CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO - The Edge Of Destruction Part 1


An article recently published in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society's magazine, Celestial Toyroom, issue 371, as part of a tribute to Verity Lambert and here reproduced for your delight and edification. Once again, thanks to Tony Jordan for the encouragement and publishing this material.

THE EDGE OF DESTRUCTION: “What Is Inside, Madam, Is Most Important At The Moment” - Part One
(c) 2009 Frank Collins. If you wish to quote from this article please ask the author's permission.

The Edge Of Destruction is often seen as the runt of the litter amongst the pedigree stories of that first season of Doctor Who. It is cited that these two episodes were both written as a filler between The Daleks and Marco Polo simply because the production team needed more time to get the latter serial ready and were offered as a conclusion to the original commissioned run of 13 episodes. Either way, the requirements were simple – no other standing sets apart from the TARDIS and no other supporting cast were to be employed. The writer David Whitaker, also the series’ script editor at the time, was charged with creating a suitable story to bridge the gap. It’s this notion of using the only available resources to create two episodes that both damns the story and, actually, redeems it amongst fans. It’s either the ‘boring one’ after The Daleks or ‘the weird one’ before Marco Polo depending on your disposition.


Radio Times Listing for 'The Edge of Destruction'


Putting those prejudices aside, The Edge Of Destruction is, very quietly, an unsung masterpiece sitting within the brouhaha of the competing stories in that first year. Whitaker uses the two episodes as an opportunity to forensically examine the main characters and how they interact, to define and then refine their psychological profiles whilst also embracing themes and ideas that the previous 11 episodes had already touched upon; the decline of Empire, the changing roles of men and women in a society that was thawing from the rigid societal strictures of the Second World War; the advent of the nuclear age and the technological ‘white heat’ of the 1950s and 1960s. As well as these contemporary mores, he also swiftly looks back over his shoulder and positions the two episodes within much older traditions; the inextricable link between female sexuality and the Gothic; the aesthetics of the Surrealist movement and the satiric comedy-tragedies of Pirandello.

Four Characters In Search Of An Exit

Scene from 'The Edge Of Destruction'

With the narrative confined to one set, the TARDIS, and the four leading characters of the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara, what immediately strikes the viewer is the very dislocated, often disturbing, way that dialogue and, by extension, the story is delivered and performed throughout, especially during the first ten minutes of the first episode. All of the TARDIS crew seem have suffered a trauma and are unaware of quite who they are and where they are, particularly in relation to each other. The actors are performing in a very theatrical style in an exaggerated environment and, at least in the beginning of the story, are acting completely out of character in order to find their characters. This deliberate mode of expression not only positions the programme within the early traditions of televised drama, where plays were performed live and televised within a facsimile of the theatre’s proscenium arch, but also echoes the meta-theatre of Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search Of An Author.

The play, first performed in 1921, is a commentary on the nature of theatricality, ‘drawing attention to the literal circumstances of its own production, such as the presence of the audience or the fact that the actors are actors, and/or the making explicit of the literary artifice behind the production’. The use of this device, both in Pirandello and in The Edge Of Destruction to an extent, is to ‘de-stabilise realism, to use theatrical tropes to challenge the narrative’s pretension to be real and in doing so call attention to the strangeness, artificiality, illusoriness or arbitrariness’ of the lives we live vicariously through the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan. And Doctor Who has always had an antagonistic relationship between the real and the unreal, the extraordinary and the ordinary. This is simply the series’ own traditions manifesting themselves as the driving force of the narrative. The Edge Of Destruction is almost an in-joke on the series itself because, in the end, a faulty switch on the TARDIS console predicates the entire psychodrama where the lead characters internally define their relationships to each other. The unstable time machine is commenting upon itself, upon the artificiality of television production, and, in this respect, the TARDIS almost behaves like the Manager in Pirandello’s play. It is the agency by which the characters tell their story, enact their play within a play, and reveal their inner-psychological states.
The female and the Gothic


Scene from 'The Brink Of Disaster', Carole Ann Ford and Jacqueline Hill;
Scene from 'The Haunting' (1963) Julie Harris and Claire Bloom


An interesting, and rather undervalued, aspect of The Edge Of Destruction is its placement within the tradition of the Gothic. The mistake that many fans of the series make is to attribute and confine the use of the Gothic in the series to the Hinchcliffe era alone. Received opinion is that the romantic Gothic, as exemplified by Hammer horror films of the late 1950s and 1960s, became an influence on the series at that point. When looking at the Gothic in the context of the series in 1964, the blood and thunder of the then contemporary horror revival undertaken by Hammer isn’t the point of reference. When The Edge Of Destruction was transmitted, the output of Hammer was at its zenith but the Gothic tradition within these Doctor Who episodes not only reflects the psychological and supernatural disturbances as depicted in films like Robert Wise’s The Haunting or Jack Cardiff’s The Innocents, both released before the first Doctor Who story was ever transmitted, but also another post-war film that’s important to bear in mind, Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit which was one of the first Hollywood films to seriously depict mental illness and the institutions set up to deal with them. These films key into an aspect of Gothic horror that The Edge Of Destruction and The Brink Of Disaster flirt and, eventually, subtly resonate with. It is a contemporary Gothic that concerns itself with female subjects and subjectivity but that is weighted with signifiers of hysteria or ‘the madwoman in the attic’ theme rooted in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries Of Udolpho, often cited as a major influence on the Gothic tradition.



Susan is codified at the beginning of the series as an adolescent. She has no permanent home and the only domestic space she inhabits is the TARDIS. She is dominated by the father/grandfather figure of the Doctor and as of An Unearthly Child she must vie for his attention in competition with two other adults, Ian and Barbara. Is it analysing this too much to suggest she is the product of a broken home with an antipathetic relationship to parental figures? Many fans tend to dismiss Susan as an underdeveloped character, often prone to fits of annoying hysterics, betraying a figure that is weak and immature but that immaturity, I would argue, is precisely the point of the character’s struggle for development from the Pilot Episode through to The Dalek Invasion Of Earth. The Doctor himself recognises this and deliberately removes her from her domestic space and places her into the environs of a post-invasion Earth. Susan’s story is one that takes her from a naïve, psychologically contradicted immature teenager, to a sexually aware woman whose dependency has shifted to a younger, male figure and, whilst this may not be particularly well written or defined overall, there are moments when these themes do move to the surface of the drama.


BBC Publicity shot of Carole Ann Ford and William Hartnell

This is one of the main narrative arcs that the character embarks upon that is very rarely examined. It is the classic scenario of ‘a fledging leaving the nest’ and parents, in the 1950s and 1960s, would expect a maturing teenager to find employment, earn their keep, eventually leave the home and arrive at a state of independence. Susan reflects this back to the audience. The Edge Of Destruction is often seen as Whitaker’s attempt to resolve many of the conflicts in the four leading characters, through a rites of passage scenario, and to reposition them, taking them from being a disparate group of reluctant travellers to grudgingly accepting their status as a mutually trusting 'family'. This rites of passage scenario includes conflict between the Doctor and Barbara, in a very powerful scene for Jacqueline Hill, mistrust between Ian, Barbara and the Doctor and, crucially, throwing Susan into conflict with herself, the other adults, and her environment. This reaches an apotheosis in the sequence where Susan threatens Barbara and Ian with a pair of scissors.

Forward to Part Two

THE EDGE OF DESTRUCTION: “What Is Inside, Madam, Is Most Important At The Moment” - Part Two
(c) 2009 Frank Collins. If you wish to quote from this article please ask the author's permission.


Queer readings
In both episodes it’s clear that the two female roles, Barbara and Susan, become aggressive and defensive towards the two male characters, Ian and the Doctor. They are the two characters that emerge first from the ‘disaster’ at the beginning of The Edge Of Destruction and then dominate the narrative through their mother/daughter, teacher/pupil, saint/sinner and masculine/feminine signifying axes. The story combines the anxiety narratives of Barbara and Susan with the highly redolent Gothic melodrama and horror theme of anarchic female sexuality trapped within a ‘haunted house’, here represented by the TARDIS. This emerges as teenage tantrum and disturbing paranoia, as a result of child/adult role confusion and the ongoing traumatic experience within the domestic environment of the TARDIS. The horror/haunted house/Gothic genres are often seen as highly progressive ones because they have the ability to subversively comment on sexual difference, objectification and spectatorship. Within the context of the subversive Gothic genre is it possible, for example, to adopt a ‘queer’ reading of the relationship between Susan and Barbara and specifically to Susan’s aberrant behaviour?


BBC publicity shots of Carole Ann Ford, William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill

Harry Benshoff, author of “Monsters In The Closet: Homosexuality And The Horror Film” suggests a series of ways by which the horror genre and sexual difference intersect: gay characters participating in the narrative, the production created, directed by or starring gay or lesbian artists, a homosexual subtext or connotation in the narrative itself, and finally, “queer readings” wherein a spectator, in tune to the nuances and multiplicity of the narrative codes, is sensitive to alternative meanings not necessarily explicitly constructed in the text. It is feasible to find an alternative queer reading within The Edge Of Destruction as it is feasible to find similar readings for much of the Doctor Who series itself. Indeed, the figure of the Doctor himself has become codified, over the duration of the series, as asexual, gay and as straight romantic lead or a blurred combination of all three.

The figures of Barbara and Susan could be codified as ‘queer’ in a number of ways. The modes of dress and their physicality for instance; Barbara is physically taller and bigger, is dressed in what would pass for rather masculine attire in the early 1960s – leather trousers and a white shirt; Susan is more girly, very petite, elfin and is wearing a one piece skirt that displays her legs. This could codify them within the lesbian stereotypes of ‘butch’ and ‘femme’. Compare them to the two similar figures of Claire Bloom and Julie Harris in that haunted house film par excellence The Haunting. Harris is the sensitive, child-like insecure one whilst Bloom is the strident, no nonsense, Mary Quant wearing one.

More importantly codification could be through the way symbols of sexual power are traded between, and affect individually, Barbara and Susan. When Susan talks of ‘something here, inside the ship’ is she invoking the spectre of aberrant sexuality that is about to manifest itself in her? Is the monster or presence in the ship part of what Norman Nolland and Leona Sherman see as the Gothic formula trope of ‘the image of woman plus habitation’? The TARDIS becomes the ‘uncanny’ house that Susan and, to some extent Barbara, must explore symbolically as much as coping with the ‘disaster’ itself provokes a different reading of their repressed sexuality. The TARDIS doors, flung open, are perhaps indicative of the borderland into a realm of gender confusion and they close in the presence of Ian, in particular, perhaps signifying a rejection of the male authority figure. The crisis is finally exposed when Susan tries the controls and she is ‘shocked’ into a completely different mode of behaviour.
'something here, inside the ship'

Scene from 'The Edge Of Destruction'

When Ian brings the unconscious Susan some water, Susan appears to be possessed and is behaving abnormally, in a state of high anxiety and heightened sexual power, clutching a pair of scissors. Phallic power – the ‘something here, inside the ship’ is now hers in the form of the scissors and she immediately rejects Ian’s feminised role as nurse/carer until she is overwhelmed by this anxiety and attacks the bed in a manner akin to Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates launching his assault on Janet Leigh. The sexually frustrated Bates figure is again another influence on the codification of sexual aberration in the story and Hitchcock’s Psycho is full of blurred sexual connotations and readings itself. Interestingly, the scissors are zoomed in on and pulled away from at the end of one scene and the beginning of the next, implying within them some sort of power and they certainly could symbolise a penis in the way that the shape of them is framed so deliberately in the shots.

Meanwhile, Barbara also starts to react to the crisis in a very dominant manner by aggressively questioning the Doctor. ‘You don’t know, do you! You’re just guessing aren’t you!’ she hysterically barks at him after asking him where exactly they are. Again, Barbara postulates that something could have entered the TARDIS, underlying the gender-disruptive threat at the heart of the story. Ian ridicules her, ‘What? A man, or something?’ and the implication again is the notion of an aggressive male power either stalking or possessing the two women, releasing a repressed sexuality. The Doctor dismisses this as irrational, as ‘absurd theories’ thus denying the power of the uncanny and by extension a queer or gender-blurred reading of the story. It’s interesting to note at this point a number of reversals occurring in the scene that follows – Ian and the Doctor believe that a rational, science based approach is required to solving their dilemma, Barbara has become silently passive and Ian positions her back into the role of carer and in the background, in the back of the shots in this scene, Susan is dressed in a dark grey shroud-like robe and flits back and forth, overhearing their conversation. She has become the spectre haunting the TARDIS, the ‘man, or something’ Ian ridiculed Barbara about.


Scene from 'Black Narcissus’ Kathleen Byron; Scene from ‘The Edge Of Destruction’ Carole Ann Ford
domestic paranoia
The saint/sinner-aggressive/passive transformation of the two female leads is underlined in the next scene. Susan has become rather like the figure of Sister Ruth in Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus, yet another essay in sexual repression where, as Gary Morris in his review states: ‘the driving force of the drama is the conflict between an increasingly aggressive and unhinged Sister Ruth, representing civilization sundered by contact with a pagan otherworld and Sister Clodagh, who stands for righteousness and piety at all cost, even as she finds herself, like Sister Ruth, aroused by the hunky, usually shirtless Mr. Dean.’ Carole Ann Ford seems to glisten with sweat, just as Sister Ruth does in a state of pent up desire in Black Narcissus, in this scene and looks like a nun with her makeshift wimple of a damp cloth placed on her head. She is brimming with a predatory, sexual aggression and the conversation between her and Barbara discusses the presence in the ship, culminating in a very significant statement from Susan suggesting the uncanny force is capable of hiding in one of the crew. Again the scissors are brandished as a symbol of male power, rather more provocatively this time, and when Susan raises her arm in defiance (symbolic of an erection, perhaps?) her grip on power is broken when Barbara seizes them away from her. The two women exchange a symbol of power, with Susan seemingly relaxing and physically calming down afterwards, almost as if in a state of post coitus.


BBC publicity shot of Carole Ann Ford

Returning to the ‘haunted house’ theme of the Gothic genre, nothing happens to the Doctor when he tries the console and activates the scanner to see what is outside of the ship. Once again the doors open of their own volition, just like the ghostly occurrences in The Haunting, and this time there is a growling, bestial roar perhaps representative of the spectre that both Susan and Barbara believe has possessed them both. Immediately after this, the Doctor turns on Ian and Barbara and accuses them of physically attacking Susan and he and the ship’s controls. Barbara, powerfully and aggressively, challenges the old man. She dominates him physically and implies that he should be supplicant to both Ian and her. It’s a scene of enormous tension and again, like Susan and the scissors, Barbara’s aggressive female stance is defused by a symbolic object. The sight of the melting clock and the damaged wrist watches tip her over the edge into a breakdown, flopping rag doll like into a chair. The crisis is then deflected back to the theme of the TARDIS as Gothic mansion where the typical Gothic narrative features, as Helen Wheatley has said ‘a female protagonist caught up in a matrix of domestic paranoia, trapped within a decaying home by a suspicious and/or murderous husband. More often than not these narratives centre around the heroine’s departure from an idealised family home to the threatening marital home, and her eventual escape to independence… ’ That female protagonist trapped in a domestic paranoia could easily be seen as Susan moving from her status as teenager to adult, leaving the TARDIS and beginning a new life with David Campbell.

Forward to Part Three
Back to Part One

THE EDGE OF DESTRUCTION: “What Is Inside, Madam, Is Most Important At The Moment” - Part Three
(c) 2009 Frank Collins. If you wish to quote from this article please ask the author's permission.

Relativity, Hiroshima and the nuclear age

Persistence Of Memory

By the conclusion of The Edge Of Destruction the Doctor has seized the upper hand and has apparently reduced Ian, Barbara and Susan into a drugged sleep. In the second episode the narrative rapidly switches from mutual paranoia and suspicion, within a domestic environment, where Ian attempts to strangle both Barbara and the Doctor, to a more rational, science based explanation for the odd goings on. Barbara rationalises the Gothic trappings of the destroyed clock faces, the decaying home of the TARDIS, as a warning that the crew are running out of time.


Disintegration of The Persistence Of Memory

The melting clock face also evokes the surrealism of Salvador Dali's Persistence Of Memory with its softened clocks matching the clocks and watches affected in the story. Dali's imagery, in 1931’s Persistence Of Memory, part of Dalí's Freudian phase: ‘juxtaposes two ordinary symbols of time: clocks and sand; but in Dalí’s arresting vision the clocks are melting over a vast and lonely beach that resembles the sands of time. To emphasise the painting’s temporal images, he also incorporates a swarm of crawling ants, whose uniquely shaped bodies resemble hourglasses. Sand, hourglasses, and watches all connect below the threshold of awareness till the viewer’s mind swings around to focus on the very nature and meaning of time. . . .’ and suggests a meditation on the theories of relativity as symbolised by the Doctor and the TARDIS and their passage back and forth through time and space.


Scene from 'The Edge Of Destruction'

His later revision of 1952 to 1954 Disintegration Of Persistence Of Memory where Dalí 'disintegrated’ the scene from the 1931 original, are an acknowledgment of the developments of modern science and transmitted his own anxieties and fears about the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945. The elements of the earlier painting are 'atomised' and forms populating the barren landscape are disintegrating as a result of the bomb. The Brink Of Disaster is also punctuated by thundering booms and blasts of bright white light. There are a number of connected readings here about the series own positioning within science fiction narratives about the nuclear age as well as its ongoing relationship to European fine art movements.

When the TARDIS mushroom shaped central column activates in a blast of white light and the Doctor intones ‘We have ten minutes to survive’ I think the symbolism is very obvious. The symbols of melted clocks are also representative of the iconic images from Hiroshima of the clock face stopped at 8.15 and the skeletal remains of the Gembaku Dome. The paranoia of entrapment in the Gothic home has been supplanted by the spectre of nuclear Armageddon and the growing tensions of the Cold War. ‘They have five minutes only. When the end does come, they won’t know anything about it,’ confides the Doctor to Ian about Susan and Barbara.


Scene from 'The Edge Of Destruction'
Gembaku Dome, Hiroshima


The previous sexual tensions and gender blurring are further diffused by the effects of the TARDIS which is trying to warn our characters about an impending disaster. All are equal under the threat of a nuclear war it would seem but it is still significant that it is Barbara, using her female intuition, who strings together the various meaning of the clues left by the TARDIS. This culminates in that stupendous moment of realisation where the Doctor reasons that the TARDIS is caught up in the fission of material, a nuclear chain reaction that is forming a new sun. This transposes the twin suns, one the birth of a new star, and one of destruction as symbolised in the detonation of the nuclear bomb.
We Are Family

Verity Lambert and the regular cast celebrate the sale of the series to Canada

The other character in the story is, of course, the TARDIS. We get two episodes that fully explore Brachacki's design for the TARDIS and the additional work that Cusick then provided with his connecting doors and the fold out couches. What's really great is the way the TARDIS is lit. It's gloom penetrated by key lights from above that spread big circular patterns across the walls and floors that look almost cellular. It's a tremendous shock and revelation when at the end of The Brink Of Disaster, the console lights up, the room gets brighter and you hear Brian Hodgson's sound effects going hell for leather. The ‘fast return’ switch is an irrelevance. It’s as broken as the four leading characters.

The fifth character, the TARDIS, is also deconstructed by introducing the idea that the TARDIS console and time column directly harness the energies which drive the ship, and that the TARDIS is "alive" and somewhat self-aware. Whilst we get a sense that the TARDIS is alive, Whitaker is using the two episodes to elaborate more about the 'broken' nature of the relationships between it and the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara. The direction by Richard Martin and Frank Cox manages to make a great deal out of the use of this one set and the four characters. Cox tends to go for a lot more movement across and through the frame and seems determined to get the camera into places that it shouldn't really go. Martin's work is more formal with a tendency to go for static shots and cross cutting in the gallery. But they both heap on the atmosphere and get realistic and committed performances from the cast.


Scene from 'The Brink Of Disaster'

It's too easy to dismiss the story because of the rather anti-climactic discovery that all these psychological shennanigans is caused by a broken spring on a button on the console. However, that isn’t the real climax of the story at all. The story itself has been concerned with atomising our characters and turning them into unstable, fissionable material. The re-fusion of the main characters is the essential climax where all the relationships are re-established. The aim here is to examine the characters, deconstruct them to an extent and then put them back together again.

The acting honours pretty much go to Jacqueline Hill. She carries much of the central premise with a great deal of dignity and offers up an intuitive, sensitive portrayal of Barbara. She is also effective in providing a sense of Barbara's disappointment and anger with the Doctor that can equally be situated within the hysteria that Susan generates. Her attack on the Doctor is a blistering indictment of the Doctor’s anti-heroic status and could be seen as a catalyst for change in his attitude towards the two schoolteachers. After all, he's accused both Ian and Barbara of sabotage and subterfuge and she takes it very personally whilst Ian seems to shrug it off. William Russell provides an interesting contrast to the Ian we have seen in the previous 11 episodes. He’s almost in a daydream, slightly off-centre from the character we know. Contrast this with the somewhat shrill, manic state of hysteria that Carole Ann Ford plunges Susan into. Ford's over the top quality has been criticised but her performance has a real sense of danger to it and is entirely fitting when it is positioned within the context of the feminine and the Gothic. Physically, she's slightly awkward and stilted but, for television still mired in presenting drama within a theatrical mode, it does at least attempt a level of improvisational realism.


Scene from 'The Brink Of Disaster'

Hartnell, having learnt his craft from a different tradition, does stumble over lines but, again, seizes an opportunity to improvise and emphasise the darker, anti-heroic aspects of the character of the Doctor so that even by the conclusion you don't particularly trust this man anymore than you did at the start. The pivotal moment when Hartnell is splayed across the console in The Brink Of Disaster, the rest of the set in darkness and with one key light on him as he describes the formation of matter and dust of galaxies is hair-raising, especially that little bit at the end where he giddily clenches his fists to his face. That's a genuinely televisual moment, comparable to Ian and Barbara bursting into the TARDIS in An Unearthly Child or the advance of the Dalek arm in the cliffhanger to the first episode of The Daleks. He’s addressing us as viewers directly, using the meta-theatricality of the situation to tear down the fourth wall of television and share the exhilaration of the character’s inner journey.

He also threatens, bullies, manipulates and capitulates to get help from Ian and Barbara when he realises he can't cope with the situation on his own. ‘You still haven’t forgiven me have you?’ he says poignantly, and it is only when Barbara allows herself to forgive him that you get a sense that this group of people are now connected and we move into the wonderful dynamic to be found in later stories such as Marco Polo and The Aztecs. The Doctor himself underlines the oppositions of female instinct and male logic that run through the story and concludes that it is Barbara who is the heroine of the hour.

The key to all of it is in the coda to the episode where we see a mellower Doctor and a Barbara sure of herself as an equal. Barbara’s forgiveness is also underlined by her change of costume. She is now in the iconic battledress of roll neck jumper and ski pants, which ironically enough were chosen for her by Susan, reaffirming the trope of ‘butch’ lesbian stoicism. Both she and Barbara have now cast off the wimple/shrouds of their repressed sexuality and like all the characters have been reconfigured for the journey that is ahead. The key lesson here is, the Doctor states, ‘As we learn about each other, we learn about ourselves.’

Bibliography:
Metatheatre: Definition of “Metatheatre,” originally created for Stuart Davis' Shakespeare class at Cornell University, Spring 1999
Gary Morris Black Narcissus review, bright Lights Film Journal, July 2001
Monsters In The Closet: Homosexuality And The Horror Film, Henry Benshoff Manchester University Press 1997
Gothic Television, Helen Wheatley Manchester University Press (2007)
Salvador Dali Museum: Clocking In With Salvador Dali - Dali’s Melting Watches, Page 5, attributed to Leonard Shlain

Images courtesy: BBC/ 2|entertain, Warner Brothers, ITV/Rank Organisation, BBC Archive Project

Back to Part Two
Back to Part One

PSYCHOVILLE - Episode Two



BBC2 / BBCHD - 25th June 2009 -10.00pm


'Nine across is 'you'...'

'Small round vegetable'

Whilst last week's opener was promising, setting the scene and introducing the characters, this week's episode was less inspiring. The structure is starting to annoy me. It's very choppy and some scenes are too short, with barely enough time to get out a genuine laugh before it all dissolves in that rather over-indulgent bit of whizzy graphics that they insist on using to bridge the scenes. It really doesn't need it and the use of right to left wipes is far more effective. Within two minutes we've jumped from Joy Aston on a bus in Bristol to Lomax in his mansion in Yorkshire.



Fortunately, the sub-plot about the mad collector of soft toy 'commodities' is about the best thing going for Psychoville this week, and as a parody of eBay sellers and toy collectors it also introduces us to Kelly-Su and Chelsea Crabtree played with such wonderful relish by Debbie Chazen and Alison Lintott. They have an immediate appeal as grotesques flogging tat on the internet (the faked David Beckham autograph is hilarious). The frenzied bidding war for Snappy The Crocodile is certainly the liveliest sequence in the episode. I also loved Lomax regaling us with Snappy's backstory, washed up on the shores of an island near Fiji after a plane crash, complete with images of said toy bobbing along in the water and crashing waves and aircraft on the soundtrack. The flare of the candles as Lomax says the word 'crashed' is a smashing little visual touch. And we also get to find out why Lomax is blind in a genuinely chilling revelation.



Elsewhere, we have the on-going mystery of the man in black leaving cryptic messages to the ensemble of characters, with this week's 'You Killed Her' left in a crossword, written on Mr. Jelly's dirty car window and as a failed phone message to the Sowerbutts. There are also some rather heavily underscored insinuations that the entire ensemble were all former residents of a mental institution where a woman mysteriously died. Joy's affection for Freddie Fruitcake is further developed and, as I flagged up last week, she's a bit of a Geppetto figure and in a bizarre sequence sneaks into the hospital blood bank to steal some plasma whilst singing 'When You Wish Upon A Star'. Blatant signposting, Messrs Shearsmith and Pemberton! And that's partly the trouble here. You could never accuse The League Of Gentlemen of huge amounts of subtlety either but this episode of Psychoville makes that series look positively Bergmanesque in comparison.



The sub-plot with the pantomime and the dwarf actor Robert is somewhat crude and its repetitive trope of ritually humiliating the poor fella is starting to wear a bit thin. Actor Jason Tomkins is great though and makes the naive Robert very sympathetic. I wonder how they're going to achieve further humiliations next week and still struggle to make it funny. The various piss-takes from the waiter whilst he and leading lady Debbie were in the restaurant were a little obvious and did run out of steam. It's a familiar methodology for Shearsmith and Pemberton to attempt to see how long they can keep a gag running before the audience, and they, get bored with it. However, I do hope Robert uses his telekinetic powers to wipe out all of his tormentors and I did enjoy Christopher Biggins getting a dig in at Disney for copyrighting the word 'happy'. The queeny Brian's litany of Robert's porn film CV was also quite amusing, especially 'Wood In The Babes'.

The Sowerbutts, meanwhile, get mistakenly entangled in a what they think is an act of blackmail on the part of David's boss, Graham, with a smashing cameo from Nicholas Le Provost. There's that cracking scene where they're trying to decide the best method to kill him, reading through various serial killer books, as they hold him hostage, 'There's one here that uses drills'. 'Victor Perez. Brazil. 12 victims.' 'Well, you're not doing that. I've got a thumping headache.' The punchline, as Graham escapes only to be run over in the street, completes an amusing running gag about Matey bubble bath.



Visually, this is again impeccable. look at that slow track along the corridor in the Sowerbutts' flat, past the radiator with Maureen's tights drying on them, or that stunning bit of lighting on the mocking theatre crowd as they play the cruel joke on a naked Robert. The cinematography is of a superb quality, making the series worth watching just for the visual panache. It's just a pity that this second script doesn't quite reach the heights of the opening episode. However, the central mystery is still intriguing and I adore the Sowerbutts and Lomax versus the Crabtree sisters so it'll still be worth returning to this next week.

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A new BBC One trailer has started airing this week for Torchwood: Children Of Earth, confirming that the five part story will be broadcast, starting on Monday 6th July, over five consecutive nights. Creepy trailer!



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THE FILMS OF DEREK JARMAN Part Two

Apologies for the delay on this but here we are again with the second part of my look back at the work of the late, great Derek Jarman.



Region 0 (Cert 15) - Second Sight 1.33:1 - Mono - 91 mins Special Features: Commentary with Toyah Willcox and Peter Middleton, Extract from interview with Jarman 'There We Are John' and two shorts: 'Art Of Mirrors' and 'Gardens Of Luxor'

The two films I'm looking at here, The Tempest and The Angelic Conversation share one subject, or should that be one author, in common. Shakespeare. Jarman's, well, obsession with the Bard is absolutely in keeping with his philosophy of a lost, and he would have argued, better vision of England. In 1979's The Tempest we see Jarman developing a number of the themes from Jubilee with a freewheeling adaptation of Shakespeare's final play that, like the previous film, chimes with the times. By 1979, the punk aesthetic had burned out and a post-punk, New Romantic style was gaining cultural credence. The Tempest is as much about the Winter Of Discontent, the fall of Labour and the ascendence of Thatcher's 'no such thing as society' as it is a dream of regretful Englishness.



Jarman's version of the play is a fantastic piece of poetic cinema combining a reading of the play's setting as a discussion of art and nature as well as the often cited imperialist aspects of the story. It could quite easily be seen as a crystalisation of the attitude of his parent's generation towards the loss of Empire and acts as a complex allegory of an island nation dealing with the secession of nations from the Commonwealth. Prospero's colonial authority is eventually destabilised and he leaves not only the New World to return to Milan but he also emerges from the island's dark, psychological realm, driven by magic and the occult, into a mind state that does not require it. It is Jarman's own meditation on the role of artists and poets in a modern society that, as it collapses, fears and represses the non-linearity of their thinking.



Even though it is clearly a low budget film, it looks beautiful and benefits from some ravishing cinemaphotography from Peter Middleton who makes a silk purse out of the sow's ear of the Stoneleigh Abbey locations by drenching them in shadow, firelight and candlelight. The production and costume design by Ian Whittaker and Yolanda Sonnabend is intricate and detailed, providing a painterly quality to the images whilst also echoing post-punk Romanticism. It is eerie and desolate, a series of rooms within rooms that equate to the state of Prospero's mind. This ornate imagery is supported by a suitably moody and atmospheric soundscape courtesy of Brian Hodgson and John Lewis that's full of rumblings, heavy sighing and booming clock ticks.



At the heart of this visual and aural pleasure are some intriguing performances. Jarman chose to cast against type for Prospero with the virile Heathcote Williams. Williams performance and Jarman's direction suggest that the narrative is his waking dream that he brings about by his own volition. Williams is splendid, bringing a sinister edge to the character, and he's mirrored by the elfin Karl Johnson as Ariel, who hovers through the film in a bright white, and anachronistic, boiler suit. Toyah Willcox makes a splendid Miranda, who again reverses the demure quality of the original into something far more feisty and sexual. Throw in the wonderfully mad Jack Birkett (Borgia Ginz in Jubilee) as Caliban, cackling and laughing like a maniac through most of the film and supplying that surreal image of Caliban suckling his mother Sycorax and memorable cameos from Ken Campbell and Christopher Biggins. What's interesting is the way that Jarman strives to make the language accessible and steers clear of big, theatrical performances, attempting, pretty much successfully, to form the lines within normal speech patterns and intonations.



It is of course worth mentioning the finale, where Jarman defies the conventions of genre and turns the narrative into a Hollywood production number when as Ferdinand (the rather lovely David Meyer) is betrothed to Miranda, dozens of sailors dance around the ballroom as chanteuse Elisabeth Welch provides a wistful rendition of 'Stormy Weather'. This is not merely camp excess but an acknowledgment that sons and daughters must move on from their childhood and become adults and that Prospero's internalised world of magic must cease to be. It is full of melancholy despite the blaze of colour and music.

Second Sight's DVD presents the film in the original academy ratio. The picture quality is excellent considering the 16mm source and that much of the imagery is bathed in shadow. A high definition restoration would lift the colours and details further but for now this is probably the best quality available. There's an informative, detailed, moderated commentary from Toyah and Peter Middleton that throws light on the ensemble spirit of the filming and on Jarman's partcular directorial technique.



Region 2 (Cert PG) - BFI 1.33:1 - Mono - 78 mins Special Features: Interviews with James Mackay and Christopher Hobbs, Jarman in conversation with Simon Field, gallery and booklet

By 1985, Jarman's planned film of Caravaggio had stalled due to lack of money and whilst struggling to raise finance for a major project he busied himself for seven years making experimental Super 8mm films. With the advent of Channel 4 funding in the mid-80s and the ensuing wave of internationally distributed low-budget British art cinema, Jarman was able to develop his status as a major British cinematic artist. An interesting development at this time, and as a result of his frustrations with the mainstream production of films, was his elevation of the Super 8mm work using video and reshooting onto 35mm. The Angelic Conversation was one of the results of this experimentation, some of it derived from the work he did on pop-videos for Marianne Faithful and The Smiths, and which would later become a form of non-linear narrative film that he would develop alongside formal projects such as Edward II, War Requiem and Wittgenstein. This experimental approach would be realised further in The Last Of England, The Garden and Blue.



The Angelic Conversation also connects back directly to Jarman's status as an openly gay artist. By fiddling with the controls of his Nizo Super 8 camera and reshooting wth video and using various effects he produced a dream-like, highly textured, sensual visual journey of two men traveling through various locations where we observe the men bathing, wrestling, embracing and kissing. Interspersed with these images are other visuals of burning cars, radar towers, fences and the use of elements such as fire and water, acknowledging the tumultuous state of British society in the 1980s. Not to everyone's taste, and at 78 minutes perhaps stretching it a bit, the film languidly shows the two men undergoing some sort of spiritual, redemptive transformation. Overriding all of this was Jarman's desire to reclaim Shakespeare's sonnets as 'queer poetry' and the soundtrack merges both the distinctive sound collages of Coil, Simon Fisher-Turner and the superb delivery of the sonnets by Judi Dench.



It's an important film: it continues and develops Jarman's Romantic obsession with Elizabethan alchemy and Dr. John Dee whilst also flying the activist flag against gay oppression in a Britain under Thatcher, which reached a nadir in 1988 with the enactment of Section 28. A private members' Bill had already been tabled in Parliament in 1986 and an amendment to the local Government Bill introduced in 1987 shortly after An Angelic Conversation made it to cinemas in 1985. Jarman's politicisation certainly stemmed from the hothouse atmosphere in the country not only over local government law but also around the spectre of AIDS. Jarman himself was diagnosed in 1986 and The Angelic Conversation is the starting point for Jarman's reputation as an activist film-maker. The imagery of the film, of the two male characters, positioned neither as nor both as subject and object, is superceded by the female voice of Dench on the soundtrack. Jarman here continues with a theme that runs through many of his films, a rejection and an invocation of patriarchal symbols whilst also using a feminine voice as commentator or symbolic 'other'. The film suggests a 'queer', almost formless sexuality rather than an overtly gay one. Even though the enshrining of male sexuality in the film does lay Jarman open to the cliche of gay misogyny, I'd see the film as a blurring of all the sexual distinctions, not just the straight female or the gay male.



It's an intense, lyrical 78 minutes, using the ambiguity of the sonnets to enhance the Gilgamesh like narrative and ritualistic path the two male characters embark upon. Time seems to slow down, speed up and landscapes shift from Elizabethan gardens to dank, sepulchral caves lit by flaming torches. It evokes Pasolini, Cocteau and Anger in its trance like homoerotic charge, playing as a video painting, drenched in a superb music and sound collage, that depicts two men embracing and rejecting desire in equal measure and wherein each of their desires turns in on itself. Narcissistic, romantic, magical. The DVD from the British Film Institute contains 30 minutes of interviews with James Mackay and Christopher Hobbs that are fascinating and enlightening, Mackay's photographs from the shoot, an interview with Jarman and booklet of comments from Colin MacCabe, Peter Christopherson from Coil, and Tilda Swinton's letter to Derek as presented at the 2002 Edinburgh Film festival.

Next time: Caravaggio and The Last Of England

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PSYCHOVILLE - Episode One



BBCHD - 18th June 2009 - 10.00pm


'What's that Miriam?'

'Er...my name's Kate'

'Oh, I'm sorry...I thought you were Dr. Miriam Stoppard!'

A very typical joke, and one that is very amusing it has to be said, opens the first episode of The League Of Gentleman Series 4....er....Psychoville. It's a trademark flourish from the two writers/creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith whereby the opening titles are high Gothic thriller material depicting the intricate writing of letters with quill and ink by candlelight, Joby Talbot's florid music is punctuated by 'Cashier Number 3 please' and there's a sudden double take to a post office where a man in black scuttles away to post his letters and a pensioner mutters, 'He's left his candle'. Ah, it's good to be back in familiar territory where the disturbing League-like humour plays out through modernist and traditional horror movie tropes.


'not for sale, Aspel, not for sale!'
Said letters are delivered to the series' main characters and it is here that Psychoville not only feels like Pemberton and Shearsmith have not just simply picked up where the League left off but they've also refined it. Gone is the hot-house, chop logic world of Royston Vasey and instead each of the characters is given their own real world bubble to live in. Joy (a mid-wife with a fetish for practice ante-natal dolls), Mr. Jelly (a sibling of Papa Lazarou who 'Keeps Kids Quiet'), blind millionaire Oscar Lomax ('not for sale, Aspel, not for sale!' ), Robert the lovestruck telekentic pantomime dwarf and mother and son David and Maureen Sowerbutts ('I'm gonna have half an hour on me Bontempi') all live in our neighbourhoods, from Salford to Eastbourne, Wood Green to Ilkley. As originally hinted at in the last League series and the feature film, Royston Vasey has become the world. No doubt as the series unfolds we'll get to the bottom of the mystery that binds them all.



Pemberton and Shearsmith are, as always, a joy to watch. One of the standout moments includes Mr. Jelly's attempt to entertain at a children's party with his interchangeable 'hundred hands' (well, there are sixteen in his bag but kids won't know because they're thick), drowning them in clouds of WD40 and bubbles, providing the party girl with a 'Princess make-over' by combing her hair ('oh, doesn't your mummy wash your hair?) and smearing her face with lipstick ('one little girl, turned out she was allergic, and her eye came up like a red egg') and finally scaring the pants off them by brandishing his stump at them, blaming rival entertainer Mr. Jolly for his predicament. No doubt, after the brief scene of his vandalism of Mr. Jolly's transport, we will get to see more of their bitter rivalry as the weeks unfold.


It's like something out of Hieronymous Bosch
Dawn French manages to imbue Joy with a sense of immense tragedy despite coming across as your worst nightmare at ante-natal classes. She obviously has plans for the doll Freddie and like a crazed female Geppetto intends to turn the doll into a real boy. I love that moment when she gets home and Pemberton's long suffering husband, having had years of humouring her, takes Freddie the doll off to change him but out of sight lets the doll hang limp at his side. The other centrepiece of the episode, and probably of the series, is the utterly disturbing portrayal of the Sowerbutts. The camera slowly creeps round the side of the door and son is sitting in mum's lap whilst she scratches the flaking skin off his back whilst quizzing him on his knowledge of serial killers. It's like something out of Hieronymous Bosch, especially with the sepia toned surroundings, their own exaggerated facial features and the spectre of incest in that kiss between mother and son that goes on for too long and Maureen's rather suspect act of 'tucking' David in.



David has the role of the butler in one of those awful Murder Mystery dinners and the observational stuff is spot on with David Bamber, Janet McTeer and Nicholas le Prevost getting the appalling whiff of amateurism of actors reduced to such work who are then confronted by David's idea of a murder ('Fuck Pig' supposedly scrawled on the wall in excrement whilst another actor hangs upside down with a string of sausages hanging out of her stomach). Inevitably he loses the job and not just because of his homage to Pam Doove in delivering his first line in the play. 'Shall we skip to the coffee' sounds like a good idea.


'Congratulations, Tea Leaf. I knew you'd be the one'
Other highlights include Shearsmith's turn as the queeny pantomime lead male actor Bryan ('the frocks need spaaacce') who turns his advice to the love struck panto dwarf Robert Greenspan into a cruel humiliation. Pemberton is also very amusing as the grouchy blind millionaire Oscar Lomax, prowling round his deserted mansion in Yorkshire and visited by a young offender Michael Fry doing community service. As Michael opens his letters to read them to him, he gruffly announces, 'Is there one from NASA?'. He keeps mentioning his 'holy of holies' and Michael manages to steal the keys to a locked room and discovers a surreal collection of soft toys. 'Congratulations, Tea Leaf. I knew you'd be the one' utters Lomax. Ooookay.

This is beautifully done with some exquisitely handled visuals from director of photography Francis de Groote and direction from the reliable Matt Lipsey, meticulous production design, detailed character development with costumes from old League cohort Yves Barre and fabulous music from Joby Talbot. There's a sense of something special developing here, an ensemble cast providing uniformly good performances that are darkly funny and outrageously creepy. Something we haven't seen since the League left our screens. Ironically, BBC iPlayer offers More like This? and then flags up Last Of The Summer Wine. Yes, it could be seen as a very warped version of that rather cosy, if horribly redundant, fluff. Welcome back, boys.

Official site


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Well, it looks like the week of 4th July to 10th July for the transmission of the five episodes of Torchwood: Children Of Earth. According to the BBC Press Office the programme is currently unplaced during that week (it means they can't decide or can't reveal the actual time of day it's going out).

Programme copy for 'Day One' has also now been released and there are links to Days Two - Five at the Press Office link above but be warned there are likely to be spoilers in there:

"Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper and Ianto Jones (John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Gareth David-Lloyd) return for a new adventure in Torchwood – Children Of Earth, a five-part series for BBC One.

An ordinary day becomes one of terror, as every single child in the world stops. A message is sent to all the governments of Earth: "We are coming." But, as a trap closes around Captain Jack, the sins of the past are returning and long-forgotten events from 1965 threaten to reveal an awful truth.

Torchwood is forced underground as the government takes swift and brutal action. As members of the team are hunted down, Britain risks becoming a rogue state. Meanwhile, the mysterious and powerful 456 draws ever-closer.

Captain Jack, Gwen and Ianto are helpless as events escalate to such a degree that mankind faces the end of civilisation itself.

John Barrowman plays Captain Jack Harkness; Eve Myles plays Gwen Cooper; and Gareth David-Lloyd plays Ianto Jones. Torchwood also stars Kai Owen as Rhys Williams; Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who, Skins) as John Frobisher; Paul Copley (Coronation Street, The Bill) as Clem; Liz May Brice (Bad Girls, The Bill) as Johnson, Lucy Cohu (Forgiven) as Alice Carter; Nicholas Farrell (Casualty 1909) as Brian Green; Susan Brown (Brideshead Revisited) as Bridget Spears; and Cush Jumbo (Harley Street) as Lois Habiba"

The full Torchwood: Children Of Earth press pack (again beware spoilers) is here

Silva Screen have also announced the release of Ben Foster's music for the forthcoming series. This is scheduled to arrive on July 7th. and comprises of 40 tracks. Track listing for Torchwood: Children of Earth contains:



1. The First Sacrifice
2. What's Occurring?
3. Jack's Daughter
4. Diplomatic Cars
5. We Are Coming
6. Thames House
7. Double Crossed
8. Countdown to Destruction
9. The Crater
10. Torchwood Hunted
11. Gwen's Baby
12. On the Run
13. Jack in a Box
14. Ianto Jones
15. Tractor Attack
16. Resurrection
17. Clement MacDonald
18. Something's Coming
19. Eye Spy
20. Trust Nobody
21. The World Looks to the Skies
22. Jack's Secret
23. Clem Remembers
24. Judgement Day
25. Requiem for the Fallen
26. The Ballad of Ianto Jones
27. The Final Day
28. Calm Before the Storm
29. Phase Two Has Begun
30. Requisition 31
31. Here Comes Torchwood
32. He Was a Good Man
33. The Children of the Earth
34. Breaking the Connection
35. Fighting Back
36. Run for Your Lives
37. Sacrifice and Salvation
38. Redemption
39. I Can Run Forever
40. Next Time on Torchwood

And don't forget the plays airing over three consecutive afternoons at 2.15pm in early July on BBC Radio 4.
Asylum - 1st July
Golden Age - 2nd July
The Dead Line - 3rd July

All will be released on CD too.

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AMAZING BABY - Rewild



Hot on the heels of their Brooklyn stablemates MGMT comes five piece Amazing Baby, formed in January 2008, with the release of their debut album, Rewild. If you enjoyed the psych-prog rock pop dabblings of MGMT then you'll very much enjoy what Baby's masterminds Will Roan and Simon O'Connor offer up here. This is widescreen, technicolour progressive rock that still has a lush pop sensibility running through its veins. Produced by the quintet with engineer Claudius Mittendorfer (Muse and Interpol) and additional production duties from Santigold's John Hill this is full of sonic fireworks, masses of multi-tracking, overdubs, fuzz, reverb, echo and piles of guitar, string sections, brass, percussion and whooshing, spacey electronics. Add in luscious vocal harmonising and a wonderfully idosyncratic singing style from Will Roan, who seems to be channelling Bolan, Gavin Friday and Elvis Costello and the soundscape is complete.

This overwhelming hybrid of Beach Boys vocal dexterity, folk, psych rock, electronica and pop drags in influences from far and wide, acknowledging their Brooklyn fellows MGMT and also feeding the aural blender with the glam of Roxy Music and Marc Bolan, the post-punk and cabaret stylings of The Virgin Prunes and Gavin Friday, even the acid drenched shuffle of Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses. It's a blousy, riotous concoction that drags in orchestral flourishes, Mariachi brass stylings and twisted guitar figures. Barmy backing vocals too.



It should be a mess. Yet, somehow, the band and their producers marshal all of these elements to thrilling effect, marking out Amazing Baby with a fairly unique sound. Opening Bayonets has an almost ELO feel to it with high strings and glam stomp and chugs along beautifully with a light, airy feel, dollops of reverb and guitar whizzing across the soundscape. Big power chords and strings drive Invisible Palace and Roan almost whispers the lyrics against an Enoesque ambient electronic soundscape before the swooping guitars pile back in, Roan's vocals then stretched through reverb. One of the best tracks, Kankra, is is all bubbling synths and pounding drums, guitar fuzz, gorgeous keening backing vocals, with Roan doing a passable Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel impression. Punky, soaring and it delivers a wonderful climax of booming bass drums, skating and wheeling guitars with Roan moaning 'we are the living sun' as if possessed by a time-travelling hippie. The outstanding single Headdress is a bizarre mix of Bolan, Suede and Pulp, a huge production featuring lush female backing vocals moaning over curlicues of guitar loveliness and lullaby electronics. Roan confesses 'I did to you what ya did to me. But I did it so unexpectedly I was angggraaayyy', his vocal lilt at the end of the line sending shivers down the spine. Stunning.



Dead Light
shifts the album further into brass tinged folk rock, mellower in mood than the opening tracks where the chorus is gradually buried by shuffling drums, screeching guitars and electronics. The climax of guitar and 'wa-oh-oh' backing vocals continues to carry the airy 60s vibe of the album. You can detect the Happy Mondays influence on the energetic Deerripper and Old Tricks In Hell has a dreamy, beautiful sound of trippy ELP like organ, Bolanesque vocals, skittering percussion topped off with sighing backing vocals, pulsing, shivering electronics. The epic The Narwhal has dotty, soaring vocals, a madrigal like opening of folksy acoustic guitar and a rich string section coupled with Roan gabbling on about gypsies, witches and flying kites. It picks up the pace with kicking drums and then trails off into a delicious combination of flute and harp, all tinkling and shimmering descent.

Grabbing bits of Traffic and Mamas And Papas, Roverfrenz features one of Roan's best performances, truly bizarre backing vocals and a gutsy Mick Ronson style guitar lick right off the Spiders From Mars album. A wonderfully atmospheric track full of yearning that closes with fuzzy guitar, woodwind and a tinkling piano. Smoke Bros and Pump Yr Brakes bring this odyssey to an end. The former skips along on the back of a great guitar lick and undulating keyboards and has a slightly left field chanting chorus repeating 'we are starving cannibals' for no reason I can fathom. Oh, and a bit of Mariachi brass to close with. The latter, Pump Yr Brakes, is a stadium stomper with insistent guitar licks and whooshing synth soundscapes and a great chorus with lots of 'oh,oh,oh' protestations from Roan over handclaps, fuzzy glam guitars, psyched out electronics and tons of reverb. Delicious.

Promo video for Headdress

It shouldn't work but they clearly know what they're about and this debut is something quite special with enough bold aural experimentation and warped rock and pop sensibilities to keep the most jaded enthusiastically entertained.

REWILD - Amazing Baby (Shangri-La AFT 101030 - Released 22nd June 2009)

Amazing Baby on My Space

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UPDATED: Registration and start times of the walk have been amended

Less a 'Fun Run' and more of a 'Fun Shuffle' or a 'Fun Shamble', on Sunday 12th July 2009, when a ‘Zombie Walk’ will take place in Manchester city centre to raise money for Cancer Research, Christies and Children in Need.

Here's the You Tube promo:



Turn your obsession with George Romero, Shaun Of The Dead, Tom Savini, Dellamorte Dellamore into a frightfully fun day of fundraising. Try not to decompose all over the pavement.

If over 1,227 ‘Zombies’ partake the event will break the world record. It will start and end at the Printworks in Manchester. Registration starts at 6pm on the day. walk starts at 7pm and end approx 8.30pm. All together now...'They’re coming to get you Barbara!'

In the Printworks there will be make up tables for those who haven’t had the chance to get made up, a registration desk where all names will be counted for the Guinness Book of Records. Buckets will be on this table as a donation of £2 would be appreciated for charity (optional) There will be another table where people can buy tickets for the special screening of a new Zombie movie.

Parts of the walk will be filmed and sent to the USA where they will use footage for a new Zombie film in production. Splatter effects pioneer and director Tom Savini of Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, From Dusk Till Dawn and others, has shown interest and said he may attend the event.

After the walk a ‘Zombie Ball’ will take place at PURE nightclub. With special drinks promotions, live music from ‘T-shirts for Americans’ and ‘Exploits of the Dead’, and regular Glastonbury DJ, ‘That Lazy Sunday DJ’. Entry is £3 on the door for people in Zombie make up, £5 for those not.

The day after the walk, Monday 13th July, a special screening of a new British Zombie film Colin will take place at the Odeon cinema in Printworks. Colin is the first feature length film from director Marc Price. It has already made waves at the Cannes Film Festival and won awards. Tickets will be £2 and available at the ‘Zombie Walk’, with proceeds going to charity.

Colin trailer:



Proceeds and collections from the walk itself will go to the three aforementioned charities. A route map is available on the website www.zombie-aid.com. The Facebook group is ‘Zombie Walk Manchester 09’.

Online donations can be made at Just Giving - click on the widget below!



Yeah, they’re dead. They’re all messed up!

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT - Palace Theatre, London

Palace Theatre, London - 13th June 2009 - 7.30pm



The critic Michael Coveney in The Independent moans that he doesn't know who this show is aimed at. Well, obviously not you dear. Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert is certainly one of those shows that the sniffier critics will look down their nose at for not quite being to their particular taste. Coveney's review reeks not just of snobbery but of an intolerance, bordering on homophobia, towards entertainment aimed at gay men which dares to describe their often painful search for, and rediscovery of, friendship, family, love, life and sequins (he describes the reunion between main character Mitzi and his young son 'sick making') and he clearly doesn't get the, or any, joke at all. All I can say is that he and his fellow detractors must have had an entertainment bypass when they went to see this because there is enough spectacle, extravagant musical numbers, bawdy humour, genuine warmth and just sheer hard bloody work to make even the most miserable raise a titter or tap their feet.

...what took them so long to realise that Priscilla was ripe for stage adaptation?


Based on the the 1994 film written and directed by Stephan Elliott, itself a splendid slice of camp musical excess and gay affirmation, the musical unites Elliott with director Simon Phillips, writer Allan Scott, original film costume designers Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel, renowned stage designer Brian Thomson, the most experienced choreographer in Australia, Ross Coleman and award wining musical director Stephen ‘Spud’ Murphy. The big question is, what took them so long to realise that Priscilla was ripe for stage adaptation? Many critics have observed that its timing hasn't been perfect, crowding into a West End already bursting with so called 'juke-box' musicals. It's a moot point but personally I welcome the eclectic juke-box of a generation of discerning and not so discerning gay men and their straight hangers-on that spans Gloria Gaynor ('I Will Survive' natch) to the likes of La Traviata, Petula Clark, Donna Summer, Jerome Kern and the film's own soundtrack oddities such as Charlene's 'I've Never Been To Me'.
A tour de force of design, lighting, costume and performance.


What brings this to life is the gob-smacking production and costume design. If you've a bent for glitter, sequins and satin whipped up into truly outrageous creations then I think you'll find the 500 costumes here enough to seriously invoke a camp overload; including outfits that reference everything from cockatoos, lizards, paint brushes, cupcakes, the Sydney Opera House and cowboys. It truly is a feast for the eyes as each set piece tries to better the next. The Priscilla of the title, a bus in which the three companions travel across Australia, is fully realised both inside and out, moving clevery across the stage. In a particularly humourous scene it's via some very odd sounding place names whilst managing to run over one of the Queen's corgis and leaving her Maj giving the other three queens two fingers. There's a magical transformation sequence when the bus breaks down and it gets a face lift that decorates the entire prop with hundreds of tiny bright pink lights. A paint job undertaken to Pet Clark's 'Colour My World' with the show's ensemble of players dressed in Marie Antoinette style dresses that look like big paint brushes. It's certainly not subtle but at the same time it fits emotionally and joyously with the upbeat tone of the song. A tour de force of design, lighting, costume and performance.
...in search of the identity, humanity and purpose that we all crave


The show opens with Mitzi (Jason Donovan) dragging up ready for his/her lip-synching to the aforementioned Charlene song, effectively ripping the piss out of the painfully corny lyrics. After a lukewarm reception from bored clubkids, he gets a call from his ex-wife. As in the film, Mitzi is on a path to be reunited with a son he's never seen whilst also doing a favour for his wife at her Alice Springs casino by 'putting on a show' with transsexual friend Bernadette (Tony Sheldon) and new recruit Felicia (Oliver Thornton). The first half of the show shifts from a surreal funeral for Bernadette's partner Trumpet, straight out of La Dolce Vita, hilariously coupled with 'Don't Leave Me This Way' and a joke left out of the original film about the said deceased's foreskin being big enough to stretch over a biscuit, then to a show stopping presentation of 'Venus' by the impossibly buffed Oliver Thornton, oozing sex and seduction across the auditorium.



The threesome, bitching and sniping at each other as the bus encounters the various denizens of the outback, are indeed broad stereotypes of the LGBT community, each in search of the identity, humanity and purpose that we all crave. It's that recognition of our selves that makes this such a guilty pleasure. Thornton's lip-synching to La Traviata whilst perched on the roof of the bus in a huge high heeled shoe will leave you agape, almost shell shocked from the ridiculous, camp spectacle of it all whilst Tony Sheldon brings an amazing depth and warmth to Bernadette and Donovan articulates well Mitzi's crisis of confidence at the dawning realisation that he's a father.

In the second half, Bernadette and company have bumped into Bob who fixes the bus and brings them back to opal capital of Australia, Coober Pedy. Bob's thinks the troupe will go down a storm locally but he hasn't bargained for his Thai bride Cynthia. Kanako Nakano steals the show briefly as much as Cynthia's antics outshine the three drag queens. It's an arresting sight watching her grind her way through M's 'Pop Muzik', with an emphasis on 'pop' as ping pong balls spring from various orifices out into the audience. When the bus arrives in Broken Hill, Felicia ignores Bob's warning to stay in the bus and prepares for a night on the town. Oliver Thornton is quite possibly the sexiest man I've ever seen in a pair of tights. The sight of his perfect arse gyrating to 'Hot Love' will live with me to my dying days.


'There. Now, you're fucked.'
Felicia's recklessness leads to a gay bashing that is thankfully resolved by Bernadette, who, egged on by one of the bashers, Frank, to fuck him, kicks him in the bollocks and wryly observes, 'There. Now, you're fucked.' The film's message about homophobia is retained here and seems as current as ever when here in the UK, whilst we may think we're safe and sound, the violence against gay men is still a serious matter with a number of disturbing high profile cases in recent years. In its own sweet way the show and the film wants us to be who we really are but also to understand the potential consequences. Some people simply won't tolerate you. The journey continues with yet another storming musical moment. After Bernadette woos Bob outside the bus with a huge cake and champagne, consequently falling asleep in said cake, Mitzi more or less reads the audience's collective wishes and sets in motion a version of 'MacArthur Park', complete with an ensemble dressed as cupcakes wielding very tall umbrellas. This thundering number is so effervescent and thrilling whilst also bordering on the barmy and surreal.



The date in Alice Springs is made, the show goes on, Mitzi meets his son Benjamin (a very tender scene played out to 'Always On My Mind') and Felicia finally makes her/his dream come true ('a cock, in a frock, on a rock') when all three of the troupe spectacularly mount Ayers Rock and lead us into the frenzied finale. A warm, often hilarious, extravagant, crowd pleaser, this is all too much to take in on one viewing alone and deserves repeated attention from an enthusiastic audience. If you enjoyed the film then this betters it a hundred fold for sheer spectacle and showmanship. Thornton is a revelation and definitely a star waiting to be born, Donovan is thoroughly likeable even if by the second half of this performance he was visibly tired and Sheldon is an absolute diva, exuding charm and charisma. It's a slickly choreographed show, exhausting and bewildering in its technical complexity, and the staging and design is wonderfully inventive and creative, full of eye popping madness. An utter delight and one of the best evening's entertainment I've had the pleasure to witness.

Official Site

Images courtesy and copyright Tristram Kenton. Many thanks.

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Viewing Figures

The Legal Bit

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