UFOwatch: Exposed

written by Tony Barwick / directed by Dave Lane

After civilian test pilot Paul Foster is caught up in a SHADO attack he finds nobody believes his story so sets out to prove he did see a UFO.
With a few alterations, this episode could easily serve as an introduction to the series and in fact was shown second on original transmission. It portrays SHADO as you would expect it to be seen by any outsider encountering the organisation; oblique, difficult, threatening and impenetrable. Paul Foster struggles to find a way in or so we are led to believe. There is an excellent twist at the end which unfortunately means that you can only ever watch this episode once to get the full mischievous impact of what is really happening.

"I'm not listening, I hate you, tra, la, la, la, la"


Could HMV be saved?

The long term answer is of course No. Future generations of music and film fans will have no experience of using a shop to buy either medium so in all likelihood the longest possible time a chain like HMV can survive is maybe ten more years. That being said it could be a reasonably successful decade if they get it right. At present it is still uncertain whether the shop will be able to continue at all. Hilco is the company that has bought HMV’ debt from the banks but their reputation is as asset strippers borne out by the way they dealt with previous acquisitions. Assuming they do decide to keep a large number of the current shops (there seems no way every one can be saved) what could be done to give HMV those extra ten years?


UFOwatch: Flight Path

Flight Path
written by Ian Scott Stewart / directed by Ken Turner

SHADO operative Paul Roper is coerced into giving the aliens vital information that could threaten the organisation- but what did he tell them and why?
Honestly, I’m making it sound more exciting than it is. A promising idea is filleted by some very odd sequences and an ultimately simplistic resolution that never quite matches the resourceful organisation SHADO is purported to be. A youngish George Cole is Roper and does his best despite having far less dialogue than he should have. There is a pleasing focus on his background though, unlike last week’s episode, so we learn a little about Roper, his country mansion (with absolutely no security despite his important job) and his much younger wife, who seems to live in one room of the very large house.

"We're being attacked by a disco!"


Don't miss Les Miserables

There are moments when you think how easy it would be to turn Les Miserables into a spoof. The layers of personal degradation and social ills laid before us are so relentless that whereas most musicals have a tragic bit somewhere, this one has one happy bit amidst the gloom. Having tried and failed to navigate Victor Hugo’s enormous novel some time ago I wasn’t sure quite what to expect; I could imagine the story as a grim 6 part tv drama perhaps but a musical? The songs I had heard from it out of context seemed meandering. While I clearly don’t find the results as emotional as some of the people in the cinema did, the surprise comes on two levels. Firstly, how effectively it pares down the labyrinthine qualities of the novel to give both a social and personal focus, second just how well those songs do work in context.
In all the gloom, Hugh had completely forgotten where he left his Woverine claws


UFOwatch: Identified and Computer Affair

No, we haven’t started hiding in sheds at night poring over flickering screens in the hope of seeing a blip which might mean an unidentified flying object is nearby and wants to take us away to probe. We’re talking about UFO, the series that brought Gerry Anderson from puppetry into live action as the 1960s became the 1970s. Each week an episode of the series will be reviewed here and before you ask we’re sticking to the episode order on the DVD – which apparently is the order in which they were made- that was issued about a decade ago. There are doubts as to what the true running order was supposed to be, but let’s not bother about that. Instead let’s wallow in the world of 1980 as envisaged by people in 1969. To kick off we have the first two episodes. Are you ready to wear a purple wig, smoke a cigarette every other minute and never smile? Well then, you’re ready for UFO...
written by Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, Tony Barwick  / directed by Gerry Anderson
In 1980,ten years after the top secret organisation SHADO was established to combat the threat of UFOs, a neutronic device has been developed that will allow them to identify approaching craft long before they reach the Earth. When a UFO attacks the plane transporting the device is downed it provides a startling new revelation.
Watching 1980 as envisaged in 1969 whilst in 2013 is an odd experience. No doubt the plastic furniture, pop star clothing and tunics looked futuristic 43 years ago but now they look extremely 1970s. However what surprises about this opening episode is how hard as nails it is. The surface sheen, model sequences and plethora of potential toys suggest a show aimed at the under 10s but `Identified` opens with a murder complete with blood and closes with Commander Straker waxing philosophically on where the Universe begins and ends. In between the series’ central conceit turns out to be quite horrific- the aliens are coming here to harvest human organs. Add in the 70s touches, funky music, cigarettes aplenty, gratuitous shots of girl’s backsides and the fact that Straker never breaks into a smile and you have a most unusual package. It’s all a very long way from Tracy Island.


The fall of HMV

I have tried to keep HMV going these last four or five years and I’m not the only one. Last year when the business seemed to be tottering towards the abyss, the music industry rallied around, desperate not to lose the last specialist music shop. This week it became clear that all the practical help and goodwill in the world is not enough to save it and HMV has gone into administration. We’ve seen this play out so many times and the result is inevitably the same. The reassurances that the shops will “continue to trade while a buyer is found”, sales and less new product in the shops, then the store closures begin until the last shop shuts and the brand vanishes. Afterwards people express disappointment and shock. Mostly the same people who have stayed away for years and never use it.


Why can't the BBC just make Top of the Pops every week again?

It’s a no brainer really. Whatever the delivery mechanism- sheet music, vinyl, cds, downloads, air play etc etc- people consume music and one single/ song/ track must be more popular than all the others. There’s more than enough technology to work out which it is and the order of the pursuing pack as well. So why not have a weekly tv show with a selection of these songs on it, performed in whatever bizarre manner they choose, by the artists? It sounds like the simplest and best idea ever and for decades the BBC did just that with Top of the Pops (hereafter known by its unpronounceable acronym TOTP). Then they stopped.


The fascinating return of David Bowie

On Tuesday 8 January,  David Bowie returned with his first new music in a decade;  a single `Where are we now?` released instantly and an album `The Next Day` to follow in March. The comeback was sudden, almost jarring in nature. At 5am that morning, the day of his 66th birthday, the song appeared on iTunes. There was no advance publicity, no rumours in the weeks beforehand, no advertising before or indeed after the fact. The song simply appeared out of nowhere. And what a bittersweet, elegiac song it turned out to be, dripping in lyrical nostalgia and wrapped in the richness of sound that producer Tony Visconti always seems to develop with the singer.  Seemingly effortlessly (though that is always the deception with the best artists) it seems out of time yet of the now. We have been pleasantly surprised, shocked even after all the gossip about Bowie these past ten years but, really, we shouldn’t have been. Bowie has always done what we least expect of him.


Get the Hobbit Habit

The Hobbit is an exciting and amusing first film of a new Middle Earth trilogy.
The Hobbit` is one of the first proper books I remember reading and my version had one chapter printed twice in error so I know how comparatively slim a novel it is compared to the Lord of the Rings ones. It does not suggest a trilogy of films; instead you can imagine it would fit rather neatly into one- or at a push two movies. Yet Peter Jackson knows his Hobbits so we have first of three films telling the story of Bilbo Baggins’ unexpected journey. Any reservations as to whether it would be all scene setting and time wasting are blown away quite quickly.

Gandalf's beard wanted to take another route