Sunday, April 26, 2020

Where to find the 1945 Retro Hugo Awards finalists

Popular blog File 770 has a post by JJ on Where To Find The 2020 Hugo Award Finalists For Free Online, a useful resource for anyone wanting to start reading before the Hugo Voter Packet becomes available. But what of the 1945 Retro Hugo Awards finalists? There is unlikely to be a Voter Packet for these, so how are Hugo Awards voters to go about making an informed choice here? Fortunately, many of the works that will be on the ballot are available online, either on the Internet Archive or elsewhere. Below I have compiled links to as many of these as I could find, and provided information about whether items are in print or otherwise. If any of the links do not work, please let me know in the comments.

Best Novel
  • The Golden Fleece, by Robert Graves (Cassell & Company). Also known as Hercules, My Shipmate, this retelling of the Jason and the Argonauts story is in print and available from book stores and online retailers.
  • Land of Terror, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.). Ebook versions of this can be purchased online. It is also out of copyright in Australia, so can be read on that country's Project Gutenberg.
  • "Shadow Over Mars", by Leigh Brackett (Startling Stories, Fall 1944). Subsequently published as the standalone novel The Nemesis from Terra, which appears to be out of print, but the magazine it first appeared in can be read or downloaded on the Internet Archive.
  • Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord, by Olaf Stapledon (Secker & Warberg). In print and readily obtainable.
  • The Wind on the Moon, by Eric Linklater (Macmillan and Co.). In print and readily obtainable.
  • "The Winged Man", by A. E. van Vogt and E. Mayne Hull (Astounding Science Fiction, May-June 1944). Originally serialised in Astounding, this was subsequently published as a complete novel but appears to now be out of print. It can be read in the May and June 1944 issues of Astounding Science Fiction on the Internet Archive.

Best Novella

Best Novelette

Best Short Story
  • "And the Gods Laughed", by Fredric Brown (Planet Stories, Spring 1944). This also appears in anthologies of Brown's work.
  • "Desertion", by Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1944). This also appears as a chapter in the novel City. If you want to read the nominated stories from City in publication order, read this third.
  • "Far Centaurus", by A. E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1944). This can also be found in general anthologies and ones of van Vogt's work. For further details see its ISFDB entry.
  • "Huddling Place", by Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1944). This also appears as another chapter in the novel City. If you want to read the nominated stories from City in publication order, read this second.
  • "I, Rocket", by Ray Bradbury (Amazing Stories, May 1944). A replica edition of this issue of Amazing Stories can be purchased online.
  • "The Wedge", by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1944). This also appears as "The Traders" in the novel Foundation. If you want to read the two stories from Foundation in publication order, read this first.

Best Series

Captain Future, by Edmond Hamilton
Written by Edmond Hamilton (sometimes using the pseudonym Brett Sterling), the Captain Future stories appeared in the magazine of the same name. Wikipedia has an overview of the series, while the ISFDB has a listing of Captain Future stories. A selection of these are available on the Internet Archive:

The Cthulhu Mythos, by H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, and others
The deity Cthulhu first made its monstrous appearance in H. P. Lovecraft's 1928 short story "The Call of Cthulhu". Subsequently much of Lovecraft's and his associates' work has been grouped together under the Cthulhu Mythos label. Like many of the horrors Lovecraft deals with, the Cthulhu Mythos is somewhat amorphous and it can be difficult to fix its exact boundaries. Not all of Lovecraft's own stories are unambiguously part of the Mythos, while one can argue as to whether some of the works by his admirers are truly part of the Mythos or deviations from the true path. Wikipedia attempts a rough overview of the Mythos, while the ISFDB attempts a bibliography. Note that the Mythos remains a living tradition, with stories continuing to be published, but only those that had appeared by the end of 1944 should be considered by Retro Hugo Awards voters.

There are numerous in-print anthologies of Lovecraft's own fiction. The Internet Archive also has scans of the magazines in which some of these originally appeared, including "The Call of Cthulhu" (Weird Tales, February 1928), "The Dunwich Horror" (Weird Tales, April 1929), "The Whisperer in Darkness" (Weird Tales, August 1931), "The Music of Erich Zann" (Weird Tales, November 1934), "The Haunter of the Dark" (Weird Tales, December 1936), "The Shadow out of Time" (Astounding Stories, June 1936), "The Thing on the Doorstep" (Weird Tales, January 1937), "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (Weird Tales, May 1941 & Weird Tales July 1941), "The Colour Out of Space" (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, October 1941), and "The Shadow over Innsmouth" (Weird Tales, January 1942).

The Cthulhu Mythos was developed and expanded by writers associated with and inspired by Lovecraft. August Derleth co-founded Arkham House to keep Lovecraft's fiction in print; he also wrote Lovecraftian fiction of his own, including "The Thing That Walked on the Wind" (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, January 1933), "Beyond the Threshold" (Weird Tales, September 1941), "The Dweller in Darkness" (Weird Tales, November 1944), and "The Trail of Cthulhu" (Weird Tales, March 1944). Frank Belknap Long gave us "The Space-Eaters" (Weird Tales, July 1928) and "The Hounds of Tindalos" (Weird Tales, March 1929). Robert Bloch wrote "The Shambler from the Stars" (Weird Tales, September 1935). Robert E. Howard gave us "The Black Stone" (Weird Tales, November 1931), "The Children of the Night" (Weird Tales, April-May 1931), "The Thing on the Roof" (Weird Tales, February 1932), and "Dig Me No Grave" (Weird Tales, February 1937).

Doc Savage, by Kenneth Robeson/Lester Dent
Published under the pseudonym Kenneth Robeson, the Doc Savage stories were mostly but not entirely written by Lester Dent. Doc Savage novels appeared at a phenomenal rate, starting in 1933, with 142 having been published by the end of 1944. The ISFDB has a terrifyingly vast entry on the series, while Wikipedia has summaries of the novels. The Shadow's Sanctum is currently publishing reprints of the Doc Savage novels.

Jules de Grandin, by Seabury Quinn
Seabury Quinn wrote a lot of stories featuring his occult detective Jules de Grandin. Wikipedia has a short overview of the series, while the ISFDB entry could be cross-referenced with the Internet Archive to source scans of the issues of Weird Tales in which the stories first appeared. Here is a somewhat random selection of stories in the series, including the first one published and the only one from 1944: "The Horror on the Links" (Weird Tales, October 1925), "The House of Horror" (Weird Tales, July 1926), "Restless Souls" (Weird Tales, October 1928), "The Corpse-Master" (Weird Tales, July 1929), "The Wolf of St. Bonnot" (Weird Tales, December 1930), "The Curse of the House of Phipps" (Weird Tales, January 1930), "The Mansion of Unholy Magic" (Weird Tales, October 1933), "Suicide Chapel" (Weird Tales, June 1938), and "Death's Bookkeeper" (Weird Tales, July 1944).

Pellucidar, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Pellucidar stories are set inside the Earth, which in the first instalment is revealed to be hollow. At the Earth's Core, the first Pellucidar novel, appeared in 1914, while Land of Terror, the 6th,was published in 1944. Wikipedia's entry for the series links off to plot-summarising entries for the individual books. These are beginning to slip out of copyright, though the later ones are still not in the public domain everywhere. Readers can access the Pellucidar at these links:

If a whole novel of hollow earth adventure is too much, there were also three pieces of short Pellucidar fiction published in 1942: "Return to Pellucidar" (Amazing Stories, February 1942), "Men of the Bronze Age" (Amazing Stories, March 1942), and "Tiger Girl" (Amazing Stories, April 1942).

The Shadow, by Maxwell Grant (Walter B. Gibson)
Tales of this proto-superhero appeared from 1931 onwards under the pseudonym Maxwell Grant but were mostly written by Walter B. Gibson. By the end of 1944 a vast number of Shadow novels had appeared (286 if Wikipedia is to be believed). The Shadow's Sanctum is currently publishing reprints of books in The Shadow series.

Best Related Work
  • Fancyclopedia, by Jack Speer (Forrest J. Ackerman). The FANAC Fan History Project has scans of this encyclopaedia of 1944 fandom, as well as a hypertext version.
  • '42 To '44: A Contemporary Memoir Upon Human Behaviour During the Crisis of the World Revolution, by H. G. Wells (Secker & Warburg). This does not seem to be in print but readers may be able to source copies from libraries or second hand book dealers.
  • Mr. Tompkins Explores the Atom, by George Gamow (Cambridge University Press). No longer in print as a standalone book, this is available as part of Mr Tompkins in Paperback, which can be obtained from Cambridge University Press or online resellers. An edition combining the book with Mr. Tompkins Explores the Atom with Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland, another book by George Gamow, can be accessed on the Internet Archive.
  • Rockets: The Future of Travel Beyond the Stratosphere, by Willy Ley (Viking Press). This appears to be out of print, but readers may be able to source copies from libraries or second hand book dealers. It can also be borrowed from the Internet Archive.
  • "The Science-Fiction Field", by Leigh Brackett (Writer's Digest, July 1944). This was recently reprinted in Windy City Pulp Stories no. 13, which is readily available from online sellers.
  • "The Works of H. P. Lovecraft: Suggestions for a Critical Appraisal", by Fritz Leiber (The Acolyte, Fall 1944). This can be accessed on FANAC.

Best Graphic Story or Comic
  • Buck Rogers: "Hollow Planetoid", by Dick Calkins (National Newspaper Service). Originally appearing as a daily newspaper strip, this story appears not to be in print. Art Lortie has however made it available to Retro Hugo voters here.
  • Donald Duck: "The Mad Chemist", by Carl Barks (Dell Comics). Originally appearing in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #44, this story has been reprinted but not obviously recently (see entry in Grand Comics Database). It can be read on YouTube or as uploaded by Art Lortie.
  • Flash Gordon: "Battle for Tropica", by Don Moore & Alex Raymond (King Features Syndicate). Originally a syndicated newspaper strip, this was reprinted by Kitchen Sink in Flash Gordon: Volume 6 1943-1945 - Triumph in Tropica, copies of which can be obtained relatively cheaply from online sellers. You can read William Patrick Raymond's review and summary here and the strip itself here (courtesy of Art Lortie).
  • Flash Gordon: "Triumph in Tropica", by Don Moore & Alex Raymond (King Features Syndicate). This also appears in Flash Gordon: Volume 6 1943-1945 - Triumph in Tropica and William Patrick Raymond's write-up is here. Art Lortie has again made the comic available here.
  • The Spirit: "For the Love of Clara Defoe", by Manly Wade Wellman, Lou Fine and Don Komisarow (Register and Tribune Syndicate). This story was reprinted in Volume 9 of Will Eisner's The Spirit Archives, which is available from online booksellers. Art Lortie has made it available here.
  • Superman: "The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk", by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Detective Comics, Inc.). Originally appearing in Superman #30, this story has often been reprinted (see the DC Comics Database), most recently in The Superman Archives Vol. 8 (which appears to be in print in expensive hardback). It also appears in Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Vol. 2, second hand copies of which can more cheaply be obtained. The amazing Art Lortie has posted it here.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • The Canterville Ghost, screenplay by Edwin Harvey Blum from a story by Oscar Wilde, directed by Jules Dassin (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)). This is available in two parts on Dailymotion, with the image inexplicably inverted from left to right. Part 1 and Part 2. It can also be watched uninverted on or as uploaded by Art Lortie.
  • The Curse of the Cat People, written by DeWitt Bodeen, directed by Gunther V. Fritsch and Robert Wise (RKO Radio Pictures). This film can also be seen on Art Lortie has made it available here.
  • Donovan's Brain, adapted by Robert L. Richards from a story by Curt Siodmak, producer, director and editor William Spier (CBS Radio Network). This radio drama can be downloaded or streamed from the Internet Archive. Art Lortie has uploaded it in two parts, here and here.
  • House of Frankenstein, screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, Jr. from a story by Curt Siodmak, directed by Erle C. Kenton (Universal Pictures). This can be viewed on or, courtesy of Art Lortie, here.
  • The Invisible Man's Revenge, written by Bertram Millhauser, directed by Ford Beebe (Universal Pictures). The Internet Archive has this available to stream or download. Art Lortie has posted it here.
  • It Happened Tomorrow, screenplay and adaptation by Dudley Nichols and René Clair, directed by René Clair (Arnold Pressburger Films). This can be viewed on YouTube.

Best Editor, Short Form
  • John W. Campbell, Jr. was the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, of which in 1944 12 issues appeared, which can be seen here: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December.
  • Oscar J. Friend edited Captain Future, Startling Stories, and Thrilling Wonder Stories. The Spring issue of Captain Future is available on the Internet Archive. The Spring, Summer, and Fall issues of Startling Stories can also be seen there, as can the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter issues of Thrilling Wonder Stories.
  • Mary Gnaedinger edited Famous Fantastic Mysteries, whose March, June, September, and December 1944 issues can be read on the Internet Archive.
  • Dorothy McIlwraith was in 1944 the editor of Weird Tales, whose January, March, May, July, September, and November 1944 issues can be seen on the Internet Archive.
  • Raymond A. Palmer edited Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures in 1944. On the Internet Archive one can see the January, March, May, September, and December issues of Amazing Stories and the February, April, June, and October issues of Fantastic Adventures.
  • W. Scott Peacock edited Jungle Stories and Planet Stories in 1944. No issues of Jungle Stories are available on the Internet Archive, which may be just as well, but the site does have the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter issues of Planet Stories.

Best Professional Artist
  • Earle K. Bergey in 1944 provided cover art for Captain Future, Startling Stories, and Thrilling Wonder Stories. His ISFDB has links to the entries for the issues he provided covers for, where his art can be seen.
  • Margaret Brundage provided the cover art for the May 1944 issue of Weird Tales and to the story "Iron Mask" within that issue. If her ISFDB entry is to be believed then that is all she did in 1944.
  • Boris Dolgov did the cover for the March 1944 of Weird Tales. He also provided interior art for every 1944 issue of the magazine, so if you browse through the links given with Dorothy McIlwraith above you will see more examples of his work.
  • Matt Fox did the cover for the November 1944 issue of Weird Tales. He also provided interior art for the poem "The Path Through the Marsh" and story "The Weirds of the Woodcarver" in the September issue of the magazine.
  • Paul Orban appears not to have done any cover art in 1944, but he did interior art in every issue of Astounding Science Fiction that year, so check out the links given with John W. Campbell above for examples of his work, which are typically credited simply to "Orban".
  • William Timmins did all the 1944 covers for Astounding Science Fiction, apart from the July issue, so follow the links given above in Best Editor for John W. Campbell to see examples of his work.

Best Fanzine
Joe Siclari and Edie Stern of the Fanac Fan History Project have put together a Retro Hugo Awards page for Fan Hugo Materials for Work Published in 1944, with links to scanned copies of the finalist fanzines from 1944: The Acolyte (edited by Francis T. Laney and Samuel D. Russell), Diablerie (edited by Bill Watson), Futurian War Digest (edited by J. Michael Rosenblum), Shangri L’Affaires (edited by Charles Burbee), Voice of the Imagi-Nation (edited by Forrest J. Ackerman and Myrtle R. Douglas), and Le Zombie (edited by Bob Tucker and E.E. Evans).

Best Fan Writer
The FANAC Retro Hugo Awards page for Fan Hugo Materials for Work Published in 1944 also links to examples of writing in 1944 by the fan writer finalists, who are Fritz Leiber, Morojo (Myrtle R. Douglas), J. Michael Rosenblum, Jack Speer, Bob Tucker, and Harry Warner, Jr.

And that's it. I hope readers find this useful. Have fun reading and voting in the Hugo Awards.
Hugo Award Cat

The spice did not flow: "Jodorowsky's Dune" (2013)

This was shown in the Irish Film Institute as the opening film in their season of films by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Unlike the others however this is not a film directed by the crazy Chilean but a documentary made by one Frank Pavich about Jodorowsky's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to film Frank Herbert's novel Dune in the early 1970s. The film recounts how the art house success of The Holy Mountain put Jodorowsky in a position where he could choose whatever he wanted for his next project, and he choose to film Dune, despite not having read the book.

Jodorowsky seems to have been a persuasive fellow and managed to assemble an impressive if not entirely conventional team to serve as the film's cast and crew, with Moebius, H.R. Giger, and Chris Foss providing conceptual art, Pink Floyd and Magma signed up to do the music, Dan O'Bannon for special effects, and so on. Orson Welles was recruited to play Baron Harkonnen (lured in by the the promise that the chefs of his favourite restaurant would be on hand to cook his meals) and Salvador Dali was to play the Padishah Emperor. Dali insisted that he would only appear if he was to be the highest paid actor in the world, so Jodorowsky offered him $100,000 per minute of screen time and then made plans to limit the screen time used to the bare minimum and arranged for the creation of robot Dali that could double up for the artist. David Carradine, Mick Jagger and Gloria Swanson were lined up for other roles. And Jodorowsky's 11 year old son was to play Paul Atreides, because why not.

An enormous amount of pre-production work appears to have gone into the project, including the creation of a huge book of storyboards and notes on how shots and effects would be realised. But no footage whatsoever of the film was ever shot. To be made the film needed Hollywood onboard, but none of the studios were willing to entrust the big budget required to an art film weirdo like Jodorowsky. Somewhat ironically, in the early 1980s they entrusted a much bigger budget to David Lynch, a different art film weirdo, whose version of Dune was a commercial flop (though it has its admirers).
So Jodorowsky's Dune was never made and vies with Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon for the title of greatest unmade film of all time. The project seems not to have been a complete failure, however. Jodorowsky and Moebius recycled ideas they had developed for the film into the enormously successful comic The Incal. For H.R. Giger involvement in Jodorowsky's Dune was his entree into the world of cinema art design and the wider fame and fortune that came his way through his work on Alien. And allegedly the book of notes and storyboards was ripped off for every Hollywood science fiction film of the later 1970s and 1980s. The documentary may perhaps be over-egging its claims here, but it does have some striking juxtapositions of storyboard images with scenes from Star Wars and others.

This then is an engagingly made documentary about another film that does not exist. It helps that Jodorowsky is so engaging and that they have the original Dune concept art to animate to good effect. The music (by Kurt Stenzel) is also very evocative of the 1970s.

image sources:

Chris Foss spaceship ( Jodorowsky's Dune)

Moebius story board (Open Culture: Moebius' Storyboards & Concept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune)

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Where to start with classic Doctor Who?

Over on popular social media site Facebook, one of my pals said she was planning to explore the world of classic Doctor Who and I took it upon myself to recommend two stories by each classic Doctor as an introduction (one from each seemed simply too few). As part of my campaign to become a major force in Doctor Who fandom, I present my list here, with non-spoilery notes as to why I have picked them. If you are classic-Who curious, consider starting here. If you are already familiar with classic-Who, consider leaving comments berating me for my poor choices.

First Doctor
The First Doctor was played by William Hartnell, from 1963 to 1966. Initially the Doctor is almost anti-heroic, having basically kidnapped two school teachers and taken them with him and his granddaughter on his travels through time and space. At first it is the disgruntled school teachers who fulfil the more heroic roles required by the plot, but that gradually changes.
  • "The Daleks" - the second story from the First Doctor and the series' first not set on Earth (in classic Doctor Who it was not unusual for stories to be set on other planets). This is notable for its introduction of the titular Daleks, whose massive popularity is said to have pushed the series in a more science-fictiony direction than originally envisaged.
  • "The Tenth Planet" - the last story from the First Doctor, as William Hartnell was retiring due to ill health (one of the episodes had to be hastily rewritten to explain the Doctor's absence, as Hartnell was too ill to record it). The story introduces the Cybermen, who would go on to be the other one of Doctor Who's star monsters, and it ends with the astonishing twist of the dying Doctor transforming into someone else (something that is now unremarkable in Doctor Who but back then was a real "with one bound, Jack was free" moment).

Second Doctor
The Second Doctor was played by Patrick Troughton, from 1966 to 1969. The recordings of many of his stories were wiped by the BBC, so picking ones to recommend is not easy.
  • "Power of the Daleks" - this is the first Second Doctor story. As the title suggests, it features Daleks, as apparently the production team decided was a good idea to have familiar monsters while the audience found their feet with the strange new Doctor. Important caveat: all original visual recordings of this story were lost, but home audio recordings have been combined with new animation to recreate the story; if you fear animation this may not be the story for you.
  • "The War Games" - this is the last Second Doctor story. it goes on a bit (ten 25 minute episodes). At the start it appears to be a straightforward historical adventure set on the Western Front in the First World War, before we discover that something else entirely is going on. The story is notable for the first appearance en masse of the Time Lords, the Doctor's own people, from whom he is estranged.

Third Doctor
The Third Doctor was played by Jon Pertwee, from 1970 to 1974. Doctor Who is now in colour. Initially the Third Doctor finds himself marooned on the Earth, with UNIT (a military organisation whose members serve as helpful cannon fodder) providing a larger supporting cast than previously seen.
  • "Inferno" - the Doctor is drawn towards the Inferno project, where scientists are working to drill through the Earth's crust to access the limitless stores of energy to be found down below. Things start to go very wrong, and thanks to an audacious plot device we see them going wrong twice. As well as the UNIT army types, this also features their scientific advisor, Dr. Liz Shaw (played by Caroline John), one of the great Doctor Who assistants.
  • "Terror of the Autons" For this one the Doctor is still stuck on Earth, but now he must deal with an attempted invasion by the Autons, plastic people animated by a malign alien intelligence (who later appeared in the first new Doctor Who story). Worse, the story introduces his great adversary, the Master (played by Roger Delgado), another Time Lord, an old friend of the Doctor, but also a psychopath seeking power and his own advancement. And if that wasn't enough, there is a character from Northern Ireland.

Fourth Doctor
The Fourth Doctor was played by Tom Baker, from 1974 to 1981. The Fourth Doctor is my Doctor, as little me started watching the series with his first story. I find it hard to narrow his stories down to just two, not just because of my familiarity with them but because I genuinely think that the first three seasons of the Fourth Doctor are the highlight of the show's entire history, with almost the entirety of the stories being all-killer-no-filler.
  • "The Seeds of Doom" - beginning in Antarctica before moving to rural England, this story's themes of infection and transformation are reminiscent of both Alien and The Thing, both of which came out several years after this was broadcast. It also features one of the all-time great barking mad human villains.
  • "The Robots of Death" - this is set on an alien world where decadent humans have creepy art deco robots to do all the work for them. The Doctor lands on a sand miner, on which a small group of humans and their robot crew are extracting valuable minerals from sand storms, only the humans are being mysteriously murdered. The writing and characterisation is very strong in this one and the art design of the robots is also impressive. The story features Leela, the Doctor's knife-wielding savage companion, impressively portrayed by Louise Jameson.

Fifth Doctor
The Fifth Doctor was played by Peter Davison from 1982 to 1984. My recollection of this Doctor is that he was surprisingly un-dynamic and spent a lot of his time being sad about how things turned out.
  • "Earthshock" - massive caveat, I have not seen since this since it was first broadcast, but I remember it packing a real punch and being packed full of what 2000 AD readers know as Thrill Power. The story features the surprise return of an old enemy (the surprise being somewhat spoiled by their appearance on the DVD of the story) and one of the more downbeat endings in Doctor Who's history).
  • "The Caves of Androzani" - the last Fifth Doctor story, this one was written by great Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes and sees the Doctor caught up in a complex struggle over between a corrupt plutocrat and a phantom-of-the-opera style robot builder of questionable sanity.

Sixth Doctor
The Sixth Doctor was played by Colin Baker from 1984 to 1986. It is a bit harder to pick stories from Colin Baker's tenure as there are not that many of them (those three years include 18 months when the show was on hiatus). Also, the programme is somewhat on the slide in these years, with Colin Baker's entire second season taken up with the frankly terrible "Trial of a Timelord". But there is still some good stuff in there.
  • "Vengeance on Varos" - on the titular planet the apathetic population can watch live torture on their television screens and if they don't like decisions by the planet's leader they can vote to give him electric shocks. Meanwhile a creepy slug-like alien (played by Nabil Shaban, a fascinating character in his own right) is pushing the Varosians into an unequal trade deal. The violence in the story was controversial, despite the anti-violence theme of the story, but I suspect that by our standards it would look pretty tame.
  • "The Two Doctors" - the Sixth Doctor meets up with the Second Doctor! And they find themselves up against warlike aliens the Sontarans and some other gourmand aliens who have travelled to Earth in order to eat people. Somewhat unusually, the aliens land in Spain rather than in England. I think this one has a poor reputation, but I remember it as being an enjoyable romp.

Seventh Doctor
The Seventh Doctor was played by Sylvester McCoy from 1987 to 1989. His tenure is the hardest for me to pick stories to recommend. For all that I still like his portrayal of the character, the stories he was given are generally poor and are marked by something of a collapse in production values. I have also seen relatively few of his stories in their entirety, both because I was at a stage of my life when watching television no longer seemed a priority and because they were not really worth watching. Perhaps I am missing some gems here, in which case I invite readers to point out my errors in the comments.
  • "Remembrance of the Daleks" - in a burst of metafictionality, the Doctor returns to London in 1963 just before the broadcast of the first episode of Doctor Who, only to find that the Daleks are trying another of their invasions. While perhaps the story is not the strongest, this is pretty atmospheric and features one of the greatest end-of-episode cliff-hangers.
  • "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" - I remember this as being set in some kind of strange alien circus and being a bit weird. Features clowns.

I hope you found that interesting, whether you are familiar or otherwise with classic Doctor Who. It has certainly piqued my interest in rewatching some old stories.

image source:

The First Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and the Daleks (Randomwhoness: Revision, reversion and The Daleks (1963/4))

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

"Tomb of the Cybermen" (1967)

This is a four episode story from the popular TV series Doctor Who. In this one the second Doctor and his pals Jamie (Scottish) and Victoria (Victorian) land on mysterious planet called Telos and fall in with some space archaeologists, who are looking for the eponymous tomb of the Cybermen. Said tomb turns out to be some class of trap laid by the rubbish cyborgs, though even after a close watching of this story I am still unclear as to what the Cybermen were hoping to accomplish that could not have been accomplished by not entombing themselves. For all the plot problem, the story just about deserves its reputation as a classic of early Doctor Who, with the episode two cliffhanger of the Cybermen waking up and bursting out of their cells being one of the programme's most memorable. The story also features the great stock character of Doctor Who, the human villain who thinks that by doing some kind of favour to implacable aliens they will assist him (usually him, though in this case also a her) in conquering the Earth; this always ends well.

Tomb of the Cybermen follows directly after Evil of the Daleks, in which said Daleks killed (nay, exterminated) Victoria's father. There is a quite touching scene in this story in which the Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton) talks to Victoria about grief and her memory of her father, referring obliquely to his own lost loved ones. In days of yore Doctor Who was primarily aimed at children, so I cannot but think this scene was intended as a comfort to any children who might themselves have lost family members.

The story also features Cybermats, which are kind of like rats that have been turned into animal versions of the Cybermen or something. I think they are meant to be threatening, but as is the way of such things they end up looking quite cute.

These days however Tomb of the Cybermen is often noted for its problematic racial stereotyping - Middle Eastern people are shifty while Africans (or the story's one African) are muscleheads. And Americans are all "gee golly" etc., showing yet again the downpression and negative stereotyping white Americans must endure on a daily basis. I thought maybe the stereotyping was not the worst I have ever seen, but then I am notorious for my unwoke nature.

image source (Wikipedia)

Monday, December 16, 2019

Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip ‘I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper’ (1978)

All the space stuff I was doing over the summer decided me that I wanted to download this amazing tune, which is one of very few instances in which a dance troupe released a record (joined of course by the charming Ms Brightman). Musical flourishes reference popular science fiction themes, while we are provided with lyrics to enjoy such as the following:

Tell me, Captain Strange, do you feel my devotion?
Or are you like a droid, devoid of emotion?
Encounters one and two are not enough for me -
What my body needs is close encounter three!

And then there is the chorus:

I lost my heart to a Starship Trooper!
Crashing light in hyperspace!
Fighting for the Federation!
Hand in hand we’ll conquer space!

This obviously is from before Blake’s 7 turned people against federations.

Don’t waste your time reading my words – play the video and appreciate the tune in all its fabulousness.

image source (Wikipedia)

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Derek Jarman corner: one exhibition, two films

Derek Jarman died some time ago but there is currently a retrospective exhibition of his work on in the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and I think it is worth your time. I somehow found myself at the opening, where there was free beer, which meant I had a quick viewing but will need to go back to examine it in more detail. The exhibition has considerable audio-visual elements to it, with various of his film work being shown there, including Super8 classics like A Journey to Avebury and the various pop videos he directed (the latter sadly being shown in non-ideal circumstances - a monitor in a corridor at a small-child's eye level).

The Irish Film Institute has been showing a season of his feature films. Last week I caught his Caravaggio from 1986, which deals impressionistically with the painter's life, focussing in particular on his relationship with a Roman bruiser (who becomes his model) and the bruiser's wife, played by Sean Bean and Tilda Swinton respectively; this was one of Bean's first screen roles and he starts as he means to go on. Caravaggio himself is played by Nigel Terry while various other stars of the British stage and screen show up in a variety of roles. The film looks stunning, despite its all having been filmed indoors in some bunker complex, with the lighting deliberately mirroring the chiaroscuro effect of Caravaggio's art. It is in some respects impressionistic rather than plot based, but that is not a criticism.Caravaggio is rather focussed on the artist's homosexuality, with one particularly memorable and homoerotic scene being the one where the painter throws gold coins to the topless bruiser, who takes them in his mouth. Nevertheless, the film is somewhat restrained in its depiction of homosexuality: although Jarman was keen to push the envelope, there was only so far it could be pushed in 1986. In other respects the film sanitises Caravaggio's life, downplaying the extent to which he was always killing people in drunken brawls. But it remains a classic of arthouse cinema that I recommend to all readers. If stuck for time the Pet Shop Boys video for 'It's A Sin' is the redux version. Yesterday I saw Jarman's Edward II, from 1991. Adapted from Christopher Marlowe's play (from 1594 or thereabouts). This film is more focussed on narrative than Caravaggio, but it similarly rejects realism, being shot entirely in what seems to be a concrete bunker with anachronistic elements deliberately embraced. It tells the story of that unfortunate king, whose love for another man shocks the establishment, ultimately leading to his overthrow and murder. Tilda Swinton plays the Edward's queen, whose neglect by her husband drives her into the arms of Mortimer, his main enemy (played in turn by Nigel Terry). I felt a bit like the king's enemies got the better roles here, with Swinton and Terry shining over Steven Waddington as Edward, though I was also impressed by Andrew Tiernan as Gaveston, the king's lover. In contrast to Caravaggio, this film really goes for it in terms of gayness, with the opening scene being Gaveston learning that he is free to return to England while two sailors get it on in the bed he is sharing with them. Jarman tries to present Edward as some kind of gay rights martyr, with at one point his army being a load of protesters waving Outrage banners, but I remained somewhat unconvinced - Edward still comes across as a weak figure and the author of his own misfortunes, who is unwilling to subordinate his private fancies to the needs of the state (compare with Shakespeare's Henry V and his renunciation of Falstaff on his accession to the throne). Nevertheless, the film is a fascinating piece of work, which left me eager to investigate further both the work of its director and the playwright on whose work it is based.


Derek Jarman (The Quietus)

Title page of 1594 printing of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II (Wikipedia: Edward II of England)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

TV: An episode of "Game of Thrones" (2017)

When I was on an aeroplane to Canada I took the opportunity to watch a random episode of popular TV series Game of Thrones to see what I could make of the plot. Of course, because I do not live under a stone I have some familiarity with what this programme is about, even though I have never seen a full episode. This one featured the Blondie Lady and her pals (who include the Short Guy) deciding to send a message to the Curley-Haired Guy, inviting him to join their gang. Meanwhile the Lady Who Shags Her Brother was rallying other people to fight against the Blondie Lady by warning them that, like her late father (probably a Blond Guy), she was some kind of mentalist.

There wasn’t too much in the way of gratuitous female nudity, though the Blondie Lady’s Assistant did get her kit off at some point. There was also an incident in which people on a ship were captured by pirates, I suspect for plot device reasons, while another guy had his skin cut off to save him from a repulsive disease.

It was all pretty dialogue heavy and focussed on people trying to form alliances and test each other’s loyalty. For me that was quite appealing, making it like an updated version of a classic BBC drama like I, Claudius. I can definitely see why people like this and may one day proceed with my plan to watch the very first episode of season 1 and then the very last episode of the final season so that I will know all about the Game of Thrones.
image source:

The Blondie Lady, the Short Guy and some other people recreate their favourite U2 album cover (Guardian: Game of Thrones recap: season seven, episode two: Stormborn)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Film: "A Star Is Born" (2018)

On a flight to Canada with my mother I watched this film, which is the one about Jack, an ageing alcoholic cock-rocker, played by Bradley Cooper (who also directs), who meets, discovers and falls in love with up-and-coming pop singer Ally, played by Lady Gaga. The film is a loose remake of two previous films and the plot is broadly formulaic (her trajectory is upward while his leads down into the bottom of a whisky glass, with tragedy ensuing) yet I nevertheless found it quite affecting and my hard heart was melted by the sad ending (curiously a slightly different sad ending to the one I expected, which may or may not be one similar to the Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand previous versions).

One thing I found mildly amusing was that Jack meets Ally when she is performing in a bar most of whose performers are transvestites. To me this seemed like an ironic nod to how Lady Gaga was once dogged by strange rumours that she was secretly a man (or a transsexual, or a something (you know how it is with rumours)). I was also struck by how this was a film without villains. Ally acquires a manager who is set up to some extent in opposition to Jack, but while he is a bit smooth, to me he does not come across as a bad person or as someone exploiting Ally; when he vetoes a joint tour between Ally and an increasingly erratic Jack, he is clearly doing so to protect his client. That said, his actions do precipitate the final tragedy, but the real villain here is alcoholism and Jack’s inability to moderate his drinking.

To some extent Jack and Ally are presented as inhabiting briefly overlapping musical words, his one of blues-bore country rock and hers a more pop sound. Somewhat surprisingly I did find myself thinking that Jack’s music sounded a lot more appealing than the pop stuff (though I suppose the film’s director is going to give himself the good tunes). I may have to start investing in records by Stevie Ray Vaughan and similar.

Finally readers will be pleased to hear that this film features Sam Elliot (the cowboy from The Big Lebowski). He basically plays the same part as he does in The Big Lebowski.
image source (Guardian: A Star Is Born soundtrack review – instant classics full of Gaga's emotional might)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Podcast: "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" (2018)

This is a dramatisation by Sweet Talk Productions' Julian Simpson of HP Lovecraft's popular short novel of the same name. It is available to stream or download from BBC Radio 4. It is made in the style of one of those true crime podcasts that are popular with the young people, with the set-up here being that the Mystery Machine podcast people are investigating the eponymous character's mysterious disappearance from a locked room in a secure psychiatric institution.

I think this would be fun to listen to if you if were unfamiliar with the source material, as the true crime podcast stuff is done so straight that even I at the start found myself about to look up the previous cases the Mystery Machine had been involved in investigating. But even having read the original a number of times, I found myself gripped by this. Partly the narrative takes some twists and turns that bring it along different paths to the original, with Lovecraft aficionados noticing that it increasingly draws from another of his works. Partly also there is the power of the audio drama format. Being able to hear but not see is an extremely effective device for horror, as the mind's eye draws in the blanks in a way far more terrifying than any film's special effects could manage. And there are some truly terrifying moments in this, like in the first episode when an old house is being explored or in particular the later episode where one of the investigators is poking around in an abandoned trailer home. The cast are also excellent, as is the appealing music by Tim Elsenburg that ends each episode.

I therefore recommend this work highly and will be keeping an eye out for future productions by Sweet Talk and Mr Simpson.

Sadly The Case of Charles Dexter Ward failed to be nominated in the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) category in the Hugo Awards.

images (Sweet Talk Productions)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Film: "Midsommar" (2019)

Ari Aster was widely praised for Hereditary and now he has returned with this offering, which can still be seen in the cinemas. You may well be broadly aware of the film’s premise, which is that a bunch of American students head off to take part in the midsummer festival of a weirdo cult in a remote part of Sweden; high-jinks ensue when the less appealing aspects of the cult's way of life become apparent. Unusually for a horror film, the action mostly takes place during daylight (the festival is so far north that there is almost 24 hour sunlight). It also takes place in a strange alternate universe where none of the characters have ever heard of either The Wicker Man or Nazi paganism. Of course, many people have never heard of these things, but the American characters are mostly students of folklore and folk traditions, so you would think that both of these would have impinged on their consciousness.

The spectre of The Wicker Man does of course haunt this film, with its similar basic setup, but the film plays with that a bit, using deliberate misdirection. At one point we learn that each year the cultists choose a young lady to be their May Queen, and we think we know where that is going; we are wrong. But the film is also its own thing. Where Howie was alone in investigating Summerisle, here there are a group of American visitors, joined by an amiable English couple (whom I got very fond of and wished they were appearing in a film with a more pleasant outcome for them). The film plays on the tensions between the visitors that in large part distract them from the more unsavoury aspects of the Swedish community’s life: two of the Americans are research rivals, while in turn the romantic relationship of Dani and Christian (mmmm) is in the throes of disintegration.

That relationship is interesting, with the two strongly played by Jack Reynor as Christian and Florence Pugh as Dani. It is easy to see Christian as a bit of a dickhead and I certainly found myself initially thinking of him like that, but I think there is a bit more to him, at least with respect to his relationship to Dani – he is in this relationship that has really run its course but is unable to leave her because she is in a very bad place and to do so would make him a heel (or so he seems to think, perhaps it would be better for everyone if he were to cut and run). The bros he hangs out with are however almost completely terrible.

It should be noted that Pugh’s performance as Dani is particularly striking in the sense of strength and fragility it presents. Anyone who has seen her in Lady Macbeth or the not-good film The Falling will not find this a surprise.
Another thing that should be noted about the film is the bright colour palette, which is not too much of a surprise for a film mostly taking place under the heady lights of a Scandinavian summer. What is particularly striking about this is the way the film evokes the magic mushrooms consumed by the characters at key points in the story, with colours and flowers pulsing in an unstoppable manner. Kudos should also go to the musical soundtrack by Bobby Krlic of the Haxan Cloak, which includes both the tunes performed by the cultists (like the Summerislers, they are a musical bunch) and the more usual kind of scored accompaniment, yet even the latter feels as much like part of the sound design as something meant to just signify mood to the audience. In this it reminded me of the soundtrack to Dunkirk, and I was going to launch into a discussion about how this represents and interesting new direction for soundtracks, until I recalled seeing the same kind of thing recently in the 1977 film Suspiria.

I am however not sure if Bobby Krlic did the song about the bear that appears not in the film but in an advertisement for the Bear In A Cage novelty tie-in product.

Film also features weird sex scene.


välkommen (Guardian: Midsommar: what the hell just happened? Discuss with spoilers)

Handing on the torch (Vanity Fair: Midsommar’s Showstopping Flower Dress Was So Heavy They Hid a Chair Under It)