Saturday, 27 June 2015

New Doctor Who is coming to Big Finish!

Today brings the exciting announcement that the independent audio drama company, Big Finish, that makes classic Doctor Who adventures is doing the same for new Who!

This thrilling news has been a long time coming - for years, the new series was completely off limits to the people of Big Finish, until they recently announced spin-off series featuring Kate Stewart and Osgood of the TV series' UNIT and Captain Jack Harkness himself in a new Torchwood continuation. But now - finally - it looks like all kinds of heroes and villains from post-2005 Who can interact with classic characters.

Firstly, the head-lining event is that River Song will be meeting the Eighth Doctor, in a sequel to the Doom Coalition series which will be released next year. Personally, I think Alex Kingston and Paul McGann will make a brilliant pair, as McGann's Doctor is so much like the modern incarnations that he'll be right at home with River.

Clearly Big Finish can't get enough of River as the Doctor's wife will also star in her own series, The Diary of River Song, which will see Professor Song travel 'across space and time, seeking out the secret rulers of the universe.'

The inclusion of River into the world of classic Who should be loads of fun - I would particularly like to see the flirtatious River meet her future husband in his first, crotchety, incarnation. And, as Big Finish also have John Barrowman onbaord, why not have a Captain Jack-River Song team-up?

But, wait, that's not all. Also heading his own series will be that favourite Doctor Who character... Winston Churchill! Narrated by the TV show's Ian McNiece, Winnie's adventures will see him meet the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. And Daleks by the look of it.

Bizarrely, The Churchill Years will also feature a guest appearance by Danny Horn, reprising his role of the Scrooge-like Kazran Sardick from 2010's A Christmas Carol. As a character who had such a transformative story arc in his sole television outing, he seems an unlikely returning figure but I'm intrigued to find out why he's back - and teaming up with Churchill.

And that's still not all. The announcement that brings the most fannish thrill to the hearts of whovians is the Classic Doctors, New Monsters series which will see - yep, you guessed it - Doctors Five, Six, Seven and Eight facing foes of the 21st century era. Namely, the Weeping Angels (not quite sure how these silent creatures'll work on audio), the Sycorax (always thought they deserved a second go on the show), the Judoon (their booming voice is well suited to radio drama) and apparently Sontarans from the Time War. Which it seems Big Finish may be able to document now...

I, for one, am very excited for these new adventures - as it suggests such a wealth more to come. Who's to say they can't tempt modern Doctors and companions - even, dare I say it, Christopher Eccleston - to record some full-cast adventures? Or can they get Georgia Moffet onboard to create a spin-off series for the Doctor's daughter, Jenny? Or how about doing that Paternoster Gang spin-off that is such a popular idea? Or what about...

In short, this is exciting news.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Ranking the Harry Potter Books and Films

Today marks the eighteenth birthday of the popular Harry Potter series (oh, I win the award for the Biggest Understatement of the Day, do I? How nice). The book that first took us on a journey aboard the Hogwarts Express, The Philosopher's - never Sorcerer's - Stone, was released on 26 June 1997.

To mark this occasion, I've decided to give my ranking of both the books and the films of which I have differing opinions. Unlike the film series, which I think wildly varies in quality, ranking the books is a hugely subjective task - when reading them as a youngster I was convinced the books got better and better. But let's see what I think now...

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Book: 5/7

An enchanting beginning chapter of the series. Its whimsical tone - much more so than other books in the series - means it can sit comfortably alongside such children's classics as Alice in Wonderland.

Film: 6/8

A very faithful rendition of the novel, with great casting choices, including the closer-to-the-text Richard Harris version of Dumbledore and the instantly loveable Hagrid as played by Robbie Coltrane.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Book: 4/7 

Being the first Potter book I ever read probably helps this one jump a few places. That said, I love the device of the haunted diary and it's thanks to this book's magic that I am writing about Harry Potter today.

Film: 5/8

Chamber is very much more of the same as the first film - which makes it all the more likeable in retrospect, after the changes the series would take later on. It's close but this one just pips Philosopher to the broomstick.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Book: 3/7

Most Potter fans I know choose this as their favourite - and it's not hard to see why. The Marauders' backstory and the time travel element in particular proving to be the highlights.

Film: 4/8

The most visually striking of all the films, though the stark change from the previous two is jarring. The newly-stylised look - plus the inclusion of werewolves, serial killers and dementors - make it less of a family film and more of a horror fantasy.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Book: 7/7

To me, the story - the Triwizard Tournament is held at Hogwarts - feels more tangential to the overall arc of the books than any other, even though of course it results in Lord Voldemort's return.

Film: 7/8

The first film that really struggles to adapt the - admittedly brick-sized - book to the screen and one which makes some annoying deviations. Gambon's Dumbledore in particular is angry and frustrated a lot of the time, a far cry from the always collected headmaster of the novels.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 

Book: 6/7

The length may be indulgent but it is never a slog to read and effectively raises the stakes for the later books. It also introduces fan-favourite characters like Luna Lovegood and the series most despicable villain. No, not Voldemort...

Film: 8/8

The... interesting decision to turn the longest book into the shortest film of the series leaves the story feeling truncated. That said, Imelda Staunton as Umbridge  - yep, she's the one I was talking about - is one of the best casting calls of the series and is the saving grace of the film.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Book: 2/7

A grim and foreboding novel, but one with humour and romance in it too. Highlights include Voldemort's fascinating backstory and the heart-wrenching ending. Dark times are a-coming...

Film: 3/8

An unpopular opinion, but this is one of my favourites of the series. The plot doesn't translate too well (with much of the book's content removed) but the tragi-comic tone and the performances of the three leads - plus Gambon's finest hour - make it one of the stylistically best adaptations of the books.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows  

Book: 1/7

In this case, younger me's assertion that the books got better and better was right. A hugely shocking, entertaining and satisfying finale to the septology that does all you could have wanted it to do. 

Film(s): Part 1 - 2/8 Part 2 - 1/8

Again, I think I am unusual in liking the slower-paced road trip movie-esque first part almost as much as its energetic sequel. Finally, the films know just how to balance slavishly adapting the novel and intelligently inserting their own material. A brilliant duo to bow out on.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Doctor Who: Other Dimensions - Dr Who And The Daleks

Everyone knows it's the Doctor, not Doctor Who! Well, everyone except the makers of this cinematic version of our favourite show...

With it being a constant rumour nowadays that there might be a Doctor Who film in the works, it is often forgotten that there already have been two motion pictures based on Doctor Who. Produced at the height of 'Dalekmania', the two movies, titled Dr Who And The Daleks and Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD adapt the two first Dalek serials to the big-screen. With one important exception. Our hero is called Dr Who! Now, now, put down that sucker arm and let me explain why And The Daleks is actually a charming film.

Firstly, Peter Cushing - a great actor who played nearly as many iconic roles as his good friend Christopher Lee e.g. Dr Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Van Helsing, a Star Wars villain - is very endearing in the role. In a time before regeneration was invented (which makes Cushing the first second Doctor, if you see what I mean), he gives his own impression of Hartnell's incarnation but with less of the crotchety and more of the cuddly. He might not have the depth of our Time Lord hero but his absent-minded professor is a perfect fit for the film's tone. Likewise, his granddaughter Susan, who is much younger than Carole Ann Ford's version, is likeably played. Both - no disrespect to either Hartnell or Ford who grew into their roles - are perhaps more immediately appealing than their TV counterparts.

In terms of storytelling, the film retains the best ideas of the serial (the Eloi-Morlock rivalry of the Daleks and the Thals, the petrified jungle...) and improves on it, cutting out much of the padding from the 7-part original story. It also dares to correct history by making the Doctor's (sorry, Dr Who's) first journey in time and space be to face the Daleks, rather than cavemen.

But, of course, the true stars here are those pesky pepperpots. A joy to behold in all their technicolour glory, these are probably the most beautiful Daleks ever. That said, the Skarosians somewhat lack the intelligence of the TV versions - and some of the key features. Instead of death rays they shoot incapacitating gas and, unbelievably, they never utter the word 'exterminate!'

Which leads nicely on to what stops this and its (superior) sequel being beloved byWho fans - the many minor but significant changes to the source material. Rather than a mysterious alien, Dr Who is a human inventor whose time machine is Tardis, (no the) which doesn't make the iconic 'vworrp vworp' when it lands. Whereas the original Ian is the true hero of the show's early years, the film version is sadly played for comic relief. And let's not forget the dated, jazzy music in place of the show's greatest theme tune ever.

Yet despite the films' blasphemy, I can't help but smile when watching them. They're simply harmless, good old-fashioned fun. So contrary to popular opinion, as long as you are not expecting the Doctor Who we all know and love, the Daleks films really aren't a bad way to exterminate an evening.

The Daleks corner Dr Who, Susan and Ian - probably to ask them about all the odd continuity changes.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Review: The Game (Series One)

I spy with my little eye... Here's a look at the BBC's recent dip into the current spy craze, Toby Whithouse's The Game...

Having been a massive fan of his supernatural comedy-drama Being Human, I was eager to see Doctor Who writer Toby Whithouse's next series - a John Le Carre-esque spy thriller set in the Cold War. Well, to enjoy the series you need to leave Being Human behind at the door (though that won't stop me mentioning it throughout this review) as across the six episode (first? only?) series The Game creates its own world in which people in the shadows threaten our daily life...

The Game sees our MI5 heroes investigating the apparently apocalyptic Soviet Operation: Glass - while 5's best spy, Joe Lambe, has his own goal, finding the vicious Odin, the KGB assassin who killed his girlfriend.

Firstly, The Game's biggest success is probably its recreation of a world on the brink of nuclear war, with the UK and the USSR sparring with spies rather than soldiers (the show is effectively shot, fittingly full of greys and browns rather than blacks and whites). Yet this setting would fall flat if it wasn't for the well-developed cast of characters. There's not the believability of BH's flatmates but we get a hefty impression of each of the MI5 team, including the socially-awkward Q-like Alan, played by Sherlock's Anderson, and Brian Cox's 'lion of espionage' codenamed Daddy. While the most enjoyable character is surely middle-aged mummy's boy Bobby Waterhouse, from whom the greatest source of humour comes, our protagonist is Joe Lambe, a moody agent with murky morals whose played by the Cumberbatch-ian Tom Hughes (expect to see more of him in the future). Because of this, the expected 'we've got a mole' storyline is genuinely surprisingly - gold star for anyone who guesses who it is.

If I am honest, however, a personal preference for the wackier side of spy fiction (see: The Prisoner) stopped me from totally loving the series. Also, for me, The Game tried to echo the hush-hush world of real spying so much the show was sometimes short of a certain fizz. In many ways, it is closer to Whithouse's Doctor Who episodes in which he will try on a genre e.g. 'A Town Called Mercy' rather than the assured storytelling of Being Human. Damn, I did it again.

But while this series may lack the sense of fun and depth of character that was the signature of Being Human (I just can't help myself, can I?), it was possibly a tighter run of episodes than many of BH's, boasting a well-developed plot and an interesting character arc for Joe. Here's hoping any wrinkles can be ironed out if the show gets a second series. Then The Game will really be afoot.

The Game's up! - Joe knows there's a mole in MI5. But who is it?

Monday, 1 June 2015

Monthly Scribbles: From Avengers to Zygons

Well, what a jam-packed month May was! There was a royal birth, corruption in international football and of course the general election. But we're only interested in the most important topics here at Scribble Creatures. Namely, Doctor Who, The Simpsons and superheroes...

Look who's back!

Doctor Who fans' jaws hit the floor this month when it was revealed that UNIT scientist Osgood is to return in the next series - after she apparently died at the hands of Missy in 'Death In Heaven!' What's more, it has been confirmed that those shape-shifting suckers the Zygons are back for a rematch against Osgood in Series Nine episodes 7 and 8. For a long while, the Zygons were many people's (including David Tennant's) favourite one-off monster they wanted to reappear and now they're getting their third appearance on the show after 'The Day of the Doctor.'

Personally, I'm unsure at the return of Osgood as I felt her shocking demise cemented Missy as a danger rather than just the cartoon villain the Master can become if handled badly. But I shall hold my reservations until the episodes air. Let Zygons be Zygons, indeed.

The Simpsons loses a key cast member

Now coming up to its 27th season, The Simpsons has announced that key cast member Harry Shearer is to leave the show, taking with him his distinctive voices for such classic characters as Mr Burns, Ned Flanders, Lenny ('not Lenny!') ETC. As any sane person should, I've always loved The Simpsons and still dip into a new episode now and then. The quality is of course nowhere near the consistency of the series' good ol' days but it can absolutely still come up with a classic once in a while. However, when a show has been going on for so long that the stars want to end it, it's probably time to call it a day. Apparently the show must go on though as the showmakers plan to recast Shearer's roles. We shall have to see if this eerily prescient joke from a decade ago comes true...

Highlights of the month

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Following up 2012's collosal hit The Avengers, was always going to be a Hulk-sized task, and I have to say I went into the film with a strong suspicion it wouldn't be as good. Well, I was right but the film is still a very enjoyable, never unentertaining blockbuster. Age of Ultron does fall in to the common trope of over-stuffed superhero sequels but it is definitely one of the strongest of said subgenre (it's far above Amazing Spider-Man 2, for example). There is largely good work done with the characters without their own franchises and the ambition of the film is to be commended - it does more globe-trotting than a Bond film. Plus you can always rely on Joss Whedon for fun dialogue, with robot baddie Ultron snagging most of the best lines this time. There are too many parts in it to be a great film, but Age of Ultron is so excitingly told you'll be glad it was assembled.

Captain America: The First Avenger

It's an uncommon opinion but the first Captain America film is probably my favourite non-Avengers Marvel movie. The period dubya-dubya-two setting allows for an old-fashioned adventure, largely a mash-up between vintage war films and traditional superhero action with lashings of Sky Captain-esque dieselpunk thrown in. That's not to say the film is flawless - Red Skull should really be a fantastic villain with all his tried-and-tested ticks (he's a nazi with a facial disfigurement played by Hugo Weaving!) but he never really feels up to much. On the other hand, the cast is the best outside of The Avengers films with welcome appearances by the brilliant Toby Jones, Hayley Attwell as Marvel's best leading lady Agent Carter and, of course, Chris Evans who brings a lot of likeability to the star-spangled man with a plan. The follow-up, The Winter Soldier, is a possibly more sophisticated piece but sometimes you just can't beat a bit of punching Hitler on the nose.
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