REVIEW – Doctor Who ‘Death to the Daleks’ (BBC Worldwide, 2012)

OK, here we go with the first of what will, in time, I hope become one of many Doctor Who reviews. When reviewing Doctor Who serials, we will be not only looking at the how the DVD has been put together, but also reviewing the serial more generally. I hope this makes sense.

Death to the Daleks DVDI was a bit undecided as to where to start with the reviews for the good Doctor, as I have so many favourites.. ..indeed, up until Peter Davidson took over the helm, there were only a few serials I really didn’t enjoy. As you will see as my blog continues I am not really a big fan of the newer Doctor Who’s.. ..don’t get me wrong the productions are fantastic and some of the stories look really interesting, but for me there is just something missing. Truth be told, I think when Tom Baker relinquished his lengthy reign as the Doctor I started to ‘tune out’. So most of the Doctor Who reviews on Retrollection.net will be celebrating the first four Doctors tenure.

So, shall we start with ‘Genesis of the Daleks‘, or maybe ‘Pyramids of Mars‘? No.. ..for my first review I have decided to tackle a quirky little story from the Pertwee era, not quite sure why I have started with this one, it is certainly not ‘classic‘ Who.. ..maybe because it has always made me smile. Anyway, here we go.

The story (contains spoilers)

Death to the Daleks‘ was story number 72 in the 11th season of Doctor Who, with the 3rd Doctor being played wonderfully by Jon Pertwee. It was first shown in four weekly parts, from 23 February to 16 March 1974. I think I like this serial because although it is a mainly ‘by the ropes’ number, it is enjoyable and has novel aspects. I also really like the character Bellal!

The main novelty of this particular serial is that the titular Daleks are unable to ‘exterminate’, well at least not initially.

The Tardis is being drained of energy and the Doctor and Sarah have to make a forced landing on Exxilon. As usual they soon get into trouble and are captured by the savage Exxilons, whilst also discovering a gleaming city. After escaping the Exxilons the Doctor is rescued by Human Space Corps. They are on the planet mining ‘Parrinium’ – a mineral only on found on Exxilon – which can cure and give immunity from a deadly space plague (there are some nods towards ‘Dune‘ here). Whilst Sarah is to be executed by the Exxilons for going too near their city, a Dalek space ship arrives (they too have come for the Parrinium).. ..as usual they start to immediately throw their weight around and attempt to kill everything and everyone. But.. ..their weapons don’t work due to the power drain.. ..ha!

At first an uneasy alliance is formed between the Humans and Daleks to mine the Parrinium, but they are ambushed by the Exxilons – a battle ensues, with both a Human and a Dalek being killed. Both groups are captured and taken to the Exxilon caves, where the Doctor interrupts the sacrifice of Sarah Jane and is promptly condemned to death himself. In a novel twist they are saved by a mob of Daleks who have armed themselves with machine gun like firearms and attack the Exxilons. The Doctor and Sarah Jane escape and the remaining Exxilons and Humans are forced to mine the Parrinium for the Daleks, who want it not as a cure, but to keep and thus help spread the plague across the universe.

Whilst in the caves the Doctor and Sarah meet some fugitive Exxilons, who are more intelligent and passive, led by a cute little fella called ‘Bellal’. He explains that the temple like city was built by their ancestors, who had mastered space travel. He also reveals that the city can self-maintain and repair; defending itself if necessary. After the city was completed and gained self-consciousness it turned against the Exxilons and regarded them as a threat, destroying most of them (pretty neat huh, remember this is 10 years before ‘The Terminator‘ came out, using similar ideas). Bellal’s group are determined to complete their ancestors aim of destroying the city they built, in order to ensure the survival of their race. Bellal tells the Doctor about some markings on the side of the city, which the Doctor recognises as similar to ones he once saw on a temple in Peru. The Doctor also realises that the shining beacon on the summit of the city is the source of the power drain and heads off with Bellal to investigate.

Meanwhile, the Daleks have also come to the same conclusions and use Humans to plant timed explosives on the Beacon.. ..but one of them, Galloway, secretly keeps one of the devices to himself. The Doctor and Bellal enter the city, with two Daleks in close pursuit. Both the Doctor and Bellal and the two Daleks have to, as separate groups, pass a series of intelligence tests to progress further into the city. The Doctor surmises that the city is testing those who enter so that only those as intelligent as it will progress; it will then add their knowledge to its own data-banks.

As the Doctor tries to sabotage the ‘brain’ of the city it creates antibodies which attack the Doctor and Bellal.. ..once again the Daleks arrive just in time to cause a diversion, allowing the Doctor an his new friend to escape. The Daleks are destroyed in the city by the antibodies as the beacon is also destroyed by the Dalek bomb, ending the power drain.

The Daleks order the Humans to load the Parrinium onto their ship, where they plan to fire a ‘plague’ missile towards Exillon after their departure. They would then have all the Parrinium to themselves and hold the rest of the galaxy to ransom, threatening millions of lives. As they depart Sarah reveals that the Daleks in fact have only sand on their ship, the actual Parrinium has been secretly loaded onto the Human ship destined for Earth. We also discover that Galloway has sneaked onto the Dalek ship with the final bomb, detonating it just before they fire their ‘plague’ missile. Back on Exxilon, the City collapses and the Doctor muses that the Universe is now down to only 699 wonders.

Production

Death To The Daleks’ begins Philip Hinchcliffe’s reign in the spirit that it was to continue.. ..somewhat Gothic and increasingly horrific. The story was written by Dalek-creator Terry Nation, who I think was taking a slight ‘tongue in cheek‘ ‘dig’ at the early 70’s miners strikes, which resulted in many ‘black out‘s. He is also borrowing from other stories such as ‘War of the Worlds‘ and ‘Forbidden Planet‘.

Pertwee is, as usual, excellent as the Doctor and Liz Sladen makes the most of a somewhat subdued role in this story.. ..in my mind she was the best companion to ever grace the series. The story does get a bit ‘plodding’ at times (the Doctor, Bellal and Daleks chase through the city comes to mind – an almost desperate plot device, later shamelessly re-used in ‘The Five Doctors‘); personally I think Nation was somewhat running out of ideas for the Daleks by this point. Apparently he was berated by the Beeb for this but eventually came back to form and went on to write the fantastic ‘Genesis of the Daleks‘ before creating the exquisite ‘Blakes 7‘. The interior of the city scenes also play host to probably the worst ‘cliff hanger‘ in the history of the show.

The other actor who does a sterling job is Arnold Yarrow, as the delightful Bellal.. ..a diminutive character, but with a performance that is far greater than the writing for it.. ..and we don’t even get to see any of the heavily costume clad actor!

The special effects, as usual for classic Doctor Who’s, are a real mixed bag. The Chroma key is mostly excellently done, but some of the models, especially the space craft are laughable. The city, whilst looking OK from a distance, is obviously made of Polystyrene.. ..the melting scene at the end being particularly obvious (the same as the ‘bubble wrap‘ ‘slime’ in ‘The Ark in Space‘). The ‘roots’ of the city (which look great) are also a little too obviously held up with clearly visible wires.. ..but hey, I think this is also somewhat endearing and more pleasing than a lot of the characterless CGI we are bombarded with these days!

DVD extras and quality

DVD extras include an interesting commentary track featuring actor Julian Fox (who played Peter Hamilton), Dalek operator Cy Town, director Michael E Briant, assistant floor manager Richard Leyland, costume designer L Rowland Warne and the guru of the radiophonic workshopDick Mills.

Beneath the City of the Exxilons‘ is an interesting 27 min documentary featuring Arnold Yarrow, Michael E Briant, Julian Fox, Richard Leyland, L Rowland Warne and ‘Who aficionado‘ Nick Briggs.

An interesting ‘Studio Recording‘ feature (showing some comical special effects ‘bloopers‘, see still), ‘Dr. Who and Daleks’ and ‘Dalek Men‘ shorts (neither of the latter two relating to the main story) complete the package. Finally the single disk includes .pdf original TV listings for the serial.

The video transfer is adequate and the picture has been cleaned well, not bad for a Pertwee era serial. The aspect ratio is 4:3 and the soundtrack mono, as might be expected.


Retrollection recommendation?

Would I recommend it for purchase? Yes, but this is by no means a ‘must have classic’, so maybe one for the collectors/fans only.


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REVIEW – From Beyond The Grave (Amicus Productions, 1974)

From Beyond The Grave’ was released in 1974 by Amicus Productions. It is a British horror film anthology directed by Kevin Connor and produced by Milton Subotsky. The film is primarily based on stories by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. It was originally titled ‘The Undead’ and depending upon where you are in the world, you may recognise it  as ‘The Creatures’, ‘Tales from Beyond The Grave’, and ‘Tales From The Beyond’.

Amicus was well known for its portmanteau horror film anthologies which typically featured four or five short horror stories, linked by an overarching plot, usually featuring a narrator or commentator. Over the years they have developed a bit of a cult following. ‘From Beyond the Grave’ was the last of their anthologies, being preceded by ‘Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors’ (1965), ‘Torture Garden’ (1967), ‘The House That Dripped Blood’ (1970), ‘Asylum’ (1972), ‘Tales From The Crypt’ (1972) and ‘The Vault Of Horror’ (1973).. ..all of which we will be looking at in due course.

The stories (contains spoilers)

Temptations Limited is an ‘out of the way’ antiques shop run by a rather creepy proprietor whose name remains undisclosed (excellently played by Peter Cushing). The strap-line for the shop, as seen on the door, is “offers you cannot resist”. However, as we shall see, a nasty fate awaits those who steal from or cheat Cushing’s character.


The Gatecrasher – Edward Charlton (played by David Warner) appears to be an up-and-coming young man who enters the shop and is immediately taken with an antique mirror. He purchases the mirror, but at a bargain price.. ..he assures the proprietor that it is not actually an antique, but a reproduction; knowing this to be a lie. He takes it home to his rather swanky flat and places it in prime position over the fire place. Later he holds a party, where he discloses his dishonesty in acquiring the mirror to friends and they collectively discuss its age.. ..it is at this point that someone suggests they hold a séance. Upon doing so he falls into a trance and finds himself in a misty, wooded ‘netherworld’ where he is approached by a sinister stranger (Marcel Steiner), dressed in antique attire. The stranger appears to stab him, and Charlton awakes screaming. Later, whilst alone in his flat the figure appears in the mirror and orders Charlton to kill so that he can “feed”. Charlton then proceeds to bring young girls back to his flat and murders them. At first it seems that he is unaware that he is doing this, but the extent of his butchery is revealed when his downstairs neighbour complains about the stains on his ceiling and the smell. Eventually, Charlton murders enough people for the apparition to be able to manifest itself outside of the mirror.. ..seemingly becoming younger and more healthy with each killing. He explains that Charlton must do one more thing before the stranger can walk freely among the living. Saying he will take Charlton “beyond the ultimate“, he persuades Charlton to kill himself by impaling himself on his knife. We are then left with workmen decorating the flat and removing traces of Charlton’s grisly past, the mirror staying on the wall.. ..it seems to stay there for years after his death, with other owners/tenants coming and going. That is until the latest owner also decides to hold a séance. Once the séance starts, Charlton’s hungry spectre appears in the mirror.

You can’t fail to notice that there are a lot of similarities between this story and ‘The Hellbound Heart’, with the box replacing the mirror. Now don’t get me wrong, Barker’s story is more well-rounded, eloquent and there is sense made of why the Cenobites are taking their captives; similarities which are not revealed in the above story.. ..but Barker must have surely got some inspiration from this story.. ..or is there another earlier story that both are influenced by?


An Act of Kindness – Christopher Lowe (Ian Bannen) is a frustrated middle management drone who is trapped in a loveless marriage to Mabel (Diana Dors). Humiliated and abused by his wife, a laughing stock to his son, he befriends Jim Underwood (Donald Pleasence); an old soldier who he sees regularly on his way to work. Underwood ekes out a living selling matches and shoe laces. To regain some dignity, Lowe makes an effort to impress Underwood; telling him that he is a also decorated soldier. To back up this lie, he enters ‘Temptations’ and tries to persuade the proprietor to sell him a Distinguished Service Order medal. When the proprietor asks Lowe to provide certification to prove he had previously been awarded the medal, he obviously cannot.. ..instead he steals the medal, when the proprietors back is turned. The next day on his way to work he shows Underwood the medal, who is duly impressed, stating that not many gentlemen received such a high commendation. Underwood reflects that Lowe has been very good to him, buying his wares etc. and that he would be honoured if he would come to his house for tea. Once at Underwood’s house he meets, and is obviously taken with, his rather creepy daughter, Emily (played by Angela Pleasence, Donald Pleasence’s actual daughter). Emily waits on Lowe, hand and foot, and over time he is seduced by her and they start an affair.. ..even though she seems constantly distracted and distant. Emily becomes weirder and weirder and eventually produces a miniature doll of Mabel, proceeding to hold a knife to it. She asks Lowe to order her to do his will. Lowe agrees that she should cut the doll, if it pleases her.. ..to which she replies, “no, if it pleases you!”. When she cuts into the doll, a drop of blood dribbles from it. A disturbed Lowe then races home to find Mabel dead.

Underwood and Emily then appear at Lowe’s home, and walk in to the sound of the ‘Wedding March‘. Later, Emily and Lowe are married; Lowe’s son (played by future writer John O’Farrell) and Jim Underwood attend the wedding. When the time comes to cut the cake, Emily asks all present whether they wish her to. They all agree and Emily brings the knife down, but rather than cut the cake, she cuts into the head of the groom. Blood pours out of it, and Lowe then falls on to the table, dead, blood spilling from his head. Underwood and Emily explain to Lowe’s son that they always answer the prayers of a child “in one way or another“.


The Elemental – Reggie Warren (Ian Carmichael) is an affluent, somewhat pompous, business man who enters ‘Temptations’. Although clearly able to afford it, he puts the price tag of a cheaper snuff box in a more expensive one he wants to buy, whilst out of sight of the Proprietor. Cushing sells him the box at the altered price, bidding him farewell with a cheery “I hope you enjoy snuffing it“. On the train home, an apparently batty old white witch, come clairvoyant, named Madame Orloff (Margaret Leighton) interrupts him whilst he is reading his paper. She persistently advises him that he has an nasty ‘elemental’ on his shoulder. Warren dismisses her, but eventually accepts her business card, mainly to placate her. However, when he gets home his shoulder starts to itch, his dog disappears and his wife Susan (Nyree Dawn Porter) is attacked and choked half to death by an unseen force.. ..he is also surrounded by an unpleasant odour. As such he has cause to call on Madame Orloff’s services; she promptly arrives and seemingly successfully (and somewhat humorously) exorcises the ‘elemental’ from the Warrens’ home.. ..even their dog returns. Later though, the Warrens hear strange noises up stairs, and Reggie heads up to investigate. He is soon knocked out and falls to the foot of the stairs, unconscious. When he comes round, he finds Susan, who has somehow become possessed by the ‘elemental’, manically staring at him.. ..she/it informs him that he “tried to deny her life” and promptly kills him.


The Door – William Seaton (Ian Ogilvy) is a writer who purchases an ancient and very ornate door from the proprietor of ‘Temptations’. He is unable to meet the proprietor’s asking price, but agrees on a reduced price with him. When the proprietor goes out of sight to note down Seaton’s delivery details, he purposely leaves the till open. After Seaton leaves, the proprietor starts counting the money in the till and the scene fades out.

Arriving home Seaton discusses with his wife, Rosemary (Lesley-Anne Down), where they should place the door.. ..she thinks it is too grand to lead simply to stationery cupboard, as he had suggested. In addition, when Rosemary touches the door she seems to be able to see what originally lay behind it. The door begins to exert a strange fascination over Seaton and he finds that when he opens it a mysterious blue room lies beyond. In the room he finds the notes of a Sir Michael Sinclair (Jack Watson), an evil occultist who created the door as a means to trap those who entered through it.. ..so that he could capture their souls and live forever. Seaton escapes, but when he tries to leave his house he finds that the door’s influence has widened.. ..he and Rosemary seem trapped. In a trance, Rosemary is unable to stop herself from opening the door and entering the room, where she is immediately incapacitated by Sinclair. Sinclair carries her through the doorway, mocking Seaton by asking him to follow, as two souls are better than one. Seaton attempts to destroy the door with an axe.. ..as he starts to smash the door, the room and Sinclair start to crumble. Seaton the tries desperately to rescue Rosemary, but is attacked by Sinclair. Seaton tells Rosemary to continue smashing the door with the axe.. ..he then manages to break free. They continue to destroy the door and in turn the blue room.. ..Sinclair is simultaneously reduced to a skeleton and then dust when they break the door from its hinges.

We then return to the shop.. ..the proprietor finishes counting the money Seaton gave him and seems surprised to find that it is all present and correct.


Between each of the stories, a criminal (Ben Howard) is seen to be casing the shop. At the end of the film, he enters  ‘Temptations’ and persuades the proprietor to hand him two loaded antique pistols. He then tries to rob the proprietor, who refuses to hand him any money and walks relentlessly towards him. The thief then shoots the proprietor, but the bullets have no effect on him. Terrified, the thief staggers back, crashing into a skeleton.. ..this causes him to trip and fall into what appears to be a combination of an iron maiden and a coffin.. ..consequently, he is spiked to death. “Nasty“, the Proprietor says. The proprietor then breaks the fourth wall and welcomes the viewer as his next customer, and explains he caters for all tastes, and that each purchase comes with “a big novelty surprise“.


Retrollection recommendation?

I love these old Amicus films and this is one of the best; the cinematography, acting and creepy soundtrack are excellent, as are most of the short stories.. ..definitely worth watching – occasionally it even appears on the Free View channels. If not, it is very easy to find the DVD cheap on the bay.

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REVIEW – Doctor Who ‘Spearhead from Space’ (BBC Worldwide, 2013)

For my second Doctor Who review I thought I would write about the only classic serial that has so far been released on Blu-ray.. ..’Spearhead from Space’. So we are going to be taking a look at another Jon Pertwee story, indeed his first as the Doctor.

Spearhead BD box

‘Spearhead from Space’ was the first serial of the seventh season, first broadcast in four weekly parts from the 3rd January to the 24th January 1970. The serial was a first for many reasons: (i) the first to be shot in colour, (ii) the first to feature Pertwee, (iii) the first to feature Liz Shaw and (iv) the debut of the Autons as an enemy of the Doctor.

Why has this serial suddenly been released on Blu-ray? Well, it may be the only classic serial ever to be released in HD as it was the only one shot on film (all of the others were either entirely or partly shot on video tape). It was an accident that this serial was shot on film.. ..industrial action had meant that the studios at BBC Television Centre were unavailable, so instead the serial was shot entirely on location using 16 mm film. Fortunately, negatives of the film were retained by the BBC, giving the perfect source to produce a HD transfer.

The story (contains spoilers)

There is a bit of a strange (somewhat plodding) start to this serial.. .. the Doctor has changed.. ..again, this time the ‘regeneration’ (not named at this point) being seemingly forced upon him by the Time Lords and not seen.

The TARDIS door opens and the Doctor collapses upon exiting. He is found and promptly taken to Ashbridge Cottage Hospital in Epping, where nobody recognises him and his unusual anatomy confounds and confuses the resident doctors.

Alongside the Doctor’s arrival is a swarm of meteorites, which crash into the English countryside. At the impact site a poacher procures a strange, pulsating plastic polyhedron.

Meanwhile, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) is attempting to recruit a Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw as his scientific advisor, to investigate the unusual meteorite shower. Shaw, on the other hand, is not only sceptical of the Brigadier’s claims of alien invasion, but also resentful of being taken away from her research at Cambridge.

The brigadier is perplexed by both the meteorite storm and a man, in the care of a hospital near to the impact site, who claims to be the same Doctor who helped Lethbridge-Stewart in a previous crisis.. ..but looks nothing like the previous Doctor that the Brigadier got to know well.

We learn that the plastic polyhedron is in fact a power unit for a non-physical alien intelligence known as the Nestene Consciousness. Normally disembodied, it has an affinity for, and can animate, plastic.

The Nestene quickly take over a plastic toy factory in Epping, and plan to replace key government and public figures with plastic facsimile duplicates, known as ‘Autons’. The Auton in charge of the factory, ‘Channing’, looks relatively realistic, but other, less human-looking Autons are sent to retrieve power units held by both UNIT and the poacher.

The Autons attempt to kidnap the Doctor from the hospital but he manages to escape (nearly being shot dead in the process) but finds the TARDIS has been disabled by the Time Lords, confining him to an exile on Earth.

After convincing himself, and the Brigadier, that he is in fact the same person who aided in the defeat of the Yeti and the Cybermen the Doctor uncovers the Nestene plot.. .. with the aide of his new assistant Liz. Almost simultaneously Channing activates Autons now ensconced across the UK (mainly in the form of shop window mannequins), who start to kill everyone. The Doctor quickly manufactures a device that will produce an electro-shock, which should disable the Autons.

UNIT having now established the manufacturing location of the Autons, attack the plastics factory, but find that the Autons are impervious to gunfire. The Doctor and Liz enter the factory and find an octopus-like plastic creature that the Nestenes have created with the power units. They intend to use this creature as a ‘bridgehead‘ for their invasion of Earth.

Whilst the Doctor (hilariously) wrestles with the creature, Liz manages to use his machine to incapacitate the creature.. .. along with all the other Autons  across the UK – as they are all part of a single gestalt consciousness.

The Brigadier is fearful that the Nestenes will return and counter-attack and requests that the Doctor stays to assist. The Doctor, somewhat begrudgingly, agrees to join UNIT in exchange for facilities to help him repair his TARDIS; as well as acquiring a sporty antique roadster similar to one he commandeered during the adventure. The Doctor also persuades Liz to remain with him as his assistant.

Production

The working title of this serial was ‘Facsimile‘, and it was based on a story that Robert Holmes wrote for the 1965 film ‘Invasion‘. The film featured an alien crashing in the woods near a rural hospital, where a medical examination reveals his alien nature. The hospital is later visited by other aliens, seeking a fugitive criminal. Some of the exact lines of dialogue used by human doctors to describe the physiology of the injured alien were re-used.

As this was the first serial produced in colour, changes were required to update the opening titles. The designer, Bernard Lodge, who had produced the existing titles, intended to use the same ‘howlaround’ technique that he had for previous titles. However, it did not produce good enough results when used with colour equipment.. ..as such they were again produced in black and white before being manually tinted. The new opening sequence was only completed in August 1969, a mere month before work began on the serial.

Blu-ray extras and quality

There are some nice extras on this Blu-ray edition, which is a good thing as the serial has seen many releases, and re-releases over the last few years.

‘A Dandy and a Clown’ is a warm and interesting documentary about Jon Pertwee. Roughly 40 minutes in length it features clips and photos that have, in the main, not been seen before. Not everything is covered in detail, but it does cover his career well, ranging from his early days to his favourite character Worzel Gummage; it is an impressive insight into the actor’s life.

‘Carry On’ is a 28 minute tribute to Caroline John. Her family and friends contribute to this documentary and as a result it’s even more personal than the Pertwee one, with warm recollections of schools, religion, romance and family.

A short feature on the process of restoring the film for HD is included, which highlights the improved quality but doesn’t really go into any technical details (which if you are interested can be found here).

Finally, we get a ‘coming soon’ trailer and raw test footage from 1969 of the first Third Doctor title sequence.

What about the quality of the HD transfer? It’s probably wise to warn you to avoid setting your expectations too high. Originally shot on 16 mm film, the episodes aren’t exactly striking, at least not in a contemporary sense. You will be more than happy with what you see, but the colours are a little bland by today’s standards.. ..although accurate and the black levels and contrast are just right. Many of you will be disappointed, as I was, that the serial remains in a standard format, it would have been fantastic if it were true widescreen. However, you have to be realistic and remember that the film is over 40 years old, what you see on screen is more than satisfying and clearly better that the usual DVD releases.

There isn’t anything particularly remarkable about the DTS-HD Master Audio mix either, but there also isn’t anything wrong with it either. Dialogue is clean and clear, without any hiss or noise.. ..it sounds about as good as a 70’s TV show will ever sound. As you can imagine the low frequency channel and rear speakers aren’t used in any real capacity.. ..but in this day and age, this comes as something of a rest-bite.

Retrollection recommendation?

Is this worth getting? Absolutely.. ..this is a great serial, which whilst taking some time to get going is definitely one to own.. ..it has so may firsts – the sight of the Autons smashing out of shop windows is classic Doctor Who. Even if you already own this on DVD I would still consider getting this Blu-ray release.. ..the HD transfer may not be stunning by contemporary standards, but you are never going to see or indeed hear a classic Doctor Who serial as clearly as this one.


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REVIEW – Prometheus (20th Century Fox, 2012)

Prometheus_poster

‘Prometheus’ theatrical poster

‘Prometheus’ was released in 2012 by 20th Century Fox. It is a science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. It stars Noomi RapaceMichael FassbenderGuy PearceIdris ElbaLogan Marshall-Green, and Charlize Theron. Set in the late 21st century it revolves around the crew of a spaceship, Prometheus that is seeking the possible origins of humanity.

Many thought that it was a continuation or prequel to ‘Alien’, but Scott has stated that although the film shares “strands of Alien‍ ’​s DNA, so to speak”, and takes place in the same universe, it explores its own mythology and ideas.

The film took over $403 million worldwide. The visual aesthetic, design and acting.. .. most notably Fassbender’s performance as the android David were critically acclaimed. However, the plot drew a more mixed response from critics, who criticized plot elements that remained unresolved and/or were too predictable.

The story (contains spoilers)

In what has to be one of the most beautiful openings to a film ever created, we follow a large spacecraft across the surface of a planet, which has seemingly left a single humanoid alien behind on the edge of a powerful waterfall. As the spacecraft departs he disrobes and ingests an iridescent liquid, which instantly causes him to disintegrate.. ..his remains falling into the waterfall.

As the title credits roll, we see a stylised render of his DNA disintegrating and then recombining to form rapidly replicating new cells.

There is then an abrupt switch to the Isle of SkyeScotland, 2089, where archaeologists Dr Elizabeth Shaw and Dr Charlie Holloway discover a set of prehistoric paintings in a cave. The paintings contain a star map that they have seen before.. ..it matches several others found from unconnected ancient cultures.

They interpret this as an invitation from humanity’s forerunners, who they name ‘engineers’ to find them.  As such, Peter Weyland, the immensely wealthy and elderly CEO of the Weyland Corporation, funds an expedition to follow the ‘map’ to a distant moon, LV-223.

They travel there, whilst remaining in stasis, aboard the scientific vessel Prometheus. During their voyage, both the ship and the crew are monitored by an advanced, almost human, android called David. David is able to view the dreams of the crew as they sleep and he is particularly curious about Shaw’s.. ..one of  which is about the death of her mother.. ..her father is telling her that he ‘chooses to believe’ that she went to heaven. David also perfects his understanding and pronunciation of ancient languages and dialects during the long voyage.

Arriving in 2093, a video hologram of Weyland informs them of their mission to find the ‘engineers’ and Holloway and Shaw describe how they found the ‘map’.. ..when asked about what the ‘engineers’ created, Shaw confirms they believe that they created us. When further confronted about evidence for their hypothesis that the ‘engineers’ created humans, Shaw responds that she ‘chooses to believe’ it.

The mission commander, Meredith Vickers, sternly warns everyone not to make contact with the engineers without her permission.. ..she also firmly establishes with Shaw and Holloway, that she is skeptical of their hypothesis and that she is very much in charge, as the Weyland Corporation funded the mission, not them.

The Prometheus lands on the barren, mountainous surface of LV-223 near a large artificial structure (one of many), which Holloway has spotted as there are clearly visible ‘Nazca’ type lines in front of it.. ..stating that ”God does not build in straight lines!”.

Inside the structure they find stone cylinders, a monolithic statue of a humanoid head, and the decapitated corpse of a large alien, thought to be an engineer; Shaw duly recovers the head. Shortly after this the crew finds other bodies, leading them to surmise the species is now extinct.

Two other crew members Millburn and Fifield, who have formed an uneasy alliance, grow uncomfortable with the discoveries and decide to return to Prometheus, but have become stranded in the structure as it is now unsafe to return. Indeed, the rest of the expedition is cut short as a sand storm forces the remaining crew to race back to the Prometheus. David secretly steals a cylinder from the structure, whilst the remaining cylinders start leaking.

Back on the Prometheus the engineer’s DNA, taken from the recovered head, is found to match that of humans. They try to electrically stimulate the head, but in doing so it explodes.

Secretly, David investigates the cylinder and its contents. He intentionally taints a drink with the liquid from the cylinder, giving it to an unsuspecting Holloway.. .. who had told David earlier that he would do anything for answers. Shortly after, Shaw and Holloway, after celebrating their discovery and affirmation of their thesis, have sex (this section of the film includes a tender scene where Shaw is saddened that although they have found the start to human life, this is something she, personally, can never achieve).

Returning to Millburn and Fifield, who remain in the structure, a snake-like creature (Hammerpede) kills Millburn, and sprays a corrosive fluid that melts Fifield’s helmet.. ..he then falls, face-first, into a puddle of the dark liquid, which has leaked from the cylinders.

When the crew return to the structure, they find Millburn’s corpse. David separately discovers a control room containing a surviving engineer, still in stasis, and a star map centered on Earth.

Meanwhile, Holloway is sickening rapidly and is rushed back to the Prometheus. However, in fear of contagion, Vickers refuses to let him aboard and, at his urging, burns him to death with a flamethrower.

Later, a medical scan reveals that Shaw, despite being sterile, is pregnant. Fearing the worst about the biology of her fetus, she uses an automated surgery table in Vickers executive ‘life boat’ to extract a squid-like creature (Trilobite) from her abdomen. She then discovers that Peter Weyland has also been in stasis aboard Prometheus.

Weyland reveals that he had funded the whole expedition just in case they got this far.. ..he wants the engineers to prevent his death from old age. It is also revealed that Weyland is also apparently Vickers father, who is understandably resentful as he has already declared that David is the closest thing he has to a son.

A monstrous, mutated Fifield then attacks the Prometheus‍ ’​s hangar bay, killing several crew members before he is also killed. This leads the Prometheus‍ ’​s captain, Janek to speculate that the structure was a military installation that the engineers lost control of.. ..this seems to confirm a ‘recording’ some of the crew witnessed when they first entered the structure. The dark liquid is assumed to be a virulent biological weapon. Janek also reveals that the structure houses a spacecraft (as presumably do the others), which is similar to the ‘derelict’ introduced in ‘Alien’.

Peter Weyland and a team return to the structure, accompanied by Shaw. David proceeds to wake the engineer from stasis. He then speaks to the engineer using his previous studies to guide his language and attempts to explain that Weyland seeks to extend his life.

This enrages the engineer who decapitates David and kills Weyland and his team. He then begins to reactivate the spacecraft. Shaw realises that the engineer intends to fly back to Earth and release the biological payload. As such she warns Janek.

Janek prepares the Prometheus for take-off, ejecting the lifeboat. He then accelerates the Prometheus ramming it into the departing spacecraft controlled by the engineer, causing it to crash.. ..having realised this is the only way to preserve life on Earth. The Prometheus explodes upon impact, but not before Vickers manages to flee in an escape pod.

The engineer’s crippled spacecraft crashes onto the ground; its wreckage killing Vickers. Shaw enters the lifeboat and finds that her alien offspring (the Trilobite) is very much alive and has grown to gigantic proportions. David’s still-active head then warns Shaw that the engineer has survived and is coming for her. The engineer forces open the lifeboat’s airlock and attacks Shaw, who releases her alien offspring. It immediately attacks the Engineer, thrusting an ovipositor down the Engineer’s throat, subduing him.

Shaw recovers David’s remains, and with his help, launches another engineer spacecraft. She intends to reach the engineers’ home world in an attempt to understand why they wanted to destroy humanity.

In the lifeboat, an alien creature (Deacon) bursts out of the engineer’s chest.

What does it all mean?

A lot of people were disappointed with ‘Prometheus’, which is a shame as it is a fantastic film.. ..I think the main reason for this is a general lack of understanding and comprehension. Additionally, I think some thought ‘Prometheus’ was going to be a continuation of the ‘Alien’ universe.. ..but ‘Prometheus‘ compliments, not continues it, which disappointed some.

So what the does it all mean? The main, underlying theme in ‘Prometheus’ relates to the eponymous Titan of Greek mythologyPrometheus defies the gods, granting humanity fire, for which he was subjected to eternal punishment. The gods want to limit the abilities of their creations, save they confront the gods themselves.

‘Prometheus’ is all about humanities relationship with gods, creators.. ..call them what you will, along with the consequences of defying them. In the film they find superior beings who appear god-like in comparison to humanity and suffer the consequences of their pursuit and perceived disobedience. Not only has Weyland pursued his makers simply for personal gain, wanting to achieve ‘god-like’ immortality, to add insult to injury his request is delivered by a lifeless ‘machine’, created in the very image of the engineers own creation, man.

Shaw wants her religious beliefs to be confirmed by meeting her makers, she is probably the only truly religious crew member on the Prometheus (maybe with the exception of Janek). This, one would assume, would be slightly dated in 2093, but she is excited when she realises that the engineers may have created us.. ..it reaffirms her religious convictions. Lindelof said that asking questions and searching for meaning is the point of being alive, and so the audience is left to question whether Shaw was protected by God because of her faith. Scott wanted the film to end with Shaw’s declaration that she is still searching for definitive answers. In addition to the religious themes, Lindelof said that ‘Prometheus’ is ‘pro-science’ and explores whether scientific knowledge and faith in God can co-exist.

Further religious allusions are implied by the engineers’ decision to punish humanity with destruction 2,000 years before the events of the film. Scott suggested that an engineer was sent to Earth to stop humanity’s increasing aggression, but was crucified, implying it was Jesus Christ. However, Scott felt that an explicit connection in the film would be “a little too on the nose.”

Scott has revealed in many interviews that he took inspiration for such ideas from authors like Von Däniken. Indeed, an engineer is shown ‘seeding’ a planet at the very start of the film.

Maybe this was all a bit too much for some people.. ..there is a lot to think about with the story and its various meanings, some of which certain people probably prefer not to confront.

Retrollection recommendation?

I think this is a great film, indeed it is one of my favourites.. ..I love the imagery, the music, the story and the lack of key decisive information. This latter point actually makes me feel more part of the story.. .. I am left to conclude certain points for myself.

From speaking to others I think ‘Prometheus’ is a bit of a ‘Marmite’ film, you either love it or hate it. Maybe it is a little too clever for its own good? What I do know is that people, including academics, will be talking about this film for years to come.. ..how many modern films can we say that about?


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REVIEW – Hammer House of Horror (Hammer Films, 1980)

Hammer House of Horror‘ was a British television series made in 1980. It was an anthology of horror serials created by Hammer Films in association with Cinema Arts International and ITC Entertainment.

In total there were thirteen episodes created which were broadcast on Saturday evenings on ITV. Each self-contained episode ran for just under an hour and featured a different kind of horror story; varying from ghostswerewolves and witches to devil-worship and voodoo. The series also included non-supernatural horror stories such as cannibalism, confinement and serial killers. Episodes were directed by Alan GibsonPeter Sasdy and Tom Clegg, among others, and the script-editor was Anthony Read. When the stories were good, this imaginative series could send a shiver down the spine.

In this review I am going to be taking a slightly different approach, in that I will not reveal the entire contents of the stories (i.e. spoilers). This is for two reasons: (i) there are thirteen episodes and the blog article will just become too long and (ii) the stories largely depend upon a surprise/or ‘reveal’ element..  ..although I am sure many of my age will remember  the ominous drum beats heralding another great evening of Saturday night entertainment, our younger audience may not have seen them (and some of the older audience may have forgotten what happened)!

The episodes


Witching time’

Starring: Jon FinchPatricia QuinnPrunella GeeIan McCullochLennard PearceMargaret Anderson

Transmitted: September 13, 1980

A witch from the 17th Century uses her magic to transport herself to the 20th Century, wreaking havoc on the composer who now lives in her old farmhouse. When his adulterous wife comes back from a trip away, the witch continues unabated, with life threatening consequences. As such the composers wife seeks an exorcism of the witch, but she wont go without a fight.


‘The thirteenth reunion’

Starring: Michael LatimerJulia FosterDinah SheridanRichard PearsonNorman BirdWarren ClarkeKevin StoneyGerard KellyJames CosmoGeorge Innes

Transmitted: September 20, 1980

A fleet street journalist is sent to investigate a health farm called Chesterton Slimming Clinic. Whilst there she befriends one of the other patients, who mysteriously disappears. Looking into his death she discovers the clinic is a front for a secret society which hides a terrible secret.


‘Rude awakening’

Starring: Denholm ElliottLucy GutteridgeJames LaurensonPat HeywoodGareth Armstrong,Eleanor SummerfieldPatricia Mort

Transmitted: September 27, 1980

A lecherous estate agent (excellently played by Elliott) is having recurrent dreams about his seductive secretary, centred around a mysterious house called Lower Moat Manner. He soon becomes unable to distinguish his dreams from reality and is encouraged to murder his wife to be with his secretary. He goes ahead with the murder.. ..but it is only a dream, isn’t it?


Growing pains’

Starring: Gary BondBarbara KellermanNorman BeatonTariq YunusGeoffrey Beevers

Transmitted: October 4, 1980

The young son of a scientist dies after eating some tablets he finds in his fathers laboratory. To help come to terms with their loss the scientist and his wife adopt a new son, but this coincides with a series of odd events and disasters for the father’s research.


The house that bled to death’

Starring: Nicholas BallRachel DaviesBrian CroucherPatricia MaynardMilton JohnsGeorge Tovey

Transmitted: October 11, 1980

A young couple buy a house at a knock down price as it was once the scene of a macabre murder. They suffer a series of terrifying events, linking back to the murder, which traumatises their daughter (and many others) and eventually forces them leave the house for good. They start a new life, but all is not as it seems and their daughter may not have totally gotten over her turbulent past.


‘Charlie boy’

Starring: Leigh LawsonMarius GoringAngela BruceFrances CukaMichael CulverJeff Rawle,David HealyJanet FieldingCharles Pemberton

Transmitted: October 18, 1980

An ancient African idol is left to a young couple who start to suffer very unpleasant experiences. It seems that the idol is possessed by the spirit of an evil sorcerer and has a life of its own. Can they destroy the idol or will the idol destroy them?


The Silent ScreamThe silent scream’

Starring: Peter CushingBrian CoxElaine Donnelly, Antony Carrick, Terry KinsellaRobin Browne

Transmitted: October 25, 1980

Cushing plays an elderly, seemingly kindly pet shop owner who has an amazing collection of wild animals and famous painting(s). However, he harbours a dark secret and is actually a former Nazi concentration camp guard who is intent on continuing his experiments on human victims. His wish is to create prisons with no bars, where the captives remain imprisoned because the consequences of escape are so grave. All he needs are some human captives to experiment on.


Children of the full Moon’

Starring: Diana DorsChristopher CazenoveCelia Gregory, Victoria Wood, Robert Urquhart

Transmitted: November 1, 1980

A young couple are going on holiday in the West Country when they loose control of their car.. ..eventually being stranded on the side of a lonely road in the woods. They seek refuge at an old house they find by venturing deeper into the woods. The house is kept by a strange woman (Dors) who cares for a number of children, with unusual habits and appetites. As the night progresses the couple are convinced they see what appears to be a werewolf and the husband goes to investigate, but falls and looses consciousness. At the same time the creature is seemingly let into the house and appears to attack his wife. The  husband subsequently wakes in a hospital to be told the werewolf, house and strange children were all a dream. However his now-pregnant wife has changed, developing a taste for raw meat, among other things; she then suddenly disappears as she approaches her due date. The husband knows exactly where she has gone and travels back to find the West Country house.. ..where he meets and has a very revealing conversation with the local woodsman.

Children of the Full Moon


The Carpathian eagle’

Starring: Suzanne DanielleAnthony ValentineSiân PhillipsBarry StantonJeffry WickhamW. Morgan SheppardPierce BrosnanRichard Wren

Transmitted: November 8, 1980

A detective inspector is investigating a murder in which the victim died from having their heart cut out with a carved cutting tool. He hears a radio interview with the author (Danielle) of a book about a 300 year old Carpathian countess who murdered her lovers by the same means. The author is revealed to be a beautiful woman who is secretly convinced she possesses the reincarnated spirit of the murderess and seeks out new victims (including a very young Brosnan) to fill an ancient prophecy for death. Can the detective stop her?


Guardian of the abyss’

Starring: Ray LonnenBarbara EwingJohn CarsonRosalyn LandorPaul Darrow

Transmitted: November 15, 1980

An antique mirror turns up at a house clearance and is purchased by an unsuspecting antiques dealer. A young girl on the run from a cult society claims the the mirror is a scrying glass used to summon Chorozon, the almighty devil. Both the society and its leader are keen to get their hands on both the mirror and the girl.. ..can the antiques dealer save her, or himself from Chorozon?


Visitor from the grave’

Starring: Kathryn Leigh ScottGareth ThomasSimon MacCorkindale

Transmitted: November 22, 1980

A wealthy but psychologically fragile woman is alone in her house and has no choice but to kill an intruder who breaks in and is about to attack her (oh Howard.. ..how could you!). Upon his return her husband buries the attackers body in the woods, but she continues to see him in various places, leading her to seek help from a psychic. Is she seeing having a mental break down or is she being scammed for her money.. ..and are the scammers safe themselves?


The two faces of evil’

Starring: Gary RaymondAnna Calder-MarshallPhilip LathamJenny LairdBrenda Cowling

Transmitted: November 29, 1980

A family are joyfully setting off on their holidays when they unwisely give a lift to a mysterious and sinister, oilskin clad, hitch-hiker who they almost run over. Their new passenger quickly attacks the husband, leading to a car crash. The wife regains consciousness in hospital and discovers that one of them is dead and one is injured. As time progresses she starts to wonder if the man she is now caring for is really her husband or his ‘hitch-hiker’ doppelgänger.. ..and what about every one else, have they also been replaced?

Two Faces of Evil


‘The mark of Satan’

Starring: Peter McEneryEmrys JamesGeorgina HalePeter BirrelConrad Phillips

Transmitted: December 6, 1980

A hospital worker who attends to the body of a patient who died from trying to drill a hole in his head becomes obsessed with the number nine. He subsequently becomes convinced that there is a conspiracy of evil at large and that he has become infected and possessed by the Devil. Those around him remain skeptical and are unclear if his rantings are a sign of insanity or a desperate cry for help.. ..all he know is that there is only one way to get these thoughts out of his head!


Personal reflection

As with any anthology, the stories range from slightly weak to excellent.. ..the real stand-out stories for me are ‘The silent scream‘, ‘Children of the full Moon‘, ‘The house that bleed to death’ and ‘The two faces of evil‘. So let’s discuss each in a little more detail.

I distinctly remember watching these stories when they were first broadcast on ITV. Now I am not easily scared.. ..as this blog reveals, horror is my favourite genre, but I have to say that ‘Two faces of evil‘ has remained with me ever since I was a child. It’s a mini-masterpiece, played to perfection. Gary Raymond is tremendous as both the gentle dad and his monstrous doppelgänger. There are some scenes from this episode which are literally etched into my brain. Although it does crawl to a near standstill in the middle, the story as a whole is fantastic.

The house that bled to death’ is another great story and a fan favourite; as such it has been repeated on TV more than any of the others. The acting is really great, although Nicholas Ball gives perhaps the weakest performance (I will forgive him though as he is a ‘Young Ones’ veteran!). There are some really good shocks in the story and although the ending is foreshadowed throughout the story, it is still a surprise. Not as disturbing a story as ‘Two faces of evil’, but hugely entertaining nonetheless.

Children of the full Moon’ is in some ways my personal favourite.. ..I love a good tale of lycanthropy.. ..and this is one! The story is really clever and contains a well thought out twist to the traditional tale of the shape-shifter. The acting is great all round, of particular note is Diana Dors as the creepy Mrs Ardoy.. ..her screen presence makes you appreciate why she was so beloved by the great British public. Apart from the acting, the settings are also really good; it is just a really classy, well balanced episode. The only weakness to this episode are the special effects of the creature, but we have to remember this was shown a year before we saw the amazing ‘transformation’ scene in ‘An American Werewolf in London’.. ..that changed how we viewed ‘werewolf’ effects forever!

I don’t know what else to say about Peter Cushing that you haven’t probably already read a thousand times.. ..his portrayals of mad and creepy old man were legendary. This is so true of ‘The slient scream’, where he revels in playing a complete, and very dangerous, loon. Cushing’s acting is more than complemented by that of Brian Cox, who portrays his character with aplomb. The story is also very good and again has an ending that whilst slightly predictable, still surprises.. ..I wonder if they are all still there?

I think the weakest stories for me in the anthology, as a whole are: ‘Charlie boy’, which is more amusing than scary, ’The mark of Satan’, which doesn’t really go any ware and (by far) ‘Growing pains’, which is just a silly story, with slightly annoying acting.

The rest of the stories are pretty good and really take you back to sitting in front of the TV on a Saturday night.. ..clichéd I know, but they just don’t make them like this any more!


DVD releases

The series was released on DVD in the UK in October 2002 by Carlton, now ITV Studios. It was a four-disc set featuring all thirteen episodes, including stills galleries and cast biographies as extras. Whilst the extras were a little thin, it is accompanied by a really nice booklet with details about the stories and the series in general. I also really like the spooky on screen menus and associated music!

A re-mastered version was released in the US in September 2012 by Synapse Films. It was released as a five-disc set and features an animated stills gallery, episode introductions from film historian Shane M. Dallman and featurettes including ‘Grave Recollections: a Visit with Kathryn Leigh Scott’ and ‘Hammer Housekeeping: a Visit with Mia Nadasi’.

The US set is generally the more comprehensive one, however it is more expensive and I personally prefer the art work on the UK release.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that we will be seeing a HD release of this excellent series anytime soon. Although shot on 35 mm film, the negatives cannot currently be located by ITV thus preventing the series being re-mastered and re-released on Blu-ray.

Update – the unexpected 2017 Blu-ray release

Well apparently the negatives for this excellent series not only still exist, but the entire collection has now been remastered and re-released on Blu-ray for the first time by Network.

Again, the extras are a little thin on the ground, but the quality of the transfer is excellent and the series has never looked or sounded so good.. ..no digital artefacts or compression issues here. Colours are handled well with blood well saturated in the way that only Hammer could, but with natural skin tones.. ..the overall balance of this is excellent, indeed it is so colourful and clear it is like looking trough a window into the past. Hard to believe the underlying source material is now nearly 40 years old. The original 35 mm film does show a fine grain, but this does not distract like some other transfers and gives a beautiful movie-like quality. The episodes are presented in their original 4:3 screen format.

Sound is handled well with a good lossless 5.1 multi channel mix, which whilst understandably minimal on the low frequency side is clear and precise.

As a final treat this new release has a stills gallery, commercial break shorts, raw footage from ‘Rude awakening’ and a wide-screen version of ‘Guardian of the abyss’. All in all a great release.


Retrollection recommendation?

Oh yes! A long-neglected gem of a collection, well worth watching (it is currently being re-run on the Horror Channel in the UK) or picking up on DVD, which can now be purchased for a little as a tenner.

The new 2017 Blu-ray version is superb and worth getting.. ..even if you already own this set on DVD.


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