Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Back to the Small Rouge One

As of October 2nd, Red Dwarf is back in production, three years since post-production completed on series ten. Both Red Dwarf XI and XII have begun pre-production, the first steps in creating twelve new episodes, which will bring the total run up to 73. Full production doesn't begin until cameras start rolling in November. And for the first time, I've actually found out about a live recording in time to book tickets! I'm going to see an episode of Series XII recorded on February 26th, as a treat for my birthday. Series XI is set to air on Dave next year and XII in 2017, so I'll have to sit on the plot details for a whole year.

Producer Richard Naylor tweeted this image to mark the start of pre-production on Series XI:

Presumably this is Kryten himself, not Spare Head 2.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Casting Call: More DC Television Stars

The autumn TV season has started Stateside and the return of DC's series is imminent. Except Gotham, which is so imminent it's already started. Time enough for one last roundup of characters and actors joining the Arrowverse and the new Supergirl series.

Violett Beane
Jesse Chambers/Jesse Quick (The Flash)

Wow, we're really getting a full complement of speedsters in the new season of the The Flash. Not content with Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, Keiynan Lonsdale as Wally West and Teddy Sears as Jay Garrick, now they've added young female speedster Jesse Quick. While her backstory in the series will probably adjust this, in the comics she's the daughter of two Golden Age heroes, Johnny Quick and Liberty Belle. She inherits both their power sets, giving her both super strength and super speed. Although reluctant to become a costumed hero, she eventually joined the New Titans team. Violett Beane (great name) is a new face, and the only other credits I can find for her are the films Flay and Slash, neither of which has yet been released.

Franz Drameh
Jay Jackson/Firestorm (The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow)

Firestorm is such a weird, complicated character. In The Flash season one the original Firestorm was involved, a fusion of two characters, Ronnie Raymond (Robbie Amell) and Prof. Martin Stein (Victor Garber). In the comics, there have been various combinations of characters melted together to make Firestorm, including Jason Rusch, who had a brief appearance in The Flash (played by Luc Roderique). Yet, season two and Legends of Tomorrow will be fusing Stein with a wholly new character, Jay Jackson, described as a former high school athlete, who has become a mechanic since dropping out due to injury. Franz Drameh is an Anglo-Gambian actor, still quite new to the screen but known for the excellent Attack the Block and a role in Edge of Tomorrow (Live. Die. Repeat).

Demore Barnes
Henry Hewitt/Tokamak (The Flash)

Initially an enemy of Firestorm (introduced in The Fury of Firestorm in the 1980s), Henry Hewitt gained powers after exposing himself to the same conditions that created the nuclear-powered hero. This gives him the power to generate rings of energy that can destroy matter's atomic structure. The TV version appears to be another victim of the disaster at STAR Labs that created the Flash, Firestorm and the various metahumans of the series. Canadian actor Demore Barnes is best known as Hector "Hammerhead" Williams in The Unit, and has had numerous American TV appearances including as Raphael in Supernatural

Michael Ironside
Lewis Snart (The Flash)

Another villain for The Flash, Lewis Snart is the estranged father if Leonard and Lisa Snart, aka Captain Cold and the Golden Glider. Brief glimpses of their past in season one made it clear that Snart Sr. was an abusive father. He's back with a plan that endangers both his children. Michael Ironside is a huge sf fan and a bit of a legend among genre fans, known for roles in Top Gun, Robocop, Starship Troopers and The Machinist. He has DC experience as well, having voiced both Darkseid and, briefly, Batman, in animated adventures, and also having played Lois Lane's father, General Sam Lane on Smallville.

Tony Todd
voice of Zoom (The Flash)

Zoom is confusing, but I think I have it (I've become more versed in Flash-mythology lately). Eobard Thawne, the villain of the first season of The Flash, is known as the Reverse Flash and is also sometimes called Professor Zoom in the comics. Hunter Zolomon, on the other hand, is an entirely separate character, inspired by Thawne to become the newest Reverse Flash and taking on the moniker Zoom. He's obsessed with the Flash - the Wally West version in the the comics, generally - and wants to make him suffer personal tragedy so that he can become a more compassionate hero. He's more powerful than the original Reverse Flash, having the ability to manipulate the fabric of time around himself.

Tony Todd, owner of the scariest voice in Hollywood and infamous as the Candyman, as well as having numerous other major horror roles and various appearances on genre TV (he has three credits for the Star Trek franchise alone, including DS9: "The Visitor," which was just beautiful). He's only providing the voice for Zoom, so presumably the identity of the villain is to be kept under wraps for a while. In any case, he's the Big Bad for The Flash season two.

Jimmy Akingbola
Reiter (Arrow)

Well, this is an odd one. Reiter is better known as Baron Blitzkreig, and Earth-2 villain first introduced in the 70s but retroactively stated to be active during WWII. He's one of the various Nazi villains who joined the Fourth Reich, as well as affiliating with the Secret Society of Super Villains and Shadowspire. The important thing to note here is that he's a Nazi; in fact, he gained his powers of super strength, heat vision and flight after undergoing operations to save his life after he was wounded by a prisoner in a concentration camp. Yet, the TV version is going to be played by British actor Jimmy Akingbola, who is of Nigerian descent. This is an unexpected juxtaposition, and presumably the TV version will have a rather different character to the comics version, and won't be going by the name Baron Blitzkreig. In fact, the only similarities between Arrow Reiter and comics Reiter is that they're both villains and both have links to the Shadowspire organisation.

Jimmy Akingbola is mostly known for his theatre work but has expanded onto film and television in recent years, including appearances in sitcoms The Crouches and Big School and the film Anansi. Unlike his villainous counterpart, he's known to the acting community as "Mr. Nice." Which would actually be a cool name for a villain, come to think of it.

Stephanie Corneliussen
Valentina Vostok (Legends of Tomorrow)

Another character who'll need to be reimagined to make sense in a modern series, Vostok dates back to Showcase comic in 1977 and was a Soviet spy, who absorbed the powers of Negative Man to become Negative Woman. These powers included the ability to transform into an ethereal energy form, but she lost these powers. She became a generally heroic character and served in the Doom Patrol. How her origin is to be tweaked for the Arrowverse isn't certain, but she's described as an exceptional physicist, and if she's a villain she may be working for Vandal Savage in some capacity. Danish model Stephanie Corneliussen appeared on the acting seen a couple of years ago and has had major roles in Mr. Robot and The Exes.

Rutina Wesley
Liza Warner (Arrow)

Liza Warner is the alter ego of the comics character better known as Lady Cop. She first appeared in her own title in 1975, and her thing, see, is that she was a cop, but she was a lady. In spite of the utter sexism and naffness of this idea, she's actually a pretty impressive character, being a dedicated and skilled detective. Over the years she's been involved in thwarting some serious crimes and her comics have dealt with adult issues, such as sexual health and trauma counselling. She also has links to the Atom (the newer, Ryan Choi version, but she might meet Brandon Routh's Ray Palmer version). The Arrow version of Warner will head an anti-vigilante taskforce and so come up against Oliver Queen and his team. I think we can safely say she won't be calling herself Lady Cop. Rutina Wesley is best known for playing Tara in True Blood and Reba in Hannibal, and I must say I am loving the CW's support of diverse casting across its series. 

Iddo Goldberg
T.O. Morrow/Red Tornado (Supergirl)

Looks like Iddo Goldberg is playing two characters on Supergirl, scientist and creator, unless in this version of events T.O. Morrow actually becomes the Red Tornado. The android hero has had multiple origins in DC comics, but the most recent version is an android hosting an air elemental. (He doesn't appear to exist currently in the New 52 continuity, but I may be out of date here.) Red Tornado has been part of the Justice League and was an advisor and mentor to Young Justice team; indeed, I know him best from his appearance in the Young Justice animated series, voiced by Jeff Bennett. In spite of usually being heroic, his earliest iterations included the Tornado Tyrant, a more villainous turn, and his Supergirl TV persona has been described as a villain,. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see him ally with Supergirl in the future.

Red Tornado has the usual attributes of superhuman strength and intelligence you'd expect from an android, but also has the ability to control the air and generate wind. Most versions can also assume human form. The perennially villainous Thomas Oscar Morrow has no powers but is a highly gifted engineer and has created numerous mechanical warriors over the years. Iddo Goldberg is an Anglo-Israeli actor most recognisable for roles in British series such as Peaky Blinders and The Secret Diary of a Call Girl and the movie Defiance.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Audio Explosion

Lots of exciting audio information!

Strangeness in Space has just released Episode 2, which is now streamable here for free. Starring Trev & Simon and Sophie "Ace" Aldred, this episode also features Rufus Hound as Atrocious Knocious and Peter Guinness as the villainous Dr. Scarifium. There's also a guest appearance by Carol Cleveland. It's very silly, and did I mention it's free?

Big Finish has been secretly recording a special new box set starring John Hurt! We always wondered if they might get there eventually, and now BF have broached the Time War, starting with The War Doctor: Only the Monstrous. Clearly that title refers to Nicholas Briggs, who has no regard for the dwindling of our bank balances. The press release goes on to say that there will be three further box sets for the War Doctor, followed by a prequel release featuring Paul McGann's eighth Doctor at the beginnings of the Time War. All the sets are available for £20 on pre-order for both CD and download. As well as this, McGann stars in this month's big release, the first set in the Doom Coalition series, which is set to crossover with BF's new River Song series. So bye-bye pocket money. (The order of events right now seems to be To the Death [previously on Radio 4X], Dark Eyes 1-4, Doom Coalition 1-4 [with a River Song instalment too], The Eighth Doctor: The Time War, The Night of the Doctor [the webcast mini-ep], The War Doctor: Only the Monstrous.)

Before all that, though, there's a chance to listen to some classic science fiction on Radio 4X. Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s 1960 novel A Canticle For Leibowitz has been adapted for radio in this excellent reading by Nigel Lindsay, who explores this devastated future through the eyes of a Catholic monk. The first book in the novel, Fiat Homo, is now available to download or stream in five episodes. It's really quite something.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

REVIEW: The Magician's Way by E.M. Scott

"Adela, the Forest Queen, has protected the balance of nature in the Three Valleys for 1000 years. The Three Valleys are the safest place on earth. But Adela is tied now, too tired, and something stirs in the well she guards. If left unchecked it threatens all within the natural world. 

A twelve-year-old girl, befriended by a banished knight, may hold a key to keeping the balance But has she been taught enough to do so?"

It's easy to fall back on favourite authors, and while I have plenty of Pratchett and Rankin for the near future, I'm making the effort to read new authors; both new to me and new to publication. E.M. Scott is new to the fantasy scene, The Magician's Way being her first novel. It's a book for younger readers, especially suitable for 7/8/9-year-olds, such as the Year Three class that teacher Scott dedicates her book to. Children are one of Scott's two main concerns, along with wildlife. She sets this out herself in a postscript, which details that 10% of the book's profits will go towards charities that support conservation and child welfare. Without this, though, her concerns are clear through reading the novel, which takes time to explore the relationships between its child protagonist and the many animals that inhabit the kingdom in which she lives.

The story is told through the eyes of Lola, the young apprentice of the aged Magician, who has lived a quiet rural life before the disruption to the Kingdom of the Three Valleys necessitates their travelling to the King's castle and the surrounding village. The nature of the threat to the King is unexpected, and the force that threatens the kingdom has a wide, unceasing reach, giving the tale an oppressive atmosphere. Thankfully, there are many friends and allies for Lola, so at no point do the odds seem insurmountable. The Magician himself wanes quickly, and Lola developing her talents and strengths as she leads the fight against the evil that threatens the Three Valleys. Her greatest gift allows her to connect to the natural world in a unique way, and the story puts me in mind of a more child-friendly version of Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice and its follow-ups.

The novel is written in clear, straightforward prose, and should be accessible for younger readers as they make their way through a story that continually adds new elements before building to a strong climax with a powerful foe. Sometimes a little more flourish to the telling would be welcome, but on the whole the story is strong, intriguing and easy to follow without ever talking down to its target audience. I'm pleased to hear that two further novels are planned. I think it's quite clear where Lola's destiny will take her, but how she'll get there is another question entirely. A strong debut.

REVIEW: Shocktober Fest Scream Park 2015

Some background, for those who don't know: Tulley's Farm is a site in West Sussex that has been holding Hallowe'en-themed attractions since the mid-nineties, which in 2009 grew into Shocktober Fest, an American-style haunted farm event that sells out annually and has been voted the most popular Hallowe'en event in the UK. Every October the event is held for several weeks, encompassing the very busy half term holiday and building in anticipation (and cost) to All Hallows Eve itself. From this year there's also a revived Spooktober event for youngsters and another venue, Tulley's "The Howl," at Mead Open Farm in Bedfordshire.

This was my first trip to Shocktober Fest, although many of my friends have been to it and other themed events at Tulley's in the past. This year there are eight main attractions, or Haunts, which range from the very mild to the seriously nerve-rattling. The oldest and most well known is the Haunted Hayride, the most kid-friendly of the Haunts, a trailer ride through woods peppered with shacks and oddities and populated by zombified cowboys, murderous maniacs and, rather brilliantly, dancing phantom nuns. Because, why not? Also pretty tame is the Haunted House, which is a good entry level for the more serious haunts and gives you a taste of the various ghouls who'll leap out at you. The Haunted House in particular is very brief. 

Stronger is the Nightshade Circus, far more claustrophobic than the Haunted House, and no good at all for coulrophobes. (It's also where they send the really attractive actors, we noticed.) The Cellar is another haunted house event, but the best of the lot, the confined and twisted spaces providing ample opportunity for the various ghosts to hide before they leap out at you (and they really do get right up in your face). It's also a little trickier to find your way around, which makes it more interesting, but not as baffling as some of the more adult Haunts. 

The Colony and the Volt are extremely claustrophobic. The Colony, a post-apocalyptic island of inbred cannibals, co-opts the corn maze and involves a lengthy period through a pitch black building, feeling your way along as you can't see a damned thing. It could also do with some actual indication of where to go and when, because the snarling actors weren't really able to communicate this (and are seemingly forbidden from dropping character), and more than once we found ourselves outside the boundaries of the Haunt and having to find our way back in. Briefer, but more intense, was the genuinely unsettling Volt, which supposedly adds the risk of electric shocks to the struggle of finding your way through the darkness. In actuality, it's a psych-out; you're so on-edge waiting for the shocks that never come that you almost feel them every time you touch a wall. Of the six Haunts we went through, this was the one that shook me, and it was almost all self-inflicted.

The most popular Haunts would seem to be the Chop Shop and Hell-ements, neither of which we experienced. The Chop Shop had a 45-minute queue and we honestly couldn't be bothered with that, although from the screams and chainsaw noises we heard it was certainly frightening. Hell-ements, which has been raved about since its creation a few years ago, sounded a bit much after already fighting through pitch darkness on other Haunts. This one involves having your head completely covered while you find your way through on a rope... not for the faint of heart.

As well as the Haunts there's plenty going on in the grounds, although as we attended the preview night (for a reduced price) not everything was yet set up. The overall theme was "Horror-wood," with an American horror atmosphere pervading the site. There were many spooks wandering around entertaining people while they waited, ate and got lost; some of actors and characters were excellent, others, well, weren't. Best were the Barber Chops, two barbershop zombies who regaled us with songs. I understand that once it's fully populated there will be a good deal more general entertainment. A basic pass costs a tenner, so not bad if you don't want to see the Haunts and just want to enjoy food, spooks and music, while the "X-Scream Pass," allowing one go round each Haunt, was £25 for preview night, increasing to £30 next weekend and hitting peak at £45 on Hallowe'en. However, given that the Haunts don't open until 7.30 and the park closes at 11.30, it's hard to fit in all eight events if you don't shell out £40-£70 plus for a fast track or VIP pass. Not impossible, since they're mostly quite brief and the queuing was, generally, moving pretty quickly, but tricky. 

So, overall, this was great fun. However, there are some major problems that need addressing. I'm accepting that the preview night has a few creases that will be ironed out - there was a hitch at the Hayride which delayed its start, for example - but I'm sure that this will get sorted. Other problems are more serious. The general staff, for example, aren't permitted to go through the Haunts, which is problematic considering the lack of information regarding them. All the haunts have essentially the same warnings about darkness, sudden shocks and claustrophobia, but there's no way to tell which is going to be more severe other than by going through. While guests, naturally, enter at their own risk, this risk does need to be informed. It's hard to know quite how you'll react to a Haunt until you've experienced it, and there's no easy way for anyone panicking to get out of a Haunt once they've entered it. While there are medics standing by, their access is, by the nature of the events, limited. 

The most serious element of this is the use of inflatable walls in at least four of the Haunts (of the ones we went through, only the Hayride and the Haunted House lacked this). These are extremely claustrophobic, especially in the Colony and the Volt, essentially enclosing you in a smothering layer of fabric through which you have to force yourself in order to proceed. It's actually quite difficult to make it through these, and for some in the party the tightness and closeness of the material made it difficult to breathe. Using this to some extent on fully half of the Haunts (if not more), seems excessive, and made much of the experience unpassable for one of our party. 

While I understand the desire to keep the Haunts spoiler-free, people need to understand what they're likely to be letting themselves in for. There's a big difference between a poky shack, a black, enclosed chamber, and a smothering canvas envelope. While some of the staff were extremely helpful - a particular shout-out to the young man at the Cellar, who went to some lengths to find out what exactly was to be expected in that Haunt - others seemed undertrained or simply not bothered. The security detail also did very little to maintain order, which is quite important in a place with so many over-excited teenagers. (All the attractions are, questionably, rated 12, although anyone under fifteen is supposed to be accompanied by an adult, something that was not being enforced inside the park).

My first Shocktober Fest was great fun, and I would certainly go again (although probably not on opening night), but the management need to take some of their responsibilities more seriously when it comes to the welfare and experience of their customers.

UPDATE: Tulley's have refunded my friend the price of her ticket and have stated that allowing staff to experience the Haunts will be discussed at a management level. We thank them for the quick and considerate response.