Sunday, 27 September 2009

My Pod: New music track reviews...

Stuff lends an ear to some soon-to-be-released new music tracks...

Bodies – Robbie Williams

He’s back!! When his ‘Rudebox’ album tanked a few years back the Robster very sensibly slunk off to lick his wounds, consider his position and...well, just live a life for a while. In his absence his old bandmates Take That reformed, released two albums and pretty much took up where they left off, cementing the place in the nation’s hearts with their slightly sickly, syrupy and largely anodyne brand of Grandma-friendly balladry. What place is there in the world now for Robbie, trundling into his mid-thirties and with a lot to prove? The signs are good as ‘Bodies’, the lead single from his soon-come new album, ‘Reality Killed the Video Star’, is as good a slice of pop perfection as Robbie’s released since...well, probably ‘Rock DJ’ in all honesty. Produced by former Buggle Trevor Horn (hence the album title) the new single is a muscular, burbling, crunching thing with at least two choruses to its name. It takes two or three listens for this one to lodge itself into your brain but its heady mix of Robbie’s usual lyrical arrogance – “Jesus didn’t die for you, what are you on?...All we ever wanted was to look good naked” – and Horn’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production are pretty much irresistible and a couple of plays are really all it takes for this one to work its magic. There’s room in the music world for Robbie’s more upfront, laddish pop and Take That’s safe soft rock – but I know which one I’ll be happier to see back atop the charts. The boy’s albums tend to be a bit hit-and-miss, a collection of good hit singles and some stodgy filler – all he needs now is to follow ‘Bodies’ with a real powerful album and he’ll find himself on top again. Welcome back, Robbie.

Want – Natalie Imbruglia

The music gig never really worked out all that well for Natalie after her storming international hit ‘Torn’ in 1997. Follow-up singles under-achieved and her perversely-uncommercial second album was pretty much career suicide. There’s been the odd flash since then – ‘Shiver’ was a decent single a few years back – but when her ‘best of’ selection died a death a couple of years ago, it looked as if the former Neighbours star was drifting back towards supporting roles in other people’ s movies and TV shows (hello, Holly Valance!). But maybe not yet... ‘Want’ is the lead track from Natalie’s latest album and it’s a corker. Written by charismatic Coldplay front-man Chris Martin this is a powerful, slightly-bleak pop tune powered by a pulsating rhythm and Natalie’s yearning, slightly resentful lyrical delivery. Urgent and strident, it’s a great song, well-produced and performed with style and should serve to thrust Natalie back into the UK pop consciousness.

Laroux – I’m Not Your Toy

Reasons to like Laroux. They make plinky-plonky synth pop songs which sound like Depeche Mode demos from 1981. Lead singer Ellie Jackson (she’s the daughter of June Ackland, ex-The Bill, you know) looks scary, has weird sticky-up hair, never smiles much and is a throwback to the days when all girls looked like Bananarama and not Beyonce. But with her musical partner BenLangmaid she crafts charming little pop ditties which wouldn’t be out of place on a ‘Hit Machine 1982’ K-Tel compilation album (on vinyl, natch). ‘I’m Not Your Toy’ is the third single from the impressive, if disposable, debut album and it’s the usual mix of cheap synthetisers, Ellie’s slightly wonky vocals and a tune so daft and sprightly it’s almost ridiculous. Great fun – just a shame Laroux are getting a bit up themselves with Ellie promising the next album may take some time. That’s not what pop’s about; good pop is fast and throwaway, it doesn’t need to be agonised over, it just is.

Cheryl Cole – Fight For This Love

Shopgirl-turned-pop-star-turned-talent-show-judge Cheryl Cole off Girls Aloud chooses – gasp – the middle of the new X Factor series to launch her solo career. Who’d have thought it? It’s almost as if...her record company were capitalising on her sudden new media profile. But surely the pop world doesn’t work like that...does it? Of course we all know that Girls Aloud make great records despite the girls themselves and not because of them (the hard work’s done by production team Xenomania who have managed to make silk purses out of these cows’ ears) – a work colleague of mine recently saw the “band” live supporting Coldplay and her verdict was pretty much that “they couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket” - so go figure. La Cole’s debut single, then,clumsy title notwithstanding, is business as usual. This is a sinewy r’n’b lite number, a bit slower-tempo than the Girls usual offerings but it’s slick to the point of soulless and catchy despite itself. Cole’s voice, as we know, is nothing to sing about (arf! arf!) and it’s hard not to see this as the first-from-last track on a Girl Aloud album and wonder why, money-grabbing apart, Cole needs a solo career at all if she’s got nothing to say and no new musical direction she wants to travel in. Pleasant but pointless.

And finally...

12 Stone Toddler - Under the Weather

I know nothing - nothing I tell you - about the group 12 Stone Toddler apart from the fact that they have the best band name ever and they've just released their second album. They came to my attention when Mark Radcliff and Stuart Maconie played this, their latest single, on their Radio 2 eveneing show a couple of weeks back. It's been in my head ever since because it's barking mad, British musical eccentricity for the 21st century in a three minute pop song. Here's the promo video....why not download this instead of Cheryl Cole? Just a thought...

Thursday, 24 September 2009

UK TV Chart - w/e 13th September 2009

Here's the rundown of the Top 20 most popular UK TV programmes or series for the week ending Sunday 13th September 2009 collated from information compiled and presented by BARB. Note that figures for multi-episode TV broadcasts (ie soaps or other shows with more than one episode per week) are rounded up into an average figure for the series and are denoted in the chart by * News broadcasts are excluded from the figures. 'Rpt' denotes repeated broadcast or film.

1) The X Factor (ITV1)...................11.31
2) Coronation Street (ITV1)...............8.80 *
3) EastEnders (BBC1)......................8.18 *
4) Football World Cup Qualifier (ITV1)....8.08
5) Waking The Dead (BBC1).................7.18 *
6) Emmerdale (ITV1).......................6.23 *
7) Casualty (BBC1)........................5.85 *
8) Holby City (BBC1)......................5.60
9) Blue Murder (ITV1).....................5.42
10) New Tricks (BBC1)......................5.29 (rpt)
11) Countryfile (BBC1).....................5.15
12) The Cube (ITV1)........................5.06
13) Agatha Christie's Marple (ITV1)........4.86
14) Derren Brown: The Event (C4)...........4.82
15) Watchdog (BBC1)........................4.54
16) Last Night of the Proms (BBC1).........4.48
17) Rebus (ITV1)...........................4.43 (rpt)
18) Lost Land of the Volcano (BBC1)........4.38
19) The Bill (ITV1)........................4.18
20) The Fixer (ITv1).......................3.88

BBC: 9 ITV: 10 C4: 1

Thursday, 17 September 2009

She's back...The Sarah Jane Adventures series three airs in the UK!

Thursday October 15th is now finalised as the launch date of the first episode of the much-antipated third series of the children's Dr Who spin-off 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' starring Elisabeth Sladen as the classic Dr Who series companion in the third run of her own adventure series. This year the show's transmission format has changed a bit with CBBC screening two episodes across two afternoons - Thursdays and Fridays - in a slot yet to be confirmed but likely to be around 4.35pm. This means that the whole twelve-episode series will be done and dusted across six weeks. After the slightly-disappointing second series it's to be hoped that the show's mojo will be back in this new run, again executive-prduced by Russell T Davies and with scripts by Phil Ford, Joseph Lidster, Gareth Roberts and Rupert Laight. The signs are good as there's a lot to look forward to this year. SJ is again joined by her own Scooby gang - her adopted alien construct son Luke, his schoolfriend Clyde and their neighbour Rani. The series starts with the two-part story 'Prisoner of the Judoon' which sees one of Dr Who's interplanetary rhino Police coming to Earth in search of a reptilian alien renegade called the Veil. But all eyes are on the third story, 'The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith' in which our heroine apparently gets hitched to a smooth charmer played by Nigel Havers. But is the new man in SJ's life all he's cracked up to be? And will the old man in SJ's life - a certain skinny Time Lord - show up to celebrate the nuptuals? I don't think it's a huge secret that David Tennant crops up in a substantial role in these two episodes, a nice bonus for fans still dreading Christmas and the last salute for the tenth Doctor. SJ's faithful black-hole protecting robot dog K9 joins in the fun this year too, appearing intermittently across the series. Here are the series three episode titles in full:

Prisoner of the Judoon (two episodes)
The Man Woman in the Attic (two episodes)
The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (2 episodes)
The Eternity Trap (2 episodes ) guest starring Floella Benjamin who has appeared in two previous Sarah Jane yarns
Mona Lisa's Revenge (2 episodes) - guest starring Suranne Jones, Jeff Rawle
The Gift (2 episodes) - guest starring the voices of Simon Callow and Miriam Margoyles

A fourth series of The Sarah Jane Adventures is expected to go into production next year and series two is released on DVD in the UK for reappraisal on 17th November (see cover above)

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

UK TV Chart - w/e 6th September 2009

Here's the rundown of the Top 20 most popular UK TV programmes or series for the week ending Sunday 6th September 2009 collated from information compiled and presented by BARB. Note that figures for multi-episode TV broadcasts (ie soaps or other shows with more than one episode per week) are rounded up into an average figure for the series and are denoted in the chart by * News broadcasts are excluded from the figures. 'Rpt' denotes repeated broadcast or film.

1) The X Factor (ITV1)...................12.84
2) Coronation Street (ITV1)...............8.39 *
3) New Tricks (BBC1)......................8.33
4) EastEnders (BBC1)......................7.59 *
5) Waking The Dead (BBC1).................6.86
6) Emmerdale (ITV1).......................6.36 *
7) (Football: Spain v England (ITV1).......5.50
7) (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
(ITV1).............5.50 rpt
9) Agatha Christie's Marple (ITV1)........5.39
10) (Holby City (BBC1)......................5.26
10) (The Cube (ITV1)........................5.26
12) Framed (BBC1)..........................5.02
13) Countryfile (BBC1).....................5.01
14) Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the
Black Pearl (BBC1)......4.83 rpt
15) Rebus (ITV1)...........................4.35 rpt
16) Edinburgh Military Tattoo (BBC1).......4.26
17) Wuthering Heights (ITV1)...............4.25
18) The One Show (BBC1)....................4.24
19) The Fixer (ITV1).......................4.33
20) (Crimewatch (BBC1)......................4.13
20) (Joanna Lumley: Catwoman (ITV1)........4.13

BBC: 10 ITV: 11

Commentary: A rare victory for ITV this week as they edge ahead of the BBC with 11 entries in the chart. But look closer at the chart and the titles they've done it with hardly shows the Network covering itself in glory with a schedule including a football match and a film, a couple of poorly-rating dramas (including Marple which shows how ITV have lost the big grip they once had on the Sunday night drama slot), a quiz which manages to lose an astonishing 7 million X Factor audience inheritance, their two 'big' soaps which are losing momentum and a pointless documentary about cats. Hardly a dream schedule. The BBC's entries are the usualy mix of popular drama - good figures for the charming Bank Holiday one-off Framed, a good solid rating for the first in the new series of Waking The Dead and a knockout number for the New Tricks series finale. Interesting weeks ahead with the BBC launching the new Saturday night series of Merlin in a slot which shoulds guarantee it a regular 6 million audience and nice to see the Corporation showing some guts and pitting Strictly Come Dancing against X Factor. Both shows may suffer lower figures than they might get if not clashing but it'll be nice to see the smile wiped off flathead C*w*ll's face when his talent karaoke circus starts to wilt. Happy days ahead, we hope!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

DVD Preview: The Day The Earth Caught Fire

The end of the world has always been fair game for science-fiction cinema. Nowadays when the apocalypse comes, Hollywood takes full advantage of modern movie-making technology and we're given visually-spectacular but emotionally-arid fare like Devlin and Emmerichs' double-whammy of 'The Day After Tomorrow' and the forthcoming '2012' where people and buildings are drowned, buried, burnt or flattened and the audience is expected to 'ooh' and 'aah' as world-famous landmarks crumble or are overwhelmed by Nature. Inevitably we ens up admiring the smart visuals but forgetting the people in the film ten minutes after they've left the theatre or turned off the DVD.

Twas not always thus. Sometimes the end of the world had a bit more depth to it and now and again earlier visions of the End of Days were done with a bit more style, panache and a palpable sense of human drama. Allow me to recommend a stonking 1960 black-and-white British movie called 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire', due for rerelease by Network on 28th September in the UK. You may have come across the movie before on late night TV or on some obscure movie channel and the chances are, if you've seen it, it may well have slipped your mind because, for some inexplicable reason, it isn't lauded as one of the great science-fiction movies even though those who know it love it and appreciate it and it's rightly well-regarded amongt the genre cogonscenti. Now's your chance to catch up with this gripping, enthralling - and above all astonishigly real - movie courtesy of this new vanilla budget DVD.

Apparently coincidentally Russia and America are testing nuclear weapons at opposite ends of the Earth. Slowly and subtly the world's climate begins to change and London, amongst other cities, is plunged into what is perceived to be a freak heatwave. But dogged journalists at the Daily Express (of all places) suspect a Government cover-up when the temperature keeps on rising and freak 'heat mists' envelop the city and bring the capital to a standstill. Scruffy alcoholic journalist Peter Stenning (Edward Judd) and science reporter Bill Maguire (Leo McKern) are ordered to dig for information by their Editor - and when Stenning begins a romance with MET centre secretary Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro) he soon discovers the terrifying truth, covered-up by a Government conspiracy. Nuclear testing has shifted the Earth off its axis and the planet is slowly drifting towards the sun. The Government struggles to keep a lid on the news but hysteria breaks out, looting and riots are rampant...and it appears that only an audacious scheme - more nuclear explosions to shunt the Earth back into position - can save the human race. But will Mankind prevail? As the streets clear and the population roasts, humanity waits to find out its ultimate fate...

'The Day The Earth Caught Fire', fifty years later, remains a remarkable piece of movie-making. Written and directed by Val Guest (who directed the 1950s Quatermass movies) the film has a pace and an energy rarely seen in modern genre cinema, let along in the early 1960s. In places the film is more a documentary than a drama, verisimilitude being added by Newsroom scenes filmed on location in and around the then-offices of the Daily Express, Guests's restless direction and uniformly superb performances from the cast. The script is slick, intelligent and erudite and the whole movie is given a sheen of reality with its constant overlapping dialogue and its generally naturalistic, gritty tone andf four-square, utterly believable characterisation. It's risque on occasion too with some fruity language, the odd double-entendre and even a bit of near-nudity. Whereas a similar film made today - and God forbid some bright spark bean-counter should decide this is a movie ripe for reimagining - would pile on the visuals at the expense of character, here Guest uses visual trickery sparingly. Decades before CGI Guest has just a few optical bits'n'pieces at his disposal but the sequences of London covered in 'heat mist' remain hugely atmospheric and effective and the scenes of society starting to panic and lose its veneer of civilisation are brutallty well-realised.

'The Day the Earth Caught Fire' isn't a particularly optimistic film. Kicking off with sequences where a sweat-soaked Stenning, prowls the deserted newsroom waiting for news of something (presented on DVD in their original heat-bleached brown tint) the film takes us back a few weeks as the crisis unfolds and ends where we began - with an anxious humanity waiting to discover if it has a future. The film's ending is a bit ambiguous and whilst we never really find out what happens there's a pretty big indication of how the situation resolves itself and it's hard not to imagine that the ending was forced onto the movie by a studio worried by the prospect of a downbeat ending to what they'd probably imagined would be a cheap and cheerful science-fiction thriller.

In truth 'The Day The Earth caught Fire' is anything but. It's an adult drama first and foremost, a prime example of the eternally-fascinating 'people coping in extreme crisis' school of story-telling and if you've never seen the movie or just dismnissed it as some cheesy bit of 1960s fluff, you really need to invest a few quid in this new DVD release because 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' deserves a prime position on the DVD shelf of any serious afficionado of good science-fiction.

The disc; Network released this title back in 2001 and the original full-price release boasted some decent special features- Leo Mckern revisitng the film's locations, a Val Guest commentary, trailer etc. Disappointingly this new cheaper release has jettisoned all the special stuff leaving just the movie. Even so, you can track this down on line for less than five quid and at that price it's an absolute bargain. Classic cinema and Stuff really can't recommend it highly enough.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Stuff is 1!!!

They said it couldn't happen. They said it shouldn't happen. They said it wouldn't happen. Actually, they didn't say any of these things but I like a dramatic opening line.

I've just realised that my World of Stuff is celebrating its FIRST anniversary. 14th September 2008 was the momentous day (well, maybe not that momentous, it's just this rambling blog, y'know) I shifted my thoughts and ramblings over from a previous online host. One year of TV charts, music, film, TV and the odd book reviews, filming reports and assorted bits'n'pieces which might be of interest or at least pass your time not too unpleasantly. Hooray for Stuff. Many thanks to those of you who have taken time out to wander back and forth over the last year (nearly 10,000 hits now....but I suspect most of them have been me just nipping in to see how many hits I've had!) and even more thanks to those of you who've posted comments now and again - even the one or two abusive idiots whose comments, oddly, didn't get published!

So onwards and upwards. Posting has been a bit slack these last two months, I'll admit - that's down to sheer laziness on my part (loads of ideas for content, finding time to sit and write it all up's the hard part) and just generally being tied up with other less interesting things. But don't despair, don't drift away; there's plenty more of the same old same old to come plus, I'm hoping, some new stuff too including a regular TV Topic column (first up the state of modern TV comedy - and what a state!), more book reviews and hopefully even some Dr Who filming location reports if and when the new TARDIS crew get out and about a bit more.

Comments and suggestions always welcome! Again, thanks for your time and stick with me - the best is yet to come.

I hope...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Dr Who: The return of Tom Baker...

Much excitement in the world of Dr Who fandom recently when it was announced that Tom Baker, until the arrival of David Tennant the most popular actor to play the venerable Time Lord on TV, would be returning to his career-defining role in a new series of audio-only releases for the BBC. Apart from an appearance in a dreadful 3D charity production in 1993 Baker has resisted all attempts to drag him back into the fictional world of Dr Who ever since he quit the part in 1981. Big Finish, purveyors of full-cast audio adventures featuring his successors – Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy (and even TV movie one-shot Paul McGann) - found all their approaches to Baker rebuked as the actor seemingly had no desire to turn back the clock and take control of the TARDIS again. But lately Baker’s been mellowing, narrating abridged versions of the old Target book novelisations of many of his TV episodes. From this it seemed only a small step – and some delicate negotiations, no doubt – to coax the actor back into telling some untold takes of the fourth Doctor, albeit in vocal form only. And now here they are with ‘The Stuff of Nightmares’, the first audio in a five part series under the umbrella title ‘Hornets’ Nest’, arriving on CD this month. It’s a name well-chosen for truly it is the ‘stuff of nightmares’; sad to say the return of Tom Baker to the Dr Who fold is not only a huge disappointment it’s also…I hesitate to say it…absolute rubbish.

Where to begin with this misbegotten and misguided project? It seems to me that if you’ve managed to get an iconic old actor back into a studio to recreate the role which made his name, you’re going to at least try to be true to the legacy of the show and tell a story which resembles, even in passing, the TV show itself. You also write your leading man so he vaguely resembles the character as seen on TV. ‘Stuff of Nightmares’ does neither of these and it does a whole lot more (or less, depending on your viewpoint) too. The audio is written by fan writer-turned-pro-writer Paul Magrs; I’m not hugely familiar with his work (I rarely read the 1990s Virgin New Adventures because their remit seemed to be to tell Dr Who stories so unlike their Tv counterparts they might as well be an entirely different series) but I’m aware he created a camp character called Iris Wildthyme (voiced on audio by Katy Manning, erstwhile Jon Pertwee companion Jo Grant) who travels through Time in a double decker bus. Like many fan writers who cut their teeth in the Dr Who books published when the show was off-air and barely surviving as a cult, Magrs seemed to delight in writing Dr Who stories which were Dr Who in name only. So it is with ‘Stuff of Nightmares; listening to this – and it’s an excruciatingly long and dull 60 plus minutes – it’s not hard to imagine that here was a writer who’d looked at a photo of Tom Baker, seen him being interviewed by Richard and Judy and then, having never seen him as the Doctor on TV, thought he had a pretty good handle on what his Doctor might sound like. Because I’ve seen every Tom Baker Dr Who episode several times and, trust me, he never sounded anything like the quaint oddball written by Magrs in this audio.

Baker’s Doctor was a wild, dizzyingly mercurial character, always on the go, always on the move, always seeking out the strange and the new across the Universe and doffing his cap towards it with a sly smile and a proffered bag of jelly babies. He was almost never – never at all, in fact – portrayed as a self-proclaimed “bucolic” living in a whimsical cottage somewhere in England in a state of semi-retirement with a housekeeper called Mrs Wibsey and battling a stuffed-animal curator named Percy Noggins. He never did this. This is Dr Who rewritten by someone who has entirely missed the point of the character they’re writing for; this is Dr Who with one eye on the Jon Pertwee portrayal depicted in the old ‘Countdown’ comic in the early 1970s where the third Doctor lived in a country cottage conducting arcane experiments for no readily-explained reason. So ‘Stuff of Nightmares’ puts the Doctor – this Doctor – in a ludicrous and twee situation this version of the character would never have tolerated for more than five minutes.

Part of the problem, it has to be said, is the creaky format Magrs has to work with. Because this isn't really a full-cast audio production; it's an awkward hybrid of radio play and narration and it's so clumsy and contrived it falls apart almost immediately. The story starts off with Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), a fairly minor if recurring UNIT character from the era of the third Doctor, answering a frankly-dubious and unlikely magazine advert: "Wanted: retired army Captain for light household duties and fireside companionship. Must tolerate mild eccentricity and strong scientific advice. Knowledge of Giant maggots, Super Intelligent Spiders and Prehistoric Monsters a positive boon." Not only is the first indication that we may be in for a script littered with dreary old continuity references because Magrs, being a fan-writer, can't resist throwing them into his script to show off how much he knows about the history of Dr Who (does this really impress anyone any more?) it's also the first indication that Magrs is writing for Tom Baker rather than the Doctor. Yates, reading from his diary or to some other unknown listener, recounts how he arrives at the cottage, meets housekeeper Mrs Wibsey (Susan Jameson - she gets about three lines in the whole thing) and finally meets a man he recognises as the Doctor. Magrs body-swerves the fact that Mike Yates never met the fourth Doctor so wouldn't have a clue who he was by a howlingly contrived "we met at the Brigadier's birthday party" explanation. With the Doctor now in the picture the production becomes, briefly, a play, as minute after minutes of creaky, tortuous dialogue which quickly becomes agonisingly verbose narration by Baker with Yates all but forgotten apart from the odd "You see, Mike" line - drags in what purports to be the plot. It's here that we finally see what a misfire Magrs has made of the Doctor. Despite cramming in some guff about the Doctor constantly crossing his own timeline and potentially meeting various versions of himself all the time (what's that all about?) Mags, despite his love of stuffing continuity references into every nook and cranny of his script (Dodo! Wirrn! Zarbi! Sarah Jane! Jo Grant! Uncle Tom Cobley!), makes no attempt to place the story within the fourth Doctor's own timeline. This is understandable as the TV fourth Doctor never sounded or behaved remotely like this. To be fair, Baker himself does what he can with the poor characterization of the Doctor but even he can't lift some of this lumpy, leaden dialogue - the fourth Doctor just never used words like 'weird' - but he sounds a bit bored and unconvinced throughout, as if he's aware that his TV heritage is being both betrayed and undermined here but just can't do anything to salvage the situation. Despite the mismanagement of the character, it's always a delight to hear Baker's rich, fruity tones, even with the actor's age and occasional breathlessness robbing him of the energy and vitality of his TV portrayal.

As for the plot itself it's hard to know quite what to say about something so underwhelming. Now this is only the first of five linked instalments and it may well be that the thing broadens out, becomes a deeper and a bit more satisfying (someone out there will have to let me know because I ain't listening to any more of these!) but it's hard to imagine a series which could have started out worse than this one with its rambling story of stuffed animals being brought to life by alien hornets (not in itself a bad concept, just a bit too cute for Dr Who in the 21st century) and their collector Percy Noggins (ouch) voiced by Daniel Hill with a performance too arch for even the tawdriest of village hall pantomimes.

So there we have it. Tom Baker returns to Dr Who and unfortunately the wait just hasn't been worth it. Maybe I'm biased by the fact that, whilst I have a lot of time for audio drama generally, it somehow has never really seemed the right 'fit' for Dr Who which is such a visual series. Maybe those more versed in the audio format and more comfortable with it will find much to enjoy in the 'Hornets' Nest' series. But I can't help feeling that, to do so, you'll need to set aside a lot of your critical faculties and just revel in the simple fact that here's a new Dr Who story starring Tom Baker in voice only because there's really nothing at all else here to connect the actor to the character the way he dominated the series for seven years back in the 1970s and early 1980s. It's a crushing disappointment and, to be honest, next time I want a fix of Tom Baker's Doctor I'll be reaching for a DVD to remind myself of his glory days, not listening to this terrible travesty which casually tramples all over everything which made the fourth Doctor so memorable and then reconstructs it as something else entirely.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

UK TV Chart - w/e August 30th 2009

Here's the rundown of the Top 20 most popular UK TV programmes or series for the week ending Sunday 30th August 2009 collated from information compiled and presented by BARB. Note that figures for multi-episode TV broadcasts (ie soaps or other shows with more than one episode per week) are rounded up into an average figure for the series and are denoted in the chart by * News broadcasts are excluded from the figures.

1) The X Factor (ITV1)..................10.81
2) Coronation Street (ITV1)..............8.77 *
3) EastEnders (BBC1).....................8.04 *
4) New Tricks (BBC1).....................7.93
5) Emmerdale (ITV1)......................6.36 *
6) The Cube (ITV1).......................5.12
7) Motorway Cops (BBC1)..................5.06
8) Holby City (BBC1).....................5.03
9) Inspector George Gently (BBC1)........4.73
10) Countryfile (BBC1)....................4.68
11) My Family (BBC1)......................4.57
12) Lewis (ITV1)..........................4.45
13) Wuthering Heights (ITV1)..............4.29
14) Dragon's Den (BBC2)...................4.24
15) Film: Meet the Fockers (BBC1).........4.07
16) Match Of The Day (BBC1)...............4.05
17) The One Show (BBc1)...................3.93 *
18) UEFA Champions League Football (ITV1).3.81
19) Coast (BBC2)..........................3.77
20) (The Bill (ITV1).......................3.64
20) (The 39 Steps (BBC1)...................3.64
20) (Antiques Roadshow (BBC1)..............3.64

BBC 14, ITV 8

Chart Commentary: This is getting embarrassing now. Another week, another routing for ITV. The ailing Network sees its fortunes continue to flag with only a handful of entries in the chart (effectly a Top 22 this week with three titles tied for no.20). After trailing their new adaptation of Wuthering Heights since, it appears, the very moment the cameras stopped rolling, the Sunday night premiere of the first episode didn't interest many. A repeated episode of the detective drama Lewis, shown immedioately before, scored a higher figure and even a creaky repeat of the BBC1 sitcom My Family did better. It's easy to laugh at ITV's woes (and it's fun too!) but unless and until they can generate some dramas people want tyo watch in large numbers, the Network will scurry back to its handful of talent and reality shows - and that's a bubble which must be close to bursting by now. The Bill, ripped to pieces by ITV's direction that it be 'beefed up' and transformed into a gritty, edgy 9pm show, clambers back into the top 20, nearly 2 million down on the figures it was achieving six weeks ago at 8pm. Well done ITV! A repeat of the Christmas BBC film The 39 Steps charts too, scoring higher numbers than new ITV returning drama The Fixer and Monday night light drama Monday Monday. Worrying times continue for ITV.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Discovering Classic Movies: No 2 - The Magnificent Seven

Let's get something straight. I don't do westerns. I just ...don't. I can count on the fingers of one finger the number of Westerns I've watched all the way through ('Open Range' with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall, curiously enough). Yes, I've seen episodes (or bits of episodes) of 'Bonanza', 'The High Chaperal' and even 'The Virginian' and I've seen photos of John Wayne sitting on a horse; but as rule I just don't do westerns. I don't really know why, either. Maybe it's because the western is such a part of American tradition, a traditon I've just never wilfully exposed myself to, a genre I feel a bit distanced from by history and geography. Men on horseback with big hats and guns and stuff just aren't part of my culture, they're not icons I can identify with or recognise from my own upbringing and my own environment. But then I don't have much personal history with bug-eyed monsters and giant spaceships either but that's never stopped me liking a bit of sci-fi. I suppose, in the end, it's just down to the fact that my imagination is fired a bit more by laser guns than Colt 45s and I'd rather have a Police Box than a horse any day of the week, thanks all the same. Odd then - if not perverse - that my second 'classic' DVD should be 'The Magnificent Seven', in many ways the western to end all westerns. But that's me. Perverse is my middle name (except it actually isn't).

History records that John Sturges' 'The Magnificent Seven' is a (virtually scene-for-scene, I'm told) remake of Akira Kurosawa's 'The Seven Samurai' (I've not seen that either and it's not on my to view list, frankly) so I'm judging this one on its own merits, as a film, a story, a western, dammit. And as westaerns go, 'The Magnificent Seven' seems...well, it seems like a western. It's hailed and lauded as a classic, a benchmark Hollywood movie but to me it's just a western, a film full of moody gunslinghers and sneering bad guys with the inevitable gunfight at the end. So I tried to look beyond the surface, beyond the western trappings, to see if I could discover what the 'magic ingredient' the film has which sets it apart fromn a thousand other barely-remembered cowboy movies which, to these eyes at least, probably look exactly the same as 'The Magnficient Seven.'

The film's story is a familiar one even to the uninitiated. The inhabitants of a small Mexican village close to the US border are a bit cheesed off with being continually raided by the black-hearted Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his gang, leaving them barly able tyo surviove above subsistence level. Three villagers set off to find help in the nearest town - and their luck's in as they meet up with black-clad, baldy cowboy Chris Adams (not, as you might imagine, an itinerent estate agent) who decides to help them despite the meagre financial rewards they can offer. Chris sets about recruiting a gang of gunslingers to help him - forming a 'magnificent seven', if you will - and together they set off for the village and their date with destiny and celluloid immortality.

The greater part of the film tells - at great unhurried length - of Chris's efforts to get his little team together. They're quite a bunch. Where Chris himself is a bit monosyllabic (probably because Yul Brynner isn't the most gifted of actors), knife-wielding Britt (James Coburn) makes him seem like a one-man debating society. Then there's nifty gunslinger Vin (Steve McQueen in the role which set him on the road to superstardom) the most charismatic one of the lot, the only one with a twinkling sense of humour. Harry Luck (Brad Dexter) is the avaricious one, moody Bernardo (Charles Bronson) is the strong and largely silent type and Lee (Robert Vaughn) is the one who might be a bit of a coward. The team's rounded off by young, hotheaded Chico (Horst Buchholz) who gets to join the group by simply wearing them down with his youthful enthusiasm. Once back at the village - and it seems to take forever for them to get there - the Seven finally have their first skirmish with Calvera and his men. the bandits are chased off to lick their wounds - but now they're seriously pissed off and ready to launch a final devastating assault on the village and its new protectors.

'The Magnficent Seven' wasn't really what I was expecting but then, not hugely familair with the genre,I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. .But perhaps I wasn't expecting not to be blown away by a film so often regarded as a classic of contemporary cinema. I don't know if I expected some Damascan revelarion and a sudden new love for and appreciation of the western movie but as the credits rolde and that rousing Elmer Bernstein score struck up again (and the score is probably the best thing about the movie) I couldn't help feeling that all i'd been watching for the last two hours was a perfectly competene tna dreasonmably-enjoyable Wild West movie. I think the problem i had with the movie is that, despite its themes of the underdog vs the oppressor and the triumph of right vs wrong yada yada I wasn't able to feel any particular kinship with the characters. There really wasn't much to any of them. Black-clad Chris (Brunner) cuts a charimsatic jib and Steve McQueen's star quality tages out of the screen but the rest...well, they were pretty much just generic cannon fodder and (spoilers ahoy!!) I couldn't really give much of a damn when half the cast bit the dust in the last reel because I didn't know anything about them other than the rather sketchy characterisations they were lumbered with from the start. Similarly we're not really given much to work on with Calvera who's just The Bad Guy; we're given no idea why he's bad, what his agenda is...he's just there terrorising the locals because that's what he and his men do. Ultimately there's a very bald, simplistic black-and-white nature to the characters and the situation, there's little light and shade and little to get your teeth into. Maybe it's because this is a film made back in 1960, the absolute fag end of the Western era, and it's probably hard to judge 'The Magnificent Seven' against others of its type without seeing any of the others. It's not a shoot-'em-up; there are only two real shoot-out scenes and they're done competently, if not particularly spectacularly, but it's not really much of a character piece either. That's really what surprised me most about 'The Magnificent Seven' - ultimately it didn't really surprise me at all. Despite its stellar cast and its epic reputaiton, it still presents itself to me as a servicable but fairly routine western movie, telling a simple story unhurriedly and efficiently. It's certainly not made me a western convert and suffice to say I won't be rushing out to track down any Audie Murphy DVD boxsets in the near future.

Classics coming soon: Blade Runner, Casablanca, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Next, Annie Hall, King of Comedy, The Godfather, 2001.

UK TV Chart - w/e 23rd August 2009

Here's the rundown of the Top 20 most popular UK TV programmes or series for the week ending Sunday 23rd August 2009 collated from information compiled and presented by BARB. Note that figures for multi-episode TV broadcasts (ie soaps or other shows with more than one episode per week) are rounded up into an average figure for the series and are denoted in the chart by * News broadcasts are excluded from the figures.

1) The X Factor (ITV1).....................11.00
2) Coronation Street (ITV1).................8.37 *
3) New Tricks (BBC1)........................7.60
4) EastEnders (BBC1)........................7.38 *
5) Who Do You Think You Are (BBC1)..........6.48
6) Emmerdale (ITV1).........................5.90 *
7) The Cube (ITV1)..........................5.85
8) Rivers With Griff Rhys Jones (BBC1)......5.71
9) Michael McIntyre Live & Laughing (BBC1)..5.03
10) Holby City (BBC1)........................5.01
11) The Street (BBC1)........................4.88
12) Countryfile (BBC1).......................4.37
13) Jam and Jerusalem (BBC1).................4.24
14) Match of the Day (BBC1)..................4.16
15) Formula 1: European Grand Prix (BBC1)....4.14
16) Lewis (ITV1).............................3.92
17) Coast (BBC2).............................3.66
18) Crimewatch Solved (BBC1).................3.56
19) Dragon's Den (BBC2)......................3.49
20) Outnumbered (BBC1).......................3.43

BBC: 15 ITV: 5

Chart commentary: More humiliation for ITV with only 5 titles in the Top 20. Inevitably the X Factor circus explodes back into the chart with a depressing 11m but otherwise ITV have nothing which captures the public's imagination, able only to struggle into the chart with their two soaps, a repeat of Lewis and the first episode of the Saturday night quiz The Cube, figures for which fell badly for the second episode (final figures available next week). Elsewhere BBC2 scores two entries and BBC1 does well with their usual mix of drama and light factual programming. Nice to see a repeat of the excellent Outnumbered sneak in at no 20 and the last ever episode of BBC1's exemplary drama The Street held its head up high with a shade under 5million. Easy as it is to sneer at and despair of ITV's programming and their poor performance, it's frustrating to see a once-decent broadcaster reliant now on cheapjack talent shows and celebrity competitions to pull in acceptable figures. The problem is that ITV have dug their own grave by alienating a massive audience by simply making shows a lot of people aren't interested in or find just plain insulting. A poor ITV is in no-one's interest, it's far healthier to have two powerful broadcasting networks working against one another. As it is the BBC are leaving ITV drowning in their wake. Wake up, Mr Grade and smell the coffee.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

UK TV Chart - w/e 16th August 2009

Here's the rundown of the Top 20 most popular UK TV programmes or series for the week ending Sunday 16th August 2009 collated from information compiled and presented by BARB. Note that figures for multi-episode TV broadcasts (ie soaps or other shows with more than one episode per week) are rounded up into an average figure for the series and are denoted in the chart by * News broadcasts are excluded from the figures.

1) Coronation Street (ITV1).................8.72 *
2) New Tricks (BBC1)........................7.69
3) EastEnders (BBC1)........................7.62 *
4) Emmerdale (ITV1).........................6.33 *
5) Who Do You Think You Are (BBC1)..........6.27
6) Football: Spain v England (ITV1).........5.65
7) Rivers With Griff Rhys Jones (BBC1)......5.52
8) Holby City (BBC1)........................5.04
9) The Street (BBC1)........................4.55
10) Total Wipeout (BBC1).....................4.45
11) Match of the Day (BBC1)..................4.18
12) (Countryfile (BBC1).......................4.04
12) (National Lottery Guesstimation (BBC1)....4.04
14) The One Show (BBC1)......................3.79 *
15) (Jam and Jerusalem (BBC1).................3.66
15) (Send In The Dogs (ITV1)..................3.66
17) The Bill (ITV1)..........................3.63
18) Hotel Babylon (BBC1).....................3.42
19) Coast (BBC2).............................3.41
20) Single-Handed (ITV1).....................3.40

BBC: 14 ITV: 6

Chart commentary: An embarrassing week for ITV as the BBC dominate the chart with a strong run of 14 titles. Strong drama performances from New Tricks and The Street and even Hotel Babylon bows out with a Top 20 placing. Solid if unspectacular performance from the new short-run Jam and Jerusalem series and old favourites like Match of the Day and Countryfile continue to give good results for the Corporation. There's a rare BBC2 entry for Coast and Griff Rhys Jone's Sunday night series Rivers is proving to be a big atraction. ITV's performance remains pitiful, though with only the two soaps, a bit of football, a cheap documentary filler about Police dogs, The Bill (more or less killed dead by the inappropriate new 9pm timeslot and creative retooling which has sapped it of its dramatic energy) and their sole other drama entry, the Irish Police drama Single-Handed dragging its heels in pole position. ITV have four months of tiresome X Factor shenanigans to bolster their position but nothing much else they're attempting is making much of a splash so it looks like it'll be a BBC-led chart for some time to come. Fine by me.