Monday, 13 December 2010

Pet Shop Boys News


Tickets are now on sale for performances of The Most Incredible Thing, a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. This new ballet (choreographed by Javier De Fruto) has original music by Messrs Tennant and Lowe. The first run at Sadler's Wells in London is from March 17-26 2011. Follow this link http://http://www.sadlerswells.com/standalonevideo.php? for a video about the ballet's inception, and a music demo. A double CD produced by the PSB and Sven Helbig, and a world tour are planned for next year.
The Performing Rights Society have organised an auction of handwritten lyrics by some of the UK's best songwriters and composers, including Paul McCartney and Gary Barlow. All proceeds will go to the Teenage Cancer Trust, and Neil Tennant has written the lyrics to It's a Sin, Being Boring, and Your Funny Uncle, in a leather-bound notebook (pictured above), which will be sold at Bonham's in London this Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Boy's latest single, Together, only peaked at number 58 in the UK chart.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Doctor Who Vs. Coronation Street


In honour of that other British television institution, Coronation Street, my latest Versus blog is my own little tribute to a true legend of the small-screen. After the first episode (repeated on ITV last Monday) went out in 1960, Ken Irwin of the Daily Mirror wrote this "grim... programme is doomed." Russell T Davies however, said that Corrie is "the best writing school in the world."
Tomorrow night's live episode marks the show's 50th anniversary, and this week's explosive £1M storyline was masterminded by ex-Who producer Phil Collinson, Who director Graeme Harper, and Who SFX maestros, the Mill.
The first cast connections here are Doctor Who companion actors:
  • William Russell [real name Russell Enoch] (Rita's husband, Ted Sullivan in 1992) played Susan's science teacher, Ian Chesterton, from An Unearthly Child to The Chase
  • Frazer Hines (Roger Wain, 1965) was Jamie McCrimmon, introduced in The Highlanders, 1966, and last seen in The Two Doctors, 1985
  • Elizabeth Sladen (Anita Reynolds, 1970) has portrayed Sarah Jane Smith since The Time Warrior in 1973
  • Mary Tamm (Polly Ogden, 1973) was the first incarnation of TimeLady, Romana, in the Key to Time season of 1978/79
  • Bruno Langley (Eileen's gay son, Todd Grimshaw, 2000-07) was Adam Mitchell in Dalek, and The Long Game
  • David Brierley (the voice of K9) and John Levene (U.N.I.T. regular, Benton, from 1968) also had small roles in Corrie

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Invasion Revisited


42 years after The Invasion was shown, Cybermen returned to London this week to publicise the new Doctor Who Experience, which opens at Olympia next February. Promoters recreated one of the programme's most famous sequences, when Cybus-men revisited St. Pauls.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol Preview


This week the BBC released the synopsis of this year's Christmas Special, written by Steven Moffat and loosely based on Charles Dickens' novella A Christmas Carol (1843):
"Amy and Rory are trapped on a crashing spaceliner and the only way the Doctor can rescue them is to save the soul of a lonely old miser... But is Kazran Sardick, the richest man in Sardicktown, beyond redemption? And what is lurking in the fogs of Christmas Eve?"
The cast includes Sir Michael Gambon (famous for playing Philip Marlow in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective (1986) and now mainly recognised from his role as Hogwarts Professor, Albus Dumbledore since 2004) as the older Kazran, and Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins in her first acting role, as Abigail.
Pooky Quesnal (recently seen in Accused with Christopher Eccleston) plays the Captain; Laurence Belcher (appeared with Arthur Darvill and Freema Ageyman in Little Dorrit) is the Young Kazran; Tim Plester is the Chief Servant; Stephen North (a series regular in ITV's London's Burning) is Older Benjamin; Micah Balfour (a regular on the last 5 years of The Bill) is the Co-Pilot; Danny Horn is the Middle Kazran; and Nick Malinowski plays Eric.
IMDB also lists Peter Bowles (known for the BBC sitcom, To the Manor Born), Leo Bill, Laura Rogers, and Bailey Pepper as cast members.
So what have we gleaned from the trailer?
On a stormy planet that looks Victorian-themed, its nearly Christmas, and its snowing. The story features Kazran at three different points in his life, and the Doctor seems to visit him like the ghosts who appear to Scrooge. We see the youngest Kazran discover Abigail, frozen in some kind of stasis. The 'middle' Kazran is then being observed through a circular window by the Doctor, who tells him "whatever happens tonight, remember, you brought it on yourself." Behind the Doctor, a huge shark-like fin glides past. Many years later, the Doctor makes a memorable entrance, Santa-style, emerging from the chimney into Old Kazran's big, empty house. He informs Kazran, "I'm the ghost of Christmas Past," and just like Scrooge, Kazran despises Christmas.
As for the TARDIS honey-mooners, Amy at first intriguingly remarks "Time can be rewritten..." and the old man replies "...People can't." Then Amy (here in her old police uniform) and Rory (dressed as a Roman centurion again), are seen on the bridge of a crashing spacecraft.
A Christmas Carol (again an hour long) is scheduled to be shown at 6pm, on BBC1 on Christmas Day. The DVD release is set for January 24th 2011, and the soundtrack CD is available next February.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 Review


As a family, we've watched all of the previous six installments of the Harry Potter series on their opening nights, so yesterday we visited our local Cineworld, just a day later than we'd planned.
I was pleased when Warner announced that it would adapt J K Rowling's final novel in two parts, because so much material was excised from all of her other books. But this new film does actually drag in places, and my favoured cut-off point of the book isn't the rather lack-lustre cliff-hanger presented here (although it does set-up Part 2 well enough).
So, just those two complaints aside, this is still one of the best and most moving Harry Potter movies, and is certainly the most adult and darkest in tone. A very sad prologue sees Hermione safeguarding her (previously unseen) parents, by employing that great sci-fi motif of removing herself from their memories.
One of it's first and finest achievements is conveying the total and palpable fear that the witches and wizards in Malfoy Manor hold for Voldemort, made grimmer still by the setting's near black and white filmic quality.
It's not only the three lead actors and their much loved characters that have grown-up since these films began in 2000, the franchise now seems to have reached adulthood. The Deathly Hallows further explores the sexual tension between Harry and Ginnie, Ron and Hermione, even Harry and Hermione (the closest the series has ever got to a sex scene is seen, when Voldemort goads Ron).
The truly shocking murders of Hogwarts teacher, Burbage, and Dobby the House Elf, and Bellatrix's torture of Hermione are all worthy of a horror flick. Even the so-effective animated tale of the three Peverell brothers plays out like an adult graphic novel. The ever gothic Ministry of Magic has adopted a strict racial stance against Muggles, and now features Kafkaesque employees, and Orwellian style media control (the Daily Prophet is just like 1930's German propoganda). Here, Umbridge appears, again undertaking her famous 'Inquisitions' with Dementors in attendance.
With the action soon centred around the trio's lonely travels, our heroes initially resemble wartime evacuees (like the children in Disney's first Narnia film), then later, actual resistence fighters fleeing Gestapo style Snatchers. The wizarding world really is at war, and this is more or less a war film. Voldemort and his Death Eaters, akin to that ultimate 'baddie' Hitler and his Nazis, are pursuing their own Final Solution.
There is a minimalist approach to many of the location scenes, which typically depicts just the heroes' lonely tent set against an almost constant monochrome autumnal or winter landscape. This stark and bleak atmosphere only adds to the nature of the trio's quest.
The film completely sums-up the age-old battle between good/light and evil/dark with it's sombre settings given prominence, but it's not all dark. There are lighter moments, usually involving Ron, and the overall result is pure magical Potter Noir. Roll on July for Part 2.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Total SciFi Online Poll


In April of last year, respected genre website Total SciFi Online announced that Doctor Who was the winner of their poll to find the best TV sci-fi theme tune ever. Now their latest survey has named Who as the greatest Sci-Fi & Fantasy TV Show (see the Top 100 list here http://http://totalscifionline.com/features/5769-the-100-greatest-sci-fi-fantasy-tv-shows).
Here is the Top 10:
1) DOCTOR WHO
2) Star Trek Original Series
3) The Twilight Zone
4) The X Files
5) The Prisoner
6) Buffy the Vampire Slayer
7) Battlestar Galactica
8) The Quatermass Experiment
9) Star Trek TNG
10) Babylon 5

Rewind The 60's


Yesterday's edition of BBC1's Rewind the 60's took viewers back to 1963, and of course a clip from An Unearthly Child was inevitable. When examining another 60's icon, the lava lamp (invented by Edward Craven-Walker), a second Doctor Who excerpt was shown to illustrate the huge versions specially commissioned for The Wheel In Space (1968).

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Radio Times Doctor Who Poll


Weekly TV listings magazine Radio Times has today released the results of it's latest Doctor Who poll, and listed the Doctor's most popular travelling companions. Unsurprisingly, NuWho's first (and to date, the longest serving) companion, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) heads the survey. Runner-up, and old fan favourite, Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elizabeth Sladen since 1973) is the most loved Classic series assistant, closely followed by the ever popular K9 (voiced by John Leeson), both highly placed no doubt due to the success of CBBC's The Sarah Jane Adventures. Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), newest TARDIS crewmember Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), and (thanks to Torchwood), Captain Jack (John Barrowman) complete the Top 6 positions. The full listing can be found at http://http://www.radiotimes.com/blogs/1103-doctor-who-billie-piper-rose-tyler-voted-best-companion/, and even includes the Doctor's helpers from the Specials. Guess who's ranked last at number 48? Anyway, here's the top 10:
1) Rose Tyler
2) Sarah Jane Smith
3) Donna Noble
4) K9
5) Amy Pond
6) Capt. Jack Harkness
7) Ace [McShane]
8) Leela of the Sevateem
9) Jo Grant
10) The Brigadier

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Just Chill, Mr Gill!


As a Whovian, an article in this week's Sunday Times was of great interest to me. Controversial television critic A A Gill bemoans the lack of good British TV writers in Why our TV is in my sights. He claims that homegrown drama (particularly the BBC's) has regressed, is cliche-ridden, and "is stuck in the 1970's". One favoured target is Doctor Who, which he decscribes as "a pensionable children's programme that has sucked up a huge budget to make gratifying teenage excitement out of empty, silly Edwardian stories. It's production team have been used to outsource both Sherlock [Holmes] and Torchwood. Doctor Who and Austen/Dickens together account for the greatest slice of the BBC's drama budget".
Doctor Who in fact earns millions of pounds for the Corporation in overseas sales alone, and is currently one of the largest TV franchise in the world, so chill Gill!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Pet Shop Boys 'Ultimate' Deluxe Edition


Received my pre-ordered copy of this new PSB greatest hits CD and DVD yesterday, and far from actually being their Ultimate singles collection, it's still faultless! The DVD contains many of their BBC TV appearances, from the Boys' first time on Top of the Pops, upto this years's glorious Glastonbury concert. For me, the best video here has to be Can You Forgive Her? Typical PSB! The CD of course includes the superlative new single, Together (released 29/11) which rounds off 25 years of hits in style. My favourite track though, remains What Have I Done To Deserve This! Left to their own devices, the Pet Shop Boys are the ultimate British pop band of the last 3 decades.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Doctor Who-Ever?


It was during The Deadly Assassin (1976) that we learnt TimeLords are able to 'regenerate' only twelve times before they die. Fandom and viewers alike have therefore always assumed that the Doctor's 13th body would be his last, but a passing comment in The Sarah Jane Adventures later this month will redefine TV history by now making the Doctor immortal!
In the 2-part CBBC spin-off story, The Death of the Doctor, Clyde (one of ex-companion Sarah Jane Smith's proteges) asks the current Doctor how many times he can regenerate. The Doctor casually indicates that there is in fact no limit.
Way back in Tom Baker's tenure, Doctor No. 13 would have seemed light years away, but with the 11th Doctor now here, moving the goal-posts was inevitable.
Only recently, JK Rowling admitted that once a hero has conquered the world, he [Harry Potter] never truly goes away. Even Conan Doyle was forced to resurrect Sherlock Holmes from the dead.
Does the last of the TimeLords now share the same ability to live forever, as Captain Jack Harkness? I suspect that Torchwood creator Russell T Davies has wanted to address this issue since Doctor Who returned in 2005.
Unlike the late 1980's, the present BBC execs are thankfully reluctant to end their ever expanding flagship drama programme.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Renaissance of the Pet Shop Boys


2009 turned out to be a year of consolidation for Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. At the BRITS in February they collected a well-earned Outstanding Contribution to Music Award. A month later saw the release of Yes, their best-selling album in 13 years, then in the summer they launched a worldwide stadium tour.
They could well ask What Have I Done To Deserve This? After 25 years of mixed fortune, the Pet Shop Boys are most definately worthy of such accolades.
Since West End Girls reached No. 1 (the first of 4 in the UK) in 1985, Messrs Tennant and Lowe have secured 43 Top 40 hits, and sold over 100 million records. The Pet Shop Boys are the most successful duo in UK music history, and the biggest British act on the US Dance Chart with 10 number 1's there. Next month, the Boys release Ultimate, their 17th album, and 56th single, Together.


Yes is the 10th studio album, and spawned 3 singles (Beautiful People was only issued in Germany). Personally, this is probably my favourite Pet Shop Boys album, the best songs being Did You See Me Coming? and should-have-been-a-single Pandemonium. For me, track 2, All Over The World (with it's brilliant Tchaikovsky sampling), typifies everything the Boys are about: this is a joyous celebration of their global appeal.


The 14-month Pandemonium tour took in 88 performances in 31 countries, and I was lucky enough to attend the Liverpool and Manchester dates. The London show at the O2 arena last December was filmed, and released on DVD this year.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Review of 'October Skies' by Alex Scarrow


This is the second novel by Alex Scarrow that I've read, and it's a thoroughly rivetting and fascinating read. Just like 'A Thousand Suns', it's set over two timelines, and centres around a group of settlers whose wagon train vanished in the winter of 1856. Fast forward to 2008, where two English documentary-makers discover a settler's diary in the remains of the convoy deep in the mountain forests of Wyoming. Throw into this mix, Indians, Mormon history, Ben Lambert's diary entries, a Presidential candidate with a serious skeleton-in-his-closet, and a serial killer in disguise (resembling the "monster" in 'The Village' film). Incidentally, the reveal of the murderer reminded me of the resolution to Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None". Highly recommended, can't wait to read 'Last Light' and it's sequel 'After Light'.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Genesis of Doctor Who

I've just started reading Timeless Adventures: How Doctor Who Conquered TV by Brian J Robb, and quickly concluded just how fortunate we Whovians are that the programme was made at all.

It seems that the old-guard at the BBC of 1963 were determined for Doctor Who to fail, and only for it's defenders, Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert et al, then the embryonic show would have fallen at the first hurdle.

Fast forward to the first Dalek story's transmission, and the powers-that-be thankfully reacted by abandoning the show's intended 13-week lifespan.

Only after reading the production notes on The Rescue DVD this week did I learn that by August 1964, Donald Baverstock again wanted to revert the Doctor Who contract to just 13 weeks, and cancel the show when all remaining stories finished in January 1965.

Only when Lambert and William Hartnell's agent dug in their heels did Baverstock finally agree to another, 26-week run, by which time the programme's long term future was secured. The threat of cancellation would however revisit the programme in times of crisis. As The War Games concluded the black & white era in 1969, the BBC considered a 6 year run to have been a good innings and there was some internal debate about whether to axe Doctor Who. The lowest point in the show's history was the 'hiatus' of 1985 when Michael Grade 'rested' the Doctor's adventures for 18 months, then the end finally arrived in 1989 with outright cancellation.

It's hard to believe that the programme could have ended after serial K (ie. just 51 episodes), and was so close to becoming a footnote in TV history.

Monday, 6 September 2010

And the greatest single of all time is... Being Boring!

Yes, according to the Guardian’s Music Blog Being Boring by the Pet Shop Boys is the greatest single of all time. “No one thought that when it came out” admits Neil Tennant himself. BB only peaked at number 20 in the UK chart of November 1990.
The Guardian is right in saying that this attempt at emulating the Stock Aitken & Waterman formula actually results in a mature and panoramic song. Key to it’s many themes for me, BB is indeed “about growing up” and I love the typically ironic title, since the Boys are usually perceived as “boring”. Although melancholic, the PSB have never seemed so hedonistic.



But greatest single ever? As a Pethead since Day 1 I’m biased, although I wouldn’t even consider BB to be the Boys best work. Some YouTube commentators insist that Jealousy is their best song, and I tend to agree that it’s amazing classical flourishes are grander.Personally, I prefer the (rather pretentious) Shakespearean intro of the Extended Mix of Jealousy to the hand-written prologue of BB. Here, Tennant delivers a line from Othello:
“Not poppy nor mandragora/Nor all the drowsy syrups of the east/Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep/Which thou owedst yesterday”.
The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers comments in A Life in Pop (DVD, 2006) that BB is a modern version of the Beatles' In My Life. Praise indeed. Apparently MTV didn't like the video for BB, because it was made in black and white, and it didn't really feature the artists. However, this fan-favourite (directed by Bruce Weber) is now regarded as a masterpiece.
My own favourite PSB track has to be the first of their collaborations with Dusty Springfield, What Have I Done to Deserve This? Released in August 1987, this single reached No. 2 in both the UK and the US.