properties of the recording of the conversation juxtapose the images of the actual conversation and we then subtly shift, perhaps, into Paul’s visual memories of the conversation as exhibited by that shift in audio quality, which is visually no different whatsoever to the actual scene as it plays out. Which is a really nice thing to do with it, I thought.

In terms of tone, the film is hard to pin down but it reminded me a little bit of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries but leaning heavily into Woody Allen’s homage to that film in Deconstructing Harry. And then, towards the end, there’s a Philip K. Dick kind of epilogue to the whole story which brings it almost into the realm of soft science fiction. And yeah, a short review of the film, for sure but, that’s me done with Dream Scenario, I think. It’s an interesting look at the way an innocent victim’s life can be turned upside down by events which are completely nothing to do with that person but still invite the wrath of the world to your doorstep. An interesting film for lovers of cinema, I would say. Very much worth a look.

Sunday 26 November 2023

Doctor Who - The Star Beast

A Wolf In
Meep’s Clothing

Doctor Who - The Star Beast
Airdate: 25th November 2023
BBC 1 (
co-produced with some other
evil studios who are ransoming it to
the rest of the world on a streaming
channel, thus becoming typical
Doctor Who villains

So, Doctor Who - The Star Beast is the first of three Anniversary episodes to commemorate Great Britain’s favourite Timelord’s 60th year... puzzlingly airing two days after the actual 60th anniversary date but, it makes more sense to air it on the traditional Saturday evening anyway... back where it belongs. And it’s adapted from the always brilliant Pat Mills’ and Dave Gibbon’s Fourth Doctor comic strip from Doctor Who Weekly from way back when (to read more about that, see my very recent review of Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor Anthology, right here). It also marks the return of David Tennant to the role of The Doctor, making TV history by playing a second incarnation of the Timelord (who mysteriously regenerated into new clothes too... I hope they address this issue soon) and the brilliant show runner who brought the show back in the early 2000s, Russell T. Davies.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about this, to be honest. I loved the majority of the Davies era and think the show started going progressively downhill since he left. Tennant is maybe my second or third favourite Doctor of all time and I know he can act the heck out of this role so, I wasn’t worried on his behalf but, I dunno, I had mixed feelings about all this.

And, yeah... maybe I was right to.

This new show was both brilliant but tempered with some really bad stuff also. Still, my favourite Camden Town shop, Cyberdog, was featured in a few shots at the start and end of the show so... that was cool. But yeah, seriously, I also had reservations about how long an adaptation of The Star Beast could take in terms of screen time... I guessed about 15 - 20 minutes but, of course, it’s a) not about jumping through sets of panels and b) there’s all the other stuff about why The Doctor has the same face, not to mention the fallout from what would happen to Donna Noble if she ever remembers The Doctor due to her life saving memory wipe (aka she will die).

Okay, so the story worked fairly well and, it was well performed by just about everyone... and some of the comical dialogue and physical comedy was fantastic. I’m not sure that The Meep came off as evil as it should have done from the comics but... the insectoid Wrarth Warriors were well handled and the bigger budget, presumably half funded by Disney, meant it feels a little more epic than we might have hoped for but, luckily, it was directed with a deft hand and it really somehow felt more like Doctor Who than it had in a while. So that’s all good.

There were problems with it too though, at least from my perspective.

Number one was the truly cheesy, break the fourth wall opening where The Doctor and Donna are kinda filling in the back story for people. Honestly, I suspect this was added after the ‘Disney masters’ or somebody overly cautious at the BBC panicked about it because there were two reasons why this sequence didn’t work. Firstly, standing in front of a screen and filling it in with special effects later, as we’ve seen on lesser shows like The Mandalorian, doesn’t have to look that cheap. Were those matte lines I could see around The Doctor? That doesn’t really matter though... it’s Doctor Who. It’s supposed to look cheap and wobbly. However, all the bits they filled the audience in on... which was admittedly needed at some point... are already firmly flagged up and highlighted to death within the story itself. It just felt like they were repeating themselves later and it rendered the opening sequence completely superfluous anyway. So why include the bloody thing in the first place?

Number two... when the show was relaunched with Eccleston and later Tennant, all of my friends who, I assure you, are all more ‘woke’ than me (which isn’t hard... so apologies for that, I guess... not really though, I am who I am) were complaining about how politically correct and tick boxy the show had become and, in the intervening years, that aspect just kept getting worse (alienating a lot of viewers, from what I could see). And, alas, this one is absolutely devoting loads of time to being horrendously twee and ‘down with the kids’ and, it felt like it was just ramming the whole mental illness rebranded issue and so on down the throats of the viewers. It’s fine though. Unlike some of the more tolerant and modern thinking people I sometimes deal with... I can totally live with it and just ignore it when it comes up... but just wish I didn’t have to. I’ve already had one derogatory text from a much more enlightened friend than I expressing a little disappointment with this angle on last night's episode. Still... it is what it is, I suppose.

Thirdly, the IMDB and various other outlets have been lying to us again. Listed in this episode’s credits are Jemma Redgrave, Bernard Cribbins and Bonnie Langford, returning to their respective roles but... nope... none of these people are present and correct here, I’m afraid. The show and disclosure of some of its contents was always deceitful in its marketing since its return in the early 2000s and, nothing has changed it seems. I get annoyed about this stuff but move on and just carry on trusting my own instinct about what’s going to happen next... rather than attempt to get my information from the ‘official source’, so to speak.

But, those three problems aside, the episode was a hoot and I mostly had a blast with The Star Beast. I especially loved Murray Gold's score and the way he kept teasing the old Tenth Doctor action music, All The Strange Creatures, in different tempos and orchestrations throughout the episode... the Tenth Doctor's theme in Fourteenth's clothing, so to speak. And I am looking forward to seeing where the TARDIS has fled to for the next chapter (and oh, by the way guys, lovely redesign on the regenerated interiors... shame you had to blow it all up only a couple of minutes after we get to see it). The next episode has been shrouded in secrecy so it’s the one people are most wanting to see, of course. I’ll probably be late to seeing that second one, unfortunately, due to an early Christmas function but, I am still hoping to get my review up next Sunday. It just might come in the evening rather than in the morning this time. Keeping my fingers crossed I won’t have to run something else and hold it over until Monday though. Allons-y!

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor Anthology

Meep Throat

Doctor Who -
The Fourth Doctor Anthology

Panini Comics
ISBN: 9781804911587

This is a somewhat timely reprint of all the Tom Baker likeness comic strips that appeared in the original Doctor Who Weekly and subsequent Doctor Who Monthly comics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before he changed to Peter Davidson in the strip. And when I say timely I mean, strategically marketed to come out and grab the cash at the best possible time, when readers like me will be wanting to reacquaint themselves with one Pat Mills story in particular, The Star Beast. Because, at time of writing, a modern TV adaptation of that particular strip, which ran over a few weeks, will be screening in just a few days as episode one of the new 14th Doctor 60 year anniversary specials.

I used to love the comic and I still, if moths haven’t got to them, have the first 70 or so issues up in the loft somewhere. I remember reading these issues the first time around and being completely hooked on them from the opening story (in particular). Revisiting them now, it’s certainly easy to see why. They had the absolute cream of the crop of British creative talent working on these and most, if not all, of the writers were doing the same job on Britain’s greatest comic (and in their words, the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic) 2000AD... which I also have the first thousand or so issues of, stashed away in boxes. So these stories are brought to you by giants like writers Pat Mills (the creator of 2000AD), John Wagner (co-creator of Judge Dredd) and Steve Parkhouse... not to mention artists such as Dave Gibbons and, for one brief but memorably stylised story featuring an old style Cyberman straight out of the William Hartnell story The Tenth Planet, Mike McMahon (who drew the greatest Judge Dredd strips ever... although, arguably, the same could be said of Brian Bolland).

And yeah, you can tell it’s all these 2000AD people writing this for what was, then, the British arm of Marvel, because the stories are absolutely packed chock full of action but also two very tell tale things... they are full of ideas worked into the world building and, they are equally full of dark humour coupled with brilliantly terrible puns (both visual and verbal). Not to mention, they wear their influences very much on their sleeves sometimes in terms of riffing (or let’s face it, stealing) from famous pop culture franchises.

For instance, the story Dragon’s Claw deals with the warriors of the Shaolin Temple and the myth of the 18 Bronze Men (who featured in a fair few kung fu movies) is woven into the plot. Although, in this version, the 18 Bronze Men turn out to be Sontaran warriors. Similarly, an excellent story called City Of The Damned, where a planet is ruled by leaders who have wiped out all emotional reaction from the population, must surely have taken it’s inspiration from George Lucas’ early film THX1138.

There are even a few things which directly tie it up to 2000AD stories a few times, such as the mention of a ‘Shuggy Hall’ in the story Dogs Of Doom... Shuggy was a kind of ‘crazy snooker/pool’ game played in Mega City One from the world of Judge Dredd. And in my favourite of these stories, which opens this collection, The Iron Legion (which deals with a mechanical robot army based on the Roman Empire invading parts of the galaxy, controlled by an evil race of alien entities), there’s an old broken down Robot called Vesuvias and, honestly, he’s not a far cry from Walter The Wobot, Judge Dredd’s robot butler in the early days of 2000AD.

The stories presented here range from longer, multi part stories to one off, self contained tales but, the majority of them are hits rather than misses even now, I would say. As for The Star Beast, with Beep The Meep and the alien Wraiths hunting him... well, I remembered it well so I must have liked it back in the day but, it just seems to me now like the twist in the character (which I saw coming even in my early teens) is very obvious and, that story doesn’t have too much else going for it, to be honest. Also, I’m really not sure how the story can be fleshed out to take up more than around 15 minutes of screen time so I’m guessing the TV version of The Star Beast will be padded with a lot of the falling out from the surprise regeneration at the end of the last show, The Power Of The Doctor (reviewed here) and a shaky, possibly temporary resolution (of sorts) to the Doctor/Donna problem.

That being said, anything written by Pat Mills is always going to be worth a look so I remain hopeful and, regarding Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor Anthology, I remain grateful that these wonderful strips have gotten a beautiful reprint at the best possible time. I loved revisiting these stories and they’re definitely worth tracking down if you’ve never read them before.

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Abducted By The Daleks

Exterminating Angels

Abducted By The Daleks
aka Abducted BY The Daloids
Directed by Don Skaro
UK 2005 DVD 0
A Stella International Production

I’m pretty sure Don Skaro isn’t the real name of the director of Abducted By The Daleks... and I also suspect he wrote the film and did various other things on it because, on the credits, all kinds of pseudonyms are used, some of them Doctor Who oriented. Story by Billy Hartnell anyone? I’m pretty sure he’s the same director who made the notorious Fantom Killer movies which, I suspect, he also directed under an assumed name. Now, I think I know his real name because I’m pretty sure the director is the man who sold this to me at the Camden Film Fair back in 2005. I’m not going to say what his real name is here because of a) the very slim chance I may be wrong about my assumption and b) because he seemed like a really nice guy (who sold me some rare soundtrack CDs sometimes)... although he did seem to vanish from the scene a few years after this movie came out. He was a regular stall holder at Camden and I saw, on more than one occasion, one of the ‘stars’ of Abducted By The Daleks and other films come and talk to him briefly, making a rendezvous or business engagement for later in the day/week/whatever.

Given the somewhat illegal nature (in the UK at the time) of a lot of the films he had tucked away and behind his stall for ‘ special customers’, I’m guessing he’s one of the reasons the old Camden Film Fair used to occasionally get raided by the police. We customers didn’t mind... stalls being raided for forbidden items just increased ones desirability to keep going to that particular film fair, it has to be said. It was like free publicity. And talking of free publicity... this little film with covers printed on an inkjet printer and burned onto suspicious looking CDRs... had its fifteen minutes of infamy when the British press got a hold on one somehow and were all over it. Dalek porn corrupting the youth of today... or some such rubbish... perhaps forgetting about Jon Pertwee’s wonderful character companion, actress Katy Manning’s naked photo shoot with a Dalek as an embedded part of Doctor Who culture.

The BBC were said to be furious and, the next month, the name of the film had been changed to Abducted By The Daloids. However, since the film has a good many scenes with actual Daleks in it... I can’t imagine the BBC went anywhere near it and probably figured it wasn’t worth suing as the total budget of the film, which runs for only 55 minutes, is probably less than the price of a couple of ham sandwiches in the BBC canteen. I can’t help but think the title change was merely a less than subtle move to stop policemen coming in and realising what was being sold, after it had hit the tabloids. Can’t sell confiscated stock, after all.

And so we come to the film itself, which stars Katarzyna Zelnik, Eliza Borecka, Sonja Karina, Lina Black, Maria Vasolva and... three Daleks. On the way to somewhere, four girls get lost in the woods after running over a grey alien (aka a Zeta Reticulan... which is not mentioned again later in the story at all). Luckily, the driver of the car happens to carry four torches in her glove compartment for just such emergencies. As the night goes on, the girls... first one... then two more.... get teleported up to a Dalek spaceship for interrogation (sans clothing, of course). When their insanely unpersuasive, shouty efforts fail to make them talk about what earthlings are like, they teleport the fourth one up (who is being stalked by a serial killer who skins his victims alive). She turns out to be the Dalek’s dominatrix for hire, who also tries completely non-harmful ways of getting the girls to talk. It’s almost like the Daleks could just have asked her what Earthlings are like instead, rather than go to all this trouble. All the girls are exterminated apart from the makeshift domme who is teleported down to Earth for a scene with the serial killer. Said teleporter accidentally changing her appearance so she can be played by another ‘actress’ when the other one was, presumably, not available for the last part of the shoot.

It’s pretty terrible but the director does have a few ideas which are worth mentioning.. such as using the naked bodies of the girls reflected in the tip of the Dalek eyestalk. But mostly it’s just rubbish and pretty much all the girls seem really bad actresses. Every now and again, music lifted from one of the Godzilla films, One Step Beyond, The Mole People or Pink Floyd will be used to ‘enhance’ the drama. But, everything looks fake... even the terrible pretence at a lesbian scene by ladies who clearly aren’t into it that much. And I suspect that at least one of the girls has more silicon on her than the three daleks put together.

The Daleks themselves are interesting. One looks like a purchased prop from one of the Peter Cushing films, one looks like a Jon Pertwee era Dalek and the third... looks like an old ride or bad waxworks version, with the top section completely out of proportion with its body but still, somehow, looking kinda elegant.* The Daleks just aren’t able to save this terrible film though.

It’s bad but, that certainly doesn’t stop it from being entertaining... in that, “how does anyone make a movie this bad”, kind of way Well, to answer that, the ‘alternate cut’ on the disc is just a series of multiple outtakes and flubs strung together in he same sequence as the movie. And, honestly, if the girls were as hard to work with from take to take during this shoot as is evidenced here... it’ possibly no wonder that the serial killer story had to be, one assumes, tacked onto the end with a different actress to pad the already small running time.

So yeah, the film gets an A for effort but it never really lives up to the unwritten promise of the title and it is very cheesy... the Daleks never even get to use thier sink plungers in a way you might imagine they might in a film with this kind of content. With a title like Abducted By The Daleks though... not to mention some help from the ‘outraged’ tabloids... I suspect this one was a very good seller for the director in question. 

*I actaully saw an archival interview with Terry Nation on television a few days before this post was published and I'm pretty sure that third, overly streamlined Dalek is one which he actually had in his home for a while.

Monday 20 November 2023

Doctor Who - Scream Of The Shalka

Low In Shalka Hole

Doctor Who -
Scream Of The Shalka

Internet Airdate:
13th November - 18th December 2003
BBC 1 - Region B Blu Ray
Six Flash Animated Episodes

I’ve been meaning to watch Doctor Who - Scream Of The Shalka for quite some time now but, despite picking up a cheap second hand DVD of the story sometime during the pandemic, I could never quite bring myself to do so. In the 9 year gap between the ‘almost but not quite any good’ Doctor Who - The Movie (reviewed by me here) and the start of the ‘official ninth Doctor’ (or tenth if, like me and any sane and reasonable person who isn’t mathematically challenged, you realise John Hurt’s The War Doctor is also able to be numbered in terms of his chronological appearance in the show), we were left with nothing much happening for the show’s 40th anniversary. And so, this series of six, short webisodes, running between ten and fifteen minutes each, gave us the first ‘ninth Doctor’ as voiced by Richard E. Grant (who shared a breakout movie with the previous actor to play The Doctor, Paul McGann, in Withnail & I).

Now, as the show went on to bigger and, arguably ‘better’ (but maybe not so better for a long time now) things, Scream Of The Shalka was dumped as being non-canon to the series. Which is a shame because, a) it’s actually Richard E. Grants second spin as The Doctor, following a live action appearance in a nonsensically bad (if memory serves) Comic Relief special and b) The Master is voiced by none other than classic Shakespearian actor Derek Jacobi... who would, of course, turn out to be the ‘surprise’, hidden in plain sight even from himself, incarnation of The Master making his debut in a memorable David Tennant episode of the series, before regenerating into John Simm.

We even have The Doctor picking up a nicely played new companion, Alison, voiced by Sophie Okonedo, who would of course go on to play Liz Ten aka Queen Elizabeth 10th in two episodes of Matt Smith’s tenure in the show. Not to mention a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ voice appearance by a pre-Doctor David Tennant in one episode of this story.

And, it’s a shame this isn’t considered canon and Richard E. Grant wasn’t picked up to continue the role (mainly due to future show runner Russell T. Davies absolutely hating his performance here, from what I understand) because, all in all, I quite enjoyed this one when I sat down to watch it quite recently.* Okay, the animation was not liked by anyone in my house other than me, to be fair. The style is fairly primitive but, with the budgetary constraints, I think the pretence of stylistic simplicity to mask the fact that this isn’t a Disney or Fleisher production is quite charming, in a way (yeah, some things never change when it comes to money... as the BBC’s reconstructed, animated episodes on various Doctor Who releases demonstrate).

But, I think this has two big things going for it. Unlike Davies, I don’t think Richard E. Grant’s performance was ‘phoned in’ and I think what he manages to convey with his voice here, playing an absolutely enigmatic and intriguing incarnation of everyone’s favourite timelord, is actually quite brilliant (yeah, I know, I’m sure I’m in the minority when it comes to this issue but that’s my reaction and I’m sticking to it). Secondly, I think it’s extremely well written and I would have loved to see a two parter live action version of this story at some point... it kinda walks over a lot of what was being done in the Moffat and Chibnall eras of the show, as far as I’m concerned.

I mean, yes it’s a lot of nonsense about an alien hive mind creature coming to live for a time underneath the Earth after a ‘meteor’ crashes and then enslaving and controlling certain places on the planet as the precursor of a full-on invasion with, I have to say, lots of pseudo-science plot points which kinda went over my head... but it was entertaining and thoughtful hokum at the very least and I was kinda into it. The surprise reveal about a certain aspect of this version of The Master also means the show had more than its share of unexpected moments and, yeah, like I said, intriguing and somewhat complex stuff.

It does get dull in a few places and, to be fair, I spotted one of two continuity errors but, it’s pretty fun stuff and so I’m surprised that Scream Of The Shalka isn’t more mentioned in Doctor Who lore. Although, I didn’t watch it at the time because, I didn’t see something streaming on the net as a proper venue for moving image content (and I still don’t... streaming sucks... time to get physical again, people!). Also, I’m not entirely sure I knew about it at the time... publicity for this thing can’t have been that good and I don’t remember anyone talking about it in those days. My loss, as it turns out.

So there you have it. Doctor Who - Scream Of The Shalka was, I think, much better than it deserved to be and, for my money, much more entertaining than I was expecting it to be. The only poor thing about the experience is that animation does not sit well with the DVD format, where you are always going to see some kind of bitmapping at play. A shame, then, that the story has not been reissued on Blu Ray since that’s a much smoother medium for presenting animated content, for sure.

*Okay, this morning but, by the time this one gets up on the blog, probably a number of weeks ago.

Sunday 19 November 2023

Doctor Who - The Movie

Harmony Padme Hum

Doctor Who - The Movie
UK/USA Directed by Geoffrey Sax
UK Airdate: 27th May 1996
BBC 1 - Region B Blu Ray

Doctor Who was dead... and had been for several years. 

The Seventh Doctor as personified by Sylvester McCoy was the current Doctor when the show was cancelled (for pretty much no good reason by people in power at the BBC who never liked it to begin with... from what I remember). However, this attempt was made, in 1996, to start up the series again as an American/British co-production, shot in Canada. So, yeah, entitled Doctor Who - The Movie, this was a pilot film which, although it did well in the UK, bombed in the US and so was never commissioned as a series. And looking at it now, it’s still easy to see why.

Now, the last time I watched this, before revisiting it on this current Blu Ray incarnation, was on the broadcast date mentioned above. However, this was not the first time I had seen this and this is how I know that both the TV broadcast and this Blu Ray are heavily cut... or rather, missing some footage. I think I first saw this on a bootleg VHS tape somewhere around 3 or more months before the episode... sorry, movie... was broadcast and, to be honest, most people I personally know had already seen this in the same way before it hit our airwaves. Doctor Who, despite the stupid fate of the classic run of the TV show, was always a much loved British phenomenon and so the Brits were desperate to see this one as soon as they could. So, yeah, it was almost impossible not to run into someone at a jumble sale or in your office who had access to a copy.

And that’s how I know this was cut. Admittedly, it had even more excised from it on British TV but in this current version, after the Seventh Doctor, played once again by McCoy for the first ten minutes or so, lands on Earth... he stumbles into a gangland conflict and is shot. Now, on the broadcast version and in this one, he only takes one bullet, despite a later piece of dialogue revealing that he was hit three times. In the print which was doing the rounds on VHS bootlegs, that scene went on a little longer and he takes many more bullet hits. And that’s just one of the cuts I remember and it’s very frustrating now because, the bootlegs were obviously struck from an earlier, pre-cut print of the episode and so, some of the scenes just never existed in any broadcast or home video version to this day. Which is such a shame because I would love to see it again.

Looking at the show now... it really hasn’t held up well over the years but there’s still lots to like about it, as much as there is to hate. For instance, McCoy is excellent in his scenes, as is the new incarnation of The Doctor played by Paul McGann, who quickly manages to make the part his own, playing the role with exactly the kind of flourish and personality quirks that many previous actors had built into the role. He really shines in this and it’s a shame the pilot episode never took off. And another good thing about the pilot is the companions... both Yee Jee Tso to an extent, as a gang member with his heart in the right place but, especially Daphne Ashbrook as Dr. Grace Holloway, who is so good in this she almost steals the show from McGann... but not quite. The chemistry is good, though and they do make a lovely pair... quite literally as they share a kiss on more than one occasion, hinting at romantic entanglements if the show was to continue to run.

And the whole of the first half an hour or so... set in our near future on December 31st 1999 and dealing with the death of the seventh incarnation on the operating table as Puccini plays on the stereo (as Grace manages to kill him with a defibrillation machine because she doesn’t realise he has two hearts), his resurrection in the morgue intercut with and echoing footage from Universal’s 1931 movie Frankenstein, the escape of The Master as a kind of slime mould who invades an ambulance driver and takes him as a host body and The Doctor’s attempts to convince Grace of who he is and just what is going on... is really great. And then it all goes completely pear shaped when The Master somehow gets on board the TARDIS without a key, gets the gang member to open the Eye Of Harmony which powers the TARDIS and then uses it to threaten the existence of the Earth so he can steal The Doctor’s remaining lives for himself. It’s truly dreadful and makes not a lick of sense, with physics bending scenes such as The Doctor walking through a solid glass window because physics is compromised... but only when it’s convenient to service the next dramatic point of the story.

In fact the writing in this is pretty bad, for the most part... again, once the Eye of Harmony is open. It tries hard to appeal to an American audience and has scenes like a motorbike ambulance chase and even a fist fight in the TARDIS between The Doctor and The Master. It’s just not very well done. Eric Roberts plays The Master and he does his best but he just comes off as a cheap villain for the most part, rather than having the gravitas of the versions which came before him (something McGann seems to get right with his version of The Doctor). I don’t believe it’s Roberts’ fault, to be honest... it just wasn’t written any differently in the script. And the dead giveaway here that this was half financed with American money is that there are a fair few references to Tom Baker’s incarnation of The Doctor (the one best known Who actor to American fans of the show at the time, on the cable networks which showed it in the US) via little ‘object cameos’ such as a long, colourful scarf, his yoyo and a bag of Jelly Babies.

And alas, all that hard work to get it to appeal to a multi-national audience... those Fourth Doctor moments, the pop culture references and the nice, steam-punk look of the new Doctor’s costume... really didn’t matter because the second half of the movie is just, yeah, it’s mostly terrible with the producers seeming to want to turn it into an action packed US cop show or some such. It just doesn’t work and it becomes ‘bad Doctor Who’ pretty quickly. Which is a shame because, McGann and Ashbrook would have made a good crew for the TARDIS in any future adventures.

As it is, the ratings dive bombed in the US and this was never followed up. Paul McGann would eventually play The Doctor again in a series of Big Finish produced audio adventures and, most notably, in the short internet streamed prelude to the 50th Anniversary show The Day Of The Doctor, fittingly called The Night Of The Doctor (and included as an extra on both the 50th Anniversary special Blu Ray and on this Blu Ray too). That prelude showed how McGann’s Doctor regenerated into the retrofitted incarnation The War Doctor, created for The Day Of The Doctor, after Christopher Eccleston refused to return to the show and John Hurt was called in to fill the role instead.

And that’s me done on Doctor Who - The Movie... it’s kinda nice seeing it again (albeit in the official cut as opposed to the pre-release version) but it wears it’s mis-steps very firmly on its sleeve and, despite its warm reception in the UK at the time, it really isn’t a good version of the show, to be fair. I would certainly not recommend this one as a jumping on point for anyone interested in the modern show’s past but, you know, it’s currently available if you want it.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Death Has Blue Eyes

Dangerous Minds

Death Has Blue Eyes
aka To koritsi vomva
USA 1976 Directed by Nico Mastorakis
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Full spoilerage but, honestly, it’s not that kind of movie. You won’t care.

Well this is certainly a little gem of a movie... for all the wrong reasons to be sure but, hey, I’m going to recommend this one to all my friends. This movie is the very epitome of ‘so bad it’s good’ and it’s a pleasure to make its acquaintance.

I’ve not seen anything directed by Mastorakis before but this is his first feature, although it was released after the second film he shot, the notorious Island Of Death (which is still in my ‘to watch’ pile from when I picked it up in a sale at Fopp records a few years ago). However, when Arrow released this one, I couldn’t resist the wonderful new poster art (the old poster on the reversible sleeve is pretty snazzy too) and the terrible trailer which promised some kind of ‘lady psychic assassins’... so I used some of the Arrow points I’ve acquired over the years and redeemed it for a free copy of Arrow’s new Blu Ray.* I’m so glad I did.

After a very short title sequence involving an eyeball which is prominent on the cover art but really doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with the plot or characters, we meet the two male protagonists of the film. Ches the gigolo (played by Hristos Nomikos) meets his equally unemployable friend Rob, played by Peter Winter. Neither of them have any money so they blag and steal a chauffer driven car due to a scam involving a mistaken identity, charge a nice meal to a random room in a hotel (where they meet two ladies, more on these two in a minute) and then go back to gigolo Ches’ lady friend’s house while she’s out of the country. Here, he lets Rob have sex with one of his latest lovers and, after a brief respite, they all have a threesome... only to be caught by Ches’ returning client as she catches them all.

Then the two layabouts get hired by a mother and daughter... Jessica Dublin as ‘mother’ Geraldine and Maria Aliferi as ‘daughter’ Christine...  to be their bodyguard against a group of gangsters after them. The daughter possesses telepathic powers and witnessed a murder with her mind and now the two are being pursued by hostile parties. Well, what can I say? These two wastes of space, Ches and Rob, are the worst bodyguards in the world and the film basically continues through various sequences as attempts are made on their lives... but riddled with numerous bike, car and helicopter chases shoe horned in around a ludicrous amount of sex scenes with a dash of The Fury or Scanners thrown in for good measure. And then, at the end, it turns out the mother and daughter are really the two assassins, combining their mental strength to single out an important target... and the gangsters are government agents who do their best to kill everyone... even though Ches and Rob are often loafing around somewhere entirely away from the girls half the time and aren’t really integral to the plot. A plot which kind of just goes on around them without them doing much other than looking laid back and goofing around while trying to dodge bullets.

And it really is like you’re watching a Greek director trying his best to shoot a really dodgy British sex comedy and just putting extra action scenes and loose science fiction concepts in it to add a dash of flavour. The amount of times there will be a stretched pretext for the chance to get one of the two male leads rolling around with completely ‘new to the plot’ naked ladies... including the lady on the poster who’s only purpose seems to be to pose topless while holding a gun in a scene... is ridiculous.

 For example, even though Ches, Rob and Christine are trying to get back to safety after an incident, Ches plays a joke on Rob and ends up driving off and stranding him... for no reason whatsoever and while they’re supposed to be escaping with their lives. So Rob hitches a ride with a young lady who drives a proper Formula One style racing car around the streets, for reasons known only to herself... and then goes back to her apartment for some sexiness. When Christine uses the power of her mind to find out where Rob is, she uses her mental telepathy to reduce his erection so he can’t give the racing car lady what she so desires. It’s all a bit odd and stretched (not Rob’s unhappy love rod... I mean the plausibility of having the scene in the first place).

Similarly, when they know an attempt will probably be made on the girl’s lives one night, Rob and Ches both go out. Rob to see a stripper and Ches to a job interview which turns into the lady doing the interview stripping him and sexing him up also. What the heck? Seriously guys? It really is like a terrible sex comedy with action trimmings and it really does have to be seen to be believed.

And then the end of the movie makes no sense at all. Rob and Ches kinda stop the assassination attempt and kill Geraldine. This causes the psychic link established with Christine to be severed and she forgets all her wrong doing. The government give Rob and Ches a big suitcase full of money and they take turns cuddling the reformed Christine on a beach as waves break over them. Um... yeah, maybe this is how Greek authorities deal with things like this over there?

And all this is served with a soundtrack by Nikos Lavranos which is very appropriate to the tone of the movie. And by that I mean it runs the gamut from overly dramatic piano music, through some kind of porno comedy sound and onto some kind of wah wah action jazz funk which wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of The Professionals. Arrow have included selections from the score as an extra but, alas, it’s not on a CD and just something you can only listen to if the Blu Ray is loaded in to a player and not through your stereo system. Which means I’ll probably never get around to listening to it because... dammit... if you’re going to tease us with an extra of this nature, then put it on a damn CD, for goodness sake. It’s not hard.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about this one. The mixture of ideas coupled with the flimsy artifice that this isn’t trying to be a sex comedy and the constant threat of telekinesis bomb girl... who has bizarre, high pitched synthesiser notes associated with her powers which sound just like someone is using a penny slide whistle and will doubtless provoke mirth from anyone who hears it... all makes for a really silly time and I have to say that, because it’s just so awful, Death Has Blue Eyes has got to be one of my favourite discoveries of the year. This certainly won’t be the last time I watch this one and I’m really glad I invested in the Blu Ray from Arrow.

*New at time of writing the first draft of this, at any rate.

Monday 13 November 2023

The Marvels

If Anyone Can...
Kamala Khan!

The Marvels
Directed by Nia DaCosta
USA Marvel/Disney 2023
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Some slight spoilerage.

Well now, when The Marvels was announced I was up for it because I quite like Brie Larson and her performance in Captain Marvel (reviewed here) and her appearances in a few other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. However, since then I’d seen a number of the Disney controlled Marvel TV shows... you know, those ones of varying quality which they seem to be using to help dilute the impact of their purchased Marvel brand in much the same way as they are draining all the life from their purchased Star Wars franchise. 

However, Ms. Marvel (reviewed here) was one of their few really great shows (along with their absolutely fantastic She-Hulk Attorney At Law show... reviewed here). One of the reasons for that success, apart from the quirky tone of the show, was the introduction of ‘never been in anything before’ actress Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel and, well, she proved herself a powerhouse of an actress in that show and she does the same here, reprising her Kamala Khan role in both the actress’ and character’s feature film debut.

But wait... there’s more. See, this film is a combined sequel to, not only Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel but, also, the TV show WandaVision (reviewed here). In that show, the grown up version of Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel was introduced in the form of actress Teyonah Parris, whose character gained superpowers from her experiences trying to unravel the intricacies of WandaVision... so she returns as a third ‘Marvel’ in the movie, teamed up with the other two and under the leadership of... well, of course... Nick Fury, as played once more by Samuel L. Jackson. I mentioned in yesterday’s review of the somewhat unremarkable Secret Invasion (reviewed here) that I was struggling my way through that one so I could be more prepared for the continuity of this movie but, as it happens, you don’t need to have seen Secret Invasion to fully understand this movie (although I would suggest you do catch up with Ms. Marvel before watching this one, if you haven’t already seen that show).

So, anyway, this film seems to have divided critics and audiences alike.... which gave me some hope, actually, because if there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the last few years it's that, if there’s a good movie with something to say and produced in an individual and interesting way, then modern first-run audiences aren’t going to respond kindly to that, they want exactly the same old same old, time and time again. The Marvels has a lot of familiar elements for sure but, it’s also got its own quirkiness and, thankfully, midst all that, it totally allows Vellani to inhabit her full-on Kamala Khan game, a character who recaps the audience with one of those wild, animated notebook sequences which were part and parcel of the TV show.

There’s a lot packed into this movie from Khan’s integration into bigger events within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the drama between Carol Danvers’ (aka Captain Marvel) seeming abandonment of Monica at a young age. Plus there’s all the usual Marvel action you would expect from the studio... including a certain kind of self sacrifice in one of the crucial scenes at the end (which is given a mid-credits sequel set up with some other Marvel characters you may recognise). And there’s even a wonderful section of the movie where all the inhabitants of a planet communicate through song so, yeah, there’s a ‘musical element to the movie also... which I loved. Plus, cats.

That’s right. Cats. Lots of cats.

So remember the cosmic space cat from Captain Marvel who ingested people with tentacles that came from out of its mouth and who was kind of responsible for Nick Fury’s eye injury in this current version of the character? Well, he’s back and so are... well, I don’t want to spoil it so much. Let me just say that there’s one chaotic cat-centric scene in the movie which is needle dropped with Barbara Streisand singing Memory from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats and just leave it at that. It’s rare for me to find myself actually laughing out loud in a cinema (even and especially during a full blown comedy) but there were a few moments in this movie when I did so, yeah, I would say The Marvels is one of the better of the MCU movies for sure. I hope this one hits Blu Ray soon because I want to grab it as soon as possible. Had a good time with this one.

Sunday 12 November 2023

Secret Invasion

Furiouser And Furiouser

Secret Invasion
USA June - July 2023
Six episodes

Yeah, okay... I watched yet another Marvel TV series, this one based on their Secret Invasion comics. Now I’ve not read those but I’m guessing this is just the title that’s been borrowed here because the comics had absolutely loads of the Marvel super-hero characters in it (Spider-Man and The Avengers to name just a few) and was a big crossover event. Instead this show is trying... and not succeeding awfully well... to do a cold war spy drama like what you would get back in the 1960s which, to be fair, is exactly what they were doing in the sixties when the war comic Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos was transformed by the cinematic scene into Nick Fury - Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

So we have Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as Nick Fury and it follows on from the events depicted in Captain Marvel (reviewed here)... so we have Ben Mendelsohn returning as the Skrull Talos. These two have some great dialogue scenes together. Olivia Coleman does very well in a role somewhat reminiscent of the one she played in the TV show Citadel and she really shines in her scenes. Emilia Clarke does pretty well too, as Talos’ estranged daughter and Charlayne Woodard does a good job as Fury’s Skrull lover. But that’s about it as far as what’s good about the show goes.

Firstly, the show starts off with Martin Freeman reprising his role from the Marvel films except, the last time we saw him in Black Panther - Wakanda Forever (reviewed here) he ended up a fugitive from justice so... what the heck he’s doing here as a friendly agent (and also a Skrull pretending to be him) is anybody’s guess but, continuity totally seems to have got screwed here.

And this is basically a spy game with a faction of the shape shifting Skrulls wanting to take over the planet after what they see as a lack of commitment from Fury and Talos, infiltrating government and trying to start World War Three so they can inherit the planet after the humans have all wiped themselves out. So it’s doubles or rather, a game of ‘spot which one is really a Skrull’ for six episodes and it gets old really quickly. The Mission Impossible films barely get away with the ‘mask’ shenanigans these days but they do it better than what’s on offer here, for sure. And the stakes are kinda lost when you know anyone could be a Skrull... Whose death is real? Who is actually someone else etc? For instance, when Don Cheadle returns as Rhodey and fires Nick Shield, it’s obvious he’s a Skrull so why does it take everybody else a number of episodes to realise that?

So... it’s not a terrible series and there were some nice moments in it but, yeah, it does kinda fail to capture that whole spy movie feel that Captain America - The Winter Soldier (reviewed here) got right for a lot of its running time. To give an example which is probably quite telling, when I started to watch this the people who I usually watch the Marvel shows with told me that they no longer wanted to see anymore after the first episode... they thought it was that bad. I myself took a couple of months just to get through watching the first three episodes so... it wasn’t a ‘must see’ show for me. In fact, the only reason I binged the last three episodes is because The Marvels hits cinemas very soon (review coming tomorrow) and I wanted to make sure I understood where everyone is supposed to be in play at the start of that... although, if the continuity follow through is as bad as it is here, I guess it kinda doesn’t matter after all.

And that’s kinda where I’m at on this one. A fairly short review, I know but... I really don’t have much to say about it. The actors all did a fine job in Secret Invasion but, excepting a few dialogue scenes, they weren’t being supported by good writing on the story beats and it shows. Not the disaster it’s been made out to be by some for sure but, also just not as interesting as a cold war espionage story should be, I would say.

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Dr. Who & The Daleks - The Official Story Of The Films

Documenting Doctor

Dr. Who & The Daleks -
The Official Story Of The Films

by John Walsh
Titan Books
ISBN: 9781803360188

I was excited when I found out that a book was being released on the making of the Doctor Who films because, although I’d already read a tome which covered these a little bit, I just assumed this one would be more in depth and have a lot more pictures from the production... well, as it turned out, that second assumption was a double edged sword. I was, therefore, grinning like a cheshire cat when I found a copy in Forbidden Planet as a signed edition, no less. Alas, I did find I had a lot of problems with the book and so, fair warning, if you want to read a positive review of Dr. Who & The Daleks - The Official Story Of The Films... this isn’t it.

My first big problem with it was when I read one of the captions for an early photograph in the book telling me who did the colourisation of the photo. Wait, what? I then read, as part of a lengthy introduction section, that many black and white photos were originally in colour but haven’t survived in that state over the decades and so a ‘faithful’ colourisation was performed by an individual. I was horrified. If a shot has to be recolourised, how do you know that every single hue and shade of any specific colour is exactly as seen on the original photo? It’s just an impression at best and light years away at worst. In other words, it’s a fake and I really should not be put in a position where my eyeballs should ever have to contemplate such a terror. So, yeah, to say I was a little bit miffed by this perversion of film history would be putting it mildly.

The other thing which really got my back up from the beginning was when the writer is discussing the old argument of whether the version of The Doctor played in the films is in any way canon with the TV show. Frankly I don’t care one way or another... they’re big, bright, fast paced and colourful adventures which look absolutely amazing in whichever home viewing format they get restored to. What I did care very much about, however, is when the author writes, as a kind of un-needed defence of the movies... “Hartnell’s Doctor never had clearly established his origins: especially that he was not even an Earthling at all.” How the heck anybody who has claimed to have watched any of the show’s serials from the first two years (prior to the release of the big movie adaptations) can think they can get away with this statement/conclusion is beyond me. The entire first episode, for example, hinges entirely on the idea that there’s something very odd about both The Doctor and his grand daughter Susan and it’s more than heavily implied by Susan that they are from another world. A subtext which is re-enforced a fair few times over the next year or two, from what I remember.

So, yeah, faulty photos and a completely false statement. What else?

Well, the book looks okay but, if anything, the abundance of photographic shots... monochrome, colour, faked up or otherwise... means there’s a lot less text than I was expecting... or rather, hoping for. They certainly pad the book but you can read the whole thing in not much more than an hour and I have to say that, after seeing a couple of featurettes and such like on various home media releases of the films over the years, there really wasn’t much of anything that new to me in the book. It goes into all the stories you would expect such as Roberta Tovey’s ‘one take Tovey’ anecdote and the story about the stuntman hurting his leg in that fall, seen on screen, in the second feature Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150AD (reviewed here).

Pretty much my only factual takeaway of any interest is that I learned why Roy Castle and Jennie Linden were not in the sequel and... yeah... not much more, I’m afraid.

There are a few pages devoted to the musical scores or the films but they really don’t say much (and, yeah, like I said, lots of pictures pad the text) but the two short galleries of posters for the two films from around the world was definitely a welcome addition. All in all, though, it’s an interesting enough read but still pretty light reading and I felt the two films... which are quite spectacular... could have done with a lot more analysis and insight than what was given here.

If you are a Doctor Who fan then you’re probably going to love this anyway, it’s definitely a project which has its own, built in audience but, for my part, I found Dr. Who & The Daleks - The Official Story Of The Films to be something less than enthralling and I wouldn’t recommend it to, say, my cousin.... who has been watching the show and enjoying the films for almost (but not quite) as long as I have. Not the best Doctor Who book I’ve read by a long chalk... and I mean, a really long chalk, to be sure.

Monday 6 November 2023

Dalek's Invasion Earth 2150AD

Up The Wooden Hill

Dalek's Invasion
Earth 2150AD

UK 1966
Directed by Gordon Flemyng
AARU/Amicus/Studio Canal
UHD/Blu Ray Zone B Dual Edition Steelbook

Warning: Slight spoilers going up the
wooden hill to Bedfordshire.

I think it’s testament to the fact that Dalekmania certainly held the UK in thrall in the mid-1960s, when even the main protagonist of the show on which it was based, Doctor Who, is not even mentioned in the title of this follow up to the previous year’s movie Doctor Who And The Daleks (reviewed here). Based on the late 1964 Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion Of Earth (reviewed here), Dalek’s Invasion Earth 2150AD makes the usual changes to accommodate many of those established in the first film but also changes the main acting line up a little too... as well as, somewhat annoyingly, relocating the action from the year 2164 and moving it forward to the titular date.

In essence it’s the same plot, with the Doctor, as played by Peter Cushing as an Earth scientist and still introducing himself as Dr. Who, arriving in future London... only to find out it’s been conquered by Daleks who are using some of their captured humans, reprogrammed as zombie-like slaves called Robomen. They are used to enforce the work of many others being used as slave labour in their mysterious mining project in Bedfordshire, where they are drilling through to the Earth’s core to explode it with a bomb in order to be able to drive the planet around to wherever they want.  The Doctor and his companions all get separated three ways and eventually reunite in Bedfordshire, where they cripple the Daleks plan and destroy them all... as you know they are obviously going to.

It’s a pretty strong film, it has to be said. Perhaps not quite as colourful as the first (with it’s alien, green and red hued landscapes) but still quite bright and cheery, especially where the Daleks are concerned. Let’s look at the cast first.

Well, we have actor Ray Brooks here, who was of course a big sensation at the time for playing in the movie version of The Knack... And How To Get It (reviewed by me here). So much so that he’s even mentioned as “The boy from The Knack” in the trailer for this movie. Then there’s the somewhat gruff, brilliant presence of future Professor Quatermass actor Andrew Keir as Wyler. He is the grumpy resistance fighter who befriends young Susan when she is separated from the others. Susan herself is once again played, in the most charming fashion, by young Roberta Tovey... the only actor to return from the first film, alongside Peter Cushing. There are also appearances from Philip Madoc, Sheila Steafel and Eileen Way. If the Daleks and their Robomen slaves are a satire of the ‘what if’ possibility of the Nazi’s invading the UK, these three are brilliant as the even more evil, human turncoats who betray their own kind to their enemies.

And in terms of the rest of the crew of the TARDIS, asides from Cushing and Tovey... well, Barbara and Ian have been jettisoned (although their TV equivalents were certainly in the original TV broadcast story). Instead we have Lousie, played by Jill Curzon and, in the role of policeman Tom Campbell, the late great Bernard Cribbins, beginning his long relationship with Doctor Who which would only continue in the next century, when he starred a number of times opposite David Tennant’s Doctor (and possibly one other if they do what I think they are going to do for the 2023 anniversary episodes later in the year).*

Actually, Cribbins’ character has the best introduction of a new companion ever, created just for the film. There’s a sinister pre-credits sequence where a driver of a getaway car awaits his friends who are robbing a jewellery store, as a piano version of Bach’s Toccata And Fugue in D Minor turns into a jazzier tune. He spot’s Cribbins walking the beat and bashes him over the head as an explosion goes off in the jewellery store. The robbers escape with the driver and the damaged policeman runs after them, throwing his truncheon at them and blowing into his whistle. He then spots a police box and rushes over to use the telephone but, of course, when he opens the door, he’s confronted with the inside of the TARDIS with the Doctor, Louise and Susan staring back at him, before promptly feinting from the blow to the head. The Doctor decides the scene of the crime is too dangerous for him in his weakened state so they take him with them to explore the year 2150AD... roll credits and the beginning of the adventure.

Okay, so you are gong to notice a lot of posters in this movie, both in the 20th and 22nd Century AD (the same posters, in fact), promoting Sugar Puffs, who had a tie in promotion with the movie. An early and very intrusive spot of product placement, it has to be said. Something even more noticeable (although it always kind of was) are the strings holding up the quite beautifully designed Dalek mothership... and I think this beautiful Blu Ray transfer of the film is the first time I’ve realised that the shots of the full scale ship in close up with the actors coming in and out is actually a partial matte painting.

The Robomen are quite good looking in terms of costume and, I can only assume these must have been something of an influence, either subconsciously or not, on the creation of one of the UK’s greatest comic strip characters over a decade later, Judge Dredd. They even have their own leitmotif in Bill McGuffie’s much punchier and exciting score (the more sombre score for the first film was by Malcolm Lockyer). A score which even goes into the broadly comical for Bernard Cribbin’s slapstick ‘fitting in with the synchronised movements of the Robomen’ sequence, which was presumably put in to lighten the mood of what is, for a family film, quite a dark and doom laden storyline.

The Daleks themselves are not reused from the first movie (although five of them were actually borrowed from the late 1965 London stage play The Curse Of The Daleks). They’ve been rebuilt and are not quite as gloriously haphazard in their colour schemes this time... although still quite bright and good looking. Also, the massive oversight from the first film, the non-use of the Dalek’s famous one word catch phrase “Exterminate!” is finally used in this film. Over and over again... whether you want them to say it or not. There are, alas, a lot of shots, especially effects shots, where the Daleks look completely immobile and unmanned, which doesn’t do anything to enhance their reputation as the most dangerous creatures in the universe, it has to be said.

One final thing to look out for is the stuntman shot by Daleks who takes a fall off a ruined building and hurts his ankle, which was left in and why he looks in such pain when he stands up for his death moment. The stuntman in question was off to hospital and back in time later that day to finish off his scene, you’ll be glad to know.

And that’s me done with Dalek’s Invasion Of Earth 2150AD. I can never make up my mind, whenever I watch them, which of the two Peter Cushing as Dr. Who films I like the most but, yeah, they are still both great films and definitely great ones to watch as an archive of some of the more beautiful looking films of the 1960s, for sure. Great stuff.

*Yep, this has now been confirmed since I wrote this review.

Sunday 5 November 2023

Dr. Who And The Daleks

Coloured Chiaru-Skaro

Dr. Who And The Daleks
UK 1965
Directed by Gordon Flemyng
AARU/Amicus/Studio Canal
UHD/Blu Ray Zone B Dual Edition Steelbook


That’s what it was which gripped the nation back in the early to late 1960s. The Doctor Who TV series was pretty much saved by the monstrous Daleks, brought in for the second story (I think it started as the fifth episode of the show). For reasons too long to go into for my blog (but you can read all of this background stuff elsewhere), show runner Verity Lambert kinda snuck the monsters in, almost against the wishes of her boss Sydney Newman and, because of these creatures, the show was suddenly transformed from having a lukewarm reception to being an overnight smash, with kids in playgrounds everywhere the next day sticking their arms out in front of them and yelling “Exterminate!”, the Dalek catchphrase (I’ll come back to that in a minute).

Now, ‘serious’ Doctor Who fans always seemed to have a problem with the two AARU produced movies over the years and, while it’s not hard to see why in terms of the obvious differences, I was aghast to find, via one of the new extras on this super restored transfer of the film, that this kind of attitude still prevailed in some quarters to this day. I mean, yeah the films are different but... really?

I’ve loved the 1960s movie adaptations (for that’s what they were... adaptations) since seeing them for the first time as a kid in the 1970s (in pan and scan on a black and white telly). And, despite being a consciously constant watcher of the show from Jon Pertwee’s opening episode in 1970 to the present day, I’ve always had a soft spot for these widescreen creations. They’re big and colourful, so much so that, to me, they absolutely epitomise (along with certain other films such as Modesty Blaise, reviewed here and Blow Up) just what 1960s cinema is all about. Dr. Who And The Daleks is an incredibly beautiful looking film on every level but, as I said, there are a lot of differences to the show.

Okay, so for starters, the title is a dead give away. The film is a remake of the first serialised Dalek story... um... The Daleks... which was part of the show Doctor Who. And that’s the way it was always spelled... Doctor... not Dr like in the film version (well... actually... the William Hartnell version of the character was sometimes billed under that character name but, the opening titles were always the longer form). Also, the Doctor in this version, played to absolute perfection by Peter Cushing, is not an alien like his television counterpart in the story, William Hartnell. Nor is he playing him as the grumpy and somewhat intimidating old man in the way that Hartnell brought the character to life. Instead, the absent minded professor like Dr. Who is an eccentric Earth scientist and inventor and he’s quite a lovable character. Even when he repeats the folly of putting his friends in deadly jeopardy by deliberately sabotaging the TARDIS (invented by him in the movie... not stolen by him as in the show), he still comes out of it as though he’s done nothing. Worst of all, though, he’s actually referred to twice in the movie as Dr. Who and not, as he is in almost every episode of the series (apart from some troublesome continuity riddled episodes), The Doctor.

Then we have his companions Ian and Barbara. Unlike in the TV show where they are Susan’s inquisitive school teachers, here they are boyfriend and girlfriend and, well, Barbara is obviously part of the family so, she must also be the Doctor’s daughter. In the movie they are played nicely by Roy Castle (as the comic relief man, relishing his flamboyant manner and slapstick comedy moments) and Jennie Linden, portrayed as a very strong female character with a lot of intelligence to her, it has to be said.

And, of course, there’s Susan. Like the TV show, she’s the Doctor’s granddaughter but, unlike the TV show, she’s not a teenager. There was no need for her to be, really, since the other characters had been changed so much from their original conception... instead she’s played by 12 year old Roberta Tovey, playing a little younger than her actual age, by the feel of it. She’s actually fantastic in this and Peter Cushing refused to reprise his role as the Doctor in the next film unless she was still a part of it. As a result, only Cushing and Tovey returned for the sequel.

Asides from all these differences, the story follows a condensed version of the original serial, where the Doctor and his companions persuade the golden haired Thals (with enough coloured eyeshadow and dress sense to parody the hippie movement of the time) to fight for their existence against the evil Daleks. 

These were not quite the Daleks as seen in the TV show. They were of a very slightly different design (not so much that many people would notice the difference, I suspect) but, since this was the first time they’d been seen in colour, the producers (unlike the TV show who stuck to drab greys and beige for a very long time) decided to make multi-coloured Daleks in Reds, Blues, Silvers, Golds and Blacks. Even their sensors (yeah, that’s balls to you) which went up the bottom of their armour were sometimes different colours on a single machine, alternating between silver and gold on a single Dalek in some cases. And guess what... they look absolutely fantastic here. When the TV show tried to do their own spin on that many decades later, during the Matt Smith era, the resulting designs were nowhere near as cool and vivid as the ones used in these movies. Although, these Daleks were apparently re-used in the William Hartnell Doctor Who serial The Chase, which beat the movie out of the gate on TV (review coming fairly soon). That being said, they could only still be seen in monotone on the telly so, yeah, they looked quite spectacular in the movie and I could watch these versions of them all day.

Two other curios about the movie, in terms of the audio side of things. Firstly, the iconic sound used in the show from day one, used to denote the dematerialisation and rematerialisation of the TARDIS, has been replaced by a very quick, mundane sound effect for some reason. Secondly, the Dalek’s famous, single worded catchphrase of “Exterminate!” is completely absent from this film... I was sitting there waiting to see if it came up and, for some strange reason, it didn’t (although, if memory serves, the writers and producers learned their lesson on that score in time for the second movie).

And, I’m sure there’s lots more I could say about Dr. Who And The Daleks but, honestly, there’s so much reference material out there that I would only be repeating what others have already said (and where’s the fun in that?). What I will say though is that, despite a nice, if perhaps a little lacklustre in places, musical score by Malcolm Lockyer (which holds no continuity with the TV show in any way, just does its own thing)...the film has some brilliant performances, some wonderful shot designs and an overall psychedelic atmosphere which makes this first film, in particular, one of the trippiest incarnations of Doctor Who ever. And where else would you see the Daleks using the very height of alien technology... 1960s lava lamps?  I’ll always circle back around to this film every five years or so, for another watch. Highly recommended viewing.