Monday, 30 June 2008


Babylon 5
1x13 Signs and Portents

Criminal Justice
Part 1 (of 5)
BBC One's grim new drama, showing nightly this week, about a 20-something accused of a murder he may or may not have committed. Sounds like standard police drama fare, but this is more than that -- possibly a damning indictment of our legal system, or possibly just a depressing miscarriage-of-justice/prison-is-hard drama. It'll take an episode or two more to find out; so far, however, it's grim and depressing, and set to get worse.

Wimbledon 2008
Bits here and there, as usual, mainly from Andy Murray vs Richard Gasquet, which really pushed the light at five sets ending at 9:30 (and delaying Criminal Justice! On the other hand, if the BBC hadn't moved the tennis to One and delayed their schedule, I'd be stuck trying to find time to watch it on iPlayer before tomorrow's second part). Murray was bloody lucky to get that far, of course, losing the first two sets and only winning the third with an impressive -- though lucky rather than skillful -- final shot in a tiebreak. That boy knows how to work a crowd though (a British one, at any rate). I doubt he'll be so lucky in his quarter final against Nadal.


Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Horror of Howling Hill by Jonathan Green
See here for my thoughts on this book.

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Chapter VII
Blood From the Shoulder of Pallas by Daniel Dreiberg
See here for my thoughts on these chapters of Watchmen.


Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of James Bond by James Chapman
Chapter 4
Somewhat academic book placing the Bond films in social/historical context. I read the first three chapters a while back for an essay I was doing, so am now continuing it -- it's interesting enough, clearly.

"Watchmen" by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons - Chapter VII

Moore moves his focus to a pair of character in this chapter, as Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk -- a.k.a. the second Nite Owl and the second Silk Spectre -- chat, bond, hit it off, nearly have sex, resurrect their superhero IDs, accidentally rescue people from a burning building, manage to have sex (it's the excitement of the costumes and the superheroics, you see), and possibly come to a fairly shocking decision...

Once again Moore leaves the other character's storylines in the background, focussing on just two members of the (actually nonexistent) group of superheroes that the book's main plot revolves around. It's mainly about Dan's memories, though there are no flashbacks here: it's as much about how two old acquaintances become re-acquainted. It seems a difficult chapter to find much to say about. It's not treading water or marking time, but nor are there bold gestures or big action sequences -- well, apart from the tenement building rescue, which is somewhat exciting, but also has a share of laughs (importantly, not at the heroes or their abilities, but rather at things like Nite Owl having a coffee machine on board), or many significant plot points... beyond those I already outlined, anyway.

Moore slides a few of his chess pieces around, reveals that Dan is impotent while Nite Owl is not (this seems bordering on a cliché, though Watchmen was probably ahead of the curve on that and it's just 20 years later that it looks old hat), and sets up where things are probably heading next. And next is...

"Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Horror of Howling Hill" by Jonathan Green

And finally, the end is here: the twelfth, and last, book in the Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny series. The Horror of Howling Hill is written by gamebook stalwart Jonathan Green, which is promising as it would be nice for the range to go out on a high. After a three-book absence, Martha's back, for an adventure in which you must "help the Doctor and Martha discover the truth behind the legend of Howling Hill, before the horror that stalks the night catches up with you..." Ooh, horrific.

Despite being the range's final book, it can claim a first to its credit: it's set entirely on present day Earth (in a small village in Wiltshire, to be precise). It makes for a nice change, and allows it to tap into one of Doctor Who's main genres -- creepy goings on in apparently lovely places. Who's horror aspect has been largely ignored by these books, and while Howling Hill is hardly scary it at least incorporates some elements of the genre to good effect. Nighttime setting? Check. Cursed ancient monuments? Check. Old artefacts with mysterious powers? Check. Fantastical folk tales that may have an element of unlikely truth? Check. Creepy woods? Creepy church? Creepy graveyard? Check check check. Geeky-type investigating things in a caravan? Check. Monster hiding in the shadows? Check. All it needs is a large group of characters who exist solely to get killed off and you're there. It's atmospherically written, with a long and engaging plot. There are also numerous references to past Who adventures, spanning both the classic and new series, and even the new series novels. Spotting them can be good fun for fans of all ages.

Unfortunately, the way I chose to read this book brought out some of its shortcomings. I tried to follow every path at once -- loopy, it would seem, but for most of the book entirely possible. If you pick the right paths then you'll end up reading most of the book before the story's out. There are some variation. For example, the vicar knows a lot, but without cheating like me no one path allows him to offer all his information (ironically, one result ends with the Doctor saying "we've learnt all we can here", in spite of the fact there are two or three more things the vicar could tell you about!) Another is the town's museum, which you may end up in early on, or may only visit later. On the other hand, choose the wrong path and you might be whisked through the adventure at quite a lick, skipping the church, vicar, and that geeky guy in the caravan. Indicative of this hidden linearity, the book has just two final entries. There is some variety to the climax that occurs before these, to be fair, and ultimately you're just sent to either a version where it's just you, the Doctor and Martha, or a near-identical one where the geek's still with you. It's quite sensible, really, as it doesn't waste space with more near-identical final sections just for the sake of appearing to have multiple endings.

So, while the choices Green offers are in an appropriate style, they ultimately extend or cut short your adventure, rather than changing it. I even noticed a glaring error -- as you can avoid meeting the geek, a couple of times you're told "If he's with you, go to X, if not, go to Y." A selection of the latter all point to one page... where he's with you! And you can wind up having the monster abduct him twice! Oh dear. While most of the book's lack of consequential choice would be hidden from the reader (unless, as I say, you manage to miss some of these encounters on one read or another), this one is glaringly obvious. Obviously the books needed a better proof reader by this point, as something similar appeared in Second Skin (also part of the final batch of four books).

Ultimately, if I hadn't cheated I wouldn't've noticed this flaw in the book. It's an atmospheric adventure with some good locations and characters, and provided you make the right choices (avoid going to the Hill for as long as possible, so as to hit the church and museum, and make sure to head to the caravan) you can experience the majority of the best bits with one straight read. Lacking in re-play value then, perhaps, but the pros more than outweigh the cons to make this one of my favourites. The Decide Your Destiny books have certainly had their ups and downs, but at least they end on a high.

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.

Sunday, 29 June 2008


Friday Night With Jonathan Ross
14x22 (20/6/08 edition)

Mine All Mine
Part 2 (of 6) [2nd watch]

1x04 Battles

5x01 Gas and Oil Part 1
Spooks now seems to be aiming to outdo 24 in the believability-stretching -- even more so in the second part, based on the trailer.

Top Gear
11x02 (29/6/08 edition)
Coincidentally, featuring Rupert Penry-Jones and Peter Firth from Spooks.


Miami Vice (2006)
[2nd watch]

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.

Saturday, 28 June 2008


Doctor Who [new]
4x11 Turn Left [2nd watch]
4x12 The Stolen Earth
See here for my thoughts on Turn Left. (A review of The Stolen Earth will appear with its second part next week.)

Mine All Mine
Part 1 (of 6) [2nd watch]

Wimbledon 2008
The odd point from Andy Murray vs Tommy Haas and the end of Rafael Nadal vs Nicolas Kiefer.


Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore & Brian Bolland
As well as the main story, there's an introduction by Tim Sale, an afterword by Brian Bolland, and a selection of art from the files of Brian Bolland included in the recently released Batman: The Killing Joke - The Deluxe Edition.
See here for my thoughts on The Killing Joke.

Blood Fever by Charlie Higson
Chapters 28 - 30 [the end]
An odd final few chapters, in which James faces off a string of increasingly minor enemies. Still, all in, an even better book than the first. Next up, the apparently Da Vinci Code-esque Double or Die.

An Innocent Guy by Brian Bolland
(from Batman: The Killing Joke - The Deluxe Edition)
Short Batman story written and drawn by Brian Bolland. Originally published as part of the Batman: Black & White strand, it's presented here in a coloured form.

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Chapter VI
Walter J. Kovacs files
See here for my thoughts on these chapters of Watchmen.

"Watchmen" by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons - Chapter VI

Major spoilers follow. You may well have gathered that I don't tend to do spoiler-free reviews, but there are some extra big ones in this entry.

Watchmen reaches the halfway point with a chapter focussed solely on Rorschach, much like the Dr Manhattan-focussed Chapter IV. Leaving all the other characters and stories aside for the moment, Moore focusses in on a series of interviews between Rorschach -- whose identity has been revealed to be Walter Kovacs; no one of importance, but we've seen him almost since page one as the guy wandering round with an apocalyptic placard -- and a prison psychoanalyst, who's attempting to find out what led Kovacs to become a vicious vigilante. Rorschach is a character who is, initially at least, easy to sympathy with. He had an horrendous childhood, later driven to extremes trying to protect the innocent. His efforts to murder childkillers, rapists, and other scum seem like the sort of thing we all might wish we could actually do, but he perhaps has a tendency to take it too far...

As well as showing how Kovacs came to be Rorschach -- including the origins of his incredibly shifting mask -- Moore follows the psychoanalyst as his obsession with the case leads to sleepless nights, perhaps the end of his marriage, and a general deterioration in his psychological state. It's an effective way of showing the effect of these truths of humanity on an ordinary, seemingly well-adjusted human being. As I've surely said before, this is really why Watchmen is so great and so acclaimed -- ostensibly it's about superheroes, but really it's about people, why they're driven to do things, and how they cope with the consequences. And all the while, in the background, (nuclear?) war is brewing...

Halfway through, Watchmen continues to be a stunning achievement. There are many mysteries left to be solved, undoubtedly including some that, like the identity of the placard-man, I don't even know need solving.

"Batman: The Killing Joke" by Alan Moore & Brian Bolland

As regular readers will have noticed, I've been reading a lot of stuff by Alan Moore lately. Moore is widely credited with revolutionising the comics medium over a series of works, and I'm finally beginning to catch up with them. Most of his stories are wholly original tales, such as Watchmen (the most praised of them all) or V for Vendetta; when not, they're usually his own tales from re-used material, such as From Hell (a take on Jack the Ripper) or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which takes Victorian literary characters and makes a superhero team out of them). In this context, The Killing Joke is a rarity, because it's a Batman story -- a well-established existing character, obviously. Published in 1988, the 46-page tale is from the same era as Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, and not long after Watchmen -- all part of the growing-up and 'darkening' of comics in the '80s. Arguably this can be seen in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film, but with 2006's Batman Begins taking elements from Year One and Dark Knight Returns and the forthcoming The Dark Knight reportedly using Killing Joke as the basis for its version of the Joker (not to mention Watchmen finally being released next year), it seems the full effect of this particular movement has taken a bit longer to hit our screens.

But enough of that, what of the tale itself? It has two prongs: a 'present' element, in which a recently escaped Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and psychology tortures him, attempting to prove that anyone can be driven mad as the Joker was; and a past thread, in which a young father-to-be has quit his job to be a comedian, but is considering a crime to make ends meet... Within this, Moore packs in all his favourite regular tricks and techniques: there's the opening few panels that pull out from extreme close-up to long shot; two stories told in parallel, one revealing the past of a character; a version of match-cutting in and out of these; zooming in and out of items/faces across multiple panels; retaining the same static 'shot' across multiple panels, often while something develops in the background; long passages with no dialogue; using several panels to show a character performing a simple action; an act of sexual violence as a key plot point; a deliberate blurring of the line between hero and villain; long, wordy, philosophical speeches; and mirroring techniques in the structure -- here, for example, the opening line of the finale is inserted as the book's first line, while at the same time Batman's opening dialogue is repeated over the climax. To say Moore is repetitive or constantly copying himself may be a bit much, but he certainly has a tendency to re-use a certain set of techniques in new arrangements to craft his tales (a bit like Steven Moffat with Doctor Who, then).

The story aside, Bolland's art is fantastic. Stylistically, it looks like it was drawn now, not 20 years ago, which in part must be due to fresh colouring. Bolland was never happy with the original colouring of the book -- he was scheduled to do it, but ran out of time and so it had to be completed by John Higgins, who didn't have the same vision as Bolland -- and so he was glad to have the chance to re-do it for this new edition. I haven't seen the original to compare fully, and it will surely upset some purists, but it looks brilliant. Bolland has clearly utilised all the modern computer-based techniques available to colourists, creating a subdued pallet that suits the story's nature. While the gaudy colours of Watchmen create a thematic counterpoint to the grim, realistic story, here I think such a technique would just undermine the point, so Bolland's new work fits like a glove. From the odd frame I've managed to find of the original colouring online, I'd actually quite like to get hold of that just for the sake of comparison.

IGN voted The Killing Joke as the 3rd greatest Batman story ever. I'm yet to read most of those that surround it on that list, so can't really comment for myself, but, in spite of Moore's increasingly familiar tropes, it's an engrossing story. The recent oversized hardback re-release, called The Deluxe Edition on the cover, is certainly worth owning -- while its £12 RRP is steep for a 46-page main story, 8-page second strip, and 6 pages of other stuff, it can be had for less and seems worth it to me.

While I'm primarily reading Watchmen at the minute, don't be surprised if more graphic novel reviews -- primarily Batman ones, I expect -- crop up over the next week or two.

Doctor Who: Turn Left

"Unrelentingly bleak" is probably the most accurate way to describe the penultimate story of Doctor Who's fourth revived season. It's certainly the darkest thing you'll've seen broadcast as part of a family show so early on a Saturday evening -- tonight's first half of the finale two-parter, full as it's likely to be of apocalyptic slaughter, is unlikely to equal the real-world horror of what happened after Donna turned right. Obviously the chances of a replica Titanic obliterating London are slim, but the increasingly disastrous consequences of a major destructive incident in Southern England are all too believable.

Aside from scaring viewers witless, Turn Left allows the series' recurring characters to shine. There are great scenes for both Bernard Cribbins and Jacqueline King here, showing the calibre of actor that Who can cast in even the smallest of roles. But, as was so insisted before the episode's broadcast, it really is Donna's episode. Truth be told, in spite of what people liked to say in the hype, Tate's performance here won't convince many (or any) of those who hate her. That's not because she's no good -- she's brilliant -- but it's the performance she's been giving for the last 10 episodes, plus a resurgence of her one from the 2006 Christmas special, combined and pushed to their utmost quality... but if you hate her in the first place, you're not going to like her any more now. Your loss, but there you go.

Davies' script cunningly re-appropriates elements from the present-day-Earth episodes from the last two seasons, showing how badly wrong things could have gone without the Doctor. The silly moment from the last Christmas special when the Titanic just missed Buckingham Palace becomes the chilling event which wipes out London and ruins Britain. The cute little Adipose, whose creation only resulted in the death of one person back at the start of this season, wipe out swathes of America. The Sontaran's Atmos is stopped, but at the cost of the lives of all Torchwood's remaining team members; the Doctor stopped the Judoon from killing anyone (well, mostly), but Martha, Sarah Jane and her friends die trying to stop them, along with everyone else in the hospital. And to top it all off, the BNP seem to have come into power as ethnic minorities are shipped off to 'labour camps'. Somehow, I don't think it's for "education education education".

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this episode, however, is that, after two Christmas specials and almost two whole seasons, Rose is back... and I've written three paragraphs without even bothering to mention here. Such is the extent that Donna dominates this episode, the return of one of the Doctor's most beloved companions -- certainly of recent years -- is actually an almost incidental element of the episode. The best bit of it is the re-appropriation of Bad Wolf, the first season's intriguing thread that led to a denouement many felt was lacking (personally, I never had any problems with it). It seems Russell T Davies has found new significance to give to it -- as, I suspect, he will do with many things from the preceding seasons in the next two weeks -- and that's probably a good thing.

Certainly, it's easy for the surprising final moments, and the exciting trailer for The Stolen Earth, to take all attention away from the episode itself. Such is the nature of excitement for a season finale which has, as ever, been building since episode one (and possibly longer). Turn Left is still a great, if highly depressing, episode, though difficult to love because it's about as much fun as torture by mosquitoes. I don't imagine it will be topping any Best Of Season polls.

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.

Friday, 27 June 2008


Nelson Mandela: Happy 90th Birthday
Big ol' concert for the South African's 90th birthday, reportedly his last major public engagement. Amy Winehouse looked like she shouldn't've been allowed out of hospital (doesn't bode well for her Glastonbury set tomorrow, not that I'll be watching), Queen were of course excellent, and the interview with Stephen Fry was likely the most intelligent set of thoughts you'll hear about Mandela, his role, and the future of his causes.

Wimbledon 2008
Though saw hardly any today -- brief snippets here and there, mainly from the barely-finished match between Mario Ancic and David Ferrer (which we switched off for the Mandela concert).


The Incredible Hulk (2008)
[#45 in 100 Films in a Year 2008]
Immeasurably more entertaining than Ang Lee's dull 2003 effort.


Blood Fever by Charlie Higson
Chapters 25 - 27

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Chapter V
Treasure Island Treasury of Comics Chapter 5
See here for my thoughts on these chapters of Watchmen.

"Watchmen" by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons - Chapter V

Chapter V returns to Rorschach's hunt for the murderer of the Comedian, as Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias) becomes the latest former superhero to be attacked, though this time unsuccessfully. After the last chapter's internal musings of Dr Manhattan, this one is more plot-centric, also touching upon the potential burgeoning relationship of Dan Dreiberg and Laurie. Moore also continues to use Tales of the Black Freighter, this time to mirror the news vendor's ongoing musings on life.

The chapter ends with Rorschach lured into a trap, which leads to a rare action sequence and his capture... and the removal of his mask! While I feel left with little to comment on about this chapter -- it's a strong, plot-driving episode, but with little else to mention, clearly -- it sets up what should be an interesting sixth part, as the mystery of Rorschach's true identity has lingered around much of the story so far.

"Watchmen" by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons - Chapter IV

Alan Moore is clever. The fourth chapter of Watchmen focuses on Dr Manhattan, the only superhero in the book with any actual superpowers. Having run off to Mars at the end of the preceding chapter, Manhattan reflects on his life to date -- essentially, this is his backstory. The clever part comes from the way Moore re-uses images and the way he's seeded them in earlier chapters. For example, Manhattan remembers an argument he had with his then-girlfriend at a superhero meeting. We saw this same meeting in Chapter II. Flicking back to that chapter now, you can see the argument going on, they just don't have the speech bubbles to spell it out to us. There are a couple of other instances of this kind, which both add to the story's depth and are great fun for the reader -- it's sort of in the tradition of the best Agatha Christie stories, where all the clues you need are sat under your nose from the start, you just don't know what to do with them.

Within the chapter itself, Moore structures things cleverly. Manhattan sees time as the fourth (or fifth?) dimension, and so in some way is experiencing all of the past and all of the future at once. Moore uses this to slot his backstory together in a variety of ways, drawing parallels and connections between time periods without ever becoming too confusing. Events make sense the first time they're witnessed, but then Moore adds something and places the old events around it, giving them new or altered meaning in their new context. The clarity of Gibbon's art means that there's no need to retell events every time -- with repeated frames, sometimes even from earlier chapters, the reader vividly recalls the relevant scene; sometimes the colouring or focus is even modified to help draw our attention to another element, be it for a different meaning or just for a different transition (such a visual technique is, again, hard to adequately describe with words).

Previously I've moaned about Moore repeating himself. Another frequent trope turns up in the 'supporting documents' -- the autobiographies, magazine articles, etc, that sit between the chapters -- not only the one attached to Chapter IV, but also the autobiography that preceded it. Moore has the characters writing the documents refer to events we know nothing of as "well documented elsewhere", and then doesn't explain them himself. At first it seems an amusing way of maintaining mystery -- inevitably, these events are things Moore wants to reveal at a later point -- but when overdone it's just repetitive, and also unrealistic. In my experience, the sort of works Moore is parodying are all too happy to re-explain well-known things, or at least give a brief overview of them. If not those, they assume people's assumed knowledge; they don't make a point of telling the reader that they know about this (and then not telling them it). This could be seen as a minor point of course, and when the heart of the story is so good it really is, but it taints the edges and takes the sheen off things.

Nonetheless, the main thrust of Watchmen continues to be a completely engrossing story. There's much still to be revealed across its many plot strands -- I can't wait to see how Moore brings them all together.

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.

Thursday, 26 June 2008


Gilmore Girls
4x16 The Reigning Lorelai
Lorelai's grandmother dies and Richard and Emily fall to pieces, meaning Lorelai's left to organise the funeral. An episode ostensibly about death and funerals may not sound cheery, but it allows Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann to let loose and have great fun with Richard and Emily.

The Graham Norton Show
3x11 (26/6/08 edition)

2x10 Truth & Consequences

Wimbledon 2008
Bits here and there again, including the Andy Roddick / Janko Tipsarevic tiebreak, and the tail end of Alla Kudryavtseva vs Maria Sharapova. Sharapova, so likable a few years back when she first won Wimbledon, came across as even more of a stroppy spoilt brat than Ivanovic did yesterday. Pleasingly, however, Sharapova was beaten, by the delightful and sweet Kudryavtseva. Hopefully, if she continues to do well, her personality won't go down the pan like the others I've mentioned. Also watched the start and end of Chris Eaton vs Dmitry Tursunov. Eaton is ranked 661st in the world, yet places like GMTV are already asking if he can beat Federer, the world #1. Idiots.

Incidentally, for anyone wondering where my Turn Left review has got to, I'll be rewatching the episode sometime soon and so have been waiting to post it after that.


The Happening (2008)
[#44 in 100 Films in a Year 2008]


Blood Fever by Charlie Higson
Chapter 24

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Chapter IV
Dr. Manhattan: Super-Powers and the Superpowers by Professor Milton Glass Introduction
See here for my thoughts on these chapters of Watchmen.


All Along the Watchtower (song) by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
I never used to like this much, but after its use in the first chapter of Watchmen I decided to give it another go. I like it more now. I have three versions -- Bob Dylan's original, a recent cover by the Fratellis, and Hendrix's version. The latter is my favourite and has been getting a lot of play. (Though, based on the samples from that Wikipedia link, the Dave Matthews Band one sounds even better.)


Doctor Who Magazine #397
A general flick-through of the new issue, including Production Notes, The Stolen Earth/Journey's End preview, Gallifrey Guardian, DVD Preview (The Brain of Morbius is all well & good, but what's this new box set they're hinting at?), the dire You Are Not Alone column, a couple of the reviews, Who On Earth is Elisabeth Sladen, and a scan through the Steven Moffat interview for interesting bits. (Well, that was a more thorough summary than intended.)

Latest from 100 Films...

This is just a little update on the latest reviews posted to my other blog, 100 Films in a Year. They're a mix of new reviews from this year (back to the start of June) and archive ones from my 2007 quest.

from 2008...
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
Almost Famous (2000)
Cloverfield (2008)
Field of Dreams (1989)
The Fountain (2006)
Hulk (2003)
I Am Legend (2007)
Leon: Version Integrale (1994/1996)

from 2007...
Brick (2005)
Brief Encounter (1945)
Confetti (2006)
The Departed (2006)
Educating Rita (1983)
Heat (1995)
Kinky Boots (2005)
Mean Creek (2004)
Night Watch (2004)
Primer (2004)

More to come from both years in the future.

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


8 Out of 10 Cats
6x02 (20/6/08 edition)

2x10 Every Breath You Take
Appropriately-timed tennis-themed episode. Unfortunately, annoying daughter still featured -- somehow, she still manages to increase her annoyingness!

Wimbledon 2008
Odds and ends, including some of Roger Federer vs Robin Soderling and the final set of Amelie Mauresmo vs Virginia Ruano Pascual. But mostly the third set & tiebreak of Ana Ivanovic vs Nathalie Dechy, a match that became a three-and-a-half hour marathon in which an increasingly unlikeable Ivanovic, frequently seeming like a spoilt little madam, won with luck more than talent.


Blood Fever by Charlie Higson
Chapter 16 [2nd read]
Chapters 17 - 23
Returning to the second Young Bond novel, which I began ages ago (perhaps as much as a year) but never got round to finishing. With the fifth out in just over two months, I ought to get a move on with them...

Heat Guy J by Chiaki Ogishima; Kazuki Akane, Nobeteru Yuki & Satelight
Chapter 4 [the end]
While the first couple of chapters adapted episodes of the series, this manga increasingly goes its own route (with similarities), though there's a notably higher amount of gratuitous fan service here (that said, when is fan service not gratuitous?) For whatever reason the manga stopped after this chapter, so there are a fair few elements that seem pointlessly introduced (Boma, for instance). The anime is great though, so go watch that.

Heat Guy J Extra Material
J-Hot Paper December 2002 - April 2003
Anime Preview
Heat Guy J Animation Characters
Interview: Kazuki Akane [the end]

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Chapter III
Under the Hood by Hollis Mason V
See here for my thoughts on these chapters of Watchmen.

"Watchmen" by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons - Chapter III

The forthcoming Watchmen film unsurprisingly has to lose some content from the original -- after all, it's somewhere over 300 pages of comic, plus eleven sections of additional information between the chapters. One of the things left out that has received most attention is Tales of the Black Freighter, a pirate comic book that a minor character reads within the graphic novel, which thematically mirrors the journey of one character. The film originally had this in the script, to be shot in a stylised manner reminiscent of 300, but as it would've added $20 million to the budget it was scrapped... in that form. Now it'll turn up as an anime-style animation, direct-to-DVD just days after the film's release in cinemas (there's every chance that a later 'extended cut' DVD release of the film will have it edited in).

I'm recounting all of this trivia because Chapter III of the graphic novel is where Tales of the Black Freighter makes its first appearance. In typical Moore style, it's style of mirroring is pretty opaque, especially as all the text from it is in the faintly pretentious style that often characterises Moore's prose. More interesting is what's going on elsewhere, where Moore more obviously juxtaposes simultaneous events. as with some of the things I mentioned in previous chapters, it's a favoured mode of his -- which is understandable when it works so well. As for the content of the chapter, it largely leaves the investigation of the Comedian's murder aside to focus on Dr Manhattan and his relationships with others. It's at times like these that Watchmen's strengths shine through, and you see the reason it was so revolutionary, because this is all character drama, not superheroes punching the lights out of supervillains. The characters may be people who used to (or still do) dress up in silly costumes to fight crime, but their emotions and their actions are all still completely believable. It's a completely compelling read.

There's also a feeling that Moore is moving pieces around a giant chessboard, putting things into place for larger events, beyond the lead characters' control, that will come into play later. I very much enjoy books, miniseries, films, etc, that work in this way -- where you know there's more going on, bigger mysteries, but that the characters can't quite see them or can't quite reach them yet, but the author is in control of them and they're going to come into play eventually -- see State of Play for one of my absolute favourites (incidentally, also being remade as a movie next year -- it won't be as good).

With three-quarters of the story still to go (in Watchmen, that is), I'm sure there's a lot left to be revealed...

Doctor Who: Survival

So, to continue the story I was telling before... Doctor Who came back from its 18-month hiatus, returned to 25-minute episodes but with only 14 per year. It's returning season was one long story, appropriately titled The Trial of a Time Lord (it's out on DVD later this year). For whatever reason, it was decided following this that sixth Doctor Colin Baker should vacate the part, and so he was booted off the show and Sylvester McCoy came in as the seventh Doctor. The attempts to kill the show continued -- it was no longer in its traditional Saturday slot, but scheduled against the most popular programme on TV (Coronation Street) in the middle of the week. Ratings plummeted further, though considering the low quality of McCoy's first season this was perhaps inevitable.

But then the show began to claw back, producing two seasons of largely very good stories; though many may debate the quality of The Happiness Patrol and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (I think they're both great), fewer argue that Who wasn't finding its stride again come its final season. Unfortunately, while its quality was returning, its audience wasn't. Though plans were underway for a 27th season, Doctor Who was cancelled. In many ways it's a shame -- a few years earlier and many wouldn't've minded, but Who was dropped just as it showed signs of getting good again. On the other hand, it was looking increasingly cheap and outdated, and in retrospect the long gap that ensued has allowed it to be reborn as the most successful programme on TV. Perhaps the 1989 cancellation was a blessing in disguise.

Ironically, Who's final story was called Survival, and -- despite it breaking my self-imposed four-parter rule for this Who introduction -- it's the story I've chosen to represent the seventh Doctor. It was the first ever classic story I bought on video, and as such one of the earliest I saw... but I haven't seen it for years (perhaps even a decade or more), so how does it hold up today? Fairly well, in my opinion. 1989 may be nearly 20 years ago, but in many ways so little has changed that it doesn't look as dated as it could. Of course, the fashion often does, and the CGI (yes, it has some!) and direction aren't as sophisticated as you'd find in a modern production -- nor is the pacing, of course -- but it mostly stands up.

It's easy to count the flaws: the animatronic cats aren't entirely successful; it has the least exciting chase music ever (when a Cheetah on a horse chases Ace round a playground); the Master is underused; Part Two is mostly aimless running about; the ending is hurried and almost entirely inconclusive; the motorcycle explosion is pretty ludicrous... But, at the same time, there are many pros: the animatronic cats are actually aliens, so their slight weirdness is forgivable; the Cheetah People look fantastic; Anthony Ainley's Master gets his most unusual and interesting script yet, packed with moments to leave to you wanting more of him; Ace's storyline is brilliant, continuing to embed her as the most developed companion the Doctor ever had (to this point); the Cheetah planet is wonderfully achieved for the time; the Doctor-Master final battle is dramatic... and of course the Master escapes! There's not really any excuse for that explosion though. At least it look quite good...

In many ways, Doctor Who completely changed between its cancellation in 1989 and its revival in 2005 -- these days it's big budget, glossy, lightningly paced, CGI-stuffed, big, bold entertainment for everyone. On the other hand, it's remarkable how little jump there is from the plot of Survival to the plot of Rose -- a present day suburban estate setting, ordinary people getting caught up in extraordinary things, a mysterious central character who knows more than he lets on, and a focus on the life of a teenage girl, offered so much more by the mad adventures possible in a funny blue box. If you could match up the surface production values, you wouldn't think there was a decade and a half between them.

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


Commercial Breakdown With Jimmy Carr
11x02 (22/6/08 edition)

Doctor Who [classic]
26x12 Survival Part One [3rd watch]
26x13 Survival Part Two [3rd watch]
26x14 Survival Part Three [3rd watch; season finale]
See here for my thoughts on this story.

Wimbledon 2008
Bits of Andy Murray vs Fabrice Santoro


Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Dragon King by Trevor Baxendale
See here for my thoughts on this book.

Heat Guy J by Chiaki Ogishima; Kazuki Akane, Nobeteru Yuki & Satelight
Chapter 1 (pages 32-66)
Chapters 2 & 3

Preacher: Dead or Alive by Glen Fabry
A general flick through this collected volume of all the Preacher covers, with comments from Fabry and series writer Garth Ennis.

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Chapter I
Under the Hood by Hollis Mason I & II
Chapter II
Under the Hood by Hollis Mason III & IV
See here for my thoughts on these chapters of Watchmen.


Incesticide by Nirvana

"Watchmen" by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons - Chapters I & II

Watchmen is the graphic novel: it's widely credited with revolutionising the comics industry in the '80s (leading to such seminal works as The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, the primary inspiration for the massively successful Batman Begins); it's written by Alan Moore, probably the most prolifically praised writer in the medium; the art is by Dave Gibbons, another high-profile creator; and it was the only graphic novel to appear on Time's list of the 100 greatest English language novels published since the magazine's inception. With the millennial resurgence in popularity of the comic book movie -- kicked off by 2000's X-Men, reaching new heights with Spider-Man, continuing this year with Iron Man, and showing no signs of going away soon -- the time is more than ripe for the long-mooted film adaptation of Watchmen to finally hit our screens. Its release is still 9 months off, but I thought I'd get a jump start on all those who will finally, shame-facedly, read the original graphic novel when hype kicks in next year, and read it now.

Yes, you interpreted that sentence right: this is my first time reading Watchmen.

Thankfully, so far at least, it's brilliant. And it's brilliant in the sort of non-flashy way that means it stays with you and undoubtedly continues to reward, at a level beyond moving from one pretty or exciting panel to the next. Which isn't to say Dave Gibbons' art isn't impressive, because it is, fitting the tone of the story perfectly -- realistic, but with the sort of gaudy neon colours that fans would deride so much in Batman & Robin (one suspects they work better on the page than in Real Life). There's even the odd splash panel, though these are rarely of exciting fight moments and more often punctuating dramatic scenes. The regular pattern of panels -- a hallmark of something written by Moore, it seems to me -- keep things clear and filmic, even if they're rarely the same shape as a film frame.

This is one thing that sometimes bothers me about Moore's style, actually: for a writer so vehemently opposed to film adaptations of his work, he uses a hell of a lot of filmic 'shots' and transitions. They work on the page too, but they're effects that originally come from film and, truth be told, they work even better there. For example, Chapter II focuses on flashbacks to memories of the Comedian. The structural brilliance of this chapter (both within itself and as part of the larger story) aside, Moore transitions into and out of these by replicating a dissolve from the character in an identical pose in the past and present, by placing two similar/identical panels (one present, one past, and vice versa at the end) side-by-side -- it's a very visual technique, consequently hard to explain but very clear when seen! But it's also a very filmic one, which does work better when there's an actual dissolve rather than just consecutive panels.

On a similar note, for a writer so highly praised for his originality and revolutionising of the industry, Moore re-uses an awful lot of the same tropes and tricks, both in the visuals he writes and the plot points within. I expect many of them originate in Watchmen and its in his other books that he's repeating himself, but in reading this close after two League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books (Black Dossier and, before this blog began, Volume II) the similarities are all the more apparent. Nonetheless, if one can place aside the feeling they've read it all before (not a problem if you've not read other Moore books; and, outside of his work, similarities are undoubtedly copied from this), his plot points and imagery are all very effective.

There's a lot to love in Watchmen, even after just two chapters of twelve -- it is, relatively speaking, quite long, which I suspect allows Moore to explore what he wants in a suitable level of depth; even after these two there's a lot to mull over. I don't want to reel off to much because I'd hate to spoil it if you haven't read it. Suffice to say, on the evidence of this opening, it's living up to my expectations. I can see why a film adaptation worries fans (a miniseries would seem to allow the right amount of space), and perhaps I should have joined the masses who'll read the book after the film -- that's usually my rule with adaptations, as that way round you tend to enjoy both more. You can wait to be one of them, or you can get it now, but either way I'm going to echo everyone else (ever, it seems) and say that, if you have the remotest interest in this sort of storytelling, you need to read this.

Pretty strong after just a sixth of the story.

"Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Dragon King" by Trevor Baxendale

It's nearly over now -- The Dragon King is the penultimate book (to date) in the Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny series of gamebooks. It's penned by regular Who author Trevor Baxendale, who also wrote the series' sixth book, War of the Robots. I had a mixed experience with his previous effort, initially being shuttled along with minimal choice, though a re-read revealed better plotlines. Fortunately Dragon King has less of the former, though I'm not sure of the latter. This time "your journey takes you to the planet Elanden, where people live side by side with dragons. But hunters from a neighbouring planet are attacking... Can you restore peace to these two clashing worlds?" Ooh, fantasy-y.

Like his previous book, Baxendale's new effort is a mixed bag. There's no plot to speak of, at least on the path I followed (could I have been unlucky enough to stumble onto the one poor plot thread in both of Baxendale's books?), and the ending was utterly lacklustre -- after pointlessly running up a volcano and then running away from some dragons, I stumbled across a dragon graveyard where the spirit of a dragon plonked the TARDIS down in front of me and that was it! I certainly never encountered "hunters from a neighbouring planet" -- mentioning them in the blurb when there's at least one route on which you don't even encounter them seems a bit much, but maybe no one realised you could avoid them entirely. Consequently, I do feel like I've fallen into the unlikely trap of hitting the weak plot thread twice over!

Some of the choices certainly suggest a variety of other paths -- the TARDIS can materialise in a couple of different locations, or you can choose to encounter a spaceship instead of a dragon (presumably the dragons turn up later after that choice) -- and there are an impressive eleven endings, so maybe I just got the rubbish one! The choices you make are a mixed bag, with most being genuine while others choosing what the Doctor will do, or, as with the spaceship-or-dragon one, making you choose story points.

The thread I followed in The Dragon King was plot-free and a tad weak, but the variety of others suggest I can't condemn the book fully. I wasn't that impressed, but by the same token the fact I seem to have missed noteworthy things on other paths (rather than just similar alternatives) means it's the Decide Your Destiny book that I'm most likely to re-read. In that respect it's value for money at least.

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.

Monday, 23 June 2008


Top Gear
11x01 (22/6/08 edition) [2nd watch]

Wimbledon 2008
Lots of random bits, including most of Melanie South vs Alona Bondarenko


Heat Guy J by Chiaki Ogishima; Kazuki Akane, Nobeteru Yuki and Satelight
Chapter 1 (pages 8-31)

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.

Sunday, 22 June 2008


Top Gear
11x01 (22/6/08 edition)


The Art of Hellboy by Mike Mignola
Pages 112-199 [the end]

"Devil May Care" by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming

"Bond is Back" proclaimed posters for a few weeks leading up to 28th May 2008, the centenary of the birth of Ian Fleming -- the creator of Bond, James Bond, a man who needs no introduction. And the posters proclaimed this because, on that date, Penguin published Devil May Care, a new sequel to the fourteen Bond books Fleming penned, written by respected literary author Sebastian Faulks in the style of Fleming. Mildly controversial among some Bond fans (it ignores at least twenty continuation novels by other authors), it has been an unquestionable sales hit -- Penguin's fastest-selling fiction hardback ever, with sales comparable only to Terry Pratchett and Martina Cole ("genre writers with an enormous loyal fanbase").

So, is it any good?

Well, it's received mixed reviews (for a summary, try The Bookseller) but -- to merrily generalize newspaper reviews without reading most of them -- it's probably too populist and simply entertaining for such literary reviewers. Just like Fleming's originals, then.

Personally, I found it to be a very enjoyable read. There are some great bits in there -- Bond's touch of retrospection/introspection near the start, for example, or the style, motives and actions of the two main villains -- and, while there's the occasional misjudgement (an early car chase sequence that seems to serve no purpose other than the need for a chase then; the meandering final few chapters), it's mostly great fun. While I've only read a few of Fleming's originals, and even then a few years ago, it's clear that Faulks has captured his style incredibly well. At times it seems to tip over into parody, but for the majority it remains on the respectful side of homage.

It's a success, then; certainly it was a success in terms of sales -- a huge one, as mentioned -- and so it seems likely that, in a year or two, someone else will be delivering 'Bond 16'. If they do, they've got a high bar to leap.


As regular readers may have noticed, while reading Devil May Care I posted my daily thoughts on this blog. As well as succinct summaries (of some elements) of each chapter, they include review-like thoughts from as I was reading. As such, I thought it might be vaguelly worthwhile to collate them here.

Chapters 1-4: Faulks' James Bond continuation novel (which, in case you've managed to miss the hype, has been written to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Bond's creator, Ian Fleming) gets off to a strong start, with a dramatic opening chapter in Paris followed by an excellent portrayal of an aged and weary Bond considering virtual retirement as the world moves on. Complete with numerous, well-handled references to previous adventures, it so far feels like a last hurrah for an aging hero. Standing as the 15th (and, perhaps, final) book in Fleming's Bond series, that seems only appropriate.

Chapters 5 & 6: A tense tennis match between Bond and the villain, Dr Julius Gorner -- very much in the spirit of Goldfinger's round of golf or the Casino Royale card game (among other sporting encounters in Fleming's novels) -- is followed by another Bond obsession -- food -- and a huge chunk of exposition.

Chapter 7: Bond heads to the Middle East for the first time, an area of the globe Fleming disliked (Faulks cleverly uses some of Fleming's views as Bond's own). There he meets Darius Alizadeh, head of station in Tehran and, as a character, a natural successor to the likes of From Russia With Love's Kerim Bey. In what I assume is a move based on Fleming's style, Faulks has an annoying habit of characters finding any excuse (including interrupting more important discussions) to narrate their entire life history to Bond.

Chapter 8: Bond and Darius have dinner and visit the Paradise Club, "heaven on Earth" for people who like drink, opium, and naked swimming. Mainly, the chapter's about a little exposition and a little local colour. Also includes a reference to the Young Bond books, which seems to nicely affirm them as part of the Bond series as much as this is. (Of course, knowing Higson, he may've been referencing something from Fleming that Faulks is also independently referring to. Just to make things complicated.)

Chapters 9 & 10: Bond finally gets on with investigating Gorner in these two chapters. Initially hindered by a lack of translator/driver, he bumps into the CIA's man in Tehran (who warns him off)... and someone altogether more surprising (who helps him along)... Following the latter's lead, Bond discovers something even more surprising at a boat builder's yard. Faulks begins to bring in fantastical-yet-believable elements here, another staple of many of the best Bonds. The plot, as they say, thickens. (The end of Chapter 10 marks the novel's halfway point.)

Chapter 11: As Bond escapes and recovers from his investigative previous chapter, Scarlett somehow finds him again. She's becoming increasingly suspicious, that girl, and yet somehow Bond accepts everything she has to say, and even takes her along when he returns to investigate the 'Caspian Sea Monster'. Is there a poorly thought-through 'twist' coming with her, or is her story just as ludicrous as it seems?

Chapter 12: In which, true to traditional Bond structure, Bond and the girl are captured and taken to the villain's lair, where he's treated to an explanation of the villain's Evil Plan. From memory, Gorner is certainly one of the most despicable, sickest, least vulnerable villains Bond has encountered. Super.

Chapter 13: Faulks cleverly protracts the tension of Bond's capture by taking us away from him for a whole chapter. Here we get a chance to see the present actions of some of Bond's allies -- Mathis, Leiter, 'M' and Darius Alizadeh -- all of whom, it seems, will have a greater part to play yet...

Chapter 14: More unwieldy exposition, as Gorner tells Bond the history of his henchman, Chagrin. The explanation for Chagrin's ruthlessness is pleasingly Bond-style (essentially, an operation removed his ability to empathise), though Faulks takes it a step too far by also adding the clichéd "he can't feel pain" to the mix. The chapter also includes what I take to be an amusing dig at Rupert Murdoch, before Bond is hauled off on a suicidal errand -- could it be the death of 007? (With six chapters to go -- and, of course, the money-making potential of future sequels -- I don't think the answer will surprise anyone.)

Chapter 15: An action-packed few chapters begin with Bond being retrieved from the desert by Gorner and is once again treated to a handy description of a new despicable plan, which essentially involves nuking chunks of Russia and blaming the British. Ooh, that dastardly foreigner! But Bond has his own escape plans...

Chapters 16 & 17: Bond is stuck on Gorner's stolen British passenger plane, headed for Russia's main nuclear factory. Meanwhile, Leiter teams up with Darius to try to stop the destruction. But there's a traitor in their midst... These are an exciting pair of chapters, with a climactic feel, though things are far from over yet.

Chapter 18: Unsurprisingly, there's a certain degree of success stopping Gorner's plans, but to escape home Bond and Scarlett must journey into the heart of the Soviet Union, the country Bond's spent most of his adult life fighting! Though Gorner's plans are apparently foiled, Bond and Scarlett are left half-lost in the heart of Russia, while Gorner himself is still alive, thousands of miles away. Plus there's still that mystery of how truthful Scarlett and/or Poppy are being...

Chapter 19: On their train to freedom, Bond and Scarlett are assaulted by the henchman, Chagrin. No Red Grant-style fight of consequence, but he is afforded a great, brutal death. After that, their increasingly long-winded escape goes on a bit; although quite tense, we've had several chapters of this now, and it's not quite what you expect from the final few chapters of a Bond novel

Chapter 20: In Paris, Bond's mission seems to be over... until Gorner catches up with him! It'll be no surprise who wins, of course, and, like his henchman, Gorner receives a nicely brutal death, with a distinctly filmic final touch. And, finally, the truth about Scarlett is revealed...

Days til New York...


For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.

Saturday, 21 June 2008


Doctor Who [new]
4x11 Turn Left
See here for my thoughts on this story.


CutThroat Island (1995)
[2nd watch]
I first (and last, to my memory) saw CutThroat Island on its original release in 1995, in a cinema that we don't go anywhere near now -- because it's absolutely miles away! Goodness knows why we even went there then, but I suspect it was the only place still showing the film and, at that time, I would still have been obsessed with Lego Pirates and Monkey Island (in many ways I still am) and therefore desperate to see any new cool-looking piratey film. Back then I thought it was utterly brilliant, of course; 13 years on and it's clear that, spectacular action sequences aside, most of the film's production values (script, acting, direction, make-up, design...) are at cheap US TV movie levels. It's not all a loss though, as there's still fun to be had -- mainly, it's a joy to see real stunts done by real people in real situations, considering that a modern film's idea of a "real stunt" is having a real person doing something in front of a green screen. Some times, the old days really were better.


The Art of Hellboy by Mike Mignola
Introduction by Scott Allie
Pages 9-101
Pancakes (original art)
Pages 104 & 105
The Vârcolac (Dark Horse Extra version)

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming
Chapter 20 [the end]
In Paris, Bond's mission seems to be over... until Gorner catches up with him! It'll be no surprise who wins, of course, and, like his henchman, Gorner receives a nicely brutal death, with a distinctly filmic final touch. And finally, the truth about Scarlett is revealed...

Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: Second Skin by Richard Dungworth
See here for my thoughts on this book.

"Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: Second Skin" by Richard Dungworth

Thus far, Richard Dungworth has proved to be easily the best author in the Decide Your Destiny series, so you could almost say I'm looking forward to this, his third (and, to date, final) book for the series. In Second Skin, "you find yourself on a twenty-third century space station, [where] you soon realise a dangerous alien parasite has taken over most of the people on-board. Can you and the Doctor destroy it before it reaches Earth?" Ooh, tense.

Dungworth doesn't disappoint (ooh, alliterative). Once again, his book is filled with genuine and appropriate choices. There's a real feeling that what you choose to do has an effect on what happens and which story you see, and a quick scan over the course different options offer seems to confirm this is true -- no "choose door A or door B" actually leading to the same room here! All this in spite of only having 94 segments (down from the usual 100+) and four endings. As for the plot, it's a Who-like story of a technology company gone wrong, and an alien parasite turning ordinary people bad -- cue saving them without killing anyone. The first half was mostly running around escaping these half-humans, but that may well have been the choices I made as much as anything -- several times a choice I didn't take would've led to meeting the only pure human on the station, so perhaps the running would've been over sooner if I'd gone that way.

One thing I did stumble across, which I've not had before in this series, was a point where neither choice offered seemed to make any sense; the segments they pointed to didn't flow from the one I'd just read. Obviously there are a number of possible explanations -- it could be a formatting error, or a typo, so that they're pointing to the wrong pages; or it could just be an awkward jump in events, which really shouldn't exist (especially with just 94 segments, there's room to spare for duplicates with a sentence that explains the jump). It's a somewhat irritating error, if you hit that segment, because the sudden incoherence occupies your mind and takes you out of the story. As it's Dungworth, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it's some sort of accident rather than poor writing.

Second Skin isn't my favourite entry -- to be honest, it's going to take a lot to top the battle at the end of Alien Arena -- but it plays well and has a decent story. Certainly one of the series' better books.

Days til New York...


On July 12th I'm going off to New York for about five weeks. While the blog will still be updated, expect the odd gap while I'm travelling (and possibly while away too). As I won't have access to most/all of things like my DVD collection, I intend to finish many ongoing 'tasks' by then, such as watching season one of Babylon 5. This daily countdown is an aid to both you and me in seeing how long there is to go...

Friday, 20 June 2008


This is the first day since the blog began that I haven't watched any TV!


Hard Boiled (1992)
[#43 in 100 Films in a Year 2008]


Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming
Chapter 19
On their train to freedom, Bond and Scarlett are assaulted by the henchman, Chagrin. No Red Grant-style fight of consequence, but he is afforded a great, brutal death. After that, their increasingly long-winded escape goes on a bit; although quite tense, we've had several chapters of this now, and it's not quite what you expect from the final few chapters of a Bond novel.

Thursday, 19 June 2008


The Graham Norton Show
3x10 (19/6/08 edition)

2x09 Cautionary Tales

1x02 Gatherings
1x03 Art

4x09 The Sting
4x10 Diana [season finale]
Spooks manages the impressive feat of constructing a suitably epic season finale set almost entirely on the Grid, the show's main standing set. There's also a suitably dramatic cliffhanger, something I'd forgotten Spooks did after the almost-wholly-resolved third season finale. It's all still a tad far-fetched, but that's par for the course now, as Spooks has turned from "realistic(ish) spy show" to a more typical action spy show, that would err enough on the side of realism were it not for the seasons that preceded it.


Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming
Chapters 15 - 18
An action-packed few chapters, as Bond is retrieved from the desert by Gorner and is once again treated to a handy description of a new despicable plan. Ooh, that dastardly foreigner! While Bond is stuck on Gorner's stolen British passenger plane, headed for Russia's main nuclear factory, Leiter teams up with Darius to stop the destruction. But there's a traitor in their midst... Unsurprisingly, there's some success in stopping Gorner's plans, but to get home Bond and Scarlett must journey into the heart of the Soviet Union, the country Bond's spent most of his adult life fighting! These are an exciting set of chapters, with a climactic feel -- though, with Gorner still alive and Bond in the heart of Russia, it's far from over. And there's still that mystery of how truthful Scarlett and/or Poppy are... (I'll post fuller notes on these chapters in my review of the book.)

Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: Lost Luggage by Colin Brake
See here for my thoughts on this book.

Winter Story by Jill Barklem

"Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: Lost Luggage" by Colin Brake

Colin Brake, king of the weak Decide Your Destiny book, returns for one final stab at the heart of gamebooks... sorry, I mean, one final stab at writing one. Lost Luggage is the first book of the series' final batch of releases (to date), and the ninth in the series. The last set of books added historical adventures to the mix, and now this one adds a companion-free Doctor... well, apart from you, obviously. "When the TARDIS goes missing in a busy spaceport, the Doctor and you must race against time and across space to find it, before the Doctor's incredible spaceship is lost forever..." Ooh, Terminal 5-a-like.

It will come as no surprise that all the problems evident in Brake's previous three books are present here too. From the very first entry you're -- here comes my well-worn complaint! -- making choices to direct the story, rather than to direct your character. Perhaps if these were Decide the Story books I'd accept this, but they're Decide Your Destiny, which rather implies you're meant to be directing your character's actions, as far as I'm concerned. That's certainly how these sort of books normally work, anyway, and there's a reason for that: it's more fun. Still, there's little point going over it all again -- it comes up in pretty much every review of this series -- so what of the plot?

Well, there are a couple of branches available. As usual, some make not a blind bit of difference -- at one point the Doctor can either pay for tickets or hitchhike, with either option leaving you on the same set of pages -- while others give you wildly differing plots -- one choice either gave me an engine fire or looting pirates... the second option sounded much more exciting. Something else I've berated before is the lack of consistency of plot when things like this happen, though I suppose it's to be expected when you're choosing a story rather than your actions (it's less forgivable when it occurs in the latter, in my opinion). It's not necessarily a bad story, but the scope of it seems a bit broad for such a short book: trying to squeeze arriving at a spaceport, meeting someone (a choice of two, of course, as this is part of the formula in a Brake book (not mentioned before because I have plenty else to whine about!)), losing the TARDIS, getting transport, a spaceship accident, two different reasons for this (at least), ensuing incidents, and finding the TARDIS -- along with the all the options required to make these things happen -- seems a bit much for 102 sections, as many of the incidents are quite brief. Still, there are space pirates -- that's always cool.

I'm sure regular readers can guess my conclusion. Brake's style of choices sap much of the fun out of playing this kind of book, and when you pair it with an over-ambitious plot (passable, but not as fun as some), you're once again looking at an entry at the lower end of the spectrum.

Bond from the Beginning #2: From Russia With Love

The fact that From Russia, With Love was one of John F. Kennedy's favourite novels inspired the Bond producers to make it their second film.

From Russia With Love is probably the most atypical Bond movie, because it functions equally well as a realistic Cold War spy thriller, breaking with the series' already-exhibited fantastical bent. This is also one of the reasons it's so good however, though it does mean some may view it as a low-key aside from the series' overall development. It's also a faithful adaptation of the novel, something actually rather rare amongst these films.

It may not be what you expect from a Bond film, but it's one of the absolute best in the series.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Babylon 5
1x12 By Any Means Necessary

Doctor Who [classic]
22x13 Revelation of the Daleks Part Two [2nd watch; season finale]
See here for my thoughts on this story.

Gilmore Girls
4x15 Scene in a Mall


Leon: Version Integrale (1994)
[#42 in 100 Films in a Year 2008]
While I have seen the theatrical cut of Leon twice before, this is the first time I've seen this notably-longer extended cut.


Doctor Who - Decide Your Destiny: The Haunted Wagon Train by Colin Brake
See here for my thoughts on this book.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill
Graphic Novel, Section 4 (pages 158-175)
Graphic Novel, Section 5 (3D) (pages 176-192) [the end]
See here for my thoughts on the final sections of Black Dossier.

Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks

In the '80s, Doctor Who was in trouble. The massive popularity of Tom Baker's era gave way to a well-liked Doctor (played, of course, by Peter Davison), but also to a damaging new weeknight schedule and an obsession with referencing the past that soon led to a show only fans could understand. When Davison was replaced with Colin Baker, things got worse still. The new Doctor was initially violent and garish, a total contrast to the previous meek incarnation. In spite of the dad-friendly sight of Peri's cleavage, viewing figures plummeted (I should rewrite that with a different gag...) For its 22nd season, the show was reshaped from twenty-six 25-minute episodes to thirteen 45-minute ones -- surely that could never work?! Obviously, it does if you handle it correctly, but 1985 was not the right time for Doctor Who, and it was put on an 18-month suspension... You can catch the next part of this story when I come to review my next serial, but for now let's stick with this one -- Revelation of the Daleks, the last story broadcast before the hiatus.

Colin Baker's era is generally looked down upon (not without reason), but Revelation is a brilliant story for all sorts of reasons. The subject matter is wonderfully grim. Consequently the story is packed with violence and gore, all of it effectively achieved, especially considering the programme's budget. This is underscored by a set of great guest performances, both from recognisable faces like Eleanor Bron and Clive Swift, and lesser-known (to me, at least) actors such as William Gaunt. Even Alexei Sayle's DJ character, while incredibly irritating, provides a change of pace and style that is almost entertaining -- plus, whoever thought you'd get to see a Dalek killed by rock 'n' roll! Speaking of pace and style, both hold up incredibly well 23 years on -- with a few modifications, this might even fit quite comfortably into the new series. Graeme Harper's direction especially is as accomplished as ever, some of the best you're likely to see in classic Who -- or, I'd wager, in much drama from the same period.

There are flaws, of course. The Doctor and Peri take too long to actually get involved, meandering across Necros for the whole of Part One, while inside there's some actual plot going on. In the same vein the Daleks and Davros do next to nothing for the whole of the first episode -- their return is so underplayed, and then they're so underused, that one has to wonder if the story would be even better with an original enemy. Part Two does something to address these faults, but simultaneously discards much of what was going on in the first episode. Perhaps it goes without saying that the story might've been stronger if it could have mixed the two halves together, especially as the first half has quite a slow pace while the second rattles through events in a rush to get everything done.

The DVD of Revelation has the option for both new CGI effects and 5.1 Surround Sound. I'm a purist only as far as the original at least being an option, so I merrily turned both of these on for my viewing. The surround mix is great, making good use of the rear speakers for both effects and music (one of the things that most often annoys me about surround mixes is when they don't put the music across all the speakers. Why not?! It's not occurring either on screen or in the off-screen space (to get mildly technical!), so it should come from everywhere, not specifically the front!) Mark Ayres, the Restoration Team's audio expert, seems quite happy to add new effects, recreate dialogue, etc, for these surround mixes, so that they work as well as possible. As I said, this is fine as far as I'm concerned, as the originals are always included and are the default setting, but semi-purists may have different feelings. (For more information on the work Ayres did here, check out the Restoration Team's article.)

The new CGI effects, meanwhile, are so well integrated that most, if not all, would go unnoticed to an unaware first time viewer. I didn't compare them to the originals, which may of course be flatly bad -- I sometimes find classic Who's video effects, such as laser beams, are even worse than I remember -- but these new versions don't jump out as totally incongruous. In this respect I suppose the story benefits from not having any big model sequences, or dodgy aliens that could do with replacing, so doesn't have entirely CG-model sequences that would stand out like a sore thumb. It lessens the importance of any debate over whether to turn the new effects on, whereas on other, more heavily CGI'd stories I'm still not sure which version I'd plump for (especially for a first viewing).

Before he was unceremoniously booted off the show, C. Baker only managed to make eight stories -- less even than Chris Eccleston! (Though, this is because I count The Trial of a Time Lord as one story; if you listen to those who count it as more, Baker managed twelve tales.) Whilst I haven't seen them all (in fact, I've thus far missed out on the two widely considered to be among the programme's worst ever), I think it's safe to say Revelation is among his best. That might not be saying much, so I'll add that there are probably a sizable number of the stories from all the other Doctors I would rank lower than it too. Maybe, just maybe, I might even place it somewhere in my personal favourites... but then, as I've only seen 42% of classic Who, I'm always wary of making such sweeping statements.

"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier" by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill - Running Commentary, Part 6

And so I reach the end of Black Dossier, the latest entry in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. With the Dossier itself finished last time, it's full steam ahead to the plot's conclusion.

The remaining 35 pages of the novel can be split into two sections of roughly equal length (one's 18 pages, the other 17). The first is more chase, as Allan and Mina crash land in Scotland and head to meet... the Golliwogg! Considering the general shortage of ethnic minority characters in the League -- and that most of those who do turn up are villains -- this could be seen as quite a brave choice, given its consistent controversy, but then Moore's hardly one to shy away from such things. Besides, he's a good guy, saving Mina and Allan from their dastardly pursuers, so it's all good. Moore's witty re-appropriation of existing creations is also evident here, though attentive readers will have noticed signs of it earlier. For example, the XL spaceship series, in which each model is named after how the previous one was destroyed; so when Mina and Allen jet off in the Pancake XL4, some readers will surely know how things will end (and, of course, they do). Or The Third Man's Harry Lime, who was previously (and is again) known as Robert Cherry -- "poisonous fruit", as Mina puts it.

The eventual escape of Mina, Allan and the Golliwogg is a great couple of pages: rather than a big battle, Mina simply explains what's been going on to Drummond -- including several revelations for readers, too, with a clever use of Dr No -- which turns the 'new League' in on itself, while the good guys head off for their finale. There's a couple of nice splash panels in this section. I'm often wary of splash pages/panels in League books, as O'Neill's style doesn't always lend itself to them. Sometimes they work nonetheless though, and these occasions manage that. As 'Jimmy' and Emma Night walk out of the book, one can but hope they'll return. Moore clearly has a very low opinion of Bond, having him do all sorts of despicable things and delighting in just about everyone taking a swing at him throughout Black Dossier. He leaves Em with the notion that Mina or Allan killed her godfather, so let's hope that's reason enough for them to track down our heroes in a future volume.

Finally free of their pursuers, the final section sees our heroes fly into the Blazing World, which is where the 3D glasses finally come into play (as hinted at earlier). There's little that one can say about this final section because it really has to be seen. It's utter madness, with literally dozens of things going on over ever page -- no wonder the work on it delayed the book by months! And, thankfully, it works brilliantly. There may be very little plot in this section -- essentially, Mina and Allan arrive (after a long absence, fans will note) and are reunited with old friends-- but the point is more the spectacle, and on this level it's undoubtedly a success. There are even points which use the two-tone style cunningly -- close one eye and you see one thing, close the other and you see something else. It's the sort of trick that seems obvious once you see it done, but is pretty (if not wholly original). The 3D section makes for a fantastic ending to the book, and is surely one of the most visually impressive sections in any graphic medium ever. Magnificent.

The book ends with a monologue from Prospero, which, in Shakespearean language, expounds on the purpose of the League's universe, the joys of fiction, and its vital importance to us all -- "the fantasies thou've fashioned fashion thee." In itself, it's a great speech, and a perfect way to end a book that concentrates its efforts on merging so many disparate creations from so much of human history into one universe and narrative.