Sunday, 29 April 2012

A Nod to Neil

While watching the terrific film adaptation of Neil Gaiman's creepy children's novel Coraline, I had a thought; I've never dedicated a blog post to Neil Gaiman, Master Storyteller and my favourite author. Ever. I intend to put this unfortunate mistake on my part right. Right now.

For those of you who don't know him, Neil Gaiman is a British fantasy novelist who mainly lives in America. Apart from his critically-acclaimed, multi-award winning novels which are increasingly being made into films (Coraline and Stardust are two films based on his works and another, a film version of the Graveyard Book is being developed now) he is also known as the writer of the Sandman comic book series (which I really mean to get around to reading) and as an occasional scriptwriter; he wrote last year's Doctor Who episode 'The Doctor's Wife.'

It's not too easy to say why I like his writing so much. His work is of course incredibly witty and clever, his style of prose captivating but I think it's something more than that. Something on a deeper level.
 Like I connect with the films of Tim Burton, I really feel for the characters in Neil Gaiman books and get incredibly sucked into whatever world it is he has created. Usually it's a world not too different from our own, just a lot more fun. His writing has such a real heart, I think. Basically, I'd describe his writing as magic. There's not really another word for it. Even when his stories don't involve magic, which, on the whole, they don't, they are magic.

Of course, him writing ghost stories, Doctor Who, fairy tales, Batman, dreams and Sherlock Holmes - all areas I am interested in - doesn't hurt.

If you haven't read any Gaiman I highly recommend you should. In turn, you'll be surprised, shocked, humoured, thoughtful, entertained and even tearful. Below, are my five favourite examples of his stuff. If you are interested in reading any do check them out.

Good Omens
Although not much of a Terry Pratchett fan, I love this combined effort of both author's talents concerning the run up to Armageddon. First and foremost, it's hilarious. Totally written for laughs, we get to know a host of bizarre characters as they all attempt to prevent the Anti-Christ destroying the Earth. The angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley are my favourites; after being stuck on Earth since Creation, the two have formed a close friendship despite the fact they are meant to be on opposite sides. Great fun!

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
And now for something completely different. The conceit of this comic, that Gaiman was asked to write as 'the final Batman comic', is that the Dark Knight is dead. All his greatest friends and enemies are gathered at his wake to pay respect to Gotham's now-late Hero. If this all sounds a bit of a downer the twist comes as we realise Batman, in the form of a ghostly apparition, is a guest at his own funeral (don't worry, this isn't a spoiler). It's heart-warming stuff which provides all the reasons why you should get into Batman and love Gaiman's work in general.

Smoke and Mirrors
One of the best things about Gaiman's writing is the chance to dive into his singular imagination. And what better way to do that then in a collection of his short stories which features a plethora of great tales and ideas. Read about the cat who protects his owner's family every night from the devil or the old woman who finds the Holy Grail in a charity shop or what happens to the world when a cure for cancer is discovered - that also has some unexpected side-effects.
Smoke and Mirrors has something for everyone, whether you like fantasy, fairy tale, sci-fi or just great storytelling.

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Wife 
Well, obviously I love this one. A Doctor Who episode written by Neil Gaiman. Duh! It's a fab idea for a Who episode though; what if the TARDIS became a person? It's title is a bit misleading but I forgive it that cos it's a radical, shake-em-up concept that you knew would only last an episode (like the Doctor's Daughter). It makes you look at the show in a new light. And for that to be done to a 49 year old programme is no small credit to Gaiman's talents.

 The Graveyard Book
Most probably my favourite Gaiman novel. A Gothic riff on Kipling's classic the Jungle Book, this tells the story of a boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard. Just the idea of that is amazing for me but it's followed through superbly. Gaiman's prose and story-telling abilities are at their sharpest. Each chapter moves the story onward a few years so we see the boy, Nobody 'Bod' Owens, grow older. We follow Bod on adventures involving witches, trolls, werewolves and - worst of all! - his first day at school. It's a book for older children primarily but I think it's great joy is that anyone can get something from it. Much like Gaiman's writing on a whole.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

DW50 Countdown: The Third Doctor (Part Two)

Welcome to the newly-re branded 'The Scribble Emporium!' It's the same blog just with a different name! Now, don't get hysterical, everyone, things are renamed all the time to help boost their popularity like when whatever-the-old-name-for-Snickers-was changed its name to Snickers or when the toilet tissue Charmin' became Cushelle. Ok, probably not a good idea to compare my blog with toilet roll. Hmm, moving swiftly on...

As you may well know, I've set myself the task of watching a Doctor Who story featuring a different Doctor every month that is not traditionally seen as one of the programme's best examples and still show how it's excellent TV nonetheless! This month it was the Third Doctor's turn. Any old-school Who fans among you may know I've cheated a little here as Curse is actually quite highly-regarded but I had seen it recently for the first time so thought I should review it here. What drew me to watch it was that it's a rare example of a 'classic' Who story that comments on a contemporary (for the time) issue in its mirroring of the UK's joining of the European Union in the 70s. Yeah, I know the idea of watching a science fiction serial based on a forty-year old political event doesn't get me jumping for joy either but The Curse of Peladon takes that as its central idea and runs with it, turning it into a showcase of memorable alien creatures, a great-example of world-building and a gripping whodunit to boot! Only in Doctor Who!

The other stories I have chosen to watch for this countdown so far have all had excellent opening scenes - and Curse is no exception. The first shot is a rather impressive model version of the Peladon Citadel, all medieval Gothic, sitting top a great mountain under a thundering sky, we're then taken inside where the put-upon King Peladon is being shouted at by his pushy High Priest Hepesh for inviting a meeting of the Galactic Federation to be held on Peladon, something which betrays the planet's traditions apparently. Hepesh warns that welcoming the Federation delegates to Peladon will incur the wrath of Aggedor, the fabled royal beast. It's a great example of how to start a Doctor Who story, giving us the situation, a bit of exposition about the world we're on and a monster. And it does all this without resorting to that awful exchange that features at the beginning of several Who stories, that goes something like: 'As you know, Prigtact, our planet has been ruled over by the Marmidons for a hundred years now...'. What we also get from this opening is the knowledge that Hepesh will be talking in portentous caveats for the next four episodes; a particular zinger being 'the ancient curse of Peladon will be FUL-FILLED!'
The story begins proper when the Doctor and Jo arrive - the TARDIS taking a holiday down a cliff face when it topples over - and are mistaken as the Federation agents from Earth, and get to cosy up with the delegates. Ah, the delegates! The leading diplomatic aliens who have been sent as ambassadors to a new world. This is obviously a tender situation and needs careful negotiation. So who do the Galactic Federation send? A nervy cardigan-wearing rather naughty-looking octopus thing, a withered head in a jar who sounds like a Dalek and a pair of asthmatic, shifty-looking Ice Warriors. No wonder Hepesh is a bit distrusting.
Seriously though, the idea of putting a bunch of disparate aliens together is a great one and works well here, most probably thanks to the 'hemaphrodite hexapod' Alpha Centauri her/himself for being so endearing. She/he's a brilliant creation, proving to any doubters that Doctor Who was camp long before Russell T Davies took over. Talking of which, for new series lovers, Davies was obviously a fan of this serial as his episode The End of the World is clearly based on thi,s even having it's own high-pitched jumpy alien in the Moxx of Balhoon. The Ice Warriors, Lord Izlyr and Ssorg, are NOT the villains this week although the Doctor spends about two episodes holding their race's belligerent history against them. Although Arcturus is a bit squawking, Izlyr is actually quite well-drawn; you actually feel something for him while watching which is hard seeing as he takes an age to utter a sentence due to incessant hissing. A highlight, is his offering to help Jo save the Doctor because the Doctor did the same for him earlier on. . It shows the Warrior's most interesting trait; their nobility, which sets them apart from most other Who monsters. I think they're long overdue a comeback.

And it's not just the aliens who are well-developed here. Son of Patrick, David Troughton is excellent as King Peladon, well-playing the youth and vulnerability of the character. However, our leading man and lady steal the show here, which is quite hard to do, playing opposite Alpha Centauri. Pertwee is on top form through the whole serial; a proper leading man doing everything one should do; investigating a mystery, overcoming a monster, engaging in sword fights etcetera. My favourite moment of his, here, is the Doctor's singing of a 'Venusian lullaby' to calm Aggedor; 'klendu klatch naroon naroon naroon.' Pertwee's delivery is quite inspired, putting a sort of Hindi twang to the 'words.' Katy Manning, needless to say, is exceptional. Having not seen any of her original stories for a while, I was impressed that she went a whole story without screaming once, the norm for companions back then (even Amy screams quite a bit now). She's such a strong character and plays off the others brilliantly throughour the development of her half-romance with Peladon, her acceptance of the Ice Warriors and, best of all, her relationship with the Doctor. There's a real bond between them; when he thinks Jo might stay behind he's visibly sad. One of my favourite TARDIS pairs.

Overall, Curse of Peladon works as a really well-done story. At four episodes, it's the perfect length, the plot never sags or is needlessly padded out and flows nicely. Any longer and it would have been ruined. However, the cliffhangers are all fairly pedestrian, involving the Doctor having a gun pointed at him or some such, except for Episode Three's which could have been a great reveal but is botched and over in seconds before you know what's happened. Also, Hepesh is not going to go down into the Hall of Fame for Doctor Who villains. His melodrama itches after a while and even when he's dead, if you look carefully, he continues to breath. I'd like to be there when the TARDIS disappears and the haughty High Priest gets back up again to make some havoc.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

DW50 Countdown - The Third Doctor (Part One)

As Doctor Who's 50th anniversary is only eight months away, let us take Bessie for a drive down Gallifreyan memory lane as we look at the Third Doctor. Great Balls of Fire!

'Courage isn't just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It's being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.'
                                                                              The Doctor (Jon Pertwee)

In 1970, when comic actor Jon Pertwee first became 'the New Doctor Who', the show was going through a lot of changes. Under threat of being axed, Doctor Who not only changed its leading man but also its secondary performers (companion actors Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury left with previous Doctor Troughton) and the large portion of its production staff. It's something that wouldn't happen in the show again until Matt Smith took on the mantel. The reason for its success? The scripts were perhaps better than ever, tapping into topical issues like pollution and immigration as well as telling barnstorming stories, and the decision to 'ground' the Doctor on Earth, stripped of the use of the TARDIS, gave the show a root and a host of returning characters i.e. the lovable Brigadier's band of alien-busting UNIT soldiers. However, the real reason is Pertwee's skill and command of the role.

The Third Doctor, in character, was quite a departure from his predecessors. In his frilly shirt, velvet jacket and bouffant hair, he was wildly flamboyant and preferred to stand out of the crowd. Like all Doctors, he was witty and courageous but was far more straight-faced than before -in great contrast to Doctor Two's clownish behaviour - letting the injustices of the universe play on him hard.
However, the Third Doctor's defining characteristic, setting him apart from his fellows, is how he is far more an action-hero than any other Doctor. Familiar with 'Venusian Aikido', he didn't hold back in a full-on fight with his enemies; often coming out the winner. He was also a fan of gadgets and cars; producing no end of scientifically brilliant - and handy,too! - gizmos and partaking in cascade of car chases. While he enjoyed his space-age car (known as 'the Whomobile' by fans), the Doctor's pride and joy was his old-fashioned roadster affectionately called Bessie - which he, of course, gave a few Tine Lord-y appendages to.

While Doctors One and Two surrounded themselves in a gaggle of young people, male and female, the Third Doctor preferred the company of a single young woman; cementing his state as the James Bond of Doctors. Excellent scientist Dr Liz Shaw was less a companion and more a hired assistant but was still a valuable friend. He also befriended fan-beloved intelligent, independent journalist Sarah Jane Smith - being her first Doctor - later in life. However, his longest-lasting companion was clumsy but endearing Jo Grant. Initially displeased with her attitude, the Doctor grew extremely fond of Jo; becoming visibly sad when she left him to marry Professor Jones for a life of exploring the world. Throughout his tenure, though, the Third Doctor had a comrade and, simultaneously, sparring partner in the indomitable Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart; who often disagreed with the Doctor's diplomatic approach to things but had to admire his results. The two held a friendship which spanned several (of the Doctor's) lifetimes. When the Eleventh Doctor heard of his death in recent episode 'The Wedding of River Song', it comes as a massive blow to a man so used to losing friends.

Overall, while the show had been testing the waters throughout it's first decade, it leapt in full throttle during the Third Doctor's time. Introducing elements of the show that would be felt throughout the many following years; expanding on the mythos of the Time Lords, the creation of UNIT and the introduction of the Doctor's greatest enemy, the Master. However, the greatest gift these years gave to Doctor Who was the Third Doctor himself. Proving so successful he not only caused a flourish in the show's popularity in the short term but played a huge part in ensuring the show continued for another forty years and beyond.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Vids of the Month!

Settle down on the sofa and grab some popcorn cos it's Easter Saturday, its sometime in the morning it's...


1.Doctor Who Season Seven trailer

Although we still have months to wait for the Ponds' final adventures with the Doctor this Autumn, at least we now have a mouth-watering trailer to gawp at in the absence of any new episodes. Based on the evidence below, we've got tonnes to look forward to! WILD WEST! DALEKS! ROBOT COWBOYS! You can even see Rupert 'Lestrade' Graves in the corner of one shot if you squint!

2. Creepy Watson

Without saying too much, this is somehow one of the funniest yet scariest things you'll see in a while. You wont be able to see Holmes' faithfu friend in the sme light again...

3. Dark Shadows trailer

As a massive Burton fan, I've been eagerly awaiting his - one of two  - new film(s) this year 'Dark Shadows', a film version of a cult US gothic drama from the 70s. I didn't really know much about it other than it starred Johnny Depp as a vampire. Well, untill I saw this. Hmm, it's not really what I expected...I'll still watch it though.

4. Dalek Relaxation

Peter Serafinowicz shows once again why he's one of the funniest comedians around with this inventive suggestion of what the Daleks may have been working on during their sabactical from Who. Ready, everyone? Sit back, close your eyes and relax...

5. Lego Sherlock

And to finish us off this month - one of the greatest scenes on televsion EVER restaged with Lego figurines! What's not to love? It may just be me, but despite the funny visuals, the soundtrack played over it still packs an emotional punch. That's the power of Sherlock for you. See you next time!

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