Tags: nostalgia

Dublin

Doubling down on the fandom

And just as a follow-on to my appreciation of the movie USS Enterprise, here's an old bit of fan art of Star Trek Movies II to IV that I did way back in 1989 at the tender age of 19. How time flies. Not that my viewing habits have significantly changed...

Star Trek Movie montage (1989) (c)iainjclark (small).jpg

It's a weird shape because it follows a roughly cinematic film ratio across the middle, then blossoms out at the sides. I think it still looks okay, but I'd hope to do a much better job of it these days. The eagle-eyed reader may notice that Lt. Saavik is drawn in a very different style from everyone else, which is because I did the bulk of the drawing many months earlier, and even by the time I went back to it I was in a different mood artistically.
Dublin

The USS Enterprise and me

If I said that the sight of the Starship Enterprise calms me down you'd think I was bonkers, right?

tmphd1122.jpgNot any USS Enterprise, you understand. Certainly not the version from the recent JJ Abrams movies with its squashed toothpaste-tube proportions1. Not the eccentric Next Generation version, though I am fond of it. Not even the original 1960s design classic. The one that I love is the refit design from the first six Star Trek movies, from The Motion Picture through to The Undiscovered Country. The very sight of it is food for my soul: its grace, its curves, its balance. Its rightness.

tmphd0729.jpgThere are very few designs that can do this to me, and they all share deep roots in my childhood and adolescence. Another is Doctor Who's Tardis (about which I'll eulogise another time). Maybe the Dalek too. Iconography embedded in my psyche at a tender age from endless VHS videotape viewings, cinema magazines, spin-off novels. I look at these things and sometimes I can't even tell any more if they have an intrinsic merit or if it's just my childhood speaking to me across the decades.

Since I'm Really Old, I first encountered this spaceship (AKA nicely-lit fibreglass model) at the cinema in 1979 when I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture on its original release. If ever a film fetishised a piece of hardware it's that one, all lingering pans over structural curves, somewhere between asexual porn and a 2 hour car commercial. But this was also the dawn of movie merchandising as we now (shudder to) experience it, and so I probably didn't first encounter the design at the cinema at all. Instead I probably inhaled it through magazines like Starlog, and trading cards, and promotions on the back of weetabix packets, and white chocolate bars with weird multi-coloured bits in them. Given that my main memory of the film is coming home afterwards and drawing Klingon spaceships going 'pew pew' I think that the content of the film (such as it was) was always secondary to the spaceships in my ten year old brain. And in that supporting merchandise the spaceship has a mythic beauty that even the film's Male Gaze For Spaceships doesn't quite capture.

Take this old, scanned promotional photo for example, which not only emphasises the ship's graceful proportions but a pearlescent, self-illuminated, polychromatic quality that the film only glimpses (and later movies largely dispensed with):

Scan0106.jpg

Blinded as I am by the hardwiring of my brain, I do think that as a spacecraft design it has few equals. The original sixties version is all rectangles and cylinders. In fact it's easy to forget just how odd that design is, like a Forbidden Planet flying saucer mated with something much more functional and Naval in character. Even so it has a certain sense of balance and proportion, particularly when shot from a nice angle. The movie version keeps only the basic morphology of saucer, secondary hull and engine nacelles joined by struts, but it pushes and pulls each of those elements into something rounded, tapered and elegant. From the swell of the secondary hull to the angles and fins and neon stripes of the engines, it creates the sense of a unified whole rather than parts bolted inelegantly together. In many ways it looks completely different from the original, and yet you could never mistake it for anything else.



normal_tuchd0366.jpg
Ageing Spaceship baffles engineers with this one weird trick

In the subsequent movies the design remains the same (it is after all the same model even when technically a different ship) but the iridescent paint job that would catch the light in interesting ways is replaced with a matt chalky white finish, and it's lit more brightly with less reliance on the ship's own running lights. The quality of the effects and cinematography varies hugely too. But it's hard to completely screw up a design this beautiful. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan2, a film I've probably seen even more often than the original Star Wars, it's treated like a classic tall ship in a Hornblower movie: trading ponderous broadsides with its sister ship in a Naval game of cat and mouse. Its a big, majestic vessel not nippy a little X-wing fighter or a barrel-rolling Millennium Falcon, and that's reflected in its shape and size. Slow to turn, crewed to the nines, wind in its sails.

When I catch one of the original Trek films on repeat, or actually moreso when I stumble across images of it on the web, it's like looking at a great landscape painting or a classic Lake District view, perfect in every proportion. It fills me with inner peace.

Bonkers, I know.
--
1 If you didn't even know there was a difference this is maybe not the post for you...
2 Out on Blu-ray in its Director's Edition soon. And its Director (and script doctor) Nicholas Meyer is working on the new Star Trek TV Show. What goes around comes around.
Sandman

Dateline: 1985. "Leisure Hive Two" - Doctor Who Convention

So my LonCon3 write up reminded me of a dim memory that I attended a Doctor Who convention in 1984. Turns out it was 1985, not 1984. Phew! I'm not old after all1.

I was inspired to dig out the old convention guide, since I figured it might be of interest to about seven people on the internet. You can find some images of it below.

Now it has to be said that my memory of 1985 is somewhat hazy and my main recollection of this convention is falling asleep during a 37-part2 black and white story in the all night video room instead of going back to the B&B. You have to remember that this was before I'd have seen much if any Who on videotape so I was probably only familiar with the ones I'd seen on air in the Seventies and Eighties (my earliest Who memory is Planet of the Spiders) plus whatever paltry repeats the BBC had deigned to show. I knew the show's past mainly from the Target novelisations, which I devoured from an early age and which I credit for getting me into SF. Actually watching honest to goodness old episodes was a proper novelty back then.

Here's me (on the left of the picture) and my best friend Paul outside the Wiltshire hotel at the tender age of 16. One of my first trips away from home without my parents, possibly the very first. Looking pretty sharp, I think you'll agree.

fanboys

Below are some scans of the Convention guide. Click for larger versions.

First up, here's the cover sporting Kaled Man of the Year and all round good egg Davros. Also the welcome page:

coverfirst page

Next, the list of celebrity guests and the two day programme which ran from 24th to 25th August 1985, after Colin Baker's first full season and during the long hiatus before 'The Trial of a Time Lord' aired a full year later.

We were treated to Colin Baker, David 'Cyberleader' Banks, Nicholas 'Brigadier' Courtney, Matt 'Special effects' Irvine, Sarah 'Production Team' Lee, John 'K-9' Leeson, John 'Benton' Levene, Ian 'Harry' Marter, Peter 'Nyder' Miles, and David 'Son of' Troughton.

Guests Programme

I do remember seeing Matt Irvine, who is one of the few people I can readily identify in the panel photo below from his many appearances on Swap Shop and his amazingly '80s fashion sense. (Again, click for a larger version). Is that John Levene leaning in on far left? Presumably that's Peter Miles (Nyder) third from left. Ian Marter far right, maybe. Nick Courtney third from right? I also do remember seeing K-9, who I'm almost certain is the one in the middle of the second photo below. (Amazingly high quality pictures I think you'll agree.) Strangely I have no recollection whatsoever of that Colin Baker bloke, who you'd imagine I'd have been at least slightly excited to see. I also took no other pictures of any interest whatsoever. What was I thinking? These days I'd have taken several hundred.

panel K-9

There was also an auction of memorabilia. Lots of premium items like tatty paperback books and annuals. On the second page you can see that I've written in biro what some of the sales went for. You'll note that I was particularly impressed by £20 for a scarf donated by Liz Sladen. To be fair this was probably more money than I'd ever seen up to that point. It doesn't say if it was screen-used, or just one she had in the back of a drawer.

Auction 1 Auction 2

So there you have it. The least timely con report in Doctor Who history.

EDITED TO ADD: Although the specfics of the con have largely left me (sadly for you the reader) what sticks with me is the huge sense of anticipation I felt. That feeling of connecting with the show. I'd been reading Doctor Who Monthly since issue 1, I owned The Making of Doctor Who, the Monster Book and all the other stuff I could lay my hands on, but being in the presence of people who actually made the show felt surreal. I've no idea how many attendees there were but it was a tiny and domestic affair compared to modern conventions. That hardly mattered to a 16 year old Doctor Who fan. My fandoms have considerably broadened since then, but the Doctor Who one has never left me.
--
1 I'm only fooling myself.
2 Approximately.
Sandman

Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World

imageA while ago we watched the recently rediscovered Second Doctor tale 'The Enemy of the World' on DVD (a present from my wonderful wife). Since my Hartnell and Troughton knowledge is shamefully poor compared to my knowledge of later Who, I had no knowledge of the story except for the 'high concept' premise: world dictator Salamander is a dead ringer for the Doctor. I don't even remember reading the novelisation. I suppose I was expecting some kind of Man in the Iron Mask storyline in which The Doctor must impersonate the dictator, but - although much of the story is driven by this concept - it seldom actually happens. What we get instead is a very enjoyable spy thriller, quite tightly edited and pacey in contrast to much 1960s Doctor Who (we get next to no recaps at the start of most episodes).

Episode one is particularly action-packed, with a helicopter and hovercraft providing probably the greatest concentration of real hardware in one episode until Pertwee's swan song 'Planet of the Spiders'. Subsequent episodes are more studio-bound (with some of the most painfully cramped 'outdoor' scenes ever committed to videotape.) But despite that the story fair barrels along without the usual quagmire of capture-escape-recapture that plagues six-parters - partly because of the slightly bizarre left turn it takes around episode 4. (The worst I can say about the pacing is that the Doctor spends too much time sitting on his hands, but given that Troughton is pulling double duties that's understandable). It's a highly melodramatic story, and the late plot twist involving Salamander's buried secret stretches credibility almost to breaking point, but David Whitaker's deft script never loses control of its pulpy twists and turns. Unlike some Who from the era, this holds your attention right to the end.

Troughton's performance as would-be dictator Salamander is broad, particularly the 'interesting' choice of a thick Mexican accent, but he's utterly unlike the Doctor and really shows his versatility. (It's notable having seen Orphan Black that the two Troughton characters don't share the screen until the finale, presumably a by-product of production constraints). In fact Whitaker crafts several strong characters who transcend their various 'types' - notably including an extremely capable female character in Astrid, and a rounded black female character in Fariah - with the help of a mostly excellent main cast.

It all wraps up a tad swiftly and conveniently, hinging on one too many character reversals and convenient coincidences, but not enough to mar a thoroughly enjoyable serial.
Tomb

Eleven and Four

Eleventh Doctor and AmyA new teaser image from the upcoming Doctor Who season, featuring the Doctor and Amy in silly poses, some returning and new monsters, and a swirly blue time vortex that looks like the Tom Baker credits reimagined in computer graphics. Wonder if the background is part of the new credits sequence...

We also caught up on some ye olde Doctor Who recently. City of Death is a serial I have very vivid memories of watching as a child in the 1970s: Scaroth revealing his one-eyed face, his spaceship exploding, the trip to renaissance Italy, the multiple Mona Lisas, the time bubble that accelerates egg into Chicken, and vice-versa. It's all there in my mind's eye. Fortunately this one holds up surprisingly well, even going back to it after all this time. Although we're moving into his later, less uniformly successful, years in the role Tom Baker is a joy. The location filming in Paris is effective (even if it gratuitously packs in every Paris cliche going, and seems to feature endless shots of the Doctor and Romana aimlessly wandering), and the pacing is snappy, particularly for vintage Who. Douglas Adams' (pseudonymous) witty script doesn't hurt, either. It's not an absolute classic, and in common with a lot of old Who there's a certain sense of gabbled exposition and rushed anticlimax, but it's very solid.

Next up was Masque of Mandragora, an earlier Tom Baker story featuring Sarah Jane Smith as the companion. In contrast to 'City of Death' I seem to have no memory whatsoever of watching this when I was younger. All my vague recollections come from the target novelisation. That makes watching it slightly surreal since I broadly remember key elements from the book, but imagined them completely differently. Viewed with modern eyes this one has a script, acting and production values that feel significantly above the baseline standard for 70s Doctor Who. There's a vigour to the characterisation that reminded me of a Robert Holmes script, and the renaissance setting really works; the Doctor fits in seamlessly into an era poised between superstition and scientific discovery. Seeing actors like Tom Piggott-Smith in essentially Shakespearean garb helps my suspension of disbelief immensely, and the setting is aided by unusually convincing location filming in Portmerion (looking not too much like The Prisoner). The set-up also feels unusual, with the Doctor being essentially responsible for the threat. There are a few wobbly sets and creaky special effects, and like 'City of Death' the denouement is rushed, but there's a lot to enjoy. Plus there's a blatant sequel hook at the end. Come on Mr Moffatt, you know you want to...

Dublin

Doctor Who - old, new, and tangential

Yay, bank holiday!

Apropos of nothing in particular, I indulged in a bit more nostalgic Doctor Who watching recently.

'Battlefield' starring Sylvester McCoy was the extended DVD version. While it's one of the Seventh Doctor's better outings (i.e. it's not utterly unwatchable), it's very stilted. In general it feels like it was shot on a shoestring budget in approximately two days with no time to rehearse. (Which knowing Who is probably exactly how it was shot.) McCoy does his best to appear, by turns, mysterious, impish and brooding, but I remain utterly unconvinced that he's any of those things. Worse, I can't help feeling that the Doctor is written significantly better than he's played, which is never a good feeling to have about the lead character. Likewise Sophie Aldred as Ace gets a lot of gushing teenage behaviour for which the actress seems too old. There are a few decent scenes and likeable supporting characters, and a welcome return for Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier. Oh and a cool blue demon. But overall: meh. Sorry, Tim!

'Image of the Fendahl' starring Tom Baker is better. Okay, it feels like it was shot on a shoestring budget in approximately two days with no time to rehearse, but at least Tom Baker is convincing. The story is an odd pastiche of 'Quatermass and the Pit', involving ancient aliens from Time Lord mythology who have somehow influenced human evolution. The plot is woefully illogical and under-explained, to the point where it feels like key scenes must be missing. On the plus side it has Chris Boucher's usual crackling dialogue and pin-sharp characterisation, and a very decent supporting cast. I have no recollection of watching it my youth so I can't lean on nostalgia with this one, but I do remember the novelisation which probably helps.

On a related-ish note, here are a couple of BBC News videos:

An interview with Russell T Davies about completing filming on his (and David Tennant's) era on Doctor Who. (It includes the trailer for 'The Waters of Mars' special that aired after the Easter special.)

A five minute interview with Richard Dawkins that barrels through all the questions you'd expect, against a ticking clock, and gets Dawkins's usual precise answers.1
--
1 Dawkins is of course best known for his cameo in last season's Doctor Who finale (not to mention being married to Romana mk II), but has probably done a few non Who-related things in his life.

Dublin

Smaller on the inside

Continuing my attempts to make myself look prehistoric by wallowing in Doctor Who nostalgia from the 1970s, here's a fantastic little tin that my Mum brought over recently (in her continued attempts to rid the house of all our old tat...)



Click for bigger versions and just admire the time and care that's gone into crafting this jewel in the crown of merchandising. I'm thinking the illustration alone must have demanded at least half an hour and a tube of Pritt Stick.

Here's the bit they would look at on Antiques Roadshow to confirm its provenance:


Apparently BBC Enterprises took the bold decision not to disown it. I do have a nostalgic fondness for the old girl, though.

Tomb

Trapped by Nostalgia: throw 3 to escape

There's a decent little interview with Steven Moffat here about the fifth season of Doctor Who and how his writing style will change.

Meanwhile I recently came across something from my childhood that I just had to share.

You see, when I was young in the 1970s everyone liked Doctor Who and Davros was a scary villain. I know, obviously that's impossible to imagine today.

This is one of the Doctor Who game cards you used to get in packets of Weetabix. The back of each cereal box had a game board, and when you had all four game boards you could also add them together to make one really huge game board with the Tardis console in the middle. The cards were slotted in around the board, and then it was just a case of rolling dice and moving around the board, randomly landing on hazards. Sadly I no longer have the boards, but there are pictures here: 1, 2, 3, 4. Total nostalgia rush.

I have loads more of the things. As I recall they were traded in the playground at School and rare ones had the approximate market value of gold bullion. Ah, them were the days.

Tomb

Who

Nice cinema trailer for new Doctor Who, Season 4 here. It still has Catherine Tate in it, sadly. There's only so long I can remain in denial about her. It also has some significant returning faces, and various nice shots of Rome, Ood and Sontarans. Oh, and Bernard Cribbins. Quite well done, all told.

We've been continuing to watch various old Doctor Who stories recently, with mixed success. I mentioned last time how much I enjoyed Tom Baker's debut story 'Robot'. Sadly 'Planet of Evil' from the following year is less impressive.1 The setting is atmospheric, especially the weird alien jungle, but it just lacks the necessary character banter from the Doctor to lift the so-so plot. Likewise Pertwee's debut story 'Spearhead from Space' manages to be simultaneously snappily edited and draggingly slow, which is disappointing. Even the Autons can't really lift it from tedium.

We then progressed to the 'Beneath the Surface' box set. 'The Silurians', despite being very long, is consistently entertaining with good characterisation, decent location filming, Fulton Mackay, Geoffrey Palmer and a vague attempt at moral complexity. Okay the Silurians themselves look crap and the young, headstrong one has a hilarious voice but otherwise it works very well. The sequel tale 'The Sea Devils' is less good but still quite enjoyable. You can't go too far wrong with Roger Delgado and Sea Devils, and in true Pertwee fashion the story is stuffed to the gills (geddit?) with location filming and speedboat chases. The end of the -ahem- "trilogy", Davison's 'Warriors of the Deep' is both better and worse than I remembered. Better in that it was a tiny bit less polystyrene than I recalled, but worse in that the Silurian and Sea Devil dialogue is nothing but undiluted exposition and cliche of the worst kind, delivered at about four words per minute. "Soon.. we.. will.. have... our... revenge..." kind of stuff. (Also, why are the Silurians calling themselves Silurians when we know from 'The Sea Devils' that it was a misnomer? And why do they talk about "Our Sea Devil brothers"? Don't they have a name other than a pejorative nickname some sailors slapped on them in the 1970s?)

I'm enjoying old Who overall but it's a very hit and miss experience. My boss's 6 year old boy was apparently sat down in front of an old Tom Baker episode recently and immediately started complaining that the monster looked fake. Sign of the times.

--
1 Although a few moments gave me powerful deja vu from watching the show in the 1970s, and from reading the novelisation -- it's surprising how often that happens. Those novelisations were a big part of my childhood.

Dublin

Television

I'm not normally one for fan-made videos setting TV clips to music but this one of Firefly/Serenity to the music of Wicked has Joss Whedonian and Tim Minearian endorsement, so I went to look. It's extremely well done.

< insert obligatory *sob* for Firefly here >

While I'm here, the 2007 in Review piece in Strange Horizons has a very small contribution by yours truly, in which I inexplicably can't find anything better on TV last year than Doctor Who. Three times in a row. It's just wrong. Fortunately everyone else is very erudite and reads books and stuff. Also pikelet is insane but you knew that.

Of course The Wire is far better than any SF-related TV currently airing but that doesn't count for Strange Horizons. My Season 4 DVD arrived today, and Season 5 has just started in the US. It's just so very satisfying, layered and intelligent and you should all be watching it but will you lot listen? *Will you*?

In lieu of any other good TV and with anyone who could potentially write some being on strike, we've resorted to DVDs. We've been hugely enjoying Cracker on DVD, a series we missed in its entirety when it was on TV. Robbie Coltrane is fantastic, and the writing is incredibly sharp, with a real interest in psychology and themes rather than just the surface process of investigation. This definitely puts it a notch above most other ostensibly 'crime' related television which seems more formulaic with each passing year. We've only the final one-off special and the more recent Cracker reunion TV movie to go.

We've also been bingeing on old Doctor Who. The Time Warrior is splendid, and gives me my fix of Sontarans in a way that The Sontaran Experiment just didn't accomplish. The Claws of Axos is, sadly, complete rubbish despite featuring some iconic images that have stuck with me since childhood. In contrast, Tom Baker's debut story Robot is great. Yes, even the rubbish FX are great. All of this has made me so nostalgic that I've rashly ordered the Beneath the Surface box set, despite it having the really terrible Warriors of the Deep in it.