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Monday, 9 June 2014

What to Watch Next: The Impossible Planet & Pyramids of Mars

So it's a stretch juxtaposing these two merely on the grounds that Gabriel Woolf is in both, given he's playing different characters. Which is what you might call a shame.

But then again, we have mysterious mythical forces from the early history of the universe who even the Doctor fears and doubts he can fend off, possession, and some blind stupid archeologists. Although at least "Pyramids of Mars" doesn't make reading and research look scary.

(Should there be a reprint of "About Time Seven", there'll be a line or two on that last point slipped into the "Why Doesn't Anyone Read Any More?" essay. Because spending too much time trying to study alien scripts by yourself turns you into Satan, apparently.)

That is, for so many reason, not even worthy of being called subtext.

The Impossible Planet

They're not similar stories visually. Instead, here's some images....

"Knights of the Round Table"
So Gabriel Woolf's website presents, as the sample of his work he wants to present to the world, a preview of his recording of "Swallows and Amazons". This is lovely, but not useful for an audio-visual clip, and less so if you don't already know Arthur Ransome, who's one of the sorts of writers who is perfectly well known in Britain but never quite made it across the Atlantic (sort of Enid Blyton for slightly older children, if that helps...well, no, it probably doesn't. Just go and read them. Or listen, there's evidently a good audiobook available.)

So here's a clip of something that has Woolf in it in person, albeit not in anything like his spooky-voiced mode. He's all dressed up as a heroic knight (the one in blue who doesn't show up until the end) and is rather mild-mannered.

"The Hound of the Baskervilles - the penultimate bit "
Ultimate bit here. A curious beastie. This 2002 BBC production is pretty much the missing link between a more classical adaptation like the Jeremy Brett version and the Moffat-Gatiss iteration, being set in the Victorian era but with the action, events, and characterisation stretched as far as they can go while still being roughly in line with the events of Doyle's novel.

Which does not make it any good, as it lacks the nerve to do its own story and be blatantly over the top like the Guy Ritchie films but doesn't want to be rigourously faithful, and is therefore betwixt and between, going for "shocking" moments without doing anything with them. Still, there is Richard E. Grant, so not a complete waste of time.

The reason I went looking for it was for a nice short Danny Webb clip, but...yeah, he doesn't have much interesting to do, just sits there and then isn't very helpful at the climax. Nice hat, though: he looks more Watson-ish than Watson.

Perhaps it'd have been easier if I'd just gone for the even shorter clip from Alien 3. And it would have been apt, what with Rose's "It's tough" dialogue underscoring the basic design mentality that went into these two episodes.

"Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency"
Something SF-flavoured Matt Jones wrote that's genuinely good, and it's a great shame that he didn't have the opportunity to write more of these (it fell victim to the license fee freeze, the one the Tories imposed back in 2010 that's made it difficult for Moffat to do his job properly). Starts a bit slow but develops nicely, and it's quietly hilarious in its own way: less flamboyant than genuine Douglas Adams but this free-wheeling inspired-by story is far better suited to television than any straight-up adaptation could be. The finale should be fairly evident to anyone familiar with genre television, but the process of getting there is absorbing and not a little touching.

Well, until the final joke, which is horribly misjudged (you can see what Jones was going for, but it's the definition of a bridge too far). Fun until then, though, and there's a scene right up there with the ending of "The End of the World" for chips-related goodness.

For anyone wondering why a minor 19th century poet (well, better known as a historian of questionable capacity) is still known and quoted in The Future... Thomas Babington Macaulay was also an enthusiastic imperialist who seriously believed all the Victorian hogwash about the English importing civilisation to India, as we can be sure because he wrote a lot of it himself. No surprise that he's experienced a revival in a slave-holding Empire then, is it?

Anyhow, the lines that Jefferson quotes are the only lines from the only poem of his that people can be bothered to remember these days (here's the full text). This reading was the most sympathetic I could find, so you can decide for yourself how far that opinion's justified.

(The continued use of "burghers" grates on the ear in a poem about ancient Rome...I could draw a few sharp comparisons about only being able to treat alien cultures in familiar terms, but look up the etymology and start from there.)

Good odds you're familiar with the piece from all the many, many other times it's been quoted in pop culture. If not...roll up, getcha improving classical music, only fifteen minutes long to boot. Piece of cake.

Pyramids of Mars

...that amused me. The truly impressive feature of the Marconiscope is how technology that small is remotely practical.

You'd think it'd be easy to find a BBC documentary about Howard Carter, wouldn't you? Finder of Tutankhamun's tomb and all.  

And in fact there is one, but to be's a docudrama and it's just not very good. A number of blind alleys followed, including an intriguing one about the phenomenon of inexplicable glass found in the Egyptian desert, but none of them very useful for the late Victorian/Edwardian understanding of ancient Egyptian culture. Which is importantly different from what the ancient Egyptians were actually like, at that. 

So instead, here's the first part of a very pleasant little investigation by archeologist Joann Fletcher about a tomb of two regular Egyptians, a well-off but fairly ordinary married couple, taking in everything from ancient makeup to bread-making (people still make it in much the same fashion today) to the work of temple builders in the Valley of the Kings (the commute was something tedious, apparently). The second part gets into the tombs proper, if that's more to your interest.

Hammer Horror's 1959 foray into mummy movies, all that good stuff. I nurse a soft spot for the weirdly random "Curse of the Mummy's Tomb", in which they run out of plot halfway through and drag in some avowedly-hilarious American comic relief that wouldn't have looked out of place in a James Bond film, but the first was certainly the better film. 

(There aren't any good and reliable links to mummy films, is all, though you might try here. What "Blood from the Mummy's Tomb" does to a unsuspecting Bram Stoker novel - again, caveats about Victorians trying to write on foreign cultures aside - is distressing, so you'll have to get your kicks out of the ill-fitting match between the general mummy atmosphere and the then-current setting. Andrew Keir is reliable as always, except that he spends much of the movie asleep. Very wise.)

"Radio Telescopes"
John Richer from the famous Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge talks about the history of the radio  telescope, from Karl Jansky's first attempts up to the present day (literally, almost; the video was only put up a month or so ago). It's a neat potted history and gets down to the science quickly enough, detailing the range of frequencies radio telescopes can see, the change from bigger and bigger telescopes to high-frequency ones, and the astronomical discoveries thus made possible. He's there to talk about ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, and explains why the dry South American dessert is a good place to put them. And there's a few silly anecdotes along the way.

"Priest Hole"
A video so hilarious deserves signal-boosting.

If you feel the need for a more informational link, may I recommend an Edwardian text rejoicing in the name of "Secret chambers and hiding-places: the historic, romantic & legendary stories & traditions about hiding-holes, secret chambers, etc", by one Allan Fea; the book starts off with a fairly good explanation about the use and creation of priest holes and proceeds to tell lots of anecdotes about them (vaguely in chronological order, running from the Elizabethan era to the Jacobites). One relating to King Charles II's hiding concerns a Mr. Woolfe.

"Won't Get Fooled Again"
The "old priory" being no such thing but a manor house by the name of Stargroves. Which does not seem to have ever been a priory, for the record, although the timing of when the building definitely comes into the historical record (sixteenth century) would not be incompatible with the place having been one at some point in the past.

Anyhow, after Mick Jagger bought the manor and got in a mobile studio so that he and his chums could record there in peace, a lot of other bands started coming by, which means I have reason to include a seminal Who song recorded at the same location.

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