Sunday, 28 February 2010

My-Pod: Music and Stuff - Marina and the Diamonds/Sade...

After 25 years working as a mobile DJ and slowly losing track of my own taste in music my retirement from the decks at Christnmas is giving me the chance to rediscover my love of good pop music - indeed, just good music; not the dreary, samey, droning r'n'b stuff which clutters up the kid's Top 40 these days. No, I'm on the look out for good songs, written and performed by artists, old or new, who have a bit of real talent about them, old faces storming ahead into new chapters of their careers or fresh new faces who haven't taken the easy "I want this more than anything" Simon Cowell route to number one.

So to the brilliant Marina and the Diamonds and her first album 'The Family Jewels' which has just been released. Having come second in the BBC's 'Sound of 2010' new talent survey (behind Ellie Goulding whose first single 'Starry Eyes' has just charted) Marina is off to a belting start with her extraordinary first collection of songs. Abergavenny-born 24 year old Marina Diamanditis has crafted a slick and powerful set of tunes which evoke a host of other landmark female vocalists such as PJ Harvey, Kate Bush, Cyndi Lauper and with even a touch of Gwen Stefani here and there. She's also thrown into the mix something new and unique in an album which ranges from out-and-out stomping pop, crunching electronica, coruscating demolitions of modern society and its cultural mores (current hit single 'Hollywood' suggests Marina's no huge fan of the US of A) and her blisteringly-sharp lyrics (most of these songs are all Marina's own work) are as funny and clever as they're savage.

Now I love a pop song an in track two you'll find 'Shampain', the best song Goldfrapp have never recorded, a tune so impossibly memorable it will, guaranteed, lodge itself in your brain and stay there forever. It's raw, big, brash and infernally catchy. It sounds as if it was torn from the set list of some big-haired electropop band from the 1980s and projected forward to the 21st century. It's brilliant but it's not alone. Album opener 'Are You Satisfied' sees Marina chronicling her struggle for acceptance in a cynical musical world and 'I Am Not A Robot' crackles with the punk ethos of indivuality against conformity. These are uniformly angular, awkward songs and yet they burn with the power of Great Pop. Mostly short, always sharp, they're all richly tuneful - 'Oh No!' is right up there with 'Shampain' - and sometimes even oddly unsettling ('Obsessions', 'Rootless', 'Numb'). Marina's voice is powerful and ballsy, oozing with a confidence we've no right to expect from a newcomer on their first album. But 'The Family Jewels' is probably the most exciting not-a-duff-track-guvnor-honest album from a new talent I think I've ever heard. If you're as tired of the conveyor belt of identikit Mariah Carey wannabes churned out by you-know-who or if you just love a good, slightly off-kilter singalong pop song, you need to get your hands on Marina's 'Family Jewels'. Ooh and, indeed, er...

Speaking of 'diamonds' Stuff has also been listening to...

Those of us of a certain age all have a Sade album in our collections. It's pretty much obligatory, it's on vinyl and it's almost certainly 'Diamond Life', Nigerian-born Sade Adu's sophisticated debut album from 1984 (1984!!). No-one has really needed another Sade album ever since and whilst she's released a handful of other albums since 1984, nothing's summed up her style and her purpose like that first one. But she's slipped out of a ten year exile in 2010 and caught my attention with the sinuous, military beat of her new single 'Soldier Of Love' which has enjoyed some play on our more discerning radio stations which prefer not to air a non-stop diet of shouting and which, in more civilised societyy, would be nestling snugly near the top of the Hit Parade. But it isn't. The same-titled album is out now and, whilst nothing on it's likely to be burning up a dance floor near you any time soon, it's another rich and smooth set of songs, characterised as ever by Sade's smokey vocals and sparse, to-the-point lyrics: "It's the wild, wild west...doing my best" she sings on the title track - and who could disagree? That's really as complex as Sade gets lyrically.

But it's not so much about the lyrics with Sade, it's about the atmos, the ambience. And the ambience here, as ever, is chilled to room temperature - preferably dinner party room. The beats are slow and pulsating, the music washes over you but fortunately the songs are on the right side of memorable. There's good stuff here from the upbeat 'Moon and the Sky' to 'Skin' and 'Babyfather'. Clever, restful adult music. Do yourself a favour, pick up a copy of 'Soldier of Love' and bung it on your dansette of a Sunday morning (after you've listened to 'Weekend Wogan' on Radio 2, of course!) while you're flicking through the supplements. It'll set you up good and proper for the week ahead.

The other Sherlock Holmes...

Forget Guy Richie's take on 'Sherlock Holmes', to Hell with Steve Moffat's forthcoming BBC three-part series. This is the Sherlock Holmes I want, nay, need to see as soon as I can get my grubby little mitts on it. Brought to you by the hilarious chancers at The Asylum who have, in the past, released such jaw-dropping cheap cash-in films titles as 'Journey to Middle Earth', 'I Am Omega' and 'Ten Thousand BC' comes this really quite extraordinary-sounding cheapo take on the Great Detective starring Dominic Keating and...gulp..Gareth David Lloyd out of Torchwood. Here's the cover, here's the blurb. I canna wait!

When a treasury ship mysteriously sinks in the English Channel, detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson rush to investigate. Suddenly the shipwreck doesn't seem like such an accident when Holmes and Watson hear of other strange occurrences happening all over London; sea monsters, attacks by demonic beasts and dinosaurs wreaking havoc on the city.

Although Watson is starting to believe in monsters, Holmes is convinced that all of the attacks are the work of one very clever man and that unless they can find him quickly, the entire world will be in danger.

Friday, 26 February 2010

DVD Review: New from Network

Time for a round-up of a typically eclectic range of DVD releases from Network, purveyors of the finest (and often most obscure) archive UK TV with the emphasis this month on some barely-remembered kid's dramas and a prime time ITV curio unseen since 1971.

When Network went a'knocking at the door of ITV Wales (formerly HTV) to liberate the tapes of the much-demanded children's sci-fi fantasy 'Sky' for DVD release last year, I rather suspect they found themselves knee-deep in dusty old film cans of some other kid's shows too, as HTV had a tradition in the 1970's and 1980s of crafting intelligent, thoughtful adventure/fantasy dramas for the little 'uns, some of which are semi-legendary and some of which are forgotten even by those who saw them at the time. So it is that Network have unearthed a six-part supernatural thriller entitled 'The Clifton House Mystery' and I'm pretty damned sure that, like me, you've never heard of it either. Expecting some simplistic studio-bound runaround full of dodgy performances, iffy video special effects and clumsy scripting, I slipped the preview disc into my DVD player. Six episodes later - I watched the show in two bursts - and I had to marvel, yet again, at how far TV has fallen since 1978 and how short-changed today's attention-deficit nippers are when it comes to quality entertainment. Oddly enough, 'The Clifton house Mystery' is entirely studio-based, its sparse special effects are primitive at best and yes, there are are couple of arch performances. But despite all this the show is gripping, suprisingly mature and well-written stuff and, in a couple of places, remarkably chilling for a show screened in 1978 at around 5pm.

Co-written by Daniel Farson (who, if memory serves, was Bram Stoker's grandson) the serial tells of the frightfully upper-class Clare family who move into a crumbling old house in the Clifton area of Bristol when Mrs Betterson, the previous owner, moves out. It soon becomes apparent that the house is a very troubled place and that there are secrets hidden in a walled-up bedroom which are connected to other mysterious occurences; a silent ghostly woman who appears at night and, most hair-raisingly (especially a tea-time drama), blood dripping from the ceiling during a dinner party. Yikes! Ghost hunter Milton Guest (Peter Sallis) turns up in episode four to add a dash of eccentricity to the rather mannered proceedings but the story, as with all the best children's drama, ultimately manages to both entertain and inform (with its discreetly-threaded backdrop of the Bristol riots). 'The Clifton House Mystery' is superior children's TV; the studio setting is suitably claustrophobic, there's a genuine sense of creeping menace about the story (even though no-one's ever in any real danger) and while the last episode, a sort of mopping-up exercise, is largely superfluous to the story, this is definately one Stuff can recommend if you're after some cheery, slightly-unsettling family supernatural fun.

From the box marked 'Freewheelers-lite' we find 'The Doombolt Chase' a six-part HTV serial from 1978 which couldn't be more different from 'The Clfiton House Mystery'. Shot entirely on film and on location this is broad, glossy, expansive adventure yarn which starts off with a central mystery - why naval Commander David Wheeler allows his vessel to ram a smaller boat in his ship's path rather than avoid it - which leads to his son Richard and his two friends Lucy and Peter into an investigation which involves them in an espionage mystery and something nasty and dangerous and destructive deep beneath the sea. Lively and pacey with lots going on, this is a hugely entertaining romp which was clearly intended to lead to more adventures for the feisty - and yes, typically slightly irritating - young trio. 'The Doombolt Chase' (great title) is written by Dr Who/Hammer writer Don Houghton (he wrote the Jon Pertwee story 'Inferno', one of the classic show's best ever serials) and, a bit gutsier and grittier than a lot of HTV's children's offerings, is worth tracking down.

'Look Back on '70s Telly' is a curious new series of Network DVD releases. Just out are issues One and Two - 2 discs apiece - which gather together random episodes of contemporary children's TV shows and package them up to look like the much-missed 'Look-In' ITV comic of the 1970s (I still have the first issue!!). It's a cute idea and whilst Issue One isn't really to my taste or interest - it's full of episodes of pre-school stuff like 'Rainbow', 'Pipkins', 'Cloppa's Castle', 'Potty Time' and I was too old for this stuff even in the 1970s - I can't help thinking that anyone who picks up these discs will do so out of idle curiosity or because of a deep-set nostalgia and probably just watch them once before realising that...well, maybe the memory does cheat sometimes. Issue two is more interesting, made up of random instalments of ITV dramas aimed at an older audience. Included are episodes of shows already released in their entirety (thus maybe encouraging purchasers to seek out their respective boxsets?) and of particular note are the surviving colour episode of ATV's brilliant 'Timeslip', an episode from 'Ace of Wands' (the superb Network boxset of series three, the only surviving episodes, is pretty much essential for anyone with an interest in classic kid's TV) and episode one of 'Tightrope', the post-'Timeslip' espionage drama starring Spencer Banks and which I would love to see again in its entirety. Is it on its way, Network??? Pretty please... Also included are episodes from girly kid's dramas like 'Follyfoot' and 'Black Beauty' as well as episodes from 'Magpie', 'Get It Together' and knockabout comedy 'Robert's Robots' which is as embarrassing now as it was then. With their lively and amusing menus and commemorative booklets, these are a very different sort of DVD release from Network and whilst I can't honestly imagine Issue One being hugely appealing, Issue Two is worth a look and, if nothing else, may encourage a few more thirty-somethings to seek out the full boxsets of shows they really loved and which fired up their imaginations when they were young.

Finally to something for the grown-ups with 'The Guardians', a bleak but compelling 13-part serial drama first (and only) screened in 1971. Set in a dystopian future Britain characterised by urban decay and civil disillusionment with the country under the control of a ruthless paramilitary organisation known as 'The Guardians', this talky serial pits the morality of the loose resistance collective known as the Quarmby against the sinister,self-serving Guardians and their shadowy leader the General. There's not a lot of action but there's lots of chat and very intense-looking people dealing determinedly with difficult moral issues. Worthy but occasionally dull this is a fascinating period piece and yet another reminder of a commercial television entertainment ethos long, long gone. 9 o'clock ITV is now occupied by shows like 'Popstar to Opera Star' and 'Michael Winner's Dining Stars'. What sort of progress is this? Even 'The Guardians' couldn't have predicted something as bleak as that...

All DVDs reviewed have been released from Network DVD during February and are best obtained from Network's excellent website at Go there immediately.

Reviews coming soon...The Crazies, Legion, The Lovely Bones, Being Human...

Thursday, 25 February 2010

New SFX Magazine

With the UK Sci-Fi Magazine roster now down to just two titles, one of which is the risible, Dr Who-sniffy Sci-Fi Now (laugh at its dreadful writing and clumsy lay-out) we turn to the still rather excellent SFX Magazine for our monthly fix of sci-fi news, reviews and interviews etc. Big format genre mags are a bit passe these days when their news reporting is weeks old by the time magazines see print and reviews and comment are freely available all over t'internet, but SFX still keeps the flag flying for enthusiastic reporting in the field and the magazine cheerfully ploughs its own furrow month after month. The next issue, due out on March 10th, not unreasonably glories in the forthcoming return of Dr Who with a very lovely exclusive 3D cover and what promises to be an extensive behind-the-scenes feature with interviews with the new show's major players. Meanwhile, the 3D cinema trailer is being aired regularly in its 2D form on BBC1 (as well as a slightly shorter 40-second version) and a more enticing series trailer is due to start screening mid-March.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Dr Who - the trailer...

So here it is, just screened on BBC1 and probably flying all over the internet at the moment, the first official trailer for the new series of Dr Who, starring Matt Smith and due to start at Easter. Enjoy...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

It's Dr Who

It seems like only minutes since David Tennant blasted off our screens in a hail of pyrotechnics and gave us our first glimpse of the new boy Matt Smith. Now we're just weeks away from his full debut in the hour-long episode 'The Eleventh Hour' (geddit?) and while no final air date has been announced yet the publicity machine is starting to crank up. Teaser trailers are due on BBC1 early in March, Matt Smith is rumoured to be giving his first proper TV interview on 'Friday Night With Jonathan Ross', possibly as early as March 12th. Just to prove that the buzz is beginning, the BBC have just released this spiffing new publicity pic which will hitting the press in, ooh, hours from to embiggen...

UPDATE: Now confirmed...first series 5/1 trailers to start airing from this Saturday on BBC1. It's understood a cinema trailer - specially treated for 3D - has also been filmed and should start screening along with the forthcoming Tim Burton version of 'Alice in Wonderland'. This is all part of a slow-burn 5 week 'awareness' campaign which will be ramping up by degree prior to the commencement of the new series around Easter. Colour me excited.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Film Review: The Wolf Man

'The Wolf Man', Hollywood's latest attempt to reanimate the classic Univeral monster sensations of the 1940s (let's not mention 'Van Helsing' ever again, eh?) has been so long in the making that it was itself in danger of being remade before it had even been released. Original director Mark (One Hour Photo) Romanek left the project due to "creative differences" and everyman director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3) was drafted in to salvage the troubled creature feature. But with thje film's release date being constantly shifted and rumours of reshoots and problems with the final edit, it was unlikely that, when the final product arrived, it was ever really likely to amount to much. Sure enough, the film's here now and...well, sadly, it doesn't really amount to much.

There's actually a fair bit to admire in Johnson's version of 'The Wolf Man' - but unfortunately there's quite a bit to be irritated, puzzled and even a bit angry about. The potential's certainly here for something rather good. The film looks sensational, dripping with a real Gothic atmosphere and stunningly realising its Victorian urban and rural settings. The creature FX are stomach-worryingly good - make-up guru Rick Baker's a dab hand at the werewolf stuff, having set the gold standard for screen lycanthropy in 'American Werewolf in London' waaaay back and there's no denying the raw quality of the thesps on display - Anthony Hopkins reigning in the ham for a change, Hugo Weaving as the determined Inspector Abberline and Benicio Del Toro as a slightly-too-old-for-this-part Lawrence Talbot. But something in the mix isn't quite right, something about the film just doesn't come alive. It's as if it's just going through the motions, throwing in set piece after set piece and rattling through a tick box of werewolf cliches without any real desire to do anything with any of these elements other than to just throw them onto the screen, hang a flimsy story around them and say to the audience "Look how clever we've been..." But 'The Wolf Man' isn't big and it's certainly not clever. It's got no heart and it's got no soul. As a film it just is.

Noted Shakesperean actor Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) returns to his ancestral home in the English countryside to comfort his sister-in-law (Emily Blunt) whose husband has gone AWOL. Larry has an uncomfortable reunion with his crusty dad (Anthony Hopkins) and before long soemthing monstrous and wolf-like is haring about the countryside ripping people to bits and generally being rather anti-social. During the course of the decimation of a gypsy camp poor Larry is savagely gored by a man who's more wolf than man. Thus he's infected by something nasty and when the next full moon comes round (remarkably quickly, as all full moons do in this movie with no sense of much going on in the weeks in between) Larry graphically turns into a wolf man and sets about on his own bloodthirsty rampage. Come the morning he's arrested and dragged off to London where, despite the fact he's been seen ripping people to shreds, he's accused of suffering delusions and subjected to cruel medical experiments in an attempt to cure him of his mental affliction. Unfortunately, as the full moon rises again, Larry goes ape (or rather wolf), escapes into the streets of Victorian London, dismembers a few locals and rushes back up to his family home and, in a twist so heavily sign-posted there might as well have been a big red sign screaming "This will be the twist" flashed onto the screen ten minutes in, meets Another Werewolf. There's some red-hot wolf-on-wolf action back in the family home and Larry final meets his silver-bullet fate but not before a potential sequel with a different wolf man is set up and we all go home.

'The Wolf Man' is gorgeous to look at. The muted, overcast colour palette suits the mood of the piece very well and technically the film bounces along and, once the watch-glancing first thirty minutes or so are out of the way, there's never a dull moment. Well, to be more accurate, there are too many dull moments. Because despite all the graphic violence (surprising for a 15 cert and clearly shoe-horned in just to spice up a rather drab movie) - all the decapitations and disembowellings and dismemberments - and all the roaring and running and screeching, there's a listlessness about the film. It's a film which is always trying to come to life but just can't. Part of the problem is Del Toro himself - or rather the character he plays. There's just nothing to Talbot, no bones to the man, no real sense of who he is. We're never given the chance to get inside his head, we're never privy to how he feels about his predicament, his terror at becoming a monster, his fears. Because of this we don't get to know or sympathise or empathise with him and as he does such terrible things to people when he's the wolf, we're really rooting for the Police and hoping some plucky Peeler can pick him off before he does any more damage to all those lovely lavish Victorian sets.

The film's to be commended for trying to be true to the spirit of a movie made in 1941 but all the concessions to modern movie-making have worked against it. Despite the welcome reappearance of horror movie staples like the "we don't like strangers around here" pub yokel types and the villagers rushing through the woods with flaming torches bent on Destroying Something, the film's too awash with a modern gloss to really convince as either an homage to a film made seventy years ago (yikes!) or as a contemporary monster movie. Rumour has it that Hollywood's keen on resurrecting the rest of its horror menagerie from the 1940s and 1950s - Dracula (again!), the Frankenstein Monster, the Creature From the Black Lagoon. If 'The Wolf Man' does the business at the Box Office - and it might do well on curiosity value alone - we can just hope that lessons have been learned and that the mistakes of 'The Wolf Man' aren't allowed to bedevil the return to the screen of those monsters and creatures which infested and informed so many of our flowering imaginations and which occupy a very special place in the history of 20th century cinema.

'The Wolf Man' really isn't a bad film but it's not a particularly good one. It occupies that curious, frustrating middle ground of a movie which, with a bit more effort and a bit more forethought, could have done something different and more imaginative with its source material rather than just trying to slavishly recreate a film which has already been made. So it's an interesting, sporadically-enjoyable failure - but it's a failure nonetheless. Boo.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

TV review: Survivors - series two...

Four episodes into the second series of BBC1's 'reimagining' of Terry Nation's post-plague drama 'Survivors' and several things have become crystal clear. Firstly, this show now bears little or no resemblance to the show which spawned it; all it has in common now are the title of the series and a handful of character names. Secondly...well, following the screening of episode four, it's suddenly evident that what we have here is not only the best drama series on British TV at the moment but also the best 'genre' or science-fiction show to have hit our screens since the rush of shows commissioned in the wake of the success of Dr Who in 2005. The show's been quietly building this year. Series one was a bold and successful reworking of familiar themes and story beats from the original series but it was only in the pulsating final episode that the series seemed to find its own way, suggesting some dynamic developments for series two. We're seeing this paid off now in a run of superb quality episodes culminating in episode four - possibly the bleakest, most pessimistic and downright savage piece of TV of any sort I've seen in years. This is 'Survivors' with the kid gloves off, this is British TV doing something it rarely gets the chance to do. And ironically, to bring me back towards my first point, the series is moving back into the adventure series format Terry Nation championed way back in 1975, a format abandoned by producer Terence Dudley in favour of a more rural approach, a format change which caused Nation to wash his hands of the series after the first batch of episodes. I think Terry Nation would whole-heartedly approve of 21st Century 'Survivors'.

I'll come back to episode four shortly - I'm still reeling (as they say in all the best tabloids),frankly. Disappointingly - but perhaps not surprisingly - 'Survivors' is tanking in the ratings this year. The first series (way back in November 2008 - a lifetime for casual followers of a six-part drama) kicked off with around 7 million viewers and settled into a solid 5 million plus (although the last episode, crucially, was sunk by being scheduled a couple of days before Christmas when most of its audience was either out partying or shopping). Without much fanfare series two debutted in January 2010 - without the crucial repeat of the last episode it really should have had as a lead-in - and its audience has fallen away. The show's hovering around the 4 million mark nowadays and that's as frustrating as it is, with hindsight, inevitable. The BBC have done the show no favours by delaying its planned November 2009 broadcast and the bizarre decision to start the second series and then rest it for a week for some football match is one of the most insane scheduling decisions imaginable and rather symptomatic of a Corporation which, while it's making some interesting dramas these days, hasn't really got much of a clue about how to schedule them. But maybe that's a discussion point for another day. 'Survivors' has other problems too. Unusually for a British show it's highly serialised; each episode rolls on into the next one and to get the full impact of the series you really need to have been there from the first episode and to have stuck with it ever since. This is a model which works well on American shows and it's a model producer/creator (with apologies to Mr Nation) Adrian Hodges and his team have been keen to emulate here. Whilst it's a huge success creatively, giving the show a real energy, pace and depth, it's not something UK audiences are familiar with. The public are used to their dramas being more or less self-contained and if they're not, constructed in such a way that it's easy to dip and out or skip an episode without missing too much. 'Survivors' wends it way around any number of storylines - the plight of Abby and her fractured Family, the secret underground laboratory Where Strange Experiments are taking place, the fragile community set up by former MP Sam Willis. Thread into all this an embryonic relationship between Al and Sarah, the smouldering relationship between Anya and Tom Price, the pent-up rage of Greg and Abby's quest for her missing son Peter and there's a lot for an audience to take on board if they're only vaguely familiar with the show from its first series over a year ago. This all makes for stunning, multi-layered, finely-textured and compelling drama - but it ain't 'alf off-putting for a weeknight audience more used to the more simple-minded goings-on in 'Holby City'.

Series two of 'Survivors' picked up at the exact moment the first series ended all those long months ago. Venturing back into a decaying, hauntingly-deserted city to find the errant Naj, the group have come under attack by Sam Willis's head psycho Dexter. A helicopter has arrived and a screaming Abby (Julie Graham) ahs been whisked away just as a random potshot by Dexter fells Greg (Patterson Joseph). In episode one the conspiracy arc hinted at throughout the first season moves into high gear as Abby finds herself in an underground research bunker where a group of scientists are desperate to find an immunity gene which will provide a vaccine against the virulent virus which has done for the human race. Back outside it's a race against time to find the medical supplies needed to save an injured Greg from death. Anya (Zoe Tapper) and Al (Phillip Rhys) are trapped in a nearby hospital when it collapses around them and only grim-faced anti-hero Tom Price (Max Beesley) can save the day. But does he want to? Plunged into a fever-dream by his injuries, Greg revisits his own past and we finally learn a little bit more backstory about the group's quiet man - and it ain't too pleasant. Episode one bleeds in to episode two as Abby discovers the unpleasant truth about the Bunker and her own place in their scheme of things and Greg, Tom and the others fight off a group of desperate city-dwellers as they try to figure out a way to rescue Abby. After a spectacular piece of narrative misdirection which turned a potentially howling cliche into a wonderful plot twist (Tom and co appear to break effortlessly into the Bunker compound only to find they're in completely the wrong place), Abby fashions her own escape and is reunited with her friends. But they don't have a moment's peace as, in episode three, Tom is captured by goons from Sam Willis's community and put on trial for his past crimes. Episode three is where the show really becomes a bit darker; the series tackles head-on its own new morality with Willis as judge, jury and would-be executioner, a woman desperate to do the right thing by doing the wrong thing over and over again and the final confrontation between Tom Price and Dexter is savage, unrelenting and ultimately shockingly brutal. Along the way the group (referred to as the Family) have encountered Billy (Roger Lloyd Pack who, interestingly, also starred in two 1976 episodes of the original series) a friendly trader travelling the countryside in his pantechnicon. But he too has secrets, picking up young, fit survivors and supplying them to a local hard man who press-gangs them into working in a coal mine in inhuman and inhumane conditions.

Which brings us to the just-screened episode four. There's nowt better than watching a TV drama which is so utterly engrossing that, just for a moment or two, you're in its world, utterly taken in and absorbed by the drama to the exclusion of everything else. That's what episode four of 'Survivors' did for this reviewer and, by the end of an exhaustingly-powerful sixty minutes which touched so many emotional and dramatic bases, I was pretty much in bits. Here Greg and Tom are captured by a self-appointed former academic-cum-Lord-of-the-Manor named Smithson who has installed himself in a big house, surrounded himself by subservent goons, and forced a gang of other bewildered survivors into grotesque servitude down his tacky mine. Greg and particularly Tom aren't too happy about this and when Abby and the others finally arrive on the scene the series suddenly - and quite welcomingly - resembles its parent show more than it ever has before. Smithson is a figure torn straight from a Nation script, evoking memories of union leader/self-appointed saviour Arthur Wormely (George Baker), a stand-out character from the early days of the original show. Like Wormely, Smithson sees himself as a saviour, surrounding himself with gun-toting yes men who'll do his bidding because he's more intelligent and forward-thinking than they are. But his morality - slavery for the many for the benefit of the few - repulses Abby and co and the way is opaved for a number of well-written and performed sequences where Abby and her group confront Smithson about his vision for the future, scenes which could have been torn right out of the scripts of any 1975 episode as the new ways meet the old ways head on. The episode becomes increasingly tense and stomach-churning as, eventually, Greg and Tom free the rest of the slaves who don't, as we might have expected, run for the hills and their freedom; they turn back and ritually slaughter Smithson and his men, clubbing them to death, hanging them and just generally tearing them apart. The series presents a very grim and thoroughly pessimistic view of human nature; in the post-plague world it's every man for himself. Gone is the old series' back-to-the-land philosophy; now it's kill first or be killed. That's very 21st century. That's very dark. And just when the episode has delivered one killer dramatic punch after another there's yet more as Tom Price puts an injured escape miner out of the misery he's sufefring as a result of an accident in the mine; Tom's actions are both beautifully, poignantly merciful and terrifyingly cold. The entire cast of the series are on top form this year but Beesley's performance is absolutely outstanding, creating the most magnetic and raw character seen on British TV in years. There's the very real sense that there's nothing this wild, unstable man won't and can't do. But even now there's more to come. Earlier on in the episode we've seen Tom releasing a gang of kids captured by Billy and destined for the mine. Tom's left Billy tied up to a tree. The freed chidlren w wander back and release him...and one of them announces himself as Peter Grant, Aby's missing son.

You may have gathered I'm rather taken by 'Survivors' this year. Comparisons to the old series are too tiresome to bother with now, this show has forged its own path. Unfortunately it's a path far too remorselesly grim for a mainstream audience but I applaud the BBC for letting the new show find its own way and take a very dark road indeed. I'd be surprised if the BBC commission a third run on the basis of the numbers so far - they're not 'Paradox' bad but they're weak - and the fact that this wonderful and daring piece of modern television might be consigned to the dumper because of viewer apathy caused by BBC mismanagement is pretty damned depressing by any reasonable standards. So let's enjoy the last two episodes of this sereis because they may be the last we get. The original series of 'Survivors' has always been one of the classic cornerstones of my abiding love of the genre and the post-apocalypse sub-genre in particular; I'm so pleased to say that the new 'Survivors' now stands proudly right alongside it, as good as I'd hoped it would be and now far better than I ever dreamed it could be. It's brilliant, brilliant stuff.