Halloween Warm-up: Ghostwatch (1992)

Imagine a cross between Most Haunted and The Amityville Horror, broadcast ‘as live’ on the world’s most reputable TV channel.

Cast genuine TV presenters as ‘themselves’ for that extra air of authenticity and you can only begin to imagine the controversy that was stirred up when this was originally broadcast on Halloween night, 1992.

Looking at it now the age lines are starting to show, the technology is dated and some of the supporting performances (particularly the in-studio parapsychologist and the mother) leave a lot to be desired, but there is no denying the creeping terror that can still be felt as the show gradually descends into supernatural anarchy.

The Early family claims it is being haunted by a ghost they have nicknamed ‘Pipes’ and the Beeb have come to investigate in a Crimewatch style.

They even have phone-ins, which now (obviously) come across as staged, but to the original audience must have been very convincing.

Sarah Greene wanders around the haunted council house with her crew and the family; Craig Charles is outside interviewing neighbours; Mike Smith is handling the phones back in the studio and Parky is co-ordinating the whole show.

All very ‘reality TV’; establishing the template for the live editions of Most Haunted and Dead Famous, but with far more impact than those young upstarts … mainly because things do actually happen! None of this ‘oooh, we’ve just seen an orb’ nonsense.

Like The Haunting, Ghostwatch is frightening not for what you do see (because you don’t actually see that much) but what is heard and suggested.

However, be warned, with the crispness of the DVD image it is much easier to catch elusive glimpse of the evil Pipes – reflected in windows, hiding behind curtains etc

Although only a 12-certificate, Ghostwatch is not for those of a nervous disposition.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/06/2008 03:25:00 am
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tags: dvd, film, horror, tv
sunday, 5 october 2008

DVD Of The Week: 30 Days Of Night (2007)

Every so often a film comes along with such a brilliant – but, in retrospect, obvious – twist that you wonder why it’s never been done before.

30 Days Of Night has a pack of vampires besieging an Alaskan town near the Artic circle where, for one month of the year, the sun doesn’t rise.

Based on Steve Niles famous comic book, with a script by Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson, it’s such an obvious idea – given that vampires traditionally can’t stand sunlight – that now I see it executed so perfectly I am genuinely surprised that no one hasn’t thought of it before.

As Barrow, Alaska, prepares for its “30 days of night”, isolated as it is from the rest of the world, accessible only by air, Sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett) notices an increase in vandalism around the town and begins to realise that someone is trying to cut them off completely.

With the setting of the sun comes, out of the frozen wilderness, the vampires – having sent in one of their human slaves first of all to lay the groundwork for their arrival – ready to turn Barrow into an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The film has shades of Assault on Precinct 13 mixed in with Night Of The Living Dead, as the ever-dwindling number of survivors play cat-and-mouse with the beastial vampires during the neverending night, moving from one claustrophobic safehouse to another as they try to stay one step ahead of their hunters.

As dawn approaches, the vampires decide to up their game, to make sure that no one ever knows they were there, and start to institute a policy of scorched Earth.

It’s then that Eben hits on his surprising, leftfield method of beating the monsters and keeping his estranged wife (the very cute Melissa George) and the other survivors alive for the last few hours before sunrise.

There are some wonderfully gory moments, as you would hope, with the finest coming when the town’s resident surly giant Beau Brower (Mark Boone Junior) runs amok with a large snow shredder/plough – basically a monstrous chainsaw on the front of a truck.

Although there is also some cliched cheesy character stuff between Eben and his estranged wife this is thankfully kept to a minimum and doesn’t disrupt the general flow of carnage and does add weight to the emotional impact of the final scene.

Kudos too for Steve Niles’ reinvention of vampires as supernatural sharks, eating machines on two legs, driven by animal instincts – rather than the flowery, tortured emo souls we are used to seeing on television these days.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/05/2008 06:36:00 am
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tags: dvd, dvd of the week, horror, monster, vampire
Sunday Funny: On A Mission From God…

scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/05/2008 06:34:00 am
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tags: dungeons and dragons, funny, sunday funny
saturday, 4 october 2008
Merlin: The Mark of Nimueh
A magical plague strikes Camelot and King Uther orders door-to-door searches for evidence of sorcery.

When Gwen’s father (who we’ve never met before) falls sick, Merlin sneaks in to their home after curfew and uses a magical poultice to cure him.

Unfortunately word gets round of the blacksmith’s miracle recovery and Arthur, upon discovering the poultice, can only haul Gwen before his father – who orders her to be burnt as a witch.

Merlin and Gaius then have a race against time to trace the real cause of the plague (contaminated water) to its source and defeat the creature which has appeared in the underground lake that supplies the castle.

The creature, an Afanc, a mythological Welsh water monster, rather resembles the poo demon from Kevin Smith’s Dogma, but combined with all the wandering around in caves, bearing lit torches, that Merlin, Arthur and Morgana do to finally confront it, this makes for a wonderfully evocative Dungeons & Dragons sequence that has helped confirm Merlin as “must see” TV for me.

Ultimately Gaius discovers clues that indicate the beast was summoned by Nimueh (former Bionic Woman Michelle Ryan), an old adversary of Uther, who returns in next week’s episode – The Poisoned Chalice – to seek her revenge on Merlin.

By introducing a recurring villain, Merlin has already upped the stakes and shown – hopefully – that it’s not going to fall into a repetitive, unconnected “monster-of-the-week” routine.

Next time:

(Film clip not available outside of the UK)
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/04/2008 07:15:00 pm
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tags: dungeons and dragons, film, merlin, tv
Doctor Who: The Ultimate Foe (1986)
The Trial Of A Time Lord.

Back at The Doctor’s trial things get seriously freaky as The Master (Anthony Ainley) reveals his involvement, from within The Matrix, and Glitz – the crook from The Mysterious Planet – and Mel appear to speak on The Doctor’s behalf.

It turns out that Glitz was working with The Master to ‘liberate’ stolen Matrix secrets stored on Earth/Ravalox, only The High Council Of The Time Lords had discovered the earlier theft and thus moved the planet so the original thieves were unable to collect find them.

The Master then points out that the Valeyard is actually an “amalgam” of The Doctor’s evil side, taken from between his 12th and final regenerations (I hope The Grand Moff is taking notes).

Behind-the-scenes chaos, caused by the sudden death of writer Robert Holmes before he could complete the final scripts, then disagreements between his replacement (the show’s script editor Eric Saward) and producer John Nathan-Turner, led to the conclusion of The Ultimate Foe – and thus the whole Trial Of A Time Lord sequence – being penned at the last moment by Pip and Jane Baker, who had been responsible for Terror Of The Vervoids.

The Valeyard wishes The Doctor dead so he can claim his remaining regenerations and be free of The Doctor’s restraining morality, but The Master believes The Valeyard will be an even harder foe to overcome and so sides with The Doctor.

As The Valeyard flees into the nightmare, surreal world of The Matrix (which The Doctor had already experienced in his fourth incarnation in The Deadly Assassin) with The Doctor and Glitz on his tail, the plot unravels into increasing confusion and unnecessary obfuscation, while the Time Lords in the courtroom look on impotently.

What started out, with The Mysterious Planet, as an interesting idea rather stumbles at the last hurdle, with The Master’s involvement being rather confusing (surely there were better ways for him to try and bring down The High Council?) and the unresolved on-screen fate of The Valeyard (surely rather a crucial character in The Doctor’s mythology?)

We mustn’t forget during all these contrivances the unbelievable revelation that Peri is actually alive and living as King Yrcanos’ warrior queen – totally ignoring the fact that it was clearly stated in Mindwarp that her mind was destroyed to make way for the consciousness of Mentor Kiv.

The resolution of the whole sorry affair ends, as so many stories do, with things blowing up – not exactly a fine example of The Doctor thinking his way out of a problem.

Alas, in a season of metaphors and symbolism,”The Ultimate Foe” eventually turned out to be the viewing public. Poor ratings for the experimental season led to the axing of the underrated Colin Baker as The Doctor, despite the obvious fact that the show’s faults didn’t lie with its star but with the material he was being given to work with.

“Happily [Colin Baker’s] Doctor has undergone a resurgence in the Big Finish audios, where his sixth regeneration has become one of the most successful – compassionate, moral and still just a little bit fiery” says the liner notes in the DVD, thus adding serious weight to the argument that Big Finish’s audios should be considered canon.

There is still plenty of room in the gaps between the stories which comprise The Trial Of A Time Lord for many more Sixth Doctor audio adventures… although it would be nice to see Colin reviving the role on television as well (as Peter Davison had the chance to do in Time Crash).
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/04/2008 05:36:00 am
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tags: dr who, dvd, trial of a time lord
Lounge Watch: Day 10…
Rachel has finished her painting and last night we went to Ikea, in Essex, to pick out our wall units (they are due to be delivered on October 10).

We also bought some picture frames for the dining room, a couple of small CD racks for the gamesroom and other bits ‘n’ bobs while I bulked up on a plate of Ikea Swedish meatballs (you’ve got to love a furniture store with its own restaurant).

Today, the carpet fitter came and within 20 minutes we had a new carpet down. Already the room is looking so much lighter and less like a “student hovel”, as Rachel used to describe it.

We shall get the sofas back in place tonight, but then I don’t think there is anything we can do until the wall units arrive next Friday.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/04/2008 12:25:00 am
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tags: decorating, lounge watch, rachel, real life
friday, 3 october 2008
A New Star Wars RPG – From A Certain Point Of View…
During the past several months a number of people have asked me about Star Wars roleplaying games and I’ve told them about the old West End Games d6 version, Wizards d20 version and a Savage Worlds version.

I have recently discovered a new fan-produced coversion; this time using the simple and elegant Cinematic Unisystem (as found in Eden Studio’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer game and its forthcoming Ghosts of Albion).

I haven’t actually had time to read Star Wars: The Unisystem Roleplaying Game, by Ron McNiel, or his Rules Update (with revisions and upgrades for the original iteration of the game) and Secrets of The Force, but the quality of Cinematic Unisystem netbooks is usually very high.

All of these netbooks, and plenty of others, can be found on Unisystem Fans, a very cool website supporting the Unisystem, as created by C. J. Carella.

If anyone gives this ‘new’ version of Star Wars a test flight, could they let us know at HeroPress Towers as we’d be interested to find out how strong the Unisystem framework is in supporting the incredible diversity of characters, skills and abilities in the Star Wars universe.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/03/2008 10:08:00 am
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tags: buffy, rpg, savage worlds, star wars, unisystem
Doctor Who: Terror of The Vervoids (1986)
The Trial Of A Time Lord.

The third chapter of The Doctor’s season-long trial took the brave step of shifting the focus to the future where he is already with a new companion.

Bonnie Langord’s Mel gets no ‘origin story’ and the audience is thrown in to her life with The Doctor in media res.

I guess in the 1980’s teaming Colin Baker with an established celebrity performer, Bonnie Langford, was a calculated ratings grabber like the arrival of Catherine Tate in the Fourth Season of The New Who. However, Catherine Tate proved fandom’s fears wrong – Bonnie Langford only confirmed them.

After the Valeyard’s case for the prosecution (The Mysterious Planet and Mindwarp), The Doctor begins his defence with the story of his response to a distress signal from the starliner Hyperion III.

By choosing an incident from his own future, The Doctor reveals a degree of foreknowledge from simply accessing certain files in The Matrix that if logically pursued could lead into murky waters – thankfully the suggestion that he knows what is going to happen is not really explored further.

It is a credit to all involved how soon we accept Mel as a companion – albeit a high-pitched, hyperactive, annoying one – without the benefit of her backstory. The jump forward in The Doctor’s own ‘timestream’ also allows for the introduction of other characters – such as Commodore Travers (Michael Craig) and undercover investigator Hallet (Tony Scoggo) – that The Doctor has met before, but we haven’t.

Very quickly The Doctor and Mel are thrust into an Agatha Christie-style murder (Honor Blackman’s Professor Lasky is reading Murder on The Orient Express if we didn’t get the homage straight away) as passengers and crew on the ship start being killed off.

Strange plant creature are also released into the corridors and air vents of the Hyperion III and a couple of hijackings are thrown in for good measure.

The Vervoid lifeforms (besides sounding like an unfortunate medical condition) are not among Doctor Who’s finest enemies – with their rather suggestive head pieces and leaf-covered leotards little effort is made to conceal the obvious fact that they are just men in costumes and the creature’s occasional West Country accents does little to aid the suspension of disbelief.

However, it is the increasingly intrusive courtroom scenes from The Doctor’s trial that really undermine what is essentially another very traditional story (with shades of The Robots of Death).

The Doctor again clashes with The Valeyard – and The Inquistor – over the veracity of the evidence being shown by The Matrix, claiming it has been tampered with since he previewed it in preparation for his defence.

This does make you wonder why, then, he continues with it… especially as, ultimately, it leads the Valeyard to charge him with an even more serious offence in the final moments of the story.

It also calls into question the reliability of Gallifreyan justice, if a person can be hauled in front of a court not knowing what he is being accused of and then have additional charges thrown into the mix as the trial progresses!
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/03/2008 05:42:00 am
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tags: dr who, dvd, trial of a time lord
thursday, 2 october 2008
Doctor Who: Mindwarp (1986)
The Trail Of A Time Lord.

For the second “epistopic interface of the spectrum”, the Valeyard projects from The Time Lords’ Matrix (the supercomputer repository of all their knowledge), the action shifts to the planet Thoros Beta – homeworld of Mentor Sil (from Vengeance on Varos) and his slug-like kin.

The Doctor and Peri are apparently following a clue from an unseen adventure that advanced technology from this planet is being traded to primitive worlds.

Meanwhile, the Mentors are working with human scientist Crozier (Patrick Ryecart) to perfect a method of brain transfer to prolong the life of their ruler Kiv (Christopher Ryan, who returned to the Whoniverse earlier this year as the leader of the Sontarans in The Sontaran Stratagem).

Such a machine would also change the course of evolution if it became possible to place any brain in any body, and – the trial sequences reveal – the Time Lords want it destroyed.

This is the adventure The Doctor was on just before he was plucked out of time by The Time Lords for his trial, and the story shows the build-up to the events and the aftermath of his disappearance.

At the end of the first episode, The Doctor is plugged into Crozier’s mind-transfer device and subsequently starts behaving very oddly: siding with Sil (Nabil Shaban); betraying his new colleague, the berserk barbarian King Yrcanos (Brian Blessed); and even turning on Peri.

In the courtroom, The Doctor protests that the scenes are somehow distorted, but The Inquisitor (Lynda Bellingham) points out that The Matrix cannot lie.

The rest of the story is rather a jumble of ill-tempered Doctor, slavering Mentors and a lot of Brian Blessed shouting – he is basically playing Prince Voltan from Flash Gordon (but without the wings or jovial charm) and you half-expect him at any moment to bellow out: “Gordon’s alive!”

In the context of the overall metaplot of the season, I can see what writer Philip Martin was attempting to do by showing us this evil twist on The Doctor (although he seemingly reverts back to his right state of mind in the final episode without rhyme nor reason), but the story’s lasting impression comes from the final shots of poor Peri – shaven-headed as part of Crozier’s experiments (well, wearing a rubbihs bald cap actually) – as Yrcanos has to put her out of her misery.

A shocking end for one of The Doctor’s most memorable companions; grown men wept at the prospect of a Peri-less Doctor Who… and then wept some more when they realised who would be replacing her…
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/02/2008 05:57:00 am
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tags: dr who, dvd, sontaran, trial of a time lord
wednesday, 1 october 2008
Doctor Who: The Mysterious Planet (1986)
The Trial Of A Time Lord.

Having been off the air for 18 months after BBC concerns about the violent tone of the show, Doctor Who returned for its 23rd Season – with both the series and The Doctor on trial for their lives.

Major changes were made to the show’s production, and direction, and the new season was conceived as a single story arc – with Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor plucked out of the space/time continuum by his fellow Time Lords to stand trial for breaking The First Law Of Time, using evidence from his past, present and future. Very Gallifreyan.

Or, as the prosecuting Valeyard (Michael Jayston) puts it: “I intend to adumbrate two typical instances from seperate epistopic interfaces of the spectrum.”

A fine conceit that sadly fell down in its execution, with the various writers failing to grasp what makes for an interesting court room drama, to break up the flow of the more ‘regular’ Doctor Who stories in the short season.

The first story in the sequence, The Mysterious Planet by series stalwart Robert Holmes, is excellent (barring the rather silly interruptions with all the courtroom guff) with a fine mix of intrigue and humour.

The Doctor and Peri arrive on the desolate, post-apocalyptic, forest planet Ravalox, which the Doctor describes as ‘identical’ in every way to Earth, but it doesn’t take Peri long to stumble upon an old Underground Station and realise that it is Earth… but two light years away from where it should be and two million years in the future.

Our heroes become entangled with a pair of scheming, bantering con-men – Glitz (Tony Selby) and Dibber (Glen Murphy) – who are trying to steal ‘secrets’ from the underground, which are guarded by a giant robot.

The robot, in turn, rules a civilization which has structured itself around a strange interpretation of London’s Tube system (an odd cargo cult), while The Tribe of The Free – lead by Carry On regular Joan Sim – roam above ground, dressed like Ancient Britons.

Those living underground, in their Beneath The Planet Of The Apes world, believe the surface world to be unihabitable after a fireball annihilated all life 500 years earlier.

It’s not the most original concept, but Holmes script (unfortunately his last completed story before his death) is strong and witty enough to paper over that fact.

Glitz and Dibber, a fine Holmes pair in the same vein as Jago and Litefoot from The Talons of Weng-Chiang, need to destroy the black light converter which powers the robot, but the converter is the totem pole of The Free, and once damaged sets in motion a potential explosion which could causes a chain reaction with the power to destroy the universe.

Naturally, it’s left to The Doctor to prevent the Universe from being destroyed and unite the disparate tribes.

If it wasn’t for the framing sequences in the Time Lord court, this would be a traditional, classic episode of Doctor Who, even if it does leave several key questions unanswered for the moment – such as why and how was the Earth moved?
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/01/2008 03:42:00 am
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tags: dr who, dvd, film, trial of a time lord
Lounge Watch: Day Seven…
Rachel has continued to paint the walls this week and her parents turned up today to remove the carpet, so her dad could take up the floor boards and run cabling underneath for the television and satellite receiver (he also ran a TV aerial up to the gamesroom… so I just need to get a TV up there now!)

A pair of volunteers from the British Heart Foundation came this afternoon to take the giant television (and its stand) away.

The new carpet is due to arrive on Friday and, if Rachel has finished the painting, we can then pay a visit to Ikea to select the shelving units we’d like to accommodate our ‘family-friendly’ books, DVDs and entertainment system.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 10/01/2008 12:01:00 am
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tags: decorating, lounge watch, rachel, real life
tuesday, 30 september 2008
The Week In Geek…
A round-up of geeky stories you might have missed…

(1) Are You Evil Enough? The Evil League of Evil (from Joss Whedon’s excellent Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) is accepting video applications for membership up until October 11. So what are you waiting for? A personal invitation from Bad Horse?

(2) North America ‘s Smallest Dinosaur: A researcher in Alberta, Canada has discovered the bones of a 70-million-year-old, chicken-sized dinosaur, believed to be North America’s smallest, that existed on a diet of insects.

(3) The Next Doctor: The 2008 Doctor Who Christmas special will be called ‘The Next Doctor’. This was revealed by the BBC at the same time as it unveiled it’s Children In Need competition to win a ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour of the studios where Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood are filmed.

(4) More Smeggin’ Red Dwarf: Four new half-hour Red Dwarf specials are to be shown next year on British comedy channel Dave – two will be new episodes, one will be a ‘making of’ documentary and one will be a ‘clip show with a twist’.

(5) Would You Like A Chop With Your Tea? Custom wargame scenery maker, Nikolai Ruskin, is publishing a daily record of his attempt to recreate the famous tea house from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 28mm scale.

(6) What The Future Holds For Doctor Who Action Figures: Read an interesting article with Alasdair Dewar, Product Development Director of Character Group, manufacturer of the Doctor Who action figures line on Doctor Who Toys. Net. Discover which lines are continuing and which have been dropped and get an insight into what makes a good action figure.

(7) Now THAT’S A Big Bang: Wanna find out what happens when two planets the size of Earth crash into each other? Then read this story from Science Daily.

(8) I Spy: Mark Copplestone and Nick Lund will be at the Victoria & Albert Museum on October 31, as part of its Cold War Modern Exhibition, to show off their Kiss Kiss Bang Bang range of James Bond-inspired miniatures in a series of demonstration wargames.

(9) Daleks Conquer All: The pre-election Radio Times cover from May 2005 featuring a Dalek has been voted Britain’s favourite magazine cover of all time, netting over 25 per cent of the votes.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/30/2008 06:23:00 am
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tags: action figures, christmas, cool website, dalek, dinosaur, dr who, film, funny, james bond, music, real life, red dwarf, sja, torchwood, tv, wargame, week in geek
Miss September: Ellie Chidzey
Ellie Chidzey (from Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath Of The Dragon God)
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/30/2008 01:54:00 am
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tags: babe, dungeons and dragons, film, geek pin-up
Lounge Watch: Day Six…
After Rachel slaved away most of the weekend painting three of the walls and the ceiling, Shane the accountant and decorator (he does the books for Maxim, where Rachel works) came in today to hang the wallpaper on our ‘feature wall’.

He got the job done nicely, in about an hour and a half, which means we have until Friday to finish the walls and doors before the carpet fitters arrive with our new carpet.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/30/2008 12:01:00 am
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tags: decorating, lounge watch, rachel, real life
monday, 29 september 2008
The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Last Sontaran
Reports of strange lights in the sky over the creepily named village of Goblin’s Copse – the site of a radio telescope scanning the skies for friendly aliens – draw Sarah Jane Smith and her team of young helpers away from the security of Bannerman Road.

At the same time, Maria (Yasmin Paige) has discovered that her dad, Alan (Joseph Millson) has been offered a job in America and she is trying to summon up the courage to tell the others.

They quickly discover that the lights were caused by Commander Kaagh (altogether now: “KAAAAAAAAAAGGGHHHH!”), the last survivor of the 10th Sontaran Battlefleet’s unsuccessful attempt to invade Earth in The Poison Sky.

Kaagh’s pod was just leaving the mothership when it was destroyed by The Doctor and so he crashed down to Earth and has, since then, been scheming of a way to seek vengeance for the defeat of the Sontaran battlefleet.

His fiendish scheme involves using the radio telescope to take-over the hundreds of satellites in Earth orbit and bring them down on Earth’s nuclear arsenal – thus obliterating all life on the planet and guaranteeing himself immortality in the annals of Sontaran history.

The only thing is, he didn’t reckon on the meddling of Sarah Jane and her band of merry “half-forms”.

Luckily for our heroes, the commander (Anthony O’Donnell) is as accurate a shot as an Imperial Stormtrooper, so despite being a senior soldier of one of the galaxy’s most militaristic races he is still given the runaround by a bunch of kids as he chases them around tunnels under the observatory and through the woods.

The Last Sontaran was a fantastic start to the new season of The Sarah Jane Adventures, with a cracking turn from an established old school Doctor Who alien race.

It’s a shame that this story marked the departure of Maria and her father from Bannerman Road – just as her dad had come to terms with the exotic and dangerous lifestyle she was involved with, thanks to Sarah Jane – but if the series runs for many more years the door was left well and truly open for the return of the Jacksons.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/29/2008 06:31:00 pm
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tags: dr who, sja, sontaran, star wars, tv
DVD Of The Week: Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem (2007)
For years fans were crying out for a match-up between the Aliens and the Predators, but they were less than impressed with the 2004 addition to the mythos of both these creatures: Aliens Vs Predator.

At least that had Lance Henriksen in it as Charles Bishop Weyland (the ‘inspiration’ for the Bishop android in Aliens 2) to tenuously tie it in to the earlier films.

Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem picks up right from the end of the first continuity-befuddling AvP film, with the birth of the ‘PredAlien’ (a hybrid Alien born out of the chest of a Predator).

It attacks the Predators on the ship and forces a crash-landing back on Earth, near the small, isolated Colorado town of Gunnerson, releasing not only the PredAlien, but hordes of little face-huggers, in the wilds.

This is a town of bland, non-entities (the only slightly famous face I spotted was Reiko Aylesworth aka Michelle Dessler from 24) meaning that anyone could die at anytime (including children and pregnant women), as none have the protection of star quality.

We are quickly introduced to an array of stereotypes – from the returning soldier who has lost her ‘special bond’ with her daughter, to the disenfranchised local sheriff and the recently released convict returning to his home, and delinquent brother, to make a new life – before the action rapidly escalates.

You can’t fault the directors Colin and Greg Strause for the speed with which they make the carnage snowball, as the alien horde grows exponentially and the humans quickly discover that there is nothing they can do to avoid becoming monster chow.

The Predators have dispatched one of their own to Earth, presumably to clean up the mess they’ve helped create, and he starts butchering humans and Aliens alike in his zeal.

Before you can say “but what’s the story?” the film has spiralled into a plotless gorefest of Aliens munching on humans, humans running around screaming and the Predator killing anyone he can lay his hands on.

Much of the action takes place at night, and with the town’s power out, so it’s often difficult to even get a sense of going on, but ultimately it’s difficult to grow tired to watching two of cinema’s greatest killing machines doing what they do best.

There are some half-decent moments – such as the ambush of the national guard, which is a low-budget re-enactment of the marine massacre early in Aliens 2 – but don’t expect to remember many, or any of the performances, about 10 minutes after you’ve stopped watching.

In the end, it is left to the US Army’s radical “evac” plan, and a cameo by Françoise Yip as Ms. Yutani, to claw the franchise back into some vague semblance of the continuity established in the first three Alien movies.

Gone are the gritty, outer space environments, the ‘lived in’ space ships and alien planets, replaced by everyday, contemporary Earth; reducing the Aliens to just more monsters that go bump in the night.

In theory, it’s actually not a bad idea – to remind us all just how bad ass Aliens and Predators are – but it could have done with a bit more story to back it up. For lengthy sequences, this movie ranks on a par with watching someone else play a particularly violent video game.

Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem is really one for die-hard Alien/Predator completionist fans only or if you’re just looking for some moving wallpaper while you do something else; don’t go into this expecting anything new or inspirational and you won’t be disappointed.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/29/2008 07:00:00 am
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tags: dvd, dvd of the week, monster, tv
sunday, 28 september 2008
Six (More) Of The Best With ROB ROGERS…
With his debut novel, Devil’s Cape, named HeroPress ‘Book Of The Month’ for September, I thought it was time to catch up with superhero novelist Rob Rogers for a second ‘Six Of The Best’ interview.

(1) How do you feel about the critical and fan response to Devil’s Cape?

Great! I’ve been thrilled to see positive reviews and to get letters from readers who enjoyed the book and were kind enough to let me know about it. Of course, I’d love to get the word out about Devil’s Cape to even more people (if you liked the book, please tell people about it!). But I’ve been very happy with the response I’ve had so far.

(2) What are your plans for the future of the Devil’s Cape setting and characters (e.g. sequels, role-playing game supplement etc)?

Right now, I’m busily plugging away at a sequel to Devil’s Cape. It will be set in the same city, with many of the same characters. I could easily see myself writing a number of books set in Devil’s Cape, and have got plans for at least the next two in mind.

I’d also like to explore some other settings in the same world. Vanguard City, in particular, has a lighter, more Silver Age vibe to it that I’d like to play around with.

No plans right now for role-playing game supplements or comic book adaptation, but I’d certainly be delighted to work on them if a publisher is interested.

(3) Looking back on the book now, after it has been out for some time, are there any parts you would like to revisit and change?

I’m pretty satisfied with the way it turned out. The published book progressed quite a long way from the first draft (during which it was called The City of St. Diable, by the way). I’m sure that I could come up with a number of tweaks if I let myself think about it too much, but it’s done and in print now, and most of my attention there is focused on the sequel.

(4) The book has a very televisual or cinematic feel to it. If you were given carte blanche to cast a Devil’s Cape movie, who would you like to see in the lead roles of Doctor Camelot, Bedlam, Argonaut, Scion, The Robber Baron etc?

Oh, wow, that would be fun. I’ve thought about it from time to time, but the only actor I really visualized when I was writing the book was Edward James Olmos (for the character of Salazar Lorca).

At different times I’d answer this question different ways, but for now, how about:

Doctor Camelot: A dark-haired Kristen Bell (she’s one of my favorite actresses and her intelligence really comes across in her roles). I’ve also pictured Ashley Judd in this role from time to time.

Bedlam: The age isn’t quite right, and the accent might be a challenge, but I could easily see Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (probably best known as Mr. Eko from Lost) in this role. Someone with that kind of charisma and physical presence.

Argonaut/Scion: These should be played by the same actor, and I’d cast Nicholas Brendon (best known as Xander from Buffy The Vampire Slayer). He’s an underrated actor with a lot of range and intelligence. He’s also an identical twin in real life, which would be a cool influence on the characters; his brother acts, too, so that would make it easier to deal with the scenes where Jason and Julian interact (they used his brother, Kelly Donovan, to great effect in the Buffy episode “The Replacement,” the first Buffy episode I ever watched and one of my favorites).

The Robber Baron: This one is tough. Even when dream casting, I’d want to go with someone other than the usual go-to guys for the older, sinister characters (so no Patrick Stewart, Anthony Hopkins, Malcolm McDowell, Dennis Hopper, etc., although of course in real life I’d jump at the chance to work with one of those people). I’d be tempted to go back to the Buffy well with Anthony Head, or do something a bit odd like go with John Larroquette. Hmm. Well, for today, I think I’ll go with Victor Garber (Jack Bristow on Alias). He’s awesome.

(5) Since we last spoke in February, have you discovered any new comic book gems that you would recommend to others?

I loved the first issue of Secret Six. I’m really excited about reading more of that. Gail Simone is very, very good (I’m enjoying her Wonder Woman run, too).

I’m enjoying Peter Tomasi’s Nightwing run. Sometimes it’s the little grace notes that sell a comic for me, and there was an issue early in his run where Nightwing and Superman met up at a park, and a security guard approached them, and, well, it’s just a beautifully written little scene. You can read a bit about it here: http://blogs.starwars.com/danwallace/103.

I’ve just started reading James Robinson’s Superman run and I’m loving that, too.

Oh, and everyone who loves superheroes should check out Love and Capes. It’s a superhero situation comedy in a comic book by Thom Zahler. Great, funny stuff.

(6) Away from superheroes, what’s next for Rob Rogers the author?

Hmm, that’s a tough one. Right now I seem to be pretty attached to the superhero world for my writing, if you set aside the corporate writing and stuff that I do.

But I might have some interesting news to report on a different kind of project soon, something with mythic proportions. Stay tuned and cross your fingers…
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/28/2008 06:37:00 am
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tags: book, buffy, comics, film, interview, lost, rpg, superman
Sunday Funny: This One’s For Feng Ying…
Dedicated to Nick’s character in our Tekralh Castles & Crusades game, the martial arts gnome Feng Ying.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/28/2008 12:46:00 am
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tags: c and c, funny, nick l, sunday funny, tekralh
Lounge Watch: Day Four…

Having coated the newly plastered ceiling in sealant last night, Rachel began the heroic task of painting the ceiling and the walls today – breaking only to watch the qualifying sessions for tomorrow’s Singapore Grand Prix and then again for dinner, followed by a brief nap before returning to the task at hand.

I’m a very lucky man to have such an industrious wife!
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/28/2008 12:07:00 am
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tags: decorating, lounge watch, rachel, real life, sport
saturday, 27 september 2008
Merlin: Valiant
It’s Merlin’s first day as Arthur’s servant and he’s helping the prince prepare for a melee tournament at Camelot that will ultimately see him pitched against the wicked Knight Valiant (Will Mellor).

Valiant has just come into possession of a magic shield, with three snakes painted on it that can come to life and strike with a venomous bite.

Magic being outlawed in Camelot, Valiant has to be subtle about using the shield in the tournament, but when it looks like another knight might defeat him, he knocks him to the ground and uses the snakes, out of sight of the crowd.

The knight, however, is taken to the castle physician, Gaius (Richard Wilson) and he and Merlin realise that a snake bite is a strange wound to pick up in a sword fight!

Merlin (Colin Morgan) tries to convince Arthur (Bradley James) not to fight, but ends up just embarrassing the future king in front of the whole court when he is unable to back-up his allegations.

This episode potters along in its own gentle way, being neither dull or particularly exciting; the tournament fights are okay, but mutant magic-user Merlin’s mystical moments border on the Walt Disney as he is still learning the full extent of his powers.

The pecking order of Camelot’s social structure is reinforced nicely, creating a potentially interesting “upstairs/downstairs” dynamic between the knights and nobility lording it over the servant classes, and not really paying attention to what they are doing or saying.

The large supporting cast all have their moment in the spotlight – Anthony Head is great as the magic-hating tyrant King Uther, while Katie McGrath continues to smoulder as Morgana (and even has a prophetic dream at one point, hopefully foreshadowing her descent to the dark side), but Angel Coulby, as Gwen, remains rather a non-entity and it seems, at the moment, incredulous that she will one day steal Arthur’s heart and set in motion the downfall of Camelot!

It looks like this series is going to be a slow-burner, but let’s hope it, at least, builds to a strong first season finale and doesn’t just fizzle out.

Next week (look out for former EastEnder and Bionic Woman, Michelle Ryan):

(video clip only available in the UK)
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/27/2008 07:16:00 pm
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tags: merlin, tv
Don’t Leave Your Space/Time Continuum Without It…
One of the first things that strikes you about the latest Doctor Who-themed eye-candy from BBC Books, The Time Traveller’s Almanac (The Ultimate Intergalactic Fact-Finder), is that – superficially – it shares much in common with Lance Parkin’s near definitive AHistory (An Unauthorised History Of The Doctor Who Universe).

Both books set out to give an account of the history of ‘our’ universe, from beginning to end, as seen through the lens of Doctor Who.

AHistory attempts to embrace every mainstream media in its text-only chronology, taking in not just every episode of Doctor Who (from the Classics up until Last Of The Timelords), the Big Finish audios (up to Frozen Time) , all the original novels (up to Wooden Heart) but also Torchwood Season One.

A wonderful work of fan-fuelled enthusiasm, the book does an elegant job of suggesting convoluted resolutions to various contradictions and paradoxes in the series’ nearly 50 year history, as well as extensive footnotes setting the stories in context with backstage information.

The Time Traveller’s Almanac, on the other hand, just concentrates on the new Doctor Who (the era of Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant) and covers up to Journey’s End.

This is a full-colour affair, designed in similar aesthetically-pleasing style to Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia. As well as a ‘must read’ for all trivia fans of the current iteration of Doctor Who (with less to cover that AHistory it goes into more depth), I’m sure it will also serve as a useful resource for those wishing to run the Doctor Who roleplaying game (due out early next year from Cubicle 7 Entertainment).

It is packed with useful (and presumably canon) background information on many of the events, characters and objects featured in the last four years of Doctor Who (but not Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures) as well as gorgeous screen shots and production art.
How useful is it to have a two-page breakdown of the UK’s “first contact” protocols; to know what was on Lady Cassandra’s “iPod” during The End of The World; or a breakdown of UNIT alien file codes and callsigns?

It’s this sort of trivial, throwaway detail that can really enhance either a roleplaying game experience, or simply watching your favourite TV show, because it helps you feel as though you know ‘more’ about what’s going on than other people!

Both books are highly recommended, although AHistory is probably more for the ‘old skool’ fans, and can be dipped into on a regular basis to exhume random pieces of Who trivia that will make you a hit down the pub or at all the best parties.
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/27/2008 06:40:00 am
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tags: book, dr who, rpg, sja, torchwood
friday, 26 september 2008
Demon Hunters – Laughing In The Face Of Death!
On an Earth very much like our own, monsters really do haunt the shadows and gnaw on the bones of innocents and it is the job of The Brotherhood Of The Celestial Torch (aka Demon Hunters) to protect mankind while keeping the mass of humanity blissfully unaware of the supernatural threats all around them.

It’s not so much a World of Darkness as a World of Dimness…

Such is the set-up for Demon Hunters, from Margaret Weis Productions, a light-hearted role-playing game of contemporary monster hunting based on the 1999 film, from Dead Gentleman Productions, Demon Hunters and its 2005 sequel Demon Hunters: Dead Camper Lake.

The game was written by Jamie Chambers with members of the Dead Gentlemen, who are, of course, also responsible for the highly entertaining The Gamers: Dorkness Rising.

Before I look at the game itself, the one element that makes this attractive, hardback set of rules stand out from anything else I’ve come across is that it comes with a DVD, neatly tucked inside the back cover!

On this disc are three pdf downloads – a character sheet, some example characters and an introductory adventure – as well as a half-hour ‘Orientation Video’ that can be used to explain the history and purpose of The Brotherhood Of The Celestial Torch to players.

Sadly, this isn’t quite as funny as I think the Dead Gentlemen would like – but then again that might just be cultural differences between the US and UK. But that doesn’t matter, this is still such a brilliant concept that I wish more games companies would do something as innovative as this.

Now I’ve seen the ‘Orientation Video’, I’m really surpised that White Wolf has never done something like this for their World of Darkness range or Mongoose for the revamped Traveller and so on and so forth.

It’s this sorted of ‘added value’ that makes a game stand out to me these days. And it’s not a cheesy gimmick, it’s actually part of the game and features characters the players will probably run into in the course of their adventures.

Another quirky and rather clever idea of the game is that the role-playing games the players will be playing are actually part of the Brotherhood’s training regime – “Tabletop Combat Simulations” – which allows for all sorts of weird metagaming if the players really want to get into that… possibly, even, spilling over into LARP potential!

The game itself operates on The Cortex System, which drives other Margaret Weis games such as Serenity and Battlestar Galactica, and the forthcoming Supernatural game.

And this is where I have my real problems with Demon Hunters. I like the background and the style of writing, even if it is a bit too zany in places for my sense of humour, but I have slight issues with the Cortex System.

With it’s die types for statistics and skills, it is basically Savage Worlds on steroids, adding in the crunch that that system strives to eliminate, and with the addition of graded ‘traits’ and ‘complications’ (also measured in die types), the idea of stacking dice to beat a target score is elegantly simple enough.

But then I find the combat system becomes overly – perhaps unnecessarily complicated – by the introduction of two wound tracks for everyone (physical wounds and stun damage), with some weapons doing one sort, some doing another and some doing a combination of both.

Perhaps, as I haven’t actually played this, it’s not as difficult to grasp in play as it seems it would be, but, for me, this is an additional level of book keeping at a time in a game when things should be running fast and furious.

If I had discovered it 15 or 20 years ago, I’d have probably snapped this system up, but in my 40s I don’t have the spare mental capacity to cope with all this paperwork (which is precisely what put me off Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition when I first cracked open a copy of the Player’s Handbook).

Continuing the established trend of comedy games masking brilliant systems – from Ghostbusters, Toon and Hackmaster through to Diana: Warrior Princess – Demon Hunters is a well-balanced blend of quality RPG writing and ‘funny stuff’.

But be warned, as the back cover tells us: “this product features irreverent humour and references to real-world religion, and is intended for mature readers”.

This probably isn’t a game for everyone, and I don’t think its comedic tone lends itself to long-term campaign play, but if you are already playing a Cortex System game and want a change of mood without a change of system, then this would be the perfect pick-up game.

However, for those looking for a more ‘serious’ take on contemporary urban fantasy and monster hunting, it might be worth holding out for the Supernatural RPG or The Dresden Files RPG (from Evil Hat) or sticking with established favourites like World of Darkness, Cthulhu Now!, Chill, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel etc
scribbled by the acrobatic flea at 9/26/2008 05:36:00 am
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tags: battlestar galactica, buffy, dresden files, dungeons and dragons, dvd, film, firefly, hackmaster, monster, roleplaying review, rpg, savage worlds, supernatural, traveller, vampire, world of darkness
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About Me

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The Acrobatic Flea
I was a regular salaryman, earning a crust with my meagre writing skills, until an aneurism tore open my aorta unexpectedly in early 2005. I suffered a stroke during surgery and a collapsed lung afterwards. I have since realised that I now have a new chance at life, which (body willing) I shall indulge in with positiveness, happiness and the good companionship of my wonderful wife. The Acrobatic Flea handle comes from the name of my favourite – and most successful – Villains & Vigilantes RPG character in the ’80s. I also go by the name “Salem Saberhagen” on some boards and even “Tim From The UK”.