I know I've missed Robot of Sherwood - my reactions to that were more complicated and I've not finished writing them up - but Listen extracted a less ambiguous reaction. As I've written elsewhere...

Sit cross-legged on a police box roof and say... Those look like a status update and follow-up comments. You're right except in one case. )
Butley was given to me by my sister after we went to see a revival of a Simon Gray play in London several years ago. This film version was produced as part of the American Film Theatre seasons, where producer Ely Landau drew on his television experience to make two packages of cinema adaptations of stage plays and sell them in advance to networks of cinemas in the US. The scene is set by a caption reading 'LONDON' at the start of the film, as Alan Bates's Ben Butley cuts himself shaving on a morning, and then by a sequence shot on the northbound platform at Kilburn Park station, moving onto a train (complete with Bakerloo line diagrams showing both branches) where Burley's rudeness, selfishness and uneasy eye towards men are pointed out by Bates's gesture and the sullen curious camera. Most of the two-hour running time is spent in the office Butley shares at Queen Anne College, University of London (with rebellious indifference but solipsistic indulgence too, Butley is always seen entering its precincts through the 'OUT' gateway) with his former pupil, protégé and lover Joey Keystone (Richard O'Callaghan). Joey is disentangling himself from Ben, finding a new partner in publisher Reg (Michael Byrne). Ben snipes continually at Joey's willingness to work within the university career structure, his sexual identity and presentation, while reeling him in to jibes at their older colleague Edna (Jessica Tandy), her teaching (probably diligent) and publishing record. Ben seems to hanker after reconciliation with his estranged wife Anne (Susan Engel), and peppers his conversation with arguments with himself over the location and nature of their last sexual encounter. Georgina Hale, Darien Angadi, Colin Haigh and Simon Rouse play disgusted, belittled, exasperated and furious students.

The self-absorbed alcoholic protagonist who dares the audience to be driven to sympathise with him and so become complicit in his destructive narcissism feels like a 1970s device especially, Butley being a representative of the old professional class overtaken by men who have climbed the new ladders provided by the Welfare State, and women whom he feels really just shouldn't be there. The ground over which the story is told is familiar to an audience in the 2010s, though: society's understanding of gender and sexuality, disintegration and relayering of class structures, academic reform and the need to produce outputs (though we don't hear that term) juxtaposed with teaching demands and assumptions of a new student generation which are incomprehensible to or rejected by their jaded or self-interested elders. It's no spoiler that Ben is eventually left alone in his office with a bottle of Haig's whisky, seemingly content with his own inadequacy. There are aspects of the character close to Alan Bates's own life and large sectors of British society seemed to negotiate the 1970s in a spirit-soaked haze, but though a period piece now Butley is a reminder that social and psychological problem-solving can take a very long time indeed.
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I've taken note of some of the criticisms of Into the Dalek I've seen and where I agree with them, again at The Event Library.
As I've been saying everywhere, I planned to be in bed three hours ago, and had pledged my Doctor Who writing time elsewhere; but began to put down a few words on Into the Dalek and wrote something down over at The Event Library.

ETA: I've added another paragraph at 3.30am BST.
sir_guinglain: (Palace_fire)
( Aug. 24th, 2014 01:49 am)
An extended and edited version of the posts I first put under friendslock here, now available to read at The St James's Evening Post. So what did I do at the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention?
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Veteran performer Brian Blessed has told the Radio Times this week that he was offered the lead role in Doctor Who after he finished his run in Z Cars at the end of 1965. If this is not a drastic misremembering of the negotiations in the early 1990s revealed in issue 3 of Richard Bignell's Nothing at the End of the Lane, which would have seen Blessed succeeding Sylvester McCoy in the first instalment of an independently-produced Doctor Who series, then this means Blessed was sounded out twice at different stages of his career, once when he was best-known as bluff but sometimes naive 'ted in a copper's uniform' PC 'Fancy' Smith in Z Cars, and once when his larger-than-life persona known from Vultan in Flash Gordon and Richard IV in The Black Adder was more fully realised. Intriguingly, if the dates are right, the earlier offer might have been made in the early stages of attempts to replace William Hartnell, when John Wiles was still producer of Doctor Who and not Innes Lloyd, when it was intended that Hartnell's last story would be The Celestial Toymaker. Imagine Blessed dealing with 'Mr Wearp' in The Gunfighters, or probably fighting off Doc Holliday in the dentist's chair...
True Fire by Gary Meehan. Teenage pregnancy in rural fantasy setting turns rapidly into a kind of Meg Rossoff's How I Live Now with crossbows and swords and a political-religious movement which makes Boko Haram, ISIS, the Lord's Resistance Army and their likes seem positively cuddly. With an eye to film adaptations, there's a strong supporting role for a fortysomething woman good at archery and being drunk.

The Sea-Stone Sword by Joel Cornah. I've not really started this one yet, but every time I open it I see a fannish reference to some other text. From a smaller publisher and definitely aimed at transmedia-literate genre fans, but with its own narrative concerns too.

Doctor Who Magazine 475; not a book but more words than many of them; the first part of a more-detailed-than-usual interview with Terrance Dicks and the second part of Andrew Cartmel's interviews with the writers he worked with as script editor in the McCoy period add more insight to two already well-explored periods of Doctor Who history. New to me were the suggestion that the insistence in the early 1970s on a 'family' television label and the research to show that most of Doctor Who's audiemce were adult was in part a rebuff to takeover attempts on Doctor Who by the renascent BBC Television children's department (imagine Jon Pertwee arriving at Television Centre to find that his producer is not Barry Letts but [yes, I know she didn't do drama really] Biddy Baxter...), Ben Aaronovitch's belief that in practical terms writing for Doctor Who set his career back twenty years, and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy emerging as a way for Andrew Cartmel to kill an idea John Nathan-Turner had commissioned from Stephen Wyatt while Cartmel was on holiday, for a three-part story to be made entirely in the Doctor Who Exhibition at Longleat House. Oh, and much Vastra, Jenny and Strax, too, with an interview with their real-life alter-egos and a comic strip starring them, with no sign of the Doctor.

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman. Jefferson is one of those annoying historical figures who can seem so modern and contemporary and yet their careers, their personalities, privileges and weaknesses show that they are their own. Kalman's illustrated children's book on Abraham Lincoln was fascinating and this imagines a Jefferson who said kind words to his (enslaved black) cooks and seemed to live more hours than exist in the day while enjoying both a full political life as well as pursuing his cultural interests, as well as amorous ones: Sally Hemings appears and the opportunity is taken to explain what "pass for white" meant and why it was important in a "PREJUDICED LAND" (Kalman's capitals). My teeth are set on edge by the mention of "the tyrannical rule of an English king" (far too hard on conscientious George III) Above all, Kalman's pictures and text restore a humanity which this observer finds America can strip from its icons: Jefferson and Lafayette are painted plucking figs from the trees at Monticello, and in noting that Jefferson's self-penned epitaph on his gravestone does not mention that he was President of the United States, she asks (of her young readers) "I wonder why", before on the next spread urging her readers to follow "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything", though Jefferson himself might have mused whether such a quest was reasonable or possible for everyone without the benefit of a tobacco plantation.
For reasons clear to anyone who studies his Twitter feed and interactions, veteran Doctor Who fan Ian Levine is keen to make it known that this short series of articles published in DWB in 1992 is available to read online. It's been supplemented and superseded by other work, such as Richard Molesworth's DWM articles and the two editions of his book Wiped published by Telos, and by the ongoing work by the BroaDWcast site, but it's still readable and tells Levine's side of the story as well as convey how horrified first-generation Doctor Who fandom was when they learned that episodes which they often remembered from childhood and which they imagined survived at some BBC vault no longer existed, with anecdotes of early fandom and the dawn of home video.
Between sessions of evidence-gathering for the conference paper I'm delivering later in the week, I've been catching up on the Doctor Who DVD backlog with small doses of Dragonfire. I voted this top in the season polls in 1987, and can still see why, as there is a better-defined sense of threat in this story than in its three season 24 siblings, and a credible villain in Edward Peel's Kane. Realisation is still very erratic, though; I'd not appreciated how far the characters are dependent upon sharing the knowledge of the author and viewer about where the others are until reading Paul Scoones's production notes, for example. The making of... documentary at least gives the director freedom to admit that he didn't really pay attention to the logic of the story, hence the nonsensical visuals including the Doctor's pointless climb over a rail so he can dangle over a sheer drop at the end of part one, there being no sign of the ledge he was apparently trying to reach... There is a lot of inconsistency in the line delivery, too, especially from Sylvester McCoy who sometimes seems to need to work too hard on his Doctor. Sophie Aldred is great when having to confront Kane or his followers but at other times she seems to be under instruction to ham things up more - the dreaded children's programme sensibility mentioned by writer Ian Briggs and Chris Clough in the documentary, which was antipathetic to the spirit of Doctor Who but seen as a necessary part of the placation of hostile head of drama Jonathan Powell. A word of praise though for the everyman mercenaries McLuhan and Bazin, played by Stephanie Fayerman and Stuart Organ; their naturalistic playing of the 'ANT hunt' in part three is welcome amidst the histrionics elsewhere. Their deaths acquire power consequential upon their dogged determination to get their job done, despite having no particular pride or interest in the task in hand.
For Brasenose, Robert Hewison and Michael Palin produced John Mortimer's radio play Call Me a Liar. A slight school-of-Billy-Liar piece, Philip Hodgson played the anti-hero Sammy Noles amusingly, a compulsive a defensive liar who is finally redeemed by the love of Martha Heinz. Good attention to detail, marred only by a recalcitrant moustache. Ingeniously staged with a three part revolving set.

Of Teddy Hall's production of the third act of Dannie Abse's Fire in Heaven, I hardly know what to say. I suppose the piece was as well-performed as the last death-rattle of a worn out verse convention allows.

---David Wright, Theatre, Isis 20 November 1963.

I cited Teddy Hall as there's a strong possibility Ian Marter was in that production, but I need to research further.
sir_guinglain: (Zen)
( Jun. 6th, 2014 09:33 am)
I watched Weapon last night for the first time in years, and in company dominated by a generation who had little familiarity with Blake's 7. The question kept being asked: Why spend so long on set-up before reaching the action? I could only answer flippantly that people talking in rooms was something that BBC multicamera studio drama did well. June Hudson's costumes were as ever pleasingly literal in the way they solidify character traits: John Bennett's Coser looks absurdly pompous in his high collar, but in profile on a two-dimensional screen the collar becomes a shark's fin. The medieval accent is present too, with Servalan and Blake presiding over competing courts with their long-cloaked knights in their armour, black for Servalan, green, brown or red for the outlaws of the greenwood vacuum.
For those interested in oldish Doctor Who stuff, issue 26 of Oxford's Tides of Time fanzine, published in 2000, is now online as a pdf. More information here.
sir_guinglain: (Hartnell words)
( Apr. 20th, 2014 11:16 am)
Here I am, an agnostic and I suppose a functional atheist, humming 'Jesus Christ is risen today'... but here is a Doctor Who Easter Bunny, co-creator Cecil Edwin 'Bunny' Webber, profiled on BBC Two's (Happy Fiftieth Birthday, BBC Two!) website for An Adventure in Space and Time last year. ([twitter.com profile] danblythewriter's idea.)
Issue 37 of The Tides of Time, the Oxford (University) Doctor Who Society magazine, has now been uploaded to the internet. It was published in print form in November 2013 and marks the fiftieth anniversary of the programme. Contents include:


  • Crossword - Fifty Years of Villains
  • Return to Earth. Review of the Wii video game, by Adam Kendrick
  • The Eternity Clock. Review of the game for PC, PS3 and PSVita, by Graham Cooper
  • Rusling the Isis. The second part of a look at Russell T Davies's Oxford University media career in the 1980s, by Matthew Kilburn
  • Fifty Years, Fifty Moments. The scenes which encapsulate Doctor Who's Doctor Who-ness, compiled and written by Graham Cooper and Sara James, with Thomas Keyton, Matthew Kilburn, and Jonathan Martindale
  • Doctor Who and Philosophy. Jonathan Martindale reviews the 55th volume in the Open Court Press series 'Pop Culture and Philosophy', which turns its attention to Doctor Who.
  • Lost in Translation? Sara James reports on the status of Doctor Who in Germany with particular regard to pronouns!


The magazine itself can be downloaded from this link in pdf form.
I've not seen this play, but would like to. Directed by Douglas Camfield, starring Katy Manning as a lesbian threat to middle-class domesticity, produced by Joan Kemp-Welch (wife of Peter Moffatt), almost directed by Darrol Blake, and featuring Neville Barber probably looking more in his depth than in K-9 and Company (though looking out of place in a conventional sort of way was his stock in trade) it's tempting to view it as a sort of Doctor Who awayday, for lots of people who didn't actually work together on Doctor Who, though of course it isn't that at all. More at the Spaces of Television project blog.
Too often I post about the merely routine, and this post is much the same; but it is a great thing that one can read scans of rare historical source texts on one's phone. I'm not sure if it is great in the sense of really very useful, or great as a gimmick, or great as a symbol of the sharing of old knowledge on a table constructed with the new; or just great in the grand/cool sense; but it's great nonetheless.
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