GHOSTWATCH

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 Halloween 1992. BBC 1 are hosting a brave live television investigation into the supernatural, a studio phone-in hosted by Michael Parkinson (Parky) and Mike Smith (Smithy) with Sarah Greene (er?reeny?) spending the night into a haunted terraced house in Foxhall Drive where some very strange things have been going on. Meanwhile Craig Charles is interviewing scary locals and generally being waggish about all things supernatural. Things take a turn for the worse when some of the phone callers reveal some of the interesting background to the house on Foxhall Drive and all Hell breaks loose in the house itself and, eventually, in the TV studio. Except, of course, it doesn’t. Because GHOSTWATCH isn’t a live TV presentation at all ?it’s actually a drama. And a big ‘thank you’ to the British Film Institute for exhuming this lost and controversial bit of classic TV from the BBC archives.

Now this was only broadcast ten years ago but I can’t remember a thing about it. I clearly didn’t see it at the time and the furore following its transmission entirely passed me by. Viewed now, ten years later, and with the benefit of the knowledge that it’s all a work of fiction, it’s hard to imagine the hair-raising effect this must have had on the unsuspecting public who tuned in and watched it live. GHOSTWATCH is gripping from start to finish. Its pretence at live television is totally convincing (except towards the end when even the most gullible of viewers must have started to twig that it was all going a bit too far) and the appearance of the respectable Michael Parkinson and the far-less- irritating-than-I-remembered Mike Smith and Sarah Greene adds the show a veneer of respectability which must have wrong-footed many viewers. It’s all here; the clumsy banter between the presenters, the gurning by-standers in the street, BBC bods running around the studio and the outside broadcast location, oddbod boffins pontificating on the supernatural. Utterly captivating and even now, incredibly easy to be taken in by. But the clues are there for the more discerning viewer; the whole production descends into a sort of Dennis Wheatley chaos as the studio lights explode, ghostly winds whistle around the studio and the location, unearthly wailing noises fill the air, Sarah Greene is locked in a cupboard (and didn’t we all want to do that back in 1992?) apparently with a malevolent child-murdering ghost for company and good ol’ Parky is possessed and starts muttering mumbo jumbo. Roll the credits and, one would expect, there drops the penny. But apparently the British public were scared witless and GHOSTWATCH itself was consigned to the Archives with a big fat ‘Not to be retransmitted’ sticker plastered across the tape.

GHOSTWATCH is an important piece of British TV and one which is oddly only half-remembered, even though it’s of fairly recent vintage. Despite its entertainment value it serves to remind us of several important facts; firstly, the BBC were once able to commission and produce innovative dramas of this quality and secondly that presenters like Mike Smith and Sarah Greene, vilified as they were at the time, were Gods of broadcasting compared to the shambling amateurs who shuffle across our TV screens in the early twenty-first century. How far we’ve come without making any progress at all. GHOSTWATCH, a low-key release from the BFI, may be difficult to track down but it’s worth the effort. BBC television wouldn’t be this terrifying again until the arrival of David Dickinson and BARGAIN HUNT. But that’s another horror story altogether.

THE DISC: Broadcast standard quality, sound mix unexceptional which is a shame because there are lots of spooky sound effects which get a bit lost. There are even some extras; a dry commentary and some script exposition. Quality stuff.

THE TOMORROW PEOPLE SERIES 5

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 It’s generally accepted that by about 1977, as THE TOMORROW PEOPLE reached its fifth year and the focus of much of the show’s attention shifted to pretty boy wannabe pop idol Mike Holoway, the series had become a bit pants. Viewing the series – reduced to just six episodes for budgetary reasons – all these years later it’s fair to say that the show, far from being past its sell-by date, was suddenly (if briefly) finding its second-wind. Comprised of three two-part adventures, season five of THE TOMORROW PEOPLE benefits enormously by its truncation as writer Roger Price turns in tighter, leaner scripts and the show’s production values seem to have improved – which, let’s face it, wasn’t difficult.

Espionage and internal intrigue were always favourite subjects for Roger Price and series opener ‘The Dirtiest Business’ is a gritty, no-nonsense piece full of clumsy KGB agents and a Russian telepath named Pavla (Anulka Dublinska) on the run in London. The script has some adult overtones and references, the location films adds to the atmosphere of the piece and the conclusion of the second episode is startlingly graphic for a 1970s kid show. ‘A Much-Needed Holiday’ is adapted from an old Look-In comic strip and whilst it is the season’s only real wobble, it’s nothing like as bad as some of the series’ previous attempts at intergalactic antics. Here the three homo-superior travel to the closed world of Galia where the indigenous population are enslaved by the alien Kleptons who spend their time strip-mining planets. The Kleptons are a bit rubbish with their silver-foil helmets and gloves and the story is full of slave-boys grunting and falling over but once again the show is saved by some nifty exterior filming and some halfway-decent special effects. The season conclusion ‘Heart of Sogguth’ sees Roger Price moralising about youth culture and organised religion. In real life Holoway was the front man for a teen band called Flintlock (don’t worry about it, they didn’t trouble the charts much) and Price wrote them into this fun yarn about a tribal drum which can conjure up….wait for it….the Devil! It’s derivative and stagey but it’s quite an effective little story even if the fact that the bad guy really is the Devil is a bit disturbing.

Twenty-first century kids will find nothing of interest here but those of us who remember THE TOMORROW PEOPLE first time around will find this particular series charming and surprisingly entertaining. Recommended for those of a certain age…

THE DISC: There are a few wobbles in the picture but generally it’s a crisp, clean transfer. Extras include the usual text notes and commentaries which are a bit less lary than usual thanks to the arrival of Mike Holoway who takes it all a bit more serious than Nicholas Young and former TP Peter Vaughn-Clarke who generously turns up for the first of the commentaries even though he was sacked from the series by this point!

Season Five of THE TOMORROW PEOPLE is released on 21st June 2004 in the UK.

JASON X

Review By Paul Mount, 3.5 out of 5

In space, no-one can hear you?r, get hacked to bits by a resuscitated cryogenically-suspended unstoppable serial killer. No, doesn? have quite the same ring, does it? We?l have to make do with Evil gets an Upgrade , the tagline for JASON X, the latest in the long-running FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH series. Now I? not familiar with the misadventures of Mr Jason Vorhees so you?l have to bear with me a bit. For me, JASON X is just a sci-fi shocker about a monster running loose on a spaceship and any FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH baggage is entirely lost on me. Which is probably just as well because I? able to approach this little movie and judge it on its own merits without any worries about how it fits into the continuity of the past. Then again, do fans of this kind of slasher movie really give a damn about continuity? Who knows?

It? early in the twenty-first century. Jason Vorhees is on a rampage until he? finally trapped in a cryogenic chamber. His final act of defiance is to slice through the chamber door and puncture Rowan (ANDROMEDA? Lexa Doig), his erstwhile captor. Cryogenic gas seeps from the chamber and both Jason and Rowan are plunged into a centuries-long sleep. A passing spaceship happens upon them and takes them on board. It? 400 years later and nanotechnology heals Rowan? wounds. But it? not long before Jason is thawing out too and embarking on a traditional carnival of blood-letting and the numbers of the ship? crew are falling faster than the sales figures of the latest Pop Idol single.

I really enjoyed JASON X and I? really not sure why. Maybe it? because I watched it on a sleepy Sunday morning, maybe it? because it? a genre I don? frequentUr maybe because it? a genuinely well-made, wittily-scripted little SF horror thriller. There? no real subtlety here, the acting (from a cast of relative unknowns) is enthusiastic if unexceptional; but the effects are pretty spectacular, the script casts a few knowing winks in the direction of its audience and there? always mileage in the ?elpless-victims-trapped-in-an-isolated-place?scenario. Vorhees?killing spree is edge-of-the-seat stuff, even though many of the deaths are of the predictable neck-snapping, back-breaking or decapitating variety. But the setting is claustrophobic and well-realised and the climax, with the few survivors desperate to board a passing rescue ship and under attack by a renovated UberJason (as he? referred to in the cast list) is a real nail-biter. There? even a dandy little teaser hinting at yet another sequel. I wouldn? say I enjoyed JASON X enough to track down the previous nine films in the series but it held my attention as a space horror film in its own right and is probably worth ninety minutes of your time.

THE DISC: Crisp, clean transfer and a nice raft of extras from the bog standard ?aking of?feature to a half-hour ?istory of Jason?documentary which filled in a lot of blanks in my Jason knowledge. Trailers and a commentary fill up a well-rounded package.

BLOOD ON SATAN? CLAW

Review By Paul Mount, 3.5 out of 5 This moderately-entertaining horror film hails from the early 1970s, when UK horror was still very much the domain of the bods at Hammer and Chris Lee? Dracula was camping it up in increasingly-silly romps and Peter Cushing was still manipulating the twitching corpse of Frankenstein? monster. BLOOD ON SATAN? CLAW is a curio in that it isn? a Hammer film and, whilst it? been largely forgotten over the years, those who remember it probably either think it? part of the Hammer canon or else remember it as a WITCHFINDER GENERAL wannabe with a few breasts thrown in because, hey, it? 1971!

17th Century England. There? no electricity and everyone speaks very determinedly in ?hees?and ?hous? A lowly farmworker uncovers some grisly demonic remains and inadvertently unleashes a terrible power which turns the whole village on its head when the locals – particularly the youngsters – start behaving oddly and growing hair where there should be no hair. Innocent youngsters are mutilated and sacrified and it seems that only the Judge (Wymark) can save the day with his big knife.

BLOOD ON SATAN? CLAW is an odd little piece. It? superbly atmospheric, thanks to lots of squawking crows and tasty location filming, and it? clearly inspired by the gritty feel of the classic WITCHFINDER GENERAL. But where the former was about the Witchfinder and not about the witchcraft, this is more firmly a supernatural horror film with the Behemoth (the Devil?) manifesting himself at the end as a bloke in a cloak with a naff mask. The narrative wanders all over the place, the script? focus shifting from Simon Williams?character, to the pouting temptress Angel Blake (Hayden) and then back to the farm-worker who started it all in the first place (Andrews). So the film seems a bit uneven and characters disappear after a while (Hayden? absence from the centre of the film is quite noticeable) and then return towards the end. But generally it? quite creepy stuff, the horror somewhat diluted by the terrible farting, parping score by Marc Wilkinson which would have suited CARRY ON SCREAMING better than a real horror film. The performances are pretty good and DOCTOR WHO fans will delight in spotting all sorts of guest stars from their favourite show – from Wendy Padbury to Barry Andrews by way of the uncredited Roberta Tovey (from the Peter Cushing movies). However, I think I may be permanently traumatised by the sight of the Master (Ainley) being seduced by Linda Hayden in a celebrated kit-off sequence. Hayden, that is, not Ainley – that would be too terrible to contemplate. BLOOD ON SATAN? CLAW is worth a look but it? hardly the celebrated classic the accompanying booklet and text features would have you believe.

THE DISC: Anchor Bay have done wonders for the DVD release. The picture looks good and there? a nice DTS track which, whilst a bit bassy, is far more than anyone could have expected from a 1971 movie. Just as I was wondering ?hatever happened to Linda Hayden??along pops a thirteen minute interview feature. Trailers, text stuff and photos complete a pleasing little package.

THE SECOND COMING

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 They said it would be controversial. They said there’d be an uproar. They said there’s be questions asked in the Houses of Parliament. Learned clergeymen would be all over the television and in the Press railing against this disgusting, blasphemous so-called drama. But there was nothing. THE SECOND COMING sort of came?rond went with more of a whimper than a bang. It’s a damned shame and yet another condemnation of Britain’s witless, detective saturated television. Viewers have become so desensitised by our clueless schedules than innovative, quality programming is routinely ignored or just plain unwatched. So it has been, yet again, with Russell T. Davies’s remarkable THE SECOND COMING.

Big-eared Steve Baxter (big-eared Christopher Eccleston) works in a video store in Manchester and he goes boozing and clubbing with his best mates, including Judith (Lesley Sharp) who could be more than just a mate if he’d just take off his blinkers. But suddenly Steve is blinded by the light and he wanders off into the wilderness (Saddleworth Moor) for forty days and forty nights and returns to civilisation proclaiming to be the Son of God. But Steve actually is the Son of God and he’s come to sort things out. Or rather, he’s come to challenge Man to find a Third Testament, a template for the future of Man. And if he doesn’t find it? Well, that’d be Judgment Day then?

Russell T. Davies is one of the best writers working on British television today. I still have fond memories of his amusing children’s adventure series from the early 1990s ?DARK SEASON (starring a young Kate ‘I-was-in-TITANIC-you-know) Winslet was a sort of junior DOCTOR WHO ?and whilst some of his subject-matter isn’t to my taste, he knows how to tell a good yarn. His scripts are naturalistic and well-structured and he has the ability to turn a mirror on modern society and forces it to ask a few uncomfortable questions in search of a few uncomfortable truths. Here the very nature of religion comes under the spotlight; what would happen if it was all true, if there really was a God and His son is back, in twenty-first century Manchester of all places, ready to put Man back on the right track? THE SECOND COMING is a strong, powerful piece of work and the ambivalence to it shown by the British public is as breath-taking as THE SECOND COMING is as a piece of modern drama.

Shown over two nights on ITV, the first half of the story is riveting as humanity comes to terms with the return of the son of God. To prove his point, Steve performs a spectacular miracle ?he plunges Manchester City’s ground into daylight in the middle of the night. He then issues his demand to the confused world and sets a chain of events in motion which he’s been through before and which he really can’t stop. Part two is perhaps less impressive. Despite the very palpable sense of doom as Armageddon approached, the pace of the narrative falters a little, there’s some undeniable padding and the ‘some years after’ coda is unnecessary and rather distracting. But despite its relatively few shortcomings, THE SECOND COMING is an important work. Christopher Eccleston yet again proves his mettle as just about the finest working actor in Britain today and Davies favourite Lesley Sharp gives able support as the confused Judith. THE SECOND COMING does what really good drama should do; it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, it’s thrilling. Bear in mind that, at the time of writing, I’ve just read of a new BBC drama series starring Felicity Kendall as a gardening detective. Please treasure productions like THE SECOND COMING because, in the UK at least, they’re few and far between and things will get a lot worse before they even start to get better.

THE DISC: Quite a nice release for a low-key, cheap DVD title. Davies and Shergold provide a warm and informative commentary track and there’s about thirty-seven minutes of deleted scenes and ‘hilarious’ outtakes. Well worth another look.

DOCTOR WHO EARTHSHOCK

Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 1981 saw DOCTOR WHO riding on a bit of a crest of wave. Having successfully overcome two massive traumas – the loss of longest-running Doc Tom Baker and the loss of the show’s perennial Saturday night slot – a remarkable 9 million plus viewers were regularly tuning in to the Monday and Tuesday night screenings of fifth Doctor Peter Davison’s first season. The series was still at this point the people’s show, a science-fiction show which people who didn’t much care for science-fiction could enjoy because?ell, because it was DOCTOR WHO. It was also the point at which the programme’s production team – Producer John Nathan-Turner and script-editor Eric Saward – decided it might be a good idea to start getting self-indulgent and starting feeding off the show’s past a little. This was fun at first – as ‘Earthshock’ clearly demonstrates. But this four-parter’s success – particularly with the hardcore fans of the series – went to the heads of the producer and his chums and it led to a string of derivative, repetitive, poorly-plotted stories which brought back old monsters and bad guys in a desperate attempt to delight the fans. The fans however weren’t best pleased at seeing DOCTOR WHO’s past glories revived and generally defiled and the general public began to lose interest when the show started to resemble a private party. So in many ways ‘Earthshock’ sowed the seeds which would bring about DOCTOR WHO’s sad and untimely end just eight years later.

Its historical importance apart, ‘Earthshock’ in the cold light of 2003 is a curious beast. Far too ambitious for DOCTOR WHO’s famously tiny budget, it’s at once stagey and unconvincing and yet gripping and exciting. The Cybermen – updated and redesigned – make their first appearance on the show in six years and their surprise appearance at the end of episode one is a classic moment in DOCTOR WHO history for those who weren’t already in the know. The story doesn’t make much sense away from its bang and flashes; the Cybermen have planted a bomb in some caves in order to destroy the Earth. They leave some killer androids to guard it. Meanwhile an army of Cybermen are being smuggled to Earth on board a rundown space freighter. Then the Doctor and his pals Tegan, Nyssa and Adric turn up, join forces with some space troopers and lots of people are bloodlessly slaughtered before young Adric sacrifices himself to save his friends and the end credits roll in silence.

The years really haven’t treated ‘Earthshock’ too kindly. As the cast point out in their commentary, it’s a product of its time (even more so than other, older DOCTOR WHO’s already released on DVD) and acting and directing techniques have moved on in leaps and bounds since 1981. Some of the dialogue is cheesy and clunky, much of the acting is entirely unconvincing (Beryl Reid?? What were they thinking??) and some of the special effects are of the cut’n’paste variety. But as one who sat and enjoyed it at the time, I loved every creaky minute of it with none of the critical reservations that accompanied it first time around. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it until common sense prevails down at Shepherd’s Bush; the BBC wouldn’t know where to begin making a show like this today. Unless you’d care to prove me wrong, Auntie..?

THE DISC: A nice lean selection of extras accompany the pristine digital transfer of this four-part yarn. ‘Putting the Shock into Earthshock’ is Ed Stradling’s excellent 30 minute documentary about the serial – particularly its impact on its contemporary audience and some of its stars. There’s a ten-minute extract from a 1981 BBC show called ‘Did You See..?’ where Gavin Scott pompously analyses the appeal of DOCTOR WHO monsters via a string of judiciously-selected clips. Ah, I remember it well? The story itself has some nice new CGI effects sequences which can be seamlessly introduced into the episodes, there’s a photogallery, information text track, a ‘Real McCoy’ Easter Egg comedy sketch, location footage, a naughty but warm commentary by the TARDIS crew and other bits and pieces. My favourite, however, has to be a fortieth anniversary montage sequence played over a gutsy new version of the classic DOCTOR WHO theme. Watch this and you’ll remember just why you ever loved this most durable of television icons. Marvellous stuff.

DOCTOR WHO: RESURRECTION OF THE DALEKS

Review By Paul Mount, 3 out of 5

Hottish on the heels of the recent DVD release of ?he Aztecs? another tale of derring-do from TV? legendary death-defying Time Lord. Resurrection of the Daleks hailing from fifth Doc Peter Davison? third and final season in the role, is a grim beast indeed. Less a story and more a series of set pieces strung together, this is probably the weakest DOCTOR WHO DVD issue yet (bar the unwatchable Colin Baker yarn Vengeance on Varos. The Daleks returned to the screen in 1984 after a five-year absence and despite the fact that the production team were determined to make their return a spectacular, star-studded extravaganza, it? all a bit of a damp squib. The story is all over the place; Dalek creator Davros has been held in cryogenic suspension aboard a battered prison spaceship for nearly a hundred years. The Daleks set about releasing him to help them combat a lethal virus unleashed by their deadly enemies the Movellans. Meanwhile, there are mysterious goings-on in London? rundown docklands and when the Doctor and his companions Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) are dragged into a ?ime corridor? the scene is set for much whiz-bangery and corridor-running. Halfway through the Daleks reveal their plan to replace human leaders and the High Council of Gallifrey (?) with Dalek replicant agents and it all goes terminally pear-shaped when the Daleks start fighting one another and they start spurting foam. Davros lives to fight another day, by the way. It? bright and breezy enough but the scale of the narrative is way beyond DOCTOR WHO? meagre resources so the explosions are feeble and the gun-battles are unconvincing (despite the high death toll it? hard to care much because there are no real characters here). The cast is crawling with minor 1970s/80s thesps; Rodney Bewes, Rula Lenska, Del Henney, Chloe Ashcroft and Maurice Colbourne. But none of them – with the notable exception of Colborne – are remotely competent in their roles and when it all runs out of steam in a dismal Dalek gun battle we?e just left with memories of when DOCTOR WHO was much better than this and when the Daleks were a genuine TV phenomenon. Tegan leaves the TARDIS crew at the end of the story. ?t? stopped being fun, Doctor,?she whines at one point. It? hard not to imagine much of the Tv audience at the time saying much the same thing before turning over to watch CORONATION STREET.

THE DISC: Better extras than the story deserves. The highlight is the twenty-minute ?n Location?documentary where enthusiastic director Matthew Robinson marvels at how the Docklands locations have become a yuppie wonderland. He? joined by portly writer Eric Saward who doesn? seem particularly bothered about the whole thing and late producer John Nathan-Turner adds his own words of wisdom from a different location. Other features include a lumbering BREAKFAST TIME item featuring Nathan-Turner and Janet Fielding in a sweater scarier than anything ever seen in the series, yet another dull and pointless TARDIS cam, a trailer for episode one (I?e still got that on VHS somewhere!), extended/deleted scenes and a nice commentary by Davison, Robinson and Fielding who, it appears, has decided to succumb to the inevitable and rejoin the DOCTOR WHO fold after years of rubbishing the series. Nice extras, shame about the story. Oh, and that limited edition rubber sleeve?r,what? that all about then, Mr BBC?