About this blog

This is the official blog of Phoenix Roleplaying, a multi-genre simming site, created in August 2010.

Run by the players, we hope to achieve great things.

Where our journey takes us, who knows.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

An Explosively Good Birthday (Review: 'Skyfall')

The US doesn’t get to see Skyfall until 8 November. *Engages smug mode*

 

The last Bond anniversary saw Die Another Day, which is detested by many fans and would ultimately lead to the reboot that has put a certain Daniel Craig in the tuxedo. This one won’t get the same bad reputation.

 

I’m limited to what I can say to avoid spoilers (and there are some big surprises in this one), so I’ll just stick to ten bullet points.

 

·         There is a lot of action in this one – it’s a very loud film with a lot of explosions.

·         The stunts continue to be superb and the relative lack of CGI really helps in all of this.

·         Daniel Craig – great 007. He’s doing a great job with the action, a just as good job with the one liners and can certainly act, unlike a certain Bond we could mention.

·         Acting is generally superb throughout – Judi Dench in particular sound be nominated for another Oscar.

·         Some highly quotable dialogue throughout, with more than a few call backs to past films.

·         I like this new Q a great deal – I look forward to more exchanges with him and Bond.

·         Naomie Harris – very good. Bérénice Marlohe – seriously, Madame, smoking isn’t cool and your lady wasn’t a patch on the person you were trying to emulate.

·         Javier Bardem did a good-ish job, although I found one or two scenes a bit uncomfortable to watch.

·         Great modern plot, although the ending was a bit unusual – we’ve not had an entirely ‘traditional’ Bond film from Craig so far.

·         Do komodo dragons actually do that?

 

Conclusion

 

Not perfect, but one of the best Bond films of the lot. More like this please – but can we please put the gun barrel at the beginning next time?

 

9/10

Saturday, 27 October 2012

James Bond: Goldfinger

Goldfinger is generally held as one of the greatest of the Bond movies and from my re-watch I’m inclined to agree. The action scenes are mostly superb, Connery is generally good although (his suave and smarmy is starting to dominate) and Odd Job is a classic henchman. Some of the key moments, including the laser scene, are still tense even when you know the outcome and the production design is superb.

 

This isn’t perfect – the middle is a bit slow and the HD really shows up some of the dodgy effects (the strings on the planes in particular). Also, Honor Blackman doesn’t convince here.

 

I still prefer From Russia With Love.

 

8/10

Second newsletter out

The second issue of the Phoenix newsletter has been released. Members should have received their broadcast email, but if not, you can click on the link.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

James Bond: Casino Royale (1954)

In a slight order change, I’ve watched the first ever James Bond adaptation – the CBS TV version of Casino Royale – it’s available on demand from Sky.

 

This is a live black & white production as part of the Climax! series – it makes a lot of changes to the book, most notably making Bond an American.

 

Overall, the story is moderately entertaining and definitely a work of its Hays Code time – I don’t think there’s even a single mild swear word. The exposition is a bit clunky at the beginning and Barry Nelson’s Jimmy Bond is too much like Humphrey Bogart for my taste, but Peter Lorre (who specialised in sinister foreigner roles and got caricatured by Mel Blanc in more than one Warner Bros. cartoon I watched when younger, which is why he seemed familiar to me) does a great job as Le Chiffre. The plot is on the whole good and the 48 minutes are filled nicely – the main plot of the novel can only cover that anyway, which is why it only forms the second half of the Craig movie.

 

With only Never Say Never Again outstanding, I have almost seen every Bond picture, official or unofficial.

 

7/10

Jason Andersen appointed Acting Deputy Technical Coordinator

Due to Euan Reid's long-term LOA (which should hopefully end soon), Jason Andersen has been appointed by the General Coordinator to act as his deputy on a provisional basis until his return.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Genesis of Horror (Review: 'Doctor Who', "Spare Parts", 2002)

 

Big Finish Productions have produced literally hundreds of Doctor Who-based audios since 1999, featuring every one of the eight classic Doctors, multiple spin-offs and even some ‘alternative universe’ tales. More than one of these tales has influenced a story in the modern show, most notably this one.

 

In 2006, Tom MacRae used this Marc Platt story as a strong influence for his two-parter “The Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel” (set in a parallel universe), giving Platt a credit for it. Listening to this four-part audio drama, you can see why he did so – “Spare Parts” is considered one of the classics of Big Finish.

 

Summary

 

The Doctor and Nyssa (this story falls in the gap between Season’s 19 and 20 when Tegan is on Earth) arrive on Mondas, Earth’s twin planet that has drifted out of its orbit into the coldness of interstellar space. To survive, its people now live underground. The planet is heading towards a nebula and to stop this, Mondasians are being ‘converted’ – being given new mechanical bodies to survive on the surface where the propulsion system is located. The Central Committee then logically reason that everyone needs to be converted…

 

The Cybermen are being created.

 

Plot

 

A Cyberman origin story had been proposed for TV during the Fifth Doctor’s era, but was ultimately not taken forward. The idea eventually made its way to Big Finish, who have done a great job with it.

 

Mondas is a dying world and “Spare Parts” provides an eerie, horrific portrayal of what people will do when faced with their own likely destruction, with a strong sense of inevitability knowing what happens in the rest of the show re the Cybermen. It starts off with a good deal of questions and nearly all of them get answered. There are some interesting communism references and a great use of Cybermats, plus a great parallel take on the Christmas tree.

 

This as mentioned is a deeply disturbing work, especially when it comes to the actual conversion of people into Cybermen – one scene with a character’s daughter chills in particular and was given a more-or-less straight lift into the TV story. The final climax is a bit rushed, although clever and at times it’s a bit hard to follow – also, this is close to two hours long (with half-hour episodes, not 25-minuters) and could have used mild trims in places.

 

There is a final twist – and it’s very good.

 

Sound design

 

The sound is brilliant throughout, with a great atmosphere of this underground city created as a result. In particular, Nick Briggs (the go-to-guy for monster voices in the 2005 run) does a great Cyberman voice, going for the sing-song version as heard in “The Tenth Planet” – although his voice for the Cyber Planner is a tad hard to follow at times.

 

One other minor gripe – the Derbyshire theme arrangement is used here when the Howell version would be the more ‘proper’ one.

 

The regulars

 

Only two regulars here – Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton.

 

·         The Fifth Doctor: Davison turns in a strong performance with a clear dread of what is going on – the Doctor is scared and reluctant to intervene at all to begin with. He is guilty of the occasional bit of over-acting, but not too much so.

·         Nyssa: Been a while since I watched a Nyssa episode, but Sutton delivers a strong, firm performance as the Trakenite scientist, demonstrating a caring side that is sometimes absent from the Doctor. Her horror when the Doctor is apparently [spoiler] is well done.

 

The guest cast

 

Not a massive guest cast here, but they’re generally very good. Sally Knyvette (best known for her role as Jenna in Blake’s 7, covered in our last newsletter) does a superb job as Doctorman Allen, especially when it becomes clear to her that things are going to hell in a handcart and she might as well resign herself to it. One character gets Cyber-converted and you really feel sorry for her, particularly when her dad finds her.

 

Conclusions

 

A very good audio, but there are enough small flaws to take it out of the “excellent” category. I can see why this is a classic BF tale and I look forward to covering two more of these in the series.

 

8/10

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Shaken not Stirred, a history of 007: Part Three - the 1970s

The film that arguably saved Bond 

The 1970s were what could be called “interesting times”. For most of the decade, a period of détente with an easing of tensions between East and West prevailed, with a number of treaties signed to improve security, such as SALT I and the Helsinki Accords.

However, a lot of other things were going on in the world. The collapse of the Bretton Woods system followed by the oil embargo that resulted from the 1973 Yom Kippur War resulted in a prolonged period of “stagflation” in the global economy – low growth coupled with high inflation. A botched burglary in a Washington office block brought down a President and led to a long period of distrust in politics that has never really ended. A slew of conflicts in the developing world was coupled with a great deal of brutality, the worst of which was the genocide perpetuated by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, ultimately ended by a Vietnamese invasion – followed by Idi Amin in Uganda.

For those living in “The West”, one of the biggest political concerns, along with the economy, racial tensions and drug abuse, was terrorism. Be it the Weather Underground in the US, the IRA in the UK, the Red Army Faction (aka Baader-Meinhof) in West Germany, ETA in Spain, the Red Brigades and their fascist opponents in Italy or the Palestinian groups in a number of places, there were a number of active groups engaging in hijackings, kidnappings, shootings and bombings[1], resulting in counter-measures that at times violated human rights.

It was “interesting” for James Bond as well. There were no new novels produced bar a couple of tie-in film novelizations, but the decade saw five films of mixed quality, with two changes of lead actor, as well as a fundamental change at the top…

 

1970

After a bunch of attempts to kill him, along with the hijacking of four airliners by the PFLP, three of which landed in Jordan (where upon the hijackers emptied the planes and then blew up them in front of TV cameras to make a dramatic point), King Hussein of Jordan implemented martial law in September and attacked the Palestinian Liberation Organisation forces in his country. The Syrians came in to defend the PLO, but were beaten back by Jordan’s air force. The PLO were routed, mostly ending up in Lebanon, while in Syria, the whole debacle led to Hafez al-Assad seizing power.

George Lazenby decided to quit as James Bond after one film. If he hadn’t, then a slew of negative publicity (most notably a public row between him and Diana Rigg over alleged garlic-eating before a love scene) might well have forced him out.

EON hired John Gavin, an American actor of some note, but the studio had other ideas in light of the OHMSS box office disappointment. They were told to get Connery back and that money was no object. Connery was duly hired for a then world record salary of $1.25 million dollars, 12.5% of the gross and $145,000 for every week’s filming over 18 weeks, giving the lot to an educational trust he set up. Gavin got his full fee on Cubby’s insistence.

 

1971

In Uganda, Idi Amin seized power. Presenting a comedic image internationally, in reality he was an unhinged mass murderer, killing hundreds of thousands and expelling Uganda’s South Asian population. In the US, Richard Nixon declared that drug abuse was US “public enemy number one”.

A very loose adaptation of Fleming’s fourth novel hit cinema screens.

Diamonds Are Forever (film)

“Curious... how everyone who touches those diamonds seems to die” – Mr Wint, after killing someone

James Bond is sent to investigate a smuggling ring and discovers a plan by Blofeld to hold the world to ransom with a laser satellite.

·         With the recent decision by the BBFC to reclassify this film from a PG to a 12 due to some homophobic content (mostly around henchmen Wint and Kidd, who are clearly gay) and a scene involving a near-strangulation by bikini top,  this is the earliest movie in the series with a British rating higher than a PG.

·         Shirley Bassey does her second title song for this one. One of the better known ones, it has been extensively covered over the years.

·         Blofeld, making his last confirmed appearance in an EON movie, is again recast and played by Charles Gray, who had previously played one of Bond’s allies in You Only Live Twice.

·         Jill St. John becomes the first American Bond girl, Tiffany Case. This is also the first movie where Bond only has one confirmed liaison.

·         Willard Whyte, a reclusive billionaire who Blofeld impersonates, is strongly based on Howard Hughes. The kidnap plot was based on a dream that Broccoli (who knew Hughes) had. Hughes provided extensive support, allowing EON to film in his casinos[2].

·         The bulk of this film is set in the United States, mostly in Las Vegas.

·         There are a number of car chases in this film, with director Guy Hamilton taking delight in trashing big American cars. In one of these scenes, a car with Bond and Tiffany in clearly exits an alley on the opposite side to which it entered. This goof was spotted before release and a brief interior shot of Bond ‘flipping’ the car was inserted to try to cover the gap.

DAF… it’s a bit of a mess really. A silly plot, a poor ending and some bad characterisation (Gray’s Blofeld and Case stand out) make this one of the worst of the franchise – many feel this is far too camp. It also is pretty cheap – Connery’s fee eating up much of the budget.

Gross was way up ($116m) on OHMSS and there was an Oscar nomination for the sound[3] though.

 

1972

Five men from the “Committee to Re-elect the President” (CREEP) are caught attempting to burgle the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate Building in Washington DC, starting what will become the Watergate scandal. This didn’t hurt Richard Nixon at this point, who capped off a year where he visited China and signed a number of arms control agreements with the USSR, most notably SALT I, with a landslide (but low turnout) election victory against Democrat George McGovern.

Further terrorism rocked the world, with the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and a German police officer during the Munich Olympics[4] and sectarian violence in Northern Ireland leading to the imposition of direct rule by London.

Connery had made it clear he was only doing one more film and so EON needed a new Bond. An attempt to find someone from the British armed forces got shut down by Equity, the British actors’ union. The shortlist included Jeremy Brett (later to become famous for his TV portrayals of Sherlock Holmes) and Michael Billington, who had seven screen tests. Roger Moore was the choice, but it looked like he’d be unavailable as he was contracted to the ITC[5] series The Persuaders!, but that show flopped in the US and only lasted one season before being axed.

Roger Moore was free to Bond.

Roger Moore – the “Comedy” Bond

A lot of Bond fans don’t like this portrayal of Bond, finding it too camp and comedic, with the safari suits, the frequent raised eyebrow and the general debonair tone of these films Personally, I feel that Roger Moore isn’t too bad, he just has a mixed batch of films, some of which are very good indeed.

Sir Roger Moore (1927-present), born in London, became an actor at the age of 17 (later transferring to the entertainment branch during his national service) and spent a while as a male model, notably modelling knitwear. After a bunch of poor films, he achieved prominence in the titular role of the TV series Ivanhoe (1958-9) then international stardom for his portrayal of Leslie Charteris’ thief and amateur detective Simon Templar in ITC’s The Saint (1962-9). The latter basically got him the job as Bond, becoming the oldest guy to play the role and the first Englishman to do so.

Roger Moore would appear in a total of seven Bond films from 1973 to 1985. He deliberately chose to play it different from Connery, focussing on humour and lightness of tone, throwing the one-liners off in a relaxed manner. During this time, he appeared in 13 other films, most notably The Cannonball Run, a 1981 film where he plays a Bond-obsessed character who identifies himself as Roger Moore and three films that were highly controversial by dint of being filmed in apartheid South Africa[6].

Post-Bond, Sir Roger has become a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, but hasn’t really done anything hugely noticeable in the film world. Interestingly enough, he did turn up in an episode of Alias (of which more later).

1973

The Paris Peace Accords ended the US involvement in the Vietnam War. As a result of Munich, West Germany creates counter-terrorist group GSG-9 and Israel launches Operation Wrath of God, a wave of targeted assassinations against those responsible[7].

However, everything paled compared with the Yom Kippur War. Israel’s Arab neighbours launched an invasion timed to coincide with the holiest day in Judaism and Israel came close to authorising nuclear release before US supplies turned things around, with Israel winning and retaining all the territory it had gained in 1967. Angry at US involvement, OPEC implemented an oil embargo against the US and the Netherlands, causing an energy crisis as world oil prices quadrupled, combined with compounding a stock market crash that would shape the rest of the decade.

A literary Bond imitator (especially in the women department, although he did eventually marry), Clive Cussler’s marine archaeologist Dirk Pitt, arrived on the scene in his first published novel, The Mediterranean Caper[8].

Saltzman and Broccoli were starting to drift apart here. This next film was mostly handled by the former.

Live And Let Die (film)

“Get me a make on a white pimp-mobile” – Felix Leiter

James Bond is sent to stop an evil Caribbean dictator from flooding the US with cheap heroin and cornering the market in narcotics.

·         Bond doesn’t feature in the PTS at all, which features the murder of three Secret Service agents in the space of a few hours.

·         Paul McCartney and his band Wings (the Beatles having broken up by this point) sing the title song, which is one of the best known of the series.

·         Dr. Kananga, the lead villain, is named after the owner of the crocodile farm that features here, Ross Kananga – who also did the croc stepping stunt.

·         This is an unusual film in that Bond does not drink a martini, wear a tuxedo or meet Q – he also smokes cigars instead of cigarettes. It’s also the first not scored by John Barry.

·         This one definitely owes a lot to the then popular “Blaxploitation” films, films with primarily black casts, plenty of funk music and afros galore, with influences going through to modern day hip-hop. LALD features the first black Bond girl (although she does turn out to be a baddie), as well as scenes in Harlem and New Orleans.

·         The speedboat chase resulted in the destruction of 17 of the 26 boats provided.

·         When this premiered on UK television in 1980, it got 23.5 million viewers, a record for a film that is still unbeaten.

This one’s not to everyone’s tastes (In 2006, IGN ranked it 12 out of the then 20 EON films) – personally, there are far better ones out there. The less said about Sheriff JW Pepper the better. Box office was great, with the film earning $847m in 2012 dollars and reviews were good, which was the key thing for EON.

 

1974

After the discovery that his personal assistant was working for the “Stasi”, East German intelligence, West German Social Democrat Chancellor Willy Brandt, whose Ostpolitik had opened relations with East Germany (in the face of strong opposition from the Christian Democrats) was forced from office.

John le Carré published his best known novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The first of the “Karla Trilogy”, it has received both TV and film adaptation – the first one with Alec Guinness in the role is considered his defining role that isn’t Obi Wan Kenobi.

Eighteen months after Live And Let Die, Broccoli’s film hit the cinemas – aiming to cash in on the apparent success of the previous film as soon as they could.

The Man With The Golden Gun (film)

“I like a girl in a bikini. No concealed weapons” – Scaramanga

While on the search for a missing solar energy expert, Bond is sent a golden bullet by Francisco Scaramanga, an assassin who charges a million dollars a kill and uses a specially made golden gun. Bond must find Scaramanga – but no-one knows what he looks like.

·         Bond again does not feature in the PTS – bar a waxwork of him at the end.

·         A good part of this film was a response to the popularity of Kung Fu, such as Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon. Lee had been planning to work on a film with George Lazenby but his premature death prevented that.

·         Sir Christopher Lee, whose long career of on-screen villainy has seen him play Dracula a good deal and also appear in the Star Wars series, shines as Scaramanga. He’s the best thing in the film – and one of the best ever Bond villains. Second best thing in the film is Herve Villechaize’s Nick Nack.

·         Location filming in Thailand (Iran, then a pro-Western monarchy, was deemed a no-no when the Yom Kippur war broke out) saw the crew put up in what they later learnt was a brothel and put the area of Phuket very much on the tourist map – as well as Scaramanga’s island, Khow-Ping-Khan, which is popularly called “James Bond Island”.

·         Britt Ekland provides a highly ineffectual performance as Mary Goodnight. You don’t get Bond girls like her today. Maud Adams does a far better job – and she’s killed off!

·         This was the first Bond film seen in the Kremlin.

·         This film contains a 360 degree car jump that was the first stunt created with the aid of computer modelling – and then John Barry decided to put a comedy slide whistle effect in (which he later regretted doing).

Many Bond fans deem this one of the worst movies of the series – and I agree. JW Pepper is obnoxious and offensive, there’s too much silliness and the plot isn’t all that good. Box office was disappointing (only 11 million US tickets were sold, a new low for the series), well down on the previous film. It was time to change things, lest the whole franchise be in danger.

 

1975

In Vienna, six terrorists led by Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, aka Carlos the Jackal[9],  attacked the OPEC meeting and took 66 people hostage, with three people killed. The Austrian government agreed to their demands to play a pro-Palestinian communique and provide them with a plane. The hostages were released in Algiers and Tripoli, where some of the terrorists were granted asylum by Gaddafi.

Harry Saltzman, who had been engaged in business ventures outside of Bond, made a bad investment. Unfortunately for EON, he had taken out a loan for the investment using his Bond shares as collateral… Faced with their shares ending up in other hands, a deal was eventually reached – UA bought Saltzman’s 50% stake and thus ended his involvement with the franchise.

 

1976

Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France passenger flight from Tel Aviv to Paris and flew it to Entebbe, Uganda. They release all the non-Jewish or Israeli passengers, but the flight crew refused to go, so 106 people were held hostage in the old terminal of the airport – a terminal built by an Israeli company, who retained the plans. Armed with this information and intelligence from the released hostages, with negotiations not succeeding, Israel launched a daring commando raid to rescue them. The terrorists and the Ugandan soldiers were taken completely by surprise. 27 of them were killed and a quarter of Uganda’s air force destroyed on the ground, for the loss of one Israeli soldier, force commander Yonatan Netanyahu (brother of current Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), and three of the hostages. A fourth hostage, 75-year-old Dora Bloch, had been taken to hospital before the raid and was murdered shortly afterwards.

The ten-year prohibition on Ken McClory making a Bond film ended. He was now in a position to remake Thunderball – if he could find the money… This change also precluded the use of SPECTRE in the next film, as McClory threatened to sue.

 

1977

A hijacking of a Lufthansa jet that has been taken to Mogadishu, Somalia was ended by GSG 9, the West German counter-terrorist unit formed after Munich. Three of the four hijackers were killed and all the hostages rescued. Following this, three senior Red Army Faction members including Andreas Baader[10], jailed earlier that year, are found dead in the cells (the official verdict was suicide) with a fourth surviving her injuries, following which a kidnapped German businessman, Hanns-Martin Schleyer was killed and his body dumped. West Germany announces it will never negotiate again with terrorists. This effectively ends the “first generation” of Baader-Meinhof, a group suspected at the time to be supported by East Germany – something confirmed by the Stasi archives.

The next Bond film, the tenth, was released on 7 July 1977 (7/7/77) and also had a tie-in novelisation, as did the next film. If this was a failure, then the whole franchise would be in serious danger. The budget was doubled above the previous ones for the most spectacular Bond film yet.

The Spy Who Loved Me (film)

“Well, well... a British agent in love with a Russian agent. Détente, indeed” – Stromberg

When British and Soviet nuclear missile submarines go missing, James Bond is teamed up with beautiful Moscow Centre operative Major Anya Amasova to find them… but Bond has just killed her lover.

·         To an extent, this is a re-do of You Only Live Twice, with Lewis Gilbert in the director’s chair for both films.

·         The pre-titles sequence featuring a ski chase that is concluded by Bond skiing off a mountain, opening a Union Jack parachute, is considered a classic of the series. Audiences applauded the stunt, for which Ron Sylvester got $30,000 (you can see a ski hit his chute – it could have gone fatally wrong).

·         This is the first Bond film where the title song is not called the same thing as the film – although the title is mentioned in the lyrics.

·         Barbara Bach brings an atrocious Russian accent to the party as Amasova, but a lot of people aren’t frankly caring about the accent.

·         Steel-teethed henchman Jaws makes his first appearance, as does General Anatoly Gogol, head of the KGB.

·         Unable to find a studio at Pinewood big enough for the super tanker interior scenes, EON built the largest production stage in the world and built a huge water tank as part of it. What is now in its third version (after two fires) the Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage is a staple of the British film industry, although it has lost the ‘largest’ title to Studio 15 at Babelsburg Studios in Potsdam, Germany.

·         Bond gets plenty of gadgets here, but top prize must go to the Lotus Espirit that turns into a submarine.

This is one of the biggest – and one of the best. Great stunts, great locations – and Moore is taking it seriously. The box office was superb and Bond was safe.

Earlier this year, Star Wars had been released. While the closing credits said “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only”, the huge success of Lucas’ sci-fi film led to a big change of plans.

 

1979

The Shah of Iran was overthrown and an Islamist government put in place. Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady”, was elected as British Prime Minister. At the end of the year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to prop up communist rule against an insurgency – overthrowing the government there. The resulting diplomatic fallout ended the ailing détente and heated up the Cold War considerably as that benighted country again became a battleground for other nations.

Broccoli decided to take Bond where he had never been before – Low Earth Orbit. With Moonraker’s original plot twenty-five years out of date, a new space age plot was created.

Moonraker (film)

“Mr Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you” – Hugo Drax

James Bond goes up against billionaire industrialist Hugo Drax, who is out to destroy all human life on Earth and repopulate it with genetically ‘perfect’ people, who are living in his space station

·         The PTS sees Bond end up having a mid-air parachute flight with Jaws, who returns in this one – the only henchman to appear in two movies.

·         Shirley Bassey does her third and final Bond song.

·         Hugo Drax is played by Michael Lonsdale (1931-present), an actual bi-lingual in French and English, which gets him a lot of gigs.

·         The budget for the film was $34m, the most expensive Bond film yet.

·         This film set records for most sugar-glass broken in one scene and most actors on wires for the zero-G scenes.

·         This features not only one, but two boat chases, as well as filming in Rio – Broccoli liked some waterfalls there.

·         There’s a homage to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg had approached to do a Bond and wasn’t able to), in the form of a door-lock tune.

Moonraker is entertaining, but arguably very, very far-fetched. James Bond is not Han Solo, frankly. There are plenty of better films in the franchise and this isn’t the best of the Moores.

The box office was superb – it wouldn’t be beaten until GoldenEye on raw numbers and inflation adjusted until Casino Royale. However, middling reviews EON decided they were going to bring Bond back down to Earth and avoid this sort of thing in future.


The 1970s had been, overall, a very successful decade for James Bond 007. Five films had been mostly successful and with nearly all his imitators falling by the wayside, the British secret agent was still standing.

The 1980s were going to bring new challenges. From McClory, from Hollywood and something called AIDS. By the end of it, Bond’s very existence was going to be questioned.


[1]Although mostly not suicide bombings, with groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) being more Marxist in nature and adopting the ‘plant bomb, then run away’ approach to attacks.

[2]The casinos in question, such as the Landmark, have since been closed and demolished. The Vegas Strip has altered a lot of the years – in 2011, the long-running Sahara shut down, but is due to reopen under a new name and owner.

[3]James Bond has received a total of 7 nominations, all for music or technical stuff, the last in 1981. It won two of them, Goldfinger and Thunderball getting them for Best Sound Effects and Best Visual Effects respectively. The Academy, on the whole, doesn’t go for blockbusters, but Broccoli did get a lifetime achievement award in 1982.

[4]Headed by Lew (later Sir Lew and then Lord) Grade, the Incorporated Television Company was a British production and distribution company, running from 1958 to 1998. It produced many cult British shows for the “ITV” networks (being a subsidiary of Midlands franchise holder ATV), including Thunderbirds, Danger Man and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), these shows tending to focus on action and adventure along with a fair bit of espionage, with exotic locations and high production values.

ITC’s production days came to an end following two first-order cinematic flops in quick succession in 1980 – Can’t Stop the Music (which won the first Razzies for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay) and Raise the Titanic!, a panned adaptation of a rather good Clive Cussler novel.

[6]As discussed elsewhere, the British media community were strong opponents of this regime and Equity banned the sale of any products featuring its members to the country when it got television.

[7]A 2005 film about the latter starred a pre-Bond Daniel Craig.

[8]This was not the first written in this prolific with spin-offs series, a good number of which I’ve read over the years. That was Pacific Vortex!, published in 1983 and the first chronologically in the series’ narrative.

[9]Carlos actually features as a (far more effective than he really was, although he was quite effective) character in Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne novels – where he’s killed off! In reality, he was arrested in Sudan in 1994 (they’d gotten tired of him), shipped to France and prosecuted in 1997 for three murders in France. He is now serving a life sentence.

[10]Ulrike Meinhof had been found hanged in her cell the previous year.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Felix Baumgartner

Congratulations to Mr Baumgartner. You’ve earned yourself immortality and provided science with a great deal of useful information.

 

That could have gone badly wrong and you still went through with it. You’re a braver man than me.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

James Bond: From Russia With Love

The metaphor that I’m thinking of for this film is a pair of comfortable slippers. It’s almost 50 years old and they certainly don’t make films like it these days.

 

Sean Connery has settled nicely into the roll, the supporting characters are mostly great, the atmosphere is wonderful and there’s some superb action – Hollywood stopped doing battle scenes like the gypsy fight camp scene many years back and it’s a shame. Not perfect – some of it’s a bit slow, Daniela Bianchi (and her dub artist Monica van der Syl) are poor and the back projection is dodgy.

 

One of the best of the Bond films – even on watch 3 or 4.

 

8/10

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

'Doctor Who' Season 19 (1982): Time Travellers Inc.

Some might say that the tree is not the most wooden thing in this picture

 

Following the show’s ratings mauling at the hands of Buck Rogers, the BBC decided to move the show’s timeslot. Instead of a prime time place on Saturday, it would now air in the early evening on Mondays and Tuesdays – i.e. twice a week and would now begin in the mid-winter for the first time since Season 12 to avoid a clash with Sink or Swim, a sitcom starring new Doctor Peter Davison.

 

The inter-season gap was thus much longer than usual, although in late 1981 the BBC aired a season of repeats called The Five Faces of Doctor Who – these were:

·         An Unearthly Child

·         The Krotons (well, most of Troughton’s run was missing at this point)

·         Carnival of Monsters

·         The Three Doctors

·         Logopolis (as a catch-up)

 

With Christopher H Bidmead leaving the show after not getting a pay rise, a young writer called Anthony Root got the temporary role as script editor, covering the role from January to April 1981[1], until Eric Saward got the gig on a full-time basis based on the quality of his “The Visitation”.  Saward would turn out to be a highly controversial script editor and possibly the worst one the show has ever had. In addition, Barry Letts did not return as executive producer as it was felt JNT could handle things on his own by now.

 

Nathan-Turner was given a budget for 28 episodes for this season, but decided to use the budget for two of those on a broadcast pilot for a possible spin-off show starring Sarah Jane Smith and K9…

 

K9 and Company: A Girl’s Best Friend (1 50-minute episode)

 

After Sarah Jane receives a box from the Doctor containing K9 Mark III[2], she teams up with the dog her aunt’s ward to investigate the disappearance of her aunt in a sleepy English village.

 

I’ve never actually seen this one, but it’s available on DVD in a box set with K9’s debut story “The Invisible Enemy”. The show, broadcast on 28 December 1981 and explicitly a Christmas special, got a respectable 8.4 million audience (higher than any Season 18 episode), even with a transmitter out meaning much of the North West of England could not see it. However, a change of BBC1 Controller meant that the pilot did not go to series.


With that out of the way, it was now time to properly debut the new Doctor, played by the youngest actor to take the role so far…

 

The Fifth Doctor – Cricket and Decorative Vegetables

 

All fans have their “first Doctor” – the one that they saw first on TV – and most have a slight preference to that one, conscious or otherwise. My first Doctor was the Fifth Doctor as that’s where I started with the UK Gold repeats. This said, I genuinely think he is very good.

 

The Fifth Doctor is a marked contrast to the bombastic Fourth. He’s far more human and vulnerable, a reactor instead of an actor, with an abhorrence of violence – although it certainly followed him about. While he looks young, he at times acts very old. He is also known for a love of cricket and wearing a stick of celery on his jacket.

 

Peter Moffett (1951-)[3], far better known by his stage name of Peter Davison, is arguably the most successful of the Doctors in terms of overall careers – he has been the star of more popular shows than any of the others.  Other actors became famous for being the Doctor – Davison is a famous actor who happens to played the Doctor.

 

After a couple of guest roles, including one in Thames Television’s sci-fi children’s series The Tomorrow People that he would prefer to forget, Davison achieved fame as Tristan Farnon in the popular BBC historical veterinary drama All Creatures Great and Small. During this time, he also made a cameo appearance in the TV version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, starring his then wife and mother of his daughter Georgia Moffett (yes, Jenny from “The Doctor’s Daughter” and wife of David Tennant – thus making him basically his own father-in-law), where he plays the Dish of the Day, an alien cow specially bred so it wants to be eaten.

 

Davison was in fact doing double duty during his three years as the Doctor – starring in BBC sitcoms Sink or Swim (as mentioned earlier) and Holding the Fort.

 

After stepping down from the role on the advice of Patrick Troughton to do only three years, Davison got himself a number of other major gigs, including starring in A Very Peculiar Practice and more recently, The Last Detective. He currently plays the DA equivalent in the British version of Law & Order, Law & Order UK, arguably the best drama currently on ITV[4], which also features Freema Agyeman.

 

In addition, he has been playing the Fifth Doctor in Big Finish since 1999.


This 26-episode run is arguably where the rot is beginning to set in. It’s not to say that isn’t good, but there’s a certain style over coherent plot aspect here, especially when Eric Saward is writing. Also, while it’s acceptable for the Doctor to wear a distinctive outfit, companions really should change their clothes more often.

 

From here to the end of the classic run, the Doctor is actually credited as “The Doctor” as opposed to “Dr. Who” or “Doctor Who”.

 

Castrovalva (4 parts)

 

The newly regenerated Doctor is not having a good time of it. Not only is he highly unstable, but Adric has been kidnapped and the Master is setting an elaborate space-time trap for him…

 

A late replacement for the planned first story “Project Zeta-Sigma” and thus filmed fourth (it was not even commissioned when Davison first started on the role), this tale concludes the trilogy of stories that began with “The Keeper of Traken”. Inspired by M. C. Escher, a Dutch artist known for his pictures of impossible constructions (it’s named after one of his early works), it’s a very good serial.

 

This one also starts a habit of disguising the Master and using false credits to hide surprise appearances – I will not reveal any of these instances.

 

Four to Doomsday (4 parts)

 

Arriving on a large spaceship, the time travellers encounter a frog-like race and a large group of human androids. The commander of the vessel is a crazed leader out to depopulate Earth for his own people, as well as travel faster than light and thus back go to the Big Bang, to meet God, who he believes is himself. No, I am not making that up.

 

Filmed first in the season (not as often claimed by Davison to allow him to be stronger in the role for the first story aired but because of the need to re-jig the production order), this one is a fairly good one, perhaps best known for the Doctor taking a spacewalk wearing only an oxygen helmet and Tegan being able to speak a probably long-dead Aboriginal dialect[5].

 

Kinda (4 parts)

 

With an unwell Nyssa left in the TARDIS[6], the Doctor, Tegan and Adric visit the jungle world of Deva Loka, where the brash Australian gets possessed by an evil snake being.

 

A Buddhist-themed episode that is trippy, hard-to-follow and at times very cheap looking (due to a lack of studio time to make it look better – the production block was extended from five to six days after this) story, “Kinda” is an example of the sort of re-evaluation by fandom that some Doctor Who tales get. It came dead last in the 1982 Season Survey conducted by what was then Doctor Who Monthly, but is now deemed a minor classic and came 69th in the Mighty 200 poll in 2009. It is the source of the fan-expression “Not-We”, used for casual viewers.

 

The guest cast is impressive – renowned film star Richard Todd, Nerys Hughes and no less than three actors who would spend very long periods on The Bill.

 

The Visitation (4 parts)

 

The Doctor tries to take Tegan back to Heathrow Airport. He gets the location right, but the time wrong, arriving three centuries early. After they arrive, they discover an alien space capsule has crashed nearby and its occupants are out to destroy all life on Earth…

 

The final appearance of the sonic screwdriver until the 1996 TV movie – JNT felt it was being used too much as a get-out device and it is destroyed here. Noteworthy for its ending, although I might need to re-watch this as I can’t remember much of it.

 

Black Orchid (2 parts)

 

Arriving in 1925 England, the Doctor is mistaken for a cricketer and Nyssa for the fiancée of a lord. At the country home of the latter, murders start taking place.

 

The final “pure historical” story to date, “Orchid” is a dull murder mystery that all four regulars openly state they dislike on the DVD commentary. Oddly enough, it got the highest viewing figures of any Davison era story.

 

Earthshock (4 parts)

 

In the 26th century, the Doctor runs into a plot by the Cybermen to destroy the Earth. As he battles on board a freighter heading for the planet to stop this, not everyone will get out of this alive…

 

“Earthshock” is notable for two things – the surprise return of the Cybermen at the end of Part One and the surprise death of Adric at the end of Part Four, with silent credits over his destroyed mathematical excellence badge[7]. These two tremendous twists were hidden by the following methods:

·         Declining what would have been the first appearance of Doctor Who on the cover of prestigious listings magazine Radio Times since 1973.

·         Closing access to the normally open to the public viewing galleries and putting security guards there.

·         Having Adric make a small appearance in Part Two of the next story so he would appear in the listings for the following week’s episodes, so his departure was not obvious.

 

As for the story, written by Eric Saward after the previous tale was withdrawn after a payment dispute, it’s a very good tale that with some editing could pass off as a modern two-parter, although there a lot of plot holes. It’s Aliens four years earlier (some bits from Alien’s set turn in the props) with the Doctor actually breaking out a gun and the unusual casting of comedy actress Beryl Reid as a starship captain that works surprisingly well – they can’t all be Sigourney Weavers.

 

Finally, say what you like about Adric, his death is deeply affecting in my view.

 

Time-Flight (4 parts)

 

Mourning the death of Adric, the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa arrive at Heathrow Airport in the present day, where they investigate the disappearance of a Concorde passenger plane – only to discover it has been sent millions of years back in time.

 

The only real instance of product placement in Doctor Who (it was banned on UK until 2011 and is still fairly uncommon in dramas), with the crew being allowed to film in a real Concorde and be the first show to use the real London Heathrow, “Time-Flight” has an awful reputation that is completely justified. The plot is bad and the effects even worse – the writers of The Discontinuity Guide summed it up best:

 

“I don't know what English cricket is coming to.' Somebody, somewhere should have thrown this script in the bin the moment it had Concorde crash landing in Jurassic England[8], but, instead, it was made on a typical end of season minimal budget. The actors give it their best, but it only exposes the paucity of the concept and the dialogue”.


At the end of the season, Tegan is apparently abandoned at Heathrow – this was never intended as a departure scene, but instead a season-ending cliff-hanger.

 

With an average rating of 9.4 million, the new timeslot and new Doctor had the desired effect of boosting the show. It could go into its 20th season with renewed confidence.


[1]He gets the credit for “Four to Doomsday”, “The Visitation” and “Earthshock”. The last credit is basically to avoid crediting Eric Saward as doing his own story, Root doing little or no work on it. Root’s script editing role did not involve commissioning any stories, merely rewriting and getting them ready for filming.

[2]As the first one was on Gallifrey and the second in E-Space.

[3]Not to be confused with the late director Peter Moffatt, who did a number of Whos or TV writer Peter Moffat.

[4]Although most of their current output is frankly rubbish. Yes, I do like Downton Abbey before anyone sets the dogs on me.

[5]Fans have interpreted this one as the Doctor allowing Tegan to show off via use of the TARDIS translator.

[6]The script was written before Sutton’s casting and making of her into a regular.

[7]The gold star being used by the Doctor to kill a Cyberman in the TARDIS.

[8]The take-off scene at the end in itself is a contender for worst effect in the show’s history, as it basically has a real shot of a take-off behind a model landscape; with the airport visible in the footage!

Monday, 8 October 2012

New sim category proposed

Robert Longtin is proposing the creation of a number of new sims and consequently an entire category in "Alternate Earth" settings, such as what if the American Civil War had ended in a truce.

The thread discussing it can be found here. Please go and take a look!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Two players awarded on 'The West Star'

Amanda Bond and Nick Buchanan are hereby awarded the Hasbro/Mattel Product Placement a Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far Far Away Award for taking time out to play some Scrabble in game.

Not stone cold (Review: 'Doctor Who' 33.5: The Angels Take Manhattan)

So, that’s it. Rory Williams and Amy Pond have checked out of Doctor Who in a rather sad, but emotionally complete manner.

 

Steven Moffat’s stories have a tendency to involve things possibly created through the influence of strange substances – the Statue of Liberty as a Weeping Angel and those Baby Angels in particular. When Moffat created the Angels back in Season 29’s “Blink” (and deservedly got a Hugo for it), he automatically put them into the A-list of DW villains – they’re scary, nearly unstoppable and don’t need a good voice actor to work.

 

This has to be one of their best episodes yet. So, without further ado, ten thoughts:

 

·         I love a nice bit of film noir homage – with that detective in the pre-titles sequence just one example.

·         Matt Smith was a bit more subdued than normal, but serious situations mean the Doctor tells less jokes.

·         River Song: Always a great party guest. The banter between her and her husband is always great fun.

·         Moffat’s really developed a trope of communicating through history – the “Yowzah” case in particular stands out.

·         Plus he loves using the old timey-wimey stuff; it’s rare to have a story that does not involve it in some form.

·         This was rather limited on the guest cast – all it wasn’t really needed for the story.

·         Was that Arthur Darvill in the bed? If so, great ageing makeup.

·         The New York location film wasn’t really necessary either, but it made for some background as well as gaining good publicity for the show (foreign filming has done that for the show since the JNT era)

·         Murray Gold’s music was very good – a little more noticeable than usual, but not too much.

·         The extent of Rory and Amy’s love for each other has been really, really clear throughout these three seasons – the final decision taken by Amy fitted that perfectly.

 

Conclusion

 

Best episode of this mini-season and a fitting departure for the Ponds.

 

9/10

Saturday, 6 October 2012

James Bond: Dr. No

Yes, like a few other bloggers, I'm rewatching the Bond films. In order.

First one is certainly an old-school film. The pacing is strange (it's a slow story) and some of the effects are dodgy.

Good overall, but not that exciting.

7/10.

Friday, 5 October 2012

International James Bond Day


A short clip that sums a lot of things up:

Atlantis looking for players

Atlantis, one of our founding Firefly sims, is looking for new players after a decline in activity. It's a highly enjoyable sim (I should know, I play in it) and you'll have a great time.

Please contact James McGuire via the forums if you're interested.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

October Resolution declared void

Due to confusion about how amendments are dealt with and as it appears to be violating the Admin Policies, the current referendum has been declared null and void by Elections and Voting Coordinator Robert Longtin.

A third attempt with only the original proposals will now be run.
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