Die Farbe

Or, in English: The Color (out of Space)

The Color out of SpaceThis 2010 German film is at its center a faithful retelling of HP Lovecraft’s novella, moved to a new setting: Germany just before World War II and just afterwards, with a more modern framing story.

I only know a handful of German words–the useful phrases that a tourist learns while traveling, and the useless ones picked up from WWII movies–but most of this story is told so clearly in visual images or adheres closely enough to Lovecraft’s familiar tale that I can follow most of it without turning on the subtitles.

Anyway, the first part is in English.

Old Dr. Davis has flown from the US to Frankfurt, then disappeared. His son Jonathan (who is supposed to be American, but I find his accent extremely suspect) goes to Germany to try and find him.

Dr. DavisBefore Jonathan leaves on his journey, he speaks to an old friend of his father’s at Miskatonic U, who recalls that Dad was stationed as an army medic at end of the War around Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg. Dr. Davis hadn’t visited Germany since then and has no other connection to that country, so this is the only clue Jonathan has as to where his father might’ve gone.

Arriving in Germany, he rents a car and drives around the Wurttemberg Forest area until he encounters a detour; an empty valley is being flooded to create a reservoir. The road that used to lead through it is already impassable under water. A narrow dirt road winds around the edge of the new lake. Jonathan takes this through the forest, stopping at one point to get out and look around. The water is visible through the trees.

PassportThere’s a feeling that something strange and unsettling is going on in this place: The wings on a  dragonfly audibly snap shut when it lands on a leaf. A toad appears to be watching Jonathan from its hole.

What Jonathan doesn’t see before he gets back in his car is an American passport lying on ground not far from the road.

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K9 & Company

Sarah Jane, K9, and Brendan

The Sarah Jane Adventures were not Elisabeth Sladen’s and John Leeson’s first mutual spinoff from Doctor Who. In 1981, a single episode of K9 & Company aired on the BBC at Christmastime, featuring two of the Doctor’s most popular companions.

The show received respectably high ratings, drawing an audience of over 8 million. John Nathan Turner, the producer for Doctor Who at that time, had hopes that this would lead to a whole new series–but, sadly, nothing further came of it.

The single episode is given its own disc on the recently released BluRay set for Tom Baker’s final series as the Doctor, along with a set of related features.

A Girl’s Best Friend

The opening credits show us Sarah Jane and K9. She sits atop a stone wall in the countryside, reading a newspaper. She sips champagne at an open-air table outside a restaurant. She jogs. She drives around the country roads. He scoots along in his usual fashion. All accompanied by the theme song, an electronic, upbeat melody with the following simple lyrics (sung by John Leeson in his K9 voice–something he apparently still enjoys doing):

K9! K9! [music] K9! K9! [music] K9! K9! [music] K9! K9! 

Try getting it out of your head after you’ve heard it a couple of times.

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 4

William Hartnell’s final episode of Doctor Who is regrettably among the lost. Even into the 1970s, the BBC was more concerned with conserving storage space and reusing videotape than preserving its archive, and the survival of those episodes that still exist is a matter of chance. When the BBC began to care about the historical importance of its old programs, restoration work often depended on still photographs or audio recordings made by early, devoted fans (See, for example, Marco Polo). In some cases, such as this, they were recreated by animation.

Part 4 picks up where Part 3 left off, with the countdown for the Z-bomb missile launch–but this time it’s in striking black-and-white toon form. The audio is a fan recording from the original episode, and the artwork is based on photos and a few video fragments. It looks very good, like a graphic novel in motion.

Animated Cybermen

The big question is: was Ben successful at sabotaging the missile’s launch before General Cutler caught him, or will both the Earth and Mondas suffer from planet-destroying level of radiation when the Z-bomb goes off?

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 3

You’ve probably noticed in my descriptions of Part 1 and Part 2 that the Doctor doesn’t do much in this story. He recognized Mondas before he even saw it and knew to expect the Cybermen, and once they’ve arrived, he doesn’t seem too concerned about them; he tells the bewildered General Cutler to wait it out. But Ben and the Doctorit’s his companions Ben and Polly and the Antarctic base personnel who take the bulk of the exposition and action.

In this episode, more so than the previous two. William Hartnell was taken ill with bronchitis and went away for a week’s rest and recuperation. He isn’t even in this one.

Early on in Part 3, while the base is preparing its defense against the hundreds of Cyberships headed from Mondas toward Earth intent on siphoning off the planet’s energy and cyberizing the population, the Doctor (a stand-in with his back carefully toward the camera) collapses and is taken out of the control room. We’ll see him lying on a bunk under a blanket a little later in the episode.

Dr. Barclay takes over for the DoctorWhile this was unfortunate for poor Mr. Hartnell, it provides some foreshadowing in character, suggesting that the Doctor’s health is deteriorating as well.

Everything that was scripted for the Doctor to have done in this episode, including most of his lines, is given to Dr. Barclay.

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 2

At the end of Part 1, the Cybermen have landed on Antarctica in the not-too-distant future year of 1986, right on top of the underground UN research and space-control base, and killed the handful of luckless soldiers who happened to be up on the snowy and windswept surface at the time.

Down inside the base, General Cutler is scoffing at the Doctor’s statement that there will be visitors from that other planet that’s approaching Earth and looks just like it, except upside-down to our traditional north/south perspective. Both the Doctor and General are unaware that the visitors have already arrived.

Up on surface, the Cybermen throw the winter cloaks they’ve taken from the dead men over their shoulders and distinctive headgear as a sort of makeshift disguise, and head down through the hatch into the base. It’s not a very good disguise, but it does the trick; no one notices them coming down the stairs into the control room until they throw off the coverings. Polly screams.

Cybermen invasion

I’ve never cared much for the Cybermen later on, either in the Doctor Whos I watched growing up, or in the New Whos. They seemed like clunkier Borg without the Cenobite S&M panache.

But I like these very first Cybermen as they introduce themselves after zapping another soldier or two. They are believably what they say they are–people who were once very like the Earth’s humans, but they’ve had to modify themselves and replace some body parts to survive as the environment on their own world, Mondas, grew more hostile to life. Their hands are bare and still obviously human. The extra features on the DVD tell me this was a mistake and the costume department forgot to order silver gloves, but I think it’s a very good touch, intentional or not.

The voices of the Cybermen are done by other actors offscreen, which creates another nice touch: the Cyberman “speaking” only drops his stocking-covered mouth open and doesn’t move or close his jaw until his speech is completed. What we hear is a creepy, high-pitched, sing-song voice that sounds electronically modulated, emphasizing syllables at random and breaking words or sentences up in weird places. It’s my favorite thing about these first Cybermen, and I think it’s a pity that this style of speech was dropped when they returned in later episodes. It’s as distinctive in its way as the hysterical Dalek shrieks.

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 1

I’ve been watching a lot of the William Hartnell episodes lately. There are several I’d like to review, but if I don’t get on with it I’ll never make it to any of the later Doctors. So I’ve decided to skip ahead to this final Hartnell story and may go back to earlier episodes later.

As described in my review of An Adventure in Space and Time, William Hartnell’s health was affecting his ability to carry on the demanding work required as the main character on a weekly series. During 1966, this problem had become such threat to both the actor’s wellbeing and the show’s continued success that the producers decided to replace him. Instead of pulling a Darrin Stevens and bringing in another, similar actor, they did it in an innovative way that not only changed the nature of the Doctor’s character, but became as an essential a part of the very long-running series as the Tardis.

But that event is still three episodes in the future.

Part 1 starts off with a rocket blasting into space. The United Nations Polar Base at Antarctica Astronautsis monitoring and chatting with the two astronauts aboard the capsule.

A couple of interesting things about the actors playing the astronauts.

First, I recognized them right away; both Alan White and Earl Cameron would appear in episodes of The Prisoner soon after this–White as No. 6’s doomed friend Roland Dutton in “Dance of the Dead,” and Cameron as one of the Village Supervisors, No. 106 (an age Mr. Cameron, still alive today, is coming close to attaining). Second, Star Trek made its debut a couple of months before this aired, and much has been made of the interracial casting of the Enterprise crew 200 years in the future; this Doctor Who, set only 22 years ahead, gives us TV’s first black astronaut.

The base is underground. The Antarctic surface above it is, not surprisingly, a snowy landscape (and a pretty impressive set for the show). The Tardis appears, its usual wheezy, groaning landing noise drowned out by the fierce winds.

Inside the Tardis, the Doctor and his two latest companions, Polly and Ben, are getting into heavy-weather coats, hats, and gloves before they venture out into the blizzard. The Doctor, Ben, and PollyThe trio exit the Tardis; the Doctor remains in the background (disguising the fact that it’s a stand-in for William Hartnell on this set with so much fake snow being blasted around), while the two young people make note of the aerials and other man-made objects jutting out of snow-covered ground. One of these items is a periscope.

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The Quatermass Experiment (2005)

“I have brought upon the Earth what is possibly the most terrible thing ever known. What came out of that rocket was not a man. It had been men — a human amalgam possessed by the thing that entered into that rocket over 4 million miles away and transformed them. It had their brains, their faculties. But over the last three days, it has developed the means to existence on this planet — the means to ensure that it only shall exist.

“The Army have plans to destroy it. But should they fail, it is almost certain that every living thing on Earth will give way to this, and life as we know it will cease to exist…

Quatermass

“If the worst should happen, I beg for your forgiveness.”

I’ve reviewed this story twice before: the first two episodes of the otherwise lost original 1953 BBC live television version and the Hammer movie version made a couple of years later.

In April 2005, the “experiment” was repeated on BBC 4. Nigel Kneale’s original script was adapted, with his assistance, and updated to allow for changes in social mores and geopolitics as well as our increased knowledge about space and space travel that simply wasn’t available 50 years earlier. Instead of six 30-minute episodes, the story was compressed into one show approximately an hour and 40 minutes long.

But one thing remained unchanged: Quatermass was enacted and aired live. The BBC (nor anyone else, really) has not regularly presented live television dramas since the ’60s. It’s a style that was common in TV’s earliest days, when performances were a sort of combination of theatrical plays and radio drama, but it has long been abandoned in favor of videotape or film. Live TV is like working without a net.

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Doctor Who: Marco Polo

The 1964 story about the Doctor meeting Marco Polo is one that’s completely lost. The BBC, more concerned in those days with economy than with archiving the shows they broadcast, taped something else over it. All that survives are a soundtrack recorded and a few still photos taken by a dedicated fan; these are used to re-create a half-hour long synopsis of the 7 missing episodes as an extra feature on the The Edge of Destruction DVD.

Marco Polo

The footprints Susan and Barbara found at the end of the previous episode have nothing to do with this story, except that they’re in a snowy mountain pass in the Himalayas.

The Doctor’s group is briefly menaced by some Mongols who think that the strangers are evil spirits, but they are almost immediately rescued by that well-traveled and famous Venetian gentleman whose name has become a popular children’s swimming game. He invites them to the safety of his caravan. Since the Tardis is still experiencing some malfunctions from the last story, they agree.

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Dr. Who: Inside the Tardis

I was puzzled the first time I watched this two-episode story. It comes in the same DVD set as the Doctor Who pilot, the Stone Age story, and the introduction of the Daleks, and yet I’d never heard a thing about it.

It’s a curious little story to come so early in the show’s development, featuring no actors except for the show’s four stars and no scenes set off the Tardis. A bottle show, primarily of interest for some character development and for our first look around Tardis beyond the control room. If you’re wondering how they eat and sleep and other science facts, this is the opportunity to find out.

Tardis lounge
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DART Review: Mad Science

Last Saturday evening at the NecronomiCon in Providence, I enjoyed a live performance of this brand new Dark Adventure Radio Theatre episode–so new that I hadn’t yet received the CD I pre-ordered. I was hoping that it would be waiting for me when I came home, but it only arrived in the mail the night before last. I’ve listened to it once.

Andrew Leman, Kevin Stidham, and Sean Branney.

It was exciting to see the live version first, and especially entertaining because this was a scaled-down production. Instead of bringing the entire cast, Sean Branney, Andrew Leman, and Kevin Stidham did all the characters — which sometimes meant there was one man talking to himself in two different voices.

Apart from the pre-recorded Dark Adventure intro theme, they also did their own “music,” humming a few notes of a traditional ominous tune to indicate scene transitions. Special effect noises were produced by two guys brought up from the audience, and the rest of us in the audience provided crowd sounds and jungle noises when prompted. As live theater, it was a great experience and a lot of fun.

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