Tuesday, 30 September 2008

She's back - Sarah Jane returns!!

So here, at last, a mere five days after promising to write a few comments about the first story in the new run of 'The Sarah Jane Adventures', I'm finally getting around the putting my thoughts to blog, as it were. Apologies. Life just gets in the way sometimes. Anyway, on with the motley as Mr Dickens might say...

One of the great delights of the success of the return of Dr Who is that it's resuscitated the career of one of the finest actresses to have graced the classic series in the often thankless role of 'companion' (or Dr Who 'girl' as they were sometimes rather dismissively known). Elisabeth Sladen played the lively journalist Sarah Jane Smith for three years back in the 1970s and while the actress put her acting career on hold to raise a family years ago, the character of Sarah Jane still called out to her and she often reappeared on TV in special episodes or, more recently, a series of audio adventures. When the Tv series returned in 2005 we could dare to hope that Sarah Jane might pay a visit too...and when she reappeared in 2006's 'School Reunion' it was like meeting an old, beloved friend for the first time in ages and catching up with what she'd been up to in the intervening years. Better yet, the character was then gifted her own spin-off show, involving many of the same creatives - and series one of 'The Sarah Jane Adventures', screened on CBBC last year, was an absolute joy, a triumph of the sort of TV story-telling values which informed my own youth back in the (cough) 1960s and 1970s.

If you haven't been watching because you think it's a kid's show (well, it is, but it doesn't exclude us oldies) then shame on you. Sarah Jane's own show is imbued with the same joy and spirit which informs the parent show, telling stories about humanity in the face of extremes and telling them with a warmth and wit which still seems beyond the ability of the more earnest and eager-to-be-adult 'Torchwood'. With Sarah Jane herself having achieved some kind of 'closure' on her life with the Doctor after suddenly encountering again thirty years after their adventures together ended, Sarah Jane still has issues. Sarah, always the most interesting and identifiable of the classic series companions (which is why she's the only one who's come back or who needs to come back - her story is really, potentially, the story of all of them post-Doctor) still has issues; her time with the Doctor has cut her off from human relationships and she's spend the intervening years, as we saw in 'School Reunion' back in 2006, trying to fill the Doctor-shaped void in her life by carrying on his good work on Earth and investigating extra-terrestrial phenomena as any good investigative journalist would. But it's been at a cost and, as the series opened in the 2006 Christmas debut episode 'Invasion of the Bane', we meet a Sarah Jane who is cold and remote, frosty and unapproachable and who very definately, as an older woman who never married and never had a family of her own, doesn't want a gaggle of kids running around getting in her way. Circumstances conspire against her, however. and before long she's got herself an adopted alien-construct son and a feisty young neighbour who's keen to join the newly-established Sarah Jane/Scooby gang. The first season of ten full episodes (five two-part stories) combined sci-fi thrills and real emotion. Sarah's neighbour Maria (Yasmin Paige) is as fractured as Sarah (maybe that's what brings them together); Maria's living with her father Alan (Joseph Milsom)after an acrimonious divorce from the flighty Chrissie (Juliet Cowan) who, despite the fact she's now living with her new boyfriend, the mysterious Ivan, is still sticking her nose into the affairs of her abandoned family. And as Sarah's adopted son Luke (Thomas Knight) struggles to come to terms with and understand humanity, new boy Clyde (Daniel Anthony) joins the group to provide the one-liners and a bit of muscle every now and again. The first series mix of runaround sci-fi (Warriors of Kudlak, Revenge of the Slitheen) with more contemplative drama-led stuff (Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?, The Lost Boy) was a real revelation, often touching more emotional basis than ever Dr Who itself and finally rounding out Sarah Jane (particularly in Whatever Happened..., one of the finest stories in any of the three modern Who series) into a real character who actually had a life before part one of 'The Time Warrior' way back in 1973.

Series two kicks off in fine style with 'The Last Sontaran', written by Phil Ford who wrote so many episodes of Gerry Anderson's recent CGI re-imagining of 'Captain Scarlet' for ITV (whoe then proceeded to throw the series away in the middle of one of their inane shouty Saturday morning kid's shows). It seems that no sooner has Sarah Jane adjusted to life with a surrogate family than it looks as if that life is going to be wrenched away from her as Maria's dad Alan has been offered the job of a lifetime - in Washington DC, if you please. Accepting the post will mean uprooting Maria from her home, her scool and her extraordinary life with Sarah Jane Smith. Meanwhile a nearby research station has detected odd lights in the sky and when Sarah Jane and co investigate they find Sarah's oldest enemy lurking in the forest. Like last year's 'Revenge of the Slitheen' this first story reintroduces a recent enemy from the Dr Who stable - and for Sarah the Sontaran, the first alien she encountered in her time with the Doctor, is the stuff of nightmares indeed. Neatly following on from this year's Dr Who two-parter 'The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky', this story sees the last survivor of the doomed Sontaran invasion stranded on Earth and desperate to exact revenege for his race by using Earth's satellites to set off the planet's arsenal of nuclear weapons (the stakes are never low for Sarah Jane). There are some lovely set pieces; the Sontaran 'unmasking' is a masterpiece of CGI (even if the Sontaran head-mask itself still doesn't quite have the real 'meaty' flesh look of the original from over thirty years ago!), the Sontaran silver golfball ship looks genuinely impressive and there's always fun to be had watching a monster chasing people around a crackling forest, raygun blazing. But the story's heart is in its emotional sequences, where Maria agonises over leaving Sarah and the gang. Elisabeth Sladen plays Sarah's reaction beautifully; Sarah resorts to her default 'distant' setting (God, this woman is damaged!) and the promising Yasmin Paige is full of angst and insecurity. But in the end she makes the only decision she can and the moral for the kiddies is that wherever your friends are and however often you get to see them, they'll always be your friends.

A good rousing start for season two then and new challenges for Sarah Jane as a new family move in across the road and become involved with their mysterious neighbour. It's sad to see the departure of Yasmin Paige and her gang (particularly Juliet Cowan as Chrissie who came good in the end) but, as with all the new Who family series, change is all part of the formula which keeps this series working. So set aside your preconceptions and make some time for Sarah Jane and the Bannerman Road gang; not only does it pass the time amiably until the TARDIS drifts back into our orbit, it really is a damned fine show in its own right...

Friday, 26 September 2008

The Listening Post 3 - Back to the '80s

British newspapers like to give Stuff away. Any old Stuff. Good for the circulation. Anything goes - books, DVDs, CDs...if it's likely to drag in a few more punters then they'll make it available for you (and/or me!) to snip out a voucher and make sure we trot down to our local Smith's or Tesco to collect the latest freebie, whether we want it or not. But to be fair, sometimes the pickings are rich indeed and actually worth having. The Daily Mail, in particular, is very keen on hooking its readers with 'collections' and my cupboards are full of half-collected war film DVDs, episodes of 'classic' BBC costume dramas and, I've just noticed, a complete collection of How to Speak French CDs. Mais oui! The Mail has also caused a bit of a stir in the music industry recently by giving away really good Stuff - brand new CDs from popular artists either before they hit the shops and sometimes even instead of. Prince, McFly, Ray Davies (a particularly good one last year) and...er...UB40 have all premiered their new recordings via slipcase giveaways in the Daily Mail.

But, as a child of the 1980s (well, not exactly a child but the 1980s is the decade I'm most fond of as it coinciding with the growth of the new-fangled CD industry, my 'career' as a mobile DJ (or rather, an immobile DJ as I tend to be based in the same place every week!) and the simple fact that a lot of the music was very good indeed. Imagine my excitement - feel it! - as the Mail announced a giveaway series of 12 original 1980s CDs, many of which I'd never actually gotten around to collecting on CD (and one or two of which, I'll admit, I'd never really wanted). So I got the lot. And I listened to 'em in the car. And they took me back to more innocent days o0f fiddly synths and boys in sweaters, unfeasible mullets and the early days of androgynous boy/girl singers. And I thought I'd write about them...

First out of the blocks came Spandau Ballet's white boy soul classic True. This was Spandau Ballet's career-saving third album, from 1983, released on the wake of their less-than-stellar second LP Paint Me Down, a clattering collection of dance anthems which just didn't chime with the Nerw Romantic audience of their first album. True saw the boys donning natty suits, thin ties and teaming up with slick producers Jolley and Swain. The resulting album was an international smash but even at the time it seemed a bit bland and lifeless, the group going through the motions and becoming respectable for the sake of their long-term future. There's some forgettable stuff here but the good stuff's as strong as ever it was - Communication rocks, Lifeline is slick, True is the ultimate 'last dance' smoocheroe and Gold remains a TV sports show's wet dream. True did the band no real favours - they tried to repeat the formula with the anodyne Parade the next year but it was all downhill from hereon.

The Human League's Dare remains one of the most influential albums of the 1980s, marrying hypnotic electronic beats with - gasp - good pop tunes! It sounds a bit primitive by today's standards but the combination of Phil Oakey's cold vocals and the burbling synth beats still packs a punch and how can anyone not love an album which contains not only the pop classic Don't You Want me but also Love Action, Open Your Heart, Sound of the Crowd and great stuff like Do or Die and The Things That Dreams Are Made Of. The League were scuppered by a work ethic which pitted perfectionism against laziness (with disastrous consequences!) but Dare is still a great pop album. Spin-off group Heaven 17 followed up Penthouse and Pavement with the more sophisticated - but less likable - The Luxury Gap. It's a meandering album but there's some good pop here - Crushed by the Wheels of Industry, Who'll Stop the Rain, We Live So Fast as well as Temptation and Come Live With Me. Of its time but still worth a listen.

If there was a title for twee-est pop band of all time (and there should be - see to it, someone!) Haircut 100 would win it in perpetuity. Their debut album Pelican West is all chunky sweaters and hopelessly-cloying song titles - Lemon Firebrigade, Milk Film, Baked Bean - but, with Nick Heyward fronting, they could still kick up a funky lick (man). As well as the hits Love Plus One and Favourite Shirts there's Calling Captain Autumn (see what I mean about twee?) and Love's Got Me In Triangles (even though it references Toblerones)which feature mean bass-playing and remain endlessly catchy. Haircut 100, in retrospect, were always going to be a short-term propositon and Hayward was probably right to bale out during the recording of their second album - it's just a shame his promising solo career fizzled out so soon.

I've never been a fan of Jim Steinman's particular brand of bombast. Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell left me colder than very cold thing - and so it is with the Steinman-produced Faster Than the Speed of Light for gravel-voiced Welsh chanteuse and purveyor of big hair, Bonnie Tyler. This is painful stuff indeed, from the booming hit Total Eclipse of the Heart to pompous stuff like Take me Back and Have You Ever Seen the Rain? It's a Jungle Out There's okay though. Not for me.

I entered a fancy dress party as Adam Ant's Prince Charming once. There were two of us; I had the better costume but in the end it all boiled down to which of us could do the best Prince Charming dance (you may remember it, all arms in the air and odd foot movements). Damn my two left feet; I came second. I'm not bitter. Adam's Prince Charming album is still good fun. Blousy and theatrical it rattles from the rampant Scorpios, That Voodoo, S.E.X (oo-er!) and the shouty, raucous Ant Rap. Bold and exciting, it actually still sounds ahead of its time and it's quite a revelation.

In a similar vein to Spandau Ballet we find Paul Young's No Parlez, a strong but uninvolving collection of juddery 1980s pop led by Young's raspy vocals and the silver tongues of his backing group The Royal Family (featuring one Kim Cattrell amongst their number, fact fans!). The hits are, inevitably, the best, from the yearning Every Time You Go Away to the pulsing Come Back and Stay and Love of the Common People.

Listening to Terence Trent D'Arby's powerful debut Introducing the Hardline it's hard not to weep for a talent which should have gone on to huge international stardom. Here was our best shot at a homegrown Prince and this strong album feeatured a string of clever, inventive, hugely-memorable soul/funk tracks right up there with the best of the Minneapolis Purple Pain. The hit singles speak for themselves - If You Let Me Stay, Wishing Well, Sign Your Name - but Let's Go Forward is still in my brain now two weeks since I last heard it and I'll Never Turn My Back On You and Rain are other stand-outs. What a waste.

Riding the crest of the New Romantics of the early 1980s came Culture Club, here represented by the second album
Colour By Numbers. The album saw the band at their peak, with the irritating Karma Chameleon lodged at number one for six weeks in the summer of 1983. Colour By Numbers is a bit dull though with only It's A Miracle and Church of the Poison Mind making much of an impact.

So to Marillions's Misplaced Childhood- and I've never been much of a fan of Fish and his band's particular brand of sub-Genesis prog rock. This is the album where they went 'pop' though, with their hits Kayleigh and Lavender and the rest of it rather passed me by. Similarly Dexy's Midnight Runners' Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, an earnest and brass-heavy set of slightly under-produced 'soul' anthems recorded by angry young men for angry young men. Difficult to listen to these days because it's so of it's time but obviously Geno and There There My Dear, the two hits, are the ones to listen out for.

Finally to Simple Minds with Once Upon A Time. Their 1982 album New Gold Dream remains one of my favourite albums of all time - and I'm looking forward to seeing them live in December performing the whole album and, I'm sure, other tracks from their repertoire. This LP hails from 1985, just after their huge international hit Don't You (Forget About Me), the slick pop song which changed their style of music forever. This is Simple Minds-as-stadium-band and it's really not up to much. It's bland and lifeless, devoid of their characteristic passion; every song leaps out in a sea of over-production and seems to go on forever. It's not a bad album and there are a couple of tracks worth your time but it's a shame Simple Minds lost their creative edge in their quest for the Big Time.

So there ya go. Capsule comments on a handful of albums which, if not totally representative of the 1980s, give a pretty fair spread of the styles and trends of the decade. If you missed any of the Mail's freebies most (if not all) of these CDs are available for around the £3 mark from most online CD retailers and some of them are well worth a punt if you've an interest in music from the time before the rap and r'n'b explosion which has so stifled the modern music industry. But that's a whole other kettle of CDs...

See ya soon!! :)

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Dr Who: The Writer's Tale...

Bit delayed on the new content stuff but just popped in to heartily recommend an utterly wonderful new Dr Who book which landed with a thump (it's a chunky tome!) on my doormat today. You may have gathered that I'm a bit of a devotee of Dr Who - and let's face it, these days who isn't? (and I'd never have been writing that five years ago! ) and a huge admirer of the work of the series' showrunner/driving force, Russell T Davies. Just published is this brilliant new coffee table book (and it's so big you probably could actually use it as a coffee table) entitled 'The Writer's Tale' which consists of a year-long e-mail dialogue between Davies and Dr Who feature writer Benjamin Cook. The candid and fascinating e-mails between the two show how Davies shaped and structured and wrote the most recent series of Dr Who and while there are lots of lovely pictures of David Tennant and Daleks, it's the superb text which makes this such a joy . Davies really strips back the facade of the TV writer, laying bare his agonies and insecurities, revealing how he delays writing his scripts, spends so much time thinking about them he barely leaves himself time to actually write them. It's a vivid and compelling account of one extraordinarily-talented man's working practices and not only is it a cracking read in its own right (or write!), it's a marvellous inspiration to those of us deluded lesser mortals who occasionally sit behind a computer screen with pretentions of telling stories. I can't recommend this book highly enough so just go and get yourself a copy, pronto! Off now to read some more...

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Eden Lake...reviewed at last!!

I know, I know...so sue me. I crawled back in the wee small hours (hey, it was nearly midnight!) from my local movie emporium (Cineworld to you and me) having seen the latest British thriller-horror-I really don't know what it is
Eden Lake and bandied about promises of reviewing it here on this very blog the next day. And here I am, a mere seven days later, finally getting around to doing it. Oh well. What can I say? The roads to my blog are paved with good intentions and the best I can say is that I'll always get round to things eventually... Ahem.

So to Eden Lake - and really, even now, seven days on, it's a film which has still left a very firm - and frankly, rather disturbing - footprint on my cinematic consciousness. Written and directed by new boy James Watkins it's a movie which has slipped out without a lot of fanfare - which is such a shame as it really is something very special and very, very contemporary. On the surface it appears to be a film we've seen dozens of time before (well, if we watch a lot of modern horror films - which, I'm alarmed to discover, I do!); young couple wander off to ridiculously-isolated location - usually where they can't quite get a signal on their mobiles (how modern horror/thriller writers must loathe the ubiquity of the mobile) - for a spot of sunbathing and canoodling and, in the case of the scrawny Steve (Michbael Fassbender) a side-order of proposing-to-his-girlfriend. But things take a turn for the dodgy when a group of "feral kids" (copyright The Daily Mail) turn up on the same stretch of beach with their scary dog and start to antagonise the couple. But a bit of swearing and indecent exposure is just the start of it...and, trust me, you really won't like where it ends...

If you're new to the World of Stuff (welcome, please say hello!) I'm here to tell you that any film reviews won't be just recounting the plot and then saying "I really liked it" - that's no fun for you as a reader or me as a writer. I'd rather step back and look at a film as a piece of work - its style, its performances, its influences, its impact etc. Which is by way of saying I ain't going to tell you what happens at the end of Eden Lake or, for the matter, anywhere else in the film. Suffice to say that, having escaped from their first disturbing encounter with this group of kids things get worse and worse for Steven and Jenny (Kelly Reilly) especially when the kids steal their 4x4 and Steven decides to give them a stern talking to. One dead dog later (only spoiler, promise!) and it's all downhill from thereon...

So yes, we've seen "stuff" like this before - screaming teens running and hiding from something horrible chasing them through dark, crackling woods. But usually these films are populated by mutants, inbred redneck hicks, psycopaths, the odd alien. Eden Lake works - and is so bloody terrifying, if I'm honest - because the protaganists are kids. Just kids. Fifteen, sixteen - maybe younger, not much older. They're (hopefully) exaggerated versions of the sorts of kids we see lurking on street corners or bus stops, the sorts of kids we cross the road becausde we think they look a bit dodgy. Eden Lake is such a strong movie because there's the terrible fear that This Could Happen. I've a fairly pessimistic view of modern society (especially in the UK) and if you were to give me a soap box (please don't) I'd be up on it for hours. Eden Lake seems to manifest all those terrors we have about "kids today", the kids who have no parental role models, no respect for authority, no fear. These are the sorts of kids Eden Lake depicts and while I really, really hope there are no kids in Britain who could be capable of the atrocities this lot carry out, there's a terrible nagging fear that maybe this sort of thing isn't impossible, that it could happen to anyone if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And atrocities isn't too strong a word. Almost from the first scene - Steven picks Jenny up from work for their weekend away at a country wilderness about to be redeveloped into a housing estate by the lake - there's a sense of dread, and not just because we vaguely know what the movie's about. We really want Steven and Jenny to walk away, to go home, to go for a meal or watch the TV instead of plunging into the middle-of-nowhere for a bit of grey-sky sunbathing. But they don't and we know they won't - and as their situation gets more and more hopeless the feeling of unease and discomfort becomes stronger. The kids, led by the manipulative Brett (a superbly dark performance by Jack O'Connell), put Steven and Jenny through what I can only describe as a living Hell and while some of the kids start to display a bit of conscience and reget, Brett is so black-hearted he's utterly driven by vengeance and pure hatred.

Eden Lake will shock you. It may appall you or repulse you. It will sicken you. Terrible things happen to innocent people - not just Jenny and Steven. You may think some of it is of their own making (the narrative puts them into situations you'd hope real rational people would avoid) but you'll come out of the cinema a bit wobbly - and I admit I was genuinely shaken - because of the fact that it isn't a horror film, it isn't some supernatural slasher. Watkins clearly wanted to make a film about real people in a real situation and while there are times the film asks oblique questions about why kids turn out this way it only suggests half-answers (it's the parents!). One week later the film's still on my mind and it's only now that distance from it can allow me to think that it's an extreme, that, despite all the terrible things we hear on the news every day about the casual way kids seem to treat life, something like this can never really happen. There really aren't any kids out there, however broken their homes, who could do this sort of thing.

Because we really can't let ourselves think there could be...because that would be far, far mnore horrifying than any horror film ever made.

Blimey....that were a bit grim! Apologies for the Sunday night downer but I just felt I had to at least try to express the effect Eden Lake had on me last week. If you've a weak stomach, keep well away but if you want to watch something that's far more shocking than it is entertaining, or if you just want to watch a well-made British movie, Eden Lake is worth your time and your money.

Coming soon: The Listening Post 3 - Back to the 80s!/A retrospective on the 1970s Survivors on the eve of the BBC's much-antipated 'reimagining'/BBC TV's new Saturday night romp Merlin/ Dr Who embarks on 'The Long Game'...

Comments and opinions always welcomed!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Dr Who 2005 and Beyond...the Return of the Metaltron...

Watching ‘Dalek’ now – three years and a handful of more bombastic Dalek episodes later – it’s quite difficult to know what to make of it. As the resurrected series’ first ‘sit-up-and-take-notice’ episode since ‘Rose’ it stills packs a punch, it still reminds you how the series has changed (for the better) in its new century. Bigger, bolder, with special effects the old series could only wistfully dream of and, even in the story of a rampant monster on the loose intent on mass destruction, still able to pack the new emotional punch the series is looking for. But hindsight does strange things; looking at this story of the fractured survivor of a devastated race – that’d the Dalek as well as the Doctor - it’s really hard not to be coloured by the knowledge of the Dalek invasions to come, of the return of their maniacal creator in the most recent series finale, and of the fact that…well, actually, despite all the angst and the self-pity, this isn’t the last Dalek, not by the longest of long chalks.

Once again the series calls into the question its own peculiar timeline. ‘The Unquiet Dead’ suggests that time is in flux – nothing’s set in stone, nothing’s necessarily as it appears to be and things can change at any time in any time. This is the only way we can reconcile the enormous continuity problem thrown up by ‘Dalek’. Set in 2012, deep below the salt plains of Utah, Henry Van Statten is holding captive, in chains, a living alien artefact which plunged, screaming, to Earth years before. We know it, of course, but he doesn’t – and neither, presumably, does the rest of the human race. He calls it a ‘Metaltron’. As you would. But bearing in mind that, in Dr Who’s own TV future, the Daleks attack Earth en masse twice just a few years earlier – the battle of Canary Wharf with the Cybermen which concludes series two and the whole planet being invaded by Dalek battleships and the Earth itself being moved across the Galaxy at the end of series four – you’d think that there might just be someone out there who vaguely remembers any of it happening! Quite frankly it gives me a severe case of brain-ache to try and reconcile this any other way than by use of the ‘time in flux’ theory – it’s handy, it’s convenient, yet it somehow makes anything and everything that ever happens in the series almost seem a bit trivial because none of it necessarily happens in any timeline the Doctor finds himself. Whoops, there goes my brain, starting to ache a bit…

But back in 2005, the world of Dr Who is shiny and new and these are problems for the future (and, frankly, they’re ones which don’t seem to bother any of the ten million odd devotees the show now has so maybe I should just put my anorak away) and episode six of the new series (cleverly placed mid-season to give the show a useful publicity/ratings boost if needed), after much legal wrangling with the estate of Dalek creator Terry Nation who, incredibly, weren’t initially best pleased at the idea of Nation’s creations returning to their spiritual home, tentatively reintroduces the series’ most famous icon. And Rob Shearman’s script cleverly does the trick by not only re-establishing the Dalek as an implacable, unstoppable killing machine, pitiless and entirely without conscience, but also by examining the nature of what makes a Dalek what it is by introducing a random element of humanity – Rose’s absorbed DNA – into the creature’s genetic make-up. Such is the strength of the script that the audience actually finds itself sympathising with the Dalek’s anguish as it struggles not to be human but still craves the feeling of sunlight on its hideous mutated flesh and makes the final, most human decision if all – to take its own life.

Beyond its examination of the Dalek the episode also nicely counterpoints the differences – and the chilling similarities – between the Doctor and the Dalek. Both are the last of their kind (except, as we now know, they’re not) and both are living with the guilt of being the only survivors of the terrible Time War which wiped them all out (except, as we now know, it didn’t!). It’s the Dalek that seems to deal with it most rationally – it resorts to type, exterminating everyone in sight and setting out on a killing spree, behaving exactly as Daleks do because it know no better (until Rose’s DNA starts to do its work). The Doctor, however, is clearly a man battling with his demons. He’s uncharacteristically – and disturbingly – terrified when he’s trapped in the cell with the chained-up Dalek – and then he gloats manically when he realises the Dalek is powerless and he resorts to goading it into destroying itself. But the Dalek has got the measure of the last Time Lord, telling him that they are not so different from one another and, in one memorable sequence after the Doctor has been raging at his enemy, suggesting to the Doctor that "You would make a good Dalek." It’s an idea that brings the Doctor up short and it seems to hit home. It’s underlined in the scene where the Doctor sets out to destroy the Dalek with the biggest, baddest gun he can get his hands on – even Rose is appalled, demanding to know what, as the Dalek turns human, the Doctor might be turning into… Interesting themes and ideas sadly not really touched upon again in any depth in the series.

Like the best Dr Who episodes though, ‘Dalek’ works on several levels and one of those is clearly a big action adventure episode in its own right. Director Joe Ahearne really works at making the Dalek, this relic from a more innocent TV time, a formidable fighting machine for the twenty-first century. Cleverly redesigned so it actually looks like a tank rather than the rather wobbly fibre-glass casing of the old days, Ahearne’s powerful direction presents the Dalek in all its glory, its centre-section swivelling to wipe out rear-end attackers and, of course, the script goes to great pains to kill off, once and for all, the old ‘Daleks can’t go upstairs!’ gag. Now Daleks do go upstairs (albeit quite slowly) and they float and hover and fly too. There’s nowhere to hide any more. It’s a genuine thrill to see the Dalek wipe out the soldiers in its initial escape from its cell and the sequence of the Dalek in the hangar exterminating en masse by turning on the fire extinguisher system and electrifying the water is beautifully-realised. Some problems remain, though; Rose and new boy Adam Mitchell spend a lot of the episode running away very fast from a Dalek which, it has to be said, is moving very slowly indeed. But such is the power of the script and the direction that in some ways this makes it even more terrifying; the creature has been established as powerful and unstoppable and watching it glide, unhurriedly, along corridors and into hangars, serves to emphasise the fact that there’s no escape from this machine, that it’ll find you and exterminate you wherever you hide, however long it takes.
Christopher Eccleston clearly relishes the challenges of Shearman’s wordy script. His first encounter with the Dalek is hair-raising stuff, the Doctor’s dialogue full of fury and venom and when Rose challenges him as he’s about to destroy the Dalek just for once the Doctor’s almost speechless, as if his inner despair has finally consumed him and there’s nothing he can say. The coda to the episode, with the Doctor and Rose about to set off, seems to close a certain chapter in the Doctor’s life as he sadly has to come to accept that he’s the last of his kind, there’s no-one else out there. He’s seen off the last of his enemies (except, as we now know, he hasn’t!) and in some ways that makes him more alone than ever. Billie Piper continues to impress, flirting with Adam and then facing up to the Dalek when it looks like her number’s up. And ultimately it’s Rose who talks the Dalek down, persuades it that there’s more to life than killing and finally, reluctantly, orders it to destroy itself when she recognises that its torment at becoming humanised is more than it can bear.

There’s a new boy aboard the TARDIS as it sets off into space. But ‘Dalek’ isn’t about him and as he joins the TARDIS crew the audience is wondering quite why he’s there and if his presence his going to upset the new TARDIS dynamic. As we’ll see in ‘The Long Game’ that just isn’t going to happen…

The World of Stuff has moved!!!

Well, I said it was going to happen - and it has! I've moved the World of Stuff - at least, anyhing new on the World of Stuff - to a brand new blog! I feel like Davros and the Daleks in the recent Dr Who season finale dragging planets out of alignment to a whole new place in space. But, as I posted over on the sampasite, there were certain problems over on the previous hots which made the site difficult for me to load onto and difficult for readers to post comment on sometimes. So here's my new home...I hope you'll follow me here if you've been interested in my world of stuff already. Hopefully here in my new home the best is yet to come....

see ya soon! :)

Previous site still 'live' and old content still available...