Doctor’s (Last?) Orders

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Much has been written about the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the new lead in Doctor Who, and no doubt a great deal more will follow the launch of the new season on 7 October.

Personally, I consider it a pity the role hasn’t been played by a woman before, or that the Doctor’s ethnicity hasn’t been adjusted during one of his — sorry, her — previous regenerations. After all, the Third Doctor revealed in his debut episode he’d arrived with a tattoo, and one of Romana’s potential reboots in ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ had blue-grey skin, so pigmentation clearly isn’t an issue for Time Lords (a term, incidentally, applied to both sexes during the original series).

No, my disquiet with all the heated hullabaloo over the new season began with the sheer inevitability that the Tardis would have a female pilot, and the smug self-satisfaction exhibited by both the BBC and incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall. His more recent comments about returning Doctor Who to the educational approach laid down by its first producer, Sydney Newman, and nebulous references to ‘diversity’ (an angle reiterated ad ennui in the latest Radio Times coverage) hardly boosted my optimism. Can he be unaware that Newman had to rethink his approach almost immediately, and that most of us do not need a weekly lesson the history of racism, sexism and homophobia?

I certainly wish Ms Whittaker no ill, and hope my concerns are unfounded. It would be unfortunate indeed if the number thirteen proved unlucky for a show which has aired thirty-nine of the past fifty-five years.

An Old Career in a New Town

Well, not exactly, but I am currently hunting for a new address (amazingly, only the third I’ll have had for any significant period) whilst I empty this manse of thirty-plus years of accumulated detritus before putting it on the market. It may be a vain hope, but maybe the move will also provide some perspective and a little more direction along my career path, which more frequently resembles a disputed right of way across an abandoned firing range.

More news to follow, I guess. Meanwhile, I should be making a more upbeat announcement very shortly about a documentary project I’ve just completed with Chrissie Harper, my partner in Vamporama Films. Stay tuned.

Manchester Memories [4]

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I’ve just seen a copy of the first progress report for this year’s Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester. It includes a report on last year’s event, and there’s me in the middle photograph, interviewing the delightful Jenny Hanley on stage. The resulting article appeared in February’s issue of The Dark Side.

DVD review: The Doctors – The Sylvester McCoy Years (2018)

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In a near-echo of the problems Doctor Who suffered during the closing years of its original run, the sixth and seventh incarnations of the titular Timelord present quite a challenge for Reeltime Pictures as it repackages individual instalments of its popular Myth Makers series into these compilations.

Chief among these is the lack of co-stars to profile: the Doctors portrayed by Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy only had three companions between them, and one of those – Bonnie Langford’s somewhat less than universally loved “Mel Bush” – has yet to be interviewed by producer Keith Barnfather and his team.

It’s surprising, then, that the existing episodes with McCoy and Sophie “Ace” Aldred (hosted by Nicholas Briggs and shot in 1994 and 1991, respectively) were not augmented in some manner, although the latter does pop up alongside Barnfather in the introduction and past ‘updates’ haven’t always proven successful, most notably the disjointed Nicholas Courtney contribution to The Jon Pertwee Years. If McCoy had any clue he’d be enjoying one final huzzah the following year, in the ill-fated tv movie marking Paul McGann’s debut as the Eighth Doctor, he certainly doesn’t let on, and Aldred’s involvement as a production assistant offers evidence of the close bond between them which still exists to this day.

The focus then switches to three actresses who portrayed notable supporting characters in the series: Lisa Bowerman (featured in the final serial, “Survival”, then subsequently cast as “Bernice Summerfield” in various Big Finish audio spin-offs), Jessica Martin (“The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”) and, most interesting from a biographical viewpoint, Angela Bruce (“Battlefield”). Bringing up the rear is a 2002 chat with former story editor Andrew Cartmel, who offers a tantalising insight into how a 1990 season would have treated the Doctor (a new companion, to begin with).

The interviews with Martin and Bruce were conducted earlier this year by Reeltime’s “Ace” reporter, and Sophie’s uniquely personal perspective does introduce a fresh angle into the equation. I for one certainly look forward to her next Myth Makers assignment.

DVD review: Bella in the Wych Elm (2017)

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Although Tom Lee Rutter’s debut feature shares with Ian Merrick’s The Black Panther (1977) both a factual basis and a heart of England setting, the former’s “Midlands phantasmagoria” eschews grimy realism for a more abstract account of the mysterious discovery of a woman’s corpse inside a hollow tree in wartime Warwickshire.

Was she the victim of a bizarre Satanic cult, a Nazi agent eliminated by her own comrades or merely an inconvenient lover? Rutter’s drama-documentary follows in the journalistic footsteps of contemporary local reporter W Byford Jones, whose ‘Questor’ column first explored the myriad possibilities. The film’s low budget is to some extent compensated for by Rutter’s use of authentic locales and non-actors for many of the roles (the narration by ‘Tatty Dave’ Jones certainly boosts its Black Country flavour), although he does go a little overboard with the flickering retro photography, which would be more appropriate had the murder taken place fifty years earlier. Nonetheless, this is an intriguing curio, and not without its ‘folk horror’ charm.

[This film was released on DVD by Carnie and is also available via Amazon Prime. The limited edition includes two alternative ‘silent movie’ edits (unusually, of differing durations) with fresh scores, a trailer and three postcards.]

Photo Album: David Sutton, 2016

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I interviewed the author and editor David Sutton at the October 2016 meeting of the Birmingham Horror Group, the text version of which subsequently appeared in the magazine Fear. We first met at the third Fantasycon, held at a nearby hotel in February 1977, so we were well familiar with each other’s work (I’m holding a copy of the journal I co-edited, Critical Wave, which carried a feature on Fantasy Tales, the award-winning digest he co-edited).

Photo by Chrissie Harper