Wednesday, 11 December 2013

'The Legend of Springheel'd Jack' - Episode One: 'The Terror of London' A Review

The Springheel Saga began several years ago, with the three-part series, 'The Strange Case of Springheel'd Jack'. Written by Robert Valentine and Gareth Parker, it was an exciting romp through Victorian London, combining action, humour, and penny-dreadful horror with genuine factual elements of the Springheel'd Jack mystery. The series was a complete success, enough so that old Jack has reared his fiendish head once again with a brand new series, under the banner of 'The Legend of Springheel'd Jack'....

Rather wisely, 'The Legend of Springheel'd Jack's opening episode, grandly titled 'The Terror of London', picks up seven years after the original series ended. The legend of Jack has taken England by storm, and there are accounts of his sightings all over the country. He is less a figure of out-and-out terror now, and more an interesting mystery, being depicted on stage as an icon of curiosity; in penny-dreadful horror stories; and even Punch and Judy shows! By having this gap of seven years, writers Parker and Valentine have been able to, if you will, recreate the legacy of Springheel'd Jack, reaffirming who he is, and reintroducing us to Jonah Smith, and his obsessive quest to seek out Jack. This helps to draw in new listeners who may not have had the chance to hear series one, but also to present long-term fans with a different slant to the story. It works magnificently.

'The Terror of London' begins with James M. Rymer, played with chirpy enthusiasm by John-Holden White, regailing us with his encounter of Jack. In a stroke of utter genius, Rymer just happens to be the real-life author of the classic horror stories 'Varney the Vampire' and 'Sweeney Todd'. Rymer was also a journalist, and so his love of horror, and journalistic curiosity, are used to drag the listener into the murky depths of the Victorian underworld. With Rymer as our guide through this new chapter of the Jack saga, the writers have fully embraced all the elements of the classic Victorian horror story, in a shameless love-letter to the long-distant past.

Parker and Valentine truly go to town with Rymer's narration, such glorious phrases as, “That filthy Venice of drains” and “ blood through a diseased heart” painting a truly ghastly scene for a midnight murder – the murder of Maria Davis, in fact. Said to be Springheel'd Jack's only fatality, Maria's death kicks open the story proper, and with it, a spiralling web of intrigue and mystery, that 'The Terror of London' only begins to touch upon. This is a three-part series too, and you'll be left gasping for more at the end of this episode, I can assure you!
By leaving a gap of seven years, when we return to Jonah Smith, the hero of the original 'Jack' saga, we see a much darker, more solitary figure. Jonah Smith is obsessed with discovering, and capturing Springheel'd Jack, not just because he's a detective, but also due to a personal vendetta with the mysterious demon of the night. Actor Christopher Finney has taken care to retain the essence of Jonah Smith, but inflected him with a darker nature, and it works as a nice contrast to White's almost bumbling Rymer when they meet early on in the play. By pairing Smith and Rymer together a while later, we get a nice little double-act that carries the episode, and highlights the different elements of their characters. Rymer, the wide-eyed, excitable journalist experiencing everything for the first time; Smith, the brooding, melancholy investigator who's seen it all before.
However, Jonah's fire is truly reignited by the return of Charlotte Fitzrandolph, portrayed magnificently by Jessica Dennis. Charlotte turns up out completely out of the blue, with a huge clue as to where Springheel'd Jack might be hiding, and a reason as to why he might have been seen all over the country. This pushes the story into a very specific direction, as Jonah goes hunting for Jack, and ends up bumping once again into Rymer. It's Rymer, more than anybody else, who helps Jonah Smith to look inside himself, as much as Jonah himself might not like to admit it, and it's Rymer who starts to pull the old Jonah back into being. It doesn't last...

'The Legend of Springheel'd Jack' is all about the legacy of old Jack, and hearing him represented as the villain in Punch & Judy is both amusing and slightly unnerving. As listeners, we know that he is out there still, and beneath all the humour throughout this episode, there is a deadly undercurrent of something sinister lurking behind the laughter. But where does the darkness hide? Who is Elijah P. Hopcraft, Andrew Shepard's mysterious Punch & Judy man? Is there more to the magician Cuthbert Leach, played by the underrated and utterly charming Nicholas Parsons, and his fiery assistant Lizzie (Josephine Timmins)? The beautifully constructed script unfolds at its own pace, and the unpredictability in which it does so means that that something unexpected is always around the corner.

This is never truer than in the final ten minutes of the piece, which ramp up the tension until the final shocking moments, which completely change the direction of the series. Whether you've already heard the first series, or are a newcomer to the 'Springheel Saga', there is no denying that 'The Terror of London' packs an almighty punch right at the very end, with the mother of all cliffhangers!

Witty, funny, and immensely enjoyable, 'The Terror of London' is a perfect opener to a brand new series of adventures for Jonah Smith. Embracing all the facets of the Victorian age, from penny-dreadful writers to Punch & Judy shows, as well as combining the fact and fiction of Springheel'd Jacks' exploits, this is a must for anyone with a thirst for 19th century intrigue. With a perfect script, excellent performances, and glorious sound design, alongside a superb musical score, 'The Terror of London' is an all-out success. Not to be missed!
Follow the exploits of Springheel'd Jack:

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Piper's Lament - A Review

For the last five decades that 'Doctor Who' has been entertaining us, it has provided us with a host of memorable companions. Arguably one of the most popular of these has to be highlander Jamie McCrimmon, portrayed brilliantly by Frazer Hines. Jamie was a very loyal companion, and the relationship his character shared with Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, is still one of the greatest partnerships in 'Doctor Who' history.

Of course, Jamie's final moments with the Doctor, echoed 40 years later when a similar fate befell Donna Noble, saw the many memories of his adventures in the TARDIS get erased without remorse. Although Hines would return several times to 'Doctor Who' in future years, these appearances would always be set within the time-frame of his travels with the Second Doctor (erm, more or less...see SEASON 6B). We were never given a chance to discover what happened next to Jamie, or if he ever rediscovered his lost past. Until now....

'The Piper's Lament' is Jamie's story. Although legal issues forbid the audio to mention Jamie by name, author David J Howe cleverly works this into the actual story, adding to the mystery, and the final, emotional climax of the piece. It is, essentially, a one-man play in audiobook format, told from the viewpoint of the nameless Piper, in a cosy highland pub. Hines is no doubt an expert at the audio format through his work with the Target readings and Big Finish, and his performance here balances nicely between explanation and emotion. It's obvious to the ear that Hines is relishing the material that he has been provided with, and he rises to the occasion admirably. Due to the set-up of the drama, he is very conversational in his approach, and thanks to the careful direction of Sam Stone, you have a genuine impression of sitting with him in a corner of a pub, listening to him telling you his story.

The script itself is gorgeous, too. Essentially designed to give the character of Jamie a proper moment of rediscovery, it manages to be far, far more than just a string of fan-pleasing references. As fun as a full 60-minutes of references to Ice Warriors, Cybermen, and giant crabs would be, Howe instead focusses on Jamie's pre-and post- TARDIS life. Without giving too much away, it's these parts of the story that genuinely break your heart, without needing to rely on anything we might have seen on television. Combining a beautiful script with an understated reading from Hines, we are made to care about the characters Howe himself has created, and there are a few death scenes that are genuinely striking and shocking. They linger in the memory long after, just like the gentle, melancholy score of haunting bagpipes lamenting throughout. These moments are peppered very nicely with touches of warmth and humour, that do nothing to disturb the atmosphere created by Stone's direction.

Of course, this being a play about a nameless piper remembering his past, there are plenty of extremely fan-pleasing sequences that will have lovers of the Troughton era squealing with delight. They are used sparingly, adding to their impact, and they help reinforce the fact that the piper is our Jamie McCrimmon, still battling on after all these years...

'The Piper's Lament' reaches a touching, heartfelt conclusion, that ties up the story of Jamie, and at the same time points us to the future. It is, absolutely, a love-letter to the character of Jamie McCrimmon, and perhaps to Frazer Hines himself, but a carefully constructed letter that manages not to gush. It's a celebration of Jamie, not just of his TARDIS adventures, but of his character, and of his own personal history.

Listen to 'The Piper's Lament' by a crackling fire, with a bowl of hot soup and glass of whisky. Now that winter is here, what more could you possibly want? Put your feet up, close your eyes, and catch up with an old, old friend....

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman - A Review

Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman, by Richard Kirby, is a quaint, unusual, and very personal, voyage into the world of Doctor Who, with a unique anchor that certainly hasn't been done before. This anchor comes in the form of a challenge the author set himself for Children In Need, to try and collect as many autographs of the surviving female companions of the Doctor as possible. However, the actual focus is more on Kirby's own relationship with this barmy old show that we love, and manages to be both enticing to the seasoned Whovians among us, as well as a neat introduction for the beginners.
Starting at the very beginning, Kirby straight away mixes both fact and personal opinion into a cocktail that could have been quite tiresome. How many times have we read the synopsis and the background detail of the first ever episode, for instance? But thanks to the authors breezy, informal style, it manages to be a very easy read, in the best possible way. Kirby peppers the text with amusing side-notes and quips that lighten the mood, and he can't resist observing the connections between actors and the other shows they have appeared in, particularly soap operas. Let's put it this way, any Coronation Street fans out there will be very happy with this, and every reader is guaranteed to learn something new!
As well as briefly running through the entire history of Doctor Who, Kirby also includes some nice reviews of certain stories (particularly ones featuring actresses he has aquired signed photographs from). He isn't afraid to be honest, poking fun at the stories he reviews in a way only a dedicated fan could. And that is one of the joys of this book. Richard Kirby, like every other Doctor Who fan out there, does have opinions, and you won't agree with all of them. Sometimes you'll be nodding along with a smile on your face, other times spluttering into your tea (“'The Faceless Ones' is his favourite story, WHAT?”). And that can only be a good thing. I particularly enjoyed Kirby's review of 'The Ambassadors of Death'. Just read the authors own take on how Reegan gets into a top-secret place in a bakery van. Priceless!

As for the autographs, Kirby provides some very nice photos of his achievements, with a little summary of each actresses career. Beyond this, there isn't that much else on this particular topic, save for the introduction and a summary at the end. I was still rather amused by his attempt to get Bonnie Langford's autograph, which didn't go entirely to plan! And the whole idea of the autographs is a marvellous framing device, that enables the author to bring all eras of Doctor Who together.
It's also evident that Kirby hasn't seen much of late-80's Doctor Who. His summary of this particular era of the series relies very much on the critical reception of these stories, rather than his own. To the old-school fans out there, this could be seen as a little disappointing, but it still offers a nice insight for newcomers to the show. And as I have repeatedly stated, this is Kirby's own take on Doctor Who, so he is allowed to pretty much do as he likes!

All in all, Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman is a charming piece of work, that manages to both appeal to us sad old fans, as well as introducing beginners to the mad world of Doctor Who. It's a funny book, which branches off into anecdotes, connections and jokes with pleasing regularity. And the idea of using autographs as a framing device works beautifully in its favour. As an autograph collector myself, I can only imagine that it will inspire others to do the same. And the fact that Kirby did it for charity is simply marvellous.

If you're after something that will entertain, educate, and inspire you to re-watch certain episodes of your favourite television show, look no further than this. You might not agree with all of Richard Kirby's opinions, but you will certainly be laughing along with him. A splendid read that does even more than it says on the blurb! I hope there is more to come from this man (spoiler: There is!).

Join Richard's journey HERE
Richard Kirby's next 'Desperately Seeking...' project - France Gall

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Doctors: The First Doctor (William Hartnell)

William Hartnell. Doctor Number One - The original, you might say! The First Doctor didn't crash, waltz, or explode onto our screens like his successors did. This Doctor wandered in mysteriously from the fog, on a dark November night. A strange old man wearing a scarf and an enigma.
Initially, and famously, rather unpleasant, Hartnell's incarnation of the Doctor (who wouldn't be revealed as a Time Lord for another seven years) was only a reluctant hero. Perhaps the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan's exile from their home planet was what made the old man so untrusting of humans, or maybe he felt that he was superior to them. Driven by his own selfish desires and whims, it took the two school teachers he kidnapped to break through the tough, cold exterior to the warmth and charm within him.  It is Ian and Barbara who are responsible for giving us the Doctor we know and love today.
The First Doctor is often described as a 'grumpy old man'. While this is the case to an extent, even at the very beginning of the series, there was far more to him than that. William Hartnell gave the Doctor depth, magic, and mystery. He is both irascible and hypocritical, even dangerous, and as he began to warm towards his human friends, his mischievous, whimsical side began to shine through. In fact, every single aspect of the Doctor's future lives can be traced back to the First Doctor - from his romantic nature (see his love for Cameca in 'The Aztecs'), to his desire for justice ('The Dalek Invasion of Earth'), and his delight as he explores the wonders of the Universe.
Clutching his lapels and harrumphing at his foes, the First Doctor, portrayed for three years by William Hartnell, was a citizen of the Universe, and a gentleman of the stars.

The Stubborn Old Man
The mountains towered upwards into the sky, like natural skyscrapers. The sun hung in the air above them, casting a comforting glow across the horizon.

"Tired Doctor?" laughed Barbara, as Ian helped her climb onto the next set of rocks.

 "Nonsense Barbara!" the elderly man snapped, wiping his forehead as he attempted to clamber further up the mountain, "I never get tired! No time for it!" He slapped Ian's hand away, violently refusing help.

 "Nothing to be ashamed of Doctor!" Ian's voice was slightly patronising, as he smiled sideways at Barbara, "Men of your age tire easily. It's natural!"

 "Rubbish Chatterton! Fit as a fiddle, that's me!"

 The Doctor was still trying to hoist himself up, breathing heavily and unsteadily.

 "Ok then. Me and Barbara will get walking, and you can catch us up!" Ian replied, as the lady tried her best to stifle her laughter. Then the two school-teachers set off, strolling further up the winding path of the mountain, leaving their stubborn friend to struggle.

Glaring furiously up at the sky, face drenched with perspiration, the Doctor released a deep sigh.

"Chesterfield, wait! I, I'm...stuck..."
Cory John Eadson, 2013

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

4 - A Tribute to the Fourth Doctor

As you may already be aware, I had the pleasure of discovering I had won a poetry competition earlier this month. The idea was basically to write a poem about Doctor Who. My initial idea was to try and summarize the essence of the Doctor as a whole, but then I started to think about making it more personal. Instead of the Doctor as a man, how about focussing on a specific incarnation? And how about making it the Fourth Doctor - he was my first, after all.
And so,  rather than basing the poem in the deep depths of the Universe, I set it in a quiet little café, in wet old England. An intimate encounter with the bohemian wanderer - Tom Baker. Because seeing the Doctor in space is one thing, but seeing him in your town is quite another altogether.
I hope you enjoy it. I've titled it, rather simply, '4'...

He's sat there in the tea shop:
An unravelled yarn
Of brooding eccentricity.
A long scarf seems to wrap,
Like a woollen, multi-coloured snake,
Around his body a dozen times;
Almost as un-tameable
As the forest of curls
Atop his time-weary head.
He contemplates a mug of tea,
Elbow on table, chin in hand,
His wide eyes two pools of deep blue.
He doesn't seem to notice me staring -
His mind no doubt on other things.
I can almost hear ancient cogs
Grinding and whirring inside that mercurial mind:
Thoughts of distant worlds and falling stars,
And the spiralling chaos
Of the infinite vortex of Time.
I take a sip of my tea -
It's cold now,
Perhaps as chilled as me,
To be in the presence of this man.
A man who acts as a mighty pillar
Holding up the foundations of the Universe,
Now sitting in a small café on a wet day,
In the corner of the Galaxy known as England.
As I contemplate my own cold tea,
I barely notice him hurrying to his feet.
It isn't until he glides past
That I catch his eye -
And a rushing thrill seizes me in an instant.
As he leaves the tea shop,
His scarf flows behind him
Like the remains of a tattered, garish cloak,
And a second later the outside world has swallowed him up,
Leaving me alone with my cold tea,
The background noise of chatter, and bland muzak.
But he has left one trace of his existence,
For next to my mug sits a yellow jelly baby,
Stealthily deposited for my delectation.
“Thank you,” I say, mostly to myself,
Snatching up and devouring the tasty sweet,
Unable to suppress a wide smile.
“Thank you, Doctor...”

Cory John Eadson, 2013

Monday, 21 October 2013

50 Reasons Why 'Time Crash' Is The Most Perfect 8 Minutes of 'Doctor Who' Ever

#9 "Hands Free..."
Among all of the kisses to the past blown throughout it's seven minutes, Time Crash pays a little attention to the Fifth Doctor's lack of Sonic Screwdriver.
"I'm fine," Davison mutters, without even glancing up from the console, when Tennant offers him the use of his own Sonic.  It doesn't even occur to the Fifth Doctor to use it, having been without his trusty device for a good while now, ever since that nasty business with the Terilepils.
But what does the moment add to the context of the story? The honest answer? Bugger all! But, as with so many elements of the episode, it shows yet another subtle contrast between the two Doctors. Here's the Tenth Doctor, using his Sonic, relying on his Sonic to get up to all sorts of mischief, never mind applying it to get out some sticky situations! The Fifth Doctor, on the other hand, just soldiers on with whatever he can find at hand. And what's more, he manages to save the day! (OK, sort of. Ish).
Above all though, this moment is just a nod to the past that is beautiful in it's pointlessness. It's just there: A tiny moment that brings with it a host of subtle character contrasts and summaries, with only a throwaway line. And isn't that brilliant?
For the previous Time Crash entries (SO FAR):
#8 'That Rubbish Beard'
#7 Belgium
#6 High Five!
#5 Murray Gold
#4 David Tennant
#3 Peter Davison
#2 Graeme Harper
#1 Steven Moffat

50 Years...

Earlier last month, a poetry competition was announced for fans of Doctor Who - All they had to do was write a poem based on the greatest television series in the world. I am overjoyed and still a bit surprised to say that I actually won the competition. But there were some excellent entries, not least from some very close friends of mine!

Neil Baird was one of the entrants, and here is the poem he submitted, along with an introduction by Neil himself. Neil has also supplied with some other excellent pieces that I will share over the coming weeks. Here's Neil...

November 23rd, 1963 saw a new program appear on the BBC Saturday teatime schedule. Its name? Doctor Who. 2013 is its 50th year.


While on, and sadly for a while, off TV, its fans have loved and remained loyal to the show. Eleven great and talented actors have played the Doctor, with number 12 arriving Christmas 2013. God bless them all.

This poem is my tribute to 50 years of my favourite series.

50 Years
November 1963 and Kennedy was killed. At 5.15 the very next day, British children were really thrilled.

 For they had something different. Something that was new. A children's TV show called Doctor Who.

 The story of an alien who travels through Time and Space.
Entertaining but educational. That should be its case.

 Showing science in the future and history in the past.
But the arrival of the Daleks changed its genre fast.

 It became a sci-fi show with monsters at every turn and being really scared is all kids would ever learn.

 Through the 1960's it was shown in black and white, but that didn't stop the Daleks who scared every child on site.

 William Hartnell was the first Doctor, the original you might say. He started off the character that's still on TV today.

 Then the Doctor, he went and changed. Pat Troughton took the role. A very different Doctor with a much more kinder soul.

 Through the 1970's the show was strongly run. Now it was made in colour, it couldn't be outdone.

 Jon Pertwee was the Doctor and he really was tip-top,
With the Brigadier and UNIT by his side there was no invasion they couldn't stop.

 Then three became four and Tom Baker took the part. With his long scarf and floppy hat, he was a hit right from the start.

 Tom was the most remembered Doctor, one of the best we ever had, and when he left in eighty-one fans were really sad.

 At the end of the 1980's the show sadly came to a stop, after three more and seven great Doctors, the TARDIS got the chop.

 The 1990's and things for the Doctor looked bleak. No series for him to be in, no cliff-hanger every week.

 The series became ridiculed, many saw it as childish pap, with really wobbly sets and monsters made from bubble-wrap.

 The companions were seen as wimpy, full of screams and squeals, who'd run away from monsters while in two inch pink high heels.

 Eventually a movie was made and though in the UK it went down well, though sadly not in America where it just refused to sell.

 Finally in the millennium the Doctor finally came back onto the air. Now a new generation love it, once again kids really care.

 There was a fine actor at that TARDIS door. Chris Ecceleston was the Doctor. Then he wasn't anymore.

 The Daleks have returned as well and so have the Cybermen. For five years they battled David Tennant, playing Doctor number Ten.

 Then Ten became Eleven and Eleven was old school. He wore a tweedy jacket and said bow ties were cool.
River Song was a huge part of this Doctors life. Some say they are lovers, others say she's his wife.

 Matt Smith was only 26 but his performance mirrored Pats. The eleventh Doctor wore a bow tie and an array of different hats.

 Now the 50th anniversary approaches, with a new Doctor about to start. Peter Capaldi has been cast and fans can't wait to see him in the part.

 We have had 50 years of episodes, with many more to do, so come November all the fans will shout... Happy Birthday Doctor Who.
By Neil Baird, 2013