The Tripods: (1984) France, October 2089

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AKA season 1, episode 12

Episode 11 of The Tripods was an action-heavy chapter that dealt with the boys resorting to theft to get food while traveling to the White Mountains. The aftermath of said choice was basically the resulting punishment they received. Not only did they have to escape a tribe of murderous “Vagrants” living outside the town, but were apprehended by some Blackguards and put on trial for theft.

They apparently have a semblance of a fair trial, but it seems that the trial itself is more of a ritual than an actual legal proceeding. It seems like it’s a foregone conclusion that they will get capped once a Tripod arrives, and that is even if they are somehow found innocent. Boys of their age simply do not walk around uncapped, it’s uncivilized and terrifying! Our buddy Danielle, the French Blackguard that has been stalking the boys ever since they left the vineyard, shows up and punches holes in their defense. Danielle basically ruins everyone’s day by stating that he knows they are up to no good. he’s no Duc Du Sarlat on the scale of jerkitude, but he’s got to be pretty close.

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They are caged, and Danielle volunteers to take him back to his precinct for processing. Suddenly the boys are in a moral dilemma – Henry feels bad that they have to hurt Danielle in order to escape seeing that he is part of the family that took care of them. It comes down to the fact that “it’s either him or us” and the boys attack.

Danielle isn’t killed or anything, but bound, gagged, and stranded in the middle of nowhere locked inside of the cage he trapped the boys in. I liked this scene a lot because Henry had to come to terms with the fact that he probably wasn’t going back to that vineyard, and that Danielle was not their friend and family member.

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The rest of this episode is full of some very important information including our very first glimpse at what the true nature of The Tripods is. This kicks off when the boys are traversing an eerie ruined city and stumble onto a Tripod that is guarding it. Somehow they have gone completely undetected, or as beanpole puts it “just like how a fat man cannot see his own feet”.

Pretty soon a plan is concocted to attempt to destroy this Tripod. Henry climbs up a rock face and places a hammer under the foot of the hulking enormity of the machine’s foot. Beanpole then hoists one of the grenades that were plucked from the shopping mall way back in the beginning of the show, and pulls the pin with a rope. The resulting explosion knocks the beast over and a hatch opens on the front face of the Tripod.

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Until this very moment we were not exactly sure if the Tripods themselves were sentient robots or if somebody was inside of it piloting. With the hatch opening, the boys get a glimpse of an off-screen face that proves the latter is most likely the case. This is, of course, right before another grenade is hurled into the cockpit rendering the occupant inside nothing more than a thick green slime oozing out of the door.We are not only one step closer to knowing the true nature of the villainous Tripods, but we now know that they can also be killed.

As the episode closes, we see The White Mountains off in the distance, signaling that the first part of the boys’ quest is nearly complete. They aren’t sure what to expect other than the fact that there are probably more like-minded individuals there, and none of them should be capped. Here’s hoping that crazy old coot Ozymandias was right and this whole ordeal wasn’t a wild goose chase.

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Last week I discussed how much I loved the location shooting in this show, and this is yet another episode full of great shots. The ruins that the boys walk through were especially eerie, seemingly plucked from a medieval village that was destroyed. I did a bit of research, and it appears that this was actually an old Welsh slate quarry called Diffwys Quarry, that had been abandoned since the 1950’s. I’m not sure how something so recent fell into such disrepair so quickly, but it definitely gave this episode the terrifying post-apocalyptic vibe that it had lost a bit of in all of the pastoral episodes.

Also of note, were the awesome model shots and practical effects especially in the Tripod battle at the end. I’ve seen far more recent films have less realistic scenes of large creatures or machines walking around, and it really goes to show that sometimes models and puppets work better than computer generated effects for some things. My hat goes off to the director, Christopher Barry, and his entire crew.

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That’s it for this week, join me again in seven days as discuss the final chapter of season one – Episode 13, The White Mountains! Remember, if you missed any entries for this series and want to read more, go to the front page and click the “Tripods” button.

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The Tripods: (1984) France, October 2089

Tripods-1984-BBC-Blackguard

AKA season 1, episode 11

It’s another week here at An American View of British Science Fiction, and that means another episode of BBC’s 1984 sci-fi fantasy epic The Tripods is going to be talked about! The series was originally a series of young adult novels written by John Christopher, beginning in 1967. The first two were the basis of this science fiction TV series, produced in the United Kingdom in the 1980s.

The story revolves around three boys trying to escape the clutches of a group of huge walking machines referred to as “Tripods” that are keen to mind control every able-bodied person on Earth. Cousins, Will and Henry, are not keen to submit to this and along with a traveling companion called “Beanpole” they are on their way to the mythical “White Mountains” is is said to be free of Tripod control.

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It’s been somewhere around one month since Will, Henry, and Beanpole left the safety of a French vineyard for the final push towards their destination – The White Mountains. Starving, and tired from their travels they decide to “hitch a ride” with a merchant to a small French town that appears to be having a festival.

Once there they make a huge mistake by stealing some of the food mostly bread and fruit and dashing for the town’s exit. Unfortunately for them, this place seems to be crawling with Blackguards, the human secret police employed by the Tripods. I’m not sure of our buddy Danielle, who we see has been stalking the boys, led them to our adventurers or if there just happens to be tons of them in the town itself, but one thing is clear – they chose the wrong town to steal from.

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The boys make it out of the town and run into the woods, a place that is overrun with Vagrants. These aren’t the sort of people that have been to as “vagrants” that we’ve seen in the show so far. Characters like Ozymandias and Lady Vichot still were what one would call “sane”, they were just overwhelmed with ideas that the rest of the mind-controlled populace were not so keen on.

Then we have these “Forest Vagrants” which seem to be similar to the weak-minded tribes seen in The Mad Max movies. They appear to have been driven completely insane by the “capping” process and live in the woods under the watch of a crudely constructed Tripod made of wood. They seem to revere this “statue” as their god and perform a crude version of a “capping” process to any newcomer that comes into the village.

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We never exactly find out where these people came from, but it can be assumed that they are former villagers that have resorted to cannibalism or at least mass murder due to their rejection of the capping. They are smeared in paint, carry crude weapons and talk in a completely indecipherable pidgin language made up of animal noises and grunts.

After a while of playing along with these people, the boys know it’s time to escape and gather their belongings, a fact that upsets many of the high-ranking tribesman. Keep in mind, these do not seem to be peaceful people, seeing that they have human skulls strewn about their campsite, and the boys don’t seem to want to take any chances. Upon leaving the woods, it seems like it’s a case of “out of the pan, and into the fire” as an entire regiment of Blackguards is waiting for them outside the forest. They are to be put on trial and capped as soon as possible.

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After the relative slow pace of the last few episodes, this was definitely a more action-packed segment. There really wasn’t much standing around, and as a result I was left really wanting more at the end. I was amazed at the beautiful location shooting for most of the outdoor scenes, especially a scene with the boys walking across a tall stone bridge and many of the scenes near rivers and waterfalls.

Looking online, it doesn’t seem at there was one exotic location they filmed the show at, but a handful of carefully chosen areas in and around the UK. The “bridge” I mentioned (shown above) is Pensford Viaduct, for example. If for any reason, you want to see this location list, it can be found on the Tripods Wikipedia Page.

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With another sticky situation to escape from, The next episode should be equally exciting as we get closer and closer to the end of series one of The Tripods. Seeing as there are two seasons of this show, I can almost guarantee the boys don’t get capped in this village, so it’s safe to say they somehow escape!

Join me again, next week, for my episode synopsis and review of episode 12.

Tuesday Newsday for 3/10/15

News

Last week was a rough week for science fiction fans as we lost the legendary Leonard Nimoy and ALMOST lost Harrison Ford a few days later. I don’t think I’m the only one that breathed a huge sigh of relief on that one. I don’t have much to say to start out this column that isn’t somewhat off-topic, so I’ll just go for it.

Go See Chappie!

I know the critics hated it, and want the movie to bomb (One wonders if it’s because Neil Blomkamp is going to work on an Alien Sequel and critics are using this film to “prove” he’s a failure and not worthy?), but we (my wife and I) walked out with smiles on our faces. If you were a fan of Blomkamp’s other films (District 9 or Elysium), you’ll enjoy it. The general disdain for the film seems to follow these three rules:

1) “It’s too bloody, I thought it was a kid’s movie” which is an incredibly stupid reason to give a movie a bad review. It reminds me of when Pan’s Labyrinth came out.

2) “Die Antwoord play horrible people” – that’s one of the main points of the movie – Chappie’s parents are horrible, but he overcomes their influence to become a hero.

3) “it has a political message” where did all of these people come from that forgot that sci-fi used to be all about political messages? Do they think everything is going to be Star Wars? Did they forget about things like Day the Earth Stood Still, Twilight Zone etc…I honestly think that some folks were mad because this movie is largely about transhumanism and that’s a no-no for religious types. This happened with Elysium, a movie Fox news even tried to sabotage.

Note these are the same folks that are hailing American Sniper as the greatest film ever made for reasons that definitely are not related to politics or anything….sigh

It wasn’t perfect, but I have to wonder if we saw the same film the critics did. Blomkamp is like the new Ridley Scott – a genius when it comes to ideas and visuals, that the critics all loathe for some reason. If you want me to rant more about people not understanding Neil Blomkamp’s films check out my defense of Elysium.

anyway, here’s your headlines for the week!

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Doctor Who‘ class notes: Free, open lecture at Palace Theater draws 200 students

“For the first time this semester, Anthony Rotolo opened up his ‘Doctor Who’ in the Digital Age class to the public Monday night. Anyone could come out to the Palace Theater and join the class for free.

About 200 people came out and Rotolo estimated about half the crowd consisted of registered students, while the other half was new.”

READ MORE >

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Official Doctor Who Umbrellas on Sale

“Our best-selling Fourth Doctor Scarf keeps the winds at bay. Our Fifth Doctor Jumper will make sure you’re toasty. And now, our new Doctor Who umbrellas will keep you dry whether you’re on Marinus, sheltering from the siege of Trenzalore, or under the Earth’s overcast skies. All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was… Where do you want to start?”

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‘Doctor Who’ participating in Red Nose Day 2015

“Red Nose Day comes along every two years and combines two very British things: having a laugh and helping others. Specifically, the event looks to raise money for in need in the U.K. and in Africa. As part of Red Nose Day, a program called Comic Relief begins its marathon broadcast on BBC1 next Friday March 13, starting at 7:00 p.m. GMT. The Doctor Who team has done a sketch or made an appearance on the show since 2009.”

READ MORE >

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Jenna Coleman DID plan to leave Doctor Who, Steven Moffat confirms

“Series eight closing episode, Death In Heaven, had been due to be the 28-year-old’s last episode as companion Clara to current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, however, here’s what happened in Moffat’s words.”

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Scottish sci-fi drama Outlander finally makes it to the UK

“The award-winning period fantasy series, starring Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies and Simon Callow, will launch on Amazon Prime Instant Video next month”

READ MORE>

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Blade Runner: Harrison Ford to reprise replicant hunter role in sci-fi sequel

“The new story takes place several decades after the conclusion of the 1982 film, which was based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

British director Ridley Scott, who was behind the camera for the 1982 dystopian neo-noir movie, will serve as an executive producer on the sequel.”

READ MORE >

Here’s Your Saturday Links: 9-20-14

 

 

 

 

SFX Weekender 2012 - Prestatyn

Red Dwarf’s Norman Lovett Makes Indie Dark Comedy Film

“Twisted Showcase was delighted to work with the legendary comedian, whose affinity and passion for the issues dealt with in Toilet Soup, an uncompromising attack on internet trolls and general ignorance, gives the episode a powerful authenticity that is hard to ignore.”

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One Leg Too Few

“When it comes to euphoniously-named book series, you can’t do much better than the Tripods Trilogy, and this isn’t even the most impressive thing about it. This series doesn’t seem to be nearly as well-known these days as it deserves to be – the TV adaptation is thirty years old now, and the film version is apparently stuck in Development Hell – but having recently revisited it I find it still has much to commend it.”

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Find out why a British crime author made a sci-fi FPS at Develop Live

“The Scottish novelist has spent the majority of his writing career focused on crime novels, but he switched genres to write Bedlam. While its story tells of human trapped in a world of video games, the book’s connection to gaming runs far deeper: it is part of perhaps the first true game-and-novel tie-in, where the book was specifically written to be followed by a video game.”

READ MORE>

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The Greatest Sci-Fi Characters of All Time

“Vote now for your favourite heroes and heroines, villains, machines, robots and aliens of the genre. Experts, writers, directors and famous fans will be nominating their contenders. Fandoms will mobilise, old grudges will re-awaken and passions will be played out in the final battle.”

READ MORE>

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St Helens muscular dystrophy sufferer granted sci-fi movie wish

“A seven-year-old boy who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy has filmed his own sci-fi movie after a charity granted him his wish. Clark Doyle, from St Helens, was given the chance to write and record a feature film by the Make A Wish Foundation because of his love of movies.”

READ MORE>

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AMC Acquires Sci-Fi Remake ‘Humans’ After Xbox Drops Out

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that AMC has acquired the rights for Humans, a sci-fi drama co-produced with the U.K.’s Channel 4. The series was originally meant to be a partnership with the fledgling Xbox Entertainment Studios, but Microsoft then pulled the plug on the venture.”

READ MORE>

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‘Think of the children!’ Parents express outrage as Doctor Who travels through time to new latest EVER slot to avoid Strictly clashing with The X Factor

“Parents have been expressing their outrage after learning that the new series of the show is to be pushed back to it’s latest ever time slot of 8.30pm, one hour after the 7.30pm slot that the previous episodes have been airing at.

READ MORE>

HIGHLANDERS

Doctor Who and the Scottish referendum: The Doctor’s adventures in time and Scotland

“With Scotland voting for and against Independence in the referendum today, let’s take a look at the times when Doctor Who and the North of the Border featured together.

Of course, let’s not forget the prominent Scots: Peter Capaldi, David Tennant and Sylvester McCoy, who have all played the Time Lord; John Barrowman, Karen Gillan and Neve McIntosh, who played the Doctor’s friends; and Steven Moffat, the current showrunner.”

READ MORE>

 

 

Check Out Dirk Loechel’s Impressive Spaceship Size Chart

Ever wanted to compare a Star Destroyer‘s size to that of the Independence Day UFOs? How about The Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and The Planet Spaceball? Well, look no further than this crazy chart! It’s a work in progress, but the sheer amount of stuff on here already is crazy. a High Res version can be found HERE.

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The Monday Meme: Supermodels

TWIN-DILLEMAFrom: Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma

 

The Tomorrow People Falls in the Battle of TV Renewal

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While I’m excited for a whole slew of new TV programs coming to us this upcoming fall, I’m pretty bummed that no less than THREE shows that I currently enjoy were canceled recently. There may be some hope for NBC’s Community or Fox’s Almost Human on digital streaming services, but I can pretty much guarantee that the CW’s The Tomorrow People is as dead as my chances of visiting Mars. I’m usually critical, bordering on overly-critical, on shows that get remade in the US market; but I will say, I quite enjoyed this show and am sad to see it go. The CW has really surprised me as of late with their push for science fiction programming. Even though I have quibbles with how some of their shows get produced (people are all supermodels in their shows) I have become a fan.

If you’re new to the game, here is a quick synopsis of the show shamelessly plagiarized from another article I did a while back: “The Tomorrow People tells the story of the next chapter in human evolution – Homo Superior. These are people born of normal humans, but possessing telekinesis, teleportation, and other psychic abilities that make them far apart from normal society. As a trade-off for such abilities, The Tomorrow People can’t willingly kill others, and have to stay safe using non-lethal weaponry – this is a shame because they seem to be targeted by some very bad people. In a sort of X-Men meets Torchwood amalgamation, we come to learn that The Tomorrow People live in a secret base under the Thames and actively look for others like themselves to help and protect. When someone realizes that they are Homo-Superior they go through a process of great mental strain and bodily stress called “breaking out””

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The Tomorrow People was a bit different to the normal US television remake factory, in that it’s pretty different from the somewhat obscure source material and is distanced by nearly forty years. Instead of remaking something from the UK that’s popular now, (I’m amazed someone hasn’t attempted a Downton Abbey remake) I’ll hand it to CW for remaking a children’s show that hasn’t been on for decades. Even the iteration that aired on Nickelodeon was on almost TWENTY years ago.

Many people were confused that TTP was canceled instead of shows doing far worse in ratings and critical reception – take Beauty and the Beast which had a rather lackluster fall showing. A recent Entertainment Weekly article lays out what happened: “Pedowitz explained that Beauty and the Beast performed better in terms of international sales and social engagement. “We’ve always said we’re a very different style of broadcast network,” he said. “We have situations where shows like Beauty have created upside potential … it’s a fan favorite. It has a great international [interest]. Primarily, Tomorrow People was a great show — [it] just didn’t have the same level of social engagement or digital side that Beauty and the Beast gets.””

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So what went wrong? I will admit that the show had a slow start, a fact that seemed to put a lot of reviewers against it immediately. The show wasn’t critically panned by any means, but many saw it as “average” or sought parallels to other properties – like The X-men. That’s the problem with doing a remake of something so old – once cutting edge and hip has grown commonplace forty years later. As the Entertainment Weekly article pointed out, there was little overseas interest for this show, and one only has to look at a UK-based science fiction forum to sense the apathy.

I will hand it to the CW for at least attempting to inject life into the property. Replacing things like a robot named Jedikiah as a principle villain (see image above), with a more-realistic leader of a militarized scientific operation was a good idea. The characters were older, more rounded and had real issues. Here’s hoping CW keeps Arrow and Flash around and takes some more chances like they did with The Tomorrow People in the future.

 

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Out of the Unknown (1965) Stranger In The Family

(AKA Series 1, Episode 3)

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Up to this point in my sporadic viewings of Out of the Unknown, I’ve been blessed with science fiction stories adapted from existing popular science fiction short stories and novels. First there was “No Place Like Earth” by John Wyndham and later “The Counterfeit Man” by Alan Nourse. What makes “Stranger in the Family” (our topic for today) really stand out against these popular adaptations is that is was actually commissioned specifically for the show. In series one, there only two such stories: This one by David Campton and “Come Buttercup, Come Daisy, Come…?” by Mike Watts. Thankfully both exist in a viewable form today, as many of these episodes sadly are lost to the sands of time.

David Campton was a popular UK-based playwright and dramatist that regularly worked on various British “anthology” shows such as this in the 1960’s. He did a few other episodes of Out of the Unknown, but this was the only one he wrote himself rather than doing an adaptation. He is definitely most known for his work as a playwright, which he was steadily involved in until his death in 2006.

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Charles Jr., or ‘Boy’ as he is simply referred to, is an odd child. Not only is he born with a strange deformity of having no fingernails, but he is “blessed” with powerful mental abilities that enable him to control others. This troublesome ability has caused nothing but grief for his family, who have had to constantly move from home to home to avoid trouble pertaining to Boy’s abilities. Most worrisome is the fact that he is being hunted by a mysterious surveillance team who have moved into the next-door flat in the tower block. Boy falls for a young actress whose agent / boyfriend encourages the relationship once he discovers his “gift” because he thinks Boy’s powers can be used to make a lot of money via TV commercials.

When I first saw this, I immediately started to be reminded of an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series entitled “Charlie X“. Without going into specifics, let’s just say that there are enough similarities to assume that somebody ripped somebody else off. After doing a bit of research I discovered that this came first, but neither David Campton or Gene Roddenberry copied each other, and that both were most likely inspired by an even earlier short story from 1953 called “It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby. To add further confusion, Bixby’s story was adapted into a Twilight Zone episode! All three have the same basic story of a boy that “becomes God” and uses their powers to manipulate others.

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Out of the Unknown: Stranger in the Family Stars Peter Copley and Daphne Slater as Boy’s parents. While Daphne Slater more-or-less stopped working in the 1970’s, Copley went on to be in some pretty big films like Empire of the Sun, and Kingdom of Heaven. The main character, Boy, is played by Rochard O’Callaghan, a man that went on to be in tons of stuff including an episode of Red Dwarf where he played “Hogey the Roguey”. He’s mostly known for roles in TONS of procedural police shows, and is still working to this day. Paula Wild is portrayed by Justine Lord and her agent Sonny is played by Eric Lander. Lander is perhaps best known for various soap opera roles including General Hospital.

I really enjoyed both the script and direction for this episode. The last two episodes have “dragged” a bit in the second act, but this episode kept me on the edge of my seat for the entirety of the show. As Boy gets continuously “messed with” and used by people that he mistakenly thinks are working in his best interest, he begins to go down the path of revenge that is all to familiar with these types of stories. Luckily somebody didn’t dump pigs blood on him at the prom, because the body count would have been crazy. One has to thank both Campton and the director Alan Bridges for keeping the whole thing tightly paced and interesting throughout.

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Since this is more of a science fiction-tinged psychological thriller, there aren’t too many dodgy “special effects” shots to worry about. More than anything else, this keeps the drama from being so dated that everyone can tell exactly when this was filmed. Also, there are no zany “space costumes” or “bug-eyed monsters” there ramping up the cheese factor. Granted, Out of the Unknown usually resists such tropes, but with classic science fiction, one has to be prepared.

This is a great episode of Out of the Unknown, and is probably my favorite of the three so far. If I were to show this program to anyone, I think that “Stranger in the Family” is a strong contender for the episode I’d use to introduce it. The version I was able to watch had tons of audio and video defaults as well as BBC time numbers all over it, so it’s not the best looking thing out there. I wish a professional restoration was in the cards, but I’ll take it any way I can get it.

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Sadly, obtaining a copy of Stranger in the Family or any episode of Out of the Unknown is basically impossible by legitimate means, but that’s where YouTube comes into play. I have included a link to the episode below,if you would like to watch this as well.

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Fancy buying a posh house with a Red Dwarf cockpit in it?

Original Link – Fancy buying a posh house with a Red Dwarf cockpit in it? | Den of Geek

I recall seeing a widely publicized steam-punk house, and a Star Trek apartment, but it looks like everyone’s favorite smeg-heads are getting in on the game:

“Have you got a spare £3,250,000, and happen to be on the lookout for an 11-bedroom (zoiks) home in the midst of London? We figure we’ve lost pretty much every single one of you by now, but on the off-chance we haven’t, then the home in question has one feature that made our eyebrows go north – the small matter of a Red Dwarf cockpit!”

From Den of Geek

 

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How To Watch British Television in America

An easy guide on how to watch all this stuff I keep yammering on about!

We live in a very interesting time for entertainment consumers. Gone are the days of only having a small selection of television channels to watch on any given day. First, the home video and DVD markets opened the floodgates on older and far more obscure programming to watch. This was followed by internet streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and those dreaded Peer to Peer and bittorrent clients. No longer is the consumer shackled to the whims of a TV executive or commercial entity. For the most part, barriers are falling and e can watch what we want, when we want,how we want.

This blog covers one particular type of media – UK science fiction and other “genre” programming. A lot of the stuff I cover is readily available to Americans on pay services or home video releases, but what I want to do is give a general overview on how I watch all this stuff. Don’t fret if you are a reader that doesn’t live in the U.S., most of these tips can help you out as well no matter what country you live in.

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Look for one of these on the back of your DVDs

Region Codes, and how to bypass them.

As many science fiction fans may have noticed – shows licensed from UK companies such as Doctor Who cost about twice or even three times more than most U.S. television shows. This can be particularly bad if you are on a budget and don’t want to break the bank. Yes, a few of these shows are available on Netflix (e.g.Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, and Day of the Triffids) but some shows that I plan on eventually getting such as the Tripods or Blakes 7 will probably never come out here or be released on a streaming device. You can obviously download things and burn them, or watch programs on your computer, but if you are like me, this choice is never as good as watching a good quality image whilst sitting in a comfy chair. This is where region-free DVD players some in.

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this is what happens when you try to play a disk on the wrong player (Photo credit: williac)

So what are DVD regions? They are an archaic policy adopted by home media companies decades ago to promote policies such as price discrimination, disallow reverse importation, and control costs with staggered release dates. For example, in America a company can get away with selling a seven year old season of Doctor Who for around $79.99 due to the niche market and limited exposure. In the United Kingdom this would be ludicrous, and as such, it is much cheaper. Anyone in their right mind, when confronted with such a price difference, would just order these DVDs from England. This is what they are trying to stop. America is called “region 1” and the UK is “region 2” so neither can easily watch each others home media very easily. If you pop a foreign DVD into your personal DVD player it will have an error message, this is the same with personal computers,game systems and just about everything else that would make you happy. Here are maps of the DVD regions and Blu-Ray regions. 

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DVD Regions
Blu-Ray Regions
Blu-Ray Regions

My recommendation to anyone that may decide to watch some harder to find UK shows is to do one of the following two things:

Region-Free DVD Players
Region-Free DVD Players are big business in some countries(Photo credit: Hikosaemon)

1) Cheap Method: It’s a little known secret that most, if not all cheap Chinese-made DVD players are actually region-free, and have their region locks installed via software within the factory. In the past I used to get DVD players from Digix or Coby for around 20-30 dollars. These players were pretty crappy for the most part, and honestly aren’t worth it unless you can’t swing what I will post on option 2. I remember having this one particular model of Coby DVD player that would work fine until around the six month mark, *boom* – broken. The trick to using one of these is to do a little research. Websites like DVD Help have listings of DVD players and whether they can be region hacked or not. Most of these are simple to hack, as a numerical code on the DVD remote usually does the trick.

2) Best Method – depending on how much one wants to spend, visiting a site like Region Free DVD is the best option. Tired of dealing with cheap players, I plunked down 100 dollars for a Toshiba regionless HDMI up-scaling DVD player, and will never look back. Not only is the picture better in just about every way, but the player itself is tailored for wide screen TVs and widescreen media, like most UK TV.

The reason I recommend getting one of these players is pretty self explanatory with the numbers. Here are the prices and availability of one show Life on Mars, and its spin-off/sequel Ashes to Ashes.

Amazon.com

LOM Season 1: $49.99-$79.00

LOM Season 2: $49.99-$79.00

A2A S1: Not released

A2A S2: Not released

A2A S3:Nor released

Total $100.00+ for 2 seasons, Ashes to Ashes not even announced for release as far as I know.

Ashes to Ashes (TV series)
Ashes to Ashes (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amazon.co.uk

(as of today’s exchange rates)

LOM Season 1: $15.00

LOM Season 2: $15.00

A2A S1: $15.00

A2A S2: $15.00

A2A S3: $20.00

Total $80.00 for 5 seasons, all episodes complete, there are also combo packs of all three Ashes to Ashes seasons, and both Life on Mars seasons that could bring the price down even more. 

And now you can see why I do this, and shipping isn’t bad either – maybe 8 bucks for most DVD orders to reach the U.S. If you don’t care to get a new DVD or Blu-Ray player, there are also computer programs that disable region codes on PCs. Technically you can watch foreign DVDs on there as it does allow for a VERY limited amount of region swaps, but be careful. If you keep switching regions, it will eventually permanently lock into one. Most computers can be toggled around six times before this happens. 

But lets say you don’t care about actually owning these shows, is there a way to watch these on TV or on your computer? Why yes there is!

Cable TV Alternatives

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

There are three major streaming services in the U.S.: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. These three companies have become my lifeline lately, as I decided to “cut the cord” a few years back, and drop my cable subscription. Needless extra channels and ever-increasing prices were getting to be a headache,and I’m glad there was an alternative to cable and satellite. While there is a bit of cross-over, all three companies have their strengths and weaknesses in price and availability. In a general sense, Netflix is better for movies, Hulu is better for TV, and Amazon Prime is like a weird cousin of both – having VERY popular TV shows and movies, but less of them.

Hulu
Hulu (Photo credit: Evan Hamilton)

Netflix gets big props for having licenses for some of the bigger shows like Doctor Who and Top gear. With the latter, they even have all of the 20+ seasons (minus the first) all ready to marathon. Hulu has been bringing quite a few UK comedies and dramas over as “Hulu Exclusives” such as Rev. and Whites as of late. Other shows like Moone Boy, Misfits, and Pramface have been getting quite a bit of traction on there as well, bringing what could be considered “more obscure” shows to a new audience. Amazon Prime is the oddity here. They have some huge shows like Downton Abbey and things like Sarah Jane Adventures as well as next day purchase options for the NEW episodes of big shows. This year, I spent 2 bucks a pop for Doctor Who series 7, something that I could have pirated, but chose not to.

amazon-prime

Considering that my monthly cable bill used to run some $120, these companies are awesome. Hulu is $7.99 per month, as is Netflix, and Amazon Prime is $79.99 yearly. There are other perks for the Amazon subscription including free two day shipping on everything, so if you are a heavy Amazon user, I don’t know why you wouldn’t use this service.

Public Broadcasting Service
Public Broadcasting Service (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kickin’ it Oldschool

For our penultimate section I decided to bring up regular old TV, whether it be network, cable, or satellite. This is not my preferred method of watching UK TV, but it will definitely do in a pinch. For years, the Public Broadcasting Service has helped many an Anglophile get their fix. I grew up watching comedies like Keeping Up Appearances, Mr. Bean, and Monty Python just to name a few. My local PBS station still runs a Saturday block of UK TV all sponsored by some very passionate fans. Some of the videotapes they use look pretty bad now, but if you haven’t seen the show digitally remastered you will be none-the-wiser. Some PBS stations even run shows like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf, so keep an eye on the schedule. Outside of that, cable providers have a decent amount of UK TV, especially if you have BBC America on your cable plan. The problem with “regular TV” is that most US TV execs love to remake everything that is popular rather than airing the original.

bittorrent

“By other means”

I won’t lie, I sometimes obtain TV episodes from the internet. Whether it be a bit-torrent client or YouTube,if one is internet savvy enough pretty much anything is obtainable online. For older shows that are out of print on DVD and impossible to legally obtain over here, I have ventured onto torrent sites quite often. be warned, this is NOT legal at worst and kind of a  gray area at best, and could land you in trouble. I would never download a Hollywood film or adult film using these sorts of programs, as shady litigation “honey pots” are out there to tempt people into breaking the law. Another option is using proxy servers or streaming sites to access UK-only TV providers. I haven’t really dabbled with this, and have no real opinion on the use of these programs or the results.

So there you go fellow anglophiles, I hope this helps you navigate the wondrous world of British television much easier, and gives you some new stuff to watch. If you have any questions on show availability, or tips on how to watch something, please feel free to ask, as I may be able to help.

Doctor Who: The Adventure Games Episode 2 – Review

Note: The following is a mirror of a video game review that I did a few years ago when I worked for VGchartz. Just in case something happens on that site, I don’t want to lose it.

 My typical TV viewing routine during many a summertime Sunday night involves watching my favorite show, Doctor Who. Sadly as of last week I noticed that a void was now slammed into my life. The truth was that I had no new Doctor Whoepisodes to watch until around Christmas time because the season finale had just aired. Gladly, the BBC was there for me once again with the second of four interactive Doctor Who episodes. Doctor Who – The Adventure games. Episode 2.  Blood of the Cybermen is the second adventure and begins with a man working in an arctic base fleeing from an unseen menace on a snowmobile. The man, mumbling to himself about unspeakable horrors, flashes back to what caused the problems: an excavated Cyberman arm.

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The Cybermen are quite possibly the TV show’s most recognizable villains after the Daleks, who we saw in the last game about a month ago. For those who do not know, the Cybermen are a race of androids that have began to travel the stars in search of bodies that they can assimilate into their race. What began as a measure to stop the death of their kind became a true horror. Blood of the Cybermen captures the villains in all their terrifying glory, complete with all of their signature voices, sound effects, and catchphrases such as “you will be like us…”. Before any Star Trek aficionado points out the similarity to ‘the Borg’, a similar villain from the Star Trek TV show and films, the Cybermen came first – 1966 to be precise.

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I’m not too sure when the game takes place in relation to the TV show, but it’s pretty safe to say that it’s an unaired adventure set sometimes before the show’s finale. It stars Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillan as Amy, his companion. Both perform all of the voices and such for their characters. The Doctor is up to all the quirky hijinx that fans of the show are used to, including a section of dialog where the Doctor claims that he taught Elvis Presley how to play the guitar, albeit very badly. The rest of the story involves the Doctor, Amy, and a few new friends as they try to stop the Cybermen from taking over the aforementioned arctic research facility.

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The core gameplay is typical adventure game fare, with the player controlling the Doctor and Amy as they investigate their surroundings. You use the mouse or the direction keys to walk around, a left mouse click to investigate glowing objects, and “I” to bring up your inventory. This game has a bit more variety than the first from the get-go as some puzzles force you to work in tandem with your assistant. For instance, right at the beginning of the game you are given a rope that you must throw to Amy to tie to a snowmobile wench. When doing this the game switches viewpoints from the Doctor to Amy then back. While the first game did a bit of this, it was never to solve one puzzle together, and was more of a “tag-team” affair, as one character would go off and fetch random stuff whilst the other was busy. The system is implemented better here.

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As with the first game, the Doctor doesn’t actually carry a gun or any other weapon, so fending off enemies is pretty tricky. The developers handle this well by making use of a Metal Gear-esque sneaking style that comes up any time you get near an enemy. The Doctor automatically crouches down, and you are given an indicator in the shape of a caution symbol. If the symbol is green, you are mostly fine, but the closer to red the indicator goes the closer you are to getting killed. The sneaking sections in the second game are much better than many of those found in the first; the enemy A.I. seems to both be better and harder to stump. When sneaking past the Daleks in the first game, many were planted around like un-moving sentries that you could simply run behind. The Cyberslaves, which are Cybermen that have been only partially “Cyberized”, move around like zombies, and as such move their line of site around. This, and their way of walking around corridors, makes them a much more formidable enemy.

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This sneak mode has been coupled with a lot more climbing and exploring, thanks to the arctic cave setting which takes up a portion of the game, and so gives it a Tomb Raider vibe. There is even a portion fairly early on where you have to make it across a melting ice flow; one wrong step and it’s an icy grave for the Doctor. This makes portions of the game much more interactive and plays like a platformer game. 

The puzzles have also been overhauled. More specifically, there’s increased variety to the ones you’re given. This game only recycles one puzzle from the first game, that being one where you re-wire something that is broken. Other than that, the game contains a handful of new puzzles. They aren’t hard, but they’re challenging enough to break up the gameplay and still keep it interesting. One problem I had with the first game was a puzzle where you had to drag an icon through an electrified maze. The first time, this puzzle was fun, but after three times I was done with electrified maze puzzles. In this game, not only do you have to match the radio waves of a signal to stun an enemy, but you have to create an antivirus. Pretty cool stuff if you ask me, and far more varied.

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On the graphical side of things, we are once again faced with the following dilemma: the game is free (in the U.K.), so compared to other free games such as flash based puzzles games, Blood of the Cybermen blows most of them away. On the flipside, the game is no graphical wonder – even on the highest settings the game is fairly reminiscent of an original Xbox game or possibly a low-end Wii game. On the plus side, many of the environments in the game are much larger than the first game, such as the crashed Cyber-ship, and really show off the scope of this game. The graphics are a mixed bag – some places, like the crash, look amazing, while others look on the sub-par side.

Musically the game is awesome and has the sound production values of a larger, much more expensive game. This was brought to my attention, not because the music is overpowering, but because it keeps the player energized as the game progresses. There are some intense moments in the later parts of the game when you are being pursued by an army of Cybermen, and the music escalates to show you how close to being killed you are; not bad for a free game.

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As with the first game, Doctor Who – The Adventure games. Episode 2: Blood of the Cybermen is a great game for the price. The game is only a few hours long, but that helps pace the game out so that it’s like an interactive episode of the show. As of right this moment the game has still yet to be announced for the U.S., despite the official website proclaiming that they would be available in “early July”. Time will tell if that ever gets fixed, but one can assume that they will pop up later this month, after the initial run of Season five ends. All in all, you really can’t find a better Doctor Who game out there. While the graphics are a bit hit or miss, they are average at least for a game of this scope, and there are plenty of things for completionists to find.

Doctor Who- The Adventure Games Episode 1 -City of the Daleks – Review

Note: The following is a re-publish of a video game review that I did in 2010 ago when I worked for VGchartz. Just in case something happens on that site, I don’t want to lose it, and figured my blog would be an awesome place to share it.Since this time, all of the games were released in the U.S. for a small fee, if you run a Google search, you should find them pretty easily.

For those that do not know, a little sci-fi show from the UK called Doctor Who has become a media phenomenon and a popular television program in many countries. Doctor Who even holds a handful of Guinness world records including one for most successful science-fiction series, one for the longest running magazine based on a TV show, and longest running science fiction show. You would think that with a pedigree of that ilk, the show would have entered the realm of videogames more often, but aside from a recent Top Trumps game and a few PC games released in the 1980’s not much has been done with the franchise.

Recently BBC revealed that it was in talks with a few major publishers to bring a few top BBC properties to our consoles, and Doctor Who would be one of the first. The Production staff for the new show got in contact with Broken Sword creator Charles Cecil and Sheffield-based studio Sumo Digital to make Doctor Who: The Adventure Games. The series is a four part episodic adventure game, released for free in the UK, with a US release forthcoming.

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The first of this four part adventure has all of the content you would expect from a doctor who episode, and in fact even has the iconic title sequence and theme song there to remind us that this is essentially a standalone episode of the show. The story revolves around the Doctor as played by Matt Smith, and his assistant Amy, as played by Karen Gillan, landing in 1963. The Doctor suggests that they go see the Beatles or another activity of the time, but finds that something is not right. It appears that the ever-so-popular adversaries for the Doctor, the Daleks, have landed there at some point and re-written time. It’s up to the Doctor and Amy to unravel the catastrophe and hopefully prevent the ramafications of human enslavement under the regime of the metallic marauders.

The core gameplay is typical adventure game fare with the player controlling the Doctor and Amy as they investigate their surroundings. You use either the mouse or the direction keys to walk around, left mouse click to investigate glowing objects, and “I” to bring up your inventory. A lot of the puzzles are pretty simple, leading me to believe that this game was mostly meant for the younger fans of the show, but any inherent “easiness” is not indicative of the game being childish or condescending as some children’s games are.

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The children’s aspect of the game is re-enforced by the inclusion of “fun facts” where you click on a point of interest such as a fallen bus stop sign, and there suddenly pops up a history of red double decker busses. This is done in a way much similar to the lore found in the Metroid Prime games. While this does make the game somewhat educational, it doesn’t hammer you over the head, and these segments can be skipped if you are adverse to the idea of learning anything while you play a game.

Since the Doctor doesn’t actually carry a gun or any other weapon, fending off of enemies is pretty tricky: Doctor isn’t exactly Rambo. The developers handle this well by making use of a Metal Gear-esque sneaking style that comes up any time you get near an enemy. The Doctor automatically crouches down, and you are given an indicator in the shape of a caution symbol. If the symbol is green, you are mostly fine, but the closer to red the indicator goes, the closer you are to getting killed. Luckily if you do die, the game resumes at the last checkpoint that you made it to. The last real gameplay type you’ll have to deal with are occasional puzzles including a “drag the item through a maze without touching the walls” segment. These aren’t too challenging, and they keep you busy throughout the game.

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On the graphical front I wasn’t expecting a whole lot to be honest considering the price tag, but was pleasantly surprised that the game looked somewhat like an original Xbox game, or possibly even a Wii game. The animation is sometimes inconsistent with a few places looking far better than others, giving a somewhat rushed appearance. Some of the motions are a bit jerky, but I’ve seen worse mishaps on console games with a much larger budget. The game has an almost cell shaded appearance which really helps any sort of graphical inadequacy as it gives a more cartoony look. The mannerisms and facial features of the actors involved is flawless, a feat that was achieved by the use of a new type of rotoscoping to map the real life actors’ movements onto their 3d models.

The sound direction in the game is done fairly well, and contains a lot of spoken dialog. This really helps the pacing of the game, and again reiterates the belief that this game was intended to be as much like an episode of the show as possible. In the background there is also have music that I assume was composed for the show, which adds both tension and wonder.

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For the most part, Doctor Who: The Adventure Games Episode 1: City of the Daleks is a great game for the price, which for UK players is nothing (well technically you guys paid for it with the license fee). As long as the US price is reasonable upon release, let’s say maybe 5 dollars, it’ll be good as well. While not a technical achievement, it stands head and shoulders above any other free game based on a TV show that I’ve played, and is probably the best Doctor Who game ever made. The developers did a great job using what I imagine was a miniscule budget, and made something that was reasonably enjoyable. The game lasts a few hours, and will keep you busy if you decide to collect everything, and mess around. Sadly, we don’t get much of a “next time” trailer (if you will), but rumor has it that the second game will contain the iconic villians: The Cybermen.

Timeslip: The Time of the Ice Box (1970)

“What is a Time Bubble? You can’t see it, of course, but it might help you visualize it to think of a balloon… Supposing some little patch of information – some little patch of history – gets slowed down, and instead of flashing backwards and forwards it floats, gently, as if in a bubble… Supposing you could get into that bubble – that bubble of history – and travel with it. Then you could move forwards and backwards in time at will…”

— One of the many introductions before the episodes

Note: Man, it sure has been a while since I talked about Timeslip! In fact I think I did the review for The Wrong end of Time way back in 2011! This was of course when I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with this blog and the quality was pretty poor to be honest. I think I “summed” up the first six episodes of the show in four paragraphs without really saying anything! The original method to my madness involved being as vague as possible so as to not reveal spoilers, and to give things ratings from one to five. The problem with this was that my reviews were not that engaging on an entertainment basis and multiple reviews from the same show started to have similar content and ratings. Also, let’s face it, if somebody is reading a Doctor Who review the day after it airs, they are most likely fans of the show and have already watched it. Back on topic, now! Since I didn’t write a whole lot then, I have expanded this review/synopsis to cover a brief bit of the first Timeslip serial as well just to cover the bases, but will concentrate on the second serial.

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As I noted in my earlier review, I had never heard of Timeslip prior to a chance encounter I had with it on Netflix. I used to rent DVDs on there as this was back in the “glory days” before they attempted to mess up their own company. You guys remember that mess? Netflix’s stock crashed because the CEO decided the best course of action was splitting it in two (thankfully shareholders stopped that one!) and doubling the prices. And since I’m off topic, it’s time to reign it back in. I recall scanning through one of their immensely over-specialized genre sections and found Timeslip amongst other cult UK television that I was unfamiliar with. I randomly rented the first serial and was intrigued by the hard science approach to a children’s science fiction show. Most shows like this are basically adventure shows with a dash of science fiction pinched in, but Timeslip is the exact opposite.

The previous serial, The Wrong end of Time, told the story of two kids – a boy named Simon Randall and a girl named Liz Skinner.  Simon is traveling with Liz’s parents to keep his mind of off his mother’s recent death. Simon and Liz end up wandering too close to an old decommissioned war-time naval base and get sucked into some sort of time rift. Without warning, they are knee deep in Nazis that want a prototype laser weapon that is housed within the base. It seems that this base was briefly commandeered by Nazi soldiers in 1943. The kids meet up with a younger version of Liz’s father (who worked at the base in 1943) and helped him subvert what could have been a turning point in the war for the wrong side. They beat the Nazis with help from Liz’s psychic mom in the present time and try to go home by going back into the portal. Problem is, instead of returning to St Oswald in their time of 1970, they find themselves in an icy wilderness.

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This Icy wasteland is none other than Antarctica in the way off future time of 1990 (LOL). After succumbing to the cold, our young time travelers are rescued by employees of the International Institute for Biological Research, dubbed the “Ice Box”. The head honcho of “The Ice Box” is a man named Morgan C. Devereaux, you can immediately tell that something is not quite right with him as he trusts the computer systems far too much despite numerous errors, and generally acts erratic. He oversees tests on a longevity drug called HA57, something that purports to be a cure for aging and possibly death. The series continues its use of the idea that the kids see past and future versions of people they know in the present in these episodes as well. If you recall, the kids worked alongside a younger version of Liz’s father during World War II, and this time we see them working with a 1990 version of Liz’s mother and even Liz herself! Beth (Liz in the future) has somehow become a heartless, nearly emotionless husk of her former self much to Liz’s horror. From here on, the serial seems to be another look at how people misuse technology, this time dealing with the way that folks trust machines assuming them to be infallible.

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My only real quibble (but a big one) with this particular group of episodes is that Liz and Simon have the ability to jump into the future or the present at will using the portal; in fact they do this almost immediately when Liz throws a hysterical fit realizing her mother is there. The first serial saw the kids trapped at Nazi gunpoint, and unable to escape, thus putting them in peril; here any sense of danger is squashed. To me this would be like the show Quantum Leap allowing Sam the ability to return home after each mission, it would kill any drama and make the show bland – and that’s what we got here. This is compounded with the way Charles Traynor becomes some sort of spymaster, talking the kids into leaping back into the portal to find out why Devereaux is there. He wants to know because Traynor knew Devereaux, and he supposedly died in 1969! For how traumatic the time traveling seemed, the kids seem far too excited to leap back into the dangerous situation in Antarctica. I preferred how Traynor and Liz’s parents could oversee the whole thing via telepathic link (as silly as that sounds) than this whole hub world motif.

While the first serial looked pretty decent with the historical World War II setting, and the ability to use existing sets and such, The Time of the Ice Box falls into the same trap a lot of 1970’s science fiction does – it looks cheap and dated by today’s standards. When we first see someone scoop Liz up to take her to safety, the man in question is donning a costume that doesn’t really suggest “really warm coat for Antarctica” it suggests “Ziggy Stardust in a motorcycle helmet”. I try not to pick on stuff like this, but had they just jumped the time frame up to a more distant time, this episode could have been a bit less silly. Interior shots are actually pretty nice, but exterior shots of Antarctica are obviously on a set full of cheesy fake ice blocks and wobbly set pieces that make Doctor Who blush. Thankfully, most of this serial is in black and white due to the color versions being lost like many TV programs of the time. I feel that this sort of ”masks” the garishness of the future clothes to the point where they aren’t so bad. One episode, in fact the only one left in the entire show, is in color and it sadly makes everything wrong with the effects stand out more.

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The cast is fairly decent considering that most of the people involved are relatively unknown. Simon is played by Spencer Banks and Liz is portrayed by Cheryl Burfield, neither of which did a whole lot outside of the 1970’s sadly. One of the more prominent actors involved is John Barron (Morgan C. Devereaux), who is most famous for TheFall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, where he played the titular character’s overbearing boss C.J. One of the better casting choices was Mary Preston as “Beth”. Even though the actress that played Liz was over eighteen at the time of filming (the character is fifteen though), one could conceivably see “Beth” being the same person as Liz twenty years later. She really nailed all the mannerisms and such, just with a darker nature.

I enjoyed Timeslip: The Time of the Ice Box, but found it less compelling than the first part. There were some plot issues, and it definitely felt padded out just a tad, but one has to concede that this was a kid’s show.  I try not to be too hard on stuff like that if it wasn’t meant for an adult market. I used to work for a gaming website a few years back and was always confused when people reviewed children’s games as if they were designed to compete with the latest Call of Duty game! Despite the garishness, it was nice to see one color episode in the bunch; and while I joked earlier that I was happy these were not in color, it’s actually a shame that they are lost. I wonder where the portal will take Liz and Simon next time? Let’s hope I write about it sooner than two years from now!

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If you would like to purchase Timeslip, check this out:

Timeslip: The Complete Series

The Quatermass Xperiment (a.k.a The Creeping Unknown) (1955)

When we last saw Bernard Quatermass, he was fighting an alien threat in a dingy low-budget studio, but imagine what would happen if money was sunk into the project! I usually have reservations for these TV to movie conversions, as the production companies had a tendency in those days to “mess up” the original plot and characters. I recall watching the Peter Cushing Doctor Who and the Daleks movies, and not really liking them too much for this very reason. They were bright and colorful, but somehow were also soulless and bland. In the case of Quatermass, however, only two episodes of the serial exist today, so watching a film based on the original script is amazing, as I can now see what happens after the slow and talkative first few episodes. So here we have The Quatermass Xperiment, from Hammer films – can it live up to the original?

The Red "X" poster flaunting the X-rating
The Red “X” poster flaunting the X-rating

Before any Grammar Nazis try to correct me, dropping the “E” in the title isn’t a typo on my part! Hammer Films deliberately went for an “X-Certificate” rating (nobody permitted under the age of sixteen) with the release of this film. This included branding all the posters with a huge red “X” to make them stand out. This audacious plan was met with reservations within the BBC and Hammer Films, but ultimately was a success. The Quatermass Xperiment was one of the first films from the ailing production company to be sold overseas (as The Creeping Unknown) and basically kicked off their “Hammer Horror” line, which became synonymous with the company.

One will immediately notice that the character of Bernard Quatermass isn’t the same reserved thinking man that he was in the TV serial. Now played by Irish-American actor Brian Donlevy, the character was reinvented to be gruff and more action oriented. According to Wikipedia: “’Donlevy, in his own words, specialized in “he-men roles–rough, tough and realistic’”; a far cry from the way the late Reginald Tate carried the role. Basically think of Hugh Laurie’s Doctor House M.D. fighting aliens, that is Donlevy’s Quatermass to a tee. At first I wasn’t too thrilled with this take on the character, but when viewing the movie as a whole – Donlevy’s take works best with the movie. The entire serial’s tone has also shifted to go along with the new Quatermass; it’s darker, dingier, and more grotesque. This honestly reminds me of the evolution of Doctor Who; specifically in that once the show changed to a 45 minute format, the character became more of an action hero.

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Quatermass is not amused

The plot has been changed around a bit as well, mostly for time constraints. This condensed time means that things that took an entire episode to explain before had to be cut down. An example of this is: in the serial, episode one was mostly dialog between Quatermass and his assistant about how distraught they all were because of the disappearance of the rocket. This segment was completely removed meaning that the movie kicks right into gear when the rocket crashes to Earth (in an awesome special effect scene). Better special effects and more money also mean that scenes involving dialog to explain a situation can be replaced with an effect shot, a scene change, or an action scene. Since I don’t have anything to compare it to, I will state that the rest of the film is definitely more of a horror film than a science fiction film, thus explaining most of the aforementioned differences. The plot centers on the transformation of the creature and it wreaking havoc, not Quatermass and his team.

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Oops!

I mentioned the special effect shots being pretty cool earlier, and for an older film they do not disappoint. Most 1950’s era science fiction films had terrible costuming and set design in my opinion; Quatermass stands heads and tails above a lot of them. Granted, most of my knowledge of films in this genre of this era are the kind of movies that would end up on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that most 1950’s science fiction is sort of camp. There is one effects shot in particular towards the middle of the film that got my attention. Quatermass and his crew are studying a grainy film that was taken onboard the rocket during the ill-fated flight. At one point, one of the astronauts walks up onto the wall – suggesting a low-gravity environment of some sort. It couldn’t have been a huge special effect, but a remarkable one in its simplicity. I’ll even excuse that the crew seems to be piloting the craft by turning a series of steering wheels mounted on the far wall.

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Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” was a big hit on the ship

There are some truly grotesque horror shots in the film, ones that definitely lead the movie being branded X-rated at the time. While there isn’t any gushing blood or gore, there are things like shots of dead bodies with their skulls caved-in and an entire zoo of dead animals left in the wake of the monsters rampage. I was actually pretty surprised at a few of these considering the puritanical nature of most film violence at the time, and now can see how Hammer got its shocking reputation early on. The creature make-up is also pretty impressive at times. When we finally get a good look at the transformation Victor Carroon has undergone (as played by Richard Wordsworth ), he has his arm bandaged up, and the now swollen mass of cactus like spikes and putrid flesh in its place is a bit unnerving.

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“You look fine, just walk it off, man!”

It was also during this scene that I truly saw the influence that this movie has had on later pop culture. Doctor Who has used a similar “man turning into a monster” plot most notably in The Lazarus Experiment, and much earlier in The Ark in Space. Other shows and films such as The Fly (the newer one) and even an anime film I love called Akira all seem to have been somewhat influenced as well, directly or not is up to speculation. This really shows that Nigel Kneale really had the pulse of televised science fiction and horror under his belt, as he seems to have basically influenced most of it for the last sixty years!

So there we have it, it wasn’t the first piece of film cast into the Quatermass catalog, but it was definitely the one that got the property noticed. Not only has the plot from this movie been used over and over countless times, but I haven’t seen anything more influential to other science fiction and horror for a while. As I stated, I’m not sure I like Donlevy as much as Tate in the role of Bernard Quatermass, but the two characters couldn’t be any more different. Aside from the plot, it’s honestly better to think of the film and the TV show as separate entities; a fact that is hard for me to do, but the quality of this movie makes it easier. I’m not a huge horror fan, much less older horror movies, so any film of the genre that keeps my attention must be good. Hammer Films went on to make two more Quatermass films, both of which I will be looking at on here! Come back again tomorrow as I take a look at the TV version of Quatermass II, continuing “Quatermass Week!”

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These Texas cockroaches are HUGE!

Survivors (2008) Episode 3

It’s been a while since I did a write-up for this Survivors; I guess I had a lot going on and got a bit sidetracked. Recently, I got hooked on a U.S. based reality show called The Colony, in which people are made to live in a situation resembling a post-apocalyptic virus outbreak; I immediately thought of Survivors. A lot has happened in the first few episodes of Survivors, and now that the main cast is all together, it’s time to break everyone up into little groups to look into the inner-workings of their characters. In the last episode, we had things like Al finally opening up – moments like this are really the best thing the show can offer. We get two such occurrences in this episode:  Abby in one case, and Greg and Tom in another.

In the first half of the story, Greg and Tom come across a family that has somehow managed to stay isolated during the viral outbreak. The father of this family goes to insane lengths to protect his family, such as forcing his kids to stay inside at all times. If he sees any living creature, whether it is an animal or human, it needs to be killed to preserve their unaffected status. He bathes in harsh chemicals if he steps outside, and burns his clothes afterwards. This is all done because he loves his kids, but this extreme nature does nothing but bite him, when he attacks Greg and Tom. They are forced to hide in this man’s barn for a bit after their car is destroyed, and accidentally expose the daughter to the virus. This brings up a very bad situation where the father must choose for the daughter to leave with two unknown strangers, or to stay there and possibly kill the rest of the family.

After seeing some terrible new 2012 inspired American TV shows such as Doomsday Preppers, the attitude of the father makes me a bit sad. His paranoia for the unknown nature of the virus makes his entire family miserable, and resent him. In the aforementioned program, people hoard food, make ridiculous precautions, make their kids run paramilitary drills and other stuff that seems to be a great idea, but as Survivors illustrates, would just end up failing anyway.

The other half of the episode sees Abby coming across a haven for other survivors while she is out looking for her son. This camp is run by Samantha Willis, possibly one of the few government heads left alive after the virus hit. While the place initially looks like a utopia as it has food, electricity, and multiple survivors of all ages, it has a dark secret. These people don’t like outsiders, and have a warlike relationship with a group of marauders that are trying to share the wealth. Problems like the viral epidemic seem to bring out the worst in people, a running theme in this show, and a place like this colony go from being awesome to just as bad as the gang that our characters met with in episode two.

I liked this episode a lot because of the above situations the characters are forced into. The story of the little girl is heartbreaking, and was the highlight of the show drama-wise for me. I’ve seen other shows recently like Outcasts that try to be an interesting drama with a bit of science fiction flavor, but end up being a glorified snuff film to make the audience feel bad. These gruesome acts take the place of good writing, but fail to do anything for me. Survivors doesn’t rely on shock tactics and we see a bit of the other side of drama – warmth. The scenes were the remaining Survivors help build a chicken coop while Abby, Tom, And Greg are out gives this slow a glimmer of hope, and that’s why I can always come back to it.

Random Doctor Who References in American TV Shows

Rugrats: The 1990’s Nickelodeon classic needed something – genocidal killer mutants!

Family Guy – As far as I know there have been at least three references in Family Guy of something related to Doctor Who, the first was when Brian mentions that since marijuana has been legalized in Quahog, “Doctor Who ratings are through the roof”. Another brief reference involves Peter naming an owl “Doctor Hoo”. The best example of this is in the very first Star Wars special that they did. As the crew jumps into hyperspace, one can see the fourth Doctor theme through the window to which Peter suggests that “Hyperspace is weird!”

Simpsons – Matt Groening is a big fan of Tom Baker Era Doctor Who, so it’s really no surprise that The Doctor Shows up constantly!

Futurama – And the tradition carries over in his other show as well.

South Park – Fairly recently, South Park did an episode featuring a German Comedy Robot named “Funnybot”. Of course Funnybot is in fact a parody of a Dalek!

Star Trek – One could write a book about Doctor Who references in Star Trek and even vice versa. One of the oddest took place in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode entitled “The Neutral Zone”. In the episode, the crew comes face to face with survivors from an ancient cryoship. One of the thawed folks, Clare Raymond, is scanned so that her lineage can be seen. It seems she is descended from William Hartnell, Tom Baker, Colin Baker, and Even Kermit T. Frog!

Saturday Night Live –The season 30 episode starring Paris Hilton had a treat for all the Doctor Who fans out there. Sadly Paris Hilton, of all people, donned a Tom Baker-esque scarf and contributed to a new phone sex line for nerds including Star Trek, Harry Potter, and World of Warcraft ladies. To be honest, even with a Doctor Who scarf, Ms. Hilton is just about as sexy as a brick to me.