Wednesday, 28 November 2012

REVIEW: IDW Ghostbusters 1: The Man from the Mirror

It’s about time we had an ongoing Ghostbusters comic. I used to get Marvel UK’s RGB every week when I was a tiny person, and that’s something I miss. I’m very behind, however, so I’m on to the more affordable trades until I catch up – then we’ll see about subscribing to IDW’s monthly releases.

This current series takes place firmly in the movie continuity, and follows on from the Ghostbusters II, the official video game and IDW’s earlier one-off comics and miniseries. That’s the canon, if we must use that word, at use here - with a few caveats. There are plenty of sneaky references to the RGB  cartoon series in this first volume, and they’ll only become more overt as the series continues. Hell, there are references to the toys based on the series, not to mention all manner of other Buster-related trivia. Spotting them is all part of the fun. It’s almost like Where’s Wally?

Of course, none of the minutiae matters if the story and the artwork aren’t up to scratch. Thankfully, this first story in the ongoing Ghostbusters saga is a cracking read. Erik Burnham’s script is essentially a straightforward follow-up to the original 1984 movie, but adds enough new elements into the mix to keep things from feeling stale. It’s a Ray-centric story, which is welcome, since Dr Stantz has perhaps been the least explored of the four Busters in spin-off material over the years. Beginning with a dream sequence that manages to both raise a laugh and set up the premise, by the sixth page we’ve been reintroduced to the main characters, seen the face of Gozer and the truly sublime ‘Ray Puft,’ and met Ray’s spirit guide, who is clearly the ghost of John Belushi (funny, I always thought that was Slimer).

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

REVIEW: IDW Ghostbusters Omnibus 1

If there’s one thing I adore – apart from Doctor Who, Red Dwarf and Star Trek – then it’s Ghostbusters. So it’s high time I caught up with IDW’s new comic series (actually, if IDW got the rights to Dwarf, they’d be publishing comics based on my four favourite fictional worlds.) I recently treated myself to the first IDW Ghostbusters omnibus, the first Real Ghostbusters omnibus and the first volume of the ongoing IDW strips. The Real Ghostbusters Omnibus contains reprints of the old NOW Comics released in the US. I grew up with Marvel-UK’s RBG comic, but still recognise a few of these; the two publications sometimes reprinted each other’s strips. The RGB Omnibus is great fun, but it’s a nostalgia exercise. I’m going to focus my attention on the new Ghostbusters stories.

First up is the Ghostbusters Omnibus, which collects IDW’s miniseries and one-shots in their popular omnibus format. A third of the book is taken up by the ambitious opening story, The Other Side, a dimension-hopping adventure by the wonderfully named Keith Champagne. The Ghostbuster find themselves right in the middle of a ghostly mob war, an altercation that leaves them in serious trouble. Perhaps this script could be pitched as the third Ghosbusters movie – it might finally win Bill Murray over. Murray’s already said that he’d be interested in returning if Peter Venkman could be a ghost, and in this series, that’s just what happens, when one of the phantom mobsters possesses his body, kicking Dr V. out and into the great beyond. The others aren’t long behind, finding themselves on the receiving end of a hail of bullets, but I’m sure Murray wouldn’t mind that – the unusual circumstances of Venkman’s disembodiment leave his spirit superpowered!

Saturday, 17 November 2012






Last year’s eighth Doctor finale, To the Death, left the Doctor in a very bad place. Now, having suffered terrible losses at the hands of the Daleks, the eighth Doctor returns with a new audio box set courtesy of Big Finish. Four feature-length episodes making up a single story, epic in scope, Dark Eyes creates a whole new chapter in the Doctor’s life.

The first thing one notices about this collection is how good it looks. The cover to the box set and the individual episode covers are all beautifully rendered, with brand new, specially shot photos of stars Paul McGann and Ruth Bradley. Most notable is the Doctor’s new look. It seems strange to worry about how the character dresses in an audioplay, but it really does make a difference, establishing this as a step forward for the eighth Doctor. For years, Big Finish have had to be content with a handful of publicity shots from the ’96 TV movie, showing McGann in his velvet finery. Now, the star has finally agreed to pose for some new shots, finally allowing the series to acknowledge that the Doctor has aged and matured over the years. I love his new look, masterminded by WETA – a blue leather peacoat, a manbag, a steampunk-styled sonic screwdriver and a shorter haircut. It not only reflects McGann’s take on the character – having been designed with his input – but also acts as a step towards the ninth Doctor’s battered look, something that ties in with the character’s development.  (He still has to have his frock coat ruined by mustard gas and mud before he changes, though). Plus, McGann looks mean, rugged and more gorgeous than ever.

So, that’s enough wittering about the look of things. The important thing is how it sounds. The last run of the EDAs must have provided a hard act to follow, but Dark Eyes does not disappoint.  While the term ‘epic’ gets bandied around far too much, it really does apply to this mighty story. Stretching from the end of time, through a desperate venture in the battlefields of World War I, back and forth in the history of the British Isles, to Gallifrey itself and across space to worlds unknown, this adventure is vast in its scope. The myriad settings are brought to life by Big Finish’s typically excellent sound design, evoking terror and wonder wherever the TARDIS materialises.
McGann, of course, is excellent. Over the years, his performance for Big Finish has varied somewhat. You can tell when he’s interested in a script and when he is simply marking time. Judging by his performance here, McGann has never been more enthused by a script than he is here. It’s wonderful to hear the angrier side of this Doctor. He so often gets stuck with the overexcited, childlike side of this incarnation’s personality. McGann is at his best when his character is railing against some injustice, and never has he been angrier or more anguished than here. His hope and optimism gone, this is a Doctor acting in desperation.  Dark and moody quickly become boring, however, and it’s to the credit of Nick Brigg’s script and McGann’s performance that his new friendship with Molly brings out his more positive side once more, without ever letting the losses he’s suffered be forgotten.

Molly O’Sullivan – the latest in a long line of companions. It must be tough to come up with new characters that stand out against the crowd, but with Molly O’Sullivan they’ve managed it. Ruth Bradley is perfect in the role. Rather than using her natural, soft brogue, she makes Molly roaringly Irish. She’s a blunt, working-class country lass, one who worked in domestic service prior to travelling to France to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment with her mistress. Back in a time when Ireland was still resolutely British, she knows her place in society but nonetheless has the utmost confidence in herself. When we first meet her in No Man’s Land, she’s abrupt and pragmatic, even bitchy, hardened by what she’s seen, but her experiences with the Doctor release her cheerful, good-humoured side once again. Just like the Doctor, in fact. They’re two injured souls who need each other to begin healing, and they make among the best Doctor-companion teams the audio range has ever produced.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


There are two ways to look at Red Dwarf, either as a sitcom that happens to be set in space, or as a science fiction show with jokes. Over the years, it’s tried both of these approaches, and they’ve both had a turn during this latest series. after an episode that went firmly down the sitcom route last week, for the finale Doug Naylor elected for a straighter, sci-fi adventure. That’s not to say it was low on laughs – far from it – but it wasn’t the rapid-fire of jokes and running gags that the previous episodes of this run have displayed. Nor was it light on character development, using the Simulant attack plot as a way to explore Rimmer’s deep-seated neuroses.

The episode starts unusually, with a flashback to young Rimmer’s days on Io. The poor sod not only has the overbearing father from hell, but it turns out he’s his teacher too. It’s an ingeniously scripted scene that wrings sympathy for Rimmer, before the punchline shows what a little shit he was even back then. Looking forward a big, exciting life-or-death escapade, I was a little underwhelmed at the clapped-out Simulant that boarded Red Dwarf  and began stalking its corridors. However, this was no Simulant, just Hogey the Roguey, hilariously played by Richard O’Callaghan. All this was set-up for the main plot, but provided much of the funniest material for the episode, before it got down to business. From this point, it was good, tightly-plotted stuff, with enough laughs to keep the mood from getting too grim. The scenes on the Simulant Death Ship, although removed from the crew of the Dwarf itself, were high points of the episode, with Gary Cady sublimely sinister as the Berserker Lord. As for that foul hara-kiri scene… good, sick, gory humour we haven’t seen the likes of since Series VI.

Friday, 9 November 2012

A Christmas Morality Tale

E. G. Wolverson, author of The Tally and supremo of The History of the Doctor, has released his first children's book for Kindle. Entitled Supersize vs Superskinny Santa, it's a treatise on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and will appeal to any young child with a nasty sense of humour (which is to say, most of them). It's illustrated by Jemma Brown and is rather glorious.

You can download it from Amazon for a mere £1.99.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

All Hallows etc.

I had a good Hallowe'en this year. I was lucky enough to get a weekend of work - a rare treat, since I work for William Hill and the retail and leisure industries involve weekend work. I generally have to work either a Saturday or a Sunday, and they usually end up as full days. Staffing it otherwise is possible, but difficult, since splitting shifts usually means people have to work for some time on both days. So we tend to do it this way. However, I'm owed quite a lot of hours, and managed to get both Saturday and Sunday off. So I went to a Hallowe'en party - my first in years. The last one I went to was at a friend's uni digs, so we're talking a while back. I went as Zaphod Beeblebrox, a costume which caused even more problems than my choice this year.

Yep, I went as the Phantom of the Opera (or "Opera Guy," as he was dubbed at the party). This image is from the early part of the evening. You'll notice that while I lack a cape, I do have a mask firmly attached to my face. This didn't last. I'd hoped to find some cosmetics suited to the task, but I left it all a bit late. I asked my occasional ladyfriend Sekai if she had any tit-tape or eyelash glue that might do the trick, but she hadn't any with her when I saw her just before the pre-Hallows weekend. In the end, we settled on double-sided sellotape, which is pretty much what tit-tape is anyway, as I understand it. (I haven't had any call to use it before, being small-bosomed even for a man.)

It worked very well to start with. I bought a reasonably decent but reasonably-priced mask from a costume shop, one with an elastic cord to secure it to the head. This pulled it into a wonky angle, and snapped off in any case, so the mask had to be taped on. I'd trimmed it down - my nose was too big for the nasal section of the mask - and it fit quite snugly. However, eating and talking - something I do a lot of at any party - caused it to wriggle about and become detached. Eventually I gave up on the task of reattaching it, and my costume changed to "well-dressed man with sellotape on face." This wasn't as effective, but at least I was snappily attired. (The photo above fails to show my very swish two-tone opera-shoes, or the fine cut of my topcoat.)

I realised at the party that I should have thought more about this outfit. Several partygoers had used spirit gum in their make-up, and offere me some, only to all discover they'd forgotten to bring their touch up kits. Eventually I added a little fake blood to Hallowe'en up the look, so I became fairly Dracula-eqsue. In the end, I also acquired a very nice cloak from someone we'd dubbed the Scottish Widow (actually, she was Portuguese and unmarried). It was a very fun party, though. It was my flatmate's workmate's (the lovely Ela),   so I knew no one there, which is always fun. Met lots of fascinating new people. The costume turn-out was excellent, everyone put in the effort. There were two Ghostbusters - one commercially source, one home-made, with a very impressive proton pack incorporating working electronics. I hope to stay in touch and form a team next year (we need a black guy to be Winston, although he can of course arrive half way through the night). It was all good fun.

I'd decided on the Phantom last year after seeing the musical in December, as you may have read on this very blog. I'd then forgotten all about it, and had revived old, unused costume plans including van Helsing, the Goblin King and the Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh. I finally returned to the Phantom idea after waking up one morning with the score running through my head, so at least my subconscious was working away. Next year I may use one of the aforementioned characters, although as was pointed out at the party, my uncanny similarity to a young Rik Mayall would instead suggest Lord Flashheart. Or Richard Richard. Or Fred, of Drop Dead Fred. All nicely retro.

Hallowe'en isn't huge in the UK on the whole, not like in the US, but it's becoming more and more popular. Certainly down in Sussex, it's eclipsed by Guy Fawkes Night. Generally, clashing commitments would mean choosing one or the other, but this year I had enough free time to enjoy both! Sadly, I am utterly stuffed full of cold viruses, so have decided to sit this one out. Still, I had a good Hallowe'en, and joined friends and familiars in enjoying some classic spooky-themed movies, including Cushing-Lee-Troughton starring The Gorgon, and our traditional Ghostbusters double-bill. Also Batman Forever, for some reason - on VHS! Ah, the memories of 1996...

Now, I just need to work out what the hell I'm doing for New Year's.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


This latest run of Red Dwarf has made great use of running gags, and has also harked back to the popular early days of the series. Both of these elements reached their peak in this week’s episode. In fact, Dear Dave… is comprised almost entirely of running jokes, with various comedy set-pieces peppered in to keep things moving. The love triangle, such as it is, between Lister and two vending machines; Rimmer’s attempts to prove he is not derelict of duty; the reallocation of toilet paper away from “toilet active” crewmembers; Lister’s impending fatherhood; these are all played for the length of the episode, culminating in the final two scenes.

None of these plot strands would be out of place in Red Dwarf’s first or second series. The earliest days of the show focussed less on sci-fi concepts and more on Lister’s isolation and his painful relationship with Rimmer. From the outset, when we see Lister in his red long johns wistfully reminiscing about the human race, it’s easy to imagine this as a scene from the grey-tinted early years. Only Kryten’s presence is out of place (and even he originated in the first episode of Series II).

With the Rimmer’s report-writing and talking amenities on board ship, this really is a throwback to the early years, although in the old days the vending machines were all masculine and the show was a lot less sweary (but only because they couldn’t get away with it back then). Chuck a few skutters in, and it’d be hard to tell the difference between this episode and Balance of Power, and the last mail pod arrived back in Better Than Life (eight series and 23 years ago!)

It’s an obvious bottle episode, clearly made to save money before the big, end-of-season blowout, but this isn’t to its detriment. The regular cast all get a chance to shine, and the Cat in particular gets a couple of stand-out scenes (“finger-wetting machine” is destined to become a favourite obscene euphemism). The only guest cast member, Isla Ure, perfectly pitches both the love struck Vending Machine 34 and the exotic Vending Machine 23 (with a surprisingly sexy way of saying “logo.”)

There are some great moments once again, and although the final vending machine love scene is very contrived, it made me laugh like the smutty schoolboy I was when I first discovered Red Dwarf. The celebrated charades scene isn’t, to my mind, as funny as some find it, although I’d love to know where Rimmer’s getting this “giant death worm” obsession from. Tellingly, most of the clips shown in the lead-up to this grand comeback were from this episode. This highlights the only real problem with Dear Dave… while all the elements work well in themselves, and there are plenty of memorable jokes, the whole thing fails to gel in the way most of the previous episodes have (I’m excepting the divisive Lemons instalment).

It’s easy to pick holes in the plotlines, if you’re looking to. Why does Rimmer need to come up with an excuse for his dereliction of duty? He’s got the perfect one, he’s dead! And after last week, we know what Lister would do if an attractive woman suddenly arrived on the ship; he’d let Rimmer get to her first and then accidentally get her sucked out an air lock. Lister’s possible fatherhood, however, provides the spine for the episode to hang off, even if he was knocked out in the finals.

Good Psycho Guide: Three-and-a-half chainsaws

Best Line:  “As long as it’s wet and melty you don’t care where you stick it.” (Lister’s been dunking his biscuits in the fish tank.)