THE AVENGERS - 50th Anniversary Celebration: 25 & 26 June 2011


This summer is going to be very special if you're a fan of The Avengers. The University of Chichester is mounting what will probably be the greatest gathering of The Avengers alumni to celebrate the show's 50th Anniversary.

This event takes place over the weekend of 25th and 26th June at the University of Chichester and will feature live interviews, screenings, signings, exhibitions, book stores, parties and much much more. An incredible line up of actors, writers, directors and producers will be present and will feature in a number of guest panels.

CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Mara Tales - Kinda & Snakedance / DVD Review

February 1982

“You can’t mend people!”
"There's always something to look at if you open your eyes!" 

Back in 1982 Christopher Bailey's Kinda left a great many confused Doctor Who fans trailing in its wake. Not only that, but much negative opinion about the story centred on one particularly bad special effect in the final episode. That was enough for a number of viewers to dismiss it outright even though many excellent Doctor Who stories have, before and since Kinda, been at the mercy of an unconvincing Skarasen puppet, an oversized prop rat or badly realised magma monsters and Abzorbaloffs. Even the CGI dominated world of the latest series doesn't always get away with it.

Another aspect to this which may have raised the ire of fans, or just bored the pants off them, back in 1982 was that Kinda was regarded as intelligent and literary enough to have Manuel Alvarado and John Tulloch wax lyrical, in a structuralist and semiological bent, about Bailey's story in 1983's Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text. In the book, Alvarado and Tulloch position the story in relation to the fiction of Ursula K. LeGuin, a science fiction writer noted for the multicultural, feminist, sociological and anthropological themes of her work, to Buddhist and Christian religious mythology and parables and Jungian theory.

NICHOLAS COURTNEY: 16 December 1929 – 22 February 2011

February has been a bit of a bugger. Not only have we lost those wonderful character actors T.P. McKenna and Alfred Burke but this morning the news broke that the much loved Nicholas Courtney has now gone to join that U.N.I.T family in the sky.

Nicholas, who has died at the age of 81, was a firm favourite with Doctor Who fans for his portrayal of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Yes, he of the infamous eye patch anecdote and the "Chap with wings there...five rounds rapid" quote. However, prior to cementing his popularity with Doctor Who fans in the 1970s, he made appearances in many well known television shows of the late 1960s and 1970s, including The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), The Champions and The Saint. In the 1980s he could also be spotted in Minder, All Creatures Great and Small, Yes, Prime Minister and Only Fools and Horses and most recently in The Bill and Doctors.

He had the honour of working with all of the classic era Doctors and began his association with the programme, playing Space Security Agent Bret Vyon alongside William Hartnell's Doctor, in 1965's The Daleks' Master Plan. Director Douglas Camfield so enjoyed Nick's performance that he initially cast him as Captain Knight in 1968's classic Patrick Troughton serial The Web of Fear. When David Langton, the original choice for the then introduction of Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, had to relinquish the role, Nick was offered the part.

In the later serial The Invasion, the Colonel was promoted to Brigadier and the template for the Jon Pertwee era of Earth-based dramas was created. Nick became a regular on the show when it moved into colour and Barry Letts took over as producer in 1970. The U.N.I.T family of the Doctor (now played by Pertwee), the Brigadier, Jo Grant, Benton and Yates and the constant sparring with Roger Delgado's character The Master become the stuff of legend and this period of the show is held dear to the hearts of many older fans.

Nick continued in the role of the Brigadier into the first season of Tom Baker's stories but, by 1975, Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes had decided to phase out the Earth bound stories and U.N.I.T, without the complete line-up of Brigadier, Benton and Yates, was featured sporadically until the concept was dropped entirely. He eventually reprised the character in Mawdryn Undead in 1983 and joined the 20th Anniversary story The Five Doctors, appearing alongside Troughton, Pertwee, Davison and Richard Hurndall, who recreated Hartnell's original Doctor. Nick made his final appearance in the series in 1989's Battlefield where McCoy's Doctor adroitly informed the Brigadier he was supposed to die in bed rather than meet his fate at the hands of the Destroyer.

Since then he maintained his links with the series by appearing as Lethbridge-Stewart in the Children in Need special Dimensions in Time, sharing the screen with Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, and the fan-produced Downtime. He also returned to the the role in Big Finish's series of audio plays, working again with Colin Baker and for the first time with the Paul McGann version of the Doctor (who he hadn't appeared on screen with) and performing with the then future Doctor, David Tennant. Alas, he didn't manage to make an appearance as Lethbridge-Stewart in the revival of the series, despite several mentions of the character in passing, but did star as Sir Alistair with Elisabeth Sladen in The Sarah Jane Adventures, returning in the two part 2008 series finale Enemy of the Bane.

Perhaps of greater importance was his enthusiastic support of the fan community, symbolised in his honorary presidency of The Doctor Who Appreciation Society, and he was a regular convention attendee, regaling audiences time and again with his memories of working on the show in the 1960s and 1970s. Always welcoming, always dedicated and a gentleman to boot, Nicholas Courtney will be greatly missed.

"Trap One to Greyhound Leader. Over and out."

Official site

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BEING HUMAN - Series 3, Episode 5: The Longest Day / Review


BBCHD - 20 February 2011 - 9.00pm

"Pissing Jenga"

"At a wild guess I'd say they want to know how my Uncle Billy from Bristol came to be in a Barry psych ward."

"You need to come to Barry. You need to talk to a man called John Mitchell."

As 'Johnny Remember Me' wafts through the psychiatric care unit at the beginning of this week's episode and George claps eyes on the resurrected form of Herrick, you get the feeling that no matter where they run, our housemates will never outrun their past lives.

With Rowan Joffe's remake now in cinemas, Optimum have dusted off the original version of Brighton Rock, directed and produced by the Boulting brothers in 1947, and released it on the Blu-ray high definition format.

Scripted by Graham Greene and Terrence Rattigan, the Boultings had not only originally shown interest in the serialisation of Greene's original novel back in 1939 but then had bought the rights to the stage version by Frank Harvey, where Richard Attenborough had first taken on the role of spiv gangster Pinkie Brown.

Greene had written the novel in 1937 and his tale of racecourse racketeers and criminal gangs swirling around in a dark underworld beneath the bright lights of Brighton reflected much of the inter-gang warfare that had come to public attention in the decade leading up to the release of the film.

As well as providing an expose on the corruption beneath the veneer of British respectability, Greene's book was also the first of his cycle of books that deal with religious themes and Brighton Rock's contrasting of light and dark, good and evil arguably goes hand in hand with his proposal that the story is about the contrast between the secular world, epitomised by the character of Ida Arnold and the main character Pinkie's sense of Catholic sin.

RETRO-ACTION! 1 - The Cool Age of TV in High Definition / Blu-ray Review

After the splendid work they did on bringing high definition transfers of The Prisoner and the first series of Space:1999 to Blu-ray, Network now turn their attention to the rest of the ITC back catalogue in 2011.

In February, they release three volumes, as web exclusives, of Retro-Action! as a taster for the full box sets to come of some of the best known and well loved adventure series made for British television in the 1960s and 1970s.

I've been lucky enough to look through the contents of the first volume that contains episodes from The Champions (1968-69), Department S (1969-70), Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969-70), Strange Report (1969-70) and The Persuaders! (1971).

As you can see from the line-up on this first volume there is a focus on the major producing partnership between Monty Berman and writer Dennis Spooner whose company Scoton Productions, formed in 1967, created The Champions, Department S and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) for Lew Grade's ITC. While, as James Chapman notes in his study of the British spy-fi adventure genre Saints and Avengers, many of these programmes met with much critical opprobrium at the time of their transmission, their appeal to audiences of the time seems to have survived by dint of nostalgia.

Scoton's output is still highly regarded by telefantasy fans even though most of these programmes lasted barely one season. In the end they remain a testament to Berman and particularly to Spooner whose writing career spanned everything from Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds and Stingray, to Doctor Who and The Avengers as well as the creation of many enduring ITC adventure series.

BEING HUMAN - Series 3, Episode 4: The Pack / Review

S P O I L E R S 

BBCHD - 13 February 2011 - 9.00pm

"Until NHS Direct get back to me about my pregnant werewolf query, we have no other option."

“Well, lucky she’s dead already. Saves you the trouble of killing her one day.”

"Only a vampire would curse in front of ladies."

"Conceived doggy-style, I presume."

John Jackson's episode immediately sets out its store in the opening flashback. We've been waiting for the return of McNair and his son Tom since Lia because it seemed likely they would be the 'werewolf shaped bullet' bringing Mitchell's life to an end. Interestingly, Jackson takes us back some 15 years to when Tom was a young boy and symbolically underlines what will be the major theme of the episode about Tom's maturing masculinity in relation to McNair's role of the proxy parent and George and Nina's own concern, as parents, for the safety of their unborn child.

HE'S MY GIRL (La Folle Histoire D'Amour De Simon Eskenazy) / DVD Review

Antoine de Caunes... remember him?

You probably do from his long stint as the host and presenter of Channel 4's Eurotrash, a weekly magazine programme that delved into the dirty and downright weird of European culture and ran between 1993 and 2007, and previously as presenter of BBC2's cultural magazine programme Rapido in 1988. Since then, de Caunes has become a respected actor and director.

One of his first successes, bagging him a César nomination for Best Actor in 1999, was in writer-director Jean-Jacques Zilbermann's  Man is a Woman (L'homme est une Femme Comme les Autres, 1998).

There he played Klezmer musician Simon Eskanazy, an Orthodox Jew struggling with his gay identity, continually drawn to young men, visiting gay saunas and eventually becoming attracted to his uncle's son but constantly forced to conform by his orthodox family. When he rejects his conservative family's pressure to marry, his father, a Parisian banker, cuts him off completely. Simon does eventually marry and secures his inheritance but the marriage to Rosalie falls apart and she departs for New York, pregnant with his child.


The Ark
March 1966

"Take them away to the security kitchen!"

The Ark represents something of a watershed for the series and perhaps along with Galaxy Four in the same season suggests a shift in the way Doctor Who would eventually treat the science fiction elements within its format. Looking back at the previous two seasons of the programme much of the science fiction was firmly rooted in the type of stories that wouldn't look out of place in the populist form of the genre that existed between the 1930s and 1950s.

The series was more or less echoing Flash Gordon, Dan Dare and much of the pulp material of the period in its futuristic stories where science fiction was simply regarded as the transplantation of the standard adventure story to alien environments.  The so called 'hard science fiction' ushered in by John W Campbell Jnr. at Astounding Stories or the 'New Wave' of science fiction championed by British magazine New Worlds hadn't really impacted to a large degree on Doctor Who. With The Ark we see the series attempting some form of fertilisation between the pulp and speculative fictions informing the genre.
'greatest hits of H.G. Wells' 
And yet in 1960, when the BBC's script department had explored the potential for science fiction drama, ultimately leading up to the creation of Doctor Who, its own Survey Group, while acknowledging the popularity of the pulpier forms of the genre on the big screen, were keen to propose a series in which a more highbrow SF would be presented. They were ultimately beaten to it by ABC's Dumb Martian pilot for an anthology series that would be screened as Out of This World (1962) but the BBC would, however, turn to this anthology form in the sister series Out of the Unknown (1965-1971) when the high concepts it was in search of never made it into the early seasons of Doctor Who.

This month the BFI releases another double bill from the roster of British films produced and made by Adelphi in the early 1950s. This time we have a pair of films from director John Guillermin. He's probably best known for I Was Monty's Double (1958) and The Blue Max (1966) and later for his Irwin Allen blockbuster The Towering Inferno (1974) the remake of King Kong (1976) and the Agatha Christie thriller Death on the Nile (1978).

Adelphi Films was founded by Arthur Dent and he managed the company with his two sons, Stanley and David. Through the 1940s and 1950s it produced and distributed feature films, 37 of which now form a collection that is held and preserved by the BFI.

The Crowded Day (1954) is a wonderful ensemble piece, focusing on the women and men who work in a big department store, with elements of kitchen sink drama and romantic comedy combined together and deftly handled by a young Guillermin. This was Adelphi exec Arthur Dent's attempt to position Adelphi as a maker of A pictures (many of the company's films were made as B pictures to share the bill with another A picture) and to show that they could compete with the bigger British studios. He certainly gathered together an amazing cast, many of whom were expensively hired from Rank, and David Dent also secured a day's filming at Bourne and Hollingworth department store in London. The footage included in the film certainly gives the drama verisimilitude and a sense of scale.

THE PANDORICA OPENS - DWM Non-Fiction Book Review

I know... I can't stop harping on about my book - Doctor Who - The Pandorica Opens: Exploring the Worlds of the Eleventh Doctor. But then it's so good to see it get a very favourable review in this month's Doctor Who Magazine. Very flattered to be included in Issue 431's review section. Thanks!

While I'm here I feel it only fair to mention a couple of rather spiffing things in the current issue apart from my book getting the thumbs up.

There are two excellent interviews this month. One with Mark Gatiss who, refreshingly, does have some reservations about 'that' Dalek design and talks very briefly about his forthcoming episode of the new series and the plans for the second series of Sherlock.

The other interview you should read is the one with Janet Fielding. As ever she's outspoken about her time in Doctor Who, her relationship with Tom Baker and Matthew Waterhouse and how the production treated all of the young actors on the show in the 1980s. I like Janet. She speaks her mind.

Both interviews are perceptive, well written pieces, often referring back to comments made by both parties in previous interviews and succeed in getting beyond the pat answers to pat questions that tend to litter similar interviews elsewhere.

There is also a very passionately argued Production Notes from Steven Moffat where he takes to task Stephen Fry, Jimmy McGovern and Trevor Eve for their recent comments about the series which have decried the show for being 'junk food', 'just for kids' or having too much money spent on it.

While I may wish to debate in specific terms about the standard of the recent series (and you can read all about it in my book - go, on, you know you want to) on the whole I tend to agree with many of Mr. Moffat's views about Doctor Who in that foreword.

By the way, if any of you are ordering Doctor Who - The Pandorica Opens then I suggest you go straight to the publisher Classic TV Press and buy it there. Amazon currently says 'temporarily out of stock' but believe me, it isn't. It's Amazon's bizarre system that's chucking that message out. You can still order there or via Amazon Marketplace, or in fact from Galaxy Four, The Who Shop and other on-line outlets, but it's cheaper and quicker via the publisher. Enjoy!

Doctor Who Magazine 431 is in the shops now. 

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BEING HUMAN - Series 3, Episode 3: Type 4 / Review

S P O I L E R S 

BBCHD - 6 February 2010 - 9.00pm

"You rescued her from hell"

"I think someone's in denial. How can she not know that she's dead?"

"Oh, what? We're a supernatural B&B now are we? What next? A mummy?"

So we get to discover what exactly was going on in the sealed off mortuary with the rather amusing pre-titles sequence taking us back two weeks in time to the grisly awakening of the zombified Sasha (a show stealing central performance from Alexandra Roach). The third episode of this current series once again focuses on the characters rather than delivering a grand narrative in the style of the Jaggat/Kemp arc. As I pointed out last week the tone is much closer to the first year's stories and Type 4 is no exception, with writer Jamie Mathieson delivering perhaps the best episode so far that explores the very human consequences of Mitchell's rescue of Annie, sex between consenting werewolves and the blackest exploration of human foibles and frailties.

CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: Time and the Rani

Time And The Rani

September 1987

'Every dogma has it's day!'

And that fan favourite...'Leave the girl, it's the man I want!'

By 1987, Doctor Who found itself in the unenviable position of being unloved save by the most die hard of its remaining fans. The 18 month hiatus imposed by Michael Grade and the very public sacking of Colin Baker had certainly taken their toll. The series had diminished in the popular consciousness. Clearly the BBC fifth floor disliked the show... I mean, why else schedule it against Coronation Street like a token sacrificial lamb? No, the series was unpopular with the movers and shakers and they needed the excuse of poor viewing figures to quietly retire what they saw as an anachronism. Hard as it may be to swallow but perhaps they were right.  

PORTRAIT OF JASON - A film by Shirley Clarke / DVD Review

Here's a wonderful curio that Second Run DVD released back in 2005 and that has only now fallen into my lap. As fantastic a piece of cinéma vérité that you could wish for, this film by avant-garde artist and performer Shirley Clarke deserves to be seen as just as influential a work as the films of "D. A."Pennebaker, the Maysles and Warhol. It transcends a number of forms and genres and is a documentary, a pre-Stonewall gay confessional, an art film and a record of an extraordinary 'performance'.

For over 90 minutes Jason Holliday, who we learn is simply the pseudonym for Aaron Payne, holds court. The camera, as in Warhol's singular cinematic portraits, is fixed on this one man as he slowly unravels under the influence of drink and drugs. It is brutal and voyeuristic and with the goading of Clarke and Jason's friends Carl and Richard from behind the camera it pre-empts much of reality television's territory of ritual humiliation and redemption.

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