“Exquisite, Absolutely Exquisite”: Just What The Doctor Ordered!

Ah-haaar! Loooong Scarf. Would You Like A Jelly Baby? Come On!

Costa: “Name and date of birth.” 
The Doctor: “Well how would I know? I don’t even know who he is yet.” 
Costa: “YOUR name and date of birth!”
The Doctor: “Oh well, I’m called the Doctor. Date of birth difficult to remember. Sometime quite soon, I think.”

My life changed on 1 September 1979. 

Destiny of the Daleks just happened to be the opening story of Doctor Who Season 11. 

For the next five years, my Saturday evenings became a magical time catching the cosmic – sometimes Earthbound – shenanigans of a dual-hearted Gallifreyan renegade in his Type 40 time capsule (better known as the TARDIS).

The programme’s effervescent mix of mayhem and monsters, humour and horror – and jelly babies – proved to be an irresistible delight. To me, and twelve million other viewers.

EVERY Saturday evening. (And this Saturday teatime is the ideal time to launch this Post! 😉 )

For those of you who believe that the time is right to delve into Classic Who, who better to guide you through the best stories than someone who tried to alleviate the inexorable wait for that following weekend’s unmissable instalment by grabbing each ish of Doctor Who Weekly and, using his own wardrobe for a TARDIS, accompanied by (cuddly) companions: Jallo Bear and Teddy Edwards, enacted his own adventures in time and space (imagination permitting!) 

It seems unbelievable now, but back then, the producers simply could not select a suitable replacement for the very popular Jon Pertwee (the 3rd Doctor: 1970-1973). Until Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks (Producer and Script Editor respectively) were captivated at the cinema by the evil sorcerer in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, played by a little-known actor named Tom Baker. At a meeting, where this actor discussed the morality in children’s literature, the duo realised they had found the new Doctor. 

This regeneration’s distinctive “Bohemian and battered” look would be inspired by a portrait of Aristide Bruant by Toulouse-Lautrec. A delightful misunderstanding caused Begonia Pope to use ALL the wool she had been given, resulting in the twelve-foot technicolour scarf that has become the most iconic part of his wardrobe.

Despite a mixed reaction – “too silly,” or “too crazy” cried some of the dissenters – Baker swiftly transformed this Gallifreyan into a national institution. Once again, Doctor Who triumphed at exacting what secured its status as the longest-running SF series: its boundless capacity for change.

For me, the 4th Doctor IS the Doctor, not just because he was my first to watch, but with his large eyes, imposing height, riot of curly hair, that toothsome grin, his amusing penchant for shouting: “Ah-haaar!” and “Come on!” in almost every episode (in that rich and renowned voice of his!), his cool loping gait – and jelly babies – he actually exuded an “otherworldly” nature that no other actor in the role has managed to recreate.

From his debut story: Robot (28 December 1974 – 18 January 1975), THIS is the definite article, you might say:

The Doctor: “You’re improving, Harry!”

Harry Sullivan: “Am I really?”

The Doctor: “Yes! Your mind is beginning to work! It’s entirely due to my influence of course; you musn’t take any credit…”

The 4th Doctor’s first three seasons (12-14) were exceptionally produced by Philip Hinchcliffe – widely regarded by fans as the Golden Age of Doctor Who.

Despite Robot resembling a stock Jon Pertwee adventure, Ark In Space (25 January – 15 February 1975), The Sontaran Experiment (22 February – 1 March 1975), Genesis Of The Daleks (8 March – 12 April 1975), and Revenge of the Cybermen (19 April – 10 May 1975) remain such well-crafted SF masterworks, (all now available on Blu-ray!)

Moreover, the 4th Doctor was truly blessed to be joined by arguably his best-ever companions: UNIT Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). 

Sarah Jane (still the longest-serving companion) had first wandered into the TARDIS at the beginning of Season 11; Harry, on the other hand – regrettably – fared less well. A much older actor – harking back to the Hartnell years – had been the original intention to play the 4th Doctor, with Harry drafted in to manage the more physical, feisty moments. However, when it became all-too-apparent that Tom Baker could more than take care of himself, the Surgeon-Lieutenant was soon written out. This is a pity, as Baker and Marter shared an amazing chemistry together onscreen.  

Season Th13teen got off to a rip-roaring start with Harry’s swansong: Terror of the Zygons (30 August – 20 September 1975): a taut tale of tartan and teeth written by Robert Banks Stewart. Good to see the return of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (even if his appearance in a kilt looks more terrifying than your average Zygon!) Particularly impressive is the sinister performance of John Woodnutt as the Duke of Forgill – there’s much more to him than meets the eye! 😉 Okay, so the model effects for the Skarasen (better known as the Loch Ness Monster) always look cringingly bad, the quality of the script and the quickening of the pace leaves a lot of NuWho to be desired. 

Of course, cliffhangers added extra excitement to Classic Who. NuWho, in its mundane way, deals in self-contained stories, so no place for cliffhangers! Some rather clever episode-closers can be seen between 1974-81; most notably, one of the very best – cited by most Classic Who fans as the scariest – is this from Terror of the Zygons first episode: 

The Brigadier: “You get on well with the landlord, don’t you?”

RSM Benton: “Well, yes, sir. I suppose I do.”

The Brigadier: “Well, use your influence to get him to play the pipes when we’re out, will you?” 

During the mid-’70s, Doctor Who continued to try the patience of the BBC – and the dreaded National Viewers’ Association – infusing gothic horror into the sci-fi, with mechanical Egyptian mummies lumbering around English forests in Pyramids of Mars (25 October – 15 November 1975); The Brain of Morbius (3 – 24 January 1976) is such an obvious copy of Frankenstein; the ecological terror of The Seeds of Doom (31 January to 6 March 1976); the occult and sacrificial subplots in The Masque of Mandragora (4 – 25 September 1976); and is there anything not creepy about The Hand of Fear (2 – 23 October 1976)?

Unfortunately, the violence featured during The Deadly Assassin (30 October – 20 November 1976) proved too deadly, and caused Hinchcliffe to be “transferred” to another programme.

The next three seasons (15-17) would be supervised by Graham Williams; and although, in some cases, diminishing production values would show through (no thanks to a technicians’ strike crippling the BBC during the late-’70s) some great stories would still be produced.

The Doctor: “Now which box is larger?”
Leela: “That one.”
The Doctor: “But it looks smaller.” 
L
eela: “Well, that’s because it’s further away.”
The Doctor: “Exactly. If you could keep that exactly that distance away and have it here, the large one would fit inside the small one.”
L
eela: “That’s silly.” 
The Doctor: “That’s transdimensional engineering, a key Time Lord discovery.” 

The Robots of Death (29 January – 19 February 1977) is the fifth serial of the 14th season, written by Chris Boucher. 

Essentially a murder-mystery set onboard a mining vessel, it boasted the most incongruously lavish (and outlandish!) costumes ever seen on any show from that decade. But it’s those intricately designed Voc robots, with their mellifluous voices, and sporting an uncanny resemblance to the ancient Chinese terracotta army, that linger long in the memory. These robots were THAT CLOSE to appearing in my recent celebration of robots, but their place is rightfully deserved here. 

This is the story in which Leela – the feisty warrior-woman played by Louise Jameson – asks the Doctor how the TARDIS can be bigger on the inside…

Season 16 (1978-79) turned out to be an ambitious story-arc for new Producer: Graham Williams to exert his influence. The six fragments to the Key To Time lay scattered across the universe; and the Doctor – accompanied by Romana, a fellow Time-Lord, played by Mary Tamm – had to find them, before the Black Guardian could get his dastardly mitts on them.

Must admit, however, that while K-9 (the Doctor’s robot dog) may have “enchanted younger viewers,” Brad was not one of them. Strangely enough, one can’t recall those stories where K-9 made a positive contribution to the plot…

“Curious the tricks time plays on one, isn’t it…?”

The Doctor: “Adric, I give you a privileged insight into the mystery of time, yes? Open your mind to adventures beyond inagination, yes…? And you criticise my logic?!” 

Adric: “No… no, I’m just saying that a lot of the time you really don’t make sense.”

The Doctor: “Aarh. Aarh! You’ve noticed that, have you? Well, I mean anyone can talk sense as long as that is understood. I think we’re going to get along splendidly! Come on!” 

 

Frisk: “Who are you? The company you said you worked for was liquidated twenty years ago!”

The Doctor: “I was wondering why I’ve never been paid…”

Frisk: “That’s not good enough!” 

The Doctor: “That’s exactly what I thought…”

Doctor Who heralded the new decade with a drastic image makeover.

Not only a brand new title sequence, but a completely (ahem) regenerated, synthesized theme tune, a new Producer (John Nathan-Turner) and new companions were introduced, but, unexpectedly, Baker continued in the role for one more season. Having served as the longest-serving Time-Lord, he felt it his duty to speak out against anything unWhovian. 

This viewer still watched avidly every Saturday evening, even if the quality used to fluctuate. Among the weaker stories from this period: The Mandrels (above) from Nightmare of Eden ‎(24 November – 15 December 1979) always looked great to me even though the costume department loathed them. Re-watching this story, nearly four decades later, the script (provided by Bob Baker) is uproariously funny! The much-derided Horns of Nimon (22 December 1979 – 12 January 1980) still appealed to me because their minotaur-like monsters latched onto Greek mythology: my other great obsession around that time. 

Baker’s penultimate story: The Keeper of Traken (31 January – 21 February 1981) has become another personal favourite. Especially liked the way in which arch-villain The Master lurked inside that creepy Melkur statue (see below!)

After kicking up a grand bally-Who with Nathan-Turner, Baker, rather inevitably, threw in the scarf. His beloved era of wit, warmth, and wool, came to its conclusion in the Season 18 closer: Logopolis21 March 1981: a date forever seared into my memory.

“It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…” 

The Doctor: “When I mentioned the black hole to Soldeed, he didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.”

Romana: “Ah, well, people often don’t know what you’re talking about!” 

The Doctor: “Exactly!” 

 

In other Who’s: 

As well as time, space is an issue, but surely you can make room to discuss those other glorious masterpieces such as: The Ark in Space, The Deadly Assassin, and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, yes? These gems, all masterfully written by Robert Holmes, will appear together in a special forthcoming Post reviewing this great writer’s work.

If one had to recommend just one story that best exemplifies the Baker era, it would have to be Genesis of the Daleks (1975, written by Terry Nation). It not only restored the menace of the series’ most popular villains, but with its tense and terrific storyline – plus a wicked performance by Michael Wisher as Davros, creator of the Daleks – it redefined what SF TV could achieve. 

It contained the single greatest scene in the history of British TV drama which can be found here in this previous celebration of Doctor Who.

And which single Classic Doctor Who story counts as my personal favourite?

City of Death (29 September – 20 October 1979). Without a doubt. 

Scaroth, Last of the Jagaroth (“an infinitely superior race”) remains one of SF TV’s greatest villains; Julian Glover’s performance of megalomaniacal malevolence landed him the role of General Veers in a blockbuster the following year called: The Empire Strikes Back. 

The destruction of the Jagaroth ship caused the chemical reaction that gave birth to the human race. And the Doctor must stop Scaroth from going back in time to prevent himself from initiating the launch sequence: GENIUS. 

Doctor Who: written by Douglas Adams, and guest-starring John Cleese?

Come on! 

It’s a shame that NuWho is nowhere near as witty and clever as this: 

Scaroth of Jagaroth: “Time is running out, Doctor!”

The Doctor: “What do you mean: Time is running out?’ It’s only 1505…” 

 

The Doctor: “Good, well now he’s gone, any chance of a cup of tea?” 

General Ravon: “WHAT?!”

The Doctor: “Or coffee. My friend and I’ve had a very trying experience. Haven’t we had a trying experience, Harry?”

Harry Sullivan: “Very trying, Doctor.”

General Ravon: “STEP INTO THE SECURITY SCAN!”

The Doctor: What, no tea…?”

 

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Dead Cool At Dork’s Drift: A Fartlighter Story

DON’T Fire At Will! What’s ‘E Ever Done Ta YOU?!

“Gotta hand it to ya, Totem Pole – either you’re hard as nails or scared as shit: WHICH ONE IS IT?!” – Griff. 

 

Magnum Farce! 

Whilst trying to deliver vital consignments of food and supplies to the long-suffering peeps of the planet Woebegon in the Vairdafujarwi System, Brad Company barely managed to dodge some unwanted attention from a cluster of Zandokan patrol-ships.  

Will it be a classic case of out of the marzipan and into the ire as they head towards the hopeless station of Dork’s Drift? 

In amidst all this excitement, the irrepressible Battleforce-Commander-turned-blogger is bound to bump into an ol’ frenemy… 

 

“Innit bloomin’ marvellous?!” Brad wondered as the Calista Blockhead descended into the planet’s atmosphere.

“No mat’er ‘ow many marksmen the Empire can muster, as long as I’m onboard, they can’t put in a precise shot on target! Aah… the gift a’ bein’ – ‘an bein’ wiva groovy galactic ‘ero – it’s GREAT ‘avin’ me arahnd, eh…?! ‘Ello… …?”

“Yo, Brad,” Helmsman Gaz suddenly drawled. “Look lively, m’man – the Purple Haze is entering this sector @ 2:10-“

“Kronsteen?! What in blue blazes is that nerk an’ ‘is combo: Oprah’s ‘Ombres doin’ follerin’ us-?!” 

“Don’t slouch, Blondie,” warned Second Officer Lexi Waldorf. “But MY sensors have also picked up the Harsh Mallow coming out of hyperspace just beyond the Rigellian Ridge-“

“The Harsh…? Uff, stone the flamin’ Porgs, that’s none other than-“

“Ya gotcha! Moab Mungoflumpz: the notorious Gundagun bounty hunter.”

“Blimey, ya’d ‘avta be notorious wiv an ‘andle loike THAT… What in Edrio Two-Tubes’ name is goin’ on ‘ere?! Is this a convention, or what?!”

“Hey! Yer not only a groovy galactic ‘ero, but quite th popular one- Whoa, ‘eads up, mate,”

Harris fiddling with the Intercom. “Yer ol’ mukka: Kronst is ‘ailin’ us!”

“Well, fer cakes’ sake, fella! Switch ta Audio – dahn’ wan’ ‘is ugly mug breakin’ our main screen! Nah, on second thots, let’s jus’ skip it – Company! We got work ta do! I can’t stop ta mess arahn’ – the original Fartligh’er’s in tahn!”

“Just don’t do anything I would do, and definitely don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. There’s a little grey area in there and that’s where you operate, alright…? That’s not a hug, I’m just grabbing the door for you. Good luck out there” – Tony Stark. 

“Okey-dokey, then, y’all know wotcha doin’?” Brad softly exclaimed to Lexi as he loaded his backpack with survival kit, supplementary respiratory apparatus and extra rations of cupcakes.

“Sure thing, Commander,” she nonchalantly replied, leaning against the doorway of the Battleforce-Commander-turned-blogger‘s cluttered quarters. “Gaz, Lee, Monty and I will deliver the goodsOkizaki will beam us back when we’re done, while you check in with Supervisor Waldo aow, for goodness sake…” she stepped closer staring intensely into th hapless hero’s deep blue eyes. “You be extra CAREFUL out there, Brad – something tells me this just might be -“

“A trap? Heh, isn’ everythin’ in this “business,” lov…?”

“Well, also, watch out for the rest of ‘is goons – they’re as demented as fudge and have no hesitation to take matters into their own hands-“

“Or take their own fists inta other people’s mat’ers – yeah, I know, I’ve run inta them on numerous occasions…”

“Nevertheless, I’m still going to keep my eye on you… just in case…”

“Really appreciate that, lov. I want ya ta know that-”

“Blimey Charley, Brad!” Chief Engineer Harris Wrench interjected. “Why d’ya ‘avta get mixed up wiv Kronst- huh, talk a’ the Devil! Would ya Adam-an’-Eve it? ‘E’s tryin’ ta ‘ail ya AGAIN!”

“Well, shut ‘im orf. Again! Let’s get on wivvit, Company!” 

“But what if ‘e follas ya down there? An’ confronts ya, like?”

“Y’know me, ‘Arris! Got a few wisecracks an’ put-dahns lined oop.”

“Delivered in yer own, inimitable way, nah doubt?”

“Yo momma…” 

“I was wondering when El Kapitan would get a chance to use his popgun” – Palmer. 

“UFFF, FFFLAMIN’ FAJITAS!!” Brad growled as a laserblast slammed into his shoulder. He’d only just walked through the door and found the welcome not as hospitable as he’d hoped…

“‘Ere, what th blazes?!” he spluttered as he flopped to his knees. “Since when are the bad guys such good shots…?!” 

“When the bounty on ya is so frickin’ high!” drawled the all-too-familiar peel of Captain Kronsteen, psychotic leader of Oprah’s ‘Ombres, as he lunged over to switch on the desk lamp, illuminating his unmistakable, twisted features.  

“Flamin’ Nora, look what the Wompa dragged in… What the blazes didya do with Waldo?!”

“That moofmilker? Had a close encounter with my rifle butt left ‘im zedding away on the couch in the next room. Personally, yer only good use ta me, Fartlighter, is as target practice, but I’ve come here fer the shop – so let’s talk it, fella.”

“Okey-dokey, but I’m seriously dischuffed by this bonkers twist – I’m in an ‘urry, so bet’er make this snap’y. Spill the beans, fella – wotcha want?” 

“Oh really? Your high cheekbones an’ insuff’rable pecs are suddenly in big demand now, huh? So… here we are, dumbass, two thrill-seekers meeting in a Dyzan-forsaken hole o’ the galaxy, while the hopelessly inept Federation crumbles – you really believe you’re serving a just cause?” 

“‘Ey man, chill, know wha’ I’m sayin’? Why can’tcha be mo’ migh’y fine, Kevin Bacon an’ dandy? Like me an’ me Company? Why d’ya ‘avta be such a-“

“ENOUGH, Dipwit! Don’tcha DARE say anythin’ goldarned SMART. Why should I spare a thought for these… dregs? It’s not my problem…”

“Not yer…?! Oof, reverse thrust wiv THAT attitude, Crotchstain. I tell ya: the last thing Brad wants ta do is sit back an’ wateh while the provincial planets suffer. I see NAHbody else intervenin’ – so it’s got’a be us. Heck, if we can make a diiff’rence, we’ll certainly try-“

“Uff, spare me,” Kronsteen muttered irritably. “Reckon I shoulda’ finished you off when I ‘ad the chance – shoulda’ aimed straight fer yer heart instead, but YOUR ticker’s bleedin’ far too much already-“

“Shoulda’ thought a scrote like you wouldn’t know where the heart was anyways…”

“Ha! Cute… From what I hear, Fartlighter, you’ve become quite a sought-after dude since your little fracas with the Emperor on his flagship Hacked off just about every Imperial nerk this side a’ the Oort Cloud, AND – of course – we witnessed you recently escaping from prison-“

“Yeah, heh heh, get’in’ quite notorious in me middle age, ain’ I?”

“An’ I hear Zan Doka ‘imself has despatched his very own cut-throat praetorian division: the Kriegzlide Killzquad ta bring ya back – ya know what I can get right now fer handin’ you in…?” 

“Egg custard tarts?”

“Wrong again, Bright Eyes – yer bounty now stands @ 75,000 creds-“

“WHOA, would ya Adam-an’-Eve it! I’m now worth more than me own crate? HA!”

“DON‘T crack wise with me, fella – one wrong move an’-“

“An’ you’ll BOTH be kissin’ the dirt! So DON’T try anythin’ stoopid!”   

The door swung wide open and they turned to watch a grotesquely obese Gundagun dwarf waddle frantically towards them, brandishing a blaster.

“Blimey Charley!” Brad gasped. “It’s a talking beachball on legs!” 

The seething three-footer turned his blaster on the Cakecharmer. “An’ don’t SAY anythin’ stoopid neither!” 

“Grief, that’ll be the day with this jackass…” Kronsteen sighed.

Moab swung his blaster towards the Ombres’ Head Honcho instead. “YOU! Kronsteen? Are coming with me! Somebody levelled a sizable bounty on your despicable head!”

“WHAT?! That’s the most ridiculous- There is NO bounty on me, Shrimp-” 

“Lookee here, Longshanks!” the Gundagan chirped sternly, enthusiastically brandishing a gadget displaying the Captain’s mugshot. “See the eye-patch? The scowl? All those warts that spell out: ‘Bad Attitude’? That’s YOU, that is! You’re coming with me!”

“Woohoo! Way ta go, Migh’y Mo!” Brad bawled.

“An’ you, what’s-yer-face,” the dwarf frowned at the hero. “You seem to be taking a most unusual pleasure in all this… are we cool…?” 

“As ice, man…”

“For the umpteenth time,” Kronsteen butted in. “Point that blaster someplace else, Short Round. Why don’tcha go fer the REAL bounty, like this-“

“Yeah, man!” Brad interrupted. “Like goin’ fer this notorious Cakecharmer-chappyapparently ‘is boun’y is bigger than ‘is own crate, hyuk hyuk hyuk…” the Battleforce-Commander-turned-blogger quipped.

Kronsteen spun round, enraged: “You’re jus’ lovin’ this… aintcha?” 

‘ELL YEAH! Ev’ry minute, baby…”

He’s a looney. Just like his tunes…” – Bats. 

A laserblast rang out.

The lamp exploded, and in the abrupt darkness, Moab screamed and Kronsteen bellowed. And Brad yelped as someone grabbed his hand and tugged him out of the office.

“Shoosh, Commander. Hurry! We gotta split – another Zandokan patrol-ship is onto us!” Lexi whispered as they ran down the corridor. “Okey-dokey, Okizaki! Me and the blond bombshell are ready to beam up! NOW!”

Meanwhile, in the Transporter Room of the Purple Haze, two figures materialized.

“Who the blazes is THAT?!” Drogen the Transporter guy cried the moment he saw Moab standing alongside Kronsteen. 

“NOT BRAD, OBVIOUSLY, DIPWIT!” the Captain stormed. “What a cosmic screw-up – you were supposed to beam up the six-foot Terran, but NO! Ya had ta pick up a three-foot Gundagan instead! GAH! Captain to the Bridge! Open hailing frequencies with the Calista! I want that-!”

“But Sir, the Calista no longer appears on our scopes…” Tabasco Tuffnutz replied.

“WHAT?! How can this be…?!”

“They made the jump to lightspeed while you were too busy monologuin’…”

‘Twas true: Tabasco stared into his monitor, squinting at the trail of ionised particles sparkling against the blackest blanket of space – the only sign the Calista had left behind.

“…An’ you LET them ESCAPE…? Hey, Dumbo, flap yer ears an’ ventilate yer BRAINS!! What do I PAY you DIPWITS for, exactly?! “Gah, fer the love a’-”  The enraged Captain grabbed Moab, and growled: “Okey-dokey, Short Round! WHO set the bounty on ME?!”

“Some Terran… b-by th name of Br-Br-Brad-!”

Brad Burrito Fartlighter, I presume?!” he winced.

“Aha! That’s the bunny! What… you know him?”

“KNOW HIM?! I practically wasted this whole episode talkin’ down to him!” 

“That?! That was th C-Ca-Cakecharmer…?! But… nah, that dashin’ fella couldn’t have been him – he was badly wounded in the shoulder – galactic heroes NEVER get-” 

GAH! DON’T lecture me, halfling! Fer someone so SMALL, yer mouth is too BIG!” Kronsteen hollered, hurling the pint-sized bounty hunter into Drogen’s clutches. “We’ll drop off this insignificant lil sideshow – who has no bearing on the plot WHATsoever – on that casino-planet we passed on the way over here…”

The enraged leader of Oprah’s ‘Ombres brandished his fist against the tapestry of distant stars stretching before them on the Main Screen. 

BRAD!! NEXT TIME, I WON’T hang around makin’ idle chit-chat, you’re gonnayou’re gonna- UFF!! You CANNOT evade me forever, jackass – goldarn it… 

“If I havta scour the galaxy fer the

RESTA’

MAH

DAYS

trackin’ you an’ yer accursed, goody two-shoes Company down…

GAH! Just as well yer gettin’ another blasted sequel real soon, hero ya AIN’T heard the last a’ Captain Korsten Kronsteen!!” 

 

“We’re just like Kevin Bacon” – Gamora.

 

The Company Of Robots: My Devotion To Droids

Look, Sir, Droids

Lt. Charley Pizer: “V.I.N.CENT, were you programmed to bug me?” 

V.I.N.CENT: “No, sir, to educate you.” 

Lt. Charley Pizer: “When I volunteered for this mission, I never thought I’d be playing straight man to a tin can.” 

“I don’t mean to sound superior,” remarks V.I.N.CENT, cool and quote-dispensing droid of the USS Palomino, “but I hate the company of robots.”

No worries – when infant Brad first gawped at The Black Hole in 1979 there was no doubt in his tiny mind that he could easily dig the company of robots.

First, and foremost, hovered V.I.N.CENT (“Vital Information Necessary Centralized”), whose laser-precision, drills and other assorted attachments, and mellifluous voice (provided brilliantly by Roddy McDowell) granted his place as my very first favourite movie star. He was wonderfully accompanied by Old B.O.B. (“BiO-sanitation Battalion”), a battered early-model robot similar to V.I.N.CENT (voiced equally suitably by Slim Pickens, no less!).

The antagonist came in the mute, but mighty, imposing, crimson form of Maximillian; thus, a nail-biting David vs. Goliath duel looked inevitable. An army of sentry-robots guarded the USS Cygnus and more than satisfied our yearning for laser-battles as we could barely contain our excitement for the imminent Star Wars 2…

Also that year, British comics grabbed my attention – and pocket money. One of these homegrown titles featured a cosmic hero – white and fair-haired, obviously – who patrolled the spacelanes with a robot sidekick. Genius!

Unfortunately, my memory banks should have been reprogrammed a lot sooner as the names of this pair, the story-title, even the comic in which it appeared every week escaped me. And has proceeded to bug me on-and-off for the last 39 years…

Can vaguely recall one panel presenting this pair racing along in a landspeeder. All British comic interiors back then had no colour, but every so often, the first page of a story would be cyan-tinted, such was the case with this particular episode. This stylistic factor emanated from one company: D.C. Thomson – so ’twas with them that my search would concentrate. When commencing my foray into Bronze Age comic collecting two years ago, one of my objectives involved trying to rediscover the identity of this very first favourite comic character.

Whilst revising my notes (reprogramming my output?), you can sit back and enjoy this classic magic moment from the distant past when Star wars and Disney exrsted as two very separate entities – aah, get that music! get those ultracool sound effects! but mostly – WAHEY!! – somebody get those droids!: 

“Your crack unit, outwitted and outfought by some Earth robot, and that antique from Storage!” – Dr. Hans Reinhardt.

Fortunately, my copy of Starblazer #21: Robot Rebellion – a cherished pocket-book – is still in pretty good nick.

During the school year of 1984, you didn’t need to buy 2000AD – somebody else brought every weekly Prog into class! So, the wacky wonders of Robo-Hunter and ABC (Atomic, Bacterial and Chemical) Warriors could still be enjoyed without denting our meagre coffers. The title of coolest droid ever to be activated must go to the ABC Warriors’ Joe Pineapples. Leather jacket and thongs look DAFT on any male carbon-based lifeform, but Joe somehow made it work.

All these mechanised marvels inspired me to delve into robo-history.

The term: “robot” was coined by Czech novelist/playwright: Karel Capek in his play: R.U.R. (1921) – a satire in which artificial men are gradually made more competent, until they harness the will to rebel and replace mankind.

The author most synonymous with robots has to be Isaac Asimov, whose series of robo-tales extends through three collections: I, Robot (1950), The Rest of The Robots (1964), and The Bicentennial Man (1977) – all based on the premise that robots are equipped with an unbreakable code of inbuilt ethics: the three laws of robotics. Primarily, Asimov sought to combat the “Frankenstein Syndrome,” whereby people sometimes exhibit a neurotic fear that their creations will destroy them. He attempted to allay such anxieties, and in so doing, called into question the philosophical basis for our attitudes to machines.

One SF author to take this stance further was Philip K. Dick. As one of the few members of my generation to have read “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep” before watching Blade Runner, the whole issue of not so much how artificial beings look human, but can/do they act human had a most profound effect on my perspectives towards human – and non-human – behaviour.   

“A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law” – Isaac Asimov. 

Having made the case for droids programmed to speak, so the next two awesome candidates for inclusion here, weren’t. 

Once you’ve seen “her” you can’t forget “Maria” from Fritz Lang’s ground-breaking Metropolis.

For 1926, the sleek and sophisticated style of “her look” was truly staggering.

It still is. 

Soon after its grand opening during the ’80s, my mother took me to MOMI (Museum Of the Moving Image, in London) – there, in a special case, stood the actual life-size metal suit used in that German silent movie.

Must have stood there for AGES, honoured to be gawping at such a complex design; 1926?! Incredible!

“Gort! Deglet ovrosco!” – Klaatu.

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) remains one of my most beloved SF masterpieces.

The charismatic – though enigmatic – Klaatu arrives on Earth (in Washington, USA, of course) to present a dire warning to the human race, but it’s his travelling companion – “that big iron fella” – an eight foot robot named Gort who stole the show. Instead of using a frightening voice, Bernard Herrmann’s eerie score helped enhance the fear factor quite considerably.

In his closing address, when Klaatu explained that Gort acted as a policeman, “patrolling the galaxies, protecting the planets,” his place in my Hall of Fame was assured. 

Obviously, sprawled across the living room floor, watching avidly back in the day, it’s a shame Klaatu couldn’t drum into me the name of this elusive blond space hero with the same intensity he instructed all us seven-year-olds that in order to prevent Gort from destroying the Earth, we must go to Gort. We must say these words:

Klaatu.

Barada.

Nikto.

“I thought it was a bit too quiet in this place, Boots. Here come the guard-dogs and I don’t like the look of their teeth” – Rory Pricer.   

“Robots, and they look like military versions too.”

“Something sinister was afoot without doubt. It was bad enough that alien ships had trespassed in Federation space, but these looked too like the representatives of a sophisticated and alien civilization for Boots’ liking…”

At this phint, allow me to mention one of my fav droids featured in one of the very first SF books to grave my shelves (and still standing beside my desk, nestled behind the smaller – but no less significant – Science Fiction Source Book 

The Space Warriors by Stewart Cowley, telling the galactic exploits of Commander “Boots” Walker and Rory Pricer as they battle the evil Phantor Gorth and his droid army. Apart from the menacing warbots (illustrated above by the legendary Eddie Jones), there was an amazing yellow sentry-robot (who cannot be found anywhere on Google Images or Pinterest) and the delightful domaestic robot who was so ecstatic to see Boots come home again he almost blew a fuse…

Droids can also offer unlikely moments of comic relief.

Take Woody Allen’s zany (and only) SF offering: Sleeper (1973), for instance. Trying to acclimatize to 22nd century life, Miles Monroe is given a robot dog called Max: “Is he house-trained or will he be leaving batteries all around the place?” Who could forget Reagan The Gaybot (“Here’s your silly hypervac suit!”) or the Jewish Tailor Robots (“What’re we gonna do with all this velvet?!”)?

And then there is The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, written by the late, great Douglas Adams (we shared the same birthday!) which featured Marvin The Paranoid Android.

He was hilarious in the TV series; one feared the worse when it received recent Hollywood treatment, but, with a HUGE sigh of relief, the Hitchhiker’s movie turned out to be pleasantly entertaining, especially with Sam Rockwell, Mos Def and Martin Freeman onboard. And of course, the late, great Alan Rickman provided the voice of Marvin: 

Chewbacca: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrgh!”

C-3PO: “He made a fair move. Screaming about it can’t help you.”

Han Solo: “Let him have it. It’s not wise to upset a Wookiee.”

C-3PO: “But sir, nobody worries about upsetting a droid.”

Han Solo: “That’s ’cause droids don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookiees are known to do that.”

Chewbacca: “Grrf.”

C-3PO: “I see your point, sir. I suggest a new strategy, R2: let the Wookiee win.”

(Been waiting patiently for the most suitable Post to insert this all-time classic exchange!) 🙂

 

Inevitably, we reach Star Wars. 

There are more droids to be found in this galaxy far far away than you can shake a lightsaber at. The original trilogy helped bolster my devotion to droids even further.

Apart from the iconic duo of C3PO and R2D2, take a look at The Empire Strikes Back (1980): especially 2-1B, the medical droid that tends to Luke Skywalker in the bacta tank after that nasty Wampa attack on Hoth, and the one responsible for replacing Luke’s hand in time for this episode’s finale.

My one gripe towards arguably the saga’s greatest instalment, is that FORTY SECONDS did NO JUSTICE to that awesome assembly of badass bounty hunters. Not enough time to see IG-88 (blink and you’ll miss the moment when he actually TURNS HIS HEAD). Unlike other droid action figures, Iggy not only came with a blaster, but an extended assault rifle! Curiously enough, the insectoid 4-LOM is actually defined as a protocol droid – blimey, who knew?! 

More comic relief in Return Of The Jedi (1983)8D8 assigns R2D2 to waiter-duty aboard Jabba The Hutt’s sail-barge, but please, have mercy on the little, upended droid, screaming with a Munchkins voice, getting his soles branded while EVERYBODY in the cinema LAUGHS at him! And Wookieepedia can’t even tell me his name. Poor lil fella…

And yes, you guessed it, one of the joys of Rogue One (2016) came in the sure, yet surly, ex-Imperial form of K-2SO, who just like the best droids, instantly captured our attention – and hearts? – with a unique “personality.” In addition, “he” followed the old SF tradition of letting the droid steal the best lines… 

A unique, seldom praised, factor about that original smash hit of 1977 is how, to begin with, the events are experienced solely through the two droids. Although never a big fan of C3PO, perhaps his finest moment in the whole saga came on Tatooine, arguing with “that malfunctioning little twerp.” There followed another great joy: those pesky Jawas, roaming the Midlanowhere Plains inside their ginormous clanking Sandcrawler with its diverse collection of droids, including the Death Star Droid: 5D6-RA7 (see above) – always liked its slick design, and unnerving vocalizations; the Power Droid (nothing more than a cute box on stumpy legs, its unremarkable and weaponless action figure has since become so rare, it is now THE most valuable one out there!); and spare a thot for that R5 unit (even if it did have a bad motivator).

And to think these adventures transpire before we even get to meet that blond kid from the moisture farm… 

K-2SO: “I’m surprised you’re so concerned with my safety.”

Jyn Erso: “I’m not. I’m just worried they might miss you… and hit me.”

K-2SO: “Doesn’t sound so bad to me…”

Speaking of blond galactic heroes, it is heartening to be able to end this Post (yes, even this insufferable dirge has to be deactivated at some point! 😉 ) with some promising news.

Just a few months ago, following an extraordinary incident of Baggins-like philosophy, yours truly finally managed to find what he was looking for. By looking for something completely different instead!

Naturally, this year’s birthday triggered a tremendous nostalgia-rush. Among my recollections happened to be a short-lived “boys’ paper” produced in 1983 (by D.C. Thomson) named Spike. It covered the full gamut of boys’ stories: football, war, espionage and school gangs, but the SF entry: Starhawk Against The Powerbeast (not surprisingly, my best of the bunch) rang a few bells…

It featured a fair-haired cosmic hero. With a robot sidekick.

AHA!! 

My search is finally OVER. 

Should have known he’d be called Star-something; just consider the number of Starlords to have passed through the comics industry on both sides of The Pond – why, even the obscure precursor to 2000AD was entitled: Starlord! And, the original combo of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy boasted a member known as Starhawk! 

Yes, checking the D.C. Thomson database, the Starhawk of Spike 1983 did make a previous appearance in 1979. 

The comic? The Crunch!

Jeez, how could it be possible to forget such a groovy title?! Especially when it sported such a formidable masthead?

Scant info told me that the sidekick was merely called “Droid.”

That’s it? Just “Droid”?!

Nothing facetious like Cecil? Or Humphrey? Or anything remotely badass like Joe Pineapples? Or Marvin…? 

Still, as long as it’s NOT a meaningless stream of numbers and letters…

Anyway, a recent Bronze Age expedition into the heart of London returned with some encouraging findings. Only one awemonger (to my knowledge) stocks British comics, and much to my surprise – and sheer delight – when it came to The Crunch, substantial copies were indeed in stock. Came away with two ishs #35 (dated 15 September 1979, see below; tried to upload the first page, but, apologies, being produced on rather cheap “newsprint” paper, it does not copy satisfactorily) presenting Starhawk‘s debut; while #40 (dated 20 October 1979) featuring on its back page the aptly-titled: Gallery Of Heroes, and that week’s subject?

YES!

It IS (please pardon the pun) the droid that Brad‘s been looking for!!

Amazed to learn that Droid came equipped with such a cool array of gadgets: his “eyes” were actually highly sophisticated radar sensors; a medipak, computer, scanners and vidcams installed in his chest; an Impulse Unit was attached to his right hip; a repair kit fitted to his left thigh; a communicator built into his wrist; and – get this! – lasers AND “space blasters” loaded in EACH arm!

The text added:

“But Droid has another more important function. He can pilot the Space Raider – Starhawk’s battlecraft – by remote control… He can also aim and fire the ship’s weapons. So Droid is the perfect side-kick for Starhawk…”

Oh, so much more than a mere “side-kick” as finally getting to perusing this forgotten nugget in British comics history would reveal…

Of course, as we all know, by the 26th century, the Terran Empire is in serious decline:

“…survival once again depended on the swiftness of man’s gun. Chaos reigned in solar systems that had reverted to barbarism (hence the men wearing pleated mini-skirts…?), but one man stood for law and order. His name, Sol Rynn, known as… 

STARHAWK

Interestingly, ultimately, this Sol cuts quite a drab figure, nothing more than a typical, one-dimensional blond galactic hero. Ironically, his only merit is that his co-pilot is a robot! Droid, on the other hand, comes across as cool, clever and regularly cracks wry remarks pertaining to the human condition. Even his tendency to address his mundane “master” as “Mister Rynn” is classy in itself. 

Thus, the revelation struck me: 

‘Twas NOT this ordinary protagonist, but his extraordinary partner, who had captured my imagination all those years ago!

Perhaps the traditional low-key status of robots in SF, plus his dull, inconsequential name, had prevented him from making a more significant impact on my sensors. But now – it’s been too long – he (not it, he) is back in my life, and in my collection. And he’s here to STAY.

As Asimov professed, there is no reason why intelligent machines should not be considered good people. 

Thus, rather than the happenstance of flesh and blood, through the capacities of wit, moral behaviour and rational thought can a being rightfully claim recognition as human.

To that end, then, rather than rediscovering my very first favourite comic character, this feels more like reuniting with my oldest friend. 

Starhawk: “A successful mission, Droid. Luckily I didn’t fall for the old drugged food routine. You see, my mechanical friend, they made us too welcome, and that’s downright suspicious!”

Droid: “Trying to analyse human thought processes causes severe strain on my logic circuits, Mister Rynn. Course laid for Cygnus Alpha…”

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Bradscribe Review

Your Spoilers – They’ll Have To Wait Outside! We Don’t Want Their Kind Here!

“Ryan Johnson’s movie has a sense of humour about itself and a sense of joy, but its emotional generosity, even in the midst of all the extravagant green-screen work, is its best special effect” – TIME Magazine. 

“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror…

“I fear something terrible has happened.” 

You betcha!

Only the terror manifested more in the unwelcome form of spite and bitterness – there has been a Starkiller-sized amount of hate for VIII over this past weekend alone.

Truly, we waited on tenterhooks for two years for... THIS?! 

Okay, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is NOT terrible, but, alas, it is not great either.

You will be relieved to know that – unlike the barrage of bile foisted upon IMDb over the last few days – this review will refrain from descending into an expletive-laden rant. 

Unlike other episodes on the big screen, nobody cheered, nobody applauded, as the goosebump-inducing score broke out, or the legendary title scrawl began trundling upscreen… 

Hello, methinks, quite a different Star Wars movie is unfolding here… 

“And, as for Luke, Hamill comes into his own here with a very intelligent and sympathetic portrayal of his great character. Luke is now part Prospero, part Achilles… potentially the great magician or teacher on this island, ready to induct Rey into the Zen priesthood of the Force” – The Guardian. 

The biggest gasp in the auditorium did not go to the – admittedly awesome – praetorian guard fight, nor towards the surprise appearance of a dear old friend on Ahch-to (arguably Last Jedi’s most charming scene). No, as the opening space battle gets underway, the very first First Order officer we see on the bridge is played by none other than Ade Edmondson!! 

My non-British blogging friends might like to know that this cult fave star appeared in a few classic BBC TV comedy shows during the 80s. To see him here was extraordinary, but, immediately, alarm bells started ringing.

Uh-oh, they’re gonna play this for laughsunfortunately, this proved to be precisely the misguided and cringe-inducing case as a thoroughly underwhelming first act ensued. There are certain lines that should never be uttered in the Star Wars galaxy – “Let me put you on hold” (?!) should NOT be one of them, by Jove!

Amidst all the much-maligned New Hopisms of The Force Awakens, the trio of new characters: Rey, Finn and Poe were most welcome, and refreshing additions. Here, none of them, frustratingly, were allowed to develop any further.

The only thing to strike me about Holdo is that she looked all dressed and coiffured ready for Canto Bight, not saving the Resistance.

Laura Dern?! As an Admiral?! 

Come OFF IT… That absurd premise turned out to be more hilarious than anything “General” Gleeson managed to spout…

And “Captain” Phasma…? Soz, but that was the moment Brad blinked…

With the Asian cinema market larger than ever, it was just a matter of when, not if, a character like Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) would appear in this franchise. Personally, she gabbled too fast, so none of her scenes could be followed. No matter,  by the time she had become miraculously embroiled in the shoddily “written” derring-do, my attention had well and truly drifted. 

Speaking of cringe-inducing: by far the weakest – certainly most useless – sequence takes place on Canto Bight.

A cosmic Monte Carlo might be more suitable for crap like Valerian. But not Star Wars, for cake’s sake!

“We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life… …”

On a positive note, however, it was fabulous to see the lovely – and still feisty – Princess (sorry) GENERAL Leia again – thankfully, watching Carrie for the very-last-time proved not to be the emotional slog one had expected. However, one particular scene glided past 😉 that elicited a few sniggers in the darkness around me.

My time and patience was also saved by Adam Driver, who managed to bring some much-needed gravitas as perpetually-petulant-teen-with-ridiculous-mask: Kylo Ren.

And Chewie!

But then again, despite his instant-classic “Roast Porg” scene, this weary Wookie had – as feared – too little to do.

More sketches with those delightful, albeit dotty, “Caretakers” on Ahch-to would have cheered me up.

Most of all, though, it was great to catch a powerful and moving performance by Mark Hamill  as Ireland’s living legend: Stragglybeard, Lord Of The Grumpy Teatsqueezers.

The Last Jedi ranks with the very best Star Wars epics by pointing ahead to a next generation of Skywalkers – and, thrillingly, to a new hope” – Rolling Stone. 

Mercifully, this instalment is not as atrocious as the universally-reviled prequel trilogy, but still lags several parsecs behind last year’s Merry Sithmas Special: Rogue One. 

Disney – obviously – were too preoccupied with designing those cute critters: porgs, crystal foxes and whatnot – and all that blasted associated merchandise! – to worry about the inconsequential stuff. Such as story structure and a cohesive narrative, etc. etc.

And what is so Supreme about this Leader?

Deeply disappointed.

After being so intrigued by such a potentially-menacing figure, and wanting to know more about his origins/history, here (in his snazzy golden dressing gown) his “character” is – shamefully, almost embarrassingly – barely onscreen long enough to frighten us, let alone fascinate us further.

Snoke is a joke! (And like this film’s other “light-hearted” moments: simply not funny. And doesn’t deserve to be.)

Similarly, our fascination surrounding Rey remains almost-painfully unresolved. Amounting to nuthin’, this simply splutters out as the most annoying non-event ever. 

And Brad grows tired of asking this so it will be the last time: how did Maz find Luke’s lightsaber?!

Oh, never mind…

Not only do these unsettling anti-climaxes remain unsettled, but the way we all got psyched up and brainstormed out for NOTHING (partly inciting the extreme antipathy that has clogged up the internet these past few days) has brought me to the brink of indifference. And a complete, crushing state of apathy towards Episode IX, or – Sith forbid! – a whole new trilogy by Rian Johnson. It’s as if he didn’t BOTHER to watch The Force Awakens. Or, at least, consult JJ Abrams’ notes…

Whilst pondering whether to discuss Spoilers in this Review, let me conclude by stating that this whole bally venture felt like it spoilt just about everything that makes the Star Wars phenomenon so stupendous and awe-inspiring.

 

The most memorable moment of this particular viewing experience happened to be the severe cramp. 

After two and a half hours, all feeling in my right leg had gone. As the last dude stuck in his (plush, velvet, Edwardian) seat after this evening’s performance of The Last Jedi, a young attendant – black eyeliner, black lipstick, rings and studs protruding from the most unlikely places – came to check on me.

After explaining my predicament, whilst rising awkwardly to my feet, she chortled:

“Yer jus’ gonna ‘avta FORCE yerself, darlin’, he he!” 

Honestly!

What IS it with Brad and cheeky Goth girls?! 

She noticed me grimace at the endless end credits.

“I know!” she complained. “Absolute blooody roobbish, innit?! I ‘avta put up wiv this three times a day fer the rest o’ the week!” 

Ah yeah, your job really sucks…

“Anyways, enough abaht me – what did YOU think of it… …?”

 

 

BRADSCRIBE VERDICT: 

“That’s NOT how the Force works!”

 

 

 

Blade Runner 2049: The Bradscribe Review

Future Perfect? More Sequel Than Sequel…?

“This is not some clunky franchise-farmed cash-in… With all the art and craft of the original, Denis Villeneuve has… gotten down and dirty in the gene pool, marinated in its enzymes, slept in its bed and dreamt its dreams. And then he’s gone to work” – The Sunday Times.  

“I want more life!” demanded Roy Batty, the peculiar, but poetic, doomed replicant from the classic original Blade Runner. 

Well – after all this time – should that masterpiece, one of the greatest – and self-contained – SF classics reviewed here: have been granted an extension of its existence?

Remarkably, these past few weeks, some critics have argued that Blade Runner 2049 has surpassed the original, taking the issues of humanity, genetics and identity to whole new astounding levels. 

Now, considering how this blogger included himself as one of those teeming masses baulking at a “new” Blade Runner movie, it is a revelation – not to mention a relief – to report that Blade Runner 2(049) has turned out to be a surprisingly engrossing visual and emotional experience.

“Despite all the overlaps, this is not a simulacrum of a Ridley Scott film. It is unmistakably a Denis Villeneuve film, inviting us to tumble, tense with anticipation, into his doomy clutches” – The New Yorker.

The plot of Blade Runner 2049 begins with Ryan Gosling, turning in an appropriately vacant and artificial presence as a new Runner: K (as in Philip K. Dick?), paying a visit to the isolated warehouse/abode of Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morton – retired from the rumble-tumble world of WWF to a barren sector of the Californian wasteland to Grow Green Stuff, Man. What the officer’s surveillance equipment discovers onsite leads to the main plot development: K questioning the nature of his own existence – “basically Pinocchio with more eco-pollution” as one reviewer rather facetiously described it.

When we eventually get to see the Main Man/Replicant/? Himself, it’s nice to see Villeneuve honour that traditional sci-fi dystopian trope of the protagonist wandering into somebody else’s gaff without even a knock or a “Yoohoo!”

As tired and drawn as the world he now (barely) inhabits, Deckard cuts a haggard, whiskey-slugging figure, with only a dog and a holographic Elvis to keep him company. Perhaps Ford’s finest performance in years. 

That wasn’t a real dog… was it? 

Shame it wasn’t a sheep – that would’ve been neat. No, seriously, in the novel, Rick Deckard keeps an artificial sheep on his roof, and only takes the job to retire those wayward  Nexus-6 replicants so that he can afford to buy a real domesticated ruminant mammal with a thick woolly coat…  

“The question at Blade Runner 2049’s pulsating heart has no glib answer… With dazzling adroitness, [Villeneuve] has built on Scott’s legacy to create something grander in scope and emotional range” – London Evening Standard. 

What about the Soundtrack? 

There are no exceptional tracks here – nothing to compare to Vangelis’ sumptuous Blade Runner Blues, the sensuality of the Love Theme, the achingly beautiful Memories Of Green, or the sweeping grandeur of Harps Of The Ancient Temples – regrettably, the score is just as equally soulless as its artificial antagonists…

There is another unsettling observation concerning Blade Runner 2049 that has largely gone unmentioned in other reviews. In this post post-feminist “society” women can look forward – ha! – to not much in the way of beneficial or progressive roles. There are some strong female characters – who can forget Sylvia Hoeks’ “Luv”? Robin Wright is enjoying a promising upturn in her career – here she plays K’s superior: Lieutenant Joshi, in an interesting, but underused, performance.

Apparently, Blade Runner 2049 fails the Bechdel Test i.e. can two female characters share the screen and NOT have a conversation about a man? Morover, this movie just falls short of the Bradscribe Test, specifically: are there 3-4 lines cool or snazzy enough to be quoted herein? When you consider how the original movie positively brims with terrific lines and conversations, sill fondly remembered and quoted 35 years later…

The virtual love interest is brought to you by Joi (Ana de Armas), a hypnotic beauty, but then, she would need to be a top-of-the-range model distracting enough to make any man (or woman?) forget that they exist in a murky dystopia beset with biospheric collapse, child labour camps, distracting neon billboards and Jared Leto – blind, bearded and as bonkers as a bat – ruling the roost from his ambient asylum, inflicting poor, unsuspecting souls with his unintelligible pseudobabble. His (mis)casting as Niander Wallace is perhaps my biggest grumble with this otherwise captivating movie.

Tell you what: going for a spin in his spinner, tha last thing Brad (hopefully not looking as old and thoroughly dischuffed as Harrison Ford does here) will want is to be distracted by a 50 foot holographic ballerina pirouetting past the bally windscreen, thank you very much…

“Blade Runner 2049 has been made with impeccable craftsmanship and taste, yet the film is so terrified of disreputability that it renders itself dead from the waist down, unable to derive pleasure even from a theoretically kinky robot three-way” – Slant Magazine.

Will 2049 end up matching – or even surpassing – its predecessor’s revered status in the pantheon of SF greats? 

Well, no. 

Look at its core components: more bleak, more brutal, less memorable and less inspiring – can these really be considered to be superior traits…?

Certainly not. 

Those folks who reckon this movie supersedes the original are merely revelling (somewhat prematurely) in hype. Nevertheless, during all the time we were suppressing the prospect of a sequel, little did we know that such a wondrous filmmaker as Denis Villeneuve could even exist…

“You’ve never seen a miracle,” Sapper Morton mumbles before being wiped off the cast list. Considering how much the audience were fidgeting, yawning and groaning throughout 2049’s 2hrs, 44 mins (unlike the spinners, time doesn’t fly in this hazy, amber-tinted future), it looked like they were being hard-pushed to find anything exceptional in this languid concoction. 

Always keen to watch more sophisticated, less action-stuffed film fare, my patience, however, was awarded with incredible visuals, an extraordinary narrative atmosphere, and the golden opp of seeing – no matter how grumpy he looks these days – the Ford Legend grace the big screen once more…

In answer to the question: “would you recommend it?” it strikes me as being one of those movies absolutely magnificent to watch once, but fails to incite the urge to pay it numerous viewings. Guess one misses that rain-soaked Chinatown and those fire-spewing ziggurats of good ol’ 2019 a tad too much… 

Brad doesn’t know how long it will take to get round to watching Blade Runner 2049 a second time.

Who does…?

 

BRADSCRIBE VERDICT: 

4 out of 5 glittering C-beams, but ooooh, only just…

 

“I was quit when I come in here, Bryant, I’m twice as quit now” – Rick Deckard.

 

“Valhalla Be Mine!”: Could Hela Be The MCU’s Greatest Villain?

It’s Main Event Time…

“‘Tis Hela who is the power here – Hela whose word is Law! I be Death incarnate, Whitebeard, and Death dares all” – Hela.

“I know what you’re thinking…”

How wicked is this?!

Ever since all of us were treated to the suitably awesome Teaser Trailer for Thor: Ragnarok at the start of this week, Brad has been mesmerized by Cate Blanchett’s devilish grin.

Odin’s blood, methinks – this movie be not upon us for another seven months yet, but already anticipation for one of my all-time fave Marvel characters grows.

Foolishly, ’twas thot that a Preview of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 could be battered out this weekend – ha!

And nay! 

Not e’en the giddy delights of a Star Wars teaser trailer wert enow to dissuade me from the fiendish allure of the Queen of Niffleheim – the Goddess of Death.

This teaser sets up what appears to be a very promising outing for Odinson.

As a huge fan of The Mighty Thor comic – thus sparking a lifelong fascination with Norse mythology – and reasonably satisfied with both solo movie ventures for the God of Thunder, a main drawback however (especially in Dark World) was the preponderance of scenes on Midgard (Earth). It appears that Grandmaster Feige and his merrie MCU band realised this and upped the ante accordingly to devise the gobsmacking cosmic adventure we deserve.

Look ye here: the triumphant spectacle of the HULK in battle armour(!); Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster(!) AND Chris Hemsworth’s haircut(!) are all irresistible ingredients in their own right, but Galadriel in her elaborate headgear surely tops them all… 

So, be on your Asgard, as ’twere:

“You who now come claiming my father’s spirit as though the soul of Odin were some bauble that you had won!” – Thor.

“Asgard is dead…”

My introduction to Hela could not have come in a finer form; the main story in The Mighty Thor #314 (which takes pride of place on my desk this evening as these words are frantically typed) stands as a personal uplifting favourite, but it is the additional Tales Of Asgard bonus story: Judgement – And Lament! in which Hela has usurped radiant Valhalla, and – with her icy touch – remade it in the imge of her own cold, cruel and foreboding kingdom of Niffleheim.

And all because – deeply moved by Sif’s love for Thor – she could ne’er, as a woman, consummate longings for compassion – desire – love…

Tending to his fallen Valkyries, Odin – ruler of the gods – comes to set things a’right.

And part soothing words to the Bringer of Death, enow to quell the anger and hurt within her.

Whene’er she made a cameo in the Thor comic book, she stole every panel with her menace and vile intent. In my quest for Bronze Age comics, those back ishs of Mighty Thor featuring her have proved elusivemayhap ’tis not a surprise to learn that those ishs are among the most valuable…

“Can you believe we’re having this conversation? It’s 2017 and we’re talking about the first female villain? It’s ridiculous. There’s so much untapped potential villainy in women. It’s really exciting. I think finally it’s beginning to be acknowledged that women and men want to see a diverse array of characters, and that’s race, gender across the sexual spectrum” – Cate Blanchett.

“Hi there!”

What is it – for me – that sets the Queen of Niffleheim apart from other female characters in the Marvel canon?

Her steely looks and the devious design of her outlandish garb are startling enow, but it is her macabre headgear that strikes thee the most. Naturally, most – if not all – her appearances have been brilliantly written…

“She’s been locked away for millennia getting more and more cross,” as Blanchett explained in a recent interview, and she is bent on exacting her vengeance against Thor. And Odin.

By not only holding Mjolnir, but destroying it(!), Hela makes quite an impact; her intentions of unleashing Ragnarok – the fabled destruction of the gods – are machinations not to be taken lightly!

Verily, from what we’ve learnt this week, she is shaping up to be quite a formidable antagonist indeed. And to think that, up until this year, Loki has stood as the MCU’s most dangerous evil presence. With barely any competition. Ant-Man’s Yellowjacket was underwhelming, and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Ronan The Accuser merely spent his screen-time sulking rather than exuding adequate menace.

And – although promising to “bathe the star-ways with your blood” – we have yet to realise the full extent of Thanos’ power. But surely, without terrifying headgear, can he muster the right modicum of imposing threat…?

“Hela’s able to manifest weapons,” Blanchett added. “Her headdress can be weapons. She can manifest weapons out of different parts of her body. I won’t tell you which — I’ll leave that hanging…”

“Hope doth blossom in the presence of life… and thou art the Queen of Death. But I may grant thee enlightenment. Open thy mind… Let my wisdom flow into thee…

“And thou wilt understand the way of the world” – Odin All-Father.

 

A Zarjaz 40 Years!: A Celebration Of 2000AD

Borag Thungg, Earthlets!

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“Welcome to the galaxy’s greatest comic: a subtle blend of thrills, some old, some new, all of them zarjaz. 2000AD: thrills from the future at an old-fashioned price!” – Tharg The Mighty. 

“It’s wild! It’s sensational! It’s your future!”

In the last week of February 1977, the first zarjaz issue of 2000AD was unleashed on an unsuspecting planet. It contained three stories and a free gift – a ghafflebette Space Spinner! – attached to the front cover.

Nobody had any idea that it would not only become a sensational hit, but dramatically transform the British comics industy. Back then, you see, the average life expectancy of new comics lasted no more than “a few issues.” Up until that point, there had been no market for SF in the UK comics market, so – oddly enough – it was automatically assumed that 2000AD would fare no better…

Each issue – or Prog as it is affectionately known – came adorned with the legend: “In Orbit Every Monday.” But more intriguingly, the Editor happened to be Tharg The Mighty: a green-skinned Betelgeusian responsible for delivering these weekly doses of “thrill-power,” and regarded plastic cups as his fave delicacy; Betelgeusian phrases made regular appearances in each Prog.

Published by IPC Magazines, it was aimed at young boys who craved something other than the usual “war and football fare”. Studying it’s awesomeness down the years, what is most striking is its formidable – and consistent – array of writing and artistic talent – cheekily referred to as “the droids” – who would garner international acclaim and go on to develop projects for Marvel and DC Comics.

In the beginning, it looked rather tame: Dan Dare – the Pilot of the Future – was more commonly associated with Eagle comic, while Mach 1 was a direct copy of the Six Million Dollar Man

Ironically, another sci-fi comic released in 1978: Starlord – produced on better quality paper – enjoyed higher sales figures. However, production costs meant that 2000AD survived, and Starlord disappered after only 22 issues. Strangely enough, Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters were transferred from Starlord and became some of 2000AD’s most popular stars.

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“Dredd to Control! Some kind of ruckus going on, Hank Wangford Underblock! Better get me a Catch Wagon!” – Judge Dredd. 

Can remember reading the comic at school – 1984 was a classic year for 2000 AD. Not sure who brought the copies in, but they were widely circulated around the classroom.

Although the comic’s most popular character was Judge Dredd, who made his debut patrolling the ultra-mean streets of Mega-City Onein Prog 2 – my Vinglop Hudsock (reading enjoyment) always concentrated on the exploits of the A.B.C (Atomic*Bacterial*Chemical) Warriors such as Hammerstein, Deadlock – and perhaps the COOLEST comic book character EVER – Joe PineapplesRogue Trooperthe GI (genetic infantryman) roaming the Morokk desert of Nu-Earth, in the eternal future war between Norts and Southers with his helmet, backpack and gun containing bio-chips of his three fallen buddies, brilliantly illustrated by Cam Kennedy.

And DON’T exclude the extraordinary awesomeness in the form of Nemesis The Warlock, wonderfully created by Brother Mills and Brother O’Neill and extolled the virtues:

“Be pure, be vigilant, behave!”

At a time when sci-fi was still considered as Boy’s Own fare, it is amazing to reflect that part of its innovation lay in its impressive range of strong, female characters including: Halo Jones, Venus Bluegenes, Durham Red, Tiffany Rex and of course Judge Anderson: Head of Mega-City One’s Psi-Division. 

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“Military fuzz, dammit. Gotta move. I ain’t gonna be shot by my own side… Sorry to disappoint you, fuzzballs!” – Rogue Trooper.  

Also that year, in London, just round the corner from Grandma’s gaff, a newsagent had a half-price box. Therein lay Progs: 365 and 370 – my very first purchases of thrill-power!

Having just retrieved them from my files – the covers have inevitably yellowed and the edges are crumpled – they now sit in pride of place on the desk beside me.

Bizarrely, one of the comic’s most ensuring characters was Slaine: a Celtic barbarian – with its delirious mix of dragons and sorcery this strip looked so incongruous, but was well-received all the same. Another script-hit from Pat Mills – does it come as a surprise to learn that he is one of my all-time favourite writers (in any medium)?

Both these Progs were graced by one of my very favourite characters: Strontium Dog: the adventures of Johnny Alpha, the mutie bounty hunter and his “norm” partner: Wulf Sternhammer. Featuring the terrific artwork of Carlos Ezquerra, it was honoured in this Post: 

And – grok! Had almost forgotten D.R. & Quinch. My most immediate memory to flood back from Prog 365 was this hilarious pastiche of Hollywood written by Alan Moore – yes! That Alan Moore.

“Man, this was a problem of mind-liquefying majorness. The script had about fifty-eleven-hundred pages. Of this, eight words were completely readable. These were ‘Oranges’ in the title, and ‘Close the curtains, Geoffrey, I’m amphibious,’ which was right at the end. To be perfectly frank, man, I wasn’t even 100% sure about ‘amphibious'” – D.R. Dobbs. 

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Torquemada: “Only I stand for order! And discipline! Especially discipline!”

Nemesis: “Basically I stand for having a good time…”

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“Some day soon we’ll all be feeding the worms… so why waste time playing heroes when we could be killing for kicks and riches?” – Thrax. 

And then there was Bad Company: a weird, but wonderful, future-war tale created by Pete Milligan, Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy. Rather than focus predictably, and monotonously, on the horrors of war, this irresistible classic centered on its absurdities.

It offered a truly bizarre roster of characters, including the young wide-eyed narrator: Danny Franks; the mad, monocled mutant Frankenstein’s Monster-like Kano; and my personal fave: the ghoulish dude with the over-sized overcoat: Thrax, distinctive with his long, supercool fringe, and his amusing tendency to call everyone: “turnipheads”.

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“I want to feel alive again. That’s why I keep a heart in my chest locker” – Joe Pineapples.

My days as a Nonscrot (someone who does NOT read it regularly) were numbered. At the end of June 1988, a bolt of unavoidable thrill-power hit me in one newsagent at the end of June 1988 in the form of 2000AD Prog 581 (above). Who doesn’t dig large-taloned dudes with even cooler swords? One excited flick through: and it was immediately purchased.

There then followed a really scrotnig Summer, hunting local comics emporia for the most recent back issues. Having designed a major facelift – new format, new logo – for Prog 555, Tharg The Innovative reinvented the entire package with Prog: 650, adorned with the slogan: “New Thrills! More Colour!”   

With two stints at university, leading eventually to an overseas job, following the galaxy’s greatest comic became virtually impossible. In the last two years whilst working on this blog, re-energizing my taste for SF, my thoughts inevitably slide back to those golden years of 2000ADcan still smell that grotty classroom even now… 

But memories of that classic thrill-power lingers much longer…

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“Don’t want to hurt other Strontium Dogs unless we have to – electro-flare!” – Johnny Alpha.

Months ago, rummaging through the basement of a secondhand bookstore, looking – as is always the way – for something else, my heart leapt as a pile of 2000 AD back issues (from the classic years of 1983 and 1986) emerged at the back of the bottom shelf! 

The biggest problem is: how does one catch up with a quarter-century of Progs? So much thrill-power – so little time…

It is absolutely staggering to think that 2000AD still thrives to this day; it’s constant formula of experimental characters and witty cultural/political refs is hopefully winning new converts. The magic Prog 2000 came out last September, but all the drokks have been reserved especially for this week’s Anniversary Special. It is heartening to see the return of personal fave: Strontium Dog.

And of course, Joe Dredd just had to make a special appearance: shutting down the Prog’s birthday bash, disapproving of such a “seditious freak-out weirdo trashzine.” Hey Joe, what’s wrong with that? Don’t be a Grexnix, old man! This Squaxx Dek Thargo used to create and edit his own trashzines back in his juve-days, y’know! If anything, you should complain that today’s droids have failed to offer a Space Spinner or suchlike with this Prog…

Quaequam Blag!

As Tharg himself said: “2000AD: it’s not a comic… it’s an attitude!” 

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Splundig Vur Thrigg!