Daily Archives: Sunday, 12th Jun 2016

Stuff Report – 12 June 2016

I’ve been having a quiet day in, so there’s no step count as well as no weight figure. I hope that isn’t too disappointing…

Here’s another view of Cullercoats, complete with airliner

Cullercoats

Cullercoats

Camera: X-T1
Aperture: ƒ/11
Shutter speed: 1/640s
Focal length: 100mm
ISO: 200
Taken: 30 April, 2016

Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace

It is the end, as the Doctor once put it, but sadly it hasn’t been prepared for. This, unless there’s a major discovery of lost episodes, is it. The last release of available material from the classic series of Doctor Who. For a while, it looked like it wasn’t going to be released at all, but after much complaining and campaigning, the people who make the decisions decided they should probably let it out into the world, if only to stop the complaints. It’s unfortunate that the final release in a long line of DVDs should be so grudgingly released, and indeed given what is, I’m sad to say, a singularly shoddy release. But more of that later.

What we have here is a four-part story from early in the Patrick Troughton era. The Doctor is accompanied by Ben and Polly, together with the newly acquired highlander Jamie[1], and in the usual uncontrolled manner of the time, they arrive at a strange location, Odd things are, of course, going on. There’s a Mad Scientist who’d give the Master or Davros a run for their money, very strange fishy people, and err, Atlantis. Which is going to be risen.

It’s not one of the high points of the series, really. Patrick Troughton is just getting into his stride and developing his portrayal, and the companions work together well, with the expected 60s level of screaming from Polly.

But the main issue here is that it’s not all here. Rather than recreate the missing episodes one and four in animation as has been done in the past, what we’re given here is the soundtrack (fortunately complete) and a series of “telesnaps” – low quality photographs taken of a TV screen at time of transmission. There aren’t enough of these to really show what’s going on a lot of the time, and it has to be said that it’s not a good way of presenting the story.

The other let-down is in the extra features. The ever-popular production subtitles? Naaah, none of that. A triumphant round-up of the massive project of releasing all those DVDs? Don’t be silly. There is a fairly average “making of” documentary, with surviving cast and crew recalling the production, and the second part of the documentary about the relationship between the series and BBC Television Centre[2]. Oh, and a couple of short clips that were cut from episodes one and four for broadcast in Australia, which don’t add that much to the experience.

And all that probably explains why it’s taken me so long to get around to watching this DVD.

Summary: a missed opportunity and a sad end to a generally excellent release programme.

[1] So newly acquired that he had to be allocated bits of dialogue intended for Ben…
[2] The first part was on the Special Edition release of The Visitation.

The Medusa Chronicles – Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter

A long, long time ago, when I was a rather young Les, there was a weekly magazine for protogeeks[1] called Speed and Power. If my flaky memory serves, my dad bought me the first issue, and I never missed one after that. It didn’t last that long, and was eventually absorbed into the less interesting Look and Learn. It featured articles on interesting machinery, planes, trains and all that kind of thing, but the most important thing was that it reprinted sf short stories. It started off with Arthur C Clarke, then moved on to introduce me to Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, which I’d no doubt have got to at some point, but it got me there sooner, which had to be a good thing.

It was during the Arthur C Clarke phase that Speed and Power serialised Clarke’s 1972 novelette A Meeting WIth Medusa, though for reasons of publishing they presented it as it were two stories rather than one. It was the story of Howard Falcon, who we first meet as commander of an airship called Queen Elizabeth IV, which has a disastrous crash which very nearly kills him. Reconstructed as a cyborg, he later rides under a balloon into the atmosphere of Jupiter, where he finds unexpected forms of life, including the jellyfish-like medusa of the title. It’s the kind of sf story that sticks in the mind, evoking the sense of wonder that characterises the best of the genre.

And apparently it had an effect on another young person in South Wales – Alastair Reynolds, who I’ve mentioned a few times before[2], refers to reading the story in the afterword to this collaboration with Stephen Baxter. Which is where this digression ends and I get on with talking about the book itself.

It’s a prolonged sequel to Clarke’s classic story, inspired by the ending which refers to Falcon being the bridge between Machine and Man in the centuries to follow. And it pretty much does what it says on the tin, dealing with episodes in Falcon’s life as he becomes more estranged from humanity, and as the artificial intelligences he was instrumental in freeing become more and more indifferent to humanity.

And it’s good stuff throughout – particularly when Falcon and an AI return to Jupiter and find it’s even stranger in its depths than they could have ever anticipated.

Highly recommended if you’re a fan of the original story, and worth a look even if you’re not familiar with it[3].

[1] I don’t think we were called geeks in those far off days, but never mind
[2] Possibly understatement
[3] It’s in various anthologies, and can probably be found online, but I’d recommend The Collected Stories Of Arthur C. Clarke  as the place to go.