Doctor Who Memories

This column was published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 26th November 2013.

After decades of adventures in time and space, Doctor Who celebrated its 50th anniversary this past weekend. With a special episode entitled, The Day of the Doctor, broadcast simultaneously worldwide alongside 3D screenings at cinemas, interest in all things Who is at an all time high. In today’s fickle television market, it is hard to believe that a franchise has lasted so long (albeit with a break from 1989 to 2005).

Growing up in the eighties, Doctor Who meant it was almost teatime. Broadcast almost perpetually on the ABC at 5:30pm, it usually followed a Japanese animated show such as Star Blazers, Voltron or Astro Boy. For the next thirty minutes, I’d witness the Doctor battle Daleks or Cybermen through my fingers or from behind the couch. Once the end credits rolled with the familiar theme tune playing, Peter Russell-Clarke’s Come and Get It would be on for 5 minutes and then mum would call us for dinner.

The Tom Baker years always seemed to be on endless repeats. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen The Ark in Space. That’s the story with the killer sleeping bag. Sure, it was meant to be an alien caterpillar called the Wirrn, but even at as a youngster I knew it was a guy in a sleeping bag painted green.

One of my friends at high school, Stu, was a huge fan and collected the Doctor Who novelizations published by Target. I’m pretty sure he had all 156 of them. Before I developed other interests (girls), he’d happily lend them to me. They were short reads and every couple of days I’d swap a consumed book for a new adventure. I wonder if he still has them all. I’m sure they would be worth a fortune in mint condition. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure Stu’s collection is not in mint condition. After all, they have all been in my school bag and I caught the bus and then walked home.

They say that your favourite Doctor is the one you grew up watching. Arguably that was Tom Baker, but in terms of new episodes, Sylvester McCoy is my Doctor. Not the most popular amongst hardcore fans, McCoy’s Doctor was a dark and slightly sinister character. I really liked his chemistry with companion Ace (the foxy Sophie Aldred) and was bitterly disappointed when the show was cancelled in 1989 by budget conscious BBC management.

A few years ago, McCoy and Colin Baker (the 6th Doctor) came to Australia for a fan event and I was lucky enough to meet them and get their autographs. They were both very pleasant and seemed well adjusted to their geek icon status. I will never forget when some idiot in the Q & A session challenged them to fight each other. That was never going to happen. After all, Time Lords are a peaceful race.

Congratulations Doctor Who. Here’s to another half century of dodgy alien costumes, shaky sets and wonderful memories.

Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 16:23  Comments (1)  
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Peter Young and the Column of Words

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 8th March 2011.

A throwaway line during a movie review in the UK has inspired the production of a low budget film in Australia. During a review of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief on BBC Radio Five Live last year, respected film reviewer Mark Kermode made fun of the film, criticising it as a knock-off of the Harry Potter franchise. It was so derivative that, according to Kermode, it may as well have been called “Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins.”

Kermode, along with radio host Simon Mayo, command a loyal and sizeable UK audience via their two hour movie review and interview show every Friday, which is also available to the rest of the world via podcast. Naturally, this witty title took the imagination of listeners everywhere and following many texts and emails to the show, a few fan produced posters for the proposed film appeared online.

Late last year, Australian writer and director Jeremy Dylan announced that he would be putting his own money on the line to actually produce the film and in January, the world premiere of the low budget satire Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins was held at the Dendy cinema in Newtown.

Starring Andrew Griscti as the title character, the film follows the adventures of Benjamin, “a nerdy, skiffle-loving redhead from Cockfosters” who finds out that he is a wizard and is soon whisked off to an island in Australia to be trained in magic by mentor Pentangle and Bavarian filmmaker Werner Herzog. Sound familiar?

Whilst the film is a broad satire of the Harry Potter franchise and the Percy Jackson not-quite-successful-enough-to-be-a-franchise movie, it is also packed with in-jokes from the radio show. Sniddlegrass loves skiffle because Mark Kermode plays bass in the skiffle / rockabilly quartet The Dodge Brothers. The character of Werner Herzog is based on the real eccentric German filmmaker of the same name (Rescue Dawn, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu the Vampyre) who famously was shot by an unknown assailant with an air rifle during an interview with Kermode, brushing it off and continuing the interview with the comment, “it was not a significant bullet.”

Of course, the low budget nature of the film means that the cast is composed of unknown actors, with the exception of famous actor, writer and comedian Stephen Fry (Gosford Park, Alice in Wonderland, V for Vendetta) who somehow was convinced by the director to narrate the story.

Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins is currently available via digital download for the reasonable price of $10. It will also soon be out on DVD. Other screenings worldwide are being demanded by supporters and fans.

The film itself is worth a chuckle or two. Despite being restricted by its tiny budget, it is hard not to smile throughout the seventy minute running time. I would definitely recommend that you familiarise yourself with the banter of Kermode and Mayo’s radio show before you see the movie. There are plenty of hilarious clips of Kermode’s famous rants online.

Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 07:03  Leave a Comment  
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Sherlock Holmes Reborn Again

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 26th October 2010.

Sherlock, the extremely enjoyable mini-series which aired over the past two weeks, is a modern adaption of Sherlock Holmes produced by the BBC. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement) as the Great Detective and Martin Freedman (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Office) as Dr John Watson, the three part series brings Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters to modern London, solving mysteries based on classic Holmes stories.

Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the eccentric genius, who solves brainbusting crime puzzles by deduction, is certainly a memorable one, but with a very long list of actors who have played Holmes, it is very hard to pick a favourite.

Not surprisingly, the character of Sherlock Holmes holds the record for the most portrayed film character with an amazing seventy five actors putting on the deerstalker cap over two hundred and eleven movies.

One of my favourite films in the eighties was Young Sherlock Holmes, produced by Steven Spielberg from a script by Christopher Columbus (Home Alone) and directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man). The film centres of Holmes and Watson meeting as youths at boarding school. Starring Nicholas Rowe (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) as the title character and Alan Cox (Ladies in Lavender) as Watson, the movie is a little scary for kids and features the first CGI character ever, a supernatural knight who forms from shards of a stained glass window.

Jeremy Brett (My Fair Lady) starred as Holmes from 1984 to 1994 in the British TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. With his sharp, angular features, Brett’s portrayal is widely regarded as the best of his era. Brett was fully committed to his role and compiled a seventy seven page book, The Baker Street Files, which contained every possible detail about Holmes. He carried this book around on set to check every nuance before the cameras started rolling.

Basil Rathbone starred as Sherlock in fourteen movies from 1939 to 1946, opposite Nigel Bruce as Watson. These films firmly cemented the costumed Sherlock Holmes character, with his deerstalker cap and Inverness cape, in popular culture.  Rathbone had problems with typecasting after the films ended, but eventually went on to play Holmes in radio plays and on stage.

Last year, the character of Holmes returned to the big screen with Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) in the title role and Jude Law (Cold Mountain) as his faithful friend. Directed by Guy Ritchie (RocknRolla), the film recreates Holmes as an action hero, with fist fights and explosions galore. It was a big box office success and will be followed up by a sequel next year.

I would have to say that my all-time favourite Sherlock Holmes is an animated one. Basil the Great Mouse Detective was a Disney animated film from 1986, and centres around a society of rats and mice living in Victorian London. Featuring the music of Henry Mancini and the voice of Vincent Price, the film is packed with classic hand drawn Disney cartoon goodness, with the title character names in honour of Basil Rathbone.

It seems that some iconic characters never die, they just get recast and readapted.

Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 07:31  Leave a Comment  
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BBC Listener iPhone App

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 28th September 2010.

The already competitive radio market in Australia just got a little tighter this week with the launch of the BBC Listener App for the iPhone. Whilst much of the BBC’s radio content has been readily available via podcast or live internet streaming, the Listener represents an increased accessibility to overseas programming which should make local broadcasters a little nervous.

The BBC Listener is available free via iTunes. The App includes a 30 day complementary trial, and following this, the monthly subscription rate is $3.99.

With the Listener, over four hundred archived programs are available for live streaming via WiFi, with more than twenty new shows added weekly. Programs can also be saved to be played on the run.

Unfortunately, the content is definitely not youth orientated at this stage, with almost all of the audio being magazine, discussion or documentary programming. Most shows run between thirty and sixty minutes, and have been sourced from the part-talk, part-music Radio 2 and the all-talk Radio 4.

That’s not to say that the BBC Listener is just for those old enough to be thinking about getting funeral insurance. There are a few gems for the non-baby boomers. My favourite is Desert Island Discs.

The second longest running radio program in history, Desert Island Discs was first broadcast in 1942. The premise is simple. A celebrity is asked which six pieces of music they would bring with them if they were to be stranded alone on an island. They are also allowed to bring a book and one luxury item. And no, a raft is not allowed.

The celebrity explains why the pieces of music are meaningful to them, and in the process, reveals much about what makes them tick. This week’s castaway is Jerry Springer. For the record, one of his favourite songs is Wind Beneath My Wings, his book selection is a family photo album and his luxury item is a cheeseburger machine, whatever that is.

The best thing about BBC programming is the absence of advertising, and just like podcasts, the ability to listen to what you want when you want is always appealing.

Those after more contemporary BBC music and pop culture shows will need to continue downloading podcasts and listening to live streaming for now, although I’m sure the Listener will eventually offer these shows too.

If you are over thirty and prefer to hear more talk than music, the BBC Listener is a great iPhone App. It will soon also be available for other smart phones. With almost all of the BBC’s radio content available for free online, the $3.99 monthly subscription fee may seem a little steep but for easy access to an almost unlimited array of informative and entertaining audio programs, the BBC Listener is probably good value for the non-techno savvy.

Published in: on September 30, 2010 at 07:30  Leave a Comment  
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