Halfway out of the Dark by John Connors

It’s easier to watch the TV movie now. Free of the weight of expectation placed on it originally, it remains a curio, a sort of mid range Doctor Who story neither disaster nor classic, a cul-de-sac, a route for a journey never taken. In 1996 however it meant a lot more. For audiences starved of new TV Doctor Who, the movie was supposed to be the dawn of a new era, a pilot for a series that would be more expensive looking and popular than ever before. Its unique status meant it was under the critical microscope for longer than any individual episode of the show has ever been. It would be the `latest` episode for a whopping nine years before we saw Rose. We tend to forget in the UK it received very similar viewing figures (just over 9 million) and had it been solely up to the BBC would probably have gone to a series. However it was expected to perform the impossible in the States where the show had never been more than a minor cult so was deemed a failure. Perhaps it’s re-release as part of the first Revalidations box set will allow a proper re-basement of the production. There’s an excellent documentary included that details the complex journey it took to arrive on our screens and the affection the players have for the series.  Of course, we should never upgrade a story just because of the love and effort that went into it, nor because of its significant place in the canon.


Announcement Woman!

You must have encountered her. Perhaps travelling- “The next station is Canada Water…” or maybe in the comfort of your home- “For audio navigation, press enter now...” or perhaps when making a phone call- “Please leave a message after the tone.”  She is Announcement Woman, a part of our lives about whom we know nothing. Now it would be very easy to Google our way to knowing everything about her but far more interesting to speculate because nobody can be that composed in real life can they?

Perhaps she is putting on the announcement voice for work only. Once she leaves the recording studio, maybe she speaks like Lily Savage while scoffing a full English breakfast. Or perhaps she is even more refined than her announcements would suggest, driving back to a gold plated mansion in the country?


Anatomy of a TV Advert

These days TV adverts are treated as an art form in themselves. There’s always been a fondness for them- witness the nostalgia for the old Smash ads with the metal aliens for example- but more recently they have become just as important -and sometimes more important-  than the programmes they sit in between. Where once upon a time people would enthuse about a TV programme they’d seen the previous evening, nowadays they are just as likely to go on about an advert.

More likely to be conceptually innovative than drama, television adverts are limited only by the amount of money firms are prepared to pay for them which, judging from the end product of some, is quite a lot. As anyone who has sat through one dimensional adverts in other countries will know, British ads are the most innovative in the world and have come to define the way we think about products. Cars are mighty, incredible and dynamic thanks to advertising even though all they really do is get you from point A to point B. Adverts sex up food, clothes, furniture or anything however basic the item may be. They make us aspire to lives that previous generations would have considered beyond their reach; the fantastic series Mad Men imbues some of the start of this thought process. Despite being set in the 1960s it speaks to us because we all think like advertising people now.


Strange Matters by John Connors

Given the variety in the Doctor Who repertoire it’s odd to find `Time and the Rani` languishing near the foot of popularity polls. While by no means perfect it does possess boldness wholly absent from the previous season’s post hiatus efforts. Where `Trial` was flat and uninvolving this story tingles with possibilities much of them flowing from Sylvester McCoy. In the space of these 4 episodes, McCoy ushers in warmth, geniality and a genuine sense of the absurd, all notably missing from his predecessor. Some of it is overplayed for sure; he’s asked to do things that just look silly on screen but much more of his performance is pitched at a level to intrigue both adults and children. The standard clip for the story seems to be his pratfall when he first spots the Rani but that’s a misleading excerpt to use. Much better is the Doctor desperately trying to remember, picking up little bits of evidence as he goes, puzzling over what’s going on. He’s at his very best when subdued or puzzled, his distracted air suggesting the age of a Time Lord more than anyone since Tom’s final season.


Tips for invading Earth

If you’re planning an invasion of planet Earth, you might have studied a selection of TV shows to try and gauge what the best thing to do it. Unfortunately these shows are made to entertain so are no practical use for the average Supreme Zoblin commander to use. Here’s a few hand hints to help. Ignore them and there's really no point setting off from your hive, central command or whatever you call it...


Three Is The Magic Number by John Connors

Dealing with a pre-existing legend can be a blessing and a curse for writers. On the one hand you want to retain the familiar icons, on the other why bother if you’re not going to impart something fresh? Merlin sits deftly between these two aspects managing to feel new yet familiar at once. The third season is bolder than its predecessors, more fluid in its themes and confident in their delivery. From the energetic two part opener to the thrilling finale it reaps the rewards of what has sometimes seemed like too careful an approach. On reflection we can definitely see a three year game plan that pays off in every department. Perhaps the most surprising thing- though those of us who’ve watched since the start shouldn’t be too surprised- is how well it has done in the ratings. Latter season three episodes were getting 6 to 7 million viewers despite being scheduled against The X Factor. You suspect even Simon Cowell might raise an eyebrow over that.


Mister Ed

Occasionally, in a manner that befits the format, I'll waffle for a bit. They used to call them editorials in the old paper days.  I think this is actually what blogs were created for. So, the blog format's been on for a month now and the one thing I didn't quite anticipate is how there needs to be a constant stream of material available, being worked on or being planned. In the `issues` days, I could have a breather of a month or two when nothing needed to be done. As TWU is done in my spare, spare time (ie besides a job and doing other things) it is highly likely that there will be gaps between posts lasting (gasp) weeks. I'll try to anticipate these and put some kind of Interlude thing up.


HG Wells: Concerning the Origins of the Genre by Andrew Darlington

HG Wells is the Elvis Presley of Science Fiction.
As with Elvis, disconnected elements of the genre he’s most directly identified with had been around for some time. But like Elvis, Herbert George became the first creative genius to define the nature of the species. Speculative themes had already been fictionally raised and explored by Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne and other lesser-known pioneering names such as Bulwer Lytton and Colonel George Tomkyns Chesney, but it was Wells who set out and established all the major templates that SF was to follow through the twentieth-century, and beyond. Time-travel with ‘The Time Machine’ (1895). Vivisection in ‘The Island Of Doctor Moreau’ (1896). Invisibility with ‘The Invisible Man’ (1897). Invasion from another planet with ‘War Of The Worlds’ (1898). Travel to other worlds with ‘First Men In The Moon’ (1901).  Strange inventions with “The New Accelerator” (first in ‘The Strand Magazine’ December 1901). A parallel Earth in ‘A Modern Utopia’ (1905). Future war and the rise of scientific utopia with ‘The Shape Of Things To Come’ (1933). And more. Each of which has spun off a cross-media industry of franchises in its own right. The patent on any one of these themes would guarantee him a place in literary history. The scattergun of ideas gives him even greater unique distinction.