Tag Archives: douglas adams

Robert Rankin – They Came and Ate Us – Armageddon II: The B-Movie

Moving along with the Great Robert Rankin Re-read-athon, we come to the second in the Armageddon Trilogy. This was first published by Bloomsbury in 1991, and my trade paperback is well, yes, an actual first edition. If my memory is accurate (and be fair, it’s been a while, I’ve been asleep since then, etc, etc), I got it from a strange thing called a “book club”, which was how we used to buy books by something called “mail order” in those pre-Amazonian days. The club in question did softcover versions of books otherwise available only in more expensive hardbacks. This one must have appealed it me at the time when I saw its description in the quaintly printed monthly (or thereabouts) newsletter thingy. Either that, or it was the monthly (or thereabouts) selection which they’d send to you if you didn’t get around to telling them not to. I suspect the former rather than the latter, but I could be wrong (it’s happened at least once before, I think it was on a Tuesday). But I, as is so often the case, digress. Though it wouldn’t be Losing it without a digression or six, would it?

So, this follows on, more or less, give or take, from Armageddon: The Musical. Following the quite literal deus ex machina ending of that one, the revived earth is a paradise. Our hero Rex Mundi is married to Christeen (twin sister of Jesus christ, edited out of the Bible, best not to ask) and living in profound happiness, so that’s not going to last, is it?

Meanwhile (err, no, not really, but once you start messing around with time travel, the grammar goes to pot, as Douglas Adams pointed out), in 1977, Elvis Presley has faked his death and headed off with Barry the Time Sprout.

And then there’s some fun with Jack Doveston, working on a project to digitise all the more interesting books, who accidentally manages to summon Rex Mundi through time.

And some nicely demonic entities.

And hackers.

And more nonsense than you could shake a shaky thing at.

And chapter headings relating more nonsense about Hugo Rune than anyone would wish to know.

And something approximating to the truth about the Nuclear Holocaust Event of 1999 that led to the mangled future world of the first book.

And a guest appearance from Pooley and Omally, heroes of the Brentford Trilogy!

And more characters complaining about not getting better parts!

Indeed, it’s pretty much at this point that Robert settles down (well, more doesn’t settle down, really) into the deranged self-referential style that we all know and love. Great and very silly fun, which made my journey to Birmingham much more enjoyable.

Robert Rankin – East of Ealing

And here we are with the third book in the legendary[1] Brentford Trilogy, as my great Robert Rankin Re-read-athon creaks along. First published in 1984, this involves yet more apocalyptic goings-on in the famous[2] London borough. Readers who survived the experience of The Brentford Triangle may be either relieved or confused to find that there are no signs of the devastation and destruction[3] that occurred in that book. Well, confusion s part of the Rankin package, so you’ll just have to get used to it. Has some cosmic reset button been pressed, or is it, as Douglas Adams might have said, just life[4]? It’s probably best not to think about such matters and just get on with the story. Oh, and you’d better get used to pun-loaded titles. There will be more…

Everything appears to be being taken over by a company calling itself Latienos & Romiith. They appear to be behind the scheme to abolish actual cash and label everyone with barcodes, which as is correctly pointed out, have eighteen bars split into three groups of six. Six Six Six, even. And yes, these marks are indeed placed on either the right hand or the forehead, which comes as a Revelation[5] to our heroes Pooley and Omally, especially after Pooley manages to win an almost incalculable fortune from his six-horse accumulator bet, and when he’s taken the huge amount of money to the bank, finds the only way he can get at it is via his new barcode.

Now that might be bad enough, but there’s also the little matter of the enormous Latienos and Romiith building springing up in Brentford. And the forcefield thingy separating the borough from the outside world. And people being replaced by evil robotic replicas. And, as they say, much more, not least Sherlock Holmes, who’s prematurely, if usefully, revived from suspended animation.

Much madness follows, with the inventive Norman coming up with his own replica and a time machine of the H G Wells variety, which might come in handy…

The whole thing is utterly bonkers, as you might expect. And if the ending has you saying “eh? what? how? when? whither? whence?”, you won’t be alone.

According to I, Robert, after this book, both he and his editor were shown the door by the then publisher on grounds of low sales. Shocking.

[1] Must be, it says so on the cover
[2] It’s got all these books written about it!
[3] Decimation optional
[4] Don’t talk to me about life, etc
[5] Sorry[6], had to be done
[6] Not.

For Who the Bell Tolls – David Marsh

David Marsh is an editor of some variety on the Guardian, edits the paper’s Mind Your Language blog, and is generally responsible for the @GuardianStyle Twitter feed, both of which are good fun for anyone who enjoys the use and abuse of language.

He’s now published a book (parts of which have previously appeared on the blog) about English grammar and style. It’s written in a light, humorous style and is a lot of fun, particularly when he quotes some of the more extreme examples of linguistic abuse. He also has the good taste to quote Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, which earns him several million bonus points.

He’s nicely opinionated and has little patience with some of the more pompous forms of communication:

You don’t need to know that ‘this is he’ is an example of the predicate nominative to be all to aware that someone who uses it to answer the phone is going to sound like a twerp.

And in a chapter on easily (or not so easily) confused words, he offers this useful definition:

fayre A fete worse than death

David has fun with political language and the bizarre form of communication used by train companies. Though he seems to have missed the odd one where the thing you’re sitting in[1] isn’t a train. Oh no, it’s a service.  And those places where you get on or off the, err, service aren’t stations, they’re station stops.

Anyway, this is good stuff, and well worth reading. Have a look at the blog and the Twitter feed to get a feel for his style if you’re not sure.

[1] Assuming you can get a seat, that is…

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4 Blu-Ray

Having started to get seriously good in Season Three, this was the year in which ST:TNG settled down into being the show many of us recall with affection.

Moving on form the more traditional monster/alien/thingy of the week format, the show spent more time developing the characters, and the relationships between them, making things more interesting. There were, however, lots of monsters/aliens/thingies to contend with as well.

After picking up the cliffhanger in The Best of Both Worlds Part II[1], which was a tricky one, as Picard had been Borgified, the creators took the quite unusual step of taking an episode to explore the consequences. In Family, Picard visits his estranged brother, and contemplates leaving Star Fleet. We also meet Worf’s comedy adoptive human parents. Staying with the family theme, Brothers gives Brent Spiner a chance to shine, as he plays Data, his “evil brother”  Lore and their father/creator Doctor Noonian Soong.

Welsey finally gets some decent dialogue and a decent part in his last episode as a regular cast member, Final Mission. The Enterprise crew come up against an alleged demonic entity in Devil’s Due, and there’s an intriguing puzzle in Clues.

The annoying Q returns in QPID, which does give Worf one of the best comedy lines

Sir, I protest! I am not a merry man!

The season ends with another cliffhanger in Redemption, Part I.  Civil war is brewing in the Klingon Empire, and Worf has a chance to regain his family’s honour. He also gets to put on a different uniform. Has he left the Enterprise for good? Find out in the next Blu-ray set!

And there’s much more. Some excellent episodes, which still stand up two decades on. As before, the restoration is superb, with everything looking better than it did the first time around.

Special features include the Mission Logs from the DVD releases and some new material.

  • In conversation: The Star Trek Art Department – this reunites people who worked on ST:TNG, Deep Space Nine and Voyager for a chat. It went on rather longer than I found interesting, but that might just be me.
  • Relativity: The Family Saga of Star Trek: The Next Generation – two new pieces with the original cast talking about this period in the show, including Wil Wheaton talking about why he left when he did. Good stuff, and it’s nice to see them all haivng such positive views on the work they did a long time ago.

There are also some deleted scenes and the moderately traditional gag reel.

 

[1] Note: the writers of that thought that getting out of the cliffhanger would be an SEP[2], and were slightly worried when they found it was actually their problem
[2] Someone Else’s Problem (thank you, Douglas Adams)

CrashPlan gives me a warm fuzzy moment

I use CrashPlan because it’s a nicely reliable service at a price I find quite acceptable. The fact that it’s run by a company called Code Forty Two, who did indeed take that name from where you might guess[1], is a bonus. It’s nice doing business with people who have good taste in literature.

So it wasn’t altogether surprising to see them mention Douglas Adams’ birthday, and that Google Doodle I mentioned this morning. Not surprising, but very pleasing. These are the kind of guys I’m very happy to pay to look after my data.

Happy Birthday, Douglas Adams | The Code 42 CrashPlan Blog.

[1] And if you don’t know that, you haven’t been paying attention

Google remembers Douglas Adams

OK, I have to say that this is the best Google Doodle ever. In honour of what, in a properly run universe, would have been the 61st birthday of Douglas Adams, they’ve created this:

Life, the universe and everything

Life, the universe and everything

You need to head to Google while it’s there and have a play. Clicking on the keypad of the Guide will make animations appear on its screen. Various other bits move and make noises, and clicking on the doors will reveal an old friend. Lovely.

If you’re reading this in the future, you should can find it here in Google’s Doodle archive. If you’re reading this in the past, please leave next week’s lottery numbers in a comment.

Doctor Who: The Legacy Collection

Despite the fact that I haven’t quite got round to catching up on all of 2012’s classic Doctor Who releases, I got straight on with the first one of 2013, which like a lot of such things is a bit of a special treat for the fans.

This slipcase contains two things: a lovely documentary and a famously unfinished story that’s had a bit more attention of late. I’ll deal with them in that order.

First up is More than 30 years in the TARDIS. This was a documentary first shown in 1993 (during the odd period when Doctor Who was not being made) for the thirtieth anniversary of the show’s beginning. It was released in an extended version on video the following year, and it’s that extended version that’s on offer here.

And what a lovely thing it is – it covers the origin of Doctor Who, includes numerous interviews, clips, bits of extreme fun with Daleks and Cybermen, and if that wasn’t enough, Douglas Adams is in it. It’s a proper tribute to the show made at a time when it didn’t seem all that likely that it would return, and is as good a run through of the classic series as I’ve ever seen.

Not only that, but there are extras! It’s been treated as any other classic release, so there are production subtitles[1], a gallery and the usual PDFs of the Radio Times listings. But there’s more!

Remembering Nicholas Courtney – A tribute to the actor who played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. There’s an interview, numerous clips and Tom Baker being Tom Baker, which is always good. Nicely done, and essential watching for any fan.

Doctor Who Stories – Peter Purves – Another piece taken from the 2003 Story of Doctor Who in which Peter Purves (who I recall from his years on Blue Peter, of course) talks about his time as a companion.

The Lambert Tapes – Part One – Verity Lambert was the first producer of Doctor Who. In the early 60s it was a major step for a woman, particularly a woman still in her 20s, to be appointed to such a position. In this piece, also recorded for the 2003 Story of Doctor Who, Verity talks about her experiences with the dreaded BBC management of the day.

Those Deadly Divas –  A look at the role of the diva (those female characters who are just a wee bit over the top) in the series, featuring Kate O’Mara (who we all recall as the Rani), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler) and Tracy-Ann Oberman (Torchwood’s Cyberised[2] Yvonne Hartman). They’re assisted by writers Clayton Hickman and Gareth Roberts. Nicely watchable.

Now that would have made a nice enough release, and I’d have bought it. But what’s this in the slipcase? Is it another DVD? Yes, it’s Shada!

Shada was meant to be the last story in the seventeenth season. After another script proved to be unusable, script editor Douglas Adams, despite being a bit busy with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in various forms, was given special dispensation to be allowed to write a story.[3] What he came up with was a nicely odd piece involving a retired Time Lord, a nicely loony megalomaniac and some Gallifreyan history. Unfortunately, it was scuppered by the politics of the time. The location shooting was done, and one of three studio blocks was done, but the rest ended up being cancelled as a result of strikes. While other stories had ended up not being made at all for various reasons, this was the only one to have a partial existence, which has lent it a certain something or other.

All was not lost, however. For a start, Doug Adams recycled many elements of the story into Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency[4]. An in 1992, the completed bits, with Tom Baker wandering around a museum narrating the missing bits, and a few added visual and sound effects, were put together into a video release. And it’s that release that’s been used as the basis of the DVD. It’s been assembled into the intended six episodes, some of which are quite short due to the amount of missing material, but it more or less hangs together. It’s good fun, with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward on fine form. I enjoyed it, anyway.

Along with the production subtitles and a trailer for the next release[5], there’s a 2003 animated version of Shada, made for the web. Paul McGann is the Doctor and Lalla Ward is Romana, with original K-9 voice John Leeson replacing David Brierley. This is playable on PC or Mac rather than on your TV. I haven’t watched that yet, so I can’t comment. But there’s even more! YEs, a second DVD of extras:

Taken out of Time – A more or less usual look back at the slightly disturbed making of Shada, with many of the usual suspects including Tom Baker

Now and Then – Comparing the largely unchanged Cambridge locations thirty years on. Really not much has changed…

Strike! Strike! Strike! – How various bits of Doctor Who were affected by strike action over the years. Spearhead from Space was actually improved by it, as the whole thing had to be made on film, which is why it’ll be betting a Blu-Ray HD release later this year…

Being a Girl –  the role of women in Doctor Who gets a moderately critical look. Far too many of the companions were written as helpless screamers, something that’s a wee bit different these days…

So, this is a nice release for collectors. Shop around and you should be able to get it for much the same price as a normal single release, so there’s not much reason not to get it if you’re at all interested in classic Doctor Who.

[1] Which I failed to notice on the menu when I watched it, so I’ll have to watch again
[2] Is that a word?
[3] This may sound odd to people used to the way things work these days, but things were different then
[4] And another bit popped up in a HHGTTG book. As did an idea he had for another Doctor Who story.
[5] Interestingly, the trailer didn’t mention the most interesting thing about that. So I won’t until it arrives

Doctor Who – Nightmare of Eden

Another day, another classic Doctor Who DVD from the pile of things I’ve been meaning to post about.

This one was first shown in November and December 1979, and stars the wonderful pairing of Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana, accompanied by K-9 with his alternative voice, provided by David Brierley in the absence of John Leeson.

The fun starts with a hyperspace collision between a space liner and a smaller ship, which leaves the two vessels interlocked in a special-effecty sort of way. Naturally, it’s just after this point that the TARDIS arrives and the Doctor and Romana start to investigate.

It soon becomes clear that some strange things are going on. There’s a Mad Scientist, complete with one of the worst fake Germanic accents ever heard, and a very suspicious bit of technology. There seems to be a bit of a problem with a very illegal and very dangerous drug, for which someone has found a new source, what with the previous ones having been eliminated with extreme force.

Ah. And then there are the monsters. Large things with big heads and claws, the Muppets Mandrels, which somehow fail the looking even a bit scary test, but never mind. As usual, there’s lots of peril, and this being from the year when Douglas Adams was script editor, some good old fashioned jokes. Perhaps the best bit is this nice bit of dialogue:

Romana: I don’t think we should interfere

Doctor: Interfere! Of course we should interfere! Always do what you’re best at, that’s what I say!

It’s all a bit of a jolly romp, and perhaps doesn’t quite work as well as it might have done. There was a lot of friction between the cast and director Alan Bromly, which can’t have helped. But it’s worth a watch, to enjoy Tom Baker at his bonkers best.

Extras, in addition to the usual stuff that I don’t really need to tell you about again, include:

  • The Nightmare of Television Centre – some of the production people talk about the “difficult” process of making this story.
  • Going Solo – Bob Baker, writer of this story, had previously worked with Dave Martin. Here, he talks about their amicable split and the process of writing his only solo Doctor Who story
  • The Doctor’s Strange Love – Josie Long joins Joe Lidster and Simon Guerrier to basically have a nice chat about Doctor Who. Nice.
  • Ask Aspel – a clip from the BBC children’s TV show in which Lalla Ward is interviewed.
So, not a spectacular release, but good fun. There’s one bit that’s stuck in my memory from the first time I saw it – near the beginning, when the Doctor starts interfering, he pretends to be an insurance agent, and suggests a “knock for knock”[1] approach to settling matters. It was supremely silly then, and still is now. Lovely.

 [1] The idea was that in a collision, each party’s insurance would pay for the other’s damage. Apparently they don’t do that these days.

Doctor Who – The Three Doctors

Yes, it’s time for another classic Doctor Who DVD review thingy. This is one of the reissues in the Revisitations 3 box, along with a couple of other DVDs that are on my tuit list. The original DVD came out in 2003, and didn’t have a lot of extras, but if memory serves, it did come with a model of Bessie[1], so it wasn’t all bad.

Anyway, this was at the time, and still is, a significant story. It was the opener for the tenth anniversary series, and sets a few precedents. It’s the first of several multi-Doctor stories. It establishes more Time Lord mythology and history. And, perhaps more significantly, it frees the Doctor from his imposed exile on Earth. It was first shown in December 1972 and January 1973.

I won’t do a full run through of the story, but I’ll mention some of the highlights. The Brigadier gets to be very Brigadier-y (“I’m sure that’s Cromer” being a great line). The Doctor has a bit of trouble getting on with himselves[2], leading to some comedy bickering between Two (Patrick Troughton) and Three (Jon Pertwee). It’s left to One (William Hartnell) to keep some kind of order[3].

And it’s sad to say that William Hartnell was in very poor health at the time. He had good days and bad days, and it seems he eagerly agreed to take the job on one of the better ones. So his role was as an observer and adviser, appearing on the TARDIS scanner while perched in an odd pyramidal structure. Despite the fact that he was simply reading his lines in, he gives a great performance for one last time as the Doctor.

There is, of course, a very good reason why the Time Lords have broken the Laws of Time[4] and caused the Doctor to meet himselves. All their power is being drained into a black hole, and only the Doctors can help, etc.

Soon enough, the Doctors and their friends find themselves in the antimatter world created by the semi-legendary Time Lord hero Omega, who not having been killed in a supernova after all, is a wee bit cross with the other TIme Lords, and is seeking vengeance and a drama award. Yes, of all the Pertwee-era drama queen villains (Azal comes to mind), Omega is the biggest of them all. Come to think of it, he’s played by Stephen Thorne, who also played Azal.

Of course, our heroes triumph, the other Doctors are returned to their proper times[5], and the Time Lords give the Doctor a new dematerialisation circuit and restore his blocked memories of how to actually operate the TARDIS.

It’s all good fun, and fills its four episodes nicely. A proper celebration if there ever was one.[6]

Extra features include:

  • Pebble Mill at One – a 1973 interview with Patrick Troughton and assorted monsters
  • Blue Peter – Jon Pertwee talks to former companion Peter Purves
  • BSB Highlights – Former satellite TV service BSB (absorbed into Sky later on) ran a Doctor Who weekend in 1990. Parts of it are included here, including some cast and crew interviews, and an introduction from 80s producer John Nathan-Turner
  • The Five Faces of Doctor Who – trailer for a 1981 repeat season
  • BBC1 Trailer – a recreated version of the original trailer, based on a poor quality audio track
  • 40th Anniversay Trailer – the notes say this was included on the 2003 DVD, but it’s not listed there.
  • Happy Birthday to Who – A new making of documentary with cast and crew doing the usual stuff. Good fun
  • Was Doctor Who Rubbish? Fans defend against claims that Doctor Who had wobbly sets (pretty much all TV of the time did) and dodgy effects (occasional failures of the available technology to achieve the director’s vision). The short answer is “of course not”.
  • Girls, Girls, Girls – The 1970s in which Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Louise Jameson (Leela) and Katy Manning (Jo) talk about the troubles they had dealing with the rather more sexist attitudes of the times. Good to see Caroline John one more time.

[1] The Third Doctor’s distinctive yellow car
[2] Err, this is one of those cases where Douglas Adams’ contention that the real problem with time travel wasn’t becoming your own grandparents, but sorting out the grammar
[3] That’s long puzzled me, really. If you think about it, the First Doctor is younger than the other two, and less experienced, so why is he taking charge? Hmmm? Hmmm?
[4] Suggesting that these are laws of the “no parking” rather than “conservation of momentum” variety
[5] Presumably with memory alterations to prevent them knowing about all this before it happened
[6] Talking of which, next year should be interesting…

Reflections

No, no, don’t run away! I’m not about to get philosophical[1], I’m talking about actual optical reflections. With Saturday being such a bright day, and with the sun being quite low in the sky at this time of year, I saw a lot of reflections – in the Tyne, in a big puddle and at St Peters. Here are some of the ones I liked the most:


[1] All I need to know about philosophers I learned from Douglas Adams.