A Doctor In Spite of Himself

I have never seen a 3D movie in my life. My perception of the increased cost and the sheer faff of 3D glasses has always put me off. However, the novelty of a 3D showing of Doctor Who’s 50th celebration last Saturday in my local cinema encouraged me to break my habit.

Well, I still haven’t seen a 3D Movie- I was virtually the only punter to struggle through The Day of the Doctor in 2D since I somehow didn’t get the glasses!

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But what was the 50th anniversary special actually like? Well, very slow to start with, I felt, and with little to enage the very young, after the playful cinema trailers with Strax the Sontaran and the Doctors.  

A sprawling adventure that encompassed UNIT,  Elizabethan England, the homefront battlefield of Gallifrey and Susan Foreman’s old school, I was reminded most of Virgin’s New Adventures novels of the mid-90s.

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Aside from a logical and crowd-pleasing team-up of the Eleventh and Tenth Doctors, there were also cameos by the other eleven– including a tantalising glimpse of incomer,  Peter Capaldi. The plot device- from the seemingly unconnected Name of The Doctor, namely John Hurt’s grizzled War Doctor- had also appeared days earlier in a hugely popular online prelude. There, we’d seen the regeneration of Paul McGann’s Byronic Eighth incarnation but in the special, the grizzled Hurt was absolved of his burden of guilt by a puckish artificial intelligence, incarnated as Billie Piper.

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This confused and illogical adventure not only apparently rewrote the history of Tennant’s Tenth Doctor (by restoring the Time Lords and their planet) but further outraged fans with a cameo by Tom Baker. The rather poetic coda was the most charming and appropriate tribute to the show’s history in the episode to my mind but only served to freak out the more literally-minded fans .

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I was a little disappointed that, Coal Hill School aside, there was no reference to the original adventure with the Doctor’s grand-daughter. On the other hand, a story with the Doctor’s missus, River Song would have been one too many.    

However, the special seemed to be very popular with the predominantly young audience and that’s probably just as it should be. My school’s resident teenage Doctor-impersonator, who is autistic, bellowed at me: “I can’t function- DON’T ASK MY OPINION YET!”.

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The 50th celebration kicked off on audio meanwhile with the first of a series of performed readings under the umbrella title Destiny of the Doctor. I just got around to listening to the first instalment, Hunters of Earth. This story is read by Susan herself, Carole Ann Ford. It depicts the Unearthly Child’s schooldays in a story where pop music is used as a carrier signal for an alien influence that creates hatred for the unlike and social unrest. It’s a reasonably compelling narrative with an amusing aural “cameo” for the Eleventh Doctor. 3 out of 5 Tamars.

One of the more outre entries in the adventures of the First Doctor is The Celestial Toymaker, by Brian Hayles. Big Finish have brought the unmade sequel to audio, featuring Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury.

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The Queen of Time pits the Second Doctor against Hecuba, sister to the Toymaker, who invites the Tardis crew to a bizarre banquet. Each course involves a deadly “timey-wimey” game. This is effectively a rehash of the 1966 story, retro-fitted around Jamie and Zoe rather than Victoria. There is little atmosphere and the world conjured by the script is elusive and thin. Hecuba herself is voiced by Caroline Fraser  with a breathy mix of seduction and madness but it’s very predictable stuff. 2 out of 5 Talmars

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Wanderers in the Fourth Dimension

I’ve been promising Batman for weeks now- and there will be Batman: lots of Batman, from the 40s and the 50s. Even Yuletide Batman. But here I am in the North-East of Scotland, 45m from the capital of the Highlands.In a local authority where the IT provision is so poor, I can’t post on Blogger. The national school registration system crashes every lunch time because they’re “moving the server”.So, some things will take time.

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Meanwhile, as they said in the comics: Thor The Dark World. What a dud! I’m no fan of the Iron Man movies; I find Tony Snark (sic) irritating and his stories are dull and repetitive. Thor was the first Marvel movie since X-Men to have a sense that the creative team might honour the source material; the sequel , however, just feels like a contract-fulfilling retread of Man of Steel.

The charisma of the leads, Hemsworth and Hiddleston propels us through a turgid alien invasion by bland rent-a-baddy Christopher Eccleston, occupying the role of Walt Simonson’s capricious elven villain of the 80s, Malekith. There was one amusing cameo by “Captain America” but the victim status of Jane Foster and Thor’s mother just annoyed me. A hyper-real computer game diversion for the afternoon but inessential viewing, lacking wit or originality. My favourite part was the obligatory post-credits scene featuring REDACTED, the first Avengers villain I can ever encountered.

Of course, today is The Day of the Doctor and next week, hopefully, I’ll report on the 3D  cinema experience. In the meantime, I’ll review a couple of Big Finish audio productions.

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Emperor of Eternity: Nigel Robinson’s tale of China in 200BC is read huskily by Deborah Watling. It’s a rather slow adventure which is a change from Victoria’s monster season but not very true to it. Frazer Hines’ contribution sounds like an afterthought and Emperor Qin is portrayed as a rather benevolent figure- for a paranoid despot. Despite all that, this Companion Chronicle has an avuncular charm and gentility that reminded me of Terrance Dicks. 3/5 Talmars

 

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The Dark Planet: Brian Hayles, creator of the Ice Warriors is to my mind, a rather overrated Classic Who writer. This is another in the Lost Stories series; unsurprisingly given this simplistic and ponderous tale of warring tribes on a dying planet. It has a Star Trek morality but it is an atmospheric recording, with committed performances from William Russell and Maureen O’ Brien. However, it’s basically a less ambitious, more impressionstic retread of The Web Planet. 2/5 Talmars

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If you want to experience the mystery and magic of William Hartnell, you should watch An Adventure in Space and Time, Mark Gatiss’ dramatised love-letter to the First Doctor and his inspired, outsider creative team.  David Bradley delivers an poignant performance as the ailing, irascible Hartnell. While there are self-indulgent in-jokes about The Army Game and The End of Time part two, there are also some uncanny impersonations and the sets are stunning. Beautiful television that explores the whole flaky genesis of Doctor Who. 5/5 Talmars

Coming soon: War Doctor

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Blood Work

Continuing in the vein (!)  of my last post, today we’ re looking at my Hallowe’en reading: specifically, the Dracula Lives Super Annual Issue from 1975.

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This was the last issue of the title but it comes with a lurid Gray Morrow cover. You can see a movie billboard for George Pal’s Doc Savage immediately t0 the right of Drac:  a subtle advert for the Man of Bronze’s own Marvel magazine.

This was a reprint collection of stories previously published in the fledgling issues of the mag.

That Dracula May Live Again:Wolfman and Neal Adams depict the fanging of Dracula and the tragedy that ensues in a violent historical melodrama. It’s visually dynamic but the reproduction is murky. Adams’ Dracula is a glamorous, heroic figure.

Lord of Death, Lord of Hell: Wolfman, Buscema and Syd Shores provide the next chapter. It’s a slightly more racy adventure with a seductive vampiress and a bare-chested battle with Nimrod, the vampire king. Squint and it might be an issue of Conan the Barbarian.

Look Homeward Vampire: Gerry Conway, Marvel’s first Dracula scripter and Jonah Hex artist Vicente Alcazar produce an opulent but violent battle with a vampiric priest.

Castle of the Undead: Thomas and Weiss pit Drac against REH’s Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane. There seemed to be quite a big push in the 70s to establish this “modern” sword-and-sorcery hero, especially the rather dashing Chaykin version. I think he might actually be the third-most visible Howard hero at the House of Ideas- more memorable than Kull, despite the ornate art. (Red Sonja being the second, I should point out.)

A Duel of Demons: Conway and the late Frank Springer deliver the story of Drac’s rivalry with Cagliostro in the court of Louis XVI. This is the “origin” of the enmity hinted at in the Conway/ Colan story we discussed last time.

Shadow over Versailles: Tony Isabella, one of the second-stringer authors of Bronze Age Marvel teams up with John Buscema and Pablo Marcos.This is the climax of the French Revolution storyline, featuring Drac in the Bastille. The artwork is remisicent of some of the Savage Sword Conan stories.

I think the variety of time periods is interesting but since you know from the cover that Drac will survive into at least the Seventies- and since none of the other characters have any redeeming features, apart from the dour, driven Kane- it’s not a very compelling series.

Another iteration of the ruler of the undead, this time from the previous decade can be seen in ABC TV’s Mystery and Imagination series. Broadcast on November 18, 1968- two days after episode 3 of The Invasion ( of the Cybermen)- Dracula starred Denholm Elliott.

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The lord of vampires is introduced playing Moonlight Sonata on the piano as Jonathan Harker makes a dramatic entrance into the Westenra household- through the French windows. Susan George plays a sensual Lucy and Bernard Archard is Van Helsing. This studio-bound ITV version is a bit Dark Shadows in places but it moves at a swifter pace than the 77 BBC version. Elliott doesn’t have Jourdan’s elegantly restrained ferocity: his is a more melancholy presence. Also this version ends with a clear indication that Mina Harker has not been released from the Count’s influence…Worth a look, if you are interested in Sixties tv.

Coming soon: more chiropteric shenanigans, this time with the Gotham Guardian.

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Transylvania 65000

Bonfire Night is scarcely over- it was celebrated up here in Cooper Park last Saturday- but already the Xmas adverts are being screened on tv. For Hallowe’en a week before, however, I took a nostalgic trip back to 1977 and the dvd of the BBC’s adaptation of Count Dracula.

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This production, you may know, was responsible for the shelving of Terrance Dicks’ vampire story for Doctor Who, The Witch Lords aka The Vampire Mutations. It finally appeared in 1980 as State of Decay. The serial had been abandoned allegedly because it was feared a Tom Baker vampire adventure might be interpreted as a parody of the ’77 Louis Jourdan vehicle.

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All these years later, the pace is slow by modern tv standards but there’s a powerful streak of psychedelia. It’s very atmospheric despite a rather rushed climax and Jack “Wycliffe” Shepherd steals the show with his wretched, poetic Renfield.  

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Earlier in the Seventies, Dracula Lives was launched alongside Planet of the Apes as Marvel’s 4th and 5th Uk titles, just before Hallowe’en in 1974. DL was the only one of the UK titles for which I didn’t have an order at our local shop. Whether this was for economic reasons or parental censorship, I’ve never known.

However, I had already been exposed to the lurid and confrontational cover of the first issue of the b/w US iteration in the blue-tinted pages of the first issue of FOOM magazine. That had been over a year earlier. Now, a staggering four decades later, I finally own a copy of Dracula Lives 1.

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So: what are these Tales of Terror from the Count’s own crypt? This Marvel Monster magazine opens with A Poison of the Blood. It’s gorgeously drawn by Gene Colan, Dracula’s daddy at the House of Ideas. However, the plot is a bit of a silly idea by first Marvel crypt-writer ( ho ho) , Gerry Conway. Dracula becomes a junkie after fanging a drug addict. He cures himself after a  clash with the leader of the “Mysticologist” cult, who claimed to be a reincarnation of Cagliostro. Future DL tales would centre on the historical rivalry between the alchemist and the Vampire Lord. In the early Marvel Dracs, Vlad shares some of the suave presence of Dr. Doom, the exoticism of Namor and the man-out-of time alienation of Cap. Marv Wolfman, two or three years later, introduces the idea of Dracula as a supervillain with a plan for world domination, “borrowed” I think from Hammer’s Satanic Rites of Dracula

One of the most striking aspects of the comics features in this ostensibly “mature” magazine is the use of hot pink spot colour, indicating blood spilled amongst the black-and-white pages. I associate this gimmick with a playfully sensationalist tone, suggesting we don’t take these images of virginal Puritans or 70s Swinger cultists too seriously. Essentially, it feels like hucksterish showman Stan is wittily but gently toning down the material. 

Suffer Not a Witch: Thomas, Weiss and Giordano introduce a dashing, rather piratical Dracula in a story of the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century. It’s more (mildly) erotic than most colour Marvel fare of the time- those nubile Puritans I mentioned. It also reminded me of the look and atmosphere of Witchfinder General. Thomas shows his literary education here by referencing the events of The Crucible.

Zombie: Atlas artist Tony DiPreta, of whom I’d never heard, produces a primitive but moody short about voodoo. Oddly, no vampires.

Ghost of a Chance: 2-page Fifties short with a first person narrative about being tricked by a ghost. Historical curiosity value only.

Fright: Stan Lee and Russ Heath deliver an EC-style update of the Karloff vehicle, Bedlam. Grotesque but again, really a curio.

To Walk Again in Daylight: this is a rough and ready story set in 19th century Vienna as Drac seeks a cure for his vampirism. The gimmick of an immortal anti-hero in a variety of time periods is interesting and provides artists with a challenge. It’s by Gerber, Buckler and Marcos and is archetypal Bronze Age Marvel. But it’s not a patch on Colan.

Aside from the corny captions for a variety of movie images from the 30s-50s, the magazine is rounded out by an editorial from Thomas, explaining the presence of the photos and the Fifties reprints – it was to cover costs, naturally- and an inconsequential, plodding essay on Dracula movies by neo-scripter Marv Wolfman.

Next time, more Marvel Dracula and before Xmas, 50s Batman, Supergirl and Dr. Who’s Fiftieth Birthday

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