When I first started Fantastic Television my vision, such as it was, would be to discuss a number of things. I wanted to talk about the history of genre tv equally with whatever else I would be covering. Given that I listen to a bunch of genre related podcasts, thanks to my long work commute, I knew that podcasts would be a regular feature of the site as well. I also finally started the Failure to Launch series of reviews that cover genre tv pilots that never got picked up as a series. I had planned to do this from the beginning and I have barely scratched the surface of what I have to cover. As far as actual series reviews, I knew that covering individual seasons was the way to go and, given my viewing habits I knew that I would be covering older series that I had missed as well as the stuff that I was currently watching. Furthermore, I knew that a bunch of stuff I covered would be foreign material, largely British due to my particular fascination with their style of storytelling and unique sense of humor both of which I enjoy immensely. One of the things that I kind of wanted to avoid was having the blog overrun by reviews. So, when it comes to current programs, I have largely focused on the off-beat stuff like Continuum, Orphan Black and Lost Girl that I feel don’t get a whole lot of press coverage that they deserve. Hence, the lack of reviews of stuff like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, both of which I consider to be exceptional genre tv series. As Fantastic Television is a little over a year old now I guess I’m becoming less concerned about the balance of articles that I had in mind when I began so, my question to the readers is would you like me to review everything that I watch? I mean the genre stuff as I do watch more than my fair share of non-genre tv as well. Masters of Sex, for example, is an amazingly good series and I’m not just saying that because of the prurient material, which actually makes up a surprisingly small amount of its content. These reviews would also include the older stuff I am watching like season five of Stargate SG-1 that I just finished up. I’ll be sticking with the reviews of entire seasons but, the question comes down to do you all want me to review all of the genre series that I watch or not? Let me know and thanks.
The other day I noticed that season one of Revolution was available on Netflix streaming and, seeing as how I had just finished season 5 of Stargate SG-1 and needed something to do while waiting for season 6 to arrive I decided to give it a shot. Also, Diane and my older son Harry have both been commenting about how good the second season has been which provided additional incentive. It’s been pretty good so far, actually better than I expected but, this is not surprising given that you have one of the creators of Supernatural, another show I love, at the helm. Anyway, as I’m jumping onto Netflix streaming the other day to watch an episode, what to my wondering eyes should appear? Farscape was suddenly available on my streaming list again. So, if you have a Netflix streaming account and some spare time you might want to check it out as it is definitely worth a look. My reviews of the series start here. Fair warning, you will be on your own for The Peacekeeper Wars,which I promise you will want to watch, as it is not available streaming at the moment. Now, with any degree of luck, Lexx will show back up again so that I can finally check out that show.
A week ago the Mirror released an article claiming that the BBC was on the cusp of announcing the release of the lost Doctor Who serial Marco Polo. Now, being diplomatic, the Mirror is not exactly what I would refer to as the height of accurate journalism so I read the article with an extremely skeptical eye. Going in depth on the story, which admittedly is not a whole lot given the source, the claim was made that the serial was a home camera 16 mm film made by a fan shooting a television screen. My knee-jerk reaction to this was to call Hoax based upon my knowledge of how the movie King Kong was filmed. A technique called rear or back projection was used to shoot a number of the scenes in the movie. What this entailed was putting the actors on set with a giant screen behind them. On this screen was projected the image of whatever it was they were reacting to which was then filmed by a camera in front of all of it. This sounds easier than it is because there is a little trick in that you have to synch the movie camera with camera rolling the film behind the actors as they are both rolling at 24 frames per second (FPS) and it turns out you can just as easily shoot between the projected images resulting in your actors reacting to a background film with the top half of the image on the bottom and vice versa. This was what immediately lept to mind when I first read the article so I had trouble seeing a kid with a home movie camera working this out. However, having the time to do a little more digging (gotta use up these vacation days before the year ends) I learned that television actually runs at 25 to 30 fps and, on top of that, the home movie cameras of the period had settings that let you shoot as high as 32 or 64 fps. OK, so at this point I’ll admit that my skepticism on the process, granting for a second that the article is actually correct, was misplaced. I should also point out that this does absolutely nothing to confirm the veracity of the story.
As always, time will ultimately tell whether the rumor is true or not but, on the positive side, the BBC hasn’t straight up denied it so maybe that’s something. I hope it proves to be true for reasons other than just that Marco Polo happens to be at the top of my recovered episodes list. I have mentioned here before that as a kid, in those halcyon days before VCRs, I used to record audio cassettes of some of my favorite tv shows and movies. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was my favorite at the time and I ultimately recorded every episode. I guess I’ll also admit to having some sort of low end OCD, as well. The point here is that I didn’t just record one episode of Monty Python, I recorded a bunch of them. If the kid who was doing these Doctor Who films worked anything like me, which I don’t think is a bad guess given that we both had to go through roughly the same sort of mental engineering process to record this stuff in the first place, then he most likely did not just record one serial. He probably stuck at it awhile and, with any degree of luck, may have done so long enough to catch the third season which is where the majority of the loses to classic Doctor Who material begins. this is the point where I’ll state up front that I am not a big fan of The Dalek’s Master Plan. In fact, it is literally at the bottom of my list of serials I would most like to see discovered which will probably piss off a good number of Doctor Who fans. I’ll apologize for any hurt feelings but, when I went through it with the Loose Cannon reconstructions it was a real disappointment that even the return of the Meddling Monk couldn’t salvage for me. They were trying to do a Flash Gordon style serial but, had already done it much better earlier with The Keys of Marinus by the same author, no less. Now, having said all that, the really important piece here is the seventh episode of the Daleks’ Master Plan titled The Feast of Steven that was effectively the first Christmas special the series had ever done. This bit of the serial was never transfered to film for international sales so, when the BBC wiped the tape it was really, really gone thus, making it one of the least likely Doctor Who episodes to ever be recovered. If the story is correct and this individual continued with his film project there is a chance that this one episode may not be lost for all eternity after all. Yes, I know that’s a bunch of ifs but, this is the real reason I am hopeful that the Mirror’s story is correct because, if it is, there is a good chance that more episodes of Doctor Who thought to be gone forever can actually be recovered.
When I was looking for ideas for the 50th anniversary Doctor Who article that Eric wanted me to write for his Movie Waffler site, I solicited some friends of mine for ideas of what they would like to see for such an article. While I ended up doing an article on the foundation of the series international success my friend Richard Chamberlain over at the Monster Movie Kid suggested an article on the frontier years of the series. What exactly are the frontier years of Doctor Who? This was the time from 1990 to 2004 when, with one all too brief exception in 1996, Doctor Who was no longer on the air. Since I agreed with Rich that an article on this time period was a good idea I decided to write it and put it here. I’ll note that it is a touch off topic given that it is going to focus preliminarily on spin off material but, it does cover one of the most successful genre shows of all time so, I hope you’ll bear with me.
Before I get into this time period I need to set up Doctor Who’s first appearance in book form with the Target novelizations. In 1973, the tenth year of the classic series, a company called Target published three novels based upon First Doctor stories. For my younger readers, one has to remember that this was a time period without DVDs or even video tape so these novels where effectively the only way to revisit these older serials. They proved successful enough for target to continue with them and ultimately cover all but five of the serials. In come cases they were not perfect adaptations. For example, The Daleks actually includes an introductory chapter that gets the Doctor, Ian and Barbara together as if it was the first serial of the show. They also became somewhat redundant when video tape became available in the 80s. In fact, when John Peel wrote his novel for The Chase, he decided to base it upon the original script which was noticably different as opposed to what was filmed given the ease of access to the original serial itself at that point. These books ran until 1994, at which point the company had switched its name to Virgin Publishing, but they established an important legacy for what was about to follow.
Jumping to 1989, the BBC announced that it was not going to be requesting episodes of Doctor Who for the 1990 television season. This was a de-facto if not direct cancellation of Doctor Who which was probably an attempt to avoid the fan outcry the previous time that the BBC had actually released a cancellation notice for the series. When people say that Doctor Who had never officially been cancelled by the BBC this is what they are talking about. Regardless, it did mean no new Doctor Who on television for the foreseeable future.
This takes us into what is the first of two parts that the frontier years can be logically broken into. Target was bought by Virgin Publishing a little earlier and had expressed an interest in publishing original Doctor Who novels not based upon the television serials. The BBC said no to this until the series was no longer being produced. With the halt in production came the green light for Virgin to begin publishing original Doctor Who adventures. They began in 1991 with a four novels called the Timewyrm series that was based upon an idea from the classic series final producer John Nathan Turner. This launched a series of 60 novels that continued the adventures of the Seventh Doctor as well as one Eight Doctor novel. It is during this run that author Paul Cornell would introduce a new companion named Bernice Summerfield who would go on to be the Doctor’s most popular non-televised companion. Based upon the success of this series, that was titled The New Adventures, Virgin would three years later launch a second series of Missing Adventures novels that each featured one of the previous six Doctors which would run for a total of 33 books. Target had sort of established a precedent for this with their publication of three un-produced scripts from the Sixth Doctor’s run on what would have been the 23rd season, had the BBC not attempted to cancel the series, which carried the banner The Missing Episodes. The difference with the Missing Adventure line is that the books where all original adventures not based on un-used series scripts which is, at the time, what I personally would have preferred. Instead each was an original story that fit between the television serials.
These would continue until we reach the break point in the frontier years with the release of the 1996 American Doctor Who pilot which is sometimes referred to by its unofficial title Enemy Within. The pilot featured the introduction of the Eight Doctor in the form of Paul McGann and also laid a lot of the groundwork for what the modern series would ultimately look like nine years later. At the time, however, the pilot failed to draw enough ratings for any further episodes. What it did do was to get the BBC interested enough in the show that, through their BBC books company, they would take over Doctor Who in the print medium. This brings us to part two of the frontier years.
BBC books started their line by publishing the novelization of the Doctor Who pilot in the same year. At the same time, the BBC ended the agreement with Virgin Publishing allowing them to produce original Doctor Who novels. Virgin’s final New and Missing Adventure books would be published in 1997 but, Virgin would continue the New Adventures line, sort of, with a number of novels featuring Bernice Summerfield on her own as the central character which would become significant later. Getting back to BBC books, they launched a series of Eighth Doctor Adventures starting with The Eight Doctors penned by long time Target novelization author Terrance Dicks. Following Virgin’s example, they also simultaneously started a Past Doctor Adventures series featuring original stories based upon the, now, seven previous Doctors. The Eighth Doctor books ran for 73 titles and the Past Doctor books for 76 with both series being cancelled in 2005 with the launch of the modern series. Actually, the numbers should really be 74 and 75, respectively, as the final Eight Doctor novel Fear Itself was published as part of the Past Doctor series due to the Eight Doctor Adventures being cancelled months earlier. BBC books is still active today publishing original stories for the modern Doctor Who series.
This brings us to the final player in the Doctor’s frontier years, that being the company Big Finish productions. And this is how Bernice Summerfield becomes important. Big Finish does audio dramas that are sometimes straight up radio plays and sometimes a mix of drama and audio book which works a lot better than it probably sounds. In 1998, they started a series of Bernice audio dramas initially based upon the Virgin New Adventures books. One year later they began doing monthly Doctor Who audio dramas beginning with The Sirens of Time which was a multi-doctor story featuring the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors (Big is part of their name after all). This series has continued to this day and is currently at 180 episodes and climbing. According to Russell T. Davies, the reason for Big Finish’ ability to continue with this line, when the BBC has frowned upon such competing works in the past, has to do with action, or more appropriately inaction, on his part. Apparently, back when the modern series was first being launched the BBC licensing people at some meeting stated that they would obviously have to address their arrangement with Big Finish Productions with regards to the Doctor at which point Mr. Davies said that he would take care of that. The BBC people relinquished and Mr. Davies, being ok with Big Finish, basically did nothing which allowed the audio dramas to continue. Big Finish has also done a number of other Doctor Who related series including my favorite The Lost Stories some of which I have written about here and here. One further series I want to mention, even though it is outside of the timeframe of this article is the Eighth Doctor series that was done by them, and ultimately broadcast on BBC radio, which I feel was significant in legitimatizing the Eighth Doctor as well as Paul McGann’s portrayal of him.
So, as you can see, even though the Doctor was missing from the television for sixteen years, there was still plenty of licensed material to keep the fan base alive and hungry for the Doctor’s inevitable return to the television medium.
This is a British six episode hour length series broadcast on Channel 4 at the beginning of the year that my friend Terry Frost over at the Martian Drive-In podcast recommednded to me. It is a conspiracy thriller about a group of comic book enthusiasts who are fans of a graphic novel called Utopia. When one of their members acquires a copy of the unpublished sequel novel their lives suddenly get a lot more interesting. A second series has already been commissioned.
Our story opens with us meeting a group of comic collectors who are fans of a graphic novel called Utopia. They all frequent a local shop that is rather quickly shut down when two assassins show up looking for an unpublished manuscript for the second issue. The owner has already sold the material to a collector but, that doesn’t stop the two from killing everyone in the shop and making it look like they were all victims of a gas leak. It turns out the collector has told his friends, the people we were introduced to earlier, of his acquisition and plans to meet them at a local pub to show it off. The three who arrive at the pub are Becky, Wilson (whose last name is also Wilson) and Ian who I immediately recognized as Curtis from the show Misfits. Their friend with the manuscript never shows up because he is being relieved of the manuscript and his life by the two assassins. Unfortunately for these guys Grant, another member of the group decided to stop by the collector’s house before going to the pub and, as he sees what happens, takes the manuscript for himself. Interspersed with this is the story of a government official named Michael who is a scientist involved in the department of health, specifically with the purchasing and approval of vaccines for the British government.
With this basic set-up the show kicks into full gear. In addition to the Utopia manuscript one of the two assassins named Arby, the one who appears to be in, keeps asking for the location of a woman named Jessica Hyde. Since his victims never have any idea who this is, things usually end badly for them. Jessica does actually show up at some point and explains to our unfortunate comic fans that Utopia was written by a scientist involved in an actual planet wide conspiracy and that the comic was his way of spilling the beans on the conspiracy. I will not go any further at this point because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who wants to check the series out. Like most conspiracy stories some pretty horrible stuff is being planned and the classic trope of who you can trust or not becomes a major part of the story line.
Overall, I have to say that I was quite impressed with the series on a number of levels. It has this David Lynch sort of quirkiness that really sets the show apart from most of what you see on television. Also, the actual conspiracy itself is quite interesting for reasons that I will cover in the spoiler section that follows. The characters are very believably written and acted which lends a creepy air of credibility to the whole affair. The one show that immediately came to mind as I watched Utopia was The Last Enemy which I saw comparatively recently as well. I definitely found Utopia the more interesting of the two and would describe it as a cooler version of The Last Enemy. If you are into dark conspiracy theory tales Utopia is definitely for you.
I forget which article it was I had just finished up for Eric Hillis over at the Movie Waffler but, he mentions after getting it that November is coming up and it’s the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.
He then asks if I would like to write an article about that. Being a huge Doctor Who fan, I figure it’s really no problem as I can write anything about the Doctor that Eric could want. I ask him what specifically he is looking for when he drops this bombshell on me: “I’ll leave that up to you.” To which my mental response was thank you for making this article twice as hard to write. After soliciting ideas from friends and family, mostly friends actually, I finally decided to focus on what it was exactly that made Doctor Who the foundation genre show that it is. I’ll actually have a follow-up article that I will post here, hopefully before the 50th anniversary date, that will cover a topic recommended by my friend Rich Chamderlain over at the Monster Movie Kid blog. My Doctor Who article can be found here.
I really enjoyed the first season of The Almighty Johnsons but I thought season two was even better as I feel the show really found its footing starting with the very first episode. I’ll have to apologize for the delay in getting this review out. Any review of a series beyond its first season is generally going to have spoilers but, given that SyFy will be airing this show in the coming year, I wanted to try and avoid them. I think I have mostly succeeded in doing that here but, there will be minor spoilers here and there as I discuss various aspects of the second season.
The season opens with Mike, the older brother and default patriarch of the siblings, recovering from a major life changing event from the end of the first season. Unfortunately, he is doing this in a rather immature way which is somewhat off-putting to Axl. Actually, the brother’s relationships are all more dysfunctional than we saw in the previous season. Mike’s situation is only part of the problem. The other part is caused by the recent marriage of Ty or, more specifically, his wife who also happens to be a goddess. I have to say that I really like her character as she really takes the whole goddess thing and goes into serious overdrive with her lifestyle. It struck me as totally believable as I’m not sure under similar circumstances whether I would be able to hold back myself which is probably revealing more about the inner workings of my mind than I comfortably should.
Anders ends up taking off to Norway on some cryptic assignment for his mother who, for better or worse, he leaves in charge of his advertising agency. While this was probably done to accommodate Dean O’Gorman’s filming schedule for The Hobbit, where he plays Fili, I have to give the writers some pretty massive props here as it worked into the story far better than I feared it would at first. All of this has the effect of forcing Axl to have to step up and take on more of a leadership role within the family as he seems to be the only one whose life is comparatively stable at the moment. That is until he runs into Kvasir the god of wisdom who apparently must answer any question put to him and who leaves Axl with even more questions than answers. Then Gaia returns.
There is a lot of stuff that happens in this season but, unlike American Horror Story, it all fits together quite seamlessly with none of it feeling out of place or forced. Going into detail would make this review insanely long and, as I’m trying to avoid spoilers in the first place, I’ll just touch upon some of the stuff that stood out for me this season. One thing we learn is just how much the Johnson brother’s powers are tied to Axl. Something happens that demonstrates this which, in the long run, also has the effect of causing Ty to take a rather extreme life-changing course of action. Ty’s acting on this decision also has a rather huge consequence that, while a total surprise to me, actually makes perfect sense within the context of the universe established by the show. Mike also undergoes a good deal of life changing events although none of them are quite as extreme as Ty’s although that may be more of a matter of opinion now that I think about it.
Some of the other things that I like include Michele taking on a more significant role, to the point that she could almost be considered a main character at this point. It seems to me that we see more of Olaf which is always a good thing as far as I am concerned. Then there are these other (as in non-Norse) deities that show up and, speaking of other religions, Anders’ carelessness on his northern jaunt brings down a character that would be called a hunter or slayer in another series. This was great because it was, to me at least, a hint as to why the Norse gods ended up in New Zealand in the first place. Also, it was nice to see a character type that would normally be cast as a hero in those other series being role reversed into a villain instead.
Overall, though, this season is really about Axl growing into his role as Odin. He is forced into stepping up his game on a number of occasions and rises surprisingly well to the challenge I might add. This is especially the case given that he has to deal with Loki who barely recognizes his leadership and takes every opportunity to side step it when he can much to Axl chagrin in one particular case. I’m sure none of that will end badly.
Overall, I have no real complaints about the second season. Like I said the whole Anders off-set bit was a little obvious to me having gone through it before with the second season of Leverage but, it ended up not only working well but being quite instrumental to a couple of the season’s story arcs. I guess the only real complaint I have is how soon will season three be available on DVD?