The Vault Of Horror: Creepy Comics From The Cellar

When Darkness Falls, Beware!

For In Those Night Hours, Brad Trips Over His Comics Collection… ūüėČ

“You ask me to explain why I am afraid of a draught of cool air; why I shiver more than others upon entering a cold room, and seem nauseated and repelled when the chill of evening creeps through the heat of a mild autumn day” – H. P. Lovecraft.

This month – in preparation for¬†Halloween –¬†we will be taking a special look at¬†horror.

The nights draw in;¬†no matter, for we descend into the darkest domain¬†@¬†Brad Manor –¬†where even me minions dare not tread…

Despite not being much of a horror comics fan,¬†several¬†rather creepy mags¬†still¬†lurk in these musty –¬†Blimey! Get a loada’ the cobwebs down ‘ere! –¬†corners¬†of my gaff.

One British title, in particular, comes to gleeful and nostalgic mind.

During March 1984, my weekly editions of Battle Action Force (produced by IPC Magazines, more famous for the longest-running SF comic: 2000AD) ran increasingly intriguing ads for a forthcoming horror comic. 

Couldn’t wait?

You’re telling me! ‘Twas like enticing me with cake…

Greetings, mortals! I am the once-human editor of this gruesome publication. If you horrors out there want to read something really spooky, you’ve picked the right paper…” – Ghastly McNasty.¬†

Will always remember reading and¬†re-reading that first ish of¬†Scream.¬†Waiting for the¬†“Second Spine-Chilling Issue”¬†turned out to be the longest week of my life!¬†

Let me tell you why: 

The opening story: The Dracula File could so easily have been skipped Рthe Count is the most overused/recycled horror character, but this version entranced me from the get-go, especially as it is illustrated by Eric BRADbury (one of my fav artists from Battle Action Force) and a tense script by Gerry Finley-Dey (another Battle and 2000AD regular) interestingly set in the 1980s, against Cold War politics.

A “defector” flees across the East German border,¬†surviving a hail of machine-gun bullets and manages to be transported to a military hospital in¬†Britain.¬†Colonel Stakis, at first sceptical, sets off in pursuit, wary of the realization that he may very well be dealing with the Prince of Darkness himself.¬†He cannot inform the authorities in the West of his “unholy” mission, while they, in turn, are exceedingly dischuffed at having a¬†KGB operative¬†lurking freely around the back streets of¬†London.

It’s a compelling thriller, gifted with some amazing surreal moments,¬†especially¬†Drac¬†seeking sanctuary at… a fancy dress party!¬†

He drains the blood of Harry the Gorilla and seduces Cinderella Рnot even Christopher Lee could boast that! 

“Poor devil – I bet it’s been like a nightmare for him. But he’s defected safely – he’s got a whole new life ahead of him in Britain…” – Nurse Nightingale.¬†

(The Dracula File received a much-welcome reprint in a hardback collection published in October 2017) 

 

“That cough of yours is getting worse, Nathaniel! It’s time you prepared for the final journey. Pay me now in advance, and I’ll bury you at half my normal price!” – Joshuah Sleeth. ¬†

For me, by far the outstanding story of every issue was Tales From The Grave, 2 or 3-part chillers set in the early 19th century, narrated by The Leper who described the various spine-chilling background stories laced with all the period detail you could eat.

Although Jim Watson’s¬†“untidy” artistic style divided comic fans (especially in my school playground!)¬†he lent the ideal, twisted gothic touch to this series;¬†the grisly opening 4-parter:¬†The Undertaker¬†proved to be a clever tale of murder, deception and intrigue.¬†At its (devilish) heart¬†loomed¬†Joshuah Sleeth,¬†“an evil beggar alright,” as The Leper explained. “If yer needed a helpin’ hand into the next world, so ter speak, he was always ready to give it…”

The Cabbie And The Hanging Judge is also rather effecting, but, on this relatively mild autumn eventide, the very thought of Willard Giovanna RIP makes me shiver.

One day, whilst The Leper is digging with his old mate¬†Finley,¬†a gentlemen dressed in “old-fashioned clobber,”¬†enquires to the site of one¬†Willard Giovanna.¬†Finley¬†pipes up and directs him over to a rather untended grave.

“You crafty coot, Finley!” the Leper whispers, “Yer after the tuppenny tip he’ll be offerin’!”

Thereafter, a macabre plan to exhume the remains¬†is set into action that very night.¬†Restin’ his achin’ bones awhile,¬†Finley¬†happens to glance at the nametag in the gent’s fine coat:¬†Willard Giovanna! ‘Tis the same name as on the stone – the gent’s diggin’ up his own grave!”

Sure enough, when Finley resumes this unspeakable exercise, he finds the coffin, and opens it to find it empty, except for a letter –¬†“an’ Saints preserve us!” –¬†addressed to him!¬†

Dear Finley, 

Here is your payment as agreed for digging up my coffin. A similar payment will arrive for you each month if you keep my grave in good order. Then there will be no need for me to return!

Yours,

W. Giovanna.

And with that, the startled Finley turned around to get the shock of his life: Willard Giovanna had turned into a rotting corpse. 

This tale left me not so much fearful but fascinated: how do horror writers concoct such amazing stuff?! 

In addition, a different story appeared every week¬†in a¬†series entitled:¬†Library of Death.¬†Beware The Werewolf!¬†was a great crime-caper drawn by yet another great artist we lost far-too-soon:¬†Steve Dillon;¬†Spiders Can’t Scream¬†presented the terrifying consequences reserved¬†for¬†evil treasure-seekers who wipe out ancient civilizations in the South American jungle;¬†the 2-part Sea Beast¬†offered a freaky variant on the Don’t-go-into-the-water theme;¬†while particular moody fav¬†Ghost Town¬†features ill-fated present-day car-drivers pitting their wits – and rifles – against Wild West ghouls who are always far too quick on the draw!¬†

But the story that started it all off: Ghost House became an¬†instant classic¬†due to such spine-chilling art¬†supplied by the¬†always-reliable¬†Cam Kennedy,¬†then blowing me socks orf on 2000AD’s Rogue Trooper.¬†His nameless ghoul (almost!) made even Brad’s flesh crawl – check out that grisly beckoning hand! (see below!)

“They thought they were too old to enter the house. They were wrong. No-one is too old… and¬†no-one is too young! Age does not concern those who dwell in the¬†Ghost House” – The Nameless One.

Apart from a handful of Holiday Specials, Scream comic never got a 16th issue…

Popular belief maintained that irate parents demanded the publication’s closure after giving their children countless nightmares.

The truth, it seems, is rather more mundane. 

A printers strike at IPC Magazines affected half a dozen titles. Unfortunately, the one title NOT resumed post-crisis happened to be the one yours truly most craved every week!

Bah!

Over the last three decades, however, Scream comic has attained a richly-deserved cult status, with reprints now becoming widely available.

 

English horror didn’t vanish with the fog and gas-lit cobblestones at the end of the Victorian era. Riveting, spine-chilling stuff” –¬†Alan Moore.¬†

Hellblazer used to be one helluva haunting read.

This series – part of Vertigo:¬†DC’s “Suggested For Mature Readers” range –¬†kickstarted my¬†DC – and, to a certain extent, Marvel – revival in 1988.¬†

Offering¬†eloquent, yet disturbing, forays into the crass, yuppie-driven, Thatcherite terrors of ’80s London – as if the dirt, grime and lousy English weather was not enough! – the scintillating, and yet exceedingly creepy,¬†writing¬†by¬†Jamie Delano¬†helped me “escape” from the rigours of that school year (luckily, mercifully, my last).¬†Each issue appeared unmistakably graced with glorious cover art¬†by¬†Dave McKean;¬†the 1st issue’s collage (see above!) holds a reserved place in my Top 10 Best Comic Book Covers Ever.¬†

Co-created by Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bisette, and John Totleben, and based on Police frontman: Sting,  John Constantine is a heavy-smoking, obnoxious fella (from Liverpool) who just happens to know a fair bit of the occult and is continually haunted by the ghosts of friends he failed to protect.

Making his debut in¬†Moore’s Swamp Thing,¬†his own solo mag’s opening shocker:¬†“Hunger,”¬†dripping with voodoo – actually one of my least fav horror themes –¬†remains a gobsmacking gamechanger.

The first seven ishs offer a superb introduction to the work of British co-auteurs: Jamie Delano and John Ridgway, and would now be hailed as literary classics if they featured in anything other than the comics medium.  

Delano had this unfathomable¬†knack¬†of weaving bloodcurdling chills on one page,¬†and then¬†surprising you on the very next page with¬†the darkest rib-tickling humour!¬†Some marvelous descriptive text, and, complete with John’s trenchcoat, it all seemed rough and hard-boiled, not unlike a Dashiel Hammett novel,¬†except this dick had to deal with demons and diabolical dipwits‚Ķ¬†

And this writer sure¬†was glad that this title promised and delivered! – SHEER terror, and not that cockamamie terror – or halfassed terror – with which too many indie companies were wont to churn out back then…

Am fond of one particular, indelible moment:¬†in one episode,¬†Constantine¬†has to bail out of a London black cab,¬†unable to tolerate the driver’s incessant vile and xenophobic rants any further.¬†As he does so, said callous cabbie bristles:

“‘Ere! Don’ I get a tip?”¬†

“Yeah, it’s this: your mind is narrow and full of crap. I suggest you get a new one.”¬†

Attaboy, John! ūüôā

“…Bloody rain!¬†Bloody England!” Ha ha HA, yeah! Too bloody right, mate!¬† ūüėČ

“Pure reaction slams the door on the scuttling horror. I ought to just walk away and not come back. Jesus… Lord of the Bloody Flies, eh? I feel like I’ve had my share of bad craziness for a while. But like they say, you shouldn’t join if you can’t take a joke” –¬†John Constantine.

 

“Berni Wrightson really is the unquestioned master of the medium and that’s not just because the cover blurbs say so and because the field is about 95% saturated with superheroes… Oh,¬†Berni knows his grave-dirt all right… and while we huddle there, backs turned, eyes averted, minds set,¬†Berni pops up in front of us with his magic mirror and says “Boo!”” – Bruce Jones.

It is impossible to compile such a Post as this without featuring the extraordinary talent¬†of the¬†late, great¬†Bernie Wrightson –¬†arguably THE quintessential¬†horror comic artist.¬†

In fact, Pacific Comics gratefully collected some of his classic works in Berni Wrightson: Master Of The Macabre (only 5 ishs published during 1983).

He produced a suitably chilling ūüėČ adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cool Air,¬†as well as his own SF horror story: The Last Hunters,¬†a far-future saga in which an android hunter exterminates the last vestiges of humanity.¬†On a distant world… called Earth…

Who could ignore the malformed terror that is Jenifer, the sinister deception played on The Laughing Man or the heartrending beauty of Clarice?

But¬†my thirst for awesomeness would be well and truly slaked¬†with¬†The Muck Monster,¬†Berni’s moving version of Frankenstein, as told from the monster’s perspective.¬†

Oh, which of these seven sublime pages should Brad select?!

Ha, he cheated! And presents TWO.

Read with wonder, friends, for you will find this is not in the least bit horrific, nor is it particularly creepy; quite simply, this is a mighty fine example of this medium at its sumptuous and breathtaking best: 

“…But, Doctor, it’s the same dream. It doesn’t change!”¬†

“Even so, I’d like you to go over it once more.”¬†

“Okay, Doc… It started like before – with me losing my footing on the wall. I crash down to the ground… so hard that I break every bone in my body… Then the soldiers come and say there’s nothing they can do for me! I know the dream is going to come true! It’s a warning! I’m going to fall!”¬†

“Rubbish! I’ve told you before. If you want to stop this nightmare… you must stop reading these horror comics, Mr. Dumpty!”¬†

 

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The Feast From The East: Tales From The Cosmic Casbah

Something To Read With Relish

And Tempt The Taste Buds…¬†

Sinbad:¬†The dream I had, Rachid, this is all part of it somehow! We’ve been brought here by some mysterious force.¬†Is it not written that a wise man will try to realise his¬†dream, to follow it?”¬†

Rachid: “Some say it is through¬†dreams that¬†Allah speaks to mortal man… Captain! He who walks on fire will burn his feet…”¬†

The being “spontaneously generated” in a cave on a remote island, many parsecs off the Arabian coast. Seafarers discovered that stranger and brought him to Baghdad¬†where he described in intricate detail th countless worlds to be found beyond our own,¬†before the¬†Caliph¬†assured him that none of these realms could surpass the beauty of his own land and the glory of¬†Allah.

This is the synopsis for Theologus Autodidactus, written by Ibn Al-Nafis, dating from as early as the 13th century is believed (in some quarters) to be the earliest precursor of science fiction, although its curious contents lean more towards science-fantasy. 

The notion of Middle Eastern Science Fiction seems so unlikely,¬†compounded by the view¬†that¬†science and the proliferation of (new) ideas¬†conflict with the principles of Islamic ideology.¬†And yet there is so much more to this surprisingly burgeoning scene than it looks.¬†The recent successful SF and Fantasy Book Festival held in Abu Dhabi¬†highlighted what this unexpected region has¬†to offer –¬†most notably:

Iraq+100, a groundbreaking SF anthology that poses an intriguing challenge to contemporary Iraqi writers:

What might your home city look like in the year 2103 – exactly 100 years after the disastrous American and British-led invasion of Iraq?

And now there is the English translation of Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi. 

From the rubble-strewn streets of US-occupied Baghdad, Hadi the junk dealer collects human body parts and stitches them together in order to make the government grant them the proper burial they deserve. However, the corpse goes missing; soon, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, leading to reports of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. 

Hmm, not my cup of (cardamom) tea, this, but interesting to see how arguably the most famous classic SF/horror theme has inspired a uniquely Рnot to mention unlikely РMiddle Eastern variation.

“Two tablets brought forth to the light, yet a third remains from sight.

“A final place must still be found, a place that lies deep below the ground…” – The Oracle Of All Knowledge.¬†

Once upon a time, shortly after we moved to my childhood home, my parents let out our upstairs rooms to students attending the local university.¬†The vast majority of them hailed from¬†the Middle East.¬†So, fortunately, from a very young age, yours truly grasped the opportunity to savour the music, language, art, aromas, rugs and – Allah be praised! –¬†delicacies of distant domains.¬†

Thus,¬†fuelling¬†my imagination by gawping at various awesome adventures¬†such as¬†The 7th Voyage¬†of Sinbad¬†and – ah! ‘im again –¬†The Golden Voyage of Sinbad; and much later, stopping at nothing to acquire my own ornate antiquarian hardback edition¬†of¬†Tales From The Arabian Nights¬†(translated and annotated by Richard F. Burton – the definitive rendering) (1888) – plus acquiring a degree in Near Eastern Archaeology – Brad¬†was all set to trample all over such esteemed sites as Babylon, Nippur, Lagash¬†and Umm Dabaghiyah (umm-what?!)‚Ķ¬†until…

Mum¬†beseeched me not to go, fearing an escalation in tensions and violence in that region – ultimately, in sheer disbelief, yours truly witnessed/read about the¬†vandalism and destruction of Iraqi cultural heritage (during 2003-04) from the relative quiet and safety of Bangkok instead…

To accentuate this¬†scheherazade for the senses,¬†there will be light sprinklings of the¬†more exotic¬†platters that nestle deep within the jukebox @ Brad Manor –¬†all by the same combo who accompanied me on the streets of Manhattan, kept me occupied during those looong hours waiting at¬†Middle Eastern airports,¬†and inspired me to write both fiction and non-fiction during the Pre-Bradscribe Era @¬†a lovely seaside retreat on the Gulf of Thailand…¬†

“Flashing swords, leaping bandits, holy magic, bloodthirsty monsters, and sumptuous cuisine…¬†what more do you want me to do, draw you a map? Read this thing” – Scott Lynch.¬†

Throne Of The Crescent Moon (first published in¬†2012) is a¬†lush fantasy set in an alternate medieval Middle East. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, the last real ghul hunter¬†of¬†Dhamsawatt, King of Cities, Jewel of Abassen¬†is¬†aching to retire –¬†presumably to spend lazy days¬†relaxing with copious cups of cardamom tea –¬† but a new threat of ghuls: zombie-like beings reanimated by evil sorcery,¬†more fearsome than any he has ever encountered,¬†brings him back into this¬†rather unusual fray.

Before setting out wholeheartedly to acquire a copy, my heart sank upon recalling my persistent Рalmost legendary Рinability to track down any potentially groovy novel that comes to my attention.

And yet!

Before you can say:¬†“Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel,”¬†the very tome of which we speak¬†managed to reach my grubby mitts,¬†for¬†a hardback copy indeed lay in wait at my nearest library!

The book itself has received¬†rave reviews¬†and its author,¬†Saladin Ahmed¬†happens to be the very same¬†Saladin Ahmed who contributed to the recent Star Wars Canto Bight anthology compendium and – my minions inform me – is now writing Spider-Man!¬†So far,¬†it is proving to be an engrossing read; like one reviewer remarks, it plays in your mind rather like¬†a¬†Ray Harryhausen fantasy –¬†high praise inseed!¬†

And why does the premise sound so intoxicating? 

Because it seems exactly like the sort of Arabesque swashbuckling fantasy adventure that Brad would write. Come to think of it, not so long ago, he DID attempt such a saga, whilst living near the beach a few years back Рinspired by my study of ancient seafaring.

Accounts by Arab writers of exotic eastern lands¬†can be dated as far back as the mid-9th century CE.¬†The earliest existing text:¬†the¬†Akhbar al-Sin wa’l-Hind¬†(unfortunately anonymous)¬†compiles stories from merchants who told of uncharted islands rife with pirates, troglodytes, headhunters¬†and¬†“beasts” more fantastic than anything¬†Magizoologist Newt Scamander encountered!¬†

More crucially,¬†this is where we first obtained those fantastical tales of¬†Sinbad,¬†that adventurous sailor who had to brave evil sorcerers, giant crabs and whatnot¬†WITHOUT the comfort of cardamom tea…!¬†

“He’s awake and listening to us. Sly little rascal. But royalty has need of slyness. And if he’s really the Kwisatz Haderach‚Ķ well… Sleep well, you sly little rascal. Tomorrow you’ll need all your faculties to meet my gom jabbar” – Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam.

Well, bless my Chicken Arabiatta!

It is¬†difficult to discuss this material without acknowledging¬†the HUGE impact of¬†Frank Herbert’s Dune.¬†

Exuding more pertinent geopolitical resonances in the 21st century than it ever could have managed on its initial publication in 1965, Herbert drew inspiration from the Bedou way of life, to create an elaborate desert culture: the Fremen, native inhabitants of the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. 

For possibly the first time, numerous examples of¬†Middle Eastern terminology filterted into Western literature.¬†In their jihad against¬†House Harkonnen,¬†the Fremen launch razzia raids, wear aba and bourka robes, fear a “devil” named “Shaitan”¬†and so on.

Please click¬†here for¬†an expanded study of this landmark work, winner of both Hugo and Nebula Awards, and praised by¬†Arthur C. Clarke¬†for its¬†“depth of characterisation and¬†the extraordinary detail of the world it creates.¬†I know nothing comparable to it except¬†The Lord Of The Rings.”

“Is that the end… of all the races and civilizations, and the dreams of the world, to be able to leave a few stones buried beneath the sands, to tell the Dark that we were here?” – Niun.

Another SF series profoundly influenced by Middle Eastern themes came in the eclectic form of the Faded Sun Trilogy by C.J. Cherryh.

Set in the Alliance-Union universe,¬†Kesrith, Shon’Jir and¬†Kutath¬†each¬†chronicle the¬†Mri-Wars in this coming-of-age saga of Niun, the plucky protagonist.

The first volume¬†begins with the Regul having just concluded a forty-year war with humanity. As part of the peace, they are ceding the desert world of¬†Kesrith¬†to humanity. However, they have neglected to inform its inhabitants, the Mri, who have served them as mercenaries for over two thousand years.¬†These mercenaries¬†have been nearly exterminated in these wars, and young Niun is one of the few remaining warriors. When the Regul seek to double-cross his people, he and his sister¬†Melein,¬†the last of the priestly Sen caste, form an uneasy alliance with the human Sten Duncan¬†to rescue a holy relic that may hold the key to the Mri’s survival.

Despite being shortlisted for the Nebula Award in 1978 and the Hugo Award in 1979, this – and its two successors –¬†are among the most elusive SF series to track down in print!

Time to set¬†sail – for “every voyage has its own flavour”further east,¬†beyond the Pillars of Hercules,¬†across the azure Maha Thalassa¬†towards the enchanted shores of what¬†Persian seafarers called:¬†“Al-Hind”…

“Mighty Kali. Mightier than thou am I. Make obeisance to me…! Dance.¬†Dance for me!” – Khoura.¬†

 

“One of the five best SF novels ever written” – George R. R. Martin.

Why shouldn’t¬†India¬†have its own¬†panoply of science fiction tales?

Delve into the wondrous textures of Hindu mythology¬†and¬†it will not take you long¬†to¬†discover bizarre accounts¬†of¬†gods striking out of glistening cities in the clouds,¬†charging across the sky in “celestial chariots” firing bolts of lightning¬†against inhuman enemies…

So it comes as no surprise that Roger Zelazny drew extensively upon such myths to produce one of the SF greats: Lord of Light. 

A distant world where gods walk as men, but wield vast and hidden powers. Are they truly immortal? Who are these gods? Their names include Brahma, Kali, Krishna and also he who was called Buddha, the Lord of Light, but who now prefers to be known simply as Sam. 

Although it has not ascended to Dune-like heights of literary adulation and popularity,¬†Zelazny’s masterpiece is richly-conceived and plotted,¬†and¬†still widely-regarded by those who know¬†as a richly-crafted work, its curious yet compelling non-linear narrative lauded by other top contemporary SF authors.

Your foreign correspondent here¬†will endeavour to surge through this classic right now (for the unpteenth time) aided¬†by¬†a set of lamb biryani, with a bowl of naan chips, baked with cumin, coriander and kalonji seeds, (seasoned with Kashmiri spices and coconut – the way Brad likes ’em!) –¬†and a cup of cardamom tea, of course

Love, light and peace.

 

“There is that¬†about¬†them which repels… The trident of Shiva cuts a path through everything. But no matter how much he destroys, we raise up more against him. So he stands like a statue, uncreating storms we will not let end” – Tree Of Green Fire.¬†

“You pace the deck like a caged beast; for one who enjoys the hashish you should be more at peace…” – Sinbad.

 

“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 Рsometimes Earthbound Рshenanigans 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! ūüėČ )

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 Р15 February 1975), The Sontaran Experiment (22 February Р1 March 1975), Genesis Of The Daleks (8 March Р12 April 1975), and Revenge of the Cybermen (19 April Р10 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 Рregrettably Рfared less well. A much older actor Рharking back to the Hartnell years Рhad 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! ūüėȬ†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 Рcited by most Classic Who fans as the scariest Рis 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 Р19 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¬†‚Äé(24 November ‚Äď 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 Р20 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…?”

 

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 Рand pocket money. One of these homegrown titles featured a cosmic hero Рwhite and fair-haired, obviously Рwho 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 Рaah, get that music! get those ultracool sound effects! but mostly РWAHEY!! Рsomebody 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‚ÄĚ – 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!) ūüôā

 

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! ūüėČ )¬†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‚Ķ”

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¬†a¬†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…”

 

Jurassic Park: 25th Anniversary Rereview

Hold On To Your Butts…

John Hammond: “…And there’s no doubt, our attractions will drive kids out of their minds!”

Dr. Alan Grant: “And what are those?”

Dr. Ellie Sattler: “Small versions of adults, honey…”

 

Can it really be a qurarter-century since tbe “Biggest Movie Of All Time”:¬†Jurassic Park¬†smacked gobs and broke records?! ¬†

Rather than waste time and ticket fare on the¬†latest instalment:¬†Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom¬†(uninspiring Reviews reassure me, alas, that nothing special is being missed)¬†let’s celebrate, instead, the anniversary¬†of¬†Steven Spielberg’s¬†classic dinofest.¬†Luckily, in that Summer of ’93 – haha! When¬†Jurassic Park Ruled The Earth!¬†ūüôā –¬†we were served¬†a superior concoction of thrills, spills and chills – setting, in effect, the definitive template for the summer blockbuster.

For once, Size DID Matter.

Yep, sitting in a packed cinema watching the (then) cutting edge CG tech unfold proved to be a very special experience. 

Unforgettable? You’re telling me!

An insufferable nerk sat directly behind me (Jeez, isn’t that always the way?!),¬†and¬†EVERY TIME that sauropod lifted up on its hind legs to reach higher food; T Rex chased the jeep;¬†T Rex (again)¬†lunged out of nowhere to feast,¬†or¬†the velociraptors ran rampant through the kitchen,¬†he had to utter:

“This is unreal! This is unreal!” ¬†¬†

Okay, that’s one extremely irritating way to admit that, undeniably,¬†Jurassic Park¬†turned out to be one of the game-changers of modern cinema.

Unlike the majority of summer blockbusters, the characters assembled here are well-defined; there is some snappy dialogue written by¬†David Koepp; in addition,¬†the¬†casting is very commendable:¬†considering how¬†HARRISON FORD(!) was offered (and turned down) the role of Dr. Alan Grant;¬†Sam Neill¬†was great, but one can’t help wondering how that box-office-beating¬†Spielberg alumnus (well-accustomed to jungle adventures himself) would have fared against these¬†adversaries!

Interesting to learn that Spielberg¬†wanted to recreate the Ford/Connery chemistry from¬†Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade,¬†envisaging¬†Sir Sean Connery¬†as first choice for the role of John Hammond(!)¬†(so THAT explains Sir Dickie Attenborough’s dodgy Scottish accent!); and behold! There is my particular favand yours too, no doubtthat superior hunk of manflesh:¬†Jeff Goldblum¬†as¬†chaos theoretician: Dr. Ian “Must go faster!” Malcolm.

Must have watched the trailer countless times back in the day.¬†Note how there are only subtle hints of the dino-action in store – no spoilers in those days!¬†Anybody else miss the guttural voiceovers…?¬†

“Steven [Spielberg] had me screen-test with Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman for Hook. I was just too young for the role. ‘Don’t worry about it, Joey,’¬†Steven¬†said,¬†‘I’m going to get you in a movie this summer.’ Not only a nice promise to get, but to have it be one of the biggest box-office smashes of all time? That’s a pretty good trade” – Joseph Mazzello.

“You feel that‚Ķ?”

For the first time in several years, yours truly finally (for the benefit of this Post at least) got round to rewatching this movie.

Arguably the best sequence in the whole franchise (it has lost none of its terrifying potency 25 years later)¬†is¬†T Rex’s breathtaking entrance, at night, in the rain, as the two tour cars are stranded right beside her compound.¬†(Hang on: didn’t they pass the Tyrannosaur paddock already during the day, and move on when she proved to be a no-show? What are¬†they doing back there again, considering how those automated jeeps are irreversible??)

Never mind,¬†it’s the tense build up – the sound of ominous, even-heavier-than-Dennis-Nedry¬†footsteps heading the stranded tour party’s way,¬†those ripples in the water cups (incidentally, the very first gif selected for this Post!)¬†sets one heckuva spine-tingling tone,¬†especially if you dare to watch – and listen – during the early hours… ¬†

It’s amazing how the obese guy (Nedry) and the lawyer (Gennaro)¬†are deliberately rendered as thoroughly detestable characters so that we can all “enjoy”(?!)¬†a guilt-free (and obscene) “pleasure” when they inevitably end up as dino-dindins‚Ķ

The greatest asset of this movie is that it did not descend into a mindless, and relentless, dinosaur-chase B-movie, but opted instead to embellish the action and tension with more thought-provoking material, most evidently in that rightfully-revered classic scene of Dr. Malcolm discussing the ethics Рand irresponsibility Рof genetic tomfoolery over lunch.

Trust Brad to have loaded that vid already elsewhereguess where! Yay! A celebration of Jeff Goldblum right here!

To think that¬†Jim Carrey¬†was considered for the role of Dr. Ian Malcolm(!)¬†Blimey‚Ķ who would want to see his pecs…?¬†

Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Gee, the lack of humility before nature that’s being displayed here, uh… staggers me.”

Donald Gennaro: “Well thank you, Dr. Malcolm, but I think things are a little bit different than you and I had feared…”

Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, I know. They’re a lot worse.”

Donald Gennaro: “Now, wait a second now, we haven’t even seen the park…”

 

And just when¬†you consider how Jeff could play EVERY role from¬†Jurassic Park,¬†well, here is the vid that proves he can – Goldblum! Goldblum! We’ve got Jeff¬†Goldblum¬†here!: ūüôā

It’s supposed to be Costa Rica, right? So things are hot and I’m sure I’m in some sort of fever. So all the logic is that we gotta get some of these wet clothes off immediately. As I remember, I don’t think anybody fought me on that” – Jeff Goldblum.¬†

And, of course, where would this epic be without John Williams? This renowned composer sealed his reputation by providing one of his most sumptuous music scores. 

Let’s not forget the phenomenal cultural impact the movie created a quarter-century ago.

While Raiders Of The Lost Ark¬†(arguably Spielberg’s greatest movie)¬†inspired Brad and many of his contemporaries to get into archaeology,¬†Jurassic Park did its best to influence a new generation of palaeontologists.

Although a hefty bundle of the technic and genetic gubbins discussed/featured therein seemed quesionable, to the point of bonkers: i.e. the utility Рand durability Рof millions-of-years-old DNA; could/did sauropods balance on their hind legs? (and so on) at least it encouraged a wider, greater understanding of scientific principles. As delirious-for-dinosaurs as the next kid, Jurassic Park, for an albeit all-too-brief period during that Summer, resurrected that long-dormant palaeo-passion. 

Regrettably, though, the main aspect of this particular movie that comes back to my mind concerns those numerous continuity errors, most notably the one gaffe that baffles me with each viewing: why is the T Rex paddock predominantly flat during daylight hours, but after dark a sheer drop emerges -the scene in which Alan and Tim clambering as fast as they can down a tree before their own car falls on top of them is tense enough, but how Рand why Рdoes the script demand that such an absurd feat transpire at all?! 

And just what exactly did happen to Ray Arnold¬†(Samuel L Jackson)…?

Finally,¬†what of Jurassic Park‘s legacy?

Admittedly, my affection for the original movie has soured somewhat¬†by¬†the fact that its sequels – two lacklustre direct follow-ups,¬†the imbecilic¬†Jurassic World¬†and this season’s unappealing tag-on:¬†Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom¬†have come no way near to recreating the original’s ground-breaking impact of action and suspense.¬†Rather, the makers of these wasted opportunities (including¬†Spielberg¬†himself, disappointingly enough!)¬†were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should…

 

BRADSCRIBE VERDICT: 

“That doesn’t look very scary. More like a six-foot turkey.”

 

Tim: “Well… we’re back… in the car again.”

Dr. Alan Grant: “Well, at least you’re out of the tree.”

 

My Dad would always take me to see the dinosaurs in Philadelphia, the Franklin Institute of Technology, with big dinosaur bones,¬†and so I made¬†Jurassic Park¬†remembering how much fun it was to imagine, with such yearning, that some day wouldn’t it be great to run into a dinosaur… and for everybody who had ever wondered, or been fascinated with that whole era…” –¬†Steven Spielberg.

 

“The Purfuit Of Happineff”: Happy 4th Of July To All My American Friends!

Hip¬†Hip¬†Hooray! Let’s Hear It For¬†The US Of A!

“You can’t do this to me, I’m an American!” – Marion Ravenwood.¬†

Howdy!

For this Post, considering how the majority of you live Stateside, thought it best to write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.

As¬†far as one can remember,¬†America¬†always had something bigger and better to offer.¬†British television: yes, all three channels, just two if you include the broadcasters’ strike¬†(one of many in various sectors to cripple the UK during the late-’70s) languished in the doldrums.¬†Even Doctor Who – that longest-running bastion of¬†SF TV,¬†its already-miniscule fx budget hindered even further by a technicians’ strike at the BBC!¬† – could not compete against the flashier, more expensive likes¬†of¬†Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers,¬†or¬†The Muppet Show, The Incredible Hulk, Starsky & Hutch, Kojak(!) (et al, etc. etc.)¬†for that matter.¬†Who (else) did we have? Metal frickin’ Mickey, that’s who – who?? Exactly!!¬†

Compared to the subsequent decade, The British Film Industry offered larger, more expensive than usual, but ultimately unattractive movies, but nothing like those two gargantuan smashes of 1977 and 1980 respectively (you know what they were!) that sent cinema queues trailing down the street. And then around the corner. 

So finger-lickin’ good:¬†American comics, American toys – heck, even American words – dominated our school¬†playground.¬†Yay, our precious post-punk platters¬†led the way in the pop parade,¬†but let’s face it, our own¬†Claire Grogan¬†was cute, but¬†Debbie Harry¬†was¬†gorgeous.

Still, my father actually spent some time in the US during the ’60s, and was that close to getting a¬†really great job in aviation –¬†so,¬†for that brief time (28 years ago) Brad found himself the centre of attention for once!¬†Until one of the other kids announced that his Dad actually was American, and the throng gravitated to his side of the bike shed, eager to catch a glimpse of the bigger and better delights he could reveal from¬†his¬†Starsky & Hutch satchel.¬†

Gah!

Anyway, one of the various quality products that my father brought back with him Рand enriched my childhood Рincluded a classic Stan Freberg long-player (in Stereo!) 

It’s in, it’s very in!¬†ūüėČ

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” – Benjamin Franklin.

Now, onto American music.

Generally, my music tastes gravitate towards the Blues, Soul and Jazz Рall the phenomenal African-American essentials. 

Which is my favorite American band, you ask?

Gee, that’s a toughie.¬†

The Doors immediately excite the senses, but what gets me every time has to be Creedence Clearwater Revival. Ever since Bad Moon Rising caught my attention in An American Werewolf In London, they have held a very special place in my heart. And my record collection!

During the Vietnam War, thousands of American servicemen were stationed @ U Tapao, Nong Kok and other bases in Thailand. Countless bars Рplaying music of that era, including Creedence, sprang up all over the place. Most of these guys left long ago, but, most of the bars Рstill playing music of that era, including Creedence Рremain. 

This was always my go-to tune on Karaoke Night:

“My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on Earth enjoy!” ‚Äď Thomas Jefferson.

Just thought it would he groovy to fill this gap to ask:

How will you be celebrating today? Where will you go? What will you eat? How many fireworks are required? 

Is it the same every year? 

Will be thrilled to read your Comments!¬†ūüôā

Chon Wang: “The English are not very friendly.”

Roy O’Bannon: “They’re just sore losers.”

Chon Wang: “What did they lose?”

Roy O’Bannon: “A little thing called the American Revolution, Chon… They came over with about a million men. We had a bunch of farmers with pitchforks and beat ’em like a drum.”

Politics!¬†Hoo-boy…

The political systems in both the US & UK these days are as mad as a bicycle. And then some. 

Today, your fest may not have the right zest, or your grub may lack the necessary relish, whilst grudgingly knowing that such a deplorable doofus is running your country (into the ground), but your Brit correspondent here would like to assure you that my thoughts are with you during these very trying times. 

You will NOT see Brad meddling in politics Рby Jove, no!

Why, the very¬†word itself is detestable:¬†consisting of¬†“poli”¬†which means “more than one” –¬†yours truly¬†is an old-fashioned type o’ fella: can only handle one lousy inconvenience at a time.¬†While “tics” are bloodsucking parasites.¬†

You see? Not my scene.

At all…

Couldn’t proceed without this¬†BBC comedy gem from¬†1980,¬†the year in which current affairs analysts on both sides of The Pond could not envisage a ’50s B-movie star in the White House.¬†

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! How times have changed…

“When I was a kid, my Mum said: ‘Work hard, you can become President!’ because I grew up in a Disney film. That was back when we believed that¬†Presidents were righteous and honorable… Here’s the kicker: according to the odds, there is 40% chance that, as¬†President,¬†somebody is going to try to assassinate you, but¬†there is a 100% chance of character-assassination…” – Rich Hall.¬†

Fact: Brad did not travel overseas until his early-20s. 

As my inaugural trip outta Blighty, guess the only one desirable destination that sprung to mind.

Yep! That’s right: during May 1996 – one of the highlights of this boy’s life –¬†Brad spent a fortnight on YOUR side of¬†The Pond.¬†Manhattan, to be exact –¬†sight-seeing (searching for those crucial movie locations, mainly).¬†There was no need to fret¬†over¬†how to wrangle a cab to get me to the IYH (International Youth Hostel) –¬†sitting next to me on the flight was a British businessman who kindly offered¬†to give me a lift¬†Uptown.¬†And, as a regular visitor, he gave a few tips on how to get by.

Can vividly recollect waking up on my first morning in another country.

The temperature was scorching; the city noise every bit as cacophonous as my craziest dreams had imagined;¬†and¬†as¬†my feet hit the NY street¬†for that very first giddily-exciting time, which song on my Sony Walkman marked my wild-eyed an’ gawping-gob¬†entrance into¬†Pretzel Central?

Well, goldarn it! It had to be this: 

“See me walkin’ down Fifth Avenue, walkin’ cane here at my side. Take it everywhere I walk, I’m an Englishman in New York” – Sting.

As a member of The British Museum Society, the Manhattan Metropolitan Museum of Art¬†was top-of-my-list¬†and –¬†gee whiz! –¬†it did not disappoint! A whole afternoon was spent mooching around its impressive galleries. Then emerged into the relentless sun to get a hot dog an’ a bag o’ donuts from the multitude¬†of¬†street stalls crowding the pavement – sorry! – sidewalk.¬†

After visiting the¬†Statue of Liberty,¬†made my groovy way up Downtown¬†to¬†Uncle Huckle-Buckle’s Chuckle Hutch¬†(try sayin’¬†that after a few Buds!)¬†to sit down and listen to the stand-ups;¬†can’t forget¬†my ears popping in the express elevator to the top of¬†the¬†Empire State Building; and other wondrous sights and sensations too numerous to drone on about here(!)

Out and about in NYC, chances are that you will see some very famous people.¬†One day, taking a route recommended by my¬†Tourist Map,¬†a classy African-American lady marched straight past me – yes! None other than¬†Diana Ross!!¬†Ruminating over which was her best: either Baby Love or Chain Reaction,¬†walked around a corner and almost collided¬†into¬†John Lennon’s widow!!¬†(Don’t forget: you heard it here first).¬†A¬†few months earlier, we had recorded Jackie Mason Live In London – a programme that my father always requested to watch and never failed¬†to reduce him to tears of laughter.¬†So,¬†imagine papa’s envy when listening to my incredible story of hanging around in the doorway¬†of the¬†Waldorf Astoria,¬†standing next to the comedian himself, listening to the joke that reduced two NYPD officers to tears of laughter.¬†

And upon returning to the hostel every evening, a special, extra-large, local delicacy awaited all tourists on the front desk. Absolutely scrumptious! What on Earth was it?!

Somebody replied:

“We call it ‘pizza’…”

After¬†ten days of intense adventures, no wonder¬†there was no energy left; nevertheless, my¬†last four days turned out to be equally life-changing;¬†just around the corner(!)¬†two important discoveries were made in that “New World”:¬†the Barnes & Noble Superstore (ended up buying two books for myself and two books for Dad);¬†and even more crucially:

TACO BELL!!

Thus, thenceforth, Brad‘s undying love for Mexican food flourished.

Obviously, if and when another Stateside visit occurs, special detours will have to be taken so that, finally, WE CAN MEET and you can regale me with tales of YOUR bigger and better way of life!

Who better to round this Post off than with The Boss himself?!

What better way to sign off than by saying:

Have A Nice Day!¬†ūüôā

“Day of glory! Welcome day!
Freedom’s banners greet thy ray;
See! how cheerfully they play
      With thy morning breeze,
On the rocks where pilgrims kneel’d,
On the heights where squadrons wheel’d,
When a tyrant’s thunder peal’d,
      O’er the trembling seas…
O let freemen be our sons;
And let future Washingtons
Rise, to lead their valiant ones,
¬† ¬† ¬† Till there‚Äôs war no more.‚ÄĚ
~John Pierpont (1785‚Äď1866), ‚ÄúIndependence‚ÄĚ

 

 

Voyager: A Bradtastic Trip Into Space

Is There Enough Space To Have Time…?

“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be… We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries…” – Carl Sagan.

For me, it all began with Cosmos.

That ultra-rare occasion when a TV programme fulfilled the aim of providing something both educational and entertaining, Carl Sagan helped make astrophysics accessible, and instilled in this gawping infant, the need to learn/discover so much more.

Off and on, through this boy’s life, the stars have continued to fascinate. Now, most nights, after finishing my writing – or those moments when the words don’t flow the way they should –¬†it’s great to just step outside, after the street lights have switched off,¬†and marvel¬†at¬†the inspirational – and staggering –¬†wonders of the universe.¬†

After a very trying month, maybe its just as well that this Post blasts off to be among the stars (even if it may be with only one-quarter impulse power).

Away from it all…¬†

Rather than perplex you with something deep and philosophical (such theses will appear on this site at some point!)¬†let’s gradually¬†revitalise my creative powers with an easy vids n’ gifs compilation!¬†ūüôā

Looking for groovy tunes represented with¬†a vid of suitably spacey visuals turned out to be quite a chore; annoyingly, a few of my initial choices have been removed from YouTube, or are simply unloadable,¬†but when you consider how we all live “on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam – a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena”¬†my problems – whether they be psychological or technical –¬†are really so inconsequential!¬†

Dr. Hans Reinhardt: “Well, Mr. Booth, what’s new on Earth?”¬†

Harry Booth: “Well, I don’t think it’s changed very much since you left, Doctor.”¬†

Dr. Hans Reinhardt: “Nothing much ever changes. Same news, different names…”¬†

It’s Mingo Mean Time¬†for some classic movie magic with¬†that Quarterback New York Jets saviour of the universe himself.¬†When the¬†Flash Gordon movie was released (in 1980!), this iconic character rapidly became my new favourite. Gorged myself on Weetabix every breakfast in order to accumulate all 18 Official Movie Photo-cards; bought ANY sci-fi book that reprinted original pages (or merely one or two panels) of¬†Alex Raymond’s original comic strips; even avidly watched episodes of those ancient serials starring Buster Crabbe as the titular hero;¬†moreover,¬†everyone in my year at Primary School was expected to know¬†all the movie’s lines off by heart!

Absolutely nuts – it’s best to regard this as not so much a movie but a 100-minute Queen video!¬†

Nothing like a dramatic blast-off, and this following clip is one of the best blast-off sequences in scif-fi cinema.¬†What better to hurl yourself into¬†the Imperial Vortex¬†with than the pulse-pounding percussion of¬†Queen’s Roger Taylor?¬†

“Check the angular vector of the moon!” – Dr. Hans Zarkov.¬†

One of the unexpected hits of last year came in the form of Life.

Such a thrill, for a change, to watch a sci-fi movie that is NOT a sequel or a remake!

A team of scientists aboard the¬†International Space Station¬†discover an organic lifeform amidst soils samples collected from¬†Mars,¬†but following sci-fi/horror tradition, it grows into a life-threatening nightmare….

Despite having such heavy-hitters as¬†Ryan Reynolds¬†and¬†Jake Gyllenhaal,¬†its the extraterrestrial itself¬†(named Calvin by NY schoolchildren in a national competition!)¬†that steals the show.¬†It may not look as menacing as HR Giger’s xenomorph,¬†but¬†this martian’s level of intelligence becomes particularly unsettling (the way in which Calvin breaks out¬†of¬†his incubator is ingenious!)¬†

Most importantly, Life fulfilled the essential quota of¬†any¬†space movie:¬†the scenes above the Earth were excellently created, and¬†the original soundtrack¬†by¬†Jon Ekstrand turned out to be quite memorable,¬†evoking¬†the magic and the peril –¬†of¬†space exploration,¬†as this vid amply demonstrates.

Choose Life!

Minister of Defence: “My God, what’s Bond doing?”

Q: “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir.”

As you will see, (before yours truly pops out for a spot of constellation-hunting)¬†we’re saving the BEST till last.

From a movie featuring the¬†ISS,¬†we turn our attention¬†to an astonishing NASA time-lapse video shot from the¬†International Space Station¬†itself,¬†displaying some breathtaking views of what¬†Carl Sagan¬†himself called¬†our “Pale” Blue Dot¬†in¬†all its glory.

The wonderful musical accompaniment is from that under-rated 007 In Space spy thriller: Moonraker (as the end credits amusingly revealed, it was filmed on location in Italy, Brazil, Guatemala, U.S.A. and Outer Space!)

John Barry was a tremendous composer of movie music. And, fittingly, Moonraker happened to be one of his most spectacular works. Make sure you can watch this on the biggest screen you can find:

“And that completes my final report until we reach touchdown. We’re now on full automatic, in the hands of the computers. I have tucked my crew in for the long sleep and I’ll be joining them soon…

“…The men who sent us on this journey are long since dead and gone. You who are reading me now are a different breed – I hope a better one. I leave the 20th century with no regrets.

“But one more thing – if anybody’s listening, that is. Nothing scientific. It’s purely personal. But seen from out here everything seems different. Time bends. Space is boundless. It squashes a man’s ego. I feel lonely.

“That’s about¬† it. Tell me, though. Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother? Keep his neighbour’s children starving…?”