Thursday, 31 October 2013

A Warning on Halloween Night

A monochrome man, in a smart suit, emerges from behind the stage curtains and faces an unseen audience.
Dear readers. It has now reached All Hallows’ Eve and Gothic Creatures must come to an end. The writer of this blog has asked me to thank you for indulging his gimmicks and for reading his posts on the likes of the terrifying man made from dead tissue, a scientist with one hell of a dark side and the horrors to be found in space, where no one can hear you scream. But before we go, we have one last treat for you. A story to ensure your Halloween night does not go by without a fright. Take heed, ladies and gentlemen, boys and ghouls, for it is a story with a message for you all…

Do not read this post. Whatever you do leave this page, this website, the whole internet now. Go and read a book, go for a Halloween night-time stroll, start a game of Russian Roulette, anything is safer than reading this post.
It gets in through your eyes. Eyes that are glued to the screen. The more you read the stronger it will become.
I shouldn’t have started like that. Now you want to read on. Then I shall have to explain.
It began at the start of the month. I thought it was normal, at first. We all like to waste some time on the internet, after all. But this was not normal.
I did nothing but browse the internet, all day long. I had friends to go out and see, places to go, assignments to do for university but none of these things happened. Because it had taken hold of me.
I could not concentrate on anything else.  It kept drawing me back to it. I would spend hours reading celebrities’ coffee updates on Twitter, watching videos of cats on Youtube, even googling my name. I was its slave and I could not escape.
It is now Halloween, and I have still not escaped.
I have not left my desk chair for twenty-four hours. I don’t even know if I want to anymore. I have become lifeless, unthinking. It has got me but it doesn’t need to get you to. There’s still hope for you.
I know where it came from now. And it sickens me. But it means I can warn you. It is paramount you leave this site now, it is spreading like hellfire. You are worried now, I know. And I am sorry but I had to tell you. You need to know what to look for. You need to know what shape it takes. You must never go on the internet again, but I know what you’re like, you want to check your emails, tell everyone on Facebook that you’re having a bad day. I understand that. So please, and you really must, watch out for it. It looks like-

The Monochrome Man arrives back on stage and bows to the unseen audience
And that is, sadly, all we have time for. But rest assured, readers, that more posts will follow on this blog, do not worry about that. On your behalf, I will make sure that this blog’s proprietor does his utmost best to keep drawing you here. Because, on this terrible night of all nights, when your fellow men and women become monsters, and savage children scratch at your doors for sustenance, you need something to protect you from the dangers of the outside world. Have no fear, readers, I will keep you safe. As long as you keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Doctor Who's Greatest Moments: Part Three - The 80s

Taking a break from the gothicism for one day, we come to the third in the ongoing series of posts dedicated to Doctor Who's greatest moments. This month, it's the eighties.
After two decades of being one of the nation's most popular programmes, it was always going to be tough for Doctor Who to keep up the momentum so, to do so, the people behind the show made a sharp change of track. After, the larger-than-life Fourth Doctor cavorted about, saving the universe every Saturday teatime, the eighties saw the show develop a harder edge, with increasing violence and a growing streak of dark in the Doctor's character. Occasionally, it did stray to far - the most famous example being the newly-born Sixth Doctor's strangling of his companion! However, the soul of Doctor Who was still there and while there are moments of the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors tenures that are perhaps misfires, it has more than its fair share of excellent parts, with the decade providing some of Doctor Who's best scenes.

10. 'It's the end... but the moment has been prepared for...' -Logopolis

As it still feels part of 70s Who but does fall into the 80s, the demise of the Fourth Doctor comes in at number 10. After saving the universe (see, told you) from collapsing in on itself - in the midst of halting a last-ditch chance of the Master's for universal conquest, the Doctor falls from a radio telescope and, surrounded by his friends, he dies. With the inclusion of the ethereal Watcher (a wraith-like spectre of the future Doctor), this is a strangely enigmatic and melancholy end for such a popular and lively incarnation of our hero.

9. The Time Lords on trial! - The Trial of a Time Lord

The Time Lords have captured the Doctor and put him on trial for his various 'crimes'. However, this is the Doctor - the brash, vocal Sixth Doctor - and he will not go down lightly. Discovering the full extent of the Time Lords' corruption from the Master, of all people, the Doctor lambasts his people for their villainy. 'Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen,' he says. 'They're all in the nursery compared to us. Ten thousand years of absolute power - that's what it takes to be really corrupt.' It's a strong scene on its own merits but also stands up as a great showcase for Colin Baker's often unfairly judged portrayal of the character. It works well because it plays to his strengths - his Doctor loves telling people off and here he gives the Time Lords a hell of a talking to.

8. 'His days like crazy paving.' - Dragonfire

The Seventh Doctor's first series is one still finding its feet, but in the overall uneven finale 'Dragonfire', there comes a moment of magic. At the end of another adventure, the Doctor's companion Mel decides to leave the TARDIS to go travelling with space Del-boy Sabalom Glitz. A sad, contemplative Doctor then talks about the difficulties of living life out-of-order like he does and asks her to remember 'the homeless traveller in his police box' when she's enjoying her life 'all in a neat pattern.' It's an unexpectedly touching scene very well-played by Sylvester McCoy with a twinkle in his eye. Casting the Doctor as a timeless wizard who sometimes laments his 'crazy paving' life, it's simply quintessential Doctor Who.

 7. In a Glass Dalek - Revelation of the Daleks

On the other end of the Who scale, we have one of the show's nastiest ever scenes. In the cellars of the corrupt Tranquil Repose facility on Necros, Natasha Stengos is searching for her father who is meant to be in cryogenic storage but she suspects has met a more sinister fate. And she's right - in a Dalek casing made of glass, she discovers what her father has become - a Dalek mutant. As Stengos battles his new Dalek nature, he pleads for his daughter to kill him to put him out of his misery.
One of the most extreme examples of how violent the series could be at this time, there's a convincing argument to be made that this does not belong in Doctor Who but it's this very reason that makes the moment so riveting. This version of the show was totally unpredictable with apparently even this level of horror up for grabs, which makes it all the more exciting to watch.

6. 'Every decision creates ripples...' - Remembrance of the Daleks

There's many excellent moments to pick from the fan-favourite corker 'Remembrance of the Daleks' - the first occasion of a Dalek hovering up the stairs, the return to the show's beginnings at the Totter's Lane Junkyard and Coal Hill School or the moment the Doctor tricks Davros into destroying Skaro (a significant event in the context of the Time War). However, amongst all this action there's a tiny gem of a scene where the Doctor takes a breather from dealing with a Dalek Civil War breaking out in London. Visiting a cafe, he talks to the man behind the till about the affect every decision has on the rest of the world, clearly feeling the weight of what he does on his shoulders. The soul-searching Doctor gets a simple, yet inspiring reply from the man: 'life's like that. Best thing is just to get on with it.'

5. The F(our) Doctors! - The Five Doctors

After travelling across the Death Zone on Gallifrey, facing a plethora of their greatest foes, Doctors One to Three and Five plus their respective companions meet in the Dark Tower to find the tomb of Rassilon together and foil the corrupt President Borusa's plans for immortality. Now, isn't that a thrilling sentence? There's something very special about Doctor Who anniversary celebrations - logic is thrown to the wind and everything becomes a big old party. Which is an apt description for this scene as the Doctors and companions greet each other like old friends at a social occasion. There's the Brigadier and Sarah Jane and - shock horror - the Master shows up at his most pantomimic to stop the fun. It's indulgent, of course, but on its birthday it's allowed to be. 'The Day of the Doctor', we are all waiting for you...

4. There's something about Ace - The Curse of Fenric

Classic Doctor Who rarely had companion-centric stories. The Doctor was clearly the lead. However, the Seventh Doctor's era was a partnership between the Doctor and his companion, Ace, with several episodes exploring her demons that she ran away from. This comes to a head in the penultimate story before the show's great hiatus when a long story arc (extremely unusual in the classic series) is tied up; and Ace's origins are revealed. She has been a pawn in a chess game of unanimous proportions...
In the days of the mystery of the Impossible Girl, this may seem like bread-and-butter Doctor Who but in 1989 this was groundbreaking stuff for the series. And proof of how the show was possibly more inventive than it had been in years, right before its plug was pulled.....

3. Adric's Death - Earthshock

The Cybermen have returned and they are at full-force. With them planning to crash a cargo ship into the Earth, the Doctor is out of options and must escape before it explodes. However, the Doctor's companion, Adric is still onboard - trying to halt the ship's destruction. He's close but a lone Cyberman destroys the controls. Unable to go back and save him, the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are forced to watch as the ship explodes.
One of Doctor Who's most famous scenes, the death of Adric is a brilliantly unexpected moment and one that demonstrates an important reminder to the audience - the Doctor's world is not cosy and, occasionally, he can't save everyone, even his closest friends.

2. Saving Peri - The Caves of Androzani

At the opposite end of his life, at the conclusion of the stonkingly strong 'Caves Of Androzani' (voted fan's favourite ever story in a poll a few years ago), the Doctor and Peri are both dying from Spectrox Toxaemia. With his last ounce of strength, the Doctor battles the caves of Androzani to get the antidote - but there's only enough for one...
Haunted by Adric's death, he is determined to not let one more person die. And so the Doctor gives the antidote to Peri, someone he doesn't know all that well - having only met in the previous adventure. The poison finally gets the better of him and, in a fevered dream of his companions (and the Master), the Doctor dies. Not saving the world or the universe but sacrificing himself to save one single life, this is simply how every Doctor should regenerate.  His final word, by the way, is 'Adric...'

1. 'Come on, Ace, we've got work to do.' - Survival

At the end of the Seventh Doctor's third series, the Doctor and Ace walk off after another adventure. Over the top, we hear the Doctor give a final speech:
'There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream: people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do.'
These were the last words of the show's original run.
Now, hear me out. I do not mean the best thing about an entire decade of Doctor Who is when it ended. Its the bittersweet promise of more adventures to come, that we will not see, that makes the moment so affecting. Despite the series being cancelled, this is Doctor Who telling the world that it can be taken off screen but it will never end. The Doctor and his companion will always rattle around time and space in the TARDIS. And, one day, the TARDIS might materialise on your television screens once more.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Films of Frankenstein

It's alive! I've been working hard in my laboratory and have forged new life from an old feature - Monthly Mini-Reviews, remember them? - for this special gothic-themed series of blog posts. And what celebration of the gothic is complete without a mention of the mighty Frankenstein! Mary Shelley's genius novel about a scientist who creates a man from the dead has captured imaginations for centuries, with the ideas revisited in endless novels, television shows and even stage plays. However, the most famous of these is arguably the  various film adaptations of the story that have sparked into life across the decades. As it would take a whole encyclopaedia to look at every film on the subject, below are four of my favourites. Behold, if you are brave enough, the films of Frankenstein!

Frankenstein (1931)

The undoubtedly most iconic of all Frankenstein adaptations is James Whale's early horror film, primarily known for Boris Karloff's legendary portrayal of the lumbering, flat-headed creature. Without speaking a word of dialogue, and in such grotesque prosthetics, Karloff certainly does an excellent job of showing the creature's innocence and anger. Colin Clive also plays the determined Dr Frankenstein (for some reason, renamed Henry here) well, being believably unhinged enough to undertake his experiments. Despite running for little over an hour, however, it does feels a little stilted in places; although that is more a fault of the Hollywood of the time still grappling with talkies. On the other hand, it has elements that were not only shocking for its time but push the boundaries even now. Not many films made over seventy years ago can say that.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

First things first, Bride of Frankenstein is a rare example of a sequel bettering the original. Everything from the first film is upped; the gothic, the wry humour and, perhaps most importantly, the characterisation of Karloff's monster, in particular his loneliness and desire for companionship. The key to its success is the assured direction by Whale who, amongst the horror and the thrills, injects a sense of fun to proceedings. Also worth noting are the terrific score - particularly the haunting, twinkling theme for the Bride herself - and the unsung hero of the film, the campy, malevolent Dr Pretorius, the man who 'commissions' a bride for the monster. Simply a must-see film of its genre.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Mel Brooks' thoroughly hilarious spoof of the 1930s films is definitely the funniest incarnation of Frankenstein you'll come across. The ever-endearing Gene Wilder stars as Frederick Frankenstein (it's pronounced Fronkensteen), a descendant of the original mad scientist who is dismissive of his 'famous cuckoo' grandfather. However, a death in the family ends in his returning to Castle Frankenstein. Will he live up to his namesake and create a monster? Answer; yes.
Nearly every joke works (with some sequences so effective, you won't be able to watch the original films without thinking of it) and Wilder has strong support from Marty Feldman as a fourth-wall breaking Igor. It's best scene will have you  laughing every time you hear Putting on the Ritz....

Frankenweenie (2012)

Based on his 1984 short film, Frankenweenie sees Tim Burton tackle a quirky all-ages version of Shelley's immortal tale. After his beloved dog, Sparky (geddit?) dies, schoolboy scientist Victor Frankenstein does the unthinkable and endeavours to bring the dog back to life - with much mayhem ensuing. As a lover of the Universal Frankenstein films (elements of them appear in many of his own works), it's perfect territory for the director to work in and it really does feel classic Burton. Sure, we've seen a lot of the motifs before in his features (not to mention in the original short film itself) but its a charming stop-motion film - totally in black and white - that not only alludes to its Frankenstein film forebears but becomes a celebration of the entire monster movie genre itself. Frankenweenie proves that even after so many versions, the Frankenstein legend has not been done to death - there's still a lot more life in it yet.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Doctor Who at 50: Missing Episodes Found!

To the joy of Doctor Who fans across the universe, after months and months of gossip, it was last night confirmed that the BBC has recovered nine episodes of the series that were thought forever lost! Classic story 'The Enemy of the World' is now complete  while fan-favourite 'The Web of Fear' is now only one episode short thanks to the haul - the largest find of lost episodes for three decades. These new old Whos were finally revealed at midnight on Thursday at a special event in London, attended by Second Doctor companions Frazer Hines (Jamie) and Deborah Watling (Victoria). Due to the BBC norm at the time to destroy tapes of already broadcast television programmes, there have been over a hundred episodes missing from fan's shelves - and hearts - for years, with one showing up now and again. Now, however, the figure is down to 97. Only double figures!
'Every single avenue seemed to have been exhausted,' said Who writer Mark Gatiss to the BBC. 'Every now and then something turns up - but to have two virtually complete stories out of the blue is absolutely incredible.'
The episodes were found by archivist, Phillip Morris, who found them gathering dust in a Nigerian TV station. 
But, enough about the technicalities, what we really care about is the stories themselves. Let's have a look at what we've been missing...

ENEMY OF THE WORLD  by David Whittaker

This 1967/8 adventure is an intriguing one, being very different from the 'base-under-siege' and monster-heavy stories typical of its time. Hoping to enjoy  a holiday in mid-21st century Australia, the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria become embroiled in the machinations of megalomaniac Salamander who dreams of world domination - and is an  exact double of the Doctor! With an exploding helicopter, a hovercraft and gun-toting henchman, it sounds like a James Bond film rather than a 60s Who, plus it will also be fascinating to see the talented Troughton in a dual role, especially playing a villain for himself to come up against. 
As the episodes have already gone up on Itunes some fans got their hands on them as fast as they could. Here's what Who  writer Chris Chibnall thought...

THE WEB OF FEAR by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln

If you'd asked Doctor Who fans earlier in the year which of the missing stories they would most want back, many would have said this tale which sees the Doctor's old enemies, the robotic Yeti controlled by the Great Intelligence, attack the London Underground. 'It's the quintessential Doctor Who story,' Mark Gatiss called it. 'It has the return of the Abominable Snowmen in an iconic location.'
It also featured the first appearance of beloved character Brigadier (here, Colonel) Lethbridge-Stewart who was a regular on the show during the Third Doctor's UNIT years, making guest appearances throughout the series, and once in spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures, until his death in 2009.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that the aforementioned Mr G. Intelligence reappeared as the main enemy of the latest series of the show, played by Richard E Grant. Out of all the perhaps more famous classic Who villains, Mr  Moffat could have brought back it seemed an unusual choice - unless... unless Moffat... knew about this haul? Hmm...

Fan and Radio Times writer tweeted this on the story:

The stories are now available from Itunes for £9.99 while they're apparently soon to be released on DVD.

This really is incredible news for the show and - being very spookily well-timed - it adds immensely to the fun of the 50th anniversary bash. And,Who knows, it suggests that, somewhere out there, are more missing episodes waiting to be found. What definitely is for sure though is that this is a fantastic year to be a fan of the show. And it's far from over yet...

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Review: Jekyll (Series One)

Everyone has a dark side. This is the theme of today's post. We may appear trustworthy members of society but underneath may lurk a secondary savage nature. The side you try to hide. the side you try to bury deep and the side that may come to the fore and close this tab if I keep up this melodramatic introduction. So, as Gothic Creatures month continues, we turn our two-faced heads to inspect a new take on a classic tale...

Three years before he reinvented Sherlock Holmes as a modern-day sleuth, Steven Moffat brought another icon of late-Victorian literature into the 21st century - the tragic Dr Jekyll and his twisted other half, Mr Hyde.
Jekyll, a sequel to the Robert Louis Stevenson original, sees James Nesbitt (ubiquitous on British television back in 2007, he can now be seen as Bofur in The Hobbit films) as Dr Tom Jackman, a man who is suffering from serious split personality. Cutting himself off from his job, friends and family, he is determined to defeat his inner demons before they - or should that be 'he' - can bring harm to his loved ones. Jackman, a descendant of Dr Jekyll, can trust no one - not even himself. 

As one can expect from Steven Moffat, the king of complex plots, this short six-part series (no more were produced) hurtles at a strong pace and is unpredictable to the extreme. While this is far from being the only reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde, to take the Victorian gothic novel and turn it into a contemporary conspiracy thriller show as this does is really quite inspired. Thankfully, however, Jekyll manages to never take itself too seriously and supplies another thing one will always find in Moffat's work; more than a handful of humour. Mr Hyde - oh, yes, he still calls himself that - is portrayed as a camp, so-mad-he-loves-being-evil villain in the vein of John Simm's The Master and, later, Andrew Scott's Moriarty and so regularly gets you laughing with him, despite his nasty nature. 
Across the episodes, there are some stonking great classics of Moffat dialogue. My favourite has to go to the following exchange that's played to deadpan perfection by Nesbitt:

Jackman finds a CD titled 'Disney Favourites' on his desk
Tom: What's this?
Katherine: It's his.
Tom: He has Disney favourites?
Katherine: He likes the songs.
Tom: My dark side likes Mary Poppins. No wonder I was bullied at school.

The cast is filled out ably by familiar actors to any British TV viewer, including Meera Syal, Denis Lawson and Michelle Ryan. Ryan plays Katherine, Jackman's capable assistant who helps keep Hyde at bay (by giving him Disney CDs, apparently) while Syal and Fenella Woolgar (Who's Agatha Christie) play a pair of lesbian private detectives - clear forebears of Moffat's much-loved crinolined crime-fighting duo Madame Vastra and Jenny. They are all entertaining additions to the cast but sadly fall a bit by the wayside in the series' latter half as the plot spirals all over the place (in a good way). On the plus side, though, Gina Bellman who is underused in the first episodes gets a chance to shine as Jackman's suffering wife.
As the issues with character above suggests, the show does have its problems. The biggest being that there's something about it that means the series as a whole just doesn't click. It's certainly great fun to watch but it is the show's inability to ever quite come together that keeps the production from reaching the heights of Sherlock and Moffat's Doctor Who. While the writing runs the show and the actors carry it well, it seems like one-part generic TV drama and one-part bonkers, innovative stuff. The series was clearly designed as a vehicle for Nesbitt, who plays both roles with either suitable restraint or bouncing energy, and also allows Moffat to go solo on a big-game drama project for the first time. Perhaps it is these manufactured beginnings that stop Jekyll being a truly great piece of television.

On the whole, Jekyll is a hugely enjoyable series with sharp writing and solid performances but one that never quite fires on all cylinders. With elements of both pure genius and mediocrity, Jekyll really is a show split down the middle, meaning that the series may leave the viewers themselves in two minds.  

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Favourite Fictional Characters: Ellen Ripley by Mr Rumsey

To kick off the special gothic-themed run of posts that are going up this October, here's the second in an ongoing series by guest bloggers on their favourite fictional characters. This month, James Walpole, of Mr Rumsey's Film Related Musings, is discussing his favourite character, the lead from the classic Sci-fi/Horror film series Alien. Before we start, let's give a big hand to Mr Rumsey for putting together an out-of-this-world article! Done that? Good. The one of you who is now missing an arm, I'll give it back to you another time...

Ellen Ripley has come to symbolise the ultimate female character for me, the one by which I measure all others across film, literature, and video games. She undertakes a transition across four films that promotes the maternal instinct, intelligence, bravery and an ability to adapt and survive in ways which are almost exclusively reserved for male characters, whilst the films also confront issues of rape, sexual threat, and the loss of a child, and Ripley is developed enough to make mistakes, miscalculate a situation, and react impulsively.  This incredibly strong character is important to me not only as a landmark in film and gender history, but also because I've grown to really like her. She is endlessly entertaining; whether she is being funny and ballsy, or is terrified and fighting for her and others’ lives. What’s more I can really relate to her struggles, and that’s something that’s very important considering I'm a young male viewer in his early twenties.

Although Ripley has a handful of romantic connections to other characters, even if some of these are barely hinted at or are left on the cutting room floor, she does not suffer as a character from these relationships. She is never constructed through these male figures, and miraculously she passes through the hands of multiple screenwriters and directors, without ever once becoming the besotted and helpless female archetype. Yes, she is portrayed as an object of sexual desire, and by that I mean both for humans and aliens, but she isn't defined by that attribute unlike many female characters. Her sexual appeal is considerably more relevant to the series’ concerns with sexual fear, rape, abortion, childbirth and the male psychological fear of impregnation, than it is relevant to her character traits.

When I watched Alien, Ripley was one of the first empowered female roles that I had experienced. I use the term empowered carefully as I think it is quite troublesome, and I certainly do not believe that a well written female character needs to take on ‘male attributes’, i.e. picking up a gun and being able to kill, this technique often backfires anyway. Ripley is empowered because she is fully fleshed out as a character; she’s alternatively weak and strong in different situations, she is conflicted, she makes mistakes, but she also learns from them - look to the supporting character Lambert to see the female role that Ripley has evolved from. I knew that I had found something here that strongly affected me. Ever since I re-watched this film I have had a very strong interest in female roles, they now are normally the characters which interest me most when I read/watch/write something, and this part of my personality, I've come to realise through writing this post, is largely tied into the character of Ripley.

Ellen Ripley has few real rivals in terms of female film characters; Sarah Connor is perhaps her only true challenger, but you could also consider Louise (Thelma and Louise), Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill), Raimunda (Volver), or say Marge Gunderson (Fargo). The reason for me that she rises above these other great characters is simply that none of those have such a rich and developed character, one that has been built-up over time and multiple films into being a strong female role model – a woman that doesn't rely on her sexuality, but is both believable and relatable.

If you are interested in contributing a future guest post, please send me an email at, tweet me at @ChristianABone or leave a comment below!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Welcome to Gothic Creatures

A monochrome man, dressed in a smart suit, appears through the stage curtains and speaks to an unseen audience.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and ghouls, the writer of this blog thought it best to warn you of what is to come on his site over this October, in the run-up to that fabled night, All Hallow's Eve.

For one month only, Scribble Creatures will be devoted to all things Gothic. Things to curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart, as mistress of the macabre Mary Shelley once said. If you can stand it, you will be treated to reviews, list articles, guest posts all to do with some of the most nightmarish books, films and television around - and perhaps even a short story to read on Halloween night. If you dare.
I urge you to visit this blog over the next month with the utmost caution. The posts that follow this are not for the faint of heart and the blog's proprietor will not be held responsible for any -
Well, don't say we didn't warn you...

The monochrome man  grins and exits the stage.

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