Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Prison in Space (Nothing at the End of the Lane, 2011)

It's an odd mix, this second script book from the team behind "Nothing at the End of the Lane", the excellent, if occasional, Doctor Who history/restoration/archive magazine.

On the one hand, the scripts for the failed Troughton story, 'Prison in Space', is presented over hundreds of pages, with every page lovingly scanned in, as is, at the rate of one page to...well, one page.  Presumably this is for reasons for verisimilitude, and archive telly fans are notoriously anal about exactitude.  
Speaking personally, I would much rather see each page typed out on a PC and everything run together (in the style of pretty much every other script book ever) possibly with annotations running alongside.  That would lessen the unnecessarily huge page count, allow the cost to drop (from its current, steep £17 for a Lulu paperback) and make it considerably more readable.

But I digress.  Alongside this very precise exactitude, and unwillingness to make any allowances for the 21st century, the publishers have decided to go down the same path as early Big Finish audio releases and pretend that, in some way, this discarded script was in fact never discarded but, rather, is a part of Doctor Who in the exact same way as, for instance, The Dominators.  As a result, the script gets the Time Team treatment, which is pointless but harmless and occasionally amusing, as the four - generally interesting - participants act as though 'Prison in Space' is something they can see on screen together and not just something they've all read separately.

Of far more interest, though, is the wonderful Andrew Pixley's piece on a year in Doctor Who, which serves both to frame the circumstances surrounding the abortive attempt to bring 'Prison' to screen and to show that the eventual breakdown in communications stemmed - as it tends to in real life - from a series of stubbornnesses (sic) and misunderstandings on both sides.

Other than that, the book contains a reasonable review of the script by Jonny Morris, a somewhat erratically proofed article by Richard Bignall, and an excellent, if necessarily brief, look at two other rejected scripts (both in a far less advanced state than 'Prison' when cancelled).

All in all, this - like 'Farewell Great Macedon' which preceded it in this script book series - is an intriguing look at a lost story though, unlike that earlier Hartnell script, I very much doubt anyone is ever likely to describe this as a 'lost classic'. 

Away from the content of the main script, though, there's a mixed bag of supporting articles and the book in general is somewhat over-priced for what it contains.  Still, all fans of the show should thank Richard Bignall et al for taking the time to bring this to print - I very much prefer that it exists than if it did not.

Now if they could turn to some more modern scripts - Chris Bidmead has at least one which I'd love to see in print...

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Duncton Wood - William Horwood (Country Life Books, 1980)

I've not been reading as much as usual recently, due to finishing off some Obverse stuff and doing abut a thousand pages of typesetting for a very nice mate of Johnny's but I did manage to read a couple of things, even if more slowly than usual.

Duncton Wood is a book I well remember coming out and about which I was a little scathing at the time.  Just another Watership Down rip-off, I believe I said  - and there's some truth in that accusation, but only in the sense that any novel with anthropomorphic animals set in the English countryside and in which humanity plays only a tangential role is published in the long shadow of Richard Adam's masterpiece.  But Duncton Wood is more than just a re-tread of old ground, and its influences are wider too.  Fittingly for the author of several splendid sequels to Wind in the Willows, this book - like them - is tinged throughout by a form of mystical, pagan religion as well as being a love story, an action adventure novel and treatise on the common mole.

Cover of the 1st UK editionThe writing is a pleasure to read and the author is not afraid to face the 'realities' of life for a small country mammal like a mole, with beloved characters being killed off with little emotion but a great deal of effectiveness. If certain elements of the ending seem a little contrived and designed more to provide a false sense of completeness than anything else, well I can forgive the author those small mis-steps.

I sort of wish I had read this when I was 11 - I think I would have liked it.

I also read Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish which failed, unlike Duncton Wood, to step out of the shadow of more illustrious antecedents like Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale.  Shubin's scope is far smaller than Dawkins', but even so this discussion of the evolution of man felt slight and the examples used - while interesting - repetitive and over-played.

I also read Nick Campbell's fabulous Doctor Who Meets Scratchman and Jon Arnold and dead Baxter's Shooty Dog Thing 2 to review, but they deserve more than a quickly knocked off paragraph or two...

Monday, 7 November 2011

Lest You Should Suffer Nightmares - Johnny Mains (Screaming Dreams, 2011)

First off, this is a beautiful looking book.  The cover features a painting of Van Thal, the original of which can be seen hanging on the back cover, behind author Johnny Mains on the wall of his study.  Inside, the frontispiece contains another image of Van Thal, above the signatures of author and artist (Les Edwards, incidentally), and a note of which number of the limited run of 100 copies you currently hold (mine is 11).  Even the paper the publishers have used feels richer than the norm, and - although I don't know if this is standard - a bookmark of the cover had been slotted inside my copy.  This is a really lovely artifact...

It's also a fascinating little study of someone who most horror fans could name, but of whom most presumably know nothing beyond his name and the fact he was editor for most of the Pan horror series.  Fortunately Johnny Mains - in many ways Mr Pan Horror, and a genuine book loving eccentric of the sort I always worry are disappearing in this electronic age - is on hand to tease out every possible fact about the man, and then present them in a relaxed, readable (and thankfully not entirely hagiographic) manner. 

I'd read an earlier, shorter version of the essay which serves as the basis of this book in an earlier Mains tome, but there's sufficient new information in this extended version to make the update worthwhile.  Better even than the new info, though, are the reprints of letters from Van Thal to various Pan authors, and the series of interviews Mains carried out with many of the surviving Pan authors.  The book is rounded off by a reprinted article, written by Mains, from SFX magazine, charting the history and possible future of Van Thal's most famous creation, the Pan Book of Horror Stories.

Highly recommended, if you can get your hands on a copy...

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Fall Live...Edinburgh 2011

Mark E Smith came on like a comparative lion, straight up to the microphone at the front of the stage, on time and in the mood it seemed.  Sober(ish), it seemed, and as we stood there with big grins on our faces, Scott even suggested he'd stayed unpissed because he loved Edinburgh more than other cities (he lived here for years and wrote the quite lovely 'Edinburgh Man' for the excellent 'Extricate' album a decade or so ago).

Fat chance.

He survived coupe of songs before he started playing with the sound levels of the guitarist's amp, and one more song before he disappeared off stage.  None of the four tracks he sang was exactly a classic, it's true, and the band aren't as tight as you might have hoped, with the guitarist (I've given up bothering to learn the names of Fall band members) particularly shaky.  But muddy is the default sound for the Fall live, so that was no worry.  But no Smith means no Fall really.

And for the fifteen minutes or so which remained of the gig, he was about as visible as a maned wolf at Edinburgh Zoo on a rainy day. 

Spot the Smith!

One minute he was there, twisted and hunched, like the Man from Another Place in Twin Peaks, Brick Heck from The Middle or James Forrest of Celtic.

Mark E Smith in a red suit,
looking for an audience
Smith singing 'Rowche Rumble'
Smith playing for boyhood heroes, Celtic
Then he was gone, off stage to bark his vocals from the dressing room, presumably while thudding back a bottle of vodka, because when he re-appeared he was visibly utterly steaming.  Couple of barked lines, jacket shrugged off and onto the floor, and some comedy drunken pointing, Emo Phillips-style, and he was off again, not to be seen again during the remainder of the body of the gig.  The band played a couple of tracks with keyboard player Eleni (aka Mrs Mark E Smith) singing painfully through a mic set up for backing vocals, then an instrumental, then they walked off to a chorus of boos and plastic beer glasses.  Eleni did briefly re-appear to lambast the crowd - didn't we know that Mark was too pissed to stand?  What did we want from him?

How about a tiny little bit of professionalism?  To stay sober when he's doing his job?  Not to rake in the best part of ten grand for less than a quarter of an hour's work?  To remember that he was the same guy who stopped the band on a live track from Totale's Turns because they weren't playing well enough?

IN fairness, though, I have to admit the shambles wasn't entirely unexpected.  I've seen MES in action twice in the last couple of years and he's been pissed and incapable both times.  But it's like doing the lottery - you buy a ticket hoping that this'll be the night.  Talking to a couple of guys outside afterwards, they remembered seeing the Fall being brilliant and then utterly shambolic state in the space of a couple of weeks in the early 80s.  At least they were a bit pissed off at Smith's showing tonight - unlike the people who popped up on Twitter saying what a great gig it was.  That's just pathetic: middle aged men turning up for the freakshow, not the music, pandering to Smith's alcoholism and infantile behaviour, swapping war stories of really shit performances they've seen him give, wallowing in being fans of the shittest live band in the world.

Ah well, Smith'll be dead soon enough if he continues like this, and then they can boast about being fans of what used to be the world's shittest live band...