Category: TV

The growing power of the Idiot’s Lantern…

Star Trek: “It is a reminder to me that all things end” RIP Spock

RIP Spock Leonard Nimoy

RIP Spock Leonard Nimoy

 

A legend passes on following over half a century of making popular culture a richer place.

THE RECENT LOSS OF LEONARD NIMOY CONTINUES TO SEND WAVES AROUND THE WORLD. That may last a while. As a definitive figure of popular culture for 50 years, it’s almost impossible to take in the impact in one go.  And it’s not just Trekkies, Trekers, Geeks, Nerds and Fans.  Nimoy was an actor, director, poet… And of course, a singer. He gave us Three Men and a Baby; he gave us The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. He also secured Star Trek a long future and an incredible legacy.

Of course sadly he’s not the first major death from the Original Series cast. Sulu, Chekov, Uhura all fortunately stride on as William Shatner reaches new levels of legend every day. But the engine room went with James ‘Scotty’ Doohan in 2005.  The passion of the series left with DeForest Kelley in 1999. But it was the third side of the Original Series triangle that has proved the most endearing, and the most important to Star Trek. The legendary Spock. In the rebooted films of 2009 and 2013 they just couldn’t leave him alone. And even though his appearance in Star Trek Into Darkness was largely irrelevant, his presence enhanced the film. The reborn franchise has wiped every Star Trek series from the galactic map bar Enterprise and one other crucial element. Spock, the bridge of the Next Generation universe who gets to rebuild the Vulcan race.

Yes, Leonard Nimoy was even immune to a reboot, a rare privilege well-earned in front and behind the camera.  And when it came to pastiching the Original Series’ second film as this new crew went Into Darkness, he couldn’t not be there.

Nicholas Meyer’s two militaristic masterpieces gave him his finest hour of course.  The death of Spock at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan set the agenda for the successful run of Original Series films.  And it was Nimoy who stepped up to direct the third and fourth parts. In doing so he set the template for actors of the franchise moving behind the scenes. American television is all the richer for the alumni of Trek who have cut their shouting skills on the set of Star Trek.  Of particular note is that other legendary first officer of the Enterprise, Jonathan Frakes, who in turn helmed two Star Trek films including the 1996 classic First Contact. Continue reading “Star Trek: “It is a reminder to me that all things end” RIP Spock”

Dracula: “Learning from Mis-Stakes” – AD 2015 (Part Two)

Dracula Untold - The Puppet Master Vampire

Dracula Untold - The Puppet Master Vampire

 

The second part of a look at how the Prince of Darkness is currently faring on screens small and big.  Even while NBC’s primetime Dracula (does Downton) was staked to death, the undead icon still found time to pop up in familiar crypts and unexpected tombs.  Perhaps his most important moment in the 21st century was close at hand: in the heart of Hollywood, dark plans were being written in ancient blood… Dracula Untold.

A Scrape of the Wing

Not the only Drac-on-the-box…

IN THE FIRST PART OF AD2015, NBC’S DRACULA MADE A COMPLICATED STAB AT CREATING A NEW KIND OF DRACULA. Despite that show’s many flaws that, ambition can’t be faulted. The setting and intent were true to the themes of Bram Stoker’s novel, even if it managed to rob itself of many definitive parts of the legend.  Still, that wasn’t the only Drac-on-the-screen. The errant aristocrat had suffered the ignominy of being voiced by Adam Sandler in the 2012 animation Hotel Transylvania. Elsewhere, far from his routes in the Carpathian Mountains, 2013’s Dracula 2012 matched the Prince of Darkness’ tale to Indian folklores.

Dracula doesn’t really have a safe crypt at that network

On television, other incarnations returned from the dead – especially Eddie Izzard’s glorious interpretation of Grandpa Sam Dracula in Bryan Fuller’s 2012 Munsters revival Mockingbird Lane. Darker and more developed than Al Lewis’ 1960s version, his is predatory, homicidal, occasionally revelling in his feral powers and undoubtedly the count with a plan. Amid the violence and dark comedy, there was time to make sure that Grandpa had many of the same undead ‘skills’ Stoker gave him over a hundred years before.

The fact that it was again the NBC network that wavered over Fuller’s direction and decided not to pick-up the series suggests that Dracula doesn’t really have a safe crypt at that network. The silver lining to that incredibly premature cancellation was that Fuller was then free to create marvellous modern horror Hannibal for the network instead; that’s one form of copious blood-letting they obviously don’t mind.

Elsewhere the count took various cameo roles in 2013, including a vivid guest spot for a sadistic Vlad Tepes on Fox’s Da Vinci’s Demons. Just across from that Wales-shot series, the rejuvenated Hammer studios talked about Dracula a bit, but as with Herr Frankenstein, so far haven’t been able to find the fresh approach to the legend they insist on.  All in all, it looked like the future may be a little more modern…. Until that theory was quickly debunked by ABC’s modernised fusion of gothic and romantic horror icons.  2013’s Gothica fell at the pilot stage, although there was to be greater success in that mash-up, Abbot and Costello approach over on cable…

Penny Dreadful (2014 – )

When you’re dealing with the undead there’s no rush

Continue reading “Dracula: “Learning from Mis-Stakes” – AD 2015 (Part Two)”

Dracula: “Vlad about Town” – AD 2015 (Part One)

Dracula AD2014 on television and film

Dracula AD2014 on television and film

 

Following last year’s dissection of Frankenstein’s make-up in 2014, Jokerside turns to the original Dark Knight – the one who’s never allowed to retreat to the shadows. Just how is the legendary Prince of Darkness fared on the small and big screen in the peaceful few years before that other Batman swings back? In this first part, a look at NBC’s high profile adaptation… Er… Dracula.

DRACULA’S HUGE IMPACT ON POPULAR CULTURE BELIES THE ORIGINAL NOVEL’S LIFESPAN OF 118 YEARS. It was theatre and film that gave him wings, starting with a performance at the Lyceum penned by Stoker himself. And after a slow start the Count soon came to carve a significant cultural footprint in the 20th century thanks to the contemporary advent of film.  Despite the legion vampires who have followed him he’s never stayed out of view… And as recent adaptations show there are plenty of facets left to explore.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

“Stoker’s real masterstroke was to ally vampirism with sophistication “

No real introduction is necessary. There are reasons why the vampire that Bram Stoker crafted stood cape and fangs above all the blood-suckers that had come before. While the tale was lodged in late Victoriana it has refused specific categorisation in invasion, horror or gothic genres. And that proved a significant benefit in the century that followed, with adaptations dragging Dracula into every genre imaginable.

Stoker’s opted to title his protagonist Dracula rather than the mooted Count Wampyr, for reasons unknown. Apart from a modicum of subtlety you would hope. There’s little to suggest that he knew a great deal about Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century member of House of Drăculești and infamous protector of the Romanian people, who went by the name of Dracula. Though by seizing that family name, Stoker opened up a treasure chest of exploration – as potent for writers as the more obvious facets of blood, horror and immortality. But away from Eastern European royalty, Stoker’s real masterstroke was to ally vampirism with sophistication. The central European locale, the entwining of love and vampirism, the superstitious deterrents… They had all existed before, notably in Dracula’s Irish near-comparator Sheridan le Fanu’s Camilla. But Stoker bolted on Victorian sensibilities to the myth of the vampire, including aristocracy, society standing, land-owning and the natural development of The Grand Tour. It was a compelling mix and one that proved irresistible when the character hit screens a few decades after publication: particularly Bela Lugosi’s imperious entrance on the stairs of Castle Dracula in 1931. Bram Stoker seized on many contemporary elements to craft his tale. And at the tail end of the gothic era it proved inspired and highly influential.

As with that other giant of Victorian literature, soon to earn a deerstalker and cape of his own, the temptation to update the 19th century setting is all the more irresistible when there is ready-made mystery in the origin. Although, as Hammer’s soulless and fairly disastrous Seventies updates to the myth show, it’s a tricky business. Still, the Count is endlessly resourceful in his reincarnation, and as recent adaptations show he’s as full-blooded as ever. Continue reading “Dracula: “Vlad about Town” – AD 2015 (Part One)”

Doctor Who: The Late 1970s, The Fourth Doctor and Stitches in Time

Doctor Who and the late 1970s

Doctor Who and the late 1970s

 

40 years on from his first full appearance, there may not be a better time to look at the Fourth Doctor, still the very real and lasting giant of the series.  As Last Christmas showed, there’s a lot to be said for a snappy, irritable, aloof and alien Doctor in this universe. It’s not just the Glam side of the 1970s that will play a key role in the future of Doctor Who?

THE START OF THIS WEEK MARKED ONE OF THE GREAT ANNIVERSARIES IN ALL WHODOM: 40 YEARS SINCE THE FOURTH DOCTOR’S FIRST FULL EPISODE. He’d already appeared at the tail-end of Planet of the Spiders in June 1974. But lying prone on the floor, there was precious little indication of what was to come, even in that first rather simplistic serial Robot. In hindsight, after a staggering seven seasons, encompassing 41 stories and 172 episodes Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor remains the most prolific of the Time Lords. The Tenth and Eleventh incarnations would come close with 36 and 39 stories respectively, thanks to 2005’s format change. But still, despite the strong and sterling headway the last two made in America, it’s often the famous grinning, long-scarved figure of the Fourth that pops up in popular culture.

Repetition

Losing his hat where Pertwee would pick up his cape…

Jokerside’s Whovember series took a long look at the Fourth Doctor’s debut season, reasoning that it’s the single finest series of Doctor Who. And when it came to his debut appearance, it was clear that “Tom Baker… did something different”:

“Immediately, Baker’s Doctor isn’t as attached to UNIT as Pertwee’s had been, even during his last season. He can’t wait to escape but as he says, “I hate goodbyes”. Watching it, I can’t help but think what any other Doctor would have done. Had it been the Sixth, he may well have buckled down a lot sooner. Still, the Fourth had his own slightly too silly costume selection to make. Overlong and reaching, fortunately once chosen, it’s the speed and comfort that’s the punch line. Years of familiarity have enhanced the joke. And then the more telling phrase for this Doctor: “There’s no such word as can’t”.

“Hanging between that and “No point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes” the Fourth Doctor comes straight out of a peculiar Gallifreyan can. One that’s bigger on the inside obviously. They are words to live by, and live he does. Lounging around Bessie in a way Pertwee would have tutted at, losing his hat where Pertwee would pick up his cape – but still carrying off the role of the scientist when he needs to.”

Doctor Who: A Fresh Scarf – “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile” (Whovember #4)

Though resolutely still in the UNIT set-up, albeit one softened by the Third Doctor’s recent mobility, and written by Third Doctor stalwart Terrance Dicks, the Fourth Doctor’s initial appearance is an instant tide-turner. Almost immediately – far more than his predecessor, a noted comic actor – Baker is happy to lets loose with laugh out loud moments. True, he’s nominally not ‘acting’ a new persona as much Pertwee had, but he’s instantly engaging.

To summarise the Whovember breakdown, Tom Baker’s arrival got everything right. Though cast by outgoing producer Barry Letts the new Doctor couldn’t have hoped for a better incoming producer and script editor. While he may be losing an increasingly sparse UNIT family, Baker was incredibly lucky in the companion stakes. Sarah Jane Smith really came into her own when paired with this incarnation of the Time Lord, possibly his perfect foil. But she wasn’t alone, with a season of (lovable) public school idiot Harry Sullivan rounding off one of the all-time classic TARDIS crews. That’s fortunate, as the first full season story arc in the history of Who saw them propelled across five adventures over 20 weeks with very little TARDIS in sight. Continue reading “Doctor Who: The Late 1970s, The Fourth Doctor and Stitches in Time”

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