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, 31 March 2013

More Firefly with Time Travel (Review: 'Doctor Who: Heritage' by Dale Smith, 2002)

 

While Firefly was enjoying its short run on FOX in October 2002, a novel came out that in its own way was rather reminiscent of the series, as the Seventh Doctor walked into a plot that could have come out of Joss Whedon’s imagination…

 

As I’m moving slowly through my “Eleven Faces” series, I’ve now come on to the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. I got this novel, the 57th in the BBC Past Doctors series. a few years ago when he turned up at a local department store (and it’s signed by him), but I’ve never gotten round to reading this in full. Two previous attempts petered out.

 

I’m glad I made the third attempt and stuck with it.

 

Where we’re at

 

This is a Seventh Doctor and Ace tale, set after the end of the original run. In a previous novel, the Doctor learnt of the death of Ace and has been trying, subtly, to prevent it.

 

The plot

 

The Doctor and Ace are on the dusty (very dusty) failed mining colony of Heritage in the year 6048, where he intends to look up an old friend. However, they discover the locals are hiding a dark secret – a secret about murder and a child named Sweetness…

  

What works

·        The novel drops the apparent violent death of a previous companion on us fairly suddenly – and does not pull any reversal on it.

·        Most of the novel takes place over the course of a single day – an interesting and well done concept, showing just what having the Doctor turn up can do to your world.

·        The Doctor has some superb moments – including a rather great retort about people who believe in the judgement of history being too scared to judge themselves.

·        The atmosphere and Western styling is superb, while the reason for the covering up of the murders is one that can be understood, if not necessarily agreed with.

·        There’s a great supporting character in the form of Bernard, a dolphin with a translator unit and a walking frame with mounted weapons.

 

What doesn’t

·         As other reviewers have pointed out, there’s not a great deal that actually happens.

·         Sweetness is a textbook ‘creepy child’ and those are all too common in fiction.

 

Conclusion

 

A thoughtful and well-written tale, which is a worthy entry to the expanded universe. Worth buying if you can get it cheap.

 

8/10

 

(For my review of another Western-themed bit of Doctor Who, look here and here)

James Bond: A View To A Kill

A View To A Kill is viewed poorly among 007 fans, who have criticised its overage actor, bad plot and worse Bond girl.

 

There is some good in this film. Moore’s performance is assured and he’s clearly having a good time, but it is clear that he is past his physical best. There are some funny lines throughout the movie and the action is generally well done – the mine set is great as well.

 

Less good, however, is Christopher Walken’s Zorin, who plays it rather like he was in a Tarantino movie, when he should either be going OTT (like Blofeld) or subtle – so he ends up doing it fairly flat and turns in an ultimately mediocre performance.

 

There are of course many problems in the film and chief among them is Tanya Roberts. She’s almost completely expressionless and has some awful line readings… plus her character fails to outrun a blimp. This said, Grace Jones merely manages to look weird – there have been far better henchmen. Lois Maxwell’s final turn as Moneypenny really isn’t her best either.

 

Finally, I can’t imagined the San Francisco Police Department was entirely pleased with their portrayal in this one.

 

Conclusion

 

The bad reputation is justified – AVTAK is a long, paint-by-numbers Bond with nothing to make it really stand out. Moore deserved much better than this for his final film.

 

4/10

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Very Good Connection (Review: 'Doctor Who' 33.6, "The Bells of Saint John")

The season opener – or rather the second season opener for this split season, tends to be an Earth-based story that allows for a new companion to be introduced to the Doctor in an enjoyable, humorous manner. We can’t have anything too traumatic, otherwise the companion wouldn’t get in the ‘snog booth’ in the first place. This opener ticked all the boxes in this compartment, I’m pleased to say.

 

Without further ado, here are ten of my thoughts on this episode:

·         An interesting opening, with clearly a good amount of stock footage.

·         The theme tune appears to have been altered from the Christmas 2012 version – made a bit less bombastic for one thing. I would say it is now a little too quiet for my liking.

·         The title was a bit misleading – there was only one actual bell!

·         Matt Smith continues to do an excellent job as the Doctor and in this episode he continued to show that combination of alien quirkiness with sheer cleverness that is the hallmark of his incarnation.

·         Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara is a strong vibrant character, with a clear chemistry with her co-star and who got some great lines. I do hope, however, she’s not going to keep doing what she did in the episode, because the “Woman Twice Dead” name is now a bit redundant.

·         Celia Imrie did a great job as the main villain of the piece, resisting the strong temptation to overly chew the scenery that comes with a part in Doctor Who. I was at times reminded of Judi Dench’s M.

·         Steven Moffat continued to deliver some great lines, but few of them will enter the long-term consciousness of the fans – with a couple of exceptions.

·         There was a lot of London in this – and it really was London, as opposed to Cardiff playing London (as is usually the case past-2005). They didn’t even make any big geographical howlers, unlike National Treasure where Nicholas Cage crosses the Thames north-to-south twice.

·         The plot was a nice and creepy one – with some great concepts, namely people being able to be hacked and controlled by the alien Wi-Fi. This said, some of the contemporary references might date a bit badly.

·         Did not expect him to turn up… I expect we’ll be seeing more of him as the run continues.

 

Conclusion

 

After a slow start, this became a highly enjoyable opener and a good introduction to this latest run. That said, the next episode does not look that good.

 

8/10

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Four Hundred False Dawns, Part One ('Doctor Who', 1990-1996)

As I was writing this, a series of tabloid stories, based on a book coming out in May, have accused John Nathan-Turner and fellow production office worker Gary Downie (who are both dead) of abusing their position to have sex with teenage boys – illegal at the time due to the unequal ages of sexual consent, but not now – and in the latter case, actual sexual assault on the author. Ian Levine hinted at this in an interview a few months ago as a scandal that could have killed the show had it come out.

 

As a police investigation is on-going, I feel it best not to make any further comment here.


While it’s a more than bit of an exaggeration to say that there were four hundred mooted or rumoured revivals of the show in the ‘wilderness years’ of 1989-2005 (in reality more like 1989-2003), there were certainly a good number. Separating the fact from the fiction can be hard, even twenty years later, so I will be focussing on the known attempts to get the show back on TV or in cinemas.

 

In 2005, SFX did a special on their Doctor Who coverage just before Season 27 began airing and this has proved invaluable for getting ducks into rows on this matter.


This said, let us move on to the main events in the first seven years after the cancellation. In fact, we have to start before it.

 

In 1987, a company then called Coast to Coast bought a seven-year option on a Doctor Who cinematic movie from the BBC. As the show was still on television,  this was going to be something parallel to the television series, akin to the two Peter Cushing movies in the 1960s. When the show was cancelled, it became a possible continuation of the series, more like Serenity.

 

1990

 

The 1990 Broadcasting Act was passed, considerably deregulating the British commercial television business and setting in motion the eventual unification of most of ITV under one owner. British Satellite Broadcasting had a brief existence (see below).

 

The BBC no longer wanted to produce a Doctor Who show on their own, but stated that they were open to an independent company engaging in production on the show. The Coast to Coast movie seemed to be the main runner in this regard, but others were interested – Philip Segal and Colombia had approached the BBC regarding the film being a pilot for a TV series the previous year, but when Segal left Colombia for ABC in January 1990, the deal died. That film got the only firm bit of casting it would ever get it – Caroline Munro[1].

 

McCoy and Aldred, along with John Leeson as K9, reprised their roles for an edition of Search Out Science, a children’s educational programme, where the Seventh Doctor was a quizmaster and the latter two contestants in a quiz on space. This is not considered canon, but it was the only bit of original Doctor Who on TV this year or for the next two.

 

However, this is not say there was not some of TV – if you had a satellite dish. The Galaxy network of the government-backed British Satellite Broadcasting ran Doctor Who repeats, albeit with adverts and the channel ID ‘bug’ visible, during its eight month existence, an existence that also saw the cancelled after one episode sitcom Heil, Honey I’m Home!, which as the name suggests was a sitcom with Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun… moving in next to a Jewish couple. In November 1990, British Satellite Broadcasting, which had been struggling financially, merged with Sky (its five channels launching the previous year) to become BSkyB and Galaxy went off air, its slot being handed to Sky1[2].

 

1991

 

The ITV franchise auction, under a system now more based on highest bid (although quality controls were added after complaints), takes place. As a result, five incumbent franchise holders lost their franchises from the end of 1992, most notably Thames Television, whose London weekday slot was taken by Carlton Television[3].

 

An extended cut of “The Curse of Fenric” was released on VHS and became the fastest selling Doctor Who video until 2005, while Virgin Books began their New Adventures run of original novels featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace.

 

Coast to Coast renamed itself to Green Light and there were a good number of rumours of a revival that came to naught (although an animated version of the show did come close to being agreed), while the Museum of the Moving Image in London played host to an exhibition on the show.

 

1992

 

The satellite channel UK Gold is launched, which will show a good number of Doctor Who repeats in the 1990s and get Silent Hunter into the show. Joss Whedon wrote a film called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

 

A re-colourised version of “The Dæmons” was aired on the BBC, while Tom Baker provided video links for a release of the unaired “Shada” material.

 

Philip Segal now moved to Amblin Entertainment, Steven Spielberg’s production company – and that connection helped with discussions a good deal, although any Spielberg involvement would have been name only or hands-off executive producer.

 

To mark the 30th anniversary the following year, BBC Enterprises commissioned a direct-to-video story called “The Dark Dimension”, with the hope that it might get a TV airing. This would have starred Tom Baker and featured the other four living Doctors in cameo roles – the plot revolving around an older Fourth Doctor, with the Brig and Ace having to reverse an altered time stream where he did not regenerate at the Pharos Project.

 

1993

 

The X-Files began its nine-season run.

 

As the 30th anniversary of Doctor Who arrived, “The Dark Dimension” was formally announced in June – and cancelled in July. Enterprises was not a production unit (which caused friction in the BBC), the living Doctors who were not Tom Baker were unhappy about the size of their roles, the cameos were making schedule juggling very hard and a failure would jeopardise negotiations with Amblin over a possible TV series. Some contracts had been signed and some test filming done – but the special was canned just before it began filming, to fan annoyance.

 

What they got instead was arguably much worse. A 3-D charity special was produced that had past Doctors and companions pop into and out of the story. Literally.

 

Dimensions in Time (2 episodes with a total running time of 12 minutes – the first part was aired as part of Children in Need and the second on Noel’s House Party[4])

 

The Rani kidnaps the first two Doctors[5], then traps the others and their companions (who keep swapping with each other) in a time loop in Albert Square as part of a plan to control galactic evolution…

 

While this got the highest audience of any of JNT’s work, this story (which I hardly remember) has been universally panned by the fandom and is considered non-canon by nearly all of it – especially with “Army of Ghosts” establishing EastEnders as fictional in the Doctor Who universe. Due to the charity nature of the show at the time and the contracts then signed, a repeat or DVD release is impossible and there is no legal way to watch this. I doubt I would want to anyway.

 

This was not the only bit of Doctor Who though – Jon Pertwee appeared on radio in “The Paradise of Death”, one of two radio plays he would do as the Third Doctor.

 

1994

 

The Stargate movie hit cinemas, while Star Trek: The Next Generation finished.

 

Green Light joined with French firm Lumiere Pictures in connection with their film, but with no production having started, their option ran out on the movie in April and the rights reverted to BBC Enterprises, rendering the picture dead.

 

However, the TV action was still going – Amblin confirmed that they had bought the rights to a TV series and were now going network shopping in the US. CBS turned them down, but there was more than one network in the USA…

 

1995

 

Toy Story became the first full-length film to be completely computer-animated.

 

Amblin now approached FOX and after some initial hesitancy on their part, a deal was reached between the BBC, FOX and Universal to produce a TV movie as a backdoor pilot for a possible new series, dependent on good US ratings. It was now a case of choosing a Doctor for Sylvester McCoy to regenerate into…

 

Paul McGann – The Eighth Doctor

 

One TV appearance, a good chunk of that with post-regeneration instability, does not give much of a time for a coherent character to be developed, but extensive appearances in audio, comics and literature do. The Eighth Doctor started as a romantic Byron-esque traveller with a penchant for Victorian dress, although he has now gotten darker and more contemporary as he approaches the Time War.

 

The role was taken by Paul McGann (1959-), one of four acting brothers[6], who had achieved prominence. Born in Surrey, his family moved to Liverpool in his early life, making him the second Doctor to hail from “Granadaland” [7] and he began appearing on television in 1982. His most prominent appearance was as “& I” in 1987’s cult movie Withnail & I, but he also makes a brief appearance in Alien 3, where it’s not a spoiler to say he gets killed off horribly.

 

After his one-night appearance (on TV at any rate), he has continued to make high-profile TV appearances and do films – he turns up fairly frequently on British television in guest roles, with his most recent appearance in the BBC daytime series of dramas called Moving On, but he’ll probably turn in many more things to come.

 

1996

 

Independence Day grossed over $800m at the box office.

 

A second Doctor Who radio play was recorded – “The Ghosts  of N-Space” (reviewed here), starring Jon Pertwee in his final transmitted appearance as the Doctor (there was one other appearance recorded after this for an incomplete fan video) – he died in May of that year. In that same month, the television movie, filmed in that favourite sci-fi filming location of Vancouver (playing San Francisco) premiered, first in the US and then in the UK…

 

Doctor Who (the TV movie)[8]

 

The Seventh Doctor is tasked with transporting the remains of the Master back to Gallifrey, but the Master has other ideas…

 

My review of the TV movie can be found here – the movie is a mixed bag, but with clear potential for a future run. Due to the nature of the contracts, neither ‘companion’ from this movie can be used by Big Finish and so a slew of original companions have been developed for Eight’s EU appearances.

 

While the feature did very well in the UK, with an audience of 9 million, the US airing was poorly scheduled by FOX against popular US sitcom Roseanne and pulled in a mere five million viewers. That was nowhere near enough to justify any continued involvement in the show and without US funding, any revival was dead in the water.


What a full TV series of the McGann Doctor Who would have been like we will never know. Would there have been more snogging or even actual Doctor-companion sex[9]? What would the Daleks and Cybermen have been like? How long could it have lasted?

 

Instead, the show had merely changed Doctor and had another false dawn, but the extensive expanded universe was still going and still growing.


[1]A British model and actor perhaps best known as bikini-clad helicopter pilot Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me, but was also a hostess on Yorkshire Television’s long-running game/variety show 3-2-1, a quiz perhaps best known for Dusty Bin and having a booby prize of a trash receptacle.

[2]Flagship channel of BSkyB, which started in 1982 as Satellite Television, the first European satellite station, but it changed over the years to become an encrypted UK-only network. While US imports make up a great deal of the network’s content (Stargate SG-1 made its UK debuts there, while the show currently does the first runs of Elementary, NCIS: Los Angeles and Glee among others), Sky1 is increasingly producing home-grown stuff like Stella, Got to Dance and Mad Dogs.

[3]Although Thames continued and still continues to produce programmes for ITV.

[4]A Saturday night light entertainment show running on the BBC from 1991-1999, hosted by Noel Edmonds. Best known for liberal lashings of gunge (that’s slime to the Americans), pranking celebrities and inflicting Mr Blobby on an unwitting UK. In fact, I’ve just been given an idea for Kvant.

[5]Who appear here as disembodied model heads…

[6]They appeared together in the 1995 miniseries The Hanging Gale.

[7]The area of the Northwest of England covered by the former Granada franchise of ‘Channel 3’, now known as ITV Granada).

[8]The movie has no onscreen title other than that. Segal suggested “The Enemy Within” as a title for fans to use, but most people just call it the TV Movie or TVM.

[9]The Eighth Doctor did have sex in one of the last Virgin novels, The Dying Days.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Shaken not Stirred, a history of 007: Part Five - the 1990s

This time, no slide whistle, happily

 

In late 1989, Metro Goldwyn Mayer was sold to the Australian broadcasting company Quintex, who then started negotiating a merger with Pathe Communication. That act would put James Bond into deep freeze for six years. 

 

1990

 

Iraq took intelligence services by surprise with its invasion of Kuwait, a large international coalition being formed to defend Saudi Arabia and prepare to expel Saddam Hussein’s forces. Nelson Mandela was released from prison. McDonald’s opens for the first time in China and the USSR.  The big event of the year was the reunification of Germany – the German Democratic Republic being absorbed into the territory of the Federal Republic, which remained an EEC and NATO member[1].

 

Cubby Broccoli had been unhappy with the way the Bond franchise was going, especially after the disappointing returns of Licence to Kill. He put EON’s parent company Danjaq on the market, then passed EON onto his stepson and daughter…

 

Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli – the second generation

 

Michael G. Wilson  (1943-present) was the son of actor Lewis Wilson and Dana Broccoli, as she become on her remarriage. After graduating as an electrical engineer, he spent a brief term in that industry before moving into law and in 1972 was invited to join his stepfather at EON, initially in the legal department. However, from The Spy Who Loved Me, he become involved in the films, his responsibility increasing gradually – he co-wrote all five 1980s Bond movies and became executive producer, followed by full producer. 007 has been pretty much his entire film career and he made a cameo in Goldfinger, then further cameos in every film since Moonraker, although his Skyfall appearance was nearly all cut for timing reasons.

 

The other half of the Bond team at the moment is Cubby and Dana’s daughter Barbara (1960-present). She has basically lived pretty much her entire life with Bond – she entered the franchise at 22 as an Executive Assistant on Octopussy and became Associate Producer for The Living Daylights. She was the person responsible for Judi Dench becoming the first female M, a move that helped revitalise the series in 1995. Outside of 007, she produced a Golden Globe nominated TV movie called Crime of the Century and a musical version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.


Broccoli also parted company with Richard Maibaum and John Glen, who had long involvements as writer and director respectively in the series, looking for fresh blood. A number of names were considered, ranging from the director of Rambo to Gloria and Willard Huyck, who had written Howard the Duck – considered one of the worst films of all time!

 

A third Dalton film was in the early stages when Broccoli learned that the new chairman of MGM was basically planning to sell TV rights to Bond at below market rates for the rest of the century – a move that would badly affect the income needed for future films. With Danjaq still under the control him and his wife, he filed suit against the studio just days before its merger with Pathe on 23 October 1990. With the studio and EON now fighting it out in the courts, 007 could not hope to fight any baddies.

 

“Bond 17”, which got to second draft stage in 1993 before a page-one rewrite changed the entire plot to become GoldenEye, was planned to be set extensively in Hong Kong, with Bond going there after the destruction of a Scottish nuclear facility. A beautiful female Chinese operative was planned to turn up – something kept for another day… Tomorrow Never Dies in fact.

 

Elsewhere, John Gardner released Brokenclaw, with a Native American villain with a deformed hand – and ending with a bow and arrow fight. The BBC did a radio adaption of the novel You Only Live Twice starring Michael Jayston.

 

A top down shooting and racing adaptation of The Spy Who Loved Me was released for a variety of computers including IBM PC, Amiga and Spectrum. It was joined by Delphine Studio’s point-and-click game The Stealth Affair, the American version of that game being adapted to include Bond (the European version retained the original character John Glames), who had to find a stolen stealth fighter.

 

1991

 

After a few weeks of air strikes and a short ground war, the forces of Iraq were roundly defeated in Operation Desert Storm, which saw the full operational debut of the F-117A.The ‘Birmingham Six’, six men falsely convicted for an IRA bombing, were released after it was found police fabricated evidence. Slovenia breaks away from Yugoslavia in a ten-day war that is the least bloody of the Yugoslav conflicts – Croatia’s war started as well and would not finish until 1995.  An attempted coup in the Soviet Union collapsed after 72 hours when the KGB’s Alpha Group refused to put down protests. In the aftermath, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the KGB and the USSR all ceased to exist.

 

John Gardner published The Man From Barbarossa, a prescient tale featuring an attempted hardliner coup against the USSR.. There was no further production on the film front, in a year that saw the death of titles designer Maurice Binder.

 

007 did however go animated… or rather his nephew[2] did in the children’s’ series James Bond Jr. that ran for 65 half an hour episodes. I’ve never seen it, so cannot really say anything about it.

 

1992

 

The US and the new Russian Federation declared the Cold War formally over both announced that they would “de-target” their missiles, so they could not be instantly fired on each other[3]. George Bush started the year by throwing up on the Japanese Prime Minister and ended it with defeat at the hands of Arkansas Democrat Bill Clinton. UN peacekeepers went to Somalia and the disintegrating Yugoslavia[4]. There was another split-up with no violence, with Czechoslovakia becoming the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the Velvet Divorce[5]. Stella Rimington became the first female head of MI5 – providing strong inspiration for a later Bond casting choice and becoming a spy novel writer after her retirement.

 

There was now a change at the top – MGM/Pathe came under the control of Frank Mancuso, with the new boss appointing John Calley (who had been at Warner Brothers when they had done Never Say Never Again as head of United Artists. Calley wanted to see Bond back on the big screen, but with a new actor – Broccoli wanted Dalton to complete the three-picture contract he had signed.

 

A video game of James Bond Jr. was released and Gardner’s novel of the year was Death is Forever.

 

1993

 

Six people were killed in a bombing at the World Trade Center in New York. After an alleged Iraqi plot to kill former President Bush on a visit to Kuwait, Bill Clinton drops a Tomahawk on Iraqi intelligence headquarters. Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, recognising each other. The US launched an attempt to capture two lieutenants of a warlord in Mogadishu that went spectacularly wrong.

 

There was now a victory for Cubby, as Giancarlo Peretti was removed as chairman of MGM/UA, his replacement being much more willing to work with Danjaq on his terms. Dalton hinted in a Daily Mail interview that the next film would start production in January or February 1994 with Michael France writing the script – the latter was true at any rate. With this sorted out and a heart condition having serious effect on him, Broccoli now stepped aside from day-to-day operations to allow his heirs to take over.

 

His likeness also appeared in the side-scrolling platformer The Duel – the final game published by Domark and the last appearance of Dalton’s Bond in any work. Gardner decided to Never Send Flowers, in a book where Bond meets a Swiss operative that he didn’t dump after one novel – indeed, he ends up proposing to her (it doesn’t last past the second novel, predictably).

 

1994

 

Eight people were killed in a sarin nerve gas attack in Tokyo and 85 people lost their lives in attacks on Jewish targets in Buenos Aires. Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa. The Provisional IRA announced its first ceasefire in August 1994 – it would last for 18 months. The existence of the Secret Intelligence Service was publically acknowledged for the first time.

 

The announced production start date came and went with no news or filming work being done. Then on 12 April, Dalton made it clear that he was done and that he would not be returning to the role as he felt it was time to move on – it had been five years since Licence to Kill. EON did not stop him. Brosnan was now available – Remington Steele was over and after nursing his wife Cassandra Harris through the terminal cancer that took her from him in 1991, his roles had been relatively middle-ranking, with the exception of his brief role in Mrs. Doubtfire. It was easy to bring him on board.

 

Pierce Brosnan – Suaveness for the 1990s

 

Pierce Brosnan was my ‘first Bond’ – I entered the franchise when he was the star and he remains one of my favourites. A suave Bond with a strong sense of grittiness at times, he is Connery for the modern generation.

 

The only Bond so far not to hail from a Commonwealth country, Ireland having left before he was born, Pierce Brosnan OBE (1953-) was initially brought up by his grandparents, his father leaving him very young and his mother going not long after. When they died, he was passed around from relative to relative and even spent time in care. He moved to England in 1964, where he saw Goldfinger and also softened his Irish accent to avoid bullying. Starting off as a fire-eater and a busker, he got into acting and appeared in a variety of films before appearing in the miniseries Manions of America where he became a US star. He appeared in Remington Steele and had that aborted first casting as Bond, as we have discussed.

 

His 007 success kept him going with work during his role including appearing in Mars Attacks! and a remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (the rumour about being banned from wearing a tux was just that, but in that film, he does not do up the bow tie). On his departure from Bond, his roles have not been as successful, with his singing in Mamma Mia! getting roundly panned – he also appeared in a mediocre TV movie called Bag of Bones in 2011. He has two films currently in post-production.

 

****

SeaFire was released by Gardner – it would be his penultimate original novel in the series.

 

Elsewhere, a certain Austrian actor appeared in True Lies, which includes a homage to the pre-titles sequence of Goldfinger (removing a dry suit to reveal a tux).

 

1995

 

A Jewish gunman assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally, severely damaging the peace process. NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force against Serbian positions in Bosnia, ultimately forcing Yugoslavia to return to negotiations and sign the Dayton Peace Accords, ending this particular Yugoslav War – the year had featured a notorious massacre at Srebrenica. SIS moved into their current headquarters at Vauxhall Cross.

 

After six long years, 007 was back in action on the big screen…

 

GoldenEye (film)

 

“What, no small talk? No chit-chat? You know, that's the problem these days. No one bothers to take the time to give a really sinister interrogation.” – Bond

 

When the control system for an EMP satellite is stolen, 007 heads to the Russian Federation, where he goes up against the leader of a sinister criminal syndicate out for revenge on Britain…

 

·         This is the first completely original Bond movie – with no elements from any Fleming tale.

·         The film opens with one of the greatest stunts in cinematic history – the 722-foot (220m) bungee jump off the Verzasca dam, which is now something you can do commercially, albeit on a platform slightly further out from the edge[6].

·         Daniel Kleinman took over as title designer – introducing a third dimension to his titles. This film also sees the debut of a CGI gun barrel.

·         This is not only the debut of Judi Dench’s M, but also Samantha Bond’s more feminist Moneypenny and Michael Kitchen as Bill Tanner. Kitchen is best known for his starring role in ITV’s Foyle’s War, created by Anthony Horowitz[7].

·         This film contains significant early roles for Sean Bean (who dies gruesomely as usual), Famke Janssen and Alan Cumming. Bean’s character is generally thought to be named after John Trevelyan, a former BBFC head who insisted on cuts to the early Bonds. Ironically, this film required trimming in places to get a PG-13/12.

·         Tina Turner sings the title song – Ace of Base were originally planned to do so but their record label pulled them out. Their loss, I suppose.

·         Faced with Pinewood being unavailable, EON converted an old Rolls Royce factory at Leavesden into studios and a backlot (used for the tank chase), giving it as a gift to the British film industry – the studios have since been used for the Star Wars prequels and the Harry Potter series among others. The producers later commented that Pinewood would have been too small for the very big film.

 

GoldenEye was the first Bond film I ever saw (on TV in fact) and is a highly enjoyable action thriller. The film had great reviews and even better box office – the best since Moonraker when adjusted for inflation and the fourth highest of the year.

 

****

 

Gardner novelised the film and a comic adaptation was planned (although only the first issue was ever released), but the year produced no video games.

 

NBC started a Donald P. Bellisario military adventure series called JAG, which ran for one season before being cancelled. It was then picked up by CBS, ran for another nine seasons before being ended, spun off NCIS (renewed for an eleventh season as of time of writing), which spun off NCIS: Los Angeles, which is looking to spin off another show through a backdoor pilot. Quite possibly the greatest ever escape from the stomach of The Cancellation Bear.

 

The BBC launched Bugs, a spy/science-fiction series that ran for a total of four seasons.

 

1996

 

Israel blew up a Hamas operative with a mobile phone bomb in a year that saw Israeli raids on Lebanon, as well as the PLO dropping its call for Israel’s destruction in return for Israel accepting the fundamental existence of Palestine. A North Korean submarine runs aground on the South Korean coast, with all bar one of the crew killed by other crewmembers or the South Korean Army.

 

COLD (US title Cold Fall) was released. It would be Gardner’s final 007 novel – he was suffering from cancer and the following year he lost his wife. He retired from the series and did not resume novel writing until 2001, completing a number of further works before his death in 2007.

 

Another departure from the scene was Cubby, whose involvement with GoldenEye was minimal due to failing health and only got an exec producer credit. He had completed most of his autobiography When the Snow Melts (good read in fact) when he passed away – his funeral Mass being attended by Moore, Dalton and Brosnan.

 

Tom Cruise appeared in Mission: Impossible, a cinematic update of the 1960s series that pulled in more money that the previous year’s Bond film. It was clear that 007 was having competition on the spy scene… including from himself as McCrory resurfaced, stating that he planned to work with Sony to make another Thunderball remake to be called Warhead 2000. Sony had also acquired a new head, John Calley… who had been head of United Artists and worked in marketing GoldenEye.

 

There were no video games this year.

 

1997

 

The United Kingdom returned the colony of Hong Kong to China after the expiry of a 99-year lease. Diana, Princess of Wales was killed along with her boyfriend Dodi al-Fayed and their driver in a road accident in Paris that attracts conspiracy theories, including Dodi’s father Mohammed.

 

There were big developments in the video and literary franchises this year. In the video game world, Rare released a first person shooter adaptation of GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64. It became and remains a classic not only of Bond games… but of gaming in general, especially for its multiplayer mode and pioneering use of stealth. It sold 8 million copies and while Rare did not do another Bond game, they developed the Perfect Dark series as a spiritual successor, while some of its team left to do the similarly-styled TimeSplitters. Nearly every Bond game since has tried to emulate it.

 

It was not the only game released  - a top-down RPG style (like Zelda) game called James Bond 007 appeared on the Game Boy. I’ve played this game and while you don’t get to kill chickens, it is good fun.

 

American author Raymond Benson took over as the official Bond author, starting with a short story in Playboy called “Blast from the Past”, continuing with original novel Zero Minus Ten (set around the Hong Kong handover) and concluding a relatively busy year with a novelisation of Tomorrow Never Dies.

 

Brosnan fell victim of the ‘difficult second movie’ curse:

·          The eighteenth Bond film was planned to be set around the handover, but when the release date was set firmly for December 1997 (MGM needed a big hit in Christmas 1997 as the firm was in trouble), that plot was junked and a new one created.

·         The script dragged and was only completed a week before shooting started – in essence the script got written around the action, never a good sign.

·         Leavesden was booked for The Phantom Menace and new facilities at Frogmore had to be created, although Pinewood was also used.

·         The Vietnamese government withdrew filming permission a month before the crew were due to go there, so EON had to go to Thailand instead.

·         Brosnan needed eight stitches in his face after being hit by a helmet during a fight scene.

·         There was serious concern that the film would miss its scheduled release date, but it ultimately was done in time.

·         The film was going to be called Tomorrow Never Lies, but a typo on a draft script was kept.

 

Compared to all that, dealing with the fact that Teri Hatcher was pregnant during her shoot was simple.

 

Tomorrow Never Dies (film)

 

“Mr Wallace[8], call the President. Tell him if he doesn't sign the bill lowering the cable rates, we will release the video of him with the cheerleader in the Chicago motel room.” – Elliot Carver

 

A media mogul plans to start a war between the UK and China, so he can make billions from the coverage.

 

·         The pre-titles sequence where Bond does interesting things to an arms fair required the trucking in of extra snow.

·         This is the first film in the series to be credited as “Alfred R. Broccoli’s EON Productions presents…”

·         Elliot Carver is based on a number of RL media figures – while Rupert Murdoch, who was trying to break into Asia at the time and ultimately failed, is often cited today, the writers were going as much for Robert Maxwell, who ‘fell off his yacht’ when pension fraud at Mirror Group was exposed by Private Eye (who framed the final libel writ they got from him) and William Randolph Hearst, whose “yellow journalism” has been cited as a cause of the Spanish-American War of 1898 – although the line " You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war" is generally believed to be apocryphal.

·         This is the Western debut of Michelle Yeoh, who plays Chinese operative Wai Lin and is best known for her Hong Kong action films.

·         David Arnold took over as composer – his credits are extensive, including the theme tune to Stargate and the music for the London Olympic Games. John Barry was approached, but terms could not be agreed  - he endorsed Arnold as his replacement.

·         Michael Kitchen was unavailable, so Colin Salmon was cast as Charles Robinson.

·         Teri Hatcher, best known these days for Desperate Housewives, took the role as Paris Carver so her then husband could say he was married to a Bond girl.

 

The rushed scripting means that this is one of the weaker Brosnans – although it does have some good scenes in it. The box office was slightly down on GoldenEye (going against Titanic did not help), but the film was still a sizeable hit.

 

****

John Calley’s switching of sides had annoyed MGM – he annoyed them even more when Sony stated that McClory was entitled to a share of the $3bn gross for the franchise to date, acquired some of his rights  and then announced plans for their own 007 series, as they also owned the rights to Casino Royale. At that point, the lawyers got involved.

 

Over the pond, Joel Surnow created a spy series for USA called La Femme Nikita, based on a 1990 French film – the series ran for five whole seasons. One of the consultants on that film was Robert Cochran. The two would work together in the following decade.

 

In addition, Austin Powers was released, a spoof of 1960s spy films (especially early Bond) that spawned two sequels with rather rude titles.

 

1998

 

223 people were killed and 4,000 injured in dual suicide bombings at US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya linked to al-Qaeda, resulting in Osama bin Laden entering the FBI’s most wanted list and staying on it until a year after his death in 2011[9]. However, another long-running terrorist-inspiring issue, Northern Ireland, came to a sort of end with the Good Friday Agreement that ended the military activities of the Provisional IRA, although various splinter groups carried on their activities – including killing 29 people in an attack in Omagh, the deadliest bombing of the entire ‘Troubles’. Pakistan detonated its first nuclear device.

 

A pretty quiet year – with only Raymond Benson’s Facts of Death coming out this year.

 

1999

 

Portugal returned Macau to China. NATO engaged in an air campaign against Yugoslavia to stop expulsion of Kosovar Albanians from Kosovo – during the campaign a F-117 stealth fighter was shot down mostly due to poor US tactics and the wreckage probably got inspected by the Russians – which ends in a peace treaty that sees Yugoslav forces leave Kosovo. India and Pakistan fought a brief war. Former Moscow Centre officer Vladimir Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin as Russian President.

 

Glidrose, holders of the 007 literary rights, changed its name to Ian Fleming Publications in another busy year for Benson, who produced “Midsummer Night’s Doom” for Playboy, another short story for TV Guide called “Live at Five”, an adaptation of this year’s film and an original novel called High Time to Kill[10], the last being the first of a trilogy of novels focussed around a terrorist group called ‘The Union’.

 

Tomorrow Never Dies got a third-person shooter adaptation, but only for the PlayStation.

 

Meanwhile, the Sony-MGM court battle came to an end, with an out of court settlement – MGM basically swapped their Spiderman rights for Sony’s Bond ones, unifying 007 under one studio and allowing for Casino Royale to get a proper adaptation, but not yet. It’s unclear whether Sony actually seriously wanted to do their own Bond or just wanted the lucrative rights to the Marvel character.

 

Meanwhile, with the Millennium fast approaching, 007 was about to have a close encounter with the Millennium Dome…

 

The World Is Not Enough (film)

 

“I'm looking for a submarine[11]! It's big and black and the driver is a very good friend of mine!” – Valentin Zukovsky

 

When an oil magnate is killed in an attack on MI6 headquarters, 007 is sent to protect his beautiful daughter from the terrorist that killed him.

 

·         The 14-minute pre-titles sequence is the longest in the series (Skyfall’s is about ten). The original plan was to go to the title sequence after the Bilbao sequence, but test audiences wanted more action and the superlative boat chase (which used 35 boats) was moved up before Garbage’s song.

·         Maria Grazia Cucinotta, who played the Cigar Girl, auditioned for the role of Elektra King (which went to Sophie Marceau), but her English wasn’t felt to be up to the part.

·         This is the final appearance of Desmond Llewellyn as Q. While he probably would have retired (his scenes seem to be a finale for the character), any further appearance was rendered impossible when he was killed in a car accident shortly after the film was released.

·         Robert Carlyle’s career has included everything from his role in Stargate Universe to a psychopathic hard man to a male stripper in the classic British comedy The Full Monty.

·         32 minutes of the film was cut between press screenings and cinematic release.

·         Yes, this is the one with Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist – she got a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie for her portrayal, with her and Brosnan nominated for Worst Screen Couple. Generally speaking, scientists don’t look like FHM cover girls (although there are exceptions to every rule).

·         This is the first time that Bond shoots a ‘Bond girl’. Speaking of Bond girls, the love scene between Brosnan and Sophie Marceau had ten unusable takes because of visible female nipple.

 

The first film in the series that I saw in cinemas (in New Jersey, in fact) and one of my personal favourites – although I admit Dr Christmas Jones is nothing more than a distracting bauble [Yes, that is a Christmas joke – Ed].  Reception was mixed (this is a divisive entry in the canon), but the box office was again very good.


The 1990s were a decade of change for Bond. From perceived redundancy to be filed in the same bin as the Warsaw Pact, he was now a modern action star, still packing the old charm and bringing the punters.

 

As the 21st century begun, the series would change again as new threats made the world of cinematic espionage much harder…


[1]There was a significant public concern, embodied in some now pretty much forgotten thrillers, that a reunified Germany would seek to regain the territory it had in 1937 (now in the USSR and Poland) or worse seek to take over Europe again. To mollify these fears, final status negotiations fixed the 1945 borders, got an agreement from Germany to move towards monetary union and prohibited NATO troops or nuclear weapons from the former GDR area. Germany did not seek military conquest, although some say it decided to do it economically instead.

[2]Bond has no brothers or sisters… although did unknowingly father a child in the novel You Only Live Twice.

[3]It just takes c.15 minutes instead.

[4]There would remain a state of that name covering Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro until 2003 (although it was not allowed to inherit the UN membership of Yugoslavia,  unlike the Russian Federation that took the permanent Security Council seat of the USSR), when it took that name for a short-lived existence – in 2006, Montenegro seceded peacefully and with widespread recognition. In 2008, Kosovo also declared independence, but only half of UN members recognise it.

[5]A reference to the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of 1989. Both countries get on very well with each other – joining NATO and the EU at the same time.

[6]Personally wouldn’t do it either way…

[7]Who also wrote the Alex Rider series of spy novels for younger readers – Stormbreaker got a cinematic adaptation, but did not do that well.

[8]Wallace is played by Michael G. Wilson, in one of his few cameos with lines.

[9]It takes time for the FBI to change the list as there is an extensive process to get someone on there. Bin Laden was replaced by Eric Justin Toth, wanted for possessing and child pornography.

[10]The short stories are available in an anthology of Benson’s final three novels (and Zero Minus Ten) called Choice of Weapons. The ‘Union Trilogy’ is available with “Blast from the Past” as another collection.

[11]The submarine is a Russian “Victor III” nuclear-powered attack submarine, which was a serious improvement in the noise department on the “Victor II” thanks to information passed from John Walker.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Rage against the dying of the light - 'Doctor Who' Season 26 (1989)

The end. Or was it?

 

There were no further changes to the top people in the show for another season where Doctor Who was up against Coronation Street. JNT again tried to leave, but was told to stay in the producer role or leave the BBC. He therefore chose the former.

 

There was an increasing lack of money for the show – with the sole TARDIS interior shot being in semi-darkness to disguise the fact that the only ‘wall’ was a painted backdrop, all four stories being set (mostly) on Earth and a lot of ideas having to be scaled back as they were unrealisable. However, the Cartmel master plan was seemingly going very well indeed…


Season 26 is the most consistently good of the entire McCoy run – and indeed of the entire last five years of the classic era. Every story is at least good and two hold minor classic status in the fandom.

 

Battlefield (4 parts)

 

Materialising in England in the 1990s[1], the Doctor has to stop a powerful sorceress from another dimension destroying Earth, with a little help from a retired Brigadier…

 

The final appearance of the Brig in the main TV series (and he has some great bits in this), this is probably the weakest of the four, but still very well done. It’s notable for a bit of real-life heroism on McCoy’s part during the filming of the cliff-hanger to Part Two, where Ace is trapped in a rapidly filling water tank. The glass of the tank began to crack and he realised it was in danger of emptying its contents all over the studio floor and its live cables… yelling “Get her out of there!”, he alerted the crew, who got Sophie Aldred out before the glass went and then evacuated the studio. The story was slightly sensationalised in the tabloid press, but McCoy may well have saved somebody’s life[2].

 

Ghost Light (3 parts)

 

In 1983, Ace burned down an old house. The Doctor takes her to it in 1883 and she discovers just why she was driven to commit arson…

 

This was the final story of the series to be recorded and therefore the final one of the classic era – as well as the final proper story to be filmed at Television Centre. It’s a very strange tale that probably needs a couple of watches to truly understand – and appreciate.

 

The Curse of Fenric (4 parts)

 

Northumberland, 1943. A secret based holding a powerful code breaking device is but one pawn in a bid for freedom by an ancient foe of the Doctor…

 

A dark Seventh Doctor classic, with some strong discussions on faith (especially with guest Nicholas Parsons[3]), the Doctor playing chess literally and metaphorically and the resolution of a lot of backstory points on Ace.

 

Survival (3 parts)

 

Perivale, West London, 1989 – the Doctor brings Ace home. But home is missing many of her friends…

 

For an unintentional series finale[4], this is a great way to wrap the classic run up. Strong effects, strong performances and a generally epic feel in the story written by first time (and so far only) writer Rona Munro.


The average for Season 25 was 5.3 million viewers. No episode in Season 26 even touched that… none even got over 4.5 million and the first episode of the season got a series low of 3.1 million. With an average of 4.2 million, the writing was on the wall and the production team realised it during the run.

 

Conscious that the show was possibly not going to come back for a while, if ever, a special closing monologue was recorded by McCoy on 23 November 1989 and dubbed on the final scene of “Survival”:

 

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold! Come on, Ace - we've got work to do![5]

 

Season 27, were it to have been made would have had Ace stay on as companion until the middle of the run (when Aldred’s contract expired) before being replaced by safecracker Raine Cunningham, who was never cast. The four planned stories [6] for this run were later adapted by Big Finish, with Raine Cunningham becoming Raine Creevy after Cartmel discovered someone of the former name really existed[7]. McCoy also agreed to do another year, which would have probably seen his departure – he would end up remaining in post until 1996.

 

However, no further commission from the BBC was forthcoming and the Doctor Who production office closed in August 1990. It was a spectacular run that any show would be justifiably proud of, but this Time Lord wasn’t done yet. Not by a long chalk.


As I’ve now reached the end of the classic run, I’m going to do one post in the ‘wilderness years’ up to the TV movie, then do several posts on the expanded universe, which is truly huge. Then I’ll do another post covering 1996-2005, before resuming up to the current run and then posting a conclusion, hopefully on the 50th anniversary itself.


[1] It is not explicitly stated when this story takes place, but the evidence puts it around 1997. We still haven’t got £5 pints though. Yet.

[2]The footage is on the Battlefield DVD.

[3]A man best known for light entertainment,  most notably BBC Radio 4’s Just A Minute and Anglia Television’s Sale of the Century – he’s been doing the former since 1967!

[4]Survival was not written as one, unlike a number of recent American episodes (including three CSI:NY season finales – the show was renewed after the first two, but is currently pending news after the third such go) that were done as such that they could effectively wrap the show in the event of cancellation.

[5]I used this quote as my introduction quote on the AJJE Games RP Into Time! And Space!

[6]In BF release order: “Thin Ice”, “Crime of the Century”, “Animal” and “Earth Aid”.

[7]These negative checks can take a while – Dr. Keller in Stargate: Atlantis took about half a season to get a first name (Jennifer) due to problems getting legal to clear one for her.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Torment: Tides of Numenéra

Written by Mischa Brendel



Many members of the Phoenix forums will be interested to know that currently the project Torment: Tides of Numenéra (TToN) is running on Kickstarter. The game, a computer RPG is crafted in the spirit of the classic CRPG Planescape: Torment, which is still thought of by many as one of the best CRPGs based on the AD&D rules to date.

TToN managed to make the set goal of 900,000 dollars in funding within seven hours after launch, making it the most successful Kickstarter project to date. Currently the meter is almost at 2.5 million dollars, meaning that a lot of stretch goals have already been reached as well.

Planescape: Torment was very popular in large part due to its enticing storyline and InXile, the company behind the project (and currently working on Wasteland 2, also through Kickstarter) promises to deliver a story similarly enticing. TToN will however not take place in the Planescape universe, but in Numenéra, a universe created for the tabletop RPG of the same name, by Monte Cook.

The Kickstarter project will run for another 24 days. Visit the project website to find out more about the game.
 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...