Saturday, 23 July 2016


Season Two, Episode Six - The Gallant Space Gentleman, Baby

Scarlet falls in with a handsome alien aristocrat; Dandy is having none of it.

We're Alien Hunters, Baby: 

Cloudians: a rare humanoid species. A Cloudian generates a cloud around himself, comprised of all the memories and data he has accumulated during his travels. If a Cloudian should lose his cloud, it is considered shameful. Dandy and crew have been tracking a Cloudian for six months, only to stumble across him when he stops by to pick up Scarlet. Cloudian men are known to home in on sad, lonely women, show them a good time and then dump them. Sir Gentle Nobra, though, seems more genuine than that, and is truly looking for love. He's quite naive and old-fashioned, as well. A Cloudian's cloud reacts to their mood, displaying rain when they are sad and lightning when they are angry. Dandy tries an on-the-spot registration of Sir Gentle but Scarlet dismisses him; a Cloudian without his cloud is no Cloudian at all.

Ambienceans: disembodied entities that supposedly at a little atmosphere to a place. Sir Gentle bought two, named Atmo and Sphere, to cheer up his abode, but they just giggle and manifest as a living laugh track.

He's Dandy, Baby: After six months of tracking the Cloudian with no results, Dandy is skeletally thin from hunger, dehydrated and becoming erratic. He's lovelorn too, although how much of this is how he actually feels, and how much is his delirium is uncertain (he starts going on about how he is love). Meow he was less thrashed when he was a zombie, which is a very weird moment of continuity between episodes considering this can't possibly follow those events.

On planet C'est la Vie, Dandy refuses to look for rare aliens on the basis that he could ruin someone's romance by capturing their potential mate. He's galvanised to action when it becomes clear that Scarlet has gone off with a Cloudian. He doesn't seem jealous but cares enough about her not to want to see her used by him.

The Scarlet Woman, Baby: She's lonely and hasn't much of a lovelife. She considers herself overly suspicious because of her work. Convinced to go out with her coworkers, she has a pretty dreadful time until she's swept off her feet by Sir Gentle. However, she soon realises what he is and is too proud for his advances. She starts to warm to him again, and is girlishly thrilled at the prospect of Gentle and Dandy fighting over her, before they are sidelined by the rescue of Honey. She proceeds to get drunk with Meow. Her best friend at the ARC is a statuesque, curvy alien woman named Pine-Pine.

You're my Candy Girl, Baby:

Honey loves wrestling and biking. When she's not working at BooBies, she bikes across planets to go see her favourite wrestler, Misawa, and she's got some pretty mean moves herself. She's definitely not the airhead she appears to be; she's capable of outwitting Dr. Gel and fighting her way off his ship. When Gel tries to make a copy of Honey's brain in order to build up a database on Dandy, his equipment overloads due to insufficient capacity. It turns out that Honey is half-Cloudian. Her real name is Lady Nobra, and she's the half-sister of Sir Gentle. Although she could generate a cloud, she doesn't carry it with her (probably because she's smarter than him and knows people would be hunting her down for it).

He's Not a Space Cat, Baby: He's so hungry, he dreams of chicken wings. He is but one of several male characters in this episode who falls for Scarlet.

He's Just a Little Obsolete, Baby: A robot comes onto QT and he doesn't quite know what to do. He feels deeply sorry for Scarlet, realising how sad she must feel.

It's Tech in Space, Baby: Sir Gentle's ship is named the Edinburgh, and is a floating castle and courtyard in space, surrounded by the pink haze of his cloud. It has no weaponry or defences.

The Aloha Oe runs out of fuel due to the crew's cashflow problems, and has to be pedal powered by Meow.

I Know This Planet, Baby: 

Planet C'est la Vie: hosting a meet night/all-you-can-eat buffet, free for ladies only. Dandy and Meow talk their way in by demanding that they're women and that you shouldn't judge by appearances. (In the Japanese subs, Dandy actually says "Everyone has a fault or two," which could be a paraphrase from the end of Some Like it Hot.) A giant snail comes onto Pine-Pine; presumably, the snail got in for half price.

Honey goes biking across a desert planet with two suns. It just might be Tatooine.

There's Bad Guys Too, Baby: Dr. Gel kidnaps Honey in order to use her knowledge to capture Dandy. He's actually very apologetic and gentlemanly towards her, bearing her no ill will. Gel comes across as pretty decent, if a little naive. He falls for Honey, which she uses to her advantage, running rings round him and sending out an SOS, with him believing it's a trap for Dandy.

Admiral Perry summons the Seventh Fleet to capture Dandy, orders Honey's death and has no qualms about Gel being killed in the process. "Screw him!" are his exact words.

The Bottom Line, Baby: Scarlet-focused episodes are always good, and there aren't enough of them. This is the beginning of the rather sweet Scarlet/Dandy romance that will be followed up in episode 2-10, "Lovers are Trendy, Baby." Honey also gets some brilliant development, proving to be more than a match for the boys. The two characters complement each other nicely, with Scarlet showing her softer side and Honey her hardass side. The episode develops into a... love quadrilateral?.. and ends in a suitably action-packed and emotional climax.

A Target for Tommy

This is the latest release from Obverse Books (publishers of the Iris Wildthyme short fiction series, The Black Archive Doctor Who reference books, The Sexton Blake Library, The City of the Saved and more). It's probably best to allow Stuart Douglas and Paul Magrsto describe this very special release.

From the official product description: "As many in fandom will be aware, Scream Street creator, Beano writer, Doctor Who author and all round lovely guy, Tommy Donbavand, has been diagnosed with cancer and is currently recovering from a series of painful and unpleasant treatments. 

One of the worst things he has to face, in addition to the physical and mental pain, is the inability to write and visit schools a major part of the income he and his family rely on to live. 

(We decided) to put together a Doctor Who short story collection, with all the profits going to help Tommy in what really is his hour of need."

And from Stuart himself: "Who could resist me writing about Pertwee and Delgado coming face to face with Mapp and Lucia? Or Phil Marsh with Capaldi in a very peculiar cinema? Or Paul Magrs with Miss Hawthorne and the LINDA crew? How about Stew Sheargold and his tale of inter-species love? Nick Wallace's season of Dr Who in 140 character synopses? Sharon Tregenza's tribute to Tommy's Scream Street?
Featuring pretty much every Dr Who character you could wish for* - plus Senor 105, a smidge of Iris, folk from other world's entirely - and many more...
I'm extremely proud to have co-edited and contributed to this - might well be my favourite Obverse book!"

A Target for Tommy is available in paper and ebook formats and is available to buy directly from Obverse Books. Enjoy the first, very peculiar, highly entertaining Doctor Who fiction release from Obverse, all in support of author Tommy Donbavand.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016


I'm making the effort to catch up on some of the films I missed on their initial release, and the first on my list is High Rise, just published on DVD, based on the novel of the same name by the infamous J.G. Ballard.

It's a depressing, unpleasant, and deeply cynical film. It's also very, very funny in parts. It'd be hard to call it a comedy, yet I laughed harder at moments in this film than I have in almost any recent comedy I can think of. It could only ever have been made in the UK. No one but the British can muster this combination of deep-seated cynicism and black humour. We have this core feeling that someday, somehow, things are going to get worse, and this ludicrous stiff-upper-lippedness in the face of it. Ballard's novels, and darkly absurd films from Python to Brass Eye, are as unwholesomely British as they come.

Ballard's novel was published in 1975, and producer Jeremy Thomas has been trying to get a film adaptation made pretty much since. It's a film that you'd perhaps expect Cronenberg to have made, given that he adapted Ballard's own Crash for the screen, and that Rabid evokes the same urban claustrophobia in its horror. Instead, Ben Wheatley directed this, bringing the same dour realism and acidic humour as he did with Sightseers. Amy Jump's script tweaks the details but retains the same story as the novel: an all-inclusive tower block acting as a microcosm of society (particularly 20th century English society), and its bizarre yet inevitable collapse into barbarism. 

The cast is uniformly excellent, with Tom Hiddleston taking centre stage as reclusive surgeon Laing. 2015 saw Hiddleston appear in a number of gothic horror stories, and High Rise is not too far removed; the twisted architecture of the gothic tradition updated to this concrete monstrosity. Laing's gradual journey to insanity is the core narrative, but more gripping is the breakdown suffered by his neighbour Wilder (a magnetic turn by Luke Evans). Although Laing considers Wilder "the sanest man in the building," he displays a barely contained viciousness from the beginning. As his condition escalates - literally, as he ascends the floors in search of the architect, the gloriously unsubtly named Royal (Jeremy Irons) - he becomes both more bestial and more in control of his environment. 

The women in the block, and the cast, fare worse. Sienna Miller's Charlotte is a sex object from the start, and she suffers the most from Wilder's violence. No female character fares well, though, all too realistically suffering the most at the hands of men and the rules and restrictions of society break down. Ultimately, though, the men are punished for their brutality, with all but a few lost at the hands of the now-dominant female survivors. 

High Rise is graphically sexual, unpleasantly so, showing lust and sexual power play in its most degrading and animalistic light. Considering this along with the violence, and you have to wonder what a film has to do to get an 18 certificate in this country these days.

Perhaps this reflects that society has crept closer to the horror that Ballard envisaged. It's possible to read many philosophies into High Rise: anti-classist, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment, anti-war, pro-tribalism. Wheatley and Jump's final scene indicates their anti-Thatcher slant. Fundamentally, and like so much of Ballard's work, it's about the thin line between civilised society and our aggressive, fractious nature. It can be seen in events throughout the 20th and 21st century, from the catastrophic tribal warfare in Rwanda to the vicious power play in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to the sudden explosions of violence by individuals in the news every day. To appreciate High Rise you have to accept the absurdity that not one character attempts to get help from the outside, and only a few even contemplate leaving. It makes sense in the metaphor, though, and I feel it would have been even more powerful if we had never seen the events that took place beyond the walls of the block.

At one point in the film, Laing says that he is "living in a future that has already taken place." Like much dystopian fiction, High Rise exists in a lost future, one which can no longer come to pass. The architectural revolution of the tower block faltered and died, and now, the idea of the rich and upwardly mobile clamouring to move into such a building is ludicrous. Tower blocks have long been synonymous with crime and social decay, albeit of a wholly different, more mundane order to that of the story. The decision to evoke the era of the novel's publication was a wise one, for High Rise is a shadow of the fears of a man at a particular time, yet one with unsettling echoes in the country, and the world, today. It's a nasty, chaotic, unsettling film, and hugely affecting. Don't watch it with the dog.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016


First of all, I'd like to put your mind at rest. I'm not in the employ of Sony or being paid to improve the standing of the new Ghostbusters movie. This seems to be a real concern to many of the film's loud, angry haters, who can't understand any other reason for the many positive reviews the film is receiving. I can also confirm that, unlike many of the more vehemently negative reviewers, I have actually seen the film (the UK release date was Monday July 11th, four days ahead of the States). Thirdly, I can confirm this: Bustin' still makes me feel good.

Is Ghostbusters 2016 as good as Ghostbusters 1984? No, it's not, but in the category of science fiction comedy, very few things are. Although there were a fair few such film both around the time of the original and in recent years, it's still a narrow genre, and a tricky one to get right. The new Ghostbusters has to hold its own amongst such hits as Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as exist under the long shadow of the original.

Ghostbusters 2016 is not Ghostbusters 1984. It is not a sequel, nor a remake, although the influence of the original is worn prominently. It isn't a feminist sermon, nor a man-hating rant, although it most certainly has moments that will be latched onto by those who are out to label it as such. There's an element of the battle of the sexes to the story, but it's a minor one. Some people were concerned it would be full of "girl jokes," and while some of the lines surely are "girl jokes," they're funny ones - and heaven forbid that the occasional gag be written with the female members of the audience in mind. (The most disgusting joke in the film, although still very mild, is definitely aimed at women, but then, the women I know have always had a grottier sense of humour than the men.)

What the film is, is fun. Simple, straightforward fun. There are plenty of jokes, and while they don't all work, the hit:miss ratio is pretty damned good. The story is actually far stronger than in the original; it's better paced and develops more smoothly. Once the new team have established what they're going to be doing for a living, there's a significant stage of trial and development, unlike the sudden leap from hiring a base to catching Slimer in the first. The strongest elements in the film come from the interplay of the cast, who are all excellent. Kristen Wiig, one of the best comedy actors currently working, centres the movie as believer-turned-sceptic-turned-believer Dr. Erin Gilbert, while her once-and-future best friend Abby Yates is made real and likeable by Melissa McCarthy. Their relationship is the core of the story, everything else revolving around it.

Out of the four central actors, Leslie Jones is the one I'm least familiar with; she turns out to be an absolute highlight. I was among those who wasn't pleased that the sole black character was left with the streetwise sassy role instead being allowed to be a scientist. On the contrary though, Patty brings much needed grounding and knowledge to the team, and is far more than a stereotype. Leslie Jones makes Patty easily the most likeable and relatable character on the team.

The absolute standout, though, is of course Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann. McKinnon's performance is utterly unsubtle but hugely enjoyable. Holtzmann is weird, sexy, brilliant and a little terrifying. There are times when she seems to be taking part in a different production to the others, but that's less of a clash of styles than it might sound. It's more that she's just one of those people who seems just a little out-of-step with the rest of the world, but who doesn't care a jot. Holtzmann is some kind of bizarre mix of Doc Brown, Captain Cold, Tank Girl and Iso Suicide (honestly, if you knew her...) Some people are going to absolutely hate her, but they'd be wrong.

Chris Hemsworth gets to show off his admirable comedy skills as Kevin, the team's dimwitted assistant. Having a dense boy kept around as eye candy for the clever women is such an obvious inversion of a cliched joke it's surprising it's not been done more often. As good as Hemsworth is - and he does get a chance to do more than play stupid during the course of the film - Kevin is a one joke character and does wear thin after a while. Of the more minor roles, fellow SNL luminary Cecily Strong stands out as the Mayor's aide, while Deadpool's Karim Soni has a nice recurring role.

Now for the really important stuff: the ghosts and the gear. Holtzmann's creations look appealingly cobbled together, and while there are variants on the classic proton packs and ghost trap (and Ecto 1, naturally), there's an impressive array of new equipment of display. The ghosts, on the other hand (and the villain's own technological creations) have a more Technicolor, cartoonish aesthetic. This isn't a failing at all; while the trailer didn't show the film's visuals off terribly well, as an overall look they work very well. There's more of a feel of the animated series than the original film; in fact, this extends to the entirety of the production. And, like The Real Ghostbusters, the new movie includes some quite creepy and unsettling moments. Family friendly scares, of course, but effective.

Of the weaker elements, it has to be said that the villain of the piece is rather weak. Although Neil Casey gives it his all as downtrodden psychotic Rowan, he's just too unimpressive and pathetic to convince as a real villain. Once he crosses into new forms, he improves a little, and (spoiler for anyone who has missed all the trailers) making his final form the logo ghost is a great touch. One thing that reviews mostly agree on is that the cameos by the original cast are among the weakest elements in the film. On the whole, I think they work quite well. Bill Murray, in particular, seems to be having a blast, although Dan Aykroyd's cameo is a little too on-the-nose (I prefer the one he had in Casper). The problem is that there are just too many of them; it's a constant reminder that this exists in the shadow of another production. Some elements don't work at all, and they're predominantly the ones that try too hard to reimagine aspects of the original. Lady Slimer and the generally awful covers and remixes of the theme being the worst offenders.

Ultimately, the new Ghostbusters is tremendous fun. It's unlikely to win over any of its committed haters, but who cares about them? They'll hate it no matter what. There will be boys and girls laughing and jumping through this, and who knows, maybe a few of them will go check out the original. 1984 had a Ghostbusters that was made in the style of the time by some of the biggest names in American comedy. 2016 has its own Ghostbusters in the same stead. This movie would have benefited from letting go of the original and not trying to please fanboys like me. Still, it works. I found it a joy to watch.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016


Season Two, Episode Four - The Transfer Student is Dandy, Baby

In the musical episode, Dandy enrols in a space highschool in order to find a rare alien.

He's Dandy, Baby: He never went to high school. This probably has something to do with why he wants to go to Baberley Hills so badly, although it's more to do with his desperate attempts to chat up the girls (just how old is Dandy?) He has limited musical ability but levels up with a Rocky-styled montage. During the big sing-off, he sings about asses. Which is pretty much a sure thing for a chart-topper these days.

They're Sidekicks, Baby: Neither Meow nor QT get to do a great deal this episode. Meow kicks off the plot by following the Cliponian on Twitter. They later sneak into the school dressed as janitors.

It's Tech in Space, Baby: Baberley Hills exists in a biodome within a huge space station in orbit of a planet. It's security is provided by a gigantic android. In the school, the social order is determined by singing ability. There are plenty of other classes, though. One professor, who looks like the Fly, is experimenting with matter transmitters (he looks like the classic Fly, but his equipment is taken from the 1986 remake). The use of superpowers is forbidden on campus.

We're Alien Hunters, Baby:

The Cliponian: An extremely rare inhabitant of the planet Clip-on. Cliponians are humanoid but are distinguished by a plant that grows out of their heads, which only blooms when the Cliponian is in love. Dandy completely fails to realise that the Cliponian is his prom queen, Freckles. He thinks she's plain, until he realises she has booty. He's wrong. A geeky redhead with a killer ass? You should fight for that.

Baberley students: There are a lot of different life forms enrolled at Baberley Hills. The elite students are slim, elfin girls and huge, meat-handed jocks. Three jocks can morph together to become a gigantic green hulk (catchphrase: "Isaac smash!") The various aliens making up the crowd are almost Dadaist in their bizarre variety. One of them looks like a gigantic tapeworm, which is fairly unpleasant. Perhaps it can sing. More unpleasant is the plant creature that ejaculates something all over Dandy when he asks her/it to prom.

Brodo Asogian: One of the jocks is a hench version of ET. Which, by logical extension, means this is in the same universe as Star Wars.

There's Bad Guys Too, Baby: By this stage, Dr. Gel is basically stalking Dandy for its own sake.

Don't Quote Me, Baby: "Nobody puts Dandy in a corner!"

The Bottom Line, Baby: It's Glee in space, obviously, and while that might be fun if you're a Glee fan, it's otherwise a rather average musical episode. There's nothing wrong with a singsong, but the songs have to be good. Even the climactic number isn't anything special. Freckles looks cute in her prom dress.