Sunday, 8 January 2012

The 14 Days of A (5)

Ace of Wands – Sisters Deadly

I first saw an episode or two of Ace of Wands many years back on a copy of a copy of a c….opy of an off air VHS recording.  It was occasionally in colour, the dialogue was mostly audible and the advert breaks were rather crudely hacked out.  Then in 2007 the DVD box set came out and I finally saw the rest of the existing episodes and I got to experience the full colour experience.  And sadly there’s a reason it didn’t last much past the three years it got.

For those that haven’t seen it or don’t know about it Ace of Wands is a children’s TV series from the early 70s centred around Tarot, a magician with genuine powers and his various helpers.  The first season is completely lost (as of writing it is anyway), there are audio recordings of season two (I’ve got them somewhere but they’re shockingly low quality) and season three exists in full.  “Sisters Deadly” is two thirds of the way through the season and Tarot is currently accompanied by Mikki and Chas.  There’s also Ozymandias (played by Fred the Owl) but he’s not in this one much.  Chas has been employed to take photos of an old lady’s 100th birthday party but ends up with memory loss and robbing a post office.  Tarot goes to investigate and finds more old ladies involved in a  rather bizarre plan to kidnap military personnel. It’s all rather weird…

Tarot, played by Michael MacKenzie suffers majorly from a case of the seventies.  His hair and clothes are dated in the extreme which instantly distracts from the plot (not such a bad thing at times).  Chas (played by Roy Holder) also suffers from the bad hair decade but ends up in military uniform and doesn’t suffer too badly.  Mikki, the rather stunning Petra Markham, didn’t strike me as being too badly fashioned but everything just ends up looking rather dated.  DVD picture quality, unfortunately, makes the twist in episode three very obvious from the start of episode one (I could be generous and say that it wasn’t supposed to be a huge secret but I’m guessing that they didn’t intend us to guess straight away) but thankfully Sylvia Coleridge is so brilliantly dotty (isn’t she always?) that you can easily watch the scenes and get diverted from the blindingly obvious.  Nothing can really hide the cheapness of the production though and the film sequences involving the army really make it look as though this country is protected by an undermanned Dad’s Army. 

It’s very hard to watch this and not compare it to more modern productions.  It’s slow and lumbering in places, it tries to make old ladies seem creepy and threatening (the end of the second episode almost succeeds but doesn’t quite work and left me laughing sadly) and the back of the DVD case tries to make it sound surprising this was the last season.  There’s nothing actually wrong with it, a modern remake would probably work exceptionally well, but this is just a little too 70s to be good and not so 70s it’s fantastically awful.  Tarot looks unearthly and I wish I could see season one to find out more about him, but by this third season it’s very much about plot rather than characters.  The booklet with the DVD fills in quite a bit of the back story but it’s just not the same.  I think I might just have got unlucky with the choice of story (picked at random) as I remember some of the others being much better this.  Then again, it could just be the memory cheating again.  Hmmmm, back on the shelf or do I give it another go with a different story…?

The 14 Days of A (4)

And Then There Were None…

Another favourite of mine story wise, but a movie adaption I haven’t seen in a long time.  Not 100% convinced I’ll be watching it again any time soon either, I just can’t quite put my finger on why…

For those who don’t know the story, you might want to stop reading now. It’s definitely my favourite Agatha Christie novel and, quite possibly, one of my favourite novels of all time.  I’ve read it countless times, the ending still chills me and it’s been copied many times but very rarely have those attempts come anywhere near the greatness of the novel.  The version I’ve pulled off the shelf is the third movie version, colour with Oliver Reed and Richard Attenborough amongst others.  Rather than inviting ten people to a house on an island, the house is relocated to the desert.  Diplomacy means the nursery rhyme is about Ten Little Indians (still not got as far as soldier boys though) and yes, as always seems to be the case they’ve given it the “revised” ending.  Gits.  Sorry but it’s one of the classic murder mysteries and yes, I know the ending that the book has would be very hard to film, but the BBC radio adaption managed to stick to the spirit of the original, why do the movie versions have to have such a crappy upbeat ending???

I really can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong with this particular movie version.  It can’t just be the ending as the other films did the same (as did the stage play from memory) so it must be something else.  It can’t be the acting as the cast list is fairly impressive and they’re clearly all trying their hardest (maybe trying too hard?) and the scenery is definitely spectacular (strangely enough I quite like the idea of the new location as it makes it far more believably remote) so I’m narrowing it down to two things.  The music and the direction.  Neither are particularly awful but there’s something about the film that makes it seem flat.  By the time the first three or four characters have been bumped off there should be a real feeling of unease and fear amongst the characters but they just seem to carry on with little change to the way they’re acting.  The music should, by the end, be heart stopping suspense but it’s just a little too seventies to be able to pull it off.  Oh, and when people are singing at the piano, it didn’t help there was a drum beat out of nowhere to accompany them and make the song sound right.  Orson Welles guest voices as the person reading out the list of murder accusations but even that sequence is too bombastic for it to be terrifying.  There should have been a chill as they were read out but, instead, it’s almost like a headmaster reading out the prize list at the end of the school year.

Ah well.  No matter how flat the film it will always be a remarkable piece of plotting and story.  I’ve yet to see something pull off the “everyone dies” story without clearly ripping this one off or failing to reach its levels of style and charm.  It would just be nicer if they’d actually had the balls to make a movie version that had the very unpleasant and frightening ending that the book has.  Maybe one day…

The 14 Days of A (3)

Alice in Wonderland – “The Original Live-Action Classic”

Okay, I’m a HUGE Alice in Wonderland fan.  Forget being a friend of Dorothy, I’m an acquaintance of Alice.  I loved the story as a kid and it was the first school play I did voluntarily (and really enjoyed doing) so I regularly go back and either re-read or re-watch one of the films.  A few months back, in one of my comfort spending moments, I found the DVD of the version with Cary Grant and Gary Cooper in (amongst many others of course).  Sadly it was also one of those purchases which was made as a comfort spend and then got put on the shelf with the thought “I’ll watch that in a while”.  Well by my standards, several months later is very much within the “while” window (there are DVD’s I’ve had for years and not watched yet).  It also wasn’t a version I’d seen before so, rather than going for the well watched Disney version, it’s back to black and white and 1933.

And already I’m confused and angry… you see I’m very much an Alice separatist.  There’s Wonderland and there’s Looking Glass and I’m never a fan of the mix-and-match approach.  Don’t ask me why, I couldn’t tell you but I just like my Wonderland characters to be in Wonderland and everyone else in the Looking Glass land.  So this film (definitely titled Alice in Wonderland) didn’t do itself many favours by starting with the Looking Glass opening.  Technology being what it was in 1933 (ie largely absent), they’ve done their best to have Alice in the same shot as the white King and Queen and watching this on DVD probably didn’t do it too many favours.  I’m guessing even on a 1930s’ cinema screen the picture quality would have maybe been slightly less than pin sharp and so, to adjust, I watched the rest of the film with my glasses off and it did it huge amounts of favours (I did put them on from time to time to see how certain things looked though). So, slightly pacified over less than special effects and keen to see the Looking Glass story instead of the advertised product… I was rather shocked that fairly soon after passing through the mirror, Alice fell down a rabbit hole into Wonderland!  Really not what I was expecting at all! 

Wonderland, 1930s style, mostly consisted of people in slightly tatty looking animal costumes (glasses taken off fairly hastily when I realised) and people in rather strangely styled masks.  It’s almost like Alice’s Adventures in Bo’Selecta Land at times.  Anyway, the next 2/3 of the film were a fairly faithful telling of the standard Alice story.  Fairly soon I was happily immersed in the land of Hatters, Rabbits, Playing Cards and Queens.  A few times it was fairly obvious they were using slightly speeded up footage to try and create certain effects but all in all they did their best to make Wonderland a believable place.  Until all of a sudden we were back in Looking Glass land and visiting Humpty Dumpty, Tweedles Dum and Dee and more chess pieces.  Quite disconcerting as I’ve not really seen an Alice with such a sudden and blunt transition from one to the other (normally the characters are mixed together).  However, it did mean that I got to see a rather charming White Knight, an animated Walrus and Carpenter and a VERY strange and almost cannibalistic dinner sequence where Alice becomes a Queen in her own right.

The Caterpillar was possibly the only disappointing portrayal in this one (but, as no-one could ever be as good as the definitive early 90s stage performance that a certain person gave in the school production that’s hardly surprising) but the charm of this film carried me through to the end with a Cheshire cat like grin on my face.  Primitive, definitely.  Dubious flying and other special effects, undoubtedly.  A certain sense of child like glee at discovering which characters would pop up next… without doubt and that’s all that really mattered in the end.  Okay, I might not re-watch this one as much as I re-watch the Disney one (that one has songs, therefore it wins) but I can see this one coming of the shelf from time to time if only to see if the talking Christmas pudding freaks me out as much as it did first time around.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The 14 Days of A (2)

The Avengers Movie

Okay, I didn’t post this last night as the wind was playing havoc with my electricity and thus didn’t even settle down to watch the film till stupidly late.  Of course, anything with “stupidly” in the description is probably well suited to The Avengers movie, especially if it’s at the start of the sentence “deciding to put it on in the first place”.  I hadn’t seen it in quite a while, it begins with “A” and well… I had weird memories of actually not finding it too bad at all. As a science fiction fan I really should also have remembered that the memory isn’t always as reliable as you like to think and for 85 minutes last night I found myself playing chicken with the stop button on the remote control.  Would the film force me to hit the button before the end or would I somehow persuade the film to improve as it went along by actually watching it and not turning it off?  I would love to be able to say that, by staying to the end, I’d had some sort of victory but I feel that it was the film that had the last laugh.

It’s one of Hollywood’s more infamous cockups. Take what, by all accounts, could have been quite a good movie, show it to the test audiences and then, when they say it’s too long, hack out the plot and leave the action sequences in place.  And then wonder why no one likes it.  Actually, that’s not the only reason people don’t like it.  There’s the horrendous acting, abysmal music, awful dialogue…  oh and the bitter taste of resentment and disappointment that it leaves in the mouth as well.

The notes that I jotted down during the film were surprisingly short and to the point.  Usually one or two words to categorise what was on the screen and either “yuk” or “no, just no”.  The TV version of the Avengers has one of the most incredible pieces of theme music ever (easily in the top five TV themes of all time).  So the film makers decided that the film should start with rather less than inspiring pop-art style titles played over the top of very bland music.  Once the action started THEN they play in the proper theme music but a rather insipid lacklustre version to accompany a rather neat little fight sequence.  Ralph Fiennes can fight.  He can’t act.  Well, he clearly can in other films but I have no idea what his reference material for playing John Steed was.  Steed was many things through the TV series (and the New Avengers as well) but a rather charmless, upper class business man with a rod up his arse was never one of them.  Even in the tenser moments, the original John Steed came across as quite relaxed and natural.  Ralph Fiennes is just so stilted in his efforts to play Steed it’s beyond unnatural. Where are the smiles, the laughter and the effortlessness?  I’m guessing in a bin somewhere having been surgically removed before rehearsals began.  Assuming, of course, that there was room in the bin for them as Uma Thurman clearly had the same procedure done to allow her to play Mrs Peel so badly as well.  Pretty much everything to do with this film feels absolutely forced. The relationship that they’re trying to hard to capture (which, by rights, shouldn’t be there as it’s supposed to be their first meeting), the banter, the fact you know they’ve shagged senseless and got it out of their systems, nothing in this film has the naturalness of the original.  The only scene that I put something akin to “getting close” to was when Steed was trying to chat up the very young looking Keeley Hawes.

What makes the lack of naturalness even weirder and more depressing is just how much of the film is lifted almost directly from the TV series.  The fencing between Steed and Peel, the House that Jack Built sequence, the weather obsessed madman and even the reappearance of the one off Father from the last year of the show.  I’m guessing that the random use of giant teddy bear costumes is a nod to the Cathy Gale episode “Mr Teddy Bear”.  The fact that it seems to snow inside the costumes is rather strange, either the explanatory scene was one of the thirty minutes’ worth cut after the first test screening (to working class Spaniards apparently) or it was just an horrendous mistake (like so much of the rest of the film). Eddie Izzard’s only dialogue in the film is a good gag but it’s just NOT The Avengers and the closing music clearly wants to try and emulate Bond (perhaps this would have been a better Bond movie?).

There are a few good set pieces, and you know right from the start of the final fight just how Sean Connery’s villain will meet his maker but they’re just not enough to salvage this utter mess of a movie.  Perhaps, one day, someone will unearth a bootleg of the original cut and we’ll see if the missing footage does actually help the plot make sense.  Perhaps, one day, Hollywood will finally forget this atrocity and make a new and better version (unlikely thanks to bloody Marvel).  Perhaps, one day, there’ll be a decent DVD release of it so I can at least watch some extra features.  Or, most unlikely of all, perhaps one day I’ll forgive this film the ultimate crime.  It’s an awful film that I don’t think I’ll ever really want to watch again.  The script, the acting, the music… all terrible.  But when it was over I still wanted to see another one.  I desperately wanted to know if, in a sequel where the characters actually had a “right” to know each other and be banterous together, things might actually work out.  I wanted Steed and Peel back.  And a terrible film that still leaves me wanting more is something I’m really not prepared to forgive easily.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Beginning Benny - Season 7

Previously on Benny…. We got the good stories out of the way.

Season 7, I’m afraid to say, starts a rather severe downturn in the quality of the Benny audios.  I was mostly up to date with them when they were coming out for the first six years but then fell behind on listening.  I still kept buying them though and had something of a stockpile.  It became habit, Big Finish would announce the next season, I’d pre-order it and then say “I must catch up on the last season… oh, I’m two seasons behind… no three….”  Would I have continued buying them if I had actually managed to stay up to date with them?  Do you know I’m really not sure…

Certainly “The Tartarus Gate” isn’t the strongest opener to the season.  Benny’s trapped in a virtual world (how out dated was that when it came out, it felt excessively behind the times when I listened on this marathon) and there’s a gateway to hell that someone wants to open because they think they can control the gods.  It’s all very shouty, it’s very noisy and it’s really not that enjoyable.  There’s talk of a perfect cube and one of the gods sounded, to me, very Valentine Dyall like but sadly it wasn’t to be.  Jason gets his memory back though at the end and realises what an unpleasant person Brax has been. 

“Timeless Passages” is actually close to being good.  There’s timeywimey done well, a genuinely spooky atmosphere, a very camp homicidal knight and a baby.  Out of all the Benny stories of season 7 it’s the best (yes, faint praise indeed) and it’s certainly one that you need to keep concentrating on to keep up with the jumping around in time (there aren’t any handy “we’ve just changed time period” sound effects so you’ve got to just damn well pay attention) and I couldn’t help think that there were certain aspects of it that had a certain Rivery Songy type feel to them…

Big Finish took a huge risk calling the next one “The Worst Thing In The World”.  Thankfully it does have one redeeming feature (the zombie servant song and dance number caught me completely by surprise) but it feels very much like “well we’ve done a weird reality one every year so far so let’s do another one this year” was the motivation behind it.  It has a few laughs but it’s not particularly subtle and, in places, the acting left a lot to be desired (seemingly bad acting is allowed under certain plot conditions but it the permission doesn’t detract from the fact it’s painful to listen to).  Still, it did have the song and dance number.  That’s more than can be said for the next one.

“Summer of Love” aka “You’ll never get that hour of your life back”.  Everything about this one just felt wrong to me.  The acting was stilted, the dialogue poor and the lame excuse for a plot was so lacklustre that you know full well the planning meeting for it went “We want to do an audio of people shagging and attempting rape, do you think we need to put a decent reason in or can we come up with any old lame explanation”.  Terrible on pretty much every level.

Only marginally better is “The Oracle of Delphi”.  There’s an artefact that Benny’s after.  She runs around in history and tries to make sure that everything that’s supposed to happen still happens and ummmmm she finds the artefact.  I’d love to tell you more about the details of the plot, I’d love to tell you how wonderfully acted or written it was but, even soon after listening to it, most of this one just went from my mind.  I know I listened though but that statement alone is probably the most damning review of it I can muster.

To end the season there’s “The Empire State”.  Benny has an artefact, Benny’s in a place that should have been destroyed and is destroyed again only it isn’t and then it is and then it’s rebuilt around her and… It probably has one of the stronger plots of the season but that doesn’t say much.  The origin of one character, when revealed, sets a sinking feeling about how things are going to end up and yes, you get to the end, and the development you’re presented with is the one you’ve been pretty much expecting since the end of season six.  Still, there’s a nice loud bang at the end of the story which acts, I guess, as a cliff-hanger type hook to get you into season eight.

I really wish I were more enamoured with the seventh season of Benny audios.  It almost felt like six releases of trying to do little more than tread water.  There are very few sparks of originality in there, not particularly large amounts of charm and not really all that much in the way of a plot.  Still, I’m sure that it’s only temporary and when I did get around to completing the stockpile I’d find it was so much better for season eight.  Wouldn’t I?

Beginning Benny - Season 6

Previously on Benny… *Deep breath* Backtogetherwiththeexhusbandstillfriendswithexlovercollectionprotectedsongrowingtroublebrewingneverchangingmovingon…

Right, season six and I freely admit that I’m now starting to get impatient for things to happen.  Okay, there’s been the odd good story (“The Grel Escape”, also a good odd story) but the last few haven’t really done it for me and, more irritatingly, they’ve not yet really picked up on any of the dangling plot threads.  However, some will be dealt with at the end of this season and others will also be picked up soon so it’s sort of finally on the horizon.  Just got a few stories to get through before we get there though, from the good to the mediocre to “The Lost Museum”.

“The Heart’s Desire”, a story I remember being less than enthusiastic about the first time around, turns out to be much better on this new listening.  It might be that, having remembered who the villains turn out to be (do you know, I’m not going to say because if you don’t know it might spoil the surprise) did mean that the first three quarters made a lot more sense and certain bits (with the foreknowledge) were a damn site more fun this time.  Normally I get quite irritated if a “surprise” reappearance is given away on the sleeve notes or the cover but part of me actually thinks that if the listener had been let in on a it a lot sooner then some bits might have been less painful.  I was also convinced, though totally incorrect, that it was Mark Gatiss playing one of the *spoiler* but nope, it just sounds a lot like him.  There’s a lot of light hearted bitchiness going on between two of the characters in this and it reminded me of the Black/White Guardian relationship in the Who stories “Key 2 Time”.  This came first though and, if anything, probably works even better.  What is rather weird though is the decision to make it vaguely a Christmas story.  They could have made a lot more of this, instead it seems to be something of an afterthought, there for no real reason and not even adding much punch to things.  However, it’s rather a pleasant way to spend an hour or so and, if you do work out what’s going on in advance, then well done!

“Kingdom of the Blind”, on the other hand, is a rather straight laced and one note piece.  It’s almost back to traditional Benny, mysterious artefact causes mayhem, Benny and Jason get caught up in it, things come out of the ground but, for this one, we join about a quarter of the way in and get the start in flashbacks towards the middle.  The monsters of the piece are the Monoids… yup, Big Finish have bought back the mop top wobblers from “The Ark” and tried to do something with them, the something being “Genesis of the Monoids”.  This is one of those times when you have to remember that this takes place in the 26th century or so, a very long time before “The Ark” (a surprisingly long time really, and now I think about it I do wonder just how they survived for so long as a species).  On first listening I was convinced that they’d made a horrendous balls up and allowed the Monoids to speak but I should have had more faith, Big Finish really aren’t that stupid and everything becomes clear at the end.  The plot’s fairly basic, Benny gets caught, Benny spends time in the security kitchen, Benny leads revolution, Benny cocks up spectacularly.  Jason gets carried around a lot as he’s injured (but fortunately he’s healed at the end) and well… it’s probably most notable for bringing back the Monoids and trying to do something with them.  It’s not the worst story ever, it’s not the best either.  I do remember that, when I first got this one, it sent me to sleep rather a lot so perhaps I’m slightly prejudiced against it. After all, it does take a certain amount of guts to bring back possibly the most ridiculous monsters ever!

Quite frankly, even if “Kingdom of the Blind” had been genuinely mediocre I would rather listen to it again and again rather than sit through “The Lost Museum”.  A ghastly mess of a story that’s clearly trying to say things about war in Iraq but doing it with so little subtlety that I was left wondering if this was some kind of “fan fiction contest winner”.  Benny’s off relic recording, Jason’s there to help by providing translators and there are oppressors who cut off Benny’s arm.  We also find out (well, if you only do the audios that is) that Jason has clones (they REALLY need to do a “previously on the printed page” thing somewhere as, by this time, I wasn’t getting the books at all) and that Benny doesn’t mind running around virtually naked when she needs to.  I’m not sure what else I can say about this one that wouldn’t break various terms and conditions about rudeness so I’ll simply say… listen if you feel obliged, I’m not writing any more about it.

Up next is “The Goddess Quandry” and finally, it looks as though things are going to be talked about.  Remember back to the narration in “Death and the Daleks”, well we’re now soon after that (even though it doesn’t feel as though a significant amount of time has passed since then) and Benny is questioned about a few of the things she may or may not have said.  Clearly though she doesn’t want to talk about what happened to Brax, why the collection’s in the state it’s in and… well clearly something rather major has been going on that we don’t know about.  So instead she tells the story of how she went hunting for the God Aldébrath's remains.  It’s a whimsical tale, mostly due to the presence of (a recast and different sounding) Keri Pakhar, but it also questions the nature of religion and deals, in part, with Benny’s Goddess vs the rest of the universe’s God.  Thankfully I’m not particularly religious myself and have always seen it as faintly ridiculous so I’m quite sympathetic to some of the views in this story.  The ending is… well it’s not pure cliché but there wasn’t anything new and startling in the resolution of the God story line.  That’s still more resolution than the story arc part gets though so you’ve got to wait one more release to find out just exactly WHY Brax has vanished along with his rooms in the mansion…

So… “The Crystal of Cantus”.  Brax finally goes over the edge, the cybermen have tombs and the flashbacks are told from different perspectives.  I’m not normally a fan of Joseph Lidster’s work, never really sure why, but this one does manage to utilise the different points of view exceptionally well.  There’s a mysterious message for Benny about a fabled crystal that Jason intercepts.  He talks Brax into going along for the ride, he’s stupid enough to make Benny suspicious and she jumps on board as well and then there’s the scene where we find out what “powers” cybermats.  There’s something evil in the cyber tomb, something that’s waiting for one of the three travellers.  It is, of course, a trap.  And deep down I can sympathise with WHY the trap has been set.  I don’t agree (I’m not that insane) but I know why people do what they do in this one.  The scale of the manipulation is impressive and, surprisingly, not completely unbelievable (the flashbacks are superb at this point when they make you realise how it was all put together) but the main problem is the ending.  It’s not the fault of the release, it’s just that since this came out the ending has been done numerous times on the television.  Yup, the cybermen are defeated by a flood of emotions causing them to blow up.

So that’s the end of Brax for a while.  He got “caught out”.  Jason’s no longer his puppet (I really get the impression that a LOT happens in the books between the two of them as I’m sure I don’t recognise a lot of the comments from the audios) and, as a result, he flees the collection.  He’s not dead, he’s out there somewhere but finally we start to get ramifications.  Cause, at last, has effect (see “Masquerade of Death” for more).  It’s not the worst thing that Brax could have done but it’s still deeply unpleasant.  So what next for the collection?  And there’s still the hints about Peter’s future to deal with.  Season six finally marks a transition point in the range, things have no choice now but to change and change they will…

Beginning Benny - Season 5

Previously on Benny… dog-faced lovers, thieves and ex husbands banded together to protect probably evil Time Lord’s private collection of antiquities from time travelling daleks led by Benny’s father.  Jason got naked, father got mad, daleks got defeated.  Weird stuff with linking narration put it all in the past and Peter still cries a lot.  Try and remember the bit about Brax probably being evil as it won’t come up in this season, it’s a hangover from season three and won’t get dealt with till next year.

So season four, pretty heavy going.  Huge epic dalek battles, Benny being tortured by Draconians and the listeners being tortured by Sea Devils. It’s clear there’s going to be some pretty heavy going stuff ahead (quite a few plots hanging at the moment) which can only mean one thing… time for some inspired silliness.  No, not just inspired but silliness on the genius level.  “The Grel Escape” has one very simple premise.  Take one of the daftest Doctor Who stories ever (“The Chase”) and rework it with Benny, Jason, Peter and Peter’s Grel godmother Sophia… you did read “The Glass Prison” didn’t you… replace Daleks with Grel (as daleks were SO last season) and make it very clear to the audience what you’re doing.  Include “destroy time rings” as part of your brief and set up even more future plot lines (this time suggesting that there are dark things ahead for Peter as he grows up).  In short, produce an audio drama that’s brilliant on pretty much every level.  The robot Benny that looks nothing like her to the extent that even Jason isn’t fooled, Grel rising up out of the sand, ghost trains and time travel all appear but with a knowing wink that leaves casual listeners laughing and Doctor Who fans in hysterics.  There’s a rather strange section in the middle that’s almost deadly serious (involving Egyptian Gods judging Peter, clearly setting things up for the future) but, for the most part, the jokes come thick and fast.  There are a few odds from “The Daleks’ Master Plan” in there as well (the football match sequence is the weakest part of the release sadly as the commentator’s voice is too recognisable as also being the Grel voice) but mostly this is an audio tribute to daftness, with just a few hints of sorrow in there to play with your minds a little.

Sadly the same can’t be said for “The Bone of Contention”.  To understand this one fully, it helps if you’ve heard the Doctor Who audio “The Sandman”.  If you haven’t then don’t worry as it’s pretty much all contained somewhere in the story.  Benny’s caught in the middle of some rather delicate diplomatic relations.  The Perloran’s want their bone back but the Galyari aren’t prepared to return it. There are myths and legends about the power of the bone but no one will admit to knowing where it is.  There’s also a child with extreme growing pains that latches on to Benny as a surrogate mother. It’s all very corridor based (if you’ve heard “The Sandman” then you’ll recognise the Clutch as being a 50/50 mix of corridors and ships) so it’s not very surprising.  Also, if you’ve heard “The Sandman” then you’ll remember that the Clutch isn’t the most action packed place in the universe and this story is no exception.  The voices are modulated to just the right side of being able to understand them, Mordecan (the trader) gives a charming insight into the Irish accent but it takes a very long time to get going.  Everything is also a little too obvious.  The location of the bone is guessable quite early in and nothing really took me by surprise in the story.  It’s not bad as such but it’s just a little tedious.

“The Relics of Jegg-Sau” (don’t know why but I don’t like the name for some reason) goes for the surprise return rather than a predictable old monster coming back.  The (giant) Robot, from the fourth Doctor’s first story, makes a reappearance and, unusually, it seems fully justified in its return.  You might be wondering just how the robot comes back (given that it was rusted to death in its only onscreen appearance) but it is explained in the story well enough as to be believable.  Benny finds herself crashing whilst looking for lost treasure and is rescued by Kalwell and his daughter, Elise.  The acting from the guest cast, whilst technically “correct” does mean that there are times that you struggle to stay awake through it and there’s the same issue as in “The Draconian Rage” (weapon from a museum ends up being used to kill someone) which does make things a little predictable towards the end (as does the fact that the Robot grows, they would probably have had complaints if it didn’t).  It’s not a bad release but just a little long winded again.  Michael Kilgariff just about gets the robot correct after quite some absence from Who and the twist at the end isn’t signposted too obviously through the rest of the tale but, even so, it’s just too slow for my brain to want to focus on it for over an hour.

Sitting somewhere between this and the last release of the season is a DWM freebie, “Silver Lining”.  It’s an odd tale of a buried cyber-city, a bomb about to go off and a very gullible cyberman.  Its purpose will become obvious eventually but for now, enjoy it for what it is.  Half an hour of running around cyber corridors, logic puzzles in the form of music and ummm yeah, that’s actually about it.

So finally there’s “Masquerade of Death”, or “Oh No It Isn’t Again” as my mind wants to think about it.  Benny and Adrian are in the rather surreal world of the season based prisons.  There’s a murder that seemingly has no victim and an overall style that says “We want to be weird and wacky” but actually came over as “We’re not exactly sure what this is trying to be” but it sounds like the Who story “Axis of Insanity”.  The baddie, known only as The Player is very similar in sound to the jester from Axis and the unreal world that Benny and Adrian are in is almost reminiscent of “The Mind Robber”.  It’s very difficult to listen to and concentrate on though (okay, others may find it easier but I found it very hard going) and after about half way though it starts to feel exceptionally repetitive. When there’s the eventual reveal of what’s actually going on at the end I couldn’t help but think it was a case of “let’s come up with an ending of some sort and we’ll get around to dealing with it later, maybe”.  Apparently Benny had been trapped in some sort of sentient book and suspected that it had been a trap designed especially for her.  For a trap it seemed overly elaborate and unnecessarily complicated (so, on that front, I guess it ties in with a lot of Who etc) but I didn’t really buy it.  The opening of the story also serves to highlight something that really is becoming something of an issue in the range.  Looking back over the last few seasons, Benny’s been tortured, chased, seen her home invaded and had it suggested that her son isn’t going to be a nice person.  Yet she still seems… well, Benny.  Nothing about her seems to have changed, she doesn’t seem to have been affected that much by things and everything seems to be reset at the end of every story.  I hadn’t actually considered this that much, until this story went out of its way to point it out…. Ooooops.

So that was season 5.  Not Benny’s finest set of stories, one clear highlight and an awful lot of missed opportunities.  Or, in the case of Masquerade, opportunities that weren’t even really there to begin with.

The 14 Days of A (1)

The Avengers

Okay, so starting with “A” means that the start of the two weeks on this letter gets off to an almost guaranteed brilliant start with four episodes of The Avengers.  My original plan had been to go for four episodes I’ve not seen or hadn’t seen that many times but things got a little changed for the second episode I picked.  Anyway, starting with a season two episode (it’s the season I only got on DVD a short while ago and still haven’t fully worked through), I decided it was time for a Venus revisiting. 

Venus Smith seems to get a bad press a lot of the time but I really rather like her.  There’s something about Steed having a singing sidekick that already sets The Avengers aside from other spy series.  The Avengers always had style but what little I’ve seen and heard about season one suggests it might have been far more run of the mill than future years.  Season two, the season of many side kicks, has a bit more of a sense of fun about it (probably because Steed “discovers” female company).  “School for Traitors” is still, at heart, a rather bog standard story of public school, spies, deadly face cream and lizards.  Not in that order and with a few upper class accents in there as well but hell, it’s quite a fluffy romp.  It was chosen mostly at random and I didn’t actually have very high expectations for it but it easily kept me entertained for 50 minutes or so. Perhaps every series should have their own night club singer popping up every now and then to liven things up!

I’d planned to do a Cathy Gale that I wasn’t too familiar with but then I remembered it’s just been New Year’s Eve (how could I forget that???) so I plumped for the rather brilliant “Dressed to Kill”.  There’s a party (there’s always a party in Steed’s life but this time we get to see it), there’s fancy dress, there’s Leonard Rossiter and government secrets.  By season three we’re definitely into the spies with style territory but this one is more Agatha Christie than James Bond but it just oozes Avengers charm.  It also got “reworked” into an Emma Peel story called “The Superlative Seven” so, of course, I just had to watch that one next.  Amazingly, even with the presence of Brian Blessed in the cast, I didn’t have to reach for the volume control once!  Steed’s at another party (this time on a plane rather than the black and white train) and it’s a similar premise (invite from an old friend but everyone got invited by different people) but this one is much more brutal. People get stabbed, shot, run down… all kinds of grisly deaths get delivered in “And Then There Were None” style.  It’s good fun trying to guess who the killer’s going to be (ummmm, if you’ve not seen it before, best forget I just made that ATTWN comparison) and Donald Sutherland is VERY creepy at times. 

Miss King wears a blond wig, well she needs to so that the old and new footage mixes together well to form “Invasion of the Earthmen”.  It’s weird.  Seriously weird.  There’s a training ground with spacemen, students trying to kill each other and a spinning mobile that I’m guessing is supposed to be a solar system but looks more like a Christmas tree ornament. Astronaut soldiers are being trained so that humans can take over other worlds.  Successful solders get cryogenically frozen and unsuccessful ones get fed to snakes.  For a Tara King episode it’s surprisingly dark, well it’s green and purple décor but it’s quite a bleak episode on the grounds I can see it being the sort of thing that certain powers might even consider.  I was expecting lightness and daftness from Tara, I forgot what the original premise had been.  An unexpectedly militaristic end to the night… but a damn good night it was.

Next time…. More stuff beginning with “A”.  Might go for a movie next time.  No.  I couldn’t.  I mean I’ve given up the drink, I couldn’t possibly do that sober… could I?

The Start of "14 Days of..."

Right, I have several New Year's Resolutions and this year I plan to stick to them (sticking to them being the first resolution).  The ones you need to know about are
1) update this blog more often
2) finish Benny
3) go through my stupidly large DVD collection and re-watch loads of it.

1 leads nicely into 2 and I figure that 3 might as well feed in as well.  I could, of course, just pick things at random off the shelf to watch but that doesn't seem to tie in with the way my brain works.  If it works that is. So I thought I'd try and find some sort of way of keeping things mixed up (so I actually keep watching stuff rather than just pick one series etc).  So I figured I might as well do them in some sort of order... alphabetical order.  Ish.

52 weeks to the year, 26 letters to the alphabet... so that's two weeks per letter. And as we've just had the 12 Days of Christmas (well, we're still having them as I write but they'll soon be over) so why not go for "The 14 Days of...."  So, over the next two weeks I'll be randomly re-watching things beginning with the letter A, then the two weeks after that I'll be re-watching things beginning with B and so on.  The two weeks of Q might involve a LOT of Quatermass but we'll see what happens when I get there.  They won't be in alphabetical order within the letter, that would be obscenely complicated.... but random TV and movies beginning with that letter.

I'm also feeling very lazy tonight, so "The 14 Days of A" begins with....