Monday, 11 January 2021
One of the BFI's finest and most treasured releases was its MR James collection. The jewel in the crown of supernatural storytelling and marks a series of landmark productions we rarely see the like off these days.It was probably a perfect storm of talent that brought these stories to fruition. The BBC's drama department was probably one of the greatest and unequalled talent pools ever assembled behind the camera. Schalcken sits with that boxed set as an equal. even feels like a missing story. Which is not to diminish the singular talent of LeFanu. It is more the affection and respect that one feels for the work of James that would lead me to compare the pair.
The nights are fair drawin' in.
Autumn is here and winter will follow.
Squirrel this one away like some ghostly nut for a dark night in front of the television.
The Dark Nut Returns. So to speak.
It has been long said by many that the BBC are at their very best when producing period or historical drama and this production just about ticks all the quality boxes in that regard. Everyone involved was on top of their game. John Gielgud effortlessly bringing to life the most salty of wilde's epigrams while Jeremy Brett wrings an unspoken anguish from his portrayal of the gifted but doomed Basil Halwood. In fact for a drama where rich dialogue flows there is much left unsaid, words unspoken, with the unquiet heartache hanging in the air around the various characters like the thickest, if invisible, but spiritually tangible of pea soupers. Dorian's hold over those in his company is the cause of much anguish. he is at times like a Thyphoid Mary figure who strides through a crowd of beaming admirers, who tumble like stricken reeds in his wake.
Peter Firth's performance as the angelic Dorian is whimsically endearing to begin with while his later turn as the wicked Dorian is hypnotically reptillian. The way he toys with the feelings of others is like watching a cat play with an injured mouse, inflicting spiteful pain before devouring, in all likelihood to spit it out. He is mesmerising.
And off course, getting back to that theatrical force of nature, John Geilgud delivers Wildean dialogue as though it were just occurring to him. He makes it feel so real which is off course an illusion.
A beautiful lie.
There is nothing so unnatural as a witty aphorism.
none are to be found in the wild.
Purgatory 12 by Marc Platt and Chase The Night by Jonathan Morris afford us two original show length tales to explore that seemingly undiscovered storytelling.they are both wonderfully realised, with great supporting casts, entertaining and understanding for the characters as we remember them, all rooted in superb production values, as one would expect from Big Finish.
There are two more stories to come in this series. That will be four stories way beyond what we could ever have hoped for. A pocket universe of stories.
Sunday, 10 January 2021
Six tales in the lives of The Doctors oldest and most dangerous friend The Master( Various writer Peter Angledises, Mark Wright, Jacqueline Reynor, Michael Tucker, Beverly Salford and Matthew Sweet.) Six very different tales ranging in tone from absurdist Douglas Adams science frippery to Stokeresque Gothic( Actually featuring Bram Stoker as the central character in a story just waiting to be told. ) And most surprisingly a story featuring the current incarnation in a tale that could have been written by John Le Carre. Is is a tale crying out to be read by Sacha Dhawan at some point.
The stories do lean towards the darkly comedic which works for some of the Masters incarnations more than others. It is though we can be forgiven enjoying the characters monstrous qualities if we can laugh at them. But there is one story which with forensic precision strikes the perfect balance of the macabre , the malign, the mischief and The Master and that is the story by Matthew Sweet The MasterAnd Margaretta. This story is a sublime gift to The Masters fanbase and the overall Doctor Who universe. It really is that good and easily one of the best Doctor Who related spin offs I have enjoyed for some time. I was drawn in almost immediately and despite the lateness of the hour I could not put the book down. It was darkly amusing, wittily paced and lovingly laced with some endearing continuity references that never felt forced. Oh Matthew Sweet, with this concoction youare spoiling us. I will not say much more but rather leave the discerning reader to find for themselves what a Doctorless treat this is ( Or perhaps I am teasing, disguising the presence of the Masters oldest and most dangerous friend The Doctor.)
Which ever incarnations of The Master you enjoy here are half a dozen possible winners for you. Given the characters history of failure that's better odds than he or she enjoys.
Geography not being one of my strong points ( Do people boast that geography is one of their strong points? Do they? Really?) I decided to look up Wessex on Wikipedia. Do people boast about looking things up on Wikipedia? Do they? REALLY? The entry ran Wessex The kingdom of the West Saxons was an anglo Saxon Kingdom in the South of Great Britain from 519 until England was unified by Aethelstan in 927.
Hmm, was hoping for something a wee bit more current than that to act as an introduction to a part of Old England I am not so familiar with. Serves me right for using a type 40 version of Wikipedia. Maybe I should have used the Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy. I imagine it would have had an entry saying MOSTLY FARMLAND.
That is certainly what comes across in these six stories by Thomas Hardy. Country folk going about their country ways in a most unforgiving landscape, painfully learning you can love the country as much as you want it will never love you back. The emotional life of those who struggle to wrest from the land a standard of living that at best can be described as modest. All are repressed by religion and social convention, all hard fisted piety and gloomy resolve. There is a lot of passion too, bubbling under the surface, barely constrained and rippling beneath the surface, glimpsed in a furrowed brow of in a dark eye. Unrequited love abounds as do melancholy hussars and frustrated horny landed gentry. There is also a surfeit of insanity too, bounding through proceedings with the abandon of mad march hairs in yellow waist coats. You could mount an Amicus House Of Wax tribute to some of the characters in its pages. Sad tales of frustrated passions, which lean at times to the macabre. Stories of foolish folks who awake to the possibilities of love, always just in time to be too late, with the heartbroken dying in despair and ennui. I found myself smiling grimly at one twist that would not have been out of place in a Roger Cormen Edgar Allen Poe adaption.
Am I underselling or overselling the collection at this point?
Thomas Hardy is a bit hard on his characters. One would require the stoicism of Job to endure even a few paragraphs of the burdens he eases upon their shoulders. Six tales of the rum and uncanny to pass the long winter evenings.
More Cider With Radiohead than Cider With Rosie.
Have you ever turned up at a party and found everyone already there to be rightly sozzled, possibly so bombed out of their brains you begin the experience with the sinking feeling you will never catch up? I mean, have you considered what might be the right combination of...er, pharmaceuticals to catch up, or at the very least set you on the same page? Well that is a little how I felt reading this first, for me, Jerry Cornelius story, The Final Programme. To join his company on the printed page, as opposed to being in the company of the extraordinary English actor John Finch, who played him in the movie version of this novel. That film was first gifted to me by Irish artiste Mark Mc Keown, way back in the day on a battered well loved NTSC video. I found it challenging and exciting, seeing it through the prism of a Doctor Who fan, discovering Jon Pertwees interpretation had a funkier but just as eloquently dressed younger brother. Yet while, over some time, and some dodgy regenerations of my own, I became very fond of that film I never got around to checking out the source material.
I should not have hesitated as it has turned out to be smashing. Some of the very best books I have read over the last couple of years were penned by Michael Moorcock and that was without giving any thought to when they were written and if the particular books were part of some broader worlds are he was bringing into being. He has created such vivid mindscapes he makes me think of a being who shapes the world he lives in rather than being shaped by it. If a meme is construed as a restrictive unit of information , by virtue of its size, how are we to properly appreciate an info burst fired from the back brain, to the mid brain, to the fore brain into what passes for our version of reality. Perhaps paraphrasing the demented brother of Jerry, Frank Cornelius, is not the way to illuminate the notion of partying through the catastrophe that is modernity. We are all dancing and singing on the side of Vesuvius, while the ground trembles beneath our feet. And at times, in the wreckage of the year just passes, who could fault anyone for feeling we deserve no less than petrification. Frozen in ashy embarrassment as we are caught indulging our grossest appetites while the world trembles. How prescient Michael Moorcock was, is and remain for all the ages.
Consider this zinger from about the eighty page mark,Jerry sighed and thought that the true aristocracy who would rule the seventies were out in force. The queen's and the lesbians and the bisexuality, already half aware of their great destiny which would be realised when the central ambivalence of sea would be totally recognised and the terms male and female would become all but meaningless. It might all have taken longer than Jerry Cornelius, Michael Moorcock, may have speculated but as a thought exercise, Oh My Giddy Aunt, I fairly blushed, vicar.
It is all done in the best possible taste too. Or rather, in the absence of poor taste. Which is to say the speculative pondering of Michael Moorcock through the lives of his creations are not hamstrung by any fear of sounding or feeling dated, like William Shakespeare he is a writer for the ages. Unlike William Shakespeare he is also quite sexy. The actual world is still playing catch up. If we truly exist during a series of unfolding yoga, what use is an awareness of times passage to us. We are a blue skinned Doctor Manaton Krishna adept staring at a wrist watch with no hands on it. Its the reality that exists off the page, the one we think we are experiencing that takes second place to the exploits of Jerry Cornelius. He makes me feel like an Edwardian stumbling across a cylinder radio which has tumbled through a timeslip. Given time I might be able to retroengineer its workings, determine what it is for, but I would in all likelihood poop myself with existential fear if the Beatles track Tomorrow Never Knows exploded from its speakers, riding a sitar lock all the way to Hades.
Jerry Cornelius is a very likeable bastard from a long line of beyond Claudian excesses. His father is a genius creator of a charming house of death. His brother a pharmaceutical Gandalf The Very Grey and his sister Catherine is the great love of his life ( Yes, in that way.) Not since Robert Graves I, Claudia's has literature given birth to such a sibling virago. And just wait till you meet Ms Brunner. She and Jerry bring out the worst in each other. Ms Brunner has a way of getting inside you or rather she has a way of getting you inside her. Mad, bad and very dangerous to know, its their world and both will kill without compunction.
Actually, its their multiverse, we just happen to spend time and space in it.