Tuesday, 23 November 2010

DR Who Does A Dickens

"Amy and Rory are trapped on a crashing space liner, and the only way The Doctor can rescue them is to save the soul of a lonely old miser, in a festive edition of the time-travelling adventure, written by Steven Moffat. But is Kazran Sardick, the richest man in Sardicktown, beyond redemption? And what is lurking in the fogs of Christmas Eve? "

That's the synopsis of the Doctor Who Christmas special, the first to presided over new showrunner Steven Moffatt. Since Dickens and crashing space liners have already been covered during Russell T Davies' tenure as the master of the TARDIS, we can't help but wonder what the Moff is up to.

I guess that we'll find out on Christmas Day when the BBC's flagship science fiction show once again anchors the festive programming.

The last versio of this tale that the BBC produced was a comedy  version starring Doctor Who actress Catherine Tate Nan's Christmas Carol in which previous Doctor David Tennant also appeared.

Douglas Adams' Other Hero Comes To Television

Douglas Adams may no longer be with us, but that hasn't stopped people living off his legacy and this Christmas will see Dirk Gently (star of the impossibly brilliantly titles THE LONG DARK TEATIME OF THE SOUL) coming to BBC 4.

Don't expect a straight adaptation of the books, though, as they are even madder than THE HITCH HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Instead, the characters will be involved in something that is imbued with the spirit of Adams. That's the theory at least. The BBC blurb states:

"Stephen Mangan stars as Dirk Gently, who operates his eponymous detective agency based on the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, in this hour-long drama based on Douglas Adams's cult novels.

Perpetually broke, hopelessly chaotic and utterly infuriating, Dirk is suspected by most to be nothing more than a cheap conman – and they might be right. Nevertheless, his methods, though unusual, do often produce surprising results.

In this story, adapted by Bafta-winning writer Howard Overman (Misfits), Dirk is called upon by pensioner Ruth to help solve the apparently simple and harmless disappearance of her cat.
When leaving Ruth's house, Dirk stumbles upon an old university friend, Richard MacDuff, seemingly breaking in next door. Dirk refuses to put the meeting down to mere coincidence and MacDuff unwittingly finds himself caught up in his investigations, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend, Susan.

Dirk suspects that MacDuff and Susan have more to do with his case than they realise, and while he delves into seemingly inconsequential details he begins to uncover a host of extraordinary events that put them all in grave danger.

Dirk Gently is played by Stephen Mangan, Ruth by Doreen Mantle, Richard MacDuff by Darren Boyd and Susan by Helen Baxendale. "

We will withold judgement until we have seen the final product.

BBC's Christmas Ghost Story

The BBC has a tradition of seriously scary ghost stories for Christmas and the new one is a remake of 'Whistle and I'll Come To You', based on a tale by MR James and originally filmed starring the inestimable Michael Hordern.

The BBC press release states:

"John Hurt, one of Britain's most esteemed and prolific actors, stars as James Parkin in Whistle And I'll Come To You, the haunting story of a man's encounter with an apparition on a desolate British beach.

Updated for 2010 by screenwriter and novelist Neil Cross (Luther), Whistle And I'll Come To You is a thoroughly modern adaptation of MR James's atmospheric Edwardian ghost story. It focuses on one man, James Parkin, and his separation from his wife Alice, whom he has just left in the care of a nursing home.

John Hurt says: "Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You, My Lad is MR James's most evocative, and possibly best-known ghost story, and I'm thrilled to be involved in this contemporary reworking of it. I've not done a ghost story before, and I'm always looking for new challenges and different stories to tell."

Pensive and in emotional turmoil, Parkin travels to their favourite old rambling destination in an off-season British seaside town. There he encounters an apparition on a desolate beach which begins to haunt him, with terrifying consequences.

Providing a cinematic, unsettling and spooky addition to the Christmas schedules, Whistle And I'll Come To You delves into themes of ageing, hubris and the supernatural, adding a terrifying psychological twist in the tale to this family hearthside favourite.

Neil Cross says: "For reasons I don't quite understand, I always enjoyed tales that terrified me. I grew up loving ghost stories, classic and modern. But I never got to tell a ghost story ... until this opportunity."

John Hurt plays James Parkin, Gemma Jones plays his wife, Lesley Sharp plays Hetty the nurse and Sophie Thompson plays Carol, the hotel receptionist. "

John Hurt and Lesley Sharp together? We're there.

Monday, 22 November 2010


This wednesday marks the last episode ever of GHOST WHISPERER on Living TV. This marks the end of the fifth season of the show centred around an antiques store owner who also has the ability to see the dead and tries to get them to deal with their baggage and thus make their way into the light.

MEDIUM is a very similarly themed show in which a mother has dreams about the dead, allowing her to work out who killed them and thus allowing them to rest in peace. MEDIUM however is still going strong in its seventh season.  What has this show got that GHOST WHISPERER was missing?

Starting with what they both have in common, both star well known actresses in central roles with strong characterisations. Both have stable marriages with supportive husbands and both deal with an afterlife, giving people hope that death isn't the end. Both solve mysteries about how people died.

MEDIUM, though is much darker than GHOST WHISPERER. Dealing with murder and other serious crimes all the time, it delves into the darker side of life much more than its rival. It also doesn't always have a happy ending, something that cannot be said for GHOST WHISPERER. The ironclad template for a GHOST WHISPERER episode always ended with the loved ones of the ghost getting together for a quick cry and hug and sending the ghost into the light. Quite often MEDIUM offers up endings in which the heroine doesn't win, the guilty aren't punished or their punishment comes at a heavy cost. This acerbic edge cuts through the hideously saccharin nature of GHOST WHISPERER in which life is perfect and death is only a quickl group session away from being equally perfect.

The set up of the MEDIUM family group is also much more realistic than that portrayed in GHOST WHISPERER. The family there is chaotic and noisy and often there is conflict that is resolved in messy, but recognisably real ways. The husband struggles with his wife's gift rather than blithely accepts that ghosts exist and his loved one should put herself at risk to sort out the afterlife.

MEDIUM also plays around with its format much more than GHOST WHISPERER which was ruled by a template that was so rigid that it felt like only the names and occupations of the minor characters were changed from week to week. Familiarity does indeed breed contempt.

GHOST WHISPERER was loved by enough people to make it through five successful seasons, but it seems that the more realistic, darker, edgier and violent MEDIUM is what more people want  more of the time.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

End Of The Bloated Sci Fi Blockbuster?

Last year it was MOON and DISTRICT 9 and this year it's SKYLINE. There's also the upcoming MONSTERS to look forward to.

What links all these? Well they're all science fiction, they all cost peanuts and they all feature excellent special effects.

Whilst James Cameron can still command budgets that dwarf the national income of a small nation (mainly because his movies make more money than the national income of a medium sized nation), effects savvy independent movie makers have cottoned on to the idea that passable CGI effects can now be knocked up at a price that probably wouldn't pay for Cameron's limo driver. This means that shoddy special effects are no longer excusable even for the low budget film maker, but it also means that massive special effects are no longer the sole preserve of the studio blockbuster.

We'd like to think that this means studion blockbusters will have to get smarter in order to stay ahead of the game, but really what are the odds of that?

Even so, the low budget CGI special effect might mean that this becomes the genre of choice for independent film makers that previously would have turned to horror. Which is good news for anyone who likes their sci fi with brains (and we don't mean brains being eaten by aliens!).

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Why Shorter Is Better

The fourth series of THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES has just finished running on the CBBC channel and is just one of a number of science fiction and fantasy shows that are currently having a lot of success in the UK. In the USA, CAPRICA is the latest high profile science fiction casualty. Why is it that UK shows seem to have a much higher chance of success and multiple series than their US counterparts?

The first answer is simple enough - money. In the US ratings are everything and if you don't get the numbers then you don't get a second season no matter how good you are. Keep getting the numbers and you'll go on forever. With the BBC and all its satellite channels, the money isn't quite so critical and so shows don't have the financial burden. They can be slow burn gainers and gradually build up their audience.

The main reason, though, may lie in the difference between a UK and a US 'season'.  THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES  consisted of six stories comprising two half hour stories each. Other shows on the main channels (rather than the children's channels) have seasons that last anywhere between six and twelve episodes and the ones at the higher end of that scale are being targeted at the American market as well as the domestic one. In the USA a season runs to 21-22 episodes. That's a lot of hours of television to fill with quality stories. As a result, concepts that might make excellent UK six part series end up being stretched over three months of shows, with the quality suffering and the dreaded filler episodes bolstering the numbers.

It's much easier to come up with a concept that will enthrall over six episodes than over 22. Thus so many of the genre shows in the US end up with storylines that are generic and familiar and overused and thus start to look like all their peers.

Many of the UK's greatest shows would have failed utterly if they were stretched to fill US schedules. Perhaps that is why the UK will always come up with the quirky and originally leftfield entries like BEING HUMAN and LIFE ON MARS whilst the US will continue to excel at generic episodic shows like MEDIUM or STARGATE UNIVERSE that we've seen before, but are slick and stylish and good at retelling old stories.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Get all of FARSCAPE in one go

When FARSCAPE first hit UK TV screens, we dismissed it out of hand as STAR TREK with muppets. Following a recent rewatch for the main website, how wrong we were.

FARSCAPE is one of the most original shows that the genre has produced. It has a voice of its own right from the start, is always fun, is often exceptional and is occasionally breathtaking.

If we were making a list of our favourites then this might even make our top ten and that is saying something.

The one downside to loving this show is that the DVD releases were in blocks of episodes rather than whole seasons, so the cost of getting hold of the show was prohibitive. It also took up a lot of space on the shelves for those people who just couldn't help themselves. Those two points alone were all that have prevented us from flashing the cash.

Now, those excuses will not stand. The entire show, every episode, including the PEACEKEEPER WARS mini series that took the place of the final season, is available for one reasonable price in one reasonably sized box full of shiny dvds. This means that our bank manager's going to be a bit less happy with us, but what do we care? We'll be glorying in the hours of mad, mental and often drug-fuelled (Crichton's forever getting something shoved up his nose or injected into him whether he wants it or not) space opera that is quite unlike anything there was before it.

Or since for that matter.

If there are no posts to this blog for the next couple of months, well now you know why.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Sci Fi Freak Site on Balloonacy Route

The Sci Fi Freak Site has signed up to take part in Orange's internet balloon race Balloonacy. Pick a balloon and float through the strange outer reaches of the internet picking up speed boosts and air along the way. We hope to see your balloon floating across some of our pages from Monday.